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"Oxygen levels at fourteen point one nine percent," JARVIS announced with the severity the proclamation deserved.

Not that he actually announced it. Not that he was actually there. Well, there any more than an abstract computer program could be. Less so now that power and communications were well and truly shot and had been for the past hour and a half. Tony was just guessing at levels at this point, and rationally likely yet entirely fake numbers sounded better than an announcement of just how screwed he was.

Of course, that didn't stop him from ordering, "Switch to backup supply." He was in no way surprised when that was met with absolutely no response.

No, that wasn't true. It was met with silence. Silence was a response. Silence was a completely and totally valid response. He had used that defense countless times in the past and he wasn't about to stop now. Besides, speaking served a purpose in its own right. It was a break in that silence, no matter how brief. No matter the cost of the precious few molecules of oxygen it took over the carefully measured breathing he had contended with up until then.

It was a matter of minutes now; the difference between ten and eleven inconsequential. The funny thing was, the suit that had saved his life countless times was now going to cost him the same. The intake filters were clogged to hell and gone and the internal reserves were long since shot. The metal had saved him from the worst of the crush of stone and debris, but that same metal was suffocating him slow and true.

If he could flip up his damned mask, he might be able to squeeze out a few extra dust-filled seconds, maybe even a full minute of survival from the tiny bolt-hole he was crammed into. That wasn't happening though as he had felt the impact of brick after brick smacking against it as every alarm possible sounded. He couldn't even manage the manual release because he couldn't move his arms enough to reach it. They, like the rest of him, were pinned into place under bare minimum half a damned skyscraper.

In a fit of desperation, he had even tried his repulsors, as in every one available. The ones attached to his boots had driven him headfirst into what he guessed was jammed rebar, ankles and legs reverberating with the cascade that filled the void as soon as it was available. The ones attached to his gauntlets simply made the layer of debris immediately above him pulverize to a much finer dust. A dust incapable of supporting the weight of the rest of the building that compromised the remaining presence above him. A dust that filled up both his filters and any possible open space around him so that, even if he could remove his mask there wouldn't really be much actual air to be had.

Breathing was becoming painful now, more so than from simply the broken ribs he knew he had. His vision was filled with brightly colored spots, which was amazing as the HUD had shut down minutes or hours before so all he should have been able to see was the solid blackness of the inside of an unlit mask. He had actually been thankful for that blackness as he wasn't sure he could tolerate any sort of actual light with the massive pounding beneath, within, and encompassing his skull. Besides, it made the colors that much more surreal; made it that much more obvious that they were false and nothing more than a warning sign that bled against the sheer darkness of the truth of the black.

But that wasn't true either. Off to the side, on the far right of his vision, was a damned red light. Tiny and intolerable, blinking at intervals he assumed were even enough to use as a timekeeper. He thought it might be the communications relay but, to be honest, he wasn't exactly thinking at his clearest. It could be incoming, it could be outgoing, or it could be his backup to the backup for the suit's self-destruct - he really couldn't remember, couldn't form the thoughts enough to care. He knew he should, but that didn't make it so, and so he let it flash off and on and on and off at the very edge of his awareness, and tried not to actively look at it on the off chance it really was a self-destruct and he somehow triggered it prematurely.

Then again, blowing himself to a million tiny bits and pieces would at least be quick. Probably less painful than the horrible headache he already had and definitely less time consuming than the multiple fractures he knew lay beneath the protective coating of what remained of his suit. It would be a Stark-designed/Stark-approved explosive, and he was damned good at those. It would work, and it would work excellently, without a money-back guarantee as he wouldn't be around to cut the check.

Not that he was suicidal, not at all. He didn't want to die, but he knew well enough to know it was not just an option but a likelihood at this point. Control over it would be a good thing, he could say he went the way he lived his life: impulsively and with an unforgettable bang. But control over his own fate may well cost others their own and he just wasn't that much of an asshole. There had been people around, most of the civilians evacuated but definitely his team nearby. Too close nearby. Too close to risk a Stark-rated explosion beneath an unstable surface of potential shrapnel. Too close to risk the missiles hitting the wrong thing in an undoubtedly ill-fated quest to create an air pocket earlier so definitely too close to try something greater now.

He wouldn't do that to them. Couldn't do that to them. If it meant he had to slip away slowly to give them the slightest chance to claw their way to safety, to survive and exist and live on even if it was without him, well, that was far more than a fair trade. Either they were already safe, or they were somewhere within the potential realm of rescue, and he was not about to take that away from them. He built their gear, built their harnesses and weaponry and shielding. He took it back and made subtle adjustments, made it better, lighter, more sustainable - usually without their knowledge as to when or where but never without their appreciation when it held up against the odds. He built it all to keep them safe. This was just one last redundancy as far as he was concerned, and it was one he was more than happy to give.

The light was annoying him now. Taunting him. Tempting him. He wouldn't give in though. He wouldn't let it win. He closed his eyes as tightly as he could and concentrated on the slow, shallow breaths that did absolutely no good. There was simply not enough air left, not enough oxygen to fill his lungs, to race through his blood, to keep him alive.

He let out a breath, listened as it rattled against the cavern of his suit, heard the lack of intake that followed, and knew it was time. It was okay because he was ready. He hadn't made his peace or anything as foolish as that, but he had done the math and followed the calculations to their rightful and finite conclusion. Time ticked by and the numbers reduced as naturally as his inability to breath. It was right and logical and the math, as always, worked. That, at least, was something he could rely on when all else failed.

Of course, his team never followed anything remotely resembling common sense enough as to stay away from the unstable and probably still collapsing structure and so that was when they found him.

He was shaken back to awareness, his body startled enough to try to gasp for a breath that simply was not there. Without his sensors, he couldn't tell who or what or how, but he knew, knew it was them by the rhythmic nature, the methodical not-quite-there pressure that ended where the worst of the pain began. His mask was ripped away without ceremony and he wanted so desperately to breathe again, to risk the sand and shrapnel that undoubtedly filled the air around him, but he couldn't. He couldn't remember, couldn't muster the energy to even try.

The Hulk roaring three centimeters away from your face was more than enough to reset anyone's system and it most definitely got his heart racing and he found himself gasping, harsh and raw and incredibly ineffectively. His lungs burned and his vision swam and his throat spasmed and still there was nothing. He was saved, had his calculations rewritten, had the potential to make it out of this thing alive, and his own body chose that moment to betray him.

And then there was air. Cool and refreshing and tainted slightly with the smell of plastic which made sense, really, because there was mask shoved up against his face and god damned Barton of all people patted something green and undoubtedly Hulk-related as he said, "It's okay, big guy, we got him now. You did good."

Clint's hand was replaced with Natasha's much more deceptively delicate one, streaks of red barely recognizable as her hair plastered to her head, streaks of rust he knew must be blood smeared across her face. "We've got you," she promised.

The pressure around him shifted and changed, agony rolling across limbs and torso and pretty much anything and everything as chunks of skyscraper were tossed left and right and most importantly away from him. As soon as his arm was free, the suit was torn back and a sensor attached to his skin, the steady beep barely audible above the cacophony of everything else. Steve held the torn apart gauntlet in one hand and a tiny piece of tech in the other, looked at it curiously, and then handed it off to Natasha. She fit the thing around his ear and, finally, he heard the voice he had missed so desperately for so long as JARVIS said, "Good evening, sir. Running diagnostic now. System integrity is down to twenty-two point six percent. Blood oxygenation levels are eighty-two percent and rising. Hypoxemia..."

"Oh, thank fuck," he muttered, knowing he was heard when Clint laughed and joked he loved his tech more than he loved his team.

"May I say it is a pleasure to hear your voice again, sir?" JARVIS asked.

"The feeling is oh-so-very mutual, J," he managed, and tried not to thump his head back when the rebar he had been resting on was removed.

The rubble was cleared soon enough - a benefit of having super powered teammates - and then Steve looked over him, hands on his hips as though plotting out a particularly difficult plan of attack.

"You are not carrying me bridal style," Tony warned, not even certain he was heard through the mask.

"Of course not," Steve agreed easily. Too easily. He smiled, rough and tired and possibly as sore as Tony himself though with the benefit of an incredible healing factor that was probably already working on the worst of it while Tony's sat around wistful and confused. "Thor will."

And so Tony Stark had the indignity of being carried by a god-like alien while the rest of his team fanned out like a phalanx around him. And he didn't do anything as ridiculous as cry or mutter his appreciation that they actually came or offer monetary rewards, but it was a near thing and he was rather appreciative of the plastic mask that served as a reminder and stopped him from actually speaking any of that out loud in an audible manner.

Thor though must have used his Allspeak on a psychic level though because he glanced down at him, concern writ across his features. "Did you really doubt that we would come?" he asked.

"Dude, we kept a comm open non-stop with updates," Clint complained, but there was more than a hint of worry to his tone. Calculating. Reasoning. Wondering just what damage had been done.

A memory of a red light came to mind, the back up to a back up, recording and announcing the presence of messages once suitable power was available to actually permit them. He'd listen to them later, knew JARVIS would keep them for him just as he knew his team would repeat each and every word uttered should he ever ask. Not that he would. Not that he needed to. Not now.

"No power," he said, words ground out like the bricks he had laid upon only moments ago.

He watched faces fall, eyes blink back concern and maybe a little horror, could see Clint already trying to come up with a quip to make it better, to blow it off as nothing. He didn't even try to hide his smile when his friend let out an over-enthusiastic sigh of relief and said, "Good, because we were mainly just debating pizza toppings really. You didn't respond so you don't get a say. There will be peperoncinis, so many peperoncinis, and none of that anchovy shit."

Thor tightened his hold just a little more, Natasha found a reason to rest a hand on his bruised shoulder though her gait was steady as ever, and Cap and Bruce stepped further into his line of blurred sight. He relaxed into the protectiveness of it all. Now, after everything, after fighting for so long, he was ready to give in to the overwhelming urge to pass the fuck out. He knew that, when he woke back up, things would not be magically healed or better or any such thing like that, but they would be well on their way to getting there and that was good enough for him.

He also knew without needing to calculate any sort of percentiles or certainties, that his team would be gathered around him, maybe a little too close, but ready and waiting and saving him a piece made just the way he liked it, nurses and medics glaring off to the side but not being able to do a damned thing about it.

Those were certainties. Those were known factors. Those were the things he would never voice. Those were the things he would never need to. He always did enjoy a good and steady constant in his equations, and was pleased to see that life had not failed to provide him with one this time around.

 

End.