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Not Quite Home by Midnight

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“J how much longer before exhaustive collapse?” Tony asks, rubbing concealer onto his wrist to cover the stark bruises from their last battle. He gasps when his fingers push over a sensitive spot and his breath rattles in his lungs, broken ribs a sharp pain next to the dull throb of the arc reactor.

“Based on previous evidence, and provided your injuries don’t worsen, seven hours.” JARVIS informs him. Tony nods, buttoning his shirt up over his bruised torso.

“The princess needs to be home by midnight then, how fitting.” Tony says, and he brushes a last bit of concealer along his jaw line.

“Of course Sir, although I think Loki would take exception to the evil step mother role.” JARVIS replies dryly, but there’s a hint of disapproval in his voice. Tony shrugs on his suit jacket, and focus on keeping his smile from faltering despite the way the movement strains his ribs.

“I’ll have the pumpkin back by midnight J, don’t wait up.” Tony says, patting the door frame on his way out. For once he lets happy drive knowing that the combination of pain medication, and broken ribs would make it unsafe for him to be behind the wheel.

“How are you tonight Boss?” Happy asks, and Tony smiles weakly at him, sliding his sunglasses into place.

“Well I’m going to a charity gala for the third time this month. Been better.” He says, if Pepper were in the car that comment would have earned him a smack on the arm. But he hasn’t been close enough to Pepper for that type of playful scolding in weeks. Part of him is relieved, he can’t maintain his duties as head of Research and Development at SI, and his job as an Avenger, along with his work as a SHIELD consultant. He’s in no position to maintain a relationship right now.

“Don’t let Ms. Potts hear you say that.” Happy scolds teasingly.

“I won’t.” Tony says, and then sits in silence, ignoring the screaming pain in his chest. He just has to survive the Avengers charity gala, and then he’ll be able to sleep. He’s almost exhausted enough to avoid dreaming at this point.

Tony has paid for three drinks sipping a bit and then ditching them so that people will explain away his awkward walking as him being drunk. Explaining away his pain slurred words, as alcohol fueled. The other Avengers stay together off to the side, Cap occasionally chatting up an old veteran, or dodging a handsy grandmother, but otherwise they are left alone while Tony schmoozes for their money.

“then she told me, it was the rabbit all along.” A woman informs him, and he laughs politely ignoring the way his lungs constrict in his chest, and his vision begins to blur.

“I’m sorry Ms. Grant you’ll have to excuse me.” He nods his chin over toward the crowd and hopes she’ll see someone who may be calling him.

“Well of course, and you’ll think on the Stark Industries advertising campaign at Cat Co. won’t you?” She asks, and he nods seriously, his vision blacking out at the movement. He shakes her hand before heading for the stairs, eyes mildly unfocused. He doesn’t see the man following him in the shadows as he climbs onto the balcony. The moment he sees it’s clear he lets his mask fall, pain coloring his features as he lets out an anguished groan, and he looks down to see the Avengers in their corner, happy and smiling with each other. His hand curls into a fist, and he goes to punch the wall. His fist never makes impact, as his knees give out under the wave of pain consuming his chest. He stumbles backwards, and his eyes go wide as his lower back hits the railing, panic coloring his features. A strangers hand grabs his.

“You really must be more careful.” The handsome stranger informs him, and Tony would know those dashing good looks anywhere. T’challa, current King of Wakanda taking over for the recently deceased T’chaka, cancer, late diagnosis.

“I would have figured something out.” He says, and then the king lets go of his arms, and Tony finds that he isn’t ready to support himself. His knee’s hit the ground with a hollow sound, and alarm colors T’challa’s features.

“Avengers!” He calls, hoping that they will rush to their teammates aide. He’s not disappointed, and the team thunders up the staircase, Natasha blocking off any pursuit by curious civilians.

“Party’s over, everyone go home.” She says, and T’challa relaxes, dialing an ambulance as he checks Tony’s pulse.

“I’m fine, stop T’challa. Who are you calling.” Tony complains, as he’s lowered to the ground. The Avengers hover on the edge of the scene, unsure how to respond.

 “Did someone drug him?” Clint asks, as Tony’s breath wheezes from his lungs. T’challa rips his shirt open to reveal some impressive bruising.

“I do not think it was a drug.” T’challa says disapproval sitting heavy in his voice. His focus returns to his phone as he tries to make sure Tony’s air pathways are clear, tilting the man’s head back. “Yes, I need an ambulance at the Maria Stark Foundation.” T’challa says, and Steve begins to look sick to his stomach as he witnesses Tony struggling to pull air into his lungs.

“Why didn’t you tell us you were injured?” He asks, voice coming out harsher than intended. Tony opens his mouth to reply, but snaps it shut when T’challa glares at him.

“Do not ask him questions when he cannot breathe.” T’challa hisses at the self-righteous super soldier. “He should have reported his injuries, but these bruises are in varying states of healing, to think that you didn’t notice.” T’challa refrains from snarling at them, focusing his attention on keeping Stark alive. He will not lose another like he lost his father.

“I’m fine T’chal-” Tony manages to gasp out before his lungs spasm forcing him to pull a shallow breath in. He gets an unimpressed look, and Steve’s phone begins ringing as he blacks out. Steve answers it, a confused furrow on his face when the speaker button lights up itself.

“King T’challa this is JARVIS.” The British voice comes through the speakers and Tony groans. “I would like to inform you Sir currently has five broken ribs, a fractured left ulna, multiple contusions to the arms and torso, as well as some to the jaw, he is also severely dehydrated, suffering from malnutrition, and near exhaustive collapse from sleep deprivation.” The voice, JARVIS informs them, and Steve and his team pale further. T’challa barely spares them a glance, cataloguing the listed injuries.

“Betrayer.” Tony wheezes out, and he pushes his arm back trying to get into a sitting position.

“Stand down.” Steve orders, as T’challa moves him back. Clint shakes his head to himself.

“I should have noticed.” Clint mumbles. Simultaneously Bruce speaks.

“Tony, you could have come to me.” Bruce says, eyes dark with concern. Tony shrugs, smile plastered on his face despite the pain that would have called.

“Brucie bear.” Tony stops, coughing hard, and his vision once again black outs. T’challa attempts to silence him with a glare. “No time for that.” Tony says, and there’s anger in T’challa’s heart burning like a fire. The ambulance arrives, and he watches as Dr. Stark is loaded onto a stretcher, relaying his injuries to the paramedic.

“What are you all having him do?” T’challa asks, stopping Steve from following the ambulance with a strong grip on his arm.

“Nothing, he works with us as Avengers, and upgrades our gear.” Steve says, stance defensive despite the guilt in his eyes. The woman known as black widow climbs the stairs to meet them.

“He also works as the head of Stark Industries Research and Development department, and a consultant for SHIELD.” She informs him, and the others look taken aback. “Not to mention this one forces him to come to team bonding events eating up valuable work time.” She jerks a thumb at Steve. “So, somewhere between three and four full time jobs any given week.” T’challa sees red.

“I didn’t know.” Steve whispers, and his guilt reflects on all their faces.

“You live with the man, I saw him from across the room and knew something was wrong. You should have.” T’challa leaves them with that thought, and orders his car to take him to the hospital. He will personally make sure Tony receives the best care there is, even if it requires terrifying a few hospital staff. When that’s cleared up perhaps he can go threaten Nick Fury with retribution if he ever finds out this happened again.

“I am severely unimpressed with your team.” He informs the groggy man as he wakes up. It has been three days, and Tony had been rushed into surgery. His ribs had been breaking under the weight of the arc reactor, and his artificial sternum had to be replaced again.

“What?” The man mumbles, blinking at him blearily. “Are you a kidnapper? Why are you so pretty? It’s not fair if the bad guys are pretty.” Tony gumbles, and T’challa feels some of his anger seep out of him at that comment.

“It is good that I am not a bad guy then gorgeous.” T’challa says, rubbing Tony’s hand gently.

“Yeah, that’s good.” Tony agrees easily before slipping back to sleep. T’challa had already decided to keep an eye on the genius once everything was over, but perhaps it would be worthwhile to make it a personal endeavor.

“Sorry.” Is the first word out of Tony’s mouth the second time he wakes up. This time the others are in the room, and T’challa wonders which of them he’s talking to. “I didn’t mean to get so far behind schedule.” He informs them, and Tony realizes that whoever he’s talking to is not in the room. “I’ll have the new body armor by Wednesday Fury. Promise.” Natasha is shaking with anger when the genius passes out again, and she stalks out of the room followed closely by Clint.

“We’ll handle this.” He offers, as he slips out the door. T’challa inclines his head in appreciation.

“Pep, lovely, phone will be done, Thursday, and the tablet, forgot that, that too.” Tony says again, his words slurring together. Bruce scowls.

“I’ll talk with Pepper.” He says, and leaves the room, a confidence in his stride T’challa hadn’t seen before.

“Tell Cap. No training today, bad ribs. Fine, only one hour. Can’t do more.” Tony offers before once again drifting off. T’challa turns a critical look on the captain.

“I didn’t know.” Steve defends. “I didn’t realize.” Tony’s breath wheezes in his lungs, and T’challa leans forward to fix his oxygen mask.

“You should have.” He says coldly.

“Sorry.” Tony says the next time he’s awake, and T’challa prepares for another heartbreaking list of how this man has been overworked. Instead lucid eyes focus on him. “This probably brings up bad memories for you.” And that is even more heartbreaking than T’challa expected.

“That is not your fault.” T’challa assures, him touched that this man, struggling for air would consider T’challa’s trauma.

“Still, you don’t need to be here, I’ll be fine.” Tony pats his hand reassuringly. T’challa is honored by his strength of character.

“Nonetheless, I feel I need to stay until you are better. I have found myself rather fond of you.” T’challa informs him, and Tony frowns at the thought.

“Bad idea, I don’t have time to maintain a friendship.” Tony informs the king, and then falls back asleep. T’challa scowls at the thought.

“I will make sure you have time.” He tells the sleeping man. “Even if it is just my friendship, and not more. I will ensure you have time. Even if you decide not to be even friends, I will do all in my power to ensure you have time, and are healthy enough for friendships.” The hand in his squeezes lightly, and T’challa flushes at the thought that he’d been heard.

“More sounds good.” Tony mumbles, before sleep fully takes him.

It is nearly two weeks before Tony is released from the hospital, and with each time he wakes T’challa grows fonder. On the day of his release T’challa brings flowers for the genius as he was told that was an American tradition.

“I would like to begin courting you.” He informs the man, as he helps him into a wheelchair. Tony’s protests about his ability to walk halt in his lungs.

“Are you certain?” Tony asks, caution heavy in his voice. T’challa nods. “I would like that.” Tony says, I would very much like that. Although here in America, we typically just date.” T’challa frowns at that.

“I will still be purchasing you gifts, American tradition is so unromantic. Dead flowers.” T’challa scoffs at the bouquet, and Tony struggles not to laugh.