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Miles to Go (Before I Sleep)

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Steve sighed and put his book down.  He’d been waiting for Tony to show some sign of stopping what he was doing for the night, but it had been hours, Steve was tired, and Tony was just as deeply engrossed in the schematics on his computers as ever.  “I’m going to head up to bed,” he said, vaguely hoping that saying so out loud might get some kind of result, even while he doubted it would.  “If that’s all right?”  He still felt a little awkward wandering through Tony’s big house by himself, even if JARVIS—who Steve kept catching himself thinking of as a person—and Miss Potts and Mr. Hogan were always very nice and treated him like he had every right to be there.
 
“Sure, sure, yeah,” Tony said.  “I’ll be up later.”
 
Steve sighed and frowned down at the book in his hands.  It was a history book; there was still so much, even after all this time, that he had to catch up on.  “Are you sure?” he asked.  “I mean, if you came up with me, we could . . .”  Have sex? His brain supplied, and he felt his cheeks flush.  That wasn’t right; he should be worrying about how little sleep Tony got, not trying to get him into bed for his own reasons.  But ever since they’d started sleeping together, he’d found himself thinking about that kind of thing more and more often.  He rubbed one hand over the back of his neck, feeling awkward.
 
Besides, he couldn’t say that out loud.
 
And anyway, it wasn’t really about that.  More than anything else, he just wanted Tony’s company.  It was part of being together to share the same bed, or he’d always thought so, and, well, it was lonely and oddly disorienting, lying in Tony’s big bed by himself while Tony was working down here.  Steve didn’t mind—well, not much—but he would have preferred Tony there with him.  And it couldn’t be good for Tony to keep the hours he did, anyway.
 
Sometimes Steve got up to find that Tony hadn’t come to bed at all, and who knew what kind of hours Tony kept when Steve was busy, or at Avengers Tower without Tony, or in his own apartment.
 
“Sorry, I’m kind of in the middle of something,” Tony said.  He didn’t sound sorry at all.  “Go on up ahead of me, okay?”
 
“Yeah,” Steve said, with a sigh.  He got up and crossed the room, to put one hand on Tony’s shoulder.  Tony looked up at him like he had absolutely no idea why Steve might be suddenly touching him and he wasn’t altogether pleased with being pulled out of his work by it, his eyebrows scrunching together impatiently.  “Good night, Tony,” Steve said, and shifted his hand to rest it against the back of Tony’s neck as he leaned down to kiss him.  It was a soft, quick kiss, just a brush of their lips together.
 
“Mmph,” Tony said, and kissed back for just a moment, his mouth pressing firm and vivid against Steve’s, parted just enough to ghost a touch of warm damp breath over Steve’s bottom lip, making it tingle.  “Good night.”  He pulled Steve’s hand off his shoulder, patted it, and smiled at him before turning back to his computers.
 
Steve sighed and turned to go up the stairs.  It was much later than he usually went to bed, because he’d been waiting for Tony, and there was no one around, but he still couldn’t seem to shake the uncomfortable sense that he was trespassing in some millionaire’s house.  Well, it was a millionaire’s—billionaire’s—house, but Steve was supposed to be there.  He reminded himself of that as he stepped into Tony’s bedroom.  Which was enormous.  The bed was also enormous.  So was the bathroom.  Steve still wasn’t used to any of it, and how long had he and Tony been going steady now?
 
Steve shook his head, half at himself and his own discomfort with the kind of luxury Tony took for granted, half at the ostentatious way Tony lived without seeming to notice it, and started getting ready for bed.
 
He knew he’d been asleep for a while when he woke again, because he’d been dreaming of ice and cold, and it was the warmth of a hand on his arm that startled him awake with a shuddering in-drawn breath.
 
“Bucky,” he heard himself say on that breath, and the sound of his own voice, raw and hoarse, was strange, disorienting.  Everything was very dark around him except for a strange dull blue glow, and his breath rasped too quickly, harsh and painful, in his throat.  For a moment he didn’t know where he was.  “Peggy?” he gasped.
 
“Nah, sorry, just me,” came Tony’s voice, and the reality of where Steve was crashed over him with sudden, immediate chill.  He shivered, abruptly humiliated.  It was 2013, would be almost 2014, soon.  He was in Tony’s house, his gigantic bed, and Tony was there beside him, a warm, solid presence, one hand on his arm, a hand which was now running almost comfortingly over his biceps.  Steve let out his breath in a rush, and it sounded horribly ragged.  His chest ached.  He’d thought he was over this, thought the nightmares were done with months ago.  Around the time he’d first gotten with Tony.
 
He still felt cold.
 
Maybe it would have been better if Tony hadn’t come to bed, he thought darkly, then he wouldn’t have had to see Steve failing spectacularly to deal with who and where he was now.  “Sorry,” he managed, but even to his own ears it sounded lame, inadequate.
 
“No need to be sorry, you think I never wake up from nightmares?” Tony said bluntly, his strong, callused hand stilling to take a firmer hold of Steve’s arm.  “Lights at fifteen percent,” he said a moment later, and a dull radiance seemed to suffuse the room.  Steve blinked, rolled over onto his back to see Tony kneeling on the bed beside him in a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt that did little to conceal the blue glow of the arc reactor in his chest, looking rumpled and sleepy.  “You’re shivering,” Tony said, still in that businesslike tone, and tugged the blankets up over Steve.  “Let’s get you warmed up.”
 
“I’m fine,” Steve said, apologetically.  The room was temperature-controlled, he knew, no matter how cold it felt to him right at that moment.  “I know it’s not really cold.  I’m fine.”  He sat up, pushing the blankets back down to his waist, but then he just had to face how badly he was shivering.  Stupid.  Stupid.  He knew he wasn’t in the ice anymore.  Or in the war.  He knew he wasn’t . . . wherever he’d been dreaming he was.  He thought it had been a battlefield in the Ardennes.  He’d been looking for Bucky because it was Christmas—it had made more sense in the dream—but every time he knelt to check a dead soldier frozen to the ground around him he saw Bucky’s face, and he’d grown more and more frantic because he couldn’t find him, because none of these men could be him, he couldn’t be every soldier who had died, and—or maybe he’d been dreaming of the Alps, the train, watching him die.  He wasn’t sure.  The dreams had blurred everything together, even going into the ice, until Bucky had been there with him, calling out his name, Bucky and Peggy, and—
 
Steve hoped Tony couldn’t see his expression.  He turned quickly to look out the windows, blinking rapidly as his eyes stung.
 
“Sure, you’re fine, champ,” Tony said, in an agreeable tone that Steve wasn’t quite sure if he should read as serious or sarcastic.  He ran his hand up to Steve’s shoulder and squeezed, then slid off the bed.
 
He was leaving?  Steve shivered again and wrapped his arms around his chest to try to keep himself from shaking, bringing his knees up to rest his head on them.  Where was Tony going?
 
He kept seeing Bucky’s face, unmoving and still like the soldiers he’d seen dead on every battlefield of the war.
 
He still felt cold.
 
“JARVIS, turn up the heat a few degrees,” Tony said, and Steve looked up, startled, to see Tony standing by the edge of the bed again, holding a cup full of water, which he offered wordlessly as Steve looked at him.  “I thought you could use something to drink,” he said after a moment.  “Well, not something to drink, that’s more my thing, but . . . .”
 
“Thanks,” Steve said.  His voice still sounded hoarse.  He took the cup from Tony and sipped the water carefully.  His throat was so raw it hurt, and he almost choked at first, but it got easier as he kept sipping.  He wrapped his hands around the glass and stared down into it.  “Did I wake you up?” he asked.
 
“No, no,” Tony said.  “I was just coming to bed.”  He sat down next to Steve, looking at him, and put one hand on his knee.  Maybe it was the touch of his hand or having the warmth of his body close by, or maybe it was the warming temperature of the room, but he didn’t feel quite as achingly cold now.
 
Steve frowned into the glass.  Just coming to bed?  “What time is it?” he asked.
 
“It is three twenty-seven a.m., sir,” came JARVIS’s pleasantly modulated British accented voice, at the same time Tony said, “Not that late, don’t worry about it.”
 
Tony glared vaguely up at the ceiling.  “Whose side are you on?” he asked.  “Can’t I even expect loyalty from my own AI now?”
 
“You instructed me to treat Master Rogers as I would yourself, sir,” JARVIS said, and Steve couldn’t help smiling slightly down at the water.
 
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said, “I was an idiot.”  He patted Steve’s leg gently, though, so Steve wasn’t hurt by the remark.  It was just Tony being Tony.
 
“I will refrain from comment on that point, sir,” JARVIS replied, and Steve could see the little quirk of Tony’s lips in response, not quite a smile, but close enough to one to count.
 
Steve drained the rest of the water, and Tony took the glass from him and put it on the side of the bed before he could do anything with it.  Steve looked down at his hands.  There was still gooseflesh prickling on his bare arms.  He sighed and rubbed at them absently.  “Almost three thirty,” he said.  “That’s pretty late, Tony.”
 
Tony shrugged.  “Yeah,” he said, “well, I had stuff to finish.”  He looked at Steve, and his eyes were suddenly dark and serious, his face set in solemn lines.  “And you, you get this a lot?  Nightmares?  Like this?”  His gesture seemed to somehow encompass the entirety of the situation.
 
“No!” Steve said quickly.  “No.  I haven’t had them in a long time.  Months.  Since . . . you . . . we . . . got together, actually.  I thought . . .” he sighed.  “I thought they’d gotten better.  I thought I was getting better.”  And that sounded wrong, made it sound like he’d been sick, when he hadn’t been, just . . . disoriented.  God, he hated this, feeling so helpless, like he was floundering, flailing for a place and there was nothing he could do about it—and he’d thought that feeling had gotten better, with the Avengers.  Gone away.
 
“You could have said something,” Tony said, and it sounded like an offhand comment, his voice even and almost unconcerned, but Steve had learned a while ago that Tony often used that tone of voice to hide what he was really feeling.
 
“They haven’t been bad,” Steve said.  “Really.”  Usually just waking up and feeling, hearing, Tony breathing beside him was enough to chase the dreams away.  He hadn’t woken like this, panting and shouting, in months, even when he slept by himself.  “I’m sorry,” he said again.  “That . . . can’t have been . . . uh, pleasant, being startled like that.”  He knew Tony had nightmares, too, even before he’d practically said as much a few minutes ago.  He didn’t need to deal with Steve’s problems on top of his.  That wasn’t fair at all.
 
“No,” Tony said abruptly.  “Don’t be.  Don’t be sorry.”  He reached out, and then his fingers were on Steve’s jaw, his thumb brushing a little circle there.  “We can handle a few bad dreams,” he said, and Steve nodded, but his throat felt thick.  “Hey, Steve,” Tony said.  “Look at me.”
 
Steve looked up, and Tony gave him a crooked half-smile, still brushing his thumb over his cheek.  It was rough, callused, with a scar over the pad of it, but it felt good against his skin.  Steve tried to smile back, but he had a feeling it came off a little weak.
 
“You can wake me up whenever,” Tony said.
 
Steve swallowed.  “I wouldn’t want to bother you,” he said.  “I mean . . . three thirty?  You don’t get enough sleep as it is.”
 
“Yeah, okay, maybe,” Tony said, in a tone of voice that Steve was pretty sure meant he wasn’t about to change his sleeping habits.  “But I’m serious, Steve.  Wake me up whenever you need me.”
 
He sounded serious; his voice had none of its usual sarcastic edge or the wry touch of amusement Steve had become accustomed to hearing there.  He sighed and looked away, uncomfortable with the grave depth in Tony’s dark eyes, something in the set of his mouth.
 
He didn’t want to burden Tony with this.
 
“Steve,” Tony said.  “I . . . I’m not kidding.  Okay?”  His hand tightened on the back of Steve’s neck, and then he leaned forward, tilting his head so that his lashes slanted dark over his eyes and their lips brushed once, twice, quick and damp with Tony’s breath and slightly scratchy from the brush of his beard and mustache over Steve’s skin, and then Tony caught slightly at Steve’s lips with his own, let it go a little deeper, a flash of wet warm heat as their lips pressed together.  He pulled away once more and then settled their lips together firmly, and then they were kissing.
 
Tony usually kissed like every dirty fantasy Steve had ever had in his life and plenty more he’d never have been able to imagine in a million years, but this time, though no less incredible, was different; it felt as serious and solemn as Tony’s eyes had looked, like he was pressing their lips together in a kind of vow, even as he slid his tongue into Steve’s mouth, and then Steve was kissing back, his own hand sliding up into Tony’s hair as the other went around his waist.  Tony tasted like toothpaste with some kind of grassy undertone from the thick protein shakes he drank instead of eating half the time and a hint of the smooth musky bite of Scotch, and his mouth was warm and real and Tony pressed up against Steve’s, strangely soft and almost gentle.  Steve screwed his eyes shut and held on tight.  Somehow his head ended up back on the pillow as the kiss went on and got hotter and wetter, until finally Tony licked over Steve’s lips and pulled away.  Steve took a few deep breaths and swallowed, his breathing not feeling entirely steady as he blinked his eyes open.  Tony pressed their foreheads together for a long moment, brushing his thumb gently over Steve’s jaw, then pulled away.  “Let me look out for you,” he said, then looked away, lashes shuttering his eyes for a moment.  “And you can look out for me when I wake up in the middle of the night.  Deal?”
 
Steve sighed, hating that he had put Tony through all this trouble, feeling uncomfortable and pathetic, but he couldn’t deny that Tony’s presence was comforting, and if just having him lying heavy and warm against his side was a comfort, hearing his voice would be that much more of one.  And he wouldn’t mind having a deal that would let him look out for Tony, help him through his own nightmares if he needed it.  He skimmed his hand down to Tony’s side and held on, pressing his fingers tight until he could feel the give of his muscles under his hand.  “Okay,” he said, finally.  “Deal.  If I really need it.”
 
“Cool,” Tony said.  “Now let’s go to sleep, that okay?  JARVIS, kill the lights.”
 
“Good night, sir.  And you too, Master Rogers,” JARVIS said, as the lights dimmed and then faded out completely.
 
Steve nodded, still slightly embarrassed under the breathlessness left from the way Tony had kissed him.  He let Tony push him back into the bed and wriggle up beside him, sliding his leg between both of Steve’s and curling his arm possessively over Steve’s stomach, pressing close behind him.  Tony trailed his open mouth over Steve’s bare shoulder and bit him, lightly, on the muscle of his upper arm, and Steve shivered.  Tony patted Steve’s abdomen with his palm.  “I could get you off, real fast,” Tony said.  His hand skimmed down to slip under the waistband of Steve’s pajamas and stroke his hip.  “You wanna?”
 
He’d wanted to, earlier, but his nerves felt drawn too tight with jangling tension, shot and raw, now, and his whole body felt battered, bruised and exhausted.  He was sure it would have been good—it was always good—but Tony needed sleep, and Steve still—well, it was enough just to have Tony’s arms around him, like this, the strange thrum and hard circular smoothness of the arc reactor a familiar feeling now through the thin cotton of Tony’s shirt against his back.  “I . . . um,” he said.  “Maybe not?  But . . . tomorrow, definitely.”
 
“Mmm, okay,” Tony said.  “I’ll hold you to that one.”  But he shifted his hand back up and melted against Steve’s back, relaxing, so Steve figured he didn’t mind too much.  He reached down and took Tony’s hand, lacing their fingers together against his stomach.
 
“Hey, Tony,” he said.  “I . . . um.  Thanks.”
 
“Don’t thank me,” Tony said, the words stretching out sleepy and thick over a yawn.  “Jesus.  Just sleep tight, okay?”
 
Steve smiled at that, and closed his eyes.  “Yeah,” he said.  “You too.”
 
He closed his eyes, wondering how long it would take him to get back to sleep.
 
On his next breath, he was dreaming.  This time, his dreams were warm.

Fin.