The Leviathan stank, up close, of ozone and rot. Even Iron Man's air filters weren't up to the job of keeping that stench away and he twisted his lip in disgust in the privacy of his helmet.
"Well, we got its attention... what the hell was step two?" He snarked, turning tail as the leviathan's enraged roar rattled his suit. Blasting back towards Stark Tower and away from the fleeing New Yorkers, he switched back to the team radio in time to respond to Thor's analysis of the Tesseract's defences. As they plotted, he let the leviathan gain on him, quietly smug and triumphant as Bruce made his appearance.
"Just like you said."
"Well, tell him to suit up, I'm bringing the party to you."
He swung wider around the corner of 51st and 3rd, the beastie following obligingly but still clipping the sky-scraper with a great graunching of metal and glass.
"I don't see how that's a party."
"-wipe out midtown."
"JARVIS, put everything we got into the thrusters."
Away from the city, the sky was clear, and there wasn't any dust to obscure the sun. It was quiet, apart from the roar of his own propulsion, until Natasha's voice came over the comms, wavering with hope. Tony's plan settled, and he called the stop, letting his teammates know just how high the stakes had just risen.
He pulled up under the nuke's path, ready to catch it and pray that it wouldn't go off under the heat of his repulsors. "-and I know just where to put it."
The comms were silent, and Pepper didn't pick up the phone when he called... The speed and sharp turn as he pulled up, skimming Stark tower, crushed him against the chest plate, but the nuke flew true and they broke through the portal into sudden and absolute silence.
JARVIS' connection stuttered and failed, his thrusters cut out, and his air vanished, leaving him staring into the vastness of space, glittering and heaving with alien ships. Soon, the smoke and glare of the nuke cleared and it vanished into the hulking mass of the central ship, it's glow obscured for two long seconds before the ship's skin bulged out in an expansive fireball.
Triumph, hypoxia and relief battled over dominance in Tony's head, as gravity began to reassert itself through the portal and he started to fall. Too late, he thought, closing his eyes against the glare, lungs burning and head clouded. There was a jerk of acceleration as he breached the portal and Earth's gravity came back full force but he wasn't awake to feel it.
The adrenalin of the Hulk's insistent wake up call had been enough to get him breathing, but sitting in his lab while JARVIS peeled him out of the crumpled titanium and sparking circuits, he couldn't shake the feeling that there wasn't enough air. Admittedly, he couldn't breathe too deeply because of the dents in his armour, but still.
Clint, who was holding his scotch hostage, provided ample distraction though and was on the receiving end of half a dozen small projectiles, ranging from bits of circuitry to coin-sized titanium plates that had made up his gauntlets. Bruce was getting coaxed into eating by Steve, the Hulk had worn him out, and Tony found it extraordinarily unfair that none of the take-out containers had made it his way. Unfortunately, he couldn't lift his arms above his waist and Pepper was still on a jet, so it would have been impossible to eat anyway.
The archer was distracted by his fellow assassin pulling glass shards out of his arm while JARVIS was working on Tony's left leg, and no one could hear the billionaire's whining over the angle grinder anyway, so he slumped inside the suit. He didn't know how long he'd been unconscious for, JARVIS hadn't rebooted the suit yet and that might still be a lost cause. He didn't know how long he'd been in such thin air, so the heavy, mind-numbing headache probably went without saying. What worried him was the hazy quality to his thoughts. He was so used to having blinding flashes of realization and a thousand things running through his head, that the quiet was horrifying.
The grinder gave a last spray of sparks and shut off; JARVIS could finally get the dis-assembly rig in place and his legs and hips were free after a whirring thirty seconds. As the pressure of the crushed thigh plate released, blood rushed back into bits of his leg he hadn't known he had, giving him the worst case of pins and needles in the history of metaphors. He wasn't in the habit of suppressing his reactions to things and his pained and relieved groan, one that turned breathy towards the end as he tipped his head back, got him strange looks from all his team-mates. 'Natalie' was smirking in a particularly obnoxious way.
With the abdominal armour gone, JARVIS could get the chest plate off using something that looked disturbingly like the jaws of life, wedged on either side of his waist and wrenched outwards to pop the seams that had been fused by plasma rifle shot. The chest piece was lifted away and finally he felt like he could breathe again. He stayed lying in the backplate, eyes closed and just breathed.
The arc socket ached fiercely and everything hazed out for a minute, until cool fingers touched his throat, searching for his pulse. Bruce. Captain Stars-and-Stripes was hovering over his shoulder when Tony opened one eye to glare.
"You didn't tell us you were having trouble breathing." Steve admonished, and Tony thought for a second that he might just have found out where his dad had learnt his stern look.
"I'm fine. Tell him I'm fine, Banner!" He sniped, turning big, puppy-dog eyes and a pout to Bruce and heaving himself upright as proof.
"He's fine." Bruce obliged, patting Tony's leg deliberately heavily. The pins and needles flared and he gritted his teeth;
"Thanks, doc. Now, schwarma?" He said, making grabby motions with his hands.
He did get his food, eventually, once the Cap was done haranguing him, but the tightness was creeping back over his chest and making him drowsy.
Loki was captured, muted and ally-less, there was no harm in just taking a bit of a nap, was there? He would wake up when Pepper arrived.
The gallery, with its Loki-shaped dents, had become the universal dumping-ground for worn out heroes; Tony was flat out on his back on one leg of the expansive sofa, fast asleep. Clint had taken another, lying on his front with a pillow under his chest and his head on his forearms because of the rapidly purpling quiver-shaped bruise on his back. Bruce and Thor were sitting on the centre section while they argued over the god's stab wound, which no one had noticed until the Aesir had taken his armour off. He was being very blasé over it, and it wasn't bleeding so Bruce wasn't worrying too much.
Natasha was cleaning not-red blood off her knives and finding it very cathartic, thank you very much, considering she'd had to steer and alien cyborg hover-buggy with them. They could have gotten nicked. Her tazer gloves were out of juice and she was filthy; not something she'd ever appreciated, but she was still feeling decidedly smug that she had been the one to close the portal and end the invasion. The nuke might have had something to do with their enemies all shorting out at once, but all the same.
Steve was lying on the floor with a gel pack on the plasma burn on his stomach, which he'd only conceded to once Fury had finished debriefing them. He'd go out and help with the rescue operations in a few hours, once the burn had scabbed over. Fury had stressed the importance of the Avengers visibly helping the clean up, particularly him, Thor and Stark. Tony had already sent out his employees and most of the city was running on arc power while the transformer station finished burning itself to the ground. The Leviathan bodies were going to be a real problem, Steve mused absently.
Pepper's arrival was accompanied by significant fanfare; she'd channelled her stress and worry into organising the cleaning crew of Stark Tower, which did, despite the rumours, have some human elements. One of the little hoovering robots was persistently bumping into Steve's leg, though. She was all orders and organization, pointing Agent Romanoff to a shower kindly, pointing a group of young men with large sheets of plastic to the broken windows and then rounding, with a vengeance on Tony Stark.
Lucky man, Steve thought, pushing the happily beeping robot away with one hand, then turning his gel pack to its cool side.
Tony woke slowly, blinking and giving Pepper a wide and unusually honest smile, still feeling hazy with sleep. "Miss Potts,"
"Tony," She replied, not joining in on their usual mocking exchange and sitting next to his waist. He didn't bother trying to sit up and pulled her down onto his chest instead, "I'm sorry I missed your call, I'll never put down my phone again, I promise." She muttered quietly into the space between the side of his head and the back of the sofa.
"Mm, you've been a terrible secretary." He mumbled,
"Not your secretary."
"Fine, CEO. Happy?"
"He's fine," She said, sitting up with a smirk, deliberately misunderstanding.
"d' you do that thing, with the arc?" He asked as he sat up to cough gunk out of his throat, his crash landing had been dusty.
"It's up and running, though I don't trust people not to try and get a good look." She tipped her head to one side with a shrug.
"It's a miniaturised model; obsolete for all intents and purposes apart from generating electricity. Did you remember the little sticker thing?" He asked, taking a bottle of water off Pepper and throwing back half of it without stopping.
"Yes Tony. Only you would forget to label your radioactive power sources," she drawled, pulling up the deployment roster she'd hashed up for him; there were Stark technicians in every hospital and power station in the middle of the city, making sure they had electricity. Tecare, the Stark medical branch was handling anyone without insurance... etcetera, etcetera... He flicked through the digital documents in an off-handed way before shoving the tablet down the back of the sofa and wrapping his arms around Pepper's middle.
"Have I told you that you complete me? You do," he said, with that liquid brown stare and a quirk of the head.
"Yes, you have. You were hung over at the time," she commented, responding to a text on her Starkphone.
"Ah, yes. Now I recall; you threw JARVIS out of the back of a plane." He pouted and withdrew his hug.
"It was just your helmet, and you deserved it," she muttered absently while he huffed at her.
"JARVIS, how're we looking for functional suits?" he queried in a slightly louder tone,
"The mark VI and mark VII are beyond repair, sir, and previous models will not function with the Starkanium core." Hawkeye was suddenly sniggering unabashedly and Tony made a note to have JARVIS spray-paint the man if he ever ventured into the 'shop. Thor was looking around curiously for the source of the voice, but Banner cut in with an explanation before he could ask.
"Fix it. Start production on a mark VII, skip self assembly entirely and salvage compatible parts where you can," he ordered, leaning back on the sofa and closing his eyes to visualise the specs. "Optimise for speed; estimate?"
"Eleven hours, sir, including shock-proof coating," the British voice intoned, without so much as a pause. "Shall I have it ready to assemble on the flight deck, sir?"
"Do it. Send me the salvage list when you have it." He said, pulling the tablet again and tapping through the directory.
"Expecting something, Stark?" Barton muttered with his face buried in the sofa.
"Don't imagine for a moment that I missed the delivery of two buckets full of arrows, bird-brain."
"Quivers, They're called quivers. And you were asleep, Sparky, how'd you even know about that?" the archer grumbled, rolling his shoulders slightly and groaning; he wouldn't be able to draw his bow comfortably for days.
"Sparky? Thats the best you can manage?"
"I keep track of all deliveries to the building, Agent Barton," JARVIS answered when it was clear Tony wouldn't.
"Would you like to take over screening for explosive devices and biohazards, sir? It would not be a hardship." The AI retorted,
"Nah, I'm good," Clint said, subsiding into silence, so Tony went back to looking over the scans of each salvaged component and ignoring the claggy feeling in his chest. He rubbed one hand over the arc reactor absently; it was humming normally, warm and reassuring.
The Iron Junkpile was ready by the time he woke up to JARVIS' weather report and he felt a little more secure in his own skin, knowing that he had a suit, as battered as it looked, if something happened.
"- at two-point-four meters, with a fine onshore wind-"
"Cancel surfing update on all not-Malibu wakeup calls, JARVIS." He said with a grumble, propping himself up on one elbow and manipulating the suit schematic on the enormous screen windows. He missed the holographic manipulability, but if he went down to R&D now Pepper would kill him.
"Of course sir. Would you like to hear the Opening stock prices, sir?" the AI asked mildly.
"Shoot. I only nearly died, how bad can it be?" he muttered, flopping back to the mattress as the window filled with numbers. Tecare had had gained three points over night, unsurprisingly, Stark Industries had taken a hit... and FBF, the company handling the arc power distribution had taken an enormous hike. Not bad at all.
He rolled onto his stomach and went back to sleep.
"Hey, Stark, what does someone have to do to get some food around here? Oi!" –ping-
Tony couldn't tell how much time had passed, but he had been dozing for a while, and seriously did not appreciate the paper projectiles stinging his bare back and right ear.
"JARVIS, security protocol two-five-point-eight."
"Yes sir, the neurotoxin or curare, sir?"
"What the f-?"
It was safe to say Clint didn't shoot any more paper at him, and the scrambling sound as he left the room was gratifying, but Tony was awake and figured he might as well get up anyway; there would be coffee. He rolled out of bed, straight to standing and grabbed a t-shirt, since, as he was now painfully aware, he had guests. It was just settling over the arc reactor when the head-rush hit, first blanking out his vision, then sending him crashing to the ground with a dramatic thump.