It’s the middle of the night and sudden, frantic banging startles Steve awake. He runs to the door flat out, sidearm held low at his side.
Clint's in his doorway, Phil clinging to his side. They both look panicked.
"What?" Steve asks, keeping hold of his gun just in case.
"Tony's sick," Clint tells him shortly. "Come on, they're taking him to some kind of doctor."
Steve's heart squeezes painfully. "Sick?" he asks, falling into step beside Clint, picking Phil up without thinking about it when his shorter legs can't keep pace. "What's wrong with him?"
"He said his chest hurt," Phil tells him. His voice is very steady like he's making a special effort to stay calm. Steve wishes he could say the same about himself. "He woke me up and said it really hurt."
Steve catches Clint's eye over the top of Phil's head.
"Reactor," Clint mouths at him, followed by, "Fuck."
Steve nods. He agrees with both parts. "Then what?" he prompts Phil. They've reached the stairs now, Steve blindly following the map of the palace that he's pieced together in his head.
"I tried to bring him to you but he fell over in the corridor and couldn't get up. Some people were going past and they said they'd take him to the doctor and I should go get you."
"Which you did," Clint says when Steve can't find anything to say. "You did good, didn't he, Captain?"
There's a very firm emphasis on the Captain and, right, yes, Steve is Captain America; he isn't going to leap to worst-case scenarios. If there's something wrong with Tony, they're going to fix it.
"You did great," Steve promises. Then they finally reach the medical quarter and Steve isn't sure if he feels relieved or even more anxious than he was before.
The doctor on duty turns out to be a middle-aged, dark-skinned woman wearing matching shirt and pants that Steve half-suspects is the Alfheim version of pyjamas.
She looks very grim.
"Tell me about the mechanical thing in his chest," she orders as soon as Steve's introduced himself and Steve automatically jumps to obey.
When he’s finished, she says a word that the All Speak can’t translate but which Steve suspects is not positive. Or suitable for mixed company.
“Did no one think to check the glowing blue light before subjecting him to their ridiculous judicial system?” she mutters, mostly to herself, Steve thinks. “Why don’t they ever learn?” She looks back up at Steve. “The reactor shrunk down with your friend’s body but, as far as I can tell, the shards in his chest did not. This isn’t my area of expertise but I’m assuming that without a strong enough magnet, they’re starting to move toward his heart.”
Steve allows himself three seconds of blinding panic, and then forces himself to breathe it out, let it go.
"Okay," he says. "What do we do?"
"I’ll appeal to the council to see sense and put him back in his rightful body," the doctor tells him, "you go and reassure him that he's going to be fine."
Steve puts a hand on her arm, leaning in and lowering his voice so Phil won't overhear. "Is he going to be fine?"
She's silent for a moment. "Not if he stays in this body," she says levelly.
Steve's fingers go numb and he doesn't stop her leaving this time.
"Cap?" Phil asks quietly. Steve doesn't know what to say so he doesn't say anything at all. Phil doesn't ask again, just leans in and presses his face against Steve's shoulder.
"Hey," Clint says quietly, walking back down the corridor toward them. Steve hadn't even noticed him leave. "Tony's in a room down this way. The nurse says he's asking for you."
Steve nods and follows him. This hospital wing is the least alien-looking area that he's seen on Alfheim so far. The tech and the smells might be different, but Steve spent a lot of his early life in hospitals and they all feel the same.
Tony is a tiny figure in a big, white bed. There's a soft-looking fabric cuff around his left wrist that seems to be feeding information straight into an electronic display set in the wall, but no other medical machines that Steve can see.
"Cap?" Tony calls from the bed and Steve forces himself forward. He sets Phil down and heads over to Tony.
"Hey," he says, sitting down carefully on the edge of Tony's bed, "how are you feeling?"
Tony shrugs. "Tired," he says. He makes a pained face and pokes at his chest. "I think it's broken. Are they going to get me a new one?"
"Yes," Steve says without thinking about it then, as that sinks in, "Yes. We're going to get in touch with Doctor Bruce and see if he can make one that works better for you."
"I'll call him," Clint promises and disappears from the room, taking Phil with him.
Tony yawns, rolling onto his side and blinking up at Steve. "I'm going to sleep," he announces. "You don't have to stay."
Steve ignores him and leans back against the empty side of the bed. "I know," he says, "but I want to." He doesn't know what he's going to do exactly, but he's been the sick kid in a too-big bed; he's not going to leave Tony to face that alone.
Tony doesn't answer and, when Steve looks over, he finds that he's already asleep, skin a horrible white-grey.
Steve reaches over and makes sure that the blankets are tucked in securely around his shoulders and can't help lingering, pressing his fingers lightly to Tony's throat to check his pulse. It's slow, he thinks, but at least it's steady.
Bruce arrives quickly, politely bustling Steve out of the room and locking himself away with Tony and Tony’s doctor.
Steve finds Clint in the waiting area, sitting awkwardly on a wide wooden chair with Phil fast asleep against his side.
"Well?" Clint asks. His arm is around Phil's shoulders, as though he's trying to protect him from anything that might come at him. Steve wishes there was a way to do that for Tony.
"I don't know," Steve says heavily. He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the wall. It's been an impossibly long day.
"Bruce'll fix him," Clint says confidently. "Natasha'll kick his ass if he doesn't."
"I didn't think Natasha liked Stark," Steve says. Not that it matters. He just wants someone to distract him.
"No, she does," Clint says with certainty. "When she and Phil came back from California, they spent days bitching about Stark but it was pretty obvious that they liked him, really. I was surprised because neither of them like people all that easily."
"And you?" Steve asks. He’s realising he actually has very little idea how the other Avengers feel about Stark, beyond the camaraderie left over from the fight against the Chitauri. Somewhere in the back of his head, he assumed that the team put up with Stark because he housed them and made them decent tech.
"Yeah, sure." Clint shrugs. "He's an asshole but so am I, so."
It looks like Steve couldn't have been more wrong.
"Dr Banner likes him too," he says. "And the Hulk loves him."
"Yep." Clint reaches around Phil and smacks Steve on the shoulder. "You’re the only one who's got a problem with him, buddy, sorry."
"I don't have a problem with him," Steve lies. Then he feels bad about lying. "I don't have a problem with Tony."
"That's because he's four," Clint says. "How shitty would it be for Captain America to resent a four-year-old?"
Steve swallows. "Being jerks to each other is just how we communicate," he says, wondering if it's true.
Clint shrugs. "Sure. It's kind of hard to know how to talk to people who are really decent, you know? Took me years to be anything but a shit to Coulson."
"Tony and I aren’t like you and Coulson," Steve protests, but he doesn't sound convincing to his own ears.
There's a cough from the doorway.
"It's not good," Bruce says, walking in and closing the door behind himself. He looks very grim. "Tony has spare arc reactors, obviously, but there's no way his body, as it is right now, could cope with that much power." He wrings his hands. "He doesn't have much time, definitely not enough time for me to work out how to build an even smaller reactor from scratch. The one he has is a masterpiece of engineering; half of it shouldn’t even be possible."
"Right." Steve stands up. "Stay here, I'm going to talk to the Queen."
"Want us to come with you?" Clint asks.
"No." Steve squares his shoulders. "I've got this."
"Captain Rogers," Queen Alfdis says, standing up when Steve storms into the room. "How is - ?"
"Ma'am," Steve says, bowing but not stopping his forward stride to do it. "You need to reverse it. Now."
The Queen folds her hands together, looking far too calm. "We cannot, Captain, I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," Steve tells her. "Put him back in your machine and put him back in his body before he dies."
The Queen blinks. "Is that what will happen?" she asks. "In that case, I'm truly sorry."
Steve shakes his head, frustrated. "Ma'am, I understand that - "
"No," Queen Alfdis tells him. "You do not. I cannot reverse the age ray. It’s impossible."
Steve stares at her. "That's crazy," he says and doesn't both to add an apologetic ma'am because he isn't sorry. This is bullshit. "What are we supposed to do, then? Watch him die?"
The Queen ignores the questions. "If there is anything we can do to make up for this, you need only ask. I know that Director Fury is interested in our power generating - "
"No," Steve tells her, appalled. "No, you can't exchange someone's life for tech." Especially not tech that Fury will probably use to have another go at making weapons of mass destruction. “You will fix this, or you’ll have a diplomatic problem on your hands that you have no hope of containing.” A very angry, Avengers-shaped diplomatic problem.
"Captain, this is our law," the Queen says.
"Wait,” Steve demands, latching onto that like a lifeline. “You can’t reverse it because of your laws or because the technology doesn’t work that way?" Hell, it is a lifeline. Tony's life. The idea of Tony dying, of watching Tony die, is unbearable.
“It is impossible,” the Queen tells him, which doesn’t answer his question.
“Then we’ll take him home,” Steve tells her. “Maybe there’s something our doctors can – ”
“I’m sorry Captain, but no.” The Queen’s face has set into more serious lines. “You seem to forget that Mr Stark is being punished. The punishment must be carried out on Alfheim soil.”
Steve clenches his fists, frustrated beyond measure. He doesn’t have time for this.
“You know what?” he says. “We came here because the Asgardians told us you would be worthy allies for us. Do you really think we want to ally ourselves to someone who’d let a child die?”
He turns on his heel, half hoping that she’ll call him back, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t say a word as he marches out.
This is why Steve hates diplomacy; he has never been able to countenance the idea of any alliance being more important than the lives of real people.
“Well?” Clint asks, looking up when Steve shoves his way back into the room.
Phil is curled up asleep on the seat beside Clint and Bruce has disappeared somewhere, presumably back to Tony.
Steve shakes his head, partly because he isn’t sure Phil isn’t only pretending to be asleep and partly because he can’t make himself say it.
“No good, huh?” Clint asks.
“We’re not even allowed to take them off the planet,” Steve tells him, breathing out hard to keep his tone even.
Clint’s eyebrows shoot up. “The fuck?” he demands. “What does she want us to do?”
Steve sinks down onto the chair, careful not to jostle Phil awake. “I have no damn clue,” he tells him.
Clint leans forward. “I know Phil said we have no chance of making a break for it, but. D’you want to try, anyway?”
Steve opens his mouth to say yes, because yes, he does. He’s a tactician but he’s also a soldier and sometimes violence is the only way of solving things even if he’d rather it wasn’t.
“Guys,” Bruce says, slipping into the room, closely followed by the doctor from earlier. Very closely, actually, and Steve and Clint both stand up immediately.
“What’s wrong?” Steve demands. “What’s happened?”
“Nothing.” Bruce holds up a finger. “Maybe. Yet.”
“I can fix your friends,” the doctor tells them, walking further into the room.
“What?” Steve asks. “Ma’am? But the Queen – ”
The doctor’s eyes narrow angrily. “The Queen puts too much stock in showing our power and not enough in showing our compassion. I can’t change her mind but I can help you.”
“What’ll they do to you?” Clint asks, looking at her thoughtfully. “If they find out?”
The doctor shrugs one shoulder. “Would you like my help?”
“What’s your name?” Steve asks her. “Sorry. I should have asked.”
“Bodil,” she tells him quickly, as though that’s unimportant. Steve thinks that it’s very important. If she’s going to help them and risk her life, she deserves to have her name known.
Steve holds out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he tells her seriously.
She gives him the look that people have always given him when they don’t know what to do with his earnestness, regardless of the century or dimension. She does shake his hand, though, which is all he wanted.
“Come on, then,” she says. “We need to go to my workroom.” She glances down at Phil. “Bring that one too, but don’t look suspicious.”
Steve isn’t sure how they’re going to manage that. They’re three grown men and one sleepy kid walking the corridors of an alien hospital and Bruce is getting twitchier by the minute.
“Are you all right?” Steve asks him quietly, while Clint is shaking Phil awake and then hefting him up into his arms anyway.
“Do you mean am I about to be replaced by a larger, greener version of myself?” Bruce asks, arching an eyebrow.
Steve shrugs. That both is and isn’t what he means.
Bruce smiles at him. “I don’t think so; I’ll try to let you know if it looks likely.”
“I’d appreciate that,” Steve tells him.
Dr Bodil clears her throat. “Mr Barton, come with me. Captain Rogers, Doctor Banner, follow us in five minutes. It’s the fifth door along after the viewing platform in the East Wing. Don’t be seen.”
She sweeps out, Clint and Phil following her. Steve and Bruce glance at each other.
“Oh goody,” Bruce says faintly, “subterfuge.”
Steve has learned, since waking up, that of the people who remember Captain America, most have forgotten the Howling Commandos were a covert strike force. They remember the War Bond campaign and they know about the final battle with Red Skull, but no one seems to realise that he fought undercover in occupied Europe as well.
Steve knows how to get from A to B without being seen. He even knows how to do it while being trailed by a nervous civilian.
They slip in through an open casement window from the inner courtyard, two rooms down from Bodil’s room and Steve holds up his hand quickly, stopping Bruce from stepping out of the shadows.
Bruce rolls his eyes. “I know how to hide, Steve,” he whispers, barely a sound at all.
Steve grimaces; of course he does.
The corridor is empty, no footprints approaching, so Steve steps forwards, Bruce at his heels as they stride purposefully to what Steve is praying is the right door, and let themselves in without stopping to knock.
Phil and Clint look up when the door closes with a slight click but Bodil keeps working on what looks like some kind of experiment, pouring dark liquids from one light brown beaker to another.
“Hi,” Phil says, waving. He’s sitting on a lab bench, listing slightly sideways. He’s been awake half the night; he must be exhausted.
“Hey.” While Bruce goes to talk to Bodil, Steve walks over to the bench, standing next to Clint, with Phil in between them. “How’s it going?”
Clint shakes his head. “No clue. We got stood over here and told to stay put.”
Bruce and Bodil are talking quietly but quickly, Bodil pointing at one thing then another while Bruce nods rapidly.
“Let’s take that as a good sign,” Steve tells Clint.
Clint snorts. “Cap, you’re a goddamn optimist.”
“Sometimes,” Steve agrees but can’t think of anything else to say after that so falls silent. After a second, Phil leans over and rests his head heavily on Steve’s shoulder.
It takes about an hour for Bodil to brew something but only half that for Bruce to understand enough of her science to start contributing. Phil snoozes and Clint stands very still while Steve watches everything closely and tries to stop himself from hoping.
Eventually, Bodil and Bruce both stand back. “It’s as good as I can make it,” she tells him and he nods, taking a beaker of blue-violet liquid from her.
“What’s happening?” Steve asks.
He’s so eager to know what’s going on that he steps forward without thinking, making Phil wake with a startled sound and Clint to snap, “Hey, Cap, careful.”
Steve turns around, holding his hands up. “Sorry, sorry. Phil, I’m sorry. Are you okay?”
Phil nods. Clint still has his hands on Phil’s shoulders, squeezing tight. Phil looks delighted.
“We’re ready,” Bruce tells them, “but um, listen. No, wait, Phil, will you put your fingers in your ears?”
“No,” Phil says, sounding deeply offended. “I want to know too.”
Bruce widens his eyes at Steve. Steve frowns but, “Please, Phil?” he asks.
Phil sighs. “Okay,” he agrees, not looking any happier about it. It makes sense, Steve supposes: as an adult, Phil likes to know everything, too.
“Hey,” Clint says to him, “how about we go…” He looks around the fairly small room, clearly looking for inspiration. “Go look out that window over there?”
Phil slides off the table. “I know you’re trying to distract me,” he tells Clint wisely but he still leads the way to the window on the opposite side of the room.
As soon as he’s reasonably sure Phil’s out of earshot, Steve turns back to Bruce and Bodil, lowering his voice to a whisper. “What’s wrong?”
It’s Bodil who answers. “This medicine has never been tried. We rarely punish people by returning their youth; usually we take it away or have them killed outright. I started putting together a formula for a reversal just in case, but I wasn’t expecting to use it yet.”
“So it’s experimental?” Steve asks. “What might it do to them?”
She spreads her hands. “Hopefully nothing but what we intend, but Tony is much weaker than Phil; I wouldn’t like to try this process on him without having had a chance to study its affects first.”
“You want Phil to be the guinea pig?” Steve guesses. It’s a new experience for Steve: he’s not usually the one throwing around confusing idioms. “You want to test it on him first?”
“Yes.” Bodil looks very calm but it’s the little wince of genuine sympathy when she glances over at Phil that makes Steve feel better about this.
“Bruce?” Steve asks. It’s not that he doesn’t trust Bodil, but he knows Bruce.
“I’m not a biologist but it looks sound. I think it’s our best shot given the time constraints,” Bruce tells him. He’s drumming his fingers against the beaker but he doesn’t look uncertain, just anxious.
Steve is glad about that; he’d probably go with it anyway, but he’s glad Bruce agrees; he doesn’t want to make this decision alone.
“Okay.” Steve nods. “It’s not just our call, though.” He waves Clint and Phil back over and they come quickly. Clint looks worried but Phil just looks curious.
Steve knows that he has no hope of persuading Clint that this is a good plan, so he goes straight to Phil. Maybe that’s unethical of him, but they’re on the clock.
"Will it help Tony?" Phil asks seriously once Steve's explained what they'd like him to do.
"I hope so," Steve tells him honestly. "But you don't have to do it if you don't want to."
Phil closes his eyes for a second then nods firmly. "Okay," he says. "I'll do it."
Steve is so relieved, he wants to give Phil a hug. Since, if this plan works, Phil will be an adult again soon, he resists.
"Thank you," he says again. "That's really brave of you, Phil."
Phil goes pink and mumbles something at the floor that Steve doesn't think he's supposed to catch. "Are we doing it now?" Phil asks, squeezing his hands together.
"Yes," Steve tells him. "But it'll be fine, okay? You just need to drink it and it might taste gross but we’ll find you some candy or something for after."
"Like in Alice in Wonderland?" Phil asks suspiciously.
Steve can't help laughing. "I promise it won’t make you shrink." It will hopefully make him grow, but Steve doesn’t mention that.
"Okay." Phil curls his hand in Steve’s sleeve, which tells Steve that he's nervous; he hasn’t done that since he was first de-aged. "I'm ready."
“Phil,” Clint says, looking daggers at Steve. “You know you don’t have to do this, right? Just because Captain America wants - ”
Phil tips his chin up. “It’ll help Tony,” he says firmly. “I want to help.”
Clint sighs. “Fuck,” he mutters, turning away. He turns back around a second later and picks Phil up, probably – Steve suspects – just to be able to hold him for a second, and puts him back on the bench.
Bruce approaches cautiously. “Ready?” he asks, exchanging a look with Bodil who nods.
Phil takes the beaker with fingers that are trembling slightly but he tsks when both Clint and Steve reach out to help him.
He makes a face after the first sip, nose and mouth wrinkling up. “That’s gross,” he tells them then goes back to drinking.
“All of it, please,” Bodil tells him gently.
Phil nods while drinking and a dribble of the concoction runs down his chin. He gets the rest of it down though, handing the beaker back to Bruce with a truly betrayed expression.
“How do you feel?” Steve asks anxiously.
“Like I’m going to throw up,” Phil tells him and he does look kind of pale.
Steve steps forward but Clint gets there first, jumping up to sit next to Phil and rubbing his back awkwardly.
Everyone’s watching Phil very closely even though Steve, personally, has no idea what they’re expecting to happen. Is he just suddenly going to bloom into an adult man again while they watch?
“Oh,” Phil says, rubbing his forehead. He reaches out with his other hand, clutching Clint’s thigh. “Dizzy.”
“Hey, you okay?” Clint asks. “Phil?”
Phil slumps, falling against Clint’s side, his eyes closed and skin far too pale.
“What’s happening?” Clint demands, fixing the full force of his Agent of SHIELD glare on Bodil.
“It’s fine,” Bodil says quickly, bringing up a small, handheld box-like machine and holding it to Phil’s neck. It beeps after a second and she nods. “His blood pressure and breathing are fine. I suspect his body is just… powering down a little prior to transformation.”
“That better be it,” Clint tells her, helping Phil to lie down so his head and shoulders are on Clint’s thighs. “How long?”
Bodil shakes her head. “I do not know that. We will just have to wait. It shouldn’t be very long, but you don’t have to - ”
“I’m staying,” Clint tells her.
“We’re all staying,” Steve agrees but Bruce shakes his head.
“No, one of us should be with Tony,” Bruce says. “He’s been alone a couple of hours now and you know he doesn’t do well with that.”
“Right, you’re right.” Steve nods. “Do you want to go?”
“It should be you,” Bruce tells him. Clint looks up long enough from staring anxiously down at Phil to nod his agreement.
“Okay,” Steve agrees, not happy to leave Phil at all, but someone does need to be with Tony. Why they think he’s the best choice for the job, he has no idea. “If anything – ”
“I’ll come get you,” Bruce promises.
Steve shoots one more worried, guilty look at Phil’s sleeping face then lets himself out of the lab.
He’s so preoccupied that he only remembers to be careful not to be seen at the last second. He’s almost sure that a passing nurse must see him, but he doesn’t react, so Steve doesn’t worry about it.
At least Steve doesn’t have to make a secret of visiting Tony. He nods to every doctor he passes, making sure they think he’s been here, nowhere else, then pushes open the door to Tony’s room.
"It's really boring in here," Tony tells him immediately, no stopping to say hi or anything first. He looks worse than he did when Steve was last here but he's still sitting up, tapping tiredly at a StarkTab.
"You had lots of doctors to talk to, didn't you?" Steve asks, trying not to look like he’s searching Tony’s face for any signs that he’s getting sicker.
Tony shrugs. "Sure, but they’re not you," he says, really quick and without looking Steve's way.
Steve doesn't know what to say to that. He sits down next to Tony and leans in to see what he's doing on the tablet.
"Is that a robot?" he asks, looking at the unevenly drawn schematics for something that looks a lot like Dummy.
"Maybe," Tony says, biting his lower lip in concentration. His mouth wobbles as he tries to hold back a yawn, but it escapes anyway. "I'm trying to make it work but I keep falling asleep."
The way he says it, so simple, breaks Steve's heart, because it's obvious he has no idea why he's so tired.
"What's it going to do?" Steve asks, forcing his voice to stay level.
Tony yawns again. The hand holding the tablet starts to shake and he drops the tablet onto his knees.
"It's going to help people," Tony tells him, lowering his voice like it’s a secret. "When like, when people are old or sick and can't get stuff for themselves? It's going to help."
"Oh." Steve wonders if that's what the original Dummy was built for too. "That's real nice of you."
Tony shrugs. "Being sick sucks."
"Yeah," Steve agrees, "it does." He takes the tablet away from Tony and lies down, pulling Tony over to lie down too.
Tony settles against Steve's chest with a grumble, but he muffles another yawn in Steve's shirt almost immediately.
"I was sick all the time when I was a kid," Steve tells the ceiling. It's whitewashed and boring; they might be on a different planet but some things never change.
"But you're Captain America," Tony says, sounding confused. "How did you get better?"
"Um." Steve tries to think of an easy answer, finds that he does actually have one. "Your dad fixed me. And some other people helped, too." He doesn’t know if explaining about Doctor Erskine would be too much for a kid but it’s too much for him right now.
"Oh," Tony says softly.
"Tony?" Steve prompts when he doesn't say anything else.
"He can't fix me," Tony says, barely audible. "He's never around."
Howard was Steve's friend, but right now Steve wants to punch him in the eye.
"He loves you very much," Steve tells him, because it has to be true. Howard was arrogant and impatient but he was a good man.
Tony shakes his head. “He’s always off looking for you,” he says quietly, like a confession.
Steve blinks. “He’s… Is he?” Tony doesn’t answer so Steve puts a hand on his shoulder, shaking his gently. “Tony? Is that why you don’t like me?”
Tony peeks up at him. His eyes are red. “I do like you,” he says quickly. “I didn’t, but I do now.”
Steve blows out a breath. It isn’t his fault that Howard decided to neglect his family for an impossible quest, but it sure feels like it is.
“I’m sorry,” he says finally.
"Whatever," Tony says, but he presses his face further into Steve's shirt, fist bunching in the fabric.
Steve lays a hand on the back of Tony's neck, ruffling his hair a little. He never had a father, and he always knew his mother loved him, so he isn't sure what to say to make Tony feel better.
Before he can think of anything, Tony throws a skinny, surprisingly heavy, arm across his stomach and pats his chest. "Nap time," he tells Steve imperiously.
"For you or for me?" Steve asks, letting his smile slip into his voice.
"For everyone," Tony mumbles.
That doesn't sound like a bad plan, Steve decides, and closes his eyes. He makes sure that Tony falls asleep before he does, but he isn't far behind.
"That is seriously fucking adorable," Steve hears. "Anyone got a camera?"
"Shh, Barton, you'll wake them up," Steve hears next and that voice is enough to get him rushing to sit up before he's fully awake.
Phil Coulson, fully grown and very amused, smirks down at him. "Good morning, Captain."
Steve checks that Tony's still sleep then practically spills out of the bed. It's not very dignified, but Steve is too relieved for dignity. "It worked?" he asks. "Thank God."
"No," Coulson says gently, "thank Doctor Bodil."
Steve blows out a breath, face aching with the force of his smile. “Yes, yeah, definitely. That, too. How are you feeling?”
“Fine.” Coulson shrugs. “If there are any lasting effects of the change, they’re not apparent yet.”
“So we can - ?” Steve nods his head at Tony.
Coulson nods. “We think it’s worth trying. Doctor Banner is helping Doctor Bodil brew up another batch; he’ll smuggle it along as soon as it’s ready.”
Steve is too nervous to be relieved just yet, but at least there’s hope. “How did you get here? Did anyone see you?” he asks. Then he takes a proper look at Coulson for the first time and sees that he’s wearing white Alfheim robes.
“They saw me, but they didn’t recognise me,” Coulson tells him blandly.
Clint laughs. “That’s Phil’s superpower,” he says, “no one ever knows he’s there.”
“Until it’s too late,” Coulson agrees dryly. "Speaking of which, I'm a child for a few days and I come back to find you on the brink of starting a diplomatic incident? Really, Captain?"
Steve winces. “They weren’t listening to reason; what else could I do?”
“Nothing,” Coulson tells him, “I’m not disagreeing with your choices, just quietly dreading the meeting where I explain this to Director Fury.”
Steve looks down at the bed where Tony's still sleeping, curled in on himself with a tiny frown between his eyes. There's sweat along his hairline and he's still far too pale, twitching in his sleep like he's uncomfortable.
"Did they say how long they were going to be?" Steve asks, trying not to sound as anxious as he feels.
“No, but they said they’d hurry.” Coulson’s eyes drop to Tony and he steps toward the bed. “How is he?”
Steve shakes his head. “I don’t know.”
Coulson’s hand twitches at his side, before he tucks it away in his pocket as though no one will have noticed that he might want to touch Tony. “I remember everything that happened although it already feels a long time ago.”
Clint steps up beside him, knocking their shoulders. “Fuck, really? Stark is going to be such an asshole when we get him back then.”
Steve finds himself starting to defend Tony before he really thinks about. Usually, he’s the last to do that.
There’s a sudden rattle from the corridor and they all freeze. “Captain Rogers,” an unfamiliar voice calls, followed quickly by the Queen’s voice snapping, “Open this door.”
“Shit,” Clint breathes, pulling his pistol from its holster and starting toward the door.
“Clint,” Steve hisses. “We’re not shooting anyone.”
Clint fits himself behind the doorframe before turning and raising his eyebrows at Steve. “If they try and hurt Tony or Phil then hell yes I’m shooting them.”
That seems reasonable so Steve doesn’t argue. The rattling and raised voices are getting louder. Steve doesn’t know if anyone has a master key to the door but if they do, Coulson needs to be long gone.
“Sorry, ma’am,” he calls loudly, “the door’s stuck.”
“Captain – ”
“Two seconds,” he promises, looking around frantically. The only closet in the room is too small to fit a grown man and not very secure anyway. The only other choice is the window. Luckily, it’s one that leads into the central courtyard not out into space. Unluckily, it’s easily a sixty feet drop.
Coulson follows Steve’s line of sight and sighs. “This is definitely not what my doctors had in mind,” he says, grimacing, then cracks the window open and steps out onto the ledge. “Barton?”
“Coming, sir.” Clint shoots another murderous look at the door then steps out after Coulson. Coulson is moving along the ledge with more confidence than Steve would have suspected and Clint, naturally, just looks as though he’s taking a stroll on the sidewalk.
“Go get Bruce and the doctor,” Steve tells them quietly, “I’m not sure how much time I can buy us.”
“Got it,” Clint agrees and then he’s swinging himself up, catching the window ledge above and hoisting himself up. After a couple of seconds, his hand reappears, grabs Coulson’s and Coulson braces a foot against the window before he’s gone too.
Steve gives them another ten-second head start then hurries to open the door.
“Sorry,” he says, giving the Queen his best smile. She doesn’t look mollified. “Something weird with the lock.”
Her eyes sweep around the room suspiciously, stopping on the open window. “Were you warm?”
It’s cold in the room with the window open, a rush of cool air rolling in from the atrium. “Tony got too hot,” Steve lies, which is reasonably plausible, he hopes.
She looks down at Tony, who’s still sleeping, although he’s rolled away, his back turned toward all people disturbing his sleep.
“I had a strange report from one of the nurses who said you’ve been spending time with Bodil,” the Queen tells him, expression very bland.
Steve doesn’t have as good a poker face as she does, but he’s learned a thing or two from some champion bullshitters in his time.
“She’s Tony’s doctor,” he says, eyebrows raised and eyes wide, as innocent and confused as he can make his expression be. “I keep hoping maybe there’s something I can do to help.”
“I’m sure Bodil is doing everything possible for him,” the Queen tells him. She doesn’t look at Tony this time, like it’s easier to make herself lie if she can forget it’s a real kid she’s killing.
“I’m sure of that too,” Steve agrees. He is sure of that, much surer than the Queen is, but he doesn’t know if it’s going to be enough, especially not if people are getting suspicious.
“Steve?” Tony asks from the bed, sounding confused.
“Excuse me,” Steve says, turning his back on the Queen and going over to Tony. Tony’s sitting up, rubbing at the edge of his reactor. “What’s up?”
Tony shakes his head, looking blurry and confused. “It really hurts,” he tells Steve, lowering his voice as though he doesn’t want anyone else to hear.
There’s nothing Steve can do and he can’t even reassure Tony that they have a plan because the Queen will hear. He picks Tony up instead, hefting him up against Steve’s chest so he’s sitting just above Steve’s hip, head on his shoulder.
“Hey, look, the Queen’s come to visit you,” Steve says, turning around so she can see Tony’s pale face and pinched, hurting expression. “Is that nice?”
Tony wrinkles his nose, but says, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” dutifully just like Steve expected him to. He’s learned that Howard and Maria drilled him pretty full of manners.
The Queen doesn’t look at either of them. “I’ll be on my way.” She looks to the doorway where two tall, wide-set men are standing, watching. The Queen’s bodyguards, Steve guesses, although he hasn’t seen them near her before. “But I’ll leave Fray and Garik here in case you need anything.”
Great, Steve thinks. Guards, yes, but not for the Queen.
“Ma’am, you really don’t need to,” he tries but she’s already walking away.
“I think we both know I do, Captain,” she tells him and sweeps out.
Fray and Garik watch him silently from the doorway but don’t make a move inside the room.
“I don’t like them,” Tony says in Steve’s ear. He lifts his head as though he’s going to tell them that next, so Steve quickly reaches out and pushes the door closed.
They don’t try to stop him, obviously not realising that Avengers have an affinity for open windows, regardless of how high they are.
“I need you to do me a favour,” Steve tells Tony quietly. “I need you to get dressed and get together anything in here that you want to keep.”
Tony frowns. “Where are we going?” he whispers back.
“Home,” Steve tells him. He has no idea how they’re going to manage that, but it’s all he can think of. They need to give Tony the cure and then they need to get out of here; he no longer gives a damn about cultural relations.
“But I don’t want – ” Tony starts then closes his mouth with a snick of teeth clashing together.
Steve stops what he’s doing – standing with his back against the door, watching Tony pick up his StarkTab and clutch it protectively – and shakes his head. “We’ll all still be together,” he promises. “We just won’t be here anymore.”
Tony nods, still looking doubtful. He isn’t moving fast enough for Steve’s liking, obviously wanting to delay leaving as long as possible.
“Hey, Tony, where else would we go?” Steve asks him, trying to smile reassuringly. “We’re family.” It feels strange to say that but it doesn’t feel like a lie.
Tony mutters something but he smiles so Steve thinks he’s only pretending not to care.
It still takes Tony longer than it should to get dressed but eventually he’s done, gadgets zipped up in his backpack. He has to sit down after that, breathing kind of hard, but Steve forces himself not to worry about that for now.
“Now what?” Tony asks, obviously trying to look alert and ready to go. He ruins it by yawning widely behind his hand.
Steve isn’t totally sure. They have two options: chance their luck against Fray and Garik, or go out the window and hope Steve can get them both to safety.
Before Steve can decide which sounds like the least terrible plan, there’s a rustle from above and then Clint drops back inside the room, nearly soundlessly.
“Hey gang,” he says. He’s out of breath. Steve is worried. “Got kind of a situation here.”
“Situation?” Steve demands, automatically stepping closer to Tony, who’s perked up enough to look interested.
“Yeah. People with guns. Other people with swords. That kind of thing. Phil’s with the doctor but Bruce got kind of, um.” He mimes big with his hands.
“Angry?” Steve sighs. “Where is he?”
Clint nods his head toward the door. “Heading this way.” He holds out a hand to Tony. “Come with me, kiddo. Coming, Cap?”
Steve hesitates. But in the end, he knows he can trust Clint with Tony and someone needs to look out for Bruce. “I’ll go round up the Hulk. Where are we falling back to?”
“Roof. Phil’s got a plan. Fuck knows what it is. “Clint tells him, lifting Tony and pushing his arms through the loops on Tony’s backpack, so that Tony is awkwardly strapped to his chest. “Wrap your legs round my waist and hold on tight, okay?”
“Steve?” Tony asks, trying to reach back for him and not managing well considering the awkward angle.
“I’ll be right behind you,” Steve promises. He’s already reached out and ruffled Tony’s hair before he’s thought about it. Once he’s thought about it, he’s still glad he did it.
He can hear pounding feet now, the yells and shouts that usually mean a large, green, angry man is running through a bunch of people. Their door crashes open and either Garik or Fray comes stumbling in, closely followed by either Fray or Garik.
They take in the scene in the room and the one Steve’s decided is Garik draws a sword.
“Go,” Steve snaps over his shoulder and punches Garik in the face.
“Yay, go Steve!” Tony yells.
Clint whoops. “Hell, yeah. What the kid said,” he agrees and then they’re gone.
Garik stumbles back a step, head snapping back with the force of Steve’s blow but Fray takes his place, rushing at Steve at full tilt. Steve waits until the tip of his blade is a hair from Steve’s stomach then jumps, twisting in the air and kicks Fray hard in the side of the head.
They both hit the ground, Fray unconscious and Steve landing hard on one knee, but he barely feels the pain, immediately looking around to see what’s happened to Garik.
He finds him back in the doorway, staring up with an expression of terror on his face.
Steve doesn’t blame him.
“Hi, Hulk,” Steve says carefully, picking up his shield and conking Garik over the head with it before joining Hulk in the corridor. “Ready to get out of here?”
“Hulk help Tony,” Hulk tells him, pushing Steve aside with a finger against his shoulder and sticking his head into the room.
“Tony’s with Clint. He’s fine.” Steve resists rubbing at his shoulder and touches Hulk’s back instead. “Come on. Let’s go meet up with them.”
Hulk nods once and strides off. Steve breathes a sigh of relief – getting Hulk to go somewhere he doesn’t want to be is like trying to herd frogs – and jogs to catch up, shield up in case anyone else comes at them.
They’ve reached one of the castle’s tall, marble staircases before they run into any more trouble.
“There they are,” someone yells, closely followed by a hail of bullets and another voice calling for them to stop.
“Mixed messages, guys,” Steve mutters, turning around, shield in front and Hulk at his back.
At least, that’s how he starts. Then he finds himself being picked up by the collar, set five steps up and out the way, while Hulk barrels back down the stairs at the group of guards.
One of the guards runs but the other two stand their ground, a quick burst of bullets thumps against Hulk’s chest before he swipes them both out the way. One of them twists as he falls, getting in a lucky strike with his knife.
Hulk roars at the line of blood that wells up along his arm, banging his chest angrily.
“Hulk!” Steve shouts, not wanting to lose Hulk if he decides he needs to find someone to punish for hurting him.
Hulk turns, raising his eyebrows.
“Come here,” Steve tells him firmly.
Hulk makes a grumpy noise but does as he’s told, even standing still when Steve reaches out to check on his injury.
It’s bleeding a lot but it’s not deep so Steve pats him on the arm and quirks a grin at him. “We’ll get you a Band-Aid when we get home,” he promises. Hulk loves Band-Aids; Steve has no idea why considering he hates getting hurt.
Hulk frowns suddenly, swatting at his leg, which is when Steve realises there’s a buzzing sound coming from his pants pocket.
“What’s that?” Steve asks, reaching out cautiously.
Hulk lets him put a hand into his pocket but tries to snatch the earpiece as soon as Steve pulls it out.
“Hey, no, let me, okay?” Steve says, tucking it into his own ear. “Hello? This is Rogers.”
“Cap. It’s Widow. Where are you guys?”
“Natasha?” Steve says, holding up a hand to Hulk, asking him to stay there a second. “Where are you?”
“Thor and I are here in a Quinjet. Heimdall says you could use our help.”
Steve breathes out, feeling almost weak with relief for a second. That’ll work. That’ll get them home. “The others are heading for the roof. Hulk and I will be there in a minute.”
“Need me to send Thor down to you?” Natasha asks, above the whine of the engine reengaging.
Steve never likes to break up the team but since he has no idea how many more guards they’ll bump into, it might be worth the risk.
“Yeah,” he says, “thanks.”
“Good luck. Widow out.” There’s a click and then she’s gone.
“Move?” Hulk asks Steve, obviously getting antsy.
“Move,” Steve agrees and they take the next three flights of stairs at a run.
They’re loping across the landing, almost at the last flight when the Queen herself appears in their path. She’s holding a glowing red staff, far too reminiscent of Loki’s staff for Steve’s comfort. She looks furious.
“You will stop this at once,” she snaps at them imperiously. “You will stop harming my guards and you will leave your friends here for the duration of their punishment. If you do not do so, we will – ”
“You will do what?” Thor’s voice booms from nowhere, before he drops down the centre of the staircase and lands directly in front of her. “You cannot declare war on Earth; you cannot get there without use of the Bifrost.”
Queen Alfdis lifts her spear, pointing it straight at Thor’s chest. “No, but we can declare war on Midgard’s allies.”
Thor twirls his hammer, matching her stance. “You are welcome to try,” he tells her, jaw set.
Alfdis’s spear flashes.
There’s a crash from behind Steve and he thinks for a second that Alfdis has shot over his shoulder, but then he sees the spear fly out of her hands and realises that the shot came from outside the tower.
Spinning around, he sees the unmistakable shape of the Quinjet hovering on the otherside of the freshly-broken window.
Natasha waves from the pilot’s seat.
“Sorry,” she calls, voice completely free of expression. “Did I do that? I’m still learning how everything works in here.”
The Queen rocks back, staring wide-eyed at the Quinjet. Steve would have thought that someone with so much familiarity with magic wouldn’t be too surprised by a flying ship, but then he hasn’t seen anything like that around here.
Or maybe it’s just the way the ‘jet’s front-mounted canon is pointed directly at her.
“Natasha,” Steve says, nodding his head.
Natasha salutes him. “Cap. Everyone else is aboard; you boys want a lift?”
Hulk is looking distinctly dubious about the ‘jet but Steve has definitely had enough of this planet to last him a lifetime.
“Your Majesty,” he says, stepping back so that he’s shoulder to barrel with canon, “we didn’t come here with the intention of causing trouble and I’m sorry if this affects your relationship with Asgard. But your actions are killing a member of my team and, since you’ve refused to help, we have no other choice. Now, we’re leaving. Either you stand back and let us go or we’ll make you.”
He hates threatening women – even though he knows Natasha would be angry with him for thinking that – but doesn’t see what other options they have.
Her jaw tightens angrily, hands balling into fists but she’s not armed anymore and, even if she were, she’d be hopelessly outgunned, so she has no choice but to stand down.
“This will not be forgotten,” she calls after them as Natasha swings the ‘jet around to open the back door and Steve catches hold of the side of the hull.
They don’t answer her. Well, Hulk mutters a bit but Steve thinks they still manage to maintain a pretty dignified exit.
It’s tough fitting all eight of them into the Quinjet, especially when one of them is still Hulk-sized, but they manage it, Natasha taking off as soon as the hatch is closed.
Hulk sits down on the floor just inside the jet, poking crossly at the cut on his arm, which is already scabbing over.
“Who’s that?” Tony hisses in a loud whisper. He’s sitting wedged between Clint and Coulson, swinging his legs, which come nowhere near touching the floor.
Hulk looks up, showing all his teeth in a wide grin. “Tony!” he says, lumbering up onto his knees as though preparing to stand up. “Tony well?”
“Hey, buddy, sit down, you’re rocking the boat,” Clint tells him and Hulk sinks back down, still staring at Tony expectantly.
“Yes?” Tony says slowly. He wriggles out of his seat, standing up, but still shooting Steve a confused look.
“This is Doctor Banner,” Steve tells him, since that’s technically true and it’s the easiest explanation. “This is his superpower.”
“Oh,” breathes Tony, dropping down onto his knees. “That’s really cool. How does it work?”
He’s asking Hulk, reaching out to poke him in the bicep. Hulk doesn’t answer but he doesn’t bat Tony away either, instead shifting down lower so Tony can reach more easily.
“That is so gosh darn adorable,” Clint says, pulling out his cell. He snaps a couple of pictures then frowns, looking over at Coulson. “Sir? I was expecting you to tell me not to take pictures. Are you slipping in your old age?”
“No.” Coulson finally snatches the phone away from him, scrolling through the pictures and tipping one over for Steve to see. “That is adorable. And Stark will be embarrassed when he sees them.”
"Um," Clint says, leaning into Coulson conspiratorially but not lowering his voice at all. "You know you got to hold Cap's shield when you were a baby right? I took pictures of that too. So many pictures; you gonna love it."
Coulson glares. “Where?” he demands, pulling the phone closer.
“Yeah.” Clint laughs. “I already backed them up; there’s no way you’re taking that moment away from me.”
Steve smiles at them, relieved by how much more cheerful Clint seems now that they’ve got Coulson back. He turns away, leaving them to it and making his way over to Doctor Bodil, who’s sitting next to Natasha in the co-pilot seat.
“Ma’am,” he says, nodding at her. “Are you coming back with us?”
She looks out of the windshield, down at the city below. “It looks that way,” she says regretfully, “I don’t think there’s anything left for me here.”
“SHIELD will be lucky to have you,” Steve tells her, meaning it. To Natasha, he adds, “Is the Bifrost open?”
“Heimdall promised it would be,” she tells him.
He nods. “Put your foot down, then. I want to get out of here.”
“Way ahead of you, Cap,” she says and takes a hard left, the horizon filling with bright rainbow-coloured light and the jet bouncing slightly when the bottom just skims the bridge.
It’s late when they’re finally allowed home to the Tower. Steve and the others debriefed with Fury while Bruce and Bodil took over a lab and finished working on the cure for Tony.
Tony’s been asleep since they gave it to him. Steve is trying not to panic. After all, it took time with Coulson, too.
“Captain?” Coulson asks and Steve realises he’s been standing in the middle of Tony’s bedroom, just staring down at him since they put him to bed.
“Sorry.” Steve shakes his head. “Did you say something?”
Coulson looks at him closely. “Nothing important. Are you okay?”
Steve nods sharply. “Yes. Yes, fine. I just hate waiting.”
Coulson pats him awkwardly on the shoulder. “I can understand that. Are you going to stay with him?”
Steve can’t imagine leaving. “Yes.”
Coulson leans in. “One word of advice. When Stark wakes up fully-grown, make sure he’s wearing something stretchable. That was… not a comfortable experience.”
Startled, Steve laughs. He suspects that was Coulson’s plan but he also appreciates the surety in Coulson’s voice when he says when Tony wakes up.
“I’ll remember that,” Steve promises. “Thanks.”
Coulson nods briskly. "We’re going to bed now. Call us if anything happens," he says.
Steve nods. "I will. And Ph- Agent Coulson?"
"Phil's fine," Coulson tells him, casually.
Steve smiles at him. "I was just going to say it’s good to have you back."
"It's good to be back," Phil says then clears his throat as though hoping that will distract from the way his cheeks have pinked up. He jerks his thumb at the door. "I need to. Go."
“Sure,” Steve agrees, smiling.
He manages to keep his smile in place when he looks back at Tony, telling himself to believe that he's going to be fine. Steve has watched too many people die; someone has to buck the trend and he's willing it to be Tony.
"Tony?" he asks softly, putting his hand on Tony's shoulder.
Tony stirs slightly, rolling onto his side so he's facing Steve and mumbling something under his breath.
Remembering what Coulson says, Steve carefully picks Tony out of bed and changes him quickly into the Black Sabbath t-shirt that his adult self has worn so much it’s washed thin and soft.
It still smells of Stark’s aftershave, which is a weird thing for Steve to notice and clearly a sign that the stress has started to get to him.
It's dark in the room and, if there's nothing Steve can do but wait, he might as well be comfortable and closer to Tony, in case he's needed.
He lies down on the bed, telling himself that it's only to reassure Tony. The hand that he can't help laying over Tony's arc reactor or the way he counts Tony's heartbeats, however, are definitely to reassure Steve.
Steve wakes up when someone swears and jabs him in the face.
"Fuck's sake, how can someone who was an icicle for a million years run so hot?"
"Sorry," Steve mumbles, automatically withdrawing his arm from the broad chest it’s wrapped around and shifting back to put a little space between their bodies.
Then his eyes snap open.
"Tony," he says, staring across the bed at a fully-grown, fully-grinning Tony Stark. "I mean." He clears his throat. "Stark."
Stark laughs without making any noise, eyes lighting up like Steve is hilarious when sleep befuddled and joyously, confusedly happy.
"Good morning, Captain," he says. "Sleep well?"
"I." Steve shakes his head, sits up and looks at Stark properly. "Are you all right?" he asks, finally waking up. "Did it work?"
"I'm not totally sure why I wasn't okay," Stark tells him, "because you didn't bother to explain it to me when I was four, and I kind of couldn't be bothered to get out of bed to find anyone to talk to when I woke up, but yeah? I think it worked."
Steve is suddenly, embarrassingly overwhelmed with relief. "That's, that's good," he says and makes a show of untangling his legs from the comforter so he doesn't have to look at Stark for a minute.
"Cap?" Stark asks, dropping some of the ever-present snark.
"Steve," Steve says stupidly, because it's something he's been thinking about, "you should call me Steve."
When Steve chances looking at him, Stark looks startled but pleased. "Sure," he says slowly, "that sounds fun. Steve."
Steve shakes his head at him, unable to hold back a smile, despite how annoying Stark still is. "You're supposed to say that I can call you Tony."
Stark smirks at him. "I don't know, my butler told me never to call strange men by their first names. Especially when I wake up and find them getting overly familiar with my arc reactor."
"Your butler?" Steve asks, ignoring the rest for his own sanity. Then he remembers Tony asking for JARVIS his first night as a four-year-old. "Wait, JARVIS is named after your butler?"
Tony opens his mouth, probably to dissemble some more, before he abruptly changes his mind and says, "Yeah," instead. "He basically raised me."
Steve doesn't say anything to that, because he can't exactly tell a forty-two-year-old that he's sure his daddy loved him too, the same way he could a four-year-old.
"Right." Stark clears his throat and starts his own process of getting free of the sheets. He rubs at his arc reactor, making Steve's heart stop in his chest for a second, before scratching the skin around it and saying, "Huh, my skin feels stretched. Weird. I've got to get Bruce to analyse this re-aging shit."
Steve watches him wander around the room, apparently unconcerned that he's wearing nothing but a t-shirt that barely covers his behind and no boxers, until he starts to feel more than a little creepy.
"There are clothes - " He stops. Obviously Stark knows there are clothes in the closet; it’s his closet.
"Am I making you uncomfortable," Stark asks, opening the drawer and starting to rummage. "Does my nakedness offend you, Steve?"
Steve looks away while Stark gets dressed, feeling his mind whir around now-useless thoughts. Stark's well again now and he's an adult; Steve can't remember what it felt like not to be worrying about him constantly, but it looks like he's going to have to relearn.
"You look like someone cancelled Christmas," Stark says, appearing suddenly in front of him.
He's wearing a pair of jeans now, thank god but he’s kept on the t-shirt Steve picked out for him. For some reason, that gives Steve the confidence to say, "We should get a coffee or something, when you have some free time."
Stark blinks. Steve imagines all the replies that he could be coming up with, from gently mocking to genuinely cutting.
"All right," Stark says, surprising Steve with the complete absence of mockery, "sure. That'd be. Yeah."
Steve shouldn't be this pleased, he knows that, but he can't help smiling way too wide back at Stark.
After a minute, Stark clears his throat. "Not just yet though, okay? I've gotta talk to that doctor woman first, find out what the fuck kind of tech they’ve got over there if they can just casually go around turning people into infants."
"Tony," Steve sighs, "please. We’ve already caused enough diplomatic incidents for this week."
The smile that Stark throws his way isn't at all reassuring. "Oh, you know me, Cap. Steve. I'm the Lord Grand Master of diplomacy."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Steve agrees, kicking the comforter back and standing up. He turns around to see Stark heading for the door. "Wait. I'm coming with you."
"Catch me, then," Stark calls back over his shoulder and disappears into the corridor.
In the privacy of the empty room, Steve swears and quickly shoves his feet into his shoes. It looks as though life is back to normal with Stark causing trouble and giving Steve impossible ulcers from the stress.
For the first time, though, Steve can honestly say that he doesn't mind much at all.