Tony startled and blinked awake at the sound of JARVIS giving his time and weather wake up call. Even the soft light of the early morning sun peeking over the horizon as the window tint was reduced was too bright to be comfortable and he rolled over with a groan and pulled the blanket back up over his head.
Everything on his right side gave a vigorous protest with the maneuver, reminding him of how he'd caught an SUV along there in the battle the day before. The only reason he wasn't in traction or the morgue was because of the armor—which was going to need repairs, but not until after he'd healed enough to pick up a hammer again. Thankfully he had spares. His head pounded dully, a warning against further movement.
“J, cancel all my appointments until at least March,” he croaked.
“Unfortunately, sir, I cannot. You have a meeting with accounting this morning and Ms. Potts has marked it pink.”
Tony groaned more loudly and punched his pillow with his left hand.
“It can't even be put off one day?” he grumbled. It was probably going to be a week before he felt more like a human being and less like roadkill, but every little bit helped.
“It has been put off for three consecutive weeks already. With the new quarter approaching—“
Tony sighed. “Yeah, yeah, okay. JARVIS, draft a letter. I hereby resign as head of the Stark Industries Research and Development department. I am now just a peon who doesn't need to go to meetings. Humbly yours, Tony Stark.”
“Ms. Potts is willing to accept your resignation and demotion, but only after the morning's meeting,” JARVIS reported after a brief pause. “Also, she would like to remind you that all project approvals and progress reports must be submitted to your new department head by the 21st of the month.”
Tony stared at the headboard of his bed. “That's today isn't it?”
“It is indeed, sir.”
He sighed. “Which means that I would have to either submit paperwork or accept it. And knowing my luck, probably both. Ugh.” He buried his face in the pillow and the next was lost to mumbling.
“I'm sorry, sir, I didn't catch that.”
He lifted his head. “Cancel my resignation. If I have to go to this meeting anyway I'm not going to end up begging for more funding from some new graduate fresh out of MIT. I'm up.”
He rolled carefully over to the edge of the bed and pushed into a seated position. If he whimpered at the pain zinging through his muscles, only JARVIS heard and he was programmed not to tell.
“Oh dear lord,” Tony breathed as he got to his feet. His left ankle protested the movement and every step thereafter as he hobbled to the bathroom for a shower.
The hot water helped, but it was still looking to be a long day of quietly screaming agony so Tony pulled the bottle of pills he'd been given by the docs yesterday and threw two back, crunching them to try to speed up the absorption rate. He stuck his tongue out in disgust and washed the taste down with water.
Fifteen minutes later he shuffled out of his room and into the common kitchen hoping against hope that someone had already made coffee and that they hadn't finished the pot.
He found Steve at the stove flipping what looked like french toast on the griddle and stirring a bowl of eggs on the side. He looked over his shoulder with a smile that dimmed as he took in Tony's hunched shoulders and limping gait.
Tony stared back through the eye not hidden by the hand trying to crush the now throbbing beat in his skull. “What?”
Steve shrugged and turned back to the stove, but while Tony continued on to the table (for a brief rest before continuing to the coffee pot. Why was it all the way over there? That was a terrible place for it.) he opened the carton of eggs and cracked another three into the mix.
Tony rested his head on his folded arms and tried to stave off more sleep with a rousing internal pep talk about how Pepper could definitely fire him and probably also kick his ass all the way from California and so it was worth it to get coffee and go to the meeting instead of collapsing on the couch and attempting to erase the concept of Tuesday from recorded history. It sounded a lot more like “UGHHHHHH” in his head, but the point was made.
“Tony?” Steve said softly and he blinked and lifted his head.
A plate of fluffy scrambled eggs and french toast with cinnamon and fresh blueberries on top was set in front of him along with a mug of steaming coffee.
He looked up as Steve set the fork and knife down and then seated himself behind his own plate of food across the way. It made Tony's look like a kid's meal in comparison. Watching him add a steady stream of syrup over the whole thing made Tony's stomach roll a little, so he looked down at his own plate and picked up the fork and knife.
The first piece melted in his mouth, the bite of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the blueberry complimenting each other beautifully. Tony didn't moan, but he did sigh happily.
Across the table Steve's lips curled up around his fork in that quietly pleased way that he got when someone enjoyed his cooking.
“Why are you up so early?” he asked after he'd demolished half the stack in front of him and Tony was contemplating getting up for a second cup. Steve snagged it out of his hand along with his own and filled them, stirring cream and sugar into his own cup and returning Tony's black.
“Thanks,” Tony said. “Meeting for SI. Accounting stuff, which is sometimes interesting, but mostly just long.”
“You can't skip it?” Steve asked, brow furrowing. “Surely they saw the news yesterday.”
Tony shook his head. “No, but it's fine. The Vicodin should be kicking in here any second and by the time I get downstairs I'll be good to go.” He pushed a smile out. “Thanks for your concern, though, team leader. A+ job.” He looked at the rest of his plate and the clock and scrunched his nose in annoyance.
Well, at least he could take his coffee with him.
He drained the mug and refilled it, feeling slightly more human than he had when he'd come into the room.
With a wave to acknowledge Steve's goodbye, he headed for the elevator and destiny.
Three hours into the meeting and Tony was half wishing for an Avengers call.
Not that he was in any shape to be out fighting, but the suits could be remotely controlled in cases of emergency and he could do that from the squishy couch in the common room.
There was a flashing light in the corner of his tabletop display where he was taking notes and jotting down ideas and he tapped it, stretching the window open to fill the upper corner.
It was a text from Clint.
Purple Arrow: HEY CAN I BORROW A SUIT
Tony arched an eyebrow and swiped out a reply.
You Know Who I Am: I don't think we're the same size, Agent Biceps. What happened to the suit Pepper and Natasha helped you buy last year for the memorial benefit?
Purple Arrow: NOT THAT KIND OF SUIT
Tony stifled a snort, but he did let his lips curve on one side.
You Know Who I Am: Why in god's name would I ever let you borrow one of those suits?
Purple Arrow: BECAUSE I'M CUTE?
A picture of Clint attempting puppy dog eyes with his bottom lip sticking out in a pout followed and Tony let it sit while he addressed a question directed his way.
You Know Who I Am: That might get you pizza, but it's not getting you a joyride.
Purple Arrow: AW COME ON DOESN'T THE FACT THAT WE'RE BROS MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU?
You Know Who I Am: Bros don't ask bros to borrow their prosthesis.
An emoji rolling its eyes came back.
You Know Who I Am: Where are you anyway that you need that much armor? I thought you and Natasha were on stand down after yesterday.
Purple Arrow: THE DMV I DON'T NEED ARMOR I NEED THAT BLANK STARE THAT MAKES PEOPLE NERVOUSLY EDGE OUT OF THE WAY
Tony did snort that time, but when a few people looked his way he waved it off and asked how much Marketing planned to adjust their print media budget. He'd had his eye on a couple of things for Jane's team, but he needed a little wiggle room in October to make it happen and if he cut back on the departmental coffee budget there would be a mutiny.
He'd probably lead it himself.
Purple Arrow: COME ON TONY JUST TEN MINUTES I WON'T EVEN SPEAK I PROMISE
Purple Arrow: BUT IF I HAVE TO WAIT IN THIS LINE FOR THE NEXT THREE HOURS UNTIL THEY CALL MY NUMBER, I MIGHT TAKE HOSTAGES.
You Know Who I Am: I could stand to stretch my legs.
Purple Arrow: HA HA
Purple Arrow: ALSO A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME THAT YOU CAN BARELY STAND UP LET ALONE STRETCH ANYTHING
You Know Who I Am: You're the little bird on this team. Are you talking to yourself again?
Purple Arrow: GODDAMMIT STARK I WILL PAY YOU TO GET ME OUT OF HERE
You Know Who I Am: You can't afford me, sweetheart. But if you ask JARVIS very nicely he might be willing to poke around and see if he can expedite things. What are you there for anyway? I thought the registration for your bike was two months ago.
Tony got involved in hashing out a snag in the billing hours of a couple of the interns that had been shuffled around the company to meet a deadline that had gotten pushed up, and when it was over he still hadn't gotten a response from Clint.
He pulled up a new window and directed JARVIS to find out for him.
Then he had to hold his ribs so he didn't laugh and hurt himself further.
You Know Who I Am: You were impounded???
Purple Arrow: PEOPLE WHO HAVE A CHOWDER AND NEVER HAVE TO ACTUALLY PARK ANYWHERE DON'T GET TO MAKE FUN OF PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY DRIVE *THEMSELVES*
Purple Arrow: CHOKER
Purple Arrow: CHAFE FUR
Purple Arrow: FUCK YOU TOO AUTOCORRECT
Purple Arrow: DRIVER
You Know Who I Am: I don't always have a chauffeur.
You Know Who I Am: Sometimes I fly. ;)
A gif of Veronica Mars applying lipstick with her middle finger came through.
Tony smirked and tapped the confirmation on JARVIS' query.
He debated letting Clint stand in line that whole time only to be told that it had already been paid, but he hurt too much to have to wash his hair until the Kool-aid came out so he forwarded a copy of the receipt and directions to pick up the bike at the impound lot.
Purple Arrow: OH MY GOD I WANT TO BOTH PUNCH YOU AND KISS YOU
A particularly sharp stab of pain jabbed into his hip when he shifted positions to relieve the ache there and Tony winced and patted down his pockets for his pain pills. He mouthed a “Fuck!” and glanced at the clock. There was at least another two hours before the meeting was over at their current rate.
He could call for a break, but JARVIS had confirmed this was the only thing still on his schedule for the day and he didn't want to delay getting it over with.
You Know Who I Am: How about neither? Though if you wanted to use some of the time I saved you to get the bottle of Vicodin off my bathroom counter and drop it from the air vent over my head we can call it even.
Purple Arrow: How soon is your next dose due?
You Know Who I Am: Before this meeting will be over.
The three dots chased each other across the bubble again and again and then vanished.
They made it through three more agenda items before he got a reply.
Purple Arrow: Deal.
Tony discreetly exhaled in relief and refocused on the meeting. It would take at least half an hour until he got back to the Tower probably, but he could make it up to the penthouse and back down in less than three minutes through the vents if he used the elevator to go up or came from a nearby building.
Tony could handle another half hour.
The door opened and Tony glanced over, doing a double take when he realized that it was Natalie Rushman coming in.
She flashed a tiny smile and offered an apology to the QC department head, then circled around to his side with a tablet. She bent over the tablet and indicated he should sign with a finger while slipping the bottle of pills into his other hand.
“Do you need me to pull the fire alarm?” she asked under her breath.
He twitched a smile but handed the tablet back complete with his signature on, apparently, a document stating that he acknowledged Pepper was a better CEO than he had ever been. He didn't disagree, though he wondered how bored she was already with being benched for medical reasons if she was willing to play out this little charade instead of just bringing him the pills like a normal person.
“Please don't. There are too many stairs between here and the ground.”
She gave him back her own little twitched smile. “I bet Steve would carry you,” then just a little louder, “Thank you, Mister Stark.”
She left and Tony shook his head and then shook two more pills into his hand. He washed them down with more water and said, “Is it my turn yet? Let's make it my turn.”
When the meeting finally ended Tony walked into the elevator, waited for the doors to close, and then dug his fingers into the corners of his eyes.
“Express, JARVIS. Take me home,” he said with a sigh and slumped against the wall.
The floors pinged quickly away as JARVIS skipped all the other floor calls.
Tony reached up and loosened his tie, then pulled it off completely and let it dangle from his wrist, stuffing his hand back into his pocket. He undid the top three buttons and rolled his head on his neck gingerly.
He wanted a massage, but he needed to let the bruising go down at least a little before it would actually feel good.
When the door opened he shuffled out, eyes on the floor.
He stopped when he realized it was the wrong floor and looked up and around.
It was times like these he regretted not having some kind of interface he could look at when he wanted to give JARVIS a stink-eye.
Before he could call the sneaky little AI on his duplicitous behavior he heard voices from the media area. Curiosity had him inching forward until he saw Bruce sitting on the floor, papers spread all over the center ottoman.
He snorted and then winced because, yeah, that still hurt.
Instead he decided that he would rather lay on the couch than sit in the elevator because obviously he wasn't allowed back on his own floor yet.
He rounded the edge of the couch, eyes on the papers Bruce had out. He didn't even think about having the Paper VS Digital debate today. It was fun, but less so when every thought came with a free spike of pain.
“Whatcha working on?” he finally asked as he flopped down on the couch.
Or tried to.
Instead he made it half way and slammed into two hands, the bruises along the right side where they made contact ringing along his nerves. He'd been expecting ridiculously plush cushions. He'd been painfully mistaken.
As he panted and hissed his way through the aftershocks and tried to ascertain if he'd actually snapped any of the cracks in his ribs, he was lowered onto the cushions and thighs like carved granite.
He blinked up through gathered tears of pain and saw Steve's worried face.
“Are you with me, Tony?”
He swallowed down a whimper and nodded, trying to get his arm into place to adjust his position.
Steve read his intentions and just picked him up and rolled him so he was laying on his back, though his head was still in Steve's lap.
Fingers carded through his hair and he heard Steve and Bruce murmuring, though he didn't spare the attention to find out what about.
God, that hurt.
Bruce must have gotten up at some point because he came back with a glass of ice water and between him and Steve they levered Tony up to where he could take a sip.
“Sorry,” Bruce said. “I'd have gotten you coffee, but staying awake is probably not what you want right now.”
Tony barked out a laugh. “Not so much, no.”
“When was you last dose of pain pills?” Steve asked, still petting Tony's head. It felt really good and if he wanted a permanent position, Tony was sure he could find the money for a salary somewhere in his own personal budget.
Tony sighed and tried to get more comfortable. It was not a thing that currently existed, he decided after thirty seconds of even more painful wiggling.
“Noon,” he admitted unhappily. I'll be fine, though. Just gonna nap like Bruce said.”
There was a moment of silence and then Steve asked, “Would you like help getting out of your suit first? It can't be comfortable to sleep in.”
Or cheap enough to be considered loungewear, went unsaid.
Tony gave it serious thought, then wrinkled his nose. He could certainly afford to wrinkle the hell out of it, but Steve was right that it wouldn't be comfortable.
He started trying to roll over without actually getting up or moving any more than necessary until an exasperated sigh interrupted the attempt.
Hands under his armpits lifted him upright as Steve said, “Bruce?”
There was a sound of amusement from Bruce and between the two of them they wrestled him down to his undershirt and boxers, then set him back down on his left side.
He cracked an eye when a blanket was gently spread over him but all he saw was Bruce's head bent over his papers again and Steve's attention on the TV that had been turned on low.
Tony could feel the side of Steve's hand close to his head and he grunted and arched his neck to bump it.
He looked up and saw Steve smiling down in amusement, but those large, blunt fingers started working over his scalp again. Tony sighed and let himself relax as much as possible, eventually drifting off to sleep.
He woke to less Hedwig's Theme—though it was still running through his head—and more familiar voices some time later to find that his pillow had been traded out.
Steve and Clint and Natasha were in the kitchen it sounded like and Jane and Bruce were over by the window discussing something. He craned his neck and found his new pillow's face obscured by a generous chest, though it was recognizable itself.
“Darcy?” he croaked, then cleared his throat as the fingernails scratching his head paused. She curled forward until she could smile at him upside down.
“Hey, Iron Boss. Hope you don't mind. Steve volunteered to help with dinner and you know I'm not allowed in there, so we swapped.”
“It's fine,” Tony said, carefully pushing up to sit upright. Everything still hurt, but the nap had helped.
“I've got drugs if you want 'em,” she offered, watching him closely in case he toppled over again. “We debated waking you up for your dose, but decided that letting you sleep through it was probably better in case you didn't go back down. Asleep and not aware of pain is always better than awake and very aware of pain, right?”
“Mmm,” he managed, wiggling his fingers in her direction as he scrubbed a hand over his face.
Two pills hit his palm and vanished down his throat almost immediately. A glass of water followed and was drained dry before he gave it back.
He ran his fingers through his hair, determined he had a serious case of bedhead, and then promptly decided he didn't care. It was his own home and these people had all seen him in much worse states.
“Ah! He is awake!” Thor said, his hands full of cups. He handed two off to Bruce and Jane and then came over to the couch to give Darcy hers. One he kept for himself as he sat in the kitty-corner couch and the other he offered to Tony.
It had orange juice and, while not Tony's favorite, he was thirsty enough to down it in a single series of swallows.
“How are you, Tony?” Thor asked as he sipped more slowly at his cup.
“Been better. How's Asgard?”
“Prosperous and well, thank you. I heard of the battle yesterday. I am sorry I was not here to help.”
Tony shrugged, then winced. “Yeah. We missed you too. But we got it taken care of and there is one less empty cell in SHIELD's deep dark basement none of us are supposed to know about.”
“And how is Pepper?” Thor asked. “Darcy said she was still on the western coast.”
“For another week,” Tony said with a sigh. She was bringing Rhodey with her when she came, though, so he could be a little patient. He wouldn't be up to doing much until then anyway and he hated to waste Rhodey's leave with sitting around the Tower doing nothing.
“Somebody wake Tony, dinner's ready,” Steve said, then paused when he saw Tony upright. “Oh, good. You're awake.” Natasha and Clint followed with dishes in their hands and between the three of them everyone soon had a plate of lasagna and salad. A basket of breadsticks was settled on the ottoman and everyone found a seat, Bruce and Jane required Clint's hands on their arms to physically bring them over to the couches.
“Oh!” Jane said, as she plopped down on the couch between Thor and Natasha. “Hey, Tony. Are you feeling better? That looked really... painful yesterday.”
“I'll live. Are you free tomorrow morning? I have some things I wanted to go over for your next quarter budget.”
Her nose wrinkled and Darcy answered for her. “She is. Ten am good for you?”
“JARVIS?” Tony asked with a shrug.
“Ten am is free, yes, Miss Lewis.”
“Sweet.” She tapped away at the calendar she'd pulled up on her tablet and a moment later the block flashed blue then settled into a teal shade.
“Okay, enough work talk,” Clint said. “JARVIS, what's in the queue tonight?”
“How to Train Your Dragon,” JARVIS said as the TV switched inputs and the DreamWorks studio animation started playing.
“Excellent!” Thor said and settled in more comfortably to watch.
Steve was on Tony's other side and he glanced over. “If you need to call it a night early that's fine.”
“Watching CGI dragons is probably most of what I'm going to be good for for the next few days,” Tony said. “But I'll keep that in mind, thanks, Cap.”
Steve patted his knee and turned his attention to the movie and his dinner.
Tony happily ate every delicious bite on his plate and then set it on the ottoman.
He glanced sideways to see Steve and Darcy were both done too and, after a moment's consideration, decided that he wasn't ready for bed, but he wasn't interested in sitting upright either.
Before he could move, Steve's arm came around his back and cupped his left shoulder, tugging gently.
Tony gave in with a smile, easing down to a mirror of his earlier position, his head on Steve's thigh.
He looked down when tiny hands wrapped around his calves and hoisted them up to Darcy's lap. She flashed him a smile, then patted his ankle and settled her folded hands on top.
He snorted and turned his attention back to the movie, letting the good movie and better company carry him through the end of the day.