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Del Rion [userpic]

Chitauri Apocalypse; Chapter 25: Reluctance and Loss

[show info]Title: Chitauri Apocalypse
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Era: Post-Avengers movie
Genre: Action, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Jane Foster, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan, J.A.R.V.I.S., Loki, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Lady Sif and the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor
(Brief/smaller appearances: Odin, Maria Hill, Darcy Lewis, The Other, Benjamin “Benny” Pollack, Erik Selvig, Jasper Sitwell, Claire Wise.)
Pairings: Happy/Pepper, Jane/Thor. Mentions of: Benny/Claire, Pepper/Tony
Summary: Iron Man never fell back through the portal. The Avengers must deal with the loss of their comrade and move on – until Earth once again comes under an attack from the Chitauri and their new-found weapons that decimate everything in their path with unmatched power and intellect. As cities and nations collapse around their decreasing resistance, the heroes of Earth must find a way to defeat their enemy before there is nothing left to avenge.
Work in progress.
Written for: Apocalypse Big Bang, Round One (apocalypsebang at LiveJournal)
Art: Imaan (insteadofdeath at dA/DW/LJ)
Warnings: Graphic description of torture, major character death, apocalypse & invasion themes (including but not limited to: mass destruction, terrorism, holocaust, death, violence and gore), brain-washing & mind-control, language (including some remarks that could be seen as racist). Serious spoilers for the ending of The Avengers (and other random spoilers for the rest of the movies in the Avengers cinematic universe).




~ ~ ~




Chapter 25: Reluctance and Loss



It had been a few days since their visit to Malibu. Tony wouldn’t admit it, but seeing his own grave was something you never thought you would do, yet what had he expected? All of it made sense. None of it was shocking.

Of course they had buried him – or had a funeral without a body; the basic idea was the same.

Of course they made the Chitauri attack into another 9/11.

Of course Tony was celebrated as a hero.

Well, the last bit wasn’t a given fact but not unlike how the system worked; they would milk his life posthumously until there was nothing left to gain and Tony would get none of it. None of the real glory, none of the profit. They had thrown a party in his name and no one bothered to call him there, to check whether he might want to come. Story of his life. This time he had been a world away and couldn’t crash said party, as was his custom. He couldn’t go in uninvited and be greeted by all those fake smiles and sweaty handshakes.

He pushed his hands across his face. Tony realized he was creating an issue where none existed. It was becoming painfully apparent everyone had simply accepted he had died when the portal closed, immediately or soon after. They had acted on that belief and moved on.

Some of them had moved on a bit further than others.

“Tony?” Pepper asked from the door. “May I come in?”

Seeing as he was being held more or less as a prisoner, Tony arched an eyebrow at the question. Pepper was smart, she would know what the situation was really about, but she still waited as if his opinion mattered.

As if it had ever mattered.

“Sure,” he finally replied and thought they should really bring in a chair or something. People kept visiting him but there was nothing to sit on besides the bed, and no one really wanted to sit on the bed. Well, Bruce did, sometimes, and Tony allowed that.

Pepper walked in and instead of the familiar click of her heels, there was the muted sound of thick-soled hiking boots. Tony stared at them, deciding they looked wrong on her beautiful legs that were now covered by some ill-fitting pants which had definitely already seen their best days.

“Tony,” she said again, as if he had drifted off the way he used to, deep within a myriad of thoughts.

“What?” he asked.

“I want you to understand… about Happy.”

Tony looked up, digging for that pain of realization when he’d figured out what had happened. He had wondered, afterwards, whether she and Happy had always had a thing. Whether they had just waited for Tony to really fuck up or die. “I think it’s very obvious,” he noted.

“It’s not!” she snapped, stomping one foot. There was no sharp click this time either and the effect wasn’t as firm, yet Tony caught it, the way he always did. “You were gone,” she went on, pain in her voice.

Tony told himself she deserved it, every bit of it, yet he couldn’t quite banish the stabbing sensation that he had made this happen and that he should make it better if he could. To make her feel better.

“We lost you, all of us,” Pepper went on. Her hair looked dirty. Not dirty but unkempt, like she hadn’t been to a hairdresser for a while and wasn’t eating the right things to keep it shining in the sun the way it used to, when they sat on the deck in Malibu or by the windows at sunset. “I couldn’t sleep for weeks, thinking of how I missed that call, that one call I could never get back. I couldn’t function, but I had to put on a brave face, day after day, when things needed to be taken care of. Happy was there, every time I needed him. Every day of every year, he stood by me to help me cope with your loss.”

“He stood pretty close, by the look of it,” Tony huffed.

If he saw her hand coming, he didn’t register it. She slapped him, hard – harder than ever before. It stung and her nails, although blunt and broken, scratched the skin of his jaw.

“How dare you, Anthony Stark!” she hissed, fury in her eyes as well as unshed tears. “He was your friend, too. Of course I realized, eventually, that he could make me happy. That he had seen me at my worst and we both deserved to be happy again. To not keep a ghost between us. Your memory did little to warm me at night, much as I tried, and every little thing reminded me of you. So did he, but it was one of the good things.”

The tears were sliding down her cheeks now and her chest heaved. Well, it was partially hidden by the shirt she was wearing, another hideous article of clothing that hid all the right places. Tony might have fired her if she ever came near him looking like that, but he belatedly realized she couldn’t just go shopping in the world he had recently created.

The world he had recently destroyed.

He lowered his eyes and she left a few seconds later.

Tony knew he didn’t just imagine the sobs he heard coming from down the hall, seeing as Pepper had forgotten to close the door behind her. He slowly got up, walked over to it and pushed it shut, hearing the lock click into place, shutting him in. He then returned to the bed and laid down, staring at the ceiling, thinking back to the beginning of his capture.

How many of the beliefs circling his head were actually his own? All of them, he knew on some level.

How many of them were justified? How many of them were fair and honest?

Not all of them.

He closed his eyes and allowed his mind to drift, further away from the room and out into the open, tracking… tracking…

“Sir, your location has been compromised.”

His eyes shot open. J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice still echoed in his head, clear as if he was back in his own workshop in Malibu. He knew the message was delayed, a little over a day old, having hung between them like an unopened email until Tony tapped into the units and finally received it.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and rolled off it, moving to the door, touching the handle then ruefully smiled to himself. His hand tested the handle, in vain, and he leaned his forehead against the door, not quite banging against it but with sufficient force. Tony debated his own stupidity and then stepped back from the door, briefly glancing up at the hidden camera in the corner of the ceiling before moving back to the bed, sitting down, drawing up his legs and then simply waited.

- - -

“Pepper…” Happy shot up from his chair and rushed out of the room, to follow the woman as she walked past the doorway, still crying.

Talking to Tony was never a private matter; there were agents watching, as well as whoever happened to be interested in the feed. It had been hard to watch Pepper and Tony argue – as much as it could be called an argument – and Happy had braced himself while they waited for her to come back up.

Steve didn’t envy either of their positions and wondered if Tony’s return would break them apart. He hadn’t known either of them prior to the war, only briefly meeting them after Tony’s supposed death, yet he had grown to respect them and wanted to wish them well in the middle of all the chaos in the world.

“I have to hand it to her, I wouldn’t have the guts to slap Tony right now,” Natasha mused from the side.

“Really?” Clint asked, surprise written all over his features.

“He deserves a slap but I wouldn’t dare to do that,” Natasha shrugged. “Survival instinct and all that.”

“He doesn’t appear dangerous,” Lady Sif frowned from her seat.

“It’s not him I’m worried about,” Natasha smiled briefly before her features went blank again.

Steve guessed she had a point. While the mecha might not be directly above them, attacking Tony’s person might not go over well and could provoke an attack.

Bruce made no comment, head leaning heavily on one hand and looking like he might be falling asleep in his seat. He had been working on something, he always was these days, but Steve decided rest was more important. “Bruce,” he called out carefully, making the man snap out of it. “Go to bed.”

“I’m fine,” the scientist replied at once. “Maybe I should go and talk to Tony.”

“He seems fine,” Clint observed, looking at the feed from his room. “Very peaceful. He didn’t even try to escape.”

“Maybe he finally knows we want to help him,” Steve dared to hope, looking at Tony closing the door of his room and returning to the bed, lying down, closing his eyes.

“He sure does have a funny way of showing it,” Jane Foster commented where she sat in Thor’s lap – mostly because they didn’t have chairs for everyone in the room.

“Our friend will see reason,” Thor deemed. “He must know we are still his allies, regardless of his misdeeds.”

Clint and Natasha exchanged looks; they all knew how forgiving Thor was when it came to Loki, so it came as no surprise he would be the first to grant Tony amnesty. Well, perhaps they shouldn’t go that far, but Thor had lived a long time and perhaps he knew a thing or two about redemption.

Steve directed his eyes back to the screen then jumped at the same time as Tony opened his eyes and sat up on the bed, so quick it was as if someone had zapped him. Tony was on his feet immediately, striding over to the door and testing the lock. He appeared to smile when he leaned his head against it, then just as suddenly stepped back, looked straight at the camera and returned to the bed, sitting down, legs up and arms around them, staring steadily at the door.

“Do you think something’s up?” Clint frowned at the screen.

“Maybe he just had a bad dream,” Bruce mused thoughtfully, as if he could relate.

Steve wondered what Tony would dream about. Their deaths? The horrors he clearly had faced, so much of it left unsaid even when he revealed some of it to Bruce days ago? Well, if it had been a dream it probably hadn’t been a good one; Steve knew that look, the shock of being here, instead of somewhere else.

Things seemed to calm down after Tony settled back on the bed and Steve went back to browsing the most recent batch of recon reports. It seemed that ever since the last battle – after Tony went under – the mecha hadn’t been moving. That meant they also weren’t destroying and killing, although there was one reported incident where a group of armed Mexicans at a US border – possibly not even related to the government – had tried to destroy a mecha where it stood. Suffice to say, there wasn’t anyone left alive in the area to confirm what happened after, other than that while appearing to be shut down, the mecha would still defend itself from any threat.

The Chitauri had been moving around more, perhaps in pursuit of their lost captive. Steve refused to call Tony anything else, regardless of his cooperation with their enemy; he had seen men’s minds destroyed beyond recognition, even before coming to the 21st century. He hoped Tony had enough of himself left that he would pull himself together –

Alarms went off so violently Steve almost fell from his seat, as did several other people. Sirens blared and people started rushing down the hallway outside the door. One of them stopped, coming in, red-faced and wide-eyed. “We’re under attack!”

“Mecha?” Steve called back loudly, already up and reaching for his shield.

The man considered his question for a second. “No one’s confirmed that yet, Captain.” He took a breath and then went on: “Two Chitauri space ships are directly above us and a third one is closing in on our location. They know we’re here.”

The base was mostly underground, not looking like anything special from above. It had survived until now so there were only a few possibilities for how they could have been found.

“Steve,” Bruce called out hastily. “Get Tony.” He was already moving towards the door, looking a little green. His eyes were taking on a venomous tint when he grasped Steve’s arm, tight. “Whatever happens, don’t lose him.”

Steve nodded and watched the other go, knowing he was only seconds from letting the Hulk out. Hopefully he could hold it in until he got to the surface, or else the rage monster might look for enemies in the wrong place. There were always risks involved with the Hulk, even in the middle of the war, and Bruce had been making sure everyone understood that.

While the other Avengers got their gear and headed for the door, Steve went in the other direction, taking the stairs and rushing down to the level where Tony was being held. He encountered several guards and told all of them to get topside and join the fight – or evacuate, whichever came first.

He keyed in the code to Tony’s door and opened it, meeting his eyes immediately, as if Tony had been waiting for someone to come and get him.

“We need to leave,” Steve told him. Down here the alarms were muted, far away in the distance.

“You know why they’re here,” Tony mused, slowly lowering his bare feet to the floor. Steve realized he would have to find Tony proper clothes.

“You’re still here, so I think that means something,” Steve replied as he tried to think of where the closest clothing storage was.

“For your sake, I hope you’re right,” Tony noted and got to his feet. An explosion from above rocked the walls slightly, which meant it had been a big one. Tony looked up, no doubt trying to look unconcerned but his mask was slipping.

“You don’t really want to go with them, do you?” Steve challenged.

“The food here is better,” Tony shrugged, lowering his eyes, meeting his gaze. It burned, laced with accusation and resentment Steve didn’t fully understand, but it didn’t hurt like it used to. As if Tony was letting it go, slowly.

Another explosion and Steve knew they were running out of time. He reached out, taking Tony’s arm, and pulled him along, up to the stairs. He got to the floor where people slept and rushed them down another hallway, checking rooms, trying to find someone’s clothing that might fit Tony: his thin pants and shirt wouldn’t be enough outdoors, seeing as they might not be able to come back here.

Finally he came across a wardrobe that was close enough to Tony’s size. There were even a pair of shoes and while Tony gave the garments a disdainful look, Steve didn’t have to dress the man himself: Tony pulled on the clothes, slowly as if he had all the time in the world.

The air smelled faintly of smoke when they finally headed back to the stairs. They climbed up three more floors before the ceiling caved in and they had to move back down to find another way up. The hallways were quiet and abandoned. Items ranging from plates of food to books were strewn everywhere; people had abandoned them, knowing that getting to a gun and to a safer place was more important than whatever they had been doing.

Another stairwell lead them up two more floors before the air began to get hot, suggesting a possible fire on the next floor. Steve took them down another hallway, having memorized the layout and knowing at least four other alternative routes out. The sounds of battle grew clearer, the explosions rocking everything around them and making the ceiling crack slightly.

“I hope you know where you’re going,” Tony noted.

“Trust me,” Steve reassured him.

“I wish I could.”

“It’s actually very simple,” Steve said, stopping, making Tony almost run into him. “Just… trust me. That’s it. There’s nothing more to it than that.”

Tony looked at him as if he had just offered him a paradox he couldn’t solve.

The floor shook and the lights went out around them. They didn’t flicker nor did they come back on. In the darkness it felt like the world was falling on top of them, or at least contemplating it.

Even through his clothes, Tony’s arc reactor faintly lit up his upper body. After a moment had passed and the lights still hadn’t come back on, Tony opened the shirt slightly to let the light out. “May I say you suck at rescuing people?” he mused.

“I wasn’t rescuing you…”

“I think the general idea of keeping me here is to rescue me from the horrible brainwashing I’ve been subjected to.”

In the strange light it was hard to tell whether or not Tony was being completely sarcastic. Steve knew they couldn’t just stand here and wait until he figured it out. He turned, almost completely certain that was the way they had planned on going, then took a step. It was pitch black save for the light coming from Tony’s chest, creating eerie, deep shadows which played on the walls.

“You sure that’s the way out?” Tony asked from behind him. He had to be moving because the shadows changed – or maybe that was just him breathing.

“You have better information?” Steve asked, not wanting to snap but there was a war going on above them, the ceiling might cave in at any moment and he wasn’t certain which way they had come. The air was getting warmer, stifling, as if the oxygen was running out slowly.

“Maybe,” Tony mused.

“You know we might both die down here, right?” Steve whirled to look at him, leaning close. “Then what happens to your plans for killing us all?”

Tony’s eyes flashed, either an illusion from the minimal light or Steve’s imagination starting to run wild. Somewhere behind them – behind Tony – a cracking sound reached them. Concrete falling apart, metal bending. The air was filled with fine dust a moment later, tickling Steve’s nose and he saw Tony brush his, in a desperate attempt to alleviate the sensation. They needed to get out of here, to get topside, so Steve grabbed Tony and pulled him along, away from the sounds of breaking walls. He hoped they hadn’t been turned around and gone back the way they had come. He kept running into things, bruising his legs, hip and ribs a dozen times before Tony moved ahead of him, the little light they had giving an indication of jagged edges and other obstacles.

The hallway before them didn’t look safe but Tony kept moving forward, one hand tracing a wall as if seeking guidance or finding support. They eventually reached a stairwell and Tony jumped over to it before Steve could even hesitate. They rushed up the stairs, past fallen debris until they reached the floor just beneath the surface.

That’s where they found bodies, piled up on top of each other, guns exposed. It seemed the building that used to hide the entrance had been blown to pieces, the explosion taking out everyone in it – and beneath it.

Tony stopped, taking a step back, looking at the fresh corpses with an expression that was hard to decipher. It was hard to imagine this was what he had wanted – what he had been doing these past several months – but at the same time there was a cold, calculating air about him. Like it didn’t touch him…

A light flashed above them, bright, and Steve saw the blurry shape of an aircraft passing them. The sounds of battle came and went, further away. A blinding flash of lightning, a roar – signs that Thor and the Hulk were still in the fight.

“We have to move,” Steve said and climbed the broken steps, trying not to step on the dead but it was hard. When Tony didn’t move to follow him immediately he grasped his arm, hard, pulling him along, a stumbling weight behind him. When they finally got to the surface, standing in the middle of a blast zone where the building had once stood, Steve cast Tony a quick look to make sure he was okay.

The brown eyes were gazing upwards, a far-away look on his face. A bead of sweat traveled down his temple. His brow began to furrow and he swallowed, then inhaled sharply, raggedly, as if he hadn’t been breathing for a minute or two. His eyes snapped to Steve’s face with such speed and intensity that he started, as if it was a physical thing. “They’re here,” Tony said, and there was no hiding the thick trembling of his voice.

Steve knew he meant the Chitauri because he could smell the undertone of fear. It was painfully clear Tony didn’t want to go back with them and Steve didn’t care why that was. He was past entertaining such small details, of trying to wring the truth out of Tony.

He watched as Tony’s hand twitched, moving up to his head, hovering at his neck and then briefly touching the back of it where the harness began. It was as if he were trying to grasp something that wasn’t there, or wanted to swat it away but knew he couldn’t.

Steve recalled what Tony had told Bruce, about having someone in your head that didn’t belong there.

Not planning to stand here and wait for it to happen, Steve grasped Tony by the arm again and pulled him along, moving as swiftly as he could, shield clutched tight on his arm and ready to defend them; he might not be able to protect Tony from the things inside his head but he would get them to safety.

As they emerged from the last standing ruins of the building, Steve immediately saw an immense hull of a space ship above them, blocking out the sky. Chitauri aircrafts were everywhere, the small ones they had battled in New York City years ago, as well as soldiers on foot. The fight was still going strong although the remaining soldiers and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents had been forced to go into hiding. The Hulk seemed to be the only one who risked open ground, further off, alongside Thor and the Warriors Three. The Asgardians were ever so bold in their attack and Steve hoped they all survived this so that they could, once again, regale them with all their stories of great victories.

Steve heard a shot a moment before it hit him in the shoulder, forcing him forward. He caught himself before he hit the ground, pushing up and moving around to face an advancing group of Chitauri. He felt a burn radiate across his skin and allowed it to sharpen his concentration. “Get behind me,” he ordered Tony.

The other man stood there, watching him. “They won’t hurt me.”

“I won’t let them take you,” Steve snapped, stepping forward, placing himself between Tony and the advancing enemy who were circling them now, making it impossible for Steve to shield Tony on his own. He felt a hand touch his shoulder where the Chitauri bullet had hit and snapped his head around, briefly, catching a glimpse of Tony drawing his hand back, blood on his fingers. Steve didn’t feel the bleeding and counted on the serum to heal the injury before it would start slowing him down. Tony was looking at his fingers as if the blood were posing him an incredibly challenging question.

“I promised Bruce I wouldn’t let them take you,” Steve murmured.

Tony’s eyes snapped up, meeting his once more. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking, especially when the brown eyes moved on, looking at the Chitauri instead. As he did that, the Chitauri halted, holding their current position around them. Maybe they were communicating. Perhaps they were talking to Tony, not in words but in his head. Steve wanted to shout, to interrupt, to draw their attention to himself and disrupt the connection, whatever it was.

He wouldn’t let them take Tony –

“Cap, get down!”

Bullets began to rain down on them and Steve barely had the time to pull Tony back and down, shifting the shield to protect them from the shots as he curled himself over the other man. The Chitauri raised their weapons, screaming, but most of them were cut down before they had time to react. The shots kept coming until the Chitauri were all down, some of them still twitching on the ground but most of them lying dead.

“Move it!” another shout met Steve’s slightly ringing ears and he hauled Tony along with him, towards the sound, finding Natasha, Happy and Pepper behind a partially collapsed wall of yet another building that appeared to have been blown up from the inside. “You okay?” Natasha asked, sliding the magazine of her gun out and replacing it with a new one.

Steve nodded and glanced at Tony who appeared to be equally unhurt. “How are we doing?”

“Struggling,” Happy groused. “They came on too quickly but there hasn’t been a single mecha sighting.” He looked at Tony when he reached that part of his report. Tony met his gaze, not bothering with the hostilities this time. “We’re getting pounded and need to leave the area,” Happy went on, shifting the weapon in his hands; it was heavy and big, sufficient to rain hell on anyone who got caught within its range.

“We feared you wouldn’t make it back to the surface,” Natasha mused. “I knew you could do it, though,” she added.

Steve just nodded. “Where’s Fury? We need to get organized and st–”

A Chitauri aircraft that had taken a hit sailed over them. Something fell from it, clattering around on the ground. Tony started moving before it stopped rotating, running away from it.

“Bomb!” Natasha cried and followed his example.

“Pepper, get down,” Happy ordered and Steve threw himself down at the same time as they did.

The ground rippled at the explosion. Steve felt the impact, sensed the shield taking most of it as it shuddered in his grip. There were shouts and screams drowned out by the boom and the flying debris. He couldn’t hear or see anything for a while afterwards, struggling to his feet as soon as he saw blurry shapes around him.

Someone was screaming, crying.

He stumbled towards it, blinking, the image getting clearer. The ringing went on in his ears, muting everything out. He tasted blood.

Shapes moved past him, towards the sound, and he finally made out something moving on the broken ground.

“Pepper!” Natasha’s voice cried out. “Don’t move…”

“Happy!” It was Pepper screaming, crying, shifting. Steve rubbed a hand over his eyes and finally the scene cleared slightly. Happy was lying unmoving on the ground, partially on top of Pepper whom he had tried to shield from the explosion. It was clear he was dead, his back a burnt, bleeding mass, debris embedded deep in the flesh.

Natasha pulled Pepper free from beneath the dead weight. Pepper tried to reach for Happy, to hold onto him, her entire body shaking. “She’s hurt,” Natasha observed hastily, looking up at Steve. “Can you carry her?”

“Yeah,” Steve replied, tugging the shield off his arm.

“We can’t leave him,” Pepper was crying, fingers tightly clinging onto the shoulder of Happy’s jacket when she finally reached it.

“He’s gone,” Tony’s voice responded, sounding hollow and distant, removed from the situation. Steve spared him a glance while he handed the shield to Natasha in order to gather Pepper in his arms. Tony looked unscathed but there was something in his eyes that hadn’t been there before.

Maybe it was finally hitting him.

“No!” Pepper shook her head, hair wild, blood in it. “Happy,” she whimpered, sagging slightly, her body going rigid when the injuries began to register, her fingers spasming and releasing their grip on Happy. Steve took that moment and picked her up, feeling wetness on his fingers, smelling the blood and burnt skin. They couldn’t treat her here, though. They had to find shelter.

Natasha got to her feet beside him, holding his shield. “Stark, we need to go,” she snapped, harsh.

“Where are you going?” Tony asked, meeting her icy stare.

“Somewhere safer,” she replied.

Tony huffed then glanced up, briefly, at the space ship that still hung over them. “This way,” he said then and took off in the opposite direction than that which Steve would have chosen, yet he moved to follow him, Pepper’s cries and whimpers slowly dying down against his chest. Natasha brought up the rear, wordless and quiet, a blank expression on her face.

He had no idea where they were going. It was entirely possible Tony was leading them into a trap, but when they finally skirted the edge of the battlefield and arrived in front of something that may have once upon a time been a shelter, it seemed Tony was on their side. They shuffled inside, finding that the shelter had already been raided, perhaps months ago, but it offered protection.

“I’ll go and find supplies,” Natasha offered. “Stay with her.” She put the shield down and disappeared, leaving Steve at Pepper’s side and Tony standing at the far wall, the glow of the arc reactor not catching his features this time.

Steve looked down at Pepper. Even in the weak light coming from the doorway it was easy to tell her injuries were extensive and she would be bleeding out soon. He tried to press down on the worst of them but there were too many. It was likely there were pieces of debris in her wounds as well, which needed to be dug out before they could stop the bleeding – none of which they could do without supplies.

He looked at Tony again, wondering if he could ask the man to come and help him, but by then Natasha returned with various other people, one of them a medical officer. Steve moved back to let them work on Pepper.

Tony remained in his corner, quiet and unresponsive to anything going on, be it muttered conversation or the battle still going on outside their temporary shelter.

Steve chose to stand guard by the door, sending a prayer out to anyone who might be listening but he could admit he had begun to lose faith in prayer some time after the war started.





to be continued…


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