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Measuring Up

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Happy is used to being in the background in Tony Stark's life. It's where he belongs, he thinks, ever since Pepper smiled at him and congratulated him for lasting longer than any of Tony's drivers ever has.

Soon, he becomes more than just a driver, trading one-liners back and forth with Tony, and chasing him around in the limo when he attempts to break the speed of light with his R8. Almost like a friend, maybe.

And then Tony goes to Afghanistan, and disappears for three months. Happy frets quietly, when he's on his own, but tries to keep a cheerful front, mostly for Pepper's sake. She's holding up strong, but Happy sees the cracks in the facade sometimes. He wonders if she could see any in his.

When Tony comes home, holding on to Rhodey, walking unsteadily down the ramp, it's Pepper who is front and center, greeting him with a teary smile. But Happy is there too, in the car where he was supposed to be, grinning his head off, because he was just as relieved to see that familiar face coming out of the plane.

Then comes the announcement, "I am Iron Man", and again Tony's life explodes in a flurry of media and spotlight. Whether in a metal armour or a 500 dollar suit, Tony is still Tony, standing tall and soaking up the adulation. And there is Happy, still in the background, doing whatever he can to help, even when he knows it's not much.

When Tony goes to New York, he gives Happy a couple of weeks off. Get some R & R, buddy, he says, clapping Happy on the shoulder before flying off. He's glad for the break, at first, but then the news channel starts blaring about an alien invasion. In New York. He's about to dismiss it as a hoax, but then he glimpses a familiar red-and-gold armor flying amidst the destruction.

Happy sprints to his car, where his laptop is (Stark tech, a gift from Tony), and sits glued to the live feed of the news. He watches as Tony, surrounded by aliens, demigods and what the hell is that huge green thing, anyway, holding his own. And he feels a weird mix of emotions at the sight. Pride, because whatever Tony does, he always does it in a big way, and fear, because even with the armor, Tony is still just a man, and men can always get hurt.

He thinks that his fears might have just came true a few minutes later, when Tony flies into a portal, shepherding a nuke, and doesn't come out. When his limp body is filmed falling out of the sky, Happy leans forward into the screen, as if it can make him see any clearer. When the big green creature catches Tony, and rips open his helmet to reveal that he's still breathing, Happy releases an explosive breath and sags in his seat, exhausted.

After Tony comes home this time, Happy greets him by squeezing his arm briefly, and taking his bags inside. He looks healthy enough, Happy thinks, and he's talking about superheroes. The Avengers, a strangely appropriate name for a group of superheroes that includes Tony, something with an edge to it.

Soon, Tony promotes him to the security detail. He feels like laughing, because he's always done everything he can to keep Tony safe. But now there're freaking superheroes on Tony's speed dial, and dammit, how is he supposed to measure up to that?

So he takes his job very seriously. The more worried about Tony he gets - He's not sleeping, Happy. I don't know what to do. - the more he pours it into his job. He checks everyone's security clearance obsessively, and makes sure everyone is wearing their security badges. More than a few people thinks he's gone nuts, he knows, but damn it, he can't do very much but what he can, he'll do perfectly.

When the suspicious man crosses his path, he thinks, Finally. Something I can do, and follows him. One thing leads to another, and the last thing he remembers is looking at a man glowing red, and then an explosion. After that, nothing. Just darkness.

Every once in a while, though, he thinks he hears a familiar voice beside him. Tony, sometimes Pepper. It's probably just his imagination, though, bored with all the nothingness.

He wakes up gasping to the finale of Downton Abbey, and a nurse holding him down. Mere minutes later, Tony shows up smiling in the hospital room.

"Finally joining the party, lazyass?" he says.

"Couldn't miss the finale," he replies, nodding at the TV. This feels familiar, and it's comforting, in the midst of the sterile white of the hospital.

He notices something missing, and when he finally puzzles out what it is, his eyes gets huge. "Tony, what -"

"Oh," Tony says, looking down at his chest. "Finally found a way to get rid of those pesky shrapnels."

When he looks like he was going to demand more, Tony holds up his hand to stop him. "You just get some rest, buddy. You'll get a status update when you're better. Promise."

Happy sighs, and settles down more comfortably in his bed. To his surprise, Tony heads to the small couch and pulls it closer to his bedside, apparently going to keep him company for a while.

"I'll get you the box set," Tony says, "To replace the episodes you missed."

Happy laughs, and only says, "You better."

But the truth is, he does feel better knowing that superheroes or not, he still has Tony's friendship. And right now, that is what matters.