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the very heart of it

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Tony doesn't sleep through SHIELD meetings as a rule, but only because he seldom attends them. He claims – not without reason – that he's too busy, and so far he has come up with half a dozen new inventions to prove it, ranging from homing arrows to thermal armour to a prototype “invisi-suit” which, okay, didn't actually work out but was a good idea while it lasted. The point is, Fury should be happy that he's even turned up; keeping his eyes open and actually paying attention is asking far too much from someone who spent the last thirty-two hours neck deep in the guts of the Iron Man suit, attempting to improve its maneuverability, and also its imperviousness to slime.

 

He's leaning back in his chair listening to Fury de-brief the team and contemplating other possible uses of the word “de-brief” (hey, it's not his fault he belongs to a team of freakishly attractive superheroes whose costumes leave little to the imagination) when his eyes close, and it's only supposed to be for a minute except that he kind of maybe sleeps through the rest of the meeting. Whatever. The next thing he knows, someone's hand is on his shoulder, shaking him gently.

 

“Tony. Wake up.”

 

“Mmmgh?”

 

Tony cracks one eye open. Steve is looking down at him, a slight smile of indulgence curling his lips, and Tony blinks, wondering when he'd gotten so familiar with the variations of expression on the Captain's face.

 

“Hey Soldier,” he mumbles, unable to muster the energy to sound annoyed. “I see you drew the short straw.”

 

Steve's hand drops away and his eyes widen, but it's not until consciousness fully returns that Tony realises the rest of the team is also staring at him in utter silence.

 

“What?” he says. “Do I have drool on my face or something?”

 

“Do you realise what you just – “ Clint begins, only to stop with a suddenness that makes Tony suspect one of the Black Widow's heels just impacted heavily with his shin. Natasha is looking at him with a speculative expression, which might mean he does have drool on his face, or it may just be that she's contemplating how best to kill him using only her pinky and one of the little hair-clip-thingies currently holding back her auburn curls.

 

“Tired, Stark?” she asks, smiling sweetly.

 

“I'm not answering that. You might use it as an excuse to steal a kidney while my guard is down,” Tony informs her, pushing his chair away from the table and stretching out the kinks in his neck. “Where's Fury?”

 

“He left,” Steve says. “The meeting ended ten minutes ago.”

 

“So that means we're free to go, right?”

 

For a second, Steve just watches him, the same considering look in his eyes that had been on Natasha's face. Tony swipes instinctively at his chin, then at his cheeks in the hopes of removing whatever the hell it is that's making them all act so strangely. Then the Captain shrugs. “Yeah. We're free to go.”

 

“Excellent,” Tony says. “Let's blow this popsicle stand.”

 

Seriously, the sooner they get out of this room the better because the way Coulson is looking at him is starting to give him the creeps.