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In Time of War

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The first thing he's going to do when he gets out of this is kill Nick Fury, he thinks as the armor is sinking even further into the muddy ground. The Nazi soldiers surrounding him will not be a problem, rain or no rain, mud or no mud, but they have two of the enhanced battle suits Zemo built based on his father's design - he tries not to think about how that is also Zemo's design -, with patched on flying capabilities and new artillery. And Tony's armor is down to 12% Repulsor Power. Even with his last upgrade, the beams just take too much power.

It's not the time to think about making the circuitry smaller, more compressed, more efficient. He does it anyway, because he's Tony Stark, brilliant inventor and swashbuckling adventurer, even if his face is hidden behind metal and nobody is supposed to know his name. Tony Stark is officially in London after all.

He takes out a jeep by simply toppling it over, heaving it up and sloppily aiming it at one of the robots. It doesn't hit the target hard enough to do any lasting damage, but he feels good doing it.

“Take him down,” someone orders, but Tony has no eyes for little megalomaniac soldiers now. He's here to destroy the newest weapon in their enemies arsenal before it can every be made fully functional. The scientist behind its invention is still a name on the shortlist for the next Zemo, but Tony already knows that the young man won't ever become what his father had been turned into. He shot himself, after making sure to alert the allied forces, although Von Strucker doesn't know it yet.

Tony knows that his own name is and will forever be on said shortlist, too, and that he just hopes he can be as brave as that young scientist if it ever comes to it.

One battle suit crashes into him and he stands his ground. His armor's hydraulics are more sturdy, the metal alloy he uses has become much lighter and thinner, but harder. He can take this metallic toy soldier in a fight. He can even take two. But first things first: He aims his newest repulsor blast weapon on the truck and manages to get in the shot, maneuvering the first armor to remain between him and the following explosion. They are pushed back by the blast of it, metal screeches against metal and it's hard to hear anything over the ringing in his ears.

“Repulsor Power Level 8%” the little warning voice he's built into the armor himself warns him.

“No kidding,” he huffs. It's enough for the return trip. If he can shake this guy and get back into the air. The armor makes a disheartening sound, as if it's coughing, but he's moving, throwing the armor on top of him off. Soldiers are screaming, yelling, but he can't say where they are exactly, while his ears are still ringing. Sounds inside the armor being a little muffled anyway.

His heart is beating faster than normal, but there is no pain and he knows he's not draining it. He makes another attempt to swing himself up into the air, but he's tackled by the second armored soldier and realizes with some dread, that the back of the armor must have taken a hit. Flying capability might be seriously compromised.

Pepper is going to kill him if he survives.

Jarvis is going to kill him if he dies here.

He's not keen to be taken in either. Zemo shortlist and all.

He pushes back, relies completely on his armor's superior strength in taking down the final enemy that counts. At the edge of his vision he can see soldiers picking up their rifles and aiming. He's not afraid of their ammunition. He takes a hard hit to what would normally be his jaw and steps back.

A hand grenade explodes in his back. He realizes the armored man who is holding his ground still has nothing comparable to his repulsors technology to aid him, but he and his comrades have realized that Iron Man's not going to fly any time soon.

He could run. It's something he's good at in an adventure.

But there is a tank coming his way.

“How long can you hold out, Eisenmann?” the soldier behind him asks. They have orders, he realizes. Concerning him specifically.

“How long can you?” he shoots back, because he's Tony Stark. He'd rather run out of juice and die than be captured.

A soldier whirls around suddenly, a blue and red figure jumps over a car, coming to stand right in the middle of the group of remaining soldiers and takes three out with one throw of an impressive metal shield.

Tony is momentarily distracted enough to be tackled down into the ground again by the armored fiend. “Weak point,” the soldier closest to him yells.

He doesn't know what hits him as a jolt goes through the armor, through him, like pure electricity. He screams. The armors bleeps a final feeble warning. And everything goes black.

* * *

He wakes up to an unpleasant headache, the unpleasant burn of too hot skin against metal parts and the feeling that someone must have tried to cook him alive. The world is moving too, dark and relentlessly moving. Rocking. He's on a transporter of some kind.

“Repulsor Power Level 17%.”

“Will you look at that,” Tony mumbles and chuckles. Whatever they'd used to take him down, it had given his repulsors a necessary boost.

“Iron Man?” a voice above him asks.

He focuses on the eye slits, on the darkness, and what's behind it. Someone leans into his field of vision. Red, white and blue. Concerned frown. Formidable chin.

“Captain America?” he asks back, remembering the acrobat who'd landed in the middle of armed German soldiers like it was nothing.

“Yes,” he said. “We are your back-up.”

“The plan involved back-up?”

“Apparently someone on the German side has it in for you.”

“No, really? I thought it was the other way around.” He should probably stop talking now, as he is feeling light-headed and tired. “Where are we?”

“On the way home, soldier,” the Captain said and looked forward towards whoever else was here. “Bucky is getting us out of here. I wasn't sure how to check if you were okay.”

“I'm all right. Could probably walk now. Flight is out.”

Captain America nods and settles down. Tony has to strain his neck a little to follow the motion, and regrets it the moment their vehicle hits a bump in the road and he's knocked around in the armor hard. “It's nice to meet you. Thought you were a propaganda tale,” he mutters.

“A propaganda tale?” The laugh of Captain America is very appealing. “I thought you're a thing right out of Marvels.”

“Ah,” Tony says intelligently. If his head wasn't hurting so much he'd have more to say, but he's glad for the moment to only stare at Captain America from behind the safety of his heavy mask.

“You're not a robot, are you?”

“No. No robot, sorry.”

“We'll get you home, don't worry.”

Who could be worried with Captain America watching their back?

“Do you...” Cap hesitates. “The armor was built by Tony Stark, wasn't it? It was his last Marvels adventure... You must know him.”

“Yes,” he says and doesn't say any more.

Captain America just nods and smiles, apparently content with that knowledge. It never occurred to him that even someone like their army's one and only supersoldier would have read and enjoyed Marvels. He expected a soldier among soldiers to be less interested in outrageous adventures, a joyless combat machine. Apparently he's wrong. It must be the lack of oxygen and the near death experience that makes him say: “You have a lovely smile, Cap.” It's not as suave as his usual style, but the sentiment is true.

The man laughs.

Tony stares and thinks there are worse ways to spend your time. In war or peace time.

* * *

Jarvis berates him for coming home a little singed. Pepper doesn't talk to him for having gone on mission without telling her first. Rhodey is in Paris to lend a hand under the call sign “War Machine” and just laughs at him over the phone. It's all as it should be.

He doesn't see Captain America again after Fury's debrief.

There's a war on, of course. They're all needed.

No time to ponder a friendly smile in the heat of battle.

* * *

He stays on the front lines this time, because Fury thinks he's needed close-by. The truth is that Iron Man needs to be where the action is. The pretense is that he's one hell of a pilot and engineer and a man of a certain reputation. Soldiers look at him in awe.

“You're younger than I expected,” a blond private tells him, while he's setting up his things in a makeshift workshop.

“Rogers!” the commanding officer yells.

But Tony laughs. He still has blisters from nearly being fried inside the armor and probably looks like he has smallpox, and he's tired, but he laughs, because sass is better than quiet awe. “I'm certainly younger than I feel today.”

The private frowns at him a little, but ducks his head when his commanding officer orders him to carry Tony's equipment. Tony shakes his head a little, just as a group of young men drag in a suspiciously large crate. “Leave that, I'll set it up later.”

* * *

Life in a war zone is worse than anything else. He can take bullets shot at his head or mad men trying to shoot him up with the Zemo formula, but he's not used to life with soldiers. Only Fury's missions keep him sane. He sneaks in and out as needed and tries to keep away from the rest of the camp. He's not a soldier after all.

He's just Tony Stark. Adventurer. Iron Man.

* * *

He meets Captain America again in battle. This time he can return the favor. The man smiles at him brightly. “Thanks, Iron Man, that was close.”

“Don't get killed. Would be a right shame, Cap,” Tony says.

“We make a good team,” the Captain tells him and grins like a happy little kid. It's not hero worship, but something much more compelling.

* * *

The Orichalcum is keeping his heart stable these days and he itches to do the same for the armor, make it self-sustained and harder to take out. Sometimes the metal is all that's between him and death and tinkering with it becomes a bit of an obsession.

“Do you miss the adventure?” the sassy private from the first day asks him.

“Is war not enough for you?”

“Too much sometimes. Can't imagine it's the same, though.”

“It isn't,” Tony admits. “But we do what we have to do.”

Rogers nods. He's staring at the crate again and Tony is already thinking of an excuse to get rid of him again, when he says: “Even if it means hiding who we are.”

Tony's head snaps up, seeking his eyes. It's a mistake, of course, giving away too much. He's usually a better liar. The man smiles at him and Tony recognizes that. For a moment he can't do much more than stare, then he smiles back.

“You have a lovely smile, Mr. Stark,” Rogers says, grinning, and winks at him.

He laughs. Pepper will love this, if he'll ever be able to tell her of it. It's the beginning of something – friendship, partnership, a pact of heroes. It's also the stuff of legends. Tony knows that business, knows how the good stories go.

Usually they have a little romance in there somewhere.

Rogers grins and holds out his hand: “I'm Steve.”

“Tony,” he says as he shakes it.

“I knew that,” “Steve” says and his eyes are twinkling. “Everybody does.” The handshake is brief, but it's like a jolt goes through both of them, recognition, electricity. Tony doesn't want to name it yet.

“See you around,” Rogers tells him and makes for the door with a bemused smile and a slightly sheepish expression.

He nods. “My pleasure.”

This might turn out to be his greatest adventure yet.