A/N: For old readers, look, I'm not dead! For new readers, hi! *enthusiastic wave*
And for those of you who are bored and might be interested, I am starting up a deviantART account under CantansAvis.
Updates for this story will occur at least once a week (hopefully, most likely, it's summer anyways, etc.).
He couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe and he felt like his lungs were trying to crawl out of his chest, clawing, begging for oxygen, for anything really. They just wanted some sort of relief.
"Doctor Smith! He's not breathing!"
He wondered if his body would just be floating in space. Would it decay normally? Or would he be some sort of space mummy?
"C'mon! One, two, three. One, two, three..."
Tony ignored the urge to clutch his chest. He felt like someone was trying to use his ribcage like a drum set and some stupid pigeon got stuck inside, panicking, fluttering. He thought of Pepper.
"He's going into cardiac arrest! The AED!"
He thought about his team. Hm. And he was just starting to like them. Even Rogers. He looked at the empty space, the recent explosion a forgotten memory in the unforgiving darkness. The stars looked so cold.
"Tony? Oh my god, Tony!"
Ugh. Did death actually smell like a hospital? He was dead already, did it have to be sterile? Geez, Death sure had some problems.
"He's awake!" someone whispered excitedly. Someone else was trying to suppress some squealing. Pepper? He'd just saved the world. She couldn't be dead!
Wait. The hum. The hum that only he could hear, that only he could feel. The arc reactor. Was it- No, it couldn't be… Tony reached towards his chest, feeling a slight resistance. Something was in his arm and hand. What the hell? He went to pull it out, only to feel a pair of familiar hands stop him.
"Tony?" He struggled to open his eyes to put a face to the voice, rubbing them with the hand that wasn't attached to… an IV? He was alive? Tony looked around the room. Mostly white and sterile, except for some flowers, stuffed bears, and cards on the table next to him. Mostly generic. He tried to ignore the disappointment curling in his stomach, settling down comfortably like a cat. He thought maybe his team might have added something more intimate. Even one of those stupid exploding messages that started with, "Your mission, if you choose to accept it…" That would've been nice.
What about Pepper? She could've added something nice. Something cute. Or badass. Or something that was both. Like her.
"Tony?" His eyes roved towards the voice. Virginia "Pepper" Potts. There was concern scribbled all over those blue irises. Her hair was up, stacked on her head messily. Like before, when she was his PA.
"Pepper?" He croaked. He saw the flash of confusion before the elated squeal and attempted hug. "Ow, Pep, I kind of hurt all over." Yeah, all over. Something was wrong.
"What happened?" Tony asked as he searched her eyes for some sort of answer. But something was different. She wasn't the Pepper he left that night to go inadvertently run into a Norse god. She wasn't' the Pepper he tried calling in the abyss of space. She was Pepper the PA. As Tony struggled to keep down his panic and a sense of wrongwrongwrong, he heard a familiar voice cut through the air.
"You don't remember?" Rhodey flashed a sad smile as he approached the bed. "Of course you wouldn't. That little thing in your chest was good-" Tony reached toward the strangely silent area. He found bandages and gauze. "But not good enough. You just collapsed. Doctors had to operate quickly."
Tony tried to swallow his disappointment. He had made improvements, it had worked almost perfectly.
"... But what can you expect from a box of scrap in some damp cave in the desert?" Wait, what?
"What's today's date?" No, it couldn't be. It had been years since Afghanistan. It couldn't...
Pepper gently placed a hand on his arm. "Tony..." She was reluctant.
"What's the date?" Nonono... it can't be... no...
"August 13, 2008."
Three months. A little over three months. You got to be kidding.
"No, Tony. We're not." Pepper gave him a sad little smile. A pitying smile.
"But we just, I mean, there was, so…" Pepper patted him on the shoulder. He hated it. He had just helped save the world. There had been alien invasions and copycat Iron man suits and magic and did he mention aliens? It just couldn't…
"Okay, okay, freak out Stark while he's defenseless. Oh so funny guys." He cracked a desperate smile. They just had to be lying.
"So where's the camera? It should be fairly obvious, but then again you have Rhodey. But last time he tried to do something involving me…" Tony stopped when he didn't see Happy about to crack up. Happy could never hide a prank. Ever. It was impossible.
So it was true. It had only been a little over three months since he got back from Afghanistan.
Tony didn't even try to hide his devastation. They would think he was just horrified about losing three months. Not years. Not a wonderful relationship. Not a team that he felt he would get close to, eat shawarma with, hell maybe even live with. Wait...
"When did I, er, pass out?" Please let me still have the suit, be Iron Man...
"After the plane landed."
Tony hated pretty much everything at the moment. The doctor was looking over him more scrupulously than any SHIELD- wait, he'd made that up. There was no SHIELD. He gave a low, bitter chuckle. At least Phil Coulson didn't die.
"Hm. He's seems to be in better condition than before he came in." Tony rolled his eyes and snorted. Obviously.
The doctor decided to ignore him. Smart move, doc. "He looks to be in the best condition of his life." Tony tried to be nonchalant, but noticed the doctor's smug smile. Hmph. Well, it's surprisingly good news for a man who was in a coma, lost everything he had just got a grip on, and oh, his best friends are an AI and some robots. He ignored the niggling feeling in the back of his mind, that maybe, maybe, there was a tinge of truth in his hazy dreamworld. Maybe there was magic. Maybe there was someone who remembered, who was watching.
"He can leave as soon as the nurses remove the equipment from him," he addressed the group of Pepper, Rhodey, and Happy beside Tony. Geez, was he eight? Tony Stark was a full-grown man, with a brain and ears. He blamed his past. Everyone still thought he was some sort of idiot savant, some playboy, someone who couldn't care for himself, let alone anyone else.
The doctor motioned for Pepper to come next to him. "Make sure to bring him back if he's not doing well." Pepper nodded solemnly. It was official. Tony Stark was an eight-year-old boy who couldn't take care of himself. He fought the urge to stick out his tongue.
Tony laid back down, plastering a smile on his face. Rhodey smiled back, slightly confused by the smile that didn't quite reach Tony's eyes. "I've got to head back to base. Pepper and Happy will make sure you get home." Tony wanted to scream. "I'll catch up later." He patted Tony on the shoulder. Oh. My. God. I need to be in my lab and start fiddling things or I swear, someone's losing a hand or foot or something. Tony briefly thought of Natasha. Stop it, stupid brain.
"I'm going to start the car, Mr. Stark," Happy said before following Rhodey, also giving Tony a pat. Argh!I swear, I will never pat my children in this patronizing manner. They will be treated like the bratty little geniuses I know they will be.
"Tony, I'll be back soon, I got to sign you out." She kissed him on the forehead before leaving the room. He missed her. He grinned a bit when the nurse entered the room. Yes! Freedom!
As soon as Tony got dressed and used to walking (whoa, I bet this is what a new baby horse feels like), he made a dash for the most discreet exit. He could go home later. He needed to clear his head.
Tony climbed up two floors and then took the elevator down three. Couldn't be too cautious. He found an old fire escape at the dead end of some empty hallway. He peeked out the window. Only seven stories up. He could do this. He opened the window. Hm. No alarms. Or at least, no loud, obnoxious ones.
The metal creaked under his weight. Well, he hoped he could do this. Tony went down as fast as he could go without tripping (I wish I had taken up those training sessions with Rogers- dammit! Stop, brain!), metal announcing his escape to the thankfully empty street.
As Tony hopped down onto the sidewalk, legs still wobbling, he glimpsed hospital security around the corner. Damn. He turned away from them and quickly rounded the next corner. Dead end. Well, they hadn't noticed him...
"Hey! I think he went this way!" Double damn. Tony awaited his capture and then quietly snickered as they ran past. He counted to 315 by sevens before cautiously and so inconspicuously walking out of the alley. He spotted a coffee shop directly across from him. Oh thank whatever force has been totally screwing up my life for finally having a bit of mercy.
He ran across the street and barged in, the little bell ringing violently.
"Whoa, there. Looks like someone needs their coffee fix a bit early." Tony glanced at the clock, purple with white lettering, and found it was early afternoon. He circled, looking over his surroundings. Hm. Empty. I guess I am early.
"And not a minute too late." The barista chuckled. This wasn't the first time someone came in completely dazed, desperately in need of caffeine and sugar. "What can I get for you?"
Tony finally swiveled to face the man. Holy…
"Sir?" Geez, this guy really needs a cup. The man started to brew a fresh pot.
Tony "casually" walked up to the counter and glanced at the man's name tag. And then his face.
Back to the name tag. And then his face.
He was being served coffee by Clint Barton.