This is in the movieverse. What did Pepper go through during the time that Tony was missing? Spoilers for the movie.
Pepper Potts had to admit that overall it had been a pretty good birthday. She'd had dinner with that handsome guy from the legal department and he'd bought her a lovely emerald bracelet. It was the second best gift she'd received. The best gift was the briefcase her mother had sent. Usually her mother's presents were subtle reminders that Pepper wasn't getting any younger. One year, it had been a copy of the book "How to Land a Man in 30 Days". Another time it had been an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist so they could discuss the possibility of freezing her eggs. So when Pepper opened up the briefcase she was thrilled. Finally, a gift that appreciated that she was a working woman who enjoyed her job. Not just a baby factory waiting for the right guy to come along and start up production.
Sure, Mr. Stark had forgotten it was her birthday, but that was par for the course. At least this year he'd be out of the country helping to demonstrate the new Jericho missile. Last year he had managed to end up in jail on her birthday, after getting into a fist fight with a bouncer at a strip club. She'd left the small party her friends had thrown and had to spend the rest of the evening trying to bail out her boss while also trying to keep the story from hitting the papers. The year before it had been even worse. She had been with Mr. Stark in Thailand for a technology conference and had gotten so confused between the time change and the international date line that she hadn't realized it was her birthday until two days afterwards.
Yes, the best birthday gift that Tony Stark could have given her was to be in Afghanistan, away form any potential problems that she'd have to bail him out of. Although the backless blue silk dress that she had charged to his credit card was also a pretty nice present, it couldn't compare to the pleasure of having a night off from having to keep him out of trouble. As she drifted off to sleep , head swimming from champagne and her date's intense kisses goodnight, Pepper wondered what her life would be like if she worked for a normal boss.
It was literally the middle of the night when her phone rang. So much for her theory that Mr. Stark's distance would allow her to have one normal night. "Hello," she muttered, stifling a yawn.
"Miss Potts, this is Col. Rhodes."
"Being formal, aren't we James?" she teased, too tired to worry about decorum. When he didn't laugh she became nervous.
"I'm afraid that this isn't a personal call. As Mr. Stark's next of kin, I need to inform you that there has been an incident."
A thousand questions filled her mind. Since when did Tony appoint her as his next of kin? What did he mean by incident? Where was Tony now? Was he alive? Was he hurt? Was he safe?
But as she tried to talk all that came out was a small whimper that descended into a crying jag.