He had often fantasized about his assistant, demure and sensual and taking care of his needs- in more ways than one.

But this fantasy was different.

Her hair wasn't curled or tousled, but hung loose and straight around her pale, unmade face. Pepper wore her clothes, or his- he couldn't be sure; a baggy white t-shirt and flannel pants. Not a lacy, racy, translucent nightie or sexy, under-her-business-suit lingerie. Crumpled from days of wear, looking anything but professional. A coffee stain over her right breast. Heavy shadows under her eyes. Bare feet. Sunken cheeks.

She didn't brutally attack him, forcing him against the wall of his office and humping him into oblivion. She wasn't bent over his desk with her charcoal-gray Hugo Boss pencil skirt around her ankles, teetering on her nude Louboutins.

He liked to fantasize about other women like that. But rarely Pepper. He had more respect for her than that.

Gingerly, she stepped toward the bed, barely visible in the darkness of the room.

The first night, after arriving back at the compound, she had come to him in her wrinkled black suit with a bowl of warm water and a washcloth. Tony lay in his bed in his room, dirty and malnourished and too weak to do anything. She dabbed the cloth at his face and hair and chest. Neither of them spoke a single word.

She was often at his bedside, asleep, when he woke from nightmares of Afghanistan in the middle of the night. Sometimes she was awake, stroking his hand and whispering that everything was okay, that everything was going to be okay. Either way, it was comforting just to know she was there.

This time, she was crying.

Tony heard it before he could see it. Quiet, shaky cries interrupted only by a sniffle or a cough every few seconds. Then he saw the glisten of tears on her freckled cheeks, reflecting the slim amount of silver moonlight that managed to sneak into the room through the picturesque windows. He sat up, slow and steady.

"Hey. Hey, come here."

Within moments she was laying against his chest, releasing the months of worry and fear and grief into the space between his neck and shoulder, holding onto her employer fast and tight and with no intent of ever letting go. Her body racked with the sobs that came in tidal waves, over and over again, and it was only when Tony's own body began to rock in time with hers did he realize that he was crying, too.

At some point she calmed enough to bring her face up to his, to look him in the eyes and see that, yes, he was alive, and yes, he was with her. Holding her. In a way he had never held anyone before.

He experimentally touched his lips to hers; chastely but deliberately, reveling in the way he felt her body tense and loosen in his arms as she eased into the kiss, her lips soft and warm and safe.

Her wet cheeks brushed his and he could taste the salt as she smashed her open mouth against his once more, a heated passion finally giving way between them, breaking through the sexual tension that had been building for nearly a decade.

In this fantasy, she was a virgin or she wasn't, it didn't matter, but she was loyal and giving herself to him. All of herself. Only to him. There was no question of seduction or foreplay, of past experience or previous partners. Just Virginia Potts and Anthony Stark. Becoming one at last.

It was beautiful when she shyly removed her clothes, trembling as she fumbled for his, helping him move them down and off his scarred and bruised body. She kissed every inch of him, lingering on his cuts, gently suckling on his burns. She lightly traced the outline of the electromagnet embedded in his chest. The faint blue glow illuminating her face like an angel. Pepper was an angel. His angel. She took his calloused hand in hers and planted her lips atop each and every fingertip before attaching her cautious mouth to his wrist, feeling the heat of his pulse through her tongue and locking eyes with him as she did so.

He held her by the hips, his hands slipping in the delicious feel of a thin layer of perspiration forming on her skin, like melted butter. Pepper was melting. He moved her beneath him, then kissed her collarbone. She gasped and shifted to conform her body to his. One leg came up and wrapped around his thigh. She moved her hands down to his waist, pausing, hesitant, and Tony knew she was contemplating how much weight he had lost as a result of his captivity. To distract her, he kissed her mouth hungrily and rubbed his pelvis against hers, both shuddering from the shockwave of pleasure that resulted.

When she was ready, he slid into her, and swallowed her whimper with his mouth.

Tony thought briefly that none of the women he had ever been with had ever felt this good- and oh, God, she felt good- but then again, none of the women he had ever been with were Pepper. His Pepper. The woman he had practically lived with for who-knows-how-many-years, the woman who knew him better than anyone (including himself), and the one woman on the planet who was too good for him. And he knew it. Maybe she knew it, too. But here she was, panting under him as their hot bodies welded and melded together, every surface plastered together with wet, sticky sweat as they held on to one another for dear life.

They began to move.

He didn't plow or pound or push into her the way he usually did with women; this wasn't going to be a quick in-and-out-and-done. Not with Pepper. He pumped at first, gently, tenderly, the friction intensified by his deliberateness. She was sweet, carefully and fluidly arching to meet each in, and pulling away on the outs. Tony groaned and picked up the pace. Soon he was thrusting, the desire in his abdomen coiling like a spring wound too tightly. He hovered over her, something he had never done, rather than leaning back and holding her legs open like a common whore. His chest brushed against hers with each thrust, slick and exhilarating as their breaths increased in rapidity and mingled when he kissed her hastily-but-lovingly. She gripped his tanned and toned shoulders with her once-perfectly manicured nails (having recently destroyed them by developing a nasty nervous habit of chewing and picking at them.) and she moaned. Low and deep and rumbling. His name.

God, his name.

His hips flew faster and a sound like a strangled, choking gurgle escaped her throat. She cried his name again. Her muscles clenched around him, pulling him in deeper as a bolt of electricity shot through her veins. He felt himself on the edge with her. Ready to take the plunge. About to topple over and come inside of her and confess that he loved her and had loved her all along but never realized it until his captors beat it into him.

As they were doing now.

One of them rounded on him in his cell where he lay, pants bunched low below his manhood and both hands gripped firmly around his shaft. The masked terrorist screeched at him in a language Tony couldn't hear nor comprehend if he did, but he assumed it was something along the lines of him being disgusting. The man cracked him over the back with a wrench or the butt of a gun or a crowbar before calling to his comrades. They hoisted him up and yanked his pants back over his hips, roughly forcing his hands behind his back and binding them uncomfortably tight with rope. To be sure he wouldn't touch himself again. One of them spit on him. Another hit him in the face.

When they had gone and the blood began to seep into Tony's eyes, he dreamt of Pepper again; she met him at the airport as he deplaned at the end of this ordeal, sliding her hand into his when they reached the Escalade. She was in his bedroom, looking concerned and hopeful as she stroked his face with a warm, wet cloth while whispering that everything would be okay.