She's never pulled anybody from a burning building
She's never rocked Central Park to a half a million fans, screaming out her name
She's never hit a shot to win the game
She's never left her footprints on the moon
She's never made a solo hot air balloon ride, around the world,
No, she's just your everyday average girl
She's somebody's hero
A hero to her baby with the skinned-up knee,
A little kiss is all he needs…
It's going to be an easy mission, Fury said.
They'll be home in time for supper, Fury said.
Nothing to worry about, Fury said.
And Pepper Potts had every intention of tearing the lying bastard a new one as she drove to the hospital at 101 mph.
It had been about 4 pm and she'd just gotten off the phone with Tony; he was checking in with her after finishing up Fury's little Avengers outing. They'd been last-minute dispatched off to the other side of Malibu, where Loki had dropped a herd of Bilchsteim through a wormhole. He'd been aiming for Tony's actual house according to Thor, but had missed his mark by 50 miles, give or take. Thor had reported the incident to Fury who immediately called in the cavalry, since they had experience with Loki shenanigans and whatnot. The hideous beasts were immediately rounded up and dispatched back through the wormhole, no harm done. So Tony called up Pepper with the joyous news that he'd be home in time for the new episode of Supernanny. (They'd developed a fondness for it, but that was beside the point).
Anyhow, she'd picked up her phone not 20 minutes later to hear a very distraught combination of Steve and Clint's hollering voices, and she was able to piece together the information that the portal had closed earlier than anticipated, and the last Bilchsteim had unfortunately tumbled back to earth… and landed on Tony.
The unfortunate part was, he'd just gotten through removing his suit for a recharge, and a plain old genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist doesn't have a great chance against a 700lb scaled antlered beast. A handful of broken ribs, a double-fractured right arm, a crushed ankle, a massive bleeding concussion, and a huge amount of cuts and bruises later, Tony was immediately Hulk-lifted to Malibu Hospital… and was not very enthusiastic about it.
Pepper left the house immediately and kicked rush hour's ass. Tony loathed hospitals with a burning passion; being on other people's schedules and being incapacitated were his least favourite things on earth. Being hospitalized involved both.
Not only would he need a friend, but the entire situation would need a Stark-grade peacekeeper. That was, always was, where Pepper came in.
The first thing she saw when she stepped into the hospital waiting room was Thor and Steve attempting to figure out a vending machine. Second was Nick Fury dropping aUSA Today magazine and striding swiftly over to her.
"Alright, the National Security Council has locked down the hospital so he can't leave. They say he needs serious bed rest, and I'll be damned if I let Stark wander off and damage himself even more. I need my Avengers in one piece." were his greeting words.
"Always good seeing you too, Nick. Has he sued the hospital yet?" Pepper sighed, taking a seat in one of the tacky laminated chairs.
"He started threatening before they even set his arm, but I told him I could have his lawyer deported before he could blink. Then he yelled some things I won't repeat. Then he passed out." Fury summarized.
"You're gonna have one bitchy Iron Man on your hands when the morphine wears off." Natasha commented from behind the latest issue of Vanity Fair.
"That sounds like my general job description." Pepper shrugged, picking up a magazine. "When can I see him?"
"Depends on how long they take to patch him up… if he stays unconscious, it'll probably another 15 minutes. If he wakes up it'll take them a hella lot longer than that." Bruce contributed.
"He shouldn't be able to do much damage in the state he's in right now." Clint added fairly.
"You might be surprised what he can do when people touch him against his will." Pepper replied seriously. "He wouldn't be above bitch-slapping doctors with his good arm..."
As if on cue, a very worn-out looking medical professional appeared through a swinging door.
"Is there a Virginia Potts in here?" the scrub-clad man called over the waiting room chatter.
"That's me." Pepper replied, getting swiftly to her feet.
"Come with me. Mr. Stark is asking for you. Quite adamantly, I might mention." said the doctor with a trace of amusement and possible exasperation. He turned on his heel and beckoned Pepper to follow him, which she did without hesitation.
Two hallways later, there he was.
"You can only stay for a minute, he needs rest. I can't stress that enough."
"I'll see what I can do, Doctor."
She went to him.
He looked bedraggled and pitiful and utterly miserable and it broke her heart, but he still looked every inch the Tony Stark she knew and loved. Naturally he retained his trademark expression of arrogance and defiance, but she could read his eyes like an open book: come save me?
"You told me you'd be home for Supernanny. I had to get JARVIS to record it." She'd always excelled at maintaining her composure.
"Sorry. An asshole dropped a rhino on my face." he shot back. She didn't miss the hoarse undertone in his voice.
"It was just a little Bilchsteim. Don't exaggerate."
"Um, yeah. I'm gonna stick with rhino."
She crossed the room in three strides and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"How are you feeling, Tony?"
"To reiterate, like an asshole dropped a rhino on my face."
"Look on the bright side. Who else can say that's happened to them?"
"Peps, you're talking to someone who's nuked outer space, remember? My list of great accomplishments doesn't need rhinos. And neither does my face." He regarded her out of the corner of his glazed eyes.
"I thought it was worth a shot." she shrugged with a smile. "So, do they give good drugs here?"
"They don't give enough drugs here. I'm on like, cloud 5 at the most. I ordered them to shoot me up again. Mrs. Morphine told me to be a big boy. Guess what I told her?"
"I'm pretty sure I don't want to know."
"I told her that I would only be checking 'partially satisfactory' on my patient care survey."
"Ouch. Remind me not to get on your bad side."
Tony's ensuing snort of laughter turned into a pained grimace.
"Peps, do you happen to have any morphine on you?"
"Ah, must have left it in my other purse. Sorry."
"Lame... fine. I'll settle for Advil."
"I have Motrin."
"Well. On to plan B then. You break into the supply room and find me some of the good stuff."
His tone was light, but she knew him well enough to know that he was only partially joking, and that there was genuine pain etched on his face, maybe invisible to anyone else, but there just the same.
She wrapped both her hands around his left one, the undamaged one.
"Where does it hurt?"
"K, let's see, I got attacked by a falling space rhino-"
"-so I'm gonna say, everywhere."
For him to admit to being in pain, she knew it had to be bad.
"They won't give you any more morphine, Tony. You're strung out as it is."
"Well then, take me home so I can make my own." he snapped back almost before she'd finished her sentence. His tone of desperation bordering on anxiety didn't escape her.
"You might just hate me for this, but you're not going home. Not tonight. Sorry." Her tone sympathetic yet firm as ever.
He regarded her cooly out of untrusting eyes.
"You know I could fire you."
"Go right ahead. But first remind me what your social security number is?"
He shot her a death glare. She hit him right back with the sweetest smile she could muster in the presence of such overwhelming angst.
"I wouldn't fire you anyway… you know too much."
"Yeah, like how to make your special fruit smoothies."
At those words, his eyes went from trapped and upset to total puppydog in a nanosecond.
"I could reeallly use one of those right now. They tried to give me orange jello. Orange, Pepper! I can't live on hospital food. I'll shrivel up and blow away and die."
"You're not shrivelling up and going anywhere. Don't be such a drama queen. People stay in hospitals all the time, nobody's ever died from the food and I promise you won't be the first."
"Would dying get me out of here?"
"Yes. But you wouldn't be going home to your toys. You'd be going in the ground. Because you'd be dead."
In response Tony grumbled something indecipherable but probably very profane. He attempted to reposition himself more comfortably on his side, but his face twisted in pain as he put strain on his broken ribs.
"God, you really did a number on yourself this time. I wish you just wore your suit 24/7." Sympathy or empathy or whatever got the better of Pepper and her hand slipped up to his shoulder where it lingered in what she hoped he interpreted as a comforting gesture.
"I'm fine, my only problem is thatthis bed is simply revolting. How do they expect me to get bed rest without half-decent lumbar support? The springs are gonna start popping out here, I mean look at this… unacceptable" he poked irritably at a frayed edge of the sheet where the bare mattress was visible. "And these walls… repellant. Like, that's not even a real colour. I need to go home."
Pepper took his face in her hands. (Gently, mind you. He was concussed after all).
"Anthony Edward Stark. You can complain till your batteries run out, I am not taking you home. Your ass is staying in this bed until the doctors say you're ready to leave. End of story. I'm your boss today. Now shut up and get better."
Her charge stared back at her with an expression of utter resentment, until he made an observation;
"Aww, Peps! You've got tears in your eyes."
"Oh, shut up, Stark."
It was good to see him smile for a moment, even if it was at her expense.
And then she didn't know quite where it came from -maybe it was the reality hitting her; of how close she came to never seeing that smile again- but she was hit with an inexplicable urge to get as far away from the harshly lit, chemical-smelling hospital room as possible.
"Well, I'm going home to reschedule your meetings and run your company. If you need anything, here's your lifeline." She tossed him the little pull-string that connected to the emergency call bell. He regarded it cooly out of the corner of his eye.
"Like hell I'm touching that. Pass me that hand sanitizer. Wait, what? Aren't you going to say goodbye? Peps? Pepper? Come back! Don't leave me here! Come on, the only thing on TV is Grey's Fucking Anatomy reruns!"
She didn't stop until his voice faded down the hall. Leaving him lying there was like ripping off a bandaid. It hurt for a moment, but better for everyone's health in the long run.
He'd be fine.
Would he be fine? She interrogated herself on the drive home.
It had taken a lot of time and even more alcohol, but he'd told her about Afghanistan once. Not the triumphant escape-in-a-mushroom-cloud-of-flames part. The horrifying part. The part about being pushed and hit and restrained and trapped by unfamiliar faceless and armed men. How the only time he'd ever let his guard down, however accidentally, he'd woken up with shards of metal in his body and a car battery wired to his chest which he was told was keeping him alive and he'd just have to accept it. How the pain was a constant reminder of how his world had just been picked up and shaken and twisted and turned upside down, causing him to lose grip on the control he needed to simply exist as himself.
And she hadn't been there.
This time was different of course. He was safe and sound and everyone did have his best interests at heart, even whoever had the nerve to feed him orange jello. This was controlled, this was okay, this was healing. Not trapping and destroying.
But Pepper knew Tony. And she knew that no matter how much he knew he in his heart that he wasgoing to be okay, there was a small part of him had gone back to the desert tonight, bound, gagged and loathing the uncertainty of strangers altering his body.
4 years ago he was taken and she'd sat alone in his house and cried, disgusted and horrified at how powerless she was to help him.
This time, she was here. And she could help him.
She smiled drove a little faster.
"I'm confused. I thought McDreamy was married. Now he's back with Meredith again?" Bruce pondered, draped in a chair next to his wounded friend's bed.
"You just slept through 2 and a half episodes. He left Addison." Tasha caught him up to speed.
"I thought McSteamy was with Addison!" Clint was flabbergasted.
"He was. That's why McDreamy left her. Do try to keep up." Tony huffed, staring down into the colourless pudding cup that Thor was holding. Tony had immediately established with the nurses that he did not appreciate being handed things, particularly gross hospital food. Thor had taken it upon himself to jovially accept being handed things on his smaller friend's behalf, particularly gross hospital food.
"Friend Stark, are you going to eat this?" the Thunderer inquired curiously.
"It's all yours, Big Guy."
Thor's ensuing grin lit up the whole room and he dug eagerly into the pudding. They were seated on Tony's bed; once the chairs were filled there was nowhere else for Thor to go, so Tony begrudgingly moved over and found there was plenty of room for both of them. Until Steve came back from his trip to the cafeteria and found the gang had finally been let into Tony's room and no one was willing to give up their chairs. So Tony had moved back over to make him a spot, and was now sandwiched between the two blond warriors. That left chairs for Bruce and Tasha. Clint made a nest for himself on the windowsill. Fury, having finally been convinced that Tony wasn't going to escape, at least not tonight, had returned to SHIELD HQ.
Tony had put his escape plot on the back burner for now. But he hadn't given up on making his situation a little more bearable.
"Heeey Bruce? Could you be a champ and whip me up some professional-grade painkillers? Or sedatives? Or… anything? Just not Motrin."
"Stark, I'm a scientist, not a drug dealer. And I can read just fine, your chart says you're at your daily allowance for painkillers." the Hulk's gentle alternate form replied kindly but firmly.
"Rules are made to be broken, help a buddy out." Tony protested. "I let you play in my lab unsupervised, and that is not something I do."
"Nice try. Not falling for the guilt trip."
"Worth a shot." Tony shrugged. Then he turned to Thor. "How bout you? Got any of that crazy mead you brought to Fury's birthday? That'd sure do the job."
"Nay, Friend Stark." Thor replied through a mouthful of pudding.
"Okay then, how about-"
"Tony, shut up and watch your freaky sex doctor show. Not that I understand the appeal of this." Steve contributed, tilting his head sideways and looking up at the TV like a confused puppy.
"It's more appealing than the static on the other 3 channels this outdated box gets." Tony growled. "I swear they put me in the ghetto room on purpose. Obadiah's ghost came back to run this hospital and he has it out for me. That is the only explanation."
"I offered to bring you magazines." Tasha rolled her eyes.
"I can't very well hold them up now, can I?"
"I also offered to hold them for you. That was a once in a lifetime offer, by the way."
"Pshh. What am I, a senior citizen? No offence, Capsicle."
"None taken… Robot." Steve smirked.
Tony giggled, then caught himself.
"Oh my God, I'm reduced to laughing at Rogers' pathetic insults. I need drugs…"
And then, as if sent down from Heaven itself, his guardian angel landed.
"Did someone call for drugs?" Pepper smiled, gliding into the room.
"Peps! You came back for me!" Tony greeted with unbridled delight. The other Avengers exchanged a covert smile; he looked like a puppy whose best friend had just came home after a long day.
"Of course I did. Did you really think I'd leave you to rot in here?"
"Shut up. I brought you goodies."
"No! God, what kind of horrible drug-pusher do you think I am?"
"But you just said-"
"I meant I have something way better than drugs. Go on, open it."
She passed Tony her largest shoulder bag (which happened to be his favourite shade of Hot Rod Red). It looked to be stuffed to the brim. With his good hand, he slowly unpacked…
"JARVIS!" he practically yelped in ecstasy like a child on Christmas morning. Remembering his phone had been smashed by the falling beast and he had no other way of contacting his best AI friend from the hospital, Pepper had thrown in the first JARVIS-integated piece of equipment she'd found in the house. It was a touch-pad sort of tablet thing, she wasn't entirely sure what it did but Tony clearly knew because he hugged it against his chest like a lifeline.
"Good evening, Sir. I was deeply upset to hear you were gravely injured. I hope you are feeling better." said the artificial voice smoothly.
"Much better now, J. Thanks. Now if you have nothing better to do I'd like you to set up a satellite link from this room. I'm getting pretty sick of Grey's Anatomy."
"Right away, Sir."
Tony delved into the giant-purse-thing once again, and this time emerged with a small cylindrical device that resembled a blender. Accompanying it was a bag fresh from the grocery store, containing all of the amenities necessary for a flawless smoothie.
"Smoothie supplies! Aww, Peps… Change of plans, everyone. I will not be starving to death after all."
Next up was his beloved Obama-style Iron Man poster. Tony was barely able to keep a lid on his joy as he Clint hung it up facing the bed.
"Now you can stare at yourself all day. That should make you feel better." Steve chuckled.
"Oh trust me, it does. Now what's next here… what the… what is this?"
Now he was withdrawing a roll of fabric of some sort, but a very thick and spongey fabric.
"Is this what I think it is?" he questioned Pepper, staring up with dazed disbelief.
"That depends, do you think it's NASA-grade microfiber memory foam?"
"I do think that."
"Well then, there you go."
"They use this for beds in space! How do I not have this already?"
"Since you spend the least possible amount of time in your bed, it makes sense that you put the least possible amount of effort and money into it too. Relatively speaking, of course." Pepper clarified. "By the way, there's one more thing in that bag. Just to make you feel especially at home…"
Iron Man pyjamas. Made to look like the actual suit. The little "arc reactor" in the centre even glowed in the dark. Pepper had found them on her quick shopping trip; they were boys' size XXXL. Aka, mens' medium.
"Have I ever told you that I have absolutely no idea what I did in my life to deserve you?" Tony asked abruptly, with an utterly serious expression on his face. Such a self-deprecating thing was the absolute last thing anyone would ever expect him to say in front of other living organisms.
There was a moment of silence where Pepper searched for a witty and deflective comeback appropriate for present company, but Clint beat her to the chase:
"He's fine, everyone. That's the drugs talking."
"Naah, he's expressing his feelings!" Steve argued. "I was starting to worry he didn't have any. Good on ya, Stark."
Whether he really was drug-addled or simply in a rare feelings-y mood, Tony wasn't specifying one or the other. In fact, he'd lost interest in the conversation entirely, and was now directing JARVIS to hack into the hospital's database. Typical.
Pepper then proceeded to set up a makeshift smoothie bar in the corner, and soon everyone wanted in. In no time at all, Thor was double-fisting a thick strawberry concoction, Steve repped his theme colours with a blueberry/raspberry mix with white whipped cream on top. Bruce created a delicacy in the exact shade of Hulk green which didn't look incredibly appetizing, but he swore it tasted great. Meanwhile, Tasha and Clint broke into the vending machine in the hallway while no one was looking and came back with an assortment of snacks worth of an Avengers movie night.
"So that's where they keep the good food." Tony noted.
At first Steve thought the entire concept of tricking a vending machine into giving snacks out for free was utterly awful and immoral, but with one bite of Mars Bar he was completely sold.
Now the scene in the room really did look like any other Avengers movie night: Tony was monopolizing the middle of the bed sporting his Iron Man pjs. Pepper sat beside him, and Steve on the other side of her. Somehow the bed proved wide enough to hold 4, for Thor was still on Tony's other side; crammed onto the smallest possible amount of space but looking remarkably delighted about it. Bruce was channel-surfing via JARVIS's improvised connection to the room's TV. Clint and Nat were casually plotting ways to surreptitiously move a couch from the nurses' lounge into Tony's room - while nibbling on pilfered chocolate bars.
JARVIS streamed a Supernanny marathon until everyone drifted off.
Pepper was the last to go; she took one last look at her man of iron. He'd fallen asleep with his head leaning rather comically into Thor's cushiony upper arm. The thunderer was living up to his name, producing the most spectacular snores she'd ever heard. She noted that Tony was still holding the JARVIS tablet; she gently removed it from his unbroken hand and replaced it with her own.
When she drifted off -squashed cozily between Tony and Steve- all felt right in the world.
It was 2 am when Tony's nurse (the one he dubbed Mrs. Morphine) came around to the room. The first thing she noticed was the sizeable increase in the room's population. The second thing was the presence of what looked like the lounge couch. And on the TV was a muted feed of Supernanny, god only knows how they'd managed to get that channel. Also, they all appeared to be asleep.
"Mr. Stark?" she called as quietly as possible. "I'm here to administer your next dose of morphine."
"Mmnpthh… wuh?" Tony muttered, never particularly eloquent after being woken up unexpectedly.
"It's time for your painkillers. See? I told you you'd get them eventually."
"Do not want. Go'way."
"But… you were very um… adamant about this earlier. You asked me how many hours minutes and seconds till the next one, and here it is."
"I'm fine. Don't need 'em."
"Alright then, dear." concluded the very puzzled Mrs. Morphine. "Just pull your call bell if you feel any pain later."
And the man of iron drifted peacefully back to sleep, believing that the hair tickling his nose was Pepper's. He would have a few more hours of blissful dreaming before he found out that it in fact belonged to Thor.
Pepper herself had heard the whole thing, and she'd never been more proud of him. Mere hours ago he was on the brink of an "agonizing death", to put it melodramatically. Now he'd just declined a dose of the painkiller he'd recently been willing to steal.
Must be the pyjamas. She thought with a smile.
But only Tony would ever know the truth. It wasn't the pyjamas, or the flawless trademark Pepper Potts smoothies, or even his link to JARVIS.
It was all of it, and none of it.
Because if she was there, then he was already home.
And that smile lets her know,
that she's somebody's hero