Blood and Soul • Part 1: Crash
Title: Blood and Soul
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Genre: Drama, romance
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Nick Fury, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor
Pairing: Steve/Tony (implied past Pepper/Tony)
Summary: A life-threatening situation following a plane crash brings Steve and Tony unexpectedly close to each other. Foul play is suspected, but what if the answer is so much less complicated than everyone thinks?
Written for: My card in Trope Bingo’s Round 1 (square: “soul bonding / soulmates”)
Warnings: Trauma/injury, some light m/m content, language.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Avengers, their characters and everything else belong to Marvel. The movie versions belong to Marvel Studios, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau, Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures… in short: everyone but me. This is pure fiction, created to entertain likeminded fans, no profit made.
Feedback: Very welcome.
About Blood and Soul: I had a pretty solid idea for how I wanted to start this fic. However, when it came time to fulfill the actual prompt, I’m not sure what happened to this fic.
All I can hope for is that people understand my take on the “soulbond” – and what it meant in this case for Steve and Tony.
Story and chapter statuses: Below you see the writing process of the story’s chapters. If there is no text after the chapter’s title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Part 1: Crash
Part 2: Bond
Author’s notes: Written for my card in Trope Bingo’s Round 1. Square: “soul bonding / soulmates”.
I’m no expert on planes, physics or medical care (although for the last part I did ask for some consultation). I apologize for any mistakes that are too glaringly obvious to someone with better knowledge in the aforementioned areas. All I know is that a plane crash isn’t good for your health (neither is being stabbed by pieces of metal), and that treating someone’s injuries in the middle of nowhere is difficult.
Part 1: Crash
Somewhere above western British Columbia, Canada
The cabin pressure was dropping, the high altitude thin air – and the sudden decline in said altitude – pressing painfully against his ears and throat. Steve Rogers’ body was adapting to it to the best of its super-soldier ability, making the sensations bearable.
He imagined how the two other occupants of the cargo plane were feeling; Bruce’s gamma-irradiated blood was possibly keeping him from fainting, the green glow a constant in his eyes. However, he hadn’t let the Hulk out yet – which probably was fortunate seeing as the rage monster might have dropped them from the sky faster than the current engine failure.
“Where’s Tony?” Steve shouted over the noise of the wind, alarms and the disconcerting whine of mechanical parts.
“He said something about trying to fix the engine,” Bruce recalled. His breaths were deep and not as erratic as when an A.I.M. ship had blasted them. The strange aircraft was nowhere to be seen, probably lying in a smoking crater a few miles behind them; Iron Man had met them mid-air, his suit already damaged from the fight in Alaska they had left behind a few hours earlier, but it hadn’t stopped him from dealing with the A.I.M. ship. Afterwards, Tony hadn’t been able to keep himself in the air and with their airplane’s engines spitting out smoke and fire, he had retreated inside, taken off the suit and disappeared to deal with their current problem.
Steve had already checked and seen there were no parachutes.
While the Hulk would survive the fall, should they crash, Steve would not be so lucky this time; there was solid ground beneath them. Secretly, he was almost glad for that. The idea of spending another lifetime in the ice was unbearable and he would rather be crushed and burn to death in the wreckage.
Of course, there was the matter of Tony’s life as well; while his suit might be able to soften the blow, its current condition might not be enough for a safe landing. Steve wasn’t ready to hand-wave his own life as long as he knew there was someone else in danger as well.
A door banged somewhere down the corridor and Tony stumbled in. There were oil and soot marks on his face, smears of blood on his arms and face, and an intense burnt smell followed him into the cockpit. “Just so it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone: we might crash,” he stated, leaning heavily on the wall and scrunching up his face. He appeared almost delirious and the steady fall of the plane had to be affecting him.
“I take it there’s no chance of fixing the engines?” Bruce guessed, voice so steady it couldn’t be from actual calmness. Well, Bruce wasn’t in any real danger, although he still loathed the transformation into the Hulk. Steve thought that with all they had been through, falling from the sky wasn’t a big deal.
“No,” Tony replied, moving closer to the controls. “But I can try and bypass some of the alarms and automatic settings, to gain enough control to take us down gracefully.” The plane tilted slightly at his words. Steve could taste the smoke and his eyes felt runny with the constant draft from the broken hull.
Tony dropped to his hands and knees and crawled the rest of the way since that was easier. Turning over onto his back, he slid beneath the console and started tugging at panels that had been screwed shut. “Cap, give me a hand with these.”
Steve unbuckled himself from the pilot’s chair where he had taken over for Tony after he left to deal with A.I.M. He knelt by Tony and ripped open the protective casing, allowing Tony access to the tangle of circuits and wires beneath.
“Find me any tools you can get your hands on,” Tony commanded over the noise and Steve scooted to the side. Bruce released himself from the co-pilot’s chair, moving to assist him. It was a relief to do something – to not focus on the probability of their imminent deaths.
Tony was working furiously when they came back, cursing and biting back cries of pain whenever his unprotected hands got shocked or cut by whatever he was trying to do. Steve offered him tools while Bruce sat back down, trying the controls again; Tony had managed to jam them into position so that they wouldn’t take a nose-dive into the ground, although that wouldn’t keep them in the air for forever.
“Fuck!” Tony snapped finally, struck at the underside of the controls with his fist, and wriggled back out. He didn’t elaborate beyond that, moving up and sitting down. He tried a few dials, watching for changes in the blinking lights.
“Can your armor handle the impact?” Steve asked matter-of-factly, clinging to the chairs. The trees were getting closer, only the occasional, thin shroud of a cloud swallowing the plane and preventing them from seeing the ground below. They were too low to maneuver and hitting the Coast Mountains was getting much more likely.
“If we fall?” Tony inquired, not looking at him as he kept trying to get a reaction from the plane’s systems. “Contrary to what most people think, I can’t fall uncontrollably and survive. The suit’s repulsors are damaged and can’t keep me in the air; the last plunge to get me back in here was the last of the juice I had left. It most certainly won’t keep the two of us in the air long enough to make a safe landing.”
“That’s not what I had in mind,” Steve clarified without actually saying what was on his mind, looking out the window. If Tony couldn’t fly out, which he had suspected when seeing the condition of the Iron Man armor after the fight with the A.I.M. ship, the only option was to take the plane down and pray for survival. “Will it be enough to withstand the crash?”
Tony stopped to consider it. “Maybe.” He took another pause then glanced at Bruce. “How low do we have to get for the big guy to be able to keep Cap alive when you land?”
“Lower than this,” Bruce replied and shifted uneasily. “Way lower to be on the safe side.”
“We’re not going anywhere if Tony’s suit can’t take it,” Steve argued.
“We’re not all going to die today,” Tony snapped. “I’m not even wearing the nice underwear, so… Just, no,” he shook his head and kicked the console. “It’s fried. I can’t do anything else. If we drop – and we will, soon, because the engines are either shutting down or overheating, not to mention one of the wings was tearing off when I made my last fly-by – it won’t be pretty.”
“Put on the suit,” Steve ordered, picking up his shield.
Tony sighed and got up. As if sensing the change in their plan, the plane suddenly tipped to the side. Steve grabbed onto the seat while his other arm shot out to keep Tony from careening across the cockpit. He felt Tony’s fingers cling to him, waiting it to be over, but it just got worse.
“We need to move,” Bruce said, pushing at the controls that seemed to be offline entirely.
Steve glanced up long enough to see a lone mountain peak rise above the trees. They might not smash into it, but at this rate they would hit something in the area.
Pushing himself towards the door, Steve maintained his hold on Tony, aware that Bruce was following them. The tilt increased and Steve felt the sickening pull of gravity in his stomach. His hold on Tony grounded him as they struggled over to the stairs that would lead them to the cargo area where the Iron Man armor was.
“We’re losing altitude,” Tony noted, probably feeling it too. “Too fast. We’re going to drop.”
“Keep moving!” Steve ordered. “Get into the suit.” Knowing Tony, he would get the repulsors working at the last moment – or at least glide down a lot smoother than a falling dead weight.
A lot smoother than Steve’s own options were.
As long as he knew Tony was less vulnerable and Bruce would be fine save for some torn clothes, he could deal with the rest.
Gravity seemed to increase. The plane tilted further, shuddering and rattling dangerously. Anything that wasn’t tied down slid across the floor, threatening their already precarious balance.
Tony reached the stairs and moved down them quickly and clumsily, the plane tilted the wrong way compared to the design of the stairs. There was more smoke down here and something came rattling across the floor beneath them; Tony’s suit. It slid past the stairs and towards the end of the cargo area, out of sight.
“Should have tied it down,” Tony muttered.
“Move it,” Steve reminded him. His side was pressed tight against the railing and if they tipped any further, he would roll over it. Tony was holding onto the opposite railing, taking the last few steps and then pulling himself around it, to follow the suit. His eyes scanned the space, probably to locate the armor where it had stopped. Steve held onto his arm, to make sure he didn’t fall or lose his balance now that they had gotten this far.
“Okay, let me go,” Tony said finally. “I’ll slide down to the suit, put it on, and…” He glanced up. “What was the plan?” His eyes moved between Steve and Bruce. “You have a plan, right, Cap?”
“Always,” Steve reassured.
Tony shifted and Steve let go of his arm, seeing him move down to a crouch and disappear, using the tilt of the plane to his advantage.
“There’s no plan,” Bruce mused from his back.
Steve didn’t bother looking at him. “You said it yourself: we need to get lower in order for the other guy to keep me alive if we fall together.”
Bruce’s hand landed on his shoulder, squeezing tight. “We’ve worked miracles before. You’re tough.”
Steve smiled, holding more firmly onto his shield. “Maybe Tony’s suit will work.”
“Maybe it will,” Bruce agreed. “If not, I’ll… the other guy won’t just leave you here, you know. Maybe I’m being pessimistic; Tony keeps telling me to work on that.”
Steve was about to reply when the sound of metal ripping rang out across the cargo area and part of the wall on their left just disappeared. For a second they could see one of the wings rotating and flipping through the air as it fell free of the rest of the plane.
The plane lurched, throwing them back against the stairs. They were going down, hard. Briefly their eyes met, Bruce’s glowing green. Steve nodded at him, in case the scientist needed further incentive to let the Hulk out. A growl followed and the sound of tearing fabric and popping joints was easily lost in the roar of the wind and an explosion from the direction of the other wing.
Steve squeezed his eyes shut, just as a large hand clasped his shoulder tight with force that could have broken the bones of an ordinary man. He wondered if it would hurt more or less this time around – and whether he would wake up again.
- - -
He felt like he had inhaled fire.
Steve struggled to breathe, which was the only thing his mind was focused on – the only thing that existed for the time being.
Once he established a steady rhythm of painful breaths, his brain snapped into action: Where was he? What had happened? Was he hurt?
Straining his senses, he could hear wind as if he were in a forest. The deep scent of coniferous trees filled his senses – just before he was assaulted by a deep cloud of something burning. That explained why he felt like he had inhaled fire.
Forcing his eyes to open, he stared up at a sparse canopy of trees, swaying slightly. The ground beneath him was hard and rocky – a sensation which brought forth numerous other aches and pains. Groaning, he closed his eyes again, only to hear a loud grunt.
Steve’s eyes flew open once more and he craned his neck to look around, regardless of the stab of pain it caused. The Hulk was standing near by, looking agitated. The green eyes were gazing at him – and then away from him – restlessly. “How long was I out?” Steve asked, not really expecting an answer.
“Not long,” the Hulk replied in his usual short-talk; it wasn’t that he couldn’t talk, but rather that he chose not to communicate. Why that was, Tony was still in the process of finding out –
Steve sat up and got to his feet so fast the pain hit him only once he was upright, almost sending him back down to his knees. He screwed his eyes shut, breathing carefully, waiting for the weakness to pass. The serum better not fail him now.
The pain passed slowly, allowing him to stand straight. Belatedly Steve noticed the shield was still on his arm, where it had been when the plane began to fall. The Hulk huffed behind him, almost impatiently. “Where’s Tony?” Steve asked him, forcing the words out past the ache in his throat. It was all secondary; he was alive, he was moving, and his body could take its time healing as long as it kept him functioning.
When there was no reply, Steve turned to look at his green teammate. The Hulk appeared unhurt although he was, unsurprisingly, mostly naked. It spoke of how violent the fall had been, even if Steve had no recollection of leaving the plane.
“We have to find him,” Steve went on, turning to look around. It wasn’t hard to spot the smoking area and the large collection of pieces that together formed the plane wreckage. Trees had been knocked down and some of them were still smoking, although most of the fire had burned itself out. Clearly the climate was damp or cool enough that they hadn’t caused a wildfire.
“Fuel leaked out in the air,” the Hulk noted, explaining why there didn’t appear to have been an explosion. Whether it was Bruce’s mind working or another sign of the Hulk’s brilliance, Steve didn’t know.
Right now, he didn’t care either. He marched forward since no other alternative had been offered to him. His body shook as he stumbled over uneven ground, his eyes trying to take in all the available information at once; there were plane parts scattered at least a mile or so around them, if the smoking trees were any indication. A large part of the hull was close by and he would start with that and keep looking until he found Tony.
It promptly crossed his mind that perhaps Tony hadn’t gotten the suit on in time.
No. That was unacceptable; until Steve found his body, he would assume Tony was alive. It was entirely possible Tony wasn’t even in the wreckage but out looking for help, to get them back home, since he usually pulled through even with a damaged armor.
It seemed to take forever for him to reach the wreckage, although it looked close enough to touch. The Hulk followed him, grabbing a few prone pieces of the plane, turning them around before tossing them aside with an angry sound. Why he hadn’t gone to investigate while Steve was out, he didn’t know. Was the Hulk afraid of what he might find? Was he feeling guilty that if Tony had gotten hurt, he should have tried to save them both and not just Steve?
Don’t go down that road, soldier, Steve told himself. Until you have his blood on your hands, Tony’s going to be fine.
That drove him forward and his feet finally stepped on metal. Steve forced himself to halt and look around. Which part of the cargo plane was this? Where had Tony been – and where would he be – if he hadn’t managed to get out? “Let’s spread out,” he called out to the Hulk. “Be careful,” he added, because there was no knowing where their friend was and whether he was lying on top or beneath something.
The Hulk grunted, looking around. A frown sat firmly on his face, as if he were confused – or worried. Steve patted him briefly on the arm before picking a direction at random. He wanted to shout even if it wouldn’t take long before his voice gave out by the feel of it. Perhaps if he did it anyway, Tony would hear him and know they were there, that they were looking for him, coming for him…
Without warning, the Hulk let out a mighty roar. Steve almost lost his footing as he jumped, alarmed, afraid the other had hurt himself – or worse, found Tony. There was nothing that confirmed either option, which was confusing – until the familiar whine of a repulsor ray replied from the midst of the destruction. There was no flash of blue but Steve set out towards it, relief flooding through him. He heard the Hulk follow, his weight making broken, bent metal creak and bang. It was all secondary, however, to the vision of Iron Man sitting on the ground, leaning against a corner of what may have been the cargo bay before the plane was torn to pieces.
The arc reactor shone in his chest and the eyes of his helmet were bright. “Took you long enough,” Tony complained.
Steve moved over to him, pushing aside some of the smaller pieces of rubble. “You okay?” he asked. It occurred to him that it was strange that Tony was just sitting there, but he had just been lying on the ground himself so he didn’t blame the other man for taking a breather or two.
Tony didn’t reply immediately. The Hulk approached, grabbing some larger pieces of metal, throwing them to the side – which for him meant cutting down a few more trees. A faint chuckle could be heard through the helmet of Tony’s suit and then one armored hand reached up in a gesture of removal. Steve reached out, by now familiar with the mechanism, helping Tony lift the helmet off and placing it carefully to the side.
On the inside, Tony didn’t look so bad. The same bloody scratches that had been on his face before the crash and save for the rather dazed expression, he appeared unhurt.
“Told you I had a plan,” Steve said softly, trying to hold back because Tony always hated moments like this, yet Steve couldn’t deny himself a moment to enjoy the fact that they were all alive.
“Not a great plan,” Tony complained with only a fraction of his usual snark. “Would you mind getting me out of the suit?”
“Sure,” Steve agreed. “Should we move first?” he wondered, looking around the wreckage. “Can you walk?”
“I think that might take a while,” Tony offered him a bland smile. “Can you just… help me? Please?”
Steve didn’t argue; it was rare that Tony said ‘please’ and meant it – and frankly, the trembling undertone in his voice was disquieting. Steve moved his hands along Tony’s armor, waiting for him to begin the sequence that would undo it. One of Tony’s fingers tapped an irregular rhythm – either communicating with the suit since J.A.R.V.I.S. was probably out of commission, or trying to ease his anxiousness. Finally the pieces began to unlock and Steve moved to help them the rest of the way, seeing as some parts were damaged and wouldn’t function as usual.
He was parting the fine machinery at Tony’s waist, once again admiring its complexity, when he caught the first sight of blood on the metal. Steve’s eyes scanned for its source and his entire being froze in horror as he could see more and more of it trickling through the newly formed gaps in the suit.
Tony coughed and visibly swallowed, eyes falling shut. “Like I said: not a great plan.” There was blood on his lips, suddenly, and Steve was absolutely certain it hadn’t been there before.
His hands began to push at the suit, to get it out of the way faster, and the red of his gloves was soon smeared with Tony’s blood. He couldn’t feel it, could barely see it, but it was there and he could smell it now, too. It triggered a need in his brain to do something and he yanked harder, swearing at the unyielding parts of metal that were supposed to protect Tony but had clearly failed.
At a particularly powerful yank, Tony breathed hard and cried out, gauntlet-covered hands coming up to push Steve away from him. Tony didn’t have the strength to stop him but it was a clear sign.
“I take it back,” Tony gasped. “Don’t touch the armor.”
“Tony, you’re bleeding,” Steve said. Maybe Tony knew it, or perhaps he had no idea how bad it actually was – not that Steve had any real idea but that much blood was never good.
The wide, brown eyes met his. It took a few seconds before the fight left them and Tony clearly resigned to his fate. It was terrifying because Steve had never seen him back down before, from anything – and they had seen an array of horrifying things since their first battle together. Slowly Tony nodded, swallowing again, leaning his head back. His eyes remained open as his hands fell away.
Steve looked back down at him. He realized that what he had taken for a bent piece of the suit was actually embedded into Tony’s flesh. Pressing his teeth together, he looked at it from another angle, trying to find a way to pull it out with a minimum of pain. When he made a choice and shifted it, more blood gushed out from where it was buried.
The Hulk let out a sound which may have either been impatience or distress. Steve glanced at the large, green creature and as much as they had needed the Hulk before… “I need Banner,” he said desperately. “Please, make him come out. I think Tony’s hurt pretty bad.”
A dark scowl met his shaky demand but Steve didn’t have time to fight with the Hulk. He went back to work, removing other parts of the armor – most of them falling off Tony’s body with ease, a few others needing a little work. It seemed he was mostly okay, with a deep gash in one leg, but Steve could see it wasn’t really bleeding and so let it be for now.
Returning to Tony’s midsection, he spotted several pieces of metal entering his torso. Some of them were from the suit, around his stomach area, while the ones at his side may have been part of the cargo plane or whatever had hit him during the crash. Perhaps the prior damage to the suit had weakened it and resulted in this state of affairs.
“Tony,” Steve looked up at his teammate’s face. Tony’s eyes blinked open in response. “I need to… I think we need to pull these out.” He glanced at the Hulk again and noticed how the beast seemed to almost hug itself, breathing hard. A determined look was on the Hulk’s face and Steve hoped it was an attempt to transform back to Bruce; he needed the scientist.
“Stop talking about it and do it,” Tony told him. His fingers were curled into tight twists, bloody, dirty and frail-looking without the armor covering them. Steve yearned to reach out and hold them in his, but that would hinder him from trying to stop the bleeding.
When he grabbed the first bent section of the armor, he was relieved to find that the metal hadn’t sunk in very far. Tony hissed and tensed, but he either managed to stay still with sheer willpower or was unable to move. Either way, Steve managed to pull three pieces free of him before a hand was on his shoulder and Bruce stood there, looking exactly like a person who had just fallen from a plane and survived to tell the tale, somehow.
“Be careful,” he murmured, kneeling down on the wreckage-covered ground, heedless of the fact that he was wearing nothing but the tattered remains of his pants. His fingers shook slightly as he felt Tony’s abdomen, face set, eyes hard. “Okay, pull the rest out. I don’t think we should leave them inside and they’re not very deep. I’ll try and find something to treat him with. When you get the last pieces out, press against the wounds, hard; try to slow the bleeding.”
Steve nodded and proceeded as Bruce had instructed as the other man stumbled to his feet and headed off. He could hear the scientist moving around, searching for something – anything – to help Tony survive this.
Rationally Steve knew the others would come for them; if J.A.R.V.I.S. hadn’t already been alerted when A.I.M. attacked, there were a lot of people expecting to hear from them.
“Next time, we take the Quinjet,” Tony mused, his voice a bit stronger.
“It was your idea that we take the cargo plane,” Steve reminded him then proceeded to pull the remaining pieces of metal away from Tony’s body, flinging them to the side and pressing his hands tight against his stomach and side; the black undersuit was torn but hiding most of the damage, making it hard to see where exactly Tony was bleeding. Steve considered tearing the fabric but decided to wait until Bruce came back.
Tony huffed. “Barton thought I couldn’t pilot it…”
“And you just had to prove him wrong,” Steve forced himself to smile.
“I did, too….”
“Until we crashed.”
“That… wasn’t my fault,” Tony defended himself. “I almost saved us.”
Steve looked at him, finding Tony’s eyes closed again. “Look at me,” Steve urged. Tony frowned but didn’t open his eyes. “Bruce will be back at any minute and it won’t take long before the others realize something’s wrong. We’ll be home in no time.”
“Malibu or New York?” Tony asked, voice a bit weaker. They had been flying to Malibu while the rest of the team was returning to New York City. Tony had talked Bruce into visiting his home in Malibu and Steve had somehow tagged along. Now they were here, stranded, and he wondered how long it would take for someone to notice they had gone missing. It couldn’t take long. They didn’t have time to –
“Okay,” Bruce came back then, carrying several items in his arms. One of them was a blanket, still in a plastic bag. There were also three first aid kits. “We’re in luck,” Bruce noted. “Can you move him?” he asked, glancing at Steve. “There’s a spot nearby, with better light and away from the smoke and fumes. I laid out another blanket over there.”
Steve nodded and grabbed his shield, strapping it to his back. Then he carefully moved an arm under Tony’s back and another under his knees, keeping him as still as possible as he lifted him up. Tony didn’t make a sound the entire way, or when he was placed down on the blanket, and a worried frown appeared on Bruce’s face.
“Tony? I need you to stay awake for a bit longer…” There was no reaction and Steve felt dread flood his stomach. Bruce reached out to tap Tony’s face a couple times, and when he got no response to that either he moved his hand quickly to cover Tony’s nose and mouth. “He’s breathing, but we need to speed this along.” He dug into the first aid kits, pulling out various items. “Get the undersuit out of the way,” he told Steve, who complied quickly. The dark material revealed only a smeared layer of red, which made his stomach flip. Bruce quickly wiped away most of the blood, revealing the wounds briefly before new blood began to seep out, more and more with each slight movement of Tony’s breathing, although it probably had more to do with his heartbeat.
Steve glanced at Bruce, who was staring intently at the injuries. He knew Bruce wasn’t a doctor but hoped the man had practiced his medical knowledge enough to save Tony’s life.
- - -
Night was falling and Steve had made a fire. It crackled every now and then, spreading a steady glow around it and making the shadows appear darker. On the edge of the flickering circle of light, a sliver of blue glow could be seen: the arc reactor still shone in Tony’s chest, as if mocking them.
The man lay still on the ground, wrapped in blankets. The steady rise and fall of his chest was the only indication he was still alive, and every now and then Steve froze to stare at Tony, to make sure that small movement was still there.
Bruce returned from the darkness; he had left some twenty minutes before, to seek out a stream he thought would be nearby. Steve had agreed, looking at the terrain, and accepted a bottle of fresh water the scientist brought with him; Steve had searched the wreckage while Bruce worked on Tony and salvaged many things, but water hadn’t been among them.
Bruce checked on their injured teammate, his eyes dark in the light of the fire. “I thought the others would be here by now,” he mused.
Steve nodded. Perhaps something had happened. Had they, too, been attacked? After all, it seemed unlikely they wouldn’t be missed – that no one would notice they hadn’t arrived at Tony’s house in Malibu; that the entire plane had gone missing.
Bruce sat down heavily, folding his legs as he leaned over Tony’s still form. Steve had found him a new pair of pants and a heavy jacket that had survived the crash. Bruce had accepted them wordlessly, and it was an easy reminder of a life he had led before joining the Avengers; clothes had probably been handed to him even then, or he had stolen some if he had no money to pay for them.
“He’s going to bleed out,” Bruce suddenly spoke up. “I’ve done what I can, but he needs a hospital. There’s nothing out there as far as I can see, and we’re on the high ground. If they don’t come to us… Tony won’t make it.”
Steve let his nails dig into the insides of his palms. One would have thought he could just accept these facts after the number of people he had seen die in the war, from injuries similar to what Tony had suffered. They weren’t soldiers in a war, though. They were a team, a family, and over the years they had overcome many obstacles together. The idea of losing Tony like this was unfair and unbearable.
“What do you need?” Steve asked. “To keep him alive? I’ll go out at first light, see if I can locate more of the plane, find shelter or even a dwelling –”
“I need an actual doctor,” Bruce cut him off angrily. “I need a sterile environment, medication and instruments.”
“We don’t have those,” Steve reminded him.
“No, we don’t,” a dark reply pushed itself from Bruce’s throat. He looked ready to Hulk out, but Steve knew he wouldn’t; if he did and wandered off, Tony was as good as dead right where he lay. “What I would need, first and foremost, is blood; to replace what he’s lost – and is losing, even now. But even if mine was suitable, I can’t use it because of the gamma radiation.”
“What about mine?” Steve offered.
Bruce glanced at him, his frown appearing unrealistically deeper in the dancing shadows. A loud crack came from the fire. Steve waited, knowing that Bruce knew all the necessary medical data about the other Avengers. Eventually the scientist shook his head. “There is a possibility it might work,” he announced, but made it sound like a ‘no’.
“But?” Steve pressed.
“There’s no valid research of the effects of the super-serum enhanced blood on normal human beings. It’s not a risk I would take without further study.”
“We don’t have time for studying,” Steve snapped. “You said it yourself: Tony’s dying and no one’s come for us yet. If he’s going to die either way, we might as well push our luck and…” He wasn’t certain exactly how this would be done, but he would roll up his sleeves immediately if that speeded things along.
Bruce looked back at Tony again. Even in the dark, he looked as pale as death. Perhaps that was enough motivation since Bruce finally nodded and got up on his knees, reaching for what was left of the first aid kits they had found. He rummaged around for a good while, discarding one thing and choosing another. Eventually he seemed to find what he was looking for and turned back to Steve. “This isn’t without risks to you as well,” he noted. “We’re lacking… I won’t even begin, and I’ve never done this before.”
“But you know how it’s done?” Steve guessed.
“In theory,” Bruce gave him a small, ugly smile. “I need to get your blood into him – while your body no doubt tries to heal at the first intrusion of a needle. The blood might clog, there may be complications. It might not work and it might infect you both because clearly things are not sterile enough and we’re lacking so many things –”
“But we could do it,” Steve pushed. “We can try.”
Bruce looked at him for a longest of time. “Yes – but not in the dark. If the others haven’t come by morning, then… we don’t really have a choice between the two alternatives.”
When they settled down to get whatever rest they could find, Steve was certain neither of them actually slept. Steve kept waiting for any sound that would suggest they had been found, but when the sun began to climb again, it was clear they were running out of options and time.
- - -
It was getting to be a bright, beautiful day. Steve had gotten more wood for the fire, fetched fresh water from the stream and returned to find Bruce by Tony’s side, fingers pressing against his neck. For a moment Steve froze, wondering if it was too late already, but then Bruce drew back and the expression of apprehension told Steve there was no easy way out of this.
“He’s peaceful right now,” Bruce noted. “He probably wouldn’t wake up if we just left him like this.” He sounded detached, as if he was talking about someone they didn’t know, hadn’t met, and who didn’t matter. He didn’t quite look at Steve again as he went through the medical equipment. “We could just let him slip away,” he murmured, looking at the tube in its packaging.
“We can’t,” Steve said adamantly, putting the water bottle down on the ground. “He wouldn’t give up on us.”
“He’s an engineer; he thinks logically. If you can’t salvage it…” But Bruce didn’t sound convinced; he was merely pushing at Steve – and Steve was more than prepared to push back. He was their leader, after all, and what Bruce needed right now was orders.
“Tony’s the most irrational person I’ve ever met,” Steve argued. “We’re going to do this. There is no sign of a rescue party and Tony’s not going to last.” He began stripping off the top of his uniform, knowing he should give Bruce all the access he could possibly need. “We have light, we have supplies, and you’re still in a condition to do this.” If they waited, the lack of food and proper shelter would take its toll on them; Steve needed Bruce to be at his sharpest because what they were going to try to do was possibly more complicated than Steve could imagine.
Bruce nodded and took off his ill-fitting jacket, to minimize distractions. He opened the blankets and examined Tony’s arms, picking the right one. He re-positioned it, covered the rest of the unconscious man with the blanket and then turned to Steve. With precise movements he looked at both of Steve’s arms, touch gentle yet firm, no doubt searching for the best veins. After a while Bruce let him go and appeared to come to a decision. “Let’s get this show on the road,” he decided.
Steve chose to look at Tony instead of staring at Bruce while the man prepped the medical equipment they had left. Finally Bruce laid out the sealed packages, sterile gloves and other items he would need; he didn’t have an assistant so everything needed to be within his reach yet out of the way. “Alright, sit on that rock so that your body is higher than Tony’s; we’ll use gravity to help us along,” he said, no doubt aware of the irony of that statement.
Gravity, among other things, had gotten them into this mess.
Steve followed the instruction, bracing himself while trying to relax, then watched as Bruce moved over Tony.
First Bruce cleaned a spot on the inside of Tony’s elbow. Once that was done, he reached out for a strap that worked as a tourniquet. Steve wasn’t certain whether he was still hesitating, or if something was wrong, but it took Bruce a long while before he reached out for one of the needle-like things, as well as a pair of gloves, tugging them on and then opening the sealed needle. When that was done, Bruce moved quicker; he pressed the needle into Tony’s arm, moved it around for a moment, then did something with the contraption attached to the needle – a cannula, Steve guessed – and released the strap before pulling out the needle and placing what looked like a cap at the end of it, to keep the blood from flowing out. After that was done, Bruce quickly worked to secure the cannula into place by taping it to the skin.
“That went well,” Steve said, in case Bruce needed encouragement.
The other man looked up at him, gave him a faint smile then moved towards Steve. “Alright, now it’s your turn.” Bruce cleaned his chosen spot on Steve’s arm, then tied the strap around his upper arm to bring the veins to surface. With a few, steady breaths, Bruce opened another cannula package, held it steadily, then pushed it into Steve’s skin. The prick was minimal and Steve tried to will his body to not heal as fast as usual, to take its time. He had no idea if he could do such a thing but no one could stop him from trying.
Bruce worked the needle out just as smoothly as earlier, taping the cannula in place. “That was painless,” Steve noted.
“This part I’ve done before,” Bruce admitted. “Usually in a safer environment, although… not by much,” he finally admitted.
Steve nodded; he could imagine the places Bruce had been to, where anyone with enough medical knowledge could make a difference. “What happens next?” he asked.
“The hard part. Not that it’s… difficult, but this is where we’ll either succeed or fail,” Bruce noted and opened another package, this time with a yard or so of plastic tubing. He turned back towards Tony, quickly attaching one end of the tube into the cannula on his arm, then came back to Steve. Bruce hesitated minutely, looking at Steve’s arm.
Not knowing what else he could say that hadn’t already been stated, Steve simply offered the other man his arm in a gesture of willingness and confidence.
Bruce exhaled then quickly attached the free end of the tube at the cannula in Steve’s arm and allowed the blood to flow. Gravity pulled it down towards Tony and Steve sat still, watching the progress in silent fascination. When it looked like the red line finally made contact, he was aware of them both being rather tense, as if they would see right away if something had gone horribly wrong.
Nothing happened, however; Tony lay as still as before, oblivious to their efforts to save his life.
Steve made sure he was in a perfect position and slowly flexed his fingers to get the blood pumping more. He didn’t feel a thing, which made it so much easier.
Bruce slowly tugged off the gloves, watching the steady flow of blood make its way down to their injured teammate. “Now we just hope it doesn’t clot, or kill him,” he noted and glanced at Steve. “Tell me if you start to feel strange. Seriously.”
Steve wouldn’t – and Bruce knew that. If this could save Tony, he wasn’t going to stop. Not if it took every last drop of blood he had to give.
to be continued…