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Alternative Medicine

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These days, Tony didn't like flying. Oh, he liked flying, could never get enough of cutting through the sky in a billion dollars of bleeding edge technology, but the Iron Man suit was one thing and a commercial jet was altogether another. After fourteen hours of recycled air and sitting still, he had definitely had enough of flying. He could have done it in less than eight in the armour, and it would have been infinitely more enjoyable, but no, secret identity and blah blah blah -

Of course, his plane was delayed in landing, and New York traffic was as painful as ever. By the time he was back at his apartment, there was no time to put on the armour or call Happy for some sparring or just go to his workshop and get a bit of welding done; no, he had to go straight out to a cocktail party for - for something he couldn't even remember. Never mind, Pepper would know. He flipped the TV on, and went to change his suit.

He wandered back into the main room to tie his bowtie, and took one last glance at the TV, hoping for some disaster that would urgently require Iron Man. By the looks of it, he was a few hours too late; the Avengers had fought something earlier, without him, which made Tony want to pout like a kid at having been left out.

They'd managed fine without him, but... Tony's hands left his tie, and he took a step toward the screen as Captain America appeared, three microphones shoved up under his nose. He looked exhausted, deep shadows under his eyes, a very slight slump to his shoulders. Tony made a noise of exasperation and reached for his phone.

"Pepper, I need to go be at the Mansion all this evening - yes, it's urgent. Yes, cancel it."

 

 

The Mansion was quiet when Tony let himself in; it was only eleven pm, but battling supervillains was tiring work. Jan was asleep on the couch in front of America's Next Top Model, still wearing her red and black costume, the remote tucked under her cheek. After carefully extracting it, he turned the TV down, and listened. Nothing; Steve must have gone to bed already. Tony was almost at the stairs when he heard a crash and a muttered curse from the direction of the kitchen.

Steve was crouched on the kitchen floor, sweeping up a broken mug with a dustpan and brush.

"Watch where you step," he said. "Give me a moment, I - " he looked up, and his eyes widened a little. Then he blushed; he knew why Tony was here.

"You should have called me," Tony said, and Steve ducked his head, blushing deeper.

"I would have. Tomorrow. I was going to, really." He got to his feet slowly, and tipped the ceramic shards into the bin. "You were in Japan, anyway."

"Right." No use to tell him he would have come back early; Steve would be horrified at the thought. It's no big deal, Tony he'd say. Don't put yourself out.

Another mug, plastic this time - Steve must be feeling bad if he wasn't going to risk ceramic again. Tony took it away from him, getting a puzzled look.

"I'll do it. We don't need you scalding the skin off your hands."

"It's not that bad." Tony forbore to point out that Steve had just dropped a mug. And that he hadn't been able to catch it before it hit the floor. From anyone else, a slip, but for Steve it was a very bad sign. When his physical co-ordination went, hallucinations weren't far off

"How long?" Tony scrabbled a teabag out of the box, which had a picture of a sleepy-looking bear on the front and smelled strongly of chamomile and mint.

"Three days."

"You should have called," Tony said a little too loudly, and Steve winced. "Here. Drink your tea."

Steve blew on the tea, eyes downcast. The liquid trembled in his unsteady hands. Whether it was PTSD, or the result of spending fifty years half-alive in an iceberg, Steve had insomnia. Not the kind with which Tony was intimately familiar, where you tossed and turned until the small hours, and then felt gooey-eyed in the morning; but nightmares of increasing severity that culminated in a complete inability to sleep. It had first manifested a few months after his arrival in the now, and the drifting inattention and clumsiness had almost gotten him killed before they'd realised something was wrong. Drugs didn't affect him, counselling was slow work, and Tony had been half-convinced they'd brought Captain America into the future just to watch him die.

And then one day he'd slouched down onto the couch next to Tony to listen to the latest psychologist's report, and after three long sentences of psychobabble, had put his head down on Tony's shoulder and gone to sleep.

Steve's empty mug clunked down onto the counter, and he gave Tony a hopeful look.

"Okay," Tony said. "Let's go to bed."

 

 

Tony slept in a thick sweater, with elaborate decoration on the front. His chestplate was probably not entirely concealed, but he'd hinted at severe medical conditions and pacemakers and scarring, and Steve didn't say anything if his hands encountered a hard edge or smooth surface. He just put a pillow between his head and Tony's shoulder, and wrapped an arm round his waist. Steve's bedroom was even more comfortable than Tony's own, the mattress expensive and the pillows just the right degree of squishy. But the best thing about it, of course, was the almost-naked super-soldier snuggled up close.

"Sorry," he muttered, arranging himself along the curve of Tony's body, settling his thigh over Tony's so they were touching from head to foot. The first time they'd done this Steve had been stiff and awkward, but a few nights of decent sleep had relaxed him and now he was positively cuddly. "I'm an idiot."

"You're an idiot for not calling me," Tony said. "Not even you can function without sleep." He turned his head, letting his lips graze Steve's temple, and reached out to flick off the bedside light. The curtains were thick, and there was a blind hidden behind them; the room would be dark even to Steve's sensitive eyes. Tony closed his eyes and breathed in the scents of lavender and mint, and gently ran his hands over Steve's shoulders. The fine cotton was no barrier to feeling the sharp definition of his muscles, the warmth of his body; Tony could have touched him for hours. It had been six weeks since he'd last shared Steve's bed, and he'd missed it a ridiculous amount.

"I was sleeping fine, I thought it was over." Steve sighed, a warm rush of breath against his collarbone. "But then I started having the dreams again..."

"You should call," Tony murmured as quietly as he could, smoothing his hands over Steve's broad back. His fingers brushed skin between shirt and boxers, and he forced himself to move his hands back up. Steve's shirt would ride up in the night, and Tony would end up with his hands on skin anyway. No need to push his luck now.

"You're so busy." Steve's voice was already slurring with drowsiness, heavy body loose against Tony's. Whatever it was about Tony's presence still seemed to be working; perhaps any other person would have done the trick, but Tony wasn't inclined to experiment. He wanted to keep this, the feel of Steve's heart under his palm, the soft hum of pleasure Steve made when Tony petted him.

"Go to sleep," he whispered, and Steve did.

 

 

Tony woke up in the small hours. Steve was fidgeting, twitching and muttering into Tony's shoulder. Tony stroked down his back and made soft, comforting sounds; waking up a nervous super-soldier had to be done with care. After a moment, Steve lifted his head, a sharp intake of breath before he relaxed.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"It's okay." Tony patted his back to indicate his complete okayness at being woken up before dawn. As expected, when he put his hand on the small of Steve's back, he found warm bare skin.

Steve yawned, and stretched, muscles shifting enticingly before he wrapped himself more tightly around Tony. Tony rubbed circles on his back, and he sighed, a sound of happy satisfaction.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome," Tony said. He put a hand into Steve's hair, rubbing small circles over his scalp, and Steve made a noise that was almost a purr and buried his face in Tony's neck. The sound sent a warm pulse through Tony's belly, and suddenly he could think of a dozen ways to coax more of those noises out of Steve. And he'd sleep afterwards too -

Tony bit down firmly on his lip. He couldn't make a move while Steve relied on him for sleep; it would be utterly, utterly unfair. And it might even mean it didn't work anymore, if Steve felt awkward around him, couldn't relax. And then he wouldn't even have this, and Steve would have that haunted exhausted look all the time, and then he'd get hurt or worse because he was overtired -

"You all right?" Pressed this close, Steve would be able to feel his tension. Tony forced himself to relax, and made a vague reassuring noise that seemed to satisfy Steve. "You're so - " his voice trailed off into a sigh, and Tony focused on soothing him back to sleep.

Steve was getting better; he'd managed six weeks this time. Two months. When it got to two months without a visit, he'd make a move.

He rested his cheek against Steve's, and shut his eyes.

He could wait.