He didn’t actually have the flip-phone on him when he called Steve - and actually, he wasn’t even the one who made the call: he had FRIDAY dial him. Still. It was the thought that counted, right?
The phone rang three times before Steve answered, and Tony could imagine him looking down in surprise, even shock, as the other end of the line rang once. Twice, and he would be taking the phone out, staring at it for a moment before answering. Three times, and Steve must have dropped it, fumbled somehow, fingers made clumsy by the unexpectedness.
And then Steve was there, warm voice in his ear, like the comms, like the way things used to be. “Tony,” he breathed, and Tony’s heart clenched at the nostalgia for a moment...
...before he snapped back and did what he had to do.
“Remember how you said if I needed you, I could call?”
Steve sounded relieved as he almost-laughed. (It was the sound Steve had made in Manhattan all those years ago: “We won,” Steve had said, and then almost-laughed. Christ, Tony missed that man...) “Yeah, I’m here, Tony. What do you need?”
Tony strained up, but of course with the power cut off, it would take more strength than he had to get his legs out of the armor. Hadn’t stopped him from trying any of the last ten times, either. “Oh, just a little… rescue.” Tony tried to make his voice offhand, tried to hide how much it hurt to have to do this.
“Of course. Where do you need me to be?” And that was it, that was all it took - Steve was all in. Tony closed his eyes to the ache of lost time and lost friendship and the loss of the man he loved.
“You’ll have trouble getting in,” Tony warned, clenching his right hand around the small object he was toying with. “But I bet you can do it. I’m in Iran -”
“- In one of the uranium enrichment plants that they don’t want the UN to know about.” He rattled off the coordinates.
“You don’t mess around, do you?” Steve’s voice was so much; wry, fond, dry, exasperated...
“Never go small when you can go big, baby.” Tony’s voice was a parody of his usual glibness, but that was alright; the cracks wouldn’t show over the phone.
“Hold on,” Steve warned, and then muted the phone.
After a minute, he picked back up again. “We can be there in four hours, or Wanda can be there even faster than that - but we don’t like to use that if we don’t have to, and Wanda would be coming in alone.”
“Oh, definitely not. Four is fine - I’ll just… hang out… Bad guys are dead - Hammer’s goons, trying for revenge. No big. Just get here.”
“I will,” Steve said - he made it sound like a vow, and Tony squeezed his eyes shut.
“Steve?” He made his voice breathy. “I need you to come alone.” There was a small sound from deeper in the facility, and Tony lifted his head to glare in that direction. “This isn’t… You I can hide; not let Ross know we’ve been talking. The whole team, I can’t - it’ll get out.”
“I understand, Tony -”
“- So come alone. Like Budapest, remember?”
Tony listened to Steve breathe on the other end of the line for a minute, and then Steve repeated, “I understand, Tony.”
Tony closed his eyes again. “Okay,” he said, relieved. “Okay.”
“Four hours,” Steve reminded him. “Just hang on.”
“Well, you know me. I am so good at hanging.”
Steve snorted, and hung up.
“TONY?” Steve’s voice echoed in the industrial cathedral, a lone figure appearing at the end of the long, empty chamber. Incongruously, he wasn’t in uniform, although he appeared to be wearing armor and weapons. He’d thrown a trench coat over the whole mess, and in the slanted, silver, full-moon light creeping in from the gaps in the wall, he looked like nothing so much as Guy Superhero: Private Eye.
Tony felt his mouth curling into a smile at the sight of him, and grimly suppressed it. This was going to be hard enough without being happy to see the man.
“Here,” Tony called - or tried to. It didn’t work as intended, and he wound up gasping and trying again. “HERE.”
Now Steve saw him. With the helmet still half-on and cameras already zooming on the other man, Tony could see it in perfect detail when Steve took in his situation.
Tony knew it looked bad. The helmet was half-gone, torn away like tin foil; both pauldrons and three-quarters of the chestpiece were in the same boat. The right gauntlet, with its repulsor, was torn off and thrown halfway across the room, and there were bleeding gashes on Tony’s forearm from where it had cut in under the pressure. An enormous chunk of masonry pinned both of his legs to the floor, and while the suit had power to the upper half, the damage to the chestpiece meant that it wasn’t communicating with the legs. There were a dozen bodies sprawled around him in a half-circular pattern, and a mysterious liquid pooled around Tony, splashed down the aisle, and darted off to a recessed area on the Tony’s right.
Steve had a supersniffer; he had to know what that liquid was.
Steve called Tony’s name again, walking slowly down the long nave of the facility. “How do you even get into these situations?” he called.
“Oh, you know,” Tony shouted back. “Made a few friends, made more enemies.”
“A couple, apparently. In Iran, Tony?”
“HEY! You went to ground in WAKANDA! Otherwise known as the country that spearheaded the Accords! Stop throwing rocks, you glass-house-living asshole!”
Steve didn’t answer because he was too busy laughing, and to call it “hysterical” was not an exaggeration. “So what’s the plan?” he asked eventually, straightening up and starting to walk again, still at that slow, steady pace. He was maybe a quarter of the way closer to Tony now. “Need me to lift that brick off your legs?”
“Basically,” Tony agreed. “And it’s not a brick, it’s clearly most of the side of a building -”
“Yeah, well, I’m not judging you on size, Stark.”
“Fuck you, Rogers.”
For a moment, it was that easy; everything else falling away, leaving just the two of them, bantering together with a familiar lightness that felt like coming home.
Of course, this time the home was possessed and also infested with termites, and Tony was an idiot to forget that, but -
Steve had come. Tony called, and Steve had come, even though he had every reason in the world not to. At its heart, Tony thought it might actually be that simple.
Steve stopped again when he got to the puddle of liquid, his nostrils flaring. He crouched down beside it and dipped his fingers in, bringing them slowly up to his nose to sniff. He kept his head down, not looking at Tony, for a long moment after he did so, then wiped his hand on his pants and rose to his feet again, shoulders squaring and back ramrod straight, a glacier coming to attention.
For a long moment, he didn’t say anything, just stood there as the moonbeams gilded him into a statute. Leonidas Sighting the Enemy Force, maybe.
“Is this what it comes to, then?” Steve called. At this point, only maybe a third of the room remained between him and Tony, but it was still enough that Steve had to project his voice. “All our years of working together, of fighting side by side - and you’re going to do this?” His voice took on the Captain America is Disappointed In You timbre. “I thought we were friends, Tony.”
Tony couldn’t look away as Steve deliberately started walking forward again, one foot after the other splashing down into the slick trail of gasoline. “Could have been brothers,” Tony agreed, and on the zoomed-in camera of the helmet, he could see Steve’s eyes widen perfectly. Tony’s right hand clenched again on the lighter.
Steve set one foot in front of the other, and Tony called out to him again. “You know what I can’t figure out? I can’t understand why you’re still walking forward.”
Steve didn’t answer, just advancing slowly and steadily, and Tony tried again.
“We know why I’m doing this, Steve. Why are you doing this?!”
Steve stopped for a moment and looked at him. “You asked for my help,” he said finally. “And I don’t think you can shift that rubble on your own.”
Well. He wasn’t wrong…
“I was pretty much counting on burning to death,” Tony admitted bluntly.
“Bad way to go.”
“Better than what I’m doing right now,” Tony answered, flicking open the lighter. He turned his head to the right, watching in agony as his fingers sped the flame through them and between them, seemingly of their own accord. “Stop that,” he said. “You asshole. At least stop fucking playing with us.”
It happened very quickly, after that:
Loki bent down from behind him, suddenly visible again; Tony could see Steve’s eyes widen in alarm…
...Steve started running, charging towards them…
...And almost too fast to see, an arrow was suddenly protruding from Loki’s right eye.
Loki reeled back, tumbling over backwards to fall, arms and legs spread, on the ground…
...Tony’s fingers, freed from Loki’s control, fumbled the lighter, and it started to fall towards the pool of gas…
...and Steve, diving forward, caught it half an inch from lighting the puddle, which would have lit the trail Steve was standing in, which in turn would have lit the small mountain of explosives tucked off to the side where Steve wouldn’t have been able to see it walking in.
Steve flicked the lighter off with a decisive little click, and looked up to meet Tony’s gaze. Tony winced and looked away, avoiding all the… everything… he saw in Steve’s eyes.
“‘Just like Budapest,’ huh?” Steve quoted.
“‘You and I remember…’ Well, come on, I couldn’t exactly say, ‘Oh, and bring Clint so he can shoot the fucker in the face,’ could I? He was listening!”
“Oh, it worked,” Steve agreed mildly, standing up and heaving the various bits of masonry off of Tony.
“We make a good -”
Tony broke off before finishing the sentence. He just couldn’t, quite, bring himself to do it.
Steve tossed the last small boulder of brickwork away like it were a football, then crouched down and kissed Tony - deeply, thoroughly, the way they used to kiss, before Barnes, before the Accords, before everything. Something cracked behind them, but Tony barely noticed; he was gasping and leaking tears by the end of it, but he kissed back, just as thoroughly, just as hard, and he couldn’t bring himself to regret it…
Steve broke the kiss first, pulling back, wrapping his arms around Tony in a hug so familiar Tony thought his heart was going to explode.
“We make a good team,” Steve agreed, and his lips tried to smile while his eyes tried not to cry.
Tony leaned up again as best he could, still hampered by the remains of the armor, reaching towards Steve because let’s face it, he was always going to reach towards Steve…
“HEY!” Clint was standing ten feet from them, glaring. “Not that this isn’t touching, but where did that motherfucker Loki go?!”
A broken-off arrow shaft was all that remained where the trickster had been lying.
“So,” Tony said, “Running like hell?”
“Good plan,” Steve agreed, and hoisted him in his arms, armor and all.
They barely made it out of the building before the explosion rocked out behind them.