Disclaimer: Not mine.
"I've changed my mind," Steve panted, breaking the silence. "I'm not in favor of global warming anymore."
Tony glanced down at where the super-soldier, sweaty and red-faced, lay sprawled on the dirt floor. The heat of their metal prison had hit Steve much harder than Tony, but then Tony was used to southern California heat waves—he'd been part lizard for years. "Since when were you in favor of it? Global warming's a bad thing, Cap."
"I was stuck in ice for seventy years. It seemed like a good idea to me."
Tony snorted wearily. "Remind me not to call you 'Captain Planet' again." He listened to the sound of Steve's heavy breaths for a second. "You doing all right, Rogers?" he asked as if it were an idle question and not a growing concern.
Steve didn't even bother to open his eyes. "We're stuck in a metal shoebox in the middle of a desert with no way of calling for backup, and you want to know if I'm 'doing all right'?"
Tony shrugged as he shifted, relieving a foot that had gone numb from sitting cross-legged for several hours. He brushed the dirt off his Armani trousers. "Just making conversation."
"Then I'm just peachy. I still can't believe they hijacked your plane."
"This is not my fault," Tony insisted for the thirtieth time that day.
Steve pried his eyes open long enough to shoot a glare at him. "I wasn't the one who let some strange dame waltz onto the plane without a background check just because she had a pretty face."
"Hey, at least I was looking at her face! You, if I remember correctly, were looking decidedly—ahem—lower." Tony made a suggestive gesture with his hands.
He thought that some of the red staining Steve's face now was definitely a blush rather than the first sign of heatstroke. "Her dress was very—interesting," the soldier said a little shamefacedly.
Tony had to grant him that. The woman's dress had been incredibly interesting, short and tight and very revealing even as it fully covered all of her more fascinating attributes. The woman had looked like an African Jessica Rabbit, with big dark eyes that were sultry and vulnerable at the same time. Her sales pitch had been perfect, too, asking for Tony Stark's support for a new human rights group that was trying to make wide-sweeping changes in the worst parts of Africa. He'd been more than happy to escort her onto his private jet for the flight from D.C. back to New York—to discuss human rights in further depth, of course.
Steve, playing the good little bodyguard, had naturally protested, but Tony, using his authority as the "employer," had ignored him. It was a decision he came to regret twenty minutes into the flight when Jessica Rabbit pulled a SIG Sauer from her briefcase. Steve had hesitated over hitting a woman—that, or he hadn't been able to decide where exactly to grab her, Tony wasn't sure which—and she had twisted behind him, holding the gun to his head and threatening to shoot him if Tony made a move. It turned out that she was with a human rights group, but one that wanted to make changes using Stark Industries tech and weapons—and they were willing to do whatever they had to in order to get the tech.
She was smart, Tony had to give her that. He hadn't dared try to pull anything, not with that gun pressed unerringly against Steve's temple; instead he'd begrudgingly ordered the flight rerouted to Shithole, Africa. He and Steve had waited for a moment of weakness or distraction, but without luck. The woman held her position for the entire eight-hour flight with a steely determination that reminded Tony of Natasha Romanoff. Things only got worse once the jet landed in a deserted strip in the middle of nowhere; Jessica Rabbit had a lot of friends waiting and each one had an automatic weapon leveled at Tony Stark and his hapless bodyguard. They'd climbed into the run-down Jeep without argument.
"Oh, God," Tony groaned out loud. "Romanoff's never going to let us live this down."
"Uh, I'm sorry, could you remind me which one of us was held hostage?"
Steve shut his eyes again, tugging his sodden undershirt away from his sweaty chest. "I'm telling Pepper you let a strange woman on the plane without a background check," he shot back.
"Well, someone's cranky," Tony said irritably. Steve merely pulled on the neck of his t-shirt again and didn't respond. Tony saw him swallow thickly; even his throat was flushed, now. "Man up, Rogers," he ordered, poking the other man in the side. "It's not that hot." And it wasn't, really. At the moment the temperature was probably hovering in the low nineties, although it felt cool in comparison to the midday heat in which they were initially thrown into the glorified metal box in the middle of a sandy plain. That had been nearly unbearable, even for Tony. Both men had quickly stripped off their jackets and dress shirts, though Tony had since shrugged his shirt back on just in case someone decided to come talk to him. The air vents in their prison were nothing more than four-inch wide horizontal gaps near the roof, and the wind—if there even was one—had no chance of circulating the stale, hot air inside.
He poked Steve again.
Steve rolled away from the poke and vomited, stomach and back heaving as if he were trying to throw up his own spleen. "Sorry," he mumbled, leaning into Tony's supporting hands gratefully. He started covering the mess with dirt, but Tony pulled him away and helped him to crawl until he could lean against a wall.
"Leave it, Cap. I'll take care of it." Steve didn't argue. He scrubbed his mouth with the back of his hand as Tony kicked dirt over the vomit, doing his best to keep his face expressionless despite the unpleasantness of the task.
"I really wish you'd let me break down one of the walls," Steve said hoarsely.
Tony shook his head, scrubbing his shoe in the dirt and sand to make sure it was clean. "We can't risk them finding out who you are—so no extraordinary feats of strength." S.H.I.E.L.D. had managed to keep Captain America's true identity a secret from public knowledge so far. Steve Rogers was just another bodyguard in Tony Stark's service, as far as the world was concerned. Their captors obviously knew they had Iron Man and they could ransom him to Stark Industries, but if they found out they had Captain America, as well? That could compromise the entire American government and military. Steve knew it, too, judging by the way his mouth twisted in frustration. Besides, as tough as Captain America was, he wasn't bulletproof without his suit and iconic shield.
Tony wandered over to the door and started kicking it, shouting, "Hey! Hey! Can we get a little attention in here? Room service, maybe? I think we're supposed to at least get a phone call!"
He stopped yelling when he heard sounds from the other side of the door. Something banged against the metal wall and a minute later a shadow fell across one of the air slits near the ceiling. Two plastic bottles of water fell to the ground by Tony's feet, but nothing else. "That's it? Come on!"
"Better than nothing," Steve pointed out from the other side of the prison. Tony grunted in annoyance as he scooped the bottles up. As he walked over to Steve, he opened one of the bottles and sniffed it experimentally, trying to detect any possible poison or drugs. When he didn't smell anything, he handed the bottle to Steve. He took it gratefully, swilling out his mouth with the first sip and drinking half the bottle with the next. Tony recapped his own bottle after only a couple of sips; he was thirsty, but he could do without water for a little while longer, if necessary. "How long has it been, do you think?" Steve asked as he set his water aside; barely a third remained, swishing around in the bottom of the bottle.
Tony squinted at the sliver of darkening sky he could see through the slits; the kidnappers had taken his watch. "Maybe—eight or nine hours since they put us in here?"
"And two hours to get us here from the landing strip," Steve added thoughtfully. "So we've been gone for at least eighteen hours. Long enough for S.H.I.E.L.D. to worry and start looking."
"Yeah," Tony agreed. He slid down the wall to slump next to the super-soldier. "I hope they let my flight crew go—like they said they would."
"They didn't have a reason not to. You're the one they want; I'm only here to ensure your good behavior." Steve toyed with his water bottle but didn't open it. "Y'know, stuff like this only seems to happen to me when I'm with you."
"You're just jealous because I'm rich and famous, Gramps."
Steve snorted. "If this is what rich and famous gets, I think I'll stick to anonymity, thanks all the same." He sighed wearily.
Tony glanced at him. "Get some sleep, Cap. There's nothing we can do right now but wait."
Tony woke up the next morning when the metal wall behind his head became uncomfortably hot in the morning sun. A quick glance showed that nothing had changed in their prison, and his grumbling stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten anything in the last day. Plus, while his own water bottle was still mostly full (and looking so very tempting as Tony became aware of how dry his mouth was), Steve's was completely empty. The other man was still asleep, his face already flushed a pale pink as the temperature steadily climbed.
Tony staggered to his feet, not bothering to dust the sand and dirt from his trousers anymore. He kicked the door, shouting for their captors' attention. He kept it up for well over ten minutes, startling Steve awake and making himself hoarse, but nothing happened. No water bottles, no sounds, nothing. They listened to the silence as the sun climbed higher in the sky, flooding their prison with bars of light and heat.
"Screw this," Tony finally announced. "I'm tired of waiting for Fury to get his ass in gear." He gestured at the door. "Have at it, Hercules."
Steve huffed out a laugh but didn't move.
"What's so funny?" Tony demanded. "Come on, get moving!"
"Sorry—nothing. It's just—I don't think I can."
Tony kicked the door again. "Can what? Break it down? It's only three, maybe four inches thick—"
"Move. I don't think I can move."
When Tony turned to stare at him, Steve demonstrated by bracing one hand on the ground and the other on the wall and shoving himself up and forward. He barely pushed his weight onto his heels before he fell back, head slamming against the wall when he failed to catch himself. "See?" he asked through a wince.
Tony was by his side in an instant, crouching down to peer at his face. "What's wrong?"
"Dunno. Hot, maybe?" Steve suggested uncertainly.
Tony pressed a hand against his forehead; he felt a little warm, but not feverish by any means. "You should have cooled down overnight, Spangles."
Steve shrugged. "Dunno," he repeated, sounding strangely apathetic and worn out.
Tony studied him, his own stomach churning from both hunger and concern. He wrapped his fingers around Steve's wrist, feeling his pulse. It felt weak, especially for a man of his size. The super-soldier's undershirt was stiff with old sweat, and Tony could already see new perspiration beading the other man's upper lip. "You need water. You're probably dehydrated," Tony said, thinking out loud. He shoved his water bottle into Steve's hand, watched him take a few shallow sips.
"You need it, too," Steve insisted, handing the bottle back.
Tony impatiently took a swig before capping the bottle. "Feel any better?"
Steve coughed slightly before answering. "Yeah, thanks. Maybe—" He braced his hands again and pushed. This time he made it as far as his hands and knees before slumping forward. Tony saved him from getting a mouthful of dirt. "Sorry," Steve mumbled, sagging weakly against Tony.
"No problem, Cap," Tony assured him, easing him back against the wall. "Even Hercules had his off days, I'm sure." He balled his jacket up and shoved it behind Steve's head as a makeshift pillow. "Just—take it easy for now. Jessica Rabbit and her friends will be back soon. After all, we're no use to them dead."
"You're no use to them dead," Steve corrected quietly. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back.
Tony couldn't argue with him.
It was sunset, and there still had been no sign of their captors or of any rescue. Tony had tried to find a way to escape, but their kidnappers had taken away everything except for their clothes. There wasn't much he could do to break down the door with a couple of jackets and shoelaces and he had failed to find any weaknesses in the walls.
Tony tipped the water bottle against Steve's lips, watching the last few precious drops of liquid slide down and feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge watching his last gold coin get tossed away.
Steve had deteriorated rapidly during the day. At some point he had slumped to the side to lie in a heap on the ground until Tony pushed and pulled him into a more comfortable position. By midday Steve had stopped moving at all, not even attempting to turn his head away when the burning sunlight slanted across his face. Tony was so alarmed by his lethargy that he kept prodding the other man, keeping him awake and talking despite how painful talking—or even swallowing—became as their throats dried up.
Tony was faring a bit better, even though he'd given Steve most of the remaining water, eking it out in tiny sips each hour as the day passed. Tony felt dizzy and lightheaded whenever he stood and he'd puked several times, vomiting up nothing but bile; when he relieved himself in a corner of the hut, his urine had been a dark amber. He knew these warning signs, had suffered from the same symptoms when he escaped the Ten Rings in Afghanistan before Rhodey found him in the desert. But at least he was moving and cognizant.
"I'm ordering pizza when we get home," he announced, nudging Steve until his eyes opened. Pizza was a hard word to pronounce, he found, when his mouth was dry as dust and cracking around the corners. "One of every kind on the menu—even the veggie ones." He nudged Steve again. "What will you get?"
Steve swallowed, grimacing when a crack in his lower lip split open and bled sluggishly. "I dunno," he said wearily. It was his most frequent answer to Tony's constant stream of inane questions.
"Come on, you've gotta think of something you wanna get. What's your favorite food?"
The muscles under Steve's shirt moved slightly as he gave the tiniest shrug. "Dunno. Can't think."
"You want me to think for you? I'm pretty used to it by now." Tony waited for the expected retort to the dig, but nothing was forthcoming. "I'm hungry enough to eat a horse," he continued after a long moment. "In fact, that eight-legged one that Thor told us about is sounding better and better. Extra drumsticks, y'know. Deep-fried, southern style. Butter and biscuits on the side. Ice cream for dessert. Any of this sound good to you?"
"'S'funny," Steve slurred in response. "I'm not hungry at all."
Tony snorted in disbelief. "Are you kidding me? I'm starving. I mean, when was the last time we ate?" A warning bell went off in the part of his brain that was still functioning at almost-normal capacity. He leaned forward suddenly, ignoring his head as it spun at the movement, and watched Steve closely. "Rogers, when was the last time you ate something?" He already knew the answer, though.
"That Indian place in D.C. Where you had dinner with that senator."
Tony felt his stomach sink at the confirmation. Their flight from D.C. had been early in the morning and he and Steve had decided to eat breakfast on the plane. Only Jessica Rabbit had interfered with their breakfast plans. Tony had snacked on the bag of blueberries he always kept in his jacket pocket and he'd had a bottle of sparkling water within reach, but Steve had been stuck in a chair across the cabin with a gun pressed against his head for the whole flight. He hadn't eaten anything in almost forty-eight hours and had had very little water. Certainly nowhere near enough to combat the heat and replace what he had sweated away.
"Shit," he swore. "I think I know what's wrong with you, Spangles."
"You mean besides the obvious?" Tony was somewhat heartened by the other man's sardonic tone. At least he could still summon up enough energy for sarcasm.
"You need food—and water."
"Good to know we pay you for a reason, Stark."
"No, listen, damn it. Have you ever been starved like this before?"
Steve frowned in thought. "There were days during the Depression when the orphanage ran out of food and the older kids had to go without."
There were so many things wrong with this statement—said so straightforwardly and simply like it was a perfectly normal thing to say—that Tony's brain shut down momentarily and refused to process the new information. "What about after the serum?" he finally choked out.
The super-soldier hesitated before answering. "No, the Army fed me after they made me Captain America. And we always carried extra rations on missions in case everything went to hell." He smiled faintly. "Phillips used to complain that I ate more than the entire 107th combined."
Tony could believe it. He'd once watched Captain America consume five Whoppers, three helpings of fries, and an entire cheesecake in one sitting. And the story of Steve's first experience with the endless pancakes at IHOP was already legend at S.H.I.E.L.D. "It's the serum. It sped up your metabolism, right? Well, that means you must burn through calories—food—faster than normal people. I bet the same thing's true with water, too."
"But I'm not even hungry," Steve said in confusion.
Tony sighed. "That's not a good thing, Steve. In fact, that's a really bad sign." He twisted the empty water bottle in his hands as if he could wring a few more drops out of the plastic itself, like blood from a stone. "If you ask me, you got a pretty raw deal with the whole super-soldier thing. Let's weigh the cons, shall we?" He ticked them off on his fingers. "You can't get drunk; drugs don't work on you—not even the fun ones; you have to eat enough food to feed a small country each day to survive; you turn into a Capsicle whenever you get cold; you have to wear a spangley outfit—are there even any pros to this arrangement?"
Steve managed a wan grin. "I got taller."
By sunset on the third day, Steve was unconscious. Nothing Tony did would wake him up. His breathing was shallow and uneven, and when Tony ran his hands along Steve's torso he thought he could feel the other man's ribs where before he would have felt muscle.
Tony was falling apart, too. There was a constant pounding in his head that made it impossible to think. He'd had an hour long argument with his father about testing serums on unsuspecting people without knowing what would happen before he remembered that Howard had been dead for twenty years and he was clearly hallucinating.
The realization banished Howard from his blurred vision but left Tony with no one at whom he could be angry. He was tempted to yell at Steve—mostly for being an idiot and volunteering to be a lab rat in the first place without thinking to ask about possible side effects—but it didn't seem very sporting to yell at an unconscious man.
Tony knew that human beings could survive for weeks without food—for significantly less time without water—but that was in ideal situations. Stuck in a metal hut in the middle of Africa in a hundred plus degree weather? Yeah, not ideal. Their hourglasses were running out of sand fast, and there was something distinctly unfair about the fact that the very serum that was supposed to make Captain America invincible was now killing him four times quicker than a normal person.
Maybe it was the heat or the dehydration or a combination of both, but Tony snapped. He abandoned his post by Steve's side and threw himself at the door, kicking and punching it like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum, petulantly and just as futilely. He screamed obscenities at his absent captors at the top of his lungs, feeling his throat tear and burn at the strain. He threatened them with mutilation and certain death if Steve died. He told them how he would hunt them down one by one. He explained in meticulous detail the effects of his repulsors on human flesh.
But he didn't give in, didn't promise to give them Iron Man.
Because he was a fucking superhero. And giving in wasn't in the job description, no matter how high the cost. Even if that cost was Captain America's life.
His fury depleted the last of his energy and he stopped screaming as suddenly as he had started. For a moment, he stood perfectly still, and then the world tilted and he blacked out.
It was dawn when Tony woke up again, and at first he thought Steve was already dead. He was too dizzy to stand and was forced to crawl back to Steve's side. He reached out and grabbed the other man's arm as he drew near. The early morning light was bright enough that Tony could see the blue tint to Steve's fingernails.
His worst fears were confirmed when he couldn't feel a pulse in the slack wrist. He kept crawling, though, hauling himself into a sitting position by Steve's shoulder, shoving shaky fingers under the super-soldier's chin. He thought he felt something, but he couldn't tell whether it was the tremors of his own body or an impossibly weak fluttering in the carotid artery. Tony pressed his ear against Steve's chest and would have cried in relief if there'd been any spare water left in his body. Steve's heart was still beating, weak and stuttering, and his breathing was almost imperceptible, but it was there, and that was all that mattered.
"You're the goddamned Energizer Bunny," he tried to tell Steve, but the words came out as an unintelligible garble. He sagged over the other Avenger, barely holding his spine upright, keeping one hand over Steve's heart and reminding himself to keep breathing despite his exhaustion and pain and oh, look, Dad was there again, crouching across from him, shoving his own hand under Steve's chin.
From far away Tony felt anger stir within him. "You fucking son of a bitch," he croaked and his voice sounded like an avalanche but he kept talking anyway. "Do you have any idea what the fuck you've done to him?" and Dad must have understood part of it at least because he looked up with guilt and remorse flashing across his face.
"I know, I'm sorry, we should have found you days ago, Jesus, Tony," Dad said. "But the Bloody Hearts abandoned the hut when they realized we were on to them and we couldn't pick up your heat signatures," and there was so much grief and anger and concern and consternation in Dad's voice that Tony blinked and when he opened his eyes Dad was Bruce.
"Banner!" Tony gasped out and he fell sideways in sheer relief and shock, but Clint caught him before he hit the ground. That was when Tony noticed that one of the walls was missing—when had that happened?
And, look, Natasha was there, too, her red hair shining in the sun streaming through the missing wall—where had it gone? Had he hallucinated its existence in the first place?—and Thor was scooping up Steve like a rag doll, a limp, limp rag doll, and Steve certainly looked raggedy, Tony could see the sharp lines of his collarbone and clavicle as his head lolled back and he didn't think the outline of his ribcage should be visible through his shirt like that—
Clint grabbed Tony's hips and hauled him over his shoulder until his chest and arms flapped against Clint's back and Tony really didn't appreciate the move because now his face was dangerously close to the archer's ass and he couldn't see Steve and the world was upside down and spinning and Dad was back calling for Jarvis and Mom and maybe it would be okay if he closed his eyes because everything was bright and hot but he was cold and did Steve remember being cold in the ice?
It seemed like a strangely pressing question, but Tony's eyes were already closed and he decided he would just have to ask him about it later.
Someone was shaking his shoulder. Tony rolled over, burying his face in the cool pillows. "Go'way," he mumbled unhappily.
The someone was persistent and tugged him onto his back. "Stark," the someone insisted, and Tony reluctantly forced his eyes open, identifying the someone as Clint after a few hazy moments. "Cap's waking up."
Tony's mind snapped alert instantly, sleep banished for the moment. He swung out of the hospital bed, clinging to Clint's arm when his head tried to detach itself from his neck and blinking flashes of light from his eyes. "I'm good," he said after a moment, pulling free from Clint's support.
He was—mostly. After spending four days in the helicarrier's sickbay, Tony felt almost completely recovered from his ordeal, other than a slight dizziness and a lingering headache. He'd even be back on solid food in another day, according to Bruce. Tony counted himself lucky for that; Steve was still being fed intravenously, even after four days. But then, Tony had been breathing when the quinjet landed on the helicarrier.
The first two days following their rescue were nothing but a blur in Tony's head, but he could remember the frantic motions of the others as they huddled around Steve on the jet and bustled him onto a stretcher and down the halls. After that was a long blank space in Tony's memories, but he'd since wrung the details out of Bruce and Clint. The serum had started feeding off Steve's muscle mass at an alarming rate in order to provide nutrients for his failing organs, but that still hadn't been enough. The arrhythmia alone had nearly killed him, and his kidneys had shut down in shock at the sudden onslaught of liquids coming through the IV.
Steve was stable now, after three harrowing days. Bruce, always an optimist, thought they'd be able to bring him home by the end of the week for the rest of his convalescence while the serum regenerated his muscles.
Tony and Clint walked down the hallway to Steve's room, Clint cutting his long strides short to match Tony's slow pace without saying anything. Once in the room, Tony sagged into the chair Clint pointedly shoved behind his knees without complaint; his head was spinning again.
"We're interrogating the rest of the Bloody Hearts upstairs," Clint informed Tony as he strode back to the door. "I'll be back in a few hours." With that, he left Tony alone with Steve.
Steve still looked pretty unconscious to Tony, but he didn't question Clint's claim. S.H.I.E.L.D. had sent Steve, Clint, and Natasha on countless missions the past few months and Clint had developed a preternatural ability to judge Steve's physical state with a single glance. It had come in handy several times; Steve had a bad habit of keeping injuries to himself. Most of the time they weren't serious wounds. Steve rarely ended up in the hospital like the others, and Tony knew he assumed that he didn't need medical attention since the serum could take care of most everything. There were occasions, though, when Steve would suddenly collapse in a boneless heap hours (or days, once) after a battle.
Steve didn't understand yet that slapping a bandaid on what to him was a paper cut was his teammates' way of showing how much they cared about him. Besides, Steve was always there for them when they were getting patched up. That was why Tony was sitting by his bedside right now; otherwise Steve would have dragged himself out of bed—dialysis machine and all—to find and check up on Tony.
Tony frowned when his eyes fell on the dialysis machine. Bruce had said they'd be taking Steve off of it that day, but it was already after six in the evening. He was so busy scowling at the offending machine and the thick, ugly tubes protruding from the inside of Steve's unusually bony wrist that he didn't notice Steve was awake until he spoke.
Tony jumped. "Come again?"
"Steak." Steve grinned weakly; his lips were still chapped. "I'd order a steak." Tony must have looked confused because Steve's grin widened. "You said you wanted a pizza. Well, I'd get a steak. Keep up, old man."
Tony let out a noise that was half laugh and half pure indignation. "Old man? You're calling me an old man? What kind of drugs do they have you on, Spangles? Also, that conversation ended about a week ago, so I'm not the one having difficulty keeping up, old man."
Steve shrugged, his free hand reaching over to prod the purple bruises that had formed around the dialysis tubes. "Feels weird," he muttered. Tony flinched. Captain America admitting that something felt "weird" was equivalent to other people screaming in agony.
Tony grabbed his wrist and pulled it firmly away from the tubes, shoving a glass of water into his hand instead. "What kind of steak?" he asked to take Steve's mind off the dialysis, making a mental note to find out why the hell he was still on it. "Prime rib? Ribeye? T-bone? Flank? Filet Mignon? Tartar?"
The baffled look that Steve always got when he didn't understand a reference crossed his gaunt face. "Uh—one from a cow?"
Tony bit the inside of his cheek. "We'll figure it out later," he said after he had choked down a giggle, reminding himself for the thousandth time that Steve had grown up in the Great Depression. Of course he didn't know about steaks. But now he had Tony Stark to teach him. Tony quickly punched a few commands into his StarkPhone, booking several high class restaurants in New York over the next few weeks.
Then Tony remembered something else from their conversations in the hut. "So. Is being taller really worth this?" His wave encompassed the medical machinery and the room at large, but he meant the kidnapping, S.H.I.E.L.D., the ice—everything, really.
Steve understood. He let his eyes drift shut, clearly tired out by the brief conversation. Tony took the water glass back before he spilled it. "I was really short."
That wasn't an answer. Tony shifted impatiently, purposefully making the plastic of his chair squeal in protest. Steve's eyes flickered open again. He held his hand out, gesturing for the phone. Tony normally didn't like handing over his own tech, but he knew Steve wouldn't be able to do anything with it. He knew how to use a cellphone to call and text, and that was it. True to form, Steve simply held the phone, studying the screen without touching it.
"Hawkeye was here earlier, keeping me company; Nat, too," Steve murmured absently. He shrugged at Tony's questioning look. "I was more dozing than asleep," he explained. He gestured at the glass. "And that's Sprite, not water. I bet Dr. Banner brought it. He knows I like soda." He pointed to the bedside table and Tony noticed a pile of novels for the first time. "I bought those right before the trip, but I only brought the first one with me. Judging from the Pop-Tart crumbs on the covers, I'd say Thor brought them here from the tower." Tony's eyesight wasn't as good as Steve's, but after a second he could make out the faint dustings of crumbs and frosted fingerprints on the covers. It was a good guess, considering that Thor was an anxiety eater and could chow his way through half a dozen boxes when one of his teammates was injured. Finally Steve handed the phone back to Tony, trading it for the Sprite. "And you just ordered steak."
Tony jerked, checking the screen to see if it was displaying any incriminating evidence. "I did not!" he tried to bluff.
Steve just quirked an eyebrow, downing the last of the Sprite in his glass.
"There's this little restaurant that Pepper loves, on 39th," Tony admitted at last, trying to appear nonchalant. "They do a mean prime rib. I thought you could tag along next time we go—you know, like the perpetually awkward third wheel that you are."
Steve let his eyes close again, smiling faintly. "Right."
Tony poked him, irritated. "You still haven't answered the question."
Steve yawned, rubbing his eyes like a child. "Yeah, I did. You just weren't listenin'."
He was dropping his g's. Tony might not know Steve as well as Clint did, but he knew that was a sign that the super-soldier was truly exhausted. So Tony let the conversation drop, even though Steve hadn't answered the question, beyond his flippant comment about his height and that odd ramble about the team.
An hour later, while he was reaming out the entire medical staff for fucking forgetting that Steve was supposed to be off dialysis six hours earlier, Tony finally got it.