“You have to go in,” Natasha said. She pushed Steve towards the workshop doors.
“Wait, me?” asked Steve. He’d just returned to the Tower from his weekend trip when his teammates jumped him and dragged him to Tony’s workshop.
“He listens to you,” she responded.
“That’s an exaggeration –” Steve said with a frown.
“Go! He’s been in there for fifty hours.”
“Correction, Agent Romanoff. 51 hours and fifteen minutes,” JARVIS chimed in.
“Thanks, JARVIS,” Natasha replied, rolling her eyes. She nudged Steve again. “Go on. We’re worried about him.”
“Aye, Captain, you are our last hope to persuade the Man of Iron to leave his workshop. He has failed to answer any of our greetings,” Thor boomed.
Clint added, “There was a sighting yesterday. Someone with a goatee and an arc reactor showed up in the kitchen and got pizza out of the refrigerator. We think it was Tony, so he’s probably still alive.”
Steve turned to Sam. “What about you? Tony lets you into the workshop anytime you want.”
Sam shook his head. “Not right now. He kicked me out two days ago.”
Steve turned to Hulk, who shrugged. Okay, so he had a mystery on his hands.
Steve squared his shoulders and walked over to knock on the doors. “Tony?”
“Come on, Cap!” Clint complained. “We tried that.”
“Clint, I’m not breaking down Tony’s doors.”
“Gotcha. So how about it, Hulk buddy? Want to bust through some walls?” Clint egged on Hulk, who started cracking his knuckles.
“No busting through walls!” Steve commanded. “We’re not wrecking Tony’s property today, okay?” He ran his hand through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck. This would be easier without an audience. On the other hand, something must have happened for the team to be so worried about Tony. Actually, it was nice that people were concerned about Tony.
He knocked again. “Tony? It’s Steve.” Clint groaned behind him. Steve also heard the distinctive swish of Mjolnir in Thor’s hand.
He turned to the team. “Guys, please.”
“This can’t be good,” Natasha pointed out. “He’s been locked in the workshop before, but not like this – we’re not facing an alien invasion or the Red Skull and the Cabal.”
“JARVIS? Will you ask Tony to open the door?” Steve asked.
“My apologies, Captain. He is not responding.” Steve drew a deep breath, tapped his foot a couple of times, and looked up at the ceiling. “I have explained the situation to him.”
His face blushing a deep red, Steve stated firmly, “JARVIS, override code ‘Captain America is too sexy for his shirt.’” Clint sniggered behind him. But the doors opened.
“Say that again,” Sam replied. “Because I’m not sure I heard that right.”
“It’s a long story,” Steve replied grimly.
“Karaoke night gone hilariously wrong,” Clint suggested helpfully. “See, there was this song –”
“I’m sure Sam’s heard the song. Okay, I’m going in after Tony.”
Leaving the team in the hallway, Steve ventured into the dim light of Tony’s workshop. He knew it had been a while since Tony had locked himself up in the workshop. He picked his way through workbenches, heavy equipment, a couple of half-finished suits, and headed towards the bright lights in the back of the room where Tony must be.
Memories of the hours he’d spent watching Tony at work flitted through his mind. Tony worked hard to put a lifetime of bad decisions and terrible consequences behind him. He designed equipment and uniforms for the team, built quinjets and the computer systems that eased their lives, all at the price of near-constant sleep deprivation and fatigue. Tony argued that he loved the applied science and engineering work and he couldn’t imagine doing any less for the team. But Steve fretted over the cost to Tony.
He found Tony surrounded by holographic screens, staring down at a table full of robot parts. He muttered under his breath as he flipped through the screens.
“Tony? Time to pack it in. You’ve been up for 51 hours,” Steve urged.
“Nah, Cap. I’m good. As long as I still have coffee.” Tony glanced down at five empty or nearly empty cups filled with suspiciously dark liquid.
Tony seemed unsteady on his feet as he went back to scrutinizing the robot parts. The thought that he could just sling Tony over his shoulder and drag him upstairs ran across Steve’s mind. Tony had liked it when he did that last week to celebrate in private after winning a nasty battle with the Squadron Supreme. Steve all but blushed at the memory. They should do that again, as soon as Tony was awake enough to enjoy it.
He nudged Tony again. “Come on. Everyone’s worried about you.”
Tony yawned and stretched. “Aw, Steve, 51 hours isn’t that big a deal. I’ve stayed up longer.” He lurched forward to land against the table, which shuddered under his weight. “When did I put wheels on this?” He blinked, and Steve repressed the thought that Tony was adorable when he was sleepy and befuddled.
Steve sighed and started gathering up the coffee mugs in case Tony attempted to drink two-days-old coffee. Tony didn’t need a stomachache on top of the jitters. Steve consoled himself with the thought that, for once, the welding torch and soldering iron were nowhere in sight.
Tony turned to rummage through his tool boxes and retrieve a wrench. “I’m fine, Cap, just dandy. You can go.”
“Tony, 51 hours. Time to go to bed.” Steve snatched the wrench out of Tony’s hand and held it above his head, while Tony scrabbled to reach it, standing on his tip-toes.
“Steee-eeeve, give it back. Nowww,” Tony whined. “No puppy eyes, Steve. No.” He plastered himself against Steve like a remora.
Seeing his chance at last to move Tony out of the workshop, Steve glanced around for a place to stow the wrench. The pile of robot parts seemed remarkably familiar, like Steve would know it at a glance once fully assembled. He narrowed his eyes, and dread flooded over him as he placed the robot. Arsenal. Tony was rebuilding the robot his father had built him as a childhood companion.
“Tony, stop.” He pushed Tony’s hands down. “What’s going on here?”
“Nothing.” Tony peered up at Steve. “What’s wrong?”
“This is Arsenal, right?”
Tony swiveled back to the table and picked up the distinctive head. “Oh, I didn’t – I don’t even remember building – yeah. This looks bad.”
“No chance of Ultron?” Steve ventured.
“No. I must have used my own schematics. Wow. Arsenal.”
Steve put his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Tony –”
“It’s okay, Steve. I can destroy this prototype before Ultron comes back.” Tony sounded so defeated and sad as he looked at the head in his hands.
Steve reached out and wrapped his arms around Tony’s waist. Dropping the robot head on the table with a clang, Tony turned in Steve’s arms to bury his face in Steve’s chest. They stood in silence while Steve rubbed up and down Tony’s back, nose buried in Tony’s thick hair, and Tony shook with deep, wracking breaths.
“It’s okay, Tony,” Steve whispered. “I know you miss him.”
“I’ve tried and tried to rebuild him, but it’s never right. And then I remember what happened when Ultron stole him. What if I end up summoning Ultron like some weird techno-wizard? Gah.”
Steve craned his neck to see Tony’s face. “But now you know better. Come on, you need a good night’s sleep.”
Tony looked up at Steve with red-rimmed eyes, then yawned. “What’s up with you and the whole sleep thing?”
Steve dipped down and gathered Tony up in his arms. “Sleep first, philosophy when you wake up.” He kissed the top of Tony’s head. “JARVIS, let the team know they can stand down. Tony’s fine and on his way to bed.” He knew Tony would prefer the team not to see Steve carry him princess-style out of the workroom.
“I will, Captain Rogers.”
Tony patted Steve’s chest once before wrapping his hand in Steve’s shirt and nestling his head on Steve’s shoulder. “Stay with me?”
“Always,” Steve reassured him. “Not going to let you down.”
“I hope not – not sure I could even walk right now.”
Steve laughed quietly as Tony fell asleep in his arms on his way to the elevator.
Badge art by Inoshi.