Two days later, Tony was in Bruce's lab looking at a little white pill.
"It's a solid form of albuterol with an extra additive to make it vaporize when it hits saliva. You hold it in your mouth and inhale the vapor as it melts."
Tony, raised an eyebrow. "So it's a breath mint inhaler."
"Yes, but it tastes disgusting. Sorry, couldn't fix that, but at least you can pop one from an Altoid tin and nobody will be the wiser."
"Alright, I can go with that. I already added a nebulizer to the suit so that JARVIS can pump medication if need be. I was thinking of making a few concealed inhalers for the rest of the team in case the suit gets damaged in some way. It's not without precedent."
"I'm sure nobody would mind. We might just need to have a team meeting to bring everyone up to speed and to make sure they know when and how to use them."
Tony looked away at that and grimaced. "You really think it needs to be that formal of a thing? I'm sure everyone knows how these things work anyway." He picked up an inhaler from the counter and fiddled with it.
Bruce pushed on, "I spoke with Thor, by the way. He was most concerned, but surprisingly willing to shut up about how puny humans are and just learn what he could." He paused and started cleaning his glasses. "Have you told Cap or Clint yet?"
Tony rolled his eyes. "I'm sure Natasha and Phil filled - ha! - Clint in on what's going on. Although, come to think of it, they do love their secrets. Have you seen Clint lately? Maybe they told him and then had to kill him."
It was Bruce's turn to roll his eyes. "So that's a no then. What about Steve?"
"What about him? I have a sparring session with him in a few minutes. In fact, I should be on my way over there right now. I bet being late is unamerican or something and he'll be getting his spangled underwear in a twist."
Tony began edging out of the room, but Bruce put a hand on his arm to stop him. A look from Tony and he quickly dropped his hand. Today was a different situation from two days ago and they were still navigating the uncharted territories of their strange relationship.
Bruce dropped his gaze as well, "He won't bench you, you know. We wouldn't let
him." He looked back up. "You know he's pretty good with strategy. I think he should be told so he can plan for it."
Tony held his gaze for a second and then nodded, once. "I'll take it into consideration. If the opportunity arises, I'll tell him."
Of course, it didn't go that way.
Tony actually looked forward to sparring with Cap. Plus, he really needed the workout. He'd had too many meetings lately and spent too much time in his workshop creating new code for various projects. For once, he needed the rhythm of the workout to clear his mind.
Even though Rogers was the better hand to hand fighter when Tony was out of his suit, it was still a challenge for the serum-enhanced man to spar with him. Rogers had to practice control while pulling his punches, and Tony was a creative fighter - especially if he could use the objects around him. Tony was smart enough to not develop a pattern to his offense that Steve could use against him.
Still, it wasn't long before Tony felt his breath hitch. Pushing through, breathing hard, he kept up his attack and threw a punch from the left to make Steve block and quickly followed with a kick from the right.
Rogers concentrated on sweeping his leg to the side and blocking the next punch before saying, apropos of nothing, "I used to have asthma, you know, before. I remember how scary it was to have your body fail to function on such a simple level."
Tony's concentration broke for a second, but he kept up his attack. Somewhere in the depths of the hard drive that was his brain, he remembered that fact. How had he not recalled it earlier?
"I say that because I can hear the breath starting to whistle in your chest. We should take a breather and let it settle down. How long has this been going on?"
Tony turned and punched at his head, hard, but Steve caught his fist on his palm and pushed lightly back. Screw it, he thought and pulled away to go lean on the ropes while he caught his breath.
Steve stayed in the middle of the ring for a few seconds before walking over to stand against the padded post in the corner. He crossed his arms and just waited.
Tony eventually turned towards him, but stayed propped up on the ropes. "If you can hear that, can you also hear the arc-reactor running?"
Steve concentrated for a second and then raised his eyebrows. "I can, actually. It's a faint hum. I never noticed."
Tony frowned, "I didn't think it was all in my head. If you can hear it, others will be able to, too. I need to figure out how to stop the vibration." Rogers opened his mouth again, but Tony waved him silent. "I know, I know, you want to know how long this has been going on."
Steve closed his mouth and just looked at him, expression completely neutral.
Tony ran a hand through his hair and sighed, pleased to note the lack of hitch this time. "It's been an issue since the arc-reactor was, uh, installed. It took a while to learn how to breathe around it. I calculated that the scar tissue would become a problem in ten years or so, but it seems to have only taken five."
At Rogers surprised look, he added, "So basically, it's only been a problem for the past two months or so."
"Have you had any x-rays done to see if it's anything more serious?"
"I had Bruce take a look at it," he said and carefully schooled his expression to one of studied indifference. "We're coming up with suit enhancements and other little gadgets, but it looks to me like my clock is ticking in terms of still being able to fight. I'll trust you to let me know when the time is right to step down."
They locked gazes and Steve studied him for a minute, his expression grave, but he didn't try and protest that it wasn't necessary. "Thank you, but I think you need to remember that you're still the best engineer on the planet. You'll always have a place on the team."
Tony let out a breath he didn't know he was holding and relaxed. "Can we go back to punching each other now?" he asked plaintively. "It's been a long week."
Cap grinned and lunged at him.
Tony called a team meeting in the Tower a week later.
When they were all seated in the living room, he began without preamble, "Unlike most of you, I've got a shelf life. No, seriously, I'm just human." He didn't wait for them to react, just started pacing around the room and snapping his fingers. He was never particularly still at the best of times and felt like they could just deal with it while he got everything out.
"Basically, the arc-reactor, while pretty damn cool, is really invasive. It's causing some interesting problems - namely, asthma. I had Bruce run some tests and the end result is that this probably isn't going to get better since the scar tissue on my lungs is pretty extensive."
Tony flicked a gaze at the group, but they were all holding themselves perfectly still. Bruce nodded at him encouragingly. "We came up with some gadgets for the suit and for use in public. I don't want this getting out or it will be used against me by every two-bit villain. If I made you guys concealed inhalers as backups in case my suit is damaged, would you wear them?"
They all started talking at once and he had to wave them quiet, but the gist of it was that they were all on board with the inhaler plan. He'd examine the warm fuzzies that gave him later. Some time when he could have a stiff drink.
"Good. Glad we got that out of the way." Tony stopped pacing and faced the pile of superheros on the couch. His expression was deadly serious. "In other news, I want to install an AI in the refrigerator."
There was a pause while everyone thought about that. Thor raised his hand hesitantly to ask, "Why?"
Tony started pacing again, unable to contain the shaky energy the previous discussion had given him. "Why not? Just think! Seriously guys, it could be a refrigerator that would make a smoothie for you if you asked."
"But it's an AI. It'll need to learn. I don't want to taste experimental smoothies, man. That is a learning curve I'd want to skip." Clint seemed to be the voice of reason in this discussion, which was a terrifying thought.
"Well, what if I -"
JARVIS' cool voice interrupted. "Sir, Director Fury is on the line for Captain Rogers."
Steve automatically stood up, at attention. "Sir? The team is all here."
"Some idiot with a shrink ray is trying to shrink all the major monuments in the US. We just got reports that he's waving the gun around at the Statue of Liberty and has already shrunk a few boats. Get your asses out there ASAP and take the gun away from him!"
Steve looked over to where Tony had finally stopped his pacing. When he looked up, Captain America held his gaze and barked, "Avengers, assemble!"
So there you have it, one whole fic. I know Clint and Thor didn't figure very prominently in here, but I have trouble writing Thor. Clint just didn't have strong opinions this time, but for the record, I am a big fan of any Clint-and-Tony-being-bros fics (any rec's?). As always, let me know what you thought and thanks for reading!
Playlist for this fic includes:
Hurt - Johnny Cash
Are You Alright? - Lucinda Williams
Shelter For My Soul - Anthony Williams / Ned Kelly Soundtrack
Radioactive - Imagine Dragons