"We must make haste," Thor announced with some consternation. "It would not be seemly to arrive late for this great event."
Clint rolled his eyes. "Great event? It's just like the one back in April. And it'll be just like the one in December."
"You know these press events are all the same," Natasha said.
"At least Fury only makes us do it three times a year," Bruce sighed.
They were all gathered in the main living room, dressed to the nines and full of grim purpose. Nights like this were the thing Steve disliked the most about being an Avenger – nor was he alone in holding that opinion. But they were superheroes; when duty called, they did what needed to be done.
Well, most of them did.
"Where's Tony?" Steve said.
The other Avengers all looked around with varying degrees of exasperation.
"He said he would be right here," Steve said.
"And you believed him?" Natasha asked, arching one fine eyebrow.
Steve gave her a half-hearted shrug. "Maybe?"
"JARVIS." Clint raised his voice. "Where's Stark hiding?"
"Mr. Stark is in the library," JARVIS replied calmly.
"You mean he's still there?" Steve frowned. Off Natasha's pointed glare, he said quickly, "I swear, he said he was going to get ready."
They all just stood there for a moment, Natasha in a stunning red dress that bared her shoulders, Bruce and Clint in formal tuxedos, Thor wearing his ceremonial armor and helm.
Steve squared his shoulders under his military uniform. "All right," he said grimly. "Avengers, assemble."
As one they marched down the hall and into the library. In the doorway they stopped dead, clustered together, no one daring to speak at first.
"Oops," Clint snickered.
"Why didn't I think of that?" Bruce muttered.
Steve said nothing. He was too busy staring.
Just an hour ago he had been sitting in here, reading one of the many books gathered on the shelves in here. For all his love of technology, Tony had an amazing selection of literature – including pulpy science-fiction stories that made Steve smile with wistful nostalgia for his childhood.
So Steve had been reading, and Tony had wandered in at one point, wearing a flannel dressing gown over a long-sleeved black shirt. He had looked tired, but pleased to see Steve. He had cocked one hip on an expensive end table and poured himself a drink. "Whatcha reading?"
Steve had held up the book. "Lovecraft."
Tony had toasted him with the glass of Scotch. "Excellent choice."
Shortly thereafter, JARVIS had warned them that they had the publicity event to attend. Steve had sighed, but put his book down and started to head for his room. "You coming?"
Tony had waved him off. "Yeah, yeah, I'll be there," he had promised. "Just gotta do something in here real quick, then I'll get ready."
Evidently that not had exactly happened.
Tony was lying on the couch, deeply asleep. He was still in that dressing gown, one arm pillowed beneath his head. The double layers of thick clothing hid the glow from the arc reactor, rolling back the years. In sleep he looked innocent, the rapid-fire chatter and manic gestures finally stilled. It was so rare to see him at peace that Steve did not want to do anything to disturb the moment. In fact, what he really wanted to do was just stand there and linger, and enjoy the view.
"You guys go on ahead," he said quietly. "Iron Man can sit this one out for a little bit."
"Seriously?" Clint deadpanned.
"Yes, seriously," Steve said, frowning. "You all know he's been working too hard lately. On things for us, I might add. I think we owe it to him to let him sleep now, don't you?"
Clint and Bruce dropped their eyes. Thor nodded solemnly. Natasha stared at him with a look of narrow consideration, apparently making a mental adjustment to her assessment of Steve's leadership abilities – capable of astonishing guilt trips.
"We'll be there later, after Tony wakes up," he said more patiently. "You guys just go."
"Avengers, we must make haste," Thor rumbled, "lest they cease serving those delicious morsels you call shrimp cocktail."
"Are you gonna take one from each tray again?" Clint asked. "'Cause you know you don't have to do that, right?"
"Okay," Steve said firmly in a rather loud stage whisper. He prevented himself from making little shooing motions with his hands only with an effort. "Time to go."
"Yes," Natasha said tightly; her eyes promised Steve a slow and painful death. "I agree."
One by one, they turned around and left the library.
Steve waited until he was sure they were gone before he turned around. "Well," he said.
Tony cracked open one eye, making sure the coast was clear. Then he rolled onto his back and smiled lazily. "I thought they'd never leave."
Steve grinned and stalked toward him. "Neither did I," he said.
"So now that you've vanquished the forces of evil," Tony said, "what do you plan to do?"
"Isn't this the part where I wake you up with a kiss?" Steve asked.
Still smiling, Tony reached for him. "My hero," he said.