Steve’s swearing at his bandages again, somewhere in his head. He doesn’t really do it out loud much unless he’s furious, because he has a temper and it belongs inside of him where he can keep a nice firm grip on it, thank you very much, especially now he’s Cap and not just Steve anymore. But these particular damn bandages would drive someone to murder, let alone cursing. He catches the end between his teeth and sort of twists his fingers and yeah, this is never going to work. It’s actually making him look a little ridiculous, you know, what with Natasha snapping her taser bracelet gauntlet things on, and Clint checking his arrows, and Thor just standing there and hefting Mjölnir, perhaps now is not the best of times for Captain America to be fiddling with bandages, he’s supposed to be an example or something.
It says a lot about his state of mind right now that he doesn’t really know, or at least can't be bothered to define for himself. Steve always knows what he is, even when all he is is a street kid from Brooklyn.
And something metal and heavy thunks down on the bench beside him, making him jump. How anyone manages to lose their focus to the point where Tony Stark in the Iron Man armour can sneak up on them, especially someone with super-serum-enhanced hearing – well, this plainly isn’t Steve’s day.
“How’s the non-existent injuries, oh Captain my Captain?” says Tony. His wisecracks border on the cheerful now instead of the probing, teasing instead of insulting. Steve still feels shameful relief at that, the gratitude of the scrawny orphan who’s been hit too often that here, at least, is not another person he cannot allow himself to run away from. It’s so good to know that he doesn’t have to fight, not this, not here.
“They don’t heal,” he says by way of explanation.
Tony pauses. “I thought that was, like, your super-thing,” he says. Something flashes across his face that Steve can’t read: anger?
On second thoughts, maybe Steve shouldn’t have opened this can of worms.
Well, too late. Steve turns his hands palm upwards, the bandages puddling in them, hanging down between his fingers. He’s aware, distantly, of the others, of their attention drawn to his corner of the jet. It’s a test. It’s not a test. It feels like a test.
“My hands don’t heal the way yours do,” he says. “Callouses, and – scars and – they don’t do that. It just comes back, same as before.”
Tony watches his hands for a moment. Steve sees the way his gaze slides from his fingertips to Steve’s own gloves, back again.
He doesn’t know if he still needs the bandages with these new gloves. He’s not eager to experiment. The first time it happened it took nearly two days for his hands to heal and he couldn’t do a thing with them until they had. Skin perfect like a baby’s, soft and far too delicate for an adult, let alone an adult who punched people a lot and tended to carry a vibranium shield around with him that hung off his fingertips by a thin leather strap.
You’re doing too much too fast, Peggy had said, laving his palms with cream, fingertips stroking over his knuckles, and he’d almost, almost kissed her then, but they’d promised – they’d promised. After the War.
Steve has always done too much too fast.
Tony peels the armour’s – gloves? – off, the metal sliding back and falling away, and takes the bandages in his hands. He’s got scars for both of them, callouses too. Steve holds his hand out, silent with surprise. Wind, tug, check the tightness, wind and wind, fasten, move over to the other hand.
“Thanks,” Steve says, because he doesn’t know what else to say. Peggy used to do this for him, stolen seconds to smile and touch before a battle. This isn’t affectionate – Tony’s doing something that needs doing, his hands as steady as they are in the workshop, on the suit.
Tony purses his lips, makes a movement of his head that might be an aborted shake. “I call it arc ache,” he says.
Steve clenches his hands, watches his knuckles move under the bandages. “All the time?”
Tony pats his wrist. “Enough of.”
“Yeah,” says Steve. He stands up, and tugs his gloves on, liking the thicker feel of them, the softer lining. He can’t say thanks again, Tony will make a crack about his faulty old man’s memory. “Coming?”
Tony turns his own hands upwards, and the metal folds back around them, encases his fingers; it’s beautiful. “Yeah,” he says. “Coming.”
That’s a genuine smile. Steve’s weirdly proud. He’s only ever seen Tony give one of them to Pepper, and once or twice Colonel Rhodes or Bruce, before.
He answers in the same language.