When Tony shows up at his doorstep, cradling his hand to his chest, his shirt stained red, Steve feels like he stops breathing for a long moment.
He ushers Tony inside, moves across the room to get bandages as fast as he can. He turns back to see Tony sitting at the table, wincing, but not slumping, and even from a few steps away Steve can see Tony’s breathing regularly.
“What happened?” he lets himself ask, finally.
“I’m a bloody idiot, is what happened,” Tony mutters. Then he tilts his head. “I scared you,” he says, like that’s a surprise, considering what he looks like at the moment.
Steve moves a bucket of water closer to them without answering. “Show me your hand,” he says.
Tony hesitates a second, then extends his arm forward. There’s a gash on his wrist, still bleeding. Steve moves his kerosene lamp to the table to get a better view at Tony’s wound. It’s about as long as his finger, with uneven edges.
“How did you get it?” Steve asks. He gently presses Tony’s palm to the table with one hand, and with the other, pours water over the wound.
Tony hisses, but then he starts talking, slowly. “I was fixing the train engine,” he says. “Miscalculated the strength. It’s fine. I’ve no idea why I came here.”
Don’t you, Steve wants to ask, but he knows Tony would just bristle at him, or maybe even leave, and that’s not something Steve can let him do.
He starts wrapping bandages around Tony’s wrist, careful.
“I’m not made of glass, sheriff,” Tony finally snaps.
“No, but you’re doing a pretty good job of getting hurt all the time,” Steve says.
Tony reaches for his flask. Steve doesn’t comment. He puts it down almost immediately, though; it’s probably empty. Steve doesn’t mind that.
“Tell me about the train,” he says.
Tony laughs incredulously. “What’s there to talk about? You’ve seen it a million times.”
Steve shrugs. “Come on, you like talking about inventions.”
Or he used to, way before the war. But Steve misses it, misses seeing Tony happy and excited for something.
Tony’s eyes are clouded now. “Anything for my sheriff,” he says. He sits still as Steve continues wrapping his wrist up. “Trains aren’t a good solution. You need to have large expanses of empty land for them, with no obstacles in the way. No forests, no mountains, no bodies of water. They can’t stay our fastest transportation option.”
Steve nods. He finishes bandaging, but doesn’t take his hand away from Tony’s.
“Flying, Steve,” Tony says. “The French started with the hot air balloons—but they’re slow, uncontrollable. No, we need something better. Something like a flying train?” Tony shakes his head, but his eyes are alive, sparkling even. “You still couldn’t go anywhere you wanted. No, the point would be to give individuals means to travel however they want to. Mechanical wings?” He’s smiling now, excited. “That could be a challenge to build, and not that comfortable. What about . . . A horse carriage, but without the horse, instead an air engine lifting it up?”
Steve smiles back. “That’d be interesting,” he says.
Tony keeps talking. “Or—a personalised suit,” he says, and there’s something in his voice, something like longing. He hasn’t sounded like that in a long time. Like it’s something he’d like to see. Something he’d like to bring to life himself. “Imagine that. Just another layer of clothing. But with the power in it, you could fly.” Tony stops talking, smiling now.
“I’d like that,” Steve says softly.
Tony’s eyes snap to him. “Well. That’s only talk, sheriff. Dreams of a stupid man.” He moves to take his hand away, but Steve doesn’t let him go.
“You’re not stupid, Stark,” Steve says slowly. “You know that.”
“No?” Tony laughs. “Then tell me, Sheriff, how long until that would bring nothing but war to the furthest corner of the Earth?”
Steve leans forward, puts his hand on Tony’s shoulder instead. “Tony. They don’t need you to kill each other.”
“It won’t happen anyway,” Tony says. “I wouldn’t know where to start. But—look at the history, Steve. It’s moving so fast now. If only I was born in one hundred years . . .”
“You want to fly,” Steve says.
Tony nods, finally. “Yes, Steve. I do.”
Steve holds him tight, for just a moment. “You can sleep here,” he says, like it needs spelling out.
“That’s nice,” Tony drawls, clearly out of his dreamy mood. “Last time I got hurt, you threw me into a cell.”
“You were so soaked you couldn’t walk straight, Stark.” And he called Bruce. And, the most obvious part, if Tony was in his cell at daytime, then Steve could keep an eye on him.
But Steve suspects Tony knows all of this already, and was just trying to get a raise out of him. Tony has problems accepting kindness, sometimes.
Tony shrugs off his ruined shirt. There’s still a bullet scar on his chest, from when he protected Steve in a shooting. Steve doesn’t like thinking about it, but it’s not easy pushing the memories away—Tony’s chest is covered in blood even now, the blood from when he was pressing his injured hand to his body must’ve soaked through to his skin. Steve picks up a wet sponge. Tony lets him clean him off.
Tony shivers, probably at the touch of the cold water, but he doesn’t say anything.
Steve puts all his utensils away, and then turns to look at Tony.
“I’m too sober to sleep, sheriff,” Tony quips. His voice is dark, and it can mean only one thing: he’s afraid of sleeping. Of the nightmares.
“Just lie down,” Steve asks. “Please.”
Tony looks at him for a long moment. Steve’s not sure what he’s looking for. Even after years, it’s so difficult to understand Tony. But he must’ve found whatever it was he wanted, because he nods, and then heads to Steve’s bed.
Steve changes into night clothes and follows shortly after. Tony’s not asleep yet, and when Steve lies next to him, he turns, moves until he’s curled into Steve’s side. Steve embraces him, wishing they could just do that every night.
“If I ever fly,” Tony says, “I will take you with me.”
And then he’s asleep. Steve keeps holding him close.