For Tony, the beginning thoughts of there being a them— as in Tony and Steve together— is like everything else in the fucked-up, train-wreck-waiting-to-happen that he calls his life; it starts off with a bang and a metric fuck-ton of collateral damage.
That is to say, Tony’s just been missile bombed through two buildings and a lamp-post, having gotten in the way of an attack meant for fucking Steve; he’s concussed, bleeding from several vital points in his body where his metal suit has bent inward and pierced his organs, and all he can think is a relieved, ‘Thank god he’s okay’ instead of experiencing the usual, ulcer causing mixture of rage and irritation.
And yeah, as far as epiphanies go, it’s not the best— in timing, place or content— but it’s his, and Tony’s never been the type of person to not notice something good when he sees it. Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he pursues the things he very obviously needs, commitment and companionship to name some of them; but he still connects the dots, quickly catalogues every single one of his reactions previous to the revelation, creates a linear emotional progression of sorts, gives himself a neat little nod—
--and then proceeds to fly back into the fray as though his entire life hasn’t just changed, for better or for worse.
Even when the entire mess is cleaned up and over with, he still doesn’t let himself think about it because he doesn’t do things like this, doesn’t take things that will obviously benefit him in the long-run and make his life even the littlest bit more bearable. Because really, there is no one in the world better at punishing him than himself, and fuck knows, he still has so damned much to fix, so damned much to make up for.
So, when everything is said and done, he gives everyone his usual grin and starts making his way down whatever road they’re in, babbling about how he knows this kebab place that they should all try because they are just that damned good…
…and then he promptly passes the fuck out.
When he wakes up again, it feels sort of like he’s being smothered by a hundred or so sheep and everything feels like he’s looking up from underwater; and the first things his eyes manage to land on are a pair of worried baby blues. Immediately, it’s like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders and fuck if he knows why.
Hell, it takes him a few minutes to even link the eyes to a person, even though Steve is right there and sort of hard to miss, what with being 6 solid feet of sex and muscles, and that more than anything tells him about what kind of state he’s in. He hasn’t been this slow since he’d woken up clutching a car-battery, stuck in a dank cave in bumblefuck Afghanistan and dealing with the oxymoron that was having a killing heartbeat. But really, thinking about that right now is just sort of depressing, so Tony not-so-casually changes mental tacks and asks what he assumes is his most pressing question.
Or at least, that’s what he tries to ask, but his throat is so dry that it comes out sounding like an odd mix between a groan and the crackling of fall leaves.
Oh God, he must be on the Good Stuff if he’s waxing poetic about his sore as fuck esophageal tissue.
Thankfully Steve, bless his All American, properly beating heart, just gets it. He gently places a straw in Tony’s mouth, and doesn’t make a single comment as Tony finds himself struggling with sucking of all things, even if it’s just water through a tube.
Yeah, the irony isn’t lost on him either.
“You’ve been out for a few days now, you know,” he says, almost casually as he makes sure that Tony doesn’t choke on his own tongue trying to quench his thirst, “The doctors weren’t even sure that you’d make it in the beginning, said that there were too many perforations and that you were bleeding out faster than they could get blood into you. “
And Tony would feel hurt by his tone, actually does feel a temporary twinge in his arc-reactor, except well, he honestly doesn’t expect anything else. After all, it’s not as though they’re best friends or anything; hell they’re barely at a regular friendship and that’s after months of fighting together and each other and just generally being in each other’s spaces. So no, Tony really shouldn’t expect all that much from the man.
Really, he figures, almost blasé in his line of thinking, it’s not as though he’s earned that kind of loyalty or respect, so he really shouldn’t be hurting over the lack of it.
Nevertheless, in the deepest recesses of the heart that he’s been trying to bury since he was ten and had gotten confirmation that he really isn’t worth much, he sort of is.
That is, until he notices how Steve is holding himself, and then he feels himself having the epiphany all over again.
Where the blonde’s voice is smooth and devil-may-care, every other part of him is in a state of panicked disarray. There are bags under his eyes, which means that he hasn’t been sleeping enough even by Super Soldier standards; his hair looks like it hasn’t been properly washed and combed in weeks, and he keeps making these twitchy, almost-movements towards Tony, almost like he wants to touch him to make sure he’s alive and not some ghost that’s come back from the dead.
There’s a pinched, wrecked look on his face that’s only just barely beginning to ease, and his clothes are rumpled beyond belief, stained and creased. Also, Tony isn’t too sure, but that shirt may just be on backwards, which, alright, isn’t exactly the sign of the impending apocalypse that Tony’s drugged out mind is making it out to be. Except it totally is, because this is Steve, Captain America, and the man tries his damndest to look put-together even when he’s literally just woken up and rolled out of bed.
And Tony, well, he’s never been stupid— never been anything short of a genius actually— but he still asks, “How long?” even though the Cap costume hung half-hazardly on a curtain-rod tells a story of its own.
But Steve just keeps looking at him, and doesn’t give Tony the answers that he wants.
They just keep staring at eachother, time stretching out to what feels like infinity. It makes Tony squirm with an odd combination of intentions and discomfort.
He’s about to open his mouth and speak --and probably say something completely awkward-- when Clint walks in.
Tony’s feels a good deal of irritation as the vulnerable Cap of three fucking seconds ago quickly disappears into Leader of the Team, but only for a few seconds.
After all, it’s a little hard to stay mad in the face of the exuberant retort Clint throws his way.
“Well, look who’s finally awake! But dude, really, I feel as though I should tell you right now that no amount of beauty sleep is going to make you into Princess of the Ball.”
Tony can’t help but grin.
“Yeah,” he says, his voice still sounding like he’s been swallowing gravel, “but I’ll always have the comfort of knowing that I’m still be better looking than you.”
It’s not long until all the Avengers are piling in after that. Tony starts to understand that, yes, he’d actually, really, almost died. Again.
Bruce keeps looking at him with huge, thankful eyes; Clint just sort of sits near him and brushes elbows with him from time to time, and Natasha actually gives him a kiss on the cheek which is, holy shit, terrifying.
Thor keeps offering him pop-tarts like they’re the end all, cure all which, now that Tony thinks about it, he might legitimately think that they are. And at one point, someone, he doesn’t know who, ends up dialing up his morphine because they somehow magically figure out that he’s hurting everywhere like a motherfucker.
As for Steve, well, he stands by the door and watches over them all, as though it’s his duty to preserve this, whatever this may be. And Tony - well. He just doesn’t feel like dealing with all that distance. So, he does something about it in his typical, rash, uncaring-of-consequences way, which is only made worse by the fact that he is officially under the influence.
“Hey. Hey, Steve,” he finds himself practically slurring out because holy fuck these meds are fast at making him loopy. He’s even gesturing at the blond like an over excited five year old, “Steeeeeve. C’mere.”
Admittedly, he’s not happy that Steve actually hesitates; he ends up making grabby hands at the man with what has to be the most tripped out puppy eyes on the face of the planet. And then he sort of proceeds to whine until there is a warm, comfy-looking capsicle standing at the edge of his bed.
The last thing he remembers before everything blacks out is the somewhat tender look on Steve’s face, and himself grabbing onto Steve’s arm like he’s a lonely, little five year old boy again and Steve’s arm is the only thing keeping things from falling apart.
“Don’t do that.” He manages to mumble out before he’s totally gone, snuggling in, in a way that he would have never done if he’d been properly sober, “Be here and don’t leave, okay? Okay. Good.”
As it happens, when he wakes up the next morning, Tony is embarrassed to find out about three things:
One, Steve had actually stayed the entire goddamned night at the whim of a man who’d been drugged to the gills at the time of his request. Yeah, that sentence structure doesn’t really make sense to him either, really.
Two, Tony is that man. As in, the man who had actually sort of begged, in as much as any Stark does, for one of the finest heroes or all time to moonlight as his own, personal safety-blanket.
And three, he wakes up clutching onto Captain America’s arm; apparently, he’d buried his face in at some point in the middle of the night and then had proceeded to drool all over it.
Tony would feel embarrassed except Steve is smiling at him in that sweet way of his, looking for all the world like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be, like Tony has some sort of chance at having him. And Tony, well, he’s still high off a mixture of morphine, sleep, and Steve-filled dreams. He’s also a bit busy trying to calm his suddenly racing heart to be really concerned about anything else, because he’s attached to machines that are loudly giving a play-by-play of every single thing his body does.
Every. Single. Thing.
Seriously, Tony is very, very glad that he’s too stoned to get properly turned on right now because he doesn’t even want to know how Steve would react to that particular piece of information. Although, judging from his actual time period and his general personality, Tony expects that he’d have some sort of coronary before instinctively punching him through a wall. With prejudice.
He can’t help but feel a little crestfallen at the thought; he’s known since day one --yesterday? two weeks ago? he has no fucking idea-- that his feelings will never amount to anything. Shit, he’d made the decision right then and there that he wouldn’t allow things to go in that direction, that he wouldn’t ruin Steve the way he’s ruined himself over the years. But there’s this small part of his heart, albeit deeply buried, that’s filled with so much fucking hope, that pipes up every damned time Steve so much as looks at him.
It sucks; it makes him wanna do something utterly uncharacteristic, like cry.
Thankfully, he has more urgent things to worry about.
As it is, Steve keeps giving his heart monitor looks that are both quizzical and concerned in nature, which, okay, is actually sort of panic-inducing even through the haze of the Good Stuff. But he’s Tony fucking Stark, and instead of trying his very best to crawl under a rock and die, he deflects.
He pastes a smirk on his face, still dopey and sort of softer than he’d like, and says, “Hey. Good. You can be my ride. So, when are we leaving?”
And then everything goes to hell in a handbasket.
Tony doesn’t even know what’s happened at first because he’s been thinking that everything is going great; that small, persistently pining part of himself has reared its unwanted head again-- with clamors of maybe’s and false hopes-- and Tony doesn’t even care because he’s just too damned mellow to beat back that kind of shit.
But then the mood just changes, as though someone’s flipped a switch of some sort, and now everyone is pissy.
Or maybe that’s just him; Tony’s actually a little too baked to be comprehending all this crap.
What he can say for sure, is that he’s never seen the smile drop off of anyone’s face that fast. No. Really. It’s got to be some kind of record or something because one second, Steve is happy with him and sort of projecting warm fuzzies, and the next second, he’s glaring like Tony’s just spit in his food.
No, worse, Steve’s giving him the sort of look a parent would to their recalcitrant child-- the patented, ‘I am very disappointed in you, you bad child,’ look-- and it’s putting Tony on the defensive in so many ways.
And just like that, suddenly he’s not so mellow anymore.
“What?” He finds himself snapping out of reflex, almost instinctively chafing against the streak of authority in good old Captain America’s face and feeling so, so bitter for it. This is supposed to be his friend, one of the few people that he can rely on unconditionally to always want what’s best for him, and they’ve had to work so damned hard to get there. Tony doesn’t ever want to ruin that.
But still, he has to almost physically reign himself in before he opens his mouth again. He takes a deep breath, puts on a vaguely apologetic look on his face and tries again. “Sorry, sorry,” he says as pleasantly as he can. “What’s with the look?”
“You’re not well,” Steve says frankly, gritting his teeth a little and sounding so goddamned righteous that it makes Tony’s teeth ache, “You were just in a coma, Tony, for a week. You’re frail right now and frankly, we’re not equipped to take care of you at the tower.”
Oh, well, when he puts it like that.
Tony finds himself hurting again, even though he knows better, knows Steve better; intellectually, he knows that Steve just means that he wants Tony to stay in a place where they’ll take good care of him and be around if he needs them. But his heart, the one that’s been ripped out and stomped on more than he’s comfortable with admitting to, is flashing back to all those times when he was too young to fend for himself. ‘Please stay so they can take care of you,’ is translating into, ‘Please stay so we don’t have to take care of you,’ and the clash between the two thought processes is setting Tony’s teeth on edge.
On top of that, Tony’s ego is also rearing its ugly head. It’s screaming out that he’s fine dammit, that he can take care of himself. Which, considering that he actually has been taking care of himself since he was twelve and has managed to survive relatively intact, isn’t something that he can argue with. He really doesn’t feel like sharing his daddy issues with the world today. Combining that with his smarting ego means that he’s more than happy to latch onto the perfectly valid secondary argument that he has on hand.
“I’m not fucking breakable, Steve,” he says, eyes closed as he tries very, very hard not to explode in the middle of a fucking hospital room. “I’m not fragile.”
Steve, the bastard, just crosses his arms, raises an eyebrow, and says, “Could’ve fooled me.”
“Really,” Tony can’t help but ask, irritation practically oozing from his pores. “And I suppose you speak from years of medical school and experience?”
Steve, the bastard, just smirks, “No. But if you would like, I could drag in someone who has all those credentials so that they can say the same exact thing I’m saying...”
Tony has to concede that he has a point, however--
“Listen Steve,” he says, clenching his teeth in an effort to not shout, “I can’t be down for the count like this. Other than Thor, I’m the only other aerial support we’ve got, okay? You know this. I need you to use your leader mind for just one second and work with me here.”
“Actually,” Steve says nonchalantly, “You’ll find that we’ll do fine without you for a few weeks.”
Tony can’t help gaping a little.
It's always been a distinct, looming possibility, he knows, that he's more emotionally invested in the team than they are in him. It’s always been something that’s been in the back of his mind, a sort of inevitability that the darkest parts of him had pretty much always banked on.
But actually hearing the words feels like a solid punch to the gut.
God, it’s like having his heart ripped out all over again. He’d finally felt like he’d been properly needed, but apparently he’s only been fooling himself with pipedreams of belonging. He should have seen this coming, honestly. After all, it isn’t as though the universe is ever going to give him something good, not with all the bad shit he’s crammed into it.
In the meantime, Steve’s apparently continued to preach;Tony tunes back in just in time to hear him say, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to insist that you stay here.”
And that’s fucking it. Tony is pissed, hurt, bitchy, and angry with the world --with himself-- in a way he hasn’t been since he’d discovered that Obi was the biggest asshole on the whole goddamned planet.
He’s honestly about two seconds away from losing it completely, from being consumed by white hot rage and defeat, but when he finally speaks, his voice comes out ice-cold.
“That is not your prerogative, Captain,” he says, imbuing sub-arctic death into each syllable, before he reaches over for the call button and proceeds to ignore the shit out of the very existence of bastardish, 6 foot, blonde people.
By the time he’s bullied the hospital into letting him out which, surprisingly enough, takes a decent amount of time, Steve is long gone.
But for some reason that Tony can’t even fathom, because this is not his problem this time dammit, the image of hurt blue eyes haunts him for a good long while after.
Oh well, he thinks to himself morosely as he slowly begins to make his way out of bed, back to square one. It’s not as though I really needs people anyway.
As expected, the trip back is painful in ways that Tony can’t even describe. This is mostly because a) he’s maybe injured a small bit more than he’d originally thought and b) he isn’t looking forward to going hom--back to the tower in light of the recent revelations he’s had.
He’s not gonna lie, he’s really not sure what hurts more at this point. To be fair, he’s better equipped to deal with one over the other, and it’s definitely not feelings that he’s good with. So.
But he makes it, despite all the aches and the general unwillingness to put himself in a situation where he’s unwanted. He sneaks past the front door and into the elevator, stays awake through the 3 minutes it takes to go up 86 floors, and staggers his way through 3 separate corridors before finally making it to his bedroom and collapsing face first onto his bed.
He’s so exhausted by this point that the agony from landing on his wounds barely even phase him. All he really wants to do is to roll over, close his eyes, and maybe sleep for a year or four. Except--
--except his brain isn’t as injured as the rest of him and it’s never let him wind down properly anyway, even on a normal day. Right now, thoughts are whirring around in his mind like a horde of enraged hornets and Tony knows from sheer experience that he isn’t going to be able to sleep until he has everything resolved.
The problem is, Tony has no idea of how he’s supposed to even start solving the issues he’s facing. Because basically, this isn’t one of those things that he can throw either his money or his genius at in an attempt to make it go away.
Trying to properly categorize it doesn’t help either.
The main issue here is that he’s not really a part of the family, not like he’d thought. And as for solutions to take care of that, it’s not as though he can force people to like him, to legitimately want to be around him. The shitty, stupid reality of it is that there is no real answer for this; mostly, he just needs to suck it up, harden his pathetic heart, and move the hell on. He needs to go back to relying only on himself; he needs to sever all the attachments he’s made and go back to being the way he had been before.
The way things had been before the Avengers, when it had just been him, his robots, the smell of oil, and Pepper Potts, who’d occasionally pop in to make sure he was still alive and hadn’t destroyed the company.
But that’s going to be hard as hell.
Tony knows that, in order to accomplish this, he needs to stay away from everyone, to distance himself slowly but surely until one day he’ll wake up, and the gnawing ache in his chest will have disappeared. Except, here’s the wrench in his otherwise perfect plan; it will be near impossible to stay away because he lives with these people; he sees them every goddamned day, in every nook and cranny that possibly exists, and that’s just not conducive to what he needs to get done.
He briefly considers leaving himself, maybe going on a sabbatical; but that’s not gonna happen anytime soon, not with wounds he’s got. And frankly, the sooner he does this, the less painful it will be. He thinks about the possibility of leaving anyway, injuries be damned, but one look down at himself and the bled-through bandages that indicated a good few popped stitches, and even he has to admit that, no really, leaving is not an option.
The only other thing left to him, as far as he can see, is avoidance, which again, is incredibly difficult to do.
Tony can’t help but sigh. This is all a goddamned pain in his ass. But there’s nothing for it; he’s going to have to suck it up and maybe pretend they all have the plague or something, like from that saying.
His mind finally begins to shut down as he puts the finishing touches on his raggedy, pseudo-plan. He figures that he just needs to spend most of his time either in the lab or in his room. He’ll sneak out for food when no one else should be around, have Jarvis let him know if he’s about to bump into anyone and, on the off chance that he ends up face to face with one of them, he’ll just ignore them and leave the room.
And most importantly, he’ll go back to being just Iron Man instead of being one of the Avengers.
He figures that this way, he’ll stop existing to them and they’ll stop existing to him, and no one has to suffer through anyone. All’s well that ends well, and all that.
It doesn’t even occur to him that this is his tower, that if anything, they should be the ones leaving. He doesn’t even think of the fact that he shouldn’t have to scurry around in what was originally his home, because he’d offered it to the others months ago and he’s not going to rip their home away from them because his feelings got a little hurt.
The last thing he does before he’s finally down for the count, is to fiercely tell his goddamned heart to suck it the fuck up; this is just how things are going to be from now on and it’s just going to have to deal.
When he wakes up again a few hours later, he’s under the sheets and it looks like his bandages have been changed. It also looks like he’s been changed into something more comfortable, and a quick glance to the right confirms that, yeah, someone’s picked up his pills from the pharmacy. Everything Is neatly set up, the pills arranged in the order that he’s supposed to be taking them and several small bottles of water stacked behind all that. It all looks as though someone had gone through a lot of trouble to keep him from hurting.
And even as he dry-swallows two tablets, a grimace on his face from the chalky taste, he wonders why they even bothered.
He’s managed to avoid the entire team for the most part, excluding that one time when he’d run into Bruce in the kitchen and then had proceeded to hightail it like a bat outta hell, which, apparently, had caused a small amount of collateral damage because the Hulk had been upset by that. But, whatever.
In general, his plan is succeeding.
Sure, Jarvis keeps bitching at him about how he’s lost even more weight, and he’s pretty sure that at least one of the gaping holes on his body is infected. Sure, it still hurts like a fucker when he happens upon on an empty candy wrapper on the floor and his mind quickly supplies that it’s Thor’s favorite, or when he stumbles upon one of those girly magazines Natasha swears she doesn’t read. Sure, when he goes to the gym and notices yet another destroyed punching back, a part of him dies off because this is Steve, the guy who had become the center of his universe without him ever knowing, and he hasn’t seen him in what feels like forever.
But Tony will prevail, mainly because he’s got no other options.
He spends his days building things in his lab, managing catnaps on the cot when he can but not really managing more than 3 hours a day. He eats when he can, drinks mostly coffee, and he hasn’t taken his antibiotics since his third day back. He manages to boost sales at his company, ups his stock by inventing things, gets a few patents out of the deal, and generally keeps himself as busy as possible without outright trying to kill himself in the process.
Really, it shouldn’t be so surprising when one day, he realizes that he can’t feel his limbs and the world starts blacking out. Tony manages to be surprised anyway.
The last thing he hears is Jarvis, who is efficiently barking orders at god knows who and spewing death-threats like nobody’s business.
Tony feels oddly warmed even as he passes out, and he has to wonder if he’s that deprived of affection, that a little concern from an AI that he built makes him feel so good.
Actually, he knows exactly what to do. Unfortunately for him, he’s got wires attached to no less than eight parts of his body, there’s a breathing mask on his face, and he can’t be too sure, but those might legitimately be leather straps keeping him down, like the ones used in old school insane asylums. So no, running the fuck away is not an option, as much as he may want it to be.
Besides, he isn’t sure that his body is capable of breathing on its own at this point, much less support 125 pounds of fleeing flesh and muscle.
So he does what any normal person would do when finding themselves in a situation like this, he tries to rip the breathing mask off his face with a groan and rasp out, “Ugh, what the hell happened?”
Except for the part where the second his fingers go anywhere near the damned thing, warm, strong hands are immediately capturing his own and his brain immediately shuts down to everything but Steve.
The same Steve who just looks unhappy right now and there’s still a huge part of Tony that just wants to fix that, despite all his attempts at detaching himself from the whole thing. He lets his hand relax and settles back in, and tries to use his brain to telepathically convey his question of, ‘What the fuck. Why am I here?’
Thankfully, Steve seems to hear him loud and clear, which sends Tony into a slight tizzy about his own possible mental powers before he tunes back in.
“You’ve been unconscious for a week,” Steve says, his lips thinned in what looks to be barely contained fury, and his voice flat, “You ended up with infected wounds and blood, and it looks like you’ve ripped out at least half the stitches.” Then, before Tony can really keep up, he just looks tired again, his voice going hoarse, “You almost died, Tony. Again.”
And Tony just keeps quiet because really, what is he supposed to say to that? Oh, I don’t really value my life as much because up until a few months ago, people made me feel worthless and that sort of stuck? My life doesn’t mean as much because I suck and I’ve done horrible things and sometimes I think the only reason I’m alive is because I have to make things better? I don’t really care anymore because I have nothing left to live for anymore, anyway?
Yeah no, Tony is okay with not shoving all of his baggage onto people he feels things for, thanks. Especially when said person doesn’t feel much of anything but barely there tolerance in return. Even he isn’t so pathetic.
He tunes into the world again, just in time to hear Steve’s hoarsely whispered, “Goddamn you.”
And then the other man just leaves; he turns his back, his spine a rigid line of aching exhaustion and frustration, and walks out.
Tony isn’t sure what to say about that either, so he just lets himself drift off and go back to sleep. Or rather, he tries to do that; except, just as he’s finally about to doze off, Clint walks in.
“So,” he says, crossing his arms and looking oddly concerned and peeved all at once, “You want to explain the past couple of weeks to me?” He has that stubborn look on his face, the one that says ‘I will bring Natasha into this if I have to, dammit.’ “And also,” he continues, “ you wanna tell me why I just happened to pass by a Cap who looked about two seconds away from crying?”
He looks just as ragged as Steve had, there are dark circles under his eyes, and he’s got stubble on his face. He looks, for all the world, like a man who’d just spent the past week in a hospital, looking after someone else and worrying incessantly. And okay, Tony’s sworn off of the Avengers, off of people in general, but he can’t help the worry that rises in his throat.
“Who’s hurt?” he finds himself blurting out as soon as he rips off his oxygen mask and finds out that, hey, he can still breathe. “Not Steve, because he was just here. Not you because you’re here. Is it Natasha? Bruce? Thor?” Which, admittedly, Thor isn’t someone that he really needs to worry about because he’s a god and is therefore better equipped to deal with this shit than say, the other two. But Tony can’t help the worry gnawing at his insides like a starving animal.
Instead of giving him answers though, Clint just looks flabbergasted, his eyes wide and his jaw hanging slack, before his eyes soften a little. “Oh my god,” he says in a rush, teeth gritted. “You’re having one those attacks aren’t you? The ones that Natasha put into your profile when she was researching you.”
Before Tony could even come up with a proper response, Clint goes to the door, sticks his head out, and screams, “YO! Natasha! We’ve got a problem here!”
Tony can’t help flopping his head back onto his pillow. He’s got the worst feeling in the world about the conversation that he’s no doubt about to have.
“Massively self-destructive... penchant for emulating the quintessential lone-wolf despite evidence indicating that such a state leaves him depressed and prone to further suicidal tendencies?!” Tony can’t help but squawk, his voice hoarse and tired.“Natasha! What the hell!”
It definitely doesn’t make him feel better when all she does is raise an eyebrow at him and say, “Oh. So you do remember by name, then. I didn’t think you would, what with it having been so long since I last saw you...” Not exactly fair but then again, not exactly undeserved either.
Tony just flops back tiredly in retaliation, he’s hurting too much to deal with this bullcrap. “Can someone just explain what the fuck is going on? All I wanted to know was if anyone was hurt. And then Clint there,” he pauses for a second to level a glare at the archer, “decided to call you in so you can prove to me that I’m apparently a head-case. But hey, since you’re here too, I can take you off the shit-list. So, Bruce or Thor?”
Natasha just levels him with another one of her looks, although this time, there’s a small twinge of pity there that immediately puts Tony on the defensive.
“What?” he snaps, feeling another bout of deja vu.“What’s with the look?”
It’s actually Clint who sits next to him with a stony look on his face, “Okay, how bout we do it this way. It’s story time. This particular one is about a man who, even though it’s not really his fault, hates himself and drives his teammates fucking crazy with his inability to stay in one piece.” He smacks Tony across the head when he opens his mouth to retort, glaring at him before continuing, “Now let’s imagine a world where this man’s friends slash teammates spend said man’s run in the hospital sitting at his bedside, worrying themselves sick because the idiot has landed himself in a coma...”
Tony sort of huddles into his pillows, his shoulders as hunched as he can get them. This story is beginning to sound vaguely familiar.
Clint just glares some more, “All the doctors are saying that he’s going to die. But he eventually wakes up like the stubborn asshole that he is and his friends are so damned relieved that it’s almost a little disgusting. There may have even been tears involved, though no one will admit to it. They think everything is going to be fine now and hey, maybe he’ll even stay alive for an extended period of time! Except, they forgot to take into account that he is an idiot who signs himself out AMA the day after he woke up because he is a bastard and he wants to send his friend-mates into premature heart-attacks...and then proceeds to disappear until two weeks later when the house’s AI calls for everyone in a panic....”
Oh, right. That’s him isn’t it? The feeling that he’s made some sort of heinous miscalculation is hovering at the brink of his mind, and he’s got the sinking feeling that he knows exactly what Clint is talking about now.
“Because god forbid, he actually takes care of himself! Fucking blood infections, they said! Going to die, again, they said!”
At one point, Tony just sort of tunes him out, because he is ranting and raving. Also, his voice is getting a bit too loud for Tony to be able to properly bear at this point in his life, especially not over an extended period of time like the hour and a half of this that he’s had to endure so far.
Surprisingly enough, it’s Natasha who takes mercy on him, smoothing his hair back in a gesture that’s frankly both comforting and terrifying. “What were you even thinking,” she asks, a resigned look on her face as she eyes Clint and his ever continuing ranting, “Do you even understand how worried we were?”
Let it never be said that Tony Stark is an idiot.
He eyes Clint too before he manages to reply, “I think I’m starting to get it.”
And then, very softly, he says, “I’m sorry...” Because he is, and he’s also the biggest idiot on the face of the planet. Hell, he thinks as he watches Clint gesticulate with fury, maybe the entire goddamned universe.
Natasha just snorts at him again, and Tony makes a mental note to remind her that it’s not lady-like, just to fuck with her a little. “Not us you really have to worry about,” she says serenely, “We’re used to dealing with your particular brand of crazy. But Steve on the other hand...He was worried sick, like you wouldn’t believe. He literally did not leave your bedside with the exception of bathroom breaks and the occasional heroics. And you....”
Tony just winces.
“Yeah,” she says to him, eyebrow raised. “You are going to be grovelling until the end of time.”
Surprisingly enough, Tony thinks as he bobs his head in agreement, it’s not an entirely unpleasant thought.
Natasha eventually manages to herd Clint out, a promise to make Steve visit him on her lips even though he hasn’t asked for any such thing.
He doesn’t have the self-control in him to say no to it, though.
“Hey,” he says, a wry look on his face even as he frowns at the oxygen mask that is no longer on Tony’s face, as though the force of his disapproval will make the damned thing jump back to where it had originally been. “So I hear that you’ve come to your senses, finally?”
Tony can’t help but chuckle at that, even if that chuckle ends up turning into something like a sob at one point because he loves this man, god help him. “Eyes up here,” he says, hating himself for sounding a bit watery. “My face is up here.”
He’s actually a little gratified when Steve blushes and stutters, trying to explain that no he hadn’t been looking at anything untoward. It’s adorable, and it makes him want to grab the man, pull him onto the bed, and just sleep on top of him for a while. He wants to declare his undying love, and maybe sort of coo a little because Jesus Christ, no grown man should be so cute.
“I’m a guy,” he says instead, grinning so wide that it feels like his face his splitting apart and batting down all sorts of urges to do embarrassing things, “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a --oh wait, how would you say it? I’m no dame.”
Steve glares a little, smiling despite himself.
“Hmm,” he says, as nonchalant as ever. “Coulda fooled me.” And then he proceeds to laugh himself sick as Tony gapes at him like a fish out of water.
But hey, Tony isn’t the reigning champion of snarkfest for nothing. “Oh really,” he drawls again, when he’s finally gotten over what the other man just said, “Does that mean you’ve been checking me out, hm? Do you think I’m pretty?”
And then everything comes to a grinding halt, a moment frozen in time.
Tony almost punches himself in the face because everything had been going fine and now he’s ruined it with his big fucking mouth, as fucking usual. Jesus Christ, what the fuck is wrong with him! He watches the other man with cautious eyes, just about ready to take his words back.
But he’s beaten to the punch, so to speak.
It takes a bit for Steve to respond, his eyes hooded and his fist clenched as though he’s gathering up the courage to fight an army. Tony’s almost expecting an angry rant about how he shouldn’t make jokes like that, maybe because it’s disgusting or maybe because it’s insensitive. At this point, Tony really can’t be too sure. He’s expecting something loud, something modelled after the rest of their general interactions; however, when Steve does finally speak, his voice is almost unnaturally quiet.
Here’s the thing: that’s not even what gets to Tony, the whole quiet thing. No. It’s what he actually says that does.
“So what if I have?” he asks, eyes wide and sort of hopeful and sort of as though he can’t believe that he’s saying this. “So what if I think you’re good-looking? So what if I’ve been, how would you say it, checking you out?” He looks at Tony through his lashes, a look that would be coy on anyone else but is mostly just sweet and shy on him.
Suddenly, there isn’t enough oxygen for breathing; lord knows Tony’s definitely having a hard time of it.
His mind keeps running through a loop, keeps saying that Steve doesn’t mean it in the way Tony thinks he does, that he doesn’t feel the same dammit because Tony doesn’t deserve him and he never, ever, will. He closes his eyes, trying to fortify his mind against the onslaught of negativity. Except he’s drugged to the gills again and he has no way of dealing with the war in his head between hope and pragmatism.
When he finally opens his eyes again, Steve is suddenly very, very close, and he looks worried. “Tony?” he asks, nervous, “Is that not okay? I’m sorry...It’s just...you talk in your sleep and...you said...and I thought...oh darn.”
Tony just barely manages to grab his hand before he runs out, banking on the fact that Steve would rather rip off his own arm than hurt his bed-ridden teammate. He’s more than a little glad when he’s made the right assumption and Steve freezes because he really can’t afford to lose any more blood.
“Hey wait,” he rasps out, his fingers clutching weakly at well formed, artist’s fingers. “Wait. I didn’t say that you could leave.”
He tugs at Steve, trying to force him closer, to keep him in a place where he’ll never leave again. For a man who’d been about two seconds away from booking it, Steve seems willing enough to be tugged around as though he’s some kind of man-sized doll. But, just in case, Tony doesn’t let go of his hand.
Once they’ve settled down, Tony pauses for a second to wet his lips before saying, “You said that I talk in my sleep...” He’s got visions of himself screaming out in a pornographic way, writhing, and if this’d happened when he thinks it happened, humping Steve’s arm. But, he figures that if he’d done anything that embarrassing, Steve wouldn’t be this close again. Then again...
Tony looks up, staring at the other man’s face for any sign of disgust.
He’s really surprised when instead, Steve just looks fond. “You’re sort of adorable when you sleep you know,” he says, and he’s got this endearingly embarrassed little smile on his face. “You just mumbled things, and you kept saying my name and one point you kissed my arm. You were...sweet.”
And Tony, well, he’s just gone. Fuck, he’s been gone on this guy for a long while now, hasn’t he?
“I love you,” he ends up blurting out, his eyes wide and probably more than a little panicked looking. “I know I don’t deserve you but I really, really want you and I honestly don’t know what I’ll do right now if you say no so I suggest you let them drug me up some more before you end up breaking my heart so there’s just less damage all around.”
His heart is racing and he’s pretty sure that he’s about to pass out from sheer, unadulterated fear. He’s expecting a gentle, but firm rejection. Then there are fingers pulling his face up--
--and it’s like the sun’s come up for the first time in the form of Steve’s smile.
“I love you too,” he says firmly, before sealing their lips together in a kiss.
He also bullies Steve into getting into bed with him.“No funny stuff,” he promises with a tired chuckle even as he arranges the other man’s limbs to his liking before practically falling on top of him and snuggling in. Steve just sort of laughs at him and goes along with it, curling around him as much as he can when everything is said and done.
But, because he’s Tony Stark and the universe dictates that he put his foot in his mouth at least once in every meaningful conversation, Tony doesn’t just shut up and go to sleep like a good little boy.
Instead, just as he starts to doze, content for the first time in a long time, he manages to ask one last question. “So,” he practically slurs out. “When do I get to go home?”
He’s asleep before he can hear Steve’s invective filled rant about how he’s going to stay until the doctors themselves kick him out, dammit.
He’s completely wrong. Again.
Instead, Natasha and Bruce, who hadn’t been allowed to be in the hospital because of the other guy, have Steve--the traitor-- sit him down on the couch. And then, they proceed to have a chat with him about how if he doesn’t stay on there for the next few weeks, Natasha will be forced to break his toes one at a time until he does. Bruce adds in his two cents by saying that he will Hulk out and break the coffee machine, so help him God. They put Clint on guard-duty, with permission to shoot him in the ass if it comes down to that.
As though that weren’t terrifying enough, a little while after that, Thor makes it down from Asgard and proceeds to sob all over him because he, ‘had not been there in the Man of Iron’s great time of need.’ Natasha recruits him too; she tells Thor to sit on him if need be because he is not allowed off the goddamned couch until he is fully and completely healed.
Frankly? Tony is freaked out by the whole thing.
It isn’t until Steve sits down next to him, wrapping a ginormous arm around his waist that Tony is able to figure all this out. And even then it’s only because Steve flat out tells him.
“We can’t afford to lose you, idiot,” he says fondly, kissing his temple to lessen the insult. “We just...you don’t understand how worried we were when you were in the hospital. Both times.”
Tony looks at him first in wonder, then in shame. “I thought you guys didn’t...I thought that you didn’t...”
“I thought that I wasn’t really wanted around here,” he finishes lamely, burying his face in his boyfriend’s shoulder.
“That,” Steve says in a frank tone, “is because you’re an idiot.”
As all the others make their way in, cramming onto the couch for an impromptu movie marathon and crowding into his personal space, Tony honestly can’t disagree
“Whatever,” he says, grinning, before he begins to heckle Bruce for his choice in movies because he’s gone and picked, ‘My Fair Lady.’
This is his life, and really, he loves it.