“Hey Cap, Mornin’ J.” Tony dropped into a chair near the captain, and pulled the jug of smoothie over.
Steve folded down the top of his newspaper to flash him a smile that made Tony feel faintly sacrilegious. “Good morning. You ready for this?”
“Of course I am! I’ve been doing ‘this’ for two three years now, I’ve been to every Makluan Temple at least once, and I lived in one for six months.” Also, Tony was getting out of Jenning’s Hyperspace and Hyperbole lectures for this; he was thrilled to escape listening to another droning rendition of how science fiction had influenced ‘real science’. He poured himself his first glass of smoothie and then waved pointedly with the jug. “Are you ready for this?”
“Asks the seventeen year old to the nonagenarian. I buffed the shield last night, and my uniform doesn’t need oiling anymore so, I’m good to go.”
Tony swallowed at the image; Cap in oiled leather, dear god he should go back in time and end whoever put those muscles in Kevlar. Though, it would be pretty self defeating, considering.
“Did you stock the things Bruce suggested?”
“Four spare powerpacks and a P3X tool, on the jet, as requested. We’re good.”
Steve vanished behind his paper again with an approving grunt. None of them were that impressed with his habit of plugging himself into the quinjet’s turbine when the RT ran low, and Cap’s disapproval was like whoa.
“Hey, Jarvis, do we have any sausages? I feel like I need to fuel up,” he asked, twisting to face the stove.
His dad’s Butler tapped his spatula on the handle of the grill. “I suspected as much. Gorge yourself to your heart's content, young Sir.”
“Hey, shouldn’t you be watching your cholesterol, sprat?” Clint asked from the doorway.
“Unlike some people, who I care not to mention, I’m not middleaged with a beer belly,” he snipped irritably, gesturing with his glass. “Besides, you drink enough of this stuff, you’re immune to cholesterol.”
“Even you?” Clint made a gesture towards the RT in his chest, which Tony covered reflexively.
“Screw you, Hawkeye, what the hell do you know about cardiac medicine?” he sniped back, hunching over the table.
Clint made a noncommittal grunt and roughed Tony’s hair up, the jerk. “Whatever, kiddo. Guess I’m taking your word for it, ‘cause that stuff is foul.”
“Blasphemy,” Tony muttered into his glass. It may be green with orange-ish foam, but it was delicious.
Natasha appeared next, undoing the damage to his hair that Clint had wrought. He liked Natasha, and not just because she taught Pepper how to hack into SHIELD on the sly. He tipped his head back to give her a welcoming smile. She pushed his head back forwards with what he liked to think was affectionate roughness, just in time to thank Jarvis for his breakfast. Sausage, eggs, toast, and an espresso. He tucked in with gusto while the others assembled their weird-ass breakfasts. Natasha ate a lot of nuts, he wasn’t sure what was with that, and Cap had to eat at least five times what Tony could manage. Clint was a sugar fiend, like, rivaling Pepper levels, so he was eating fancy egg custard pastries with way too much jam.
He was also allergic to poison ivy, which was practically an infestation where they were going, so Tony slipped that into the final briefing pack.
“Alright people, round it up. Jet in twenty,” Cap announced, putting the paper down.
Tony shot off a lazy salute and hopped for it. He wanted to grab a couple more tools and text Pepper.
“Aaaand exhibit A: one Makluan Temple, power levels at... oh, seventy percent of what we recorded at ring activation.” He reached over and switched the main viewer to thermals, which let them see through the dense canopy, mostly.
Clint let out a low whistle, from Tony’s left, and Cap’s hand landed on his shoulder. “Take us in, Iron Man, as close to the temple as you can; I don’t like the look of the brush here.”
Tony couldn’t agree more, what with having written 90% of the briefing packet, but they all seemed to forget that. He wasn’t bitter about that, exactly, but there was a certain impetus to rebel generated by the whole thing. So maybe the landing was a little more perfect than strictly necessary, he was a super mature rebel OK?
He put the jet in ‘park’, --also known as turning on the autoturrets and locking the vents to stop any weird shit hitching a ride home with them-- and shrugged the helmet up to follow the blond beachhead out of the hatch.
“Awww, Ivy, no...”
Tony rolled his eyes under the helmet and lifted off to do perimeter recon with Widow.
“So what happened last time you were here?” she asked, over the roar of the wind.
He laughed back and did a loop around her bike. “Tidepool!”
“We’re in the middle of the jungle!”
So it was absurd, so it was. “I know right?! Shouldn’t happen this time, the ring’s long gone!”
His scanners beeped --full grid completion-- and he pulled up at (0,0) to browse through them.
“Shouldn’t? Oh, now we’re done for. Drowning, never thought that’d be the way I go,” Hawkeye commented from ground level, his face visible through the leaves as a pale circle.
“Man up, bird-brain, if my Dad could get out on foot, even you’ll be fine!” There was nothing out here on scanners, but the power readings (thermal and a hint of gamma) were single-source and easily locatable within the temples superstructure. He pinged Cap’s wristband with the map data.
“Oh ho, watchit tin-can, I have a whole quiver of arrows with ‘Tony’s Butt’ on them back home, just try me.”
Tony had a perfect response lined up, about holding arrows hostage, but Cap got there first.
“Cool it on comms, people, we have no idea what’s going on. Get down here, Tony, I want you on rear support. Widow, take point.”
Tony landed with a hiss of hot jets on wet foliage. He didn’t mind taking rear guard; he could move faster than the others, get up front in fractions of a second if needed, and also the view, man. Being a teenager in a team of extreme athletes had put strain on certain pieces of the armor, okay, and he was 90% an ass guy.
He had the impression that Cap thought the rear guard was the safest position, too. Wrong! So wrong, had the guy never seen a horror film? In back was the one place no one else was looking at. So, he let Cap have his sense of security, and blasted up to face the re-animated statue head on when it appeared out of the gloom.
The bright streak of gleaming crimson sent Steve spinning, shield already at his fingertips for a throw.
Then he saw what Iron Man had; the temple guardian was up and about, all fifty feet of it.
“What have I said about leaping in head first?!” he bellowed after the armor, hiking himself up onto a slab of collapsed masonry.
Tony blasted the dragon in the ‘ear’, irreverently. “Um, reinforce the helmet?”
He growled without activating his comm again and loosed the shield at a limestone eye to pull its focus off the very attractive target Tony was making of himself. He launched himself up a carved facade to catch it again, and redirected it’s momentum right back at the target. The stone dragon roared its displeasure at that and a strong thrash of its tail sent masonry tumbling and Tony blasting his boots to get out of the way.
“Hawkeye; aim for the mouth! Widow, go dark, go deep. These guys have off switches, find it!”
“Cap? What are we doing?” Tony asked.
Steve listened out for strain in that voice every time he heard it; Tony wasn’t great at telling anyone anything, up to and including heart attacks and catastrophic power failures. He was so young. Vulnerable.
“We’re going to complete the challenge, see if that does it.”
Tony took the order with some kind of manic glee, spiraling around the dragon's snaking body, and Steve leapt to follow him deeper into the temple. The boom of a red arrow behind them signaled Hawkeye’s contribution, and then they were past its tail --threat level:7-- and into the echoing altar chamber.
“Guys, guysguysguys--!” Hawkeye babbled, the whizz and thrum of his bowstring a constant under the graunching sound of reanimated stone. “It’s coming on too fast; I got nowhere to go!”
Steve flung the shield again, aiming for a crack in the whippy end of that tail, to draw it back off Hawkeye. The tail splintered, leaving a writhing piece of animated stone on the altar, and the dragon hurtled back into the chamber in blind fury.
Smoke drooled from its mouth, along with stone dust and the fletchings of an arrow, and for a second he thought they were going to be fighting gouts of fire, until another of Hawkeye's arrows went off on the beast’s shoulder.
It thrashed wildly, looking for someone to bite for the indignity, and Tony was hovering in plain sight, reading the Temple scripture to himself in Old Makluan. Steve hadn’t had the time to learn the language since so much of it was logic, the kind that came with numbers and arcane math, so he had to guard Tony’s back until he understood it well enough to explain.
He’d always have Tony’s back, anyway.
He leapt onto the dragon's head and rode it down into the floor with the force of his momentum, gouging a track in the bedrock with its lower jaw. His weight alone wasn’t nearly enough to keep it down but he locked his thighs around its neck and that gave him the leverage to bring down the shield edge first.
“Hurry up, Tony; what the hell is the challenge!”
Tony zipped by, scoring a line into the dragon's skin just in reach of the shield. “ICE! We had to use ice to get across the tidepool!”
Steve slammed the shield edge into the score and wrenched the crack open a little wider; it slowed the dragon down at least, and kept it from bucking from side to side, but the stone was already welding itself back together.
“So where’s the damn pool, now, Tony?”
“I don’t know! The instructions have changed!”
Steve brought the shield back down again in rank frustration, but the crack had sealed and he was back to square one. He chipped the scales, but made little headway. “So translate!”
Pissed and apparently tired of trying to throw him off, the statue reared up and tried to rub him off against the cavern ceiling. Steve leapt for a column, rebounded, and caught hold of Iron Man’s wrist. They swung wide, out of the way of snapping teeth, and then ended up tumbling across the stone when the re-grown tail sliced through the air and struck Tony across the shoulders.
They rolled to a stop in a cloud of dust. Steve tested his limbs out, brains rattled inside his helmet, and decided he was good, before he rolled to his knees to check on Tony.
“Tony? Report. Iron Man, are you--” The armors back was crumpled in a line from the edge of Tony’s ribcage up to the opposite shoulder. Compressed air hissed out of a burst coupling in a cloud of white ice crystals and a larger conduit sparked briefly before cutting off to smoke. Steve wanted to press a bandage over the leak, but he’d been told off for that before; the armor wasn’t the pilot underneath, it didn’t ‘bleed’.
“It, jheez...” Tony wheezed, pushing up to his hands and knees. Steve grabbed his shoulder to ease him back down when he wobbled with a whirr of servos. “It translates as ‘time’s minion,’ we have to be like ‘time’s minion’ somehow.”
“Ice, time... Oh! Ice!” Steve checked his comm to make sure it hadn’t been knocked in the tumble and broadcast to the whole team. “Hawkeye! Ice arrows! Widow, grenade once it’s locked up. I’ll take care of whatever’s left. On your mark, Clint!”
“Five seconds, let me get into shot of its mouth; that’ll really piss it off.”
“Look out for the tail, too. Bastard...” Tony groaned. Steve shivered, his mind racing over the pain he could hear in his voice.
“Stay down, Tony.” To his relief, the armour slumped back to the stone, sprawled as if Tony had just rolled out of bed. Steve was wound up tight, crouching over him with the shield held over them. He didn’t like the look of that gash, and it was hard to see blood through the dust and red metal. He knew how much the heat of battle could hide. “How’s it feel? Are you bleeding? We’re nearly done here, I’ll get you to Jarvis, okay?”
Tony moaned. “Aww c’mon, man; I just busted a powercouple, you don’t have to fuss.”
Tension crawled up Steve’s spine; why couldn’t Tony just answer the damn question?
Overhead, the crackling of ice signaled Natasha, and Steve ducked behind the shield while the grenade went off.
“So help me God, if you bleed out before we get back to base, I am handing you over to your Father for a month.”
The armor hissed open just as the dragon fell to the earth, inert again, and Natasha called ‘clear!’ in the distance. Steve pulled Tony’s (warm, bony, pliant) body out of the sparking shell and turned him to look at the injury, his free hand already reaching for the med kit on his belt.
He felt Tony’s arms go around his shoulders, and the arc reactor thrumming against his sternum, before he saw the smooth expanse of unmarked skin of Tony’s back.
“Hey, Cap,” Tony murmured in his ear, just for the two of them. “I really am fine, I know you worry, but, four billion dollar suit, okay?”
Steve shuddered unmanfully and dropped to his ass in the dust so he could bundle the idiot teenager up on his lap. He hid his face in curly helmet-hair and held on tight, shield braced between Tony and the world.
“Awww, Cap, I’m sorry man. I really am. Messed you up with my stunt last time, didn’t I?”
Tony damn well had; he’d very nearly died. They had come so close to losing him. Tony knocked on the back of his helmet and pushed at him, but Cap found he couldn’t quite let go yet, couldn’t pry his fingers up, couldn’t make himself drop the shield.
“Ugh, you are a big lump, gimmie your jacket. Pain in my ass.”
Steve choked on a laugh, worried that it would turn embarrassing if he made too much noise. He hadn’t thought about it, deliberately, but he’d had nightmares of the moment Tony had gone down, the lightning ring’s power slamming him into the ocean. He hadn’t put it behind him, and it was like holding ice on his tongue; the longer it sat there, the more it hurt.
“...first face I saw in this century...don’t you dare die, kiddo.”
“Copy that Captain. Now, seriously, it’s pretty cold in here, and your suit is highly insulating, while mine is broken.”
Steve nodded, tried not to sniff too obviously, and let Tony steal his outer layer.