(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
- e.e. cummings
With a shaky, hesitant breath, Stephen extends his hands, resting them on Tony’s palms.
Tony took notice in how soft his lover’s hands were, despite their apparent scarring. He then remembered that Stephen rubs lotion over his hands every night before he lays down, when he believed that Tony is fast asleep. Tony knew he rubbed the lotion in as cautiously as possible, as if he’s terrified they’ll crumble under his own touch even though his accident was years ago. He wonders if deep down, Stephen knows that Tony knows this. He feathers a delicate thumb over Stephen’s middle finger, his stomach in knots at the way the other’s shoulders tense.
Stephen would always be Stephen, no matter what. He would always be confident, selfless and so, ridiculously brave. Tony admired the other for this, sometimes wishing he himself could match Stephen’s commitments and morals.
However, Stephen did have his downfalls. He consistently refused to show any semblance of pain or ache. Even if it were apparent in his expression, he wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t stand down. Didn’t he wear himself out? How could he hide his pain when his hands are always trembling? Behind cloth, behind gloves? How did he do it?
Furrowing his eyebrows, Tony takes Stephen’s left hand and pulls it closer, applying a soft pressure to the joints near the beginning of his thumb. Stephen lets out a gasp of both relief and panic in response. There was nothing more terrifying than presenting yourself to someone, exposing yourself while knowing that the most common part of your body is the one you hate the most.
Tony’s eyes darted from Stephen’s eyes to his fingertips. Earlier in the relationship he looked up the basics on how to give a good massage, expecting Stephen to ask him eventually, but he never expected him to be this stubborn about wanting help. Tony wished Stephen would open up to him a bit more when it came to his hands. It was a bit hypocritical of him to think this, as he would do the exact same if Stephen’s hands were his own: lock it all away and banish it to the back of his chest for he had lives to protect, worlds to save. They were two peas in a pod, he supposed. Stephen always helped him when he needed it, more or less persisting until he caved in. Stephen was stubborn in a way that made Tony unable to refuse his help. He was always the doctor, always doting, always putting himself first. Tony wanted to give some of that back, somehow.
Rain heavily poured outside, smacking against the window, making the world darker than it needed to be. Perhaps it fit into his and Stephen’s situation. Stephen bends his fingers ever so slightly over Tony’s palm, huffing in annoyance when his hands responded slower than average. His skin sears at the contact. Tony cupped a hand over Stephen’s as an act of comfort, trying to soothe the insecurity.
“That’s enough,” Stephen says firmly, pulling his hands away, pursing his lips in a flat line as he desperately tried not to react when pain pulsed all throughout.
“I barely even started.”
“I’ll be fine. I just need to leave my body for a bit.” Stephen huffed in response, sliding his hands underneath the blanket that rested atop his lap, shivering as the soft fabric touched his damaged skin.
“Look, I’m not going to let you go ghost for five hours just because you’re too embarrassed to let me help you.”
They both frowned and stared at each other in bitter silence, as if it would somehow do something about the tension that rose between them. It didn’t work, obviously. Stephen tore his eyes away from Tony’s, looking down to his lap.
“I don’t like how it makes me feel,” He idly toyed with his knuckles underneath the blanket as he spoke.
“Feel what? Relieved? Cared for-?” Tony’s tone began to raise. He paused immediately, mouth agape.
“Loved?” His tone quieted a tremendous amount. Stephen shook his head.
“Oh.” Tony replied, dumbfounded.
“You know I don’t like feeling like that either. I’m just doing this to help you feel better-“
“I know that!” Stephen snapped back harshly, catching his next words on the tip of his tongue before he could say them. His heart slammed against his ribcage as he remembered his outburst to Christine and the horrible, horrible things he said that day. He didn’t want to repeat that mistake again and he especially didn’t want to lose Tony, too.
“I know that,” He spoke gently. He stretched out his shaking fingers and glared at them, eyebrows furrowing in resentment.
“I’m grateful, Tony. I am- but it’s the fact I have to even be helped in the first place. It’s the very idea that I’m forty-fucking-years old and I can barely function today, or any other day, for that matter, because it’s raining. I’m a goddamn Master of the Mystic Arts and all the magic I have does nothing . Not even magic helps my hands, Tony. It distracts me, sure, but it doesn’t fucking help.”
Tony doesn’t comment on the tears staining Stephen’s cheeks, or the way his voice cracks every other word. He doubts that Stephen hasn’t told this to many people since his accident. Who would he have to tell, though?
Tony reaches over and wipes his tears with one hand, the other tenderly taking one of Stephen’s fragile hands into his own, thumb gently rubbing over the top of it.
Silence pours into the room once again. This time, however, it isn’t overridden with tension but rather, with a deep sadness that radiated out of Stephen like some sort of aura. Cautiously, as to not accidentally lean on Stephen’s delicate hands, Tony pulls him in for a hug, Stephen responding immediately as he rests a trembling hand on the side of Tony’s neck, resting their foreheads together as he curls up towards him, finally allowing Tony to take his hands into his own once more.
It’s awkward at first, as Stephen is much taller than Tony. They have to fumble on the sofa until they find a position they’re comfortable in, but they make it work. They always do. Stephen un-crosses his legs, allowing Tony to scoot closer into the space in between them. Stephen wraps his legs around Tony’s waist as Tony nuzzles his head underneath Stephen’s chin. Stephen’s arms seem to turn to jelly as his hands melt down to his lap, seemingly right into Tony’s.
A dull headache prods at the back of Stephen’s eyes as they slip shut.
With the warmth of Tony’s calloused, rougher, smaller hands, he’s almost to make himself believe that he no longer feels the ache of the cold. He reminds himself bitterly that, no, it’s still there. That no matter what, no matter how slight, it’ll still continue to burn as a reminder of his past mistakes. Stephen doesn’t want to forget them because he knows they helped him to grow into who he is today. Without his mistakes, without the accident, he wouldn’t be anything close to who he is today. Honestly, he’s not even sure he’d want to know the person he’d be if his accident had never happened.
Nonetheless, he begs for a break some days. He’d love to have just one day where he has the luxury feel nothing without using pain killers or magic, where he can look at his hands and not have his own demons shaking his shoulders. Alas, the universe doesn’t work that way. Tony presses a kiss to his knuckles and Stephen lowers his forehead to Tony’s shoulder, feeling like a child with a scrape on their knee, their mother’s comfort wrapping around them like a warm blanket.
His shoulders shook as tears seeped from his eyes once again. He nuzzled his heated face into Tony’s neck, legs tightening around the other’s waist.
“It’s okay, Stephen, you’re safe here,” Tony softly shushed the other as he continued rubbing at his hands.
He wasn’t. He really wasn’t. Even after Thanos and after everything Tony has seen battle, the man was almost no idea about the terrors that he has to protect the planet from. But Tony panics enough on a daily basis, their night terrors interchanged on seperate days as if they have a schedule. Tony shakes in his sleep at the years he got to live while the people he tried to protect died. Stephen trembles at the memory of all the times he died to let everyone live. They are branches in the same tree. Stephen can’t allow Tony to suffer anymore than he already does.
“I know.” Is all that he can say. “I know.”
Tony paused and leaned a hand against Stephen’s cheek, cleaning tears. “Hey, look at me.”
Stephen did and Tony almost forgot what he was going to say, frozen at the sight of Stephen liked this: eyes shining and red with tears, cheeks flushed, and cupid bow lips that almost took his breath away.
Tony murmured, taking all the strength in his body not to make a joke or some sort of sly comment so he could actually make this special. Make it right. For Stephen.
They expected their first time saying it to be more showing, sparkling even. In the balcony of a tall building behind the echoes of fireworks. In the edge of space after some sort of life changing battle. But tenderness like this is more special if it sneaks in quietly. Stephen thinks that none of the galaxies primordial wonders could compare to this.
How foolish of them to pretend that they were supposed to be loud in the first place. Stephen reminded Tony that their love can exist softly, like a trickle of a stream. Like the wind in a sunny day. Like the rain falling outside.
“Oh, Anthony,” Stephen leaned in for a kiss. Tony parted his lips with a dumb smile on his face, hoping that Stephen never changes the way he says his name. “I love you. I love you too.”
He felt the aches in his hands slowly turn into something else, something dull and soft, gently blooming out of his scars like a flower shedding all of its petals at once.