The sound of cards being shuffled pulled Tony from a drugged slumber. Twisting his lips into a grimace, his brain struggled to remember where he was, and why he hurt. A feeling of panic surged up, memories of a cave, searing pain, choking….
The cards stopped shuffling. "You are in the hospital, Tony," a smooth Southern accented voice said softly. A voice he knew. "It will come back to you." A hand squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.
"Ez?" He opened his eyes, turning his head, catching sight of his friend in a chair next to his bed, booted feet propped on the railing, a pack of cards in his left hand. Memory returned in slow, jagged pieces. "Yeah, right… I did this a few times already, huh?" Hazy memories of waking, and the faces of Pepper, Birdie, and Rhodey, swirled around, making him dizzy.
"A few." Ezra smiled, gold tooth flashing in the dim lighting. "The modified Extremis you fashioned has done an admirable job of repairing the damage to your chest cavity, but as anticipated, the method was still exceedingly demanding on your physiology. After all, you did just have an invasive cardiac surgical procedure."
Tony closed his eyes tight, waving a hand at his friend in protest. "Smaller words, for now, please."
Ezra laughed outright. "Sorry."
"Charlotte insisted she rest, and I insisted Charlotte rest. They'll return in a few hours."
"Good." Somewhere, mostly lost in fragmented memories, he had the impression that he hadn't been alone since being wheeled out of the OR. "Someone's always been here."
"Of course," Ezra stated, as if it should be obvious. "We're a family, Tony, and family is there for you when you are at your most vulnerable."
Tony looked at his friend, seeing a side of him he hadn't quite understood fully before. Ezra might be an Immortal, but at his core, he was still the Ezra Standish who had ridden with six men; men who had become brothers all those years ago in New Mexico Territory. "You have my back, like you did theirs."
"And I always shall. All of us, Tony—and you'll have ours."
"I'm glad." He sighed, eyes pulling shut despite his best efforts.
"Sleep, Tony. One of us will be here when next you wake."
He nodded sleepily. "Ezra?"
"For a gambler and a conman, you're the best friend a guy could have."