Don't think just demand
I'm like a bird of prey
-AC/DC "War Machine"
Pepper came downstairs to find Tony working on something. It had been a week since the Stark Expo had been suspended due to explosions, and Tony had to sign off on some more of the repairs. He had been determined to continue, and as she punched in the code with her elbow, she wondered how much of that was determination and how much was guilt.
"Morning, Pepper," Tony said, not even looking up from whatever high-tech whatever he was working on. "If that's a present, you can put it with the others." He looked up and pulled the welding goggles off.
Pepper looked down at the brown box in her hands. "I don't think it's a present."
"Why not? Thank you cards, cakes, women's underwear, men's underwear-"
"It's from Hammer's factory."
"Oh." Tony took a sip of that awful green "health drink". "Probably not a present, then."
"Based on the timestamp, not unless someone was sending presents while you were fighting the Hammer drones."
"Hammer drones. And why are you drinking those things? Are you-" her breath caught "-are you still dying?"
"No, the new arc reactor fixed that. This is just for the residual symptoms. And I kinda like it now, like Diet Coke. What's in the box, Pepper, what's in the box?" Tony said in his worst Brad Pitt impression, and Pepper hid a smile. She walked over, waited for Tony to clear some room, and set it down on the table.
After a few minutes of hunting for something to open it with-she had to dissuade Tony from rigging up a laser boxcutter-they ran a screwdriver through the clumsily-applied tape and peeled back the flaps, then stared down at the top of the birdcage.
"It's a bird," said Tony, with some surprise.
"What type of bird?"
Tony looks closer. "A white one."
"'White' isn't a type of bird, Tony."
"There's some yellow, too."
"It appears to be a Cockatoo, Mr. Stark."
"Thank you, JARVIS. See, now you know what type of bird it is. Now you can take it home and let it play with Mr. Snuffleupagus or whatever."
"Wha-buh-Who said anything about me taking it home?"
"Well, I can't have it around here. I'm working-I'm working on some sensitive stuff."
"Like-likelikelike-like this can opener!"
"No, really, I'm working on this can opener for, uh, the government."
Tony cocked his head. "Excuse me?"
"Which part of the government?"
"The type that needs lots of really cool can openers. I think I can fit an arc reactor in here-"
"I mean, it's not like I should even bother keeping it secret anymore."
"You can handle crazy Russians with energy whips, you can take down a dozen Hammer drones-"
"-Hammer drones, you can handle your CEO trying to kill you-"
"-but you're afraid of one little bird?"
"Pepper, I'm good with machines. Not so good with living things, which is why I hide my emotions under a veneer of irreverence and alcohol."
"I'm just quoting something I read recently. Also, I don't have the garage bird-proofed."
"I've seen you test rockets in here, but you don't have it sealed against bird poop?"
"That was just one rocket."
"And a goat."
"Forgot about the goat. I can't even take care of a cactus. I killed my Pet Rock. Point is, I can't take care of this. Donate it to the Humane Society or the Salvation Army or whatever. I'm not even going to take it out of the box. It could be a bomb for all we know."
"Tony, it has to come out of the box."
"Well, I'm not taking it out."
"And I'm not."
They stared at each other for a few seconds.
"Dummy! Get over here!"
It took them fifteen minutes to decode the handwritten note, after removing it from the box(which took Tony's threatening to turn Dummy into a tie rack). It was on Hammer stationary and smelt slightly of what Tony assured Pepper was some very expensive brandy. Also-
"JARVIS, is there any 'U' in 'bird'?"
"No, Mr. Stark."
"I didn't think so."
The English was fairly good, and it was signed "Ivan Vanko".
"I think it's from Vanko."
"Wow," said Pepper. "How'd you figure that one out?"
They smiled at each other. Tony found he was smiling a lot more these days, what with the not-dying and the new element and the making up with Rhodey and starting a relationship(!) with Pepper and all.
According to Jarvis, the note said that Vanko was entrusting the bird to Tony in the event he was defeated. In the event they were both dead, Pepper could take care of it.
"Why does everyone assume I would take care of it?"
"Because of your kind caring nature, of course."
"That explains why I've been taking care of you for years."
"Anyway," said Tony, suddenly realizing they were getting dangerously close to having a Moment, "I'm sending it to SHIELD. This bird is a material witness is a treason investigation, and should be held in protective custody."
"I don't think they do that for birds."
"Well, I don't need a parrot on my shoulder; I'm not a pirate."
"Except for those mp3s. Speaking of which, why do you pirate them in the first place?"
"Because I like music, but I don't like the Man." He thrust a fist into the air. "Fight the Man!"
"You're a billionaire with revolutionary technology he refuses to release to the general public. You are the Man. "
Tony slowly lowered his fist. "And look what Vanko did just knowing he could make his own arc reactor. He can't be the only one; these guys are gonna be crawling outta the woodwork soon. Did I tell you about Culver University?"
"Many times. I believe you said something about how ungrateful they were and how you had earned your spot on the Avengers. Which is weird, because a few weeks ago-"
"I was dying. Remember that? Remember the dying? Drinking heavily, rash actions, using a Uni-beam for a Gallagher impression?" He pulled his goggles back down. "Say, who do you think should play me in the movie? I've been in talks with the studios. Jeffrey Dean Morgan looks kinda like me, doncha think?"
"Robert Downey Jr.?"
Pepper's phone buzzed, and she looked at it. "I'll be back in an hour." She pecked him on the cheek. "Bye, hon-uh, bye, um-"
"Bye, Pepper," Tony said. "See you soon."
Pepper gave a slightly embarrassed grin. "Bye, Tony."
Tony watched her leave. He was kinda proud of himself for keeping both eyes above the waist.
"We need to have a talk about our relationship," Tony said, once she was out of earshot. "Jarvis, did I tell you that we've been together a week and I haven't slept with her?"
"That may be a new record, sir."
"No kidding. We've just been talking. It's weird." Tony flipped down his goggles. "Well, nose to the grindstone. Resume."
"Certainly, sir. 'Energy might be likened to the drawing of a crossbow...'"
That lasted for a few minutes, before Tony said "Mute" and glared at the cage.
"I know what a guilt trip looks like," he said. "I get that look from Pepper all the time. So if you think that I'm letting you out, bird, forget it."
The cockatoo tilted its head to the side, and looked at Tony.
"Furthermore, even if I did let you out, and I'm not saying I will, you'd better remember one thing, pal; I like chicken."
They stared at each other.
Tony blinked, sighed, and let the bird out.
The little guy was well trained, actually. He was quiet, and he didn't touch any of the glowy things or metal things. After an exploratory flight around the garage, he returned to Tony's workbench and watched him from the handle of a toolbox. Tony resumed work before pausing again.
"Jarvis, you smell that?"
"No, sir. What is it that I should be smelling?"
"Did you burn a copy of Twilight again, sir?"
"No, Rhodey hides them now. I mean literal, actual bird poop."
Jarvis was silent for a few seconds. "I do not detect more than traces of avian feces."
"Yes, I know, that's what I said." Tony put down the arc welder and examined the cage closely. There was no newspaper lining the bottom, just a clean, fine mesh, and the base was thicker than it had any right to be, held together by fresh, recently used screws.
"Yes, Mr. Stark?"
"Where's my electric screwdriver?"
"Uh, wow," said Tony a few minutes later.
Vanko had made a miniature arc reactor. Much smaller than the full-sized ones, but still strong enough to power the converter in the bottom of the cage that changed the bird's waste to useful elements, the food and water dispenser, and the super-efficient carbon dioxide scrubber that had kept the cockatoo alive for a week in a sealed box.
Tony carefully made a note of the latter on his sPad-aquatic IM suit?-then fished out the mini-reactor. It was very light, and he stared at it for a few seconds.
Then he held it up to the bird's chest.
When Pepper returned, both Tony and the cockatoo looked up.
The bird chirped.
"Hi. I see you've made a new friend."
"I call him 'Anton'. After his grandpa."
"So, what, that would make you his mommy?"
Tony gave Pepper a Look. "It's my way of honoring a fallen foe. Though technically it was his son who tried to kill me with energy whips."
"It doesn't matter how many times-"
"What's with you? You didn't care about this stuff before. Am I that much of a good influence?"
"Well, I've been having Jarvis read me books about samurai anddon't touch that-"
It occurred to Tony later that he could've hidden his little side project better than by just throwing a towel over it. The glow was clearly visible, and Pepper pulled aside the covering to reveal a roughly cockatoo-shaped frame, assembled around the world's smallest arc reactor.
Anton looked up from cleaning his wing as Pepper glared at Tony. "Are you building him a suit of armour?"
"I can explain," said Tony.
EDIT (01/06/10) : Bonus scene, based on a response by MisterDrBob.
"Jarvis, can you tell if it's a boy bird or a girl bird?"
"Not with my current scanners. However, if you would care to...expose it..."
"You want me to find the bird's...giblets."
"And flash you."
"In a sense-"
"I'm being Punk'd, aren't I?"
"Ashton, you can come out now! Oh, wait, he doesn't do it personally anymore, does he?"
"Sir, I cannot determine the sex of the bird-"
"Anton. The bird is Anton. We are going to tell Pepper it is a boy when she gets back, and we are never going to talk about this again."
EDIT: If you want to see more Pepper/Tony banter, but from The Avengers and with spoilers, check out my AU one shot "Last Call" ( /s/8092509/1/ ). If you would like to see the Avengers meeting in an inn, check out One Shot ( 8106911/1/ ). Para escuchar este menú en español, por favor, pulse.