A/N: ACK. I'm so sorry. I honestly meant to have this up early today but my gosh, this chapter gave me no end of trouble. Long story short, I rewrote it at LEAST six times.
In other news, THANK YOU SO MUCH for all of the reviews/favorites. I don't know that any story I've written ever had received this much love so quickly. I'm speechless, you guys. And I love you all. And I'm sorry I didn't reply to reviews, but I thought you'd all prefer that I skip that and finish the chapter instead, yeah?
You've all been brilliant and I won't keep you waiting any longer. Enjoy!
The explosion left them all frozen.
From each separate position Natasha, Clint, Steve, and Thor all watched as the sky filled with the blinding glare of plasma and the air roared from the blast. Even the Hammer Drones paused to ensure that the danger wasn't headed their way. The spell laster mere seconds before it was broken and suddenly the fight was on again, but the silence that sounded in reply to all their half-frantic calls was enough to cause all of their stomachs to churn.
"Iron Man, come in. Stark? Answer!"
The only sound that came back was static.
"Thor, find him!" Steve shouted across the din as he fought to take out one of the remaining drones. Before the god of thunder could move, however, a blur of green smashed through one of the buildings to the left of them and was already running towards the explosion-damaged area two blocks away, destroying whatever was in his path as he went.
The Hulk would find Tony. Somehow the huge green 'rage-monster' always did.
From above Barton's arrows took out three more drones in quick succession, blowing their heads off with a malice that left Steve feeling glad that they were only droids and not actual human beings. There were noticeably fewer now with no reinforcements in view. Whatever Stark had done seemed to have worked.
The question was... had it been worth it?
When the Hulk returned a few minutes later with a limp suit of armor cradled in his massive green arms, Steve knew it wouldn't be worth it if they finally lost one of their own as payment.
Hulk dropped Tony in their midst with less ceremony than was probably needed and instantly disappeared again to no one knew where. Steve dropped into a crouch next to the unresponsive man and stared helplessly, not knowing what to do. The chest-piece flickered sporadically and he felt a small twinge of hope. If Stark's light stayed on that meant life, right? He was going to pretend to know so, because the alternative wasn't an option.
Bullets hailed down and Steve ducked behind his shield, covering Tony as the armored hero had done for him not so many minutes ago. A second later Thor had taken the offending drone out and stood panting, waiting for more.
There were none.
Flinging his shield aside Steve focused on the playboy again, watching as the arc reactor flickered again before going out completely. "No. No. No no no no."
Suddenly he found himself shoved aside by a barely clothed but completely un-green again Bruce Banner. "Tony? Tony! Damn. He's crashing. We have to get the suit off, now!"
As Bruce and Natasha, who obviously knew what they were doing, removed the armor piece by piece Steve could only stand back with Thor and watch.
Come on, Tony.
It had been two days. Or almost two. In truth it had been thirty-nine hours and some odd minutes. He'd tried to sleep but it wouldn't come; if the lights and sounds coming from the other rooms that he passed in his aimless wandering of the tower were any indication, it wasn't coming easy for the rest of the team, either.
Walking down the night-darkened halls of the Tower's fifteenth floor, Steve rubbed tiredly at his eyes. He didn't actually even need to see where he was going to get himself there - he'd walked the path between his room and the medical ward enough times in the past two days to find it in his sleep.
The door slid open automatically in front of him and he squinted as the shadows of the corridor were replaced by the dimmed but still bright enough to hurt lights of the medical ward.
"How's he doing?"
From the chair by the bed Banner looked up, staring at the soldier wearily before shoving himself up and sliding his hands into his pockets.
"Uh, he's stable. All we can do is wait for him to wake up."
Crossing to the bed Steve looked across it and stare at the doctor. "Should it be taking this long?"
"Who knows? These things vary. He did crash twice," Bruce said thoughtfully, tiredly. "His body just needs time to rest."
Taking in the worn and slightly swaying form of the other man, Steve frowned. "You look like you could use some rest yourself, Doc," he said kindly, jerking his head towards the door. "You should go. I'll stay with him."
"No, I'm fine."
Bruce hesitated for several seconds before slowly giving in. "Okay. Yeah... you're right. Just make sure you call me if anything happens."
Waiting until the scientist was gone, Steve took the chair that Banner had vacated and leaned back, rubbing his face again and sighing. Around him too many technological doodads blinked and beeped, displaying signs that he had very little idea how to read. The digital clock on one of the screens read 0300 hours.
Resting his head on the back of the chair the soldier stared at the motionless hero laying on the bed. "Come on, Stark," he murmured, putting an edge of command in his tone as if it might help. "It's time to wake up."
The only reply was the soft beeping of the machines.
For two hours Steve sat, unable to sleep and unable to stop replaying the events of the fight with the drones in his mind. On one hand he felt guilty, because hadn't he been the one to accuse Tony of not being willing to make that sacrifice play? Now it seemed that the playboy never did anything but.
Death was something he was used to. It was part of war, and war he knew well. But that didn't mean that losing someone - even someone that you didn't always get along with - ever got any easier.
Come on, Tony. Wake up.
"Did we win?"
The hoarse question shattered the semi-stillness and made Steve jump to the point where he barely caught himself from sliding out of the chair. Blinking slowly and rubbing his eyes he paused for a moment before jerking his head up to look at the room's only other occupant. A pair of dark brown eyes met his and Tony stared at him with an eyebrow arching curiously while a small and tired smirk played on his lips.
Rising quickly from the chair Steve practically leapt to the bedside. "You're awake."
"Apparently," Tony quipped. Skimming over the solder's rough and rumpled appearance the playboy then smirked. "You look terrible."
Smothering a relieved grin that was sure to get him mocked, Steve arched an eyebrow. "You're not exactly in top shape yourself."
Looking down at himself Tony shrugged and quirked his mouth in a 'what can you do' sort of half smile. "I've probably looked worse."
"I doubt it."
There was a moment of silence in before Tony looked up at him again, looking far too serious. "So. Did we win?" he asked again.
"Yeah, we won."
"Everyone make it out?"
Tony closed his eyes and leaned back into the pillow. "Good."
They remained silent for a while before Steve looked at the clock. 0630.
Looking back down he found the dark-haired man already sleeping again. Steve soon reseated himself, intending to keep watch and make sure nothing went wrong. Soon though his lack of sleep caught up with him and he lay back in the chair again, closing his eyes. It didn't take long for him to drift off into a light but peaceful sleep.
A soft 'click' was the first sound to greet Steve when he finally woke up again. Snapping his head up quickly he winced as the muscles in his neck protested and his shoulders popped. Before him Tony was sitting up in the bed and staring at him with a lopsided and deceptively innocent grin that told the soldier something had just happened that he probably wouldn't like.
"Did you just take a photo of me?"
Tony blinked in what was clearly supposed to be innocence but in truth came across as 'of course I had JARVIS take a picture of you drooling all over the chair like a puppy and as soon as you're gone yes I'm definitely sending it to every single person you know on the entire planet'.
Torn between frustration and relief that the billionaire looked more like a human being and less like death warmed over, Steve opted to - for once - let it go. "How do you feel?"
"Alive," Tony answered airily. "And hungry - how long have I been out?"
Tony blinked fast and hard his face freezing as he digested the news. "Two days..." he repeated eventually, schooling his features into a carefully neutral expression. "Huh."
Standing with his hands in his pockets, Steve rubbed the back of his neck and looked around the ward before glancing back at the bed again. "Yeah."
"I guess it was pretty close."
"Your heart stopped," the soldier admitted. "Twice. You crashed and went into full cardiac arrest and it took Banner and a handful of medical staff from S.H.I.E.L.D to get you stable again. He's been sitting in this ward almost non-stop since we got here and that was after he smashed half a city block trying to get you out."
"Half a block, huh?" Tony muttered, looking down at the sheets that stretched across his torso and legs with apparently casual interest.
"Actually it was closer to a whole block."
Steve jerked his head up to see Bruce standing in the doorway, glasses in hand as he stared at the man in the bed.
Nodding to Steve, Bruce crossed the room slowly, hands in his pockets. "You were pretty hard to find what with all the rubble and everything," he informed the playboy. "The Other Guy may have knocked a wall down on you when he first showed up. He was kind of in a hurry."
"A wall, huh? Well I guess I shouldn't complain too much," Tony replied with exaggerated grace. "Since you did dig me out and everything."
"That's very generous of you."
The room went quiet as Steve just looked between the two scientists and Banner checked all of Tony's readings. Everything soon checked out. Tony was tired, battered, bruised, and sore, but otherwise fine. The worst was over.
"I suppose I should say thank you," Tony said eventually, bouncing his hands off on the bed with the awkward energy that always showed up whenever he was about to say or do something that was unusual to him. "For saving me. Again."
"No," Bruce replied. "Just try not to make this a habit, okay? I'd like to go through a major battle without having to worry about you once it's over."
"I think I can handle that," Tony replied. "I mean, maybe. You may not have noticed but I'm kind of a fan of dramatics, so..." he trailed off, shrugging and smiling in a way that clearly said 'what can you do?'.
Steve breathed out a laughing sigh and Bruce shook his head. "Sometimes I hate you," the scientist said, with a grin to show that he wasn't serious.
"Do not," the playboy replied smugly. "Admit it, you'd be bored without me."
"You're right," Bruce responded, much less teasing now. "So you had better be more careful. You wouldn't want me to get bored."
Seeing that everything was going to be alright, Steve eventually took his leave of the soon playfully bickering scientists and made his way to the elevator, intending to catch up on some much needed shut eye.
He was almost bowled over by a red-headed blur that shot out of the elevator car and ran past him. "Tony!"
Watching as Pepper flung herself into the playboy's arms, scolding and hanging over him as though afraid to touch him and make anything worse, Steve smiled and stepped into the waiting car. He laughed at Tony's failing attempts to ward off his upset girlfriend's scolding and at the amused look on Banner's face. It was nice to see people smile again. Needless to say it hadn't happened much the past few days.
"JARVIS?" Steve called as the doors slid closed.
The worst part of war, of being a hero, was the constant risk of losing those you cared about.
The best part, however, was getting them back again.
"Call up the others," he ordered. "Let them know that everything is going to be fine."
I really, REALLY hope you guys enjoyed the end. I did my very best to make it the chapter you all deserved for being such wonderful readers. Thanks again so much for all the support. I don't deserve you guys at all. *hugs*