Title: Interlude
Author: A.j.
Notes: Written because revelininsanity wanted PUPPIES after something I posted earlier, and this was all I could come up with. Fluff with a chaser of crack.

Summary: Pepper never knew that dogs could get colds.

&

Pepper never knew that dogs could get colds. It was perfectly logical that they could, but she'd never really given it much thought before - her parents had been fish people - so when Rocky starts backwards-sneezing, she has no idea what he's even doing.

Initially, she'd thought he'd snorted a bug.

She's in the kitchen chopping fruit when it happens. Tony's out in the suit - the L.A. PD had taken to randomly calling him and having him walk through various neighborhoods to attract gunfire so they could pinpoint weapons caches. Pepper is secretly sure that he'd some how worked out some kind of deal to defray the inevitable City of Los Angeles vs. Tony Stark civil damages issues that had popped up after Obadiah beat Tony into that bus.

Plus, despite the rather impressive array of weaponry fired at Tony during these exercises, nothing yet had come close to tank artillery.

It surprises her to realize that automatic cop-killer hollow points being fired at her boss have become the 'safe' option. At least he isn't in Iran again. That hadn't been fun. The last six times.

Pepper tends to use the 'cop' days as a way to catch up on billing reports and invoices and give Rocky an extra long walk down to the beach. And to make lunch without a certain thirty-six-year-old child wandering through and eating half of it.

She's most of the way through slicing up an apricot when Rocky stops mowing through his rawhide chew and, explosively, takes an inward breath through his nose. She blinks and stares down at the dog who looks just as surprised as she does.

Then he does it again.

"Rocky? You okay?"

She reaches down to check his muzzle, brushing his nose on the way down, looking for a bug or piece of lint. Blinks, then puts her fingers on his nose again. It's dry and hot and she'd read enough pamphlets in the vet's office – and who is she even kidding, several books on common Mastiff diseases and prevention – to know that this isn't normal.

"That's not a bug, is it, buddy?"

He takes another implosive breath and lets his tongue loll out.

She rubs his nose and stares.

And then he actually sneezes properly.

&

"Is that normal?" Hair still damp from her impromptu shower and dressed in sweats, Pepper is doing her level best to keep Rocky calm. Vet trips are always an exciting outing - the Great Squirrel Adventure of 2009 being one example - but this time she'd been too distracted by being covered in dog snot and drool to properly dose his dog biscuits with Ultra Calm.

Unless, of course, heavy drugs were involved, Rocky, much like his owner, hated going to the doctor. And, much like Tony, he did everything in his power to end the visit as quickly as possible. With Tony, this usually meant a constant stream of increasingly sarcastic verbal abuse that usually ended with threatened legal action.

Rocky... is a little less creative, if not any less verbose.

The baying had started as soon as he'd stumbled out of the back of the Land Rover and landed on unsteady legs. It had taken Pepper nearly five minutes of The Finger and The Stern Tone to even get him in the building. She'd even had to use "Bad Dog" to stop him from deafening the entire waiting room.

Luckily, the Ultra Calm had finally, kind of, kicked in and by the time she and the Vet Tech had bodily hauled Rocky into the exam room, he would just give the occasional whimper.

"The reverse sneezing?" Dr. Goethe nods, absently scratching Rocky behind an ear. Her eyes are locked on her clipboard, and Pepper feels a momentary, somewhat inappropriate, spurt of warmth at the sight. One of the main reasons she'd chose the Calabasas Veterinary Clinic for Rocky's care was because from the instant she'd walked into the well-maintained waiting area - complete tough plastic bins displaying treats and wares of various shapes and sizes - she'd known she was in the presence of a master organizer.

It also helps that Rocky tends to go boneless with canine bliss whenever Dr. Goethe scratches an exact spot behind his ear. Pepper has never been able to duplicate the effect, and is terribly envious.

"It's somewhat rare in full grown dogs, but not unheard of." Dr. Goethe smirks at Pepper's somewhat casual look. "I take it they're not reversed anymore?"

Pepper rolls her eyes and pulls at the strings of her gray hoodie. "That would be a definite no."

"Dulce and Gabana?"

"Luckily, no. Relaxed day, so the Max Meara."

Dr. Goethe nods and checks off a box on her chart. "Well, his temp is only a little elevated, but his lungs sounded stuffy. Looks like Rocky Stark has his first cold."

Pepper blinks. "That... makes sense."

"Generally so. I'm going to assign some antibiotics. Stick them in some peanut butter or a piece of cheese and he won't even notice them. Also, make sure he's got lots of fresh water and don't overdo the walks. Let him rest a few days and if it's not getting better we'll do some extra bloodwork."

Pepper nods and looks down at Rocky, who has managed, for the first time ever, to doze off on the lab table. He's snoring.

She pokes him. He doesn't budge.

"Oh, this is gonna be fun."

Dr. Goethe just laughs. "Want me to go get Gina?"

"Yes, please."

&

Surprisingly, Tony greets them in the garage when they get back.

"Hey, where have you two been? Out conquering the wilds of Malibu? No fair you two lazing off while I'm out solving crime."

Pepper snorts and moves around the back of the vehicle to let Rocky out. Gives his head a good rub to wake him up. He'd slept right through the trip to the CVS drive-in. It had been a touch worrying, given his normal propensity to bark at the speaker in a vain attempt to obtain a treat, but what with the Ultra Calm and the cold, she decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Rocky pops his head up, stares around a little blearily and gives Tony a tail thump.

"Yes, we've been lazing. At the vet. C'mon, Rocky. Down we go."

"What happened?" Tony shot an anxious glance at each of them in return and Pepper mentally kicked herself. It hadn't been all that long since they'd gotten kidnapped. The threats of micro chipping (on her) had finally tapered down to three memos a week.

"Oh, nothing serious. Rocky's got a cold."

The dog in question thumps his tail again and manages a particularly deadly set of puppy eyes.

Initially, Pepper had thought getting Rocky was a phenomenally bad idea. Mostly because she already had one unruly male to wrangle and had no desire to add a puppy to the mix. She'd softened considerably – okay, completely – since, but it is moments like this: where Tony visibly melts in unrestrained affection, that make her thank her lucky stars for Tony's completely hair-brained idea.

She'll never regret Rocky. Even if he eats her heels. Again.

"Poor dufus." Tony leans in past Pepper and gives Rocky another head rub... then runs his fingers over his nose, just like Pepper had up in the kitchen.

Just like in the kitchen, Rocky sneezes.

"A cold?" Tony's eyes are shut and Pepper has to bite her fist and look away.

"Mmmph."

"That explains your sweat suit."

"Mmm." Pepper bites her lips and can't help a few soft snorts of laughter before heading quickly towards the bathroom. "I'll get a towel."

"You do that."

-fin-