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It was fine. Yeah, totally. It was cool. He was fine, too. Like he always is.

Tony swallowed thickly, jaw flexing as black spots started taking over his vision.

It was not cool. It was totally not fine.

His body ached. His heart wouldn’t slow down and his muscles wouldn’t un-atrophy and he couldn’t seem to get warm again. He knew this feeling too well and he loathed it; it’s the feeling of terror. All-encompassing fear. Hopelessness. It’s how he feels every time he looks at the sheen and sharp edge of Steve’s shield. How he feels when he’s alone in a room with the Winter Soldier—James—Bucky. (He didn’t blame him, he really didn’t; it’s not his fault—it’s not, he knows that.) It’s how he feels when he startles out of a nightmare or when he’s consumed by visions of the past, the sounds, the smells, the temperature.

But this time, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t really anyone’s fault—at least not anyone of consequence; if anything, he was just overreacting. He does that...

Tony swallowed again with a click, trying to get his throat to work and his lungs to settle as he focused on the shake of his limbs, the scalding heat and sharp ceramic at his feet, the white-noise in his ears and the spots in his vision.

Breathe, he thought, pleading. Please. Breathe. His lungs burned.

But it really wasn’t anyone’s fault this time. He would say as much if he could just get his body to move

As a general note, Doctor Strange, the 'Supreme Sorcerer' or whatever he was choosing to call himself, had been collaborating diligently, and rather effectively, with what was left of the Avengers and the newly-arrived Guardians of the Galaxy. (A, honestly, ridiculous name if Tony said so himself, but it wasn’t like “Avengers” was much better.)

As such, he would come by the compound regularly—and by “come by” he would actually just use one of his mangy orange portals to just...appear. Usually, the man had the courtesy to do such outside of the room he is about to enter. Unfortunately, this one particular time seemed to be some sort of exception to that unspoken understanding for whatever reason.

The Guardians were in the common room—Tony in the kitchen hardly twelve feet away—when the magical Doctor just suddenly existed, sharing the space with the rest of them. Tony, with his poor heart and extreme forms of PTSD and various other trauma-induced idiosyncrasies, had just poured himself a fresh cup of coffee in his second-favourite coffee mug; a mug that the spider-kid made for him in one of the kid’s high school ceramics courses. This sudden appearance from literally out of nowhere, and rather close to Tony’s very own physical being, caused Tony to jump violently, throwing the full mug to his feet and freezing.

Now, to anyone viewing this, it all happened in the span of seconds. The low schlick of Strange’s portal; the harsh crash of Tony’s mug—which was accompanied by a startled and remarkably high-pitched yelp—and the booming sound of powered-up bolt-blasters and various other alien weapons.

Tony would, perhaps, find a great amount of joy in watching the video feedback to see Gamora, in all her badass height, agility and strength, knee the magical doctor in the gut so hard he crumpled to the floor where he stayed indiscernible amount of time.

Right now, however, Tony was stuck in a state of perpetual shock, and probably various other defence mechanisms that, if it came down to it, would not defend him in the slightest. Tony struggled through another breath.

He felt a warm hand against the side of his neck. Just a gentle pressure, not gripping, just holding itself there gently to give Tony something to ground himself to. Another warm hand rest at the dip of his spine, just gentle heat…Tony focused on it like a lifeline. The steady touch that had become so familiar practically consumed him. His mind went blank as the white noise in his ears rose in pitch, leaving him deaf to the world around him.

Eventually, Tony would come down, focus on the fact that he had been moved from the kitchen, now curled up tight to the couch and against someone’s side, and the deep, voice that seemed to be speaking softly at him. 

He would realise he was swaddled in a blanket, with a cup of hot chocolate in his hands, and the Phantom Menace playing on the TV in front of him. 

He would realise he was surrounded by family, by safety, by soft touches and protective friends. People who have proven they would never hurt him; people who have proven they would always be by his side. His real team. His real family. Not the mockery that came before them.

And when he did, he would finally breathe. His chest would become lighter and the noise in his head would quiet down and he would feel cool tears drip down his face. He would lean into the warm body next to him and take in that scent of safety. He would listen to the quips and jokes about the movie in front of him, the jeering and cheers from stray scenes. And Tony would feel free for a moment, an irrevocably glorious moment.

Then when he came back to himself completely, the credits rolling to a familiar tune in the background, he would let himself be dragged from the couch by calloused hands and soft words, hot breaths and tight soul-clenching hugs. And then he would be taken to his room, stripped, laid bare, taken apart so thoroughly before being put back together, more whole than he had felt in a long time.

And then he would bask in the kind words following the warm cloth on his sweat-slicked skin and the body of thick muscle that laid next to him, petting gently at his hair and whispering words of reverence into his temple.

And he would cry. Silent tears that burned as they’re kissed away with a low chuckle that sent shivers through his spine.

“I’ve got you, Tony,” Quill would say, “I’ve always got you.”

And for once, by some earth-shattering miracle, Tony would believe him.