Against his will, Tony finds himself liking the psychiatrist SHIELD assigns to him. Her name is Susan and she's calm, sensible, and doesn't treat him like he's pathetic (although at first Tony still thinks he is; he'd managed to fail to kill himself after all. How terribly weak).
"Can I call you Tony?" she asks at the beginning of the the first session.
"I suppose," Tony says dubiously.
She smiles and they chat for a bit (Tony figures it's supposed to put him at ease; it sort of works and he knows he has to go through this and some more therapy before he's allowed back on the team, but he's careful not to show signs of weakness) before she turns to his records, tilting her head for a moment as she flicks through it. Putting down the file, Susan says, "I see you were on an anti-depressant when you were young. What was that like for you?"
When Tony hesitates, she adds, "Were you on edge all the time? Did you have trouble sleeping, maybe?"
He hesitates again before nodding. "Yeah," he admits carefully, remembering the current under his skin he'd wanted to scratch out and the days and days of no sleep. He thinks about the overpass after dropping of Rhodey and how attractive the idea of flying off it was at the time. "It was awful."
Susan nods and launches into more questions.
Some time later, toward the end of their session, she says, "I think I might have a good idea of what you have, Tony."
"Oh?" he asks, leaning back in the chair.
"A type of bipolarism, type two specifically."
Tony frowns. "I've never heard of it."
"It's not well known," Susan says before she explains it in greater detail.
Listening carefully, Tony has to agree. The highs match what she calls hypomania and the lows match depressive episodes. Especially when she stops to ask (though not in so many words) about delusional thinking. Tony acknowledges his unreachable expectations during a hypomania are such, but doesn't mention knowing that he's a sad little monster. Weakness and body counts and lies fly to the forefront of his mind when he thinks of it; that he's a monster is not at all a delusion.
"Let's try lamectial," Susan says, reaching for her prescription pad. "I'm going to need to see you again in two weeks to see if it's working for you, okay?"
"But if it's not?" Tony asks.
"Then we'll try something else," Susan says with a smile. "There's plenty of other options."
"All right," Tony says. He doesn't like the idea of taking meds, but if it means he can get back on the team, he'll at least try it.
Tony figures that naturally coming out of the depression and the meds working is what really helps him (lamectial does the trick for him; a lucky hit on the first try), and the talk therapy is quite useful. It seems like it takes forever to accept that thinking he was a monster was definitely delusional; he's got a bit of a nasty past, there's no denying that, but he's not weak and he's not a monster.
"You seem a lot better," Clint says, a few weeks into everything.
"Yeah," Tony says, his spoon full of cereal pausing between the bowl and his mouth. "I have been." He's been so grateful that most people have been treating him well despite his attempt on his own life. It's put to rest a lot of the anxiety he suffered for decades. He doesn't know if that was their natural inclination or Steve's doing, but it helps all the same. (Tony was pretty blatant about his worries when they talked the night he woke up in the hospital and he knows Steve wants him to be well.)
"Can I be nosy and ask what the deal was?" Clint says, eying him curiously.
Tony searches his friend and finds no malice in his eyes, but he shifts awkwardly anyway. "No," he says. "I don't think I'm really comfortable with talking to anyone I'm not required to about it." He quirks a wry smile. "I haven't even explained it to Steve yet."
"Okay," Clint says and leans back in his chair casually. "That's fine. When are you off the bench?"
"Soon, I think. I should be cleared in the next couple weeks," Tony says. He's looking forward to that.
He spends about an hour that night turning over his conversation with Clint in his head, periodically rubbing a thumb over Steve's belly. It was being uncomfortable with the idea that he might be mentally ill - and the stereotype that goes with it - that almost killed him. Hiding and shame are toxic he decides, even as he worries about Steve's reaction to the knowledge (the era Steve grew up in was the heyday of eugenics, after all, and eugenicists tended to lock up or sterilize people like Tony ).
But he's in a position to maybe lessen the stereotype. Steve sighs when Tony brushes over his navel and Tony smiles against his neck, making a mental note to look up some organizations devoted to mental illnesses and to tell Steve anyway.
"So this is a really terrible time to have this talk, Steve," Tony says, petting Steve's sweaty, naked side in an attempt to soothe his nerves. "Total boner killer and there will probably be no more sex tonight. But, like, without the post-orgasmic endorphins in my system -- thank you, by the way, that was a really good one -- I'm never gonna be able to work myself up for this conversation."
Steve hmms against his shoulder sleepily and nuzzles his neck. "'Welcome. Had a good teacher. What talk?"
Tony's amused. "Last time I was in a civilian hospital? Talk you said you wanted to have but were willing to wait for?"
"Oh. That one. Yeah," Steve says awkwardly, more awake and sitting up. "Go on."
Tony resists the urge to pull Steve back down against his side, deciding to let Steve have a little distance. "I've been having spells like that pretty much all my adult life, right? But that one, that one was especially bad. Definitely the worst one ever, actually, and I was totally convinced I was a selfish monster who had tricked you into loving me, et cetera, et cetera, and---"
"What?" Steve says, confused and hurt on Tony's own behalf. "You're hardly a monster and you didn't trick me. Where did you get that idea?"
"Depressive episodes, which is what that was, are not at all logical, Steve," Tony points out. "They're entirely the product of fucked up brain chemistry. I mean, grow up attention starved and kind of abused, and then get the attention of someone like you, Steve -- you know how I feel about you -- and stupid brain chemicals are going to play fucked up tricks. Anyway, I spent a lot of time barely restraining myself from tell you about it all -- I was convinced you were going to totally reject me if I told you how much of a monster I thought was -- and then I eventually concluded I should hand Iron Man off to someone who could use it as an actual tool for good and kill myself. Because then that way hopefully no one, especially you because I love you an awful lot, would ever know that I was the saddest little monster of them all."
"None of this makes any sense, but 'an actual tool of good'?" Steve asks, confusion mixing with his distress. "What does that even mean?"
"It's probably best to accept that bipolarism - which is what this is - doesn't follow actual logic and not question that," Tony says patiently. "But, I had decided that Iron Man was at best penance because I didn't start doing Iron Man things because they were the right thing to do but as a reaction to the evil I had created. I think I read too much Kant in undergrad, possibly. And then mutilated it. Now, come here, I'm cold and you're freakishly warm," he says and tugs Steve down until he's got his head on Tony's shoulder again. "That's better. So, can we consider this talk had?"
"Sure, I guess," Steve says and drapes an arm across Tony's belly. "Tell me if it ever gets even close to being that bad again, okay?"
"I will," Tony says and means it. "That's up there with Afghanistan with 'experiences voted least desired to repeated', so I'll definitely tell you and the doctor if it starts to get that way again. Probably," he says around a yawn, "in more detail than you want to hear."
Steve shakes his head minutely. "I'd rather know than not, Tony. Don't ever worry about being too open with me on your health. Love you too much to almost lose you again."
Tony interlaces their hands over his side and smiles, eyes drifting shut. "I love you, too. Now go to sleep. You wore me out."
"Hey, Pepper," Tony says when he catches her alone the next time they see each other. "I just wanted to thank you."
"For what?" she asks, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear and raises an eyebrow. "Besides saving your ass at every turn."
"Uh, well," Tony says. "That, of course, because you are amazing at ass saving. But also sticking with me all these years, even -- especially, actually -- during the crazy periods."
"You're welcome," Pepper says with a warm smile.
"I found out what was making me act like that, by the way," Tony says. He thinks she ought to know, given what she put up with for him (and he can never repay that debt, ever). "I'm bipolar -- uh, type two, specifically."
Pepper tilts her head consideringly and hmms. "Okay," she says. "Are you better?"
"For now," Tony says.
"Good," Pepper says with another smile. "I'm glad to hear that. Now, fill me in on what that means, please?"
"Why didn't you say anything?" Rhodey asks when Tony explains his illness. "You didn't have to go through this alone, you know. You always do that."
"Who else did I have to rely on?" When Rhodey starts, Tony smiles crookedly and holds up a hand to stop him. "I'm not trying to guilt trip you or anything, but with you specifically, I've always remembered the way you treated James Fellman." Tony sits down in front of Rhodey and swipes a drink from his friend's soda. "Remember him? Tortured genius in the math department who had a massive breakdown before finals senior year? You never liked that I was friends with him. And it wasn't just you who did it, but I also remember how people spoke of him afterward."
"Oh," Rhodey says, playing with his straw after Tony returns the glass and avoiding his eyes.
"Yeah," Tony agrees. "He killed himself a few years after graduation. Hung himself in his crappy little apartment in New Haven and no one came looking for him until his landlord needed rent. I didn't want that. And that's what I thought I would get if I told you or really, anyone else. Although Obie saw to it that I thought that way, just as much as the way everyone treated the mentally ill, to be honest."
"That man," Rhodey scowls at his cup, "was vile."
"Mhm," Tony agrees. "Now that I look back on it, there were a few moments over the years that should have been a tip off. But anyway," Tony says and waves a hand. "bipolarism. Crazy, sometimes terrible shit. But definitely manageable."
"Good." Rhodey nods. "Have you told Steve? And Pepper?"
"Yep," Tony says. "A while ago, actually. Pepper was like, 'that explains so much,' and Steve took it really well. Much better than I thought he might, given the era he grew up in. I mean, today's stereotypes are far better than they were in the thirties and forties. At least people these days don't actively applaud forcibly sterilizing the ill."
Rhodey nods. "Eugenics."
"Yeah," Tony says. "So I was kind of nervous about it - he's Steve, so I thought there was a pretty good chance he'd react well, but sometimes I run across old school attitudes in him, like his thing about promiscuous women. Although he's over that now. Natasha beat it out of him. Anyway, he took it really well, which is the point I'm trying to make, and my nervousness about it was unnecessary."
"Right," Rhodey says, smiling at Tony's rambling. "So you're better?"
Tony nods. "There's a chance I could backslide into a swing at some point - I'll cross that bridge when I come to it - but I'm definitely stable."
"Good to hear," Rhodey replies.
Tony grins and changes the subject. "You're going to bring in your suit for me to fix, aren't you?"
"There's nothing wrong with it," Rhodey says, raising an eyebrow.
"Of course there is. You let Hammer touch the poor thing."
Tony drifts awake as Steve worms closer to him in their bed, shifting the comforter up off Tony enough that Steve can curl up against his back.
"Mornin'," Tony says, enjoying the hazy, warm feeling of a pleasant wake up and dragging the hand Steve's got at his waist over his side to interlace their fingers in front of his chest.
Steve noses at Tony's neck before answering. "Morning. Coffee'll be ready in a couple minutes."
That was part of the bargain. Tony sleeps regularly (as much as is possible for an Avenger) in exchange for a vastly shortened distance between his bed and a coffee machine, (it something they had sort of argued about in the past. Tony still thought Steve's 'team bonding requires team mates to see each other regularly!' was silly, but whatever, the point was moot now). Tony nods sleepily, his need for caffeine not kicking into gear quite yet. "'Kay."
Sighing contentedly against Tony's neck, Steve adds, "You did really well last night, by the way."
"Thanks," Tony says, pleasedly remembering the gala's reaction to his little speech that preceded him handing over a significant check to the Bipolar and Depression Support Alliance.
"Still going to talk about it in the interview for GQ on Monday?"
"The BDSA? Yeah," Tony says and yawns. "Got the okay from Nisreen and Jack last night. They're excited ."
"Good," Steve says and strokes the arch of Tony's index finger with his thumb.
Tony smiles and they are silent, Tony drifting in and out of sleep, until JARVIS announces the coffee is ready.
Steve leans against him for a moment and squeezes his hand before rolling out of bed. "C'mon," he says to Tony. "Coffee and then breakfast. It's Clint's turn today."
"That means waffles," Tony says and pushes off the comforter. He stretches sleepily, enjoying the sensation of pulling tendons and muscles, and stands up.
"Yes it does," Steve says as Tony rounds the foot of the bed. "Although I'm not sure Clint knows how to cook any other kind of breakfast food."
"Pancakes," Tony says, making a bee line for the coffee pot.
"JARVIS and the staff banned him from making those," Steve says, idly following behind.
"Why?" Tony pulls cup off a hook above the coffee machine and dumping sugar into it.
"He used cornstarch instead of flour. Somehow." Steve leans against the counter of their kitchenette and nudges the milk he acquired somewhere toward Tony.
Tony chooses not to question how this acquisition happened, since a) it requires more strenuous thinking than he's probably capable of right now and b) Steve has mysterious ways. Instead, he pours the milk into his cup until the coffee is an acceptable color and slurps it down immediately.
"Yes," Tony says, taking a second to savor the drink as he turns around to slouch against the counter next to Steve. It's kona coffee, which he keeps upstairs because otherwise Natasha will drink it all and Tony will be left with whatever crap Clint drinks. Folders or something. And Tony refuses to drink that shit when he can have kona if he keeps it away from Natasha.
"No," Tony grumbles and sinks against the counter further. "Natasha will know I'm keeping kona up here if I come into the kitchen with it, and then she'll raid my stash, and I'll never have kona for more than two days again. Also, we need pants," he says and eyes himself. Now that he's mostly awake, he's becoming aware the room's chilly.
"All right," Steve says and heads back to the bedroom, probably in search of clothing. "I still don't get what's so special about kona. What happened to a good old fashioned cup of American joe?"
"Firstly, it's fucking delicious, that's what," Tony calls. "Heathen," he says when Steve makes a disparaging noise loud enough to be heard from inside their room. "And second, it is American coffee. It's from Hawaii - Hawaii's a state now, you know."
"Uh huh," Steve says as he reappears, two pairs of sweats in one hand. "I do know. Hurry up. Drink your frou frou Hawaiian coffee and put on your pants, because Thor will eat everything if we wait too long."
"Clint knows about Thor's tendency to inhale everything in sight," Tony says in between gulps (Steve can never say Tony doesn't love him; he's gulping kona). "We all know about it. It's taken into account when preparing meals. There will be plenty of waffles."
"True," Steve concedes, tying the waistband string in a bow. "But then we have to wait for more to be cooked, if Thor gets there first."
Tony takes the last sip in his cup, mourns the gulped coffee as he drops the cup in the sink, and puts on the sweats. He pushes at Steve affectionately and says, "Let's get going, princess, before you faint from hunger."
Steve rolls his eyes. "I'm not going to faint. I just want my breakfast."
"And I wanted my kona," Tony says.
"You had it."
"Not really," Tony says, punching the elevator button.
"I'll bring some down to your workshop if you shut up about it," Steve says.
"Deal," Tony says, bumping Steve's shoulder with a grin as the elevator door opens.