“Sir, Captain Rogers has returned from Medical.”
“Good. Did he get the gift basket I sent?”
“Affirmative. He seemed to regard the attached note with some puzzlement, and is now en route to the kitchen.”
“How’s he doing?” Tony asks, sitting back from his screens and stretching out his shoulders. He’s been going almost non-stop since getting back, pausing only long enough to shower and wash the battle sweat off. Then he’d gone to work.
After aliens had rained down on them, they’d gone their separate ways, each needing time and space to sort themselves. Turns out that, for Tony, sorting himself out hasn’t been exactly painless. At least in the end he hadn’t lost Pepper entirely. He’d rather have her as his CEO, one of his best friends, and someone he could always count on being there than try and cling to a relationship that wasn’t working and risk losing her altogether.
Everything else, all the things inside his own head, well... that’s going to take a bit longer.
Even amidst the near radio silence in the weeks following the invasion, Tony had left a metaphorical candle burning in the window. He’d built a space for them, hoping that they might come back one day, and one by one they had. Probably for the best, as it turned out that there was a lot of work that came after stopping an alien wanna-be overlord. Which is how Steve had landed his ass in Medical in the first place.
Apparently, despite the fact that they’d set up a pretty tight cordon during the battle and cleared the area quickly, and despite the fact SHIELD had appeared and made the Chitauri bodies and all their tech disappear almost overnight, things had still gone missing. Weapons had disappeared, been sold and traded underground, and now they’re cropping up again in the hands of everyone from high-profile megalomaniacs to common street gangs. Organised crime groups have been having a field day with the influx of high powered, nigh unbeatable weaponry. The police aren’t equipped to deal with that kind of thing, so the Avengers had stepped in.
It’s good, being back out in the field, and although Tony will never admit it out loud, not even under pain of death, he likes having a team. He likes the way they fit together. What he doesn’t like is screwing up, failing to watch Steve’s back, and letting Steve take a hit like he’d taken. A blast to his right side from one of those Chitauri guns, because Steve had been too focused on catching the rebounding shield on his left. He’d crumpled, but almost immediately rolled back to his feet, biting back a grimace. Tony had personally punched the guy responsible.
A message that beeps through from Natasha indicates that the injuries were mild; bruising, a couple of cracked ribs, nothing that wouldn’t heal itself quickly after a few days of rest. Good. Tony knows there’s no point counting on Steve giving him an update. Things still feel awkward and stilted between them, even though they’re both actually putting in a concerted effort to fix that. It’s still… tense. Not that that stops Tony’s eyes from wandering when he and Steve are in the same room, and it doesn’t stop him leaving get-well packages with Steve’s name on them.
“Sir, Captain Rogers found the parcel in the refrigerator, and is inquiring as to who left it for him.” Once again, Jarvis’ voice cuts through Tony’s wandering thoughts, and Tony flinches.
“Tell him it was Natasha. Or Pepper. Banner. Literally anyone else,” Tony responds sharply, turning his attention back to his screen and frowning thoughtfully at the specs he’s put together. “Projected strength, weight and manoeuvrability look good. Have the bots put together a swatch of this. I want to run tests on it as soon as possible.”
Tony barely has time to settle back into a work groove when the door to the workshop slides open, and a second later the smell of rich, hearty food fills the air. Turning in his chair, Tony is unsurprised to see Steve coming towards him carrying two plates. He sets them down on the workbench and turns to stare at Tony, his gaze razor sharp and intent. Tony matches the intensity of it, refusing to budge even as Steve says, “Thank you, Tony,” in a voice that’s a little tight.
“For what?” Tony asks innocently, schooling his expressing into something neutral. Steve rolls his eyes and passes over a plate.
“Should have had Dummy write the note you left on this,” Steve says conversationally. “Your handwriting gave it away, even though Jarvis tried to cover for you.”
Dammit. Of course Steve would know what his damn handwriting looks like. Stupid, observant super soldier.
“I haven’t had Shepherd’s pie like this since before my ma died,” Steve continues, taking a careful bite. Ah. So that explains the tightness in his voice. Apparently when it came to deciding on comfort food, Tony had chosen better than he’d thought. “How’d you manage it?”
“A little hole-in-the-wall Irish pub,” Tony admits, picking up his own plate and poking at it. “I mean, a real Irish pub. Not one of those kitschy places the tourists like. Guy on the other end of the line had an accent thick enough I almost had to make Jarvis translate for me.”
Steve laughs at that, and the tightness around his eyes eases at the same time he winces slightly from the pain in his side. “Sorry,” he grits out. “It’ll heal quick enough, but right now, it hurts like a bitch.”
A heavy feeling of guilt tries to make itself known, but Steve interrupts before it can root itself in the pit of Tony’s stomach.
“Don’t even start, Stark,” he says, his voice low with warning. “I know that look. It wasn’t your fault.” Tony opens his mouth to object, but before he can say anything, Steve reaches out with his fork and shoves a bite of the mixture into Tony’s mouth.
“Holy shit,” Tony mumbles around a mouthful of rich meat and potato. “This is amazing.” Steve chuckles again, carefully, holding his side a little, but his eyes twinkle, shining bright with humour. The sound is warm and low, and it makes a little curl of something resembling happiness swim in Tony’s belly.
“Told you. That’s why I had to come down and thank you in person. And make you try it. I couldn’t have you missing out.”
Tony nods, quickly shovelling another bite into his mouth. An easy silence settles between them, and Tony is surprised to realize how not awkward it feels. It might actually be the most relaxed he and Steve have ever been around each other without the buffer of another person in the room. It’s nice. Of course, Tony’s eyes wander over Steve’s arms and shoulders, and up to his face, but when he forces himself to look away he catches movement out of the corner of his eye that leads him to suspect that maybe he hadn’t been the only one.
“So, what are you working on?” Steve asks curiously, peering over Tony’s shoulder at the screens.
“Um,” Tony turns away so that Steve can’t see the flush of heat rising in his cheeks. Which is stupid – he’s Tony fucking Stark, he shouldn’t be blushing. “Suit upgrades for you. Working on a new material that should be more protective, and help disperse the energy of an impact so you’re less likely to get yourself injured. Fabrication units are working on a swatch.”
“What?” Steve asks in disbelief. “Tony, you’ve been back here less than five hours.”
Tony shrugs in response. “I work quickly when I’m motivated.” He turns again, trying to hide his face from Steve, which works for all of three seconds before Steve touches his shoulder, and he feels compelled to turn back.
“Tony, I told you, it’s not your fault,” Steve says, his voice firm and gentle and brooking no argument.
“Doesn’t mean I want to see it happen again,” Tony says, itching to argue anyway. He shrugs with as much casual ease as he can muster.
“Fair point,” Steve concedes, and there’s that damn eye-twinkle again. “Pretty sure I’d be feeling the same way if our places were switched.” Tony refuses to examine the way that comment makes his stomach flutter.
They finish the rest of their meal and Steve rises, gathering the plates. “Thanks again, Tony, really,” Steve says, once again staring intently at him. “This meant a lot.”
“Yeah, of course, any time Cap,” Tony says hastily, feeling awkward and a little sad as Steve turns to leave. “This was nice, you should come back down sometime.”
Steve seems a little awkward, himself, as he turns towards the elevator, and then stops, turning his head to look back and meet Tony’s eyes.
“I’d like that,” he says, smiling tentatively before taking a deep breath, as if steeling himself for what he’s about to say next. “And I’d like it even more if I could take you to dinner sometime. Just the two of us.”
Uh. What? Tony can’t have heard that right. He must have landed on his head during the fight. Could Steve seriously be suggesting --
“A date. If you’re okay with that --” well that answers that question “-- or just as friends, if you’d rather,” Steve adds abruptly.
Tony may be a lot of things, but one of the few things he isn’t is an idiot, and he knows an opportunity when it’s staring him in the face, inexplicably asking him out. Even when that opportunity may or may not be the hallucinated product of a concussion.
“A date,” he agrees, giving Steve a tentative smile.
The blinding grin he gets in return makes his belly flutter again, and his smile automatically widens as well.
Maybe it’ll be okay.