Del Rion's website - Typhlosis • Chapters 9-10
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Typhlosis • Chapters 9-10






Chapter 9: Query / Solution




Day 171 of the Alien-Human War


Tony took a deep, steadying breath. He wasn’t nervous, per se, because he was absolutely certain of what he wanted to do. Public speeches didn’t make him anxious, either – at least not in the past when he knew exactly how to engage his audience. These days he could not hold his opponent’s gaze while letting his mouth run them down.

“You know there’s no pressing need to do this,” Bruce informed him.

“Yes, there is,” Tony argued, albeit softly. He had made up his mind – which Bruce knew – and the scientist’s argument was voiced simply because it needed to be put out there and then dismissed.

They were standing in a conference room, just the two of them. At first Tony had planned on doing this while wearing the light helmet, but eventually decided against it: he should be able to do this without the added confidence of the implants.

Tony Stark didn’t need to lean on a crutch to get this done…

“They are almost ready, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced from the room’s speakers. “We are still waiting for Dr. Foster, but she’s on her way.”

Tony nodded his head, eyes closed in concentration. He knew where the screens were on the wall before him. He might not be able to look anyone in the eye, other than by accident, but it wasn’t as if anyone expected him to, either. Tony was blind, but that was where his shortcomings ended – now that he had finally reached that conclusion and believed it, too.

“We are ready,” J.A.R.V.I.S. finally stated and Tony thought he heard the screens turning on.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking a moment of your precious time to sit down for a chat,” Tony said before anyone else could.

“I believe I speak for most people in this video conference when I say that your latest batch of data and images from the Flag Ship have been keeping us awake at night,” Betty Ross stated. “Hello, Bruce,” she added then, softer than when she was talking to the rest of them.

“You look well,” Bruce replied, which may have been super awkward with all the other scientists on the line as well, but this was war and they all might be dead tomorrow, so no one said a word.

“I’m glad I could be of assistance,” Tony noted.

“I hear NASA and several other space-flight specialists are already in talks to send up more unmanned flights to attempt to gain more information on the Category 6 ship,” a man Tony barely knew by name and credentials chimed in, his Indian accent strong. “After ignoring that approach for months, they are ready to try again.”

“Perhaps to no avail,” Erik Selvig noted. “We have no concrete proof that the destruction of the Category 6 is the key to winning the war.”

“Nor will we know, unless we dig deeper,” Tony agreed. “However, there are many other approaches to the problem. We are still looking for weaknesses in our enemies, their physiology and habitat, and trying to definitively answer the question of whether the pollution of our waters is in the service to their race, or only the means to an end in annihilating all life on Earth.”

“I assume this meeting was not called to shed light on any of those issues,” Betty Ross guessed.

“No,” Tony confirmed. “I am talking to you now to express my thanks for your tireless efforts to solve this crisis – and to tell you to keep up the good work.”

“A pep-talk from Tony Stark,” Jane Foster teased. “To what do we truly owe the pleasure?”

“I had an epiphany, in these last few days,” Tony confessed, leaning against the table at his back, crossing his arms over his chest. His eyes moved across the space where he knew the screens were. “My personal losses threw me for a loop for a bit, but I think I’m ready to get back in the game. There is much to do, and most of it is a hands-on struggle to keep our people safe. The Avengers will be departing from this base later today, and I will be going with them.”

“Do the implants really work?” Betty asked. Clearly Bruce had told her about them

“Sufficiently enough, and for the time being that’s the best we’ve got,” Tony nodded. “I’m leaving the fate of the world in your capable hands while I go kick some alien ass.” Bruce shifted beside him and Tony liked to think he was trying to hide his smile. “It will be far more gruesome than that innocent statement implies; we all know that.”

“I’m sure your time would be better spent in a lab, not out there,” Selvig disagreed.

“I tried that. For months, I wracked my brain to figure out why the aliens attacked me and went to so much trouble to kill me. I paid a heavy price for their failure and am reminded of it every day, but I’ve decided to leave that behind and move on. When I figure out what kind of threat I posed to them, I’ll exploit it to the fullest extent. Until then, I am joining my fellow Avengers on the front lines – not because I feel I must but because I need to do it while I still can.”

“If you fear your resolve will slip, perhaps you should not do it,” Selvig suggested.

“No,” Jane cut him off. “We might eventually win this war with a scientific discovery that allows us to crush the aliens, but until then, we need people out there to fight the war and buy us time.” No doubt she was thinking of Thor. “Your team will be glad to have you back, and I’m confident we can trust you to send us back any data that might prove helpful.”

Tony nodded. “That’s the idea.”

“Stay safe,” one of the scientists from Japan said. “The aliens are changing their tactics, and the stakes rise higher in every battle.”

“That’s why Tony’s joining us,” Bruce replied before Tony could. “As much as he feels he needs to be there, we need him even more.”

“Good luck,” Selvig sighed, clearly giving up on talking them out of it.

“All we need is enough time and a bit of good luck for a change,” Betty added.

“We’ll give you all the time we can,” Bruce promised.

One by one the world’s leading scientific minds logged off until it was just Bruce and Tony again.

“Do you feel better?” Bruce asked at length when Tony had stood still, listening to the silence, for a few minutes.

“Somewhat,” Tony shrugged.

“Well, I think I’m starting to see why you insisted on talking to them,” Bruce admitted. “They deserved to know you are going to be out there –”

“It wasn’t that,” Tony interrupted him. “It’s… a reminder, to all of us, of the war and what’s at stake every day. I don’t know if we’ll ever find the answer that will end this, but if anyone can figure it out, it’s them – and while they’re at it, I’ll put on the suit and contribute to the best of my ability.” He reached out, pointedly, and Bruce moved his arm within his reach, then guided him out of the room.

“You know, you could still contribute from a lab,” Bruce mused.

“And I will, eventually, but I’m getting tired of hearing these rumors that War Machine is replacing Iron Man.”

Bruce chuckled. “Rhodey’s been doing very well.”

“Good thing he’s never looked particularly good in red.”



Day 81 of the Alien-Human War

It was an hour and thirty-six minutes before the door was wrenched from its hinges and Tony snapped out of the uncomfortable reverie he had managed to fall into.

“Tony,” Steve’s voice pierced the fog in his mind. “Are you okay?”

“He is fine, Captain Rogers,” J.A.R.V.I.S. answered for him.

“In the suit?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Can you open it?”

Tony felt the air shift on his skin, the pressure releasing from around his body. His clothes had gotten bunched up in places and his skin felt sore. “I’m fine,” he reassured – then jumped a bit as he felt a hand on his shoulder. After the struggle with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Tony wasn’t at all looking forward to another person touching him.

“Tony,” Steve started, “can you step out of the armor?”

“Let go of my shoulder first,” Tony replied, voice just as tight as his chest, although the pressure was easing a little. Steve let go of him, so Tony stepped away from the armor, blindly trying to figure out his exact location within the room.

“There are people who wish to speak with you, Captain,” Thor announced from the direction of the door.

“Good, because I want a word with them, too,” Steve snapped and turned, the sound of his boots heavy and purposeful against the floor. He was angry, Tony could tell, and he wondered what exactly had happened.

“All is well, Tony,” Thor reassured him. “No one shall lay a hand on you again, against your will.”

Tony nodded and then heard one of the bots moving nearby. He reached out and the bot rolled closer, the familiar touch of the cool metal reassuring Tony.

Outside in the hallway, voices rose abruptly, one clear above the others: “What the hell do you think you were doing? Who gave you the order to move him without his compliance?”

“Captain, there is no reason to –”

“He is a person, fully capable of making his own choices!” Steve roared. “You drugged him and attacked him.”

“His armor broke through four floors,” another voice rose in an attempt to match Steve’s. “Moving Mr. Stark to a safer location, for his sake and for the sake of those around him, should have happened weeks ago.”

“He isn’t going anywhere,” Steve growled. “If you think you can just sneak him out beneath our noses, his armor is the least of your concerns.” Steve sounded like he was going to punch someone in the face, and when Captain America punched someone while he was in a bad mood, there was a danger of a permanent facial reconstruction.

‘Bad mood’ didn’t sound like an appropriate term to describe Steve’s fury, either.

“We trusted you. The rest of my team is still out there, fighting, and there is no justification for forcing us to divide our ranks,” Steve snapped.

“You should not be here,” the man he was arguing with said, and it was, obviously, the wrong thing to say because a slam of Steve’s shield followed an instant later with the sound of a body dropping.

“Anyone else?” Steve challenged.

Tony’s fingers tightened around the bot’s body and he heard Thor shift, the air in the room growing thick as if lightning were gathering overhead.

No one spoke up, which was probably wise.

Steve returned to the room an instant later, a force of nature on his own. “Thor, help Tony pack his things. We’re leaving as soon as I’ve gathered everyone’s gear.”

“Where are we going?” Tony asked although he didn’t object. He didn’t want to be left behind again.

“D.C., for now; I need to get back to the others.”

“Why would you even come here in the middle of a battle?” Tony asked as the bots helped to place his few belongings in his bag.

“Are you kidding?” Steve snapped. “J.A.R.V.I.S. called us, saying that they were trying to take you away to some facility in Houston.” He said the words like they tasted vile in his mouth.

“Not necessarily a bad thing,” Tony murmured.

“You did not want to go,” Thor cut in before Steve could reply. “You put up a fight, did you not?”

“I did,” Tony agreed, although he hadn’t really gotten to the fighting part.

“Then we have nothing further to discuss,” Thor decided and they packed their things in silence.

Tony wasn’t sure how they were going to get out of the base, but he carried his bag while the other two, the bots and Mark 50 took care of the rest, effectively moving all the Avengers’ gear. No one talked to them as they traveled the corridors and ended up in a large, open space that sounded like a hangar.

“You,” Steve called out to someone, voice still angry and conveying disappointment at everyone who wasn’t part of his team. “You a pilot?”

“Yes, sir,” a timid voice answered.

“You are going to fly us to Washington D.C. in that Quinjet.”

“I need to check with my –”

“Now!” Steve snapped.

“Of course, Captain,” the man almost yelped and ran up the ramp.

Tony would have found the situation amusing if it weren’t for the day’s events.

They climbed aboard, secured their cargo, and Thor hovered nearby when they took off while Steve was probably staring daggers at their pilot. Tony shifted on his seat and listened to the engines work, occasionally hearing a small chirp or beep from the bots. “You were worried about me,” he finally said.

“Of course,” Thor agreed. “Our leader feels especially betrayed, for he trusted our allies to look after you – not to try and steal you from us.”

Tony wished Steve would just come join them and sit down so that Tony could maybe try and make him unwind a little. “I’m not his responsibility,” Tony murmured.

“Nay, but all of us want to protect you. Today, we failed.”

Tony wanted to argue, but frankly, whatever he said would make no real difference. All he could hope for was that whoever had considered this a great idea would recognize their error and serve as an example for how not to do things in the future. Tony didn’t see how this incident could help the Avengers trust anyone giving them orders in the future.

They landed in D.C. in half an hour. Far away in the distance, Tony thought he could hear the sounds of battle. J.A.R.V.I.S. had not commented on it yet, though, so he guessed the battle was well-contained and that they were in no danger.

Steve released the pilot, telling him to get his own ride home, and the man literally ran out of the Quinjet. The bots chirped after him, as if encouraging the agent to run faster, and Tony tried to gauge the mood inside the aircraft.

“We should join the others,” Thor murmured.

Steve was clearly hesitating and Tony cleared his throat. “I’ll be fine with the armor and the bots. Go. Let me know if I need to get out of harm’s way.”

“Are you sure?” Steve asked.

“Yeah. Get this over with and then we can figure out a new game plan.”

Steve took a step, tightened some strap, and Tony could feel the blond’s eyes on him. “I’m sorry –”

“Stop apologizing for something you couldn’t predict and go ruin some alien lives,” Tony encouraged, and with a single wry chuckle, Steve led Thor out of the Quinjet. Tony didn’t hear anything beyond that, and after a while the armor moved and the Quinjet’s ramp rose. He tried not to feel lonely or abandoned – especially when he wasn’t.

“I have been wondering…”

“What, J?” Tony asked.

“My calculations suggest there was no reason for Extremis to fail to heal your eyes.”

Tony sighed. “Well, obviously your calculations are off.”

“The damage is extensive, and until you find a way to alter Extremis’ programming, you will be… vulnerable.”

“Do you have a point in all this?” Tony asked. He didn’t want to think of the darkness he was trapped in – or about being defenseless. Today had been a prime example of how he couldn’t shake off even two people without his armor intervening.

“Indeed,” J.A.R.V.I.S. confirmed. “I have been considering an alternative option – a temporary one, while you find the flaw in Extremis.”

Tony cringed at the last part. Extremis had been flawless when he injected it into himself, but to be proven otherwise was a painful lesson. As if he had a chest full of palladium again. “What’s your idea?” Tony asked, knowing that J.A.R.V.I.S. was most likely putting together things the AI had picked up from Tony – and which Tony was too occupied to recognize as viable options at this point.

“Implants, sir.”

“Implants?”

“Yes. Theoretically, connecting implants to certain parts of the brain and the visual cortex could be used to send the brain imagery that could, possibly, simulate sight. If the optic nerves were still undamaged, that could have been the key, but the implants would bypass the eyes themselves –”

“And go straight to the source,” Tony finished. “That is…”

“Practical, although it has never been attempted before, due to the lag in technology, not to mention that the average human body could not withstand the stress of such a procedure, not to mention the strain it would put on the brain.”

“I think you just described my brain as special,” Tony teased.

“Considering the effects of Extremis, I believe it would be possible to incorporate its healing properties in enabling the functionality of the implants.”

It sounded too good to be true – but also too logical to be dismissed. J.A.R.V.I.S. had access to a lot of data outside Tony’s own databases, and the idea that the AI had taken a look at those things and dared to theorize that it might work… “I want you to draft a first version for Bruce to take a look at by the time they finish the battle,” Tony decided. “I don’t care how crude it is.” He trusted Bruce’s brain to be smart enough to see the potential in this. Plus, he believed Bruce was crazy enough to give it a shot. After all, the man had bombarded himself with gamma rays.

“I have a few ideas ready,” J.A.R.V.I.S. volunteered. It sounded like the AI had been sitting on this information for a while, possibly hesitating whether the plan would actually work.

“Good,” Tony decided, leaning back against the wall of the Quinjet and closing his eyes. “Describe it to me – in detail.”

He wasn’t going to hope for a miracle, but science he had faith in, and J.A.R.V.I.S. had learned from the best.





to be continued…








Chapter 10: Start / Outcome




Day 176 of the Alien-Human War


The first sunrise Tony saw since going blind took his breath away.

Of all the things the implants had showed him, the sun looked closest to how he remembered it; the colors were off, but the brightness was the same, as well as the sight of the sky lighting up.

Footsteps approached him from behind, their pace slow, taking their time. Tony continued to stare at the rising sun, not knowing whether the other person’s purposeful delay was for his benefit but taking it as such nonetheless.

The other person finally reached him and settled at his side. Tony checked briefly to see who it was, then turned his face back to the sun. While the implants still provided him with a wider field of vision than he required, he enjoyed the direct warmth of the sun on his face as much as the sight of it. “Times like these and you stop appreciating the simple things,” he mused out loud.

“I started ignoring sunrises a long time before the war started,” Natasha replied, yet she sounded more peaceful than she had been of late.

“It’s never too late to start paying attention,” Tony decided.

Behind them, at the root of a grassy slope, the others moved around quietly, the early hour affecting them all. Mark 52 and War Machine stood side by side, the bots cleaning them up with rags. It was unnecessary but gave the bots something to do so Tony had left them to it. Clint was sitting cross-legged on top of a crate, checking his arrows; his movements were precise even though he had looked half-asleep when Tony had walked past him. Bruce joined the others just then, stretching, looking like he had just woken up. Steve and Thor were stretching, no doubt planning on a little bit of sparring to wake themselves up. Rhodey stood slightly apart from the others, looking up the hill, straight at Tony. Well, Tony’s back, to be exact.

With a small grimace, Tony tried to focus his attention forward, still unable to control the implants. It was entirely possible he would have to upgrade them in order to narrow his simulated gaze – or he could get used to the 360-view and not think twice about it.

“We still have time before the battle,” Natasha told him. “You can take the helmet off for a bit, let your brain cool down.” Clearly she had spotted his grimace.

“It’s not my brain,” Tony reassured her. “They clearly had no idea what they were talking about when they started that phrase about having eyes in the back of your head,” he added in a complaint.

Natasha chuckled. “I know a lot of people who would kill for that kind of talent – myself included.”

“If I find my skull pried open in my sleep, at least I’ll know whom is to blame,” he accused, although they both knew it didn’t work like that.

Tony gave the sun one more look then turned and walked down the hill, Natasha trailing after him. They kept walking behind him these days, whenever Tony was wearing the helmet; it was like their way of showing that they knew Tony could see and find his own way.

“Hey,” Rhodey greeted when Tony reached him. “Nervous?” he asked then.

“Not as nervous as you,” Tony huffed.

“I’m not nervous,” Rhodey disagreed at once.

“I can see you are, so don’t lie,” Tony teased, looking at the tell-tale colors in his best friend’s body heat.

“Okay,” Rhodey rolled his eyes – at least Tony thought he did, because the implants had a hard time detecting that kind of motion. “But I’m more nervous for you than me, so that doesn’t count.”

“I’ll be fine,” Tony promised and nudged his shoulder against the other man’s as he moved past him to get himself something to eat.

“I know we’ve planned for this and that this isn’t your first time fighting any kind of aliens, but it’s… been a while,” Rhodey went on as they walked.

“I’ve already been in a couple fights since the implants,” Tony reminded him. “Well, one, to be precise, but that one went really well!” He reached into one of the crates that held food, digging around until he found an edible-looking apple. “J, remind me the next time I’m eating to disengage the implants,” he murmured.

“Of course, sir,” the AI replied in his earpiece. “Shall I deactivate them now?”

“Nah,” Tony replied, looking at the apple in his hand more closely. “Just tell me this is edible. I really can’t be sure.”

“It’s fine,” Rhodey said – snagging the apple from his hand and taking a bite.

“Hey!”

“It’s good,” Rhodey stated from around the mouthful of apple and offered it back to Tony.

“Keep it,” Tony groused and got himself another that looked just about the same.

“Hey, Stark!” Clint called out. “Are you sure the enemy camp is still at the same location?”

“Yes, it is,” Tony replied, carefully biting into the apple and deciding it was sweet and edible, just as he had hoped it would be. “Hades sent in confirmation just before sunrise; no movement other than another War Ship arriving for breakfast.”

“Nice,” Clint said and grunted as he pulled his bow tight to test the string. “A good day to go alien-hunting.”

“Just stick to the plan,” Tony told him.

“Since when do you care about the plan?” Clint asked back.

“Since I started wanting all of us to come back in one piece,” he offered, trying to make it sound nasty but failing: they were a close group these days and losing anyone was an unbearable thought. Tony liked to defy the odds by thinking that they would all see this war to the end.

“It’s a good plan,” Bruce chimed in.

“I’ve never seen you so excited to go smashing into the enemy camp,” Tony pointed out.

“It’s been a while since you were my back-up,” Bruce challenged, and Tony supposed that was a good enough reason.

“Less talking, more eating!” Steve called out. “We move out soon.”

Bruce and Clint proceeded to cook up some proper breakfast and Natasha joined them after a while. Silence fell over the area save for Steve and Thor’s grunts, and Tony walked over to the bots and the armors, looking them all over. Nothing looked out of place and he patted Dummy’s arm absently as he finished his apple.

Thor walked past him once breakfast was ready, Steve following close behind. However, the super soldier stopped beside Tony, looking at the armors as well. “It’s going to be a long day,” he mused.

“Better go eat, then, before Thor finishes whatever’s left of our provisions,” Tony replied, still gazing at his armor.

“We might not come back from this one,” Steve added, quieter now. “We’re trying to do something no one’s tried before, and it’s just the seven of us.”

“The seven of us will be enough,” Tony reassured him. “The aliens won’t expect it; so far, we’ve sat on our hands, waiting for them to come to us. Today, we attack their base for a change, and it’s going to be awesome.” Either they triumphed, or went out in a blaze of glory, although most of the Avengers were too stubborn to just roll over and die.

When Steve remained skeptically silent, Tony guessed it was only fair that he try to boost his confidence: “You’re the leader of the Avengers, Cap. We have the Hulk in the lead, the god of thunder bringing down the lightning, and two of my finer suits shooting at anything that won’t stay down after those two are done with the first assault. You, the Hawk and Widow can kick back and enjoy the show. The bots will even bring you refreshments.”

Of course half of their team wasn’t just going to kick back and watch the fight: Clint was going to be shooting down Drones while Steve and Natasha were going to steal a few alien weapons to use against the War Ships that were present. They all had their part to play and Tony was relieved to find that he still had a place in the team after the little break he had taken.

“This is a beginning,” Tony decided, looking over at their team and then at Steve. “A beginning of the end of the war.”

Steve nodded as if he was willing to believe it. “Just don’t push past your limits,” he finally said, no doubt meaning the implants. Tony was conscious of the looks the others gave him, concerned that the strain would be too much.

“I’m not afraid of the darkness,” Tony confessed. “I know that when the time comes and the helmet comes off, I only need to extend my hand and someone will grab it to guide me forward.”

“Count on it,” Steve promised, then led the way to the makeshift breakfast table to join the others. He didn’t take Tony’s hand, but Tony knew that when the lights went out, one of them would be there, waiting for him.



Day 101 of the Alien-Human War

Rhodey ran the trimmer through his hair for the last time and turned it off. Tony sensed his hesitation and turned his face towards the other man. “Does it look weird?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Then it’s bound to get weirder,” Tony offered him a grin before he let the expression fall. “Come on, Rhodes. Just get it wet and let’s get this over with.”

Rhodey sighed and stood up, then after a bit Tony could hear water running. He stood up as well, although more carefully, and Rhodey reached out to guide him into the shower. Tony closed his eyes against the water, allowed Rhodey to wash his hair, then waited patiently as the water was turned off and something else was rubbed into his hair.

“You’re really sure about this?” Rhodey asked as he offered Tony a towel to wrap around his hips before guiding him back to sit on the stool.

“I’ve been working on this for almost three weeks,” Tony told him. “The idea is viable, we knew that from the start. The implants are ready and I’m getting on that table,” he said determinedly. “Now, shave my head. Please.”

Rhodey sighed again and got to work. The slide of the razor against his scalp felt odd and Tony tried not to linger on the specifics. How in a matter of hours he would be lying down on an operating table and praying that his, J.A.R.V.I.S.’s and Bruce’s calculations and predictions were correct.

“I can’t believe we’re doing it here, of all places,” Rhodey said after a bit.

“It’s fitting, I think,” Tony mused. They were at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had the best brain surgeons they had been able to get their hands on in the middle of the apocalypse to do the procedure. MIT had the lab space they had needed to manufacture the implants on short notice, and they were all set.

All Tony needed was to get his head shaved and he was ready.

“What if it doesn’t work?” Rhodey asked, not for the first time. “Couldn’t you just tweak Extremis somehow? I thought that was what you were going to do.”

“That was the original idea – and is still a good plan, given enough time. However, this idea is…”

“Madness?”

“It’s brilliant,” Tony corrected. “Don’t be so skeptical. J.A.R.V.I.S. would never have given me the idea if he wasn’t sure it would be very likely to work.”

Rhodey had to agree with that, at least, and he dutifully finished shaving Tony’s hair. They had decided to let the goatee be, because Tony didn’t want to part with it just yet, if he could help it. Shaving his hair off was bad enough, but if he was going to allow someone to drill holes into his skull and poke at his brain, this needed to be done.

The idea of what was to come didn’t ease his nerves. Tony was well aware of what the insertion of the implants entailed and the term ‘invasive surgery’ didn’t even begin to cover it. He was half-expecting their surgeon to back out, but for the time being he was on board with it and Bruce was going to be there to assist.

“There,” Rhodey said. “Get in the shower and rinse your head.” Tony did, somewhat awkwardly, while Rhodey cleaned up. “Want me to save a lock of hair for you?” the other man teased from the other side of the curtain, and Tony tried not to cringe at the mental image of his lovely dark curls lying in a pile on the bathroom floor. He sighed in resignation and Rhodey knew not to take the joke any further.

After Tony was done showering, he dressed in simple clothes. He knew it was only a few hours until he was scheduled for surgery and his nerves were starting to get the best of him.

They walked to a lounge area and it seemed the other Avengers had gathered around for a final round of jests and comfort.

“You look different,” Thor stated and rather boldly ran his hand over Tony’s shaved head.

“So, what exactly is going to be the difference between you and Frankenstein’s monster?” Clint cracked from across the room.

“I’ll be real and will punch you in the face once I’m finally able to see it again,” Tony stated haughtily, and Clint made a quiet ‘aww’ sound as if it were cute.

“Are you certain this is what you want to do?” Steve asked.

“Yes,” Tony sighed, rolling his eyes. “Stop asking me that. I didn’t just shave my hair for shits and giggles. Also, Thor: you can stop touching my head now.”

“My apologies,” the Asgardian mumbled and withdrew his hand with one more fleeting touch.

“Thanks.”

“Perhaps if you considered it a while longer, you would see how dangerous this idea is,” Natasha joined the others’ concern.

“Are you going to stop me?” Tony asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Then why the concern?”

“I’m not convinced whether you’re desperate or truly think this is a good idea.”

There was that.

“I guess we’ll know in a couple of days,” Tony mused. The post-surgery recovery would have to be slow, to prevent any undesired effects, after which would come hours upon hours of tests. It would be worth it, though, Tony told himself. If he could see again, it would all be worth it.

A door opened and closed. “You’re ready,” Bruce’s voice called out. He sounded peaceful although Tony could tell he was forcing it upon himself. “We’re almost ready downstairs, if you want to start early.”

“Yeah,” Tony agreed because he was getting way more nervous than he had predicted.

“Tony,” Steve started.

“It’s going to be okay, Cap,” Tony told him. “You’ll see.”

“I sure hope so.”

“What’s the worst that can happen?” Tony asked. “I’ll re-grow my hair and be back to square one…”

“Or you’ll die on the operating table,” Bruce offered another option. Tony would have felt considerately better about it if it had been anyone but Bruce saying it out loud.

“Or that,” Tony muttered.

“It’s unlikely that will happen,” Bruce soothed his irritation while he explained the facts to everyone else – something they had already done before coming to Massachusetts. “If something should go terribly wrong, Extremis will take over and heal the damage.”

“But you’re relying on Extremis to make the implants work, too – but not fry them,” Rhodey checked.

“It’s a delicate balance between too little and too much,” Bruce confessed. “I’m mostly there to assist.”

“We’ll be here when you wake up,” Rhodey promised suddenly, as if someone had implied something else.

“You had better,” Tony replied and felt Rhodey moving close. The hug wasn’t entirely unexpected, and Rhodey waited for Tony to hug him back before letting him go.

“It will be over before you notice,” Natasha encouraged.

Thor and Steve both stole a hug from him before Tony took Bruce’s arm and allowed himself to be led to the elevator and downstairs to the lab where the surgery was going to take place. The space smelled overly sterile, mostly because it wasn’t built for this purpose, but J.A.R.V.I.S. could monitor Extremis’ behavior in here and it had all the equipment their surgeon needed.

“Mr. Stark,” the man shook his hand. “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Tony replied, which was probably the truth. Much more of waiting and he was going to back out of the deal – although where he would go, he wasn’t sure. His world was already filled with darkness and he wanted more than anything to advance beyond it.

“Lie down,” Bruce encouraged and showed him to the padded table. There were a few pricks on his arms where IV’s were attached, quietly and efficiently.

“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. called from the speakers, “everything is ready.”

Tony nodded.

“I am starting the anesthetic. You will feel heavy and drift away. It is safe to predict you will be kept under for the next few days after the operation, should it be successful.”

“I trust you,” Tony stated, feeling a bit drowsy. He meant his AI and Bruce, of course, because he didn’t know the surgeon. He trusted the man to do his job and not fuck it up.

“Just breathe, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. encouraged, his voice further away.

Someone grasped his hand – Bruce – and Tony held onto the sensation until it drifted away as well.

- - -

When Tony woke up it was to the sound of an explosion, dust falling onto his face from the ceiling, and everything was still pitch black. There was no one there to hold his hand or to guide him, but in the distance he thought he heard a familiar voice calling for him, telling him to move; to follow it.

He rolled off the bed, falling onto the floor, and did just that.





The End




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