"Have you taken your medication, Tony?" Obadiah says, and Tony chafes under his concerned gaze.
Yeah, all right, so Tony just spent three days in the workroom being the blinding genius that he fucking is, redesigning a new missile payload delivery system, the weight differential requiring new airfoils that needed a new launching system that needed a new targeting software upgrade and he's going to make another cool billion on that, maybe he'll buy a new car. Maybe three - he deserves it because he's amazing.
But that's not Obie's problem, apparently. Obie has TMZ on the living room screen, and shit, that's the tall Kardashian sister (fuck, he can't keep their names straight, but they're like Pringles or Pokemon, he can't just nail one, he has to have the whole set) at the bar Tony likes, with the waitresses in the gold metallic booty shorts and the Goldschläger shots in the glasses made from ice.
And sure, maybe that's Tony running one of the shotglasses down the Kardashian's bare spine, but fuck it, he was celebrating because see again: genius who invented a new weapons system in seventy-two hours. Fuck Obie and fuck TMZ and fuck the photographer with their shitty cameraphone - Tony really needs to start working on information tech one of these days, but they don't go boom (when they work right) so they're not as awesome.
"Yeah," Tony says, and he doesn't remember how long he's been awake, catching naps on the battered couch or at his desk or in the limo, so maybe it's not a lie. "I'm gonna go..." he waves vaguely, the mere thought of sleep draining all the fight out of him. "Get some sleep. I'm fine, Obie."
Obie looks dubious, which means that Tony's shrink appointments will probably double for a little while, and fuck those guys, too.
Fuck 'em all; Tony is just fine. He's better than fine, he's great, and if they would just stop looking at him like that and get the fuck out of the way, he'd be unstoppable.
When Pepper wordlessly passes him the little rattling bottle while he's eating his first burger, Tony takes it, long-ingrained habit between the two of them. When he twists it open, he stares down at the little pills in his palm blankly, the rhythm lost.
Maybe he left it somewhere in the goddamned desert. His rhythm, his mojo, his whole fucking worldview, blown away like sand.
"Tony?" she asks, voice gentle. So, so gentle, it's almost like another wound, a papercut on top of the raw hamburger meat of his nerves, and he wants to curl up in her lap and cry and lock the doors, and tell Happy to keep driving on and on and... Dammit, press conference, right.
"Yeah," he says, and takes the pill and stares out of the tinted window with his sunglasses on and tries to get his game face back. Fake it, he reminds himself. They won't know the difference. He doesn't add, because you've been doing this your whole life, because really, he doesn't need to remind himself.
"Are you seeing a doctor?" Rhodey says, and Tony represses a bitter bark of laughter.
"Yeah," Tony says, shrugging. "I've got a whole fleet of the bastards." Which is true, but he's been blowing them off systematically for weeks. Because his heart is broken and the thing he'd built in the desert to fix it is now killing him slowly, and he still has nightmares of Yinsen dying in his arms, Obie shooting at him, Pepper almost getting caught in the explosion, fuck, all of his mistakes waking him up at night and driving him back down into the basement to keep building armor.
He never has enough armor.
He wants to tell Pepper, and Rhodey, and hell, even JARVIS, how much he loves them and appreciates them but his tongue keeps tangling and nonsense keeps spilling out and he's dying and there's no cure and...
And there's really no fucking doctor in the world qualified to help him with that.
It's like a slap in the face. Iron Man: yes, Tony Stark: no.
Tony knows that somewhere in Fury's tidy little file there's the truth of Tony's 'rehab' stint when he was seventeen, Obie's last-ditch effort to 'fix' Tony while he was still legally under Stane's thumb. There's probably another list, pages of lists, of doctors who've seen Tony, their observations and diagnoses. Lists of prescriptions filled under aliases because Tony lives in the public eye and he can't show weakness in front of stockholders and the circling press.
Suddenly Tony wants - he wants, more than anything, to be on the team. Not because it's a team of superheroes and he needs the publicity. No.
If Tony's really honest with himself, it's because he just ran face-first into another door, closed to him because he's not good enough, and fuck that.
Nobody gets to tell Tony Stark that he's not good enough.
(Except maybe himself.)
Pepper stops by the lab at lunch, discreetly hands off the bottle of pills as she kisses Tony on the cheek. He chatters about all the things he and Bruce are doing, all the really cool stuff, Pepper, look at this!
She smiles indulgently scolds him about neglecting the latest StarkTech GPS unit he's supposed to be building - "- user-friendly UI, Tony, my grandma has to use this, we don't need 3-d displays in every unit, that will cost a fortune."
Tony makes faces at her and tries to get a little handsy as she kisses him again, but she darts a glance at Bruce, who's trying to be unobtrusive in the corner. "See you tonight," she promises with a little smile, and that more than makes up for it. He smiles at her goofily, watching her walk out the door.
Later, he pops the pill on autopilot, swallowing it dry between bites of his sandwich.
Bruce is right next to him, eyeing the prescription bottle curiously. Tony lets him, because fuck it, whatever, it's in his file, everyone at SHIELD probably knows by now. Even Captain freaking America probably knows, which really makes a whole bunch of sense now that Tony thinks about it.
Apparently, Bruce doesn't know, though, because Tony watches him work through the puzzle, brow furrowed, eyes unfocused.
"Ah," Bruce says, expression clearing, and gives a little laugh.
"Something funny, Banner?" Tony asks, his voice light and even while inside, he's bracing, ready to lash out with razor wit.
Bruce looks at him, patient smile broadening, as if he's waiting for Tony to get the joke. "If only it were that easy," he drawls, and then it clicks.
Tony's startled into laughter, bubbling up from his chest like something's being released inside him, and that only makes him laugh harder.
He's never laughed about this. He's made jokes, pretended it's funny, laughed at the results of his inevitable mistakes because life is a fucking cosmic joke, okay? But it's never been honestly funny.
Now he's working in a lab with Bruce Banner, who's pretty much the embodiment of all the bad stereotypes and lies about Tony's condition, writ large. And, on occasion, green.
And that's fucking hilarious.
- end -