Title: Equal & Opposite Reaction
Rating: G
Fandom: Avengers (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Pairing: Tony/Pepper
Disclaimer: Not my characters! This is just for fun!
Summary: Written for my 2014 comment meme. Not beaed or edited well. Prompt:  At first it's just a headache. Then he's burning up. Then he's swallowing coughs and the arc reactor hurts, and his sinuses are killing him, and each sneeze just makes his head hurt so much worse, and eventually Pepper (or even any of the team, though anon is partial to Pep or Natasha) finds him curled up in his workshop in a little shivering ball of misery, and there is comfort. please LOTS of comfort? :3

Equal & Opposite Reaction


Tony knew he wasn’t feeling well. But until he sneeze the first time, he’d thought the way the words blurred on the screens in front of him had just been due to an awful headache. Too much drinking. Too little sleep. Sometimes he just felt like crap.


But this headache was a killer. It made him feel nauseated and thumped painfully in his temples and at the back of his neck ever time his heart beat. It had been impossible to ignore—even JARVIS had apparently noticed, as the AI had dimmed the lights in Tony’s workshop and magnified the text on the screens to help him see better without being asked to do so.


It had been a happy accident, halfway through the afternoon, when Tony had gone to clutch his head with his hand and forgotten the glass of ice water he’d been gripping. The glass collided with his forehead, making him yelp in pain. But a second later, he moaned with newfound relief. The cold glass of ice water did for his forehead what his warm palm couldn’t, and, for one glorious moment, the pain lessened ever so slightly. He moved the glass, pressing it to his temple and moaned again. From then on, he kept the glass against his skin at all times.


After a while, he took an ice cube out and sucked on it. After a longer while, he took another out and held it to the back of his neck until his fingers got too hold and he had to drop it onto the desk until he stopped shivering.


“Sir, if you’d like—“


“Voice interface off!” Tony cried—actually cried—wiping tears from the corners of his eyes. The sound of JARVIS’s voice and then his own had been so loud he thought the pain might actually make his head self-destruct. He pressed the ice cube to the back of his neck again


It made him shiver, but he couldn’t help noticing he actually felt pretty hot. Pepper would probably assure him that he was always hot, especially in a smart suit and tie. But this was different. He was sweating. The glass of melting ice was sweating. And, yet, the room felt like it had encountered a time-space rift and plunged right into the ice age.


Tony pulled up the room’s environmental controls. It was taken over immediately by a visual alert from JARVIS in flashing red letters. Tony winced and looked away at once, the strain on his eyes making his head pound all the more. Blindly, he typed commands into the terminal to put the tower’s AI system to sleep. Then, with one eye cautiously open, he glanced at the temperature readout. He wished he could believe that something was wrong with the room, but all indicators described it as normal. Which could only mean that something was wrong with him. At least he had enough of his mental faculties to draw that logical conclusion.


But he didn’t know for absolute certain until that first sneeze hit.


He’d been trying to focus on an equation he’d drawn up a week before; at the time, it had made sense. Now, it was just a jumble of letters, numbers, and symbols. So he narrowed his eyes and stared harder, willing the brilliance to hit him. The text blurred anyway and his eyes shut tight. “h’nxtt!” Immediately, he dropped the glass at the intensity of the pain and pitched forward. He pressed both hands to his forehead as he stepped back to get away from the shattered glass and water melting at his feet, but every step meant his body moved and every movement made his head throb in pain.


Problem was, the torture did not end with just one sneeze. “huh-oh no-heh-eh-inkt!” The half-restrained sneeze made him moan in pain and double over. It wasn’t just his forehead that hurt. His sinuses throbbed, pressure strong and tight between his eyes and in his whole face. Worse than that, his chest tightened as he drew and expelled breath. The strength of the sneeze seemed drawn directly from his chest and there was a sharp pinch from the Arc Reactor as it tried to compensate. But his heart was racing now, like he was on his way to a panic attack, and he knew another sneeze would likely kill him unless he got this under control.


Tony dropped to the floor on his hands and knees. Like a toddler, he pulled himself along, moving forward from sheer will and maybe a little fear as well. Sweating and panting, he reached the end of the room, unable to stretch his hand up to touch the access pad to open it. And he couldn’t ask JARVIS to release the door lock, as he’d turned the AI off.


What he could do was push on the door to one of the shelving unit compartments that lined the wall. He rammed his upper arm against the door and it sprang back at him, opening easily. It was so packed full of equipment he almost lost confidence in his plan. But he rubbed his nose, steadied himself, and began emptying it. He pulled out the armor parts, models, and molds. He got rid of the wires and cables and tools. Feeling his head pound so hard he was almost sick to his stomach, he managed to yank the shelf out and toss it onto the floor behind him.


Head thumping painfully, he crawled inside. With the panel pulled closed after him, Tony was surrounded by darkness. Wonderful, Heavenly darkness. He tucked his knees under his chin and hugged his legs, folded, against his chest.


His breath hitched, building up involuntarily. He pinched his nose, held his breath, but his effort got him nowhere. “hee-incht! hetchttt!” Crammed into the tight space, his body couldn’t jerk forward. There was pain in his head and his chest, but the pains stayed there, confined to those areas as he was confined in the compartment.


He wasn’t sure how long he stayed there like that. Ten sneezes? Twenty? Fifty? More? He drifted in and out of awareness, only knowing the intensity of the pain he kept trying to fight against. After a while, he realized he was too exhausted to move even if he’d wanted to get out.


So he didn’t know what time it was when he heard footsteps or the sound of a door being slowly forced open. The noise resounded in his head, stabbing pain making it ten times worse.


Tony’s nostrils flared wildly between his fingers, and his sinuses throbbed, trying to get relief from terrible congestion And though this was the worst time, he just couldn’t help it. He didn’t have the energy any more to fight. “h’ngtt! heptshttt!” Tony bired his face in his knees. He hurt more know than he could ever remember hurting before. More than when he nearly died and had to put the electromagnet in his chest. More than when the Arc Reactor started poisoning him. More than when the Hulk smacked him around during a training session. Every sneeze sent a sharp jolt of pain through his entire body that took him over completely. One sneeze was bad enough, but the kept coming in pairs or triples—or worse—as if they were purposefully trying to kill him.


The door to his compartment sprang open and there was Pepper Potts, squatting on the floor despite her business suit with skirt, pantyhose, and heels. “Oh thank God.” She had a look of relief on her face that Tony only took in briefly before he turned away, unable to stand the light and movement she had brought him. Even worse than that was when she called out, “Steve!” The shout made Tony’s head explode with pain.


Suddenly everything was too bright. Too loud. Too real. Too much.


“Steve! It’s all right! I found him!”


“Go!” Tony begged, but he couldn’t get his voice above a whisper. “Go away.” He was desperate for solitude once more. He closed his eyes tight, but the blackness of his compartment was now just brown around him. And the silence was filled with heavy footfalls and voices. And sneezes.


he-niisht! Eptchttt! Huh-ah-Owww!” His head throbbed so intensely he went dizzy and blind for a second. Then Pepper came back into view with Steve behind her on one side and Bruce on the other. And Tony tightened his beat hug of his bent legs, not wanting to be moved. “hah…” His sneezes had always been on the small side, but they packed a serious punch, and he could tell his one was going to be especially bad. He tensed up expectantly, willing it to go away and getting nowhere with the request. “Hah-Ingttt!


Tony started to moan in pain, but it wasn’t as bad as he’d thought once the sneeze was over. His chest still hurt and so did his head. But he felt a warmth against his middle and a coolness on his forehead. Tony opened one eye to find Bruce holding a heat pack to his chest and pepper cupping her palm to his forehead.


Then he felt an arm slide against his back, felt himself being pulled out of the compartment with a strong but smooth motion. He shivered violently, curling into Steve’s chest, clutching his arms to his own chest. And when he felt another sneeze come, he honestly thought he might die. The pounding of his sinuses with the white hot stabs of pain taking over his head and chest, radiating out through all his limbs, made it so that he could barely breathe. “eeehhh-ihhpttt!


The next thing Tony knew, he was curled up in bed. There were blankets wrapped around him and something warm pressed lightly to his chest. His head was on his favorite pillow, which was in Pepper’s lap. She held a cool compress to the back of his neck and stroked his forehead with soft, cool fingertips.


When she saw he was awake, she smiled. But she didn’t say anything out loud. Instead, she mouthed the words, “You passed out from the pain. Bruce injected you with something, but he wants you to take painkillers immediately. Do you think you can get some down?”


Tony wasn’t sure, but he blinked and she took that as a yes. Slowly, she raised her knees, taking the pillow with them, elevating it just enough. She put the pills on his tongue and tipped a cool—and entirely unbroken—glass of water to his lips.


He chocked and coughed on his first sip, and one of the pills was lost to the layers of blankets on the bed. Swallowing was a whole new agony he suddenly had to deal with. But then he got another pill as a replacement and a proper mouthful of water and managed to swallow the two lumps of pills. Pain in his head churned his stomach almost unbearably and his chest reacted to the newly-introduced elements. But he kept the medicine down and the water as well. He hated to consider that a victory, but there it was.


And then his head was back down in a more comfortable position again and she was stroking it again, each pet pronounced and gentle with enough pressure that it worked against his headache. He shivered and she pulled another blanket up, tucking it warmly around him and right under his chin. Then her other hand left the cool cloth where it was and rubbed his arm through the blanket.


So gentle and reassuring. So soothing. He turned his head slightly, looking up at her. The lights were completely off in his room except for one dim light coming from the crack beneath the bathroom door on the far wall and the blue-white glow of the Arc Reactor in his chest. It was just enough to see her by, but not enough to hurt his eyes.


“Thank you,” he whispered.


“We would have found you sooner if you hadn’t put JARVIS in standby mode. Honestly…” she sighed but stroked his cheek affectionately.


Tony felt only a light twinge of regret. He hadn’t wanted to be found. But had he known it would be like this, he would have called her immediately the moment that first sneeze had struck.


Though on the topic of sneezes… Tony tensed and squirmed, trying to free his arm from the blankets. But Pepper had a handkerchief already ready, pressed to his nose. It was so thick and soft he tipped his head forward to nuzzle into it. “Ihtff! Hktchf! Heh… heh-ehtmff!


She rubbed the hanky at his nose, getting rid of the lingering tickles there as if it were her nose and she knew just how it felt.


It was in that moment that Tony realized he was never going to move from this very spot. He would have to give up crime fighting as Iron Man. He would have to leave his experiments and projects unfinished. He would have to resign from his position on the board of Stark Enterprises. Because he had to spend the rest of his life right here in his bed with pepper’s hand running through his hair in slow, leisurely strokes, with these thick blankets wrapped securely around him, and with the lights all off. “Pep,” he began, but she already knew this revelation somehow. That’s why she was here.


“Shhh. It’s late. Try to get some rest, Tony. You had a hard day.” She kissed two of her fingers and pressed them to his lips. “Besides, I’m not letting you make any more decisions for yourself until your fever has dropped a few degrees.”


Sure he wouldn’t be changing his mind them, Tony drifted off to sleep, working mentally on the draft of a resignation letter he wouldn’t remember a word of in the morning.