Tony lay on his back, stretched out on the sofa, hands crossed over his chest where the arc reactor used to be. If he lay still and concentrated, he could hear his heart beating, which after seven years, was still a novelty. Better to focus on that than on how empty the room seemed without Pepper and her things.
"Sir," JARVIS's voice cut through his thoughts, suddenly filling the room. "It's Captain Rogers."
"Put him on," Tony said, surprised.
"No, sir," JARVIS corrected. "Your private elevator."
Tony rolled to his feet. "Is he alone?"
"Yes, sir," JARVIS answered. "Shall I allow him access?"
"Yeah, send him up."
The ride from street level to the penthouse took two minutes, so Tony poured himself a drink and pulled up the camera footage of the elevator. Steve looked exhausted. In the relative privacy of the elevator he was slumped against the wall, shoulders hunched, head bowed.
"How is he, J?" Tony asked quietly, sipping his bourbon.
"Captain Rogers is perfectly healthy, sir," JARVIS assured him. "However..."
"He looks ready to fall down," Tony muttered. "Order some food will you?"
The elevator doors slid open and Steve stepped out, shoulders back, head held high. Tony smiled to himself. The guy really was something else.
"Tony," Steve greeted him, sounding tired but relieved. "I'm sorry if I'm intruding. I couldn't think of anywhere else to go."
"I'd be insulted if you went anywhere else," Tony told him. "It's been weeks. Are you okay? Did you find… I talked to Fury - not my choice - and then Natasha showed up and disappeared again before I could get more out of her than the basics. And then I managed to access some information…" He stopped abruptly. "Steve?"
"I need your help."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Tony laughed, holding up his hands. "Wait. JARVIS, are you recording this? Could you magnify the sound and picture quality so that I can memorialize this moment and relive it over and over? Okay, what did you say, Cap?"
"You're an asshole," Steve sighed and Tony laughed even harder.
"Would you like that saved to your private server, sir?" JARVIS asked, making Steve jump slightly.
"You think you're funnier than you actually are," Tony shot back, smiling fondly at the dry "Yes, sir" he received in response.
"Did you order pizza?" Tony asked, feeling incredibly pleased with himself when Steve's stomach growled at the mention of food.
"Yes, sir. Also Chinese, Japanese, French, Moroccan..."
"You're the best A.I. in the world."
"Thank you, sir."
"When was the last time you ate?" Tony asked Steve, who shrugged, which wasn't a great sign. "Come and sit down."
Steve hesitated and then shuffled forward towards the sofas. He sank down onto one, closing his eyes and resting his head back.
"Food won't be long," Tony told him and then, for the first time in a long time, he had no idea what to say.
"I couldn't find him," Steve said quietly, answering Tony's earlier question. "Sam and I searched… For weeks we've been looking, but we just keep turning up dead ends."
"You need to rest and re-group." He watched Steve's face, pinched and pale. He'd gotten used to watching Steve, all those time's they'd sat just like this on Steve's sofa and watched movies. Steve had watched them all with rapt attention and Tony had watched Steve. He'd never looked so lost before. "Then we'll find him. Together. All of us. We'll get everyone in."
Steve's lips quirked and Tony mentally high-fived himself. "Get everyone in? The world's not ending."
"Your face says otherwise," Tony pointed out.
Steve turned his head to look at him. "What would you do? For your best friend."
"Anything," Tony told him honestly. "I'd move heaven and earth to find him. And I'll do the same for yours."
Steve huffed out a laugh, and closed his eyes again. "He's going to a lot of trouble to hide. Maybe he doesn't want to be found."
"Well," Tony said, "in my experience, that's the kind of thing that's better dealt with after you've found him. Legendary assassin he may be, but can't overcome the combined force of The Avengers."
"And Sam," Steve murmured, his breathing starting to even out. Tony moved closer to ease him into a more comfortable position.
"Also an Avenger," Tony replied. "It's not like we have a limit on numbers."
"I have to tell you something," Steve said, curling towards Tony. "About How…" He broke off with a yawn and Tony tried to move Steve away, so that he could lie down and sleep. Instead he ended up on his back, with Steve still firmly pressed against his side, head pillowed on his shoulder.
"There's plenty of time for that later," Tony said, but Steve was asleep and Tony couldn't move. "Perfect."
He considered struggling free, but Steve finally looked comfortable for the first time since he'd arrived and Tony really didn't want to be the one who woke him up. So instead he patted Steve's back, which turned into stroking Steve's back. That's what normal people did to offer comfort wasn't it? It wasn't as though he could do it the way he usually did and build Steve something amazing. He was restricted by the two hundred pounds of enhanced super soldier using him as a bed. He touched Steve's hair, brushing it back from his face. Were his eyelashes enhanced too? Surely no one was born with eyelashes like those.
Tony wasn't sure how long they stayed like that. He'd run his fingers through Steve's hair or over his back whenever he stirred to calm him again. He remembered Pepper doing the same for him when he had nightmares. It was soothing. Steve needed soothing.
Quietly, he asked Jarvis for a screen and started to work. He sent Bruce a message telling him to join them upstairs as soon as his latest experiment would allow. Then he called Coulson and told him to get his lazy ass to the tower.
"I'm working," Phil told him, and Tony was sure he could hear someone shooting in the background. "There's a lot to do."
"I don't care," Tony snapped. "Steve's here. He needs you."
Phil didn't answer immediately, but there was about a further thirty seconds of rapid gunfire and then an explosion.
"I'll be there in two hours."
"Bring Barton and Romanov," Tony told him and then cut the call. He had no idea where Clint and Natasha were. They really needed some sort of general alert. How was he supposed to get Thor in on this?
Bruce arrived, carrying boxes of cold pizza and takeout. He didn't even blink at the picture Tony and Steve must have made.
"How is he?" he asked, setting down the food and grabbing some pizza for himself.
"He's been better," Tony said, and held out one hand for a slice, even as his other hand started to stroke Steve's hair again.
"What are we doing?" Bruce asked, as he began to dig through the other boxes of food.
"Whatever Steve wants," Tony said quietly, and then made a soothing noise when Steve stirred.
"You can save it," Tony griped. "This is totally platonic hugging between team-mates.
"Oh totally platonic," Bruce agreed, nodding his head.
"There was a time I thought you were a nice, respectful guy."
"How long did that last?"
"About five minutes," Tony admitted. "There's nothing going on."
Bruce nodded. "Okay."
"Pepper hasn't been gone that long," Tony pointed out, before he remembered that, out of everyone, Bruce was the one person who knew exactly how long Pepper had been gone.
"Just be careful, Tony," Bruce sighed. "I don't want either of you getting hurt."
"Sweetheart, I didn't know you cared."
Coulson swooped in an hour later, Barton and Romanov in tow, as ordered.
"Loved your work with the D.O.D.," Tony told Natasha when she lifted an eyebrow at him. "I was so proud."
"What's with the cuddling?" Clint asked, while commandeering the last of the egg rolls.
"It's platonic hugging between teammates," Bruce explained, without looking up from his tablet, and therefore missing the death glare Tony shot at him. "I think I found a way to contact Thor."
"It looks like cuddling," Clint teased, winking at Tony. "Is this what you've been doing every week while we've been working?"
"While who has been working?" Natasha asked pointedly.
"You know, I was on a mission," Clint shot back. "It's not my fault everything went to hell while I was out of town."
"No, usually you're right at the centre of the catastrophe," Phil cut in.
"Can you all shut the hell up?" Tony hissed. "Steve is asleep."
Bruce managed to stifle a laugh and turn it into a cough. Natasha looked like she was ready to beat Tony to a pulp, so no change there. Phil made a strangled sound of horror. Clint burst out laughing. Loudly.
"What?" Steve gasped, awake and half-way to standing before he noticed the other people in the room. "What?"
Tony sighed, strangely disappointed to have lost the warmth and press of Steve's body. He shifted into a sitting position and gestured to Bruce.
"We have a way to contact Thor," he said, patting Steve's knee and handing him a box of untouched pizza. "Eat. As soon as you've got your strength back, we're going to find Barnes."