Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Iron Man (MCU)
Genre: Hurt/comfort, action
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), J.A.R.V.I.S., James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor, Tony’s bots (DUM-E & U).
Appearances & mentions: Phil Coulson, Jane Foster, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Pepper Potts, Betty Ross, Erik Selvig.
Pairings: Pepper/Tony (brief), Jane/Thor (implied), Betty/Bruce (implied)
Summary: The apocalypse is happening and Tony Stark has just been blinded by the enemy. Earth’s remaining heroes must work together to protect their own – and to win a war most have already declared will be humanity’s last.
Written for: Round 2 of Apocalypse Big Bang. Written during NaNoWriMo 2013.
Also fills the “loss of vision” square of my card on Hurt/Comfort Bingo’s round 4.
Cover art & fanmix: monkiainen (here!)
Warnings: Major character death, violence and permanent injury (blindness), apocalyptic scenery (general destruction and death). Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World compliant (may contain minor spoilers), language.
Seeing and comprehending were not the same thing, as Tony had come to realize over the last fifteen minutes. The visual cues that were transmitted into his brain to mimic eyesight were nothing like what he was used to. The colors, dimensions and angles were a little off, forcing him to reach out with his hands to measure how far the nearest object was – and when he was truly within touching distance of it.
The images kept alternating, and Tony wondered if he had some control over it. Probably. For the time being the layers were out of control, moving back and forth, the room shaping and re-shaping around him in between infrared layers; the simple frames were almost easier on his eyes in comparison even though they lacked details the infrared provided.
The thought was ironic at best: his eyes had nothing to do with this anymore, although his brain believed he had been given back his ability to see. The implants bypassed the damaged parts of his visual system, transmitting his whereabouts directly to his visual cortex. It was a crude first version, for sure, yet its success was undeniable.
Tony slowly made his way to a wall, learning how to connect the physical feel of concrete with the new visual he had of the wall. He followed it to a door, then pressed his back against the surface and looked at the room, trying to grow used to the fact that he wasn’t blinking or moving his eyes – or if he was, those had nothing to do with the way he saw everything. There was no clear ‘line of sight’ anymore: he could see everything, like looking at a flat picture. His brain was having difficulty responding to the full 360-degree view, and he supposed he should tell J.A.R.V.I.S. to narrow it down and mimic the usual field of vision provided by human eyes – perhaps even match movement with a turn of his head or eye movement.
For now it was enough that he could observe the room, feeling less unbalanced and light-headed, the pressure and burn inside his skull easing a little.
A loud bang coming from somewhere in the building reminded him that he wasn’t alone and that he was in danger, even though the battle seemed to be far away. Things like that could change fast, and he tried to picture in his head how long it would take J.A.R.V.I.S. to bring over Mark 50 – and whether the AI and the suit had run into some kind of trouble on the way. While Tony himself might have gotten caught in the battle, he knew J.A.R.V.I.S.’s priorities were different: the AI would try to secure Tony first and foremost, even if it meant risking other people or leaving them to fend for themselves. Only an express command from Tony would force the AI to put someone else first, and even on those occasions it was clear the conflict between his programming and Tony’s order gave J.A.R.V.I.S. some trouble.
Finally Tony heard heavy footsteps, hard against the floor of the hallway beyond the door. The pace was brisk and even, almost inhumanly so, and Tony stepped away from the door. The handle was pressed down with almost too much force a moment later, the door swinging open, and Tony gasped at the sight of his armor.
It looked awful and glorious at the same time, with rivers of colors completely unlike how he remembered them, his depth-perception going crazy because the suit had been designed, among many things, to block scanning equipment – now including the implants.
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said through the earpiece, “are you ready?”
“Ready for what?” Tony frowned.
“Whatever comes next.” Clearly J.A.R.V.I.S. didn’t have an answer ready, which wasn’t like the AI. Perhaps he had hoped that once Tony’s sight was restored, Tony would step up and take the lead in their lives once more.
Tony took a steadying breath, knowing this wasn’t the hardest part, but at the same time he had so many hopes and fears regarding the next step, because it had defined him for such a long time… “Open it up,” he ordered the AI, who proceeded to open the armor’s front.
The arc reactor shone incredibly brightly, moving to the side as the armor contracted, leaving an opening the size of Tony’s body. His vision flickered, adjusting to the new changes. Tony gave the armor one last look then turned and backed into it, scraping his arm only a little on the edge, his body remembering how to fit inside the snug space.
Almost instantly, the armor began to close around him. The faint pressure was familiar, not unpleasant, although the way the armor squeezed the light helmet already around Tony’s skull made him tense. Also, his world turned dark once more, and Tony inhaled sharply, fearing something had just malfunctioned or been broken.
“Preparing to activate HUD-implant connection, sir,” the AI notified him.
Still encompassed in the surprising darkness – the darkness he had grown used to, but which in the last twenty minutes he thought he’d finally conquered – Tony wasn’t sure he understood what was happening.
Something like a weak electric shock traveled across his scalp, prompting Tony to hold his breath while expecting more. Next he felt a buzz going through him as the armor came fully online and his vision came rushing back, sucking him in as he was once again unprepared for it.
He recognized the familiar setting of the Heads-Up Display, but instead of looking at it flickering and flowing in front of his face, it felt like his head had been immersed deep into it until he was floating within it, and instead of treating it like a screen filled with information, he could almost feel it now, caught within the stream of data.
Once he grew a little more used to it, Tony realized the intricate, delicate change in the balance: before, the HUD had been a mere screen filled with necessary information his eyes tracked during his time in the suit. Now, with his eyes visionless, the implants wired directly to his brain could link up with the HUD, dropping the recent, outside-the-suit method of seeing out of the equation and replacing it with the armor’s capabilities.
It was like getting a really cool set of virtual reality glasses, and once he no longer felt like he was drowning in it, Tony felt more at ease than he had within the strange mix of wire frames, infrared and sonar input.
“All right, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked.
“Getting there,” Tony admitted, wanting to be sure he was in control because he didn’t want to go stumbling around in the armor. He took a tentative step, flexed his arm, then tested the thrusters, although not long enough to actually bang his head on the ceiling. Everything was operational and Tony felt more in control of the suit than he ever had before. It was, most likely, just an illusion after his long captivity in blindness, but he was going to seize the bull by the horns and run with it. “Give me the layout of the building and its surroundings,” Tony ordered his AI. “Show me the location of the other Avengers, the rest of our troops, and the enemy.”
J.A.R.V.I.S. did as he was told, in silent obedience that to Tony felt almost like elation: they had both waited for this moment and now that it was here, the AI was more eager to get to work than ever, even when it shouldn’t have made a difference to J.A.R.V.I.S. at all.
The HUD lit up with a wire-frame image of the building, strategic points as well as the military and S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel, civilians and the Avengers. Outside sat an alien Troop Transfer ship, which spelled trouble.
As he moved out of the room, Tony took note of the major fight areas as well as where people were being evacuated out of the battle’s path; there was no way the building would stand for much longer, and those who were not fighting should be relocated at once. Transport vehicles were leaving the premises, and J.A.R.V.I.S. offered an eagle’s eye view – possibly from a satellite – showing Tony that those who were still left waiting were in a danger of being run over by the advancing alien force.
He spied Thor’s unique energy signal, locating the Hulk soon after as well, but from this distance he couldn’t pinpoint the other Avengers. Tony didn’t open the comm just yet, wanting to get his bearings first. “Do the others know you were coming to get me?” he asked the AI.
“Dr. Banner indicated, before his rather sudden transformation when the fourth floor was blown wide open, that I should make sure you were safe. I took the liberty of remotely waking you up.” Which meant J.A.R.V.I.S. had accessed the IV drip in some fashion. It wasn’t important and Tony didn’t waste his time thinking about it.
“Where are the bots?” he asked.
“Awaiting evacuation. They seem to be, however, considered low-priority.”
Tony gritted his teeth. “Tell them to stay safe and out of harm’s way.”
Tony debated taking the stairs, but knowing how awkward walking in a suit was even on the best of days, he craned his neck instead, scanned the floors above him – then lifted his hands and fired the repulsors before quickly stepping out of the way as the ceiling caved in. Once most of it was done falling, Tony stepped up again, gazed at the hole he had created in two floors above him and took notice of the general floor plan. He had navigated in worse conditions, but his hesitation wasn’t about that: he felt like he had a handle on the HUD controls, but that could change in a heartbeat, especially if he engaged in battle. Also, he was more than certain that none of the other Avengers would agree to him joining the battle in the first place, but it wasn’t as if he had ever asked for their permission.
Knowing it wasn’t going to get better or easier by waiting, Tony started the thrusters and shot up through the two holes that barely fit the armor’s form, then blasted through the third floor that had been weakened. Tony aligned his body for a sharp turn, flight coming naturally to him even after the long break, but his aim was off, as well as his measurements of the floor’s layout, and he flew head-first into a pillar. Even at low velocity, he took down most of the pillar as he rolled to the floor, collapsing chunks of the ceiling.
“Fuck,” he muttered. Colliding into things mid-flight was never a pleasant feeling.
“May I suggest, sir, that I take the wheel until we are outdoors?” It was a carefully phrased offer, in hopes of not setting Tony off.
Normally Tony would have snapped at J.A.R.V.I.S. and blasted his way out through several more walls, just to make a point that he didn’t need a back-seat driver, but the last few months had shown him a bit of humility and taught him how to let others help him.
“Take the helm,” Tony agreed, and saw J.A.R.V.I.S. instantly paint a route on the HUD. Tony helped by climbing to his feet, then positioned his body for take-off once he saw the thrusters being engaged.
It was smooth, to say the least. J.A.R.V.I.S. selected a path that was easy to navigate, and by the time they got to a 90-degree turn just before the home stretch, Tony was almost excited to see whether they could pull it off when J.A.R.V.I.S. didn’t slow down for the turn: Tony braced himself, then just before the turn he saw the thrusters being disengaged and felt the flaps deploy. He threw his lower body forward, just in time for J.A.R.V.I.S. to re-engage the thrusters, boosting them smoothly into another hallway before hitting the finish line at an already cracked window.
As the glass shattered and Iron Man shot up to the open sky, Tony saw J.A.R.V.I.S. hand the reins back to him. It was subtle, going much smoother than it used to whenever Tony needed the AI to navigate for a moment, and Tony made a wide arc over the building just to grow accustomed to flying. People always thought it was easy, but Tony could attest that it took a lot of practice to get it right.
The HUD showed him some new information, moving out of the building and to the battlefield outside. They were heavily outnumbered by the aliens, which meant that everyone but the heavy hitters was stuck in strategic hiding places, returning fire whenever possible. Tony knew the difference between a fight and buying time, and this was the latter: until every human being had been evacuated from the premises, the Avengers were going to hold the enemy at bay. After that…
“Open the comm,” Tony ordered, and J.A.R.V.I.S. did.
“I’m running out of ammo,” Clint’s voice filled his ears.
“Stop wasting it,” Steve ordered, voice terse and tight, implying he was in a tight spot, hurt, or possibly both.
Everyone who had ever fought with Clint Barton knew he didn’t waste ammo, ever. That was why Clint didn’t respond, taking what he could from Steve’s response and running with it.
Tony looked around, finding the Hulk beating the crap out of several alien armors, but they were crowding him and it was easy to tell the fight was getting too long even for the angriest member of their team. The Hulk could go on for hours still, no doubt about it, but he would get harder to control as he took more hits and his anger accumulated.
Looking to the side, Tony saw the glorious flash of energy as lightning crashed down from the sky. With the limited vision – or, the lack of human vision, to be precise – he didn’t see the red cape flapping in the air or a glimpse of the golden hair, yet he knew at once where Thor was.
“Sir, War Machine is approaching you from behind.”
It was a kind reminder for Tony to not get spooked. He saw Rhodey’s suit signature on the HUD, almost felt the vibrations as he sped over and slowed down to Tony’s flight speed.
“What the hell, Tony?!”
“How do you know it’s me in the suit?” Tony asked back.
“J.A.R.V.I.S. told me.”
“It seemed prudent that Colonel Rhodes know that you are about to engage the enemy,” the AI defended his actions.
“I haven’t engaged anyone yet,” Tony argued.
“But you’re planning to – right?” Rhodey sounded strangely hopeful. Tony sort of hoped he could see his face, like he used to, on a small screen on the HUD. He got a bunch of other data instead, from body heat to pulse and respiratory rate.
“Kind of,” Tony admitted. “You see that big ass alien ship parked over there?”
“Kind of hard to miss,” Rhodey replied.
“Want to join me in a valiant effort to gut it from the inside out?”
“It won’t help us win the fight.”
“No, but it will piss off the aliens and make it harder for them to regroup later.”
Rhodey let out a sound that was probably an affirmation. “I’m a bit low on ammo.”
“I’m fully loaded. Just… watch my six,” he suggested.
Tony nodded to himself.
“Tony?” Rhodey spoke up as Tony began to arc towards the Category 4 ship.
“You know you’re flying with your eyes covered by… something?”
Tony frowned, which was kind of lost beneath the light helmet on his head. “J.A.R.V.I.S., disconnect my in-suite cameras, please.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Rhodey said instantly.
“I know, but it… Didn’t we talk about this?” Tony asked, feeling frustrated all of a sudden.
“That the implants are supposed to bypass your eyes? Yeah, I got that part,” Rhodey admitted. “I just didn’t expect it to be so… literal.”
Tony chuckled. “Just remember my threat from my teenage years: I’m watching you with my brain.”
Rhodey barked out an uncontrolled laugh, because that was actually a threat Tony had made against some jocks that had taken a few too many hits to the head. They had seemed sufficiently uneasy and hadn’t tried to intimidate Tony for the next few weeks. “Man, I missed you,” Rhodey confessed.
“Have you been gone?” Tony frowned.
“No; you have,” Rhodey stated. “I know it’s been a shitty last few months, for everyone. You haven’t been ‘you’ for a good reason, but that’s… I’m just glad you’re back in the suit, gearing up for a fight, is all.”
“I don’t think I’m ‘me’ even now,” Tony murmured and flew a bit lower, knowing that Rhodey would follow him, low on ammo or not.
“Mr. Odinson is approaching,” J.A.R.V.I.S. told him suddenly, and Tony turned his head although that wasn’t at all necessary, tracking the Asgardian’s flight path – which was, indeed, closing up on him.
“Iron Man!” Thor bellowed over the wind.
“Wanna tag along as we dive into the belly of the beast, Thunderclap?” Tony asked although he was uncertain whether Thor had a communicator on him or not.
Thor grinned, whether he heard or not, and aimed to follow him and Rhodey towards the ship.
“Tony?” Steve’s voice finally chimed in although Tony was fairly certain everyone had heard his and Rhodey’s discussion.
“About time you took notice of my presence, oh noble leader,” Tony joked.
“Cut the crap,” Steve ordered, words unnaturally harsh. “What are you doing?”
“Preparing to wreak havoc,” Tony summed up.
“Are you sure you’re ready?”
That was the question, wasn’t it? Tony wasn’t sure he was ready, but he had come this far and it seemed Rhodey and Thor were preparing to follow him on his first real attack since he got blinded two months ago, so he wasn’t backing out now.
“He’s in the suit, Cap,” Natasha joined the conversation. “Let him play his part.” Which was a subtle hint that as long as Tony was in a suit – which could be controlled by J.A.R.V.I.S. and not just him – he would be okay. Tony kind of resented that but knew it was in his own best interest not to argue at this point.
“Once you’re done, maybe you can come over and give me a hand,” Steve finally suggested. It was an odd thing for him to say, and Tony immediately shifted his attention to find his location.
It wasn’t good, once he found him: Steve was completely pinned down by the enemy, and while his shield seemed to catch most of the enemy fire, it wouldn’t be long before he had to move – although he had nowhere to go if he didn’t want to enter a shooting gallery.
“Hold on,” Tony murmured, reaching out his left arm, preparing missiles. “Take cover, then find a new vantage point,” he ordered and released the projectiles. They arched down, past several other clusters of fighting, hitting their intended target dead on: the aliens crowding Steve were blown back, and after sheltering himself from the shower of rubble, Steve sprang up and away, joining a group of soldiers that had a pretty good position against the enemy.
“Thanks,” Steve said in the comm, barely out of breath after his sprint to safety.
Tony hummed and then aimed for the alien ship.
“If any of us helped him, he wouldn’t just be saying ‘thanks’ but something about ‘wasted ammo’,” Clint muttered.
“Can it, soldier,” Steve replied.
Tony ignored them for the time being, focusing on the hull readings on the HUD. He remembered from experience that firing at a Category 4 ship from the outside was a waste of time. No one had actually gotten inside to take the fight there, either, but Tony had never been one to turn down a challenge.
“It is bound to be a tight fit,” J.A.R.V.I.S. told him.
“Take over fine controls,” Tony ordered as he arched closer still, finding an opening from which a few alien armors were moving out to join the battle. Either they didn’t realize Tony and his entourage were actually attempting to get in, or the aliens weren’t concerned about the consequences of such an intrusion; none of the alien soldiers moved to prevent their approach, and Tony prepared himself for anything as he flew in, the armor vibrating as J.A.R.V.I.S. proceeded to seize control from him and prevent them from hitting the nearest wall.
It was dark inside. The HUD, to which his visual cortex was currently connected, showed him a myriad of corridors leading away from the wide space they had just entered, at least five floors towering above them. There was machinery inside hundreds of pods in the corridors that Tony surmised must be used to assemble the battle armor around the alien bodies.
“Let’s light it up, boys,” Tony signaled to Rhodey and Thor as he floated mid-air; the two had followed him in, as predicted, and had stopped on either side of him. “I’ll go up a few levels, start a fire there, then make my way out. You’re free to join me, Rhodes,” he added, knowing his friend would argue to come with him since he was supposed to be watching Tony’s back. “Thor,” he motioned at the Asgardian. “Bring in the thunder and take out their armory,” he said, pointing at the nearest pods.
Thor grinned. “Gladly, Iron Man,” he nodded and begun striding in the pointed direction. Mjolnir was starting to gather static around it at an alarming rate.
“Ready?” Tony asked Rhodey. Not for the first time he hated not seeing the man’s expression, but the physiological cues had to be enough, and the readings from the War Machine armor were coming to him loud and clear: Rhodey was exhausted but still able to do battle, and while his armor was slowly running out of ammo, he had plenty left to assist Tony. His breaths were slower and almost measured, like he was telling himself to be calm, and Tony wondered whether he was playing it cool for Tony’s benefit or his own. “Don’t stress it,” Tony ordered. “We’ll be fine.”
“Did I say something?” Rhodey challenged and took off from the ship’s floor. “We’re wasting time,” he added, and Tony shot up after him, feeling J.A.R.V.I.S. nudge him onto the correct path when War Machine went punching through a wall, leaving a gaping opening behind.
They encountered a few aliens on their smash-and-advance path up towards the top of the ship. None of the aliens were armored and were much easier to destroy. Tony was still unsure whether or not the aliens considered this a serious attack – or if they had just abandoned all hope, because they had barely gone up two levels before the ship’s hull began to carry an electric current and a steady ring of explosions started beneath them, following them up as Rhodey led the way with the determination of a bulldozer.
“I think this is good enough,” Tony stated on level four; the ship’s structures were creaking, as if ready to tear themselves apart. Thor was really letting loose where they had left him, probably enjoying this chance to get back at their enemy, and that seemed to include trying to light up the ship like one huge Christmas decoration: electronics were blowing up on the walls, spitting sparks all over the place, and Tony feared there would be nothing left for him to blow up soon.
Rhodey stopped, surveyed the area, then waited for Tony’s lead.
“Weapons hot,” Tony ordered.
“Any desired target, sir?” his AI asked.
“Let’s not get picky: fire at everything.”
As they let loose, both of them, Tony was fairly certain he heard Rhodey let out a yell of excitement.
Tony almost joined him, feeling a sudden weight fall from his chest. He was back in the suit, fighting the war next to his best friend, and while everything hadn’t gone back to normal… this bit was very familiar – even the part where the ship began to bloat around them, ready to blow.
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. warned him before the AI shut down the weapons and angled for the quickest exit route. Tony had the presence of mind to grab onto War Machine’s shoulder and yank him along as they were both propelled outside, by the armor’s thrusters and the explosion that followed in their wake.
Tony may have let out a hoot of excitement as the wave of pressure pushed them further away, but the sounds of the ship being destroyed effectively drowned it out.
The Avengers had brought Tony to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility outside Oklahoma City – a base that seemed to be shared by several branches of the military to handle the current situation. It was nothing new since the war began, although Tony, for once, wasn’t there to discuss a new assault on the enemy, an evacuation strategy or ways to preserve human life.
When they had arrived, Tony had mostly been out of it; he had been vaguely aware of familiar voices and Steve’s firm grip as the super soldier still carried him, and it had been those things that allowed him to drift off and lower his defenses.
He was in a hospital ward when he came to again. People moved around him, but none of them poked or prodded at him. Perhaps they had been briefed that it wasn’t the best approach with him. His mind drifted for a while, getting lost so easily in the darkness that persisted. Eventually it began to bug him, though, because as worn out as he felt, lying in bed wasn’t how Tony Stark dealt with things; he had things to do, people to see and talk to, not to mention a war to win.
Tony felt it when he opened his eyes, but save for the sensation of his eyelids moving, nothing changed. To make sure his head wasn’t still wrapped up in gauze or something, he reached up with his hands, but found nothing at all on his face. Tentatively, he felt out the skin around his eyes. Everything felt smooth, soft – recently regenerated. Everything in his body seemed to be working as usual, Extremis back to a calm hum.
Still, he couldn’t see.
“How are you feeling?” a voice asked; softly, slowly, as if afraid of spooking him.
Tony jumped a little but figured that he should have recognized Bruce’s smell a while ago, as well as the odor of that awful tea he kept making for himself whenever he had the chance. If the other man didn’t like it so much, Tony would have gone out of his way long ago to destroy the last batches of it left on Earth.
“I’m not sure,” Tony finally replied, because he didn’t. “Did someone give me meds? You should have told them not to, because I think they caused a slight delay in –”
“Tony,” Bruce interrupted his rambling. A hand pressed against Tony’s forearm, warm and gentle. Too gentle, like Tony was some fragile thing about to fall apart. “There were no meds,” Bruce told him. “I told them to let Extremis handle it, not to interfere. It… didn’t work.”
Tony swallowed. “What do you mean, ‘it didn’t work’?” He knew, of course. He knew without Bruce telling him, but for the sake of his sanity, he wasn’t going to admit it to himself or anyone else just yet.
“Your eyes are damaged,” the other man told him, calmly – too calm for it to be nothing but a cover firmly placed over a boiling pot. “They analyzed some of the acid; we couldn’t identify most of the components in it, and most of our lab equipment couldn’t handle it. Frankly, I think it was supposed to melt your brain inside your skull – and probably your skull as well…”
Tony forced himself to nod. He blinked, slowly, trying to force his body to realize he hadn’t completely healed yet.
Extremis didn’t even stir.
“Extremis saved your life,” Bruce told him, fingers tightening around Tony’s arm as if he feared Tony was going to bolt. “For some reason, though, it couldn’t repair your eyes. They…”
“How do they look?” Tony asked, which was stupid and shallow. He lifted his free hand, to feel for himself. Minor desensitization, but he could feel his eyeballs, his eyelids, even eyelashes.
“They looked scarred,” Bruce explained and grabbed Tony’s other arm as well.
Tony heard his chair shift a little and then felt the weight of the other man’s body next to his hip, probably seated on the edge of the bed. His fingers held firmly onto Tony’s forearms, guiding his hands to rest in his lap. Tony instinctively tried to look at him, to stare him down, but he had no idea whether he could do even that.
“The extraocular muscles seem to have mostly healed, allowing natural eye movement,” Bruce went on, and Tony allowed his voice to soothe him while he stored the information away, trying to imagine it. “You’re trying to look at me now,” the other man noted, and Tony offered him – or his general direction – a dry smile. “Your irises have retained their usual shade, although the pupils appear to be leaking due to colobomas that are present in both eyes.”
That had to look spectacularly creepy, Tony decided. “You mentioned scars,” he reminded Bruce.
A pause followed his words, then a chuckle – a sad, defeated sound. Tony wondered if Bruce had done something – or if Tony had, not that he was aware of it. “I’m sorry,” Bruce mused. “I nodded, although I should remember that you can’t… see it,” he finished, voice dropping.
“Do I look like I’m freaking out?” Tony asked.
“Good. Stop tiptoeing around the subject and tell me about the scars.”
Another pause – perhaps another nod that Tony couldn’t detect – and Bruce went on: “The scars mostly cover the sclera, not reaching the irises or the pupils more than in a few places. They look like… scars,” the scientist summed up unsatisfactorily. “Small, thin, uneven lines, spread unevenly, a little lighter in shade than the usual white of the sclera.” He paused again. “Satisfied?”
“For now,” Tony pursed his lips. “Any other lingering effects?”
“I think your tear ducts are busted.”
Tony snorted. “That’s good to know,” he tried rolling his eyes, which hurt a little, as if the muscles were too tight for some reason.
“You know it’s going to start sinking in soon, right?” Bruce asked him.
“Will it?” Tony challenged. “Most likely all I need to do is figure out what went wrong, tinker with Extremis and…” He realized it wouldn’t be easy, due to the fact he couldn’t see a thing. Well, J.A.R.V.I.S. could help him. All he needed was a good lab, equipment, some time… maybe a little more time than usual, since he didn’t know his surroundings…
Then again, what else was he going to do? Don his suit and go kick some alien butt, to get revenge for Pepper? None of that was going to bring her back. He had missed his chance to protect her, and that loss was so permanently etched in his memory that he was fucking glad he couldn’t cry about it.
Tony bit his lip. “Damn it,” he swore. “It’s your fault,” he blamed Bruce for his awareness of the fact that he could not shed a tear even if he wanted to.
“We’ll figure this out,” Bruce promised. “One way or another.”
Tony allowed himself a pathetic little laugh. “There’s only one way I want to see this ending.”
“I know,” Bruce replied.
“It includes seeing,” Tony added.
“I know,” the other man said again, ever so patiently.
“Stop being so fucking calm about it!” Tony finally snapped, wrenching his hands away from Bruce’s grip although he didn’t know where to put them to keep them away from the other man.
“What would you like me to do?” Bruce snapped right back at him, voice rising. Tony felt the bed dip, although he almost missed it while trying to pull back. “I trusted Extremis to fix your eyes, but here we are, and I can tell you’ve already thought of the other side of the coin.”
“Which is?” Tony asked for the hell of it, pulling up his legs after pressing his back against the wall at the head of the bed. His hands felt out the edges of the mattress, to get an idea of how much room he had to move around. Not much.
“That the damage is too much for Extremis to deal with,” Bruce stated. Tony had no idea how far he had moved from the bed, or even if there was someone else in the room.
“That’s not even close to what I’ve been thinking about,” Tony protested – although now that Bruce had said it, he couldn’t just dismiss the thought. “Extremis can re-grow limbs, and that was before I perfected the version that went into my body.”
“So why can’t you see?”
That was the big question.
Tony fought the fear that came with it, which could only lead to a huge downward spiral. The fact that he didn’t know anything about his whereabouts other than the bed was starting to get to him. Was this even a private room? Not that Tony cared if someone was listening in on them… unless he was being totally honest, in which case he did care, a lot.
Iron Man was a symbol to the people, even to those who claimed he wasn’t. Tony had learned, long ago, that showing weakness didn’t inspire hope in others. That was why, right now, it was best to keep his insecurities under wraps.
He settled down a little, trying to center himself. If he focused very hard, he could hear Bruce’s breaths, deep in a way that suggested he was trying to calm himself down. Further away, he could hear other noises: voices, footsteps, items rolling back and forth across a smooth surface like the floor. All those other sounds were muted, which made Tony decide they were alone in a small room, a closed door between them and the rest of the world.
“I’m sorry,” Bruce said finally. “I shouldn’t have…”
“I needed it, I think,” Tony admitted. “To have someone freak out, even if just a little.”
“Not so little,” the other man confessed and moved closer again. “We were all worried. For the first few hours, the doctors said you were going to die.”
“We knew better.”
Tony nodded. Bruce must have believed, so strongly, that Extremis would take care of business. Well, Tony had had the same belief, but with that hope at least temporarily extinguished…
The darkness was starting to get to him again, Tony realized. He tried to think of something else, but there were so few good things to think about these days. Instead of thinking, he reached out, feeling the bed as far down as he could without changing his position, but he couldn’t find Bruce. He lifted his hand, searching the air, feeling stupid, but finally the other man stepped up, right within the grasp of Tony’s searching fingers, and Tony clutched onto the clothing when he felt it, not particularly caring which body part he was holding onto.
Bruce’s hand settled on his own, not urging Tony to release his hold but merely holding onto him in return.
“You know,” Tony mused out loud, allowing the darkness to turn just a shade uglier, just for a moment. “I think that if things don’t work out, like, at all, and I’ll never see anything ever again…” Bruce’s fingers tightened almost painfully around his hand. “The last thing I saw was her,” Tony pressed on, forcing himself to relive those final moments before the world went dark for him. “The last thing I saw was Pepper, and I think I’m okay with that.”
Bruce’s grip trembled, just a bit, and in a surprisingly quick movement he sat down next to Tony, drew him into an embrace, and proceeded to cry against Tony’s shoulder, holding him close with a very similar desperation as what Tony had felt, briefly, when he couldn’t find Bruce.
Numbly, Tony held onto him, blinking at the darkness before he decided it was a waste of effort and simply closed his eyes, listening to Bruce’s unsteady breaths and drawing strength from the other man’s despair.
to be continued…