Tony's first thought of the evening was: no drinking, even if the open bar was sitting quite comfortably in the center of the ballroom, inviting everyone for a taste of exclusive and expensive fifty and something years old scotch and other sure-to-induce-you-in-a-state-of-coma beverages. He had to admit one thing. Pepper was great at throwing parties.

If only he hadn't been so fashionably late – like usual. He had told her he'd be there at eight. It was half past ten and so far, he hadn't spotted her. He knew he shouldn't blame SHIELD. Hell, his house had been full of them for almost 24 hours, but surely, he could have escaped, sneak out on a side door or something, but no, Agent Coulson had used the 'super-nanny' quote again, much to Tony's annoyance.

As he scanned the crowd of Stark Industries employees, Tony noticed something, or rather, someone. Balling his hands into fists at the sight of Natasha Romanoff, Tony made his way to her, his whole body tense.

"Still working undercover, I see?"

The redhead gave him her best 'I'm going to deal with you later' look, and disappeared among a group of women. Looking around, he spotted Bambi next to her husband. Charming as usual, Tony smiled at both of them before shaking her husband's hand.

"Do you happen to know if Pepper has given the speech yet?"

Bambi looked at him in disapproval.

"Yes, Mr. Stark, she did, half an hour ago." Tony wanted to smack himself over the head. Dammit.

Tony clenched his jaw and headed to the bar, his heart thudding painfully in his chest. He had missed her speech. And she'd trusted him that he'd make it. And be there for her when she stepped up and gave a speech for the first time since she had been named as CEO.

He screwed up, like usual. He felt like crap. Utter crap.

In the corner of his right eye, he noticed a flash of red. Turning his head, he immediately saw Pepper talking to her male PA. Instantly, jealousy washed over him and he took in a deep breath, trying to calm himself down as he walked over to them.

"Hi." He breathed out as he wrapped his left arm around Pepper's middle, pulling her form to him with possessiveness.

"A little bit late, aren't we?" Asked a slightly tensed Pepper.

As if startled by his appearance, Johnnie, Pepper's assistant excused himself politely and walked off towards the bar.

Tony sighed and locked his gaze with hers.

"I'm sorry. I know that it doesn't cover up what I did. I'm an idiot for thinking that I'd make it." Pepper watched his sad eyes and tightened her lips. "I'm so sorry, dammit. I know you wanted me here and believe me, I wanted to be here, for you, but they wouldn't let me and I kept explaining to them that I had to be somewhere, resulting in a scene in which Dum-e smacked Agent Coulson's head, but he's fine, he's ok. I just… I'm sorry and I'll do anything for you to forgive me."

Pepper's lips curled upwards and she stifled a small laugh.

"Poor Phil." She whispered and fixed his slightly askew tie. And after a few long moments – "I knew what I was getting myself into when I agreed to be your girlfriend, Tony. I knew there would be many rain checks on everything, but I still think it's worth it. For this… whatever it is that we're doing, it's worth it."

Tony let out a soft breath.

"I'm so happy that you think so, Pepper." He admitted with an insecure smile, watching her face for anything, anything to prove that he was right, that this was going to work out. It had to. Because he loved her and if it didn't, then his world would be over.

Pepper simply slid her hands up to his lapels and moved her lips to his ear, whispering the words he'd always dreamed of hearing.

"I want to be with you tonight." The small warm puff of air at the end of her little sentence brought a swift response in his body. His testicles tightened and he let out a soft whimper, looking at her face.

She looked back, watching as his eyes widened.

"But with one condition." She continued. He listened. "Nobody gets to interrupt us."

At Tony's slightly dumb nod, Pepper let him pull her along through a side door and into his car. Nevertheless, the drive had been erratic and each time he'd press the gas pedal to its maximum, she'd feel herself being thrown back into the seat. She turned her head and watched his face as he drove, his eyes fixed on the road in front of them, not even moving a muscle.

Smiling a little to herself, Pepper reached out and took his hand in hers, squeezing lightly until they arrived at Tony's mansion. Once he parked the car and shut down the engine, he let out a breath and brought her hand to his lips, kissing it softly. Her eyes found his in the darkness and swallowed hard when he brought his right hand into her hair, kissing her tenderly.

Her hands found his shoulders and she pulled him closer, whimpering at the feel of his hand in her hair, pulling her to him with the same amount of want, need and love.

The walk towards the bedroom proved to be the most difficult one as they kissed one another deeply, clothes falling off behind them as they embraced each other tightly, their hair sticking out in every direction, due to the friction it had endured while they scratched, stroked and tugged on it.

Their union was sealed with sweat and cries and love, and by the time the morning came, the couple seemed to have found the peace they'd both longed for in years.

As the morning chillness left its mark on their naked skin, Pepper snuggled further back into Tony's chest, enjoying the way his naked body molded to hers. With a soft murmur of love, Tony pulled her closer in his sleep, sighing deeply at the feel of her all around him. Fortunately, the sheet around them didn't show much, but if it did, you'd know that he never left her body throughout the night, staying where he felt the safest, home.