Tony felt like he had the worst hangover of his life. He was not quite sure how it came about as he'd stopped drinking almost completely since he started taking antidepressants. His mouth was dry and he had a splitting headache. More alarmingly he discovered that Bruce was asleep in the armchair by his bedside. That was a sure sign that whatever he was up to last night was not good for his health.
Tony slipped out of bed quietly and ventured into the kitchen intending to make himself a drink and get some aspirin. He took a double take as he spotted Nicola sitting at the breakfast bar. Her hair was sticking out comically in all directions and she was wearing a crumpled T-shirt. She was asleep with her head resting at the table next to a half-eaten bowl of cereal. Tony slowly started to remember little glimpses of last night events but he could not quite puzzle together what has occurred. He was quite clear however on the fact that he got himself in some serious trouble. He was considering backtracking to the safety of the lab when Nicola woke up, startled by his footsteps.
"Morning." Nicola looked up and smiled sheepishly. Tony walked to the fridge and poured two glasses of orange juice. He sat across the table from Nicola and offered her one. "I must say that I love the Bohemian look…"
"Sarcasm is back in full force so I presume that you feel better." Nicola frowned as she appraised the half disintegrated cereal in the bowl. "I heard some talk of pop tarts?"
Tony pointed towards one of the cupboards. "Help yourself. You might wanna get some coffee, too." He waited for Nicola to come back to the table, the gears in his head turning as he tried his best to recall what had happened.
"This isn't the first time that I've found myself with a woman in my kitchen and very little recollection what the hell happened last night, but I really gotta say I can't get my head around this. I swear I haven't touched the bottle and… "
"It's the midazolam, it tends to induce quite dense anterograde amnesia, particularly in the dose we gave you... I'm a little surprised, to be honest, that you're already awake." Nicola looked down at the cup of coffee that she was holding with both hands.
"Jarvis! You let them sedate me?!" Tony was now getting truly alarmed.
"I actively encouraged it, Sir. It was a logical solution to…"
Nicola waved her hand frantically to stop Jarvis from talking. She took a sip of her coffee and gave Tony a quizzical look. "Do you remember anything? At all?" Still receiving a blank stare, she continued with raised eyebrows, "About what happened yesterday?"
"Not really… I remember feeling really restless, irritable...Ya' know, the usual when Daddy can't have his alcohol." He paused reflectively for a moment, and came back slowly, his voice grim, "I gave Pepper a pretty hard time and I think I ended up having an argument with Bruce about something…"
"Do you remember what you argued about?" Nicola watched Tony carefully for any signs of recollection. She was pleased that he seemed to have recovered but she was not quite sure how to best explain to him what's happened.
Tony tried again to cast his mind back and suddenly it hit him. Like a memory of a bad dream. Just little glimpses but enough to let him put some of the puzzle pieces together.
"Oh God… I'm… I need to…" Tony put down his glass, hands visibly shaking and scrambled frantically to his feet.
"Tony, it's OK. Just take it easy… I need you to sit down and… " Nicola tried to reassure Tony and engage him in a relaxation exercise they practiced in their sessions but she quickly realized that he was too far gone. She knew better than physically try to stop him and watched as he rushed down the corridor holding on to the walls for support.
"Where is he going Jarvis?"
"Mr. Stark appears to be on the way to the lab."
"No surprises there… Shit… How is the lab?" Nicola remembered that in his panic Tony caused a considerable amount of damage to the equipment and fittings downstairs.
"Clean-up operation is complete. It is back to it's fully functional state." Jarvis reassured her.
Tony rushed to the elevator. He had to get away from Nicola. Away from Bruce. Away from everyone. He could feel his heart racing and his vision was starting to blur around the edges. That was however not his primarily concern. What he was preoccupied with was the last night events.
"J-Jarvis...I wanna...wanna see the footage of what all happened in the lab yesterday."
"I would strongly advice against this, Sir. You are already very agitated. I am concerned about your heart rate rising any further."
"Jarvis, shut your non-existent mouth and show me the damn footage! If I don't see that video playing in the next 30 seconds I swear to God that I am going to…"
"As you wish, Sir."
Tony watched in disbelief at the scenes unfolded on the large screen. There was no sound, just black and white recording from the cctv camera in the lab. Thoughts were racing through his head as he watched the images.
There he was, arguing with Bruce over something, gesticulating vividly towards…
What's that… wait a second…
Is that a stash of tablets that he had in front of him?
… OK, so Bruce is trying to stop him…
Fine, he can hardly hold that against him…
Oh and here comes Captain America, to the rescue…
More arguing… things are starting to fly… that was close… Oh no damn it…
When did that get fixed exactly?
Of course, the more the fucking merrier…
Why wouldn't they just leave me alone…
It's pretty obvious that I don't want company…
Oh the tablets, well alright, yeah… maybe it was for the better that they didn't leave me to my devices…
Here's the good ol' doctor… talking it up with Bruce…
What are they exactly planning to do… wait is…
Nat what are you going to do with …
God damn, if that girl starts to make a habit of that… at least it is not in the neck this time…
Oh God what is happening… why am I…
Tony watched in horror as he slumped on the couch and was pulled down to the floor by Steve in one smooth motion. He could see Bruce and Nicola hovering over him, securing his airway and getting IV access. It was only a matter of seconds before a flashback was triggered. There was now a very different movie in front of his eyes. One that his mind created and played back against his will.
Back in the cave, surrounded by the stench of still water mixed with antiseptic and that nauseating smell of chloroform.
People are shouting around him, he cannot understand, the language is harsh and frightening.
There are hands all over his body, trying to hold him down.
The pain in his chest…
He is pleading but they can't hear him or they don't care and not knowing which is even scarier…
He tries to scream but he can't, there's something in his throat… He can see the knife, glistening just for a second…
Someone has their hands inside his chest… Yinsen…
There's Yinsen to him in his no-nonsense doctor him to calm himself focus on his breathing. Telling him that everything is going to be alright.
He can hardly hear him over 'Mob Rules' blearing in the background… wait a second why would there be... a Black Sabath album playing in the cave?…
They didn't even have a stereo.
"Tony…" Nicola realized that Tony was coming around as his pupils constricted and his attention focused on her face. She was relieved to see that his breathing was slowing down.
"We really need to work on this dissociation business. You are really hard to ground. I had to pull all the stops… I hope you appreciate the choice of the soundtrack, I would have gone for something a bit more relaxing but Jarvis assures me that this is one of your favorites"
"Jesus! How did you get in here? Wait, lemme guess...you're really some sort of secret spy assassin planted by SHIELD? They've done this sort of shit before, you know. It's not just me being paranoid...this time."
"I have opened the door utilizing the override, Sir. You vitals are highly abnormal and I have grave concerns for your wellbeing…
"You know what I'm concerned about? That everyone's so God damn concerned all the time, right beneath me, all over me, I think half the problem is you people won't leave me the hell alone!" Tony got up to his feet abruptly and walked away from Nicola who still sat cross-legged on the floor.
"You have programmed Jarvis to be concerned… and you pay me to do the same."
"Are you mocking me now?"
"Just stating the fact." Nicola shrugged her shoulders and remained in her sitting position. "How're you feeling?"
Tony was wondering how to get out of the situation. He felt cornered. Bruce was upstairs, probably awake now and looking for him.
Nicola has intruded into his private space. None came to the lab, not without his permission anyway. She wasn't looking like she was going to leave any time soon either. She just sat there, watching him. He had enough therapy sessions by now to know how it worked.
She was just going to sit there and watch him until he started talking. Tony felt the anxiety rise in him again, fingers drumming on the arc reactor, matching his erratic heartbeat. He had a growing awareness of pain rising in his chest. This time it was not a flashback, it was very real, very visceral pain.
"Try again, this time maybe a half truth."
"Sir, your heart rate remains dangerously elevated, I strongly suggest…"
"Jarvis, I strongly suggest that you keep your mouth shut!"
"Of course, Sir." Tony did not hear another word from Jarvis. Instead he could see a giant holographic display of his vital signs appear out of nowhere, complete with an ECG tracing."
"Never better, eh? It looks like supraventricular tachycardia with a rate of almost 200. I would be very surprised if you were asymptomatic."
"It's nothing, honestly it will pass." Tony was trying the breathing exercises that Yinsen taught him to do under those circumstances but his heartbeat was not slowing down as it should.
"Come on, at least sit down, before you fall down." Nicola patted the floor next to her.
Tony had to admit that this was not a bad idea. His vision was again blurring around the ages and the room was starting to spin. He swayed a little and involuntarily grasped at his chest. Nicola grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him down without much ceremony.
"Is the chest pain getting worse?"
"It might have just started going down my arm… that is not a great sign, is it?"
Nicola frowned as she looked at the ECG display floating conveniently right in her line of vision. She was going through the SVT treatment algorithm in her head when she heard hurried footsteps.
"God, I'm sorry… I...must've fallen asleep." Bruce stopped at the entrance to the lab, catching his breath after a sprint down the tower's long corridors.
"You didn't miss much. I was just catching up on some old movies." Tony frowned and gestured towards a screen in the corner still playing the cctv recording.
"Oh..." Bruce brushed a hand through his hair, "Uh, Tony, I can explain…"
"I think we have a more pressing issue to deal with first. A flashback has triggered an arrhythmia."
"Not again…" Bruce sighed deeply. "What is his BP?"
"80 over 50. He has a good going angina with some ST segment depression." Nicola pointed to the ECG trace.
"Jarvis, can we use the ID function of the reactor to correct this?"
"Negative, the implantable defibrillator is not capable of delivering a synchronised shock required to treat SVT."
"I hate to interrupt the three of you talking shop but there is simply no fucking way that you are going to zap me again. Not when I'm fully fucking conscious. There is just… there is no way…"
"At the rate your BP has been dropping we probably won't have to wait that long for you to become unconscious…"
Bruce gave a small smirk and dropped it quickly before talking to Tony again as he'd managed to glare at him through his pain.
"She's right...you know."
"Just saying… Anyway there is some adenosine in that crash trolley. We can try that first."
Nicola turned towards Tony and rolled up his sleeve. The IV was still in place.
"We can give you an injection. It'll make you feel absolutely dreadful, just for a few seconds…"
"Better than the alternative I guess…"
"You will feel hot and breathless. The chest pain is likely to initially get worse. Adenosine works on similar principles to electrical cardioversion. It'll literary stop your heart to let the system reboot itself." Nicola explained as she helped Tony to lie down.
"Sounds kinda sexy doesn't it?… Hot and bothered… well, under any other circumstances anyway. Men would pay to really got a nice long shot of that. Ever think of it? Two hundred dollars an injection maybe?" Tony tried desperately to take his mind of thinking what is going to happen if they do not manage to restart the system.
"Are you ready? " Tony watched Bruce connect one syringe after another to the port in his wrist. He felt cold spreading up his arm.
"This isn't that b-… Oh, fucking Christ…"
It suddenly hit him, after the contents of the third syringe flushed the medication around his system. His breath caught and he watched as the ECG tracing on the monitor came to a sudden halt with an ominous sounding alarm. The pain in his chest was quickly growing unbearable. He was starting to panic, convinced that his heart was not going to start again. Than as suddenly as they started all his symptoms subsided. The room was again filled with a steady beeping of the monitor.
"Home and dry." Nicola smiled wearily.
"I'm going to get some beta blockers into you." Bruce took off his glasses and cleaned them with the edge of his shirt. "I'll be back in a minute… we have moved your pharmacy upstairs… precautionary measures…"
"Do you want to sit up?" Nicola offered Tony her hand, "How're you feeling?"
"Weak… in more ways than I thought possible." Tony was picking absentmindedly on the dressing that kept his IV in place. "Those tablets… yesterday… Did I… Did I take any?
"No. Jarvis has grown suspicious of the fact that you were researching lethal doses of various drugs and got Banner on the case. "
"I don't know what came over me… It seemed like a good idea… at the time…"
"How about now? Does it still seem like a good idea?"
"What?! No, of course it doesn't!" Tony realised that he better starts backtracking on what he said and fast. Otherwise he will find himself in a loony bin in no time.
"Look… you can be honest with me. I'm not going to do anything rash with this information." Nicola realised that Tony was holding back and she thought that she had a fairly good idea as to what he was worried about. "I don't think that would be a particularly helpful for you to go to a hospital and considering how well you play with others I am concerned about the effect you would have on the therapeutic milieu …"
"It's...gonna sound pretty crazy, so don't say I didn't warn you…"
"Try me… I bet you it's going to be something I've heard before."
"It seems like there're thoughts in my head...that...don't quite belong...to me…"
"Are those the thoughts about wanting to hurt yourself?"
"Do you ever hear someone speak those thoughts aloud? Maybe encourage you to act on them?"
"I don't hear voices, okay? Don't try and twist my words!"
"OK, OK… I'm just checking…" Nicola held her hands up.
"So what the hell is going on with me?"
"Ehm… Remember when we were discussing the pros and cons of starting you on medication? We touched on the possibility of inducing a manic episode."
"For some reason, I pictured that differently… You know, not sleeping, on top of the world, overspending and promiscuous… Me but just a little bit more intense, and you know, I'd have this whole excuse and everything… Not trying to kill myself, ya' know?"
"We call it a dysphoric mania. A combination of depressive and manic symptoms occurring simultaneously…"
"I call it hell! How long before it stops?"
"It can be brought under control with medication in a couple of days."
"No thank you, I've had enough of your medication. How long before it goes away on its own?"
"Untreated episodes can last anywhere up to 6 months… "