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For Want of a Hero

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Steve was just packing a backpack with his drawing supplies when the speakers in the penthouse crackled softly, Jarvis’ way of clearing his throat to gain attention so he didn’t startle anyone. “Captain? Sir is calling you,” the AI announced.

Steve patted at his pants pockets but came up empty. He could vaguely hear his cellphone ringing somewhere in the living room and sighed. “Just put it through here, Jarvis,” Steve instructed.

There was a click and then the sound of traffic throughout the bedroom. “Hey, bae,” said Tony over the noise.

Steve smiled, mood lifting with the sound of his partner’s voice. “Hello, Tony. Done for the morning?” He shoved his pencil case into a pouch of the bag and zipped it up.

“Yes, thank not Thor,” groused Tony. “I thought Johnson was going to go on forever. It’s like the man doesn’t need to breathe. He can go on and on and on. It’s scary to watch, it really is.”

Steve’s smile turned wry. “Hmmm, I wonder who else I know that can talk and talk non-stop?” he teased sarcastically.

“Are you insinuating something, Steve? Because it sounds like you are and I take offense to… Hey, Happy.” Steve chuckled as Tony broke off his complaining to greet the chauffeur slash bodyguard.

“Boss,” Happy acknowledged, Steve an unwilling eavesdropper. “Back to the Tower?”

“Yep. Got a hot date,” replied Tony with the rustle of cloth. Steve shook his head in amusement while Happy laughed.

“Sure thing, Boss.” A car door slammed shut and the traffic noise cut off, the interior of the limousine quiet and comfortable.

“So, where do you want to go?” asked Tony.

“Seat belt,” Steve prompted instead.

“Yeah, yeah.” Steve could hear the zip and click of Tony putting on his seat belt and smiled, pleased. “We could go to Tavern on the Green, walk around the park afterward? We’ll find you a nice bird or rabbit to sketch.”

Steve glanced at his backpack with a snort. “You know me too well. But it’s always so crowded there. How about Pearl Oyster Bar? I have a craving.”

“Remember what happened last time we went there? I don’t mind waiting in a line but it just gives those dickhead paparazzi a chance to surround us,” Tony replied, a bitter sour note emerging in his voice.

Steve winced. It had not been pretty. The blond had come very close to decking one of them after they had pulled out the tired ‘merchant of death’ bit in an effort to get Tony to react but, thankfully, there had been some Iron Man fans in the crowd and they had shouted the moron down before the police had shown up to disperse the unwanted crowd. “What about Mario’s?”

“Yeah,” sighed Tony, voice softening with nostalgia. “That sounds good. I could go for some Italian.” The little restaurant was a favorite of the pair. Mario still puttered around the kitchen even through his son had taken over the business years ago and always made sure to greet Tony himself whenever they came in, which was at least three times a month. “I can hear that garlic bread calling my name. We’ll be home in a couple of minutes. We’re only up the…”

“SIR!” shouted Jarvis suddenly, disrupting their conversation. Steve jumped a mile in surprise, nearly dropping the bottle of water he had pulled from the fridge. He heard Tony gasp in alarm and then in the next second all he could hear was the crunch of metal and the squeal of tires, the loud noise echoing in the penthouse. Ice pulsed through Steve’s veins as he stopped breathing in shock. “Sir’s vehicle has been in an accident, Captain,” Jarvis said crisply. It was enough to unfreeze Steve and he ran for the elevator. “I have lost the camera in the back of the limousine but Sir is not responding to my verbal hails. I can see that Mr. Hogan has lost consciousness. He appears to be bleeding from his nose. I have called 911. Ambulance and police have been summoned.” Jarvis’ voice was clipped and fast, reporting information almost quicker than Steve’s stunned brain could take it in.

The elevator dropped quickly. “What side were they hit?” Steve asked, worry cracking his voice.

“The driver’s side, near the rear tire. I do believe Mr. Hogan avoided substantial injury but there is a great deal of damage to the limousine.” The area where Tony would be sitting, although, thankfully, not the same side. Steve swallowed harshly, a lump in his throat threatening to choke him. “I can detect two heartbeats, Captain. Sir is alive,” Jarvis said soothingly.

Steve slumped a little, reaching out for the elevator railing to hold himself up. “Thank God,” he muttered.

“Captain,” Jarvis fairly snapped in the next second. “Masked assailants are approaching the limousine.”

“What?” barked Steve, the jelly feeling in his legs disappearing. His heart began to pound in his chest, adrenaline surging and focusing his mind.

“They are attempting to gain access to the interior of the limousine. I am contacting SHIELD. Captain, brace yourself. I am going to drop the elevator.” Steve latched onto the railing again and braced himself a bare second before the elevator began to fall. He clinched his teeth as his stomach tried to climb up his throat. This was the fastest way to descend the Tower but Steve still hated it. His logical mind was insisting he was going to smash at the bottom of the shaft. A couple moments later, Steve heard the brakes snap into place and the specialized repulsor system underneath the floor kick on and the carriage began to slow.

Steve shot out of the elevator as soon as the doors opened enough for him to slip through sideways. The floor of the elevator wasn’t exactly at level with the floor of the lobby but Steve ignored it as he sprinted across the lobby toward the doors. “What are they?” he shouted as office workers scattered out of his path.

“The intersection of Page Avenue and East 49th Street,” Jarvis replied, projecting his voice through the lobby speakers. The people in the lobby looked around in confusion. A map of New York City sprang up in Steve’s mind and he didn’t break stride as he banged out of the Tower doors and veered left. He ran past the red umbrellas of Café Centro and crossed East 45th Street, jumping the hood of a car. Horns blared at him but Steve ignored them as he raced up Vanderbilt Avenue. The Helmsley Building stood tall and imposing on Steve’s right. He dodged people until frustration had him leave the sidewalk. More car horns honked at him and people shouted at him to get out of the road as Steve sped past the cars. The blond ignored it all, the only thought in his head simply that of getting to Tony.

Steve grabbed a streetlamp and swung himself to the right onto East 47th Street, the JPMorgan Chase Tower blocking his path forward. Traffic was beginning to grow thick and Steve could hear sirens in the distance. He dodged across the street and jumped a planter box of long green grass and trees to cut across a patio on the corner. Steve reached Park Avenue and put on a burst of speed. Two blocks up was East 49th Street and Steve could already see the snarl of cars around the intersection and a thin trickle of black smoke rising into the air.

The familiar limo was sitting cockeyed in the roadway, a large truck crashed into its side. A crowd of loitering and confused onlookers were blocking Steve’s rush down the sidewalk. “Move!” he shouted. Several people did and now Steve could see a group of about eight men on the street. They all wore plain clothing and all of them had black ski masks covering their faces. Four of them were at the side of the limo. Three of the men were attempting to pry the back door open while the fourth was hitting the limo window with a baseball bat, which Steve knew from experience was not going to work. The rest of them were maintaining the perimeter with assault weapons.

Steve was almost there when someone threw a chair from a café at one of the men. He fell and the other three guns swiveled in that direction. Another person from the crowd darted forward and kicked the back of one of the gunmen. He stumbled and then a dog pile of people were on top of him. A plate was thrown, presumably also from the café, and it hit one of the men trying to force the limo door open. He stumbled, clutching his head. Then Steve was there, leaping on a gunman and bringing him down to the ground hard. The last standing gunman turned toward Steve, leveling his weapon. A golf club flew at him and he jerked back with a muffled shout of surprise, his shot hitting asphalt. A few men from the crowd rushed him. The gunman jerked his elbow back into one man’s face but then a woman smacked a tire iron into the gunman’s knee and he hit the ground.

Steve stood to find all of the gunmen on the ground and two of the men who had been trying to get into the limo with a pile of people on them. One man was trying to flee up the street but didn’t get very far before the crowd descended on him. The last guy was trapped against the side of the limo, a single handgun waving frantically in front of him. “Stay back! Back!” he shouted.

Steve took a few steps forward, putting himself squarely in the sights of the man. The gun swung toward him. “Move,” Steve growled softly, fury in his eyes.

“Fuck you! You move! Captain America,” the man sneered and then laughed. He stomped forward a step, like he was playing chicken with a train. “Back off or I’ll shoot!” He jerked the gun menacingly. An arrow whistled through the air and pierced the man’s wrist. He screamed and fell to his knees, the gun falling from his hand. Steve kicked out and the man’s limp body hit the street. Steve didn’t waste time. He darted to the limo door.

The door was scratched and a piece of metal was bent back at the corner. Steve tried to pull it open but the latch was unresponsive. “Jarvis, open the door!” he called. “Authorization Rogers-Spangles-1-9-4!” He heard the loud thunk as the vibranium locks keeping the door closed gave way. Steve wrenched the door open, his heart in his throat.

The far side of the cab was crunched inward, the seats along that side thrust forward. The windows were spider webbed but not broken. The truck must have plowed into the limo without even trying to slow down. Tony was slumped over, his torso hung up on the shoulder strap of the seat belt. His head hung limply on his neck and red blood trickled down the right side of his face. There was a splatter of blood on the door window where he had banged his head when the limo had been hit. Tony's left foot was caught between the broken seats and what was left of the bar. “Tony?” called Steve softly, the sound of sirens and yelling falling away behind him. Steve's whole world had narrowed down to dark eyelashes resting gently on Tony's cheeks, blood creased into the corners of the brunette's lips. “Sweetheart, can you hear me?” he asked fearfully.

Steve reached forward to unlatch the seat belt and get Tony out of there but his wrist was caught in a firm grip. “Don't,” Natasha ordered firmly. “There could be damage to his neck and spine. Let the paramedics treat him properly.” Numb, Steve let her pull him back and a team of paramedics rushed forward. Steve stood trembling as he listened to them call to Tony and get no response either. They eased a neck brace around the brunette, which nearly sent Steve into tears. One of them sliced through the seat belt with a knife while a female paramedic climbed halfway into the limo to try and free Tony's foot. The dark haired man didn't make a sound during all the jostling.

Clint appeared next to them and wrapped his hand around Steve’s arm. “Cap, Steve, they can’t get Happy’s door open. Could you help?” he asked, tugging at him. Natasha nudged him along and Steve went stumbling around the car with them. The big truck, the type you would see making deliveries, was crunched into the side of the limo and Steve swallowed down bile before looking at Happy’s door. The metal had buckled from the impact and three firefighters were trying to pry it open. Natasha and Clint shooed them away and Steve sank his fingers into the crumbled jamb of the door and wrenched it away.

Happy blinked up at him owlishly, blood covering the lower half of his face. He coughed and made a sound of pain and Natasha pulled Steve back so the paramedics could tend to the man. Steve found himself staggering back around the limo without any memory of the journey. They were just easing Tony out onto a gurney, the man strapped to a backboard and an oxygen mask covering his face. Steve made a horrible sound as if someone had reached into his chest and started squeezing his heart.

The paramedics lashed Tony to the gurney and began to wheel him away. Steve stumbled after them with a low keen in his throat. They clattered up in the ambulance and Steve hauled himself up after them. Finally, one of the paramedics seemed to notice him. “Sir, please, you can't be in here,” the man said, his latex gloves with blood at the fingertips.

“The hell I can't,” Steve growled, a bolt of anger shooting through the concern and numbness. The paramedic bulked in surprise and fear.

“Doug, if Captain America wants to ride with his boyfriend to the hospital, then he can,” barked the female paramedic. The one that had practically climbed into the ruined limo to free Tony's foot, Steve noted vaguely. She was currently peeling Tony's eyelids back and shining a pen light in them. “Right eye is dilated,” she reported.

“Don't get in the way,” grumbled the male paramedic. It was all Steve could do not to snarl at him and instead wedge himself in the corner.

Natasha appeared at the doors. “We'll meet you at the hospital,” she said, before helping the ambulance driver slam the doors shut. A moment later, the ambulance shuddered and began to move forward. The siren turned on over their heads.

Steve braced himself against the walls and watched the two paramedics work on Tony. The female spread Tony's jacket and then snipped his shirt and tie off with a pair of scissors while the male got a stethoscope fitted into his ears and prepared to listen to the unconscious man's chest. They both paused when the arc reactor was revealed. “Um, Emily, what is that?” muttered the male paramedic.

They both looked over at Steve with various levels of confusion. “It's buried in his chest,” he said churlishly. They both winced but, to their credit, continued on. Doug carefully moved the stethoscope piece around Tony's chest while Emily took his blood pressure. They both called out some numbers that Steve couldn't force his brain to make sense of.

Doug got some supplies from the shelves and began to treat the head wound. Emily got out her pen light again and rechecked Tony's eyes. “Sir?” she practically yelled into his face. “Can you hear me? Mr. Stark?” She reached down and pinched between Tony's thumb and forefinger hard. “Mr. Stark? Can you make a noise for me?” She made a grunt of frustration when she got no response. Steve felt tears well up in his eyes and squeezed them shut. The feeling of helplessness flooded his chest and he hated it.

The ambulance came to a quick stop, rocking everyone on their feet. The doors were thrown open and the two paramedics were pushing the gurney with Tony out. A group of nurses and doctors waited to help ease it to the ground. Steve hopped out after them and followed the gurney into the hospital ER. The paramedics and doctors were talking over each other during the head long rush into the bowels of the hospital. Steve charged after them, his eyes fixed on where Tony lay still and pale on the gurney.

“Steve!” called a familiar voice. Someone grabbed his arm and the blond almost responded with a swing at their face. Phil quickly let go of Steve’s arm and stepped in front of him to block his path.

The gurney with Tony and its gaggle of medical personnel banged through another doorway and were quickly disappearing down the corridor. “Move, Phil,” snapped Steve. “I have to be with him.”

“Let’s the doctors work, Steve. Tony is in good hands,” Phil replied, his voice calm. Steve snorted like an angry bull and made to push past the smaller man. Phil caught Steve’s shoulder and squeeze as hard as he could. “You won’t do Tony any good if you’re in the way, distracting the doctors. They know what they’re doing and you don’t. Let them do their jobs, Steve.” Blue eyes burned and popped as Steve glared at Phil. The SHIELD agent merely stared back until Steve’s shoulders began to slump.

“Yeah, ok,” the blond muttered around a lump in his throat. Steve glanced through the windows in the doors but the hallway beyond was empty.

“Come on. Waiting room is over here,” Phil said, nudging Steve along the hall and into a room filled with chairs, old magazines, and an ancient TV that was mercifully not currently on. Steve collapsed into a chair and Phil crossed the room to the messy beverage bar, returning with two cups of overly bitter coffee. He handed one to Steve and sat next to him.

“Thanks,” grunted Steve. He took a sip and grimaced at the taste. “Oh, that is foul.”

“I don’t think you’re supposed to actually drink it. It’s just there to occupy your hands,” Phil said blandly.

Steve gave a deep, exasperated sighed and leaned forward in his seat to rest his elbows on his knees. The Styrofoam cup of coffee dangled limply from his fingers. “Do we know anything?” he asked, dredging up a sense of weary duty.

Phil shook his head. “No. Jarvis contacted us when the masked assailants appeared but we weren’t even aware Tony’s limo had been in an accident before that. We didn’t catch wind of any plans or see anything abnormal before now.” Steve nodded and took another sip of coffee, seemingly forgetting what the first taste had been like. He made another disgusted face and stretched out an arm to set the cup on a side table. Phil’s cellphone chimed and he pulled it from his jacket pocket. He glanced at the text message and fired off a response before sliding it back into his pocket.

“What?” asked Steve, curious.

“Preliminary information suggests AIM was behind the car crash and attack. We’ll know more once we get a chance to fully interrogate the detainees,” Phil replied blandly.

Steve sat back in his chair, the back of his head thumping against the wall. “Tony is going to be so pissed.” Phil made a soft noise of agreement.

Rapid footsteps caused both of them to look up. Natasha and Clint appeared in the doorway and quickly made their way toward the waiting pair. “Any word?” Natasha asked. She had pulled on a gray hoodie with NYU in huge purple letters across the front, although Steve could tell she still had all her SHEILD gear on underneath it. The spy and archer had been at SHEILD headquarters that morning overseeing training exercises.

Phil shook his head. “They haven’t talked with us yet.” Natasha’s lips pressed together, unimpressed. “Any information on your end?”

“It was AIM alright, I know that much,” replied Natasha. She sat in the chair next to Steve and leaned against his arm in comfort. “Maria is overseeing their interrogation for now. We’ll know more soon.” Steve nodded, giving the redhead a small smile.

“Anybody hear from Pepper? Do we know anything about Happy?” asked Clint. He was covering his own SHIELD gear with wrinkled black sweats. The archer perched uncomfortably on the edge of a chair across from them.

“Oh. No. I don’t think anyone has gotten in touch with her yet,” said Steve, sitting up. He patted at his pockets and gave an annoyed sigh. “I forgot my damn cellphone at home.”

“I'll call Miss Potts and see if I can get any information about Tony or Mr. Hogan,” Phil said soothingly. He stood and went out into the hallway, pulling his cellphone from his jacket.

Natasha settled against Steve's arm again, sliding her hand down to clasp his. She gave his fingers a comforting squeeze. The ball of worry and fear didn't loosen in Steve's chest but he found himself taking a deeper breath anyway. Clint slid back in his chair, bouncing his knee anxiously. The archer was never good with waiting unless it was waiting for a target. “Is there any coffee or something?” Clint asked after a moment.

Steve waved a hand toward the beverage bar where the coffee machine was. “There. I don't know what's in the pot but I wouldn't call it coffee.”

“Fine by me,” Clint said, springing up from his seat. He poured himself a cup and wandered out into the hallway rather than return to the seats.

“You ok?” Natasha asked when the waiting room was empty.

Steve blew out a loud breath and reached his free hand up to rub at his face. “Yeah. I just...” He trailed off, unable to focus his thoughts.

Natasha patted his arm understandingly. “You're angry and frustrated and worried. They hit us in a soft spot. It's one thing to attack the Avengers, attack Iron Man, but a whole other to go after Tony Stark.”

Steve was nodding in agreement by the time Natasha finished talking. “I just feel useless,” he muttered, closing his eyes.

“I know,” soothed Natasha. She squeezed Steve's hand again. “It wouldn't have mattered if you had been there or not. The truck crashed into the limo too quickly for anyone to react. The suitcase armor was in the trunk of the limo and it didn't do Tony any good either. He wasn't badly injured from what I saw. Tony will be ok, Steve.”

“There was blood on the window,” Steve whimpered. He squeezed his eyes, fighting back tears. If he started crying he didn't think he'd be able to stop. “He hit his head,” Steve croaked.

“I saw. I'm sorry. At least it was one of Tony's cars,” Natasha said, voice sad. Steve shuddered. He knew the force it took to damage cars Tony had designed and built himself. If they had been in a normal car and been hit with the force that truck had exerted on the limo, they would have been pulling two bodies out of mangled metal. Footsteps headed back into the waiting room but Natasha remained relaxed and leaning against Steve, so he didn't bother to open his eyes.

“Pepper saw the accident on the news and is heading this way,” Phil reported. They all winced. They would be getting a talking to when the redheaded CEO arrived. She hated learning about Avengers’ business and injuries through the news. “I managed to catch a nurse and learned that Mr. Hogan is being prepped for surgery for his broken left arm. It's a complicated break but they are confident they can repair the damage and he'll heal. He didn’t know how long the surgery would take. Tony is still in the ER being checked over but the nurse thought they might be done with him soon.”

Steve opened his eyes and sighed tiredly. “That's good, at least.”

A young nurse trotted through the waiting room door and then froze at the sight of them. They all looked at her but all she did was stare at them, her blue eyes wide. “Ma'am?” Clint asked, his cup of coffee sludge in his hands.

She looked at Clint with a start. “You're Hawkeye,” she said breathlessly.

Clint puffed up. “I am.” He loved it when the public acted in awe of them. Natasha rolled her eyes.

“May we help you, Miss?” Phil asked.

The young woman cleared her throat sheepishly. She tugged at her scrubs while she nodded. “I’m Kristen, I work in the ER. Doctor Woods sent me to tell you that Mr. Stark is being moved to a room and you can see him shortly.”

Steve and Natasha stood. “Is he ok?” asked Steve, coming eagerly toward the nurse.

Kristen blinked at him, a little star struck he could tell. “All things considered, Mr. Stark is in amazing condition,” she replied, swallowing. “A pretty good concussion. The doctors want to keep him overnight for observation just in case but he's been awake and he knows his name and everything, so they're not worried.” Steve sagged a little and Natasha and Phil stepped close to him. The nurse's face softened. “Come on. I'll lead you to his room.”

“That would be wonderful. Thank you,” said Phil.

They trooped after the nurse, who was barely containing her excitement. “Mr. Stark had three stitches put into his head wound and his left ankle is fractured but otherwise he’s in good shape,” she was saying as they piled into an elevator. “Doctor Woods expects he’ll be black and blue along his right side in a day or so but was amazed Mr. Stark wasn’t more injured.” Kristen glanced shyly at Steve and smiled. “We saw the car crash on the news. It looked bad and when word came in that Mr. Stark and his driver were being brought here, we kind of feared the worst.” The elevator door opened and she perked up. “We were glad that wasn’t the case. This way.” The nurse waved to the people at the station, bypassing it, and led them down the hallway to an end room. She peeked in, the Avengers crowded up behind her. Steve was very close to picking her up and moving her aside but she moved into the room in the next second, holding the door open for them all. “It looks like they’ve got him settled,” Kristen said, talking softly.

Another nurse was fiddling with the bed, clicking it into position. She smiled at the group as they filed in and adjusted the oxygen cannula under Tony’s nose. Steve hurried to the side of the bed. “Tony?” he called softly, his voice tense. “Can you hear me, sweetheart?” He carefully curled his fingers around one of Tony’s hands. “Tony?” The dark haired man was pale, the right side of his face discolored with impacted mark and a tiny knot of black stitches out of place high on his temple. An IV was attached to the back of his left hand and the arc reactor was glowing through the thin hospital gown. A blanket was spread out over his legs. “Tony?” Steve muttered, gently touching his thumb to the corner of Tony’s lips where a spot of blood hadn’t been cleaned away.

“He’s pretty out of it,” the second nurse said, busy scribbling on a chart. “We gave him a pretty heavy pain killer a little while ago. Mr. Stark is going to probably be asleep for a couple of hours.”

“I’ll get some chairs and have a hospitality tray sent up,” announced Kristen. She turned toward the door but paused. She looked nervously at Natasha. The redhead cocked an eyebrow. “I just want you to know that you’re my favorite Avenger,” the nurse said in a rush before hightailing it out the door and down the hallway, face red as a tomato. Natasha’s lips turned up in a surprised smile. Clint sniggered and then groaned as she whacked him in the shoulder.

The last nurse chuckled. She set the chart at the end of the Tony’s bed. “My name is June and I’m the duty nurse for this floor. Mr. Stark is in good condition and merely needs his rest. If you need anything or he wakes up, please press the call button.” June pointed to the button over the bed. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“I think we’re fine for now, June,” Phil said. “Thank you so much.” June smiled at them, lines around her mouth and eyes crinkling, and left.

Natasha pushed a chair up to the side of the bed. “Here, Steve, sit.” She pushed at his shoulder and Steve sat, scooting the chair closer to the bed. Steve was gently sweeping his thumb over the back of Tony’s hand, eyes fixed on the sleeping man’s face.

Clint hopped up onto the counter while Phil picked up Tony’s chart and flipped through it. “I’m sure everything is going to be fine, Cap,” Clint said after a moment of silence. Steve nodded, barely paying any attention to them.

Kristen came back with a stack of chairs and a tray filled with cookies and juice boxes. Natasha and Phil each took a chair with thanks. “Off,” the young nurse ordered Clint. The archer slipped off the counter and Kristen gave him a perturbed look as she cleaned the surface with a bleach spray. “And stay off.” Clint gave a guilty nod and took a cookie from the tray.

June came by and ordered Kristen back to her floor. The younger nurse left, a slightly disappointed look on her face. June herded another nurse that had been peeking around the doorjamb away and closed the door half way to give them privacy. They waited. Bruce called Natasha and the redhead was able to convince him not to leave the university and stay for the rest of his lecture. Clint fiddled with his phone, playing a game by the soft sounds it was making. Phil went in and out of the room to field several calls from SHIELD. Tony slept on, breathing gentle and slow.

Pepper arrived, clicking into the room on her business heels. Her eyes landed on the bed and brightened with tears. “Oh, Tony,” she muttered mournfully, coming forward. Clint sprang out of his chair and offered it to her. She nodded to him before turning her attention to Tony. “Has he woken? How badly is he hurt?”

“Not badly hurt, from what we were told,” Phil replied. “A concussion they want to keep an eye on and a fractured ankle. He hasn’t woken but we’re under the impression that’s because they gave him some strong pain killers before we saw him.”

Pepper sighed. She leaned forward and rested her hand softly on Tony’s forearm. “Careful,” Steve muttered distractedly. “That’s the side he hit the car door with.”

Pepper nodded in understanding. “Tony? Mr. Stark? If this is a ploy to get out of the stock holders meeting tomorrow, than you are sadly mistaken, buster.” She sighed again as Tony remained unresponsive. “I’ll have you know it’s shit like this that made me go prematurely grey haired,” she grumbled. Clint snorted while a wan smile quirked Steve’s lips. Pepper pulled a tissue from her small clutch purse and dabbed at her eyes. “I hunted down someone who could tell me about Happy. He’s still in surgery. They say he’ll be out soon and moved to post-op.”

“That’s good,” commented Natasha.

“Cookie?” Clint offered.

Pepper pursed her lips at the tray and then raised a hand. “Yeah, hand them over.” Pepper bit savagely into a cookie. “I’m going to get fat at this rate and it’s going to be all your fault, Tony,” she muttered.

They lapsed into silence after that. A nurse came by and checked Tony over, adding notes to his patient chart. A SHILED agent appeared and dropped off Steve’s cellphone and a duffle bag of stuff, including his shield. Phil and the agent went out to the hallway and had a hushed conversation by the windows for several minutes. Phil then came back in and muttered into Natasha’s ear for a second before sitting back down. Clint wandered off and came back twice with a pile of vending machine junk food and a couple celebrity magazines to keep himself occupied.

Pepper left to see Happy at one point. Phil received another call from SHIELD. He, Natasha, and Clint all left, promising Steve they would keep him updated. Pepper came back and sat with Steve and Tony for a while, sometimes firing off a text but otherwise waiting in patient and familiar silence. June came in and changed out the bag feeding Tony’s IV. She took the dark haired man’s vital signs and added her own notes to his chart. “He should wake up sometime soon,” June told them softly before slipping out. Pepper went off to check on Happy again.

A nurse had come by asking if Steve would like a dinner tray brought up but he declined, finding himself not hungry. He sat by Tony’s bedside feeling as if somebody had hit the pause button on his emotions. It wasn’t so much that he was numb, as he was just waiting. Waiting for something to happen that would trigger an emotional response. Until then, his emotions felt unimportant and stalled. A tiny little noise from the bed felt like a kick to the chest. Steve’s eyes focused just in time to see Tony flinch himself awake. The dark haired man grunted, pain greeting him rudely as he edged toward consciousness.

“Tony?” Steve called, standing to lean close. Watering brown eyes peeked open and Tony made a distressed sound, shifting on the bed. “Hey, hey, hey. Easy. I’m here. You’re safe. I’m here.” Steve curled a hand over Tony’s shoulder and pressed his lips to his uninjured temple. Tony coughed and grimaced, his left hand lifting to grab Steve’s sleeve. He whined. “It’s ok. I’m here. You’re safe,” Steve continued to mutter soothingly.

It took several minutes for Tony to settle and peel his eyes open completely. “Wha happn’?” he muttered.

“You were in a car accident. A truck hit you,” replied Steve.

“Nugh.” Tony lifted his hand to paw clumsily at the nasal cannula.

Steve grabbed his fingers and laid his arm back on the bed. “Leave it alone.” Tony coughed and winced. Steve picked up a little cup of ice chips and fed Tony some, soothing his dry throat.

Tony sniffled. “Happy?”

“He’s fine. A broken arm but otherwise ok I think.”

Tony grunted, shifting restlessly on the bed. “Sorry. Missed date.”

Steve gave a watery chuckle and leaned forward to kiss Tony’s uninjured cheek. “Nothing to be sorry for. I’m just glad you’re alright.” He blinked rapidly, forcing back emotional tears. Tony pulled on his IV and Steve pressed his arm down onto the bed again to stop him. “Please, leave it.”

“I wanna go home,” complained the brunette, slightly out of it. Tony blinked large doe eyes at his boyfriend.

“Sorry, sweetheart, but no. The doctors what to keep you overnight to keep an eye on you. You're a little banged up.”

“Sorry.”

Steve huffed a half laugh and stroked a hand down Tony's left arm, hoping to get him to relax. Tony hated hospitals. “Shhh. You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said again.

Pepper slipped through the door and into the room quietly, her focus on the cellphone in her hand. “Pep,” croaked Tony. Pepper's head jerked up and then she was across the room, moving much faster in her heels than Steve thought should be physically possible. He moved out of the way to she could lean across the bed and envelop Tony in a gentle hug. “Pep,” Tony sighed into her hair.

“I'm so glad you're alright,” Pepper muttered. “When I saw the limo on the news, I feared the worse.”

“'M sorry.”

Pepper snorted and pulled back. She wiped at her cheeks, smiling at Tony with wet eyes. “I can't even be mad at you. You didn't get hurt doing Avenger business, you got in a car accident. That could have happened to anyone, Iron Man or not.” She cupped Tony's good cheek and kissed the corner of his right eye, careful of the bruise that was slowly darkening that side of his face. “I'm just glad both of you are ok.”

“How's Happy?”

“He has a badly broken arm and he's black and blue, just like you, but he's otherwise in good shape.” Pepper perched herself on a visitor’s chair, folding both her hands around Tony's left. “He's in recovery from surgery right now.”

Steve slipped from the room quietly, letting the two old friends talk. He wandered down the hallway until he found a sitting area and collapsed into a chair. A check of his cellphone found no messages from any of the other Avengers or SHIELD. Steve sighed as he slumped tiredly in his chair. This afternoon had been exhausting. The tension Steve had been carrying had made his muscles sore and his back ached. It had been nerve wreaking waiting for Tony to regain consciousness, even knowing that he wasn't badly injured. Now that the brunette was awake and talking, Steve felt like the steel wires that had been holding him rigid for hours had finally snapped. He wanted to sleep for a month. Natasha was right; it was one thing to have Iron Man in danger or getting hurt. It was a little more personal when they went after just plain Tony.

Which was ridiculous because Tony was Iron Man but knowing that didn't make dealing with it any easier. Steve rubbed at the bridge of his nose and sighed again. Eventually, Pepper came out and told Steve she was heading home. Her face was slightly flushed but her eyes were dry and calm. Steve bid her a good night and went back into Tony’s room.

The brunette’s eyes were barely open, a sliver of brown glittering from the overhead lights. Steve shut of the big lights, leaving just the dimmer lights around the bed on. Tony’s head nodded on his pillow. Steve sat on the chair besides the bed. “Go to sleep, Tony,” he ordered softly.

“Wanna go home,” Tony slurred stubbornly.

“Go to sleep,” Steve rumbled, dropping his voice in the way that always made Tony giggle when he was lying on his chest. He wrapped his hands around Tony’s left and stroked his thumb over his pulse point. “Shhh. Go to sleep.” It didn’t take much to soothe Tony back to sleep and soon the brunette was softly snoring. Steve turned on the TV in the corner and turned the sound down so low only his super soldier hearing allowed him to make out the words. He avoided the news, which was little more than an endless loop of Tony’s car accident. That was the last thing Steve needed to see over and over again. Instead he watched some mindless cartoon with talking animals until the sun came up.

(**)

It was only when a new nurse stuck her head into the room asking if either of them would like breakfast that Steve realized he’d spent the whole night at the hospital. They hadn’t asked Steve to leave after visiting hours were over and he hadn’t even noticed. Steve sheepishly said that they would like something to eat and then rose to open the curtains on the window. Bright yellow morning sunshine assaulted his retinas and Steve slightly closed the plastic mini blinds. He glanced at his cellphone to find no messages and that it was a little before 7:30am.

By now the right side of Tony’s face was discolored with bruising, his eye slightly swollen. His arm from shoulder to elbow was mottled purple with a few spots of bruising along his forearm. Steve stroked his fingers lightly down Tony’s good cheek. “Tony? Sweetheart? Time to wake up.” The brunette stirred, eyelids fluttering. He moaned and Steve winced in sympathy.

Tony opened his eyes, his right one puffy around the edges. “Steve?” he murmured.

“Right here, Tony. I’m right here.”

“Hurts.”

Steve pressed the call button for the nurse. “I know, sweetheart. The nurse will be here in a second. Just relax.” He ran his thumb over the back of Tony’s good hand, trying to soothe him. Tony shifted in discomfort on the bed.

A nurse they had never seen before jogged in. “Everything ok?” she asked, coming up alongside the bed.

“He’s in a lot of pain,” explained Steve.

“Mr. Stark? Can you tell me what hurts?” asked the nurse. The dreaded pen light made an appearance, shinning into Tony’s eyes.

The brunette grunted. “My neck and arm. Ankle. Everywhere,” he gritted out, squinting in annoyance.

The nurse glanced at the whiteboard where a few scribbled notes were written in medical shorthand. “Any sharp pains?”

“Throbs.”

The nurses nodded. “I’ll bring you something to take the edge off and some heat packs too. Back in a sec.” She hurried out.

Tony squeezed his eyes shut and Steve leaned forward to kiss his uninjured cheek. “Just relax,” he muttered uselessly.

“This sucks,” Tony hissed.

“I know. Just bear it for a little longer.” Steve slipped his hand into Tony’s left and let him squeeze the hell out of it. There was no way the brunette was going to hurt him and there was little else Steve could do to comfort him. “It’s ok,” Steve said as he ran the tips of his fingers up and down Tony’s good arm. Normally that would be enough to get him to shiver in delight but now Tony just gave the blond a tight smile.

The nurse returned and quickly strode over to inject the dose into Tony’s IV line. “Here we go. Just give that a minute or two to work and you should be feeling better.” Another nurse came in with his arms full of heat packs. Steve helped them place the packs behind Tony’s neck and on his right shoulder and left ankle. Tony hissed through being jostled, his face tight. “Easy,” muttered the nurse, fluffing pillows and guiding Tony back to lean against them.

“How’s that?” asked the male nurse.

Tony took a slow deep breath in and out. “Better,” he replied quietly.

“I’ll have the doctor come speak with you both shortly,” said the nurse. They made their way out of the door, dodging the breakfast cart rolling up with their meals.

“Foods on,” called the male server. He carried two trays into the room and slid them onto the roller table. “We’ve got pancakes for ya gentlemen. Coffee, tea, or juice?”

“Coffee,” muttered Tony.

“Can he have coffee?” Steve asked worriedly.

“The docs don’t have Mr. Stark on any diet restrictions, so coffee should be fine.” He poured two mugs from a silver carafe. He then added a couple mini cartons of milk and orange juice. “Enjoy!” the server said happily before heading off down the hallway with his cart.

Steve pulled the rolling table over so it was across the bed. Now that food was in front of him, hunger clawed at his stomach. Tony grabbed the bed controls and raised his torso up so he could eat. A small stack of pancakes were on each tray along with little packets of jam and syrup. There were also two strips of bacon and a cup of sliced fruit. They ate in silence. Tony only got half way through his pancakes before sliding the tray toward Steve and settling back against the pillows to sip his orange juice drowsily. Steve was used to the others offering him their leftovers during meals and had gotten past his embarrassment at needing so much food to keep up his super soldier metabolism. He picked up the tray and wolfed down the leftover pancakes.

A thin man with salt and pepper hair and a white coat walked into the room just as Steve was shoveling the last forkful into his mouth. “Good morning, gentlemen,” said the doctor. He extended his left hand for Tony to shake, mindful of the injury to the brunette’s right side.

Steve swallowed the lump of pancake and stood to shake his hand as well. “Good morning, doctor.”

“I’m Doctor Patterson. I looked over your x-rays and tests this morning, Mr. Stark. You gave us quite a scare but I must say you are in remarkably good shape for the magnitude of your car accident.” The doctor tapped on a tablet computer he was carrying and turned it around so they could see the x-ray. “There is a slight fracture to your left fibula that I do suggest you make an appointment to see an orthopedist about. You’ll have to stay off of it until it’s healed. We’ve placed an aircast boot on your left ankle to stabilize the fracture in the meantime.”

Tony frowned at that news and tossed the blanket off. A black boot wrapped around his ankle and most of his lower leg. “Lovely,” he deadpanned.

Doctor Patterson chuckled. “It could have been much worse. You may have already noticed some pain in your neck and back. The whiplash may need to be treated by a physical therapist. Your right arm is merely bruised but do take it easy for a while. The head wound was slight and required three stiches. They will dissolve given time but if you have any problems, don’t hesitate to come back or see your general practitioner.”

“So, can I leave?” demanded Tony.

Steve frowned at him for his rudeness. “Tony,” he chided mildly.

The doctor smiled drily. “Nobody likes hospitals,” he replied wryly. “As long as you are feeling up to it, yes, you may leave.”

“Awesome,” Tony said. “I want out of here.”

“There is, of course, the matter of the flowers and balloons to take care of first,” Doctor Patterson pointed out, his attention on Tony’s patient chart as he wrote out some instructions.

Steve and Tony blinked at each other. “What?”

(**)

Apparently, most of New York City had sent Tony get well flowers and balloons and cards. The hospital had piled them into an unused office rather than try and crowd it all into Tony’s room. The brunette got a little misty eyed when he saw all of it. Steve adjusted his grip on Tony in his arms as they surveyed the forest of bouquets. Tony had refused to ride in a wheelchair and Steve had refused to let him use crutches because he knew it would pain his right arm. Tony had consented to being carried, smiling smugly at the envious and confused looks they got.

“You can keep the flowers and stuffed animals,” Tony told the gaggle of onlookers and hospital administrators that had followed them. Pepper, who had appeared promptly at 9am when Steve had texted her Tony would be getting out of the hospital, was busy tapping notes into her cellphone and shooting off an email to a minion. “Give them to some of the other patients and the kids. Save the cards and letters, we’ll send someone by to collect them.” His brown eyes landed on a huge vase of yellow sunflowers. Tony lifted a hand from around Steve's neck to point at them. “Except for those. I'm taking those with me.”

“Ok, Tony,” said Pepper, in her bland 'placate the crazy man' voice.

Tony looped both hands around Steve's neck again. “Awesome. If that is all? I'd like to go home now.” In her usual scary efficacy, Pepper completed any paperwork that was needed and then they were on their way.

They went out through the parking garage because the front of the hospital was swarming with reporters and fans. Tony shifted in discomfort as they rode the elevator down and Steve looked at him in concern. “Alright?” he muttered into the brunette's ear.

“I'm fine,” whispered Tony, his hands squeezing Steve's neck. The elevator dinged open and they stepped out into the dim garage, smelling of car exhaust and gasoline. Tony's nose wrinkled.

A black SUV was waiting in front of the elevator, Clint leaning against the side. He straightened as they appeared. “Hey, Tony. Man, you look rough,” said the archer, wincing in sympathy.

“Yes, thank you,” Tony deadpanned. The right side of his face was swollen and dark with bruising. He was dressed in a pair of oversized gray sweats that had been included in the duffle bag the SHIELD agent had brought Steve.

Clint snorted and opened the back passenger side door. Steve placed Tony gently on the seat, careful of his injured ankle. Pepper secured the vase of sunflowers in the cargo area and then settled into the front passenger seat. Steve tossed his things into the back and got in next to Tony while Clint took the driver's seat. “Everybody ready?” Clint asked as the engine rumbled to life.

“Take us home, Clint,” ordered Steve, helping Tony buckle his seat belt.

“Aye, aye, Captain.” They pulled out of the garage anonymously and headed for the Tower.

Tony watched the huge group of reporters and well-wishers loitering around the hospital entrance and sighed. “Is this one of my cars?” he asked.

“Yes,” Pepper replied.

“Jarvis, are we good?”

“Yes, Sir. The car is secure,” announced the AI, overtaking the radio.

Tony leaned tiredly against Steve a little. He sighed again. “Alright. Tell me what's going on. Do we know anything about the guy who hit me? Did they run the red light? Was it... just an accident?”

Steve lifted his right arm so Tony could better lean against him and bit his lip. “I'm sorry but no. Our information says it was AIM.”

Tony sighed for a third time. “I thought so,” he muttered. “I think I woke up a bit after the truck hit the limo. I sort of remember there being a man outside my window but he was wearing a mask and I didn't know if that was just my scrambled brain or if it really happened.”

Steve couldn't keep himself from curling his arm tighter around Tony's shoulders. “When I arrive at the crash site, there was a group of men in black ski masks trying to get into the limo.”

“You subdued them, I take it?”

Clint laughed at Tony's question, pulling their attention to the archer. “Boy, did he! He was wailing on those suckers when Tasha and I arrived. Of course, he had some help. That one lady had a vicious right hook.” Tony frowned in confusion. The SUV turned off of East 41st Street and drove up the Park Avenue Viaduct. It was in vastly cleaner condition than it had been during the Chitauri invasion.

Steve smiled a little. “The public helped me take down the guys trying to get into the limo. It would have been harder without their help.” They crossed in front and around Grand Central Terminal and swung into the Tower garage. The inside of the car went dim as they entered the garage.

“We'll have to thank them,” Ton said with a yawn.

“I already had a press conference this morning thanking the public for their involvement in stopping your abduction,” said Pepper as Clint guided the car into their private area. Steve pressed a kiss to Tony's temple as he shuddered against the blond's side. Pepper turned in her seat and smiled. “I'm really glad you’re okay,” she said softly.

“So am I,” Tony muttered around the lump in his throat.

Clint parked the car neatly. “Home sweet home!” he cried, shattering the somber atmosphere. The archer hopped out and went around to the trunk to get Steve's gear while Pepper claimed the vase of sunflowers and Steve carefully lifted Tony out of the SUV. Tony wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck as he was carried.

“Welcome back, Sir,” greeted Jarvis as they entered the elevator. “I must say, I am pleased that you were not more injured.”

“You and me both, J. Have we already begun production on a new limo?”

“Of course, Sir.”

“Good.”

The elevator opened onto the penthouse. Clint slung Steve's duffle bag onto the floor while Pepper set the big vase of sunflowers on the kitchen island. “I'm gonna head off,” Clint announced, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. “Tasha is participating in the interrogation of the AIM guys we picked up and I want to be there if we learn anything.”

“You tell Fury I want any information they have or I'll sic Stark Industries' lawyers on SHIELD,” Tony called as Clint stepped back into the elevator. The archer waved in acknowledgment and the doors closed. Steve set Tony carefully on the couch. The brunette winced, resting his bruised right arm across his stomach. The throbbing was getting worse the more time he was awake and moving.

“Do you guys need anything else?” Pepper asked, crossing the living room to stand by them.

Steve shook his head but looked down at Tony for conformation. “Tony, do you need anything?”

“As long as there is ice cream in the freezer, I'm good.”

Pepper chuckled. “Alright. I'm going to leave you to rest then. Text me if you need anything.”

“Sure thing, Pep.”

Pepper leaned down and Tony tilted his head so she could kiss his uninjured cheek. “As for you,” she said as she straightened and turned a slight glare toward Steve, “I expect you to take care of him.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Steve said seriously. Tony rolled his eyes at them.

Pepper nodded. “Will that be all, Mr. Stark?” she asked primly.

Tony grinned, even though it pulled on his sore cheek. “That will be all, Miss Potts.” Pepper smiled and made her way out of the penthouse. Tony relaxed against the couch cushions as the elevator whisked her away.

“Do you want anything, Tony? Some ice cream maybe?” asked Steve, since Tony had specifically mentioned it.

“I want a damn shower, is what I want. I feel gross,” complained Tony, scratching at his neck. The hospital had washed off much of the blood from his head wound but he could feel where some had dried on his hair and the back of his neck.

“Doctor Reed said not to take off the boot until you could see an orthopedist.”

Tony sighed. “Put a baggie around it then, I don't care. But I want to be clean.”

“How about a compromise?” begged Steve. Tony nodded grudgingly. Steve slipped his arms under Tony to carry him into the bedroom. He then helped the brunette out of his clothing and taped a trash bag around the boot on his left foot. Tony made an impatient and annoyed sound when he did it but allowed Steve to insure the boot stayed dry. Steve than ran a bath in the tub. Tony grumbled as Steve set him down gently into the warm water, his naked body tense. They both knew Tony disliked baths because of the standing water. Bad memories always lurked under the surface, pun intended, and it was never a relaxing experience for Tony.

Tony washed quickly. He grabbed the bar of soap and rubbed himself down briskly, ignoring the throbbing of his bruises in his eagerness to be out of the tub. Steve knelt and dumped water over Tony's hair, careful to keep it out of his face, and lathered up his hair with shampoo. They rinsed him off, splashing water in the tub. Steve tipped Tony's head back and poured water over his hair to wash away the shampoo. He then wet a soft cloth and delicately wiped the brunette's face. Tony's eyes softened and he relaxed a little as Steve gently cleaned flakes of blood and dirt from the creases of his skin and beard. “You're too good to me,” he muttered, surly attitude fading.

“Hush,” scolded Steve, pausing to press a light kiss to Tony's lips. “You are my everything. Nothing is too good for you.” Tony's eyes were wet as Steve picked him up out of the tub and wrapped him in fluffy towels. The trash bag was taken off and thrown away and Steve helped Tony into a new set of sweats. Tony smiled as he let Steve work the dark blue sweatshirt over his stiff right arm. “Do you want to get some more sleep?” Steve asked, taking in Tony's pale face with concern.

“All I've been doing is sleeping,” grouched Tony. “I want a tablet and some peace and quiet.”

“Only if you promise to stay in bed while using it.” Tony huffed but nodded grudgingly. Steve fetched Tony’s computer tablet from the living room and then helped the brunette settle on their bed, left foot propped up on a pillow.

Tony settled on the mound of pillows behind his back and flicked his tablet on. “Alright, J. Hit me.” Steve winced at the choice of words but the brunette wasn’t paying him any attention.

“I’m going to shower real quick,” Steve said. Tony nodded with a distracted hum and Steve headed into the bathroom to wash the hospital smell off his skin. When he came out a couple of minutes later, Tony was still in the same position he’d been left in. “Did you learn anything?” asked Steve as he dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

“Sort of,” Tony replied distractedly. “Jarvis ran an identification program and was able to find a couple of the guys.”

“I have identified three men, all with criminal records of theft, vandalism, assault, and other misdemeanor offenses,” supplied Jarvis.

“Not much to go on,” commented Steve, climbing onto the bed to sit next to Tony. He glanced down at the tablet screen and had to suppress a flinch. The news site had an aerial picture of the destroyed limo on its front page.

“Send it over to SHIELD anyway. They can probably use all the help they can get,” Tony ordered.

“Yes, Sir.”

Tony pressed a link and a shaky cellphone video of the fight between Steve and the group of masked men trying to get into the limo began to play. Steve slid out of bed to find something to occupy his hands and mind. “Jarvis, identify the people in these videos and pictures. I’m serious about rewarding them. I’ll pay for their kid’s college or their mortgage or something,” requested Tony.

“I have already begun to compile a list of people involved in the altercation, per Miss Potts’ wishes.”

“One step ahead of me, as usual,” Tony muttered fondly. Steve pulled out a sketch book and climbed back onto the bed to halfheartedly shade an old park scene. Tony looked up after a couple of minutes of silence. He watched Steve flip away from the page he was working on, obviously disinterested in drawing. He went through several drawings, only making a mark or two before restlessly flipping the page to something else. “Steve?” Tony asked sweetly. The blond looked up and Tony smiled brilliantly, even though it tugged at his bruised cheek. “Can I have some ice cream now?”

Steve huffed a surprised laugh. “Sure,” he replied with a smile. “Do you want any lunch? It’s past noon.”

“No,” Tony answered, shaking his head delicately. His head was starting to pound after looking down at the tablet for so long and his neck was growing intolerably stiff. A call to his masseuse might be in order. Everything just ached. “Just some vanilla ice cream will do.” Steve nodded in agreement and got up from the bed. Tony turned his attention back to his computer, tracking the truck that had hit him through street cameras. He started as something cold touched his left elbow and looked up to find Steve smiling and holding out a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

“You are off in your own little world,” Steve commented as Tony took the bowl.

“You know how I am.” Tony set the tablet on the nightstand and gratefully took his first swallow of cold creamy goodness.

Steve slid in next to him with his own bowl. “I do. Jarvis, turn on the TV. Something that is not the news.” The last thing Steve wanted to watch was Tony’s accident over and over again.

“Of course, Captain,” replied Jarvis. A slim screen descended from the ceiling and switched on. The windows darkened, dimming the afternoon sunlight.

The opening image of Sleeping Beauty appeared on the screen. Steve gave a deprecating smile while Tony began to laugh. “Everybody in this place thinks they’re a comedian,” Steve complained.

“Ow! Ow, ow, ow,” Tony gasped through his giggles. “Don’t make me laugh. It hurts too much. Ow.”

“Forgive me, Sir,” Jarvis said blandly. Rather than change the movie, the pair settled down on the bed to watch the Disney film.

As Steve expected, it didn’t take long for Tony to doze off. Aurora was just pricking her finger on the spindle wheel as Tony leaned heavily against Steve’s shoulder. Steve put the two empty ice cream bowls aside and eased the brunette down onto the bed, tossing a light sheet over him. The movie blinked off and the screen slid back up into the ceiling as Steve edged carefully off the bed and took the dishes into the kitchen to rinse them and put them in the dishwasher.

A yawn surprised Steve as he was filling the dishwasher dispenser with soap crystals. He blinked at himself before remembering he hadn’t had a wink of sleep last night and, while he could go days without rest if on a mission, his body knew he was safe at home and demanded some shuteye. The dishwasher began to swish and Steve returned to the bedroom to slip back onto the bed. Tony was still sleeping peacefully, turned on his left side to keep the pressure off his bruises. Steve settled himself carefully so as to not jostle him and let out a deep breath as he relaxed. He drifted to sleep easily.

(**)

An irritating ringing woke Steve an unknown amount of time later. He blinked awake with a grumble and looked blurrily around the bedroom. Tony was still sleeping, having turned onto his back sometime in the last few hours. The windows were dark and the lights of the city shone dully through the glass. The ringing, which Steve realized was at a pitch and volume only he could hear, stopped. “Captain?” asked Jarvis quietly.

“Wha?” grunted Steve, groggy and annoyed with being woken up. He rubbed at his face to try and gain some alertness.

“There are intruders in the Tower,” Jarvis stated.

That did it. Steve rolled out of bed and quickly pulled on his shoes. Tony muttered in discontentment as the bed shook. “Where are they?” demanded Steve.

“Stairwell JH-14. They have bypassed security level 8 and 7 but appear to be having trouble with level 6.” Level 6; or as Clint liked to call it, The Funhouse Protocol.

“What’s going on?” mumbled Tony, lifting a hand to rub at his eyes and wincing as his bruises stung. The right side of his face was dark and livid, his eye puffy.

Steve tossed the sheet off of Tony. “There are intruders in the Tower,” he said, sliding his arms behind Tony’s knees and back and lifting him from the bed without warning.

“What?” cried Tony, throwing his arms around Steve’s neck automatically. “Jarvis, where are they?”

“Stairwell JH-14,” Jarvis dutifully repeated. “They are attempting to bypass security level 6.”

Steve crouched down; Tony’s weight nothing to his super soldier strength. “Grab my shield.” Tony yanked the disk from the duffle bag and Steve hurried out of the bedroom. “Jarvis, where are the others?” They crossed the living room but headed to the opposite corner from the elevator. A shelf slid away along the wall, revealing a hidden stairway.

“I have contacted Miss Romanoff and Mr. Barton but both are still at SHIELD headquarters. They are responding as quickly as they can. Thor is still in New Mexico with Miss Foster and Doctor Banner has been notified of the intruders and is relocating to Sir’s workshop.”

“Good,” grunted Steve as he looked over the railing. The next landing was three stories down, where there was another security door. “Tell Natasha and Clint to hurry the hell up or there might not be anything left for SHEILD to question.”

“Message sent, Captain.”

Steve tensed, bending his knees a little. “What are you doing?” asked Tony suspiciously. Steve shifted forward a little. “Oh, please don’t.” Steve leapt over the railing. Tony clutched at Steve’s shoulders, the shield flying off somewhere, and screamed into the blond’s shoulder as they free-fell down to the next landing. Steve landed on his feet, absorbing the shock in his legs. The shield hit the floor with a clang. “You are a crazy person! Who does shit like that? Oh, I know! Someone with a death wish!” screeched Tony, beating his fits against Steve back. His heart was hammering in fright behind the arc reactor. A door slid open in front of them and Steve kicked his shield through it before following. “And be nice to your shield! The bots take great pride in buffing that for you!”

“Hold on to me,” Steve ordered before leaping the railing again. Tony yowled until they hit the next landing.

“Oh god,” muttered Tony. “Going to be sick.”

Steve couched down again. “My shield, please,” Steve ordered in a patient but no nonsense tone. He had switched over to Captain America and was cool, calm, and collected.

With a groan, Tony hauled the red, white, and blue disk up into his lap again. “You are such a jerk,” he moaned. Steve crossed over to the next door and entered a small, bare room. The door closed behind them and Steve stood still as Jarvis actively scanned them, a thin blue line passing over their bodies. “Ugh,” complained Tony as his head started to pound.

“Authorization granted,” the AI droned. The wall to their left slid away and Steve strode down the hallway that was revealed, making several sharp 90 degree turns. They passed through one last security door that Jarvis opened for them and then they could see the big glass wall that enclosed Tony workshop on one side. Bruce was pacing inside and looked up in relief as Tony put in his access code on the blue lit number pad and the door popped open. One of the Iron Man armors was active and waiting patiently in the middle of the room.

Steve shouldered his way into the workshop. “Jarvis, lock us down.”

“Yes, Captain.” The door to the workshop locked and then the windows turned opaque. A couple warning beeps sounded and then a thick metal blast door fell over the glass.

“Are you two alright?” asked Bruce as Steve set Tony down on a rolling chair.

“We're fine,” Tony huffed, glaring up at his boyfriend. “Despite Steve's insane jumps into thin air.”

“I knew I could make the jump,” argued Steve, fitting his shield on his arm so he was ready if he had to act. “We were fine. Give me a visual on the intruders, Jarvis.” The large monitor to their right turned on, showing six people in black clothing. Unlike the men who attacked the limo, these people were kitted out in military gear. Three carried large backpacks while the rest were in slim vests. All of them had assault rifles and were wearing sleek night vision goggles. One person, Steve thought it might be a woman from their build, was kneeling by the security door with the keypad panel removed. A trail of colorful wires was running from the wall to a mini computer the trespasser was quickly typing on.

“Still trying to bypass level 6?” asked Tony. Bruce wheeled another chair over, dropped it low, and helped Tony place his injured throbbing ankle on top of it.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Drop them.” There was a loud clank over the monitor and then shouting as the stairs the group were standing on suddenly disappeared, sending them sliding down a sheet of smooth metal. “Lights.” Colored lights began to strobe as the intruders tried to halt themselves on the slide, further disorienting them. After a moment, the image on the monitor turned ever so slightly grainy as Jarvis filtered the pulsing light out. “Fire doors,” ordered Tony. A thick metal door slapped down and the group collided in a heap against it. “And that's for interrupting my beauty sleep,” Tony growled. Bruce snorted in amusement.

“Jarvis, trap them,” Steve commanded. Another fire door came down, trapping the intruders in a section of the slide about 5 feet long. The pile wiggled like a mass of overturned black beetles. “Is that all of them?” he asked.

“Yes, Captain. As far as I can tell, these are the only intruders,” Jarvis replied.

Steve nodded. He turned and gently grasped Tony's chin, tilting the brunette's face up to look at him. “I'm going to start searching the Tower. Please, stay here.”

Tony cocked an insolent eyebrow. “I'll put on a suit and come with you,” he argued.

“Tony, no,” Bruce pleaded. “You'll only hurt your ankle more.” Tony glanced at him with a glare.

“Please?” muttered Steve, his tone softer. Tony looked back up at him. “Stay?”

Tony's mulish scowl weakened a little. “Fine,” he finally agreed grudgingly.

Steve darted forward for a light kiss and then headed for the exit. “Jarvis?” he prompted. The metal blast door rose a little and Steve ducked under it and out into the hall.

Tony watched him go and then snapped his fingers. “Track him.” All the monitors in the workshop came on, each showing a different angle of Steve making his way through the Tower with his shield.

The first monitor still showed the intruders. Bruce watched as one of them attached a block of something to the fire door, a loop of wire sticking out of it. He grimaced and pointed at the screen. “They are going to get themselves killed,” Bruce said.

Tony’s eyes flicked a disinterested look at them. “Gas ‘em, J.”

“With pleasure, Sir.” There was no discernable difference on the monitor but suddenly the group dropped like lead weights.

“I’m going to make some coffee,” Bruce announced after an awkward length of silence watching Steve sweep for more intruders. He was sure that Tony was less watching in concern for Steve’s safety and more because his butt looked good in those jeans by this point.

“Good idea,” replied Tony vaguely. He yawned. Bruce rolled his eyes and walked over to the tiny kitchenette in the corner of the workshop. He patted Butterfingers on his arm on the way past.

“Sir? SHIELD has arrived,” Jarvis said a couple of moments later. “They are asking that we not shoot the Quinjet currently landing on the roof.”

“Late as usual,” grumbled Tony. “I guess I’ll be forgiving. This time.”

“Your soul is a wellspring of compassion,” deadpanned Jarvis. Bruce snickered as he fiddled with the coffee machine. Tony smirked, the bruise on his face ghastly. “Your teammates are wishing to know your and Doctor Banner’s location and if you are safe.”

“Isolate Natasha, Clint, and Agent’s headsets and let them know we’re in the workshop under lock down and Steve is sweeping the Tower for more intruders. And put the stairs back.” There was a thunk over the monitor as the stairs snapped back into place, shifting the sleeping pile of trespassers. Bruce came over and handed him a mug of milky, sweet coffee. “You are a prince among men,” praised Tony, taking a hardy sip. Bruce rolled his eyes and downed half his own mug.

“Agent Coulson wants to know if he will be shot with a death ray if he approaches the workshop,” announced Jarvis, amusement in his voice.

Tony tapped his chin in thought. “Boyfriends, teammates, and Coulson only. Deter anyone else.”

“Non-lethally, Sir?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll be nice for once. Non-lethally.” Tony took another gulp of his coffee. He didn’t want to admit it, but he was more unsettled about people breaking into his Tower than he wanted to show. His right leg jiggled anxiously, although Bruce was kind enough not to draw attention to it.

After that the blast door rose to reveal the bland face of Phil Coulson and it was all over except for the pest removal. Steve, Natasha, and Clint swept the Tower from top to bottom with a couple SHIELD agents. Tony had Jarvis fry the bugs those SHIELD agents tried to plant and send little video clips of the morons to Fury with a note that if he ever saw those particular agents again, 80’s rock music would be piped through the helicarrier speakers for a whole month. Plus, Tony’s boyfriend would be very angry with SHIELD. Tony’s head was hurting enough that he didn’t feel like playing passive-aggressive spy games with Fury.

It was dawn before the whole lot of them left the Tower. By then, Tony and Bruce had moved out of the workshop and into the living room of the common floor. Bruce was dozing in an armchair while Tony was stretched out asleep on the couch. Bruce roused when the others arrived. Steve and Natasha stepped off the elevator while Clint flipped himself neatly out of a vent. “We good?” asked Bruce, taking off his glasses to rub at his eyes.

“We are,” replied Natasha while Steve knelt by the couch to check on Tony.

“Breakfast?” Clint asked hopefully.

Bruce shook his head and stood. “You guys go ahead if you want. I need to head to bed. It was a late night even before the break in.”

Steve wiggled his arms under Tony’s body and lifted him. “I’m going to put Tony back to bed.” The brunette curled into his chest, his nose wrinkling in displeasure.

“We’re going to head back to SHIELD,” said Natasha. Clint gave her a betrayed look. “These guys are proving hard nuts to crack and I want first chance at the fresh meat.” Steve gave her a grateful nod and they separated. The two SHIELD agents headed down the Tower while Bruce rode the elevator up to his floor with Steve and Tony.

“I gave him some Tylenol a little while ago, so don’t let him talk you into giving him more,” Bruce warned before getting off at his floor.

“Brute,” murmured Tony.

“I won’t,” Steve reassured. Bruce chuckled as the elevator door closed and the carriage rose to the penthouse. Steve took Tony to the bedroom and laid him back down. “Do you need anything?” he asked, pulling the blankets back up into position.

Brown eyes looked at him through thin slits. “A heat pack? My head is killing me.” Steve nodded and headed to the kitchen to put the gel pouch in the microwave for a few second. He grabbed a small cloth and wet it with hot water before bringing it back to Tony. The heat pack was wrapped in the damp cloth and Steve gently set it on Tony’s forehead. The smaller man sighed as the warmth soothed the pounding in his head.

“Anything else?” Steve asked quietly. Tony hummed in the negative. “I’m going to head down to the gym.” He’d already gotten plenty of sleep and he was awake and alert and not likely going to relax and rest any more. “I’ll be back later.”

“Ok,” whispered Tony, already drifting.

Steve watched him settle for a moment and then got up. “Jarvis, did you already make an appointment with an orthopedist for Tony?” he asked when he was in the elevator heading down to the gym.

“I have, Captain. Sir is scheduled to see Doctor Tennyson at 1pm today. Should I cancel the appointment?”

Steve considered it. It was barely 6am right then. “No,” he replied, entering the gym and heading for the locker room. “That should be plenty of time to get Tony there.”

“As you wish, Captain.”

“Go ahead and caller Pepper at a more reasonable hour and send Thor another message about what’s going on. Right now, we’re handling it but I want him ready to move if something bigger comes up now that Iron Man is down.”

“Message to Thor sent and I shall call Miss Potts in an hour when she usually rises,” said Jarvis.

“Thanks, Jarvis,” said Steve, smoothing the edges of the tape on his knuckles down.

“You are welcome.” Steve grinned at the polite response and made his first punch to the heavy bag. The jittery feeling making his muscles tight began to dissipate as he went through his routine. Nothing irritated him more than being all keyed up for action and then nothing happening. They hadn’t found any other intruders when they searched the Tower and all the excitement had fizzled out, leaving them jumpy and wound too tightly. A couple hours later, Steve was hanging from a bar by his knees doing inverted sit ups when Jarvis interrupted. “Captain, Thor has arrived back at the Tower,” the AI announced.

“Thor?” echoed Steve, panting a little. “He didn’t have to come back. I thought he was still staying in New Mexico for another 3 days.” He grabbed the bar and effortlessly flipped himself off.

“He insisted when I told him about the intruders last night.”

“Where is he? Did he wake Tony up?”

“Thor is on the common floor and Sir is still sleeping, although past observation suggests he shall wake soon.”

“What time is it?” Steve asked as he grabbed a towel and jogged to the elevator.

“11:09am.”

Steve nodded and wiped the sweat from his face and neck. He felt calmer, having put a dent in his energy level with his workout. Sometimes the side effects of the super serum were annoying. Thor was standing by the windows when Steve arrived. “My friend,” greeted the godling, clasping Steve’s shoulder. “I was most distressed when I heard about the attack. How fairs your love?”

“Tony is fine, Thor. We had everything handled. You didn’t have to cut your time with Jane short,” replied Steve.

Thor shook his head. “Nay, Jane understood and I wanted to be here in case my assistance was needed. It is not good to split our forces when one of us is targeted.” He set mjölnir on a table and rolled his shoulders, his armor flickering away to reveal a ratty pair of jeans and a white t-shirt with Popeye lifting a weight on the front.

Steve cocked an eyebrow. “I take it the shirt was a gift from Darcy?”

“Aye,” Thor replied agreeably, smiling deprecatingly. “It amuses her and I do not mind.”

“Pardon me, gentlemen,” Jarvis said. “Captain, Sir has awoken. I suggest you head up to keep him from attending to walk on his injured ankle.”

“Sure thing, Jarvis.” Steve knocked his knuckles against Thor’s arm and walked backwards to the elevator. “It’s good to have you back, Thor.” The elevator trip up was quick and Steve hurried across the living room to find Tony sitting up in bed, groggily looking around the bedroom in confusion. “Hey, sweetheart, how are you feeling?” Steve asked as he perched on the bed.

“Lousy,” grumbled Tony. The very edges of his bruises were beginning to take on a sickly green color. “Where were you?”

“The gym and then talking with Thor.”

“How’s Jane and the desert?”

“I suppose they are fine. Thor is actually here. He came back after Jarvis informed him of the intruders last night.” Steve brushed gently at Tony’s wild bedhead.

“Ugh. So that was last night. I feel weird. I slept too much,” Tony complained. He blinked hard.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said, completely not meaning it. Tony needed more sleep in general and he was healing right then. Of course he’d need a lot of rest. He leaned forward for a kiss, hoping to take the sting out of his teasing tone.

Tony automatically tilted his head to accommodate him, allowing the blond to brush their lips together. He reached up to grasp Steve’s neck and made a sound of disgust, pushing the bigger man away. “Ew! You’re all sweaty and yucky. What have I told you about touching me with your gym funk?”

Steve laughed, getting up. “Fine. I’ll shower. Then we need to start getting ready for your doctor’s appointment.”

“What doctor’s appointment?”

“For you ankle,” Steve called over his shoulder as he disappeared into the bathroom.

Tony curled his lip at his leg and flopped back down onto the bed. “This sucks,” he muttered. Steve finished his shower and came out in his towel, which Tony really appreciated, to help the brunette into the bathroom to use the toilet. Then Steve brought in a chair from the dining room table and left Tony sitting in front of the sink and mirror to take care of his beard and brush his teeth while Steve went to get dressed. Tony grumbled quietly to himself as he squirted toothpaste on his toothbrush. This was annoying but not as annoying as having Steve try and do it all for him would have been. He finished washing up, only banging his elbow against the vanity counter once. “I want coffee,” Tony complained as Steve picked him up and carried him back to the bed to get dressed.

“We’ll eat before we leave,” promised Steve, being purposely vague on the coffee issue. He handed Tony a long sleeved shirt and one of his favorite band t-shirts. Then they struggled on a pair of loose yoga pants that Tony glared at with revulsion.

“If pictures of me wearing ugly yoga pants end up on the Internet, you are sleeping on the couch for the next week,” threatened Tony.

“Yes, dear,” Steve replied with a bland, unworried smile. Steve swung his duffle bag with the shield across his back and picked Tony up to head for the kitchen. They ate some blueberry muffins and fruit to quickly satisfy their hunger. Tony admired his vase of sunflowers while eating and then they headed down the Tower to the garage. To their surprise, Bruce was waiting for them. “Bruce? What are you doing here?”

Bruce shrugged, stepping away from where he was leaning against the black SUV they had driven home yesterday. “I thought I’d come with you guys, you know, just in case,” he said shyly.

Tony smiled. “I’d like that,” he said, causing Bruce’s shoulders to relax. Bruce opened the back door to the SUV so Steve could place Tony in a seat.

“Who’s driving?” asked Steve as he got Tony situated.

“I am.”

Steve and Tony looked up and found Maria Hill giving them a slightly irritated look from the driver’s seat. “Miss Hill?” Steve asked in confusion.

Maria huffed impatiently. “Barton wanted to come but Director Fury thinks the AIM guys are close to cracking and wanted him available if they had to move quick.”

“Have they learned anything?” asked Tony as Steve buckled him in and shut the door. Bruce climbed into the front passenger seat while Steve went around the car and got in behind the driver’s seat, tossing his bag in the back

Maria started the SUV and pulled out of the parking spot. “Romanoff was able to get the leader of the group that infiltrated the Tower to reveal there is an AIM site in upstate New York but she’s trying to get an exact location before SHILED decides what to do.”

“Thor is back. Maybe he can help?” Steve suggested as they left the garage and turned onto the Page Avenue elevated street that splits around Grand Central Terminal Station and the Tower.

“Agent Coulson is already on his way over to speak with him. Where is the doctor’s office?”

“Make a left turn when you come to East 34th Street, Deputy Director Hill,” Jarvis instructed from the radio. Maria nodded.

Tony closed his eyes as they drove. His head and right arm kind of hurt and he wished he had taken some more Tylenol when he’d woken up. He missed the way Bruce and Steve were hyper vigilant about the cars around them and how Maria glanced in both directions when crossing streets, even if the light was green. Thankfully, they made it to the orthopedist’s building without incident.

“Should I get a wheelchair?” asked Bruce as Maria pulled the car up to the front door.

“No,” both Steve and Tony replied. Steve got out and went around the SUV to lift Tony out of his seat and carry him into building.

“Ah,” Bruce said with a roll of his eyes. He got out and followed the pair.

“I’ll be out here,” called Maria before pulling away and parking in the lot with a good view of the door.

The trio crossed the lobby to the room directory and found the floor they wanted. An elderly couple stared at them from some chairs. Tony waved at them as they entered the elevator and the man guffawed, his wife smacking his arm lightly. The doors closed and the carriage rose. They all jumped a little as their cellphones went off together. “Oh no. That’s never a good thing,” sang Tony as he pulled his cellphone from the hated yoga pants pocket.

“Bruce, can you check mine?” asked Steve. Bruce wrinkled his nose a little but nodded and fished Steve’s cellphone out of his back pocket.

“You better not be copping a feel,” Tony muttered.

Bruce huffed but checked Steve’s cellphone screen against his own. “It’s SHIELD,” he announced.

“Me too,” said Tony. He pressed a button on his cellphone and held it up. “What?”

“We have a location for the AIM site,” said Natasha briskly.

“We’re going bad guy hunting!” chortled Clint in the background.

The elevator opened and they stepped out, turning and heading for an office door. “In public,” sing-songed Tony.

“Ah. Orthopedist?”

“Yep.”

“We’ll take care of this and be back in time for dinner,” Natasha said, using a tiny bit of reassurance in her tone.

“We shall eradicate those who dared to harm you, my friend. Rest assured, they will rue the day they challenged the Avengers,” Thor added, his voice dropped into the rumbling registers that meant he was truly angry.

The receptionist at the desk they were standing in front of blinked at them. “Thanks, big guy,” Tony replied with a smile, actually feeling rather touched.

“We’ll keep you updated, Captain,” said Coulson, calm and in control as he ever was.

“Thank you, Phil. You guys be careful,” Steve told them.

“We will! See ya!” cried Clint like an over active teenager before the call disconnected.

“Avengers business,” Tony told the frozen receptionist.

“Sure thing,” the poor woman said faintly. “Please fill out these forms, Mr. Stark.”

Doctor Tennyson was a tall but rounded man that greeted Tony jovially and declared ‘Ouch’ when the brace was removed from Tony’s left foot and they saw the extent of the bruising ringing his ankle. “Let’s get some new x-rays done,” he said after prodding the area for a moment. Tony rode in a wheelchair at the insistence of the nurse and they went off to radiology.

Tony lounged on the long table as two nurses slid a plate under his foot and maneuvered the camera. He watched the machine avidly, already thinking up a hundred ways to improve upon it. One of the nurses, a pretty young blond, fluttered her fake eyelashes at Steve, who was allowed in by the fact that he hadn’t asked permission and had just followed them like he’d had every right to be there. Steve uncomfortably looked at her and then frowned when her wedding ring disappeared from her finger between one second and the next. The x-ray machine thumped as the other nurse took the picture. Steve turned away from the blond nurse and ignored her. This seemed to irritate her and she flounced out of the door, leaving her coworker to run the machine by herself. Tony just rolled his eyes as Steve helped him off the table and back into the wheelchair.

“Tell it to me straight, doc, am I going to live?” joked Tony when they had returned to the exam room. Steve leaned against the wall and winced at the tactless joke.

Doctor Tennyson snorted, enlarging the x-ray on his computer screen. “I’m happy to say, Mr. Stark, that your fractured ankle in no way endangers your life. In fact, I don’t think you’ll even need surgery.” He looked at Tony with watery blue eyes and smiled lopsidedly. “Of course, this means you’ll be in a boot for 6 weeks and probably an ankle brace for a while after that.”

“Damn it.”

“I had the impression you might feel that way,” chuckled Doctor Tennyson. He stood up, his little stool rolling away. “Let’s get you fitted with a new boot. How are you on pain medication? Need anymore?”

“Don’t want them,” Tony said shortly.

Doctor Tennyson paused but then let it go. “Ok. Let’s get you set up proper.” He left the exam room, calling for a nurse.

Steve stepped over and rubbed at Tony’s back, hoping to get him to relax. “You ok?” Tony nodded stiffly.

The new boot encased Tony’s whole calf, much to his annoyance. Only his toes were peeking out. A nurse pulled a big ugly woolen sock over his foot to cover them. Doctor Tennyson warned Tony about staying off his foot while it healed and a few more instructions but it honestly wasn’t anything they hadn’t heard a dozen times with all the sprains and broken bones they accrued. Steve pushed Tony out into the waiting room in the wheelchair. Bruce looked up from his out of date magazine and grinned at them. “Stylish,” he said when he saw the boot.

“Shut up,” Tony grouched. Steve chuckled a little and then went to make another appointment for 3 weeks from then for a checkup.

“Sore?” asked Bruce in sympathy as he caught Tony shifting uncomfortably in the wheelchair.

“A little,” Tony admitted. “I want to go home and lay down in my nice, soft, 5 thousand dollar bed.” He tried to rub at his face and instantly regretted it as his bruised right cheek throbbed painfully. “Damn it.”

“There’s a vending machine down the hall. Do you want a soda or something?” Bruce asked kindly.

“I want to go home,” insisted Tony. He jumped a little as Steve appeared behind him and began to push the wheelchair toward the elevator.

“Your wish is my command,” the blond said.

“Careful where you’re throwing that phrase around, hot stuff,” teased Tony. Steve chuckled as he bent down to lift the brunette into his arms. Bruce pressed the elevator button. The blond nurse from the x-ray room, who miraculously had her wedding ring back on, came to collect the wheelchair and gave the pair a scathing look. Tony gave her a wide grin over Steve’s shoulder as they stepped into the elevator. The woman huffed as the doors closed and then the carriage began to drop. “Skank,” grumbled Tony. Steve sighed but didn't scold him.

Outside, Bruce whistled loudly. Maria looked up from her cellphone and jerked her head in acknowledgment. She tossed her cellphone aside and started the SUV, pulling around to the door. They climbed into the car. “Back to the Tower?” Maria asked.

“Yeah,” replied Steve. Maria nodded and pulled into traffic. They were just coming to a stop at a red light when everyone's cellphone chimed. Maria picked up her cellphone, read the message, and dropped it back into the cup holder just in time for the light to turn green.

“I'm too lazy to fish my phone out,” Tony complained. “What does the message say?”

“They're leaving SHIELD Headquarters,” replied Steve, scrolling through the text. “ETA to Lake Placid, 2 hours and 17 minutes.”

“Lake Placid?” Tony snorted. “You're kidding me!” Suddenly everything pulled to the left as Maria made a sharp right turn, the tires squealing a little. “Hey, what's the big idea?” complained Tony.

“What's wrong?” demanded Steve, sitting forward in his seat. Bruce was clutching his seat belt with white fingers.

“We're being followed,” snapped Maria, glancing in the rear view mirror and then making an abrupt left turn.

Steve and Tony looked out the rear window. Two white vans were following behind them. “Maybe they're not following us? Maybe it's a coincidence?” Tony said, anxiousness rising in his chest. Maria ran a red light and then cut off a truck by switching lanes in front of it and swinging a hard right onto the next street. The two vans sped up, swerving around some stopped cars, and turned down the same road.

“They're following us,” Steve said grimly. “Miss Hill, can you lose them?”

“Yes,” Maria replied with a touch of smugness.

“Jarvis, little help?” pleaded Tony.

“Of course, Sir.” The next light turned green and then the next. Maria accelerated. “I have called SHIELD and deployed the Mark XI.”

“Try to keep the public damage to a minimum,” commanded Maria, following the green lights into a left turn.

“Of course, Deputy Director.”

Tony watched the two vans sped and swerve after them, his growing dread making him grip the seat tightly. Steve put his hand on his arm and Tony started, wide eyes jerking toward him. “It's okay, Tony. Calm down.” Steve unbuckled his seat belt and slid across the seat to curl his arms around Tony's shoulders.

“Steve, no, your seat belt.... What if we crash?” squealed Tony, digging his fingers into the blond's side.

“I'll be fine. Calm down.” Steve rubbed at his back while Tony glanced nervously at their pursuers. Steve stretched one long arm out and pulled his duffle bag over the seat, yanking out his shield and resting it against his leg.

“How are you doing Banner?” Maria demanded tersely. The streets they were driving on were becoming increasingly empty as Jarvis redirected traffic, giving them a clear path. Maria smoothly changed lanes and sped around a U-Haul truck.

“I'm ok,” Bruce replied, his eyes closed and his breathing even but deep. He undid his seat belt and placed his hand on his door, ready to roll out of the car if need be. The Other Guy was clamoring for a change to emerge. There was a sharp bang and everyone flinched as something thudded against the rear window. The glass pot marked on the right side but didn't break. A wave of green rippled across Bruce’s skin. Steve hauled his shield up and pulled Tony to his chest, covering him with the disk.

“Great. Now they're shooting at us,” Maria growled. “Jarvis, where is our backup?”

“One moment, please.”

“We don't have a moment! Where are....” The loud crash of metal had everyone looking back. The Iron Man armor landed on the roadway in front of the lead van and the white vehicle slammed into the armor, its front crumbling against the immovable object. The second van attempted to veer around them, tipped up onto its wheels, and then jackknifed onto its side. It slid across the asphalt, throwing up sparks, and came to a stop. The armor stepped back from the crushed hood of the first van and turned toward the SUV. “What did I say about public damage?” muttered Maria, bring the SUV to a stop.

“It's no worse than any other pothole in New York City,” replied Jarvis churlishly over the radio.

“He's got you there,” Bruce said faintly. Thankfully, the man was notably not green.

A helicopter landed on the roadway and disgorged a pack of black body armor wearing SHIELD troopers. “Took them long enough,” grumbled Maria, shoving her door open and getting out of the SUV. Bruce let out a large breath and slumped down in his seat.

Tony let his forehead fall softly to Steve's shoulder, the blond still rubbing his back. “It's ok. You're safe. Nothing happened. I'm here. You're safe,” Steve was mumbling into the brunette's ear. He let the shield slid to the floor. Bruce looked worriedly back between the seats and Steve gave him a tiny nod. Bruce turned back around to give them privacy and soon Tony was pulling away from Steve's embrace, having calmed down. “Ok?” Steve whispered, sweeping his thumb across Tony's good cheek.

“Ok,” Tony muttered back. Steve backed off a little, giving him room. Tony looked up to find the armor standing patiently outside the car. He glanced out the rear window to find the SHIELD troopers dragging people from the two white vans and loading them into a black truck. “Jarvis,” Tony ordered, “take Junior back to the Tower. Put him back to bed.”

“Yes, Sir.” The Iron Man armor walked a few paces away from the SUV and shot off into the air.

A couple of seconds later Maria stormed up to the car and climbed back into the driver's seat. “I hope that this is the last time we have to cart in would-be kidnappers. The detention cells are getting full at headquarters,” she complained, starting the vehicle with a sharp twist of the key.

Steve scooted back and put on his seat belt. “I'm sure their main concern is not inconveniencing SHIELD,” he quipped.

“It bloody well should be,” Maria muttered. They returned to the Tower without further incident. Maria drove the SUV to the private section of the parking garage and parked.

“Most exciting doctor’s trip I've ever been on,” Bruce said as everybody got out of the car. Maria snorted.

Steve lifted Tony from his seat and headed for the elevator. “It could have been worse,” he commented. Tony rested his head tiredly on the blond's shoulder. “Thank you for the assistance, Miss Hill,” Steve called.

“You're welcome,” Maria replied dismissively. She dropped the SUV keys into the cup holder and gathered her things. “SHIELD will be in touch.” The deputy director then got into an unremarkable blue sedan and left without fanfare, the security door to their private parking area rumbling closed behind her.

“Are you hungry?” asked Steve, nuzzling Tony's dark hair, “How about a late lunch?”

“I don't want anything. I'm actually kind of nauseous,” Tony mumbled.

Bruce frowned with concern. “Could be the fright we just had. How about some peppermint tea?”

“Wasn't scared,” sneered Tony quietly.

“Peppermint tea would be lovely, Bruce. Thank you,” Steve cut in. Bruce smiled understandingly and got off at his floor. Steve and Tony continued up to the penthouse. “Jarvis, any word from the others?” the blond asked as he carried Tony across the living room and into the bedroom.

“Not since the message about your team leaving SHIELD headquarters,” Jarvis replied. “I have been monitoring SHIELD communication. They are creating a perimeter to the Lake Placid site and are currently gearing up for their approach.”

“Keep us informed,” asked Steve, laying a sleepy Tony on the bed gently.

“Of course, Captain.”

Steve took off Tony's shoe and made sure his injured ankle was in a comfortable position. He then sat on the edge of the bed, running his fingers lightly through Tony's hair. “Gonna take a nap?”

“Maybe,” Tony mumbled, eyes half lidded.

“You want some more Tylenol?” Tony nodded and Steve got up to fetch the pain medication. Steve returned with the white pills and helped Tony sit up, handing him a tall glass of water to wash the medication down.

“Thanks,” Tony whispered. Steve picked up his left hand and kissed the back, drawing a wan smile from the brunette.

“Sir, Captain, SHIELD is beginning the infiltration of the AIM site,” Jarvis announced. The pair tensed. Steve climbed onto the bed and wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders. The brunette curled against his side, chewing his lip in apprehension.

Bruce came with the promised cup of tea a couple minutes later. “Jarvis told me,” he said, pausing awkwardly by the bed. They didn't need to ask what he was talking about. “Do you think they're ok?”

“I'm sure they are doing fine,” Steve soothed as Tony sipped his tea. “Do want to sit with us, Bruce? We could watch a movie?” Bruce’s shoulders relaxed and he nodded. He pulled up an armchair from the corner of the room.

“What would you like to watch?” asked Jarvis, the TV screen descending from the ceiling.

“Choose something from the favorites file,” Tony instructed.

“Yes, Sir.” The windows dimmed and the lights lowered while the screen flickered on. ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ appeared. Bruce snorted and kicked his feet up to rest on the bed.

“This is one of Clint’s, isn’t it?” sighed Tony.

“Surprisingly, no, Sir. The selection is one of Miss Romanoff’s films.” Tony shook his head and snuggled against Steve’s side, the ache in his head dulling and the churning in his stomach settling. Steve stroked idly down his arm as the movie played.

Tony must have fallen asleep, although the only thing he’d been doing the last two days is freaking sleeping, because he woke up to ‘His Girl Friday’ playing on the screen and Natasha talking quietly to Steve over his head. He made a questioning sound and Steve cut himself off, looking down at him. “Hey there, sleepyhead. How are you feeling?”

Tony blinked slowly. He was lying on the bed, pillow under his head and injured ankle propped up. “Fine,” he muttered, turning his head to look around. Natasha was standing next to the bed, her hair damp and wearing a plain black t-shirt and dark jeans. There were a couple thin scratches on her chin but she looked otherwise unharmed. Clint and Thor were standing near the door. Clint looked fine but Thor was covered in a layer of dark soot, liked he’d rolled around in an old fire pit. “You’re back,” Tony said inanely. He wasn’t used to sleeping so much, OK!? His brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders yet. “How did it go?”

“Good,” Natasha replied. She crouched down and held out a plain manila folder. “The site was mostly scientists and labs with a good size barracks attached to it. SHIELD is still sorting out who was there under coercion and who was there by their own free will. We recovered this before they could burn them.”

Tony sat up with Steve’s help and took the file, leafing through the pages. “Is that what I think it is?” asked Steve grimly, looking over his shoulder.

“Notes on a miniature arc reactor,” replied Tony with a nod. He touched the device in his chest to reassure himself it was still there and turned a few more pages. “But they’re way off base. At best this wouldn’t have worked, at worst it would have exploded in their faces. Bruce, look at this.” He handed a couple pages to the other man and Bruce looked them over with a growing frown.

“Chemical warfare,” he announced, nodding thoughtfully. “Nasty stuff but the compound they are trying to construct here looks completely unstable. It would have degraded inside the container, leaving, well, useless sludge. If they could have figured out how to sublimate it, than maybe… but it would have been difficult to contain or keep in a gaseous state,” he mused out loud.

Natasha folded her arms on top of her knees. “Jarvis told us about the attack this afternoon when you were coming back from the orthopedist. I think they weren’t after just Tony that time but Bruce too. We also found some old Stark Industries weapons.” Tony scowled and Natasha reached forward to pat at his thigh lightly. “Thor took care of it. He took great joy in pulverizing them.”

“They shall get no use out of them, I assure you that,” Thor said gravely.

Tony gave the godling a brief smile. He looked through the rest of the pages, finding lackluster plans for armor that reminded him eerily of the Iron Monger. He shuddered and Steve pressed more firmly against his side, rubbing his hand along the brunette’s back. Finally, Tony closed the file and shook his head. “If this was all they had, then I’m not impressed,” he announced. “No wonder they wanted Bruce’s and my help. Clint, burn these.”

The archer gladly took the file and trotted out into the living room. Jarvis started the gas fireplace and Clint tossed the file into the flames with a slightly manic grin.

Natasha stood and stretched. “I need a quick nap. Pizza later?”

“Sounds good,” Steve agreed. Natasha nodded with a tiny smile and turned to leave.

“Rest well, my friends,” Thor said sincerely, leaving a trail of black powder as he too left. Bruce merely nodded to the pair on the bed before disappearing out the door. Natasha collected Clint from the fireplace and everyone headed back to their apartments.

Tony sighed and leaned his head against Steve’s shoulder. “You ok?” asked the blond.

“Yeah,” Tony mumbled listlessly. “I’m just sick of it, is all.” He turned, burying his face in Steve’s throat and wrapping his arms around his waist.

Steve draped his arms over the small of Tony’s back. “None of it is your fault,” he said soothingly.

“I’m responsible for the crap that happens because of me. Like the people that helped stop those guys from getting into the limo? One of them broke an arm and another broke their nose. They got hurt because of me.”

“They got hurt because they choose to help you,” argued Steve. “They were doing the right thing.”

“I have identified those people, Sir, and have seen to their medical bills,” Jarvis said.

“See? You’re trying to make things right,” said Steve. “Jarvis, I would also like the names of all those people. I want to personally thank them for their help.”

“Of course, Captain.”

Tony snorted. “Goodie-two-shoes. And what about SHILED? A lot of tax payer’s money was used just to go after AIM because they have a grudge against me.”

“We would have gone after AIM even if they weren’t trying to kidnap you and Bruce. What they were trying to create was dangerous. They needed to be stopped. If they hadn’t gone after you, they would have gone after someone else to help them. And think of the scientists that AIM had already gotten to through force and intimidation. They needed to be rescued.” Steve stroked one hand up Tony’s back and curled his fingers into Tony’s dark hair. “Some good came from this, even if it was just that we became aware of what AIM was doing much sooner than normally.”

“I guess,” whispered Tony. His stiff muscles had slowly relaxed under Steve’s soothing touches and reassurance. “Still sucks, though.”

“It totally sucks,” Steve agreed. He brushed a light kiss to Tony’s temple, mindful of the tender skin. “You want to sleep some more?”

“No. I’m actually kind of hungry.”

Steve chuckled a little. “Sure. Let’s get that pizza ordered.”

By the week’s end every civilian that had been involved in foiling the first kidnapping attempt found themselves recipients of large college funds for their kids and that their bills had been taken care of. Mortgages were paid off and car loans had been covered. Every loan they had was satisfied. One unemployed lady found herself in training for a Stark Industries position without even having an interview. The Maria Foundation paid to have the road repaired where the Iron Man armor had landed to stop the white vans.

When Tony’s face had healed enough that the bruising wasn’t quite so ghastly, he held another press conference thanking those who had helped him and apologizing for the inconvenience the instances had caused the populace of New York City. But the most astonishing thing for the good Samaritans was when Captain America showed up at their houses and apartments to personally thank them. Steve didn’t wear the red, white, and blue suit but people recognized him anyway. Tony even came with him to the houses that had small children. It had made everyone’s day and the brunette just knew they were going to get more than one invitation to a child’s birthday party in the coming months.

The letters and cards were collected from the hospital. Jarvis scanned them all, just in case, and the group set up around Tony and Steve’s bed to go through them. The letters scrawled in crooked handwriting and bad spelling from children were cute. Drawings of Iron Man done in red and yellow crayon were pinned to the big bulletin board down in the lobby. It became a huge conversation piece for the people working in the Tower. It took the team a few days to go through everything and get out responses and signed pictures. Clint was grumbling about paper cuts for days.

Happy was released from the hospital the day after Tony; bruised, sore, and with his left arm wrapped in a hard cast from wrist to shoulder. The ex-boxer was not a happy camper. Tony gave him 6 months off and haired a pretty black haired nurse to see to his every need while the man healed. Pepper had not been amused. Happy was fine with it.

SHIELD followed the trail of information and took down two more AIM sites in the United States and another in India. Even Fury was forced to admit that it was lucky that they had come after Tony when they had, revealing themselves early. It made it easier to take down evil organizations if they were caught unaware before their weapons of mass destruction could be completed.