“You fucking hypocrite,” is the first thing that flies out of Tony’s mouth as he barges into medical. To her credit, the medic attending to Steve doesn’t so much as flinch at Tony’s raucous entrance; then again, it’s not exactly a novelty for Tony and Steve to bite each other’s heads off post-mission, so she’s probably witnessed worse—heck, the entirety of S.H.I.E.L.D medical probably has.
“Mr. Stark,” she acknowledges when he steps further into the room. The stench of antiseptic is nauseating, and the lighting entirely too bright. Steve is sitting ramrod straight on the examination table, the left side of his face swollen and covered with already-fading scrapes. Dark bruises cover his exposed torso, and one of his pant legs is ripped completely open. The tight, detached expression on his face leaves Tony no doubt that he’s in more pain than he lets on. “We’ll be done shortly and he’ll be free to go. In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if you kept your temper in check,” she adds before getting back to stitching a particularly nasty gash along Steve’s cheek.
“How is he?” Tony asks, knowing full well how much Steve hates being talked about like he’s not even in the room. It’s not like he’d give an honest answer—not about this, anyway—so tough. As if on cue, Steve’s brows pinch together in irritation and he looks ready to protest until the medic orders him to stay still.
“Relatively unscathed, considering,” she tells Tony without looking away from her work. “Got off with a dislocated shoulder, a couple of cracked ribs and a mild concussion. Other than that, just a lot of scrapes and bruises. Seeing as Captain Rogers refuses to be admitted overnight, Dr. Banner has assured me the Avengers will be monitoring him carefully. My guess is he’ll be healed up by the end of the week, but make sure he gets plenty of rest in the meantime.”
Tony crosses his arms against his chest and watches her work, glancing at Steve to gauge his reaction. The fact he’s not putting up a fight about the stitches is a miracle in itself. It takes another five minutes for the medic to declare they’re done, discarding her gloves before turning to leave the room. “You’re a lucky man, Captain. Not many people can say they’ve survived a building collapsing on top of them.”
The change in Steve is subtle enough that most people would not be able to detect it. Tony, however, has had a lot of practice reading Steve, knows of the burden that gets too heavy to carry. “Right,” he says, detached expression replaced with the hardened one he wears for battle. He’s polite and genuine as ever when he adds, “Thank you for your care, Agent Miller.”
The door clicks shut behind her before silence engulfs the room. Even now, Steve refuses to acknowledge Tony’s presence, keeping his eyes trained on the wall in front him. Well. If he thinks he can pout his way out of this argument, the stubborn sonofabitch has another thing coming.
Tony comes to stand in front of him, dipping his head until their eyes meet. “You fucking hypocrite,” he repeats.
“No,” he interrupts, anger flaring in his chest. “How many times have you reamed me out for exactly the kind of shit you just pulled? How many times have you accused me of taking unnecessary risks and not acting in the best interest of the team? And you go and do this? No.”
Sighing, Steve rubs a hand across his forehead. He must have one heck of a headache, and all the yelling is the last thing he needs, but Tony can’t quench the blinding fury that’s only beginning to unfurl inside of him. Steve could have died. “What else was I supposed to do?”
“Wait for backup, that’s what!” Tony bellows, heat creeping up his neck and heart hammering in his chest. “You’re the one who’s always talking about how we’re a team, how we’re stronger together. How we shouldn’t rush into things without a plan. If the rest of us have to abide by your bullshit rules, you very well should, too, Rogers!”
“I did have a plan—”
“Trapping yourself in an abandoned building with the bad guys and then blowing it up does not constitute as a plan!” Tony can barely hear himself over the roar of blood pounding in his ears. “You’re a goddamn tactical genius, Steve, don’t tell me that was the best you could come up with!”
“It was the easiest way to get away from civilians and take out—”
“What about appropriate risk, huh? What about saving yourself?” demands Tony. Steve is the one who insists that if they’re all going into a battle, they’ll all be coming back, refusing to accept sacrifice. Except, evidently, when it’s his own safety he’s sacrificing. Trust it to Tony to fall in love with an infuriating control freak with a saviour complex.
“I can’t get hurt, Tony!—”
“Oh, really? Look the fuck around you! Why do you think we’re here?” He grabs Steve’s chin and tilts his face up, the touch gentler than the words. “You’re not invincible. You may heal faster, but that does not give you the right to be reckless with your life!”
“Look, I made a call—”
“You made a stupid call! How could you—do you even know—” Tony is vibrating with anger, now, his hands shaking and his thoughts jumbled. “What the fuck would we do without you?”
Steve’s eyes widen, his mouth opening and then closing. Then, his expression tenses, and he speaks in the same tone he uses to relay strategy. “We’ve talked about this; you know the drill. If it ever comes to that, Iron Man takes over leading—”
“I’m not talking about Captain America,” Tony says, voice level despite the cold fear gripping him. It’s like he’s back in the battle, frantically searching through rubble and screaming Steve’s name. “I’m talking about Steve Rogers.”
This is what they do, the way they work: one of them pushes, and the other pushes right back. Only this time, the expected retort never comes. Instead, Steve’s shoulders droop, and the resulting silence is thick enough to choke on. Tony has to bite his lip to stop from making a nonsensical quip, clenching his fists to stop from reaching out for the man in front of him. To his surprise, it’s Steve who seeks the contact, grabbing Tony’s hand in both of his, gently prying his fingers open before rubbing a thumb over the raised skin on his knuckles.
“Could we not do this here?” he asks, looking up with those too-blue eyes of his, even brighter against the contrast of his dark bruises. The expression on his face is weary but earnest, and guilt churns in Tony’s gut. Steve is injured; he needs rest, and not Tony’s anger, justifiable as it is. “If you need to yell at me, fine. I’ll take it. I’d just like a hot shower and a bed.”
Just like that, looking at the obstinate and impossible man in front of him, the anger Tony’s felt is replaced with cold, terrifying concern. “All right,” he concedes, reaching to tangle a hand in Steve’s hair. It’s matted with caked blood and debris, but Tony strokes through it and Steve leans into the touch. “We’ll get you home.”
The Avengers had all been terrified when they arrived at the scene to learn that Steve was under the wreckage of the ten-story building. Even more so when they finally retrieved him from the rubble, clammy and unresponsive. Now, with Steve safe—albeit injured—by their side, the primary emotion radiating from their teammates is anger. It makes for a heck of an awkward ride back to the Tower. None of them say anything, but it’s only a matter of time until they give Steve a piece of their mind; and really, much as Tony loves him, the bastard has it coming.
When they finally arrive home, they collectively head over to Tony’s floor. Bruce insists on checking Steve over one last time, and demands periodic updates on his recovery. Thor’s expression seems torn between anger and dejection, the frown never leaving his face. Clint is holding on to his bow like he’s about to aim it straight at Steve’s face. He’s the first to speak.
“If you weren’t already banged up, I’d deck you one myself, Rogers,” he says, eyes hard, before turning to Tony. “Talk some sense into him. I’ll be at the gym shooting things.” With that, he disappears.
Natasha, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed, makes no effort to veil her infuriated expression. Eventually, she pushes herself up and walks up to Steve. “Durak,” she says, standing on her toes to kiss his forehead, and they share a small smile.
In their bedroom, Tony watches Steve all but collapse on the bed with a grunt, clutching his left side. His eyes flutter shut, expression contouring in pain as he takes a deep breath. Tony hates seeing him like this, hurting and exhausted, but knows it's nothing short of a privilege; Steve doesn't allow himself to bleed on people, and there are only a handful of people he lets himself to be vulnerable around. Tony watches the rise and fall of his chest for a long time, reminding himself that Steve survived, Steve is okay.
Eventually, Tony goes to sit on the edge of the bed, looking down at Steve’s sprawled form. Somehow, even with the shadows under his eyes and the rough edges etched onto his face, Steve looks terrifyingly young. It’s too easy to forget, at times, that while Steve has existed for nine decades, he’s barely even lived a full three.
“When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep?” Tony asks, trailing his fingers across Steve’s jaw.
“Mhm,” Steve responds, nuzzling into Tony’s touch and clearly avoiding the question.
"Captain Rogers has been averaging 54 minutes of sleep a night for the past two weeks, Sir," JARVIS supplies helpfully.
“Jesus, Steve,” Tony means to sound incensed, but the effect is ruined when he rubs a hand over his face. Even with the serum, that’s entirely too little sleep for too long a period of time. It’s no wonder Steve is so sluggish. “You need to take care of yourself.”
“You’re one to talk,” Steve rebuttals, a small curl of his lips stretching the black line of stitches on his cheek. It disappears as quickly as it appeared.
“Nightmares?” Tony asks, and the terse silence that follows is answer enough. Steve’s sleep is often restless, and has been since he woke up from the ice. Most nights, Steve dreams of foxholes in the Black Forest and wakes up with fire in his eyes.
Guilt crushes into Tony like a ton of bricks. He should have known to expect this, shouldn’t have spent so many nights in his lab, shouldn’t have gone on so many business trips these last few weeks.
“Don’t,” Steve says sternly, reaching out to touch Tony’s cheek. “I know what you’re thinking. Stop. This isn’t on you, Tony.”
That’s a whole other argument altogether, and one they have frequently, but now in not the time to reopen it. In lieu of a response, Tony brings Steve’s hand to his mouth, placing a kiss in the centre of his palm.
“Planning on yelling at me some more?”
“Tempting, but maybe later,” Tony says tiredly, the weight of the day finally settling on his shoulders. He wants nothing more than to allow Steve the rest he’s so clearly in desperate need of, hook his chin on his shoulder and curl up behind him. He brings his hand up to Steve’s face, using his thumb to rub off some of the grime high on his temple. “We should get you cleaned up,” he says, leaning down to kiss the corner of Steve’s mouth. He means for it to be quick, he does, but Steve seems to have other ideas; he slots their mouths together, pulling on Tony’s bottom lip with his teeth before coaxing it open, tongue curling against the roof of his mouth.
“God, Steve,” he says when they pull back, dazed and so incredibly gone on this man. “I missed you,” he says quietly, and it’s worth it for the dopey smile it brings to Steve’s face.
He really should help Steve clean up, though, so he starts removing the clothes borrowed from S.H.I.E.L.D. The pants are easy enough, but Steve’s injuries make the shirt more difficult to remove. By the time he’s stripped Steve naked, Tony decides a shower is out of the question, neither of them possessing the required energy. Instead, he heads to the bathroom and returns with a washcloth and a small bowl filled with warm water.
Steve looks ready to pass out, but moans appreciatively when Tony runs the wet cloth over his chest and stomach. He opens one eye to look at Tony and says, “You don’t have to do this.”
“I know,” is the only thing Tony says back, moving down to clean Steve’s legs. When he’s done, Tony helps Steve under the covers before removing his own clothes and joining him. Both on their backs, they lie close together, naked skin burning hot where it touches.
“I thought you were dead,” Tony says into the darkness of the room, uncertain whether Steve is still awake, but needing to get the words out. The answer comes when he feels him tense beside him. “When we found you in the rubble, I—I thought you were dead, Steve.” He can remember it vividly, the picture burned into his mind. They spotted Steve’s filthy cowl first, then a glove-covered hand peeking from under the wreckage some ten feet away.
Steve’s hands reaches for his under the covers, curling their fingers together. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, moving closer to press a kiss against his temple. “I never wanted to put you through that.”
Tony wets his lips and reaches for the dog tags around Steve’s neck, feeling along the engraving with his thumb. “I know you’ve lost a lot,” he starts, throat closing up before he can continue. Steve patiently waits for him to continue, silent but attentive, and Tony is reminded why he never feels braver than when he’s next to Steve. “And I know I can’t ever understand it all. But I… I’ve lost a lot, too. Heck, we all have. This entire team is comprised of a bunch of lunatics with more issues than the Rolling Stones.” Steve snorts softly at that, his breath tickling Tony’s skin.
The last part is the hardest to get out, the words wanting to remain trapped and unvoiced. “I can’t… I can’t lose any more.” With Steve by his side, Tony always manages to find strength he once believed himself incapable of. “Do you understand? I… I can’t, Steve.”
There’s a rustling sound, and Tony looks over to see Steve propping himself up on the elbow of his uninjured arm, looking at him. His dog tags dangle from his neck to brush along Tony’s skin. “I’m here, Tony,” he says before leaning down to kiss him, an urgent press of lips that’s meant to be a promise. When the kiss breaks, he grabs Tony’s hand and says, “And you’re right here,” while leading it to rest over his own heart. “If there’s one thing I can promise, it’s that you won’t ever lose that.”