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Being a Guide in the 21st Century

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Birthday ficlet for ashinan. Intended to be Guide!Steve helps Sentinel!Tony through a fugue/zoning episode. Turned into Guide!Steve helping Sentinel!Tony through the aftermath of a fugue/zoning episode and a flashback on top of it. Was meant to be fluff, too. Hoped that, at least, came out right.



“Captain Rogers?”

Steve looked up from the book he’d been reading in the expansive library Tony had built in the newly-christened Avengers Tower. It took him a moment to realize the voice had been faintly computerized; JARVIS, not one of Fury’s agents hunting him down for another spate of testing. “Yes, JARVIS?”

“I believe your assistance is required in the workshop.”

Frowning, Steve glanced at the page number before setting the book down on the side table and standing. “Tony’s workshop?”

“Yes, Captain Rogers.”

Tony had opened his doors to them all, though tension between them still ran high. Steve and Tony never could see eye to eye, not to mention that Natasha and Clint were dead-set on keeping themselves separate from them as a whole. The only saving grace, really, was when Thor would visit. Once Dr. Foster had managed to construct a working receiving pad for the Tesseract energy, Thor would make regular trips to the Avengers Tower and the team as a whole seemed united in helping Thor experience bits of Earth in order to give him a better grasp of societal norms. Steve never let on how much those trips helped him, too – things were very different now than he could ever remember, but he was doing his hardest to figure it out. Nevertheless, each Avenger had their own space that was theirs and Tony more than any of them seemed inclined on keeping them away from his workshop.

But Steve wasn’t going to ignore the man’s need for assistance. Following the lighted trail, he made his way to the elevator and stepped in when the doors opened for him. “JARVIS, do you know what happened?” he asked the AI.

“Sir was in the midst of an experiment when a sudden explosion occurred.”

“Oh my god, is he okay?” Steve asked, imagining what a ‘sudden explosion’ could entail.

There was a pause, and it almost seemed as if JARVIS’s voice was approving when it continued, “It was a small, localized explosion. However, it was still sudden and Dum-E could not find the back-up fire extinguisher in time before Sir latched onto the flames. He has not responded to my fugue intervention programming and Ms. Potts, who normally aids in his zoning, is not responding to my calls. You are classified as a Guide in your SHIELD file.”

Well, shit. He knew Tony was a Sentinel – Guides knew when Sentinels were around, though it seemed that Sentinels could otherwise hide their natures from everyone else. In the army, though, you had to declare whether you were a Guide or a Sentinel; Steve had helped pull Bucky out of a fugue or two and he had some experience. “Of course, anyway I can help. Is he breathing?” Fugues could be so overwhelming that the Sentinel simply stopped breathing, but in general those kinds of zoning were rare. Generally speaking, a soft touch or word could bring them out of it – by Guides specifically, though a really calm and unthreatening person could do in a pinch.

“Yes, Captain Rogers. I believe he merely needs another sensation to remove himself from his zoning episode, but Dum-E, You, and Butterfingers’ attempts have not been successful.”

The elevator doors dinged quietly, and Steve stepped out to see nothing but a small square of space, surrounded by opaque glass panels. One glass panel slowly began to become translucent, and Steve could see the hint of the pieces of metal, benches and tables, and computer screens of all kinds.

“I have dimmed the light and cut off Sir’s music in order to prevent the added stimulation from throwing him into a deeper fugue. Would you prefer me to allow light to reenter the workshop?”

Again, rare – most of the time, added stimulation gave the Sentinel something else to focus on and snapped them out of the zoning, but if JARVIS said that Tony’s robots had tried to give stimulation and it hadn’t worked, so perhaps there was something else going on. Better safe than sorry. “No, no, JARVIS, that’s fine, thank you. Keep it dim,” Steve said as the glass panel hissed open and he stepped inside.

This – this is what he thought of when he pictured a mad scientist’s workshop. Cannibalized bits of engines and computers were scattered around tools. A few motorcycles lined the back wall, and Steve let his eye run appreciatively over the different styles before he nearly walked into a floating depicture of a car engine. Ducking around that, he nearly hit into a tall machine, looming in the dim light, which turned out to be a robot, whirring as it backed up and beeping in an almost worried fashion.

“Hey—“ He fumbled for a name.

“That is Dum-E, Captain Rogers. Dum-E, would you please direct Captain Rogers to Sir?”

Dum-E clicked its three fingers together, poked Steve in the chest, and then whirred again as it moved past Steve, leading Steve through the benches strewn in an almost mindless fashion, no rhyme or reason to their placement.

Turning a corner, Steve came upon the crouched form of Tony Stark.

He seemed, for the most part, fine. That was a relief; explosion, small or controlled or whatever, could mean a whole host of problems. Tony was kneeling between two benches, and Steve looked behind him to see a smoking machine. No fire, so Tony wasn’t zoned on that, though it was obvious that Tony had been working on this and been knocked back or had scooted back and then zoned.

So, not the fire. Not the noise of the explosion; it was over, and the end of the stimulation ended the zone unless it was a really bad fugue, but signs of that would be slowed breathing or not breathing at all, and Tony was panting hard, breathing just fine. Not noise, not sight, because JARVIS had said he’d dimmed all the lights. That left scent – and yeah, Steve could still smell the smoke and burned ozone and fried electronics – taste, but Steve didn’t see how taste could work, and touch. Touch would only be if something had harmed Tony—

“JARVIS? Did Tony get hit by something in the explosion?”

“I believe so, but in my scans I found no large bleeding or wound to indicate a need for medical personnel. Should I summon a doctor?”

Steve bit his lip and bent down. This – okay, it was like a fugue, but Tony also had that thousand-yard stare that Bucky would get sometimes when he dreamt of his time as a prisoner of war. Maybe the zoning set off some kind of flashback?

Well, starting out with talking was important, and Steve had the added plus, as a Guide, of being able to reach out empathically and tug Tony’s attention back to the here and now.

“Tony, I guess – I’m just wondering if you can hear me, right now. You know, if you can’t speak or it’s hard, you could just nod a little. You know? In the war, I was with the Howling Commandos and there was this time that…”

It took Steve about five minutes of continuous talking before Tony finally inclined his head. Instead of stopping, Steve just switched track and continued, “Okay, great, you can hear me? You can nod?” Empathically, it was as if a door in a dark room was creaking open, a small shaft of light shining through, Tony finally responding to what Steve was saying. Steve bathed that light in reassurance and strength, his spirit animal (a German Shepard, that had towered over him when he was a kid and now seemed just the right size) manifesting and moving to stand at Tony’s back. Taking his dog’s manifestation as a sign that this was a good plan, Steve inched forward on his knees to kneel close enough to Tony that he could pull the man into his lap if he had to, but still keeping at least an inch’s worth of distance from Tony’s body in case touch triggered a worse flashback.

Tony swallowed hard and whispered, “I can hear you.”

The relief at hearing Tony’s words colored his tone as he whispered, “Good, that’s good. Can you tell me what you can see?”

For a long, long moment, Tony didn’t move, didn’t blink, and then he licked his lips nervously. “I can see… my workshop?”

It was a question, which made it clear that Tony was suffering from a flashback, not a fugue – or, if a fugue had induced the flashback, the fugue was now over. “Right, that’s right, we’re in your workshop. You’re going to have to introduce me to your robot pals, because I don’t think they’re quite happy with my being here.”

“Steve,” Tony said slowly, the name dragging out of his throat, and Steve took that as a sign that he could touch, letting his hand rest on Tony’s shoulder. The touch helped increase the empathetic connection, and awareness slowly seeped back into Tony’s gaze.

“That’s right, JARVIS said you were zoning? That the – the procedures? Weren’t working?”

“Explosion,” Tony said, voice gaining strength. “Sound. Shrapnel.”

That word made Steve pause. “Tony, are you hurt?”

“Not – no. Just – shrapnel. On my – chest.” Tony shuddered, and Steve leaned down to curl his body around Tony’s, trying to be comforting because for all that Tony was an asshole, generally speaking, seeing Tony suffering like this was tearing at Steve’s empathy. What kind of Guide would Steve be, to leave Tony suffering like this?

“You’re in your workshop, Tony. Safe. Worried JARVIS a bit. Does the zoning thing happen a lot?”

Tony licked his lips. “Sight is worst. And hearing. Play – AC/DC. Loud. Drowns out sudden noise. Sight – well. Sunglasses. Helps dim things. That kid playing Galaga.”

Steve nodded, and if he concentrated really hard, there was a wispy shape forming in Tony’s lap. Looked like… a ferret? White, with a black muzzle and black paws. Steve’s German Shepard padded over and nosed at the ferret, which twisted around to sniff at the dog’s nose. Steve reached out and tried to shoo his spirit animal back - it wasn’t proper for their spirit animals to interact if they weren’t bonded. His movement made Tony look up, and blink at the dog standing at his shoulder.

“Is there a—“

“Yeah. My spirit animal’s a dog,” Steve murmured, and now he had Tony leaning forward, head cradled against Steve’s chest, Steve’s arm curled around Tony’s shoulders and the other helping him inch closer so that Tony wasn’t in such an awkward position. “I don’t know how the future does it, when spirit animals interact with one another—“

Tony laughed weakly, scrubbed at his face with one hand. “Are you implying we should bond, Capsicle?”

Steve blushed; he had more meant to apologize for his spirit animal getting overly familiar with Tony’s. Still, it was comforting, the teasing - that was the Tony he knew. Steve laughed and replied, “I think dating should come before bonding, Tony.” He began to push away, since Tony had recovered his equilibrium, but Tony’s hand shot out and bunched in Steve’s shirt.

“Just – give me a minute?” Tony asked, and he looked so embarrassed for asking, cheeks dusted with pink and refusing to meet Steve’s gaze.

Well, this wasn’t how he saw his afternoon playing out…

…But he could think of no other place he’d rather be.

“Sure thing, Tony,” Steve murmured, and settled down to watch Tony’s ferret clamber over the German Shepard’s back.

He’d have to thank JARVIS later.