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The knife has drawn a line in Steve's side, five inches long, give or take.

"You're heavy." Tony grunts, and Steve's head lolls against his shoulder. It's raining, torrential, and Tony has only a slippery grip on Steve's waist, holding him firm.

Steve tries to mumble something but he's cold, and he's in pain. The blood is running down his side, wet. Tony's hand must be soaked with it.

"C'mon," Tony says, mostly to himself. He sounds out of breath, and Steve's sorry for that. He's not made to carry someone of Steve's size "Nearly there. Nearly there."

"Where," Steve mutters "where we, where -- "

"Shut up." Tony says, viciously. "Never you fucking mind." He grunts, shifts Steve higher where he's begun to slip, and Steve gives a gasp of pain.

"Sorry." He says, sounding exhausted. "We're nearly there. Come on. Nearly there."

There's a sound from behind them, liking a car horn, and Tony swears. "Shit," he breathes "shit they've found us."

Steve tries to get his feet beneath him but he's lost too much blood. Tony can't run, he can't, not when he's holding Steve. He hears the wet slap of mud as Tony's feet work over the ground and his own legs hang uselessly, the rain wetting him till he's frozen to the core.

"Nearly there," Tony pants "nearly there. Come on, come on, come on."

The horn sounds again, closer, and Tony's knees buckle, enough that he's only just able to force a leg under himself, back up to his feet. The car is gaining on them, and Tony breaks into a run.

Not fast enough. He's sliding over the mud, and they can hear the engine behind them, the lights through the trees.

"Why," Tony grits "are you," his hand tightens in Steve's side "so fucking heavy."

Steve wants to apologise but his mouth won't respond. It's so cold he can't fucking think.

"Over there!" He hears someone cry, and Tony tries to speed up.

"Jesus," he mutters "oh God, oh -- if you've got a prayers, Steve-o, now would be a good time."

"I see them!" Someone says "You got the Captain good!"

"Stark!" A woman shouts "Stark give it up!"

There's a wet slap and it takes Steve time to register that it's Tony, locking his arms around Steve's waist. "Hold on."

Steve blinks the rain from his eyes, just able to make out Tony's warm, brown irises, face now blanched from the cold. "Hold on to me." Tony says, urgently. "My waist. Hold on, and don't let go. It's a steep drop."

"Tony -- "

"Just do it." He snaps, and there's fear there. "We're dead anyway."

"Hold them down!"

Tony grunts, and throws his body to the side, Steve coming with him. They're rolling, then, slipping, mud wetting the way as they move faster and faster down a hill.

The lights disappear, and Steve can't hear anything over Tony's gasps and his own sounds of pain.

Steve's own world goes black.

 

When he awakes, Tony is leaning over him.

His hands are shaking against his side, his hair sopping wet. He shivers, flips it back over his head. "You're awake." He says, voice hoarse.

There are yellow lights, the smell of oak. A cabin, maybe. It's warm, too. God knows, he feels it.

Tony's hands are cold against his belly. He swallows. "I'm just," he shivers "stitching you up. Uh," he rubs the back of his hand against his wet forehead. "It's not very good. My hands," he says "can't stop shaking. But you'll live. For now."

Steve blinks, hazy. Coughs, and groans when he feels the wet shift of the gash in his side.

"Keep still." Tony snaps, his fingers hot against Steve's frigid skin. He tips alcohol over the wound and Steve grits his teeth, moans behind his lips, while Tony just passes the needle through his flesh.

"My ankle's broken," he continues "in the fall. The slide. Whatever. But I think we're safe for now. There's some first aid, here, I'll bandage you up and then," he shakes his head "I'll send out a call. Well, I've sent out a call. No one's responded but," he swallows "they will."

"Who." Steve manages, hoarse. "Who was -- "

"The Rings." Tony says shortly. "The Ten Rings. Sorry about that." He pauses. "We lost your shield."

Steve shrugs, painfully slow, but shrugs. "We're alive." He says, mouth dry.

"Yeah," Tony says, looking out the window "for how much longer, I'm not sure."

"Ankle." Steve says. "Did you carry me -- "

"Wormed it." Tony says, and he shivers. "Fuck it's cold. I need to wring my hair out and change. Here, let me help -- "

Steve presses himself up, wincing when the stitches pull uncomfortably. "I'm okay." He says. "It's okay. I can manage myself."

"Don't lie."

"I'm fine," he says, voice stronger "honestly. Don't worry yourself about it."

Tony strips off his shirt and wrings it tight, water dripping to the floor. He screws his eyes shut tight, wincing, and Steve sees where bruises mottle his side. Carefully, he lifts his leg, props it over his knee, and gently undoes the laces to the sturdy boots.

"Careful." Steve says, because his ankle is broken, he shouldn't be removing the shoe at all.

Tony makes a disgusted noise. "There's mud in the wound, that's -- oh, Jesus, that's sick." He looks away, breathing through his nose. "Fuck." He says, breath coming as a high whine. "I think I'm going to throw up."

Steve swallows and tries to reach him, pulled short by his side where the pain suddenly ratchets times ten. He feels a cold shudder work his way through his body and groans, sweat soaking onto the sheets beneath him.

"Don't move." Tony says, and Steve can see he's working up the courage to take off the boot. "Okay. Okay, easy." He takes a pocket knife from the supplies and carefully begins to cut through leather, grunting at each tug of his foot.

The ankle is swollen, bloody. Steve feels his gorge rise when he sees a hint of bone.

Tony, actually does throw up, and pushes his head back, panting. "Oh, shit, oh fuck that hurts."

Steve imagines the adrenalin kept him going this far. "Clean it." He says, woozy. "Keep focused."

"Easy for you to say." Tony grits, and he wraps a bandage round his fist, soaks it in alcohol. Foot on the table, and he screams behind his teeth, rocking back and forth, as he presses it to the wound.

"That must hurt." Steve says weakly.

Tony doesn't respond, just throws up again, wet mud and bile. He hangs his head, wipes his mouth.

"This is shit." He croaks. "This is pure shit."

Steve traces the wound in his side with trembling fingers. Yeah, he can get behind that. The woman had stuck the knife in deep; he will heal, but he needs to medical intervention. Alcohol only goes so far, and mud is a bacteria breeding ground. He had rolled in it, and Steve isn't sure if the heat he's feeling is entirely psychosomatic.

"Bandage it." Steve prompts, and in response, Tony drinks the alcohol straight from the bottle.

He winces. "Fuck, that's bitter."

"It's not for drinking."

"So sue me." He spits, and tears off a length of linen. His hair is still wet. Outside, the rain continues to fall.

"You need to get that seen by a doctor." Steve says, and Tony snarls.

"Yeah I'll just drag one out of my asshole, will I?"

"Don't be a dick, Stark." Steve gets that this is stressful, oh boy does he get it, he's lying on a bed with a five-inch wound in his side. The last thing he needs is Tony playing up.

But he's grateful.

"Thank you." He says quietly. "For carrying me."

"No fucking problem." Tony says viscously, bandaging his leg. "It's not like I could leave you." He adds, voice slightly lower.

Steve nods, and that ends their conversation. Tony's forehead is covered in a sheen of sweat despite the cold outside and it takes him awhile to stop breathing through the pain and open his eyes.

"What do we do." Tony says, eventually. "What do we do now."

"We wait."

"I don't think anyone's coming."

Steve hisses when he sits up, side twisting. "God," he breathes, "oh God, that's -- that's something else."

Maybe he blacks out because when he wakes up Tony is on the floor, inching towards him. "Steve." He calls. "Steve."

"M' here."

"You weren't responding." Tony says, and he sounds scared "Are you hot? Are you cold? Say something."

"Warm."

Tony kneels up, leans over him. Presses a hand to his forehead. "You've broken the stitches." He says, and one hand comes up bloody. "It's all over the place." Tony shakes his head. "I don't know what to do. I don't know how to fix it."

"I won't die." Steve says. "Just, just bandage me up. It'll heal soon enough, it's shallow."

"I'm worried about infection."

"Worry about yourself." Steve grits out "I can see your bone sticking out of your fucking ankle."

Tony closes his eyes and brushes his damp hair. "Right," he says "right. Bandages. Sit up, best you can."

He shuffles away to grab the kit and sits himself on the bed, props Steve up by holding his shoulder and wraps the linen tight around his torso. "You're hot." He mutters. "You need water."

"My body fights infection, understand? Tony, I will be okay. Please, sort out yourself. That wound was covered in mud."

"Hurts." Tony admits.

Tony's hand are cold against his side. His pants are soaked through, but so are Steve's. They need to find clothes, but this cabin doesn't have much.

"Running water?" Steve croaks.

Tony looks to the sink. "I can't reach." He closes his eyes, and for a moment Steve is worried he's fallen asleep.

"Tony." He hisses. "Tony!"

Tony jerks. "M' here," he manages "here. You just, you should sleep."

"Tony, I'm fine."

"You're not fine, you ass. Sleep, and get that healing factor going. You can coddle me when you're done, okay?"

Steve agrees. After sleep, he will be stronger. And then he can take over, let Tony rest.

"Four hours." He says. "Then you wake me up."

"Four hours." Tony agrees.

 

Steve wakes up with a jolt, body jerking and tugging the wound in his side.

He lifts his head, blinks blearily around the room. "Tony?" He croaks. "Tony."

The little window shows the sun setting in the sky. He's slept for more than four hours, that's for sure.

"Shit." He hisses, and sits up. He feels weak, yes, but the wound isn't as sharp. When he touches it through the bandages, he's pleased to feel the dull scar beneath, and the lack of blood spotting the white.

"Tony?" He says again "Tony, where the fuck -- "

There's a bang and a thump and the heavy wooden door is pushed open, Tony hobbling through, using some chair legs that have been tied together with bandages as a crutch. "You're awake."

"Where," Steve grits "the fuck were you."

"Shopping." He says, and he dumps a plastic bag on the table. "It's filled with snow." He explains. "For my ankle."

Steve settles back down. "Oh."

"Oh indeed." Tony mutters, slumping to the floor.

"You should have woken me up."

"You needed rest."

"Tony, you carried me through rain last night, you're exhausted."

Tony nods. "My ankle hurts."

"I can see the bone."

"Stop saying that." He rubs at his eyes. "Jesus," he says "my head is killing me."

"Sleep."

Tony hisses when he places the snow on his ankles, groans, edging onto a scream. His head hits Steve's bed where he's sitting on the floor.

"Come here," Steve orders "sleep. I'll be okay."

"Steve, I'm not in life threatening danger, understand? I've broken my ankle. Is it bad? Yes. Will it kill me? No. At worst, fine, I lose a foot. Quite frankly, I'm looking forward to it the pain is so fucking bad. If you strain yourself, you die. So shut the fuck up and rest."

He slides the bag off his foot and lets it melt onto the floor. "Tony, it's infected."

"No it isn't."

"Jesus, Tony, it shouldn't be that red."

"And yet, it fucking is. In other news, the world continues to turn."

"Would you stop?" Steve snaps. "Just stop. With, with the sarcasm. Give it a rest, Stark, there's no one here to impress. I don't want you dying, understand? Now I'm fine. You haven't slept. You are dead on your feet -- sorry, you're not on your feet, on account of what I -- oh, Jesus, Tony, look at it."

"I can't feel my foot." He croaks.

"Bandage it." Steve demands. "Right now. Get it covered up in fresh ones, oh my God, what happened?"

Tony's eyes screw shut. "I slipped." He mutters.

"What?"

"Outside." He admits, likes it's painful. "I slipped. It's icy."

Steve doesn't know what to say. "Sleep." Is his answer. "It's been hours, I can stand. I can go get help."

"I sent out a call," Tony grits, trying to push himself onto the bed "they should be here."

"But they're not." Steve says gently, slipping from irritated to calm as he's faced with a tired Tony and his own recovery. "It's okay, Tony. You sleep, let me sort you out. And then I'll go find help."

"Turn the heating up." Tony mumbles, covering his eyes with his forearm. "It's freezing."

Steve carefully retrieves more snow, packing densely into balls and setting them in linen. He soaks more bandages and lays them over Tony's old ones, ignores his flinching.

"Is a foot supposed to be that angle." Tony mutters, propping his head up on pillows.

Steve's ankle aches in sympathy. "Tony, this is bad."

Tony doesn't say anything in response, just leans back.

"This will hurt."

"Colour me surprised."

"I mean it. Do you want to bite something?"

Tony shakes his head. "Just do it."

Steve nearly closes his eyes just at the sight of it. Instead, carefully rips through the bandages.

The wound is red, raw. Tony's fibula is sticking out of his skin, bloodied and open.

Steve shakes his head, at a loss. "Jesus, the pain must be -- "

"Hurry up." Tony hisses.

"I can't," Steve shrugs his shoulders helplessly "I haven't got this sort of training. I can... I can try to put it back in?"

"No!" Tony says, sitting up. "Fuck, no. Don't even try, don't do that."

"It's infected. It's all red and runny. Tony, this skin is -- "

Tony scream, head hitting the wall so hard Steve jumps up to check he isn't bleeding.

"Don't touch it!" Tony yells, hands clutching his leg. "Oh my God, don't touch it!"

"I'm sorry!" Steve says "Tony, the skin is so dry!"

"WELL WHAT WERE YOU GOING TO DO, MOISTURISE IT? Oh God," he groans "oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck this is hell. This is hell. I can't deal with this. Where are they? Why aren't they here?"

Steve scrambles for the first aid pack until he finds some painkillers. "There's only Tylenol and morphine."

"Jesus, is there no in-between?"

"I'm sorry." Steve says "There's nothing I can do. If you want, we can start you on the Tylenol, and if it's unbearable in a few hours I can give you some morphine."

Tony nods, lips pressed tight. "Yeah," he gasps "yeah let's do that." He palms them down dry and Steve goes for the water bottle.

"Well," he says, sighing "at least there's plenty of this. And at least it's cold."

"Food." Tony says. "I'm starving."

Steve holds up some cans. "Beans."

"Anything else?"

"Just beans."

"Fine. It's not like I was expecting ratatouille."

Steve pauses. "We've fucked up."

"What?" Tony asks.

Steve just looks at him. "Your ankle. We've fucked up. It's my fault, I was too out of it to stop you. But we've done it all wrong, you've walked around, you slipped. Tony, the skin -- "

"Stop talking about it."

"Did mud get in it? When you went out? How long were you on the ground?"

Tony is silent.

"Tony. The bone shouldn't protrude that much. It's been jarred." Steve makes a decision, then. "You need to eat, and then I'm giving you morphine and going for help."

"Steve -- "

"Tony it's infected. No alcohol is going to change that now. No time to waste, eat the fucking beans."

They're raw, and disgusting. Tony swallows them down, gagging on the way. He swipes his hand over his mouth, retches, passing the remainder of the can to Steve. "Not hungry."

"Not possible." Steve replies swiftly. He pushes the can back into Tony's hands. "Eat, or I'll force it down your throat."

"Kinky." Tony croaks, sniffing at the can. He makes a face. "I really can't eat these."

"Hold your nose and try not to think about it." Steve says disparagingly, forcing himself off the bed. His side twinges uncomfortably and he quickly runs his fingers over the scar. And it is a scar, now, almost healed. The skin feels tight, and swollen, but not life threatening.

He picks at the first aid kit and sorts out their remaining supplies; bandages, painkillers. Some anti-septic wipes. They'd prepared a few safehouses like these all over the area just in case the raid went wrong, but they weren't honestly expecting to use them.

"Okay," Steve sighs heavily "okay. I'm sorry, but I have to move you. Just onto the bed. And then you can rest."

"No point." Tony grunts. "I'm fine here."

"You need to sleep."

"You need to -- "

"Stop." Steve snaps. "I am fine. You are not. Shut up, and let me help. You let me sleep too long as it is, Stark. I'm sorry, but you're too injured, understand? I'm going to lift you as gently as I can, but it'll hurt."

Tony murmurs something, eyeing him balefully, and pushes the bean can to the side. "Fine." He mutters, letting himself slump.

"Is the Tylenol working?"

Tony snorts. "It's like a fucking bee sting compared to a machete in terms of effectiveness, Steven."

"Morphine, then."

"No. No it's not too bad. It's okay."

"Tony, your foot is hanging -- "

"I can barely feel it." Tony blurts. "The foot, I mean. I can't feel the foot. The skin around the ankle hurts the most, I swear."

"I'm going to look at it properly." Steve says, pushing aside the sudden rush of -- not fear, more like dismay. "Brace yourself."

"You're going in dry."

"Keep that humour," Steve grunts, tugging Tony's hands and getting a grip under his shoulders. "You're gonna need it."

Tony cries out when Steve lifts him to his feet. His bad leg just drags against the floor, but it means his foot is bent at a nearly ninety degree angle. That's not how limbs are supposed to fold, and the bone is suddenly shockingly visible.

Tony throws up whatever beans he had eaten, bile dribbling from his chin down his shirt. "Put me down," he gasps, flapping uselessly against Steve's hands "put me down, put me down."

Steve lowers him to the bed at gently as he can considering, carefully pulling his ankle up onto the sheets. Tony groans, panting. "Oh, God." He moans "Holy -- morphine, I've changed my mind. Just -- now. Please."

"Hold on." Steve mutters, turning to the kit. "Let me bind it first. Shit, I'm sorry I need to sterilise it."

"I did tha' already." Tony says, eyes falling shut. "D'nt worry. D'nt -- "

"Tony, that was hours ago. I'm going to inject you first, okay? Then I'll sterilise and bind it. That's all I can do, you can't splint these without doing further damage."

"Morphine." Tony mumbles thickly, hand sagging to the floor. "Let it -- let it sink in, before you sterilise."

"Yeah." Steve agrees, happy to allow him that, at least. Up close, the wound is awful. Snapped at the ankle, Tony's foot is hanging at a twisted angle, no longer supported by his fibular, which is now protruding clearly from his skin. It looks sharp, jagged, and is the opposite of a clean break. Tony's ankle has, literally, just been wrenched open by the force of whatever angle he hit the ground at. The skin surrounding the exit wound is red and angry, starting to swell. Steve knows, at that moment, that no matter what he does infection is imminent. Nevertheless, he sterilises it the best he can, ignores Tony's cries, and then bandages it in a half-hearted attempt to protect it from the dirt around them.

"Eat more." Steve prompts, carefully wiping down Tony's chin. "You need to eat."

Tony's eyes have glazed. He stares at Steve curiously, not quite understanding what he means. When Steve pushes the can towards him he wrinkles his nose, turns his head to the side, and obstinately refuses to eat.

Steve finishes the can himself. Let Tony sleep, he decides, and then he can get some food down him. He lets him slip away, waits until his breathing has evened out, then moves from the bed to sort through their supplies.

Some blankets. One more syringe of morphine. A pack of Tylenol. A swiss army knife. Tony said he'd sent out a call, but they've been here for more than twelve hours by now. Tony's suit had been left at the base when the Rings had caught them; the cell, when he checks it, is out of battery.

Fine. Old school, then. He can deal with this. He's used to situations like this. He makes a fire in the small stone fireplace and fills bottles with snow, lets it melt and then places them back outside so they'll have cold water. He takes out the bean cans -- enough to last them a week, by which point they'll almost definitely be gone -- and checks for spare clothes. There are a few, but Steve's not even going to attempt changing Tony's pants with his leg so damaged. Instead, he covers him a thick blanket, props a sweater under his neck to make sure it's cushioned, and settles down to watch.

He feels well rested but weary. Bone weary in a way he only gets with an impending sense of dread. Because for the most part, they're safe. Even if they can't find help, the team will easily be able to track them to this point.

But infection is a very real threat. Steve might be able to stave off the worst effects with morphine and tylenol, but already he can see the wound on Tony's leg starting to swell. Maybe there are trapped nerves? Tony said he couldn't feel his foot. The actual skin has gone white, his toes not getting any blood at all. Steve doesn't know how to fix that.

Surely if his foot isn't getting blood it should be escaping, unless it's trapped. Carefully, he prods the skin under the bandage, feels the tightness and the lumpy exterior.

That's not good.

Steve presses ice against the linen in an attempt to bring down the swelling but if anything he can almost feel it tightening further beneath his fingers. Frowning, he presses two fingers to Tony's pulse, and finds it strong.

His neck is hot, though. Sweaty against his fingertips.

Steve fumbles with the linen, dips it in the ice water, and lays it across Tony's brow. Rubs at his own headache, and runs a line down his wound. It twinges when he presses too hard, but it has scabbed over, clean, and is on it's way to becoming a pink scar down his side.

He remembers Tony carrying him through the rain. He doesn't underestimate his own weight; Tony must be exhausted. He's not even twitching in his sleep, although his breaths are long and laboured, snoring slightly.

He snorts, slightly, and curls one fist under his chin.

Steve smiles. He wishes he had a camera, if only for blackmail material later on. And it's nice to think about, about the future, about a time when he and Tony will definitely be safe and not fighting disease in a dirty cabin somewhere in Canada.

 

The sky darkens some hours later, meaning they've been here for about a day, give or take a few. As far as Steve can see, there is no help coming, but he holds out on the fact that they are traceable if the team puts their mind to it. Steve could leave, probably, but Tony is in no condition move, not with his leg. They wouldn't make it far.

If the worst comes to the worst, Steve can --

No. Leaving him isn't an option, not at all. Not when the Rings are still after them and Tony is suitless, barely able to stand.

Steve decides that he's better off trying to get some food down him down rather than later. Steve's already eaten, but all Tony's managed to swallow is half a can of beans. He kneels by the bed, softly laying his hand on Tony's arm.

"Hey," he murmurs "wakey wakey, Stark."

Tony remains inert, although he does frown. Steve shakes him gently, taps his cheek. "Tony." He says "Wake up, you need to eat."

Tony's eyes do slip open, but they're hazy. The effects of the morphine haven't entirely worn off. "Steve," he mutters thickly "where are we?"

"Still in the cabin."

Tony groans, weak hands slapping at the blanket. "Get it off me." He says, or at least tries to. The words slur together and the blanket falls to the floor.

"You're hot." Steve notes, placing the back of his hand on Tony's forehead. "You know what that means."

When Tony clears his throat Steve can practically hear the gravelly wet quality to it. "No shit." He mumbles, eyes falling shut. He turns his head to the side, cheek against the pillow. The room is hot, Steve knows, because he hasn't let the fire die down. He can't; it's below freezing outside and they can't afford to be cold.

"Sit up." Steve says quietly. "Eat, and then you can go back to sleep."

Tony groans. "How," he says, breathing deeply "how... is... ankle."

"Eat first." Steve insists. "I won't prod it until you're relaxed."

Tony's eyes close again. "I'm not hungry." He mutters. "You take the food."

"I don't need the food." Steve insists, firm but gentle. "You do, okay?"

Tony coughs, face flushed and deceptively healthy. "Has anyone come yet?"

"No."

"Oh."

"Eat."

Tony's nose wrinkles at the sight of the can. "No." He says "Steve, no. I'm not hungry. Save them for later, I can't -- "

"You haven't eaten in a day, Tony."

"I had, I had those beans -- "

"You had half a can. Not acceptable. Eat these, now. I know you're not hungry, but that's because you're sick. You know that, too."

Tony's eyes narrow, but more out of defeat than animosity. He slowly spoons the beans into his mouth, gagging as he goes, face scrunched.

Steve wets another strip of linen and places it on Tony's forehead. He can't have any more tylenol, not for a few hours, but he can deal until then. Steve waits until he's finished eating, and then places the empty can on floor.

"You ready?" He asks, hands hovering over the bound limb.

Tony grunts in reply and covers his eyes with an arm, breathes heavily.

"Okay." Steve mutters. Carefully, he begins to slice through the bandages, wincing when he smells rotting flesh. Clearly, Tony smells it too, because he turns his head away, and sucks in a breath.

"Don't watch." Steve advises when all the linen in removed. The wound has gotten worse. The skin has split entirely where the bone is protruding, the gash red and inflamed. Tony's foot is white and doughy. Carefully, Steve pinches one of his toes.

"You feel that?" He asks.

"Feel what?" Tony mutters in return.

"Nothing." Steve says quickly. "How's the pain?"

"On a scale of one to ten?"

"Yeah."

Tony shrugs half-heartedly. "Like, six."

"Not too bad, then."

"Morphine." Tony mumbles, explaining.

"Okay. What if I touched -- "

Tony gives a sharp bark, leg jolting out of Steve's grip. "Don't!" He cries "What -- don't!"

"Pain?"

"Ten! Fucking ten! Don't -- "

"I'm sorry." Steve says, running his hand up Tony's leg. "I'm sorry, I needed to check."

"Well don't." Tony spits, sniffling slightly, breath ragged. The fire continues to crackle, casting a dim orange light over the scene. There are angry red lines traveling up Tony calve from the point where his fibular protrudes from the skin.

Blood poisoning.

"What's'it look like?" Tony asks, trying to raises his head.

"It's okay." Steve lies "Looks swollen. I think -- never mind. I'm gonna take watch."

"What?" Tony says, confused "No, I should -- "

"You should rest." Steve says gently. "I'll bind your leg."

"But I just slept." Tony says, trying to be angry. "You can't -- "

"Don't complain. I'm not tired yet. You just get a few more hours in, okay? I only woke you up to make sure you ate." He passes Tony some water, holds it up for him to drink.

Tony slaps away his hands. "I can do it myself." He snaps. "I'm not an invalid."

"Lie down." Steve says, ignoring him. "I'll try and do this as fast as I can."

"I want to take the watch."

"Tony, no."

"I want to take the watch."

"Either you sleep and I stay awake or we both stay awake, Stark. Either way, I'm not shutting my eyes so you might as well head down."

"Steve," Tony says, head hitting the wall as he stares up at him "please. Let me take the watch."

Steve's eyes narrow. "Why."

"Just -- I want to. You can fix my leg and I'll even eat some more fucking beans. I -- don't want to sleep." He says carefully.

"You don't want to sleep." Steve repeats, eyebrow raised.

"Yes." Tony says meaningfully, and Steve gets it.

"Oh," he says "right. Right. You can't -- " he sighs. "Fine. Two hours, no more, understand?"

Tony salutes. "Yes Sir."

"If you feel yourself going to sleep, wake me up."

"Right."

"I'm not joking."

"Neither am I."

Steve narrows his eyes and presses his lips together, carefully starting to wrap the bandages around Tony's leg. It hurts, because he gives these little hoarse screams, but Steve can't help that. He places ices around the wound and another cold strip of linen on Tony's head, some water next to him.

"Make sure you wake me up." Steve warns.

Tony rolls his eyes and mutters something under his breath. Steve takes the blanket and lies down on the floor next to the bed. It's warm, and he slips away easily, the fire flicking light across the dark wood.

 

"Steve," someone whispers, harsh against his sleep-addled brain "Steve, wake-up."

Steve jolts back into consciousness, head raising, searching for a threat. "Tony?" He mumbles.

It's still dark out, too dark. The fire has died down, and the room is freezing. Steve kicks himself for not adding to it before he slept.

"How long?" He says, pushing himself up "Tony? How long was I out?"

He can't quite make out Tony's face in the gloom but Tony coughs. "I'm sorry." He croaks. "It's just so fucking cold."

"Shit." Steve mutters, quickly stacking the stone hearth. "I'm coming hold on."

It's so cold his fingers shake as he tries to light the match, failing over and over until he finally manages to strike. Tony it huddled against the wall, bad leg still stretched out on the bed but good one pressed as close as he can get it, trying to conserve warmth. Despite the cold, he's sweating, eyes glassy in the low light, and face twisted in pain.

"It hurts, now." Tony pants "It really fucking -- it's throbbing, like, like a knife is being stabbed into it over and over. Please, give me the morphine."

"Yeah," Steve says, at a loss for what else to say "here, take the blanket." He uncaps the syringe and slowly deposits it into Tony's thigh, hears his wavering breaths and feels his too-hot skin.

"You've got a bad fever." Steve notes, mainly to himself. "Why didn't you wake me up?"

Tony groans. "I fell asleep." He says "I was sleeping, I didn't -- " there's a retch, and then Tony throws up, whatever he had eaten spilling down his shirt for the second time.

The smell of vomit lingers throughout the tiny space as Steve methodically strips Tony of his shirt and replaces it with one of the spare sweaters. It's too big, but it's warm. He gently washes Tony's face and places yet another damp cloth on his brow. This time, Tony doesn't even protest when Steve carefully inches water into his mouth, cupping his head gently with a firm palm.

"Better?" Steve asks, and Tony makes a gurgling noise in response, flopping uselessly against the thin mattress. Steve moves back to his ankle and starts cutting through the bandages, watching Tony for any sign of pain.

First thing is the smell. Then --

Tony's foot is dead, that much is certain. It flops uselessly against the mattress when Steve pokes the tip and provokes no response at all from Tony. The calve is swollen to almost double the size, or at least, that's what it looks like. Red angry lines spread out from the point where the protruding bone has cut through the skin, travelling all the way up to Tony's knee. Steve quickly presses his fingers to Tony's pulse point and feels the too-slow thready beat of his stuttering blood.

"Is it," Tony coughs "is it okay?"

Steve swallows. "I can give you a tylenol for the fever."

Tony tries to prop himself up on his arms. "Is it -- you said it was okay, last time. Is it worse? It hurts more. Is it getting better?"

Steve is silent. He takes a long moment to think. What are his options, now? They could be rescued at any minute, and Tony's ankle could still be salvaged. There's probably another twelve hours left until amputation becomes necessary.

Or, there could be no rescue, in which case amputation will be needed.

"You feeling okay?" Steve asks "Any pain anywhere else?"

"Head hurts, a little."

"What about your side? It was bruised."

Tony tries to shrug. "Nothing like my leg."

"Okay." Steve says quietly, thinking about how much tylenol it would take to safely knock Tony out for a few hours. "I'm gonna go scout around for a bit."

"You're leaving?" Tony asks, trying to sit up all over again. "Can I come?"

"No. I need -- I'm gonna see if I can get help."

"We called the team." Tony says, confident that he's got the right answer. "They'll come."

"I don't think it got through, Tony."

"But," Tony's brow furrows "can I come?"

"No." Steve says softly. "I won't be long. No more than half an hour, okay?"

"But the Rings are out there."

"I'll be okay."

"You need -- "

"Tony." Steve says. "I'm fine."

Tony looks like he's fighting sleep, high on morphine and delirium. "Uh," he says, frowning. "Uh, but what, what about the Rings? They're out there and -- "

"I know, you said that already. I swear I won't be long."

Tony looks like maybe he wants to say something else but can't quite think of anything else to say. "Okay." He mutters.

"I want you to eat while I'm gone."

Tony screws up his nose. "M' sick."

"Yeah, which is why you need to eat." Steve throws on the poncho he found in the pack and tightens his boots. It's just starting to get light; a good time for scouting. "I'll only be gone thirty minutes, so you don't need to worry."

Tony watches him silently, curled under the blanket. His eyelids flutter. "The team will probably come before you get back." He yawns. "I'll tell them to wait."

"You do that." Steve says, and when he leaves he locks the door behind him.

 

Steve can only make it fifteen minutes out before he has to start turning back. He manages to find a road, but no infrastructure. The ground is icy, although the rain has washed away much of the snow. When Steve gets back to the cabin, it's probably around seven am.

"Tony?" He says, shaking out his poncho. "I'm back, are you awake?"

"Steve." Tony croaks "You're -- where did you go?"

"Scouting."

"Right," Tony says, frowning. "Yeah. Yeah, God. I -- I thought -- "

"It's alright." Steve says. "You're sick."

"Can you open the door?" Tony says, words mashing together "It's too hot in here."

"Tony it's freezing outside."

"I'm too hot, though."

Making his way over to the bed, Steve feels Tony's forehead. He is too hot, that's for sure. His eyes are glazed, his skin flushed and sticky. Steve pushes his sweaty hair off his forehead, blows cool air over his eyes. "Drink." He says, holding the bottle.

"T' hurts." Tony gasps, swallowing the water. "Ankle. Really fucking hurts."

"The morphine -- "

"Not enough." Tony says "Can I have more?"

Steve sits back on his legs, covers his hand with his face. "We don't have any more." He says quietly, futileness creeping into his voice.

"What?" Tony says "No, no no. No, c'mon Steve. There -- check again."

"I've inventoried everything, Tony. There isn't any more morphine. There were only two syringes."

Tony makes a small noise at the back of his throat, and Steve sees tears prick his eyes. "It really fucking hurts."

"I can try to numb it with ice."

Tony's breath is heavy. "Did you find anything? Out there? Is there help?"

"No. I need to go again."

Tony wails. "Steve," he keens, behind his teeth "it really really fucking hurts. I can't -- "

Every line in Tony's body is tense, his head thrown back and muscles bunching. He keeps his hands in fists wrapped tight against the sheets and bites his lip, shaking. "No no no," he says "I can't do this, I can't deal with it like this."

"Tylenol." Steve insists, moving for the pack.

"Tylenol?!" Tony cries. "What's that going to do?"

"It's all I've got."

Tony coughs, head slamming into the pillow. He groans. "It's too hot." He says again "I can't breathe, it's too hot."

After that, time is split between trying to bring down Tony's temperature and alleviate pain. He doesn't do much else except cry and scream.

 

"Steve." Tony mumbles, eyes closed and exhausted. "What time is it?"

"Around twelve."

Tony's eyes crack open. "And -- we're still in the cabin?"

"Yes, Tony."

 

Tony feels his throat blister every time he coughs, but that doesn't mean he can make it stop. The room spins around him, so much so he tries to grab hold of the sheets in an attempt to make it stop. Steve waves in and out of view but Tony doesn't know what he's saying. Sometimes he makes him drink, other times he puts cold things on Tony's head, on his chest and above his groin.

Tony feels himself throwing off covers, then desperately trying to drag them back on when his temperature fluctuates. Luckily, he has Steve to do that for him. Steve dabs his brow and cleans his sick and makes sure he drinks and eats and everything else.

The pain is really fucking bad, though.

A constant sharp throbbing, like being stabbed repeatedly in time with his pulse. He is being stabbed, when you think about it, by his own bone. He can't feel his foot and his leg aches something fierce.

He's not sure if he's dreaming when Steve bends over him, except for hands he has jagged sharp bones sticking out in their place. Tony tries to edge back, cries out in fear, terrified when the veritable swords reach for his shoulders, his face. Steve garbles something and Tony tries to explain that he needs to step away, and his hands, what's happened to his hands, but then when he looks up everything is just swaying as normal.

At one point, Steve doesn't even bother with linen, he just rubs ice over Tony's neck, his creases, and it works for a while until his body melts it and they have to repeat all over again.

Tony doesn't know if he's going to die, exactly. If feels like it. Maybe. The pain is so shattering, so absolute and so fucking awful that he's kinda hoping he gets to that point soon.

 

When Steve watches the sun go down, he knows he's out of options.

So he takes a last strip of bandage and wraps it as tight as he can, just over Tony's knee.

"What's'at?" Tony asks, words mashing together, dulled by heat and pain. "My knee hurt too?"

"No." Steve says quietly. "Your knee's okay."

"Water?" Tony asks, and Steve complies. He smiles gratefully when Steve finishes holding it to his lips. "Thanks, Steve." He slurs.

Steve smiles tightly in return and moves back to Tony's leg. He carefully draws out a line a few inches down from his knee, because it's good to find the best place a prosthetic --

"How does this feel?" Steve asks, one last time, tapping along Tony's calve.

He shivers and moans in response. "Stop." He groans "Don't, Steve."

"Tony," Steve says "I need to get rid of the infection."

"Have you got, like, a cream for that?"

"No."

Tony continues breathing deeply, unaware. "Have you got a message from the team yet?"

"No."

"How long -- "

"About three days."

"Oh."

"So," Steve says, inhaling heavily "Tony, I need to cut away the infection because otherwise it'll spread everywhere, okay? And you'll die. You might -- You might die anyway, because I've left it too late.

Tony swallows. "Cut away?" He says, voice hoarse.

"I mean -- "

"I know what you mean." Tony says, voice suddenly sharp. "I'm not stupid. I know what -- knock me out."

"I can't give you anymore tylenol."

"Choke me."

"Your blood pressure is too low."

"I trust you."

"No," Steve says, quietly "that's not enough. I've tried to numb it as best as I can. Can you feel this?"

"Of course I can -- "

"Here," Steve says "bite down." He hands Tony his belt.

"No." Tony says "Steve, knock me out."

"Tony -- "

"Please, I can't be awake for this."

"I'm sorry," Steve blurts "I'm so, so fucking sorry, but I have to do this or you'll die."

"But you can knock me out." Tony pleads, weakly frantic "You can hit my head or -- "

"The risks outweigh -- "

"Steve! Get that away! Get the fucking knife awa -- " Tony dissolves into coughing, body wracked with the movement. "Please, don't. Not while I'm awake." He begs. "Just not while I'm awake."

"I'll be quick."

"Quick?! You can't -- Steve, no. No, you can't." He tries to drag his leg back, and he's shaking with a very literal fear. "Don't cut off my leg, please, just please don't cut off my leg."

Steve leans back, shaking, and Tony's crying and he's kinda crying to, pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes, the knife still clasped tight in his left, and there's no real choice here because Tony will probably die anyway from blood loss or shock or --

Steve looks up, and Tony's holding up his hands, smiling in what he probably thinks is some kind of appeasement. "Steve?" He says "You're... you're not gonna do it, are you? Are you? You wouldn't -- please, Steve. Captain, please."

Tony's voice is so hoarse, so croaky, and that's the infection and the screaming. Steve wipes a hand over his face.

"I can try to choke you." He says, because honestly he'll probably die anyway and it's better not to let him end it in pain. "I can try. Don't resist, okay? Just let me -- "

"Wait," Tony says "wait. Hold on, just -- slow down. It doesn't have to be now, you can just -- just -- "

"It has to be now."

"But it can't be now." Tony says frantically, pushing back against the wall. "Steve. Steve? Please, come on. Don't do this to me. Wait a bit, just -- "

"Let you say goodbye? Tony every second we waste I'm putting your life on the line. We do what we have to do."

Tony's shaking, ducking his head against the crease in the wall. He's sobbing openly. "Don't," he says "don't."

Steve, gently, takes his wrists in his hands and Tony pushes against him. "DON'T!" He screams "DON'T! DON'T!"

Tony eyes are wide and he's still pushing back against Steve when his mouth is covered, his nose blocked, and he continues to fight, sobbing and so fucking scared while his hands beat against Steve's shoulders.

Steve times it carefully, and he lets go as soon as he feels Tony go limp. He tucks his hands by his sides, covers his torso with the blanket. Wipes his cheeks.

Takes the knife.

 

Tony is still in pain when he wakes up, although he can't, for the life of him, figure out why.

He coughs himself into consciousness, body stiff, the world around him boiling and orange, like living in flames. His hands move, without thinking, to drag the tube from his nose, although he doesn't know why he does this and the thought is gone almost instantly.

"You're awake." Steve says, and Tony feels ice on his forehead.

Tony's hand fists in Steve's dirty shirt. "You couldn't do it." He croaks, because he can feel his leg, unmovable and a fucking beacon of pain still throbbing harshly on the sheets.

"I did what I have to do." Steve says, stroking back Tony's hair. "It's okay. You didn't go into shock. The tourniquet held."

"Huh?" Tony says.

"You need to eat." Steve says. "And drink. I'm going out scouting again. I might be gone a while but I'll be back before sundown."

Tony's so confused. He maybe says something else, and then moments just blur together.

 

"Steve." Tony coughs "Steve, water."

Tony waits patiently for Steve to come, tilt up his head and put the bottle to his lips. No one comes.

"Hello?" Tony says, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. "Steve? Are you here? I need water. Steve?"

Outside, he thinks it's dark. The fire is burning low. It's starting to get cold.

He shivers, and pulls the blanket tighter over his shoulders. Steve said -- Steve left, and said he'd be back by sundown. Or maybe he did come back, and then left again? Maybe he's gone for help.

Maybe he went for help, and he's coming now. Maybe he went for help, and was kidnapped by the Rings. Maybe he went for help, and ran away.

Maybe he went for help, and the team found him. Maybe they've all gone back to the tower.

Maybe he left Tony here.

"Steve." Tony croaks again "C'mon, Steve. I -- " he pushes himself up in a sitting position, head spinning "Are you outside?" He calls, although something tells him he's alone.

His ankle has stopped hurting, which is a miracle. Maybe he can stand? Just enough to stoke the fire, get some water, maybe even some beans. Or maybe not. He still feels so sick, like his entire stomach wants to empty itself onto the floor.

Carefully, he inches himself forward, ignoring the pain throughout his body. If he could just stand, then it would be okay.

He supports himself against the wall. Pushes himself to his feet.

Something goes wrong. He's off balance, and he falls forward, slaps against the floor, gasping.

What? How -- something's not right. Something's not right, because --

So Tony turns, and he stares at the place his right leg used to be, and he tries to place together exactly what happens because he can still fucking feel it, and wriggles his toes like it's nothing, and Steve had, Steve had --

And it all comes together, then, because why would anyone want him now, now that he's broken, physically, mentally, and his --

Steve just fucking cut it off, didn't he? He just --

Tony's head swims, and he slumps. He doesn't remember moving, but we he comes back to himself he's by the fire, blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Maybe he's hydrated. He doesn't care.

 

It's not that Steve left it's just that he said he would be back and fuck, Tony doesn't mind dying but he doesn't want to do it alone.

 

Tony manages to force down beans, some water. He rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling. He's aware it's freezing, and dark, and damp, but he can't change that.

 

Later, Tony won't be able to tell how long he spent in the cabin, on his own. It felt like days.

(It was only one night)

 

His leg has been bandaged neatly by Steve's methodical hands. Some blood stains the white material. Mostly, it's just a clean cut.

 

Tony sobs to himself, because he doesn't want to die, and he doesn't want to die like this.

 

Maybe Steve did just leave him. Maybe he figured that Tony was going to die anyway, and he ran. That's not selfish, it's just survival. Tony can justify him doing that, so his fevered mind accepts it as the only logical solution to his disappearance.

 

It's not the noise that wakes Tony, it's the light, cracking through the door. The cold air.

"He's in here!" Someone shouts, so fucking loud. Tony can barely understand the words, he's so far gone, fever so high he's sweating in droves, he hasn't eaten, he's probably fucking pissed himself for all knows, and the light assaults his eyes.

"Tony." Steve says, whispers, and he drags Tony gently into his arms. "Hey. I'm here. I'm sorry I left you. I found a farm, they didn't -- it's fine, we're here now. The team, Tony, the whole team."

"The team." Tony breathes through cracked lips. Hands hold him close, warm, and he's so fucking cold but his skin is so fucking hot.

Words fly over his head, he doesn't care about what anyone is saying, he's just happy he's held. Vaguely he thinks Steve is trying to load him onto a stretcher but Tony doesn't want to let go. He's reached a point where he doesn't care. He didn't want to die alone, and now he's got his wish.

 

So when he wakes up, it's in stops and starts. A flash of cold, a flash of warmth, a comfortable middle ground. Finally, soft pillows, soft light. Murmured voices, low and comforting.

Steve, sometimes.

The first thing he really manages to catch, and it's Bruce, saying 'I'm not a doctor' and then Clint replying 'That's what you always say'. And that's good, it's comforting, because he's able to understand what they mean and who's saying it and put faces to voices.

When he opens his eyes for the first time and truly recognises his surroundings, he would say he's in a private hospital room, except he knows it's the one in the tower, because they all have specific health requirements so why the fuck not.

Things are patchy. He thinks they've doped him up pretty bad. His head feels like it's stuffed with cotton wool, his nose just feels stuffed, period, and he's got a hacking cough.

And his leg is gone, which is, you know. Not great.

He clears his throat. "Hello?" He tries, although his voice is literally a rasp. Everything is very floaty, very distant. He smiles, because, yes, they have definitely doped him up but it feels so good.

"Steve?" He calls "I'm awake. I'm -- Steve! Hi, Steve. Hey."

The other man stands awkwardly at the door, crosses his arms. "You're awake." He says. "Again." He adds.

"I woke up before?" Tony says, smiling, dazed.

"You woke up a lot." Steve says carefully. He takes the seat next to Tony's bed.

They stare at each other.

"I've been waiting." Steve admits. "I... I wanted to be the one to tell you."

"My leg's gone." Tony sighs, and he sounds all nasaly. "Yeah. I know. I knew, at the, the, uh, cabin. I figured it out eventually."

"I'm so fucking sorry."

"You saved my life."

Even under the morphine, Tony senses it.

How he had begged, and Steve had done it anyway.

But they don't mention it. How strange? Something so awful, and they just... glide over it, like nothing ever happened. Ready to start all over, comrades and partners. Steve had mopped Tony's sick, changed his clothes, wiped his brow, fed him, watered him, like a fucking desk plant, and yet here they are.

Strangers.

"You've been here a week." Steve says, clearing his throat, ignoring the statement. "You're... you'll be okay."

"Oh, Steven," Tony sighs, leaning back against his pillows. He coughs. "I've only got one leg, I'm the opposite of okay."

"You can build a prosthetic."

For some reason, that irritates him. "I'm an engineer," he snaps "not a fucking super-biologist. I don't know how that stuff works."

"Sorry." Steve says. "Sorry, you're right. That... that was stupid of me."

That settles Tony down again. He wants to care, he really does, and it scares him, missing a limb, but the drugs just won't allow it. He sighs, closes his eyes. "I can still feel it." He murmurs, wiggling his toes.

"Yeah?"

"Oh yeah." Tony replies. He opens his eyes, stares at the place where the sheets fold into the mattress, the empty space where his leg should be. "I'm flexing my toe now, can't you see?"

"Tony -- "

"I know." Tony says. "Sorry. I know."

Silence.

Steve clears his throat. "Could -- " he closes his eyes. "Could I hold your hand?"

"Sure, Steven, you can hold whatever you like."

But Steve grasps Tony's hand like it's the most precious thing in the world. "I'm sorry." He says again.

"You saved my life."

"I dismembered you. There were other ways I could have played it. If I had left you at the beginning I could have found the farm, got us out of there before the infection got so bad. I could I have stopped you from walking on ice. Hell, I could have made sure we weren't ever taken by the Rings. But I didn't. I screwed up. And now -- "

"And now what?" Tony says, wanting to snap, although it comes out mellowed and dry. "And now I'm broken? Yeah, I guess. Is it your fault? Nope. Is it mine? Also, also nope. Kinda. So let's not be silly about it." He yawns, stretches slightly, enjoying the way the soft sheets slide over his warm limbs.

"You were so scared."

It rattles Tony's sense of contentment. He wrenches his hand from Steve's. "So were you." He answers, curling on his side.

"Tony."

"I don't want to have this conversation anymore. Bye."

"You can't just -- "

"Tired. Sleeping. Bye, Steven."

There's a pause, and then a sigh. Steve leaves, and Tony is carried away on a cloud.

 

The next time he wakes up, Clint is there.

"Hello Clint." He says, and he figures he's still pretty high because he's kinda happy to see him. "How are we doing today?"

"You need to use your lips when you talk, Tony. Mumbling into the pillow doesn't do me much good."

Just for that, Tony pulls the blanket over his head. Nice and warm. Warm and soft. Steve was warm, he remembers. When Tony had been cold, he'd held him.

He'd also left him, the big jerk.

"Oh yeah." Clint says. "I got that. Do you wanna come out so we can talk?"

Tony coughs, dragging the cover off his head. "What do you want." He croaks.

"I just want to make sure you're okay." He says softly.

"I'm fine."

"Tony -- "

"I get it, I'm, I'm easily breakable. Uh, delicate, that's the word. I'm delicate because I lost my leg, but don't treat me like I'm seven."

Clint stares at him. "Guilty." He says, holding up his hands. "Fair enough. I just wanted to make sure it's not hitting you too hard."

"It is." Tony replies. "Don't wanna talk about it. Why -- could you all leave it alone? I lost a fucking leg, not my mind."

Clint goes silent, and why do they all do that? Tony doesn't want their pity. It's an injury, okay? It fucking hurts. He doesn't need to be made to feel like he's weaker; that's the last fucking thing he needs.

"Okay." Clint says quietly. "We just wanted to let you know we're here for you."

"Fuck off." Tony mutters into the sheets.

 

That night, the morphine wears off, and then it really does fucking hurt. His stump feels like it's burning, and he twists in his sheets all night, tossing and turning, feeling like he's heating up, like his leg is being stabbed with hot knives.

The worst part is that he can still feel it. His leg, the leg that no longer exists. He cries, and he's not ashamed to admit it, because it really, really hurts. He tries to breathe through it, tries to switch off, control the pain, but he can't.

He can't stand. He can't stand and go to his bathroom and he can't stand to go get help. He's stuck in this bed, and really there's nowhere he wants to go, but it's the fact that he can't move that scares him. He's vulnerable, like this.

He's so fucking vulnerable.

So he tosses and turns and tells Jarvis not to alert anyone because he doesn't need anyone, he's fine, and he has dealt with worse, and this night will end.

Steve finds him, because apparently he's made a habit of checking on Tony at ungodly hours. He checks his temperature and tsks and gives him some kind of cough medicine and a tylenol. And he gives him some morphine, just to take the edge off.

"Stop it." Tony says, and he doesn't care if it sounds obnoxious. "I can do it myself."

"I know." Steve says, not patronising, just plain and simple. "You could, if I let you. But you're sick, so let me help."

It's the right thing to say. Tony settles, after that.

Steve sits next to him, on top of the covers. He strokes Tony's head, and Tony pretends to be so out of it he doesn't notice. "I was so scared, in that cabin." He sighs. "I thought you were going to die."

"And you thought it would be your fault?" Tony slurs.

"No." Steve says, measured. "I just didn't want you to die."

Maybe this is why Steve's still helping him. He feels guilty.

 

Gradually, the fever ebbs.

Tony isn't exactly up and about, but he in a wheelchair. Which was fun for the first five minutes but got boring pretty soon after. Because, hello, tables? Why are they so high? Reception desks, anybody? Fucking chest of drawers, showers, cars. Don't even mention stairs.

Tony's doctor is looking into a suitable prosthetic but it'll be awhile before he's walking again. The wound needs to heal, Tony needs to heal, everything needs to just stabilise.

In the meantime, Tony doesn't leave the tower, because he doesn't know how to navigate the world on wheels and --

And he just doesn't want anyone to push him, okay? It's, it's -- he's Tony Stark. He can't be seen, being pushed, in, in a chair. That's not how it works. Not in public. Not --

It doesn't matter. He's recovering. There's a rumour going around that his leg was cut off as part of a HYDRA torture attempt. That it was blown off while taking down terrorists. Either one sounds better than Captain America sliced it off in an abandoned cabin.

 

He works, though. The suit is still viable. He has to adjust the right leg, but thank God Steve had the though to take it off below his knee. He can still control the suit calve, it just feels a little bulkier. It's impractical to wear it all the time, but it's nice to walk again, if only for a little while.

 

But at the night, the pain keeps him up. Phantom, clearly, because it's only ever at night. He can feel his ankle, still there, still burning, still the incredible pain. He feels his stump chafe against the sheets. It's so hard to fucking sleep, he can't bear it. He can't deal with it. He doesn't know how to fix it, because no drug could make this go away.

He pretends not to know that Steve still checks on him every night. When he hears the telltale rustle, he pretends to sleep. But one night, it hurts too bad. One night, he's gone too long without sleep. One night, he's sobbing, and Steve puts his hand on his shoulder.

"Don't." Tony spits, rolling. "Don't touch me."

Steve steps back, hands up. "Hey," he says softly "hey, okay. It's okay. Was -- bad dream?"

Tony stares at his face, so fucking endearing, and he just continues sobbing. Buries his face in his hands.

"Hey, no, Tony." Steve hand hovers over his shoulder, awkward. "Don't -- do that. Don't do that. Smile. Look at me, come on, look at me, sweetheart."

"Sweetheart?" Tony bursts through the tears, because that's just ridiculous.

Steve grins. "See?" He says. "You can smile. Look at me, Tony. Don't cry."

Tony drags up his eyes, stares Steve straight in the face, and those are the same eyes he remembers staring down at him, empty, when their hands choked him in the cabin.

"There." Steve whispers. "There, okay? It's okay, now." Steve sits on the bed, holds out his arms. "Come on." He murmurs.

Tony folds into him, just like that, because it's been so long since he was held like this. He bawls into Steve's shoulder, shaking, and just tries not to fall apart.

"It hurts," he says, wiping his eyes "it just fucking hurts, okay? Every night, it burns. I don't know how to make it stop."

"You should have said."

"I don't need help."

"There's no shame in it."

Tony makes a disgusted noise. "Do you have any idea?" He says, spits. "This isn't just about asking for help, it's not just a kind transaction. If I ask for help, it's because you pity me, it's because I'm physically weak, okay? There's nothing I can do about it, I need help. I can't -- I can't ask for it. Not me. I'm not going to do that. I can fix this, Steve. I do not need pity."

Steve looks at him. "I would know something about that." He says quietly.

Tony rolls his eyes. "Oh, and, and suddenly I'm the asshole because you used to get sick. You cut off my fucking leg, Steve, how about that? You ever lost a limb? Do you know what it's like? Fuck off, just -- leave. Get out. Stop creeping after me."

"I worry about you."

"What part of leave don't you understand."

"You're still crying."

"Why do you say things like that?" Tony bursts. "Why do you -- in the cabin, you kept say that the bone was showing, you kept just saying it. You told me, you said, when I woke up, you were so scared, who the fuck says something like that? You don't need to be that honest, Steve, you don't need to tell me I'm still crying, I know, I know I'm still fucking crying. You don't need to be brutal."

Steve blinks. "I'm not being -- that's not my intention."

"Yeah, well -- " Tony feels a deep vat of rage churning inside him "well, well, I -- "

He deflates. Hangs his head.

"Whatever, Steve." He mutters, lying back down on the bed. "Okay. Let's -- let's not do this now."

"No," Steve says, voice strangely fierce "let's do this now. Clearly there's something in the air we need to sort out."

"You cut off my leg." Tony says morosely. "It's not much of an elephant in the room."

Steve takes his hand. "But I don't want it to come between us."

"Come between us?" Tony says, stirring.

"Yeah. Between us. I -- " Steve sounds like he's on the edge of saying something, but then draws back. "Never mind."

"You what?"

"Nothing."

"Steve!"

"If you're angry for me doing what I did you have every right to be, and I'm sorry. If you need help, you don't have to see it as pity from me, okay? If you really, really want to, see it as penance. I'm helping you because I like you, Tony, but if that makes you uncomfortable then okay. There we go. Basic transaction. I took your leg, and now I'm paying you back."

Tony swallows.

Looks away.

"It's not you." He says eventually. He sighs. "Fuck, it's not you. It's just stupid. I -- I was awake when they opened me up in Afghanistan, too. And that was the worst pain I've ever felt. Never forgotten it. All I knew was I would do anything to avoid it again. And my hindbrain tells me that you're the cause, understand? I can't separate it. But I don't blame you. Not even a little bit. And -- " Tony pauses "and I appreciate, what you're doing for me."

Steve looks at him. "Thank you." He says.

"You're welcome."

They sit in silence. Steve makes to leave.

"You could stay." Tony says, quietly.

"...Here?"

"Yeah. It would help. If you could stay."

Steve blinks. "I could -- yes. Okay. Uh, shall I get a cot or -- "

"Bed's fine." Tony says, so quietly even Steve strains to hear.

"Is... this okay?" Steve says, settling next to Tony.

Tony nods.

Steve wraps an arm around his shoulders. "What about this?"

"That's okay, too."

Steve pulls him close, folds him against his side. "And this?"

"Still good."

 

The prosthetic is uncomfortable, at first. It chafes, even with protection. Steve tells him to stop wearing it so hard before he's hard time to get used to it, but standing and walking feels like a relief, so he does it anyway and regrets it later.

Things change for him, noticeably. He can't put his finger on it. Maybe it's the way people talk to him. The way he interacts with the world.

Steve doesn't make it okay, but he helps.

Tony decides that maybe he's had worse.