Being a part of an elite group of superheroes is strenuous. It's exhausting, terrifying, and just plain weird sometimes. The things they managed to pull off, from defying apocalypses to saving kittens stuck in trees, were impressive, but required a lot of hard pressed companionship and half-hearted arguments until everyone shut up and realized that Steve's plan was kind of perfect from the start.
Most of all, it was a lot of work to be an Avenger. There were a lot of bruises and broken bones, scratches and gashes, concussions and burns, and near-death experiences because Tony doesn't know how to listen to reasonable orders.
Sleep was a vital part of an Avenger's daily diet.
Some missions it was depressingly hard to come by, so when they got home everyone was down for the count.
Clint's habits were probably the strangest. He was exclusively employed with SHIELD, along with the recently recruited Steve and Natasha, so he was gone a lot. His exploits were usually incredibly stressful and for two week stretches.
When he wasn't rendezvousing in foreign countries, he slept all the time. He either perched in the rafters at the Tower, or slept in a bed with Natasha.
He once went 47 hours without sleeping at all. It had been a recon in Saudi Arabia in which he escaped by the skin of his teeth, but surprisingly unscathed.
He was so completely paranoid on the flight home that he'd stayed awake in a freaked out haze, awake but not really comprehending anything.
Although he wasn't positive, Clint was pretty sure he'd walked directly into Thor without even thinking of stopping. It was incredibly embarrassing, but he vaguely remembered panicking when they'd tried to put him in bed. After a huge dosage of Steve and his tender paternal streak, Clint had woken up sometime the next night, wrapped in blankets with his head on Steve's thigh. The soldier was still awake, quietly doodling on a paper towel. Clint had groaned and sat up, eyeing the dimmed lights and muted radio in the background.
"Oh, God, I got fathered by Captain America, didn't I?"
Steve had smirked, a facial expression he must have picked up from Tony, and held up his piece of Bounty next to Clint's face.
"Looks just like you."
Clint had rubbed both his eyes and climbed out of the bed, tossing the blankets over Steve's head. "Thanks."
"No problem, son."
Thor didn't have to sleep nearly as much as humans, but when he did, he was like a dog. He was all snuffles and sniffles. He also moved a lot, and when you were forced to share one bed with three other guys, that was a bad habit.
"Kick me one more time, and I'll make sure you can never have children."
"Jesus Christ, imagine a bunch of Thor-babies running around."
"Thor, how do you guys have children anyway?"
"Steve, I know you're from the 40s, but some things never change."
"Well, how am I supposed to know how an alien has kids? Maybe they hatch them."
"I am perfectly capable of giving birth to offspring!"
"Holy crap, the guy pops one out?"
"Wow, I'd heard that gay rights had really opened up, but how the hell did you people figure that out?"
"Steve, for the greatest tactical mind of any generation, you really suck at this."
"Don't make me tell Pepper on you."
"Don't make me emasculate you."
"I have her number."
There was a long and thoughtful pause.
All humorous things aside, Thor took up a lot of space and had a habit of sticking to you like a leech when he finally passed out, but the guy was like a built-in furnace. So when it was freezing cold where Steve and Clint were stuck on the outside of the bed, and Tony was drenched, they did what they had to do.
What happens in Siberia, stays in Siberia.
It was a bonding experience.
Everybody who wasn't Clint thought that Natasha never slept. Of course, they knew she did. She was still human after all, they just didn't know when.
He knew that she only slept if the doors were locked, the windows were shut, and the fan was off. She couldn't sleep with white noise going on in the background. She had to be aware of what was going on around her at all times.
Clint also knew that he could coax her to sleep if he gradually started holding her. It was a painstakingly slow process, because this was the Black Widow and she did not need comfort. He would get her to lie down, and begin drifting the back of his fingers up her spine. The tension would start leaking out. His arm would inch around her waist until she finally relented under his soft litany of words.
Maybe they would have sex or maybe they wouldn't, but these moments were the ones he remembered best. This was where she got actual rest, and he wasn't awake on some primal level of fear.
And when he'd wake up from another dream, when it was just one of those nights, as Steve liked to put it, gasping for air and shivering with heavy trembles, she seemed to forget that her personal space issues were a mile long and wrapped him in her arms and hid his head in her shoulder. Her hand would pick through his hair and he'd relax on contact.
Bruce probably had the healthiest sleep patterns out of any of them. He had to, in order to keep the Other Guy under control. If he got too cranky the big guy would explode into view and wreck all of their bedrooms again. He always had a solid six hours behind him in the morning, sitting behind that knowing smile and not-very shadowed eyes.
After battles though, when he had to bring out the Hulk, he'd pass out for hours. He was impossible to wake up. Their best bet was to make sure Hulk was at least somewhat close to the Tower, or headquarters, otherwise one of the guys had to carry Bruce all the way to bed. It could end up like that one time in Kansas when Natasha was the only one there, and Bruce would never be able to live that down.
Most nights he just had a quiet routine that involved tea and a good book. Tony thought it was absolutely hysterical, Steve respected it, Thor didn't understand it, Natasha thought it was cute, and Clint didn't care.
He would occasionally fall asleep in Tony's lab, hunched over a desk, but rarely. For being the Hulk, he kept to his methods with the rigidity of a priest.
Someone would always make sure to pluck his glasses off his nose, and the expression on his face when he woke up and they were folded neatly on his night stand never got any less sentimental.
It took a long time for Bruce to admit that these people loved him, and a lot longer for him to let himself feel the same way.
So when he made his rounds early in the morning to make sure everyone was okay and asleep, he felt okay.
Bruce Banner felt all right.
Tony Stark was insane.
There was really no other way to put it. He was smartest Avenger, yet at the same time the dumbest. He would push himself to no end. He didn't realize that he was human, and he had limits.
Tony was also a desperately lonely man, and had wheedled his way into their hearts with the efficiency of a cold virus. After he'd go on his two day stretches of too much caffeine and too little sleep, he'd pick the person he wanted to bug and venture into their room. He would enlighten them with his insomnia-induced rambles until he'd talk himself into a heavy doze.
It was endearing, to say the least.
When Pepper was there, they'd cuddle and talk in bed for hours, and he'd wonder how the hell he got so lucky. She'd lie on her side, facing him, running her long fingers through his hair, and she would laugh. Warmth would filter through Tony's veins, and he'd fall asleep with her in his arms.
Other nights, when Afghanistan was shooting bullets through his brain, Tony would drink a lot and invent some medical device that could save millions, and then pass out on one of the couches. Or someone would coax him to a bed, usually Steve, and he would ramble for Tony, until he felt loved enough to let go.
When the battles were especially rough, and Tony was especially tired, he would sleep like the dead. It was a solid, heavy thing, not to be disturbed, because a Tony in repose was a rare sight.
Tony sighed, turned into his pillow, and drifted back into the welcoming arms of pure relaxation.
Steve didn't sleep.
He didn't rest.
The remainder of the Avengers didn't notice it at first, but it rapidly became clear, and it caused them to investigate.
Steve awake was powerful, controlled, and composed. He was the picture of good morals and stable psyche. He would watch out for the Avengers with a keen eye, and turn a chaotic disaster of a mission into a ruthless twenty minute takedown.
But when he stepped out of the Captain America costume, and into the regular clothes of Steve Rogers, he quickly deteriorated.
He didn't sleep for more than an hour at a time. Steve would jolt awake, quaking with tremors, and wander anywhere but his room. His dreams were violent and vivid; Bucky would fall, bombs would explode, bullets in foreheads, planes in oceans, and billionaires and archers would bleed to death. Some nights the taste of dirt and mud was so thick he'd throw up.
In the beginning, the need for privacy for surpassed his need for security, and he'd sit in his room, staring out of the window at a city he didn't know. He would so badly want to be in the middle of the building, amongst the rest of his team, positive that they were okay.
Eventually he got to know the Avengers better, and he found himself venturing down to the main floor, simply because he had to. They would rarely find him asleep. Even after the hardest of battles, Tony would be lucky to see him with his eyes closed.
He was falling apart at a startling rate. He got increasingly impatient, slow to react, and angry as the shadows under his eyes got a deeper purple.
They were waiting for the climax, for Steve to finally hit the self-destruct button instead of slowly dig into it, and were never satisfied.
Because this was Steve Rogers they were talking about, a quiet kid from Brooklyn, who didn't quite understand that he was perfectly allowed to freak out once in a while; who calmed the breakdowns but didn't have them; who gave out comfort like the parents they never had but desperately wanted, yet closed up like a wounded animal when someone offered to return it.
Steve was so beyond exhausted that he missed the guy who came behind Clint and ambushed him. Luckily Tony didn't and managed to take out the perpetrator with one bullet.
Tony screamed at Steve about his stupidity and his not paying any fucking attention, you fucking dumbass.
Bruce clenched his teeth and refused to look at him.
It took two days for the concussion to subside enough that Clint could return to the tower and Steve hadn't slept since. He avoided Tony and Bruce with the expertise of Natasha, who was still on a mission in Bolivia, because he had failed one sharpshooter before and he pretty much failed his next.
56 hours without any sleep and Steve gave up. He slid down the wall next to Clint's door, comforted into a guilty lull by the muted sounds of laughter coming from the television.
Tony and Bruce found him two hours later, curled on his side, and fast asleep on the floor. His fingernails were chewed to stubs, still covering his lips. The bruises underneath his eyes stood out harshly against the fluorescent lighting.
Tapping carefully on Clint's door, Tony waited for the soft footsteps on carpet and Clint came into view.
"Wha—" he started, and his voice fell off when he looked down. "Oh, damn." He blew out a heavy, slow breath. "That's just…" He limped to the other side of the hallway, arms pressed to his ribs, and sat down opposite of Steve. His chest throbbed, because Steve was a lot of things, and heartbreakingly sad was one of them. "Fuck, guys. He's…" Clint stopped, running a bandaged hand down his face. "That's just…depressing."
Bruce sank next to Steve's head, and Tony leaned against the wall. Tony wanted to run, because he was used to letting Steve subdue him with an exasperated smile when he snapped into breakdowns, not watching him be stripped to the bone by his own guilt.
"He's twenty-three, you know?" Clint sighed. "I was probably running around in basic when I was twenty-three." He slid his hand into his hair. "Jesus, he's just a kid."
Tony's knees slid out from under him, and he landed with a thud on the floor, seated next to Clint. He rested his head in his hand.
"At least he's sleeping."
Clint rolled his eyes. "We're just sitting here waiting for one, you know."
"Waiting for what?" Bruce chimed in quietly, even though he knew.
Clint let his head hit the wall behind him. "Just waiting for the dreams. Although I'll be here this time. So maybe he can't try and kill it with bad TV and a punching bag."
He needed to go. Tony got his hand underneath him and was about to lurch up, when five fingers wrapped around his bicep and jerked him down.
Tony looked into Clint's ice blue eyes. "Stay. You know exactly what's going on. So stay."
The unspoken words hung heavily in the rooms.
He stays for you.
More Steve angsting. My apologies. See, I'm going to spit out all these crappy one-shots until I finally find the right one that describes the absolute splinters Steve's tattered little heart is in.
Hopefully I'll get the right tone and you guys won't have to suffer with me(:
But if it's any consolation, I have an action-y idea! It's got a plot and everything. Scary, I know.
Well, thanks for reading, kids. Very appreciated. I'm going to go Twitter about Chris Evans' fantastic body.