OK, first of all, I didn't write this story. I am posting these stories for a friend who is actually a published author, but for some reason I can't fathom, doesn't want people to know she writes fanfiction. When she has writer's block, she writes Iron Man fanfiction. Needless to say, she's suffered quite the writer's block at the moment. She's got something like 6 stories to post. It's a good thing her publisher doesn't know this is how she's spending her time, rather than finishing her book she's supposed to be working on.

Rated R for adult themes

Near miss in Dubai

The house in Dubai was packed with people. It was just after midnight and the party was still hopping, with no sign of slowing down.

Pepper Potts, Personal Administrative Assistant to Tony Stark, CEO of Stark Industries, meandered her way through the tumbling, partying bodies. It always amazed her, these parties, how utterly foolish some of these people could behave. She wasn't a prude, and enjoyed a good time herself, but even in college, or during her short stint as a model, she couldn't recall a time where she had ever become so inebriated or high that she allowed herself to behave the way most of these people were behaving. It was completely undignified. There wasn't a single person here who brought in less than six figures a year, more commonly seven or eight, and yet they were behaving in a way your average mother wouldn't let her four year old behave.

There was Dr. Brunson, with a cocktail in his hand, leaning heavily into some girl whom Pepper was pretty sure was a friend of his daughter's. The man operated one of the biggest healthcare clinic circuits in South Africa. There was stock mogul Lyman Toliver, whose fortune was quickly approaching Gates and Zuckerberg's, in a couple thousand dollar silk suit, jumping with two airhead girls into the swimming pool. Golf pro Marlo James was puking in the rose bushes again, about to collapse from drunkenness. Pepper sent a quick text to Happy letting him know so the security guys could go fish him out and put him away in a cab. He did this every party he came to.

The guest list rarely changed. Tony partied hard with some of the most powerful, wealthiest people in the world. These people were admired worldwide by the populace who revered them as financial, political wise gods. Oh, if only the scene before her could make the evening news! If most of the people here could stop dancing around like fools, sober up and do some serious brainstorming, Pepper was fairly certain they could change the face of the world and society as she knew it. Politicians, moguls, innovators, even royalty showed up at these things. And always surrounded by the same glitzy girls. Pepper referred to them as the "glitterati." Not a single woman here looked the way nature had intended. Everyone had had boob jobs, plastic surgery, new noses, dyed hair and so many layers of makeup they could outdo a birthday cake with extra icing. They wore outfits ringed with diamonds that barely covered them, they swooned over whatever rich man they could get to pay attention to them, most of them higher than kites. Their sole purpose in life was to get screwed by rich guys who might chunk a diamond bracelet at them here and there, and pay their living expenses. Ultimately, the goal was to marry one, punch out a couple of kids for insurance who would be sent to boarding schools and forgotten, only to grow up bitter and self centered to repeat the cycle, screw the cabana boy a couple of times, then divorce the rich bastard and take him for as much as she could and she'd be set for life. Pepper detested these women.

She especially detested how her boss Tony only went after these types of women. Granted, Tony wasn't into the commitment thing, and if he ever got the idea for it, these weren't the sort of women who were good for long term situations. Surely he must know that. But at events like these, Tony only thought with one part of his body and it wasn't his genius brain. Pepper didn't want to judge, but she knew he could be so much better than that. But he didn't seem to want to be, and her job was to remain sober and keep his parties going smoothly, keeping people out of serious trouble, sending home the ones too drunk to drive in cabs, ensuring there were enough condoms in the bedrooms, and facilitating the clean-up crew the next morning. She almost never slept from the moment the private jet landed to the moment it took off back to the States. She had learned to get what sleep she could on the plane and exist on coffee for the rest of the time. Tony had once admonished her that she should cut loose and enjoy the parties too, until she reminded him that she had had to stop a rape in progress upstairs at the last one, and had she or Happy been sloshed, Tony could very well have had a lawsuit on his hands, to say nothing of the fate of the girl involved. Pepper never wanted to be in anything less than full control of herself at these parties.

After smiling and laughing at a very non-funny joke from a Saudi prince who grabbed her arm as she passed by, she extracted herself politely and went to see what Tony was up to. She found him in the living room on a sofa surrounded by girls, clearly enjoying his king-like status with a personal harem around him. She didn't go up to him, he appeared to be ok. She knew in a matter of hours, if not sooner, he'd be upstairs with at least one, if not more of them, and once he was, she could relax a bit and start shooing people out and winding down the party. She headed back to the kitchen to make sure the caterers had everything they needed, then to the other side of the house to confer with Happy about having the DJ start to play some slower music to start winding people down, then headed back in Tony's general direction.

She ran into a young waiter from the catering staff that had been shadowing her all night. His job had been to carry around trays of drinks and pick up empty ones. She didn't recognize him, as he appeared to be new on staff with the service they usually used while in Dubai. He had spoken to her a few times, somewhat shyly, confessing that he had grown up in a small village and had come to Dubai to earn money for his family. He was young, in his late teens or early twenties, and seemed utterly astounded by the level of expense, and waste, going in to some of these parties. The expensive food left half eaten surely would feed most people in his village for several days. Pepper felt slightly ashamed, knowing the decadence surrounding her could have fed many starving people. It was one of the many reasons she enjoyed working with the Maria Stark Foundation as much as she could. The charitable branch of Stark Industries had been Tony's mother's pet project, funnelling a portion of the vast Stark fortune into programs that could benefit many disadvantaged communities, with scholarships, windmill powered water pumps in remote communities, de-worming medications to third world countries and green technology grants. It made Pepper's conscience about these kinds of events sting a little less, as she suspected it had for Maria Stark.

When she had struck up a few quick conversations with the waiter about the Foundation, he had seemed interested and had taken it as an invite to tail her most of the night. He seemed like a nice kid, but Pepper had work to do, and he was starting to become a little annoying. And he had kept trying to slide a drink into her hand all night, despite her protests that she was working and shouldn't be drinking. This time, though, since the party would probably be ending in a few hours or so, she politely took the offered drink from the young waiter, thanking him and ducking around a corner into the crowd before he could start talking to her again. She sipped absentmindedly on the drink, intending to put it down somewhere as soon as she could, when she noticed a heated argument starting up between two men about the World Cup. Swiftly, she stepped in between them and advised them to take it outside before security escorted them out. Grumbling, the two men retreated to the front yard and Pepper motioned to Happy's security staff member, Thomas, to follow them and make sure there was no further trouble. Sighing, she took a large sip of the drink, and then went to set it down on a sideboard. But just as she reached the wall, she felt an odd sensation creeping through her veins. Her head felt fuzzy and started to reel and her balance suddenly seemed off. She felt slightly nauseous, and her heart started pounding for no reason that she could see. Was she drunk? Surely not. She wasn't a teetotaller, and even though she only drank situationally, she could hold her liquor. She had only had a few sips of this drink. It couldn't have gone to her head that fast.

She leaned against the wall and held the glass up to the light. She felt her stomach go cold as she saw the half-dissolved pill at the bottom of it, the word "Roche" just barely still visible. Her mind did a quick spin of data: "Rohypnol" or known by the street name "Roofie," also known as the date rape drug. Dissolved in alcohol, it could render the user unconscious in a matter of 15 minutes, completely helpless. It could last from 8 to 12 hours. She had drunk about a third of the glass, and depending on the strength, it was probably already too late. She could feel her vision beginning to darken and dizziness starting to envelop her. To anyone looking, she would appear to be drunk, and no one would know she had been drugged. Who had given this to her? Had it been intended for her?

She looked up and looked around, trying to force herself to focus. On the other side of the room, she saw the young waiter. He was staring directly at her. But gone was the shy, endearing smile. Now he was looking at her the way a predator looks at his next meal. His eyes were cold and his smile sent shivers down her spine. Yes, it had been meant for her, and now she knew by whom. She didn't often misjudge people, but when she did, it was surely a major mistake. The waiter started walking towards her. No doubt, he intended to make it look like he was helping her, probably would take her to some out of the way room and what he would do to her next, Pepper could only imagine, but what she could imagine wasn't pretty. She had to get away from him. She had to get help. She looked around frantically for security, for Happy or Thomas or Marcus, anyone. But she could see no one. She knew they were probably still dealing with the two brawlers out front. She couldn't make it to the front door without tripping over prone bodies having their own orgy in the foyer. She was going to need another plan.

Tony. She'd go find Tony. He'd laugh at her for being so out of it, for seeing his prim and proper PA finally "cutting loose," but better that she lost consciousness in front of him rather than the waiter. She had to tell him what happened so he could at least find Happy. She shoved herself off the wall and stumbled away from the waiter, through the doorway and started to make her way across the house. She stumbled into people, who turned and, recognizing her, laughed derisively. Normally she would have been mortified, but now she didn't care. Screw all of them and their high class decadence, laughing at her like they had any room to be laughing at anyone, when one of them was wearing a tinfoil hat and the other was doing jello shots off some girl's stomach on the counter. She had been to frat parties with more class.

She felt her knees starting to go weak and she knew she didn't have much time. She felt fear creep up her spine as she frantically looked around the living room for Tony. He wasn't there. He wasn't where she had left him. Where was he? She needed him, she needed help. Then she heard his laughter from the backyard, and she could see him through the window dancing around drunkenly with some of the girls. She tried to step towards the door to the patio, but her heel caught the rug and she only just managed to catch herself, spilling half of the drink she didn't realize she was still carrying. She stood up and looked over her shoulder. The waiter was still stalking towards her slowly, having seen the fear in her eyes, and somehow sensing that he had her cornered.

Happy, where are you? she thought desperately. Tony, help. Someone help...

She wanted to cry. No one was going to help her. She was surrounded by people, and she was about to be assaulted, and no one would help her. No one would believe her if she tried to get anyone's attention. As noisy as the music was, most likely no one would even hear her. She was about to pass out, the waiter would catch her and quietly spirit her off to a secluded spot and all anyone would see would be the helpful staff discreetly removing yet another drunk woman from the scene. She was on her own.

Then a plan came to her. She wouldn't have much time, but she had to do it now while she still had the strength. She ducked around the corner and kicked her heels off under a chair. They were impeding her ability to walk, which was already wobbly, and she would need as much stability as she could manage. She was standing next to a china cabinet, and she carefully opened the door and set the glass inside, closing it back up. Whatever happened to her, she would need to leave evidence behind and the glass with the pill in it would be the only thing that could alert medical professionals to what had happened to her if she was unable to tell them herself. She looked up and saw the security camera in the corner, knowing the entire thing was being recorded. Deliberately, she pointed to the china cabinet and made a drinking motion, like she was drinking from a glass. Then she mouthed the word "waiter" as pronounced as she could, hoping anyone reviewing the tape would understand. Knowing the waiter was only moments from rounding the corner himself, she moved on, heading for the stairs.

She knocked into several people who shoved her back rudely, one nearly knocking her down, before she made it to the stairs. She overheard someone saying "Hey look, Pepper's sloshed! Has hell frozen over?" followed by laughter, but no one seemed inclined to come help her. Gripping the rail with both hands, she started to climb, half pulling herself up the stairs, mentally willing her wobbly legs not to collapse. She was having a hard time staying upright and her vision had narrowed to a tunnel and was starting to blur. Frantically, she pulled herself up, stubbing her toes on the marble stairs as her feet didn't quick lift as far up as they needed to in order to climb the stairs the first try. She was halfway up the stairs when she turned to look back. The waiter, who had lost sight of her and had backtracked to find her, was just rounding the corner into the room. He looked around, not seeing her immediately. She kept climbing and was nearly to the top when he spotted her and moved towards the stairs. She stumbled on the last stair and fell to the ground on the second floor, dragging herself away from the stairs. She could hear the waiter's footsteps on the stairs as she drug herself back to her feet and started for the bedroom at the end of the hall.

She knew it was just her imagination, but the hallway seemed to lengthen as she watched. She felt like she was walking in mud or quicksand, the way her feet dragged on the carpet, and no matter how many steps she took towards her goal, the door seemed only to retreat further away from her. Then she heard the waiter reach the top of the stairs.

"Going somewhere?" he asked with a smooth, deadly silky tone. "And I thought we had hit it off so well. There's no need to run, you know. There is nowhere to go anyway."

He started walking evenly towards her. Pepper was panicking now, breathing hard and trying to run, but she nearly tripped as she ran into a side table. She managed to catch herself, but she knew if she fell to the floor, she wouldn't be getting up again. He would catch her. She only had one shot at this and she needed to focus. She heard the unmistakable sounds of couples having sex in the bedrooms, and thought about calling out for help, but she knew it would go unheeded, just as the girl at the last party she had saved from being raped had been ignored, her cries unheard until Pepper had heard her herself while making a quick stop by the bathroom. Only no one would hear Pepper, because she would be unconscious. And given how she knew the waiter knew she had gotten a good look at him and could identify him, it would likely mean she wouldn't wake up. He would have his way with her, and then likely kill her. She steeled herself with determination and made one final lunge towards the door, her left hand falling on the knob.

"Where you going, girl?" he asked evilly. "Found a room for us? How thoughtful of you."

Pepper lifted her right hand in a daze and pressed it to a thumb reader next to the door. Although it only took a second, it seemed like forever before the scan recognized her and the lock opened. She jerked the knob and yanked the door open, throwing herself on the other side of the door and slamming her shoulder into it to close it. It locked automatically. The waiter had seen her dip behind the door and figured he'd have enough time to yank it back open before she could fumble it locked, and if it had been a normal door with a normal lock, he could have. Instead, she had managed to make her way to Tony's personal bedroom. He had installed the special lock to ensure no one except himself and Pepper and Happy could ever open it. There was a keypad with a numeric combination that could be entered if someone else needed to get inside, but the lock stayed locked by default. All the waiter got for his trouble, as he tried to lunge forward and stop the door closing, was a jammed thumb as the door nearly closed on his hand.

Pepper dropped to the floor exhausted, looking up at the door in fear as the waiter screamed curses in Arabic and called her every name imaginable in English. She half expected the door to fly open and the wrathful waiter to come in and grab her. But the door held, despite his pounding. She was safe, for the moment. She was on her back, and she scooted herself up, scuttling backwards on her butt away from the door towards the bed. There was no phone in here, and she needed to get help. Even though the waiter was on the other side of a secure door, he could wait for her, or try and break it down. Plus she was drugged and in need of medical attention. Improperly administered date rape drugs with alcohol had been known to kill some girls. She searched her pockets with trembling hands for her blackberry, but to her horror, she discovered it was gone. She must have dropped it somewhere. She fought back tears as she swam in and out of consciousness. There was nothing she could do now.

She could only wait for someone to find her. And given the way the security on this room was set up, she could be reasonable assured it would be either Tony or Happy, two men who would not hurt her. Anyone else might take advantage of her, passed out cold. She could still end up dying from an overdose. But she wasn't going to be raped, at least. She pulled herself up onto the bed and collapsed, giving in to the darkness, mildly comforted by the fact that if this was her last breath, at least it was going to be surrounded by Tony's essence, his scent, and some measure of his presence. She was unconscious before she even could chastise herself for how unprofessional she was, admitting to that idea about her playboy boss, who certainly didn't feel the same about her. He couldn't

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Happy Hogan and his two most trusted security men, Thomas and Marcus, stood watching the two cabs go off in different directions. The two brawling soccer fans had finally been dealt with, and the party was starting to lose steam. Happy had originally thought of these parties as fun, a chance to rub shoulders with some very rich and powerful people, and more than one girl who otherwise wouldn't have glanced twice at him had ended up with him for the night, having not caught Tony's eye. It didn't happen often, but Happy didn't mind ending up with Tony's castoffs. It was still better than what he could drum up in bars or on his own. But after a decade, the parties were getting old. They never changed, and the people always acted like fools, and he was expected to clean up. Thankfully Pepper was efficient at managing these things, and there was rarely any real trouble. But Happy was tired, and the party was cumbersome. He was ready to call it a night and he hoped Tony was bedded down with a girl somewhere so they could justify doing so. He pulled out his phone to call Pepper and let her know the trouble had been dealt with and to ask if Tony was settled in so they could end the party.

But her phone rang until it went to voicemail. That was odd, Pepper usually walked around with the thing in her hand. Surely she must have seen his call? She might be dealing with another problem. With a motion to his two men, Happy turned and went back inside to find Pepper. To his dismay, he saw Tony coming in from the patio, obviously not bedded down yet. He had two girls on his arm, though, so it might be soon. He told Thomas and Marcus to find Pepper, and started looking for her himself. At first, Happy was sure he must just be missing Pepper as she moved around the party. There were still a lot of people here, and she must be somewhere in the crowd. But on the third circuit around the house, passing both Thomas and Marcus twice, and seeing no sign of Pepper's usually easy to spot red hair, Happy began to worry. Marcus came over to him to tell him he couldn't find Pepper anywhere, not even outside. Thomas texted him to say the same. Now Happy was starting to worry.

"Could she be upstairs?" asked Marcus. "Maybe with someone...?"

"That's not Pepper's usual style," said Happy. "And certainly not with the party still swinging. But go up and check anyway."

Marcus turned and sped up the stairs. Happy was glad to send him. If Pepper was getting it on with someone, he really didn't want to be the one to walk in on her. He harboured a minor crush on her, and really didn't want his mind filled with that mental image of her, nor be the one to disturb her if that were the case. He respected her and planned to keep it that way. He knew Pepper was no nun, but casual sex wasn't really her style. She didn't date much, and neither did he. Taking care of Tony Stark wasn't a job, it was a lifestyle. There just wasn't much time for a personal life. Like Happy, Pepper had, on occasion, hooked up with someone at these parties, but it had only been twice that Happy knew of, and had been in the earlier years. Both occasions had involved men she had known for some time, having crossed paths at the parties, and both times, she had ensured everyone was out of the house safely, that Tony was in his room and likely to stay there for several hours, and that there was nothing further she needed to do until morning. Neither hook up had led to any kind of relationship and she had more or less kept to herself in the last five years, leaving the one night stands to her male co-workers and tending to retreat to her room alone to read until she fell asleep. She simply would not have left an on-going party for a quick fling upstairs. She just wouldn't have.

Marcus appeared at the top of the stairs and shook his head. She wasn't in any of the rooms. Thomas appeared at Happy's side and confirmed that he couldn't find her downstairs either. Was she simply not in the house? What had happened to her? Now Happy was really worried. He turned to Thomas and sent him to the security room, telling him to look at the security tapes and find out what happened to Pepper. Thomas sped off as Tony lumbered past Happy with a giggling girl on each arm, heading for the stairs. Obviously he was ready to go up for his own party.

"Hey Tony," said Happy, grabbing his boss' arm as he walked past. "We've got a problem. We can't find Pepper. She's nowhere. Have you seen her?"

Tony stopped, slightly drunk, and looked at Happy, unsure of what had just been said. "She's around somewhere. She's probably digging Marlo James out of the rosebushes again. Have you looked there?" Tony turned to go.

"No, boss. We have. She's not there. We can't find her anywhere. It's like she vanished." Happy was starting to panic a little now.

"She's gotta be somewhere, Hap," said Tony, not really concerned, and turning back to the two girls who were looking impatient. "If you don't find her in a few, let me know." he took the girls and headed up the stairs.

For the first time in a long time, Happy actually felt some anger towards Tony. How could he not care? Pepper could be in danger. He turned and stormed off to the DJ and told him to make the final dance call and to announce for Pepper to come to the stairs. It was time to get everyone out of here. Surely Pepper would turn up then.

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Tony had only half-listened to Happy telling him Pepper couldn't be found. He hadn't really registered that Happy wouldn't be telling him this unless they had already extensively looked for Pepper, not with his attention on the two girls and the impending fun he was about to have. Tony figured she was probably just in the bathroom or in her room off to the side of the house, but he had to admit, it was weird for nobody to be able to find her. Her red hair was like a flag in any room she was in, plus she was tall and hard to miss. He shook off the thought as one of the girls grabbed his butt as they made their way down the hall to his secure room. This was going to be fun. He pressed his thumb to the scanner, opening the lock, and guiding the two girls inside.

The lights were automatically set to dim, so it was a little difficult to see inside. The girls giggled some more and pressed up to him as he steered them towards the bed.

And froze.

There, on his bed, was a sight he never thought he'd see. His PA, Pepper Potts, on his bed, asleep. Tony stifled a laugh of disbelief. Pepper, asleep on his bed? Pepper asleep during a party? On his bed, and not her own? Was she sick or something? His fuzzy brain figured he must be dreaming. No wonder nobody could find her. Only he and Happy would have had access to this room besides her. But why come here? Had she been waiting for him, he wondered? Had she finally changed her mind about brushing him off as she had all these years and decided to surprise him by giving in and waiting for him up here? It didn't really seem like Pepper's way, but few things surprised him these days.

The girls muffled noises of surprise, seeing another woman on Tony's bed, albeit fully clothed. Tony laughed nervously.

"Well well," he said. "How about this? I never pegged Pepper being up for a threesome."

The girls laughed a bit, but clearly weren't happy to see her there. Tony was a bit torn. He knew he had a not so secret crush on his PA, and her constant refusals to him for the last 7 years had been mystifying to him. No woman had ever really turned him down, and certainly not for so long. He had just figured she wasn't into him the way he was to her. But secretly, he was hurt, and not just because she was refusing to be a conquest and he was used to getting what he wanted. Deep down, he knew Pepper would be different, something "real." It wouldn't be just sex with her. There would be real emotion behind it, real bonding. She was his friend and he had to admit he cared about her, in a way that could quickly become something more. It scared him a bit, to know that he actually cared for her that way. It gave her power over him, something she didn't even know she had, and it scared him. In some ways, he was secretly relieved she rolled her eyes at his come-ons and smiled with amusement at his not so subtle suggestions that she join him in his bed, or flat out told him no, and to get over himself. Over the years, he had taken to propositioning her in the form of jokes, which they could both laugh off when she refused to save face, but could easily turn serious if she ever accepted. If she were to sit up right now and say she wanted him here and now, alone, he knew he'd send these girls packing without a backwards glance.

He leaned over the bed and gently shook her. "Hey Potts. Sleeping on the job now? You know that's grounds for a pay cut."

She didn't open her eyes or even stir.

He shook her a little harder. "Hey Pep, come on, wake up. You're missing the party."

Nothing. Not even a twitch.

Tony frowned. He took off his glasses and tossed them aside. "Pepper?" he asked with more concern. "Pepper, you ok?" He shook her again, but his concern turned to alarm when her head lolled against her chest, making it difficult for her to breathe. If she was breathing at all. She never opened her eyes or even whimpered. No one slept this deeply.

OK, now he was scared. His not so gentle shaking turned to real shoves. "Pepper!" He yelled. "Pepper, wake up!"

He climbed on the bed with her and leaned down to listen for her breathing. He nearly threw up when he couldn't detect a breath. Then he did hear a small rush of air from her, and the urge retreated. She was breathing. But why was she so unresponsive? The girls had retreated to the door in fear, their giggling gone, and the lust in their eyes replaced with a look that clearly said they were ready to run from this unpleasant scene, sure they were witnessing someone dying of a drug overdose. Tony had already forgotten them.

Then, the girls yelped in fear as the door burst open and Happy came running in.

"Boss, Pepper's….." He stopped and looked at the scene before him, Pepper unconscious on the bed, Tony leaning over her, and the two girls quickly beating a hasty retreat out the door.

"Hap, something's wrong with Pepper!" Tony said frantically. "She won't wake up! I found her here, I have no idea what happened."

"I had my guys reviewing the security cams to see where she went," said Happy. "Thomas saw her start staggering, and then stumbling her way through the party, then up the stairs. She was drinking something, and she hid it in a cabinet. We found her shoes nearby and her blackberry at the top of the stairs. Looked like some guy on the wait staff was following her. She made it here, but just barely. She got inside the room and the guy banged on the door a bit, then left. Looks like he drugged her with the drink. Thomas found it in the cabinet and saved it."

Tony looked up from Pepper in alarm. Someone had drugged her? And she had had to come up here on her own to keep herself from being assaulted? Hot anger rose in Tony's chest and he felt his face flush. How dare someone do this? In his house? To his assistant? His Pepper?

(she's not yours)

He shook his head to clear it. He felt slightly murderous. He wanted to see that tape. He wanted to see the face of who had done this. Who had dared to. But first things first. He had to make sure Pepper was ok and the bastard was arrested.

"Do you know where the fucker is?" he asked coldly.

Happy flinched. Tony, for all his faults, wasn't prone to cursing like that. "Marcus is looking for him. He shouldn't be hard to find, if he's even still around. He's questioning the caterers too."

"Find Dr. Brunson, if he's even still sober. Get him up here to check her out. If he isn't sober, find another doctor. There should be a few around here. Get someone up here to make sure she's ok. We may need to bring her to the hospital. And call the police, get someone investigating this. And get these people out of my house. Party's over, as of now." Tony turned back to Pepper, holding his hand in front of her nose to verify that she was still breathing, feeling her weak pulse in her neck, running his fingertips over her cheek.

Happy nodded and turned to head downstairs to carry out Tony's orders.

Tony stared down at Pepper. She seemed so peaceful. What had she been through tonight? She must have been terrified. Later, when he would watch the security footage of her desperately trying to get to safety, the irony of it being the bedroom of a known playboy being "safe" to her not lost on him, he was fight back tears and a growl of rage at the sight of her being pursued by a predator, frantically trying to save herself….because he wasn't there. He would blink back tears of rage and despair at the fear on her face. While she had been desperately trying to save her own life, he had been cavorting in the garden with a couple of girls who faces he couldn't remember, much less any names. She had needed help, and he hadn't been there. Neither had Happy, but Happy had been dealing with some disruptive guests, and had a real reason. No, Tony blamed himself. If something had happened to her, if she hadn't gotten to safety in time…No, he couldn't think about that. He shuddered inwardly to think how she would have been found, if she would ever be found.

He brushed a strand of hair back from her face. God she was so beautiful, he felt his heart swell with emotion, but he forced it back down. He couldn't afford this now. She didn't feel the same way about him. He didn't have any time to further contemplate this, because Dr. Brunson came rushing in behind Happy, and thankfully seemed sober enough to examine Pepper. Tony jumped out of the way as the doctor rolled her over and dug a small flashlight out of his pocket to check her pupil response, then her pulse. She never budged as he pried her eyelids open to shine the light in her eyes.

As Tony watched, Happy informed him that Thomas and Marcus were herding everyone out. The rest of security were sweeping the grounds to ensure everyone was leaving, and looking for the waiter. The police had arrived and wanted to talk to Tony, and were questioning some guests. Another member of security was reviewing the tapes with the cops for the report. One police officer came in and asked to speak to Tony. Happy stepped aside and Tony did what he could to answer the questions, not able to say much, but never taking his eyes off Pepper. When the officer finished with Tony, he questioned Happy, and then asked some questions about Pepper's condition.

Dr. Brunson stood up and said "Well, she's lucky. She seems to be stable for now. Her vitals are a little weak, but not in the danger zone. Her breathing is a little shallow, but that's to be expected. It's a good thing she didn't drink the entire drink. It might have killed her. Stopped her heart most likely."

Tony swallowed hard.

"She really just needs to sleep it off," the doctor continued. "She probably doesn't need to go to the hospital, but she shouldn't be left alone. Someone should stay with her until she wakes up. Keep an eye on her. She could be out for another 8 hours, but if she doesn't wake up by noon tomorrow, or if her breathing gets worse, or her pulse gets weaker, call for help right away. She might not remember much when she wakes up."

"I can stay with her, boss," said Happy. "You should get some sleep somewhere."

"No," said Tony. "I'll stay with her. Can you handle the details here?"

Happy nodded. Tony shook the doctor's hand as he left, and the officer's as he left. Happy ushered everyone out, speaking to the security man on his team who had finished ushering out all the copulating couples from the upstairs rooms.

After another hour or so, the police departed, and the last party guest was gone. Happy came up to tell Tony the waiter had vanished, although the catering company had provided his address to the police. He would likely be apprehended the next day or so. Happy would deal with the cleaning crew in a couple of hours, but planned to catch a few winks on a sofa downstairs. Assuring Tony to call for him if he needed anything, he left the room, leaving Tony to pull off his shoes and get comfortable for a night of keeping an eye on Pepper. He had pulled off the light dress jacket that had covered her outfit and tucked a blanket around her before stretching out beside her.

He stared at her face, still lost in calm repose. It was rare that he got to see Pepper like this, asleep and without the usual stress lines around her face. She wasn't typically the kind of woman he sought out. Her hair was still its natural color, a vivid shade of blondish red. She had on makeup, but it was very light, only just smoothing out her freckles and little more. Her blue eyes were vivid, and always met his eyes in a steady gaze, when most women coyly looked away or sideways at him, usually being unable to take the intensity of his stare. Pepper met him head on. She never sidled up to him, but always squared off, confident in herself, but with no ulterior motives. It was disarming, but alluring.

There were many adjectives he used to describe the women who typically ended up in bed with him, only to be gone the next morning. "Hot, sexy, gorgeous, smoking, ect." He might even use the word "beautiful," but truthfully, few women justified that term for him. Pepper was beautiful, in every sense of the word. She was smart, pretty, and powerful in her own right. And she could take him. He felt uplifted around her.

He lightly brushed his fingertips over her face, tracing her lines and dips. He brushed them over her lips gently. He knew she would never allow this from him if she were awake, and briefly, the thought flashed through his mind that he really could do anything he wanted with her right now, and she probably would never know. But he stomped that thought down forcefully. That was exactly what the waiter had intended to do to her and he refused to even entertain such a thought. He was disgusted with himself for even allowing it to surface. No, if anything happened between him and Pepper, he wanted her awake, willing and actively participating. The thought that this could be his only chance lingered in his mind, but he pushed it away. Even if it was his only chance, even if she said no until the day she died, it was still her choice.

He wanted to draw her to him, to hold her, but he didn't do that either. Even that would be against what she would choose for herself. Instead, he snuggled as close to her as he dared and listened to her light breathing. Somewhere in the hours that followed, his own eyes closed.

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Pepper awoke to the worst headache she had ever had. She whimpered lightly, which turned into a moan as she rolled to her back, feeling as if church bells were ringing in her head. She forced one eye open and looked around. She was in Tony's room in the house in Dubai. How had she ended up here? Had something happened?

She tried to sit up but her pain in her head slammed her back down to the pillow and she rolled slightly into someone. Turning her head, she saw Tony beside her, asleep. Her breath caught in her throat. What had she done?

Then she noticed they were both fully clothed. She tried to recall how she had ended up here, and after a minute or two, she remembered. The waiter. The drink. Being drugged. Running away. Making it in the room. Blackness.

"Tony," she rasped out, her throat feeling like sandpaper. "Tony!"

Tony's eyes flew open and in an instant, he was upright, leaning over her. He looked down into her face, feeling utter relief surge through her as her blue eyes met his, even though they were cloudy.

"Hey Pepperjack," he teased, using one of his nicknames for her nickname. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I've been hit by a freight train," she whimpered. "Tony…the waiter…it was…."

"Shhhh," he said. "Yeah we know. Happy got everyone out and we called the cops. They're looking for him. And Dr. Brunson said you should be fine, you just need rest. And probably some breakfast."

Pepper's eyes slid closed again and she sighed.

Tony gathered his thoughts for a second, feeling a strong warmth around his heart, before coming to a decision. "Pepper?" he said, looking at her as her eyes opened. "Look, it's my fault, I should have been there. You needed help and I…I mean…what I'm trying to say is, you're my best friend, and I don't want to see you hurt. I mean, it just pissed me off that anyone could hurt you, and I….well….I want you to know that I….Jesus, you scared me. I thought you were gone, and I….."

Pepper stared into his eyes, feeling an intense emotion gathering between them, and was about to respond when there was a light tapping at the door.

The moment was broken.

Happy walked in and grinned at the sight of Pepper awake.

"Hey guys," he said cheerfully, not knowing Tony was contemplating strangling him for interrupting. "Just wanted to let you know, the cops found the bastard. They said if we want to press charges, come by and fill out a report before we head back."

Tony and Pepper both sighed in relief, and slight resignation. Pepper moved to get up and Tony helped her to her feet. She was still wobbly.

"I'm going to go take a shower," she said a bit weakly. "Guys. Thanks" She gave them looks of gratitude before shuffling out towards her own room. Tony watched her go with heaviness.

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By later that afternoon, Pepper felt well enough to go to the police station and file the report. Given that everything had gone down on video, it was a pretty open and shut case. But the flight home was somber. Tony usually spent the entire flight cavorting with the flight attendants or playing video games or working on some complicated technological innovation on his holo imager. Pepper usually spent it asleep in the front of the plane. But this time, there was no cavorting. Everyone just stared at each other, making small talk, trying not to think about what had happened. Tony knew how close he had come to admitting feelings for Pepper. She knew how close she had come to hearing them, to say nothing of nearly being assaulted. They avoided each other's gaze, but occasionally looked up to catch the other staring before looking away. Something had changed. They both knew it.