"James Douty, Time magazine. I'd just like to start out by saying that we're all grateful you agreed to this press conference, Mr. Stark. We didn't think we'd see you again after you announced that you were Ironman." He laughed deliberately.

"Pleasure to be here," Tony Stark said absently. He wasn't paying any attention to the journalistic. His gaze was focused beyond the crowd of reporters, at the back of the room, as though he was looking for someone.

"Mr. Stark, the stocks for Stark Industries have risen drastically since your announcement at the last press conference. Some entities have suggested that you created the identity of Ironman to further your business, and increase name recognition. What do you say to that?"

Tony finally turned to look at James Douty. "I didn't create Ironman's identity. I only created the suit. The media is responsible for any further anthropomorphizing beyond... beyond..."

He trailed off, staring at the door to the conference room. In one movement, the reporters turned to follow his gaze. James Rhodes had just entered the room, and he was walking towards the podium. He covered the microphone with a hand, and leaned in to whisper a few brief words to Tony. A photographer caught a photo of Mr. Stark stepping back, as though he had been hit in the stomach. Before any of the journalists could ask a single question, Tony was out of the room, and then out of the lobby, heading with quick, deliberate steps towards his waiting car.

He was already starting the engine as Rhodes was opening the passenger side door. Tony maneuvered out of the parking lot, and breaking several minor traffic laws, pulled out onto the street.

"Which hospital?" he asked tersely.

Rhodes glanced out the rear window at the few intrepid journalists who had gotten into their cars and were following close behind. "South Memorial. But I told you, it was only a minor collision. She didn't lose consciousness, and she didn't seem seriously injured. I just thought you'd want the doctors to take a look at her anyway."

"Which room?"

"311," Rhodes looked at Tony. "She going to be fine."

Tony didn't respond and the rest of the trip was made in silence. He pulled up in front of South Memorial, swinging the car halfway into a parking space before he slammed on the breaks. He strode into the hospital, leaving Rhodes in the waiting room to deal with the reporters. His liquid brown eyes flitted from door to door until he came to room 311.

"Pepper," Tony said, throwing open the door of the hospital room. "Are you alright?"

Pepper Potts smiled reassuringly. She was sitting up in bed, propped against a pile of pillows. A light blue cardigan was draped over her shoulders, contrasting with the stark white hospital gown. "I'm fine, Mr. Stark. Just a few bruises."

Tony walked slowly into the room and Peppers smile turned into a disapproving frown. "Mr. Stark, you didn't leave the press conference early, did you? Do you realize how much work that makes for me? Now I'll have to issue a formal apology to the news stations and reschedule the..."

She broke off as reached her side and stretched his arm out towards her. His callouses fingertips brushed her shoulder, so light she barely felt it. Then, without warning he pulled her up against him, wrapping his arms around her and clutching the fabric of her sweater in his closed fists.

"Mr. Stark?" Pepper said tentatively as he buried his face in her hair. Then, even more tentatively, "Tony?"

A moment passed before Tony's grip loosened and he pulled back. He sat down heavily in the chair next to the bed.

"Sorry," he said with deliberate nonchalance. "I was afraid I would have to start remembering my own social security number."

Pepper smiled, but her eyes were still fixed on him intently. "Now, Mr. Stark, if something did happen to me, there would be hundreds of willing applicants for the job of your personal assistant."

"But probably none who would be willing to stick their hand into my chest."

"That was mentally scarring," she agreed solemnly.

Tony laughed shakily, and leaned back in his chair, running a hand through his already tousled hair. A brief, and not uncomfortable silence descended on the room. For a moment, it was interrupted only by the steady hum of the hospital equipment, and the distant sound of footsteps from the hall beyond the door.

"You're sure you'll be alright?" Tony asked quietly.

"It will probably take years of therapy, but I'm sure someday I'll recover from the trauma of changing out your arc reactor."

"That's not what I meant."

"I'm fine, Tony," she said gently. Her tone hardened and she added, "Now tell me the truth. Did you leave the press conference early?"

Tony looked disgruntled. "Doesn't the fact that I was desperately worried about your well being count for anything?"

"No," Pepper said, her lips quirking up. "Not at all."