Disclaimer: Not mine.
"Go! Get out of here!" Rogers shoved the few remaining civilians unceremoniously down the stairs into the basement subway entrance, holding his shield over their heads to protect them from falling debris.
Civilians, Tony thought in disgust, scanning the bank lobby for any other survivors. That bastard's got me thinking like a damn soldier already. "All clear, Cap!" he shouted over the noise of the firefight outside. Something exploded outside, and the building shuddered, sending a crystal chandelier crashing to the floor. "Let's get the hell outta here and back to the party."
Rogers jumped lightly over the fallen chandelier and sprinted to Tony's side. "If this is your idea of a party, remind me to skip New Year's at Stark Tower," he said drily, peering through a shattered window at the battle raging outside.
"Who said you were invited?" Tony shot back. Rogers smirked, and Tony felt himself grinning back, even though the grin was invisible behind the Iron Man mask. "Let's go for shawarma after this," the smaller man announced abruptly. The engineering genius loved watching people's reactions to his sudden shifts in conversational topics—a man could learn so much just by watching people's reactions to simple conversations—and the look of confusion and exasperation that crossed Rogers' face was so comical that Tony had to bite back a laugh.
"What is it with you and shawarma?" Rogers demanded, turning to face him, his blue eyes startlingly clear in his dirt-stained face.
Tony opened his mouth to once again lament the World War II hero's lack of appreciation for international cuisine, but Rogers' gaze had focused on something behind him, his eyes narrowing in disbelief. "Shit," he swore, pushing past the smaller man and running to the teller stands. Tony spun around, flexing his wrists to bring his repulsor rays up in a defensive stance and searching to see what had made Captain Purity swear like that. At first he couldn't see anything, even when Jarvis zoomed the suit's visuals in for a closer look. And then—
"Shit," Tony muttered. A child, a little girl no taller than Tony's thigh, cowered beneath a pile of rubble in the far corner, her big dark eyes huge in her tiny face. "Jarvis, how the hell did you miss picking her up on the scanners?"
"The aliens' dampening field that has been blocking communications has also been interfering with my scanners, sir," the mechanized voice answered close to his ear. A soft whir followed, and Jarvis continued, "She appears to be uninjured, sir."
"She's alright!" Rogers shouted over his shoulder, confirming Jarvis' scans. Tony positioned himself halfway between the super-soldier and the entrance of the bank, keeping watch for aliens as Rogers carefully shoved a slab of concrete away from the little girl.
Another explosion rocked the building, and Tony looked up in concern as half of the floor above sheered off and shattered around him. "Get her out of here, Cap!" The building shuddered again, and Tony saw Rogers scoop the little girl up in his arms. "Any day now," Tony muttered as Jarvis sent warnings about the building's failing stability flashing across his view screen.
Rogers sprinted across the marble floor, leaping over shattered columns before skidding to a halt by the basement stairs. He tried to set the child down, but she screamed in terror and dug her little fingers into his uniform.
"Sir…" Jarvis said in a warning tone that Tony had learned to dread over the last few months. The building was shaking continuously now, bits of concrete falling and bouncing off of the Iron Man suit like some kind of nightmarish snow fall.
"Captain!" Tony shouted in warning. Rogers ripped the little girl free from his uniform as gently as he could, flipped his shield face down, wrapped her hands around the leather straps, and sent the shield sliding down the staircase with the screaming child on top.
The shield skidded to a stop at the bottom of the stairs, and Rogers screamed "Run!" as the little girl turned to look up at him. She got up shakily and ran out of sight, after the other civilians.
Tony saw Rogers hesitate at the top of the stairs, and he knew that the solider was wondering whether he could reach his shield and make it back up the stairs before the building collapsed. "No time, Captain!" Tony shouted at him. "We have to get out of here!"
Rogers grunted and ran back towards Tony, who began to inch his way to the entrance, deflecting massive blocks and support beams with his repulsor rays.
Another explosion hit the building, and Tony swore as he staggered. "Sir!" Jarvis shrieked in his ear, thoroughly alarmed now as the building began to collapse inwards. Tony turned his head to scream a final warning at Rogers just in time to see the taller man fall to his knees as the floor buckled. Tony saw Rogers grit his teeth and shove himself up, leaping desperately for the exit, but he was too far away, even with the famous strength of Captain America. Shit, no shield, Tony thought, and he spun on his heel and dove deeper into the building, intercepting Rogers and shoving him below the Iron Man suit.
Then the world came crashing on top of them.
"Sir. Sir. Sir." Tony came awake with a start, his eyes flying open.
"Good afternoon, sir," the A.I.'s cultured voice responded; Tony thought he detected an undertone of relief in the voice.
"Miss me, Jarvis?" he asked, smiling. Then pain shot through his head, and he groaned. He tried to lift his hand to his aching face and realized that he was trapped, lying face down with a small herd of elephants sitting on his back—or at least, that's what it felt like. He started swearing.
"I hate to interrupt, sir," Jarvis said after a moment, "but Captain Rogers' vital signs are becoming weaker. I believe he has been critically injured. He could use your assistance, sir."
Tony nearly swallowed his tongue. "Where is he, Jarvis?"
"Under you, sir."
Tony shifted his hand until his metal gauntlet came across something covered in cloth. He pressed his hand against it for a moment. "Damn," he remarked in surprise, "looks like Agent Romanoff was right—his ass really is rock-hard."
Tony shook his head, wincing slightly. "Nevermind, Jarvis. Easily distracted—where is he injured?"
"Unknown, sir. My scanners have been damaged. I will need a visual to make a full report." Tony swore again and slid his hand down Rogers' hip until it pressed against the floor. He tried to push himself up, grunting as the suit strained to lift the rubble pressing down on the two men.
"May I offer a suggestion, sir?"
Tony lowered himself with a sigh. "Go ahead, Jarvis."
"There are several crossbeam supports holding up much of the building 3.2 meters above you, sir. A shot with one repulsor ray at 36.8% power should be enough to clear the debris immediately on top of you without causing further structural collapse."
"I thought your scanners weren't working, Jarvis," Tony said accusingly.
"I am 62.54% certain that it will not cause further structural collapse, sir," the A.I. corrected itself. "Considering Captain Rogers' physical status and the rest of the Avengers' preoccupation with the alien invasion, it seems a reasonable risk, sir."
As if in response, the inert body under Tony suddenly let out a low moan. "You're right, Jarvis," Tony decided quickly. He pulled his arm awkwardly around his head until his right palm faced upward by his left ear. "36.8% power, Jarvis?"
"Let's do this," Tony said grimly, praying that he wouldn't shoot his own ear off. He clenched his fingers and the repulsor implanted in the palm of his gauntlet exploded into light, sending white waves across his vision. There was a loud crash and the ominous groan of straining metal, but the weight was gone from his back.
He quickly rolled off the limp body lying in a crumpled heap and pulled his mask and helmet off. A switch on the back turned the helmet's eye lights into two powerful flashlights that cast an eerie light in the tiny grotto Tony had made. "Alright, Captain," he murmured, crawling to the other man's head after setting the helmet down in the dust, "let's see what we have."
Rogers lay on his stomach, his head turned to the side and his arms flung out over his head. Tony started to roll the other man over until Jarvis reminded him to check for back injuries. With an annoyed grunt, the engineer pulled off his metal gauntlets off and tossed them aside, before running his hands lightly down the captain's back. He flinched when something in the wounded man's side gave way slightly beneath the gentle pressure.
"Broken ribs, sir," Jarvis confirmed. "Two, possibly three. They don't appear to have punctured any organs, sir, but Captain Rogers' vital signs are still falling."
"Let's check the front, Jarvis," Tony answered, sliding his arm underneath the taller man's shoulders and rolling him over gently, being mindful of the broken ribs. Quickly he scanned the other man's body, starting at his head. Something had ripped Rogers' face mask in half, leaving a bloody gash across his right temple and revealing his ashen face. More bruises and cuts marred his face and torso, but nothing seemed broken in his arms or chest area except for the broken ribs on his right side—
"Oh, God," Tony breathed. A crystal shard, part of the shattered chandelier, protruded from the left side of Rogers' midsection like an oddly beautiful knife, right underneath his ribcage. The thick fibers of Rogers' uniform had absorbed the blood until it spread across his stomach and chest. Tony's fingers traced the shaft of the crystal; it must have been at least three inches thick.
"Jarvis?" Tony was startled to hear his own voice shaking.
"I believe the shard has punctured either the spleen or the stomach, sir."
Tony nodded grimly, shifting his hold slightly. "What are his chances, Jarvis?" he asked suddenly. Rogers' warm blood had stained his hand red to the wrist.
The A.I. took a moment to run its algorithms. "Not good, sir."
Tony Stark looked at Rogers' slack face for a moment. "This is Captain America we're talking about, Jarvis. The super-soldier who can leap tall buildings in a single bound."
"I know, sir. I have taken that into consideration for my calculations."
"Oh." Tony laid Rogers gently on the ground and ripped off the captain's torn sleeve. He held it in his left hand at the base of the shard, wrapping his right around the crystal once more. "At least he's unconscious for this," Tony muttered to himself.
"Sir—that might not be the wisest course of action—" Jarvis started to say, but Tony had already wrenched his hand up. The crystal shard ripped free from the wounded man's side with a horrible squelching sound. Tony threw it aside in disgust.
Rogers jerked awake with a scream, his back arching off the ground. Tony pressed the torn cloth hard against the gaping wound as blood began to gush out in a red flood, and Rogers screamed again, trying to curl around his wounded side.
"Cap! Captain!" Tony shouted at him, trying to press his shoulder against the ground with his free hand. Rogers writhed in agony, his hands fumbling and tearing at the cloth pressed against his side. "Steve!" Tony snapped, clicking his fingers sharply in front of the other man's face. Rogers jerked, his head snapping around to stare at Tony, his face pale and sweaty.
"Stark?" he croaked after a moment, his voice hoarse.
"Easy, Steve," Tony said, pressing him back against the ground. "You had a fight with a chandelier and lost."
Rogers' head rolled from side to side, staring blearily at the mess surrounding them. "What… happened?" he asked after a moment, his breath coming in pained gasps.
"The bank building collapsed," Tony said, shifting slightly so that he could apply more pressure to the side wound. "And since you had to be the gallant soldier and sacrificed your shield to be a sled for some brat with pigtails, I had to be the hero and save your sorry ass."
"What?" Rogers asked in confusion.
"Don't you remember?" Tony demanded, cold fear trickling in his stomach as he turned his attention back to Rogers' head wound, which had begun to bleed again. "Ugly aliens with big glowing guns attacking New York, civilians trapped in a bank building, big booms, three hundred tons of brick and marble on top of us?"
"Aliens?" Rogers repeated uncertainly. Then his blue eyes widened. "Loki!"
Tony blinked; it was his turn to be surprised. "What? No, Cap—Loki's old news. We beat him five months ago. Don't you remember?" he repeated, feeling tension building in his shoulders. The look of confusion grew on Rogers' face, and Tony turned his head gently toward the helmet-lights. "Look at me, Cap," he ordered. Rogers blinked at him, wincing as the light struck his eyes. "A new group of aliens attacked New York early this morning and the Avengers answered S.H.I.E.L.D.'s call for aid. You and I were evacuating civilians trapped on this block by the invaders when this building collapsed on top of us. You've been injured—broken ribs," he paused, noticing how the pupil of one of Rogers' eyes was significantly larger than the other, "concussion—don't know how severe—and a slight puncture wound."
Tony felt Rogers' hand trace the edges of the makeshift bandage he was pressing against his side. The cloth was already soaked through, and Tony could feel blood trickling steadily between his fingers. "How bad is it?" Rogers asked quietly, his voice calm, but Tony could see a muscle twitching in the other man's jaw.
Not bad, Tony almost said, but Rogers was giving him that look—the I'm-your-captain-and-you-better-tell-me-the-truth-so-help-you-God look. "Not good," Tony admitted finally. "But don't worry, we'll get you out of here soon so S.H.I.E.L.D. can patch you up."
"Soon," Rogers echoed softly, staring up at the shattered columns and walls looming above them. His hand slid weakly, limply, down his side. His eyes fluttered shut.
Tony patted his face sharply in alarm. "Captain!" The other man's eyelids flickered weakly. "Steve! Wake up! You need to stay alert." When Rogers didn't respond, Tony slapped him. "Steve!" His eyes flew open and he gasped, before choking on a cough, his legs curling up weakly against the pain. "Steve, talk to me," Tony demanded, snapping his fingers in front of the other man's face again. "Stay awake!"
"Wha…?" Rogers mumbled weakly.
"Talk," Tony repeated. "Talk about anything. Tell me about… about The Wizard of Oz and flying monkeys, Cary Grant, Gone with the Wind…" he racked his brain desperately; Rogers' eyes were fluttering again. "Tell me about my father," he blurted out without thinking. It got Rogers' attention, though: the wounded man's head turned toward him. "Tell me about Howard Stark."
Rogers swallowed thickly. "Bastard," he muttered weakly, dazedly. For a moment Tony wasn't sure if he was referring to Howard or to him. "Thought he could solve anything with his fancy contraptions…" the wounded man continued. "Private plane…fondue… I hate fondue," he added plaintively.
Tony was torn between amusement at the petulance in Rogers' voice, confusion as even his quick and random mind failed to find a clear connection between planes and fondue, and a growing concern at the amount of blood the taller man was losing. He ripped another section of the torn blue uniform free and pressed it against Rogers' side. Pressing his hand lightly against the other man's neck, he checked his pulse, finding it weak, unsteady, and rapid. "You hate shawarma and you hate fondue," Tony prodded him gently, brushing Rogers' fair hair away from the ugly gash on his temple. "I'll be sure to serve both at my New Year's Party."
"I thought I wasn't invited." Tony blinked in surprise, and saw the other man smiling faintly at him.
"I thought you didn't remember anything!" he said indignantly.
"I remember I hate shawarma." There was a long pause. "And fondue."
Tony snorted despite himself. "Fine. You promise to come to my party, and I'll promise to serve nothing but hamburgers and hotdogs. I'll even make it Fourth-of-July themed."
Rogers smiled again. "Now that's a party." His face was so pale, the silver star on his chest looked colorful in comparison. His voice faded into silence as his head began to loll.
Tony pinched his cheek before shoving both hands against the puncture wound. "Keep talking, soldier. There must have been more to my father than planes and fondue."
Rogers swallowed again, and Tony thought he saw something wet and red in the corner of his mouth. He almost reached up to check, but he couldn't let up the pressure on the side wound. One thing at a time, Stark, he told himself. "Angry that I took his shield," Rogers said suddenly, coughing slightly. "His favorite toy…he tried to win it back from me in a drinking game… I ended up carrying him home… when he threw up on Peggy, I knew she was mine…" The super-soldier's voice was slurring badly.
"Peggy? Who's Peggy?" Tony asked, shifting until one knee was pressed against the other man's side, so he could free one hand from the sticky bandage. He reached slowly for the Iron Man helmet and his conn. Rogers grinned dazedly, one hand plucking weakly at his side as he began to ramble hoarsely on about Peggy Carter and the dates he had planned to have with her. Tony stopped listening after a moment, pulling the helmet up close to his mouth.
"Jarvis," he whispered, "can you give me an estimate on how long it'll take the others to reach us?"
Jarvis whirred before answering softly, "Taking into consideration your and Captain Rogers' absences from the fighting? 1.78 hours from the time of the building's collapse, sir."
"How long has it been so far?"
"46.9 minutes, sir. You were unconscious for 18.3 minutes."
"Damn," Tony muttered softly. He glanced down at Rogers, who was staring at the shadows cast on the rubble by the helmet's light, still whispering hoarsely about the woman he had left behind. His breathing was shallow and rapid. "How much blood has he lost, Jarvis?" Tony asked.
"Roughly 30% of his total blood volume, sir."
"Cold," Rogers said suddenly, loudly, startling Tony so much that he almost dropped the helmet. "So cold," he continued, more quietly. "I don't want to be cold again." Rogers clenched his fists weakly, as if he could fight off the encroaching cold somehow. Tony dropped the helmet and touched his cheek again; it was cool and clammy. At the touch, Rogers turned his head weakly until he was looking in Tony's eyes. Tony was alarmed to see that the soldier's lips were an ashen blue, almost the same shade as his bleary eyes. "He would have been proud of you," Rogers said abruptly, coughing again.
"What?" Tony asked, startled.
"Howard…would have been proud of you," the wounded man repeated. Then his blue eyes rolled back inside of his head, and his body went limp.
"Steve? Steve!" Tony slapped his face sharply, but Rogers' head simply lolled slackly to the side, unresponsive.
"He's going into hypovolemic shock, sir," Jarvis said urgently from within the helmet.
"I can see that!" Tony snarled. He searched around desperately for something to hold the bandage against Rogers' side; he needed both hands free to try to revive the dying man.
Dying. He's dying. Tony could feel the unfamiliar pangs of panic swimming in his stomach.
"His belt, sir," Jarvis suggested, tracking his movements.
"What?" Tony jerked, thrown off balance by his sudden realization that Captain America—Captain America, for Christ's sake!—was dying, and he was the only one around to help him. "Oh, yeah—thanks, Jarvis." Tony awkwardly undid Rogers' belt with one hand, pulling it free in a rush. His hand holding the blood-soaked clothes over the wound was red to the elbow. He had to peel it away. Without the pressure, blood started to flow more rapidly from the wound, pulsing out with each beat of Rogers' weakening heart. Shoving his bloody hand into one of his discarded gauntlets, Tony flicked his finger, unfurling a small cutting tool and using it to rip away a large section of Roger's uniform from the chest area, slicing the silver star in half. Bundling the torn cloth into a tight ball, Tony quickly slipped the belt under Rogers' back and across his stomach, using it to hold the cloth tightly against the deep wound. The whole process took only a few seconds. Steve Rogers lay limp and still during it, his breathing faint and fast.
"How much blood, Jarvis?" Tony asked, slapping Rogers' pale face on both cheeks and peeling his eyelids back.
"Dammit," Tony muttered, and then, "Ah!" as Rogers' face twitched. "Steve?" Tony called, taking it as a sign that the other man was regaining consciousness. Tiny spasms contorted Rogers' face, and then his arms and legs twitched. "Steve?" Tony repeated hopefully. A wet choking noise escaped from the wounded man's mouth, and suddenly the tall body was convulsing, seizures racking his limbs as his head pounded weakly against the earth. "Jarvis!" Tony yelled in alarm.
"A trauma-induced seizure, sir," the A.I. answered calmly.
"I know, dammit! How do I stop it?"
"You do not have the medical equipment available to do so, sir." Tony swore foully as he tried to hold the convulsing man's head steady. "I suggest trying to keep his airway clear, sir," the A.I. added.
"Easy for you to say," Tony muttered. He grabbed Rogers' head, trying to keep it still despite the convulsions that shook the tall frame like a child shaking a ragdoll. Bloody froth had filled Rogers' mouth.
As if the convulsions weren't enough to deal with, the wreckage above his head suddenly shuddered and groaned. Dammit, Tony thought, just what I need now—to have the whole damn building finally fall on top of us.
"Ah, sir," Jarvis said over Rogers' choking moans and the screech of metal rubbing against metal. "It seems as if I have miscalculated. The remaining Avengers have begun a recovery effort and are roughly five minutes away from reaching you and Captain Rogers."
Tony did not think of himself as a praying man, but when he heard that, he was almost ready to send a silent thanks up to whatever omnipotent being was watching over the world.
Rogers suddenly went limp again. For a brief moment Tony was grateful, thinking that the convulsions were over. Then he realized that something was horribly wrong—well, even more horribly wrong than things already were. Rogers' blue eyes were open slightly, and he looked like he might be half asleep; but his eyes were fixed and unmoving, and Tony, cradling his head, realized he couldn't feel a pulse in his neck.
"Sir, Captain Rogers has gone into cardiac arrest!" Tony didn't need Jarvis' warning to realize what had happened.
His own heart pounding painfully fast, Tony shifted so that he was kneeling beside the captain's still form. One hand cupped around the other in a double fist, Tony pushed down hard on the unmoving chest, five times quickly, feeling the broken ribs grind under the pressure. "Come on, don't make me kiss you, Cap," he muttered, not even realizing what he was saying. "I don't bat for that team." He tilted Rogers' head back, pinched his nose shut and breathed sharply into the slack mouth, twice. Roger's cheeks puffed out, but his chest didn't move, and Tony swore, shoving his fingers deep into the other's mouth and down his throat, and scooping out a sticky, tangy mass of blood and mucus. He breathed into Rogers' mouth again, and felt his chest lift slightly.
Tony returned to the chest compressions, one small part of his mind counting off presses and breaths as another used his mouth to shout frantically at the people above, "Banner! Banner!" He thought he heard the Hulk roaring back, but it sounded far away.
The greater part of his prodigious mind was screaming at the omnipotent being responsible for this entire shitshow. The only man in the world who still believes in you unquestioningly, and this is how you treat him? "We need him, dammit!" Tony snarled out loud—one-two-three-four-five went his hands against the still chest—one-two mouthfuls of air against the slack lips—"If we're a time bomb, then he's the timer that keeps us ticking! Bad enough you put him on ice for seventy years. Jesus, Natasha just got him to stop wearing plaid"—one-two-three-four-five—one-two—"so the poor bastard might actually get a chance with another girl"—one-two-three-four-five—one-two—"Christ, he's just a kid—he's what, twenty-two? Twenty-four, not counting Capsicle time? He's probably still a virgin!"
This last remark seemed to strike a chord with the omnipotent being. At any rate, the rubble directly above Tony's head gave a final shudder before two massive green arms ripped up roughly three tons of concrete and steel and threw it aside like a giant Frisbee. Blinding light flooded the little grotto where Tony knelt with the dying war hero. That's right, Tony, said an inane voice inside his head, God likes virgins. "Banner!" Tony screamed into the light, ignoring the mad little voice for the moment. "Med kit!" His eyes were shut against the sudden, glaring brightness, but he heard the Hulk roar in agreement. Then something—no, someone landed lightly beside him.
"Christ," he heard Banner gasp in horror.
"Maybe he'll like you more than me, 'cause he's not helping me much," Tony told him, peering at the half-naked doctor through narrowed eyes, even as he counted compressions against Rogers' chest.
Banner threw him a quick, confused look before shouting up, "Clint, I need you!" and opening a large black medical kit. The archer jumped down, his face paling as he took in the scene. "Tony, back off," Banner ordered, but Tony couldn't stop, Rogers was still limp, still not breathing—
Banner shoved him out of the way; Tony slipped in the pool of blood that glittered like liquid rubies in the sunlight and fell on his back, smacking his head against a rock. No, not a rock—the Iron Man helmet. "Lot of good you were," he muttered to it as he rolled into a sitting position to watch Banner's frantic motions.
Banner had tossed a tangle of long tubing at Barton, who began threading it into Rogers' slack mouth and down his throat, attaching a small blue balloon to the end, which he began to squeeze rhythmically. Banner ripped the remaining shreds of Captain America's famous uniform free from Rogers' chest, slapped two sensors on, and a miniature screen in the med kit turned on, showing a flat line. Banner jabbed a very long and very thick needle into the still chest, directly over the silent heart, pumping a clear liquid into Rogers' heart.
Tony heard a humming noise and glanced at the med kit; a tiny, portable defibrillator was charging up. Banner said something, but Tony's ears were ringing and he couldn't hear. Banner grabbed the two paddles; they looked ridiculously small and useless against Rogers' broad chest, but they must have been powerful, because the shock they sent through his body was enough to make his back jerk off the ground.
All three men stared at the miniature screen in the med kit.
Barton turned a nob on the defibrillator and Banner pressed the paddles down again, and Rogers' body jerked again, harder this time. Tony saw a tiny trickle of blood oozing from Rogers' nose, and he wanted to yell and shout that that was the whole problem, he'd lost too much blood, he couldn't lose anymore—
The line on the screen stayed flat, and Tony realized that the ringing in his ears was actually the sound of the flat line, just like in the hospital shows that Pepper liked to watch—
Banner said something to Barton, who gave him a startled look. "Do it," Tony heard Banner bark at the other man. "He's a superhuman, remember?"
Barton looked worried—more worried—but he turned the little nob again, only this time he turned it as far as it would go. Banner pressed the paddles against the still chest, and the body jerked violently, and Tony could smell singed hair and skin—
And the screen beeped. They waited, frozen. And it beeped again. And again. And again.
Then there were more people, people with stretchers, and someone was shouting about preparing a blood transfusion and prepping for surgery, and they were lifting Captain America up into the light, leaving Tony in the dirty little grotto. There's a metaphor in there somewhere, the inane voice in his head commented.
"Tony." A hand fell on his shoulder, and he jumped in surprise before looking up. Banner stood over him, smiling wearily. Tony wondered how long he had been sitting there, motionless.
"Aren't doctors supposed to stick with their patients?" Tony demanded accusingly after a long moment as he tried to gather his scattered thoughts.
Banner kept smiling and shook his head. "I'm not a surgeon, and that's what Steve needs now. So I'm sticking with my other patient."
Tony staggered to his feet, feeling slightly insulted. "I'm not the one who lost a battle against a chandelier, Banner. Cap's the injured one, not me. I'm fine."
"Really?" Banner asked doubtfully. "Do you wanna let go of the helmet, then?"
Tony blinked in surprise and glanced down to where Banner was pointing. His arms were clutched tight around the Iron Man helmet, crushing it against the plating protecting his chest. He must have been holding it for a long time, because he became suddenly aware of how much his arms and shoulders ached from the strain. He let the helmet fall to the ground and watched it roll to a stop.
"I was useless," he said out loud, without meaning to.
Banner leaned down and picked up the helmet, dusting it off. "You saved his life, Tony," the doctor disagreed quietly. "You stopped him from bleeding to death."
Tony shook his head. "His heart stopped. How is that saving his life?"
Banner handed him the helmet. "Because you kept it going—you didn't give up on him, even when he couldn't fight his own battle anymore." Banner suddenly grinned. "He might be the timer that keeps the time bomb from exploding, but you're the battery that kept the timer going."
"Shit. You heard that?"
Tony stared at the battered helmet for several long moments. When the urge to start quoting Hamlet threatened to overcome him, he tucked the helmet underneath his arm, glanced around the ruins of the bank, and marched purposefully off through the rubble to the west end of the building.
"Where are you going?" Banner called after him.
"To find that goddamned shield," he shot back over his shoulder.
Tony sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair and studied the sleeping man lying in the hospital bed beside him. Thick bandages covered most of Rogers' torso, not quite hiding the mass of yellow and green bruises that spread across his chest. Two IVs ran into each of his arms; three were busy pumping a steady stream of morphine into the wounded man's veins in an effort to have some effect on his heightened metabolism. The fourth held a concoction of Banner's making, specially designed just for the super-soldier.
It had been three days since the battle; sixty-four hours since Rogers came out of surgery; thirty-nine hours since the doctors had taken him off of artificial respiration; seven hours since the nurse had removed the bandage from Rogers' head to reveal the gash on his temple was nothing more than an ugly red scar that had already begun to fade; and three and a half hours since Rogers had gone from unconsciousness into a deep, healing sleep, his eyelids twitching slightly as he dreamed.
Tony had been sitting in the chair by the bed for the full sixty-four hours since the other man had come out of surgery. One of the nurses—a new recruit in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s medical corps—had foolishly tried to get him to leave after the first night, but Banner had bustled her out of the room before Tony's vitriolic insults had completely reduced her to tears. After that, no one said anything to him when they came into the room to check on Rogers unless he initiated the conversation—and that he had done only once, demanding his cell phone and a goddamned drink when Rogers started breathing on his own thirty-nine hours earlier.
If someone had asked why he was holding vigil over the wounded soldier, he wouldn't have been able to explain why, because he didn't understand it himself—except that he felt like he was stuck in an alternate dimension, where everything was backwards, like in that Star Trek episode from the original series. Normally he was the one in the hospital bed, usually because his miniature arc reactor had taken one direct hit too many, sending his heart into a painful arrhythmia as the shrapnel slid a millimeter or two deeper into his chest; the arc reactor was both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. He didn't mind ending up in the hospital, though—or at least, not much. It was only logical that he would be the one to get injured with the greatest frequency—not counting the Iron Man suit, he was the smallest, and he lacked the Hulk's indestructability, Thor's demi-godhood, and Captain America's serum-powered regeneration.
Each time he woke up in that bed, though, Rogers was there, nodding briskly at him once he regained consciousness before striding off to complete his report for Fury. But now Rogers was the one lying in the bed, and Tony was the one waiting for him to wake up.
At first Tony had assumed that Rogers was just playing the good little commando, checking up on a fallen solider as if it were nothing more than another obligation of his rank. Then the attacks became so frequent that the Avengers didn't even bother disassembling after the battles, moving into Stark Tower instead on a temporary-turning-permanent basis. One night Rogers had fallen asleep in his chair during a conversation on quantum physics which even Thor had joined in. Tony was the only one who had noticed, and he was busy aiming a paper football at the captain's head when Rogers woke up with a jerk after only a few minutes, so that Tony was also the only one who saw the emotions that crossed the other man's face. First was a spasm of panic and fear, and then a vast relief as Rogers came fully awake, glancing quickly at his companions as if to reassure himself that they were still there. No, Tony had realized a moment later, as if to reassure himself that he was still there.
After that episode, Tony had ordered Jarvis to track the captain's sleeping pattern each night. And each morning Jarvis reported that Rogers had spent another night prowling the tower like a caged beast, or standing on the balcony and peering at the city lights glittering like stars, or simply sitting in his chair, staring at an untouched glass of whiskey, shivering as if he were still wrapped in ice. The most sleep Rogers ever got on a single night was at most four hours. If he hadn't been a super-soldier, he would have dropped dead of exhaustion months ago.
After a while Tony realized that the reason Rogers was always there in the hospital room when Tony regained consciousness was because Rogers himself was terrified of waking up alone and lost.
That was why Tony had been sitting in an increasingly-uncomfortable chair for sixty-four hours.
When Rogers had finally slipped into a true sleeping pattern, his eyelids and his fingers twitching every now and then as he dreamed, Tony had sighed in relief. His vigil was almost over—if Rogers followed his normal pattern, it wouldn't be long before he woke up completely.
Five minutes later, Tony was rubbing his neck wearily when Rogers' eyes snapped open without warning, blue and wide and blank, some untamed emotion flickering in their depths. Then he blinked, and Tony watched as reason slowly returned to the other man. Tony had prepared dozens of quips with which to regale the other man once he was awake, but he found himself speechless for the first time in his life. He decided to wait until Rogers noticed him rather than announcing his presence.
Rogers blinked rapidly, staring up at the ceiling and apparently listening to the beeps and whirs of the machines recording his vital signs. One hand reached up to prod tentatively at the bandage over the puncture wound and at his bruised chest. He winced slightly, and Tony thought he heard a faint hiss of pain before the other man let his hand fall by his side again.
Then Rogers' nose wrinkled in apparent disgust at the peculiar aroma that filled the room, and Tony started to grin in anticipation as the soldier's head turned away from Tony and towards a table standing by the far wall. A silver fountain topped with a star stood on the table, spewing melted chocolate over its sides. A massive platter filled with sliced meat permeated the air with the powerful odor of cooked garlic.
"Fondue," Rogers muttered in disgust and disbelief as he stared at the table, his voice hoarse. "And shawarma?"
Tony suddenly couldn't restrain himself any longer. "I had them specially ordered just for you. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get good shawarma delivered to a flying aircraft carrier?" Rogers' head swiveled so fast that Tony heard his neck crick in protest. Tony smirked at him.
Rogers reached up to rub his neck, noticing the IVs for the first time. He studied the smaller man for a second. Tony knew he must look even more disheveled than usual; his beard had gotten long enough to start itching and was bordering on becoming a nuisance. He kept his smirk firmly in place, but as Rogers continued to stare at him, the smirk flickered and faded, until Tony studied Rogers with the same gravity with which Rogers studied him. Tony wondered suddenly how much Rogers remembered of what had happened. The silence hung between them, thick with words unspoken.
"You…" Rogers began finally, slowly. He paused, searching for the right word. "Fucker."
Tony Stark burst out laughing, completely startled by someone else's reaction for quite possibly the first time in his life. "I save your life, and that's the thanks I get?" he demanded indignantly as he caught his breath. "My father's a bastard, and I'm a fucker? You have an odd way of thanking people, Capsicle."
Rogers grinned, slowly pushing himself into a sitting position. Tony leaned forward to help him, but a cutting glance from the blue eyes stopped him. After a few tense moments, Rogers sagged against the headboard, sweaty and triumphantly upright. "Didn't you say in an interview once that you hoped to surpass your father's deeds one day? With this, you've certainly surpassed his ability to annoy the hell outta me." He waved at the fondue and shawarma.
"Aw, you've read my interviews? I'm touched. Another fan! Would you like my autograph? I'd be happy to sign that oversized dinner plate you use for a shield." The smirk was back in place, and Tony clapped his hands in exaggerated delight.
Rogers laughed despite himself. And then he gasped, doubling over and clutching his side, his eyes screwing shut. Tony's hand hovered over the call button by the bed as Rogers' breath came in short, sharp gasps, but Rogers shook his head tersely. The tension slid slowly out of the broad shoulders, and Rogers offered up only a few protests when Tony slid an arm behind his back, gently lowering him against the pillows until he was staring up at the smaller man, the dark shadows under his eyes harsh against his pale skin.
"Morphine not working?" Tony asked quietly.
Then he cursed himself for asking such an asinine question; if it had been him lying in that bad, he would have shot back something like No shit, Sherlock, but Rogers only grit his teeth and said, "Nope. It's just making my arms itch like the devil."
Tony clapped his hands together again. "Don't worry, Capsicle, we've got a solution for that."
"A .22?" Rogers asked shortly, squeezing his eyes shut again. Tony could see the marks of pain in the lean face as the wounded man pressed his lips tightly shut against any other sound that might be trying to escape—like a cry of pain. Tony thought Rogers was joking—maybe.
"That's a little extreme," Tony commented blandly. He tapped three of the IV's surrounding the bed. "These are morphine," he stated. "But do you know what's in baggie number four?" He slid his hand down to the closed valve on the fourth IV. Rogers opened his eyes and just stared at him, clearly not in the mood to offer any form of banter. Tony shrugged and grinned anyway. "A special potion brewed up just for you by Banner. From what I understand, this little bag alone could kill a herd of twenty elephants—so it should be enough to knock you out for a few hours."
Rogers frowned. He opened his mouth, probably to tell Tony to leave the IV the hell alone, but Tony had already flicked the valve open, feeling the coolness of the liquid underneath his fingers as it flowed through the narrow tube and into Rogers' arm.
"Stark—" Rogers grunted in frustration, but the solution was powerful and his eyes were already flickering open and shut as he fought to stay conscious. He tried to say something else and failed, but Tony could read the single word on his lips: cold. So cold, the captain had said as he lay bleeding his life out under Tony's hands, and Tony wondered if that was what sleep meant for Rogers now: cold, and ice, and death for everything he had known.
Rogers' brows were furrowed, drawn tightly over his eyes as he struggled against the soporific. He looked suddenly young and vulnerable, like a child fighting a nightmare. Tony pressed one hand against the furrowed brow and the other on Rogers' shoulder, squeezing gently. "Easy, Cap," he said quietly. "This is for your own good." He squeezed the other man's shoulder again. "You'll wake up in a few hours—we'll make sure of that." Tony watched in vague astonishment as his hand smoothed back the fair hair, apparently at its own volition, soothing Rogers as if he were that small child afraid of the monsters lurking in the dark. "We won't let you be cold again, Cap," Tony murmured so softly that he could barely hear his own words.
It seemed Rogers' sharp ears caught the words, though, because he gave a faint sigh, his brow clearing and his mouth relaxing from its semi-permanent frown. The lines of pain slowly disappeared as the captain slid back into a deep sleep, and Tony found himself hoping that Rogers was dreaming a sweet dream of the dark-haired beauty from another lifetime.
Tony Stark echoed his sigh as he finally stood up to leave his post in the plastic chair. His back groaned in protest as he moved slowly to the door, ready to find his own bed, setting the alarm on his phone to wake him in three and a half hours—enough time to catch a nap and be back before Steve Rogers woke up again.