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Darling (I've Been Flickering)

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Tony circled over the bay, darting upward and spiraling back down quickly to avoid the claw-like appendages of the robot methodically tearing the harbor apart. Wet flakes of snow clung to his helmet, sliding past his field of view and away as he shot through the sky.

Tony and Steve had responded to an alert just as they were on their way in from lunch, shaking off their coats and scarves in exchange for their suits. They, along with Spider-Man, Hawkeye, and Wolverine, had arrived on-site to find what looked like a gigantic, clawed spider laying waste to the harbor.

Spider-Man groaned the moment he saw it. "This is going to be blamed on me, I just know it," he sighed.

Iron Man clapped him on the shoulder consolingly, jostling him a little, and took to the skies.

Whoever had built the robot had built it smart—almost immediately it recognized that Iron Man, as the only flight-capable Avenger on sight, gave the team an advantage in combat. It whirred as it settled on him as its first target.

Not that Tony minded. He could play bait just fine while the rest of the Avengers worked to shut the thing down.

Tony pulled up, aiming two brief repulsor blasts at what looked like the machine’s eyes. The repulsors didn’t do much; the robot seemed to have some kind of energy field protecting the hull. Still, it served as a good way to keep its attention off Spider-Man and Captain America attempting to pry the plating from its neck. The machine didn’t seem to notice—if it was capable of noticing anything...Tony wasn’t sure exactly how advanced and AI it possessed, if it had one at all—possibly because the force field was preventing them from making any progress.

It made another grab for him, and Tony let himself drop to avoid it, spinning out of the way of its other arm. All of a sudden it stopped, and the appendages dropped back down to its sides with a low whir. He watched it warily, making a slow arc around to get a better look. The machine flicked its mandibles almost pensively, and it took Tony a moment too long to realize that it was diverting power before a stream of energy tore from its mouth. He twisted to avoid taking the hit full-on, the beam clipped his flank, tearing a long gash in the suit. Tony had a moment to be grateful that the beam hadn’t actually touched him before the claw he’d been dodging came up and swatted him out of the air.

The hit didn’t actually hurt—the armor had protected him from that—but when he landed in the bay the cold water hit him like a punch, flooding inside through the tear that the laser had made. He gasped in a shallow breath just before the water flooded the suit completely, then jetted toward the surface.

 

The distance seemed much longer going up than down, and his lungs itched for air—he hadn't gotten a proper breath before going under. Iron Man resurfaced several long moments later, water streaming out of the rend in the armor. Tony landed heavily back on the ground and ripped the helmet off, sputtering and dumping the water from that too. He swiped the water from his eyes and turned back to where the robot lay in a smoldering heap. It seemed the beam had diverted power from the force field long enough for Steve and Peter to get inside, and, by the looks of it, Logan and Clint had gone to town immediately. By the looks of it, Clint was definitely a fan of the improved exploding arrows.

Tony could almost feel bad…except yeah, no, he couldn’t. Steve was by his side in an instant. He reached as though to swipe the mop of wet hair from Tony's forehead and then thought better of it, the movement somewhat awkward as he settled his hand on Tony's shoulder instead.

“Are you hurt?” Steve demanded, trying to maintain his poise and only mostly succeeding. Tony quirked a smile that he hoped looked reassuring (despite his looking like a drowned rat) and shook his head ‘no’.

“M’fine, Cap.”

“Jesus, you’re soaked,” Clint smirked. “Isn’t that tin can supposed to be waterproof?”

“V-very astute of you, Hawkeye. The w-waterproofing was k-kinda compromised by the gigantic f-fucking hole in the side,” Tony responded, teeth chattering noisily. The wind picked up for a moment, and he shuddered like he was going to rattle out of his skin.

“You’re lips are looking a little blue, Tony. Maybe you should head back to the tower,” Peter suggested. He wasn’t exactly appropriately dressed for mid-winter weather either—he’d been complaining about how thin his suit was from the beginning of winter, despite Tony’s offer to upgrade his suit with some kind of thermal protection—but Peter seemed to count the fact that he was dry as a win. Tony nodded mutely but didn’t immediately leave, instead turning to Steve to assure that he was no longer needed.

“It’s just clean up from here.” Steve shrugged and, with a sympathetic smile, added, “I’ll meet you there.”

Tony put the helmet back on over his damp hair, shivering when the cold metal touched his skin, and nodded once before taking off in the direction of the tower. The idea of a hot coffee and dry clothes in the workshop was probably the best he’d had all day...but first, he had some repairs to do.

 

 

Steve heard the door to their bedroom creak open, and he blinked owlishly at the light that spilled in from the hallway. He could hear muted footsteps on the carpet as Tony shuffled inside the room, pulling the door shut behind him.

It had taken several hours to clean up the debris from the buildings the robot had demolished, and a little longer to assure that no one else was in any immediate danger from the scrap left behind. When he'd finally gotten back to the Tower, Steve immediately set to tracking Tony down. Of course, he found him in his workshop, a damp towel hanging from his shoulders, working on the armor. He hadn’t even bothered changing out of his wet clothes, claiming that getting the armor properly dried and repaired before the next call was more important.

By now Steve knew how to pick his battles, so he just gave him a silent look of disapproval and went to fetch him a change of clothes.

Tony had said he’d be up late while he made repairs after that, and Steve had frowned but conceded.

But that was...not all that long ago, and for Tony, getting to bed late often meant not at all. Hell, Steve had gone to bed early—it was much too early for Tony to be coming to bed. Steve glanced at the clock to double check how long he’d been asleep, wondering if more time had passed than he realized. But no, it wasn’t even midnight, and he normally wouldn’t expect the man to join him for another couple hours at least. Instead of moving over to give Tony more space like he normally would, he leaned up on his elbow and scrubbed a hand over his face.

“Wha’s wrong?” Steve asked, his voice still gravely with sleep. His Avengers ID was still sitting silent on the nightstand, but that didn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t trouble. This wouldn’t be the first time that a supervillain had dragged him out of bed.

Tony brushed a hand lightly up the length of Steve's arm. “Nothing. Go back to sleep,” Tony responded, but the weariness in his voice betrayed him. It was too dark to give him an expectant look, but Tony seemed to get the idea anyway. He flopped down on top of the covers next to Steve, not bothering to get undressed, and curled his arms around his pillow. Tony sighed.

“I think I’m coming down with something,” Tony admitted, peeking over the edge of the pillow at him.

“Maybe next time you should dry off before you catch your death,” Steve suggested, frowning. Tony snorted.

“Catch your death. You sound like my grandma,” he teased, tracing the worry lines on Steve’s forehead with his thumb. Steve sighed. Normally a cold wasn’t enough to convince Tony to rest. Of course he knew his limits, but Tony was more often than not guilty of ignoring his illnesses until they went away on their own. The fact that he was admitting to not feeling well automatically concerned him.

Steve pressed the back of his hand to Tony’s forehead. He was warm; Steve could feel the heat radiating off his skin even before touching him. He brushed his hand over Tony’s cheek, and Tony closed his eyes briefly, leaning into the touch.

“You’ve got a fever. Did you take anything?” Steve asked. Tony made an aborted attempt to shake his head, making a face when the action made him dizzy.

“No. I want to sleep,” Tony mumbled through the pillow.

“Wait here,” Steve said, sliding out from beneath the covers. Tony hummed in acknowledgement despite the fact that he had no intention of moving anyway. Steve emerged from the bathroom a moment later, with two Tylenol and a glass of water in hand. Tony was already falling asleep, still sprawled on top of the covers. With the light from the bathroom, Steve could see that he hadn’t even bothered to remove his shoes. Steve skirted around to the other side of the bed and set the glass down on the nightstand.

“Tony,” Steve lightly shook him on the shoulder. Tony swatted him away, and when that didn’t work rolled over, leveling Steve with a petulant glare. There was no heat behind it, and Steve ignored him in favor of offering the tablets.

“Sit up, take these,” Steve ordered, handing him the pills and the glass when he shuffled up into a half-upright position. Tony’s cheeks were flushed, and his hair has sticking up where he’d been burying his face in the pillow. Steve sat down on the edge of the bed and began to work loose the laces on one of Tony’s shoes with nimble fingers. “Do you want to change? You’ll be more comfortable.”

Tony considered that for a moment, taking a measured sip from the glass. “Probably,” he agreed, eying the vanity across the room, but making no move to get up. Steve dropped Tony’s shoe to the floor and started on the other one. Tony started unbuttoning his shirt with clumsy fingers, but after a moment he gave up on that and jerked the whole thing over his head instead. Steve stood to get Tony something to wear.

“I can get it, you know… ‘m not an invalid,” Tony grumbled, pulling his undershirt up over his head as well. Steve pulled a pair of sweatpants and one of his own t-shirts out of the drawer, crossing back over to where Tony was sitting.

“I know,” Steve assured him, pressing a light kiss to his forehead.

“Don’t patronize me,” Tony chided. Steve handed him the clothes, then grabbed the empty glass to go refill it while Tony got dressed.

Tony had wrestled himself beneath the covers while Steve was in the bathroom. Steve turned out the lights again and moved to place the full glass next to Tony, careful not to stumble over the clothes he’d haphazardly discarded on the floor. He leaned over to card a hand through Tony’s hair. Tony cracked an eye open to look at him.

“Do you want another blanket while I’m up?” Steve asked.

“Uh-uh… C’mere.” Tony patted the bed next to him, and Steve laid down. Tony scooted closer, burying his face in the crook of Steve’s neck. Steve draped an arm over Tony’s waist and pulled him closer. Tony felt like a furnace, his skin flushed and clammy, but he seemed comfortable enough, nuzzling closer with a contented sigh.

“You’re burning up,” Steve mumbled after a moment, his cheek pressed against Tony’s forehead, and Tony, already falling asleep, slurred a quiet apology and shifted a little, trying to give Steve more space. Steve smiled but didn’t let him go, pressing a light kiss into his hair. “It’s okay, just go to sleep. You’ll feel better when you wake up.”

Tony hummed in agreement, and soon he was asleep.

 

 

Steve woke with a start when the weight next to him disappeared, the covers tossed aside haphazardly. The clock on the nightstand said that it was five in the morning—much too early for Tony to even consider getting up. Steve rolled over, blinking confusedly as the light in the bathroom flicked on.

The sound of retching followed, and Steve kicked blanket the rest of the way down the bed and got up after him.

Tony was sitting on the floor, hunched over the toilet, looking worse for wear. He didn’t look up as Steve entered, but he must have heard him, because he spoke as soon as Steve came up behind him.

“I don’t feel better,” Tony said flatly. He was glaring at the toilet bowl, looking absolutely miserable. Steve crouched down next to him, his hand cool against the nape of Tony's neck. Tony huffed, leaning back into the touch. Steve swept his hair back out of his face, subtly checking to see how warm he was.

“Done?” he asked, and Tony considered for a moment before shrugging noncommittally. “Do you want to go back to bed?” Steve asked.

“Still might throw up,” he warned, but nodded anyway. Steve snaked an arm around him and pulled him up to his feet, pausing at Tony’s ‘wait, stop—wait’, the movement making him nauseous again. They stopped at the sink so that Tony could rinse the foul taste from his mouth, and he grimaced at his reflection in the mirror. He looked pale, and the dark circles under his eyes looked even more defined, like bruises. Steve urged him on, and they headed back to the bedroom. Tony curled up on Steve’s side of the bed, too tired to move the extra couple of feet around to the other side.

Steve joined him, tugging the blankets up over both of them and wrapping Tony up in his arms. Tony protested feebly, leaning back a bit. “If we sleep like this and I need to get up, I’m gonna wake you up again.”

“Good. Glad we’re on the same page,” Steve responded, pressing a kiss to his nose, then temple. Tony huffed affectionately, and settled back against him.

“Hmm. Stubborn,” Tony breathed against his neck.

“Who, me?” Steve blinked innocently, running his fingers lazily through Tony’s hair. His breathing was already evening out, head tucked beneath Steve’s chin, fingers splayed over his collarbone. They laid like that, and after a few minutes Tony’s eyes fluttered closed.

Normally Steve would be getting up soon, but resting like that, with Tony wrapped up in his arms, slow breaths feathering against his skin, he couldn’t think of anywhere else he needed—or wanted—to be more.