Steve wakes up with his hands clenched in the bedsheets, and there’s a second where he raises an elbow to shove it down into the man beside him before he realizes it’s Tony.
He repeats the name in his mind, even forming it in his mouth as he jerks away until his back is pressed into the bedframe, and then he puts his face in his hands and breathes.
Tony is awake, he woke up sometime between Steve whimpering and Steve jerking out of his decade-old nightmares, and now he’s still, sitting up in bed, one hand resting on the bed in the space between them.
“Steve,” Tony says, slow, calm, and Steve knows, yes, they’ve done this a thousand times, with each of them at the nightmare end. They’ve both woken up to the other one shaking, saying things, shouting when it’s particularly vivid. Sometimes they lash out, but mostly they wake up before anything like that happens.
Even so, Steve remembers the bruise that lasted for a week on Tony’s face when Steve woke up convinced he was back in the 40s, and that Tony was an enemy soldier. Tony had assured him it didn’t matter, that it happened to everyone eventually, but he had looked equally guilty when he had woken up and clocked Steve across the jaw before he understood where he was, yelling not to touch him.
Tony says his name again and Steve heaves a breath, tasting bile.
“I’m okay,” he manages, and runs his tongue around his mouth. He even tastes like it, like he’s thrown up, which he hasn’t, he’s pretty sure. He checks the sheets, and they all come up clean, and Tony watches him silently as Steve runs his fingers through them, checking for wetness. “I’m fine, Tony, it’s-”
He can’t finish, dry-heaving his way through the word that turns to nothingness. He doesn’t know what he would’ve said, anyway.
He hears Tony swallow and say, “I’m going to touch you, is that okay?”
“Yeah,” Steve says, and coughs. He can still taste vomit. “Yes.”
A hesitation, and then Tony’s hand is firm on his shoulder. “You’re shaking.”
“I am.” Steve never notices until Tony points it out. He’s shaking badly, enough that is shakes Tony, too, and Steve allows himself to lean into him before collapsing completely, nudging his head up under Tony’s chin and letting himself shake apart.
Tony holds him like always, making soft sounds that never fail to remind Steve he’s home, he’s here with Tony, he’s okay. It doesn’t fix the shaking, though, and Steve trembles against him, his fingers closing around Tony’s arms and squeezing.
“You’re okay,” Tony says into his hair, rubbing his thumbs along Steve’s back, one hand coming up to bury itself in Steve’s hair, grounding him. “You’re good, Steve. I got you. You’re right here, you’re not going anywhere, we went out to that restaurant a few hours ago, remember? You got the chicken, you said it was dry, the waiter nearly spilled orange juice on your shoes when we were leaving but you got out of the way just in time. I teased you about your super-soldier reflexes.”
“Yeah,” Steve rasps. He wets his lips; they’re dry from panting. Tony’s body is solid against him, he opens his eyes to the soft blue glow of the arc reactor that he never gets tired of painting. He’s painted it so many times, sketched it so much it’s etched into his mind, he has entire sketchbooks full of the arc reactor, he’s worn down so many coloured pencils before he found the right shade of blue for it.
He puts a hand over it, watching the light spill through the cracks between his fingers with immense relief, and presses a shaky kiss to the place where skin meets metal as Tony continues to talk.
“Clint was on the couch when we got home, he was watching Masterchef, you rolled your eyes at him and he threw an orange at you and you caught it and put it in the fruit bowl. You didn’t even bruise it, Bruce came in to eat it while we were talking later. We talked about baseball, or, you talked and I pretended to care about it, then we made plans for date night next week. You wanted to go to the movies, that new one about the robots, and you bet me I’d complain about scientific inaccuracies the whole way through. Then we said we could go bowling, but we both hate the bowling shoes and you brought up the time I hacked the scores through my cellphone, you never let me forget that.”
Tony’s voice is low, quiet, not a whisper but close to it, and Steve feels the shaking start to lessen. Tony can go on like this for hours, Steve knows. He’s done it, he’s held Steve and talked about what happened that day, talked about what he has to work on in the workshop, talks about Dummy’s schematics or when he first made JARVIS, anything that grounds Steve in the present, makes him sure he’s really there.
He hasn’t told Tony he can stop, so Tony keeps rubbing circles into Steve’s scalp, into the line of his spine, and keeps talking.
“Pepper called me when we were getting ready for bed and you kissed my neck as we were talking over paperwork that I didn’t fill out. She noticed because I kept trailing off, and you took the phone to apologize for distracting me. Then you gave the phone back and started giving me a handjob while I was saying goodbye to Pepper, you’re such an ass, you always do things like that. Every time she catches us having sex she makes me give her a raise, and now she says phone sex counts. Then you got me off and asked me if I thought your pyjamas needed replacing, and I said I couldn’t care less as long as I got to take them off of you. Then I sucked you off and we went to sleep, you made plans on your phone for movie night as I was drifting off, you asked me if I wanted to see the robot movie or the one about the college students.”
“And you said you wanted to go see the robot movie, scientific inaccuracies be damned,” Steve finishes, his voice steadier than before but not entirely back to normal. His breath is coming more even now, and he isn’t holding Tony as tight. “I remember.”
“Good,” Tony says softly, and he drops a kiss onto Steve’s forehead. Steve closes his eyes and leans up into it, and Tony kisses the same spot again, kisses his hair and then down to his forehead, down to his cheek and his nose.
Steve tilts his head up, sits up a bit and angles his head so he can kiss Tony’s mouth. Tony’s tongue presses lightly against Steve’s lips but Steve draws back reluctantly, resting their foreheads together and sitting up fully.
“I gotta- go brush my teeth,” he says, and feels Tony nod.
He squeezes Tony’s arms once, pressing all ten fingertips against his forearms before pushing up out of bed. His bare feet sink into the carpet like always, because Tony insists on having insanely expensive carpet, and makes his way to the bathroom.
His reflection is flushed and his face is blotchy, like he’s been crying. Steve touches his cheeks and his fingers come away wet, and he thinks, oh.
The cold tap takes a firmer twist than the hot one, and Steve turns them both on to feel the familiarity of it. Tony has offered to get it fixed when Steve commented on it once, but Steve doesn’t see the point.
Water splashes into the sink, boiling hot and ice cold, and Steve twists the hot tap off and lets cold water fill the sink. He cups his hands in it and brings his face down close, pressing handfuls of water to his face until the only thing that comes away with his fingers is tapwater.
He brushes his teeth, breaking out the extra-strong peppermint toothpaste that they save for these occasions to do it, and swallows some to rid himself completely of the imagined bile. He swigs some mouthwash as well, and then swills it all around with water and spits it into the sink.
The dream is fading, has been fading ever since he woke up with a whimper on his lips and Tony’s comforting words in his ear, but now it’s giving away completely to the cold water and the mint toothpaste and the familiar bathroom. He wipes his face on a towel, spares another look in the mirror- he’s less blotchy now, but still a mess- and turns off the bathroom light when he goes back into the bedroom.
It’s never dark in his bedroom, not since Tony started sleeping in it, and Steve always appreciates it more after a nightmare. His first step back into the bedroom is met by the blue glow that has never made Steve feel anything bad, and Steve is feeling less hellish by the time he makes it to the bed.
Tony reaches for him, and Steve knows he’s fine with being turned down, god knows it’s been the other way around too many times, but this time Steve ducks into it, pressing his cheek into Tony’s palm. Tony’s other hand comes up to Steve’s other cheek, and then he’s holding Steve’s face in his hands. Steve lets himself sag, just a little, and Tony moves closer until their foreheads are pressed together again.
“Hey,” Tony says, his thumbs stroking Steve’s cheeks, slow arcs that have Steve’s eyelids fluttering shut.
“Hey,” he murmurs, and leans in and kisses him, barely any pressure in it, just a brush of lips. “Thanks.”
“Anytime,” Tony answers instantly. He pauses, and then says, “Always, Steve.”
“Yeah,” Steve says, croaking it a little. He can’t help it, kissing Tony again with his eyes open, this time with a bit more pressure in it, opening Tony’s lips with his tongue for a moment, knowing Tony tastes extra-strength peppermint before pulling back and saying, “Back at you.”
“I know you know.”
“Glad we both know,” Tony says, cracking a smile that Steve feels against his mouth. His thumbs have been stroking throughout this exchange, having the same hypnotic effect they’ve always had on Steve. His eyelids droop again before he forces them open sluggishly.
“You think you can sleep?”
Steve hums for a second, considering. He reassesses how his limbs are getting heavier and nods, his arms coming up to circle Tony’s waist.
He feels Tony huff a laugh against his face, and then Tony’s pulling them both gently down so they’re lying down. Steve moves downwards, resting his face in Tony’s neck and shifting one hand up Tony’s torso so it’s splayed out over the arc reactor.
“Never got what you liked so much about that,” Tony mutters.
Steve shifts so he can press a kiss to Tony’s clavicle. “Means you’re here next to me. Means you’re okay.”
He feels the vibration of Tony’s sigh. “I guess I can’t argue with that,” he says, and Steve grunts in agreement.
There will be more nights like this. Nights when one of them, or god forbid both of them wake up thinking they’re somewhere else, or with someone who wants to hurt them. Nights where Steve will wake up shaking from imagined cold and will need to be dragged in front of the fire until the phantom ice sloughs from his bones, nights where Tony will come awake gagging up dirty water that hasn’t been in his lungs for years.
They’ve been assured it’ll get better, that night terrors only last for so long, but every time it happens it’s just as bad as the first time.
“I got you,” Tony says, soft into his hair, his thumb against Steve’s cheek, rubbing. “I got you, Steve. You can sleep. It’s okay.”
Steve closes his eyes with the blue light of the arc reactor filtering through his eyelids, letting him know he’s here, and he falls asleep with the knowledge that he’s going to wake up in Tony’s arms in the morning.