Written a while back and posted over at LJ. Meant to post it here but somehow overlooked it. I currently have another TonyPepper short in the works, so look for it soon! Enjoy! :)

- Dis/Claimer -

. Hero .

Pepper climbed out onto the charred metal grate, one of her ankles bending awkwardly after getting caught in it. She tried to tug it out desperately, but she ultimately unbuckled the strap in a hurry, stumbling further onto the unstable, warped hot metal under her now bare foot. With a wince and a whimper, she bit her lip another ten agonizing feet to where her boss lay motionless, the better part of his body encased in his heavily damaged suit of scuffed gold and red.

"Tony. Oh my god," she breathed, suddenly victim to an overwhelming emotional pull. Her throat tightened and her eyes began to sting as she carefully approached him, tucking her feet under her once she reached his side. His arc reactor flickered with faint hope, disheartening her spirits slightly more.

"Tony? Can you hear me?" she asked, fearful of the silence that would follow. She hung her head and snapped her eyes shut, saying a prayer she wasn't sure would be answered. After half a moment, her eyes opened again, and her hand nervously shot out towards his throat. She took a deep breath and held it as she gently pressed her fingers into the underside of his jaw. His pulse was weak.

A pulse nonetheless.

Thank God.

Pepper glanced at the arc reactor's fading glow. A surge of panic ran up her arms, back, and into her head, tingling all the way. She tapped it a time or two, but it did not seem to be affected by her actions.

"Tony; Tony, wake up," she insisted with her best, firm assistant tone. "Wake up now." She got her hands under his head and gently raised it, resting it on her knees for the time being. She searched for some magic button that might release him from the mangled body armor so she could better access the arc reactor, but no such button presented itself. She sighed despondently, feeling dragged under by the relentless power of defeat.

"HELP!" she shouted as loud and long as her lungs could withstand it. She blinked tearfully, looking down through the grate for any sign of life. "Help, we need help! Somebody!"

Pepper felt her chest heave in a manner that would lead her to eventually sob; short, shallow, concise breaths that, when paired with her erratic heartbeat, made her body want to shut down and explode at the same time. She looked back down at Tony in his dismal state and felt a painful sob building deep in her chest she would not allow to surface; it would seem too final to do so.

Please, Tony… Please don't do this. I-

Her eyes flashed then; Tony's brow had creased, registering a brief but viable look of discomfort. A spark sent Pepper's mind alight again as she carefully touched the side of his face, poised and ready for anything that he needed (as always, she thought ironically).

"Tony? Tony, wake up, it's going to be okay," her voice said, floating into his blurry mental imagery. He scrunched his face a little more before opening his eyes gingerly, blinking excessively.

"Are you okay?" Pepper asked quickly, grazing her finger along the skin of his forehead for any injuries. "I don't see anything too bad, but we need to get you to a hospital."

Tony harrumphed with amusement; she had the overly concerned voice of his mother sometimes.

"M'fine," he managed, squinting a little. Pepper traced his eyebrow, the soft, uneven blade of her broken fingernail mingling with the roots of some of the slightly singed hair. His eyes adjusted rather quickly, and he looked up at Pepper and her watery smile she could no longer withhold, taking no time to quirk a questionable eyebrow at her.

"More tears for your flame broiled boss? And a lap pillow?" He coughed, feeling very drowsy still. "I'm not gonna lie; I could learn to like this too much."

Pepper gave into a small laugh to relieve her body of all its sudden anxieties, but she decided not to comment and evened out her voice to the best of her abilities. "Don't try to move just yet; I want to get you to a doctor and out of this ridiculous… armor, suit thing."

Tony let a sly smile slip onto his tired face. "Mmm…"

"That is not to be taken out of context," Pepper said immediately, realizing that she had set herself up for it. "This is serious. You're hurt." Tony's smirk morphed into a pout for sympathy, but that was short-lived, as he felt the hot metal near his wrist give him a burn and gasped.

"Ouch! Damn." He tried to lift his hand gingerly, but it was too heavy for him to accomplish the task. The arm fell to the grate with a clunk, leaving him short of breath. "I… gotta fix that…Can't roast in… my own suit."

Pepper shook her head. "This thing…" Her eyes fell on the dying light of the arc reactor again, her heart tensing."Tony, your reactor."

He nodded just, finding it difficult to breathe now. "It's… it's gonna be fine, Pepper."

His tone was less than reassuring, and the light fizzled ever dimmer to break any confidence she had. "I don't think I can agree with you." She couldn't take her eyes off of it. Watching the glow die was the cowardly way of looking at his pained face.

"Why?" he asked on the air of an exhale.

"You don't have another!" Pepper said, the alarm rising significantly in her voice as the reactor stayed dim for one long moment. "Oh… Tony, can you sit up? You have to get out of here now."

"In a second," he said, allowing his eyes to shut a little.

Fear seized Pepper at this, twisting her stomach into knots and causing her heart to skip several beats at a time. She tapped on the warm shoulder of the suit, try to block out the awful smell of the molten metal around her. "Keep your eyes open, Tony, I mean it."

He fell silent. With a sudden rib-shaking sob, she kept tapping his shoulder urgently. "I mean it, right now!"

Then, a constant beam of light illuminated her distressed face, and she stared at the arc reactor. The brightness of it softened back into its familiar glow, and when it did not break its steady for a whole five seconds, Pepper felt relief flood her.

Tony opened his eyes at her sharp gasps of disbelief. There was no better sense of comfort, care, or protection than he felt now from the world's most dedicated assistant. He made a mental note to get her an uncalled for-sized plaque.

"See?" he said at her quiet, gracious smile. "It's going to be fine."

"Let's get you out of here," she said at length. Pepper was ready to stand, but Tony found strength to lift his arm and catch her wrist in his weak grasp. She stopped with a different sense of dread, looking him over cautiously.

"Wait for Rhodey," he said, and she eased back down. "Besides, lap pillows beat any… hospital pillow- Am I really going to a hospital?"

"You can't use the captivity excuse this time," Pepper reminded him sternly. "You're going."

"Only if this is my pillow," he said as he lolled his head from side to side. A laugh rushed out of Pepper's lungs.

"You are liking this too much."

"So say it," he said expectantly, earning a strange look from her.

"Say… what?" She really hoped he was not implying-

"Say that I saved you and I'm your hero… I need to hear this stuff, come on."

"You saved me," she said with a humorous smile, mocking a school kid's verbatim.


"You're my hero."

The sentence hung in the air longer than intended, the silence filled with dark brown eyes intensely captivating her own. She gave a tiny smile of fond admiration, feeling its truth regenerate her troubled and tiresome heart.

"Am I really?" Tony spoke above a whisper with a serious touch to the question.

Pepper smiled before she knew she had, nodding gently as a helicopter roared overhead with a bright searchlight.

"You really are."

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