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As We Try To Sleep

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Tony came to bed late.  It was an understood part of their relationship, because, well, mostly because Steve knew there was no point in trying to change it.  Tony stayed up late burning the midnight oil, and he always would.  Steve woke up early, and he always had, even before the army had trained him to get up with the dawn.  It was as much a part of each of them as Tony’s dark hair and Steve’s blond, the different shades of blue in their eyes.  Sometimes, on that rare occasion when he got lucky, Steve would be able to coax Tony to come to bed with him.  Sometimes it involved sex, but less often than you’d think, more often simply warm arms around Tony that were a little too tempting to drag himself away from, or the warm comfort of wrapping himself around Steve’s back, curling his arms around him instead.  Steve loved that, falling asleep together, feeling Tony there with him as he dropped off, the even rhythms of his breathing comforting, steadying as Steve skirted the edges of sleep.

Steve didn’t need that much sleep, though, and he slept lightly.  Always had, but the serum had made it easier for him to wake up quickly, at a strange sound or a change in the air around him, and get back to sleep afterward, too.  Besides, he needed less sleep than people without it.  Tony’s return to the room at 3, 4, 5 o’clock in the morning almost always woke him, with nothing more than the soft pad of his bare feet against the floor, the sound of the bathroom door opening and closing carefully and quietly, the dip of the bed as Tony slid into it beside him.  He kept his eyes closed, though, his breathing even, not wanting to alert Tony that he woke him.  He always got back to sleep easy, after all, and Tony might feel guilty, then, might not come to join him in bed at all.  That was how he first realized.  Tony always kissed either Steve’s shoulder or his hair, but that wasn’t all.  He would lie there and … say things.

That was the part that had surprised Steve.  He’d never pictured it.  ”I don’t deserve you,” was the first one, and it had surprised him so much he’d had to hold his breath to keep himself from letting it out through his nose in a huff of surprise and disagreement.  Tony’s hand had brushed his shoulder, softly, his voice barely even a whisper.  ”Working downstairs while you’re lying up here alone, waiting for me.  What kind of a person would leave you, anyway?”

Someone with too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it? Steve’s mind had suggested.  He might worry about Tony getting enough sleep, but he understood, he’d always understood, why he did it.  But he’d held his tongue, not wanting to let on, and then Tony had lain down behind him, settled his arm around Steve’s waist, pressing another kiss into his hair.

Tony had said a lot of things to him, since then.  Apologies, for a fight earlier in the day, that Tony had never said to him out loud, standing his ground and refusing to back down until Steve was seeing red.  Promises, at times.  Next week is gonna be better.  I won’t screw up next time.  I’ll make it up to you, sunshine, I promise. Soft little words of love, I love you so much, Steve, I can’t believe you’re here with me, and, I love you, honey, and, do you know how much you mean to me? Admissions Steve had never expected.  I didn’t know what to tell you, and, I was so angry, and I felt like I was going to throw up and Thank you so much for throwing out that bottle of champagne that got donated and I didn’t want to lean on you but I needed your help.  Sometimes they were questions, complaints about other team members that Steve slowly came to realize Tony would never have voiced aloud.  Don’t they understand how much those components cost? and email doesn’t work like that! and Reed Richards isn’t as smart as he thinks he is and sometimes it bugs me when they act like I’m just here as the money, you don’t think that, do you, Winghead? and once, quietly, so quietly even Steve could barely hear it, do you think Peter will ever really forgive me for what happened during the civil war? and then, even more quietly, I wonder if you do.  I wonder if you ever will.

Steve had wanted to drop the charade, then, but he hadn’t, something had held him still and silent, and Tony had leaned over him and pressed a kiss to his cheek, the softest little brush of his lips, then laid down against his back.  His hand had knotted up in Steve’s shirt that time, and Steve’s palm had itched to cover it with his own.

Of course I do, he’d wanted to say, so badly.  Of course, I do, Tony, what are you thinking?  But instead he’d lain there, quietly, and felt it as Tony fell asleep against him, the tension in his body relaxing, the way he pressed in closer against Steve’s back in his sleep, and only when he was absolutely certain he was fast asleep, his fingers loose against Steve’s stomach, did he ease his hand down and cover Tony’s with his.

He felt guilty, then, for listening to Tony at his most vulnerable, times when he didn’t know Steve was awake, could hear him.  He wasn’t sure how to tell him, and he was horrible at things like this.  Hiding them.

So he just told him.  He waited until they were alone, Tony flipping rapidly through a tech magazine as Steve came back with coffee.  He set Tony’s cup down in front of him and got a beaming smile and a quick word of gratitude, and sighed, standing in front of him and using his own cup to warm his hands.

"Tony," he said.  "You know I don’t need as much sleep as most people."

"Mm," Tony agreed, and smiled up at him again, taking a sip of his own coffee.  "I know, you get up at five in the morning, it’s disgusting."

"Some people would say that going to bed at five in the morning is disgusting," Steve reminded him, then sighed, took a deep breath.  "Well, I don’t need as much sleep as most people.  And I sleep pretty lightly."  He blew his breath out, then just said it.  "Look, you woke me up last night.  I heard what you said."

Tony set his coffee down, very slowly.  His eyes were wide and stricken, but he didn’t look away from Steve’s face.  He looked like he was on the verge of beating a retreat.  ”Why didn’t you say anything?” he asked, slowly.

"Because I thought I’d just fall right back to sleep," Steve said, "I always do.  And then I guess I just didn’t know what to say."

"I bet you didn’t," Tony muttered, and then swallowed.  "Look, Steve, I’m sorry you had to hear that.  Deal with that.  I never meant for you to, I was just … look, it’s a bad habit, I’ll stop—"

"It’s fine, Tony," Steve said quickly.  "I—there was nothing wrong with it.  I’m glad you feel like you can confide in me, even if it’s just when I’m asleep."

Tony made a disgusted face.

"It doesn’t bother me as much as that sounded like it did," Steve added desperately.  "Really. I just.  I just wanted to say."

Tony’s face twisted.  ”What?” he demanded.  ”That it’s pathetic?  Boo fucking hoo, Tony Stark, wondering if anyone can forgive him for that time he got his boyfriend murdered and turned on all his friends?”

"Well, you don’t have to wonder, that’s what I’m saying,” Steve snapped, then wondered why he was snapping at Tony.  Wasn’t he trying to comfort him over this?  He took a deep breath, partly because Tony had gone bone-white and a little gray in the face and looked sick.  ”I do forgive you,” he said, and knelt in front of him, reached out and laid one hand on his knee.  ”Of course I do,” he said.  ”Do you think I’d have slept with you if I didn’t forgive you?”  He tried a smile.  ”Tony, really.”

"Uh," Tony said.  "Clearly, yes.  I did."  He swallowed.  "I’m going to need a second to process this," he said, and swallowed again.  His hand was trembling, and he balled it up into a fist.  "You.  Uh.  You really?"

"Take all the time you need," Steve told him.  He reached out, curved his hand around that fist.  "And yes, I really do.  I forgive you.  If you can forgive me."

"What."  Tony stared at him.  His voice was flat, blank.

"If you can forgive me," Steve repeated.  "It takes two to make a fight, my ma always said."

Tony swallowed.  It looked painful.  ”Steve,” he said.  ”Sweetheart.  There’s nothing—there’s nothing to forgive.”

"That’s bullshit," Steve told him bluntly.  "But all right.  We’re both forgiven."  He stuck out his hand.  "Pax.  Shake on it?"

Tony stared at his hand like he’d never seen it before, then slowly, as if he couldn’t believe it, took Steve’s hand and shook it, firmly, hanging on tightly, as if for dear life.  Steve just used that hold to pull Tony into a hug, and then Tony was holding him tightly, burying his head in his shoulder, his fingers digging into his shirt, arm gripping tight around his neck.  Steve squeezed him tightly and held on, sliding his hand back into Tony’s hair.  ”So it’s over,” he said, and found himself smiling.  ”You got that?”

"Yes," Tony choked out.  "Yessir, Cap.  I’ve got it."

"Next time, just ask," Steve whispered in his ear, and Tony gave a wry little laugh.

"I’ll take that under advisement," he said.

The next time he came upstairs to go to bed at four o’clock in the morning, Steve yawned ostentatiously and rolled onto his back.  ”C’mere, Tony,” he said, and stretched his arm out.

Tony blinked at him, then gestured toward the bathroom.  ”I’m going to brush my teeth,” he said, as if he didn’t quite know what to do with himself.  Steve smiled and rolled back onto his side to wait.  Sure enough, there Tony was before too long, rushing into his pajamas, then hesitating at the side of the bed.  ”Uh,” he said, voice barely above a whisper.  ”Steve?  Honey?”

"Right here," Steve said, and rolled onto his back, held out his arm again.  "Come to bed."

Tony slid into the bed, let his head rest on Steve’s arm, and Steve pulled him close.

"Did you hear everything I said?" Tony said, after a second.  "All along?"

"Don’t worry about it," Steve advised.  "I still love you."  He kissed him, soft and slow, on the lips.

"That means you did," Tony groaned, a moment later.

"Tony," Steve told him.  "You could have told me any of that stuff, any time."  He pulled him closer.  "It doesn’t matter.  I was half asleep.  That’s off the record."

"Off the record," Tony murmured after a second.  "Right."

"Means I won’t worry about it, and neither should you," Steve told him.

"Yes, thanks," Tony returned acidly.  "I know what off the record means, Steve."

"Listen," Steve told him, and he fixed and held his gaze with his own this time.  "I love you.  And maybe I like knowing those things about you.  I get it’s hard.  I wouldn’t say that stuff in the light of day either.  But thank you.  For trusting me with it.  All the same."

Tony let his head fall forward and thunk against Steve’s shoulder.  ”This is what I get for shacking up with a super soldier, isn’t it?” he said after a moment.

Steve smiled, let his hand come up to slide into Tony’s hair and start to stroke through it.  ”Yep,” he told him.

Tony sighed, and Steve could feel it as he let himself start to relax.  ”Well, if you don’t hate me now,” he started, and Steve nodded.

"I don’t," he confirmed.

"I guess I’ll probably live," Tony finished, with wry humor in his voice.

"Probably," Steve told him, and kissed his forehead.  "Go to sleep, Tony.  And don’t freak out in the morning."

"Fat chance," Tony said, but he laughed.  "Good night, Steve."

"Sweet dreams," Steve told him.  "Remember, I forgive you."

"Good night, Steve,” Tony said, still laughing, and Steve could feel his smile against his shoulder, too.