Wow, its been a long time since I've updated this story.... I wonder if anyone is still reading? Oh well, I guess I'll find out.

So here's Chapter 7. Sorry its taken me so freaking long to get this posted. I have a list of excuses to say here, but I don't think none of them really justify my long absence from working on this story. And to everyone whose been sending me emails wondering where I've been and why I haven't updated in so freaking long. Thanks! I probably would still be ignoring this story if it wasn't for you guys. So yeah... Please be kind and Review. I'm not even going to promise when the next chapter is going to be done.... However, if any of you kind readers would like to know, I have finally finished outlining where this entire story is going. Seriously there is only 4 chapters left. One of which, is a epilogue that I am truly having fun plotting out.

P.S. I still don't own Iron Man (I really wished I did though) or any of the other marvel characters that have yet to make there appearance in this story.

Chapter 7

It was quiet. Maybe a little too quiet, but Pepper didn't seem to be paying the silence all that much attention. Her mind was elsewhere. Playing back the night's recent events and conversations that still had her reeling with hope. Never before had she allowed herself to think such hopeful thoughts without the continuous conscious chidings that usually went with her thinking about her boss in such ways. Maybe they could be. Maybe Pepper, the secret-hopeless-romantic at heart, could finally have what she always wanted; a life with the man of her dreams: a life with Tony Stark. Pepper's heart continued to swell at the thought as she mindlessly went about tracing the rim of her wine glass with her index finger. An act she continued to do until Tony came running in.

"Time to go."

"What? Why? Has something happened?" She asked instantly worried as she jumped up from her chair.

"You could say that."

"Is it serious?"

"Oh, I'd say dead serious," he simply replied as he grabbed Pepper by the arm and led her towards the front of the café.

"What? Tony I don't under-"

"Its really quite simple."

"What's simple?"

"And I'd rather spare you the details-"

"Details on what? What's going on?" She asked clearly confused by the lack of information he was giving her to work with. What wasn't he telling me, she thought to herself, as this unnerving sense of dread began gnawing at the pit of her stomach. God, did she hate to feel like this.

Upon reaching the door, the two finally came to a stop. Pepper instantly took notice of the way Tony seemed to be avoiding eye contact with her; a sign that truly worried her as she rarely ever saw him looking this way. Something bad had to have happened, but what? Why wasn't he telling me everything? She felt like she was waiting on pins and needles as she watched him chew over his next words.

"I think," he said while finally bringing himself to look at her. "That someone may actually be trying to kill me."

"Kill you? Tony this is-"

"Bad I know. I said the same thing when I found the body."

"A body? You found a body?" She incredulously asked Tony while he turned his attention back to the door before them.

"More or less."

"What?"

"Well he kind of found me," he mildly joked as he continued to think about their current situation and how to get them out of it.

"He found you? A dead body found…"

"Yeah, well, sort of. I stumbled onto to him before I saw him."

"The body?"

"Yeah, who else?"

"Tony!"

"Pepper," he shot back using the same tone of voice she had used: A combination of annoyance, anger, and fear. The latter of which, he left out. Yes, he was afraid, but he was far from admitting it at this point. He knew he could figure this out. He was Tony Stark after all. The man who escaped the clutches of the Ten Rings by building himself a suit of armor, from a box of scrapes, in a cave no less. He only wanted to lighten the mood of their suddenly serious predicament. Pepper, however, wasn't seeing it that way.

"This isn't funny," Pepper stated.

"I'm getting that."

"Your life is in danger."

"A fact of which I've been made greatly aware of," Tony calmly replied.

"Then stop acting like nothing's wrong," she quietly chided before letting their conversation sink into silence. How could he joke around at a time like this, she quietly asked herself, doesn't he understand what's at stake here? No matter. She knew what had to come next; "We need to get you out of here."

"Wasn't planning on staying," he added while carefully looking out one of the windows directly by the door, "You?"

"No, but-"

"I'll get us of out this," he confidently declared. "Don't-"

"Worry? Tony it's my job to worry about you."

"Really, I thought I hired you for your-"

"Tony!" She irately whispered while cutting him off. Now, she had his attention, she thought as he finally brought himself to look at her. "My job now is to get YOU to safety. Nothing else matters."

"Pepper you are clearly underestimating your value here."

"No. If someone is after you-"

"They are."

"Then we need to get you to safety," she unwaveringly answered back as she stared him down. This is the way it has to be, she told herself over and over again in her head as she pulled out her cell phone. An object, that under normal circumstances would have brought her enormous comfort, now made her feel if possible a little worse.

"Not working?"

"How did you-?"

"Tried it earlier," he coolly replied as he watched her lower the device from her ear and verify that it was in fact not working, as it should. "Whosever doing this doesn't want us calling for help."

"Great," she silently replied as her frustration and fear continued to ebb away at what remained of her already shaken calm.

"My point exactly."

Pepper drew in a long breath and sighed at his response before asking, "What do we do now?"

Tony wished he had something else better to say, but their current situation was not one to improve anytime soon. Hell, things were most likely to get worse before they get any better, might as well, "Play along," he grimily replied as he pushed the cafés door open. No one in sight; Things were looking up already. Who would have thought he dryly asked himself as he moved into the darkened hall with Pepper in tow. Slowly and quietly the two crept towards the gift shop directly opposite of the café. Its large glass doors offered up nothing more but the waiting darkness inside.

"Can you see anything?"

"Nope," he whispered back as he continued to survey the inside of the store. Everything, from what he could tell, looked to be, as it should. No signs of a murderous intruder in here, he mentally told himself before slipping inside.

Together the two navigated their way through the store by relying on the light pouring in from the windows. Odd toys and souvenirs cased the store while DVD's and bookshelves lined the walls. Nothing seemed out of place and that was, for the moment, comforting to know as Tony began to look around the store. Where would be a good place, he mentally asked himself as he turned his head in every direction before spotting it. Quickly he led them to the small alcove enshrouded in darkness. "This'll work."

"What will?" She asked as he gently pushed her into the darkened niche.

"Stay here."

"What? No," she replied in a tone that held more then just her major discontentment for what he obviously had planned.

"Pepper, I haven't even-"

"No. We are not splitting up."

"This'll be a lot easier-"

"I don't care," she said still writhing in her newfound annoyance over what he had planned on doing. "I'm staying with you."

"Pepper, I just want to scout ahead."

"No. Whosever out there is after you."

"Exactly… They're after me," he emphasized before turning his attention back towards the door thus ending the conversation. Pepper, however, wasn't accepting any of this. Something he knew she wouldn't take easily. Only a few feet away from the safety of the alcove Pepper promptly set out to chase after him and Tony was all too aware of this. "Stay."

"No," she hissed as she grabbed him by the arm, stopping Tony in his tracks.

"Pepper."

"You need me."

"Pepper," he said again. This time a little annoyed.

"I am not going to just stand here while you go off to find whoever it is that's out there."

"Pepper, I can take care of myself," he gently tried to remind her as he carefully removed her arm from his.

"What's your social security number?"

"Five…."

"And?"

"And I have you for the rest. Besides I think you've lost objectivity on what's going on here at the moment"

"No I haven't. Tony, someone is trying to kill you."

"Really? I just thought they wanted to say hi, get an autograph, kickback, relax, and have a beer. I know I'm starving."

"What?"

"We're splitting up," he nonchalantly replied before leaning in and giving her a quick kiss on the lips. Yeah, that'll work, he thought with a sly grin on his face. Pepper was stunned and Tony took full advantage of her momentary stupor by making his way back out towards the door again. An opportunity that ended only seconds later as she quietly called out, "Tony, wait!"

"Hey what's that over there?" He asked while pointing his hand towards the area behind her.

"What? Where? I don't see anything," she said while turning her back on him in order to find out what it was he had been pointing to. Then it hit her. He wouldn't dare, she thought as she spun around on hers heels. "Tony!" She silently screamed while watching him go through the gift shop doors.

On the other side, she glared daggers, as he turned to look back at her and mouth the phrase, I'll be back, through the glass.

"You better," she whispered knowing full well that he couldn't hear her as he disappeared from out of sight.

Once again Pepper found herself alone and in the dark, a combination that would have frightened her if she wasn't so unbelievably mad. "Why? Why do I let him do this to me?" She asked while continuing to stare out at the door. Her anger and sheer frustration was getting to a point where her head actually started to hurt.

"Great," she groaned while trying her best to quell her need to go out and smack that smug, stupid, and unbelievingly aggravating boss of hers. So once again she had to ask, "Why?"

She continued to watch the door until she could no longer bring herself to look at it anymore. Tony wasn't coming back, at least not anytime soon and standing here out in the open wasn't exactly the greatest thing for her to be doing. Palming her face in her hands she sighed before heading back into the dark alcove.

Ten Minutes later…

She had been sitting in the dark, alone, in a gift shop for ten minutes now and he still hadn't come back. Why? Why hadn't he come back? Yes, she was angry. Yes, she was annoyed. But ten minutes! He had been gone for ten minutes. Her mind was jumping from one bloody conclusion to the next, and now she couldn't help but think about how much she wanted for him to be back here with her. Even if it was just to trick her into another one of his ridiculous proposals. She wanted him back.

She could still clearly remember what life was like when he was gone and it hurt. There were days where nothing seemed to matter; where all she felt was this hollowed out nothing that seemed to eat away at her very being leaving her numb. Numb to everything.

A feeling she would later come to welcome as she was once again forced to hide behind her professional façade. Her mask securely set in place to hide the way she felt. Those who worked with her at Stark Industries never really realized how much his disappearance had affected her. That every minute she spent in that place felt like hours as she robotically went about her work in his office, clearing out his things. A process she dragged out for as long as she possibly could.

Those who did know her, however, were able to see that something was wrong. Hogan had even called her out on it once. He told her that it wasn't healthy to be living like this. He told her that he was worried about her and asked if she was ever going to be ok. Pepper just smiled and thanked him for his concern. An act she would continue to do until she finally broke; when the feeling of being numb just wasn't enough to hold her over. When she had to accept that Tony Stark wasn't coming back.

She hated herself for giving in so easily. She wanted to believe that he was ok somewhere and that someday he would return, but she like all the others began to lose hope too. It was only a matter of time, she would sorrowfully tell herself. And now, here, she was doing it again. Could things get any worse? Yes. Yes, they most certainly can, she thought as a slight noise caught her attention. Things could get worse, and for her, they actually had.

At first she hoped it was Tony. She almost called out his name when that ever so annoying feeling in her stomach began to grow worse. Tony would have said something by now. He would have been here, in the dark alcove, with her if the noise had been him. So what was it? Or better yet, she thought, who was it that had caused the noise?

She wanted to know. She really did, but her need to do the right and logical thing was taking precedence over her need to find the truth. Staying safe was all that mattered and being safe currently meant hiding in the dark alcove Tony had found for her. This is the right thing to do, she told herself over and over again as she strenuously listened for the sound. For minutes she sat there in the dark doing nothing, but listening. And for minutes all she heard was silence, complete and utter silence. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was just my nerves getting the best of me, she thought. Maybe… Maybe she had just been a fool to let out that small sigh of relief because now she knew she had heard something. And that something had heard her. This is bad. This is unbelievably bad she said in her head while the lone figure in the dark crept out at her.

Meanwhile….

Tony was continuing his search of the lower half of the observatory. So far things had been working out in his favor. No killer. No more dead bodies or so he hoped. How many people did Hogan say were going to be up here tonight? Three? Five? No matter, there was really nothing else he could do for them except hope that they somehow managed to escape the same fate that had befallen their slaughtered co-worker in the back offices.

Just then Tony chuckled. Not at the body or his inability to help those here when he was, in fact, a superhero. No he was laughing because Pepper had proven him wrong. This outing had become a bad idea. What was that old saying? Something about how even the best-laid plans could go wrong sometimes. Or maybe it was from a movie? Yeah, that seemed about right he thought as he slowly made his way to another set of heavy doors. The words Event Horizon Theater were written above them.

"Here we go again," he quietly said to himself as he slowly pushed one of the doors open. Another room another search; A search, that was probably going to take a while to complete since the theater was massive in size and nearly pitch black. Great, he wryly thought as he made his way down the wall on the right side of the doors. He only made it a few feet forward before finding another corpse. Another employee, who like the last one he had encountered, met a tragic and early demise due to his being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tony grimaced at the sight of what lay before him. This man had not seen his death coming and Tony, be it far from happy, was at least glad to know that this man's death had come on swift wings. With a heavy sigh he then stepped around the body and continued forward along the wall until a stifled scream stopped him dead in his tracks. He felt his damaged heart skip a beat at the sound and quietly he cried Pepper's name before bolting back out through the theater doors and down the hall.

Meanwhile…

"Oh God…You nearly scared me half to death," said Pepper in a shaky voice. Her breath coming out in uneven bursts while the pounding of her heart continued to thunder in her ears.

"Really?" replied the women hunkered down before her. Her voice quivering even more then Peppers while her body shook uncontrollably.

"Are you ok?"

"No. No. Not really. I… I… nearly-"

"You nearly, what?"

"Pum…pummeled you to death with that tripod over there," replied the women as she pointed to the object lying on the floor behind her.

"Oh," said Pepper in a soft and nervous voice as her eyes wondered over to the object that had been dropped earlier. The young women wielding it let it slip from her grasp upon realizing whom she was about to hit.

"Sorry."

"No, that's ok," Pepper continued to reply in a trembling voice as she struggled to regain what little composure she had left.

"I thought you were the…the…"

"Killer. No," said Pepper putting an extra emphasis on the no.

"Then who are you?"

"Pepper, Pepper Potts. You?"

"Jill," she answered back while eliciting a silent nod from the woman she had nearly attacked. After that, both women remained silent; each gratefully accepting the moment in which they could calm themselves down. That is until one of them finally felt the need to break the silence. "We need to get out of here. We need to-"

"What?" asked Pepper growing a little worried upon seeing the look of complete and utter fear return to Jill's face. "Jill?"

"Someone's coming."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," she replied as her once regained composure started to shatter again. "Listen."

"I don't-"

"Hear it now?" asked Jill as she took a hold of the tripod again, it shook violently in her hands. A sight Pepper instantly took notice of.

"Are you going to be ok?"

"I… I don't think I can do this again? I don't…"

"It's ok," said Pepper gently.

"No. No its not… I…"

"Jill," said Pepper while her hand moved to rest on top of the tripod. "It's ok." Jill let out a single soft sob before turning to hide her face. "It's ok," she said again as she slowly pulled the tripod from out of Jill's still shaking hands. It's all going to be ok, she mentally told herself as she moved from out of their hiding spot and into the open.

She moved quickly and quietly, as the sound of footsteps continued to grow closer and closer. Everything's going to be ok. Everything's going to be ok. A mantra she continued to say over and over again as the door opened. "Everything's going to be ok," she said again before swinging the tripod.

"Jesus Pepper! It's me," yelled Tony as he dodged the attack.

Having instantly dropped the tripod Pepper replied "Oh, Sorry," before slapping him hard across the arm.

"Hey!"

"Don't ever leave me behind like that EVER again!"

"I was coming back."

"What if something happened?"

"It didn't."

"But what if it did?"

"Pepper I'm…."

"You could have gotten hurt?"

"I'm fine," he countered before letting his eyes fall to the object lying on the floor. "Is that a tripod?"

"Don't change the subject!"

"I'm not trying-"

"You could have died Tony," she said in a sadden whisper: her eyes starting to water as she fought hard to hold back her tears. God was she happy to see him.

"Pepper?"

"Don't," she answered back as her composure had finally been regained. "I just worry about you."

"I know."

Needless to say the silence between them was awkward. Pepper was angry and Tony, well he was just happy to see that she was ok. She eyed him giving her a remorseful smile and felt one of her own forming on her face. A smile she was quick to hide as Jill had finally come out of hiding and was walking straight at them.

"Pepper?"

"It's my job…"

"What about it?"

"To care… about you… It's my job to care about you," she replied as she quickly tried to slip back into her professional persona. An attempt, in which, she miserably failed to accomplish.

"I think it's more then that," he coolly stated. "Wouldn't you agree?"

"You're…"

"Who are you?"

"You're… You're…"

"Who is she?" asked Tony as he pointed to the woman standing beside Pepper.

"Tony this is Jill."

"With a Y?"

"How would I possibly-"

"You're…" Jill continued.

"Obviously in shock," said Tony with a growing smile.

"Probably from the murder," summarized Pepper.

"Not quite what I was thinking."

"Oh, you can't be serious."

"I am a big deal," he confidently declared as the smile on his face turned into a full-blown grin.

Pepper in response rolled her eyes before saying, "Oh of course because you're-"

"Iron Man," cried Jill just a little bit too loudly.

"Yeah. Hi, thanks for joining the conversation," added Tony finally happy to be getting this part over with, not that he didn't like to be recognized or anything it's just that the young woman was getting a little carried away.

"You're Iron Man!" She quietly screamed again.

"Jill, calm down," replied Pepper as she also noticed Jill getting too invested in loudly stating the obvious.

"You're Iron Man!"

"Uh-huh," answered Tony with a hint of annoyance.

"But you're-"

"We know," interrupted a clearly irritated Pepper, her outburst gaining her a slightly surprised look from Tony. "What?"

"Nothing."

"You're…"

"Yes, Jill we know," said Pepper exasperatedly as she pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger. Oh, how her head did hurt. "He's Iron Man. Now can we please get back to the problem at hand?"

"Yeah of course… It's just…"

"Just what?"

"This side of you… It's kind of a turn on," answered Tony in his usual playful demeanor. Pepper's face turned a slight shade of red at his remark before he continued to ask, "Is that weird?"

"Tony this isn't-"

"A good time, I know."

"You're Iron Man," Jill continued to stammer out apparently still not over being star struck.

"Yeah, Hi. Nice to meet you too."

"Where? Where's your suit?"

Good God she finally said something different thought Tony before replying, "Not here."

"What... Why not?"

"Left it at the office, it's been one of those days," he sarcastically shot back.

"What?"

"Do you have any id-"

"What he's trying to say Jill is that he doesn't have the suit on all the time," exclaimed Pepper as she cut Tony off before he could say anything else.

"Oh," she paused for a moment. "Is it in your car?"

"We were dropped off," he wryly quipped. This now was getting old, even for him. Which is, by all means, saying something.

"He really doesn't have it?"

"I'm afraid not," answered Pepper with a nearly inaudible sigh of relief. Jill was finally getting it.

"Well that sucks."

"Doesn't it."

"Question or a statement?" asked Pepper upon seeing that far off look in Tony's eyes. A sign that usually meant he was thinking about a new problem to work out.

"Definitely a statement."

"Iron Man?" Timidly asked Jill with her hand raised.

"You're kidding with the hand thing, right?"

"Tony," scolded Pepper as Jill quickly lowered her hand in embarrassment.

"What?" He asked not fully understanding why she was giving him another one of her glares.

"Uh. What… What are we going to do now? We…we have to…to get out of here."

"We will."

"How?" asked Jill with a slightly frantic voice, "He doesn't even have the suit."

"I'm sure he has a-"

"A plan?"

"Do you?" inquired both Pepper and Jill.

"Of course."

"To get the suit, right?"

"No," he answered. When am I going to have time to go get that?

"But?"

"I was thinking more of getting us out of here first."

"Is it safe?" questioned Pepper. Were they safe?

"Could be."

"Did you-"

"Find another body, yeah."

"Oh god, oh god," whispered a panic-stricken Jill. Her right hand now held up to her face as if she were about to start chewing on her fingernails.

"Getting out of here is all that matters," asserted Tony. There was no doubt in his mind that whatever was going on around here was still happening.

"Can we?"

"I think-"

"We're gonna die. I'm with Iron Man and I'm gonna-"

"Be quiet now so I can explain how I plan on getting us out of here," strongly snapped Tony as Jill was finally shocked into silence. "There's a hallway right outside of this shop. It should lead us straight to the main stairwell. From there we can use the exit on the East Terrace and follow it to the parking lot. Yes?"

"What?"

"Your hand," replied Tony while pointing to her right hand. It had been raised again.

"Sorry."

No, it's ok," gently responded Pepper while trying to comfort the young woman who was once again severely embarrassed by her actions.

"Ready?"

"No. What if something happens?"

"It'll be fine," whispered Pepper soothingly. The young woman, Jill needed to be calmed down.

"No. No, it won't. Something bad will happen. It always does."

"Jill."

"We shouldn't leave."

"Jill."

"It's not safe. Not out there."

"Jill," Tony said again for one last time. Fed up and irritated with her whinnying, something had to be done. He had to put an end to it. "Trust me when I say, that you are no safer here, then are you are out there."

"But-"

"This killer, whoever he is, is after me," he quietly stated while putting an end to Jill's theory and most importantly her whinnying; though as much as he wanted this one victory to make him feel a little bit better, the sad fact was that, it only made him feel worse. In spite of all his joking and offhanded attempts to alleviate the tension that had settled upon his once well-planed evening, this one statement had brought it all crashing back down around him. He was the target. Pepper was in danger again and now there was no room for denying that truth. He needed to fix this. "Yeah?" he asked while trying his best to mask the solemn feeling that was now eating away at him.

Jill, with her hand once again lowered away from her face had this to say, "In case we die I want you both to know something."

"What's that?"

"I'm your biggest fan," Jill sheepishly declared causing Pepper to palm her face in what he had to guess was an effort to hide her need to laugh at the statement.

Tony quietly chuckled himself before adding, "Aren't they all." A small smile had once again crept its way across his face and now, even he had to admit he was glad to hear it. Hell, even Pepper was thankful to hear what Jill had to say as she too had found some relief in it.

The moment, however brief and light, soon passed allowing silence to once more engulf the group. "Stay close to me," he whispered to Pepper.

"I will."

"I'll get us through this," he said more for himself rather than for her hearing.

Pepper instantly picked up on it. She rested her hand on his arm and gave him a reassuring squeeze before saying, "I know. You always do."

Tony nodded his head in agreement as he wanted to believe that he could save them. That Pepper's unwavering trust in his abilities weren't unfounded. That even without his armor he could get them out of this place and to safety. But for how long, he thought. Try as hard as he might he couldn't shake the feeling of dread that had settled over him. That even the man behind the armor, was too weak to save the one person that truly mattered to him.

The memories of his time held captive with Yinsen had once again become new as old wounds tore open. Would she too fall to the same fate of his sole friend and ally in his time of need? No.

"Stick to the plan," he said. Yinsen didn't stick to the plan. He died buying me time so that I could stop wasting my life. So that I could finally find what matters to me and change. Yinsen gave his life so that I, the man with everything, and nothing could become something more then a playboy billionaire. He stuck to his own plan and now Tony was going to make sure that they stuck to his.

He offered them another weak smile before turning his attention back towards the door. He hesitated to push it open, but was quick to overcome his trepidation. They could do this, he thought. He could do this. "Stick to the plan," he whispered once again before going through.

The journey through the hallway, as he expected it to be, was nothing truly exciting. No killer wanted for them, and no bodies littered the floor before them. In fact, the corridor dubbed The Cosmic Connection was really rather simple: in both, design and in strategic planning. Tactically speaking the hallway provided a great, if somewhat dark area in which an attack could only come from one of two ways; the bad news being that if an attack was to occur they really had nowhere to hide. The narrow passageway held no cover other then darkness and consisted solely of a 150-foot timeline of the universe.

As they passed what he assumed to have been the representation of the Big Bang, Tony began to really wonder who designed this particular lengthy bit of space. The single glass covered wall of the hallway looked as if children had decorated it. Composed only of celestial-themed jewelry, the Cosmic Connection timeline looked like a kid's homework assignment rather than a highly expensive commissioned piece of artwork. Then again, was this really the right time to be thinking about something other then their current escape from a killer targeting him? No, it wasn't but he really couldn't help himself.

With Pepper and Jill still in tow behind him, Tony began the long climb up the stairs at the end of the hall pass the wormhole. The climb was slow and for him a bit frustrating. Slow and steady was definitely not how I ever intended to win the race, he briefly thought to himself as he rounded the corner and began to climb the final flight of stairs.

With each step he gained a better view of the area up ahead and knew that once out there the cover of darkness would no longer shelter them.

His eyes scanned the room over and over again. The open area in front of the Planetarium didn't look any different from what it had been when they first arrived. The Planetarium doors were still closed and nothing could be seen beyond the archway that led to the main floor. Well, he thought, sometimes you've got to run before you can walk and with that in mind he took his first steps into the bright moonlit area near the exit.

He ushered Pepper and Jill through the large glass doors of the Observatory as nothing waited out on the East terrace for them. They then followed the curved wheelchair path that wound itself to the front of the building, were no faceless killer was there to greet them once again. He led them alongside the Solar System lawn model and past the Astronomers Monument where the near empty parking lot awaited them.

"Almost there," Pepper whispered. They were almost there. The soft sounds produced by her heels hitting the ground changed ever so slightly as she stepped onto the smooth blacktop, where only a little while ago Hogan had dropped them off.

She continued to follow closely as Tony led them down the right side of the parking lot. The nearest car to them, a large truck, was their presumed means of getting out of here. Tony circled to the driver's side and began to go to work on the door. Pepper watched as he tried the handle. Locked.

"Well?" Jill asked.

"Well," he said, "that wasn't entirely unexpected." And it wasn't. Who doesn't lock their doors anymore?

"Tony?"

He didn't answer. Pepper watched as he turned his back to her. He now stood directly parallel to the vehicle. She was about to say his name again when he elbowed the window causing it to shatter. Jill yelped. "What did you just do?"

Tony turned around and gave Pepper one of his usual "I'm a bad boy" grins. "What?"

"That… That's illegal," stammered out Jill.

"Tony!" Pepper quietly exclaimed. She moved to his right and looked into the window before turning her attention back to him. Her expression reading somewhere along the lines of I can't believe you just did that.

"Ok," he said in a completely light but serious tone, "you and I both know that this isn't…" He stopped.

Something was wrong and before Pepper even had the time to figure it out what that was she was forcefully shoved to the ground. The echoing of the single shot fired reverberated throughout the hillside as Tony slid down the side of the car and on to the floor. "Tony!" She screamed.

The heavy footfall of others quickly made themselves known as she scrambled to his side. "Tony," she cried again. Her hands quickly moving to the location where she thought the bullet had hit him. What she found however was something entirely different. There wasn't a bullet. Hell, there wasn't even a hole made by one. Instead a dart imbedded in his right shoulder was all that she found.

"Ow."

"Tony." She cried out once more. The urgency in her voice replaced with an overwhelming sense of relief that quickly passed as soon as she heard him moan. "Tony, are you ok?"

"Go," he said, the distinct sounds of a helicopter overhead making his words inaudible to Pepper. The Calvary, he surmised as the eruption of gunfire from somewhere behind the car and in front of the next car blocking his view occurred.

"What? Tony I can't…" She screamed. A bullet shattered another window in the car he was leaning against.

"Pepper I need you to listen to me."

"Tony I-"

BOOM.

The ground shook as the immense tower of flame and smoke rose to meet the night sky. The shootout between SHIELD and his attackers had apparently reached a new level. The fight, this fight would be over soon but not soon enough. Not for him. The drug in his system was working fast and before long he would be powerless to know if she had made it to safety. "Go."

"What?"

"Go," he yelled this time as the roar of heavy gunfire still raged on in the Observatory parking lot. Somewhere in the distance he could hear Jill screaming. Wow, she's still here huh.

"What! Tony. No."

"I'll be ok," he said again. His mind growing wearier as the drugs affects was becoming more prominent. Pepper, on the other hand, did not agree. "No, I'm not leaving you!"

Damn, should have seen that coming, he thought. "Pepper," he called out weakly. He wanted her to understand. He knew she wouldn't, but still he had to try. She was only looking out for him, for reasons beyond her position as his personal secretary, and he only wanted to protect her. Yet every second of consciousness was drawing him nearer to his last one and she was still here, in harms way.

"Tony," he heard her say. Her voice was barely audible in comparison to the war going on around them and yet he could hear her voice with such clarity that it gave him the strength to battle the assured coma that awaited him. He could feel her hands holding on to him and they were steady. They did not shake nor tremble. They were still and she was, unafraid. "Tony," she said again so calmly, "I'm sticking to the plan."

It all felt so unreal to him. Was he really awake? Was this a dream? Her words echoed in his head as his eyes locked onto hers. He didn't want to go. He didn't want to leave her there and yet he knew she would be ok. The feeling of weightlessness greeted him once again. His eyes felt heavy now. The end was here. There was no fighting the oblivion of unconsciousness and his world… slowly …faded …to black.

Please Review!