Tony Stark is F.I.N.E. (F-ked up. Insecure. Neurotic. Emotional.)
Tony hadn't expected Pepper to stick with him forever. While it lasted, the relationship had been as perfect as any dumbass genius could dream.
But Pepper was busy running his (Okay, their.) company, and Tony was trying to balance being a superhero and a genius-playboy-philanthropist-billionaire media darling and having an enormous, world-renowned corporation depend on him for new patents and ideas, and all those people who talked about how bad an idea it was to be in a relationship with your boss were right, dammit.
It lasted longer than Tony calculated, and shorter than he'd hoped. And when Pepper met some guy at a benefit dinner, and the jerk made her smile and laugh and glow like Tony never could, he knew it was all over except the awkward conversation.
So here he was, sitting alone in his workshop, doing his best to drown both the emotional disappointment, and the physical injury of three broken ribs and a concussion, in a bottle of whiskey.
The Avengers had been called on a mission earlier, as the perfect end to an already shitty day. (Pepper had made the break-up official, the investors had gotten word of the split and the stock prices had plummeted accordingly, Bruce was still off visiting that Betty girl so there was no one to listen to Tony whine, Cap had been assigned to liaise with the lame-ass Brit version of the Avengers and was in England - too far away for Tony to show up and annoy-, Dummy broke a bottle of one of Tony's best wines, and JARVIS was being exceptionally snarky.)
The entire thing was FUBAR basically from the get go. No Cap, no Hulk, and Thor was more concerned with protecting the lovely Dr. Jane Foster (who was momentarily on retainer with S.H.I.E.L.D.), than stopping the supervillain. (Speaking of the good doctor, that woman's brain turned Tony on like Pussy Galore in a catsuit. Still, he wasn't a big enough douchebag to steal a teammate's girl. Not that he thought he could, considering that Thor and Jane watched each other the way Wesley and Buttercup did in The Princess Bride.) (And, yes, okay, he'd spent a week with a chick obsessed with the movie and had a roleplaying fetish. What? He'd looked good in that black outfit!)
Natasha and Clint kicked ass, but they were still only human. Which meant it was up to Tony, in his amazingly brilliant suit, to take down a group of pissed off members of the Mutant Brotherhood. And it'd been fine, really, keeping civilians out of the way and the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel were doing their jobs and following orders, and the mutants were more attitude than power - except that no one had mentioned that goddamn Magneto was in town. And the Iron Man suit was a work of inspiration and beauty and MIT-grad rock and roll. But up against a mutant who could twist, bend and shatter metal with his freaking mind, it was more of a liability than a weapon.
He had been lucky to survive. All but three of the mutants had escaped. And that was yet another new version of the suit destroyed.
Tony dropped back flat onto the couch in the workshop and muttered a few angry obscenities as he jolted his wounds. He really should've had one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents check him over, but at the end of the fight, he just wanted to go home. It wasn't until he got back to Stark Tower and finished patching himself up that the silence hit him.
He grew up left to his own devices. Too smart for other kids his age, too small for the college students to take him seriously, too much attitude for his parents to put up with him. It was always just Tony, and it had been that way most of his life.
But lately, Tony had started to get used to people. Obie was always checking up on him until the whole trying-to-get-Tony-killed thing blew up in the old man's face. And then there was Rhodey dragging him out to a bar, or a charity event, before he became War Machine and started spending all his time on classified missions.
There was Pepper and Happy and Coulson. Now Coulson was dead, Pepper was jetsetting, and Happy had been reassigned by Tony to bodyguard the CEO of Stark Tech.
And the Avengers were scattered.
Which meant the Tower was quiet. Even when Tony instructed JARVIS to turn on Black Sabbath loud enough to make his head ache, it was still too quiet.
I should be used to it, he berated himself, pairing the thought with another swallow of liquor.
Still, he'd kind of started to like knowing someone was nearby. Which meant the abrupt reality of being alone made him feel as if Magneto was crushing the torso of the Iron Man suit all over again.
He just wanted to sleep, dammit! To shut off his brain and do nothing, think nothing, feel nothing until someone, anyone, showed up. It was probably an hour of hating life (Not to mention working through the process of creating another suit to transplant his brain into so there would be some kind of switch to shut it all off for a while, but combining circuitry and human brain tissue wasn't exactly something he had ever tried before, and there would probably be all kinds of people freaking out if he announced the idea-) before he finally realized the music had been turned down to a quiet hum.
And JARVIS was talking. "-which really might be for the best, sir."
"Hu-wha?" Tony slurred, reaching for the bottle and pouting when he took in the puddle on the floor where he had already spilled the rest. He might have overbalanced at that point, since the floor abruptly seemed a little closer than before.
"Captain Rogers, sir, is here and refusing to leave. Also, I've ordered Dummy that he is not to bring you anything else to drink, as your current blood alcohol level is double the legal limit.
"I will admit that your previous attempts at inebriated invention have a tendency toward the entertaining or groundbreaking, nonetheless it would perhaps be best for you to not pass out due to alcohol consumption while concussed, sir."
"Ssteve's 'ere?" It almost sounded like English. Thank God he'd programmed JARVIS to translate drunken stuttering years ago.
"Yes, sir. Just upstairs. He would like to come down and speak with you, if you will permit it," the AI answered, words as smooth as ever.
Tony said no. He was almost positive, like 95.783% sure he'd said no. But the next thing he knew, there was the Cap, picking his dizzy ass up off the concrete floor he'd fallen to at some point, hoisting an arm over a shoulder (JARVIS might have chimed in about the ribs, 'cause Cap was being careful about where he was holding Tony), and than pushing him back down on the couch.
"Geez, Stark, what have you done to yourself now?" That was Steve all over, sounding worried when he should sound pissed, and he had already started checking the bandaging around Tony's chest.
"Tha'ss none a'yer busssinesss, mon Cappy-tane."
"You're a member of my team, Tony. And my friend. Of course it's my business!"
Oh, hey, look at that! Steve understood alcohol-impaired Tony too! That was kinda cool, since it meant he probably didn't have to sober up just yet.
That thought disappeared, as he heard the soldier curse. It was a pansy curse, yeah. Still, good old Captain America didn't curse very often, so when he did, you knew you were in deep shit.
"JARVIS, call a medic! He punctured a lung!"
Tony tried to wave away the prodding hands and mumbled, even though it felt sort of heavy to breathe, and that was different, something new. Interesting… "Go 'way, Ssteve. Ssstop pokin' me, assssshole. I dun' need a medicc, jus'another drink."
"You need your brain examined, Stark! You left following a battle where Magneto crushed your suit, with you inside I might add, and didn't even have Agent Pierson or Taro check if you were injured. And then you come back here, without help, and make a seriously crappy job of taking care of said injuries, before drinking yourself into a stupor, probably exacerbating the concussion JARVIS thinks you have!"
Cap was really loud, and angry, and it made Tony a little sad. He always made everyone angry. And it wasn't on purpose. Mostly. (That conference, trial fiasco in front of the Senate Committee thing didn't count, okay? It was too big an audience to pass up, after all. And he made smart-assery sexy, goddammit!) And Steve was really nice and everything, so making him mad meant Tony was a horrible human being, he supposed.
And maybe he was underwater, because everything JARVIS and Steve were saying was slow, and it seemed to echo, and it felt like he was trying to breathe liquid, which was not much damn fun, in case anyone was wondering. Oh, and his eyes were closed. When'd that happen? He didn't remember closing them, but it was too dark for them to be open, unless the power was out in the building. Only it was Stark Tower, and the power didn't go out in Stark Tower. Something about an awesome energy source, right? He was pretty sure he'd invented that, whatever it was, he couldn't remember right now. Anyway, the lights shouldn't be out, so he was probably passing out, possibly?
Yeah, that made sen-
When Tony woke up, he was a little confused. As far as he could remember, he'd made plans to black out from imbibing (See, he could be fancy and shit too, JARVIS!) more whiskey than was probably safe, in his workshop.
This was most decidedly not his workshop. In fact, it didn't even appear to be Stark Tower.
Glancing around, taking in the white bedsheets and the cheerful curtains and the taupe walls (God, he hated that color. Whoever the hell claimed it was soothing deserved to be made into chopped liver and blasted through the next dimensional portal they had to deal with, strapped to another nuke. Seriously.), not to mention the annoyingly goodnatured, not-even-hot chick wearing ugly green scrubs, leaning over and asking him a bunch of stupid questions, Tony was able to calculate that he was currently in his least favorite place in the world. (Okay, second least favorite. First was still that shitty cave in Afghanistan.)
Tony Stark was in the freaking hospital.
He wasn't sure how, but this was all Nick Fury's fault. And no matter why he turned out to have been admitted, he was still going to blame the wannabe-pirate commander. That was his story, and he was damn well sticking to it.
And the nurse was still talking.
"I'm sorry, can you repeat everything you said, and possibly tell me who the hell was dumb enough to drag me to a hospital so I can firebomb their home?"
And – Oh, look! Yep, there it was. That familiar, pissy expression with the lowered brows and the tight eyes and the pinched lips that said, Why the hell didn't they warn me he was an asshole?
Which was stupid really. Hadn't she ever read a newspaper or picked up a magazine? Everyone knew he was an asshole. There were probably bush families in Tanzania and insular tribes in the Rain Forest and nomad groups living in freaking Outer Mongolia who knew, how the hell could she not?
Two reasons – either she didn't give a shit that he was Tony Goddamn Stark (Preferable. He applauded folks who insisted celebs were just normal, albeit dramatically over-represented, jerks.), or – God, no, please don't let her be one of those idiots who legitimately believed he was a nice enough guy, and the tabloids blew everything out of proportion (Which they did, but still…), and all he needed was a good, steady, normal influence in his life to make everything better.
First, Tony would never be normal, no matter how hard anyone tried. With a childhood like his, it was not in the cards. At all. Second, he hated the people who figured the right person would make everything all better. They completely ignored years of his dedicated focus on being an iredeemible, narcissistic jackass. It had taken equal parts natural charm and legitimate effort to build up that mystique, and the fact that they blamed the media, instead of the guy who put in the time, was galling. After all, clearly said brain trusts knew better than him, the freaking multi-millionaire genius with more patents to his name than any human in history and a billion-plus dollar company that catered to almost every country on earth for their technological needs.
People like that shouldn't be allowed to think.
And according to the "nice" lady, it was Cap who brought him in. Damn that man and his upstanding morals.
"Great, nurse, but I really need to get out of here because hospitals give me a rash, so if you wouldn't mind-"
She didn't even let him finish before she was adding something to his I.V. Which, hey, he had an I.V.! That would make getting the fun stuff a hell of a lot easier to take. Although needles semi-permanently in his skin, he was not a big fan of. And considering the way his mind was starting to slow down, she'd just doped him with some sedative, so this should be entertaining if anyone came to poke him.
Of course, that was basically telling the universe that visiting hours were now happening, and he blinked and there was Steve, sitting in the chair next to the bed, looking all contrite and worried and shit. Which was a load of crap, since the super soldier hadn't done anything but made a grievously injured (He was assuming the injury was grievous, because he couldn't actually remember…) Tony get checked out by professionals, who were under the misguided belief that he would heal up best in a depressing building that smelled like cleaning solutions and was full up with sick, dead and dying people. Yeah, not any Stark's idea of a good time.
"Heya, Cap. What the hell, Steve? Hospitals give me the goddamn creeps. I'm pretty sure it's in my file and everything."
The blonde man's eyes were relieved at Tony's words, and he smiled. "The file that you routinely hack into and change the information so that S.H.I.E.L.D. can never be sure what's real and what's b.s.?"
Frowning, Tony shifted a little and- Okay, that was not a good idea, and holy shit! His side hurt. Ribs, right? Must've punctured a lung or something. Shit.
"When I got there, you were starting to drown in your own blood. It was filling up your lung pretty darn fast," Steve answered the question Tony hadn't gotten around to asking yet.
"Well, uh, thanks? I guess?"
The Cap just shook his head. "I heard about you and Pepper, and told S.H.I.E.L.D. I needed to be back stateside. It took me an hour to fly back, and by then the battle with the mutants was already over and you had disappeared."
Yeah, this was starting to sound familiar…
"I figured you were probably at the Tower, and by the time I got there, JARVIS greeted me in a panic. He said he had scanned your body, and you had a concussion and your ribs were broken, and you were drinking enough whiskey to fill a small pool. He was worried."
Tony'd always liked that about Cap – he referred to JARVIS as a "he". Which was silly, because JARVIS was a computer system. An AI computer system, to be sure, but there was still no actual gender involved. But good, nice Steve recognized JARVIS as a person, a thinking, learning, feeling being, and not many people did. Most of them were bigots who didn't get that Artificial Intelligence was still Intelligence. Steve had never made that mistake.
"Then I finally convince JARVIS to let me into the workshop and find you bleeding internally. And instead of seeking medical help, which would have been as easy as asking JARVIS to call someone, you decided to swallow a bottle of what amounts to blood thinner, basically guaranteeing that you were going to asphyxiate if I didn't rush you here.
"Tony, I respect that your mind is unparalleled, and you are far smarter than most of the population of the world, but sometimes you act like a slow child. What is it about taking care of yourself that you are so opposed to? If I didn't know you better, I'd suggest you seek help about a death wish."
"Not like I haven't heard that one before," was Tony's responding angry grumble.
Then Captain America was leaning over him, face earnest. "Tony, we're a team, and we care about you. So even if you won't keep yourself in good condition for you, could you maybe do it for us? When Bruce heard you were here, he almost Hulked out, and it took Betty almost three hours to calm him down. Clint and Natasha are both blaming themselves for not forcing you to see either of the agents assigned to our physical wellbeing before you left, and Thor and Jane are both beside themselves. We care, Tony. You're our friend. Please try and force that through your genius brain."
Well, okay, yeah, that… that was different then. They- they cared? Really? Friends? Tony didn't have friends, mostly. And Rhodey only counted sometimes, when Tony hadn't recently pissed off the U.S. armed forces, anyway. But- friends? That was… that was new.
"Oh. I mean… I suppose I could… It wasn't like I was trying to-! But… yeah, okay, I could maybe start being a little more careful, I guess."
"That's all we're asking, Tony," was Steve's calm remark.
Friends. Tony Stark had friends. Huh.