Giant chinchillas had not been in the brief, and Sergeant Freedom would definitely be speaking to the team’s handler about the oversight. They weren’t exactly easy to miss, after all, so someone had clearly dropped the ball somewhere. A scolding had been well-earned, and he was just the man to deliver it. “Awww,” came a voice over his comm, breaking into the happy fantasy of leveling his Disappointed Look™ at someone. “They’re kind of cute, aren’t they? And I bet they don’t really mean to be breaking things.” Damnit, why wasn’t he surprised that EagleBeak sounded enamored with the things? Now he was going to want one, and there was no way he knew how to actually care for a chinchilla. His ownership would be of the incredibly irresponsible variety.
“No.” Taking in the threat with American Stoicism™, Sergeant Freedom assessed the two plans that came to mind immediately, then discarded them almost as fast. Just as his mouth opened to ask his team for their input, one chinchilla opened its mouth. He braced for a roar or unearthly squeak… and was instead regaled with both music and lyrics.
“It’s the police!” the beast announced, hopping forward and smashing a police station beneath its adorable little paws. It was a move that was both somewhat ironic and entirely impossible, as the nearest station was fifteen minutes away. How had it moved here?
“Calling you!” The other six monsters crooned, swaying in place.
Sergeant Freedom was confused, to say the least.
As the backup chinchillas asked him what he’d done in those same crooning tones, the illusion shattered. Sergeant Freedom ceased to exist, and Steve Rogers lurched out of the dream world and reluctantly stumbled past the borders of consciousness. Sirens were now blaring from his cell phone, at odds with the more mellow music it joined, and Steve was going to kill Clint once he was awake enough to remember where the idiot lived. He knew Steve didn’t know how to change his ringtone, and this one was just ridiculous! Why did he keep trusting his friend with his belongings?
As he groped blindly for the device, a sense of urgency gripped him as a thought made itself known: Nat! That could be Nat or Maria calling from the hospital. The baby wasn’t due for another two months, but the pregnancy had been difficult and maybe they needed him, and-
“Fuck!” The word was less a bellow and more a whimper, but that wasn’t really Steve’s fault. Tumbling out of bed to hit the floor – hard – was enough to render any mostly-awake person pathetic. Since he’d managed to clip the charging cord with his elbow, his cell very helpfully tumbled from his nightstand and smacked him on the head; he was able to answer it before the annoying ringtone faded.
“’Lo?” he asked, sleep and fear making his voice rough. What if something happened to Maria? What if something was wrong with the baby? What if Nat was having one of her hard nights? What if Clint had finally pissed off the wrong person or gotten arrested? What if something had happened to Bucky, an unlikely but terrifying scenario? What if what if what if?
“What do you know about quantum mechanics?” The voice was entirely unfamiliar, male, and full of exhaustion.
The only possible response was to sit in silence and blink.
“Gonna take that as a ‘nothing’. Great. Just great. I can already tell this is going to be another fascinating conversation, and I’ll be dazzled by your sparkling wit. A true meeting of the minds. Jesus Christ, I can’t fucking wait. Don’t know why the hell Pep and Brucie-bear keep ratting me out to all the scientists I used to call – every time I manage to get their numbers again, they change. If I could call one of them at least I’d be able to have an interesting conversation. But maybe it’s okay. I can work with this. Speak. Bore me. Maybe it’ll put me to sleep. Hit me guy. Give me your best and blandest.”
Not Natasha or Maria, so the baby was fine and so were they. Not Clint either, though he wouldn’t put it past the idiot to have put the mystery man up to this. He hadn’t even expected Bucky, but it was a relief to know his best friend wasn’t hurt. Still, the nonsensical ranting had Steve grasping at straws, and he really didn’t know what he was supposed to say… and he was feeling vaguely offended. He wasn’t boring. Sure, he knew jack squat about quantum mechanics, but he wasn’t boring!
“Still waiting, guy. Fuck, you’re even more boring than I thought. Or did you fall back asleep? You did, didn’t you? You fell back asleep and I can’t sleep and you’re just rubbing it in my face, you bastard. Fine. That’s the way you want to play? Fine. I’ll wake you back up. Dummy!”
First he was boring, then a bastard, and now he was a dummy? This man was awfully insulting, and Steve was pretty sure he ought to just hang up. Yeah, that was the best option. Then he could get up off the floor, crawl back into bed, then fall asleep and finish his dream of Sergeant Freedom and the Revenge Brigade. He wanted to know how they were going to beat those chinchillas.
Just as he was about to pull the cell away from his ear and click the little red phone on the screen that would get him his night back, the noises he heard coming from the other end had him pausing. It sounded like several metal things being dropped, and there was a strange whirring – what was going on? More whirring and dropping, a few muttered curses from his mystery man, and then… was that a fire extinguisher? The other man yelped and began shouting enthusiastically, his voice farther away like he’d put his phone down. He had no idea what was going on, but in his head he could picture a man jumping up and down, waving his arms in frustration. Steve couldn’t help but chuckle, then laugh a little – life was so weird sometimes.
“Hah! My evil plan worked!” The voice was close again; clearly he’d heard and come back to the phone.
“Your plan was to set off a fire extinguisher in the hopes that I’d laugh?”
“Not exactly, no. I just wanted to wake you up.”
“I wasn’t asleep.”
“Then why weren’t you talking? That’s what these things are for, you know. Well, that and taking nude selfies. Do you have any nude selfies you’d like to share?”
“Are you sure? I wouldn’t judge you. I’ll treat your nude selfies with all the respect they deserve. I’ll hold them in the highest regard and think of you fondly whenever I see them.”
“I don’t have any nude selfies.” Steve had meant to sound irritated, but even he could hear the laughter in his voice. “Who are you? And do you know it’s...” Craning his neck, he managed to catch a glimpse of his alarm clock and winced. “It’s three-fifteen.”
“Yeah. That’s why I called.”
“It’s three-fifteen in the morning.”
“It’s three-fifteen in the morning and I have no idea who you are.”
“You’re really dwelling on the time here, and it’s kind of ruining the mood. Can we go back to the nudes you promised to send me?”
“I promised you nothing.” Damnit, he needed to sound madder. Fond exasperation was not going to cut it here. Vaguely, he thought the fact that he wasn’t even that angry or phased said something about him, his life and his circle of friends. “But fine, I won’t mention the fact that it’s three in the morning again. Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
“…” It was really a shame that he couldn’t level his ‘I am not impressed with you’ face over the phone. That one brought all his friends into line when used properly, and this mystery man clearly needed a handler. It was like one of the Revenge Brigade had escaped his dreams to torment him. “My name is Steve.” Maybe if he humored the man, he’d get a name and then be able to say goodnight and hang up. He had to get up in less than two hours if he wanted to take his usual morning jog before he went in to work.
“But how is that who you are? ‘Steve’ tells me nothing about the man. Tell me about the man beneath the name.”
“This is ridiculous.”
“Stevie-kins,” the mystery man whined, making Steve roll his eyes and let his head thunk back against the nightstand. “Just talk to me, okay? I promise it’ll be good, I’ll take care of you if you take care of me. Come on. Talk to me.”
“Is this a prank? Did you get my number from Clint?”
“Who’s Clint? No, I just… sometimes when I can’t sleep I dial random numbers. I used to call scientists and that was fun, but Pep and Bruce keep cock-blocking me. Traitors.”
“Why don’t you call them?”
“Because I don’t have a death wish? Besides, they’re busy people. I can’t interrupt their lives every time I need something.” Those words were delivered in a tone that suggested the speaker didn’t really believe what he was saying. The mystery man had clearly been trained.
The sigh he let out was entirely justified in his mind, and for good measure, Steve raised his head and then hit it against the nightstand once more. “I’m a busy person too, you know. Why can you interrupt my life?”
“That’s a fair point, and I’ll take it into consideration next time. For now though, just talk to me, okay?”
“Give me your name first.” A weighty silence fell, and Steve thought the man might hang up. “Any name, then. Just something to call you.” He coaxed, surprising himself – he sort of wanted this crazy conversation to continue.
“Tony.” He repeated it the way he repeated every name he was told, rolling it around on his tongue to save for later. Clint and Maria had told him several times that the way he said names was almost obscene; when he’d told the story to Bucky looking for a bit of sympathy, his best friend had agreed. Apparently ‘Tony’ did too, because there was a sort of gasp in his ear, followed by a smothered whimper. “Okay. What am I supposed to talk to you about Tony? Quantum mechanics are definitely out.” He added quickly. “I’m not even real sure what that actually is, to be honest.”
“Of course you aren’t. You’re a rube. Don’t get your panties in a bunch about it, everyone’s a rube compared to me.” Tony added quickly – like that made it better. “And I don’t know. Anything. Tell me about this Clint person and why you think he gave me your number.” Sounds in the background again, ones that sort of reminded him of the sounds he heard while waiting at the car repair place.
“Uh… it’s almost three thirty in the morning-”
“You said you wouldn’t mention the time again! No more dwelling! Dwellers are boring!”
“And you want me to tell you about my friend Clint?” Steve finished, pretending the interruption had never happened.
“Well you won’t tell me about Steve.”
“You say that like your logic is… logical.”
“I’m always logical.”
“Uh-huh.” Tony gave a squawk of indignation, and Steve found himself laughing again as he rearranged his long limbs. Floors were uncomfortable, and nightstands weren’t really cozy either. Reaching up, he snagged a pillow from his bed and tucked it behind his back, giving another sigh. “Clint, huh? Well, he’s… he’s a good guy, at heart. The kind you want at your back when things are going south, because he’s always got your back. He’s just a bit… twisted sometimes. His sense of humor, I mean. He likes to wind people up and see how they respond.”
“So I guess a three AM call would be right up his alley?”
“Oh yeah.” Tony sounded calmer, he noticed, the manic babbling tapered back into the exhaustion he’d heard earlier. “It would be a really tame prank for him though. Once, on his birthday – he waited until then because he knew we wouldn’t abandon him on his birthday – he insisted we drive him out to some little town in the middle of nowhere and go to the local bar.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“It wasn’t, until he started kissing every guy who had a beard.” Tony let out a surprised huff of laughter, a loud ‘clink’ coming through the speaker at the same time. Feeling accomplished, Steve smiled and switched the phone to his other ear. “Yeah. First kiss almost started a brawl, the second almost got him arrested for indecent exposure, and it just went downhill from there. Nat had to threaten him before he’d stop… and even then he got one last kiss in. Bucky was never so happy he’d let himself get scruffy – he even let Clint hide behind him until Nat cooled off. Brave man.”
“Nat and Bucky?” It was a prompt, a prod, and the tinkering sounds were getting softer, slower, which Steve decided was a good sign.
“Yeah. Nat is… well. She terrifies most people, I guess. Even Clint’s scared of her, and they’ve been friends for almost as long as me and Bucky. But she isn’t so bad when you get to know her. I mean, she could definitely kick my ass, don’t get me wrong, but… she’s got a softer side too. You just don’t get to see it unless she decides you’re worth it. We almost dated for a while, but it wasn’t going to go anywhere, so I helped her woo-”
“Woo? Did you just use ‘woo’ in a serious, non-ironic fashion? Are you ninety?”
“It’s a perfectly good word!” Steve protested, feeling himself start to blush. “And it’s what happened! Maria needed wooing, deserved to be wooed, and Nat liked doing it. Anyway, I helped them get together. Maria’s a great gal. Lady.” He amended hastily, sure the breath he heard the other man suck in was going to be used to make fun of him. “Real good at what she does, not afraid to stand up for what she thinks is right. She cares a lot, and I think Nat needed that in her life. They’re great together. Got married as soon as it was made legal, and they’ve got a baby on the way. I’m the godfather.” He added proudly.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to tell people you’re in the mafia.” Tony teased, making Steve roll his eyes and give a snort.
“Damn, I should have read the rulebook more closely.” More laughter, and Steve couldn’t help but chuckle along quietly. “Anyway, you know what I meant.”
“Did they pick you because you hooked ‘em up?”
“Uh…” Steve hesitated, unsure, then shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know Tony, was never going to meet him – what did it matter if he knew? It wasn’t exactly a secret, even if they didn’t talk about it much with outsiders. “No. Well not just because of that. I also donated my, um, stuff.”
“’Stuff’?” The vast amusement in Tony’s voice would have been embarrassing even without the condescending note in it.
“Can it. They both wanted a kid, and they asked if I’d, you know, help out. It won’t really be mine, but I’ll still get to be there. It’s going to be great, as long as I can keep the other godfather – Clint – from corrupting him or her. We’re talking about getting a house where we can all live together to make it easier to help Nat and Maria out whenever they need it.”
“You and your friends have a weird thing, don’t you?”
“According to some standards, I guess.”
“So are Clint and this Bucky guy dating? Do you have a perfect little gay circle around you, just waiting for you to find a boyfriend so you can complete it?”
“Sorry.” The man didn’t sound it, but Steve supposed it was the best he was going to get.
“They aren’t dating, no. I think they might have slept together a couple of times, but I don’t… I don’t like to pry into things like that. None of my business. Bucky isn’t really… a relationship isn’t what he’s looking for right now, and Clint is more about having fun than settling down. I think they’ve decided it’s best if they… keep their hands to themselves. Being friends is more important than, uh, that kind of pleasure.”
“Hm. You haven’t told me about Bucky.” From the sound of Tony’s voice, he was walking, and Steve heard him give a happy grunt a few moments later, like maybe he’d plopped down on some comfortable surface. He contemplated getting up off the floor to do the same, but that seemed like a lot of effort for too little payoff.
“Bucky is… he’s my best friend. He always has been. Lived just down the street when we were growing up, and we always did just about everything together. Except art class – he said he’d leave that to me. He was always saving me when we were little; I used to get beat up a lot.”
“I don’t like bullies. I would try to stop them, but when you’re a scrawny little thing who can’t really throw a decent punch to save your life…”
“You get beat up a lot.” Tony finished, and Steve imagined that they were nodding in synch.
“Yeah. I filled out in high school though, and being in the Army did a lot for my ability to fight back. Bullies aren’t as eager to pick a fight with me these days. We did that together too – the Army, I mean. We were too broke for college, and it seemed like the best idea, you know? Enlist, do a tour, then get out and start our lives.” For just a second, when he closed his eyes, Steve could hear the echoing of gunshots, smell the heat and fear and oil, feel the sand under his fingers… and then he opened them to stare at the wall, and the ghosts were gone. “I was hoping we’d get assigned to the same unit, but you don’t exactly get to decide where you go. He was a sniper, and a damn good one – they weren’t going to waste him on everyday shit.” Language, language – he was slipping, falling back into that mindset, and he needed to straighten himself out. “He lost an arm over there. For a while it didn’t look like he’d even-”
Feeling his eyes tear and his throat start to close up, Steve came to a stop. Remembering those days was just like being trapped in that fucking nightmare all over again. Separated, knowing his best friend was dying in some shitty little hospital and unable to go to him… it was like torture.
“I’m sorry he had to go through that.” Tony’s voice was softer and more sincere than he’d heard it yet, and it brought him back to the moment. What the hell was he even doing? Tony wasn’t his friend or his fucking counselor – he didn’t need to put his shit on some stranger.
“Yeah, well. He’s better now.” Steve answered lamely, shrugging again. “Has a prosthesis and everything.” A crappy one, but better than nothing. “Anyway. He came home before me, and started going to therapy groups. When I got back on US soil he got me to go too – that’s where we met Nat and Maria. Clint came with Nat – he’s a part of her package, I guess. We all just… fit. It works for us to be together. We belong.”
“… that… that sounds really nice.” Now the man sounded lost and yearning, and Steve found himself aching for the other. Which was stupid and kind of insane, and totally and completely like him.
“It is, but I’m sure you’ve got something like that. Tell me about where you belong.”
“Steve. It’s four-oh-two in the morning-”
“I thought we weren’t dwelling on the time?”
“Rules never apply to me. Stop with the sass and let me talk, okay Stevie-kins? Anyway. It’s four-oh-three in the morning, and I’m listening to some guy I’ve never met talk. You could talk about anything and I’d listen, because I haven’t slept for more than twenty minutes at a time in almost five days and Pep will start really worrying soon, and she made me promise to stop drinking – took all my booze, the traitor, and JARVIS let her because he’s a double-traitor – and I really, really need a drink or sleep and I can’t have either so I need a distraction.” The manic ramble was back, and he didn’t know how to make it stop, how to get Tony back in that peaceful, soft place he’d been in before. “When I get like this I dial random numbers to just listen to someone, anyone, say something because maybe it’ll distract me enough that I’ll be able to fucking sleep. I don’t have anyone I can call except for strangers. Do you really think it sounds like I belong anywhere?”
For long moments, Steve was silent, digesting everything that had just been thrown at him in a pile of word vomit. What he discovered under the sarcasm was mildly alarming, and he found himself worrying for this strange stranger. Sleep was so important, and if the man wasn’t sleeping, who knew what else he was neglecting? Was he eating and getting enough water? What about bathing? What was he doing with his time, and dear God it sounded like he might be an alcoholic, and he didn’t have anyone that he felt like he could call to talk.
“Put my name in your phone.” Shoot, there was his ‘command voice’, the one he’d used on getting promoted to Sergeant – most people hated when he slipped into it now that he was back in the real world. The protracted silence that was loud as an explosion coming from the other end of the call told him that Tony probably didn’t like it much. Focusing on that, he gentled his voice considerably and tried again. “Put my name in your phone, Tony. Call me when you need sleep or a drink and can’t have either, okay? Or when you just want to talk. After we hang up, check the number you dialed and put it in your phone under Steve Rogers.”
“… you know, people tell me that I’m odd and unpredictable and even throw in the word ‘unbalanced’ on occasion, but I think you might be stranger than me. You don’t have the slightest idea who I am, and you want me to keep calling you? That reeks of instability. Maybe you should be the one to call me, as you’re obviously the more troubled soul here.”
“Maybe. I’ll put your number in my phone too. We can be unbalanced and unstable together.”
“I can hear it when you smile. You just smiled even wider, didn’t you? Fuck. Fine. I’ll put your name in my phone. This is the weirdest fucking conversation I’ve ever had.”
“There is no way that’s true.”
“Maybe not, but it’s close. Anyway, I’m not promising to call, because I might not. I’m kind of a fuck-up, and promises are easy to break. So yeah. Don’t expect me to call, Rogers. And even if I do, I’ll mess it up. I always do. Maybe this isn’t a good idea. No, it’s not. Don’t put my number in your phone, and I’m gonna lose yours after I hang up. I think maybe we should do that now. Yeah. That’d be better. Thanks for talking to me Ste-”
“Don’t!” The desperation in his voice surprised Steve, so he was sure it shocked the hell out of Tony. “Don’t hang up, and don’t lose my number. You’re not going to mess this up – there isn’t anything to mess up, not really. So don’t hang up. Unless it’s to get some sleep. Has it really been five days?”
“I… it… um… yes?” The man sounded absolutely bewildered, like Steve had just completely altered his world and Tony was scrambling to adjust.
“That’s not healthy.”
“… no, but I had to do some work.”
“Is your work done?”
“Yeah? I mean… uh… I think. For now. I’m running simula- … I’m in a phase where I don’t have to hover. There isn’t anything else I can really do just now.”
“Then why can’t you sleep?”
“Send me nudes and I’ll tell you.”
“I’m not sending you nudes.”
“Are you blushing? I bet you’re blushing. Anyone who says ‘woo’ and says he donated his ‘stuff’ must be a blusher. How far down does it go?”
“Ooh, that far?”
“You’re trying to distract me. Why can’t you sleep?”
“Okay, fine, no nudes. How about phone sex? You up for some phone sex? I know I am, or I can be in just a couple seconds. What are you wearing?”
“Tony. Why can’t you sleep?”
“Because I want a fucking drink so bad it hurts!” Tony answered in a snarl, and Steve heard the distinct sound of something crashing to the floor. It caused him to jerk upright, eyes wide as he fought the urge to run and get to Tony – he had no idea where Tony was, who he was. He had no way to protect him. “I want a drink – fuck, I’d kill for a drink – and I can’t have one. I’m trying to show her that I can be better. I can fucking be better, dammit. Pep is Pep, and she thinks I have a problem. So does Brucie-bear, and maybe they’re fucking right, but God I just want a drink. And they’re both mine and I can’t call them because they’re off in some other fucking country having fun together, and I hate that. I hate that they aren’t here and that they belong to each other and that I’m never going to have her again. Bruce is good – he’s fucking amazing, and if he swung both ways we could all be good together. But he doesn’t, and she likes him, and I should be happy for them, but I’m not and I can’t drink it away.”
“I can’t drink it away because she asked me not to drink, and part of me thinks that maybe if I can just not drink, she’ll see that I can be better. I can be good for her. I can be more than a fuck-up. So I can’t drink. But I can’t work any more because I can’t see straight and my fingers are a little shaky and soon JARVIS will lock me out of everything until I get sleep and some food.” Well, that answered the question of whether or not the man was eating. “So I can’t drink and I can’t work, and I can’t sleep because my mind won’t shut up, and FUCK I’m a mess.”
The rant had started angry and only gotten more intense… but those last three words were barely a whisper.
“So fucking useless. Do you ever wonder what the point of all this is, Steve? Why the fuck do we even stick around?”
“Tony, where are you?” Steve did his best to keep his voice calm and even, but he could detect the smallest tremor of fear. Would Tony hear it? Would that be better or worse? Energy, frustrated by distance and ignorance, began to build, and Steve jumped to his feet and began to pace. Tony sounded tired and defeated; he sounded like he was ready to give up. “Are you alone?”
“Sort of. JARVIS is here.” He did not miss the pointed lack of location information, and didn’t quite understand the strange emphasis Tony kept putting on the name.
“Is Jarvis a friend?”
“He’s… it’s complicated.”
“Tony, do you need someone to come over?”
“Why would I need that?”
“Is there someone I can call? Or I could… damn. I don’t know where you are. I’m in New York City… are you too? Or close? If you are I could come over. I mean, I could maybe even get enough money together for a plane ticket, if I had to, but you’d have to wait, and-”
“Woah! Hold on just a second. Time out. Why are you…? Jesus, Steve, I’m not going to kill myself. Fuck.”
“Well it sounds like you’re not far from considering it!” He answered hotly, blushing and a bit offended that Tony seemed amused by his concern.
“Why do you care, anyway?”
“We don’t know each other. Sure, we’ve been talking for over an hour, but you don’t know me. Why the fuck would you care if I did kill myself?”
“Because I’m a decent human being?” It was more than that though, and he knew it. His friends made fun of him for it, and his superiors had always called it a character flaw, and maybe it was. But Steve wanted to save people; Steve needed to save people. Usually he could focus the urge into positive channels, especially when he had people that were ‘his’. He took care of his own and made sure they were safe and happy, because otherwise the tension and anxiety inside would build to unbearable levels. If his people were okay, he could be okay, and keep his ‘rescues’ to a minimum outside the group.
At some point during this strange, unexpected phone call, Tony had become his.
Now he needed to know that Tony was safe.
“Look, I care. Even if you don’t believe me, even if it sounds insane, I care. I don’t want you to be dead, Tony. Not because you hurt yourself, and not because you won’t sleep or eat. So if you could not be dead, I’d really, really appreciate it. Do you need me to come over?”
“… you really would, wouldn’t you? You’d drop your life and come find me to make sure I don’t hurt myself. Even if I was in fucking China, you would come and make sure I don’t end up dead through self-neglect.”
“… You are totally way more troubled than me.” There was a strange note in Tony’s voice, something like awe combined with shock and disbelief. Was having someone care really that different for him? Maybe it was just the odd circumstances surrounding the caring.
“Absolutely. I’m not going to be dead, alright? I promise.”
“When did you eat last?”
“Uhm… I think JARVIS made me have an energy bar a few hours ago. Maybe? Maybe that was yesterday. Are you glaring? I feel like you’re glaring. And did you just growl at me?”
“No.” Steve definitely had. “You have no idea when you last had real, actual food do you?”
“I feel like ‘no’ is not the answer you want to hear.”
“I just want the truth. I’m not going to yell at you. Just… can you cook?”
“Sort of. I can make eggs.”
“Go make some eggs.”
“I don’t want eggs.”
“You need to eat.”
“Why don’t you cook me something?” There was a whining, pouting quality to his voice that made Steve smile even as he battled back the urge to shake some sense into the crazy man.
“Tell me where you are and I’ll come over and do that.” He countered, grinning when Tony gave an irritated groan.
“You’re going to do that all the time, I can tell already. I don’t need you to come cook for me. Jesus.” It sounded like he was moving again, and Steve hoped he was headed to the kitchen. “I think I have something I can toss in the microwave.”
“Good. While it’s cooking, you should heat some milk up on the stove.”
“… come again?”
“Milk. On the stove in a pot. Get it warm and then drink it. My mom used to make me warm milk when I couldn’t sleep. It helps. I still use it when I have nightmares. Puts me right back to sleep.”
“I doubt it will help, but I can try it, I guess. Sounds gross though.”
“It isn’t too bad. Thanks for trying. When I suggested it to Clint he acted like I was completely insane.”
“I already know you are. Warm milk is the least insane thing about all of this, really.”
If someone had told Steve the day before that he’d ever be comfortable sitting on the phone in silence, he would have laughed at them. It was easy to be quiet just then, however, because he could hear Tony breathing and it let him know the man wasn’t dead, wasn’t drinking. Dimly, he heard a fridge open and listened as the man rummaged through it; he could hear the beeping of numbers on a microwave the rattling of pots as Tony got what he needed to heat up his milk. It was soothing somehow, and without really thinking about it, Steve found himself synching his breathing to Tony’s, until it felt like they were sharing a pair of lungs.
It was weirdly intense, but it felt… right. Something was clicking for him internally, the same way it had when he’d first met Bucky. It was the same feeling he’d got when introduced to Nat, Maria and Clint; it was the same sense he’d gotten in his gut when the two women had asked him if he’d be the male donor so they could start a family. Tony was right – Tony belonged.
There was a measure of relief to be found in listening to him eat, and Steve felt one of the knots of tension in his chest relax. They talked a little more while Tony devoured his food, and when he went for seconds, a little more anxiety drained away. Tony wouldn’t say much about himself, and Steve didn’t push, happy instead to playfully debate over the best baseball team and the best Disney movie.
“Okay. I was right. This is gross.”
“Did you let it get cold after you heated it up?”
“… no. Maybe. I’ll throw it in the mic, because I am not fucking around with the stove again.”
“It doesn’t come out the same.”
“Steve? I don’t think it’s going to make that much difference. It’s warm milk. Milk is supposed to be cold, and you’re telling me to heat it up. This is dubious at best.”
“Just heat it up and drink it.” Steve scolded lightly, smiling as he padded out of the bedroom to his own kitchen. Five o’clock had come and gone, which meant he wouldn’t be able to get a run in, but this felt more important… and he could fix a bigger, better breakfast than cereal while he talked to Tony. A good if unexpected start to the day.
“Yeah, still gross.” The man told him a couple moments later, and Steve was sure he was making a face. “Fuck. This really helps?”
“Helps me. Maybe it won’t work for you. Drink the whole glass to be sure.”
“Don’t you back-talk me, young man, or you’ll be grounded for a week.”
Steve liked making Tony laugh; it was such a nice sound. Unguarded and a bit breathy, like the urge had caught him by surprise and he didn’t quite know what to do about it.
“Fine, fine. I’m drinking it. Drinking it and heading to bed. I’m… I’m more tired, now that my stomach isn’t trying to devour itself. My hands aren’t shaking anymore either.”
“Tony.” Steve knew he sounded agonized, and he didn’t even try to hide it.
“Fuck. Sorry. Sorry. I’m okay Steve, really. I promise. For now. After sleep I’ll be even better.”
“I know. Sorry for nagging. I just… I care and I want you to be alright.”
“I am. And I think you should send me a nude when we hang up as a reward for my good behavior.”
“… fine.” Steve couldn’t help the wicked grin that crossed his face when he heard Tony choke on his drink.
“I… you don’t… really?”
“Really. Once you’re in bed and we hang up, I’ll send you one.”
“That’s what I said.”
“That means no clothes.”
“Golly, really? I had no idea, mister!”
“Fuck, don’t talk like that. It makes me want to do terrible things to you, and I don’t even know you. You’re… really going to send one?”
“This seems like a great time to tell you that I have arrived in my bedroom. So yeah. Going to bed. Great talking to you, I promise I won’t be dead any time soon and that I’ll finish this disgusting concoction you suggested and then get some sleep. Send me my nude please!”
Now it was Steve laughing, taken in by the chipper, nearly smug tone in the man’s voice. “Hang on, we still have to say goodnight. Or good morning, really, at least where I am. Are you going to be able to sleep for at least a few hours?”
“Yeah. Schedule is clear for the next couple days. Pep makes sure I don’t work in public when I might embarrass her. … she’s less terrible than I make her sound, I swear. Anyway. I’ll sleep as long as I can.”
“Good. Eat again when you get up, alright?”
“And call me, Tony. I mean it – any time, for whatever you need. Call me.”
“I will.” He agreed, voice subdued again. “Call me, Steve. If you want. If you need something. You can call me too.”
“Alright. Now go to bed. Night Tony. Sweet dreams.”
“Night Stevie-kins. … thanks. I’m happy yours was the random number I dialed.”
Steve didn’t have a chance to answer before Tony hung up, and he could feel warmth spreading through his chest. This was so weird, and he was crazy, and he was pleased as punch that Tony was safe, and that he’d eaten and gone to bed. Never one to break a promise without extreme extenuating circumstances, the man fiddled with his phone, going into camera mode. It took him a minute, because phones were not his thing, and before he could snap his intended picture, he felt the buzz of an arriving text message. He rolled his eyes, then arranged the shot; once he’d taken it, he went into his messages. As he’d thought, the newest was from Tony. Grinning, he answered and sent the picture along before going back to making his breakfast – today was going to be a good day.
Steve, I can’t go to sleep without my promised nude. You’re depriving me of sleep. Now it’s your fault.
Steve. That is a picture of your foot.
my naked foot ur welcome
kep eating and sleeping maybe next time ull get an ankle
I’m going to sleep because that actually sounded sexy. I’m clearly delusional.
haha night Tony call me later
I will. I promise.