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Long Lost Pal

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Tony fell. It was not the first time, and probably would not be the last time, but it was the most horrific time anyone on the team could remember. One moment he was flying around, taunting the evil mad scientist that had it in for them all, and the next he was flung into the Hayes Building on Fifth, repulsors failing as he hit with enough force to damage the suit.

The suit dented and Tony fell, careened towards the ground with no guiding force, nothing to stop him from becoming a hole in the pavement save for luck and the combined reflexes of Thor and the Hulk. They couldn't get much out of either one of them, the Hulk not big on talking and Thor not big on understanding human physiology, but Steve was willing to place money on Tony being unconscious on the way down, possibly for longer considering no one else could get to him for quite some time.

Steve eventually got there first, breaking through the protective barrier of the Hulk as Thor had flown off to take out the scientist once and for all. Widow and Hawkeye were only moments behind, but Steve had already knelt beside him, already began searching for an emergency release catch on the helmet, already prepared to pry it off with his bare hands if need be, before he even heard their footsteps.

The faceplate slid up, though Steve doubted it was anything he had done when he heard a far too hoarse Tony complain, "There is no release, not like that. Could you imagine what would happen if we were in the middle of a fight and some idiot hit it? No, you can't, because I built it to be smarter than that."

"Tony," Steve said. It was a sigh of exasperation and relief all rolled in to one. If Stark could complain, Stark would be fine.

"No, I'm fine, yes I know I'm fine," Tony babbled. Steve was pretty sure he was not speaking to him, a suspicion confirmed when the next words were, "No, seriously, you do not need to give me a full systems update right now, I know what's broken since I was in the damn thing when it broke and no, you don't go listing injuries either because Steve is here and you don't list injuries around Captain Fucking America without getting that worried pensive face of his and him trying to convince you to go to SHIELD medical when your own private doctors are paid a lot more to do a better job and not have some asshole pencil pusher go over the details and make sure they are filed in triplicate for the next seven years."

"Tony," Steve said again, and this time it truly was leaning more towards the exasperation side of the spectrum.

"See? What did I tell you? Now I've got to deal with that face, are you happy?" Tony grumbled, still ignoring everyone save for his AI.

Steve could almost imagine the dry voice of JARVIS responding, "Ecstatic, sir," and knew that, no matter what injuries the suit may hide, Tony would survive and heal and live to rant another day.

With Tony's insistence, and the sheer fact that the machines used to get him out of his suit with the least amount of damage were there, the team helped transport him back to the tower. It was only after he was tucked away in bed, arm and leg encased in some high-tech material he likely designed himself and blankets pulled up to his bruised chin, that Steve finally began to relax.

It had been far too close for his liking, and far closer than Tony himself wanted to admit. An arm and an ankle could be fixed, with time, but it could have so easily been something so much worse. If Thor had not been there, or the Hulk, the force of impact would have shattered far more than the exoskeleton of the suit, and Tony would have been laying somewhere far more dour than a pillow-top mattress wrapped in silk and linen.

"You're thinking too loud," Tony mumbled as he shifted, eyes never opening. "Go somewhere else and leave me to convalesce in peace."

Steve knew it was a dismissal, and he knew he was going to ignore it. He still had his report to give and piles of paperwork to fill out, but he didn't care. Tony was fine, Tony was going to be fine, and that was all that mattered. Tony had come home, his team had come home, maybe not all in one piece, but they had made it, they had survived, and they were as close to whole as any one of them could wish for given what had just happened.

He pulled over an overstuffed chair, dutifully took off his boots when he heard a snuffle that sounded like a direction to do so, propped up his stockinged feet atop the soft bed, and settled in for first watch.


Two days had Tony conscious for more than an hour or two at a time. Three days had him begging for at least one tablet, and maybe five more. Four days had him trying to sneak down to his workshop, which was quite hilarious to watch. Six days had a regular routine of who sat with him when, who allowed what, and who snuck the pain meds on him when he was most distracted and then escorted him back to his room to sleep off the effects.

Surprisingly Natasha was best at the latter, taking pride in drugging him senseless and calling the others to deal with the aftermath. Tony called her evil, and Clint gave her a high five for her troubles. Clint also warned she would do the same for any of them, and added an outrageous story of once waking up in a tattoo parlor in Thailand when he tried to prove she couldn't get him, going so far as to show a relatively artistic scar that he claimed was the result of removing the ink already applied.

It was nine days from the "incident" when Tony announced the need to leave the safety of the tower, and Steve discovered just how stubborn the man could be. Though rediscover may have been the better choice of words as he had seen him in action before, just never about something less than saving the world or the lives of his teammates.

Stark Industries was to present their latest and greatest product to a group that may or may not have included the Department of Defense. The meeting had been set up months in advance and there was a multimillion dollar contract on the line. Tony, of course, trusted no one else to give the presentation.

"What about Pepper?" Steve asked. Surely Tony must trust the woman he put in charge of his operations for a task like this.

Tony, of course, shook his head. "Pepper is great at business, we love Pepper, really we do, but she would bore them with facts and figures when we need to wow them with flash and bangs, possibly literally," Tony told him. He was standing in a closet that was roughly the size of Steve's first apartment, using the wall for support as he hopped on one foot from shirt to shirt, holding each up and discarding it behind him piece by piece. Steve calmly and methodically picked up each one, smoothed them back down on the hangers, and replaced them.

"Isn't there anyone else?" he asked, fearing he already knew the answer.

As expected, Tony shook his head again. He held up a button-down made of near iridescent purple, and matched it with something shiny and gray. Apparently satisfied with his choices, he finally turned his attention back to the man at his side and asked, "What, you guys suddenly don't trust me to do my job? I've done hundreds of these, and made the sale every time. What makes this so different? Is it the bruising? Because a little time with my stylist will take care of that."

Steve tried very hard not to look where dark blues had faded to pale yellow-greens, and also tried to ignore how blasé Tony was about the whole thing. Instead, he focused on what was at the forefront of his every waking hour and even some failed attempts at sleep, and explained, possibly less than serenely, "You were thrown from a sixteen story building less than two weeks ago. You should be resting and recuperating, not shilling your wares to a bunch of people who plan to blow things up with them."

Tony turned to him with a closed look upon his face that Steve had learned meant he had just shut down and was not about to budge so give up now. "First of all, I was not the full sixteen stories up at the time. Secondly, this is a multimillion dollar deal - as in millions, as in a lot of money, as in a lot more than they had just laying about in the forties. Third of all, no one can blow anything up with this, it is tracking and surveillance tech only. And finally, fourth of all, the profits from this sale have been earmarked for a youth center in D.C., as in the building and funding of one, whose purpose it is to get kids off the street and teach them usable skills with usable tech - what could you possibly have against that, Mister High-and-Mighty?"

And Steve did not have an argument against that, could not really. He hadn't known the full details of the meeting, only that an injured man known to be the legendary Iron Man, who also happened to be a person he cared about a great deal, was going to go out in public with no armor and no defenses and sit there like a giant target waiting for someone to pick him off. He didn't know why he was worried about this, didn't know why he was so very certain that something bad was going to happen. At the very least, he had a sinking feeling that, if nothing happened this time, the knowledge that Iron Man was currently vulnerable was going to get out, and get out to the wrong sorts of people. Sooner rather than later at least one of their very many enemies would make a move.

Instead, he huffed and left and knew Stark would think he had won this round even as he knew Natasha was due any minute with spiked coffee, and he was willing to put up with Tony's arrogant smirk if it meant he could get the others together to come up with a feasible arrangement, something he knew they were more than capable of.

Three hours later, Tony was snoring and neatly tucked under the covers, and the rest of the team had a plan.


The day of the presentation dawned sunny and bright and Steve stood ready and waiting in the foyer when Tony emerged from the elevator. Tony took one look at Steve's neatly pressed suit and raised a single eyebrow. "What are you, Kevin Costner?" he asked with only a hint of derision before he headed for the car.

Steve took that to mean that Tony accepted his fate, at least in so far as Steve accompanying him to his little soirée. Happy readily held the door for both of them and neatly tucked the elaborate cane Tony had insisted on using instead of crutches inside the limo before he took his seat as driver.

Steve used the ride to take a good look at his chosen charge. The extremely thin cast on his arm was nearly completely hidden by the shirt and jacket, only the portion across his hand and around his thumb really showing at all. The brace on his ankle was only visible when Tony sat, trouser leg rising and revealing the small bulge where his sock should be. As promised, his stylist had managed to make even the most stubborn of bruises fade away to nothingness. All in all he had nicely downplayed the true extent of his injuries and made them seem more like a minor inconvenience than anything else, which was probably the point, even if Steve himself found it less than sufficient.

They rode in silence until about a block away from the presentation venue, where Tony finally turned to face him and asked, "Anything else I should know about? You packing under there?"

Steve tried to play coy, but he had never been good at it, and instead managed a half-sultry and half-stuttered, "Wouldn't you like to know?"

"Yes, actually, I would," Tony replied. He poked at Steve's side and sighed when his finger hit the holster instead of cloth-covered ribs. "Do you know the amount of paperwork I have to do to have one of my own armed at a presentation with the DoD? Like, lots, I'm sure. And add to the fact that it's Captain Fricken America with a gun at my side? This should make all the tabloid feeds in minutes."

"Small caliber and even you couldn't tell and you were sitting right next to me," Steve pointed out. "Besides, when is the last time you did any of your own paperwork?"

Tony waited while Happy opened the door before he conceded, "True, I usually make Pepper do it, so I should be asking why you are making poor Ms. Potts do extra work just to ease your overprotective little mind." There was another pause when the CEO in question appeared and Tony was able to answer his own tirade with a grumbled, "Or, possibly, she will have her new-old assistant do it for her?"

"Mr. Stark," Natasha greeted with a nod, the very persona of a professional PA. She held a tablet in her hands and wore a neatly pressed suit of her own, albeit with far more concealed weapons.

Tony huffed. "Really? Really Nat-"

Natasha cut him off neatly with, "Natalie, please. Ms. Potts has advised me that you are not always best with names." She cut a pointed glance over to where the crowd of attendees was gathering.

"Natalie, right," Tony agreed, always quick at catching on. Quieter, he added, "Though it explains the dye job last night. How many other Happy Helpers are rolling around here? Is Thor skulking about as a janitor? Barton pitching sodas?"

"I'm not certain why your teammates would be needed, sir, but I assure you all staff and guests have been fully vetted per the usual policy," Natasha replied, still in character, confused expression and all. The truth of the matter was that Thor was up top and Hawkeye tucked away in the balcony out of sight but not out of aim, but Tony did not need to know that, at least not yet.

"And would one of those guests be the distinguished Dr. Banner?" Tony guessed.

Natasha made a show of checking her tablet. "Yes, sir. It would appear that Dr. Banner accepted the invitation last week," she advised.

Tony looked as though he was torn between laughing and crying at the debacle, but he at least was not making a scene or throwing them out outright. "Now I am fairly certain I did not invite radiation specialist to a tech preview," Tony pretended to muse aloud.

"That would be because I did," Pepper spoke up, taking the blame without pause. "He had expressed interest in your work in the past, and I thought you could do with a friendly face."

"Well, it would appear that I have a wealth of friendly faces at this time, Ms. Potts," Tony said with false cheer. "May I assume that this one in particular will be sitting front and center?"

"Of course," she chirped. She spun on her stiletto heel and walked towards the entrance as if that settled that. As Stark was trained over long years to follow and obey his former PA, it really did and Steve thanked the world for small favors. Now, if they could just avoid a major incident for the next three hours, they would be in the clear.

Of course that was far too wishful of thinking.

An hour into the presentation, Hawkeye had called out three suspicious characters, and only one was on the board of directors. One had already slipped out after taking relatively detailed footage with a concealed camera phone, and one remained, still snapping pictures intermittently, and randomly talking, either to her phone or to an ear piece that Clint could not quite make out from his vantage point as it was hidden by a truly impressive amount of hair.

Tony had finally stopped with the claims he was bringing canes back as a fashion statement and the disparaging remarks about Captain America tagging along to learn about such innovations as the tab key and colored photos that magically transmitted via phone, and was actually focused on schlepping his wares when the inevitable happened.

The woman had replaced her phone with something decidedly not a phone and used the not-phone to take aim and fire. Steve's reflexes were fast enough to knock Tony to the side in time, even though he had been waiting just off stage only seconds prior.

"Ow, ow, ow!" Tony protested, clutching at his injured ankle. "Warn a guy if you're going to take him down like that!"

Steve figured, once again, that if Stark was complaining he was probably fine and focused instead on the fact that the woman was attempting to get off another blast even though what appeared to be Colonel Rhodes and several Lieutenants were pushing through the crowd to take her down. He heard Clint call out a warning right before an arrow sliced through the air and through the hand the woman had been using the control the device. That warning was dwarfed by Thor's announcement of, "The protesting sanitation workers across the path appear to be amassing, and taking up weapons."

Steve blinked and translated that to mean that many large and likely armed men were about to break down the doors, and relayed the same to Tony. He pulled the injured man to his feet, but allowed him the dignity of standing on his own while his teammates called in various reports of infiltration attempts and attacks.

A familiar face approached through the hubbub and Steve fought the urge to stand at attention as he addressed him. "Colonel Rhodes," he greeted with a simple nod instead. He lowered his hand from where it was reaching for his hidden pistol, Tony's warning ringing in his ears added with an actual military liaison seeing the violation forcing him to stand down, at least for now.

"Captain," came the equally sedate reply, eyes barely darting to the concealed weapon before returning front and center. The Colonel climbed up onto the stage and offered Steve a bloodstained arrow he must have pulled from the victim/instigator and asked, "Do you need to dispose of this, or are the Avengers calling the shots here?"

"Rhodey? You called in Rhodey?" Tony asked in disbelief. "Who the hell else is here? Are the X-Men finally over their obsession with spandex and lurking in the crowd? Are the Freaks of Four going to join the party?"

Rhodes shook his head and calmed Tony with what looked to be long practice. "I'm here because I'm at all our gigs, you know this," he placated. "No one else can put up with you and most can't understand you anyway. I do the translation work and get battle pay for my troubles."

"And Legolas? Is he just going to pick off investors until I go bankrupt?" Tony continued, though a tiny bit calmer now, as though he should have expected as much. Being that this was Tony though, it took a trained eye to spot the difference.

"Hawkeye shot the woman who shot you," Rhodes told him.

"At me, she shot at me," Tony amended.

"No, she shot you, you idiot, which is why you're bleeding," Rhodes pointed out. He gestured to a small dark and growing stain against the purple, which was really only visible because the suit coat over it moved every time Tony flailed his arms.

"No, I'm bleeding because Captain Good 'n Plenty here managed to rip the stitches I didn't tell him about," Tony corrected, slapping Steve on the bicep and then wincing when he realized he had used his bad hand to do so.

"No, Tony, the stitches you didn't tell me about are on the other side," Steve told him. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to the sputtering man to apply to his fresh wound. He turned back to Rhodes and asked, "What's the plan, sir?"

"I'm leaning towards you get Tony out of here, the rest of your team disappears before they're noticed, and we pretend the military has control of the situation instead of the press getting wind that the equivalent to a full assault team escorted Mr. Stark to a product launch," Rhodes told him with what sounded like a long suffering sigh.

Of course, that happened to be when an idiot managed to get on stage, what appeared to be a gun of some sort in hand, and aimed it at the trio. Steve was not concerned though, as Natasha went from standing at Pepper's side to straddling the now semi-conscious man before he could even reason out trajectories and where it was safe to toss Tony this time given his current wounds.

"Gang's all here then?" Rhodes guessed. If Steve thought the sigh was long suffering before, it had nothing on the one he gave now.

"I'd like to introduce you to my CEO's personal assistant, Super Temp," Tony said with a level of serious demeanor that Steve currently fought to achieve. "Her skills involve filing, knife throwing, and a typing speed of one hundred and fifty words per minute."

Pepper stepped forward and neatly blocked the gathering cameras from getting a clear view of the surprise savior. "Thank you, Natalie," she said perhaps a bit louder than was strictly necessary. "But, despite your recent self-defense training, you should not put yourself at such risk when we have the fine agents of the U.S. Air Force available. You could have really hurt, er, someone, likely yourself."

"Sorry, ma'am," Natasha replied, not sounding in the least contrite. In a move almost too fast to track, she punched her victim in the carotid, ensuring he was down for the count. "I will try to remember that in the future."

Pepper side stepped the unconscious idiot, steady as ever in her teetering heels as she took control of the situation as a whole, the very image of the CEO she was. "Colonel Rhodes," she said, offering her hand as though to a stranger even though Steve knew they had shared dinner less than a week before. "Would your men be so kind as to assist my assistant with this man?"

"Of course, ma'am," he replied, and near instantly two Lieutenants appeared to do so.

Natasha played the demure and slightly startled assistant, keeping her back to the cameras until she was safely out of view, but Steve caught a swift and entirely non-necessary kick to the downed man's ribcage before she left.

He blinked back to attention as Pepper addressed him. "And you, Captain Rogers, would you please be so kind as to assist me in corralling Mr. Stark to seek medical attention while I attempt to bring some sort of order to our current predicament?"

"You do know that I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, right?" Tony protested.

"And you are doing a fine job as always," Pepper agreed, not even bothering to look in his direction.

He spun his cane in his hand and flipped a hidden switch, the decorative globe of a handle lighting up with a familiar glow. "I had it under control," he insisted.

"Repulsor cane?" Rhodes asked with a distinct lack of surprise.

"Repulsor cane," Steve confirmed. He received another report about the advancing masses and relayed the same to the Colonel. "I don't suppose you happened to store that suit of yours anywhere nearby?" he asked.

Rhodes shook his head. "Even I can't talk them into letting me bring it to one of Stark's shindigs. I think they're afraid we'll turn it into a Tony-sized party," he explained with a hint of a grin. His face scrunched in confusion. "Where's the suitcase suit? He usually doesn't leave home without it."

"He also doesn't usually have a broken wrist or ankle," Steve explained, and he saw the proverbial light go on above the Colonel's head as to why the entire team felt the need to show for what should have been a cakewalk.

"And the dumbass still insisted on showing?" Rhodes asked in disbelief.

"I am not a dumbass; I am, in fact, a genius," Tony pouted, lip protruding that much more when he realized neither of the men he was arguing with gave a damn. "Look, I built the cane! I had it-"

"Under control," both Steve and Rhodey finished for him. Rhodes turned to Steve and requested, "Please get his genius ass out of here before he makes the situation worse?"

"Yes, sir," Steve replied with a nod, resisting the urge to salute given the sheer number of times Rhodes had asked him not to do so. He turned to Tony and saw the way the other man tried to shuffle away from him, inadvertently giving away his weaknesses with his slight limp and the way he clutched the now bloodstained kerchief to his side, still mostly hidden by his flashy coat. "Do not make me carry you," he warned.

"You wouldn't," Tony dared, for Steve knew exactly what he was doing. For his part, he simply raised his eyebrow and took a step closer, ignoring the way Tony now balked, "You pick me up and I will make your life miserable! We're talking cold showers for a month, 'accidental' color changes to your little star spangled costume, and an intense introduction to music from the eighties via drug-addicted divas on repeat."

Steve took about five seconds to consider the threat. Hot water had been a luxury he couldn't waste the time or effort on most of his life, Director Fury would make Tony fix anything he did to the suit, and music was music as far as he was concerned and their was no way possible it could be any worse than what Clint listened to on a regular basis. That sorted it enough for him as it was, but the added push was the wall of smoke pressing in from what used to be the main entrance, a herald to the arrival of what was decidedly not sanitation workers.

"Nat, get Ms. Potts out of here, I'll take Stark," he ordered, barely hearing himself over the new cacophony of explosions and military men shouting orders. With a glance to confirm Banner and Barton were herding the few remaining civilians out the available exits, he reached for Tony.

Tony looked like he was going to deck him, but the effect of his glare was severely dampened by his wince when he tried to make for the door himself, and stepped wrong on his injured ankle. Tired of his stubbornness, Steve bypassed the original plan to wrap an arm around his waist to escort him, and simply hauled him up and into his arms and hurdled towards the exit.

"I hate you," Tony grit out. He used his cane to blast someone that got too close though, so Steve did not take the complaint seriously, especially when he continued to fire along the way.

There was another shot, this one determinedly not with the tell-tale whine of Tony's tech, followed by a grunt and the torque of the weight in his arms shifting uneasily. He looked down to find a new stain of red dripping down Tony's exposed arm, and the cane slipping in his now lax grip, the profuse profanity coming out of his charge doing nothing to help the situation.

Not certain how to work the contraption, and not certain if he could compensate for any recoil while balancing a fully grown man at the same time, Steve simply pulled the length of metal from Tony's grasp and used it like a baton on the two men who tried to use his distraction as an opening to get closer. The metal held, not that he truly doubted a Stark creation, and the men fell by the wayside. It was actually easier to continue to use the cane than reach for his gun, especially when he considered its reach versus having to juggle Tony to get to his holster.

Instead of flailing, Tony rather calmly reached into the pocket of his ruined suit coat and pulled out his phone. "Happy? Say that you're clear and ready for us?"

Steve picked up the familiar tones of Hogan's voice as he replied in the affirmative, even as he fought off another man. Tony shifted to actually hold on now, freeing Steve for a bit more movement and maneuverability, and soon that man joined the others in his wake. The exit was now in sight and beyond it one patiently waiting chauffeur, limousine standing clear in a demilitarized zone patrolled by one ticked off Norse god.

That was, of course, when Tony started singing.

Steve had no idea where in the world he had come up with whatever it was he had chosen, but it mainly seemed like an off key and extremely elongated repetition of the words, "I will always love you." He was still singing it when Steve tossed him inside and moved to tuck Tony's uncooperative feet the rest of the way in.

Hogan seemed to recognize the tune, as did the rapidly approaching Pepper, who barely slid into the front passenger seat before a smirking Natasha slammed the door behind her. "Get them home, we'll clean this up," his teammate promised, shoving him the rest of the way into the car and shutting the door behind him.

Part of him felt bad for leaving the fight, but the rest of him knew he still had a job to do, even if it was made that much more difficult by Stark's caterwauling beside him. At least it was now in time to a tune he had programmed to play through the limo's sound system, the female artist doing far better job of managing the same notes Tony so gleefully slaughtered.

Happy had taken off through a path cleared by Thor, and Pepper seemed calm as she dictated directions, so Steve took the chance to shut his lover up the only way he knew how and kissed him soundly, parting only with the promise of, "I love you too, now shut up."

Tony grinned, wide and true, and then switched instead to a mangled version of a song Steve had heard once before. Pepper groaned and plugged her ears as Tony changed both the music and his attempts at singing to the refrain to, "The Greatest Love of All."


Clean up took surprisingly less time than Steve had anticipated, and the rest of the team arrived just as Tony's personal physician finished patching up his new wounds, this time with a certain self-admitted mother hen at his side to fully assess his condition. Natasha and Clint were debating whether a takedown counted as his or hers as he shot the guy first, but she finished the job. They continued their argument unabated as they walked right into the room and settled themselves on the floor, mindless of the soot and dirt they were grinding into the doubtlessly expensive white rugs.

"I'd ask you to make them shut up so I can sleep, but I actually want you to make them shut up so I can bitch you all out," Tony grumbled from his mass of pillows. Comfortable pillows too, as Steve could attest to since he currently reclined at the other man's side, only partially to make certain he did not wander off down to his shop while under the influence of pharmaceuticals. The other part was a bit more personal, but he knew his team saw it for what it was even if he didn't wish to put it into words.

It was, as always, Barton who took the bait first. "Bitch us out? You do know I saved your sorry unarmed ass, right?" He snagged a cushion from a nearby chair and settled in for the expected tirade. "You owe me, Stark. At least a new DVD player or a Wii."

"First of all, I was not 'unarmed' and you know it," Tony protested. "Unarmored, yes; unarmed, no. And, secondly and more importantly, I had it under control."

"Of course you did," Natasha deadpanned.

Clint was not quite so reserved. "You call that control? You were shot at, there was a horde of armed men storming your way!"

"I had safety measures in place that-" Tony began, but was cut off.

"Safety measures that failed!" Clint interrupted him. "Do you remember the part where they got a weapon past your security and shot you?" Steve was impressed; so far he hadn't had to say a single word as Barton was doing all the arguing for him.

"At me," Stark corrected. "They shot at me." Even his physician had been unable to determine if the wound to his side was from the unknown weapon, or shrapnel from the destroyed display, and Steve had already backed down from that argument having so many more to rely on instead.

"They would have hit you if Steve hadn't been there to knock your sorry ass out of the way," Barton argued back.

"Yeah, and now Captain Overprotective here just announced to the world that, not only am I injured, I'm hurt enough to need a full-fledged American hero to escort me to safety at one of my own demos!" Tony exclaimed.

"But you are injured, Tony," a new voice joined the fray. Bruce walked in and settled himself on the chair Clint had partially dismantled. He was still wearing the same outfit from that morning, which Steve took to mean that the Other Guy's services had not been needed after all.

"And now everyone in this country and, hell, every other country in the world with a news feed knows about it!" Tony huffed. He ran his hands through his hair, mussing it up even more than usual. He smeared some of his remaining make-up and revealed old bruises in the process. "I had it under control. I would have had the stage shut down and most of the civilians out of there before the second shot, and that's without a guarantee Rhodey was going to be there."

"Pepper did initiate an emergency protocol while you got Stark out of there. This is what allowed us to finish up so quickly," Natasha volunteered, which was something Steve had not known. It did explain the delay in her getting to the car though, and the way Pepper grabbed a tablet out of Tony's hands and pulled up schematics the entire way back to the tower.

Stark smirked, his point proven.

"The fact that you needed an emergency protocol, and that you had to actually use it, is not exactly helping your case that this was a milk run," Steve told him. He knew that wading in now would be dangerous, and that Tony may well hold it against him for a while, but it needed to be said. Tony in danger was not something he liked, to say the least. Tony not only knowing he was walking into a dangerous situation while not at his finest, but trying to convince others there was nothing to fear was something Steve liked even less.

As expected, Tony whirled around to face him, expression tight with both pain and anger, and eyes lit by what he undoubtedly thought of as righteous indignation. "This? Was nothing," he began. He gestured to his wounds, to the dirt streaked faces of his team. "This was a test for weakness and you lot showed them exactly how weak I was. The next attack, and you can be certain there will be more, will put this one to shame. They will come after me. They will come after the suit. They will come after my tech knowing that I can't do a damned thing about it. Congratulations, because you just told every asshole out there that not only does Iron Man currently not exist, but that the suit is up for grabs. Every bad guy that escaped? They are coming after the team, knowing that we are one man down."

"Then we stop them," Thor shrugged from his place in the doorway. Steve wasn't even sure when he had arrived, only that the team as a whole was back together where they should be.

"Just that easy, huh?" Tony asked. His voice was bitter, hard, and doubting, but tinged just the tiniest amount with what Steve thought could be hope.

"Just that easy," Natasha confirmed, Clint nodding at her side.

It was Bruce who spoke next though, rolling his hands one over the other and then pausing to tug at his sleeves. Steve believed him when he said the anger was always under the surface, always just barely kept at bay. For him to hold back when his teammate, when his friend was in danger, was truly impressive. It also spoke to his belief that the others had the situation under control, that he could trust them to do their jobs so that he could concentrate on helping others in the most efficient way possible. Matching that attitude to words, he simply said, "I don't know if you noticed, but we're kind of a bunch of super heroes."

"If we can't keep one of our own safe, the world is screwed," Clint agreed.

"So, what, you're just going to...?"

"Keep you safe," Steve told him.

"At least until you are well enough to return the favor," Bruce shrugged with a smile.

"We're totally going lord it over you for a while though," Barton cut in, ruining the mood.

Natasha elbowed him in the ribcage hard enough for him to wince, her expression never changing, as she corrected, "No, we won't."

He made a face and moved outside of what he must have thought her range was. "Yeah, speak for yourself. I save his ass, I get goods."

"Clint..." Bruce sighed, though it was lost in the discovery that no, Clint was not outside the danger zone as far as Natasha was concerned.

Barton ignored him and rolled away from her next swing, arm up and ready in defense. "And I mean the good stuff," he continued, not even out of breath. "Pizza, popcorn - the type you make on the stove not that other crap, those little toaster strudel things..."

"Poptarts?" Thor asked hopefully.

"Nah, these would put those to shame," Clint corrected. He rolled again, this time landing lightly against the side of the bed, which swayed slightly under the impact. "What else should we ask for?"

"A chance to recuperate in peace?" Tony asked with a poorly concealed wince.

Steve made shooing motions, surprised when they were not ignored. Natasha's next jab became a hand to help Clint to his feet, and Bruce was already standing. "Go on, before he needs to be rescued from his rescuers," he ordered, humor coloring his tone more than command.

He stayed behind after they left, absolutely not reveling in the way Tony seemed to snuggle closer rather than push him away. "JARVIS, did you catch all that?" Tony called out around a yawn.

"Indeed, sir. The order has been placed and shall arrive this evening," JARVIS responded.

Steve carded a hand through his lover's hair and promised, "They mean well, you know that, right?"

"'They' or 'you'?" Tony clarified with a knowing look. He pulled Steve's hand down and kissed the knuckles though, taking the sting out of his words.

"Both," Steve readily admitted. "We just want you to be safe."

"Yeah, we'll, usually that's a job relegated to me," Tony replied.

Steve thought for a moment about how lonely the life of Anthony Stark had been so far. Not the press or the galas, but the home life without his parents, the rise and creation of a corporate empire, the solitary hero who flew away as a one-man army. "Not anymore," he said.

"Not anymore," Tony repeated with a snort. He settled himself deeper into his mass of pillows, damaged hand cradling one of Steve's. "Just call me Al," he muttered as he closed his eyes.

Steve furrowed his brow, not getting the reference. "But your name is Tony," he said for lack of anything better.

The snort was back, which meant mission accomplished as far as he was concerned, though Tony did not deign to even open his eyes. "You're so cute, and so not going to like what I did to your playlist."

Steve simply shrugged, most of modern music sounding like nothing more than noise to him. He liked the time one of Tony's bands had performed with a full symphony accompaniment, the mix of old and new sitting well with his current view on life, and even liked some of the songs Natasha and Bruce listened to, but had written off most everything else as unpalatable, especially the majority of Clint's suggestions. Besides, it wouldn't take long before Tony tired of the joke and moved on to something new.

It didn't matter anyway. Tony was safe, his team was safe, and any petty pranks could be tolerated so long as those two truths remained.

He leaned over and kissed Tony on the temple, careful to avoid the bruising he knew was there. "Sleep well, Al," he whispered.

He settled in for first watch, this time with one arm wrapped around the solid, living, breathing form of Tony Stark. He knew better than to fool himself and admitted at least to himself that Tony was right: the bad guys would come, probably now more than ever. But Thor was right too: they would stop them. The team as a whole would work together to do the job that needed to be done.

Tony may whine and joke and tease and do horrible things to various pieces of tech to make their lives miserable, but he would also plot and plan and do everything in his power to make sure they had everything they needed to do their best. They would look out for each other, just like they always did as that, more than anything else, was something they were very, very good at.

With one last check on his now sleeping charge, and one last look at the sensor array JARVIS silently pulled up on a nearby wall, Steve settled in for the long haul. The cracked open door revealed an armed Natasha handing Clint his bow, and he knew that, no matter what may yet come their way, his team would be right there at his side.

 

End.