Tony looks up from his computer screen and glances at the clock on the wall. He starts calculating the math in his head and realizes he's been in the lab now for over a week. He's slept on and off, and while health shakes do technically count as food, the idea of being social isn't a bad one. Especially when you have five other people, scratch that, team-mates permanently living with you. It's an odd thing to get used to. Not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps it's too soon to tell.
Tony hits a few buttons, saving the final details on an upgrade to the thermal regulators in the suit, and tells JARVIS to start his task of powering down the equipment. He rubs his eyes, and by the time he's made his way over the to the elevator, the lab is lit only by a few overhead flood lights. Tony sighs and hits the button to take him to Steve's floor.
It's kind of funny, Tony supposes as the elevator descends; after the whole Chitauri invasion, it took about two weeks to clean the city up. Well, most of the city anyway. Some buildings had been destroyed beyond repair and some roads were still not safe to drive on, but thankfully, Stark Tower had not been one of the entirely ruined buildings. While repairs were made, individual floors had been customized to fit certain people.
Tony was rather proud of his work, thank you.
Hawkeye had the highest floor available, and the biggest windows anyone could safely install. Unlike the other floors, Hawkeye's floor was not divided out into specific, smaller rooms, except the bathroom. Everything was laid out in wide, bright, open spaces; no walls cutting anything off. The only thing that suggested a separation of rooms was the transition of floorings.
Natasha's floor was cozy; overstuffed furniture and high bookshelves almost everywhere. Tony had noticed how much Natasha had liked to read and with a little more investigation, he knew all her favorites, now nestled together on her dark wooden shelves. It was comfortable and warm. Two things he knew Natasha valued most.
Thor's floor was, basically, as close as Tony could get to ancient Norse decor. He figured it was pretty close, having done quite a bit of research on the subject, but when Thor stepped off the elevator and started laughing uproariously, he knew he'd failed. However, Thor was laughing because it was so perfect, and he told Tony as much, while bear-hugging him. Tony's spine still hurts when he stops and thinks about it.
Bruce's floor was minimalistic. It had more than enough; television, books, a huge plush bed, but everything was sleek. Books tucked away in cupboards, no knick-knacks sitting around or anything cluttered, nothing too brightly colored, either. Soft browns and earth tones everywhere. Tony knew that Bruce appreciated the space, the offer of home, but he still liked things simple and neat. (His new kick-ass lab was also clean and beautifully organized, but that's neither here nor there.)
Steve's floor was harder. Thor had been from another planet, and his floor had been easier to figure out. Steve was a hard person to read. Tony wasn't sure what he liked or disliked. He wasn't sure if he should do a throwback and make his floor the 30's incarnate, or try to update Steve on more modern living spaces, or, fuck it, do everything in red, white and blue and let Steve's head explode from the patriotism. In the end, it was kind of a combination of the first two options. Simple wooden furniture, nothing too bizarre or expensive; his king-sized bed covered in a blue plaid print. Tony thinks he hit the nail pretty well on the head with that particular floor, but he'd never know for sure.
Somehow, despite the individualizing, Steve's floor had become the communal floor. No one knew exactly why, but everyone always seemed to end up there at some point during the day, which is why he's on his way there now.
As he steps off the elevator, he can't help but notice how quiet it is. Absurdly so. With everyone home (a rare occurance), the floor should've been a noise riot. Not set on mute. At first glace, he sees no one, but further investigation leads him into the kitchen and dining room, where most of his odd little gang are hanging around awkwardly. Thor is leaned against a counter, looking more than a little confused; Natasha is staring out the window, from the table she's sitting at with Bruce; and Clint is standing at the sink, washing dishes. Not one of them speaks a word as he enters. No one even acknowledges his presence.
Then he realizes who's missing.
"Uh, what's going on?" He asks to no one in particular, "Where's Steve?"
Somehow, the tension in the room manages to get worse. "Great timing. You just missed him." Clint says, sarcastically, placing a rinsed glass in the drainer next to the sink.
"What do you mean, where is he?"
"I dunno," Clint says, "Cap just kind of freaked and ran off."
Tony honestly can't remember the last time he was this confused.
"All right, would someone care to tell me exactly what happened, now?"
"We were eating lunch," Bruce says, finally looking away from his glass, "Steve was kind of quiet, but everything seemed okay, then someone asked him a question and he just suddenly started screaming at everyone and stormed off to his room."
"Why, what did you guys do?" Tony asks. He doesn't mean it accusingly, but Steve's not one people would peg for angry outbursts.
"Nothing. Everything was perfectly fine," Clint says, raising his hands at the sink in a gesture of relative innocence.
"The last thing anyone said to him... Clint asked him to hand him a glass." Bruce says with a slight shrug of his shoulder. "I don't know."
"What were you guys talking about?"
"We were telling stories." Bruce said, finally looking at Tony, "Natasha was talking about an old family pet, Clint was talking about a friend he had to broke every bone in his body, and Thor was telling us about Loki when he was younger."
Natasha speaks before anyone else gets the chance to. "We were speaking of families." She says quietly, "We reminded him of things he's trying to forget." Her eyes never leave the window.
A few moments pass by in awkward silence. Finally, Tony rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands.
"Okay, well, score one for the home team for being insensitive jerks," he says, and Clint stops and glares at Tony. "No offense, but you know it's true. It could've just as easily have been me."
Clint goes back to scrubbing a saucepan.
"I'll go talk to him." Tony says, moving to leave the kitchen. A hand grips his shoulder suddenly, and he turns to see Thor, who'd been completely silent the whole time, looking at him with deep concern.
"Steven made it clear in his outburst he wishes to be left alone," Thor says, letting go of Tony, "Are you sure it is wise to seek him out?"
"Trust me, right now, being left alone is the last thing he needs." With that, Tony turns and makes his way to Steve's room.
Tony approaches Steve's door and knocks lightly. There's no answer. He knocks again. Silence. He reaches down and turns the knob, the doors opening easily.
"See?" Tony says quietly to himself, "Doesn't really want to be left alone."
The light of the mid-day sun illuminates the room beautifully, and the first thing Tony notices when he walks in is how Steve's room looks. Or rather, how it doesn't look. It doesn't look like anyone ever moved in. There's no personal objects anywhere, nothing hanging on the walls, nothing sitting on shelves, no clothes on the floor; nothing that would easily distinguish this room from a hotel room. Tony frowns slightly. It's been three weeks since Steve moved in. He figured there'd be art, books, shoes thrown in the corner, something, some piece of Steve's personality beginning to embed itself in the room, but no.
He steps over to the bathroom door and knocks softly. This time, there's an answer.
"Go away." Steve's voice is flat and toneless.
"Nope." Tony says, brightly as if it's good news, "I'm staying."
"Tony, please, just go away." This time there's a little bit of pleading in his voice and it makes Tony's chest twinge with guilt, just a little bit.
"I said no."
Silence. Tony hesitantly tries the knob but the door is locked.
"I just want to be left alone." Steve says through the door. "It's not much, please."
"I know," Tony says, leaning against the door, "But honestly, I think leaving you alone right now would be a bad idea."
"Just not gonna speak and hope I go away?"
"It's okay, you don't have to talk to me. I've been known to talk enough for two people. Well, occasionally more than two. Two dozen at least." He hesitates, waiting to see if Steve will answer. "I'm not going anywhere so you might as well just come out and talk." Tony steps over to set the tablet he's been holding this whole time on the bedside table, and steps back to the door.
"Okay, I'll tell you what. I'll sit and talk and you can come out when you feel up to it." Tony sits down, shoulder leaning up against the door. "It's just you and me, you know," He says, aiming for casual, "nobody else is around."
Just as Tony's starting to worry, Steve speaks again.
"Please, Tony, I'm begging you, just leave me alone."
"I'm sorry, but I can't do that." Tony says, slightly ruefully. He wishes he could walk away and leave Steve in peace, but he knows how much more damage leaving him to wallow in his own emotions could cause than it could actually help.
So Tony talks.
He talks about the latest projects he's been working on, the new thermo-regulators and the other miscellaneous upgrades he's noticed needed to be done since the Chitauri; he talks about a conversation he had with Rhodey about everyone moving in and how Rhodey thought it was the most fucking hilarious thing he'd heard in forever. He talks about how he thinks Pepper's birthday is soon, and he should probably buy her something, but the last time he tried, he was four months off, so maybe he better double-check that first. He talks about a meeting he has to attend for affiliates of Stark Industries, and he shouldn't have to go, because it's Pepper's company now, not his, but apparently someone insisted he be there. Frankly, he'd rather jab himself in the eye with a screwdriver than attend another business meeting, but unless he wants to incur the wrath of Pepper, he'll be smart enough to go.
By the time he's finished with that particular rant, he glances at his watch and he notices it's been two hours, and maybe it's blind optimism, but he decides to venture into a dangerous topic.
"You still there?" He asks, completely expecting silence. Steve probably fell asleep a while back or he's still pretending his not there so Tony will finally go away. He's surprised when he doesn't get words, but rather a soft knock from the other side of the door makes him grin as he realizes. Steve's been sitting on the other side of the door listening the whole time.
"Natasha told me what they were talking about when you... left." Tony listens but there's no answer. "I understand, you know. Maybe not to the extent you do, but I know what it's like to lose family, and I know what it's like to pretend you're okay when you're not."
Steve says nothing so Tony continues, "I'm not saying I'm the pinnacle of mental health, but if you wanted to talk..."
Tony almost falls over when the bathroom door suddenly opens. He quickly gains his balance and stands up. Steve is standing barefoot in jeans and a soft, worn grey t shirt, and he looks so utterly defeated and tired, Tony wants to wrap him in blankets and hand-feed him chocolate chip cookies. He resists the urge to say as much. Tony can't help but let his eyes glace down at Steve's wrists and he's silently overjoyed that the skin there is as smooth and flawless as ever. It was a stupid thought, really, in retrospect, but it was still a small relief.
"Tony," Steve says, the tone of his voice reflecting his exhaustion, "could you please, just leave?"
"I'm sorry, but I can't."
"Why not?" Frustration is seeping into Steve's voice, and it's making Tony feel guiltier about staying, but he knows it's the right thing to do. He may not be an expert at social interactions, but he understands sadness. He understands how being alone can make everything feel a thousand times worse, and as bad as he feels about staying against Steve's wishes, he'd feel worse if he left Steve to suffer alone.
"Because, the last thing you need is to be alone." Tony says, resolutely. Steve stares at Tony for a long moment and his eyes cast downward as he seems to simply give up. He moves past Tony, and pulls the covers back on the bed. It's still light out, but Steve seems to completely disregard this fact as he curls up in the bed and wrap himself in blankets. He pulls a pillow over his head, and that's that. Tony knows escape when he sees it. That's okay. Tony stands and stares for a moment, before he walks over to the window and pulls the navy blue curtains. The room isn't dark, it's only four in the afternoon, but it's significantly dimmer.
He takes the tablet off of the table where he placed it and sits with his back up against the side of the bed. He opens the schematics to a side project he'd been tinkering with on and off for weeks. The room is completely silent.
Hours later, Steve wakes up enough to remember the whole ordeal, the violent wreck of sadness hits him square in the chest again and he presses his face into the pillow, willing himself to open his eyes and be back home. He opens his eyes, and he's not home, he's still in the same place he fell asleep, and it's not fair. He glances at the clock, 1:27am. He's been asleep for eight hours and he still feels drained.
His eyes adjust to the darkness just a little more and he notices the faint white glow on the ceiling. He raises up just enough to see Tony asleep, sitting up against the bed. Steve sighs. Steve lies back down, and sighs deeply, closing his eyes. He wishes he understood why Tony was there, and he wishes more that Tony would leave and let Steve in peace. He knows Tony won't. Trying to decide, he finally gives in.
Reaching over, he shakes Tony.
"Hey, wake up." He jostles him, gently. It takes a few shakes, but Tony's eyes finally open with a 'wha-', and he's rubbing his eyes, and trying to stand up. Before he can say anything, Steve pulls the covers back and tugs on Tony's hand. He can tell Tony's asleep enough not to really understand what's going on, but tired enough to just go with the flow. He toes his shoes off and lies down next to Steve, pulling the covers up.
There's at least two feet of space between them, but it feels closer than that somehow. Steve watches silently as Tony quickly falls back asleep.
Steve sighs again, wondering if he'll be able to persuade Tony into leaving tomorrow. He feels like there's a weight on his ches, and he takes a few deep breaths, every muscle feeling sore and aching. He knows he's about to collapse into another bout of sleepy exhaustion, as though his body's unable to bear the weight of his lonliness. He shuts his eyes and tries his best to ignore it.