Steve was just walking in from the landing patch, hoping to get some rest before the next catastrophe went down and needed his immediate attention. How had Tony done it when he'd been in charge of SHIELD? And how much of that time would he even remember if Steve asked about it? Did he even want to ask and find out?
Absentmindedly shaking his head he made his way over towards their communal kitchen and was glad to see that some Avengers were still around. The light and their voices drifted over to him through the dark hallway.
“Have you even seen him since we got back?” Carol asked, looking worried. “You know how he gets...”
“Do I?” Jess asked back. “He's a grown man, Carol, he can take care of himself.”
Carol look unconvinced, but it was Clint who quipped: “Jeez, bets are out on that. I've lived with him for years and...”
Jess smacked him against the head as an obvious warning. “Look who's talking, Mister.”
“Damn it, Jess,” Clint complained. “We're talking about Tony here.”
“Point stands,” she said with a stern look. “You're not the one to point fingers.” And in a slightly smaller voice she added: “And neither am I.”
“Something wrong?” Steve slowly looked from one to the other, then his eyes came to rest on Carol, who was the one of the trio wearing the slightly worried expression. If there was something going on with Tony he'd rather hear about it now and make sure it didn't get out of hand.
“Actually,” Carol suddenly said, perking up and smiling, “it's so good you're finally here, Steve! Go downstairs and get Tony from the workshop, will you?”
His eyebrows rose at her changed tone and body language. “Why? What is he up to?”
“He was thrown through a building today and then an AIM squad took out his armor while he was in mid flight.” Clint shrugged. “Spider-Man and Carol got to him in time, but it was close. You know? Things that happen on the really bad Mondays? Remember them? We used to have them a lot. Recently, too. Bad Mondays.”
Hearing that Tony had been in trouble while he'd been away always made his chest constrict with worry. Even on the better days Tony didn't bother to take enough care of himself, was always willing to jump in headfirst without a worry for personal risks. Getting hurt and not taking care of himself was just part of how he lived - and sometimes it drove Steve up the wall. “Is he hurt?”
“Steve,” Carol said earnestly and shrugged. “You know Tony. He says he's okay. Now will you please get him and make sure he lies down before he just keels over?”
“How long has he been down there?” Steve was already thinking through all of the options to get him to agree to see a doctor or at least let Steve check him over. He could go down bring him coffee or try to coax him out with a sandwich. But Tony usually had more than enough coffee in the workshop. “And has someone looked him over after the fight?”
“No,” Jess said. “He just shrugged it of.”
Carol looked grave again. “He ran off to work on his defenses the moment we came back to the Tower.”
“Which was six hours ago,” Clint added with a slightly guilty look.
Oh, Tony, Steve thought and huffed. “And you think I can get him to take a rest if he's hiding in the workshop?” The way all three of them suddenly stared at him, Carol smiling brightly as if he was being purposefully obtuse, and Clint like he wasn't sure Steve was joking, seemed to be out of place. “What?” he asked.
“My god, Commander Rogers,” Jessica said and patted him on the shoulder like she was a teacher talking to a particularly dense pupil that needed encouragement.
“You're really adorable,” Carol told him. “Now go do your duty, Cap. Tony is your problem now. He's off my hands.”
He frowned, the words: “I'm not Captain America anymore,” were hanging on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed them down, staring at Carol. He had an Iron Man to pry out of the clutches of science and he suspected he'd better have a good plan for it before he went anywhere near Tony. So instead of complaining about the familiar nickname he just nodded at Carol and the rest and with the air of determination turned and walked back towards the elevators. He'd make a detour to his own quarters and slip out of the uniform. The last thing he wanted was Tony thinking that he'd come to order him around as “Commander Rogers”.
“That's not cute anymore,” Clint muttered behind him. “They really need to wake up.”
“Nothing you can do with two stubborn men like that. One runs to his work when he needs to push through his issues and the other is so married to being... well, Cap that he doesn't even see what's right in front of him,” Carol said with a sigh. “It's hopeless. Adorable, but hopeless.”
After a moment Jessica added: “Men are just stupid.” He could hear Clint's muffled protest.
Steve tried not to grin, even now in the dark in front of the elevator where they couldn't see him.
* * *
Tony didn't react surprised, just gave him an unhappy sideways look and said: “Don't know what to call it. AIM Approved Iron Man Defense Mechanism 32, maybe.”
“Ah, that the tech that took you out?”
“It didn't take me out or I wouldn't be here. It made the armor shut down for two minutes.”
“Mid flight. I heard.”
“Of course, you did,” Tony said without inflection and then peered at him from beneath his lashes as if he wasn't sure he wanted to say more or not.
“You trying to solve this tonight?” he asked, casually.
Tony made an affirmative sound and went back to his work. Obviously this was personal. Steve leaned against one of the work benches and just took the time to watch him carefully, the way his hands moved, the way his shoulder muscles moved under the t-shirt, the way he kept himself focused on the task of dismantling the apparatus. He reached for a spanner and there was just the briefest moment when his back tensed and his arm faltered in mid motion – and then it was all over and he was back at work. But Steve had seen enough. Tony was hiding – or purposefully ignoring - some pain, probably stemming from a hurt back or shoulder.
He knew that arguing about it was not going to get him the best results. So he sat down and thought about how best to go about it.
One of the metal parts of the apparatus fell to the floor with a loud clang and Steve tried not to smile. “Damn it,” Tony said and used a hand to rub at his tired eyes.
“Tony?” Steve said.
“I'm not going to bed, Steve. I need to solve this.”
Oh, he understood that, also understood that whatever had happened had rattled Tony, that he needed to push himself so hard because of that, to prove to himself that he couldn't be beat so easily. Six hours, he thought. I can give him one more, before I push this.
He stood up and walked to Tony's little fridge in the corner, surveyed the assortments of bottles and containers. “Should I order some pizza?” he asked as he brought a bottle of water over and placed it beside Tony's arm. Tony's jaw was set in giving him a stubborn air, but when he noticed the water and finally registered the question surprise ghosted over his face, then suspicion.
“Are you staying down here?” he asked.
“Eating alone is a bit, well, lonely, isn't it?”
Tony finally and very slowly nodded, focusing back on his work, but not interfering when Steve ordered and got them their food. He even ate two slices that Steve shoved at him in-between working. About an hour later Tony was running a program, watching the progress, occasionally typing in something or other, when he could no longer stop himself from yawning widely.
“Tired?” Steve asked with a smile.
“You hung out down here just so you'd get to say that,” Tony accused.
Steve's grin widened. “Actually, I came down here because Carol told me to do my duty. Apparently you're high on the list.”
Tony looked at him darkly and, spanner in hand, walked over to the worktable were Steve was currently blocking his view of the computer screens there. “I'm busy.”
“You're always busy, but you need to sleep sometime.” He took the tool from his hand to put it aside, but Tony's hand reached to snatch it back quickly and he held it up out of his reach.
“Steve, don't be silly.”
“I'm not silly. You're tired, you're hurt, you've worked for hours. Go to sleep. It's after midnight.”
He held the spanner up and farther out of Tony's reach, grinning at the slightly sluggish way that Tony tried to get it away from him, testament to how exhausted he really was. “Come on. I'm here now for at least a few more hours. We could go upstairs to your room, take a shower. Together. I can look at your back and patch you up and...”
“And?” Tony asked with a hint of interest.
His eyes narrowed. He was still trying to grab back the little tool that Steve was holding out of his reach and his expression was dark, aggravated.
Steve smiled softly. “Come on, Tony,” he said, trying for seductive, but coming out somewhere less sexy and more worried and then pulled him closer, captured his chin in on one hand and as Tony stretched and reached up to get at the spanner kissed him. Tony melted against him instantly and for a split second there was nothing but that soft, reverent touch of lips, Tony's beard scratching against his skin. “Please?” he asked when he pulled away.
“Okay,” Tony said, not smiling. “But only because it's impossible to resist your puppy dog eyes and I'm such a push-over, Commander Rogers.”
He chuckled and pulled Tony into an embrace, spanner still in his hand, even now that Tony had finally forgotten about it and snaked his own arms around his midsection. “Good,” he said and pressed a kiss onto the back of Tony's head, just holding him there for now. “Did you realize the Avengers think we're both stupid for not realizing how much we love each other?”
“We are stupid, Steve,” Tony muttered, not even trying to hide his exhaustion now. “It took us until now to even try this...”
“Hmm.” He pressed another kiss against Tony's cheek and then pushed him forward, leading him towards the door. “They'll be relieved then, when we tell them.”
“If you think that telling them will keep them from having a betting pool about out love life, think again, Captain Handsome.”
“Oh?” he said. “Actually I was thinking of putting money on a long lasting relationship myself.”
Tony looked up at him with a blank expression when they reached the elevator. “Is that what this is?” he asked in a small voice, and like he didn't allow himself to hope it was true.
“You bet,” he said and kissed him again, thinking that maybe Carol, Jess and Clint were right after all. They could both be pretty dense when it came to the things that went on between them.