"Tony you are absolutely unbelievable!" Pepper's stiletto heels clicked angrily against the marble floor as she strode up the hall of the suite in Stark Tower. "You've done some stupid, brainless,"
"Pepper," Tony negotiated as he scuttled after her, his expression as close to panicked as was possible for him. "If you let me explain."
"Hopeless, pathetic, narcissistic," she continued without missing a beat.
"You forgot brilliant," Tony offered as she shoved open the kitchen door.
"Good morning, Natasha, Clint," She greeted the pair at the table, still in their pajamas, making a bee line for the coffee pot.
"Morning, Pepper," Clint stated, giving her a charming smile as he dug into his cheerios.
"Good morning, Ms Potts," Natasha's tone was much more friendly than the formal greeting would imply and Clint rolled his eyes. Natasha's sense of humor was an acquired taste.
"This is far and away the most, offensive... ludicrous thing you've ever done," Pepper grasped up the coffee pot angrily. "Ever."
"To be completely fair, New Orleans was more offensive," Tony corrected. Pepper shot him a withering look that could have melted concrete. "Maybe."
"Who are you texting?" Natasha asked, leaning into Clint's shoulder slightly.
"Cap," Clint answered with a slightly evil smile. Natasha blinked at him a moment.
"I've got Banner," She stated, pulling out her phone with a nod.
"Pepper, I know you're angry," Tony held up his hands in what he hoped was a soothing manner. "But I have a really good explanation for all of this."
"There are no good explanations for this, Tony!" Pepper rounded on him, her mug clutched in one white knuckled hand.
"There is, really," He insisted.
"You're forgetting that I'm the one that takes the heat for these things!" Her eyes flamed. "I'm the one responsible for the stock holders and our public image!"
"Good... morning, Pepper," Steve Rogers strode into the kitchen in a T-shirt and a pair of sweats, his hair slightly rumpled as if from sleep, a cautious expression forming on his face. Bruce Banner trailed in his wake, still in the clothes he'd been wearing the night before and looking as if he'd fallen asleep in his lab again.
"Good morning Steve, Bruce," She paused to greet them, losing some of her steam mid bluster.
"Good morning, Ms Potts," Bruce's tone was nothing like Natasha's and Tony shot a look at him.
"Do you have a crush on my girl?" Stark demanded, his expression both teasing and worried as Steve and Bruce pretended to ignore him, heading for the coffee as well.
"You are not changing the subject!" Pepper rallied, poking him in the chest and making him wince. "Tony, how am I supposed to fix this?"
"There's absolutely nothing to fix!" Tony insisted in frustration, rubbing his newly forming bruise. "If you'd just let me explain!"
"You bought Buxom Babes Magazine, Tony!" Pepper bellowed.
"The men's magazine?" Bruce blurted out as Clint chuckled into his fist and Natasha rolled her eyes. Steve gave him a surprised look and Bruce turned to him with a frown. "What?"
"Pepper," Clint gave her a placating, older brother, look. "Men buy skin mags, that's why they sell them. And you travel a lot." Natasha narrowed her eyes at him as Steve's cheeks turned pink. Clint tried to look cowed as Tony rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"He wasn't buying porn at the corner drug store, Clint," Pepper snapped at him. "He bought the entire company!"
"I think that might be a sign that you have a serious problem," Bruce advised, giving Stark a look that said he needed therapy.
"I bought it for the article!" Tony threw his hands in the air.
"Stark, no one ever believes that," Clint sighed, shaking his head. Tony let out a groan, rubbing his face with his hands.
"Barton, stop trying to help me!" Tony glared at him. Clint held up his hands in surrender as Stark turned back to Pepper. "If you just let me explain, there was an article in last months issue."
"The one about you?" Steve asked, his brow furrowing. He flushed scarlet as everyone but Clint turned to look at him. "I saw it on the AP wire." he insisted.
"I remember that article!" Clint declared. "That writer didn't have anything nice to say about you!"
"Yeah, well he doesn't work there any more," Tony shot back.
"Are you telling me that you bought an entire sex industry conglomerate to fire one reporter?" Pepper demanded.
"Of course not, that would be petty!" Tony defended, he pointed his finger at Natasha without taking his eyes off of Pepper. "Whatever you're thinking don't say it." Pepper let out an exasperated sigh, rubbing her forehead.
"Tony you're not making any sense," she intoned.
"The article was a run-up for a book they're releasing next month," Tony raked his fingers though his hair. "And apparently a couple of the chapters delve into how I chose my replacement at STARK Industries." Pepper gaped at him.
"I was protecting you!" he added.
"You know," Natasha mused in the near silent kitchen. "that's almost sweet when you think about it."
"Thank you!" Tony tossed his arms out at his sides as if surrendering to execution.
"What are we supposed to do with it now?" Pepper demanded, but there was no bite in the question.
"Well we're not going to publish any books about my sex life!" Tony insisted.
"We could make films instead," Bruce suggested with a wry grin.
"Stark Naked!" Clint drew a marquee in the air with his fingers as Steve winced in embarrassment.
"I thought I told you to stop helping me!" Tony growled out.
"It's not just the publishing house." Pepper pointed out. "There's the game division and the... toy manufacturers."
"Can I be head of R&D over there?" Natasha asked, perfectly straight faced. Pepper and Tony turned from each other to stare at her as Clint gave her an affronted look. She turned to him with a glare. "I'm qualified."
"You have a job," Clint stated.
"I just think a career change to a more creative field would be stimulating," She stated. Bruce choked into his coffee mug.
"This went down hill fast," Steve observed half under his breath.
"I'm pretty sure it started in the gutter," Bruce muttered back. Pepper drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
"We can always liquidate it and sell off the pieces," She sighed, rubbing her forehead. "Now that you've taken care of the problem."
"Well, not exactly," Tony admitted hesitantly.
"What do you mean 'not exactly', Tony?" she demanded with a frown. "You fired the guy who wrote the article."
"Yeah, well," he cringed slightly, shifting a half step away from her. "He wasn't the guy who wrote the book. I put an indefinite hold on the release but when I asked publishing for the author's alias they said they didn't know. They've only ever worked with their agent and they're writing under a pseudonym. I'm still trying to track them down." Pepper gave him an exasperated glare.
"You don't have any leads at all, do you?" Natasha asked, giving him her usual inscrutable look.
"It has to be someone I know," Tony admitted, folding his arms over his chest defensively. "Someone with an axe to grind. Some of the details were pretty... accurate."
"Well that narrows it down to a third of the women in North America." Clint observed.
"And twenty five percent of Europe and asia," Bruce added. Tony shot them both a scowl. Pepper let out a sound that was half whimper and half groan, rubbing her temples.
"Pepper, come on," Tony soothed, slipping his arms around her waist. "I'll fix it, I swear. This is all on me."
"It's always all on you, Tony," She declared miserably.
"And I'll clean up my mess this time, I promise," he insisted.
"What did you destroy this time, Stark?" Coulson asked as he strode into the kitchen, a yawning, sleep rumpled Thor a step behind him. He held an Avengers commuter mug in one hand and a stack of file folders in the other.
"Just my reputation," Pepper declared. Coulson frowned as he made his way to the coffee pot and Thor collapsed in the chair across from Clint, grabbing the box of cheerios and eating them by the fistful.
"That's not going to happen," Tony insisted. "I'm going to find out who wrote that book and I'm going to sic my lawyers on him so fast his IRAs will bleed."
"Are we talking about the book Harrish wrote?" Coulson asked curiously as he refilled his commuter mug.
"Gene Harrish?" Pepper questioned in amazement. "Justin Hammer's old press man?" Coulson nodded.
"That slimy, snivelly little spin man who was always trying to make it look like they weren't stealing out patents?" Tony frowned.
"That's the guy," Phil nodded. "He sure did his research, it was how we found him. We had to persuade a few of your former... girlfriends to get at him."
"Is there any chance you know where he is?" Tony inquired, folding his arms over his chest. Coulson took a long pause, sipping his coffee.
"We... reassigned him." Phil answered finally. Natasha and Clint exchanged wide eyed looks before returning silently to their breakfasts.
"Is that code for something?" Steve asked worriedly. Phil only gave him a reassuring smile.
"I'd like to think you did this for me," Tony stated incredulously. "But I'm going to go with you having a crush on my girl, too."
"Actually I was motivated by chapter fourteen," Phil answered with a shrug. "The one that details your... after hours relationship with your team, who just happen to be living in your penthouse." Seven pairs of eyes turned to stare at him mutely.
"Oh, and the associated branded merchandise from the toys and games devision," Phil added.
"Now I really want a look inside R&D," Natasha admitted.
"The mind boggles," Clint agreed.
"I'm confused," Thor admitted as the others stared owlishly at each other.
"Have a poptart," Bruce advised, sweeping up the box off the counter and tossing it at Thor's chest.
"This might be the most awkward thing that's ever happened to me," Pepper confessed.
"That's saying something, considering how long you've worked at STARK Industries," Natasha observed.
"How do recreational amusements reflect poorly on us or have anything to do with our social activities?" Thor asked curiously.
"And I'm out of here!" Bruce declared, making for the door as Natasha and Clint stared at Thor with their coffee cups half way to their mouths.
"Coward!" Tony accused, rolling his eyes as Steve quickly shuffled after him, giggling under his breath.
"I'm going to start the liquidation," Pepper scowled, following Steve as Natasha and Clint hastily dumped their dishes in the sink, nearly sprinting after the others.
"Where are you going?" Tony demanded.
"Hey, you said you'd clean up!" Clint grinned as he backed out the door, winking at Thor who still had a perplexed expression on his face.
"Is this a cultural idiom with which I am not familiar?" Thor asked. Tony rolled his eyes, his gaze falling on Coulson.
"What are you still doing here?" he asked.
"Oh don't mind me," Coulson stated, sipping his coffee as he waited patiently on his toaster waffles. "I wouldn't miss this explanation for anything in the world."
This story is part of a series called "Coulson Lives but the Avengers Might be the Death of him." The full list of stories and their chronological order can be found on my profile page