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“- will you please hold back a little, just until –. Hawk and I are only 10 minutes out. Just wait-” Steve cut himself off with an exasperated head shake when the tell-tale whirr of Ironman’s boot repulsors, followed by a gauntlet blast and Tony’s energised whoop told Steve that his partner hadn’t suddenly decided to curb his reckless tendencies.

The Captain ran a hand impatiently around the edge of his shield, tapping a disjointed pattern onto the soothing cold metal. He stared out the open hatch of the chopper as it drew nearer the city, hoping his keen eyes would sight the battle currently unfolding in the streets of New York.

Still too far away to make out more than the general area of the melee, Steve once more opened his communication channel, “Tony! How many times are we going to- ! ‘There is noI’ in ‘Team’!”

Tony’s reply cut across him, “Not again! How about I recite it to you this time – just for variety’s sake! Come on, Cap! It’s not like these guys are much of threat, hell – even Richards could handle them. Probably. Maybe.”

Another blast, and a thud accompanied a flash of light that Steve found he could just make out, as Tony continued, “Anyway. It’s not like I’m going up alone against terrorists or killer robots. I’m not that- oh wait…uh, well. In my defence- there is Me.” Tony fell silent waiting for a response, but when none was forthcoming he added, “In Team. There is ‘Me’ in ‘Team’.”

Steve rolled his eyes, ignoring Barton’s snort of amusement from the pilot’s seat, knowing he had just stumbled into the reason behind the amount of trouble those two happened into when together. Steve spoke into his communicator, “Funny. There is a reason the Avengers is a team effort, Tony. A reason we are all still alive! I don’t care how non-threatening you think-”

“They’re slugs, Steve! Slugs! Giant slugs, granted – but still, just slimy, slow, grey wormy looking slugs.  Hardly what one would call challenging. In fact, I’ve pretty much got this under control – why don’t you go see if Doom is cooking anything up, he’s been a bit on the quiet side lately. Always disconcerting when dealing with megalomaniacs. Of cour- Oomph! – Oh. That’s certainly…Well, that is intersti- scratch that – disconcerting. That is disconcerting.”

Steve brought his head up from his hands, amused exasperation immediately replaced with alert concern as he easily registered the slight change in Tony’s vocal tone, hearing the instant that the man transitioned from typically bored to slightly uneasy.  

The chopper dipped lower; Hawkeye responding to Ironman’s unspoken worry, evening into a more angled descent.  Steve demanded sharply, voice laced with concern, “Ironman, report.”

The Captain’s nerves settled a little at Tony’s calm reply, “Uh, perhaps not quite as non-threatening as first impression suggests.”

Steve didn’t get beyond a hum of impatient prompting before Tony continued, “They - spit? Ooze? Uh, some sort of organic compound – slime or goo maybe. Unknown effects – if any. Although… That wall looks like it might be kind of sizzling.”

Steve’s immediate reply was rather a disconcerted, “Sizzling? Tony, get some distance and hold until back up gets there.”

The billionaires reply was predictably noncompliant, “I have this- it’s no problem, I’ll ju-”

“Ironman. Back Off. Now.” That was Captain America.

And Tony paid as much attention as always, the sound of the tinny gauntlet blast from the communicator echoed by its true audio as Hawkeye approached the area, “There’s civilians! I’m not going to just sit here!” Tony argued.

Clint pushed the chopper to its maximum, spiralling into hover over the adjacent buildings within minutes.

***

 

As he watched Tony’s aerial acrobatics, each move more dizzying and breathtakingly reckless than the one before, Steve cursed the bad luck that had seen them so completely separated that morning. Himself, and Clint at S.H.I.E.L.D, although individually, separated at the headquarters. Natasha on a clandestine mission somewhere in Egypt, along with Coulson. Thor in Asgard, Tony at an SI press function and Bruce at the local clinic.  It was of course, the perfect opportunity for an attack.

And of course, Tony couldn’t (wouldn’t) wait for back up.

Looking down, Steve pinned his sights on the explosion of energy that was Tony Stark occupying himself by blasting one of the slugs to hell and back with a payload of mini, shoulder-mounted torpedoes. 

The Captain opened his mouth to add a further reprimand when the nearest beast suddenly noticed the newest combatant and honest-to-god, projectile vomited a mess of bright blue sludge in an upward arc towards the hovering aircraft.

Only Hawkeye’s reflexes and incredible slingshot manoeuvre saved them, and they turned to watch as the blue sludge clung to the wall it had hit and instantly hardened into a grey, concrete like substance.

“Well. - Shit.” Was Clint’s response.

Steve happened to agree.

Ironman’s red and gold plated torso and helmet suddenly appearing in the chopper’s hatch had Steve barely managing to supress his startled cry.  Tony, smirk clearly audible in his voice, greeted them with, “Better late than never. Welcome to the party, ladies!”

Clint looked back over his shoulder, eyes passing over the monster that appeared to be gearing up for a second shot. Moving them to relative safety behind the nearest building, the archer asked, “What the hell – slugs! Fucking slime breathing slugs! You have got to be fucking kidding me!”

Tony shrugged as he replied, “Oh – I see you’ve met Smurfette – name courtesy of the blue sludge - yeah, she’s nasty... sets like concrete-”

Steve cut in, “SitRep Ironman.”

Tony rolled his eyes at the military language, but obediently (sort of) reported “Four slugs and counting. They’re coming through a portal-like thing in the park. Differing sizes – from Big Bertha’s 80 foot to Baby Bertha’s four foot – don’t let her size fool you; she’s fast as lightning. All are susceptible to heavy artillery, fire, electrical weapons and penetrative weapons – so they should go down easy. They all ooze, spit or vomit some form of goo – with varying effects, some of which I still don’t know – Old yella’ over there for instance – all that yellow crap on the grass is hers, but I have no idea what it does. I kind of want to touch it, just to fi-”

Steve rolled his eyes and cut across his lovers insanity, “Let’s not. No one touching the goo – okay? ”

Turning to re-enter the fight as Clint sniggered, Tony was brought up short by Steve’s “Not so fast” and steady grasp as the Captain bodily dragged his metal encased partner fully into the chopper.

Corralled up against the chopper wall, concealed from view, Steve’s fingers prodded against the metal breastplate as he spoke, “I told you to wait!” 

Realisation dawned on Tony and he sighed, thunking his head back against the wall with a sigh of frustration, “Now? You want to do this now? – Giant slugs, sludge, goo…any of this ringing any bells?”

Steve snorted at the avoidance technique, tapping his earpiece, replying, “Yes. Now. I told you to wait for back up – and you ignored me. Again.

Armour strengthened arms pushed Steve out of the way as Tony snarled, “There was civilians! Innocents – I couldn’t wait! Just like I’m not going to wait now!”

This argument was one they had in all its varying formats so many times that it made Steve’s head spin. Tony was well aware that Steve wouldn’t have any issue with Tony risking his life to save another. Well- he would, but he could hardly say anything without being the world’s biggest hypocrite. 

But there had been no immediate danger to any civilians. The area had been mostly empty anyway, and the few people who were in the area were relatively safe, although understandably terrified, cooped up indoors, noses pressed against glass as they watched the battle unfold.

Steve shoved Tony back against the wall, able to use his full strength without fear of injuring his metal encased lover, “Were they in imminent danger? No.  They were not. Were you? Hell Yes. Case closed. You wait for back up.”

Ironman’s electric blue eyes clearly rolled as he stared out over Steve’s shoulder and the Captain bristled at the attitude.  Not liking how difficult (possibly deliberately) it was to read this mechanised version of his lover, his nimble fingers came up to find the manual release mechanism on the helmets faceplate.

Working out what he was doing, Tony swatted ineffectively at the strong hands and whined, “Come on Cap – the battle will be over before we even get out there…”

Shniik.  

The faceplate lifted and Steve stared into the brown eyes that he knew as well as his own, reading guilt, apology, excitement, resignation, love, adoration, frustration and exasperation.

Seeing the truth, Steve sighed and rested his forehead against Tony’s as he said, “You just couldn’t wait, could you? You – you, adrenaline freak!”

Tony raised an eyebrow, his nose wrinkling adorably as he gave in, with a half shrug and a soft, “Sorry?”

The chopper landed with a soft jolt and Clint shot out of the pilot seat, hands over his ears, murmuring under his breath -  “Guys… really, I mean really – timing couldn’t bethis is just- this is- sickeningly sweet, just- get a r-” the complaining was cut off as Hawkeye scooped up his bow and, already firing, exited the chopper.

Steve, ignoring the blush he could feel heating his cheeks, and knowing they had to cut this short,  half grinned, half scowled, as he murmured, “What am I going to do with you” before pressing a gentle kiss to soft lips. Tony sighed, arms wrapping around Steve’s neck as he leaned into his lover, the kiss almost brutal in its gentleness.

Pulling back, smug at Tony’s reluctant pout, Steve said, “I promise. If you promise to be a team player and wait for back-up- I promise to kiss you like that every day, repeatedly.

Tony blinked, eyes bright and lips passion bruised as he raised that damnable eyebrow again and asked roguishly, “Hmm- Positive reinforcement, I like.  And If I don’t wait for back up?”

Steve leaned in again, breath ghosting across pink lips as Tony leaned towards him, yearning… Steve whispered, “Negative reinforcement” and then nipped his lover’s soft lower lip sharply and turned, and leapt from the chopper, sliding down the back of the rearing ‘Smurfette’ with the aid of an inch long dagger.

A startled yelp was followed by a litany of filth over the communication channel and then, “You are a tease, Steve Rogers! An evil, scheming bribing tease. Someone shoul- Hey! Does this mean I can fight now!?”

“Some aerial support would be appreciated!  – come join the party!” Clint crowed in with, now that the serious reprimandy, lovey-dovey stuff was over.

Followed by Steve’s “Natasha’s right. You two really need to work on your definition of a party”

Tony snickered, faceplate snapping down as he rocketed into the sky, taking in the situation as he rose higher.

***

It was like something from a nightmare.

A crack induced, technicolour nightmare.

One of the original four slug-things were dead, courtesy of Ironman’s shoulder launched torpedoes. Its huge grey carcass littered the street, still oozing a red slime, despite having somehow half decayed in the maximum ten minutes since its death.

This should have cut down the battlefield, but with the portal still active a further four had arrived, with number five on the way, bringing the total to a burgeoning eight.

The street was awash in puddles of goo, in all shades of colour. Some had obviously hardened, courtesy of Smurfette (RIP), while others, noticeably a toxic orange goo, sizzled wherever it had landed. A strange purple colour vanished as soon as it made contact, and it wasn’t until a jet hit a tree and vanished, only for the tree to shrivel and die instantly a minute later, that the team realised that purple equals very, very bad.

‘Big Bertha’, with her rather explosive death at Tony’s hand, was soon replaced in size by ‘Godzilla’ – a 130 foot monster that spat giant wads of a green mucus like substance that smelt absolutely foul- die of asphyxiation foul.

A hot pink slush had been attributed to the slug that Clint had named ‘Barbie’ and everything it touched froze through instantly, like a fluoro form of liquid nitrogen.

Taking it all in, Tony noticed several things immediately –

1 – That the team was severely impeded. With all the toxic sludge and slime forming puddles and small rivers on the street surface, walking was difficult at best, dangerous at worst.  With no Thor or Hulk, as their resident aerial and ground powerhouses, only Tony had free reign. The other two were confined to buildings, clean spots and hopscotch like traverses across the battle field.

2 - The portal. It needed closing. Like yesterday.

He said as much to the team, “We need to close that portal!”

And got varying answers.

No! Really Ironass?

“I can’t see what’s opening it – it must be on the other side. Idea’s?”

Tony took a closer look at the portal – a typical shimmering ring of energy, much too small to have comfortably allowed the entrance of the giant Bertha or gargantuan Godzilla – giving the illusion of a really disgusting birth channel.

Tony snickered at the irony as he asked, “So – anyone have a wayward Nuke they want to share?”

There was no answering replies other than a sharp gasp from Clint and a strangled sound from Steve. Tony shrugged –“Too soon?”

Steve replied “It’ll still be too soon when I’m dead and buried – any other ideas?”

Tony nodded and lined up his target, “The idea is sound – once number six there is through – whom I hereby dub ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’-  I am going to hit the portal with everything I’ve got – It’ll either blow slug-land all to hell or…”

Steve waited a moment and then a further moment before asking, “Or what?”’

“Oh! Or it won’t.” was Tony’s brilliant reply.

‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ at a modest 25 foot, emerged 4 minutes later, oozing a vicious black sludge, and Tony blasted the portal – with everything he had.

It literally took nine minutes to fire everything he had.

And fortunately Slug-u-topia was blown to hell and the portal closed.

Unfortunately, coinciding with the destruction of their home portal, the remaining eight slugs went absolutely and completely batshit fucking insane.

Sludge goo, ooze, slime, glop, and mucus of various colours and effects flew everywhere, bathing the street and surround buildings. The Avengers had to work hard just to avoid the sprays of liquid – let alone get close enough to kill said beasts.

But they were professionals – giant slugs that spew death – biscuits and kibbles compared to some thing’s they had dealt with.   Slowly but surely, through teamwork, talent, skill, strategy and their own brand of batshit fucking insane the three present Avengers put the slugs down one by one.

It was Clint who worked out that the slugs were blind – or didn’t have eyes in the first place – when he turned from blasting ‘Barbie’ to find himself less than a foot away from ‘Baby Bertha’. ‘Baby Bertha’ who shot acid from her maw and was extremely fast.  Who also didn’t even appear aware that Clint was directly in front of her.  Until he carried through with the enthusiastic cheer at his most recent conquest, unable to arrest the whoop.   He only just managed to dive out of the way of the orange deluge that was shot his way.  His discovery allowed the team to get in close for pot shots and made moving around the battlefield easier, so long as they were quiet. Which wasn’t something that Steve had ever though to call Tony Stark. And didn’t plan on starting this day.

Steve found out early on in the crazy segment of the battle, that his shield was unaffected by the goop, so long as he shook it off immediately, which was alarmingly helpful, although they could hardly cover three Avengers with one shield. In fact, as awesome as the shield was, it didn’t even fully cover Steve himself, and so it was used sparingly, as an added precaution, but not a first line of defence.

Ironman, although now out of most of his (rather considerable) arsenal, was still veritably lethal with just his repulsors. However, with his freedom to move through the sky and relative small size, he also became aware that he could flit about the creature’s heads and either distract from other prey (namely Tony’s team) or lure them to their doom- whichever was appropriate. 

This game of ‘chicken’ delighted Tony, gave Clint a serious case of the green eyed monster and scared Steve shitless. 

The Captain spent most of the battle on the verge of ordering Ironman to stop, to pull back to safety.  Every near miss, every curtain of goo that masked his vision of his partner, every time Steve was sure Tony had been hit, he nearly called him off.

If only he wasn’t so good.

Aerial acrobatics didn’t really do it justice – perhaps aerial ballet. Graceful twists, turns and loop-de-loops. Rolls, dives and feints, all carefully calculated and perfectly executed.

If only it wasn’t so necessary.

In several cases, only Tony’s timely intervention saved one of his team mates. Twice he relocated Steve, as there was no path by foot. Only his using himself as bait allowed some of the slugs to be bought down.

Eight became seven, became six and finally – five.

But there was a reason these five had survived the longest – collectively they were bigger, tougher, more vicious and more dangerous in the slime breathing department.

‘Godzilla’, at a colossal 130 foot, oozed an awful puke-green mucus like substance that stank so bad it rendered one breathless at close quarters.

70 foot long and also boasting the heaviest set body, ‘Old Yella’ with her sickly lemon-yellow slime of still unknown properties and effects, was a veritable ‘brick-shithouse’ – at least according to Clint.

Despite being smaller than some garden variety snakes, at only 4 foot – ‘Baby Bertha’, was extremely fast, and her orange sludge was definitely up there in the ‘most dangerous’  category, giving that it sizzled upon contact.

Upon close inspection, the slug dubbed, ‘Purple People Eater’ was definitely older than the others. It’s grey body wrinkled and sagging in places and bearing many pockmarks and age scarring. Its apparent longevity could be explained by its absolutely terrifying purple slime, which seemed to equate with instant death.

And finally, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ –and despite the atrocious sounding name, this slug was actually quite precocious, disappearing from the fight and then popping up behind unsuspecting archers and  preoccupied super soldiers, only to be blasted away by Ironman’s repulsors from on high. At 25 foot, the slug wasn’t exactly inconspicuous, but the black sludge that liberally coated almost the entirety of its body may have had camouflage properties – although technically the slime was still of unknown effects.

***

From his crouched position, half beneath a discarded street side diner table, Steve took in the situation. 

‘Godzilla’ was halfway down the street, shooting jet after jet of noxious green slime into the air, some of it reaching almost 200 foot before splattering back to earth. Its upper body lunged upwards and then fell with a thud back to the street below, and Steve could all but see the incensed steam rising from the creatures head – no doubt shooting from its ears if it had any.  Knowing without truly having to look, that only one thing could possibly cause that much frustration, Steve’s gaze still settled on the comparatively tiny form of Ironman as he flitted about its head, swooping in for a close shave and then shooting away again.   

Steve’s gut clenched the same way it did whenever Tony was involved with just about anything – his lovers penchant for finding trouble, taking the most reckless route and ignoring all self-preservational warnings was well recognised, although definitely not accepted.  Still, in this case it was obvious that Tony had things under control, his actions both successful and necessary.

Although, as Tony all but landed on the things bulbous head, Steve had to wonder whether his lover took such delight in actually putting himself at risk, or if it was more enjoyment of scaring years off Steve’s life.  

Grimacing at the likelihood of it being both, Steve turned away, only to alight on Hawkeye actually leap onto the ‘Purple’ beasts head from a nearby rooftop – the archer was sure footed as he slid down the curve of its back, all the while shooting arrow after arrow at the approaching ‘Baby Bertha’.

“Hawkeye! Watch the purple slime – you’ve seen what it-” Steve started to shout, but cut himself off as Clint turned towards him and Steve saw the purple ooze that covered his entire right arm.

Back flipping from the beast and rolling to a neat stop directly beside the deathly white Captain, Clint clapped a hand on his shoulder and said, “Relax…I think it only effects on initial contact –”

Steve raised an eyebrow (something that he most certainly had not learned from Tony) and questioned, “You think…how you can be su- oh.” He fell silent at Clint pretty self-explanatory gesture towards his purple arm.

Taking a steadying breath, Steve stripped off a glove and tentatively reaching out, prodded the purple slime covered arm. His finger came away stained purple, but there was no accompanying effects. The slime was cold, grossly slimy and beyond disgusting – but didn’t make him drop dead.

“Well. That’s certainly good to know. I wonder…” Looking around, Steve found a puddle of orange about two feet away and kneeling, he reached out. Slowly and with utmost caution he brushed the tip of his index finger across the surface - “SH- aarggh-” and yanked his hand back to his chest, looking down to the tiny blisters already forming across his finger.

“Steve!? What happened? Steve?” Tony immediately sounded over the communicator, voice low with concern.

Ignoring Hawkeye’s grasp on his wrist and the archer’s concerned inspection, Steve looked up to where Tony was a tiny speck, hovering out of reach of Godzilla, as he reassured with a soft, “I’m fine, Tony”.

Tony didn’t sound convinced as he continued, “Fine? That didn’t sound like ‘fine’. That sounded like ‘Ow!’ – What happened?”

Steve was intent on coming up with a way to tell the truth without saying ‘I touched the orange slime – just to find out what it would do’, when Clint, seemingly satisfied that Steve’s hand wasn’t going to fall off, replied in his ever helpful manner, “He touched the orange slime– just to find out what it would do”

Tony’s indignant, “Why would you – Wait a second! You told me I couldn’t touch the slime! I see how it is… Mr ‘do as I say, not as I do’ –fine example you’re setting, Captain Do-right!”

Steve sighed, amusement infusing his voice as he answered “I was testing a theory – The purple slime isn’t effective after first contact – so I thought I’d try the orange. I was right though - you don’t want to touch the slime…”

And could have kicked himself when the concern returned to Tony’s reply, “You’re sure you’re okay?”

Steve answered patiently, “I’m fine, Tony – Tiny burn on my finger. It’ll heal in no time…”

Back to irritating Godzilla, and apparently reassured, Tony replied, “Don’t worry – I’ll kiss it better when we get home…”

Steve, ears reddening even as he spoke,  grinned and  ignoring Clint’s mock gagging, said “Well – In that’s case…let’s get this done ASAP.”

***

Doing what he did best, Steve came up with a plan, asking, “Hawkeye – how many of those exploding arrowheads do you have left”

“Fi- No, six.” Clint answered, ducking under a spray of yellow.

Steve explained, “Ironman – get Old Yella’ to rear up, coax her into the sky – Hawkeye, put your exploding arrows down her underside…”

“BOOM!” finished Clint

Tony, grinning like the mad man he was sometimes purported to be, did as instructed. Hovering before the yellow spitting slug, easily avoiding the three jets she shot at him as he coaxed her upward, taunting her by hovering just above her head. Slowly she reared, following the tantalisingly close enemy, until…

Thwak.

Thwak.

Thwak.

Thwak.

Thwak.

Thwak.

.

.

.

BOOM!!

“Cover! Get dow-” Steve yelled as Yellow slime and chunks of grey flesh rained down. 

Crouching under his shield, Steve grinned as he asked, “Everyone get clear?” Two affirmative answers reassured him and he added, “Those new arrows are very nice Tony, – good work”

Hawkeye caressed his bow where he lay curled against a wall as he agreed, “Hells yes! Awesome!”

Tony, high above the action looked down, proud grin hidden beneath the faceplate as he answered, “Well - Every guy needs some Boom in his life, right?”

It was at times like these when Natasha was most surely needed. To roll her eyes, stare skyward and mutter “Men” with a little toss of her head. Unfortunately, Natasha was too busy snarling “Men” in an entirely different country to be aware that her boys needed a hand at the leash right then.

***

Ten minutes later, Steve and Clint managed to corner the extremely slippery ‘Baby Bertha’, and at only 4 foot, the super soldier was quite capable of holding onto her.

In either a tremendous display of tactical genius or an incredibly lucky coincidence, when Steve’s bulging forearm muscles separated the slugs head from her – well, the rest of her- he somehow ended up with a makeshift fire hose of orange acid aimed directly at the huge Godzilla.  The orange sludge liberally coated the other slug and immediately began to sizzle, making Steve inordinately glad he’d only used a fingertip.

Peripherally aware of ‘Purple People Eater’ terrorising her own reflection further down the street, the three Avengers couldn’t help but stare as the toxic orange acid created a caustic pattern of gory pockmarks across the giant body. Great stretches of acid eaten flesh still sizzled as Godzilla breathed his last, swaying and trembling in a colossal death grip, before slowly starting to tumble from his 130 foot vantage point.

Straight towards the rooftop currently being utilised by Hawkeye.

Steve, shield up to deflect the raining orange and green slime, bellowed at the already sprinting archer “Hawkeye! Move!  Move!!

The Captain, suddenly able to see that there was absolutely no way in hell Clint would make it into the building, down the several slights of stairs and out onto the street before the slug hit, was ordering in his best ‘disobey me and die’  voice, “Jump! Get off the roof! Jus-’

Clint, already having made the same predictions as Steve, dashed for the three storey high roof ledge, bow already up and quiver whirring to a grappling arrow, muttering as he went, “Why’s it always…Shit, shit, shit, shit-goddamn motherfucking shi-” and leapt…

Seconds later concrete and glass exploded everywhere, Godzilla smashing headfirst into the building with a massive thud. Rank green goo spurted from the torn flesh, mixing with sizzling orange and a strange grey/white liquid that could only be slug-blood.

For an instant breaths were held, everything concealed by the lingering cloud of dust, then it started to settle and the team caught their first glimpse of Hawkeye, plummeting in free fall,–empty handed, bow nowhere to be seen.

Steve went from adrenaline spiked apprehension to heart stopping fear as Hawkeye’s increasingly battered body plummeted earthward, towards not only the very hard concrete covered earth and several broken bones, but also a spreading puddle of orange acid sludge. He was just too far away, with no way to cross the stretch of road, watched in powerless fury, mind grinding through impossible recourse after useless idea.

200 feet above the battlefield, Tony had seen what was about to happen. He’d seen it, from the instant that Godzilla had trembled, Tony’s mind had almost instantly started predicting trajectories, percentages and angles, and Tony had known that Godzilla would destroy that particular building. 

And in the instant that he’d known, Ironman had dove. Despite knowing that Hawkeye was perfectly adapt at halting his own fall with his grappling arrows, instinctively Tony had shot downwards.

His calculations said there was an 87% chance he wouldn’t get there in time and Tony urged the armour faster, cutting all unnecessary power usages, channeling the extra into his repulsors.

His calculations reflected the added power – but 69% still wasn’t a good margin of success and so Tony cut several of the more necessary functions – Lighting, Interior Visual Display, Inertia Dampeners…

A 50-50 chance wasn’t deemed acceptable when regarding his family and so Tony cut life support.

JARVIS’s voice rang hollow with emotions he was not supposed to possess, “Sir, it is imperative that you arrest our descent and resume life support function immediately – at current inbound acceleration there is a 50% chance that the suit will rupture upon impa-”

Tony cut JARVIS’s power feed and fed that into the repulsors as well.

***

 

A body’s breadth from the ground Tony tackled Hawkeye, armour turning to take the brunt of the impact as they slammed into the ground. They shot across the street, a red, gold and black blur, skidding through puddles of different coloured sludge. Hawkeye grasped protectively to Ironman’s torso, curled as tight as possible, head tucked against the hard chest plate, shielded by gauntleted hands.

Flying sparks accompanied the god-awful screech of unyielding material against unyielding material as the armoured Tony and his all too vulnerable burden cut a shuddering, jolting path across the tarmac.

Splashes of muted, mixed liquid intermittently concealed the duo as they slid through deeper puddles, splashing up in great arcing waves of congealing slime before crashing back to the street. Second felt like minutes and minutes like hours – but as with all things, their screeching path finally halted – the surrounding world’s audio blacking out as they scuffed the final few feet forwards before shuddering to a stop.

Still. Silent.

And then Hawkeye gingerly sat up, ignoring the mottled pinpricks of pain where droplets of orange had scored his shoulder, and the tiny stain of green on his left boot, which he could smell from where he sat astride the armour, gazing down at the dark faceplate.

Almost not daring to ask.

Steve had no such compunctions, “Ironman! Report! Tony? Tony! Clint –is he- are you-?” the Captain demanded as he desperately tried to find a way to where they were grounded.

Steve’s voice faded into the background, as Clint brought a hand up to staunch the steady flow of blood from the glancing head wound he’d taken in the fall (which resulted in his losing the bow - not that he was telling anyone that anytime soon), Clint tried to ignore the dread gathering in the pit of his stomach.

Consciously shaking off his utter terror, he took a deep breath and settled further into his ‘battle persona’, knowing they had to get a grip or they’d all end up dead.

Barely a blink and ‘Hawkeye’ took over. Looking to where Steve was still trying to cut across the street to get to them, mindless of the danger that was the slowly approaching purple slug “Steve! Steve? CAPTAIN!” The blonde’s head snapped up and he stilled, allowing Hawkeye to continue, “You need to deal with that” – he pointed to the slug and when Steve still hesitated, ordered harshly, “Get your head in the fight – we don’t need Steve right now– we need Captain America! GO!”

Steve stilled for a moment, obviously agonisingly torn and Clint softened, “Go –I’ve got Tony, I swear –…but you’ve got to go…” and finally Steve – Captain America – turned and leapt back into the battle.

With the purple spitting slug once again occupied, Clint allowed himself to look down.

Without the steadfast blue glow and soft whirr of robotics, the Ironman armour looked dead, and Clint could barely breathe out of fear for what lay beneath. Slightly shaking hands scrabbled for the faceplate catch, fumbling in his efforts to remove the gold mask as he mumbled, “Tony? Tony! Goddamn it – you better not be- aaah!”  He tumbled backwards, arms windmilling as the suit suddenly vibrated back to life beneath him.

Tony’s arm snapped up and fisted in the leather at Clint’s shoulder, staying the archer’s backwards momentum and saving him from a decidedly painful splash into the orange puddle they were currently surrounded by.

Settled safely back onto his red and gold island, Clint looked down at the now lit faceplate, heaving a great sight of utter relief, and knowing he wasn’t alone,  as Tony’s voice broke roughly over the comm system, with a cocky, “So – was it as good for you guys as it was for me?”

Despite the gravelly quality of Tony’s voice, it did wonders to reassure his team and allowed Steve to truly turn his attention to the purple spewing monster before him.

Clint broke into a grin and thumped the armoured chest below him as he happily proclaimed, “Stark? You’re such an asshole.”

“Fuck you too.” was Tony acerbic reply – but they could all hear the underlying ‘Thank you, thank-you, thank-you’ and ‘you’re very fucking welcome’.

As his heart rate settled back to normal ‘middle of battle’ pace, the archer raked his keen gaze over the battered red and gold armour, taking in the unnatural stillness as he asked to confirm his teammates relative wellbeing, “So – are you good to go? Or do we get to watch the Cap tear off th-”

Tony cut across him, “Steve can just keep his dirty great paws off my perso… hmm, actually – Steve is quite welcome to put his gorgeous big hands on me any time he sees fi--”

Tony…”  This was from Steve, both gently reprimanding and demanding of a proper answer.

“Sorry – near-death experiences make me horny…relax! Did I say near-death”? I meant – okay – okay! I’m fine – I’d even get up if Legolas here would vacate the premis- Stop! Why do you think I didn’t just dump your ass two minutes ago…See all this nice orange stuff – acid. Remember?” Tony jibed sarcastically.

Clint, once again restrained by Ironman’s hand at his shoulder, looked around them, suddenly registering the stream of orange acid surrounding them for several meters. Looking back over his shoulder to follow the colourful path of their swan dive, the archer exclaiming worriedly “Crap! We’ve got to get you out of this! Cap! Some help!”

Tony shook him like a ragdoll, exasperated “Ignore him Steve, I’m fine! Birdbrain! I’ve been lying in it for the past five minutes - if it was burning me don’t you think I’d be…I don’t know, screaming my head off?”

Looking back down again, watching the toxic orange lap gently against the red of the Ironman torso, Clint raised an eyebrow and said, “It’s not affecting the armour.”

Tony grinned a purely indulgent ‘By Jove, I think he’s got it!’ smile and replied, “It’s not affecting the armour.”

“Clint, stop sitting on Tony. Get up and go find your bow.”

“Yes, Steve.” Clint kowtowed in the general direction of their exasperated leader as he got limberly to his feet, careful to avoid the chest plate, despite having been reassured of it strength by Tony on several occasions.

A quick glance around at Clint sighted on the nearest clear patch, looking down again he clicked his fingers and said, “Hands.”

Tony whined about being walked all over but snapped his arms up, palm’s skyward.

In one smooth follow through Clint stepped up onto Tony’s hands and lightly back-flipped the three meter distance, landing steadily, despite the biting ache in his left shoulder. Goddamn acid.

Behind him Tony got to his feet, small rivulets of orange slime coursing down his back and sides as he stood to full height, saying “In the interest of full disclosure – I think I’m going to be in trouble when we get home.  I cut JARVIS out, and I can’t re-integrate without access to a mainframe…”

Ducking beneath a jet of purple death, it was Steve’s shocked voice that answered him, “JARVIS!? Why?”

Tony’s answer was a noncommittal muttering about reassigning energy paths and percentages.

Steve knew there was something inherently important about this conversation, or they wouldn’t be having it here on the battlefield, but truly wished Tony wasn’t so good at saying so much to say nothing. 

Biting the bullet, the captain asked, “What aren’t you telling me, Tony?”

Tony blustered for a moment and then sighed, giving in, answering “I shut down the internal display as well, and that also requires the mainframe to reboot– I’m severely sight limited, just the eyehol-”

The Captain cut him off sharply, “You’re out. Report back to the tower.”

“What?! No! I’m fine, I can sti-” was Tony’s disagreeing argument.

“You’re essentially blind! Thi-” Steve began.

But was cut off my Tony, “No I’m not! I just can’t – I mean…I’m fine! Let’s just do this”

Steve ran down the left side of ‘purple people eater, trying to avoid the sweeping curtain of purple that followed him, and knowing they couldn’t afford the continued distraction he replied, “Fine. There’s only this one left – you keep at least 50 foot between you and it and you can stay. On. The. Ground. Got It?”

“On the ground. Right. Just clip my wings to break my heart. If I can’t fly I don’t want to li-” Tony sighed dramatically as he moved into position.

Tony...” Steve groaned, desperately ignoring the tug on his heartstring, despite knowing that Tony was teasing him.  Goddamn love.

Steve could hear the cheeky grin in his partners voice as Tony answered, “Okay – okay. See this. This is me being a team player. I expect Positive reinforcement. Lots of-.

Tony fell uncharacteristically silent, but Steve was forced to abandon the banter as he leapt, dragging Clint with him, to avoid the slugs rolling layers of grey flesh as it suddenly decided to throw its whole body towards them.

Clint, slightly breathless besides him, bruised and still oozing blood, turned to Steve with a serious look on his face as he asked, “So. Is it purple, or does it eat purple people…and if it eats purple people than where does it live, because we don't have purple people…and if it is purple than does that mean it will eat us…but what if we were purple too – would a purple people eater eat purple people…..”

Steve shook his head.

Enough was enough.

And this? This was more than enough.

Casting his gaze about, the Captain sighted on a fallen power line and a crazy idea formed.

Purple People Eater went down in a thudding mass of grey flesh less than a minute later, garrotted by some fancy electrical wire work.

Victory after a job well down spread through his veins as Clint whooped, and Steve turned to share the exaltation with his lover.

Only to have triumph flee in favour of impressed confusion, as he wondered how the hell a 25 foot slug had managed to hide from sight for the past 20 minutes.

And then all thought fled as his gaze was drawn to the red and gold form, grounded and essentially blind before the black oozing monster, Tony’s last resort flares doing little other than irritate. The monster spewed black sludge at Tony, and Steve gasped as his half-blinded lover didn’t get out of the way fast enough. His breath only returned to his body when Steve saw the black sludge drip harmless from the suit, puddling at Tony’s feet.

Looking back up, the chilling sight of the huge slug, gory with black ooze inking its body in morbidly clinging lacework, rearing back over the tiny unmoving form of his lover would haunt Steve for the rest of his life.

Just like that instant of knowing that Tony was about to die and Steve too far way to stop it. Even running at the incredible speed the serum had gifted him, Steve knew he was too far away for Tony to even know that he was coming.

Too far away.

The slug lunged, a great roiling mess of filth and repugnancy, and fell –

A roar cut through the midmorning air, leaving silence and stillness in its wake.

Huge and green, and angry smashed into the remaining slug, fists ripping asunder grey flesh as he bellowed in unmistakable claim of protective rage.

Hulk.

The slug fell beneath the onslaught, as if there had never been any alternative.

***

Steve, heart still beating a wild tattoo somewhere in his throat, gasped a heaving sigh of absolute pure gratitude, frozen body still refusing to move as he took in the tableau of the battles aftermath.

Rank carcasses decaying amidst brightly coloured streams of slime. Destroyed buildings, debris and rubble scattered across the streets. So much damage – and yet, a small price to pay for so little death. Steve’s gaze passed over Clint, almost startling a laugh from the Captain, despite his shock- to see the archer smelling a bouquet of half destroyed roses from a nearby street florist.

Hulk, rage not yet satisfied, green hands still tearing chunks from the dead ‘black’ monster, roaring his anger at the attack on his family. Steve was beyond appreciative for Bruce’s undeniably perfect timing, not yet able to face the thought of what would have surely happened had the physicist been even seconds later.  Not for the first time, Steve thanked every power he could think of, that they (and none more so than Tony) happened to be under the considerable protective rage of none other than the Incredible Hulk.

And Tony.  Irritating, frustrating, exasperating, risk taking, death defying, selfless, gorgeous Tony.  His Tony.  His back to Steve, still standing where he’d almost been crushed, arms up and ostensibly fiddling with the faceplate, no doubt already preparing it for recalibration with the mainframe.  Even from this distance Steve could see the spasmodic lurches of Tony’s shoulders and arms as he fiddled with the mask. Concerned, Steve opened his mouth to ask for a report when Tony suddenly started to spasm fitfully and, as Steve watched, gauntleted hands came up to flutter about his head in an almost universal sign of helpless panic.

“Tony? What’s wrong? Tony!” Steve called, adrenaline starting to pump again as he hop-scotched his was across the street, trying to avoid the orange slime, picking up Clint doing the same in his peripheral vision. 

Tony didn’t answer, didn’t even seem aware that Steve was calling to him. “Tony! Answer me – wha-” the blond cut himself off with a cry of worry when Tony suddenly dropped gracelessly to his knees. Still several feet away, his progress frustratingly slow, Steve was more than a little concerned by Tony’s uncharacteristic silence.  Seeing Clint creating his own path by throwing broken street signs and furniture into too large puddles to step on, Steve eyed the last several orange soaked feet that separated him from Tony and throwing his shield down, skidded the distance on it, ignoring the scraping of the paint and flying sparks in favour of throwing himself down at Tony’s side.

Steve reached for Tony, voice frantic as he asked, “Tony!? To- Oh my-”  and Tony, perhaps only now hearing the Captain, or Steve’s voice finally cutting through the panic, turned easily into Steve’s arms, whole body twitching as he scratched and pulled at the thick coating of black sludge that was completely covering his unmasked face.

The faceplate was off, discarded on the ground near Tony’s feet, but for all that the mask was gone, Tony’s face was still mostly concealed below a thick layer of black something, no doubt courtesy of the monster Hulk was still ripping apart.  Although slime when it left the creature, the black ooze had hardened to some sort of rubber like material – it had give, but not very much. And it was completely thwarting Tony’s very real need to continue breathing.

Clint dropped to his knees besides the pair, and Steve admired the way the assassin immediately evaluated the situation and ran with it, not indulging in any unnecessary panic or fussing, other than to say, “Shit – shit, shit, shit!” more to let Tony know he was there than anything else.

Tony whined, a low rumble in his sealed throat as he scrabbled infectively at the black material. Clint, seeing the acid that still soaked the gauntlets brought his bow up and gently pushed Tony’s hands away from his face.

Steve, able to see that Tony was within seconds of turning from alarmed and frightened to outright terrified, spoke soothingly as his hands came up to tentatively touch the black mask, “Tony! – Hey! Okay- it’s okay, we’re going to get this off- just - relax for me. Can you do that?”

Tony whined again, but made an obvious effort to keep his fluttering hands in his lap as Steve traced the mask. It was smooth and shiny, with a rubbery/plastic feel to the surface. And thick, Tony’s facial features completely concealed, with only a tiny bump indicating the tip of his nose. Coming to a conclusion quickly, knowing time was of the essence, Steve said explained to Clint, “It’s like rubber – doesn’t stick to me or hurt or anything. It’s like it set against his skin”

Clint inspected the black material as well, one hand holding the bow, keeping Tony’s spasming hands down, the other coming up to touch the black mask as he spoke, asking, “Can you breathe at all? Is any air getting through?”

Tony shook his head forcefully, a worried sound rising from his throat as he tried to bring his hands up again. Clint pushed them back down, and Tony let him, focusing on Steve as he spoke, “I’m going to see if I can peel this off- .”

Steve stripped off his gloves, and found the edge of the black mask, noting where it thinned out at the sides of Tony’s face. Using his finger nails, Steve attempted to leverage the edge up to get a grip on the rubbery material, only to find it stuck fast, almost like it was soldered to Tony’ skin. He tried again, tugging harder, only to have Tony half yelp in pain and pull away, his hands easily breaking away from Clint’s restraining bow, instinctively coming up to protect his face.

“Hey, hey! Tony –You can’t touch your face!  - Sorry! I’m sorry –It’s okay – I won’t do that again.” Steve placated, his hands framing Tony’s face as Clint’s bow forced Tony’s back down.

Clint tried to pull the rubber off from the centre of the mask, but it proved as impossible to get a hold on, the shiny back surface smooth and slippery beneath his fingers. The black mask was solid, and stuck fast, almost like it was part of Tony’s skin. Time slipped by much too quickly and Tony began to lose his enforced calm, oxygen deprivation making him light headed, and he swayed were he knelt, trying to ignore his burning lungs.

Engulfed in a world of black, half of his senses missing, and mind spinning with a combination of panic, light-headedness and oxygen saturation calculations, Tony fought harder against the anxiety that wanted to seep in and drag him under, instead concentrating on believing that Steve was going to find a way to fix this. His body convulsed, trying desperately to draw in oxygen he didn’t have access to and, desperate, he fought off Clint’s bow to bring his hands up – only to have Clint push them back down again, half hearing fractured panicked admonishments about acid and gauntlets.

Even panicking, oxygen deprived, lightheaded and swaying, Tony’s mind clicked and he managed to get find the release mechanisms that allowed the gauntlets to slip off. Anything to be allowed to – his hands, although bare, were still pushed down, this time accompanied by Clint’s “Steve – grab his hands! He’s just as likely to scratch a hole in his face…” and Tony let an indignant groan settle deep in his chest, but Steve’s larger hands, warm and safe, were engulfing his, and so he let it be – after all, that was all he’d wanted.

Steve, dropping a kiss into Toy’s hair, pure frustrated, helpless panic making him want to scream, looked from where Clint was unsuccessfully trying to use a dagger to shave away the black rubber. Looking up from Tony, blinking away tears of frustrated terror, Steve was surprised to find that they had an audience.

In small pockets, lining the streets edge, avoiding puddles of slime were a small number of the local residents, having crept outside, now that the yelling, weapons blasts and thuds had ceased. Despite the success of the battle and the fact that they had been saved, all were quiet as they watched one they respectively ‘loved to love’, ‘hated to love’ or ‘loved to hate’, lie helpless as Steve and Clint fought a losing battle for the very air he breathed.

By this stage, even Hulk had noticed the building of tension in the air and, discarding his pounding of the rank body of ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, ambled over to Steve, Clint and Tony. Steve, holding the involuntarily spasming Tony as still as he could while Clint fiddled uselessly with the blade, trying anything his mind could come up with.  

The gasps of the crown alerted Steve that something was happening, and looking up he could see that Hulk, or Bruce – perhaps both, was actively fighting the adrenaline, trying to calm enough to transition back, obviously having understood their need for Bruce.

The green started to fade and the size change began, but Bruce was already in control, speaking calm in a low thunder like rumble- “Get him sitting, - support his weight Steve, – try to blow your nose, Tony – you just need to be able to breathe, we can deal with the rest later…”.

Steve could feel Tony trying to blow his nose, but either it just didn’t work or Tony didn’t even had enough air to make the attempt, regardless, it was unsuccessful. The rubbery substance was all but impossible to move, stuck like superglue to Tony’s face.

Bruce, now completely Bruce again, dropped to his own knees before the kneeling trio, his hands dong their own quick scan of the mask, gentle and sure as they trailed over Tony’s face.  Bruce moved one hand to find Tony’s wrist, squeezed once, reassuringly before taking his pulse as he spoke, “Tony? You’re doing really well – keeping calm, staying as still as you can…I need you to focus on me for a second – okay?”

Satisfied with the jerky nod he received, but not liking the slowing heartbeat beneath his fingers, Bruce asked, “Can you move your face at all?  Raise your eyebrows, blink – that sort of thing?”

A second and then a negative head shake answered him, and Bruce continued, “Did it go up your nose – can you feel it up your nose at all?”

Again a negative and Bruce sighed thankfully as he asked, “What about your mouth?” 

Tony indicated a negative again, and then stilled for an instant before suddenly erupting into a fit of movement. “Tony? Tony! Calm down, calm d- ” Bruce fell silent as Tony’s shaking, fluttering hand reached across, settled on Bruce’s chest and trailed up to touch on his mouth, tapping rapidly against his lips unto Bruce opened them to ask and then Tony nodded vigorously.

Bruce stared for a second, along with Steve and Clint and then it clicked, “Tony – can you move your mouth – can you open your lips?”

Tony nodded again, and reached out, this time in the general direction of Clint, seemingly trying to find somethi- Clint pulled back when Tony’s fingers glanced off the hilt of the dagger, “Hey! Carefu- oh.”

Clint moved in closer, saying, “I’m going to try to puncture between his lips – open a hole into his mouth – Steve, you need to hold him really still, if he mov- ”

And of course, right then, Tony reached his tipping point, his critical line; when burning lungs and held back panic flared into a bursting all-consuming pain, and blind, unreasoning terror washed over him. Steve’s previously supporting and comforting hands and body turned into a vice like holding restraint, and Bruce’s hands joined him as together they tried to hold Tony’s armour strengthened body still enough for Clint to stab him in the face with a dagger.

The nimble archer moved closer, all but sitting in Tony’s lap as he brought the dagger to bear, sliding it against the black obstruction, the tip indenting on the surface, but not yet piercing. It hovered for a second and then the crowd gasped as Clint jumped back, arms up as he swore in frustration, “Fuck! I can’t! I don’t know exactly where his mouth is – too high or low and I’ll kill him – I just – I can’t!”

Tony convulsed, once sharply, all but throwing Bruce off, before he stilled.  “Tony? Tony! Don’t! Please don’t…” Steve loosed a not-sob of relief when Tony squeezed his hands and whimpered weakly to let him know he was still with them, still fighting, even though the black was encroaching on his vision, and his lungs felt fit to burst- but he wouldn’t, couldn’t give in.

Tony pulled himself together with the reserves of willpower that had let him walk through a desert in Afghanistan after 3 months captivity, torture, starvation, heart-surgery, body-mutilation, self-destructing discoveries and the creation and destruction of the very first Ironman armour.    It was okay that his lungs were burning and his vision whiting and his hearing all but reduced to buzzing. It was okay, because although he couldn’t feel his fingers, he could still feel Steve’s grasping them, so that was okay.

He could hear Clint’s strained breathing, sense Bruce’s frustrated panic and feel the tremble of Steve’s body beneath his own and knew they needed him right then. Needed his brilliance and confidence.  And they’d get it. He wasn’t dying this day.

Reaching a trembling hand up, he looped it around Steve’s neck and pulled his lover down into a soul stealing kiss – well, it would have been – if not for the abhorrent black material that separated their lips. Regardless, he thoroughly proved that one person there could easily find his mouth.

He grabbed Clint by the front of his leather top and shook him like a ragdoll. Well – like a very weak, oxygen deprived person might shake a ragdoll.

And then shoved him towards Bruce, gesturing pointedly before curling into Steve, trying to fight the absolute agony of not breathing when his mind and body commanded it. 

Bruce half sniggered as he realised that Tony had just passed the responsibility to him, and not one to disappoint he spoke, calm and steady, although they could hear the desperation behind the reassuring words, “Don’t let go yet, Tony.  Clint- You have t-. Yes. You have to try – there’s nothing else. If you don’t do this, he will die. You won’t cut him.  I know. Tony knows – don’t you Tony?”

Tony all but in Steve’s lap by now, slumped against him, body vibrating with restrained shuddering panic, still managed a truly convincing nod. And then Clint was back, ordering, “Tony, open your mouth as wide as you can. Don’t move. Steve? Show me.”

Tony didn’t move. He shuddered, spasmed and convulsed. But Steve and Bruce kept him still.  His lips cracked open the tiniest bit and he felt the pressure building as Clint forced the tip of the dagger into the rubber, pushing and corkscrewing until finally and seconds later it was there.  Cold and metallic, sliding gently against his lower lip and then slipping between.

The knife was pulled out and suddenly he could breathe.  He could breathe and he honestly tried for long even breaths for his starving lungs, but he could breathe and they were short and rushed and entirely too obviously desperate with fully realised panic and he knew he was hyperventilating and reacting with a stupid amount of relief and his vision whitened out behind closed/blinded eyelids, and the dull roar in his ears engulfed everything else.

The world, at least his darkened version of it, faded back in, and from the completely panicked sound of Clint freaking out about stabbing him and Bruce’s desperate attempts to get him to answer and Steve’s ghastly shuddering begging, he knew he hadn’t been out long.

A low keening whimper in his throat silenced them for a second and then gasps of relief and gentle reassuring hands were on him as he breathed,  finally breathed, whistling breaths of gorgeous pure air – and for a moment that was enough.

Then, as oxygen saturated his brain, giddiness seeped into him and even though he was as weak as a kitten, still quivering and trembling and blind and in no way ready to move away from the warm strength of Steve’s body; he could hear the murmuring and speculation of the crowd and he’d be damned if he’d put on a bad show for his adoring public.

And he could feel Steve shaking.

Tony couldn’t see and he couldn’t speak, but one wandering hand found his gold faceplate and he clipped it back on.  Despite Bruce and Steve’s admonitions to “lie still” and “don’t move”, once it became clear that Tony was getting to his feet whether they liked it or not, Steve helped prop him upright, supporting him with an arm about the waist. 

He waved to the crowd, before throwing up the peace symbol just for good measure and when the crowd erupted in wild cheers and yelling - and Steve snorted in exasperated relief- Tony knew his work was done.  

***

A discussion went on around him that he mostly ignored, because he couldn’t exactly participate anyway, and was completely amenable to just stand there with Steve’s arm around him, his head propped up on one broad shoulder as they spoke.  His only interference was a silent ‘Nix, nay, negatory, nuh-unh, nope!’ at the mention of the word hospital– but the eventual result was that somehow, ‘The Avenger’s tower is only 100 ft. away, we’re going to carry you home’.

This quickly became, ‘The Avenger’s tower is only 100 ft. away, we’re going to walk you home’ when it became apparent that Tony Stark also had a non-verbal for ‘Like hell you will’.

Tony wasn’t so sure, for several reasons – 1. He was covered in acid and the suit was starting to seize, walking could be interesting. 2. He was still weak, lightheaded a little short of breath, had the beginnings of a completely radical headache and was rather shaky. 3. He was completely blind.

But then –1.  He was covered in acid so he wasn’t getting in any vehicle and he was so NOT beingstripped by his teammates in the street (Stripping himself was something else entirely) 2. Steve was there – so Tony knew he wouldn’t fall – no matter how weak he was. 3. Ditto.

And so he allowed them to walk him to the Tower, Steve’s arm around his waist, half dragging, half carrying, being a totally macho idiot about the acid in a way that totally didn’t set Tony’s heart aflutter.  Bruce and Clint a protective bracketing force on each side. Blind, he couldn’t see this, but he still knew. 

They subtly guided him (or not so subtly lifted him in some instances), soft whispers letting him know that there was a curb or debris and following one last rousing cheer from behind them, his feet clicked on marble and they entered the lobby.

They crossed the room and, as one, piled onto the personal elevator, Bruce intoning, “Science Lab floor please, JARVIS”.

JARVIS had scanned Tony the instant he stepped into the building, and his answering reply was clipped, sharp with AI infused concern and anger, “Immediately Doctor – do you require any further assistance?” and the doors close behind them as the elevator began to ascend.

 As they pulled away from the lobby, Tony pulled away from Steve slightly, body taught and radiating tension. Before any of them had a chance to ask, the billionaire lost the fight to retain his hard won composure and slumped against the wall. Pulling in several short unsteady breaths, shaking hands coming up to rest on each side of the helmet as he started to shudder. 

Steve crouched down, sliding Tony the rest of the way to the floor as he snapped the faceplate off again, allowing more air into the small hole, before taking enfolding his lover’s alarmingly cold hands reassuringly in the warmth of his own.   

Swapping places with Clint in an ungainly move, forced by the small confines of the elevator, Bruce knelt in front of Tony, his own hands touching on the black covered face, as the only other unarmoured area as he spoke, “Calm down. You’re going to be fine. Breathe. Nice and slow. In and hold…Out and hold. In an – come on Tony, you know this.  In and hold…Out and hold…In an- good. Good.”

Breathing through the too small hole didn’t get easier, and he just wanted to gulp as much air as he could, sure it wasn’t going to be enough, but he listened to Bruce and regulated his breaths and found that his lungs didn’t burn as much and he wasn’t as lightheaded. It didn’t really help the headache though, and he had a feeling that if (when) he was forced out of the armour, he was going to be as shaky as a newborn colt.

By the time they ended up in Bruce’s Hulk lab, the armour had completely seized, and he was basically a several hundred pound titanium-gold alloy paperweight being carted along by Steve.  Within seconds of entering the room, Tony was under the safety shower, along with...his hands floated out and encountered – everyone apparently.

It made sense it a purely technical way. All three of the others had not only been splashed in various colours throughout the battle, but had also brushed up against the suit at some point or another while he couldn’t...a shudder ran through him and the water was suddenly warmer, and although it hadn’t been the cold that had him shivering, Tony silently thanked JARVIS.

Tony couldn’t see, but he could feel the other three moving, and knew that they were stripping to undershorts. It was kind of  a shame really, so much potential innuendo and taunting down the drain -  it was no fun when he couldn’t see them squirm – well, Bruce might squirm, although by now he mostly just rolled his eyes – Steve would be more likely to blush that delicious pink hue from his ears all the way down to... Um, and Clint would just give back as good as he got.   

Bruce spoke, “Tony – I need you to be honest… are you having any other effects from that black crap? It’s not itching or stinging. Not hurting your eyes?”

Tony shook his head negatively and Brue continued, “Okay, if you can stand to wait a little longer, the plan is to get everyone clear of the acid goo, you out of the armour and then I’ll start running tests and work out how to get that off you - okay?”

At Tony’s nod, they all seemed to descend upon him. He could hear hands on him, sense where cloths and brushes scrubbed and rubbed away at latches and release mechanisms and knew it wouldn’t be long before they started trying to get him out of the suit, which he had to admit he was looking forward to for once. 

 He felt someone move behind him and knew from the intimate proximity and the warmth that it was Steve. The Captain easily found the release catch for the helmet at the back of his neck and a good tug had the rest of the head piece separated and discarded onto the bathroom floor.  

Long fingers found their way into his hair and a gentle massage drew a groan from his as tension he hadn’t realised he was hoarding leached from his body – it drew several chuckles from around him and he could feel Clint working away at the left shoulder guard with a gentleness that belied his ‘don’t give a damn’ persona – they were obviously trying to get him out of the armour without damaging it anymore, and it warmed his heart, knowing that they knew how he cared for his suit. 

 

The fingers in his hair drew his head back gently and something rushed through Tony and it was fear – before he could stop himself he whimpered and pulled away – realising that the five or so minutes they’d been under the spray he hadn’t allowed the water to hit his face.   He suddenly realised that he was terrified of making it worse, of not being able to breathe again.

He stumbled, because trying to move when you’re encased shoulder to foot in immovable metal was not very bright, but there was zero chance of him getting hurt in this shower, and once he realised that, it was suddenly okay to let Steve tilt his face back into the spray, and the last of the instinctual tension was replaced by amusement at Clint’s pseudo reassuring comment of “Don’t worry Tony – I’ve still got my dagger on me...” and Tony grinned as he tilted his head and replied– “I don’t even want to know where you’re keepi-?” and abruptly shut up,  realising at the same moment they did – that not only was he talking, but he could see Clint’s black shorts.

Bruce’s “Well, I’ll be!” blurred with Clint’s “Fucking Ace!” – and Tony snorted in laughter as he let Steve scrape the suddenly black jelly like substance off his face, washing down the drain and away forever – because, apparently? It was water soluble.

With the acid washed off, and Tony no longer blind and mute, the armour evacuation went a lot faster – and soon Tony was stripped down the same as the others, the armour an abandoned red and gold pile near the door.  Their ‘emergency mandatory chemical shower’ became a normal ‘get the dust, grime and other unknown smears off ‘shower and a ‘relax under the warm spray and celebrate you’re still alive with family’ shower. 

***

He felt lighter than usual, still a little lightheaded, and definitely shaky...and okay – so probably mild shock after several minutes of oxygen deprivation, not to mention the aforementioned headache of what no doubt would become epic proportions. All in all they estimated almost four and a half minutes of breathlessness, maybe longer depending on how long it was before Steve noticed. It was on the outside of the maximum, but Tony Stark had reserves that baffled everyone.  

Steve’s had an arm around his waist and Tony half in his arms as the leaned against the shower wall. Clint had seated himself cross-legged on the floor beside them, and if his shoulder just happened to be the perfect height for Tony to lean on – well he wasn’t being pushed away.

Clint was drawing on the glass with soap sludge – and Tony really didn’t want to know what – and was thankful that Hawkeye’s artistic skills were no match for Steve’s. Bruce seemed to think the same thing, for as fast as Clint could draw, the physicist was erasing the image with the detachable shower head. 

Other than that, Bruce was quiet and thoughtful, his own forceful de-hulking having sapped him of energy and lingering worry over Tony, obvious in every glance with assessing eyes.  Tony knew he wasn’t escaping a thorough check-over this afternoon – not that he wouldn’t try– although with the way Steve was all but wrapped around him, Tony didn’t like his chances.

Clint was the first to leave, getting to his feet, gently pushing Tony further into Steve’s waiting support to compensate for his lost leaning post. Before he could fully escape the sower, Bruce grabbed him by the arm and did a quick inspection of the sealed head wound and although satisfied that the glancing blow had been exactly that, Bruce had still extracted a promise to come back for a proper check-up before retiring for the evening.

Grabbing his towel with a flourish and swinging over his shoulders like a cape, Clint turned to leave. He stilled though, as a strange look crossed his face and he turned back to the showering group. He slipped the small silver dagger from the top seam of his shorts– and with his eyes very deliberately on Tony, he nicked his finger with the blade, smeared blood across the silver and then ran it under the water.  The water ran clear and Clint't turned, setting the dagger neatly down on the Ironman chest plate as he spoke, "This blade is an instrument of death and pain... yet today it was used to help save a life.  In this case, I wash away its prior evil with my own blood, and  bestow the blade upon you - as it will never again perform a more worthy action"

Tony knew he should be terrified, but he also knew what Clint had just done and he was actually quite honoured that the archer had retired the blade that had saved Tony’s life.

A beat of reverant silence and then Clint spoke, as if nothing had passed before,  “I’m gonna turn in – no actually, I’m gonna take by bow,  my acid eaten bow, to your lab, where you’re going to fix my baby first thing – before that dull lump of metal – you know I hate the S.H.I.E.L.D back up!”  It was Clint speak for “I know you’re going to be okay – because you wouldn’t dare be anything else” and Tony flipped him off in a clear ‘Thanks for caring’ manner.   The assassin disappeared, but not before getting in the last shot by throwing over his shoulder, “Now, You be good for Dr Bruce and Nurse Steve, Tony-boy!” and then he was gone.

Tony looked to his lover and Bruce – and cursed Clint for giving them the perfect opening.  He opened his mouth, but by the time he’d managed to get out a whining rendition of his number nine special, i.e -  “Come on guys – I’m fine – you can see I’m okay, It was ages ago and I...” the water had been shut off, towels wrapped around both Steve and Bruce’s waists and a third draped over Tony’s shoulders as he was herded over to Bruce’s small medical lab and lifted,  literally lifted, onto the white sheeted cot by Steve – and that was so unfair.

“Goddamn it – I’m not Four! You can’t jus-” the thermometer being shoved into his mouth cut him off and the towel was pushed off his shoulders and settled around his waist  as Bruce started his physical and visual search for acid burns, vision problems  and any other results of today incident.

“Oh, hush. This is happening.” Was Steve’s exasperated reply as he moved to sit on the bench beside Tony.   Bruce was inspecting the arc reactor for acid (oh god-) and just the thought was almost too much and even as he complained Tony reached for Steve’s hand, “I don’t wa-” and he caught sight of the blistering across Steve’s forearm and followed it up to his elbow, and then the pink skin irritated its way across his lovers chest and Tony had fallen silent - because that was because of him. His fault.     

He’d been silently staring a moment longer, guilt making him feel physically ill when a gentle hand tilted his face up and Steve spoke, “This is not your fault. I wasn’t leaving you and I know you’d do the same for me – have done the same for me, and without an accelerated healing factor.” He’d leaned in and pressed a kiss to Tony’s lips, adding “I love you. And that’s all there is to it. Now, feel free to keep complaining and I’ll keep telling you to hush.”

Bruce snorted and moved to take Tony’s blood pressure, but at Steve reproachful look he did smile softly and add “That goes for the rest of us too, Tony. You’re one of us and you may have the rest of the world fooled into thinking you’re a selfish bastard, but you’ve got nowhere left to hide from us. So don’t even try. Now. Ignore Steve, no complaining. Keep that thermometer in your mouth, your closed mouth. I’m going to take some blood. ”

Tony eyed them for a moment, obviously contemplating before he muttered, “Vampire” under his breath and Bruce pinched him while Steve ‘hushed’ him, but all three where smiling.  

***

A good three quarters of an hour later, Bruce swivelled around on his desk chair and said, “I’ve got nothing – your temp and BP are fine and your prelim blood work is clean. Looks like the solidifying goo and acid goo were just solidifying goo and acid goo. Apart from those few acid burns at the suit joints and what will probably become a raging headache, you’re fine.”  Steve beamed in relief and jostled Tony good-naturedly and Tony just, just managed to resist saying that he had told them that an hour ago. Just.

He apparently didn’t keep it off his face though, because Bruce sighed as he said, “Fine – go! Just- Just remember you went at least four minutes without oxygen and need to rest – take some Tylenol for the headache and get some salve on those burns. Keep an eye on him Steve, don’t let him over do it and get me immediately if anything happens- okay?”  

And Tony, remembering the calming words and frantic hands of earlier, that had helped make sure he was fine then to be fine now, spontaneously reached out and wrapped his arms around Bruce’s shoulders.   The physicist returned the warm hug easily, tugging Tony closer, and running a hand down his back, accepting the unspoken thanks, and then cut it off before it became awkward by whispering –“Uh – clothes, Tony.

Tony loosed a Cheshire smirk and turned to crawl onto his equally undressed lovers lap, wrapping himself around Steve and latching on, nosing the hollow of Steve’s throat as he said, “Oh. Steve doesn’t mind.”  

Steve; scarlet red from his ears to below his towel, took a fortifying breath and met Bruce’s too-amused eyes, saying “Thank you Bruce. We’ll be going now. Have a nice night. ” Standing he lifted his smaller lover up with him and Tony, forced to either dangle helplessly or wrap his legs around Steve’s waist, chose the latter .  The genius winked over Steve’s shoulder at Bruce as they disappeared through the door and down the hall.

***

 SMACK!

“Ow! “What was that for?!”

Steve’s palm snapped up sharply against the tender under curve of Tony’s exposed backside again, eliciting another yelp as Steve answered, “You know exactly what that was for, you little minx. Poor Bruce.” 

“More like lucky Bruce – I’m a prime piece you know! And together we’re fucking gorg-” SMACK!

“Ow! Ste- …..”  His words lost as Steve leaned in to steal a kiss.

Steve pulled back from the interrupting kiss and said, “Now, that’s a much better use for that potty mouth of yours”

Tony grinned and answered, “I’m not fucking sure, you’d be-”    SMACK!

“Godda- …..”     Leaning out of the kiss as Steve grinned at him Tony complained, “You could just kiss me! No need to get physical!” 

“Nope – I think you need negative and positive reinforcement.” Steve teased.

“Well – I can’t say I’m finding it exactly negate-” SMACK!

Tony bucked forward against Steve with a gasped, “ow!” at the sharp swat, but this time Steve’s hand stayed and caressed the sting away as he spoke, “I’m pretty sure I already knew that.”  And leaning in, he plundered Tony’s mouth as his hands cupped the slightly warm flesh through Tony’s still damp shorts.

Moving into the open elevator without breaking the kiss, Steve pressed Tony gently up against the far wall, his hands pinning Tony’s against the black metal and his lover’s legs still cinching his waist as they kissed. Steve pushed up on his toes, the bulge in his pants brushing against Tony’s ass, eliciting a choked whimper and Steve opened his eyes to look at his lover.

Tony’s eyes were blown wide, delectable lips swollen red as he panted and pink blush spreading across high cheekbones. He looked ravishing, absolutely gorgeous, but it was the skin that brought Steve back to himself – pale, delicate, perfectly creamy skin, and it all had been hidden by a hideous black mask of breath withholding sludge – and this, this with Tony up against the wall and breathless and stunning - this wasn’t exactly ‘not overdoing’ it. Steve forced himself to step back, drawing Tony back to his chest and wrapping his arms under his backside to take the strain off Tony’s legs.

Grumbling in disagreement, Tony relaxed into his comforting grasp with a mumbled “Steve Rogers, you’re such a tease.” 

The blond jostled Tony in his arms slightly as he asked, “A tease huh? Me?”

Tony smiled against Steve’s throat, and gently nibbled at the skin as he answered, “Yes. You.”

Turning Tony’s face up, Steve and pressed a soft kiss to willing lips before he answered, “Alright Kettle, I’ll be your pot”

My pot, huh?” Questioned Tony, nose wrinkled and eyes crossed in a twisted face that Steve found adorable. 

Steve replied with dead surety, despite the silly conversation, “Your pot. Your saucepan.  I’ll be your anything.”

Tony returned the kiss, adding, “Your such a sweet talker – now, take me to bed.”

“I thought I was.” Steve said with a slightly nonplussed look on his face.

Tony just looked at him.

 “What?” Steve asked.  

“JARVIS – penthouse please.” Tony answered, and the elevator they’d just been standing in the past 10 minutes finally began to move.

***

 

Once in their room, a still blushing Steve efficiently stripped Tony out of his still damp shorts and tossed his still laughing lover onto the bed.

Tony barely even registered a scowl as he accepted the offered cup and painkillers- anything to stave off what he could tell would be a killer headache should it come to fruition.

Stripping off his own wet shorts, Steve disappeared into the bathroom and quickly returned, sitting on his side of the bed against the head board with a smaller micro-fibre towel. Placing a small jar of burn salve on the bedside table, Steve crooked a finger at Tony who crawled across the bed and settled between his long legs, back resting against Steve’s chest with barely an eye roll as Steve tussled his tangled waves dry.

The blond, always fastidious and neat, looked from the now unwanted towel to the bathroom door and then at his lover sprawled languidly across his lap, and shrugging, tossed the towel towards the door.

Tony snorted in amusement and Steve shoved him off and rolled him onto his stomach, before stretching out alongside him and dropping a kiss onto a bare shoulder, making a note of the slightly unnatural warmth he could feel beneath his lips.

Reaching for the salve, Steve intoned softly, “Lie still-” and easing the cap off, he scooped up a finger of the gelatinous salve, spreading it with feather light touches across the line of irritated, reddened skin at the junction of Tony’s neck, where torso met head piece of the suit.  The salve soothed the almost unnoticed pain and then was absorbed into thirsty skin as Steve continued, the touch becoming nothing more than a caress.

Tiny red lines, stripped across both shoulders were soothed in more massage than slave application, Steve smiling as the tension all but leaked out of his lover, Tony becoming boneless beneath his hands.   

The small path of tiny blisters across the more loosely jointed wrists and elbows were liberally dotted with the salve, and then lightly spread across the inflamed skin, Steve’s long fingers gently manipulating the deceptively strong hands within his until Tony was languid beneath the affection.

Warm fingers caressed over twin dimples at the base of Tony’s spine and then trailed smoothly over the swell of pale skin, tracing slightly raised red burns that blazed across both hips, curling down over upper thighs and creased beneath firm buttocks.  Tony tensed slightly, these burns painfully obvious for having been beneath the suits heavier joints, full of soft rubber, elastic and electrical wiring having received more than their fair share of the acidic slime during the slide across the tarmac.

Steve, touch unbelievably light for one possessing such strength, smoothed the balm over the slightly more visible burns, more akin to serious sunburn; painful, but not life-threatening.  At the first cooling touch, Tony whimpered a breath through clenched teeth, but as the salve eased the sting of the burn, he relaxed, pained hiss turning to contented sigh.

Pressing a kiss to the small of Tony’s back, Steve moved to dot the barely visible red marks at knee and ankle, glad that the remaining burns were intermittent at worst and non-existent at best.

Burns tended, Steve dug his balm slicked fingers into the firm muscles at the back of Tony’s calf, massaging the remaining salve into the warm flesh, a grin gracing his face at his lover’s almost obscene purring and hopped that he could wrangle Tony into a back massage later in the week.  Perhaps both receiving and then giving – because Tony certainly had talented hands, but he made the most sinful noises.

Now though, Tony was languid and malleable against him, and Steve, hoping he’d stay that way, reached across to put the little jar of salve on the bedside table.

Apparently Tony had other ideas. 

The genius rolled to his knees, intercepting Steve’s hand and the jar of salve, one hand trying to push Steve’s immovable body back against the cushions propped up behind him as he unscrewed the cap with the other, saying, “Your turn – lie still”

Steve smiled and reached for the slave again, shaking his head as he replied, “I’m fine, Tony.  Already healing. Bruce said you need to res-”

Tony shuffling forward, straddling his lap and pulling him into a kiss, effectively stalled Steve’s protests. 

Pulling back with a smug grin, Tony, slave slicked hands already caressing the slightly pink skin of Steve’s chest, explained, “Bruce also said to put salve on any burns – and you have burns.”

Shaking his head at being outmanoeuvred, Steve gave in and relaxed into the pillows, content to watch Tony’s hands as they followed, generally, the path of the burns dotted down his arm and across his chest.

Fingertips light and almost teasing, Tony’s hands seemed to scald more than the acid bite he was claiming to sooth, and Steve eventually arrested the tempting movements by pulling Tony flush against his chest and into slow kiss. 

Steve heard Tony’s fingers fumbling to place the slave back on the bedside table without pulling away, and reaching out he assisted with his own superior reach, but gentled the kiss and pulled back as well, saying “Rest…”.

Tony, reluctant, but fighting the ghost of a monster headache, exhaustion and the remnants of shock, stole another quick press of lips and then curled down into Steve’s warmth, his face settled at the crook of his lover’s throat as he ordered softly, “Lights out JARVIS”,

And... Nothing.

“JARVIS? Lights, please?” the billionaire tried again, bamboozled.  But again – nothing.

Tony pulled away from an equally confused Steve, propping himself up on one arm to ask, “JARVIS? J? Are you o-?”

Steve could hear the underlying panic starting to form beneath the frustration and confusion, and knew that stress and worry were the last things his lover needed this evening.  Remembering that he’d heard JARVIS answer Bruce earlier that afternoon, Steve asked, “JARVIS?”

“Yes, Captain? Can I assist you with something?” came JARVIS’s immediate answer.

Tony sucked in a confused breath, as he asked, “JARVIS? Wha-”

And again, there was no reply forthcoming.

Steve opened his mouth to ask again, but Tony was already on his feet, reaching for the closest article of clothing, his breaths coming in swift gasps that reminded Steve much to closely of earlier that very day. Thankfully, or perhaps not, this was interspersed with muttered fragments of frantically panicked theories – “mainframe error…god! Creator blackout…J!? Design flaw….

Tony only stilled and fell silent when JARVIS next spoke to Steve, his voice strangely inflected, “Captain – Please inform Sir, that I did not like suddenly finding myself in the dark. And that I am most…displeased with him.”

Tony stilled immediately, like a viper readying for the strike – and then he exploded, “What the hell! JARVIS!? This is ridiculous- I had no choice! You can’t just- J!?

And again, only silence answered.

Tony wasn’t amused, “JARVIS! Answer me! You can’t ig- Steve. Steve – tell JARVIS that I’m not amused. I don’t like-”

Steve rolled his eyes skyward, but obeyed, “JARVIS, Tony wants you to know that he isn’t amused and that he doesn’t like bei-”

“Doesn’t like! Doesn’t like! Ask Sir if he thinks I liked being pushed into the dark – Falling, no visual display, no life support – 50/50 chance, and suddenly I’m in the black!”

Steve grimaced, mind caught on the words life support as he opened his mouth, but Tony beat him to it, “I had no choice! I had to redirect the energy! I had to cut life support - had to- Tell him I had to.

Even though he wanted to berate and yell and scream at Tony for doing something as reckless as cutting his life support, Steve remembered the helpless terror he’s felt when Hawkeye had fallen and knew that Tony had done what was necessary, even if he didn’t like it.  He said as much to JARVIS.

JARVIS’s reply was scathing, “I am an Artificial Intelligence, Captain – Intelligence being the operative word. I am under no illusions that Sir did not do what was necessary for the mission. However, he cut me out, without warning, apology or even a token reassurance in the aftermath, such as in the last four hours– and as a being capable of whatever it is that Sir has allowed me to form – I am angry. If I am being unreasonable or irrational, then it is Sir’s fault. ”

Silence reigned for an instant, and then Tony growled in frustrated confusion at what was essentially his own genius as he flung himself facedown onto the bed beside Steve, growling, “Tell him that I demand he stop learning stupid human behaviours. Nothing so complicated as sarcasm…now he’s gone and learnt ……  Silent treatment – by my own creation! This is just – fine, sulk J. I’m going to sleep.”  And he reached across to the manual light switch embedded somewhere along the edge of his bedframe and the room plunged into darkness.

Under the cover of darkness Steve allowed his amused grin to break free, Tony and JARVIS were always fascinating, but it was stunning when the AI learnt something new. Although Steve thought That Tony would have preferred Jarvis never learnt this one.

Tony wasn’t thinking that at all, in fact, Tony’s whole mind had immediately been engulfed by the black chasm that was his memory of that afternoon. The all-consuming darkness.  The disassociated, distances, separated feeling. The cold, spreading throughout his body, offset only by the growing burning, flaming, inferno of his lungs. Desperately trying to draw in air that wasn’t available. Breath caught in his throat, stale and rotting- scratching, clawing at his chest, demanding he breathe, but knowing he couldn’t, darkness encroaching for real, more intimidating than any blackness and settling like a heavy cloying blank-

He sat up from a dead still sprawl, gasping the words around chocking breathlessness, “JARVIS, lights!” and to the AI’s credit, there wasn’t even a minuscule hesitation before the room was bathed in warm white light and Tony gasping air that came easily, too easily as Steve, alerted to his easily recognisable flashback, reached for him and drew him into sheltering, calming arms.

“Hey! Hey – Tony…deep breath, shhh. Breathe. Slowly…that’s it…just a flashback, you’re fine. You’re okay, I’m here and you’re fine…shhh – it’s over…” set a soothing wave of reassurance to background the cradling hands as brown stared into blue and calmed easily under the soft influence.

As his breathing settled and his heart rate returned to normal, Tony just sighed, add an apparent fear of the dark to his ever growing list of issues, and too exhausted to even contemplate dealing with it that evening, he simply slid closer to Steve and was beyond relieved when his lover simply pulled him closer.

It was silent for a moment as both men moved slightly, limbs tucking between limbs and fingers tangling in hair, Steve’s arm stretching over Tony’s waist.

Toy spoke softly, “Steve – tell JARVIS that I’m sorry for…scaring him.”

Steve smiling, did as bid, “JARVIS, Tony wants me to tell you that he’s sorry for scaring you.”

It was silent for a pulse more and then JARVIS answered, “Tell Sir to tell me himself.”

Ignoring Steve’s bark of laughter, Tony grumbled petulantly, but eventually answered, “Okay – alright – I’m sorry J! I’m sorry. – Just…please...no more silent treatment? Please?

“Very well, Sir – apology accepted. Now might I suggest you heed Dr Banner’s suggestion and Captain Roger’s reiteration and perhaps rest?” the AI answered.

Tony, already warm and safe, barely raised a legitimate scowl, before it faded as he turned slightly in Steve’s arms, settling into their customary position and drawing Steve’s hand up to rest near the arc reactor.

As Tony settled, Steve shifted several times, minutely, but easily felt by Tony who was in contact almost head to foot. The blond seemed to be fighting internally with himself wether he should bring something up or let it rest. Tony waited, knowing that rushing Steve when he got like this would do no good. 

Steve made up his mind, his forefinger tracing lightly over the circle of the reactor. And Tony could tell he was going to speak.

And it would be heavy. 

He was right.  

Steve spoke, haltingly and with audible guilt, “I’m sorry I don’t get to you sooner – that you were alone for the first few seconds – I-” 

Tony caught his wandering hand and interrupted, “No- No, Steve- It wasn’t your fault, you couldn’t have known, it was-”

Steve interrupted him harshly, but the recrimination was towards himself, “I did notice – I saw you get hit with the black slime!”

He waited for Tony’s betrayed flinch, his gasping disbelief, but all that came was a simply asked, “And?”

“And? And what!” Steve demanded, propping himself up on one arm to look down into Tony’s pale lit face.

“And what aren’t you telling me? Because if you expect me to believe – Me! The man you just professed your love to in front of Bruce- If you expect me to just believe that you saw me get hit in the face with suffocating goo and then just watched for the first minute or so...well- maybe we should go see Bruce again, see if you got some ‘dumb-ass’ goo in your mouth-”

Steve just stared at him and Tony added, “So. And?” 

“And. And I thought the faceplate was down – and we’d just established that the suit was holding up okay...it wasn’t until after - I’m sorry, Tony” Steve spoke softly, still awaiting Tony’s angry reaction.

“I know – and it’s okay, I’m okay – somehow, I came out just fine. Don’t get me wrong - I was fucking terrified, I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe and I had no idea what was going on...but I knew you’d find me. And?”

“And?” Steve asked, once again non-plussed.

“I knew you’d find me- and?” Tony repeated.

Tentatively Steve answered, “And...And- I did?

“And you did. And I’m fine. And I love you. And I’m suddenly really fucking tired.”  Tony finished, pulling Steve back down beside him.

A laughing, “Go to sleep, Tony” answered him.

For a second Tony just stared up, eyes tracing the blond hairline, reactor light infused blue eyes, firm jaw and full lips before he said softly, barely more than a whisper, “When I dream – of…”

Steve pressed a kiss to his forehead, hand settling in its rightful place over the arc-reactor as he replied, “I’ll be here.”

It seemed to be enough for Tony, who closed his eyes and slipped into an exhausted slumber. Listening to Tony’s breathing even out as he slipped into dreamland, Steve pressed his lips behind Tony’s ear and he whispered, “And?”

 “And I always will.”

******