|What More Is There?
Author: AssessTheSituation PM
"Mr. Stark, it's a pleasure." Slash. Tony/LokiRated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Adventure - Loki - Chapters: 16 - Words: 69,413 - Reviews: 540 - Favs: 647 - Follows: 850 - Updated: 04-18-13 - Published: 09-27-11 - id: 7418507
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: I'm again sorry for the wait, writting this chapter was like pulling teeth. This is actually only half of what I intended this chapter to be, but as I continued to write, it got ridiculously long, so I decided to split it for some breathing room. I'll be posting the second half as soon as I'm done editing it. Thank you all for your wonderful comments and alerts.
"Ughhhh . . . I feel awful."
"Stop whining Tony."
"But Pepper- I can't feel my face."
There was an exasperated huff, and not the first of the morning. "Then you shouldn't have been running around in the rain without a coat. What did you think would happen, that your self-importance would protect you from viruses?"
"Ughh . . ." Tony rolled over sluggishly, encased in mounds of blankets and bed sheets, still unable to find a position where he didn't feel like crap. "My nose is like a snot fountain and I'm a few good coughs away from hacking up a lung."
Pepper grimaced over the paper work she was going through, seated in her favorite chair in Tony's livingroom. "Attractive, Tony, real attractive. Why don't you go to bed? There's more room there than on your couch."
"'Cause this is where I always vegetate when I'm sick. It's like a tradition."
"It's something parents let their kids do when they don't feel well so they can watch television while they stay home from school. You're a grown man Tony."
"If I promised you a pay raise could you try to be a little more sympathetic, Pepper? It hurts to move."
Pepper rolled her eyes, muttering "big baby" under her breath and returned to writing stuff down.
Tony looked over at her a second longer, finding no pity whatsoever, before moving himself around again and buried his head under his blankets. Every muscle ached and Tony just couldn't seem to get a restful sleep, no matter how tired he was. His eyes felt heavy, his sinuses were swollen, his head had to be full of the stuff they fluff pillows with, and Tony was pretty sure that he alone had contributed thirty percent to the overall sale of Puffs tissues in the span of two days.
Not to mention that he wasn't allowed back in HQ until he was well again.
Being sick sucked.
Tony rolled over once again and groaned. He knew whenever he came down with something, nobody wanted to be around him, so Pepper's lack of sympathy really wasn't all that surprising. A sick Tony was a heavily avoided Tony because when the inventor-turned-superhero was at the mercy of an illness, he made absolutely sure to devote every hoarse-throated, sleep-deprived, fever-induced second to letting everyone know how not-well he was feeling. So the moment Tony had more than two consecutive sneezes in a row; it was every tights-wearing crusader for himself.
And Pepper had, though completely against her will, drawn the short stick.
But that wasn't why she was so hostile.
Shuffling back to the Avengers mansion looking like hell warmed over in the late afternoon after taking off without a word and leaving his teammates with no idea where he was, had, to put it lightly, pissed Pepper off.
Tony had woken up with a stiff back and tight chest, blurry eyed with a miniature hangover looming around the edges of his brain. He brought a hand to his head in a hopeless attempt to placate the painful thudding inside his skull, taking a good few minutes to collect himself and realize where he was.
He happened to be in Lawrence's home, on Lawrence's couch. Tony knew this because he was not the only one who had been sleeping on said couch. A familiar lean figure was resting against the arm of the sofa, head against the arm draped over the side and hand in his lap where Tony had been previously laying.
Tony stared at Lawrence, clad in a light green robe, sleeping in a position that was probably going to be the cause of some sore muscles later on in the day, with smudges of dark under his closed eyes indicating an interruption of sleep. The Avenger tried not to focus on the stab of guilt for coming to Lawrence's flat drunk off his feet and waking him up at some unholy hour only to then pass out on the man's couch.
Trying not to stir the sleeping man, not something easily done when you're hung-over and being called less than graceful would be a severe overstatement of his abilities, Tony moved to the far end of the couch, the events of the day before slowly creeping back into conscious thought, scratching at his still brittle control.
"Tony?" The voice was smooth- extraordinarily soft against his throbbing head. Lawrence was awake, face impassive but green eyes trailing him, minding the space between them.
They sat like that for a moment, staring at one another. Well, more like squinting in Tony's case as the sunlight filtering into the room really wasn't helping his hangover and Lawrence was more trying to evaluate without being intrusive.
"Are you alright?" It was said carefully, without any hint of prying or demand, and Tony couldn't have been more grateful, because the honest answer was no, not really, and they both knew it. It was obviously not the first question Lawrence wanted to ask, holding back what must be a cascade of questions that would be far harder to answer, at least right now, in favor of picking an ambiguous, easier one, one that didn't mandate all the little details and inner workings of Tony's mind to be revealed at that very moment.
Tony was grateful that the unavoidable was being delayed, if only for a little while.
"I will be." Ugh, he hit the bar hard. Even his words tasted bad.
It wasn't much of an answer, but it was the best one Tony had, the one closest to the truth, because he had to believe it. There wasn't really any other option.
Those emerald eyes remained on him, glossing an inner conflict that his pale, elegant features refused to show, until his expression softened and the breath Tony hadn't known he was holding escaped when it was made obvious that Lawrence wasn't going to call Tony out on his intentionally non-specific reply. "Alright." The response was an exhale. Any other person might think that that meant Lawrence was letting the situation go without a fight, but Tony wasn't any other person, and could clearly hear the 'but we will talk later' under the breath of his admission.
Almost immediately Lawrence stood up, wincing slightly in pain as he rolled his shoulder a bit, and walked to his kitchen. Tony just sat there, staring at the space Lawrence had been, listening to the sounds of clanking glass and running water, all the while trying very hard not to think of anything.
He didn't want to think about yesterday. He didn't want to remember his failure. He didn't want to face his weaknesses.
He didn't want to confess he had any.
"If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in him . . ." Tony, despite his self-admitted many, many egotistical flaws, never thought his was a God. Maybe a little larger than life, but he never deluded himself into thinking he was above it.
Was he Rich? Of course. Smart? Naturally. Handsome and charming? Yes on both accounts.
But was he untouchable?
Not even close.
After all, as yesterday so thoroughly demonstrated, there are plenty of ways to make him, plenty of ways to dispel faith, even if it is in himself.
And he must have spaced-out, because in the next second there was a dip in couch and an ivory-skinned, dark-haired Englishman in front of him; a glass of water in one hand and a couple of aspirins in the other. It took Tony a minute to make the connection between 'aspirin', 'water', and 'the pounding in his head', but once his brain caught up the playboy genius mustered a half-hearted smile and took the offered hangover remedy.
The next twenty minutes was limited conversation sprinkled with minor shuffling around. The aspirin had taken the edge off of Tony's alcohol-induced headache and he was uncommonly, though expectedly quiet, while Lawrence gave him space and changed into something that wasn't wrinkled from being slept in the night before.
Only when a steaming cup of something decidedly not-coffee was placed in his hands, being exchanged for the water from earlier, did Tony's voice return. The 'less-than-invincible' Iron Man took a whiff.
"This is tea."
"How observant of you."
"I don't like tea."
Lawrence sat down beside him and said, "I fail to see your point."
Well if that isn't an "I don't care if you do like or don't like tea, drink it" then Tony didn't know what was.
Figuring that it may help more with getting rid of his migraine, Tony took a sip, only to have his tongue recoil at the distinct lack of caffeine . . . and really in flavor in general.
Tony held the cup at arm's length, eyeing it distrustfully. "I can't believe that this is what you drink on a daily basis." How could something so bland be a necessity served in expensive patterned china at social gatherings for people with fancy accents and monocles?
Showing his amusement at Tony's comment, Lawrence took the cup and brought it to his lips, drinking the tea without as much as a grimace. The cool hand returned the cup, a pulling at the corner of those soft lips accompanying its return.
"I can assure you, Tony,' he said, a shadow of that mischievous glint Lawrence had distinct in his eyes, 'that is the exact tea I favor. Perhaps if you did not drown your taste-buds in instantly made coffee multiple times a day, you could enjoy a higher caliber of drink."
Tony narrowed his eyes, though more in playing than real annoyance. His brain, for Tony was very sure that after years of perfecting snarky come-backs, doing so was as natural as any reflex, already had a retort on the tip of his tongue. "Someone's just upset that his 'high class' drink is used more by phony fortune-tellers reading B.S. messages in tea leaves than people who willingly enjoy it."
Both eyebrows were raised and Lawrence met Tony's gaze with a set for a challenge. Yes, this was better. Much better. The two of them matching wits was something they did a lot. Sparring matches equipped with words was entertainment to them both, each trying to get the best of the other. The normalcy of this back-and-fourth gave his mind focus, keeping it from returning to . . . other thoughts.
And if the diminutive successful smile Lawrence was showing told Tony anything, it was that the other man was very aware of what he was doing.
Their banter didn't go on for too much longer, Tony finishing with, "Cleary this has to be the result of some weird European custom beginning thousands of years ago because if you were really listening to yourself, you may notice that you're trying to pass off glorified tree leaves left to stew in boiling water for five minutes as some kind of beverage." And in response, Lawrence bowed out with, "You've caught us, Tony. It is common practice in England to feed tea to our children at a young age so they may drink it in abundance when they are older in that they might forever bewilder the coffee-consumers and refreshment-illiterate of America."
It wasn't much, but by the end of it, Tony found himself managing a smile, as empty as it was and how painful it felt, but it was something. And with this tiny step forward, Tony decided it was time to get going, and at the very least check back in with his team, before an emotional backslide hit and things he didn't want to talk about were brought up.
"I should probably go,' Tony stood up, waiting for his legs to un-jellify and Lawrence stood with him, 'I haven't talked to Pepper for almost a whole day. Any longer and you'll be reading in the paper about a 'most unfortunate accident resulting in bodily harm has left Mr. Tony Stark unavailable to comment on his current condition.'"
A brief chuckle escaped Lawrence, coating his voice in amusement, "Hmm, you might have a point. I suppose if you see her in person, she may be inclined to give you a five-second head start." Tony moved and nodded. "Only if she's feeling generous."
It wasn't a lengthy walk to the front door, but with the strange pull of wanting to stay versus the realistic determination to get back to his team before they started looking for him, Tony was relieved when some fresh air and time to be by himself was only a potentially awkward good-bye away.
"Do you need a ride back home? I could take you, or call a driver." Tony gave a crooked smile at Lawrence's offer. "Nah, I'll pick up a cab near the end of the block."
Aside from working a look that screamed "I have no idea how to use an iron", Tony was ready to go, hand stalling on the door knob. The CEO of a multi-billion dollar company with more issues then was generally regarded healthy still had problems opening up about himself, saying what he wanted to without covering it in sarcasm or wording it in arrogance, but looking over at Lawrence, the man who didn't leave his ass out to sober up in the rain, it made him want to try. To try and tell this wickedly handsome, silver-tongued man who left his bed to sleep with a drunk on a couch not meant for two to sleep on, that besides Pepper, Tony wasn't sure there was another person on the planet who would do that.
Alright, take a breath and tell him. "Lawrence, I want to . . . ," Okay, okay, he could do this, ". . . to tell you, uh, you know . . . ," Lawrence stared at him, patient and waiting for whatever it was Tony was trying to say, "thanks for, um, letting me . . . ," Come on, just be honest, ". . . spend the night."
Ladies and gentlemen, Tony Stark; world renown businessman notorious for his charisma and outstanding way with words. Watch and be amazed.
Despite wanting to bang his head off the door frame a couple of times, Tony supposed it was the effort that counted. "Yeah, I'm going to go now." Lawrence had an odd kind of smile, like he was battling if he should be bemused by Tony's sad attempt at feelings or not. Tony just wanted to leave because if things could get worse, they would.
But before he could escape, a firm hand grabbed his arm and he was turned to face Lawrence, light expression gone to something more temperate. His eyes were downcast a bit, internally mulling something over and then looked back up.
"Tony . . .,' Tony wondered if Lawrence ever noticed how soft his voice would get, and how regardless of its quiet tenor, it demanded and called for attention. 'I want you to know, you can talk to me," the hand grasping his arm was brought up and traced gently along his cheek, a thumb stroking along under his left eye, tracing over the dark circle; a small indicator of the effect his inner turmoil was causing. "Because I . . . I do care."
Tony enclosed Lawrence's hand with his own and leaned in and kissed him, nothing demanding or desperate, just hoping to push away all the doubt and insanity and just show in action what he couldn't put together in articulate sentences.
He pulled away to rest his forehead against Lawrence's. "Thank you."
Behind dark lashes, emerald eyes slid up to meet Tony's. "Oh?' he said quietly, 'For what?"
So Tony left (catching a cab isn't all that hard when you're super-famous) and returned to the Avengers mansion. Going inside and making his presence known had not been the flocking craziness Tony dreaded it would be. Jarvis welcomed him the moment he stepped through the door and Tony hadn't seen the others until he ventured the kitchen.
Everyone was in some stage of finishing lunch. Bruce was glued to a laptop screen, taking a bit out of a sandwich, Thor looked like he was polishing off an entire bucket of KFC, Clint and Natalie were sharpening throwing knives and cleaning guns, and Steve was the only one who seemed to be putting the time into having a well-balanced meal.
Tony made his way over to the coffee pot, which was completely full (and the coffee pot was never, ever, full), receiving the usual brands of "Good morning/ afternoon" from his team and most likely Thor, though it was hard to tell when the God was talking over a chicken leg and half a wing.
Inhaling the glorious scent of Maxwell House, Tony was able to appreciate just how suspiciously normal everything was. No one was giving him funny looks or asking him what the hell happened the other day. It was just a regular mid-morning, as far as being a superhero was concerned, and everyone was acting like Tony hadn't had a major melt down within the last twenty-four hours.
And they were doing it on purpose; Tony knew that for a fact. Everyone had that point, the moment in this particular line of work when enough was enough and you fell to your knees, screaming at the sky, asking if any of this meant anything. Didn't matter if it was caused by a new super-villain spawning every week, a city being brought down to its foundations, an angry and terrified public, . . . death, or an accumulation of things that hits in the middle of the night, slapping you with reality and leaving you soaked with cold-sweat and a much bleaker outlook of the future- it was the breaking point, and everyone had one. It was just a matter of when it happened and if whoever was in the middle of it had the strength to overcome.
So his fellow Avengers were giving him space; the time to lean against the counter and drink his coffee, to deal with the other day as best he could and be there if he needed help. They weren't going to hold Tony's hand over this hurdle and he didn't want them too, because it was his to deal with, and he was very happy with their current strategy of backing off but not be obnoxious about it.
It was times like these when Tony could look at the two assassins with differing recollections of a mission in Budapest, the nerdy scientist doubling as a green, anger-induced monster, a lightening-lobbing demi-god, and not think how weird it was that they were some of the greatest friends he'd come to know.
Of course, the elephant-ignorant air of the room couldn't hold forever and in walked Nick Fury, trench coat swishing so dramatically that Tony was struck with wondering if giving the armor a cape would contribute additional coolness. Tony wasn't so worried about Fury, the man just gave a look that read, "I don't care how you do it, but get your shit together, fast", which is pretty impressive with only one eye, and said that Tony needed to be debriefed and caught up to speed with the effects of Doom's last attack.
So no, Nick Fury was someone Tony could handle, and being Fury's special pain-in-the-ass was what he delighted in doing. No, what had him cautious was his personal assistant following behind, hot on Fury's leather-booted heels and wearing a face that clearly wasn't going to be as casual about his abrupt disappearance and reappearance as the rest of the group.
This had Tony not-so-subtly scope out which of his "dear" friends would make the best meat shield.
To her unyielding credit, Pepper was far more worried than angry. She knew, better than most, that when Tony was having difficulty with something that went deeper than the surface, he had a tendency to get drunk and do stupid things. Not always in that order, but never one without the other. Pepper was afraid that one day Tony was going to go too far and wind-up dead in a ditch somewhere.
However, even after her calm and professional way of telling him off, Pepper hadn't really confronted Tony about yesterday.
But that didn't mean Pepper wasn't finding whole new reasons to show her concern-turned-anger.
Anything, big or small and Tony was given an annoyed look and irked tone of voice, and going into day three of taking care of an ill Tony Stark hadn't helped smooth things over. At. All.
But Pepper's attitude couldn't take all the blame, oh no. Multiple times the red-head attempted to talk with her boss, to get him to let her in, just a bit. And although she never pushed, Tony had gone from politely changing the subject, to entirely ignoring it, and more often than not, met Pepper's moderate inquires with more hostility than justified.
It was a nick in a strong and lasting relationship, but a nick nonetheless.
And Pepper really didn't deserve it.
Tony withdrew from his cocoon of sheets, stared at the ceiling, and sighed. "Pepper?"
"Believe it or not, I'm really not trying to be difficult . . . at least not this time." Out of his peripheral vision, Tony could see Pepper looking less annoyed but more weary. "It's just . . . hard."
Pepper exhaled and for a moment, Tony could see the burden of worrying about him she chose, for whatever reason, to bear. "I know Tony,' she said, sounding like this was a crack in the weight on her chest, " but I worry about you, the others do too, and when you go off like that, I'm afraid you forget how much and how many people care about you."
"Actually,' Tony shifted, fighting the urge to grin, 'I've been told recently about how I'm cared about. I think I'll start listening."
Putting her paperwork down, Pepper reached out from where she was sitting and placed a hand on Tony's shoulder. "That's good Tony, because you do deserve it, but if you ever take off after something that bad again without a least texting someone that you're in one piece, you'll find the files that mysteriously vanish from your desk after a long day returning with a vengeance."
Her words gave Tony some peace of mind, glad that she was forgiving him, if she hadn't already. "I'll keep the threat in mind."
Pepper gave a squeeze to his should and lent back, picking back up her work. "You'd better,' she warned, 'or you'll be kissing those days of getting out of meetings early good-bye."
Tony chuckled which quickly turned into coughing, reminding him that he was, in fact, still sick.
"Believe it or not Tony I do need to get this paperwork finished."
"Would you make me some chicken noodle soup?"
Blue-gray eyes flashed to her delicate gold watch. "No."
"What do you mean 'no'? After our little heart-to-heart you're going to deny me food? Me? The man who is gravely ill and bedridden?" Tony lay listlessly on his couch, unleashing the best woe-is-me face he could muster. "I could be dying, Pepper, and is saying no to a perfectly reasonable request for chicken noodle soup from a dying man something you want to have on your conscience for the rest of your life?"
Pepper just laughed. "And I thought you were being dramatic before. I have to be on my way to Stark Industries in ten minutes to settle a complaint that you should be managing, so excuse me, but I think I can live with not getting you soup."
"Oh, so not only am I not being feed, but you're leaving me alone with only my used tissues for companionship?"
"Don't worry; you'll have someone else to moan to in a few minutes."
Tony arched an eyebrow in disbelief and curiosity. "Did Coulson lose a bet?"
"Nope." Pepper chirped, organizing her papers into color-labeled folders.
"Did you promise Rhodey free upgrades on the War Machine armor?"
"Does Clint owe you money?"
"Someone trick Thor into thinking this is some weird Earth custom?"
Pepper took another glance at her watch and placed the folders into a briefcase. "Thor isn't a gullible as you think he is, and no."
"Uh-huh,' he scoffed, 'you didn't offer Natalie blackmail on me, did you?"
"More tempting as it was, I can think of a lot better things for my extortion than getting someone to babysit you."
Well that was terrifying. "Steve isn't patriotic enough to do something just by putting "For the good of your country" in front of it. I'd know, I've tried. Did you hide his shield and hold it for ransom?"
"Now you're getting ridiculous, Tony."
"I've got it!" Tony pointed a finger in the air, gesturing a sudden epiphany. "You threatened to show Hulk those purple stretchy pants because as much as Bruce hates them, the green-guy loves them."
The doorbell rang, interrupting Pepper's next creative way to tell Tony he was wrong, prompting his assistant to go answer. To lethargic to follow her, Tony listened to those black Pradas strut across the floor all the way to the front door of his home. He couldn't hear the door being opened, but it was hard to miss Pepper's exclamation.
"Oh thank you God, you're here."
And the voice that replied was a welcome one, "Only one of mischief, my dear."