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Near-Death Experience with a Side of Shawarma

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There is shawarma. It’s delicious. Truth to be told, anything would probably be delicious right now, but Tony remembers crashing past this little joint earlier and he remembers thinking - If I live through today, I want to try that.

Well, he’s alive, even though feels like a giant, walking, talking bruise after being tossed around in the suit all day. The Mark VII is a total loss, which is annoying since it wasn’t even finished yet, but Thor had to pretty much wrench the whole thing apart just to get him out of it. At least it gives him an excuse to start working on the Mark VIII.

There’s a vague ache deep in his chest, a pulled muscle or something, possibly a cracked- not beating my heart’s not beating not -rib, and he’ll have JARVIS do a full scan of the arc reactor later, just to make sure there’s nothing wrong with it, but he’s alive and he’s had enough shawarma to feed a small country, enough that he’s actually feeling a little sick now.

The feast is heading towards an end. Bruce and Thor are the only ones who are still eating. Cap fell asleep sitting up at the table five minutes ago, and Romanoff and Barton are huddled close, picking at the remains of their meal, while trying very hard to look like they’re not actually clinging to each other.

Tony leans back and chews on some pita bread, realizes he’s been tapping his fingers against the arc reactor for a while now, and forces himself to stop. It’s humming softly, white background noise that he’s so used to by now that he doesn’t even think about it until- ot beating not beat -there’s a hitch.

The mad post-battle adrenaline rush is long gone and no one’s saying much at the moment. There’ll be... consequences, probably, things that will need to be dealt with, but Tony has never been overly concerned with things like that and he doesn’t intend to start until he’s had some sleep. Then he can start figuring out how to tell Pepper that Coulson...

Cap’s elbow slips off the table and he jerks awake with a mumbled name on his lips. He blinks his eyes open, seems to realize where he is, and sighs almost inaudibly.

“We should probably...” Barton begins, looking like he really doesn’t want to end that sentence.

“Yeah, we probably should,” Cap agrees and Natasha nods.

Technically, the three of them stole and crashed a SHIELD quinjet and Cap doesn’t strike Tony as the kind of guy who shirks his responsibilities- cap i laid down on the wire is this enough is this -so he’ll want to get back to the helicarrier, update Fury. Tony really couldn’t care less.

He pays for the food and leaves an outrageous tip. A few minutes later they’re all standing on the street outside the restaurant, looking at each other. There’s a black SUV waiting a block away with the conspicuous look of government cars everywhere.

“Looks like your ride is here,” Tony tells the SHIELD people, nodding toward the car.

“There will be a debriefing,” Natasha says, looking like she thinks that’s something Tony ought to be present for. He has absolutely no intention to do any such thing. Not today, at least.

“Yeah, you have fun with that. I’m going to...” he has to hold back a yawn, “...go home and take a bath in a tub of IcyHot and then sleep for a week or so. But hey, this was fun, lets do it again sometime! The shawarma, I mean, not the alien invasion, that sucked.”

For a split moment, there’s an argument hanging in the air, but then they all seem to come to the silent decision that they’re too tired to fight.

“All right,” Cap says. “We’ll be in touch. Thor?”

“I will join you,” Thor agrees. “Until we can depart for Asgard, I will not leave my brother unguarded.”

“Bruce?”

Bruce ducks his head, looking away.. “Well, I don’t think I’ll be welcome back on the helicarrier any time soon and I don’t actually have anywhere to stay, so...”

He sounds like he’s about to take off, crawl back into the woodworks and disappear again. Tony doesn’t like the thought of that. It’s only been a couple of days, but he’s gotten used to having Bruce around and he doesn’t want to let him go just yet.

“Hey, what did I tell you before? Come crash at my place.” He pauses. “Well, what’s left of it. There should be a couple of rooms still intact.”

Bruce hesitates. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea...”

The thing is, Tony is used to getting what he wants. When he sees something that strikes his fancy, he will do whatever is necessary to make sure that thing ends up in his possession. Pepper keeps arguing with him that it doesn’t work that way with people, but Tony has found the opposite to be true in most cases, at least where large amounts of money is involved.

This is different though. For once, this isn’t about what Tony wants - it’s about what Bruce deserves.

“You did see the state of that building, right?” he asks. “It’s not like the Hulk would make much of a difference. Come on, I can hear my bed calling out from here.”

“I think that’s the fire department, actually,” Bruce says, but when Tony starts walking down the street, he follows.

Tony turns to wave goodbye to the rest of the team (when did he start thinking of them as ‘team’? He’s not a teamplayer, never has been, never will be) shouting, “Give Fury our love. On second thought, don’t!”

Cap grins and waves back and the four of them head for the waiting SUV.

It turns out sitting down for a couple of hours was a mistake and Tony’s body is telling him this in no uncertain terms. Every muscle is sore and stiff and it- hurts so much make it stop -feels like his spine has fused itself together permanently. Stark Tower is well within walking distance, but Tony doesn’t want to walk, doesn’t want to see the destruction in the streets, the ruined buildings, the places where the blood hasn’t been washed off the ground yet. Today, Manhattan looks like a war zone, and he’s had more than enough of those, thank you very much.

Bingo! There, beside the curb, is a yellow cab. A man is standing by the side of it, smoking a cigarette and watching the sky.

There’s a long scorch mark along the side of the car and the body is dented in several places, but it’s the right side up and has all four wheels attached. That’s a good start. Tony walks up to the cabbie.

“Hi, is your car running?”

The cabbie, a heavy-set man in a beat up old leather jacket and a Yankees cap, proudly pats the hood. “Yup, she sure is. Need a ride somewhere?”

Tony pulls out his wallet. “I will pay you whatever you want if you can drive us home. Um, Stark tower, that is.”

The cabbie looks up, and now he seems to recognize them, or Tony at least. He shakes his head. “No way. I’m not taking your money, Mr Stark, not today.” He walks around the car and opens the door to the back seat. “Get in. I’ll get you where you need to be.”

They get in. It smells of tobacco and fake lemon and there’s a bright yellow air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror and a few family photos taped to the dashboard. Tony sinks into the seat and hopes he’ll be able to get up again.

It’s a slow ride. The driver (Jack Milner, at least that’s the name on his licence, Tony needs to remember that, arrange to have a college fund set up for his kids or something) has to veer around craters and fallen debris on the road.

“You okay?” Bruce asks with a weird sideways glance.

Tony waves a hand in a ‘don’t worry’ gesture. It takes a lot more effort than it should. “Yeah, I’m fine, just a little- notbeatingnotbeatingnotbeating -sore. I need to work on better padding for the suit.”

“The reason I’m asking is because I’ve seen sheets with more color and I’m a little concerned that you might have internal bleeding.”

Tony takes a moment to reassess the ache in his chest, but it doesn’t feel like it’s serious. He’s a little short of breath but that’s not unusual, just the arc reactor pressing on his- can’tbreathehurtshurtshurts -lungs and he’s learned to compensate for it.

“No, I don’t think so. JARVIS usually makes a point of mentioning that.”

Bruce nods, but he doesn’t look entirely convinced. “If you say so.”

Tony swallows. He’s feeling queasy all of a sudden, probably shouldn’t have that last helping of shawarma, or maybe it’s the slow swaying car ride that’s upsetting his stomach. He manages to keep it under control until the cab pulls up outside Stark Tower and then he hurries to get out of the car, out into the street.

Bruce hangs back, takes the time to shake the driver’s hand and say, “Thanks for the ride, we appreciate it.”

“You too,” the cabbie says.

Tony turns his back to them, tries to breathe as deeply as the heavy weight on his lungs will allow. There’s- so many stars so unfamiliar don’t want to die without my own sky -a sour taste in the back of his throat and he swallows again, trying to wash it away, but it’s no use.

He only has time to stagger over to the building so he can lean against the wall and at least keep himself upright while he’s throwing up. Half-digested pieces of meat and bread hit the ground and it doesn’t taste nearly as good coming up as it did going down. The vomiting seems to go on- can’t breathe -forever and Tony dimly realizes that someone is standing close, rubbing a hand between his- can’t breathe -shoulderblades. Bruce, who else could it be?

It stops, finally. Tony straightens up, wipes his mouth with the hem of his sleeve, and tries to clear his throat. He should probably be embarrassed, but this isn’t the first time he’s thrown up in public. There are youtube videos of him throwing up in public.

“Well,” he says, trying for a shaky smile. “Here we are! I should probably try to get hold of Pepper again, let her know I’m still- scared -alive, she tends to get a little irked when I don’t...”

“Tony,” Bruce says. There’s a look of concern on his face and it really shouldn’t be there. Tony’s fine, he just had too much to eat and- laid down on the wire -there’s no reason to worry. A good night’s sleep and a drink instead of the one Loki didn’t let him finish, and he’ll be as good as new.

“...check in, though this time it’s really not my fault. I mean, she was the one who didn’t pick up the phone, so I don’t think...”

“Tony, I think you...”

“... I can actually be blamed for that, right? I did call, so...”

“Tony!”

What?

Everything is spinning. When did that happen? Bruce’s voice sounds like it’s- can’t breathe it hurts my heart is not -coming from very far away and it feels like there’s something wrapped tightly around his chest.

“Tony, you need to breathe. Come on, look at me.”

“I’m trying, okay? I’m- it hurts i laid down on the wire is this good enough -okay, I just need to...”

“You need to sit down, come here.”

There are a pair of hands on his shoulders, guiding him to sit down with his back against the wall. Unfortunately it’s still close to the puddle of puke and Tony gags again, has to fight to keep his stomach in check and- my heart -his breathing steady. The last part is the hardest. There’s just not enough air.

Bruce’s hand is on his neck now, gently pressing his head down between his knees, telling him to, “Breathe, come on Tony. Listen to my voice, breathe, in, out, in, out, you’re going to be fine, it’s just a panic attack, it’ll be over soon.”

The voice is calm and level, almost hypnotic and Tony latches onto the sound of it while-

the arc reactor fails, the suit fails and JARVIS is gone and he’s falling alone, his chest hurts and he can’t move, like in the cave, like that night with Obie, the stars are too different and he can’t breathe, he’s dying, he laid down on the wire wonder if cap will be proud wonder if dad will be proud hope it’ll be good enough the stars fade and he’s

-back again, leaning against the wall and breathing, just breathing, slow and steady. Bruce is crouching in front of him, one hand resting lightly on his chest, over the arc reactor. He has two fingers pressed against the pulse point on Tony’s throat and there’s a look of satisfaction on his face when he meets Tony’s eyes.

“There you go. Better now?” he asks, like this is nothing out of the ordinary, like it’s something he does every day. For all Tony knows, maybe it is, only the real purpose is to keep the Hulk under control.

“Think so,” Tony manages to croak out. “Fuck. Let’s not do that again, okay?”

“I’m not arguing,” Bruce smiles. “Do you know what set it off?”

Tony feels hungover - no, scratch that. Hangovers he can handle, this is so much worse. It’s like he’s actually dying this time, like his body is failing him all over again and the feeling is far too familiar. His brain knows that it’s all over, that he’s safe and sound, but his body seems to have other ideas.

“I’m not sure. I think I...” he swallows. “I think I died. Not for long, but I think I...”

Just thinking about it is making his pulse speed up again. Looks like this little adventure is going to leave him with a brand new set of nightmares. He looks at Bruce. “Thanks. For catching me. I don’t know if I said anything before.”

Bruce ducks his head. “Well, I don’t actually remember it, so...”

“Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. So, thanks. I mean it.”

“Okay. You’re welcome. Do you think you’re ready to get up now?”

Tony’s legs are a little wobbly, but he manages to get up, with Bruce’s help. He hopes the building is still powered up, because if the elevator to the penthouse isn’t working, he will seriously curl up on the floor in the lobby and go to sleep right there.

They limp through the door together and Tony turns to Bruce with a smirk and says, “Welcome home, Dr Banner.”

Bruce stops, takes in the ruins of the lobby, the overturned furniture and the dust that’s covering every surface. “Thank you. I think.”

Tony slings his arm around Bruce’s shoulder, Bruce wraps his own arm around Tony’s waist, and they continue into the building. They- is this good enough? -go home.

- fin -