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The 3 AM Phone Call

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The last time Tony called Maya Hansen at 3 AM -- the last time before this time -- he thought he had discovered a perpetual motion machine.

His words poured out of the telephone receiver: "The reason it hasn't worked before now is that we've been thinking one-dimensionally. I don't mean one-dimensional like a line or a point in space. I mean. . .one-dimensionally in the sense that we've limited our thinking to this plane of existence. Once we put the Negative Zone into the equation --"

"Tony?" Maya said, as though there were more than one person who might call her in the middle of the night to rant about the Negative Zone.

"-- the energy generated by the friction of trans-dimensional teleportation . . ."

". . .would theoretically be sufficient to keep your machine moving but would in no way counterbalance the amount of energy, to say nothing of the risks, involved in opening the Negative Zone in the first place.

"Well." Tony stopped short, his tone more than a little pissy. "I didn't say it was practical. If I thought it was practical, I would have called Reed."

"So I'm a poor man's Reed Richards," Maya sighed, crashing back into her bed. "I see how I rate with you."

"Maybe I just wanted to hear your voice."

"How drunk are you?" Maya asked.

"How drunk do you want me to be?" he shot back, then, "What are you wearing?"

It has been a long goddamn time since Tony called Maya in the middle of the night to talk about science. Much less to ask what she was wearing.

"This is not good news," Maya says, this time. Before he has time to start talking. Before he has time to charm her into listening.

"Why do you assume it's not good news?" Tony asks in a wounded voice.

"Because I read the papers," Maya says. "Your body guard killed someone. A foreign diplomat. That's not good news."

"It was a malfunction," Tony snaps. "The Iron Man had a malfunction. Don't believe everything you read. We're looking into it."

Maya sighs. "Who's looking into it? You and your Iron Man?"

"Me and Rhodey. We're -- in Monaco. I can't get into details. Keep reading those papers, though. You'll find out. You'll discover some interesting developments over the next few weeks, I'll tell you that. I can't get into it now."

"So why did you call me, exactly, to talk about a lot of things you can't talk about?"

"Can't I just miss you?"

"I suppose there's a non-zero chance that you can, but if you were going to, I'd think you would have called me in the last -- how many years is it?"

"Remember the first night we met? At the Emerging Technologies Conference." Tony lets out a slow laugh. "I was wearing a jacket and tie. You made fun of me for it."

"Do you want me to make fun of you now?"

"Why do you assume that I want something? More important, why do you assume you know what I want? Why do you assume you know anything about me?"

Because I'm a drunk, too, Maya thinks. "No reason," Maya says, and in spite of every part of her that knows better, she lets him talk at her until dawn.

*

The last time Tony called Henry Hellrung in the middle of the night, it was for sex. Not that Tony said it was for sex. Tony was never so direct about that kind of thing, at least, not with Henry. Tony said they were going to go to a party and have a few drinks and pick up some girls. They'd done that before and they'd do it again, but after that particular 3 AM phone call (a call that didn't wake Henry up because he wasn't asleep, because he never slept except when the sun was shining and he was supposed to be doing something else), they ended up skipping the girls and the party and went straight for booze and bed.

It is by no means a bad memory, and that's why Henry takes tonight's phone call with mixed feelings. He's been sober almost three years, and the people he is used to taking late night calls from these days are not people he wants to take him to bed.

"Tony," Henry says, with some trepidation. "What's wrong?"

"Why does something have to be wrong? And don't tell me it's because you've been reading the newspapers."

"I'm not going to say that, Tony, because I haven't." Henry's had enough bad experiences with tabloids to drive him off the things for life. This isn't to say that he has no idea what's been in the papers about Tony, though. His phone has been ringing off the hook with reporters wanting a statement about the latest news with Iron Man. Because Henry is qualified as some kind of expert, apparently, because he used to play Iron Man on television. If there's anything in the world Henry hates more than newspapers, it's television.

"I'm glad you called me at 3 AM to tell me nothing's wrong," Henry sighs.

"I didn't say nothing's wrong. I just didn't want you to assume." Henry doesn't respond. He knows that by the time he can formulate a reply to this statement that employing anything which is even a distant cousin to logic, Tony will have come out with what it is that's actually bothering him. And sure enough, it comes, in Tony's most petulant voice. "Jarvis quit."

"Jarvis," Henry repeats. "Jarvis. . .your butler."

"Just up and quit! He said I'd been. . .stern. That I treated him like an irritant."

Tony!"

There's a silence on the other end of the line, and from the hesitant way Tony says "Hellrung?", Henry is pretty sure that he's never (drunk or sober) yelled at Tony Stark quite that forcefully before.

"Tony. . ." Henry sighs, and he knows he's saying the other man's name too much, the way you would talk to someone who was about to jump off a bridge, when this is manifestly not the case. "I know you didn't call me at 3 in the morning to complain that it's hard to find good help these days. Right? I mean, I know you aren't actually doing that."

There's another long silence before Tony says, "I just found myself thinking about you, that's all. If this is a bad time. . ."

"Yes, it is actually. It is an incredibly bad time. Do you want to know why it's a bad time? Because this is what I do since I got sober, Tony. I don't make movies, I don't act in plays, I don't even do television. I stay sober and I help other people stay sober, and when somebody calls me at 3 in the morning -- which happens, you know, only two or three times in a slow week -- it's because they need somebody to talk to in order to make sure that they survive until the sun comes up. Now. Do you really want to tell me more about your butler?"

Henry counts ten slow ticks of the clock on his bedroom wall, until Tony says, "I don't have a drinking problem."

Denial, Henry thinks. "Good," Henry says. "That's really great for you, Tony, especially because, if you did have a drinking problem, I would be the last person on the planet that you should be calling to talk to about it."

Only seven ticks this time. "Why?"

"Because --" And he's about to say, Because we used to sleep together, because my trying to be any kind of sponsor for you would be incredibly inappropriate and unethical on all kinds of levels.. But he doesn't say it, and there are a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that he's never been completely sure that Tony remembers they used to sleep together. Or worse, he does, and doesn't assign the detail any particular importance.

Henry sighs. "I spoke out of turn, Tony. I didn't mean that. It's been a long week, and you just woke me up, and I'm not thinking straight. I know what's been going on with Iron Man, I know what kind of week you must have had. I owe you my career, I owe you my life, and of course if you have any kind of problem and want to talk to me about it, you can do that any time. You know that. Right?"

"OK." Five ticks. "You know I don't have a drinking problem. That has nothing to do with why I called you."

"Of course not," Henry says. "Now -- is there anything else I can do?"

*

The last time Tony called Steve Rogers in the middle of the night, it was because he didn't know it was the middle of the night. Tony had been reading a book about the Normandy invasion, he was skeptical of the way the author had mapped out the Allies' route onto Omaha Beach, and he was hoping to get the perspective of someone who had been there. Steve listened, and answered as well as he could, and only when they'd hashed the subject out from as many different angles as Tony could think of, Steve gently mentioned, "Maybe next time you have a question, you could call when the sun is up."

"Wait," Tony said. "What time is it?"

Now, when the phone rings in the slender hours of the morning, Steve first ascertains that it's not an emergency, then risks teasing his friend a little. "Are you still in Monaco, Tony? Did you check up on time zones before you called?"

"This is important, Steve," Tony answers with a mild reproach in his voice. I'm on Long Island, I'm sober, and I just wanted to call one of the most important people in my life and let him know that everything is going to be all right."

Tony has a talent for putting Steve at a loss for words -- a loss for the right words, anyway -- but he might be outdoing himself right now. "You're --" Steve says, fumbling around for something in Tony's speech to grab hold of. "You're sober? Does that mean at some point you were --?" Less than sober, obviously. Steve knows that Tony has been less than sober on plenty of occasions. But Steve is a lifelong teetotaler himself, he knows he's a bad judge of these things.

"I was a drunk, Steve. I've been a worthless drunk. It's okay to say it. I know you've thought it plenty of times. But I've got things in hand now. Bethany helped me out. It wasn't easy, there were some hard times in there. I got through them, though. I've got a good woman in my life, and she helped me through them. Everything will be different from now on. I'll get Jarvis back, and we'll clear Iron Man's name, and everything will be different."

"That's wonderful news, Tony. That's just. . .Tony, we should talk about this. I'm proud of you and. . .come see me soon, all right?"

"Any time, Cap. We should work on some of those moves you were showing me."

"We should," Steve agrees. "Just . . .some time when the sun is up, all right?"

*

It's 3 AM. Stark Industries' Long Island office lies in ruins, the Skrulls have made a mess of New York, and the only hero the American people trust anymore is Norman Osborn.

It's 3 AM, Tony is as sober as he'll ever be, and he has no idea who the hell he can call.