His body is so hot that he can feel the waves of heat rolling past the three layers of blankets draped over him. Admittedly, shrugging off a quilt or two might do him well in that respect – Tony knows he’s burning up, that’s the rational conclusion that he’s come to. But under those covers, he’s shivering, curled up to retain as much body heat as he can. He’s freezing.
“Jarvis,” he croaks, voice hoarse with sickness. There’s no response from the artificially intelligent butler, and Tony isn’t sure whether or not he should be offended, “Jarvis…”
“Yes, sir?” The voice is tinny, echoing around the empty bedroom with a twinge of what Tony can only describe as complete resignation. Some days, especially days like this, Tony is certain Jarvis knows more about humanity than he’s letting on.
“Temperature.” Tony groans, because he feels he is only capable of one word responses at the present time, and no, that definitely was not a whine. He feels a bead of sweat trickle down the back of his neck, collecting in the collar of his shirt. It’s soaked.
He is a sweating, sick and arguably hot mess. And he is absolutely miserable, being confined to the box that is his room. There’s light streaming through the giant glass windows that cannot be blocked out by even the darkest of curtains (and believe him, he’s tried the blackout curtains).
“Your current temperature is resting at 101.4 degrees Fahrenheit, sir,” Jarvis’ voice is even, but when it bounces off the walls, Tony is almost certain that he can hear it wobble with worry, “Shall I call Miss Potts?”
His body shudders, and for a minute he thinks he might just take Jarvis up on the offer, but Pepper is in Los Angeles and he knows that if he calls her out of a Very Important Meeting with the Board of Directors or something else completely, entirely boring– well, he’ll never hear the end of that, and an angry Pepper is something he isn’t sure he has the energy for.
“No,” Tony grinds out, face in the pillow, taking shallow breaths, “No, don’t do that.”
Jarvis goes silent, and in the time it takes Tony to lift his head up off of the bed to consider his options, he’s falling back on his front in particularly inspired fit of coughing. Tony turns his face to the side, and yes, this time he’ll admit that he lets out the saddest whine that he can possibly procure from the depths of his achy, congested chest.
He hates being sick, mostly because it means he can’t be down in his workshop taking apart the light fixtures from the dining room or solving world hunger or trying to figure out why it is that Steve wears khakis, out of all the possible combinations of pants that exist in tangible form on this blue planet. Khakis. Not to mention, of course, that it means he’s pent up in a tower with five other superheroes who are all far too energetic for his liking, and who could forget Very Special Agent Coulson?
Tony stops very abruptly, realizing he’s been grumbling quite loudly into his pillow about khakis and Coulson. He shakes his head a little, but it mostly just makes it hurt worse, and beads of sweat fling from his damp hair onto the sheets. He resigns to the fact that he won’t be getting out of bed anytime soon, and rolls onto his side, sniffing heavily. With a clammy hand, he reaches blindly towards the top of the bedside table for his phone, little piece of reinforced glass and wiring that it is.
It’s all going well – his coordination is on point, the phone is in his hand. And then he drops it. He hears the faint ‘smush’ as it settles into the carpet beside his bed.
“Jarvis?” He’s whispering, staring down at the phone with a broken expression. His throat tickles, and suddenly he’s coughing up a lung with all the force he can muster, and he’s not sure if he means that literally or figuratively. Jarvis waits patiently until he’s done, good little soldier he is.
Tony takes in a few tentative breaths, testing his respiratory system. So far, so good.
“Engage emergency protocol.”
It takes five minutes, and Tony knows this because he counts each long, unforgiving second. Admittedly, it’s a nice interval in between problems where he can carefully roll over onto his back to avoid looking completely incapacitated.
His fever is still raging, and he goes from kicking off the covers to pulling them back up to his neck so quickly that it sends him into a fit of coughing. There’s a silence where Tony is almost certain Jarvis is going to say something full of snark over the intercom, but he puts that to bed before it can bother getting out of hand.
“Don’t wanna hear it, J.” He mopes. He thinks that beside him is probably a Kleenex box, but he can’t find it in the mess of blankets. His phone is still on the floor, and his face aches like a son of a bitch and surely this time this must be The End.
He realizes he’s made a terrible mistake when someone comes flying – literally flying, his feet are not touching the ground for even a fraction of a second – through his bedroom door, shoulder first. The glass door smacks off the wall and cracks, the imperfection splitting evenly down the panel.
When the dust settles, Tony peeks out from behind his blankets. Steve is standing there in one of those god awful too tight shirts he wears when he’s in the gym, and a pair of sweatpants that really are getting very ratty (but hey, at least they’re not khakis). Oh, yes, and he’s also got his shield strapped around his forearm.
There a brief period in which Tony blinks, and Steve blinks, and they both look around them. Steve takes a minute to assess the situation – he sees the closed blinds, the tissues strewn across the floor, Tony drenched in sweat and looking like he’s been hit by a car, and Steve’s seen that happen, so it’s a pretty accurate assessment.
“Tony?” He says after a minute, finding himself confused. Tony stares at him evenly, begging his face not to betray him. Don’t whine don’t whine don’t whine don’t—“What—what’s the problem?”
Tony doesn’t answer him right away. He keeps eye contact, only blinking when his eyes dry out, until he realizes that he’s having a goddamn staring contestwith Captain America and he’s being a little childish. A little. He takes a deep breath, and he tells himself to be calm. No whining.
“I am actively dying,” he announces.
This is another mistake, he realizes, because Steve’s blue eyes go wide, and he moves so quickly Tony can barely register it. One minute, Steve’s standing in the ruins of his bedroom door, and the next, he’s at Tony’s bedside, shield still there, still wrapped around his arm.
“What’s the matter?” Steve asks, worry entering his voice. One of his hands hovers over Tony’s chest, over the arc reactor, afraid to touch, “Tony, what happened? What do you mean, dying? I can get Bruce, do you want me to get Bruce—”
“It appears that he is suffering from a rather unfortunate bout of influenza, Captain,” Jarvis’ voice is dripping, absolutely dripping with smugness, “His current body temperature is 101.6 degrees Fahrenheit and rising. He seems to have dropped his mobile phone.”
Steve’s eyes flicker from Tony’s face to the phone on the ground. It’s face down in the carpet still. Steve bends down and picks it up, the glass smooth in his hand, and blinks.
“Traitor,” Tony whispers to the nearest camera he can see. He puts on his best pout and stares at the wall, “Can’t even trust my own AI, you know, this is what happened in Terminator, and if that’s a thing I’m gonna have to worry about then I’m uninst—”
“You enabled emergency protocol because of the flu?” Steve asks, and his voice sounds only a little annoyed.
Tony eyes him morosely and pulls the blankets up to his chin. He sniffles, “Mostly I just wanted the phone, but if you want to be dramatic about it, then yes.”
Silence envelops the room, and Steve does that thing where he looks completely and utterly lost. His mouth opens and then closes, then opens again, and when he finally speaks, Tony knows he’s probably never going to hear the end of this.
“You told me you were dying.” Steve reminds him.
“Yes, well, you aren’t a doctor and so I’m not sure that you should be making these kinds of wild—”
He’s trying his best to be snarky and cocky, but he can tell as soon as he opens his mouth that his lungs are not going to give him a break, and he leans over and coughs until his throat is raw and he feels a warm weight on his back. When he’s done, he realizes that it’s Steve’s hand on his back, rubbing up and down, and that maybe the flush in his cheeks is caused by something more than the fact that he just can’t draw in enough breath.
“You okay?” Steve asks once he’s done, stilling his hand.
Tony’s hanging his head over his own lap, taking shaky, shallow breaths, trying to get his body back on his side. He lifts his head up slowly, blinks a little, and straightens his back. He nods.
“Yeah. Yeah, okay,” he whispers, voice hoarse and throat sore, “I’m fine.”
The weight lifts from his back, and it’s all Tony can do to bite back a noise of displeasure at the disappearance of the warmth. When he looks back up, Steve is staring down at him worriedly, his shield at his side. It’s shiny and new after a paint job courtesy of Dummy. No screw ups or anything, he notices, and he resolves to give the robot a scratch behind the ear next time he’s in the workshop.
“You should rest,” Steve says, and damn those baby blues are killer. He hands Tony his cell phone.
He watches Steve’s retreat, and maybe stares at things he shouldn’t be staring at for just a little too long. The door closes behind the super soldier and there’s still a crack there, a line in the glass, but Tony doesn’t think that it’s really that big of a deal right now. He shivers.
“Rest,” he repeats, slides down onto his back with the covers pulled up tightly, “Yeah. I can do that.”
When Tony wakes up, he can smell chicken. It’s disorienting, because this is the one room in the entire tower that he is fairly certain should not smell like chicken.
His eyes are blurry, and he blinks wearily into the darkness of his room, “Jarvis, time?”
“It is currently 6:35 PM, sir. I do hope you are feeling better.”
“Yeah, no, that’s not a thing yet. Why does it smell like chicken?”
Jarvis pauses, and Jarvis never pauses, so the chicken is either the cause for a national emergency, or it will very soon be closely associated with feelings that Jarvis has (correctly) assumed Tony will not be able to handle.
“Captain Rogers has left you dinner,” the voice is tinny and echoes off the room in strange ways, like nightmares echo inside his head, sometimes, “He has assured me that chicken soup is good for the soul, sir.”
“Of course he has,” Tony says, and he can’t stop the smile, because of course that would be one of the random clichés that encompass all of what Steve is, “Temperature?”
“102.1 degrees Fahrenheit, sir. I don’t suppose you’ll agree to seek medical help, despite my insistence?”
Tony’s head aches, and the rolling pain hasn’t slowed at all since waking up that morning. It’s moved from his head to his face, down to his chest and all of his muscles. He feels like he’s drowning, like his lungs are full of water, and his chest strains with each breath.
Medical help, his ass.
He coughs, once or twice, and holds off a respiratory attack, “Nope. Just you and me, in this together. Like old times, huh J?”
“Shall I call for Captain Rogers?” Jarvis asks, and there is resignation and a hint of something sneaky in his voice. Tony grins and sits up, feeling his muscles ache and burn as he does. He pulls the bowl of soup into his lap.
“The last thing I need right now, Jarvis,” he says, and the words are jumbled and thick, which he attributes to the fever and the dryness of his mouth, “is Cap standing over me with those eyes. You know what I mean.”
“Of course, sir.”
He brings the spoon to his mouth and practically inhales the soup, and it’s a nice warmth that settles in his belly and spreads to his limbs. It’s good, too, so that’s something in and of itself. He’s reminded of moments where he’d sit in front of the television wrapped in a blanket, watching cartoons and smelling the soup wafting into the sitting room from the kitchen. Jarvis – the real one, not the AI, as Tony finds himself clarifying more often than not – looked after him when he was sick, mostly. His mother tried her best, he knows, but sometimes she just couldn’t. Tony tries his best to understand even now. And his father…well, Howard was Howard, and so Tony would spend morning and evening moping on the couch with the old British man, eating salty soup together and commenting on the plausibility of Wile E. Coyote stopping the Roadrunner this episode.
Tony misses that, sometimes.
He’s eating his soup so intently that he doesn’t notice the door open. The spoon is headed for his mouth again, the soup still steaming, when Steve smiles and speaks.
“I’m glad you like it,” he says softly, his hands shoved in the pockets of his khakis.
Tony jumps a little, but refuses to sacrifice a single slurp of soup, and he shoves the spoon in his mouth to keep from dropping it. When he looks up, the utensil dangles from his lips and his eyes are wide and startled. Steve takes a tentative step into the room and holds up his hands.
“It’s a family recipe,” he says, matter-of-factly, “Well, that’s a lie. Back when I was younger, we didn’t really have any money for the good stuff, so when I was sick I mostly ate tomato soup. But chicken soup was the best, and Bucky’s mom made it the best way, too, so sometimes he’d—”
“You’re rambling,” Tony interrupts, voice hoarse and squeaky. He figures that without a voice, this’ll be the end of him being a smartass for a few days, so he better make good use of it.
Steve’s face turns an interesting shade of pink, one that makes Tony’s insides twist, but he fights off the feeling to at least regain some of his dignity. There’s only a spoonful of soup left, and he can’t say he’s not just a bit depressed about it, so he shoves it into his mouth and puts the empty bowl on his night table.
“Sorry,” Steve says, and he looks at the ground, fidgeting with his hands, “Are you feeling better?”
“I think maybe worse,” Tony says, testing to make sure all his body parts really are working, “And my fever is nasty, but I’m okay, I think.”
He can hear the frown in Steve’s voice before he even says anything, “Tony.”
“Yes, Captain?” Tony says, and he’s going for flirty, he thinks, but it comes out as more of a choked whine.
“You…you should take better care of yourself,” Steve is quiet, and Tony watches him step towards the bed. The super soldier considers his options, then sits on the edge, the heat from his body making Tony even warmer. Tony endures the heat for reasons he doesn’t even want to consider, “You think very poorly of yourself, and you treat your body even worse. We need you to be okay.”
Something catches in his chest, and he’s not sure whether it’s his sickness or something entirely different. Tony rubs the spot where he thinks it came from
“You don’t need me, Cap,” he tries, smiling, and his signature self-deprecating tone wobbles slightly, “You guys are great. You’d do fine.”
“You shouldn’t say things like that, either,” Steve says, then, and he reaches across and drops a hand on Tony’s shoulder. He squeezes the muscles there, “You’re just as much part of this team as anyone. We need you. I need you, because who else would upgrade my shield or my suit or teach me how do use the DVD player—“
“Nobody,” Tony interrupts, face solemn and serious, “Nobody would teach you that.”
Steve grins, “Right. So we need you.”
There’s silence between them, but this one isn’t uncomfortable. It’s not like all the other silences. Tony feels the heat of Steve’s hand on his shoulder and wonders how in the hell he ended up in this situation, not just sick, but—he can’t find the right words.
“You should go back to sleep,” Steve says, before Tony can get a word in edgewise – it’s okay though, because Tony isn’t sure of anything that he’s about to say. He nods.
“Can do, Cap.”
The door opens and the footsteps trickle in, slow at first, testing the waters, but then faster. Tony’s not asleep. He’s been awake for hours, hearing life in the tower falter and finally stop as the day pulls to a close. From the gentleness of the steps, he can tell it’s Steve in his room, and so he closes his eyes and pretends his best to be completely and utterly out of it.
Steve is quiet like a mouse, and Tony can’t tell where he is until he can hear the breathing and the movements from beside his bed. He curses his heart for speeding up, hopes Jarvis won’t call him out on it in front of the Captain. The bed depresses. Tony quiets his breathing.
Suddenly, there’s a hand on his head, warm and radiating against his skin. Tony feels it move so that it’s flipped over, so that it’s the back of the hand instead of the palm, and he realizes that yes, Steve is checking his temperature. He fights back a smile and a cough keeps completely still.
Something cold presses against his face, a cloth, he guesses, and then Steve is wiping it across his forehead and down his neck, mopping up salty sweat and brushing against damp hair. It’s a nice feeling, the coldness of the cloth against his skin, skin that’s still burning. If his fever keeps raging the way it feels like it is, Tony knows he’s going to have to go along with Jarvis’ request for medical attention, but he’ll be damn sure to fight and whine every step of the way.
Tony feels Steve move on the edge of his bed, and the cloth is withdrawn. He hears things move around on the night table, quiet in theory but somehow loud in practice, each movement echoing in the corners of his bedroom. This is the first time in a long time, he realizes, that he’s fallen asleep in his actual bedroom, and not on the couch or in the workshop. It’s a strange feeling.
Steve leans down and kisses him on the forehead. It’s a warm touch of soft lips, and Tony barely understands what’s happening until Steve moves away and he feels his lips part on his skin. His heart almost stops beating, this time, and he has to physically fight to keep breathing without letting on that yes, he’s awake, and yes, he’s going to have a panic attackbecause a national treasure has decided to kiss him on the head.
And then it ends. Steve stands up, the weight and warmth is gone from the bed, and Tony hears his bedroom door shut. His eyes fling open, finally, and it’s all he can do to not stop from having another coughing fit right then and there, and he really doesn’t need that.
Sleep comes to him in fitful bursts, and he dreams of chicken soup and heat in his cheeks that isn’t there because he’s sick.
Tony wakes up covered in sweat and lying in damp bed sheets, and Jarvis informs him that his fever has broken. He still feels like he’s been hit by a transport truck, but he can breathe a little better and his throat isn’t as sore.
There’s no answer, and for one panic stricken second, Tony is convinced there’s a problem. Except he hasn’t actually said anything. He’s trying, that’s a given, because his mouth is open and his lips are forming words, but there’s no sound coming up.
He gives up and shoves his head into his pillow.
When he finally opens his aching eyes, he can see a piece of white paper sitting on his bedside table. Tony stretches out his arm as far as he can, and pulls it into his fingertips. Inside the folded sheet is Steve’s scrawled, messy handwriting.
‘Hope you’re feeling better. May need help resetting the DVD player. - S’
Tony crumples the note, lies back, and laughs until he makes himself cough.