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As the world falls down

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A couple of kids run by, hopping across the line of rocks, down the precarious trail Steve and Tony are hiking up. They’re laughing and shouting at each other in a race to get down the mountain first. Their parents, presumably—the family resemblance is stunning—follow not far behind, looking exasperated and fond.

Steve lets go of his hand, eyes going wide at something behind Tony. There is a sharp intake of breath, as if he’s about to shout, as he pulls further away. His warm presence is gone from Tony’s side in a matter of seconds.

Tony turns to see Steve going over the edge. He’s cradling one of the kids, the little girl, in his arms, protecting her as they slip from sight.

It is all in flashes like that, when it happens. One moment Steve is by his side, rhapsodizing the wonders of exercise and nature and combinations thereof. The next, he’s dropping down a cliff with an eighty-five degree angle.

Tony calls his armor, it will arrive in less than ten seconds from the car at the case of the mountain, but from this height the ground is less than five seconds away if you’re taking the direct route. He waits a few seconds, counting them off in his head with growing dread, and then flings himself off the cliff after Steve.

The armor engulfs him mid-fall. Immediately, the HUD springs to life, showing him reams of data, but Tony only wants to see one thing.

“Jarvis, where is he?”

[I’ve located Captain Rogers about twenty feet to your east among a copse of Douglas firs.] JARVIS says as the information appears on the screen. [I’ve taken the liberty of alerting emergency services.]

Tony is already angling down there before JARVIS even finishes speaking. He lands on the rocks with a clang. Already the situation doesn’t look promising.

The girl is safe, wrapped in Steve’s arms. She looks up at Tony, her face blank in pure shock, then down at Steve before bursting into tears. Tony doesn’t blame her, not with the state Steve is in.

 Nausea threatens, turning Tony’s stomach over. The HUD had already begun displaying vital signs, or rather a lack of them.

“Jarvis?” Tony chokes out. The helmet is startlingly claustrophobic and Tony’s breaths are coming short and fast. “Tell me I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing.”

[Sir, it appears that Captain Rogers is no longer—]

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Tony quickly says, retracting the helmet.

It couldn’t be true, Steve couldn’t—not here, not like this. He is a super soldier for Christ sake, that serum has to do something other than help him survive becoming the world’s largest popsicle. He will wake up any second now.

The pool of blood beneath Steve’s head tells him otherwise.

He is shaking, barely holding it together when he kneels in the pine litter by Steve’s side and places a gentle hand on the little girl’s shoulder. With a squeak, she scrambles to the side until she’s pressed up against one of the trees. She wipes at her wet eyes before starting to cry all over again. Tony wants to comfort her, but all his attention is taken up by Steve’s slack face and a desperate attempt to administer first aid.

He knows it isn’t going to work, but he can’t stop going through the motions.

As he works, some dark and familiar part of Tony begins whispering that if he’d been paying more attention, rather than getting lost in Steve’s eyes, it could have been him instead. If he thought to take the armor with him—If he invented a faster deployment system—If he’d just---

The “Ifs” pile up in his head.  He almost doesn’t notice the change in the readings until Steve gasps for air. Tony doesn’t quite believe his ears, but Steve is there, straining to sit up, his gaze darting around hazily.

“Shhhh,” Tony says, pushing Steve back down before he can injure himself. He presses a kiss to his forehead. “It’s okay, I’m here.”

Steve makes a noise, then slurs something that sounds like, “Good.”

Tony’s hand is still shaking when Steve grasps it. They stay like that until help arrives.