“What do you mean you don’t remember?”
“I mean, Barton, I don’t remember you bundling me into your car and bringing me back here, or the preceding events that made this little medical field trip necessary. And, judging by the me-shaped dent you say is decorating my truck door, it’s a damned miracle that I --ow, shit!” Tony’s face pinches and swings toward the massive needle currently sticking out of his arm. He grits his teeth and waits until the plunger has depressed fully, pushing a cocktail of science-approved, post-wolf-attack chemicals deemed medically necessary, into his body. He turns his attention back to Clint and tries not to wince at the sharp sting of the retreating needle. “--remember my own name. Or yours, for that matter,” he finishes with a huff.
“Aw, c’mon, man. You’re fine, right? You got up. You walked it off. You’ve gotta remember something.” Clint’s voice is bordering on a whine.
Tony cocks his head to the side, assessing the pained expression. “Not that I’m not flattered by the concern, I am; it’s touching. But it does seem a tad out of character. Did my near-death experience finally make you realize how deeply you care for me? That's so sweet.”
Clint rolls his eyes before grimacing. “Your memory holes are messing with the paperwork. I need some kind of witness statement, something more than..” Clint makes an exaggerated shrugging motion.
Tony hums noncommittally as his gaze drops back to his arm, watching as large thumbs smooth a bright Care Bears band-aid over the small puncture mark.
“Sorry, it’s all I’ve got,” Bruce’s voice is, as always, not without an apologetic waver.
A small blue bear scowls up at him. Grumpy bear. Fitting. “All good, Doc. Anything but Teletubbies is fine with me.” Tony smiles and slides off the exam table. His knees buckle slightly as his feet make contact with the floor, and Clint and Bruce rush to grab his arms, steadying him. When he’s absolutely sure he won’t sink to the floor without aid, because that would be embarrassing and harder to fob off, he waves the supports away. “Ah, I’m good, thanks — just a little discombobulated after this morning. Brain injury, you know? Forgot how knees work.”
Bruce and Clint's hands disappear from his arms, but the concerned bodies they belong to continue to hover nearby.
“Clint, I can drop him home if you have to return to the station.” Bruce’s words pull up at the end in his patented "paint an invisible question mark over everything" tone.
“Yeah? If you don’t mind. I really should get back and check on things.”
There’s a thread of excitement tangled up in Clint’s words, and Tony can’t really blame him. Having actual work to do at work is a rare commodity around here. Still, he bristles slightly at being talked about like he is no more than a labradoodle needing a lift home after a vet checkup.
“Hey, hey. I’m standing right here. And I’m fine, by the way.” He bites back a groan as he pulls the borrowed sweatshirt over his head, the tears in his skin and aching muscles objecting to every movement. “...Mostly. And,” he adds, clamping a hand on Bruce’s shoulder, “I would very much appreciate you playing chauffeur, thank you, but I’m not going home just yet.”
Bruce’s long-suffering sigh is familiar. “You need to go home and rest. Your body has just suffered extreme trauma, Tony. You’re very lucky to be alive. If Clint hadn’t found you…” Bruce trails off softly, but the unspoken words sound loud and clear in Tony’s head.
“I know, and I will. But first, I need you to come with me to collect the bodies.”
“I can do that, Stark.” Clint’s voice makes it clear that although he can do it, he very much doesn’t want to.
“You have to go back to the station and keep an eye on our new guest, and this can’t wait. There’s a storm rolling in. If we don’t go now, we’ll probably lose the bodies, and then we’ll have more problems than just your swiss-cheese paperwork. And I need to get my truck,” he adds as an afterthought. His eyes bounce between the two disapproving faces. “But once that’s done, I’ll go home, pour myself into a hot bath and do the R&R thing even if it kills me. Deal?”
The look that passes between Bruce and Clint can be best described as resigned disapproval, but they both turn toward Tony and nod, reluctantly.
. . .
Tony eases out of Bruce’s car, trying not to let his screaming muscles protest using his mouth, lest the good doctor fix him with an insufferable “I told you so” stare.
Tony follows Bruce’s line of sight and grimaces. The snowfall must have stalled not long after he’d arrived. Tony didn’t remember much beyond climbing out of his truck and approaching the wolves. And, surveying the scene before him, he’s a little glad for it.
Tony follows the splashes of red peeking up through the snow, like gory breadcrumbs, to the two frozen bodies, covered in a dusting of snow, lying a few yards from his discarded truck.
One man’s head is twisting unnaturally, facing down into the snow, at odds with the naked chest facing up. The second is much, much worse. Blank eyes stare up, and his mouth, or what’s left of it, is pulled open in an eternal, silent scream: his lower jaw having been ripped from its hinges, now resting on the man’s chest. Bloodstains spread out from the broken body like a gruesome halo. Tony jerks his head away as his stomach rolls, pushing bile into his throat.
So focused on keeping the contents of his stomach inside his stomach, Tony hadn’t heard Bruce approaching him. “You know, when Clint came barrelling into the clinic this morning, rambling about a horror show, I thought it was his regular hyperbole. But seeing this… Tony, how are you even alive right now?”
Tony rubs his fingers over the dressing covering the wound at his temple. He shakes his head. “I don’t know. Believe me, I wish I could remember what went down, but it’s just… blank.”
Bruce’s head tilts to the side, his brows tugging down. He walks away from Tony, head down, eyes on the snow. “Tony, have you seen this?” He starts turning in a slow circle, eyes still fixed low. “These wolf tracks don’t make sense. Footprints are heading away, but none lead in.”
Tony shrugs as he moves toward the back of his truck. “Must have filled in already.” He lowers the tailgate as his eyes sweep the sky. “We better get this done before we’re neck deep in snow. I’ll never hear the end of it if Clint has to rescue me twice in one day.”
Moving quickly, they carry the men, one at a time, and slide them onto the truck bed. They work quietly, with lips pressed together, grimly, and gazes averted from the crumpled bodies. Tony spreads a black tarp over the pair, secures it, and then slams the tailgate back in place.
He rubs his palms against his jeans, repeatedly. He knows there’s no blood on him, but he can’t wipe the feel of it off his skin. He shivers. “Let’s get out of here. I’m suddenly very ready for the aforementioned hot bath.”
Bruce nods his agreement. “You got your keys?”
“Yeah, I’ll meet you back at the clinic. I’ll swing by and pick up Barton on the way. You can help fill in some of the holes in his report. And,” Tony reaches up to rub at the back of his neck, stretching it to the side, forcing a series of soft clicks, “he can do my portion of the heavy lifting. My head is not particularly happy with me right now.”
Bruce hesitates, shifting back into Doctor Banner mode. “Are you okay to drive?”
“Yeah, Brucey, you know me - just hamming it up to get out of corpse-carrying duty.” His cheeks push up in a decent forgery of a real smile, and if Bruce doubts its authenticity, he doesn’t let it show.
After an assessing beat, Bruce turns and trudges to his car.
With no more appraising eyes on him, Tony lets his face fall as he presses the heel of his hand to his temple. Truth be told, he isn’t sure he should be driving, but his choices are limited to one. He can’t leave the bodies here, and they won’t fit in Bruce’s car. He’s almost to the door when he pauses, his gaze snagging on dark stain at his feet, half-obscured by a dusting of snow. He squats down, his eyes following the bloody smear that ends under his truck cab. Directly under where he had been.
He rubs at his chest, without thought or intent, old horrors rising up and bleeding into the new. Familiar anxiety bites at the edges of his mind, and he pulls a deep calming breath through his nose, trying to extinguish the embers of panic before they catch. He blows it out slowly, though more shakily than he would like, as he straightens. He strides to the door quickly, pulls it open, and then climbs in. Shaking his hands out before tucking them between his thighs, he wills the trembling away and squeezes his eyes shut, waiting for his racing heart to slow.
A loud honk startles him, and he whips his head around to see Bruce now pulled up alongside him, waiting for him to move. Tony’s fingers fumble with the keys as he presses them into the ignition. He meets with success on his third try, and with a twist of his wrist, the truck roars to life.
He pushes the panic down as he starts the slow journey back to town, with Bruce following closely behind.
He needs to hold it together, just a little while longer - just until the man locked in their holding cell can fill in the gaping holes in his memory. A sliver of guilt slices through him as he realizes part of him doesn’t want to know. Tony’s eyes flick to the rearview mirror to the bodies in the back of his truck. He hopes the leaden sense of foreboding twisting his gut is just a side effect of his concussion and not foreshadowing. He has enough nightmare-fodder in his life, he’s not in a rush to add more.