"Okay, that's done." Tony put the finishing touches on the new Quinjet engine design— you never knew when you might need to reach planetary orbit, never mind all of Fury's loaded sighs and refusals to sign contracts. He wiped the air in his circumference clean with two sweeps of his hand, took off the welding glove he'd gotten too distracted to take off two hours ago and—
—and Steve was asleep. Again.
"Alright, that is just it." Tony picked up the bulkhead paneling from the nearest table, raised it to shoulder level, and let it fall with a deafening clang.
The tumble off the couch served Steve right.
"...and if you flick this switch before you nock it to your bow, it also injects a neuralizing agent." Tony thumbed the switch in question as a demonstration. "So, Captain America sleeps a lot."
Clint looked at him askance. "Uh. Yeah. If by 'a lot' you mean 'not a lot'."
"That's not what I mean."
Clint looked over at the wall, then raised his eyebrow at the wall, then looked back at Tony, then squinted at Tony. It took him a full ten seconds to complete it all. "Dude's always down here in the morning when I get in. My impression is he doesn't sleep much."
"Oh, look." Tony punched a button behind him. "New target drone."
“Alright, party can start now.” Tony took a running leap and bounced down on the middle couch cushion, nearly sending Natasha and Bruce spilling over their armrests. Bruce got carefully to his feet and retired to the floor next to Thor’s chair. “What’s the movie?”
“Mr. Takagi won’t be joining us for the rest of his life,” Clint intoned around a mouthful of kettle corn.
“Gimme.” Tony held out his hand and the popcorn bowl was slapped into it. Before he could gather it to his chest and keep it there for all eternity, another hand descended, scooping up popcorn, and Steve dropped down next to Tony on the couch.
“Hold on to your stars and stripes, Captastic,” Tony said, settling back. “You’re in for a treat of epic proportions.”
By the time Hans Gruber commandeered the Christmas party, Steve was out cold against Tony’s side, one hand in the popcorn bowl.
Tony sipped his coffee.
Natasha sipped her coffee in agreement.
Tony sipped his coffee in appreciation of the pleasant weather outside the window.
Natasha sipped her coffee in dismissal of good weather in general.
Tony sipped his coffee in deference to her worldly wisdom about weather other than raging Russian blizzards.
Natasha sipped her coffee in an extremely insulting, and frankly hurtful, manner.
"Uncalled for." Because Tony had finally sipped enough coffee to communicate like a human being.
Oh, good: Natasha still needed a minute before she was coherent enough to figure out his entire life story by the sound of his sneeze. "I think we should buy more coffee for the Capsicle."
"Nuh uh." She set her cup down, laced her fingers in front of her, lifted her chin and tilted her head at him. "Immune to caffeine. Using it to wake him up won't have an effect. Does it bother you more that he's awake so much, that he can be a morning person and a night owl at the same time, or that this isn’t really about his being awake at all?"
Tony stared down at his half finished coffee. "Yeah, I have a meeting at… now."
Natasha went back to sipping. "Bye."
“Bruce. Just the guy I need to talk to. I think Steve might possibly have sleeping sickness. Hi, Thor.”
“Greetings, Metal Man,” Thor said from his chair. Where he was… hooked up to machines.
“Oh, so I’m interested,” Tony said, crossing his arms.
Bruce came around the side of the workbench, brushing his hands off on his khakis. “I’m measuring Asgardian metabolism, and resting and aerobic heart rates. Whole host of other stuff. Thor has amazing recuperative powers, especially after heavily exhausting activities. Also, I don’t think Steve’s sick.”
“So you wouldn’t want to examine him, make him take off his shirt or turn his head and cough or anything? I could, you know, be here while you did it. For moral support.”
Bruce frowned a little, then dismissed it with a wave. “It’s just not plausible that he has contracted something like Trypanosoma brucei. Why, he tell you he was feeling ill?”
“Me? No. Why would he tell me? We don’t talk. We never talk. I talk and he snores. So hypothetically, if Steve were suddenly to fall asleep while in, say, my presence, you wouldn’t be concerned?”
“Well, he does still need to sleep.” Bruce crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against his lab station. “But that’s actually kind of the beauty of the super serum—” And now he was animated again, gesturing with his hands, eyes wide and mouth curved like a child’s. “It cuts the amount of REM sleep his body requires exponentially. Something I could never figure out with my own attempts. He could conceivably go for a week without more than the occasional cat-nap. Half an hour, max, and he’s ready to go all over again. I really hate to make lousy jokes, but, yeah. Envy.”
“Okay. So.” Tony considered all angles, then gave up and shook his head. “No, sorry, that doesn’t help even a little bit. In fact, it pretty much unhelps. A whole lot.”
Bruce screwed up his face. “So… you want him to sleep?”
“No, I really, really don’t. Did I say I did? I didn’t say that.”
“Perhaps our good captain should avail himself of my new calisthenics program,” Thor offered from his chair. “Dr. Banner assures me it is responsible for my unparalleled slumbers of late. He has been good enough to remain awake after the Hulk and I have completed our activities, and believes such an abandonment of amorous restraint is mutually benefi—”
“Yes, so, I don’t know, Tony.” Bruce waved his hand in Thor’s direction much like a flapping bird, smiling weakly. His face looked a little pink. “Uh, what was your original question?”
“It’s, you know, that’s okay, I’m just gonna. Okay.”
Apparently leaving a room still didn’t equate to leaving the imagery presented in that room behind as well.
Steve’s nose scrunched.
“I’m turning it on. As in, so your ears bleed. Dogs across the nation will all simultaneously go insane. Deaf people in Reykjavík will be calling the cops on me.”
Steve rolled over to face the back of the couch, batting a hand at him. “Shhh, Tony.”
Tony turned it on.
BACK IN BLACK, I HIT THE SACK. I’VE BEEN TOO LONG, I’M GLAD TO BE BACK.
“S’nice,” Steve mumbled. And started to snore.
So Tony’s lab couch was getting a workout, and not the kind he wanted it to be getting. He was genuinely starting to worry.
Because Steve Rogers seemed to be, no, actually, it couldn't be narcolepsy. Steve wasn't dropping down on the floor of Tony's kitchen mid-banana or passing out and conking himself on the head with his shield in the middle of battling Doombots, and besides, hello, super serum, and oh my god, was Tony really that dull to be around?
Sure, okay, he sort of turned into a raving technopath, emphasis on the raving, when he got into his third carafe of espresso, but mostly people just tuned him out or, wait, that meant Steve was tuning him out to the extreme, and falling asleep on him, and was he mad at Tony or something? Or maybe Tony had a sedative effect on everyone now that he was no longer out carousing all night and sleeping in every bed he could find, but damn it, he had a big blue spotlight shining out of his chest these days and that was just, but Steve didn't have to judge him so heinously, and in his lab, too. That was Tony's Space. He reserved the right not to be ridiculed there, at the very least.
He deserved to get his every wish there, as a matter of fact, and instead he was looking up partway through making a miniature particle accelerator and discovering he wasn’t alone in the lab anymore, and he never even heard Steve come in, it was like he just spontaneously grew out of the couch or up from the floor, or on one occasion, out of the corner farthest from Tony’s workstation, and wasn’t that weird because, yeah, not the epitome of comfort, but Steve was from the Forties, and Tony tried very hard not to jump to conclusions these days.
But it was especially hard not to go leaping in and out of conclusions like they were hopscotch squares when movie nights inevitably ended with Steve’s head on his shoulder, or Steve’s back against Tony’s side, or Steve’s head in Tony’s lap. Tony had counted four separate occasions where he got a total of fifteen words out and Steve began that somnolent droop, chin dipping, eyelids sinking, body slumping.
Once it was during Terminator II. Terminator II.
And no one else set him off. Or rather, laid him out.
It was breaking his fragile magnetically protected heart, a little.
“So, you and Steve hang out—”
“—pretty often, considering how many times New York gets attacked, I tell ya, it’s like we put up a neon sign offering sangria and strippers in Red Vine bikinis, so I’m wondering, when you’re sitting there in your office and he’s listening to your robotic rambling—”
“—does he ever, you know, list sideways and fall out of his chair or curl up on your floor, because I could totally see that happening, you do have the same effect as those meditative whale song recordings when you’re droning on about all your suggestions—”
“—and it stands to reason he’d pass out from brain-melting boredom all the time if he weren’t, you know, more polite than June Cleaver’s navel lint, but I figure since he’s the only one of us who really listens with any seriousness to your nanny-goating—”
“—you might have some idea if he does this with everyone or if he just likes to take a spontaneous siesta when I’m in the same room or the same tower or the same hemisphere, which, as you can probably imagine, gets a little distracting when I happen to think about it during our shindigs downtown—”
“—because if he can’t even muster the energy to stay awake for Linda Hamilton with a semiautomatic, it’s safe to say I’m having an unhealthy effect on him, maybe just by existing, and I know I wasn’t really into the idea of working with him at first, but it’s, my mind might have changed, so, seeing as they pay you to look after all of us—”
“Not nearly enough, I can promise you that,” Coulson said with finality, patting his arm once and heading down the hall toward his office.
Obviously his new friends weren’t helping. So Tony turned to his old ones. By phone, because one of them was over at West Point Prep cultivating minions out of starry-eyed baby officers and the other had an enormous international conglomerate to run, thank you very much.
Tony told them both what was going on, how he seemed to be knocking Steve Rogers flat on his back just by being his regular, charming self. And not in the way he wished he could be knocking Steve Rogers flat on his back, which involved a lot more clambering over him once he was on said back and finding out just how iconic the tongue of an American icon was and also getting to feel all those muscles up close and personal, all additions which he did not include in the summary of his troubles because being Tony Stark’s oldest friends meant knowing just how easy it was to tease him, and Tony Stark was a genius, duh, he didn’t make stupid mistakes like that.
But Tony did trust his oldest friends with certain bits of information, so he laid it all out, complete with forlorn hand waving for his own benefit and distressed ranting for theirs, and sure enough, in the hypothetical case of Steve falling asleep on Tony every five minutes, it seemed Rhodey would be—
“Right, so I’m— wait, what?”
“Yeah. Oh, come on, Tony, how many people do you sleep in front of these days? He’s a soldier. Pretty big show of trust.”
That was a good point. No one was more soldiery than Captain America.
Which did make the whole thing kind of flattering. But also kind of hard to believe because Steve had nearly fallen asleep at breakfast this morning when Tony answered his question about whether their oranges were grown locally. The answer was not likely, and Tony went on to say that mostly New York wasn’t known for its oranges and if you wanted to stay within the United States, the only worthwhile ones supposedly came from Florida, but actually California had some good ones, and oh, had Steve tried the new recipe he’d sold to Jamba Juice, the one where you could wink at the server over the row of blenders and ask them to slip some cayenne pepper in with the orange juice and some red white and blue and something else that they weren’t allowed to tell you about or Tony would deny their extended family Starkphones for the rest of their lives, and then the resulting drink pretty much kicked your ass like you were the head honcho of Hydra and the smoothie was wearing a shield with a big fat gorgeous star on the front, and by that time everyone was kind of staring at him, so Tony said, “What?” and then Steve said he had to go, jerked up out of his chair stifling a yawn, and almost stumbled into the door frame on his way out of the kitchen.
So if Tony was causing that, then it wasn’t flattering. And driving Steve completely out of a room? No. No, no, no. Pretty much the antithesis of Tony’s goal in life.
Pepper was even more confusing.
“You know, there’s a really quick way to solve this, Tony.”
“I’m all ears, Pep, shower me with your incredible wisdom, the wisdom I have come to appreciate even after initially taking it for granted but that now I pay you for, the magic that keeps my company afloat and me from completely forgetting details like breathing.”
“Alright, here it is: Ask him why he falls asleep around you.”
“I’m sorry, what? Ask him? Bring it up in regular everyday conversation like I’m not his own personal walking talking Quaalude, except without the extra sexual awesomesauce, and then be forced to explain why that particular deficit is making everything ten times worse for me?”
“You could leave the Quaaludes out of it, just a suggestion.”
“Pepper, what is this constant sarcasm? You never used to be this cruel, I think making you CEO has made it worse. It’s that thing about absolute power, isn’t it? And there, see, then you just roll your eyes, I can hear you when you do that, by the way. Am I boring you like I’m boring Steve? Be honest, this could be a very significant scientific discovery here.”
“Tony. You are without a doubt the least boring person I know.”
“…Okay, so I’m not sure about that particular statement, but if you say it again a little slower, I’ll be able to tell if that was sarcasm, too.”
“Tony, did you hear what I said, or are you going to continue pretending like I didn’t just solve your entire problem? Because if that’s how this conversation is going to go, I need to reschedule a merger.”
“You’re, what? I don’t have the slightest clue what you’re, oh, damn, you know what, I’m going through a tunnel and—”
“What, you and that park bench you’re sitting on?”
Tony looked at his GPS-enabled Starkphone. “I’m— wow, that’s, you’re fired, okay? Don’t come in to work tomorrow, I’ve already auctioned your job off to Darcy.”
“Just talk to him, Tony,” Pepper said on a sigh, and hung up.
Contrary to popular belief, Tony did listen to sound advice. He just didn’t let the advisor in on that sort of leverage.
The roof was a pretty nice place to be at sunset, all warm from the day’s heat and glowing all sorts of burnished colors like yellow and gold and tan, and come to think of it, Steve fit right in up there, being all yellows and golds and tans himself. And blue, because that was a nice jacket, the way it hugged his torso and fell open across his ribs and matched his eyes, and, “Oh, you’re drawing, I can come back later.”
Steve turned in his lawn chair— custom-made state of the art lawn chairs, because no one who lived in this tower was going to be unsticking their thighs from weird rubber strips while Tony had any sort of brain capacity left— and smiled, all white, straight teeth. “Hey, no, sit down. It’s fine.”
“You’re sure? Because I can sit over there.” He gestured at the lawn chairs on the other side of the rooftop.
Steve gave him a strange little frown and shook his head. He nudged the closest chair with one hand. Tony sat down, rubbing his palms down the front of his pants and trying not to look like he was doing it. “So. Good view?”
Steve gave a little laugh and shook his head, setting his pencil to paper again. “The best, Tony. But then, you know that.”
“Can I see?”
Steve wordlessly turned the drawing his way, and Tony felt the play of Steve’s eyes over his face, observing him as he studied the sketch. It was still rudimentary, just the outlines of cityscape and horizon, but for all that, it had already captured the character of each building, the detail inherent and all the little nuances that Tony could only ever see in the bowels of machines. There would have been no way for Tony to mistake the picture for anything but this specific view. “Wow, that’s. Steve.”
He looked up and found Steve’s eyes on his. “That’s really good,” Tony said, quieter than intended.
For a second, they stared. Then Steve made a coughing sound. His cheeks pinked and he looked down. “Thank you.”
“No, really, that’s… I could never do that.”
And that smile appeared again, the parted-lips one, the one that dropped Steve’s lashes low over his eyes and crinkled the corners right up, the one that was just miles beyond any of the smiles he gave people who weren’t Avengers. That was the Steve smile, not the Captain America smile. “Nah. You only give sentience to inanimate objects. How in the world is that incredible?”
“I’m… Uh, yeah, so I’m touched.” Mostly by the way you’re now looking at me, holy mother of Tesla, that’s, eyes, yeah, no, “that should be outlawed in every state.”
Tony cleared his throat violently. “Listen. Can I, do you have a minute? Actually, do you have more than a minute, because it might take me longer than that, but once I start, I’d kind of like to finish.”
Steve blinked at him and nodded. The sunlight was setting the strands of his hair afire.
And no, that whole thing where Steve was still looking him right in the eye wasn’t going to work too well. “Actually, you can draw while I, if you want. In fact, yeah, do that.”
“O…kay.” Steve lifted his pencil hesitantly, then settled more firmly when Tony nodded. He began to sketch again, more buildings, eyes lifting and falling rapidly from pad to vista. “What’s on your mind?”
“So I’m observant.”
A beat, and Steve’s eyes skipped back to him. It might indeed have been the shortest complete sentence Tony had ever spoken in his life.
“I mean, I’m a scientist, I study things. All things, but especially the things around me, and the people, and you’re people and you’re around me, so I’ve studied you, too, and I hope that’s not weird, please don’t take it as weird, it’s actually a type of praise if you think about it because there is a lot going on in my brain at any one time, but yeah, so there’s this thing you’ve been doing.”
The key was to look elsewhere. His hands would do; he knew them well enough not to be startled by any single aspect of them, except maybe there where his nail had chipped deep, that looked like it had hurt but he couldn’t remember feeling any— “Yeah. You’re kind of tired a lot? Or maybe you’re not, I don’t want to assume, that’s why I’m talking to you like this, because Pep said to go to the source and she’s bar none the smartest person I know, plus she’s better at being liked by human beings, but I don’t really know how I’m supposed to read this, this falling asleep thing, it’s like this whole other programming language I haven’t figured out yet.”
“I guess I want to know if I’m boring you, or if it’s more like what Rhodey says, that you’re just extremely comfortable, which, yeah, that would be, but you’re not really looking all that comfortable most of the time when it happens, and so what I’m trying to say is, I’m, oh, come on, that’s, you know what, Steve, that’s just rude.”
Steve lay back in the chair, hand resting where it had slid halfway down his drawing pad, with the pencil hanging between curled fingers. His chest rose and fell steadily, and the breeze ruffled his bangs, sending them sinking low across his brow. Tony reached, instinctive, and smoothed the strands from Steve’s closed eyes, and the sun lit every feature with heavy orange, warm like a quilt. The shadows that nestled in the creases of Steve’s shirt shifted with each shallow breath. He looked so, so peaceful.
Naturally, the superhero world waited for no one.
“Hawkeye, ‘bird of prey’ has never been more appropriate. Iron Man, get the— Why are there flying ones? Never mind, Widow, Thor, I hate to say it, but you know that game Iron Man likes, whac-a-mole? And Hulk, you just… yeah, that’ll work.”
The Avengers dispersed. Tony took to the air to get a better feel for the latest mechanical scourge, i.e., just how well did they swan dive out of the sky when helped along by repulsor blasts? But as the battle went on, it became clear that Cap did have a point, or several points, really, because—
“Mice, seriously? Robot mice? Man, this keeps getting better and better, every time I put on this suit and step outside my vacuum-compressed haven, I am treated to all new feats of appalling right-brainedness, I can’t wait to meet the Giant Mouse of Minsk—”
And then quite suddenly, everything went black and he was pretty much falling straight down.
“JARVIS. JARVIS? Okay, so that happened, Thor, plan B!”
Thor, of course, couldn’t hear him, what with the radio link being deader than a decomposing snail, but that was why Tony had wired Thor’s communicator to connect directly with JARVIS’ mainframe in the case of a Very Electromagnetic Event, and no, Clint didn’t get to christen anything else ever again when Tony was too distracted by commercializing string theory to properly argue.
It felt like a very long time but was probably only a couple seconds before his visual display blazed on again in a flare of color, and “Whoa, that’s close, JARVIS, please tell me you’re with me.”
“I am indeed, sir. Repulsors ready.”
Tony fired them up, tipped his trajectory, and got more than thirty yards off the ground, so that was a plus. “Thor, buddy, pal. Nice shot there.”
“It is just as we practiced, yes?” Thor said over the comm. A mouse cart-wheeled past Tony squeaking, a Mjölnir-sized dent in its torso.
“Picture perfect. And did you say that phrase like I—”
“Tony,” came Steve’s tight tones. “Are you alright?”
“Ship shape,” he said, tapping his chest with a closed fist. He paused and cocked his head. “Are you?”
“Was your backup plan to have Thor strike you with lightning?” Steve’s voice had gone deadly calm.
Tony winced and thought very seriously about not returning to ground level. “…More or less.”
“Avengers!” Steve barked. “To me! Now!”
It wasn’t a hasty order, actually, as it seemed the robots in the immediate vicinity had fallen out of the sky in much the same way Tony had, only they’d, you know, hit the ground. The ones left over were easily dispatched by hammer or shield— and wasn’t that a pretty sight, Steve in all his infuriated glory taking off the heads of four with a single throw?— and Tony landed a little ways away, making sure Black Widow was conveniently placed between him and their commander.
Steve saw him and turned, yanking his cowl off. He caught his shield as an afterthought, already striding in Tony’s direction at a very determined clip. Tony raised his hands in front of himself. “Now, Cap, as you can see, I’m fine. No charring—”
In record time, as it turned out. “Yep, there, see? I’m good, all extremities where they should be, so, oh, please don’t grip your shield like that—”
But Steve turned mid-stride and descended on one of Coulson’s junior agents, a young man with a huge grin on his face that faded to hunted terror as soon as it became clear where it was that Captain America was headed. The agent stumbled back a step, hampered by the huge EMP gun clutched in both hands, and, ah.
“Did you fire that weapon?” Steve snapped.
“I— y-yes, sir, no, sir, I mean I didn’t mean to— to, but, sir—”
“What the hell were you thinking, Agent?”
“I, I, I.” It was really sort of hilarious, like JARVIS before Tony had gotten around to debugging his audio coding. Steve got right up into the agent’s face and towered over him, slashing a hand through the air.
“You do not use EMP-based weaponry when Iron Man is in the air! He could have been killed! You could have—” Steve jerked his head to the left, then his eyes widened and he plucked the agent up out of the way just as the Hulk came galloping through, a mousebot head-locked under one arm.
Hulk laughter was nothing to be laughed at.
“Thank you, oh, thank you, sir,” the agent wheezed.
Steve set the agent back down and jabbed a finger so close to his face that the agent went cross-eyed. “Don’t think this means I’m not furious with you!” he growled out.
The agent paled all over again. Steve stalked off, hammering a fist into the nearest pole as he passed it and bending it double.
“Uh.” Tony stared after him. “He’s angry.”
Natasha should not have been allowed to raise her eyebrow in quite that way. Ever. Tony was going to notify NATO.
“Let’s go,” Coulson said, grabbing the agent by the back of his collar and hauling him off. “That’s weapons ed seven days a week until I decide to be merciful.”
“Steve. Hey. Steve?” Tony rose up on his toes, but Steve did not show any sign of turning around. He did show signs of pulverizing mousebot carcasses with his fists.
Well, Tony thought glumly, at least I didn’t Rip Van Winkle him this time. Should get a medal for that.
Natasha poked Tony’s cheek with one pointy fingernail. “Care to explain why Thor went and bellowed ‘There can be only one’ in my ear?”
“So damn sweet.” Clint jogged up, grinning. “High five, Thor.”
Thor’s resulting slap sent Clint’s quiver flying.
So then Tony knew Steve wouldn’t want to talk to him for a while, and decided to go clean up and spend the rest of the night in the lab until he made a god particle or passed out, whichever came first.
“Tony, actually, we should get you something to eat. Downtown or. You have to be hungry after all that.” Steve stopped talking and smiled anemically instead.
Apparently Tony didn’t know jack.
But. He still needed a shower. Falling from dizzying heights did wonders for a man’s sweat glands.
“So I’ll meet you out by the bar,” he said, lifting a hand as he backed (tripped) his way out of the lounge toward his bedroom. “The one right over there in the corner, uh, so don’t go anywhere.”
Please don’t go anywhere. The other half of that, the ‘please don’t fall asleep’ part, was not verbalized, because Tony didn’t like to jinx things.
Unless there were banana cream pies and the situation involved Clint’s face.
He managed his shower quickly, considering he caught himself muttering at several instances while he scrubbed off, wondering if Steve was just looking for a good opportunity to chew him out for the lightning shenanigans and ordering him to tell someone for once when he had grand ideas because they couldn’t read minds, not even his abnormally functional mind, and to stop corrupting Thor because even though I don’t know how, I’m sure that’s what you did.
Honestly, if Steve would have just stayed awake during that movie—
Tony sighed, got out, and toweled off. Then he went over to the sink and shaved, because it was there and Steve was out there, and there were some impulses Tony didn’t know how to control anymore, especially when he was already exhausted. He wrapped the towel around his waist and went into the bedroom and had a panic attack right there in the middle of the carpet because he was very, very naked and Steve was on his bed.
Luckily for Tony’s heart, it didn’t matter, because three guesses as to what Steve was doing.
Tony grabbed clothes, hightailed it to the closet, and didn’t come out until he was safely ensconced in… oh, good, a pair of Rocky-esque sweatpants and an Ermahgerd a Dernerser t-shirt. Tony scrubbed a hand through his hair, then tried to fix it, then gave up on life in general and went out to get a better look at his bed.
Where Steve was lying on his side, shoes still on, with his feet over the edge and one of Tony’s pillows dragged down to cradle his cheek.
Tony might have lost time there. For a second or twenty.
When he got his brain back, Steve was still asleep, face slack and soft, one hand curled loosely around the edge of his appropriated pillow, the other tucked beneath out of sight. His skin held a gentle flush and looked very touchable, if Tony could only get his feet to move, but what the hell was he thinking? He wasn’t supposed to just go around touching Steve, even if Steve had managed to take over such an intimate place as his bed, and what was that all about anyway? There was a perfectly good couch out in the lounge where Tony had left him, and had Steve knocked? Tony couldn’t really see him coming into someone’s bedroom without knocking first, just in case they were maybe showering like they’d just said they were going to, and, oh, his hair was getting his Dernerser all wet.
Tony dried the remnants with his towel and missed the chair completely when he dropped it— sue him, it was a little hard to tear his eyes away from Steve. Steve in his bed. And also his bed all on its own because he was really quite tired. But he couldn’t just lie down, not now, because then Steve would definitely notice, wouldn’t he?
Maybe he wouldn’t. He was breathing very steadily, that too-slow rhythm of deep sleep. He hadn’t even twitched, except, okay, there he went, rubbing his nose against the pillow and— oh.
Tony gazed, absolutely fixated, until a yawn shuddered through him, sudden and devastating. It was followed quickly by another even bigger one. Damn the hot shower and the perfectly regulated air temperature: now he was exactly comfortable, not a smidge in either direction but instead balancing right on that edge of heat and thickening thought.
Steve obviously had the right idea. And, Tony mused as he shuffled across the carpet to the bedside, surely he couldn’t blame Tony for falling asleep in his own bed? He’d just… stay on the other side and Steve would never be the wiser about his potentially dubious intentions.
He woke up to silence, the lights still at half mast, the blanket where he’d tossed it over his legs, and he was warm, so very warm, the kind of warmth that made a person afraid to move because that would just puff the cocoon away. Opening eyes was usually alright, though, so Tony did, and inhaled and exhaled, and realized Steve was awake and looking at him.
And that he was wrapped up in both of Steve’s arms.
“Oh,” said Tony.
“Uh,” said Steve.
“Don’t fall asleep,” Tony blurted, because, priorities.
Steve winced. “You noticed that, huh?”
“Kind of hard not to.” He was not pouting. He had not pouted in at least five days. Shrugging, shrugging helped. “It’s a rare man who can bore Captain America half to death.”
Steve’s brows knit. “That’s what you think it is.”
“Hypothesis, research, experimentation, conclusion. I said I was a scientist.” And damn that profession straight to hell; Tony was going to give it up and become a bohemian conga player instead. That kind of thing never broke a person’s heart.
Steve looked down at the blankets and shook his head. His fingers tightened gently around Tony’s shoulder.
Tony very valiantly resisted the inclination to rest his head on Steve’s chest, right where pectorals joined throat and he could see Steve’s pulse flicking away. Really, it was a miracle he had the ability to make such a sacrifice.
“I’m sorry about that,” Steve said quietly. And oh god, Tony forgave him, because who wouldn’t forgive Steve Rogers uttering an apology in that tone?
“It’s okay,” he said, giving Steve’s chest as formal a pat as he could, but Steve shook his head.
“It’s not okay that I— Look, I know I was in your space. And you don’t want people there, I get that, at least not all the time. It’s just, I got used to it, and then I didn’t… want to stop.”
Steve shut his eyes, turning his body away from Tony a little so that his profile was all Tony could see of his face. Tony saw him swallow, heard it, thought the view was arresting. “I’m sorry. When you talk, it’s kind of… And you were always doing something, and I’d hoped you would find some way to… ignore it.”
Despite his best, most martyr-esque intentions, Tony sputtered. “How could I ignore you falling asleep on me all the damn time?”
Steve turned to stare at him again, and if not for the close catch of Steve’s body against his, Tony would have waved his arms around. “I’ve never had that effect on anyone, not in my whole life, though for a while there I thought I’d come close with a TA in college, but it’s, this is you and, especially not with someone I really— didn’t want to… do that to.”
Wow. Proving again and again that he’d never once aced an English class.
“Tony,” Steve said carefully. “You don’t bore me.”
“I’m, okay, that’s good, but.”
“I can’t sleep.”
Uh, yes, he most certainly could sleep, he did it all the damn— oh. Tony struggled up onto one elbow. “Oh.”
Steve drew a deep breath, no longer looking at him, and the movement shuddered through his whole body. “It’s a good thing I don’t have to sleep as much anymore. Because I really, really can’t anymore, either.”
“Okay, are you, is your bed too—”
“Oh god, the bed’s fine.” Steve pulled away, covering his face with both hands. “It’s, I’m not fine, that’s the problem.”
Talk about a downer. The specifics presented themselves one by one, and suddenly Tony was thinking about war, and bodies, best friends lost and planes in ice, and saying goodbye to a person you loved over a radio wave. His hand moved on its own and settled against the firm slant of Steve’s chest. He splayed his fingers to encompass as much as he could, with the idea of somehow holding it all in.
One of Steve’s hands lifted from his face, just for a moment. Hovered above Tony’s, and dropped back.
“I get so tired, and I can’t sleep.” It came muffled through his fingers. “Except when I’m around you.”
The silence after that was hefty.
“Steve, are you alright?” Tony asked.
Steve gave a heavy sigh that Tony suddenly wanted to hear the mechanics of, ear pressed to chest. Lungs expanding, heart slowing, muscles settling back. “I will be.”
It was too plaintive to take at face value.
Tony didn’t know if he was supposed to breach the wall that had risen so prominently. Suddenly it didn’t matter anymore that he was lying right next to Steve, body to body in his own bed, a place he’d never— Well. It wasn’t the big issue anymore. There were deep abysses here, with Tony stepping haphazardly, carefully, around them. Plunging into any one of them might be necessary, but it might also be too massive for this place. Or this night.
He eased back down to the mattress and refocused.
“So,” he said into the silence. “Why me?”
Steve’s hands lowered at last. He swiveled his head to look at Tony, bringing them eye to eye, and Tony looked back, glad of the precision in that gaze rather than the cloying hints of drowsiness. Tony could see him deciding what to say, or rather how to say it, because whatever else he did, Steve Rogers did not hide from something that was staring him in the face.
“I don’t know,” he said at last. Tony watched him swallow, watched his eyes tick back and forth between Tony’s own. “You just… settle me. I walk in and it’s like something else walks off. And I’m, I’m tired again, but it’s a clean kind of tired. Like when you sigh and— and you finally get enough air…”
His words faded out. Tony was left trying not to blink and finding it impossible. “I—” Had to clear his throat. “You’re saying I let you breathe?”
Anyone, anyone else would have prevaricated. Turned the conversation away from it. Steve just looked him in the eye and nodded.
And why was it that now Tony couldn’t breathe? He managed one deep intake that sounded tortured, and witnessed the way Steve’s face changed, the way he edged infinitesimally closer on the bed. Tony wet his lips. “You’re not asleep now,” he said.
The sound of Steve breathing was really kind of amazing. In and out gently through his nose. “I’m not really tired anymore.”
“Because you were here. With me?”
Steve nodded again, and blinked. “I think so.”
Okay. So— Steve had finally gotten enough sleep. Which, that was good, a good thing. Tony could work with good things, and make proposals concerning them that didn’t involve his own personal happiness regardless of how much it might make his heart ache.
Betterment of the team and all that.
“Alright.” He shifted, realized just how much of him was still touching Steve, and stopped. “Then, uh, we can. We can do this. As often as you… need to.”
Steve didn’t say anything for so long that Tony decided he had to look, and possibly clarify in case there was a part of that which he hadn’t said out loud. But Steve looked distressed, a tweak of it around his mouth and eyes, and Tony stopped. “Uh… no?”
And was he really still touching Steve’s chest? This was getting to be a lot like a dream he’d once had when he was thirteen and two degrees from Captain America through his father, who had old photos he forbade Tony to look at in an angry, somewhat strangled voice after that first time, but Tony looked at them anyway because was that brand of human body even possible? And how in the world was he, a teenage boy, supposed to not react, especially in the mornings, but now, now he was one degree from a living breathing Captain America, who’d just told him he needed Tony in order to sleep, and Tony jerked his hand away from Steve’s chest.
Steve’s eyes flicked down after it.
“I don’t, um.” Finally, finally at a loss for words. Pepper would be so ecstatic. Tony could have slapped himself. Of course one wasn’t supposed to just offer to sleep with a person for their health like that offer was made every day. It was probably vulgar or something, Tony wouldn’t know, being Tony, but he wouldn’t have minded if the situation were reversed, because it would solve the problem at hand, wouldn’t it? Except this was Steve Rogers he was pitching the idea to, and Steve had notions of his own about the way people behaved— or didn’t behave, actually, those were the ones Tony got to hear about the most, and when he wasn’t hearing about it, he could see it in the way Steve’s mouth twitched or the way his eyes opened wider while his brows lowered down and his lips tensed up a little, all that suppleness disappearing and turning the inherent welcome in his features into a solid barrier that was very becoming of an ass-kicking super-do-gooder but not so nice when it was just Steve there scrutinizing him, but, come to think of it, that wasn’t what Steve’s face looked like at all right now, he was mostly just watching, watchful, no lines tightening his eyes or flaring his nose, no particular intensity in his gaze, just kind of looking, like he wasn’t worried Tony would call him on it or he’d forgotten there was even a reason he might get called on it at all, really incredibly open, and that word fell into place between Tony’s lungs and heart and nestled down, and Steve smelled so relaxing, and warm, and his gaze never wavered and Tony would probably never be in this position again.
“Steve, would you hate me if I did something rash right this second?” he asked dazedly, and Steve shook his head and moistened his lips and said—
“Can’t hate you.”
So Tony hunched in and kissed him, just once because that might be it and that might be alright, if necessary.
It clearly wasn’t alright, because Steve caught him at the nape and pulled him in again, and Tony sort of forgot he’d had any good intentions.
Steve kissed like… well, slow. Taking his time, which was weird because he was also not. Tony couldn’t define the juxtaposition, the force behind it and the simplicity, because there was nothing crude about it, or frantic; there was no tongue, for instance, and still Tony felt like he was being kissed, hold the phone, back the truck up and stop for a minute, he had a mouth to be laved in the extremely near future and here was someone to do it. Potential, that was the other word he was searching for, and Tony had a very specific way he reacted to things like potential, so he opened his mouth and made some kind of sound and pressed forward because he had to, fate sealed.
Steve’s mouth tasted like a mouth, which wasn’t to say bad; it was soft and hot and generally pliable, which was Tony’s favorite kind of taste (yes, ‘pliable’ was a taste, anyone who had kissed as much as Tony had knew that), and it wasn’t hard to coax more of it, a looser, less restrained variety when Steve opened his mouth and added his tongue to the mix and, oh, that was, that was definitely shifting away from nice into the arena of demanding, teasing around the borders, so Tony teased back, curled the tip of his tongue under the edge of Steve’s upper lip and pressed teeth gently to his lower, and Steve’s hand slid up around his ribs this time and tucked him closer, a smooth arch of spines that brought their chests together and tilted Tony’s head against the pillow, and Steve’s mouth lifted from his, turned a little and came back down, and that, that right there.
Damn, but Steve could kiss.
There was familiarity to the things he did with his mouth, with Tony’s mouth, something really very intimate, like he was finding his way through the already existing landscape and also forging a path out of the wilds. Tony was a little biased in favor of that approach because it had never failed him when he was on the giving end, and it was a shamefully long while before he realized that Steve was basically following whatever he did first and then giving it back to him and holy haberdashery, Batman, the learning curve was phenomenal.
“Ohgod,” Tony breathed, astounded at the futures that all of a sudden lay before him, genuinely worried for the first time in his life that his brain would actually short out, require a new upgrade to take in this amount of information all at once, and Steve pulled back just enough to let them both breathe.
“Good?” The word skipped over Tony’s lips on a hush of warm air.
“Yes, yes, so very much with the good,” Tony exhaled and tugged him back down, hands cupping cheeks, fingertips lacing with each other across Steve’s nape, and Steve angled his head again, mouth cajoling Tony’s open and ‘good’ was just an unfairly miserable term for what was happening to his mouth and by extension every nerve in his body and yeah, Tony was going to need an external hard drive or something.
He pulled back when he honestly could not take any more, and Steve waited with his lips an inch away and his hand curved wide over Tony’s ribs and that was just— so Tony plunged back in, never let it be said he was daunted by the prospect of exploration, and for every new thing he tried, Steve returned it, at first cautious and then like a seasoned pro, until Tony’s mind wiped itself curiously blank and he just kissed and kissed and kissed.
It shouldn’t have been possible for something like that to peter out, but peter it did. Tony felt loopy and deprived in more than one way when he finally dropped out of the careful, lingering claim of Steve’s mouth on his upper lip and sagged back into his pillow. He didn’t know how he looked, but Steve, Steve’s face was flushed and alight, his lips parted around unsteady breaths. He had his arms back around Tony and their legs tangled together and was half on top of him and brushing the ends of Tony’s hair there by his temple with one slow finger.
“Hey, Tony,” Steve whispered languidly, as if seconds away from posing a question.
“Just… Just…” Tony patted his hand down the front of Steve’s chest over and over, wondering how long it would take before he could comprehend the concept of speech again, and conveying the incredible nature of experiences and also how much he’d like to experience them again, and did Steve do this ‘learn as you go’ thing with everything, because if he did—
“We should revisit that later,” he managed, nodding, and Steve’s bruised mouth quirked into a tiny smile Tony had never seen before, oh, was that the smile Steve wore after he’d done some thorough debauching of someone who was absolutely unprepared to handle the emotional explosion resulting from such an activity? Because if it was, shame on him, reducing Tony to this state without even, how on god’s green earth, getting his pants off or his shirt up or his clothing anything other than settled securely in place.
Or not so securely: Tony’s stomach was definitely bared, both to the room’s air and the heat of Steve’s palm. Steve’s fingertips were out of sight under the rucked hem of Tony’s shirt, somewhere over his sternum and touching the edge of the arc reactor. As Tony gaped at the glorious sight, Steve moved his hand, grabbing the shirt’s hem and pulling it gently back down over his navel, which was not going to work, but before Tony could open his mouth, Steve’s brow creased faintly.
“This is some reference I definitely don’t know.”
“Ermahgerd, Cerptern Americer,” Tony murmured. Steve smoothed his hand atop the shirt, fingers splayed and trailing down Tony’s front and, okay. He met Tony’s eyes, smiled and shook his head.
“It’s, it’s this thing, creepy picture on the internet, and braces, oh my god, the braces, but I don’t know how that shirt got here.”
Steve’s eyebrow rose slowly. He looked back down at the shirt. “Hmm.”
Proof that kissing should just never stop, because what it left in its wake was time to think, beyond asking questions about certain mood-slaughtering pop culture atrocities. Tony blinked up at Steve, coughed, and stopped fondling the truly miraculous chest resting against him.
“It’s… probably better you don’t know about it,” he said lamely. And then, instead of Well, here we are or I think you missed a spot under my tongue or I had a good time tonight, what came out next was, “So, are you alright with this?”
So quietly he couldn’t be sure he’d actually spoken it. Tony met Steve’s gaze, not unflinchingly but there nonetheless, and couldn’t stall the deep breath his body decided it needed, pushing up into Steve’s hand as his lungs expanded.
Steve’s expression did not change, and then, for just a second, he looked unsure. “Yes?”
Tony could have, god, he could have kissed him, for always knowing his mind even when he thought he didn’t, for racking that bar up for others to see and try their level best to reach. Steve Rogers made other people want to know their minds, set bars higher, put a foot down and stand by the print it made on the world’s surface. He didn’t throw down gauntlets; he offered a hand, and you reached up, and you took it, and then you stood up, too.
Tony traced fingers up the outside of Steve’s forearm, watching the hairs there sift and fall back. He felt the shallow motion against his body as Steve breathed.
And looked up. “I think you should stay.”
The smile was more in Steve’s eyes than on his lips, and it was breathtaking. He touched Tony’s temple again, ran his finger down and left it there, a point of heat against his cheek. “Said I’m not tired anymore.”
Tony’s grin came slow. Satisfying. “I know.”
Even more so when Steve grinned slowly back.