This was not how Tony had planned on this week going. With Steve and Natasha undercover in Russia, Thor on Asgard, and Bruce Fury knows where, there was supposed to be no Avengers business, and no superheroing of any kind for two-point-five weeks. For 12 days there were just business trips and board meetings and no dire situations. In hindsight, that explains why he wound up on the losing side in a fight for his life after a phone call from an old friend, Maya Hansen.
Right now, the woman in question is off getting a laptop for him to make a last ditch attempt to survive. He’s pretty good at those. He flips down the faceplate on the trashed armor, wanting to do this before my returns. Even though the HUD is down, he knows JARVIS is still responding.
“J? I need you to send a message to SHIELD.”
“What information would you like me to relay, sir?”
“Tell them I’m taking Extremis, and if I don’t make it, they need to arrest Maya.” Two keys were needed to open the vault door where the drug was kept, and one of them had her name on it.
“Also, fabricate and ship the new briefcase suit, the Mark VIII.” Tony orders. “Activate it only to my codes.”
“Estimated time to completion, six hours.” JARVIS informs him after a beat.
“Good, good. Last thing…if I don’t make it, J?” Tony hesitates, thinking of Steve, off in Russia with no idea what is going on. In their time together, it’s become a tradition that when they’ve been apart for more than a week, they have a picnic on the roof of Stark Tower. There’s a chance it won’t happen if he does this, less of one if he had gone to a hospital. “Tell Steve I’m sorry.”
“Very well, Sir. I hope to hear your voice soon.”
“Me too J, me too.”
By the time Maya returns with a keyboard he can type on with broken fingers, he’s already decided what changes to make to the Extremis virus. When she finally starts the injection, his final waking thoughts are of Steve.
When Tony awakes from the Extremis cocoon, everything seems fine. He stares down at his body, ignoring Maya, taking stock of the alterations the virus has made to his person. His smashed and shattered bones are mended, bruises and cuts healed. The scars from Afghanistan all gone, replaced with smooth undamaged skin, melding smoothly into the arc reactor. And in the back of his mind, a sixth sense of sorts, the Extremis Virus, telling him Arc Reactor data - energy output, cycles per minute, magnetic field strength.
His code rewrites are working then.
“I’m alive. I’ll be damned.”
He focuses on the information Extremis is inputting into his brain, and finds another set of inputs. He recognizes JARVIS’ code, entering his brain via radio transmission, and translates the program language automatically and effortlessly, recognizing it as the Iron Man Armor’s satellite uplink to the AI.
The suit is here then, the latest model arrived from California and ready to go.
He transmits his access codes and feels the suit’s systems come online as the lockdown goes into standby and it waits for his orders. The Extremis allows him to interact with each individual system, turning his brain into another computer on the Stark Industries network, and he activates the communications array, using to send a message of reassurance to JARVIS. It’s a strange feeling to communicate so directly with the AI, Extremis automatically translating his thoughts to code and sending them via the suit’s satellite connection. It’s only after JARVIS expresses his relief at Tony’s contact and he begins sending updates on Mallen’s movements, that Tony pays attention to Maya.
Even with the Extremis virus, the fight with Mallen is brutal. SHIELD agents are converging on the scene, and even after they move the body, Tony can’t tear his eyes from the spatters of brain on concrete. It’s been a long time since he’s taken a human life - not since he ordered Pepper to blow the big reactor in California on Obie. He’s not sure how to feel about that, even though he knows it was necessary, knows where Mallen was heading, what he meant to do.
Phil Coulson’s voice finally drags him out of his thoughts, and he turns away from the mess before him, allowing the agent to lead him towards one of the SHIELD vans.
“You did good Stark. You did good.”
“I know,” he replies, sitting opposite Coulson in the back of the van. He removes the helmet as the doors shut and the van begins to move. “It just doesn’t always feel that way.”
“We’re in route to the DC SHIELD base. We need to know what happened between your two fights. JARVIS messages weren’t exactly detailed. I’m certain you know more about what’s been going on on this one than we do.”
Tony shrugs, only half listening to the agent, distracted by Extremis. Where earlier, it was receiving and translating the radio transmissions from Stark Industries satellite network, mostly those directly connected to JARVIS and the armor’s functions, now it’s picking up more. He thinks he’s getting at least three stations off Sirius XM and those are just the ones that Extremis has properly locked to. He can feel a headache growing and his mind racing, as Extremis moves to another radio frequency and a fourth station kicks in from their list of pop stations. And then a fifth and a sixth begin playback, and there are too many stations in his head - too many voices, and he’s vaguely wondering if this is how schizophrenics feel. He barely recognizes JARVIS voicing his concerns over his sudden increase in heart rate as the twelfth station joins the fray, and why would a radio station ask what I want for dinner?
Coulson is shaking him by the shoulders, the only movement he can feel through the suit, and Tony can see his lips moving, but as the clamor in his head reaches two dozen he can’t hear the agent’s voice over the noise - so much noise.
It’s a mercy when his overwhelmed brain gives up on trying to keep up with the sheer volume of information Extremis is translating. His vision goes black as the floor of the van rushes up to meet him.
When Steve gets back to the Helicarrier, he’s dirty, tired, and in need of a shower, and he can’t wait to see Tony. Sure, he’s concerned over them being pulled out three days early, but he’s spent two weeks traipsing through the backwoods of Russia with Natasha, chasing rumors of the Winter Soldier, and has had enough of pine trees to last him a few years. He skips his medical check to shower first, since there were no hazardous encounters, and wanders off to the locker room where Tony is waiting, as always when he’s sent out on missions and there have been no injury reports. He figures no one will mind anyway, since he hasn’t been ordered to report anywhere for a debrief yet.
Except Tony isn’t there.
It’s Clint who sits on the wooden bench near the Avenger’s lockers, staring down the door with unnatural stillness. His posture relaxes as Steve steps through the door, and he rises and moves forward before Steve can say anything.
“There you are. Coulson wants you in medical, they’re bringing him in now.”
“Bringing in who, Clint, what -
When they arrive in the medical bay, Steve can barely make out Tony’s form on the bed in the Helicarrier’s isolation room. Doctors in full rubber isolation suits, created for any possible event in which Bruce may be injured without Hulking out, are busy attaching electrodes to Tony’s naked body. Through the gaps between their bodies, Steve doesn’t see any blood or bruising, only that occasionally Tony’s fingers or legs will twitch, much as they do when he’s trapped in the throes of Afghanistan nightmares.
He turns at the feel of a hand on his shoulder. Coulson and Fury stand grim faced behind him.
“Homegrown terrorist, moving cross country. No one else was available.”
“What do you mean no one else was available? I thought SHIELD stopped terrorists all the time.”
The pair at least have the decency to look uncomfortable.
“Special case. He took a dose of a stolen nanovirus called Extremis.”
“Which is special why?”
“It’s an attempt to replicate the Super Soldier Serum with nanotechnology, Captain.” Fury explains.
Steve focuses on the director, eyes narrowing as he tries to stamp down on the anger suddenly coursing through his veins. “You told me SHIELD puts a stop to attempts to recreate the serum after what happened to Bruce!”
“Yes and no.” Fury hesitates a moment, seeming to carefully choose his wording. “SHIELD sabotages any potentially viable serum replica. Up to two days ago, all SHIELD knowledge of Extremis showed its code was fundamentally flawed. All test subjects died following injection, up to Mallen.
“Fuck, you mean this is why Natasha and I were recalled from Russia early? Why didn’t you send someone to pick us up?”
“It was determined that in this situation you would be of no greater use than anyone else.”
“He was shooting lasers out of his mouth, Cap.” Clint pats him on the shoulder, sounding apologetic. “He healed a gaping hole in his stomach in seconds. And that was just the first time Tony faced him. The only video is from a news chopper 500 feet up, and it was pretty gruesome.”
“First time?” Steve repeats, glancing back in the room where Tony lays, doctors still attaching equipment to the leads.
“He took a dose of Extremis, Steve.” Coulson says. “We think it may be killing him.”
Steve pulls away from Clint’s hand, raising his own to the Hulk proof glass, cold trailing through his veins at the thought of losing the man who makes him feel welcome in this century, who makes it feel like home. Steve isn’t sure how much the three agents know about their relationship but it seems to be enough, if the somber and truly apologetic atmospheric is anything to go by.
“We’ve arrested the lead designer and are flying her in.” Coulson informs him before they leave him to his thoughts. “If we’re lucky, she’ll have answers.”
She doesn’t. At least, not the ones they want to hear.
“Tony rewrote a significant portion of the extremis code. It will take me days to determine exactly what alterations he’s made.” Maya explains, her eyes never leaving the computer screen. “It wouldn’t be as bad if he weren’t one of the top programmers in the world. I think half of these changes were made in the custom language he uses for his own robots.”
“Is there anything you can tell us, Doctor?” Fury asks, his annoyance with the situation coming through in his voice.
“Only that Tony is not contagious.” She moves to a different screen, displaying a different section of code. “and it looks like Extremis will be done rewriting his code in about twelve hours.”
“What do you mean, will be?” Steve questions, still watching the screen showing Tony’s isolation room. He’s terrified of what it’s doing to him, how it could be changing the very core of Tony’s being.
“The normal incubation period during which Extremis makes its changes is 48 to 72 hours. During this time, the Extremis forms a regenerative and protective cocoon while it repairs the body and rewrites the nervous system. Tony disabled several safeties and rewrote the code to dissolve the cocoon after 24 hours to continue the fight with Mallen. But Extremis couldn’t do a total rewrite in that time. It seems he may have prioritized the functions that would help him in battle, and now Extremis is continuing to rewrite the lower priority functions that Tony added.”
“And you don’t know what functions Tony added because you can’t read his code.” Coulson states.
Maya doesn’t respond.
“Why don’t we let JARVIS take a look at it?” Steve proposes. “He maintains Tony’s robots and corrects any errors in their code all the time, so we know he can read it. I think he’s written in it. He’ll get through it a lot faster than any of SHIELD’s programmers.”
Fury nods. “Very well. Captain -
“I’ll take it.” Clint offers before Fury can complete the order. Steve suppresses his sigh of relief. He’ll have to thank Clint later.
After the archer has vanished off to Avengers tower to consult JARVIS, Steve returns to the isolation room. Tony is finally alone, and Steve is allowed in to sit with his boyfriend, no rubber suit necessary now that Dr. Hansen has confirmed Extremis is not transferable. He looks forlornly at the monitors, all describing Tony’s elevated heart rate and erratic brain activity before he settles in a chair next to the bed, reaching under the blanket to take Tony’s hand.
The engineer’s fingers are still twitching in his, and Steve squeezes the smaller hand, trying to reassure Tony that he’s here. As far as the doctors can tell, only the Arc-Reactor, glowing in Tony’s chest remains unchanged. The scars from the shrapnel and following surgeries are gone. Scars on his face and arms from the Chitauri Invasion and various Doombot attacks no longer mar the suddenly wrinkle free skin there. They grey streaks in his hair that Tony once stated make him look distinguished have been eradicated.
Steve can’t stop himself from reaching out, running his free hand through Tony’s now dark brown hair. He isn’t sure if Tony leans into his touch or if it’s his imagination, but all the same he continues the stroking as he speaks, nonsense things that no one would care about but them. Drawing in the workshop with Dummy, slow dancing in the living room with no one else around, their picnics on the roof of Avengers Tower after long missions apart. He loses track of how long he sits there, until Clint returns, report from JARVIS in hand.
The folder contains a list of alterations that have already been made to Tony’s physiology. Steve isn’t sure whether to be awed or upset by the changes Extremis is making, changes that Tony directed it to do in the first place. He fights to suppress the hurt feeling from Tony doing it without consulting him first, reminding himself that it was a life and death situation and there was no way for Tony to contact him. He shudders at the thought of Tony dead from his injuries.
Tony’s ability to heal has accelerated, and he now carries a gold undersheath for the Iron Man suit in his bones. Of most concern though, is the open ended directive from Tony for the Extremis to build new connections to access the Iron Man suit. JARVIS confirms that the Extremis did indeed connect Tony mentally to the suit, essentially turning his brain into a computer, meant to fit neatly into the network comprised of the AI and the armor. He warns that as long as the Extremis continues to make alterations, there’s no telling what it’s connecting to Tony’s mind.
After that news is delivered, Steve remains at Tony’s side, only moving to use the bathroom. Clint and Natasha bring him food every few hours, occasionally staying awhile to provide company, reading quietly in the corner and pretending not to hear what Steve whispers to Tony, trying to rouse him. It’s almost 42 hours after Tony passed out with Coulson that Steve feels a returned hand squeeze, and scrambles out of his chair.
“Tony? Can you hear me?” he asks, squeezing the smaller hand again.
The engineer’s eyes crack carefully open, an odd mix of pain and intense focus concentrated in them. Steve doesn’t move from his gaze though, sensing something important is about to happen.
“Where?” Steve finds it eerie that Tony’s voice isn’t at all cracked from almost two days without non-IV liquids or speech.
“The Helicarrier. An isolation room.” It’s as he speaks, that Steve realizes that Tony’s gaze isn’t focused on his face so much as his lips, reading his words as he says them. He frowns, but Tony opens his mouth, so he holds his questions.
“It’s quieter here. No cell phones. Less stations.”
“Tony, what -
“Extremis. It’s turned my head into a radio transmitter and receiver. I wasn’t specific enough with my code.”
“What do you mean?”
“I told it to enable a neural interface with the Armor. It recognized that the Armor sends and receives signals from JARVIS on radio frequencies and operates on radio frequencies and that basically the entire SI network communicates via radio transmission and rewired my brain to pick them up. And then it kept going and started enabling all radio frequencies.”
Steve watches sadly as Tony’s face twists into one of his self-deprecating smirks.
“It got a little overwhelming when I had all of Sirius XM and a couple hundred phone calls running through my head at once.”
“Why is it different now?”
“Well, Extremis is done. And I’m pretty sure the Helicarrier is blocking most of the transmissions.” Tony states, glancing around the isolation room. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a bit noisy in here -” he taps his head, “- with all the internal transmissions, but between their constant jamming of outside signals and the metal hull, I can at least understand you.”
“You couldn’t understand earlier?”
Tony shrugs. “The rest was drowning Coulson out. And watching your lips helped me pick your voice out of it.” he gestures with his free hand, indicating the mess inside his head.
“Well, I know how you like to stare at my lips.” Steve chuckles, and for a few brief seconds, his concern melts away as he leans in to kiss Tony, their mouths moving chastely against each other.
“I missed our picnic.” Tony frowns apologetically as Steve pulls away.
“We’ll have one when we fix this.” The super soldier assures him, squeezing Tony’s hand again as he does so.
“I think the armor protected me during the battle.” Tony theorizes. “I didn’t have any problems until I took off my helmet.”
“Why would the suit make such a huge difference?” Steve is certain science is involved.
“It’s a gold-titanium alloy. Both of which make better conductors than the steel in the Helicarrier. And all the suit's incoming radio transmissions are controlled by JARVIS."
“And conductors are important because?”
“They scatter radio waves.”
“Tony, you can’t spend the rest of your life in the suit.”
"So what are we going to do?"
"I don't know. Yet."
The obvious fix, Steve is quick to point out, is to just reprogram the Extremis.
“You can do that, right?”
Tony squirmed in his new bed, now surrounded by the brainstorming Avengers, Thor having returned from Asgard, and Bruce having been dragged from the Canadian wilderness. He’s been transferred to an isolated set of quarters, all electronics have been removed from the room, and all power has been shut down within a 20 foot sphere and steel bulkheads placed in the corridors. Tony is grateful Fury allowed it, as it’s lessened the number of radio signals in his head even more. He doesn’t even mind that sitting in the dark under emergency lighting is the result, though he may be curled against Steve’s side, looking for comfort. The blonde shifts at the squirming, pulling away slightly to look at him.
The man in question sighs, fingers moving to tap out a nervous staccato against the Arc Reactor in his chest.
“It’s not that simple.”
“But are you not a great programmer of electrics?” Thor booms. “You have created JARVIS and the great Dum-E!”
Tony wishes he could find it in him to chuckle. He’s not sure why Thor has taken such a liking to Dummy, but he thinks it has something to do with the bot’s loyalty, and the way he charged the Avengers the first time they appeared in the workshop to drag him to dinner.
“I am fantastic, aren’t I?” He finally agrees, finding himself unable to completely let go of false bravado. “Unfortunately, Extremis has completely rewired my brain and built entirely new pathways to act as the radio receiver. And because of the way everything is interconnected...to just command it to remove the capability or even rewrite it to exclude the it could...”
he trails off, unable to complete the sentence, no idea how to describe the terror the thought it conveyed brings him.
“Could what, Tony?” Bruce prods gently, as Steve squeezes his shoulder in reassurance.
“It could ruin my mind.” he whispers, and barely supresses a shudder. Because, oh, how he values his ability to think, to create, to plan, and to save himself in a dire situation. To lose that - to be just another normal human being - is one of his deepest fears. His thoughts - normally in full technicolor and occurring a dozen at once are barely discernible from the radio waves at this stage and it’s unbearable.
Unnerved by the sudden show of emotion, the Avengers all look away. While Tony relaxes with them often these days, he usually saves his negative feelings for Steve to deal with, and indeed, Steve is the only one who does not turn his head. Instead he pulls Tony to him, removing the distance he placed there a moment ago with a hug, gently tucking his boyfriends head under his chin.
“It’s alright, Tony.” He soothes as he strokes the man’s back. “We aren’t going to do anything that would hurt you more than Extremis already has.”
“But you’ve said it yourself; I can’t live in the suit.” Tony reminds him, voice muffled by Steve’s shirt.
“What if you were to reprogram Extremis in a way that wouldn’t involve more rewiring?” Natasha suggests. “Like maybe install a program to act as a tuner dial since it’s pretty much turned your brain into a computer? Technically radios are always receiving every station in the area in their range, the tuner just keeps you from hearing all of them at once.”
“Can’t.” Tony replies, lifting his head. “I need to receive multiple bands at once to operate the suit, and at any rate those are the only ones that aren’t really causing a problem. It’s all these radio frequencies that I can’t network with that are the problem.”
They all pointedly ignore his frustration.
“What about a tuner that would select a range of bands instead of one?” Steve offers. “You could set it to the range used by Stark Industries’ computers and satellites and not have to ever hear the other radio frequencies, even though you’re still getting them. Then you’d just have to learn to ignore the SI feeds you don’t need.”
“He did that pretty well before.” Clint jokes, and even Tony can’t help but smile, despite his response.
“It seems a reasonable solution. What issues arise from it.” Thor asks.
“It doesn’t solve the problem of brain overload. Just because I’m not consciously getting the details it doesn’t mean extremis has stopped receiving them.”
“So install an on-off switch.” Clint throws out.
Tony looks at him blankly.
“What? My phone has like eight of them.” he reaches for the device at his waist, before remembering he removed it to visit Tony. “I mean, there’s one for wifi, and bluetooth, 4G, GPS, data...”
Clint trails off, startled by the look on Tony’s face.
“That’s...” He should have thought of it, really. Probably could have, if it weren’t for all the noise in his head.
“That could work.” the engineering part of his mind is kicking into full gear, and now that Tony has one specific train of thought it’s starting to push down everything else. It feels wonderfully normal. “Get me a Stark Pad with a direct connection to JARVIS.”
He doesn’t see the significant look Steve gives the team, too busy concentrating on his fingers, already air typing code. It’s only when Steve shifts next to him that he glances around, noticing they’ve all gone.
“Where did everyone -
“They’re getting your tablet. Tony, how is this going to work?” Steve prys. Because while he’s relieved to see Tony acting much more like his old self, he’s still wary of making any changes that could potentially harm him more than Extremis already has.
“It’s actually ridiculously simple.” Tony states, then grimaces. “Well, theoretically, at least.”
Steve raises an eyebrow, but waits patiently for the explanation.
“Basically I’m going to use your idea of a range tuner, but instead of a tuner, it’s going to be an on off switch. I’ll be able to turn off all the ranges that don’t belong to SI, and then I’ll just have to learn to ignore anything on SI’s feeds I don’t need. It’ll take a night’s programming, hit install, and bam, ready to go.”
Steve sighs. He’s learned enough about computers in the few years since he woke to know that programming is rarely simple, even for Tony. Tony is the first to admit that Dummy is proof.
“Tony, are you sure about this? I just...” He swallows, glancing down at his hands before meeting Tony’s eyes. “I almost lost you, and by the time I found out it would have been too late. When Clint...” he paused again, trying to collect his thoughts.
“It felt like when I woke up, and they told me everyone but Peggy was dead. Except you weren’t even dead, weren’t even injured, and they didn’t know what was wrong...and I was terrified Tony, that you’d never wake up, and I’d never hear your voice again, or see that light you get when you’re building things in the shop...I don’t want to lose you Tony. Not if I can ever help it. You just...you make me happy, whenever I’m with you. Even when we’ve been fighting. And I just...I love you.”
Tony is aware that his mouth has fallen open, and that his fingers have stilled of their own accord, but he can’t bring himself to care. He blinks repeatedly, trying to make sure he’s not suffering some sort of Extremis induced hallucination.
“Steve...” he finds himself reaching up to caress the super soldier’s cheek, and Steve leans into the touch ever so slightly. “I love you too.”
Ultimately, it takes longer than expected for Tony to write the new program for Extremis. Even with the measures taken to limit the number of radio waves bouncing in his mind, they’re still a big distraction, and even when he is able to focus, they instead cause headaches.
Surprisingly, it’s Steve that’s volunteered to take control of training Tony to ignore the radio waves, despite his limited knowledge about how they work in regards to modern computer systems.
“I had the same problem right after the serum.” he explains, two mornings into Tony and JARVIS’ combined efforts. “It was with sound.”
He’s looking sadly at Tony. The Extremis keeps his skin free of the dark circles that used to appear under his eyes so often, but Steve can tell he’s tired. Judging by the way Tony is staring listlessly at the ceiling, the radio waves kept him awake again after Steve forced him to bed.
“Tell me about it?” he sounds exhausted.
“After the adrenaline wore off from the chase, after Erskine...everything was just loud and everywhere and unless I was specifically listening for a certain voice or the person talking was right next to me, I wouldn’t really hear them above the other sounds.” Steve recalled. “It was actually selling war bonds that trained me to ignore background noise... I had to force myself to phase it out or I kept missing my cues.”
“No wonder your first month of performances was so awful.” Tony chuckles, finally sitting up and grabbing his tablet off the bedside table.
“How would you know?” He pretends to be shocked. “Are you secretly 85 and not telling me?”
“Ha ha.” Tony’s tone shows he clearly isn’t amused. “If you must know, Dad has the old newsreels. The embarrassing, blackmail worthy newsreels.”
Tony shoots him a look of disbelief.
“But you love me.” Steve pouts.
“Which does present a small problem. This is why I’ve avoided falling in love.”
“Does that mean I’m safe?”
Tony looks him up and down, and Steve can see the cogs turning in his head.
“I could be bought.” the engineer finally offers, smirking.
“Hmm, how’s this for payment then?” Steve asks, drawing Tony into a long lingering kiss.
“That’ll work.” Tony says when they finally break apart, looking dazed. “You should do that more often, it shorted out all the feeds for a minute there.”
“Somehow, I doubt that’ll help you work.”
“Doesn’t need to.” Tony replies, holding out the tablet. “Jarvis finished running the off switch program on the Extremis simulation.”
“It worked.” Tony frowns. “The team and Fury are on their way down with the suit.”
“Why the suit?”
“JARVIS is doing a hardwire install through the suit.” Tony leans into him, tossing the tablet down the bed. “You’re okay with this, right?”
“Honestly, I’d be more okay if you’d never taken the Extremis injection in the first place. But I’d rather you do this than be stuck here for the rest of your life.”
“I guess that’s fair.” Tony sighs. “I took the Extremis because it gave me the best chance of seeing you again. My internal injuries were pretty bad, and I just... you should just know that, okay?”
“Okay.” Steve agrees softly.
They sit in silence until the Avengers arrive.
It’s another two hours before they let Tony assemble the suit. He can’t quite resist the opportunity to show off, first allowing the gold undersuit to ooze out from his pores, and then using the Extremis to activate the repulsor fields in the armor plates and set them around his body. When he’s sure the team is suitably impressed, he places the helmet, and there is beautiful, glorious silence. Only JARVIS and the armor itself remain in his head, and in the quiet he finds himself able to control the Extremis by thought. He hasn’t been able to since before the fight, before all the radio waves become too loud for him to hear his thoughts.
The HUD shows his heart rate and blood pressure are returning to normal for the first time in days. A report from JARVIS shows the program bandaid.exe is ready for transfer and install.
“J, did you name this thing?”
“No sir, it was Dummy who selected a designation.” answers the accented English.
“You let Dummy work on this?” Never mind, cancel everything!
“He insisted on helping. I thought this the best way for him to do so without causing harm. He spent several hours in contemplation.”
“Alright. Let’s run this thing.”
“File transfer initiated.” JARVIS informs him.
And Oh, that’s interesting! Tony thinks as a yet unused portion of the extremis comes online, and he suddenly finds himself viewing his mind more like a file tree as the program informs him of the incoming file. It’s an odd sensation, because he knows he’s not actually seeing anything, and yet it’s all there, filed by subject and detail. And just as JARVIS informs him the transfer is complete, a not-there-but-there message box from Extremis pops up, asking him if he would like to run program bandaid.exe.
“Well, guess it’s time to do this,” he says, more for JARVIS’ benefit, while consciously thinking at the Extremis run bandaid.exe.
Tony watches, as it unpacks the files and modifies the Extremis code just enough to install the new on/off switches, designed to run on an [unfilter band] command. The installation goes surprisingly quickly, and Extremis presents another question.
[reboot system? y/n]
[initializing system reboot.]
He falls unconscious.
Tony wakes to the message [program Bandaid successfully installed.]
The JARVIS run HUD informs him that he’s been out for less than a minute, the suit’s locked joints keeping him upright and still. He dismisses the notification.
“All systems appear normal, sir. The program booted correctly on startup. You may remove your helmet when ready.”
He unlatches the helmet and pulls it off.
“Tony?” Steve asks, the entire team watching worriedly.
The quiet in his head is barely disturbed by a couple of Stark Industries feeds that manage to snake their way through the helicarrier, albeit static ridden and not consistently understandable.
“It’s working.” He tells them, even offering a smile, and the tension evaporates.
The doctors insist on bringing their equipment back and testing Tony before they’ll let him leave the room he was transferred to. He never hears a mental beep from the monitors and meters. It’s still hours before they release him, with orders to find Steve on the deck of the Helicarrier. He’s pretty sure it’s the only time he’ll ever follow doctor’s orders without argument.
He navigates the corridors with ease, and as he approaches the deck hatch, the SI frequencies are becoming clearer and more numerous. By the time he steps outside, he’s picking up every transmission Stark Industries makes, and a headache is starting to form.
“There you are.” comes Steve’s voice, and he allows a hand on his shoulder to guide him to sit against the wall a few feet from the hatch. He closes his eyes as he slides down, trying to ignore the radio feeds and failing miserably.
“Here.” Steve says, pushing something into his hands, and Tony opens his eyes as he looks down, surprised to see a clip board there. On the paper is an exam, and he flips through, finding all sorts of problems ranging from basic calculus to thermonuclear astrophysics.
“Did you get these off the internet?” he manages to ask. He can barely concentrate enough to read through some of the problems, let alone consider what equations he needs to solve them.
“Bruce made it.” Steve answers. “Drawing backstage during rehearsals helped me learn to phase the distractions out and hear what I needed to. It took a while, but the better I got at it, the closer my drawing got to pre-serum quality. Bruce and I thought it might work the same for you and math.”
Tony shrugs. “I might as well try it.”
Between his inability to concentrate over Stark Industries satellite feeds and their resulting headache, it takes an embarrassing two hours to complete the plain calculus problems. But Tony can say he definitely thinks they’re a little less loud, and a little easier to ignore as he and Steve prepare to move back inside.
By the time they reach the commissary, Tony’s back down to the two fuzzy non-JARVIS and non-armor feeds, and the headache is quickly evaporating. Steve is pleased to see him load his tray and actually eat it all. He’s even more pleased when Tony sleeps through the night in their normal quarters and wakes looking refreshed.
The next four days progress in a similar fashion, Tony phasing out more and getting further in his math test - which changes every day - each time they step outside. By the end of the fifth afternoon, ignoring the noise from the radio transmissions is done with the same ease as ignoring the board of directors in a budget meeting, and the math problems are all solved in his head, if not on paper. The headache is minor, more like those he gets from spending too long in the workshop.
That night, he plots with JARVIS via the extremis. The AI assures him everything will be ready when they arrive at Stark Tower the following afternoon.
The next day when Tony emerges, he’s in the armor, Steve’s shield on one arm and the suit’s helmet tucked under the other. Steve stares for all of three seconds before switching into Captain America mode.
“What’s wrong? Has there been an attack?”
“We’re late.” Tony replies, and Steve frowns.
“You had me worried!” Steve exclaims, gesturing with his clipboard. “Besides, you haven’t finished your test. You’re not... I don’t want you to leave when you aren’t ready yet and end up getting hurt.”
“Steve, it’s fine. I’m fine.” Tony reassures him. “I finished yesterdays...I just didn’t finish it. I wanted you to be surprised today.”
Steve deflates a bit, sighing. “That’s...are you sure?”
“Look, if I do today’s entire thing right now, can we go have our picnic that we should have had a week ago? Pretty please?”
Steve gazes at him for a long moment, finally nodding. “Alright.”
“Great, give it here!” Tony orders, making what Clint has termed ‘grabby hands’.
Two hours later, they lay on the roof of Stark Tower, admiring the sunset as they nibble at the remains of the picnic arranged by JARVIS and the bots. Tony remains unbothered by the satellites, his headache negligible.
“I told you it’d be fine.” he nags, tossing aside an apple core.
“Maybe.” Steve smiles. “I’m just glad you’re okay. No more near death experiences for a while, alright?”
“Alright.” Tony agrees, reaching out to take Steve’s hand. They lay in silence for a few minutes, relaxed and at ease until Steve speaks again.
“You know what else would be fine?”
Tony glances at him, frowning in confusion as he props himself up to see Steve’s face. “Was that a come on?”
“Maybe...” Steve hedges as he rolls onto his side with a lustful expression on his face, and oh, that was a come on.
“Uh huh. So what do you think of this kind of distraction now?”
“Oh, this isn’t the distraction. This is the main event.” Steve replies, pulling him in.