“Stop,” he breathed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He took a deep breath, trying to settle.
The noise. Their arguing. It had been a long time since he’d heard it, since he’d dealt with it, and he was even less capable of dealing with it now than before. They struggled to overcome each other in volume; each assured their idea was the best, or simply calling out the flaws in another’s. Tony stood at the edge of the group, his skin prickling and blood running too hot. He had almost forgotten the headaches he used to get, the moments where even the smallest annoyance made his skull pound, where it felt like he was getting his head bashed against concrete for hours. The pain moved, too. Sometimes it was his entire head, sometimes directly over an eye socket or the base of his skull. It was all awful, and he didn’t know why it happened. Maybe they were part of his anxiety; maybe they were the result of too much head trauma over the years. It wasn’t like this when he was younger. It didn’t matter. All he knew was that he wanted it to stop, and right now, the pain was climbing with each pointed phrase that filled the air. His hand moved to the left, right above his eye, where the panging was the worst.
“You’ve got to be kidding! Are you really considering that?” Natasha didn’t raise her voice often, but she was doing it now, a testament to how much this ordeal had shook her.
“It’s the most logical plan!” Rhodey spat back. “I know it doesn’t fit the savior narrative you’ve constructed over the last two years, but sometimes reality is disappointing! And this? Is very disappointing.” Rhodey wasn’t afraid to hold back in general, but now, with the way things were, he was even less inclined to keep himself composed.
“Hey, lay off! Nat knows what she’s talking about,” Steve replied. His voice was raised, but not to full volume. Tony opened an eye, briefly watching the soldier to his right. His arms were crossed, brows tugged down. Steve was definitely keeping himself composed.
“Are we sure about that? I’d say none of our judgments are in the best place right now,” Bruce offered, somewhere across from him. No one seemed to like that.
Arguing. The volume increased, nails on chalkboard, the shifting of Styrofoam. It was all the same to Tony: painful.
“You’re an idiot!” Clint.
“No, I’m the only one around here besides Tony with some goddamn sense!” Rhodey. That may have been endearing under different circumstances.
“That’s hardly fair!” He wasn’t sure who. It was all starting to blur together.
“Stop it,” he repeated, voice thick from lack of use. This had been going on for around ten minutes. No one had paid him any mind past the start, when he offered one sentence and that was enough to turn into all this. They were too caught up in it, red faced and defensive, each assuming their opinion was best. He hadn’t missed this. Sure, the two years that passed were lonely, with only him, Rhodey and Pepper around, but they were never loud around him. They understood, they knew how bad his headaches were. Maybe everyone was just more mindful of them back then, before it all went to shit. Maybe it was unfair to expect them to remain composed now, when denial and grief were heavy on their minds. Still, he wished for silence. He was glad that everyone was back, but at this moment wondered if it was worth it.
“None of this is ever going to work!” Thor, voice booming. “Stop this senseless arguing! We pick a plan and start there, and if that doesn’t work, move to the next one!”
He was met with cacophonous protest, and Tony could feel his free hand twitching, tensing into a fist. He tried to calm his breathing, could see stars behind his shut eyes. It was too much, just too much. Didn’t they get it? This couldn’t have been unique to him. Other people got headaches all the time too. Maybe it was just easier for them to handle. Nothing was ever easy for Tony to handle. Every little nuisance felt like an uphill battle. The brunet felt dizzy. Too much. Everything was too much: the friction in the air, the drone of the air conditioner, the normal, everyday sounds pouring in from the window, the sudden, shrill voices filling the room. Except it wasn’t normal anymore, was it? None of this was normal. He didn’t know what normal meant anymore. All he knew was this, and at the moment, it was more than he was willing to deal with. He couldn’t contain himself any longer.
“Hey-Hey! Shut it! Shut the fuck up! Just shut up!” Tony shouted, voice hoarse. It was loud enough to catch everyone’s attention, which was a blessing and a curse. So many agitated eyes turning to him at once was a little overwhelming, and he stumbled back with an exhale, hand gripping the back of the armchair next to him for support.
“God, I just—you’re fucking killing me! I can’t—god, this fucking headache…” His complaint dissolved into a mutter, and he paused, applying pressure to his head in an attempt to stop the wave of pain. They were blissfully quiet for a moment, apparently realizing what was going on.
“You’re not gonna figure anything out right now. It’s gonna take time. I can’t fucking contribute anything when you’re all screaming at each other when I’m—“ he sighed, sinking into the armchair. “I just can’t right now, okay? I can’t do all this.” Tony gestured to their surroundings.
“He’s right,” Rhodey said. Tony cracked an eye to look at him. “I’m sorry, Tony. Didn’t realize you were getting a headache.”
“Should’ve known you still get those,” Bruce added, voice apologetic.
“Why don’t we come back to this later? We should all clear our heads,” Steve suggested, moving to Tony’s side. His face was screwed with concern.
It was nice to have him back. Tony had been home for a little over a week now. Thanks to the technology available to him, his wounds were healed relatively quickly. The impaling had left an unfortunate scar on his midsection, but he already had so many that it made no difference. The bruises were almost entirely faded and scratches gone, and his skin looked healthy again, not the sickly pale color it had been when he first arrived. He still felt aches and pains, and his reflexes weren’t up to speed yet, but it would come with time. Steve had stayed by his side during his recovery, incredibly apologetic and willing to move forward. Tony hadn’t been sure who was more relieved when they met eyes. Although they had been separated, Tony couldn’t imagine coming back to an earth without Steve Rogers. They had hurt each other, so much, but that didn’t negate the love they shared. It didn’t take long to figure out that they both still felt strongly about each other, that the last two years had been filled with loneliness and regret on both sides, trepidation preventing either from reaching out. It was hard, at first, to imagine ever being able to work together again, but Steve’s presence had been surprisingly calming for Tony. He was familiar and safe, and that was something Tony sorely needed after returning. Rhodey was wonderful, protective and the world’s greatest friend, as always, but Rhodey never compared to Steve. The way Tony felt at Steve’s side was just…something else all together, something he hadn’t felt with anyone else. When Steve left, he thought he would die, but somehow he managed to go on. The last few days at Steve’s side made Tony wonder how he ever survived for two years. It was easy to let him back in, despite his better judgment, or, truthfully, Rhodey’s better judgment. Tony had gotten a big earful about it, but it didn’t matter. Steve was there, for the first time in so long, and Tony wasn’t going to push him away.
Thus far Steve had been stalwart, taking Tony’s side in discussions and giving him the benefit of the doubt, just being supportive in general. Tony wondered if the blond was trying to convince himself that he was still a good guy, that he could do things right. He wondered if Steve was making up for lost time, or trying to ease his guilty conscience. From what Tony understood, the events in Wakanda were the biggest blows he’d ever received, mentally. They had all suffered big blows, that was clear from the way they had just unraveled. He was glad to have someone to discuss it with, someone with him to keep the nightmares at bay. Tony was never good at sleeping alone, and no amount of pills ever left him well rested otherwise. Having Steve there just made things easier. He was glad that hadn’t changed. It still hurt, and Tony was sure it always would, but they had come to an understanding, and although not all aspects of their relationship had returned, many did. He was incredibly thankful for it.
“Yeah,” Tony sighed. “Yeah. I just need…it needs to be quiet. No more arguing.”
Steve placed a hand on his shoulder, comforting. Tony’s eyes were closed, but judging by the sound of receding footsteps the captain had given the others the signal to disperse. Finally, no more yelling. The sound of the air conditioner hadn’t disappeared, but it wasn’t nearly as bad. His limbs ached, and the pain in his head was starting to course down his spine, but for the time being there would be no added irritation. Tony sighed, head falling back.
“Are you alright?” Steve asked, volume low. He was being mindful.
“I’ll be fine, it just sucks.” He felt Steve’s hands frame his shoulders. The blond offered no response, so Tony continued. “I mean damn, Steve. Were we always that bad? Everyone’s done nothing but argue since—“ he paused. “Since, you know. I just can’t take it. I feel like shit as it is. Getting a headache wasn’t on the docket for today.”
“I know. We’ve always had trouble picking a solid direction to move in. I think everyone’s just stressed. Hell, I’m stressed. It’s… hard. We’ll figure something out, though.”
Tony moved a hand to his neck, sighing at a burst of pain. Steve pushed it away, beginning to massage his shoulders, letting his fingertips lightly dance over the tense muscles. Tony groaned as those hands moved up, relieving pressure at the base of his skull and running smoothly through his hair. His scalp had always been sensitive, and he loved the way Steve played with his hair.
“Where does it hurt the most?” the blond asked.
“Mm, left eye.” Tony tapped his forehead with his index finger. Within seconds, he could feel Steve pressing a kiss there, soft and slow. It made his heart skip.
“Do you have any medicine?”
The brunet shook his head. “Ran out before…you know. Didn’t think to replace it.”
“We’ll work on getting you some more. I think it’s safe to say no more deliberating for today,” Steve started with a sigh. “We need to learn to work together better, all of us.” The ‘all’ wasn’t lost on Tony.
“Hey, we had our time. I don’t feel like arguing with your for at least another month,” Tony replied. Steve’s skilled hands massaged his scalp, and a shudder ran through him. “As long as you don’t stop,” he sighed. It felt nice, really nice, compared to the throbbing inside his head.
Steve snorted at his statement. “I’ll hold you to that,” he joked, lightly tugging at a tuft of brunet hair.
“Ugh,” Tony sighed. “It’s not getting any easier.”
“Any of it,” he elaborated. “Though right now, the headache has my attention.” He stood, attempting to blink away the stars that dotted his vision. “Jesus,” he muttered.
“Come here,” Steve coaxed, offering his arm for support. “Couch or bed?”
“Couch is closer.” He held on to Steve’s arm, moving forward with eyes closed. The light pouring in the windows wasn’t friendly at the moment. He trusted the blond to guide him without running into anything, and he did. It was funny to trust again. He had forgotten what it was like, to be able to depend on Steve. Tony reached out, hand contacting with the couch, and he practically plopped down on it. “F.R.I.D.A.Y, close the blinds.” He couldn’t muster a ‘please.’
Thankfully, the level of light dimmed. Tony could hear Steve shifting, probably getting ready to leave the room. “Wait,” Tony said, cracking open his eyes to get a glimpse of the blond. The dark made his eyes sting a little less as he focused his gaze.
Steve was more or less in the middle of leaving, but stopped in his tracks. He turned to look at Tony, hesitant. “Yeah?”
“Stay with me,” Tony replied softly. He felt a little apprehensive asking. They hadn’t really returned to a PDA status, mostly spending nights together. It was a mutual thing. There was so much going on lately that they didn’t want their relationship to be the center of attention. The others knew, of course, that there was something up, that they had resumed what they had before. The dirty looks Rhodey gave Steve on occasion made that abundantly clear. His disapproval was mildly hilarious, but Tony didn’t doubt that he would fist fight a Super Soldier if things went wrong again.
It was just…sort of strange, for Steve and Tony, to find any form of happiness when the rest of the world was so miserable. They didn’t feel like they deserved it, so they kept it to themselves. It wasn’t even concrete. They hesitated to put it into words, instead letting their actions speak to their emotions, wrapped up in each other at night, clinging, assuring themselves that they were really there, that neither had been lost. It was intimate, not easily shared with the rest of the team, so for the most part, they avoided doing anything during the day. But right now, Tony didn’t care about that. He was in pain and needed comfort, and felt blessed that Steve was willing to give it to him.
“Of course,” the blond replied. “Here,” he muttered, moving to the back of the couch as Tony sat up and scooted forward. Thankfully, the couch was pretty big, in length and width. Tony was small, but not everyone on the team was. He kept that in consideration when purchasing furniture for the facility.
Tony turned on his stomach, settling between Steve’s legs. He pressed his face into the blond’s chest, keeping out light and hopefully discouraging any sort of interruption. He sighed, slipping one hand between Steve and the couch, and leaving the other to hang at his side, fingers tightened into a fist. He frowned as another surge of pain passed through him.
“You’re clenching your teeth,” Steve sighed, rubbing Tony’s back.
“I can’t help it,” he muttered against Steve’s chest. He felt the blond press a kiss to his head.
“It’ll get better soon.”
Tony considered that for a moment. Steve meant the headache, but something about the tone spoke about a lot more. Right now his bones were weary and his skull splitting, but soon he would be well again, well enough to think and plan and fight. Soon, they would draw up battle plans and figure out how to set the world right again. It was an incredibly optimistic thought, out of the ordinary for Tony, but…he believed Steve, believed in him again. He was safe for the moment, in arms he was sure would never embrace him again.
The thought calmed him, and he was content to stay as they were, for however long it took his headache to recede, and maybe afterwards.