By the time everyone turned in for bed, Tony could almost fool himself into thinking things were normal; there was teasing, joking, a few smiles here or there. No one pulled any punches with him, but no one was particularly cruel either and Tony was... Well. He probably should have been grateful, but all it did was wind him up, make him tense and brace himself for the next blow.
Now, Steve is climbing the stairs to the room he's sharing with Tony without so much as a glance in his direction, and there's nothing for Tony to do but follow meekly in his wake. He'd expected Steve to put up a fight against the sleeping arrangements, or at the least show some sign of displeasure, but in hindsight Tony should probably have known better; Steve is far to polite to criticize the hospitality of someone who has opened their home to them, at great personal risk no less.
Tony, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of asshole who would criticize someone's hospitality, but being cunty about the quality of champagne served at some gala is a far cry from turning up his nose at a teammate's home when he's already in the doghouse. Besides he... he's honestly kind of grateful for the opportunity to just be close to Steve for a while, even if Steve will be giving him the Cold Shoulder of Justice all night.
He can still hear the awful wet rasp of Steve's last breath in the spaces between every sound, there to haunt him the moment his mind wanders. It'll be an unutterable relief just to be able to listen to Steve breath, healthy and strong, for a few hours.
Wow, that sounded totally creepy even in his head.
Things play out exactly how Tony predicted when they first get to their room – Steve, rustling silently through his duffel bag, back to Tony, gathering the things he needs to shower – and Tony is resigning himself to several painfully tense hours sharing a bed just barely big enough for the two of them when Steve, instead of stalking wordlessly to the bathroom, turns and holds his hand out to Tony.
Tony stares at him blankly.
Steve's lips twitch, a brief shadow of his familiar sly expression ghosting across his face. “Five superheroes in one house who've just come off a mission,” he says wryly. “There's only one way we're both gonna have a prayer of getting any hot water.”
Tony gapes at him, utterly floored. “You,” he says, without having any idea where that sentence was going. He has so many questions flash through his brain that they all just kind of bottleneck and what ends up leaving his mouth is “There's no way we both fit in that shower.”
Steve's smile softens, a little melancholy around the edges. “We'll figure it out,” he says simply, and yeah. Yeah. Tony's got nothing to say to that, so he takes Steve's hand and lets him lead the way.
It's a tight fit, but Steve wraps a steadying arm around Tony's waist and it's just second nature the way Tony leans into him and shifts with him as they navigate the shower.
This close, Tony can feel the expansion and contraction of Steve's chest as he breaths, can feel the rush of air from where his face is pressed into Steve's throat, and feels himself unravel with the gentle pound of warm water at his back. His thoughts grow slow and sluggish as Steve runs a soapy washcloth across his neck, down his back and arms, and it takes him a few moments longer that it should to realize that Steve is washing him. Steve is here, he's pressed tightly against Tony's body and he's here, he's solid and real and with Tony, caring for him. He's here despite everything, he's here and...
Tony can feel it coming. He can feel the pressure behind his eyes and in his throat, can feel the way his breath wants to hitch and stutter, and he fights it bitterly. He fights to keep his breathing slow and even, keeps his face hidden in Steve's neck because if he looks at him, if he looks him in the eye he knows he's going to crack and crumble and fall to pieces.
But it's hopeless, Tony knows it's hopeless, and when he can't take it for one more single moment he moves to get out of the shower, to leave and take a minute to pull himself together or, or at least fall apart in private. But Steve, the rat bastard, Steve just tightens his arm around Tony and continues soothingly stroking his back and shoulders and that's. That's it, Tony is fucking done, all he has left to do is press closer to Steve, squeeze his eyes shut against his shoulder as his body betrays him and tumbles into quiet, hitching sobs.
Steve holds him close and murmurs soothing nonsense and part of Tony wishes he'd stop, he's falling apart as it is, but he's gotten maybe twelve hours of sleep over the past four days, and he's been carrying the deaths of everyone that matters to him like a rock; at this point he doesn't have anything in him left to do except cling to Steve, wet and naked, and weep like a child.
You ridiculous man, Tony thinks at him hysterically. How can you do this, how can you stand here and comfort me, after everything that's happened, after everything I've done.
But Tony doesn't say it out loud – if nothing else, any attempt at speaking right now is only going to end in further humiliation – so Steve doesn't answer, just holds him tight in his arms, murmuring gently, and viciously sabotaging any attempt Tony makes at scraping up some dignity. The washcloth is lying forgotten at the bottom of the tub, along with any pretense of bathing or conserving hot water. Maybe that's answer enough.
Tony lets Steve hold him until the water begins to cool and he gets a goddamn grip on himself, at which point he just... can't, he seriously can not, and he stumbles out of the shower. Steve lets him go with only a few lingering brushes of his fingers and stays in the shower as Tony dries off, presumably to get himself clean in the cooling water, leaving Tony a few moments alone in the room to collect himself.
When Steve comes in, towel slung low around his hips and a few stray droplets of water dripping from his hair to his shoulders – looking really unfairly gorgeous when Tony is concentrating very hard on feeling sorry for himself – he doesn't say a word, just runs an idle hand through Tony's hair and gives him a small smile before turning to get dressed for bed and, oh, the scheming wench, Tony knows exactly what game he's playing.
It's a good play, Tony has to admit. Steve – and the rest of the world – knows that Tony truly, genuinely, hates silence, and will do anything to fill in all the spaces it leaves. But he's got Steve's number now, and if Captain Boyscout thinks he can bat his eyes and pull some psychological shenanagains to get Tony to talk about feelings he's got another think comin'.
“We were in the shower, I had water all over my face, you can't prove feelings,” Tony says, when he actually meant to say nothing at all. Godamnit.
Steve huffs, clearly amused, but otherwise goes about his businesses and fails to acknowledge that Tony said anything ridiculous or revealing at all.
”All right,” he says lightly. Tony winces, because if Steve is letting him get away with grade-A bullshit like that, it means he has an endgame in mind and he's saving all the special attacks for the final boss. So to speak.
“Don't think I don't know what you're doing Winghead,” Tony says, pointing an accusing finger at Steve, because cutting his losses is a completely foreign concept for him.
“Oh yeah? What am I doing Shellhead?”
“This!” Tony explodes, waving his arms. “This whole, kill him with kindness, leaving space for me to spill my guts schtick. You're besties with the Black widow, I know you know how emotional manipulation works.
Steve turns from what he's doing to give Tony a scathing, offended look. Tony feels suddenly, uncomfortably guilty, even though he's right damn it, there's no reason for Steve to be this nice to him right now, regardless of how long they've been fucking.
“Emotional manipulation,” Steve says flatly, crossing his arms. “That's what you think “this” is about.” He doesn't actually use air quotes, but Tony can definitely hear them.
“I fucked up,” Tony says. “I fucked up more than I have ever fucked up in my life, and I have one hell of a long list of fuckups to choose from. This is my fault and I did it behind your back and now you're being sweet to me and you wonder why I think you're working an angle?”
Steve expression softens, a little, but now he just looks sad. Pitying, and Tony hates pity.
“Maybe I just don't feel like being angry at you, Tony,” he says tiredly. “Maybe I don't like it, and I think it's pointless, and tomorrow we're going into a battle like we've never seen and I don't – ”
He cuts himself off but Tony can fill in the blanks well enough; I don't want us to die angry at each other, I don't want either of us to have to carry that, I don't want to leave any lose ends behind.
“Steve,” Tony says, voice cracking. “Don't.”
Steve gives him a sad smile. “Just covering all my bases,” he says softly, stepping into Tony's space and putting a hand on his arm. “Besides, I'm not angry at you, Tony.”
Tony gives him a deeply skeptical look. “Really.”
Steve chuckles wryly. “Well, maybe a little frustrated.” He squeezes Tony's arm and sobers a little. “Mostly? I'm just worried about you.”
Tony's face twists and he steps out of Steve's grasp. “Got a lot of better things to worry about, Cap.”
“I'm not so sure,” Steve says a little sharply. “Tony, you spun out so badly you made a murder robot behind our backs.”
Tony can feel the nastier sides of his personality stir and bare their teeth. “That's what's really got your back up, doesn't it? Not that I did it, but because I didn't consult you first, boss.”
“No!” Steve growls, then visibly forces himself calm and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yes. Maybe. I don't know, Tony, I just know you're bleeding and you'd rather claw me to pieces rather than let me dress the wound.
Tony opens his mouth to retort, pauses, and blinks. “Did you just compare me to a cat?”
Steve smirks. “If the shoe fits. Hows about you sheath your claws and come to bed, pussycat?”
“Pussycat, of all the fucking indignities,” Tony grumbles, climbing into bed as Steve turns off the lights. It's gonna be something of a tight fit for the two of them, but Tony isn't exactly counting that as a bad thing, at this point. “Just for that, you're not getting any end-of-the-world, tomorrow-we-may-all-die nookie.”
Steve snorts. “You have a high opinion of yourself if you thought you had a chance of talking me into bed when you've been up for the past thirty hours straight.”
“Part of my charm. Also, you are actually, literally in bed with me right now, so joke's on you mon capitain.”
“Fair point,” Steve drawls, imperiously arranging Tony so he's sprawled over his chest, head tucked neatly under his chest. Tony would protest the indignity of this too, except now he can hear Steve's heart beat steady and strong under his cheek as well as feel the gently rhythm of his breath, and Tony needs that so badly right now he mostly just clings.
Steve cards his fingers through Tony's hair, in just the way that he likes, and a shiver runs up his spine as he burrows closer.
It's quiet. The constant bustle and noise of the city is absent here, as well as the constant background hum of electronics that Tony has surrounded himself with since childhood. He suspects some people would expect him to be soothed by the calm serenity of nature, to drift gently to sleep cradled in the safety of Captain America's arms.
But some people are fucking stupid because Tony just feels himself grow tenser and tenser as the silence presses in and suffocates him like a shroud. He hates it, hates how his brain rushes to fill in all the empty space when Tony wants nothing more to be than for it to be quiet and still for once in his goddamn life, to stop replaying the look in Steve's eyes as he asked why he didn't save him, why he killed them through his inaction, why he wasn't good enough. His heart beats rabbit-quick at the memory of Bruce's blood flowing over stone, Natasha's dead eyes, Clint's smart mouth closed forever and all Thor's wisdom and majesty turned to a lifeless pile of flesh...
“Are you ever gonna tell me?” Steve whispers in the dark, never letting up the steady rhythm of his hands.
”I hate you.” Tony gasps as the waking nightmare shatters like glass, and his last shred of self control with it. He gasps for air and clutches Steve, trembling like a leaf. He feels adrift, unmoored, anchored only by Steve's hands running steadily through his hair.
“Tony,” he says softly, the final blow, splitting him wide open.
“I saw death,” Tony says, words tumbling shakily past his lips. “Yours, Bruce's, the whole team. Everyone. And it was bloody and terribly and – ” cold, Tony's mind supplies; cold and alone among the stars and Tony's throat closes just thinking about it.
“Your shield was broken,” he continues, forcing the words past his lips now that he's begun. “I knelt down to check your pulse and you grabbed my hand and I – ” he has to stop there, has to take a moment to focus on his breathing as he remembers that brief flash of relief, the way he'd thought Oh thank god, I haven't lost him. I can handle anything if I still have him.
“And then?” Steve prompts gently, here and now.
“And then you asked my why I didn't save you. Why I didn't do more. And then you were dead too.”
Steve's breath catches, his hands pause their steady, stroking rhythm to slide down Tony's back and hold him tightly, impossibly close. He gets it, Tony never doubted he would but he's spent so long hiding his wounds that he can never figure out how to tell someone he's bleeding.
Steve says nothing at first, absorbing the blow, and then, “I still wish you would have told me.”
“You would have stopped me,” Tony says. Silence. “Yeah, fair point.”
Steve sighs and buries his nose in Tony's hair. “I get why you did it,” he murmurs. “I know what it feels like to want to protect the people you love. To be afraid of being left behind.” Tony swallows compulsively, the truth of that statement hitting like a blow. “But Tony, the world's enough of a mess without our help, we can't go breaking it out of fear.”
But I didn't mean to, Tony thinks childishly, absurdly.
“We're partners, Tony,” Steve continues. “In more ways than one. This, the team, us, it doesn't work if we don't do it together. You hearin' me?”
“Yeah,” Tony chokes out.
“Good,” Steve says decisively, and eases up on his embrace so that Tony is resting gently on his chest, listening to his heart and his breath. “Now, tomorrow we'll clean up your mess, and then we'll work on saving the rest of the world.”
“You're all heart, Rogers.”
“Get some sleep, Shellhead,” Steve says mock-gently. “It's a big mess.”
Tony jabs him in the side, making him twist and laugh, and any other day that might have devolved into a truly juvenile – and futile – wrestling match followed by a bout or two of spectacular sex. But Tony's been up for what's truthfully closer to forty hours now and he's not as young as he used to be, and after only a few moments he settles down and drops off to sleep.
Mercifully, neither of them dream at all.