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Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 09:58 am
Title: Lethewards: Chapter Two: Undoing part I
Rating: R
Fandom: Marvel - 616
Pairings: Primarily pre-slash Steve/Tony, but with several platonic relationships, as well as references to past relationships and a few minor relationships
Part word count: 5533
Genre: Drama, angst, hurt/comfort, character study
Warnings: These are warnings just this part, seeing as they may change from part to part. Please see this post for overall fic warnings Depiction and talk of mental illness, blood.
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters and make no profit from them
General Summary: Steve comes back very different and does his best to adjust to the changed world and Rhodey gets a lead on Tony's location.
Thanks: My beta [personal profile] autolobotomysuicide and being absolutely fantastic. [personal profile] jazzypom and [ profile] pandanoai for their adivce and beta work, as well as cheer leading. And last but not least, [ profile] oddwildflowers for being an amazing cheerleader.
Author's note: Please, please, please see this post for a list of overall fic warnings and for background information/changes from canon.
Again, thank you for all the kind comments. I've settled on the posting schedule of Tuesday and Sunday.
Previous Parts: Prologue Chapter One

Chapter Two:

     We're almost there, Baby...just hang on...

           It wasn't worth it...

                If Captain America were alive today, who would he vote for in the 2008
                Presidential Campaign?

...But the greatest honor of this ancient and tired soul has been the privilege of fighting beside you, and calling you my friend....

     It is possible, yes.

     Then that's what I want you to do.

Blurry. Numb. Loud. Bright. Moving. Can't think. Tired. Sleep. Need sleep.


ROGERS: You want to talk about Tony?

SAMSON: Well, yes, but I also wanted to talk to you, Steve. You've been through something extraordinary. I just wanted to know how you were holding up.

[NOTE: Subject seems uncomfortable with topic]
ROGERS: It's not much different from when they took me out of the ice really.'s more personal, I guess you could say. Before, fifty years had passed. Most everyone I knew was dead and everything I had known changed. It was a shock, yes, but there was a disconnect of sorts. This time...there's a familiarity to everything. I don't know if that makes any sense.

SAMSON: No, I understand what you're trying to say.

When Steve woke up, it was as if from a dreamless unfulfilled sleep. He remembered what had happened before and after his death, he had been completely aware of the world around him, though it had felt distant, but it was not like dream, and he awoke feeling as if he hadn't slept in a week.

Steve opened his eyes, but closed them again quickly -- too bright. He was starting to feel his body again. It was strange. He felt weak, exposed, helpless.

He tried opening his eyes again, this time gradually. The room came into focus slowly. It took him a moment to recognize it as his own bedroom. His mind was still fuzzy, but he knew this wasn't right. He shouldn't be here -- not just alive, but in this room.

He tried to get up, pushing himself up with his elbows. He didn't get far before they gave out on him. He landed roughly back on the mattress, knocking the wind out of him.

Coughs wracked his body, burning his lungs and clawing at his throat. Everything hurt.

Over the sound of his own hacking, he could hear voices from the other room. Heavy boot steps. Silence. Finally, he was able to catch his breath.

"My God..."

"Is that-? Oh God, is that-?"

Steve squinted. It was hard to see their faces, but he knew the voices. This didn't make sense.

Boot steps towards him, blurred movements, then there was a shadow standing over him.

"Steve?" hushed voice, familiar.

"Bucky?" Steve didn't recognize his own voice however, rough from disuse. If he hadn't felt it escape his own lips, he would have thought it was someone else.

"God," Bucky's voice was soft, like he was in some holy place.

"What-? How, how did he get here?"

"That's what you're worried about?"

"Both of you, either shut up or get out ."

"I can't get up," Steve said as best he could, but it wasn't louder than a whisper.

Bucky turned back to him, "Don't try. Just rest. One of you get him some water."

He heard someone run off, but kept his attention on the blurry, brown-haired man in front of him, trying to get his eyes to focus.

"Just rest," he repeated and Steve realized just how tired he was.


When Steve next woke up, he was much more aware of himself and his surroundings. His eyes didn't hurt nearly as much, though his throat was still dry. The door to the bedroom was closed now, but he could hear hushed voices beyond it.

He still felt incredibly weak, and his head was spinning just laying here. It frightened him immensely to feel like this. Something was wrong with his body. It wasn't working right. It took an effort to lift his arm. The long sleeved shirt was hanging off him and simply slid back via gravity to reveal a skeletal-looking forearm. Steve was too tired to be surprised by it. The arm flopped back onto the bed.

The door opened cautiously. His gazed drifted lazily over to it. It was Bucky. His face was hard to read; he looked concerned and frightened, but somehow relieved.

"Welcome back to the world of the living," he said quietly, a small smile on his face.

Steve tried to smile back, but he wasn't sure if he was successful. Bucky came and sat on the edge of the bed. A long silence passed between them.

"What's wrong with me?" it was troubling how weak his voice was, just like his body.

Bucky laughed, "I think what's wrong is that you're not dead. I can only imagine what your body is going through right now."

That made sense, but Steve didn't like that answer.

"Who's out there?" he nodded toward the door and made a note not to do it again as his head spun.

"Everyone," Bucky smiled, "The Avengers. Your Avengers."

Steve said nothing. He had plenty he wanted to ask, but didn't feel up to taking in the answers right now.

"Don't worry about it," Bucky seemed to sense his mental fatigue . "We can figure things out later."

"They're not going to come in here and gawk are they?"

Bucky chuckled, "You better believe they are."

Steve sighed, "Might as well get it over with..."


The first week was awkward. No one really knew how to react to him. Peter made jokes, but it was obvious he was disturbed by all this. Logan made a few approving grunts, but didn't say much. Clint -- Lord, Clint was back, too! -- said he'd get used to it.

Steve was starting to get restless. So far he had been confined to the master bedroom and the attached bathroom. He felt himself growing stronger, but still couldn't get around on his own. He wanted to move. He wanted to get stronger and knew he couldn't do it by sitting in bed. Cautiously, he placed a foot on the excessively cold hardwood floor. He took his time, testing his balance -- there was no point in hurting himself. It took him fifteen minutes to get to the doorway and once he was there, he paused to catch his breath.

Peter walked into the living room and froze. He stared at Steve a moment, then rushed over to help him.

"You're crazy!" he said, hooking his arm around Steve's waist.

"Stir crazy," Steve sighed, "I just want to watch the news."

The two made their way over to the couch. Peter helped him down gently.

"Here's the remote," Peter said cheerily, handing him the controls to the TV . "Need anything else?"

"Some water would be fantastic ."

Peter nodded and scampered off. Steve flipped on the TV, changed it to a news channel, and braced himself. They hadn't told him how long he had been...gone yet. They hadn't told him anything about the world outside of his Brooklyn apartment. It was possible the world had changed more than it had in the fifty years he was in the ice.

In the sixty minutes watching the news, Steve was nearly overloaded with the information he was able to glean. He listened to the reporters and Peter filled him in on the missing parts -- told him about their new president, about the Hulk, the Skrulls, Jan, the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D., the creation of H.A.M.M.E.R., the new "Avengers." It was difficult for him to listen to everything that had happened in the two and a half years he missed.

They watched in silence as the news began to cycle through the same stories. His mind was churning this all very slowly for some reason. A picture of a middle-aged, red-haired man come on the screen -- Norman Osborn. Steve knew the name of course -- he was one of Tony's main competitors -- but something didn't feel right.

"I thought he was dead," Steve said after a moment.

"Who? Osborn?" Peter raised an eyebrow, "Naw he's just..." he waved a hand, "been hiding."

Steve nodded, looking back at the TV. Then a thought occurred to him.

"Where's MJ?"

Peter, who had been munching on some potato chips, stopped, mouth open and blinked.

"Mary Jane? Wh-Why?"

"I haven't seen her. She's probably wondering where her husband is."

Peter seemed to choke on air. He coughed for a moment before croaking out, "Husband?"

Steve's brow wrinkled, "Weren't you...?"

"Married?" Peter squeaked a little, "No, no...just, you know, living together...I'm not really the husband type."

"I could have sworn..."

Peter shook his head, "Maybe your memory's a bit scrambled."

"Maybe..." Steve's mind was clouded a bit. He kept mixing up things that had happened before his death with things after it -- the things he had heard and felt while he was "asleep."

Peter gave him a concerned look, head titled to the side. After a moment, he returned to his chips. Steve returned to watching the news, understanding the stories better now that he had the background information. Something in the crawler at the bottom of the screen caught his eye:


"What happened to Tony?" Steve felt something in his chest leap.

"Oh..." Peter shifted uncomfortably and had a sort of expression on his face as if he was telling his father he flunked a class, "Right. He...sort of...disappeared."

"Disappeared?" Steve looked at him in disbelief, "How does Tony Stark disappear?"

"We have no idea!" Peter sounded both frustrated and panicked. "He's just gone! We looked all over when it first happened, but everything sort of just led to...nothing."

"Nothing? You didn't find anything?"

"Well, I mean, his house looked like it was ransacked, so we thought maybe someone took him. But there's been no note, no phone call, nothing! Just...poof!" Peter looked extremely troubled and he was sputtering -- something Steve knew he did when he was nervous, so he backed off.

It didn't make sense. Tony was one of the most recognizable people on the planet. How could he just disappear? And if he had been kidnapped, how did they even get him? -- Tony was a fighter to the end.

Clint and Bobbi -- might as well start calling them the Ghost Avengers -- walked through the false wall.

"Hey!" Clint said happily, pulling off his mask, "You're up!"

"Mostly," Steve smiled.

"He's getting caught up on current events," Peter looked very much relieved that someone else was here to explain various awkward things.

"Oh, depressing isn't it?" Bobbi placed a hand on his shoulder.

Steve said nothing, but nodded. He was still processing all the information he had taken in. He had missed far too much, and every day he lay in that bed he was missing even more. He couldn't let another day pass him.


Steve's body was recovering faster than one might expect, especially considering that he looked close to a skeleton when he first woke up. The Serum was finally getting back to work. Steve was able to walk completely on his own now. Hardly what he's call his peak condition, but it was an improvement. He would pace around the apartment, do simple exercises, always stayed active.

It was one quiet morning that Steve walked into the gym to find Bucky lifting weights. They greeted each other and Steve set about doing push-ups -- He didn't feel he was ready to do anything but body-weight work outs.

"So," Steve grunted as he pushed himself up, "Jarvis?"

He had run into the old butler the night before and nearly gave the poor man a heart attack.

"Yeah," Bucky sat on the seat of the bench-press, "Stark sent him to work here. I found out he was working for free now, so I told him to only come in when he can."

Right, there was no one to pay Jarvis' wages with Tony...gone. It still didn't make sense to Steve.

"What had you been doing to find Tony?"

Bucky let out a sigh, though Steve couldn't tell if it was because of the topic or because he had just brought the barbell down to his chest.

"We're working on it. We've only got one lead and it's not giving up a whole lot."

"What's the lead?"

"A domestic terrorist group. We were looking into them right before he went missing. It turned out they had been watching him for a while. All the info I've gotten tells me they don't know where he is either."

Steve held his push-up at the top for a moment, then tucked his knees under him so he was sitting on them, thinking about what he had heard.

"Why were they watching him?"

Bucky set the weights back on the stand and sat up.

"They're anti-meta. He was the face of the meta community until the invasion. I think they were planning to do something to him to make some kind of statement," he let out a sharp, humorless laugh . "Osborn probably saved his life in that aspect."

"Can I take a look at the information you have on them?"

Bucky nodded, "Yeah, sure."

The two got up and left the gym. Bucky led him to a small room with a massive computer system. He sat down, typed in a few commands and the relevant files come onto the screen. He got up and motioned for Steve to take the seat.

"Thanks," Steve took the offer and sat in front of the monitor.

Bucky turned to leave, but stopped.

"You know, you can take the shield back whenever you want."

Steve smiled at him, but his mind went back to the news reports -- Registration, paranoia, madmen as government-sponsored heroes.

"I'm not sure I'm ready to wear those colors again."

Bucky nodded, "Yeah. I know now how hard it can be to stand by an ideal that the country doesn't want to seem to try for any more."

Steve nodded as well, smiling wryly.

The information on R.O.A.D. was scattered and limited -- names and locations with not much of a connection between any of them. There were typed up reports from Avengers who had done stake-outs or had come across some scrap of information connected to the group.

Steve came across one report that made him pause when he read the name of the person who had filed it: Maria Hill. An uncontrollable sort of rage surged within him when he saw that name, thoughts and memories coming back to him in than instant. He calmed himself and managed to read through the file.

Maria Hill was working undercover with the group. She had managed to get in with them after an "incident" by telling one of the operatives that she had been working with the Avengers simply so she could get the information she need. She reported that convincing them she "felt strongly towards their mission" was fairly easy given her actions while working for S.H.I.E.L.D. (and Steve would have to go agree). She was worried that they might be monitoring her communications, so all her reports would be relaid through Virginia Potts, who would then relay it to both James Rhodes and Edwin Jarvis, and then, Steve assumed, Jarvis passed it on to the rest of the Avengers. The reports would be filed once a month due to fear that any up in communication between herself and Potts might be seen as suspicious, with any pressing information going directly to Rhodes. Steve checked -- there were three such monthly reports.

He looked over them quickly. It seemed that they were limited the information they told her, apparently due to extreme paranoia that there may be spies, such as herself. The members were told close to nothing about any operations that were being planned, only ordered to get information or acquire anything that might be needed. She also noted they appeared to know nothing about Stark's disappearance.

It took a surprising and frustratingly short amount of time to read through all the intel on the group and it left Steve feeling like he didn't know much more than when he started. He logged off the computer, then sat back in the chair with a sigh. There was nothing he could do about it now, especially while he was still out of commission. And really, there was nothing any of them could do until Hill filed her next report, as much as it troubled him to think that she was their own line to this group.

ROGERS: People have changed so much in such a short amount of time. I know them, but they're like entirely different people.


ROGERS: Tony...among others. I...I think that might be the most difficult part.

SAMSON: Well, try to hold onto what you can. It will be hard, but you've done it before, you can do it again.


RHODES: How is he?

SAMSON: Hard to say. He's being sedated until we can fabricated a dampening anklet, so I haven't had the chance to really speak with him yet.

RHODES: Yeah, right, should've figured...

SAMSON: How about you? How's the arm?

RHODES: Still broken, but it could have been a lot worse.

SAMSON: Very true...Would you mind telling me about how you came to find Tony?

When Jim finally got stateside, he headed straight for Maria Hill's apartment. He found it empty, as if it hadn't been lived in for a couple days at least. He connected to the computer in his satellite and searched news reports, hospital computers, police logs, and everything else he could think of for any instance of a Maria Elizabeth Hill he could find.

It took a few minutes, but he found that a woman fitting Maria 's description had been admitted to Augusta Medical Center in Fishersville, Virginia with multiple gunshot wounds. Jim set a course and went back out to the street to take off.

He got there in about an hour. The small town folk were more than a little surprised to see a seven foot tall robot man walk into the hospital. The receptionist game him Maria's room number, no questions asked, with a look of awe on her face.

Maria was laying in bed with tubes coming out of her, completely unaware of the world around her, Jim could tell without even scanning her or reading the file he had obtained from the hospital's network. Three separate entry wounds, lowered vitals, lowered brain activity. Coma. She had a bad reaction to the medication they had given her when she first arrived, combined with the stress on her body put her in that state.

At least she wasn't going anywhere. Now where the hell was Tony?

He left his information with a nervous-looking nurse, asking to be contacted in case of any change in her status. Next stop, Long Island.

What the hell had these two gotten into that would have put them in the position to get shot, not to mention put them in southern Virginia?

He had tried calling Tony. No answer. That would have been too easy. He called Pepper.

"You don't know where he is?" she sounded frantic on the other end, "Maria didn't call you or anything? She didn't say what they were doing?"

"No," Jim was scanning a variety of radio frequencies and data streams, hoping he would find some trace of Tony, "Didn't figure they could get into that much trouble in three days..."

"It's Tony and Maria Hill we're talking about," Pepper snapped, Jim knew it wasn't aimed toward him. "Okay, I'm going to cancel the rest of the meetings and call the pilot. I should never have let him convince me to stay..."

Jim got a stray signal from an unknown origin. It was staticy and hard to make out.

[ ...have to fi**zzerk-- need to--* ]

He couldn't trace it and it was extremely weak, not to mention just plain weird. He saved it -- maybe further analysis could provide something useful, but right now he couldn't do anything with it.

"All right," Pepper was back on the line, "It's a thirteen hour flight, so hopefully I'll be there by eleven AM."

"Right, see you then."

"Yeah, bye. And Rhodey, please find him."

Jim had been to the Stark family estate a few times, so he knew his way around. The front rooms seemed mostly in order from what he could remember, but the bedroom and lab area were in complete disarray. They had been tossed, everything out of place. He wasn't sure, but it looked like things were missing from the workbenches. No Tony in sight.

Jim called the police, not that they could do much anyway. It was a formality at most. They would carry on their little investigation and find nothing and Jim would carrying on his, only hoping he could find more.


It was two weeks before Maria Hill woke up. During that time Jim had searched every possible place he could think of, scanned every data feed he could hack into, searching for any sign of his missing friend. Pepper did ground work in between meetings, pulling every connection she had. She had gotten hold of Black Widow, who in turn had gotten to the new Captain America, who had gotten all the Avengers he could gather on the look out. She also managed to get the entire East Coast on guard with a single call to Henry Hellrung, seal a multi-million dollar deal with some French company, all the while holding off a nervous break down. She must have learned that one from Tony.

Jim was in the air the minute he got word that Maria was awake. She was still mostly out of it by the time he arrived. She focused on him for a moment. She muttered something to the nurse, then threw up into a trash can. It was thirty minutes after that that she was finally able to address him.

"Where's Tony?"

"We were hoping you could tell us," Jim didn't raise his mask. He was monitoring her vitals.

She cursed loudly, "He's gone?"

"Yeah. What the hell were you two doing when you got shot?"

Maria gave a sideways glance to the nurse and Jim knew she didn't want to say anything in front of her.

"Any idea where he could be?" Jim moved on.

"If you haven't found him, then I don't think I could."

"How long until you're out of here?"

"Day and a half."

The nurse gave her a look that said that was obviously not recommended, but said nothing.

"I'll head back upstate. Call me when you check out."

"Yeah, okay," she rested her head back on the pillow. "Hey, there's a folder on my kitchen table. Take a look at it."

Jim did just that. R.O.A.D. He had heard some rumblings of this group before, but never had much reason to pay attention to them. He supposed this is what those two idiots had been investigating. He noticed the order placed to Stark International. He wouldn't put it past Tony to try and control where his weapons went, even when he was half-dead.

He closed the folder with a sigh and started the satellite searching for every instance of R.O.A.D. in every data base it had access to (and a few that it didn't). He took of his helmet and tried to relax some -- the search might take a while. Tony had given him an upgrade to his cybernetics last time they had seen each other a few months ago, which included outfitting him with a slimmed down life support system, meaning he could remove the armor, wear actual clothing, and lead a (remotely) normal life if he chose to. Jim chose not to. The upgrade had also made it so he didn't need to recharge nearly as often as he used to, making it so he could be in near constant motion, processing information without rest, and he had been doing such from the moment he stepped into the ransacked Stark House two weeks ago. Jim understood now Tony's obsession with the Iron Man. It wasn't about power, fame, or ego like he had thought at one point. It was about doing what he could for people who needed it.

Right now, that person was Tony Stark. Despite all the shit that Tony had done over the years, Jim would be forever grateful for the War Machine.

And then every once in a while, this would happen. Tony would get in over his head, refuse any help, and just end up imploding. It was frustrating, draining, and more than once Jim wanted nothing more than to turn his back on that man. Yet here he was, sitting in the empty apartment of some woman he didn't exactly know, waiting for any sign of him.


No sign came. The search turned up little. Maria and Jim decided that the group must be either disguising all their transactions exceptionally well or the members were doing them privately.

It was Maria's idea to go undercover. There was no doubt in her mind that R.O.A.D. was connected to Tony's disappearance and she was getting frustrated with the lack of solid information they were turning up. The best way to get intel was to go in yourself, or so she said. Jim was wary of the idea, mainly because some of this groups operatives had, you know, shot her and put her in a coma weeks earlier. This didn't seem much of a concern to her. It was well known she generally wasn't found of metas, so if she could convince them that she was working for the Avengers to her own means, she could get an in with them. Jim didn't like it, but he couldn't talk her out of it.

So, Maria went under and Jim went back to work, though he made sure that the satellite keep a search going for all things R.O.A.D. and for any stray, untraceable signals.


RHODES: I, uh, guess you probably just want me to jump to the chase, huh? I probably shouldn't say too much about that anyways.

SAMSON: Whatever you're most comfortable with, Jim.

Jim was locked on. He fired, sending tracer rounds into the robotic exoskeleton. Normally, those things were used for construction -- big, bulky, hulks of metal and hydraulics, jumbled together to make something vaguely human-shaped -- but this one had been modified for combat, meaning it had thick metal plates over the vital parts and a rail gun on the shoulder. It was nothing compared to the War Machine, but it was still something of an annoyance.

He hadn't really known what to expect when Maria called, giving him the tip that something big was going down in the middle of nowhere upstate, but he had to admit, he was not expecting to find a dozen men with enough equipment to make the local SWAT team jealous, plus one modified construction exoskeleton. Maria didn't know exactly what the "something big" was, but she knew it wasn't good and Jim had the feeling she was right.

The thugs had been nothing. The most difficult part was making sure not to kill them. He needed to interrogate them, so he made sure he had as many as possible that could still talk. Normally he'd only leave one or two, but the few he had managed to capture before didn't know shit, so he figured he'd improve his chances.

The exoskeleton was putting up more of a fight than Jim thought it would. He dived-bombed the thing, sending it crashing through the wall of a nearby abandoned factory. They came to a spot, metal skidding across the concrete floor, covered in rust and pulverized stone. The noise echoed around them in the empty building. The exoskeleton had no external speakers, but Jim could hear the man inside yelling on his radio. Jim ripped through the metal sheeting covering the cockpit like it was wrapping paper on some deadly present he had been given.

"Target is compromised!" he was yelling.

"Yeah, no shit," Jim grabbed the radio and crushed it, "What was the plan? Why are you here?"

The man said nothing. He body went limp, his jaw slack, and his eyes rolled back in his head. Jim scanned him. Brain function ceased.

Jim swore, standing up straight. Some kind of kill-switch. The Mandarin had something like that at one point, right? Some micro explosive planted at the base of the brain. It would fit with what they knew about R.O.A.D. -- adapting old, remotely cheap technologies for their own. If this guy had one, the others probably did as well.

Jim finally took a moment to look around the place he was standing it. It hadn't been used in a long while. Rusty chains hung from the ceiling, old factory equipment was scattered about, some knocked over from the fight. It was dark in here, the windows scummed over from years of missed upkeep. There was a jumble of computer parts in a far corner, wires, tools, half-empty liquor bottles, and -- Jim froze -- a person. He scanned the figure quickly, unable to make out any features from the combined distance and darkness. To his surprise, the computer gave him a hit on the ID:


"Tony?" he called, switching to low-light filters on his visor.

As the figure became clearer, Jim realized it was, in fact Anthony Stark. He looked...horrible didn't exactly cover it. His jeans were ripped and Jim thought his tank top used to be white, but it was hard to tell seeing as it was now covered in dirt, blood, and general grime, and he had lost a lot of weight, to a point at which his clothes were hanging off him. His hair was shaggy and his goatee had lost its clean edges, looking like he had spent the four months out here.

"My God..." Jim's voice was hushed, he moved forward towards him, "What the hell did they do to you?"

Before Jim could reach him, Tony took off, running toward the door.

"Tony! Wait!" Jim followed.

When had he gotten that fast? Jim couldn't keep up with him. He put on the booster in his boots, closing the space between them. By now they were outside, back into the sunlight where Jim could see the hints of cuts running up and down his arms and what parts he could see of the man's back. He was close enough now to grab him, but that last thing he needed now was whiplash. He turned off the boosters and landed running, able to keep pace with him now. He grabbed Tony in a bear hug, lifting him off the ground.

Jim slowed down, coming to a stop with Tony protesting in his arms.

"No! Please, no..." Tony was kicking his bare feet against Jim's metal shins.

"Tony! It's me!" he was trying to hold him tight without crushing him with the armor's added strength, "It's Jim!"

Slowly, Tony stopped his protests. Jim set him back on the ground, but Tony's knees seemed to give out. He crumpled to the grass and Jim went down with him, holding on to his shoulders.

"Please no..." Tony sobbed.

"Tony, it's all right," Jim flipped up his visor. He held him close, trying to calm him, "You're safe now."

"No, no...please, God, no..."

Jim made three phone calls: One to H.A.M.M.E.R. to clean up the mess, one to Maria Hill telling her he found Tony and to meet him in New York, and one to Captain America to get Tony a ride to the city and to figure out what to do. The entire time, Tony was muttering, begging, sobbing.

He had grown silent by the time the old S.H.I.E.L.D. transport had landed in the clearing. The ramp went down and the Avengers on board were all standing ready. Captain America was the one to come forward. His boots clunked on the ramp, then thudded on the ground, then he was crouching down next to them. Tony was staring at the grass.

The Captain and Jim exchanged glances.

"Come on," Jim prompted Tony, trying to get him to his feet, "Let's get you some help."

Tony got up with little protest, though his legs didn't seem to be working. Jim helped him walk, with Captain America on the man's other side.

"Don't make me do this," Tony muttered, "Please don't make me do this, Jim."

"It'll be okay," Jim tried his best to reassure him, while he tried to convince himself of the same thing.

SAMSON: How was the flight to New York?

RHODES: Awkward. No one really spoke. I mean, we tried to talk to Tony, but he was out of it the entire time.

SAMSON: So he said nothing else?

RHODES: Right. He just...stared at the floor the entire time.

SAMSON: All right, thank you, Jim. I'll keep you posted.


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