Title: All That Counts

Author: Shannon – shannyfish

Disclaimer: Iron Man and Avengers do not belong to me, but Marvel Entertainment and Disney. This is for entertainment purposes only.

Rating: PG-13 (for now)

Summary: Pepper accompanies Tony everywhere. The weapons demonstration for the military in Afghanistan is no different. An AU to "Iron Man".

Warning: none

Author's Note: I know this plotline has been done before, but hopefully this comes out as something different. Constructive criticism is as always appreciated! Check out my blog on my writing at

. . .

"Letting it get to you. You know what that's called? Being alive. Best thing there is. Being alive right now is all that counts." -The Doctor ('The Doctor's Wife')

. . .

The screams seemed unending. She covered her ears as the tears flowed fluidly down her cheeks and the sobs escaped her chest. Covering her ears only muffled the screams, they didn't make them stop. She screwed her eyes shut and tried to imagine that they were home.

She wanted a happy thought.

No matter how much Tony frustrated her or pissed her off, no one deserved what Tony was going through. She wished that she could help, but Yinsen had told her that he'd call for her if he needed her help.

He hadn't called.

Tony had just continued to scream.

Having her eyes shut didn't help things either. All she could see was Tony's face…turning ashen as the life seemed to leave him. The blood that seeped from his lightweight Stark Industries Kevlar vest that he'd worn under his suit. She remembered the missile that had landed near them and the logo. She wondered if this was karma biting them in the ass after selling weapons…and Stark weapons obviously getting into the wrong hands. She just hoped that they'd fallen into the wrong hands…as far as she knew they weren't selling to enemies of the United States.

She remembered screaming his name as she ran to his side. She'd been slightly ahead of him and had gotten away practically unharmed. There was some shrapnel in her arm, but Yinsen had glanced at it long enough to tell her that it wasn't anything life threatening. She'd barely bled and hadn't wanted him to fuss over her, not when Tony was in such bad shape. Because she remembered that he was so much worse than just blood loss and his pallor. She'd been at his side when Yinsen had removed the vest. There was shrapnel imbedded into his chest…and dangerously close to his heart and lungs. Yinsen had promised that he'd do all he could to keep Tony alive.

She just hoped that it was enough.

Pepper sat in a dark corner and just waited. Her name wasn't called, but the screaming eventually stopped. Her heart sank as she opened her eyes, dropped her hands from her ears, and looked in the direction that Yinsen had been working on Tony. Was he okay? Was he dead? Her heart started to speed up as all of the thoughts started to spin in her head. She felt sick and dizzy.

"Ms. Potts."

She got to her feet and walked slowly towards the voice. Normally the only person who called her like that was Tony, but this time…it was Yinsen's voice. Pepper gasped when Tony came into sight. "What have you done?" she asked in horror. It was like Tony's chest had been opened up and something crude had been just dropped in it. It looked like a bomb. Like a bomb made of scraps…which she supposed was all they had there.

"The shrapnel…there was too much of it that was close to his heart," Yinsen explained as he gestured to his own chest. "Right now, he's alive…that's the important thing."

"But…what is it?" Pepper demanded. "Is it some kind of bomb? What do you want?" Her mind reeled as she tried to think of how this could get them anywhere. Did they want something from Stark Industries? More weapons? Ransom? She didn't see how this was helping.

Yinsen frowned at her. "I told you. I am a prisoner here as well," he said calmly. "This is not a bomb," he said as he tapped Tony's chest. "It's an electro-magnet…" His fingers followed the wires down to the car battery that sat nearby. "It's keeping the shrapnel from entering his heart… It was the best I could do."

Pepper gasped as the realization of how close to death Tony came hit her. She covered her mouth and more tears fell from her eyes. She turned away and tried to tell herself that she needed to calm down. She needed to stay calm for Tony. She turned back and tried to sound calm. "He's going to be okay, though, right?"

"Mr. Stark should wake up in a while…" Yinsen told her. "Though, the pain will be intense for some time as long as they do not supply me with pain killers…" Yinsen was quiet for a moment and then pointed at her. "And you… You must be very careful with these men… You need to be silent when they are in the room and do as I tell you… They will not lose any sleep over hurting or killing a woman…"

She watched international news. She knew how women were treated in Afghanistan, if that was still where they were. Pepper hadn't wanted to worry about it. She was still so worried about Tony. He was her boss, yes. He drove her crazy on a daily basis… But that didn't mean that she didn't care about him. He did far more than act as his personal assistant…she kept him alive and she tried to steer him in the direction of better choices when she could. So, Pepper nodded. She understood and appreciated what Yinsen was trying to do.

"Can I sit with him?" she asked.

"It may ease him to know that someone is here that he knows… Talking to him…" Yinsen told her. "I am going to go wash up in the meantime."

Pepper nodded. She sat down on the ground next to the cot and then looked up at the retreating form of Yinsen. "Doctor Yinsen?"

"Just Yinsen is fine," he told her as he turned back to look at her.

"Thank you," she said quietly.

"You are welcome," Yinsen told her. "Though, I'm not sure how thankful Mr. Stark will be once he wakes…" He turned and continued back to where he had originally been heading.

Pepper turned back to Tony. He looked so still. Pepper didn't think she'd ever seen him so still. She looked at the crude magnet that had been implanted in his chest to keep him alive. She wasn't sure how he'd react, but she was thankful for Yinsen's ingenuity.

"Tony," she whispered and her voice cracked. She covered her mouth and tried to keep the tears at bay. He needs to hear a happy and familiar voice, she tried to tell herself. Crying was not going to do him any good. "Tony," Pepper tried again. "I'm here… I'm here when you're ready to open your eyes…" She felt silly for a moment. "I'm here whenever you're ready to rant or whatever you need to do… But you need to hold on… Rhodey's going to be here soon with the whole of the US military…" And she hoped to God that was true.

He was Tony Stark.

There had to be a rescue.

"And I'm sure you have a date lined up back home," she whispered. Pepper reached out and brushed the dark locks away from his face. Tony always had a new woman every night and she was the one that always had to clean up the next day. She would do it for the rest of her life without complaining if that meant that he lived.

Pepper ran her hand along his cheek for a moment and he seemed to move his head just the slightest bit to lean into it. She smiled a little. Pepper was sure it was her imagination, but she liked to think that it was real anyways. "We're going to be home very soon… We'll get everything sorted… You'll be back and in your workshop with JARVIS in no time," she told him.

She didn't know how long Yinsen was gone, but she'd fallen asleep with her head resting against Tony's hand. He woke her as gently as possible.

"Let me look at your arm now," he said.

Pepper looked up at him. He'd cleaned up quite a bit and she almost felt horrible to have to get him bloody again. But the throbbing she was feeling argued with her. She just nodded and got to her feet, she leaned over and brushed the hair away from his face again before kissing his forehead. "I'll be close by," she whispered.

"You're lucky, you know," Yinsen told her as he worked on her arm. "It could have pierced your heart too," he said as he put one finger on her heart and one on the closest piece of shrapnel. He dug each piece out and she tried not to cry or scream, but there were two that were a bit deeper. She didn't know how Tony could have survived all of the pain of the surgery that Yinsen had performed on him without pain killers.

"It shouldn't have been like this," she whispered.

"You do realize that your boss was doing a weapons demonstration of a new weapon…in a war torn country, don't you?"

Pepper sighed. "We were supposed to be safe."

"We're never safe," Yinsen told her.

Rhodey had promised that they'd be safe.

Tony had promised her that she'd be safe.

. . .

Men had come and gone. They'd only been interested in Tony. She'd done as Yinsen had said. She'd remained silent, kept her gaze at the ground, and tried to be invisible.

She didn't know how much time had passed. All she knew was that it seemed like too much. They should have been found by now. She sat there, staring at Tony. Pepper was glad that she'd worn a pantsuit rather than her normal skirt. She had figured that it would be the most comfortable and Rhodey had impressed upon them to dress appropriately. Tony had even convinced her to wear a Kevlar vest. She still had it on, though she didn't know why. Yinsen had told her to keep it on, that it might have been what had kept her safe. Her shoes had been lost along the way to wherever they were. So, whenever her feet would start to chill, she'd sit cross-legged in an effort to keep herself warm enough.

He'd whispered her name a couple of times before he finally woke. She was sure it was because he was used to asking her for everything. Tony Stark called and she ran to his side ready to do whatever it was that he needed.

"Hey," she whispered and she couldn't keep her smile at bay. She was so absolutely thankful to see him with his eyes open. "Don't move… You were hurt—"

"Where the hell are we?" Tony asked.

Pepper frowned. "We're being held… There was a missile…"

"One of mine."

She nodded. She felt like it was good that he was remembering, even if she was sure that it would be nice to forget as well. "Yes."

"What do they want?"

Pepper looked to Yinsen and then back to Tony. "We don't know…"

"Have they done anything to you? Hurt you? Touched you?" Tony asked as he tried to sit up.

Pepper pushed him back down, mindful of the magnet in his chest and the leads to the battery sitting nearby. She had her hands on his shoulders and was trying to be gentle. "Rest…Tony…"

"Pepper—"

"I'm fine. They've ignored me. Yinsen's made sure of it," Pepper explained.

Tony just stared at her. "Who's Yinsen? What kind of name is that? Yinsen." He made a weird face and exaggerated the name as he said it.

"He saved your life," Pepper told him and made a face for him to behave. She and Tony had been working together long enough, she was sure he knew her faces. Especially that one. She turned and gestured to Yinsen. "This is Doctor Ho Yinsen and he's who is responsible for your being alive."

Yinsen just stayed back and bowed his head slightly.

"Great… Great to meet you," Tony said, his voice dry and a bit sarcastic.

"Let me get you some water," Pepper said and headed off to retrieve what she could. The sound of the men coming worried her. She turned and saw Yinsen motioning for her to stay where she was. So, she did. She knew she could be seen from the door…and she did what she always did. She sat down and stared at the floor and tried to be invisible, but she found herself worrying about Tony.

"They're coming," he said. "You need to do as I do," Yinsen instructed Tony and helped him up to a sitting position.

"What the hell is this?!" Tony shouted.

Pepper's head snapped up and she could see Tony fighting Yinsen to remove the electromagnet in his chest. They hadn't gotten to that yet. They hadn't explained why it was there or what it was or how important it was to his survival. She didn't even think and got up to try to help. She knew that Tony hadn't had everything explained to him. "Don't! Tony!" she yelled at him and she pushed his hands down. "It's keeping you alive," she told him and their eyes met. It was then that they heard the whine of the door being opened…and she was where she wasn't supposed to be.

A man's voice spoke in what she could only guess was Farsi behind her. Pepper just tried to be invisible even though she was right there in front of Tony. She bowed her head a bit and stayed quiet.

"This is Abu Bakaar," Yinsen told Tony. "He is very happy to see that you are awake. He was worried about you."

Pepper noticed that Yinsen tried to keep a cheery, or as cheery as they could be, smile on his face as he translated for Tony. Yinsen had obviously been there long enough to know a few things… She just hoped that Tony would do as he said and follow his lead.

"I'm sure you are," Tony replied snidely to Abu.

Yinsen translated for Abu.

"Tony, please," Pepper barely whispered. She bowed her head again and stayed how she was, with her back to the men. She really wasn't supposed to be there. Yinsen had warned her and she'd stayed safe this long.

"What do you want?" Tony asked.

Yinsen translated again. Pepper just hoped that he was translating Tony's sarcastic and snide comments to something more polite. She wished she could do it, but she was supposed to be invisible and she didn't know the language.

She ventured a glance up at Tony; his eyes were hard and angry. Pepper had wanted to calm him, to try to keep them safe. To keep them all safe. This wasn't just about Tony. He needed to know that. He was so good at being arrogant, but sometimes it confused her how a genius about be so stupid.

Abu spoke again.

"He says that he has been waiting for you to wake up. That you are a guest of The Ten Rings."

"I don't feel like a guest," Tony said casually.

Yinsen made a face for a moment and then translated once again.

Pepper glared at Tony and mouthed for him to stop. She wanted to yell at him and try to explain their situation, since he obviously didn't seem to understand it. She caught Yinsen also looking at Tony.

The man laughed and seemed to still sound like he was in a good mood. He spoke again.

Yinsen translated. "He says that he can make your accommodations more comfortable."

"I like comfortable," Tony said. He looked directly over her shoulder to where she was sure the man stood. "You want something."

Yinsen spoke Farsi again, and again Abu replied. "He says that you are correct."

"I refuse."

Both Pepper and Yinsen stared at him for a moment. Yinsen looked a more than hesitant to reply to Abu. Abu didn't sound very pleased when he replied. "He says that you don't even know what he's asking yet…and he is prepared to be a very gracious host."

"I refuse," Tony repeated.

"Tony," Pepper whispered. He wasn't looking at her, but instead right over her shoulder, he was staring down Abu. Pepper was becoming increasingly worried. She was absolutely terrified. Would they just shoot them all? Would Rhodey even ever find their bodies? They wanted something, the very least he could do was hear them out.

He looked directly at her now. "No," he whispered.

Hands grabbed her and Pepper couldn't stop the scream of surprise as she was pulled back. His voice was now incredibly close. Abu. Farsi was spoken now practically in her ear and he sounded quite upset. She didn't even know if he had a gun on him or if it was just the other guards that she knew where in the room.

"He says that I need to talk some sense into you," Yinsen told Tony.

"Let her go," Tony said quickly.

"Stark—" Yinsen tried to argue.

"Tell him to let her go," Tony repeated.

Yinsen finally complied and was obviously not happy.

Pepper tried to keep calm, but it wasn't working. She was terrified and she was panicking. She knew she was panicking. Abu's hand traveled through her hair and she tried not to let out a sob. She had her eyes screwed shut and she just prayed that Tony would say he'd at least hear them out.

Abu spoke again.

"He said no," Yinsen told Tony.

"What do you want?"

Yinsen translated, waited, and then Abu spoke again. Yinsen almost sounded sad when he spoke this time. "He says that you didn't want to hear it before."

"Tell me!" Tony pleaded.

Pepper opened her eyes and could see the desperation in his eyes. She could see that he was sorry, that he hadn't meant for them to touch her. She wanted to say something, but she couldn't risk them hurting her…not in front of Tony. She was already being used against him and she didn't like it. She just hoped that they'd just shove her and Yinsen in another area. Pepper didn't want to think of them keeping her under guard. She shuddered at the thought.

Abu spoke again and before he could translate, the guards grabbed Yinsen and started to haul him towards the door. Abu spoke up again; his voice was confident and almost arrogant. He didn't seem to care that no one was translating for Tony.

"Stark, tell them yes!" Yinsen pleaded.

She didn't know what Abu had said, but the worst-case scenerios just popped into her head and she couldn't stop worrying about them. Pepper shut her eyes again and tried to force the tears to stop from falling, but they fell anyway.

"Don't you touch her!" Tony spat and when Pepper opened her eyes, he was lunging forward. The guards were removing Yinsen and two of them were holding Tony back. "Leave them here! They didn't do anything!"

Tony continued to yell as Abu removed her and the other guard removed Yinsen. She kept her eyes down. She didn't want to give them any reason to do anything to her. She remembered what Yinsen said. Pepper, unlike Tony, took advice and applied it. She just wish that Tony had listened…and that they'd had more time with him to explain what had happened…about the electromagnet in his chest.

. . .

His hand touched her skin lightly and Pepper shivered. The part of the cave she was currently in was much colder than where they'd been before. She was sure it was because there was no stove going for heat. It was just rock and cold. He put the scarf over her head and wrapped it around her neck loosely. He took a blanket and wrapped it around her and pulled it tight.

"This should keep you warm," Yinsen told her. "And this should help keep you under the radar, so to speak…"

"Tony won't like it," Pepper told him.

"He'll have to deal with it. We were lucky that they were willing to give us what they gave us," Yinsen told her. "We could easily freeze in here."

"They only gave us one blanket," Pepper pointed out. "We should sit together…"

"No," Yinsen told her and rubbed his arms.

"Yinsen—"

"Ms. Potts—"

"Pepper. Call me Pepper, please…"

He nodded a bit. "Pepper," he finally said. "They could hurt you for such closeness."

"You could freeze," Pepper told him. She didn't want to find him frozen and dead if they had to stay there long. She just couldn't think about it. Losing Yinsen meant losing the one person who knew what was done to Tony and also losing someone who knew what they should do. She couldn't be there alone.

"I won't watch them kill you…or worse," Yinsen told her. "I won't be responsible for that."

She was about to argue, but she could tell that he was serious and he was trying to be a gentleman. Pepper wasn't sure how well it would work to be chivalrous in the desert of Afghanistan, but she appreciated it. "You're a good man, Yinsen."

"He needs you more than he seems to know," Yinsen told her.

Pepper grinned. "I know."

"He doesn't."

"No. He doesn't."

"He will," Yinsen told her. "He's already learning this…" He smiled at her. "When you realize that you love someone who's right in front of you."

"Oh no," Pepper said quickly. "We're not—"

"No," Yinsen said as he continued to smile. "Not yet. But I know."

He just smiled at her and Pepper was quite confused. She and Tony… That's not how it was. She did everything and anything he wanted, but they weren't romantically involved…and she was fairly sure that Tony Stark didn't even understand the word 'romance' and 'involved' meant one night stands. He'd learn how Tony worked…or at least she hoped so.

Her thoughts turned to Tony and she started to worry. What if they were hurting him? What if they moved one of the wires? What if he was being his normal arrogant self? She had no idea if he was taking this seriously. She didn't even know how long they'd been there. She had no idea if Rhodey was looking for them…she thought for sure he would be, but then she'd started to worry if he'd been killed in the ambush on the vehicles. What if no one was looking for them? What if this was it? Stuck in a cave until they decided that they no longer needed them? Or at least until they decided to ransom Tony and then killed her and Yinsen…

. . .

She didn't know how much time had passed. At one point, they'd taken Yinsen and then brought him back and had given him a blanket as well. He didn't say anything and she didn't ask questions. Pepper had been completely terrified while he was gone and about the only conversation they'd had since he'd come back was his making sure that no one had touched her. Pepper was fairly sure that she'd just been completely forgotten. She'd had no food or water.

"He's stubborn," Yinsen said finally.

"You have no idea," Pepper whispered.

"Even if he's agreed by now, they're going to keep us here…to punish him."

Pepper nodded. She'd thought of that. It didn't make it any better. She just hoped that Tony didn't do anything stupid. She also wished that she knew what they wanted from Tony. He'd been so stubborn that they didn't even know that much. It was ridiculous.

"How long have you worked with him?"

"About eight years," Pepper said and realized what a huge chunk of her life had been devoted to Tony Stark. And really, it had been devotion…she'd spend more than eight hours a day there… Her job as Tony's assistant was more than forty hours a week. She was paid generously, but that didn't mean that it was an easy job. There was something about Tony, though, that kept her at his side.

"You are a saint!" Yinsen told her with a smile.

Pepper smiled in response. "I wouldn't go that far."

"You underestimate your importance," Yinsen told her. "And I want to point out… You shouldn't worry… They have kept you alive this long… They intend to keep you that way, most likely to keep Mr. Stark in line."

"So far that's really not working very well."

"It will, though," Yinsen told her. "Every man has a weakness… And for most men, it's a woman."

"No, Tony and I—"

"You have told me… That doesn't mean that you're not his weakness."

Pepper didn't respond. Instead, she looked down and just thought about it.

. . .

TBC…