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A Fixed Point

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The worst part of a concussion, for Tony, is the nausea. So far, he's thrown up four times, and can barely breathe for the need to pant. He's long since let them peel him out of the armour and any consideration for his own privacy, or dignity, evaporated around the second time the dizzying pain resolved into retching.

He's fairly sure he's back in the tower; there had been a brief interlude of eye-wateringly bright lights and white walls, where following a doctor's pen light had triggered another round of dizziness. Tony knew there had been only one pen, but couldn't have made both his eyes focus on it simultaneously if his life depended on it, so he had dutifully answered 'two' at all points. Steve, always in the corner of his eye, is currently in binary. He just wants to close his eyes and let his visual centres rest, but when he does, the world swims without check, spinning overhead and prompting him to throw out his arms to stabilise his flight.

Steve grabs his wrist inches before it hits his knee. One of his, fuck, four knees. The world stabilises a bit, Steve as its fixed point, and Tony manages to relax for a moment. The nausea drops back down to relatively safe levels and the dull, unrelenting throb of pain rears its head in its place.

"Steeeve, Steve this is the worst, this is--" he stops to pant through another roll of nausea, but babbling is a distraction, and a welcome one. "Make a note, no more ice skating. Who's bum-fuck stupid idea was..." he trails off into a groan and leans into the cool-thing Steve has just pressed to the side of his face. It shifts to his other cheek, then his forehead, and it's the most perfect thing. Doesn't quite cut out the pain, but it is sharp and fresh and different enough to be a good distraction.

"How do you feel? Think you can sleep?"

Tony gets a vague sense of dissonance from the fact that Steve sounds like he's coming from one place, but looks like he's in two. "Thought I wasn't supposed to sleep."

Steve hums and its nice, comforting and soft. "I have to check for verbal reasoning and memory every few hours, but you should sleep in between, if you can."

He can't, the world is moving too much, and if he stops focusing on breathing, the nausea will come back even worse. He pushes his head back into the pillow, and digs his heels in, clenching his jaw and groaning when it simultaneously makes him hurt more and less. "Can't. Gonna be sick--"

The bed tilts like the ocean, and a clean basin that smells of cold water and steel appears under his head. The cool air helps, and Steve's hand is soothing on the back of his neck, but he feels worse sitting up. He swallows convulsively and really doesn't want to be sick again, dry heaving hurts, and after a tense, horrible minute, he slumps back down, against Steve's side. As long as the bowl's in reach, he can relax a bit. The urge to turn inside out fades off again and he whimpers.

"Alright, I think you can keep things down for a bit now, so I'm going to give you some anti-nausea pills okay? Ironically, they only work if you're not actually throwing up, so..."

Tony can't keep still, his legs shift restlessly against the... Bed? His bed, probably, and he grips Steve's calf convulsively, as if moving, having something to hold on to, will stop the room from hurting and spinning him around. It only helps transiently, and he gives up in favour of the exhaustion creeping from inside his bones.

The pills Steve presses against his mouth are smooth and sweet, sugar coated, and he holds them at the back of his mouth until Steve guides a straw into his mouth; he can see it twice, and neither of the images are accurate. Cold water is simultaneously horrible and perfect, and Tony's getting real tired of the hypocrisy his body is throwing at him.

"How's it sitting?"

Tony nods and pushes the water away before he really does make himself sick. "...'s all right. I think it's gonna...stay put. Ugh..."

"Alright, let's get you a bit more comfortable, and wait it out; should kick in in about ten minutes."

It sounds like a long time to Tony, but he's not going to be beaten by a little nausea. He nods with his jaw clenched. He can do that. Ten minutes without throwing up.

Steve pushes his hair back off his forehead, and he knows he's sweating and gross by the way it's sticking, and Steve's skin is blissfully cool from holding the glass of water. He doesn't know how he would cope with this without Steve, he really, doesn't want to...ugh... it feels like his head is going to rivet itself to his spine, lock him up into a steel bar made almost entirely out of ouch.

"Breathe, Tony, you're making it worse. You have to relax. The pain will go away if you just rest, okay? Five minutes, that's all I ask."

Steve pushes a pillow under his shoulders, then his head, and the cotton is silky-smooth and cool and he does manage to relax. Longer breaths, more air, hold for longer... the pain ebbs just enough to convince him to resist the urge to run from it, to fight it. He has his eyes closed now, and he focuses on Steve's body, his leg under Tony's hand, as his fixed point. More reliable than his eyes right now, at least. Muscles flex under his fingertips, and then Steve's helping him roll onto his side. It takes pressure off the weal on the back of his head, the pain of which had gotten lost in the miasma of his rattled brain, and he goes limp. The pile of pillows holds him up enough that he can curl forwards and bend his knees and he feels a whole lot less vulnerable and blind. Steve shoves a pillow behind the small of his back and that's it, he doesn't need to use any muscles ever again.

He relaxes into the cradle of smooth cotton and the ache of his head, his rolling stomach both quiet down enough to let him breathe normally. A great gusty breath clears the stale air in his lungs and he feels like maybe he can sleep after all. A light sheet brushes against his shoulder, just enough to keep out the draft without overheating him and sending him back into the nasty, nausea inducing fugue he's just escaped.

The bed moves slightly with Steve's weight, and Tony holds instinctively onto the hand he's captured. Steve can't go, Tony'll break into a billion painful pieces if Steve leaves, but the big lunk just shifts his weight onto the bed and sits up against the headboard, where Tony can hold onto him as much as he pleases.

"Okay?" Steve mumbles, softly, and Tony marvels that the sound doesn't jolt his senses at all.

"...'m good. Thank you, 'Teve..."

"Always, Tin Can. Now shhh..."

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

 

He wakes up once or twice, in the darkness and then the gloom of opaqued windows, and mumbles answers to Steve’s questions, takes some more pills. He thinks, waking for good and slouched in the quiet, warm light of late afternoon, that he probably doesn’t remember most of the checks, because he’s slept for at least sixteen hours.

Steve is dozing at his hip, one hand curled under Tony’s thigh, and the little fort of pillows has scattered around the bed while he slept, except for the ones he’s sitting up against. He feels tentatively okay, though the bruise on the back of his head is keeping him from leaning back straight on, and the nausea has gone. He might actually be hungry, but he doesn’t trust it. There’s still a hint of double vision in the corner of his eye, on one side, and holding his head up off the pillows is... yeah. Beyond him right now. It gives the world a distant feeling, like everything is on the other side of a fuzzy piece of glass, or he’s watching a movie rather than real life.

He’s horribly muzy and tired, thick feeling, like he’s slept too long. Only, he probably needs to sleep some more, but feels edgy and uncomfortable. He groans just, in general, at everything, and relaxes into the pillows.

Just, wake him up later.

“Hey, there. I was hoping you might wake up on your own,” Steve mumbles. He sounds sleep-rough too, and Tony flails a hand out to pet his hair. It’s lovely and soft, just right for stroking. “Mmm, you can’t distract me mister.”

“...fr’m what, Cap, you’re asleep. Obv’sly,”

There’s a rustling of blankets and clothes and Steve’s warm hand slips out from under his leg. Tony wants to push his head back down for petting purposes, but his hand slides limply off; he’s just exhausted, it’s horrible. “From looking after you. Obviously.”

Tony considers this, and finds it acceptable. “...’m I drugged?”

“Marginally. Not excessively?”

Tony mumbles something not even he can understand, and doesn’t know what he was intending to say, either.

“Would you like something to eat? It’s been awhile since you last, um. Couldn’t keep it down.”

He might, but it’s touch and go if he can, still. “Water? See how it goes.”

“Sure, honey. Here. ‘s lukewarm, but that might be better than cold right now.” Steve presses a bottle into his hand and Tony cracks an eyelid to guide it to his mouth; he doesn’t trust his proprioception right now.

“Don’t call me ‘honey’, pumpkin,” he grouches after the first sip. It settles on his stomach pretty well, so he takes a little more, carefully.

“Don’t call me ‘pumpkin’, doll.”

“Wow, I am just going to leave this here, and let you two be saps in private, wow.” Clint’s voice is accompanied by the quiet rattle of a tray and Tony forces his eyes to focus on the blur by the sideboard.

“Hey Clint. That from JARVIS?” Tony asks. Something smells warm and salty, and he changes his mind on food; he’s hungry. He’s actually really hungry.

It is, sir. Your favorite, I believe.

“Alright, shoo, both of you,” Tony pleads. He has to shut his eyes again; four voices in the room is too many. “Thanks, I’ll do my best on the...eating. Thing.”

Clint leaves without further comment, and JARVIS goes quiet again. He must look fucking dreadful.

“You wanna give it a go now? It’ll keep warm a while, if you don’t,” Steve asks. He’s so soft-voiced, it’s perfect.

“Yeah. I’m actually hungry, it’s just...”

Steve makes a soft hum, and lifts Tony’s hand so he can nuzzle his cheek into it. Feels nice. “You’re a limp noodle, vulnerable to sensory overload. I know, I’m in charge of meds, okay? I know.”

So that’s how it is. Tony doesn't like to know what he’s on, as long as someone keeps track for him. What he can and can’t have, what’s a side effect, all of that. It’s better if someone else handles it. “Thanks, Cap, you’re the best cinnamon bun.”

Steve declines to comment and Tony feels him clamber off the bed to fetch the soup, which smells amazing, and makes his stomach remember all the food he’s missed because he either (a) threw it up or (b) was in too much pain to be awake.

“Oh my god, give it to me, I need it.”

“Slowly, Tony. If you eat too fast, there’s no pill on the earth that’ll let you keep it down.”

Tony grumbles. Steve is right, but Tony doesn’t have to admit to that, okay? He just settles against Steve’s side like a good patient when he gets back. He sips slowly, when Steve puts the styrofoam to his lips, and swallows carefully when he takes it away again.

He doesn’t bother to open his eyes; it’s warm, and safe.

Doesn’t matter what's going on out there. Inside his head, the aches and irritations of being injured are fading away under Steve’s careful words and gestures.