It’s after three when Steve throws off the blankets, pushing the heels of his palms into his eyes. The room is stifling but not in a heated way; it’s that thick, oppressive stillness that covers every battlefield just before things go to hell. He sighs, rubs frantically at his hair and stands up. A spark, a whir, and Jarvis comes online.
“Captain? May I be of assistance?”
Steve waves a hand. “No, Jarvis, thanks. Go back to bed.”
“Of course, Captain.”
He slips from the room, gently closing the door. Jarvis doesn’t light up the hallway; the mansion presses down on him, dark and silent, the static charge of technology in the air almost tangible. Steve pads down the hallway, careful to keep his steps light. He passes the Avengers’ rooms, steps lightly down the stairs, and is about to enter the kitchen when he catches light coming from the living room.
Frowning, he peers inside, taking stock of the muted television and the bright image of the Avengers last quarrel with Loki. He isn’t surprised to see Tony; Tony has a habit of staying up far too late for far too many reasons, hashing over plans for their next battle, creating suits and weapons and other miscellaneous items to keep the Avengers safe. However, Tony doesn’t seem to be awake, sitting on the couch with his knees tucked against his chest and chin touching lightly against the arc reactor. Steve moves forward carefully; last time he had snuck up on Tony, there had been a wild, frantic look in his eyes, and he had clutched protectively at the arc reactor. Steve had never witnessed that look on Tony before, had never again wanted to see the way Tony’s mouth had thinned and his pupils had blown wide, panic clear in every hollow and crease of his face.
Now, however, Tony is quiet in sleep, hands linked loosely around his shins, eyelids flickering gently. His fingers tap restlessly against each other, a rhythm that has no meaning to Steve. He watches, for a few minutes, taking in the soft pull of relief around Tony’s eyes and the fullness of his lips. He doesn’t look younger, no; he looks silent, calm, even peaceful. Steve takes a short step forward, crouching down.
It’s after three and the couch is no place to sleep.
“Tony,” he calls softly, carefully settling his hands over Tony’s. Tony shifts slightly, eyebrows furrowing. He tries again, “Tony, come on, wake up. You shouldn’t sleep here.”
There’s a startling jerk from Tony, his hands shooting up in a familiar repulsor blast gesture. He blinks, the dull shambles of sleep slowly creeping away from his features. Steve stays perfectly still, hands pressed against the soft denim of Tony’s jeans. Tony shakes his head, once, twice, clears the cobwebs from his mind and there, Steve can see the spark of brilliance awaken and grind away like mechanized clockwork.
Steve smiles. “It’s after three, Tony.”
Tony narrows his eyes, dropping his hands. They land directly over Steve’s, but Tony doesn’t seem to notice. Steve fights back the blush curling over his ears, letting his smile soften.
“You need to go to bed. An actual bed. Not the couch and not your workshop. Okay?” Steve shifts, getting ready to stand when Tony’s hands tighten over his.
“Could – I mean, would you mind staying up with me for a bit, first?” Tony isn’t looking at him, instead watching the footage, fingers tap-tap-tapping against their joined hands in that offbeat rhythm. “I was trying to figure out how best to reinforce Clint’s bow; the amount of times he’s had it blown up, set on fire, or just plain destroyed is getting ridiculous, and really, I could make something so much better, stronger and possibly mechanized so he wouldn’t have to continually haul around an entire quiver, what is that.”
Steve sighs, but settles down beside Tony. He doesn’t remove his fingers. “I’m sure he would enjoy any new toy you give him. But I’m serious, Tony, you are tired.”
A shadow passes over Tony’s face, something dark and incredibly insecure, before Tony drops Steve’s hands and stretches out his legs. He doesn’t look at Steve. “I can’t.”
Blinking, Steve reaches out, but doesn’t touch Tony’s shoulder. “What do you mean?”
“Can you just stay with me, Steve? Just, sit there and let me talk at you?” Tony’s voice hovers in the air, fragile and so honest. Steve looks at him, really looks, and nods.
Tony grins, a full blown smile that takes Steve’s breath away. And then he begins to talk, words moving through the air like static, hands gesturing wildly. Steve watches him, smiles whenever Tony’s eyes linger on his face, smiles when Tony stutters and blushes, smiles when Tony’s motions begin to slow. He relaxes when Tony leans further into him, eyes dipping lazily until he’s no longer seeing anything, just letting his mouth run. He looks away when Tony curls fingers absently around his wrist, pushes his head into the crook of Steve’s neck, and mutters something about transistors and rapid-firing crossbow frequencies. He sighs when Tony finally succumbs to sleep, lips moving soundlessly against his throat and fingers tapping out a familiar staccato.
“Goodnight, Tony,” Steve says, pressing lips against Tony’s dark hair.
It’s after four now, and Steve finds it not so stifling anymore.