Thank you so much to everyone who's favorited or left feedback for my other Avengers stuff! I love hearing from you guys!
This piece was prompted by the kinkmeme on livejournal, and it's precisely what it says on the tin. I tried to write something short, sweet, and to the point, but as we can see, that didn't work out too well.
Caveat: there is very little Romance in this, and anything that's here is really only in the vaguest terms. You can read the relationships however you like, honestly. This is only to say that this piece is WAY different from my last three. Enjoy!
Five Times Pepper Took Care of the Avengers and One Time They Took Care of Her
I. Bruce and the Amazing Technicolor Snot Wad or, In Which the Hulk Gets Sick
Bruce hasn't gotten sick in a very long time. So long, in fact, that when it does happen, it sneaks up on him, catching him completely off guard.
For the first three days of what have come to be known as the End-of-All-Health by the rest of the team, Bruce didn't even realize he was sick. Sure, he was a bit more tired than usual, and in retrospect the aches and pains he attributed to spending far too much time in the lab hunched over his benches, were not as benign as he thought.
The molecule he and Tony were trying to stabilize was so very interesting, however, and it was easy to push aside bodily concerns. He hasn't gotten sick once since the Accident, after all, and he and Tony have theorized that the Other Guy knocks everything out of his system.
Barton has dubbed the two of them the "Super Science Bros."
He's not sure how anyone finds that man amusing.
In any event, the Other Guy has shockingly little immunity to whatever this particular breed of death plague is, and Bruce is forced to admit this when he sneezes a gigantic wad of snot across one of the plasma screens in the lab.
A rather large, technicolor wad of snot.
Instead of being angry, Tony decides to put it under the microscope.
They are just discovering that Bruce's snot is radioactive (I don't know what this proves, Brucie, but it's AWESOME!), when Pepper breezes into the lab, brandishing a sheaf of papers that require Tony's signature.
"I'll need your initials on these two forms, but here, at the bottom of this one . . ." she gets halfway through her instructions when she starts to realize that something is out of the ordinary.
"Um, Tony?" She's peering down at the snot covered Petri dish right now.
"Yes, Pep?" He asks in such a sweet way that if Pepper didn't already know something was up, she surely would now.
"Just what, exactly, is under that microscope?"
Bruce feels another sneeze coming on, so he races for the box of tissues across the room. This time, at least, he makes it before blowing a hole in his sinuses.
Pepper turns her piercing gaze on Bruce.
"Are you sick?" she asks, incredulous. She'd been in on some of the conversations he and Tony had about using the Other Guy to develop cancer antibodies before deeming it too dangerous.
Or, at least, that's what he tries to say. Instead, it comes out sounding something like a cross between "dough" and a dry hack from a 70 year old, two pack a day smoker.
Papers abandoned on the console, Pepper bundles Bruce up and out of the lab, glaring at Tony the entire time.
"Let's get you some tea and put you to bed," she says accusingly in Tony's direction.
They've made it to the kitchen on Bruce's floor when he starts to feel dizzy, and suddenly he's sitting down, and that's the last thing he remembers before waking up in torn clothing with a thin blanket across his shoulders.
He can tell immediately that he Changed from the sharp metallic taste in his mouth (though the state of his clothes is something of a hint), but he's surprised to see that Pepper's there, looking fresh faced and chipper as ever.
She looks up from her Nook and smiles.
"Heya, Bruce. How're you feeling today?"
Bruce grimaces at her from his spot on the floor. He doesn't like the way she chose the word "today" instead of "this afternoon" or "this morning". He's almost afraid to ask.
"Just what day is it, exactly?"
Pepper hands him a bottle of water, still smiling kindly. "Thursday."
Bruce sighs. It was Monday morning the last he remembered.
"Did I do anything regrettable?"
Pepper actually grins at his question, and if he didn't know better, he might classify it as a genuine smirk.
"Oh, nothing too bad."
"Did you know that the Other Guy is a fan of belly rubs?"
II. In Which Tony Stark Whines
Tony Stark whines when he's sick.
Pepper has known this for years, ever since Tony managed to get a stomach flu on his way back from a conference in Bangkok. He'd spent two days hunched over the toilet, then the next three in bed with the covers drawn up to his chin, demanding ice water and cool compresses.
He's admitted since then that it was the first time anyone had ever cared enough about him to do that kind of thing, and he was trying to desperately to keep her in his orbit just a little while longer.
It would be sweet if he still didn't try to pull the same thing on her.
"Peppp-errrrr . . . !" His whine has a nasal, childlike quality to it, and she's not sure how much of it reflects his sickness and how much is just Tony being Tony.
"I have very little sympathy for men who bring illness upon themselves, Mr. Stark."
This would have more force behind it, she knows, if she weren't currently mopping his forehead in between spoons of soup.
"I'll have you know . . ." he cuts off, and the cough that (most probably) started out as a ploy turns into a wet rasp rounded out with a little choking sound. She rubs his back and hands him another tissue.
When he's recovered his faculties, Tony launches right back in.
"I didn't bring this upon myself."
Pepper lifts a disbelieving eyebrow. "Tony, you were looking at his snot under a microscope."
"I washed my hands."
"It was radioactive snot."
Pepper just rolls her eyes and pats Tony on the head.
III. Mr. Odinson Goes to Bloomindale's
Pepper gets a phone call from Thor at five o'clock on Saturday.
"IS THIS THE LADY POTTS?" Thor is shouting in to the phone, and Pepper has to hold the device away from her ear just to keep from going deaf. She and Thor have had this conversation before, about how to speak into phones, but it seems like a battle that she'll never win.
"Thor, I've told you that you can call me Pepper." She would never tell him, but she actually finds this particular habit of his endearing.
"LADY POTTS, I REQUIRE YOUR ASSISTANCE."
"What's up?" She knows that with both Bruce and Tony down for the count, Steve and Clint working on some super secret project for Fury, and Natasha off in Bulgaria that there are few options open to the man.
"I AM AT THE STORE WITH DEPARTMENTS TO PROCURE A SUITABLE GIFT FOR THE NAME DAY OF THE LADY JANE."
Ah. There it is.
"I'm on my way. Sit tight."
Pepper makes it to the store in ten minutes.
It's not hard to find Thor when she gets there; she just follows the sighs.
She spots him towering over the racks in the lingerie department as a saleswoman piles article after diaphanous article onto the pile of things in his hands.
Pepper moves in for the rescue.
"Hi," she begins in her perfectly schooled professional, no nonsense professional voice. It's the same one that she uses to make Tony eat his vegetables. "I'll take it from here."
The saleswoman melts away, and Pepper is now free to help the poor, hopelessly lost Asgardian.
Thor drops his voice to a whisper. "The sales representative indicated that I should purchase fancy undergarments in order to please my girlfriend."
Judging from the interactions she's witnessed between Thor and Jane, Pepper doubts that Jane would appreciate such a gift.
"It think perhaps we should try elsewhere."
She gently takes the stack of lace of silk from the tall blonde and leaves it on a nearby chair. She'd feel guiltier about leaving a mess if the saleswoman hadn't clearly been trying to up her commissions on such a hapless victim as Thor.
"Come on, let's try over here . . ." Pepper leads him off to the accessories department, for all the world looking like a lost puppy.
It's all worth it when Thor finds "THE MOST PERFECT OF ALL THE SCARVES!"
Pepper allows herself to take some pride in her work.
IV. In Which Steve Makes a Sandwich
Steve is squeezing orange juice in his kitchen when Pepper walks in that morning. He never quite got used to the kind that came in a container, she'd noticed, so she always made sure that the fridge on his floor was well stocked with citrus.
She's not used to seeing him around so much; the team is usually off on some mission or the other, individually or not, and this is the first time since Steve started living here that she's seen him for more than two consecutive days.
Once you got used to his little oddities, Pepper has found, Steve Rogers is a really great person to hang around.
He's been a big help, honestly, with all the illness spreading around the tower. Some days it seems like everyone from the heroes right down to the mailman (who never even comes inside) has come down with this End-of-All-Health flu.
She's pretty sure that Steve is just going to turn out to be immune; it seemed like he and Barton had barely set foot back in the tower when Clint got sick and isolated himself in his rooms. Pepper, though, should have been among the first to get sick; she was practically at ground zero, after all.
Instead, it seems that it's her lot to take care of all the heroes (who have universally become whinier by the second) who live in this tower with her.
Tony's voice from two stories up is conveyed at heightened level by JARVIS. She's going to have to have another talk with that traitorous machine . . .
"Duty calls." She smiles at Steve, taking the glass of orange juice that he proffered. They've been meeting here most afternoons just to have some regular interaction in their days, but it looks like they're going to be interrupted today.
"I think you mean Tony."
"Tell you what, Cap. How's about you and I have lunch here in 30 minutes? No tissues, snot, or whiny boyfriends allowed."
"It's a date."
" . . . and the next time that he calls for me, JARVIS, make sure that it's an actual emergency first." Pepper comes striding back into the kitchen at a clip, empty glass and tablet pc in hand.
Steve looks up from where he's cutting a tomato when Pepper walks in looking somewhat worse for wear.
"Of course ma'am." JARVIS's voice is cool and collected, which inexplicably just makes Pepper more annoyed. "Mr. Stark assured me that it was the direst emergency."
She puts the glass into the sink with more force than she intended, shattering it on the metal.
"Dammit." She puts her tablet down more carefully and starts looking for a bag to put the shards in.
"We're no longer including pillow fluffing on the list of emergencies." Then, as an afterthought, she adds, "Or juice bringing. Or book reading. Or really anything short of the generally accepted meanings of the word emergency."
Pepper tosses the remains of the glass into the garbage can, then turns her focus to Steve, who looks somewhat bewildered at the conversation.
Instead of commenting, he just says, "Hope you don't mind turkey on white, ma'am." He gestures to where two sandwiches rest nearby.
She sits, smiling at him. She can't even remember the last time that someone made her a sandwich that she didn't have to pay for. She happily grabs a plate.
"That sounds perfect, Steve. And please, I get enough of 'ma'am' from JARVIS. It's just Pepper."
She adds a slice of tomato and then takes a bite of her sandwich. It's not exactly what she's used to, but it's still good. Another curiosity or perhaps just a by-product of his upbringing, Steve really enjoys Wonderbread.
"OK, ma . . . Pepper." You can take the boy out of 1940, she supposes.
They're eating in comfortable silence for a few minutes before she really starts to notice that something is up with Steve. Normally, there's chatter between them. Sometimes she asks him about his childhood, sometimes he asks her about things like remote controls or cigarette laws, but there's always chatter.
"So you want to tell me what's bothering you?"
Steve looks like he's not going to respond. Like he's embarrassed about something. She remembers the look from her grandfather, and she knows that she just needs to wait him out. It could take two minutes or it could take two days, but she's patient.
Once, Pepper waited a week to hear her grandfather tell her about her grandmother before the Alzheimer's got bad.
Steve makes it five minutes. Tony must be rubbing off on him.
"It's just all of . . . this." He gestures widely around the room.
Pepper herself is inured to the extravagance after all these years, but she didn't grow up with it. The plasma TVs, JARVIS's speakers built into the walls, hell, even the damn microwave. If it's worlds apart from where she grew up, she can't even imagine how it looks to Steve.
"Yeah, it's a lot."
Steve contemplates his next bite. "It's not that I'm incapable of change. Or that I can't adjust."
She nods, listening. She gets it.
"It's really only the little things. People, by and large, are the same." He chuckles a little, looking at Pepper's suit. "Though maybe you dress a bit differently."
She smiles back. "You know, when I first came here, I felt the same way."
Steve raises an eyebrow, but doesn't say anything. He knows it's his turn to wait.
"Believe it or not, most of this stuff," she copies Steve's gesture from earlier, motioning around the room "Most of it is a pretty recent thing. I didn't grow up around it, or anything like that. It's too new - no one did."
She pauses, then adds, "Well, maybe people like Tony did, but certainly not kids from little backwater towns in western Pennsylvania."
"So how do kids from backwater towns in Western Pennsylvania end up working for people like Tony?" A wry smile quirks Steve's lips, but she can tell that he's genuinely interested in her answer.
"I had to get out of there. I went to school at NYU, and Stark Industries hired me right when I graduated. Two weeks in, I fixed an accounting mistake that Tony had made . . ." she catches Steve's eye, sees the disbelief there. "I really did!"
"No, no, I believe you! I'm just surprised that Tony made a mistake."
She levels a look at him then, debating whether or not to share the next bit of the story. Most people she tells it to don't know Tony well enough to spot what Steve just did. In the end, she decides that there's no reason not to tell him.
"I've never asked him about it, but I'm pretty sure he did it on purpose. It was a tiny error, and it wouldn't have made a difference for the company, but I think Tony was looking for someone that he could trust. Someone who would confront him and not be cowed by the presence of the 'great Tony Stark, billionaire, playboy, industrialist.'
"He promoted me to his personal assistant the same day. I've been with him ever since."
Steve picks up their now empty plates and puts them in the dishwasher. She smiles a little when she sees this; it's taken a while to get him used to that particular bit of technology.
"And how long have you been . . ." Steve starts to ask, and Pepper can see red forming around the edges of his ears. She suspects the question took him by surprise just as much as it did her. Steve doesn't ask about the more personal side of relationships.
"Two years," she answers before he sputters and backtracks. "But I'd been working for him for years before anything . . . happened."
With anyone else, she might have worded it differently. She'd had the almost the same conversation with Natasha right before she'd left for Bulgaria, and certainly had worded it differently then, but Steve reminds her of her grandfather and nicer times, so she tries to hold back, just a little, with him.
Steve sits back down, looking a bit sad. She waits for him to find the words.
When he does, it breaks her heart a little.
"I had a girl like you, once." He stares down at his hands. "She's dead, now."
Pepper reaches out, puts her hands on top of his. There really isn't much to say.
They're quiet for a long moment.
Then, Steve sneezes.
V. In Which Natasha is not Nearly as Inscrutable as She Thinks
Natasha gets back from Bulgaria on a Tuesday afternoon, and it somehow falls to Pepper to pick her up from the airport. Pepper really isn't sure why Natasha can't get a cab, but she wasn't about to argue with the archer when he mumbled his request to her over the intercom system this morning.
So Pepper picks Natasha up from the airport, meeting her out front. Natasha isn't surprised to see that it's Pepper picking her up, or at least she doesn't seem surprised. It's difficult to tell with the Russian.
The car ride back to the tower is quiet, but then Natasha has never been talkative, so having a lengthy chat would be much more out of the ordinary than the silence.
It's not uncomfortable silence, though, and given the mission parameters that Pepper "Most certainly was not aware of, Mr. Fury", she suspects that Natasha needs time to decompress before she can feign interest in small talk.
Pepper takes it as a compliment that Natasha does not feel the need to pretend otherwise around her.
They're almost home when Natasha finally ventures, "So, I heard that everyone is sick?"
Pepper was wondering when that was going to come up. "Yes. It started with Banner, and then spread around pretty quickly."
Natasha raises an eyebrow. "Rogers got sick?"
Pepper chuckles. "Yes, even him, but he's the least of your worries. Tony hasn't had a real symptom in two days, but he keeps expecting me to bring him soup every few hours."
Natasha smiles at that, a barely perceptible quirk of her lips.
"Thor's the only one who seems to have escaped unscathed, but he's been off in New Mexico with Dr. Foster and her team."
Then, casually, so very casually that Pepper can tell that she's hiding something, Natasha asks, "How's Barton?"
Pepper doesn't let on that she's noticed the way that Natasha's forehead crinkles ever so slightly as she worries about her teammate.
"He came down with whatever it is the hardest. He hasn't been out of bed in a few days." Pepper doesn't add that he was unconscious for two of those days and was still very seriously considering moving him to an isolation room on the Helicarrier only yesterday.
The wrinkle in Natasha's brow turns into a furrow, and Pepper is glad that she left out that last part.
In a low voice, one that Pepper nearly misses, Natasha says, "Clint was sick a lot as a child. When he catches something, it hits him pretty hard."
That bit of information wasn't anywhere in his file, and Pepper wonders just how often Natasha has been around an ailing Barton.
They're back at the tower now, and Pepper has barely put the car in park before Natasha is out and walking very hastily toward the elevators, forgetting even to grab her suitcase and attaché.
Pepper knows that she's not expected to do it, which is why she takes the two bags herself, and drops them off on Natasha's suspiciously dark and empty floor of the tower.
The next morning when Pepper makes her rounds through the tower, she catches Natasha rooting around in Barton's kitchen, wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants that are clearly far too large for her as she methodically searches the cabinets.
Pepper doesn't comment on her appearance, she just files away that tidbit of information for later, then walks over to the cabinet where she knows the cans of soup are. She pulls one down and hands it to Natasha.
"Thanks." Natasha meets her eyes, daring Pepper to say something.
So she does, but she likes to think that it's not what Natasha was expecting.
"Got everything handled here?"
Natasha does that smiling with her eyes thing that she's only ever seen directed at one other person, then nods.
"Yep. I got this covered."
Pepper leaves her to it.
I. In Which Pepper Catches the Damned Plague from Everyone Else
By the time Bruce and Steve are back up and running and Tony has stopped pretending that he's still sick, Pepper starts to feel a scratching at the back of her throat.
She was so sure that she was going to miss out on this little bonding exercise that she tried to pretend she wasn't coming down with anything. Surely it was just allergies.
That lasted about fifteen minutes into the monthly board meeting, when she suddenly felt like she was either going to throw up or pass out (maybe both), but ended up just sneezing instead.
The results of said sneeze were technicolor.
She excused herself as quickly and politely as she could manage, then let Happy drive her home.
When she steps off the elevator on her and Tony's floor, she heads straight for the bedroom. She uses up her very last bits of energy to change into the Iron Man pajamas that Tony had gotten her a few weeks after the New York incident.
They're silly and look nothing like the current version of his suit, but they make her smile and the soft cotton feels nice against her skin.
She's sure that she never made it all the way under the covers, but when she wakes up a few hours later, Tony is reading a book and taking notes on some complex formula, and she's tucked neatly under the covers with a suspiciously fluffy pillow below her head.
She must have made some noise when she woke up because now Tony's looking down at her, and she thinks he's saying something to her, but she's really too tired to pay attention, so she just takes the glass of water he hands her, swallows the handful of pills that follow it, and then goes right back to sleep.
She expects this from Tony. For all of his arrogance and bravado, he really is the kind of guy who will take care of you when you're sick; otherwise, she never would have started something with him in the first place, much less stayed with him for as long as she has.
What she doesn't expect is how the rest of the team reacts when they discover that she too has come down with this mutant flu.
Pepper is used to being an afterthought around the Avengers tower. The person in the background who makes sure that the cupboards are stocked and the floors get mopped and all the bills are paid. It doesn't mean that she isn't appreciated, or that she isn't welcomed, just that she isn't the first people think of when they're talking about the residents of the tower.
So when she feels well enough to leave bed two days later and she pads her way to the kitchen to find Steve there, fixing her a sandwich and a bowl of soup, she's a little surprised.
It's another one of his Wonderbread creations, and the soup is condensed, but he sits with her the entire time she's eating and tells her a story about a baseball game he went to once with his friend Bucky.
From there, Steve cleans up and then he's off to the gym, so Pepper shuffles her way into the living room, where Clint and Natasha are sitting on her couch, watching a Schwarzenegger movie and sharing an industrial sized box of tissues.
She would use the "cuddling" to describe their position, except Clint and Natasha are the two deadliest people she's ever met and she likes having all of her limbs attached where they currently are.
The pair scoot over a bit and move a half-eaten bowl of popcorn to make room for Pepper on the sofa, and the three of them sit there together for the rest of the afternoon, laughing at the inaccuracies as they work through the more palatable entries in the man's corpus.
Pepper hasn't had this much fun in ages.
Bruce and Tony return from whatever lab they've been working in with an improbably sized pizza in tow. Clint and Natasha are feeling well enough to join in, but Pepper passes.
They've just started Commando when lightning crashes and the tower sways a little. Sure enough, two minutes later Thor walks into the common room.
"Lady Potts, I was informed of your illness and have brought you a gift."
Pepper braces herself, but instead of dubiously sourced alcohol or random goat parts, he hands her a large thermos and a box of cereal.
"Jane regrets that she cannot visit, but in her stead, she sends her grandmother's soup with chicken pieces and noodles. I also have procured for you a box of Go Lean Crunch. Jane assures me that it has many minerals and vitamins which are vital for good health."
Thor hands Pepper the items, snags the last two pieces of the pizza, then takes a seat across the room.
Pepper is starting to doze an hour later when Steve walks in, freshly showered.
"How is she doing?" He asks to no one in particular.
Pepper opens her eyes, smiles a bit, and replies.
"Couldn't be better."
And there it is! This is the closest I've gotten to genfic in practically forever, so I would really appreciate what you think!
Next up: more Clintasha, because I clearly can't get them out of my system!