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Leader of the Pack

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"Steve. Steve, stay with me— STAY WITH ME, CAPTAIN."

Blue eyes blinked and then focused on him again. "Tony? Are they—"

"Gone? No."

"Sir, your two o’clock."

Tony lifted a hand and blasted the werewolf—because if his life wasn't a sci fi movie than what was it?—and then looked back down. He'd seen it fly into Hulk's path and the yelping howl told him that Big Green had picked up the assist.

"JARVIS, I need gauze."

A small compartment on his right side opened up and he pulled out a sealed package, ripping it open with his teeth. It was horrible cleanliness procedures and he could hear Yinsen telling him off for it in his head, but Steve needed to not bleed out more than he had to worry about Tony's germs. The serum could handle a little infection if Steve had enough blood left to deliver the antibodies to the spot.

"What's—" Steve inhaled sharply when Tony pressed on the wound, but this was a well traveled road they were on so he just swallowed and continued. "What's the— I need… status report."

Tony stretched the medical tape and then bit some off to secure one side of the gauze. He glanced up to see if anything had changed, then looked back down.

"Hulk and Thor are currently tied for first place, as usual. Clint was making cat sounds from up a tree and picking them off when they tried to climb it last I saw. Natasha is doing her ‘deadliest ballerina’ routine over by the fountain. I'm pretty sure at least some of the werewolves are going after her just so they can brag later about who kicked their ass— Shit ."

Steve groaned and Tony clamped his hand down on the gauze and pressed , silently counting down from sixty. He'd give it that long before he moved again in the hopes that this time the clot would hold better.

"S-sam? Bucky?" Steve asked. His eyes darted down, but he couldn't see his chest without curling up and that was not going to happen anytime soon.

"Did we ever show you The Cutting Edge?" Tony asked.

JARVIS started to speak up, but Tony heard them coming and twisted at the waist as much as he could, firing two quick shots with his hand and then shooting off a small flare for good measure. It distracted the four that were trying to sneak up on them and sent two of them running off. The other two hesitated, then followed their packmates.

"No?" Steve asked, after thinking about it for a few seconds longer than he should have.

"We'll make that movie night after this is over. Barnes and Wilson are fighting each other and the werewolves, but slightly less of the former than usual since they're both pissed you got hurt. Who knew all it took to get them to cooperate was you getting eviscerated?"

His voice shook more than he wanted at the end and he ground his teeth together to keep anything else from coming out.

Steve, always vigilant Steve, even with a hole in his side, caught on though and he raised a bloody glove to try and squeeze Tony's arm. The pressure sensors didn't even trill an early warning.

"I'm gonna be fine," he croaked out and Tony barked a bitter laugh at that.

"Yeah," he said. "You're gonna be just fine."

He eyed the gauze and wondered if he dared take his hand off to get more and start taping it down again.

"Iron Man!" he heard no less than four people yell over the comms as JARVIS bleated out a "Sir!"

His head snapped up and he saw the leader of the pack, a huge, scraggly beast with bared, bloodied teeth and murder in its eyes coming at them full speed.

Without looking away he reached down and put Steve's hands over the wound. "Hold this," he ordered and then stood. "JARVIS—"

"Full power already transferred," JARVIS interrupted.

Tony braced his feet and triggered the unibeam, the column of energy almost blinding as it shot out and nailed the bastard in the head. There was a snarl and a yelp and the thing clawed at its face. Momentum was a bitch, though and no one was close enough, so Tony stepped forward with one foot, planting it just beyond Steve's shoulder and then crouched.

When the creature reached him, eyes red and fur scorched and mouth gaping wide, he grabbed onto anything he could and twisted, yelling as he flipped the thing up and over, sending it tumbling ass over teakettle.

He hadn't been aiming for Hulk that time, but things sometimes worked out nicely that way.


He looked down and saw Steve staring at him in shock.

Stepping back, he dropped to his knees again and put his hand over Steve's. "Hey. I'm here. We're good. Sorry about that. Had to take care of a little problem, but we're all good here now. You staying with me?"

Steve nodded, grimacing and then arching up from the pain. When he collapsed back down, he closed his eyes, but he repeated, "I'm here. I'm still here."

"Good. You keep working on that," Tony said. "I'm just gonna see about this."

He gently lifted Steve's hand and was grateful when the gauze stayed in place. "More gauze, J," he murmured and emptied the various compartments, packing on the white cloth over the saturated red and then adding tape to keep it in place.

He sat up and closed the helmet for a second to scan Steve. The wrist probably needed a brace, but everything else should hold until they got back to the Tower.

He reopened the faceplate and went for the pocket on Steve's thigh, pulling out sling material and a couple of the magnetized brace poles. Leaving the glove and body armor on would help support it, so he set to work attaching the small rods together to match the length of Steve's forearm. Fitting them into place along the limb, gently twisting it until it was properly aligned, he wrapped the reinforced strap around the break snugly.

A second scan with the closed faceplate assured him that circulation hadn't been compromised and he slid it back once more.

He took a second to breathe then, surveying the park around them. "What's the headcount?" he asked over the comms.

Steve shifted at that and Tony put a hand on his shoulder to keep him from trying to get up.

"Easy," he said quietly. Steve blew out a slow breath through his nose, but settled.

"Hulk taking out the alpha or whatever seems to have done a number on their overall morale," Clint said. "I've got six of them still, but they're not actively trying to get to me anymore."

"They seem confused," Natasha reported. There was a thwack and then a thud. "They'll defend themselves, but it's sloppy. I'm down to one." Another yelp and then a huff of air. "Make that zero."

"Yeah, that's what I thought! Bad dog! Sit! Stay. "

That was Bucky, but it was loud enough Tony didn’t need to hear over the comms. Sam was the one that said, "We've got four still conscious, but they're contained. You better call SHIELD though before Barnes decides to take one home with him."

"Fuck you, Wilson. And get your robot bird outta my face before I throw it to Jersey," was the response.

"SHIELD is just outside the perimeter," Tony said. "And you know the pet policy. If it pees, poops, or ruins the furniture it can't stay."

"Sorry, Wilson, you heard Stark," Bucky said. A moment later, "GODDAMMIT, WHAT DID I JUST SAY ABOUT THAT BIRD?"

Tony tuned them—and Clint's unhelpful, if amusing response—out and focused on Steve again.

His eyes were closed, but they moved under his lids and he was still breathing.

"Hey," Tony said, retracting the left gauntlet and sliding the bared hand under Steve's neck. "You still with me?"

Steve nodded, but he also turned toward Tony, tucking his chin a little to lean into the touch. "Yeah," he breathed. "Hurts like a—" He broke off, eyes flying open as he shifted and gasped. "Hurts," he repeated, a little higher this time. He squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed rapidly a few times. "M'okay," he said.

Tony ignored the way it sounded more like a prayer than an assurance.

"Yeah, you're doing just fine," he said. He listened to the chatter over the radio, JARVIS directing the SHIELD medics to their location and coordinating the apprehension and pick up of the werewolves elsewhere.

Rapid footsteps approached and he charged the right palm repulsor even as he looked up to confirm it was SHIELD and not some leftovers looking for a last chance at glory.

They were human and carrying a backboard and trauma bags, so he powered down and said, "Help's here, Steve. I'm gonna step back and—"

"No!" Steve reached up, hissing as it aggravated his wounds, but his grip was firm enough where he latched onto Tony's arm.

"Okay. Okay. I'll stay right here. It's fine. We're good, Steve. I'm not leaving."

Steve stared at him for a long second, then nodded, slumping back down to the ground.

The head medic must have heard or seen what happened because they didn't even ask Tony to move, just started directing their people and asking Tony for the rehash.

He gave it as they worked, noting what he'd seen on the scans.

"The arm is a simple fracture, but it's both bones," he said as one of the adaptable braces he'd designed for SHIELD was wrapped around Steve's wrist, the second cuff attaching at his elbow. There was a hum and then they both activated, wrapping thin cables around Steve's arm and the first splint he’d applied. This one was a stronger mesh that would prevent any shifting at all while they transported him.

Steve made a pained sound through gritted teeth and Tony bit back on a snarl as he watched the medic by Steve's side carefully examine the claw marks.

Instead he turned his attention to Steve and said, "Rogers. Hey, look at me." He waited for the blue eyes to leave the sky above and focus on his face. "That's it. Keep looking right here. They're just making sure I didn't fuck anything up before we move you."

Steve shook his head a bare quarter inch either way. "Didn't fuck up."

"You trust me just like that?" Tony asked, lightly, but feeling the spot behind the arc reactor twist.

Steve nodded. "With my life," he stuttered out between breaths.

"Aww, buttercup, I'm flattered." It came out a little thicker than intended, but Tony just cleared his throat. "Anyway, they have to check. It's their jobs, you know? Keep your eyes on me," he repeated when Steve's gaze skipped away.

"Team?" he asked, and Tony knew he could hear them on the comms, but if Steve wanted a distraction he'd happily play radio repeater.

"Roll call," he said, triggering the line.

He dutifully voiced each reply as they came in, watching Steve's expression the whole time. With each name, a little bit more tension seeped out until he was able to unclench his jaw with Bucky's, "I'm just fine, Stevie, and Wilson only injured his pride."

Sam gave a squawk and said, "I'm gonna injure your pride."

A flicker at the corner of Steve's lips released the knot Tony had been nursing in his gut.

"All right, Captain," the head medic said. "We're ready to go if you are."

Steve looked at them, then back at Tony.

"Still not leaving," Tony assured him.

The medical team got into place and on command rolled Steve up and then back down onto the board. A flurry of velcro straps and buckles later and they hefted him into the air. Tony kept one hand under his corner of the board. The other had been snatched not at all discreetly when they rolled him, and even now stayed tucked into Steve's over the star on his chest.

Someone laid the shield over Steve's thighs and they moved out on command of the head medic toward a quinjet that was coming in for a landing on the closest baseball outfield.

The pain medication they were pumping into him must have started to dull the edges because Steve was dozing by the time they got him locked into place onboard.

Clint showed up with Thor in tow, comparing creative takedowns. They each paused to lay a hand on Steve and say something, before moving on to the cockpit for the former and a seat from which to call Jane for the latter.

Bucky and Sam could be heard long before they stepped up the ramp, but they only paused in their bickering long enough for Bucky to push his hair out of his face and say, "Nat's bringing in Bruce. How is he?"

"He'll be fine," Tony said and gave the quick and dirty version of the final field tally of injuries.

Bucky nodded and then turned back to Sam with a quick verbal jab. Sam just rolled his eyes and shot back, as if the argument hadn't even stopped while they both fussed over Steve.

The head medic gave the two of them an amused look, then turned to Tony. "He's stable enough that I'm leaving him in your tender care until you get back to the Tower. I have to go play vet, it would seem."

"Thank you," Tony said sincerely, then gave a half grin. "Watch your fingers. They all skipped the 'no biting' day at obedience school."

They offered an abbreviated salute and headed down the ramp as Bruce and Natasha came up it.

"How's he doing?" Bruce asked, accepting the blanket Thor offered and the bottled water Bucky cracked open for him as he stood next to the medical bed they'd secured Steve to.

"He's a reckless jackass, as usual," Sam reported, his fingers resting on the pulse at Steve’s neck. Tony wondered if he even realized he was doing it, it seemed as much habit as intentional check. "But he's also still thankfully resilient. He'll be fine with about a week in medical."

Bucky snorted. "Good luck with that one," he muttered.

Natasha paused to tuck her fingers into Steve's open hand and squeeze them, bending to whisper something in his ear.

Tony had thought Steve asleep, but the way his lips curved up and he squeezed her hand back said he hadn't quite dropped off.

She smiled and patted his chest, then went to join Clint in the cockpit for the final checks before they took off.

Bruce finished his own checks and then nodded and squeezed Steve's shoulder before going to find a seat.

Bucky criticized and questioned Sam’s medical knowledge and Sam replied with snark in kind, but they kept it to a quiet level as they stayed on Steve's left, a foot or so away. Close enough to keep an eye on their captain, but not close enough to be accused of hovering.

Tony was standing next to the bed and had no intention of moving until they landed again and he followed Steve out once more, accusations be damned.

"Hey," he said.

Steve's eyes opened a little and he turned to look. "Hey."

"I'm putting you on notice that when the doctors clear you and you're not on drugs anymore, we're having a team-leader talk about throwing ourselves between the big, possibly rabid werewolf and the guy wearing the gold-titanium alloy suit of armor."

Steve coughed out a short laugh. "You're telling me we're going to have a talk. Now there's a first."

"Yeah," Tony said, feeling more of the tension drain out of him. "Well, you know, Pepper's been after me to be more mature again. I heard somewhere that communication is the key to being an adult or something like that."

Steve hummed. "Think I've heard that too," he said. He sounded like he really was going to fall asleep now and Tony patted his shoulder and squeezed the hand he was still holding onto.

"Clock out, Cap. The werewolves—God, how is my life a bad Lon Chaney movie now?—are being kenneled and our ducklings are safe and we're headed home. I can take it from here."

He ignored the, "Did he just call us ducklings?!" from Bucky and the, "I am no damn duckling," from Sam to watch Steve smile again.

"You have the watch?" he murmured.

“I have the watch,” Tony dutifully repeated. “Rest, Steve.”

Steve sighed and let his head fall to the side as sleep claimed him.

Tony checked with JARVIS that the medical staff would be ready for them when they arrived and then cast another look over the rest of the team to verify they really were all okay and no one was hiding anything that needed to be seen.

Satisfied, he settled in to wait.

They were going to have to have that talk—and Tony was going to enjoy every second of being able to flip the tables on Steve and deliver the “getting yourself killed is never a plan” lecture instead of receiving it—but everyone had survived and they were going to be okay.

That was all he needed right now.