They don't talk about it.
They don't talk about it because it just...happens, and sometimes it's best to allow things to happen, simply and without fanfare, without wrapping the wrong words too tightly around them and suffocating them.
It’s after 2:30 in the morning when Steve finishes hitting things in the gym. The hitting often helps—gives his mind a focal point besides his whirlpooling thoughts. Tonight, it didn’t. Tonight, he still feels wired and uneasy, like there’s electricity itching under his skin. This doesn't bode well for his chances of finding sleep quickly.
Sighing, he takes the elevator up from the gym, avoiding looking at his reflection in the mirrored wall in the elevator car. He walks past the living room on his way to the kitchen. A low, dull blur of sound reaches his ears, so instead of continuing to the kitchen for a glass of ice, as he'd planned, he turns around and heads back to the living room.
Nat’s tucked into one corner of the sectional sofa that's large enough to fit all of them comfortably, even when they spread out. A wave of fondness swirls over Steve as he silently acknowledges that Tony’s responsible for that. Whether he chose the Tower furniture himself or hired designers, paid them, and gave them directions on what the Avengers needed in this space, Tony did that. For them.
With the faded grey and maroon M.I.T. sweatshirt she’s wearing, Nat looks smaller somehow. She’s wearing black leggings that are beginning to pill, and her legs are folded, her knees pulled up to her chin. She has the hood of the sweatshirt pulled up over her head so that her features are in shadow and just the tail end of her red braid peeks out. When he’s close enough to touch her, Steve does; he carefully brushes his fingers against the tip of her messy braid—because he can, now. Because he can, and she’ll allow it, and because Nat seems hunched over and smaller than usual in a way that makes his chest ping with sympathy, and Steve thinks that maybe she needs it. She’s his friend, and maybe it’s a small but not meaningless thing that he can give her a tiny portion of what she needs.
As his hand leaves Nat, her chin tilts, and her green, green gaze meets his. She doesn’t smile; just arches an eyebrow at him.
“You okay?” he asks, his voice a murmur because he’s reluctant to shatter the fragile quiet. Things—people—break so easily.
“I will be.” Her voice filters out with a scrape of hoarseness, throatier than it usually sounds, as if she’s been crying. Her face is dry, though. A tiny but genuine smile tips her mouth. When the smile slips away, Nat picks up the carton of ice cream that Steve hadn’t noticed until now. She dips the oversized spoon into what Steve knows without looking is vanilla bean—and offers him a spoonful. Leaning down so she can reach him, he lets her press the cold spoon of sweetness into his open mouth.
“Thanks,” he says and gets a nod in reply. Eyeing Nat’s bare feet and the glittery navy polish on her toenails, Steve pulls two throws from the round, grey basket near one end of the couch. As he tucks over Nat’s legs the red, white, and blue handknit throw that an elderly woman had gifted him months ago when he’d visited a nursing home, she flashes him what he knows is a grateful look. He doesn’t do more than send her an answering smile and take a seat next to her, leaving a few inches of space between them. As he settles, though, Nat shifts closer until her side presses against his.
He’s not remotely sleepy, but Steve leans back against the couch and closes his eyes. After a few minutes, his ears pick up on the sound of someone approaching the living room. Tony, he determines from the quality of the footsteps, and a tired one at that. He can tell from how Tony’s tread falls a little heavier than usual.
By the time Tony actually enters the living room, Steve’s eyes are open again.
Tony shuffles toward them and stops directly in front of Nat. There’s a dark smear of some undetermined substance on his cheekbone and a medium-sized hole in the sleeve of his t-shirt. Shadows limn his eyes, and his goatee could use a trim. He’s so beautiful it makes Steve’s chest ache with it. He blinks down at Nat for at least a minute before he finally speaks, scratching at the side of his nose. “I’ve been looking for that shirt,” Tony says, his eyes still on Nat. “Thought I left it somewhere.”
Nat corkscrews one end of the drawstring around her finger. “I’ll wash it before I give it back to you.”
Tony waves off her words. “Eh.” He shrugs. “Keep it. It looks better on you, anyway.” That’s quintessential Tony, always so casually generous. He can afford to be, Steve knows, but it’s still a conscious choice on Tony’s part. “Besides, I’m pretty sure I still have that purple monstrosity that I borrowed from your closet after you stole it from Birdbrain.”
“So you ‘borrowed’ it, but I ‘stole’ it?” Nat sends Tony an amused glance and offers him a spoonful of ice cream.
“Meh. Potayto, potahto, Red.” His expression turns thoughtful as he licks a creamy drop of ice cream from his bottom lip. “Hmm,” he says, “I like chocolate better.”
“Well, I like vanilla,” Nat shoots back like that’s that and Tony will just have to deal with it, but Tony just shrugs again and lies down on Steve’s other side, wiggling around until he’s comfortable.
Steve waits for what he knows will come eventually if he’s patient. Heaving a huge sigh, Tony wriggles closer to Steve, adjusting himself until his head lands in Steve’s lap. It niggles at Steve that Tony never borrows his clothes. Most days he wouldn’t dare say anything, but tonight he’s already feeling itchy, so—
“How come you never borrow any of my clothes?” Steve asks, ignoring the dry chuckle that emanates from Nat’s direction.
Tony sits up and stares at Steve, his warm, brown eyes wide in his expressive face. “You want me to borrow your clothes?”
“Well, you don’t have to, obviously,” Steve replies, feeling vaguely ridiculous. He’s a grown man; what is he even doing?
Tony eyes him, his gaze piercing, and he chews on his lip. Steve feels a hot flush swamp his face, all too aware that Tony’s brain’s churning as they stare at each other, but after a handful of heartbeats, Tony just nods to himself like he’s figured out the answer to a question Steve hasn’t even asked. “Okay, Cap,” he says, smiling a bit, and the smile makes his eyes seem even warmer and brighter than usual, which in turn warms Steve. When Tony lies back down with his head pillowed on Steve’s thighs, Steve simply waits, again, not wanting to spook Tony. Soon enough, Tony lets loose another enormous sigh and says, “It’s like I have to do everything myself around here.”
Grinning, Steve doesn’t let Tony’s grumbling ruffle him in the slightest because there, that’s Tony grabbing Steve’s hand and putting it in Tony’s hair. Steve doesn’t need a clearer invitation than that; he spreads the other throw over Tony’s curled-up body, and once it’s settled his hands find Tony’s hair and begin their work. Moving slowly and conscientiously, Steves slides his palms over the top of Tony’s hair. The strands are thick and soft against his skin—so, so soft—and Steve can’t help the little shiver that ribbons its way down his spine. He just hopes Tony doesn’t notice it.
Steve doesn’t rush it. Though he won’t have the chance to, he’d gladly spend hours like this, lingering with his hands in Tony’s silky hair, Tony warm and safe beside him. Having spent so much time fighting, breaking, destroying, it’s a distinct pleasure for Steve to be able to offer comfort instead—to give something, with his hands and his touch and especially to Tony, who gives them all so much, seemingly without expecting anything in return.
There are long-buried pieces of Steve, hidden under deep layers of ice, that need this as much as Tony seems to. Possibly more. With every languid stroke of his fingers in Tony's hair, another fissure appears in that ice.
“What’re we watching?” Tony asks Nat, and the vibrations from his voice travel from Tony and through Steve.
“Catching up on General Hospital,” Nat replies, gently bumping against Steve’s side.
(They don't talk about it; maybe they don't need to. Maybe Steve's hands say some of the things he doesn't yet have words for. He hopes they do.)
Sighing softly, Steve furrows his fingers into Tony’s hair and uses his nails to scratch delicately at Tony’s scalp. A hushed sound escapes Tony—something that sounds suspiciously like a purr.
Steve’s lips twitch into a smile; he lets his eyes fall shut again; that electric itching beneath his skin has subsided, leaving blissful stillness. For this moment at least, Steve has everything he needs.