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Next of Kin

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Steve still reeks of smoke and sweat, has only stripped off his gloves and the cowl of his torn, stained uniform. He should have showered before he came here, at least changed into something less able to contaminate the hospital’s sterile environment, but he’s had the sick burn of anxiety churning his gut since he watched Tony, arc reactor dark and armor dead, plunge out of the sky like a rock.

The crumpled, battered armor is going to feature in his nightmares for weeks to come, no matter what he does. He knows that. But it’s going to kill him if he goes much longer without finding out how Tony’s doing. Updates have been sparse, since a lot of the communications equipment in this section of the city was damaged in the attack. Last he knew, Tony was being medevaced to the nearest hospital after rescue services pried him out of his armor, unconscious and maybe bleeding internally.

He gets looks as he strides through the hospital hallways, knows it’s the uniform, or maybe the soot and blood streaking his skin, matting his hair. He ignores them all, beelining to the nurse’s station while dredging every bit of politeness he has left to smile tiredly at her and say, “Excuse me, ma’am? I’m looking for Tony Stark’s room number, please, and an update on how he’s doing.”

The nurse eyes him up and down, clearly impressed but with a steely look in her eye. “I’m sorry, Captain,” she says firmly. “I can only give out that information to family members or next of kin.” Her eyes soften a little. “Not even Captain America is exempt from that, I’m afraid.”

Steve doesn’t even hesitate. “We’re married,” he says. “Last week. I can show you the license if you need me to.”

The nurse eyes him again, skeptical but sympathetic. “I guess you Avengers are all like next of kin to each other, huh?” she murmurs, shaking her head but tapping rapidly at her keyboard. “Y’all might want to think about updating your medical files with new power of attorney or something. Seems a shame to have to lie every time you want to know how a teammate’s doing.”

Steve’s smile is tight, Irish temper rearing its head just behind his eyeballs, but he lets it go. There’s no sense in stirring up a fight when he’s getting the information he needs. “I’ll be sure to mention it at the next team meeting, ma’am,” he says politely, and resists the urge to drum his fingers on the counter as he waits for the nurse to find Tony’s file.

“Ah, here we go,” she says, eyes lighting up. “Mr. Stark is in room 4283 North, which is down that way,” she adds, indicating direction with a wave of her hand. “And it looks like the doctor wants to run some more tests, but it seems like Mr. Stark got immensely lucky, and the worst of his injuries is a concussion.” Her eyes hood in amusement, like they’re sharing a secret in-joke. “Or is it Mr. Rogers?”

“Stark-Rogers,” Steve says, as relief washes through him and he clutches the counter to keep his knees from buckling. “Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate your help.”

He turns to move away from the nurse’s station, but is brought up short when the nurse asks, conspiratorially: “Just out of curiosity, Captain… What would you have done if I asked you to show me your license and prove you’re married?”

Produced it. It’s on the tip of his tongue to say, but he holds it back in. The license, or a copy of it, has been tucked neatly into his wallet from the day he’d signed it. It’s so new, the creases don’t even fold flat. He knows the nurse thinks he’s lying, and part of him wants to correct her misconceptions, but it’s a conversation he doesn’t have the time, effort, stamina or frankly the desire to have at the moment. His only concern right now is finding Tony, reassuring himself that Tony will be okay, and then being an overprotective husband until Tony’s back on his feet. 

“Captain?”

He shrugs, gives her an easy smile. “I guess we’ll never know,” he says, then turns on his heel to make his way to Tony’s room.