Concept blatantly stolen from an episode of Supernatural. The original concept of this was much more lighthearted. Then my penchant for angst and dealing horrible hands to my favorite characters came into play, and this happened. I won't lie. It's darker than my other stories. Plus, I usually attempt to keep my stories in a single character's POV. This time, I jumped from character to character, mostly focusing on Steve, Bruce, and Natasha. I'm not entirely certain how well it worked... Hopefully the story entertains either way.

Warnings: Deals with child abuse. Physical, emotional, and sexual and some of the possible results of these. Also, denial of personal rights. If this bothers you, I recommend not reading this story.

As always, I am only borrowing these characters for my own amusement. (Note: Set in the movie-verse, with only some comic/Saturday morning cartoon elements popping in here and there.)

They were eating pizza in the kitchen when it happened. Tony had claimed a need for the best pizza New York had to offer (an apparent craving after having been stuck in some small town in Oregon during a snowstorm for two days). He was celebrating his own return to civilization, and the rest of them just benefitted from it.

Sometimes it was good to be an Avenger living under Stark's roof.

Everyone was having a good time, Tony amusing them with tales of broken tie rods and back-country hicks.

"Almost literally a one-horse town," he declared. "Except I'm pretty sure there weren't any horses. Maybe a tractor. Shared between all the farms. They didn't even have wi-fi. If I didn't have the ability to connect to my own satellites, I may have gone into technological withdrawal. Seriously, even the caves of Afghanistan had more technology than this place."

"I'm amazed you survived," Rogers drawled, sarcasm heavy but smiling through it. Tony sneered at him good-naturedly.

"I am unfamiliar with this phrase: one-horse town," Thor declared. "Explain."

"It's a reference to a lack of mobility and wealth," Bruce offered. "Before motorized vehicles, we used horses. But horses were expensive to purchase and maintain."

"I see!" Thor smiled. "An impoverished town would have very few horses. Anthony is suggesting that this was a poor farming village."

"Suggesting is too weak a word," Tony said, reaching for a glass of water that may or may not have been his. "These people are one step out of the Wild West. None of them even knew who I was, which is kind of unheard of these days."

"This is true," Clint entered the room, still dressed in battle gear, and grabbed a slice of pizza. Natasha was on his heels, much the same and equally ravenous. "Considering all the texts you sent Bruce, I'm amazed you've returned to us mostly sane."

"Sane might be pushing it," Bruce murmured, smirking when Tony retaliated by shoving at his shoulder.

The conversation changed to the mission from which Natasha and Clint had just returned. Steve found a case of beer in the industrial sized refrigerator (installed after Tony declared his tower a home for the Avengers) and passed them out. Most of them were so accustomed to the effects of the minimal amount of alcohol in the drink that there was not so much as a buzz to look forward to, but they all drank anyway. It was more a sense of camaraderie that had them sharing the sharp drink.

They had minimal warning that the following couple of weeks were going to be challenging, but it happened around the time they were all cracking open their drinks.

One drink fell, and then a second. The pungent aroma of beer filled the air, even as the group turned as one, sharp eyes taking in a distressing scene.

Tony's drink had been the first to fall. Standing right beside him, Bruce had immediately released his beverage in favor of grabbing at his staggering friend. Everyone else was on their feet in an instant, hovering, waiting to see what had caused Tony to suddenly clutch at his head as though in pain.

His face did not reflect hurt. There was, however, a strong sense of confusion and a bit of alarm.

"Tony?" Bruce demanded, easing closer to take some of Tony's weight in an effort to keep him upright. It wasn't really working. Tony's knees buckled, and he slipped down despite Bruce's efforts.

"Something isn't right," Tony murmured. His brow creased, eyes blurring as he turned, looking through Steve. "Where the hell…?"

"Tony, I need you to tell me what's happening," Bruce demanded. The other man was on his knees by this point, held there by the grace of Bruce's strength. Steve soon joined him, and Bruce was feeling the billionaire's face, seeking anything—Tony's attention, his temperature, a sense of his general wellbeing.

Tony blinked rapidly, visibly struggling to remain conscious and to focus on his surroundings. Bruce rested a hand over the arc reactor, feeling the soft hum of energy and hoping to god it wasn't causing this.

"Anthony, you would do well to answer us," Thor said, his concern displayed in a fit of sternness.

"Listen to the big guy, Stark," Clint suggested, sounding a little anxious himself. "Jesus, Doc. What the hell is this?"

"I don't know," Bruce said, completely helpless. He gave Tony a light shake. "Come on, Tony. Back with us."

Tony gave a soft huff, a sound of wry amusement, and he blinked dumbly at Bruce. His eyes drifted shut. He looked as though he was reaching the end of a three-day bout of insomnia, despite the fact that only a minute ago he had been as manic and alert as ever. The exhaustion was not unfamiliar. The sudden onset was.

Then, Tony smiled, faint and relieved.

"It worked," he murmured, his voice soft and, truth be told, a little too high. Bruce frowned and searched the pale face for any explanation as to this bizarre behavior. But there was no apparent reason for the way Tony's face suddenly crumpled, nor for the low, breathy sob he gave. "It worked."

There would be no illumination that evening. Tony choked out another soft cry, and then he went completely lax.

"What the hell?" Clint demanded. "Did he just faint?"

Bruce eased the man to his back on the floor, then set about checking vitals. Tony seemed fine. He was going to need to run some tests to be sure.

"It looks like exhaustion," Bruce said, puzzled by this fact. "Help me get him to medical."