The Price That Must be Paid

By Elizabeth Bathory

The Stark mansion was largely quiet except for the sound of the TV playing in the sun filled living room. The upstairs was not as brightly lit though as Pepper Potts waited outside Tony's closed bedroom door. The night before Tony started complaining about feeling lousy and when he awoke in the morning complaining of chills, sore throat, muscle pains, weakness, fatigue and severe headache while coughing his head off so his voice took on a more sandpaper baritone sound rather than his usual tones which could make certain women honey in his hands. Tony had even felt bad enough to let Pepper call a doctor for him, especially when Jarvis said he had a fever of 103.

As soon as the door opened, Pepper snapped back out of her lull in activity and back to Tony's side. Tony was pulling his sweatshirt back on and gratefully laying back down as Pepper pulled his blankets back up to his shoulders and the doctor was writing out a prescription.

"Well, it looks like our boy here has a decent case of the flu here with a nasty respiratory infection on top of it." He explained as he handed Pepper the prescription. "That is for the antibiotics for the respiratory infection. For the rest, bed rest, lots of fluids, no alcohol and none of your extracurricular activities for at least the next ten days. If you don't listen, it will be longer."

"If you haven't noticed, I kinda have a girlfriend here," Tony rasped out as he gave the doctor a dark look.

"I am not referring to that, Mr. Stark. I am referring to that red and gold toy you have that lands you on the evening news."

Tony didn't say anything and Pepper just smiled as she tucked the blankets around Tony. "No need to worry about that. He'll listen." Pepper said to the doctor as she thanked him, showed him out and called the pharmacy to send over the prescription as well as a good supply of Advil, Day and Nyquil and Theraflu.

By the time she got back to Tony's bedroom, Tony was sleeping again. She set a glass of juice down and his first doses of medicine for him on his nightstand and had Jarvis darken the room for him. Sleep was the best thing for him at the moment but Pepper knew that if she left for any reason without telling him, she would never hear the end of it.

Pepper stroked Tony's hair gently until he stirred ever so slowly. After another round of harsh coughs racked his body again, Tony looked up at Pepper with a sleepy smile. "Hi…" he whispered since his voice was useless for much else. "Come to join me and keep me company?"

"No Tony," Pepper said as she kissed his forehead. "I was coming to tell you that I have to leave for the American Heart Association auction now."

Tony gave her a confused look. "You're leaving me here when I'm sick…wait a second…what auction?"

"The bachelor/bachelorette auction that you yourself convinced me to go into to represent Stark Industries," Pepper told him with a smile. "Now, I have put your medicine and some juice there for you. I'll only be gone for a few hours and you probably won't even notice that I'm missing because you should be sleeping."

"I think I might have only suggested that because I would be there to make sure that you didn't end up with a freak or something," Tony whispered. "But now, with me sick, you should probably skip it and stay here with me."

"Nice try, Tony," Pepper said sweetly since she did have to admire his skills of persuasion even when he feels this bad. "Go to sleep and I will be back in a few hours. You heard what the doctor said…bed rest and not much else for the next ten days or else you get grounded for longer."

"But Pepper…" Tony whined.

Pepper quickly hushed him. "It's for a good cause and it would not look good if I don't show up. Go to sleep and I will be back in a few hours. I love you, Tony." She told him before ordering Jarvis to not let him anywhere near his workshop.

"I love you too." Tony whispered as the lights dimmed and he watched Pepper walk out of the door.

The grand ballroom of the Montage Beverly Hills was decorated from top to bottom in shades of red. Centerpieces of red roses, candles and crystal candelabras decorated every table to keep with the theme. Everything resembled Valentine's Day with an autumn twist.

The bachelor/bachelorette auction started promptly at eight after the cocktail hour. Each of the top corporate sponsors had one employee sign up where their company could be bought for the night and all the costs went as donations for the America Heart Association. To keep things fair and so no one would know exactly how much each company donated, the auction of each person went alphabetically by corporation so Stark Industries was towards the end.

Pepper watched with a bit of nervousness as the others went up before her. It was a little unnerving to know that a night with her was going to be bid on by all the men in the room. The totals were a bit intimidating as well. Several of them got into the hundreds of thousands.

"For our next lovely lady, we have Virginia Potts of Stark Industries, executive assistant to CEO Tony Stark. Shall we open the bidding at five thousand dollars?"

"Five!" a voice called from the back.

"Ten!" another voice called out.

"Twenty!" a quieter voice called out, seemingly closer to the front.


"Fifty…" the voice from the front called again.


"One-twenty…" the voice called from the front again and again doubling the highest bid.


Then there was a pause.

"We have a high bid at two hundred fifty thousand…going once…going twice…"

"One million!" the voice called out from the front one last time and this time they stepped out of the crowd so they could be identified.

Pepper stopped breathing for a moment when she saw Tony step out of the crowd in his tuxedo. It surprised her that she didn't recognize his voice at first but considering how sick he is, it all made sense.

"Mr. Stark…that's a large sum of money…" the auctioneer said.

"And she's worth every penny so close the deal already." Tony said roughly, his voice still incredibly raw despite the fact he was trying to hide it. His smile was unmistakable though at Pepper's red satin dress with black lace over it. If he had been feeling better, he would have had fun getting her out of it.

The auctioneer nodded and banged the gavel. "Virginia Potts goes to Tony Stark for the new record of one million dollars."

Tony offered his hand to Pepper to help her down from the stage as he led her to the dance floor, pulling her close to him as they moved with the music.

"What are you doing here? You're supposed to be in bed." Pepper whispered as she brushed a stray hair away from his eyes only to feel his fever-flushed skin. "You're burning up."

"Jarvis said it was 102 when I left the house." Tony admitted. "But I couldn't bear the thought of another man even attempting to get you…even for one night. You can call me jealous and I'll wholly admit to it. I love you and I'm going to be selfish."

"You did not have to do this. I would have danced with you any time you asked." Pepper whispered as she saw the dark circles under his eyes and how pale his skin was except for the fever flush. "How are you doing this anyway?"

"Double shot of Dayquil with an Advil chaser," Tony stated as he cleared his throat. "Which you know is going to wear off by the time we are going home and I'll probably pass out in the limo."

"Thank god Happy drove you," Pepper sighed. "I think I would have thrown a fit if I found out you drove yourself."

"Jarvis and Happy ganged up on me when I attempted to and then Butterfingers knocked my keys out of my hands." Tony admitted sheepishly as he closed his eyes to fight back the pain of the headache that was coming back.

"Let's go home. You need to be in bed." Pepper told him as Tony moved to lean his head against hers.

"Will you be with me?" he whispered as he acquiesced to her request to go home.

"Yes but for sleep only." Pepper cautioned as she took his hand and signaled Happy. "Because I want you better and then I will make it up to you."

"Ooh…I like the incentives," Tony said with a laugh that led to a harsh coughing fit.

The next morning, Pepper was going through her usual morning routine – coffee and a muffin, checking the emails and phone messages and then added in the clearing of Tony's schedule until he recovered.

"Ms. Potts, Colonel Rhodes is coming up the drive with some urgency." Jarvis interrupted. "Shall I let him in?"

"Of course, Jarvis."

No sooner the words left Pepper's mouth, Rhodey was coming in the front door, a little out of breath but deadly serious. "Pepper, where is he?" he demanded.

"He's still asleep. What's wrong?"

"Has he been here all night?"

"Yes except for a benefit that he was at with me that he shouldn't have gone to." Pepper replied. "What is going on?"

"Pepper, I have to talk to him now." Rhodey insisted.

"He's very sick and I am not waking him up."

Rhodey sighed and grabbed Pepper's shoulders with some urgency, trying to get the severity of his point across. "Pepper, if I don't get some answers right now from Tony's own mouth, there will be a fleet of Federal Agents here in about two hours to throw him in jail…"