It's Red Skull. He's back. Seemed the Universe wanted to keep itself balanced by returning Captain America's arch nemesis to the living world. Tony wanted to yell and curse at the Universe's face. Just because Steve's back to the waking world didn't give the Universe the right to also bring back the villainous man who had caused him so much pain in the past.
He's wreaking havoc in US soil, complete with a battalion of HYDRA agents armed with heavy artillery. Captain America's tensed by Iron Man's side. The arm Tony had draped around his waist was tight as he set to land them on a nearby rooftop. The whole flight going there was silent. Steve's jaw was set, mouth a thin line and his fist clenched so tight Tony's pretty sure he'd cut the skin of his palm if he hadn't been wearing his gloves.
Tony wished he could say something to ease the tension. There's anger there that was certain. He's not concerned about Steve jeopardizing the mission. Unsurprisingly, Steve's a lot more focused when HYDRA was involved. They had talked strategy before they even left HQ. Everything was in place. All they needed was a good execution and this mission would be flawless.
What concerned Tony though, was Red Skull himself. He had vowed to bring Steve down. To finish off Captain America the way he intended to finish him seventy years ago. As violently as possible. The Red Skull had revealed in detail all of this in a helicarrier-wide broadcast. Every Avenger and SHIELD agent heard it.
No one threatened one of their own. Especially Captain America.
Tony sent out a comm to the others before jumping with Cap off the quinjet ahead of them. "Keep an extra eye on Steve." He had told them.The determined look Thor and the rest gave him spoke volumes. Tony didn't have to say anything - they're already on the look out. Even the Hulk just gave him a solemn nod.
"Steve." Tony said, tightening the arm around Steve's waist to get his attention. It's the first word he's spoken to him since all this began. "They're gonna be gunning for you." He continued, tone oozing of concern. They're nearing their positions and Tony had to say something before he set Steve down.
"I know, Tony." Steve said softly, squeezing Tony's waist with the same intensity Tony could feel it under the armor.
"Please be careful." Tony pleaded, turning his head to kiss Steve on the temple.
This time, he didn't care about being subtle.
Steve wasn't careful.
"Damn it, Steve!" Tony exclaimed. Frustration. Fear. Panic.
Steve's in his arms, unconscious and bleeding profusely. There's a HYDRA agent in a jetpack – a jetpack, for crying out loud - flying behind them. Tony was faster though, even with a super soldier that's practically dead (please, God, no) weight in his arms. He's zooming up in the air, cutting through clouds, determined to get Steve back to the helicarrier to get him the medical attention he so desperately needed.
"Sir, he's got a lock on you." JARVIS warned and Tony held Steve tight against him, bracing for impact as he heard the unmistakable whoosh of a missile heading their way.
Missiles, jetpacks and other heavy artillery in the hands of Red Skull and HYDRA agents. It had been their downfall.
The aerial attack had been brutal. As soon as Tony dropped Steve off that rooftop, bullets and missiles and bazookas came flying at him all at once. They had fired at the quinjet, (Thor, the Hulk, Clint and Natasha still inside) before it had even landed. Next thing Tony knew Red Skull had Steve surrounded, on his own, against a dozen HYDRA agents and an enraged Red Skull hacking at him with about thirty different kinds of blades growing out of his body.
It took half of the Arc Reactor's power to take down the heavy machineries aimed at Tony, by the time he asked JARVIS about Captain America's status, Steve was already unconscious and bleeding in fifty different places. The Hulk was already there, fighting off the clearly genetically modified version of the Red Skull. And it wasn't fair that Red Skull got to come back upgraded.
Damn, the Universe.
The Hulk's positioned himself between Red Skull and Steve's unconscious form, his bulk protecting Steve from any oncoming onslaughts from the sadistic beings in front of him. Tony blasted the other Hydra agents as he approached and Hulk paused long enough to turn and scoop Steve in his arms to hand him gently to Tony.
"Go." Hulk had grunted at him before turning and barreling towards the people who had hurt Steve, roaring and rampaging the way he did best.
And now Tony was bracing himself for impact, a huge ass missile blazing at him, intent on blowing him and Steve out of the sky. And it's the thought that he might not get Steve to the helicarrier alive that's killing him.
But the impact never came.
There's a bolt of lightning and the missile lost its speed, halting in midair and dropping into the atmosphere. Thor's hovering behind him, hammer gathering lightning and wind as he sent bolt after bolt of lightning and gust after gust of strong winds toward the Hydra agents in jetpacks tailing Iron Man.
Tony didn't stop, didn't have time to convey to Thor the gratitude and relief he was feeling. He will thank him later. After Steve's okay. Only after Steve's okay. Because if Steve wasn't okay after all this. Tony wasn't going to thank Thor.
He was going to brawl against him for not getting there quick enough. He was going to rampage against the Hulk for not covering Steve well enough. He was going to shoot at Clint and Natasha for not helping enough. He was going to rebel against SHIELD for not being smart enough.
He was going to revolt against the Universe because enough was enough.
"So, you better be okay, Steve." He yelled at the unconscious man in his arms, aware of the tears that were threatening to fall. "Because if I lose you." He whispered harshly against the unconscious man's ear. "The world will fall to its knees." He swore with a tight sob.
He landed on the tarmac of the helicarrier and ran to meet the awaiting SHIELD Medical Personnel. Fury was there, pushing the gurney with the rest of them. There were words coming out of his mouth. Tony wasn't sure if they were directed at him or at someone else.
He stared at the unconscious man in his arms before laying him against the gurney. "I'm going back." Tony said to no one in particular, eyes still glued at the injured man. He carefully pulled off the cowl; blood gushing out of the head wound Tony didn't even know had been there. He bent down and kissed Steve in the forehead, paying no heed to the doctors frantically assessing the injuries. "I'm taking the Red Skull down." He said, looking up at Fury this time.
There's blood on his faceplate. There's blood on the armor. There's blood dripping from his fingers onto the black tarmac floor. They're not his but Iron Man was bleeding.
Steve was whisked into medical bay and Iron Man took off. He was going to bring Red Skull to his knees. And if that wasn't enough. The world will follow.
Because that was what he told Steve.
Because that was what he promised.
And the One Time:
Steve was okay and the world didn't fall to its knees. The Red Skull though, was a different story.
Steve still had injuries on him. It had been three weeks and he wasn't fully healed. Not even with the super healing ability. It was a clear indication of how badly he got hurt. He had spent five days in the ICU, and was touch and go as Agent Coulson had told him. No one knew if he was going to make it or not.
But he was okay now. He's still got his left arm in a cast; there still were bandages around his torso and staples on his shins. But he was fine.
He's been out of the hospital for about four days now. Still hurting, yes. But the relief of being back into the real world had been such a huge welcome. He was happy to see the others outside of the hospital. They looked less haggard and troubled now that Steve's no longer fighting for his life.
Steve felt a lot guilty about that. He said as much to Bruce. But Bruce practically snapped at him and said it was stupid to feel guilty for worrying people. Then promptly apologized for his outburst. Turned out, the Hulk had been trying to come out for the past three weeks, wanting to see Steve.
"These four days had been worse." Bruce had said that morning. "Now that you're okay, I think he just wants to come out and make sure." He went on, tiredly. The guilt came back then. The thought that he had the Hulk worried, too and that it was driving Bruce crazy made him feel bad. He squashed that feeling and didn't say anything to Bruce anymore for fear that he might snap at him again.
"You still owe me tossing practice with him for recording Friends reruns." He told Bruce instead and felt less guilty when he got a resounding laugh in return.
They settled in the living room for the rest of the morning to watch so called reruns. Bruce was up to season five by now and told Steve that watching the show helped calm him a lot. Steve nodded because he knew.
Steve had wanted to go home to his apartment in Brooklyn once he was deemed fit enough to leave the hospital but Fury put a damper on that when he was ordered to stay at Tony's mansion where Doctor Banner can keep an eye on him, at least until his arm was out of its cast.
That had been four days ago, the cast was still there but he was still itching to go home.
Bruce watched Friends reruns, usually after replacing his bandages and cleaning the staple wounds.
Thor waited for him to doze off (usually in front of the television) so that he can carry him to the guest room.
Natasha followed him around the house like a ninja and was always there anticipating Steve's needs, whether it'd be a glass of milk, a towel, or his meds.
Clint baked him five batches of cookies his first day back from the hospital and cooked all his meals and brought it to him. The archer always stayed and made sure he ate them whether he was hungry or not.
Those were their ways of coping. So Steve let them.
Still, Steve wanted to go home. Even with all the people in it, the mansion felt so empty. Tony's mansion reminded him a lot of, well, Tony. He used to love visiting Tony here. Except, Tony's never home these days.
Because Tony's way of coping, was to avoid Steve completely.
JARVIS had told Steve that Tony had been away in California for business for the past three weeks. When asked when Tony would come home, JARVIS just answered, soon.
So, for the past three nights, Steve waited outside Stark Mansion, sitting at the edge of the platform where Tony stripped off his Iron Man suit when he would arrive wearing it. He's got one of those thermal lunch boxes propped next to him. Tonight, its contents consisted of Tony's favorite Shawarma. Last night, it had been his favorite cheeseburger. The other night, was his favorite roast chicken. The first night back, was a batch of Clint's cookies. Luckily for Steve, Thor's the type who was always hungry so those didn't really go to waste.
He breathed in the night air and watched the city. It was a peaceful night, the view from where he was perched was beautiful. He lied back onto the floor and just looked up. The stars were particularly bright tonight.
That was how Tony found him. His good arm raised high, tracing constellations with his fingers, his feet dangling and swinging playfully by the edge.
Tony cocked his head to the side, perplexed. He wasn't expecting to come home to the sight of Steve, stargazing by the side of his mansion. He hovered quietly for a moment, not sure if Steve heard him flying in or not.
He contemplated turning back; he was not ready for this. Not ready to face a healthy looking Steve when all he saw in his waking dreams was a battered and bloodied one.
"Hello, Tony." The voice startled him so much, one of his thrusters sputtered and he almost fell out of the sky. It was Steve who spoke, eyes still staring up the night sky. He had known Tony had been there all along.
"Hey, Steve." Tony's voice broke. He got his thrusters under control and went back to hovering. He'd have liked to take the armor off and go inside his house to hide but Steve's claimed his platform and the truth was, he couldn't really hide forever.
"Are you hungry?" Steve asked, finally sitting up to look at him. "I got dinner." He went on, tapping the thermal lunch box by his side.
"Uh, sure." Tony replied hesitantly. Steve had this tentative smile Tony loved so much. The one he could never resist. He's got that on now and Tony's resolve was just wavering. He missed Steve. Missed him more than anything else in this world. He should have visited Steve at the hospital. Heck, should have stayed with him 'til he was okay. That's what a good friend would have done.
But watching Steve almost die put him in such a dark place he could barely stay afloat. He became angry and violent. The Red Skull was a living witness to that. Well, maybe not so living.
"Fly me." Steve said, holding his good arm out.
"Fly me." Steve said again, picking himself off the floor and not caring that he's precariously perched on the edge of the eighth floor of the Mansion.
"Uhh, not a good idea." Tony said. "Not with one arm in a cast and three still broken ribs and a fractured leg." He went on, exasperated. What was Steve playing at? He's still hurt.
"Has Doctor Banner been updating you of my condition?" Steve asked, curious.
"No, JARVIS has."
"Oh okay. Coz I thought, you know. I mean…you never came and visit. I thought, maybe." Steve was stammering and Tony couldn't help it. He flew closer, wanting so much to just gather Steve in his arms but pushed the urge to do so away.
"I've been monitoring your condition. Ever since I dropped you off the helicarrier. I had JARVIS access all of the equipment attached to you, all the doctors' and nurses' reports. Everything." Tony explained frantically. The last thing he wanted Steve to think was Tony abandoned him.
"Oh." Steve said, still slightly confused. "So, dinner?" He asked again, tentative smile back in place.
"I'm fine, Tony. They're getting better."
"I've got shawarma." Steve said in a singsong voice and swung the bag by his side back and forth, making Tony chuckle. God, how he missed that smile.
"Fine. Bruce will probably kill me but what the hell." Tony finally gave in. "Zip up. It's a cold night." He told the other man, flying over to zip Steve's jacket up himself when Steve just grinned at him and wiggled the fingers of his cast covered arm at him.
He waited as Steve adjusted the strap of the thermal lunch box with one hand and secured it across his body. "Let's go then." Steve said, reaching out to drape his good arm around Tony's shoulders.
"Nowhere far, okay." Tony said softly, noting the look of pain on Steve's face when Tony wrapped an arm around his waist.
Turned out Tony's 'nowhere far', was the Statue of Liberty.
"I'm pretty sure this is at least vandalism." Steve said, looking apprehensive.
"We're not defacing it or anything. We're just sitting on top of her head." Tony said, patting Lady Liberty on her head almost tenderly. "I would have taken you to my usual spot, this big doughnut hole I used to hangout in back when….but it's all the way in California. I didn't want to take you that far with your injuries. we don't want Bruce that mad, if you know what I mean. Now you said something about dinner?" Tony was rambling, that much he knew.
Steve just grinned and started unpacking the lunch box. His movements were precise, even with just one functioning arm. Tony found it hard to believe that Steve was here beside him acting as if they were just on a picnic when three weeks ago he had been dying in his arms, bleeding so hard Tony had nightmares for days. He remembered the blood gushing out of Steve's head when he pulled the cowl off, the wound barely visible now. The next thing he knew he was reaching out, brushing a lock of hair from Steve's forehead and gently rubbing a gauntlet-covered thumb back and forth over where he remembered the wound should be.
"Tony? You okay?" Steve softly asked, reaching for the hand by his forehead and giving it a slight squeeze.
"You were the one who was dying. Bleeding in my arms. I couldn't find a pulse. JARVIS can barely detect a heartbeat. You spent days in intensive care. You flat lined, Steve. Twice. And you're asking me if I'm okay?" Tony's voice was barely a whisper but there's turmoil there, emotions that were leaving him raw and bare.
"You went back and fought Red Skull. You took him down. Hard. You leveled two skyscrapers in the process and depleted your arc reactor JARVIS had to reboot you. You exiled yourself to Malibu and didn't talk to anyone. The second time I flat lined, you started drawing up schematics for a death ray. You hardly ate; you barely slept, didn't do anything but stare into space and occasionally threw stuff. And you never cleaned my blood off your armor. So, I'm asking if you're okay, Tony." Steve said, tone almost accusing but mostly just sad and concerned.
"H-how?" Tony just stared, mouth agape. He had done all those. He wasn't proud of it, but he didn't know how else to react.
"JARVIS, kept me updated, too." Steve told him, voice soft this time as if defeated. Tony was calling JARVIS a traitor in his own head.
"It's a reminder." Tony said, indicating the still tainted armor he was wearing, the dried blood, fading and less visible and red now. "Of how I almost failed you."
"You saved my life, Tony." Steve said, full of conviction. Tony didn't fail. "I'm okay now. Please be okay, too." It was the plea that got to him.
"I swore I'd bring the world to its knees for you."
"And I would have."
And that was that.
They arrived at the mansion with an irate looking Doctor Banner standing on Tony's platform waiting for them this time. What was it with people commandeering his platform when Tony needed it the most? Tony was contemplating putting up a 'do not obstruct' sign all over it next time.
"I asked him to." Steve uttered quickly to Bruce as soon as they landed, anticipating the berating that was about to come their way.
Bruce was giving Tony an angry glare the whole time but softened when Steve took the responsibility of being out in a cold night, with injuries and flying around the city without telling his doctor.
"Fine." Bruce said with a sigh. "Just get to bed. That means you, too, Tony." He went on, going back inside, grumbling. He passed Clint and Thor by the sliding doors, both with the same irate look. They had been worried.
"Hope that date was worth it." Clint called out while Thor just nodded in agreement and turned to follow Bruce and Clint back inside.
"It wasn't a date." Tony called out.
"Of course it was." Natasha's voice came from behind Tony and Steve, startling them. Where in the world did she come from? There was nothing but the edge of the platform behind them. "Ask Steve." She added to Tony with a wink and walked past them with a sly smile.
"That was a date?" Tony asked Steve after watching Natasha retreat indoors. Then, "You call that a date?" Less incredulous this time and more mocking.
"Well, it was the best I can do when I have to ambush my date into going on a date with me." Steve told him, half-embarrassed half-slightly offended.
"Well, next time tell me if you wanna go on a date again. I'll take you to a real one." Tony said, extricating Steve from himself and headed inside in haste. It was not a cowardly retreat. It was more of a strategic one. Or so he told himself.
A date? As far as dates went, this had been the most emotional one. Not that it wasn't pleasant, he still did enjoy dinner on top of the Statue of Liberty and the ride home had been filled with sheepish grins and relaxed banter between them. There were soft touches, concerned looks and tentative smiles, too.
Oh, who was he kidding? Of course it was a date.
That realization hit halfway to the door. Tony's not so cowardly retreat had been halted. So close. Turn around,he told himself. Problem was, he still couldn't.
"What, no kiss?" Steve called out, loud and clear in the still night. That made Tony turn around. "C'mon, Tony. You kissed me when I almost drowned, kissed me when I was being sentimental, you kissed me when I thought you were dying, kissed me when I was walking into danger and kissed me when you thought I was dying." Steve was walking slowly towards him. "And now you won't kiss me when the right time calls for it? You always do things the contradicting way do you, Tony?" Steve went on, stopping in his tracks and folding his arms to pout at Tony.
And because he's good at being contradicting, Tony's only response was to surge forward and grab Steve by the arms, intent on planting a sure kiss on his lips. There was an audible snick as he leaned forward and Tony was surprised to find bare lips making contact with Steve's soft ones. Turned out his imp of an AI had slid the faceplate up without him knowing.
Steve smiled around the kiss and looked up into Tony's eyes as they broke apart. Tony loved that he's got the slight height and size advantage on Steve when he's in the suit.
"Hi." Steve said softly, genuinely glad to see Tony face to face. He was hiding behind the armor the whole night and Steve never called him on it and if it wasn't for JARVIS deviously lifting the faceplate, he still would have been hiding.
Still (conniving AI aside), it was nice to know that JARVIS had his best interest at heart, and judging from the snickers and catcalls coming from inside his mansion, (conspiring teammates aside), there were at least four other people out there looking out for him. The man in his arms on the top of that list.
He pulled Steve close against him and kissed him again, deeply this time. And for the first time in years, Tony Stark was, - by every definition of the word –
Thanks for reading.
A/N: Sorry about the bringing back Red Skull thing, and his modifications and what-nots. With my lack of knowledge on anything comics, he's the only super villain I know that could work on this one. Again, Thank you so much for reading. 'Til next fic.