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A Spoonful of Sugar

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"Honestly, I'm not sure what else we can do," Bruce said conversationally as he poured himself a cup of coffee. Most of the Avengers were gathered in the kitchen for breakfast, discussing their lone missing team member. There had been a particularly difficult battle three weeks previously that had landed Iron Man in the SHIELD infirmary for several days with a concussion, a crushed foot, several rib fractures and assorted abrasions, contusions, and pulled muscles. Since getting released however, he had been a non-stop whirlwind of activity, rarely pausing to eat or drink, never mind sleep. Bruce had encouraged him to take better care of himself while he was temporarily benched, but Stark just waved off his concerns, citing that he had too much work to do. Since Pepper stayed on the West Coast to better manage Stark Industries when Tony moved to New York, they couldn't rely on her to make him take care of himself.


Meanwhile, the billionaire was looking more exhausted and bedraggled by the day, and the entire team had noticed. They just didn't know what to do about it.


"I could shoot him with a tranq dart," volunteered Clint around a mouthful of scrambled eggs. "The ventilation system gets narrow down there, but I'm pretty sure I can navigate it."


Bruce snorted in amusement at the joke, but glancing around the breakfast bar revealed four very solemn faces. He sat down heavily, jaw agape, staring at the marksman in wide-eyed disbelief. Barton actually meant the suggestion seriously! He had to close his eyes and take several deep, calming breaths, as he was a little bit sensitive when it came to tranquilizer darts, especially given his experience with General Ross and the Other Guy.


Once he had regained a semblance of control, he looked up and growled disapprovingly. "You are not going to sedate him against his will. He's a grown man and can make his own decisions."


"Even if they're dumbass ones?" retorted Clint obliviously, crunching a rasher of bacon.


"How can we get him to rest, then?" inquired Steve, ignoring the archer. He frowned across the table at the annoyed physicist, then studied his own plate and added, "And maybe eat a little? He hasn't come up for air for almost three days."


"Not much we can do," Bruce shrugged, forcing himself to calm. "Maybe take him a meal to remind him that eating is a thing humans do? I'd suggest you ask JARVIS about his favorite foods, though. He can be a surprisingly finicky eater."


Steve assumed a calculating expression and slowly nodded. "I'll do that. Thanks, Bruce."


"That still doesn't address the fact that he's running himself ragged," Natasha commented as she sipped her tea.


The physicist raised his eyebrows. "Maybe call Miss Potts? I'm certain that this is not new behavior."


The Widow nodded minutely once, eyes narrowed, then stirred her tea thoughtfully.


Before he could add anything further, JARVIS interrupted. "Doctor Banner, you asked to be notified when the exothermic reaction reached fifty degrees Celsius."


"Thank you, JARVIS," replied the scientist, gulping down the rest of his coffee. Turning a small, apologetic smile towards the rest of the team, he spread his hands meekly. "Sorry guys. Science awaits. I'm sure Tony will come to his senses sooner or later."


Steve waved him towards the door. "Go on. We'll figure it out later if we have to."


Bruce turned quickly towards the elevator, mind already focusing on the next step in the chemical synthesis project he was working on.






"Sir, Captain Rogers has returned and is requesting entrance." JARVIS' dry voice rang out over the hard rock music blaring in the workshop where Tony had been holed up almost exclusively since his release from medical.


"Just keep telling him 'no', J," murmured the engineer distractedly as he concentrated on his welding. The Avengers' last mission had demonstrated the need for more plating in the armor's extremities, given how easily his foot had been caught and crushed by the robot. Never let it be said that he didn't learn from his mistakes. The problem was that it was tedious, time-consuming work to dismantle the entire suit, weld in reinforcing plates, then trim everything so that his movement remained unimpeded. It had to be finished by the time he was returned to active status, and he was barely half done.


He sighed to himself, tiredly blinking the sweat out of his eyes. Damn, he could use a nap. Just that morning Bruce had come down to nag him about his eating and sleeping, or more specifically, the fact that he wasn't doing enough of either. While internally the engineer agreed, he'd finally made Bruce understand that Tony Stark's time was not his own. In addition to the necessary armor repairs, Fury was demanding the upgrades for the sensor array programming that were overdue, Pepper needed the analysis on the Avengers' Tower arc reactor power utilization prior to the Board Meeting Friday in order to proceed with their planned expansion, and he really needed to fix the glitch in the Starkpad search engine that occasionally allowed a bit of random porn to slip through the parental filters (and wasn't the press having a field day with that one?). They'd finally come to a grudging compromise about those issues, as well as his taking his pain meds despite the fact that they made him groggy and slow. While he was still healing, he would take at least one every six to eight hours.


He sighed and wiped his forehead; there just weren't enough hours in the day to get everything done under normal circumstances, never mind after his brain had been clouded by narcotics. He certainly didn't have time to chitchat with a super soldier about pop culture right now.


JARVIS interrupted his ruminations. "He is expressing concern over your eating habits. I am asked to inform you that he has food."


The billionaire grimaced, still concentrating on his work. 'Right. Rogers.' He had almost forgotten the guest at his door. He could just imagine the 'well-balanced meal' that the Captain had probably personally cooked in some 1940's traditional fashion. Maybe over a wood stove? When he agreed to let his tower become home to the Avengers, he hadn't been aware that he was signing up for a super hero team of babysitters. 'Wouldn't Pepper be proud?'', he thought sardonically.


"Tell him I'm not hungry!" he called out, carefully avoiding eye contact by not glancing towards the door. No way was he eating liver, broccoli, or any other 'health food'.


"Sir. Captain Rogers wishes you to know that your cheeseburger and fries are getting cold." JARVIS sounded almost smug.


The genius straightened abruptly, flicking off the arc welder in the process. "Burger?" he clarified in astonishment, raising the faceplate on his safety mask before taking it off entirely. Tugging off his welding gloves next, he ran a subtly shaking hand through sweat soaked hair and spared a glance towards the door and the patiently waiting Captain.


"And fries. Also, I am now informed, a chocolate malt that is melting."


The inventor grinned, pleasantly surprised. "Well, we can't have that, can we JARVIS? Let the man in." Snagging his crutches from where they leaned against the worktable, he hobbled towards a nearby chair and eased himself onto it.


"Hey, Tony," called Rogers as the door slid open and he strode into the workshop. "I've got food." He held aloft a bag from one of the inventor's favorite local burger joints and Tony's stomach growled unexpectedly.


Stark flashed him a tired but grateful smile. "Thanks, Steve. I didn't realize how hungry I was until JARVIS mentioned 'cheeseburger'. Just set it down here." He pointed to the tabletop next to the computer terminal he was booting up. Might as well get some time in on Fury's programming updates while he ate.


Steve set down the sack with a Styrofoam cup next to it. "JARVIS said that you preferred chocolate malts?"


Tony swiveled his chair around to face the food. "You better believe it, for dessert anyway. I'd like a Coke with the food, though."


"Is there any in your fridge?" Steve asked, pointing to the mini-fridge at the back of the room next to Dum-E's blender. "If not, I can run upstairs real quick and get you a can."


"You don't have to do that. There should be some here, assuming Thor didn't drink it all when he was visiting earlier. Dum-E…" He began to call for his robot, only to have Rogers hold up a hand to stop him.


"Let me get it. Less mess."


Tony held up a finger as he began digging through the bag. "Good point. Dum-E usually only manages half a cup before spilling the rest on the floor." Unwrapping the cheeseburger, he took a huge bite, closing his eyes in bliss as his stomach rumbled again. He set down the burger, then stuck a straw in the malted and took a long pull as he began to edit the programming on his terminal one-handed. In the background he peripherally listened to Steve rummage through the fridge. The fact that the super soldier obviously went to the trouble of asking JARVIS about his favorite foods warmed something in his gut that he really didn't want to look at too closely.


"Looks like there's only about 8 ounces in the two-liter bottle. Do you have any glasses? Oh, never mind, found one." The commentary didn't require a response so Tony didn't reply, keeping most of his attention on the programming in front of him. He could hear Cap pouring what was left of the soda into a glass, and rolled his eyes at the sound of him tossing the bottle in the recycle bin afterwards.


"Thanks," Tony mumbled distractedly around the handful of fries that he'd just shoved in his mouth when Cap returned. He continued to scroll through the helicarrier's sensor array code as he chewed, making annotations as he noted areas to tweak more extensively.


Placing the glass of cola next to the burger, Rogers pulled up a chair himself and stared over the engineer's shoulder at the monitor. "What was Thor doing down here besides drinking all your soda?" he asked conversationally.


Tony swallowed this time before replying, glancing away from his work at the super soldier with a warm, wry smile. His full stomach merited a little perfunctory conversation. "Apparently Jane's going to be visiting New York in a couple of weeks, and he wanted advice on where to take her while she's here. He figures that, as a scientist, I might know what shows and attractions would appeal to her most."


Steve chuckled, and Tony was struck by how pleasant this was. "And did you?", Cap asked.


"I had some suggestions." He took several swallows of the cola, then frowned at it and returned to his burger. "It's probably just as well Thor drank most of this; it tastes off." He tilted his head quizzically to study the glass and squinted one eye. "I didn't even think Coke could spoil."


Cap frowned. "Do you want me to throw it out?" He reached out a hand to take the cola back.


"Nah, it's not that bad. Besides, you'd just drink it yourself. I know how you hate wasting food." He smirked at the blonde as he resumed his attack on the fries.


"Well, we didn't have much growing up. I guess some things you never quite get over." He jerked his chin towards the rapidly-disappearing meal. "Doesn't look like it's an issue right this second."


"Oh, this is great, really hits the spot." Tony glanced slyly sideways at Steve as he chewed. "Although I kind of expected some sort of nutritious, well-rounded meal when you started playing mother hen."


"Hey, this meal has meat, bread, milk, and vegetables. Even though it's fried, it's well-rounded," the super soldier returned with mock indignation. "Besides, at least this I know you'll eat." Steve's brows suddenly drew together and he studied the genius through narrowed eyes. "How long has it been since you ate something, anyway?" he asked with a bare hint of disapproval.


Tony rolled his own eyes and popped the last of the burger in his mouth, licking his fingers in appreciation. Why was everybody on his case today, anyway? He'd been managing on his own for a lot longer than some of the Avengers had been alive!


We waved a hand dismissively, turning back to the terminal. "Oh, last night I think. I have some Power Bars down here, and there's milk and juice in the fridge. And coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.   I can't spare the time away from my armor repairs."


Cap's face clouded even further. "But you're sidelined for at least three more weeks while your foot heals. You should have some time to break for food."


Stark stopped typing and turned to stare at Steve like he was an idiot. "Do you recall what that bot did to my beautiful suit? It's gonna take at least three weeks to fix that kinda damage, even ignoring the plating reinforcement."


'Oh', Rogers remembered, 'right'. He closed his eyes as the vision of the billionaire dangling motionless by his heel from the 30 foot tall mechanical monster swam unbidden to the forefront of his thoughts. He swallowed convulsively as his mind replayed the robot swinging the limp form like a bat into the wall of a nearby building, taking out a chunk of brick in the process and smashing in the side of the armor before dropping the motionless body to the ground. For a gut-clenching few minutes, he'd though that the hero was dead. It wasn't until they finally demolished the robot and rushed to the downed man that they found him still breathing.


Tony had been unconscious through most of that, having blacked out early on from either the pain of his mangled foot or his concussion, but it didn't stop his body from sustaining even more damage as the armor was destroyed. His fractured foot had been the least of his injuries and it was four days before the genius felt well enough to bully his way out of SHIELD medical.


Once home, the billionaire had headed straight for his workshop. He skipped meals, movie nights, and his own bed, apparently opting to collapse from exhaustion on his ratty lab couch while otherwise working nonstop. As far as Steve could tell, he lived off coffee and whatever he was coerced to eat by his increasingly-worried teammates. After the conversation that morning about Tony's delayed recovery resulting from not getting enough food or rest, Steve decided he was going to be more proactive. This junk food was his first salvo.


He forced those thoughts away to deal with later, preferably in the gym with a punching bag. Instead, he cheerily suggested, "Well, how about you take a break tonight anyway? Maybe sleep in your own bed for a change?" He eyed the well-worn sofa dubiously, wondering how anyone could sleep on the thing.


Stark snorted as he downed the last of his cola and picked up the shake. "Nah, I'm good. I've slept on that couch so much over the years that its dents fit me better than the most expensive mattress in existence."


Rogers shrugged as the genius sucked noisily at his malted and continued typing code corrections one-handed. "OK then, how about I bring you pizza for dinner in a few hours? Clint tells me that 'the tomato sauce totally counts as a vegetable'."


Tony chortled without looking away from his screen. "One point for Barton.” He glanced at Steve then, tilting his head as the corners of his eyes creased in fond amusement. "And sure Cap, I'd love some pizza later."


Rogers stood and casually walked to the door, not willing to push his luck by insisting on a good night's sleep. The team had decided that morning that they would each help the obsessive genius get the rest and nutrition he needed to heal his injuries, so he'd get someone else to address the sleeping issue. He'd return that evening with more junk food, but he'd try to see how many real vegetables he could get them to put in the toppings.


As he heard the lab door shut, Tony finished the last of his milkshake and distractedly set aside the cup as he saved his programming changes. As he stood to return to his welding, an unexpected wave of vertigo washed over him and he grabbed the edge of the table with a white-knuckled grip as he waited for it to pass. It only lasted a moment, after which he wiped a shaky hand across his suddenly-sweaty forehead.


'That was weird. I wonder if I'm coming down with something?' He frowned, then mentally shrugged. 'I'll finish welding this one plate in place, then nap for a few hours. Fury's upgrades can wait.'


Eyeing the sofa, he considered just sleeping first but no, there would be time enough after he finished the current portion of the suit.


"Are you quite all right, Sir?" asked JARVIS worriedly, noting his hesitance.


"Yeah, fine. Just a bit drowsy. The carbs, you know." Tony waved off the AI's concern. "I'll take a nap in a few minutes."


"Certainly, Sir." JARVIS sounded relieved at the prospect.


Awkwardly grabbing his crutches on the second try, the mechanic hobbled back towards his welding equipment.


"Sir, do not forget your earlier promise to Doctor Banner," JARVIS reminded gently before he'd donned his mask again to resume work.


The industrialist closed his eyes, dropped his head, and groaned. "Really, JARVIS? Narcotics make my brain fuzzy, and I'm already woozy enough as it is."


"Yes, but as Doctor Banner pointed out, the stress put on your body by ignoring your constant pain is delaying the healing process. At this rate your armor will be finished long before you will be well enough to use it."


The billionaire's shoulders sagged in defeat. "Fine, but I'm only going to take one right now. I want to finish that enhanced plating before I lie down or Steve shows up with more food." He quirked what he hoped was a reassuring smile as he glanced towards the ceiling sensors.


"Very well, sir." Dum-E appeared almost instantly at his elbow with his nearly-full bottle of Percocet, shaking it.


"Think you're helping, huh?" demanded the engineer fondly as he took the bottle and removed a single pill and handing the bottle back. "Why don't you make yourself really useful and get me that smoothie over there to wash this down?"


Dum-E nodded his claw enthusiastically, carefully taking the proffered medicine bottle and wheeling away with a chirp. He set the pills down on the table next to the violently-green drink, picking it up instead and racing back to where the inventor leaned on his crutches bemusedly watching the process. He took the drink and, tossing back the narcotic, chased it with a mouthful of the surprisingly-palatable vegetable concoction.


He looked at the glass in amazement. "Did you make this Dum-E? This is very good. You should remember this for next time." He tried to hand it back, but the bot backed away, refusing to take it from him.


"Agent Romanov helped him with the recipe. He is very proud, and would like you to finish it." JARVIS suggested.


"Oh she did, did she? And when was she even… no. You know what? I don't want to know. Just tell me that there's no motor oil or poison in it?" He was only half-joking, remembering 'Natalie Rushman'.


"Not to my knowledge, Sir. I observed the use of celery, broccoli, mango and pineapple."


"Thanks, J." Despite the fact that the spy lived in his tower at his invitation and even fought super-villains on the same team, he had never quite gotten over his mistrust after the needle incident, never mind her deceit at masquerading as his PA.   Even if it had been for his own good, the whole episode had been a little too Orwellian for comfort.   But maybe it was time to let bygones be bygones…


He tilted the cup to his lips and finished it off, handing the now-empty glass to the robot when he was done. "There. Happy now?", he asked with mock gruffness. "Go on, take it to the sink. There's a good boy." He watched fondly as Dum-E rolled to the kitchenette, beeping happily. Abruptly another surge of lightheadedness blindsided him and the engineer put a hand to his forehead as he staggered into a nearby counter, bruising his hip with the force of the impact. He leaned heavily against the edge of the table, waiting for the room to stop moving.


"Sir, is everything all right?" Despite his unsteadiness, the inventor could hear the concern in his AI's voice. He forced down the nausea that threatened to allow his smoothie to revisit and managed a weak smile.


"Yeah….yeah. Just… really woozy for a second." He blinked rapidly and scrubbed at his eyes with his fist to try and clear his foggy vision. "Probably all those carbohydrates mixing with that stupid Percocet." He tried for reassuring, but didn't quite manage it. "I'll just have some coffee before I get back to work."


He eyed the kitchenette, which suddenly seemed incredibly distant. Glancing around instead at the nearby tabletops, he spied an almost-full cup only a few feet away on the very surface he was leaning on. He wobbled shakily over until he could grasp it with both trembling hands. He inhaled deeply and noted with gratification that it was still warm as he gulped it down. It was probably the cup he poured just before Rogers came knocking; he'd wondered where he'd set that.


He let out a sigh of relief as he carefully replaced the mug, then limped carefully back to his crutches, anticipating the caffeine rush any second. "That oughta do it, J. But until I'm more steady, let's boot up the schematics for the…. for the right boot repulsor unit." He didn't even want to risk working on Fury's coding the way he felt right now.


"Sir, are you certain that you are quite all right?" JARVIS was truly alarmed by this point, watching his creator sway more and more unsteadily on a combination of his feet and his crutches.


Tony waved a vaguely dismissive hand as his vision blurred further. "Sure. Fine. It's just the pain pill. I think Bruce musta got the stronger kind without telling me. But I'm not safe to operate welding equipment at the moment." He lurched to the nearest lab stool and sank gratefully onto it. "Why don't you pull up those schematics over here?"


The requested blueprints began swirling in the air around him, but he was unable to focus his eyes long enough to make any sense out of them. He began blinking rapidly again to try and clear his tunneling vision, with little success. Maybe he should take that nap now…


"J'vis? 'M gunna rest m'eyes for a sec…" he mumbled, folding his hands on the counter and dropping his head to rest on them. His eyes slid closed involuntarily as darkness crashed down.