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Airborne

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"Look I didn't mean to-oh! yes, thank you-I didn't mean for that to-"

"I'd save it Stark. I don't think he wants to hear it. Hiya, thanks."

"Welcome aboard Mr. Stark, Mr. Barton. If you follow the others and take a seat, we will be departing shortly."

The decidedly patriotic looking air hostess who's name was Cathy apparently, smiled and directed them to where the other Avengers had sat. Since it was a private Stark jet, it shouldn't have mattered what time they leave, but Steve had insisted that they leave early. Then again, Steve was also fighting with him at the moment so whatever he said kind of got obliterated under the seething Cap look.

Honestly, Tony hadn't meant to take the hit. He had been trying to rescue civilians from the party, and yes, their mission was supposed to be undercover, and yes, he was supposed to be one of the civilians to not draw attention, but it turns out Malaysia has Hydra agents too and they had no issue busting out the big guns in a crowd. So like hell was Tony gonna just walk off and leave the others to deal with it.

Steve seemed to think he should've. Then again Steve seemed to think a lot of things since Ultron.

When Tony had told Steve he was tapping out, he'd assumed that would be the last time he'd hear from Rogers. But no, every few weeks he'd fly out to see how Tony was doing, or as Steve called it, 'mission report' like a good little soldier. But Steve knew he wasn't a soldier and these visits turned more into a sit-and-watch-Tony-work fest than a let's-talk-missions visit. On odd days, Steve would suggest they go out for dinner and Tony would find himself in one of his favorite Italian restaurants with Steve secretly disappearing to pay the bill when he wasn't looking. A couple of other weird things like that had been happening, but Tony was sure Steve just really wanted a friend right now and for some bizarre reason, he'd chosen Tony. That would definitely explain some of the movie nights they'd had where Steve would yawn and rest his arm around Tony's shoulder, for the entire duration of the film. All things considered, Tony actually really liked spending time with Steve. 

Except Steve also shouted at him sometimes which wasn't nice. As in, Steve would be talking and Tony would be working and not want to interrupt him. Pepper told him he talked too much so he should be quiet and let others speak. So he did just that but then Steve would just...

'Are you even listening to me?! Tony, speak to me, I'm here, look at me at least! Hey, don't ignore me Avenger!"

"I'm not an Avenger...and I am listening-"

So yes. Not fun. That kept happening.

And of course there were the missions that were strictly Avengers business, super official and all that but both Fury and Steve kept calling him in at least once a month. It was usually for undercover ones like this, but still.

One way or another, he ended up using Ironman to get out of the situation. A part of Tony felt like they might've been plotting this, putting him in a position where he'd have no choice but to use Ironman. But that would be stupid because he was the one who chose to use Ironman and they were the ones telling him to stay safe. And after Ultron, he doubted anyone trusted him with an ounce of technology. Honestly, it was a wonder Tony was even still allowed to do the upgrades for the team or the newly reformed Shield.

"Mr. Stark, if you could please take a seat and we will stow your bags for you."

"No, no that's okay. I've got it." He stepped into the cabin and paused, getting a tap from behind from Clint.

Steve and Natasha and Bruce had all decided to sit on the left. Clearly one side. For some reason his gut felt like it caved in as he realized that he could sit on the right and Clint could very easily sit on the left too. Nat and Bruce hadn't really spoken to him since the mission either so maybe they'd all discussed him when he wasn't around. Maybe they all-

No, they must have discussed him at some point anyway. But they wouldn't-they wouldn't exclude him like that.

Right?

Swallowing, he waved the air hostess away and lifted his bags into the overhead lockers, securing it with a loud click. He hadn't realized the cabin had gone silent but he ignored it in favor of sitting on the right hand side table seat and folding his arms and looking out of the window. His heart thudded loudly in his ears and he felt multiple eyes fall on him.

"Hey, you okay?" Clint asked as he sat opposite him across the table and tried to catch his gaze. Tony did a quick double take just to be sure then he breathed out and smiled when he realized Clint had definitely buckled in. He wasn't alone.

"I'm good birdbrain. Just feeling tired. It's been a long few days." He went back to looking out of the window and watching the sun set. What he would do for a vacation right now but...

He didn't want to let Fury or the Avengers or Steve down. If they needed him, how could he say no?

Clint cleared his throat and leaned back in his seat, mimicking Tony. "You can say that again." He paused. "I would shoot for a vacation." He said almost tentatively. Weird-oh, wait!

"Yeah, same! We could all-" Tony made the mistake of looking at Steve mid-speech before realizing the Captain was glaring at his own table with an unbreakable gaze. It screamed irritation. When he looked at Natasha, she was pointedly looking away from him and Bruce was just...staring glumly at his hands as if he'd wanted to hide in them.

"-all...yeah a vacation would be nice." He petered off and fell silent. He had nothing to say, no matter how closely Clint was watching him.

No one really said anything for a while, just a few small comments from Clint about his upcoming missions and if Tony would be free sometime in the next few weeks and some quiet comments between Steve and Nat. Bruce was listening to his headphones and within the hour they were done with safety demonstrations and up in the air.

Once they were at cruising altitude, Tony unbuckled his seat belt and stood up. At Clint's raised eyebrow he explained.

"I'm just gonna quickly change into something more comfortable, feeling a bit warm."

Clint nodded with an easy grin and Tony opened the overhead lockers to get his change of clothes. Taking his bundle, he slowly made his way to the toilets at the back of the plane, but not before pausing in front of Natasha.

"Nat?" He whispered, not wanting to disturb Bruce who was fast asleep opposite her.

She turned to him and something she must have seen made the scowl disappear. Her gaze softened.

"Are you-what's up Tony?"

He pulled the clothes tighter to his chest. "I'm sorry about the mission. I didn't mean to screw it up."

Her eyes suddenly hardened again when he said that and she dropped the hand she was leaning on and tilted her head towards him, considering.

"You didn't-" she shook her head and sighed. "That's not the issue here. And it's not just about the mission. It's about the fact that you seem to think it's okay to just jump in front of every bullet that's fired. That you clearly think we don't-look, just give Steve some time. He needs to figure this out too but bottom line is we were worried, okay?"

"Okay..." Tony tried, not quite sure how to respond.

Natasha tapped her fingers on the table, keeping her face carefully blank. "You don't get it. That's okay, Steve will explain it to you somehow. He just needs to decide how." She raised her voice and tipped her chin at the blond spiky hair peaking over the seat in front of her. For some reason, Tony heard himself snicker.

"Go change, you're looking a bit tired and we've barely started. Try and get some shut eye Shellhead."

Tony nodded and carried on with a smile on his face. Nat was okay with him and Bruce probably was too. So that just meant that Steve was the only one who wasn't.

Tony locked the door and dropped the bundle on the free space next to the sink. Then he hung his black suit jacket up and began to unbutton his shirt, catching a glimpse of the scarring on his chest. He paused.

Steve was concerned about him. That's what Nat meant. But they fought so much and Steve got annoyed at him all the time now so maybe this was concern right now but the rest of the time it was anger.

Maybe Steve didn't actually want him on the team at all and this was his awkward way of telling him to leave properly rather than that crap half-hearted attempt a few months ago. So much for taping out.

He took his shirt off and slipped his black polo shirt on and after loosening the belt on his trousers he took them off and pulled on his blue jeans. It wasn't night yet so he'd leave the pjs till later. A quick look in the mirror told him he looked like he had just gotten out of bed, his curls were everywhere and his hair had grown out a bit, brushing past the nape of his neck. Still, he could sort that out on American soil. The dark shadows under his eyes and the dull hue of his skin though...that probably meant sleep right now. And who knew when he'd next get the chance so-

"Tony? You done? I wanna change too you know."

Tony grabbed his clothes, picking up his shoes and socks (he didn't want them on right now) and opened the door. Clint winked at him as he stepped out and Tony walked back to his seat. When he finished putting the clothes away, he turned and sat down and quickly realized Steve was staring at him.

"What is it? Something wrong?"

Steve lifted his eyes up to his face from wherever he had them before but didn't even twitch a muscle. In fact, He'd barely blinked since he'd been staring.

"You going to sleep?"

A bit caught of guard, Tony shook his head. Not yet.

"You should. Or do you need me to tell you to do that too? Actually scratch that, you probably wouldn't listen anyway." Steve replied, almost sounding bored. He leaned to one side and rested his jaw in his hand, waiting for Tony's reply.

Tony squeezed the arm rest. He knew Steve was trying to wind him up but damn him if he couldn't admit he hated it. "Look I get it. I'm sorry alright."

Steve's sharp eyes narrowed. Never let it be said that Captain America couldn't win a staring contest. "What do you get exactly? Care to share?"

Poetic Asshole.

"I won't do it again." He deadpanned because two could play at this game.

"What, again? Also, I'm not your mother, you don't have to sound like a kid."

"I-okay, look I've been thinking about this whole thing and maybe I should've picked up on it sooner but I didn't. And that's not your fault or mine."

Steve's stance completely fell apart. His arm dropped and his eyes widened, his mouth slightly open to say something but Tony carried on.

"I'm quitting the Avengers for good this time. I know you don't want me doing these missions but I only just realized that. I made that mistake and I'm sorry."

Steve's mouth closed and he clenched his fist once before letting go. Then he Rolled his eyes.

"And you're considered a genius. I don't want you to quit at all. If anything it's just stupid that you'd think that."

Ignoring the blatant, stinging insult, Tony crossed his arms. "Explain please. What else am I supposed to think exactly?"

Steve scoffed and turned back to his own window. "You can't understand. You don't. But that's okay." Steve waved a hand. "You do what you think is best. Clearly quitting is what you want to do so I won't stop you. But-" Steve stopped and turned to look him dead in the eye. "-if I catch you pulling a stunt like that again, I will take my shield and shove it right up your-"

"Excuse me, don't mind me, hey bathrooms' free if you wanna use it Steve. Move your feet Tony."

"Perfect." Steve opened his seat belt and grabbed a bag by his feet and stood up swiftly. He left without so much as a glance at Tony's face.

Tony, who was still gaping at the thought of Steve saying something so...so-

"You okay? You really should try and sleep you know." Clint asked, eyes wide and innocent. The genius had to wonder if the archer had timed that accordingly or if he genuinely hadn't heard Steve.

"Yeah soon. Just wanna sort something out." He shook himself mentally and pulled out his tablet. He had plenty to distract himself with anyway and hopefully Steve would accidentally lock himself in the toilet for the next hour.

The next half hour saw dinner come and go, and shortly after, Clint and Natasha followed Bruce into dreamland and when the cabin lights began to dim, Tony turned his tablet off and got out of his seat again to stow it away in the locker. A quick glance behind him reminded him that Steve was still awake and watching Friends on his laptop. Tony sighed and clicked the locker shut. As much as he hated to admit it, he really didn't like fighting with Steve.

"You didn't eat much."

Tony whipped around, nearly dropping his pjs. "You scared the hell out of me. Can you please not?"

Steve had taken his headphones off and was looking him up and down and Tony was suddenly very thankful that the lights were dim. He'd hate to freak people out with rosy cheeks, it didn't happen often but sometimes he could blush. "You can't afford to not eat. You've barely eaten since the mission and that was 18 hours ago. We've been travelling since and you skipped meals on the way to the airport."

"I'm fine. I'll eat breakfast, I'm not hungry right now. I just need some sleep."

Steve huffed and shook his head, pulling his headphones back on and Tony rolled his eyes and went to get changed.

Once changed into a plain white shirt and some black sweatpants he came back and noticed a suspicious looking bag on his table. When he sat down, he noticed it contained blueberries and just behind it was some Doritos.

Feeling his lips curve upwards, Tony turned. "Is this for me?"

Steve blatantly ignored him, keeping his eyes firmly on Chandler. But Tony had no doubt that Steve was waiting for him to eat. That bag by his feet was looking suspiciously deflated.

Tony's smile broadened and he pulled the bags into his lap. It was, above all, such a Steve thing to do. More action, less words but every gesture is meaningful. Typical Steve.

"Thank you." He said softly and picked up a handful of blueberries. But before bringing them up to his mouth, he leaned across the isle and stretched his arm out.

"Blueberry?" He whispered, smiling and hoping not to wake anyone up.

There was no answer, just Steve stretching out and snagging a couple of berries. He didn't take his eyes off the screen once but gently nudged Tony's hand back. Silent as a grave, he tossed them into his mouth. 

Tony beamed and retracted his hand. So he was not being totally ignored anymore. Half a silent treatment was better than the full version any day.

He ate the berries and started on the Doritos. They settled like a heavy weight in his stomach and didn't feel at all very nice to taste, but that was usually the case with food in the air. But he didn't want Steve to say anything or seem ungrateful so he ate most of the snacks and finally set it aside. Leaning his chair back, he shifted his belt aside and clicked a button to retract the table and stretched out. Sleep sounded great right now.

He turned and pulled up a blanket, watching the sky take an evening hue. His eyes drifted shut, and without realizing it he fell into a semi-lucid state. He fell into a deeper sleep when his blanket was pulled up and tucked around him gently.

He sighed and thought of all the things he'd do when they landed. Cheeseburger first. And maybe answer that email from Thor's friend Daryl.

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Tony blinked open his eyes. It was pitch black outside and his blanket was on the floor. His head ached and for some reason, his stomach felt horrible. He swallowed and sat up a bit, reaching above him for the glowing neon yellow button. He hated to do this but-

"Mr. Stark, is everything alright?"

Tightening his arm around his stomach, he gave a thin smile. Thankfully, it was quite dark so hopefully, Cathy wouldn't be able to see how tense he was. "I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up. I just-I could really use some water right now. Please-"

Cathy smiled warmly and set off quickly. While he heard running water, he scouted the cabin and realized all the Avengers were lying back and fast asleep under blankets.

"Here you are. Is there anything else I can get you?" She waited patiently for him to take a sip before reaching down and picking up the blanket.

"What time is it? How long till we land?" He asked quietly, taking the soft blanket and another sip. He felt a bit cold.

"We are about three hours into the flight. Flight time in the US right now is around three in the morning. We have approximately twelve hours left till arrival time."

He nodded gratefully and handed her the empty cup which she took away with a smile. His stomach still hurt but overall felt a bit better. He thought he should try for some more sleep.

Shaking the blanket over his lap, he lay back and faced the window again, closing his eyes. He thought of suit designs, the meeting he had when he got back, the dinner he had to attend on behalf of SI for a potential partner company he wanted to invest in...

His eyes snapped open. This wasn't working.

Feeling his mouth go dry again, he turned onto the other side and stared at Steve who was flat on his back with his arms crossed over a blanket and an Air-Stark eye mask over his face. Tony wanted to laugh because of course Steve would use them.

He swallowed again and stared at Captain America. He wanted another drink but he didn't want to keep waking Cathy up just to get some water. That wouldn't be fair.

Sighing, he stood up and instantly grabbed the arm rest. Cold sweat trickled down his lower back and his stomach really hurt and his mouth had a funny taste. In fact-

He clambered past the sleeping Avengers to the toilets. With no time to lock the door, he fell to his knees and hovered, for a second, over the toilet seat. He was gonna throw up, he was definitely gonna throw up, he-

Nope. Nothing. He was sure-

He retched and instantly his head shot down and he felt the rush of bile and acids through his throat. He vomited up all the Doritos and blueberries and whatever portion of chicken he'd had for dinner.

Tears leaked out of his eyes. He felt terrible. This was horrible and he couldn't stop. It was like his body was out of control and whenever he paused, his stomach caved and he retched again and again.

"Hey, easy, easy. Okay, that's it, you're doing fine, just relax and let it go okay? You'll feel better soon. Thanks Cathy."

"I'll get some tissues."

Tony gasped and rested his head on the edge of the seat. He felt utterly disgusting and his abdomen ached from the strain of throwing up. But at least Steve was here, rubbing between his shoulder blades and gently pulling him back. He'd thrown up for a good two minutes.

Steve brought his back against his chest and held up some water in front of him.

"Small sips okay? Give yourself a minute."

Tony kept a hand on his stomach and took the cup. While he took a drink, he felt Steve slip a cool hand over his and start to rub gently.

"Does this help?" Steve asked quietly, and Tony leaned fully against his warm chest. He closed his eyes. Too bright.

"Is there any way to dim the lights?" He whispered, coughing afterwards.

"I'm afraid the Captain has the lights dimmed as part of night-time auto-piloting. I can go and request he-"

"No it's okay. Don't-don't wake him up too." Tony croaked out and scrunched up his face. His throat burned.

"Tony, have you not been feeling well since we left? How long have you been ill?"

He shook his head and looked up at Steve and Cathy. Both seemed concerned and he didn't want Steve to feel guilty for giving him food. "I felt fine when we left. A bit tired but nothing else. I wasn't that hungry but that's not so unusual."

For a second, Steve and Tony just stared at each other before Steve nodded to himself and squeezed Tony's arms. "I'll get Bruce, just wait-"

"No, no no no! Don't wake him. Let him rest, I feel much better now, it's probably just something I ate in Malaysia. I'm fine now."

He stared up at Steve and tried to look as...not nauseous as possible but Steve just frowned at him. Cathy cleared her throat and Steve looked up at her.

"Can you please get a bottle of water? I'll stay up and keep an eye on him. I'll let you know if we need anything else, thank you."

The tall woman nodded and left but Tony was more concerned about Steve.

"You don't need to stay up. It's okay, it's probably out of my system anyway."

"I wasn't really asleep anyway. And I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have told anyone if I hadn't heard you."

The sick billionaire shivered at the thought of Steve hearing him throw up. It felt horrible so obviously it must have sounded horrible.

Sounds of rustling behind him, caught his attention and then huge hands helped him stand up. Swaying, he leaned on Steve's shoulder. He felt so achy and exhausted.

Steve's brows furrowed more. "Easy. You able to stand up on your own?"

Tony tilted his head and tried straightening again and thankfully this time nothing spun around.

They made their way back to their seats, where a bottle and several napkins sat on Steve's table. Once Tony was back in his seat and tucked safely under a blanket by Captain mother hen, Steve relaxed in his own and turned his laptop back on.

From his side, the genius stared at their leaders illuminated face. "You really don't need to stay up. I'm okay now-" Steve interrupted him with a hand.

"I'm not gonna sleep anyway. And it's okay. I'd rather you got some sleep right now. Actually-"

Steve twisted around to grab something and then stretched out of his seat to pass it over.

"Wear it. Might help."

Tony raised an eyebrow but took the mask nonetheless. Air-Stark looked back at him and he strapped it over his face. It did help actually.

"Thanks." He mumbled, feeling weird at speaking to the darkness.

He sucked in a breath when fingers ran through his hair.

"Get some sleep. I'm here. We'll be back in the states before you know it. Then we can finally finish Star wars while I give a mission report of the Washington incident last week."

Tony grunted his agreement and smiled.

 


 

It was happening again. He grabbed at his stomach with both hands and sat up. His face mask had fallen off at some point and blue daylight was starting to seep from under the window blinds. Blinking his eyes at the beam, he closed his eyes tight and whispered.

"Steve? Are you-"

Hands rested on his shoulders gently and turned him towards the isle. "You alright? What do you need?"

Tony opened his eyes but they felt watery. His mouth felt so dry and he had an odd taste like- "I need to get to the toilet again. Can you-"

Steve began to pull him up but as soon as he did, the room spun and Tony's vision went hazy. His head pounded and sounds drifted. And he was really hot. Why was it suddenly so warm? What time was it? Where-?

"Tony? You okay?" His voice sounded far away. So far...

"I don't..." He didn't know what happened then but his arm slid off Steve's shoulder and everything went black.

 


 

When he came to, he was lying flat on the ground with all the Avengers and Cathy hovering above him. Bruce was holding his wrist while Clint was getting some water.

"Tony? Are you with us now?" Bruce prodded gently, while keeping a firm grip of his wrist. Counting his pulse probably.

He focused on the Doctor and frowned tiredly. His hands shook. "What just happened? Did I-"

"You fainted. You've been out for ten minutes. Steve caught you before you nearly brained yourself. Here, drink."

With Clint's help, he sat up and took the bottle, facing Bruce and Nat. Steve had disappeared behind him somewhere, probably to get something. "I...really?"

"Yes and by the looks of it-" Bruce pressed his hand over Tony's forehead and sighed. "-you've got a high temperature. Dammit Tony, why didn't you say anything?"

Clint's fingers squeezed around his shoulders when he said nothing. He didn't know what to say.

"He threw up two hours ago. His stomach was hurting. Said the same before he passed out." Steve huffed and crossed his arms, coming to stand above them. He sighed too. What a team.

"I've spoken to the captain. We're about an hour away from the nearest airport. Once we can, we'll start our descent and -"

Tony choked on his water and snapped his head up, feeling drops of sweat slide down his face. "You're joking right!? You did not tell the pilot to land five hours early because I have a fever!?"

"What's the problem? You said it yourself, you've got a fever." Steve deadpanned and nodded to Cathy.

There was no way Tony could allow it. They could not actually stop a flight for a passenger with the flu, no matter how intense Steve's mother instincts were.

"Listen, I can get total rest as soon as I'm home so I'd rather brace through the rest of the flight than stop in the middle when I could be home in a few hours anyway. Tell the captain it's okay."

Steve kept his eyes trained on him but he got the distinct impression there was another discussion happening around them. Finally-

"Okay. But you try and sleep for the rest of the flight. No arguing with me." Steve paused and let him nod eagerly, relaxing minutely. "Cathy has some Tylenol for you to take and after, she'll tell the captain its fine."

A wave of relief washed over him as Clint and Nat guided him back to his seat, which was an excellent idea because he had an awful headache and his stomach was viciously trying to tear it's way out of him. Not to mention he actually felt like he was boiling. He took some Tylenol and lay back.

"Hey, open your eyes for a sec. I'm just gonna check a couple of things and then you can sleep."

Tony stared up at Bruce, realizing that Nat had completely pushed his chair flat so that he was horizontal. He really loved his planes. "I thought Steve said I should only sleep."

Bruce gave him a quick smile and pulled out a cuff for checking blood pressure. "Well doctors orders override captains. If it wasn't for me, Steve would have this plane landing right this minute." He wrapped the cuff around Tony's arm and paused. "He cares about you a lot Tones. Stop worrying him so much."

Not sure what to say, Tony looked down at the cuff and watched Bruce press a button on the attached device. He felt hazy in a way that clouded his ability to think. Home would be a pleasant prize after this trip. All he wanted to do was collapse into his bed and sleep this off.

Bruce looked up when he caught the genius yawning. "Yeah I know. You're probably feeling a bit out of it. That's pretty common when you're on your way to jet lag and sickness. It's..."

"...Bruce?" The Doctor was staring at the reading on the device. He shook his head.

"One second."

They waited while the cuff inflated again and this time Bruce kept a firm eye on the cuff only.

The device beeped again. Bruce's frown deepened and he looked at Tony, picking up his wrist again. He counted his pulse for a minute before turning and yelling out.

"Call Steve here. And get Clint to get some wet towels."

Tony shivered at the change in tone, feeling the first twinge of fear. "Bruce? What's wrong?" He hoped for some reassurance but his hand shook a bit when Bruce shook his head. God, was it his heart? Was he dying again? No, that couldn't be right, people didn't die of fevers. What was going on?

"Your blood pressure is lower than your usual baseline. As in, unusually low like you have a systemic infection." The scientist leaned over and scrutinized him more closely. "Are you injured? Any infected wounds? You did take a hit a couple of days ago."

Not sure where this was going, Tony shook his head. He was actually being honest.

"Have-what are your symptoms?"

"Uh, nauseous, throwing up, fever obviously. I'm uh-"

"What else?"

"My stomach is really hurting, like, constantly. It's not getting better."

Bruce's hand was back on his forehead. "Do you feel lightheaded? Is that what you felt before you passed out? Or was it the pain?"

"The first one. Wasn't so bad before."

"Probably from your blood pressure dropping even more when you stood up. And now? It's much worse even now?"

"Mhmm."

Pulling a thermometer out of the big first aid box, he slipped it into Tony's mouth. "I think we'd better start keeping an eye on your fever."

Just as he took it out, Steve arrived, holding a bundle of wet napkins. Carefully, he began to lay them over Tony's forehead and arms. " Clint's talking to Nat, Cathy and the pilots. What's wrong Bruce?"

"His temperature is pretty high but his blood pressure is lower than usual. And he's in a lot of pain despite the Tylenol but I'm hoping that it'll start to work soon. He's getting stomach pain though. That doesn't sound like the flu."

Another napkin draped over his arm. "We can try and keep his temp low. See how he does in an hours time?"

They agreed on that and Bruce tucked a blanket around their sleepy patient. "Sleep Tony. We'll take care of you."

 


 

The pain felt like it was trailing down his right side and now any movement had him biting his lip to hold back any sound. The pain was actually awful, a constant throbbing pain with sharp spikes occasionally adding their own blend. It was starting to remind him of some of the injuries he'd taken, only he knew why those hurt.

He really wanted it to stop.

"Tony? What're you doing up? You've barely slept a full hour." They were all nearby but each of them was taking it in turns to sit by him. Apparently only Clint got a turn.

"M-my stomach..."

Clint was frowning and wiped his forehead with the damp cloth. It didn't even feel that cold anymore, in fact nothing did. Or maybe he was just muddling the sensations in his body right now.

"I don't understand. You're stomach is hurting more?"

Tony eyes fluttered shut as he was struck by another wave of pain. "Yes." 

"Okay, okay-Bruce! I don't think the meds helped. Also, I think-" there was rustling as Clint stood up and they talked around him in quiet voices. "-getting worse. His fevers climbing and I don't think you get stomach pain that bad from a flu. Something's wrong with his stomach and that's probably causing his fever to spike."

More words were said but Tony tuned them out. He just wanted the pain to stop.

"Tony? Open your eyes." They opened to half mast and he bit his lip. He didn't want to cry out. Everything around him was so blurry and so hot!

"Can you describe the pain? Where exactly is it? Can you point to it?"

Clint, Bruce and Steve (where'd he come from?) all helped move his blanket aside and Bruce gently shook his shoulder. He must have been staring at something else, probably Steve but he couldn't help it. More pain flowed from the area. God, It was getting to unbearable levels now!

"Tony? Can you point to where it hurts?"

With a sweaty hand, he pressed it over the area. The t-shirt stuck uncomfortably to his skin from sweat and he breathed out.

"There? Is it spreading anywhere?"

Tony shifted his hand and lightly skimmed it up from the area before letting it drop. There. That should've been clear enough.

"Is it shooting upwards? I need a response Tony."

"Y-yes. It's-it's gotten worse."

The three above him spoke some more before Bruce gently lifted up his t-shirt that was more grey from sweat than white. He held it away with one hand and slowly but firmly pressed down on Tony's abdomen with the other and that was it.

Tony couldn't help it. He let out a loud scream before blacking out.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

When he came to again, Steve was stroking his hair and saying something to him from behind.

"You're okay, he's stopped, you're okay, shhh, you're gonna be fine, I promise I won't let you be in pain for long, you'll be okay-"

The Captain stopped when the sick genius opened his watery eyes and tried to smile at Tony reassuringly but his hands shook. "Hey, it's okay. We're gonna land soon, just twenty minutes left. Bruce thinks you've got acute appendicitis -you know what that is?"

Tony's eyes darted over the face above him, squinting. Was Steve asking him something? His ears popped as the plane descended which didn't help. His head was roaring in pain.

"Well its a type of infection affecting your appendix in you GI tract. Bruce says that once we get you to hospital you'll be okay. But-" Steve's voice hushed and a wounded look filled his eyes. "It's very painful. He's sorry about earlier."

Another tremor of pain hit him and his face scrunched up. When it ebbed a bit, Tony blinked up at him with wide eyes and Steve gently skimmed his thumb over Tony's cheek leaving a cool trail in his wake, expression pained and if Tony had to guess, slightly angered.

"Shhh don't cry. You're okay Tony. You're a fighter, I know it hurts but I know you'll be okay. Just another twenty minutes and you'll be fine."

"H-hurts Steve. I-it really hurts. I-"

Something darkened in Steve's eyes and rage flashed across his face. "I know. But-" he blew out a breath and rested his hand on Tony's torso, away from the pain. "I can think of a way to-to make you feel better. There was...something I wanted to talk to you about but I was too angry. And it isn't your fault. I-" He looked away, his own cheeks turning a bit red. "-I wasn't upset that you were Ironman. I was giving you the silent treatment because I was worried when you jumped out to save that woman and you didn't put your suit on until the last minute. I know you, and I know you've been trying to limit Ironman since Ultron but I don't want that. None of us do. But if that means you put yourself in harms way then I don't want you doing these missions anymore. Damn, Fury was right." He sighed and went back to stroking Tony's dark hair. "I'm too attached."

As strange as that was to hear, that did make Tony feel a bit better actually. Not physically but at least mentally he could think about that after the excruciating pain.

Steve looked at him and closed his eyes, smiling. He looked thankful. "Well what do you know? Natasha was right. You stopped crying."

Tony choked out a laugh at that because of course Steve would try to make him feel better like this. Wait, what was that about Fury? Only half the information seemed to be filtering in.

"Y-you...did you two-was it planned?"

"What was?"

"Me-every mission...Ironman?"

"We...we wanted you to come back to the Avengers. So yes." Steve blew out a breath. "We kept bringing you in. But when we land I'm going to formally bring you back on the team. We can't do this anymore."

The genius stared at Steve for a strange, abruptly painless moment. Then he shivered and groaned.

"S-Steve, god! Just-just do whatever you want when we're on the ground, I can't-arrrgh!"

Tony cried out. It wasn't getting better and he desperately wanted something to put an ended to this. He'd been stabbed in fights but it was nothing compared to this!

He frantically waved a hand in Steve's direction, keeping the other firmly curled around his torso. "Knock me out! Please, god!"

Tony knew the answer as soon as Steve looked stricken and his fists tightened and in the back of his mind, his thoughts shuttered. "I can't. There's a risk of-"

"I don't care! Just-oh." He felt a sharp burst of pain and then all of a sudden it stopped.

"Tony? Hey, Tony?" Steve leaned over him, eyes wide with horror. What had just happened?

"I...o-oh..." despite lying flat, the cabin spun around him and he thought he saw Bruce and Natasha join Steve, looking panicked.

"Tony, deep breathes-"

"He needs a hospital now! His-"

Voices merged with the white noise in his ears and distantly, he thought he heard someone say they were five minutes away from landing. All he could think of was how that wouldn't be enough. The pain was blinding now.

He wished he'd told Steve he'd accept the offer before losing consciousness.

 


 

Sounds started to filter through in bits and pieces, mumbles that pierced the muffling silence in his ears. Tony tried to open his crusted eyes but could barely muster the strength. He turned his face slightly and gasped quietly when he felt a hand settle in his hair.

"Tony? You with me?"

The genius focused on the tingling sensation of fingers in his hair and tried to open his eyes again. The man above him sighed out and the brush of air over his face had Tony blinking. Dazed brown met ragged blue.

A very dark blue.

"S-Steve?" Tony barely managed and coughed from how dry his mouth felt. He tried to sit up but a tug from his stomach stilled him, making him slide back down. Something changed on Steve's face and he shifted closer.

"Hey, you're okay. You're going to be fine okay?" Steve said and ran those fingers through Tony's hair. Steve was leaning over him carefully as if to make sure he didn't press on any wires or did anymore damage. How Steve could do any damage was beyond Tony. This was Steve.

"What happened?" Tony croaked and gratefully accepted ice chips in his mouth from the focused soldier.

Steve's eyes traced over Tony's body with careful consideration. Then he dropped his head and squeezed his eyes shut.

"A-are you okay?" Tony whispered with a soft gaze, genuinely surprised that Steve looked like he was about to cry.

"Am I okay?" Steve laughed desperately before looking up again. "Yeah. Of course I am."

"Then? What's with that look?"

"You're not. God Tony." Steve retracted his hand and ran it through his own greasy blond streaks. Steve hadn't seemed to have showered in a few days by the looks of it and actually, he was in the exact same clothes Tony had last seen him in. No wonder he looked so run down.

"Your appendix burst. You nearly died."

Tony raised his eyebrows a tiny fraction and ducked his eyes down to his blanket covered body. Then slowly, he edged a hand out from under and pulled his blanket up to look, noticing an IV line attached to the back of his other hand. His abdomen was wrapped up in a swath of bandages which were tinted a dark reddish-pink to the right of his navel. Wait no, that was more of a dark maroon. Actually it seemed to be spreading.

He was exhausted all of a sudden, and a wave of dizziness pulled his head down. He let his hands and muddled head drop and felt Steve's eyes on him while the rest of the room started to spin. The smell of iron and strong antiseptic was overpowering.

"Tony? Tony!? Hey!" Steve's hands felt really warm on his shoulders. So...so warm...

It was strange because he felt like he was balancing on a wire and if he fell...

"I'm okay..." He whispered but watched Steve pull his blanket down and swear, getting to his feet.

"You're bleeding, damn you must've pulled your stitches. I'll get the surgeon back. Bruce is with him now-!"

"Sure..." Steve seemed to be already at the door but as soon as he heard Tony's quiet voice he quickly spun around and backtracked, planting a solid kiss on Tony's forehead before disappearing.

The beeping of the monitor picked up and absently, he wondered when Steve had become so protective over him. Steve had never, ever kissed a teammate before but then again, maybe it was because Tony didn't know Steve nearly as well as he should.

Something told him Steve wouldn't be letting him out of his sight any time soon.

 


 

"-we should never have done it! He was exhausted to begin with! I knew he shouldn't have! Why didn't you listen!?"

"Rogers-"

"Don't Fury. Just don't. I am livid right now. I don't want to hear it."

"Fine. I can only apologise. But you're the one that needs to talk to him. Don't get so emotional Rogers. You're dealing with Tony Stark. He's going to have you running in circles."

"That's between him and me. But I'm reintegrating him."

Tony blinked open his eyes again and tried to ignore the heady feeling of morphine and whatever other mind-numbing drugs he was hoped up on. Beside him, Bruce and Natasha were sat, holding his hand in both of theirs. The shouting was coming from Steve who was leaning against the door, back turned, with a phone on loudspeaker. One that was slowly being squeezed by the looks of it.

"Whatever you want. But Rogers, this had nothing to do with that. Don't need to be so damn guilty. Sometimes regular humans fall ill too. He'll be fine." Fury's voice announced but with a hint of sympathy and Steve stopped clutching the phone so hard, seeming to realise how much he was glaring at it.

Tony tore his gaze away when Bruce clearing his throat. The scientist was smiling from ear to ear, relief evident in his tired eyes. "I told you he cares. More than you know."

"Bruce..." Tony whispered, swiping his other hand over his blanketed torso.

"You're going to be fine. You had appendicitis which got worse throughout the flight. We had to make an emergency landing in Stuttgart and we've been here for a few days now. Tony, I'm so sorry I didn't realise, I would've had you on the ground within minutes if I'd known."

"All of us, Tony." Natasha added, letting go of their hands and standing up. A dark expression crossed her face as she looked in Steve's direction.

"He's right to be worried." She added, brows furrowed and mouth turned down. "You're exhausted and apparently, not eating very well. The doctors said you're not in the best position to fight off infection and the stress isn't helping. In other words, these missions we've been asking you to join between SI work have been running you ragged. Why didn't you tell us?"

Tony blinked and looked at Bruce and Natasha. They sounded worried and their hair was all over the place. It was the same clothes from the plane, too. Tony's heart sank and his head began to hurt.

"I'm sorry." He whispered but immediately felt fingers tuck under his chin. He stared up into the eyes of his Captain, feeling entranced.

"Don't you dare apologise. This is never gonna happen again." Steve said sternly, just barely touching his nose. He was so close, Tony was sure he could taste Steve. They were definitely sharing air.

"Technically, this can't. They probably took my appendix out anyway..." Tony mumbled to maintain some semblance of control. It didn't really work because Steve just smiled wistfully and dropped his hand, leaving Tony panting. He was sure his heart was racing on the monitor, in fact, he could hear the beeps.

Steve's smile grew.

Natasha glared at the Captain. "Steve."

"Right. Sorry Tony." The soldier snapped out of it and sighed, stepping back to expose Tony to the room again.

The string between them snapped but that initial spark remained. It was like Tony was hyper aware of Steve now and the blond's every twitch made Tony's heart thump faster. Steve was gonna kill him if he wasn't careful.

Then again, wouldn't that be a way to go?

"Tony? You okay?"

"Hmm. Yeah...Where's Clint?"

"Here! Just got off the phone to Pepper and Rhodes. They said they're on their way to see you and Pepper said not to worry about anything for the next few weeks. She'll take care of all the meeting while you're on bed-rest." Clint boomed from the doorway, holding a huge gift basket with lots of fruits. On the very top was a bag of blueberries. Tony couldn't help but laugh.

"Is that for me?"

Clint grinned and set the basket on the side opposite the other Avengers. "I wanted to grab something but didn't want to go too far. Steve told me you'd woken up."

"Thanks. For calling the others too." Tony said softly, barely able to muster the energy to do more than answer with a few words, any sarcasm just muffled under the gaze of his mind.

He lifted his IV hand to hold the edge of one of the glossy ribbons between his fingers. It was a gold and red basket which made Tony wonder if maybe Clint had actually gone quite a bit farther than he'd suggested. The thought made his lips twitch.

"So I had a word with Fury. You need to know Tony, I would never have made you come if I had known you were sick. Next time you let me know if you feel the slightest pain okay? I'll get you taken care of." Steve said earnestly, as if he thought Tony had been unsure of that. Then again, a few hours ago, that would've been true.

"Sure Steve. Thanks." Tony nodded slowly and felt his body start to drift. Things didn't hurt as much under these drugs. He felt okay as long as he ignored the dull throb coming from his abdomen.

Slowly, he lifted his blanket up again and checked the bandages, smiling when he saw they'd been changed over for less bloody ones. It was a relief to know he wasn't bleeding anywhere. It even hurt a lot less now.

Suddenly, Clint clapped his hands together and nodded. "Hey, so listen. I was thinking, since this is Stuttgart and all, we should maybe spend a couple of weeks together. Just us, the original team since this is where we all started, with Loki and all. Minus Thor of course, but he's invited if he ever gets back to earth."

Around him, the team began to smile. At the same time, his own disappeared.

Right. He wasn't part of the team.

"Tony, what's wrong?" Bruce said, clearly noticing the distant look in the genius' eyes. Tony mentally shook himself and smiled.

"That sounds brilliant. It should be great."

Clint pumped a fist in the air and laughed. "Right!? We can get Fury to fund it as payback and as a team building exercise. The new recruits will be fine on their own, right Cap?"

"Should be. I'll make some calls."

Tony nodded eagerly, feeling his eyes water. They were all so...nice to each other about it. Steve was even willing to make calls. "Yeah. You guys really deserve a vacation. I can pay for it. That way, you get the best experience. You can even use my villa here if you want. I don't mind."

Instantly, the team gave him a strange look, so he tried to smile but felt it crumble. One by one, they began to look horrified.

Clint instantly stopped smiling, "Hey. Not us guys. You included."

But Tony shook his head and tried to keep up his brittle smile. "No, no. I don't want to impose. Besides, you guys are the team. I don't mind, honestly."

Natasha turned around and glared at Steve, jabbing a finger at him. "See? This is what I meant. He doesn't even think he's part of the team. You've excluded him." She shoved past the Captain with few parting words, more pissed off than she'd been in a while. "Fix it."

Tony watched her leave the room, silently playing back where he'd gone wrong. Bruce seemed to be turning a bit green too so he left to go after her.

Finally it was just Tony, Clint and Steve.

The archer sighed and folded his arms at the bedridden billionaire. "You are just as much a part of this team as any of us. We won't leave to go to some villa. Not without you."

Tony closed his mouth and swallowed, pulling out all the stops. Best to get it out in the open before his mind forced him to retreat. His energy levels were already so dreadfully low, he couldn't remember the last time he'd been this quiet and he really didn't need them catching him in the middle of a breakdown.

"I didn't want to tell you like this but...I agreed to not do anymore missions with you guys. Steve agreed on the flight."

Steve groaned and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Tony, no, God-Clint can you give us a minute please?"

"Sure. Make sure he gets it though."

"Don't worry, by the time I'm done, he'll know he's not going anywhere." Steve deadpanned, pinning the defenseless billionaire with one look. Tony couldn't go anywhere, even if he wasn't being held together like a string puppet.

Once Clint was gone, it was just the two of them. Ironman and Captain America. Tony swallowed and waited.

After a staring contest, Steve rubbed his eyes and sat down in Bruce's seat. Those gorgeous blue eyes looked red.

"Let me ask you something Tony. Why do you think we are here?"

"The plane landed and-"

"No. Why are we here?"

Tony looked away, feeling shame burn on his cheeks. "I'm sick."

"So why am I here?" Steve pushed, leaning forward to close some of the distance between them.

"Uh...to keep an eye on me?"

"Tony."

"Look, I don't know why okay!? You feel bad for me!? You feel obliged!? I don't know!" Tony could feel rage flood his body but another feeling started to build up in him.

Steve shifted an inch forward, piercing him with those eyes. "You know that's not it."

"Then what!? You care!?"

"Tony-" Steve looked like he'd been slapped.

"See!? That's really not it! You made yourself perfectly clear on the plane."

Steve closed his eyes like it physically hurt. "I've been an idiot."

"Nope. Just really clear." Tony huffed and dropped his head back on the pillow.

"Tony you-okay look, I'm sorry. I snapped at you on the plane because I was annoyed. You told me you were gonna leave the team and I overreacted because I don't want you to leave. I want to see you more but not when you're throwing yourself at terrorists without your suit on. I want you by my side and preferably, not half dead on your feet." Steve said, sweeping his eyes over him from head to toe.

Tony felt his cheeks burn under Steve's heated gaze. "Oh. Well that's-"

"And I love you. I'm in love with you." Steve said to him calmly, looking not one bit nervous which completely threw Tony of guard. Did he know about Tony's feelings? Did he just confess that he loved him?

"O-oh. Okay."

For a full minute, there was utter silence. The two Avengers stared at each before Steve's guarded poker face melted and all that was left was an absolutely crushed expression. He ducked his head down and stood up, avoiding Tony's gaze. His voice went hushed and he kept his eyes to the ground.

"Sorry. I had to tell you at some point otherwise you wouldn't understand why I'm more emotional with you. I want you on the team. I always have. But you're well within your rights to walk out after this. I won't force you to stay."

Tony sat there, gaping like a fish and wondered where on earth the signs had been. This clearly wasn't a joke and Steve was clearly not expecting anything back. But what was Tony supposed to say? Had this always been the case? Was-

"Tony? Please say something."

Tony shook his head and looked up. Steve's eyes glistened but he waited patiently for a response. Tony had to know more.

"How-how long have you...?"

Steve sighed and wiped at his eyes. "I've been taking you on dates for months. You didn't know-I should've been clearer."

"No, no! I just didn't know you-you even liked men!"

After giving him a funny look, Steve frowned and sat back down. "Tony, I told you I did, months ago."

Tony waved a hand. "Okay but I just never thought you'd think of me as an option."

"And why not?" Steve's expression had darkened.

"Well because you're you and I'm me. You deserve a lot better-"

"What!?" Steve said, looking thunderous.

"-and you can have anyone you want. You don't need me."

The rage in the room dissipated and Steve just looked at him dumbly. "You're joking."

"Don't see what's funny honestly."

Tony stared at the blanket and ran his fingers over the soft fabric, trying not to move too much under the soldier's intense gaze. Finally Steve made a decision and stood up suddenly. Ever so slowly, Steve trapped Tony by leaning over him with two hands down on either side of Tony's head on the pillow.

Steve licked his lips and raked his eyes over Tony's face. "You think I don't want you."

It took every ounce of Tony's strength to not pull on his bandages by squirming. "I-uh, Steve-"

"You think-" Steve said, inching closer. "-that I can't want you."

"Uh-"

"The kindest, bravest, strongest man I have ever met. The man who would give his life for so many, who would lay down his life on the wire to let someone else live. Ironman, who wouldn't even be a thing if Tony Stark hadn't been so damn brilliant as to get out of that cave with just a box out of scraps. And you think-" Steve brushed his nose against Tony's. "-I can do better?"

Tony swallowed and without even thinking, started to pant. They were so close again.

"Do...do you really think that?"

Over Tony's mouth, Steve smirked. "Darling, you have no idea how well I'd be doing." Steve said and held back, no longer.

Tony had never been so thoroughly kissed in his life.

 


 

"So."

"So?"

"You're coming back with me this time? No tapping out again right?"

Tony shook his head and laughed, pulling his sunglasses off. "No, of course not."

"Good. Because I've spoken to Fury about getting your suits shifted to the compound and opening up your lab there. And I've got a little something for you when we're back. You're room won't be ready so instead you'll be sharing with me." Steve said carefully, watching his reaction.

"Sounds good to me. Can't help it if there's no room for me."

"There's always room. Just as long as it's next to me." Steve mumbled and peaked down at Tony's Captain America shield trunks. If Tony had known Steve was so damn possessive, he'd have brought his Captain America pj's.

Beaming at his soldier, Tony took a sip of his lemonade, stretching out under the sun. This was the life!

Beside him, Steve was lounging on a similar deck chair in Ironman trunks, looking at him with the soft gaze of an appreciative artist while the rest of their friends were swimming around in the pool. Bruce was content in the Jacuzzi area with Natasha while Clint was lying on a float in the middle of the main pool with shades on. They'd been lucky that the weather was so good today and the villa's outdoor pool had been cleaned up just in time for Tony's discharge from the hospital. It was perfect.

"Hey Captain love-ass! Grab your boyfriend and get over here!"

With a playful glare, Tony yelled at Clint to leave them alone but felt hands tuck under him and lift him up. With a start, he clung to Steve's neck and stared up at him. Bright eyes stared back at him in a chagrin manner.

"Well Tony. He said to bring you with me. Can't ignore my team now can I?" Steve whispered into his ear and held him tighter. Pleased, Tony stroked a hand over Steve's pecs and leaned his head against Steve's heart.

"No, guess not. And by the way, I'm glad we took this vacation. I really needed it."

Steve paused his journey to the pool and planted a firm kiss in Tony's hair. Then he pulled back and gave him a warm smile.

"You did. And from now on, we'll do lots of things like this. Gonna take care of you."

Smirking, Tony gestured for Steve to lean down again and planted a solid kiss of his own on Steve's cheek, immensely smug when Steve ducked down to hide his blushing face. For all his bravado, Steve was inherently decent and would always have this innocence about him even when he played the intimidating Captain role. Then again, Tony always felt safe when Steve was around because of that.

"I'll take care of you too. We'll do it together."

"Together." Steve whispered and jumped into the pool. Tony cried out with joy.

He'd never wanted anything less.