Tony Stark simultaneously hated and craved solitude. It was a contradiction, like many other aspects of his personality. He was full of himself and yet thought he was the worst person alive, no better than a cockroach. He thought himself a genius, yet knew that he really knew nothing beyond algebraic formulas.
When Pepper left, he was almost relieved. The suspense was gone. Now it was just him and his ‘what-if’s.
The time period between Pepper leaving and the Avengers moving in was too short though. He should be happy that he was no longer drifting in such a large, empty space. It was strange, to wander into the kitchen at midnight and find another person being similarly kept awake by nightmares. That silent empathy and understanding. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that he stopped venturing outside of his workshop, only interacting with the team when it came to missions and debriefings.
Besides he wasn’t truly alone. He had the bots and JARVIS to keep him company. And that was all he needed anyway. People aren’t dependable.
It was Thursday, also known as Avengers movie night. As was typical for this night and most others, Tony was busy with new schematics, all the noise in his head quieted and focused on his R&D work for the company. A new Starkphone model, intent on ruining the other competition with its new innovative user interface, intuitive and futuristic. Pepper would love it.
“Sir, Captain Rogers is requesting permission to enter the workshop.”
He paused, his hand reached half-way to flick the holographic schematic around. “Why?”
“He said he wishes to see how you are, sir.”
“Sure, I… guess.” Maybe that was Rogers being polite. Maybe he wanted to talk to Tony about the new upgrades to the suit. Maybe the material wasn’t as light and flexible as he thought.
Rogers was standing by him a moment later, leaning against a table, arms loose by his side, like he was trying not to cross them over his chest and now they were hanging there all awkward. “Stark, we haven’t seen you all week.”
Tony grunted, reaching for his thermos and taking a sip.
“It’s movie night. We’re watching Planet of the Apes. JARVIS said it’s one of your favorite movies.”
“Maybe some other time. I’m pretty busy here.”
“You’re always busy,” Rogers huffed. “You never take a break. You work all day and night.”
“It’s what happens when you’re head of R&D and have to engineer new Avengers tech in your spare time. Now if you don’t mind—”
“This isn’t you.”
For the first time since Rogers came in, Tony turned to look at him fully. Rogers’ eyebrows were furrowed in all his patriotic concern, the edges of his mouth creased and his jaw clenched. As if he picked the short end of the straw and had to come and coax the resident genius into playing family with the rest of the Avengers. Tony scoffed. “One, you don’t know me. We’ve known each for how long? Three months? Two, don’t bother trying to play the considerate captain and save yourself the energy.”
“You think I’m pretending to care?”
“Let’s face it, I’m not your favorite Avenger, and you sure as hell aren’t mine.”
It was hard to look at him in those too blue eyes, in the face of all that righteous fury, but Tony forced himself to. He won’t be bullied that easily.
After a minute of male posturing, Rogers rolled his eyes. “Whatever.” And he left.
Which was just as fine to Tony. Taking a long drink of his thermos, he went back to work.
One of Rogers’ most admirable and annoying qualities was that the guy just won’t quit. He was possibly the most stubborn person Tony had ever met, which was quite a feat when you consider the company Tony kept.
Apparently Rogers took an entire 24 hours to ruminate and then came back to the workshop, walking in like he was preparing to go to war, his shoulder squared and all.
“You know,” Tony said with a sort of fake cheery casualness, “that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result.”
“I’m sorry for what I said on the helicarrier.”
Well then. That wasn’t what Tony was expecting. As soon as he was aware that his mouth was open and he was staring, he schooled his expression into a sneer. “Okay. And? What, did you think I spent these months agonizing over your lack of apology?”
“You’re a real asshole sometimes.”
“Am I supposed to automatically accept your apology? Is that why I’m an asshole? You’re not any better than me. I know you probably tell yourself that every time we interact, but just ‘cause you wear a flag it doesn’t mean you’re morally superior to me.”
“Christ, Stark, I only wanted to apologize. I don’t expect anything from you.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” He stepped closer to Rogers, leaning right into his space, ignoring the fact that he had to look up to meet his eyes. “Everyone wants something from someone else. You want me to spend more time with the team since you’re the captain and think that makes you responsible for everyone. You feel guilty over the fact that I’m now a recluse. You want to rectify it. You don’t actually give a fuck about me.”
Rogers’ face fell. That steady and self-assured way he carried himself disappeared and he folded in on himself. And now it felt like Tony was the one towering over him.
“I’m sorry,” Rogers mumbled before he turned away to leave, shoulders hunched.
Tony blinked after him and the workshop door swished close. That was a complete 180 than from what he expected.
At least now he can finish that new trick arrow design in peace.
The coffee supply in the workshop was running out, even the iced drinks in his mini-fridge that he saved for emergencies. It meant he actually had to resurface from his hole and grab more from the kitchen. Since the team moved in, Tony conducted a series of experiments to conclude which were the best times to go to the kitchen with a low chance of coming across his teammates. The answer was that there were no best times. He had to pop in randomly and pray to a higher power.
It was four in the morning and it looked like it was safe, but there were no such thing as being too careful when you lived with two professional spies.
He grabbed an armful of different coffee bags and was about to flee back into the elevator when the exit was being blocked by a large blonde man.
Who said, “I talked to Pepper.”
That was an incredibly terrifying thought.
“She gave me a lot to think about.”
“Ah. You should go think about it then.” He tried to edge past him but then Rogers placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I hate that you don’t feel comfortable in your own home.”
“What are you talking about? You know how comfortable the sofas are? It’s like resting your ass on a cloud.”
“And I also figured out that you have a habit of trying to mislead a person during conversation, which I’ll admit you’re very good at. You also have like a roadmap to all of the best ways to anger me.”
“You know, I just came up here to get some coffee and I’m feeling so attacked right now.”
“Isn’t that a meme? No, wait, you’re doing it again.” Rogers rubbed his temple with one hand while the other one was still firmly planted on Tony. “You don’t owe me anything, Tony, I know that. But I also know that you put this front where you pretend everything’s all right. I want to start over, and I really do worry about you…. I know you have nightmares.”
Tony shoved him away, dropping all the coffee. He exhaled slowly.
“I heard it once. After a mission, you went to your penthouse and collapsed on the couch. I went to check up on you and you kept jerking in your sleep. I have them too.” He grinned self-consciously. “Kind of hard to go through a world war without them.”
“So what do you expect?” Tony said, his voice hoarse and weak. “You think I’m just going to tell you everything. You’re going to be my therapist now? Prescribe me some Valium? Don’t worry, I got the self-medication part down.” Then he winced. That sounded weak and pathetic, even for him.
“If you want. But I was thinking we should start with coffee.” He retrieved a pack of Italian dark roast from the floor. “I tried Italian coffee once when I was stationed in Turin. Wonder if it’s changed much.”
After a pause Tony said, “I thought coffee was rationed?”
“It was. I had some connections.” Rogers smiled at him.
Which was how Tony found himself drinking imported Italian espresso with Steve Rogers at four in the morning. And while he was still wary, he thought this wasn’t so bad. Just someone’s presence, not even talking but physically being there, it was like a balm. For the first time since the Chitauri happened, he felt himself relaxed. And this…
It was a nice feeling.