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When the team was called to stop a villain from summoning the spirits of the dead, Steve had expected someone dressed like Loki, with a cape and a scepter. But of course, they hadn't been fighting any grand villains in months. It was mostly small scuffles with minor villains like Mystery Man, whose only power was the ability to transform into origami shapes and give everyone nearby paper cuts.

So, Steve was only disappointed when the latest villain turned out to be a dark-skinned man wrapped in cheetah-print bath towels and Mardi Gras beads. Not that he wanted another New York incident. It just seemed unfair to send the entire team against a man who looked like he could be defeated with a nice hot meal and a new pair of clothes.

“Wow,” Tony said. “We're getting calls to take care of hobos now.”

“You dare mistake me for a hobo,” the man snarled. He jumped up onto a tombstone and spread his arms wide. “The voodoo spirits shall grant me the power to raise the dead from the graves. My zombie army shall crush you for your insolence and you will know the name of Spiritfather.”

Tony fired a repulsor blast towards him, but the Spiritfather backflipped off the tombstone and scurried further into the cemetery. Tony heaved a sigh and flew after him.

“Spiritfather,” Clint said. He slumped against one of the tombstones.“He's ripping off Godfather, isn't he?”

“What? He ripped off your godfather?” Steve's eyes narrowed. He had a special hatred for anyone who stole from the elderly.

“No, not my godfather. The Godfather.”

Natasha spared Steve a quick glance as she slid a clip of ammo into her gun. “It's a movie.”

“Never seen it.”

“Jesus, Tony. Are you trying to keep your boyfriend under a rock? How has he not seen that one yet?”

“Speaking of rocks, this idiot just chucked a rock at me. Dude, just give up. You throw rocks, I shoot lasers. Aaaand, he's off again. Hey, Hulk, you want to grab one of these hideous statues and whale on this guy for me? I'm already sick of his voice and Cap needs to see the Godfather ASAP.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “No, Hulk. Don't listen to Tony. We are not desecrating graves for a movie.”

“Hulk no like Tony's idea. Tony get Hulk in trouble.”

“Fine, fine. We'll do it Cap's way. Hawk, you in position?”

“On my way.” Clint ran across the top of the wrought-iron fence.

The Spiritfather appeared on the roof of the mausoleum, brandishing a stick. “Fools!” he shouted. “Even you will fall under my command.” He pointed the stick in Steve's direction and shouted something that sounded like gibberish.

Steve put up his shield and braced himself for some sort of magic attack.

Nothing happened.

Steve slowly lowered his shield. The Spiritfather was still standing there with his stick outstretched, frowning with concentration.

“Well, well, well. Our big bad voodoo master has proven himself useless once again.” Tony swooped in and the Spiritfather hurtled off the mausoleum into a tree, barely missing Hulk's outstretched arm.

“Don't you dare make a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy joke,” Clint warned.

“Big Bad Voodoo Daddy? Never heard of him. But I bet he's a better villain than this guy.”

“Seriously? You and Steve listen to swing music all the time. I've heard Glenn Miller coming out of your workshop. Steve, you've heard of them, right?”

“The only thing I can hear is you and Tony chatting over the comm. Can it. I want this mission wrapped up in time for dinner.”

Listening to Clint and Tony argue was beginning to give Steve a headache. He longed for a relaxing evening back in the Tower. Movie nights were nice quiet affairs when everyone curled up on the couch together with good food and a glass of wine. It was one of the few moments when Clint and Tony shut up and stopped bickering.

“What are we having? Thai? Italian?”

“It's Bruce's turn to pick,” Natasha reminded them.

“Hey, Hulk, you want to try Chinese?”

“Hulk no like spicy food.”

“It's not going to be spicy. I promise.”

“Give it a rest, Stark. You know Bruce always picks Indian on his Friday.”

“Guys. Focus. I mean it.”

“I'm trying,” Tony protested. “My god, this guy is like a frog. He keeps dodging me. Clint, would you shoot him already? If anyone ever deserved to actually take an arrow to the knee-”

“It would be you,” Clint said dryly. “But I'll aim for the Spiritfather this time.”

The Spiritfather popped up from the tombstones to glare in Tony's direction. “You dare to joke in my presence?”

“Yeah,” Tony said. “Because you're a joke. You have no magical powers. Your voice is irritating and you talk like a Shakespeare school reject, but you can hardly annoy people to death, can you? Plus, even a hobo would be ashamed to be seen in that outfit.”

“Mark my words, Stark,” the Spiritfather proclaimed. “One day soon you shall witness my true power. You will tremble in fear and beg for death before the day is through.” He thumped his stick against the tombstone and then vaulted over the cemetery's fence.

Steve frowned. “I don't like the sound of that.”

Tony waved a hand dismissively. “Typical evil villain retreat speech. He's going to spend a bunch of time plotting revenge and then we're just going to kick his ass again.”

“Tony, he does voodoo. He's the last person you want taking revenge on you.”

“But he doesn't have any powers. He can burn all the effigies of me that he wants and it won't change a damn thing.”

“Uhh, I wouldn't be too sure of that.” Clint stood atop the fence, staring at the spot where the Spiritfather had made his exit. “He kind of vanished.”

“You lost him, you mean.”

“No. I mean he vanished. Disappeared. Poof, gone. So, I think he might have powers after all.”

Tony groaned. “You guys worry way too much. I'll be fine. Let's go home and watch our movie and forget about this whole mess.”

 

Back at the Tower, Tony made a beeline for the flatscreen TV. “So, we have all three Godfather movies. But really, all that matters is that Steve sees the first one.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “The Godfather? Wasn't it my turn to pick the movie?”

Tony winced. “Uh, we discussed it with the Hulk.” He chewed his bottom lip. “Sorry. But at least you still get to pick dinner. Curry, right?”

“Actually, I was thinking Chinese. I've still got half a canister of the oolong tea Clint gave me for Christmas and I was hoping some of you might like to share it with me.”

“That's very kind of you,” Steve said appreciatively. He glanced at Tony, who was already on the phone with the Chinese place down the street, placing everyone's usual orders.

Bruce shrugged. “It's a shame to let good tea go to waste.”

Steve clapped a hand to Bruce's shoulder. “And thank you for humoring Tony. He gets obsessed with all these movies and he forgets we don't all have the same tastes.”

“Oh, I don't mind. The Godfather is a classic movie. It's number two on the Film Institute's list of most influential movies.”

“Oh,” Steve said.

Bruce smiled. “So, no, it's not one of those weird horror movies that Tony likes.”

“Hey, I heard that.” Tony glared at them, his hand over the mouthpiece. “Do you mind? I'm in the middle of-yes, Christi, that'll be all. No, I didn't forget Thor's beef and broccoli. He's visiting relatives this week. Yep, sounds good. I'll be right over.”

Tony hung up with a heavy sigh. “God, you guys are expensive. Someone tell me why I haven't programmed one of the bots to cook for us.”

“Because of the Flying Spaghetti Monster incident?” Clint offered.

Steve made a face. The kitchen had looked like a crime scene for a week after that incident. The bot had gotten splatters of tomato sauce all over everything. And then Thor had mistaken the giant clump of noodles (that had somehow ended on top of the fridge) for some sort of monster and had destroyed half of the kitchen equipment trying to kill it.

“Right,” Tony said. “This is much cheaper than replacing all my appliances every week. Complaint redacted.” He snatched up one of the car keys from the bowl on the counter and headed for the garage.

In Tony's absence, the rest of the team started setting up for the movie night. Clint scrolled through the settings on the TV remote, Bruce put on hot water for the tea, and Natasha set out the plates. By the time Tony walked back in with the large sack of take-out, everyone was in their favorite movie watching spots.

“I like this,” Tony said. “You guys are so efficient.”

“Only when you're not here,” Clint said from his perch on the back of the couch.

“Maybe you shouldn't be biting the hand that feeds you.” Tony dumped the sack next to the teapot on the coffee table and stood back as Natasha started rifling through it for her carton of mushroom chicken.

“Clint,” she called, tossing the archer his box of noodles. “Bruce.”

“Ah, no. Don't throw mine. I'll come get it.”

Tony settled into the empty spot on the couch and nuzzled into Steve's side. “We'll wait until the vultures get through.”

Steve smiled and draped an arm around Tony's shoulders. “You're just as bad as they are. I thought you were going to tackle me the last time I brought back pizza.”

“I'm allowed to tackle you. What kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn't?”

Natasha sighed and pushed the bag in Tony's direction. “The rest is yours. Now please shut up so we can watch the movie.”

“Wait. I don't have a drink yet.”

“There's plenty of tea in the pot,” Bruce said. “Just pour yourself a cup.”

“No, when I say drink, I mean alcohol.” Tony slid out from under Steve's arm and darted into the kitchen.

Steve sighed and slumped down into his seat. Forget the marathon. At this rate, they were lucky to get through the first movie by midnight.

There was a loud crash from the kitchen and Steve jolted back upright. “Tony, are you okay?”

Tony stared down at shattered glass tumbler at his feet.“Uh, I didn't mean to do that.”

Clint snorted. “Didn't mean to make a mess or didn't mean to waste your precious whiskey?”

“Shut up, Barton.” Tony shook his hand and flexed his fingers. “It was just some weird muscle spasm.”

“It's probably a sign you've been spending too much time in the lab,” Steve said.

Tony rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. You always say that. If I so much as sneeze, it's because I'm working too hard. But might I remind you, I haven't even been in the lab today. So my hands are just being bad. Bad hands, bad, bad.” Tony slapped at his face. “Ow. What the hell? Hey, stop that.”

Natasha sighed and shook her head. “Very funny, Stark. Sit down so we can start the movie.”

“This isn't me, guys,” Tony said. “Seriously.”

“Oh, of course not. Your hands just have a mind of their own.”

“Exactly!”

Clint snickered. “Nice try, but April Fool's Day is two months away.”

“This isn't a joke, this is-oh god.” Tony's hands balled into fists and he started punching himself in the face.

“Cut it out, Tony. This isn't funny anymore.”

“I can't.”

Clint hopped off the couch and made a grab for Tony's arms. Tony swung at him and then shoved him hard enough to send him flying back against the couch.

Tony's eyes went wide. “That wasn't me, Clint. I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't-” He winced as he punched himself in the jaw.

Steve twisted Tony's hands behind his back and held on tightly as Tony struggled to free his arms. “Tony, stop. Stop fighting me.”

“I would if I could. But I can't control my own body. It's like I'm possessed by evil spirits or something.”

“Or maybe voodoo spirits,” Natasha said.

Tony groaned. “Oh, I am screwed.”

“Yes you are.”

Tony rolled his eyes upward. “Okay, Spiritfather. I learned my lesson. You obviously have powers. Can I stop hitting myself now?”

After a moment, Tony stopped squirming and he relaxed into Steve's arms. “Thank god. Man, that was hell for a minute. That was-”

“Tony?” Steve asked cautiously. The smaller man had suddenly stiffened in his arms.

“Don't let go,” Tony whispered. “It's starting again.”

Steve tightened his grip on Tony's wrists as Tony started struggling with renewed fervor. It was worse when Tony started kicking. First, frantic little kicks to try and break free and then harder kicks aimed for his kneecaps, his groin, his stomach. Kicks meant to cause pain. Tony apologized after every one, but between Steve's serum-enhanced body and Tony's lack of combat training, the blows didn't land as hard as the Spiritfather probably intended.

And then Tony started on the snap kicks. Being a few inches shorter than Steve, Tony couldn't exactly kick him in the face, but being kicked in the neck was unpleasant enough. So when Tony brought up his leg again, Steve sidestepped out of range.

Except Tony's leg continued upward and arched backward over his shoulder.

There was an audible crack as his leg bent back. Tony cried out and slumped forward. Steve let go of him and Tony curled into a ball, clutching at his leg.

“Oh god,” Bruce said. “I can see the bone sticking out of his skin.”

Steve felt sick. “I'll call a medic.”

“No!” Tony said. “Don't leave me. No matter what happens, don't leave. Imagine if I get into one of my suits. Jarvis, lock me out for the next few hours, okay?”

“Will do, sir.”

“And don't let me tell you otherwise. I don't know if he's going to start forcing me to say stuff next” Tony shuddered. “Oh god, what if he makes me start saying hateful things to you?”

Steve cradled Tony against his chest. “It's okay. We'll know it isn't you.”

Tony grimaced and dropped his head down against the floor. “Oh god, it hurts. It hurts so fucking bad.”

“It's not much, but we've got some extra-strength Tylenol,” Bruce said.

“It's better than nothing. Gimme.” Tony held out his hand for the cup of water and the capsules of Tylenol. His hand had barely closed around the water glass when one of his fingers bent back with a snap.

Tony jerked back and the glass slipped from his hand. “Oh god, no. Not again, not again,” Tony whimpered. A second finger snapped.

Natasha knelt at Tony's side and curled her hand over his. “This ends here,” she said.

“Right.” Clint took Tony's other arm and pressed it flat against the ground. “If he wants to hurt you again, he has to go through us.”

Steve pressed his body over Tony's. He felt reasonably certain that Tony wouldn't be able to dislodge him, no matter how much he moved.“I've got him,” he said. “The rest of you go after the Spiritfather.”

“Right,” Natasha said. She tapped the comm. “We'll keep in contact.”

--------

Steve stared down into Tony's eyes. He had been this close to Tony before. Plenty of times. Ever since he had told Tony that staring into each other's eyes was part of romance. And Tony being Tony had insisted on practically pressing their faces together and giving him a wild-eyed stare that was both creepy and absolutely hilarious from two inches away.

And now Tony's eyes were wide with fear and pain. Steve ached to do something to ease his pain. But all he could do now was hold him down and wait. It had to hurt to have so much pressure on a broken leg, but if he let go, the Spiritfather would only hurt Tony more. He could feel Tony twitching beneath him, desperately fighting off an attempt to break another limb.

“This is the worst,” Tony said quietly. “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. The pain is bad enough, but knowing that my own body has turned against me...”

“Shh,” Steve said. “They'll find him.”

“It could take days. It could take weeks.” Tony's voice rose with an edge of panic.

Steve pressed his forehead against Tony's. “Take a deep breath. We're a team and he's one man. We can take turns with you, as long as it takes. We're not going to abandon you.”

Tony heaved a shaky sigh. “Yeah, you're right. There are moments when I almost feel like myself again, when I stop trying to put my fist through your face. And I tell myself maybe, maybe I'm strong enough to fight this off. I can remind myself that I love you and I don't want to hurt you and that should be enough to keep me from trying to hit you. But it isn't. It kills me that it isn't.”

A single tear rolled down Tony's cheek.

“Don't do this to yourself. Please.” He caressed Tony's cheek with his thumb.

Tony flinched.. “No, Steve, don't. Don't let go.”

“Sorry,” Steve said. He returned his hand to Tony's wrist.

Tony shifted. “But you don't have to hold on quite so hard.”

Steve loosened his grip just a little. “Better?”

Tony gritted his teeth. “Worse. Jesus Christ, Steve. You need to cut your nails.”

“I'm not even-”

“Someone is,” Tony gasped out.

Steve stared in horror as Tony's blood spurted up between his fingers. He shifted his palms to put pressure on the wound, but more cuts appeared further up Tony's arms. There were deep gashes along his forearm and across his shoulders. There was no way he could stop all the bleeding on his own. He ripped off scraps of his t-shirt and wrapped them over the cuts as best he could. He wished he could get Tony to a hospital. He wasn't a doctor and he was already feeling overwhelmed and inadequate trying to take care of Tony's injuries.

“Don't give me that face. I'm not dying.”

“Not if I can help it.” Steve pulled the cloth tighter.

“He missed the major arteries,” Tony said. “I'm not actually going to bleed to death, you know.”

“I know.”

Still, it was awful seeing the blood smeared across Tony's arms. He gingerly wrapped his hand around the part that looked unhurt, although it was hard to find anywhere Tony didn't seem to be wounded. God, there was a lot of blood.

Tony winced. “And now he's going for the chest. Ow. Owowowow.”

Steve tore off another strip of cloth with his teeth. “Where?”

Tony pushed against him.“Just let me up.”

“Tony, you're not yourself right now. You're still-”

“No, Steve, this is me. This is me fighting you. I have to check the reactor.”

Steve hesitated. Tony had told him not to let go under any circumstances. So this was probably a trick. The second he let go, Tony would probably wrench his shoulder out of its socket or something like that.
But if it wasn't a trick, if Tony's arc reactor was really acting up and he didn't let him fix it, Tony was going to go into cardiac arrest.

“Steven Grant Rogers, if you don't let me up right now I'm going to leave you for Loki.”

Steve let him up.

Tony rubbed his wrists and shot Steve a sidelong look. “I didn't think that threat would really work.”

“It didn't. But I know only you would say something like that.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Tony lifted his shirt and stared at the angry red lines across his chest. They looked more like cat scratches than the deep cuts on his arm, which was a relief. They weren't nearly deep enough to claw out the reactor or do more than superficial damage to it.

Tony let his shirt fall back down. With a heavy sigh, he lowered himself back to the ground. “You may now return to your post, Captain.”

“I want to take a look at your leg first.”

Tony groaned. “If you must.”

Steve gingerly touched his thumb to Tony's shin. The skin around the broken bone was swollen. “This is going to get infected,” he said.

“Nah,” Tony said. “I've had broken bones before. None this bad, mind you. But really, they heal on their own once you get the bone back into position.” He eyed Steve contemplatively. “You could probably do that much.”

“No, Tony. I am not messing with your leg. The doctor needs to do it.”

“I'm not asking you to make a cast for me. Just pop it back into place and keep it steady. Shouldn't be too hard.”

Steve prodded the injured leg.

Tony yelped and clutched Steve's shoulders.“No, I changed my mind. Better let the doctors handle it.”

“That's what I thought.”

Tony huffed. “So we can't all be as tough as you are.”

Steve cupped Tony's face in his hands. “Nobody's saying you aren't tough. This is torture and you're handling it so well.”

Tony avoided his eyes. “If I hadn't opened my stupid mouth, I wouldn't have to-”

“You don't deserve this,” Steve said. “Nobody deserves to be tortured like this. You talk smack about his costume and he decides to make you hurt yourself and the people you love. He's a sick son of a bitch.”

Tony stared at Steve for a long moment. “I love when you get mad enough to curse. Especially when it's on my behalf. I love you, you know?”

“I know.” Steve kissed Tony's forehead. “And I love you, too.”

Tony sighed and shifted. “This shit is wearing me out. Time for a nap.”

“A nap? How can you possibly sleep like this?”

Was Tony going into shock? Should he try and keep him awake?

“It's going to be a long night,” Tony said. “Might as well rest while I have the chance. Not that I'm probably going to have much of a chance. I'll probably wake up with my head in the blender.”

“I'll watch over you,” Steve said. The adrenaline rush had worn off and he was tired too. But he could stay awake all night if he had to. If it was for Tony.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The comm crackled to life early the next morning. “Widow reporting in.”

“Any news?” Steve asked with a sigh. He was tired. So, so tired. And one look at Tony told him that he was just as exhausted.

Tony hadn't been able to get much sleep with all the nightmares and the pain waking him up every few hours. And even when he did manage to nod off for a bit, he was still fighting Steve in his sleep. It was depressing. Even more depressing now that bruises had shown up all across Tony's face.

“We've got a visual,” Natasha said.

Steve perked up. “Where?”

“Central Park. There's a pretty big group of people gathered around a bonfire. I think they're all under his control.”

“Be careful,” Steve said. “Don't hurt the civilians.”

“Try telling them that,” Clint said. “This lady just threw a stiletto at my head.”

“Ignore them. Just take out the Spiritfather.”

“He's got a wooden doll,” Natasha reported. “Painted red and gold just like Iron Man.”

“And he just threw it into the fire.”

“Steve!” Tony shrieked. He flailed wildly.“Put it out, put it out.”

Steve frantically patted down Tony's body in a vain attempt to put out the phantom flames. Tony's skin was hot to the touch and his clothes were blackening and flaking into ash. He could smell the smoke and the charred flesh, but he couldn't see the flames, just the destructive results.

“Get the doll,” Steve shouted into the comm. “That's your first priority.”

“On it,” Clint said.

Tony yelped and jerked to the side. “Fuck, Barton. Did you really have to kick it that hard?”

“Well, you're not on fire anymore, are you?”

“I think I broke a rib,” Tony moaned.

Steve sighed and rubbed Tony's side. “He didn't do it on purpose.” With any luck, Clint had kicked hard enough that the little Tony doll was far, far away from the fire now.

“This is insane,” Clint said. “Where did all these people come from? I swear this crowd keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

“He's acquiring human shields. Clint, can you get to a higher vantage point? Maybe you can shoot above the crowd.”

“It's a park,” Clint said. “There aren't a lot of-oh, statue. I'm on it, Cap.”

“Do we have custody of the doll now?”

“No,” Natasha said. “But the good news is that the Spiritfather doesn't have it either.”

Tony's eyes widened and he clutched Steve's shoulders.

“Tony? What is it? What's happening?”

Tony just shook his head and gestured frantically.

“Calm down. Just tell me what's wrong.” He put a hand on Tony's arm and drew it back, startled by how damp Tony's sleeve felt.

Tony looked at him pleadingly, droplets of water trickling down his face.

“Look for water. Tony's drowning. Do you hear me? Tony's drowning!”

There wasn't much time. Tony could only hold his breath for so long. His face was already turning blue and his limbs were twitching uncontrollably.

“Just a little longer, Tony,” Steve said. “They'll find the doll. I know they will.”

Tony shook his head. He reached up with a trembling hand to caress Steve's cheek.

Steve watched helplessly as the terror in Tony's eyes faded into into a vacant, unfocused stare. Tony's head lolled to one side and his eyes slid shut.

“Tony, no. Stay with me.” Steve grasped Tony's face in his hands, stroking the wet hair plastered to his temples. “Don't do this to me, Tony. Don't give up.”

Tony made a faint gurgling sound and then his body went still.

Steve jammed his fist into his mouth to muffle his sobs. This wasn't happening. They had gone through so much together, fighting terrorists, aliens, superpowered villains. Tony always had his back no matter what, and now when Tony needed him most, Steve couldn't do a thing to save him.

“Clint's got the doll,” Natasha said. “You can start CPR now.”

Steve's eyes widened. He knew how to do CPR. He could still save Tony.

He started chest compressions and then tilted Tony's head back to breathe into his mouth.

A little bit of water trickled out of Tony's mouth, but he still wasn't moving.

“Come on, Tony. Breathe.” Steve did another round of chest compressions and mouth to mouth.

Tony's eyes flew open and he coughed up a mouthful of water and mud. And kept coughing until he was dry heaving.

Steve breathed a sigh of relief and sank back on his heels. Tony was in terrible shape. But he was alive, at least.

Tony wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.“Is it over?” he asked weakly.

“Yes,” Steve said. “He's not going to hurt you anymore.”

“Thank god.” Tony closed his eyes and heaved a sigh. “Now I really need a drink.”

“We're taking you to the med bay first.”

“Sounds good,” Tony said. “Make sure they give me the good drugs.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Steve pressed his face against the glass and stared into Tony's hospital room. It had taken sixteen hours of surgery, but Tony was finally in the recovery room and ready to accept visitors. But Steve couldn't make himself step inside the room. Seeing Tony swathed in bandages and hooked up to all those strange devices made him want to run in the other direction. He understood a little better why Tony hated hospitals.

Coulson moved to stand next to him, flipping through a file. “Multiple fractured ribs, two phalangeal fractures, a compound tibia fracture, second degree burns-”

Steve flinched. “I don't want to hear it.”

Coulson tucked the file under his arm. “It could have been worse.”

“It could have been better.” Steve sighed. “I was right there with him the whole time and I couldn't stop these things from happening.”

Coulson put a hand on his shoulder. “All you needed to do was keep him alive. You did your part perfectly. So did the team. And so did Mr. Stark. A successful mission all around.”

“I should have-”

Coulson shook his head. “If Mr. Stark hadn't caught his attention, the Spiritfather might have had time to make dolls for all of you. And imagine where we'd be then.”

Steve shuddered. What if they had been forced to attack each other? Or worse, attack the city?

“So, now that we have out of the way, what's stopping you?”

Steve swallowed. “He's going to hate me.” He could clearly hear Tony screaming his name, begging him for help. And he couldn't do a damn thing.

Coulson's face took on a pinched look. “I can't believe I'm going to lose my bet.”

“What bet?”

“Agent Hill was certain you would be the last person at his bedside. In fact, would probably be too cowardly to visit him at all.”

“I'm not a coward,” Steve protested. “It's-well, I'm not sure what it is, but it's not cowardice.”

“Good. Then you have no excuse for not being at your boyfriend's bedside.” Coulson nudged him towards the door. “He's been asking for you, you know.”

Asking for him? Steve swallowed and tentatively opened the door.

“Steve,” Tony greeted him exuberantly, waving one heavily bandaged arm in the air. “Thanks for putting in a good word for me. These drugs are fantastic.”

Steve sank down into the chair beside the bed. “I didn't do a thing, Tony,” he said. “It was probably Coulson.”

“And he did it because you love me. So, thanks for that.”

“Tony, I-”

“Can we save the serious stuff for later? I don't think I can stand to have you yell at me right now. I just want to enjoy all these painkillers while it lasts.”

Steve's brow furrowed. “Yell at you? Why would I do that?”

“You know, about keeping my mouth shut, not antagonizing the bad guy, not putting myself in danger. All that good stuff.”

Steve took Tony's hand and squeezed gently. “I hate to see you hurt,” he said. “But you did good this time. Because you got hurt, no one else had to.”

“These drugs must be better than I thought. Because I am definitely hallucinating.”

Steve sighed. “Tony, listen to me, please. I'm sorry-”

The door banged open and Natasha strode in, with an Iron Man plushie tucked under her arm. “We got here as soon as we could,” she said. She stroked his forehead and murmured Russian endearments.

Tony rolled his head to the side and peered up at Steve. “She's being nice to me. Am I in an alternate universe?”

“We were worried, you ass,” she said. She looked like she wanted to sock him in the arm and then thought better of it. In a lower tone, she continued, “Most people break under torture. Their minds end up permanently damaged even if their bodies heal. And since you've been-”

“Tortured in the past, it should have brought back flashbacks. Yeah, I know. But I'm fine. Steve was with me the whole time.” Tony flashed Steve a bright smile. “It's hard to break a man's spirit when he's got his favorite person in the entire world at his side.”

Steve shifted uncomfortably, avoiding the intensity in Tony's eyes. But then his gaze fell on Natasha who was looking at him with a knowing gleam in her eyes and he couldn't stand to look at her either.

He cleared his throat and looked at the floor. “So, uh, you said we?”

There was a definite smile in her words. “They're on their way.”

And sure enough, Steve could hear raised voices down the hall.

Clint burst in with a huge bouquet of brightly colored balloons. Bruce followed after with an armful of stuffed animals.

“Hey, buddy!” Clint said. “How's the, uh, everything?”

Tony wrinkled his nose. “As well as could be expected.”

“Hey, don't be like that. We brought you stuff. Lots of stuff. We know how getting presents gives you the warm fuzzies.”

Bruce let out a long-suffering sigh and shifted his grip on the plushies. “I don't think this is all necessary, but Clint insisted.”

“It's totally necessary,” Clint protested. “Tony was almost killed yesterday and he needs to know we care.”

“Or you can be like Cap and just tell me how I saved the day. That gives me the warm fuzzies too.”

Clint pushed the balloons to the side and frowned at Steve. “Aw, Cap beat us here,” he said. “I didn't think he'd come out of hiding for another hour.”

Steve crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes. “So you think I'm a coward too.”

“That's not-I would never say that. Never even think it. Right, Nat?” Clint shot her a pleading look.

Natasha touched Steve's arm. “Ignore him. He's an idiot. What he means is that you usually take it very hard when things go wrong on a mission.”

“Or he yells at Tony.”

“Not that he doesn't deserve it most of the time,” Bruce muttered.

“Hey!”

Natasha squeezed his shoulder. “Don't take everything so personally. We're a team, remember? You don't need to be carrying all the weight on your own shoulders.”

“Touching,” Tony said dryly. “Of course you would all use visiting me in the hospital as an excuse for some lame teambuilding thing. Go take the kumbayas elsewhere. I don't want to hear it.”

“I think the drugs are wearing off,” Clint said in a stage whisper.

“I heard that, Barton.”

“Yeah, you were meant to.”

“Jesus Christ, you guys. I'm wounded, remember? Can I get a little respect?”

“It's not all about you, Tony,” Natasha hissed. “There's a lot more to torture than breaking a man's body.” She leaned in closer to Tony. “You can also break his family.”

Tony swallowed. “Family, huh?” He offered up a weak smile. “I guess I've always taken it for granted. Pepper's been the only family I've ever had for the longest time.”

Steve stroked his forehead. “We'll get her in to visit you as soon as she gets back from Japan.”

Tony chuckled and rolled his eyes. “Oh, I doubt you could keep her away. She's the worst mother hen in the world. What I want to know is what happened to Thor. He better sneak in some goodies for me. The rest of you completely failed me on that one.”

“Our friend is alive and well!” Thor boomed from the doorway, with his arms spread wide. “This is a joyous occasion for a group hug.”

“Don't you dare,” Tony said, scooting back on the bed. “If you hug me, your toaster is going to mysteriously vanish for a month.”

Thor hesitated for a moment and then dropped his hands to his side.

“Good man,” Tony said.

“I have heard of the injuries you sustained in your struggle,” Thor said in a more subdued tone. “I am glad to see you are well.”

“Well wishes accepted, big guy.”

“My brother was also dismayed to hear that you were wounded. He asked me to give you this gift to express his condolences.” Thor pulled out a small wooden carving from his pouch and held it out in his palm.

“What is that supposed to be, exactly?” Tony asked.

Thor frowned. “I'm not sure. But it is quite an interesting object. I had no idea Loki was so skilled in crafting.”

Natasha slipped it into her belt. “Probably nothing, but we better run some tests just to be sure.”

Tony grinned. “I feel pretty special. How many of us get 'get well soon' gifts from supervillains? I don't even care if it's a bomb in disguise. That little scamp still thought about me. I'm touched.”

“And rightly so,” Thor said. “Our renown as men of courage has spread throughout the lands. Even our foes have learned to show us respect.”

“This is probably the wrong time to mention I owe Coulson money now,” Clint said.

Tony snorted as Natasha socked him in the arm.

Steve smiled. They were like one big dysfunctional family. It was better than he could ever have hoped for.