Tony has more or less figured out how to handle battle situations. Except when he can’t, which is far more often than he cares to admit, but it’s difficult to stay rational when there are calculations being thrown up on the HUD and calculations being done in his head and everything gets cluttered and messy and he just can’t focus.
And it’s not like Tony doesn’t try, doesn’t shove and push at the equations, delete the data from appearing on the HUD. But it’s hard, especially when Natasha takes a nasty fall that could’ve ended with her spine snapped (forty nine percent), or when Clint gets shaken off a building by a bot, his arm cracking when he hits the ground, which easily could’ve been his neck (sixty three percent), and then there was Bruce, hulked out like nothing else, taking beating after beating and Tony can see internal damage schematics playing havoc in the back of his mind and then Thor, who always burns through bots like they’re paper, Thor is getting tossed around and if anything has the force to shatter a man’s ribs, especially one that is from Asgard, then Thor has a very real probability of dying (fifty seven percent) and God, Tony can’t think, can’t breathe, is just slamming into bot after bot like he can’t catch a break.
Then there’s Steve, fucking Steve Rogers, who is throwing his shield like a frisbee, dodging gun fire and explosions while he is unprotected by his shield, and Tony has a small heart attack, can practically feel the skip of the arc reactor when Steve gets caught in the shoulder, stumbling and falling, and Tony lands in front of him without thought, numbers, numbers, numbers, chanting nonsense in his ear, throwing up explosive rates, gravity vs acceleration, and whether he can blow them all up without harming any of his companions. He can, it’s possible, but he has to reroute power to the arc reactor, which could damage the circuitry but he still has a better chance of surviving (nineteen percent, thirteen if the power surge is high, twenty seven if Jarvis interrupts) then the rest of his team and he won‘t let them get hurt again, their mortality charts painted in bright 3D bar graphs, so he gathers up as much energy in the arc reactor as he can, ignores Jarvis crackling erratically in his ear, and let’s it go.
The entire street blazes with blue lightning, Tony concentrating the beam in the general vicinity of the bots, catching them in the blast and watching them disintegrate. There’s a crack, pain so sharp it almost causes Tony to keel over but no, no, he has this, he can do this (odds to nine percent, shit) and he fights to keep it straight and then the light flickers and dies.
It’s messy and dangerous but Clint was protected by Hulk, and Thor had managed to grab Natasha and Steve was still behind Tony, still safe, save the bullet trapped in his shoulder, and god, Tony knows that Steve’s shoulder is shattered; bullets that stay lodged within the body expand all their energy outward when trapped within a confined space (kinetic energy, thirteen percent capacity, ninety two probability) and he stumbles before he can ask Steve if he’s okay, sensors in his suit screaming at him, blaring loud and warning of impending shut down and the arc reactor is tick-tick-ticking in his chest and god, he can’t feel his left arm.
He goes down, the suit clunking to the ground and he can hear blood pumping in his ears. His arm is tingling with pins and needles and he whimpers because, fuck, that is far too painful and something he wasn’t expecting. There’s shouting outside the suit, and Jarvis obviously hacked the communication system because Tony can hear him too, calling for him to allow for manual override but Tony can’t get sound out, his breath a little shaky and the HUD had died a good thirty seconds ago.
“Tony! Tony, can you hear us?” That’s Steve and Tony’s vision goes a little funny.
“He should not have shot that beam of power. It has cracked his suit made of iron.” Thor. Thor is okay then, good. Breathing rates to thirty two percent.
“Thanks, yes, we can see that, how do we get it off? Hulk, get over here!” Clint and Hulk, good, good, everything is all right, he just needs to hear Natasha –
“The arc reactor – oh my god, the arc reactor is out. Hurry! Get him out of the suit!” There she is.
Tony blinks when his vision flares white, the crunch of metal loud in his ears. He groans, tries to turn himself as blood coats his tongue, thick and coppery. There are hands on his face, brushing back his hair, and something tugs at his chest, right where the splintering pain is. He opens his mouth, coughs, wants to curl in on himself (six percent) and it’s like he slipped and fell in broken glass. The metal screeches in anger, sharp, and Tony screams along with it because it’s like the metal is his skin, and it’s being ripped away without mercy. The fingers on his cheek are shaking, the ones in his hair keeping him from thrashing around. He wants, so desperately, but the pain suddenly stops.
“I think it’s done,” Tony says, or thinks he says. There’s still nothing but white light in his vision, but the pain is gone and his arm is gone and he’s sure he had been on the ground, not floating somewhere above it. He frowns, tries to bring up a hand, and finds he can’t.
There’s a click, a steady beep-beep-beeeep and Tony jerks, gasps, sucks in breath that he hadn’t realized he needed and begins coughing. Sound switches on, lights and touch come online right after, and Tony wants to curl in on himself. Pain slams into him and he whines, low in his throat, the arc reactor stinging him with renewed life. He realizes then, stunned, that he’s in an ambulance.
“Mr. Stark, can you hear me?”
Tony blinks, tries to focus on the black haired figure above him, but he’s too busy recalibrating input, the skritch of cotton sheets beneath his body (nineteen percent polyester, thirty seven, thirty seven, thirty seven –), the brightness of the lights flashing red-blue (seven, four, nine, seven, four, six? What?), and someone is holding his hand. He tightens his fingers and hears someone sob.
“Yes,” he manages, blinking up, and his mind decides, fuck that, reboot.
He wakes up again to a familiar beep-beep-beeeep but this time there is no sting of pain afterwards. He groans, rolls his head to the side, and his mouth tastes like stripped copper wire and used oil rags. He licks at his lips, cracked and surely bloody, and hears shifting (thirteen degrees north, peripheral vision limited, nine, nine, ninnnnne –) and he blinks when Clint leans over him.
“Awake, Stark?” Clint says, and Tony shakes off an eight before grinning up at him. There’s dark circles under Clint’s eyes and his arm is in a sling. Tony waves away the formula before it can complete itself, mentally rolling up Clint’s mortality chart.
“Think so.” Tony coughs. “Water?”
A cup is thrust at him and he looks down at it, startled. He follows the hand to Natasha’s face, not worse for wear considering the calculations – no, stop, Natasha’s chart tucked away – and he lets her tip it carefully toward his mouth. His throat cries out for more but Natasha pulls back, her eyebrows furrowed in worry.
“Bruce, hey, can you call in for the doctor? Tony’s up,” Natasha says, and Tony realizes Bruce is sitting in the chair to his right, clothes torn but looking nowhere near as beat up as Natasha or Clint. Bruce stumbles to his feet, weariness in every line of his body (Hulk transformation: seventy two minutes. Bruce Bannners’ recovery rates: sixteen hours) as he hobbles out and into the hallway.
“What happened?” Tony asks, groaning at the pull in his chest. It stings like a bitch.
Natasha glares at him. “You used yourself as a human laser beam. What were you thinking, Tony? You could’ve died!”
“Are you insane?” Clint adds in, leaning over him again so he can catch Tony’s eye. “You never mentioned that that thing in your chest could cause death and not just to the baddies around you. I’ll echo Natasha: what were you thinking, Stark? You can’t just put that on us.”
“I couldn’t let any of you die. That’s just unacceptable,” Tony says, sucking in a sharp breath. “Your chances were just above fifty percent, Clint, I couldn’t just – and Natasha, yours was hovering too far below and that was unacceptable. Thor too; look, I can’t breathe, can you shift the pillows, I need to sit up.”
Natasha grumbles at him and Clint helps him to sit up, careful to stay away from the arc reactor. Tony is going to have to run some tests; the amount of pain the reactor is causing him isn’t normal. He hisses in pain when Clint carefully rearranges him and he pokes at the reactor. The edge catches on his finger and he realizes it’s an older model, one that Pepper usually keeps on hand when the reactor burns out. He suddenly realizes what his little stint back at the battlefield had included. He looks up, just in time to see Thor, Bruce and a doctor walk through the door.
“Man of iron!” Thor calls. There’s a bandage peeking out from under his armour and Tony quickly rolls up both Bruce’s and Thor’s charts as well. Thor continues. “How are you feeling after many hours of peaceful rest within this hospice of medicine?”
“Like someone punched me in the chest,” Tony replies, trying for a smile. Thor does not return it.
“That you used yourself like such a weapon is both admirable and incredibly foolish. Do not frighten us so again, young Stark,” Thor says solemnly. Tony ignores the hitch in his chest and attributes it to his arc reactor.
The doctor, shuffling in behind the group now surrounding Tony’s bed, says, “Yes, yes, Mr. Stark will get a scolding from all of you in due time, I’m sure, but I have to make sure he doesn’t go into fatal cardiac arrest again.”
Tony blinks, stares up at the man as he moves with his stethoscope. The doctor reaches out to touch the arc reactor and Tony’s hand flashes out, catches his wrist and squeezes. “I ask that you don’t.”
“And I ask that you allow me to do my job,” says the doctor, tugging at his wrist. Tony releases him but crosses his arms over his chest, hiding the reactor from view. The doctor clicks his tongue at him.
He looks around the room again, taking in the damaged bits of his companions and suddenly feels panic claw at the back of his throat. “Wait, wait, where’s Steve?”
The others take too long to answer, too long in Tony’s books (two point seven seconds) and Tony wants to know now, wants all the facts and the gruesome details and oh, god, did Tony not calculate correctly before he fired off the blast? No, Steve had been behind him, though his shield hadn’t been near him, so there was a thirteen percent chance of backlash occurring, but then it would’ve hurt the rest of them too, and why wasn’t Steve in the room.
“I’m right here, Tony,” Steve says from the doorway. His arm is in a sling, white bandage peeking out of the holes in his costume, and Tony practically melts into the bed he’s so relieved. Instead, he struggles to sit taller, only to have Natasha shove him back down.
“Stop that, you’re hurt,” she says, and Tony knows the hitch in his chest isn’t just from the arc reactor. He looks down at the sheet and then back up again, catches Steve’s too bright blue gaze, and casts his gaze elsewhere.
“How is he doing?” Steve asks, blanket question and Tony bites his lip. He hates hospitals.
Natasha sighs. “He’s being an idiot, as usual, but nothing we can’t handle. I think he’s more worried about us for some reason.”
“You could’ve died,” Tony injects and looks away from Natasha’s bewildered look. His eyes land on Clint which isn’t any better. They are all staring at him, in various states of harm and Tony closes his eyes, learning back. “And that’s just. I can’t let that happen.”
“It’s not up to you,” Steve says, and his voice is that ridiculous blend of worried and gentle and Tony kind of wants to punch him for it. But Steve was hurt, they were all hurt, and Tony had allowed for that to happen. Too many variables he didn’t account for, too many missing statistics he didn’t gather, and they had been almost killed.
“There is way too much feeling in this room,” Clint says, and Tony opens his eyes to see Clint pointing at him. “Do that again and I’ll shoot you in the knee. And then the face. Because I am way too young to be having a heart attack over you, Stark.” And he turns on his heel, carefully skirts around Bruce, and stomps out the door.
“He’s being melodramatic,” Natasha sighs. She pokes Tony in the shoulder, but it morphs into her hand just pressing against his skin, nails barely grazing the hairs at the back of his neck. “You scared us today, Tony. Don’t do it again.”
Tony tries for a grin, but knows it falls flat by the piercing look Natasha is giving him. “Will I get the thighs of death if I can’t keep that promise?”
She sighs, presses a quick kiss to his forehead and says, “You’ll be dead then.” And follows Clint out the door.
Tony is stock still, shock written all over his features. Bruce just looks between Tony, the door, and shrugs. “Steve will probably chew you out for both of us. But know that Hulk wasn’t too happy when he had to peel off your helmet to get to you. You scared him.” And he scampers off too.
“Man of iron,” Thor starts. He looks away. “Do not allow yourself to think your life is so meaningless. You would be dearly missed if you sacrificed yourself for the betterment of the team.”
With a short nod, Thor too takes his exit. Tony shakes his head, once, twice, trying to clear the complete and utter shock from his system. There is a thirteen percent chance he’s dreaming, but the rest of the possible solution probably was in the drugs the hospital was supplying him. He reaches over and fiddles with the IV, noting the simple dose, and sighs.
“So, that did just happen,” he says. Steve laughs.
“You expected something else?”
“I expected anything but. Did Natasha actually kiss me on the forehead or was I really imagining that? Because I feel like I was; she would never do that unless I wasn’t awake to see her doing that, because the fact that she would willingly show that much emotion slash affection is off the charts. I can’t even begin to calculate that.” Tony waves one arm, figures running behind his eyes. Steve is watching him. “And I didn’t do anything out of the norm, and, well, maybe okay, I might’ve overridden the codes that stop me from using that much power, especially when it comes to the arc reactor, but you were all getting hurt and there was a definite probability of everyone dying if I didn’t do what I did.”
Steve still doesn’t speak, just raises an eyebrow. Tony fidgets. “And really, you can’t say anything because you were shot, in the shoulder I’ll remind you. So, nothing from you, thanks.”
Shaking his head, Steve moves into the room until he’s standing by Tony’s bed. He reaches out, hand resting lightly against Tony’s shoulder before he leans forward, pressing his forehead against Tony’s. Tony stills, every muscle locked. He doesn’t understand quite what’s happening, but he’s sure ninety three percent of his attention is completely on Steve in this moment. He swallows hard, Steve’s eyes blurring into a mess of fragmented blue as they stare at each other.
Steve sighs. “Don’t do that again, okay, Tony?”
And he presses a single kiss between Tony’s eyebrows, much like Natasha, but he lingers a little longer, fingers tightening against Tony’s shoulder until Tony has to breathe out in a stutter. Steve releases him, smile still in place, and gives him a mock salute. “We’ll see you later today, okay?”
“I –” Tony can’t think, can’t bring the words from his mind to the forefront. Steve cocks his head to the side, before giving another soft smile and leaving the room much like the others.
Tony looks down at the sheet, fingers tightening in the cotton. The words spill out of him then, now that the room is devoid of people and nothing but the beep of machines surround him. “I just couldn’t let any of you die. If I did, if I allowed for that possibility when I knew the outcome, I wouldn’t - I can’t let any of you die.” He breathes in sharp. “I won’t allow it. I’ll be dead first.”
The promise lodges in his chest, sticky and visceral, and Tony closes his eyes against the numbers playing Russian roulette with the lives of his friends.