Tony turned towards the voice, a scowl already in place for the stranger who dared to enter his room. Company was not very welcome, not even Rodney, or Steve, and especially not Pepper. But he knew all of their voices by now, and this was not one of the familiar ones.
"I told them I didn't want an assistant, so you can fuck right off from—"
"I am not your 'assistant'."
His scowl eased into a confused frown, and he continued to stare pointlessly at what he assumed, by the deeper voice, was a guy.
"Who are you, then?" He asked slowly, keeping his body turned towards him and making sure to remember to blink even behind his dark sunglasses. He had managed to fool people before, he could do it again.
"Do you not recognize me? I rather thought I struck a stronger cord than that."
Tony turned away again and started picking at the edge of his blanket.
So he did know him, then. That wasn't good, it was harder to pretend he was okay with someone he's met before. But, who did he know that spoke in that drawling British accent and supposedly left an impression on him? Someone from the company... no, no one had visited from Stark Industries yet. Not that he expected any of his staff or board members to come see him, they weren't exactly close.
Maybe a fellow scientist or engineer? That was even more unlikely, considering that most others in the field hated his guts. Unless... unless this was one of his competitors, here with the intent to kill him or rub his failure in his face. He hoped it was the former.
"I don't remember you, and you can leave now."
There was a delicate snort, and Tony felt the bed by his legs dip under the stranger's weight.
"I find that hard to believe, Stark," the man said, "I rather thought you would give me a much more explosive greeting. I must admit, I am rather disappointed in your lackluster performance."
"Oh, i'm sorry, I wasn't aware of your royal status," Tony snapped, turning back to him and furrowing his brows. Shit, he hoped he was at least facing the right direction. "Should I clap? Am I supposed to kneel and kiss your feet?"
There was a short, tense silence, but Tony could hear the smirk in the man's voice when he spoke again, "kneeling yes, feet kissing, no."
"I'm not kneeling to you, you freak."
"Ah, I had forgotten your disinterest in adapting any form of manners."
"Unless you're the fucking Queen of England, which I highly doubt, unless she's gone through a sex change and lost a few years, i'm not kneeling to you."
"Would you have a drink with me, then?" The voice asked, and Tony forgot to blink.
That, was familiar. Those words, that tone, the same inflections even. Why the hell was that familiar?
"I'm in a hospital," he replied at last, well aware of how bitter his voice sounded. "I don't think the nurses here are the type to wear skimpy dresses and serve booze."
Tony waited, and waited, and waited for a response. At one point, he was convinced the man had somehow snuck out of the room again without him hearing it. So when the voice spoke up again, he jerked in surprise at the sudden sound.
"Stark... why are you here?"
"Bladder infection," he lied.
"Yep, not enough cranberries, apparently. I mean, I eat blueberries by the truck load, but that's—"
"Why won't you look at me?" The stranger interrupted, causing Tony to choke on his words.
He hadn't been facing the right direction after all, what an idiot! He knew his ears weren't good enough for this, too many explosions and too much loud music. At least, according to Pepper.
Who was this, anyway? Who the hell supposedly knew him, but didn't have even an inkling of what happened? Anyone of the Avengers, members of SHEILD, hell, even some of the local police force knew what happened.
Well, he sure as hell wasn't going to tell him, the British bastard could be one of press for all he knew.
"I don't want to see your face,” he quipped lamely, “is that a problem?"
"No, that is not it," the voice said, sounding much closer suddenly," you look but you do not see."
Tony's shoulders hunched inwards as he tried to pull away, but there was no where to escape to but back into his mountain of pillows. He was trapped, and he didn't liked that feeling very much.
"Don't," he begged, squeezing his eyes shut. Fingers ghosted over his face, and the glasses were pulled away. Swift but gentle fingers brushed over his scarred eyelids.
"Have you been blinded?"
Tony's breath hitched in his throat, his heart rate rising rapidly. He could hear the heart monitor scream at him, blaring into the silence as his answer. The stranger brushed his fingers across his skin, once, twice more, and a small, almost mournful sound filled the room.
Then, they were pulling away, and Tony almost leaned after them, craving the touch that had become soothing. There was a breath of air against his forehead, and the bed shifted gently.
Tony's voice cracked as whispered, "who are you?" to an empty room.
"Fuck off, Clint."
"Aww, Tony, nooo..." Clint whined, coming closer anyway. Tony was suddenly assaulted by weird petting motions across his head and face.
"Would you cut that—" he swatted at him, "—out! What do you want, anyway? The so-called grapes your brought last time were actually dates. Who the hell gets that wrong? Even I could tell, and i'm blind."
"They taste the same."
Tony snorted and leaned back into his pillows, not bothering to keep up the pretense of normality. Clint was okay. In fact, he was the only one who didn't make him feel like a freak, or weak, or make him feel even remotely bad about being blinded. He didn't whisper around him, he didn't tip-toe around certain words, and he sure as hell didn't stop being his usual idiot self.
"Why are you blessing me with your idiotic presence, again?" Tony asked with a knowing smirk.
"I bring presents and a message from Fury," Clint replied, dropping something heavy on Tony's legs. He yelped, both in pain and surprise at his words.
A message from Fury was not a good sign. The man hadn't said anything since the accident, but it was pretty obvious what the situation was.
"I'm out, huh?"
Clint's silence was more than enough of an answer, and Tony turned away from the archer for the first time ever during one of his visits. He wasn't going to cry, hell, he didn't know if he even could cry anymore. He just needed to look away, he needed to hide his face like a child. Because maybe if he hid behind his hands, the world would disappear.
"That's all from me in there," Clint said, sounding further away. Tony heard the door click open, and the sudden rush of hospital sounds filled the room. "There aren't any dates, by the way."
"If there are," Tony muttered, "i'm shoving them up your ass next time."
Clint just laughed, and Tony smiled until the door shut with a snap.
He found out later, when he finally managed to bring himself to open the package, that there were dates after all. Luckily, for Clint, there was a wide assortment of other fruit as well. The archer even remembered his favorite chocolate covered blueberries, although, he had a sneaking suspicion Bruce had a hand in that.
Bruce. God, he missed Bruce the most. He visited for the first week after they tried to save his eyes, every day even. But after that, he stared coming less and less, and each visit had this weird tension. It wasn't until the last time he saw him that the scientist explained himself.
"I can't do this anymore, Tony."
Tony had been smiling, apparently oblivious to Bruce's real mood as they played twenty questions. His smile slipped at the distraught tone of his friend's voice.
"What do you mean, big guy? Just because i'm on a winning streak, doesn't mean you have to quit."
Bruce cleared his throat, and Tony heard him shift nervously in his chair.
"Can't do what anymore, Bruce?"
There was a sigh before he spoke,
"I can't visit you like this anymore. Every time I see you it's like a knife to my chest. I've already had three panic attacks on my way through the hospital." He paused, his voice lowering, "you know how dangerous that is."
"I'm ... i'm upsetting you that much?"
"Not upsetting, no it's not... i'm not explaining myself well."
A prick of anger made Tony's throat close up, and he balled his fists into the thing hospital sheets. “Then leave! Just... leave,” he hissed, turning away from the man sharply. This wasn't happening, not now, not with Bruce. Bruce was his only escape from this place, his own little oasis.
Bruce started to backtrack, babbling out a slew of excuses, stated like facts. He kept going until Tony threw his lunch tray in his general direction and screamed in wordless rage at him.
He nearly missed it, over his own angry panting, the small “I'm sorry,” that would be the last thing he heard from Bruce in weeks.
He missed him, hell, he wasn't even angry anymore. That had been unfair, screaming at him like that. Bruce was sensitive, not just because of the other guy, but just a fragile soul. Too many betrayals, too much hurt and loss in his past. For Tony to make him feel guilty for feeling hurt, that was just wrong. But he never got a chance to apologize, and he had too much pride to try to pass a message through anyone else for him. Clint had asked right out if they had a fight, and what did Tony do, and if he was going to apologize. He just snapped something nasty at the time, and Clint shrugged it off. It wasn't like Clint's life had been any easier, but some people are built differently than others. Insults rolled off the man like water off of Fury's bald head.
Oh, right. Fury.
Tony scowled and shoved a handful of the blueberries into his mouth, chewing angrily. The man hadn't bothered to come himself, the fucking coward. This was his fault, Tony had decided, so he should come to personally grovel at his feet. If SHIELD hadn't asked for more weapons, and if Fury hadn't threatened him to make them, he wouldn't be here, sitting alone eating fruit he had to name by feeling their fucking shape.
He grabbed another handful and popped some into his mouth, not caring that his lips were probably turning blue from the juice. He knew he looked like shit, anyway. Not much he can do when he can't see himself to shave.
“You seem spirited.”
Tony choked and ended up tipping the entire basket of blueberries into his lap. After recovering some of his shattered dignity, he said, “Welcome back, mystery Brit.”
“Not sending me away like before?”
Tony pondered this a moment and shrugs nonchalantly. “If you help pick up my blueberries, you can stay.”
“Uh, yeah. Those berries all over my lap... that are blue?”
There was a huff and Tony felt the man tilt the basket upright. “How uncreative a name.”
“What, you guys don't have blueberries in England?”
“Perhaps not,” the voice came from next to him.
Tony snorted in disbelief, and tried to scoop the berries out of his lap, not exactly willing to allow a stranger to dig around that close to his privates. When he couldn't find anymore, he leaned back and listened to the creak of the man's clothing. Leather, rather heavy clothing for a New York summer. Was he part of a biker gang? Did the Brits have bike gangs, and what would they even be called, the Dappers?
“Who are you?”
There was a brush of cold fingers against his lips, and a berry was popped into his mouth.
“What happened to you?” the man asked.
“What, can't wait to read it in the papers like everyone else?” Tony grumbled, pushing the blueberry around his mouth and popping it with his teeth.
There was another huff of laughter, and another berry was pushed past his lips.
“You think so highly of yourself, this injury matters so highly to the public?”
Clearly someone didn't know him as well as he thought he did. Tony sneered and crossed his arms, turning his face away. “I can see the headlines now, 'Billionaire and Inventor, Tony Stark, Blinded by Science'.”
The man jabbed him in the cheek, startling him and shoving another berry in his open mouth.
This was by far the oddest thing he'd ever done with a stranger, and he has done some bizarre things. Being fed by a random British guy, someone he supposedly knew at some point, who didn't seem to know that much about him, but was more than willing to sit there and feed him.
For the first time in a very long while, he was struck speechless. So, he just sat there and let those oddly chilled fingers push berries into his mouth one by one until they were gone. When he finally stopped, Tony let out a surprised grunt and reached out automatically before snatching his hand back.
“Uh, thanks, I guess. Do you do that for all the people you leave an 'impression' on?”
“No,” he answered and stood up from the bed. “I must go.”
“I'd show you the door, but you know...”
He was answered by another soft breath against his forehead, and it was hours later when he realized it was a goodbye kiss.
Tony found himself waiting for his biker gang Brit between his other visits. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate Clint's dry humor and his god damn dates, or Natasha's silent visits where they played chess. He somehow beat her six out of the ten times they played, pretty good for a blind man. He still missed Bruce and their science chats, and he pointedly ignored Steve when he came to visit. That was a bridge that needed mending, but not any time soon. Not when the man hassled him along with Fury for those weapons.
No, it wasn't like he was lonely, but, he was lonely.
He liked his mystery guest, who had now taken it upon himself to feed Tony almost every visit, and Tony had made it a habit to save his fruits until he showed up. The visitor also started reading to him, old favorites that Tony had no idea how the man knew he liked them. They had been working their way through Lord of the Rings when the man suddenly stopped coming.
Tony didn't worry for the first day, but he saved a box of strawberries all the same. He didn't eat anything from the disgusting hospital 'food', because it was gross, not because he was waiting. He stole a strawberry in the late afternoon of the next day, and maybe he was starting to worry. Three days later, he was standing by the window, face pointed out blindly. Clint had asked him twice already why he pretended to look out before Tony told him it was just to feel the sun. The bastard then called him an old man, and tony managed to clip him with the chess board, earning him a much appealing squawk.
But he was worried, really worried. He never got the sense that his mystery guest was in any trouble. He always seemed calm, collected, almost happy even. It was strange how much Tony could feel from him, almost as if losing his sight gave him a Spidey Sense or something. It was pretty useful, when someone was actually here. But the one person he wanted to visit most, was gone. Maybe he had said something that pissed him off, not that they talked that much. In fact, Tony hadn't said much other than, “Who are you?” and “You sound like a creaky bed, who wears leather in the summer?”
The man didn't seem pissed the last time he came, he even gave Tony the usual brush of a kiss across his forehead. It's not like he ever promised he would come back, he never promised anything. But Tony had a bad feeling about it. His Spidey Sense was tingling.
“No! You can't just—“
“AWAY FROM ME, I AM VISITING A DEAR FRIEND!”
Tony's fingers froze over a strawberry, a wide grin breaking out across his face. Only one person had a voice like that, and talked like he swallowed a Shakespearean play. The door blew open and Tony turned to greet him automatically.
“Hey, Point Break!”
“Man of Iron!” Thor shouted amid the shushing and hissing from the nurses. “Upon my arrival to Midgard, I was told you had been wounded in battle, yet I see no wound. Are you well?”
Tony's smile faltered, only a little, and he flipped his dark glasses up, staring at Thor with scarred, ruined eyes. There was a hiss of surprise, and the door snapped closed as the nurses left begrudgingly.
Tony cleared his throat and tired to lighten the mood, “I know you love me, buddy, but you didn't have to come back from Asgard so early just for me.”
There was the unmistakable sound of Thor's heavy bulk sitting in the weak, plastic chair by the bed before he spoke, “My apologies, but I had not returned with the knowledge that you were wounded. I have come back for an unfortunate reason.”
“And that is? Don't tell me there's another global threat by flying horse women, again. That was not even funny. Why did you think that was funny?”
“Did you not enjoy the prank, friend?” Thor asked with a deep chuckle. His voice lowered into a serious tone as he continued, “No, I fear this is a very real crisis. My brother... Loki, has escaped from Asgard. We can only assume he returned here, since Heimdall only saw his departure from Asgard and nothing more.”
“Loki's here? On Earth? Since when?”
“He escaped his prison several months ago, but has been missing ever since. I would like to think him alive and well, not stirring up trouble... and yet, I cannot help but wonder if he has...”
Tony picked at the leaves at the top of his strawberry, a weird through passing through his mind. Loki, dead? No, his brain was absolutely sure he was not. Why he was so sure, he had no idea.
“Thor, buddy, I don't think a stubborn bastard like him would up and die like that. I mean, come on, that little shit was surrounded by us and he still has the audacity to ask for a dr... a drink.”
"Would you have a drink with me, then?"
No, that wasn't what he had said, was it? Tony's brows drew together as he tried to remember. It had been almost a year ago, already, yet he could still see that look in Loki's eyes when he was carted back to Asgard.
“I'll have that drink now.”
Wait, that was...
“Oh my fucking god!” Tony yelped, his hand slapping over his mouth. It wasn't until Thor's massive hands were shaking him, his voice rumbling in his ears that he came back to reality.
“You said he was here?” Tony interrupted, panic starting to well up in his stomach. It couldn't be, why would it be? Why the hell would Loki come and visit him, never mind read to him, feed him!?
“I believe he is. I sense his magic's presence somewhere within this realm.”
“T-then, you know where he is right now?”
Thor shifted in his chair, and the poor abused thing let out a warning groan. “No, I can only sense that he has lingered in this city for some time. Nearby, even. That is why I came here first, I was concerned he had been stalking you in your weakened state.” Thor paused for a moment, his voice sounding almost guilty when he continued, “You may be in danger, Man of Iron.”
Tony was pulling off all the leaves of his strawberries before he forced himself to stop and put the box of fruit down. It was Loki, it had to be. Now the question was, did he tell Thor? That would mean people sticking around his room, waiting for his mystery—well, not so mysterious anymore—guest. That would mean Thor capturing him and taking him back to Asgard without Tony ever getting his answer as to why the god was visiting him in the first place. That would mean no more readings, no more fruit stealing or snappy conversations. No more soft breathing, cold fingers, and delicate kisses for his forehead.
“Well,” he began slowly, “I'm sure there's a mistake. Why would he come here? I'm not even the one who threw him around like a rag-doll. If there's anyone you want to keep an eye on, it's Bruce.”
“The scientist and his other half?”
“Yeah, that one. He's back at the tower right now, have you checked there? Seems like a likely target for your pissed off brother.”
Thor's chair screamed as he stood, and heavy hands laid themselves on Tony's shoulders once more. “I am sorry you were hurt, my friend, and please alert me immediately if you see... if you have any clues that he has been around.”
“Of course,” Tony lied, “I'll see what I can do.”