The world spun as Tony tumbled through the air. There was an impact. Air was forced from his lungs. Another impact. Metal screeched. Things bent, cracked, and broke. A final impact and he rolled across the ground, armour scraping against the tarmac, until he finally came to a halt lying on his back staring up at a cloud-scattered sky.
"Ow," he said once he'd regained enough air to speak.
The blue holograms of his heads-up display stuttered and blurred before stabilizing once more now with several warnings blazing in red.
"Systems rebooting," Jarvis declared. "Attempting to compensate for damage."
A moment later, some of the HUD indicators switched back to blue though many remained bright red and disturbingly low numbers showed on the suit diagnostic.
"Perhaps the direct approach was not the best choice under the circumstances," Jarvis observed.
"You noticed that, did you," Tony croaked in reply. He swallowed closing his eyes for a moment. His body might have stopped moving but the world around him still seemed to be spinning.
"Alright, Stark?" Steve called out over the radio. "Tony?" he added with slightly more concern when Tony didn't answer straight away.
"Fine," Tony replied, still breathy and hoarse, and then realizing just how bad he sounded, he cleared his throat and said, "All good, Cap."
"Sir, I would advise informing him..." Jarvis began.
"Not now, J."
Not privy to Tony and the A.I.'s private conversation, Steve said, "Does that mean you're planning on rejoining us sometime soon?"
"Yeah, yeah," Tony replied. "Hold your... whatevers," he said unable to call up his usual snarky wit. A throbbing ache in the back of his skull was making it hard to think.
"Sir, moving would not be advisable at the moment," said Jarvis.
"Yeah, well," said Tony. "Not much choice if I want to get back in on the action."
The armour responded sluggishly but he was able to roll onto his side and get his arms underneath him. He began pushing himself up.
Pain. Red hot pain spreading out from his right side. Tony stifled a gasp as breathing suddenly became a very unpleasant task. The HUD blurred again, or maybe it was his vision blurring. Nausea swept down the back of his throat.
"Okay, not good," Tony ground out between gritted teeth.
He glanced down and saw a big dent on the right side of the armour.
"What the hell hit me?" he muttered.
"I believe it was a Boeing 787," said Jarvis.
Looking up, Tony saw several parked planes nearby sporting a considerable amount of damage. "Oh, right."
Moving more gingerly, he managed to push himself the rest of the way up. He sat there trying to take shallow breaths as he waited for the pain to die back down. From the other side of the airport came the sounds of the ongoing battle. The other Avengers were bantering back and forth over the radio. He needed to get back to them.
He began the arduous process of standing up. It seemed impossible to find a way of moving that didn't send another stab of pain through his side. Managing to get onto his hands and knees, he carefully pushed his weight back onto his feet.
"Sir, would you like me to..." said Jarvis.
"I got it," said Tony even as he wavered and almost ended up on the ground once more.
"You taking a nap out there, Stark?" asked Steve.
"Just seeing..." Tony took in a quick breath as he finally managed to stand upright. "...how well you do without me."
The world started spinning again. Tony tilted sideways and only just managed to catch himself before he fell back down. Straightening back up, he congratulated himself on keeping his feet under him as well as keeping the pain out of his voice.
"Tony..." Steve said, his concern audible.
Maybe he hadn't been that successful on the second one.
"I'm fine," Tony said. Battered armour creaking, he took a step forward and stumbled slightly. "I'll be right with you."
Apparently, he needed to work on being more convincing as Steve suddenly changed tactics.
"Jarvis, status on Stark."
Before Tony could voice an objection, the A.I. replied. "EKG readings are normal however the EEG indicates Mr. Stark is suffering from a minor concussion. He also has three broken ribs and a sprained wrist."
"I don't have a sprained wrist," Tony protested rotating his wrists to prove the point. A flash of pain came from the left one. He hissed. "Ok, maybe I do."
Steve's sigh could be heard even over the radio. "Stark, you're out of the fight."
"What? No!" He began staggering in the direction of the battle or at least the direction he hoped the battle was in. "I'm not leaving you guys to face this... this... Do we even know who this guy is yet?"
Their current enemy was some big, powerful, alien guy with a cape and long hair, not Thor, a completely different big, powerful, alien guy with a cape and long hair. He had bright red skin and a large sword, and seemed intent on destroying Cairo's International Airport. Not that Tony entirely blamed him. There was a reason he used private jets.
"He said his name is Molgath the Destroyer whatever that means," said Steve. "I've called a code green. The Hulk can handle this guy."
"We don't mess with broken ribs. Besides if you're in that state, how's your armour holding up?"
The noise of the battle was growing louder. Tony could see the others in the distance now. The Hulk was a brawling ball of green and Thor's lightening was flashing against the sky. Tony continued staggering towards them gritting his teeth against the pain still emanating from both his head and side.
"The armour's fine," he insisted.
"The integrity of the armour has been compromised in numerous locations," Jarvis stated. "Overall power levels are currently at 27 percent. Flight power is at 39 percent. Weapon systems at 8 percent."
Tony scowled. "Remind me whose A.I. are you again?"
"Tony," said Steve sounding somewhat breathless. Tony could see him up ahead struggling with the Destroyer guy, blue tangling with red. "We don't have time to argue about this. Go back to HQ or wait in the Quinjet."
Maybe it was the concussion or maybe it was the fact Tony really didn't like leaving his friends in the middle of a fight, but he decided to ignore the voice in the back of his head telling him just how much of an idiot he was being, and said, "Make me."
There was a pause and then Steve calmly said, "Jarvis, take Stark home."
"Yes, Captain," Jarvis replied.
"Hey!" Tony cried as his limbs were suddenly locked into position and the armour's flight mode was activated. "Wait! You can't..." But he was already shooting up into the sky and away from the airport.
"See you back at the tower," said Steve, the amusement clear in his voice.
"Jarvis," Tony growled, and then he swallowed convulsively because the sudden change in altitude was really not helping with the concussion. "Take us back!"
"I'm afraid I can't do that, sir."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Now is not the time to act all Hal 9000 on me."
"Captain Rogers has ordered me to return you to the tower," said Jarvis matter-of-factly as they soared high above Cairo.
"Since when do you take orders from Captain Fancy Pants," Tony demanded.
"You did specify that I should aid the Avengers in all things."
"Not when it disagrees with your primary protocols."
"The primary protocol that dictates I do everything in my power to look after your well being?"
"The one that says you must obey me at all times!"
"I'm sorry, sir. There seems to be a slight contradiction in my subroutines which I can not resolve at the moment. Perhaps you can amend things when we return to the tower."
"In the meantime, here is some in-flight music."
A soprano voice warbled over the armour's interior speakers.
Un bel dì, vedremo...
"What the hell?" Tony exclaimed. "You know I hate opera."
...levarsi un fil di fumo...
"Dr. Banner seems to find this music quite relaxing."
...sull'estremo confin del mare.
E poi la nave appare.
"I recommend you get some rest, sir."
Poi la nave bianca entra nel porto...
"When we get back..." Tony threatened.
The music grew louder.
...romba il suo saluto.
Heading for New York, the Iron Man armour continued to fly over Egypt, Tony's cries of protest mingling with the strains of Madame Butterfly.
A.N.: Thanks so much for all the lovely reviews and favorites! Some people would like more and I am interested in writing some sort of sequel involving the other Avengers interacting with Jarvis but I've got to deal with some other more demanding plot bunnies first.