Chapter Ten: Alcohol Poisoning
The next day, at Stark Tower: Natalie had come alone this time; Loki was home reading his new book, and apparently it was so good he didn't want to put it down. She walked up to the front door, and was surprised when JARVIS said, "Miss McKenzie, Dr. Banner wants to speak with you."
"Alright," Natalie said. JARVIS let her in, and directed her to what appeared to be Bruce's bedroom. She hadn't seen Tony at all, and was beginning to wonder if she had done something wrong. Bruce opened the door when she knocked, and let her in. "Is this about Tony?" Natalie asked.
Bruce gave her a half-smile and said, "Perceptive as ever. Have a seat." He waved to an armchair, and Natalie sat down, waiting. After a minute, Bruce said, "I know you probably already know this, but…. Tony's had it hard. I don't know much about him, since you were right that night; he never lets anyone in, and the closest he's ever come to letting someone in is the occasional thing he says to me. He doesn't trust Natasha or Clint, and he's got something against Steve, which I believe has something to do with his childhood, but I can't confirm that. Tony, like Loki, suffers from PTSD, and though we've all tried, Steve more than anyone, to get him to stop drinking, he won't. It's his way of coping, and while I know better than anyone how much harm alcohol can do, there's just no stopping Tony. You're right, the carefree playboy he pretends to be is just an act, and deep down he's as broken as they come. But he's also a really good person, despite how much he tries to hide it. I think Pepper sees that too, because she asked you for help- help that she can't give. Everyone on the team has a bad past, myself included. Tony's may be worse than most, but I honestly don't know. If you can help him, even just a little- well, I'd be really grateful. Tony went back to his room after you left, and he hasn't come out so far. The rest of us talked it over, and I was elected to tell you this, since I have the best relationship with Tony."
"I didn't mean to hurt him," Natalie said. "The drinking problem does hit close to home, yes, but I shouldn't have brought that up. My personal feelings shouldn't get in the way of helping someone."
"I think it's good that you brought that up, and I'd encourage you to share your feelings on the matter with Tony," Bruce said. "That night you analyzed him, I actually felt hope that he had found someone he could open up to. I mean, if you can get LOKI to open up around you, you might not have as much trouble with Tony as the rest of us do."
"I'll do my best," Natalie said. She looked at Bruce for a minute, and then added, "For all of you, not just Tony."
Bruce smiled at her. "Thank you," he said. He looked at the ceiling, and asked, "JARVIS, is Tony still in his room?"
"Yes," JARVIS replied. "And-" The AI stopped mid-sentence, and Natalie asked, "What?"
There was silence, and Natalie said, "Bruce, where is Tony's room?"
"Next floor up," Bruce said.
Natalie got up and flung the door open, then ran down the hall to the elevator. She found the door that Bruce had mentioned closed when she got upstairs, and knocked loudly. "Tony, are you okay?" she called as Bruce caught up to her.
There was no response. "Maybe we should-" Bruce started, but Natalie ignored him and kicked Tony's door down. She saw Tony lying in bed, and went in, noticing his skin was paler than usual. She shook him and said, "Tony, wake up. Are you okay?"
There was no response. Natalie checked for a pulse and found one, but then noticed the bottle next to Tony's bed, and looked over at Bruce. "Bruce, I'm calling 911," she said. "If the others are around, inform them Tony has alcohol poisoning."
Bruce ran off to do that as Natalie grabbed her cell phone and dialed 911. As soon as the dispatcher picked up, Natalie asked for immediate medical assistance, and told the dispatcher the address. As soon as the woman said she'd send someone over, Natalie thanked her and hung up. "JARVIS, when the medics get here, let them in," she said.
"Yes Miss McKenzie," JARVIS said.
Fifteen minutes later, Natalie heard footsteps and looked up as three EMTs came in with a stretcher. Natalie moved back to let them take Tony. "Miss, do you know how long he's been like this?" one of them asked.
"No," Natalie said. "I came in here because he wasn't responding to either knocking or shouting, and found him like this."
"Alright, we'll take him to the hospital. We may need more information; can you come?" the man asked.
"I'll come," Natalie said. She followed them to the elevator, and then to the ambulance, after telling Bruce and Steve that she would handle things. A minute later she was headed to the hospital with Tony, and wondering vaguely whether or not this was her fault.
When they reached the hospital, Natalie answered all the questions fired at her to the best of her ability, and sighed when the last question was, "What is your relation to Mr. Stark?"
"I'm a friend of his," Natalie said, while thinking, I am SO forcing him into therapy for this….
The doctors left her alone in the ER waiting room after that. Natalie sat there for four hours before a doctor came out and asked, "Miss McKenzie?"
"Yes?" Natalie said, looking up.
"Mr. Stark is going to be fine, but we need to make sure this doesn't happen again," the man said. "According to his medical records, he's been in here for the same problem before."
"I fully intend to break him of this drinking habit he's got," Natalie said. "Do you have any suggestions? I'm not as well-informed on the repercussions of alcohol poisoning as I'd like to be."
"Just try to insure that he doesn't overdo it," the doctor said. "I would suggest trying to figure out why he has this addiction, though, if you intend to stop it. Realizing why he's doing this is the first step to recovery. You seem fairly well-informed on our procedures, I noticed."
"I'm a psych major," Natalie said. "I'll have my doctorate in a few weeks, and I made sure to take classes that would help should I ever need to refer a patient to the hospital."
"Well, that's good," the man said. "It's mainly thanks to your quick response that Mr. Stark will be fine."
"Are you releasing him today or tomorrow?" Natalie asked.
"We're releasing him tonight, but make sure he doesn't drink any alcohol," the doctor said. "Do you mind going back to his house and getting something other than pajamas for him to wear?"
"I don't mind," Natalie said. "I'll go now, and I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Thank you," the doctor said. Natalie took her purse and left. It took half an hour to get back to the tower, and Natalie sighed as she went in. She found the rest of the team in the kitchen, and they all asked at once, "How's Tony?"
"The doctor said he'll be fine, but that he can't drink for a while, and that someone, i.e. me at this point, should make sure he gets over this addiction," Natalie said. "I came back to get some clothes and a pair of shoes for him, since apparently they're letting him go home sometime tonight. The main problem now is that Tony is going to want to drink no matter what, and he's unlikely to listen to people who tell him otherwise."
"Any ideas?" Steve asked.
"I had two," Natalie replied. "And I have to get clothes and get back soon, so I'll make this brief."
"I can get clothes, you can tell me later," Natasha said. She left, and Natalie said, "My first idea was to lock every last bottle of any type of alcohol in one place and have Loki put a spell on it so Tony can't get it or use JARVIS to override a lock or password. My second idea was to take all the alcohol in the tower and take it to my place, then either dispose of it or hide it until Tony recognizes that drinking like this is really bad for him."
"And the rest of us?" Clint asked. "Steve's the only one who doesn't drink regularly."
Natalie rubbed her forehead wearily and said, "You're either going to have to go out to drink, or not do it at all while living here."
"Why?" Clint asked. "If we keep Tony away from it-"
"And how long do you think it'll be until he finds a way around that?" Natalie demanded. "How long before this happens again? I know the rest of you don't have Tony's problem, but if you drink around him while he can't drink at all, it'll worsen your relationships with him. I KNOW most people like having a drink once in a while, or every night, but Tony obviously doesn't know his limits. If I hadn't kicked his door down this morning when Bruce and I noticed something was wrong, Tony would be DEAD right now. If he keeps drinking, he will almost certainly die much younger than anyone should. Is that really what you want? Tony's not always the nicest person, but I think he should get the chance to get over this addiction."
"You're right," Steve said. "I think we can all agree that we don't want Tony to die, or continue with this addiction. Clint, Bruce, Natasha, I agree with Natalie. We need to get the alcohol out of the house and make sure Tony doesn't drink again."
The others looked resigned, but nodded. Natasha handed Natalie a bag, and said, "Take that to Tony, it's clothes and a pair of sneakers."
"We'll dispose of all the alcohol," Bruce added. He looked at the others, and said, "We'd better search the tower, knowing Tony. He probably has alcohol in his room, too."
"Good luck," Natalie said, and left. She called Loki on the way back, and left a message when he didn't pick up, letting him know she'd be home late and why.
She reached the hospital an hour and a half after she left, and got directed to a room on the fifth floor. She found a doctor coming out of the room, and the woman smiled at her as she went in. Natalie closed the door behind her and turned to see Tony sleeping in the hospital bed. She sat down in a chair next to the bed, and leaned her head on her hand.
When did my life get this complicated? she wondered. My boyfriend is a god, my new friends are the AVENGERS, and I'm starting to feel like one of those girls in anime who lead double lives as schoolgirls and superheroes- except I'm not a superhero. When I decided to dedicate my life to helping people, I didn't expect it to be this crazy.
Thinking that, Natalie smiled. I'm happy, and I can help people, she thought. That's all that really matters. There's no reason why crazy should be bad, and at least I won't be bored.
She stopped thinking abruptly when she heard Tony ask, "Natalie?"
Natalie gave him her best impression of her mother's 'Mom Look', and he winced. "You're going to say 'I told you so,' aren't you?" he asked.
"No, I'm not," Natalie said. "Not yet, anyways. You really need to stop drinking, though. The doctors said you can't have any alcohol for the next week. And even after that, you need to stop. If I hadn't decided to ignore Bruce and kick your door down, I'm fairly certain you'd be dead right now."
"I'm going to need a new door, right?" Tony sighed. "How did you know?"
"JARVIS started to tell me and suddenly stopped in mid-sentence," Natalie said. "I figured you had told JARVIS not to tell us something, and I got worried because Bruce said you had been in your room since I left last night. So when knocking and shouting at you didn't work, I kicked the door down and found you unconscious with a bottle next to you. I called 911, and aside from going back to tell the others your condition and getting clothes for you, I've been here all day."
"No Loki?" Tony asked.
"He's obsessed with that book I bought him for his birthday," Natalie said. "He barely even put it down when I left this morning."
"What time is it?" Tony asked.
Natalie checked her cell phone. "It's 6:30 PM," she said.
"I've been out all day, then?" Tony asked.
"Yes," Natalie said.
"Why were you so upset last night, and why are you so passionate right now?" Tony asked.
Natalie sighed. "I couldn't save my grandfather from drinking himself to death," she said. "I couldn't save my aunt or my oldest cousin when they went the same way. I couldn't save my father from the pain he went through. The best I could do for my dad was promise that I would never drink a drop of alcohol as long as I lived. I couldn't save my mom's youngest sister when she started doing illegal drugs, and was eventually thrown in prison. I couldn't save my cousins when they got bullied for having a druggie for a mother. At least they survived. When I realized all these people could have been saved if they had had someone who would listen and help them through it, I decided that someday, I would be the person people went to when they needed that kind of help. I would be the person people went to when they needed someone to listen or a shoulder to cry on. I was thirteen when I told my parents that I was going to save as many people as I could simply by listening. I was sixteen when I was accepted into the early admissions psych program at NYU. I was eighteen when I scored high enough on tests to get a full-ride scholarship for the advanced psychology program at NYU. I was twenty when I got my first job offer for when I graduated. And I was twenty-two when I met two people who I knew needed saving, and that was when I decided that I would do whatever it took to save those two people and as many more as I could. I'm not a superhero; I can't wield swords, shoot energy blasts at people, or cast spells, but I can save people all the same. Loki is already on the mend; he's already opening up to me and reconciling with his mother and brother. His nightmare problem has gotten better, and while he still can't handle things like crowds or too much stress, he's working on it. But you, Tony, you're NOT on the mend. You don't open up and you hide your feelings till no one knows the real you. You have PTSD like Loki, yet you don't do anything to help yourself. You nearly DIED this morning because you think drinking helps you. It doesn't help, and it never will. And I've decided that even though I couldn't save my family, I am going to save you. And I'm going to do it because I care about you, not because I feel sorry for you or something like that. I'm going to save you because you do have friends who care about you, whether you talk to them or not. I'm going to save you not because you're rich and important, but because you're Tony, and I like you for who you are."
Tony sounded choked up when he asked, "You like me?"
"Yes," Natalie said with a smile. "You're my friend, and I don't let my friends down."
Tony actually had tears in his eyes as he looked at her. Suddenly they both heard clapping, and jerked around to stare at the door as it opened and they saw quite a few people outside, all of whom were clapping. "Someone heard that whole speech and told the building, right?" Natalie asked.
The doctors ignored that comment, and one of them said, "Miss McKenzie, that was simply beautiful. Dr. Munson was right when he said we'd be fine if we left Mr. Stark in your hands."
Natalie was bright red as she said, "Th-thanks?"
"I mainly came in here to say that Mr. Stark is free to go after he checks out, but most of us decided we'd listen to your speech before saying that," the woman said.
"Why is that guy behind you holding a tape recorder?" Natalie asked suspiciously.
Said guy just smirked. The doctor sighed and said, "Why don't you wait outside while Mr. Stark gets changed."
"Oh right, I brought clothes and sneakers for you," Natalie said, handing Tony a bag and getting up. "Meet you outside," she said, and headed out. The minute the door closed behind her, Natalie suddenly noticed that a guy who was obviously a reporter was there too, and sighed. "Next time I have something to say to Tony, I'll say it somewhere a little less populated," she said.
The others started to move off, including the reporter and the man with the tape recorder. Tony came out a minute later, and asked, "Ready to go Natalie?"
"Yep," Natalie said. She followed Tony out, and waited as he checked out of the hospital. There was a cab waiting for them already, and they got in. As the cab drove, Tony said quietly, "Thanks, Natalie."
"You're welcome," Natalie said. "So you're not going to drink anymore, right?"
"I'll try not to," Tony said.
"Your friends will help," Natalie said.
"You sure?" Tony asked.
"I had a talk with them too," Natalie said. "And the first thing out of their mouths when I walked into the tower was, "How's Tony?" They really care about you, whether you believe it or not."
Tony was quiet for the rest of the ride. They reached Stark Tower, and went in. They found the others waiting, and Loki was there too. "Tony, how are you?" Bruce asked, concerned.
"I'm better," Tony said. He took a breath and said, "Look, I know I'm not always the nicest person to be around, and I've got a lot of problems. But I think I'm going to try to change that, because I do like you guys, and I don't want to lose friends because of my mainly fake personality."
The other Avengers stared at him for a moment before Loki said, "Natalie got through, I take it?"
"Yeah," Tony said softly. "Yeah, she did."
"Any other news?" Clint asked after a minute.
"I'm going to try to stop drinking," Tony said.
"We already took care of that," Natasha said with a sliver of a smile. "Natalie got through to us as well, and we took all the alcohol in the house and got rid of it. JARVIS even helped us find your hidden stashes."
"Natalie made a good point; as long as you're not drinking, we shouldn't either, because it might tempt you back to bad habits," Clint said. "Now if any of us need a drink, we'll just go out without telling you."
"Thanks," Tony said.
"I fixed your bedroom door, Tony," Bruce said. "There's still a dent, but it works."
"Thanks Bruce," Tony said. "I don't know about anyone else, but I'm hungry."
"What did you have in mind?" Natalie asked.
"It's late, let's get pizza," Tony said. "I know you've got class tomorrow."
"I enjoy pizza," Loki said. The others nodded, and Tony ordered a few pizzas for them.
Natalie and Loki headed out after dinner, but before they left, Tony asked, "Natalie, will you come back tomorrow?"
"Sure," Natalie said. "I'll come after class."
"Thanks," Tony said. Natalie smiled, and she and Loki left.
As they were getting ready for bed, though, Natalie's cell phone rang. "Odd, it's my mom," she said. She picked up and said, "Hi Mom, what's up? Is something wrong?"
"Natalie, did you watch the evening news?" Mrs. McKenzie asked.
"No, is something wrong?" Natalie asked.
"You were the main feature, as was the speech you gave Mr. Stark," Mrs. McKenzie said.
"THEY PUT THAT ON NATIONAL TELEVISION!?" Natalie shrieked.
"Yes, and I'm really proud of you," Mrs. McKenzie said. "But what happened?"
"I was at Tony's tower this morning and discovered he wasn't responding to anyone, so I kicked his door down and discovered he had alcohol poisoning," Natalie said. "I called 911, and I went with him to the hospital. I just got home a little while ago, and I think I got through to Tony. I didn't realize until after that little talk that someone had recorded it. Can I go to bed now, before I get even MORE embarrassed?"
"Alright," Mrs. McKenzie said. "Are you remembering to get Loki to eat?"
"Yes, Mom," Natalie sighed. "And we had a birthday party for him; yesterday was his birthday."
"Tell him I said happy birthday, and have a nice night," Mrs. McKenzie said.
"I will, night Mom," Natalie said, and hung up. She looked at Loki, who was eyeing the phone with distrust. "She is not going to try to 'fatten me up' again, right?" he asked.
"She just called to tell me that apparently I made headline news with my advice to Tony," Natalie sighed. "If I wasn't so serious about my education, I would be hiding somewhere tomorrow rather than going to school."
"You'll be fine," Loki said confidently. "What happened to the self-confidence you have?"
Natalie smiled. "You're right," she said. "I'm not going to let this get me down. I do, however, need sleep, so let's go to bed, 'kay?"
"Sure," Loki said. They climbed into bed, and curled up together before falling asleep.