Actions

Work Header

Tony. Doctor Tony Stark.

Chapter Text

Okay, this time it seriously wasn’t his fault.

 

So what- maybe he did get into fights with some of the friendly neighborhood morons every other day, despite the fact he could pretty much be blown over by a leisurely wind. Perhaps it was true that he had been dragged to this hospital by Bucky so many times that they had begun saving a bed just for him. You might not be completely wrong if you assumed that maybe; just maybe, the tiny guy with more illnesses and allergies than you could count on all your digits, was not really healthy enough to be getting into all these fistfights.

But this time, he hadn’t attacked anyone. Not even the asshole that hung around on the corner of his street catcalling at any girl that walked by.

Nope, this time, his great downfall had been a fucking cold.

To be honest, it wasn’t even surprising. It was another winter and money was tight as usual, his house had shitty heating, and it was likely that if he came within 100 meters of a single bacteria at this time of he year, then he would become ridiculously ill and have to be hospitalized for something as trivial as a cough.

Because coughing was a lot easier to do when you weren’t at risk of accidentally choking up your lungs instead.

 

 

Bucky had just left; it was late at night and he needed to wake up early for his shift tomorrow morning. Natasha had wandered off somewhere with one of the nurses (Clark? Clarence?) she’d been flirting with for the past five times Steve had been admitted into hospital.

He was alone, he was tired and couldn’t breathe right, and he was very, very grumpy.

He fucking hated hospitals.

There was a shuffle on the other side of the door, and Steve sat up a little, waddling underneath his mountain of pillows and blankets, hoping that Tash was finally back and ready to keep him company for a little bit. But the door opened and Steve caught the flash of white scrubs, and his heart sunk a little.

Then his eyes were drawn to the man’s face, and he quickly re-evaluated his disappointment.

The guy was… really cute. He looked exhausted and sleep-deprived, purple bruises circling underneath warm chocolate eyes. His hair was a mess- like he’d just woken up and rushed off to work without bothering to comb it, and so there were strands sticking up all over the place.

Shame that Steve looked very much less than desirable on a good day- and now there was the added grey skin, sweaty face and red nose to deal with.

Fabulous.

The doctor walked forward, clipboard in hand as he threw a weary smile in Steve’s direction and fiddled around with some of the machines, checking his vitals.

“Rough day, huh?” The doctor asked, smirking at Steve when he scowled.

“Fight me.” Was all Steve answered with, burrowing further into his pillow-nest and shutting his eyes, trying to ignore the banging in his head and the soreness in his throat when he spoke.

The man laughed softly, and leaned down to adjust the pillows under Steve’s head with gentle hands.

“Maybe later,” he said, and then he turned into the visitor’s chair, slumping down into it and letting his eyes flicker shut for a few moments, head lolling back against the wall.

“You know what? Doc. Fury can go fuck himself. I’ve been working the night-shift for three days in a row now, and if he wants me to sit and twiddle my thumbs waiting for some musty-smelling pensioners who have nothing wrong with them other than hypochondria, then he can damn well find me himself.” The doctor said suddenly, stretching his legs out and making himself thoroughly comfortable in Steve’s room.

“I’m pretty sure complaining to your patient about your bosses and other patients is classed as unprofessional.” Steve said, amusedly.

The doctor rolled his eyes and flashed Steve a toothy grin.

“I am allowed to be as unprofessional as I want. I’m the best fucking surgeon in New York, those guys need me. And they’re stretching me thin enough as it is, they don’t want to give me any more reason to leave. I could walk around this place naked and they would probably turn a blind eye.” He said, and this time it was Steve who did the eye-rolling.

“Wow. You’re a modest one, aren’t you?”

“If that was an attempt at insulting my ego, it failed terribly. Ask any of the doctors, they’ll tell you I’m the greatest person slash genius slash surgeon they’ve ever met. They’ll also tell you I’m a huge fucking asshole, but they mean it lovingly. Except Hammer. He most certainly does not mean it lovingly.”

Steve laughed, and then started on a coughing-spree as the chuckles tickled in his throat and irritated it. Instantly, the doctor got on his feet, making is way to the water dispenser and handing Steve one of the cups, holding his shaking hands steady for him as the cup was brought up to his mouth.

“Sorry sorry sorry sorry, that one was on me, shit, if it helps, I don’t usually check up on people like this, I’m more of an ‘insert knife into body’ type of doctor, but Clint begged me to deal with his patients because he was too busy getting handsy with the redhead, and I was gonna tell him to fuck off but then he told me that he had you- the notorious skinny kid that’s actually famous in this hospital for the amount of times he’s made horrible life decisions that got him admitted here, and I couldn’t exactly resist that, could I?” The doctor said, biting at his lip anxiously as Steve finished spluttering and waved his hands to signal that he was okay.

“Okay, a), I would just like to state that I am offended Natasha would abandon me for a nurse, no matter how cute she may think he is. And b) I resent your comment on poor life choices. They were all very much justified.”

“I don’t think a fifty-pound asthmatic deciding it would be a good idea to get in a bar fight with an entire gang of bikers wearing leather and holding multiple firearms would be classed as ‘justified’.”

“That was one time, okay! And it’s not like I got killed, was it?”

“According to the records I took a look at, you got shot in the shoulder, broke your jaw, collarbone, leg and ankle, and thrown through a window. How you even survived that, I have no idea.”

“Let’s just say my friends are very capable individuals.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that. I winked at the girl Clint was locking lips with, and I think I wet myself a little at the look she gave me.”

“Don’t worry, people have suffered a lot worse under her death stare.” Steve admitted, remembering his first encounter with a shudder. He was pretty sure he had fainted at some point, although that could have been to do with his allergic reaction to her perfume.

“What’s your name, by the way?” Steve asked.

“Tony. Doctor Tony Stark.”

“I’m Steve Rogers. But you probably already know that, considering I’m so ‘famous’ here.”

“Damn right. You know-“ Tony started, and then he cut off abruptly, his eyes widening at the sound of loud voices from down the corridor.

“STARK, IF I FIND YOU HIDING OUT IN A PATEINT’S WARD AND HARASSING THEM AGAIN, I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU WORK IN THE PENSIONER’S DIVISION FOR THE REST OF YOUR CAREER, YOU SON OF A BITCH!” A voice yelled down the hallways, and Tony leapt out of his seat with a clatter, fumbling for his clipboard and pretending to check Steve over just as Doctor Fury looked through the glass of the door and stormed in.

“Oh, why hello there Doc. Who would’ve expected you down here with me and Steve at this hour? I was just giving him a checkup-“

“Which is most definitely not your job, if I remember correctly, there are a about five hundred pages of paperwork you’re due to hand in tomorrow, and I damn well expect it to get done, do you understand?” Fury growled, before turning to face Steve and shaking his head.

“I’m so sorry for this bother, Sir. He’s just leaving.” Fury said politely, and Tony looked slightly surprised for a moment, as if it were only just dawning on him that he might not have been welcome in his intrusion on Steve.

Steve just caught his eye and grinned, and the tension in Tony’s shoulders faded a little.

“ ‘Til next time, bitesize.”

“ I will kill you and they will never find the body.”

“Please do, you’ll be doing us all a favor.” Fury said, before gripping Doctor Stark’s arm and hauling him out of the door.

Stark made a sad face out of the window pane in the door, before he was heaved away and Steve was left alone, remembering the bright smile and the glitter in the odd Doctor’s eye for the rest of the night.

 

 **

 

Stark, for some reason, came back the next day.

“I thought you didn’t do this type ‘a thing.” Steve mumbled drowsily, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and sitting up lazily.

“No, you’re right. Doing the rounds on all the patients at the ass-crack of dawn is definitely not my thing. But what I do do, however, is run away from my responsibilities, which involve paperwork that’s the same length as me, and a very angry Pepper Potts waiting in reception. Hence, me gracing you with my amazing company once again.” The doctor replied, taking a bite out the sesame-seed bagel he had in his hand, and then grinning at Steve’s wistful look.

Hospital food sucked, and he loved bagels.

“Lucky I am such a generous person who thinks ahead, and bought you a bagel just in case I needed a form of bribery to make you keep your mouth shut about my presence here,” he said, a few seconds later, digging into his bag and pulling out a paper bag with two plain bagels, still warm in their packaging.

He tossed the bag toward Steve, who swiftly caught it and opened the paper up. Any other day, and he would’ve at least tried to refuse the offer out of common courtesy, but did Steve mention how horrible hospital food was? So instead he gave a small word of thanks and then dug into the bagel with as big of a bite as he could manage without choking.

“Hey, whoa there, Steve, take it easy. Your throat’s not gonna thank you if you try and swallow a bagel whole.” Stark said disapprovingly, slapping the food away from Steve’s mouth as he tried to take a bigger bite than he could probably manage.

“Yeah, but my stomach definitely will.” Steve replied sulkily, tearing a tiny little piece off and placing it on his tongue, trying to prove a point.

Stark just looked a little vacant for a moment, staring at Steve’s mouth, and for a second, Steve could’ve sworn he saw a tiny little blush appear on the Doctor’s cheeks- but then he was shaking himself a little, snapping out of it and going back to batting Steve’s hand away as he once more tried to consume half of the bagel at once.

“Doctor’s orders. Bagel bites must be one-centimeter-cubed or lower, no exceptions. I’ll feel like a bad doctor if you choke to death on the food I irresponsibly offered you in return for your silence.” Stark said, throwing a chunk of bagel into the air and catching it between his teeth.

Steve most certainly did not find that hot. At all.

“Morning, Mr. Rogers, how’re you- Tony, what the fuck are you doing eating breakfast in my patient’s room?” Doctor Barton asked exasperatedly as Tony beamed up at his colleague.

“I am doing very important medicinal research.”

“You’re hiding from Pepper again, aren’t you.”

“Yep.”

Clint sighed, doing a once-over on all the monitors and checking Steve’s condition before turning back to Tony.

“Can’t say I blame you. That pile looked fucking enormous.” Clint said, then snatched the food out of Steve’s hands before he could take another bite, much to his protest.

“I don’t know what Doctor Stark was thinking, giving you gritty street-bagels when your throat’s as sensitive as you can get right now, but it was a bad idea. You’re sticking to the hospital food from now on.” Barton chastised, tucking the half-eaten bagel into his pocket and giving Tony a disapproving look.

“Right, it’s got nothing to do with the fact that you missed out on breakfast because you were late getting up- again, may I add- and so you’re taking to stealing the food right out of patient’s mouths now, is it?” Steve asked him sweetly, and then raised his eyebrows at the blush crawling up Barton’s cheeks as he spluttered.

Beside him, Tony was giving Steve an appraising look, grinning that adorable toothy grin again.

“You picked the wrong guy to steal from, Clint.” Tony said, patting Barton on the arm pityingly.

“I’m not stealing, this is against regula- oh, you know what, yes, fine. Steve, I’m stealing your food, and there is nothing you can do about it because you are an invalid and I am in a position of authority that I love to abuse. Plus, Tony buys the best bagels, and the bastard still hasn’t told us where he gets them from.” Clint admitted, throwing his hands up in the air and then pulling the food out from his pocket and eating it, groaning in delight at the taste.

“You’re the worst doctor ever. At least Tony brings me food.” Steve said sulkily.

“Non-regulation, possibly life-risking food. How you haven’t been fired yet, I have no idea,” Clint said, stooping low to poke at Tony’s ribs and laugh as the other man jerked away.

As Clint turned away to answer one of the nurses who had called for him on the other side of the door, Tony quickly snuck a hand into his bag once more and pulled out a third bag, again with two bagels tucked inside.

“I’m also a master planner, and was fully aware of Doctor Barton’s inability to get to work on time mixed with his love for bagels would mean I was going to need to bring some for him too.” He explained, rolling his now empty bag up into a ball and aiming right on Clint’s head, where it hit its mark exactly.

Barton, who was still leaning out of the door talking to one of the nurses, whipped his head around in annoyance, and stuck his middle finger up behind his back where the nurse couldn’t see. And then as the woman disappeared down the corridor, Clint threw his own paper with his back turned, managing to hit Tony right between the eyes.

“That’s cheating.”

“That’s skill. If I do say so myself, I have the best aim in all the land.”

“You obviously haven’t seen Natasha throw a knife, then.” Steve said, and Clint’s gaze turned to him, a wistful look on his face.
“No, but now I sure as hell want to.”

“Chances are, if she ever throws one in your presence, it’s being directed at you.”

Clint just grinned, and winked at him.

“Always loved a bit of danger.”

Both Steve and Tony groaned simultaneously, Steve going to cover his ears with his hands and tony leaning over to smack Clint on the arm.

“We are not discussing your kinks in front of patients who have nowhere to run to.” Tony said, and Steve nodded his head furiously in agreement. He did not want to know what sort of wild acrobatic antics Doctor Barton and one of his best friend’s would get up to.

“Fair point- how about we discuss your kinks instead then?” Clint asked mischievously, and Steve barely had time to blush before Tony was up and clamping a hand over Clint’s mouth as the other man struggled underneath him.

“If I am ever not present and Doctor Barton starts discussing me, anything about me at all, you do not believe him. Not a word. He is a lying liar who lies.” Tony told Steve whilst Clint was otherwise occupied in removing the hand from his face.

As Tony and Clint were in the middle of their playful scuffle, the door opened suddenly and yet another doctor stepped into Steve’s already cramped room- but this one brought Steve’s guard up instantly.

This guy was the type of person Steve would likely meet in a bar late at night, harassing ladies under the impression that they were interested. He radiated arrogance and superiority, and wore a smarmy grin on his face that Steve had seen all-too-regularly in the assholes of New York.

“Well well well, stealing my shift again are we, Barton? And Tony, I’m pretty sure attacking your co-workers isn’t allowed. Especially in front of patients. My patients, may I add.” The Doctor said loudly, and Clint and Tony ceased their wrestling immediately, eyes narrowing as soon as they saw who was stood at the door.

“Hammer, I’m pretty sure you were assigned desk-duty for the next month after your latest major fuckup. Or did you forget about that little girl who nearly walked away with permanent tissue damage, had it not been for Tony covering your ass and performing the emergency surgery you were incapable of doing?” Clint asked, his voice mockingly polite.

Hammer snarled, and there was a flash in his eyes that brought Steve’s hackles up instantly as the man glared at Tony like he had murdered his family, rather than saved his career and a little girl’s life, by the looks of it.

“This is my patient, Barton, and I’m going to treat him weather you like it or not.”

“Um, actually, you’re not. I’d feel a lot more comfortable having Barton and Stark treating me, actually.” Steve said coolly, and Hammer’s head switched to him in surprise, before smoothing out into another smarmy grin.

“I’m sorry about this, Mr. Rogers, I’m sorting it out, don’t worry. From now on, I’ll be treating you, I don’t know quite what happened here, but believe me when I say I’ll be reporting it to our head of department and-“

“Hah, if you think I’m letting you and your incapable hands anywhere near Steve, you’ve got another thing coming, buddy. You wanna try throw your weight around and use your slimy little threats and blackmails to wrap the hospital around your little finger, then I can damn well do it too. And you know I’m more important to them than you are.” Tony said harshly, stepping away from Clint and toward Steve protectively.

Again, Hammer flinched and bared his teeth. It wasn’t threatening, really, Hammer was a weedy man, and everything he did seemed a little pathetic.

But there was still something there that caused Steve to place an arm on Tony’s arm warningly. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but Steve had learnt to go with his gut over time, it usually proved right.

“I wont tolerate this sort of behavior, Stark, I’m working these shifts and you can’t stop me.”

“Then me and Tony will just sit right here, in these visitors chairs, and make sure you don’t fuck up someone else’s life, too. You shouldn’t even be here, we know you’re just using your money to keep a place here; though God only knows why, it’s not like it’s hard to get a job anywhere else, and quit bothering all of us.” Clint said, just as yet another person walked in through the doors, her red hair flashing in the light and her smile impossibly dangerous.

“Hey, Steve,” she said, making herself comfortable in the vacated chair and crossing her legs underneath her, giving them all the same smile that sent shivers running down Steve’s spine.

Obviously, it was getting the same reaction from the other men in the room, too. Hammer took an instinctive step back.

“Do we have a problem, gentlemen? I would hate to have a problem, because my friend Steve is ill and if people make him upset, I tend to get upset too. Do you want to upset me? And think wisely about your answer here; I personally would go for ‘no’, but we can do it your way, if you want.” Natasha said, and her question was directed right at Hammer this time, who had seemed to have all the confidence knocked out of him as he licked his lips nervously.

“This isn’t over. I’m going to ruin you, Stark. You see if I don’t.” Hammer hissed, before slithering out of the door and shutting it with a bang.

There was silence in the room, everyone staring at Natasha with a kind of terrified awe on their faces. Clint looked like he was about to pass out.

“Well, that certainly wasn’t the way I expected to start my morning visit.” Natasha said, breaking the silence as she picked at a speck of dirt under her nails.

“Are you God?” Tony asked.

“Close enough,” Natasha replied.

“With me. Now. Um, Tony, you wanna finish up in here, thanks.” Clint said, stumbling forward and grabbing Natasha’s hand before pulling her out of the room without another word.

“That’s the second time she’s ditched me for Barton.” Steve muttered absent-mindedly, as Tony heaved out a sigh and ran a hand through his hair.

“So, that’s Hammer then. I can see why you’d get the vibe that he doesn’t like you.” Steve added, and Tony huffed out a laugh, but it was more anxious than anything else.

“Yeah, that’s him. The guy’s been following me for years; it’s like he’s desperate for the challenge, but can’t handle it when he can’t keep up with me. It’s why he stays here, and puts so much effort into not being fired. He’s got dirt on Fury, on the staff, and he’s got his finger in a lot of pies thanks to his wealth. But Steve, don’t go around underestimating him. He’s… I actually think he’s mentally unstable. You could see it, couldn’t you? The telltale ticks, the signs are all there. He’s mad, and he stands a chance of actually managing to persuade Fury to get permission to treat you. I won’t let that happen. He’s heard how much I talk about you, and he’ll try and use it against me.” Tony shuddered, and then scowled, fiddling with one of the monitors, refusing to look Steve in the eye, that cute little blush crawling up his face.

“you talk about me, huh?”

“Seriously? I tell you there’s a guy with a vendetta against me treating you, and that’s what you pick up on.”

“So it’s true, then,” Steve said slyly, which was somewhat ruined by a round of coughing.

Tony rolled his eyes and shook his head, handing Steve a cup of water wordlessly.
“Well…you know, you’re famous here. And I’ve heard all your war stories, all the injuries you’ve been admitted for, and even before I met you I thought you were kinda awesome, and I’d always wanted to get a chance to actually meet the guy behind all the rumors, so… yeah, maybe I have spoken about you rather a lot in the past few days.” Tony said quickly, turning his head away in embarrassment.

Steve just felt oddly pleased, his own blush creeping up on to his cheeks, putting color into the grayness of his skin.

“STARK! I SWEAR TO GOD, YOU’RE GONNA COME DOWN HERE AND FINISH THIS DAMN PAPERWORK BEFORE I SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS!” Fury yelled from down the hall, and Tony leapt up, groaning theatrically.

“It seems our meetings are always ending with Fury threatening me from across the corridor, and me running for my life. Well, I’ll see you round, Small-Fry.” Tony said, gathering his bag up and picking the wrappers off the floor.

“I swear I will end you, Stark. Or, at least, I’ll get Natasha to end you.” Steve threatened, and that made Tony halt at the door and swivel around on his heel.

“You are the tallest, most athletic, able-bodied man I have ever met. Please never tell Natasha bad things about me.” He begged, before sweeping out of the room trying to quell Fury’s loud voice whilst Steve chuckled from his bed.

 

 **

 

 He was getting worse. The lung infection would have caused a normal, healthy person to be under the weather for a week or so; Steve had been hospitalized, and he could barely breathe at all.

He hated his body. Really, truly hated it.

Bucky was sat with him, but Steve was being sulky and feeling sorry for himself, so they were sat in silence. He didn’t feel like talking right now, not after a nurse had breezed in and casually told him he could be stuck in here for up to a month, before breezing out again like it wasn’t even a big deal.

Steve stared sullenly at the wall, trying to ignore the horrible pain in his head and the heaviness on his chest. God, he hated hospitals. They were so dull, so boring.

And they smelt weird.

Suddenly, Steve felt that ominously familiar feeling of itchiness in his throat, and felt his lungs seize up, choking and spluttering for oxygen as he went through a coughing fit. It burnt his poor throat, and he felt so exhausted. Dealing with this all night was fucking rough on a guy.

Bucky was at his side instantly, handing him water silently and stroking his hair as Steve finished retching.

“I’ve called for a doctor. This is getting ridiculous, Steve; you need to stop refusing painkillers. This isn’t just a normal chest infection for you; they’re not usually this bad and you know it.” Bucky said, and Steve tried to sit up indignantly, except he couldn’t quite get up the energy and so he ended up just flailing a little pathetically and then flopping back down on the bed- staring at Bucky with a grim face.

“You don- don’t get to decide these things for me Bu- Bucky.” Steve rasped, trying to sound angry despite the barely-there whisper he was speaking in.

Bucky just rolled his eyes and continued with his hair stroking until the door opened a few minutes later, and surprisingly, it was Tony who hurried in.

Steve grinned- he couldn’t help it. Tony had put his scrubs on inside out, and despite it being 2 pm, it seemed no one had pointed it out yet. His hair was just as unruly as it had been yesterday, and there was something that looked like dry-eraser on his left cheek.

He heard the heart-monitors speed up just a fraction, and hoped to God Tony didn’t notice it.

“Oh look, it’s you again. Come to tell me the rest of your life story?” Steve said snappily when Tony reached his bedside.

It was uncalled for and unnecessary, but Steve didn’t really care. It had been a bad day.

“You’d better believe it.” Tony said, the insult completely going over his head as he gave Steve a smile and then a little wink, which totally did not make Steve’s heart monitor go a little funny again.
Tony flicked through the clipboard at the foot of his bed and turned to Bucky, his brow furrowed a little in concern.

“You called for a nurse. What’s the problem?”

Bucky said, “He needs to start on the painkillers,” just as Steve said “nothing, it was an accident,” and Tony raised his eyebrows at the both of them.

“Bucky was being a mother-hen because I coughed too loudly and now he thinks I’m dying. There’s no problem.” Steve said, just as Bucky opened his mouth, hoping Tony would chose to believe him over his stupid best friend.

“This is the worst chest infection Steve’s had in a long time. He’s struggling to breathe at all times; he’s suffering from migraines and looks like death warmed up. But for some reason he is refusing painkillers. Persuade him, Doctor, he won’t listen to me.” Bucky said straight afterwards, and this time it was Steve doing the scowling.

He didn’t need painkillers, for God’s sake. He didn’t need the added numbness, the weirdly light feeling that wasn’t real and just left him even more vulnerable than he already was. He could handle his pain without drugs. He’d been doing it for the majority of his life.

Tony looked between them for a long time, then sighed, moving to check Steve’s temperature with the back of his hand and grabbed a little pen from his pocket.

“Look at me,” Tony said lifting the pen until it was eye-level with Steve and shining a light into his eye.

And because he was petty and moody, Steve shut his eyes and set his jaw firmly.

“Fi-fight m-“ Steve tried to say, but then he exploded into another bout of horrible coughing before he could finish, and clapped a hand to his mouth to stop from choking up all over his cute doctor.

Tony laughed, setting a hand on Steve’s arm comfortingly while he rasped and sputtered on the bed.

“Thanks, but no. I’m not gonna fight you, ‘cause I know you’d win. God knows you’ve had far more practice than me.” He said, moving his hand from Steve’s arm and bringing it up to poke Steve in the cheek.

“I’m sure Doctors are supposed to be more professional than this,” Steve said to no one in particular as Tony flicked him in the temple, his eyes remaining firmly closed.

“Meh, I told you, I’m just covering for Clint. I actually have no idea how to do this sort of stuff, so you can expect far more unprofessionalism to come, because I haven’t a clue what I’m doi- whoa there, buddy, calm down!” Tony yelled, as Bucky suddenly stood up and pushed him away from Steve forcefully, coming around to stand over the bed protectively.

Steve, hearing the sudden yell and the movement, quickly snapped his eyes open and saw Bucky and Tony facing off beside his bed.

“If you’re not qualified, you’re not coming anywhere near Steve,” Bucky snarled.

Steve tried to say something, to tell Bucky it was okay and he should calm down, but the words just caught in his throat and he started up into another fit of coughs.

Tony stared silently at Bucky for a second or two, before breaking out into a grin and chuckling, which probably wasn’t wise, considering Bucky looked just about ready to forcefully remove Tony from Steve’s bedside.

“You think this is funny? I don’t care if you work here, I’m not letting some beginner with no experience or sense of professionalism try and treat him, okay, you have no idea how serious his illness can get-“

“Okay, okay, sorry, not funny at all, I’m serious now. Look, this is my serious face,” Tony said, his mouth turning into a straight line and this weirdly blank look on his face that Steve actually thought was quite funny, but obviously Bucky did not, and Tony sighed, hand digging around in one of his pockets and pulling out his ID card.

“My name is Anthony Edward Stark, I’m the best surgeon in New York, possibly America. Apart from Banner, fuck him, he has the unfair advantage of age and therefore more experience, but it’s a pretty close call, we’ve had many competitions- but anyway, back to the subject at hand. I was admitted into MIT at fifteen to study engineering and mechanics, but transferred to Kaplan Medical University at seventeen in order to pursue a career in healthcare instead. Earned my first PhD in Medicine at eighteen, and over the next five years I collected another four, one in engineering, one in surgery, one in Biomedical Studies and my last one being in Physical Sciences. I’ve won…three? I’m pretty sure it’s three Nobel Prizes, thanks to my contributions to the Medical Community over my ten-year career, and I go into work every day and save people’s lives. When I say I don’t know what I’m doing, it is something called a joke, and I would appreciate if you didn’t try to crack my skull open while I’m attending to a patient.” Tony said grimly, tossing Bucky his ID before pushing past him and leaning over Steve’s bed again and smiling.

“Now, where was I? Oh yeah, I was flicking you until you opened your damn eyes like a normal person who actually wants to get better would.” Tony said, flicking Steve lightly in the temple once more, steadfastly not looking at Bucky and concentrating instead on the sick man who had once more shut his eyes in obstinacy.

Bucky had sat back down again, looking very bashful; his cheeks flushed bright pink in embarrassment. Tony looked over at him and took pity, patting him on the arm casually as he took his ID back from the man’s hands.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. You’re just looking out for your boyfriend, it’s fine, no hard feelings alright?” Tony said, and that certainly got Steve to open his eyes.

“What? No, no we’re not together.” Steve said quickly, and Tony shrugged, using the distraction to swoop down and shine the light in Steve’s eyes before he could protest.

But even if Steve missed it, Bucky could see the way his smile got a little bit more hopeful at Steve’s words, and he rolled his eyes.

“Well, from what I’m looking at right now; shallow breathing, clammy skin, running a temperature and looking like the overhead lights like they’re the worst thing to grace this Earth, I’m gonna go ahead and assume you’re suffering form a severe headache. Possibly due to the lack of oxygen your brain is getting. Hate to say it, but we’re probably going to have to get an oxygen mask on you, and painkillers honestly would help-“

“No.” Steve said stubbornly, turning his head away from Tony and Bucky and facing the opposite wall.

 

He heard both of them sigh, and could tell they were both giving each other the ‘Steve is being an uncooperative moron’ look.

He preferred it when they were fighting, he wasn’t sure he could handle both Bucky and Tony teaming up together. The world would fall into apocalypse by the end of the day.

 

“Steve, buddy, you can’t just sit there and slowly die because you have control issues. Look, I get it, you don’t feel comfortable with them, but I can stay here the whole time if you want, and I won’t let anything happen to you.” Bucky said.

“Plus, if the migraine gets any worse, then we’re gonna have to be dealing with vomiting, dizziness and complete loss of consciousness. You’re only going to make yourself worse. Obviously, I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do, but I strongly suggest taking something. I’ve got some very light pain-relief drugs, just enough to take the edge off, not enough to knock you out or get you high or anything, I could prescribe you some of that, if that’s what you want.” Tony offered, his shoulder leaning against the wall as he spoke to Steve.

“Are you sure that’s all it would do?” Steve asked warily, and Bucky straightening up, surprised that they were actually managing to get through to him.

To be honest, so was Steve. He’d come here with the firm belief that he wasn’t going near any drugs, and no persuasion would be able to convince him otherwise.

But there was something about Tony that Steve just explicitly trusted. Maybe it was the fact that Tony had just admitted to being a genius with five doctorates and three Nobel Prizes, but it was also just… the vibe he gave off. Like you could have the best time with him, laughing and joking and not having a care in the world, but you could also put your life in his hands and know that it was completely safe.

“Well, I should be, I mean I designed it myself.” Tony said smugly, and just laughed at Steve’s raised eyebrows and Bucky’s pleased sound of approval.

Steve hated it. He hated the idea, he hated the fact that he was giving up and letting himself be persuaded. But his head felt like it was going to concave, and Tony was right; he was already beginning to feel nauseous.

“Fine. Whatever.” Steve bit out, and Bucky whooped in delight, oblivious to Steve’s unhappiness.

It seemed Tony was more aware of it though, because he shot Steve an apologetic smile and moved to walk towards him, but Steve really wasn’t in the mood, and Bucky was far too loud and Tony was far too close and confusing and handsome and Steve couldn’t deal with it right now, he just wanted to go home and be healthy and not so god damn breakable.

“Jesus, shut up Bucky! Listen, Doctor, thanks for the help, I’ll take that prescription. But if it’s all the same, I’d rather have Doctor Barton seeing me from now on. There’s only so much rambling I can take before it just becomes plain annoying,” Steve said sharply, and all noise cut off instantly.

Bucky looked at Steve sharply, his mouth set in a disapproving line. But he kept his mouth shut and just gave Tony, who was frozen mid-step with a surprised and hurt look on his face, an apologetic look.

“Um, yes, sure, sorry, I didn’t mean to- yeah, I’ll go tell Barton to keep his hands off the redhead and do his damn job, huh?” Tony said, smiling stiltedly and fumbling at the door handle before slipping out, his inside-out scrubs being the last to leave the room.

“Fucking asshole,” Bucky hissed, glaring at Steve.

“Don’t see what your problem is, you were throwing the guy across the room a minute ago, and I didn’t hear you apologizing for it either. But that would be far too nice for you, wouldn’t it?” Steve snapped back, ignoring the guilt sitting in his stomach and focusing on all the bitterness instead.

“God, Steve, if this is how you treat everyone who tries to look after you when you’re sick, no wonder you’re still alone,"

Steve opened his mouth to butt in, but bucky wasnt done.

"I don’t care if you’re sulking ‘cause you’re doing something you don’t wanna do. Sometimes people have to make compromises. It sucks, but you deal with it, and you most certainly don’t take it out on the people trying to help. I’m going to Sam’s, call if you need anything.” Bucky bit back angrily, before jumping out of his seat and slamming out of the room, leaving Steve alone in the ward.

 **

 Clint came in the next day.
He was nice. Funny and sarcastic and he started putting Steve on the painkillers that had been prescribed to him.

Tony didn’t come in.

Why would he? Steve had acted like an asshole. And Tony was just respecting Steve’s own wishes.

Steve missed him.

He also needed to say thank you- the painkillers were a Godsend. Tony was right, they took most of the pain away, but left him completely in control, if a little uncoordinated and woozy.

“Morning to you, Rogers. How’re you faring today?” Clint greeted, strolling in and pulling his face into an easy smile that Steve wearily returned.

“You sound awful cheerful for a guy up at six am.” Steve said, raising his eyebrow and looking pointedly towards the suspiciously turned-up collar that was hiding a rather obvious hickey on his neck.

Clint just laughed, and patted him on the shoulder.

“Boy, let’s just say I’m really glad you and your friends decided to pick this hospital to come to.”

“If I’d known what a madhouse this place was, and how weird all the doctors were, I would’ve taken my chances with the lung infection.” Steve replied, and then they fell into a comfortable silence as Clint studied the monitors and wrote some notes down on the clipboard at the foot of the bed.

“Can I ask something that I probably shouldn’t be asking?” Clint said suddenly, looking up and studying Steve thoughtfully.

“Um, yes?” Steve answered, shrugging his shoulders and sitting up a little.

“What did you say to Tony? A few days ago? Because the guy hasn’t left his office or the surgery in about three days, and when I asked him why he hasn’t been going in to pester you, he just said he didn’t want to be a nuisance and then pretty much ran out the doors. I know Tony’s a giant asshole, but he’s one of my best friends, and…yeah,” Clint finished, biting at his lip a little and fiddling with his hands.

Steve stopped, his eyes wide in surprise. He’d thought his rejection of the eccentric Doctor had just been him cutting off his nose to spite his face, but from what Clint was saying, Tony hadn’t taken it too well either.

Which left him feeling guiltier than ever.

“I… it was a bad day. I told him to stop bothering me, and that I wanted you to come and treat me instead. But I don’t. Not that I don’t like you, because I do, but…I didn’t mean it. And I’d like to apologize.” Steve croaked, and Clint hesitated for a minute, before nodding his head and rolling his eyes.

“It’ll be fine. Tony can’t hold a grudge for more than a minute anyway, and when it comes to you, he was probably never even angry at you anyway.”

“I- what? What does that mean?” Steve asked in confusion.

“It means, fraternization rules are a bitch, but you can’t be in hospital forever, and as soon as you’re out of those doors, Tony will be on you like a bullet from a gun. If he can get up the courage to ask you out at all, that is.” Clint explained.

Steve had a coughing fit that lasted several minutes. He was pretty sure Clint rolled his eyes through at least five of them.

 

 **

 

Later that day, Tony burst in on Steve and Natasha, wielding Chinese and cutlery as if nothing had ever happened, and they all sat down to eat their food, trying (and failing) not to spill any of it onto the bed sheets. Nat and Tony clicked immediately, and Steve thought briefly about how he would really hate to be a person who got in their way.
The genius and the deadliest woman alive. God help the poor soul who went up against them.

Once visiting hours ended and Natasha slinked off (possibly to go and have crazy secret-sex with Clint in the broom cupboard, or possibly to clean her knife collection. Who knew?), it was just Tony and Steve, both sat cross-legged on the bed and cleaning out the last remaining pieces of their meal.

“Tony, I really am sorry-“ Steve started, but Tony immediately waved him off, placing a hand over his mouth before he could continue.

“Don’t worry about it. People have bad days. We’re good, Steve.” He said, and Steve was about to do something inappropriate like lick the hand over his mouth or try and escape all his IV’s and just throw himself at the Doctor, but then Tony got a call from reception saying they needed him and he had to rush off, instantly going from plain old Tony, the madman with the food, to Doctor Stark, best surgeon in America.

Steve just watched him go, feeling something that was far, far too close to love for his liking.

 **

 A week later, he took a turn for the worse.

He’d been in hospital for three weeks now, he hadn’t seen Tony in three days thanks to the surgeon’s incredibly busy schedule mixed with the fact that it was currently the holiday season, therefore a lot more people doing stupid things which Tony ended up having to fix.

And it had been half an hour ago that he’d started coughing up blood.

He should probably call a doctor right about now. If Bucky or Natasha had been here then he would already be getting treated, but it was 2 am and visitors weren’t allowed.

So it was just him; choking up blood with his spit and trying to ignore it.

Obviously, even he could see that this was getting ridiculous. Blood in your spit was never good- it meant internal bleeding somewhere.

He should definitely call a doctor.

Sighing, Steve pressed the help button at the side of his bed and waited for a nurse or doctor to come in and tell him something bad.

He kind of hoped it would be Tony stepping through the doors- but he knew it was stupid to think that. Tony was probably getting some well-deserved sleep after another day saving people’s lives at the surgery. It didn’t matter that Steve missed him, not when there was a person’s life on the line.

 

The sound of shoes tapped down the hallway, and a man slithered in, thick glasses and greasy hair and a smarmy smile that Steve remembered and disliked. He looked weirdly well put together, like all of his clothes were designer, even his scrubs. Steve, being used to the ratty, worn down style of Clint or the complete lack of any style whatsoever in Tony, found this odd.

“Hello, Mr. Rogers, I’ve heard a lot about you. You’ll probably remember me, I’m Doctor Hammer. You pressed the emergency button, do you need my help?” he asked, in a weirdly high-pitched drawl.

Something about the way he said it just seemed so patronizing- ‘do you need my help’ just sounded…condescending.
Not to mention the fact that he’d met the man a week ago, and seen how hostile he had been toward Clint and Tony, so Steve already had a bad opinion of him.

“I think I’m getting worse. In the past half an hour I’ve sta-“

“Well, according to all the scans, it seems like you’re doing just fine.”

“Yes, but I’ve started coughing-“

“Steve, can I call you Steve?”

“No.”

“aw, feeling grouchy today are we, Steve? Anyway, look, I know what I’m doing. I know that the doctors in control of your care over the past few days have been… less than satisfactory, but-“

“Talking about those ‘less than satisfactory’ doctors who have been in control of my care, I’d like to talk to one of them please. Is Tony- Doctor Stark in at the moment?” Steve asked icily, struggling to sit up and glare at the arrogant Doctor stood in front of him.

Hammer smiled slyly, and it sent a shiver of trepidation running down Steve’s spine. He moved to some of the monitors, fiddling with the dials where Steve couldn’t see him and chuckling quietly to himself.

“Already on first-name terms with Tony, are we?”

Sensing this was dangerous ground to be treading on, and realizing that he was dealing with someone who was obviously not a nice person, Steve just pressed on the emergency button to his left again, hoping that someone else would stop by.

“You know, Tony Stark is not everything he might say he is. D’you know he’s an alcoholic? Yup, drink and drugs and girls and anything you could imagine. The amount of times the guy’s come in with a hangover- well, I’ve lost count. I tried to get him fired, you know. That kinda behavior shouldn’t be tolerated in this sorta workplace. Did they listen? Nope. Because Stark’s their precious golden boy, and they couldn’t afford to lose him.” Hammer spat, turning to face Steve again with a look in his eyes that was definitely similar to those of some of the people that were responsible for hospitalizing him in the past.

There was madness there. And it scared Steve.
Except, it didn’t really. He wasn’t really feeling anything, come to think of it. Just a kind of light-headed drowsiness.

His mind flickered groggily back to Hammer’s entrance, when he had turned some dials on a monitor Steve couldn’t see.

He’d drugged him.

Oh, fuck.

“I’ve thought about killing him, in the past. Just bringing in a gun one day and shooting him in the fucking head, ending it all. But I always end up thinking; what would be the point? There would be no lasting satisfaction for me, it would just be a second, and then it would be over. No, if I really wanted to win- if I really wanted to end the feud that’s been brewing between us all these years… I’d have to destroy him, y’know? And I thought- what better way to ruin Tony Stark’s life, than to take the life of someone he cares about? Someone he loves, even?”

Steve was still clicking away furiously at the emergency button, but apart from that, he was utterly helpless as Hammer plucked an needle full of air from his breast pocket and grinned madly down at Steve.

Stall him, Steve thought to himself desperately.

“Why…why’dyou hate him s’much? He’s never done anythin’ t’you” Steve slurred, hoping his jab would hit Hammer in just the right place to get a reaction.

The insane Doctor did a whole-body flinch, and he pretty much howled in rage.

Bingo.

“Never done anything? Never done anything? My whole life, I wanted to be a surgeon! Wanted to get the highest mark at my university, wanted to be the youngest person in America to receive a PhD, or to win the Nobel Prize! And I would’ve done it all, too. I would’ve been the greatest mind in America- but Tony Fucking Stark beat me. At everything. My whole career, I’ve been second best to that arrogant, self-obsessed bastard. But I couldn’t quit, could I? I wanted to win, just once, just at something. So I put everything into making sure I stayed at this job, working my ass off to try and be better than him, to get the one-up, just for once.”

Hammer laughed, and shook his head in amusement.

“Never happened. So I started planning other ways to win. I tried to get him fired, but he was too valuable to them to lose. This hospital’s in the center of New York, and one of the biggest too. They needed him more than they needed me; Tony was right on that one. I tried to turn his friends against him, finding out about his drinking and telling them about it. Doctor Barton and Nurse Odinson simply laughed in my face and told me he’d been sober for years, before complaining to human resources and getting me put in a harassment seminar for three months. Whatever I did, he brushed it off. I was never going to win- unless I did something drastic.”

“S’you don’t care ‘bout goin’ t’ prison for the rest of your life, d’ya? Wouldn’t call that winnin’ ” Steve hissed, but Hammer merely shrugged and leaned against the wall.

“What happens after doesn’t matter. I’ll get to stay alive, and watch him fall apart over your death, knowing it was his fault. He’s never handled the death of his patients well; it’s what’s made him such a good surgeon. He just can’t stand letting them down. So this- knowing that I used you, specifically you, simply because he had a stupid crush on you, in order to hurt him. Boy, that’s gonna be fun to watch.” Hammer said, giggling like the maniac he was and pushing himself off the wall with his shoulder, raising the needle in the air.

“Even though I’m not as clever as Tony is, I’m still quite good at the whole ‘Doctor’ thing. And you know what I’ve learnt, Steve? If ya wanna kill someone, you don’t even have to try. Just a needle full of nothing, in the right place, and bam. You’re dead. It’s over. No blood or mess or brains on the wall. I prefer not having to look at all that, it makes me queasy.”

Steve tried to move away, to stand up and hit him or something, but he just couldn’t. He could barely keep his eyes open as it was, never mind doing any extra movements.

He was going to die.

“I’m sorry you were the unlucky one, Steve. It must suck. But hey, let’s be honest- you probably weren’t going to live past forty anyway. So I guess I’m just doing you a favor, like ripping off the Band-Aid as fast as you can, right?”

Steve bucked uselessly in the bed, feeling his head pound painfully despite the drugs he was on. Blood pooled at the back of his mouth and he spat it out right at the Doctor’s face- but whatever he did, Hammer just kept coming closer and closer, a horrible sweaty hand clamping around Steve’s wrists, holding him down.

“Fuck…you” Steve spat breathlessly, everything going fuzzy and white for a second.

Hammer just laughed, bringing the needle down, and Steve couldn’t even see it anymore, everything was muffled and there were crashing sounds and a voice that felt comfortingly familiar, like bagels in the morning and Chinese food at night and inside-out scrubs and-

“-eve? Steve can you hear me? Fuck, sweetie, please, just stay with me. Jesus, I’m so, so sorry, this is my fault, I’m so sorry. Listen, I’m gonna call Clint, he’s gonna come over here and deal with Hammer while I go fix you up, okay? Sound good? Steve, don’t fall asleep right now, you need to just stay awake a little longer. Fight it off, you’re good at that, right?” Came the familiar voice, and there were two hands on both of his cheeks, thumbs rubbing over his temples in circles that were strangely comforting, and made Steve just want to fall asleep even more.

The slap on the face he got a few seconds later, however, did not feel quite so comforting.

“Hey, watch it,” Steve muttered in a hoarse voice, opening his eyes irritably and staring up at Tony’s stricken face.

“Alright, you’re back with me. Great. I’ve dialed down the drugs to zero, so you’re gonna start feeling some of the pain soon- but that’s good, pain will keep you awake. And I don’t want you zoning out on me now, not with lungs like that.” Tony explained his hands still gently pressed to Steve’s face.

Now he was semi-conscious, Steve did a half-hearted check of his surroundings.

On the floor, Justin Hammer lay unconscious. He appeared to have a broken nose, and he was bleeding quite heavily from a wound near his temple.

Tony was stood over him, looking like he literally just got out of bed. Apart from the leather jacket he had thrown over himself, he was still in his pajamas, and his hair looked even messier than usual.

“How’d you…how?” Steve asked, and felt a horrible constriction on his chest at the words, like he couldn’t get a proper breath out to say it.

“I, um, I had your emergency button programmed into my phone. Just in case, you know? And then at 2 am, my notifications go absolutely batshit crazy, saying that you beeped 38 times in a minute, and I figure you must be dying or something, so I haul-ass here on Rhodey’s motorbike and barge in on Hammer trying to kill you with a needle. It’s been a pretty weird night.” Tony admits, pulling out a stethoscope from nowhere and placing it on Steve’s erratic heartbeat.

“You…programmed my emergency button…on to your phone?” Steve asked breathlessly, and Tony rolled his eyes, turning to the medical cabinet so he could hide the obvious blush crawling up his cheeks again.

“I’m going to get some adrenaline in your system, counteract the morphine the crazy asshole administered to you. And once you’re all fixed, you can watch me beat the shit out of Justin, if you want.” Tony said, ignoring the question and turning his back away from the bedside as he rummaged around for whatever vial he was searching for.

“You’ll have to get in line, buddy. It was me the guy tried to murder.” Steve said, chuckling exhaustedly, and then coughing up another ball of bloody spit.

Tony turned around, and his eyes instantly froze on the red that was trickling down the corner of Steve’s mouth. His whole body tensed up even further than it had been before, and he was at Steve’s side in a flash, hands grabbing at his shoulders in anxiety.

“Steve, how long have you been spitting blood?” He asked urgently, gripping Steve tightly in his arms.

“’bout half an hour.”

“…Fuck, Steve, what the hell were you thinking, waiting this long? Are you insane?! Jesus Christ, we’ve gotta get you into surgery, asap. Does it hurt when I press down here?” Tony asked, his hand putting pressure on Steve’s stomach.

Steve shook his head, and then when Tony moved it up toward his ribcage and pressed down lightly, Steve took a deep intake of breath and hissed it out quickly.

If possible, Tony paled even further.

“Tony, what’s going on, what’s wrong with me-“ Steve began, but his gaze was redirected to the slowly moving figure that had previously been passed out on the floor, which was gradually reaching up to Tony’s bare wrist with the needle still gripped in his hand.

Using everything he had left in him, Steve jerked upward and snapped a hand out to Tony’s sternum, pushing him away from the trajectory of the needle and trying to ignore the suddenly all-consuming pain that flared up from his chest, sending bright bursts of white flashing into his eyes and feeling like a thousand knives had just dug themselves right into his heart.

He was briefly aware of hands on his face and broken yells, before Steve’s vision blacked out as his eyes rolled into the back of his and he fell backward into numbness.

Chapter Text

Natasha twisted the wheel of her car, sending it into a spin that left it directly at the doors entrance, and without another word, she kicked open the door and bolted out, Bucky and Clint following hurriedly behind her.

She’d probably get fined a fuckload of money for the car, but at this moment, she couldn’t really care.

Because twenty minutes ago, Tony had called Clint, who was staying over at Natasha’s for the night, and told him that they needed to get Steve’s friends and bring them to the hospital, because Steve’s lung had collapsed and he was going into emergency surgery. As Natasha has listened to the doctor on the phone, she realized quite how severe the situation was. The usually confident and calm man had sounded…well; terrified was the only word to describe it- his voice breaking at the end as he explained the situation.

“I’m going into surgery with him in a few minutes, but- but, I’ve no idea how bad the internal damage is. His hormones have been all over the place over the past hour or so, morphine mixing with adrenaline mixing with Oxytocin mixing with god-knows-what-else. I don’t…”

“Stark, listen to me. It’s Barnes.” Bucky growled, snatching the phone from Natasha and placing it to his ear as Natasha looked back to the road she was speeding down.

“You’re gonna get your ass into that surgery, and you’re gonna fix whatever’s wrong with him, okay? You’re the best surgeon in America- yes, even better than Banner. Because this means something to you, okay? This isn’t just a patient. This is Steve. And that’s gonna make you ten times better than Banner, because so help me god if you let him down I will end you.” Bucky shouted down the phone.

He sighed and bit his lip, eyes hovering over the dashboard to check the speed impatiently.

“Please, Tony. You didn’t brag to me about how much of a genius you are only to fail at the first race I see you run. You can do this. We’ll be there in five,” Bucky said, before ending the call without another word and staring resolutely out of the window.

 

They barged in through the doors, Clint guiding them through the halls to the room where Steve was and landing them in the waiting room, telling them to stay there for a few minutes as Clint slipped through into the next room along, where Steve’s life hung in the balance.

Natasha stared at the wall in silence. Wordlessly, Bucky took her hand in his and gripped it tight, glaring at the same patch of wall.

 

A few minutes later, someone else jogged into the waiting room, scrubs trailing behind them and glasses strewn crookedly over his nose. The doctor’s hair was curly and unruly, falling over his coffee-brown eyes.

“Is Tony- Doctor Stark in here with a patient?” the man asked hurriedly as he spotted them.

Bucky and Natasha nodded, and the doctor immediately began to walk towards the door, but Bucky stood up and blocked the door, growling.

“Don’t disturb them. This is important, I don’t care what you want.” He warned.

The Doctor however, wasn’t fazed at all, simply pulling out his ID before ducking under Bucky’s arm and slipping into the other room.

The card read ‘Doctor Bruce Banner’ at the top, and Bucky stared at it for a few seconds, before slumping back into his chair.

“That’s twice I’ve been shown up by smartass doctors throwing their ID’s in my face and telling me how brilliant they are.” Bucky grumbled.

 

 

Clint returned a few minutes after that, looking grey and shaken. Natasha stood up immediately, Bucky following her lead quickly afterwards.

“How is he?” She asked bluntly.

“I… it’s hard to say, I mean his lungs are… they’re in awful condition. Tony’s working on it, but-“ Clint paused, running a worried hand through his hair and looking at his feet.

“He found out why Steve wasn’t getting better. It was a tumor. We hadn’t even… it didn’t show up on any of our scans, it was hidden just behind his spine. Tony’s trying to remove it, but he’s called in Doctor Banner for help, he’s an expert in this sort of thing. He said- he said that the whole left lung had just collapsed. And he’s so ill and weak already, I don’t… but Tony’s gonna do everything he can, and together, him and Banner can do anything.” Clint assured them, but his eyes were dancing nervously around the room in a way that made it hard for Natasha to believe him.

She grabbed at Bucky’s hand as it flew out to hit a wall and pulled him into her arms, gripping him tightly a he breathed heavily into her shoulder. Beside them, Clint slumped into a chair and held his head in his hands.

They’d done this before- the waiting game. While Steve got treated, they’d gotten very familiar with the hospitals seats over time. But each time they’d been before, it had never been… like this. Steve’s life had never hung in the balance; he’d always got off lightly.

They’d always been lucky. And that had been bound to run out some day.

 **

 Bruce watched as his friend worked, a concentration to the Doctor’s movements that was unlike anything he had ever witnessed before. Tony was completely and utterly focused, his hands not moving a millimeter as he dug incisions into his patient’s (friend’s? Boyfriend’s?) Skin.

Bruce had teased his superior skills to Tony many times- but in this moment, at this point in time, Tony owned the show. He’d never seen anything like this before.

 

“Bruce, I need your input. If we get rid of the tumor, then we’re gonna have to take out a part of his spine with it.”

“But that will mean paralysis.”

“Unless we can put an implant in.”

“Material?”

“Gold-Titanium alloy.”

“Expensive.”

“I have money.”

 "I...Tony, that's unethical and you know it. We can't treat one patient better or worse than everyone else, and-"

"Bruce. Please- just let me do this. For him."

Bruce paused for a moment, but Tony only spared him a fleeting glance before returning back to work on the body underneath him.

“Okay. So that’s the tumor gone. What about the actual lung? We’re going to be removing a part of the spine that the lungs actually sit on- ironic, really, but without the tumor, then the lungs won’t even be able to hold themselves up. There’s some irreparable damage here.”

“We can put a support in. Same material, a plate of it in the lung, holding it together.”

“But even if we do have a support, there’s still-“

“Damage. I know. Ideas?” Tony asked quickly, and although it was mostly inaudible, Bruce picked up on the shaking notes at the end of Tony’s voice.

The doctor stared down at the small man, oxygen mask taking up the majority of his face and his skin a sickly grey color.

 

“Where’s the worst area?” Bruce asked, despite knowing the answer. Sometimes, Tony worked better when he spoke aloud.

“Bronchi. From what I can see, they were already undeveloped before Steve caught the infection. But his illness just deteriorated them further, and they’ve stopped being able to transfer the oxygen to the alveoli.”

“And no alveoli, no respiration.”

“Exactly. That’s why Steve has been struggling to take proper breaths, and been suffering from chronic headaches. Too much carbon dioxide in the system.” Tony said, mostly to himself, and he held out a hand for Bruce to pass him the scissors.

“So, we have the problem. What’s the solution? Put him on a breathing machine for the rest of his life?” Bruce asked, and Tony froze.

“I… He’d hate that.” Tony whispered.

“What choice do we have?” Bruce answered softly.

Tony sighed, and closed his eyes, finishing his sewing and securing it in place with a flourish, before turning and handing the scissors to Bruce and beginning to walk out of the room.

“I have an idea. But I need to run it by his friends first. Keep working, I’ll only be gone a minute.” He said tersely, before stepping out of the door.

 

 

Almost immediately, there were people at his side, Natasha, Bucky and Clint all crowding around him, asking for information.

“Are any of you authorized to make medical decisions on Steve’s behalf if he can’t give consent himself?” Tony asked, getting straight to the point and silencing them all with a wave of his hand.

Natasha looked to Bucky, who nodded his head grimly.

“Yeah- I signed the PMDD and everything. Why, what are you needing my consent for?” He asked immediately, stepping forward as the others stepped back.

Tony bit his lip and pulled a hand across his face. He was fucking exhausted. He hadn’t managed to get more than an hour of sleep in two days and he’d been working tirelessly for the past three hours.
He wanted to curl up and go to sleep, only waking up when Steve was better and healthy again. But he couldn’t. Because he was the only one capable of making that happen right now, and he was damn well going to do it.

“Steve can’t breathe. That’s the basics of it. I could fix him right here, right now. But he’d be on a breathing machine for the rest of his life. No physical activity, barely anything above a walking pace, and he’d have to have a lot of maintenance for it. This would be with him for life.” Tony said, and both Natasha and Bucky hissed in dismay.

“Isn’t there something you can do?” Clint asked him.

“Well that’s just it. There is something I can do. There’s this… thing, I’ve been working on. It does the same thing as a breathing machine, except it’s tiny. Like, I could insert it into the lung itself, and it would do the same thing as the alveoli would. In theory.” Tony said, and Clint’s jaw set in frustration, seeming to understand where the others did not.

“It’s not been tested then.” He asked, and Tony shook his head.

“If I did this; if I put it in Steve’s body, then there’s a chance it would fail. There’s a chance his body would reject the implant. I’m about eighty percent sure it will work, I made it after all, but...” Tony told Bucky this time, turning to face Steve’s best friend, who appeared to be having a battle inside his own head, completely zoning everyone else out.

“So I either play it safe and have Steve put on a breathing machine for the rest of his life and make him utterly miserable, or I let you put your machine-thing in my best friend’s lungs and risk him dying completely.” Bucky said eventually, and there was nothing Tony could do but nod in misery, feeling ten years older than he was.

Bucky remained stony and silent for a minute, before he finally nodded his head.

“Do it. I can’t… Steve wouldn’t want to live a life that restricted. He’d want me to do this. He would.” Bucky said quietly, his hands visibly shaking.

Natasha reached out for Clint’s hand, and then Bucky’s with her other, holding them both tightly enough to shatter bone. But she nodded at Tony, and without another word, Tony turned back into the surgery and shut the door behind him.

 **

It was 6 am on a Sunday morning. Two civilians and a Doctor all sat in the waiting room, their hands entwined, waiting for news that would change their lives forever; for better or worse, no-one knew.

Natasha wished they hadn’t arrested Hammer quite so quickly. She would’ve loved to get her hands on him.

The sun rose, but no-one noticed.

People started filling up in the waiting rooms around them, but no one cared.

Clint was told he had to go to work. Natasha gripped his hand even tighter and told the nurse to go fuck herself. Bucky seconded. The nurse left.

They waited.

 **

 Sometime around 7 in the morning, the doors opened.

Immediately, Natasha and Bucky were on their feet, rushing to Tony’s side as he slumped against the frame of the door in exhaustion.

“Is he okay? Tell us, Tony.” Natasha urged, and Bucky was as white as a sheet, clasping desperately at her hand, trying to restrain himself from bursting in there and seeing for himself.

Tony looked up at them, and then thankfully, miraculously, brilliantly- he smiled.

“Who’s the best surgeon in America?” He asked.

“Still me,” Bruce said, sliding out of the room beside Tony and patting him on the shoulder as two ridiculously strong humans flung themselves into his arms, choked-off sobs of joy from Bucky and delighted laughter from Natasha.

Tony laughed- or at least tried to, what with the breath having been knocked out of him by the two excited friends, and stuck two fingers up at Bruce from over their shoulders.

“Can we see him?” Bucky asked, finally breaking away and looking slightly awkward as he stepped back from embracing the Doctor he barely knew, his cheeks flushing a dull pink from the mixture of relief and embarrassment.

“No, sorry, not yet, he’s still resting. But we’re gonna be moving him back to his old room in a few hours, you can wait with him there.” Tony said.

“You gonna be waiting with us?” Natasha asked, knowing what the answer was going to be before it came out of his mouth.

“What, you think I’m not gonna be around to gloat about me saving his life, twice, may I add? I’m sure the hospital can do without me for a few days.” Tony scoffed, shucking his surgeon’s apron and revealing the pajamas that were still underneath.

Catching their inquisitive looks, he rolled his eyes and pulled his leather jacket on, hiding the ill-fitting tank top underneath.

“You’re saying if you knew Steve had pressed the emergency button 30-odd times, you would stop to get changed?” He asked.

“No- but then again, I’ve known him my whole life; you’ve known him for a few weeks. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were carrying a torch for the guy” Bucky said, shrugging, a mischievous glint in the corner of his eye.

Tony spluttered and flailed a little, stumbling over his own feet and into a nearby wall.

“well, I mean- obviously, I like him, he’s really- he’s nice, yeah, and he’s cute. Really cute. But a lot of people are really cute, you know, and it’s not like Steve’s the only one with hair that’s too long and falls down over his eyes, or a dimple on their left cheek that only comes out when he’s doing a full-on cackle or… yeah, I’m not really helping my case here, am I?” Tony asked wearily.

“Not even slightly.” Natasha said, patting his arm pityingly.

Tony glanced into the room where Steve was resting, sighing heavily and shaking his head.

“Listen, he’s like, the prettiest person I’ve ever seen. I could wax poetic about his eyes for the whole damn week- and have you seen him smile? It’s fucking ridiculous. But I’m not an idiot; I know there are a lot wiser and better choices out there for him than me. God, he could get anyone he wants.” Tony breathed, letting his eyes fall shut for a few seconds and trying to will away the bitterness that came with that thought.

He looked up, and saw both Natasha and Bucky gaping at him. Clint was just trying to hold in his laughter, and Tony resisted the urge to flip him off with great difficulty.

“…What? You know I’m head over heels anyway, might as well come out with it.” Tony said defensively.

“Looks like we’ve found ourselves a keeper, Buck.” Natasha said, winding an arm around the Doctor’s tense shoulders and pulling him down so that his head was resting in her lap.

“Unfortunately, it’s not your choice. And Steve probably has someone in mind- it’s not like we’ve known each other long.” Tony mumbled into Natasha’s leg.

“Yeah- I think he might, actually.” Bucky said, and Natasha felt Tony slump under her hands.

She gave Bucky a sharp look, but the man simply winked. Clint, catching wind of the joke, sat down beside Tony and patted his shoulder.

“Yeah, I heard he’s got this huge crush on some really smart guy.” The doctor said.

Bet I’m smarter. But whatever.” Tony grumbled, curling in on himself.

“Nah, I don’t think so. He’s like, freaky smart. Got all these Doctorates, top of his field. Bragged it to me, first time I spoke to him.” Bucky continued.

“Sounds like an asshole.”

“Yeah- he said that himself, first time him and Steve met. Steve’s only known him for a little while, but you should hear the way he talks about the guy. Constantly asking round for him, wonders how he’s doing or whether he’s too busy to drop by and keep him company. And you should see the way his face lights up when the guy walks into a room. It’s sickeningly cute.” Clint informed him, and Bucky hummed along in agreement.

Natasha rolled her eyes and signaled for Bucky and Clint to cut it out- she could feel Tony get more miserable with every word her friends spoke.

“Well- I’m, I’m sure they’ll be real happy toge-“

“Also, his name’s Tony Stark.” Bucky interrupted.

Tony stilled, head jerking upward to glance at the two guys snickering up above him. He hit Bucky with a jab to the ribs and scowled at Clint, who was too far away to attack.

“Oh ha ha ha, very funny. Look at me; I’m dying of laughter. Someone call a doctor- oh wait.”

“They’re not lying, Tony. He’s smitten. It’s nauseating, really.” Natasha said, and Tony looked up at her questioningly, his mouth opening and shutting like a very confused fish.

“Really?” He asked.

“Definitely.” She confirmed, and Tony fell silent for a moment, before releasing a huff of air and a surprised ‘huh’, before falling back down onto Natasha’s lap and closing his eyes.

“Fall asleep on me and I will cut you,” Natasha warned, but there was absolutely no truth to her words, and to be honest, giving Tony a place to finally get some rest was the least she could do after he’d worked so hard to save one of her best friends.

“Not gonna go t’sleep.” Tony mumbled, and a few seconds later, he was snoring gently on Natasha’s legs.

Clint rolled his eyes and leaned his head against Natasha’s shoulder, his warm presence a comfort in the cold hospital waiting room. On Clint’s right, Bucky sat rigidly, eyes still fixed on the door and the tension in his shoulders still visible, despite the good news.

“He’s gonna be okay, Bucky. They fixed him up, you made the right call. Tony’s a genius, and he would never, ever risk something like that unless he was very sure it would work.” Clint said, sensing the man’s stress.

Bucky looked sullenly forward, worrying at his lip with his top teeth.

“It could’ve killed him. I put his life in danger, whichever way you want to look at it.”

“Listen, Bucky, when you work here, you see people make difficult decisions all the time. I have to decide which drugs a person should take, knowing that if I get it wrong, even by a tiny proportion, they could die. It’s stressful as shit- but at the end of the day, the risk is always worth the outcome. You knew that your tiny, vicious friend who threw himself into more action than an Indiana Jones movie would despise being restricted like that, so you went for the better option. Don’t feel bad for what could’ve happened, because it didn’t.” Clint told him.

Bucky said nothing, still staring at the door as if he could magically hope to see through them. But then he sighed, and turned to Clint and Natasha with a weary smile on his face.

“Hey, who wants to come and get shitty hospital food with me? I don’t think I’ve eaten in 24 hours.” He said, changing the subject and getting to his feet groggily, his unwashed hair falling messily into his eyes as he leaned forward. Clint nodded his approval, but Natasha simply gestured to the sleeping surgeon draped over her legs and rolled her eyes.

“Get me something good for when you get back,” she said, grabbing Clint’s hand to get his attention and holding on to it a little tighter than normal.

 

It had been a long day, and she wasn’t quite used to having this many feelings swirling about her brain.

 

“Sure, I’ll just buy the contents of the vending machine, that’s pretty much the only decent stuff they have here.” He replied, kissing her forehead lightly before walking out with Bucky by his side.

Underneath her, Tony let out a loud snore and curled up around himself. Natasha looked down at him with something worryingly close to affection in her heart, and she sighed in annoyance. Finding people she actually cared about was so rare, and way too much hassle. And she felt Tony was going to be one of those particularly large hassles in her future. However, she found it hard to care all that much.

“God, I’m glad you chose Steve’s room to hide away from your problems in,” she told him quietly, and Tony snored his agreement.

 ** 

When Steve woke up, (which was a surprise in itself) the watery morning sunlight was just beginning to filter through the curtains and into the room, lighting it up in a dull grey.

He felt the pain immediately as he tried to sit up, a dull throb under his ribcage that flared into life at every breath. Vaguely, he remembered what it had felt like before; the absolutely stifling pain that had overwhelmed him and caused him to black out.

The last thing he remembered had been Tony, rushing toward him after Steve had pushed him out of the way of-

The heart monitor went crazy as Steve remembered, and he sat bolt upright.

He needed to find Tony. He needed to know if he was okay.

 

But then there was a pressure on his shoulder, pushing him back down to the bed and rubbing a soothing pattern into his skin as he tried to fight the person pinning him down. But as he turned to look at the person stood over him, and his blue eyes met with those warm chocolate ones, narrowed in worry and fear- Steve stopped struggling.

He tried to speak, but his mouth had closed up and it felt like sandpaper against his tongue, and so he took to grasping uselessly at Tony’s scrubs and opening and shutting his mouth, no words coming out.

“Steve? Can you talk to me, Steve? Do you remember who I am? Fuck, I knew brain damage would be a possibility; I mean you hadn’t been getting enough oxygen to your brain for at least one and half hours, it could’ve happened but… just, say something, please.” Tony begged, hands clenching around air as if he wanted to grab Steve and pull him into a tight hug.

Steve wasn’t opposed to that sentiment.

Swallowing, he flailed around for Tony’s hand, until finding it gripped against the bedside so tightly his knuckles were going white.

“Fi-fight me,” He said, his voice broken and almost non-existent, even in the silence of his room.

Tony smiled at him so brightly it could’ve run the whole building off the wattage- and for a second he leaned forward a little, lifting a hand up to Steve’s face before seemingly realizing what he was doing and snapping it back hurriedly with a tiny shake of his head.

“Welcome back, idiot.” Tony said, moving further away and sitting back down on the chair at Steve’s bedside, much to his disappointment.

“I’m sorry, who was it who saved your life again?” Steve asked.

“Shall we do a count? I saved your life from my insane co-worker. Then you saved my life from my insane co-worker. Then I saved your life again when your lungs decided to give up on life. I win, I saved you twice.” Tony said, but there was something tense to his smile as his eyes flickered down to the bandages over Steve’s chest.

“I’m okay, Tony. And I guess I’ve got you to thank for it?” Steve asked questioningly, and Tony nodded curtly, pursing his lips.

“Are you having difficulty breathing? Aside from the pain-factor of it, do you feel like it’s easier to take in deep breaths now?” Tony asked.

Steve experimented, taking in a few deep exhales and letting them go with a surprising ease that he hadn’t felt for…well, most of his life.

Whatever Tony had done, it had not only saved his life, but also improved it.

“Tony, this is brilliant, thank y-“

“Any metallic taste in the back of your throat? Sudden spikes of pain that aren’t correlated with movement? Can you feel something shift inside you when you try and breathe?” Tony interrupted urgently, and Steve stopped, eyes narrowing in worry for his anxious friend.

“No, Tony, it’s all fine. I’ve never been able to breathe this freely before- what did you do to me?” Steve asked, smiling in assurance.

Tony sighed, slumping on the chair wearily and staring at Steve. There was a frown line on his face that Steve desperately wanted to kiss away, and each second Tony stared, the urge got stronger.

“I gave you an implant. It’s like- the parts of your lungs responsible for getting the carbon dioxide out of your body and putting the oxygen in weren’t working properly, and I’d been working on something that would do that job for the lungs. It was either that or you had to be put on a breathing machine for the rest of your life; you know, the ones you have to lug around everywhere and restrict you in everything and I knew that you wouldn’t want that so I asked Bucky if I could put my own invention in instead because he said he was authorized to make medical decisions for you in case of emergency and I’m so sorry I just wanted to make sure you were-“

“Tony, Tony, calm down. You’re rambling. I don’t see what the problem is here. You saved my life. And you’re right, if you’d have put me on a breathing machine for the rest of my life, I would’ve been absolutely miserable. Why are you freaking out about this?” Steve asked, and Tony just looked even more miserable at that, letting his head fall into his hands and sighing.

“It hadn’t ever been tested. It could’ve… it could’ve killed you, Steve. And it would’ve been my fault.” Tony said quietly, doing a whole body shudder as he thought back to the operating table, putting the disk into Steve’s lungs and wondering if Steve was going to die because of him and another of his stupid inventions-

“Tony. Look at me.” Steve said, sliding his hand down until his wrist was directly under Tony’s fingers, letting him feel the pulse beating steadily underneath his touch.

“I’m alive. And I’m healthier than I’ve ever been before. If you’d have put me on that breathing machine instead of this… I don’t know if I would’ve forgiven you. Even if you were trying to protect me. This was the right decision. Thank you.” Steve said truthfully, winding his skinny hand around Tony’s own wrist and feeling the familiar warmth under the pads of his fingers.

Tony stared down at both of their wrists, holding Steve’s pulse against his fingers so tightly it hurt. Then he closed his eyes, and when he looked up, the frown line had lessened a little.

“Hey, listen- do you wanna go get-" Tony paused, his brain seemingly catching up with his mouth as he suddenly stopped and shook his head, " you know what, um, never mind. Not really the right time. Just- get some rest, Steve. You need it, what with all the nearly-dying you’ve been doing.” Tony said softly, brushing that too-long hair out of Steve’s eyes with his free hand before getting up and leaving Steve behind, wondering what the hell Tony had been about to say.

 **

Three weeks later, and Steve was desperate to be out of hospital.

Clint was telling him he was a moron and that he should stay for at least another two weeks if he wanted to heal properly- but Steve hadn’t left the hospital in over a month and if he stayed any longer he was going to scream, or pull a Hammer and try to murder anyone who came near him.

He’d be fine. It’s not like he hadn’t done this before.

 

Despite Tony’s best attempts, Steve was getting ready to leave, putting on his normal clothes and packing up any of the items that he’d left in his room into the red duffel bag as Tony sprawled over the chairs and told him he was going to die.

“You’re going to die.”

“How sad.”

“You’re going to burst your stitches or fall on your ribs and then you will shrivel up and die before I can come and rescue you whilst gloating about how right I was.”

“I’m terrified.”

“Steeeeeeeve,” Tony whined, taking a petulant slurp from his coffee and kicking the back of Steve’s leg with his foot.

“If I’m going to die a horribly painful death, then at least go buy me a coffee so I can end it all on a caffeine-fuelled high.” Steve said, gesturing at the door so he could get ready to leave in peace without his Doctor/ friend/ crush trying to mother hen him into staying for an extra two weeks.

Tony gave him a long look, before sighing dramatically and getting to his feet.

“Fine. But only because I agree that everyone has the right to dying on a caffeine-fuelled high, not because I want you to leave.” He said huffily, prodding Steve lightly in the kidneys and causing him to fall right on to the bed.

“Go away and don’t come back until you have coffee,” Steve called out, his face smushed against the mattress.

“Stay here and don’t die until I come back with coffee,” Tony answered back, his voice fading away as he strode down the hallway.

 

Steve rolled over on to his back, watching the empty door with a half-smile on his face and the usual fluttering sensation he got in his heart when he hung out with Tony for any period of time.

 

It seemed in the month or so that he had been here, his group of friends had somehow doubled in size, with Tony and Clint joining them first, and then their colleague Nurse Odinson, otherwise known as Thor (seriously) barging in on them all hanging out in Steve’s room and challenging Bucky to an arm-wrestling match after hearing about the insanely strong prosthetic he had been fitted with and wanting to see for himself if it was strong enough to beat his equally ridiculous upper-arm strength.

Bucky won. Thor was so impressed; he hadn’t left Bucky’s side since.

Then Bruce Banner came in to check up on Steve and Tony when they all just so happened to have bought a giant selection of takeout food from the Chinese restaurant opposite the hospital, and everyone managed to persuade him to stay. He was quiet and gentle, but actually had a devilish sense of humor if you coaxed it out of him.

 The whole hospital was full of mad doctors who had little to no sense of professionalism whatsoever (when Bucky had beaten Thor in their arm-wrestling competition, Thor had given him a congratulatory kiss. On the lips.), and he was so glad that he had been lucky enough to end up with them looking after him.

 

Steve got the last of his belongings back into the duffel bag and zipped up the contents, sitting on the bed waiting for Tony to come back with his coffee. He could feel his heart beating fast underneath his shirt, and was tapping his foot nervously.

This was it. As soon as he signed out, he was no longer a patient under the hospital’s care. And if Bucky, Natasha, Bruce, Clint and Thor were all correct, then Tony was going to ask him out as soon as he stepped out of those revolving doors. Because according to Bucky, ‘there’s been enough adoring looks being thrown at you that even I’ve wanted to make out with him’.

God, Steve hoped that was true.

So he was just waiting now, waiting for Tony to come back and walk with him back to the reception and ask him out in that adorable way where he looked as if he was being nonchalant but there was always that tiny flush of pink and the little bite of his lip that gave it away every time. And then Steve would say yes, and he would try to sound casual too but he’d probably end up bouncing around on the balls of his feet whilst grinning up at the brilliant doctor who had come into his life by pure chance and Steve had fallen head-over-heels for.

And then Steve might finally get a stroke of good fortune for once. He’d been waiting long enough for the damn thing.

 

Five minutes later, there was the sound of running feet down the corridor and Tony slammed into the room with a rush, the two coffees in his hands sloshing around in their paper cups. Steve stood up with a smile, but it faltered a little as Tony simply hurried forward and handed Steve the cup of coffee hastily, before beginning to retreat back out the other way.

“I’m sorry, there’s been a big crash on 34th street, I’ve got about five people desperate for surgery and they’re coming in in about ten minutes, I’ve got to set up. See you ‘round, Steve,” Tony said, only having time to shoot a quick smile before he pretty much sprinted out of his room, leaving Steve with nothing but a coffee in his hand and the smile completely wiped off his face.

Well. That definitely wasn’t what he was hoping for.

He knew he shouldn’t be feeling so annoyed. Tony had a job after all; a job that was important and busy and saved people’s lives. Of course he wasn’t going to hang around and ask Steve on a date when there where lives to save. Steve wouldn’t want him to do that.

But now that meant that his date was probably not going to happen after all.

Steve sighed, feeling a heaviness in his chest that had nothing to do with his lungs. He should’ve asked Tony, instead of just assuming that it would be the other way around. Instead of being a damn coward.

Stepping out of his room and closing the door a touch too hard, he tried not to think so glumly. It wasn’t as if Tony was ditching him; and it’s not like Steve couldn’t go and visit him at the hospital and ask Tony himself.

But he couldn’t stop that little voice in his head that just loved to come out in these sorts of situations. The one telling him that if Tony had really been into him, he would’ve at least mentioned something before running off. Maybe just a tiny little ‘I’d like to see you again’ would’ve been enough.

But he hadn’t. And now Steve was overthinking everything.

Maybe they’d had been wrong. Maybe Tony just looked at everyone like that. It wasn’t as if Steve was anyone special; in fact, Tony could do so much better than a sick, pale, skinny little guy who was too stubborn to stand down in front of an army if he disagreed with them.

Who’d want a guy like that for a boyfriend?

 

He was silent for the whole journey home. The others probably guessed what was up, but they didn’t say anything. Bucky and Nat simply chatted in the front while Steve sat and sulked at the back, taking absent-minded sips from the coffee (made perfectly, by the way. Because for some reason Tony knew what his favorites were).

They arrived back at his run-down apartment twenty minutes later, where Steve gave a mumbled word of thanks before slipping out of the car and up to his flat without another a word.

Wisely, the others chose not to follow.

 

He dropped the duffel on the floor with a thump and put his half-drunk coffee on the countertop before dropping down on to his couch with a groan.

“Fuck,” he swore to no-one, grabbing blindly for the remote and switching it on to some undoubtedly shitty daytime TV and wondering if there was still some ice-cream left in the freezer.

TV and ice cream. Perfect moping ingredients.

Pulling himself up from his fetal position on the cushions, he dragged his tired body up towards the fridge, stopping to grab the cold coffee from the countertop and chuck it in the bin.

Then he noticed it. The messy scrawl that his fingers had been covering until now.

Fight me?

And underneath, a phone number, written in Tony’s undeniable scrawl. It was hurried and Steve could barely make it out, but that didn’t stop the absolute beam that lit up his face.

Tony liked him. Steve actually had a chance with this.

And he was damn well going to take it.

 **

 Tony sighed, slumping further down into the uncomfortable seats that were littered about the staffroom and curling his hand tightly around his fifth coffee of the day.

He was one of the last ones still there; even Clint had finally called it a day and gone home to sleep for 24 hours, probably. Tony didn’t blame him; the whole day had been a nightmare. They’d been working non-stop for twelve hours solid, five different people needing emergency surgery and at least twelve people who had been caught up in the crash and needed treatment for various injuries.

A truck driver had blacked out and basically driven right into a crowd. That’s what they were saying, anyway. Tony didn’t really care about the why- he just cared about the two people who had been killed because of it.

The two people who had died on his operating table.

They’d been, what, sixteen? Seventeen? Something ridiculously young, anyway. A boy and a girl.
Maybe they’d been out on a date. Maybe they’d been shopping for birthday gifts for one of their friends.

Whatever. Didn’t matter. They were dead now.

This, this was his problem. This was one of the times he hated his job, hated it more than anything else. Because he couldn’t ever let people go. Every death on his shift was just like letting another person down, letting their lives and their loved ones and their whole existence slip through his fingers.

Them being kids just made everything so much worse.

 

Thor and Clint had stayed for a few hours after all of their shifts had ended. They knew how Tony got on a bad day at the surgery. But they’d had it just as hard as him, and eventually Tony told them to fuck off and get some rest, which they did in the end.

So it was just Tony and the empty staffroom now.

 

He rubbed at his eyes, feeling the residue power from the latex gloves he’d been wearing falling into his face and making it itch.

God, he was tired.

Checking his watch, he decided whether or not to just call it and leave the rest of the duties to the people who were actually supposed to be on the night shift. It was 9 in the evening, which meant he’d probably been awake for about two days, give or take.

In his pocket, his phone suddenly began buzzing, making him jump about a mile in the air and almost spill his coffee all over him. Cursing, he pulled it out and stared at the number on screen. It read as unknown, and with a sigh, he pressed answer and pushed it up to his ear.

“Hey, listen, unless you’re my cute ex-patient or here to tell me that I’ve won a lifetime supply of sleep and Chinese food, I don’t care.”

“Um, I think- am I option number one? I think I am, unless there are other cute patients you’ve been attending to and I’m grabbing at the completely wrong end of the stick which is actually entirely likely considering my luck-“

Steve.

“Hey, Steve.” Tony said softly, laughing despite himself. It was tinted with something that wasn’t quite close enough to real happiness though, and Steve noticed instantly.

“You still at the hospital?” He asked.

“Yeah.”

“Good. Where abouts?”

“Staffroom- why?”

“Because I’m paying you a visit.” Steve said, before hanging up without another word.

Tony stared dumbly at his phone, wondering vaguely what had just happened. If he was honest, he hadn’t expected Steve to actually call him; it had just been a last-ditch attempt, a hope and a prayer.

And yet, here Steve was now, a tuft of dishwasher blond hair peering around the door, spotting Tony curled up alone in the middle of a dark staffroom.

Yeah, that probably didn’t send a very good message.

He gave Steve the best and most enthusiastic smile he could muster, which obviously went completely unnoticed by Steve, who was too busy jogging over and pulling Tony into a surprisingly tight hug which he couldn’t help but melt into, burying his head into Steve’s bony shoulder and smelling the familiar scent that he had grown to love over the past month.

One of Steve’s arms was wrapped around Tony’s waist, the other gently playing with the hair at the nape of his neck as they gripped each other tightly in the empty room.

“Rough day, huh?” Steve asked, his cheek resting against the crown of Tony’s hair.

Tony laughed into Steve’s shoulder, feeling himself slip further into the other man’s embrace as exhaustion took its full toll on his body.

“Fight me,” he replied, putting an exaggerated twang to his voice.

“Maybe later,” Steve said.

 

Boy, did Tony adore him.

 

“Seriously, you okay?” Steve asked again, gently pulling Tony’s face away from his shoulder in order to look him in the eyes, concern written all over his face.

“Couldn’t save ‘em all. Jus’ kids. I can’t… I tried, but- yeah. They died.” Tony whispered, swallowing heavily and looking away toward the floor.

But Steve pulled his face up again, and kissed him softly, so softly, on the lips, Tony barely even registered it.

“You saved me.” Steve reminded him, pressing another tiny kiss to his forehead.

Tony smiled sleepily, this one far more real than the first few had been.

“And God, am I glad I did,” he whispered, unable to resist stealing another kiss, a hand coming up to rest over Steve’s cheek and pulling himself closer, feeling Steve lift up a hand to run through his unruly brown hair whilst gently biting down on Tony’s lip.

Tony exhaled in surprise, breaking off from Steve’s mouth to trail kisses down from jaw to neck and hearing Steve’s own breath hitch and stutter.

Steve turned, throwing a leg over Tony’s waist until he was straddling the other man, both hands fixed to Tony’s face as he kissed him, every press of lips as soft and gentle as the next.

“Come home with me,” Steve whispered, his voice hoarse and uneven.

“Steve… I’m really, really tired right now, I think I just need to sleep for a year,” Tony said, stopping to look at Steve and hoping that he hadn’t disappointed the man. It would suck to scare him off quite so quickly, especially after all the fantastic kissing they’d just been doing.

But Steve just laughed gently, pressing another kiss against Tony’s temple and rubbing at the spot with his thumb.

“I know. Come home with me, and sleep for ten years, if that’s what you want. But you can’t drive when you’re this exhausted and my apartment is nearer, anyway.” He explained, and Tony dropped his head back into Steve’s shoulder once again, sighing in relief.

“Oh, ‘kay. Sounds nice.” Tony mumbled.

“I’d offer to carry you there, but I weigh about ninety pounds and have just been through intensive surgery, so I’m afraid you’re gonna have to make it to the car on your own.” Steve said, sliding off Tony’s lap and winding his hands around Tony’s own, pulling him upward despite the moans of protest he got for it.

 **

As Steve drove them both home, Tony’s face pressed up against the window, fast asleep and snoring softly- he realized that the tumor and lung infection he had contracted a month ago may have just been the best thing to ever happen to him.