1. One month after the Chitauri Invasion
He doesn't pick Stark due to friendship, because they're not friends. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Steve's fought against the guy—if only in harsh words—and fought beside him. They're comrades-in-arms, sure. He's relieved as hell that Stark survived that stunt with the nuke. Stark is brilliant, loyal, self-sacrificing, stubborn—and abrasive, cynical, and jaded in a way that seems perfectly suited to this new chrome-and-glass era of America. So Steve appreciates what Stark can and does bring to the table, but half the time he's around him Steve wants to just smack him. With them both in their suits, of course.
And when Stark hears what's happened, Steve knows that it'll increase to all the time. Stark is never, ever going to let Steve live this down.
Steve grits his teeth, picks up the phone, and dials Stark's number anyway.
It answers on the first ring. “Yes? Who is this and how'd you get this number?”
“Stark,” says Steve. “It's me. Uh, Rogers.”
“Are you calling from a payphone? Did you lose the shiny new smartphone they gave you? Is this an old man thing, because if not, I'm going to be offended. I designed that phone, and it is perfect in every way.”
It's easier to ignore him than to try to sort through that. “No. Look, I need a favour.”
“Say the word, Pilates. I'll even throw in a new phone while I'm at it.”
Just get it over with. “Bail.”
“You... wait.” Yup, there it is. There's the glee that Steve's been dreading, coming in loud and clear even through the crappy jailhouse phone that's probably almost as old as Steve is. “You need bail? You're not telling me that Captain—”
“I would really appreciate it if SHIELD didn't hear about this, Stark,” Steve interrupts him. He'd had to put his foot down to prevent them from sending an agent along with him on his readjusting-to-America road trip. It had taken a full two days to bargain them down to just a phone. If SHIELD finds out he's gotten himself tossed in jail, they'll probably try to stick a literal leash on him.
He really, really wishes he knew how to contact Romanoff or Barton without going through SHIELD. Or Banner. Dr. Banner seems like the kind of guy who'd be understanding about getting tossed in jail. Or even Thor, although Steve's not sure that Thor knows what bail is, or would have the Earth money to pay it.
“It gets better! Good god, they had no idea what they were letting loose, did they? What was it? You can't get drunk, couldn't be a drunk and disorderly—did you get detained as a mental case, thinks he's ninty-six years old—”
It's probably quicker just to tell him. “There were a couple of punks harassing the waitstaff, I told them to knock it off. It went a bit further than I expected.” He hadn't been the one to throw the first punch, and he'd been careful not to hurt anyone, but the local police seemed to think that if the one guy left standing was from out of town, then he was probably at fault.
He never was very good at de-escalating situations.
He's not any good at de-escalating Stark, either. Down the line, the man whoops with laughter. “Oh my god, arrested for defending the working poor, peace and liberty for all—do you rescue kittens out of trees—”
“—still sticking up for the little guy, heroically saving waitstaff in distress—”
“The kid looked barely legal, I wasn't gonna stand by and do nothing,” Steve snaps, but Stark just rolls on over him.
“—defender of women and children and general innocent people and puppies, oh my god—”
The officer standing by cuts the call off before Stark is finished laughing at him.
Steve looks up at him helplessly. “I didn't get the chance to tell him where I am.”
“You can try again in four hours,” the officer intones, and escorts him back to the cell, where Steve prepares to wait in gloomy silence. They haven't even let him have one of his own books to read.
Within half an hour, however, he's magically free and clear, released on his own recognizance on the understanding that it had all somehow been a misunderstanding and would be overlooked so long as he got back on his bike and kept right on out of town with his road trip. The officer hands him his stuff back, eyeing him with a level of disdain that makes Steve think that Stark pulled strings rather than outright bribing the officers.
Among his stuff is his phone, which had been on him when he was arrested, because despite what Stark says, Steve is perfectly capable of using a cell phone. They're actually easier to use than a rotary phone. And he knows he should call and thank Stark, even if the man was an ass about it.
Steve texts his thanks instead, just to show he can.
2. Two months before the fall of SHIELD
Steve's usually an early riser, but he's just back from a mission and only got in at 4AM, so he's got reason to be annoyed when he's woken up by his phone ringing less than three hours later. It's an unknown number. “Rogers.”
“Roger that,” says Stark down the line. “You sound grumpy.”
“Late night. Did you need something?” He does, of course. Over the past year Steve's learned a few things about Stark, and one of those is that he's definitely not a morning person. He's not much of a phone call person, either. He'd text Steve all day long rather than phone him.
They're still not really friends. They're not quite teammates anymore, not when the team hasn't gotten together since New York. But if Stark is phoning him now, then it's important—and Steve wishes the man had phoned him at some point last December.
“Remember that favour you owe me? I was hoping to cash it in at a one-to-one exchange rate.”
For a moment Steve comes up blank, made slow by sleep. Stark's done him a couple of favours over the past year—it's easy for the world's fourth richest man to hand out favours, and Steve would feel bad about it except that none of it is stuff he's asked for, just stuff that shows up on his phone or in the mail... except for one, which had notably involved a level of discretion that Steve didn't think could be bought with money, not from Tony. Well, that explains why Steve's phone didn't recognize the number.
“Where are you?” Steve asks, putting the phone onto speaker so that he can pull up a map. Stark splits his time between California and New York, mostly, when he's not off jet-setting around the world. If it's New York, that's not so bad. He can hop on the Amtrak and be there in a few hours. If it's Malibu, it'll be more difficult.
“Fifth District Station.”
Steve pauses. “You're in DC?”
For Stark, this is practically subdued. “Are you okay?”
“Hangover,” Stark says, crisply biting off the word like he expects Steve to judge him for it.
It's a small, snide portion of Steve that observes, probably not in there for defending waitstaff. He feels ashamed in the next instant—Stark's got his own issues to deal with, and Steve shouldn't judge him for them when he knows how he got 'em. “I'll be there in an hour. Hang tight.”
“Aren't we all hip with modern slang today,” says Stark, and hangs up.
An hour is overly optimistic in DC traffic, which Steve forgets about every time he's away on a mission and then is reminded of all over again when he comes back. It's more like two hours before he manages to get to the station and secure parking, and then it's another hour again, and significantly more paperwork, before he can get the police to release Stark. He's pretty sure it only goes so quickly because some of the officers recognize him as Captain America—which, if Stark is trying to keep a low profile here, is not necessarily a good thing. And it's obvious that Tony is: he's on all the forms as a John Doe.
When Stark's finally escorted out to the front from the cells, it takes him calling Steve's name for Steve to recognize that, yes, this is his sort-of-teammate, and then Steve has to take a second to stare. There's no big changes—Stark's barely starting to go grey at the temples, still has his famous goatee, isn't wearing glasses—but there's something about his entire demeanour that makes it impossible to connect Tony Stark to the man standing in front of him.
On the other hand, if this is what Tony looks like when he's having a meltdown, no wonder he managed to vanish so completely back in December. Nobody would recognize him.
“We good to go?” Tony says, brusque and, now that Steve can hear him in person, definitely hungover. It's not a good look on him.
“Yeah, if you've got all your stuff back.”
Tony pats his coat pockets and flashes him a smile that is a faint echo of his shark-like grin. “Stuff's easy to replace, and I'm bored.”
“Yeah, yeah, it's fine, let's go.”
They're out in the parking lot before Steve asks, “Where are we going?” He doesn't really want to take Stark back to his own place. He also doesn't want to leave him alone, not when the man apparently went on a bender the night before.
“Hotel. If you don't mind. Uh. Thanks.”
It's awkward enough that Steve knows he's not the only one who would have preferred to have the whole thank-you conversation over text instead of in person. Thanks from Stark feel weird. “Not sure you want to thank me if you were looking to keep a low profile. I think a couple folks in there recognized me.”
Tony swears under his breath and gets into the car, slamming the door harder than necessary while Steve turns it on and checks his mirrors. “Great.”
“Why didn't you call a lawyer?”
“I'm pretty sure my lawyers are all contractually obligated to tattle to Pepper.” He makes a face. “And I couldn't remember the number.”
But he remembered Steve's? This is venturing into deeper territory. Steve feels like he's walking out over thin ice. “You and Pepper are... okay?”
“We're great,” Tony says quickly. He drums his fingers against his leg, fidgets with the window buttons and the AC without actually adjusting any of the controls. “She's great. I just. I don't know, this isn't. I don't want to worry her about—this was just. A mistake. A one-off.”
Steve doesn't know what to say to that, so he keeps his mouth shut.
“It really was,” Tony says uncomfortably, after half a minute. “A mistake. Things have been going better, they're great. It's not like before. It's just sometimes—difficult.”
The complete opposite of Steve's situation, then, where there's no great moments of difficulty, just the mild but ever-present feeling of displacement, the constant weight of every. Single. Day. He's still drifting along in this strange new century, unable to entirely plug in despite everything SHIELD's asked and offered.
Steve doesn't say any of that aloud. Stark clearly has enough issues of his own to deal with; he doesn't need Steve sharing his.
“I'm glad you called.”
He doesn't need to hear Stark say it to know that Steve was his last choice. Steve has to smile at the similarity to his own thoughts a year before.
“So what're you doing out in DC?” Steve asks, and spends the rest of the drive listening to Stark complain about security committees.
3. One day after the signing of the Sokovia Accords
Steve is not, technically, in jail. It's more like house arrest. Office arrest.
Tony does not bail him out, though god knows he tries.
If things hadn't gone to hell so fast, if they'd had just a little more time, he might have even succeeded. Steve was stubborn, but his best friend was sitting in a supermax lockup and the leverage to clear Barnes' name was not going to be won by an ex-Avenger. If they hadn't both had so many sleepless nights recently, if Tony had just explained better, he could have convinced him—
Could've, would've, should've.
A day and one simple question later—“Did you know?”—and these are, temporarily, the least of his regrets. But rage fades in time.
Regrets just compound.
4. Ten months after the signing of the Sokovia Accords
Tony comes to with a blinding headache.
And a failed mission. If the headache wasn't proof of this, the two bulky aliens dragging him along between them would be. They are almost definitely aliens: humans don't have skin that green. And mutants almost never mutate the same way twice. So, he was right in that, at least.
Hopefully Fury'll get his message sooner rather than later. Or maybe Steve'll check his goddamned phone one of these days. Hah.
His shoes keep catching on the floor, which is some sort of metal grating... thing. He tries to get his feet under him, to take his weight off of his shoulders-screaming-in-agony, but the only thing his efforts accomplish is a wave of nausea and blurred vision. He thinks he throws up.
This annoys his captors. They stop and chitter at each other. There's movement beyond them, and it makes the dizziness worse.
“Tony? Jesus! Hey, you! Yes, you—”
Colours swirl together, and it's lights out again.
Tony comes to with no idea where he is.
It's not his room at the Compound. It's not his suite in the Tower. He feels certain of that in a vague way. Somebody is holding him, cradling him half propped up. He'd feel a lot better if his head wasn't currently trying to explode. His mouth tastes like death, and his nose informs him that the smell outside isn't any better, just with more sulphur.
He opens his eyes and stares up at the face of Steve Rogers.
Tony squints. It's been at least... a while since he's seen Steve. The exact number eludes him, and trying to grab at a memory of the circumstances just makes his headache even worse, so he lets it go. But the point is, this is not a position he expected to wake up in, Steve cradling him. He should have something witty to say to cover his surprise.
What comes out of his mouth is, “What?”
Moving his jaw makes his head hurt. Jesus, this is not a hangover. Not that Steve would be cuddling him after a hangover.
“Tony,” says Steve. “Thank God.”
“You passed out halfway through telling me about their communications,” says Steve. “I didn't manage to grab you—I think you hit your head again. And I was worried you were going hypothermic, so—” He shrugs his opposite shoulder, moving very carefully. Is he hurt? At least he's not jostling Tony's skull. Tony thinks his head might explode if he has to move.
Cuddling for warmth. That does explain one confusing item. And head trauma, not hangover. “Where are we?” Tony manages. If he speaks slowly it doesn't make the pain flare too much.
“Same cell, we haven't moved. It's only been about twenty minutes,” says Steve. The rumble through his chest is dizzying, but at the same time comforting. Tony wants to close his eyes and drift off to it. Drift off again, maybe. He'd like to believe this is some sort of nightmare.
“Do you remember the rest of your plan?”
Plan? Huh. He's not usually one for big plans. Or he's trying not to be. They keep blowing up in his face. But they're in a cell. “Dunno. Where are we?”
“The same cell as before,” says Steve. He looks really worried now. “The Skrull threw you in here with me, after I managed to piss 'em off some. Do you remember?”
Skrull. Sounds kinda like Red Skull. “Hydra?”
“No, aliens. As far as I know their invasion started a month ago, but they might have been here longer. They're shapeshifters. They infiltrated Wakanda first. You said they managed to detect your stealth suit with some sort of scanner borrowed from Wakandan technology.”
“A month?” God, he sounds like an idiot. Or a parrot. An idiot parrot.
“That's when I found out they were here, anyway. I've been here since.” Steve indicates the cell with a tilt of his head.
“You didn't pick up the phone,” Tony says, for no particular reason. He can't remember calling Steve in the last... the last... he's not sure. He doesn't call Steve. They, like him-and-Pepper, are on a break. Like him-and-Pepper, it's permanent, and calling it a break is just... wishful thinking.
The words make Steve flinch. That makes Tony flinch in turn. He tries to sit up, and that turns out to be a very bad idea; his headache makes this known, beating at his brain with spiked hammers, and the world greys out for a long while.
Tony comes to with no idea where he is.
“Tony? Tony, thank God. Come on, open your eyes.”
Someone's face is way too near his own. After a moment, it resolves into Steve's, which is just confusing. Tony feels like he's going cross-eyed. The effort of trying to figure out why Steve is there, his face too near Tony's, is exhausting just to contemplate, so Tony shuts his eyes against it. He'll figure it out later.
Closing his eyes gets him a squeezed shoulder, hard enough to hurt. “Ow!”
“Stay awake,” Steve orders, ignoring both Tony's glare and the fact that he just pinched Tony like a complete asshole. “I need your help.”
“What?” Tony manages to ask. He's pretty sure they're not on help-giving terms. Something about a phone? They weren't on speaking terms, last he checked. Then again—“Where are we?”
“We got captured, we're in a cell,” Steve explains, way too briefly and way too quickly. Tony's brain feels like molasses just trying to keep up. He wants to close his eyes again. “I knocked out two of our guards and I need your help.” He holds up something that looks kinda like an old TV remote control turned sideways. There's a green point of light blinking at the top and it drives a spike into Tony's eyes every time it blinks on. “I know this thing unlocks the collars but I can't make heads or tails of it.”
Hm. Weird technology thing, or further unconsciousness. Unconsciousness is pretty damn tempting, but weird technology is Tony's thing, and he's not about to lose face in front of Steve, not when he's pretty sure he should be... angry at him, or something. And lying around flat on his back will definitely get him no cool points. Captain America wouldn't lie around flat on his back while there was interesting technology blinking at him. Literally; he's not doing so now. So Tony puts a hand out and attempts to sit up.
It makes the world go grey and hazy, until Steve pinches him again, goddamnit. “Ow!” Tony says indignantly, opening his eyes and trying to sit up on his own, only to discover that he's vertical now, and this is mostly due to Steve's chest, which he's slumped over against. “Stop doing that!”
“Stay awake,” Steve says ruthlessly, and hands him the blinking thing.
Even if it's a weird piece of technology that Tony's never seen before, professional pride and basic principles tell him there's a way to open it. Sure enough, his hands manage to pop off the side of it without his brain having to get involved. Inside, there are... components. That's about all he can tell. They're arranged in familiar patterns. He's never seen anything like it before. He has no idea what it is.
His hands move on his own. He's disabled literally hundreds of computers before. Probably thousands. This isn't like any of them, but he rips out something that might be a wire, shorts out two points that could be contacts, and the flashing light turns a steady, controlled purple. It's actually more annoying as a solid light than it was when it was blinking. An ice-pick to the brain would be a mercy compared to that unrelentingly bright point.
“Knew you could do it,” says Steve, which Tony sort of wants to bristle at. He closes his eyes instead, because ow. Then he opens them again when Steve grabs the remote and holds it up to his own neck.
This could probably go very badly, but instead the collar around Steve's neck—huh, there actually is a collar, an inch wide band of what looks like solid steel—falls away. Then Steve holds the remote to Tony's neck, and a band of pressure at his throat that he hadn't noticed before is gone.
“Time to go,” says Steve, which is not at all enough warning for the ground rolling and dropping away. Grey haze competes with nausea this time, and Tony retches, which makes the pain in his head spike, and it's a mercy when consciousness drops away as well.
Tony comes to with no idea where he is.
It's dark, cold, and there's somebody pressed up against him, arms around him. His head is killing him. He has the sinking feeling that he got spectacularly drunk and forgot to take the party inside before the pants came off.
He tries to push away from the other person, but they're clingy—and then really too clingy; the arm around his chest comes up, covering his mouth, and Tony starts to panic in slow motion. The headache is making it impossible to think, to react with any of the training that he should have, but he flails out as best he can, and—
“Shh!” says the voice in his ear. It's familiar. “Tony, calm down, we're hiding and I need you to stay still.”
“Steve?” Tony tries to say, but of course there's a hand over his mouth. Then, “What?” because... well, for one thing, Steve can't get drunk, so drunken mistakes are probably ruled out. Also, what the hell would Steve be hiding from? Pepper? No, Pepper's... gone.
After a very long and confusing period of time—it feels long, anyway, but Tony has no idea, he might have drifted off again in between—Steve's grip relaxes. “Sorry. There was a patrol in the hallway.”
“Where are we?” Tony asks. It comes out mostly as a croak. His throat is pretty dry. This would presumably be worth noticing, but the five-man-band in his skull is taking up most of his attention.
God, it's hard to think.
“Hiding in a closet,” says Steve. It sounds a bit wry. “And trying to figure out a way off their spaceship.”
“It's a long story.”
Jesus, why is he saying things like an idiot?
“We got captured by aliens. You got hit in the head. We broke out of the cells. But it's a pretty confusing spaceship, and there's a lot of crew around.”
Tony contemplates this. It feels like it takes a while. Steve tenses again at some point, and covers his mouth again for a bit, before Tony comes up with something to say that isn't, 'I'm not sure this is less awkward than a one-night stand,' and 'Ow.' “Do they have computer terminals?”
“Sort of. I don't know how they work. Actually, I had a hand-held one, but you told me to throw it away. They can track us through it, like our comms.”
This requires some more contemplation. “I told you?”
“You got hit in the head, you've been fading in and out.”
“Hmm.” When Tony hums, it makes his entire skull buzz. “Can you get me another one?”
He can't see in the dark, so he has no idea if Steve is staring at him, but it sort of feels like Steve is staring at him. In case Steve can see in the dark, Tony tries a winsome smile. He hopes it doesn't look as gruesome as it feels. “I have an idea.”
There's a bit more possibly-staring. Then, “Okay.”
There's motion. After some confusion, not helped by the gut-clenching nausea, Tony realizes that Steve is moving Tony so that Tony's no longer propped up against him. This is probably good; Steve's going. Steve should get out of here, at least. Tony is... probably screwed, and if Steve is willing to follow his directions, then that is... more evidence of probably screwiness? He can't manage to hold the train of thought. But he and Steve were fighting, last he checked, and not on the same side against aliens.
Then again, an alien invasion worked okay for resolving their differences the first time...
Steve comes back in a whirl of really annoying lights and a burst of sound that quiets as a door is shoved shut, leaving Tony squinting at a thing that has a bunch of purple lights on it but nothing recognizable as a screen. There are things that... aren't quite buttons. His fingers move to cover them like hand-holds.
“Time to cause some chaos,” says Tony, and somehow he knows how to do just that.
Tony comes to with no idea where he is.
He's in restraints. There's motion all around him and it makes his head spin, feel like it's about to fall off, even though it's tied down like the rest of him. Except his hands, for some reason—they've been overlooked, and he scrabbles at whatever harness they've got him in, trying to keep from retching as the world shudders.
“They're on us!”
“Tony—damn it! Grab his hands!”
Somebody does, and Tony claws at them instead, his head splitting open like an overripe melon—
“Tony, calm down, we're escaping—”
“Brace for impact!”
The world slams sideways, pain spikes from his skull down his spine, and everything goes out.
5. Three weeks after the Skrull Invasion
“The only good alien's a dead alien!”
“We all saw him! We saw what he did, you saw him, everybody knows!”
“Folks, we can't just string him up, if he's not an alien then—”
“They change back when they die, don't they? Only way to be sure!”
“How're we supposed to hold on to an alien? He'll get out and kill us!”
Jail is not a new experience for Steve, but the lynch mob is. Steve sits in his cell and tries not to pace. He can see the mob through the half-open door of the jail, and some of them can see right into his cell. Letting the local sheriff arrest him had seemed like the better of two bad options at the time, but that was when he was on the street and surrounded by too many nervous civilians and too many other nervous civilians with guns. Now, he's at least got his back to a wall. And the cell bars can keep the civilians out, but there's no way they'll keep Steve in if he judges it's better not to stay.
But the sheriff is out there counselling patience on Steve's behalf, and Steve's pretty sure that if he decides to book it before Tony can send out one of his drones to confirm that Steve is not, in fact, the Skrull impersonation of himself who murdered the President on live TV last month—well, then they might just decide to string the sheriff up in Steve's place.
Or they might decide to just start shooting at him from beyond the bars. Steve wishes that the sheriff had left the front door fully closed. He also wishes she'd left him his shield, but if the crowd saw he had it then no doubt they'd be even more out for blood.
He'd feel a lot better about this if he could just get hold of Tony, but his cell phone's been out of bars for the past hour.
“Calm down. We won't have to wait long. I've called the Stark Foundation—”
“Stark's busy with the fucking politicians!”
Thankfully, that's when the tell-tale roar of repulsors reaches Steve's ears.
“Yeah, you are all going to STAND DOWN.”
Steve can't see Tony's landing from this perspective, but the armour speakers are on high, cutting through the noise of the would-be mob easily. They quiet down pretty quick. “Come on, guys, I know the politicians are all acting like a pack of piranhas right now but you guys are better than that. No, my name's Tony, not Shirley—Tony Stark, nice to meet you. Sorry, yes, I'm making fun of you. Just a little bit. Come on, I'm living in DC, if I didn't get to mock people I think I'd top myself. Seriously, I have a scanner right here, it's going to go off in five, four—oh, wow! Okay, look at that, you actually did have a Skrull out here. Good to know.”
Well, at least this trip wasn't a complete bust.
“But no more mobs, guys. Seriously. We're better than this. If we give into mobs that's how assholes like the Skrulls win, they make everybody start looking for impersonators and go crazy. We can't do that. I'll get a full sweep to come through in the next twelve hours, clear everything up. Until then, hang tight. No shooting. No, you can't have this one either, she might have important intelligence, and yeah, that goes for any others. What did I just say about no shooting? Why yes, I will totally autograph your—is that a Smith and Wesson? It's not even a Stark, come on, I can't autograph that. Somebody gimme a piece of paper to sign. Guys, establish a curfew if you want, but the lynch mob thing, that's not a good look.”
That's definitely Tony, not FRIDAY. Steve winces, hoping that he's remotely piloting the suit, because if Tony's actually wearing it, his doctors are going to kill him. And then Steve's going to kill him again when they get done. Three weeks later and Tony's still sometimes seeing double; he won't be cleared to fly again for months.
The crowd begins to disperse outside. It's only the most suspicious, the ring-leaders, who follow the armour's heavy footsteps into the jailhouse proper. “Not a Skrull. You know that was an impersonator, right? So was the President, actually. I'm still trying to figure out what ship he was on. But Steve's the real deal—seriously, he'd have reverted already if not, I've had this thing on for minutes.”
The armour is holding the limp body of a Skrull casually under one arm. The Skrull's still breathing. It's also wearing the sheriff's clothes.
The helmet tilts toward Steve, in one of those gestures that can be hard to read if you're not used to understanding armoured body-language. Steve is. “Ready to go?”
“Just need my shield,” says Steve. He's more than ready to leave this town behind.
The posse sees him back on his bike, and the armour flies escort as he leaves.
Steve gets back to Tony's penthouse six hours later, walking in to find that all the windows have been blacked out and the lights are off. Moving by memory, Steve kicks off his shoes and makes his way over to the kitchen, grabbing a glass and taking it to the sink to fill it. The noise of the tap earns him a groan from the direction of the couch, so Steve takes the glass into the living room. The faint light from various electronics is enough for him to make out Tony's form, lying supine on the couch with a pillow over his face.
“You alright?” Steve asks, setting the water down on the coffee table where Tony will be able to reach it. He keeps his voice low.
Tony is not fine. Tony is propping up the US government and half of Europe while nursing a concussion severe enough to land him flat on his back in the middle of the afternoon. “S'just the remote interface, lots of bright lights.”
“You could have sent FRIDAY.”
“I gave her a vacation.” Moving slowly and carefully, Tony sits up. Equally carefully, Steve doesn't help him. It doesn't do anything but make Tony prickly. “Time off for saving the world, all that jazz.”
“Suuuure. And now I'm back. Look what I found, Da. Can I keep him?” FRIDAY's tones are lilting, but they're quiet, too.
It was FRIDAY who had piloted the Iron Legion that had taken down the Skrull mothership; Tony had still been drifting in and out of consciousness at the time, unable to remember where he was or what was going on, even if he was able to take apart and reverse engineer alien technology practically blind. It was FRIDAY who killed the Skrull who had impersonated Steve and murdered the (fake) President, and FRIDAY who marched the armour into the US Senate and revealed to the world that half of the politicians assembled were in fact green aliens.
The world has no clue who FRIDAY is, so Tony Stark is currently adored the world over. To be fair, if he hadn't managed to reverse engineer the Skrull technology, the Skrulls probably would have won. Steve has no idea what FRIDAY thinks of the situation, except that she adores Tony.
Steve crosses around to sit on the couch beside Tony. After a minute, Tony gives in and takes a few careful sips from the glass of water.
“I shouldn't have tried to go Skrull-hunting on my own,” Steve admits. They'd gotten reports of suspicious activity in the area that needed to be investigated. But his face has been everywhere as the known traitor... and even with Tony's endorsement, he'd underestimated how suspicious people still are.
He'd wanted to do something useful, anything, and he'd just ended up in jail. Again. He's had enough of that to last him for a lifetime.
“It's what you do,” says Tony. He waves a hand. “Going out. Finding situations.”
“Making situations,” Steve says wryly.
“Thanks for bailing me out.”
Tony turns to him; Steve sees his profile shift, although he can't make out more in the dark. Tony must be entirely blind. “Eh, you'd have done the same.”
“I would. But thanks. Even if I wish you'd sent FRIDAY.”
“She doesn't have the patter down. It's a work in progress. Besides, after last month, I think I owe you about, uh, seven hundred and two more bail-outs. At least. Plus interest for throwing up on you a couple times.”
“You came to rescue me.”
He can hear Tony's self-mocking grin, the way it gives his words teeth. “Did such a bang-up job.”
Steve sighs, and then, because it's dark enough that neither of them can see the other, he puts an arm around Tony and pulls him close, like they'd huddled together on the ship. “We'd never have gotten out of there without you.”
“If you say so,” says Tony. He slumps against Steve's shoulder. Trying to prop up world governments, get mass production going on Skrull detectors... Steve can feel the exhaustion radiating off of him.
“I do,” Steve says. He keeps his voice quiet, not just out of deference for Tony's concussion.
Tony settles like a cat, wriggling until he finds the most comfortable position. Steve lets him, keeping an arm around him after Tony's breathing has slowed and evened back out into sleep.
And when Tony's finally asleep enough that he can't protest, Steve tells him, very quietly, “You're right, you know. I would do the same. For you, always.”