Steve finds him in the open expanse of the living room, sitting behind the white grand piano by the bar. He is wearing a tattered pair of sweatpants and a shirt with a circle cut out of it, a little opening from which the arc reactor peeks out. It casts a faint blue glow onto the glossy enamel of the piano. Steve can see Tony’s fingers moving gently over it, hear the soft sounds drifting from the open top and echoing off the high ceilings.
It was the piano that woke him up. Admittedly, he doesn’t sleep as much as he should, really, but halfway into a sleep plagued by nightmares – by memories of hanging off the side of the train, staring down at the snow dusting the rocks at the bottom of that crevice – he had woken up, clutching the sheets tightly in sweaty hands, hearing strange sounds sneaking in through the crack in his open door. He hadn’t expected to see Tony on the piano bench, nursing a glass of what Steve is fairly certain is scotch.
Steve now stands in the threshold of the living room, hand resting on the wall gently. Tony’s fingers move languidly across the keys, thin and slender and almost melting into the ivory. There’s a certain peace in the living room, a silence that isn’t a silence at all, but feels just like one, and Steve isn’t sure whether or not he wants to break it. He watches Tony play, understandably a little surprised at the whole image – Tony has never mentioned the piano; in fact, up until now, Steve and the others had been more than certain the instrument was just a hollowed out prop.
There’s a brief interlude in which the music stops, and Steve watches as Tony leans over the piano. He’s not sure what he’s doing, but the next thing Steve knows, he’s taking steps towards the alcove, arms crossed over his chest. His pajama shirt scratches his arms, leaves goose bumps in its wake, and all of a sudden he’s speaking.
“I didn’t know you played,” he says, and he can’t stop the words from leaving his mouth.
Tony jumps, and Steve feels an instant flash of guilt. It vanishes when Tony turns to look at him, a slow, hesitant movement that is accompanied by a low rumbling from the piano as his fingers drag across the keys and come to rest on his thighs. He considers Steve and his disheveled appearance, the pajamas that don’t fit the way they should, his sleep tousled hair. Tony reaches for the glass of scotch resting on the top of the piano. He sips from it, and Steve notices the way his eyes crinkle as the liquor burns his throat.
“It’s like, midnight,” Tony notes, his voice quiet and raspy, “Why are you awake?”
Steve drops his arms to his sides, “It’s three in the morning, actually, and I could ask you the same thing,” he pauses, looks at Tony and the way his eyes are glassy and dark, hidden in the shadows of the overhead lighting. Tony has it set about half – just bright enough to see the keys, but dark enough to let him forget that there is anything else but the piano, “You never answered my question.”
“You didn’t ask one.” Tony notes, and Steve can see a sad sort of playfulness bloom behind his eyes.
“All right,” Steve says, going along with him. He takes another step towards the piano, standing so close to it that he can reach out and touch it. Tony is looking more at the floor than he is at Steve, “How long have you played the piano?”
Tony lets the hint of a smile play at the corners of his lips. He doesn’t answer right away, but instead lets his fingers play a scale, Steve watching the gentle pressing of the keys. It’s fascinating, he thinks, how it comes to Tony so easily, how effortlessly the notes flow from his fingertips.
“A long time,” He finally says, and his voice is quiet and soft, “Mom showed me. When she could, I mean. Not exactly a pursuit worthy of or encouraged by the Starks.”
Steve doesn’t press, because there’s a deep bitterness to that voice, and Tony never talks about things like this around him, or anyone, really. Tony looks from the keys to Steve’s face, studying him the way Tony studies all things, with squinted eyes and biting his lip, taking in whatever he can.
“My turn.” He says at last, and Steve regards him with confusion.
“To ask you a question,” Tony looks out one of the glass panels in the living room. Outside, it’s dark, and the skies are lit with the dim lights of stars, and the bright lights of New York. Steve doesn’t know what floor they’re on, only that it’s an obscenely high number, and that from this far up in the tower, he can see the way the city lights up like a string of Christmas bulbs.
“Okay.” Steve nods, and he says it so genuinely and with such sincerity that Tony can’t help but smile into his scotch glass as he takes another sip.
“Why are you up?” Tony asks finally, setting the glass on the piano and his hands in his lap. Steve doesn’t meet his eyes, doesn’t want to tell him that he’s been having nightmares ever since he woke up, that he hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in a very long time.
He offers Tony a tight-lipped smile, hoping that he won’t notice, “Super soldier. Don’t need to sleep, remember?”
“Yeah, fuck that,” Tony says, and Steve knows he’s a beat man, “Even you need to sleep. What’s troubling you, Cap?”
Steve is unsure of how to respond, and that mostly boils down to the fact that Tony is not like this. This is not who Tony is, at least not in public. He doesn’t ask questions like this, not questions that will require him to open himself up, to put all his cards on the table face up, exposed. It’s not Tony.
“Nightmares.” Steve says eventually, and he crosses his arms back over his chest, waiting for a response.
He sees Tony nod, and then his eyes meet the ground, “Yeah. I get that,” he says, and that’s that.
They stay quiet for a moment together, and Steve wonders if this is what it’s supposed to be like, if this is what a home should feel like, if this is what being with Tony at three in the morning, staring out over the lights and the sounds of New York, should feel like.
“What do you dream about?” Steve asks, suddenly. Tony looks up from the tile floor and stars at Steve inquisitively, but says nothing. For a while, they look at each other, the living room silent but for the buzz of the electricity that powers the tower.
“Lots of things,” Tony says eventually, and he turns his body back to the piano. His foot plays around the pedal, pushing down lightly, “My mom, sometimes. Dad, too, but those never end well.”
Tony looks like he’s about to say something else, but there’s something in his eyes now, a darkness that Steve isn’t sure he wants to coax out. There is pain in those eyes. Steve doesn’t press.
“I dream about Bucky,” he murmurs, a tentative offering he hopes Tony will take, “What it was like before the war, before my parents died. Those are the nice dreams. Then sometimes, I’ll see him falling off the train, and I can’t help him, and there is wind in his hair and beating his skin and suddenly he’s gone.”
Music drifts into the air, and Steve realizes that Tony is again playing. His fingers dance around the piano keys, a song that Steve has always known and will always know. Tony’s eyes are closed, soft lines of concentration forming on his forehead.
“And this one was…?” He asks, voice trailing off. Steve looks away from his face, forces his eyes to the floor.
“This one was the train.”
Tony says nothing, but he keeps playing, and somehow Steve knows he understands. He watches as Tony reaches for his glass, still playing with one hand, and takes a sip. Steve doesn’t like it when he drinks, but he figures he has no right to argue with him. It’s his house; he’ll do what he wants.
When the scotch has finished burning his throat, Tony opens his eyes, “New York.”
“I dream about New York.”
He admits it like it’s a secret, in low tones that can scarcely be heard over the music that flows from the piano. He admits it like a child admits he’s taken the last cookie and eaten it right before supper, with a head bent in shame and hands shaking wildly. The music stops.
“Tony?” Steve asks, and his voice wobbles with worry. He reaches out, places a hand on Tony’s shoulder. When he lifts his head back up, he smiles weakly and looks away, “Are you okay?”
The music starts again, and Steve wonders if this is how it’s always going to be with them; always starting and stopping. His hand is still on Tony’s shoulder, and Steve squeezes. Tony flinches.
He misses a note, and the sound is sour, broken, a noise that doesn’t belong, and suddenly Tony is flinching again.
“Dammit, Steve,” his voice shakes, and he reaches for his glass, but it’s empty. Tony’s fingers go back to the keys, fumbling over the same song he’s been playing the whole time, “Just, I-I don’t want to ta—“
Steve cuts him off, hand recoiling from Tony’s shoulder like he’s been burnt, “Okay. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s not—“ Tony doesn’t bother finishing the sentence. He can’t make himself look at Steve.
They listen to the piano for a little while longer. Steve’s hand tingles, his fingers hot from where they had connected with Tony’s skin, and he wants to say everything; he wants to apologize for bringing up the nightmares, wants to ask Tony why he’s awake so late, playing such sad music, wants to know why there is so much pain behind those whiskey colored eyes.
Instead, he keeps silent, politely watching from against the alcove wall.
He doesn’t realize Tony’s talking to him until his head spins around, and then they’re looking at each other with such intensity that Steve feels his chest tighten.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re staring at me. It’s creepy,” Tony says, and Steve knows he’s trying to be funny, but he’s not quite sure it’s working, “What do you want?”
“What’s that song you’re playing?” Steve asks, even though he already knows the answer.
Tony falters for a moment, but carries on playing, “Oh. Mom used to sing it to me, before, well, before th—“
“You don’t have to say.” Steve ensures him, keeping his voice steady and even, warm and comforting, “It’s all right.”
“I don’t remember the words.” Tony confesses, “She sang it every chance she got, and I can’t remember.”
There’s a pause in which Steve steps away from the alcove wall and towards the piano bench. Tony looks up with wary, tired eyes, and Steve looks down at him with the same expression, and Tony knows well enough to move over and make room. Steve takes a seat at the edge of the bench. He can feel the heat of Tony’s body beside him.
“Will the circle,” He isn’t much of a singer, but it’s Tony’s eyes that draw him in, the desire to remember, just for a minute, the happier times, “be unbroken, by and by, lord by and by. Is a better home awaiting in the sky, in the sky?”
Tony stops playing, and this time he doesn’t start again. He stares at Steve, his face emotionless, but his eyes, those eyes, doing the talking. There’s question marks there, and sadness, and maybe even a little admiration, but Steve can’t be sure.
“My mom used to sing it to me, too,” he explains, hands resting in his lap, “When I was sick. Which was a lot.”
He turns his head away and starts playing again, and he hasn’t answered but Steve knows exactly what Tony wants to say, what he’s been trying to say, and suddenly they’re both singing. Tony remembers some of the words, broken sections that he sings with soft, raspy voice, and Steve picks up where he leaves off.
It’s nice, Steve thinks, to be here with this person, this person who is so much more than he seems, so much more brilliant and beautiful and so irreversibly broken. He closes his eyes and he takes in the song, and there’s no music, because Tony has stopped playing. Something warm covers Steve’s hand, and he realizes it’s Tony’s, smooth and soft and grasping his tightly.
“The last time I sang this,” Steve ventures, “It was to my mother. Before she passed.”
Tony squeezes his hand and says nothing. They sit there at the piano bench, the lights dim, the moon bright, and the stars shining. It’s four in the morning at Stark Tower, and Steve Rogers thinks he might finally be free of his nightmares.