This is a different style of writing that I usually do; If it stinks I apologize. So, here we go. Pepperony fluff, take one! I own nothing, including the picture.

Tony might have pushed it a little bit with Natasha, but that time in California was not his fault. At least Natasha was on a mission then. The life of a genius-playboy-billionaire was hard sometimes. How was he supposed to know that they were going to push him in? He couldn't have been able to tell. So why did he feel so guilty about it, guilty for hurting Pepper?

Because Afghanistan was the thing that they were both trying so hard to forget.

It started innocently enough, just a day on the beach. Thor was discovering the wonder that was surfing, Loki was in jail discovering the wonder of toilets out in the open, and all the Avengers were generally having fun. After the war with Loki ('He's adopted.' -Thor) Tony had flown everyone down to one of Pepper and his favorite beach houses as a celebration. After getting happily arranged in the house, the team hit the beach. Clint was doing some kind of exploding-Frisbee-with-a-twist-training-thing that Tony just didn't want to know about, Pepper was sunbathing with Tony, Captain America and Thor were surfing together, and trying not to hit Bruce, who was swimming.

It had gone from that to a lazy picnic lunch, and then everybody but Pepper (who was sleeping) and Tony (who was trying to sneak back in to steal a scotch while Pepper was sleeping) decided that Tony needed to get wet. What was the point in having a beach house if you never swam in the ocean? Clint leaned down, and started to sketch his plans in the wet sand. He had just finished his extremely complicated explanation, and his excruciatingly detailed diagram, when a wave swept it all away.

"I do not understand the plan, Eye of Hawk!" complained Thor, "Do we draw squiggly lines on Man of Iron until a wave knocks him over?!" Clint rolled his eyes, then rephrased.

"This is the plan. Grab Tony, push him in, hold him under - but only for a couple seconds - and then let him go. Then run like hell, and hope that he never finds you." Thor understood that fairly well, so when Tony got back with his smuggled scotch they all jumped on him. At first, Tony teased lightheartedly with them, "Just don't spill the scotch," but got more worried as they reached closer to the water, "Funny... put me down now," until when they splashed into the water, "Guys, really... hehe... Stop." then to downright panic when they threw him under.

"PEPPE-" his head went under. The Avengers had expected some teasing, good natured splashes.

These were the thrashings of someone in dire pain. Tony kicked, bit, thrashed, bubbles flew up everywhere. His expression was one of panic, terror, horror. Tony's eyes were glazed over, and whatever he was seeing it was not them. He was in a different place, seeing something else.

Tony Stark looked like he was dying.

Surprised, everyone but Bruce let go. Shocked and transfixed, Bruce hung on and stared. That was about when a screaming/hysterical/murderous Pepper reached them. She flung Bruce backwards off into the surf, almost killing him. Pepper body-checked Thor out of the way, and kneed Clint in the groin because he was standing to close. Pepper crashed right to Tony like a homing beacon. Tony was still thrashing, a look of utter terror on his face.

He reached out for her like she was his only hope. She lifted him out of the water and then splashed inside. As she clutched a crying Tony to her chest, Tony seemed to be almost a five year old child clinging to Mom. Through a concussion-induced daze, Clint noticed Pepper was still wearing her high heels.

Who wears high-heels to a beach?

Tony sat inside on a chair, drinking the tea Pepper made him. She had wrapped him in a blanket, and went to go phone Natasha.

Well, that was embarrassing. No, that was not it. Well, that was terrifying. Much better. Tony remembered Afghanistan, and then wished he hadn't. Stupid Jericho missile. Worst thing I ever invented. They had attacked him, during a demonstration of his new product. He woke up later, as a hostage in the middle of the dessert.

I woke up later with shrapnel slowly working it's way into my heart via hole-in-chest, a car battery the only thing keeping it from killing me.

A freaking car battery, that he'd been obliged to carry around. His cell-mate, a doctor, had put it there. Back where he came from, those with shrapnel in their chests were called the waking dead. Why? Because there was nothing to be done for them, because it was only a matter of time before the shrapnel hit home. He and the doctor had hit it off. Despite car-battery differences, they had became friends.

They wanted him to build the missile he had been demonstrating, in order to kill thousands of innocent lives.

I didn't like that plan. Since he wouldn't build, they tried to wear him down.

Daily torture. Arms, grabbing him, pushing him forward. He couldn't move, wasn't strong enough compared to all of them. The barrel of water that he came to be scared of. Held under... no air... can't breathe... didn't stop... never stopped... they pulled him out before he passed out, he took a breath of air, they shoved him back in. Tony couldn't win either way, his heart in his throat, wishing it would stop.

It never stopped. Lungs burning, airless... It was either my life or countless others.

He told them he'd build the missile. The doctor was glad that Tony was alive. he was horrified Tony had agreed to build the missile.

Of course, I didn't build the missile. Instead, he built a arc reactor. The stupid car battery came out. The arc reactor was a circular device, glowing blue, with the power to keep the shrapnel out of his heart for 50 lifetimes. It glowed through his shirt, a circle reminding him that his time was limited. With that out of the way, he and the doctor built the first prototype Iron Man suit, and flew away with it. He lived.

The doctor didn't. The man, who saved Tony's life with a car battery, was gone forever.

Without even a proper burial, in the middle of nowhere. At least he was here, he could continue on. What would he have done without Pepper? Pepper, refusing to stop searching. Pepper, who never once doubted that Tony was alive. Pepper, who found him on a helicopter sweep.

Pepper Potts, the best thing that ever happened to him.

"We are so dead." whispered Captain, watching Pepper march over the sand dunes. She was on the phone, apparently with Natasha. As she hung up, they heard Natasha's voice.

"Yes, I agree with your decision. I will be on the first plane over to California." Pepper pocketed the phone, then scanned the crowd of shame-faced Avengers. She had the look of a lion, picking what gazelle deserved to die the most.

"Whose genius idea was it to make Tony PTSD?" demanded Pepper, "If I don't get a confession in 30 seconds, l will sick Natasha on you." Ouch. Clint couldn't think of more heat more terrifying, so he meekly raised his hand. Pepper turned her furious age on him, just as a confused Thor asked what PTSD was, and was Man Of Iron okay.

"PSTD: More commonly known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When events happen, they can cause the PTSD victim to remember the thing that happened to them. It terrifies them, sort of like a panic attack. In Tony's case, his trigger is having his heads submerged. A while back, how long ago now...? Tony was kidnapped. His kidnappers wanted him to build them a missile, but Tony refused. They tortured him, have you heard of water boarding? Until he escaped with the first Iron Man suit. It still hurts him, nightmares, but he will never admit it. He refused to go get examined at SHIELD medical, or any other hospital, so his PTSD had never been confirmed. However, I think it's safe to say that Tony has it." Peppers eyes got misty for a moment, like she was trying not to sniffle. "He is most definitely affected..."

Bruce shifted his weight awkwardly from foot to foot, and coughed. "Sorry, Pepper, I held on a little longer by accident. We didn't know that he would freak out like that. It's hard to believe that the legendary Iron Man would be afraid..."

"Afraid to get his head wet?" Challenged Pepper. Nobody answered her. " I don't blame you for not knowing. Except Clint, who definitely should have known. Isn't SHIELD supposed to know this kind of thing?" Clint shrugged.

We're not allowed it just waltz into the files department, and read all about whoever. It doesn't work like that. I didn't know, honest, or I wouldn't have done it. Will he be okay?" Pepper nodded.

"Yes, no thanks to you." Thor and Captain exchanged strange looks with each other. This wasn't the Pepper that they knew. Whatever happened in Afghanistan must have been harder then she let on, because they had never seen her this protective of Tony before.

Or as angry at them.

Natasha Romanaff was hard to scare. Nothing, seemingly, ever wore her down. She was a tough, hardened, beautiful, Russian spy.

Pepper Potts could really unnerve her at times.

Not a lot, really, but sometimes it was best just to do whatever she said. Natasha stomped over the sand, watching Pepper soothe and comfort a broken looking Tony. Outside, the Avengers were writing letters of apology to him.

It would have almost been funny, if it hadn't been so terribly unfunny. Natasha smoothed a curl of red hair behind her ear.

Time to go deal with Pepper.


"I can't believe that she grounded us." Complained Clint. "No phone privileges! And I can't go out after 7:00 for the next week!"

"Well, she didn't do that to US per say, she only did it to you." Countered Captain.

"She took away your shield." Grumbled Clint.

"I have to go apologize to Tony, as well," added Steve.

"My lab privileges! Gone! Shut up about your petty problems!" Bruce scowled, "I was on the verge of something big, to!"

"No pop tarts..." Thor pointed out, wistfully looking at the toaster on the counter. Natasha looked on, amused, at the Avengers complaining to each other about their punishments, as distributed by Pepper.

"Wimps. It's really not that bad." She interjected, not noticing Tony sneaking in behind her. Thor saw him, though. Thor was watching Tony, Tony watching Thor, as he grabbed the pop tart box and make away with it.

And at that moment, he knew that it was going to be a very long week.

So, what do you think? It's a bit darker in the beginning, but its going to lighten up later.