A/N: Set some time after the movie, and I'm not quite sure how many chapters it's likely to be. We'll see.
A/N2: For InSilva, because she asked for Avengers fic.
People tended to yell at you a lot when you were dying, Tony had found. At least this time around the shouts seemed more concerned than angry. Except Fury. He sounded like dying was something Tony had come up with just to piss him off. To be honest, if he'd known he could get that kind of reaction, he might just have thought about trying it.
His leg was on fire. He thought it was his leg anyway, though right now it didn't feel like a leg. Just felt like everything below his waist had vanished, leaving only a raw mass of pain behind.
Everything below his waist? Worriedly, he tried to raise his head, and was stopped immediately, strong hands pushing him down.
"Tony, stay still," Steve ordered, his voice a bellow and Tony winced as the pain arced through his head. It was everywhere, he dimly realised. Everything hurt and the world was darker than it maybe should be. Was he still wearing his helmet? He couldn't tell...
"Stark, open your goddamned eyes," Natasha shouted, and somewhere above him the Hulk roared.
"The med evac team is ten klicks away," Clint announced, and Thor cursed with a variety of Asgardian words that Tony had mostly only ever heard him use about Loki.
Well, well, the gang was all here. And Fury was on the helicarrier, yelling at him through the headset. He was oddly proud of himself for working that out.
"We have to..." Steve was saying something, but his hearing was fading in and out, and the next thing there was a tidal wave of pain, and everything vanished beneath a blanket of white.
He was in the infirmary on the helicarrier. He could tell by the smell, and maybe that was something he should be worried about. Right now, though, above the hospital smell, everything smelled like blood. And that was definitely something he should be worried about.
It still hurt, but the hurt was different now. Drugs, or something, had taken the edge of the pain off. Enough for him to realise that it was his right leg and shoulder, his chest and head that were hurting the most.
He opened his eyes fractionally and looked around the crowded room. Looked like everyone was here and whole. Whatever had happened, it had happened to him, and that was both a relief and a source of irritation.
He couldn't focus properly, but he managed to fix on Bruce, who was thankfully looking a lot less green than earlier. The Hulk wasn't allowed to do hospital visiting anymore. Not after the time with Steve and the balloons, which totally wasn't his fault, no matter what the nurses said.
"Did you step on me?" he croaked at Bruce. "Because it feels sort of like you stepped on me."
Silently, Bruce shook his head.
He couldn't move. He couldn't even twitch his fingers, and he thought he was still wearing his armour. Why was he still wearing his armour? It was too heavy. He should...he couldn't remember.
"Forget the transfusion, we need to get him into surgery now," a new voice said insistently.
Surgery? He reacted with sluggish alarm. He didn't like surgery. Pain. Car batteries. He had to get out of here before they got started. But his body wouldn't respond.
He looked beseechingly up at his fellow Avengers. "Please...don't let them..."
"Rest easy, my friend. I vow we will not let any harm befall you," Thor promised.
His eyes flickered across to Steve. He could feel himself fading. "Pepper..." he said softly, and Steve nodded.
"She's already on her way," he said. "Agent Hill called her."
There was going to be more yelling. He might even make her cry again. He hated making her cry.
"Then make sure she doesn't have any reason to," Steve said, sounding suspiciously choked himself.
He tried to smirk, but he was too tired and too weak to even keep his eyes open.
As he fell into unconsciousness, he heard something beeping frantically.
It was still beeping the next time he woke up, but it sounded less desperate. Plus, he was able to turn his head, and he wasn't wearing his armour anymore.
Someone was holding his hand, and when he looked he was relieved to see it was Pepper. Anyone else, and it might have got awkward.
He tried to speak, but he realised that there was a tube stuck down his throat. He reached up, trying to remove it, but Pepper grabbed his hand.
"Tony!" she exclaimed, and she sounded half hysterical with relief. She had been crying. How long had he been out? "The doctor said you'll need that in for at least a few days. You weren't supposed to wake up yet."
He tried to smile to suggest that he never did what he was supposed to, but from the look on Pepper's face, it didn't have quite the effect he was looking for.
"I'll call the doctor," Pepper said, reaching over and pressing a button next to his head.
Gradually, he looked down the bed and realised that his legs were encased in solid slabs of plaster right up his thighs, a host of metal pins and clamps visible.
This didn't look good...
He stared, wide eyed, and the beeping grew louder and faster. Well, that was fantastic. Nothing like being able to monitor your own panic.
He looked up at Pepper, and she bit her lip. "It's not...you'd better wait and talk to the doctor."
Fear gripped him. That didn't sound good. And the look on the doctor's face when he came in didn't exactly reassure him either.
Oh, Tony, how have you managed to mess yourself up this time?
By the time the doctor had finished talking, Tony was glad of the tube. It meant that no one was expecting him to talk, he could just nod to signal that he'd understood what they were telling him.
His legs were crushed. So far he'd spent nineteen hours in surgery while they dug bits of his armour out of his bones. On top of that, there was spinal damage. Internal injuries. Broken ribs. His right shoulder was dislocated. Apparently he was lucky to be alive at all, but right now he didn't feel very lucky.
The doctor had tried to put the most positive spin on his prognosis that he could, and it still sounded grimmer than Tony would have ever imagined. There was a chance he would walk again. Maybe. But it would be months of surgery and PT before they could tell him for definite. It would be at least three months before he could use the bathroom by himself. And if everything went their way, if he made the miraculous recovery they were hoping for, even with all the medical technology and techniques SHIELD and Stark enterprises could develop, borrow or steal, it would be at least eighteen months before he'd be fit enough to get back in the suit.
Eighteen months and a miracle and Tony had never believed in miracles.
Not walking again. Not doing anything again. No more Iron Man. No more life.
He waited until Pepper walked the doctor to the door then quickly grabbing his phone from the table beside the bed, he clumsily tapped in the three digit code and Jarvis shut the room down immediately. One of many protocols he'd worked out which he could do blind and one handed if need be. And he'd told himself at the time – he'd told Jarvis at the time – that it was just security, but really it was for this. For a time when he needed to be alone and no one was going to let him.
Right now he felt like he might cry. And no one got to see him cry. Not even Pepper.
There were people hammering on the door, no doubt having found that their security codes suddenly weren't working. He could hear Pepper's voice, angry and pleading with him.
He sighed and looked resolutely away, wincing as even the slightest movement shot bolts of pain running through him.
The pain wouldn't be going away any time soon either, he realised with a shudder. Chronic pain, permanently crippled...frankly the prospect terrified him.
Blindly he gazed straight up ahead of him, fighting for composure. "Better get used to staring at the ceiling, Stark," he told himself. "Because this could be it for you."
There was a loud crash and he jerked, instinctively trying to sit up, convulsing with pain as the world tilted alarmingly.
When his vision cleared, Pepper was back beside him, holding his hand anxiously. Steve and Thor stood behind her, Thor awkwardly holding the door. So much for SHIELD security.
"Sorry," Thor said. "We were just returning and heard that you had woken up."
They must have just returned from a mission. That was the only time Steve's uniform was less than pristine.
Tony wasn't going to be going on any more missions.
"Courage," Thor said encouragingly, laying the door against the wall. "It is not as dark as all that."
Thor was probably lucky Tony couldn't speak right now.
"You can't lock the doctors out," Steve warned him, gesturing to the stressed looking doctor fussing around the IV.
Actually, Tony was pretty sure that he had locked them out, and he absolutely could do it again if he had to.
"You're hurt, Tony. Let them help you. Please." Pepper's voice was uncharacteristically soft, and he turned his head painfully to look at her. Her eyes were bright with the tears she was holding back. This was her worst nightmare. Everything he'd promised wouldn't happen. He managed to squeeze her hand reassuringly, trying to say sorry.
"You're not going through this alone," Steve said sincerely, placing a hand lightly on his uninjured shoulder. "We're all behind you."
He wasn't alone? Right. Inside he was laughing. They'd see how long that lasted.