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Till Human Voices Wake Us, and We Drown

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He knows for a fact that he’s dying.

All the equations in his head come out to the same thing. He’s cold, through every millimeter of his body, skin and bones and muscle, clammy sweat drying on his skin and agony ripping through his chest, hot and bloody around his heart. He looks down and feels the urge to vomit rise in the back of his throat even as he struggles to choke it back, feels the world tilt dizzy and cold around him, because there’s someone’s hand in his chest, bloody and grasping. He scrambles to get away, but his limbs are limp and useless and refuse to budge; he can’t even turn his head. His vision is swimming, blurring, but he looks up, up into Obadiah’s face and wants to scream, wants to—he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know, and that makes him crazy because he should know, he should have seen this coming, planned for it, or something, or—why, why would he do this, Tony’d thought he—and he wants to fight at least, damn it, not just lie here, not just—and he can’t—

But no, no, this already happened (and not like this) and it was bad enough the first time, it can’t be happening again, Obadiah is dead, that’s not how this works, how the world works, how anything works, not to mention this just flat isn’t fair, and he won’t die like this (he doesn’t want to die like this), he didn’t before and he won’t, he won’t die now—

But. But he’s still helpless. The math hasn’t changed, and he still can’t move, his numbers running down to nothing while he just lies there. This time Obie didn’t even both with tools, no handy device for transportation, just reached into Tony’s chest with his bare hand and closed it around the arc reactor, the port he’s installed to keep it there, safe in his chest, and then he just pulls, rips the whole thing out entirely and Tony wants to scream, can feel it in the back of his throat, tight behind his teeth, pressing down on his tongue, but his lips won’t even move and the scream just stays there locked up in his head, trapped in his mouth. It’s not like Obadiah, really, plunging a hand into someone’s chest, no, call it like it is, Tony’s chest—not like he ever knew Obie the way he thought he did, really, though, but Obie was never one to get his hands dirty, not until the end, and why is Tony thinking about that when his heart is literally being torn out, or as good as, because his heart is still there but it’s defective and broken and torn and it won’t do him any good, it never has, even before it got punched full of metal.

There is a wave of wrenching agony and he can feel his heart stuttering and slowing (too slow, down to seventy beats per minute and slowing fast, he can’t help counting), there is blood in the back of his throat and gushing down his chest hot and sticky and wet, and he looks down at himself and can’t even move to grab for the bleeding hole in his chest, his fingers don’t even twitch as he strains and struggles with everything in him to lift them; it just stares up at him, dark and dripping with blood, and he thinks vaguely that surely it wouldn’t look like that, he should be seeing his internal organs, his ribs, not just a black hole that goes on forever. He looks back up at Obadiah, and Obie just pats him on the shoulder and says, “Sorry, Tony, but that’s just how these things go, fair is fair. After all, you killed me, you know,” and Tony still wants to scream and he wants to punch him in his fucking face with its fucking familiar paternal smile and he wants to fight and he kind of humiliatingly wants to cry but he can’t do anything and his heart is stopping and fluttering, he can feel it seizing, he can feel himself dying which is just way too familiar by now and it’s getting really damn old and he watches the light of the arc reactor disappear in Obadiah’s hand as his vision swims and flickers and darkens and he tries to move and he can’t, he can’t, he’s light-headed and breathless but breathing too quickly and there’s nothing but static in his head and this is it, isn’t it, and how fucking stupid is that and he’s wet and shivering with his own blood and this is how he’s going to die—

“Tony. Tony!”

Familiar voice. Darkness, broken only by blue light. Blue light. Arc reactor. Working. One arm jerks upward, flailing in the air, and he can move, he can move, he can—impact with something at seventy-five degrees, hard and solid, ow, and then he’s immobilized again and he struggles, no, no, not again, not like—but his other hand can still move, his fingers are twitching, curling in on themselves, he’s not paralyzed, not helpless, so it’s all right, it’s not—it’s all right. His free hand scrabbles over his own chest—damp with sweat, cold and shivering, but not blood. Damp fabric, metal, smooth casing. He’s alive. Not bleeding out. Not dying. His heart is beating, slamming against his chest, too fast, over 100 beats per minute, but stable, God, Tony, breathe—he winces, Obadiah had said that, breathe, he’d told him to—

“Tony, you’re all right. Everyone’s all right. I’m—I’m all right. I’m here. It was a dream. That’s all, just a dream.”

Steve. Warm hand on his shoulder, reassuringly solid presence beside him in bed. Steve’s other hand is around his wrist, oh, so that was him; Steve’s thumb is resting against his pulse, rubbing in small, soothing circles. But he can’t—

He wants to think this is real. That he’s here, and safe, in bed with Steve. But he can’t. He’s still feeling that square wide-knuckled hand (the hand of one of the only people he really honestly deep down trusted) in his chest, closing around everything that keeps him ticking, wires and metal and constant chemical reaction to keep the shrapnel from shifting in his heart, and yanking it out of him, leaving him there to bleed and die. He feels it lifting out of him, being torn away, and he can’t stop it, can’t even struggle, he’s underwater and drowning—

He grabs Steve’s hand, big and warm and rough and steady, before he even knows what he’s doing, panicked and desperate, and holds it against his chest, presses it right up against the arc reactor, hard, so that Steve’s palm is flat and hard against the rim and he can feel it against his skin through his t-shirt, feel that no one’s going to take it out of him and it won’t slip or just—just stop working, it’s right there and Steve is holding it there, with all of his strength and solidity and steadiness, and he’s safe, because no matter what else, you can always count on Steve for that much, and he needs it, needs to feel that pressure there, needs to feel Steve’s warm skin under his hand, needs—

“Tony?” Steve says again, and then he just goes quiet and flattens his palm against the reactor, rubbing his thumb along the edge of it, against Tony’s skin, warm through his shirt, and that makes his breath bunch up thick and prickling in his throat, burn against the back of it, and he’s still trembling and panting because someone’s touching it, and—but it’s Steve and he doesn’t want him to let go—

And fuck, this is pathetic, lying here in bed and clinging to Steve’s hand all frantic and needy; he’s still bleeding out all over the place and it’s just a different kind of blood. Stupid, at the mercy of goddamn brain chemistry; he’s a genius and he can’t even get his own brain to stop playing and replaying his stupid failures and stupider emotions. Abruptly he’s angry, and shaking even harder, drowning in his own wretchedness instead of in memories, the fucked-up formulas in his head, and he shoves Steve’s hand away and pushes himself up—wavers and almost falls, Christ, and then his chest is aching with remembered panic. Without Steve’s hand on him he feels like the reactor is gone again, even though he can see its cool, steadily reassuring glow, dim through the sweat-damp cotton of his t-shirt, and he presses his own hand against it, holding himself together, like the bunch of make-work patches and jury-rigged wires that he is, that’s all he is. He hunches his shoulders, gasping for breath and tying to ease the pressure in his chest, behind his breastbone and his ribs. “JARVIS,” he says, and crap, is that his voice, all breathy and breaking, scratchy and thick, Steve is going to freak. He clears his throat, or tries to. “Time?”

“2:45 a.m., sir,” JARVIS said, electronic voice careful and patient as ever, but then, this is old hat by now for both of them, Tony waking gasping and shaking and disoriented. It isn’t Steve’s first go-round with this, either. Though it’s more often Steve waking with a start and thick, shuddering breaths in the night; at least, it has been so far. Lately. Well, now Steve gets to see him freaking out for once, what a thrill.

Jesus, he hates this.

“Location,” Tony breathes through the raw ache in his throat, and JARVIS tells him that he’s in Stark Tower, in New York, in the United States, that Pepper is safe in her own room a floor down, goes through the date and the weather. Tony closes his eyes and tries to believe it.

“I’m here, Tony,” Steve says a second after JARVIS stops talking. Tony feels like he should need space, should need to get up, to move, to walk it off, that’s what he’s done every time so far, heading down to the workshop when he still can’t sleep, when the nightmares stay, bright and vivid and inescapable in his head, replaying the same endless solutions before his eyes, but now all he wants to do is lean back against Steve’s warmth and breathe in the reality of his presence, the smell of him, old-fashioned aftershave and soap and leather and a little sweat and masculine musk.

He gets up anyway, and he’s still shaking, Christ, that’s annoying. He can still feel the tearing wrench of the arc reactor leaving his chest. He rubs it, absently trying to dispel the ache, the phantom pain of it, but it doesn’t ease. He feels cold.

It would be so easy to pour himself a shot of scotch, and then another, drink until the images fade and the ache eases and he can sleep again. Too easy. And there’s Steve, just like there was Pepper, before, and he doesn’t want that, to drink himself unconscious when Steve’s right there beside him to smell the alcohol on his breath, to see how much he needs it. But still, it’s tempting, the numbness, the freedom from the nightmare images, the false reality lurking under his hands, knotted up around the arc reactor and trembling through his chest, freedom from the worst part, the knowledge that enough of it, the important parts, are true, were real. Tempting enough to make his hands shake. He sets his jaw, grits his teeth, and pushes the thought out of his mind.

“Tony,” Steve says again, and crap, he should have said something, before, shouldn’t he, damn it, where’s his head, what’s wrong with him, Steve is probably worrying, because he’s like that, he worries, quiet and stoic and—well, he just does.

“Hey,” Tony says, but it’s little more than a breath. He forces himself to straighten, drops his hand. “Hey,” he says again. “Enjoying the show? Because, I mean, I aim to entertain.”

Steve gives him a reproachful look, but doesn’t say anything back for a . . . while. He’s sitting up, one arm braced on his knees, leaning forward, big and blond and perfect framed by Tony’s vast expanse of bed, taking up more than his fair share, and Tony wants to stare at him there forever, wants him to be there forever, taking up more than his fair share of Tony’s bed (but Tony’s not quite stupid or self-destructive enough to believe in that, or think about forevers). After a moment Steve just asks, low and quiet, “Nightmares?”

Tony can’t lie to Steve, or at least not all that well; it sucks. He blows out his breath, looks down. “Yeah,” he finds himself muttering. “Sorta.”

There’s another moment of silence, and Tony starts wondering, wretchedly, what Steve’s thinking, does he realize how much Tony needed that drink he didn’t take, what is he thinking, why’s he being so quiet—Steve surprises him when he shifts, moves to his knees on the edge of the bed and reaches out for Tony, to rest one hand on his arm, drawing him back, and it’s ridiculous how graceful he makes that look even though he’s balancing on his knees and Tony knows if he tried that he’d be shuffling and clumsy. Steve’s hand is startlingly warm against the gooseflesh prickling Tony’s forearms, and he realizes abruptly that he’s shivering.

“Hey,” Steve says. “You don’t, uh, need to be a stranger. I can give you some space if that’s what you want, but . . . .” He bites his lip, looks down, but he doesn’t move his hand. His thumb is rough against the inside of Tony’s arm, callused, and he traces the vein down it, just for a second.

Tony doesn’t know what to say, if he should accept the comfort that Steve is offering or ask for that space, but the prospect of the lonely darkness and cold of his workshop in the middle of the night, touching his arc reactor every ten seconds (by the clock, he’s counted) to be certain it’s still there, is manifestly unappealing, and he’s been down that road before (so many times before, he knows how those equations will turn out without having to run them again). Steve is there, right there, and he’s just—he’s so bad at this. It’s still stupid, a genius who can’t even stop himself from freaking out because the neurons in his brain feel like dredging up the past, doesn’t even serve a purpose, it’s just dumb, but then, he’s no biologist, he’s an engineer, and he’s not a machine he can fix—at least, he isn’t yet. The thought makes him shiver, a little more, and he isn’t entirely certain why. Maybe because nice as it would be if he could fix all the times he screws up or isn’t good enough like he can fix the suit, his armor, he doesn’t want Steve to see him like that, like a machine, like a robot, the fucking bionic man. He just . . . he doesn’t.

Steve glances back up at him, looks at him for a few seconds, eyes wide and dark in the darkness of the night and hard to read, the dark pooling in normally light irises making his skin and light eyebrows look pale and eerie, and then he says, “Come back to bed,” and tugs at him a little. Tony goes, lets Steve pull him back after him. He crawls clumsily onto the bed and wants to sway into Steve, bury his face against him, in his shoulder, but instead he slides back against the pillows and sighs and stares at the ceiling. He tries to breathe deeply, to stop the nerves jumping and firing under his skin, shivering and tight with adrenaline.

But that’s only for a second, before Steve rolls over on top of him, and he’s practically a ton, gotta be, of warmth and muscle and reality, and he says, reproachfully, “You’re shivering,” rubs one palm over the bare skin on Tony’s arm as if to warm him up, as if the warm solid weight of his body over almost every millimeter of Tony’s isn’t doing that just fine, and then ducks his head, so his breath is feathering damp and soft over Tony’s lips and jaw. And then Steve kisses him. It’s simple, undemanding, just Steve’s lips against his, his breath hot against Tony’s when he opens his mouth and breathes into it. Steve doesn’t push, but he does tilt his head firmly into the kiss, doesn’t pursue Tony’s unsteady breaths, but his lips are warm and steady, smooth and solid against Tony’s. He tastes like toothpaste and sleep, and he’s so warm, so warm Tony’s breath stops in his throat entirely for a second and the shivering starts to bleed away. Tony can’t help his gasp, lets his eyes slide closed. He opens his mouth further for Steve, swipes his tongue over Steve’s bottom lip, lifting his hands to slide them up over Steve’s shoulders and curl them around his neck, rolling his hips up against Steve’s, the blatantly sensuous movement only half on purpose, half simply unconscious encouragement. Steve follows his lead for a second, eager heat against his mouth and the roll and twitch of his own hips down against Tony, pinning him flat against the mattress beneath the weight of him, all warm muscle, but then he stops. He catches Tony’s hip with one hand and holds him, gentle but unwavering, against the bed, even as Tony arches up, tries to wriggle out from under it. “Stop that,” Steve says against his lips, and kisses him again, softer this time, lips brushing over his, open and whisper-gentle.

Tony only half-hears himself moan, choked and breathless; there’s a heated flush washing up over his cheeks, into his head, and Steve just kisses him again, breathy swipes of his mouth—and tongue, Jesus—slow over Tony’s, soft and unhurried, dragging over his lips. He’s making his head swim. Tony barely notices Steve’s hand slip under his t-shirt at fist, but then it’s startlingly warm against his skin, like hot-forged iron. Steve slides it up along Tony’s ribs, ignoring how he starts, jerks under his fingers and then starts to tremble again, to rest his hand heavy and firm against the arc reactor. Steve holds it there, pushing just hard enough that Tony can feel it, that he can’t flinch away, twist out from under it. Tony catches his breath, it stops up with a jolt in the back of his throat, and Steve slowly, inexorably, kisses it out of his mouth to catch it in his own as Tony sighs and, eventually, lets go and just breathes against his lips, his breath. Tony feels dizzy with heat; Steve hardly ever uses his strength on him in bed, and now he’s pushing down on Tony’s chest, not as hard as he can, but Tony can feel it in his ribs and chest all the same, the force of it, heat and steadiness and a little bit grinding ache. It’s weird; he should feel claustrophobic, confined, panicky with it, but he doesn’t. More like the opposite.

“I’ve got you,” Steve says, pulling away from Tony’s lips, from the kiss, but not pulling back.

“Yeah?” Tony whispers, tries to make it, his voice, the question, the whole thing, light when it really isn’t and isn’t sure how well he does. “You got my back, Cap?”

“Always,” Steve tells him, “and it’s Steve, you know that,” and it, all of it, sounds like a promise, like there’s never any doubt and there never has been. Steve’s rubbing his thumb along the edge of the arc reactor again, like he doesn’t care how badly scarred the skin is there, and that’s a whole thought and rush of emotions Tony can’t process right now so he locks them away in the back of his mind, but his throat still hurts a little, his chest tight and heavy, all twisted up around itself, and then Steve pushes his shirt up over his chest. The glow of the arc reactor spills over both of them all the brighter, throwing Steve’s face and hand into high relief, the geometry of shadows and ghost-white skin in the blue light, Steve’s eyelashes casting parabolas against his cheeks. Tony can’t help it; he flinches at the feeling of air against his chest. “Shh,” Steve says, “easy,” voice all rough and low, and normally Tony would bristle at being talked to like that, like a hysterical civilian, but then Steve ducks his head and curls his hand to one side, moving his fingers out of the way so he can press his lips in a firm kiss to the center of the arc reactor, and Tony has to tip his head back fast and stare at the ceiling if he’s not going to just lose it, his breath coming hard and thick in his throat.

“Christ, Steve,” he manages, and his voice sounds all hoarse and husky and broken, even to his own ears. His hands twist, fumble limply at his sides, before one of them manages to come up and find its way to Steve’s hair, sinking into it and probably messing it up horribly. He just has to touch him right then. More than—more than they’re touching already, that is, has to hold him tight, close, feel the warmth of his skin under his fingers, the soft fluff of his hair against his palm, the angles and curves of him.

“You all right?” Steve asks, concern in his voice. Always careful, and Tony almost has to laugh at that, half-hysterical. Steve rubs Tony’s bare side with one hand and Tony wonders if this is all it takes to get him to fall apart, because damn if he isn’t right there, teetering on the verge of a cascading systems (emotions) failure. “Was that okay?”

“Yeah,” Tony gets out, still all unsteady and thick. “Yeah, that’s—that’s okay. I . . . I.” What is he even trying to say? “Yeah, that’s—” more than “—okay.”

“Good,” Steve says, and kisses him there again, and Tony looks down, watches his lips move over the light, the glow of it, press down firm and then come away all soft and slow and parted like Steve’s just kissed Tony’s mouth, and Steve looks up at him, and Tony has to kiss him again, for real, he grabs him by the back of his neck and hauls him up to press a kiss into his mouth, desperate and hot. Steve groans, dips his head into it, kisses him back, and his hand comes down, curls around Tony’s side as they roll over, his thumb dipping into the hollow beside Tony’s hip-bone and stroking there against sensitive skin that makes Tony shiver and pant against Steve’s kiss-bruised lips before Steve brings his hand up, skimming over the skin of Tony’s chest again, to press against the arc reactor, holding it there, holding him there.

Steve eventually pulls away from the kiss again, pushing Tony back down against the bed when he makes an aggrieved noise and tries to lean up and fit their lips back together, and Tony bats at the hand Steve’s got curved at his hip, fingers pressing into his side, curved into the skin at his back, but not the one on his chest. Even though that might be more effectual in allowing him to regain some movement, he doesn’t want Steve to move that hand at all. Maybe ever. “You tease,” he huffs. “You just going to leave me hanging, here?”

“I’m not the one teasing; I told you to stop that,” Steve says, on a half-smile. His cheeks are a little dark with flush when he adds, “It’s the middle of the night.” He doesn’t let go, though. Holding Tony steady.

Of course. That’s Steve for you.

Tony still feels hot all through, breathless, numbers colliding in his head, tangling together, the degree of warmth of Steve’s skin, the angles of his shoulders and the curve of his smile, the amount of force behind his palm and the geometries in the warm brush of his fingers.

“So?” Tony demands. The middle of the night is a great time to have sex. Possibly one of the best.

“So go back to sleep,” Steve says, with that little half-smile that’s not quite a smirk but really almost could be, and he leans in and kisses him again, soft and easy. Their lips linger against each other, wet and yielding and warm, before he pulls away.

“Mmm,” Tony says, lets his eyes slide half-closed, curls his arms around Steve’s waist and twines their legs together, even trapped as he is against the bed, runs his hands up over Steve’s beautifully muscled back to his shoulders. “You’re not making the most compelling argument for that, you know.” He lets his mouth slide into a smirk, his eyes get heavy-lidded and come-hither, and feels Steve swallow.

“You said you’ve got an eight o’clock meeting tomorrow,” Steve says, Boy Scout that he is, but he’s starting to flush down his neck, Tony thinks, which always means he’s getting interested, though the dim light makes it hard to be sure. He presses one hand against the smooth skin of Steve’s neck. Definitely warm. Ha.

“And then my boyfriend turned into Pepper,” Tony says, “Christ, it’s like a time machine—”

“Sleep is good for you,” Steve tells him, blessedly cutting him off before he says anything else awful, even as Tony’s wincing at himself for that comment.

“So is sex,” Tony replies, despite his own wince, and nudges Steve in the side with one elbow, adding his most ridiculously salacious grin. “Exercise, and all that good stuff. Cardio. Aerobics.”

“Shut up, Tony,” Steve says implacably, and kisses him again. When they pull away, whatever breath Tony had left before has vanished entirely.

“I hate you,” he pants.

“Mmm,” Steve says, and kisses his forehead, slow and sleepy-soft. “Sure you do. Go back to sleep.”

“You know I was just kidding, right?” Tony says, because Steve’s hand is still steady on his chest, resting warm and reassuring on the arc reactor, and he doesn’t want Steve to think . . . “I don’t hate you, you know that, I mean, of course you do, but—”

“You’re babbling,” Steve says, though his voice is affectionate, Tony thinks, it’s all warm and fond, anyway, “you need to sleep. Actually, I wouldn’t mind doing some of that myself.”

“Oh, yeah,” Tony says, “you get up at like, some god-awful hour of the morning, like five-thirty, God—”

“I don’t need a lot of sleep,” Steve says, “but I do need some.” His voice is miraculously lacking in reproach, considering that he’s basically telling Tony that he’s keeping him awake.

“What, you can’t stay up all night?” Tony says lightly. “I’d’ve never guessed. Some super-human you are. Can you get your money back on that super-soldier serum, or what?”

“Tony,” Steve huffs out a laugh, ducking his head as if that’s going to hide the way his mouth’s twitching.

“So sleeping,” Tony says, “right.” He slides a hand up to rest on the back of Steve’s neck, stroking his fingers through his hair again, the other resting on his shoulder. Steve’s hand, palm warm and firm, brushes over Tony’s back, three hundred sixty degrees over his spine, over his sweat-damp t-shirt that is only now starting to dry, and a shudder trembles its way through his whole body in response. “Look, c’mere and give me a good night kiss, all right? Then I’ll sleep, I swear.”

“Another one?” Steve asks, lips curving into another little smile, but then he sobers and says, “You’ll get back to sleep all right, you think?”

“Guess we’ll find out,” Tony says on a shrug that’s not nearly as unconcerned as he’d like it to be, not even close. “But you’ll, uh, you’ll be here when, or if, or whatever, I wake up, yeah?” And he so doesn’t want to have bitten his lip right then, he really doesn’t. Same with the nervous way his fingers scrunch up against Steve’s neck, fumble against his shirt, twisting it up between them. He swallows and finishes anyway, “So it’ll be . . . all right.” Like Steve said. Only not, of course, exactly, because the nightmares won’t be gone, but that’s not the point, anyway, they’ll never be gone, probably, but Steve, having him here, it’s . . . it’s helping. It’s good.

And Steve’s face softens, of fucking course, because he’s like that, all sentimental and sweet, even if he is stoic as hell, and the fact that he knows, that Tony knows he knows, because Steve has to, is dealing with this, too, and Tony knows that it bothers him, bothers the hell out of him, when he wakes up sweaty and shaking and disoriented, breathing too hard and too fast, not sure where he is or what year it is or what just happened, if he’s still frozen in ice or fighting in Germany or . . . whatever. So both of them know how this goes, and they know that the nightmares will be back, that nothing either of them can do can really help, that it won’t be all right, not really, or at least it won’t just go away. And somehow that makes it work, that helps more than anything else, it does make it all right, makes that softness in Steve’s face feel real enough to tug and pull and tangle something up inside Tony in answer to it, something aching and vulnerable and just as soft, lurking in some place inside his chest that feels bruised when it gets pulled on like that. But bruised in a, you know, a good way. “Yeah,” Steve says, and that knowledge is all through his voice. “It’ll be all right.” And Steve kisses him, again, just like Tony asked him to, brushes their lips together without much force but with plenty of warmth, shifting his weight on top of Tony in a way that's both deeply reassuring and incredibly distracting to various parts of his anatomy. His hand comes up to curve around the back of Tony’s head, brush down just beneath his ear and settle there with his thumb. Tony sighs and closes his eyes and breathes in that kiss, following Steve’s lips with his own for a long moment before Steve pulls away, breathes for a moment so that Tony can feel it, and swallows, then kisses his forehead again and murmurs, “Good night, Tony.”

“Good night, honey,” Tony breathes, teasing just a little, but he means it, too, he does, which is still weird, as Steve settles down, curves himself around Tony so that his head rests on the pillow just above Tony’s shoulder, not moving his hand off the arc reactor. Steve chuckles in response, his breath warm and damp at Tony’s ear, but doesn’t respond except to snuggle closer—he wouldn’t call it snuggling, he’d blush and try to pass it off as something else, but that’s totally what it is, Steve is a total snuggler—and eventually Tony shifts around so that he can curl around Steve a little, too, though he’s mostly flat underneath him, one leg between both of Steve’s. He closes his eyes, burying his face in the scent of Steve’s hair.

Steve’s out like a light in moments, like Tony’s come to expect when he isn’t jittery and tense with fighting insomnia. Steve’s breathing is easy and slow, and Tony brings a hand up to stroke his hair, feels Steve’s soft grunt and huff of air against his neck as he shudders under the touch, pushes his head back into it as he cuddles closer, pressing his face into the curve of Tony’s neck—but then Tony feels his own mind slowing down, numbers leveling out, his muscles going heavy and relaxed, and that he didn’t expect, not this fast. Steve’s hand is still resting on the arc reactor, limp and heavy with sleep, but still there, pressing in over his chest, holding him together.

It feels good.

And Tony’s not dying anymore, his heart is beating evenly, he’s safe, and Steve’s safe. Everyone’s safe, the room is quiet and not quite dark. Tony yawns, strokes Steve’s back. Equations, very different ones, safe ones, easy math, drift across his mind and he follows them back into sleep, calculating the rate of Steve’s breathing, his heartbeat and the warmth of his skin.