“You shouldn't be out of the hospital.”
“Yes, mother,” Tony replied, a little sarcastically. He continued packing his suitcase, trying to hide the jump his heart had given when he had suddenly become aware that he wasn't quite as alone in his room as he'd thought he was.
“I'm serious here, Tony,” Steve continued, undeterred. Tony's attention was focused on the suitcase, but he could perfectly picture Steve standing there in the doorway, his arms crossed and his jaw set in determination. “You shouldn't be out of the hospital, and you sure as hell shouldn't be out of bed. And why are you packing, anyway?”
Tony sighed. With more vigour than was probably necessary, he stuffed a pyjama somewhere between a pile of socks and two t-shirts. “You know very well that I have other responsibilities asides from Avengers business. And I can't only take responsibility when I feel like it.”
“You are hurt.”
“And my employees will be out of a job if I don't do mine,” Tony hissed. He knew that he was hurt. It was pretty hard to ignore. His ribs hurt with every movement and every breath he took. He still couldn't properly step onto his left foot, and the welts on his back must be looking horrible by the feel of them. But he couldn't simply cancel the business trip again. Steve really should know better than this.
With a deliberate flourish, he shut the lid of the suitcase and locked it. Gritting his teeth, he reached for his coat and shrugged it on. Ready for departure now, he grabbed the suitcase with one hand, lifting it. It wasn't too heavy, but the movement hurt, anyway.
“Tony,” Steve warned when Tony walked towards him. He stood rooted in the middle of the doorway, blocking the way out.
“Steve,” Tony answered, putting as much “Step aside or I'll make you” into the name as he could. The two of them stared at each other for a moment, competing silently. When Steve didn't budge, Tony reached out placed his hand on Steve's chest. He didn't push, though. He knew better than to push Steve. “I'll be back in a week.”
Steve, eventually, closed his eyes, stepped aside and let Tony pass.
He didn't say goodbye.
Tony gingerly sat down in his plane seat. It really wasn't the brightest idea, to travel with a back injury, but he'd had worse. What bothered him much more was Steve's meddling, his stubborn refusal to understand Tony's point of view. He hadn't even told Tony to take care of himself when he'd left.
Steve should know that there were some things that were simply more important than a few booboos. Hell, he knew it. Steve himself was a notorious patient that left the hospital AMA as soon as he could get his feet under him, and Tony had told him enough times already that 'peak of human condition' didn't mean 'invulnerable.'
He'd have to think of something to propitiate Steve by the time he returned home. Steve was stubborn. He wouldn't have forgotten about the fight by then, and he most likely would still be grumbly about it.
Looking out of the window of the plane, Tony contemplated his options and waited for the plane to get ready for take-off. Maybe he could make an update to the suit? Probably not a good idea. Steve was pretty anal about the suit, and he wouldn't appreciate Tony working extra shifts for Steve's benefit right now. He couldn't really think of much else, though. If Steve was still angry, he would refuse to go out for a meal with him. Sparring was out of the question, too.
Tony was rudely startled out of his consideration by someone dropping down into the seat next to him. He turned around to give the intruder a piece of his mind, because this was his private plane, what did they think simply boarding a private plane...
It was Steve, dressed in casual clothes, complete with duffel bag.
“What a coincidence, looks like we're headed into the same direction,” Steve said, eyes wide in mock-surprise.
Tony was speechless for a moment. He...why was Steve here?
“Cat got your tongue?” Steve grinned.
“You...why are you here?” Tony asked dumbly.
“To come with you and make sure you'll take care of yourself,” Steve answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. He got up and stowed his duffel bag away. “Carol has graciously taken over my active duty. So.”
“So,” Steve repeated, “you should rest. Let me take that.” He leaned down to Tony and carefully peeled him out of his coat. (Trying to take it off had hurt, so Tony had opted to keep the coat on. Even though he knew he was going to wrinkle it. Still better than the pain.) Steve folded the coat and put it away, taking out a blanket instead and wrapping Tony up in it.
Tony would have protested. Really. But the blanket was so soft and warm, he could feel himself nodding away almost immediately. When the plane finally took off five minutes later, he barely noticed.
“So you're going to what, crash on my couch?” Tony asked, incredulous.
Steve gave the couch in question an assessing look and shrugged. “Why not? It's big enough for three people, and definitely not the worst thing I've ever slept on. And it's not like you have a space problem, anyway. Why is a hotel suite for one single person so big, anyway?”
Tony would have told Steve that it wasn't a space problem so much as a 'Proximity-to-Steve' problem, but he had a hunch that saying that would probably lead to misunderstandings and endless discussions. And it wasn't like Tony couldn't have afforded several top-notch hotel suites for Steve, but no, Steve had adamantly refused.
“Whatever,” he eventually sighed and dragged his own suitcase over to his bedroom. Let Steve sleep on the couch for a whole week if he wanted. It was none of Tony's business.
“Let me do that,” Steve said, popping up next to Tony and expertly snatching the suitcase out of Tony's grasp. He wandered over to the wardrobe in the bedroom and started to unpack Tony's clothes. In a matter of seconds, his suits were properly hung up, all shoes were perfectly lined up, and even his underwear was sorted by colour.
“Seriously, Steve?” Tony asked. “What are you, my nanny?”
“Well, apparently you need one,” Steve hissed. He grabbed Tony's pyjamas and thrust it into Tony's arms. “Go and get yourself cleaned up. And then go to bed.” With that, he stomped off to fiddle with his own duffel bag, stubbornly keeping his back turned to Tony.
Tony considered sticking out his tongue for a moment, simply for the petty sense of satisfaction, but Steve was probably right. Getting out of these clothes sounded like a rather good idea.
Dressed in his pyjamas, Tony stumbled out of the bathroom after a nice, long shower. His back was mottled with bruises and looked ugly, but he was pretty sure it was getting better already. Kind of. The bruises had started to change colour by now.
Steve was sitting on the couch he'd claimed, watching some kind of French TV show with rapt attention. For a moment, Tony hesitated, looking towards his bedroom. But then curiosity and boredom won over the need to wrap himself in blankets and sleep for the remainder of the business trip. He scurried over to the couch and buried himself in the soft cushions strewn all over it. Yes. Much better. And where was...ah. He reached for his mobile phone that had waited for him on the coffee table.
“You should go to bed,” Steve informed him without looking away from the TV screen.
“Steve, I slept during the whole flight already,” Tony said. He was still dead tired, but he really had been out like a light during the entirety of the flight. “There's no way I'm sleeping now.”
“I didn't say you have to sleep, but you should definitely rest.” Steve sighed.
“No, you're not,” Steve insisted.
“I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” Tony said, smirking and lifting a suggestive eyebrow. “Some would even say-”
Steve looked surprised at his own sudden outburst. Tony fell quiet, watching Steve inhale deeply several times, trying to calm himself down.
“Don't,” Steve repeated, quieter now. “Don't do this. Don't turn everything into joke or a jab. Stop pushing me away all the time. Stop giving me the Tony Stark™ treatment. Stop fucking lying to me, because I know you're doing it.”
For a moment, they sat next to each other on the couch, both of them breathing heavily. Tony tried to say something, anything, but his thoughts were muddled. This wasn't about the injuries, was it? It never had been. Not really.
Slowly, he got up, walked over to his bedroom, and closed the door behind him.
Tony woke up in the middle of the night. He figured it must be the middle of the night anyway, since everything was dark. After a moment of disorientation, he realised that, yes, he'd gone to bed in his hotel room and he was still there. Just now, Steve was sitting there at his bedside.
“Go back to sleep,” Steve whispered. “I just wanted to make sure you're okay.”
“Usually it's me who comes to bother you in your sleep,” Tony mumbled, unable not to smile into his pillow. It was true, though. Tony didn't really have a very deep understanding of privacy, blurting into Steve's room in the middle of the night if inspiration struck. Steve had never complained. Not once.
“I was a bit worried,” Steve carried on, still keeping his voice quiet, even though it was only Tony around. “I'm sorry for what I've said.”
Right. Tony had forgotten about that for a moment. The smile slipped off his face.
Steve reached out and carded his hand through Tony's hair gently.
“You mean a lot to me,” he whispered. “More than you'll ever know. Go back to sleep now.”
Tony obediently closed his eyes. The warmth of these caressing fingers lulled him to sleep almost effortlessly.
When Tony left the bedroom the next morning, Steve was already sitting at the breakfast table, dressed in a fluffy white bathrobe and sipping at a glass of orange juice while reading the newspaper.
It was such a peaceful scene that Tony was thrown for a loop. Had yesterday's argument been a fevered dream? It wouldn't have been the first time. His fever dreams featured a vast number of imaginary arguments with Steve and Howard. Although they couldn't really be called arguments in Howard's case.
He quietly padded over and sat down at the table opposite Steve.
“Good morning,” Steve greeted over the newspaper he was holding in his hand. “I got coffee and pancakes for you, I figured I couldn't go wrong with that one. When's your meeting?”
“Thanks. The meeting starts at eleven,” Tony mumbled, looking down at the perfectly made pancakes. They did look mouth-watering. And his stomach rather urgently reminded him that he hadn't really eaten dinner last night. He figured that resistance was useless. Smearing strawberry jam all over them, he dug in.
They were fantastic.
“I'll be your bodyguard, then?” Steve asked, turning a page of the newspaper.
Tony shot him a look, but Steve's eyes were stubbornly focused on the newspaper. Tony knew for a fact that he preferred to read news articles on his tablet because he could search related articles and cross-reference things without much effort. And while that last statement had been formed like a question, it really wasn't one. Steve would come, whether Tony wanted it or not. He was just trying to gauge how much of a impediment Tony was going to be to this plans.
“You'll have to stay outside, though,” Tony eventually conceded with a sigh.
“Fine by me,” Steve amiably agreed. He tried to hide his satisfied grin behind the newspaper, but Tony could still see it.
Tony licked the sweet strawberry jam from his lips, reaching for the coffee.
He kind of needed that coffee right now.