It's Tony's fault. He's a recalcitrant brat sometimes, is all, and Steve is starting to worry that he's actually not sleeping at all, that he's going to get himself killed in battle, and he's got no clue why. So one day he says to the rest of the Avengers, “Sleep with me tonight,” and he gets a lot of really funny looks.
“What the fuck,” says Clint, “no.” Bruce looks a bit traumatized, Thor looks confused, and Natasha looks a bit... intrigued. It is the last reaction more than anything that makes Steve scramble to correct himself.
“Not like that,” he says, to some relief, more confusion, and... disappointment? Steve shudders a little. He loves Natasha, but having sex with her would probably spell the end of his life. Or anyone's life. “I just meant that I think we should all sleep together, like, sleeping, in a giant group. On the living room floor. Together.”
“Why?” says Bruce, which is the question that all of them seem to want answered.
“Because,” says Steve, “I really think Tony needs to get some sleep, and he wanders up here in the middle of the night most nights to stretch his legs, or something, I don't really know why. But he does. And if we're all there, we can get him to join us, and then he'll sleep.”
“Okay,” says Bruce, “say we do do this. Who's to say we can actually get him to sleep?”
“He hasn't slept in at least two days,” says Natasha. “If we get him somewhere warm and comfortable and safe, he'll sleep.”
“Exactly,” says Steve. He looks at the team gathered around him. “So?”
“I think this is a mighty pursuit,” booms Thor, “and I am glad that you care so much for our friend! I would be glad to assist.”
Bruce nods once, then walks out of the room, tossing a “I have an experiment going in my lab that I have to get back to,” over his shoulder. Clint also nods. “Why not,” he says.
Natasha just shrugs. “He's going to collapse if he doesn't sleep soon. This is as good a method as any.” Then she just kind of... isn't there anymore, in the way that Natasha sometimes is.
That evening the team eats dinner together and then waits until Tony retreats into his lab for the night. Then they each go up to their rooms and grab all their blankets and pillows and they used the cushions from five or six of the assorted couches scattered around the mansion to make a sort of soft, squishy nest in the middle of the living room floor. Clint, being Clint, is the first one to throw himself into the middle of it and snuggle down into a tangle of blankets. Somewhere between when he left to get blankets and when he got back he'd changes into a pair of sweat pants and abandoned his shirt. Steve's not sure when he had time to do that, but he had, and Steve left the living room to echo him.
When Steve got back the rest of the team had changed and is beginning to settle down, Thor also in a pair of sweatpants, Bruce wearing a loose long-sleeve and a pair of boxers, and Natasha wearing what looked like one of Thor's shirts, but fit like a dress on her slight frame.
Thor had sprawled himself across the middle of the nest, his eyes closed, with Natasha tucked in next to him, her back to his side. Clint's lying next to Natasha, one arm wrapped around her as he whispers something into her shock of red hair. There's still room on Clint's other side and on Thor's other side, mostly because Bruce is hovering awkwardly, looking at the nest like he really wants to be a part of that but somehow isn't allowed.
Steve walks over to Bruce and says, “You going to lie down?”
Bruce looks at him, then grabs him by the sleeve of his plain cotton T-shirt and tugs him over to the side. Steve is aware that Thor has opened one eye to watch them, and muses on the fact that this ancient being is the guardian of them all.
“I'm not sure if this is a good idea,” says Bruce.
Steve frowns. ”Why not? Do you think it won't work? As a Tony trap?”
Bruce shakes his head. “No, no,” he denies. “I think it'll be fine for catching Tony. I'm more worried about, well, me.”
“Why so?” asks Steve.
“I... I have nightmares, sometimes. It doesn't happen too often, but I've had what feels like too many good nights in a row, and when it does go wrong... Well.” Bruce looks utterly ashamed of himself, and Steve wants desperately to reassure him. He doesn't know Bruce as well as he might like, but the man is interesting, and kind, and intelligent, and Steve likes him. It's never okay for a man like Steve to see his friends hurting.
“You'll be fine,” says Steve, resolute. “Nothing bad will happen. Now come to bed.” He makes it a command, and Bruce obeys, returning to the nest behind Steve and settling himself on the other side of Clint, with some space in between them, just in case.
For a moment, Steve just has to stand there and smile down at his team- no, his family. Because all of them, even Bruce, even Natasha, look so comfortable, curled up in each others' space, warm and growing lethargic. Then he remembers that Tony is not there, and somehow that hurts so much, because Tony should be a part of this too, and he never lets himself be. But that's the whole point of this, he thinks, isn't it? So Steve goes to stretch out next to Thor, with just enough room in between them for one Tony, and adjusts his sleep pants and his shirt and tug the blanket up to his waist and says, “JARVIS, light please.”
He gets a soft “Of course, Captain Rogers,” and then the lights dim into a comfortable darkness that isn't stifling but is still without any brightness. Falling asleep is surprisingly easy after that, and Steve is lulled by the soft touch of the darkness and the lullaby that is the mix of shushing noises and soft blurred voices that emanates from his teammates.
Steve wakes in the middle of the night to the sound of someone entering the room. The footsteps are shuffling and fatigued, distracted in the way that Tony constantly is. Steve knows it's Tony, that slightly irregular gait is one that he has never known another person to share.
The footsteps move closer, towards the centre of the room where the rest of the Avengers are tucked together. Steve is sure that by now Clint and Natasha are also awake, but Thor is still breathing in the deep pattern of sleep, and Bruce would likely be moving about if he was awake. Bruce rarely is completely still, except when unconscious.
Then Tony takes one step too far and trips over Steve. He yelps, and falls over the bodies of most of the Avengers, startling Bruce awake with an indrawn breath and a quiet, “Jesus Christ”. Thor and Steve take most of Tony's weight, because Tony curls in on himself a bit as he falls. Thor stays asleep through some strange Asgardian gift that he had demonstrated in the past; he can be awake for as long as he wants, but once he's asleep he cannot be woken unless he desires or needs to wake. It's honestly one of the oddest things Steve has ever seen, but Thor himself is very strange, so Steve lets it go.
Tony, who at this point has started to squirm away from Natasha and Clint, and closer to Steve, is cursing under his breath about masses of bodies in his living room and where the fuck did they come from and who are all these idiots passed out in his living room.
“I resent that,” says Clint, and Tony freezes.
“Wait,” he says. “Clint?”
“Go the fuck to sleep,” says Clint, and Steve hears him reach out and drag a sleep-befuddled Bruce closer to his body. Bruce, who is really not awake at all, sighs contentedly and snuggles closer to Clint's warmth, the blankets and their sleep clothes rustling. Natasha huffs out a short laugh and shifts around a bit, the sound she makes somehow much quieter even than Clint.
In the background, Tony is still cursing and trying (and failing miserably) to wiggle his way out of the mass of bodies and away from Steve. Steve smiles at him fondly and wraps an arm around Tony's waist, then tugs until Tony is lying next to Steve, with his back pressed against Thor and his face tucked into Tony's shoulder. “Rape,” mutters Tony, and Steve just chuckles, his voice husky.
“Sleep,” Steve says, and his dreams are already calling him back.
“What if I don't want to,” says Tony, but his words are slurred and he's relaxing slowly against Steve's body.
“Suck it up,” comes Natasha's voice from the other side of Thor.
“Rude,” says Tony, and Steve can seen that his eyes have closed against the darkness, and he's slumping into Steve even further. Steve reaches down and grabs the blankets that Thor has kicked half way off, and yanks at them until they're around his and Tony's waists, and then the arm that he still has around Tony tightens further. The position they're lying in is intimate, his arm at Tony's waist, Tony with his face against the crook of Steve's neck. But it's comfortable more than anything, and Tony is pliant and warm, and Steve really just wants to go back to sleep.
“Good night, everyone,” he mumbles, already slipping away. He hears a round of similar murmurs from Clint and Natasha and even a near-silent one from Tony.
Then he tumbles away from consciousness into dreams of gentle blue light in darkness and the smell of solid steel against the feeling of soft human skin.
In the morning, Steve wakes first, because he almost always wakes first, a habit left over from his army days. Sometimes Clint or Natasha wake first, but they are never up before him, and Clint, at least, is not in any way, shape, or form a morning person. Steve gently extracts himself from the octopus-like grip that Tony has employed (one leg thrown over Steve's thigh, one arm around his chest, the other hand tangled in his sleep shirt; who knew that Tony was a cuddler) and rises from the nest. For a long moment, he stares down at his team, Thor still sprawled out, one arm acting as a cushion for Clint and Natasha's heads, the other curled on his chest. Tony on one side on Thor, his back against Thor's side, Natasha mimicking the posture on Thor's other side. Clint is spooned up against Natasha, her arms around his waist, and he is holding Bruce to his chest. Bruce is curled up like a child, his hands tucked to his chest, one of Clint's hands tangled in his curly mop of hair.
It is, somehow, a perfect image, and Steve goes to get the camera Tony gave him, so that he can draw it in perfect detail later. When he gets back, Thor is awake, but hasn't moved. Steve takes the picture anyways, and the flash of blue from Thor's eyes somehow punctuates the image, their most mighty member watching out for danger as the others sleep. It's poetic, and Steve stands speechless for quite some time, looking at the small screen of the camera and not really knowing what to think.
“You should have been in that image,” Thor rumbles, quiet as Steve has ever heard him.
“No,” says Steve, “it's perfect exactly the way it is.”