Tony couldn’t stop watching Steve on the trip home. He tried not to; he tried to talk to Thor about tracking down the rogue Asgardian who’d set the trap, he tried to confer with Bruce about the biochemical analysis, he tried to discuss the necessary changes to field operations with Natasha.
But his eyes kept sliding back to Steve, curled on a seat at the very back of the quinjet. He’d changed into the emergency sweats and t-shirt they kept on the ‘jet for post-Hulk Bruce, but even those were laughably too large. De-serumed Steve wasn’t just small -– Tony was small, or at least short -– Steve was tiny. They were going to have to order clothes for him from the boys’ department.
Steve didn’t look back at Tony, not once during the whole three-hour flight. He didn’t look at any of the others, either. He held out his arm resignedly when Bruce asked for a blood sample; he grunted and muttered in response to questions; he just shrugged when anyone asked after his state of health.
Tony knew –- knew, beyond all shadow of doubt -– that Steve didn’t want anyone fussing over him, but it was hard not to worry. Tony had heard about how sickly and frail Steve had been as a kid, and seeing it now was really driving it home. A stiff wind would knock him over; he could catch a cold and die of pneumonia before they ever caught up with the villain who’d done it. And Christ, it was December, that joyous time of year when it seemed like everyone was sick anyway.
Tony felt a sudden spurt of sympathy for Barnes, who’d grown up with this version of Steve and had to endure dozens of actual brushes with death –- not to mention Steve’s constant and wholly inadvisable state of “FIGHT ME” when it came to bullies and assholes, no matter if they were twice his size and outnumbered him ten-to-one.
Tony thought briefly about calling Barnes to ask for help, or at least advice, but he and Sam were off on a mission and pretty much everyone on the team was hoping they’d take advantage of the radio silence to work out their weirdly aggressive sexual tension (it had given Tony new appreciation for the team putting up with the way he and Steve had circled each other before finally getting together). So calling Barnes was out unless an actual immediate emergency cropped up.
Clint set the ‘jet down with his usual delicacy, and as one, Avengers looked at Steve and then looked at Tony, identical ‘do something’ expressions on their faces, before scrambling out as fast as they could manage.
Tony looked back at Steve, but even with the rest of the team gone, Steve still wasn’t looking up, just slowly gathering his discarded gear together.
Normal, right. Try to act normal. What did Tony usually say when they’d just gotten back from a mission? He couldn’t remember. He opened his mouth to say something, anything–-
“Go on ahead, Tony,” Steve said, the first thing he’d said in a normal voice since they’d recovered from the explosion of the trap to find Steve swimming in his armor. “I’ll catch up.”
“Yeah, that’s not happening,” Tony said.
Steve shot him an annoyed look, and Tony all but grinned with relief, because that was pure Steve Rogers, right there. “Tony…”
“It’s cold out there,” Tony said.
“And snuggling up against your metal suit of armor is supposed to help with that?” Steve said drily, pulling himself to his feet and hiking up the sweatpants so he wouldn’t trip over them. “I think I can manage to make it across the hangar before I freeze to death.”
“So I’ll walk with you,” Tony said.
“I’m fine.” Steve brushed past Tony, nearly staggering under the weight of his folded armor. It was so weird for him to be so small. Less the gigantic pitbull of freedom and more a half-starved alley-cat of justice. It was kind of adorable, really.
“Yeah, of course you are,” Tony said, falling in at Steve’s side like usual. “That’s why you sulked all the way home.”
Steve grunted. “I said I’m fine; I didn’t say I was happy about it. But you don’t have to hover like I’m already at death’s door.”
“I’m not hovering!” Tony protested. Steve stopped in his tracks to give Tony an incredulous look. “I’m n–- Okay, maybe a little bit,” Tony admitted, “but can you really blame me?”
“I’m fine,” Steve said again. “I just want to take a shower and find some clothes that fit and rest for a while.”
Tony skipped ahead to open the door so Steve wouldn’t have to try to juggle forty pounds of armor one-handed. “Okay. So, speaking as your boyfriend, here, mind if I join you for that?”
Steve paused, halfway through the door, then continued onward. “Tony, I’m… really not up for the usual post-mission fun.”
“The usual” was fantastic, life-affirming sex that started in the shower and ranged all over the penthouse before finally ending with them both collapsed and gasping in the bed, and it stung more than a little that Steve was assuming that sex was the only reason Tony might want to spend time with him. “Well, I think you’re throwing over a once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy me holding you up against the wall for a change, but we can just watch a movie or something, then,” he said. “I’ll make hot chocolate; it’ll be great.”
“You. Are going to make hot chocolate.” Steve actually looked almost amused at that, which was a definite improvement, even if it was at Tony’s expense.
“Sure, why not? I invented a new element, Steve, I think I can manage to make hot chocolate.”
“See, you’d think the whole genius thing would be in your favor, but I have seen you in the kitchen, honey, and I have doubts.”
Tony mock-glared and snatched the heavy armor out of Steve’s arms as the elevator doors opened on the penthouse. “Go,” Tony told him, pointing imperiously toward the sitting area with its oversized television. “Go pick out a movie and get settled in, and I am going to make hot chocolate that will knock your spangly socks off.”
Steve looked down at his feet and wiggled his toes. “I’m not wearing any socks,” he noted.
“Good, I like to stack the odds in my favor,” Tony said. He hefted the armor –- Christ, it really was heavy –- and cocked his head at Steve. “You’re sure you’re okay?”
Steve rolled his eyes and stretched up on his toes to kiss Tony’s cheek. “Yes, Tony, I’m fine. I’m going to go take a quick shower, and when I come back, I’ll be ready to try this so-called hot chocolate of yours.”
Tony grinned and pulled Steve in for a proper kiss. He hoped he’d be able to talk Steve into sex at least once before they got his serum restored, because damn, but the pocket-sized edition of his boyfriend was cute. “Put on extra socks,” he said. “You know, so your feet will still be warm after I knock a pair or two off.”
Steve rolled his eyes fondly –- Tony was going to go with fondly, anyway –- and headed toward the bedroom. Tony watched him go, then clapped decisively and went into the kitchen.
“Okay, JARVIS, hit me with your best recipe for hot chocolate.”
JARVIS projected a holographic screen near the stove, and Tony scanned the recipe. Milk, sugar, baking chocolate –- did he even have that? –- a pinch of salt, optional spices.
“Wow, this looks… boring,” Tony said. “I need a socks knocked off recipe, c’mon! Let’s jazz this fucker up a bit.”
“No, it’s okay, you’re doing your best, J, but you don’t have taste buds, and you’re not actually a genius.”
“I’m not sure technical genius translates to culinary genius, sir.”
“Nonsense, of course it does.” Tony started opening cabinets and pulling out ingredients that sounded good. Oh, hey, he did have baker’s chocolate! Marshmallows, of course, can’t have hot chocolate without marshmallows. Spices, sure. Salt… who the hell wanted salty hot chocolate? Screw that. Chocolate chips? Why not, had to be better than whatever baker’s chocolate was. Oh, hey, chocolate and orange went really well together, maybe a little orange juice…
Genius. No question. The socks might as well already be off.
Twenty minutes later, Tony was standing over the stove, frantically stirring and cursing under his breath. The liquid in the pot was way too thin and filled with disgusting white flecks for no apparent reason, and there was a faint smell of burnt chocolate in the air. And when he’d tasted it, well, the less said about that, the better.
Fuck. Steve was going to be back any minute, and he had nothing. He couldn’t even start over with the original recipe, because he’d thrown all the baker’s chocolate into the pot in a desperate attempt to fix whatever had gone wrong. He braced his arms on either side of the stove and let his head hang down in despair.
“How’s it going?” There was Steve, right on time, and he sounded amused already. Tony didn’t even move.
Steve came up beside him and peered over his arm into the pot. “Wow, that’s. I don’t even know how you did that.”
“Me, either.” Tony blew out a long breath, then straightened and squared his shoulders. “Okay, this is. This is a disaster, but I can do this. I’ll just run to the nearest store -– JARVIS, where’s the nearest store? -– and get-–”
“Tony, no.” Steve was laughing as he tried to catch Tony’s waving hand. “No.”
A dull ache filled Tony’s chest. Christ, he couldn’t even make hot chocolate. He turned off the stove. “Yeah, you’re right, I’ll just. I’ll just run out to Starbucks –- I know where that is already –- and get some of their chocolate. Maybe a carafe? I could get a carafe.”
“Tony, stop.” Steve interrupted. He wrapped his arms around Tony’s waist. His hair was still damp from the shower, and he smelled like Steve always smelled after a shower, warm and masculine and slightly spicy. It was a scent that wriggled into Tony’s throat and loosened the tension there. “I don’t even really want hot chocolate.”
“But I promised,” Tony said.
Steve pulled and Tony reluctantly followed him out of the kitchen. “I appreciate the effort,” Steve said, “but really, all I want is to put on a movie and curl up with you on the couch.”
“You’re just being nice,” Tony accused. “Humoring me.”
Steve grinned up at him. “Really? Does that sound like something I’d do?”
“…No. Not really.” Tony squinted down at Steve’s face. Then his eyes widened. “Are you wearing my clothes?” Tony’s jeans were baggy on Steve and hung low on his hips, and the cuffs had been rolled up to let his feet escape; the sweater he’d found was even baggier and made Steve look kind of like a Dickensian orphan. If Dickensian orphans had ever punched Hitler in the jaw, anyway. It was fucking adorable, and sort of hot in a quietly possessive way, even better than when Steve wore Iron Man merchandise.
“It’s all I could find that even sort of fit,” Steve said, but he was smirking. The little bastard knew exactly what he was doing. Losing the serum hadn’t affected his tactical genius, apparently. “Come on,” Steve cajoled, tugging Tony closer to the couch. “You get to be the pillow this time.”
Well, that was true. If Tony tried to flop on top of Steve the way he usually did, Steve would be squashed. And the idea of wrapping his arms around Steve -- hell, Steve was small enough that Tony actually could get his arms all the way around –- while Steve curled up on his chest was… that sounded really nice, actually.
“Yeah, okay,” Tony said. He stretched out on the couch and opened his arms.
Steve set his bony knees between Tony’s and laid down, pillowing his head on Tony’s shoulder. “This is nice,” he said after a moment of wriggling and shifting to find the best position. “You’re very warm.”
Usually, it was Steve who ran hot and Tony who was basking in the warmth. “Are you cold? I could get a blanket if you’re cold.”
“I’m fine, Tony,” Steve said. “You’re all I need. JARVIS, start the movie, please.”
Tony kissed the top of Steve’s head and tried to stop the manic whirlwind of his worry. It didn’t work very well, but it was nice like this, just holding Steve and feeling the rise and fall of his breathing as they watched the movie, idly running his fingers down Steve’s back and through his hair. He thought Steve had gone to sleep about twenty minutes in, but not long after that, Steve said, “So later, after I’ve had a nap?”
“We’re gonna look into that wall notion.”
Well, that at least gave Tony’s thoughts a different direction to go.