Wow. So it's been...awhile. I apologize to everyone for the wait. I've been going through a lot the last month or so. About two weeks ago, my father passed away to brain cancer. Between trekking home (I live 7 hours away) and trying to keep up on schoolwork, I've been pretty tied up. Life is kind of getting back to normal, so hopefully my updates will be a little closer to having something like a regular updating schedule.

As I say this though, I will be out of the country in about a week for a 10 day trip to Ecuador (yay warmth!).

So there will probably only be one more chapter with this flashback/present-day format. After that, we'll be caught up! We're also coming up to the point where I have no idea where this is going...so be prepared!

It's been a long time since I've said this, but read, review and enjoy! Hopefully I'll see you all again soon :)


"Come on guys, where are you?" Bruce muttered as he checked Tony's vitals again. When Tony had first arrived, his heart had been pumping at a standard resting rate. From that point on, his heart rate had steadily slowed. As of right now, his heart rate had finally slipped below the minimum standard of a comatose human.

His lungs only worked when a machine told him to. His digestive track was in shambles, leading to a severe lack of nutrients for his body. His brain waves were slowing down. And now, despite the best efforts of the arc reactor, his heart was failing.

Bruce had told Steve that he could probably give them a couple days. Now, he wasn't sure. The poison, always one step ahead of him, was acting faster than any of the doctors thought possible. He fingered the com link, trying to work up the nerve to call his teammates.

Tony's heart skipped a beat. Bruce hit the connection.

"Steve," he said into it.

"Bruce! We have a lead. Jarvis found something and stored it on a ghost drive. We're on our way to an A.I.M. base in Nevada." He sounded so hopeful that Bruce almost lied to the man. But… "How's Tony?" His silence more than answered Steve's question, but Steve was determined to be his optimistic self. "Dr. Banner?"

A hard anger coursed through Bruce that usually led to a change from man to beast. This time though, he felt the approval of the other guy. Bruce felt like he was saying we're both angry. I'll provide the anger, you provide the calculations.

"Your mission is going to be a revenge mission," Bruce said, trying not to look at Tony when he said it.

There was silence in return. Then, "I thought you said we had at least two days."

"I don't even know what this poison is Steve. Maybe it noticed a weakness in Tony's system and increased its attack."

"How much longer?"

"Hours, probably," Bruce responded as he noticed the frequent skip in Tony's heart. Even that was optimistic with the rate Tony was declining. "Maybe less."

"We'll get these people Bruce." Natasha's voice came over the intercom.

"Join us…." Steve's voice trailed off. "Join us when you can."

"Wouldn't miss it for the world."

The line went quiet and Bruce turned back to his patient. There was nothing more to do but wait. He couldn't give Tony anything, for fear it would react and put Tony in pain, and at least throughout this whole ordeal, Tony had never seemed to be in pain. It was like he had just fallen asleep and detached himself from any feeling. Bruce had seen some strange things in all his traveling, but he had never heard of someone not being in pain while every single one of their vital organs shut down.

"What could they have possibly given you?" Bruce wondered out loud.

"I'm afraid I've made no more progress on the drug Dr. Banner," Jarvis said. Bruce could imagine a tint of panic to the voice. "Mr. Stark's heart rate has dropped below even that of a comatose patient's, and his brainwaves have slowed to the point of those released from life support. Should I call Ms. Potts?"

Lord, but Bruce didn't want to make that call. "No. I'll make the call," Bruce said. It was the least he could do to return the kindness she had shown him. "Just…just keep monitoring."

Bruce stared at his phone again, wondering if he had the courage to tell Pepper that he had failed. Jarvis didn't give him a chance. Sounds of a phone ringing filled the room as Jarvis made the connection himself.

"Dr. Banner?" Pepper said. The hope in her voice was astounding, especially after all of the days she had spent in the hospital room, watching Tony sink further and further into a permanent coma. "You have news?"

"It's-It's not-" Bruce looked away, towards the door. Why had he ever agreed to come out of hiding? Taking strength from the green beast hidden inside him, he forced the words out. "It's not good Pepper."

"How-how much longer?" To her credit, she was holding it together well. He couldn't even hear the tears that he knew she was crying.

"Seconds. Minutes. Hours." Bruce sighed. "No more than an hour, but that's leaning towards the hopeful side."

"I'm on my way now. Just…just try to keep him alive. Until I can say good-bye," Pepper said.

"Of course Pepper. I'll-I'll do what I can," Bruce said. Their connection ended before he could tell her that there was absolutely nothing he could do. The poison was in full control of Tony's body.

"Dr. Banner, I do not believe that Ms. Potts will arrive in time," Jarvis commented. Bruce wondered if he was accusing him of lying or if Bruce was becoming paranoid.

"No, I don't think she will."

As if on cue, the heart monitor began to wail as it read off 0 BPM to Bruce. Bruce immediately silenced the alarm. He could try CPR, but Tony's body was weak from lying in bed for a week's time. He would likely do greater harm than help if you tried to revive Tony. Besides, if all his organs weren't working anyway…

Bruce watched for a full minute as the monitor read back that there was no heartbeat. Finally he worked up the courage to begin unhooking the machines. He started with the breathing tube, then the first IV for his meds and the second IV for the liquid nutrients he had been pumping into Tony's body. Then the catheter. He paused then, convincing himself that he could take off the finger clasp that measured his nonexistent heart beat and the nodes that measured the nonexistent brainwaves.

"What the-?" Bruce squinted at the monitor. He could have sworn he saw a blip on the heart monitor.

But that was impossible. Tony had been dead for a full two minutes.

And then with a desperate air-sucking gasp, Tony arched his back and lived.

Tony slowly found his way back to consciousness when someone persistently kept patting his face. His blurred vision identified Clint sitting in front of him, and no one else in the room.

"If you don' stop tha', I'm gonna…do somethin'," Tony slurred. Clint gave one last slap, waking Tony a little more, before he leaned back. Tony saw a look of worry in his eyes.

"You went offline," Clint said, not bothering to respond to Tony's goad. "And by you, I mean you and Jarvis. Jarvis powered back up a few minutes ago and I got here as fast as I can. I had him check the arc reactor and he said that it was operating fine. But…."

But Tony didn't look good. Hell, Tony didn't feel good. With the arc reactor working at full strength again, he should've just been dealing with a severe lack of energy, which he definitely was, but in addition to that he was still short of breath and his head pounded.

"Jarvis," Tony said, raising an arm that felt like jelly to tap at his Bluetooth connection. "Run that basic body scan."

"I'll need you to put the helmet back on sir," Jarvis responded. Tony looked for the helmet and found it just out of arm's reach. He tried to grab it, but Clint had to grab him before he slid down the wall. Without a word, but with one of the biggest frowns Tony thought he'd ever seen the other man give, Clint handed him the helmet and helped maneuver it onto his head.

"Basic scans are showing an elevated heartbeat, yet a low blood pressure. I would recommend seeking medical attention immediately."

"Jarvis, inform the team. They should be on their way," Clint instructed. "Tony, what the hell happened? You look like shit, but there's not a mark on you."

"A.I.M. decided to have a friendly chat with me," Tony said. His breath came in slight pants; even speaking short sentences was getting difficult. But this was important. He needed to make sure Clint got this before he passed out. "Said they had some plan….in motion." He paused to try and catch his breath again.

"Maybe you should just sit quietly until the team gets here."

"S.H.I.E.L.D is ten minutes out sir. They have a fully equipped medical team ready," Jarvis informed them.

Tony managed to grab Clint's arm. "No. This….this is important. They injected…something in me. Through the-the neck," Tony said. Words were getting impossible, but there was still one more thing to tell him. "Don't…trap," Tony panted.

The familiar feeling of suffocating was back in full force. At least this time, there wasn't the same aching pain in his chest. He tried to calm his heart and breathing down, but his body craved the oxygen it wasn't receiving. He would have to hope that Clint got the message.

"Tony, we'll find these guys," Clint said, leaning in closer. "Bruce will figure out whatever they put in you and you'll be back helping us in no time." Tony blinked a couple times, trying to get Clint to come into focus but it wasn't happening. "Just stay awake for me Tony. Think of the hell Pepper will reign down on us."

Oh god, Pepper. She would worry unnecessarily. She'd probably wait by his bedside, slowly wasting away. He hoped the team would take good care of her until he could get back to her.

Because even though it looked like he was about to die, Tony had his doubts. A.I.M. indicated that there was a plan for him, and that they were willing to take on the team just to get to him. Killing him seemed a little counterproductive to that. He heard a whoosh as a jet landed on the roof above them and realized Clint had been talking to him the whole time.

"See? Team's here. Just another minute Tony." It almost sounded like Clint was pleading…but Clint didn't plead. Or beg. Unless it was for arrows. Or if he wanted to use one of his cars. Speaking of which, there was going to be hell to pay when this whole thing was done. Maybe he would have time to move all of his nicest cars-

"Agent Barton, I need you to move aside." A medic had snuck up on Tony while he was distracted by his trail of thought. Clint stepped back, and Tony's eyes slipped past him, to the team that was entering into the room. Their eye's widened as the medics began to crowd around Tony. There was too many of them and he just wanted them all to step back and to stop touching him and before any of the medics could ask him any questions, Tony's world tilted and blackness took over his vision again.