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It’s become ridiculous lately, how easily the villains have adapted to Tony’s brand of recklessness. Steve knows it has something to do with how technologically advanced Tony is, how brilliant and benevolent and how he could easily take apart any of the villains if they were in the same room together, intellectually. But it also has quite a bit to do with the fact that Tony won’t stop throwing himself in front of Steve whenever there is a missile larger than a .44 caliber being shot at him. Steve has noticed the pattern, so there’s no doubt the villains have too.

And it doesn’t help that whenever Tony does jump in front, Steve feels his heart catch in his throat, wants nothing but to grab Tony and force him behind Steve, because they have this ridiculous almost-relationship and Steve feels particularly protective over Tony just from all he’s learned from his file. Tony has this tendency to be snarky and defensive and hurt whenever anyone calls him out on something and Steve has slowly pieced together the puzzle that is Tony Stark and figured out just how many pieces are missing. It’s getting to the point where Steve wants nothing more than to allow Tony to stay down in his workshop all the time and never let him leave for fear of losing more of the pieces.

This time it’s different though. There’s something about the way Doom is acting, about how he honestly will not let Steve move a step without firing off a missile, that sits wrong with Steve. And it hits him when Tony dives down in front of him, hands up and ready to fire off a repulsor blast.

“It’s a trap!” Steve shouts, but it’s too late. The missile explodes, sending out a pulse that catches Tony in the chest and fires him back and past Steve. Smoke and metal shrapnel follow in his wake and Steve tosses his shield without looking, anger tearing a yell from his throat. Doom gasps when the shield slams into his stomach and Thor rains lightning down on him, leaving him a smoking body on the concrete.

“Tony!” Steve shouts, turning on his heel and staring at the crackling mess that is Tony’s suit just a few feet from him. He rushes to his side, skidding to the ground and fighting with the locking mechanism on the helmet. He manages to get it open and Tony blinks up at him, eyes glazed and lips smeared with drops of blood and Steve panics.

“What happened? What do I do? Are you all right?” Steve stares down at the mess of exposed wires and brilliant red and gold metal and doesn’t know even where to start. Tony coughs out a breath and scrambles at his side.

“Mechanism. Side. Hit it.”

Steve reaches down, batting away Tony’s frantic fingers and twists the handle, shoving his gloved thumb into the exposed button. The entire suit shudders before falling away with a clamour, leaving Tony in nothing but tight boxer briefs. Tony groans, crossing his arms protectively over his chest and the obviously damaged arc reactor.

“Fuck, fuck, that hurts, goddamn,” Tony breathes and Steve can feel his fingers shaking. Tony breathes out, brings a hand to his lips and wipes off the blood. “Wasn’t expecting that.”

“You idiot!” Steve shouts, shoving gently against Tony’s shoulders. “You goddamn reckless, enthusiastic, blind idiot! How could you not see that was a trap? How?”

Tony blinks at him before looking away. His lips twist in a semblance of a smile. “Better me than you.”

No,” Steve says, vicious. Tony doesn’t look at him. Steve wants to shake him. He tries to run his hands through his hair, realizes his cowl is still in place and fights it off. “No, you do that again and I will bench you. For fuck’s sake, Tony, you are not expendable.”

“You swore!” Tony says, pointing at him. Steve rolls his eyes skyward.

“That isn’t the – Tony, you do that again and I will lock you in your workshop. Without any tools.” Steve reaches forward and carefully sits Tony up. His heart is still lodged in his throat and he winces when he sees the bloody mess around Tony’s chest. The arc reactor is still working though.

“I once built an arc reactor in a cave. With a box of scraps. I can do anything,” Tony says, leaning heavily against Steve’s chest. He buries his face in the crook of Steve’s neck. “Don’t feel good, Cap.”

“Oh, Tony,” Steve sighs, gathering him up. When Steve looks up, the other Avengers are watching silently. Natasha cocks an eyebrow, her lips twitching. Clint rolls his eyes and the Hulk is poking pathetically at the still smouldering remnants of Doom. Steve’s shield is sitting beside the fallen villain’s side, and Steve kind of wants to go over and bash Doom’s head in.

“We got this, Cap,” Clint calls. “Take Stark home.”

Steve nods, helping Tony to stand. If he has to throw himself in front of Tony a few times to get his point across, he will. Tony is not expendable. No matter what he thinks.

“You’re a fool.”

“Always have been,” Tony says, and then promptly passes out.