After years of friendship with Tony Stark, Steve would have thought he'd get accustomed to waiting in the hospital corridors. That it would be easier when it was the one hundredth time.
It never was.
He stalked along the corridor, wondering. Did Tony still have the healing factor, or was the Extremis completely gone? Was the node in his chest a problem? Could it have gotten damaged?
Steve didn't know the answers. All he could do was worry.
He'd gotten his life back just to see Tony comatose, asking if his friends wanted to bring him back, and now, not even a week later, Tony was hurt again. And it was so stupid; Steve could survive being shot, Tony –
Tony could too. He had to.
But it wasn't right. What had he been doing there, anyway, in front of Steve's apartment in the middle of the night?
Steve was tired. Paperwork exhausted him more than being in field, and he was still learning of what had happened during the months he'd been gone. None of it was positive.
He wanted to go home—home was gone, the true one—and rest, he wanted not to think, he wanted a break from everything, if only for a few hours.
He didn't expect to see Tony waiting for him in the cold rain.
He didn't expect Tony to tackle him to the ground the moment he saw him.
He didn't expect to hear a loud shot, and he didn't expect to feel Tony's warm blood mix with rain on his hands.
Maria Hill's update call was more of a call with no update. They didn't know if the attacker was connected to the Red Skull or anyone else or working on his own, they didn't know who he was, they didn't know anything.
Steve stared at the closed door of the operation theatre and didn't care about anything but some news about Tony.
He shouldn't care so much. He knew that logically. But the war was long over, the anger that let him beat Tony almost to death in the streets was gone, and Steve was tired.
He needed Tony at his side again. He'd trusted him in these moments when they took Osborn down together. And then, when Steve learnt about all that happened when he was gone and Tony ran S.H.I.E.L.D., the anger came back—but never as strong.
And now Tony was in hospital, because he tried to save Steve.
It had to count for something. It had to mean that this Tony wasn't the same Tony who'd tried to put his friends in prison.
Steve waited for Tony to wake up. It wasn't the first time, of course, it wasn't the tenth; he'd lost count long ago. He always hated it.
And thinking about what happened—Tony had almost killed himself to save Steve. Again. But he'd also been distant, different, he'd stopped a man's heart because it was easier; Extremis had changed him.
The hospital machines were beeping steadily, working undisturbed. That more than anything told Steve that Tony was really unconscious; with the way he liked hospitals, he'd turn them off with his mind in barely a second if he came to.
Steve wished they'd turn silent, that Tony would smile at him.
He didn't even know who he was waiting for to wake up, really, if it was still his friend, but he was worried all the same. He knew that waiting was what he had to do.
That was always the way, with Tony.
Steve wasn't sure how long it'd been when Pepper showed up, clearly worried, but holding herself straight.
“How is he?” she asked, and Steve just shrugged. He wanted to know that too. He didn't get any update in what felt like hours.
Pepper sighed. She sat down in a plastic chair.
Tony's friends knew what it meant to wait.
“I'm really glad you're here,” Pepper said suddenly.
Steve knew what she meant, but he didn't know what to say. It was his fault Tony was hurt, but could he still call him his friend?
In the end, he didn't reply, and Pepper looked at him like she knew exactly what he was thinking.
He'd always liked Pepper, but he was still surprised when she hugged him tight when she saw him.
They hadn't talked during the war, but she was Tony's friend first and foremost; she had to have been angry at him. But her smile now was honest, and Steve hugged her back carefully.
It was—it was good to see they could still be friends.
She was serious when they stepped away from each other, and he saw why when they led him to the next room, to Tony.
To Tony, who deleted his brain to save them all.
When a doctor came and told them they could see Tony now, Steve let Pepper go first. He wasn't sure he belonged there with her, with someone who'd never left Tony in any way that mattered.
He caught the doctor—a middle-aged woman—and asked her about Tony's state. She looked tired, but Steve was ready to call on his new authority if she refused to give him details. But something made her nod. “He lost a lot of blood,” she said, “but the injury wasn't serious. He'll be fine.” She hesitated. “This thing in his chest—I think it helped.”
Steve exhaled slowly.
He'll be fine.
That was more than he'd hoped for, really.
“Thank you,” he said.
He sat on the chair Pepper had taken earlier. He wanted to actually see Tony, but he could wait now.
He'll be fine.
Steve woke up in hospital. Everything hurt, but he forced himself to open his eyes slowly.
Next to him, someone took in a sharp breath. Steve saw Tony, pale and worn, looking like he hadn't slept in days.
“Hello,” Steve said, or maybe just tried to. His throat felt dry.
“They said you'd be fine,” Tony said. “But—”
He stopped himself from finishing the sentence, but Steve knew exactly what he meant.
Nothing was fine until you saw the other person wake up.
When Pepper came out and gesticulated at Steve to go in, he might've moved too fast, judging by her startled face.
“He's asleep,” she said quietly. “Call me if he wakes up?”
He nodded. She probably had something to do now—he knew Tony and her were both busy with trying to save what was left of Stark Industries, and that Tony himself would prefer her to work on that instead of worrying.
He stepped inside and closed the door behind Pepper. Then he took a deep breath and finally looked at Tony.
He was once again startled by how thin and gaunt Tony had become. Hill had implied, if not in exactly said, that Tony had been trying to drive himself in the ground when he was running S.H.I.E.L.D., and looking at him now it was very obvious that was true. He had dark shadows under his eyes, his wrists looked way too bony where they rested on top of the covers. There was an IV drip connected to his right hand. He was very pale, and Steve knew it wasn't just the blood loss. In retrospection, he hadn't really looked better the last time they saw each other.
He'll be fine.
The last time Steve had seen Tony's face, when everything had gone to hell, before the time bullet, had been when he'd smashed the armour's faceplate with his shield.
Finish it, Tony had said in a low voice, and he'd almost looked like he was begging for it. For death.
Did he manage to finish it by saving Steve?
The doctor had said he'd be fine, but he wasn't yet.
Steve was surprised when he caught sight of Tony flying in his old suit over the battleground in Asgard.
He wasn't surprised to see him take down Osborn without any effort, because no one just stole Tony's tech and got away with it.
Steve delivered the final blow, and grinned at Iron Man.
The armour was an older model, one Steve remembered well. He had a lot of fond memories connected to it.
It was easy to forget that the last time they'd been on a battlefield together, they'd been fighting each other.
“Good work, Shellhead,” he said, pushing the bad memories away. He thought he should say something else, ask how Tony was—the image of him lying so still in the bed was fresh in Steve's mind—but he wasn't sure it was the right thing to do at the moment.
Tony tilted his head down slightly, the way he did when he was smiling in the armour, and Steve was glad he hadn't spoiled the moment with more words.
Steve woke up and straightened immediately. He hadn't meant to fall asleep; he wasn't sure why no one had kicked him out of Tony's room—
Tony was looking at him with clear blue eyes, and Steve wondered how long he'd been watching him sleep.
It had never been strange before, one of them waiting for another to wake up, but it probably was now.
“Did you have to go and try to get yourself killed again?” he asked before Tony could speak. He was so tired of worrying about this man, and yet he always came back, again and again.
Tony's face closed off. “You don't have to stay here.”
Steve took a few calming breaths. “I'm a super soldier. I would've been fine.”
“You weren't last time you got shot,” Tony whispered, turning away, and Steve froze.
Tony didn't remember that time, he'd admitted as much.
“I saw—I found a video,” Tony continued. “I'd seen pictures earlier, yes, but someone filmed it, and—”
“What were you doing at my house?” Steve asked quietly.
“I found a video,” Tony repeated in a small voice. “You were bleeding out, and—you had died, and my memory is all a mess, what if I got it wrong, what if you were still—” He stopped talking, and he was breathing too quickly.
Steve reached out and covered Tony's hand with his. Tony's skin was cold to the touch, but he didn't try to move back. He looked at Steve with wide eyes.
“I'm here now,” Steve said. “Try to make sure you're here with me.”