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Best Laid Plans (Often Go Awry)

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Natasha let out a long, drawn out sigh as the elevator took her to her floor. As soon as the doors opened, she stepped inside and let her duffel drop. She’d take care of it later; the boys knew not to touch her stuff. She hadn’t had to break any hands, at least not yet. Damn, she was tired. Week long missions tended to drain her reserves, and frankly all she wanted to do was eat and sleep for an entire day.

“JARVIS? Where is everyone?” She asked, entirely too used to the A.I. He had initially greeted her when she returned, but her brain had needed to catch up to the rest of her. Leaning against the wall, she waited for the answer.

“Doctor Banner, Thor and Captain Rogers are out to lunch at the moment. Agent Barton is on a mission for SHIELD. I believe Mister Stark is in his lab.” The last sentence startled Natasha’s brain into gear.

“You believe? JARVIS, why don’t you know for sure?” She called, slightly alarmed that the A.I. couldn’t place his creator.

“Mister Stark shut off my access to the lab late last night.” The A.I. stated, and damned if Natasha could notice a hint of worry in the mechanical voice. Something was off, Stark never worked without JARVIS.

“Do you know why he did that?” She asked, already heading back into the elevator. She was going to check on Stark now, and wring his neck if nothing was wrong.

“Mister Stark was starting to exhibit signs of a cold, and when I insisted he rest, he shut off my access. I have not heard from him since, nor have I detected him leaving his lab.” There was definitely a hint of worry in JARVIS’s voice, and Natasha recalled a conversation with Stark on how he wasn’t sure how JARVIS inflected emotion, but he was damn proud of the fact. She shook her head as the elevator took her down to the level where Tony’s lab was located. She swore she was going to wring Stark’s neck for this, provided he was alright. And that was the kicker, wasn’t it? She was genuinely worried for the engineer.

The elevator soon reached it’s destination and she strode out, walking over to the door of Stark’s lab. She tried the door, not surprised it was locked. She entered her passcode, this time surprised it was blocked as well. She shook her head and keyed in the emergency override, grateful that finally worked. The lab was eerily silent, of both music and sounds of work. In fact, the lights were dim and the shades drawn. Something was definitely off; she pulled out her gun and stalked inside, senses alert for any danger. She soon came across Stark, slumped over his workbench. That in itself wasn’t unusual, the team often found Stark asleep down here.

“Stark?” She called as she approached him, and that was weird. He usually reacted to his name, but the form before her was completely still. Her stomach dropped, she couldn’t even tell if he was breathing. Forgoing all caution, she rushed to his side laid a hand on his shoulder. She swore when she felt the heat radiating off of him. At least he was breathing, even if it was a little labored. When she went to put a hand on his chest to lean him back, he flinched. And it felt warmer than the rest of him. Biting back a curse, she roughly jerked his shirt up. It was a gruesome sight. The skin around the arc reactor was red and puckered. There was pus crusted around it as well. It was in the reactor housing itself too. She hissed at the sight, worry increasing tenfold.

One hand still supporting the unconscious Tony she pulled out her phone and fired off a mass text to Steve, Bruce and Thor. Something’s up with Stark. Need Bruce ASAP. –NR. She hoped one of them had their phone; all three were prone to forget. She gathered Stark in her arms, not being the first time she had to carry him, though she wished it were under different circumstances. She took off towards the elevator, heading to the medical floor. It wasn’t much of one, but they had all decided Bruce was a better option than a hospital, so Tony had set Bruce up with a floor full of medical supplies and gear. Once she got there she headed for the largest room, setting Tony down on one of the gurneys. Expertly she stripped him down to his boxers, tossing the clothes on a nearby chair.

Her phone had buzzed while she was carrying Tony, so she pulled it out and checked. On our way. ETA fifteen.–SR. Natasha breathed a sigh of relief that one of them had their phone. Her medical knowledge was slim, and the best she could do was soak a cloth in cold water and settle it across Tony’s brow. It concerned her that he hadn’t moved with the exception of the flinch. She had an inkling of what was wrong, but she sincerely hoped she was wrong. An infection under the arc reactor could very well be deadly; she’d seen lesser infections claim lives. She settled down in one of the nearby chairs, hating that she had to wait. About ten minutes in, Tony started thrashing and mumbling incoherently. Natasha shot up and pinned him to the cot, not entirely sure what to do beside keep him from hurting himself.

“Stark? Tony?” She tried calling his name, cupping his face with one of her hands. It garnered no response. She kept him pinned to the bed as he thrashed weakly. She swore again, this looked pretty damn bad. Pepper was away on business, but she made a note to call the other woman once Bruce had checked out Tony.

“Hang in there, Tony.” She said softly as the thrashing slowed down until he was still once more. She didn’t like how hot he felt, it worried her the most. Finally she heard footsteps in the hallway, and the door practically flew open to let her teammates in. She pulled back, turning to Bruce and talking to him.

“I found him like this, he just had some sort of seizure or something.” She said as Bruce made his way to Tony’s side. As soon as Bruce felt Tony’s skin, he was barking out orders.
“Steve, Thor. Go get as much ice as you can. Ice packs too. Hurry. Natasha, dig me out a saline drip and IV kit. JARVIS, I need you to monitor his vitals.” His voice was brisk, and the rest rushed to obey. His stomach dropped when he saw the condition of the arc reactor. He swore vibrantly in Swahili, Natasha raising her eyebrow at him for that. He gave Tony one more glance before going to the other end of the room and setting up a tray with supplies. By the time he was ready, Thor and Steve had returned with bags of ice and ice packs.

“Place them under his armpits and groin, the bigger ones. Everything else put around his body, chest mainly.” He called, dragging the tray over. He nodded at Natasha, who had already gotten the IV started. He slipped on rubber gloves and got to work. First he popped the arc reactor out, careful to keep it connected. He frowned at what he found, Steve going a little green at the sight. The cavity was leaking pus, a yellowy greenish fluid, and Bruce wrinkled his nose at the stench. He got to work cleaning it out with sterile cloths and disinfectant.

“Natasha, get a bag of antibiotics and get it started.” He paused in his work, placing a hand flat against Tony’s chest. “And get him on some oxygen.” He added, even as Natasha got to work. Bruce shook his head; he was going to give Tony an extensive lecture when he was recovered. A small part of his mind supplied ‘if he recovers’. Bruce shoved that thought away and got back to cleaning out Tony’s chest. When he had first had to replace the reactor for Tony he had been horrified to see how deep the hole went. Thankfully, he was used to it by now. Well, as used as one could get to a four inch deep hole in one’s best friend’s chest.

It took a good twenty minutes of cleaning for Bruce to be satisfied. As a precaution he packed the cavity with gauze soaked in antibiotics. He’d cleaned the reactor itself in the process, and spread an antibiotic cream around the edges of the housing. He was pleased to see Tony’s breathing had eased with the aid of the oxygen mask. He was less than pleased to note the other man’s temperature had not dropped; his body heat was melting the ice. He turned to see Steve and Thor standing off to the side.

“We’re going to need more ice. Go to the other floors if you have to.” Bruce said, glancing at one of the screens above the bed. He was grateful to see JARVIS had accessed it and was displaying Tony’s vitals. He frowned at the results, though. He walked over to where he kept the medication. He pulled out a vial and filled a syringe, returning to Tony’s side. He swiftly injected the syringe into one of the IV ports.

“How is he?” Nat asked softly. Bruce looked up and was startled to see genuine concern on her face. He glanced at Tony and then back to Natasha.

“He’s going to be in danger if we can’t bring his temperature down. I don’t know how long he’s been like this, but the infection is pretty far along.” The doctor said solemnly. Twice more they packed Tony with ice, Bruce’s worry growing each time as it failed to bring down Tony’s temperature. He was about to have Thor and Steve start an ice bath when JARVIS interrupted his thoughts.