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.
The first sunrise Tony saw since going blind took his breath away.
Of all the things the implants had showed him, the sun looked closest to how he remembered it; the colors were off, but the brightness was the same, as well as the sight of the sky lighting up.
Footsteps approached him from behind, their pace slow, taking their time. Tony continued to stare at the rising sun, not knowing whether the other person’s purposeful delay was for his benefit but taking it as such nonetheless.
The other person finally reached him and settled at his side. Tony checked briefly to see who it was, then turned his face back to the sun. While the implants still provided him with a wider field of vision than he required, he enjoyed the direct warmth of the sun on his face as much as the sight of it. “Times like these and you stop appreciating the simple things,” he mused out loud.
“I started ignoring sunrises a long time before the war started,” Natasha replied, yet she sounded more peaceful than she had been of late.
“It’s never too late to start paying attention,” Tony decided.
Behind them, at the root of a grassy slope, the others moved around quietly, the early hour affecting them all. Mark 52 and War Machine stood side by side, the bots cleaning them up with rags. It was unnecessary but gave the bots something to do so Tony had left them to it. Clint was sitting cross-legged on top of a crate, checking his arrows; his movements were precise even though he had looked half-asleep when Tony had walked past him. Bruce joined the others just then, stretching, looking like he had just woken up. Steve and Thor were stretching, no doubt planning on a little bit of sparring to wake themselves up. Rhodey stood slightly apart from the others, looking up the hill, straight at Tony. Well, Tony’s back, to be exact.
With a small grimace, Tony tried to focus his attention forward, still unable to control the implants. It was entirely possible he would have to upgrade them in order to narrow his simulated gaze – or he could get used to the 360-view and not think twice about it.
“We still have time before the battle,” Natasha told him. “You can take the helmet off for a bit, let your brain cool down.” Clearly she had spotted his grimace.
“It’s not my brain,” Tony reassured her. “They clearly had no idea what they were talking about when they started that phrase about having eyes in the back of your head,” he added in a complaint.
Natasha chuckled. “I know a lot of people who would kill for that kind of talent – myself included.”
“If I find my skull pried open in my sleep, at least I’ll know whom is to blame,” he accused, although they both knew it didn’t work like that.
Tony gave the sun one more look then turned and walked down the hill, Natasha trailing after him. They kept walking behind him these days, whenever Tony was wearing the helmet; it was like their way of showing that they knew Tony could see and find his own way.
“Hey,” Rhodey greeted when Tony reached him. “Nervous?” he asked then.
“Not as nervous as you,” Tony huffed.
“I’m not nervous,” Rhodey disagreed at once.
“I can see you are, so don’t lie,” Tony teased, looking at the tell-tale colors in his best friend’s body heat.
“Okay,” Rhodey rolled his eyes – at least Tony thought he did, because the implants had a hard time detecting that kind of motion. “But I’m more nervous for you than me, so that doesn’t count.”
“I’ll be fine,” Tony promised and nudged his shoulder against the other man’s as he moved past him to get himself something to eat.
“I know we’ve planned for this and that this isn’t your first time fighting any kind of aliens, but it’s… been a while,” Rhodey went on as they walked.
“I’ve already been in a couple fights since the implants,” Tony reminded him. “Well, one, to be precise, but that one went really well!” He reached into one of the crates that held food, digging around until he found an edible-looking apple. “J, remind me the next time I’m eating to disengage the implants,” he murmured.
“Of course, sir,” the AI replied in his earpiece. “Shall I deactivate them now?”
“Nah,” Tony replied, looking at the apple in his hand more closely. “Just tell me this is edible. I really can’t be sure.”
“It’s fine,” Rhodey said – snagging the apple from his hand and taking a bite.
“It’s good,” Rhodey stated from around the mouthful of apple and offered it back to Tony.
“Keep it,” Tony groused and got himself another that looked just about the same.
“Hey, Stark!” Clint called out. “Are you sure the enemy camp is still at the same location?”
“Yes, it is,” Tony replied, carefully biting into the apple and deciding it was sweet and edible, just as he had hoped it would be. “Hades sent in confirmation just before sunrise; no movement other than another War Ship arriving for breakfast.”
“Nice,” Clint said and grunted as he pulled his bow tight to test the string. “A good day to go alien-hunting.”
“Just stick to the plan,” Tony told him.
“Since when do you care about the plan?” Clint asked back.
“Since I started wanting all of us to come back in one piece,” he offered, trying to make it sound nasty but failing: they were a close group these days and losing anyone was an unbearable thought. Tony liked to defy the odds by thinking that they would all see this war to the end.
“It’s a good plan,” Bruce chimed in.
“I’ve never seen you so excited to go smashing into the enemy camp,” Tony pointed out.
“It’s been a while since you were my back-up,” Bruce challenged, and Tony supposed that was a good enough reason.
“Less talking, more eating!” Steve called out. “We move out soon.”
Bruce and Clint proceeded to cook up some proper breakfast and Natasha joined them after a while. Silence fell over the area save for Steve and Thor’s grunts, and Tony walked over to the bots and the armors, looking them all over. Nothing looked out of place and he patted Dummy’s arm absently as he finished his apple.
Thor walked past him once breakfast was ready, Steve following close behind. However, the super soldier stopped beside Tony, looking at the armors as well. “It’s going to be a long day,” he mused.
“Better go eat, then, before Thor finishes whatever’s left of our provisions,” Tony replied, still gazing at his armor.
“We might not come back from this one,” Steve added, quieter now. “We’re trying to do something no one’s tried before, and it’s just the seven of us.”
“The seven of us will be enough,” Tony reassured him. “The aliens won’t expect it; so far, we’ve sat on our hands, waiting for them to come to us. Today, we attack their base for a change, and it’s going to be awesome.” Either they triumphed, or went out in a blaze of glory, although most of the Avengers were too stubborn to just roll over and die.
When Steve remained skeptically silent, Tony guessed it was only fair that he try to boost his confidence: “You’re the leader of the Avengers, Cap. We have the Hulk in the lead, the god of thunder bringing down the lightning, and two of my finer suits shooting at anything that won’t stay down after those two are done with the first assault. You, the Hawk and Widow can kick back and enjoy the show. The bots will even bring you refreshments.”
Of course half of their team wasn’t just going to kick back and watch the fight: Clint was going to be shooting down Drones while Steve and Natasha were going to steal a few alien weapons to use against the War Ships that were present. They all had their part to play and Tony was relieved to find that he still had a place in the team after the little break he had taken.
“This is a beginning,” Tony decided, looking over at their team and then at Steve. “A beginning of the end of the war.”
Steve nodded as if he was willing to believe it. “Just don’t push past your limits,” he finally said, no doubt meaning the implants. Tony was conscious of the looks the others gave him, concerned that the strain would be too much.
“I’m not afraid of the darkness,” Tony confessed. “I know that when the time comes and the helmet comes off, I only need to extend my hand and someone will grab it to guide me forward.”
“Count on it,” Steve promised, then led the way to the makeshift breakfast table to join the others. He didn’t take Tony’s hand, but Tony knew that when the lights went out, one of them would be there, waiting for him.
Rhodey ran the trimmer through his hair for the last time and turned it off. Tony sensed his hesitation and turned his face towards the other man. “Does it look weird?” he asked.
“Then it’s bound to get weirder,” Tony offered him a grin before he let the expression fall. “Come on, Rhodes. Just get it wet and let’s get this over with.”
Rhodey sighed and stood up, then after a bit Tony could hear water running. He stood up as well, although more carefully, and Rhodey reached out to guide him into the shower. Tony closed his eyes against the water, allowed Rhodey to wash his hair, then waited patiently as the water was turned off and something else was rubbed into his hair.
“You’re really sure about this?” Rhodey asked as he offered Tony a towel to wrap around his hips before guiding him back to sit on the stool.
“I’ve been working on this for almost three weeks,” Tony told him. “The idea is viable, we knew that from the start. The implants are ready and I’m getting on that table,” he said determinedly. “Now, shave my head. Please.”
Rhodey sighed again and got to work. The slide of the razor against his scalp felt odd and Tony tried not to linger on the specifics. How in a matter of hours he would be lying down on an operating table and praying that his, J.A.R.V.I.S.’s and Bruce’s calculations and predictions were correct.
“I can’t believe we’re doing it here, of all places,” Rhodey said after a bit.
“It’s fitting, I think,” Tony mused. They were at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had the best brain surgeons they had been able to get their hands on in the middle of the apocalypse to do the procedure. MIT had the lab space they had needed to manufacture the implants on short notice, and they were all set.
All Tony needed was to get his head shaved and he was ready.
“What if it doesn’t work?” Rhodey asked, not for the first time. “Couldn’t you just tweak Extremis somehow? I thought that was what you were going to do.”
“That was the original idea – and is still a good plan, given enough time. However, this idea is…”
“It’s brilliant,” Tony corrected. “Don’t be so skeptical. J.A.R.V.I.S. would never have given me the idea if he wasn’t sure it would be very likely to work.”
Rhodey had to agree with that, at least, and he dutifully finished shaving Tony’s hair. They had decided to let the goatee be, because Tony didn’t want to part with it just yet, if he could help it. Shaving his hair off was bad enough, but if he was going to allow someone to drill holes into his skull and poke at his brain, this needed to be done.
The idea of what was to come didn’t ease his nerves. Tony was well aware of what the insertion of the implants entailed and the term ‘invasive surgery’ didn’t even begin to cover it. He was half-expecting their surgeon to back out, but for the time being he was on board with it and Bruce was going to be there to assist.
“There,” Rhodey said. “Get in the shower and rinse your head.” Tony did, somewhat awkwardly, while Rhodey cleaned up. “Want me to save a lock of hair for you?” the other man teased from the other side of the curtain, and Tony tried not to cringe at the mental image of his lovely dark curls lying in a pile on the bathroom floor. He sighed in resignation and Rhodey knew not to take the joke any further.
After Tony was done showering, he dressed in simple clothes. He knew it was only a few hours until he was scheduled for surgery and his nerves were starting to get the best of him.
They walked to a lounge area and it seemed the other Avengers had gathered around for a final round of jests and comfort.
“You look different,” Thor stated and rather boldly ran his hand over Tony’s shaved head.
“So, what exactly is going to be the difference between you and Frankenstein’s monster?” Clint cracked from across the room.
“I’ll be real and will punch you in the face once I’m finally able to see it again,” Tony stated haughtily, and Clint made a quiet ‘aww’ sound as if it were cute.
“Are you certain this is what you want to do?” Steve asked.
“Yes,” Tony sighed, rolling his eyes. “Stop asking me that. I didn’t just shave my hair for shits and giggles. Also, Thor: you can stop touching my head now.”
“My apologies,” the Asgardian mumbled and withdrew his hand with one more fleeting touch.
“Perhaps if you considered it a while longer, you would see how dangerous this idea is,” Natasha joined the others’ concern.
“Are you going to stop me?” Tony asked.
“No,” she replied.
“Then why the concern?”
“I’m not convinced whether you’re desperate or truly think this is a good idea.”
There was that.
“I guess we’ll know in a couple of days,” Tony mused. The post-surgery recovery would have to be slow, to prevent any undesired effects, after which would come hours upon hours of tests. It would be worth it, though, Tony told himself. If he could see again, it would all be worth it.
A door opened and closed. “You’re ready,” Bruce’s voice called out. He sounded peaceful although Tony could tell he was forcing it upon himself. “We’re almost ready downstairs, if you want to start early.”
“Yeah,” Tony agreed because he was getting way more nervous than he had predicted.
“Tony,” Steve started.
“It’s going to be okay, Cap,” Tony told him. “You’ll see.”
“I sure hope so.”
“What’s the worst that can happen?” Tony asked. “I’ll re-grow my hair and be back to square one…”
“Or you’ll die on the operating table,” Bruce offered another option. Tony would have felt considerately better about it if it had been anyone but Bruce saying it out loud.
“Or that,” Tony muttered.
“It’s unlikely that will happen,” Bruce soothed his irritation while he explained the facts to everyone else – something they had already done before coming to Massachusetts. “If something should go terribly wrong, Extremis will take over and heal the damage.”
“But you’re relying on Extremis to make the implants work, too – but not fry them,” Rhodey checked.
“It’s a delicate balance between too little and too much,” Bruce confessed. “I’m mostly there to assist.”
“We’ll be here when you wake up,” Rhodey promised suddenly, as if someone had implied something else.
“You had better,” Tony replied and felt Rhodey moving close. The hug wasn’t entirely unexpected, and Rhodey waited for Tony to hug him back before letting him go.
“It will be over before you notice,” Natasha encouraged.
Thor and Steve both stole a hug from him before Tony took Bruce’s arm and allowed himself to be led to the elevator and downstairs to the lab where the surgery was going to take place. The space smelled overly sterile, mostly because it wasn’t built for this purpose, but J.A.R.V.I.S. could monitor Extremis’ behavior in here and it had all the equipment their surgeon needed.
“Mr. Stark,” the man shook his hand. “Are you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Tony replied, which was probably the truth. Much more of waiting and he was going to back out of the deal – although where he would go, he wasn’t sure. His world was already filled with darkness and he wanted more than anything to advance beyond it.
“Lie down,” Bruce encouraged and showed him to the padded table. There were a few pricks on his arms where IV’s were attached, quietly and efficiently.
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. called from the speakers, “everything is ready.”
“I am starting the anesthetic. You will feel heavy and drift away. It is safe to predict you will be kept under for the next few days after the operation, should it be successful.”
“I trust you,” Tony stated, feeling a bit drowsy. He meant his AI and Bruce, of course, because he didn’t know the surgeon. He trusted the man to do his job and not fuck it up.
“Just breathe, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. encouraged, his voice further away.
Someone grasped his hand – Bruce – and Tony held onto the sensation until it drifted away as well.
When Tony woke up it was to the sound of an explosion, dust falling onto his face from the ceiling, and everything was still pitch black. There was no one there to hold his hand or to guide him, but in the distance he thought he heard a familiar voice calling for him, telling him to move; to follow it.
He rolled off the bed, falling onto the floor, and did just that.