Tony blinked awake slowly, staring into the darkness as he tried to locate whatever it was that had woken him. It was still pitch black outside but for the lights shining from the city below and the silence in the room was heavy in comparison to the streets.
This high above the skyline, the lights reflected faintly off the delicate pattern of frost clinging to the window, not enough to glare through the window, but just enough to see by. It was part of the reason he’d chosen this room—of all the floors, this room had the best view. The first time Steve had come up here, probably to pester Tony some time early on in their relationship, when they were both doing a lot more shouting than talking, he’d paused at the window to look out, as though he’d never seen anything quite like it. Tony guessed it looked much different than it did in the forties…much different than during a full-scale alien invasion, too. The awed expression he’d seen on Steve's face had stuck with him for weeks, had made his stomach twist with some emotion too difficult to pin down at the time.
Tony shifted up on his elbow, and a light tug on his arm finally showed him what had woken him—Steve had curled his fingers around Tony’s wrist in his sleep, holding fast but showing no sign that he was awake.
He could already feel the heat trapped beneath the blankets seeping out into the room; the tower was always chilly in the winter, and the cool air made him shiver and shift slightly closer to Steve.
Steve made a small noise, and Tony almost apologized for waking him before his gaze drifted to his face. Steve’s brow was knit together, his mouth pressed into a firm line, knuckles white where he was gripping the edge of the duvet.
“Steve,” Tony said gently. A muscle ticked on his forehead and he moaned quietly in his sleep, his grip tightening on Tony’s wrist. He could almost feel the bones creak, his grip was so tight. “Steve, wake up,” Tony tried again, louder this time but still as soothingly as possible. Steve didn’t respond. Tony hesitated, flexing his fingers
Tony knew better than to carelessly wake someone from a nightmare, but his wrist was starting to ache and his hand was tingling from the loss of circulation. He carefully worked his fingers underneath Steve’s, trying to tug himself free. Steve’s hold relaxed marginally, and for a moment it seemed like he was going to let go of him. Tony tried to twist himself out of the slightly looser grip.
Steve’s eyes snapped open, the gaze that settled on Tony was fearful but distant, and he knew immediately that he wasn’t truly awake. Before he could react Steve snarled, gripped his arm fiercely and rolled. He flipped Tony like a rag doll over the edge of the bed, planting him face first onto the floor. Steve landed on top of him with a knee in his back, Tony’s arm wrenched painfully behind him.
Tony managed a sharp yelp before the wind was knocked out of him in a whoosh of air, and he gasped as he hit the floor hard, teeth clacking together loudly. He froze, blinking away the white-hot pain in his shoulder. Steve’s knee dug into his back, effectively pinning him down. For a moment Tony didn’t move, wary of the way Steve’s breath came quickly, as though prepared for a fight. He didn’t want Steve to think he was fighting him; that would only make things worse.
“Steve,” he gasped, alarmed by the unsteadiness of his own voice, because he could see this going bad in more ways than one. In Steve’s mind, he was still on the battlefield, the same way Tony had woken up to cave walls pressing in on him so many times before.
Steve often dreamed about the past, usually about the war, sometimes about Bucky, and though he didn’t ever say anything, Tony could tell that the nightmares got worse when it was cold. Usually, Tony would wake to Steve jerking upright, an order still on his lips or hand raised as he fought an unseen enemy. It took him a moment to come back to himself, and Tony understood and kept his distance. He’d never actually woken Steve before, though—just comforted him after the fact.
He knew better.
Tony twisted a little in Steve’s grip. He wasn’t exactly giving him much leverage to work with, and Steve was holding him down with bruising force. Tony couldn’t wrestle his way out of this. Even if he weren’t up against a super soldier, his hand-to-hand skills were limited to the boxing moves he’d learned from Happy and his sparring with Steve.
He had a significant gap in his knowledge whenever Steve tried to teach him how to escape from a hold from the ground. Once Steve had him pinned to the mat in a relatively horizontal fashion they tended to get a bit sidetracked, which resulted in a rather unamused response from anyone else wanting to use the gym, as well as Tony’s complete inability to get himself loose.
“…Steve, baby, wake up. Let go,” Tony pleaded. “It’s just me. You’re in, ah, in the tower. It’s Tony. You’re fine, everything’s fine…” he said, his voice as low and soothing as he could manage. Tony craned his neck, trying to look at Steve, and the carpet scraped roughly against his cheek. “Please let go,” he said, but he didn’t seem to be getting through to him. He didn’t want to do this. Steve was going to feel awful for this.
Tony let out a breath through his nose then, firmly, “Steven, you are hurting me, and you need to let me go.”
A pause, and Tony could feel Steve tense as he processed what he’d said, and then his grip suddenly went slack.
“…Oh, god.” The weight disappeared off his back in an instant. His tortured arm dropping back to his side, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Tony pushed himself up gingerly off the floor, offering Steve a reassuring smile.
Steve’s face was so white he looked fluorescent in the moonlight, his hands were trembling. He made an aborted attempt to touch Tony’s shoulder before he paused, his hand hovering mid-air as though he didn't trust himself, unsure whether the touch was welcome. Tony saw the insecurity flit across his face, making his stomach twist uncomfortably. Of course Steve was going to blame himself for this. He reached out and caught Steve’s hand before he could withdraw it, twining their fingers and guiding the touch the rest of the way. Steve took it as invitation to check him over completely, starting with his shoulder. He pushed the collar of his shirt aside, frowning, running a thumb over whatever bruises he saw.
“I’m. Tony, I—” Steve looked like he was going to be sick, and Tony cut him off firmly before he could go on.
“Hey,” Tony said, ducking his head so he could look Steve in the eye, “it’s fine. I’m fine, okay?” He cupped a hand to Steve’s cheek, and his skin was clammy beneath Tony’s palm. Steve leaned minutely into the touch. Steve closed his eyes to collect himself, a small shudder escaping him.
“Are you okay?” Tony asked. Steve flinched.
“Me? You’re asking me?” Steve laughed, sounding a little hysterical even to his own ears. Tony didn’t move, waiting expectantly for Steve to answer. He knew an evasion tactic when he heard one. He was the king of evasion tactics. After a moment Steve opened his eyes again, and when Tony didn’t move his hand away, Steve covered it with his own.
“I hurt you,” Steve said instead, pressing on even as Tony shook his head. “It was—in my dream… It was...” Steve trailed off, mouth pressed into a firm line, lapsing into a likeness of Captain America Stubbornness that looked entirely out of place with how shaken he looked “…I don’t want to talk about it yet,” he decided, his voice subdued but firm, but the look in his eyes was still far away. Tony didn’t push; he merely nodded, rubbing a small circle on Steve’s cheek with his thumb. “I almost separated your shoulder.”
“You didn’t,” Tony responded, unconsciously rolling it to check even as he answered. It twinged a little, but he was sure Steve hadn’t done any real harm. He'd be sore for a few days if anything. Steve didn’t seem convinced. “It could be worse,” Tony offered.
“I know," Steve said fiercely, angry with himself. "I could have seriously hurt you—”
“You didn’t,” Tony insisted a little more firmly, cupping Steve’s jaw with his hands, “and you would never. Not on purpose.”
“That doesn’t make it okay, Tony,” Steve snapped, too sharp. Surprised by the volume of his own voice, he shut his mouth with an audible click. He turned his head away, and Tony could see Steve warring with himself internally, a fixed scowl on his face. Abruptly, he pushed himself up, shaking his head.
Tony caught him by the wrist with gentle fingers. Steve stopped.
“Tony,” Steve protested, but he didn’t pull away.
“Steve,” Tony said firmly, grip light around his wrist. “You don’t have to go. Not for this.” He tugged on his wrist gently, not enough to move him, just enough to offer. “Come back to bed.”
He pulled him back one more time, lightly, and this time Steve followed, settling down between Tony’s knees on the bed and snaking his arms around his midsection. Tony hugged him back, pulled him down onto the sheets with one hand around his middle and the other carding through the soft hairs at his nape. Steve buried his face in the crook of Tony’s neck, tucking his head beneath Tony’s chin as though he belonged there. He rubbed a thumb gently over Tony's shoulder.
“Sorry,” Steve mumbled again, muffled against Tony’s skin. He shook his head, almost unnoticeable.
“Don’t be,” Tony traced a line up his back, felt Steve shiver under the touch. He grabbed the blanket from where it lay forgotten and pulled it up over them.
They lay like that, legs twined together for some time, Tony counting each breath ghosted across his skin as they slowly began to even out. He could already feel sleep tugging at him again when Steve spoke.
“Tony?” Steve murmured, and Tony shifted a little, hummed in acknowledgement. There was a pause where Tony wondered if he had heard him, before he spoke again, “Thank you.”
Tony just held on tighter.