Del Rion's website - Amaurosis • Chapter 8
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Amaurosis • Chapter 8






Chapter 8: Destroy / Seek




Day 190 of the Alien-Human War

Whenever danger approached and they needed to move fast, Tony could tell his teammates wanted to just scoop him up and run for it. Tony’s blindness was a hindrance when it came to running, or even striding, and knowing that there would be no relief in the form of the helmet made him feel almost claustrophobic.

As the minutes ticked by, Bruce’s arm grew tenser beneath Tony’s grip. He knew that the Hulk would be needed if they had to go toe-to-toe with the aliens – and Bruce was aware of it, too.

“How’s the countdown looking?” Tony asked after a bit. The commotion all around them sounded very disorderly when he couldn’t see it, deepening his own anxiety. One might’ve thought Tony would’ve gotten used to it by now, but he doubted he ever would.

“Don’t think about that,” Rhodey ordered him from the head of their small group. Steve and Thor had already taken off, leaving the three of them to move at Tony’s pace.

“We need to get the comms up,” Tony said next. It helped if he could plan out loud, taking his mind off the impending attack. Of course, there might be no attack at all, but the way the entire base was mobilizing… It didn’t sound like they were just hiding in their bunkers like a tortoise waiting out a threat.

“Just focus on walking,” Rhodey told him.

“I’m better at focusing if I have something to distract myself with,” Tony snapped.

A bot’s loud whistle brought their banter to a halt and Tony froze in his tracks.

“Guys!” Clint called out a few seconds later. “We’ve got your stuff. Let’s go.”

“Do we have a plan?” Rhodey asked as they changed direction towards the sound of their teammates.

“I’m not sure,” Clint admitted. “Guess it depends on the aliens.”

Meaning they were either going to cut and run, or fight tooth and nail. The second option was far from appealing since only Thor and the Hulk could bring any real pain to their enemies.

Tony distracted himself by greeting the bots, letting go of Bruce in favor of doing so. The bots lightly nipped at his clothing, craning their arms close as they all waited for a consensus on how to proceed.

“We need a transport,” Bruce said, still at Tony’s side. “Regardless of how this goes, we need to get more than half the team as far from here as possible.” He didn’t name any names, but everyone who was on that list knew it – and disliked it in equal measures.

“There’s got to be something we can do,” Clint complained.

“We’ll live to fight another day,” Rhodey countered even though it had to physically pain him to say that. He wasn’t the type to sit back and let others do the fighting, but without a suit there was only so much he could do. Tony had a feeling he was going to make it his mission to keep the rest of the non-fighting team alive – Tony being at the head of the list as the most vulnerable member.

“This way,” Natasha spoke up, making herself known for the first time. She didn’t sound overly pleased with the situation either, but at least she knew her limits and favored staying alive.

Bruce moved his arm under Tony’s hand, indicating that they were moving forward again. Not wanting to slow the others down, Tony accepted his guidance without protest. He felt the bots withdraw but trusted Dummy and You to either follow him or let him know they were unable to keep up for some reason.

For a moment it felt like they were swimming against the current, dodging people and stopping all too often to make way for others. Tony felt more and more nervous, like they were running out of time. It didn’t help that there was a huge target painted on the back of his head, so to speak, and he ached to get in contact with J.A.R.V.I.S. again and ask whether the aliens were still tracking Extremis’ energy signature, faint as it was in its current state. Tony was amazed they were picking it up at all, and it was likelier they were just following the residual from yesterday’s incident.

“What if they attack the base even though we’re not here?” Tony asked out loud when they stopped once again, either to let people pass them or for some other reason he couldn’t decipher.

“Let’s worry about that once we’ve cleared the area,” Natasha replied.

“These people won’t be able to fend off an attack,” Tony protested. He had already done enough damage as it was… “Are they evacuating?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” Clint replied. “Look, he has a point,” he told the others. “If we brought the aliens here, it’s our job to deal with it.”

“Keep hobbling,” Natasha ordered him and they moved on again.

“We’re the goddamn Avengers!” Clint exclaimed loudly and Tony ran into the archer’s back where he had abruptly stopped, almost toppling them both over. Bruce tried to salvage the situation by grabbing them both, and Tony took a quick step back to find his own space.

“We’ll all be dead if we stay here, should they strike the base,” Natasha argued. “We don’t have functioning armors, Tony can’t see, and you can barely move around without assistance. All we’ve got are Thor and the Hulk, and they won’t be able to defend you while battling off whatever force is coming for us.”

“She’s not wrong,” Rhodey agreed with Natasha.

“We should at least warn these people,” Clint kept arguing.

“Fury’s here,” Natasha pointed out. “He’ll know what to do.”

Tony wouldn’t have bet on it, but it was no use if all of them died here today.

A soft whoosh of engines warned him before someone landed beside them. “What’s the hold-up?” Sam Wilson asked.

“Some of us are second-guessing the plan,” Natasha replied.

“There’s a plan?” Clint grumbled.

“The plan is to get you out of here, just in case,” Sam noted. “Also, Tony, your AI is very bossy.”

“He gets like that when he’s worried and has to talk to someone who isn’t me,” Tony shrugged.

“Well, I suppose it’s fortunate I got this earpiece then,” the man said and pushed a tiny device into the palm of Tony’s free hand before he could even ask for someone else to grab it for him. He suppressed a shudder and maneuvered the earpiece into his ear, switching it on.

“Talk to me, J,” he ordered.

“You should hurry, sir,” the AI said without wasting time.

“They’re still headed our way?”

“Yes, sir. Two Category 3 ships have separated from the main force and are approaching faster than predicted.”

“Strike Teams we can handle,” Tony decided. “Are they still tracking Extremis?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can you tell whether it’s live or just residual from the explosion?”

“That I cannot say.”

Tony chewed his lower lip.

“We need to move,” Rhodey insisted and grabbed the arm that wasn’t still resting on Bruce’s.

Tony tensed and stood his ground. “I need to think.”

“You can think while we’re moving away from the base.”

“If they’re targeting me directly, it won’t matter where we go.”

“Stark, if you don’t start moving I swear I’ll come down there and carry you out of this base myself,” Steve stated directly into his ear over the comm.

Normally he would have laughed it off, but Tony knew Steve would do it.

“We need to mask Extremis somehow,” he decided.

“How about wrapping you in foil?” Clint suggested.

“That’s not a bad idea, actually,” Tony agreed.

“It was a joke…”

“Falcon,” Tony called out, “if you’re not going to be keeping an eye on the skies, go and find me a roll of aluminum foil.”

“Uh… sure,” Sam agreed. “Any ideas where I might find some?”

“Try the kitchen,” Bruce jumped in.

“Got it,” their newcomer confirmed and took off, moving faster in the air than dodging people on the ground.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., keep me updated,” Tony ordered as he insisted that they move forward and their little party began walking again.

“Of course, sir,” the AI replied.

They met Steve and Thor at a garage. Vehicles were being moved around and as they weaved their way over to the others, Tony could hear the bots protesting. “Stay with the group!” Tony called back to them. “Don’t get run over.”

“I’ve got it,” Rhodey murmured and moved to guide the bots safely to their destination.

“We have secured a carriage for our use,” Thor declared.

“A truck,” Steve added. “Get the bots in the back.”

Bruce guided Tony through the already familiar steps of getting the bots into a transport. He was trying to act as if there was no rush, but Tony could sense the growing anxiousness in his touch.

“We’ve got this,” Tony said. “You can go and wait for the first wave if you want.”

“I’d rather stay with the group until we decide a fight is inevitable,” Bruce replied, but he did step away from Tony, probably needing a moment to center himself. Tony turned to the bots and felt his way around the vehicle’s back, testing the wall. It felt tougher than he had expected and as he knocked the wall, he smiled.

“Is this a shipping container?” he called out to whoever might be listening.

“Yes,” Steve replied, not wasting his time.

“Steel walls?”

“Possibly.”

Tony nodded. “Call Wilson back. We won’t be needing the foil.”

He could tell Steve was frowning, but the man had learned not to question him in a pinch.

“Sir, the Category 3 aircrafts are almost here,” J.A.R.V.I.S. notified him.

“We need to get moving,” Steve announced almost simultaneously.

Clint and Rhodey moved up to join Tony and the bots. Whatever the plan was or wasn’t, Bruce and Thor stayed on the outside with Steve and Natasha, closing the doors of the container.

“Damn it’s dark in here,” Clint complained almost immediately. He shuffled and shifted, eventually sitting down on the floor, and Tony followed his example.

“Welcome to my world,” Tony added dryly.

The box shivered around them as the truck’s engine came to life. Rhodey joined them on the floor of the container before they lurched forward, and Tony sighed, trying not to think of how they were about to leave the people of the Los Alamitos base to fend for themselves.

They hadn’t driven far before the truck slowed down. An explosion followed swiftly, then another, and another – as well as a roar and a bang of lighting hitting the ground.

“We should be out there,” Clint mused.

The truck sped up again.

“Live to fight another day,” Tony repeated Rhodey’s statement from before.

Rhodey huffed, sounding like he regretted saying it in the first place.

“Category 3 ships have been destroyed,” J.A.R.V.I.S. reported. “The rest of the squadron is still inbound, but the evacuation of the base is well underway.”

Tony breathed out slowly and relayed the news to his companions.

The drive continued in silence until a steady rumbling started behind them. It grew louder and louder, and the truck obviously sped up to maximum speed, jumping and jerking as if they were suddenly on uneven terrain. The rumbling continued for almost a minute until finally reaching its crescendo, vanishing at a faster pace. Before silence could fall again, it was as if a huge gust of wind came upon them from the same direction as the sound, banging a hail of small rocks against the doors of the container.

“Wonder what that was about?” Clint mused out loud.

The truck slowed down carefully before pulling to a halt. Tony wondered why they were stopping and heard Rhodey getting to his feet, approaching the door. Someone opened it from the outside, letting in dusty air.

“Fucking hell,” was the first thing that came out of Rhodey’s mouth, shocked and horrified.

“The good thing is, most of the people got out before that happened,” Natasha’s voice appeared, toneless in a way that suggested she was holding back her emotions.

“What happened?” Tony asked, for obvious reasons.

“The base is gone,” Natasha coolly offered an explanation. “Just a crater left where it stood.”

Tony suspected that had been the cause of the rumbling. “A bomb?” he asked.

“More like a beam of light from the sky,” Steve said, sounding a bit queasy. “It’s all just… gone.”

“Literally,” Rhodey agreed, sounding breathless still. “Did they have a War Ship somewhere nearby?”

“Not that we could see,” Sam Wilson’s voice came from somewhere on the outside. “Could have been flying higher.”

“We’ve never seen a weapon like that,” Natasha mused.

“Did everyone clear the blast radius?” Tony asked. “Thor and the Hulk?”

“They’re fine,” Sam replied. “The Hulk got caught on the edge of it and is busy digging dust out of his ears, which seems to irritate him. I decided to leave him to it.”

“Good idea,” Tony agreed. It bugged him more than just a little that he couldn’t see what everyone else was witnessing, even though it sounded like some kind of a doomsday weapon. “Could be their version of a nuclear weapon,” he ventured to guess. “Any sign of a fallout?” Not that any of them would know before it was too late, because despite their sudden acceleration, the truck couldn’t have possibly gotten far enough.

“None, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied as if the question had been pointed to him and no one else.

“What’s it look like out there?”

“The Troop Transfer ships are pulling back, along with their remaining Category 3 escorts. No War Ships detected in the area.”

“So where did the kill shot come from?” he asked, assuming J.A.R.V.I.S. had a better view of things with Hades in the sky.

“Space, sir.”

Tony adjusted his earpiece. “Come again?”

“Space. More accurately, I believe the beam was fired from the Flag Ship orbiting Earth.”

Tony swallowed. “Any of you hear that?” he asked.

“You talking to J.A.R.V.I.S.?” Steve asked.

“I did not wish to alarm the others,” the AI explained.

“Good thinking,” Tony agreed, aware of how hoarse his voice had gotten.

So far, the lone Category 6 ship had been this huge contraption innocently circling Earth. No one knew why it was there and what its importance was to the alien war effort, but Tony was starting to feel like it was the alien equivalent of a Death Star, pointing its barrel down at them. Whether it’s only purpose was to be the ultimate weapon, it was too early to say, but Tony had a feeling their recent actions had just provoked a backlash from the aliens.

A backlash they weren’t quite ready to face in their current condition.

With a roar and a thump, the Hulk rejoined their ranks, snarling at no one in particular. A moment later Thor landed on top of the shipping container, Mjolnir thudding heavily against the metal.

“Our enemies have dealt quite a blow today,” the Asgardian mused.

“They’re drawing back for now,” Steve replied. “Either they think we’re dead or they simply wanted to make a point.”

“I doubt they missed all those people moving away from the base,” Natasha challenged his theory.

“Which means this was a demonstration of power,” Steve concluded.

Why they had waited this long to deploy such a weapon, Tony didn’t know. He also didn’t offer his insight just yet.

“Let’s move,” Steve decided. “Put some distance between us and them, just in case.”

No one argued – not even the Hulk who climbed into the container without being asked, sitting down heavily enough to rock the entire vehicle. The bots protested at being jostled around, earning a grunt from the Hulk, and Tony settled in between them just in case.

“Wonder where that shot came from?” Sam started conversationally when the truck started moving again, Steve and Natasha returned to the cabin, the rest of them in the back.

No one answered their newest member, either not wanting to guess – or in Tony’s case, needing some time to digest this new development.



Day 179 of the Alien-Human War

They landed at Edwards Air Force Base, which made Rhodey happy for obvious reasons: he had been stationed here for years, and although the war had changed a lot of things, some things stayed the same.

At the moment of their arrival, the only thing Tony wanted was a bed to sleep in, and the entire team shared that thought. Clint, unfortunately, was taken in for surgery, but Tony supposed that the meds they had been giving him during the flight would make his rest much more fulfilling than most of them would achieve.

While Rhodey forced himself to stay up an extra half an hour to visit with a few people, the others got settled into a shared room. Bruce never really woke up in between the helicopter ride and the bed, nor did anyone try to make him stir; he had more than done his share. Tony’s head was pounding by the time he managed to lie down in between Bruce and Steve, the pain so severe he was afraid his skull was going to be full of hairline fractures before it was over.

“You’re warm,” Steve murmured. Usually it was the other way around, but Tony knew his body was working overtime – Extremis included – to stabilize the stress from the prolonged use of the implants.

“It will be better after a good night’s sleep,” Tony promised.

Steve nodded and fell silent, his breaths deepening much faster than usual.

When Rhodey stumbled in and found a place for himself to sleep, Tony was the only one to register it. Well, Natasha was another possibility, but no one made a sound or said a word, the need for rest too severe.

Come morning, Bruce was still sleeping when Tony woke up to Steve leaving the bed. As Tony lifted his head, he heard one of the bots whir as well, immediately expecting a command.

“Keep sleeping if you feel like it,” Steve murmured, keeping his voice down.

“Why would you even get up?” Tony complained.

“Bathroom,” Steve explained.

Tony yawned and shifted, getting comfortable again. The bot went back to sleep mode.

Steve returned a minute later, surprising Tony by coming back to bed. Usually he would stay up and go for a run or something, depending on where they were. This time the super-soldier seemed content to snuggle up and Tony discovered that Steve felt warm against him, meaning that his own body temperature was back to normal. His head still felt like it was waiting for an excuse to start pounding, though, so he settled down and easily slept for a few more hours before he, too, needed to go to the bathroom to relieve his bladder.

Tony had learned a long time ago that if he needed to leave the bed in the middle of the night, he might as well wake up the entire team. Bruce was the only one who could sleep through it – and even then he had to be coming down from an extended transformation. It was ridiculous how all of them knew when Tony was trying to move about, no matter how stealthy he was.

Of course, if he needed to climb over one of them simply to get out of bed, he could kiss all attempts at stealth goodbye.

“Need a hand?” Steve asked, instantly awake when Tony tried to feel out where the super-soldier’s body began and ended in order to get around it.

“Just point me to the bathroom,” Tony replied.

“I’ll take you,” came the instant offer – which really wasn’t an offer as much as a description of what was going to happen. Tony accepted it as an eventuality and waited for Steve to roll out of bed, then took his arm and followed him out of the room and into a communal bathroom down the hall. There were a few other people present when they walked in, but they left before Tony even found his way around the stall.

As he went through the painstakingly mundane yet surprisingly difficult task of peeing while blind, he heard Steve lean his weight against the stall’s outer wall. He could sense that the man wanted to say something.

“I’m doing fine in here,” Tony told him, in case Steve was wondering.

“I know,” came a slow reply.

“What is it, then?” Tony asked.

“We need to plan ahead,” Steve said. “Clint won’t be properly moving around on that leg for weeks to come.”

“So we get some down-time,” Tony offered. “We deserve it, after the last strike.”

“I suppose so.”

“I know so,” Tony stated adamantly. “I need to work on the suits, and for that I need to be able to see in order for it to be efficient. That requires a certain amount of time, as you know.”

“Yes,” Steve replied, whereas normally he could have just nodded. Well, not that Tony could have seen it through the stall door, but in general. “How’s your head?” the other asked after a bit.

“Better,” Tony answered instantly. “I’ll need a bit more rest before putting on the helmet again, though,” he admitted.

“We have the time, now,” Steve mused.

“Clint will be fine,” Tony reassured him, trying not to think too hard of the memories featuring the broken bone. “He doesn’t need his feet to use his bow,” he added.

“I suppose not,” Steve hummed.

“We did good,” Tony added, in case that was unclear. “We’re big damn heroes for taking on a group of aliens like that and making it out alive.”

“Then how come it feels like it wasn’t enough?” Steve asked him, sounding like the thought had kept him awake at night even though Tony knew for a fact he had slept like a log.

“The war isn’t won. That’s why it feels incomplete,” he guessed and finished his business, flushing the toilet and stepping outside. He looked for the sink until Steve took him by the shoulder and gently nudged him in the right direction, and while Tony was washing his hands, he felt Steve’s hands drift and adjust his clothing a little bit. It should have been embarrassing and sometimes Tony didn’t stand for it at all, but there were also times when he just accepted small gestures like that without a fuss – especially when he wasn’t dressed in anything but a t-shirt and boxers and wearing his clothes incorrectly might have caused him to inadvertently flash someone in the hallway.

“Are we really taking in the new guy?” Steve asked him next.

“Wilson?” Tony recalled. He had been tired, but not that tired. “Maybe. Rhodey seemed to like the idea.” Of course, Rhodey wasn’t part of the original team, but that didn’t mean his opinion was any less valid. He had worked hard to become one of the Avengers and more than earned his place among them.

Steve hummed.

“You didn’t like him?” Tony asked. “You barely met the guy.”

“Oh, he seemed nice,” Steve replied. “I just… Things are different now.”

Tony knew Steve meant him.

“Let me be the judge of that,” Tony decided. “If he fits, he’ll have a chance to prove himself. If not, we’re not going to force it.” After all, adding an unknown element to their team was a complication Tony wasn’t looking forward to. He was comfortable with how things were, and a new face was going to change the dynamic for everyone else, whether they admitted it or not.

After Tony was done washing his hands they returned to their room, finding the others awake. Even Bruce was stirring from his stupor, not taking part in the conversation between Natasha, Rhodey and Thor but shifting a bit when Tony sat down on the bed they had been sharing.

“Rise and shine,” Tony teased.

Bruce just groaned.

Feeling a bit out of sorts himself, Tony plopped down next to him. Bruce let out a contented sign and pressed a bit closer, then pulled a blanket over them both, clearly intending to nap some more.

“We’ll go get breakfast,” Rhodey decided. “You two stay here with the bots.” He made it sound almost like the bots needed babysitting and of course they took offense, chasing him out the door.

“Settle down,” Tony ordered. “Daddy needs his beauty sleep.”

The bots rolled back into the spot they had claimed for themselves for the night and stayed there. Tony smiled a bit and felt it echo on Bruce’s lips as well when the man pressed even closer to him, his mouth within touching distance of the back of Tony’s neck.

They both must have fallen asleep because it was mildly unpleasant to wake up when the rest of the team returned. Bruce grumbled and turned around; Tony imagined him hiding beneath the blankets to steal a few more minutes of shut-eye. Tony was hungry, though, and sat up expectantly, knowing someone would have brought him food.

“Clint’s out of surgery and grumpy as ever,” Natasha reported.

“Aren’t the meds here good enough?” Tony asked.

“Apparently not,” Rhodey chuckled as he sat down and lowered a plate of food into Tony’s lap.

“They managed to fix up his leg, though?” Tony questioned, knowing that if the injury didn’t heal, they would have two cripples on the team and that wouldn’t work in their favor.

“It looks promising,” Natasha said. “It helped that you didn’t try to move him around after the fall.”

Tony nodded and searched the plate with his fingers, identifying the food on it before he started eating. No one hurried him or offered to help, knowing that he would ask for assistance if he needed it.

Beside him, Bruce rolled around again, this time ending up with his forehead pressed against Tony’s thigh. He made no move to get up, though, and Tony slid his left hand down, finding the scientist wrapped up in blankets save for the top of his head. Smiling, he moved his hand to slowly card through Bruce’s hair, guessing he was still coming down from the Hulk’s prolonged outing.

“We should rest today,” Steve announced after a bit. “We’ve all earned it – and need it.”

There were murmurs of agreement from the team.

“The brass will want to sit down with us at some point,” Rhodey noted. Tony knew he was kind of looking forward to that – and at the same time probably dreading it because he had been riding shotgun with the Avengers without the approval of his commanding officers.

“You and I can take care of that,” Steve replied. No one argued with that or volunteered to join them, knowing how tense those conversations could get.

Tony focused on eating and petting Bruce’s bed-head again, then lay down once he was done with the breakfast, not exactly sleeping but allowing his body to digest the food and minimize his headache for a bit. The team came and went, visiting Clint and laying down in turns. Half a day passed easily like that, but then Bruce rose from his stupor and announced he needed something to eat, and Thor volunteered to guide them to the canteen.

The bots tagged along because Tony knew they would get restless in a new setting, and they decided to take their food outside to minimize the hassle and long looks their little group would draw. Besides, it was nice and sunny outside, driving away the last of the cold from Tony’s bones.

As they sat and ate, the bots commentating on the activities around them, a group of runners approached. Tony could tell the leading man apart almost instantly; there was no mistaking Steve’s stride, especially when he was running. The two wheezing losers were a mystery, but it was clear there had been no real contest for the winning spot in their race.

“That’s a side of you I never thought I’d see,” Tony mused. “Lording your super-soldier prowess over lesser men, giving them a taste of the asthmatic kid you used to be.”

Steve laughed.

“He’s evil,” Rhodey said in between inhalations of air, revealing the identity of one of Steve’s companions. “I think he was enjoying it.”

“I think that was pretty obvious,” another male voice concurred, and Tony needed a moment to place it without the sound of helicopter rotors in the background: Sam Wilson.

“You guys need a medic?” Steve asked, not at all winded.

“Fuck you,” Rhodey grumbled.

“I take it you guys already had that chat with the brass?” Tony ventured to guess.

“We did,” Steve agreed, the gleeful cheer disappearing from his voice.

“Are they going to kick us off their base?” Bruce asked, still munching on the pile of food he had collected from the canteen. Tony didn’t need to see it in order to guess that even Thor was impressed.

“No,” Rhodey managed to answer, “but for some reason they can’t seem to agree whether our mission to Crater Lake was a success or not.”

“How can they not agree?” Thor asked. “We won the day.”

“They weren’t there,” Steve retorted, clearly unhappy. “I don’t think the issue is the last battle as much as it’s our activities in general. They want us back in line, working in tune with the military.”

“We tried that in the beginning,” Tony reminded him. “It didn’t get results.”

“I know that,” their leader agreed.

“They’re still gonna let you use the base, right?” Sam asked.

“Are you worried we’ll pack our gear and leave before you have a chance to turn in your Avengers recruitment application?” Tony joked.

“Don’t mess with him,” Rhodey ordered.

“He ain’t wrong,” Sam said. “I don’t want to blow my one chance at making a difference.”

“The only difference you’ll most likely be making is getting yourself killed sooner rather than later,” Tony deadpanned.

“We’ve been talking with Sam,” Steve spoke up. “His gear enables him to carry another person, which is something we could use.”

“Yeah,” Rhodey backed him up. “Leaves me and you with more time to punch aliens.”

“Well, first we need to get him back into the sky,” Tony pondered, sensing that the others had already made up their minds. For all of Steve’s concerns that a new face might upset the balance of the team, he seemed to have come to accept Sam – at least in theory. They’d have to wait and see how it worked out. “I have an idea on how to accomplish that,” Tony continued with his previous train of thought.

“Care to share?” Bruce asked, still eating. He sounded like he was ready to plop down and sleep some more once he was done stuffing his face, and Tony would gladly let him do that because the Hulk had been invaluable in their last battle and deserved a good rest.

“My Long Beach factory is right around the corner. We’ll have the necessary files, materials and tech there to fix up Falcon’s gear as well as the armors,” Tony detailed.

“That’s true,” Rhodey agreed, a positive pitch to his voice. Maybe he liked the idea of staying in the familiar area where they had lived before the war, or just hadn’t thought of the obvious answer to their dilemma.

“I appreciate this,” Sam said with a bit more humility than usual.

“You’ll repay me, don’t you worry,” Tony replied.

“Yes, sir,” Sam responded, and it was definitely tongue-in-cheek this time.

“You’ll start by earning your place on the team,” Tony specified. “It will be the deadliest internship in the world. No refunds and limited backsies.”

“If you get my wings working.” The guy had the nerve to make it sound like he doubted Tony’s skills.

“Oh, they’ll work,” Tony promised. “Better than ever. You’ll all be amazed.”

“Alright, settle down,” Rhodey chuckled. “Don’t go promising something you might not be able to deliver. It’s not like you can work night and day anymore…”

While it was true that the implants made working a challenge since they failed to simulate actual eyesight, it was still infinitely better than nothing. The only drawback was the amount of rest Tony required in between.

Bruce yawned loudly beside him and Tony assumed it was time to head back indoors. “Time for another nap?” he asked his fellow scientist.

“I think so,” Bruce admitted. “Will you join me?”

“Why not,” Tony decided. “I can lie down and dictate to J.A.R.V.I.S., prepare for tomorrow.”

“You think we should head out to the factory so soon?” Steve asked.

“I want to get started on repairs, seeing as I can’t work 24/7 anymore,” Tony shrugged. “We can camp out there just as well as here – unless Clint isn’t stable enough to move.”

“He’ll be fine, I’m sure,” Steve mused. “Frankly, I think he’s going a bit stir-crazy, cooped up in the infirmary.”

“That settles it, then,” Thor stated.

“I’ll let the others know,” Steve agreed.

“Just to make sure: I’m coming with you, right?” Sam asked.

“I suppose you are,” Steve said. “I hope you’re sure about this. There might be no going back.”

“That will be on my head, not yours,” Sam said briskly. “You warned me and I wanted to join up anyway.”

“You’re getting no special treatment, though,” Tony warned him. “You don’t fit in, our arrangement expires.”

There was a pause, then a firm: “Alright.” Tony guessed Sam had just nodded and then remembered Tony couldn’t see it. “I’m not expecting much. Just give me a chance.”

“That we can do,” Rhodey promised. “Welcome to the Avengers.”

Tony assumed Sam shook hands with Steve and Rhodey and shifted his own attention to getting to his feet and motioning for the bots while Bruce settled at his side and waited for Tony to take his arm.

“Am I expected to do that, too?” Sam asked, his voice lowered to a point that was probably supposed to escape Tony’s range of hearing.

“No,” Steve replied faster than he expected. “Not yet, anyway.”

“It’s fine either way,” Sam said quickly. “Just, tell me what to do. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” It was clear he had his feelers out, already watching the nuances of the team, seeking approval and his own place in the hierarchy.

“With Tony, you can expect to feel like you have stepped on his toes even though you have not,” Thor stated. “He does not always accept his situation – nor embrace it.”

“Would you?” Tony shot back.

“Nay,” Thor agreed. “We are all here to help,” he added.

“And I keep telling you that I don’t always need the help – although it is appreciated,” he amended, knowing that without his team he was as good as screwed. Whether Sam would fit right in or cause unseen friction, it was too early to say, but Tony wasn’t going to treat him any different from the others. In fact, his treatment was probably going to be harder because Tony didn’t know him, nor did he trust him yet. He supposed the first time they fought together would change that, because it had definitely sped things up between him and the rest of the team even before he got blinded.





to be continued…



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