88 – nurse

To Care for the Stubborn

Pepper Potts was growing steadily more concerned for her boss and a man she cared very deeply about every day. Since he had returned from his last outing as Iron Man, Tony Stark wasn't quite himself. He was a little slower on the uptake than usual. His movements weren't as smooth and he was too quiet.

As she descended the stairs down to his workshop, Pepper took a few moments to observe Tony without his knowledge. She had already asked Jarvis and he informed her that Tony had a fever and some congestion. Pepper watched Tony try to work on his suit and she watched him fumble a pair of pliers, something he never did. Pepper noted his music was distinctly lower than normal as she watched him shiver unconsciously despite the heat in the room and fight his body from shutting down on him.

Pepper knew that Tony actually liked to be left alone when he was sick, especially when he was trying to deny it. She knew she could not mention what she just saw him do and god forbid mention him going to a doctor so she had to play as if everything was normal.

"Good morning, Tony." She said warmly to him as she handed him his coffee.

Tony took the cup gratefully and held onto it with both hands for a brief moment, allowing it to warm him up before he drank from it. "What's on the agenda for today?" he asked in between sips.

"The only thing you have today is the hospital benefit tonight. Perhaps you should relax a little bit today while you have a chance?" Pepper suggested, trying to not let concern slip into her voice. "You never know when you'll be needed again and I doubt you want Jarvis on autopilot."

"I am fine, Pepper. I just didn't sleep very well last night so the coffee is a life saver here." Tony said quietly as he continued working.

"Would you like to talk about it?"

"No." Tony stated flatly, leaving room for negotiation. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I just want to work down here for a while."

Pepper wasn't hurt by how Tony reacted. She knew he did this when he wasn't feeling well. He would push people back until he felt better. "Is there anything you need?"

Tony nodded. "Just come and get me when I have to get ready because I know I am not going to look at a clock," he said quietly and without his usual spark. "And keep the caffeine coming.

Pepper agreed and reluctantly headed back upstairs. She stopped again just out of sight and saw Tony wince as he tried to stretch his back out and she cringed when she heard his cough. Pepper had a sinking suspicion that Tony had the flu again but now it was far more serious than before. Jarvis had informed her that if it worsened, Tony could get pneumonia or even have congestive heart failure, a more real possibility now. She wanted so much to help him even just a little but he would not let her.

Pepper went down around lunchtime to see if he felt up to eating anything. As she walked down, she nearly screamed when she saw Tony bent over his desk. Her scream was abated as she got closer and saw he was sound asleep.

"I guess his body finally quit on him," Pepper thought to herself as she heard the rasp in his breath as he slept. "He can't stay like this. He won't be able to move later. How do I move him though without waking him?" she wondered.

Pepper thought about it for a moment and remembered a time when he was really drunk, nearly passed out in a chair. She got him awake just enough to walk the few steps to the couch before he fell under again by almost forcing him to sleep walk. She whispered in his ear what she wanted him to do and she gave him the guidance he needed. This could work.

First thing, Pepper got out a pillow and a blanket and laid them on his couch for Tony. Then came the hard part.

Pepper walked up next to Tony and whispered softly in his ear. "Tony, why don't you join me on the couch? It's far more comfortable."

Tony stirred a little but not enough to get him to move.

"Please Tony; I miss you when you're over there." Pepper whispered again, this time taking his hand gently and pulling him a bit.

Tony's eyes barely opened but he did stand up and almost blindly followed Pepper to the couch, which he promptly fell on and went right back into a deep sleep.

Pepper covered Tony with a blanket and asked Jarvis to dim the lights and to wake him up at half past five if he was not already up before retreating back upstairs. Five hours would give him a little time to recharge, even if it was only temporary.

As was requested, Jarvis brought the lights back up exactly five hours later to try to wake his sleeping creator.

"Good evening, sir."

Tony stirred and blinked his eyes at the brightness of the lights. Confusion swept over him first when he found he was stretched out on his couch with a warm blanket when he vaguely remembered falling asleep at his desk.

"Jarvis? How did I get on the couch?" Tony asked as a coughing fit subsided.

"Ms. Potts helped you over there some time ago when she saw you sleeping on your desk."

"I guess that is some improvement. Usually, she finds me on the floor and drunk off my ass." Tony sighed as he slowly sat up.

"Ms. Potts asked me to remind you to get cleaned up and ready for the benefit tonight. She has gone home to change herself and she indicated that Happy will drop her off there before he comes to retrieve. You are scheduled to be picked up in one hour."

"Thanks Jarvis. Turn on the shower for me, hot as possible." Tony said as he stepped into the elevator, not trusting himself on the stairs.

At seven sharp, Pepper was waiting for Happy to drop Tony off to the benefit. As she stood impatiently in a strapless black gown, she hoped that Tony had not forgotten.

Just as she was getting out her phone to call him, the limo pulled up. Tony slid smoothly out of the car and told Happy when to get him and Pepper later before walking in the hotel to meet up with his beautiful assistant.

"You look beautiful. Where did you get that dress?" Tony said with a smile as he kissed her cheek gently.

"It was a gift from someone who is very generous." Pepper said with a laugh since Tony's credit card had paid for the dress. "You're looking a bit better." She told him as she touched his cheek. He was still paler than usual and she could still hear the congestion in his breathing and he was still warm.

"Well, Jarvis told me you tucked me in and made me take a nap…one I really needed." Tony admitted as he offered his arm to Pepper to escort her in.

"You don't need to stay long. Just long enough to have it count for making an appearance." Pepper stated as she took Tony's arm to walk in with him.

"Aren't you usually the one who is telling me to stay longer than I want to?" Tony said to her as he started to walk in the ball room. Just as he crossed the threshold, Tony stopped suddenly and put his free hand up against the wall.

"Tony, what's wrong?" Pepper whispered with concern as she tried to keep the room's eyes off of Tony.

"I just got a little dizzy. I'll be fine once I sit down and maybe get something to eat and some water." Tony said as he righted himself and pretended that nothing happened.

For once, Pepper was grateful that their table was near the door and not in the center of the room like when Tony was receiving some award. Tony sat down and sipped the water that was already on the table, feeling a little better with that.

"Tony, maybe we should leave now? You are not feeling well and you need to rest." Pepper said as she dipped a napkin in the water and wiped his face and neck with it.

Tony closed his eyes with relief as the wet cloth moved over his skin and he loosened his tie and the first few buttons on his shirt. "I'm fine. Aren't you worried about how it will look if I suddenly bolt out of here? Iron Man will make headlines quickly and the press will make up something ridiculous."

"I am more worried about you. Stop being stubborn. Please let me go get Happy and we'll go home." Pepper insisted.

"You don't need to do that. I'll just go to the bathroom, wake myself up a bit and we'll be fine." Tony stated as he pushed himself up from the chair. The world started to spin again and he sat right back down. "Okay, upon reevaluation, I think you should get Happy and I should be home."

Pepper quickly stood up and nearly ran out to the limo and explained the situation to Happy. She couldn't have left Tony alone for more than two minutes before she came back in with his bodyguard and the two of them helped him into the limo.

On the ride back to the mansion, Tony had his head resting on Pepper's shoulder. He wanted to lie in her lap but the movements of the car didn't help his dizzy spells or his breathing.

Once back at the mansion, Happy had to practically carry Tony up to his bedroom. Pepper thanked him and quickly got to work, getting Tony out of his tuxedo and tucked under his blankets. She almost missed his comments about getting him naked and in bed as she undressed him in silence.

After he was settled in bed, Pepper got him a few Tylenol and a glass of juice and set it for him on his nightstand and then left him to sleep.

Tony nearly slept through three days. Pepper had woken him a few times for medication and a little broth so he had something in his stomach. It was late afternoon on the third day when he finally came back to the world of the living. When Jarvis had told Pepper that Tony was waking up, she practically ran up the stairs. When she got to his bedroom, she slowly opened the door to peek in first. Tony was definitely awake but he was still very comfortable under his down comforter so he hadn't moved much at all. He was still lying on his side facing the door when Pepper walked in.

"How are you feeling now? The truth please." Pepper asked as she noted his color was returning and his fever had gone down.

Tony smiled. "My head feels like a frozen pineapple but otherwise better." He reluctantly admitted, knowing he would get yelled at if he said he was just fine. "Thank you for taking care of me."

"Isn't that my job?"

"Yeah but that has limits. I can get kind of nasty when I'm sick and I know I may have taken out on you and I feel bad." Tony admitted as he pulled his blankets tighter around him.

Pepper kissed his temple lightly as she gave him a smile. "And I care about you too much to let that get to me. I am immune to most of your mood swings by now."

That earned her a laugh from Tony, which was unfortunately punctuated with a lingering cough. "Which ones aren't you immune to?"

"The one where your true sweet nature comes out. You know...the one only I see." Pepper said as she left him to rest and ponder that thought.

Tony sadly watched Pepper leave as he thought about what she said. Pepper liked the only part that was left of him when he got rid of all the glitz, showboating and bull – the side that only his parents had ever known. That thought let him drift back to sleep with a smile on his lips and reassurance in the back of his mind that Pepper was still there for him…to take care of him and to care for him.