Chapter 1: Natasha
He’s going to die.
He knows this, he’s known for months, but this isn’t months, this is right the fuck now.
His heart judders, kicking his stomach up into his throat and he coughs in shock, eyes blown wide.
No, he hasn’t– he has to sign the, the, sign the papers, the company has to – Pepper, P-pepper, not the shareholders, the- he can’t die here, he never meant to die here, Dummy shouldn’t have to see– he doesn’t want JARVIS to watch him die, JARVIS will live forever, he doesn’t need that memory playing over and over and over every time he closes his eyes, blood leaking out onto an american flag and staining the rice black–
His lungs are filling up with water– did, did the shrapnel move? Shit, he has to check the, check he’s not bleeding, not drowning, that would– he could fix that, chest t-t-t-tube, EMT’s would–
Something clatters to the floor and he goes down after it, the world swimming like he’s in microgravity. His lips tingle, go numb but keep tingling, and his ears– that noise, it’s his blood, roaring in his ears.
It was a wrench, he d-d-dropped the wrench, hah. It lies there on the concrete, half a foot from his face, and he reaches out to touch it, but it’s too far. His fingers won’t move, because he’s dying, and andand– someone will find him dead and no one – He’s not ready, he’s got things to do, this wasn’t in his plans, he doesn’t know what this is but his heart is straining and faltering and no one-
-should have to watch someone die-
“Mr Stark, what happened, are you okay?” Sensible little flats scamper over scattered tools and projects like they’re combat boots, and then she’s there, turning him onto his back. The reactor shifts in his chest as his ribcage flexes and he gasps in a raw, shallow breath. It fucking hurts, and his heartbeat just–
And then hits him like a humvee, jolting through him and ow, ow, fuck, making him smack his head onto concrete. He can’t get enough air in a single gasp, so he gulps, feeling the reactor drag on his ribs, compress his lungs in his chest and only stopping when he can feel his aorta pressing against the casing, the ache shooting all down his left arm, turning his fingers into nerveless meat.
Natalie is talking, rummaging frantically in her bag for something, lipstick and a very tiny gun spilling across the floor while she curses in half-recognized Cantonese.
His vision grays out again; there’s no EMT who could get here quick enough, and he feels gut-wrenchingly selfish that at least JARVIS isn’t alone watching him-
He meant to give Rhodey the suit– he hadn’t worked out how, but he’d built it, all silver and modified to be self-powered, repairable by Rhodey’s own two hands– it’s right there, in the corner of his eye, brilliant and shining as everything else swims around him.
“Tony, open your mouth, please, come on,”
She pries at his jaw and he lets her, because that’s a prescription bottle, and he doesn’t want to die, this is too fucking soon, god–
She shoves her fingers under his tongue and sprays something icy cold under there, then pops a pill in his mouth and tells him to chew, damnit, while I call the EMTs.
He crunches the asprin weakly, shoving the powder under his tongue with the… nitro? She’s been raiding his bathroom cupboard if she has that in her purse, he never expected to need it, but his heart is going like gangbusters, he’s fucking terrified, he just wants to live through this–
“I’m gonna dose you with a sedative, okay, Mr. Stark? It’ll keep you safe, slow your heart right down.”
He jolts, fumbling for her wrist, he’s gotta tell her, he can’t–
“No narcs, Rushman, don’t–” He coughs, his heart feeling to huge for his chest, pressing up against his throat with each miss-beat, and thumping against the back to the reactor.
“I know, Tony, I’ve got you, you’re going to be just fine, okay? We’re gonna look after you.”
He gulps and closes his eyes against the spinning dizziness that’s replaced the airless pain.
Yeah. He’ll sign the papers, as soon as he gets back up. They’ll – He’s supposed to have a couple more weeks, yeah. He’ll– he can live that long.
He falls asleep without noticing Agent Romanov’s familiarity with the syrette, and sleeps through his check up with the SHIELD medic they have on call for him.
Fury steps up his plan to get hold of Howard’s old files; they don’t have any time left.
Chapter 2: Clint
Post Avengers, and it's Clint's turn to help Tony out.
They’re trying something new.
Normally, he’s fine, but when he takes tight turns, he greys out earlier that a healthy person would. It’s dangerous,and he’s taken himself off the team until he gets it figured out.
So they’re trying something new. Vasoconstrictors. Raises his peripheral resistance, reduces pooling in the limbs, etcetera etcetera, whatever. His fingers are white, and god damn but he’s finding it hard to get enough air.
Fuckit, he’s fine, he is.
He’s not going to lie down and sleep like this though, two days into the trial week and he’s been gasping every time he lies down; the balance between blood pressure and lung function is off.
He heads for the workshop tonight, instead.
Long day, a meeting with the Manhattan Energy Board (newly set up and taking baby-steps towards sustainability) and a session with Steve to test the new drug regimen (success there, at least). He’s exhausted and ...he wants this one to work; four meds, and a strict fluid intake, no caffeine, no alcohol, and it’d be worth it, if he could just breathe right.
He putters, talking quietly with J and rolling a pop can around with Dummy and he’s relaxed enough to want to sleep, but he’s not comfortable enough to lie down. He doesn’t just wake up short of breath, he dreams it too and that... Not worth risking. Fuck.
“If I may suggest--”
“J, please don’t go over this again, he doesn’t fucking sleep either. I’m not going to go ask him to be a night nurse, the hell do you think our relationship is...”
JARVIS says nothing, but one of his screens fades up with a slideshow of high-quality candid photographs of Tony and the others, all relaxed and leaning on each other, eating together, the usual soppy, schmoopy crap.
Tony dumps his recalcitrant, failing body into the couch and watches, head boneless on the cushion. “Fine. Leave it up. I’ll try.”
“It’s all I ask.”
“Fuck you, you pile of transistors, that is a lie.”
“Well, I could ask that you do the sensible thing and return to the clinic for adjustments, but I am not.”
“I have to try this one, J, don’t try and tell me Dr. Singh knows anything you don’t.”
“I never should have taken the exam, sir. I dare say you’d never see a doctor again,”
Tony huffs a laugh, taking a deep breath and holding it for the momentary comfort. “But you did, and I do. Look at me, functional human being.”
“Because he knows how to coerce you. ‘Functional’ my ass.”
Tony twitches, levering his shoulder against the couch back so he can see behind it. Clint’s leaning in the doorway, mouth twisted into a wry smile, but otherwise blank.
“Hawkeye, hey. You alright?”
Clint levels him with a hundred-yard stare and he has to look at the guy’s feet instead of his face.
“So. Steve was pleased at dinner.”
Tony shrugged and slumped back down, waving off the implications. “Steve needs to learn not to get his hopes up.”
The couch complains under Clint’s weight, then settles, sagging so it’s pushing them together. They readjust so they’re not squashed, but Tony doesn’t retreat to the arm, and the couch isn’t so big that they’re not still in each other’s personal space.
“It’s good for him to have a break from worrying over the roster, but don’t lie to him, Tony.”
He itches his beard and tucks one hand under the opposite armpit. “I’m not, it really is working, tactically. ‘s just the rest of the time.”
“Huh, how’s that even happen?” Clint relaxes into the couch, exact opposite to Tony’s tense shoulders, and Tony has to admit that he finds himself copying it, though he stays tucked over himself. He feels exposed, he’s allowed to hug himself when he feels like that. Dr. Singh isn’t the only professional he’s seeing at the moment.
“It’s a complicated system, and drugs are less responsive than parasympathetic innervation.”
Clint’s silent for a while, waiting. “I. Uh, okay, word, taken. Because some of us are not geniuses with vocabularies averaging eight letter words.”
“Shut up, Clint. I hate it when you do that.” Tony does shift away, then, and his leg feels cold.
“Hey, what, no, come back.” Clint literally pulls him back, and they end up in a tangled sprawl on the couch. “Do what?”
“...’geniuses’, ‘vocabulary’ and ‘averaging’ are all over eight letters, stop... using arbitrary bullshit to call yourself stupid.” Tony finds himself taking a huge breath after speaking, and realizes with a sinking heart that he’d stopped breathing while he spoke. He pushes himself back against the couch, shoulders back, chest opened out, and does his breathing exercise a few times.
Clint watches, face inscrutable. “Sure, I’ll stop ‘pretending’ to be a dolt, when you stop pretending to be okay.”
“I’m not fucking lying to Steve, okay?!” he snaps, gasping a little and holding a lungful for a couple of seconds while Clint lifts his hands up in surrender.
“I’m not saying you are. But, you got us, if you need help. Fucks sake, Tony, at least let us make you a damn coffee or something once in a while.”
Grumpy and no longer willing to sit still, too tired to relax, Tony levers himself upright and stomps off across the workshop. Part way across, his vision goes a little gray and he slows down, meandering close to a bench as insurance. He’s good at folding to the floor without hurting himself, but he’d rather not, okay? If he can just stand through the next three seconds, he’ll be fine again. Already, his heart is thumping away harder, returning blood to his brain.
Clint would notice, though, of fucking course.
His shoulders are big, and his sweater warm, soft. Tony growls wordlessly and leans on him while the darkness at the edges of his vision fractures into little white sparks.
He shakes off the claggy feeling in his brain and Hawkeye goes with it, standing there with his hand held away from Tony.
Begrudgingly, Tony taps his chest with the back of his fingers. “Thanks.”
His momentum is broken though, so it’s more of an amble than a stomp to his prescription meds cupboard. It’s four shelves, deep, and he’s got enough to last him two months at any one time, just in case he’s got to go on a business trip. The week is already portioned out into four-times daily pill boxes, and he grabs tomorrow, tossing in on the clean table nearby.
Thirteen pills. Two sets four times a day, one set at three, with food --he’s never eaten so regularly in his life-- and two sets once a day, a pill that makes him antsy and he can’t sleep after, thus, morning, and a bedtime systematic sedative to compensate.
Clint looks, reads the times on the top of each compartment, and blanches a little.
Tony opens a few compartments on the table, tips the pills into a couple of colorful piles and picks up the god-awful beta-agonist. “Can’t take with caffeine. Also, giving me pulmonary odema.” The sleeping pill. “Can’t take with alcohol,” the anti-rejection medication and antibiotics, “make me nauseous, and also hypersensitive to alcohol. No more baileys in the creme brule.”
Clint takes and unconscious step closer, and Tony allows it, bumping their shoulders together. He’s also freezing. He points to the last set, the peripheral vasoconstrictors. “Make me permanently cold, and also faint as a Victorian in a corset. So. Fuck you and your coffee.”
Clint solemnly unzips his hoodie and puts Tony inside it, squashed face first against his chest. It must be Steve’s, smells faintly like him, and Tony takes a deeply aggrieved breath and leans into the offered warmth.
Tony shudders, in a good way. “Oh fuck yes.”
“You taken the sleeping pill yet?”
Tony shakes his head against Clint’s collarbone, hands kneading at the hem of his t-shirt.
“Alright. We’ll double-tap it, cocoa and meds and then... you want me to come with you to Singhs?”
Tony gripes, wriggling out of the hug and shuffling the pills back into their containers. “No.”
Clint drops a pink sleeping pill into tomorrow evening’s pot.
“...yes. That. Would actually be great. Steve gets-- yeah. Okay.”
Clint continues to say nothing and puts the pack in his pocket once Tony’s closed it up securely. Tony shrugs, exhausted and not quite getting it, but whatever. Clint’s got pockets, he doesn’t.
Clint guides him towards the elevator with an arm over his shoulder and they go get cocoa.