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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Oblivion

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“Remind me again why I didn’t just take the armor?” Tony asked Happy as they sat at a standstill in New York City traffic.  He was late for his midtown meeting, but it wasn’t like they were really going to start without him.  Still.  Sitting in traffic was not how he wanted to spend his afternoon.  “Can’t you get around this?” He could swear he was able to hear impatient honking all the way down to Times Square.

“Sorry, Boss.  It’s pretty bumper-to-bumper up here.  Construction or something goin’ on,” Happy replied congenially.  Of course, sitting in traffic didn’t really bother a chauffeur. 

“JARVIS?” Tony called into his phone.  “Alternate route, please.”

“Calculating best alternative route now, Sir.  I have taken the liberty of sending the directions to your phone, as well as to Mr. Hogan’s,” the AI responded promptly.  Gotta love technology. 

“Hap, make it happen, my man,” Tony instructed, sitting back in his seat and going back to tapping away at the designs for the new suit.  He shifted slightly as the car veered suddenly off the street and down what appeared to be an alleyway, cutting past several blocks of stalled traffic.  “This doesn’t seem to exactly fit the definition of ‘street’ here, JARVIS,” Tony said drolly as the car careened past a dumpster. 

“Makin’ good time though, eh Boss,” Happy said confidently as he maneuvered the car into another narrow alley.  Tony imagined he could reach out the window and snatch the pot of flowers off one of the windowsills they passed.  Through sheer force of will, he didn’t hunch in on himself as the alley narrowed, and made himself focus on the designs illuminated on the tablet’s screen. 

Which is why he had absolutely no warning to brace himself or take any kind of defensive posture when the car suddenly impacted against something as they passed through an intersection in the alley, then twisted sharply, scraped against the brick of the side of the building and knocking into something that clanged loudly as it flew into the air and bounced off the roof of the car to land behind them.  Tony had just enough time to think “garbage can” before he Tony tumbled forward, tablet becoming a projectile as Happy hit the brakes with a stunted, “Holysh—“ and something….something solid connected with the front of the car, Tony felt the impact, but then the airbags deployed and he couldn’t see shit except a giant white pillow in his face and powdery dust in his nose and mouth. 

“Ha—Happy?  You okay?”  Tony asked, moving gingerly to reach for the man in the front seat. 

“Yeah…yeah…I’m…I’m okay, Boss, but…uh, I think we hit something,” Happy choked out.  It was more the way he said it than what he actually said, because, yeah, Tony’d felt the brunt of the impact, too.  But Happy’s voice quavered a bit, held enough trepidation that Tony caught the undertone a moment before Happy said it out loud.

“Or someone.”

Crap.

“I’m jammed in here, Boss…door is smashed in a bit and won’t open.  Can you…can you get out?” Happy asked, turning back to look at Tony as best he could under the circumstances.

Tony tried the door handle and with a couple of solid pushes against the frame, managed to get the door opened enough to wedge his way out.  He was at the back of the car now, and stretched his neck up to try to see to the front, but couldn’t quite make anything out other than that his car was pretty beat up and had managed to hit at least a couple of trash cans, including the one that had leapfrogged over the car, as the alleyway was littered with garbage and God-knows-what-all.  Testing his back and neck a bit, he carefully climbed on the trunk of the car and over the roof, sliding off the hood to the ground. 

Which was when he saw the man.

He was sprawled against the brick wall that formed the side of one of the buildings that formed the intersection, just a few feet in front of the car’s front fender. 

“Oh, Jesus…” Tony breathed, taking in the smashed front of his car and the caved-in shape of brick outlining the man’s prone form.  He knelt down and reached out to run his hand through the man’s blond hair, looking for a head injury.  His fingers came away slick with blood.  Ok, so that was concerning.  He wiped his hand on his suit jacket before finally settling it on the man’s shoulder, shaking the man ever so gently.

 “Hey…hey there…you with me?”  Tony asked quietly, as he looked back over his shoulder to shout at Happy, but the good man was already on his phone, nodding in silent answer to Tony’s questioning look.  Tony turned back to the man on the ground and heard a low groan.  At least the guy was alive and breathing.

Tony felt the man’s body jerk under where he had settled his hand on the man’s shoulder, and with a quickness belied by his current state, the man moved a hand up to grab Tony’s where it sat on his shoulder.  The man’s grip was surprisingly strong, so Tony counted that as a good sign.

“You…you took quite a hit there…how…um…how are you feeling…anything broken?” Tony asked, pitching his voice as low and soothing as he could, and throwing another look over his shoulder at Happy, for once impatient for the sound of sirens.

The man shook his head a bit and then lifted his head to look up at Tony, and oh.  Oh, wow.  Ok.  Um…so ogling the person you just nearly ran over was probably not on, but, um, yeah.  Impossibly blue eyes focused intently up at him, confusion marring his features and then…something shifted as he looked at Tony. 

“Mr….Mr. Stark?” the man asked, shaking his head as if to clear it, grip convulsing spasmodically on Tony’s hand.

“That’s me,” Tony responded gruffly.  Of course the man recognized him.  His face had been everywhere before the whole Iron Man thing and now…well, now…so yeah, totally understandable.  Guy was probably thinking of his lawyer’s speed dial number.  “Look, ambulance is on its way, okay, so just sit tight.  You’re going to be fine.”

“I—I think I missed my date,” the blond man said.  And promptly passed out.

Great, just great, Tony thought as he caught the slumping body against his shoulder, causing him to fall backwards with the solid weight of it and land haphazardly in a pile of limbs on the pavement.  “Happy…what’s an ETA on the ambulance?”  Tony called out, alarm starting to build, though he could feel the man’s steady breathing against his chest as he cradled him there.  He wrapped a hand around the man’s wrist and found the pulse strong, if a bit rapid.  “Hang in there, buddy,” Tony found himself whispering, running hands soothingly over the man’s impossibly broad back and shoulders. 

“Said five minutes out, Boss,” Happy shouted from inside the car. 

Five minutes.  That wasn’t a long time until you were sitting in a New York City alley with a possibly dying man leaning against your shoulder.  Then it felt something akin to an eternity.  He kept rubbing up and down the man’s back, not sure if he was trying to help keep the man steady or keep his own panic at bay.  Finally, he heard the telltale sound of sirens closing in and breathed a long sigh of relief as red and white strobe lights lit the alleyway. 

Thank fuck, Tony thought as the EMTs hopped out of the back of the ambulance, medical bags in tow, and rushed over to him. 

“Are you ok, Sir?” one of them asked.

“I’m fine.  Fine.  Just…he…help him…” Tony stuttered, trying to reposition the man to lay him down to give the medics access, but somehow managing to end up with the man sprawled across his lap.

“Ok.  Thank you, sir.  We have this,” the other medic said, starting to check the man’s vitals and placing an oxygen mask connected to small bag he was steadily pumping over the man’s nose and mouth.  Tony found himself oddly unwilling to relinquish the man now that help was here.  As if he let him go, something terrible would happen. Which was crazy.  These people were here to help.  They were the rescue he’d been waiting on. 

Still, he didn’t let go, just cradled the man in his arms while they checked pulse and breathing and whatever else they were doing.  They seemed to come to a simultaneous decision, as one of them stood up briskly and headed back to the ambulance to off-load a gurney with the aid of the ambulance driver.  Another paramedic had managed to get Happy’s door open and was shining a small penlight in his eyes, Tony noticed for the first time.  After what seemed like an interminable time and yet too quickly, the man was being strapped onto a board and loaded onto the gurney, then shoved into the back of the ambulance.  Happy, too, as it turned out, though Happy was recounting his name, birthday and who the President was, so he supposed it was more a precautionary measure than anything. 

He jumped when someone grasped his wrist, realizing he’d been watching the back of the ambulance where the medics continued to work on the man they’d hit. 

“Just checking,” the EMT said, keeping time on his watch as he assessed Tony’s pulse.  “You can ride along in the front, if you’d like.  It would probably be a good idea to let the doctor check you out anyway.  If you’ve had a head injury, you don’t want to take any chances,” the man said, almost by rote. 

“Uh…sure.  Sure, yeah.  I’ll go,” Tony said, rising to his feet and congratulating himself on only being a tad unsteady.  He could hear Happy insisting he was fine from inside the back of the ambulance, trying to tell the poor EMT which tow company to call for the car.  He couldn’t hear anything from the man.  He saw that they apparently had an IV going though and were calling something in, presumably to the waiting ER.  Tony climbed into the cab, stifling a slight groan.  He was definitely going to be sore tomorrow.  Getting thrown around the back of a car just wasn’t what it used to be, he thought with macabre humor as the ambulance flashed its lights, sounded its siren and took off down the alley. 

Tony managed to spare a thought that they were making good time, considering the traffic.

Tony hated hospitals, he really did.  But he might hate hospital waiting rooms even more.  The months’ old magazines shouting old news telling everyone who came here that time didn’t matter anymore once you were inside the doors.  The stale coffee in Styrofoam cups, one sad choice of sweetener packets, the sugar and creamer long-ago clumped beyond use.  It was a place you came to get bad news and hear how it was for the best, then get the hell out.  It wasn’t a staying room, after all.

Happy should be discharged soon, thank God.  It turned out that he had a couple of cracked ribs from the seatbelt and a possible concussion from the impact of the airbag.  As for the man they’d hit…Tony wasn’t a medical expert, but he could tell when people were stumped, and whatever was going on with the man, the doctors were obviously at a loss.  They chattered, shared long looks, consulted charts, nodded solemnly and looked at their machines, but he knew they weren’t getting anything that made sense to them. 

That was hardly comforting.  Meanwhile, last they'd told Tony, the man hadn’t regained consciousness. 

God-dammit.  Tony scrubbed his face with his hand as he shifted in the stiff-backed plastic waiting room chair.  He jerked his head around as the doors opened into the waiting room.  A nurse looked down at her clipboard and shouted, “Stark?”  Tony had the absurd urge to shout “present!” but managed to stifle it. 

Instead, he stood and made his way over to her, following her out of the waiting area and back to one of the small curtained areas that filled the emergency room.  She pulled back one of the blue-green curtains, revealing Happy sitting on a gurney, medical tape covering his torso and bruises darkening his face. 

“He’s being released, but will need to follow up with his regular physician tomorrow.  No alcohol, drugs other than what is prescribed here or strenuous activity,” the nurse quoted efficiently. 

“So, none of the fun stuff, then,” Tony said with a relieved smile.  While Happy had never been in any real danger, it was still good to see him upright and grinning.  The nurse gave him a rather nonplussed look and then handed him a bag of what he assumed were the rest of Happy’s things.

“He should have someone with him for the night, waking him every hour and asking him the questions on the list that will be included with his prescription,” the nurse continued as if Tony hadn’t spoken. 

“Ok, ok, yeah, I got that,” Tony responded, tucking the bag under his arm.  “And…and the other man?” Tony asked, not sure if he wanted an answer or not. 

“Are you family?” the nurse queried. 

“No…um, we were the ones that…kind of hit him,” Tony said, and earned a raised eyebrow from the nurse in response. 

“He just came out of nowhere!”  Happy stuttered, agitated.  “I swear…one minute that alleyway was clear and the next, boom!  I don’t know where he came from that fast, Boss, I swear.”

“Nothing you could do, Hap, don’t worry.  I’m sure he’ll be fine.  He was lucid afterwards.  Even recognized me,” Tony replied trying to defuse Happy before he really got going.  The last thing he wanted was for the chauffeur to worry about this right now.  “Let’s get you home, we’ll stop by Gianetti’s and get some of that—“ he stopped as the curtain was pushed aside again and the doctor came in.

“Mr. Stark?”  the doctor asked, and Tony nodded in response.

“He’s asking for you, if you don’t mind,” the doctor continued.

Tony almost asked who and then realized who the doctor must be talking about.  His heart absolutely did not stutter in response to hearing that the man was apparently well enough to ask…to ask for him.  He also definitely did not hurry after the doctor without even a glance back at Happy sitting half-naked on the gurney.  Nope. That would’ve been rude.

The doctor led him down the hall to a small room, the blinds closed, guarding against any prying eyes.  Tony followed the doctor inside, taking in the monitors, IV drip and wires trailing to the hospital bed, unhooked and useless now.

The man sat upright on the bed, and Tony wanted to say something insipid like he looked no worse for the wear, but his first reaction was honestly to just think, “beautiful,” before his brain went utterly off-line as he took in broad shoulders, a well-muscled chest tapering to a narrow waist and strong legs hanging off the side of the bed, a sheet covering his torso but not leaving a whole heck of a lot to the imagination. 

It was probably wrong to get an erection due to staring at the guy you put in the emergency room while still standing in said emergency room.  There was probably some kind of serious post-accident etiquette breach in there somewhere. 

“We seem to have something of a situation here,” the doctor intoned evenly.

Tony wasn’t inclined to stop staring at the man on the gurney long enough to give the doctor his attention, but he did finally manage to drag his eyes away from sweeping over the man’s body long enough to catch his eyes, and what he saw there stopped him cold.  Utter confusion, despair, loss, fear, panic, it seemed a whole kaleidoscope of emotions was playing across their blue depths.  Until he locked eyes with Tony, when something like hope or at the very least something less like pain found its way there. 

“Mr. Stark,” the man said in a deep, solid voice.

“Do you know this man, Mr. Stark?” the doctor queried.

“No…no, not really,” Tony said, and instantly regretted it, seeing the man’s shoulders sag and his whole face seem to wilt. 

“I—I thought…you seem familiar…but I…” the man started, before clamping his mouth together and shaking his head resignedly. 

“From all of our tests, he seems to be physically fine.  Actually, better than fine, if you can believe it," the doctor said, causing Tony to do a bit of a double-take because, jeez, the man had been knocked through a brick wall...how was that even possible?  The doctor didn't seem to share his amazement though and just kept on talking, "However, it appears he has suffered some kind of memory…well, loss, I guess you’d say.  And some general confusion.  He seems to remember certain things from perhaps a father or, more likely, grandfather’s life, just bits and pieces, but nothing from the present day.  Except you, that is.  He remembered you and seemed to think that he knew you.  I’d hoped…well, I’d hoped maybe you could shed some light on the situation,” the doctor finished, waving his hand aimlessly. 

And Tony, watching the man’s hopeful gaze shift over to him, had never wanted anything more than to be able to do just that. “I-I’m sorry.  He seemed to recognize me…after the accident…but, well, a lot of people recognize me,” Tony said, and had that ever sounded more pretentious? 

The doctor sighed. “Yes, yes, I’d thought that, of course.  But…well, I had to try.  He doesn’t seem to have any ID on him, though he has dog tags, like a veteran, but I checked and DoD doesn’t have any record of this particular serial number.  They’re probably some of those custom ones people have made.  We also checked NYPD.  No missing person reports match his description.  At least not yet, though he’s an adult, so any family or friends would probably check the hospitals before going to the police.  The nurse checked with all the local hospitals and no one has had any inquiries,” the doctor continued.  Tony couldn’t help but watch the man’s face as the doctor talked.  He was clearly taking all this in, and at least wasn’t panicking, but there was an undercurrent of tension in the set of his shoulders and line of his jaw. It had only been a couple of hours since the accident, but the man had said he missed a date…surely someone would be looking for him soon. 

“What’s the name on there?” Tony asked, reaching for the plastic bag with the dog tags.  He turned it over in his hands and pressed the plastic flat against the metal to make out the letters.

“Steven G. Rogers,” Tony read out loud.  “Can I call you Steve?”