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For All the Things My Hands Have Held (the Best By Far Is You)

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Tony huddled under the edge of the overhang and watched the rain drip down inches from his face. It wasn’t quite pouring, but it wasn’t exactly not raining either. At any rate it was enough that he wasn’t going to wait out there for Happy to arrive. If there was anything worse than rain down the back of your collar, he didn’t want to know.

He could have waited inside, of course, but someone had decided to turn the bass up on the music until all Tony could hear was his own heartbeat thudding in time against the back of the arc reactor. It might have still been worth it, but the deal wasn’t going through no matter how much hipster beer he drank and his days of partying until three am just for something to do were over. He’d rather be in his shop working on chasing the ghost in the wiring of the Mark VII. At least he could get blitzed on the good stuff back in the Tower if he changed his mind.

A couple came out of the bar and waited for a moment before stepping out to flag a passing cab. Tony watched them go and shivered, hunching down further into his coat.

A van pulled up to the curb and a group of NYU students piled out and up the steps of the bar. Tony got edged aside as they crowded around the door and grimaced as cold rain hit the back of his neck and slithered down his spine.

He pulled a hand out to check the time and wondered how much longer Happy was going to be. Then again, the rain was starting to pick up now and that would no doubt slow traffic.

He could have been home by now if he was able to call a suit to him. Definitely time to put the Mark VII at the top of the priority list.

One of the college kids came back out, a cigarette between his lips and looked around. He sidled up to Tony. “You got a light man?”

“No,” Tony said and went back to staring down the road hoping to see familiar headlights.

“Oh, well, do you have a hundred bucks?”

Tony turned back, brow furrowing in disbelief, but didn’t make it all the way before he was being shoved into the alley between the buildings, a hand on his collar and something small and hard pressed into his lower back. Thankfully it wasn’t sharp, so not a knife. Of course it was most likely a gun if not a knife, so that wasn’t exactly good news.

He was pushed forward past a dumpster and then abruptly turned 90 degrees and slammed up against a brick wall.

“You know, I think I’ll just check for myself how much cash you got,” the guy breathed into his ear before patting down his ass and tugging his wallet out. The muzzle of the gun stayed right up against his spine so Tony decided to wait before making his move. Just because he’d said the Iron Man suit was a prosthetic didn’t mean he wanted to use it as such all the time.

It wavered a bit, sliding down to rest against his ass as the guy whistled lowly. “Damn, you carry a lotta cash on you. Who are you? Some kind of…” Tony assumed the guy had found his ID and now knew just who he’d decided to mug.

“Yeah, not your best move,” Tony said. “Look, take the cash and walk away and I won’t have to kick your ass. I mean, unless that’s something you’d like to brag to your friends about. I’d be happy to help out if it is.” A thought occurred to him and he said, “And the gun. Leave the gun. Consider it a trade for the cash.”

There was a hand on his shoulder and then he was being spun around. The shock and maybe a little fear, if he was being honest, that he expected to see on the kid’s face wasn’t there. Instead there was anger.

“What?” Tony said, his hands still up and non-threatening. “What is this look for?” He glanced at the gun. “That thing’s worth maybe three hundred dollars and I’m willing to give you five thousand for it. You can’t be pissed that I’m trying to cheat you.”

“You killed my brother.”

Tony blinked. “I'm— What? I didn't—”

“You son of a bitch!” The streetlights glinted off the gun as it came up and swiped across Tony’s face. Tony landed in a puddle of what he didn’t even want to know, a line of fire across his cheek and temple and nose. Warm blood mixed with cold rain running down his face as he reached up to feel the cuts.

“What the hell?” he demanded and looked up just in time to see a boot coming for his chest. The arc reactor wasn’t built of glass as Pepper had once feared, he wasn’t an idiot, but that didn’t mean he wanted to take a direct kick there either. It was covering his heart and his spine was on the other side and dying in a back alley of a crushed heart was not on his list of things to do, like, ever.

He twisted and took the boot on his shoulder, hissing as it jolted sharply. He curled down and over to protect his vital organs and then reached out to grab the guy’s other ankle and maybe bring him down if he was lucky.

He succeeded, but he wasn’t lucky. The kid landed on his ass with a splash and a curse, kicking already as he pushed away from Tony.

“You motherfucker!” he snarled just as a shout of, “Hey! What’s going on back here?” rang out from the alley.

Tony looked away and looked back in time to see the muzzle of the gun come up. It was stupid and ridiculous, there were witnesses for god’s sake! But Tony only had time to put his hands up and say, “Nonono!” before he was blinded by the muzzle flash and deafened by the report echoing in the alley.

He was slammed back into the brick wall again, feeling like a lightning bolt had pinned him there, and could only stare in shock as the kid stared back at him. Fear and anger mixed with dawning horror and then the kid was pushing to his feet and trying to scramble out the other side of the alley.

He made it two steps before he was tackled. He fought, writhing and bucking, but the guy who’d taken him down was at least twice his size and knew how to use those biceps of his. A solid punch to the kid’s face and he went limp in the man’s grasp.

Tony’s rescuer looked over, scanning him up and down. Blue eyes widened in alarm and then the man was saying, “Dammit!” and crawling quickly over to Tony’s side. He reached a hand up and swiped blonde hair out of his eyes, then reached for Tony’s shirt.

“No!” Tony choked out. “No! Don't— Don’t touch!” He coughed and nearly blacked out from the pain of jostling his chest. The bullet had gone in on his side, below his ribs, but those muscles were kind of holding him up right now so every movement hurt. “Don't…” he repeated, but couldn’t breathe enough to finish the order.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he said, bracing Tony’s shoulder with a hand. “You’re going to be okay.” The man looked both ways as if expecting to see police or an ambulance just waiting to be called over. “I have to go get— Oh! Wait!” He dug into the pocket of his leather bomber jacket and pulled out a cell phone. An ancient candybar—good god, was that a Nokia?—phone and tried dialing. He didn’t seem to know what he was doing and frustration bloomed on his face, twisting otherwise handsome features. “You know,” he said, and Tony hoped it was rhetorically, because speaking was such a bad idea right now, “they keep telling me the future’s supposed to be full of things that make it easier, but so far I’m less than impressed.”

Tony blinked and frowned at the blue plaid shirt visible in the vee of the man’s slightly opened jacket and tried to figure out if he was having some kind of brain malfunction from blood loss already. “What?” he said.

The man sighed. “Oh and now I’m locked out again.” He stuffed the phone back in his pocket and looked around. The mugger was still out cold in the middle of the alley and no one else had come to investigate the gunshot. “Okay,” he said, looking back to Tony. “This is going to hurt and to be honest, you’ll probably pass out. I’m sorry about that, but that’s actually a good thing since it’s not going to stop hurting for awhile. But if I can get you to a hospital, you’ll wake up again and it shouldn’t hurt as much then.”

The guy got one arm under Tony’s legs and was carefully working his hand behind Tony’s back, trying to be gentle and absolutely failing since it felt like there was a small nuclear reactor lodged in Tony’s gut pumping out heat like it was set to meltdown.

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” Tony said.

“We really can’t,” the man said. “I don’t have anything clean to put on that wound and staying here in the garbage is only going to make it worse. You do not want an infection in a bullet wound, let me tell you. Upsy-daisy,” he said and stood, cradling Tony to his chest like he wasn’t a grown-ass man with a little bit of extra weight in the form of a metal insert over his heart.

Tony meant to tell the man about the StarkPhone in his pocket and how this really wasn’t necessary, but he couldn’t get out much more than pained hissing and pathetic sounding whimpers. He clutched weakly at the man’s jacket and shivered in the cold instead, the relentless rain pouring even harder than it had been before.

Fortunately the walk wasn’t a long one because when they got to the end of the alley Tony saw taillights and a familiar stocky figure in a trenchcoat and oh thank God, Happy was here.

Tony tried to tell his rescuer this, but didn’t get a chance to work up the breath before Happy turned, pacing in a tight circle as he made a phone call. To Tony, it turned out as his phone began ringing in his pocket at that exact moment.

“Boss!” Happy yelped and jogged over. Tony’s rescuer stepped back, a hard expression on his face.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Oh my god did he get shot?” Happy asked. Then, squaring his shoulders and scowling, “Who the hell are you?”

They were all set to fight over Tony—which would have been interesting to see given the fact that he was literally in the middle of things, except, you know, he was bleeding out here—so Tony inhaled as deeply as he could and said, “Stop!”

It wasn’t impressive in volume or force, but that might have actually helped in this instance. Both of them backed down and turned their attention back to Tony.

“Shit, Boss, we got to get you to a hospital,” Happy said, moving to open the back door of the car.

“Do you know him?” the man asked and Tony would have laughed if it wouldn’t have made him pass out again. Who the hell was this guy?

“Yeah,” Tony said. “Happy's…” He patted the man’s chest. “Happy’s okay.”

The man nodded and stepped forward, setting Tony down gently on the seat before crouching down. “I don’t suppose you have a clean cloth of some kind?”

“Yeah, I got— One second.”

Happy vanished and the man put a warm hand on Tony’s leg to steady him. “How’re you doing?” he asked.

“Gotta be honest,” Tony panted. “It hurts a little bit.”

The man smiled, and even though it was tight with concern, it did wonders for an already gorgeous face. “Yeah? I’ve heard bullet wounds do that.”

Tony huffed out a laugh, wrapping his arms around his chest when it sent pain spiking through him.

“Whoa, easy there,” the man said, propping Tony back up as he started to fall forward. Happy reappeared then, a packet of gauze in his hands he was separating into two bunches.

“Did it go through?” he asked.

“I don’t know, hold on.” Tony was tipped forward, the man’s indecently firm bicep bracing him across his collarbone as fingers probed around his back.

He couldn’t bite back the cry of pain as they found the exit wound and pressed in, lighting up Tony’s entire world with pain for a blinding second.

“Sorry,” the man said, his mouth very near Tony’s ear as he shifted Tony’s weight to rest on his shoulder. With his newly freed hand he pressed one of the gauze stacks to Tony’s back.

“I’m going to have to move him. This is going to need pressure on it.”

“Yeah, okay. You got him?” Happy asked. He must have gotten an affirmative because he said, “He’s got you, Boss. You’re gonna be just fine. Well, Pepper’s gonna kill you. And Rhodey’s definitely gonna kill you. But other than that you’ll be fine.”

Tony would have said something witty about that, but he was being lifted and moved a few inches over to the middle seat and the pain was flaring up again.

The man slid onto the bench next to him and said, “Okay, we’re good. You know where a hospital is?”

“I got better than GPS, no worries.” The door was shut and it was just Tony, his rescuer, and the sound of rain on the roof for a moment.

“I’m going to move you,” a warm voice said in his ear. “I need to get to the wound on the front.”

Tony was clinging to consciousness at this point, woozy and with his hearing and vision going in and out. He tried to mumble something about it being okay, but wasn’t sure he managed before the world spun and flipped and he was lying on his back in a stranger’s lap staring at the ceiling of his car.

He heard the sound of Happy’s door open and close and, “Just hang in there, Boss.”

Then the man said, “This is going to hurt.” Tony’s side exploded in agony as his wound was crushed between those massive hands. He bucked and cried out in pain right before everything went black.

o.o

When Tony woke he was warm and dry.

The stench of antiseptics burned his nose and he wrinkled it in protest. Beeping and squeaking and the sound of a public address system filtered into his ears, followed by closer voices murmuring from somewhere in the room.

“The police have him in custody thanks to your sketch, I just don’t know how to thank you.” That was Pepper, Tony realized. Pepper was here and—shit, she had been crying. Her voice wobbled and her breath caught.

“No thanks necessary, ma'am. I just did what anyone would have. I’m just glad your boyfriend is going to be okay.”

Pepper choked on a laugh and clothing rustled, but she didn’t get to speak again before the man did, and now Tony recognized it as his rescuer. “Well, what anyone should have done anyway.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Pepper said. “He’s my boss.” She sighed. “And sometimes my babysitting charge.” Tony felt her soft fingers wrap around his and squeeze. He tried to squeeze back, but didn’t quite coordinate it before she pulled away.

Footsteps entered the room and an unfamiliar voice said, “Ms. Potts, if I could…?”

“Of course, Doctor. I’ll be right back, Steve.” Then her heels clicked along with the softer soles of the doctor as they left again.

A breath was slowly blown out and Tony’s curiosity piqued enough that he decided now was as good a time as any to open his eyes and see what was happening.

The room itself got a quick survey, standard private room, nothing fancy or unexpected there. The blond head bent over fisted hands being propped up on khaki-covered knees was not part of the usual scenery, though.

It should be, Tony decided. It would no doubt do wonders for his recovery.

The head popped up and a frown was leveled on him before the eyes widened and the man—Steve it would seem—was on his feet and crossing over to the side of the bed.

“Mr. Stark, how do you feel?” he asked. He kept glancing at the bed and the machinery around it, but in between his eyes came back to Tony’s. There was a faint blush pinking his cheeks and Tony didn’t know why it was there, but it was definitely adorable. It darkened as he watched and Steve coughed and said, “Well, Miss Potts wasn’t wrong about you being friendly on account of the painkillers.”

“I’m always friendly,” Tony protested.

Steve laughed. “Some of the… reports I’ve seen would suggest otherwise, but so far I can’t say which is true.”

Tony frowned. “What reports? Who’s reporting on me? Is it Christine Everhart? Don’t listen to her, she lies.”

A hand was run through damp hair leaving it up in messy spikes. “Look, I’m just gonna go let the doctor and Miss Potts know you’re awake. I’m glad you’re okay, though.”

“Wait, no!” Tony reached out and grabbed Steve’s sleeve. He didn’t have the strength to hold onto it and the attempt left him winded and gasping with pain as his side protested the movement. He looked down and then tugged back the corner of the patient top he’d been put into. White bandages covered half of his stomach.

He was so used to seeing it that it took him a moment to realize that the arc reactor was also visible, the light shining through the thin cotton material of the top. He pressed a hand to it and looked up in a panic, words already gathering on his tongue to say something to Steve—though god help him if he knew what was going to come out—but Steve was just standing at the door, one hand on the knob. “We’ll talk later, Mr. Stark. You take care.” He gave one last nod and then he was gone.

Tony rubbed at the scars around the RT casing, palm covering the light, and wondered just what had happened while he was unconscious.

o.o

A week later and Tony was on the couch watching trashy daytime TV because he had made a grave mistake in building an AI and letting him run loose controlling the TV and developing a personality. JARVIS was apparently taking this opportunity to get revenge for something Tony didn’t know about and Tony was this close to getting his ass up off this couch and going downstairs and rewriting someone’s base code.

He’d do it up here but somehow all of his tablets had been mysteriously relocated to other places where Tony couldn’t find them. Pepper was obviously in cahoots with the robot uprising, a smart move really since Tony could attest that she made a lovely administrator.

He just didn’t expect her to go to the dark side so easily, dammit.

The elevator pinged its arrival and he carefully pushed up so he could see over the back of the couch. The traitor herself was there and—oh, look! She had brought a friend! Another traitor, though if Romanoff was working with the robots Tony would not even be surprised.

“If you’re going to be in town for a few days I’d love to have lunch,” Pepper was saying and Romanoff smiled.

“I will be and I’d like that as well.” Then she turned and looked over her shoulder, raising her voice. “Maybe we can even convince Steve to join us, unless he has more important things to do.”

“Hmm?” Steve said as he came into view, still wearing khakis and a plaid shirt—red this time, though, like he didn’t even know he looked like an LL Bean lumberjack.

Tony might be able to forgive the spies in his midst now that they had brought along an apology gift.

“Pepper, darling, why is she here?” he asked, nodding to Romanoff. “And did the two of you kidnap Steve? That’s rude, you know. I have it on good authority you’re not supposed to kidnap people.”

Pepper’s voice was dry as she reached out and pet the top of his head. “You have it on my authority but, no, we didn’t kidnap Steve. I’m just here to get them past security. I have to go back downstairs and work.”

“Wait, no, you can’t leave,” he said, and grabbed her wrist. “Romanoff stabbed me in the neck last time.”

“I can do it again if it’ll make you feel better,” Romanoff said, reaching for her purse.

“Pepper!” Tony said.

She just sighed and bent down, working her wrist free. “If you’re not dying again, you have nothing to worry about. And if you are, her stabbing you is the least of your worries.” She dropped a quick kiss on his head and then turned to go.

Pepper!” he called, but she just waved and reminded Romanoff to call her about lunch plans.

Tony crossed his arms with a huff, then winced when his side twinged. He looked at the two of them, still standing up on the main level of the floor. “Well, come on. Out with it. Why are you here and what have you dragged poor Steve into?”

Steve’s sharp gaze left the view out the window and pinned Tony in place. “She didn’t drag me into anything.”

“Technically, Director Fury did,” Romanoff said, coming down into the sunken lounge area and taking a seat.

“Oh God, not again,” Tony said, letting his head flop back. “It’s not Thursday. He’s not allowed to bug me when it’s not Thursday.”

Romanoff ignored that and continued talking. “Although if we’re being really technical, your father had much more to do with Steve being here than Fury.”

Tony’s head snapped back up. “What?”

She held his gaze as she said, “JARVIS, I’ve got a file for you, if you would be so kind?” She set a tablet computer on the table and tapped a file open. After a moment, it was pulled up onto a series of displays that hovered over the coffee table.

Steve came down now and leaned over to get a better look. “Now this is the kind of thing I expected when they told me I was in the future.”

Tony would have cast him an askance look at that, but he was too busy reading over the material presented. Notably, Steve’s face was included in the picture attached to the dossier, along with a whole lot of dates that didn’t match the age of the face now peering through the displays at him.

“You’re Steve Rogers,” Tony breathed.

Steve straightened, his smile going a little crooked. “And you’re Tony Stark.”

“Now that introductions are complete,” Romanoff said, and set down five more tablets on the table, opening files that JARVIS helpfully loaded as well. “We need to talk about the Avengers Initiative.”