Tony whistled to himself absentmindedly as he passed through the lounge, towel drying his hands that had previously been covered in a layer of motor grease, and paused, the sound trailing off slowly, when he caught sight of Steve in the corner of his eyes. The large blond was sitting on the edge of the sofa, elbows resting on his knees, and staring forward at the blank screen of the wide screen television. Tony surveyed the screen for a moment, before he took a hesitant step into the room.
The man in question jerked at the unexpected noise, turning his head around to stare at the billionaire guiltily. “Tony…hi…”
“Um, what are you doing sitting here in the dark?” Tony asked slowly, a hint of worry seeping into his voice.
“Oh, um, I…I couldn’t turn the television on,” he blurted out, his cheeks flushing pink in embarrassment.
“Don’t worry, it’s a little tricky.” Tony assured him, moving around the sofa so he could drop into the seat beside him. Taking the offered control, he switched it on. “See, you have to press the ‘on’ button until the television makes that weird clicking noise that I never really understood, and then you have to click this button here – you see – to turn the TiVo box on.”
Colours broke across the screen and Tony grinned widely. “See, now you can watch your shows.” He handed back the remote.
“Yeah…thank you…” Steve returned the smile weakly, “And, um, how do you change the channels exactly?”
“Haven’t I shown you this before?” he teased.
His smile dropped into an expression of panic when Steve looked at him so sadly, like someone had kicked his puppy. Tony’s hands reached out worriedly, hovering over the broad shoulders and tanned limbs, but not quite touching.
“Oh, god, fuck, I didn’t…why are you, oh shit…don’t…don’t look at me like that…”
Steve shook his head, averting his gaze to his lap. “Sorry, it’s just…um; it’s been a really bad week.”
“…What happened?” Tony found himself asking, his voice low and soothing, as if he were trying to encourage a wild animal to come closer.
“It’s just…” he shook his head again, as if he had momentarily changed his mind before he continued, “…I just don’t…belong here.”
“You mean at the Tower? Because, you know, I thought you liked it here – the team all together. Sure it’s a bit…crazy at times, but isn’t every place? Is there something I can do to make you feel more comfortable? I did try, you know, to design your floor how you would like it – but if you want something changed; I can get it sorted out for you. I want you to feel happy here. Of course, if you want to move out, and I don’t know, have your own space or something, I would completely understand. I’m sure JARVIS could find some suitable apartments for you to buy o-or rent –“
“Tony, I don’t want to move out,” Steve interrupted, with a small amused smile that seemed out of place on his saddened face; “In fact, Stark Tower is probably the only place I feel completely comfortable…”
“Then what did you mean?”
Steve sighed. “I’m out of my time here Tony. I don’t belong here, in the 21st century. I just…don’t fit...”
“Of course you fit, Steve,” Tony tried to assure.
“But I don’t,” he insisted. The look on his face was determined, so stubborn, that it was heartbreaking. Did he really believe that? Tony wondered. “Everything’s different – the people, the cities, even the language!”
Shame surged in the pit of his stomach when he remembered the jokes he and Clint had made about the use of word “dang” over breakfast this morning. He didn’t realise…they were just jokes, good natured teasing. Neither of them meant anything bad about it. He made a mental note to cut back on the mocking, friendly or otherwise.
“And, and then there’s the technology!” Steve continued, his voice increasing in volume and speed the more he got into the argument. “I can’t even work out how to turn the stupid television on! And that coffee maker you had installed – I tried making coffee out of it and it just made this, this high pitched noise and started shaking. I had to pull the plug from the socket because I couldn’t get it to stop. It’s pathetic Tony, I just…” he trailed off into an annoyed groan, his head falling into his hands.
“Hey, the technology thing isn’t just you,” Tony reached out and placed his hand on Steve’s bare shoulder, forcing himself to ignore the bunching of muscles he could feel under the palm of his hand. There was just something horribly wrong with groping at a man who’s clearly on the verge of an emotional breakdown. “There are lots of people, even those born in the last twenty years, who can’t cope with technology. You’re not the only one.”
“It feels like it Tony, especially in this place,” Steve admitted quietly, “Sometimes I just feel so alone here, and I know I shouldn’t because I’m not, but I can’t help it. Sometimes JARVIS…”
“JARVIS? What about JARVIS?”
He looked discomfited. “When I can’t sleep, JARVIS…he sometimes, talks to me, shows me all the things I’ve missed – makes me realise how much I have to catch up on…but it takes my mind of things.”
“Things like…nightmares?” Tony questioned uncertainly.
He’d twisted on his seat so he was facing the larger man, knees knocking against his thigh, and his fingers twitched. He wasn’t sure why he had gotten so close, why he wanted nothing more than to pull Steve closer and tell him just how much he was wanted, how much he did belong, but he resisted, settling for just the close proximity so if that could offer the comfort needed.
Tony wasn’t good with recognising emotions, or dealing with them – anyone could tell you that – but he was a genius. Of course he would be able to pick up on the signs of night terrors. Steve looked uncomfortable, and Tony wished he could tell him that he shouldn’t be ashamed of something he couldn’t stop; that he understood completely; that he was still suffering from the memories of his kidnapping; that he couldn’t imagine what the memories of war could be like. But he didn’t. Instead, he waited as patiently as he could for Steve to continue, biting harshly on his bottom lip to keep the words from escaping.
The silence seemed to stretch for hours, when in reality it was probably only a few minutes, before Steve finally sighed and his head fell forward to press unexpectedly to Tony’s. The billionaire blinked in surprise and felt kind of proud of himself for not jerking backwards at the pressure. He breathed in a shuddered breath, unable to not react to the closeness, and the hand on his shoulder tightened ever so slightly.
“…I dream about the people I lost, the people that meant the most to me – Bucky, Peggy, Howard…and then I dream about losing you, all of you,” he added quickly. Steve dropped his eyes to his lap, not noticing the slight disappointed look that crossed his friend’s face, and took in the contrast between Tony’s bronzed skin and the paleness of his grey sweatpants that looked maddeningly familiar. “But mostly, what really keeps me awake… is the thought that I’ll wake up, all alone, and I’d have missed everything, lost everyone, all over again.” The vulnerability had seeped into his voice.
“You won’t lose us, any of us,” Tony whispered softly, “And…and you won’t be alone. Not if I have anything to say about it. I won’t let you miss anything, I promise you that.”
Steve couldn’t stop the small smile that crossed his face, fondness and gratitude swelling up within him. “Thank you, Tony, really, but I don’t think you can promise me that…”
“Ah, then obviously you don’t know me as well as you think,” Tony told him, his voice unwavering, “Because I’m as stubborn as fuck, and once I set my mind to something, I do it, damn the consequences.”
“That’s not always a good thing.”
“In this case, it is,” he stated, standing up suddenly, leaving Steve blinked surprised and a little disappointed – although maybe that was just wishful thinking – up at him. Eyes locked, Tony held out his hand. “Come on.”
“W-where are we going?” Steve blinked owlishly.
Tony gave him a crooked smile. “Making sure you never wake up alone anymore.”
For a moment, Steve couldn’t believe the words that were coming out his mouth and the implications behind them. He thought maybe it was a joke or just an attempt to make him feel better after he’d bared his soul so utterly – but the look on Tony’s face, the sincerity and honest tinged with doubt and hopefulness, told him the truth. His smile widened slightly, his eyes lighting up, and he accepted the hand.
Tony grinned widely and began to gently lead him from the room, raising his voice to tell JARVIS to switch the television off. Steve quickly thanked the AI before his eyes returned to following the shift of the billionaire’s very well rounded backside in those sweatpants.
He paused thoughtfully. “Tony, are those my pants?”
“…Maybe, why, is that a problem?”
“No, no, they look good on you.”
“Trust me, they look even better off.”