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Del Rion [userpic]

Nuking the Stars; Chapter 6: Resurface

Title: Nuking the Stars
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Iron Man (MCU)
Era: Post-Avengers movie, between “Sleeping It Off” and “Smashed Heart” fics.
Genre: Drama
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), J.A.R.V.I.S., Pepper Potts, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor (, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan)
Pairings: Pepper/Tony
Summary: With all the Avengers have been through in their short time together, flying through a portal and then falling back doesn’t seem like much – nor does it feel like much to Tony either before he realizes he might as well carve a line into the wall next to Afghanistan and the palladium poisoning. While he tries to manage yet another potential breakdown, the Avengers begin their journey to actually become a ‘team’.
Complete. Part of the “Turquoise” –series.
Warnings: Vague (or very strong) symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), intended but disrupted attempts of self-harm, references to possible alcoholism, language, spoilers for The Avengers movie (and other random spoilers for the rest of the movies in the Avengers cinematic movie universe).



~ ~ ~




Chapter 6: Resurface




Avengers Mansion
Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York, NY, USA


He’s floating further away. There’s a pressure in his chest, increasing and uncomfortable.

He knows he’s going to die. He doesn’t like it, doesn’t like that he can’t fight, that he’s going down – that he’s alone and that he’s losing everything and everyone.

The despair grips him, without boundaries, without finesse, and the pressure is increasing, enveloping his body until he wants to sob and cry; crumble in a corner and crash with tears of fear in his eyes when he can’t do a damn thing about it.

The sensations drown him, seeping closer, deeper, until all he feels is the inescapable suffocation beneath it all.

He started and shuddered out of the dream. The lights were on, which made him question what time it was, then Banner was barging into the room, wearing what he probably wore to bed, looking like someone had either just kicked or dragged him over there.

Tony tried to sit up, to move, to just stop fucking shaking, his heart working over-time and his chest feeling painful as it tried to expand. The arc reactor had never felt so constricting, so raw. It reminded him of the cave in Afghanistan and the nightmarish first days when he just wanted it all to end – before he planned on ending it all for very different reasons.

“Bad dream?” Banner asked needlessly, pushing a hand through his rumpled hair.

“I suppose,” Tony evaded the question, finally managing to sit up with an annoyed look on his face. “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he called out.

“Yes, sir?” the AI responded promptly.

“Did you just call Doctor Banner to my room?”

“Indeed I did, sir. Your breathing stopped for 1 point three minutes and your heartbeat was dangerously elevated.”

Tony looked at Banner who was still standing there, wide awake yet looking like he would have preferred his own bed just about now. “This is not why I installed you here, J. You know that,” he muttered.

“Your well-being is my top priority, sir. Seeing as Doctor Banner is the most qualified person in the Avengers Mansion to give you medical attention, calling him was both necessary and reasonable.”

Banner shrugged as if he wasn’t going to argue with J.A.R.V.I.S. about it.

Tony, on the other hand, had all night to do that now. “Thanks,” he sighed to no one in particular and Banner took it as a sign to leave. He closed the door softly, leaving Tony to ponder how much of J.A.R.V.I.S.’s basic programming he would have to change in order to stop him from calling for help every time Tony twitched in his sleep.

- - -

The mansion looked quite different. They had worked on it for the better part of two weeks, all of them rarely present at the same time since there were missions and other tasks to take care of as well. However, the Avengers Mansion was nearing completion, at least as far as it came to the personal and common facilities; the training areas and labs would take some more work but those were not on top of the list.

Well, depending on whom you asked; Tony would have gladly started with the labs but Banner was of the opinion that the showers and kitchens came first.

“It will be your fault when we conduct our scientific research in the kitchen sink,” Tony had warned.

“We have the Tower for that,” Banner had reminded him, which kind of made Tony feel warm in the strangest of places; not only did it mean that Banner was staying, for now anyway, but he had also taken to heart Tony’s offer to use all his facilities, including the ten floors of R&D at the Stark Tower.

They were in the middle of some heavy lifting in the gym area when Fury arrived. Tony was in his Iron Man armor, seeing as Thor was unavailable at the time and he had more precision control than Rogers would on his own. J.A.R.V.I.S. announced that the S.H.I.E.L.D. Director had entered the premises so Tony was fully prepared when the man in the long black coat and eye-patch entered the gym.

“What an unpleasant surprise,” he commented, unable to imagine anything pleasant that Fury might come up with if he chose to meet them in person like this. He set down the heavy load, the suit smoothly straightening up.

“Cut the pleasantries, Stark,” Fury snapped. “We have a situation.”

“Sir?” Rogers was immediately alert. “You could have just called.” And of course in the next moment he was making sure he had his phone with him so that he couldn’t be caught not paying attention to possible calls from the shady organization.

“I was in the neighborhood,” Fury replied, whatever that meant. “I’ve been hearing news of your little housing project.”

“It’s a good team-building exercise,” Rogers replied at once.

“It also gets all of them out from under your roof,” Tony added, not bothering to take off the helmet just yet.

Fury gave him a quick glare from the corner of his eye; clearly he had gotten out of bed on the wrong side this morning.

“You said there was a situation,” Barton cut in.

“Yes,” Fury nodded. “Stark, if you would be so kind,” he handed him a small data disc.

Tony took it carefully then inserted it into a slot revealed in the suit’s arm piece. The others stared for a moment, as if he had just eaten the thing, then J.A.R.V.I.S. moved the data to a screen he had already installed on the gym wall. So what if he liked watching stuff, or better yet, work on things, while he worked out?

The screen showed data of some terrorist group that had recently been seen in Virginia, gathering intel. Tony wondered if the army knew about these guys – and if War Machine was already involved. If Fury was here, though, he doubted it.

“We suspect they are planning to attack a weapons depot – to what end, we’re still not sure, but they’ve shown little love for our current government and that is causing some concerns.”

“If you have them under surveillance, what’s the situation?” Romanoff asked.

“They went off the radar seven hours ago and haven’t surfaced since,” Fury answered. He gave Tony the smallest of looks, knowing he would catch it.

“That’s never good news.” Tony spoke from experience; he had spent plenty of time during his first months as Iron Man battling terrorists, local despots and private armies. He knew how these people operated, had learned to read the signs; when it was quiet you had to get on your toes and brace for impact.

“Is the military not responding to the threat?” Rogers frowned.

“Oh, they’re very interested, but if they get as far as the depot, a fire-fight in the middle of the compound is not desired.”

“So they’d rather send us in, knowing we can take the heat,” Banner connected the dots as dispassionately as possible; clearly he could envision them wanting the other guy to drop into the middle of a small war zone.

“There’s a chance they’ve got super-powered members in this cell,” Fury clarified. “That poses a threat the army cannot fully meet, much as they would like.”

Rogers nodded. “We’re on it.”

Fury seemed satisfied with that, then turned to Tony. “The available information is on that disc. Analyze it, try to see if you can track them down.”

Tony snorted although no one could hear it. “You’re telling me I have better toys than you?”

“I know you do; you never give us the best stuff,” Fury’s face didn’t even twitch as he said it.

“Meh,” Tony shrugged then turned his attention to the Heads Up Display for a moment, seeing that J.A.R.V.I.S. was already processing the data. “J, when that’s done, let’s see if we can find these people,” he said, knowing the output sound was now turned off and the others wouldn’t hear him.

“Certainly, sir.”

Tony followed the data stream for a moment, flashes of images and maps, timelines and profiles. He isolated a few members of the group; those presumed as the leaders and idealists and the few possibly in control of some powers. Where had all these people been hiding over the years, he wondered? Had they simply been more covert and now that there was a market for their skills, they were coming out of the woodwork?

“Shall I move your Stark Industries satellite into position over the state of Virginia?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked next.

“Assuming they are still there,” Tony mused. Well, they had been gathering most of their recent intel there so it was reasonable to assume that that’s where their target was… He marked the military bases and weapons depots on a map then opened on the screen inside the faceplate. While he had been deep in his thoughts, Fury had made his exit. The others were gathering their things.

“Anything yet?” Banner asked him, stepping closer.

“No, but give it a few minutes,” Tony gave him a smile then turned. “J, let’s swap the suit. I’m thinking something less passive-aggressive.”

“The new upgrade for Mark 7 is complete. I shall begin the start-up.”

“You have spare armor at the Tower?” Barton asked.

“Yeah. Hanging out with you guys has shown me that I should have a spare suit like Banner needs spare pants.” He flashed a grin at the scientist then snapped the faceplate back shut. “See you in a bit.” While flying inside the house was tricky – not to mention something Rogers had voted they should ban as soon as possible – they were in the middle of putting up some walls so there was more freedom to maneuver and he knew that once J.A.R.V.I.S. located their target, they would have to be on the move; he didn’t have time to walk out the door.

And while he may have grazed the main doorway on his way out, a few splinters flying in the air as he sped upwards, it was convenient since now they could put up a new, better door in its place.

- - -

It was a few hours later when Tony had located the terrorists and a Quinjet flew down to take the Avengers to the site.

“You destroyed the door!” Rogers snapped once he got in.

Tony rolled his eyes and decided he should have gone with his gut and flown instead of hitching a ride. “It’s my door,” he reminded the man.

“So just because you own something you can wantonly destroy it?” the man snapped, pulling down his cowl.

“Uh… yeah?” Tony replied, thinking it was the right answer.

“If our stuff gets stolen, you’re buying us new ones. Better ones,” Barton threatened, inspecting some of his arrows.

Romanoff just stared.

Tony looked at Thor – apparently having arrived in time for the mission but not the actual work – who simply grinned, probably thinking it had been good sport for him to exit like that. “We fixed the door and if anyone dare enter, they shall feel our wrath upon our return,” the God of Thunder decided.

“I’m sure J.A.R.V.I.S. can handle anyone who tries their luck,” Banner added. He was probably so used to smashing through walls and doors that it didn’t faze him much when others did it.

“That’s not the point,” Rogers sighed then went into full Captain America mode and demanded details of what they were heading into.

Tony was happy to change the subject and showed them all he had been able to add to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s pre-existing file. It wasn’t much, but enough to get them on their trail and possibly intercept the attack.

“We must stop them from getting access to any weapons,” Rogers said needlessly.

“I think I’ll try to sit this one out,” Banner said next. Everyone understood why; the Hulk in a weapons depot wasn’t something anyone wanted to see unless absolutely necessary.

“We’re beginning our descent,” the pilot called from the front of the Quinjet. Everyone started giving their gear the final check – or as in Thor’s case, shifting one’s hammer impatiently.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., scan the area again, see if you can locate something. Access cameras and CCTV.”

“Beginning system infiltration now, sir,” the AI replied. Tony felt like smiling; it was always nice how he could trust J.A.R.V.I.S. to break several laws and not blink one virtual eye.

The Quinjet landed and the hatch opened to let them out. For now, Tony decided to walk with the rest of them, waiting for J.A.R.V.I.S. to access the on-site feeds.

He didn’t have to wait for long: “Sir, I am in. There’s a virtual fingerprint indicating the security system was hacked thirteen minutes ago.”

“They’re already in,” Tony told the others. They gave him a look that said they knew by now, even without J.A.R.V.I.S. talking to all of them over the comm signal, where he got his information.

“Let’s move,” Rogers decided. “Stark, Thor, try to see if you can draw them out.”

“What, no stealth approach?” Tony joked, already preparing to take off. Above them the wind began to howl and clouds gather, thunder rolling in the distance as Thor began to swing his hammer by the strap in its handle.

“Can you locate them?” Rogers asked. “If not, we’re running out of time and need to engage them before they can move on with their plan. Hawkeye, find high ground; that light mast should work nicely.”

“Sure thing, Cap,” the archer nodded and moved out, Romanoff on his tail to be ready when they caught the sight of the terrorists. Rogers followed the two of them, quick and agile as he moved. Tony could have watched them go but nodded at Thor instead, who rose into the air, red cloak billowing. The guy was just as much of an eye-catcher as the Iron Man suit which shouldn’t make it hard for anyone to spot them.

“Three guards down over the east fence. They came in through here,” Romanoff reported a moment later.

“Nice of them to cut the fence for us,” Barton agreed.

Tony looked down, the HUD zooming in and changing to infra-red, tracking his friends on the ground. Thor was ahead of him, thunder striking down, illuminating him for a brief second before plunging the sky into darkness again. The clouds were getting heavier above them and the night was falling fast.

“Okay, I think I see them,” Tony announced suddenly; J.A.R.V.I.S. flagged a building at the same time as Tony caught someone staring up at them, then drawing back inside. “Warehouse 15-B. Could be a friendly –” A shot was fired from somewhere around that area, hitting the armor but doing nothing to harm him. “Okay, scratch that, not a friendly. That guy is paying for my new paint job.” He swooped down, encountering more shots directed his way. They weren’t shooting with anything big, though, so he wasn’t concerned.

With his usual grace and style he landed in front of the warehouse and rose to his feet, eyeing the door that was now firmly shut. “J.A.R.V.I.S., how many are in there? Show me the layout and positions.” The HUD came to life, showing him the warehouse framework and the positions of the people inside.

“There is a possibility of captives,” the AI added, flagging a few of the people inside as potential friendlies.

“Of course,” Tony sighed unhappily. It always made things tricky. “Any weaponry inside?”

“Other than the arms they are carrying, none. Just gear and spare parts stored in the warehouse; no hidden underground areas or rooms detected in the preliminary scan.”

“So why that building? Did they get bad directions or something?” Tony frowned. It didn’t add up; if these people were here for the weapons, why choose one of the warehouses not filled with weapons? “Cap, did you hear that?”

“I did, Stark. Wait for us.”

“Right…” Tony murmured, looking around. It was quiet. Even at night he supposed a place like this had tight security. Where was everyone? “J, trace back the security footage. Where’s the staff here?”

There was silence while J.A.R.V.I.S. processed the information, perhaps hacking a few levels deeper into the footage.

“Sir, a manual override would be useful,” the AI replied soon.

Tony looked around – then down. “Show me the cables connecting to the mainframe.” The HUD changed his view of the ground, showing grids of cables instead. He rounded the building and found the right one, bracing himself then shoving his fist through the concrete and asphalt, digging out the bundle of cables. He separated one from the rest then opened a panel in the armor and connected a few wires to the broken cable. Data began to whirl across the HUD and he watches as J.A.R.V.I.S. methodically broke in then searched for what he wanted.

“Sir, it would seem most of the compound staff has been locked in the bunker on the other side. All connections in and out have been cut off in that building.”

“And then they kept a few around for insurance,” Tony nodded. He glanced up, motioning for Thor to join him on the ground. With a whoosh of air the God of Thunder landed, looking around warily. “That bunker over there,” Tony pointed. “Why don’t you go knock on their door – but gently; the soldiers who are supposed to be guarding this place are held prisoner there. Tell them to stay out of the way if this gets nasty.”

Thor nodded. “It will be done, Man of Iron.” With Mjolnir it would take him about two seconds to open the bunker like a tin-can, after which he would join the rest of the team.

Tony tugged the wires free and back into the suit, straightening up. Rogers and Romanoff rounded a corner just then, the latter giving him a quick once-over as if to see if he had been up to something forbidden while they were underway.

“They’re still inside?” Rogers asked.

“Yup,” Tony replied, checking once again. “Some movement but nothing alarming. Does it seem off to you that a group after some firepower chooses to hang out in a place like that when they’ve managed to get in here and secure the place?”

“Could they have known we were coming?” Romanoff frowned.

“They’re not packing enough firepower to stop even one of us,” Tony informed her.

“It doesn’t make sense but if they have prisoners, we’ll have to take them down,” Rogers decided. “Hawkeye, keep your eyes open.”

“Nothing’s moving out here but us,” came Barton’s reply which was a clear indication he didn’t like how this felt either.

By then Thor had released the military staff imprisoned in the bunker and returned, striding proudly, hammer in hand, hair and cloak billowing behind him. “The defenders of this stronghold have been released but they were not pleased by your request to stay away while we fight this enemy,” he told Tony.

Itching to correct their Asgardian friend’s vocabulary, Tony turned towards him, but Rogers noticed and shifted his shield. “Good,” their leader replied. “Let us release the rest of them.”

Thor nodded enthusiastically yet his face was appropriately grim.

“Widow, find a quiet way in and see if you can spot what they’re up to,” Rogers went on and Romanoff took off. It didn’t take long before she reported back:

“They seem to be just… standing around. No weapons but their own, a few hostages tied securely.”

“Alright,” Rogers replied. Even through his cowl Tony could see he was frowning. Rogers then looked at him. “Stark, be a good guest and go knock on the front door. See if you can buy the rest of us enough time to free the remaining hostages.”

“On it,” Tony said, walking back around the building while Rogers and Thor took the other direction. He got to the main doors, firmly closed, then banged on the middle, making the metal dent a bit. “Whoops,” he noted sarcastically. “J.A.R.V.I.S., track the movement inside.”

“It seems they heard you, sir.”

“If they don’t start moving towards the door, we’ll just have to knock again – or let ourselves in,” Tony decided. The thermal cameras showed that the people inside had moved to circle the door, probably at good vantage points to fire at him if he came in by force. No one could say Iron Man wasn’t willing to step into a trap even on his worst day, so Tony pushed against the wide doors again, making them twist and finally fall half-way off their hinges, letting him in. No sooner had he placed one boot inside the doorway that he was being fired upon, from ground level and above – which of course didn’t stop him from making his approach, then return the fire indirectly, aiming at crates and structures that would take out the enemy without killing them; he had a feeling Fury wanted to sit a few of these people down for a nice little chat.

He detected some extra noise coming from further back where he knew the prisoners were being held. A flash like lightning filled the air for a moment, introducing Thor into the battle.

“We have the hostages,” Rogers reported. “They appear mostly unharmed.”

Tony took out the rest of the shooters with gas then started digging them out of the rubble and placing them in a pile in the middle of the floor. Thor joined him a moment later, grunting with approval.

The click of boots announced the arrival of the military inside the warehouse, armed and ready to do what they hadn’t been able to manage in the first place. The man who seemed to be in command told them to halt, taking in the sight of the unconscious or wounded terrorists. Rogers joined them along with Romanoff and the rest of the staff, the two leaders shaking hands, the military officer a bit hesitantly.

“I trust you and your men are well?” Rogers said pleasantly.

“No severe injuries,” the man replied, then glanced at the captured terrorists. “These are all you found?”

“There are more?” Rogers questioned.

“Yes. These are but a fraction of the force that broke into the compound.”

“We’ll find the rest of them,” Rogers promised.

“I thank you for the offer but the situation is under control –”

“When we arrived, you’d had your asses handed to you by these guys,” Tony interrupted.

That, as could be predicted, didn’t gift him the warmest of looks, but the military was used to dealing with Iron Man and his running commentary.

“If you’re all done shaking each others’ hands, there’s movement in the middle of the compound and I think that big rocket they’re aiming skywards isn’t meant for fireworks,” Barton interrupted them.

“Stark,” Rogers started.

“Pinpoint it,” Tony told J.A.R.V.I.S. who immediately spread a map of the compound in front of his eyes, finding the weapon they were preparing to shoot. It looked like they had either removed a missile from somewhere or put it together from a couple pieces; he would have to get closer for a proper analysis. It didn’t seem like it had a launching mechanism but he wasn’t going to let that lull him into a comfortable illusion that they had time to sort this out. “I’ll fly over and take a look,” he said into the comm.

“Stark, wait!” Rogers snapped hurriedly, turning towards him. For a split second he wore that same expression from when he held Tony’s hands on the couch, telling him he was safe.

Tony realized what this was about; they didn’t think he could do it.

He was about to tell Rogers where exactly he could shove his misplaced concerns when Barton spoke up again: “Stark, you better get out here and stop talking about it; I don’t think these guys are here for take-out.”

“Are they trying to blow up the entire compound?” Romanoff asked, as calm as always, even when they would all probably be incinerated should the depot blow up.

“No, but… they’re doing something funky with that missile,” Barton observed.

“Funky?” Rogers asked before Tony switched on the thrusters, rising into the air and out of the broken doorway, soaring between buildings towards the location where the remaining terrorists were. Sure enough, their missile contraption was standing upright in the air, held up by a huge mountain of a man who looked like the Hulk on steroids – just without the green complexion.

“Thor, I found you a playmate,” Tony announced, seeing the guy lift the missile off the ground without any effort; now that took some muscle.

He stopped short, hovering above the dozen armed men and one human mountain holding the missile. “Put it down!” he ordered.

“How about we play catch, Tin Can?” the mountain roared – which was all the warning Tony got before the giant tossed the missile into the air with a mighty roar as it were a javelin. The weapon’s own engine started up almost immediately, propelling it upwards and making it swoosh past Iron Man into the sky. Tony knew it would drop eventually and he didn’t want to guess where.

“Guys, I think I have a date. I trust you to handle the rest of these guys,” he noted as he raced after the speeding missile.

“Stark, what are you doing?” Rogers asked, alarmed.

“Don’t get your star spangled panties in a twist, Cap; I’ll handle this,” Tony responded then switched off the comm channel. “J, see if you can figure out where it’s headed,” he requested, keeping his eyes on the thin smoke trail and the missile that was leveling out slightly.

“Judging from the missile’s current altitude, speed, and angle, the calculations show a possible impact somewhere in Washington, D.C.”

“Delightful,” Tony muttered. “Intercept it; they have to have programmed it.”

“Remote access failed, sir.”

Tony just groaned and pushed up faster. This was giving him all the wrong vibes and had stopped being fun a while ago. There might not be an alien space portal waiting for him but everything else was going according to the old manuscript. He caught up with the missile, hesitating for a few seconds, not wanting to do it. How easy it would be to just break off and say he… what, missed it?

There was no room for him to fail without someone else paying the price and so he grabbed on, trying to find a panel – something to give J.A.R.V.I.S. direct access and get him rid of this thing. His weight, however, started to drag the weapon down while he struggled to find a port to connect to or a way to dismantle the missile while not blowing it up in his lap.

“May I suggest leveling out?” J.A.R.V.I.S. quipped unnecessarily.

“You think?” Tony ground out, vertigo gripping him slightly. His interference with the missile finally pulled it completely out of its path and they both began to lose altitude, fast. “Might as well…” Tony mused, looking down, trying to keep his stomach in its rightful place; he had done this before, a dozen times, crashing down, although he usually wasn’t clutching an armful of explosive power when he did.

He saw blue beneath him, a large mass of water, and decided that was as good a place as any. The armor angled the course while he hoped the missile wasn’t set to blow prematurely; that would be very uncomfortable for him especially if it had more power than the armor could take. His breath caught, eyes staring at the increasing, spreading dark blue beneath him – above him. He closed his eyes, recalling the stars, a foreign sun just behind the mothership – then opened them and saw nothing but the water, the miniature waves that were almost too small to see, boats docked at the shore.

The rocket engine sputtered near his feet and Tony forced himself to let go, freefalling next to the missile for a moment before angling his body and the armor, shooting to the side. They broke the water’s surface at the same time, the armor not designed for this but Tony knew it could take it. A split second later he heard the explosion, felt the wave, the force pushing him to the side and back up, out of the water like a jerking fish caught in a line after a speeding power boat. He caught himself before splashing back down, thrusters working, keeping him flying above the surface while his entire body shook slightly in the aftermath.

It hit him as he floated there, hovering, not knowing what he was waiting for but unable to leave. Beneath him the water eased, smoothing itself over as if nothing had happened. Just like the sky after the portal closed, he had heard. No trace left.

In the distance, at the edge of the water, the Quinjet landed, which had to mean the terrorists had been contained and the Avengers had come to check on their emotionally damaged member. Slowly he forced himself to move, to fly over and land beside the aircraft. Rogers looked eager to say a few things to him but held back; Banner was the one to step forward, tapping his helmet as a sign that Tony should take it off.

He did, breathing the air, confusing the brain that thought he should be suffocating. “That was completely unnecessary,” the scientist noted, looking up at him.

“It was? If that thing had hit the Capitol, would you be saying that?” Tony asked.

Banner shook his head. “You know what I mean.”

“Maybe,” Tony didn’t admit anything. “Can’t be sure if you’re going to be this cryptic with me.”

“I thought you liked it this way,” Banner teased.

Tony forced a smile to his face.

Rogers finally gave up, striding forward. “What the hell was that? You could have gotten yourself killed!”

“As long as none of you were going to fly after that thing, what was I supposed to do? Throw rocks at it?” Tony snapped back. “Thor was going to be busy taking down that steroid monster and he wouldn’t have been fast enough to catch up anyway.”

Rogers’ jaw shifted; he knew that was the truth, the logical choice. Cap liked logical things as much as Tony himself . “You could have frozen,” he said next, tone much lower.

“But I didn’t,” Tony replied. No need to tell them he had almost gone around the bend a few times up there, close to losing his nerve. He had pulled through, though, and that was all that mattered. That was all anyone needed to see. “Are we done here?” he asked next.

“Yes,” Rogers admitted. “The army and S.H.I.E.L.D. can fight over the imprisoned terrorists, but as far as we’re concerned, the job’s finished.”

“Good,” Tony noted then put his helmet back on and shot into the sky, heading out towards New York City and the Stark Tower.

No sooner did he land that Pepper was there, her eyes red and puffy, a rigid manner to her posture. “Take that helmet off!” she ordered.

Tony felt tempted not to, then noticed Happy in the corner, watching them, a solemn look on his face. Something was up.

“Sir, may I inform you that your latest stunt was caught on several cameras and has just hit YouTube,” J.A.R.V.I.S. told him.

Well, that made sense. He did as he was told, offering a quick smile. “Saved another day –”

She lifted her hand and he fully expected her to strike him across the face. That would hurt more than when Banner did it, for sure.

Pepper stopped herself, though, stumbling forward instead and embracing him desperately, mindless of the suit that could use some patching up and a new paint job to cover the bullet marks.

“Hey,” he said softly, trying to pet her hair, making a mess of it with his gauntlet, “I’m okay.”

Pepper pulled back, tears on her face, body shuddering. She shook her head then moved back towards the couch to calm herself; Tony knew what she was doing, had seen her do it too many times over the years – and far more often after he put on the armor for the first time. She didn’t say a single word but perhaps that was a good thing.

Tony glanced at Happy who gave him a ghost of a smile and a nod, approaching Pepper with something that looked like a pack of tissues. She smiled at him, took one and blew her nose, still refusing to look at Tony.

“Let’s get me out of this thing,” Tony said quietly, stepping over to a platform that would allow J.A.R.V.I.S. to take off the armor. By the time he was free, body aching in a few places thanks to his impromptu dive, Pepper and Happy were gone. He sighed, taking the seat she had vacated just a moment ago. “Was she upset?” he asked the AI.

“Miss Potts seemed quite worried by how similar this stunt was to the one during the Chitauri attack. She was also quite relieved that you survived unharmed,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.

“Is she feeling better now?” Tony asked, palming his face, eyes closed.

“Mr. Hogan is giving her a shoulder to cry on.”

Tony nodded. He was glad she had someone when she needed them, because just like Tony had an unwillingness to share his problems, she was not very good at unburdening herself to Tony about the things that mattered. She would be okay, though. They would be okay.

“Are you alright, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked after a moment of silence, save for the steady hum of the machinery.

“I think so,” Tony admitted.

“Captain Rogers wishes to inform you that there shall be a debriefing at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier in two hours. He expects you to be there.”

“Of course.”

“He also stated that the Avengers shall continue the mansion renovations first thing tomorrow.”

Tony snorted and smiled. “Roger that. Let’s look at some alternative door designs while we’re on topic. I’m thinking an underground workshop in the backyard that opens through a secret doorway in a whirlpool bath.”

“I am not certain whether Captain Rogers would approve of such a hidden exit. Or the whirlpool bath in the backyard.”

“He’s just old-fashioned.”

“I fail to see the practical applications of such an exit, especially during the winter.”

“You’re such a spoilsport, J.A.R.V.I.S., and you sure didn’t pick that up from me.”

“Of course not, sir.”

However, perhaps a secret exit going through a whirlpool wasn’t all that practical – it might get his suit wet before he even got to the scene of action – so perhaps something more old-fashioned would have to do. “I think I’ll take a nap before I have to go to S.H.I.E.L.D. Wake me up fifteen minutes before the meeting starts.” That would make him late enough to get on people’s nerves but not make him miss anything important.

“And should there be nightmares?” the AI prodded.

He hesitated. “Wake me up. Just don’t call Banner.”

“Yes, sir.”

- - -

As it happened, he fell asleep almost instantly after hitting the mattress in the workshop – and the only nightmare he encountered was Fury’s rant when he came to the debriefing twenty minutes late. Tony had no illusions that it would last but he would take all the peace of mind he could get, whenever he could get it.





The End






Author’s note: In case someone is wondering, this story takes place before the events of “Smashed Heart” although it was written after the aforementioned fic.


Story Info


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