Day 10

Title: Day 10
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Marvel (Avengers)
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Tony/Pepper/Steve
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Tony's got a cold... and it's catching.
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2015 project for Mr. T.


uh... uh-huhhhhh...” Tony's breath is shaky and nowhere near as quiet as it should have been, given their surroundings. The man had been breathing heavily through his mouth all night, and don't think Steve hadn't noticed this. Tony was simply too good at making up excuses and then changing the subject entirely. Pepper knew her way around such things, but Steve was still finding his. So, an hour before, when Tony said the reason he was sneezing was the rose boutonniere, Steve believed him.

Gullible fool, Captain America. “If it makes your nose tickle, you shouldn't wear it,” Steve reasoned, unpinning the thing from Tony's fine suit and dropping it into the trash. “I'll get you a pocket square instead.”

To which Tony replied, “Pocket square? Remember what decade you're in, Cap.”

It was true that Steve was behind the times in most areas still. Clint had been doing an excellent job of bringing him up to speed whenever the two of them had time. But there were some things that never went out of style. Steve found a red square of cloth in the dresser and tucked it expertly into Tony's breast pocket. When he stepped back, he received a momentary flash of Howard Stark standing before him. This was unsettling. Howard had been a friend and a major part of Steve's life, and now here Steve was, in a relationship with his son. Maybe a pocket square wasn't the way to go after all. “I could find you another flower,” he suggested.

Tony turned his head, pushing a fist right up under his flaring nostrils. “uhh uhh uhhhh-IHHKShhhuhhh!” Sniffling, he shook his head. “No more flowers, thanks.” And then, because it was what he was good at, “What's taking Pepper so long in there? The shower isn't even running any more.” He had walked over to the bathroom door, knocking that same fist upon it. “Hey Pep? Your men have been ready out here for hours. If you don't hurry up, we're going to miss the opera entirely. Which... might not be a bad thing, actually. I've been wanting to try out this new piece of tech I've been--”

The door opened at this point, revealing Pepper in a sleek, gold sequined gown, lace-up heels, and hair done up into a beautiful arrangement of curls. She took Steve's breath away, though Tony's only deepened. And, suddenly, Steve considered actually skipping the event just to drag the two of them into bed. It was so rare that they were all free at the same time, it seemed a pity to waste it on something like seeing an opera when they could be wrapped up warm and tight together, hands and kisses freely roaming over each others' bodies.

But this was a charity event. And Pepper had been looking forward to it all week. She deserved a reward after the board meeting from Hell she'd had this week, too. So Steve kissed her cheek, tasting a light layer of foundation and blush, then stuck out his elbow. “You look amazing. Every second well spent.” She took his arm with a squeeze and a thank you.

Then Tony latched on to Steve's other arm. “Can we go now?”

Steve kissed his cheek, feeling smooth skin under his lips and tasting a hint of aftershave. “Of course.”

“Good. The sooner we go, the sooner we can get back here, change out of these clothes, and climb into bed.” The mischievous glint in his eye completely distracted Steve from the fact that Tony was sniffling.

It is impossible to not notice it now, however. The orchestra in the pit down below their box seats is loud, music echoing throughout the hall. And the singers on stage project loudly as they sing; opera is not a quiet performance art. But Steve can still hear Tony sniffling. And this time there is no flowery boutonniere in sight. No chill in the air either, as Tony had claimed to feel outside when stepping out of the limo. No lights shining in his eyes like in the lobby. No reason for Tony to be sniffling now unless he's sick. This does not take someone with Tony Stark's IQ to figure out.

uhh... uh... uhhhh...” Tony presses his fist hard against his nose, rubbing in a small circular motion. But his nostrils keep twitching. He isn't paying any attention to the opera and, now, neither is Steve. The seats are close together, so Steve does not have to reach far in order to rest the back of his hand against Tony's forehead. Tony's eyes shoot daggers at him when he did this, but he can't lower his hand or else he might sneeze.

Steve might have found that funny, if not for the intense heat Tony's forehead is giving off. Steve takes his hand away and extends his arm even further, touching Pepper on the thigh. She gives a start of surprise. “I'm sorry. We have to go,” he mouths carefully and clearly, not wanting to make a sound.

She narrows her eyes at him, focusing on the watch. “Supervillans can't wait until intermission?” she replies, softer than a whisper.

Steve pulls his hand back, now rubbing Tony's thigh. “No, it's Tony. He's broiling with fever. We've got to get him home.”

Alarm and concern quickly overtake the annoyance that had just been on Pepper's face.

She looks at Tony, who shakes his head. “D'no. Ih-I'm fuhh uhhh uhhhh UH...

At once, Pepper puts her hand on his arm. “We're going,” she whispers, her tone not one to argue with; even Tony gets that. “Once we're in the lobby, I'll call Hap to bring the limo around.” And even though Steve is physically the strongest of them, Pepper is the one who hauls Tony to his feet and starts pushing him in the direction out of the box. Steve is the one who leads the way and apologizes to everyone as they inch past. Getting up and blocking views during the performance is impolite, but Steve can't see how it can be helped now.

UH.. HUHH... Uhhhhhhh-Cab?” Steve turns just in time to see Tony's eyelids flutter closed. Helplessly, he watches Tony snap forward with a sneeze. “Uhhh-CHIHShhhhhh!” He drops his hand all too soon. Because he rears back with another deep breath and sneezes again, nostrils flaring. “Uhhhh-HUH-UHHHTShhhhhhh!

The opera stops. The music grinds to a halt, the singer on stage coughs, and the audience turns to look up at the box where the three of them stand. Tony looks like he's about to die. When he's Iron Man, Tony is confident. When he's Tony Stark the businessman, he's charming. When he's Tony Stark the genius in his lab, he's arrogant. But any other time, and when it comes to social niceties, he's overwhelmed, self-conscious, and introverted. Pepper knows this. And so does Steve.  

Luckily, Steve knows how to be charming, too. He raises a hand and gives everyone the brightest of smiles while his eyes convey his apology. “Sorry, folks. Avengers emergency. Nothing for you to worry about, though. We'll just have to catch this production on another night. My apologies!” Most everyone nods or shifts uncomfortably, wondering what the emergency might be. But Steve quickens their pace and squeezes past the others in their row. He stands at the door, ushering Tony then Pepper through it before giving a wave to everyone still watching. And, as they walk down the grand staircase, he can hear the music start back up again. This will soon be forgotten.

“Avengers emergency?” Pepper asks, rubbing a hand in circles on Tony's back as Tony sniffles against his hand.

“Yeah,” Steve says, following them down the stairs and casting glances over his shoulder as if he expects there to be some supervillain following them down. Apart from a rogue usher or two, they pass no one on their way out. “Sometimes Avengers have to take care of the city... and sometimes we have to take care of each other.”

Tony coughs and stops at the bottom of the stairs. Steve gets to the bottom a few seconds later and puts his arm around Tony, squeezing him reassuringly. Then he grabs their coats at the coat check, helping Tony on with his just as the limo pulls up. Tony coughs some more as they all climb in, but he manages to hold back a sneeze until they're well on their way back to the tower.

Tony sits next to Steve, whose arm is still around him, resting his head on Steve's shoulder. Steve can hear his breath hitch, can practically hear the tickle as it sneaks up on Tony's nose. “Uhhh... huhhh... huhhhhh-UH-HIHTCHHHhhhhhh!” The sneeze is so loud it makes Hap jump. The limo swerves a little, but Happy recovers quickly.

Sheepishly, he looked back at them through the rear view mirror. “I'll close the window?”

“Good idea,” Pepper tells him. Happy presses a button and the sound-proof privacy window slides closed.

Tony starts to put his head back on Steve's shoulder, then grimaces. “You're too hard and bumpy, all bone and muscle.”

Pepper leans forward to take off her coat. She folds it into a square, inside-out, and places it on her lap. Tony takes the invitation and lays his head on the soft fleece there. And for a whole minute, he is content.

But then he has to sneeze again. His whole body draws together, curling up and then shaking in place. “uhhhhh uhhhIHHKTshhhhhhhh!” Tony sniffled, rubbing his hand at his nose.

Steve reaches over and pulls the pocket square out of Tony's pocket. Tony takes it and snuffles into it. “Bet you're glad you have that now, aren't you?” Steve chuckles.


On her way to sleep, Pepper sniffles against Steve's chest; she at least didn't find him too bumpy or too hard. Steve's strong hand strokes Pepper's head. Strangely, comforting her made him feel better as well.  But not that much better. His head still thumps and his throat still stings and his nose still runs. “Tody?”

Their giant walk-in closet glows, illuminating the far side of the dark bedroom where Tony is dressing for the morning. He's picking out his tie, and he looks back at Steve via the reflection in the mirrored doors. “Hey. It's early. Go back to sleep.”

Steve tries to not think about the large portion of their bed where Tony isn't any more; it feels empty without him, but he knows it's not in Tony's nature to stay and take care of them when he could be working. “Cad't sleeb. Dod't feel good.” The congestion in Steve's voice is difficult to hear through in the darkness. He doesn't know if Tony understands him, but he can't ask, either. “Ahhhh!” Because he has to sneeze. “Ah...Tode... ahhh-hah! Hah-Ahtchoooo!” Pepper whimpers as he sneezes hard enough to shake them both in bed. Steve groans and rubs at his nose. “Tode. Get be adother hadkerchief?”

“There's a tissue box by the bed, Cap.”

Steve glances over at it but makes no move for it. “I deed subthig stroger thad tissues.” He pauses to cough and sniff. “Blease, Tode? They're id the top drawer.” Sighing, Tony glances over at the dresser, but he takes time to adjust his tie before going to get the handkerchiefs. Cap's nose runs, and he holds his hand there, eyes fixed on the drawer. He needs to blow, needs to wipe, needs to sneeze. He needs his hankies. “Tode?” Cap doesn't do desperate well, but this cold has virtually reduced him to that scrawny, sickly young man he once was. He hates it, and he wonders why they keep him around in this state.

Finally, Tony is at his side with a handkerchief. It's only the one, but it's better than tissues and definitely better than nothing. “Thags,” Steve says, blushing furiously as he blows his nose into it. “Sorry. Sniff! Excuse be. I...” He means to apologize for being so needy, but then his breath catches. “I hahhh...” Which turns his apology into something else entirely. “ahhh I have to... to... ahhhhhh AHHH-AHTChhhhhh! HahChoooo!

He groans inwardly as Pepper wakes fully this time. She coughs and sniffles and raises her head, blinking up at Tony. “You're going?” she asks, more disappointed than surprised.

“Lots to do,” Tony tells her. “Besides, you and Steve can keep each other company. You don't need me.”

That's debatable. If it weren't for Tony, the three of them never would have gotten together to become what they are. Then again, if it weren't for Tony, they wouldn't have this cold either. Pepper seems to be thinking along those same lines. She pulls an arm out from under the warm covers and points at Tony. “Your cold.” Then she points at her nose. “In my nose.” She sniffles again. “You owe me.”

“You're right. I do.” Tony looks a little guilty as he rounds the bed. And for one brief second, Steve thinks maybe he intends to kiss her, as if a kiss will make up for the contagious germs and misery he gave her. But he only leans over a little and tugs the covers back up over her arm, tucking them under her chin. “You need someone to look after you, don't you?” She nods, sniffling again, as pathetically as possible. Steve gives her credit for that. “That's why I'm flying Bruce back from Mexico. He should be here by noon to look after you.”

Pepper narrows her eyes at him. “Not what I had in mind.”

Tony brushes his hands down his front as he straightens up, making sure his suit and slacks are wrinkle-free. Of course they are. “Bye Pep. Bye Cap. Feel better!”

Under the warm, heavy covers, Steve draws Pepper close. Her pout turns to a kiss against his neck. And then a soft, stifled sneeze. “h'KTshhhh!

Steve mops her nose with his handkerchief and smiles as she sighs. “Feels good,” she murmurs. “Soft.”

He nods and pulls it back, just in time to catch his own sudden, strong sneeze. “ahhhh-HAHChoo!” With sneezes like that, tissues just aren't going to cut it. He's sure he'll need another handkerchief before Bruce gets here at noon, but right now he's too sleepy to get up for one. And Pepper's already settling back into sleep against him. He strokes the top of her head with his cheek until his head dips and eyelids fall.


Hahhhh-HAHChooo! AhhhChooo! Ahhh... ahhh... ahhhh-Choooo!” Even though the handkerchief is soft and dry, Steve's nose stings when he rubs it. It's sore and raw and tender. But he's glad for the hankie, not wanting to spread his germs to Bruce. “Baybe you shouldn't be here,” Steve says, as Bruce bustles around, shaking medicine out of bottles, refilling hot water bottles, taking temperatures. “What if you catch this cold add sdeeze whed...”

Bruce smiles, amusement dancing across his face. “One sneeze from the big guy would probably level the tower?”

Steve nods, glad he didn't have to be the one to say it, but that's exactly what he meant. The Hulk with a head cold is a scary prospect. He'd probably need a beach towel or maybe a tablecloth to blow his nose into.

“Well, don't worry. I don't intend to catch this. I'm just here to look after you and Pepper. I can always put on that mask Tony left me that's designed to filter out germs, if you're worried about giving me your cold.”

“Tony's cold,” Pepper insists sleepily. Steve had thought she was fast asleep, but her comment makes him chuckle. He cuddles her closer, wishing she weren't so miserable but glad that she is there with him, glad he's not suffering alone.


Hunger pulls Steve out of bed. He has a patriotic bathrobe Tony tried to give him as a gag gift, but Steve secretly adores, and he pulls it on to stay warm as he ventures down to the kitchen. He still feels terribly sneezy, so he slips a handkerchief into one of the bathrobe's pockets, assuming it should last until he'd back in the bedroom. He's bad off but not that bad.


The sneeze stops Steve dead in his tracks. Because it's not his. And after a week of hearing Tony and Pepper sneeze, he's sure it's not theirs either. Tony's sneezes are surprisingly loud, but nothing like this. And because Steve's head is filled with congestion, it takes him far too long to realize who it must be. “Oh Bruce,” he whispers, shaking his head. Bruce should have worn that mask after all.


Steve jumps in surprise, the sudden, loud sound setting off warning bells in his head. He has to remind himself it's just a friend with a head cold, not a mad man with a bomb or a soldier with a grenade. Curious, Steve takes the elevator to the level where the other Avengers' rooms are. There are rooms for each of them when they're in town; there's even one Steve used to use before moving in with Tony and Pepper in the penthouse. Steve steps out of the elevator and heads toward Bruce's bedroom on the right when the door to the stairs bursts open and Bruce runs past, heading to the left.


It takes Steve an embarrassingly long time to realize that if Bruce just passed him, it can't be Bruce who's sneezing. It can't be the Hulk.

Then who is it?

IHHHHHISHOOOO!” Each sneeze makes Steve give a start, nerves on edge. But he walks in the direction of the sneezes this time, past bedroom after bedroom, until he reaches one where Bruce hovers over someone in bed, his back to the door. When he moves toward the tissue box on the nightstand, Steve sees who it is.

Thor struggles to get out of bed, though Bruce holds him down. On a typical day, Bruce would be no match for Thor. But there is nothing typical about this. Thor has about a dozen tissues clutched in his hand and his nostrils flare powerfully, indicating the onset of another sneeze. He breathes deeply, loudly, as the sneeze builds up in his nose. “IHHHHHH! IHHHHHH... IHHHH! Ihhhh-HIHHHH-IHHHHHHHHH-CTSHOOOOO!

Standing so close, it is even louder than the ones before. Shocked, Steve's heart races. A god with a head cold? This can't be good. The tower still stands, but the sneezes are so loud, none of them will get any peace or rest until he's well again. He watches Thor mop his nose with the now useless clump of sodden tissues and gets an idea.

Steve pulls the handkerchief out of his pocket and invites himself into Thor's bedroom.

“That medicine is for mortals. SNIFF! It will not work on me,” Thor insists while Bruce tries not to spill a drop of the green syrup on the spoon.

“Just give it a try, please!” Bruce pleads.

“Hey there,” Steve interrupts, and they both turn to look at him. He holds out his handkerchief. “Fold this to your nose and mouth when you need to sneeze.” Or, Steve thinks to himself, all the time just in case one sneaks up on you.

Thor looks skeptical, but he accepts the handkerchief if only because it isn't Bruce who's handing it to him. Bruce looks exasperated and exhausted. Taking care of a sick god is probably more than any one Avenger can handle.

Pressing the handkerchief to his face, Thor snorts into it. Then his breath catches and eyes close. He rears back with a giant breath but keeps the handkerchief clamped to his face. “Ihhhhhh... IHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH... IIIIIHHHHHHHHHHH-HIHTCHUMMPHHHHHHH!” The sneeze is still explosion-loud or rock concert-loud, but hankie smothers the worst of it. It contains the massive sneeze well enough that a wave of relief rushes through Steve.

“It's bade with sub dew baterial Tody cabe ub with,” Steve tries to explain. “It's strodger thad a dorbal handkerchief. I've got a dozed others upstairs if you—”


“—need another.”

“Thadk you,” Thor says, weakly. Thor never does anything weakly. Apparently mortal colds are enough to reduce Asgardian gods into babies.  “I thig Tody gave this to be.” Steve and Bruce both nodded. “This is uddigdified add udaccebtable. I ab afraid I will have to kill hib.”

Steve froze as if Thor had sneezed again. Only it was much worse this time, much more dire.

“Thor...” Bruce began, searching for words when there really were none. “I... don't...”

Thor lowers the handkerchief, smiling. “Loki isd't the odly ode of Oded's sods with a sedse of hubor.”

Beside Steve, Bruce relaxes visibly as well. Bruce holds up the spoon of medicine again, hopeful.

Thor snaps the handkerchief back up in place to block his mouth. Steve chuckles.