Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and All that Jazz

Let's Get This Party Started

"I swear if you crinkle that bag one more time..."

Pepper moaned and put her aching head in her hands, bent over a desk strewn with papers, all of which called for her attention.

This statement was greeted by another round of plastic crinkling, louder this time than all of the rest, and Pepper slammed her hands forcefully on the desk and turned around to face the couch.

Tony sprawled leisurely upon it, his feet propped up on the corner of the desk, crushing a small plastic packing bag into a ball between his hands. He stopped guiltily when Pepper whirled around to face him, her eyes blazing.

"I'm done!" he cried defensively. "Just throwing the bag away..." And he twisted in his seat, lobbing the bag in an arch as it sailed across the room, landing perfectly in the trash can in the far corner.

He crowed triumphantly at his success, turning to Pepper with a smile—one that quickly faded when he saw her face.

"Wait...You finished the entire bag?!" She glared at him open mouthed. "Again! Thats three bags! You've eaten three bags of Chocolate-Covered Blueberries since this morning!"

Tony blinked innocently. "What? They're good!" He held up a chocolate-covered blueberry from a small pile resting in the folds of his shirt, pinching it in between two fingers as he examined it with a connoisseur's attention to detail. "Heck, these things are amazing..." And he popped the blueberry into his mouth.

"I doubt it." Pepper murmured, as she frowned at the paper she held in her hand.

That was all the prompting Tony needed, and in a flash he was inches away from her holding out a blueberry.

"Open your mouth," he ordered.

"No, I'm not going to—" she was cut short as Tony popped the blueberry into her open mouth.

He waited expectantly. She chewed.

"I don't see what's so great about these." she said honestly.

Tony frowned and sat back on the desk. "They're good!" he cried in an injured tone.

"I beg to differ."

"Well at least they're good for me..." he muttered.

Pepper shook her head. "They're not, actually."

"Blueberries!" he cried, as if to prove a point.

"Chocolate," Pepper affirmed.

Tony frowned, thinking it over.

"I'm Iron Man." he grumbled, plopping back on the couch and burrowing his body deep into the cushions, evidently realizing that Pepper was right.

"Mmhmm. And Iron Man is going to have a stomachache tonight." she said, turning back to her papers.

Tony frowned, not liking the fact that she won this argument, and popped another chocolate-covered blueberry into his mouth as an act of defiance.

"I'm thinking about hosting a party tonight. That okay with you?" he said suddenly, breaking the silence.

"Tonight? A little premature, don't you think?" Pepper muttered without looking up from her papers.

Tony shrugged. "You in or not?"

"Fine," she sighed, rolling her eyes.

Tony smiled triumphantly. "Jarvis," he said, speaking to the AI.

"Yes sir?"

"Invite my usual party rabble, and start on the preparations."

"Of course sir."

Pepper put down her papers and began typing something on a virtual keyboard that appeared on her desk at her command.

"What are you doing?" Tony asked, trying to read what she was writing.

"This isn't Stark Tower anymore," she explained, "grabbing" the holographic message and throwing it across the room were it disappeared into thin air. "If you're going to have a party tonight, you need to tell the others first. And I'm just assuming that you haven't cleared it with them yet."

She was learning.

Tony groaned, awaiting the inevitable. In three minutes time, it came bursting through the door.

"You're having a party tonight?!" Natasha practically screamed at him, Clint trailing along at her heels. "Tonight! And you didn't think to ask us first?! Not a chance!"

"The invitations have already been sent out, and Jarvis is setting up." Tony replied with a sigh, his hand covering his face.

"Well then you can tell Jarvis to cancel the reservation."

Natasha was really in a biting mood today.

"This is my building." Tony replied, instantly regretting his words as Natasha made a move towards him.

But Clint grabbed her arm and held her back, bending his head so that was forced to look at him.

She frowned into his eyes, but at his look, all outward appearances of anger instantly vanished from her face, evaporating into a stony mask made completely unreadable by years of practice and training.

She was learning.

"Look, do we have to have a party tonight?" Clint asked calmly.

Tony opened his mouth to reply, when Thor burst in.

"You are hosting a banquet?" he cried in loud enthusiasm. "May I invite Jane?"

Tony cocked an eyebrow at Natasha and pointed to Thor. "See? He thinks its a good idea!" Then, turning to Thor: "Jarvis, send out an invitation to Jane Foster."

"I just did, sir." was Jarvis's reply, and Thor beamed.

"So you're really going through with this party thing, huh?" Bruce said, as he had quietly entered the room and watched the scene. "What time are we talking here?"

"I was thinking 7:00," Tony replied.

Steve also entered shortly after. "A party tonight? Really Stark?" he ejaculated, his arms folded.

Tony threw up his hands and fell back on the couch. "And now there's Rogers. Great. Anyone else?" he cried out sarcastically.

"Well, I would just like to know whether this will be a party party, or a passed-out-on-the-floor-orgy party." Steve shot back, matching Tony's tone. "Because we all know what type of "party" your guests like."

Tony suddenly bolted up from his seat, staring down Steve who didn't even blink and maintained his casual air.

"You know what," Tony said spreading his hands, "invite whoever you want."

Steve cocked a sarcastic eyebrow. "Whoever I want? Really?"

"Whoever you want." And Tony collapsed back onto the couch.

"Okay...So, I'll be sure shine my shoes before 7:00." Bruce joked, looking anxiously from Steve to Tony, always one to feel uncomfortable around conflict.

And can anyone blame him?

The gathering quickly dispersed after that, each going on their separate ways. Clint, Natasha, and Steve happened to walk down the same hallway.

"You gonna invite Sharon?" Natasha asked Steve, flashing him a look and arching a perfect eyebrow.

Steve ignored the implying glance, keeping his eyes fixed ahead of him as he answered in a casual tone.

"I was thinking about seeing if she's free tonight, yeah."

Natasha gave Clint a slight underhand nudge, and the two exchanged knowing glances.

"The two of you seem to be getting along well together." She continued in a nonchalant manner. "A good call on my part, if you ask me..."

Steve suddenly halted, turning to face Natasha.

"I didn't ask. And yes, I do enjoy her company. She's a good person. However," he continued in a whisper, "its also none of your business."

And with that he flashed an overly sweet smile, before turning and walking away down the hallway. Both Clint and Natasha watched as he rounded the corner, disappearing from view.

"Oh, he's got it bad..." Clint drawled, when Steve was out of earshot, and Natasha gave an agreeing little chuckle.

"Tony," Pepper suddenly cried out in a slightly worried tone, as she entered the room where Tony, Bruce, and Thor sat on a circular couch surrounding a small table where they were playing Scrabble—most of the board occupied by words with more than seven letters, and whose meaning was lost on a better part of the world.

The scoring for each player was off the charts, Bruce taking a slight lead.

"What's up Pepper?" Tony mumbled without looking up from his tray of letters.

"What," she said slowly, emphasizing each word as she held out a legal looking document for Tony to see, "is this?"

Tony glanced at the paper, before casually passing it back to her and turning back to his game.

"It's a deed." he said simply.

"A deed to a Chocolate-Covered Blueberry factory?"

"Yeah, what's wrong?"

"What's wrong??"

It looked like Pepper was trying very hard to stay calm.

"What's wrong?!" she repeated. "You bought a factory that produces your crazed blueberry fetish!"

"Do not diss on the chocolate-covered blueberries. They are life changing." was Tony's casual reply, his laid back air only infuriating Pepper all the more.

"That they are, my friend!" Thor suddenly piped up from the couch, brandishing a large serving bowl that was filled with the culprit and which Thor had transferred to his lap during the game.

Pepper looked from Thor to Tony, her mouth slightly agape, and her astonished gaze finally settling on Bruce, who held up his hands defensively.

"Hey, don't look at me," he cried, "I'm just here to play Scrabble."

Pepper shifted her armor piercing gaze back to Tony's back, who try as he might, squirmed a little uncomfortably under her eyes.

"Oh, okay," she said in a biting tone, accompanied with a dry humorless laugh. "Okay, let's look at the fine print shall we?"

She shifted the paper in her hands and peered at it.

"It says here that the factory produces, on its lowest function, up to 150 boxes of your blueberry candies a day." She paused for effect. "How on earth, do you plan to consume 12,600 bags of chocolate-covered blueberries in a week on a regular basis?"

Silence followed this ejaculation.

"No more midnight snack runs," Tony mumbled cheerily as he placed his word on the board.

"Not a problem," Thor said loudly to Pepper, as he trickled another handful of the treat into his mouth.

"That's a lot of blueberries..." Bruce muttered under his breath, as he counted up Stark's score and wrote it down.

Poor Pepper blinked and stared.

"Have fun with your chocolate-blueberry-induced coma." She finally shot back, before stalking out of the room.

When she was gone, Tony and Thor both dove their hands into the bowl for another handful.

"I don't know why I don't rent an apartment on the edge of town, so I don't have to deal with this crap." Natasha muttered darkly to Clint, as they sat in armchairs beside the pool in the rec room, awaiting the arrival of Tony's guests for the party.

Everyone except Steve was milling about in different parts of the room, each of them slightly dressed up, while the room itself bore festive decorations and party tables with ambient music and low lighting.

Clint and Natasha had wandered off to the shadows in the corner of the room by the pool.

"I hate parties." Natasha muttered under her breath, as she smoothed the folds of her black cocktail dress and adjusted her hair, her red curls done up in a 40's hairstyle that perfectly complimented her face and form.

"You know why..." Clint said in a low tone, as he unlaced his boots, referring to her previous words. He himself was wearing dark jeans and a dress shirt, covered up by an expensive leather jacket. "You say you want to leave, but you never will, at least not willingly."Natasha raised an amused eyebrow at this, but waited for him to continue.

"The weapons room, the sparring mat, the firing range with the moving holographic targets, the obstacle course..." Clint listed on his fingers all of Natasha's favorite assets of Avengers Tower.

"And," he continued, as he rolled his pant legs up to his knees and eased his feet into the pool, much to Natasha's amusement. "lets not forget the most important thing."

"And what's that?" she asked, smirking at his incorrigible laidback attitude that never changed, no matter what mortal situation they got themselves into.

That was one of the reasons why she liked him so much.

"You'd miss me." Clint replied in a casual tone with a completely straight face.

Natasha gave him a punch in the shoulder that almost sent him in the water, but Clint laughed and she smiled despite herself.

At that moment, Jane Foster entered the room, going over to kiss Thor, signaling, as it seemed, the arrival of all of the other guests.

And the party began—though for a long time both Clint and Natasha stayed in the shadows by the pool, in the perfect spot to see without being observed themselves, slipping unnoticed into the crowd when they were ready.

Still Steve was absent.

The previous owner of the Chocolate-Covered Blueberry factory however, was not.

"Who is that man?" Pepper asked Tony in a whisper, as she leaned on his arm. She was dressed in a semiformal navy blue maxi dress, while the exact same shade of blue was sampled on the kerchief in Stark's lapel of his tailored suit, and on the dapper bowtie at his collar.

"That," Tony answered, matching her tone and voice level, "is Marcus Farley."

Pepper faced him. "Marcus Farley? Farley as in Farley inc., the owner of that awful blueberry factory?"

Tony smiled. "Previous owner, yes. I thought it would be best to get to know the guy, seeing as we are now business partners, which reminds me: there is still some paperwork that needs to be done up, and as CEO of Stark Industries I hoped you would do the honors."

Pepper felt like smacking that winning smile right off his face, but restrained herself in the presence of guests. By now she had learned to control her temper, that was often tested by Stark, and could mask her feelings well while putting on a show of the easy hostess, or the levelheaded businesswoman.

Living with the Black Widow had its benefits.

By this time, Tony had already signaled the man over, and Marcus Farley was greeted with her best hostess smile and Tony's firm handshake.

"Mr. Farley, may I introduce you to Miss Pepper Pots, CEO of Stark Industries and Chief Executive Officer of my heart."

Pepper blushed and exchanged handshakes with the man, who was a tall man with a strong handsome build.

She might have forgiven Tony just a little bit.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Farley. I understand that Tony here has bought your factory."

That sparked a conversation that ran on its course for a full ten minutes before Marcus Farley finally parted with them to get a drink from the bar.

"I like him," Pepper murmured to Tony when he had walked out of earshot. "There's something pleasant about his mouth when he talks, and his eyes..." she trailed off, still staring at the back of the previous factory owner.

"You do realize I'm standing right here?" Tony said with a frown, looking from Pepper to Farley.


Tony's frown deepened.

It was at that moment, that Steve Rogers joined the party, dressed in a conservative brown leather jacket, and bringing his own with him.

By his side walked Agent Sharon Carter, pretty in a lacy white dress, her blonde hair drawn up into a braided bun, and marching behind him military fashion was a full two dozen kids.

Their ages varied from six to nine, and every one of them was dressed in the costume of their favorite Avenger.

Steve stopped and turned to the procession of children behind him, all standing erect in three straight lines, like little soldiers awaiting orders. Steve himself had a mock commanding attitude, though no one could miss the fondness in his eyes as he surveyed his little army.

"Attention!" he cried like a drill sergeant, and the little forms before him straightened even more, their faces laughably serious. "You are all here courtesy of Mr. Tony Stark, and I expect you to behave accordingly." To keep up his ruse, Steve began pacing in front of the kids standing at attention, his hands clasped behind his back like a true general. "There will be no screaming, no fighting, no running around the pool, and you will always listen to your elders. If you need anything, you ask any of the Avengers. Am I clear?"

A chorus of high pitched "yes sir's" resounded throughout the room, accompanied by salutes.

Steve nodded before straightening. "Dismissed!" he cried, and the little forms broke rank and descended upon the smiling crowd of guests bellow, excited little shrieks of joy and laughter escaping them at their greatest dream coming true.

"What is this?" Tony asked Steve as he walked past him, motioning to the packs of little children who were slipping between the legs of the other guests.

"These are our biggest fans." Steve said, a small smile forming on his lips as he watched a little boy dressed up like Captain America run past. "I got a letter from a little boy telling me about his fan club, and how their biggest dream was to come see us." He shrugged. "You said I could invite whoever I wanted."

Tony was silent for a moment. He had never been one for kids, but his eyes softened a little as they landed on a boy that was obviously pretending to be Iron Man.

"That I did, that I did." he nodded.

Sharon came to stand beside Rogers, her hand brushing his.

"This is truly something wonderful, Steve." she said softly, looking about her. "You just made the dreams of all of these kids come true."

Steve blushed and smiled happily, his hand shifting ever so slightly to intertwine his fingers between hers in a covert motion.

One that only Natasha noticed, with smug satisfaction.

"Why do they call you the Black Widow?" said a small voice at her feet.

She started and looked down upon a small girl with nut brown hair wearing a black catsuit like hers. Her perceptive little eyes were a stormy blue.

Blue like Clint's, was Natasha's immediate thought.

"Um, I don't know..." was her hesitant answer.

Of course she knew why, but that was not something you tell a little kid.

"Is it because you're like the spider?" was the girls persistent response.

"Yeah, something like that."

Kids were never her strong suit—she would feel more comfortable in the middle of a firefight. Clint, on the other hand, she knew to be an instant favorite among them.

"Your hair is so pretty!" was the breathy little confession from her mini me, and the girl climbed up on the couch to sit beside her, her delicate little hands hovering over the elegant up-do in an awestruck manner.

A little of Natasha's stiffness left her, and with swift fingers she pulled out the pins in her hair and shook it loose so that it fell about her shoulders in curls, which drew a delighted little squeal from her admirer.

"What's your name?" she asked the girl.

"Lily," was the whispered answer.

"Do you know how to braid hair, Lily?"

The girls face lit up. "Oh, yes!" she said proudly, "I know all sorts of braids! My mamma taught me how do her hair."

Natasha smiled a little. "Well Lily, will you braid mine?"

The girl gasped. "Can I really?"

Natasha nodded encouragingly, and Lily was perched behind her in an instant, fingering her bright red curls lovingly.

"When I grow up," Lily whispered sweetly as her small fingers moved expertly through Natasha's hair, beginning on an elaborate Dutch braid. "I want to be just like you."

Natasha was too stunned to answer.

A thousand thoughts and emotions barraged her mind, the chief of which was the pang of regret, guilt, and pain as she realized that she was nothing compared to this innocent and impressionable little girl, and that she was the last person worthy to be a life model.

"You know what I want you to be when you grow up?" Natasha whispered, almost on the brink of tears. The little fingers passing through her hair halted expectantly. "I want you to be just like you."

The girl thought about this for a moment, before Natasha felt her fingers move again.

At that moment, Clint came barreling into view, two little girls squealing delightedly as they rode on his back, all three of them fleeing from a pack of boys dressed up like their various male heroes. A little mini Iron Man fired a fake "blaster" out of his wrist rockets, and Clint stumbled, clutching his stomach as if he had been shot there.

"Oh," he moaned in mock agony, "I've been shot! Ah!"

He stumbled about dramatically, finally collapsing on the couch beside Natasha and Lily, much to the excited shrieks of the two little girls on his back.

"Mother!" he gasped in a wheezy voice, stretching out his hand, while little giggles accompanied his theatrics. "I see the light!" And with that he gave one last dramatic wheeze, before going limp against the pillows.

The boys crowed triumphantly, and the two girls climbed out from under Clint and came to rest on his chest, clutching his face between their two little hands.

"He's dead!" they gasped, "Quick, how can we save him?" they cried in unison to Natasha, who had been watching the scene amusedly.

"Oh, I know how to wake him up." Natasha affirmed, with a mischievous tone that made Clint cock open a wary eye, before quickly shutting it again as he was supposed to be "dead".

The girls came close and Natasha whispered something into their ears that made them giggle, and made Clint frown slightly, his eye flashing open again.

Still giggling and with delighted anticipation on their faces, they scurried on top of his chest again and took up a position: one facing his knees, and the other his arms.

"Tickle fight!" they suddenly shrieked, and began tickling him in all the sensitive areas that Natasha had outlined for them. Clint started up with a cry and began defending himself by tickling them back, all three of them laughing their heads off.

The boys, who had previously stood by and watched like triumphant Caesars, now joined in the fun, dog pilling on Clint with joyful shouts and battle cries, while Lily and Natasha laughed as they watched the scene, occasionally launching pillows at the attackers.

"Oh, my stomach!" Tony moaned, as he clutched the offending organ.

It was after the party, and all of the guests except for Sharon and Jane had left, Sharon talking quietly with Steve by the bar, while Jane was curled up sound asleep against Thor on one of the couches, who was talking in hushed whispers with Bruce, still munching on the chocolate-covered blueberries that had been set out as one of the party favors.

"I told you so," Pepper chided, as she passed a mug of soothing tea to Stark. "But of course you're Iron Man as well as Iron Constitution, so you just had to go ahead and buy that factory. Which reminds me: I would like to Marcus Farley over for dinner sometime."

Tony choked on his tea. "Why?!" he ejaculated.

Pepper promptly snagged a napkin and began wiping the areas were Tony had spilt tea over himself in a very familiar way.

"Because someone had the great idea of wanting to get to know him better." Was her overly sweet response, her face rather close to his.

"You know," Tony began, grimacing as he took another sip of his tea. "I'm starting to have second thoughts about that factory idea."

Pepper leaned in closer, while at the same time producing a folded paper from her person that was the factory deed, which she promptly ripped into shreds.

"Mmm, I knew you would." she whispered, before closing the gap between them and kissing him, an act that was reciprocated.

Thor, who had been eavesdropping, slyly picked up the bowl that contained the remnants of the chocolate-covered blueberries, and hid it under the couch by his feet for later.

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