“I will quit.”
Steve freezes and immediately feels guilty about being able to hear their conversation, even though he’s doing rounds and checking over the patient’s chart like he does at every room.
“Pep,” he hears, Tony Stark’s voice, unexpectedly rough but still familiar from the news programs. Steve assumes that Pep is the famous Pepper Potts.
“No, I mean it this time. I will quit because I am not watching you try to kill yourself. Not again. Not when I can do something about it, do you hear me?” Ms. Potts demands. This is clearly not an argument he wants to walk in on, but he does need to examine Mr. Stark. He hovers at the door, indecisive.
“I wasn’t trying to kill myself! Jesus, Pepper, I spent years making the best weapons in the world and you think I would off myself with a few too many Ambien?”
“A few? Try half a bottle of Ambien, along with half a bottle of scotch. You were barely breathing when I found you! They had to pump your stomach!”
The heart monitor hooked up to Mr. Stark starts beeping, and that rouses Steve into finally walking through the door.
“I apologize for interrupting,” Steve says as he enters, ignoring their surprise at his quick appearance, “I’m Dr. Rogers, and I couldn’t help but overhear. Sorry, but this argument needs to happen later. It’s important to keep Mr. Stark’s heart rate and stress levels down.”
Mr. Stark smiles at him, all white teeth and charm despite the heavy bags under his eyes. “Yeah, Pep, stop stressing me out.”
“I’m afraid the argument couldn’t wait, Doctor,” Ms. Potts explains, pointedly ignoring Tony. “Mr. Stark was planning to check himself out.”
Steve frowns. “That’s really not a good idea, Mr. Stark. We have several tests scheduled today to check your heart function, and our blood tests show some issues with your liver enzymes. Ambien and alcohol is a dangerous combination, and we need to check for permanent damage to your body as a result.”
“I don’t like hospitals,” Mr. Stark says.
Steve gives a small smile. “Most people don’t. Trust me, I want my patients out of here as fast as possible. I wouldn’t recommend you stay if I didn’t feel it was important.”
“I guess I can stay if it’s that serious. I had no idea. Pep,” he asks, frowning, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Ms. Potts makes a soft, strangled sound. Mr. Stark’s frown turns into a grin.
“I’m glad that’s settled, Mr. Stark,” Steve says.
“Call me Tony,” Mr. Stark orders. Steve looks at him, surprised. Most of the men he’s met like Mr. Stark, rich and influential, seem to enjoy more formality.
“If you like,” Steve says, doubtful.
“I do like. In fact, I’m going to make it a condition of my stay. Call me Tony, or call for the AMA paperwork.”
“Alright, Tony,” Steve says, not quite sure why that causes Tony to give him that camera worthy smile again, or why Ms. Potts is staring at Tony with narrowed eyes. “I have to go now, but I’ll be back this evening. We’ll talk about the results then.”
“It’s a date,” Tony agrees, and Ms. Potts glares a little harder.
Steve smiles and ducks out of the room.
It would be great if that was the weirdest part of his day, but it’s really not. A large number of the hospital staff manage to bump into him that day looking for gossip, and a few members of the press masquerade as patients and have to be escorted out by security.
All of which leads to him hiding and filling out paperwork while absentmindedly eating his dinner when Dr. Romanov finds him.
“Stressful day?” she asks, sitting down across from him at his table in the empty lounge.
“I’ve had worse,” Steve says. “Just, you know,” he waves a hand and says, “Tony Stark,” as if that explains everything.
Natasha grimaces. “That’s why I came to find you. I’m in charge of his psych evaluation. I met with him this afternoon.”
“He’s very adept at avoiding questions.” Natasha pauses and then steals one of his chips. “Afterwards I asked his assistant if he’d been acting erratically in the past few days, and she just started laughing.”
“If half of what the tabloids say is true, it’d be hard to tell,” Steve says.
“It wasn’t premeditated,” Natasha continues, “I don’t think he’s consciously suicidal.”
“But unconsciously?” Steve asks.
She shrugs. “There’s a reason he’s an alcoholic and an insomniac. I’d really prefer to have a few more sessions with him.”
Steve raises his eyebrows. “You’re going to admit him?”
“He’d run screaming if I tried,” Natasha says. “But, if his doctor recommended he stay for observation for a few days...”
“Ah-ha. The reason I’m getting this update in person.” He pushes his chips toward the center of the table so that she can reach them easier. “That’s not going to be easy. He was talking this morning about checking out, and I’m not lying to a patient.”
Natasha smirks. “You won’t have to. He’ll be fine with it if you present the idea. He seemed quite taken with you.”
“Taken with me?” Steve repeats, surprised.
“He kept asking questions about you instead of answering any of mine. And don’t scowl at me like that, I know you’re attracted to him.”
Steve blushes and internally panics for a second before getting a hold of himself. “I would never sleep with a patient,” Steve says, resolute.
“Of course not,” Natasha agrees with way too much amusement, “But not everyone gets to meet their celebrity crush. How’s that going?”
“It’s not a crush!” Steve protests, and then groans. “Is it that obvious?”
“Only to me,” Natasha reassures him. “Although you might not let Tony Stark news stories be the only gossip you listen to without a lecture on journalistic ethics and the right to privacy. And spend a little more time with him. You don’t usually run away from your patients.”
“Thank you, Sherlock,” Steve says, dismayed to realize that she was right. He resolved to do better. He was a professional, and Tony’s care shouldn’t be affected by his issues. “It’s just - awkward. I’ll do better.”
“You’re doing fine,” she says, stealing the last chip. “And if it helps, I don’t think he’ll mind your little infatuation.”
Steve ignores her parting comment and goes to do his job.
“Hey,” Tony says when he comes in, “I thought you’d forgotten about me.” Ms. Potts is gone, and Tony is reading one of the paperback best sellers sold in the gift shop, although not by choice given the way he throws it down when Steve comes in.
“Of course I didn’t forget you,” Steve says. “If nothing else, the paparazzi are very persistent.”
Tony grins. “Pepper turned off the television earlier, so I know it has to be bad. What are they saying?”
“I’ve been working all day, so I have no idea,” Steve says. “Besides, I don’t pay much attention to that kind of sensational journalism.”
“A man of integrity! I like that,” Tony says, “And it certainly matches your general image, what with the square jaw and official lab coat.” Steve frowns and looks down at his clothes, which makes Tony laugh. “No, don’t worry about it. It’s a good image.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Steve says drily. “Now, I suppose you’re interested in your test results.”
“Only if they’re good.”
“They all look normal so far, actually, but we won’t get the heart ultrasound results until tomorrow, and I’d like to do a cardiac stress test, so I’m recommending you stay for two or three days of observation. Especially because you presented with exhaustion, among other things, and I’d like to make sure you get some rest.”
“Rest?” Tony scoffs. “That’ll be hard with the nurses in here prodding me every fifteen minutes.”
“Now that you’ve spoken to Dr. Romanov, they won’t be in here quite so frequently. If you have trouble sleeping, we’ll give you some medicine that will help you - safely - sleep.”
“She agreed to less supervision? Really? I got the impression that she didn’t believe a word I said.”
“She doesn’t think you’re suicidal,” Steve says, “But she does want to speak with you again tomorrow.”
“Drawn to my talent as a conversationalist, no doubt,” Tony jokes, but he’s studying Steve. “What do you think?”
“About what?” Steve asks.
“You told me what Dr. Romanov told you. What do you think?”
“I trust her judgement,” Steve says, then pauses. “But that was a lot of pills, Tony.”
Tony winces. “I don’t actually remember doing that. Pretty bad miscalculation. The Board has been out for my blood since Obadiah, and they might be able to use this to remove me as CEO.”
Steve doesn’t know that much about the politics behind Stark Industries, and Tony doesn’t seem all that put out at the thought of losing his position as CEO, so he ignores that comment to focus on the most important part. “I think almost killing yourself is a lot more than a “miscalculation”, Tony.”
“Pepper said the same thing,” Tony says and waves that off as unimportant. “At length. I doubt you’ll be able to add anything new.”
“Where is Ms. Potts?” Steve asks, finally giving into curiosity.
“Damage control and running my company. You know, the usual. She’ll be back tomorrow, if you’re interested.” Tony raises an eyebrow. “Are you interested?”
Steve blinks. “Not really? I was just being polite. And she didn’t seem too keen on leaving you alone here.”
“She was just worried I’d bail if she left me alone,” Tony says with a smile. “I finally assured her that the fleet of nurses traipsing through here could keep an eye on me. Well, and you, of course. I’m sure I’m in good hands. You seem very thorough. As a doctor.”
“Uh. Thanks?” Steve says. He’s trying really hard not to think about how much it sounds like Tony is flirting with him, reminding him of what Natasha said. “I’ll send the nurse in with your medicine, including a sleep aid.”
“Bedtime already? You’re tough, Doc. Or am I keeping you from a hot date?”
“No. I’m not... I’m volunteering in the free clinic tonight, actually.”
“Well, crap. I can’t even try to talk you into saving me from boredom when you have such a good excuse to leave. You really are a boy scout, aren’t you? Do you rescue kittens from trees as a hobby?”
“I leave the kitten rescuing to the professionals,” Steve answers. “And you don’t have to worry about boredom because you’ll be asleep.” Tony pouts at him, and Steve sighs. “I’ll join you for breakfast if you promise to try and rest.”
“Only if you sit down instead of standing so far away looking doctory.”
Steve represses the urge to rolls his eyes. “Depends on if you harass the nurses or not.”
Tony grins. “I’ll be a perfect angel.”
“Then I’ll see you in the morning. Good night, Tony.”
When Steve comes by to see Tony in the morning, as promised, he pauses to get the chart and hears Tony having another argument.
Well, someone is trying to argue with Tony, although without much success. “Aww, honeybear,” Tony is saying, and, wait, what? “I knew you cared.”
“Tony, I am not kidding with you right now. I have spent the last thirteen hours traveling to get here after I get a call in a war zone saying you’ve tried to kill yourself! And you know what? I wasn’t even that surprised. You’ve been heading down this path for years, and there’s only so much Pepper and I could do to hold you back.”
“Yeah, it’s crazy, you’ve been so far behind me I haven’t even been able to see you lately,” Tony replies, voice losing the saccharine sweet tone.
“No, do not imply that this is my fault, Tony. I have always watched your back. Since college I have had your back.”
“Until I wasn’t useful anymore, Rhodes. You had my back right until I stopped making the weapons that you needed.”
“Is that what you think?” Rhodes asks so quietly that Steve has to strain to hear. “Tony, you have to know that’s not true.”
He jumps at a small touch to his shoulder and turns to find Ms. Potts smirking at him. He smiles sheepishly and she beckons him a few steps away to the small waiting room just down the hall.
“Sorry,” Steve says when she turns to him, “I seem to be making a bad habit of overhearing Tony’s arguments.”
“Well, he has a bad habit of arguing with everyone, so it’s not all your fault,” Ms. Potts says. “He told me he’s staying for another few days.”
“Yes,” Steve says, “I hope that isn’t a problem. Tony said it would make things difficult for you.”
“Tony’s skilled at making things difficult for me, but I’m more worried about his health. Is he okay?”
“He’s doing well so far. I’ll know more tonight, but I’m cautiously optimistic that he managed to escape this with no long term damage.”
Ms. Potts gives a small sigh, one hand coming up to rest over her heart. “That’s great news. I’ve been worried about him because I saw... I was the one who found him.”
“That must have been tough. Are you doing okay?”
“Me?” Ms. Potts asks, surprised. “Yes, I’m fine. It’s fine.”
“Okay,” Steve says, “Just make sure you take care of yourself, too.”
Ms. Potts laughs. “Wow, Dr. Rogers. You really are too good to be true.”
“I’m just doing my job,” Steve demurs.
“And you’re very good at your job. I wanted to thank you for how you’ve handled Tony.”
“Handled him? I’m not sure what you mean,” Steve says. “He’s been a model patient, and I haven’t even spent much time with him.”
“Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” Ms. Potts says, and then speaks over him when he starts to protest. “He wanted to check out as soon as he woke up, but he’s still here. And he’s never agreed to see a psychologist. I mean it. Never.” She pauses, studying him for a second. “He’s not making you uncomfortable, is he?”
“No?” Steve frowns. “Uncomfortable how?”
“Nothing, never mind,” Ms. Potts says and smiles. “I’ve taken up enough of your time. Let’s go make sure they haven’t come to blows by now.”
“Is that likely?” Steve asks, alarmed, but Ms. Potts just smiles and leads him back to work.
“I have good news,” Steve says that evening as he enters Tony’s room.
“Is it that you didn’t break your promise to have breakfast with me?” Tony teases.
“Hey, that was your scheduling issue, not mine,” Steve says, making a point of settling himself in one of the chairs before continuing. “And no, it’s that your ultrasound was clean. We’ll do the stress test, and if that looks good, you’ll be able to go home tomorrow afternoon.”
“Oh, good,” Tony says, although he doesn’t look as excited as Steve expected, “Not to knock your hospitality, but these aren’t the best accommodations I’ve ever had.”
“I’m shocked. I usually hear such good things from people who stay here, especially about the food.”
Tony grimaces. “I tried to get Rhodey to sneak me in some dinner, but he just laughed at me and drank a cup of coffee that I can’t have.”
“You have truly suffered,” Steve agrees with a grin.
“Are you mocking me? I genuinely can’t tell. I’m going to say yes, but it’s just a guess.”
“I would never,” Steve lies earnestly.
Tony stares. “Yeah, I still can’t tell. We’re just going to move on. Any big plans for the evening? What is my charming visage keeping you from doing?”
“Not much,” Steve says, “Leftovers and the new episode of Dr. Who I recorded.”
“A Whovian!” Tony beams at him. “I wouldn’t have called that based on the clean cut, all-American thing you’ve got going on, and I am delightfully surprised. Okay, big question: favorite doctor, go.”
“I like all of them, actually, but I am partial to Ten. Although he went a little off the rails at the end.”
“Wait, have you only seen new Who?” Steve nods, and Tony makes a disgusted face at him. “Kids these days. No respect for the classics.”
Steve shrugs. “We didn’t have it growing up. I tried a few episodes and one of the movies, but it just didn’t stick.”
“Well, I suppose I’ll forgive you. They are a lot better when you watch them young. One of my dad’s war friends introduced it to me when I was ten.” Tony smiles mischievously. “I tried to build my own Dalek. I think Dad was proud until he realized I’d installed a laser strong enough to burn skin. It didn’t exterminate my babysitter, though, much to the dismay of my ten year old self.”
“Wow,” Steve says, “That’s awesome. At ten, I was starting a long tradition of getting beaten up a lot.”
“I have trouble picturing that,” Tony says, “A little bit of mental dissonance.”
“It’s true. I was tiny when I was a kid, and the bullies really hated me because I refused to be afraid of them. It wasn’t a good combination.”
Tony’s staring again. “Nope, still can’t see it. I think I’m going to need photographic evidence on this one.”
“No way,” Steve retorts.
“That’s just cruel. You can’t tell me something like that and then refuse to prove it. I can’t even threaten you with CEO type things like I do with Pepper.” At Steve’s confused look, he continues, “Seriously, the performance reviews and Board meetings are absolute hell.”
Steve considers that for a second. “That’s the second or third time I’ve heard you complain about your job. Do you not enjoy it?”
Tony shrugs. “I enjoy some of it. The science and... the science. Besides, you can’t tell me you love every part of your job.”
“It’s hard to love every part of your job when sometimes your job is dealing with paperwork. And vomit,” Steve says, grinning at the face Tony makes with that, “Hard to say which is worse. But I love most of it. I like helping people and making them better. If I had enough money to run my own hospital, though, I’d hire someone to do the bits I didn’t like.”
“It’s not that simple,” Tony snaps, and Steve is taken aback by the anger in his voice. With all the arguing he’s heard Tony do, this is the first time Tony’s shown any real anger. “Letting other people run my company is how Obadiah Stane happened. I’d rather not be supplying the black market, if it’s all the same to you.”
“God, Tony, I’m so sorry,” Steve says, leaning forward as Tony scowls at the bedsheets. “I shouldn’t have started talking when I don’t know anything about it.”
“It’s fine, and it’s not only the myriad of trust issues Obadiah left in his wake.” Tony sighs, and rubs a hand over his face. “My dad was CEO, and he always wanted me to take over for him.”
“Well, I can understand that,” Steve says.
“Can you?” Tony says blankly, as if it’s a hollow reassurance instead of real empathy.
“Well, yeah,” Steve explains, “I went to school on a scholarship for disadvantaged kids from Brooklyn. I wanted to study art, but the scholarship committee told me that if I didn’t go into a science field, I probably wouldn’t be renewed for the scholarship. No scholarship, no school, and I promised my Ma.” He shrugs.
Tony is staring at him like he’s an alien. “The scholarship run by the Maria Stark Foundation?”
“I wasn’t going to mention that,” Steve says sheepishly, “Although, since you mentioned it, thanks for the college degree.”
“Don’t thank me. The Foundation is run independently of Stark Industries. My dad set up that scholarship, though.” He laughs joylessly. “Howard Stark, bullying people into career choices even after his death. That is just like him.” Steve frowns, but Tony presses on before he can disagree. “All of science to choose from, and you pick pre-med?”
“I was always sick as a child,” Steve says, “Asthma, chronic sinus infections, you name it. Then my Ma got sick, and I spent a lot of time in hospitals. It was just us, so no relatives to look in on her, but the doctors and nurses always seemed to care. They went the extra mile, letting me stay past visiting hours, sneaking me food and answering my millions of questions about her treatment. I wanted to help people the way those doctors helped me in the past. Plus, Ma was a nurse herself. You’re not the only one whose followed in your parent’s footsteps.”
Tony looks like he wants to ask, but doesn’t. Steve is glad. It’s been years, but he still doesn’t like talking about her death.
“Whew,” Tony says after a few minutes of quiet, “That was unexpectedly tense. Sorry about that.”
“I don’t mind,” Steve says, “But it’s getting late. I better get out of here.”
“Yeah, I shouldn’t be hogging all your time. I’m sure you have other patients, although none so handsome and charming as me.”
“I do have other patients,” Steve says, “But I’ve been off the clock for a while so they’re someone else’s responsibility.”
“Define ‘for a while’, you slacker.”
“Since I came in here,” he answers honestly.
Tony looks stunned for a second, although Steve doesn’t know why. Spending time just talking with Tony is not a part of his job description. Then Tony jokes, “Wait, does that make this is a date?” with a cheesy grin.
“Good night, Tony,” Steve says firmly, and goes.
“Call me,” Tony yells as the door closes. Steve shakes his head.
Steve doesn’t really need to be at the stress test the next day, but he stops by anyway about halfway through. Tony is jogging on a treadmill and wired up to several machines. “How’s it going?” Steve asks.
“Oh, great,” Tony says, “I feel like my hospital visit is complete now that I’ve been to the gym.”
“You were the one complaining about the accommodations,” Steve reminded him. “I just wanted to make sure you saw everything we had to offer.”
“I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I could have done without the full tour. As a card carrying geek, P.E. was never my favorite subject,” Tony says, “But then, Dr. Romanov would probably be saying something vague and yet extremely pointed about consequences right now.”
“She does have a way with words,” Steve agrees. He doesn’t say anything else because the last thing he wants is to get pulled into a conversation about Tony’s therapy. That’s between Tony and Natasha.
The technician interrupts before Tony can reply, saying, “We’re increasing the speed again, Mr. Stark.”
“Again?” Tony whines, but picks up the faster pace. “I feel like we just did this song and dance. Probably because we did about three minutes ago.”
“We want to test your stress reactions, Mr. Stark. You didn’t seem very stressed to me while carrying on a casual conversation.”
“Do you hear that?” Tony demands, “Now you’ve gotten me in trouble.”
“Sorry,” Steve says, “I better go before it happens again.”
“Wait,” Tony says, breathing a little heavier now and pausing every now and then between words. “I wanted to ask you something.”
“Do you still, you know,” Tony waves one hand, the other gripping the handlebar, “Art. Draw, or whatever.”
“I do, sometimes,” Steve says, ignoring the curious look on the technician’s face. “Why?”
“Oh,” Tony pants, “Just thinking you should draw something. For me. Share that talent. And.”
“Tony?” Steve asks when he doesn’t go on.
“Feeling. A little. Dizzy,” Tony manages, and then an alarm starts going off on one of the monitors.
Steve rushes forward, steadying Tony as he sways heavily when the treadmill comes to a sudden stop. “Hey, Tony, you’re fine. Look at me. Hey, Tony, look at me,” Steve says.
Tony’s eyes slowly focus on him, blinking slowly, and Steve smiles. “Good,” Steve says, “You’re fine, okay? You’re going to be fine.”
“Don’t feel fine,” Tony manages.
“No, I bet not,” Steve says and maneuvers him away from the treadmill and over to a nearby chair. “Your heart just got a little confused, but you’re okay. A little bit of medicine and sleep, and then you’ll be good as new.” Steve looks up at the technician using a syringe to put the medicine directly into Tony’s system through the IV.
“Kinda doubt that,” Tony says. His breathing is a little steadier, but Steve can see something in his face that hasn’t been there during the rest of his stay: fear.
“When you get a medical degree, we can debate it,” Steve says, and Tony huffs in what might be a laugh. “Until then, you’ll have to take my word for it.”
“Bossy,” Tony accuses, eyelids starting to drop a little as the medicine kicks in.
“Absolutely,” Steve agrees, “It’s because I’m in charge.”
Tony nods sleepily.
“Do you need anything else,” Steve asks the technician, “Or can he go back to his room?”
“Nah, he’s good to go. I’ve got all the results I need, although with more drama than necessary.” The guy shrugs. “That’s Tony Stark for you.”
“Sure,” Steve says neutrally, and then goes to get a wheelchair to take Tony back to his room.
A few hours later finds Ms. Potts and Rhodes are in Tony’s room waiting with a grumpy but lucid Tony.
“Can’t we drug him again?” Rhodes asks as Tony pouts from his place on the bed. “I like him better drugged. The nurses did, too. He kept telling them how nice they were.”
Tony glares at Rhodes, who smiles back at him.
“No,” Steve says, “We only give drugs if they’re necessary.”
“They’re necessary for my sanity,” Rhodes says, but falls silent at a look from Ms. Potts.
“Well, Doc,” Tony says, “What happened?”
“It was just a small cardiac event,” Steve explains.
“A heart attack?” Pepper asks.
“No, nothing so severe,” Steve says, and then focuses on Tony. “Your heart runs on electricity, and right now, it’s sending signals that are just slightly wrong. It’s so small the ECG didn’t show it until your body was stressed. Over time this can weaken the heart and lead to a heart attack, but we’ll put you on anti-arrhythmic drugs to regulate your heart, and that should solve the problem.”
“Just like that?” Tony asks.
“Yes,” Steve says, “Although, and I can’t state this strongly enough, you’re going to have to take these pills regularly. No skipping, no leeway. Do you understand?”
Tony makes a face.
“Yes, we understand,” Ms. Potts says firmly.
“Also, you won’t be able to drink or use recreational drugs,” Steve says.
Rhodes’ laugh turns into a cough when Ms. Potts glares at him.
“Not even the occasional cocktail?” Tony asks, skeptical.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Steve says. “While one drink wouldn’t interfere with the medicine, your liver enzymes were very bad when you came in. They’ve improved significantly while you’ve been with us, but drinking would be a mistake.”
There’s a short, tense silence, and then Ms. Potts nods. “If that’s what we need to do, then we’ll do it.”
Tony doesn’t say anything to argue, but he’s gone back to pouting.
“You’ll take the first dose tonight, and then check out in the morning after we’re sure there’s no reaction,” Steve says and is met again with silence. He knows better than to press right after such big news, though, and smiles. “I’ll be back later to check on you,” he assures Tony, slightly worried at the lack of Tony’s usual banter.
He leaves a message for Natasha to let her know what’s going on and that she might want to check on Tony, and then goes to look after his other patients.
Steve, true to his word, goes to see Tony before heading home for the night.
“Hey, what’s up, Doc?” Tony asks with a grin.
“Original,” Steve says drily, but he’s glad to see Tony in a better mood.
“Sit down and take a load off,” Tony offers, “Or is this a loomy, doctor visit?”
“I have a few minutes,” Steve says, and takes a seat. “Although I did want to ask how you were feeling.”
“Fine,” Tony says and shrugs. “Better than earlier. Sorry about that.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better, but I’m not sure I understand what you’re apologizing for.”
“It was just a bad scene, you know, with the collapsing and the being drugged. Just - sorry.”
“Please tell me you realize that you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m a doctor. It’s literally my job to deal with that type of thing,” Steve says, amused.
“I know. And, hey, you’re good in a crisis. You ever think about being a private physician? There’s good money in it,” Tony says casually.
Steve gives him a long look. “Are you offering me a job?”
“Only if you’re interested,” Tony answers.
“Thanks,” Steve says, feeling uncomfortable, “But no. I really like my job.”
Tony sighs, dramatically. “I thought you’d say that, but I had to try. I don’t usually trust doctors enough to keep them around, but you’re an exception.”
“I’m flattered,” Steve says, “But I hope you understand when I say I’m looking forward to not seeing you again, at least in a professional capacity.”
“Trying to get rid of me?” Tony gasps, putting a hand over his heart. “I am so hurt.”
“Yeah, it must be terrible to have your doctor care about you,” Steve says, and then catches Tony wincing as he moves his arm. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Tony says.
He sounds genuinely confused, but Steve gets up and sits on the edge of the bed, taking Tony’s arm and examining it gently.
“Oh, that,” Tony says, “My IV is a little sore.”
“Not very. Only when I move.”
“And did you mention this to your nurses? Or your doctor?” Steve asks with a stern look.
Tony rolls his eyes.
Steve grins. “It’s fine, especially since it’s coming out in the morning. Let me get some tape, and I’ll secure it better so you can move without it hurting.”
He starts to stand, but Tony reaches out and grabs him. “Wait, I just, can I-”
“Tony?” he asks, alarmed at the panic in Tony’s voice, but Tony doesn’t say anything. Instead, he leans forward, and Steve has just enough time to be shocked that this is happening before Tony kisses him, a lot more tentatively than Steve would have expected given how brazenly Tony flirted.
For a second, he closes his eyes and gives in, enjoying Tony’s closeness and the feel of his lips, before he grabs Tony’s wrists and pulls away.
“Tony,” he says, and Tony looks so hopeful that it almost kills to continue with, “We can’t.” Tony looks down and tugs against Steve’s grip, but he refuses to let go. “You’re my patient, Tony.”
“I won’t be tomorrow,” Tony argues.
“You just went through a trauma, Tony. You got major news today which will have an impact on your life. If we did this, I would be taking advantage, and I won’t do that.”
“Stop it, you don’t have to make excuses,” Tony says, speaking rapidly, “I mean, you can’t blame me for trying. I’ve wanted to do that since I first laid eyes on you, but I knew you wouldn’t... I mean, you’re a good person, Doc, and I’m. Whatever. Can we just move on? Fix the IV?”
Steve wishes it was that easy, but he just can’t let Tony walk away thinking he’s not good enough, that Steve wouldn’t leap at the chance if it was under any other circumstances. He sighs. “You’re not making this easy on me,” Steve says, refusing to let go again when Tony tries to wrench away. “Listen to me,” he orders. “Are you listening, Tony?”
“Yes,” Tony snaps when Steve stops and waits for an answer.
“I’m saying no because I have to. Because it would be wrong for me to say yes right now. Not for any other reason. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” Tony says. After a few beats, he finally looks back up and says, “So, if we were to meet again later...”
Steve relaxes his grip, almost massaging Tony’s wrists. “If that happens, then we’d talk.”
Tony lets out a shuddering breath and then grins weakly. “Well, okay then.”
The moment’s broken by the door swinging open and a nurse bustling in, stopping short when she sees Steve on the bed. “Dr. Rogers?” she asks.
“Could you get some tape, please?” He asks politely. “Mr. Stark’s IV needs to be secured.”
“Of course,” she says, ducking back out of the door.
Steve gets up and follows her. “Good night, Tony,” Steve says, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Tony doesn’t say anything say Steve leaves.
Steve has trouble sleeping that night. At 2 in the morning, he gets up and runs for a while on his treadmill, but that doesn’t help, and he finally settles down with a couple of his sketch books.
There are pictures of Tony Stark in them from before he’d even met Tony. Even when he’d only viewed Tony from a distance, Tony was a striking figure. It’s another reason he’d said no to Tony tonight. How can he be sure he’s seeing Tony as a person and not the guy he’s thought about in his head all these years?
Looking over his sketches, though, it seems silly to be so concerned. After several days of seeing Tony close up, seeing him hurting and laughing, the drawings appear hollow, or distorted. They don’t match the details he’s familiar with now.
He pulls out a charcoal pencil and starts sketching, getting lost in the rough strokes against the paper.
When his alarm goes off, the sun just beginning to creep through the kitchen window, he sits back and looks over the various figures he’d shaped. They’re rough, but they really capture Tony now. He traces a finger over a larger image of Tony smiling, a smaller, real smile instead of the wider ones he brings out for the press.
A few days ago, Steve wouldn’t have known the difference.
It’s probably a bad idea, but Steve can’t really help himself. After all, Tony had asked him for a drawing. He tears out the picture and writes Tony a short note, taking it with him when he leaves for work.
He gives Tony one last goodbye and tucks the sketch into his release paperwork.
He honestly doesn’t expect to see Tony again.
“Okay, that’s it, you’re going home now,” Natasha says, stealing the papers he’s hunched over.
“I’m just finishing a few things,” Steve protests.
“No, you’re moping, just like you’ve been for the last three weeks.”
“Moping? I’m not moping,” Steve says.
Natasha cocks an eyebrow at him. “You’ve worked almost twice as many hours in the free clinic as usual. Go home. Sleep. You can have your papers back in the morning.”
“How do you know that isn’t important?”
Natasha rolls her eyes and turns on her heels, walking away.
“I checked with the nurses,” Natasha calls back, not even breaking stride. “Goodnight, Steve.”
Steve sighs and rubs a hand over his eyes. He has been working a lot this week. An early night wouldn’t hurt. And if he’s being honest, he has been moping a little bit, too.
Or maybe grieving is a better word. Grieving a relationship that never started and never will.
He’s also a little angry, although he wouldn’t admit it even when being honest. Not because he said no. That was the right thing to do. Instead, he’s angry because he had to reject Tony when all he wanted was to say yes.
He really does need to get over this, he thinks as he gathers his things and heads for the hospital exit. One last night of self-pity, and then he’s done. Tomorrow is a new day, and he’ll put all this behind him.
“Hey!” a voice calls as he exits the building. He ignores it and tugs the collar up on his coat against the chill of the night air. “Hey, Doc!” he hears, and turns to find Tony standing against a flashy car parked very illegally in the Chief of Medicine’s spot.
“Tony?” he says, thrown for a long moment by how very good Tony looks in the crisp lines of his suit, a big change from hospital gowns and pajamas. His fingers itch for a pencil, but then he remembers himself. “Hey, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, this and that,” Tony says. “Seeing Dr. Romanov, for one.”
“She doesn’t usually see outpatients,” Steve says, thinking Natasha’s sudden concern for his well-being makes sense if she knew Tony was waiting.
“Well, Dr. Romanov agreed, so Dr. Fury and I came to an understanding,” Tony says.
“Really?” Steve asks. “Does it extend to using his parking spot?”
Tony grins. “Probably not. Actually, scratch that, definitely not.”
Steve laughs and shakes his head. “I’m glad you’re doing better, Tony.”
“I am,” Tony agrees. He takes a few steps closer and then blurts out, “I’m resigning as CEO.”
“Wow, Tony,” Steve says, shocked.
“Pepper is taking my place,” Tony says. “I figure if I can’t trust her, then Stark Industries is already screwed. She does so much of the job that I might as well make it official. We’re announcing it in a few weeks, but I wanted to tell you in person. I knew you’d understand.”
“Tony, if that’s what you want, that I’m really excited for you,” Steve says, picking his words with care. “But if this is based on what I said, then I hope you know that I wasn’t trying to get you to change. I just want you to be happy.”
“I know,” Tony says, “No, really, I get that, but I think this will be a part of that. Part of the happy thing. I’ll be head of R&D, and I’m still the major stockholder, so not much is changing, anyway. But that’s not really what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” Steve asks.
“I really am trying this time. The happy thing, I mean, I’m going to try. And I’ve been making changes, not just the company, but smaller ones, like talking to Rhodey again, and buying Pepper outrageously expensive shoes, and just trying to find out how people do this, but I’m having a problem: every time I imagine being happy, you’re there.”
Steve lets out a breath he didn’t even realize he was holding, but Tony keeps talking, as if he can’t stop now that he’s started.
“I thought I was alone in this, but then Pepper gave me that picture you drew, and I have to ask you. Because I know that you think I’m not serious about this, or that I’m not in the best place to make this decision, or that it’s hard to believe in the face of all my past actions and disasters when it comes to relationships, but I am serious.” Tony snorts. “As a heart attack. Even if it’s just as friends, I’d like to have you around.”
Tony hesitates, but then keeps going. “When I speak to you, I feel like you actually hear me. And all appearances to the contrary, that is extremely rare. And I don’t want to lose it, Steve. I don’t want to lose you.”
Steve stares at him, completely dumbfounded.
“I really wish you’d say something,” Tony says after a few seconds. “Hello? Are you in there? I think I’m going to have to take back that thing about you hearing me because-”
He cuts Tony off with a kiss, short and hard, and then pulls back and smiles. “I hear you,” he says, “And, well. We can talk about it.”
Tony smiles back. “Good. Great, even. I’m excellent at talking. How about over dinner?”
“I’d like that,” Steve says.
“You know,” Tony says, tone serious enough that Steve starts to worry, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Steve rolls his eyes, and Tony laughs, gleeful.
“Just for that, I’m driving,” Steve says.
“Okay, then,” Tony agrees, tossing him the keys, “Let’s go!”