The Roughest Day
Or: The New Avengers, and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad
day week MONTH
The guy on the motorcycle was speeding. Jack saw a flash of blue-and-red going by on his left-hand side, and he had just enough time to register the bike and debate whether or not ten miles over the speed limit was worth switching on his lights and pulling a U-turn to follow the guy and pull him over, before the green SUV loomed up in front of him.
Jack swerved to his right, the massive car just missing sideswiping him (going at least seventy, and that was a hell of a lot more than ten miles over the speed limit) and slammed on the brakes, already reaching for the switch to flip on his siren. In his rearview mirror, he could see the car bearing down on the motorcycle.
The next few seconds seemed to happen in slow motion. The motorcyclist attempted to swerve out of the way, just as Jack had done, and the SUV turned to follow him. It was going to hit the bike, Jack realized, and then the motorcyclist, realizing this at the same time that Jack did, was launching himself clear of the bike, twisting his body in mid-air like a cat.
He wasn't quite fast enough. Jack had never seen anybody but Daredevil move like that, but the SUV had acceleration and mass on its side. The car hit the bike head-on, sending it sliding across the asphalt with a screech of metal, sparks flying. The corner of the SUV's roof caught the airborne man on the shoulder, and he was thrown sideways, to land in a crumpled heap on the road.
The SUV didn't even slow down, barreling off down the street, mid-afternoon sunlight glaring off its windows. Jack had just enough time to get a partial plate before it turned the corner and was gone. He was already reaching for the radio, calling in what he had of the license number and requesting an ambulance, and then he was out of the car and running for the downed motorcyclist.
The man lay motionless in the middle of the road, his mangled bike on its side several feet away, one wheel still spinning. As Jack approached, he stirred, legs twitching for a moment before he reached up and pushed his helmet off with one hand.
"Sir, please don't move," Jack called out. The man ignored him, pushing himself up onto one elbow. Just as Jack reached him, he planted his other hand on the asphalt, trying to sit up, then groaned, clutching at his shoulder. His left arm was hanging oddly, obviously dislocated.
It hadn't been an accident; that SUV had been aiming for him. Jack hoped to hell the Kingpin wasn't involved. Last time there'd been a hit-and-run this close to the Kitchen, all the witnesses had mysteriously gotten amnesia, and they hadn't been able to make the case stick.
"Do you want me to call for an ambulance?" an older black man in a business suit called out, approaching them slowly and holding up on of those sleekly fancy cell phones that did more than the boxy grey Dell Jack wrote up his reports on. Behind him, a small crowd had formed, people climbing out of their stopped cars to gawk.
"No, I got it," Jack told him. "If you could keep everyone back, though?"
The businessman nodded, and Jack turned back to the man on the ground.
"Don't try to get up, sir," he repeated, crouching down next to the man. He was blond, mid-thirties, and even sprawled on the ground, it was obvious that he was tall and athletic. He was wearing the shredded remnants of what had once been a nice leather jacket, which had probably helped save him from needing skin grafts. "Just lie back down. I've already called for an ambulance."
"It's not that bad," the man said indistinctly. "I think I just dislocated my shoulder." Given the slight slurring to his words, Jack mentally added "concussion" to the list of possible injuries.
"Yeah, well, you could have done something to your spine, so I need you to stay still."
The man ignored him, sitting up further, hunching over his injured arm. He pulled a face, then turned, and spat blood on the asphalt.
Shit. "Sir," Jack insisted, "I really need you to lie down now. If you're coughing up blood, you probably have internal injuries."
"No," the man said, looking slightly embarrassed, "I bit my tongue." He frowned. "Where's my bike?"
"It's over there." Jack nodded toward the wrecked motorcycle, which, he saw now, had probably been a very nice bike about five minutes ago. It looked like an older model, probably some sort of classic. "We're going to have to call someone to pick it up; looks like it's gonna need some serious work before you ride it again."
The man shook his head, and tried to get up again. He only made it as far as his knees before stopping, one gloved hand clutching his injured shoulder. His riding gloves were bright red. So were his leather boots, which had weird flopped-over cuffs. They stood out garishly against his blue leather pants - guys on motorcycles always had leather pants - and Jack realized with a sinking feeling that the guy was probably a stunt rider or something. Damn it, he was going to lose it over his bike.
Why the hell would somebody want to kill a stunt rider?
The motorcyclist looked kind of green now, eyes narrowed against the sunlight. "No," he said, through gritted teeth. "There's a leather portfolio on the bike. I need it."
"Trust me," Jack told him, "anything that was on that bike is smashed. You're lucky you got thrown clear."
"No, I need-" he started to move again, and Jack put a hand on his uninjured shoulder, pushing him back down.
"Look, I'll go get the damn the portfolio, okay? If I do that, will you please stay still?"
The man sighed, looking put upon. "Fine."
Jack could hear sirens in the distance as he walked over to the bike, the ambulance on its way to make this not his problem anymore. Maybe his wife was right. Maybe it was time for him to retire, move to DC or someplace else with fewer crazy costumed people, whether with superpowers, or motorcycles.
Miraculously, there was a leather portfolio still strapped to the bike, behind the triangular leather seat. The leather case was scuffed and torn, but when Jack picked it up, he could feel something hard and curved inside it, a heavy disc a couple of feet across. What the-
He turned back to stare at the motorcyclist, who was still sitting on the pavement, head down. The tall, blond, square-jawed, massive-looking motorcyclist. With red leather boots.
It was Captain America. Goddamnit, the guys at the station were never going to let him live this down.
Maybe, Jack thought hopefully, the ambulance would get here before one of the two-dozen rubber-neckers with cell phones called the media.
Coming home from work to Stark Tower was an entirely different experience from coming home to their tiny house in Queens. For one thing, there was a doorman who called him 'Mr. Parker,' and Peter wasn't sure whether that was intimidating, or cool. Also, for the first two weeks, he kept feeling like he ought to be tipping the guy.
School had sucked today, which made it comfortingly familiar; the only difference from his own student days was that nobody had actually succeeded in shoving him into a locker. Art Simek had been out sick, and since the administration hadn't had enough forewarning to get a substitute, all of the other science teachers had had to cover his classes, which meant that Peter had spent fourth period playing substitute instead of eating lunch.
The lobby of Stark Tower had very shiny marble floors, with some kind of silver metal inlay that looked like circuitry; the tile under Peter's feet was an exact replica of the symbol for an N-channel JFET transistor. Maybe it was circuitry; Peter wouldn't put it past Tony. He'd have to ask.
Peter was staring so intently at the pattern on the floor that he nearly ran straight into Tony himself. His new "boss" was rushing through the lobby, cell phone clutched in one hand, a blank, dazed expression on his face.
Peter skipped sideways out of Tony's path. "What is it?"
Tony ignored him, still striding towards the doors. Peter caught him by the elbow, pulling him to a halt. "What's wrong?" A horrible thought struck him. "Oh man, please don't tell me everybody's broken out of the Raft again. Or that aliens are attacking the city. Is it aliens?"
"Steve was in a motorcycle accident," Tony said, voice flat. "I've got to get to the hospital." His voice caught slightly on the last word.
"Wait, Cap got hurt?" It couldn't be that bad. Cap was... well, he wasn't actually indestructible, not like Wolverine, but come on, he was Captain America. And it wasn't like he'd been fighting Doom or the Hulk or something.
"They want me at the hospital."
Peter looked at Tony more closely, noticing for the first time how pale he was, and the white-knuckled grip he had on the cell phone. "Um, maybe I should drive you there."
"You don't have a license," Tony responded mechanically. He was staring over Peter's shoulder, eyes fixed on the front doors.
"Then maybe I should come," Peter said, picturing Tony's no-doubt expensive car wrapped around a lamppost or something. Then both their team leaders would be banged up, and he and Luke and Jessica would be stuck taking orders from Wolverine. Or maybe Jarvis would be in charge. He was good at making people do things.
"Fine," Tony told him. "The car's waiting out front."
Tony's silver Audi unlocked itself and opened it's own door when he pushed a button on the keychain. Unfortunately, it couldn't drive itself. Peter kept silent throughout the drive to St. Vincent's, a death-grip on the door handle, and resisted the impulse to protest every time they drove through a red light.
He wasn't sure Tony would have noticed it, anyway. He wasn't sure Tony even noticed the red lights. He kept his eyes straight ahead, never once looking over at Peter, and his hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles stood out pale against his skin.
"He never wears his goddamn helmet," Tony said, turning onto West 23rd so sharply that Peter was thrown sideways against the door. "He has one, but he never wears it. Do you know what something that weighs over a ton hitting you at forty miles an hour will do to your skull?"
"Something bad?" Peter ventured tentatively, a sick sense of worry starting to grow in his stomach. Maybe this really was serious. Tony was scared; he'd never seen Tony scared before. He'd also never seen a motorcycle crash up close and personal, but he could picture what happened when somebody's unprotected head hit the asphalt at forty miles an hour, no problem. If nothing else, he knew what losing too much momentum too quickly could do to your neck.
Tony didn't answer, but the muscles in his jaw tightened. God, what if Cap really was hurt? They were superheroes. They weren't supposed to get hurt in little, stupid things like traffic accidents.
"I'm sure he's okay," Peter said, though he was getting less sure by the moment. "They probably just want you to give him a ride home, or something."
Tony's voice was perfectly even, almost emotionless. "The doctor who called me said head injury."
Okay, that was bad. Or, at least, it had the potential to be really, really bad. And Peter was just going to be quiet now.
Tony pulled up right in front of the hospital, not bothering to go around to visitor parking, and shut the engine off. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment, then climbed out of the car. Peter peeled his hand off the door handle and followed him, still carrying the briefcase full of tenth grade science lab write-ups he'd had when he came home from school.
By the time Peter caught up with Tony, he was striding purposefully towards the elevators. "He's on the third floor, room twenty-seven," he said, hitting the button for the elevator with unnecessary force. He'd gotten the information out of the desk clerk awfully quickly, either through being really rich, or because he looked kind of scary at the moment. "They just brought him down from X-Ray."
Okay, X-Ray, that was… That meant he was still alive (not that Peter had believed Cap might be dead, because, well, it was Cap). And just because they X-rayed you didn't mean things were actually broken.
He thought about pointing this out to Tony, but the elevator was full of people, and from the look on Tony's face, he probably wasn't in the mood for any attempts at reassurance.
They were the only two who got off on the third floor. Luckily, the rooms all had little plastic number plates and number twenty-seven was easy to find; Peter wasn't sure Tony could have handled asking someone for directions at the moment.
Through the open doorway, Peter could see Cap sitting on the side of a bed, holding what looked like an ice pack to one shoulder. He was wearing only the blue leather pants to his costume, and there were bandages around his ribs. Other than that, he looked okay, and Peter heaved a quiet sigh of relief. He'd been expecting something much worse.
"Are you Mr. Stark?" a doctor emerged from the room and flourished a clipboard at Tony. She was almost Peter's height, looked Indian, and had glasses with thin oval frames. "He's been asking for you," she said when Tony nodded. "He's insisting on leaving now, but to be quite frank, I'd like to keep him overnight for observation. The officer on the scene said that he lost consciousness briefly."
Tony nodded, eyes focused beyond her, on Cap. "I'll see to it that he stays. What's wrong with him?"
She sighed. "Your friend is very lucky. He has a mild concussion, two cracked ribs, and a dislocated shoulder, which we've reduced. Most of the time, when a Harley-Davidson gets into a disagreement with an SUV, the results are a lot uglier."
Tony nodded again, then walked silently past her into the room. Peter hung back for a moment.
"He was worried," he told the doctor, waving a hand at Tony. "I don't think they told him very much over the phone."
She shrugged, and flicked her long, black braid back over one shoulder. "He was more polite than some," she said.
Peter started to follow Tony into the room, pausing just inside the doorway. Cap's shield was leaning against one wall, standing out garishly against the white paint (and white linoleum, and bright fluorescent lights).
Tony had taken a seat next to the bed and was talking to Cap quietly. He looked completely calm now, no hint of his earlier distress.
"They want you to stay overnight for observation."
Cap frowned. "I don't need to stay," he objected. "The worst I've got are a few cracked ribs."
Tony leaned forward, putting one hand on Cap's leg, just above the knee. Peter, still standing in the doorway clutching his briefcase, felt weirdly like a third wheel.
"You've got a concussion," Tony said. "Those can be serious."
"This one isn't. I'm fine." Cap dropped the ice pack and put his hand over Tony's. "And I'd rather sleep in my own bed tonight," he said, smiling just a little. He was now doing the "I'm cute and friendly, don't make me stay in the hospital," thing. It didn't work when Peter tried it on Aunt May or MJ, and it didn't work here, either.
"Stay for me?" Tony asked softly, giving Cap an intense look Peter couldn't decipher.
Cap's lips twitched. "That's playing dirty."
Tony smiled back, just a little. "I know. Did it work?"
"Yes," Cap said, heaving a put-upon sigh. "All right, I'll stay."
"Good," Peter said, finally speaking up. Cap and Tony both turned to stare at him, and he shuffled a few feet further into the room, feeling a little like an intruder. He had the feeling they'd forgotten he was there. "Because that way they can make sure you're really okay."
"Peter." Cap grinned at him. "I didn't see you there. You didn't have to come."
Telling Cap that he'd tagged along because he'd been afraid Tony would crash the car and kill himself was probably not the right answer. Cap was hurt; he didn't need to hear that. "I wanted to see if you were okay," he offered. "When I was in the hospital getting my tonsils out, I always liked getting visitors. I mean, I was six, and I mostly liked it because people kept bringing me ice cream, but, um…" Peter trailed off, not really sure where he'd been going with that.
"You could come back tomorrow morning and bring me a card," Cap responded, in that deadpan way that Peter had finally figured out meant he was making fun of you.
"I'll bring you a plastic balloon," Peter promised. "I think they sell them downstairs, with the Hallmark cards and the creepy teddy bears with the eyes that stare at you."
Tony didn't smile, still staring at Cap. "What happened?" he asked.
"Some idiot in one of those giant SUVs ran into me." Cap frowned, and picked up the ice pack, holding it to his left shoulder again; it already looked bruised, and kind of swollen. "I tried to jump clear, but he was going too fast, and I caught myself on the roof of the car." He grimaced. "I think my Harley is totaled."
"I'll have somebody bring it back to Stark Tower," Tony said. "Maybe I can fix it."
"I, um, already told the police to have it taken there," Cap admitted.
Peter belatedly took a seat along the wall, setting his briefcase on the floor. The two of them were doing that thing where they ignored everybody else in the room - in this case, Peter. They were obviously really close, but sometimes, like now, it made Peter feel kind of awkward, like he was intruding on something private.
Eventually, it occurred to him that MJ was probably wondering where he was. He'd been due home ages ago, and yeah, he was late all the time, but this time it wasn't because Doc Ock was trying to rob the Met, so there was no reason for her to worry.
He slipped out into the hall to find a payphone, and called Stark Tower, then spent ten minutes fielding various frantic questions about Cap from both MJ and Aunt May. "I don't know, he seems fine. Yeah, they're keeping him overnight, but I think that's just one of those precaution things, you know, so Tony can't sue them over anything."
"All right." He could hear MJ smiling even through the phone line. "I'll see you when you get home." She paused, then added, "We should send him flowers, or a teddy bear, or something."
"I'm bringing him an ugly balloon when he gets out tomorrow," Peter told her.
"I'm sure he'll appreciate that."
By the time Peter got back to Cap's room, there was a nurse there, too, shining a penlight into Cap's eyes. She was a tiny redheaded woman, so short that she had to look up to meet Cap's eyes, even though he was sitting and she was standing. She kept darting brief glances over at Cap's shield.
"Everything looks fine," she said, switching off the light. "But Dr. Shah still wants to keep you overnight for observation."
Cap blinked, probably trying to clear his vision after the penlight thing, and directed a look of mute appeal at Tony. Tony put a hand on his good shoulder. "Just do what the doctor says, okay?"
"I'm afraid you're going to have to leave now," the nurse announced. "Visiting hours are about to end."
"We'll, um, see you tomorrow," Peter said. He felt kind of like they were abandoning Cap, but the hospital was going to kick them out if they didn't go.
Tony stood up, and crossed the room to pick up Cap's shield, carrying it back over to the bed. "I'll see what I can do about your bike," he promised, and set the shield down in the chair he'd just vacated.
Cap reached over and brushed his fingers across the surface of the shield. "Thanks," he said, giving Tony a little smile. "I'd like to get out of here as early as possible tomorrow, before Channel Five has time to send somebody to film it."
"Oh, they're already showing cell-phone camera footage of you being loaded into the ambulance," Peter informed him. "I checked the TV by the nurses' station." He'd always thought the media just had a special grudge against him - well, and maybe Daredevil - but it was looking more and more like the news industry just hated everyone in a costume.
"I'll be here at seven," Tony promised. The nurse cleared her throat meaningfully, and they obediently filed out into the hall.
Once they'd turned the corner at the end of the hall, Tony halted. Peter started to ask if he'd forgotten something, then stopped. Tony had closed his eyes and was leaning back against the wall. He reached up to rub at his forehead, and Peter could see his hand shaking.