Tony feels…gross. His eyes are swollen and blurry. His throat feels like it’s been rubbed raw. His muscles just ache. And his head feels like it is about to explode…or maybe it already has. God, he hasn’t felt this shitty since…well, he isn’t sure, but it’s been a long time.
He feels like he is experiencing the world’s worst hangover. But that can’t be right, can it? He hasn’t picked up a drink in months and hasn’t done any heavy drinking in years.
He blinks his eyes open and waits for them to adjust to the light filtering in through the window. And okay, well that’s good. It looks like he’s in his own room. So at least if he had gotten drunk, he hadn’t gone home with some random stranger.
Suddenly, he notices the arm looped over his waist, holding him close to a warm, muscled body. Oh, okay, scratch that. Maybe he had gone home with a random stranger. Then again, he is fully clothed so…what?
Peeking over his shoulder, Tony’s breath leaves him in a whoosh. Steve. God, he is in bed with Steve. Captain He’s-Too-Good-For-You-Tony-So-Don’t-Even-Dream-About-It is in his bed. And what the actual fuck happened last night?
As soon as Tony puts any effort into thinking about it, everything just rushes back to the forefront and he immediately jumps out of bed. Running to the bathroom, he slams the door shut behind him and tries to halt the panic-attack trying to take over.
And yeah, that thing called breathing? Not going so well right now. He’s starting to go light-headed and his body is shaking. It takes a lot of effort to calm down enough just to be able to drag a breath into his aching lungs.
There’s a soft knock on the door. “Tony? Are you alright?” Steve sounds concerned and Tony really cannot reassure him at the moment. Because yeah, trying not to pass out.
Tony slides to the ground, his hands clenching in his hair, tugging nervously, frantically, as everything from last night flashes through his mind.
The video…“But he said…” a choked cry, “he said that I was a horrible son for wasting his time. I’m not good enough, Uncle Henry. Why can’t I be good enough?”
The almost freak-out…“Come on buddy, deep breaths. You’re in control. You’re fine. I’m fine, Bruce.”
The actual freak-out… “Stop looking at me like that! All of you. Stop looking at me like I’m some broken thing! I’m not. I’m not broken. He didn’t break me.”
The breaking to pieces… “I’m still not good enough. Why are you guys even here? I don’t get it. I’m not good.”
The comforting embrace… “Shh…Tony, it’s okay. I’ve got you. It’s okay. You’re going to be alright. We need you, Tony. And we want to be here, for you, with you.”
The pathetic begging… “No, stay. Please. I…Please, don’t go.”
The quiet reassurance… “I’m not going anywhere, Tony.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck….
How…god, how could he have been so unintelligent? He is supposed to be a genius, right? And how could his shields have been so fragile? He is Tony Stark, weapons-engineer-extraordinaire, his armor was not supposed to be so weak…
“Tony?!” Tony’s head snaps up when Steve’s panicked voice breeches his frenzied thoughts. “Answer me, Tony. You have five seconds to answer me before I break down this door. Are you okay?”
Actually make that a fuck-no.
He is not okay. At all. In fact, he is pretty much the exact opposite of okay. But there is no way in hell he is going to admit that out loud. Again. Because yeah, he did that last night and the regret is almost drowning him alive.
“Yeah…” His voice comes out hoarse, choked. Clearing his throat, he tries again. “Yeah, Steve. I’m fine.”
He hears Steve’s relieved sigh from the other side of the door and feels a leaden ball of guilt settle uncomfortably in his chest, heavier than the press of the arc reactor. Steve doesn’t deserve this. Or Bruce. Or any of the team, really.
They don’t deserve worthless, broken Tony Stark. Not as a teammate. Not as a friend. Not as a burden.
Tony refuses to make them responsible for putting him back together. They would though. He knew they would. Gladly too. And that is exactly the reason he can’t let them.
He can’t be another thing for them to be concerned with. They had enough problems to deal with, what with being world-saving superheroes and all, and they so did not need to worry about a fracturing-to-pieces-billionaire-philanthropist-genius. He will not be a liability. He refuses to inconvenience them like that.
So…okay, decision made. Fake it till you break it, Stark. Or…it would probably be more apt to say, fake it till you break, Stark.
He can’t remember a time in his life in which he was so thankful to have the childhood he did. But this moment right now, he is thankful. And maybe that is messed up. Nope, okay, that is definitely messed up. Because his shitty childhood is exactly what caused this problem to begin with. But it’s also providing the solution to his problem.
Because yeah, something Tony learned how to excel at during his childhood was how to be fake, how to lie to people, how to make them see what he wanted them to see. He did after all have the best teacher.
Like father, like son.
And god, he kind of wants to throw up at that thought. Because he hates being like his father, in any way. He had promised himself he wouldn’t be like his father…but sometimes it was just necessary.
And this situation right now?
“Can you come out here?”
So fucking necessary.
Time to burry Tony under an impenetrable layer of Tony Stark.
Struggling to his feet, he walks over to the sink and hastily washes his face. Looking into the mirror, he watches as an easy grin spreads across his face, well practiced and familiar. Makes his dark gaze brighten, shoves the feelings away from the surface and becomes shallow.
It’s weak. His façade is flimsy at best. But he just doesn’t have time right now to make it better. A lot of fucking shit was revealed last night and he is going to need to compartmentalize all of it. But he needs time.
And time is not something he has at the moment. But it’ll have to hold, for now.
Standing straight, he opens the door and meets Steve’s concerned gaze.
“Hey, Cap. Sorry about that just now…and last night. You being here, means a lot and all that other emotional stuff. So thanks.” He smirks wryly. Clapping a hand over Steve’s shoulder, he continues, “Wow, Tony Stark apologizing and saying thank you in a single conversation? Consider yourself lucky, Cap, this is a rare occurrence. Like Haley’s Comet rare. You should ask JARVIS to get you a recording of this…you know, for proof. Cause no one is going to believe you. Right, well, things to build, things to blow up. Later, Steve.”
Before Steve has a chance to recover from the onslaught of words, Tony is pushing away. Making his escape.
He’s out the door and into the hallway.
It’s 24 steps to the elevator. Then he’s pushing the button, frantically, because it’s not coming fast enough.
Hold it, Stark.
Finally it arrives and he practically jumps in, pressing the thumb-scanner to take him to his lab.
The elevator swoops to a stop and he nearly falls out in his haste.
The glass doors swoosh open. He takes one step into his haven...
…and loses it.