Steve pulled off Tony’s remaining gauntlet as gently as he could to avoid hurting Tony’s injured wrist. Even though Tony was clearly doing his best not to show the pain he was in, Steve could still notice how his expression grew tighter, the frown lines on his brow deeper.
“There you go. All done,” Steve informed him, setting aside the gauntlet.
Now that he could see Tony’s hand, it didn’t look too bad: only a little swollen at the wrist, as far as he could tell. Much better than Tony’s face, where a trickle of blood from a cut on his forehead had made its way down along the side of his nose. Steve hated seeing that, as much as he knew it wasn't serious. Besides, it had been less than an hour since Tony had crashed in the desert, so the full extent of his bruises would only start to show later.
“You’ll probably feel more comfortable sitting up,” Steve offered. He placed one hand on Tony’s shoulder, ready to guide him to rest against the nearest wall.
Tony shifted to get up on the quinjet floor, his weight on the elbow of his good arm. “No, I need to get to work.”
“Not yet. JARVIS said you need medical attention. I’ll make sure you get that,” Steve said firmly.
“I’m pretty sure he meant attention from someone who’s qualified and knows what they’re doing,” Tony pointed out. “That won’t be available until I fix the quinjet and we get out of this damned dust bowl.” He’d sat up, his palm against the floor. He was still making a very good effort at covering up how he felt, but Steve saw right through it. Tony’s face had gone a shade paler under the bloodstains, and his breathing was superficial, like it would be, to minimize the movement of cracked ribs.
Steve had to admit that Tony was half right. The quinjet was partly buried in sand and almost entirely non-functional, including the communications array. With a quick glance towards the cockpit, he could see that Natasha and Clint had opened several panels, trying to work on the computers. Unfortunately, Steve knew their chances of repairing any of the damage within a reasonable timespan without Tony’s help were low.
On the other hand, they weren’t in a hurry. The quinjet provided them with perfect shelter from the weather—it wasn’t even that hot, currently—and they had food and water to last several days. So far, whoever had shot them down hadn’t come back, suggesting that the hostiles were only concerned about defending their lair when someone got too close, and were currently satisfied with having neutralized the approaching Avengers.
Since the situation wasn’t urgent, Steve wasn’t going to let Tony leap into action, most likely making things worse for himself.
“I do know what I’m doing, and it won’t take long. Come on.” Steve squeezed Tony’s shoulder and nodded to the side. “Unless you’d rather go back to lying on your back, midfloor?”
“I can get there myself, thanks,” Tony grumbled. He tried to shift away from Steve, but that was clearly the last straw, breaking his façade so that he groaned aloud, his face twisted into a grimace, and his hand went to his injured ribs. “Ow. Okay. Fine. You win.”
After that, he allowed Steve to help him across and settle him on the floor between seats, leaning against the fuselage. “You’ll feel better once we get some ice packs on those bruises," Steve assured him. "I just need to know the details of what we’re dealing with."
“You know them already,” Tony said. His voice had gone soft and tired, his eyes closed. “J told you.”
“JARVIS isn’t infallible or all-knowing,” Steve said. It had been reassuring to hear the AI declare that Tony’s injuries weren’t severe, because JARVIS wouldn’t hesitate to say so if he suspected that, but Steve still wanted to see for himself. Just to put his mind to rest.
He contemplated Tony’s shirt. Since this had been a planned mission, not some quick emergency takeoff, it was a long-sleeved t-shirt designed to be worn under the Iron Man armor. That also meant it was quite tight, and undressing it with Tony’s current injuries would be painful.
Tony, even with his eyes closed, somehow seemed to have guessed what Steve was thinking about. He opened them again to glare at Steve. “Don’t you dare. You’re not tearing off my shirt. I still haven’t forgiven you for the last time you did that.”
Steve crossed his arms, glaring right back. “And I’m not gonna apologize for it. I was worried you were bleeding out!”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Most of the blood wasn’t even mine."
“How was I supposed to know?” Steve demanded.
“You could’ve asked me?” Tony replied.
“You were unconscious!” Steve reminded him.
“Okay, fair enough, there’s that,” Tony admitted, his expression still sullen. “But now I’m not, this isn’t a life-and-death situation, and you can undress me like any sane, normal person would. Let’s just get this over with.” He grabbed the hem of his shirt with his uninjured hand to start pulling it up.
Steve took hold of his hand to stop him. “Sure, of course. Just let me.”
Slowly and cautiously, Steve peeled off Tony’s shirt, asking him to raise his arms so he could work it over them. As was to be expected, Tony winced at the movement, verbal complaints giving way to harsh breaths hissed between his teeth. Once Steve was done and got a good look at Tony’s bare torso, he grimaced as well. The pattern of reds extending over Tony’s ribs on the left covered an area larger than Steve’s hand. The effect looked disturbingly like tendrils reaching towards the arc reactor.
Tony didn’t miss Steve’s shocked expression. “For the nth time, Steve: it’s not that serious.”
“Not serious doesn’t mean not painful,” Steve noted.
“Yeah, you don’t need to tell me that,” Tony said. He rested a hand below the bruising and took a deeper breath, which instantly turned into a gasp. “You’ll want to poke at it, won’t you?”
“Sorry,” Steve said. “I promise I’ll be quick.”
Steve made sure to stay true to his word, quickly going over the injured area to pinpoint the two fractures JARVIS had mentioned. To his relief, he found nothing to suggest that the AI might’ve underestimated their severity; no deformity, no abnormal movement of the chest wall. Putting together that and the lack of any signs to suggest internal bleeding meant that he could finally stop worrying quite so much.
“See? It’s fine. Just like I said,” Tony noted.
“Not the word I’d use,” Steve said, raising a hand to Tony’s face, brushing his thumb over his cheek. “But I’m glad it’s not worse.”
Tony leaned into the touch for half a minute, then straightened up again, visibly pulling himself together. “So, now, will you help me over to the cockpit, before the Spy Kids break something?”
“Not so fast.” Steve moved his hand to Tony’s shoulder to pin him down. “I seem to remember a sprained ankle, too—I should take a look at that. Besides, don’t you want those ice packs?”
“Don’t you want to get back home?” Tony returned.
“I’m already there,” Steve said.
“You’re ridiculous,” Tony said, a slight smile breaking through his tense expression.
Steve leaned in to press a kiss on a relatively clean spot on Tony’s forehead before getting up. “Sit tight. I’ll be right back.”