Author's Notes: After watching The Avengers, I just couldn't resist writing this. I know it's been done before, but I feel my take is slightly different to the ones on this site, so here it is.

Dislaimer: All property of MARVEL, except for my OC.

Please note that if you have not seen 'The Avengers' this story contains spoilers.




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If I was running, you'd be the one who I would be running to,

And if I was crying, you would be the lining the cloud that would pull me through,

And if I was scared, then I would be glad to tell you and walk away.

But I am not lying, I am just trying to find my way in to you.

You know I'm gonna find a way to let you have your way with me,

You know I'm gonna find the time to catch your hand and make you stay,

If I was running,

If I was crying,

If I was scared,

You know I'm gonna find a way to let you have your way with me.

- 'Find a way' by Safetysuit

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The second we were cleared by flight control the pilot turned us right around and we flew back towards La Guardia. I clutched my phone in my hand as we descended onto the tarmac of the air strip, all but running towards the gate. I had to smother several times the impulse to snap at the security personnel who were clearing us as we went towards the exits; they were just doing their job, and the rational side of my brain knew that. But right now there was very little room for my rationality.

All I kept seeing was that news anchorage of the destruction in the streets of New York … and the sight of Iron Man with a nuclear missile strapped to his back flying up into what might well be oblivion.

The sobs still threatened to explode out of me. But my body had become that of an automaton; there was no space for anything else but rushing.

Rushing …

I had to hurry. I had to get to him.

My insides fairly locked up and yet my skin crawled. It felt like a hundred sharp needles were brushing over my flesh, raising goose-bumps here and piercing the skin there.

There was one single obsessive thought running through my head, it screamed at me from the inside: - don't let him be dead, please don't let him be dead, oh please oh please don't let him be dead!

Finally we cleared customs and then we were out in the arrivals hall. I wasn't thinking of my assistants so I don't know what they were doing, but I imagine they were harried and trying to keep up with me. Even when running in ten cm heels I was a force to be reckoned with. And there was still the obsessive thought in my head to focus on. I quickly hurried out towards the street, feeling close to screaming with the anxiety and the frustration that sickened my gut. I'd have to hail a cab since no one knew of our unexpected return, so the car wouldn't be waiting for us.

The afternoon sun glared mercilessly in a blinding burst of light, and for a moment it slowed my frantic pace, forcing me to shield my eyes.

And for a few moments I couldn't believe my own sight.

I stood there frozen in shock, my heartbeat going a hundred miles an hour. My breath stuttered and all the strength that had hitherto fuelled my mad dash seemed to drain out of me in one fell swoop.

Tony was standing a few feet in front of me, leaning casually on the car's side, arms crossed.

He was sharply dressed, his hair immaculate, his for-ever-present sun-glasses perched on his smooth, tanned face. My brain registered a few things despite the shock I was sustaining.

There was a small tilt to Tony's mouth, the one that surfaced when he was smiling at me; the smile that only I got to see.

My knees felt weak and wobbly.

He was there. He was okay. He was alive.

My body decided that what I needed right now more than anything was to touch his, to feel his strength and warmth, his vitality. Without knowing quite how I did it, I moved forward again, conscious of the weight of my bag in my hand slowing me down. I loosened my tight grip and let the bag land jarringly on the ground. I didn't care about that though, as I continued moving towards him, a hundred emotions rushing through me.

Tony's smile disappeared and he too must have been warring with an inner tumult, because he immediately straightened up, uncrossed his arms and quickly stepped forward.

We met halfway.

My body sagged the second I was in his arms and Tony held me up, his strong hands spanning my waist the only things that tied me down to the ground – the only things that kept me standing.

My face instinctively buried in the crook of his neck. I gratefully gulped his scent into my starved lungs, whilst my mouth tasted his skin. My hands gripped him closer to me, feeling his muscled shoulders under the expensive fabric of his jacket.

I think I must have been whimpering though I hadn't realised I was doing it. Tony held me to him, his head bent towards my own neck, his breath skimming my ear and ruffling my hair. I couldn't get enough. I wanted him to hold me tightly, I wanted to feel his body and his heart beating, and I wanted to run my mouth all over him, tasting him, gulping him in. it was greedy and needy, and weak, and totally inappropriate for the place we were in.

But that was all I could manage to worry about right now.

Tony either understood this very well, or felt the exact same way about me, because his hands caressed my back, my hips, my hair. I didn't care that we were most likely making a spectacle of ourselves. And neither did Tony. I leaned into him, seeking comfort like a child, gratefully letting his strength flow into me.

Thinking back on it now that my mind is clear, the way I adoringly pressed my face into his throat – the sheer strength and depth of my feelings in that moment – it stuns me.

And it is also a little frightening. I had never, not once in my whole time with him allowed myself that kind of reaction. But Tony took it in stride.

He was so gentle and tender in the way he held me and comforted me … He was my rock, my salvation. Losing him was unthinkable to me, and unbearable.

And he wanted me close, needed it as much as I did.

When we both looked at each other our faces were scant inches apart, almost kissing. Tony's eyes were intent on mine as he whispered to me, and his breath caressed my face.

"Let's go."

We were standing so close that we shared each others' breaths. I ignored the flashes in my peripheral vision and nodded. We clasped hands, intertwining our fingers in an unbreakable clasp. We retrieved my bag and stepped into the car. Tony pulled the hood up as cameras flashed dizzily around us, protecting our privacy from the paparazzi.

My head was turned towards him and my hand gripped his leg, needing the solid contact.

The press, the images they'd taken of us – unmistakeable in their clarity, two lovers reuniting, and the subsequent mess we would face for it … they were all distant in my mind, mere afterthoughts.

My eyes drank in his steady profile, so familiar and so dear a sight to me.

I sighed, letting all the tension drain out of me at the knowledge that he was safe and sound next to me.

When his hand wasn't shifting gears he let his palm skim on my thigh, but it was more a gesture of comfort than a sexual overture, and it had a soothing effect on us both.

I mustered the strength to speak, still looking at him.

"How did you know I'd be at the airport? There was no time to warn anyone of our arrival." Tony kept his eyes on the road, his grip smooth and controlled as he expertly steered the sports-car through the streets.

"I got a call from Teddy Marshall and he told me you'd had the plane double back to New York, the second you'd landed. I just happened to be here already."

I looked at him questioningly and he explained that he'd driven a fellow scientist to the airport after things had calmed down in the city.

There was a question that weighed heavily on my mind, smothering the breath in my chest, but I hesitated, not sure how to breach the subject, or even if I truly wanted to hear the answer.

I sighed heavily and then spoke, my voice sounding halting and unsure in the confines of the car.

"I had a missed call from you."

And that was it; that was all I seemed capable of saying, because my throat fused shut and refused to work. Swallowing became difficult.

A tic in Tony's jaw coupled with the sudden tension in his arms and shoulders spoke a thousand words to me. My breath hitched and I found myself one more fighting to contain the sobs that were trying to get out. My eyes blurred with tears, and I turned my away from him, feeling terrible shame. Tony's voice betrayed all that he bottled inside, though his words were sparse.

"I know. I … wanted to hear your voice … but then it cut off and the connection was lost."

I closed my eyes, feeling the scalding tears drop down my face, smothering my whimper with my hand, at the same time trying to smother the anguish rising within me.

I couldn't look at Tony now. I heard it all, even what he didn't say. And what he didn't say was: - I knew I was going to die, and I wanted to hear your voice one last time, a sweet send-off as I flew to my own demise. But you didn't have the courtesy of answering your phone. –

I heard all this … and felt my heart quiver with the pain and the shame. It seemed that life had been cruel enough to once again put us in this position: Tony knowing he was dying, trying to tell me – and me not understanding, not listening, not answering the phone.

I couldn't believe I'd done this to him again.

"Tony … I'm so sorry… I'm so sorry. I'm sorry!"

I felt his hand touch my own clasped hands and squeeze, his voice reassuring, soothing.

"I know. It's … not your fault. It's okay, Pepper."

I had to tell him.

I had to tell him why I didn't even hear the phone ringing; I couldn't let him think that I was too busy to talk to him, or that –

"I was watching, Tony. I saw the whole thing."

I saw from the corner of my eye that he whipped his head towards me. I turned back to face him, but he was already staring through the windshield.

"The jet was almost in DC air space when the TV news reports reached us. They were airing live the destruction that was tearing down-town Manhattan. And then they were streaming you … with a nuclear missile attached to your back, swerving between the aliens coming out of that hole in the sky… and you were heading straight towards it."

My voice broke, even though I'd been whispering. I cleared the constriction in my throat.

"I didn't notice that you were calling me. My phone was on silent… I was too busy watching you fly out there."

My instinct told me that I did the right thing by telling him; I knew that if I hadn't told him why, it would have caused a rift between us, and I could not allow that to happen.

Tony was silent for a few moments, seemingly concentrated on driving. I looked down, still facing him, and waited.

"I'm sorry, too. More sorry than you could ever know, that you had to see that. But there was no other way, Pepper."

He looked at me then, and I could see that his eyes willed me to understand.

And I did. I understood that he couldn't say more, I understood what he wasn't saying. I understood that it was the only way. I understood all of that.

Because he was Tony Stark expressing his feelings in words wasn't his forte. But I also knew that he was Iron Man, a hero … rescuing those who needed it, and at the cost of his own life.

I had to accept that part of him, too, if I was to love him.

And in that moment I was sure I had never been more proud of him, my iron hero. My brave, brave man.

He looked at me and I let my pride shine through on my face, clear for him to see.

"I understand, Tony."

His brown eyes were soft, vulnerable, pleading.

"Not just twelve percent?"

I smiled at him and he seemed mesmerised, as though he never wanted to look away, as though what I was about to say was of supreme importance to him.

I knew in my heart that it was.

"Not just twelve percent. All of it, Tony."

That seemed to give him exactly what he needed, what he'd been looking for.

My heart stuttered at the way he looked at me in that moment.

I knew then that he loved me every inch as much as I loved him. And I knew that we could do this; that despite the obstacles coming our way there was a chance for us, a real chance.

The next day when we stood together at the Holo-Desk looking at the Tower's rebuilding plans, there was a new sense of closeness between us. We were both in this for the long haul, and e both knew it. We both knew that as long as we were together no matter the obstacles that we would make it. That we would come back up fighting and stronger than before.

This was his life and mine too, now: and we would stand united and face everything together.

We looked at each other then. Tony cleared away one part of the holographic Tower structure and I cleared another.

And after that, we sealed our silent promise to each other with a kiss.

The End. R&R!

And thank you to all the lovely readers who are appreciating Tarnished and He will never play well with others, so much!