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.
Tony took a deep, steadying breath. He wasn’t nervous, per se, because he was absolutely certain of what he wanted to do. Public speeches didn’t make him anxious, either – at least not in the past when he knew exactly how to engage his audience. These days he could not hold his opponent’s gaze while letting his mouth run them down.
“You know there’s no pressing need to do this,” Bruce informed him.
“Yes, there is,” Tony argued, albeit softly. He had made up his mind – which Bruce knew – and the scientist’s argument was voiced simply because it needed to be put out there and then dismissed.
They were standing in a conference room, just the two of them. At first Tony had planned on doing this while wearing the light helmet, but eventually decided against it: he should be able to do this without the added confidence of the implants.
Tony Stark didn’t need to lean on a crutch to get this done…
“They are almost ready, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced from the room’s speakers. “We are still waiting for Dr. Foster, but she’s on her way.”
Tony nodded his head, eyes closed in concentration. He knew where the screens were on the wall before him. He might not be able to look anyone in the eye, other than by accident, but it wasn’t as if anyone expected him to, either. Tony was blind, but that was where his shortcomings ended – now that he had finally reached that conclusion and believed it, too.
“We are ready,” J.A.R.V.I.S. finally stated and Tony thought he heard the screens turning on.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking a moment of your precious time to sit down for a chat,” Tony said before anyone else could.
“I believe I speak for most people in this video conference when I say that your latest batch of data and images from the Flag Ship have been keeping us awake at night,” Betty Ross stated. “Hello, Bruce,” she added then, softer than when she was talking to the rest of them.
“You look well,” Bruce replied, which may have been super awkward with all the other scientists on the line as well, but this was war and they all might be dead tomorrow, so no one said a word.
“I’m glad I could be of assistance,” Tony noted.
“I hear NASA and several other space-flight specialists are already in talks to send up more unmanned flights to attempt to gain more information on the Category 6 ship,” a man Tony barely knew by name and credentials chimed in, his Indian accent strong. “After ignoring that approach for months, they are ready to try again.”
“Perhaps to no avail,” Erik Selvig noted. “We have no concrete proof that the destruction of the Category 6 is the key to winning the war.”
“Nor will we know, unless we dig deeper,” Tony agreed. “However, there are many other approaches to the problem. We are still looking for weaknesses in our enemies, their physiology and habitat, and trying to definitively answer the question of whether the pollution of our waters is in the service to their race, or only the means to an end in annihilating all life on Earth.”
“I assume this meeting was not called to shed light on any of those issues,” Betty Ross guessed.
“No,” Tony confirmed. “I am talking to you now to express my thanks for your tireless efforts to solve this crisis – and to tell you to keep up the good work.”
“A pep-talk from Tony Stark,” Jane Foster teased. “To what do we truly owe the pleasure?”
“I had an epiphany, in these last few days,” Tony confessed, leaning against the table at his back, crossing his arms over his chest. His eyes moved across the space where he knew the screens were. “My personal losses threw me for a loop for a bit, but I think I’m ready to get back in the game. There is much to do, and most of it is a hands-on struggle to keep our people safe. The Avengers will be departing from this base later today, and I will be going with them.”
“Do the implants really work?” Betty asked. Clearly Bruce had told her about them
“Sufficiently enough, and for the time being that’s the best we’ve got,” Tony nodded. “I’m leaving the fate of the world in your capable hands while I go kick some alien ass.” Bruce shifted beside him and Tony liked to think he was trying to hide his smile. “It will be far more gruesome than that innocent statement implies; we all know that.”
“I’m sure your time would be better spent in a lab, not out there,” Selvig disagreed.
“I tried that. For months, I wracked my brain to figure out why the aliens attacked me and went to so much trouble to kill me. I paid a heavy price for their failure and am reminded of it every day, but I’ve decided to leave that behind and move on. When I figure out what kind of threat I posed to them, I’ll exploit it to the fullest extent. Until then, I am joining my fellow Avengers on the front lines – not because I feel I must but because I need to do it while I still can.”
“If you fear your resolve will slip, perhaps you should not do it,” Selvig suggested.
“No,” Jane cut him off. “We might eventually win this war with a scientific discovery that allows us to crush the aliens, but until then, we need people out there to fight the war and buy us time.” No doubt she was thinking of Thor. “Your team will be glad to have you back, and I’m confident we can trust you to send us back any data that might prove helpful.”
Tony nodded. “That’s the idea.”
“Stay safe,” one of the scientists from Japan said. “The aliens are changing their tactics, and the stakes rise higher in every battle.”
“That’s why Tony’s joining us,” Bruce replied before Tony could. “As much as he feels he needs to be there, we need him even more.”
“Good luck,” Selvig sighed, clearly giving up on talking them out of it.
“All we need is enough time and a bit of good luck for a change,” Betty added.
“We’ll give you all the time we can,” Bruce promised.
One by one the world’s leading scientific minds logged off until it was just Bruce and Tony again.
“Do you feel better?” Bruce asked at length when Tony had stood still, listening to the silence, for a few minutes.
“Somewhat,” Tony shrugged.
“Well, I think I’m starting to see why you insisted on talking to them,” Bruce admitted. “They deserved to know you are going to be out there –”
“It wasn’t that,” Tony interrupted him. “It’s… a reminder, to all of us, of the war and what’s at stake every day. I don’t know if we’ll ever find the answer that will end this, but if anyone can figure it out, it’s them – and while they’re at it, I’ll put on the suit and contribute to the best of my ability.” He reached out, pointedly, and Bruce moved his arm within his reach, then guided him out of the room.
“You know, you could still contribute from a lab,” Bruce mused.
“And I will, eventually, but I’m getting tired of hearing these rumors that War Machine is replacing Iron Man.”
Bruce chuckled. “Rhodey’s been doing very well.”
“Good thing he’s never looked particularly good in red.”
It was an hour and thirty-six minutes before the door was wrenched from its hinges and Tony snapped out of the uncomfortable reverie he had managed to fall into.
“Tony,” Steve’s voice pierced the fog in his mind. “Are you okay?”
“He is fine, Captain Rogers,” J.A.R.V.I.S. answered for him.
“In the suit?”
“Can you open it?”
Tony felt the air shift on his skin, the pressure releasing from around his body. His clothes had gotten bunched up in places and his skin felt sore. “I’m fine,” he reassured – then jumped a bit as he felt a hand on his shoulder. After the struggle with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Tony wasn’t at all looking forward to another person touching him.
“Tony,” Steve started, “can you step out of the armor?”
“Let go of my shoulder first,” Tony replied, voice just as tight as his chest, although the pressure was easing a little. Steve let go of him, so Tony stepped away from the armor, blindly trying to figure out his exact location within the room.
“There are people who wish to speak with you, Captain,” Thor announced from the direction of the door.
“Good, because I want a word with them, too,” Steve snapped and turned, the sound of his boots heavy and purposeful against the floor. He was angry, Tony could tell, and he wondered what exactly had happened.
“All is well, Tony,” Thor reassured him. “No one shall lay a hand on you again, against your will.”
Tony nodded and then heard one of the bots moving nearby. He reached out and the bot rolled closer, the familiar touch of the cool metal reassuring Tony.
Outside in the hallway, voices rose abruptly, one clear above the others: “What the hell do you think you were doing? Who gave you the order to move him without his compliance?”
“Captain, there is no reason to –”
“He is a person, fully capable of making his own choices!” Steve roared. “You drugged him and attacked him.”
“His armor broke through four floors,” another voice rose in an attempt to match Steve’s. “Moving Mr. Stark to a safer location, for his sake and for the sake of those around him, should have happened weeks ago.”
“He isn’t going anywhere,” Steve growled. “If you think you can just sneak him out beneath our noses, his armor is the least of your concerns.” Steve sounded like he was going to punch someone in the face, and when Captain America punched someone while he was in a bad mood, there was a danger of a permanent facial reconstruction.
‘Bad mood’ didn’t sound like an appropriate term to describe Steve’s fury, either.
“We trusted you. The rest of my team is still out there, fighting, and there is no justification for forcing us to divide our ranks,” Steve snapped.
“You should not be here,” the man he was arguing with said, and it was, obviously, the wrong thing to say because a slam of Steve’s shield followed an instant later with the sound of a body dropping.
“Anyone else?” Steve challenged.
Tony’s fingers tightened around the bot’s body and he heard Thor shift, the air in the room growing thick as if lightning were gathering overhead.
No one spoke up, which was probably wise.
Steve returned to the room an instant later, a force of nature on his own. “Thor, help Tony pack his things. We’re leaving as soon as I’ve gathered everyone’s gear.”
“Where are we going?” Tony asked although he didn’t object. He didn’t want to be left behind again.
“D.C., for now; I need to get back to the others.”
“Why would you even come here in the middle of a battle?” Tony asked as the bots helped to place his few belongings in his bag.
“Are you kidding?” Steve snapped. “J.A.R.V.I.S. called us, saying that they were trying to take you away to some facility in Houston.” He said the words like they tasted vile in his mouth.
“Not necessarily a bad thing,” Tony murmured.
“You did not want to go,” Thor cut in before Steve could reply. “You put up a fight, did you not?”
“I did,” Tony agreed, although he hadn’t really gotten to the fighting part.
“Then we have nothing further to discuss,” Thor decided and they packed their things in silence.
Tony wasn’t sure how they were going to get out of the base, but he carried his bag while the other two, the bots and Mark 50 took care of the rest, effectively moving all the Avengers’ gear. No one talked to them as they traveled the corridors and ended up in a large, open space that sounded like a hangar.
“You,” Steve called out to someone, voice still angry and conveying disappointment at everyone who wasn’t part of his team. “You a pilot?”
“Yes, sir,” a timid voice answered.
“You are going to fly us to Washington D.C. in that Quinjet.”
“I need to check with my –”
“Now!” Steve snapped.
“Of course, Captain,” the man almost yelped and ran up the ramp.
Tony would have found the situation amusing if it weren’t for the day’s events.
They climbed aboard, secured their cargo, and Thor hovered nearby when they took off while Steve was probably staring daggers at their pilot. Tony shifted on his seat and listened to the engines work, occasionally hearing a small chirp or beep from the bots. “You were worried about me,” he finally said.
“Of course,” Thor agreed. “Our leader feels especially betrayed, for he trusted our allies to look after you – not to try and steal you from us.”
Tony wished Steve would just come join them and sit down so that Tony could maybe try and make him unwind a little. “I’m not his responsibility,” Tony murmured.
“Nay, but all of us want to protect you. Today, we failed.”
Tony wanted to argue, but frankly, whatever he said would make no real difference. All he could hope for was that whoever had considered this a great idea would recognize their error and serve as an example for how not to do things in the future. Tony didn’t see how this incident could help the Avengers trust anyone giving them orders in the future.
They landed in D.C. in half an hour. Far away in the distance, Tony thought he could hear the sounds of battle. J.A.R.V.I.S. had not commented on it yet, though, so he guessed the battle was well-contained and that they were in no danger.
Steve released the pilot, telling him to get his own ride home, and the man literally ran out of the Quinjet. The bots chirped after him, as if encouraging the agent to run faster, and Tony tried to gauge the mood inside the aircraft.
“We should join the others,” Thor murmured.
Steve was clearly hesitating and Tony cleared his throat. “I’ll be fine with the armor and the bots. Go. Let me know if I need to get out of harm’s way.”
“Are you sure?” Steve asked.
“Yeah. Get this over with and then we can figure out a new game plan.”
Steve took a step, tightened some strap, and Tony could feel the blond’s eyes on him. “I’m sorry –”
“Stop apologizing for something you couldn’t predict and go ruin some alien lives,” Tony encouraged, and with a single wry chuckle, Steve led Thor out of the Quinjet. Tony didn’t hear anything beyond that, and after a while the armor moved and the Quinjet’s ramp rose. He tried not to feel lonely or abandoned – especially when he wasn’t.
“I have been wondering…”
“What, J?” Tony asked.
“My calculations suggest there was no reason for Extremis to fail to heal your eyes.”
Tony sighed. “Well, obviously your calculations are off.”
“The damage is extensive, and until you find a way to alter Extremis’ programming, you will be… vulnerable.”
“Do you have a point in all this?” Tony asked. He didn’t want to think of the darkness he was trapped in – or about being defenseless. Today had been a prime example of how he couldn’t shake off even two people without his armor intervening.
“Indeed,” J.A.R.V.I.S. confirmed. “I have been considering an alternative option – a temporary one, while you find the flaw in Extremis.”
Tony cringed at the last part. Extremis had been flawless when he injected it into himself, but to be proven otherwise was a painful lesson. As if he had a chest full of palladium again. “What’s your idea?” Tony asked, knowing that J.A.R.V.I.S. was most likely putting together things the AI had picked up from Tony – and which Tony was too occupied to recognize as viable options at this point.
“Yes. Theoretically, connecting implants to certain parts of the brain and the visual cortex could be used to send the brain imagery that could, possibly, simulate sight. If the optic nerves were still undamaged, that could have been the key, but the implants would bypass the eyes themselves –”
“And go straight to the source,” Tony finished. “That is…”
“Practical, although it has never been attempted before, due to the lag in technology, not to mention that the average human body could not withstand the stress of such a procedure, not to mention the strain it would put on the brain.”
“I think you just described my brain as special,” Tony teased.
“Considering the effects of Extremis, I believe it would be possible to incorporate its healing properties in enabling the functionality of the implants.”
It sounded too good to be true – but also too logical to be dismissed. J.A.R.V.I.S. had access to a lot of data outside Tony’s own databases, and the idea that the AI had taken a look at those things and dared to theorize that it might work… “I want you to draft a first version for Bruce to take a look at by the time they finish the battle,” Tony decided. “I don’t care how crude it is.” He trusted Bruce’s brain to be smart enough to see the potential in this. Plus, he believed Bruce was crazy enough to give it a shot. After all, the man had bombarded himself with gamma rays.
“I have a few ideas ready,” J.A.R.V.I.S. volunteered. It sounded like the AI had been sitting on this information for a while, possibly hesitating whether the plan would actually work.
“Good,” Tony decided, leaning back against the wall of the Quinjet and closing his eyes. “Describe it to me – in detail.”
He wasn’t going to hope for a miracle, but science he had faith in, and J.A.R.V.I.S. had learned from the best.
to be continued…