Chapter 1: Decadence
The Avengers - Uniting Hearts
Chapter One - Decadence
As the second hand clicked pointedly around the clock face, Steve's irritation was almost palpable. The rest of the team sat chatting quietly around the boardroom conference table, apart from Steve himself who stood behind his chair, and the one remaining member who had yet to show up.
Tony was always late. He owned the building, Stark Tower, which they all lived in, and yet he never failed to casually stroll in late to the boardroom for a meeting or debriefing. Steve was usually very tolerant and forgave Tony a few moments after he'd walked in offering reasons, such as updating their security, for his absence.
Today, however, was different. Fury had informed them of a situation across the city that required their urgent attention. As soon as he had debriefed them in a conference call they were to fly straight out. This had been twenty minutes ago and the other four members of the team had immediately gathered in the boardroom. They were still waiting for Tony.
Just as Steve made a move towards the doors to go and find him, the very man in question swaggered in through them.
'Morning.' Was all he offered.
'It wouldn't be if we'd waited any longer for you. I knocked on your door twenty minutes ago. Where have you been?'
Tony raised his eyebrows slightly at the term quality of Steve's tone.
'It was a late night, I didn't hear you call me.' He shrugged.
Steve knew better than to expect an apology from the billionaire, but Tony's nonplussed responses were making his irritation dissolve into anger, instead of forgiveness.
'There's a potentially life-threatening situation across town that we need to move on straight away. You're telling me that the reason we've had to wait for you is because you've been asleep?' Steve almost shouted.
'What can I say, it was a good dream.'
'People could be dying because you're too irresponsible-'
'Guys,' Natasha interrupted, 'we're wasting time.'
With a glare aimed directly at Tony, Steve backed down and took his seat at the table, opening the call as he did so.
'Captain.' Fury greeted him.
'Director Fury. What's the situation?'
As Natasha set their jet down on a neighbouring building she could see the problem straight away. What appeared to have been an earthquake, as Fury had informed them, had carved damage down the road and affected some of the buildings. It was odd though that most of the damage seemed to form a pattern centring around the tallest, most impressive building in the street; the Atford Building.
Natasha had her suspicions that everything wasn't as straight forward as it seemed, but brushed them aside. For now they had to focus on evacuating the rest of the civilians from the ornate building before it collapsed fully. Glancing back at her suited-up teammates, she hoped the rift that seemed to have lodged itself between Tony and Steve, after their earlier argument wouldn't affect this mission.
Moments later they were all on the ground, each moving off into action. Chunks of dusty concrete were raining down from different lacerations and cracks in the structure. Steve had delegated each member of the team a job that played to their forte. Hawkeye was on the roof opposite directing Thor and Iron Man to the right areas as they stabilised the construction. Widow was clearing bystanders while the Hulk was clearing rubble nearly his size and weight.
Steve himself was evacuating the people trapped inside. He could hear Tony's sarcastic comments over the communication system and Clint's amused retorts. He rolled his eyes. For a genius, the man certainly didn't know when to discard the irony and be serious.
The moment that would prove Steve all too wrong was thundering towards them.
A young boy whom he had just carried out of the devastated entrance and sent towards the safety cordon where Natasha was standing was frozen halfway staring at the Hulk.
'Captain, you've got a kid who is-' Hawkeye broke off mid-sentence, 'Thor, there's a huge piece just breaking loose next to you. You have to stop it, that kid is right in the target zone!'
Steve turned before Hawkeye had even finished his sentence to see a mass of concrete slip lose before Thor could stop it, plummeting down straight towards the boy.
Even with his speed Steve knew he wouldn't be able to reach him in time.
'NO!' He yelled as the Iron Man suit appeared almost from nowhere, and pushed the child out of the way with unbelievable speed. Just not quite enough. The boy landed on his hands and knees several metres away, and the full force of the concrete hit Tony in the shoulder and chest, slamming him into the ground and pinning him in place. Steve's heartbeat quickened when Tony lay completely still and unmoving.
Chapter 2: Ascend
Chapter Two – Ascend
Steve’s mind reeled at Tony’s prone form; the stillness a contradiction to his normally animated self. Leaping over the debris in his path, he found himself the first one to reach the crumpled man.
Only silence met him and he felt panic surge up through his stomach to his chest. He tried to shift the concrete lodged on top of Tony as the other Avengers arrived next to them.
Thor bent down near him and removed the burden as though it were lighter than cloud. He was gentler than would normally be expected in a situation this urgent, but his face betrayed the worry that his movements weren’t showing.
“What happened?!” Natasha demanded, having been the only one too far away to properly see what had transpired.
“There was a child headed towards you,” Thor answered her, whilst studying the reactor in Tony’s chest for signs of damage, “part of the building dislodged and he would have been crushed had Tony Stark not saved his life.”
Clint was radioing in for a medical team, and back up to secure the building as the Norse God finished speaking. Natasha realised that this must have been the boy she had returned, crying, to his parents.
“How many more civilians are trapped in the building?” She asked turning to Steve.
The Captain had removed Tony’s helmet and was checking his breathing.
“He was the last one…” He trailed off, the anguish that their mission had nearly been complete without any casualties clear in his expression.
“ETA on the emergency medical team is three minutes.” Clint announced, and the Hulk roared from behind them as though that might speed up the process.
Steve felt a strong need for some form of connection with Tony – a physical contact that would confirm his survival. So he took his pulse.
A slow, uncertain beat greeted his gloved fingertips. Slower than it should be, but a heartbeat nonetheless. This minor victory was to be short-lived.
The blonde God kneeling next to him suddenly bent his head closer to Tony’s chest plate.
“The reactor – there is a fissure running through it.”
“What?!” Hawkeye exclaimed, his usual composure dropping away as he leaned over to look.
A closer study revealed that Thor was right; a diagonal crack ran across the glass, just off the centre of the reactor. The hue of the device made it seem like a tear in the skyline.
“He’s survived worse though. It’ll keep his heart running right?” Natasha asked with deliberate certainty that she hoped would hide her true concern.
If it was possible for a sentence to begin a cataclysm of events, this one was a landslide.
Tony’s breathing suddenly hitched raggedly, which seemed to make everyone tense up; even more on edge. Steve reached again for Tony’s pulse and found it with much more difficulty. The pause between each beat was now almost the space of another heartbeat itself.
“His pulse is too slow.” Steve said giving a worried glance to the others.” The damage to the reactor won’t matter if his heart stops before the medical team arrive.”
“What can we do?” Clint asked.
“If we can get the chest plate off it might make it easier for them if they have to restart his heart. The length between his heartbeats is too long – it means he could have internal bleeding if the blood isn’t getting back to the heart-”
Steve was interrupted by the pure glow of the Arc reactor beginning to wane in and out. The Hulk started to roar furiously as the reactor graduated to blinking quickly on and off.
“Tony!” Steve grabbed the unconscious man’s shoulders desperately. “Tony stay with us!”
His last words were drowned out by the sound of a carrier engine overhead. The medical team had arrived.
Once airborne, the journey had been gruelling. Back in his normal form, Bruce had to force himself to remain calm when the bruising and swelling, that had already formed across Tony’s left shoulder and chest, were revealed. It was an inanimate object that had injured the Iron Man after all, not a person or force. Something still didn’t fall into place for him about the earlier events. Although supposedly less conscious of mind than the rest of the team when in Hulk form, Bruce was always very acutely aware of certain things.
Like the building ceasing its crumbling after Tony had been knocked from the sky. It seemed just too coincidental.
His thoughts were drawn away from this and back to the current events as the medics fed information to one another. The suit seemed to have taken the brunt of the impact, and, although his shoulder was dislocated, Tony had avoided any broken bones. Steve’s sigh of relief was just audible.
Bruce was about to mention that he shouldn’t blame himself, when out of nowhere Tony flat lined.
Tony could hear a soft melody floating towards him. It was lyrical, and sounded like it was coming from an instrument that was somewhere between a harp and piano. It was drifting through the creamy haze of light that he seemed suspended in. The notes began to form words, and the words coalesced into sentences. Sentences coming from voices he recognised.
Steve sat by Tony’s bed in the medical wing of the helicarrier. He was doing exactly what Banner had never managed to tell him not to, and blaming himself. If he hadn’t lectured Tony about responsibility that morning the outcome of the day might have been very different. The unspoken words – that Tony wasn’t worthy of being called a hero, echoed in Steve’s mind from their earlier argument. It wasn’t even as though Tony had saved the boy to prove Steve wrong – he had done it on instinct, something that showed people in their true light. Tony’s light was definitely that of a hero. Steve felt angry that it had taken him this long to notice it.
Sighing he looked from the heart monitor which thankfully beeped in a regular rhythm. The medics had needed to shock Tony twice before his heart returned to a natural rhythm. The Arc reactor had restored itself to full power, so it seemed unlikely that his heart would stop again.
Now that the immediate crisis was over, Steve felt resentment inch its way into his mind. Why did the man have to be so reckless? Was there no other way he could have saved the child and avoided the collision himself? The Captain knew the answer already, but heated musings were easier than simply waiting.
Footsteps approached and he turned to see Natasha standing beside him. Even when there was no danger she was still as stealthy as her reputation foretold. He hadn’t heard her until she was within touching distance.
“How is he?” She asked.
“Still the same.” Steve replied.
“He’s strong,” She commented, “he’ll wake up soon.”
Steve’s uncharacteristic silence made her turn her gaze on him. He looked up to meet sincere brown eyes.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself. Or him. He did the right thing. There was no time to make another call, and I’m sure you know that.” Her tone brooked no argument, but she softened it as she continued.
“Don’t be too hard on him when he does wake up. He may be arrogant and egotistical at times, but he hasn’t always had an easy, billionaire-funded lifestyle. S.H.I.E.L.D have footage of the time he was tortured in captivity after being kidnapped by the Ten Rings.”
Steve had heard vaguely about Tony’s kidnapping, but had never seen the video, or known the genius had been tortured.
“He’s had to work to become the person he is today, just like we all have.” Natasha continued, her eyes moving back to Tony’s still form. “I think today just proves that he can be the person we need him to be. Fury expects you on the bridge in an hour; he wants a full report.” With that she turned to leave Steve with the feeling that she disapproved of their earlier argument, and expected him, knowing that Tony wouldn’t, to right it. Before she could, however, she was interrupted by a new presence.
“Bruce.” Her tone sounded surprised.
“Fury needs us all in the boardroom now.” Banner stated by way of greeting.
“I thought that wasn’t for another hour?” She countered as Steve stood and met Bruce’s perplexed expression.