The energy beam goes a few metres above Steve’s head. He exhales in relief—his new shield isn’t quite as strong as the old one—but something’s wrong; it’s the first time the giant robot he’s been fighting missed—
It dawns on him half a second too late, and he jumps away, but he can’t get far enough as the building behind him goes down.
He hears a familiar, mechanical sound, right before everything goes dark.
When Steve comes to, something hard is digging into his shoulder, but it’s the worst of his discomforts—which is a miracle, considering he’s pretty sure a building just came down on him.
Or maybe not so much a miracle, he thinks as he opens his eyes, and there, kneeling above him, is Iron Man, right gauntlet pressed into Steve’s left shoulder, the RT node illuminating them both in pale light. Steve remembers hearing his repulsors; at the time he’d been sure he’d misheard, desperate for a way out. Tony’s here, though, because at least in a fight he’s always had Steve’s back. Even when he hadn’t been a part of that fight until the last moment.
Outside of a fight, however . . .
Steve’s not going there. And it’s not important, anyway, because Tony hasn’t yet reacted to Steve opening his eyes.
“Tony?” Steve asks. The name rolls off his tongue all weird; in one respect, it’s just right, but in the other, he thinks it’s been ages since he called him anything but Stark or Iron Man, in or out of the field.
Tony doesn’t respond. Steve’s heart races. He’s not hurt, but that’s only because Tony covered him. The armour joints are clearly locked in position, and now that he’s looking, Steve sees that the armour is dented in a few places and there’s a crack going from the RT case to his right arm.
Tony should be safe inside—but he’s not moving. And Steve remembers with perfect clarity all the times Tony has passed out inside, a cracked rib puncturing his lung, or a sharp piece of the crashed armour piercing right through Tony’s side. Or, worse, when Tony couldn’t breathe, when Steve’s wrestled the helmet off only to find Tony catching his breath frantically, because the armour’s systems have gone down, or or or, there’s too many things Steve knows from experience might be wrong with Tony now, and still more that he can imagine.
There’s not really a lot of space between them, but he slowly, carefully manoeuvres until he can raise his right hand. He feels around the helmet—Tony still doesn’t move—and curses.
It’s a new armour. And it’s very much like Tony; Steve recognizes his touch in every line, every plate, maybe especially in the knightly helmet—but it’s still new. And they haven’t been on good enough terms for Tony to stroll into Steve’s room, grinning uncontrollably, Steve, I have a new armour, come and see, and pulling Steve by his hand straight to his lab to show him—the new design, the new features, the new weaponry, and most important to Steve and least to Tony, the new catches, and releases, and how to take the damned thing off.
No, this armour Steve knows mostly from TV, and the few missions he met the Avengers on.
Even with Extremis, Steve knew how to take the armour apart, every joint, every carefully hidden release button. Now, he has no idea how to open the faceplate.
He bites on his lip, and he’s not really expecting it to work—he almost doesn’t want to try, even, because being faced with an unresponding armour would hurt, but he also wouldn’t forgive himself for not trying—as he whispers the override code, “Steve Rogers, 34-44-54-64, armour override,” into the space between them.
For a moment, nothing happens, and then the RT colour slowly changes into pink. “Captain,” Tony’s armour says.
Oh. “You’re his AI?” Steve asks.
“I’m Friday. You overrode my systems.”
“Can you open the faceplate?” Steve asks, then reconsiders. “No—no, first, tell me, how’s Tony?”
“Tony is unconscious. He’ll have concussion. Broken right arm.” The one still braced on Steve’s shoulder, Steve notes, as Friday continues. “Broken lower ribs. Multiple cuts and lacerations—nothing serious enough to worry about blood loss.”
It’s creepy, hearing the list of Tony’s injuries recited like that by his armour, but Steve’s glad for any information at all. He’s also relieved it’s not as bad as he was scared it might be.
“Okay,” Steve says. “Thank you. Can you open the faceplate now?”
She doesn’t answer, but after a few seconds the faceplate retracts into the helmet.
Tony has a black eye, and a bleeding cut on his cheek and forehead. It’s too dark to really be able to see, but Steve thinks Tony seems too thin, somehow. Like he hasn’t been sleeping.
Steve hates seeing Tony hurt, especially when he knows it’s his own fault.
“Tony?” he tries again. He touches his fingers to Tony’s unharmed cheek, gently. “Tony, wake up.”
Tony leans into the touch—he probably can feel the warmth—but he doesn’t wake.
“Tony!” Steve says louder, definitely worried now.
“Captain.” The voice comes from the armour. Friday again, then. “You have full system override, so—I can say Tony’s been exhausted for weeks now. I have a suggestion.”
Neither Captain America fighting a murderous robot nor a building going down both are exactly quiet or unobtrusive events. There must be people trying to dig them out already. Still, Steve has no idea how long it will take or how deep they are, and he wants to get Tony medical attention as soon as possible.
“Yes?” he asks.
“I can take control of the armour. The power is low, but sufficient to maintain an energy shield and use the unibeam to create a way out.”
Steve shakes his head. “There might be other people in the way.”
Friday sounds almost like Tony when she replies, “Captain, I can scan for that first. Obviously.”
Figures Tony would program his AI to be sassy.
“Okay,” Steve says. “Low power?”
“The RT is safe, it’s separate. But the armour will go down after I use the unibeam.”
Steve nods. “Okay. Do it,” he orders, and adds, quickly, “Leave the faceplate open.”
There’s no other reply. The armour flexes, and it’s scary, seeing it move when he can also see Tony’s unconscious form inside. Maybe he should’ve asked Friday to release Tony first—but no, he has broken bones, best not to jostle him more than necessary. A small sphere of light surrounds the armour, and Steve shivers as it goes through him. The shield, probably.
Then, the armour stands up, extends a hand in Steve’s direction. Steve lets it pull him up and looks around them. The shield must’ve pushed away the rubble around them. It’s more reminiscent of Sue Storm’s energy fields than the shields Tony’s armours used to be able to create, but it’s just one other thing Steve doesn’t know about Tony now.
He hopes Friday was right when she said there wasn’t anyone in their range who could get hurt. Would she lie to get Tony to safety?
Steve’s not sure—but he’s also not sure of his own answer, here, so he stays silent.
The armour puts an arm before Steve, to stop him from moving. A few seconds pass, and then the unibeam fires, straight ahead. Steve has to squint his eyes against its wonderful light.
The armour urges him through, with an arm around Steve’s back, and for a moment Steve’s surprised; Friday is clearly taking care of him. Well, she’s an AI, she can make her own decisions, he thinks.
He can see the outside—they weren’t that far deep, all things considered—and goes with Tony’s armour, unsure if everything’s not going down on them again only because of the armour’s shielding.
The moment they step outside, he gets his answer. There’s a loud noise as the stones and walls fall down once more juast as next to Steve, Iron Man collapses..
Steve catches him. The RT isn’t pink anymore—isn’t any colour, really, just dark, but Friday did say it was a separate system, so Steve forces down the wave of worry.
He raises Tony up, gently, cradles him against his chest. Tony’s eyes flutter open, and it’s the most beautiful sight Steve’s ever seen.
He remembers all of their fights—but nothing could really change how Steve feels, and for a short moment he wants nothing more than to kiss Tony. Then he reminds himself that Tony’s hurt—it’s more obvious in the sunlight, how pale Tony is.
“Tony,” Steve just says through his tight throat.
“Steve,” Tony mutters. He doesn’t seem quite here. Friday wasn’t lying about the concussion. “Sorry.”
Steve wants to shake him, and this at least is familiar, Tony driving him mad at the same time as he only makes Steve fall more deeply in love.
Steve has spent long months convincing himself he hated Tony, that they weren’t friends.
The latter may even be true. They aren’t friends. They haven’t been, for a while.
But he loves Tony with all his heart. He doesn’t think that will ever change.
Tony is blinking up at him. From the corner of his eye, Steve sees EMTs running to them. Tony can’t see them yet. Good.
“You’re going to hospital,” Steve tells Tony.
“You?” Tony asks even as he shakes his head.
“Yes,” Steve tells him, before adding, “I’m fine.” Thanks to you, he thinks, but he’ll say that when Tony will be more likely to remember.
“Good,” Tony mutters. “Couldn’t let you get hurt. Love . . . you.”
Steve stares at him, but Tony falls unconscious again.
He knows Tony can’t hear him anymore, but he says it anyway. He needs to say it now, to tell himself as well as Tony. “I love you, Tony. I never stopped. I never will. And I’ll be there when you wake up. I’ll always be there for you,” he says it aloud, and he intends on repeating it a lot. Until Tony believes him. Until Steve lets himself believe it.
(He keeps his promise. He’s there when Tony wakes up in hospital—and then, when they finally find their way back together, Steve’s still there, at home, with Tony, waking up next to Tony every morning, for years to come.)