1963-12-19 - Withdrawals
Summary: Agent Coulson and Pepper Potts, each having been exposed to Vigor, suffer the nasty withdrawal symptoms; but there are greater things at work than drug addiction here.
Related: Dosed, Eight Hours
Theme Song: None
coulson pepper 

Barely minutes after 8 am, far later than Pepper would NORMALLY wake up, she begins to stir on the less than comfortable couch in her small side office. She was lucky she had a couch at all, but when Tony asked what she wanted with the remodel, she dared request it. She got whatever she requested. She gives a low, unhappy groan, the room already spinning as she fights through the shivers that roll across her frame. The misery of withdrawal has finally gotten bad enough to fight through the sedative as it wears off. And then the nausea hits. It's almost worse than anything. Pepper half stumbles, half falls off the couch, groping for any sort of trash can before she's sick all over Tony's floor. She just makes it to the can next to her desk before being ill.

She didn't know how much longer she could take it. Something had to give. And, even more embarrassing, that's the position which Phil Coulson is going to find her in — kneeling beside the desk, trash can at her side, looking gray and green with her skirt and blouse wrinkled from the night.


It might come as a surprise to find that Phil Coulson is there. He's got a kettle full of hot water, two mugs, and all of the fixings for tea. There's also a tall pitcher of water, an assortment of over the counter medicines available, and his briefcase.

The SHIELD agent looks on with an empathetic smile when Pepper wakes, but he gives her space to do what she needs to do. It isn't until she's finished getting sick that he clears his throat and says, "Miss Potts, I'm… sorry to startle you."

His voice is a bit shaky. Still calm, but there's something off about it. Someone who knew him better might have noticed it. He's hoping she won't.

"I would ask how you're feeling, but… I think that's a bit of a moot gesture at this point. You should have some tea."


The fact that Pepper hadn't even *realized* he was in the room already says just how bad off she is. She's not just off her game, but she's in a totally different ball field from the game. She looks up to him with still half drowsy, watery eyes, struggling with silence and choking embarrassment for a few heartbeats. No one should see her like this. Ever. While her eyes narrow a hint at the shakiness of his own voice, her mind writes it off at unsteadiness having just heard someone puke. No one likes that.

"…S-sorry. Sorry… I'm sorry. I… I told you to lock the door. Why are you here? I… I'll be fine in a minute. Sorry." Pepper rushes out between slightly shallow breaths. She's trying to pull herself together, but failing. She slides the trash can aside, half under her desk, trying to hide the mess.

"…Tea? No… I need to go upstairs… Shower. Work… I need to be ready to work…" Her pale eyes flicker to the clock on the wall, trying to figure out how long she slept. How behind schedule she is. It still feels like she's working through cotton, but she had to get out of this room. "…You should go. I… I'll be fine…"


Coulson pours some tea for himself, and looks back toward Pepper with a creased brow. "I gave you a particularly strong sedative," he explains. "Safe, but… strong. It… wouldn't have been responsible of me to leave you alone."

For a few moments, the SHIELD agent considers whether he should look away. He was fighting the withdrawal symptoms too… just… doing a much better job at hiding it. He waits for a moment, before rising to his feet and reaching for his coat. "I have vigor," he tells her, quietly, choosing not to beat around the bush. "And I have an agent tasked with evaluating it and looking for a cure to the withdrawal symptoms w…" A pause. "You're facing."

It's distinctly possible that Coulson's face may have just grown a touch redder than the light tan it's carried recently.


Slowly, more than a bit shaky but she's still managing to push through, Pepper pushes herself up to her feet using the edge of her desk as support. She remains standing there, looking rather more broken than she has in a long time, but she's trying her best. She still manages to meet his eyes, her expression doing everything it can to be calm and professional. Even as she looks like she might be at death's door, she's trying to stay calm. She's still a busiess woman. "…You… are.. Very kind. I still could have handled myself." Pepper states quietly, trying to keep the rasp out of her voice.

Then he says that he as vigor and it's all she can do not to dash the few feet across the room to him. She clears her throat, distinctly uncomfortable, fighting (and failing in the fight) the instinct to ask for it. She misses his slip, though her eyes narrow for a moment. He was going to say something else, she just can't figure out what. "…Agent Coulson, if… your people are working on this, and I very much appreciate that… I… think it best I simply take another dose of the stuff so I might continue with my life. I cannot get through the work day like this and I will arouse suspicions. It simply… makes sense. And we'll handle it when there is a solution. Yes?" She then tilts her head, noticing the blush, "…are *you* well?"


For a very long moment, Coulson just looks tiredly at Peggy. He listens to her rambling words; a part of him is annoyed, but he quickly recognizes it as a side effect of his withdrawal symptoms.

"This is a unique situation, Pepper," he answers. "A drug we know nothing about. And, to be honest, the… the way you came into contact with it…" He shakes his head.

Coulson finally turns and opens the briefcase. He places himself bodily so that Pepper would have to shove him out of the way to get at it. However, when he opens the secret compartment, he stops there for a moment, staring at the pills inside.

His hand twitches. Just once. No, twice.

But it will not twitch a third time. It will not. It does not.

When he turns, he holds the pill cupped in his hand. He approaches Pepper, and holds it out for her to take.

"I'm fine, Miss Potts." He's a much better liar. "Everything will work out alright."


Somehow, Pepper does restrain herself from bodily tossing herself at him or the briefcase. At least she's a lady in that sense. Pepper is doing every thing in her power to maintain decorum, and social power? Well, she does have a lot of that. She stands there quietly and lets out a slow, long breath, trying to control the nausea and the suddenly, thread rushy of her pulse in her throat. She needed it so badly. She wanted it so badly. That fact that it's there in the room is entirely TOO distracting for her to catch those little lies. For now, at least. "Yes… yes, it is a unique situation. And the world must carry on. My *life* and work has to carry on, so… it's best to take it and carry on, until we figure something else. I guess it will be like a … vitamin, yes? Once a day to function better?" Pepper half teases, her voice rasping.

Then the pill is there and she cannot stop herself from quickly coming forward, shaking hand reaching out for the thing cupped in his hand. She can't restrain longer. She takes it and pops it past her lips, now free of all lipstick and a sickly gray color. She swallows back and lets it hit the back of her throat. A few minutes and she'll feel better, surely. A few minutes and she'll be able to take on the day. "Thank you, Agent Coulson. I…hope you don't think lesser of me…"


At that last part, Coulson finally smiles again. "Pepper, I'll never think poorly of someone who's been made a victim. Foul play is at work here, and I promise you, I'm doing everything in my power to get to the bottom of this." He turns again, going to secure the briefcase once more. "I will see you again, tomorrow. Hopefully I'll have a good idea when Agent…" Another potential slip. "When biochem is ready to do some tests."


A slight nod, though it's going to take a good half an hour for the drug to kick in, for Pepper to feel more normal. One pill would hold her over how long? A day, maybe two? But she doesn't ask for more. Pepper just gives him a pale smile, keeping her chin up and shoulders straight. She's trying to look as cleaned up as possible. "I…appreciate that. I'll be willing to come in whenever you need me, Agent. Here… A new card." She pulls one off the holder on her desk, handing it over smoothly. "Hopefully this will all be over very soon.'"


Coulson is earnest, even in his mounting withdrawal symptoms. He doesn't want Pepper to know what he went though in order to get the vice. After all… it's part of the job description.
"Hope," he tells her, "and a little dash of skill."

However, when he steps forward and reaches to collect her card, his hand is shaking. Try as he might, it isn't stopping. Not this time. The business card, once in hand, makes it all the more obvious, in how it trembles in his shaky fingers.


While it's not in *full* effect yet, this drug was made to work and work fast. Pepper's body is already relaxing and with it comes that heady, euphoric feel. And the paranoia. Always the paranoia. But it's that paranoia which makes her catch the shaking of his hand already. He was not a man who shook, never. Her blue eyes flicker from that palm, up to his gaze, then back to his palm again. She's looking sharper and less happy by the moment.

"…Agent Coulson, you're shaking. Tell me why you are shaking." Not a question, but an order. Even if it's meant to be a soft order, gentle, a woman who can try and command men in business all the time, it comes across as more than that. Her voice is too powerful, something made to cloud minds and control armies. There is power, actual power, behind her words. Dominating. It would take trained psychic shields to actual fend off the wish to obey Pepper Potts' words at this very moment, whether she realizes it or not.


"Because I took vigor this morning." When the words come to his lips, Agent Coulson isn't even really thinking. It's all a blur, like milk clouding the water in a glass that one could otherwise see quite clearly through. There isn't a question as to whether he should speak those words. He shouldn't. She shouldn't know what he did to accomplish what he did in eight hours. He was a trained field agent, and this act was more than simply getting Pepper her fix. He was in deep now, potentially with a link to the mob and the suppliers of this stuff.

And yet, there isn't a question whether he should speak those words. He should, because she demanded it.

Water. Clouded.

"… I shouldn't have told you that." Coulson's eyes narrow suspiciously, and he jerks his hand away, card held tightly in a trembling grasp. "Why did I tell you that, Pepper?" His words are not hostile, but they are… unnerved.


The woman lets him jerk away, her own expression in stunned shock at both his revelation and just how easily he made it! Without thinking. The moment after she said something. Just like those people by the tunnel. The drug really had kicked in fast. Her blue eyes go too wide, Pepper stepping back a few feet herself, giving a wary, nervous shake to her head. "…Phil…god… Why… Why would you take it? It's… it'll drive you mad! It's awful. It… you're going to dream about it now, you won't be able to sleep!" Then Pepper realizes that even those words are statements. God, would THOSE words invade his brain? Did she just accidentally curse him to not sleeping. Her hand suddenly slams across her mouth before she dares speak anything else.

There is panic there now, a new level of guilt. Pepper keeps her hand across her still pale lips for another few, frantic heartbeats as she tries to work out how to explain this. At least she wasn't concealing things from him. Finally, she lets shaking fingertips drop. "…That…that's what… the vigor does to me. It… it makes people listen to what I say. Or the power I get is… dominance. Mind control. I don't know what it is, maybe it's only voice… but… I controlled an entire… bus full of people by the tunnel. A whole crowd. It's… terrifying."


The chief difference between Pepper and Phil is that Coulson's experience comes from war. Pepper's experience comes from a different kind of war, one without machine and munitions, but one with boardrooms and egos. Similar, but different. The Agent takes each word in pace; whatever affect it may have on him may soon be discovered. He was feeling tired, in spite of all the coffee, but the withdrawal symptoms have him amped, nervous. His guard is slipping.

"I… read reports." He's clever enough not to admit just where those reports came from. "Even… people like you and I, we can develop… a-abilities."

With a grimace, Coulson turns away. He folds his arms and draws a deep, long breath. Why would he take it? Those words stick, and they stick deep. "I wanted to get a sample for SHIELD to analyze. Maybe if we can analyze it, we can come up with some fix, a cure for the addiction, even the effects. Finding some to keep you stable was… ancillary, and primary. All at once. Two birds with one stone, Pepper." He looks her way again, eyes glimmering with a sense of wariness. He shouldn't be divulging all of this to her, but she asked her why he would take it.

"I lied to the mob. Told them I would distribute it into another market, and they forced me to take it. I didn't have to, I could have fought back, but… it would have spoiled the advantage. It was a… a strategic decision."


"Oh…Phil… God, I'm… so sorry. So, so sorry. Shit, I never meant to draw you into this. I… I shouldn't have told you. I should have. Dammit…" Pepper isn't going to cry, but it's tempting. Her emotions are all over the place, especially as the high of the drug even more begins to ramp up. She pushes a now-steady hand back through her red hair, pacing the carpeted floor of her office nervously. She had to figure a way to fix this, but it was so much worse than she imagined already.

"…You need to stop. Don't take it. Be stronger than me. Please… please. I'm so sorry. If I could take this all back, I would…" Pepper has no clue how long the power behind her voice will last. How it will echo around his skull, if it will help him fight the addiction or not, but she had to try.

"…the mob has it?" She then asks, softer than before. Good to know. She now truly knew where to get some, though she'd have to do some hunting. She is no agent, but she's a sharp woman. That gave her a lot more information than she had before to keep herself sane.


Returning to his cup of tea, Coulson takes it up and holds it for a few moments, before taking a drink. "I won't take it," he answers. Oh, the power of her words. "I'll… be stronger." As her own power grows with the mounting, intoxicating effects, he's starting to sound more drone-like. "I'll… consult with biochem. They already have my blood. I can get samples of yours, if you'll have it." He turns and looks back to Pepper. "We're SHIELD. We find solutions. It's what we do."

A smile comes to his face, but it's faltered when he notices that the teacup is shaking a bit. His other hand comes over to steady it, and with a soft sigh, he closes his eyes. "I've been through worse, Miss Potts. This is… a bump in the road."


The more drone-like he becomes, the more quietly terrified Pepper is. Some people might bask in the power, let it go to their head, dance across dreams of what they could do with it. Not Pepper. She sees a man who is on the edge of being a friend turned into some robotic repeater. She goes dead quiet again, eyes turning down, stepping across her office to grab at some hot water and tea for herself. Anything to distract herself, to force her to slow down and consider her words before she speaks them. "Y-yes, yes, of course… If you want to do it here, that's fine, or I'll come back to SHIELD. I don't have… nothing is pressing today. I'll make room in my schedule for you. We… we just need to fix this. Both of us. Together." And then Pepper even realizes how THOSE could sound like orders!

"I mean, we're going to work together like professionals that we are to make this better. It's not.. a directive, or anything. Just a hope, you know? Yes, it'll be fine. This is just a bump for both of us." She gives him a half weakened smile, but she's trying so hard.

Still, there is that niggling reminder in the back of her head. Mob. She really does need more information than that. She won't be able to find them on her own. "…but…for…curiosity's sake, Agent Coulson… Which family is selling this? Just… just in case, you know?"


I'll come back to SHIELD.

Yes, Pepper will come back to SHIELD.

Pepper will make room in her schedule for me.

Both of us. Pepper and I. Together.

Coulson's eyes go screwy for a moment.

Like professionals. Working together, like professionals. I should tell her which family is selling it.

"Yes. To SHIELD. You should… get washed up, I'll drive you there." There's barely even a pause, during which Coulson simply takes a drink of his tea, before answering in a dutiful sense. "I bought my supply from the Gambini family, but, I have reason to believe that they are in cohorts with the Genovese's as well."

Pliable now. Coulson smiles as he looks her way, completely ignoring the fact that his body is growing more ill by the moment. Oh, how he wishes he could take a dose of vigor, but he had to be stronger than her. He couldn't take it.


Little does Pepper know how rare a thing it is for outsiders to be drawn back into SHIELD. It would just be like going to another company, right? So that doesn't shock her at all at first. She nods to his offer to drive, pushing one hand back through her hair, trying to neaten it a bit. "Yes…I should get washed up. Alright. Thank you. And… thank you for that. The names… I… I really do appreciate it." Pepper states with a slightly warmer smile, trying to reassure him that this would be more than alright.

Then she leads the way out of her office, murmur something to the morning receptionist about having an emergency meeting and to move everything else to the afternoon. The womans SNAPS TO almost immediately, no smart words, no usual resentment about Pepper ordering her around even if Pepper herself is another woman. Well, this did make the office a lot easier. Then she's leading Phil to the elevators and up to one of the top apartment floors. She's not in the penthouse, but she's close.

A few quiet, slightly awkward minutes later, Pepper opens the door to her apartment. It's all done in pale pinks, cream shag carpeting, gold and glass furniture. The place is achingly delicate and feminine with an air of fashion, modern flare. "Relax… I'll be out in ten minutes. Fast as I can. I promise. If you want more coffee or tea, help yourself, there's both in the kitchen." And then she steps out of the room probably freeing him from her influence for a bit, at least.


"You're quite welcome."

What was once milk in water is now a very thick cloud. Coulson follows along as ordered, and doesn't even think twice about entering Pepper's apartment. He doesn't remark on the decor. It simply is what it is. When ordered to relax, he does so, finding the most comfortable seat (which to him is the most stiff-backed one, of course). It only takes a moment or two for him to rise, move off to the kitchen, and begin fixing himself some coffee. Coffee is good, he was certainly tired.

Ten minutes, though, is a long time. His briefcase is there, sitting against the same chair he finds himself in. He shouldn't take the vigor, but he wants to. He should take Pepper back to SHIELD, even though he knows it isn't quite protocol. Certainly not protocol.

Once she returns, Phil looks her way. "Miss Potts… I am… not quite certain that… bringing you to SHIELD…" He's struggling for the words, because he's supposed to bring her there, even though it's against protocol. "It's… not usually… how we do things. Of course, I'll take you there. I just…" Blink, blink. "Well. Of course."


The woman looks practically shiny and new when she steps back out ten minutes later. Her hair is still wet, no time to blow dry it, but she knows all the cheats and it's currently pulled into a smooth bun so it looks business like and sleek. She's in a fresh dress, stockings, heels, and just enough lipstick, eyeliner and blush to make her look professional human again. All traces of the withdrawal are gone, though they will no doubt be back soon.

Her professional smile falters slightly as she hears the comment about it not being protocol to bring her back to SHIELD. SHe blinks in confusion, "…What? I…I thought that's what you wanted to do. I… however you want me to give blood, I will. Just… god, Agent Coulson, just… tell me what is normal. What you want? I… shit…" Pepper curses again, realizing everything she says is probably making this worse. While SHIELD sounds interesting, the guilt of controlling someone's mind is far worse. She stares at him, suddenly scared to even speak.

But, ever a problem solver, Pepper steps quickly over to the table right by the rotary phone. She grabs her note pad that she keeps there for messages and quickly writes. ~My voice. I think my voice is making you do things. Or maybe it's my mind? I don't know. But I don't want to control you. I just want to do this right.~


Tell her what is normal. Yes!

"Well." Coulson rises to his feet, mug of coffee in hand, and gestures toward Pepper with a clearing expression. "Usually, there's… well, there are protocols for this, you see. Typically, we would meet you in a safe place - Stark Tower, a perfectly good example - and take blood samples there. Under no circumstances do we bring civilians into sensitive SHIELD areas. So… so…"

The Agent's words trail off, and he turns to read what she's written o paper. He blinks at it for a moment, and though his body is wracked with the signs of withdrawal; face growing more pale, a general tremble to his hands, a slowing of his speech; his mind is still working relatively well. "Oh!" he exclaims. "Oh, my… the vigor must have given you some sort of ability." He turns to look at her closely, eyes squinting a bit. "Pepper, you… you must be careful of what you say. Of… how you say it. Do you understand?"


The woman is now half terrified to speak. To him, at least, a man who has done nothing but help her. She nods mutely and draws a line below the words she already wrote on the paper, quickly scribbling down another few lines to keep the conversation up without using her voice. ~Walk over there.~ That is the first thing she writes and then shows it to him. It's an experiment. Is it her voice, or her mind? Of course, if it was her mind, her intentions would project far better. But it's not. It's just her voice. As he's not forced to walk over there, she sighs and starts writing again.

~Just testing. The power is only voice. I understand. Don't know how long lasting.~ And she doesn't bother penning down any emotional reactions or outbursts, but it's clear on her face. This is only making things rather more awful. But then something hits her, eyes widening, and she scribbles down one last sentence. ~Maybe could use to help stop Bucky.~


Coulson studies the words she writes first. Walk over there. He looks up toward her with a funny expression. "Um… why?"

It isn't a second later that he realizes what just happened, and he makes a quiet 'oh' with his mouth and smirks knowingly. Clever girl.

Another drink of coffee is taken, during which Phil waits patiently for Pepper to finish writing. "You'll have to be careful what you- well, maybe not what you say, but how you say it?" A pause. "Something like this would be difficult to study. I'm afraid you might be the only person who can really learn its limits."

Coulson goes silent again when she writes. There is irritation there, to be sure, displayed by how he reaches up to scratch nervously at the nape of his neck. After reading her next message, though, he goes quiet and still. Even his hands come close to their usual stillness.

After a few long moments, Coulson reclaims his seat with a long sigh. "This line of thought is dangerous," he answers. "You… we need to get better." He turns his attention upon Pepper, a certain sadness in his expression. "People like you and I weren't meant to have 'super powers'. Especially not… not like this."


Not talking is *strange* for Pepper Potts. Normally, she was gifted with words. Just not this gifted. She gives him a little bit of a wry smile as he asks about the walking thing, a small wink following as he gets why she did it. Well, at least that explained that much. Then the rest of the writing happens and she waits for his response, her sharp eyes doing their best to remain alert despite the fingers of euphoria that come with the drug. The rest of her feels like she could go conquer a board room right now. But she's managing to restrain.

"Yes…yes, get better. I know. But.." And she's already learning to be careful. Anything that could sway someone's mind, she doesn't dare speak. She reaches down, scribbling in her perfectly neat handwriting once more. ~But if this is so effective, it could maybe break through brainwashing. It'll be worth it. I… I'll keep some on me just in case we find him. I can manage it.~ SHe gives him a smile which is doing it's best to be reassuring. She actually believes that now — now that she's not jonesing and sick, of course. Now that her memory is faded of just how bad it was.


When she uses words, Coulson just can't help but flinch. It's not at all his normal way of operating, but he's… well, she'll understand. She knows what the withdrawals are like. "Not until we have a better understanding of how this stuff works," he answers, with regret. "Believe me, Pepper, I…" His eyes squeeze shut, and his face visibly grimaces before he's able to finish that sentence. "… want this to work. But we have to be careful. We don't yet really know what this drug is doing to us." He comes close to pleading with the woman; it's written on his face. "Give me some time to see what biochem comes up with. If… if they can determine that… using it in small doses isn't causing more damage, then… perhaps."


"I…I'll try." Pepper murmurs, softer than before. She can't promise to withhold from taking it, she knows she can't. She remembers that much about the last few nights, the cold sweats, the misery. Especially when now taking it? She feels just fine. The woman gives him a quiet, apologetic smile after those words, knowing it wasn't exactly what he wanted to hear, but she wouldn't lie to him.

She then leans over, turning to a second page on the pad so she can write smoothly, ~Let me know when or where to meet you for the tests and I'll come. I don't want to keep you today, otherwise. You should go take care of yourself. Tell your people what happened so they can support you.~ "Okay?" Pepper offers gently, as she hands the paper back to him.


Coulson nods his head slowly. "Yeah," he tells her. "You'll hear from me soon. I promise." He turns, reaching for his briefcase, then stops for a moment and sighs. Crossing the room, he sets the item down on a table, then produces another small blue pill from within. He walks it over, giving Pepper a most serious expression. "One. Just one, to tide you over. Try not to take it, unless you absolutely have to. Okay?"

Once he's said his peace, he offers the pill to Pepper, with as much reluctance as he does confidence. It was a dangerous game to play, but Pepper is in a unique position. He doesn't want to pull her away from her work, or to put her under protective custody. Not yet… but suffering withdrawal symptoms could make her a liability, given the exposure she has to all of Stark Industries' cutting edge technology. He wants her to get better… but he doesn't want her to suffer, and make any critical mistakes that could expose more of Stark's secrets.

Once all is said and done, he collects his briefcase and makes an exit.

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