Tony is hiding.
He was going to go, he was. Bitter and secretly terrified, perhaps, but he was going to show up.
Kooning called at 8 am. “You’re expected to be there, Director,” he’d said. Director.
It was just the push Tony didn’t need, that little smug edge to his voice Tony can pick out even over the phone that galls him most. It’s that Tony has a place now, following protocol, and they both know it.
He doesn’t want to be there like this. Not in this inescapable official capacity, not now that he has a rank and teleconferences with the secretary of defense and has dinner engagements with the President. He wanted to go as Tony Stark, to be there as an Avenger, to prove that he’s not – whatever they think he is.
(Steve probably wouldn’t even acknowledge his presence.)
So Tony does what he does best, he skulks, scurries away to his ready room with Fury’s stuff still on the walls. He makes a point of telling Maria he’s not to be disturbed, he stops answering the emails that people keep sending him, asking him to comment, asking him to testify, requesting he deal with 42, inquiring about the timeline for the initiative. There are hundreds of requests for press dates. He’s never handled any of this, not for a long time. He wants desperately to forward everything to Pepper, but he can’t do that anymore, so he ignores them in what’s surely an obscenely irresponsible and selfish move for a man of his station. Because he’s allowed that kind of discretion now, and he’d be abusing it far more often if it gave him any joy.
But Tony can’t find it in himself to go around picking fights for amusement anymore. His face is sallow and there are deep bags under his eyes and he can’t shake the thought that he’s never exuded less authority. He hates that his talent for compartmentalization has evaporated, that now, when he needs it most, it’s gone. He wasn’t born to lead. He does, and he has, but he’s not a military man, he’s the CEO playing at being a soldier. His men don’t respect him. He can’t rouse them to action.
He can’t rouse himself. Not like Steve could.
He probably thinks Tony is a coward for not showing up, and he knows, he knows, he deserves all that and more, but he can’t. He can’t do it. He’ll deal with the fallout later.
He doesn’t need to watch. He knows how it’s going to go. He engineered this from the start, he doesn’t need it shoved in his face. It’s grown into something awful and entirely out of his control, a spectacle, and he does hate himself for that, because Steve doesn’t deserve the way this ended.
So he tells himself it’s just another rodeo, he’s done his part, he’s caught the – Steve. He’s caught Steve. It’s out of his hands now. He lets himself rock in his fancy chair, eyes wide and blank, looks out at the cloudy backdrop of his palace high in the sky, turns the mental filters up, writes new ones in his head to patch the holes he’s missed.
And then Maria Hill is bursting into his office.
Her eyes are frantic and her mouth is wrapping itself in a scowl Tony knows precedes a tirade, and all he can do is bury himself and wish she’d go away.
“What,” he says in her direction.
She just looks at him. “What the fuck have you been doing in here?”
She probably thinks he’s sulking. Shirking his duties because he’s an irresponsible fuck. She has no idea, she’ll never have any idea, Tony will always be the entitled asshole who does reckless things because it suits him, and too fucking bad if it causes her problems.
“It’s really none of your business,” he says, because he’s tired of people hating him. He’s tired. “Can you just–”
“Steve Rogers was just shot. Why haven’t you been monitoring this? Christ, your brain is a giant fucking computer - ”
Tony misses the rest, because he turns the feeds back on and his brain is screaming.
3 shots were fired, no civilians injured –
Captain America reportedly in critical condition on the way to Mercy Hospital –
The shooter has not been identified at this time –
Steve in critical condition, Steve with three shots in him, Steve bleeding out in some stranger’s hands -
His brain stutters, but somehow he manages to shove the helmet onto his head and rockets out through the airlock.
- - -
Tony ducks through clouds and rolls under airplanes. He doesn’t have time to talk to ATC right now. He doesn’t have time.
Steve doesn’t have time.
He triangulates as he goes, finds the ambulance down 14th street, and he toys with the idea of landing on the roof and sliding in through the window. But if the news reports are anything to go by, Steve is in no condition –
It takes a lot to put Steve in critical condition.
He steadies himself. He’ll fly along above the ambulance and he’ll see Steve when they get to the hospital. He will, he’ll be fine, he’ll be fine -
It looks so small from the air. It’s just another vehicle from here. Inconsequential. As if it doesn’t even matter that it carries his entire world. He’s bleeding out in the back of a shitty little ambulance and there’s nothing Tony can do –
He should have been paying attention. He should have been – not cowering, if he’d been there, if he’d – god, he could have DONE something, they’d have caught the perp now, Tony would have blown his fucking face off (no, no he doesn’t do that anymore) –
This wouldn’t have happened. Tony wouldn’t have let it happen.
Please, please please I’ll do anything please please –
- - -
Tony lands, and has to fight his way through a crowd of reporters and onlookers and medics.
“Let me through,” he intones through the voice filter.
“Sir, you have to stay –“
He disengages the armor dramatically, so they know him, so they see his face, so they know the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t fucking around.
“Fucking let me through,” he bellows at the ER people. They do.
The gurney’s already been rolled away, but there’s blood trailing from the still-swinging ambulance doors, through the loading bay and out the double-doors, and he pushes harder than he really should around civilians and tears down the hallway. He follows it, the red shock of blood glistening all over the floor where the gurney’s been, dripping along in a macabre map laid out on the tiled floor. He runs like you aren’t supposed to do in hospitals, skids around corners, scares everyone in his way out of his path, his suit jacket billowing up behind him.
(There’s too much blood. It flecks on the toes of his shoes.)
And then he slides to a halt before a set of double doors.
Because the gurney isn’t being rolled towards surgery, it’s not surrounded by frantic nurses with tubes and needles and masks. There’s just one nurse, and she’s wheeling it through the doors to the morgue.
There’s a body on the gurney, a blood-soaked sheet plastered to the massive form underneath it. The sheet doesn’t quite go over the head completely, and there’s a little gap where they’ve pulled it as far down as it will go, and Tony can see just the hint of hair poking out, and it’s blond, it’s blond, oh Christ, it’s blond -
No, no, no, no no no -
The doctor that’s been chasing after Tony finally catches up. He’s saying something to Tony, but Tony can’t listen, Tony can’t hear anything.
He can’t stop looking, at the slope of Steve’s forehead, at his filthy blond hair, at the blood that’s so dark it’s almost black drying all over his chest, at his fucking – arm draped over the side, his dead fucking arm, he’s dead –
He can’t take it back. He can’t fix it. He can’t fucking take anything back. Can’t protest. Can’t tell him. Can’t apologize. Can’t –
Tony turns to the doctor, blinking furiously, feeling like he’s about to choke. He wants to ask how it happened, how could this happen, how can that be Captain America, how can it be that only 4 hours ago, they were yelling at each other, how can it be that the last thing he ever said to Steve was awful and petty and he didn’t mean it, how –
Tony wants to ask all these things in a level voice, but the only thing on his lips is Steve’s name.
He wonders whose name was on Steve’s when he died.
- - -
Tony can’t look at the body right now, can’t bring himself to listen to the doctor beyond an infuriatingly clinical explanation of the shots fired (one from a sniper, two from a shooter on the ground) and how they ricocheted through Steve’s body and came to settle in his right lung and stomach and liver. He doesn’t listen to his condolences (lies) and flinches away as the good doctor reaches to grip his shoulder reassuringly.
He nods, because he thinks that’s what people do when they get news like this.
He was – he was just standing in the same space as Steve, not 5 fucking hours ago. He shouldn’t have insisted on doing the arraignment in New York, he should have kept the location classified, he should have been there, as Steve was dying –
Tony flies back to the Helicarrier, which is now idling above Manhattan, because there’s nothing to be done at the hospital. He has people for that. Corpse Management and Recovery, because that’s what Steve is now. Steve is a corpse. Captain America is a corpse.
It starts to rain when he’s halfway to the flight deck. Maria is waiting for him when he lands, and if it wasn’t raining, and he didn’t know her better, he’d swear she was crying.
“To – Director Stark,” she says.
Tony can’t say anything. He strides to his quarters past the guards that are stationed everywhere. They’re expecting him to be Director Stark today, to field comments and do press and give orders. It doesn’t matter that there’s a hole in his chest, it doesn’t matter what he’s lost, Maria is still expecting him to do this fucking job he doesn’t want.
His metal footsteps echo off the walls of his steel fortress in the sky, and he locks the door behind him. His body doesn’t move the way he wants it to, and he leans against the door on unsteady legs. He can’t do this, there’s not – what’s the point, what’s the point of anything now, how is he supposed to direct, how is he supposed to pretend this doesn’t change anything, it’s all wrong –
He can’t back out, he has to do it, still, always, it’s Tony that has to do it, there’s no one else. There’s no one else to do it, and he’s saddled with a thousand things Steve would have known how to resolve, Steve should have been director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve should have won, Steve should have done it when he had the chance –
Steve’s shield is there, leaning against his desk, still flecked with blood and dirt.
(If he’d had it, this wouldn’t have happened.)
He runs his fingers over the dried blood – his, and Steve’s – and over the ridges, the chipped paint. It’s light in his hands, and warm. Steve’s hands held it, once.
The armor drops from his body and clatters to the floor. He lopes, with impossible effort, over to his bedroom and the door opens for him with a whoosh. He crawls on top of the coverlet, still in his suit, and wraps his body desperately around the shield.
He’ll never talk to Steve again.
Tony decides that if this is what grief feels like, he’s never known it before.
He lets his forehead rest against the smooth rim and weeps.