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Wrist Deep (Neck Deep) In The Water

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Steve can’t look away.

What kind of world would it be today,” Obie is saying, “If he was as selfish as you?”

This is a train wreck. This is a car crash. This is metal warped and wrapped around dead bodies, boats and planes and fucking whatever burning people’s clothes to their skin.

Obie yanks, and Steve watches Tony jerk, the full, gasping set of his eyes as the wire is pulled away, out of his chest.

Oh, it’s beautiful,” Obie is crooning, and Steve feels something set in his stomach, like concrete, like fear or anger stuck to the roof of his mouth as Obie sighs and smiles fondly at Tony- Tony, who can’t move, who has colour draining from his face, whose eyes are round and screaming even if he can’t make his mouth open.

No-one’s moving- it’s like they’re all paralysed (not like Tony, oh, god, he’s not moving and he should be because he’s Tony and he’s always moving, always fidgeting or clicking his fingers or scratching his beard or on his tablet or tapping his foot or smiling that stupid smile-), and everyone’s staring at the screen where Obie is sliding into place next to Tony and curling an arm around his shoulders, holding the arc rector up in front of Tony’s face.

This, Tony,” Obadiah is saying, “Is your ninth symphony.”

Steve’s breath is coming too fast, his hands are shaking, and he barely even notices because Tony’s still not looking at Obadiah, his gaze is aimed somewhere to the left: quiet, desperate, empty- three things that Steve has ever associated with Tony until now.

Bile rises in Steve’s throat as Obie chuckles, chucking Tony under the chin like he’s five and not currently dying, his lungs failing, his heart giving out, the persistent pieces of shrapnel shoving their way through his bloodstream, into his heart and-

Oh, Tony,” Obie says, and laughs again- a slow, rumbling bark. “You didn’t actually think I cared about you, did you?”

Tony doesn’t answer, and Steve doesn’t think he would if he could. But his eyes finally focus on Obie, and Steve sees that they’re wet.

To-ny,” Obie sighs, “Come now. You should know better. You, of all people. I expected better from you.”

He sighs again, and pushes himself off of the couch, arc reactor still in hand. “Well, better be off. Weapons to make, people to kill.” He cocks his head, still smiling, and pats Tony good-naturedly on the shoulder. “People are going to remember you for this, you know. The weapon that started it all. Very impressive. Howard would be proud.”

He flashes him one last grin before starting off, whistling, tucking the arc reactor in his pocket and leaving Tony on the couch, his chest rising and falling in short, stuttered breaths, before the video cuts out.

A few seconds pass wordlessly, before Steve hears a whimper and he looks to the left- Pepper is crying, her hands are pressed over her mouth.

Bruce raises a shaky hand and rakes it through his hair. “Jesus H. Christ.”

“I second that,” Clint says. “That was… intense. Um.”

Steve doesn’t trust himself to speak. If he does, his voice will crack. If he does, he’ll punch something. So he locks his jaw and clenches his fists, trying to keep it together, because he’s Captain America and that’s what he does, and people look to him to see how to act, how to lead, how to behave, and he cannot afford to lose it right now.

“Hey, guys.” Tony walks in; thumb flicking his cellphone shut before shoving it in his pocket. “JARVIS said you wanted t- shit, Pepper, are you okay?”

Pepper draws in a strangled breath. “I- oh, my god. I’m sorry. I - I’ll see you tomorrow, Tony, I just- oh, god.”

She walks past him, her voice muffled in her hands, and Tony turns to watch her leave, starts to follow her before stopping.

He turns to the rest of the room, and everyone’s staring, not at Pepper, but at him.

He raises his eyebrows. “What happened?”

It’s JARVIS who speaks first, and if he wasn’t an AI, Steve would say his tone was soft. “They saw some rather disturbing footage, sir.”

Steve watches Tony’s jaw snap shut, watches his guard go up, and then watches him hide it under layers of fake-casual. “What footage?”

Steve can just hear him thinking: please, please, please, not-

It’s a few seconds before JARVIS says, “The one of Mr. Stane, sir.”

Tony’s eyes go shuttered. “I deleted that.”

“We have backups.” Natasha makes a move like she’s going to step forwards, maybe put a hand on his arm, and then stops herself.

“Huh.” Tony swallows, and Steve watches the groove of his throat as he does. “Well. That’s awkward.”

Awkward?” Steve’s voice is raw, and he should really shut up- “We just saw your heart get literally ripped out by your makeshift uncle and you say it’s awkward?”

Everyone’s eyes are on him now, and Tony has gone stiff. Steve has never really understood the term deer in the headlights until now.

Steve says, “Sorr-”

Tony cuts him off. “It’s fine. I just, uh. I’ll see you guys later.”

He starts walking to the nearest door, and Steve already knows the answer before he asks: “Where are you going?”

“Workshop,” Tony replies, and his voice most definitely doesn’t shake.

Steve says, “Tony,” but he’s already shut the door behind him.

-

Tony can’t breathe.

He can’t breathe, there is a hand clutching at his lungs, there is a hand pulling the arc reactor out of his chest again and grinning that stupid, almost understanding grin, and saying, “You should have known better, Tony, you of all people-”

He stumbles and his back hits the wall. His legs fold underneath him, and his ass hits the floor before he knows what’s happening. He braces his elbows against his knees, probably ruffling the fucking suit, and sucks a shaky breath in.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

“God fucking damnit,” Tony hisses through clenched teeth, pressing the heel of his palm against his forehead.

“Tony?”

Tony staggers upright, and almost careens into another wall as he does. “Cap. Hey. What, you following me now?”

“Yes,” Steve says, and Tony shuts up long enough to stare at him before saying, “Uh. Okay, that’s not creepy at all. I’m just gonna-”

“You’re not going to disappear into your workshop until one of us smashes the door down again,” Steve says, grabbing Tony’s wrist and letting go immediately when he flinches.

Tony swallows, hating himself for that damn flinch, because he should know better- “Just let me-”

“No, Tony.”

Steve is a brick wall. Steve is gravity, pulling him up when he’s losing blood and he’s woozy, or too drunk to walk straight, and he’s staring down at Tony with those fucking eyes-

Tony says, “Just-”

Steve kisses him.

Tony freezes, the numbers in his brain failing him, unable to think, unable to move, and Steve is still kissing him.

After a few seconds, Steve pulls back, blushing, but still not backing down. “I- I get it if you don’t want to face everyone right now, okay? Seriously, I- but I can’t let you just suffer in silence down there with your machines. Push me away if you want, yell at me, but I’m coming down with you to your workshop and I’m going to stay there with you until you’re ready to come back up, okay?”

Tony stares. It takes him a while to get his vocal cords to work, and when he does, he splutters, “Yeah, okay.”

Steve’s mouth flickers upwards slightly, and he starts manuvering Tony towards the stairs down to his workshop, but Tony stops him by putting a hand on his wrist.

“I, uh.” He swallows. “Could you try that again?”

Steve startles- because that would be the thing he would be surprised at- but he smiles again, incredulous. “Of course.”

Tony’s stupidly nervous as he tilts his head upwards, and then Steve’s kissing him again, almost sweetly, chaste and tender and Tony doesn’t think he’s been kissed like this in his life.

Steve slots his hands behind Tony’s neck, half-cradling his head, and Tony gasps into his mouth as Steve parts his lips with his tongue before brushing it gently against his.

Tony pulls away, his heart beating in his ears and his face flushed. “Um. Good. I mean, that was. Good. You, I mean. Um. Workshop now?”

Steve grins, and pecks him again on the lips, and Tony feels like his skin is humming.

“Workshop now,” Steve agrees. “I’m staying with you until you’re ready to come up, remember?”

It sounds like a promise.