Tony is a certified genius, he's got the patents and the crowds of adoring fans to prove it, and he's also very good at multitasking. Which is why, when Steve asks, "Tony, do you know what time it is?" Tony startles back, almost falls on his ass, and answers with a coherent and eloquent "Huh?"
In his defense he's been working for a few hours now and, more to the point, had been sure he was alone in the lab. Wasn't Steve supposed to be in DC right now, anyway?
"Aren't you supposed to be in DC right now?" he asks around the screwdriver in his mouth.
Steve frowns. "That was Wednesday. Tony, how long have you been down here?"
Tony tries to count back but he thinks in projects, not hours, and at some point the improvements to Clint's explosive arrows had given him an idea for a new suit-mounted missile and then Bruce had come down with some really interesting projections on improved energy output from the arc reactor (Bruce is a godsend as a lab partner, really; Tony can't remember the last time he's worked with somebody who could actually follow him when he jumped from idea to idea, and even if their fields don't overlap that much Bruce is still amazingly smart and can almost always follow the gist of what Tony is saying, and what kind of idiot would want to waste that amazing brain of his on using Bruce as a blunt weapon, honestly, the stupidity of people is staggering) and he got a bit lost in blueprints and equations and huh, wait, what? "JARVIS, what day is it?"
"Friday the 21st, sir," JARVIS replies and for a moment Tony is so proud of them both that JARVIS actually manages to sound long-suffering. Tony loves being a genius.
"Have you been down here for two days?" Steve, on the other hand, sounds somewhere between horrified and amazed. "Have you eaten or slept at all?"
That would probably explain the headache that's been distracting him for the last few hours. The idea of food sends a lazy wave of nausea through his gut, but a nap would probably help.
"Yeah, good idea," Tony says vaguely and wanders off towards the washroom in the back of the workshop, the memory of Steve's presence displaced by the schematics of the new security system Fury's been pushing for.
The hot shower helps a little and when he wakes up at the workbench there's a keyboard imprint on his cheek, his head and his back are killing him, but some very kind soul has brought him coffee that's actually still warm, along with a sandwich, so he can dive into code without interruptions.
* * *
Tony's worked for longer stretches at a time for far worse reasons; he'd be the first to admit that. Some of his best triumphs as well as some of his worst failures are the result of frantic caffeine-fueled all-nighters. The results vary: there are things like JARVIS in the pro column and his relationship with Pepper in con one, underlined in red and with lots of exclamation marks. There'd been a speech about not being able to watch as he invented new ways to self-destruct and it's not like Tony can blame her, really. He wouldn't want to be in a relationship with Tony Stark, either, especially with the clips of him hugging the nuke still flashing occasionally across TV screens.
Though, really, Pepper aside, it's been surprisingly bearable lately. There are actual people living in his house, well, tower, and though they drive each other insane it actually sort of works, most of the time, with occasional forays into cuckoo land like Bruce lecturing Clint on picking up after himself and Steve leaving eraser debris behind wherever he goes. Bruce and Steve eat enough for five, Clint lives off steaks and some weird sprout things, Natasha can fashion weapons out of everything down to lettuce and who knew Bruce could pull the most incredible pranks without batting an eyelash?
Tony's been trying to keep up, hanging out at the movie nights (and he would have words with Clint about bribing JARVIS to show the Star Wars prequels) and showing up to the team dinners because both Bruce and Steve are more than decent cooks when they put their mind to it and Clint knows the best take-out places in the city, but Tony's the only one of them who has to wrangle two jobs and he's rapidly running of time for, like, everything.
Honestly, it's more like three jobs, what with the "consultations" for SHIELD that are apparently a code for "Fury talking him into developing yet another thing for government use", the actual duties that he has to do for SI, research and PR both, on top of the Avengers business. And that's not even counting the work he does in his free (hah) time, the suit upgrades and maintenance and outfitting the rest of the team. So, really, it's close to four jobs and every time he promises himself a break or just some decent sleep there's Steve dragging him to a Ghostbusters marathon or Bruce showing up with ideas on how to break another inconvenient law of physics, and there's the Maria Stark Foundation gala coming up and Fury's been making noises about deadlines and Tony wonders if he couldn't just build an android to take over the boring stuff for him. Hell, a hologram would do, just something to give him a breather.
Coffee's starting to feel like it's dissolving his stomach lining at some point and it drives home the fact, not that Tony'd admit it out loud, that he's never been as old as he is now which, really, forty-two isn't old, his old man had been over fifty by the time Tony was born, but it might be too old for getting everything done at the speed he needs to.
Of course, the fucking headaches don't help any, either.
Apart from the time (times) when he was dying, Tony has always been healthy as a horse, which is probably a good thing, too, considering the things he's done to his liver and to his brain cells over the years. It's taken him a while to realize that the headaches aren't the usual hangover ones (now that he thinks about it he hasn't really been drinking lately, there simply hasn't been the time) or the post-caffeine crash or a crick in the neck from falling asleep in the workshop yet again and honestly, he should just install some sort of cot in there or something. They creep up on him without much warning, usually late at night, and sometimes not even the strongest dose of painkillers JARVIS will allow him to take (and what's with that, honestly? If he'd wanted a nanny he'd have built one) is enough to make the pain go away completely. Turning off the lights helps a little, and sometimes he can just fall asleep despite the pain and wake up feeling vaguely human, but that eats away at his time and there's never enough of that to go around.
* * *
Christmas is looming closer and charity balls are popping up like porn site ads on an infected computer. Something that looks like a cross between a robotic spider and a manatee tries to eat Long Island just after the mayor makes a long speech about the worst scars of the Chitauri invasion finally healing. They have to do a lot of PR nonsense to make up for it, with Steve fuming when Fury has the press follow him as he helps clean up the rubble and SI footing the bill for half the reconstruction efforts. Fury and Hill drag Tony to press conference after press conference even though he really has to fix the repulsors that took a direct hit from a tentacle and they all have to all but sit on Bruce when he sees the devastation the Hulk caused when tearing off said tentacle and tries to run away to somewhere with a terrible climate and no indoor plumbing.
Eventually there is some party or other than Tony doesn't give a damn about, but Fury has strong-armed him and Steve to stand around in their tuxes while doing damage control and looking pretty (check on the latter, probably a tactical mistake of Fury's on the former). The heat and the heavy mix of perfumes in the air get more and more unbearable and Tony swallows yet another Tylenol on top of the others he took earlier. That proves to be another tactical mistake and five minutes later he's kneeling in a toilet stall and frantically trying not to throw up because if he does his head will probably explode or fall off or something, though he's at the point where he really wishes it would because the pain is like hot pokers digging into his skull and neck and crushing his brain to a bloody pulp.
He's pathetically proud of himself for not throwing up when the door opens behind him and Steve says, "Tony, are you—" and the rest is drowned out by Steve's Old Spice assaulting him like a hammer to the head, and then he's throwing up after all, coughing and moaning when the spasms make him grey out with pain.
Steve, being Steve, comes to kneel next to him, saying something Tony can't follow, and it takes Tony's elbow to dislodge him and the smell of his aftershave. There is more talking before Happy is there, helping Steve half-walk and half-carry him downstairs, into the blissfully dark car with the blissfully cool seats that he can rest his head on. Somebody opens the window, bless them, and the smell of gas and leather and aftershave are just bearable enough that he can swallow the bile down without retching, even though every bump of the car makes him see stars. By the time they stop Tony is half-burrowed into a corner and he is not coming out, thank you very much, he's slept in worse. Except that they won't stop prodding and pulling, though they are at least quiet. There's an elevator ride and at some point Steve gives up on supporting him and just picks him up, the damn Old Spice adding injury to the damsel in distress bullshit insult.
An eternity later and Tony's head finally hits his own pillows, soft and cool and not smelling of anything but his own shampoo and a hint of motor oil, but those jerks still won't let him go, taking off his shoes and rolling him over and he'd shout at them to get the fuck out except even moaning making his head vibrate and throb. Eventually there's blessed silence, fucking finally, and nobody is prodding him or pulling at him and Tony starts thinking that he may actually survive the night without his head exploding. There are still voices somewhere, but they are quiet and indistinct and he doesn't really care even when they say things like "osmophobia" and "increased frequency".
The bed dips next to him and there's a warm hand on his neck. Tony rolls his head a little and ends up with his forehead pressed against a jeans-clad leg. That's fine, so he stays there and doesn't move.
"Hey," Bruce says very quietly from above, and Tony figures it's Bruce's thigh he's resting against, "Tony, you with me?"
Talking hurts, so Tony just huffs a breath in response. Bruce, being the genius that he is, pauses and then reaches for his hand and wraps Tony's fingers around his. "All right. Squeeze once for yes and twice for no. Have you had migraines that bad before?"
Tony decides not to argue about terminology and just squeezes Bruce's fingers. But the data's inconclusive, really, because the pain always used to come when he was alone and working and for all he knows it was the damn Old Spice that made it so bad, so he squeezes Bruce's fingers again.
Bruce shakes in a near-silent chuckle. "So, you're… what? They've been bad but not quite like this?"
That will do for a description. Tony squeezes a yes and rolls his head, trying and failing to find a more comfortable angle. The bed dips and rolls again as Bruce disentangles himself carefully and stands up.
Some time later there's another movement and a hint of aftershave and soap.
"I washed up," Steve whispers from behind him. "Can you stand it or is it still too strong?"
Tony moves his fingers in a gesture that he hopes will convey an "it's fine" and decides to sell all his P&G shares as soon as he can use a phone without wanting to die.
The bed creaks as Steve moves about and then a cool, wet cloth is drawn gently over his face. It actually feels nice, or as nice as anything can at that moment, and then Steve further cements his status as Tony's favorite person of the moment when he strokes and kneads at Tony's neck, carefully enough that it doesn't hurt. His hands are big and warm and they feel nice and if Tony doesn't move much and concentrates on his breathing maybe his brain won't squeeze out of his ears and the SI shareholders won't be upset.
He is still imagining the scolding Pepper would give him about that when he drifts into an uneasy sleep.
* * *
In the morning Tony's got a spectacular hangover without the advantage of having drunk anything stronger than water the night before, making it officially the most disappointing hangover of his life to date, which is saying a lot. Still, his brain has stopped trying to escape and his stomach has settled, so he chalks it up as another winning score and gets ready to forage for coffee.
He makes it as far as the kitchen where he is ambushed by a super soldier and an unassuming looking physicist, who are clearly plotting his downfall.
"Feeling better?" Bruce asks.
Tony takes a moment to appreciate the way Bruce looks, relaxed and wearing jeans and a 'Stand back! I'm going to try science!' t-shirt, a far cry from the nervous, unhappy man he'd first met all those months ago. His pleasure is short-lived, however, because Bruce pushes out the closest chair and points to it imperiously.
"Clint called this an intervention," Steve adds helpfully as Tony sinks down.
"We've had a long talk with JARVIS," Bruce says and before Tony can blink there's a tourniquet around his arm and Bruce is swabbing the inside of his elbow.
"Vampirism, Doctor Jekyll?" Tony manages, but it's too early and he's sore and tired and there is no coffee in sight so he can't muster anything but dull annoyance when the needle pierces his skin.
"Don't call me that," Bruce says mildly, focused on the needle and the slowly filling vacuum tube. "I'm taking this down to the lab; there's no telling what you've done to your liver with all those Tylenol overdoses."
"JARVIS, what did you tell them?" Tony asks, bristling. True, he's never set up any privacy parameters where that kind of data is concerned, but he never expected JARVIS to gossip, either.
"Doctor Banner and Captain Rogers expressed grave concerns about your health, sir," JARVIS says and there's clear reproach in the synthesized voice, damn him.
"We had a little talk with Fury this morning," Steve says, and his expression is tight. "I'm sorry, Tony; I didn't realize how many projects he's had you working on."
"As of today all SHIELD projects have had their deadlines suspended pending individual renegotiation for each," Bruce adds blandly, and Tony can only gape at him as he removes the tourniquet.
"Pepper has agreed to let Natasha and me take over all PR events that don't absolutely require your presence," Steve says and sets a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice down in front of Tony.
There are fresh berries mixed in with the corn flakes. Tony picks up the spoon and wonders if he's made a wrong turn somewhere and landed in a parallel dimension.
"Pepper said to tell you that you are going to hire more people for R&D and that's non-negotiable, but you get to pick them yourself." Bruce picks up while collecting his torture implements.
"We've also agreed on a new house rule," Steve says, and Tony wonders if they've been practicing this all morning.
Following Steve's pointing finger he looks over at the Sub-Zero, whose door has been doubling as the Avengers' communal message board. Right under "Clint's bow is off-limits, and that means you, Tony!" and "Anyone touching Bruce's tea will be fed to Natasha" there's a tidy sign that says "Remember to check if Tony is okay".
"What am I, a puppy?" Tony snarls, but before he can reach over to tear the offending sign down Steve moves to stand in front of it.
"It was more to make a point, we'll take it down," Bruce says. "I'll go run the liver function tests. He's all yours," he says to Steve and walks out.
Tony glares at Steve for a moment, but he's too tired to keep at it for too long so he finishes his cereal instead.
Before he can channel his indignation into getting up and going down to the workshop Steve's warm hands are on his shoulders and digging into the aching knots of his muscles, harder than the night before but just as welcome.
"Why didn't you tell us you were running yourself ragged?" Steve murmurs.
Tony tips his head back and lets it rest against Steve's stomach. The truth is that it's never occurred to him to tell anyone. It's not like anyone could have helped… except it turns out that they could, and have. It hits him then, the panic-tinged wonder that there are people who care, people he doesn't have to pay to take care of him. It steals his breath and leaves him shivering because he is going to fuck it all up in true Tony Stark fashion, it's just a question of when, but Steve's fingers do something really, really good just then and Tony can't hold back a moan.
"We're going to have a long talk about letting people help you," Steve says. "But you should probably take a nap first."
"Only if you tuck me in," Tony says, smirking at Steve from upside-down, flirting on automatic.
Steve's answering smile, however, is soft and tinged with something Tony can't make out. "Maybe I will."