The air left Tony’s chest in a huff as Steve shoved him up against the wall, hand gripping Tony’s thigh and hiking it up around his hip. Steve barely let him inhale before he consumed Tony’s mouth with a scorching kiss. Laughing, Tony worked on unbuttoning Steve’s shirt, stripping him of the far too concealing material and running his fingers over the smooth, firm skin. Steve smiled into the kiss before he reached down and grabbed Tony’s other thigh, lifting him up in one swift motion and pressing him back against the wall. Tony moaned and rocked his hips against Steve, wrapping his legs tightly around Steve’s waist.
The next few moments were a blur of hands and teeth and tongue as they tried to divest the rest of their clothing without letting go of each other. Tony pushed against Steve until his back was bowed and only his shoulders touched the wall, giving a particularly violent wiggle in an attempt to partially remove his pants. Steve laughed, fingers pressing bruises into Tony’s skin as he gripped his thighs tighter.
Steve shifted Tony’s weight to the side, attempting to free one of his own hands to help. The next thing Tony knew, he was sitting on the floor, pain flaring from a bruised tailbone. He looked up to see Steve kneeling in front of him, looking utterly adorable. His shocked expression mingling with the bare chest and open jeans, like he had stepped right out of a wet dream, startled a laugh out of Tony as he realized what just happened.
“Did you just—did you just drop me?” Tony asked before trailing off into a giggle, high on endorphins from the fight earlier that day and mind hazy with lust. “How does that even happen?”
Steve narrowed his eyes at him, losing the surprise written on his face and getting a look that bordered on predatory instead. A staggering wall of lust hit Tony, and for a moment he was thankful that he was already on the floor. He grinned, ready to play a game.
He used to love goading Steve and seeing what kind of response he got. A few years ago it would have been a disappointed stare and maybe the cold shoulder for the afternoon. Now, when he provoked Steve, the results were distinctly more… favorable for Tony.
“What happened to the peak of human perfection, Rogers? I thought you were supposed to be graceful.” Tony needled.
“Tony,” Steve warned, voice low.
“What? You can’t even lift me? What happened? Did the super soldier lose his super?” he pressed.
Steve’s hands were on Tony’s knees, grip tightening to the point of pain but still lacking the brute strength Tony knew lay just beneath the surface.
“Are you sure you can even lift your shield anymore?” Tony asked, raising his eyebrows innocently. “I’d hate to have to—” Steve lunged forward and cut off Tony’s words with a bruising kiss.
Tony’s glee was near tangible the rest of the night as Steve worked hard to prove just how super he was.
The next morning, Tony passed off the slight hitch in his step as a twisted ankle due to the fight against the pack of Hammer Drones the previous day. Steve just smirked at him over his orange juice as Bruce told Tony he should have it looked at, and that he should be more careful.
“What’s the play?” Tony asked.
Gathered aboard the Quinjet, the Avengers went through their various individual routines before entering a battle. Weapon checks, comm checks, meditating, and a few bad jokes mixed throughout. Tony was having JARVIS run scans on the recording devices in the area of their destination, trying to gather as much intel as possible before they arrived. He turned to face Steve, who was running his fingers around the edges of the shield looking for nicks he would likely never find.
Cap looked over at him.
“Normal procedure. You and Clint are our eyes up high; Natasha and I will take the ground. Bruce will be on standby. No reason to involve the big guy if we can manage ourselves.”
Tony sniffed and pursed his lips. “It’s Doom. Give me a few minutes alone with whatever monstrosity he’s cobbled together and I can have them all shut down in no time.”
Cap grinned at him. “That’s the plan, Iron Man.”
Tony cocked an eyebrow and took a step forward, encroaching on his space. “Well, aren’t you a poet, Rogers.”
“What can I say? You bring out the romantic in me.” Steve said, giving him a lopsided, and rather dopey, smile.
Tony let out a real laugh at the horrible line, but the hint of truth behind it, no matter how cheesy, made his chest warm. He leaned forward, ready to kiss the smile off Steve’s lips—
“You two are disgusting,” Clint said.
Tony debated aborting the kiss for a second, realized he didn’t give a shit, and pressed his lips to Steve’s. Another moment later, he dipped Steve dramatically and laughed as Steve squawked, finishing the kiss with a middle finger aimed in Clint’s direction.
Steve tried to give him his usual ‘not in the field, Tony’ glare when he straightened up, but it was betrayed by the laughter in his eyes and the fact that the corners of his lips kept turning up.
Clint groaned and ran a hand over his face. “You know when they asked me to join the Avengers they didn’t tell me that I’d be the sidekick in a stupid romantic comedy.”
“There are so many things wrong with that statement, Barton, I’m not even sure where to begin.”
“Oooh,” Natasha said as she slid a knife back into her boot. “I know exactly where to begin. How about the fact that you weren’t asked? You were told. Rather explicitly if I recall correctly, and I do.”
“Or the fact that you’re definitely not my sidekick. My sidekick rocks heels that are taller than you are, munchkin.” Tony said.
Natasha arched an eyebrow. “Pepper wouldn’t appreciate being called a sidekick.”
Tony smirked. “I was actually talking about Rhodey.”
The Quinjet was drenched in silence as they all took a moment to conjure the image. Tony, of course, was the first to break it.
“And while I strongly question your classification of our lives as a romantic comedy, I would be more inclined to say action sci-fi, maybe sci-fi horror depending on the day, at least Steve and I got our shit together which is more than I can say for you and—”
“Oh, hey, look. We’re here!” Clint said loudly, pointing out the window.
The fight was laughable. If Doom had any legitimate plans for world domination he really needed to get his shit together. Were he so inclined; Tony would have had the world kneeling at his feet within a few hours. As it stood, he was self-aware enough to know that, while it may be fun to be the ruler of Earth for a time, he’d probably get bored with it after a few weeks and pass it off to Pepper and she really didn’t need the added stress. He was doing her a favor, really.
Doom’s latest round of ego stroking had resulted in a dozen or so robotic clones of himself, all chanting their status as harbingers of doom. They were strong, of course, but outside of brute force they weren’t much. They seemed to lack any real intelligence other than the ability to speak, much like their creator, and Tony was confident they could have this wrapped up and be back home by dinnertime.
“Should we break up the monotony tonight?” Tony asked, shooting down one of the bots that had been climbing up the side of a building. “We always get pizza. Let’s get Chinese.”
He searched for Steve on the ground and found him a hundred or so yards away, creeping up behind a Doombot. The HUD zoomed in on Steve’s face. Steve kept silent but he shook his head slightly side to side.
“No? What about Italian?”
Steve’s lips twitched but again, a no.
Tony sighed and watched as Steve hoisted his shield, mentally tracing the trajectory.
“Alright, pizza it is. We probably single-handedly keep that place in business, you know.”
Steve let his shield fly and Tony watched as it struck its target right on the mark. But something wasn’t right. The shield bounced off and ricocheted away from Steve. It should have taken the head right off the bot; Tony knew how hard Steve could throw the shield. Before he could say anything, the bot swung around and advanced on Steve quickly.
No cause for concern, he thought, Steve should be able to easily take it down in hand-to-hand combat. Tony kept an eye on Steve as he took care of another one himself, watching as Steve stood his ground, ducking and weaving and getting his fair share of hits in. Hits that were connecting but didn’t seem to slow the Doombot down.
The Doombot advanced further and Steve faltered, taking a step back onto a piece of rubble that made him nearly slip. Tony knew what was going to happen before he saw it. The Doombot took advantage of Steve’s momentary distraction and it reeled back and struck Steve with a blow that sent him crashing into the wall of a building.
Tony heard the crack of Steve’s head against the brick over the comms and his stomach roiled.
It’s all right, he thought. Steve had been hit worse and bounced back. Sadly, the thought didn’t make it any easier to see.
Tony spun in the air, hearing the telltale chanting of one of the flying Doombots, and he grappled with it in the air a moment before he managed to get a fist through the mass of wires in it’s back that seemed to be where the unit’s power source was located. Perfect.
“JARVIS, let me see what makes this guy tick.”
A few minutes later, the remaining Doombots came to a standstill, powering down.
Tony let out a whoop of glee and let the one in his hands fall to the ground with a satisfying crunch. He turned around, looking for Steve, already grinning preemptively at the look of approval Tony knew he’d be waiting with.
Instead, his stomach dropped when he spotted Steve. He hadn’t moved from where he had landed after hitting the wall. There was a dark halo around where his head rested on the ground, his eyes were closed, and he wasn’t moving.
“Steve’s not responding!”
“Well find him and tell him to get his ass back to the Quinjet.”
“No—no. He’s not—”
“Spit it out, Stark. I’m ready to go home.”
“Oh, god. I don’t even know if he’s breathing.”
“Steve? Come on. Wake up, soldier. You’ve taken harder hits than this. Come on, babe, show me those baby blues.”
“Don’t move him, we don’t know what his injuries are. Just—just wait a second.”
“Oh god what if he—”
“He won’t. Don’t even go there.”
“Mr. Stark, I’m sorry but you can’t go in there.”
“Fuck off, are you kidding me?”
“Mr. Stark, please, you’ve got to let the doctors do their jobs.”
“Get out of my way!” Tony snarled and went to shove past the nurse when he felt a hand circle his wrist.
“Tony,” Natasha’s said softly.
“What?” Tony snapped, facing her.
“He’s right. We’ve got to let the doctors do their job. You won’t be helping anyone by going in there and getting in the way.”
“I can’t just leave him—”
“You’re not leaving him,” she said sternly. “You’re giving him to the care of people who know what they’re doing. Let them work.”
Tony sagged, his fury leaving him in a huff of air.
“Natasha. I can’t just—what if—”
“Stop. Steve is a stubborn son of a bitch. He’s not going anywhere. He’s going to wake up and you know what the first words out of his mouth are going to be?”
Tony exhaled. “He’s going to ask if everyone’s alright.”
Staying within view of the door and the flurry of activity inside, they moved away and Tony let himself sag into the wall.
“This doesn’t make any sense. I’ve seen him take harder hits than that. I don’t understand why he’s—”
“Shhh,” Natasha said, before Tony’s voice took on a hysterical note. He didn’t know what to do. He barely even knew what he was feeling, emotions were twisting and churning in his gut and none of them were good but none of them were fixable. He didn’t even know if Steve would be fixable.
“I don’t know what to do,” he whispered.
Natasha moved in front of him and placed both hands on his cheeks. “There’s nothing to do. We wait. We wait and make sure he’s not alone when he wakes up.”
Tony reached up, gripping Natasha’s forearms as his eyes flickered back and forth between hers. Thoughts were running through his head at a lightening pace. Natasha wouldn’t say it, but what if Steve didn’t wake up. What if the last time he saw Steve alive and moving was when he was being tossed into a wall like a ragdoll. The image played over and over in his head and his chest felt tight and his eyes started to water and that was before he remembered the noise Steve made on impact and oh god he thought he was going to be sick.
Natasha pulled his head down and pressed soft lips to his forehead. She stroked his hair back and shushed him lightly as he hunched over further, letting his headrest on her shoulder as harsh gasps wracked through his body.
He was numb to the arrival of his teammates as they gathered around him.
Some time later, the approach of an outsider made Tony’s head shoot up. A doctor approached them slowly, eyes darting around at each of the members of the large group that had formed. Once all the attention was on him, he cleared his throat.
“He’s out of the woods, but there’s been a lot of damage. A few broken ribs, multiple lacerations and contusions… these are all injuries that are easily dealt with. The bigger concern is the hit he took to his head.” He paused. “There’s a hairline fracture in his skull, but the problem lies with the swelling. If it gets worse we may have to consider temporarily removing a section of the bone to give it room to expand without causing permanent damage.”
The doctor looked away and sighed reluctantly. Tony braced himself, terrified of what he’d hear next.
“We’ve treated Captain Rogers many times before. Often enough he’ll come in and we’ll clean up the blood to see his injury already healed. But that’s not what’s happening here. We’ve sent some blood down to the labs but right now we don’t know why. Brain injuries are a tricky thing. Without his accelerated healing, I can’t give you any guarantees.”
“What do you mean guarantees?” Clint asked.
“I mean that we can’t say when he’ll wake up.”
It clicked for Tony then. “You mean you don’t know if he’ll wake up.” He said, his voice surprisingly steady.
“I’m afraid not Mr. Stark, I’m sorry.”
The silence was nearly palpable and Tony felt a strong hand land on his shoulder. He didn’t know if it was meant to be a comforting gesture or if he was just being used as someone’s crutch.
“Captain Rogers is being moved to a private room. He’s stable for now. I suggest you all take some time to get cleaned up, and take care of yourselves before coming back. There won't be visiting hours, you will all have unrestricted access to his room.” He paused. “Captain Rogers is… a great man and you have all done a great service to this country.”
The doctor turned around and walked away, leaving the team in silence.
“Steve, wake up. Please.”
Time passed in a blur. Stilted conversations were held regarding Steve’s status and the status of the team. A contingency plan was being developed in case he didn’t wake up. Tony, spending most of his time in medical, risked leaving to tell Fury his thoughts about that.
He’d been thrown out of Fury’s office afterwards.
“Come on, babe. You’re the most bullheaded man I know. Wake up.”
Pepper had been wonderfully understanding, letting him be, checking in on him at least once a day. In person, if she could manage. She made sure he had been eating and brought him clean clothes and would wait with Steve while Tony cleaned himself up.
The Fantastic Four had taken up in The Avengers stead, though it seemed that even the bad guys didn’t have their heart in it lately and they were rarely called out.
Tony didn’t want to know what the media was saying.
“I love you, you know. I don’t think I say it often enough. You deserve to hear it more often.”
Steve’s bones were mending but the swelling in his brain wasn’t going down and he was showing no signs of waking up. The serum wasn’t doing its job and no amount of blood tests were showing why. Tony didn’t think Bruce had left his lab since his initial visit, delving back into the super soldier serum research that hadn’t been touched since his own accident.
Tony had toyed with the idea of helping but the human body never called to him the way machines did. He’d be more of a hindrance than help if he intruded Bruce’s space. So he went the only place he could be of use. By Steve’s side.
“I love you.”
Tony stared vacantly at Steve’s limp hand in his own. Strength evident even there, even in his fingers. Tony knew how strong those hands were, how easily he could destroy something with just a clenched fist. But he also knew how gentle, how caring those hands could be. The way they held lightly onto a pencil, led skating across paper as he sat across from Tony in the workshop, occasionally sneaking glances at one another. The way they held Tony’s face gently in his hands as he kissed the breath out of him. The way they would hold firmly onto Tony’s thighs and, if he were lucky, would leave just the faintest trace of a bruise the next morning.
What if he never got to feel those hands on him again? What if he never got to see those gorgeous lips turning up into a smile over something Tony had said? Or his eyes, what if Tony never again got to see those blue eyes, dancing with laughter as he and Tony shared in some private joke? What if the last time they—
The last time.
“There was something wrong,” Tony said to the quiet room. “There was something wrong with you before this. Holy fuck how didn’t we see that?”
He reached into his pocket and set out an alert to the team. ‘Conference room in 30.’
There was something wrong with Steve. Something had happened to him. There was something wrong, something broken, something that they hadn’t seen. That maybe Steve hadn’t even noticed. The serum wasn’t working like it should. It was broken.
Tony smiled, then. A small smile that sat strange and unfamiliar on his face. Broken. He could do broken. He could fix broken. He stood up, ran his fingers through Steve’s hair and pressed a light kiss to his pale forehead.
“Don’t get too comfortable there, Rogers,” he said as he turned and strode out of the room with new purpose.
Last to arrive, he opened the door to the conference room where the team had gathered. “Something’s wrong with Steve.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Clint said. “I think we’re all very aware that something is wrong with Steve.”
Natasha shot him a quelling look. Tony looked around at his friends. All of their faces were weary, worn down and tired. Only Bruce looked different, curiosity in his eyes as he leaned forward in his chair.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that something has been wrong with Steve since before… this.” The rest of the team was silent, waiting for him to explain. “I think that something happened to the serum. I’m not sure what or when, but that’s what we’re here to find out.” He moved to the table and set his phone down on the surface, fingers gliding across the screen.
“JARVIS, timeline.” The lights dimmed in the room and a graph appeared above the phone. Tony poked and prodded at the lines and dates until he was satisfied.
“Why do you think there’s something wrong with the serum?” Natasha asked.
“Because,” Tony said, “he dropped me.”
“Uhh. Do I want to know?” Clint interjected.
Tony smirked. “Whatever you’re thinking is probably right.”
“He dropped you. That’s just one instance of… I don’t know what to call it and I’d rather not think about what you and Steve get up to when you’re alone but how do you know he just wasn’t, ah, overexcited?” Bruce asked.
“Actually, that is what I thought up until today. And then I started to think. The Doombot shouldn’t have been able to take him down—”
“Barton, shut up and listen,” Tony hissed. “The Doombot shouldn’t have been able to take him down because it shouldn’t have survived. I watched as Steve threw his shield at it. He was barely twenty feet away and his aim was perfect.”
Bruce’s eyebrows furrowed. “What happened?”
“It ricocheted off. Landed across the street.”
Silence filled the room again. Steve’s shield never ended up anywhere other than where he intended.
“So right now we have two points in time. The fight,” he said and leaned forward, lifting his hand and pinpointing a spot on the timeline that lit up in bright red. “And six days before.” He traced backwards and another red dot lit up.
“We need to figure out when this started. Natasha, you spar with him. Has he done anything strange in the past few weeks?”
Natasha pursed her lips, thinking. “There was one time, he called off our session early. Not even halfway into it. He said he had forgotten about some commitment with SHIELD but…”
“Steve doesn’t forget jack shit,” Tony added. “When was this?”
“Two days before the fight.”
Tony added the event to the timeline and looked around. “Alright, anyone else?”
Slowly, they started to remember. Inconsequential things, normally. Things like Steve skipping a meal, stopping for a break during a run, losing his breath easier. Small things that shouldn’t have meant anything but now meant everything as they added up. The timeline before them lit up like a Christmas tree with all their combined anecdotes.
An hour later, after they’d discussed everything from his diet to his nightly routine, they stared at the evidence in front of them. Tony scrubbed his face with his hands.
“Fuck. How did we miss this? How did I miss this? God dammit, Steve. You should’ve said something.”
“JARVIS, what’s the first event on the timeline?”
“That would be yours, sir.”
Steve had been fine up until that day. Tony should have noticed right away that something was wrong.
“Alright, J. Give me everything that happened three days leading up to that. Everything that Steve was involved with.”
The projection shifted, images with short descriptors of events that Steve had attended, stores he had visited, and—
He saw Natasha’s mouth set in a grim line.
“Damn it. God damn it!” He said, smacking a fist on the table. “That asshole. Don’t you guys have him locked up?”
Natasha nodded. “Looks like we’ll have to pay him a visit.”
“No.” Tony shook his head. “Just me. He’s my problem, I’ll handle it.”
“Tony,” Natasha said softly. “Are you sure?”
“Anthonyyyy.” The singsong voice echoed in the barren cell as he entered. “It’s so nice of you to come for a visit after all this time.”
Tony did his best to stamp down on his rage as he stared at the other man. The bars were serving a greater purpose to him than they were to Tony, who would love nothing better that to get up close and personal.
“Justin,” he said with a flat voice, taking a seat on the chair set out for him.
“Tony, Tony, Tony. To what do I owe this honor? I’ve missed you, buddy!”
Tony clenched his jaw against the desire to lash out, knowing that Hammer was trying to bait him. “You know exactly why I’m here.”
“I’m afraid that I don’t have a clue here, man. They keep me locked down pretty tight. Not too many visitors these days!” he said, a bright smile on his face.
Hammer sat in a plastic chair, arms bound together at the wrist with a generous length of chain between them. He was slouching back into the seat, his legs splayed wide, palms rubbing at his thighs slowly, absently.
Tony bit his tongue. “Let’s not lie to each other. You may not be Tony Stark but you aren’t stupid.”
Hammer tilted his head and smirked at the perceived compliment. It made Tony’s stomach turn.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to give me a little more to go on, Tony. I’ve been so awfully busy these days.”
Tony narrowed his eyes, debating what to give him.
“What did you do to Captain America.”
“Mmmm,” Hammer hummed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Didn’t you have a poster of him hanging up in your dorm room, Anthony? Do tell, how did he react when he found out you used to jerk off while staring up at him every night?”
Tony remained silent and waited. He kept his expression blank as he watched Hammer.
Hammer stared back, still grinning.
“We took down a group of Hammer drones a few weeks ago,” Tony said finally. “They appeared, started taking pot shots at civilians. We showed up and took them down in less than an hour. Strange how easy it was. Even for something created by you.”
Hammer grinned again and was quiet for a moment. He stood up and walked up to the bars separating them, gripping them with his hands as he stared at Tony. One hand moved sluggishly up and down, caressing.
“Did you know the drones weren’t the only thing that Vanko did for me? Not that he really did those for me, but I think they’ve been repurposed just fine, don’t you? Vanko was pretty good with computers. Bypassed my security in a matter of seconds. Give him a few days and a reason and he can break into anything he set his mind to.” He smiled. “And oh, baby,” he said with gusto, “did I ever give him incentive!”
Tony’s stomach dropped. No one had told him about any breach. He stood up and approached the bars, stopping two feet away. Tony leaned in just a little and Hammer licked his lips.
“What the fuck did you do to Steve Rogers?”
Hammer grinned. “I think the whole world knows what you’re doing with him, Anthony. But me? I’m afraid I’m stuck here, I’m not able to do anything to your pal Captain America.”
“Don’t play semantics with me, you know what I mean. What did you do to him?”
“Why does it matter!” Hammer shouted, slamming a fist against the bars, and Tony barely resisted the temptation to step back. “Rogers is a relic! He is a shadow from the past! He doesn’t belong here with us! Someone had to stop him; it wasn’t fair, he shouldn’t even exist so why should he get everything?”
Tony did flinch back at that, realizing Hammer’s meaning. Sick to his stomach, he’d heard enough, he thought. He had done more with less information. As Tony turned around, Hammer’s voice lightened.
“Aw, Tony, don’t be like that. Come back, buddy. We haven’t finished catching up!”
Tony ignored the pleas and walked out of the room. The last thing he heard was a shouted, ‘Anthony!’ as the door closed behind him.
“Tony,” he heard her sigh. “How are you holding up?”
“I’ve been better,” he managed a small laugh, moving the phone to his other ear. “But I think things are about to look up. I have a question for you.”
“What do you mean things are about to look up?”
“I can explain it later but there’s something I’m looking into and I need your help.”
A beat of silence. “Alright, what do you need to know?”
“A few years ago, the Stark Expo incident. Were there any reports of someone trying to hack into our network?”
“Tony, there are always reports of people trying to hack your security.”
“I know, but that year did anyone come close?”
Pepper was silent again and Tony’s stomach sank. “Pepper,” he pleaded.
She sighed. “Yes. They didn’t just come close. They managed to get into our R and D servers.”
“God dammit, Pepper! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You were dying, Tony! You were dying and then you weren’t and then you dove head first into everything else, cleaning up the Expo, Stark Tower... And then New York happened and then you weren’t dying but you were barely hanging on and by the time we had even a moment to breathe, I figured what was the point? I.T. took care of the breach, and nothing ever seemed to come of it. There was no point in stressing you out over nothing!”
Only it wasn’t nothing. It was everything. Whatever they had found in there, whatever idea they liked best, they’d managed to use it against Steve. Yet another one of Tony’s weapons being turned on him. Only now they went after someone he cared for far more deeply than he had ever cared for himself.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath, trying to remain calm.
“Alright. Just—send me over everything you have on the breach. I need to know every single file they looked at.”
“It was Hammer, Pep. Whatever he found there, whatever he did… he’s the reason Steve is laying in that bed. I need to figure out what he did and I am going to burn Hammer to the ground.”
“Oh my god.”
“Just get me that information as soon as you can.” He said, flatly.
“Tony,” Pepper pleaded. “Please tell me you’re not going to go after them alone.”
“It’s my responsibility. This is all my fault. I will not let my creations be used like this. You know that. I can’t allow it.”
“I know that, Tony. I know. All I’m saying is don’t do it alone. Whatever Hammer did, whatever he took from you? You’re going to be the only one who can figure it out. Steve needs you, Tony. You have friends, let them help.”
Tony sighed, “I’m sorry, Pepper.” He said, and hung up the phone.
He sank down in his chair, throat raw with anger, the lump making it hard to breathe. This was the fate he had created for himself. Destined to spend the rest of his life cleaning up after his messes. It was a fate he had long since accepted and resigned himself to. But his friends hadn’t signed on for this. Steve hadn’t signed on for this. They didn’t deserve to get hurt for his mistakes.
But they stuck around anyway.
He gave himself a moment. A moment to slam his fists on the table, to throw his phone at the wall, to try to scream his anger out.
When that moment was over, he stood up and strode out of the room. He knew exactly where he needed to be.
The repulsors whined in his ears as he blasted through another door. Dozens of people scattered but they weren’t his concern. He was on a mission.
He snagged a running scientist and lifted him up by the collar.
“Who’s in charge?” He asked calmly, almost politely.
The scientist’s hand was shaking as he lifted a hand from the gauntlet and pointed down the hallway. “He’s heading downstairs.”
“Thank you,” he said, letting the man drop from his grip and tumble to the floor before he stalked in the direction he had pointed.
It didn’t take long to catch up with the head honcho. A portly guy who took one look at the suit and turned white as a sheet. Big guy surrendered pretty quickly after that.
He smiled inside the helmet, already making the call.
Tony uncapped the syringe with his teeth. He probably should have waited for someone with a medical degree to do this, but he had administered a few things to himself over the years and Steve had been waiting long enough.
When he finished, he set the needle aside and sat back in his chair. He’d admit to being selfish enough to not tell the team he had moved up the schedule a couple of hours. He just wanted a few moments alone with Steve before everyone else was showering him with attention.
He reached forward to grab Steve’s hand but was stopped short by the shrill sound of his phone. He took it out of his pocket and answered it with a whisper.
“Tony!” He could hear the smile in Rhodey’s voice.
“Tell me you got him.”
“I got him. Dude couldn’t wait to tell me everything he knew as soon as he quit shitting his pants. SHIELD scooped up the minions. You won’t be surprised to know some of them weren’t there by choice. The ones who were, though, they’ve got a very dim future.”
Tony sighed with relief. “Thank you, Rhodey.”
“My pleasure. Any excuse to use the suit, you know. Still doesn’t get old after all these years.”
Tony chuckled. Before he could say anything else, Rhodey interrupted him.
“And hey, Tony?”
“Thanks for coming to me about this.”
Tony smiled to himself. “No problem. I’ll let you know when Steve wakes up, alright?”
Tony hung up and slid the phone back in his pocket, slouching back into the padded chair and sagging with relief. That’s it. It was over. Hammer had been dealt with and Tony’s antidote should be kicking in soon. Steve would heal.
Steve would wake up.
Tony laughed out loud in the empty room, a little crazed. God. The past few days had been a nonstop storm of action and now he didn’t know what to do with himself. So he talked.
“I think you scared about twenty years off my life, Steve.” He ran a hand through his hair. “But I suppose I deserve that for how often I’ve woken up here to your disappointed face.
“I don’t know what to say except that this is my fault too, I suppose. Justin fucking Hammer. I told you about him and Vanko, didn’t I? The Stark Expo? You must have at least read about it.” He sighed.
“Turns out the Expo wasn’t the only thing he wanted to get his grubby little hands on, besides my dick. He found some plans I had. A few schematics and notes for nanites for the Stark Medical branch. There are a million applications for the little suckers. Search and destroy cancer cells, deliver insulin to diabetics, even help with tissue repair...
“He must have sat on those plans forever. Or he just didn’t know what to do with them until you showed up. SHIELD and I will be having a very long discussion on how the fuck Justin Hammer managed to orchestrate all of this from their holding cells, but somehow he did. He had teams of scientists researching the Super Soldier Serum and one very very naughty SHIELD scientist who will probably never see the light of day again who managed to sneak them a vial of your blood.”
He laughed then. “Don’t worry, Rhodey made sure they burnt that place to the ground, metaphorically speaking, so anything hasn’t been handed over to SHIELD is now a distant memory.
“Anyway, once you caught Hammer’s eyes, he had a purpose. And they managed to configure the nanites to attack your cells. All of the Hammer drones we fought that day were covered in them. The moment you got out of the Quinjet, he had you right where he wanted.
“He camouflaged the nanites, that’s why we couldn’t see anything under the microscope at first. Not until we knew what we were looking for. It wasn’t really that the serum quit working, it was actually working overtime at the cellular level. Repairing cells over and over but never able to get back up to full speed. So your baseline turned human. Had Natasha, Clint, or I been doused with the stuff, we would’ve been dead in a day.”
Tony didn’t know how to feel about that. He felt sick to be grateful it had been Steve, that because it was Steve no one had died. The team was alive and intact. But Steve could have died so very easily that day on the street. If the Doombot had had any sense to it, it would’ve gone back to where Steve lay and dealt a final blow. He shuddered.
“You’re lucky you’ve got a genius attached to your hip. A few days in the lab and Bruce and I were able to come up with something that is now deactivating every single one of those mother fuckers.” Tony didn’t bother mentioning the fighting and Bruce’s near hulk-out. “Your urine will be an amusing color for a few days after all of this, you might appreciate the blue, but you’re going to pull through. You’re going to be back to showing everyone what the peak of human perfection looks like in spandex in no time.”
The heart rate monitor beeped away in the background and Tony was so, so tired. He leaned forward and wrapped his hands around Steve’s, tracing an absent pattern into his palm before he bent down to press a kiss to Steve’s fingertips.
“Come on, Steve. Don’t keep me waiting.”
Fingers ran through Tony’s hair softly, pulling him gently out of his dream. He moaned at the contact. He hadn’t felt so relaxed since—
His eyes snapped open and he nearly cried with relief when he was met with a very concerned, very blue stare. Tony sat back up, having fallen asleep on his folded arms bent over Steve’s bed. Steve opened his mouth and Tony was quite literally on the edge of his seat, anxious to do anything that Steve asked, to help Steve in any way he could.
“Is everyone alright?” Steve’s voice was hoarse but it was the most beautiful thing Tony had heard in weeks.
He was torn between laughter and the urge to smack Steve upside the head. He settled for reaching forward and taking Steve’s hand in his, gripping tight. There was so much to talk about, so many things Tony needed to tell Steve, but it could wait. Now, Tony just wanted to live in the moment.
“Now they are,” he replied.