“Something wrong?” Janet asked him, leaning inside the doorway, still wearing her red and black Wasp costume. It had been a long day fighting monsters and Jan had been the one to coordinate the clean up efforts after. She didn't look tired, though.
“No, Janet, thank you.” He tried to smile at her in a way that was sincere, but the fond way she smiled back at him made him doubt it had worked. Janet read all of them like a book sometimes and she worried.
“Iron Man told me to keep an eye on you while he's out, because you keep spending the night in the library, moping. His words, not mine.” She folded her arms in front of herself and looked at him, making a point of meeting his eyes and holding his gaze.
“Did he?” he asked back, annoyed and touched at the same time. The Avengers had all gone out of their way to make him feel at home here and he was thankful, heartened, by how all of them were so ready and willing to take him in and let him be part of their team.
“I think he's worried about you. I'm sure that underneath that shiny armor lives a big, old softie. Don't you?” She chuckled.
“He's swell.” He sighed, realizing that Iron Man must have left directly after the mission and without a word to him. “Where is he then?”
Jan shrugged. “Didn't say anything about that. But Tony isn't here either, so he might just be on bodyguard duty.”
“I forget sometimes that his job isn't to be an Avenger.”
“Sometimes I think he does, too, with how often he lets Tony get into trouble before busting him out.” Janet smirked at that.
“Mr. Stark doesn't really strike me as someone who'd be an easy client for any bodyguard. I'm not sure I'd be up for the job with how often he gets into trouble.”
At that she laughed out loud. “You're probably right. Its probably more like an all around Stark Industries security detail anyway. Thus the shiny armor and the public service.” From down the hallway Hank was calling her name. She lingered in the doorway a moment longer, meeting Steve's gaze. “You're all right, yes? Don't spend all night in here alone.”
He nodded and she nodded back firmly, vanishing back into the hallway.
Steve picked up the abandoned book he'd been trying to concentrate on before Jan had interrupted his brooding and stared at the page for a long time before he gave up and let the book sink down into his lap again. The light of the lamp seemed dim and the room more gloomy than usual. He'd never right out said so, but he missed Iron Man's company when he wasn't around. Because when he was here, he would sit in an enforced arm chair reading his paper or something else, leaving Steve alone with his thoughts or his reading, but never truly alone.
He preferred that, the quiet companionship, to the silence and loneliness of the empty library.
Of course, he could just go out and see if Thor was around; if maybe someone wanted to train or do something. He could make himself busy in their own state of the art gym even if nobody was inclined to get sweaty now. But he really didn't want to be faced with the fact that while all of them spent a lot of time here, even slept and ate here more often than not, this wasn't their home but an HQ where they came together as Avengers. They all had lives to get back to.
The only person who had nowhere else to go was Captain America.
Somewhere between the war and waking up he'd lost the life he'd once had and now he was here, happy to have a team and friends, but not entirely sure he had found a home yet.
* * *
“Good morning,” he said. “Long night?”
“Did a bit of tinkering. Some urgent upgrades. I think instead of repairing that Quinjet I'll build us a new one.”
“Us?” Steve asked with a smile.
Tony waved him away. “Don't think only you guys get to use my toys. What kind of business man would I be?”
Steve knew for a fact that Tony was keeping a very watchful eye on who he sold his more dangerous tech to. They had talked about it and Iron Man was always hinting at these things. Which reminded him of the man in question. He looked down towards the stairs, where Jarvis was walking past and nodding at him. Sounds from the kitchen told him exactly where the rest of the team was gathering. “Iron Man around?” he asked.
“I don't keep tabs on him,” Tony said with a distracted grin, probably already thinking about his next smart invention, or in fact only about his warm and soft bed only feet away. “He might be around. I'm pretty sure he'll be around soon at least.”
“Did you tinker with the armor?” Steve asked, still watching the stairs and the kitchen door more than Tony. “He's always happy when you do that.”
But Tony suddenly froze and took a good look at Steve. “Why, Cap, I didn't know you were so interested in armor development and tech upgrades.”
“I just care for my friends,” he said and grinned.
Tony's mood immediately changed again and his face took on a soft expression. “That's good,” he mumbled and stroked a hand through his hair, tousling it up even more in the process. Then he waved at him. “That's really good, Cap. Be sure to let him know. You know that guy. He works too much.” Tony yawned and took a few more steps into the direction of his room.
“Not the only one who does around here,” he said and started to walk towards the stairs, hoping to catch Iron Man at breakfast, probably sipping a milk shake or a protein shake through a straw.
Tony waved again, practically stumbling into the door, fumbling it open without looking back.
Steve was disappointed to see that Iron Man was still nowhere to be found.
* * *
How could he explain to anyone that he couldn't just sleep, that even month after waking up here, nearly a year now, he still expected it all to be an illusion? He was a soldier without a war, but his body's reactions and his mind and memories hadn't caught up yet.
It wasn't like he didn't see enough combat even now, so maybe it was just natural.
He pressed a hand to his eyes and sighed, getting up and dressing in the first pants and shirt he could grab. He considered going out to take his morning run until he caught sight of a clock and realized that it was a bit early for that. In the end he made his way back to the library once again where the book was still waiting for him, sitting on the table beneath the little old fashioned lamp that he used in the evenings.
When he came down the lights in the room were on and he wasn't surprised to find another sleepless Avenger standing in front of the window.
“Iron Man,” he said, feeling a relief flood him that surprised even him. “We missed you.”
“Hi, Cap,” the modulated voice, that was so familiar and as nuanced as any other human voice, answered. “Can't sleep?”
“Woke up and thought I might as well get up. You?”
“Just got back from Los Angeles and wasn't feeling like lying down.”
Steve smiled, happy not to be alone, happy to have Iron Man around. “You need to take better care of yourself, Mister. I know beneath that metal tank you're wearing you're just a human being. You must be exhausted.”
“I don't need to take care of myself. I have a good mechanic.”
He laughed. “Does Mr. Stark know you're calling him that?”
“Yes, it's an old joke between us.” He turned away from the window as Steve sat down in his usual place and walked over to his own seat with heavy steps. The metallic joints were groaning as he set down.
“You push yourself too hard,” Steve admonished and opened his book, no trouble concentrating now that Iron Man was there again and he didn't feel the oppressive loneliness of his own thoughts. He knew it was a bit silly, that the one person he was feeling so attached to was someone who he hadn't ever really seen, only knew like a mind who lived inside a metal body. He had to smile at his own rotten luck with these kinds of things. “Maybe we can do something fun tomorrow, if Mr. Stark can spare you for a few hours.”
As there was no answer, Steve looked up to make sure nothing was wrong. The armor had slumped to the side slightly.
It wasn't the first time his friend had fallen asleep inside the armor.
He smiled to himself. He was really growing much too fond of this man. Romance had always been a bit messed up where he was concerned. So maybe it was time to stop second guessing his impulses and instead do something about it. At least it was unlikely that Iron Man would turn out to be a Nazi spy.
* * *
He was fiddling with the new mobile phone Mr. Stark had given him in the morning, when Iron Man stepped into the conference room.
“From Mr. Stark?” he asked, in a way that implied he already knew.
“Did you tell him I broke my last one in the Hydra attack?”
“Might have,” Iron Man said. “Mr. Stark is only trying to be nice.”
“He is,” Steve said and smiled. “He's a very good friend.”
“He thinks highly of you, too,” Iron Man said and nodded. “And we both think you're taking too many risks lately.”
“Oh?” he said, distracted by the beeping noise that indicated he'd ended up doing something wrong. He wasn't yet used to the new more sensitive touch screen. “The two of you aren't in any position to criticize anyone over that.”
Iron Man grew still. It was always a little eerie when he did that, like a machine that had lost power. “You criticize me about that all the time, Steve.”
“I'm worried about you,” he said, earnestly.
“And that's sweet,” Iron Man said and folded his arms in front of himself, growing impatient. “But we're worrying about you, too. All of us.”
“Do you think one day,” he asked before he lost his nerve, “I'll know your real name?”
“I mean one day, will it be okay for me to know who you are... you know? Underneath?” He flushed. “I don't mean now or tomorrow. Just, you know my name and I'd like to know yours. I know your Secret Identity is important...”
“Maybe,” Iron Man said. “It's not a decision I can make alone. But I know I can trust you.”
It was much more than he ever expected. “Okay.”
The promise of this possibility should have made all the difference. Steve could be a patient man.
But to him it felt like he had already waited far too long for a chance at life.
* * *
Even Tony had started to pick up on it, asking the odd out of the blue question about what he was thinking about Iron Man now and then.
But there was no point in moving forward if they could never be together.
Perhaps this had all been a stupid dream.
* * *
Darkness was a welcome friend.
* * *
As he looked down to see what it was he realized that Iron Man was sitting in a plastic chair, that should not have been able to hold the massive weight of the armor, holding his hand. He stared at it for a long time.
“It's good to see you're finally awake.”
“Had worse,” he said, his voice hoarse and calling him a liar. He winced. “I really did have worse.”
“I know,” Iron Man said. “Doesn't mean you have to get yourself killed this way.”
Iron Man shrugged and tried to sit back, taking his hand with him, but Steve was awake enough now to hold on hard, making it clear he did not want the contact to end. “Thor dragged you out. You were lucky we weren't far away.”
“How did you know?”
“Exploding building,” he said, not offering any more information.
Silence stretched between them and he tried to stay awake, listening to the soft beeping of the machines. “I'm good,” he said at random. “Can we go home now?”
“Janet is already taking care of it,” Iron Man informed him.
Steve couldn't stop staring at their joined hands, the shiny red and gold metal that made up the arm.
Finally Iron Man shifted. “I think it's time,” he said, shaking Steve's hand off.
“Now?” he asked, thinking Iron Man was talking about Janet getting them out of the hospital. But when the metal clad hands moved towards the helmet he reached over the edge of the bed to stop him. “Not here,” he breathed, the whole magnitude of what was going to happen hitting him full force. “I'm on medication. This is a public place. Not here.”
“Okay,” Iron Man relented. “At home then.”
“At home,” Steve agreed.
* * *
“You don't seem surprised,” Tony said, looking worried.
“Perhaps I'm smarter than even I give myself credit for,” Steve mumbled, not sure if he'd known, had wanted this to be true, or was simply taking it in stride.
He leaned forward to kiss him then, thinking that whatever else they needed to talk about now, he'd waited long enough to let his best friend know that he loved him.
Tony didn't pull away, carefully putting two armored hands on his shoulders holding both of them steady.
Their eyes met when Steve finally pulled away, both of them looking at each other searching, unsure of how to proceed.
“We need to talk,” Tony said.
“Yes, we do,” he agreed.
But whatever they would come to decide, whatever path they were going down from here, Steve knew he didn't want to be anywhere else.
“We should start dating first, probably,” Steve declared, happy at the way Tony's eyes snapped up to meet his, filled with surprise and fondness and awe. “It's how these things are done.”
“I'm glad you have a plan,” Tony snipped. “But Captain America always has a plan, I suppose.”
He grinned. Things were already going his way.