Tony feels something in his chest swell and contract, pinching behind the arc reactor as he watches Steve crack a smile around a spoonful of home-made ice cream Bruce just scooped out of the churner not five minutes ago. The laugh lines around his eyes are strained, because, ha, who knew, but compound fractures hurt a fuck-of-a-lot all on their own, and the surgery to repair one sans-anesthesia? Mind-blowingly worse.
It had taken Tony, in the suit, and Thor both to hold him down while the doctors worked. Tony's still not sure if it was worse watching him when he was trying to keep from screaming or when he finally couldn't bite them back anymore.
He's still a little red and puffy around the eyes and nose and he's—Tony frowns. He tilts his head, watching as Steve says something—his voice is totally wrecked—fingers toying with a napkin he's got three cookies stacked on. It takes about a minute, but they wind up folded into a little bundle, which he taps against the table a few times, and then, so casually Tony's not even sure he realizes he's doing it, he slips the whole bundle into his sling.
Then he looks up and catches Tony's eye and Tony sits back sharply. Steve stares back at him, wide-eyed, his hand clenching inside the sling and presumably he feels the cookies crumble in his grip because he looks down, surprise written across his features.
Which swiftly turn pink when he draws his hand out and finds the little bundle.
“Oh, damn,” he says, looking miserable and Tony blinks.
He has no idea what the hell is going on.
“Hey,” he tries, awkwardly, “if you wanna save some for later that's your prerogative, but you can just take the box. You're gonna get crumbs in your cast.”
“I'm sorry,” Steve says and Tony feels a jolt of icy fear go through him because Steve's eyes have rolled toward the ceiling and they're looking suspiciously wet.
“Hey, relax, Cap,” Clint murmurs, casual as can be. He pats Steve's shoulder and wraps up another little bundle of cookies. Meanwhile, Natasha unhooks his sling and brushes out the crumbs from the destroyed cookies before refastening it neatly in place.
Steve's breath catches and he turns red eyes reluctantly to Tony. “I'm sorry, I don't do it because you're not hospitable enough, Tony.”
Tony brushes that off with a scoff. “I am a flawless host, thank you very much, I don't need your reassurance. And anyway, I'm not your host anymore, I'm your roommate, so if you're not eating enough it's on you, big guy.”
Oh, god, he's still trying to explain.
“It's a defense mechanism,” Clint cuts in, breezily. “They call it food hoarding. Natasha and me do it sometimes, too. Kicks up when you're feeling vulnerable if you ever went through a period when you were a kid where you didn't know where your next meal was coming from.” He shrugs. “I've got a stash in the vents, which I will for obvious reasons not disclose the location of, but it's not a weird thing, Cap. Especially not for you. You grew up poor in the Depression. You were like, guaranteed to be a food hoarder.”
“It's not your fault, and it's nothing to be ashamed of,” Bruce adds, voice gentle.
Steve scrubs at his nose and tries to wipe away a tear that escapes by disguising it as an arm movement. “They put a name to it?”
“Sure did,” Clint says.
“I don't even know I'm doing it sometimes,” Steve says miserably.
“Hush,” Thor says and curls one big hand around the back of Steve's neck. “No one here thinks less of you for this.”
“Sorry, I just— Sorry.”
“Stop saying you're sorry,” Tony says sharply and then winces. And winces again when he catches Natasha's glare. “I mean. Say what you want. Do whatever you want. Take all the food, it's fine. I can buy more. JARVIS will buy you whatever you want.”
“You shouldn't—” Steve starts.
“It's about reassurance, isn't it?” Tony demands. “It makes you feel safe to know that food is there later?”
Steve swallows, his throat working. “Yeah,” he finally whispers.
“Then buy whatever it takes to make you feel safe,” Tony says. “That goes for all of you. I don't care what it is. Buy it. Put it wherever you need to put it to feel okay, got it?”
“That is generous of you, Tony,” Thor says, voice warm.
“No,” Tony says obstinately, “no, it's not. It's the least you all deserve, dammit.”
Steve smiles and it's a little tremulous, his eyes are red again, but hey, a smile's a smile. He takes the little bundle of cookies Clint wrapped up for him and tucks them carefully into his sling.
Tony sits back and looks around at all of them. “So who wants a rum float?”