WARNING! Mild !SPOILERS! for Iron Man 3. Not massive ones, but I'd hate to spoil anything for anyone.
Steve doesn't avoid Tony after that, but they don't speak often. He spends time in the workshop, like he used to, and he's certain Tony's more aware of his presence than he used to be, but Tony doesn't acknowledge him.
The bots seem unsettled too; Jarvis doesn't seem concerned at all, but Dummy is borderline hostile and You and Butterfingers, who Steve had been winning over, are ignoring him.
Steve has really no idea how to deal with them.
It's almost a relief when they next get a call.
It isn't strictly their area, but Steve takes the decision to go anyway; he needs something to prove to himself that he and Tony can still work together.
A group of people in body armour are attacking a bank and firing canisters of gas at anyone who gets close enough. It's all very destructive and upsetting, but pretty easily dealt with as they are not even mutants.
'I need to go to medical,' Tony announces over the comm. as the fight wraps up.
'What's wrong?' Steve knows he sounds panicked, but this is the first time Tony has ever even pointed out an injury let alone decided to go to medical.
'There's a chance I've just been poisoned,' Tony informs him calmly.
'How big of a chance?'
'I would stay quite large. Pretty certain actually. Yep. Definitely poisoned,' the armour lands beside him and stumbles to its knees.
'The gas?' Steve drops beside him and catches his shoulders before he collapses forwards.
'I would assume so,' the face plate flicks up and Tony looks up at him; his pupils are dilated to different extents making him look stoned. 'Hey, Cap.'
'ETA on medical?' Steve calls over the comm. as Tony slumps into his arms.
'That's them in the Quinjet on your nine o'clock,' Clint reports.
Steve stays with Tony as the medics swarm them; he initially went to pull away but Tony caught his wrist in a death grip (he's still wearing the suit) so Steve stays.
Tony is increasingly out of it but still flinches from each of the people that prod at him. Steve convinces him, or possibly Jarvis, to remove the suit so the medics can do their work and stays by his side. Tony catches at his hand again as soon as the gauntlet has retracted; Steve laces their fingers together and holds tightly.
'It's alright, Tony,' Steve tells him and squeezes his hand tighter when Tony just stares up at him.
When Pepper arrives she's as white as a sheet. Steve told her over the phone that Tony is fine now and is just sedated so her reaction is strange.
'Ms… I mean, Pepper? I told you Tony was fine now?'
'You left him on his own?' she snaps at him as she pushes passed him and through the door to Tony's room. 'He hates hospitals; you can't let him wake up here alone. Do you understand?
'Yes, ma'am,' he agrees promptly and wonders why the only women he's even know personally are scary.
Tony is still sleeping though and they start trading off on who sits with him as he recovers.
When Tony wakes up his reaction is identical to the only other time Steve has seen Tony wake from a nightmare. The genius jolts upright and scrabbles backwards, kicking at the blankets as he goes.
'Tony!' Steve reaches for him.
'Jarvis!' Tony calls, but of course the AI doesn't respond here. He flinches away violently from Steve's outstretched hand and manages to remove the IV from his arm as well as the monitors for his blood pressure and his heart rate.
'Tony, it's alright!' Steve hovers nearby and doesn't reach over again. 'You're in medical; you're safe!'
Tony turns his wide eyed gaze on Steve,
'Tony, it's Steve,' he reaches out slowly to clasp Tony's shoulder when he sees recognition dawn in the other's eyes.
Tony drops his forehead to rest on Steve's arm where he's holding his shoulder,
'Hey,' Steve sits on the bed and tugs Tony into a hug.
Tony surprises him by loosely wrapping his own arms around Steve's waist and tucking his head under the super soldier's jaw.
Then the moment's over and Tony recoils and scrambles for the desk phone by the bed.
'What's wrong?' Steve holds back from clutching his friend back to him.
'I need to speak to Jarvis,' is the only thing Tony tells him before dashing the phone against the wall and prising it apart. He adjusts some wires and then turns the phone over and dials a long number. 'This is now contacting one of SI's data centers directly; Jarvis will know it's me.'
A double beep comes from the phone and Tony types in another number before speaking,
'Sir,' the AI's voice sounds relieved through the earpiece.
Tony visibly relaxes at the voice of his best friend,
'Are you feeling ok, Tony?' Steve presses. 'Should I call a doctor?'
'I'm fine,' Tony dismisses and moves to the edge of the bed. 'Where's my stuff?'
'The armour is a level down from you, sir, in a laboratory,' Jarvis reports. 'I am preventing anyone from learning anything from it.'
'Where are we?' Tony gets to his feet as Steve hovers nervously.
'The medical bay of the helicarrier,' Steve tells him helpfully.
'Thanks, genius,' Tony rolls his eyes. 'Where is that?'
'Several hundred miles west of Hawaii, sir,' Jarvis reports as Steve feels embarrassed.
Tony scowls as he fiddles with the pyjamas he's found himself dressed in,
'If we don't push it?'
'We should make landfall,' Jarvis doesn't quite sound convinced but is clearly resigned.
'Is something wrong with the helicarrier?' Steve asks nervously.
'No,' Tony starts opening cabinets. 'The reactor is low. We tried a few things on the poison before I came to you. I need to get back and swap it over.'
'You mean you want to fly?!' Steve may have raised his voice a little as Tony actually flinches.
Steve takes a step back and raises his hands,
'I'm sorry. Tony, I'm sorry. Please don't just go.'
Tony turns away again without a word.
'Sir,' Jarvis' voice sounds from the phone, 'Captain Rogers has a point. You were poisoned and reaching landfall in Malibu is no longer sufficient; you must reach New York. If you insist I can have the jet meet you on the helicarrier or in Hawaii.'
Tony looks over at the phone silently for a moment then swallows heavily and looks Steve in the eye,
'I hate it here.'
'We'll be out of here soon,' Steve promises softly.
'I really hate it here,' Tony adds but sits back on the bed.
'Captain,' Jarvis adds, 'I suggest you remain with sir if you wish for him to stay.'
'Thanks, Jarvis,' Tony crosses his arms. 'Because Cap here didn't quite think I was a complete failure as a human being; he needed that extra push.'
'As always, you wellbeing is my primary concern,' Jarvis tells him dryly.
'Yeah,' Tony huffs and drops his head back against the wall. 'Cap, get them to bring my armour up to me, will you?'
'Sure, Tony,' Steve agrees reluctantly and steps into the corridor to speak to one of the agents posted as guards.
He doesn't quite close the door, so he hears what Jarvis says next,
'Get Dummy to box up a reactor and get someone to put it on the jet. I'll meet it in Hawaii or Malibu.'
Steve isn't sure if Tony hates hospitals in general or if it's a distrust of SHIELD, but his friend's twitchiness is starting to make him jumpy too.
Tony has consented to staying in his medical room but only if certain conditions are met, though he doesn't word it quite like that.
He wants something to do. The armour and a toolbox are brought up a mere minute after Steve asks for them and so Tony is pacified in the short term.
He needs to have Jarvis at hand. This is satisfied on two fronts now; Jarvis is still responding over the phone, which seems to surprise everyone who comes into the room (Steve wonders if being from the past and finding everything a little unbelievable is actually a benefit when living with Tony as he takes things in stride by accident) and now he has the suit Tony has a more active interface with his friend.
He doesn't allow any of the doctors to touch him or to replace any of their monitoring equipment. The argument would probably have lasted longer but Tony is wearing one of his gauntlets when the doctor comes in, which is a little intimidating as it seems to respond to Tony's mood and powers up. Steve isn't sure how far Tony would have gone to stand his ground on this issue, but it's ok because Steve uses his 'patriotic powers of persuasion' (TM Stark Ind.) to send the doctor on his way.
Finally he seems to want someone with him. He demands Jarvis' presence, and his desire for additional companionship isn't that high, but he isn't indifferent when Steve has to go to debriefing. Pepper arrives just in time to save Steve from having to decide to skip it.
But maybe he should have.
Steve isn't in the best form during the debriefing. He barely listens to run down of the fight, he doesn't add anything to the discussion on tactics and he honestly doesn't even notice when they start talking about who the group might have been allied with.
He is very much consumed by the thought that Tony might not still be there when he gets back.
Tony is there when he gets back.
He's fiddling with a tablet that he's most likely stolen from Pepper and rubbing absently at his arc reactor.
'You're still here!' Steve blurts pointlessly.
Pepper has fallen asleep on Tony's hospital bed so Tony looks up at him from the floor,
'Wow, your observational skills really took a jump when you got that serum didn't they, Cap?'
Steve sits down across from Tony and leans against the wall,
'I didn't expect you to stay.'
Tony shrugs and scratches at his chest,
'Jarvis said it; I don't have enough power to make it to New York.'
'The arc could be brought to meet you part way,' Steve challenges without changing his tone.
Tony just smirks and keeps working.
'Sir has agreed to stay in medical until we can be certain he is suffering no side effects from the poison,' Jarvis adds.
'Good,' Steve smiles.
Tony glances at him over his tablet,
'Did you want something?'
'Just to reassure myself that you're ok,' Steve beams at him.
Tony gives him a confused and calculating look as he rubs at the arc under his t-shirt.
'Is Pepper ok?'
'Jet lag,' Tony responds promptly. 'She flew a long way to be here.'
'You should be resting too,' Steve reminds him.
'I don't need that much sleep,' Tony disagrees. 'I never have.'
'Would you like company?' Steve offers. 'I mean more company. I know you have Jarvis.'
'Stay if you want.'
So Steve does.
Steve makes himself as comfortable as he can against the wall and watches Tony work as the night draws in.
And becomes increasingly concerned.
'Tony, is the arc bothering you?'
'The arc always bothers me,' Tony deflects and moves his hand away from rubbing at it.
Tony looks at him silently for several long moments then looks back at his tablet,
'The poison wasn't a poison. Well, it was. Definitely a poison. But also, it had something in it that's attacking the reactor casing.'
'I don't understand,' Steve forces himself to stay calm, 'you can't be saying what I think you're saying.'
'I'm saying that the reactor casing is being corroded inside my chest,' Tony glances up again. 'I'm saying that the people attacking that bank were probably only doing so to get our attention, though they probably expected it to take longer than it did. I'm saying that I need to figure out how to neutralise this or receiving the new reactor won't help.'
'What can I do?' Steve demands.
'Not a lot,' Tony dismisses but looks a little pleased with Steve's concern. 'If I can neutralise it I'll need a new reactor casing already, as well as the reactor itself. If it takes me too long then it will start to corrode the reactor itself and then I'm dead.'
Steve knows the blood has just drained from his face,
'God, Tony…' he scoots across the floor to sit by Tony by the bed and pulls him into a hug.
Tony tenses then slumps boneless against Steve's chest,
'Unless you have the previously undisclosed power of magic healing hugs,' Tony snarks at him, 'this isn't helpful.'
Steve notices that his friend has basically curled into his arms, despite his words,
'I'm Captain America,' Steve declares, hoping for a smile, 'of course I have magic hugs.'
Tony snorts and pulls back,
'Most brilliant sound bite ever. Jarvis, save that somewhere.'
'Of course, sir,' Jarvis sounds resigned.
Steve watches Tony with increasing worry after that.
Initially he tries to talk Tony into telling the Doctors so they can monitor him properly but Tony refuses,
'This isn't medicine. This is technology and I'm already up to speed working on it; I'm not going to stop now to explain it to anyone.'
Tony's noticeably forcing himself to stop touching the arc where it's bothering him. He's broken into a sweat as a he starts to run a fever, which is worrying but not as worrying as when Steve notices that he's bleeding.
'It's from around the reactor,' Tony tells him even as Steve reaches for his t-shirt. 'Leave it!'
Steve forces his hand back to his side,
'What does that mean?'
'It means the arc is becoming loose in my chest,' Tony snaps. 'Back off!'
'I'm sorry,' Steve gives Tony some space reluctantly. 'God, Tony, please figure this out.'
'Sure,' is all Tony says for the next hour.
'Jarvis, eta on the jet?' Tony breaks the silence. He sounds rough and there's blood trickling slowly but steadily down his chest.
'Still several hours, sir.'
'I don't have that much time,' Tony mutters as he glances at Pepper who's still sleeping on the bed. He looks at Steve, 'I need to overload the reactor while it's still in my chest. It will destroy the virus before burning out but then I'll need a whole new chest piece.'
'So what do we do?'
'I need to get back to my tower,' Tony pulls himself to his feet and Steve stands to steady him. 'Jarvis, start fabrication of a new reactor casing.'
'Already complete, sir,' Jarvis replies. 'I took the liberty of making some preparations.'
'Good. Start warming up a Quinjet; I'll be there shortly,' Tony starts suiting up so Steve takes a step back.
'So we're going to New York?'
'We?' Tony honestly falters and stares at Steve in surprise.
'Yes, 'we',' Steve scowls at him. 'You can't have thought I'd let you go alone?'
'Fine. Yes, we're going to meet my jet for the new reactor on the way; this one doesn't have the power to overload.'
'You should wake Pepper,' Steve gestures to the bed.
Tony's already out of the door.
They've already left the helicarrier by the time Steve realises that he hasn't reported any of this to the Director or the rest of the team.
'Too late now,' Tony dismisses.
They meet Tony's jet while still over the ocean. Tony uses up most of the remains of the arc reactor's power by going across to the jet to collect the new reactor while they're still in mid-air.
When Tony's back onboard Steve sets their course for New York and pushes up their speed.
'How long will it take before you can put it in?' Steve asks as Tony sits in the co-pilot seat with the new reactor and some fine-detail tools.
'Half an hour,' Tony shrugs. 'No point putting it in until we get back to the tower though.'
'Why?' Steve demands.
'Because if the virus eats through to the reactor I won't be able to overload it,' Tony keeps his eyes on the reactor.
'Then put the new one in, overload it and swap back to the old one,' Steve points out reasonably.
'Can't,' Tony disagrees. 'The virus is already in this reactor.'
'What?!' Steve jolts and the Quinjet sways in the air. 'When were you going to tell me?!'
'Just did,' Tony offers him a grin.
Steve's heart breaks a little.
'How long will the reactor keep working for?' Steve tightens his grip on the controls.
'Just about long enough if we keep to this velocity,' Tony glances up at the navigation screen. 'So don't get lost.'
'You think I can't find New York?' Steve snaps unfairly. 'Sorry, Tony, this just isn't funny.'
They can see New York on the horizon when Tony staggers to his feet,
'I have to get to the lab. I have minutes before this reactor is useless and I need to be there when I overload the other one.'
'Tony…' Steve catches his elbow as the suit is reforming around him. 'Please be safe. Please, Tony.'
Tony swallows heavily as Steve lets go of his arm. He picks up his helmet and hesitates for a second.
'Forgive me,' Tony demands suddenly and wraps one armoured hand around Steve's jaw and tips his face to receive a heated kiss.
Steve responds to the kiss automatically as a ridiculous part of his mind wonders if he'll ever be kissed and not be surprised by it.
Tony pulls away after an eternal moment and the helmet is in place before Steve opens his eyes.
'Thanks,' Tony's voice comes from the suit and then he's gone and speeding for home.
'Jarvis?' Steve calls the moment he jumps from the Quinjet onto the helipad on the top of the tower. 'Please tell me Tony made it back?'
There's a long pause during which Steve forces himself to remember to breathe as he rushes for the lift,
'Sir is in his workshop,' the AI reports finally.
'Is he ok?!'
There's no response.
He arrives at the entrance to the workshop only to find the massive metal shutter in place across the windows.
'He's in lockdown? Jarvis, please, open the door?
'Jarvis?' Steve bites his lip. 'Is he…? He's not…'
'Sir is dying,' Jarvis announces as the metal shutters suddenly start rising. 'We need your help.'
Steve borrows from Tony's vocabulary as he ducks under the shutter which immediately drops back down behind him.
Tony is sprawled on the floor with the armour nowhere in sight. His skin is unnaturally pale and damp with sweat. Dummy is at his side pulling out the arc reactor and You is pulling over a generator with a trailing cable.
Steve freezes at the sight of Tony's chest. He's seen his teammate shirtless before, hell, it's Tony, he's seen him fully naked before, but he's never looked like this. There's bloody oozing from around the hole where the arc should be and the casing wall looks pitted and corroded.
'You must connect the generator to the electromagnet in sir's chest,' Jarvis instructs him. 'Butterfingers is getting a spare reactor but it will need to be activated and we must buy ourselves time.'
'Right,' Steve rushes to take the generator from You and presses the device at the end of the cable from the generator into place in Tony's chest. He watches in desperation as Tony's whole body shudders and falls limp again. 'Jarvis, what do I do?'
'Sir is stable enough now for us to work on the spare arc reactor,' Jarvis tells him and Steve is not imagining the relief in his tone. 'Dummy don't… that was unnecessary, Dummy.'
Steve looks up to see Dummy has apparently snatched the arc reactor from Butterfingers and has moved it to a workbench where he's now peering down at it.
'Does he know how to fix it?' Steve can't quite make himself leave Tony's side.
'He does. He has never actually done so however, though he has watched sir many times.'
'Can you talk me through it or do we need Tony to wake up?' Steve asks quietly and brushes a hand though Tony's damp hair.
'We cannot wait but I believe we will not be able to complete the task without him. Butterfingers and You can replace the reactor casing. Dummy will assist you.'
Steve swallows heavily and bows his head over Tony. He takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders as he stands,
'Let's do this then.'
There is a reason not everybody else in the entire world has an arc reactor.
At one point Steve feels that he and Jarvis are both on the verge of tears from just not being able to communicate enough. Steve does not understand technical language and Jarvis, for all his brilliance, is not used to dealing with anyone other than Tony. And it is fair to say Tony is quite a bit smarter than Steve when it comes to technology.
'How the hell did he build this in a cave? And with only his own memory to guide him?!' Steve exclaims finally. 'I'm sorry Jarvis, explain it again?'
'Certainly, Captain,' Jarvis sounds increasingly desperate but he's still unfailing polite. 'The second node on the left of the third circular port,' Steve squints, 'must be Dummy no!'
Dummy chirps angrily and pokes his head into Steve's eye line to reach the arc.
'You believe you can do this?' Jarvis asks and then continues after a pause, 'very well, Dummy. Captain, Dummy believes he can activate the arc reactor. I suggest you allow him space to work.'
'Well, that's horrifying,' comes a rough croak from the floor.
Steve's military training is the only thing that stops him spinning to check on Tony.
Dummy has no such training and smacks Steve in the face as he turns to his master.
'Sir, it is good to see you awake,' Jarvis sounds relieved.
'How far have you got?' Tony staggers to his feet and brings the generator over with him.
'Progress is being made, sir,' Jarvis reports.
Steve hands over the reactor readily to You and Dummy resumes working on it. He steps to Tony's side and puts a steadying hand to his elbow,
'Peachy,' Tony smiles tightly and adjusts something within his chest cavity. The bleeding has stopped and the space for the reactor is shiny and new again but the skin around it looks raw and inflamed.
'Does it hurt?'
'I'll be fine,' Tony tells him, basically meaning yes.
'Shouldn't you…' Steve gestures to the bots.
'I trust Dummy,' Tony tells him and sways on his feet; Steve tows him to a stool.
Steve finds himself standing close enough to Tony's stool that the billionaire can rest against his chest.
'You're warm,' Tony informs him.
Steve chokes out a laugh and then tears are streaming down his face. He makes a gasping sobbing noise and presses his face against Tony's neck.
'Oh, fuck, are you crying?' Tony sounds positively horrified. 'Christ, Steve, don't do that. I don't know how to deal with that. Butterfingers, get Steve a… a cup of tea! That's a thing. Steve, it's ok, you'll have some tea.'
Steve tightens his grip on Tony's waist and tries to control his breathing.
'Fuck, this is a whole new level of hell. I made Captain America cry. I'll be facing a firing squad in the morning, just you wait and see. The President himself will pull the trigger and I'll be dead. Please stop…'
'Please don't joke about dying,' Steve interrupts and manages to pull back and give Tony a very shaky glare.
'Too soon?' Tony relaxes a little now Steve has wiped away his tears.
'Sir, the arc reactor is now ready for insertion,' Jarvis informs them.
'Ah, good boy,' Tony runs a hand over Dummy as he rolls over. He pulls out the temporary electromagnet by the trailing cables and presses the arc reactor home
Tony's eyes go wide as the arc glows brightly in his chest before settling down,
'Mmm, coconut,' Tony grins, and then eyes Steve as he pushes the generator aside with his foot and gets to his feet.
'Shouldn't you rest…' Steve objects as Tony sidles around him to his computer station. Butterfingers stops Steve from immediately following by pushing a mug into Steve's hands.
Steve grips it reflexively,
'Thank you. Umm, Tony, I think this is just hot water.'
'I don't have any tea down here,' Tony informs him; his fiddling is taking him gradually further from Steve. 'And if one of them offers you a smoothie I would recommend some form of chemical analysis before consumption.'
'Sir, I believe Captain Rogers may be in shock,' Jarvis reports and Steve notices his hands are shaking enough that the water from his mug is sloshing over the sides.
Tony curses and is back his side removing the mug from his hands,
'Hey, come on Cap, deep breaths now,' he abandons the mug and stands by Steve awkwardly.
'I'm sorry,' Steve bites his lip. 'I thought…'
'Butterfingers, get him a blanket,' Tony waves a hand at the robot who dutifully rolls away towards the back of the workshop.
'I'm sorry,' Steve says again and clenches his hands into fists.
'What for?' Tony stares at him then retrieves the ratty blanket Butterfingers has brought to him. He shakes the blanket out then just holds it out to Steve to take.
Steve takes the blanket only after Tony pokes it into his chest insistently. Tony backs away several paces and watches him carefully. Steve stares at his own hands as he clenches the blanket tightly.
'I thought you were going to die, Tony! For a minute I thought you were dead.'
'I'm sorry?' Tony just sounds surprised. 'I didn't mean to worry you.'
'You think I'm upset with you?' Steve stares at him in horror.
Tony blinks in surprise,
'I kept things from you, I nearly died, or possibly I did, and I kissed you. Those are all pretty good reasons to be angry.'
'Oh…' Steve's brain is finally working at full speed now.
Tony kissed him. And Tony is selfless in some ways, but he's not likely to have thought that Steve would have wanted that to be their last interaction. Tony didn't kiss him because he thought Steve wanted him to. So Tony kissed Steve because Tony wanted to.
So Tony must have completely misunderstood Steve's feelings for him.
Steve frames Tony's face with his hands and pulls him close,
'Please,' he whispers against Tony's lips.
Tony kisses him.
Steve would deny that the sound that comes out of his throat at this point is a whine, but he thinks Jarvis has probably recorded it.
Tony takes it as encouragement anyway.
Steve surrenders himself to being kissed by a man who clearly knows what he's doing and lets his hands rest hesitantly on Tony's waist. Tony rubs his hands up Steve's chest and then digs his fingers into his hair. He arches up against the taller man then jolts backwards with a wince.
'Tony?' Steve forces himself to let his friend take a step back.
'It's alright, I'm fine,' Tony rubs one hand over his eyes, leaving the other against Steve's chest.
'You're ok?' Steve asks. 'No more of the poison?'
'I'm fine,' Tony agrees and then winces and puts a hand to the arc. 'Actually this hurts like hell, but I'm not in danger any longer. Jarvis, I still have some pain killers down here somewhere?'
'In the bottom drawer of your desk, sir,' Jarvis replies.
Steve had actually forgotten that there are four other 'people' in the room with them. Dummy is looking at him strangely.
Tony slips from his arms as he's watching Dummy and dry swallows some pills before You offers him a decanter.
'I think I probably shouldn't drink that right now,' Tony pats the bot and downs some water before step back to Steve's side. 'Are we ok?'
Steve snaps out of his distraction and reaches a hand towards Tony who takes the prompt and steps back into Steve's arms.
'That's a yes?'
'We're so much better than fine, Tony. Just as long as you're ok.'
There's naturally some fall out from them disappearing from the helicarrier and not telling anyone what was going on.
Pepper is horrified that Tony was dying, again, without telling her. The other Avengers seem hurt that Steve didn't even think to tell them what was going on. Fury seems to take it the best; he seems bizarrely resigned to a life and death situation that would lead Tony to steal a Quinjet and fly thousand miles.
They greet everyone in the family room because Tony insists he doesn't want everyone coming to find him in his workroom. The reunion is loud but things do settle down once everyone has had their fill of scolding them.
Steve takes the scoldings with an 'aww shucks' (Tony's description) expression on his face but standing straight and tall. Tony smirks, deflects and dodges before escaping back to his bots.
Steve ponders following him but really he should let Tony rest and he's exhausted himself.
Two days later Tony comes down from his penthouse, rubbing sleep from his eyes and looking, to Steve's eyes, beautifully dishevelled in worn silk pyjamas.
'Good morning, Tony,' he can't help but smile.
'Hey,' Tony blinks at him. 'Good, you're here. Jarvis, call Pepper and Rhodey.'
'Tony, what's going on?'
'I've made a decision,' Tony moves to the coffee machine and selects one of his presets. He leans against the counter as the beans are ground, 'I'll tell you when Pep and Rhodey are on.'
Pepper is worried when she answers the phone, and Rhodey sounds likes he's bracing himself for something.
'I'm fine, I make a decision,' Tony repeats.
Steve bites his lip; there are so many things Tony could be deciding right now that would need him to talk to the three of them. He could be resigning from SI, or from the Avengers, he could be restarting weapons manufacturing, or moving to one of his other many houses. He could be about to tell everyone that actually he is still dying.
'I'm going to have the arc reactor removed,' Tony tells them.
'What?' Steve blurts even as Pepper tells him what a wonderful idea that is.
'And the shrapnel,' Tony adds to Steve. 'Do you honestly think I'm suicidal?'
Steve stands quietly confused as Tony finishes the conversation with his PA (which doesn't do justice to what Pepper does but is still the perfect description for what she does) and his best friend (best human friend).
'Why now?' Steve asks quietly when Tony hangs up.
'Technology has come a long way,' Tony doesn't meet his eyes, 'and it's really my main vulnerability.'
'That's not the reason,' Steve disagrees and Tony flinches. Steve hesitates and then steps close enough to press a kiss to Tony's cheek, 'why, Tony?'
Tony straightens and wraps his arms around Steve's neck,
'Because I don't trust hospitals,' he presses a kiss to Steve's lips, 'but I realised that I trust the four of you to keep me safe.'
And, ok, now Steve has fallen even further in love with this man than he thought possible.