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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Iron Man fic: Recovery (1/1)

December 23rd, 2013 (08:13 am)
discontent
Tags: , ,

feeling: discontent

Title: Recovery

Disclaimer: I do not own Iron Man or the Avengers.

A/N: For moogsthewriter, who is about to embark on another exciting adventure in the new year. With thanks to lena7142 for the beta.

Spoilers: For Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Avengers.

Summary: Taking the reactor out is easy. Learning to live afterward, not so much.



-o-

Prelude

It’s not an easy decision to make. Tony’s had a reactor in his chest so many years that he doesn’t know how to live without it. He doesn’t know if he knows how to live without the ever-present threat of death.

He doesn’t know who will still be there on the other side; he doesn’t know if he’ll still have a place in the life he built for himself. He doesn’t know who will love him, who will like him. He doesn’t know who he’ll be at all or exactly what to do.

He doesn’t know.

On the table, he closes his eyes and lets the anesthesia do its work.

Because after everything, it’s probably time to find out.

1. Bruce Banner

People send cards. Single women and grandmothers send flowers. Children draw him pictures and flood his hospital room. Pepper manages his mail and streamlines his visitors so there’s just a few a day, and just people Tony wants to see.

Which, really, isn’t very many people. There’s something about being in an iron suit when people see you that makes it easy. Laid up in a hospital bed, still getting winded when he goes to the bathroom, it makes him vulnerable.

Tony doesn’t do vulnerable.

So he’s surprised when he wakes up and he’s not alone.

“Security is getting lax around here,” he mutters.

In the chair, Bruce grins. “You think security would stop me?”

Tony chuffs. “I wouldn’t think you’d lose it for me,” he says. He cocks his eyebrows. “Would you?”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Bruce asks.

Tony narrows his eyes, pushing himself up a little bit against the pillows. His suite is private and this floor of the hospital is secure, which means that Bruce didn’t hulk his way in here. Pepper probably let him in, because she believes he needs friends.

Tony doesn’t need friends as much as he needs to get the hell out of here.

“You are here,” Tony agrees with a wince. “Though why anyone would want to be here…”

“You’re recovering well,” Bruce says. “Though you should have told some of us--”

“It wasn’t any of your business,” Tony says.

“After everything we’ve been through?” Bruce asks.

Tony purses his lips, busying himself but smoothing his blankets idly. “I didn’t want to make a big deal.”

At that, Bruce laughs.

Tony’s shoulders slump, and he shakes his head. “So you came here just to make fun of me?”

“No, I came here because you’re my friend,” Bruce says.

“And friends don’t let friends undergo major surgery without embarrassment?”

Bruce doesn’t waver, though. For a man with anger management issues, he’s far too even-keeled. “You believed in me,” he says. “Even when I didn’t believe in myself.”

Tony hesitates, the hint of a smile on his lips. “I always knew you had it in you.”

“Yeah,” Bruce says with a shrug. “So I figured it was time to return the favor.”

2. Steve Rogers

Steve has the decency to wait until he’s out of the hospital, but Tony still feel self-conscious shuffling around his house, like he’s trying to catch his breath.

The problem is, he’s been trying for years.

He just finally has an excuse to show it.

Pepper’s at work, so Tony half-asses his way through opening the door and inviting Steve in. He puts on a callous show, telling Captain America to help himself to whatever he can find if only because he’s too tired to go to the kitchen himself to serve anything.

Steve declines because Steve is like that, polite to a fault. So well trained and proper.

Loyal.

Tony had always thought people were exaggerating about the way life used to be, but Steve Rogers makes him think twice.

Not that Tony’s not making a habit of that lately.

He sits on the couch and smiles through a grimace. “You’re a long ways from home,” he comments.

Steve offers a small smile. “I’m the better part of a century from home,” he says. “California isn’t so bad.”

“Little sun and relaxation,” Tony says with a nod. “It’ll be good for you.”

“I didn’t come to relax,” Steve says.

“Oh?” Tony asks.

Steve gestures awkwardly with one hand. “You underwent major surgery,” he says. “You didn’t even tell us.”

“I didn’t realize I had to,” Tony says.

Steve is flustered. “You don’t have to, but--”

“But what? You wanted to be here to gloat in person?”

Steve’s face contorts. “What?”

Tony shrugs with self-effacing nonchalance. “Nothing much special about me anymore.”

Steve visibly pales. “Tony--”

“You’re the one who said it,” Tony says. “I just took away my only super power.”

“Tony--”

“Even destroyed my suits,” Tony says. “Not that I can’t build more, but I’m taking a break. I promised Pepper--”

Tony,” Steve finally interjects forcefully enough for Tony to go silent.

He sits back, trying not to look sullen.

Steve swallows and resettles himself, looking away just for a moment. “I was wrong about you,” he says, raising his gaze again. “You are more than the reactor. You are more than the suit.”

He’s so genuine -- of course he’s genuine, he’s freakin’ Captain America -- and he just looks so earnest that Tony wants to believe him.

Hell, he almost does.

But that’s too easy. Tony’s done with easy, because he figured out even the easy answers are pretty damn hard.

He shakes his head. “You weren’t wrong.”

Steve’s brow furrows. “You’re telling me I was right?”

“About that,” Tony says, nodding readily. “And more. Not about everything, of course, but enough.”

Steve just looks confused now. “Tony--”

Tony sighs. “Look,” he says. “I always thought soldiers were pointless and stupid. I always thought people who went to the front lines were just too naive to come up with a better solution. I had a chance once, when I almost lost everything. Before I was Iron Man. Before I was anyone. It’s been borrowed time since then, and I just never wanted to admit it.” He shakes his head, feeling weary. “I never wanted to think I’d have to make that choice.”

It’s more than he wants to say, more than he meant to say. The problem is, he’s already said it. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s still on the painkillers. Maybe it’s the emptiness in his chest that he doesn’t know how to fill. Maybe it’s because if anyone understands what it’s like to live when you can’t find a reason, it’s Captain America.

Steve is solid and resolute. He looks at Tony. “No one wants to,” he says. “But when you made the choice, when it counted, you did it right.”

That’s the thing, isn’t it. Tony saved the world. Tony became a hero. And in the aftermath, when he was scared and alone and messed up all to hell, none of that changed. Anyone can have a moment, but heroes are made in moment after moment after moment.

It’s not one choice, it’s two choices. It’s three, four, five -- for the rest of your life.

Tony’s scared.

For the first time in his life, he’s okay with admitting that.

Tony smiles a little. “Yeah, I did.”

Steve smiles back. “That’s why I’m here.”

Tony raises his eyebrows. “So it is an I told you so--”

Steve doesn’t let him finish. “When you fight together, side by side, you’re bound for life,” he says earnestly. “You have family now. We bled together. There’s nothing stronger.”

It’s sort of cheesy. Okay, it’s a lot cheesy, and Tony can think of about fifty comebacks that are clever and witty and that would effectively derail the uncomfortable sentiment they’re reaching.

But for the first time since waking up, the hole in his chest doesn’t feel as empty.

Tony’s willing to work with that.

He nods, thoughtful. “Brothers in arms, huh?”

“Brothers,” Steve agrees, and then he grins. “With whatever sort of arms you think to build next.”

3. Natasha and Clint

When Natasha shows up in his living room, Tony isn’t surprised.

“You’ve been expecting me,” Natasha says, tilting her head knowingly.

Tony shrugs, moving through the room unaffected as he pours himself a drink. He misses the good drugs, but not so much now that he can have alcohol again. “I figured you wouldn’t be able to stay away,” he says. He holds up the bottle. “You want some?”

She tilts her head back to its starting position, eyebrow just barely flicking up.

Tony puts the bottle away and picks up his glass. “The real question is, are you here on your own or did Fury send you?”

“The two do not have to be mutually exclusive,” she says.

“With you, probably not,” Tony agrees, taking a drink as he settles down. He glances around. “Though I’m sort of guessing you’re not alone.”

There’s movement in the doorway of the kitchen. Clint Barton is stuffing a bit of something into his mouth and chewing hastily. “She didn’t give me time to eat before coming,” he says with a shrug.

“No problem,” Tony says. “I love it when people break into my house and eat my food. Though your hair’s a little short for Goldilocks.”

Clint grunts a little, coming back into the living room. “We wouldn’t have broken in if you’d invited us.”

Tony’s mouth opens to object.

Natasha pins him with an unrelenting stare.

Tony frowns and changes the subject. “How is SHIELD these days?”

“Busy,” Natasha says. “You would know that if you hadn’t stopped checking your email.”

“Or your phone messages,” Clint says.

“Or everything,” Natasha says. “It’s not like you to be out of the loop.”

“Yeah, well,” Tony says. “When Fury gave us the chance to go off grid, what can I say? I took him literally.”

“Everyone knows where you are,” Clint points out.

“You’re just ignoring us,” Natasha concludes.

Tony sighs. “Look, it’s not personal--”

“So you are ignoring,” Natasha says.

Tony glares at her. “I just went through major surgery,” he says. “It’s sort of major life changing stuff here. I just, I don’t know, needed some time.”

“Time,” Natasha repeats.

Tony fidgets. “And space?” he asks.

“Time and space we get,” Clint says.

“But not from us,” Natasha says.

“Not after New York,” Clint says.

Tony’s chest clenches, and he can feel the healing scars tighten uncomfortably. “Look, guys--”

“You don’t want to be weak,” Natasha says. “We get it.”

“But we’ve all seen each other at our worst,” Clint says.

“That’s what makes us strongest,” Natasha says. “So don’t be stupid.”

Tony holds his head high, working to keep his emotions in check.

“Or Natasha will have to hurt you,” Clint adds.

“You’d hurt a man recovering from surgery?” Tony asks, putting on his most sympathetic face.

“I don’t believe in remorse,” Natasha says. “Only results.”

Clint nods. “And Fury really does want to know how you’re recovering.”

Tony scoffs. “I knew Fury sent you here!”

Natasha starts to smile, just a little. “Invite us to stay for a bit,” she says. “And we’ll tell Fury anything you want.”

Tony is tired and weary, but that sounds like a pretty good deal to him.

4. Thor

Thor comes later, after all the rest. Apparently he’s been busy on Asgard and wherever, and after saving London and all the nine realms, he decides to stop by Tony’s place in New York.

Tony’s been living there for awhile, after finally being cleared by his doctors back in LA. It’s been a while, and everything looks good. His chest doesn’t ache and his scars are starting to recede and he’s going to be fine, according to his doctors.

He’s just fine.

Still, when Jarvis says there is an unexpected presence on the newly finished balcony, Tony freaks out just a little. His heart is pounding and his palms are sweating as he jogs over to the door, ready to alert security.

And that’s when he sees the big guy.

It’s been years, but Thor is still the same as always. He’s massive, with a thick body and a full beard. His hair is longer now, still sporting braids. He’s not in his armor, but the street clothes only make him look even bigger as he wields that hammer of his in the warm afternoon sun.

In all these years, if anything, he looks more impressive.

Tony’s heart is still pounding, but he wipes his palms on his jeans as he opens the door.

“Thor!” he says. “You should have called!”

Thor strides toward the door, and he looks concerned. “I had not been informed that you were not well,” he says. “I wanted to check your condition for myself.”

Tony is a little surprised, but he holds the door open to let Thor inside. “Well, you were kind of off the planet for a while,” he says.

“But you have suffered greatly,” Thor says, turning to look at Tony more fully. “They said that you have not been back in battle since you went to the healers.”

“To be fair, we’ve been kind of lucky not to have any more maniacal aliens show up in North America,” Tony says. “And hey, you’re the one who didn’t call. I mean, you destroyed London!”

“The damage to your realm is regretful,” Thor says. “But the threat against your planet and all nine realms was substantial.”

“You don’t have to explain it to me, buddy,” Tony says. “But I’m just saying, I’m not the only one going incommunicado around here.”

Thor takes a deep breath, brow still knitted. “How is your recovery then?”

“Recovery is great!” Tony says, and it’s mostly the truth. His body is rebounding, and it’s a strange and new experience to be able to push his limits without the threat of killing himself. But sometimes he misses that safety net -- he misses his easy out -- that never was all that easy. He taps his chest. “But I’m not sure you can call me metal man anymore.”

Thor’s gaze narrows in concern. “Your powers, then,” Thor says. “They have been lessened?”

“The reactor was keeping me alive, but I figured out how to make effective suits with a separate power source years ago,” he says. “If anything, this makes me stronger.”

“You are fit for battle, then,” Thor says.

“I suppose,” Tony says. “Though I’m not sure I’m really itching to get back out there.”

“Nor am I,” Thor says. “I do not wish any more conflict to come to this planet or any other. However, I do wish to know what protections you require now that I am intending to stay on this planet indefinitely.”

“Whoa,” Tony says. “You’re -- moving here?”

“I am,” Thor says.

Tony shakes his head. “But what about Asgard? Aren’t you sort of heir to the throne?”

Thor works his jaw. “My calling is here, with Jane Foster and the Avengers.”

It’s something to think about. Thor of Asgard, a permanent resident on earth. Tony considers calling Pepper and telling her to buy stock in Poptarts.

Instead, he smiles. “Well, welcome to Earth,” he says. “I just hope this time you left your brother at home.”

Thor stiffens. “Loki is dead.”

Tony blinks, surprised.

“He perished while fighting at my side,” he says. He falters. “I was unable to save him.”

It’s an awkward admission, and Tony doesn’t really know what to do. Because he’s sure as hell not sad about Loki, but to see Thor so free with his emotions...is weird.

Thor loved Loki, and he’s not afraid to show it. For all their advancements and superior everything, Asgardians have just as much to lose as humans.

That’s when Tony realizes why Thor’s here.

Because brothers aren’t made by birth.

Family is what you choose.

Thor chose Earth.

Thor chose Jane Foster and the Avengers.

He’s here, choosing Tony.

Uncertain, Tony claps Thor on the shoulder. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”

“Blame is a precarious thing,” Thor says. He looks at Tony again. “I have lost one brother; I do not wish to lose another.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t plan on dying,” Tony says.

Thor brightens at that. “I intend to do whatever it takes to help you in that endeavor.”

Tony finds himself laughing. “That’s appreciated, really,” he says.

“I do not know what the future holds here on Midgard,” Thor tells him. “But I believe we will find out together.”

Tony can probably live with that.

Which is sort of the point in the end.

5. Nick Fury

“All this time, Stark,” Fury says. “What the hell makes you think I want to see you now?”

“Well, last I checked I was still part of the Avengers,” Tony says.

Fury scoffs. “Yeah, back when you actually had something to offer,” he says. “Now you’re just a guy recovering from major surgery with a history of brilliance. Even if I was willing to clear you physically, you destroyed your arsenal.”

“Those suits -- they were nothing,” he says. “They wouldn’t have worked without the reactor anyway.”

“I’m not seeing how this changes my mind then,” Fury says.

“I needed time,” Tony says. “I had to figure things out.”

Fury regards him coolly. “And?”

“And Iron Man was more than a reactor and any given suit,” Tony says. “I can still be part of the team. The Avengers doesn’t have to be over yet.”

Fury shakes his head. “All this time,” he says again. “Don’t you think I’ve moved on to other things?”

“Other things, sure,” Tony says. “Because you’ve always got a few swords in the fire, but I know you. And I know you’d never give up on something that works as well as the Avengers.”

“Sure,” Fury says. “But are you telling me that you’re still the same? You’re still Iron Man?”

“The same, no, probably not,” Tony relents. “But I will always be Iron Man. I can promise you that.”

Fury narrows his one good eye and purses his lips. “Your promises don’t mean much.”

“Then let me prove it to you,” Tony says.

Fury nods. “Okay, Stark,” he says slowly, decidedly. “Let’s find out.”

6. Pepper

When it’s over, when he’s out of the hospital, when he’s cleared by all his doctor, Tony goes back to what matters. He can see it now, without the reactor in his chest without his metal suits to hide behind. He knows the technology that had been keeping him alive all these years, but the reason he’s alive is more than that.

It’s a group of incredible people and a cause worth living for.

It’s a woman who never left his side, even when she probably had every reason to.

He’s always loved her, but he never really felt it until every beat of his heart was his own. Now he doesn’t want it to beat without her.

“Weren’t you worried?” he asks, tipping his head toward her on the pillow.

She smiles, soft and easy, next to him in the bed. “Not for a minute.”

“You didn’t think it’d change me?” he asks. “Make me less?”

She turns to look at him, rolling on her side, her gaze intent. “You think the reactor in your chest kept you alive,” she says.

“Well, technically--”

She rolls her eyes. “But who made the reactor? Who did the work and kept up with the research?”

“Well, me--”

“You,” she agrees, pointing her fingers to his chest. “It’s metal and technology, but it’s more than that. It’s you, your heart and your soul.”

He thinks about that, and it’s sort of sentimental but it sort of makes sense. He is his work; he is.

He tilts his head. “Wait, so you let me remove my heart and soul?”

She groans. “You are impossible.”

“No, I’m soulless,” he says. “My chest is a void now.”

“I think it was always a void,” she says.

“But you said--”

“Oh, shut up, Tony--”

“But you said--”

She leans forward, pressing her lips to his. Her fingers run up the planes of his scarred chest. “Shut up,” she whispers, kissing him again.

And for once in his life, Tony has no comeback.

Postlude

It’s not an easy decision to make. Without the reactor, Tony still feels vulnerable, and sometimes he still feels empty. It’s a strange thing, to feel his heart beat and not be scared.

But he knows what he’s made of now; he knows where he belongs. He knows who will stand by him; he knows who his friends are. He’s not sure who he is just yet, but he’s starting to find out.

He’ll know soon enough.

He stands in front of the newly designed suits -- all with Pepper’s blessing -- and starts to smile.

Because after everything, it’s more than time to find out.

Comments

Posted by: Moogs (moogsthewriter)
Posted at: December 24th, 2013 05:18 am (UTC)
Avengers - Team

Christmas fic, how do I love thee? I cannot count the ways, for lo, they are many. <3

But seriously, you nailed it with this. It's the kind of closure I needed after IM3 because really, it's not a simple recovery to have something that big removed from your chest, physically or emotionally and I love how you tied that recovery into the gradual rebuilding of the Avengers. While I don't think it'll happen like that in the movies (not fast enough or dramatic enough, I suppose), I love this thought process.

And as always, I love you and your capacity to know what my h/c loving soul needs. :) So much love!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 13th, 2014 02:54 am (UTC)
iron man

I'm always so far behind but still. And yeah, I don't think any of this will be canon, but Tony sure has a lot of issues to work out and angst is always fun to work in :)

Glad you liked it. I hope you are getting settled by now!

Thanks :)

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