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I'll Be the One

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Tony was motionless save for his breathing. The slow, monotonous beeping should be comforting, he thought vaguely. Instead, it just made him nauseated. All of it did. The beeping, the sterile smell, the god awful freckled linoleum tiles, it was all terrible.

He was sure that his elbows were leaving bruises in his thighs from providing a resting place for his arms as they cradled his head. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Tony was still wearing the same stuffy suit that he had been wearing when he watched Steve die on public television. That thought also made him nauseated.

“It’s been eight days, Steve.” Tony hardly recognized his own voice as he spoke to the unconscious man. He tried clearing his throat, but the roughness didn’t dissipate. Instead, he began humming. Honestly, he was slightly embarrassed that he even remembered the tune, let alone all the words. It was the song that his father would sing as he searched his Arctic Ocean for Steve’s lifeless body.

“Say something, I’m giving up on you.”

Everyone had known that things weren’t exactly peachy between him and the American icon recently. They used to be best friends, which made the fight all the more heart wrenching for Tony. He had always hoped that one day the two of them would reconcile. The fight, no matter how deep they had cut each other, hadn’t changed how much Tony cared for Steve. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Of course Tony had already been on his way to the hospital when he got the call. Steve hadn’t had the decency to actually die on those stairs where he was slain. He had to make Tony’s nightmare drag on by clinging to life as Nick Fury and his new underground organization intercepted Steve’s broken body and whisked him away to a top secret hospital. Not so secret that Tony couldn’t easily get FRIDAY to hack into Fury’s servers to find out where his best friend was being taken, but then again not many people can manipulate technology like Tony Stark.

It was Steve’s lawyers on the other end of the com line. Tony had immediately questioned the validity of the document when they told him, though. The lawyers had to be wrong. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe Steve had left a revised living will somewhere else and the one they had was outdated. He was shocked to say the least when he found out that the super soldier had updated his living will only several weeks ago. He left Tony in charge of his fate.

A hand written note had been included in the margin of the document, Steve’s neat hand writing distorted in an attempt to squeeze the message in around all the legalese.

I trust you, Tony
-SR

Tony must have read those those four words ten thousand times, hoping that they would lend a hint as to what Steve would want him to do. There were no further instructions. Just the note. Steve still trusted him. The thought was both comforting and infuriating.

“Why would you do this to me, Steve? Fuck! This is your last stab at me, isn’t it? You make me responsible for what happens to you! It’s not fair for you to put this on me! What am I supposed to do, big guy?” Tony allowed the anger to wash over him and then ebb as he was once again filled with sadness.

“I’ll be the one if you want me to.”

Why had they been fighting in the first place? Oh, right. They were both stubborn assholes. Tony may not have been completely right, but Steve definitely hadn’t been right, either. Did Tony do the right thing from breaking away from his Captain? He might deny it, but Steve really was his leader. Anywhere Steve went, Tony would have followed him. He had just really thought he was doing the right thing by opposing Steve so vehemently. He thought it was right thing to do for all superheroes, for the general public, for Steve.

“Please, Steve. Say something, I’m giving up on you.”

 

 

Tony felt so small in the big hospital. After the first few days of keeping vigil and trying to make a decision about Steve’s life, the doctors and staff had all come to ignore Tony’s presence. Now he was alone in the world again. No family, no Pepper, no Avengers, no Steve. All alone in this world he created.

Yep, Tony was in over his head. He knew nothing at all.

First it was Ultron, then it was fulfilling his worst nightmare. He could build the world’s most advanced technology, but, when it all boiled down, he really didn’t know anything. All Tony’s genius won him was a path of broken good intentions that caused more of the pain and suffering that he was trying to avoid.

“I’m sorry. I tried to do the right thing. I just stumble and fall over my failed good intentions. I…I was…,” Tony struggled to find the words the right words as the lump continued to grow in his throat. “I’m still…learning…to love you.”

He had never told Steve. He had never told anyone. Those years spent as inseparable best friends had meant more to him than he let on. He hadn’t realized it right away, but the closer he had gotten to the super soldier the more he loved him. Deep down Tony always knew that he could never have Steve. The man was an American icon, for god’s sake. He had dated Agent Carter for some time before finally calling it quits to their tumultuous relationship. Still, it was enough to indicate Steve’s preference. Tony decided that he could do friendship for the rest of his life as long as it meant keeping Steve.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen, Cap. We were supposed to find a way like we always do. We’d figure it out and save the world. We’d forgive each other and somehow we’d go back to how things used to be. I can’t do this without you, Steve. I can’t do it on my own. You were supposed to be the one that I could always count on to be there. You weren’t supposed to leave me. Goddamn it, Steve! I’m still learning to be the person you want me to be! I’m just starting to crawl! You can’t leave me…please…please, buddy…say something.”

 

Peggy was the one that wrote the song. Howard once told Tony that Aunt Peg had sat on the dead com line for hours trying to get Steve to respond once he put the plane down. As she called out to the Captain, she turned to pleading. Howard said that she had begged Steve to say something, anything, until she was forcibly removed from the radio. The song had come after, a mantra for those who loved Steve and weren’t ready to give up on him yet.

Tony recoiled from being hit by the epiphany. The song was an empty threat, a heart broken threat, meant to guilt the good captain back to life. If anything, the realization made Tony even sicker.

He knew Steve would have laughed if he ever learned of the song. He would give Tony that giant shit-eating-bravado grin and place his hands on Tony’s shoulders in that infuriatingly reassuring way that he always did when he knew Tony was getting carried away by his overzealous brain. He would soothe Tony and then take the burden of the worry onto himself. It was that kind of thing that made people forget just how young Steve Rogers really was. That man that wasn’t even 30 carried the whole world on his shoulders.

Tony let out a mirthless chuckle, once again interrupting the monotonous beep of the heart monitors. Sure, the pot was calling the kettle black. They had all been that way, taking on far too much responsibility. The only difference was that most of the Avengers had lived a whole life before turning to the life of saving the world. Steve had never gotten the opportunity to live.

Tony finally looked up with bloodshot eyes to gaze at the young blonde in the hospital bed. He was still impossibly beautiful, even in a coma and with week old blood and dirt caked across his fair skin. That was the real truth. Steve Rogers, despite all his flaws, was a soul too pure and perfect for this world. Of course they killed him. The world couldn’t let something so beautiful live.

He didn’t need to turn his head to know who the hand on his shoulder belonged to.

“How nice of you to visit, Agent Romanov.”

“Tony,” she responded evenly, “it’s time. He’s not going to wake up. It’s what he would have wanted.”

“That’s not your decision to make! It’s mine!” Tony shot out of the chair in a white anger. Natasha didn’t flinch as he turned on her, but he was moderately surprised to see that her face was tear stained despite her calm demeanor.

“If Steve had wanted you to make the decision, he would have left it to you!” Tony continued. “I’m the one he trusts to make the right decision! Just get out!”

Instead Natasha strode past him to place a kiss on the unconscious man’s forehead. Then, she turned to give Tony a soft look that put a damper on his anger.

“I know,” she said softly as she approached Tony. “He made the right choice.”

Tony closed his eyes, willing himself not to cry again. Any more tears shed would just result in the genius becoming even more dehydrated and then he would have to be admitted into the hospital and then he wouldn’t be any help to Steve. He felt Natasha’s soft lips ghost over his cheek, but when he opened his eyes opened she was gone.

He walked over to his friend’s bedside, tracing some of the tubes and wires to make sure he wouldn’t upset them before slipping his hand into Steve’s. The blonde man had always run warm, assumed to be a side effect of the serum. Now his skin was cool to the touch.

The next person to enter the room certainly wasn’t a government trained super spy by the sound of their footsteps. Sure enough it turned out to be that nervous young doctor that seemed to have a tic of adjusting his glasses. Just the sight of him made Tony want to wring his neck, so he chose to tune him out instead of listen to him talk about decreased brain waves again.

Tony ran his thumb over the back of Steve’s hand. It had all happened so fast. He was sitting at his desk when something on the news caught his attention. It was only supposed to be on for white noise while he worked, but fate wouldn’t have it. He saw Steve. The young man never seemed scared as his ex-girlfriend dealt the killing blow. Tony vaguely remembered screaming for the suit as he watched it happen. Twenty-three seconds. It took twenty-three seconds for the suit to be fully assembled. By that time, it was already twenty-three seconds too late. He took off, anyway, hoping to get there and do something, anything. That’s when FRIDAY had patched through the call about Steve’s living will.

“Mr. Stark?”

“Huh?”

“I was asking if you had come to a decision yet, Mr. Stark. Donating his organs-“

“Get out.” Tony may not have the commanding voice that Captain America used to motivate troops and convince Tony to get some sleep after 72 hour inventing binges, but the ice in his tone was enough to send the young doctor skittering away.

He reached out and pulled his seat closer so that he could continue holding Steve’s hand as he sat. He was tired in more ways than he’d like to admit. Steve deserved all of his energy. Allowing himself to fall back into the rhythm of pulsating monitors, Tony settled back in to barter with the man in the coma.

“I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you in time.”

Nothing changed. The monitors continued to beep along, indicating the same slow pulse, the same slow respiratory rate. Blood pressure, pulse oximetry, everything stayed the same.

Steve would have shaken off the apology. Of course he would have also given Tony a lecture about rights and the constitution and blah, blah, blah since he finally had a captive audience, but right now Tony would have given anything to have Steve sit up and give him that speech.

“Steve? I’ll tell you what, buddy. If you say something or open your eyes or even just squeeze my fingers, do anything to let me know that you can hear me…I’ll swallow my pride. I’ll tell you that you’re the one that I love. Remember that night back in October? That last time we got to sit up talking until 5am? I almost told you then. I didn’t and I should have. I’m desperate enough to admit that. Fuck, you’ve really got me wrapped around your finger right now, Cap. I’ll do anything for you. You want me to confess my feelings for you? You got it, big guy. Whatever you want. Just please, Steve, say something because I’m giving up on you.” Tony didn’t really expect Steve to accept his offer, but the lack of response chipped away at his hope.

 

 

Tony wasn’t sure when he fell asleep, but it was dark when he work up. The murmur of the hospital had quieted as it transitioned into the night shift. Somehow the increased silence was worse than hearing people talk and laugh out in the hallways. Of course the golden Adonis was just as unresponsive as he had been the last 9 days.

“Stevie?” Great, now Tony was resorting to cutesy pet names. “Listen, Cap, do you want me to let you go? This is serious, big guy. I need you to give me some sort of answer. I know you thought I’d know what to do, but I’m too damn selfish to just let you go. You’re going to have to help me out here. I bet you never thought you’d hear me asking for orders. Truth is, you give good orders. Sometimes, that is. Other times, you could really stand to run some more probabilities. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when you’re wrong about those…but right now…I need you to tell me what to do.”

Beep. Beep. Beep.

No change.

“Please, please, don’t let that be your answer. Don’t make me say goodbye. Show me you want to fight. I’ve never seen you back down from a fight before.”

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Tony figured that continuing to hold the tears in would be inevitable, but he was still frustrated that they chose now to reappear.

“Fine! If that’s what you want, I’m saying goodbye! Good riddance! I never took you for a quitter, you asshole!”

Tony was up and out of the chair again before he could stop himself. He stalked out of the room and into the hallway, but was nearly physically ill as he entered the corridor. Turning back around, he couldn’t help but be shaken by how small Steve looked alone in the hospital room. Of course Steve couldn’t even give Tony the small courtesy of making it easy to pull the plug.

“Say something!” Tony screamed, “Say something, Steve! Can’t you see that I’m giving up on you?”

He stalked back to his best friend’s bedside, sliding his hand back into the warmth of Steve’s hand. Tony slid down to his knees, feeling his heart break irreversibly.

“Say something, baby. Please? Say something. Say something. I’m so sorry, just say something. Say something…”

Tony’s head shot up. It almost felt like…then it happened again. Yes, he definitely felt it that time. And then, just like that, Steve went from twitching a finger to squeezing his hand.

“-Ohee…”

He did it. Steve fucking did it. It wasn’t Captain America that had overcome death, but that scrappy little Steve Rogers from Brooklyn. Nurses were trying to push Tony out of the way to tend to the man as he woke from his coma, but Tony had just spend 9 days by his best friend’s bedside and he was not about to be moved now. Not now that Steve was moving his head from side to side and struggling against the endotrachial tube. Not now that his eyelids were starting to flutter, attempting to open.

“That’s it, gorgeous! I’m right here! Let me see those baby blues! Just relax and focus on your eyelids,” Tony encouraged gleefully.

Steve stopped struggling and Tony saw just a sliver of sky blue as the super soldier managed to lift his eyelids a few milimeters, causing Tony to let out a peel of gleeful laughter. He didn’t realize he was still crying until he started sobbing. It was relief, it was sadness, but most of all, it was his love for Steve that was causing Tony to break down.

Confirming that he could breathe on his own, a nurse removed the endotrachial tube causing Steve to cough and sputter slightly.

“-ohnee,” Steve tried again, barely above a whisper.

“Shh, Cap, it’s okay,” Tony tried to reassure. “You can tell me later. Just relax, okay?”

“Aaask mee ‘gain,” Steve replied, shaking his head adamantly.

“You want me to…ask you again? Yes? I think that’s a nod? Just squeeze my hand for ‘yes.’” Tony was pretty certain he felt a squeeze. “Got it. What do you want me to ask you, buddy? Ask you if you want to give up? No? Okay…ask you to forgive me? Not that either, huh? Ask you to say something? Yes? What do you want to say? Say something for me, Stevie.”

“Ah lohv yuu ooo.”