Tony was tired. Exhausted, even – weighed down with bone-deep fatigue and the need for sleep so potent that he kept nodding off in the middle of his work despite the caffeine thrumming through his bloodstream. He had a feeling it was imbedded into his DNA, at that point. It would explain the eccentricity and overwhelming insomnia he was often victim to.
Tonight, however, his body simply seemed to be shutting down on him. He'd nearly fallen head-first into the project he was working on – something he couldn't quite recall, now that he thought about it, but it was purple and there were arrowheads so he assumed it had something to do with their resident archer. And knowing what the blond often had him up to in the realms of tech, if he did actually fall asleep on it, it would more than likely explode in his face. Facial deformities were something he did not want to deal with in the near future, so with a grunt he pushed himself away from the desk to stand.
And promptly had to lurch forward and cling to the desktop to keep from collapsing. His limbs felt as heavy an elephant's, and, coupled with the sudden wave of utter exhaustion that passed through him and settled in his gut like a lead weight, it was almost enough to bring him to the ground. His heartbeat was strong in his ears, pounding and rushing blood to and from his head too quickly. Tony bent over, elbows locked in place, palms flat on the steel-plated desk, taking deep, shuddering breaths to keep his knees from buckling. They were close. They were so, so close.
He could vaguely hear Jarvis' worried voice just outside the white noise and heartbeat in his ears, and Tony considered telling him he was fine, and that all he needed was sleep, but he couldn't bring himself to move, let alone talk. He felt as if he opened his lips to speak, his voice would get caught in his throat and he'd be forced to choke down bile. It would only make the AI worry more, which was something Tony wanted nothing to do with. A worried Jarvis was a mother hen Jarvis, and there was nothing more deprecating than being mothered by something that couldn't even touch you. Or at least, that was how he felt.
He sucked in a breath through his nose, then let it out, then in, then out. He kept on like that until he felt that he could move on his own, and carefully removed his hands from the cool desktop they'd been pressed against.
His body reacted immediately, mainly by having his legs rebel and his knees go down for the count. He was caught before he could actually reach the ground, which was a blessing, and the arms around him were strong and firm, and the body he was pressed back against was warm and pleasant. His limbs decided to go rogue, at that point, and Tony's brain was fizzing in and out of focus as he tried to pinpoint who was there. He hadn't heard anyone come in. Then again, he hadn't really been able to hear anything over his heart beating like a drum in his ears. That was probably how they were able to sneak up on him.
Tony let out a grunt as he was manhandled into a more comfortable position in the person's arms, bridal style and with a grip that promised to not let go, even as they began moving. Tony hummed appreciatively, arms loosely curled around the person's neck and cheek nuzzled into their shoulder. They smelled nice. Or at least, they did in his exhaustion-induced delirium. They were murmuring things to him, things he couldn't make out correctly, but knew were supposed to be comforting. There were other people, too, conversing quietly around the person carrying him. Someone was running their fingers through his hair, and scratching their nails at his scalp and at the nape of his neck, and Tony let out a noise at the feel of it because it felt damn fine. He knew they no doubt had sweat and grease and oil on their hand now, but he was beyond the realm of words at that point. There was someone else digging their fingers into his calves, which felt a hell of a lot more relaxing than anything he had ever experienced in his life. He was calmly being lulled into a state of lax unconsciousness, and with this person carrying him and the other people following them, Tony had never felt more safe or secure, even in his own skin.
He mumbled slightly, unintelligible, before easily drifting off to sleep.
Waking up was a gradual and unwanted process. Tony hated waking up more than he hated going to sleep in the first place, because he was always irrationally angry at everything before he had his first three cups of scorching hot coffee. It always burned his throat, but it woke him up.
So he whined, groggy and irritated, and latched tighter onto the broad warm thing he was clutching like a lifeline, burrowing his face into the soft cloth it seemed to be covered in. The thing vibrated, and he heard it chuckle, and something else start combing fingers through his knotted hair, and then there was an amazing pressure on the tense muscles on his back, digging in to relieve the pain, and he couldn't quite contain the groan that escaped him. He didn't want to wake up, and the combined attention was absolutely heavenly and made him drowsy in the best way, but even he knew that waking up to being petted by several different things (hopefully people) when his last memory was blinking at… whatever it is he was working on… wasn't exactly safe. He did have some self-preservation instincts, thank you very much.
Tony made a face, and used the warm thing he was half-laying on to push himself up. Someone murmured at him – and yes, it was someone, not something, which was a relief – and the petting through his hair turned into soft stroking at the nape of his neck, which made Tony's head loll at the feel of it. But no, he needed to wake up. It was for the safety of the universe.
He lifted his hand to rub at his eyes, which took considerably more effort than it should have. Blinking, he looked around at the bed he was on, which was somewhat difficult thanks to the darkness of the room. The arc reactor shone through his shirt, but just enough to illuminate his fellow bedmates. The blue light lit up their faces – all five of them, actually, and he'd never been happier about his larger-than-life mattress than at that moment. They weren't even squished together, which was nice, even if all of their limbs were piled on top of each other and pillows were strewn about in disarray and blankets were scrunched up to and fro.
He furrowed his brow in confusion at their presence. "What…" He coughed, voice hoarse and rough from sleep. He saw Steve – the thing he had been laying on, apparently, but damn was his chest comfortable – smile at him pleasantly, and Clint snickered into Natasha's shoulder. "Why are… what?" Seems his brain had decided to be extra slow on the uptake today.
Bruce poked his head out from where he'd been covered with a blanket near Steve's hip. The smile on his face was small, but genuine. "You overworked yourself. Again." He shot him a pointed look, at those words, but Tony couldn't even bring himself to be sheepish about it. "Jarvis called us down because he was worried you were going to fall asleep on an explosive?" He ended it as a question.
The AI answered just as expected. "Correct, Dr. Banner; Mr. Stark had been working on a new timed explosive for Agent Barton."
Clint looked pleasantly surprised to hear so, and shot a flirtatious smirk Tony's way, waggling his eyebrows. "Aw, sweetcheeks, you shouldn't have."
Tony snorted, burrowing down in the nest of blankets that had been tucked around him until only his head was visible. Steve threw an arm around his midsection, pulling him to his chest while Natasha rearranged herself so she was pressed against his other arm and Clint was splayed over his legs. Thor was behind Natasha, half on her and Clint while his arm was tucked around her chest protectively. Not that she needed protection, but Thor didn't need to know that. "So, what – you carried me up here and put me to bed?"
"That's exactly what happened," Natasha told him firmly, "So don't try to argue."
"I wasn't," Tony grumbled, eyes already closing. But something was still bothering him. "But – why? I have a couch down in the shop, y'could've put me there and I could've slept it off, you didn't have to…"
"Quit being stupid," Clint scoffed, cuddling against his legs in his own blanket cocoon.
"We do actually care, you know," Steve said, using his free hand to pull Bruce closer. The physicist easily complied, and Natasha started carding her fingers through Tony's hair and hot damn, that felt nice.
The genius shifted, burrowing down deeper, before finally drifting back to sleep.
The second time he came to was also gradual, but his brain seemed more willing to cooperate than the last time. He lifted up his free hand to rub the gunk from his eyes – the one not held hostage by the Tower's resident physicist over Steve's chest. He yawned into Steve's shoulder where his cheek was pressed, blinking his eyes open and attempting to look around to no avail. The arc reactor was hidden because of how he was arranged next to Steve (who, actually, was quite a nice teddy bear), so there was no light of any kind to draw from. He could feel the soft breaths against his neck from Natasha and the light squeeze around his legs from Clint, and he could hear the loud snores coming from Thor near the edge of the mattress.
"Jarvis," he whispered to the room at large, gathering the AI's attention.
"Yes, sir?" His tone was also carefully quiet, cautious of waking up any of the others.
"What time is it?"
"It is 7:51 PM, sir."
Tony furrowed his brow in confusion and surprise. "Really? What time was it when I woke up last time?"
"2:28 PM, sir."
"And when did they bring me up?"
"6:37 AM, sir."
Tony whistled low in his throat. "Damn." He must have been more exhausted than he'd thought, if he'd slept for almost thirteen straight hours. He was usually lucky to get in a few cat naps in the shop, and he knew sleeping that long wasn't exactly healthy.
"Indeed, sir." Jarvis sounded smug, the pretentious bastard.
He rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "Yeah, yeah, wail all you want. I actually slept, for more than strictly necessary, and you know it, so you can't even argue. Traitor."
"If it means you will be in better health afterward, than I have no difficulty accepting the title. Sir." The last part came as a bit of a second thought, and Tony clucked his tongue at the unseen supercomputer.
"You need to learn to respect your elders, Jarvis," he grumbled affectionately, settling back down to maybe catch a few more Z's before Thor woke up and refused to use his indoor voice. Even his snore sounded like rumbling jet engines. It was loud, but if he'd slept through it before, he shouldn't have any trouble doing it again.
He felt Steve's arms tighten minutely around him and the blond nuzzle the mop of unclean hair on his head with his cheek before he actually closed his eyes. He was drowsy, yes, but his thoughts, while not as many and not as quick to the draw, we're still running rampant through his mind.
Natasha hummed from behind him, digging her nails into his hip in a way that was positively heavenly. Tony grunted as his bones went lax. "Sleep," she told him, voice quiet and rough, and he couldn't really find it in him to argue as much as he wanted to. Figured she'd wake up at the slightest sign of movement.
He sniffed slightly, hunkering down and relishing in the warmth and security around him to lull him back to sleep.
He woke up properly the next time. His thoughts weren't clouded, after the initial haze of drowsiness tapered off, and the fatigue that had weighed him down for so long seemed to be mostly depleted. He was still cocooned in a cozy nest of blankets and warm limbs, which, to be honest, he didn't really feel like escaping just yet. After asking Jarvis for the time ("9:03 PM, sir."), it was clear it hadn't been long enough for the rest of his teammates' own exhaustion to pander off. They were all still clocked out, and Bruce had shuffled closer in his sleep, his back facing him but his body half on Steve's chest. Thor's arm had gone from resting around Natasha's chest to stretching out and covering the majority of them, excluding Clint, who still had hostage of his legs. Thor's own leg was pinning him down, though, so he wasn't particularly left out.
Steve was the first to wake up.
Tony had been playing with some ideas for the explosive arrows he'd been making (because there was no doubt in his mind that he had done something in his fatigue-addled state that shouldn't have been put into effect, he'd have to poke and prod at it later…). The large blond had shifted, sighing lightly and squeezing Tony hard enough to make him snap out of his mechanical fantasies. Steve's eyebrows were scrunched together adorably, and he brought one of his hands up from where it was trapped between the small of Tony's back and the mattress to rub at his eyes.
Tony waggled his eyebrows at him with a broad grin when Steve finally squinted his eyes open into the waking world. "Hey, sleeping beauty," he remarked, voice quiet.
Steve smiled at him once he registered his surroundings, stretching his back and letting out a sigh when the tension was relieved. "Hi." Tony supposed it was a victory that he was too sleep-relaxed to call him on the nickname. "What're you doing up? Shouldn't you still be asleep?"
Tony chuckled, "I've been sleeping nearly fifteen straight hours. Personally, I think that's long enough."
Steve gave him that concerned super soldier frown he occasionally gave everyone. "How long were you awake for when we came down to get you?"
Tony shrugged. "Do you think I keep count?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow. "You could always ask Jarvis."
The AI spoke up, "Mr. Stark was awake for approximately fifty-eight hours and twenty-seven minutes before the Avengers' arrival, Captain."
Steve's brow furrowed in concern, and he gave the engineer his patented Disapproving Captain America Look. Tony would have felt somewhat reproved by it, but combined with a sleep-rumpled face and bed-head, it had lost its usual sharpness. Tony just gave the larger blond a reassuring smile. "I'm fine, Cap. Got more than enough sleep to make up for it. Honestly."
Steve sighed, "If you say so."
Clint grunted at them from his cozy cocoon atop Tony's lower body, swatting at them blindly with his only free arm. "Quiet, you's," he grumbled irritably, "Some of us aren't nocturnal, y'know."
Tony chuckled, "Sorry for interrupting your beauty sleep, Katniss." Steve rolled his eyes at the easy banter, whereas Clint snorted and tucked his head against Tony's hip.
There was comfortable silence between them for a few minutes, Steve rubbing circles into Tony's shoulder without much thought and making the genius' bones turn to jelly, before the blond spoke again. "I should make something. You must be hungry." As though waiting for its cue, Tony's stomach decided to go rogue and growl as loud as it possibly could. He put his hand over it on top of the covers as though that would quiet it down, and Natasha slid one eye open, looking at him closely and in a way that made him feel as though he were being picked apart from the inside out. It wasn't a pleasant feeling. Clint let out what sounded like a huff, raising himself from where he'd nearly made Tony's legs numb to rest his chin in his palm and give him an unamused look. "S'there a reason your stomach sounds ready to eat me whole?"
"Mr. Stark has not eaten anything of any nutritional value in fifty-seven hours and fifty-three minutes, Agent Barton," Jarvis answered promptly, and Tony felt a pang of betrayal that was more irritation than actual betrayal. Dumb old AI, giving away all his dirty secrets… he should trade him in for Bruce. Bruce was always fun to talk to, and he didn't try to rat him out to the team. Well, not when he was coherent, at least.
Clint's gaze turned sharp. "That was like, two days ago. At breakfast."
Steve shifted, even more concerned. The fierce wave of guilt that ripped through him over that one worried look almost made him cringe. "You haven't eaten since – ?"
"Whoa, whoa, hey now, I have totally eaten," he argued, "Just – nothing of any nutritional value, apparently."
Natasha reached over and pinched his side. He couldn't be blamed for not containing the yelp that escaped him at the feel of it. He glared at her, and although it had no effect, it still made him feel better. "That means you've been surviving on energy bars and pizza for the past few days," she remarked coolly, eying him up and down.
Tony shrank back a little. "And Chinese," he muttered, looking away.
Steve gave that disappointed sigh he usually gave when Tony was involved, and he tried to make himself even smaller. The soldier's arms wrapped around him snugly, pulling him closer, arm to chest. When he spoke, he could feel the vibrations run through his bicep. "It's not healthy for you to do things like that, Tony." Oh, god, he even had the disappointed tone he always used. Way to make him feel like the biggest sack of shit on the face of the planet.
And he was just starting to feel comfortable.
"Well, s'not like I'm doing it for no good reason," he attempted to reason, but even he knew he didn't sound very into it. "I'm busy. Things like sleep and food aren't as important –"
"Bullshit," Clint said, voice rough with sleep. "Sleep and food are always important. In fact, they're the most important."
Tony narrowed his eyes at him. "Yeah, no. They might be for you, but for someone who can buy almost anything at the drop of a hat, not so much."
Natasha pinched him even harder, and he had to stifle what would have been an embarrassingly loud man-shriek by biting his lip as hard as he could. Steve let out a breath, and turned so he could push himself upright. The movement made Bruce, who had been resting peacefully on the blond's chest, wake up with a start when he ended up landing on Steve's lap instead. "Wha –" The physicist shook his head, brushing his hair from his eyes and sitting up enough to lean back on his elbows. "Wait… Puppy pile," he observed quietly, "Oh."
"Yes, and it's very cozy," Clint cooed, batting his eyelashes at the other man, who was peering around curiously at the rest of them and the sleeping demi-god still snoring like a truck.
Steve untangled his legs from the blankets they had been trapped in to swing them over the side of the mattress. "Jarvis, what time is it?" he asked.
"It is 9:49 PM, Captain."
"Well, I'm making pancakes anyway," he announced, getting to his feet and brushing away the wrinkles in his pajamas.
"And French toast?" Clint proposed.
"And French toast," Steve agreed, ignoring the small cheer that escaped the archer at the words. "Anything else?"
"Tea, please," Bruce said, rubbing at his eyes.
Tony opened his mouth to make an attempt to ask for coffee, but was thwarted by Natasha, who clapped her hand over his lips to keep him quiet. He was tempted to lick her palm, but figured she would have no qualms about ripping it out if he tried, so he just rolled his eyes. "Some toast, please," she said instead, sending the genius a pointed look.
Bruce gave them all a small smile. "Nothing like breakfast for dinner."
Tony had wanted breakfast in bed (because it was required when a puppy pile was involved – and also, his legs may or may not have started tingling like a motherfucker because someone had decided to sleep on them, but semantics), but once Thor had woken himself up with a particularly loud snore the Asgardian had decided it would be a great idea to carry him to the kitchen. Which, okay, made sense, yes, but who gave a damn, it was Tony's room! And his Tower, for that matter, if he wanted breakfast in bed, he should get breakfast in bed!
But no, he needed to be an adult and be carried like a damsel in distress by an actual prince (an alien prince, but a prince, nonetheless) so he could sit at the kitchen island and have breakfast with the team. Fucking mother hens, the lot of them.
He wanted breakfast in bed, dammit!
Woe was the billionaire genius, who suffered the results of overprotective roommates.
And the food was actually good, which just made him more bitter. He ate it grudgingly (or as grudgingly as he could when he was shoveling it into his mouth like he was a starved man), but they all seemed to know what was going through his head anyway. Assholes. They should know better than to show him affection. He would get attached.
To make matters even worse, Steve was the one to carry him back to the bedroom while Thor and Clint followed behind them like puppies and Natasha and Bruce stayed in the kitchen to take care of the dirty dishes. He had a dishwasher, you know. He didn't even know why he was being carried, since he could feel his legs again, even if they were a little stiff, or why they were heading back to the room in the first place – none of them were tired anymore, they weren't going back to sleep. He said as much to them.
"We're watching Hotel Transylvania," Clint told him giddily, bounding into the room before the rest of them. He hopped onto the mattress, bouncing on impact and settling against the rumpled sheets. He grinned at them. "It's sad and depressing and adorable. You'll love it."
"Sounds fantastic," Tony replied, tone dry. Steve set him down next to Clint before crawling onto the bed behind the both of them, pulling him to sit between his legs and lean against him. Tony wanted to argue, especially when Clint settled his head in his lap, but Steve's chest was quite comfortable. Then Thor climbed on and made the mattress dip, just so he could curl up on Tony's unoccupied side. Jarvis had already sifted through his overly large animated movie queue to bring up Hotel Transylvania by the time Natasha and Bruce hurried inside with three bowls of popcorn at the ready (why he had an animated movie queue, he wasn't actually sure, but assumed it had to do with that one time he and Clint got drunk off their asses and bawled like two babies at the end of Toy Story 3). Natasha sat herself in Thor's lap, and the demi-god took a handful of popcorn from the large bowl she held. Bruce handed one of the bowls to Tony as he shuffled comfortably next to Steve, pushing Clint to the side so he could shove his legs under him before the archer settled back down into a sprawl and stole some of Tony's popcorn.
"Jerk," Tony muttered, slapping his wrist when he tried to reach for another handful.
Clint stole it anyway, stuffing it into his mouth and chewing obnoxiously loud. "Bitch," he said once he'd swallowed, grinning at him. Tony just rolled his eyes, and Steve murmured a quiet, "Language," out of habit before stealing some popcorn of his own. Tony huffed and stuck his tongue out at him before munching on his own handful.
When the movie actually started, bickering aside, it was actually really nice and comfortable. It was disgustingly domestic, but despite the soft ache echoing behind the reactor at the rightness he felt, surrounded by such deadly people in a puppy pile watching a stupid animated movie, he didn't mind. He knew he shouldn't have gotten this close, this trusting with these people, but right at that moment, he supposed it would be alright to just relax. He was tired deep done to his bones, and not working on something or not playing the hero for once in his life would probably be good for him.
Even if Clint kept stealing his popcorn.