Chapter 1: Clint
Clint’s legs were cramping up.
No matter how many times he shut himself up in the vents, he couldn’t get used to how small they were. To stretch out, he would have to either lie down on the musky metal, or-
Go to Tony Stark’s floor.
For reasons unknown, Tony Stark decided that his floor would have the largest vents. They were large enough to kneel in, and Clint went up there to take a break when he didn’t feel like returning to his room or having to deal with the other teammates throughout the tower. It was also calming, watching the man work, how he moved around in the workshop with ease and heck, he had a good taste in music. Clint would sometimes just lie there, listening to the sound of a hammer against metal with AC/DC in the background. It didn’t really sound relaxing, but it was for Clint.
Climbing up through the vents was no problem; there were handles lining the vents for easy access whenever someone had to do maintenance, so he didn’t have to exhort the same amount of energy he would have to use when he was back in the helicarrier. Or maybe Tony knew that he spent most of the time up there, and installed the handles. After all, everything was automated here in the tower, so why would robots need the handles?
Clint made it to the floor and was going to make his way to the workshop, when he realized that someone was sleeping in Tony’s bed. A closer look told him that it was indeed Tony, and for some reason that felt strange to him.
In all of his time at the tower, he had never once seen Tony Stark sleep. He always trusted him to be up, working, the music blasting so loudly that he could hear it through the vents when he hadn’t even reached his floor yet; no matter how soundproof the walls were. He had thought it was weird, he realized, when the trip up to Tony’s floor had been silent. There wasn’t any faint electric guitars, the beat of a drum pounding through the walls.
Was Tony Stark actually sleeping?
Clint thought for a minute about how unhealthy his sleeping schedule must be when he realized that Tony wasn’t actually asleep, judging by the way he tossed and turned, so he crouched so just his eyes were peering over the edge of the grate, at an angle at which Tony wouldn’t be able to see them should he look up.
Then he realized that this was probably really creepy and decided to just abandon the vents altogether, and just go to his room and sleep. It was, after all, two in the morning, unless the clock on Tony’s bedside table was wrong.
Clint had just turned around when a muffled yell stopped him, and he turned back to look through the grate. Tony had flung all of his blankets off and was breathing heavily, holding his knees to his chest and running his hand through his hair. Hold on; did he have a nightmare? He listened harder, and he could definitely hear a bit of crying going on. This was bad, this wasn’t the Tony Stark anybody knew, this wasn’t good.
Retreating back the way he came, Clint decided that even though he wasn’t supposed to care about these things, he was still going to check on him. Not through the ceiling, obviously, because then he’d have to admit that he was spying on him, so he crawled a bit more until he found the grate that went out into the hallway outside of Tony’s bedroom, and he carefully pushed it open and fell out gracefully.
He made his way to Tony’s room, and knocked three times on the door before it opened automatically and Clint stepped in.
“What do you want?” Tony grumbled. He was in the little kitchenette in his bedroom (seriously, what the heck, a kitchen in a bedroom), brewing coffee.
“Why are you awake?” Clint asked, stepping forward as the door closed behind him.
“Tried sleeping, didn’t work, decided that sleep was not for me,” Tony said, waving the question off. “You?”
“Giraffes sleep with their eyes open, and only in short micro bursts,” Clint answered.
Tony looked at him like he had no idea what he was talking about but still completely understood him at the same time.
“Coffee?” he held up a mug.
“I’m good,” Clint shook his head, moving over to the marble counter. He watched silently as Tony shrugged and poured a steaming mug of coffee, then took a sip, not even bothering to add cream or sugar or to wait for it to cool down.
“What are you doing these days?” Tony asked, sitting down on the couch, in the ‘living portion’ of the room (seriously, Tony’s room was basically a hotel room). Clint sat on the love seat, across from him.
“Nothing much. Waiting to be called in, sitting around, playing WiiFit with the captain, you know the drill,” Clint sighed. “Gets a bit boring.”
“You liking this place?” Tony asked, taking another sip.
“God, yeah. Man, you’ve thought of everything,” Clint nodded. “I’ve never had an archery range at my house, let alone indoors.”
“Thought you might want something to keep you entertained,” Tony shrugged as if it were no big deal. “You being a sharpshooter and all that.”
“True,” he replied. “But you didn’t have to do that.”
“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do,” Tony said, raising an eyebrow. “I’m Tony Stark.”
“I know. But this is my way of showing gratitude. Accept it,” Clint smirked. “I don’t say thank you too often.”
“You should. Makes you sound almost normal,” he sighed, taking a rather large gulp of coffee.
“Have you ever said thank you in your life?” Clint challenged.
“I’ll have you know that, because I don’t like saying thank you,” Tony pointed at Clint. “I don’t say thank you.”
“Because Tony Stark does what he wants.”
“Correct,” he tilted his head back and drained the mug. “You sure you don’t want coffee?”
“I don’t think caffeine at this time of the night is the best,” Clint answered. “Should you even be having it?”
“Tony Stark does what he wants,” was the answer, and Tony stood up to pour himself more coffee.
Clint made himself comfortable, stretching across the seat. “What’s Pepper up to these days?”
“Pep’s on a business trip for the next two weeks. Something about,” Tony paused, thinking. “I think it had something to do with stocks.”
“You don’t know what goes on in your own company?”
“Not only does Tony Stark do want he wants, Tony Stark also only remembers what he wants,” Tony sat back down, holding a fresh mug of coffee. “I’m telling you; it’s easy being me.”
“I imagine so,” Clint replied, crossing his arms over his chest, sinking deeper into the cushions. “You’ve got everything, man. A big house, a car, and a loose schedule. Heck, you could probably push back a meeting for a year before someone calls you out on your bullshit.”
“Nah, it’s two weeks. I’ve tried. Pepper’s usually quick on that,” Tony pointed out. “And I’ve got fifteen cars. And three big houses.”
“Not to flex, but I’ve got this tower, the compound, and a mansion,” Tony listed, counting on his fingers. “I could probably buy all of New York if I tried.”
“PR will have a field day.”
There was a silence, and Tony finished his second cup of coffee of the morning.
“You ever wonder what would happen if you died? Like, with all your properties and such,” Clint asked.
“Every single night,” Tony answered, standing up to grab a third cup of coffee. “I made my last will and testament, so it’s not like it hasn’t been thought of before.”
“You’ve already made your will?” Clint asked, looking up.
He stayed silent. Tony sat back down with his mug, putting his legs up on the coffee table, staring at Clint expectantly. It was almost as if Tony wanted Clint to say that he had, as if to prove something. That rich and the slightly less rich weren’t all too different when it comes to dying, or that he wasn’t alone in his crazy death fantasies.
Unfortunately for Tony, Clint didn’t have a death wish.
“You suicidal or something?”
“Nah. Just a realist.”
Clint didn’t quite know what to do with the information.
“You planning on sleeping tonight?” Clint asked, changing the topic.
“I told you; I tried, it didn’t work,” he took a sip of coffee. “I don’t like sleep. It’s useless. Waste of time.”
“It’s actually necessary for the brain,” Clint contradicted, folding his hands behind his head.
“Tony Stark does what he wants,” he said plainly, staring at the spot above Clint’s left ear.
Clint didn’t answer, but studied Tony’s face. He noticed how heavy and dark his eye bags were, how pale he’d gotten, and his eyes were bloodshot from either the tears from before or from lack of sleep. Either way, Clint didn’t want to say anything about his appearance, because that would probably be insensitive to a man who prided himself on it. Especially one who wore satin pajamas to bed, what the heck. Clint was literally in sweatpants and an off-white tank top, one that used to be white before he discovered that he could fit in the vents at the tower.
He deduced that Tony, as he stated, really didn’t want to sleep. But maybe it wasn’t because he saw it as a complete waste of time; maybe it was because he didn’t want the nightmares. Because who else would drink coffee at this time?
“You tired, Birdbrain?” Tony said, draining the last drips of coffee. “You’re zoning out.”
“Just thinking,” Clint brought his hand down to rub his face. He was feeling the effects of fatigue.
“How you should probably sleep,” he answered.
“Heh,” Tony said plainly, looking at his empty mug disappointingly. “I don’t want to.”
“I just don’t like it,” he shrugged.
Clint left it at that, deciding not to press the matter, yawning with grandeur.
“If you fall asleep here, I’m drawing on your face,” Tony warned, standing up to put his mug in the sink; the coffee pot was now empty.
“I’d like to see you try. I’m trained to wake up once someone even approaches me,” Clint smirked, but he wasn’t so sure; slowly, he’d begin to trust everyone in the tower, so the ‘override button’ that woke his brain up in any of the stages of sleep didn’t sense the danger anymore. It would work fine when he wasn’t in the vicinity of the others, which was great for missions, but not so great whenever someone declared a prank war on him.
Tony just smiled and brewed another pot of coffee.
The next thing Clint knew, he opened his eyes to an empty room, brightened by sunlight streaming through the blinds. There was a scratchy wool blanket resting on him, and he threw it off and rushed to a nearby mirror.
A carefully drawn Tony Stark goatee in permanent marker had found its way on his face.
Chapter 2: Bruce
Bruce opened his eyes, squinting at the artificial light streaming through his bedroom door. There was a figure standing in the doorway, blocking a large portion of the light from the hallway. He immediately recognized the short form as Tony Stark’s.
“Tony?” he asked, sleepily, slowly sitting up in his bed and leaning against the wooden bed frame.
“Hi,” Tony repeated.
“You alright? It’s,” Bruce rubbed his eyes and rolled over to check the time. “It’s four in the morning.”
“I can’t sleep. I can’t-” Tony said, frustrated, pacing the floor just inside his room. He stopped. “Sorry.”
Bruce yawned, patting the space on the bed beside him. “S’okay. Sit.”
Tony reluctantly moved forward, smoothing out the bed sheets before sitting down on top of them. Bruce couldn’t exactly see Tony’s expression, as it was dark, but he could see enough to know that he was upset over something. And it was rare that Tony Stark got upset. At least, it was rare to see him upset in front of others. Bruce had seen him totally messed up but insisting he was okay, only for JARVIS to call him a few minutes later to tell him that Tony was practically dying on the ground of his workshop.
“You okay?” he asked carefully. If Tony actually came to him for help, it must be bad.
“I can’t sleep,” Tony replied, shaking his head. “It’s just, I thought you might understand. I can’t get my mind to shut up. How do you do it?”
“How do I what?” Bruce asked, still half asleep.
“How do you sleep?” Tony said, and he sounded so tired that Bruce actually thought he was crying.
“JARVIS, lights,” Bruce said, and the lights came on, dim, but just bright enough so that he could make sure that Tony wasn’t actively tearing up. He seemed alright, not even any watery eyes, but the heavy eye bags were even more prominent than usual. Then again, Tony wore sunglasses indoors, so it was hard to compare the usual to now.
“I just can’t stop thinking, it’s one thought after another. I have to build, I have to write things down before I forget them, and my mind just won’t shut up,” Tony said, rubbing the bridge of his nose, and Bruce could only imagine the headache that he must have. “I’m so tired.”
“Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I drink chamomile tea,” Bruce offered. “Or any type of tea, really, as long as it’s decaf.”
“I’ve tried that. You know that stupid tea that’s supposed to calm you before bed, the one that’s actually made for that purpose?” Tony said, obviously frustrated. “It just doesn’t work for me.”
“How many teas have you tried?” he asked. “Maybe there’s one that you haven’t tried, that-”
“Bruce. Trust me on this. I’ve tried them all,” Tony said, chuckling coldly. “I can’t wait until Pepper comes home and sees the cupboard stuffed to the gills with boxes of tea, each with only one tea bag missing.”
“When does she come back?”
“Ten days,” he replied. “Not that I’ve been counting.”
Bruce nodded. Tony would never admit it, but he needed other people sometimes.
“I’ve read that cooling the room temperature helps sometimes, that’s why hotel rooms are so cold. It has something to do with lowering your body temperature faster, which is what happens naturally when you sleep.”
“It also increases melatonin levels. I know, I’ve read about it,” Tony said. “And I’ve tried it. I’ve tried everything. I just can’t sleep,” he stressed.
“Maybe it’s all that screen time? Blue light from screens can make it harder for your brain to shut down, and-”
“I’ve tried. I’ve tried everything. It’s not, it’s just-” Tony stopped himself, shaking his head. “Nothing helps. Sorry.”
“Caffeine levels?” Bruce sighed, knowing that Tony wouldn’t give up coffee for the world.
“I went a few days without caffeine,” he replied, and Bruce was surprised. “I still couldn’t sleep. It would be around six when I’d finally feel calm enough, and then the next thing I know JARVIS is waking me up, telling me that I have to go to a meeting.”
“There’s always sleeping pills,” Bruce offered, a last attempt. Sleeping pills were dangerous, as they could cause people to not be fully awake if they woke up earlier than the sleeping pill was designed for, and they were very easy to overdose on.
“I can’t. They’re just, it’s just,” Tony sighed. “I just-”
“Nightmares,” he finished for him.
Nightmares made things tricky. It was hard to wake up from them while on sleeping pills, and being trapped in a dream, especially ones full of triggers from past events, was terrifying. And even if he did manage to wake up, he wouldn’t be fully awake because the pill made people like that, which could cause car accidents and other mistakes that could be fatal.
“You doing alright? Apart from the sleeping problem?” Bruce asked carefully. Tony usually didn’t open up to people, so he wasn’t really expecting much heart-to-heart with him.
“Perfect. Everything’s just peachy,” Tony rubbed his hands on his face.
Bruce knew Tony was lying. If it had just been sleep bothering him, then he wouldn’t have this expression on his face. Bruce knew the look; there was hopelessness and tiredness written all over his face, a complete lack of faith in his future. It was like he didn’t see past the next day. All he could focus on now were the problems weighing him down, not the next project for Stark Industries, not the next big game on TV, and not the daylight that tomorrow brings. It was just empty.
“I just wish I could sleep.”
“Sorry I couldn’t help,” Bruce said, and even though Tony did interrupt him from a relatively okay dream at four in the morning, he really meant the apology.
“It’s okay. Sorry to bother you,” Tony stood up, and Bruce saw through his unfocused eyes that he probably wasn’t seeing much right now. Hypotension sometimes did that to people.
“Tony,” Bruce said, reaching over and grabbing onto his arm as Tony swayed slightly. He blinked twice, then his eyes slowly focused back on Bruce. “You should probably drink some water.”
Tony smiled sadly and stepped out of Bruce’s grip. He had a hand on the doorknob before he turned around. “I just thought you’d understand.”
“I really do, Tony. I get it.”
Tony just shook his head. “But thanks anyway.”
“Anytime,” Bruce nodded, confused. “Goodnight, Tony.”
“Goodnight, Brucie-bear,” Tony said, stepping out of the room and closing the door softly behind him.
The lights turned off (courtesy of JARVIS), and Bruce rolled over, but sleep came less easily. The look in Tony’s eyes haunted him, the emptiness, as those eyes held the same expression that Bruce’s did, back when he, well, when he got low.
He understood too late.
He curled up tighter under his blankets and silently prayed that Pepper would be home sooner.
Chapter 3: Steve
Steve didn’t need to sleep as often as the others.
Which was fine, really. Night time was calm. He had a favourite window that he would look out of, and he could see the entire city, and even farther, from that position. He could see the city lights, then to the point where the lights got scarcer and scarcer, until they finally reached trees and nothingness. Darkness.
The window was in the common room, where the team would frequently gather to play video games or have a quick bite together, but the day was noisy. He couldn’t stare out of the window during the day, because there were distractions and all in all, the view wasn’t all that great during the day. There was just smog and cars and the dull grey of the city. At least during the night you can’t see the smog, and the cars are just lights. At night, the city comes alive.
But Steve always finds himself looking at the line of trees, beyond the urban sprawl. He missed being able to see the stars at night. If he thought that the city lights were calming, he couldn’t wait until he could actually see the stars. He used to always sit on his porch, wrapped in blankets to avoid catching a cold, and watch the sky.
And then he woke up several decades later and the stars were replaced with light pollution.
“What’cha doin’ Cap?” a voice said from behind him, startling him.
“Stark,” Steve answered, turning around.
“Hey,” Tony smiled, and Steve realized that he was drunk, and was reeking of alcohol. “What’re ya lookin’ at?”
“The lights,” he said. “It’s busy out here.”
“City ne’er sleeps,” Tony nodded, slurring. “S’a mess.”
Steve turned his attention back to the window. “I like the stars better.”
“Me too,” Tony agreed.
They were silent for a bit.
“Y’know, I hate this,” Tony interrupted the heavy silence. “All this.”
“The, the buildings. The destroying everything,” he elaborated, making grand hand gestures. “Everything’s grey. Nothing’s, nothing’s clear.”
“You mean destroying the Earth and all that?” Steve asked, turning to face Tony. Out of all of the people that Steve Rogers though would say that, Tony was the least expected. He was the man of the future, always building, making things for his work. Economy over Ecology.
“Yeah n' no,” Tony said, furrowing his brow to think. “S’better. With, with the outside, the nature. s’like, clear. But with here, in the city, there’s, there’s grey. N' grey’s heavy, s’not like black, or blue. S’empty.”
“I’m not following you.”
“S’okay,” Tony laughed, rubbing his face. “God- I’m so drunk.”
“Why are you drinking?” Steve asked, looking at the time on the microwave. Two in the morning.
“Makes it less grey.”
Steve didn’t say anything. He had never seen Tony like this, intoxicated to the point where he’s tripping over his own speech. He’d always been a curt man. Straight to the point, maybe a few jokes to either annoy people or play them up. But Tony was elaborating, using metaphors, trying to explain. He was just too drunk to get his point across.
And this was weird. Tony usually refused to be in the same room as Steve, as they didn’t get along all that well. Heck, they were polar opposites. Tony was from the future, and Steve was stuck in the past. Tony was sour and didn’t work well with the others, preferring to shut himself up and work, and Steve was social, who put his friends before his job as an Avenger. Their priorities, their end goals, they were different, which meant that they both say the world differently. So the fact that Tony was here willingly, and that they both weren’t trying to bite each other’s heads off, it was strange.
“We should build a planetarium. You’d be able to see the stars,” Tony grinned, pressing his forehead against the window.
“What’s a planetarium?” Steve asked.
“Oh, you’ll love it. S’like, a projector thing, that projects stars, n' s’really great. We could get some bean bag chairs in there, popcorn machine, a mini-fridge, n'- ooh, we could even be able to turn it into an Imax theatre when we want to watch those cool, all around movies,” Tony ranted. “You’ll love it. In fact, I’ll go design the room right now.”
“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
“Who needs sleep? Not me, that’s who. Besides, I’m drinking,” Tony pulled his forehead from the window, leaving a greasy mark on the glass. “S’like sleeping. But you’re awake.”
“Stark, I think you should get to bed.”
“S’no use. I can’t sleep,” Tony shrugged. “I’ve been trying. But I can’t. But don’t worry, because I’m drinking,” he waved his hand. “It helps, y’know. Bruce told me that s’bad, that it interrupts sleep, but I can fall asleep much faster with alcohol.”
“Bruce is usually right.”
“Yeah,” Tony nodded. “Do you think I’m an alcoholic?”
Steve thought for a second, before realizing that Tony probably wouldn’t even remember this conversation, and therefore wouldn’t be offended. “Sometimes.”
“Because I’m not hooked on alcohol because I like being drunk,” he said defensively. “S’been three days since I’ve started using it to sleep. I use it to sleep. Not for, for the head-fogginess.”
“Then why aren’t you asleep?”
“Because it doesn’t work anymore,” Tony said, and he sounded exhausted.
Steve didn’t answer, not exactly knowing how. This Tony was different. This Tony was tired, exhausted even, maybe even borderline depressed if he didn’t know better. And he found himself not liking this side of Tony anymore than he did the other narcissistic and egoistic side. He was used to the snark, and without the snark, and the wit, and the quick remark, Tony Stark just wasn’t Tony Stark anymore. He was unrecognizable.
“I’m gonna go draw up the plans,” Tony muttered, swaying.
“I think you should head to bed instead,” Steve answered, eyeing the way he shifted from side to side, and how pale he was.
“Okay,” Tony said plainly, taking a few steps over to the sink, vomiting, then leaving the room.
He knew that Tony wasn’t doing all that great. He knew that he frequently would come up here, always shuffling along silently, brewing coffee, never starting conversation before he left. But those days he was sober. This was the first time he was drunk around him, the first time he had a conversation with him like this.
Steve Rogers discovered that there’s much more to Tony Stark than he thought, and he wasn’t too keen on unwrapping the layers.
Chapter 4: Natasha
Natasha has got everyone figured out.
Clint was easy, after all, once he trusts someone, he’s an open book. But the problem was that it took years to build up trust. Thankfully Nat had known Clint for a while now, and knows what irks him, what sets him off, and what turns him into either a plain mess or a total rage monster that could rival the Hulk himself. Nat knew when to steer the conversation another way whenever Clint got the strange look in his eyes, or to steer him out of the room altogether. It only took two breakdowns for Natasha to connect the distant expression and tears together, and after that, it was easy to pick up on the cues that he left whenever he was feeling close to the edge.
Thor, well, Thor wasn’t human, but he still showed emotion. He was mostly scared because he didn’t know how to work with the others (he was, after all, not from this planet), and showed it by being overly compassionate and curious. While usually everybody else only tolerated Stark’s rants about his work for five minutes a day, Thor could listen forever; he never seemed to get bored of learning how everything worked. When Stark invented something that would give everybody everywhere access to clean water, Thor was at first confused as to why they all needed to drink water so often, which lead into a giant discussion about basic human needs. He was good for the team and kept them all in check, and the drive behind it was that he felt like he needed to understand.
Steve Rogers was a man out of time. And that also scared him, but unlike Thor, who took the time to understand and ask questions, he was too proud and wanted to figure things out on his own. It led to frequent disagreements between Stark and him, as Stark was more than willing to help but Steve always complained that he was just bragging and making him feel bad. And sometimes that was the case, but it helped neither of them. He also directed the scared energy into doing things that he does understand, that he can control, such as leading the group. Which is why he was such a strict leader and did everything for the team, because that was what he understood.
Bruce wasn’t difficult at all to figure out. On the first day of them meeting, he had already admitted to trying to kill himself. He was very open, very verbal, and liked to talk about pretty much anything. He was scared of the monster inside of him, he was scared of them being scared of the monster inside of him, and therefore couldn’t afford to be pent up. It helped in a way, because it was very clear what he needed. If he was tired, he would say so. If he was sad, it would be written all over his face. Nat was happy for that because it made her job easier, and it everyone was always happy to help.
Now to Stark. Tony Stark was the opposite of open, and he had several clever masks to put up depending on the person. With someone else, he could be sweet and charming, but with another person, he could be a cocky asshole. With the team, he was a charming, cocky asshole. So it was fairly difficult to get a read on him. Not only that, but on the few times where Stark had been under the effect of strong painkillers or heavily intoxicated, every single one of the masks would fall down and they’d be left with a completely different person who wasn’t charming, nor sweet, nor cocky, nor an asshole. It was just Tony.
So Nat concluded that Tony Stark felt like he had to change for other people, and that was the most she’d gotten.
Nat had been fumbling around the tower, looking to strike Tony when he was the weakest. A little birdie (literally everybody on the team) had told her that Tony wasn’t doing too hot lately, which meant that he would have less energy to put the masks up, and then she would get a clear glimpse of the man that he really is. It was her own curiosity fueling her desire to learn about the real Tony Stark, as well as her need to write an actual report on him when he wasn’t dying. That had been a mistake and made everyone hold a grudge against Tony for the first few days. Steve still held a grudge.
She finally spotted him, sitting on a couch in the communal room, staring at the blank TV. Perfect. He looked tired, it was five AM, and by the look on his face, Nat knew that he’d been up for a while already. Sleep deprived, weak Tony Stark wouldn’t even think to hold up the masks.
She sat beside him and he started a bit, not realizing that she was here until she sat down. He rubbed his hands on his face to wake himself up.
“Why aren’t you sleeping?” Nat asked, poking his shoulder, and he winced as if it hurt.
“Why aren’t you?” he retorted, but there wasn’t much rudeness behind it. It just sounded empty.
Natasha decided to ignore the question because Tony probably wouldn’t like ‘I’m trying to write a report on you again because the last one failed’ as an answer. She just continued to gather as much information as she could just by looking at his pose, his expression. He was dead-tired.
Tony dropped his hands into his lap. They were trembling.
“Always,” Tony said, not even hesitating.
Nat sighed. He’s gonna make this as difficult as possible, denying and pretending. She debated playing along to see what she gets out of it or going for a harsher approach, then decided on the latter.
Tony sighed, making a noise that sounded like a groan and a whimper. He scrunched his eyes closed for a second, supporting his head with his hand. “I’m just so tired.”
“Why aren’t you asleep, then?”
“I can’t sleep. It just won’t come,” he huffed out, frustrated. “Mr Sandman hates me.”
“Have you tried-”
“I’ve tried everything!” he said, interrupting her before she even started, his voice raised. “I’ve asked Bruce. And the Internet. And JARVIS. I just can’t sleep,” he trailed off quietly.
Natasha didn’t say anything, even though in her mind she was going to make a quip about the Internet and JARVIS being one and the same, but she knew better than that. He’d smile, nod, take that as permission to put back on the joking and happy and asshole mask that he usually wore around her, and then all would be lost, he’d be tired and she’d be without the information needed.
“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head, slapping his face gently to wake himself up again. “I’m just- God, I’m just so tired.”
“It’s alright,” she nodded, rubbing his shoulder.
“Ever since Pep went away, it’s just been hell on Earth,” he sighed. “I can’t sleep. Nightmares when I do. I’m done.”
She shut up and let him do the talking. They were getting somewhere.
“I just,” he paused, as if questioning his ways, questioning whether he should tell her anything. “Never mind.”
“You can trust me, it’s alright,” Nat said, leaning forward, intrigued. “Just tell me what’s been up.”
“I just sometimes want to leave,” he shrugged, smiling at her even though his eyes told a different story.
“Leave what?” she asked, even though she knew the answer. And she was horrified.
“I don’t know. Life?” he closed his eyes. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I should go.”
“No, stay,” Nat quickly latched onto his arm to keep him from going anywhere.
This was not what she expected. She thought that maybe she would catch wind of him being a wholesome person on the inside, secretly caring for everyone and feeling guilt about destroying things in the battles, but this was the wrong track. This was wrong, and this was messed up, and she would never forgive herself for manipulating him into giving her this information, but she would never forget it either. She said that he could trust her. What was implied was that she cared.
This will not go on the report.
Tony let himself go limp in her grip, and she let go. He looked away from her, keeping his eyes glued to the inanimate TV, and she saw the beginning of tears. She grabbed his hand and made circles on the back, cursing herself for being a terrible person. Her friend needed help, and she just wanted the information.
“You know, it’s not my job to make sure you don’t kill yourself,” Natasha said, and he turned his head. She found an indecipherable emotion beneath the usual brown of his eyes.
Tony nodded slowly. “I know.”
“But I’m going to do it anyway,” she finished, squeezing his hand.
He smiled sadly at her, and she didn’t like the look in his eyes. He was lost, without purpose. Lonely.
Tony squeezed her hand back and let go, his attention returning to the blank screen in front of them.
Natasha gave him one last look before retreating to her room, wondering how in the world she expected something less unsettling. He used masks to cover up what he was feeling. He was sleep deprived. He was lonely. It was written all in his eyes, just she hadn’t been bothered to look so far until it was needed for her job.
She cursed herself for being so blind.
Chapter 5: Thor
Thor did not know much about Midgardians.
But he did know that they were kind, accepting, and sometimes foolish creatures. Sometimes they would do foolish things out of kindness. Or sometimes they would pretend to be kind while being foolish. Anyhow, they were generally a bunch of friendly people and Thor knew he could rely on them, battlefield and off.
He also knew that the Midgardians had more needs than him. They needed to eat, sleep, and also needed others around them to keep them happy. And a happy Midgardian was a kind Midgardian, so it helped when they were well fed, watered, rested, and had someone to talk to. If they weren’t, they were very curt and sour, always jumping to conclusions and complaining about how one of their needs weren’t fulfilled, or about random things. One time Thor caught the man with the arrows mumbling about how the iron one didn’t close the jar on the Nutella properly. Once he had grabbed a small bite to eat, however, he had become quite agreeable.
“Thor, if you don’t mind, sir is alone on the roof and I would feel better if someone was up with him,” the voice in the walls said.
“I shall go see him,” Thor nodded in the direction of the ceiling.
The man of iron puzzled him, for he never slept, nor ate, nor socialized with the others. And he was quite agreeable to be around, if he looked past the mouth that never seemed to stop moving. It was strange. Stark never complained unless there was humour behind it, he never told anyone to go away unless he was, sincerely, busy. But almost none of his needs were fulfilled. Perhaps the man in the walls was the only person that he needed to talk with, but that didn’t answer the question of hunger and exhaustion.
“Hello, Stark,” Thor said, pushing open the door to the roof. “What are you doing up here?”
He quickly found a figure, standing near the edge, looking down as if he were contemplating something. He eyed Thor wearily, before shrugging and turning away from the edge.
“Calculating how long it would take me to fall from this height,” Tony answered plainly.
Thor looked in his eyes, to try to find the humour that usually sat there, but he only found emptiness. It went on for miles, just a black hole of nothingness in the usual twinkling brown eyes, and it was dull and slightly unsettling. Maybe this wasn’t meant for humour.
“What? Man of Iron, surely, you cannot be-”
“You’re right. I’m not,” Tony sighed, shaking his head and looking back down at the ground, far, far below. “I don’t even care about the time.”
“I do not understand.”
Tony let out a huff of air, pulling a face as if to say ‘you’re not the only one’, and Thor suddenly felt less than adequate. Usually he understood, but this was human needs, and he was not acquainted with them. Perhaps Stark was finally showing signs that he needed what the others did, sleep and food, but he didn’t have a temper; no, Stark just seemed… sad.
“I just can’t sleep. I don’t know if sleep is a thing, up in your world, but humans need it,” Tony said, sitting down on the ledge, letting his legs hang down. “I’m just tired.”
That was it. Sleep. Stark needed to sleep, and instead of being irritable like the others, he was sad. But Thor thought that maybe this sadness ran a bit deeper than just being tired, if the red eyes and pale skin had anything to do with it. Gods, humans were so confusing.
“We do indeed, sleep in Asgard, but not as much as you Midgardians,” Thor said, nodding. “I’m afraid I cannot suggest anything but to wait until sleep comes.”
“It’s fine. Didn’t even expect to see you up here, anyway, let alone hand out advice,” Tony grumbled, but then again, it wasn’t harsh. It rang with loneliness, or sadness, but not even those two. Maybe emptiness was the right words for it. It lacked emotion.
Thor sat down beside the mechanic. He didn’t know what his intentions were, up on the roof, but the man was tired and close to the edge, so he didn’t want him to fall. He knew that Midgardians sometimes got low, and would sometimes take attempts on their own life. When Jane has told him about that after he got confused when he saw that a celebrity had passed by suicide, he was horrified. He had made a vow, at that instant, to keep everyone happy. Nobody would die on his watch, on the field, or by their thoughts.
“Jane told me once about, about a celebrity who fell off a building on purpose,” Thor said. “Are you..?”
“Am I suicidal?” Tony asked, a cold smile reaching his lips. “Honestly, I don’t know.”
“Should we go inside?” he offered, wanting to get Stark off of the roof and back on a couch where he was safe, where he couldn’t fall on purpose like the famous man did.
Thor stood up but Stark made no move to stand. “We can go inside and convene, we can tell the rest of Earth’s Mightiest Heros of your ailment.”
“That’s… not happening. Not in a million years,” Tony said, dragging his hand across his face. “Fuck. I’m tired. I don’t know what I’m saying, alright? Just forget it.”
“Forget I said anything,” Tony stood up shakily, swaying a bit, but determinedly walking forward even though his eyes were very unfocused. He blinked a few times, stopped in front of Thor, and punched his shoulder lightly. “But thank you.”
“It was nothing,” Thor smiled, nodding, watching as Tony opened the door and left, heading downstairs.
The door slammed shut behind him, but Thor stayed on the roof for a bit, feeling slightly accomplished. He had gotten him off the roof, he had helped in a way, and he understood. Even though he thought he had everything figured out before, with everybody getting angry when their needs weren’t fulfilled, he learned that there are different people who act differently. And Stark was one of them. He was sad when he was tired, when he didn’t eat, and when he didn’t talk to others. He thought of the team, how cold they were to Tony, and wondered if the others would notice eventually how sad they were making him. But for now, the man of iron had Thor.
And he would always catch the man of iron, no matter the height.
Chapter 6: +1 (Rhodey)
“Oh my god, thank god you’re here,” greeted Rhodey as soon as he walked in the door.
He just got back from a mission in Nigeria with the Blue Helmets, and was looking forward to seeing his friend and possibly getting drunk with him, laughing away the nights and comparing horror stories. But it didn’t look like he’d be doing that too soon with the look on Bruce’s face. Looks like Tony’ll be drinking while Rhodey makes sure he doesn’t kill himself.
“You should see Tony. He’s been,” Bruce paused. “Not well.”
“What’s wrong?” Rhodey asked, looking around the room as if Tony would be there, but knowing him, whenever he’s less than ideal he hides away in his workshop.
“Every single time he stands up, he looks like he’s going to pass out. Talk to him. He won’t sleep,” he begged. “He’s been like, micro sleeping.”
“I’ve also caught him drunk, claiming that the alcohol helps him go to sleep,” Steve Rogers added from his position on the couch.
“Where is he?” Rhodey put his game face on, his eyebrows low and his eyes determined to make his friend better.
“Either in his workshop or in his room. I’m begging you, he’s actually going to die from exhaustion.”
Rhodey nodded and went straight for the elevator. He smiled at Clint who was just getting off on the floor, and Clint grabbed his elbow.
“You’re best mates with Stark? He’s been having nightmares. He won’t sleep. Gonna overdose on caffeine soon enough, trying to keep himself awake,” Clint said, and it was like he’d been itching to tell someone about his discovery. “Help him.”
“That’s the plan, Mr Hawkeye,” Rhodey gave him a mock salute before he stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for Tony’s floor. Geez, if the team picked up on it, how bad was Tony?
The elevator opened prematurely, and Natasha stepped in, pressing the button for the floor below them, the training floor. She gave a curt nod at Rhodey, who returned the nod, but as she stepped back out onto the proper floor, she turned around like she had just remembered something.
“You here for Stark?” she asked, keeping her foot in the door so it wouldn’t close on them.
“Yeah. Seems he’s been doing badly?” Rhodey hazarded a guess.
“He’s been bad. Caught him rambling the other night. Missing Pepper,” she said, biting her lip worriedly.
“I got him. Don’t worry.”
She nodded gratefully at him. “And Thor also found him on the roof one night,” she added softly, quietly, as if she wasn’t supposed to know this information.
“I got him,” Rhodey repeated. She left without another word and the doors closed, and the elevator slowly went down to Tony’s floor.
The first thing Rhodey noticed once he stepped out, was the silence. This was Tony’s workshop part of his floor, but he was nowhere to be seen. There wasn’t any music playing, there wasn’t any noise of hammer on metal, it was just silent. Every once in a while there was the creak of the building adjusting, but it was eerie. He carefully entered his key for the workshop, and the doors slid open, but it was still dead silent.
“JARVIS?” Rhodey asked, even unsure if JARVIS was online.
“Sir is in his bedroom,” came the answer. “I suggest checking up on him.”
“He alright?” he asked, turning around and walking quickly to the other half of the floor, what Tony called ‘the place I spend 10% of my time because who needs to live’. It was where his bedroom was, a kitchen, a TV room, and a few other things that would normally be in a house.
“He’s currently a bit upset.”
“I’ve got him,” Rhodey said, reaching the bedroom door. He knocked a few times, then let himself in, because if Tony was upset, there was no way he’d answer the door.
Tony was lying on the floor on his stomach for some reason, a mug set carefully beside him. He was staring blankly at it, and when Rhodey took a few steps closer, he noticed that the mug was empty.
“Do you want more coffee?” he asked, nudging Tony with his foot.
“Yes,” Tony answered in a monotone voice.
“You’re going to have to get up,” Rhodey compromised, picking up the mug from the ground and heading over to the little kitchenette. He scooped a tablespoon of instant coffee into the mug, and poured the hot water from the already warm kettle onto it. He left it on the counter, chancing a glance at Tony, who was still on the ground.
Rhodey sighed and went back over to him. He squatted down so he was at least closer to being eye-level with Tony, and tried to read his face, but it was blank. “You okay?”
“I’m good,” Tony slowly and shakily brought his elbows up, his palms facing the hardwood floor, and pushed up like he was doing plank. He brought his legs underneath him, stood up, and immediately fell backward. Rhodey caught him before he could tip all the way back, and rightened him against a counter.
“Coffee,” Rhodey handed him the mug, keeping close by if Tony was to tip over again. The mug was brought up slowly to his mouth, but the way he slung back the coffee was steady. It had obviously become habit, bringing a glass to his face, from alcohol or coffee Rhodey didn’t know nor did he want to find out.
He watched him drain the mug in just under thirty seconds, wondering why the hell Tony got himself in this state without asking for help. But then he remembered that Tony Stark was a self-destructive asshole with no idea what his limits were, so he wasn’t really that surprised anymore. This was a regular day for Tony Stark, looking like death on a stick.
“More,” Tony said, wiping his mouth on his sleeve and holding out the mug with his other hand.
“Please,” Rhodey said, taking the mug from his hands and heading back over to the kettle, where there was just enough water left for one more cup of coffee.
Tony didn’t answer, too busy gripping onto the counter to make sure he didn’t keel over.
Rhodey prepared the coffee for his friend, looking over at him every few seconds to make sure he hadn’t fallen over. He was pretty pale, swaying, and the bags under his eyes looked to be the size of a small truck. Tony was visibly tired, so it was no wonder that the team noticed. Still, he usually made an effort to hide, but maybe this had been going on for a while.
“Last mug, then we’re hitting the hay,” Rhodey informed him. “C’mon. I’ll tuck you in and everything.”
“I’m a grown man,” Tony grumbled.
“Then act like one. Finish that up.”
Tony quickly drained the mug, then placed it too gently onto the counter. Usually he would slam it down, demanding more, but it looked as if that movement would break him.
“Can I, can I call Pep?” Tony asked quietly, hands going back to grip the counter.
“Of course. You want privacy, or..?” Rhodey frowned, wondering why he wanted permission. It was his girlfriend, his house, after all.
“Doesn’t matter. JARVIS, call Pep for me,” he waved his hand as if to dismiss Rhodey, but it threw him a bit off-balance.
“Why don’t you sit down?” Rhodey grabbed onto his elbow and helped him over to a wicker chair beside the bed. Tony didn’t protest.
“Connecting.” JARVIS said, and then Pepper’s voice rang from the speakers.
“Tony? It’s three in the morning,” she said.
Right. Time zones. Three in the afternoon meant three in the morning in Singapore.
“Sorry, Pep,” he said quietly. Rhodey sat down on the bed, trying to tune out the conversation even though Tony said it didn’t matter if he listened in. It just felt wrong.
“You alright?” Pepper asked, her voice laced with concern.
“I’m- yeah. All’s good,” Tony lied. Rhodey smiled sadly, knowing that Tony knew that she knew he was lying. Good attempt, though. “How’s the meetings?”
“Going great. I have a meeting with the contractors for the new building, then it’ll all be set. It’ll be good to have another building here, helps with the taxes on exports,” Pepper said, figuring that Tony needed a distraction.
“Yeah,” he said plainly. Rhodey could tell that he just wanted to hear her voice.
“You sure you’re alright?” she tried again.
“Pep- I, I miss you,” Tony said, getting choked up. He brought his hand up to his face to shield his eyes from Rhodey’s gaze, but Rhodey was by his side in a second, bringing his hand down from his face. He frowned at the tears brimming over Tony’s eyelids, but didn’t say anything. This was Tony/Pepper time.
“Oh, Tony. I miss you too,” she said sweetly, full of sympathy. “But it’s okay, alright? I’ll be back in two days, and I’ll bring you home a souvenir from the hotel. A hotel shampoo bottle or a key chain.”
“I don’t need a shampoo bottle,” Tony said, smiling a bit.
“A shampoo bottle it is. Trust me on this, Tony. They’re very cute,” Pepper said, and the smile was evident in her voice.
“Just come home soon,” Tony said, nodding even though she couldn’t see him. “I just- I can’t sleep without you. I’m so tired, Pep.”
“It’s alright,” she cooed. “I’ll be back before you know it. Try and get some rest, okay?”
“Yeah. Sorry for calling,” he said, clearing his throat.
“It’s okay. I’ll talk to you on the flight home, alright? I’m gonna get some sleep.”
“I love you. I’ll see you soon.”
“I-I love you too,” Tony said, his voice shaking. The line went dead.
“Sleepy-time?” Rhodey asked, wiping the tears from Tony’s face with his sleeve. “C’mon, get to bed. You’re okay.”
“I can’t sleep, though,” he complained, getting up from the chair and collapsing on the bed, that was thankfully not too far. Rhodey pulled the blankets up to his chin, turned the lights down, and sat in the wicker chair with a book pulled up on the screen on the side table.
Tony rolled around fitfully, muttering complaints under his breath, his eyes closed the entire time. Rhodey ignored him, but was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on his book. His friend was hurting, so tired up to the point that he admitted defeat, and he couldn’t shake off what the others had told him; that he hadn’t been sleeping in a while, that he was being depressing, that he was found on the roof, for god’s sake.
“Y’know Tones?” Rhodey started. “I’m scared.”
“Mm?” Tony hummed, rolling over to face his friend.
“I’m scared that one day, you’ll just let go. That I’ll come home one day, and you’re gone. I just don’t know,” he admitted. “I never know when you’re going to get pushed over the edge, because you never tell me whenever you’re hurting. I’m just so worried.”
“M’okay, Rhodey. Don’t worry,” Tony waved it off, clearly uncomfortable.
“You need to hear this, alright? You need to know that I’m actually so, so afraid of coming back to find you gone. If you really wanted, or needed me to, I’d stay here forever. You know I would,” he continued. “Just say the words, and I’ll be here as long as you need me to.”
Tony didn’t say anything, but wouldn’t look at Rhodey. He just kept his eyes facing the ceiling.
“I really want you to be alright.”
They both didn’t say anything for a while, but the silence was light, not heavy like they usually were whenever Tony was silent. This was a contemplative silence, and Rhodey didn’t regret a single word that came out of his mouth, even if it made them uncomfortable. Tony needed to hear it.
“I’m going to sleep,” Tony said finally. “At least, I’m gonna try.”
Rhodey nodded, smiling at himself. It was so like Tony to just breeze past all confrontation.
There was more silence, with less complaining from Tony, but he rolled around in his bed without rest, fluffing or flipping the pillows, going from sleeping on his back to sleeping sideways, with his head on one side of the bed and his feet poking out of the blankets on the other. He was sincerely trying, he just couldn’t find a comfortable position, just couldn’t fall asleep. Rhodey frowned, staring at his friend who was clearly getting frustrated with the amount of effort it took to fulfill a basic human need.
Rhodey finally closed the book, sighing, and sat down beside Tony. He rolled around and hit Rhodey’s body with his arm, paused, then grabbed onto his shirt as if he was afraid that he would leave. But he didn’t leave, he just stayed there.
Tony finally fell asleep, his hand balled in his friend’s shirt, his body finally relaxed and his breathing evened out. Rhodey took a deep breath and smiled.
Sometimes all it takes is for someone whom Tony Stark is comfortable with to be close to him, and he’ll finally feel safe.