Tony wasn't sure when the last time he'd slept was, but sleep only came with nightmares, and those came with a few moments of hope, upon waking up, that the real world would be better.
It wasn't. Not after everything.
He was exhausted and at the same time full of that manic energy that you only discovered three days into sleep deprivation. The schematics for the next Quinjet were blurred before his eyes (they still let him do this, at least. He still could make sure they were safe), but he knew them by heart anyway, and if he only tweaked with the engine – he was sure he could get more power, if he could cool it down just a bit –
The schematics started slipping away.
Tony rubbed at his eyes. Still moving. That was . . . He was pretty sure his papers should not be moving.
“You need to sleep, Tones,” he heard.
He turned around, and sure, Rhodey was standing there, the schematics now tucked under his arm.
“I'm fine,” Tony said automatically.
Rhodey rolled his eyes. “Sure you are.” He pulled Tony to his feet, and Tony couldn't really fight it. His legs were unsteady. He might have been shaking.
Rhodey sighed. “Stop doing this to yourself, Tony.”
He put Tony's arm over his own shoulders and started walking them out of the lab. Tony wanted to protest, but couldn't really; hyperaware of everything and too tired to talk.
It felt like being drunk, sometimes, after not sleeping for days.
He felt sick every time he thought of it, but it never stopped him.
“Tones. Hey, Tones. Bed time.”
Oh. He didn't notice when they got to his bedroom. He knew he wasn't yet quite exhausted enough to sleep without dreams. Rhodey pushed him to the bed and Tony sat, unwillingly.
“Come on. I'll stay. I'll wake you.”
Tony shook his head. He didn't want to –
“Tones. I won't let you run yourself into the ground.”
He wouldn't leave, Tony knew, so he obediently lied down and closed his eyes.
He was in his office, signing up paperwork, when the door opened and Jan slipped inside.
He raised his eyebrows. “Hello.”
“You could pick up your phone sometimes when I call to check up on you,” she said. “You could, I don't know, call me.”
He didn't look at her. It would be better if she stopped insisting – he hurt everyone he loved. He got her killed once, and he didn't even remember it. She should leave.
But she didn't, she came here, looking annoyed with him for very different reasons than she should be. She circled his desk and hugged him tightly. “Tony. Stop doing it to yourself.”
He stiffened. “I'm not . . .”
“And stop lying,” she added. “You look terrible. I know it's – look, Tony, I care, okay? And I had to find you in your damn office because you're avoiding everyone.”
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Now come on,” she said. “We're going to eat something.”
“I'm not –”
She cut him off again. “That wasn't a question.”
He stood up, because he knew there was no discussing with her, and he enjoyed being close to her too much to really argue.
She frowned. “And then I'm going to take your measures and you're going to get new Van Dyne suits, Christ, Tony, it's hanging on you.”
He shrugged. She was probably right. He didn't care much for it, lately. He didn't care much for anything.
He went out after her.
Tony wasn't exactly sure what happened, only in one moment he was flying, trying to avoid a gigantic robot shooting lasers everywhere, and in another he was falling down, his armour not responding.
He thought maybe it wasn't that bad, after all.
Someone caught him and pulled him up, and then he got turned around and faced Carol, who was keeping him steady in the air.
“Thanks,” he said.
She glared at him. “Stop trying to kill yourself every chance you get.”
He sighed. He wished she would just land, so he could get the armour off and walk away, but he suspected that was part of the reason they stayed in the air. “Isn't there a big robot you should be taking care of?”
“Not anymore,” she said. “You missed Thor bringing it down.”
“Tony.” She sounded serious. “I may not remember, but I know we're friends. I'm not giving up on you.”
“You know what I did,” he said, quietly.
She nodded. “I know. But you had a good reason.”
“Nothing excuses that.”
“You saved us all in the end. That counts for something too.”
He smiled, not amused at all, even though she couldn't see it. “Yeah. Sure.”
They lived. It was worth it, because they lived, and it was the one thought that he repeated every day and really believed in.
That didn't mean he didn't wish he wasn't still there to witness it.
“So, stop killing yourself,” she repeated. “We need you, Tony.”
They'd be better off without him. She just didn't remember how true it was.
“I'm not putting you on the ground till you promise.”
He was a great liar. Carol could ask Steve. He'd tell her all about it.
“Okay,” he said. “Promise.”
The smile she gave him hurt to look at.
The world was going dark at the edges, and everything hurt, and he couldn't breathe. He remembered how a heart attack felt all too well, and everything hurt. He looked down at his chest, and the RT was dark, and Tony hated magic, but he might just be thankful to it now.
There was a distant sound of thunder, and a yell.
A not so distant sound, a deafening roar; and Tony had thought everything hurt earlier, but now –
He gasped –
Electricity over him –
Someone was screaming. It took him a moment to notice it was him. He forced himself to open his eyes. Thor was leaning over him, his face concerned.
Oh. So that was what happened. Figures he would jump start the RT.
“Tony,” he said. “I wish you would have called for my help earlier.”
The wizard did seem Asgardian, Tony remembered.
“Didn't want to bother you,” he gasped out.
Thor frowned. “You are my shield brother. I will always gladly help you. It was almost too late, now, and it pained me to see you in such a way.”
His breath was still unsteady, and his heart was beating wildly, and Tony had the urge to laugh. “Sure, Thor.” He tried to sit up, against the pain, but Thor pushed him to the ground.
“I am not lying, Tony Stark. You have betrayed Steve, but you did not do it for yourself. Sometimes one must take hard decisions, even if it was not your place then. But you still have and always will have my friendship.”
Tony closed his eyes. Thor sounded honest, but of course he did, he wouldn't want to upset Tony just after restarting his heart.
He'd remember how things were supposed to be soon enough.
Tony came to slowly. His thoughts were foggy, as if after pain killers. He couldn't quite recall what happened.
Someone was holding his hand.
He cracked his eyes open – sharp, hospital light, of course – and saw Steve, asleep in an uncomfortable chair next to Tony's bed, his fingers tangled with Tony's.
Ah. A dream then.
Tony closed his eyes and let himself drift off again.
When he woke up for the second time, he could think straight.
He flexed his fingers experimentally, and someone grabbed his hand and squeezed it.
Tony opened his eyes and looked.
Steve was still in his uniform. He looked tired, but also very much alive, and Tony remembered running in front of a weapon creatively named the death ray, covering Steve.
So it worked. Good. Which didn't explain what Steve was doing here, because Steve hated him.
Steve was awake this time, and looking at Tony with serious eyes.
“Don't do it again,” he said.
“Why are you here?” Tony asked. He couldn't stand it. He couldn't let himself think Steve forgave him, only to lose him again after he stopped feeling guilty, because that must have been it. There was no other reason for him to be here.
“You're an idiot, Tony,” Steve sighed. “I'm – I'm sorry.”
“What,” Tony said.
“I'm sorry,” Steve repeated. “Seeing you come down – Tony. What do you need to hear?”
Tony thought he should take his hand back, but he couldn't bring himself to. “Stop pretending you care,” he asked, quietly.
“I don't pretend,” Steve said. He looked pained. “I – the last months, Tony? You weren't there, and it hurt more than finding out what you did to me.”
“Are you drunk,” Tony said, because Steve didn't mean it.
Steve reached and touched his other hand to Tony's cheek. “Stop being so stubborn.”
“Do you even hear yourself?”
Steve laughed at that. “Yeah. I know. Go back to sleep. I'll be here. Promise.”
“You can't –”
Steve put a finger to Tony's lips, silencing him. “I can. I am. Now sleep.”
He woke up again, and Steve was there.