Eyes stinging and hands no longer as steady as he needs them to be, Tony Stark admits defeat. He drops the soldering iron to the table with a metallic thunk and rests his elbows on the table, pressing the heels of his palms to his eyes hard enough to make white spots dance in front of his retinas. He breathes out deeply and then quickly sits up and reaches out, remembering to turn the iron off – ha, in your face Pepper, he can still function safely after thirty hours with no sleep – waving up at Jarvis as well.
“Mute,” he mumbles, and the music that has been blaring through the workshop for the past forever abruptly turns off, leaving no sound but the gentle hum of the bots and machinery around him, and his own breathing.
Two seconds and it’s already too quiet.
“May I recommend hydration, sustenance and sleep, Sir?” Jarvis says, and Tony blinks. “In that order?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony mutters, scrubbing at his eyelids with his fingertips. “Does scotch, donuts and passing out down here count?”
“Technically, though I cannot find it in my programming to recommend it.”
Tony snorts and eases himself up off his stool, back aching something fierce and neck twinging in protest. Wow, he’s clearly been at this a while. He picks up the circuit board he was working on, examines it for a moment before pulling a face and tossing it back onto the workbench, irritated that it’s not as neat as it needs to be to function at the specs he-
Shaking his head, he tries to make himself stop, because if he doesn’t he’ll start again and then that’ll be another ten hours lost in soldering and code and after thirty-six hours Jarvis will notify Pep-
Tony stops, brow furrowing. Hang on.
“J, baby, hypothetical question here; if I locked myself in here for over thirty-six hours, you wouldn’t hypothetically still call Pepper, would you?”
“No,” Jarvis says calmly, but any relief and glee that Tony feels at thinking he can live in here forever is shot down in red, white and blue spangly glory as Jarvis continues, “prior to her departure she personally requested that the thirty-six hour warning go to Captain Rogers instead.”
Tony splutters indignantly. “What? Why?”
“Maybe because Ms Potts deems Captain Rogers to be a responsible adult,” Jarvis says, and Tony scoffs because despite technically being ninety and acting like an old man, Steve Rogers is barely twenty-four, which, in Tony’s humble opinion, does not an adult make.
Some would argue that leading a team of superheroes into battle against an alien race unleashed by a melodramatic Norse God would qualify someone as an adult, but whatever. Those people haven’t had to live with Steve Rogers for the past two months. A few days of heroic action does not balance out against eight weeks of brooding and acting like a god damn teenager. In fact, when Tony had had enough and accused Cap of acting like a stroppy teenager, he’d just got a scowl in return because apparently ‘teenager’ wasn’t even a word when Cap had actually been one.
“Where is the Capsicle, anyway?” Tony asks Jarvis, like he doesn’t already know the answer. He gives his schematics one final check-over and makes a cursory effort of tidying his bench. “Room or gym?”
“In the gym,” Jarvis tells him. “Dr. Banner is in his lab, and Agent Barton is-”
“On the roof,” Tony finishes, correctly. “How predictable.”
“Captain Rogers said the same about you when enquiring as to your whereabouts,” Jarvis said, and Tony makes an indignant noise as he throws a spanner towards the drawer where it should live.
“Why the fuck is he asking? This is my tower, I can be here if I want to be. I can be anywhere I want to be, because see the name on the Tower?”
“Currently there is only an ‘A’ on the tower, Sir.”
Tony groans and resists the urge to hit his head against the nearest hard object. Which happens to be the Mark Twelve, and that would be like headbutting himself which is a definite no-no. Maybe he should headbutt Steve or Clint whilst wearing the Mark Twelve. Not Bruce though; he’s not a maniac.
Yeah, he should definitely get some sleep.
“Lock it down,” he sighs, leaving the workshop and heading for the stairs. “Anti-Legolas measures too.”
“Locking doors and securing vents, Sir.”
Just to make sure that Jarvis doesn’t tattle on him to Pepper or – worse – Steve, he heads down a couple of floors to the communal kitchen, fully intending to get his hydration and sustenance before passing out on his face in the penthouse.
Of course, there’s no-one there. There never is. The lights turns on automatically, soft and gentle considering it’s – wow, whoops – four AM, and the appliances all hum into action, ready to be used if needed. Everything is still so quiet after the blaring music and noise of the workshop, and it’s not comfortable, so Tony resolves to get out of there and into his own private space post-haste.
It’s going well, booze located and poured and necked and refilled, until he opens the fridge and sees an empty tray. He stares at it for long, long seconds and then reaches out to pluck the obnoxious yellow post-it from the middle of the empty tray.
IOU a shit load of donuts.
It’s only knowledge that Clint is currently benched from active duty and going through - actively avoiding - therapy and pretty much losing the plot that stops Tony summoning the Mark Twelve and going to kill him. Instead, he just howls in frustration, slams the refrigerator door, kicking it for good measure, before turning his back to it, pressing his shoulder blades to the stainless steel and sinking to the floor.
Karmic justice in action. Sacrifice yourself to save the world, and obviously you get the girl and a shiny new bunch of friends who think you’re awesome for being a team player, and the powers that be get off for your back for five minutes.
Tony knocks back the rest of his drink with a grimace. Apparently, what actually happens is that your girl ups and leaves because she can’t handle the stress of a few measly near death experiences, your shiny new friends are all so psychologically damaged that they can barely spend ten minutes in the same room as each other despite living in the same damn building, and Nick Fury is already pissed off at you for something you can’t even remember saying or not saying.
And some fucker eats the last of your donuts.
Tony crawls across to the island counter and kneels up so he can swipe the bottle of scotch, slumping back against the cupboards with a thud, filling his glass before raising it in a derisive toast to the gods of karma before downing it in three swift gulps.
Some rich tapestry.
And the portal is closing far too quickly, and Tony is awake this time and not falling quick enough, and he can’t remember how to work his repulsors, and Jarvis is trying to call Steve and Steve isn’t picking up and there’s no damn air-
Tony jerks awake with a strangled cry and swears as sunlight assaults his retinas and his brain and Jesus Christ everything hurts. His head is pounding and his mouth tastes disgusting and he’s lying on the kitchen floor. Fuck. He’s too old for this.
He manages to roll over and comes face to face with a pair of bare feet, inches away from his nose.
“Morning, Cap,” he croaks.
“Why are you on the kitchen floor?”
“That’s a stupid question,” Tony says, and grabs hold of the closest cupboard handle, using it to haul himself into a sitting position. “Clint ate my donuts.”
He squints up at Steve, who has his arms folded across his chest and looks like he just stepped out of the shower, clean and damp and disapproving. “No, that’s a stupid answer. That led to you sleeping on the kitchen floor, how?”
Tony snorts. “I thought you of all people would understand the pain of losing out on food. You nearly murdered Clint when he ate the last of your take-out without asking. Not to mention the bitch fit you had over that packet of bagels that went walkabouts.”
In another world, that would have qualified as banter. In this world, Steve’s face shutters and he stalks away towards the fruit bowl, snatching an orange up and turning it over in his big hands. “I have a high metabolism,” he snaps.
“Whatever,” Tony replies, suddenly weary and wishing with all of his might that that damned alien hadn’t crushed Steve’s apartment building. Because then Steve would be being a bitch there and not in Tony’s tower. Never mind that he’d deliberately redesigned and rebuilt the tower to include space for the All American Idiot and the rest of the Avengers. “Come on, Spangles. Give a bro a hand.”
He reaches out with a hand, indicating for Steve to pull him to his feet. Steve stares at him for a moment, still tossing the orange from hand to hand like it’s a damn baseball. Tony raises his brows and gives Steve a look, a I gave you a place to live when your building got crushed, put up with me or else I’ll pack you off to SHIELD to put up with Hill and Fury look, and Steve evidently gets it because he stops throwing the orange and steps over, grasping Tony’s hand in his and hefting him easily to his feet.
“Go to bed,” he says, letting go of Tony’s hand, then catching him with a hand on his shoulder as Tony lurches forwards, unsteady and not quite balanced properly. He sighs, exasperated, and pushes him back. “And shower.”
“Yes, Mom,” Tony says, and leaves the kitchen without another word. He looks back briefly to see Steve standing there in the middle of the kitchen, staring down at the orange in his hand and suddenly looking terribly lost and so, so young.
Tony ignores him and heads for the elevator and his bed.
Tony sits cross legged on the floor, temple pressed against the cool glass of the penthouse window. He stares out at the city beyond, all the lights and movement even at the late hour. There are cranes and construction crews everywhere, most of them still but a few working through the night. He debates putting on his armour and going to help one of the crews under cover of darkness, but he doesn’t think that they’ll appreciate a drunk Iron Man, no matter how helpful he wants to be.
Fuck it. He flew a nuke through an alien portal for this city. Someone else can step up and do the clean up. He's already nominated the Fantastic Four; maybe if they help then he'll be able to forgive them for being in the wrong dimension when the Chitauri attacked.
A shape outside the window catches his eye, and he twists his head up and around to see Clint is outside, standing on a ledge above the deck. He’s wearing dark jeans and a black T-shirt and must be freezing without a coat at this time of night. He stands still for a moment and then clambers down from the ledge, swinging down off the higher part of the building and then jumping the last of the way onto Tony’s assembly pad, landing as easily as a cat. Tony watches him carefully as he walks slowly to the edge, then sits down with his back to Tony and the window, feet dangling off the edge into nothingness.
“J, tell him not to jump,” Tony says. “Quiet though. Don’t make him jump. As in, don’t startle him, you know what I mean.”
He assumes Jarvis does as requested, because Clint lifts his hand up above his head and gives him a jerky wave and thumbs up without even turning around.
“Agent Barton requests that you quit fucking staring at him and go and perve on Cap instead,” Jarvis says calmly, and Tony snorts.
“Speakers,” he says, and then raises his voice slightly. “Stop making my baby swear on your behalf,” he calls, and Clint’s thumbs up turns into a middle finger. “And besides, this is my window, you’re ruining the view. Move.”
Clint doesn’t move. He lowers his hand, but doesn’t turn around. Tony leaves the speakers on, waiting to see if he’s going to talk. It’s strange with Clint. Some days he’ll chat openly – albeit flippantly or angrily – about what’s happened and other days he won’t utter a word. It’s not like Tony ever makes much effort to get conversation from him; they’re team and tower mates but that doesn’t exactly make them friends. Tony had assumed that Clint would be on lockdown within SHIELD after the whole possession and killing people thing, but he’s since learned that Clint point blank refused to stay on the helicarrier or in any designated SHIELD buildings. When Tony casually mentioned it once, Natasha had simply and curtly said ‘Coulson’, like that explained everything.
In a way, it did.
“Can’t believe the damn cranes are still working,” Clint finally says. His voice sounds steadier than it has in a while, but Tony’s not fool enough to think that he’s better. Not yet, anyway.
“Should be out helping,” Tony comments.
“I’m not allowed,” Clint says abruptly, the words bitter. “I’m still under investigation.”
Tony whistles, low. “Son of a bitch,” he said. “Is Fury involved?”
“He’s doing what he can,” Clint says. “Like it matters anyway. Cap tried to go out again today.”
Tony gladly takes the change in conversation; he doesn’t even want to think about SHIELD and the damn WSC after what they did. “Good for Cap,” he says, and he means it. If Steve wants to go out and bust his ass hauling rubble, it’s his choice.
“SHIELD went and dragged him back in,” Clint tells him, and Tony frowns.
“What? Thought they’d love that. Captain perfect out there being a model citizen, build on the good press.”
“That’s what he thought,” Clint says, and that means that Clint must have talked to Cap about it. “But apparently it’s hard for the crew to do any work when there’s a hundred strong crowd getting in the way.”
“Let me guess, middle aged women swooning and trying to grab his ass.”
He hears Clint make a noise that could maybe be a grunt of laughter. “Dunno. He’s pretty pissed about it. Fuck, man, this sitting around doing nothing is driving me crazy.”
“Alright, let’s call Thor. I bet he’s got more family we can goad into starting a fight.”
This time Clint does laugh, a low bark that sounds rough and unused. “How fucking fucked are we,” he says, and Tony sees his shoulders tense as he grips the edge of the smooth stone he’s sitting on, his head dipping forwards. “Actually wanting shit to go and fight just for something to do.”
“We’re full time Avengers these days,” Tony says dully. “Which is not as much fun as it sounds when there’s nothing to Avenge.”
Clint nods slowly and sighs heavily, his whole body moving with the deep breath. “Amen to that.”
“They’re fucked up, Pep. All of them. It’s like, a frat house of traumatic childhoods and poor life decisions-”
It’s eleven PM and Tony thinks he should be given an award for being in bed at a reasonable time for a human being, never mind that he’s got four tablets open atop the sheets and Jarvis is busy crunching numbers for him. There’s also a wrench on his pillow, but he’s not entire sure why or how, so he’s going to ignore it. He’s only really up here because he doesn’t want to risk falling asleep on the floor like he did last week; his spine had not been grateful for that incident.
Pepper stops him whining with a look that’s disturbingly effective, even over video call. Tony pouts back, blanket still pulled up over his head like it’s a hood, body wrapped up in the rest of the material and leaning back against his headboard. Which used to be their headboard. Yeah, in retrospect he probably shouldn’t have called her.
“For one, Steve is the only one who could possibly qualify as the right age for a frat house,” she starts.
“He’s ninety-six,” Tony interjects.
“He’s ninety six, he was born-”
“He’s only been awake for twenty-four years-”
“That’s beside the point, the point is,”
“It is the point-
“No, the point is that he’s being-”
“And you are older and should know better-”
“- a total bitch-”
Tony stops talking and pouts some more. Pepper looks like she couldn’t care less. “No-one ever said it was going to be easy,” she says. “And you decided to move them in. I think I recommended against it, actually.”
Tony pulls a face, not wanting to be reminded of that fact. He breathes out deeply, pokes a hand out from under his blanket to rub at his forehead. “It’s not just the Caphawk frat brothers,” he says, and even coming this close to admitting it is like pulling teeth. “I’m fucked up, Pep,” he says, and her beautiful face falls. He stares down at the lump of his knees under the blankets. “I’m a mess. I need you to sort me out.”
“You know I can’t,” she says, and there it is, the guilt at dragging her into this again, and he knows, he knows the only way she’s coming back is if he grows the fuck up and proves he can look after himself, but he can’t do that without her. Catch twenty two indeed.
“Yeah, I know,” he says, and lifts his chin, looking briefly at her before his eyes dart everywhere else. He shrugs, one shouldered, blanket slipping slightly. He catches it with a palm to the top of his head, pulling it back over his forehead. “I didn’t mean it. I’m right as rain. Just trying to guilt trip you into coming back.”
She doesn’t believe him, he knows it. “You know I can’t,” she says again, and it’s only a little bit comforting how it looks like it pains her to say it.
Tony nods, keeps on nodding. “Yep, yep, loud and clear. Right, look at the time, I gotta go, things to build and housemates to fall out with, you know the drill.”
“Go easy on them,” Pepper sighs, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She’s dressed casual but not ready for bed, and maybe she was on her way out for dinner or something, to hang out with people who didn’t want to make her tear her gorgeous hair out. It’s only just after eight on her coast after all, and she’s more than likely had a busy day, sorting out Tony’s company even though she can’t sort out him. “You’ve all got a whole load of issues, more than most people can expect to handle in a lifetime,” she pauses. “Natasha says Clint isn’t doing so well.”
“He ate my donuts,” Tony says before he can stop himself, and this time the look that Pepper sends his way is so disappointed that he can barely stand it.
“I’ll talk to you later, Tony,” she says, with a horrid note of finality. The call cuts out and Tony is left alone in his huge penthouse bedroom, blinking at the empty space where Pepper used to be.
“She’s not coming back, is she,” he says, voice hollow but steady.
“Based on past patterns of behaviour and inferences made from recent data,” Jarvis says calmly. “I predict not.”
“Percentage?” Tony asks.
“Less than twelve percent.”
Tony feels a choked laugh bubble up. “Twelve percent,” he echoes, and then he’s laughing, laughing so hard he might as well be crying.
It doesn’t take long for Tony to forget about the new arrangements regarding his thirty six hour limit. In fact, he forgets all about the limit at all. He holes up in his workshop with increasingly shorter and fewer breaks, building and scrapping and rebuilding, actions frenetic and soothing. He fixes a glitch in the Mark Eleven remote tracking system even though he doesn’t need to because the Mark Twelve is so much more badass, then he fixes the mount for Bruce’s electron microscope, then breaks it on purpose so he has an excuse to build a better one from scratch. He happily deconstructs one of the guns left behind by the Chitauri, trying to make sense of the alien tech and feeling cheerfully spiteful towards Nick Fury, who doesn’t know that Tony managed to swipe one. It’s a bit of a lost cause though; the finer aspects of the construction have been smashed beyond hope, and Tony suspects that if he were to go down a floor and borrow a certain super-soldier’s super-shield, the curve of vibranium would fit beautifully into the gouge in the casing of the gun.
It’s been a long week. Such a long, long week, with hours stretching on forever and days bleeding into one endless stretch of time. It’s been weeks and weeks –actually, he should really be counting it in months now – since Pepper left and it seems like it happened both a million years ago and yesterday.
Despite the situation with Pepper taking a nose-dive, things in the tower have been marginally better, Tony is aware enough to realize. Clint actually slept in a bed for two nights instead of outside on the roof, Bruce had voluntarily left his lab (and how unfair is it that Tony isn’t trusted to be in his workshop for more than a day and a half but Bruce is?) and Steve hasn’t destroyed any more gym equipment. Tony has been a tad erratic, but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the four of them all ended up in the kitchen at the same time yesterday morning, and nothing bad had happened. Steve had said good morning like he meant it, Clint had grunted but passed them all coffee, and Tony had made a joke that wasn’t about Cap and Bruce’s mouth had twitched like he wanted to smile but was too tired.
They’d only lasted ninety seconds together before dispersing, but hey. Progress, right?
And never mind that Tony hasn’t seen any of them since. He’s happy enough where he is, headache and backache be damned.
Whistling off-key but perfectly in time, he’s just starting on schematics for the Mark Thirteen gauntlets when the music abruptly stops and he pauses in place, confused.
The voice that answers isn’t Jarvis, and Tony looks up to see Steve striding across the floor towards him, looking furious. He’s so tense he’s practically vibrating, and Tony’s brain whips through tense, vibrating, vibranium, ooh wordplay, muscles, shield, there’s a joke in there somewhere, but the words never take shape.
“Right now,” Steve says, voice low and commanding, and suddenly he’s not a twenty-four year old moron. He’s Captain America.
“Excuse you?” Tony asks, dumbfounded. “What the hell?”
“It is not my job to look after you,” Steve snaps, and he stops standing so close to Tony that he can practically feel his body heat radiating through the white t-shirt he’s wearing. “I don’t give a damn how long you’ve been in here, but apparently your damn AI does, and he won’t let me back onto my floor until I’ve fished your sorry ass out of this dump.”
“One, my workshop is not a dump, two, I didn’t ask him to ask you, Pepper did, and three, go fuck yourself.”
For a moment, Steve looks like he wants to smack Tony in the mouth, and Tony’s breath catches in his throat. Wow. Steve can fight Nazis and command gods and it’s Tony that’s going to make him lose his cool. His hands clench into fists and Tony wonders just how quickly he can get into the nearest armour.
“All I need is for you is to stop being so damn selfish and come out for a couple of hours,” Steve manages through a clenched jaw, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that inter-tower relations really are at an all-time low. Shit. And things had been going so well, what with the ninety second bonding over coffee and the not-yelling thing they’d got going on. “Then we can both go back to what we want to be doing.”
Tony suddenly resents Steve for even existing, every nasty and twisted thought he’s had in the past forever rearing up and focusing on the man in front of him. A vindictive streak not felt since the fight on the helicarrier rears, ready to strike and tear the precious Captain down, because he’s no better than the rest of them. How dare he stand there like he’s exempt from all this crap, the sanctimonious prick.
“What exactly am I interrupting?” he challenges. “Your super busy social schedule? All the super important missions you’ve got lined up? The hard work you’re doing with clean up?”
Steve takes an angry step closer, and he’s right up in Tony’s personal space. “I am helping with the damn cleanup work -”
“You’re busy doing fuck all, just like the rest of us,” Tony talks over him, tone scornful. He slips off his stool so he’s standing, and whoa that was a miscalculation because Steve doesn’t even back up an inch and now they’re practically nose to nose. “In fact, you’ve got even less to be doing than the rest of us. I’m working in here, Bruce is working in his lab; you’re just killing time because you’ve got nothing useful to be doing-”
“What’s going on?”
The tension between him and Steve jolts out of place as Bruce’s calm voice breaks through the argument. Steve curses something absolutely foul under his breath and turns on his heel, storming away from Tony. The back of his neck is bright red, his shoulders tightly coiled.
“I’ll wash your mouth out with soap, Captain Curse-words,” Tony yells after him, and marvels that Steve makes it out of the room without punching the door. He’s a bit disappointed actually, it would have been glorious to see and he could have observed just how strong his reinforced doors actually were. Steve leaves a brittle silence in his wake, and Tony finds he doesn’t even feel better now that the ass has left.
“What is with you two?” Bruce sighs, leaning on the doorway. “He’ll leave if you keep baiting him.”
“And?” Tony says, offhand, even though his stomach has just done a really weird twisty clench thing at the thought of Steve actually leaving. “He started that. I literally said nothing. Well, that’s a lie. I said what the fuck, but he was pissed before he got here. Nothing to do with me. Oh, and I told him to go fuck himself after he said he resented being asked to look out for me and called my shop a dump. Or something along those lines. He swore anyway. More than once.” He goes to turn to his holograph but it’s gone. He flicks his fingers to turn it back on, but nothing happens, and he now hates Steve and Bruce and Jarvis.
“What did you call us?” Tony asks wearily, elbow on his bench and forehead on his palm. “A chemical mixture? Chaos?”
Bruce sighs again and nods slowly. “Yes,” he says, pressing the fingers of one hand against his other palm, twisting them around and then squeezing his thumb. Tony watches his hands without really seeing them.
“It’s all gone to shit, Bruce,” Tony says absent-mindedly. “Has Clint jumped off the roof, yet?”
Bruce winces. “We’ll be okay,” he says, and pauses. “As long as we all want to be.”
Tony doesn’t know about that. He knows that Clint is pretending not to be struggling with the fallout from Loki’s possession, and is finding Agent Agent’s death almost impossible to deal with. He knows that Bruce is finding it hard to accept the mixed reactions that the public have had to the Hulk. He knows that Steve is still dealing with the whole drowning, freezing, man-out-of-time, losing everyone thing. Funny. In another world he and Steve would have bonded about the whole self-sacrifice experience, but apparently not in this one.
“We need a job,” Tony says, admitting defeat and getting up, heading towards the door. His mind is now stuck on Phil and how he’d earned a proper name in Tony’s mind after he’d died. Too late, as usual. “I think this sitting around doing nothing is driving us crazy. It’s been months and all we’ve done is help with a few pieces of shitty clean-up work.”
“I think a lot of things are driving us crazy,” Bruce says, and pauses, waiting for Tony to pull the door shut and lock down the workshop. “Natasha’s back, by the way.”
“Great!” Tony throws his hands in the air. “Angry Captain, miserable Hawkeye and now an assassin who will undoubtedly want to take it out on my ass.”
“Why do you do that?” Bruce asks curiously, following Tony to the elevator.
“Make it all about you,” Bruce says, and then raises his hands as Tony glares at him. “You do,” he says calmly, unapologetically. “Like the dynamics here revolve entirely around you. You know we’ve all got stuff to be dealing with, right? That’s not actually related to you? I mean, Steve-”
“I know,” Tony interjects, irritated. “Jarvis, kitchen. That’s what Pepper said.”
Bruce looks uneasy. “You called Pepper?”
“Bad idea, yes, hurray for Tony,” Tony mutters. “We’re full of bad ideas at the minute. And we were doing so well.”
“I know,” Bruce says gloomily. “I had high hopes when we all ended up in the kitchen.”
“You’re equally to blame for that, Brucie-Bear,” Tony says, tapping his fingers against his elbow in a staccato pattern. He needs a drink. “You spend more time in your lab than I do in my workshop.”
“But I have an adjoining bathroom and a bed,” Bruce reminds him. “I sleep.”
“So do I,” Tony says, and Bruce just shakes his head at the lie.
“Clint doesn’t,” he says. “Neither does Steve. Well, Clint naps at random times, enough to keep him alive and sane, but Steve-” he breaks off, shakes his head. “Frankly, I’m amazed he’s still cognizant.”
Tony throws him a grin. “You want to wire things into his brain and study him, don’t you?”
Bruce allows himself a small self-depreciating smile that borders on wistful. “Don’t you? He’s slept just less than four hours in the past four days, and all I can observe is-”
“A fucking foul mood?” Tony suggests, and Bruce grimaces.
“Well, not in those words, but yes. Increased irritability, slightly lowered concentration span. He’s pushing it, even for him.”
The elevator comes to a smooth stop and Tony and Bruce step out into the communal area. Bruce walks over to the kitchen and Tony follows, his mind flicking to Steve and the knowledge that he’s only slept four hours in as many days. His immediate reaction is jealousy, because seriously, why does Steve get more conscious time than the rest of them when he has nothing to do with said time? Tony would have invented a whole plethora of amazing new shit if he only had to sleep an hour a night and still function as well as Steve is doing.
And then he remembers the swearing and the tension and the way Steve had nearly flipped his lid, and reassesses. If Steve is sleep-deprived enough to be letting his temper get the better of him, then Tony certainly wouldn’t be at optimal performance if he were in the same position.
“And I thought I should be worried about Clint.”
Bruce turns to look at him, and it’s only when he says “you’re worried about Steve, then?” that Tony realises what he just said out loud instead of in his head.
His stomach does that strange twist again. “I don’t know,” he admits, heading to the coffee machine and jabbing at the button. Mostly because he wants coffee, but also because he feels like his hands need to be doing something. “He’s driving me crazy.”
“You wouldn’t like it if he wasn’t here,” Bruce says, and that resonates far too well with the feeling in Tony’s gut for him to be comfortable with it.
“Like I care where he goes,” he snorts, sounding just flippant enough to be believable. “I might bribe New York to finish his apartment first.”
Bruce just shakes his head again. “You can’t bribe New York,” he says patiently, and Tony hates how Bruce doesn’t get riled up at his bullshit. He just sifts through it and responds like a rational human being. God, he misses Pepper. He could wind her up and distract her from the things that mattered like no-one’s business. A lot like he seems to be able to do to Steve, actually.
“And where he needs to go is to bed,” Bruce continues, and then looks pointedly at Tony.
Tony hastily backs up towards the coffee machine, grabbing a mug and trying in vain to look busy. “Not it.”
“He’ll listen to you,” Bruce says.
“He’ll punch me in the face.”
Bruce cocks his head thoughtfully. “Maybe. But I’m pretty sure he’ll then listen to you when you regain consciousness.”
Tony sends Bruce a withering look, but doesn’t admit that he’s admitting defeat. “I am not letting him knock me out just so I can guilt trip him into bed,” he says, and Bruce’s mouth twitches in amusement.
“Oh, fuck off,” Tony sighs, and stalks away towards the elevator, doubling back for his coffee before he gets to the doors and mumbling a ‘shut up’ at Bruce.
What does Bruce know, he thinks forlornly as the elevator takes him towards the gym, not even bothering to ask Jarvis where Steve will be. One minute he’s saying it doesn’t all revolve around Tony, and then he’s pretty much saying that it does.
Fuck. If only one of them had even a clue about what was the right thing to do, this might be a hell of a lot easier to fix.
Tony stands in the doorway of the gym, hands curled around his mug of coffee and eyes on Steve. He’s been there for about ten minutes already, which is practically a lifetime if measured in Tony-Stark-attention-span years. He just can’t help it. Steve is art to watch when he’s like this.
Coulson would have killed to watch this, Tony thinks vaguely, and shuts his eyes against the still aching wave of emotion that rolls through him when he thinks of how it would be if Phil Coulson were actually there to get them all in line.
He swallows, opens his eyes, and continues to watch Steve.
He’s wearing the same loose sweatpants and white T-shirt as earlier, and he’s going to town on a punching bag like it’s insulted his mother. Well, Tony thinks as he watches Steve deliver a vicious swing low down on the same bag he’s always at, the chains squeaking in protest. No-one ever accused Steve of being anything other than a creature of habit.
The lights are dimmed, casting soft shadows over Steve as he moves. Tony watches the shift of muscle under the shirt and even if Steve is a dick, he’s never going to not appreciate the power in that frame. Steve is a good solider – actually he's a great soldier. It’s the being anything other than that that he seems to be having trouble with.
“If I paint swastikas on the punching bags, will you try to hit them harder?”
Steve jerks slightly at Tony’s voice, grabbing the bag to still it and then turning to look at where Tony is lounging in the doorway. He wipes the back of his wrist across his forehead, but in truth he’s hardly broken a sweat. The other hand rests on the side of the punching bag like he needs support or something.
“If I hit them harder, they’ll break,” he says, and he doesn’t sound bitter or proud, he sounds like he’s just stating a fact.
“Bull,” Tony says, and pushes off the doorframe. “They’re reinforced. And if that wasn’t you hitting full force then I’ll-”
Steve turns with shocking speed, arm drawing back to punch the bag as hard as he can. The chain snaps, the bag splits and tumbles to the floor, and Tony is left eating his words as he stares at the wreckage on the floor at Steve’s feet. Steve is breathing hard, and he turns to Tony with an expression on his face that’s a little challenging and almost defensive, like he’s expecting Tony to give him shit about it.
“Oh my god,” Tony says in disbelief. “So that raging before was you holding back?”
Steve looks uncomfortable for a moment, and then sighs and bends down to pick up the ruined bag, tossing it out of the way as if it were a pillow. It hits the floor next to the wall, leaving a trail of sand over the floor. “I kinda gotta,” he says, and Tony starts at the inflection obvious in the words.
“And there’s the kid from Brooklyn,” he says, and Steve starts, his face wide open and oh-so vulnerable for a moment.
“I’m always the kid from Brooklyn,” he mutters, and there it is again, a slight twang to his words that Tony’s not really heard before. The open look on his face is gone though, replaced by something more controlled and altogether frustrated.
“Sorry for earlier,” Tony says suddenly, and Steve stares at him. Tony half shrugs and looks at the floor. “The whole, shouting thing. Yeah. I forgot Pepper had asked Jarvis to put you on Tony watch. You know I don’t mean the shit I say when I’m tired and pissy. Or being controlled by magic, whatever. Either way, I didn’t mean what I said.”
Steve grunts in reply and half turns, looking at the wrecked punching bag in the corner. “Got any more of those?”
Tony frowns. That wasn’t the apology he was expecting. Hell, if he can man up and say sorry – when he didn’t even really do much wrong – then surely Steve can do the same?”
“You swore at me,” he says, and Steve twitches irritably, picking at the wraps on his knuckles.
“I swore. Not at you.”
“I know what I said,” Steve bursts out, talking over him. “I was in the army – I’m from Brooklyn, for Christ's sake. I know how to swear. What do you want, Tony?”
“You need to go to bed,” Tony says, and Steve’s expression turns incredulous.
“You’re telling me to go to bed?”
“You’ve had four hours sleep in the past four days. You’re being foul. You need to sleep,” Tony says frankly, and Steve’s expression darkens.
“Are you spying on me?”
Tony groans, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. This is not worth the effort it’s taking. “No. Bruce has been monitoring everyone. He’s worried about you, and I’m tired of being yelled at. Come on. Bruce is currently coercing Barton into getting some sleep, too.”
It’s a lie, but thankfully Steve doesn’t notice. Tony holds his breath, and to his relief Steve just breathes out heavily and nods. He stares over at the ruined punching bag for a while longer and then nods again, turning away towards Tony and slowly undoing the wraps from one of his hands. Tony watches the muscles in his arm flex as he moves, and he can’t suppress the awe he feels now he knows how controlled Steve actually is with his strength.
“That must be exhausting,” he says, eyes still on Steve’s forearms as he walks over.
“What? Not really,” Steve shrugs.
“Not the bags. The whole, having to rein it in, thing. You could literally break everything if you didn’t.”
Steve pauses for a moment, bunching the wrap tight in his hand before starting on the other one. He exhales heavily again and then looks up and meets Tony’s eyes. He looks tired, and the anger is all but gone.
“You’ve got no idea,” he says, and then he’s laughing, low and bitter, looking away and down at his own hands. “What good is it if I’m not actually using it?”
Tony is forcibly reminded of the conversation he had with Clint, when Clint had been sat on the roof. “We know,” he says. “I know. We’re not really a group of people well suited to being idle, no matter what SHIELD think.”
This time, when Steve meets his eyes, there’s a glimmer of something a lot like understanding. A connection. “No,” he says slowly. “We’re really not.” He starts towards the door with Tony at his side. Tony offers up the coffee mug but Steve shakes his head. “Not if I’m meant to be going to sleep. Not that it makes any real difference.”
"Placebo effect?" Tony asks, curious despite himself.
"Something like that," Steve shrugs.
Tony pulls his 'well, what do you know' face and takes a gulp himself. He doesn’t say anything more, but it doesn’t matter. Steve is at his side and isn’t giving off any I am going to end you if you don’t shut up vibes, so he takes it as a win.
The elevator stops at Steve’s floor, and Steve gets out without looking back.
“See you later, Tony.”
“Night, Steve,” Tony calls as the doors begin to close again, and just before they do he catches the edge of Steve’s surprised face looking back at him. It’s only when he’s almost at the penthouse that he realises it’s because he called Steve by his given name, and not Cap or Spangles or something equally as ridiculous.
He heads straight for his bed once he’s out of the elevator, falling back on it and then wishing he hadn’t, because he’s not sure he’s got the energy to drag his ass to the bathroom. Or out of his clothes for that matter. Well, that’s what he gets for spending thirty-six hours in the workshop without a break.
Blinking hard to try and keep his eyes open, he pushes himself up into a sitting position and pulls his shirt off with tired fingers that won’t cooperate properly. He toes his trainers off and reaches for his socks, which seems like way too much effort.
“Jarvis, where’s Steve?” he asks on a whim, not entirely convinced Steve won’t double back and go straight back to the gym. He’s pretty sure Steve isn’t altogether that sneaky, and would have outright refused to leave if he didn’t want to. Tony’s not going to underestimate him though, not after the spectacle he witnessed in the gym.
“In his quarters, readying for sleep,” Jarvis answers, and Tony feels a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Huh. Seems Bruce was right about one thing, at least.
Steve did listen to him.
“Morning sunshine! You’re looking less like you’re about to knock someone out."
Tony hides his surprise at finding Steve in his workshop well. His steps falter marginally as he spots him sitting at his workbench and holding out a screw which Dummy is reaching for, whirring excitedly, but thankfully his mouth manages to cover the momentary stall.
Steve glances up, and then back in time to see Dummy swipe the screw and dart away, knocking over a sheet of metal with a clatter as he goes. “Morning,” he says, for once not taking Tony’s blathering too seriously. He watches Dummy warily as he deposits the screw on the other bench and turns back to Steve with a chirp. “Your robot won’t leave me alone.”
Tony laughs, a bark of sound that takes him by surprise. “He’s an idiot,” he says dismissively. “To what do I owe this pleasure, Captain?”
Steve shrugs. “Curious,” he says, looking around. “Jarvis told me not to touch anything. Is that a Chituari gun?”
“Erm, no?” Tony winces.
Steve almost looks amused. “I’m not going to tell Fury.”
Breathing out, Tony walks over, hands shoved in his pockets. “Then yes, yes it is. I was hoping to deconstruct it, get a look at how they were storing enough energy to fire off shots like that, but it seems someone smashed most of it.”
Steve knows exactly what he’s talking about, because his mouth twitches. “I’d blame Clint,” he says, and points. “That’s quite clearly an arrow hole.”
“Oh yeah,” Tony snorts. “Next to the huge gouge that looks suspiciously shield-shaped?”
Steve, the fucker, just nods innocently. “Yeah, right next to that.”
Tony feels another laugh welling up, and bites his lip. “Is this banter? Are we doing that now?”
Shrugging, Steve twists around on the chair, looking around some more. His eyes rest on the Mark 12, gleaming and ready to go. “Been out in it yet?”
“Not properly,” Tony says shortly. He stands on the opposite side of the bench to Steve, picking up a stray circuit board and trying to remember why he left it there. See, this is why he doesn’t take breaks from working. He tosses it back onto the bench and gives Steve a quick once over. It’s been a few days since they had their blow-out slash bonding session, and he’d be lying if he said he hasn’t been thinking about how it’d be when they crossed paths again.
“So. Just curious, then? Wanted to see where the magic happens?”
Steve frowns. “That sounds more like a sex joke.”
Tony’s mouth falls open. “Who are you and what have you done with Cap?” he asks, flummoxed and impressed. “First banter, and now sex jokes? That’s not the Cap I know.”
To his dismay, Steve’s expression clouds. “You don’t really know me at all,” he mutters, and gets up. He’s about to step forwards and then stops, exasperated, when Dummy rolls in front of him, grabbing at his shirt with his claw. “Back off,” Steve says, and tries to knock Dummy’s arm away. Tony winces slightly, the memory of the punching bag still fresh in his mind. “What is this? First you won’t let me in, and now you won’t let me out?”
“Steve,” Tony says, slightly disconcerted but not altogether surprised that the conversation and atmosphere have gone sour so quickly. “Steve, whoa, I was kidding. You know, running my mouth? Come on, back to the banter.”
Steve shakes his head, tense and unhappy. “I can never tell with you,” he says, and now he’s trying to pry Dummy’s claw from his shirt without ripping material or bending metal. Tony watches, because now he knows how much control he must be exercising with those fingers. “I can never tell with anyone here. You talk at me like I’m supposed to know when you’re serious and when you’re not, and expect me to not take offense?” He makes an angry noise in his throat, but Dummy doesn’t budge. “I had friends to banter with, and now I’ve got-”
Steve breaks off, breathing heavily. He takes his hands away from Dummy and clenches his fists near his sides. They’re trembling, and Tony hears alarm bells go off in his mind.
“Dummy, let him go,” Tony instructs, and Dummy does, though he clicks and whines unhappily. Steve smooths a hand over the front of shirt and jerks his head in a nod of thanks before pushing past Dummy and Tony towards the door.
Tony calls after him, because he’s an idiot and he can’t help himself. “You should know that I’m never trying to intentionally hurt you. You should trust me.”
Steve pauses in the doorway, doesn’t look around. “Yeah,” he says heavily, like it’s a huge burden on his shoulders. It probably feels that way. “I probably should.”
And then he’s gone, and Tony exhales and looks at Dummy, who whirs and lifts his arm up towards Tony’s face, politely inquisitive. “Two steps forwards and one step back,” he says, though in truth he’s not entirely sure when it became important that they go forwards anyway.
That night, Tony eats dinner – as far as he drinks two cups of coffee, one glass of scotch and wolfs down a carton of takeout that probably should have been thrown in the trash the day before – and then returns to the workshop to find Dummy squealing happily with a note in his claw. Tony manages to get it off him by trading a wrench and a length of copper wire, and he sits down to read it. It’s actually written on paper in pen, so he’s got a fairly good idea of who wrote it before he even gets two words in.
I wasn’t actually angry with you earlier. Couldn’t work that out at the time.- Steve.
“Processed that, J?” Tony murmurs. “What the fuck?”
“I would deduce that Captain Rogers is feeling regret at his earlier behaviour,” Jarvis says. “And he is attempting to apologise.”
“For all the apologising he does, you notice he never actually says sorry?” Tony asks.
“I can only comment that he is certainly capable of saying the word, though he has never said it to you,” Jarvis says, and Tony starts to laugh. He takes the note and clips it to the edge of the monitor next to him; the scrap of paper looks oddly out of place.
“Talk numbers to me,” he says, eyes on the name on the note. “Positive interactions and all that jazz. How are we getting on?”
“I calculate that positive interactions within the tower have gone up by twenty-one percent,” Jarvis says. “Though a large proportion of those interactions are down to Agent Barton.”
“Risk of him jumping off the roof?”
“Lower,” Jarvis says simply.
Tony breathes out, reaches and touches the note with his fingertips. “Progress, right?”
“It would seem so, Sir.”
Tony sees the progress they’ve made in actual real-life form rather than in numbers around a week later. It’s mid-afternoon and the sky is bright and clear and cold, and Tony finds Clint and Steve sittting together in the communal area playing on a games console that Tony is a million percent sure isn’t his. Urgh, there’s something Microsoft plugged into his beautiful, custom-made, plasma screen television; that just screams blasphemy to him.
“What’s going on?” he asks, wandering in then coming to a standstill behind the sofa, hands resting on the back behind Steve’s head where he’s lounging back against the cushions, knees spread lazily wide and controller resting on his abdomen. Tony watches the television in morbid fascination as one of the digital figures shoves what looks like a flagpole through a guard and hefts the poor fucker up above his head, much to Clint’s delight.
“Nice one, Cap,” he says with an almost grin, shifting his weight a little. He’s perched on the back of the sofa with his feet next to Steve’s hip, because he can’t ever sit on furniture like a normal person. “Knew you were – move, move, quick – knew you were secretly bloodthirsty under that all-American exterior.”
“It’s horrendous,” Steve replies, but that doesn’t stop him promptly doing it again to the next guard who runs over.
“What the hell is this?” Tony asks, both horrified and impressed. “Steve, did you just stab that guy?”
“No,” Steve says patiently, his thumbs moving with admirable dexterity over the controller. His brow creases and his hands jerk slightly as he executes a complex take-down. “The character did.”
“Semantics,” Tony says. “Oh god, you totally stabbed him right in the face.”
“It’s not real,” Steve replies, sounding more distracted than angry or irritable. “It’s pretty fun.”
“It’s depressing, is what it is,” Clint says. “That we’ve resorted to letting Captain America kill virtual bad guys because there’s no real bad guys to fight.”
Tony and Steve both snort with laughter, and suddenly it’s like the three of them are actually friends, some bond between them that means they’re more than just housemates. It’s startling but also oddly comfortable, and Tony feels something strangely like relief. Considering he’d been adamant to Pepper that he didn’t want to bond with the Caphawk team, it’s strange that so much tension had dissipated now that it seems it’s happening.
Shaking his head at the violence playing out on the screen, Tony turns away and wanders towards the kitchen, absently wondering what normal people who weren’t trying to bond with superheroes would be doing with their day. He’s itching to ask Jarvis for some numbers, some probabilities and percentages, wondering what the difference would be in the positive interactions between Clint and Steve and him and Steve.
He wrinkles his nose as he makes a beeline for the coffee machine, jabbing the button to turn it on. He can almost hear Peppers scandalised voice telling him that friends aren’t measured in numbers; if Jarvis measured their positive interactions the number would probably be less than one considering all the crap Tony’s put her through over the years. Actually, exasperated would probably fit better than scandalised. Nothing he does really surprises her anymore, just makes her look tired and pinched.
He grabs himself a mug, and is contentedly making his own drink when he hears Clint swear at the screen and Steve reply in a low voice. Tony pauses and then, forcibly resisting the urge to calculate what this will do to the percentages, grabs two more.
The ungrateful fuckers don’t even blink when Tony reappears, setting down two mugs in front of them on the coffee table. He steps back, rolling his eyes and wondering how rude it’d be considered if he actually claimed all three drinks as his own. He retreats to fetch his own drink, contemplates returning to the workshop, and then goes back to the sitting area and collapses into one of the lounge chairs that were ordered when it became clear just how much sofa space Steve and Thor were capable of hogging. Steve and Clint still don’t look up.
“Oh thank you Tony, you’re awesome Tony, check you out for actually doing something for someone else, Tony,” he grumbles, and Clint laughs.
“Dude, it’s coffee.”
“And I’m Tony Stark,” Tony replies defensively, sipping his own drink. “I’m actually being considerate of the potential needs of others. This is a pretty big milestone for me, considerate isn’t an adjective ever found in my personal file.”
“You are considerate,” Steve says absently, and then jerks violently as his character is cut down by a mob wielding swords. “Son of a bitch!”
Tony and Clint both start to laugh, and Steve looks like he’s about to throw the controller. Clint kicks him in the hip, not even noticing as his own avatar meets a similarly grisly end. “We’re not laughing at you.”
Well, they are a bit, and Steve knows it. Tony holds his breath because Steve is still looking disgruntled, and he could all too easily take offense and storm off in a strop. Tony can clearly see his expression from this angle, so is able to witness the exact moment that it relaxes.
“I think I’m maybe taking it too seriously,” he says dryly, dropping the controller onto the cushions and reaching for the mug of coffee. “Thanks, Tony.”
Tony is almost too distracted watching Steve’s shoulders shift as he leans forwards to catch the thanks. Almost. He doesn’t say anything though because then that would make it into a big deal and he honest to god just wanted to make coffee for people like normal friends might do.
“Did you know SHIELD actually recommend that Captain America shouldn’t be exposed to modern video games?” a voice calls out, and all three of them simultaneously turn to see Natasha wander in, Bruce at her side.
“SHIELD can go fuck themselves,” Clint replies cheerfully.
“Seconded,” Steve replies, and picks up his controller again like he’s proving a point. “They can say what they like about Captain America. Steve Rogers is liking the video games.”
“Let me guess, too loud, too raunchy and too violent for his forties sensibilities?” Tony asks scornfully, and Steve looks up at him like he’s a little bit surprised that Tony’s scorn is being employed on his behalf. “What do they know?”
“A lot about some things, little about others,” Natasha replies, and then lifts one eyebrow, just enough. “Have any of you left the building in the past week?”
“I’m not allowed out without a SHIELD escort.”
“All my cool stuff is here. Why would I want to go outside?”
“I’ve got lab work to be doing.”
“I wouldn’t know where to go even if I wanted to.”
Tony watches her look them all over, looking as calm and composed as ever. He knows she’s been doing a lot behind the scenes to try and straighten out the mess of a relationship between the Avengers, the WSC and SHIELD, and he’s grateful. Mostly because he doesn’t want to get involved, however tempting the idea of flipping off the WSC is. He also knows – through a bit of information sourcing that might not be entirely legal – that she’s fighting Clint’s corner tooth and nail. Interestingly, so is Fury.
“Okay,” she says. “Dinner?”
“I could eat,” Steve replies immediately.
“You can always eat,” Tony says dismissively, and Steve’s expression flickers towards defensive before it relaxes. Tony senses that Steve’s actually listened to him – again, wow, that’s twice in a week – and is actually trying to trust that Tony isn’t being cruel to him every time he makes a joke. Honestly, it’s a little painful to watch, seeing how much effort it takes.
“Nah, I’m good,” Clint says, but Steve elbows him in the shin and he winces. “Okay, yes, I’ll eat.”
“I’m glad to see someone else other than me is bullying you into actually looking after yourself,” Natasha says, and Tony raises his eyebrows. Normally Natasha and Clint’s relationship –whatever that mess actually is – is kept very discreet, so to hear her actually say something like that is frankly downright strange. Unable to resist, Tony looks over at Steve and sees that Steve is already looking at him, expression matching Tony’s.
They both simultaneously look away; wouldn’t be smart to let Natasha catch the knowing glances, after all.
“Take out?” Bruce says, like there was any other option. “I’m feeling Indian.”
“Yep,” Steve says, because he’ll eat anything as long as there’s lots of it.
“Pizza?” Clint says hopefully.
“You had pizza for breakfast,” Natasha replies, and seriously, how does she know that because she hasn’t been in the tower for five days.
“Indian,” Tony agrees. “Jarvis-”
The dinner order never materialises. A soft beeping comes from something in Natasha’s pocket at the same time that Jarvis interrupts Tony.
“Apologies, Sir, but there has been an incident that may require the Avengers’ attention.”
The game on the television cuts out, Natasha reaches for whatever she has that is still insistently beeping, and then the television flares back to life in a riot of noise and colour. They all whip around to watch, and it’s so loud it takes Tony a moment to focus and realise what’s happening.
Jarvis is playing a shaky cell-phone clip from a news channel. It’s jerking all over the place as the person holding the phone moves, but then can still see the gaping hole in the sky above some skyscrapers, the rough circle of inky blackness in the otherwise blue sky-
“Son of a fuck,” Clint snarls, and Tony glances over briefly, feeling sick. Natasha is suddenly right behind Clint, her hand tight on his shoulder.
“Please tell me that’s not what I think it is,” Bruce says faintly, and Tony can’t help but stare, his chest feeling too tight. He tries to swallow as they watch a streak of light tear through the portal, and then another and another, like shooting stars falling from another goddamn universe. Screams erupt on the footage, tinny and far too loud, and the camera jerks away for agonizing seconds and then swings back just in time to see the portal shrinking, twisting in on itself before vanishing. There’s a dull roaring in his ears like he’s underwater, and he can feel his heart pounding and the sensation of all that nothingness around him comes back, the memory overwhelming and terrifying-
A loud crack brings Tony back to the moment, and Steve is swearing and dropping the broken remains of the controller to the floor. He stands up, his jaw clenched and his shoulders tight, and Tony instantly recognises that he’s going straight into Captain America mode.
“Jarvis, where is this?” Tony asks, and he knows that it isn’t above their heads this time, that wasn’t his tower on the footage, but still-
“London, England,” Jarvis says calmly.
“We need to get to SHIELD,” Natasha says, looking at her phone. Clint goes to stand, but she shoves him back down with the hand that’s on his shoulder. “Not you.”
“Fuck off,” Clint snaps, trying to twist out from under her grip. “Don’t you dare leave me behind.”
Clint shoves her hand off his shoulder and climbs off the sofa to stand next to the coffee table, and Tony thinks he really must be losing the plot if he dares to push Natasha about. “Not when there’s a goddamn alien invasion happening again, I’m not!”
Natasha shakes her head, one short, sharp movement. “We don’t know what’s happening.”
“Look at that!” Clint bellows, gesturing wildly at the screen where the clip is playing again. “What the fuck else is that?!”
Tony can’t watch any longer. His heart is hammering double time and the arc-reactor sits heavy in his chest. He feels too warm and the sight of that god-damn portal is still making him feel hot and clammy and nauseous. He tries to wrestle the feeling back into place, clenching his left hand into a fist.
Thankfully, Cap takes charge. “Clint, put your shoes on. Natasha, I’m naming you his official SHIELD escort, right? That’s his conditions, we’re not breaking them.”
Natasha nods curtly, agreeing.
“Tony, get Jarvis to open the garage up. I’ll drive one car, Natasha, you take another. Get on channel two, I’ll do the same, as long as we’ve got one com per car we’re fine. Call Fury, tell him we’re making our own way there. Bruce, are you okay to go? We might need you.”
Bruce nods. He looks shaken but not green, and as soon as Cap nods he’s dashing away to find shoes and get to the garage.
“Am I suiting up?” Tony asks.
“No,” Cap replies immediately. “Information first, suits later.”
“Tony,” Steve says, unwavering. “Trust me. Information first, suits later.”
Tony looks back at him, right into those blue eyes that are suddenly full of life and purpose, and he breathes out slowly between his teeth. “Okay,” he finds himself saying, not quite believing that he’s trusting someone else to make the call, hating how unnatural it feels. “Your call. Fine.”
Steve nods, and then they’re moving, running to the elevators and not looking back.
Finally, a small traitorous part of Tony’s brain thinks as he stands by Steve’s side in the elevator, so close their shoulders are brushing. Something for us superheroes to actually do.