As CEO, Pepper relied on a large team of people to get her through her day. She had a personal assistant and two administrative assistants; below them were at least another dozen people, all efficient and hard-working and absolutely vital to the smooth running of Stark Industries. She trusted any one of them to be able to handle business leaders and senators, journalists and heads of state—but, she thought, as she strode along the hallway, there were still some instances where, if you wanted things done right, you had to do them yourself.
"Anthony Edward Stark," she said as she walked into the mansion's living room, "It's 2.15 and you were supposed to be—" She stopped short. Whatever she'd been expecting to see—and Pepper didn't like to consider herself jaded, but she'd survived both an energy-weapon-wielding madman at the Monaco Grand Prix and putting her own hand inside Tony's chest on more than one occasion—it hadn't been this.
"Thor," she said very carefully, raising her voice a little so that she could be heard over the music. "Are you okay?"
"Miss Potts!" he boomed, though he didn't stop hopping up and down on one foot. "I have been afflicted by what Clint tells me is the most insidious of your Midgardian illnesses—the pins and the needles." Behind him, Clint was snickering.
Pepper blinked. "I'm... sorry to hear that," she said, falling back instinctively on all the training in diplomacy she'd ever received.
Thor flopped heavily backwards onto one of the oversized leather sectionals that ringed the room and began to massage the sole of his left foot. "I receive your sympathies gladly, for I have never before been dealt with in such manner. Why have you betrayed me now, limb, when you have carried so sturdily across worlds?" Pepper wondered, vaguely, if her twenty-something self had had any idea what she was letting herself in for the day she'd sent her resumé to Stark Industries—if she could have possibly known that she would one day end up watching a Norse god have an animated conversation with his toes. "Why now, when we stand at the pinnacle of conquering this, our mightiest of challenges, the Dance Dance Revolution."
For the first time, Pepper paid attention to what was on the plasma screen TV in the corner. "Oh my god," she said, "you're supposed to be at the press conference and you're all sitting around playing some video game?"
"Not everyone, just me and Thor," Clint said, as if he thought he was being helpful. "Bruce isn't allowed to anymore, not after what happened with that OK Go song."
"The good doctor does not appreciate the minstrels who dance upon the moving platforms," Thor explained. He appeared to have vanquished the pins and needles, and bounced back to his feet. "And Stark is not allowed to compete with us anymore."
"Why not?" Pepper asked, in spite of the better judgement that was telling her it was preferable to know as little as possible in a situation like this. (Plausible deniability. Sanity.)
"He cheats, Miss Potts," came a voice from behind her, and Pepper turned to see Steve Rogers walking down the steps that led from the upper mezzanine level of the living room. His khakis were as neatly pressed as always, the parting in his hair razor sharp, and he carried a sketchbook in one hand—every time Pepper saw him, she always had to shake the feeling that she'd watched someone walk out of a black-and-white movie. "He has Jarvis alter the computer program so that the game always gives him the easy dances that he knows. At least," Steve said, frowning slightly, "I think that's what he means when he says, 'Jarvis, lay some fat beats on me.'"
Pepper took a deep breath. "Are you telling me that Tony didn't show up at a press conference at which the Joint Chiefs are present because he's sulking at not being allowed to play a video game?"
"No, not exactly," Steve said, shifting from foot to foot, looking worryingly sheepish.
"Him and Natasha got into a competition at lunch," Clint said. "Tequila shots."
"Oh god," Pepper said, resisting the urge to pull at her own hair. She'd once seen Natasha down an obscene amount of vodka at an embassy reception before reciting a chunk of the Aeneid from memory in flawless Latin and throat-punching an assassin. "Does he even have a liver left?"
"He's sleeping it off in an empty bathtub upstairs," Steve said. "I left some aspirin and a glass of water beside him, but it might be a while before he wakes up. Sorry, Miss Potts."
The music grew louder as Clint cued up the next song in the game: a heavy hip hop beat filled the room. Thor lifted both arms in the air. "My favourite!" he declared, before beginning to sing in a voice more notable for its basso volume than its tunefulness, "These fellows see me rollin'!"
"They hatin'," Clint chimed in, bouncing up and down.
"Attempting to apprehend me riding unclean!"
In her junior year of college, Pepper had taken a class on Medieval Italian Lit. At the time she'd found Dante's descriptions of the various circles of Hell strange, alien to her way of thinking; now, though, she could empathise. Her boyfriend was passed out in a bathroom because he'd engaged in an ill-advised drinking contest with a Classics-quoting, Soviet-trained spy; a former circus performer and an alien were dancing around her to a song she'd last heard that time Tony had dragged her to the terrible nightclub in Milan; and a World War II hero who was younger than she was was staring at the television screen with every sign of utter bemusement.
"I still don't get," Steve said, seemingly to no one in particular, "why they call it Dance Dance Revolution. Wouldn't Jump Jump Revolution be more accurate? I've never once seen it ask for a foxtrot, or even a tango."
Pepper felt a muscle beside her left eye twitch. Maybe Tony and Natasha hadn't worked their way through all of the tequila; maybe she could just go upstairs and climb into the tub, take a nap beside Tony. It's not like they could possibly make the Joint Chiefs any more angry, after all.
"Come, Pepper Potts!" Thor said, waving his raised arms from side to side. "Join me in this swanging! It is a most entertaining activity."
Pepper was about to refuse, but then saw how Steve was starting to bop slightly to the music in the most awkward, uncoordinated way possible; saw how Natasha had materialised from nowhere and was dancing with Clint in a way that surely required at least one of them to be double-jointed. "What the hell," she said, and kicked her Louboutins into the far corner of the room. After all, she'd thrown her lot in with this group—this funny, patchwork collection of friends and found family—long ago; and maybe, just maybe, it was okay to let herself take the good that came with that, as much as the bad.