Amaurosis • Chapter 7
Chapter 7: Foe / Friend
Day 190 of the Alien-Human War
Bruce sighed and withdrew his medical-glove-covered fingers from Tony’s scalp.
“Talk to me, Banner,” Tony ordered. Bruce had been sighing regularly since he began inspecting the implant sites, and Tony was getting fed up with it.
“It’s too early to –”
“Don’t bullshit me!” Tony snapped. “You’re a genius, and the first time you sighed was when you laid your eyes on me after Thor brought me in yesterday.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Bruce attempted to weasel out of it yet again.
“How about the truth?” Tony knew it would probably be painful, whatever Bruce’s verdict was. It was like lying on that table in Afghanistan all over again, his chest wrapped in gauze, feeling returning to the damaged area on top of his heart. Tony had wanted to see it for himself back then, to know the score, and although he wouldn’t be able to see for himself this time, he counted on Bruce to fill him in.
“The truth is, the implants are damaged,” Bruce finally gave in, a sharpness in his tone. He was angry at Tony. “There’s no response from them, and they’re partially melted into your skull.” Another sigh followed, filled with the violence no doubt brewing inside him. “What were you thinking?”
“Salvation,” Tony said honestly, digesting the news. He tried to stay objective about it, to meet it with stoic acceptance, but it was hard. He had known it was bad, but he had hoped against all hope that the implants would have miraculously survived.
He supposed it was miracle enough the implants hadn’t melted and fused with his brain. Extremis prevented that, at least…
Bruce grunted and moved away, removing the gloves from his hands and tossing them away. He probably missed his mark because he got up a moment later, landing the gloves in a trash can with as much force as he could – which wasn’t much when it came to light rubber. “We’re back to square one,” Bruce told him. Tony envisioned him glaring at the innocent waste container. “No,” he decided a few seconds later, as if his original theory was incorrect. “We’re worse off than we used to be because now you have melted mechanical components in your head and the risk you took when installing the implants has been wasted!”
Tony cringed. He carefully listened to Bruce’s breaths, knowing this wasn’t a good time to bring up his side of the story.
“Why would you do it?” Bruce asked again, this time sounding like his anger was swiftly transforming into violent, worn out sobbing – a change that was infinitely better than dealing with the Hulk.
“I thought I was onto something,” Tony replied. Of course, he hadn’t just thought he was onto something but had known it for a fact. It had only been a matter of finding the right trigger. He knew how Bruce felt about triggers of any kind, though, and knew it was best not to rile him up any more. “I’m sorry,” he offered, just in case it helped.
As he was saying it, the door of the room opened. “While that was pretty convincing, I suggest you work on it some more,” Rhodey stated. He didn’t sound happy either.
“Can we just get the whole gang together so that I can apologize to you all at the same time?” Tony asked, trying to keep his tone civil but kind of failing by the end of the sentence. With the implants destroyed, he would be trapped in the darkness again, and it sure as hell was more inconvenient to him than the people around him.
“I’m not worried about the team,” Rhodey replied. “A plane just landed. A bunch of people are here to review the recent incident.”
“What’d you tell them?” Tony asked.
“Nothing yet,” Rhodey huffed. “They want to meet with the Avengers, though, ASAP.”
“We have better things to do,” Bruce murmured.
“I agree,” Tony quickly took his side. He didn’t need to be seated in a room full of brass that had no clue of the trials he and the team had gone through.
“Four people are dead, Tony,” Rhodey reminded him. “Over two dozen are being treated for their injuries, several of them in critical condition.”
Tony supposed he should be happy the number of casualties hadn’t gone up by more than one since the incident itself. “I know I’m responsible for that,” he agreed. “I just don’t see the use of some disciplinary action while we’re still very much at war.”
“That’s probably why Fury’s here, too,” Rhodey noted.
“Fury’s here?” Bruce repeated.
“That’s unexpected,” Tony mused.
“Which means we should get this meeting out of the way as soon as we can, to show that we’re cooperating,” Rhodey said.
“Depends on what they want,” Bruce stated before Tony could. He moved over to Tony and guided him to stand up, then adjusted his clothing. Tony felt like telling him to stop fussing, but he knew it was Bruce’s way to cool down and collect his thoughts.
“Let’s go,” Tony finally decided when Bruce was simply wasting time and Rhodey’s air of impatience was growing.
Rhodey held the door open while Bruce filled the role of guide. It was just like before, in between using the helmet, but somehow the air about them was different; they knew the darkness would not be breached again until they discovered another way to overcome the issue. Whether Rhodey had shared the contents of his conversation with Tony prior to the explosion, he didn’t know, and Tony wondered if it would make it easier for the others to accept his actions.
Hell, he didn’t even know if Rhodey saw the connection and understood why he had put himself at such a risk and unintentionally harmed bystanders as well.
They left the building and moved to another. Tony was too preoccupied to actually focus on where they were headed, trusting Bruce and Rhodey to get him there. His mind kept slipping back to his failed experiment and its aftermath; what had gone wrong, and was there still a way to fix it? He wouldn’t go suggesting it anytime soon, though, sensing that his teammates might not look at it favorably.
“We don’t all need to be there,” Steve’s voice carried down the hallway when they went through another door.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Clint replied. “I, for one, can think of better things to do with my time.”
“Likewise,” Natasha stated.
“Make sure he rests,” Steve told her. “That leg of his won’t heal unless he lets it.”
“I’m fine,” Clint groused, but Tony could hear him hobbling away, probably leaning on Natasha for support. The injury he had sustained after the battle at Crater Lake was far from healed – even by superhero standards – and their latest battle hadn’t improved the process in any way.
“Can I sit this one out, too?” Tony called out.
“No,” Steve replied, a certain degree of annoyance in his voice.
“You’re still mad at me?” Tony asked as they got closer.
“I am,” the super-soldier agreed.
“Well, at least be mad at me for the right reasons,” Tony retorted. “I think we can all be equally pissed off that I hurt other people – which wasn’t my intention.” Least of all getting someone killed…
“What is done is done,” Thor joined the conversation. “How went the examination of his injuries?”
Tony didn’t want to talk about it, so he left it to Bruce: “We’ll talk about it later,” the scientist said simply, sounding weary. “Let’s get this over with,” he added, clearly implying he wasn’t looking forward to the meeting.
“You don’t need to be there,” Steve told him.
“Yes, I do,” Bruce said and pulled Tony forward a bit more harshly than was necessary.
They entered a room, possibly one where meetings were regularly held. Tony heard the scraping of chairs against the floor and was then guided to sit in one. Bruce sat beside him while Rhodey took the chair on his right.
“You’re looking pretty good for a man who got trapped in the middle of an explosion,” Fury’s voice stated from the other side of the table.
Tony grit his teeth, feeling eyes on him. He didn’t like how it felt, especially since he was being examined. The mood in the room was turning a little tense with mounting hostility. “I’m alive, which is incredibly lucky,” he eventually replied because no one else was speaking.
“Unscathed, save for…” The man who spoke was not someone Tony recognized, but unmistakably an older person with a long career in the military. He wasn’t sure what he was implying at first, but when Bruce suddenly moved and slid the comfortable woolly hat onto his head, he got a pretty good idea.
“The incident was unfortunate and the Avengers take full responsibility,” Steve said before anyone else had a chance to speak.
“No, they won’t,” Tony disagreed. “You weren’t even there.”
“Shut up, Tony,” Steve snapped at him.
“This isn’t a team effort,” Tony shot back, not to be silenced.
“Let Cap take the lead,” Rhodey murmured from between Tony and Steve.
“None of you knew what I was up to,” Tony disagreed.
“And how is that possible?” another foreign voice questioned. “I can see how a blind man could cause a fire, but I cannot condone the negligence of leaving him unsupervised long enough for him to cause this kind of destruction.”
Tony turned towards the origin of the voice. “Who the hell do you think I am?” he snapped. “I’m not some kid who was left alone for five minutes, playing with matches.”
“Yet the end result was pretty much the same,” the man had the nerve to retort.
Tony narrowed his eyes, even though it was just for effect. “You want an apology? You have it. No one else should have gotten hurt as a result of my mistake.”
“That’s not the only issue we have here,” the first man spoke up. “The war against the aliens is not turning in our favor. However, the small-scale success of the Avengers has not gone unnoticed.”
Tony could hear the collective huffs from his teammates. ‘Small’ wasn’t exactly how he would describe the battle at Crater Lake, but leave it to military brass to belittle it when their own people weren’t involved.
“We are willing to cooperate with any and all military operations around the world,” Steve responded diplomatically, implying they just needed to ask and the Avengers would respond.
“Are you?” asked the man Tony was dubbing as Mr. Douche in his head.
“What are you implying, sir?” Rhodey asked before anyone else could get riled up.
“Ever since Mr. Stark’s injury, the Avengers have been a loose cannon. Indiscipline and obstinacy, blatant dismissal of orders and chain of command… You have violated military law in a dozen different ways and act as if the rules don’t apply to you.”
“They don’t,” Tony retorted.
Rhodey reached over to lay a hand on his arm. “The Avengers are not part of the military force,” he said.
“While that may be true, the same doesn’t apply to you, Colonel. It’s high time you started remembering that.”
“Why?” Rhodey actually dared to laugh. “I was an asset as War Machine – an armor Tony Stark created – but the suit’s a heap of very expensive scrap metal now.”
“You’re still an officer of the Air Force,” the Old Geezer stated, more patient than Mr. Douche. “I understand you feel like you serve a bigger purpose alongside the Avengers, but you must also know that we need a united front if we mean to win this war – which cannot be swayed by personal sentiment.”
“We’ve had this conversation before,” Steve stepped in. “I believe we made it unmistakably clear the Avengers are a team.”
“Even when one member of your team is dragging the rest of you down?” Mr. Douche asked. He was really out for blood, and Tony wondered if he knew it was going to be his own mug that was going to get a beating and no one else’s.
“Just say it out loud, please,” Tony butted in. “No need to beat around the bush.”
He imagined a sneer before he got what he was asking for: “Stark is a liability. No matter how you try to butter it up, he’s lived out his usefulness to the war effort. The latest incident cements it, I believe.”
“You can believe whatever you want,” Steve said, ice in his voice. “Tony’s one of us.”
“He can still be one of you in a safer location,” Fury had the gall to say. “I don’t need two good eyes to see the implants are a bust. I can see it on all your faces that the tiny ray of hope you had is gone. Stop dragging him around like a blankie you can’t let go of and allow him to settle down someplace he can grow familiar with. That will allow him to shift his focus from survival to actually helping us fight the crisis the world is falling into.”
That drew a brief silence from the people in the room and Tony wondered if Fury had come all this way to give that little speech.
“No,” Steve started.
“Steve,” Bruce cut him off. “He… may not be entirely wrong.”
“If we are not together, we cannot protect each other,” Thor argued.
“He would be out of harm’s way,” the Geezer offered, as if he already had some underground bunker with Tony’s name above its door.
“You don’t know that,” Rhodey said. “The aliens attacked him for a reason. We don’t know what that reason is yet.”
“There may have not been a reason,” Fury disagreed.
“It was a little too purposeful to be just a random attack,” Steve took Rhodey’s side, just as Tony knew he would.
“All the more reason to place him out of harm’s way,” Mr. Geezer said earnestly.
The room’s PA system suddenly turned on, a faint scratching noise followed by a hasty announcement: “Enemy force spotted approaching from the south. All personnel move into position and prepare for an overflight.” The announcer went on to give more specific orders in military jargon Tony didn’t bother to follow, taking in only the most important bits.
“You’re expecting them to just fly by?” he asked.
“There is no reason to expect anything else,” Old Geezer replied. “The enemy is still displaying disinterest when left unprovoked.”
Tony was wondering whether that would still be true after the last two battles, but the Avengers had a way of being provocative, if not downright confrontational.
The PA system scratched again, and everyone quieted for another announcement.
“I must disagree with General Sanders; the alien force is directly en-route to Los Alamitos base, which appears to be their intended destination,” J.A.R.V.I.S. stated.
“Who is that?” Old Geezer – General Sanders – asked.
“That’s my AI, J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Tony made half-hearted introductions. “Why did you come to that conclusion, J?” he asked then.
“I had Mark 54 investigate this particular squadron since they have been steadily moving towards the base for several hours. It would seem they are scanning a very specific frequency which they are now following to its source.”
“A frequency?” Mr. Douche asked. “Is someone sending them a signal?” he elaborated, as if he expected there to be a mole in their midst.
“Not exactly, Brigadier General Duncan,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
“Is it weapons?” Bruce asked.
“That would make sense, but no,” the AI responded evasively.
“Just spill it, J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Tony told him. “You’re wasting time.”
“They are tracking Extremis, sir.”
A hesitant silence landed yet again.
“What is Extremis?” Douche-Duncan asked.
“Are you sure?” Tony asked his AI, dismissing the other murmured questions.
“I have checked multiple times and that is the prevailing conclusion,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
“Can you block it?”
“Not without directly interfering with the ships.”
“Keep monitoring,” Tony ordered, not wanting to chance Mark 54 when he was already short on armors. He then turned his head to mimic looking at his teammates, even though the motion was getting a bit old when he couldn’t actually see them. “We need to make a decision fast,” he informed the others.
“Do you think the explosion attracted them?” Bruce ventured to guess.
“Possibly,” Tony agreed. “I don’t see why, though, unless they’re mistaking it for something else.”
“We need to move,” Steve decided. “We’re sitting ducks here, and if they’re coming after you, all these people are in danger.”
“As are you,” Tony pointed out.
“That has not been an issue before, nor will it be one today,” Thor declared.
“Don’t make a decision for the whole team,” Tony countered.
“We can vote on it later,” Steve decided. “How long do we have?”
“I have estimated twenty-eight minutes until their arrival,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
“Cutting it a little close, aren’t you?” Tony complained.
“I had to make sure it was not a false alarm.”
“Are they looking to weaponize Extremis, or are they using it lieu of cookie crumbs?” Fury pondered.
“If they think it’s a weapon they could use, it wouldn’t make sense that they tried to kill Tony before,” Steve noted as he stood up. Everyone at the table was getting to their feet, and Tony moved to follow.
“Maybe it was just a test,” Fury mused.
“We have no idea what they want, and why they want it,” Bruce cut into the conversation with a tone of finality in his voice. “I suggest we not wait to figure it out now when Tony can’t help in battle, our two suits are out of commission and Clint is still on the mend.”
“J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Steve called out to the AI, “inform the other Avengers that we are mobilizing. And tell Wilson he’s our eyes in the sky.”
“Immediately, Captain Rogers.”
“Think the rookie can take it?” Tony asked as Bruce started to lead him out of the room.
“Well, he wanted to prove he’s Avengers material,” Rhodey said from ahead of them. “This is his moment to shine. I just hope his wings didn’t take a beating in Long Beach.”
Tony agreed, seeing as he was in no state to make repairs.
Day 178 of the Alien-Human War
They made it to the Crater Lake Highway roughly an hour after setting off.
Thor was carrying Clint, who was being a trooper and only making pained noises when they traveled over particularly challenging terrain where Thor couldn’t help jostling him. The Hulk and Rhodey in his War Machine armor helped the bots and Tony over the rough spots while J.A.R.V.I.S. kept watch through Mark 52, ensuring they made no further contact with the aliens.
It seemed the lone battle armor had indeed been out on its own, but they knew better than to lower their guard until they were well and truly safe.
As the wind changed its direction, Tony’s nose was filled with the burnt smell drifting down from the caldera. He pretended it also carried an aroma of cooking aliens, no matter how gruesome the imagery. No one had forced them to come to Earth and attack it, as far as he knew.
The Hulk grunted where the green goliath was walking alongside him, and the bot leading Tony halted.
“What’s up?” Tony asked.
“Tired,” the Hulk mumbled.
“We all are,” Tony agreed.
“Hulk sleep now,” the Hulk declared, and from the sound of it Tony imagined the rage monster had just curled up in the middle of the road and started snoring.
Tony stepped away from the bot and towards the big lump that was his teammate, and under his hands he could feel the large form already shrinking. “Does anyone have a change of clothes for Bruce?” he asked.
“No,” Steve replied. No one else bothered to make a response, which meant Steve’s reply was shared by them all.
“I have Thor’s cape,” Clint offered.
“Keep it,” Rhodey told the archer; Clint was wrapped up in Thor’s cape because he was injured and more vulnerable to the cold than the rest of them. “He can have my clothes, I suppose,” Rhodey went on. “The armor’s insulated, more or less. I’ll manage until rescue comes. J.A.R.V.I.S. says it won’t be much longer.”
“The armor communications are back up?” Tony asked as he listened to the War Machine armor opening and Rhodey getting ready to disrobe himself in the middle of the snowy Oregon Route 62.
“Comes and goes,” Rhody replied. “The smoke cloud from the caldera is disturbing the satellite link and making armor-to-armor communications spotty.” He stopped moving and made a sound like he was freezing – which of course wasn’t too far from the truth. “You guys dress him; I’m going back inside the armor.”
Tony smiled and moved back, allowing Steve and Natasha get to work dressing Bruce. The man murmured something unintelligible every now and then, but otherwise remained deep in his slumber.
Steve picked Bruce up after they were done and Tony returned to the bots so that they could start walking again.
Roughly fifteen minutes later Tony thought he heard rotors approaching. The bots slowed down and then Mark 52 landed a few feet from him – leading the way for a large tandem-rotor helicopter. Tony had spent enough time around aircrafts to hear the difference in their engines, just as he could hear the slight difference between his armors and Rhodey’s. Not that the differences between the latter were all that great now that he was the primary technician working on War Machine once again, and parts were hard to come by between battles.
“About time,” Rhodey announced loudly over the noise of the landing aircraft. “Our ride is here.”
The rotors slowed down but never stopped moving. Tony heard the ramp being lowered and people moving about even though the whipping wind stole most of the sounds before they properly reached his ears. “Avengers!” someone called out, moving over to them. “It’s an honor.”
“Autographs can wait,” Tony stated loudly over the noise. “We need to be elsewhere as quick as possible.”
“Sure thing,” the guy agreed and they all moved to the helicopter. The bots hesitated at the foot of the ramp, perhaps recalling how their last flight had ended, but after Tony walked in ahead of them – focusing really hard on not falling down and making an ass out of himself – the bots followed him inside.
By the sound of it, medics were taking a look at Clint even before they lifted off, and Bruce was wrapped in some additional clothing as he slept clear through the take-off.
“Would you like a blanket?” someone spoke up near Tony, and it took him a moment to realize the man was talking to him. “You’re looking a little cold.”
“Thanks,” Tony said hesitantly. “Uh, hand it to one of the bots…”
“I’ve got it, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said, moving Mark 52 closer to take the blanket from the airman and handing it to Tony.
Tony fussed with the blanket for a bit, listening for the cue that the man had left him alone, but it didn’t sound like he had moved at all. “Do you need something?” he asked, in case he really was still there.
“You’re Tony Stark,” the man replied.
“Obviously,” Tony rolled his eyes.
“I’m… It’s an honor, meeting you all. The Avengers.”
Tony suspected this was the guy who had rolled out the red carpet before they got on the helicopter. He decided not to be annoyed, instead embracing the rare moment where a member of the military personnel wasn’t either really uncomfortable around them or simply pissed because the Avengers did things in their own way, most of the time. “At ease,” Tony replied, knowing how rigid even the most enthusiastic of men could be until they were told it was okay to be themselves.
The man chuckled. “It’s not every day one gets to chat with a superhero.”
Tony smiled a bit. “You Air Force?”
“Used to be. Before the war. A whole lot of people came out of retirement for this.”
Tony nodded. “What did you do before?”
“Funny story…” Another chuckle, almost disappearing beneath the sound of the rotors speeding up. “Is it okay if I sit down?” the man asked.
Tony shrugged and shifted over, and soon felt the man take a seat next to him. The bots moved as well, probably to keep an eye on the stranger. Tony reached out to pat one of them on the arm, signaling them to relax but simultaneously not ordering them away. Not that he was concerned, the rest of his team only a few feet away and Mark 52 even closer. “You were saying?” he spoke up towards the other man.
“I was a PJ – a pararescueman. My last gear included an EXO-7 Falcon.”
Tony guessed that was supposed to tell him something – and then it did: Stark Industries had designed and manufactured a set of jet packs with retractable wings. Tony had directly worked on the jet pack engines, back in the day, whereas the rest of the designs had come from other specialists. There was a reason why Iron Man armor didn’t have wings, after all. “Two sets of wings were created for the USAF,” he said.
“I was one of the two guys who got strapped into those things.”
“I guess they worked, seeing as you’re sitting here,” Tony mused.
“Yeah…” It sounded like there was a story there – possibly involving the other pair of wings and their pilot. “I’m Sam Wilson,” the man offered next, and Tony could just feel him offering his hand for a shake, which Tony obviously couldn’t see. The man must have realized it almost right away, shifting a bit.
“Nice to meet you, Sam,” Tony replied to ease the tension.
“Everything okay?” Steve’s voice came from above them and Tony turned his face towards it, picturing the man standing in front of them.
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “Sam here is a big fan, so I don’t think I need to make introductions.”
“Captain,” Sam acknowledged. “It’s an honor.”
Tony imagined Steve checking Sam out, assessing him, and Sam probably doing some of that in return, getting a close look at the living legend himself.
“I was wondering,” Sam went on. “If you ever need help, I’m your man.”
Tony actually had to laugh at that. “You’ve got a serious pair on you, Falcon,” he praised. “We don’t exactly have a line of volunteers tagging behind us.”
“Wilson,” Sam corrected, then went on smooth as butter melting in the sun: “I respect the work you’ve been doing and I think that I could be an asset to you. If someone’s going to turn the tide on those alien bastards –”
“Woah!” Steve cut him off. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. We’re not…”
“He’s trying to say that we’re not looking to hire at this moment,” Tony finished for him.
Steve grunted. “We’re a team. There’s a reason for that. I appreciate your enthusiasm but fighting beside us might not be the best place for you.”
Tony could almost taste Sam’s disappointment. “If I could just –”
“There are other places to fight the good fight than by our side,” Steve told him sharply, yet not unkindly.
“That’s what people kept telling me,” Rhodey suddenly appeared in the middle of their conversation. He must have gotten out of the armor for now because otherwise Tony would have heard his approach. Rhodey moved past the bots and sat down on Tony’s other side. “James Rhodes,” he offered, reaching his arm across Tony – who didn’t miss him not including his rank for once, even though this was probably the best place for it. Perhaps he wanted to introduce himself as an Avenger more than a Colonel of USAF.
Tony felt them shaking hands over his lap.
“You got something to say, honey bear?” Tony teased his friend.
“Give the brother a chance,” Rhodey said without preamble.
“Oh, so that’s what this is about,” Tony smirked.
“It isn’t,” Rhodey snapped at him as if he was truly offended – which he wasn’t. They had known each other too long for that. “When I joined the ranks of the Avengers, my superiors told me I was making a mistake. They still tell me that. They’d rather have me right where I used to be, which is just fine, but I am making an actual difference with you guys. I think Sam here sees the same potential.”
“I sure do, sir,” Sam quickly agreed.
“With Clint injured and on the mend, we’re one man short,” Rhodey went on.
“How’s your archery, Falcon?” Tony asked.
“Not my specialty,” Sam readily admitted. “I can fly, though.”
Tony hummed. “You still got your wings?”
Sam hesitated. “Yes – but there’s a catch.”
“Like?” Tony pressed.
“I got shot down by a Category 3 a few months back. The wings need repairs, and so far no one has been able to get them working.”
“A bird with a broken wing,” Tony sighed. “What are we gonna do about that?”
“I was actually hoping you could do something about that,” Sam said, clearly meaning Tony.
‘Balls’ Tony mouthed in Steve’s general direction, then turned his face towards Sam. “You come over here, start chatting me up, all the while hoping I will glue together your winged jet pack?”
“I figured I would have to try and sell it to you first,” Sam replied. “But I understand if there’s a hitch, you being… blind and all.”
Tony narrowed his eyes at him, knowing the effect was the same whether he could see or not. “I’m hearing a challenge.”
“No challenge,” Sam Wilson lied. “I understand if it’s not possible.”
“I may be blind, but I’m not an idiot.”
“Of course not,” Sam quickly agreed.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Tony called out, “do we have schematics for EXO-7?”
“I cannot say for certain at this time, sir, but it is possible – especially if we visit Stark Industries offices.”
“Ha,” Tony exclaimed. “So, we may be in business,” he concluded.
“I’m confused,” Steve admitted.
“Tony can’t back down from a challenge,” Rhodey told him.
“Not a challenge,” Sam Wilson repeated, but Tony could tell he was wearing a shit-eating grin as he said the words.
“It still doesn’t mean you’re on the team,” Tony informed him. “Nor does it mean I’m fixing up your wings; I have two armors to maintain once we land.”
“He’ll take a look at your gear,” Rhodey promised over Tony’s shoulder.
“You keep rooting for him much more and I’ll have you take a look at them,” Tony threatened his friend.
“Fine,” Rhodey agreed.
“And I won’t help.”
“I said ‘fine’, didn’t I?”
Tony grumbled. His head was still hurting and he needed to rest before any actual maintenance could take place. “It’s my tech,” he muttered. “Partially, anyway. You would just mess it up.”
“Whatever you say, Tones.”
Tony rolled his eyes one more time and then leaned against the wall, closing his eyelids. “Conversation over,” he declared.
Sam got up from his seat, disappearing somewhere, and Steve took his place. Rhodey remained where he was and Tony slowly shifted to lean against his side, dozing off until they landed and it was time to lay on an actual bed.
to be continued…