He is cold. So cold he can’t move. He can’t see anything but white when he opens his eyes.
He knows where this is. Where he is. Cold. Down to his bones. Frozen solid. Ice so cold it burns. He almost groans, but no sound leaves his frozen lips. Even if he screamed, there would still be no sound, he knows. But he won’t scream. He won’t. Even if it won’t make any sound. It’s the principle of the thing.
It’s not like he waits for it to end. He’s barely aware it’s happening. Just cold. It feels like forever, and ever, barely conscious, not even really alive. They say freezing to death is gentle, and maybe it was a gentle torture, or maybe it felt awful, like dying, to him, only because he didn’t die.
He woke up with a start, shaking, and gasping. He still felt cold. He realized he was curled in on himself, again, his arms wrapped around himself, and shivering. He wished he’d worn pajamas to bed. How could he feel that cold when he knew, knew the room was warm, when he was half-covered by the blankets, when Tony’s warm body was there at his back, curled around him, his arm draped sleepily over Steve’s middle, even now? He guessed it was in his head, but that didn’t make him feel any less cold. He yanked at the blanket, dragged it up desperately to cover his shoulders, shoving the corner under his shoulder to hold it around him, and buried his face in it, trying to will the cold away.
It was just in his head, it shouldn’t have been that hard, right?
He watched his fingers shake against the blanket, balled up tight into fists and still shaking, with a kind of sick, hot frustration he couldn’t dissipate, that didn’t make him feel warm. He couldn’t seem to stop. He knew from experience that he just had to wait until it wore off, but he hated that, hating just having to wait for his own mind to stop tormenting him, for his body to catch up.
It was so stupid. He knew he wasn’t back in the ice. Why couldn’t his body figure that out? The dream was over, even. But no, he still panted, his breath still coming heaving and raspy and thick and almost painful in his chest.
He felt it, that Tony was awake, when he shifted, his cheek pressing in against his shoulder, then moving, and Steve almost groaned. He was so tired of waking him up. So tired of feeling like he was disrupting the little sleep he got, or keeping him up, or doing anything, really, that kept him from resting; Tony got little enough rest as it was, the last thing he needed was to share his bed with someone who woke him up with his nightmares every goddamn night. Good going, Rogers, he thought, angry with himself, good job.
Tony ran a hand over his shoulder, nuzzled up and placed a kiss on the back of his neck, just under his ear, then pressed gently on Steve’s shoulder. He nudged him down into the bed on his front, and Steve went, a little bemused, only to have Tony lie down basically on top of him, chest to his back, and draw the blankets down around their shoulders, tucking them in around them. He laid his cheek between Steve’s shoulder blades, let his head nestle into the curve of his neck.
His hair was soft, silky and not quite scratchy, clinging to the skin, still damp and beaded with cold sweat, at the back of Steve’s neck. He was heavy and solid and pressing Steve down into the bed.
He was real. He was warm. He linked one arm around Steve’s side, moved it up to rest over his heart, and murmured, soft and warm and blurry with tiredness, “Don’t worry about it, baby, it’s fine. I’ll be here. Take your time.”
Steve swallowed through a throat that suddenly felt thick. “Go back to sleep,” he muttered, the words feeling blunt and too big in his mouth, rough and course as he lifted his head to look back at him.
Tony smiled a little bit, kissed him softly, quick but warm, on the mouth. His eyes were still heavy-lidded, sleepy. “I will,” he said, confidently, and tilted Steve’s head back down to the pillow. Steve lay back down with a sigh. He was still shaking, but he did feel a bit better.
He shouldn’t be so needy, shouldn’t take so much from waking Tony up in the middle of the night. But he couldn’t deny that it helped. It helped every time.
It felt so … comforting, to have his weight there, to have him wrapped around Steve, anchoring him to the bed, between the downy soft-firm feeling of the mattress and his living, breathing presence at his back. His breath was so warm against the skin of Steve’s back.
Steve closed his eyes. Somehow, over time, Tony’s hand found his, and their fingers ended up twining together. Tony didn’t say a word about how tightly Steve was clutching at him, even though Steve was afraid it might be hurting him. He couldn’t get his fingers to unclench, couldn’t relax. He was still shaking with the cold.
Tony’s thumb rubbed over the back of his hand, once, twice, settled into a rhythm. Slow and steady. Easy. Soothing. It was in time, Steve realized, with the way his heart was beating.
After a while, that made it easier to relax his fingers. The tension started to bleed out of him. He felt like if he let himself relax, now, finally, the cold wouldn’t sneak in to get at him, the shivers wouldn’t start up again.
It was a long time later when he got back to sleep; Tony was asleep again, limp and heavy and relaxed over his back, fingers loose in his. He could feel his breath on his skin.
His last thought before he was asleep was that he wasn’t cold anymore.