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Presumed Dead

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It's on all the channels.

He's somewhere in Russia, or someplace near Russia – someplace where the language sounds a little like Russian and Natasha's the only one who can translate, that's all he's got to work with, actually – and he wasn't expecting, when he glanced up from the cup of bitter black coffee he's been nursing for the last thirty minutes, to see anything he recognized on the television.

The captions are all in Cryllic, but he can see the name “Tony Stark” from across the diner.

And he's amused, almost, because of course even in probably-Russia, Tony's making news. Steve's not even surprised to see it, really. Tony is – well, Tony's hard to ignore. And he does a lot of things worth talking about, almost as many as he says he does. Really, why wouldn't he be on the news in a country on the other side of the world?

He takes another sip of coffee and settles in to watch. Natasha will be a little while yet, and he kind of wants to know what Tony's been up to.

The picture on the screen is just a house – a big house, a really expensive, modern-looking house, so Steve feels safe assuming it's Tony's, especially with his name still emblazoned at the bottom of the screen. It looks like it's being taken from a helicopter and Steve just shakes his head at the brass balls of it all, to spy on someone from the sky like that. Stark's probably used to it by now, but it makes the back of Steve's neck itch, to think of people hovering over him with cameras, watching him fight or buy groceries. It's probably best that Stark's a publicity-hound.

He takes another sip and that's when he sees the vapor trail in the bottom of the screen.

He's not the only one watching and he can hear the chatter around him pick up. “Iron Man,” a woman says in a startled tone, as if she's talking to the television itself and Steve has a ridiculous moment where he hopes Tony hears her.

And then the first missile strikes the house. And the second.

He doesn't remember standing up, but he's pressed in with the rest of the patrons, nearly everyone in the little diner crowded together under the wall-mounted TV, as they try to see. The house is collapsing, the roof is caving in and chunks of concrete and metal are falling into the ocean below. Steve's vision is super-human but the television is old and the resolution is low. It doesn't stop him from scanning all the windows, trying to see something that might look like a person, might look like survivors.

The flash of muted colors from the top of the screen catches his eye. “There,” he mutters and the camera obeys, panning up to zoom in on the front drive. Iron Man is there, a dark-haired woman clasped in his arms and Steve sucks in a huge breath he hadn't known he'd needed, lets it out in a heavy exhale and grins at the television. Around him everyone is cheering and clapping and when Steve gets back he's going to suggest that SHIELD consider making better use of Iron Man's international popularity.

Iron Man stumbles, drops the woman and Steve winces a little because they're on the pavement now, but it's still better than being in that house. But the woman is crawling to her feet and Iron Man is – Iron Man is coming apart, the armor pulling away like it's literally ripping itself to pieces and flying back into the house. What's left is Pepper Potts, her hands and face streaked with blood. She's holding her hands out in front of her like she's still wearing the gauntlets and her back is bowed with the force of her screaming.

There is a long minute, where the cameras just watch her.

There's a puff of orange and red, black smoke billowing as one of the attack choppers is destroyed. The camera is on the wrong side of the house now for him to see anything clearly, but there's another explosion a moment later and the third attacker is turning away. Iron Man is clearly fighting back.

But long moments pass and the third chopper gets further and further away. Steve scans the sky for a glimpse of red and gold but all he can see is blue and white and the huge broken piece of Tony's home collapsing into the ocean.

The reporter is saying something he can't understand and the room around him is exploding into shouts and cries of dismay. The woman beside him, the one who'd shouted at the screen earlier, has both hands pressed against her mouth.

“We have to go,” Natasha says, appearing at his elbow, silent as smoke. Her fingers are curled around his wrist and he belatedly realizes that he has no idea where his coffee has gone.

“Wait,” Steve says and tips his head toward the television. “I want to – that's Tony-”

“He went in the water,” Natasha says softly. “A couple of minutes ago. The reporters are saying that no one saw him come back up.”

“No,” Steve says. “He had the suit.”

Natasha doesn't say anything, but her fingers grip his wrist tight enough to bruise as the rest of the house breaks loose, thousands of tons of mental and concrete plummeting into the depths.

He wonders if Tony can see it coming, if he's still awake, still alive, or if whatever sent him into the water to begin with had already taken him out.

Something hotter and heavier than fear is already sitting in the back of his throat, a burn like grief.

He can see the water rushing up to meet him, the fear that had soaked through his conviction and his determination, the thought that drowning would be worse, please let the crash kill me and he prays, quietly, while he let Natasha lead him away, that somewhere in the bottom of the Pacific, Tony was already dead.