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[collab] Song and Dance

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cover for 'song and dance' : pod_together 2013 : filk by Elf : story by idella : performance by silly cleo : separate photos of Natasha and Pepper (screencaps from Iron Man 2)


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Podfic length: 25 minutes, 50 seconds


In the aftermath of the Chitauri invasion, interviews with the superheroes who had saved New York City from Loki's army were highly desirable. Natasha had discovered, through experience, the flaw in this desire. The superheroes themselves, the so-called Avengers, were widely considered to be oddities, outliers not to be trusted. Rather, the press and the public expected official, reputable people to come up with explanations, promises, assurances. From a public relations standpoint, Tony Stark was practically ready-made to take the spotlight: familiar to the media, authoritative, involved.

"Tony," said Pepper, "is being completely impossible." She rubbed at her forehead, drawing Natasha's attention to the shadows under her eyes, visible even through carefully-applied concealer. Natasha was sitting opposite Pepper, and every time the other woman spoke, Natasha could see faint smudges of orange-red lipstick on two of her upper teeth.

She had worked with Pepper before, and Tony Stark was not an unfamiliar topic of conversation. Besides impossible, he was incorrigible, indolent, irresponsible, etc, etc, etc. Natasha wondered if Pepper realized she was complaining in alphabetical order before deciding it was probably automatic.

Pepper continued, but Natasha focused her attention on the view from the large window behind Pepper's desk. She didn't find Tony as charming as Pepper often did, and Tony fucking with the press wasn't news. A crane was swinging lumber toward a building that was, like Stark Tower, missing several top stories. Security personnel at street level had assured Natasha that the building was structurally sound, despite the damage sustained. Natasha had never seen Pepper looking less than perfectly put together, and she wondered if this was, in its own way, as quietly disturbing as any of the destruction she could see out the window. Since when did Pepper wear lipstick incapable of withstanding absolutely anything?

When Pepper stopped speaking, Natasha changed the subject. She wasn't interested in things she already knew, and she knew Tony Stark. He never did things the easy way if they could be done his way instead. "You had a list of questions that need answers?" she asked.

Pepper smiled gratefully. "You're the only person who's gotten back to me." She passed Natasha the uppermost folder from one of the stacks on her desk. "Do you want half of this?" she asked, indicating the tuna sandwich she'd put down when Natasha arrived.

Natasha shook her head. "I haven't had anything to eat since last night," Pepper said. Just then the phone rang, and Natasha was irrationally annoyed with whomever was putting themselves between Pepper and her sandwich. Even CEOs needed to eat. Pepper glanced at the display and made a face. "I have to take this," she said.

Natasha flipped through the folder, heart sinking. She didn't know most of the things Pepper needed to know for the press release, and the things she did know were highly classified. She made sure to keep her face expressionless, but when she looked up, Pepper was looking at her computer screen, not at Natasha. She was also tapping furiously at her keyboard, talking firmly into her headset and – was Pepper getting her chair to give her a massage? Yes. Yes, she was. Natasha was impressed. She had wondered if Pepper, in her new role, had changed, but clearly she was just as efficient as Natasha remembered. Pepper, in the midst of everything she was doing, shot Natasha a quick smile, and Natasha amended her evaluation to 'even more efficient'."

Still, Pepper looked like she could use a break. Natasha cleared her throat quietly. Pepper turned her gaze from the computer screen to Natasha, though she was still talking on the phone and typing. Natasha wondered what it would be like to have Pepper's undivided attention. Was Pepper even capable of undivided attention? She smiled at Natasha again, the corners of her eyes crinkling, and Natasha decided Pepper didn't have to be. "Tea?" Natasha mouthed.

"Yes," said Pepper. "No," she said into her mouthpiece. "That 'yes' was for someone here. You are not here. You get a 'not now, not ever'." Pepper's smile widened as she cut the connection.

"Tea," she said to Natasha, "would be perfect."


Natasha set the tray containing the teapot, cups and saucers on the corner of Pepper's desk. She'd included a pitcher of skim milk and the bowl of sugar cubes she'd found on the counter of the kitchen down the hall. It was tiny, barely large enough for a fridge, a stove, and a sink, but it contained everything she'd needed to prepare the tea. She'd even found a lemon, albeit a slightly wrinkled one, at the back of the small fridge.

Pepper pressed a button on her console. "Hold my calls," she said. She listened for a moment, then said, "no, especially Tony's calls." She hung up. "Thank you," Pepper said, noticing the tea. Her smile looked forced. Natasha quirked an eyebrow at Pepper, but Pepper shook her head. "This day," was all she said.

Natasha poured in the tea in silence, then watched as Pepper added a generous amount of milk and five whole sugar cubes to her cup. Natasha was not surprised when liquid promptly sloshed over the side: clearly there was barely room for actual tea. Natasha added a slice of lemon to her own cup and willed herself not to smile.

She had other things she should be doing. Nicholas Fury wanted a meeting about the Avengers initiative. Clint wanted to take her to the new Canadian-Lebanese place around the corner from her place, just the two of them. It was a miracle it had survived Loki's visit, and the besides, the Montreal-style shish taouk was to die—well, it was good. Really good, and Tasha could trust him on this, dammit. Natasha herself had wanted to sleep for about a week.

Instead, she was here, sitting across from Pepper, because Pepper had said that she needed her help. She listened to the hum of Pepper's computer, watched Pepper's ponytail swing across her shoulder as she bent over her tea. Pepper's temporary desk looked comfortable, lived-in, in a way Natasha's own bed, even when she was able to use it for weeks on end, rarely did.

Natasha blew cool air over her tea, even though she knew it was useless. Tea cooled when it cooled. She wondered how comfortable Pepper would be if Natasha reached over to draw Pepper's face to her own, how comfortable Pepper would be if Natasha—

Pepper's soft sigh brought Natasha's thoughts back to the present. "This day," agreed Natasha.

"Don't get me wrong," said Pepper. She took a sip of tea. "I love what I do. But—"

Pepper frowned suddenly. She set her teacup carefully on her saucer. Natasha, her own cup halfway to her lips, paused. Pepper's eyes widened. She looked almost comical, except—something wasn't right. Natasha could feel it. Something—

Pepper opened her mouth and started singing.

Always on call in hallways or the tower
I barely get time to change and take a shower.
There's phone and fax and email all the time.

Natasha was on her feet in an instant, cup flung aside. Her instincts had been correct: something was wrong. Pepper appeared unharmed, however, and Natasha's scan of the perimeter hadn't identified any threats. Natasha remained on alert as Pepper continued singing.

Rush to the office, into the boardroom
Guy in from Sales is spouting off more doom—
I'm on the clock most days from five to nine.

She had a point, thought Natasha. Pepper sounded almost light-hearted, but she looked even more tired than she had earlier, and Natasha could see panic in her eyes.

Working five to nine, waiting for the stocks to earn out
Every day I find, I'm so close to reaching burnout
When I use my mind, they give Tony all the credit.
It's about to drive me crazy and I'll let it.

Natasha was certainly not going to let it. A knock to Clint's head had straightened him out, and if something was controlling Pepper, well. Natasha hefted Pepper's three-hole punch, but Pepper caught her eye and shook her head frantically, so Natasha reluctantly lowered her weapon.

Five to nine, our P.R. is pure commotion
I'm just getting by, waiting for the next explosion.
When I call for facts, they hang up; I have to redial
But Fury has my cellphone on his speed dial.

Fury had everyone on speed dial. Natasha double-checked access to her phone and her gun and studied Pepper.

Every day is another new meeting
With heads of state while Tony is tweeting--
so I just reach and take his phone away.

Natasha was pleased to note that Pepper's shoulders had relaxed slightly. Her expression was less frantic, and she'd started moving her hands and feet, seemingly of her own volition. Natasha raised her eyebrows at this development, and Pepper gave a small nod of confirmation.

Up before dawn and working past sunset,
Never have time for a pause or reset
And the New York Times wants to know who really saved the day.

Natasha cocked her head. Pepper responded by turning a shrug into some sort of subtle dance move. So. Pepper didn't know what was going on here either.

Working five to nine, waiting for the stocks to earn out
Every day I find, I'm so close to reaching burnout
When I use my mind, they give Tony all the credit.
It's about to drive me crazy and I'll let it.

Natasha continued scanning the room. She considered the large wet stain on the carpet, the result of tea dropped when Pepper started singing.

Five to nine; and I'm really getting frazzled.
They just feed me lines and a bunch of razzle-dazzle.
It's been years since I had a full week of vacation.
If this keeps up I'll be looking for sedation.

Natasha sniffed Pepper's neglected cup of tea. It couldn't have been drugged; there'd been no opportunity. Unless the tea bags themselves had been tampered with, or the milk—

Working five to nine, waiting for the stocks to earn out
Every day I find, I'm so close to reaching burnout
When I use my mind, they give Tony all the credit.
It's about to drive me crazy and I'll let it.

Five to nine; and I'm really getting frazzled.
They just feed me lines and a bunch of razzle-dazzle.
It's been years since I had a full week of vacation.
If this keeps up I'll be looking for sedation.

Pepper's mouth snapped shut. The sudden silence was immediately broken by raised voices outside the office. Seconds later, Tony Stark burst into the room. He slammed the door behind him and skidded to a halt in front of Pepper and Natasha. "Don't—" he wheezed. He had a hand to his chest, clearly trying to catch his breath. "Don't—whatever you do, don't drink the water!"

Natasha set Pepper's teacup carefully on the tray. "You think?"


Natasha listened grimly to Tony's explanation. Pepper had been the victim of one of Loki's parting gifts; Tony was co-ordinating with Thor; everything was fixable. Tony's breathing was under control, though he was punctuating statements with sips from the bottle of water Pepper had produced from a desk drawer. All three of them had inspected the seal before Tony opened it. Pepper had been concerned about Tony, if the song she'd spouted at this point was any indication, but Tony had waved her off, more concerned about Pepper.

Natasha was concerned as well. Pepper had tried writing notes, but Tony didn't see how Ke$ha lyrics were going to help, and said so. Pepper had shaken her head in frustration, but hadn't been able to set aside singing in favour of coherent conversation. Thank god Natasha hadn't managed to drink any of her own tea.

Tony paced the office, gesticulating wildly as he talked. Pepper, seated at her computer, was listening intently. She might be holding up, but she seemed as determined to solve this mess as Natasha was. With no reasonable target, however, Natasha was at a loss. She patted Pepper's shoulder tentatively. It was warm through the thin material of her blouse. Did she have a fever?

"Is she sick?" Natasha demanded, cutting Tony off mid-sentence.

Tony stopped pacing. "No, no, no, I told you—I—she—it's an Asgardian party trick." He glared at Natasha.

Natasha glared back. "And I told you," she said evenly, "to fix it."

"Me?" spluttered Tony. "You're the one who fed her the tea—"

"—made with tainted water supplied by Stark Industries," countered Natasha. She was about to say more but Pepper's flailing arm directed her attention to the computer. Pepper, Natasha knew, had been googling 'Asgardian party tricks' since Tony first brought them up. (Natasha made a mental note to decline all social invitations issued by Thor, ever.) Pepper had persisted with her searches, even though she was continuously rerouted to music videos on YouTube, and even though Tony kept repeating that there was a cure, if Pepper would just listen—

Pepper turned up the volume, drowning out Tony's claim that "hey, great news, we—well, actually, me—well, actually—anyway, we have a cure, that's great news, right?"

Pepper shook her head furiously at Tony and pointed to the video playing on the computer. Natasha frowned, and she could tell from Tony's puzzled look that he didn't understand either. Pepper made a frustrated noise and muted the volume. She caught Natasha's eye and held it until Natasha shrugged. Pepper might be infected with an Asgardian virus that did wild and wacky things to Pepper's willingness to speak her mind, but she still trusted her more than she trusted Tony Stark. As Natasha had guessed she would, Pepper launched into a new song:

When I knew my voice had changed,
I was terrified
I wondered how I'd do my job
If I can't vocalize
But then I thought about my nights
Staying up for far too long
But I was wrong—
I can say it all in song.

So Tony's back
From outer space
And now I've drunk some magic tea
Because Norse gods have trashed the place
I should've checked the water first
I should've moved to some hotel
I should've known that nothing's normal
And watched out for magic spells

But I'm okay.
And this is fine.
I will get through this—
I'll do more than that—I'll shine
Aren't I the one who did this company so proud?
D'you think I'd run away
D'you think I'd let me be cowed?
Oh no, no how.
I'll sing out loud.

Oh, as long as I am on the board
I will do my work, I vow
I've got a busy job to do
I've got people with me too
And I'll be proud.
I'll sing out loud.

Pepper hadn't taken her eyes off Natasha and Tony during the entire last verse. Now that she appeared to be finished, there was an expectant look on her face. Of course you have people with you, Natasha wanted to say. I'm here. Tony's here. She suspected that Pepper's dedication would be hard, in fact, for anyone to resist. The exertion of singing and dancing had caused Pepper to flush, and her breathing, usually so steady, was slightly ragged. Natasha had a sudden, sharp flash of Pepper sprawled on Natasha's bed, warm limbs tangled with Natasha's own, breath hot against Natasha's throat. She blinked, making the image disappear. Not relevant, she told herself.

"Pepper," said Tony. While Natasha had allowed herself to become distracted, Tony had crossed to Pepper and taken her by the shoulders. "I think I'm in love."


Natasha was – well, Natasha was horrified that anyone would voluntarily remain under a mind-control virus for one single second longer than necessary. Especially an Asgardian virus—sorry, 'party trick.' Especially after what the press had taken to calling 'recent events.' For one wild moment, watching Pepper, Natasha had been reminded of the singing-and-dancing frog from the children's cartoons she and Clint had killed time with one long weekend. They'd been holed up in a crumbling Baku hotel, waiting for information to come in, with only the TV and each other for company. The frog's compulsion to perform was horrifying in the same way Pepper was horrifying, but Natasha used the memory as pre-emptive strike against other, less welcome, memories.

She kept all of this to herself. Part of her admired the hell out of Pepper for making this work, and this was the part of Natasha that could be put to use. She used Tony's phone to record Pepper's performance. Tony, of course, directed. Natasha wasn't sure if it was this that finally secured Tony's interest in the press release, or if it was Pepper herself. Pepper, looking poised and sounding confident, nailed it on the second take. Natasha wasn't surprised.

Pepper consented to be cured of the virus only after reviewing the video and making sure it was sent to the appropriate people. Natasha was relieved. Subjects controlled by the enemy tended to become unpredictable, no matter how loosely control was actually enforced. She'd feel a lot more comfortable when Pepper went back to being predictable. "Let's do this," she said to Tony. Beside her, Pepper nodded fervently.

"One cure, coming right up," said Tony. He shuffled a bit, and Natasha thought to herself that if he started dancing, she would happily be responsible for her actions.

"Er," said Tony. He was looking at Natasha. "You don't happen to remember what you were doing when you were, ah – when the tea was being made?"

She'd been making tea for Pepper, so, naturally, she'd been thinking about Pepper. Not that Natasha didn't think about Pepper when she wasn't making Pepper tea. Clearly, she did. She thought about Pepper because she didn't have to, which was one of the reasons her thoughts were nobody's business except—oh. Fuck. Okay, considering the situation, Natasha could see how her thoughts could become, at minimum, Pepper's business.

Pepper had produced a battered cardboard box from a cupboard and was unpacking wine glasses, of all things. (Natasha had to agree that this mess definitely called for a drink. Or three.) Natasha caught Pepper's eye and Pepper hummed encouragingly. She folded a wisp of tissue paper into a neat square, added it to the growing stack on her desk, and reached for the next bottle, all without taking her eyes off Natasha.

Natasha turned to Tony. "It would help Pepper if I remember?" she asked.

Tony took a deep breath and launched into an overly complicated explanation that confirmed Natasha's suspicions: Loki, besides being evil, was a creep. A slimy, juvenile creep.

"I remember what I was thinking," said Natasha.

"Super," said Tony. "That's going to make this a helluva lot quicker. So we just have to make some token effort at making your thoughts reality, which in turn breaks the spell and turns Ms. Triple-Threat here back into her charming self." Tony's smile faltered and he and Pepper looked at each other for a long moment. "We're going to fix this, Pepper," said Tony. "I promise."

Luckily," he went on, "the cure isn't all that, you know, literal. That brunette in accounting, the one with the legs—well, she was drinking water straight from the tap and thinking about what kind of cake she was going to serve at her grandmother's funeral – her grandmother was a victim of, ah, recent events." Tony paused for a moment, then said, more quietly, "Anyway, all it took was a couple of bites of a coffee shop muffin—so not even actual cake—and she was fine."

Natasha used Pepper's phone to confirm that Alice from accounting was, in fact, fine. Still, somebody had to say it. "This is ridiculous," she said. "What kind of cure depends on someone's memory of something they may or may not even remember?"

Tony made a face that was probably calculated to be winsome. "It's a flaw, I agree. And it's true that we haven't been able to cure everyone yet. But I am personally committed to—"

"All right," Natasha said. "If I was thinking about someone else, say the person I was making tea for, would I have to do the thing, or would the person I was thinking about have to do it?"

Tony consulted the piece of paper that he'd pulled out of a shirt pocket and started scribbling frantically. Natasha leaned against Pepper's desk. She watched as Pepper poured bottled water into the wine glasses she'd unpacked. Natasha raised a questioning eyebrow. Pepper merely smiled in response, but her smile didn't reach her eyes. "Tony," Natasha snapped.

Tony made a final note. "Looks like...Pepper, it's up to you."

Pepper's smile disappeared, lips compressing into a thin line. She nodded sharply.

Natasha had planned her line of attack while Tony had been doing calculations and Pepper had been doing—whatever she was doing. Tony had said the party trick/virus, while essentially harmless, would compel Pepper to communicate through music until she was cured. The wine glasses contained differing amounts of water, and Natasha realised Pepper must be creating an instrument.

Natasha resumed her seat across from Pepper's desk. "What I was thinking about was, how you're—how you've settled into your job. You seem to work very efficiently."

Had that sounded sufficiently bland? Natasha hoped so. Pepper raised both eyebrows, but her smile, though faint, seemed genuine.

"Okay, okay, so Pepper – do – I don't know, something competent," said Tony, waving a hand.

Pepper raised a spoon and, sure enough, created a complicated and entrancing melody using just the utensil and the wine glasses. Natasha didn't recognise the tune, but she felt sure it could probably be used to lure recalcitrant children to sleep at bedtime, or possibly will alien cultures at war to put down their weapons and negotiate. She wouldn't put it past Pepper.

When Pepper finished, Natasha waited expectantly. "Well?" demanded Tony.

Pepper sang a few plaintive lines from a song Natasha didn't recognize. Tony frowned and dug his notes out of his pocket. Natasha sighed inwardly. Given the supposedly forgiving requirements of the cure, she hadn't seen a reason to burden Tony or Pepper with non-relevant information. Clearly it was time for some relevant information. She looked at the ground, then, through her eyelashes, at Pepper. She allowed her lips to form just the hint of a smile. Pepper didn't react, so Natasha increased the curve of her lips. She even, for good measure, and against principle, batted her eyelashes. Now Pepper did react, but only with obvious confusion. Natasha decided to try a different approach. Still looking straight at Pepper, she willed blood to rush to her cheeks.

Pepper's eyes widened. She came out from behind her desk, looped her arm through Tony's, and guided him gently but firmly toward the door. Tony kept twisting his head to look at Natasha, eyebrows raised, but he let himself be propelled out of the office "We've figured it out," Natasha assured him, just before Pepper closed the door in his face.


Pepper locked the door behind Tony. Natasha was prepared to talk, to tell Pepper what she needed to know in order to neutralise the threat inside her, but it turned out that Natasha's blush, though manufactured, had been enough.

Pepper took Natasha's hand. Her fingers were dry and cool; her lips, brushing against Natasha's, were warm. Natasha wove their fingers together, causing Pepper's kiss to become less tentative. Natasha let her take the lead, too mortified, and too curious, to be demanding. Pepper took her time, exploring Natasha's mouth first with her lips, then her tongue. It was almost clinical, except that this was Pepper, who paid attention to people; Pepper, who was paying exquisite attention to Natasha.

In the end, it look a great deal of Natasha's not inconsiderable willpower to pull away. She wanted to sink into the floor, or at least cover her face with her hands so she didn't have to look at Pepper. She wanted to pull Pepper to her and kiss her again, wanted to forget that Pepper didn't have a choice about where to direct her attention. She made herself look the other woman in the eye instead. "Please tell me that worked," she said.

Pepper laughed. "It worked. I was going to sing, but you looked petrified. I thought I'd put you out of your misery."

"Speaking of misery," said Natasha, "I'm—I'm sorry."

Pepper's expression darkened. "You didn't cause this," she said.

Natasha looked away. When she looked back, she said, "You have lipstick on your teeth," because, amazingly, Pepper still did.

"If you can believe it, I forgot about lipstick this morning," said Pepper. "I sent out for some when I got here, though. Never let it be said this job doesn't have its perks." Pepper scrubbed at her mouth with a tissue. "Did I get it?" she asked.

"You did," said Natasha. Pepper had looked ridiculous, baring her teeth so Natasha could see them, but Natasha could still feel her cheeks getting warm. She dug in her bag for a compact and used it to check her own lipstick. It was, as expected, flawless.

"I could have done that for you," Pepper said. Natasha looked up, not sure what to make of that, but the other woman's expression gave nothing away. "Anyway," continued Pepper, "we should call Tony. He worries."

"You should," Natasha said. Pepper went to the phone, and Natasha, instead of leaving, looked out the window. It was dark now, but every building standing had at least a few lights on. People working late, Natasha supposed. She wondered if Pepper's press release had interrupted regularly scheduled programming, or if stations were holding back, waiting for the eleven o'clock news. Natasha hadn't checked her phone in ages, but surely the update had gone viral by now. The press would still expect answers, but Pepper had bought everyone some time, at least.

Pepper hung up. She crossed the room, her reflection in the window stopping several feet behind Natasha.

"Hey," said Pepper.

"Hey, yourself," said Natasha.

A moment of silence stretched between them. Pepper was still holding the tissue she'd used on her lipstick, and Natasha, in the window, could see Pepper's fingers picking at the tissue's edges. She could see the moment Pepper realised what she was doing and made herself stop. "I never got to finish my sandwich," Pepper said. "Did you want to get something to eat?"

Natasha's supper was waiting in her fridge, homemade risotto being one of those dishes that tasted even better the second day. She turned to face Pepper. "All right," said Natasha. "We could look at your file with the questions." As soon as she made the offer, she remembered she couldn't give Pepper any real answers. It turned out, however, that Pepper had other plans.

"I was hoping for a night off," said Pepper. "No television, no internet, no shop talk." She had been pulling on her jacket, but now she stood still, looking straight at Natasha. "If you're up for it," she said.

Natasha had never been one to back down from a challenge. "No shop talk," she agreed. She leaned against Pepper's desk while Pepper logged off her computer. "What about shop tunes?"

"Absolutely not," said Pepper, but she was smiling so warmly that Natasha found herself smiling in return. The last thing Pepper said, as they turned off the lights and left the office, was "Let's get this show on the road."