He can’t sleep again.
Steve heaves a gusty sigh as he stares up at the cherry wood-panelled ceiling. His body feels like a sack of potatoes: heavy, lumpy, and uncomfortable. His back muscles ache, his neck is tense; his eyelids are so heavy, they may as well be sandbags. Everything in the extravagant guest bedroom at Stark Manor feels so soft - too soft, no support, like the mattress hasn't been used even after a whole month of Steve sleeping on it and he's liable to fall through.
Finally, Steve sits up in bed, the deep blue sheets and quilted blanket pooling into his lap. He runs a hand through his unruly blond hair, the cut of which has been out of style for fifty years, as Tony helpfully reminds him. Steve’s mouth twists in disgust, his stomach clenching in pain; the sensation is like a knife going through his gut. Don't blame Tony, he reminds himself, it’s not his fault you didn’t die in the arctic like you had planned.
But somehow the reminder of it doesn’t hurt any less.
Huffing a breath, Steve grips the sheets and blanket in one hand and drags them over his shoulder as he settles back into the mattress. He rolls onto his side, and stares blankly into the darkness of the room. Fifty years, he thinks morosely. Could be worse - could be seventy.
Truthfully it might as well have been seventy, for all that’s changed since 1944. He’s had a whole month to get used to 1994, but it's been like waking up to a nightmare. Guilt twists itself into a knot in Steve’s stomach, and he clenches the bedsheets in a fist. 1994 isn’t that bad, he amends, but then feels angry at himself for thinking that way. 1994 may not be bad , but it’s not where - not when - he’s supposed to be, and he shuts the optimistic thought down.
So much time has passed, and I’ve missed so much.
He thinks about Howard, how his friend’s been gone for almost three years and Steve didn't even have a chance to say goodbye. He’d been informed that the accident that had taken Howard’s life had also taken his wife’s - and wasn’t that the strangest thing of all: hound dog Howard being married.
If only Bucky could have seen this, he’d never have believed it. The corner of Steve’s lips quirk up into a smile despite the additional grief that thinking about Bucky brings.
The Howlies are all still alive, thank God - and Peggy, too. Speaking of missed opportunities, Steve thinks bitterly, and it feels like his heart is going through a meat-grinder. It’s strange: one minute his friends were in the prime of their lives - jovial and youthful despite a time of war - and then in a blink of an eye, they were relics of a bygone age. A part of the “Greatest Generation”: they had lived lives, they had gray hair, crow’s feet, stiff joints and achy bones to show for it, with husbands and wives, and children and grandchildren -
Steve can’t take it anymore. He gets out of bed.
He opens the guest bedroom door quietly, and a quick glance at the grandfather clock shows it’s just past three in the morning. He creeps down the hallway towards the kitchen. The long hall’s dark hardwood floor is covered with deep red Persian rugs, which thankfully muffle Steve’s steps as he passes.
From the corner of his eye, he catches sight of oil landscapes and photographs of the Starks when they were much younger and in love, as well as the few family photos featuring little Tony with Jarvis the butler and his wife Ana, and with Peggy, that could only be a decade or so old.
Steve ignores Peggy’s red smile and crinkled, bright eyes, and resolutely heads towards the kitchen. He stops in the spotless interior when he catches sight of Tony.
The twenty-four year old’s standing in front of the open refrigerator, his left arm draped over the door, and the bright light in the otherwise dimly-lit kitchen allows Steve to take in his appearance. He looks rumpled in his stained gray sweatpants and his wrinkled brown tank top. It’s surreal watching Tony flex his delicate toes as he stares intently into the contents of the fridge, luminous brown eyes searching and plush lips in a pout as he runs a hand through his thick, dark hair.
“I think there’s still Ana’s goulash left over if you’re interested,” Steve says, his voice loud in the quiet despite how softly he’d spoken.
Tony flinches and whirls around to look at Steve, before giving a relieved sigh. “Oh my God,” he breathes, eyes crinkling with humor. “You scared me.”
“Sorry,” Steve mumbles, stepping up to the kitchen island stove and grabbing a saucepan from the dangling pots and pans overhead. Tony gives a careless one-armed shrug.
“S’not your fault,” he tells Steve before turning back to face the fridge, the yellow light shining in his hair.
“Hand me the milk, wouldja?” Steve asks, holding out a hand.
“Can’t sleep?” Tony responds as he passes Steve the carton. Steve grunts an affirmative, too lazy to give a more detailed explanation as he puts the milk down next to the burners. Tony seems to get it though, because he nods in understanding. “Me neither.”
“Want some?” Steve asks over his shoulder as he goes to the pantry for the Hershey chocolate bars that Jarvis stocks practically in bulk. Tony hums in agreement.
“You know we have Nesquik, right?” he says, pulling out the Pyrex of goulash and closing the fridge. He walks over to the microwave and pops it in, prodding the buttons until he reaches an acceptable time. “You don’t have to melt candy bars.”
“Powdered chocolate isn’t new, Tony,” Steve informs him, breaking up the chocolate between his fingers. “It’s been around since my mom was a kid. But it was shit during the war, and I’ve still got the taste of it in my mouth. So these bars are a benefit to living in the future.”
Tony snorts as Steve adds the chocolate into the hot pan. Tony waits until the microwave lights up, its hum loud, before coming over to the island and leaning on the side opposite Steve.
“Yeah, sure, chocolate is a benefit of the future,” he says dubiously with an eye roll.
“Obviously you’ve never had military chocolate,” Steve replies wryly.
Tony tilts his head to the side, and squints at him. “Is that like government cheese?”
“Not really,” Steve admits, grabbing a whisk from a drawer, and whisking as he pours two glasses worth of milk into the hot pan. “It was harder than a brick, and so small it was a joke. Tasted like crap, too. But chocolate was hard to come by for others, so we'd trade the little we had for other things we needed.”
Tony hums, his thick black eyebrows raising just a hair before lowering.
Steve glances up at him. Despite Steve being only two years - biologically, anyway - older than Tony, Steve can't help but think of him as a kid. Maybe it's because he's never seen combat, he guesses. At the moment, though, Tony certainly looks that much younger: he's a few inches smaller than Steve and wiry to boot. His brown eyes are huge, but the dark bags underneath could give them a run for their money - they look like those annoying bean bag chairs he'd showed Steve once.
Tony looks past his shoulder at the microwave, then quickly steps over to it. Steve can see the time going down from where he's standing, but just as it reaches one, Tony hits the stop button before the damn thing beeps and wakes the Jarvises.
“Impressive,” Steve commends when Tony turns back to him with a smirk.
“Yeah, I got skills,” he says nonchalantly before sticking his hand in and pulling it back just as quick. “Fuck!” He hisses, sucking on his burnt fingers.
Steve is too tired to stop the snort from escaping, but not so tired he doesn't notice the bright red flush to Tony's olive complexion.
“Anyway,” Tony starts, picking up the oven mitts Ana left on top of the oven. He puts them on and finally takes out the goulash. “I gotta get back to work.”
“Don't you want your milk - ” Steve starts, but Tony's already out the side kitchen door, brown hair a blur.
Steve stares at the door for a minute, feeling weirdly dejected. He turns back to his pan and continues whisking his milk. The kitchen's quiet and empty without Tony there.
Steve gasps awake, his heart hammering against his ribcage.
He can hear the echoes of his men screaming in agony and the explosion of gunfire. The smell of burning flesh and gunpowder is singed into his nostrils, a permanent reminder that death clings to him. Steve tries taking deep breaths, but his lungs aren’t working - he can’t breathe.
It’s just a dream, he chants to himself. It’s 1994, not 1944. The war’s over. You're safe.
Once he manages to take a few successful breaths, it becomes a rhythm and eventually the demons dissipate like smoke. Steve draws his legs up, pressing his face into his knees and closing his eyes, concentrating on breathing in the fabric softener that Jarvis is so fond of using. After a few minutes he gets up and takes the now-familiar route to the kitchen.
It's only been two nights, but already meeting Tony here past midnight feels like a ritual. Tony’s got his body bent in half, peering intently into the fridge, his dark hair as wild as before, but this time dressed in a MIT shirt and blue sweats. He’s barefoot again, and has a smudge of oil across his cheek.
“Anything good?” Steve asks, taking care to make some noise before he enters so that he won’t startle Tony again.
“I’m currently debating between the ratatouille or the chicken paprikash,” Tony tells him, crouching down to get a better look into the fridge. Steve hums in approval.
“The paprikash is a bit heavy,” he replies, taking up his spot at the stove. “You won't be able to get back to sleep.”
“Can't sleep to begin with,” Tony mutters, and there's a clatter as he shuffles the different containers around in the fridge.
“No?” asks Steve, a little surprised.
“No,” confirms Tony from deep inside the fridge. “I’m tinkering. I tinker when I can’t sleep.”
Steve grunts, debating what he should eat. I could make fried rice? A piece of toast? “Wish I had a hobby to take me out of my head,” he admits, his voice coming out a low murmur. He briefly thinks of his art, but shoves that aside - he hasn't drawn in years.
Tony finally shuts the fridge, turning to face him. The dark circles under his eyes look darker, but they don’t detract the brightness of Tony’s honey-brown eyes.
“Well, technically it’s not a hobby,” he replies, his tone aloof but his posture gone rigid and tense. Steve frowns thoughtfully at the dramatic change while Tony folds his arms over his chest and shrugs like he doesn’t give a damn. “Youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company to date. Gotta keep making that tech and wowing the public to keep the lights on.”
“Ah,” Steve says, and he feels the same satisfaction he would feel when a puzzle piece clicks into place. “So it’s work that’s keeping you up?”
Tony’s shoulders go up, and Steve suddenly gets the impression that he’s ruffled some feathers.
“Yeah,” Tony admits, swiftly turning to the pantry and pulling out cereal instead. He puts the box on the kitchen island across from where Steve’s standing, and goes to get a bowl.
“What about you?” Tony asks when he comes back. He opens the box and rattles the brightly colored shapes into the bowl; his entire focus is set on making sure every piece ends up in the same place.
Steve automatically tenses, his hands clench into fists. It hits too close to home, hearing those words again reminds him of Peggy trying to get him to talk to someone at SHIELD, and he feels nothing but frustration.
“Talking will be good for you, Steve,” she had said, her British accent soft and soothing. “To open up about it.”
“What about me?” he growls.
Tony shrugs, ignoring his tone. “It just seems to me, Cap,” he starts as he goes to the fridge, opens the door, takes out the carton of milk and shut the door in one swift movement, “that you’ve got a lot of issues.”
Steve feels an eyebrow rise. “Is that your professional opinion, Mr. Stark?” he asks dryly.
“ Doctor Stark, thank you,” Tony corrects as he pours milk into his cereal, the sugary bits crackling loudly. “I’ll have you know I have a doctorate and I’m prepared to use it,” he pauses, and blinks. “Just. Don’t ask me to perform open-heart or anything.”
Steve chuckles, briefly flicking his eyes away from the kid, relaxing. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Tony gives him a shit-eating grin before opening the silverware drawer in front of him, and pulling out a spoon.
For a while it’s a quiet, companionable silence that engulfs them - the only sound is the crunching of Tony’s cereal as he eats. The twenty-four year old braces his elbows on the wood countertop, bracketing in his bowl and looking off into the middle distance. Steve pulls the box of cereal closer towards him, far from the Wheaties and Cheerios of his youth. He shakes out a handful of the sugary concoction into his cupped hand, tips his head back and drops them into his mouth.
Disgusting, he thinks with a wince, before pouring out another handful.
Tony keeps looking up at him, his long eyelashes brushing against his cheek when he blinks, and bites his lower lip before glancing away. It’s like he’s on the verge of saying something, but keeps changing his mind. Steve waits.
“You know,” Tony says finally, and Steve looks at him, eyebrow raised in expectation. His companion fingers the spoon’s handle, and then heaves a huge breath. “There's this new thing called talking, so if you ever need to...” He gestures vaguely at himself before falling silent. He clears his throat, his cheeks pinkening. “Or whatever.”
Steve blinks, stunned, and he opens his mouth to thank Tony, but instead what comes out is: “I have nightmares.”
Tony faces him, brown eyes going wide in surprise before it’s back under control and he’s looking at Steve neutrally.
“What do you have nightmares about?” Tony asks, shoveling his cereal in his mouth.
Steve shrugs, before shaking out more of the stars, rainbow, and horseshoes-shaped marshmallows into the palm of his hand. “What don't I have nightmares about?” he replies. “Feels like it's everything: the war, Bucky falling off the train, my face turning into the Red Skull's, my last conversation with your aunt...” But it’s the last thing that makes him lower his voice. “The ice.”
Silence falls over them. Steve stares at the whorls of wood on the countertop, timing his breaths and listening to his heartbeat, keeping himself tethered to the present. Because sometimes, he has nightmares that 1994 is a dream too, and that’s the worst one of all. He doesn’t quite know how much time passes like this, but it feels like forever before Tony speaks up.
“That sucks,” he commiserates. It’s such a laughable 1994 colloquialism Steve feels relieved. I’m not in the ice anymore. This isn’t a dream.
“Yeah,” he agrees. He throws back the sugary cereal and immediately starts chewing.
“Well,” Tony starts, and Steve looks over at him to see him ladling up his green-tinted cereal milk, brown eyes arrested by its ripples. “I’m up most nights anyway - I only get, like, four hours of sleep - so if you want, we can be insomniacs together?”
Somehow the offer makes warmth curl in Steve’s chest, sending the remaining chills of his nightmare into the darkness.
“I’d like that,” he replies sincerely, and Tony’s rigid frame relaxes. Giving him a small smile, Steve goes over to the dish cabinet and gets down a bowl to pour himself some cereal.
It is just past two o’clock in the morning when Steve’s stomach wakes him, craving pancakes.
With a groan, he drags himself out of bed and heads to the kitchen. After a few weeks, it’s become habit to head for the kitchen on nights he can’t sleep. When he gets to the doorway, he stops, finding it devoid of any twenty-four year old Fortune 500 company owners. He frowns, disappointment making his heart sink.
Stop that, he thinks, shaking his head. He’s probably still tinkering. Besides, it’s a good thing if one of us can sleep, right? Steve absently gathers up all the ingredients to make the batter. But he feels unsettled and restless, like there’s an itch under his skin he can’t get at. It doesn’t feel right to be here without Tony. The kitchen’s quieter than usual, like the house is devoid of any other humans.
The house is empty, he suddenly realizes. The Jarvises went away for the weekend for their anniversary, and Tony went to Baltimore for SI days ago, you idiot.
“Oh,” Steve says, the word an exhale, and his shoulders slump. Dejection floods his insides, and he’s made acutely aware of just how alone he actually is.
“That’s enough!” he shouts, mentally shooing away the dark thoughts that want to settle into his brain. “It’s just for the weekend, you can survive on your own for that long.”
But it’s too quiet, his brain points out.
Steve’s teeth clench together and he marches back to his bedroom. Once there, he takes the Salt-N-Pepa disc from the stack of rap CDs that Rhodey had given him the last time he was in town visiting.
“Tony’s told me he’s catching you up,” he’d said, and Steve had nodded. “Here, then.” He passed Steve the stack and he tilted his head in contemplation at the top one. “Someone’s gotta introduce you to rap.”
Steve heads back into the kitchen and places the shiny disc into the portable black radio/CD player. He cranks the volume up, until it fills the quiet kitchen. Then he lets the familiar rhymes lull him into a comfortable rhythm as he makes the batter and prepares the stove.
“ Umm, you're packed and you're stacked, 'specially in the back. Brother, wanna thank your mother for a butt like that ,” Steve sings along as he watches the pancake bubble in the pan some time later.
He can’t help but smile at the ridiculousness of the song, shuffling back and forth, letting himself be swept away by the girls’ plight.
“ Can I get some fries with that shake-shake boobie? If looks could kill you would be an uzi - you're a shotgun, bang!”
“ What’s up with that thang? ” comes another voice from behind him. Startled, Steve whirls around to look at the entrance to the kitchen.
The momentary panic is overtaken by relief when he sees it’s Tony.
“Oh, hi,” Steve says with a smile, and his heart swoops with joy at seeing his friend.
Tony's standing just in the doorway, his briefcase at his feet, red tie loosened and the jacket of his suit draped over one arm. He hasn’t been sleeping , Steve can’t help but think as he takes in the signs of Tony’s exhaustion: his dark hair sticking up all over the place, the faint start of a beard around his mouth, and his overall rumpledness.
Steve turns back to the radio and lowers the volume until it’s practically a murmur. Tony’s purposeful steps clack on the tile, coming closer until they stop on his left side in front of the stove.
“Want some?” Steve asks, glancing at Tony to find him staring down at the golden pancake.
Tony hums, but it looks like he’s thinking about something else, his stare unfocused, a mile away.
“Captain America loves rap music,” Tony says in awe. He looks up at Steve, big golden eyes sparkling like this is the best thing he’s ever seen. “Who woulda thought.”
“Tony,” Steve starts somberly, keeping his face as serious as he can. “Captain America loves all American music.”
Tony stares at him, jaw lax until he bursts out laughing. Steve grins at him, pride blooming in his chest. That’s better.
“Shut up,” he tells Steve, gently shoving him with his shoulder. The touch makes him feel warm, like he’s basking in the sun. Must be the heat from the pancakes.
“I have a surprise for you,” Tony tells Steve on the night of his birthday. He’s smiling smugly, the beard he’s been growing coming in nicely - even though it was touch-and-go there for a time.
“Oh?” Steve asks, eyebrows quirking.
“Yeah - come with me,” he says, and grabs Steve’s hand in his own. Steve’s so startled by the gesture that he lets himself be pulled out of the manor through the servant’s entrance.
Tony quietly leads Steve through the night, fireworks still going off in the distance despite how late it is, to the second garage that Steve knows Tony uses as his workshop. When they get to the door, Tony drops his hand to turn the knob and Steve doesn’t understand why he feels disappointed at the loss of his warm fingers. Tony steps inside, and Steve follows.
“Ta-da!” Tony grins proudly. He throws out his arms like he’s presenting a prize, and his eyes are sparkling when he turns to look at Steve.
Steve’s eyes drift from Tony’s face to the inside of the garage, but he stops and stares. He can feel his eyes grow and his jaw drop, but he can’t help it: there’s a robot.
It’s not exactly Metropolis, and Steve’s been in the future for months and seen computers and all the new appliances - but this is amazing. It’s about as tall as Tony, its bulky base on wheels, with a cylindrical body and a long arm with what looks like a claw on the end.
“Oh wow ,” Steve breathes, stepping closer to the robot. The claw turns clockwise, surveying him and gives an unmistakable chirp. Steve can’t help the smile that spreads across his face, and reaches out a hand to touch the cool gray metal. Along one of the pipes on the side, he notices the word DUM-E printed in a bold white font .
“Dum-E? Is that your name?” he asks, and the robot gives him another chirp in confirmation. He turns to look over his shoulder, to tell Tony something but stops short at the look on his friend’s face. Tony’s staring at him, eyebrows raised, lips pursed and honey eyes evaluating. That’s the same look on his face when I’ve said or done something that surprises him.
“What?” asks Steve, and he feels his cheeks turn pink. Tony shakes his head, the corner of his lips quirking up into a smile.
“Nothing,” he says with a huff of laughter. “I just came in here to show you your new bike and you immediately go over to that bucket of bolts.” Tony gestures to something behind Steve. He looks over and sure enough there’s a polished 1943 Indian motorcycle that looks like it just rolled off the production line.
Steve frowns, turning back to his friend. “Bucket of bolts?”
“Yeah, well,” Tony says with a shrug, walking over to the tool shelf pushed against the wall and starting to play with a screwdriver. “I built him in ‘86, so he’s outdated - ancient. I’m trying to build him a brother that’ll be much cooler than him.”
“Wait, you built Dum-E?” Steve asks, blinking incredulously. “When you were... seventeen?”
“Sixteen,” Tony corrects but otherwise gives a shrug. “Yeah, it’s kinda what I do.”
“It’s amazing,” Steve says in awe. He gestures at the space all around them and then at Dum-E, who he’s sure is watching them. “He’s amazing, you’re...amazing.”
Tony’s olive face flushes a pretty pink and he looks away. Steve blinks, his eyes fixed on the concrete floor. Why did I call him pretty?
“Thanks,” Tony croaks at last. He clears his throat, and it’s like nothing happened; he’s back to his exuberant self. “C’mon, let’s see how good you are on this bike, old man.”
“Is that anyway to address your elders?” asks Steve with a smile, rising up onto his feet.
“Sure it is,” Tony sasses, his eyes sparkling with mirth, and teasing grin. “Grandpa.”
Steve laughs and his heart flip-flops in his chest.
“Have you given any thought about what you'll do?” Peggy asked him.
Steve gave her a shrug. “Not really,” he admits.
“Have you developed any interests? Besides following my godson around like an imprinted duck?” She asks with a mischievous glint in her eye, and a all-knowing quirk to her red lips.
Peggy’s probably right: he should get a life of his own.
Except whenever Steve opens his mouth to tell Tony that he’s gonna leave - that he’s finally gonna explore the country like he’s been planning to do since he woke up, he doesn’t. Because Tony just has to look at him, and Steve’s words die in his throat.
He knows he’s not going anywhere. His heart won't let him.
After that first visit to the workshop, Steve and Tony start to have their insomniac’s meeting in there.
On those nights where Steve can’t sleep, he’ll go to the kitchen, fix them both some food and then head out to join the genius. He’ll draw while Tony tinkers, and sometimes they’ll work until they both drop from exhaustion. It might be Steve’s imagination, but he’s been sleeping better on those nights.
“Do you ever think about being Captain America again?” asks Tony one night while he’s elbows-deep in the new robot’s cylindrical base.
Steve rolls one of his art pencils between his fingers, biting his lip in thought.
“Sometimes,” he admits. “It just feels like I’m too late.”
Tony pauses in his rummaging. Then he stares up at Steve, waiting.
“The country’s moved on, and so many things have happened since I went down in the ice. Watergate, the A-Bomb. I can’t even begin to imagine what Morita went through coming home to find his family in cages. I just- ” Steve sighs heavily, feeling weary. “I don’t know how I can keep trying to uphold American ideals if it feels like those ideals have been beaten down a long time ago.”
He looks away, after a moment he feels the couch dip with Tony’s weight settling next him. That’s how he knows Tony’s attention is focused on him - not to say Tony doesn’t pay him attention while he’s working, but just having that Stark focus on him, it’s a lot.
It's heady is what it is, Steve thinks dizzily, his cheeks warming.
“I think that that’s what the people need,” Tony says finally.
Steve turns to him, confused. Tony’s face is clean for once, the goatee under his plush bottom lip thicker than the rest of his beard, his brown eyes studying Steve, and his dark hair in disarray.
“Not to try to pressure you into being Cap again, catching bank robbers or beating up Neo-Nazis,” Tony quickly assures, waving a hand, “but just as Steve Rogers - as an activist for something, maybe. Standing up for the little guy, you know?” Tony finishes with a grimace, like that wasn’t exactly what he wanted to say.
The words make Steve blink, and he's reminded of Dr. Erskine’s last piece of advice to him: “ Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
“Maybe,” he whispers, caught up in his ghosts.
“Come on, Tony,” Steve says, forcing the genius onto his feet.
Tony's been on an invention bender that’s just come up on the twenty-four hour mark, and Steve knows for a fact that he hasn't even been napping. This wouldn’t really be a problem, except Tony’s got a big demonstration out of the country he’s meant to put on for Stark Industries in a week, and he should get as much rest as he can.
“Nooo,” Tony whines, his body flopping in Steve’s arms. His eyes are barely staying open, and his beautiful hands are stained with oil, dirt under his fingernails. His chin and cheeks are smeared with grease, which makes it look like his beard is fuller than it actually is. “I'm not even sleepy.”
Steve can feel an amused smile pulling at his lips. “Yes, you are,” he tells him, hands on the genius’s shoulders as he frog-marches Tony into the manor through the back door. Tony’s head lolls backwards on his neck, and his arms fall to his sides, his steps turning into shuffles.
Tony slumps forward, losing balance on his feet. He nearly slips to the floor, but Steve’s hands move to his waist and he catches him at the last second.
“Tony?” he asks worriedly, the twenty-four year old collapsed in his arms.
But Tony’s eyes are closed, and his breaths are soft, his chest slowly expanding and contracting in sleep. Steve’s lips curl up into a smile, and he pulls Tony up onto his feet, steadying him with one hand on his shoulder as he bends down and slides his other one across the back of Tony’s knees until they’re in the crook of his elbow. He lowers the hand on Tony’s shoulder and wraps his arm around his waist.
He stands, hefting Tony up into a bridal carry, the genius’s head resting on his chest and snoring quietly.
Steve walks through the manor quietly, rounding the corner of the hallway leading to the bedrooms. He passes into the master bedroom, heading straight for the ensuite and once there he sets Tony carefully on the marble counter of the sinks, his back resting against the mirror and his chin falling onto his chest. Steve finds a washcloth in one of the chest of drawers and wets it before gently cleaning Tony’s face of dirt and grime.
As he cleans off the genius's face, Steve feels better at seeing Tony's eyes closed, his long eyelashes kissing his cheek and his face lax in sleep. Steve feels oddly privileged, being trusted enough to see Tony's face in sleep and without worry. Warmth foods his chest as Steve continues to clean him up.
After he does that, Steve rinses the dirty cloth in the sink and scrubs Tony’s hands and arms clean. I wish I could give him a full scrub-down, Steve can’t help thinking and flushes at the thought. He stomps down the embers of arousal that the idea brings, focusing on getting Tony to bed. Get it through your thick skull: Tony’s not interested. He doesn’t need you hitting on him, he thinks solemnly as he hoists Tony off the counter and carries him back into the bedroom. It’s only when he’s standing on the cream-colored rug that Steve realizes he’s never set foot in this bedroom before.
He can’t help his curiosity and looks around. I know that this used to be his parents’ room, Steve thinks, and it got cleared of Howard’s things two years ago, but now…
There's maybe a few photographs hung up: a few of Tony with Rhodey, some from his youth with Peggy and the Jarvises, and one of the woman Steve's come to recognize as Maria Stark, but none of Howard. Unlike the rest of the house, there aren't any oil landscapes hanging up here, but a few pieces of abstract cubism.
Apart from the new decorations, there’s not really anything else to give an indication that this is Tony's bedroom. Not a Captain America poster in sight, Steve thinks, remembering Jarvis telling him about Tony's boyhood obsession with his alter ego .
Steve steps up to the bed, lowers Tony to his feet and sets him down on the foot of the bed until he’s sitting on his butt. But instead of flopping over onto his back or side like Steve expected, Tony stays sitting upright.
“Impressive ,” Steve murmurs as he kneels down and tugs off Tony’s shoes.
Then he goes to the headboard and turns down the blanket and sheets until there’s space for Tony’s entire body. Steve gently lifts Tony again and settles him on the soft mattress, when Tony rolls over onto his side: one side of his hair fanned out on his feathered pillow and resting his hands against his cheek.
Tony’s faint snores continue and Steve can feel his lips form a squiggle of amusement.
Steve pulls the blanket and sheets over Tony’s sleeping form - and if he runs a hand down along Tony’s side, that’s just to smooth down the wrinkled blue blanket. He pulls away, mentally preparing to go and sleep in his own bed, when Tony’s hand snaps out from beneath the blankets and latches onto Steve’s wrist, freezing him in place.
“No,” Tony mumbles, his eyes still closed. “Please stay.”
Steve breathes sharply, his heart lurching in his chest.
I should go, the reasonable part of his brain thinks, Tony needs to sleep. But the thought of tearing himself away, of leaving this man - this lonely man - it hurts worse than a bullet. Steve would rather cut off his own arm before he does that.
“Okay,” he soothes, leaning over Tony, gently running his fingers through his dark hair. Tony hums contentedly, and Steve ignores the tentative hope fluttering in his chest. “Scoot over, then.”
Tony murmurs too softly for Steve to hear, but he does shuffle to the other side of the bed. Steve sits and takes off his shoes, before lifting the blanket and laying down in the vacated spot. The blankets aren’t even settled on top of him before Tony cuddles up against him, resting his cheek on Steve’s chest. He feels his face go up in flames; warmth flooding down to his gut and his heart is thumping so hard, he’s afraid it’ll beat right of his chest.
“G’night, Steve,” Tony murmurs softly, opening his eyes long enough to look up at Steve. And Steve’s breath gets caught in his throat at the soft glow in his crush's brown eyes before his long eyelashes flutter closed.
“Night Tony,” Steve croaks, and he snores in reply.
Steve stares up at the wooden beams of the ceiling, certain that his thumping heart will keep him awake long past the dawn.
Sleep starts to slowly release Steve from its tendrils, and he drifts into consciousness.
But he frowns, his eyebrows drawing together. He blinks his eyes open, and the frown on his lips grows deeper. This isn’t right, he thinks, looking up at the ceiling. Panic seizes his chest, and his heart starts pounding as he glances to the avocado-colored walls.
That’s the wrong color, the sheets don't smell right, the sun’s coming in from the wrong angle - what year is it? And now Steve’s struggling to breathe. He can’t, he can’t -
“Hey,” says a voice next to him, gripping his attention, and a hand tentatively rests over Steve’s racing heart. “It’s 1994. The war’s over, you’re safe. You’re in Stark Manor, you’ve spent the night in my room.”
Steve closes his eyes, concentrating on Tony’s soothing tone rather than his words. He takes in deep lungfuls of air, holding it, counting - seven, eight, nine, ten - and releases it before doing it again.
Once Steve feels calm, he opens his eyes and turns his head to the left. Tony’s luminous eyes are the first thing he sees, gleaming golden in the light, and his calloused hand still resting on Steve’s shirt-clad chest.
“Feeling better?” Tony asks, a wrinkle of concern appearing between his thick eyebrows.
“Yeah,” Steve breathes, butterflies fluttering beneath Tony’s palm. Tony hums without looking away.
For a few minutes, Steve and Tony just lay there: staring at each other, breathing in the same air.
“You stayed,” Tony murmurs in disbelief. Steve’s been in his workshop long enough to know his tinkering face: eyebrows drawn together, eyes calculating, lips pursed in thought.
“Well, yeah,” Steve tells him, his own eyebrows crinkling together. “You asked me to.”
Tony’s eyebrows fly up his forehead and he takes a sharp inhale. It’s quiet between them for maybe half a second, but to Steve it feels like a lifetime.
“Please don’t let me be reading this wrong,” Tony pleads, but before Steve can ask what , he’s leaning forward and pressing a kiss to Steve’s cheek; almost at the corner of his lips, the thick prickly hairs of his beard a whisper against Steve's face.
Steve blinks at him, and the air’s been stolen from his lungs, but it's not like his panic attack. Instead of struggling to breathe, he doesn’t even need the air: Tony's all the air he needs. But just as Steve's starts to think Maybe he likes me, Tony’s face drains of color, and his jaw tightens. In a moment his eyes are shuttered, keeping the beautiful light out of them.
A spike of concern goes through Steve's core at the expression.
“Okay, great, so that didn’t work,” Tony babbles as he starts to pull away. Steve frowns, displeasure curling in his gut. “Let’s just forget this ever happened, okay? Okay.”
He’s shuffled to the other side of the mattress before Steve’s hands snap forward on their own and latch onto the front of Tony’s shirt. Tony’s body goes rigid, but he goes willingly when Steve drags him back. His eyes keep looking off to the side, as though ashamed to look at Steve.
Well, he thinks, better fix that.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Steve growls, and he feels the beginning of a smile on his lips. Tony’s eyes finally meet his, and they're big, and his mouth falls open. He pulls Tony until his weight is resting on top of him, then tugs at Tony’s left hand until it’s resting over his heart, and keeps hold of it for good measure. “I’m not through with you yet.”
“But you,” Tony stammers, blinking rapidly, “you didn’t - ”
“Tony, when the fella I’ve been in love with for the better part of three months suddenly kisses me, you gotta give me time to adjust,” Steve explains, his face soft with affection, his heart light as a balloon. He lifts a hand, and brushes the pad of his thumb along Tony's cheek.
Tony draws a soft breath, his tongue peeking out to wet his lips, and Steve can't help but track the movement, heat flaring in his chest. Tony must've noticed, because his bronze cheeks turn pink.
“Yeah?” he asks, the word an exhale. The shutters have lifted from his eyes, and they gleam gold with a hopefulness that makes Steve's heart pick up the pace. Beautiful , he observes.
“Yeah,” he confirms softly, his eyelids half-lowered with contentment. “Wanna try that again?” he asks, lifting an eyebrow.
So they do.