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30 Lives

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good morning my love

It starts from the moment he's born.

It'll be years before someone starts to notice the pattern or try to suss out the reason, but it starts right then, in those first precious seconds with a gasp and a tiny cough.

it's been a while since we have talked

The coughing wakes them all in Beirut and Natasha's the one who has to drag him into the bathroom of their not-exactly-the-Ritz safe house with a pot of boiling water and a towel.

Sitting in the shower stall, Natasha perched on the interior ledge while he's jammed into a chair, he's pushed to lean over the steaming water with said towel. He coughs for a while, feeling the junk in his chest loosen, but it starts to wean off; he yanks the towel back, gulping down the cool air.

“What part of keep the towel over the pot are you missing?”

He rolls his eyes at her and wants to say something, but the coughing starts again and he lets out a growl as he grows frustrated.

She lifts an eyebrow and yanks the hem of the towel down, making sure that wispy curls of steam make it to his face and while he wishes he could hate her for the rough handling, in truth, he's grateful: he hasn't had someone there to give him this, to actually take care of him when he needs it, in too long.

It's only a few minutes before he feels his eyelids droop.

“дурак,” she murmurs fondly, pulling him toward her when his head starts to tilt toward the floor.

He falls asleep with her hand carding through his hair, and she murmurs over him, “Too stubborn for your own good.”

and you have grown

His mother is a good woman and she tries to figure out what's wrong with him: he is pulled along to a few thousand doctor appointments, good-naturedly entertaining the specialists and answering their questions once he's old enough to do so.

He's forced to breath into various machines, spends time in hospital beds on IV medications and put through every test that could apply, and when all is said and done, he's seventeen and resistant to even the sight of a lab coat or scrubs. He tells his mother, “I have a shitty immune system and more food allergies than Dad has screws loose and they can't fix that,” and that's the end of the medication parade.

Tony goes on with his life.

your eyes are older than the tallest tree you see

In London, they sit down to eat after delivering the scientist he, Steve, Clint, and Hill had been escorting to MI6 and he's half-dizzy from the final shoot out that'd taken place during the short ride through the Chunnel.

He really should have eaten something earlier—his blood sugar can barely maintain without a full-fledged fire fight—but there simply hadn't been time to do more than pop a bite of candy bar Clint had magically produced from somewhere on his person.

It doesn't matter at the moment, though: there's more than enough food being passed around the table and someone has graciously put hearty helpings of naan and biriyani and paneer on his plate, he just has to grab his fork and start eating.

“Hey,” Steve says, his voice low as if to keep Hill and Clint from hearing, “You need a hand?”

He licks his lower lip and, with his eyes closed, nods. Truthfully, he just doesn't trust himself to hold a utensil when his hands are shaking in his lap; outright eating with his fingers will probably end with cheese and seasonings everywhere but his mouth, so he's a little pathetically grateful for the help despite feeling every bit a child as he's handfed.

Granted, it's not the first time someone on the team has been too tired or sore to do something quite as simple as eating, nor is it the first time that Steve's been the one to sacrifice eating his own meal for taking care of his friends. It's the first time Steve's had to help him, however, and it rankles with how careful he's been, how hard he's worked, to not let anyone see him in his worse moments.

Especially Steve.

Who has to help him stagger back to the safe house after the meal, glucose level back where it should be but still feeling dragged down by the events of the day, to shower and change before they head home. Steve insists on staying, his eyes set neatly above the waist through it all, and then demands he sit down for a few minutes while the rest of the team get themselves set.

“I'm fine. I'll sleep on the flight,” he tells Steve.

“We all will, but you look beat, Tony. Sit for a little bit, maybe catch a catnap.” The look on his face speaks of far too much—of kindness and fondness and the kind of empathy you only have when you've been through similar moments in life—and then he's told, “Look, it was a long couple of days and we all got pulled pretty thin. Clint is probably already asleep himself and Hill was saying that she's planning on waiting until the last possible minute to meet us at Heathrow. If I didn't have to call HQ and let them know how things went, I'd probably crawl into bed with you.”

He winds up napping for over an hour and when he wakes, it's to Hill saying, “You sleep like the dead,” and, “Let's go. Plane's waiting.”

'cause thirty lives can be extraordinarily long

MIT is a haven and he loves it there, but he doesn't really take care of himself the way he needs to: there's far to many pretty girls and lovely men, booze, cigarettes, and nerdy fun, and he ends up with stomach ulcers that make his hypoglycemia ever so delightful to live with.

“Tums on the nightstand,” his roommate tosses over his shoulder as he darts off to class.

“Ugh.” He waves a hand from under the blanket, then drags the bottle over and by the end of the day, he's managed to uncover himself and eat something of substance.

This is the start of the cycle and the nausea that would plague him the rest of his life.

good morning myself

In Sawtooth National Forest, they find a lowly amateur villain who'd managed to gather just enough braincells to create an EMP field generator but not nearly enough to create it properly: the generator fires randomly, shutting down electronics in a twenty-five mile radius when it's active which includes Tony's suit. He hurtles toward the ground each time, waiting for JARVIS to reboot and re-engage the thrusters in the minutes before he'd otherwise become a bloody smudge on the Earth.

Who lets minors play with engineering equipment?

Apparently he says that thought out loud: “Your father,” Steve replies, dryly.

“I was building robots out of the toaster before I spoke in full sentences,” Tony shoots back, “This kid probably doesn't know his ass from a series circuit.”

The silence down the line isn't from Steve's lack of comeback, but rather another ill-timed EMP.

It's another barely-tolerable 94 seconds for the suit to come online, then he's saying screw it to the plan Cap had detailed to open his faceplate, vomit up bile, and spit. He flies off after that, choosing to go after the machine itself before it went off yet again.

(He blasts it until it's scrap.

Then he pukes twice on the floor nearby, staggers out into the sunlight where sparks bloom behind his eyes and he hates the world a little more than he should.)

it's been a while since we have talked

Howard never really understands how strong Tony is, but Tony always understands that he's competing with the memory of someone far more perfect than himself: Steve Rogers is a ghost that lives in their home, spoken of with a reverence that never quite makes it into Howard's voice when he speaks of his son.

It stings, that knowledge, that Tony will never be what his father wanted; in time, after cyclical vomiting flare ups, after anaphylaxis attacks that leave him bound up in a hospital bed, after migraines he works through because he has no other choice, he accepts it as well, and he begins to put distance between himself and Howard.

Their relationship never repairs.

and you have changed

The Tower becomes ground zero for Avengers Command, also the place SHIELD rebuilds from along with half a dozen private sector businesses and thirteen separate field agencies within the CIA, FBI, NSA, and ATF. It bustles with people throughout the day and night, and Tony ends up moving himself to the abandoned family home out in Montauk.

It's barely a day before the others arrive at his doorstep, grousing about the distance from Manhattan as well as the lack of nearby amenities they prefer, but they settle in nonetheless and Tony revels in having this new family of his in this particular house.

A routine builds, completely different from the one he and his mother had enjoyed here: Tony spends part of his day in the workshop while Bruce works at the lab benches nearby, Clint slowly manages to teach Steve and Sam how to surf while Natasha splays out on beach towels with James. Thor, when he's there, tends to build firepits and brew mead and he quickly becomes a favorite of the local kids.

He loves it—

This house, a lesser known Stark property, had been the place Tony had suffered the least: out from under the smog of New York and away from the dust and grit from the Industries' factories, his lungs had always cleared and he'd run and run and run. He rarely got headaches here and he'd grown to love surfing as one of the few activities he enjoyed that wouldn't end in purple toes.

—but it's not a place that magically heals him from all his varied illnesses, and he'd known it was only a matter of time before being in even closer quarters starts to reveal the patterns. (It only takes eleven weeks.)

“Easy, Tony,” someone whispers.

Masculine, gentle. Steve.

“Bruce needs you to sit still for a second. Can you do that for us?” he asks, voice still soft enough to not bounce around inside Tony's skull.

He nods, letting himself go lax; his head lands on Steve's chest, the soft cotton of the tee shirt soaking with Tony's sweat and the tears that have slipped free, pulled from him by the pain. Bruce (has to be Bruce, too far to the right to be Steve) makes a noise, something lit with concern, and then he's pulling Tony's arm gently onto the toilet lid.

A prick and then tape, and there's cool something flooding his vein.

“You've been vomiting for two days,” Bruce tells him once the IV is secured, “and I know you won't tell me when the migraine started, but I'm pretty sure it's been building since Monday.”

There's a burn in his arm suddenly.

“Meds, Tony,” Steve murmurs when he reaches up to rip at the catheter.

“Burns.”

“I know and I'm sorry, but you need them.”

“No prochlorperazine...”

Someone pets the edge of his hairline, careful to stay away from his neck or his forehead. “JARVIS warned us about your allergies,” Steve tells him, and Bruce adds, “No prochlorperazine, sulfa drugs, or penicillins. You've got ondansetron and sumatriptan in the bag.”

Tony manages a tiny nod; he's starting to feel tired—Bruce probably shot a nice dose of lorazepam into the line once it was set—but the coolness of the bathroom tile is bleaching into his knees, and he can't get comfortable, even with Steve as a pillow.

Bruce whispers, “Let's get you into bed,” and Steve shifts him, arms sliding around until Tony is safely against the man's chest.

He feels like he's five years old again, like he's the little boy Howard had carried around the house whenever the bronchitis would set in and Tony couldn't breathe lying down. It makes him curl fingers into Steve's shirt as he's laid onto the bed, unable to find the strength to let go.

“Tony,” Bruce starts.

Steve cuts him off, hefting Tony over and shimmying under the blanket, “It's okay. Sometimes you need someone to stay with you.”

for better or worse is yet to determine

Afghanistan is a nightmare.

They scream at him to work faster, work harder, but he can feel the way his body is rebelling: he's had none of his usual medications in days and his heart is almost literally a pin cushion. Were it not for the arc reactor currently buzzing away in his chest, he'd have already gone down from his litany.

Yinsen's too smart not to notice how Tony's fingers shake as the days go on or how Tony seems to weigh the value of the food they're brought before choosing to eat it or not. He doesn't, however, bring it up, only scoops rice into Tony's bowl and takes away anything that's milk-based or breaded; he makes Tony eat and drink, he makes him take time to sleep.

The memory of that care makes Tony's heart ache all the more when he makes it back home and collapses into his bed, shivering through the first stages of getting back onto his meds.

but I am sure that you'll keep living and breathing

He wakes up with his fingers still caught in Steve's shirt, all of them blue to the first knuckle from the cramped position; his head hurts less, but not enough to consider himself clear of the attack, and he sighs into the dark of his bedroom before extracting his hand and rubbing the soreness out of the joints.

He manages to lay there for an admirable fifteen minutes after that, watching the morning light creep across the ceiling, though it's not long enough nor is he suffering under enough pain to force his mind to quiet. He ends up futzing with the IV, rolling the edge of the dressing between two fingers, as he begins thinking about repairs the suit needs.

“Leave it alone,” Steve orders after the entire left edge of the dressing is unstuck, revealing the join of the IV line to the t-set. “Bruce wants to get another bag of fluids into you before he pulls the IV.”

“I'm fine.”

“The monitoring equipment says otherwise.” Steve pulls at the edge of a pillow, letting him see both of Tony's eyes, and says, “I know it's not fun to be stuck in bed, but I've got no where to be and Bucky used to say I was ace at cuddling.”

“Cuddling, really? That's what you're going with?”

“We could put a movie on, then.”

The thought of moving pictures alone makes his brain want to leak out of his ears, and Tony lets out an annoyed breath, weighing the options he's got. Then, “What happens in my bedroom stays in my bedroom?” he asks, grumbling.

“Yeah,” Steve replies, pulling Tony until they're spooned together. “Go back to sleep.”

“All I've done is sleep,” Tony mutters, “All I ever do is sleep.”

Steve strokes a hand along Tony's side, settles it over Tony's middle once he feels the shiver beneath his palm. “You sleep because you need it.”

“And I suppose you were always amenable to being forced to go to bed.”

“No, I was pretty vocal about how much I hated it, but I still understood that it was sleep or pneumonia.” Steve shrugs against Tony's back. “It's probably not exactly the same for you in that respect...”

Tony shakes his head, fingers playing with the edge of a pillowcase. “That's the thing—it kind of is,” he swallows as he closes his eyes, “Dad used to say that I'm a lot like who you were before the serum... asthma, wheezing, all that, and I used to get bronchitis and pneumonia so often that my mother didn't even need to bring me in, the docs would just give her the medicine.”

The mention of Howard makes Steve frown: he's rarely heard Tony speak of him and after reading up on Howard's life after the war, Steve isn't sure he likes the implications of why. (It wasn't abuse when Tony was young, as Peggy had told him, it seemed more neglect or indifference; she wasn't so sure about what had gone on after Howard had given himself over to his demons, Tony having pushed her and everyone else away in his teens.)

“I'm sorry you had to go through all that.”

“Eh, different time, better medical care, et cetera, et cetera.”

“Still sorry,” Steve says, tucking the blanket along Tony's front. “I can't imagine having better doctors made it any easier to grow up sick... I mean...”

“I know what you mean,” and Tony pats his hand. “Tired now.”

(Bruce comes a few hours later to change out the empty bag for the new one, injections of Tony's medications already drawn up in Sharpie-labeled syringes in his shirt pocket. He's quiet as he moves around the bed, silencing the pump alarm before it can wake Tony, though Steve's kept up a gentle, soothing stroke over Tony's back which is enough to settle the fidgeting.

“He looks better. Color's back in his face,” Bruce whispers once the bag is replaced and the first of the two meds is given.

Steve nods. “He was up for a little while, sounded more like himself,” he says, “Any success on getting Fury to renege on the Iron Man prohibitions,” otherwise known as the 'Dear God, Fury Cares About Tony Stark' Overprotective Ban.

“It's Fury. He lies and manipulates.” Bruce injects the second med, flushes it to ensure the port is clear. “We're leaving it to Pepper and Natasha.”

“Good.”

For a moment, they resume the quiet, Bruce smiling softly when Tony curls his face into Steve's neck and throws an arm over Steve's side; he flicks a bubble in the line to break it up and checks that all the joins are secure, then tells Steve, “I'll wake you both when dinner's ready.”

One they're safe ensconced in the dark and alone again, Steve presses a kiss to Tony's head, closes his eyes, and drifts off.)