Archaic Kinds of Fun

the arctic balls incident

April 14, 2014

“Master Stark is awake, Miss Jo.” A groan echoed in the lab as Jo raised up on her knees, and her spine gave an audible pop as she straightened. The bloodstains on the floor are gone now, so that’s one less thing to worry about. Of course, before starting housekeeping duty, she cleaned out every drop of alcohol in the house. With JARVIS’s help, she even managed to empty out all the emergency stashes. One of the emergency bottles was hidden in a chandelier in a room that she’d never been in, and she really hopes it’s not one of Stark’s favorite rooms either. JARVIS promised the chandelier would be replaced before the end of the week.

Jo thanked the AI and then wandered throughout the house until she found Tony, because he is Tony now. She’s seen him naked and let him break her face; they’re total bros now. She found him sitting at the kitchen bar, and she paused in the doorway to look him over before he noticed her. He’s wearing loose gray pants and a really baggy tee shirt, his hair is sticking up like he stuck his finger in a light socket, and the left side of his jaw is swollen and nearly black. Maybe she shouldn’t have hit him so hard, but she keeps forgetting how strong she is compared to humans.

“Mornin’, Tony. How’s the hangover?” Bleary brown eyes met hers and then quickly widened as he took her in. She’s dressed about the same as the night before, this time in orange boxer panties and a white tank top. Her hair is put up as usual too, but Jo’s got a feeling that Tony doesn’t care about what she’s wearing.

“The bruises are gone,” he whispered.

“You watched me get shot in the head, but it’s the disappearing bruises that surprise you?” She was already popping some bread into the toaster as she spoke, because she figured that’d be the easiest on his stomach. She doesn’t know shit about quitting alcohol cold turkey, so JARVIS has been informing her about all of the possibilities. One thing is for certain, this isn’t going to be easy.

“About that…when you got shot, it healed instantly on the spot. Last night I know I spent at least a half hour in the shower, but the bruises were still fresh. How does it work?” What Tony is asking is very personal and isn’t something that she talks about. Ask any mutant about their specific mutation, and five bucks says they’ll clam up or try to kill you. Especially if the person asking is a human. It’s private, but…it’s Tony.

“I can control it, to an extent. With fatal injuries, like taking a bullet to the brain, the healing occurs instantaneously to keep me alive. If I’m in a big fight and my adrenaline is pumping, bruises and breaks will heal instantly so I can keep fighting.”

“And last night?” Jo bustled around the kitchen as she thought it over, because it’s a little hard to explain. She’s not even sure if she understands it. It just is.

“I went into the lab looking for a fight, because I had a feeling that would snap you out of it. It was controlled, and I…” Alright, here goes. Might as well get this over with. “I trusted you not to kill me, so I held off the healing.”

“Why hold off and put yourself in pain?” It’s a good question, and it’s one that she isn’t going to answer. There is no way that she’s about to tell her boss, a now recovering alcoholic, that she held onto the pain for as long as she could because she deserved it. She deserved to be in pain for letting him fall so far under her watch. In the grand scheme of things, what’s a few broken ribs for a few hours compared to months of drowning in alcohol? In fear?

“I’m a bit of a masochist.” It was said with a slow wink as she sat a glass down in front of him. “Hope you like your OJ vodka-free.”

“What’s for breakfast?” She can feel his mind, whirring quietly instead of at hurricane speeds, but he’s going to let it all slide.

“Toast and a fried egg.” A few moments later, she set his plate of food down and grinned like the jackass they can both be sometimes. Tony rolled his eyes and then looked down at his gourmet meal. Jo shrugged and went to get her own breakfast. Before, she wondered who did the grocery shopping because Tony never left (so she never did) but food kept magically appearing. That’s when JARVIS informed her that there’s a pre-saved list, with things added and taken off at Tony’s discretion, that is sent to some delivery service that gets whatever Tony wants. His wealth is frightening, and very convenient.

“Thanks,” Tony managed to get out as Jo took a seat next to him. Her mouth was already full, so she just nodded and kept chewing.


They both looked down at the fork now laying on the floor, because Tony won’t meet her eyes. She watched him clench his shaking hand into a fist, and she didn’t know what to do. What’s the right thing to say? JARVIS said shaking was normal and would probably go on for a while, so should she reassure him? Tell him that it’s all the norm? Tell him it’s all going to be okay? Instead, she reached over and placed her hand over his. After a heartbeat or six, the shaking died down.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll grab another one.” She slipped off her stool, picked up the fallen fork, and brought over a clean one. Tony took it without saying a word and still wouldn’t meet her eyes, but Jo didn’t let it get to her. They’re both in for a long couple of days.

“Can I go to the lab now?” Tony asked five minutes later. His plate’s clean and his glass is completely empty, so they’re off to a good start.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll bring you some lunch later.” He nodded and ran off, and Jo turned to watch him hurry away. He still wouldn’t meet her eyes.


“Yo, Tony! I brought down a sammich, so you better—Tony?” Wide dark brown eyes met hers, finally, and Jo noted the way his body kept continuously shaking. Sweat covered his face and slicked his hair, and he’s looking a little green around the edges.

“Not hungry,” he grumbled and turned away. The guy looks dead on his feet, and Jo had to stop herself from forcing him to eat. Instead, she gently set down the plate holding a delicious turkey sandwich at his elbow along with a bottle of water. She wants to comfort him, but she’s scared of doing the wrong thing and making things worse. Maybe she should’ve taken those sensitivity classes.

“I’ll come back around midnight to drag your ass to bed. Tell JARVIS if you need me.” She gently pressed her fingertips against his scalp as she spoke and then quickly left the lab. Maybe, once this part is over, she’ll ask for that raise.


True to her word, Jo waited until midnight to go check on the genius. He was sitting in the same spot, but the water bottle was empty and he’d eaten the sandwich at some point. He’s still shaking slightly, but that’s obviously not enough to slow the genius down. Still, the guy needs to rest. It’ll be a few days before the shakes die down, and who knows how long it’ll take for them to stop completely. Right now, he’s made it nearly twenty-four hours without a drop of alcohol. According to JARVIS’s research, DTs normally hit somewhere between twenty-four and forty-eight hours. So, Day Two isn’t going to be fun.

“Alright, Tony, time to go. I don’t reckon you feel like eating anything?” Tony groaned aloud, so she’s gonna take that as a no. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Just means an earlier bedtime.”

“I just need to—”

“Whatever it is, it can wait until morning. Come on, you need to sleep.” Tony protested, probably on principle, and then let Jo pull him from the lab. The two shuffled down the hallways together, and Jo steered Tony into his bedroom.

“I don’t need a babysitter,” he huffed as she marched him into the bathroom.

“Not a babysitter, a bodyguard.”

“Oh yeah? What are you protecting me from? Soap scum?”

“Yourself.” With that, Jo pushed him into the bathroom and closed the door.

When Tony reemerged later in loose sleeping pants and wet hair, she was sitting on his bed and patting the spot next to her with a small smile. Tony plopped down next to her and dropped his wet hair onto her mostly bare shoulder. Jo brushed away a lock of wet hair on his forehead and just let both of them enjoy the peacefulness of the moment. This, she can do. She can offer this kind of comfort. The need for basic contact, whether it be human or mutant, isn’t lost on her. Before she realized what she was doing, she was gently combing her fingers through his wet hair and humming quietly.

“I left ya some goodies on the nightstand. Should help ya sleep.” If her voice was a little rougher than usual, Tony didn’t comment on it. What? People don’t come to her for this kind of comfort, because they don’t expect it from her. Not from Jo. Not from The Tank.

“Sleeping pills?” He’d managed to reach the table without moving off her shoulder, and Jo looked down to see him holding her bottle of sleeping pills and a bottle of water.

“Those work on me sometimes, so they should put you down for a full eight hours. Go ahead. Down a couple.” Tony sighed as he pulled away, and she watched as he dropped two pills on his tongue and swallowed them down. He placed both bottles back on the small table, and Jo got up to help him get settled under the blankets. Once he was as snug as a bug in a rug, she stood up to make her exit.

“Jo?” She looked down at the sweaty and shaking fingers wrapped around her wrist, but she kept quiet. “Will you stay here, until…”

Jo could’ve laughed and said something about being a babysitter after all, it was right on the tip of her tongue, but she didn’t. Tony Stark is a proud man; she knew that before ever laying eyes on him. For him to ask someone to stay with him until he falls asleep, that’s big. Monumentally huge. He’s showing vulnerability in a big way, and Jo felt oddly humbled by the request. After everything they’ve been through in just the past twenty-four hours, how can she say no? She’s in it for the long haul.

“Budge over, Tin Man.” Tony glared at her, but he still scooted over. Instead of laying down, Jo propped her back up against the headboard and stretched her legs out in front of her. Tony is under the blanket and Jo is sitting on top of it, but she’s fine without a blanket. After a little prodding and shuffling, Tony moved over to bury his face in her stomach. His arms formed a band around her thighs, and his legs pulled up tight against his body. The shakes were getting harder now, but Tony’s eyes were closed. The sleeping pills should kick in soon. Jo buried one hand in his wet hair, used the other to make sweeping circles on his sweaty back, and closed her eyes.


Jo was jolted out of sleep at the feeling of the bed shaking, and her eyes opened just in time to see a half-asleep Tony stumbling out of the blanket as he ran off the bed and into the bathroom. The sound of violent puking met her ears a moment later, and she groggily rose out of the bed. Tony was on his knees and making his prayers to the porcelain gods when Jo made it to the bathroom, and she dropped to her knees next to him. She pushed back the hair hanging over his forehead and hummed lightly in the back of her throat. When Tony finally quit puking up the bile in his stomach, he fell to the side and against her. The shakes have turned into tremors, and Jo wrapped her arms around his lightly convulsing body.

“Holy fuck, Tony,” she mumbled into his sweaty hair. The guy is obviously not doing well. Jo held onto Tony with one arm and blindly reached over her head with the other one. She managed to snag the bottle of Listerine and tipped Tony’s head back to pour some in. “Come on and swish for me.”

“Grrgl.” Yeah, that makes sense. It really does. The peppermint flavor reminds him of Pepper; Jo will get JARVIS to switch it to a cinnamon flavor in the morning. Well, later today. Once Tony was done, she propped him up and held his head over the toilet.

“Now spit for me.” It’s not the most pleasant thing ever, but desperate measures. When he was done, Jo glanced up at the ceiling. “Hey, JARVIS? Can you flush?”

“Of course, miss.” The toilet flushed without Jo having to stretch her toes, and she leaned her head back against the sink for a moment as Tony slumped against her. Tony’s still shaking up a storm, so getting him back to bed is her top priority. Her first option is to gently coax Tony to his feet and then for them to shuffle their way back to the bedroom. The second option is to just pick him up and carry him back to bed herself. The first option is better for his pride, but the second option will be quicker. Second it is.

“Put me down, you barbarian,” Tony groaned.

“Do you prefer the fireman’s carry?” She’s carrying him bridal style this time, because of his rumbly tummy, and Tony stopped groaning long enough to glare up at her. Jo laughed quietly as she settled Tony back into bed and pulled the blankets up to his chin. Stark pulled her down next to him, and they moved into the same position that they fell asleep in. Jo frowned as Tony dropped back into sleep, and she brushed a hand across his sweaty forehead before sweeping his hair back.

“G’night, Tony.”

April 15, 2014

Tony woke up slowly, like crawling through mud, and felt sore all over. It only took a second for everything to come back, and he groaned quietly as he pushed his face into his pillow. At the movement, his scalp stung and then was instantly soothed by gentle fingertips. He’s not laying on a pillow. Not a conventional one anyway. His face is buried in his bodyguard’s stomach, because the woman won’t leave him alone. He’s ignored her, verbally abused her, and then beat her. The fight might have been her big plan to give him a wakeup call, but it was still him that…Doesn’t matter. The point is, she should have given up months ago.

He doesn’t understand his bodyguard, and he doesn’t like not being able to understand things. He’ll have to ponder Jo later though; right now, he needs to get up. Jo made a strange gurgling sound as he wiggled away with what little dignity he has left, and the woman slumped to the side once he was standing next to the bed. She rolled into the warmth left from where he was sleeping and stretched out on her stomach, and Tony’s bloodshot eyes ran over her. She looks innocent and so very young, but he’s still got a bruised jaw that proves how capable she is. Huh. She’s got a tattoo. He can see the start of it, disappearing under her hair and tank top. She really is still a stranger.

The house was quiet as he walked through, and he blinked as he looked around the kitchen. This is where the food is. And coffee. He still remembers how to make coffee. He is a genius after all. As his hands went through the motions, his mind went over the past few days. Past few months. Everything is…not right. It’s not wrong, but it isn’t right either. Pepper is gone, maybe forever, and there’s a woman in his bed that he has not slept with. He’s not allowed to drink, and he’s been a casual drinker since…well, for a very long time. He still can’t build a suit, because every time he tries he just sees them lighting up the sky. He can see the fire, and he can feel the fire that Pepper’s falling into and there’s nothing he can do, not even with a suit, he’s going to—


Jo’s toes and fingers were reaching for the ether as she stretched into wakefulness, and she nuzzled down into a super fluffy mattress. Her toes are tangled in silk, so she’s not in her bed. Tony. Right. She stretched out her limbs, but she couldn’t even find the edge of the mattress. Admitting defeat, she popped her eyes open and looked around. The bed was empty and cold, except for where she’d been laying. Looks like Tony got started without her. She’s not sure if she should be grateful for the extra sleep or upset at being left behind.

“JARVIS?” One day, she’ll wake up and not sound like a frog.

“How can I be of service this morning, Miss Jo?” She’s detecting a little bit of snark under his usual cool professionalism.

“How’s Tony doing?” Various parts popped as she stood up, and she fought to get her hair down just to put it back up again.

“Master Stark is in the lab.”

“I didn’t ask where he was, JARVIS.” He might be an artificial intelligence system programmed by an egotistical maniac, but he sounds very human sometimes. He’s also very protective over his creator, which Jo is completely okay with. She likes to think that they’re on the same side.

“Master Stark attempted to drink coffee but has been unable to keep anything down.”

“Any food?” She’s in her room now, so she can take a quick shower and prepare herself for another day of worrying about Tony.

“None, miss.” Well, that’s definitely not good. She’s pretty sure that big meals are out for a while, but he needs a little something-something to keep himself going. Maybe she’ll take him some toast down later and a bottle of water; hydration is really important. She’s going to take care of him if it’s the last thing she does, and she’s not going to fail this time.


The day dragged on pretty much like the previous day. Jo took Tony some toast, which he’d eaten by the time she brought down a chicken salad sandwich for a late lunch, and she spent most of her time on the roof reading. JARVIS kept up a relaxing playlist and even coaxed her through some yoga poses, which she’s taking as a sign of his approval. She let Tony tinker around his lab until one and then she drug the shaking mess of a genius to bed, where she was weakly manhandled back into the bed in the same position as the night before.

This is where everything changes. Tony is shaking so hard that the whole bed is shaking right along with him, and Tony has a really big bed. The grip he has on her thighs is hard enough to bruise, and he’s mumbling nonsense into her stomach even though he took two more sleeping pills after his last puking incident. He’s sweating a small pond, and his heartbeat is a lot faster than it should be. She’s not reading his mind, but she can feel it. It feels like…an earthquake.

“JARVIS, what do I do?” Tony’s knees are pulled up to his stomach, and his clothes are sticking to him.

“I’m afraid I don’t know, miss.” Oh great, the AI sounds just as worried as she does. What’s she supposed to do? She doesn’t know how to handle this. She’s a fighter; she beats people up, so she has no idea how to make them better. She’s not a doctor or—doctor!

“Can you call Tony’s doctor friend for me?” The guy had sounded nice, so maybe he’ll be able to help.

“Excellent idea, Miss Jo.” Yeah, she’s a real genius. What a laugh. The real genius is falling apart against her, and she doesn’t know what to do. She was so caught up in her worrying that she didn’t even hear the quiet click that sounded to let her know the call went through.

“Uh, Tony?” Jo bit the inside of her cheek as she tried to remember the Doc’s name, but she’s drawing a blank.

“No, my name is Jo. I’m—”

“Tony’s bodyguard, yes, I remember. The last time we spoke, you were hosing him down?” It’s good to know that she left an impression. Wait, has Tony been talking about her?

“That’s me. I’m afraid I can’t remember your name.”

“Bruce. My name is Bruce.” It’s a nice name. A good strong name.

“And you’re definitely a doctor?” Tony’s legs started scissoring under the blanket, and the grip on her thighs tightened enough to cut off some blood flow.

“Of a sorts. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Yeah, there is. Look, Doc, I normally wouldn’t breach confidence like this, but I’m a little out of my depth here.” Her hands are still moving across sweaty skin in an effort to calm the boss down, but it’s not working.

“Is Tony okay?” Jo snorted, quietly, and held Tony a little tighter.

“Remember the drinking incident the last time we talked? Well, Tony never really stopped drinking after that. Fuck, Doc, he’s been drunk for two months. He was barely eating, and the only time he slept was when he passed out. He had a change of heart the other night, and I’ve cleared out all the booze. He was okay yesterday, except for the nausea and shaking. Today has been about the same, but…We went to bed at one, he got up at three to puke, and then he took some more sleeping pills and dropped off again. He won’t stop shaking, his heart rate is through the roof, I’m swimming in his sweat, and I don’t know what to do.”

Jo sucked in a deep breath after getting all of that out and felt a lot better. Or, well, she would feel better if her boss and possible friend wasn’t clinging to her for dear life and making her whole body shake. Yeah, JARVIS read out the possible symptoms to help her prepare, but she’s in over her head here. And this Bruce guy seems like a good friend, so maybe Tony won’t kill her when he finds out that she let someone else in on what’s happening with him. Because honestly? She needs the help. Desperately.

“He hasn’t had any alcohol in the past forty-eight hours, at all?”

“Not a drop. I cleaned the house out after Tony decided that he needed to quit, and JARVIS even told me where the secret stashes were. All under Tony’s orders, of course.”

“The sweating and shaking are normal, especially if his alcohol consumption before now was constant. How bad is the shaking?” The doctor has a calming voice, very zen, but it’s not getting through to the sleeping billionaire. Jo’s knees have gone numb.

“He’s shaking me and the bed. It’s like a localized earthquake in here, Doc. How long will this last?”

“NO!” Tony jumped up so fast that his head knocked into Jo’s chin, and Jo swore colorfully as she bit down on her tongue and swallowed blood.

“Uh, Doc?” Tony’s arms are wrapped around Jo’s head and pressing her cheek tight against his arc reactor. It’s not a very comfortable feeling. He’s also kneeling on her left thigh, so now her right knee is tingling with the renewed blood flow.

“Shh, Pep, don’t let him hear you,” Tony whispered.

“Tony? Can you hear me? Can you understand what I’m saying?” At the sound of the doctor’s voice, Tony tensed further and Jo groaned as the arc reactor pressed harder against her cheek.

“I’ll keep you safe this time,” Tony whispered into her hair. The doctor is being strangely quiet, so Jo decided that it’s time to take a look into Tony’s thoughts. Hallucinating. That totally makes sense. To Tony, Killian is looking for Pepper. He’s going to inject a stronger version of Extremis, one that Tony won’t be able to cure. Jo, of course, is playing the role of Pepper. Tony still doesn’t have a suit to call for, and his anxiety is spiking through the roof.

“Hey, Doc? Any tips for dealing with hallucinations?”

“Unconsciousness usually works best.” She’s beaten people unconscious before, but she actually likes Tony’s face just the way it is. Minus the current purple shading.

“Hey, JARVIS? Can you shine a light on that pressure point that knocks people out?” She remembers taking a class on pressure points, but she didn’t pay attention because she’s strong enough to knock people out without using cheap tricks. That’s what seventeen year old Jo thought anyway. Twenty-seven year old Jo knows better now.

“Right away, miss.” A tiny beam of light glinted off Tony’s sweaty skin, and Jo applied the right amount of pressure. She twisted out of his arms and managed to catch him as he crumbled, and she made quiet little humming sounds as she eased him down into her lap.

“How did you…?”

“I’m pretty strong for a girl. Any tips for when he wakes up?”

“Um, the hallucinations should only last for a day or two. The nausea might last a little longer, so try to stay away from heavy foods. The shaking will probably last for a while, I’m afraid. How’s he doing right now?” Jo glanced down at where Tony’s drooling on her thigh and wrinkled her nose.

“Sleeping like a baby. Thanks for this, Doc. I guess I just kinda panicked for a moment,” Jo said with a quiet laugh at the end.

“It’s completely okay. Please, feel free to call me again if you need anything. And again, thank you for helping him.”

“Eh, the jackass kinda grows on you after a while, doesn’t he?” She listened to the doctor’s own quiet laugh, it’s a nice sound, and sagged back against the headboard.

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess he does. Um, JARVIS?”


“Please contact me if things look, uh, dire?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Thanks again, Doc.” He might’ve said goodbye, but Jo never heard it. She was already fast asleep.

April 16, 2014

Bruce was pulled out of sleep by his ringing phone, and he almost ignored it in favor of getting a little more sleep. Very few people actually have his number though, and only one person calls him regularly. There could be something wrong with Tony, or his bodyguard could be panicking again. His bodyguard…As Bruce groped around for his phone, he thought about the woman Tony had called him to rant about a few months ago. Tony had been angry at Fury for appointing him a bodyguard, and he’d been even angrier about the fact that she completely ignored him and followed Pepper’s orders. All Bruce knew her as was her at first, until she told him her name. Bruce finally grabbed the phone and hit speaker.


“No, no, no, no.” The word was being chanted like a mantra, and Bruce could barely recognize the voice over the clicking sound of chattering teeth.

“That you, Doc?” The woman’s already rough voice sounds strained, and Bruce sat up in his bed.

“What’s happening?” Bruce asked quickly.

“Tony, no, don’t touch that. Leave the water off,” the woman said quickly.


“He slipped out of the bed without me noticing. When I woke up, I found him in the tub. The water was freezing so I drained it, but he won’t let me get him out. Every time I try, he goes fuckin’ ballistic. I could just knock him out again, but I don’t want to get into that particular habit. I don’t know what to do here, Doc.” She sounds completely panicked, and he can still hear Tony chanting in the background.

“What’s he seeing?”

“How should I know?” The words were bitten out, like she’s shivering too. She must be in the tub with him.

“Tony told me about you, and I know you’re a telepath. What’s he seeing?” he repeated. The woman didn’t question how he knew or anything else; she just answered.

“It’s like a spin cycle in there, Doc. The only thing I can really pick up is the heat.”

“The heat?” What kind of heat is so bad that it has Tony Stark hallucinating in a freezing cold bathtub?

“The desert in Afghanistan, the explosion in space, the fire Pepper fell into…he needs the cold, but his lips are blue and I’m pretty sure his balls have frozen off.” Okay, so Tony Stark is hallucinating naked in the tub. Fuck, but he never thought Tony was suffering this much. Funny, he always thought the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist was too cool to go through PTSD. It goes to show just how stupid geniuses can be.

“Is there any way that you can calm his mind? Stop the hallucinations?” There was a pause, and he calmly waited for her to speak again.

“I’m not that good, Doc. I can read thoughts, but I can’t manipulate them.” She sounds a little upset, which is something that Bruce can understand. She obviously wants to help, but she can’t.

“Have you ever tried?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Try it. Tell me what it sounds like, what it looks like, what it feels like. Maybe that’ll help.” He could hear her take a shuttering breath over the sound of Tony’s ghostly mantra, and there was the squeaking sound of bare flesh against wet porcelain.

“People always think telepathy is hearing a single thought at a time, but it’s not like that for me. People normally have several thoughts going at once, and people like Tony have so much going on at one time that it’s like getting swept into a tornado. There’s color to the thoughts too. Can you believe that, Doc?” She laughed quietly and then continued on, “Right now, Tony’s thoughts are black, like the black hole that he flew into. Being in his mind hurts, it burns, but I can see where the thoughts originate from. There’s a sensory memory that comes from this too. With our minds connected, it’s like I’m reliving everything with him. I can feel the hot white sand hitting my face. I can feel my lungs struggling to breathe but there’s no air. I can feel the muscles in my arm tearing as I reach for Pepper, but it’s too late because she’s been swallowed by the fire. I feel like I’m drowning in him.”

“Just try to stay calm, Jo, okay? Can you hear me breathing?” He took an exaggerated breath and released it with an exaggerated exhale. He did it a few more times and strained his ears to hear what was happening on the other side of the phone.

“Thanks, Doc. So I can find the source easily enough, but now what?” Bruce wracked his so-called genius brain and tried to think something up. The telepath is very descriptive, so maybe something visual will work best.

“Jo, I want you to listen to me very carefully. I need you to picture a box. A big black box; it’s heavy and strong, with a lock on the front. Can you picture it?”

“Yeah, kinda like the trunk I kept at the foot of my bed in boarding school.” Mutant, boarding school, right.

“Something like that is perfect. Open the trunk and put those thoughts inside of it. All of the fire, all of the fear, just push them down inside and lock it up. Can you do that for me, Jo?”

“I can try.” There was silence for a little while and then he heard the sound of quiet little whimpers. The rough and quiet hums sounded wrong coming out of the bodyguard. The squeaking noise from earlier came back, and Tony’s repetitive no’s cut off with a long groan. Then Tony yelped and Jo grunted, and Bruce worried that it was a bad idea after all.

“What the hell?! What is goin’ on?!” Tony yelled.

“I guess it worked, Doc,” Jo said breathily.

“Did you cut off my balls?!”

“I needed earrings to wear to the prom.” Bruce chuckled in amusement and relief, and he listened to Tony squawk and Jo laugh.

“Bruce?! Who else did you invite to my indecency?”

“Don’t worry, boss. I’m the only one stuck lookin’ at your naughty bits. The good doctor’s been spared this sight, and a good thing too. I might need therapy when this is all over,” Jo laughed.

“I am not that kind of doctor,” Bruce said quickly. He spent a few days at Tony’s place after the whole Extremis incident, and he’d never slept so much before in his life. A therapist he was not.

“I dunno, Doc. You really helped me out earlier.”

“How? What’s going on? Why are we in the tub?”

“The Doc can explain while we get out of the freezing cold tub and you put on some pants. Speaking of, I’m borrowing some clothes since mine are soaked.” Bruce briefly explained what just occurred, or at least what he knows of it, as Tony and Jo dried off and put on clean clothes. When he was through, they were both settled into bed and covered with blankets.

“You locked away my hallucinations?” Tony sounds like a mix between scared and impressed, and Bruce is too. Telepathy is both amazing and dangerous.

“Your dangly bits almost got frostbite. You should be thanking me, and the Doc.”

“Thank you, Bruce.” There was the sound of a pained grunt, so Bruce just assumed that Jo hit Tony.

“Yeah, thanks, Doc. I didn’t even know I could do that, and I never would’ve been able to do it without your help,” Jo said with a voice full of sincerity.

“You experimented on me?!”

“I thought you liked experiments?” Bruce is starting to feel like an interloper, so maybe it’s time to hang up and go back to sleep.

“Um, I think I’m just going to—”

“Hey, Doc, what else can we expect? We’re coming out of day four, so the hallucinations should stop now, right?” Jo asked quickly.

“Yes, the hallucinations should be over. The nausea, anxiety, and shaking will probably last for a little longer,” Bruce said quietly. He heard Tony and Jo groaning in tandem, so at least they’re both on the same wavelength now.

“Don’t worry, Tony, the Doc and I will be by your side. Unless you strip down and get into a freezing cold tub again. Then you’re on your own,” Jo said. Bruce can hear Tony grumbling in the background, and he feels a little better knowing that Tony’s in good hands and will be okay.

“As my bodyguard, it is your duty and privilege to assist me no matter the water temperature.”

“Privilege? You hearin’ this, Doc?”

“I’m hearing it,” he said with a small laugh.

“You definitely need some more sleep, boss. Say goodnight to the good doctor.”

“Goodnight, Bruce!”

“G’night, Doc!”

“Goodnight, Tony. Goodnight, Jo.” He ended the call and tossed his phone onto the little table next to the bed.

April 20, 2014

“Miss Jo, Master Stark requires immediate assistance.”

It’s been four days since what Jo has dubbed the “Arctic Balls Incident,” and they’ve settled into a nice routine. Jo and Tony have breakfast together, and they go their separate ways after that. Jo will bring down some lunch, but Tony is usually so buried in his work that he barely remembers to grunt a thanks as she’s leaving. So Jo does whatever she’s in the mood for, normally some type of exercise or reading, until dinnertime. Tony can eat a little more now without getting too sick, so Jo makes dinner and they eat together in the lab. Then Jo normally watches cartoons until midnight, which is when she makes Tony go to bed. They’ve slept together every night so far, in the literal sense. Normally in Tony’s bed, because of the silk sheets.

“Is he okay, JARVIS? Where is he?” she asked as she hurried down from the roof.

“He’s in the bathroom, miss.” The bathroom? It’s only nine. They had pasta two hours ago, and Tony was fine. The last time Tony wandered off and wound up in the bathroom, he was hallucinating in a tub full of freezing cold water. She wants to avoid that.

“Tony! Tony, are you o—kay. Am I dreaming?” Tony Stark is sitting in his giant bathtub, and it’s filled with…bubbles.

“Just the bodyguard I was looking for! I can’t reach my back.” Tony was looking over his shoulder at her, with a shit eating grin, and Jo just blinked.

“Are you naked in there?”

“Well, yeah. Don’t get all shy on me now; I need someone to wash my back.” Tony’s waving a sponge at her, and Jo let her mental defenses down. She’s been doing that a lot where Tony Stark is concerned. His mind isn’t as whirlwind crazy as usual, so she can pick up on a few things. Tony doesn’t want to be alone, and he actually likes her company. There’s someone who wants her comforting company.

“You’re such a weirdo. What if I say no?” It’s a dumb question, because she’s already rolling up her sweatpants. Her tank top will be fine.

“I knew you wouldn’t.” She doesn’t like the way he’s smirking at her; it makes her want to hit something. Her pants are rolled up over her knees now, so she stopped right in front of the tub and propped her fists on her hips.

“Yeah? How so?” He scooted forward a little, and Jo slowly lowered one leg into the tub and then the other. Once she was seated on the edge of the tub, Tony leaned back against her to use her thigh as a pillow and closed his eyes. The bubbles came up to mid-shin, and they smelled like oranges.

“I’ve got cinnamon mouthwash.” Oh. She was hoping that Tony’s ability to overlook small details would keep him from noticing the small change.

“Fair enough. Keep your eyes closed.” She used a small cup to pour water over his hair and get it wet, and she gently worked some shampoo into his hair.

“You’ve never asked about it. Not once.” He was talking quietly and slowly moving into her fingertips as she gave him a little scalp massage.

“What’s that?” She’s feeling kind of peaceful herself. The water is warm, Tony’s thoughts are a lot softer than usual, and there’s something about the repetitive motion of washing Tony’s hair that calms her right down.

“The arc reactor. You’ve never asked about it.” That’s true, she hasn’t. From what she’s picked out over the past few months, the arc reactor is very personal. It’s Tony’s heart, and it’s on the outside for everyone to see.

“Didn’t see the point in it. Should I?” She finished washing the conditioner out of his hair and slicked it back from his forehead, and she let Tony grab one of her hands. He placed her right hand over the glowing blue light, and Jo let her fingertips lightly touch against the metal.

“You know.” He’s not asking, and Jo knows what he means. Does she know how he got the arc reactor? Does she know about how it was ripped out? About the poisoning?

“Yeah, I know.” She nudged Tony up into a sitting position and then grabbed the bright red sponge he was waving around earlier.

“I don’t know anything about you. I thought about looking into what SHIELD has on you, maybe Xavier’s school files, but…” He trailed off as she started moving the sponge over his shoulders, in small little circles, and she decided to help him out.

“You want to hear it from me, huh? Fair enough. What do you want to know?” She’s seen Tony’s every fear, she knows what makes him tick, and she knows that they’re unbalanced.

“Little stuff. Where are you from? You have an accent.”

“Louisiana. A small little town not far from Shreveport.” Tony leaned forward so she could reach the small of his back, and he hummed quietly.

“Were your parents mutants too?” Once again, a very personal question to ask a mutant. She’ll answer it though, for Tony. Pain for pain and all that.

“They both were. My father was like me, with super strength and healing. He died when I was a few months old, some asshole just kept fighting him until his body gave up and he couldn’t fight anymore. My ma was telekinetic.”

“Was?” He’s leaning back against her now, with his head pillowed on her thigh, and she’s running her fingers through his hair.

“She passed away when I was sixteen. Heart attack. Ma was the best. She was an art teacher.” Tony made a kind of oohing sound as he floundered in the bathtub, and Jo yelped as she got splashed in the face. Like she wasn’t soaked enough already?

“I want to see your tattoo.” Okay, that’s a little random. She shrugged, twisted around so Tony could see her back, and tugged her tank top off. Wet fingers traced down her spine, and Jo let her eyes close as she pictured what Tony’s seeing.

There’s a twisting bundle of vines from her hairline to the base of her spine, and the vines are mostly solid black. There’s an occasional splash of color, like someone tossed paint around. Her tattoo is more than that though. More vines, flowers, and birds twist away from the vines on her spine. Mostly black, with some bright spots of color. A vine curls around her left shoulder with blooming flowers, some with bright petals and others completely black. Another vine loops away towards her right ribcage, where a bird’s foot is trapped by a small vine as it flies onto her ribs. A few black and blue feathers fall from the bird to fall against the skin of her back.

“It’s beautiful.”

“It’s one of Ma’s paintings. It’s safe in storage, along with some of her other paintings that I couldn’t sell.” Translation: that she didn’t want to sell.

“Do you have any more?” She twisted back around, and Tony immediately moved back to use her as a body pillow.

“Just the one. Anymore questions?” His mind is flipping through a whole series of questions, one after another, so fast that she can’t pick up on any single one.

“Not tonight. Maybe later.”

“Alright, come on. It’s time to get out before you get all wrinkly.”

Jo changed into some dry clothes, which consisted of Tony’s boxers and a tee shirt, and they both climbed into bed. It took a little time for them to get arranged properly, and Jo snuggled down into the silky sheets. Tony was curled up with his head on her stomach, which meant that the blankets only reached her hips. Whatever. Jo wrapped an arm around Tony’s back, and he grabbed her wrist to pull her arm farther around. Her palm met cool metal, and she curled her fingers around the reactor. If this isn’t a sign of trust, she doesn’t know what is.

“Get some sleep, boss.”

“Night, sweetheart.”

May 2, 2014

They are now two weeks out from the ABI, and things have gotten much better around the Malibu home. Tony still doesn’t sleep as much as most people, which means that Jo normally wakes up alone, but she’s discovered that’s just the way Tony is. He still has to take it easy on foods that are dripping grease, because he puked up his last Big Mac. (Speaking of, who knew that McDonalds could be delivered?) Other than that, the nausea has gotten much better. The hallucinations have stopped completely, the box holding them just seemed to melt away, but the nightmares are still going strong. Tony still hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol, so there’s that. Today, however, they’re working on something new.

“I hate you so much,” Tony mumbled.

“Come on, baby! Work it for me!”

“Remind me to make a note to kill you,” Tony huffed out.

“Tank, remember? JARVIS! Hit me with your best shot!” Sexy and I Know It started playing, and Jo thought Tony was going to cry. He lost so much weight during his two month drinking binge that his muscle tone is just gone, and it’s time to slowly build it back up. Since it’s only day one, Jo has decided to be nice and start small. Now Tony is running on the treadmill and cursing the first time they met. There’s still some fondness deep down.

A body dropped down from the ceiling, and Jo squealed as strong hands grabbed hers and started spinning her. Blue eyes flecked with golden brown, for today, met hers. Jo tossed her head back and let her favorite archer dance her around. She’s missed having a dance partner; dancing alone is okay but it’s not her favorite way of moving to a beat. So she twisted and wiggled along with the song, and it felt amazing to just let go for a minute. Going by the grin on his face, Clint felt the same way. When the song finished, they fell against each other laughing and tried to catch their breath.

“Is he high?” Jo dimly heard Tony ask. Ah, that means Natasha must be around somewhere.

“Their collective IQ is significantly lower than their individual ones,” Natasha explained coolly. Jo stopped giggling just in time to look up and see Natasha’s open palm clap against the back of Tony’s head, and Jo’s giggles erupted anew at the look on her boss’s face. She fell back into Clint, who is now laughing so hard that tears are tracking down his cheeks.

“Laugh it up! I’ve got half a mind to put you out on the streets,” Tony growled.

“I’ve got enough money to buy ten houses. I think I’d sleep just fine if you kicked me out,” Jo said. She said it with a real smile, but she was a little startled to realize she wasn’t telling the truth. If she left, she’d actually miss Tony. Secret friendship handshake indeed.

“Why are you two here?” Tony finally asked.

“We had some downtime,” Natasha said simply.

“I can cook a mean steak,” Clint grinned.

“I brought some rolls,” Natasha added. Tony still has a few problems with keeping food down, but maybe…maybe he’ll be able to keep it all down this time.

“Sounds like a party.” Tony’s skin is starting to look a little healthier, but his weight is still down too low. He’s been pretty isolated too, except for Jo and random delivery guys, so this should be good for him.

Jo led the way to the kitchen, where Clint already had his steaks laid out and ready to throw on one of Tony’s mini-grills. Natasha passed over the rolls with a smile, and Jo rolled her eyes as she took the bag and made her over to the stove. Since she already had the rolls in the oven, she decided to bake some potatoes too. Those should work okay with Tony’s stomach. Clint and Natasha took up most of the conversation during the cooking and talked about some of the missions they’d been on, both joint and separate. It kept them all laughing, so it didn’t feel like long at all before Clint and Jo were setting food out on the actual kitchen table. Tony and Jo normally just eat at the bar, so it’s different sitting in a chair and eating supper like normal people.

“I didn’t know you could cook this good,” Jo said as she speared another bite of steak. Her eyes kept flicking over to Tony, who was eating his own meal slowly.

“Don’t let him fool you, this is the extent of his culinary expertise,” Natasha threw out.

“Hey!” All it took was a single eyebrow raise to shut him up, and Clint pouted down at his baked potato. They finished up eating, and Jo quickly snatched up Tony’s half-eaten plate and dropped it on top of her cleaned off one.

“I’ll come back and get the rest of the dishes in a moment.” Jo was popping Tony’s now saran-wrapped plate into the microwave for later when the sound of rushing water caught her ears, and she looked over her shoulder to see Natasha placing the other dishes into the sink. “What’re you doin’, Nat?”

“We’re doing the dishes.” Jo learned not to argue with Natasha after the third shot to the head, so she shuffled over and added her own plate to the pile. Natasha was wearing a short sleeved shirt, and she had soap suds halfway up her arms. Jo took her place beside her at the double-sink and readied herself for the rinsing.

“Something on your mind, Nat?” Jo learned not to peek into Natasha’s mind after the second shot to the head.

“He…shakes.” Jo clenched her jaw and thought of the way that Tony’s hands shook as he held his silverware. She thought of the way he had to be careful whenever he raised a glass so he wouldn’t spill it.

“That’s normal. He’s always drank pretty sporadically, but it was very intense for a few months. It’ll take a little while for the withdrawal effects to wear off,” Jo murmured.

“He’s okay, right?” Jo caught a flash of Tony sitting in his big porcelain bathtub, with his lips blue and his whole body vibrating.

“Yeah, he’ll be fine. You really care about him, huh?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Wow, that is a lot. I can see why.” The two women exchanged a glance, and then both turned back to the tasks in front of them. They didn’t say another word as they washed and rinsed, but they didn’t have to.
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Whew! That was a really long chapter to write, and I hope everyone is enjoying the development of Tony and Jo's friendship. I hope I'm getting everyone's characterizations right too. Thanks for reading!