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Tony felt the scrape of metal on the back of his calf as the door slammed shut, and it made him wince, even though the whole suit was going to need a new paint job as soon as they got back home. He flicked the emergency lights on, turning the suit into one giant flashlight in the wreck of the room. It had been a control room once upon a time, but in the wake of Doom’s retreat it looked more like the site of a tornado touch down. The monitors were shattered, chairs overturned, panels torn off the consoles in twisted pieces of charred metal, and the floor was littered with debris. He took a moment to just stare around the room in dismay, at a loss for where to start.

“Power,” he told himself finally, “Always start with power.”

He was tired, but they all were – a seven hour fight would do that to someone, and chasing Doombots all over the city with a giant countdown clock ticking away in distance hadn’t helped. He started in the places he would have put a power box, scanning through the walls, looking for live wires. Tony found the box hidden under a fallen ceiling panel in the floor, but it was as much of a mess as the rest of the control room, wires yanked out and left in a tangle of exposed copper, fuses smashed to glittery dust.

“Okay, no power.” Tony sat roughly on the ground and just breathed. In the right-hand corner of his HUD, a timer clicked away – 7:48…47… 46…45... “Jarvis, you seeing anything I’m missing?”

“I do not believe so, sir. We appear to be without power.”

“Right.” Tony started ripping up floor panels and tossing them away, following the bundles of wires around the room. Doom had blasted through the floor at irregular intervals, damaging the power cables, and leaving Tony with an unworkable mess. Even if he did have a generator on hand, getting it plugged into the system would take hours and he had minutes. “Where’s the damn-? Oh, hello, honey.”

It looked almost too simple for one of Doom’s creations – a console no bigger than his palm, nestled in among the tangle of wires and debris. He might have missed it if he wasn’t still scanning for anything with a power signature. Parting the wires, he peered in at the device. “What am I looking at?”

“It appears to be the detonator for the explosive network,” Jarvis replied evenly. The HUD projected the x-ray of the device, and Tony followed along as Jarvis narrated, “It seems to be running on a nearly depleted AA battery.”

He would have joked that Doom had obviously blown his budget on capes for the Doombots, but it was that kind of pain-in-the-ass low tech that was genius for being so simple. If Tony disconnected the battery, it wouldn’t politely shut down, but trigger the detonation early. Ironically, he needed to give it more energy so he could disarm it. 3:54... 53… 52…

“We need exactly what we don’t have,” Tony observed, annoyed and tired. He started to giggle and couldn’t stop himself. “Power.”

He cast a glance back at the door, sealed shut behind him, and he didn’t foresee the cavalry charging through anytime soon with a generator and a bomb kit. Tony took a deep breath and asked, “How much reserve power does the suit have, J?”

“The suit is currently running on the arc reactor, sir. You have approximately one hour of power remaining before the reactor reaches critical levels.”

He thought he remembered Jarvis droning on something about time, but he had a much faster clock to monitor and his reactor timer had gone on the back burner. Critical levels meant he would have thirty minutes to get his ass back to the workshop or lights out for Tony Stark. Not that it mattered, because he had 2:54…53….52 to stop the entire city from going up in a cloud of dust. He stood up and popped the releases on the suit, disengaging it from its power source. It went dark behind him, still peeled open without enough juice to even show a little modesty. He felt along the left thigh in the dark and pulled a panel open to retrieve his headlamp, mobile HUD, and tool kit.

Crouching down by the device, Tony turned his headlamp up the highest setting and settled the tiny HUD over his right eye. He started carefully separating out wires, the timer ticking merrily away in the corner of his eye.

“Guys?” he called into his com, waiting for the tiny click that told him Jarvis had patched him back into the main line. “I’ve found the detonator. It’s out of power, so I’m going to have to hook it up to the reactor to get us out of this mess.”

He waited, expecting the inevitable there’s got to be another way, and was a touch surprised when Steve just barked back, “Do it.”

Tony was already doing it, already had his undersuit peeled off his shoulders so he had clear access to the ports on the reactor.

“So eager to get rid of me, Cap?” he asked, but he didn’t freeze with the wires in his hand because he had 1:49 seconds to get this thing locked down, and he didn’t have time for his feelings to be hurt. And maybe he’d thought they’d been doing okay, and sometimes he’d thought that maybe Steve was alright being his teammate, and every now and then he wondered if maybe he was more to them than a walking wallet with cool gadgets, but that was a dark hole he could fall into some other day.

“Cut the chatter,” was Steve’s no-nonsense reply. Tony guessed the no-chatter rule made sense when they had less than two minutes to prevent the entire city from going up in flame. Tony tipped his head to his shoulder to hit the com unit, switching himself off the main band. If Steve needed him for something more important than disarming a city-killing bomb, Jarvis would patch him back in.

“Sir… you do realize that this device is designed to soak and distribute energy?” Jarvis asked quietly as Tony made the last connection. Lights flickered on all around the control room, and Tony had seen it, that the device had been designed with a safety to suck up energy and feed it out to the room so Tony wasn’t just powering the detonator, he was powering the whole control room. A generator would have gone into melt down in a hurry, but this was the arc reactor, his arc reactor. He could handle powering the control room for 1:32…31…30 seconds. Maybe.

Tony said nothing and Jarvis reported, “At the current rate of power loss, you will reach critical levels in forty-nine seconds.”

A second counter took up space in his display and he swiped it away irritably. He made his hands stay steady and focused his concentration on nothing more than making the countdown stop.

“STARK!... shut it…down!” Clint shouted in his ear, breaking into his channel. He was out of breath and barely audible, and Tony got it because he was tired too, but at least he wasn’t still fending off Doombots, so Clint had him beat there. Tony ignored him and the flood of alarmed voices from his team as the counter clicked down below a minute, 57…56…55...

“Sir, you have now reached critical power levels. At the current drain rate, the arc reactor will be depleted in fifty-two seconds.”

Convenient that they were matching up so neatly, but if both counters were still going in 52 seconds, it wouldn’t matter anyway. He snugged his wire cutters in between two blue wires, and snipped a white wire.

“The device has been disarmed,” Jarvis reported. “Please disconnected the reactor now, sir.”

Tony let out an explosive breath so full of relief that it was almost a sob. His hands shook as he yanked the connections out of the reactor’s ports. The control room went silent and dark but for the flood of Tony’s headlamp. He pulled it off and looked at the back of it. It had a lithium battery in the back. He could give the reactor a tiny boost, buy himself maybe another few seconds. He put a finger to it automatically, but didn’t pull the back panel off. A few more seconds so he could enjoy the dark and the smell of burnt metal a little longer before he died? No, thanks, he’d keep the light.

Setting it down on the floor, Tony shifted over so he could rest his shoulders on the back of the suit’s legs. It wasn’t like he’d die the second the reactor turned off. He’d have…maybe thirty minutes? Possibly painful minutes if he remembered correctly from the last time he’d looked down at his chest and saw only darkness, but he had been paralyzed at the time, so maybe the pain hadn’t been from the missing reactor. Maybe it wouldn’t be the same.

“Sir, please return to the lab,” Jarvis commanded, but his voice was soft.

“Door’s sealed, J. Not going to be able to open it without the suit. Suit’s dead, reactor doesn’t have enough juice to even get it across the floor. Across the city is out of the question. I’m just going to sit here and try to keep my pulse down.” Like he was having a picnic, relaxing by the beach. No, I don’t feel like surfing today, I’m just going to sit here and enjoy my hurricane with the cute umbrella.

“Everyone okay out there?”

“The team has sustained no causalities, nor have any injuries been reported,” Jarvis answered dutifully. “Bomb squads are on the ground disposing of the explosive devices.”

Jarvis apparently had nothing else to report, and silence fell. It was a vast silence. The room was completely dead of electronic buzzing, shielded from outside noise. It wasn’t like the silence in the cave that was never really silence but filled with the distant chatter of guards, the rustle and click of guns and gear, Yinsen rolling over in his sleep, creepy crawling things creeping and crawling. It wasn’t even the silence of the void, which had been so all consuming that it was a din of noise, pressure humming in his ears like static, his pulse a thick boom, the sound of his breath like explosions in his helmet.

“Would you like me to patch Captain Rogers into the private channel?” Jarvis asked after a moment of silence. A year and a half ago, it would have been Shall I call Miss Potts? but Tony had made that off limits after the whole trip through the wormhole thing. Pepper had been devastated when she realized she’d missed his call, so consumed with guilt that she could barely look at him for months. It hadn’t destroyed their relationship on its own, but it did make Tony realize what he did to her every time he got into the suit and gave the nearest baddie the middle finger. There would be no more ‘I’m about to die, tell me a bedtime story’ calls to Pepper. Why Jarvis thought Steve would be a better choice was beyond him.

“No, I don’t want to talk to him,” Tony lied. If he had Steve on the line, he would probably say something ridiculous like, would you like to come to Italy with me? There’s a little winery out in the country, you’d love it. Just the two of us. Or, Do you hate me? Like a school girl with a note passed down the row and a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ check box underneath it.

The reactor powered down. He felt it as an abrupt lack, and the whole world was suddenly quiet when he never even noticed the faint hum except for when it was gone. His skin tingled from the missing vibration, and he imagined that he could already feel the shrapnel creeping toward his heart. Thirty minutes, maybe a little more, maybe a little less.

“Sir?”

Tony swallowed hard and focused on the light. “You remember what to do when I kick the bucket?”

“But for the unlikely instance of a malfunction impacting my servers and all three backups, I am not capable of memory loss, sir,” Jarvis said dryly, but he had that strange note in the back of his voice that Tony never programed in, the one that sounded like worry, panic. “In the similarly unlikely instance of your demise, I will take care of everything as you’ve ordered.”

Tony’s lips jerked up into a smile and he shifted to get comfortable. “Proud of you, J. Tell the others. You’re all better than anything I ever imagined.”

He was being maudlin and he knew it. He more than half expected Jarvis to call him on it, but he just said, “Thank you, sir. I will pass along the message.” He waited a beat and then added, “Dum-E will undoubtedly tease you about it when you get home.”

“Sure.”

As a kid, Tony had always talked to himself in bed when he was lonely, scared awake by a nightmare, mom and dad fighting down the hall, or it was just too quite. It was why he built Dum-E in the first place, because only crazy people talked to themselves, and he didn’t have a brother to talk to, so a robot would do. Really, Dum-E was better than a brother anyway, because he didn’t steal Tony’s things or cry. He didn’t have Dum-E, but Jarvis was there on the line, and so he just started saying stupid things and couldn’t stop himself.

“I tried, Jarvis,” he said softly. His chest felt tight, but he didn’t know if that was real, or just a product of his very active imagination. “I know I’m not good at handling…. Anything with a pulse, actually. But I really tried this time. I just shouldn’t have gotten so attached. I should have let them go months ago. It’s not like I couldn’t afford building them their own headquarters and endowing a trust.”

“Do you not enjoy your work with the Avengers, sir?” Jarvis prompted gently.

Tony did enjoy it. He liked thinking he was making a difference with his wallet and cool gadgets. No, not just his wallet and cool gadgets, but with his hands. He liked thinking that maybe he was wiping out a little of the red in his own ledger. “Beside the point. I was being selfish. Holding them captive because I wrote the checks.”

“I do not believe your team feels the same.”

Maybe they didn’t. Tony was never good at reading people, that’s what he had Jarvis and Pepper and Rhodey for. He projected his needs and fears onto others. He was a narcissist, after all. It’s what he did. Tony let it go. No use beating that particular dead horse, and it wasn’t like it would matter much in a few minutes anyway. A wave of nausea rippled over him and his mouth flooded with saliva. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard, breathing in through his nose.

“Sir?” Jarvis prompted when Tony was quiet longer than he liked.

“I don’t feel so great, J,” Tony admitted once the wave passed. He slumped back against the suit and focused on just breathing. His feet and hands felt cold, and his back muscles started twitching in spasms.

“You are likely coming down off the adrenalin, sir,” Jarvis answered. “You have sustained several injuries today.” He didn’t mention that tiny shards of metal were marching through his chest, because he was programmed only to state the obvious when it would break tension, provide comic relief. Of course, if he was just a program and only did what a program did, he would have made that comment in the interests of gallows humor. He’d obviously made a judgement call and decided not to, and if Tony had ever done anything right in the world, it was Jarvis and his bots.

Tony was too afraid to ask if there was someone on the way up to him, knowing the answer was most likely no. The building was a mess and the stairs were impassable. Tony had been forced to cut the elevator away from the cable to use the shaft like a tunnel and it would take first responders a while to even get in the front door, discover the stairs were just gone at the third floor, and then double back to check the elevator, and climb up the shaft. Thor could do it faster with the flying, but he would be digging survivors out of collapsed buildings, ferrying bomb techs, doing other useful things that thunder gods did in such situations. Needs of the many and all that. And Steve… Well. That went without saying. Tony tried not to think about Steve.

“Sir, please attempt to remain conscious.”

“Why?” Tony asked woozily. “I should really go to sleep. It would keep my heart rate down.”

“You may have suffered a concussion, sir. Please remain conscious.”

“Sure,” Tony agreed, but he was gone the moment he said sleep, and it just took his eyes another second to catch up. “Sorry,” he mumbled, or thought he did.

~*~

Even super soldiers could get tired. Steve let the Doombot come to him, waited until it was within easy striking distance, and smashed it across the face with the shield. The bot whirled, almost comical with its missing arm throwing it off balance, but Steve wasn’t in the mood to be amused. He hit the bot again, and then decapitated it as soon as it was on the ground. The street was littered with bits of bots, the wreckage of cars and pieces of buildings that had been shaved off in the fight. Steve put his back to the wall and cupped a hand over his ear.

“Tony? Tony, where are you with that detonator?” He got static in reply, as all of them had for the last twenty minutes when trying to reach Iron Man. His gut twisted nervously, but Tony could take care of himself, and he was inside Doom’s stronghold on the far side of the city. It could be disrupting the signal. “Anyone heard from Iron Man?”

“Negative –”

“-Not I –“

“-Nothing here.”

“Damnit,” Steve said softly. He was guarding one of four massive explosive devices set around the city – or at least one of the four that they knew of. There was a bomb squad on the way, but the streets were treacherous with debris and straggling Doombots, and Steve couldn’t leave his post to escort them in. SHIELD agents and the National Guard were trying to evacuate the blast zones. Steve looked nervously back at the device, a massive thing sitting mockingly in the back of a truck wedged between two buildings. Steve didn’t know much about explosives, but this one was big, and it glowed blue, and it had a counter ticking down toward five minutes with a big smiley face underneath it. When Steve got his hands on Doom…

“Bucky, where are you?”

There was a moment of static and then Bucky answered, “West – th street…-ward the tower.”

“Say again?” Steve prompted, frowning.

“Closing… Iron Ma-‘s…position,” Bucky shouted, the disturbance making it hard to pick out his voice. Steve couldn’t tell if it was the comms, that area of town, or the bomb he was standing way too close to, but communication was obviously going to be an issue. Another bot lumbered around the corner and charged at him, missing half its face, but otherwise undamaged. Steve sighed and pushed away from the wall to meet it. It held a gun out as it ran, but it was empty and kept clicking as the bot pulled the trigger half a dozen times on its approach. Steve brought the shield up and then smashed it into the bot’s wrist as he twisted his body to send it flying past. It whirled clumsily and Steve slammed the shield into its chest and drove it back into the building. Trapping it against the wall, Steve pounded the shield into it until he was covered in another layer of oil and whatever strange green fluid Doom used to power the things. It fell the sidewalk and Steve kicked it away, maintaining a neat perimeter for himself. The robot bodies were starting to form a wall.

Tony’s line crackled in Steve’s ear and he sucked in a breath so he could hear through the static, “Found…detonator… power………………………………..get us out…this mess,” he reported.

Steve let his breath out in relief. He didn’t know what Tony’s plan was, but Steve trusted that he had it under control when it came to this kind of thing. “Do it,” he ordered.

“-…Get… me, Cap?” Tony asked over the explosion of the rest of the team whooping in relief.

“Cut the chatter!” Steve barked. He wanted to whoop and shout and dance, too, but they still had at least four bombs ticking away and Steve couldn’t hear Tony. “Say again, Iron Man? Tony? Damnit,” he snarled when he was answered by static.

“You want me to break away and see if he needs help?” Natasha asked after a moment of silence.

Steve chewed unhappily on his lower lip. He wished he were closer to the squat ugly tower Doom had made into his base of operations, but he couldn’t leave the bomb for a surviving Doombot to kamikaze when they were close to shutting them all down, and neither could the others.

“Negative. Maintain your positions. Bucky is already on his way, and Iron Man knows what he’s doing.”

A terrible sense of anticipation fell as they waited, watching the clocks tick down toward a minute, fifty-nine seconds, fifty-eight…

“STARK!” Clint shouted over the comm, “I swear I’m going to steal all your cereal if you wait until the timer hits one to shut it down. All of it!

“Not if I get to it first,” Natasha said.

“None shall steal the cereal,” Thor boomed, “For tis already gone.”

“You ate all the cereal this morning?” Clint asked incredulously. “How?!”

“My appetite is mighty,” Thor replied smugly. Steve clenched his jaw and considered telling them all to shut up, but they were forty-one seconds away from death and all of them were still at their posts, watching the counter click down, knowing that they wouldn’t survive if Tony didn’t flip the switch.

“Come on, Tony,” Steve whispered, and he thought it was quiet enough that no one would have heard him over their own shouting. “Come on.”

Thirty-two…thirty-one…thirty. It flashed at him twice, turned to 88:88, and then powered down with a disappointed whirrrrr.

“Oh, my god!” Clint gasped. “Holy shit, he actually did it.” Steve heard Clint’s ass hitting the pavement and he had to curl over to clutch at his knees because his legs were shaking so hard that he almost hit the sidewalk a second after Clint.

“Tony?” Steve asked as soon as he had enough breath to get the word out. “Tony, are you there?”

“Captain Rogers,” Jarvis responded, “Mr. Stark requires immediate assistance. The arc reactor will be entirely depleted in twenty-one seconds. Sir is sealed into the control room on the thirty-ninth floor and unable to get out on his own.”

The announcement hit him like a gutshot. Silence fell for half a beat while they all digested it. “How is his reactor depleted?” Steve demanded, angry, because he told Tony not to push it anymore, that he was supposed to tell Steve when his power was running low so they could get him a replacement. They could have had a SHIELD agent ferry over his spare, or sent Bucky home instead of to Doom’s tower.

“He was forced to use the reactor as a power source in order to disable the device. Please hurry.”

“I’m at the tower, going in,” Bucky said. It must have been the bombs interfering with the communications, because Bucky’s voice was clear as a bell.

“Natasha-?”

“Already on it. I’ll have the replacement in ten minutes as long as everyone continues to get out of my way,” she said. Steve could hear the whine of a motorcycle going too fast to be safe, but he didn’t waste his breath telling her to be careful. Natasha could manage herself on a bike.

“The explosive handlers have arrived at my post, Captain,” Thor said before Steve could order him into the air. “Shall I take to the skies?”

“Yes. Clint?”

“SHIELD is at the end of the block with the bomb squad. I should be free in three.”

“Head to Tony’s location as soon as you’re free. Pick off any bots you see still moving on the way.”

“Will do.”

“Jarvis? Can you patch me into Tony’s line?” Steve asked finally. He could hear the rumble of the bomb squad truck two blocks down and started pacing while he waited.

“One moment, Captain.”

A damaged bot started moving in the street and Steve didn’t even bother with the shield. He hopped over the pile of bot parts, stomped on the bot’s chest, and smashed his heel into the bot’s head until it stopped twitching. The bomb squad truck turned the corner and rumbled slowly up the street, six heavily armored SWAT officers jogging in front of it to clear a path, and another two dozen running alongside, putting bullets into any bots that moved.

“Sir is unavailable,” Jarvis answered finally.

“What do you mean he’s unavailable?” Steve demanded with his heart in his throat. “Is he conscious?”

“For the moment,” Jarvis reassured him. He hesitated, and the line clicked twice to indicate that they were on a private band. “The reactor has powered down. He is dying and doesn’t want to burden anyone.”

“Bullshit!” Steve hissed. “Put me through, right now.”

“I cannot, Captain. Sir put this protocol into place shortly after the incident with the Chitauri. Unless you have tactical data or orders to convey, I cannot override this command.”

Steve opened his mouth to snap that yes he had tactical data to relay, and maybe it wasn’t relevant tactical data, but he a metric ton of that he could ramble on about all day, and he would if it just meant that Tony wasn’t alone in that room while shrapnel ate through his chest. Before he could get a single word out, the SWAT team leader jogged up to him and flipped his visor up.

“We have teams at all four locations, Captain. Your team has done an outstanding job. Do you need medical attention?” He reached out and put a hand on Steve’s arm like he might need help standing upright, and it was only then that he realized he was swaying slightly, shoulders hunched up by his ears. Steve made himself stand up straight and shook his head, putting his Captain America face back on.

“I’m fine, but I need to see to one of my men. Do you have this covered?” When the man nodded, Steve locked eyes with him again and asked, “Do you have this covered?” The last thing he needed was to run off after Tony only to have a Doombot sneak in behind him and detonate the bomb.

“We’re good here, Captain,” the team leader said firmly. “Go.”

Steve took off at a jog. His legs burned like fire, but he ignored it and held a hand up to his ear. “Natasha, what’s your ETA?”

“Three minutes to the lab, SHIELD has a copter inbound for transport.”

Steve nodded as if she could see him. “Copy. Bucky?”

“Just got through the front lobby – sealed with serious blast doors. Jarvis says the stairs are out, so looks like I’m going climbing up an elevator shaft. Don’t guess you could have those nice SHIELD agents of yours blow out a window for evac?”

“Life in your hands, man,” Clint warned, a moment before Natasha’s voice cut into the comm.

“I’ll be happy to nicely blow out a window for you, Soldier. Would you like to stand in front of it so I have a target? Entering the lab now,” she tacked on.

“Surprised you need a target,” Bucky replied with a soft grunt and a clatter as he caught hold of something metal. Steve was itching to tell them to shut up, God, Tony’s dying, take this seriously, but he knew they were taking it seriously, that every barb and quip was a pressure release valve to keep them all from panicking. Steve kept his mouth shut, and sped up as he sighted his bike. It was tipped over in the street, but it started with only one protesting whine.

“Jarvis, I have that tactical data to relay. Patch me through.”

“My apologies, Captain, but Mr. Stark has lost consciousness.”

Steve clenched his teeth hard and pulled back on the throttle, weaving through the bricks littering the street. “Put me through anyway.”

There was a soft click, and then Jarvis announced, “Connection is live.”

Steve rounded a corner to a straightaway and gunned it, flying down the street. He couldn’t think of anything to say for a hundred yards, but finally choked out. “Don’t you dare die, Stark. We are going to have a conversation about your protocols and I can’t do that with your ghost. I don’t expect you’ll want to miss all the fun we’re going to have yelling at each other, so you better stay put. Bucky’s coming to get you. Just hang on.”

He wanted to be the one climbing up the elevator shaft, minutes away from pulling Tony out of the control room, but if there was anyone else Steve would trust with it, it was Bucky. He kept talking, not sure the words were getting through over the wind noise, but not willing to stop the sound of his voice if there was the slightest chance that it would do Tony some good, even if it was just to guilt his spirit into hanging around his body for another few minutes.

A helicopter whirled over his head and Steve pushed the throttle so hard that the bike felt like it was going to vibrate apart underneath him. The copter hovered level with a window three floors from the top of Doom’s tower and fire blossomed from the side as Natasha shot out the glass. Steve put on the breaks so he didn’t run right through the shower of glass and veered around it to the open front door. He gunned it to get up the stairs, and only just barely remembered to put the kickstand down before throwing himself off the seat. Bucky had thrown a nylon climbing rope down behind him and Steve didn’t waste his breath asking for a status update as he jumped for the rope.

He found Natasha and Bucky crouched with their heads together in the middle of the hallway. Bucky glanced up at him as approached, and then shifted so he could see Tony stretched out on the tacky carpet, looking pale and somehow small with his undersuit clinging to his hips, eyelashes forming dark slashes on his cheeks.

The old reactor sat by Natasha’s knee, dark and useless, and the replacement burned a bright blue in Tony’s chest, but his eyes were still closed. Steve knelt by Tony’s head and checked his pulse – sluggish, but still there. Natasha and Bucky both rolled their eyes at him, as if they wouldn’t have checked themselves, but they let him pull off his glove and feel Tony’s breath on his wrist, and didn’t say a word when he set a hand on Tony’s naked chest, fingers rubbing at the thick matt of scars as if he could smooth them away.

“Did someone kiss me?” Tony asked weakly a moment later, his eyes flickering open.

It had been a long time since Steve had been simultaneously so angry and so relieved to hear someone’s voice. Not caring that he had witnesses, Steve leaned down and set his mouth a little too hard to Tony’s to really be a kiss, but it was unmistakable as anything else. By the time he pulled away, Natasha was handing a five dollar bill over to a smugly grinning Bucky, and Tony was blinking at him dumbly.

“I’m already breathing, Cap,” he said tentatively, as if he wasn’t sure.

“That wasn’t CPR, you asshole. You ever tell Jarvis that you don’t want to talk to me again because you’re sulking and dying, I will kill you myself.”

Tony didn’t respond immediately. He just looked at Steve like Steve was a new species of humanoid, cataloguing him for identification. He was quiet for so long that Steve was afraid he’d suffered brain damage, but he finally managed something approaching a smile.

“Would you like to go to Italy with me?” he asked nonsensically.

“Maybe after you get out of the hospital,” Steve replied, but what he meant was yes.