The damned thing takes him entirely by surprise. If Tony were in any condition to do it, he'd be kicking himself soundly by now, because he let himself grow complacent about this, and he really should have known better. The problem, of course, if you can even call it a problem, is that the migraines have been getting better, fewer and farther between, though no less debilitating when they hit.
Oddly enough, it was becoming Iron Man which seems to have done him the most good—apparently being a debauched playboy millionaire who has to answer to a whole lot of shareholders was a lot more stressful than actively saving the world on a semi-regular basis—because he hasn't had one in months. Instead, donning the armour now feels like something hitting all of his pressure points at once, like all the safety valves he never knew he had are being released. It's different from when he was a solo act, but being part of a team, somehow that makes it even better, regardless of what his S.H.I.E.L.D. file says. All of it has changed him, and, even though he'll deny it in public, he knows it's been for the best. If nothing else, the significant decrease in the number of migraines he's had has made it all worth it. In fact, he's pretty sure he hasn't had one since long before Loki opened a portal into a different galaxy.
That's why when the current migraine hits, Tony isn't expecting it at all. In fact, he's so engrossed in his current project—a synthetic fabric that he hopes will prove a lot more shock-absorbent than what he currently wears under the Iron Man armour, and which might eventually serve numerous other practical purposes—that he misses the ‘golden moment' as he thought of them, the brief window of time between the first symptoms and the onset of blinding pain when taking his meds would actually do any good at all. Instead he only realizes something is terribly, terribly wrong when abruptly the vision in his right eye goes white, and coloured spots begin dancing in what's left of his field of vision.
"Damn it," he swears, dropping what he's doing and automatically bringing up his hand in order to press the heel of it against his right eye. Not that it's going to do any good. "JARVIS, do I have meds in here?"
"I'm afraid that the entirety of your medications are located in the medicine cabinet of the en-suite bathroom to your bedroom, sir," JARVIS said, sounding apologetic, as though he should somehow be able to teleport the meds right into the lab onto the table by Tony's side. That's probably something Tony should look into anyway, he thinks muzzily.
"Okay, no worries," he assures JARVIS. "I'll get them in a second, right after—whoa…" he tries to push himself to his feet, and has to clutch at the table to keep himself from falling as both knees buckle simultaneously and a bolt of pain—the first of many to come—lances through his skull like lightning. "Okay, bad plan," he mutters, and eases himself back onto the stool on which he's been sitting for the past few hours while he works.
"Shall I call someone to assist you, sir?"
"No!" he barks, immediately regretting his tone, partly because he knows he's probably hurt JARVIS' feelings, and partly because it sends another lightning strike of pain ricocheting off his skull. Still, the idea of anyone coming down here, invading his lab and his privacy, is more than he can take right now. He softens his tone. "No, it's fine. I'm fine, I just need a minute," he lies, even as his stomach roils.
He shuts his eyes, forces himself to take deep breaths. Sometimes just focusing on his breathing, making himself relax a bit, helps to take the edge off so he can get where he needs to go. His body's not having any of it this time around, though: he can feel the blood pulsing in his ears in time to his heartbeat, feels saliva pooling under his tongue, a sure sign he's about to lose what little he's remembered to eat in the last few hours. At least there's a bathroom not too far, just a sink and a toilet, but it's enough. He clutches at the edge of the table, gets to his feet more slowly than before, and gropes his way until he reaches the nearest wall. He leans on it with one shoulder to support him all the way to the bathroom, where he pitches forward and just prays that he had the good sense to leave the damned toilet seat up the last time he was in there before he vomits.
It's excruciating. He doesn't remember the last time it was this bad, but it feels like his stomach lining is trying to come free and exit via his skull for good measure. He throws up until there's nothing left to throw up anymore, and then keeps going, bile burning his mouth and the back of his throat and stinging in his nostrils. There's no way he's going to be able to make it back to his room now, and he knows it. He's hunched over the toilet, legs folded up under him, barely keeping himself upright by clutching the edges of the bowl with the fingers of both hands. He's not going to be able to get up at this rate, let alone walk.
He starts violently at the sound of Steve's voice, then groans as the movement makes him feel as though his skull is splitting open at the temples. He opens his mouth to ask JARVIS how the hell Steve got past the locks on his lab, because the last thing he needs is Captain Fucking America witnessing him like this, but only ends up dry-heaving into the toilet again. The light flicks on in the tiny bathroom, and he flinches as it threatens to sear his retinas.
"Don't do that!"
"Tony, what on earth?" Steve sounds shocked. "Are you all right?"
"Go away." Tony's actually pretty impressed at how he's managing coherent sentences. With verbs and everything. "I'm busy."
Steve hesitates. "Are you… you don't usually drink in the lab."
Oh, he is so not equipped to deal with Captain America's holier-than-thou assumptions right now. He manages to let go of the toilet just long enough to flip Steve the bird, then concentrates on trying not to dry-heave again and set off another chain reaction of pain in his head. Mostly that means losing his balance and slipping to the side, inexorably drawn toward the cold tile floor of the bathroom. At least the staff has been doing a remarkable job of keeping the floors clean. Tony makes a mental note he hopes he'll remember later to give them all a raise. Or maybe a really big Christmas bonus. Something.
Steve has stepped forward in the interim, crouches down next to him and places a hand on his shoulder. "Tony, talk to me. Are you sick?"
"Be fine," he manages. "Go ‘way."
"I'm not leaving you to lie in your own vomit on the floor," Steve protests, a note of exasperation creeping into his voice. Awesome. Not even five minutes into their conversation. Must be a new record. "Can you get up? Tony, come on."
He doesn't get to answer, because the pain chooses that exact moment to double in intensity, and he slams both eyes shut with what he hopes is a manly groan but is probably more like a pathetic whimper. JARVIS betrays him.
"Mister Stark is experiencing a migraine, Captain Rogers. Unfortunately his medication is in the bathroom adjoining his bedroom."
"Aw, geez, Tony," Steve sighs, but he doesn't say anything else on the matter. "Come on, hang onto my arm, let's get you up, okay?"
Tony's protest comes out sounding more like "Nngh," than anything particularly coherent, but it appears that Steve doesn't care what he has to say on the topic. He slides an arm around Tony's chest—and wow, arms like tree trunks, Tony always figured that was an exaggeration, but apparently not—and lifts him off the floor a lot more gently than Tony was expecting.
"You able to stand if I help you? Do you need a hospital? Or a doctor?"
"No. No, just—meds and my bed, please."
"Okay, we can do that. Hold onto me, okay?" Steve braces him, and Tony is suddenly and ridiculously grateful for his presence there, large and immovable and steadying. He's pretty sure that if Steve wasn't here, he'd be faceplanting right back onto his impressively clean bathroom floor.
"Can you walk? Or are you going to be sick again?"
He has to grab onto Steve with both hands, but miraculously he manages to make his feet move, to put one foot in front of the other, and somehow they make it out of the lab, stumbling up the stairs toward his bedroom. Steve keeps up a stream of reassurances, talking in a low voice like Tony's a frightened kitten or something, and Tony doesn't know whether to be insulted that Steve thinks that of him, or be kind of appalled that it actually is pretty soothing. Just then the floor tilts under his feet at an alarming angle, and he clutches harder at Steve to keep from falling right over and decides that he'll worry about all of it later. "
JARVIS, always thinking ahead, has already drawn the blinds in the bedroom by the time they get there, sparing Tony the need to stare directly into the daylight that normally streams in through the huge bay windows. Steve holds Tony up when his legs threaten to give out again, and practically carries him the last few steps into his room. Then he just scoops him up like he's a rag doll, lays him on the bed and tugs off his high tops, placing them neatly at the foot of his bed.
"What's your medication called?" Steve asks, but Tony's too busy curling into a ball, both arms wrapped around his head in the vain hopes that that will keep it from exploding. "JARVIS, can you dim the lights a bit more, please?"
"Of course." The lights right over Tony's bed flick off, replaced by a soft reddish glow off to one side instead. Great, now JARVIS is using his mood lighting to help—like that's not going to mess with Tony's sex life later. "I can direct you to the proper medication, Captain."
Steve pats Tony's shoulder. "Hang in there, I'll be right back."
He doesn't really know how long Steve is gone. It could be only a few seconds or it could be hours. All he knows is that his head is throbbing mercilessly, pain radiating through his skull and into his neck and shoulders, with no sign of letting up. He tries to swallow the whimper that forces its way past his lips as the bed dips again, ends up biting his lip so hard he tastes blood.
"Easy," Steve soothes, rubbing a hand over his hip. "I've got your medication here. It looks pretty straightforward, and JARVIS explained how to do it. Can you take off your pants, or do you want me to?"
"Cap, 'm shocked," Tony mumbles—migraine or not, it's too good to pass up—and Steve heaves an exasperated sigh.
"You really can't help yourself, can you? Hold still," he says, and deftly undoes the button on Tony's jeans.
A second later he's tugging the jeans down and pushing up the leg of Tony's boxers a little, exposing his thigh, and Tony can feel the familiar not-quite-stinging sensation of an alcohol wipe, disinfecting the injection site. He can hear the quiet click of the case that holds the auto-injector for his Imitrex prescription, followed by the sound of Steve removing one of the capsules from its packaging and sliding it into the plastic casing. Steve doesn't give him any warning at all, just presses the injector up against his skin, and Tony flinches as the needle bites into his flesh and retracts.
"You're nearly done," Steve promises. "Just a few more seconds."
To Tony's surprise he doesn't pull his pants back up, but instead removes them entirely, then props him up and coaxes off the button down shirt Tony was wearing open over his t-shirt. He leaves the t-shirt in place, eases Tony under the bedclothes and slides a pillow under his head. It feels wonderful, soft and keeping his head and neck supported, and Tony just about weeps with relief, eyes still screwed shut. The Imitrex is already starting to take the edge off, which is about as much as he can hope for at this point, he thinks. He waited too long to take it, which means it's not going to be all that effective.
"Stay put, I'll be right back," Steve says, smoothing Tony's hair back from his forehead. Somehow that feels even better than the pillow and the Imitrex combined, and he whimpers a little when the contact stops. "Shh, easy, I'm not going far, okay?"
He's true to his word, because it feels like only a couple of seconds has gone by before the bed dips again, and Tony feels a large hand slide behind him to cradle the back of his head, lifting it just long enough to slip a heating pad under his neck and shoulders.
"This is going to be a little cold, okay? Don't be surprised," Steve whispers, right before laying a wet cloth over Tony's eyes, blocking out what little light is left in the room, the cold blissful against his overheated skin. A moment passes before Steve speaks again. "I'm going to try something, okay? Try to relax, keep your muscles loose."
He takes Tony's hands between both of his, and digs his thumb into the pressure point in the web between his thumb and index finger, and Tony feels the tension begin to bleed out of his body, ever so slowly. Steve applies a little more pressure, moving his fingers in tiny circles, and Tony can't quite bite back a moan that's at least half pleasure at his touch, sinking deeper into his bed.
"That's it," Steve says encouragingly. "Try to sleep. I'll be close by, you just tell me if you need anything."
After that, it's easy to just let himself slide into the darkness.
Tony's dreams are always a little messed up, and never more so than when his migraines are in full force. This time is no exception, his dreams filled with faces warped beyond recognition, twisted landscapes and staircases that wind their way endlessly upward. He climbs until he's exhausted, crawls on his hands and knees to keep going upward, knowing he needs to get to the top because that's where his father is waiting for him along with his armour, until the stairway simply vanishes from beneath him and he falls…
He comes awake with a jolt that sends pain spiking through him again. It's dark, almost too dark to see, but almost immediately a hand comes to rest on his head, a voice murmuring something soothing, and he subsides again. Someone props him up and presses a glass of water to his lips, a voice he can't place, though it's soothing in it's familiarity, cajoling him into swallowing a few mouthfuls. Then there's a sharp, stinging pain in his leg, and soon after he sinks back into a deep, mercifully dreamless sleep.
The next time he opens his eyes the pain is gone. The room is still pitch-black, for which he's grateful, and his mouth tastes like something—or maybe several somethings—died in there, but it no longer feels like his skull is trying to rip itself apart. Carefully he props himself up onto one elbow, is rewarded with more lack of pain, and decides that today is definitely looking up.
"JARVIS, lights," he croaks, and a moment later the blinds pull away from the windows, flooding the room with daylight.
That's when he spots Steve, slumped in a chair next to his bed, head lolling at what looks like a really uncomfortable angle. His clothes are crumpled beyond recognition, and he's sporting an impressive five-o'clock shadow, his hair mussed. His cheeks are flushed with sleep, and, really, ‘adorable' is not a word that should apply to Captain America, except for how it totally does. Tony pushes himself all the way up to a sitting position, swings his legs over the side of the bed, and stretches one out in order to nudge Steve's shin with his toe.
"Hey, Sleeping Beauty. Rise and shine!"
Steve starts and snorts (and, really, it's unfair that he manages to make that look adorable too), limbs flailing a little until he regains his balance. When he meets Tony's eyes, though, a grin lights up his face.
"Yup," Tony agrees. "Happens after sleeping, I'm told."
Steve clears his throat, looks around as though searching for something, then reaches over to pick up a glass of water on Tony's night table and hands it to him. "How are you feeling?"
The water is the most delicious water he's ever had the pleasure of tasting in his entire life, except maybe that first drink he had after being rescued from the desert.
"A lot better, thanks. I'd kill for a cup of coffee, though."
"You sure you should?" Steve's face scrunches up with renewed worry.
"Yep," Tony makes sure to make the ‘p' pop loudly. "Actually," he takes pity on Steve, "caffeine helps, believe it or not. What time is it?"
JARVIS supplies the answer. "It is 11:04, sir."
"God, I was out for sixteen hours?" It was bad, then. No wonder Steve seems a little wrecked.
Steve suddenly looks sheepish. "Actually, it's been closer to thirty. Though you didn't look like you were in pain at all for the last day or so. Are you sure you're okay?"
Holy shit. "Yeah, yeah I'm fine. How'd you know about that thing with the hands?"
"I read it somewhere. Using pressure points to relieve pain. It's a very useful technique," Steve says, obviously self-conscious, and Tony gets a weird feeling in the bottom of his stomach.
"Have you been here the whole time?" he asks, and hates himself a little for the warm feeling he gets when Steve blushes and nods and won't quite meet his eyes. "Wow. Uh, 'thank you' seems a little inadequate for that. You didn't have to, you know."
"I wanted to," comes the quiet answer, and of course Steve would find the exact thing to say to make Tony want to crawl into the nearest hole and never come out. People aren't supposed to want to be in the same room with him for too long even on a good day, let alone when he's half-unconscious and puking. Tony clears his throat, trying to mask the fact that it feels as though his heart is trying to climb out through his mouth.
"Okay," he scrubs at his face with both hands, stubble rasping against the skin of his palms. "I need a shower, and several bottles of mouthwash. And you should shower too, or else they might not let either of us in the kitchen," he grins, and is relieved when Steve returns his smile, if a little tentatively.
"And you're sure you're okay?" Steve asks again, and Tony shouldn't feel pleased at the idea that he must have been really worried, he really shouldn't.
He grins a little wider, and reaches over to grab Steve's hand, pressing his thumb against the exact same spot where Steve's fingers were on his own hand last night.