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how am I going to be an optimist about this

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So, everyone’s a little weirded out that Tony’s sitting around in the living room.

And Steve can say that confidently. Natasha and Clint keep exchanging looks, quick and questioning, as they take their usual spot in the big fluffy chair (Natasha) and cross legged on the floor (Clint); Bruce actually looked up from his own messy handwriting and formulas, and has been alternating between staring at Tony and writing down alterations to his projects ever since from the communal kitchen; Thor, who has been playing video games next to Tony for an hour, still shoots him glances in between levels. When Steve broke the uncomfortable silence after 2 hours of Why is Tony here? by offering Tony a cup of coffee, just as he likes it, Tony politely declined and went back to watching Thor play Mario Kart.

Tony never declines coffee. And he certainly never does it politely.

It’s not so much that Tony isn’t welcome in the living room, not at all. Everyone’s so used to his quips and baiting that even Natasha can’t help but smiling. It’s just that, no one came back unscathed after battling a man a little too in touch with the sea and it’s various creatures. Steve never thought he’d be thrown by an octopus, but well. Being part of the Avengers made everything possible. And Steve knows the Iron Man armor of the week (how does he keep making these things?) was thrown into the water pretty hard by that same octopus. When Tony had emerged from the water, covered in kelp and quite a few suction-cup sized dents, everyone was sure that Tony would be holed up in the lab for at least a few days, slaving away over Mark-whatever-number-he-was-on (Steve doesn’t keep track anymore).

And yet. Here he is.

And did Steve mention Tony is sitting still? No tablet is occupying his lap; he’s not bouncing around talking about the newest armor expansion or his new plan to annoy Fury. He’s not even bothering Bruce with something they could probably make, but Bruce refuses to because God gave him a beautiful moral compass.

Another hour of silence passes; Steve can’t take it anymore.

He suddenly bursts out with, “You know, I just don’t see the point of tablets. I mean, we already have small computers, what more does a person need?” He cringes internally with the loudness of it, like he decided to channel his inner bellowing-Thor.

Everyone looks at Tony expectantly.

And he hums. They cautiously wait for his typical rant about how everything is necessary, God Steve, I know you’re from the 1940s, but you’re killing me here.

A slight pause.

Nothing.

And now everyone’s on edge. Natasha seems to be debating the idea of interrogating this Tony (this can’t be their Tony) to see what organization he works for; Clint is gone, probably to retrieve his bow and tranquilizing arrows; Bruce has brushed his work to this side and Steve can see, out of the corner of his eye, that he’s signaling his willingness to be angry; Thor has paused and set down his video game, cradling Mjonir little close to him. And Steve… Steve…

Takes a good, long look at this (his brain still refuses to acknowledge that this is their Tony) Tony, and realizes that this Tony looks awe-inspiringly awful. He’s not bruised, he not battered, but his skin. His skin is a bit on the green side, a definite downward slide from his normal olive tones. His eyes are red-rimmed, like his tear-ducts can’t quite decide whether to stay dry or actually exert the effort to produce tears. Usually that’s an aspect of his tendencies to drive himself to exhaustion, but coupled with his unusual skin tone, it means something completely different and just as alarming. When Steve really zeroes in, he can see Tony's trembling with some sort of effort; before he can really figure out what Tony’s holding back, Tony stands, quickly turns away from Thor, and promptly throws up all over the living room floor.

~*~

Tony Stark has the flu.

Steve reaches over and touches Tony's forehead with his open palm, which Tony, reaction times slowed, tries to bat away.

With a hint of fever.

As it turns out, Tony had been working on his armor’s insulation when the Avengers had gotten the call to take care of Aquaman Jr. and his gang of not-so-friendly sea creatures. And, while New York Autumns aren’t freezing, they certainly aren’t a nice stroll in Miami, either. The water was only 41 degrees Fahrenheit, and it completely slipped everyone’s mind, because they actually, well, take care of themselves on a regular basis.

Natasha laughed at him as she slapped cold compresses on his forehead and under his arms (while he grumbled); Clint, unafraid of bodily fluids and willing to banter with a sick Tony when he’s awake, cleans out the trash bin when he’s thrown up in it; Bruce brings him tea (“I'm a bit worried about giving you this," Bruce teases, "it's like the dawn of a new Tony, a Tony that doesn't want coffee.") and argues with him over the idea of taking his flu virus and injecting it into their aquatic foe (“It’s not ethical, Tony. I couldn’t work on that under good conscience.” Tony scrunches up his face like a twelve year old and says, “Conscience, smonscience, Brucie. Being bedridden is the definition of ‘not ethical.’”); Thor comes by with chicken noodle soup (Jane “gave him the gift of this delicious meal, it only feels right to bestow it onto others.”) and tells him long tales that lull him to sleep eventually. Pepper even pops by, holding papers for Stark Industries, sighing, and sticking them back in her bag to dote on Tony for a little while before heading back to the company. And Steve… well, Steve…

Is by his bedside the whole time, listening to him whine and moan about being forced to lie in bed. Officially, he’s been assigned to bedroom duty because Steve is the only one who can listen to a bedridden Tony and keep him down if he tries to get up without killing him (Natasha… actually, everyone. Even Bruce gave Steve an apologetic shrug when they voted on it). Truthfully, he’s here because he’s concerned. It’s because he cares. It’s not like he’s hopelessly in love with Tony or anything.

“The throwing up incident was a mishap, Cap. I thought I had it under control.” Tony whines, trying to persuade his way out of bed.

“This was under control?” Steve raises an eyebrow, his frown quite impressive. “It was freaky. We all thought you’d been brainwashed or replaced by a spy. I've personally never seen you sit still since I've known you.”

Tony’s eyebrows shoot up in mock hurt, his voice feigning offence. “Wow, okay. I act normally, bouncing around, doing my awesome science-y genius thing, and no one can stand me. I do the opposite, grace you all with my charming air and, honestly, out-of-this-world wit and suddenly it’s freaky? People ask me all the time why I never turn to supervillany and if they asked me right now, I would seriously have no clue-“

Steve kisses him to shut him up, soft lips and no tongue, and quietly wishes Tony doesn’t mind.

He doesn’t.