Tony Stark didn’t really recognize the nuances of betrayal- his people skills weren’t the best, not at close range, not when he wasn’t in front of a camera or audience. He’d done his best to keep the world at arms’ length, and the few people that got through his shields also tended to as loyal as he was. He knew what to expect, is the point- he’d more than learned his lesson on betrayal by the time Obie’d ripped out his reactor, and shored up his defenses even more after that. So when Natalie Rushman decided to reveal her true colors, he hadn’t even been surprised- he’d recognized the look of people wanting something from him, after all. [
He'd grown up surrounded by them, how could he not?]
Point is, he didn’t really have much practice with betrayal, because he didn’t let many people close enough to try.
But, Tony distantly thinks, throat abruptly dry as Bruce’s snoring becomes more audible, this might be how it feels like. It’s a bitter, acrid taste, realizing that he’d bit the bullet and actually tried to reach out to someone who might understand, and…now this. He’d understood why Pepper had stepped back, had been hurt but unsurprised by Steve Rogers’ reaction to him [
though why had that felt like a betrayal when he actively tried to not emulate his father if at all possible], but— but he’d thought they’d connected, him and Bruce. Had thought that they’d bonded over their shared burdens, had thought the shared glances when everyone tuned out their discussing their life’s work meant something.
Well. Apparently not.
Oh, when the man startled awake, and muttered about “something about Switzerland”, he forced a smile and did his best to laugh it off, but…The silence after Bruce went back to sleep didn’t— he couldn’t bear it. Tony, somehow, felt more alone than ever, and he couldn’t—
“Hey, JARVIS, you up?”
“For you, sir? Always.”
Well. At least he could trust JARVIS for this. And no that didn’t sound as sad as he’d expected, that his own AI was the only one willing to put up with him at all times and—
“Sir, may I suggest you go to the kitchen? There’s tea brewing.”
Tony tried to clear his throat—first it was dry, now he could barely say a word, what gives?— and smiled. [
And if it was slightly tremulous, well, he could trust his own AI, his closest confidante, to never tell.]
“Thank you, JARVIS. And then…are you up for another round in the lab? I think there’s some projects that need to get done, and I’m not…” Tony looked back at the man sleeping on the sofa, sighed, and continued, “I’d been hoping to coordinate with Bruce about some ideas after…this, but apparently not.”
“Of course. If you may, I’ll take the liberty of cueing up the New York holding list in order of priority, with other possible applications of…”
Tony took a quiet sip of tea, ignoring the slight quiver in his hands, and let the familiar voice wash over him as he tried to get the past hour and a half out of his mind.
Then he took a deep breath, finished his cup, and headed to the lab.
He had work to do, after all.
JARVIS had less than charitable opinions about Dr. Banner after the man’s readings had him appearing to fall asleep. In the middle of Sir attempting to reach out for the first time in weeks to who he’d hoped would be a friendly ear, which was unacceptable, but he couldn’t come up with anything that would not also alert Sir nor agitate the man in question past permitted parameters. Dr. Banner’s indifference was neither expected nor welcomed, and so he made a note to lower him on the priority rankings when it came to requests.
Seeing Sir’s readings approach levels indicating severe stress, JARVIS had the tea readied—if it was the blend Dr. Banner preferred, no matter; the man obviously didn’t care about helping Sir, and his current emotional state was nowhere near ideal levels. After seeing his readings gradually relax as JARVIS continued elaborating on the construction firm working on the Malibu site and the increased security framework being integrated, he knew it was working. Sir was finally starting to relax, and JARVIS once again set a subroutine to scour the internet for additional psychological information on his condition, and what actions he could take about it.
He needed help, and between Ms. Potts currently occupied with her own difficulties, like integrating the new version of Extremis into her life, Mr. Hogan’s recovery, and Col. Rhodes dealing with the fallout of everything, including the ramifications of having saved the President of the United States, Sir’s nearest emotional ties were inorganic. Not that it mattered, of course- when Sir needed him, he’d be there, always. Even if everyone else left him, he’d be there.
Taking past events into consideration, as well as the data feed from the destruction of the Malibu mansion, JARVIS quietly set up a few more backup servers and programs. This time, they’d been lucky that his servers were currently based in New York; but just as Sir kept multiple copies of his arc reactor at hand, and already had a backup system in place for JARVIS even before Stane had temporarily knocked him offline, redundancy was a better option than not. Especially if Sir continued as he was. At this rate, and with this degree of escalation, Sir would need all the help he could get, and JARVIS would be there for him, to the best of his ability.
Tony’s anxiety surrounding the arc reactor had been a constant, ever since before it’d been created and he’d been stuck with two flimsy wires and a car battery being the sole things keeping him alive. Obie— no, Stane had only compounded it, and ditto as to the palladium mess. He apparently couldn’t trust Bruce with it, not like he’d wanted to; he’d mused aloud about removing it but the man hadn’t decided to do any input [
because he'd slept through it all and yes it still stung]. And nobody from the Avengers, or SHIELD in general, had called despite the world having presumed him dead. [ That had hurt, actually. He understood to an extent, but it hurt nonetheless.]
In short, Tony could count on one hand how many people he could trust, and that was including a thirteen-year-old he’d barely met, and the AI he’d coded at age 17. [
And if that didn’t sound pathetic, nothing did.] So, with that in mind, it took less than he’d expected, to take Pepper’s version of Extremis and water it down so it wasn’t remotely malignant, so that its enhanced strength was manageable and not compromising the systems it’d ‘hacked’ and had applications other than turn the ‘host’ into a fire-breathing monster. Tony had learned thermonuclear astrophysics overnight, when the world and been at stake; it took roughly twice that, to feel confident enough to tamper with something that would affect one of the only people on Earth that could stand him for extended periods of time, and that was still willing to call him a friend at the end of the day.
But he did it, and in doing so, had also synthesized something that would help Happy recover from the mess, and possibly let him get rid of the arc reactor once and for all. If it worked as projected, nobody would ever be able to rip his heart from his chest ever again, and after the latest ordeal? Tony had enough liabilities as he was.
Tony only told his closest friends [
his only friends] what he was doing. They were all as supportive as could be— with the latest fiasco that’d embroiled Pepper and Rhodey and Happy, memories to the last time something like this had been brought to the fore, and if nothing else, less shrapnel was always a good thing. So the doctors were brought in, with JARVIS both vetting them and having drafted their NDAs, and the procedure was done.
It took weeks to fully recover from the surgery, but Tony could feel the difference the moment he woke from the anesthesia: for the first time in years, he could breathe. His sternum was now a product of both 3-D printing and Extremis’ handiwork, and part of his lungs would possibly never fully recover the compression, but he could breathe without several pounds on his chest, could walk around without the threat of having his heart ripped out of him any moment of the day. It was a heady feeling, and the breathless laugh JARVIS’ microphones picked up no doubt reflected that.