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"In and out of the hospital twice in the past three days…I think that's a new record even for our crisis prone team's standards."
"What can I say? I'm an overachiever…" comes the groggy reply and Tony narrows his eyes. Steve is once again laid up in a hospital bed in the medical wing of the helicarrier, IVs hooked to his arms, and if its possible, he looks even worse than he did the last time Tony saw him. His face is drawn and pale, features strained from exhaustion, and he looks substantially thinner than he usually does. Tony chalks it up to the bacteria that's finally starting to burn its way out of his system but it doesn't really make anything better.
"Yeah, well maybe you should look into a new hobby," Tony mumbles, picking an errant piece of lint off the sleeve of his shirt. "Something like knitting or bowling or decorative basket weaving. Anything other than playing ping pong in the hospital wing; seriously, Steve, its not healthy.
Steve smiles weakly and blinks up at the ceiling. "I'll keep that in mind," he replies slowly, his voice still muzzy and thick from sleep and disuse. The more he talks, the drier his throat feels and he's pretty sure he should prevent that as much as possible. He's dehydrated enough as it is, no need to make it any worse than necessary.
"By the way, you owe Pepper a major apology for nearly giving her a heart attack. I thought she was going to have a nervous breakdown when they couldn't get you to wake up."
Steve flinches and frowns up at the textured ceiling. He didn't really remember what had happened between here and the Tower; all he remembered was falling asleep in the living room with Pepper and Coulson and then waking up here with a very concerned Bruce Banner hovering over him. He tried to think back as far as he could but everything got kind of hazy and murky the harder he tried so he gave up trying to figure it out himself and accepted the information he gathered from both Bruce and Tony in passing.
"Sorry," he mumbles heavily, guilt pressing down on him like an invisible weight. "I thought I was finally over this."
Tony shrugs one shoulder and looks toward the door as a nurse passes by. "Well, apparently not quite as over it as you originally thought; your little mini coma proved that point pretty quickly." He turns his attention back to Steve, once again taking notice of his exhausted features. "Bruce thinks you're on the last leg though, should be back to your noble, patriotic self in a day or two."
Steve smiles tiredly and nods. "That's a relief; I'm tired of sitting on the sidelines during all the fun."
A brief silence passes between them, filled only by the continuous beeping and whirring of machines hooked up to Steve. Tony shifts uncomfortably in his chair, crossing his arms, then his legs, then letting them both go and shifting again. Finally, he can't stand it anymore and he sighs, sitting forward a bit and resting his elbows on his knees.
"So apparently Hallmark doesn't make a "sorry-I-let-you-play-bobbing-for-apples-in-a-contaminated-water-tank-and-effectively-let-you-get-exposed-to-the-plague-of-the-21st-century" get well soon card. I called their main office; it can't be done."
Steve turns to look at him and the movement is much slower and takes more time than it normally would thanks to the muscles in his neck and back still being stiff from his recent bout of vomiting.
Tony shifts under his gaze and he looks thoroughly uncomfortable with the admission. "Look, you were right, okay? I should have been there to help you, I should have listened; probably would have avoided this whole fiasco if I'd just listened to your orders and followed you to get Inman." He sighs heavily and looks at the wall, the machines, the ceiling; pretty much anywhere other than Steve. "I'm sorry Steve, I'm sorry that you took the fall because I didn't listen to you."
Steve smiles softly and shakes his head. "Tony, I don't blame you for this. Whatever Inman put in the water was what made me get sick, not you. Yeah, I was irritated that you didn't listen to me at first but I don't blame you for any of this." He stops to take a breath, swallowing thickly to give some relief to his dry throat. "You had a point about that bomb, you would have been better protected in your suit than Clint or Natasha." He shrugs slightly as he speaks. "I guess we both could have done things a bit differently in the end."
Tony stares at him incredulously for a minute, arms half-crossed over his chest and eyes narrowed. "You know, you're a real piece of work, Rogers," he grumbles irritably, sitting back against the hard plastic chair and shooting Steve a slight glare. "Why can't you just be mad at me like a normal person? Blame me for getting you into this mess and landing you with something that would make the CDC cringe? Jeez man, I can do blame and anger; I can't do this whole reverse-psychology, acceptance thing. Its freaking me out."
Steve just shakes his head again. "Why should I blame you for this? You didn't push me into that tank and to my knowledge you didn't do anything to purposefully expose me to the contaminated water. I jumped in there on my own accord; in all honesty this might have happened even if you had been there to back me up, so why should you take the blame for any of this?"
"Because I screwed up, okay?" Tony nearly shouts, frowning darkly and looking away from Steve again. "I screwed up and you paid the price. I'm not used to working with other people, Steve; I'm not used to this whole team dynamic that everyone seems so fond of." He sighs and shakes his head, running a hand through his disheveled hair and mussing it even more. "I spent a good majority of my life handling things on my own, watching my own back, so this whole relying on others and being part of a group is just weird for me. Hell, the only person I've really ever relied on has been Pepper and she was hired specifically to put up with my bullshit."
"Well, you know, having a team isn't an all bad thing," Steve counters quietly, a slightly distant look in his eyes. "I was part of team once and it really helped to have someone else to rely on when things got tough. It just made more sense to do things together than alone, you know?"
Tony scoffs but he seems contemplative, considering Steve's point silently.
"And if any of us ever made a mistake or got hurt in the line of duty, we'd all work together to fix it," Steve continues, catching the billionaire's attention and earning him another glare.
"And there you go, back to being Mr. Love and Tolerate. You're too nice for your own good, you know that? Its unhealthy."
Steve just smiles. "Have you ever heard the expression 'killing with kindness'?"
"Have you ever heard the expression 'I'm about to smack you over the head with an IV pole'?" Tony counters but there's no heat in his voice and his posture seems to relax a bit in the chair.
"No, can't say that I have," Steve mutters, shifting a bit in the bed and stopping when the IV tugs in his arm.
"It's a good expression, I use it a lot. You should look it up."
"I'll take your word for it."
Their conversation breaks off for a moment and both sit in companionable silence. Tony shifts positions in his chair again and Steve vaguely wonders how much of it is from the chair and how much of it is from the fact that Tony has probably consumed enough coffee to charge an entire college campus. His jaw is lined with stubble and there's a shadowy hint of dark circles forming beneath his eyes from lack of sleep. Steve had seen him forgo sleep for about two or three days in his lab and he always wondered how Tony could keep going for that long without passing out face down on his lab table. Tony doesn't seem at all bothered by the lack of sleep though; granted, he'll probably sleep for 16 hours straight once he finally does reach the last of his reserves but for now he looks just as alert as he usually does.
"Did the pipes get fixed?" Steve asks finally, breaking the silence between them. Its something he's been wondering about for about twenty minutes now.
Tony rolls his eyes. "Yes, Captain Righteous, the city has water again. Now would you quit worrying about everyone else and worry about yourself for once? The city is fine, we're all fine; everyone and everything is fine except you, Cap. Stop taking on the weight of the world for five minutes and relax, alright?"
Steve chuckles softly and shrugs. "Sorry, its just habit, you know?"
"Well stop it," Tony snaps but he doesn't sound angry or irritated; his voice holds a lingering hint of concern. "The world will not stop spinning while you get back on your feet. Considering you were unconscious for nearly ten hours and you've been soaking up fluids like a sponge for the past eight, I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that you're not going anywhere for at least another day and I can almost guarantee there won't be any kind cataclysmic disaster that requires your immediate attention in the next 24 hours."
"What if there is?" Steve asks, not to challenge or be annoying but because he's genuinely curious. What if something else happens when he's still stuck in the medical wing the team is called out again and they get in over their heads and run into something they can't get out of and-
"Dude, I can literally hear that hamster wheel spinning inside your head," Tony admonishes, fixing Steve with a slightly bemused, if not completely exasperated look. "You really don't know when to take a break, do you? Okay, well let me break it down for you then: if by some act of God or Congress, another city-threatening emergency arises in the next 24 hours that requires our services, you get to stay your patriotic ass in bed and let us handle it."
Steve frowns slightly and looks like he wants to protest but Tony forges on ahead. "You know why? Because that's what teams and friends do; at least that's what I'm told," Tony adds on in a quiet mutter. "That whole team spiel you just gave me applies double, if not triple, for you too, Cap. If one of us goes down, the rest step up to take their place; its that simple."
Steve tries to open his mouth again but Tony cuts him off just like before. "Yeah, I know, the idea of sitting out of anything while the innocence and virtue of the American people is at stake makes you cling to the ceiling like a cat in a flood but too bad. We've all stepped up in the past, whether one of us was injured or away or whatever the case was at the time. You drew the short straw this time but that just means we have to step up and take your place until you're back. And, God forbid, if anything happens in the next 24 hours then we're going out and you're staying here if Banner has to threaten to leave you with a giant, green body guard for extra measure."
Steve sighs heavily and leans back, suddenly exhausted. Just listening to Tony ramble wears him out and he's not even the one talking. He glances to the left to the nearly empty IV bag hooked to the pole next to him. He'd been hooked up to an IV since he got here and it seemed that his dehydration had only been exacerbated by the serum in his blood. With little to no fluids to work with thanks to Steve having purged everything in his system over the past two days, the severity of the dehydration and its debilitating side effects had been twice as bad as what they normally would have been had Steve been healthy. He'd been in and out of consciousness for a good majority of the day but he knew the medical staff had changed the bag hooked to his arm at least four times already. Tony had a point: he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.
"You drive a hard bargain, you know that?" Steve mutters dazedly, the warning hints of lingering exhaustion creeping into his voice and making his eyelids heavy.
"Its not a hard bargain, you're just stubborn," Tony shoots back but his tone is almost affectionate under the thick layer of sarcasm he always wraps his words in.
A knock at the door catches both men's attention and Bruce steps into the room. "Sorry, didn't mean the break up the conversation," he says with a small smile, crossing the room quietly and tinkering with the IV next to Steve. "How are you feeling, Steve?"
The younger man shrugs as much as he's able, which isn't a lot. "Tired mostly."
"Well, that's to be expected," the doctor replies as he finishes hooking a new saline drip onto the pole. "Dehydration usually has that effect on people." He turns back to Steve, checking his pulse with one hand and lightly pinching his arm with the other. He seems satisfied with the skin's elasticity and makes a note on a clip board next to the bed. "Well, the good news is your body is responding remarkably well to the IV's and as far as I can tell, the bacteria has burned its way out of your body completely. At this rate you should be fit to be released by tomorrow afternoon.
"So what's the bad news?" Tony asks, slumping back in his chair heavily.
"Well, he's going to have to stay here overnight," Bruce replies, giving Steve a slightly apologetic look before he continues. "Also, visiting hours are over for now." He nudges Tony's leg with his foot. "Steve needs some rest and you could probably do with a few hours of sleep as well."
"I'm fine," Tony insists though his assertion lacks its usual conviction.
"Mmhm," Bruce hums, catching one of Tony's arms and dragging him out of the chair. "Bed now, visiting later." He pauses at the door to dim the lights over the bed before he turns back to Steve. "Get some rest, okay Steve? I'll be back to check on you in a little bit."
Steve just smiles tiredly and nods, watching with a slightly amused expression as Bruce literally drags Tony, muttering and grumbling the whole time, from the room, closing the door softly behind them. Now that they're both gone and he's alone, Steve feels the full weight of exhaustion slam into him like a tidal wave and it feels like even blinking has become a chore. He allows his eyes to close, breathing slow and even, and within seconds, he's drifting off into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The first thing Steve becomes aware of when he wakes up is that its nighttime again. He's not exactly sure what time it is considering there's not a clock in his immediate line of sight but he can see the inky night sky outside the nearest window and its dark enough to convince him that its probably pretty late. The second thing he notices is that he feels better than he's felt in that past two days. He doesn't feel quite so weak and there's not that bone-deep ache that radiates all over his body from the inside out. Granted, he doesn't feel absolutely 100% right now, probably closer to 85%, but it's a definite improvement over how he's been feeling for the past few days. The last thing he's aware of is a heavy weight on the edge of his bed.
Steve turns his head to the side and sees Tony back in the chair he'd been in earlier, slumped down against the back of it with his arms crossed over his chest. His feet are stretched out to rest against the edge of the bed, one foot just barely brushing the edge of Steve's knee. He's sound asleep, snoring softly and completely oblivious to the fact that the other man is awake. Whether he snuck back in when Bruce wasn't looking or the scientist finally gave up and relented, Steve can't be sure. Either way, Tony is back in the room, sleeping deeply with his feet on Steve's bed.
Steve knew Tony probably still harbored a lot of guilt over his illness but he kind of hoped that wasn't the reason he's come back to the room. True, their relationship as both friends and teammates had been tumultuous from the beginning but they were both slowly beginning to understand one another's strengths and weaknesses and how to work with both. Tony was still cocky and arrogant and Steve was still stubborn and bossy but they were getting better at accepting these attributes of one another and preventing the resulting clash from being too outrageous. Tony needed Steve to reel him back when he got to full of himself and Steve needed Tony to knock him down a peg when he got a bit too demanding. They were light and dark, night and day, hot and cold, and they were beginning to form the bonds of a stronger friendship than either of them probably anticipated.
Steve smiles softly as Tony continues to snore on. It took some work but they were all beginning to trust each other, rely on each other, be a team. It's a nice thought; Steve hasn't had a team in a long time and it be nice to get some of that back. Tony shifts a bit in the chair beside the bed, his foot nudging Steve's knee slightly. Steve reaches down and rests his hand on the other man's foot lightly and Tony goes still, falling back asleep almost instantly from the gentle touch.
He's not sure how long they stay like that, Tony sleeping soundly and Steve listening to the gentle push and pull of his snores as he sleeps on. Eventually, Steve's eyes begin to grow heavy again, his body sinking back with the last tethers of lingering exhaustion. Keeping his hand resting gently on top of Tony's foot, he closes his eyes and allows himself to fall back into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Hope you all enjoyed it! :D