Disclaimer: Anything not immediately recognizable as a registered trademark of Marvel and/or Paramount Pictures is probably mine. Anything you do recognize I'm simply borrowing.
Author's Note: In my infinite wisdom, I decided one night in May 2010 I was going to write an Iron Man-related, one-shot fic for every song that Tiësto included in his Elements of Life set list. This amounts to forty-one fics for forty-one songs. The stories don't really have anything to do with the songs, though (ie - these are definitely not songfics).
As the stories are generally not interconnected by anything other than their titles' origins, I have decided not to post them all in a single entry, but to treat them as the separate stories they all are.
Additionally, these aren't beta'd before I post them. This means that there might be a few missing words, typos, and/or grammatical errors somewhere in the text, to say nothing of the occasional slip in characterization. If you notice anything, please point it out to me and I would be glad to fix it!
Summary: Every time Tony gets sick, Pepper takes care of him - not that she has much choice. This time around, Pepper's the sick one, and Tony tries to take care of her. Emphasis on 'tries'.
Other: Iron Man Movie!verse; Pre-Iron Man; nothing explicitly Tony/Pepper, but hints.
Pepper could feel pressure building in her head, in the space right above her eyebrows. She closed her eyes tightly, as though that and sheer will could make the pain go away.
"Ow! Ow! Good God, Pepper, is that aloe or acid you're putting on my back?" Tony snapped, glancing over his shoulder as he arched his back out of her reach.
Yeah, no. No such luck.
Pepper rolled her eyes, squirting another dollop of aloe onto her hand. "It's aloe."
Sighing in frustration, Pepper reached around Tony's arm and waved the bottle of green translucent goo at him. "See? Aloe. Says it right there on the bottle. Now stop being a baby and hold still."
"I am – ow – not being a baby. Why didn't you tell me it was getting bad?"
"I did," Pepper said, continuing to gently slather the aloe onto Tony's back and shoulders. Both were a bright, angry red. "You told me you were fine."
Tony winced. "Why didn't you make me listen to you?"
"No one can do that," Pepper said, wondering, again, why she continued to work for the stubborn, womanizing, entitled man-child that was Tony Stark. "Believe me, I've tried."
"You could have told me to put sunscreen on," Tony replied, his voice plaintive. It sounded like he was hurting quite a bit.
Well, he should, Pepper thought. Anyone stupid enough to stay out that long without any protection deserves it. It wasn't even like it would have been hard to find someone willing to slather him up with sunscreen. He could have asked the girls he was with to do it. God knew that at least one of them would have jumped at the chance to get their hands on any piece of him – that's why they were there, wasn't it?
But Pepper wasn't going to say that. So she said: "I did, Tony. I told you a dozen times. I even offered to do it for you. But you said no, Tony Stark doesn't get sunburn. He tans." Pepper turned Tony's arm over so he could see just how red he'd gotten. "This? Tony, this is not a tan."
Tony was quiet for two seconds, a bit of a record for him. Then he turned and asked, "Are you phlegm-y? You sound phlegm-y. You have any Dayquil? I think you should probably take a Dayquil. Or two. Two might be better. Better safe than sorry."
Pepper waved him off. "I'm fine." The pressure was nothing. She'd had issues with migraines lately, anyway. It was nothing some ibuprofen – and a few minutes of cooperation from her boss – couldn't fix.
And then she sneezed.
Pepper's body was pretty predictable when she got sick. It always seemed to follow the same pattern: sinus pressure led to sneezing which led to mucus buildup – lovely as that sounded – which led to a sore throat and a few days spent feeling like she was walking through a heavy fog. When she decided to actually listen to its signs, at least, she could usually tell when she was coming down with something long before it really hit her.
That sneeze was one of them. The first sign, actually.
"I thought you were starting to look a little green." Tony flashed her a quick, sympathetic smile and raised a finger to loosely motion towards her face. "Your eyes always get a little puffy when you start getting sick."
Pepper stared, mouth slightly agape. "You know this? How do you know this?"
Completely unfazed, Tony just shrugged. "You're my personal assistant. I would be remiss if I did not know when you might be unable to do your job."
"I have never—"
Tony held up a hand. "In my defense – because it's clear you're about to accuse me of implying something I didn't – I said 'might'."
Pepper glared at him weakly. The sneeze had caused the pain in her head to spike, and now she was starting to feel stuffy and light-headed. She tried to think, tried to remember the last time she had gotten sick, tried to remember how much time she probably had before disaster struck and tried to figure out whether or not she could take a personal day when disaster did strike.
"You should go home," Tony said.
That was a tempting offer. But she couldn't take it. Shaking her head, Pepper replied, "I've still got work to do."
Tony looked at her, scrunching up one side of his face. "I'm pretty sure I can go a day without my personal assistant." He nodded. "Two, even. Or three."
"Four?" Pepper asked, one eyebrow raised.
Tony thought some more. "Maybe four."
"But who would put the aloe on your back?" Pepper resisted the temptation to not-so gently pat his cherry-red shoulder.
"Rhodey," Tony said. "He owes me a favor."
"And you'll really let him cash it in by putting aloe on your back?"
Tony sat up a little straighter. Pain flickered across his face as the movement pulled on his skin, but it was gone in an instant. "'It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.'"
Pepper bit back a laugh, pressing her fingers to her lips to help hold it in. "That," she said, "is disgusting. Not to mention improperly quoted." She climbed to her feet, wincing as her head throbbed.
"Are you going home?" Tony asked, scrambling to his feet. Pepper watched him wince out of the corner of her eye.
There was no way she could leave him alone right now. He could barely move. "No."
Tony nodded. "Okay. I'll call Happy and have him come get you."
"You won't. I said no, Tony."
Not even ten minutes, later Happy was at the door and he and Tony were both helping Pepper get to the car.
"Rest," Tony instructed, stiffly guiding her into the passenger seat. "Most colds last about ten days. I can't give you ten days off."
"It's just a cold," Pepper replied. "I'll be fine by tomorrow."
It wasn't just a cold. Or maybe it was and it was just a monster of a cold. Pepper wasn't sure and frankly she was too groggy and feverish and stuffed up and miserable to care.
By midnight she was seriously considering setting up camp in the bathroom, where the cool air from the single register in the ceiling tumbled directly to the floor. She could set up her thick comforter and some pillows like a nest the tub and bask in the air from that register all night. Maybe she could get Happy or her nice neighbor Ashley to come by and put food and water on the floor where she could reach it. Hell, maybe she could find a way to get a mini fridge in there, so she'd never have to leave. Living in the bathroom would suck, but it would suck a whole lot less than having to lurch off to it every few minutes.
In the end, Pepper stuck it out in her bed. All the good ideas her foggy brain could come up with weren't enough to convince her that curling in the tub – with either her feet or her head dangerously close to the faucets and an unwanted icy bath – was the best course of action ever. And eventually her stomach settled down enough to let her sleep, though she didn't so much sleep as pass out, her body and mind so exhausted that they essentially gave out on her.
She woke again more than eight hours later. She knew exactly what woke her, even through the thick fog wrapped around her brain – and it wasn't her own internal clock. Her sinuses were pounding, and every cell in her body felt like it had gained fifty pounds overnight. Even opening her eyes required a Herculean effort, so she only opened them enough to confirm that Tony was, in fact, standing over her bed.
He was shirtless. At first, Pepper thought she'd gone completely mad with fever, then remembered his sunburn. Being without a shirt was probably more comfortable for him right now.
She let her eyes flutter closed. Yes, she thought. Let's just make this more fun.
"You know," Tony said, "when I'm sick I like to move into the living room."
"I know," Pepper replied, her voice a hoarse croak. "Believe me, I know."
"What about food? I can get you food?"
Pepper moaned softly, burrowing deeper into her pillows in hopes Tony would get the message without her having to be blunt. She wanted to sleep. In peace. Without her boss and his constant stream of needs. Hers finally – finally – outranked his today. Trying (and failing, she knew) to glare at him, she asked, "What are you doing here, Tony?"
"You didn't come in to work today." Tony blinked at her, his expression one of forced innocence. "What, am I not allowed to check in on you? I mean, I am your boss, but I always kinda thought we were, you know, friends, too. You sure you don't want to eat something? I mean, I'm here. I could get you something."
"How did you get into my apartment, Tony?"
"You have a spare key hidden under your doormat," Tony said. "I put it back, I swear. Now, do you want something to eat? Yes or no."
"You can't…" Pepper paused to cough, then looked at him. "You can't cook."
Tony looked hurt. "How do you know? Maybe I can and I've just never cooked for you."
"I don't want to test that theory when I feel like this."
Pepper heard sounds, heard Tony moving away from the bed and thought for one glorious beat that he was going to leave and let her sleep the cold away, but then she heard him coming back. He set a chair – one of the ones she kept by the window, so she could sit with her feet on the sill while she read, something she never got the chance to do any more – by her bed.
"Tony, go home."
"No." Tony took a breath. "Pepper Potts, you do everything for me. Just yesterday, you spent more than an hour and a half putting aloe on my back. And that was after spending your morning filing my paperwork and rearranging my schedule and making sure Stark Industries wasn't, you know, on fire or something – and that's even without starting on the frighteningly long list of other things you've done for me over the past ten years." Tony trailed off, then said in a softer voice, "Pepper, please, let me do this for you."
Pepper groaned, more out of self-loathing than anything else. He'd won. Again. She couldn't let him go home after that. She pulled a hand out from under the covers and laid it across her forehead. Despite having been wrapped in a blanket for the last several hours, it was cold as ice – and felt wonderful on her forehead.
"Fine," she said. "Fine. But you're going to stay right there in that chair and keep me company, understand?"
Tony tilted his head to one side, one of his cheeky grins tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Okay."
Pepper glared weakly at him. She was tempted to add an order against snooping if she fell back to sleep, but knew that if he hadn't already had that idea she'd just be handing it over.
And implying there was stuff she didn't want him to find somewhere in her apartment.
To be fair, she did have a lock box hidden under the floorboards in her closet, but she'd made sure that hiding place was Tony-proof a long time ago.
"Would you like to watch a movie?" Tony asked. "Didn't we do that the last time I was sick?"
"Yes," Pepper said. "And we can."
"What do you want to watch?"
Pepper was tempted to say Silence of the Lambs, but resisted because that might've reminded Tony he needed to cash in his favor with Rhodey, and the last thing she wanted at this point was for yet another guest to show up.
Instead, she settled on one of the old Star Trek films - the one with the whales. It was the perfect choice, really, if only because she knew Tony would sit there and dissect all of the horribly inaccurate science in it in that abrupt, soft, thoughtful way of his (with his half-sentences and weird facial expressions and hand gestures), making it an easy way for her to relax and keep Tony occupied all in the same go.
Indeed, Tony made it to the tail end of the film without bothering her too much. He complained without end about the science and the technology and how he was pretty sure he could build a working phaser out of spare parts from her kitchen – but that was what Pepper had expected him to do and he did it quietly enough that she was able to rest some.
In fact, she was almost asleep by the time the credits started rolling. She was hovering right on the edge of dozing and sleep when she heard Tony's chair creak.
Deliberately. She didn't know how she knew that, but she did, and she jerked out of her doze immediately.
Tony was still technically sitting in the chair. Technically. But he kept shifting on the chair, as though trying to find some magic position that would both keep the chair where it was and allow him to move freely.
Pepper rolled her eyes and uttered a silent prayer for the strength to not strangle her boss. She'd been so close to getting more necessary rest. So close. "Tony, what are you doing?"
"That is not 'nothing.'" She forced herself to sit up, forced herself to ignore the bright flashes of color in her peripheral vision and the dizzying rush of fluids from her head to her abdomen. "What is it, Tony?"
"Well, you know, you told me to stay here, but…" Tony shot her a pathetic look. "Do you have any aloe? If you don't, I mean, I can always call Rhodey…"
Pepper pressed her forehead to her hand, pushing her sweat-drenched hair out of the way. Fever or no fever, sinus pressure or no sinus pressure, cold or no cold, she had to do this. "You are not calling Rhodey. It's in the bathroom, underneath the sink. Blue bottle. Bring it here and I'll…" rubs the lotion on its skin, her thoughts filled in, but Pepper didn't say that. She made a face, more at herself than anything else. "I'll put some aloe on your back."