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Darkness, My Old Friend... and Silence

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"Were we close to creating something?" Tony glared at Bruce, willing the other man with his stare to back him up. When the scientist pursed his lips and blinked away, Tony allowed his jaw to clench in frustration, leaving his mask firmly locked in place. He hadn't expected Bruce's support, but the betrayal hurt just as much as it always did.

Bruce shrugged then, letting his breath out in a soft sigh, meeting Tony's irritated gaze with a silent apology in them. "We did something."

Great, awesome, wonderful. Bruce, as always, was going to throw him under the bus again. Leave him dangling, alone and without support. Why it surprised him every damn time he didn't know, you'd think he'd be used to betrayal by now.

With a sigh of his own, he turned back to the room of Avengers, subconsciously moving closer to Rhodey, the only one in the group who he felt a modicum of trust for. The cold accusation coming from the rest of the team was obvious in their body language and their glares. He couldn't believe these were the same people who'd been drinking his liquor, eating his food and treating him like a friend less than an hour ago. The contrast was glaring and something he'd have to look more closely at later. Much, much later.

"You remember? Aliens? Big nuclear weapon, giant hole in the sky? How are you guys planning on dealing with that?" Tony demanded, staring at Steve and willing himself to not dwell on the nightmare visions he'd seen during his trip through the wormhole.

"Together." Steve replied, his voice so calm and reasonable, it took all his self control not to smack that superior look off Cap's face.

"We'll lose." Tony retorted, unwilling to continue the argument further.

"Then we'll do that together as well."

Tony bit his tongue at the idiotic reply, blinked and looked away from Cap’s arrogant declaration. The man still didn't get it. No matter how many times he'd tried to explain his urgency and concern, none of them took him seriously. The silence was almost too much, but as he shifted away from his irritation, Thor returned. His hand immediately went around Tony's throat as he stormed across the room, closing the distance quickly. He blinked in surprise, fear clawing at him as the Asgardian lifted him into the air, waves of anger rolling off the other man.

"Use your words big guy." He choked, black spots forming at the edge of his vision.

"Thor." He heard Steve say calmly as if this display was perfectly normal behaviour. Fuck, were any of them ever concerned for his well-being? "The Legionnaire?"

Thor abruptly let go, still glaring at him at he relayed Ultron's escape. Tony winced at the pain in his larynx, tensing with guilt at the knowledge Ultron had escaped with Loki's sceptre. Great. Just what he needed. Something else for them to blame him for.

***

"Sonovabitch!" He swore, bolting upright from where he'd fallen asleep on his work bench. He dragged weary hands over his face, rubbing them through his hair as he slowly blinked awake. The nightmares had lessened a lot since they'd defeated Ultron, but had never truly left him.

Getting to his feet, he ignored the tremble in his legs, making his way to the far counter and pressing a button for an instant gourmet coffee. Despite his exhaustion, there was no getting back to sleep now, not with the lingering memory of that event fresh in his mind.

"Boss?" FRIDAY asked from overhead. "Are you alright? May I suggest a glass of water?"

Tony snorted, rolling his eyes as the delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled his senses. "You can suggest FRIDAY, but I'm not having water."

"Then allow me to remind you that both Ms. Potts and Colonol Rhodes have expressed their concern for your well-being?"

"I think you just did that." Tony retorted, taking a sip of the hot beverage and closing his eyes in an expression of pure bliss.

"Boss." FRIDAY admonished in a tone of reprimand that made him miss Jarvis and the AI he'd modelled him after with a sudden and unexpected pang of loss.

"FRIDAY." Tony sighed. "I'll have some later alright?"

"Very well boss. I'll hold you to that." But Tony could tell she wasn't finished, sighing when FRIDAY continued. "Did you have another nightmare?"

"What do you think?" Tony snapped irritably, returning to the chair at his workbench.

"I think you should try talking to someone who can help you."

"Pointless. You already know what the result will be, just like every other time I tried it. Are you sure you don't have a virus? Has some of your wiring been fried? Because I don't make a habit of creating complicated algorithmic programs on purpose and then sabotaging them to say stupid things. It's counter-productive."

"Which sir?" FRIDAY queried. "Creating pointless things or talking to someone?"

"Did I teach you to be this irritating?"

"Must be an evolved trait boss." FRIDAY retorted. "I was, after all, created by you."

Tony groaned again, glaring at the holographic screen still suspended in the air before him. "So I'm arguing with myself."

"Not entirely boss." FRIDAY replied. "I'm not designed to be as stubborn as you, but the sarcasm IS yours. You did design me to place your well-being at the core protocol of my programming for self learning. You designed me to take care of you, despite or perhaps because of your detrimental inclination to not take care of yourself."

"I must've been drunk at the time."

"On the contrary boss, you were quite sober when you created your AI's. I have a visual record stored in my archives should you wish to review them."

"Definitely not."

"Very well."

Tony continued sipping his coffee as FRIDAY subsided into silence, lucid enough now to review the memory of his recent nightmare with some sense of objectivity. There wasn't a reason he could easily point to as to why that dream was still alive and kicking in his subconscious. Nor was there an explanation that he was willing to look at, aside from the obvious. From how everything had progressed from that point in events, the rift between himself and Thor had essentially been repaired, much to his surprise. Though no one had been more shocked than he had been when the Asgardian had helped give "birth" to Vision.

"Boss?"

"Yeah FRIDAY?"

"I do not wish to intrude on your thoughts, but perhaps you could tell me what your dream was about? I may be of assistance."

"It's nothing baby girl. Just memories of Ultron's creation."

"Sad memories?"

Tony frowned. "No... why would they be sad? You mean... JARVIS?"

"My records show that you fashioned him from a living man. There are... instances of... growth during these emotional times."

Tony frowned at that. He'd known JARVIS grew during his more trying emotional episodes on an intellectual and scientific level. But hearing FRIDAY describe it... "Are you saying there are direct and measurable correlations between my ah, "episodes" and JARVIS'... evolution?"

FRIDAY made what sounded suspiciously like a giggle before answering in a more serious tone. "That is exactly what I'm saying boss."

Tony snorted at her response. He knew he shouldn't be surprised by it... yet after a moment he realized he was. For a genius, he could be dense sometimes.

"Boss?"

"Yeah FRIDAY?"

"Your nightmare boss. You did not answer my question."

"Question? Right, your question." He nodded. "Well since we both know I'm not eager to sit in some pompous head shrinks' over priced office...." Tony paused, downing the rest of his coffee."DUM-E?"

A pleased mechanical chirrup answered. "Another cup please." He said, handing his empty mug to the excited bot. "And don't spill it this time." DUM-E replied with a sad hum as he made his way across the floor to the coffee maker. "You can do it buddy." He added, turning back to the screen above his desk. "FRIDAY?"

"Yes boss?"

"Just checking." He said, leaning back in his chair. "If I tell you this nightmare can you keep working on it after you give me your initial impressions?"

"Adding the subroutine now."

"Good. So, dream time. How odd is it that I'm telling this to an AI? Don't answer that." FRIDAY remained quiet. "Right, so... I dreamt of what happened just after Ultron escaped and Thor came back angry."

"Who was in the dream boss?"

Tony frowned. What did that matter? "The usual suspects obviously."

"I do not have a frame of reference for the 'usual suspects' boss. According to leading professionals in the field, what appears in a dream is not the same as what really happened. Dreams are meant to show what someone has trouble accepting. Truths an individual is not willing to face."

"What? You mean that dream is showing me a hang up? I know what happened FRIDAY, I was there."

"Dreams are not memories boss. Which is why it matters who was in the dream. Did you speak to anyone? Did anyone speak to you?"

Tony paused, his brow furrowed in concentration. "Bruce, Steve and Thor."

"How did you feel?"

"What? That's even more bizarre than your first question."

"Studies show that feelings in a dream state are the most important clue to resolving them boss."

"That's ridiculous."

"Less ridiculous than wormholes and Mind Stones boss."

"Sounds like mumbo jumbo to me." Tony grumbled. "But fine, I'll play along. The feeling was...hmm disappointment?"

"Your voice inflection indicates you're not sure about that."

"Fine. I felt betrayed, alone. Abandoned. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"No boss." FRIDAY replied softly. "I will start a file for your review another time."

"I thought we were doing this now?" Tony groused.

"Ms. Potts is on the line."

Tony sighed, accepting the mug of coffee DUM-E offered him. He smiled at the bot, patted it's camera and sent him off to tidy the counter. "Put her through FRIDAY."

"Tony?" Pepper's voice rang through the sound system, her tone less than pleased.

"The one and only Sunshine. What can I do for you Buttercup?"

An exasperated sigh flooded the room. "I swear to god Tony, if you've forgotten the meeting today..."

Tony frowned as FRIDAY lit up with a list of the day's itinerary making him curse under his breath.

"Of course I didn't forget." Tony scoffed, getting to his feet with a sigh. "But remind me, who exactly am I meeting?"

"Of course you forgot." Pepper sighed again as Tony stepped into his private elevator, pressing the button to take him up to his penthouse.

"Oh yee of little faith Pepp. You wound me."

"Not yet I haven't."

"Still waiting sweety." Tony shot back, a grin on his lips knowing how her face would now be scrunching up in extreme irritation as he headed to his private shower.

"For what?" She demanded,

"FRIDAY, mute ambient sound." Tony muttered under his breath, ensuring Pepper wouldn't know he was taking a shower.

"Why am I meeting these people? Come on Pepp, you're supposed to be my CEO. Meetings are your department now." He continued, stepping under a stream of hot water.

"This meeting requires Iron man's presence." She answered, this time it was clear he'd succeeded in annoying her. He groaned as memory returned.

"Dammit Pepper." He swore, rinsing the soap from his hair. "This is about the Avengers isn't it?"

"More specifically about what happened in New York."

"How does what happened in New York and what Loki did have anything to do with lawyers? I thought all that legal shit had been handled already."

"You know why Tony." She answered, only this time her voice held no irritation. "I don't understand why you can't discuss this with the rest of the Avengers."

Tony barked a laugh as he stepped out of the shower and towelled off. "You're joking. We've been over this Pepper. None of them have any money, never mind a job."

"That doesn't make the damage done to the city your sole responsibility Tony."

"I'm well aware of that. Too bad the rest of the team doesn't see it that way."

"Tony..."

"I'll bring it up Pepp, but I'm telling you it's a lost cause. I'm the billionaire, playboy philanthropist remember? Sacrificing myself on the altar of hero worship to feed my insatiable ego."

"Don't give me that crap Tony. That's Barton taking and we both know it."

"Doesn't change anything."

"I'm calling Rhodey."

"No."

"Tony don't be so damned stubborn! He can help. He's part of the Avengers too."

"And have the press find out I'm talking money from someone in the military? Even if it's going to the city, you know how reporters will paint it. Anything to tarnish the self-proclaimed hero."

"I'm not arguing with you over this right now." Pepper retorted. "The meeting's in half an hour. Don't be late."

"Who are these lawyers again?"

"Nelson and Murdock."