Pain, unyielding in its attempt to drag Tony back into a deep, restless sleep. He groaned as he shifted, feeling the pull on his tortured muscles and the whip-sharp pain of newly put-upon weight to his ribs.
“Fuck,” he whimpered and forced his eyes to open. It was daybreak at least. He’d been asleep since a little before dinner the previous evening and if not for the intense pain he was under, Tony was sure he could’ve slept for several more hours. As it was, he needed some relief, and he needed it now.
“JARVIS, where’s the team?” The last thing Tony needed was stumbling into a den full of chipper superhumans, impenetrable assassins and the most mild-tempered man in the universe when he was feeling like this. He needed coffee, black, and the strongest painkiller he could get his hands on. He didn’t need Steve’s large, blue eyes staring him down and seeing all his vulnerabilities, all his weak points.
He’d already gotten his ear talked off for not focusing on the task at hand and for putting the safety of civilians at risk for an ostentatious premiere of Tony’s new technology . Never mind that Tony’s “ostentatious premiere” was really him stopping a building from crashing on top of a car that held a family of four, but Steve’s back had been turned and by the time the family had been vacated what it really looked like was Tony blasting his way through a building for the pure fun of the experience. Tony didn’t need to tell him that he’d gotten sideswiped during the rescue, had blacked out for several seconds and the family had only been able to be saved by the mechanisms of JARVIS’ auto control on the suit in moments of mortal peril.
When he swung his legs over the bed and pulled himself up Tony swore so colorfully he was surprised Steve didn’t magically appear with reddened ears and a scowl the size of Texas. That ache he’d felt when he woke up was nothing compared to breath-stealing pain radiating across his body as he took on his full weight.
“Captain Rogers is currently in his room reading after his morning run, Miss Romanov and Mr. Barton are at SHIELD headquarters for a mission with Coulson, Bruce is sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of tea and Thor departed for Asgard at 0600 this morning.”
Tony thought it over while he got dressed. He could deal with Bruce. At most he’d receive some disappointed looks over Tony’s lack of self-care but he knew that Bruce would never force him to seek medical help and he wouldn’t go as far to lecture him about gaining and then keeping those injuries secret from the team. “Can you ask Bruce to put on a pot of coffee?” Tony asked his AI and stumbled towards his dresser to put on some clothes before slowly and painfully making his way downstairs.
He wasn’t sure how he managed to tamp down the groan begging to come out but he was proud that he had. “Can we not do this right now?” He hated how tired the question came out.
“Do what?” He heard the huffed sigh before he even turned around to see Steve scowling with his arms crossed.
“Bantering, arguing, whatever you want to call it. I’m not in the mood,” he softened as he saw Steve’s ears glow read. He licked his lips, spoke, “I’m in pain, Just let me pop an ibuprofen before you begin to lecture me.”
“I wasn’t going to lecture you,” Steve mumbled but his eyes were downcast in silent guilt. Regaining steam, Tony watched him straighten and meet his gaze head-on. “I wasn’t aware you were injured in the fight.”
Tony wanted to scoff at that, at the unfairness of it. Steve was implying that Tony had kept his injuries a secret for no other reason than to be irresponsible. As if Steve hadn’t made it impossible for Tony to admit doing anything more wrong after the dressing down he got yesterday. “I’m wasn’t,” Tony said and smiled, the warmth not meeting his eyes, “Just a headache.”
He didn’t stay to see how Steve would react to that. Once he was downstairs he took a large cup of steaming coffee, pulled out a bottle of painkillers, and sat next to Bruce. Despite wanting to take a whole bottle of Vicodin, Tony was resigned to swallow two pills of ibuprofen and call it a day. He wasn’t stupid, if Steve saw him taking heavy painkillers he’d have even more to accuse Tony with. He wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. So, despite knowing that he probably wouldn’t even have the edge of his pain taken off, Tony swallowed the ibuprofen and started up a conversation with Bruce.
God really must have a sense of humor was the first thought that crossed Tony’s mind when Steve collected Bruce and him after breakfast for some sparring. The second was that he was pretty sure the coffee and pills were going to make a reappearance. His side still ached from his three (or four, he hadn’t confirmed the number) broken ribs, his head was pounding and his back was so tight he was pretty sure his muscles had coiled up like snakes.
Wrapping his wrists, Steve was addressing them. “We were sloppy yesterday, I think fighting one on one with each other will help us understand our individual weaknesses and address them before facing a foe that doesn’t have our best interests at heart.”
Tony had to admit that Steve had a point. He’d been the only one to get injured the day prior but all of them had had a close call at some point. Nat had only been spared from a bullet wound by Clint’s fast archery skills. Still, looking at Steve and imagining sparring with him was sending Tony’s head spinning. Moving hurt, hell breathing hurt, he couldn’t imagine getting kicked in the ribs.
He raised his hand, knowing it was likely to piss Steve off, but he couldn’t abandon his usual personality with Steve, not if he didn’t want a lecture on keeping injuries and the importance of intra-team trust.
He saw Steve’s jaw clench, his shoulders coming up to rest a few inches were they were before. He nodded once at Tony, not even bothering to verbally address him.
“Well, this seems like such a fun bonding experience I must decline.”
Steve’s jaw moved as if he were chewing on rubber, “And why would that be?”
“I’m hurt you don’t remember,” Tony said in a mock-injured tone. “My head fucking kills.”
“We’re not always going to be in tip-top shape when we fight, you need to learn to push through it.”
Tony sucked in a breath as the words landed exactly where Steve wanted them to. He was actually hurt now. Tony was no stranger to pain, no stranger to pushing himself through to accomplish what needed to be done. Hell, yesterday he’d fought for an hour after getting hit by a building and losing consciousness in the process. But he and Steve had this dance they did, and Tony was going to be damned before he let Steve lead it.
“Fine,” Tony growled. Bruce grabbed his shoulder, and Tony saw unbridled concern swimming in the man’s eyes when he turned around.
Bruce leaned in, close enough that Steve wouldn’t hear. “Tony are you sure you’re okay to spar? Maybe you should take it easy.”
The concern was nice, Tony had to admit. Bruce was his favorite member of the team so far. Tony would even go so far as to say that they were friends. But he couldn’t let Steve win like this, let Steve think him weak.
“I’ll be fine. I’ve been through worse.” It was true and Bruce seemed to accept it because he stepped back and gave a short nod.
“Ready Captain?” Tony asked, putting as much disdain as he could on Steve’s title.
“Only if you are.”
It didn’t take a second longer for it to begin. Steve threw a punch at the side of Tony’s head and he ducked it, bringing his forearm up to block the second attack Steve tried to land on Tony’s side while he was distracted. He pushed Steve off for a second, waiting for him to attack again. Tony wasn’t going to waste any of his energy on the offensive. He knew he’d need all of it on defending against Steve to protect his ribs.
Steve tried to pull him out with taunts but Tony knew they were cheap words and he continued to dodge and duck as Steve unsuccessfully tried to hit him. He knew he fucked up though when he tried to reply to one of Steve’s jabs with a snarky one-liner of his own and completely missed the chance to block a kick to his side.
It was like watching a car hit a squirrel, unable to stop it from the sidelines. Steve’s leg made contact with Tony’s side and his breath caught in his throat, static in his ears, his vision going completely white. He only knew he landed on his knees from the harsh sting radiating up his legs.
“T’ny? -ny…” His last thought before he passed out was that he should’ve taken the Vicodin that morning and told Steve to fuck off.
He knew he was on morphine before he even opened his eyes. Tony knew that feeling, the smoothed, blissed-out relief that the painkiller gave. He’d been under the spell many times in his life. He also knew that Bruce would’ve insisted on it after he passed out.
What he didn’t know before he opened his eyes, however, was that Steve was in the room. Leaning against the door frame, chewing-on-rubber scowl on his face, was Steve Rogers. On first inspection, he looked pissed, but Tony knew to always look past the surface, and he was certain that he could see guilt swimming in the furrows of Steve’s blonde eyebrows.
“How are you feeling?” Steve asked, but cut Tony off before he could even start, “Oh no, actually let me enlighten you. Did you know that you have five broken ribs”-- huh five, Tony needed to get a better method in determining how injured he really was -- “ a moderate concussion and a stress fracture in your shoulder? Don’t answer that. You had to have known some of that, as Bruce has informed me that you’ve been hiding pain since last evening. Why, Tony? You know that keeping secrets only weakens a team.”
“I did tell you,” Tony said, watching as Steve’s face hardened, then softened again as he replayed their conversation that morning.
“You told me your head hurt.”
“That doesn’t explain the rest. A headache is not the same as having enough broken ribs to send you into a dead faint when sparring.”
It was Tony’s turn to cross his arms across his chest. “Oh yeah because you made it so easy to admit to that after telling me off for showing off and endangering civilians. You wouldn’t have believed that I had not been showing off, that, in fact, I had been saving a family that would’ve been crushed by the building had I not swooped in and supported it.”
“I might’ve,” Steve said but he was looking away again. It was always his guilty tell.
“You wouldn’t have. You would have accused me of faking the injuries to get out of a lecture or you would’ve used it to emphasize just how ludicrous I was being by showing off.”
He looked thoroughly chastised now and Tony couldn’t help but feel a little bad for him. Tony knew he wasn’t an easy man to get along with. He knew he had a temper and an ego, he knew he hid all his emotions under a thick layer of sass and snark and insubordination. But if they were going to be a team, Steve was going to have to make an effort to get to know everyone. If Bruce could read Tony well enough to know he’d been hiding pain since the previous night then Steve should’ve been able to as well. He was their leader.
Steve cleared his throat and Tony uncrossed his arms, looking up at the man expectantly. “I’m sorry. It seems that I have some things to work on. I will try to listen better in the future.”
Tony nodded and rubbed circles on the back of his hand with the pad of his other thumb. “And I will try not to assume the worst of you despite my better judgment.”