He took one step, then another, and groaned, feeling his side pull uncomfortably. There was blood in his eyes and a cut on his lip. He could feel the tissue there swelling, making it hard to talk. What was most concerning, however, was the gash on his side that was steadily pumping blood out into the inside of his suit.
He fell to his knees and clutched it, not able to feel the pressure of his hands through the suit. It was acting as a pseudo tourniquet, holding together his body and placing pressure on the deep wound. He was still bleeding, however, and he could feel it wetting his whole left side.
“Tony! Update?” Steve’s voice barked in his ear and Tony opened his eyes, inhaling deeply to bring his hearing back from the fuzzy ringing he could hear currently. Alarms blared inside the suit, notifying him of his vitals and the steadily pumping blood.
Down on the pavement Steve, Clint, Bruce, and Natasha were fighting. Tony laid flat on his back for a moment, letting his eyes scan above him. A single spaceship whipped past him, scanners locked onto Thor as its target.
Half an hour ago the Avengers were dispatched to Times Square to fight of a series of robotic sentries that seemed to be marching out of a warehouse on the upper east side of Manhatten. They were tall, with armor that was translucent and could camouflage the sentries until an enemy walked past. They had arial backup in the form of small, bird-like spaceships.
“Tony?” There was a clang of alarm in the word now and Tony sat up, feeling the world whirl around him. He could see Steve looking up, trying to find the exact building that Tony had landed on. Behind him, Nat was using her thighs to disarm a sentry and Clint was running to scale the side of a building for a better vantage point, using the small ledges outside of apartment windows as steps.
“I’m fine,” Tony said curtly and stood. He immediately felt the need to sit down and his vision whited out, but the suit allowed for him to remain upright.
“So I didn’t just see you get sideswiped by a sentry?”
“You did,” Tony said with a sarcastic sneer, trying to make his words as joking and mocking as he could, “But you see this armor blocks things like knife swipes. A handy invention, don’t you think. Maybe you should try it sometime, Spangles.”
Cap blocked a sword hit with his shield and pushed the sentry attacking him a few feet away where Clint shot an arrow at it, landing it in the center of its forehead. Tony watched it fall to its knees and then to the side, lifeless.
“If he’s joking, Cap, he’s fine,” Clint said into the headset and Tony smirked.
Steve kicked his leg under the knees of a sentry, sending it onto its back and grabbed its sword to decapitate a robot behind him before planting it into the chest plate of the original sentry. He panted, then looked up, finally spotting Tony.
He hummed, and Tony could see his eyes squint in concentration. Steve didn’t quite believe that Tony’s sarcasm could verify his claims. He was smarter than Tony wanted to give him credit for. After all, Tony believed that nothing couldn’t be fixed without a solid stream of sarcasm and a tumbler full of whiskey.
“Coming from above,” Tony said and launched himself in the air. He shot a couple of missiles at a passing spaceship, watching it explode and landed in the center of the battle, next to Steve. He fired at a sentry behind Steve’s right shoulder, watching it crumple and turned to Nat.
“Need some backup?”
She smirked and shrugged, stabbing a knife into a sentry to her right, and rubbing off a smudge of oil on her forehead. “About time you joined in.”
Tony laughed, feeling the wound shift on his side and muffled a groan of pain. He just needed to get through this fight and then he could get medical attention from Bruce. Howard wouldn’t have let him duck out of responsibilities for something as small as this, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to stop fighting.
“Could use an airlift, Shellhead,” Clint said, swan diving off of the building he was standing on and Tony lifted in the air to catch him, forcing down the waves of pain radiating from his side.
It took them an hour and a half to take down the sentries. Eventually, Thor took out the spaceship that had the control panel in it and the remaining robots shut down without a power source. They were all worse for wear. Clint with a concussion and a suspicious limp. Cap looked like he was close to dropping from exhaustion and lack of a good breakfast. Bruce was in his typical post-Hulk nap. And Tony? He was starting to get really lightheaded.
He rarely took the chance to fly back to the tower with the rest of the team, most of the time opting to return in his suit and change into clothing before the post-mission debrief. But his adrenaline was waning now and Tony could feel every inch of the cut on his side.
He stepped into the quintjet after Clint and sat on one of the benches, flipping up the face plate to wipe a hand over his face. “Decided to join the commoners for once, Princess?” Clint asked from his place in Nat’s lap. She was leaning back cooly, one hand threading through Clint’s hair and blocking the majority of the light from his eyes.
“Just wanted to see how the other half lives,” Tony spat back and Clint let out a scoff, closing his eyes and shoving his face into Nat’s stomach. The corners of her mouth twitched up for a split second.
“Thar armor did such a good job at protecting your face,” Steve said, eyes locked on the small graze above Tony’s right eye. It had stopped bleeding a while ago and Tony could feel the itchy crust of dried blood along the side of his face. He rolled his eyes and leaned back, letting his head hit the wall behind him.
“Yeah, well, if something hard hits the metal of my faceplate and knocks my head back, when It eventually comes back my face also hits the metal of my faceplate. Hence,” Tony gestured to his face. “Not a big deal.” And it wasn’t. It was by far the least worrying of his injuries.
He shifted, feeling his side pull and barely concealed a wince, pulling in a shaky breath instead and feeling shivers run across his body. He was tired and cold.
“How long until we land?” Tony asked, yawning around the question and shutting his eyes. The second they were closed Tony knew there was no way to get them back open. He didn’t stay awake long enough to hear Steve answer the question, instead, hearing only static and the light rumble of Steve’s words.
“-ny! Tony!” He startled awake, jolting upwards and almost colliding into Steve’s jaw. He was looking at Tony with concern, his blue eyes blown wide. Tony shifted, almost slipping in the puddle of liquid he was sitting in. He removed a hand to brush at his face, feeling it stick slightly to the bench under him and Steve caught it before Tony could press it against his forehead. “Tony, I need you to stand up.”
He felt groggy, like he couldn’t quite make sense of what was happening. They were still in the quintjet but it didn’t feel like it was moving anymore. Tony’s side felt numb and his fingers were tingling like he’d left them out in the cold and then suddenly drew them back inside a warmed house. His breaths were coming in shallow and his eyes couldn’t focus on anything in the ship.
Fear, hot and sharp, slid down his stomach and Tony swallowed. “I-I don’t think I can,” he answered honestly. He was too tired, too weak. He didn’t even understand why Steve wanted him up, not when the bench was so comfortable and his eyes were so heavy. He felt fingers tap his cheek and he opened his eyes to slits. Bruce had his palm resting against Tony’s cheek.
“We need you to tell us where the catches are for the armor.” Bruce was talking and Tony could hear the words but he was getting sleepier and colder by the moment. A violent shudder racked him and Tony shut his eyes again.
“Tony!” Steve barked and looked over his shoulder to mumble something to Thor.
Tony felt himself being lifted and supported by two people, and a soft conversation between Steve and Bruce but even with the pain lighting up his side he couldn’t keep a grasp on consciousness.
When he woke, his throat felt dry and his side was protesting loudly. He struggled to sit up but someone cleared their throat nearby. Tony stalled, and let his eyes fall to the side. Steve was sitting in the chair by his bedside.
“Nice of you to worry about me,” Tony croaked, voice falling short on half of the words. Steve’s scowl deepened and Tony preemptively winced. Steve didn’t start lecturing, though. Instead, he reached over to pour a cup of water for Tony and hand it over. Tony took it and poured a small sip into his mouth. swallowing it and letting it soothe his throat on the way down.
“When were you going to tell us you had been stabbed, Tony?” It sounded like a question at first but Tony knew it was more a statement of disappointment than anything else.
He lifted one shoulder in a shrug, letting his eyes roam over Steve’s face. His hair was sticking up like he’d been running his hands through it, and he still had dirt and blood from the battle with the sentries earlier that day… or possibly from the day prior. Tony didn’t know what time it was and he certainly didn’t have a sense of the day. “Didn’t matter. You needed me to fight and I handled it.”
Steve’s face softened and he cleared his throat again, clasping his hands together to get them out of his lap and to keep them out of his hair. “Tony, a stab wound isn’t something you can just power through. It's serious.”
“I did power through it though,” Tony said and pointed his cup of water at Steve to emphasize his point.
“Falling unconscious on the ride home, then waking up pale, cold, and sweating, only to incoherently speak to us before passing back out is not powering through.”
“I think the lack of robots from hell in the streets of Manhatten is proof that I did.”
Steve let out a long-drawn side. “Damnit Tony, don’t you understand that we care? We care about you! We want you safe, we want you alive. I don’t know where this savior complex came from but you can’t keep doing this. If you die you can’t help any more people. Don’t you understand that?”
Tony felt his ears redden in embarrassment. But if Tony was good at anything, it was hiding embarrassment under a thick coat of assholery and anger. “This savior complex came from you and your “lay down on the line” speech Cap. So quit it with the guilt-tripping. You’re as guilty in this as I am. You want me to fight? You want us to be soldiers? Soldiers complete their mission or they die trying. I did that. You should be happy.”
Steve set his jaw and chewed his words around in his mouth. Tony was right, they both knew that. Steve had said those things, had wanted those things when they’d first formed. If he meant them now or not didn’t matter. Steve had spurred this on in them, in their behavior, in the way they fought.
“I’m going to have a team meeting after this, Tony. To set things right. To make it clear that I was wrong when we formed this team. That we aren’t soldiers. I think you know that, deep down. But if you want a verbal clarification, fine. We don’t trade lives. You can’t trade your life for the rest of us, got that?”
“Crystal clear,” Tony sneered, but the victory felt hollow in his chest. He let his head drop down to stare at his hands, trail the IV line up to the bag hanging by his bed. He saw the anger drop out of Steve and Tony looked up, catching the unchecked fear in Steve’s eyes.
He opened his mouth, feeling it fumble for words before catching them and letting them out in a soft whisper, “I’m sorry.”
Steve just nodded and scooted his chair closer to Tony’s bed. They were always going to disagree in battle. Teammates were going to get hurt and be reckless. Anger was always going to flare up in the aftermath. But what really mattered was the team’s willingness to stay together. And Steve was a shining example of that, sitting here, late at night, by Tony’s bedside after Tony had almost gotten himself killed and mouthed off when confronted with his shortcomings. And it wasn’t perfect, and this wasn’t a solution, but it was something. Something that made Tony reconsider all his values and strategies. Something that made the wound in his side seems like so much more than a vulnerability he should hide. Something that told him he could trust them, and that something was more valuable than anything he'd ever taken away from the Steve that hadn't known him.