"Tony is badly injured in battle, and believes he is dying. The other Avengers gather around, and so he says what he thinks are his final words. Basically, lots of mushy fluff he would never say otherwise. Telling them each in turn what they mean to him. And maybe even admitting he's in love with one of them. With all that off his chest, and the world saved, he's ready to die. But then those meddlesome doctors save him..."

(page 18, round 15)

"No Thanks to the Robotic Dinosaur"

The armour was pretty much gone. One arm was still attached; but the metal-ripping robotic dinosaur – and when had his life become so crazy that a robotic dinosaur was actually kinda boring? – had really gone for everything else. The arc reactor was close to shorting out, and all Tony could do to defend himself was fire at the 'super'-villain of the month. If the kid had been more competent with everything else, and not so much trying to go for clichés, Tony would've felt less bad about, you know, dying.

"We'll do something, Tony, I swear," Clint said. He was still firing off arrows, helping the others bring down the robo-dino. Heh. Robo-dino. All the while, he was using one knee to keep pressure on the improvised padding over Tony's wound. It was deep, nicked a major blood vessel enough so that any movement could tear it open, and let rip the rest of Tony's life blood.

What a way to go down. And here he always thought that the arc reactor failing would be his 'grand exit'.

The way the reactor's power was draining, though… well, it looked like maybe that would take him first.

"S'all right, Cupid," he wheezed. Another well-aimed shot from both, and one of the robot's legs crumbled. Of course, it wasn't a little tyrannosaurus rex. No. It had to be one of those ones with the long neck. Diplo… diploma… diplodacus? Whatever. Which means that Thor and Natasha were at one end, Steve and Hulk at the other, with only Clint to be there when Tony died.

"I promise, we'll get you to a hospital as soon as we can, Tony," Clint said. "We just can't risk moving you without doing further damage." He fired the last of his arrows, striking – funnily enough – the dinosaur's butt. Tony laughed faintly.

"Butt," he said. Clint raised an eyebrow. As part of the robot exploded, he shielded Tony's body. When his knee pressed harder against the wound, Tony hissed in pain.

"Sorry, sorry!" Clint said. He checked the injury. "Okay, you're not bleeding out any faster. Let's just keep this on, okay?"

There was the shriek of metal, and the robot's creator, as both collapsed to the ground, almost in synch. It was kind of spectacular. A lot of cars destroyed; but thanks to Tony's intervention – the intervention that caused this fatal injury – no civilians were harmed.

He'd been working on the robot's back when he saw the creator (if you could call a teenager that, carefully ignoring Tony's own engineering history) creeping closer to a crowded building. Tony had swept down there, forced the villain away, and then brought down the large awnings of the building, barring exit, yeah, but also barring entry. And they could still escape through the back door. The awnings also acted as a shield.

When he finally high-tailed it back to the robot, the tail came swinging around. Yeah, he could take that impact.

He couldn't take the large, diamond-hard claws that sprang out of it at the last minute and ripped at the armour. They held him enough to dislodge the Iron Man suit (except the one repulsor and one boot), and dig into his sides. The arc reactor, thank God, was out of reach. But putting energy into blasting away – and tearing more flesh – as well as maintaining altitude with his one boot… it took a lot out of his mechanical heart.

He was torn once again, this time from his memories, as his team-mates surrounded him, with Steve carrying an unconscious Bruce.

"Wake him up," Natasha said. She sounded kind of… panicky. "Captain, wake him up."

"I'm going to," Steve said. He placed Bruce on the ground, now just out of Tony's line of vision. "Doc? Bruce, wake up! C'mon!"

"Man of Iron, we will soon have you in the hands of the most talented Midgardian healers," Thor said, clutching Tony's knee. The boot had kind of shattered when Tony landed unceremoniously in the wreckage he'd created to save lives. "Truly, you have fought well, and deserve a rest."

"Yeah," Tony said weakly. "A warrior's rest. Kind of a permanent one."

"Nyet," Natasha said. She forced him to look at her. "You will live, Tony Stark, or I will make your life hell when we meet in the afterlife."

"Thought you didn't… believe in that…"

"I will if it means I can beat you up if you die today," she said.

"Honey, that's assuming that we're both going to heaven," he said, and he chuckled at her look of hurt. "Not you. C'mon, Nat. Both know I'm on a highway to hell. Hey." He raised his gloved hand. "Want that played at my funeral. JARVIS… make a note…"

"Tony, stay awake," Clint said. He slapped Tony's cheeks. "I've called for help. Medical will be here soon. We'll get the people out, if they haven't already gone through the back, okay?"

Tony nodded. He felt so tired. "Usually trying to… get me to sleep…"

"Not today," Steve said. He pulled Bruce into view.

"Hey, man," Bruce said. "Show me this scratch."

"Yeah." Tony waved at the makeshift pad. "Go nuts."

Bruce's expression betrayed nothing as he looked at the wound, even as Tony's head felt lighter and lighter from the blood loss.

"Love you guys," he whispered. Even Bruce looked up at that. "Big green, fighting machine. My pal. My science soul-mate. Never looked at another scientist… after we met. Always faithful. An' you." He pointed at Steve. "Dad was obsessed… saw you as experiment. But… much more than that."

"Tony," Steve said, shaking his head. "Don't do this. You'll be fine."

"Nat, Nat, Nat," Tony continued, ignoring him. "Beautiful girl. Kick-ass sister, you know? Wish I had a sister like you. And you, Thor." He grinned. "Best ever older brother to me. All o' you, all my family. And… love your cape. And you, Legolas. Legless. Heh. We shot a dinosaur's leg, you an' me. Best bro. An', Clint?"

"Yeah, Tony?" Clint said. Even though Tony could hear trucks pulling up, Clint kept his sharp eyes on him.

"Tell Pep an' Rhodey… love them, too… Love my family."

"Tony, don't go to sleep. Just stay with us, okay? We love you, too." They all added their 'I love you's. Tony smiled.

"Miss… you…"

"Tony, stop it!" Natasha said, gripping his shoulders. As Tony looked around, he saw all of them. All his friends-slash-family. But he didn't mind leaving them. Not when…

"It's okay, you guys," he whispered. "Soon I'll see him again. I'll see Phil… again… This time," he nodded sleepily, "tell him how I feel…"

"Phil? Phil Coulson? Tony, what… no, no, n—"

But everything faded away.

It should've been a relief to see the white hospital walls, instead of the dark pits of hell, or even the puffy white clouds of whatever-heaven-looked-like. Or the nothingness Tony had been in, where he worried he might spend eternity. And worst of all, there'd been no Coulson…

"By Odin's beard, you live!"

"Thor, we told you he was just sleeping," Clint said, sounding annoyed.

"I do not understand how your Midgardian magicks work. Do you suppose me foolish enough to take your word that he reposed in but something akin to one of my father's Odin-sleeps?"

"Whatever. Hey, Tony." Clint appeared then, and he smiled.

"Did the doctors…" It was too much, and he started coughing.

"Here." It was Natasha, forcing ice chips on him. He licked his lips after the first few, and then tested his voice. She fed him a few more, and then put the cup back in the mini-freezer, judging by the sounds he could hear.

"Thanks," he said. "What happened?"

"You kind of conked out after your deathbed confessions," Clint said.

"Aye," Thor chimed in. "`Twas truly ignoble of you to fall into deep slumber before we could reciprocate your sentiments to their full extent."

"…Huh?" Tony's brain wasn't really working yet.

The door opened, and Tony craned his head to see Bruce and someone else come into the room. Bruce brightened as soon as he saw Tony.

"Hey, you're awake," he said. "How do you feel?"

Tony shifted. "Sore. Kinda tired. My brain feels like it's been replaced by cotton."

"Let's get you sitting up. Natasha, could you pass me the remote, please?"

"I will control it," she said.

"Okay. Just take it slow."

Tony could see her withering glare out of the corner of his eyes. But the bed began to move gradually, propping him up, until Bruce said to stop. Tony looked around even as the other doctor began to prod and fuss.

"Where's Capsicle?" he asked.

"Already on his way," Clint said, looking up from his phone. He hid it before the other doctor could see, and Tony chuckled. This made him cough. Bruce allowed him to have a few sips of water.

"This throne is most agreeable," Thor said, sprawled out in the patient armchair. He stood up. "However, I no longer have need of it."

"Not planning on moving anytime soon." Tony frowned, looking away. "Did I…" He glanced up at Clint, even as Thor began to move the chair like it weighed no more than tissue paper. "Did I say anything… embarrassing?"

"You told us you love us," Clint said. He was grinning. "We're your family."

"Oh God," Tony groaned. The doctor commented on his red face and increased heart rate; Bruce all but kicked him out.

"I'm a doctor, too," he said. "I'll take care of him." Once they were back to just the Avengers (minus Steve), he turned around, standing guard at the door. "You said something else."

Tony felt the blood draining from his cheeks. "W-what?"

"That you'd be with 'Phil' soon."


"Did you mean Coulson?" Natasha asked. Tony glared at her.

"What do you think?" he said.

"Did you?"

He sighed. "Yes."

"And that you were going to tell him how you felt," Clint added.

"Yeah, well…"

"We'll be holding you to that."

Tony snorted. "Yeah. Next time, when I actually die, I'll be sure to tell him that I loved hi—"

He stopped, not just because he didn't mean to say that, but because the door was swinging open. Bruce stood out of the way, and Steve came into view.

"Hey, Cap," Tony said. The captain was carrying another patient. "What took you so…"

It was Coulson. Steve smiled shyly, and walked closer. He rounded the bed, a nurse following with an IV, and placed Phil in the armchair Thor had placed right up against the bed. When he backed away, Tony realised that Phil was awake, his hands dropping from Steve's shoulders.

Tony quickly looked away, staring down at his pale hands. The blood seemed to have left them in favour of re-reddening his cheeks. He noticed the others leaving the room, and raised his eyes to see the door closing.

They were alone.

"Good to see you again," Phil said, breaking the silence. Tony inhaled shakily. His heart-rate began to creep up.

"You're alive," he said.

"So are you." Tony couldn't see it; but he knew that the agent was looking at him. "I can't believe… You didn't care that you were dying."

"And yet I'm alive. We established that."

"Clint told me you wanted to say something."

"I'll kill him."

"Good luck with that." Tony laughed hollowly. "Is it… Did you miss me?"

"Of course I did. Pepper did, too."

"She's a good woman. You're lucky."

"Yeah. Best CEO and ex-girlfriend ever."

"Ex?" Phil's voice was sharper. "When did that happen?"

"Few months ago. I couldn't get over…" He trailed off. His throat was seizing up.

"Please say it."

Finally, Tony made himself look at the agent. Phil was pale, and Tony could see the bulge of bandages beneath the hospital gown, going diagonally across his chest. The IV was standing behind him. He was alive. He was perfect.

"You look great," Tony said. Phil's cheeks turned pink.

"Thanks," he said. "So do… Please say it, whatever Clint wants you to say. You're not gonna chew me out about this, are you? Because the others did enough of that as soon as Director Fury told them I was okay. Well." He grimaced as he shifted around to face Tony properly. "Not okay, but not dead." Tony flinched. "What?"

"We thought you were dead."

"I get a lot of that these days." There was silence. "Tony—"

"You never call me 'Tony'."

"You never call me 'Phil', but Clint says you did." Well, there was no answer for that. "I heard you saying something, just before Steve carried me in. You were saying that you… loved someone. Was it… was it me?"

"No." Tony had been ready for this for a long time. Coulson was too damn observant; he'd had to make sure he could say this convincingly. "What, are you kidding me? Of course not."

He couldn't look at Phil; just couldn't do it. Tony squeezed his eyes shut, willing a blank look onto his face.


Or not.

His head whipped around at the softly-spoken word. Phil was now in the perfect position for Tony to see his entire face, as well as his posture.

Well, the slump could be forgiven; Phil probably wasn't supposed to be out of his room, especially not sitting up, and the placement of the IV made it awkward for him to position his arm in a way which wouldn't pull on the line.

But his face… God, his face. Down-turned mouth, lips pursed so hard they were nearly white, flaming red cheeks, and eyes averted to the floor. The longer Tony looked, the more he noticed the moisture on Phil's eyelashes, gradually dripping onto his cheeks. What the… It was like a kick to the gut. Was the lie a mistake?

"I should get back to my room," Phil said. He sounded hoarse, and Tony saw him swallow deeply. He still didn't look up. "Both need our rest. Get well soon, Mr. Stark."

Okay, there was no way Tony was going to let him leave now.

"Unless you happen to feel the same way, in which case yeah, since about a week after the Stark Expo, or maybe a couple of days before," he said. "Maybe even since you held that Captain America shield and looked so cute." The agent froze. "`Cause if this whole being-in-love-with-you thing is requited, then I don't have to pretend anymore, or lie to anyone, including myself. And you. And if you really do want to be with me, then I could get us moved to a double bed in the tower. Bruce can be our doctor, and we can talk about how stupid we are, and just be together for, you know, forever?"

"Tony…" Phil met his eyes, finally, and Tony tried not to be metaphorically bowled over. "I… I don't—"

"Or if you don't love me, or not like that, then I don't feel that way at all," Tony said quickly, feeling about two inches tall. Maybe one inch. So much for being a genius.

"Well, which is it?" He was sounding stronger now.

"Uh… whichever makes you feel less uncomfortable?"

"You don't sound sure."

"Listen, I know how I feel. But I don't want things to be awkward between us. It was bad enough before."

Phil leaned forward. The tears had stopped, and he touched Tony's hand. "Tell me the truth."

Tony studied his expression, but SHIELD agents give absolutely nothing away. Nothing for it. "I love you."

"How?" The word was like the strike of a whip. "How do you love me?"

"I'm." Tony drew a deep breath. "I'm in love with you. Don't ask me how. Just… either tell me it's returned, or let me down gently, so I can get on with finding someone else to pine over."

Phil's eyes widened briefly, and he shook his head. "Not someone else." He stood up shakily, and leaned against the edge of the bed with his free hand. "It's returned. Oh God, Tony, believe me, it's so returned."

If there was any kind of stretch or pain, it didn't affect the kiss. Tony had to hold them steady, be the one to touch Phil's face, his neck, feel the pulse vibrating beneath his skin. He knew the kissing would get better as they got used to each other. But for two men recovering from near-fatal injuries, kind of short on breath and not really able to move much, it was damn well perfect, and Tony would gladly challenge anyone who said otherwise.

"A double bed in the tower is just what the doctor ordered," Phil murmured against Tony's lips. Tony laughed softly.

"It will be once I find some way to bribe Banner."

"There's actually no need. He already suggested it. I said that if you wanted to, I was up for it." He smirked. "Literally, when we're both well enough for that."

Tony shivered. "Yes. Please, yes. Imagined it so many times."

Phil kissed him once more, and then sank back into the chair. "Same here, Tony."

They fell asleep holding hands.

And everything was sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, and fluffy black kittens wearing shiny yellow bowties and singing Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs.

Oh gods, I used to be able to come up with decent story titles. What happened to me? Gah!