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The Trick of It is Remembering How to Breathe

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Tony’s days always end the same way now. Not that they always have.

For the first thirty-five years of his life, he relished the night life, clubbing until the early morning hours, staying up in his shop, tinkering with new designs, but now his nights are so much better than that. Tony finishes peeling off the last of the Iron Man armor, tapping a staccato beat on his arc reactor, thumbnail nearly catching the lip of the smooth metal.

His steps echo in the vast space of his living space, the couch occupied by a slight form, and Tony grins. Steve is slack jawed, mouth open wide, one arm tossed over his eyes, the other resting across his chest in a half-embrace, and his eyelashes fluttering against pale, freckled cheeks. The couch is threadbare, one of Steve’s only requests when he had moved into the tower, and Tony doesn’t quite mind as much as he might have, but it was Steve’s and Tony couldn’t say no to Steve, even if the design (paisley was enough to make him cringe) was reminiscent of everything awful about the seventies.

Tony drops to his knees next to the couch, brushing the pad of his thumb along Steve’s jaw, watching Steve wake, blue eyes bleary and fogged with half-sleep, and Tony is tempted to kiss him until they can’t breathe. But tonight isn’t about that.

Tony’s ribs remind him of that, even as he huffs a laugh at Steve’s confused look.

“Tone? Thought you were on a mission?”

“I just got back. Turns out when you’re up against a guy with conducting electricity as a mutant power, the last thing you want to be is the guy in a metal suit. Widow and Parker managed him just fine.”

Steve sits up, alarm and distress flickering across his delicate features. Steve’s smaller than Tony, has been that way forever, but the sheer anger that knots in the smaller man’s jaw makes Tony shiver.

“Are you—”

“I’m fine. Bruised, sure, but I’m here. With you.”

Steve drops a hand to Tony’s wrist where his forearm rests next to Steve’s shoulder.

“Good, I always want you here. I wouldn’t have you anywhere else. Say, how was Cap?”

“Buck’s fine, just learning the ropes. But there’s nothing he won’t get used to.”

Steve sighs, and Tony leans in, pressing a chaste kiss to Steve’s temple. It says what he can’t. Steve scoots over, thin frame allowing Tony the bulk of the space on the ugly couch— it may be ugly, but it’s perfect for the two of them, Tony thinks— and pillows his head on Tony’s arm as Tony reaches out for Steve.

Tony takes a moment and stares at Steve, as if he’s trying to memorize this. One day, he’ll be old and grey and he won’t remember what he had for breakfast, but he likes to believe he’ll remember this, them just like this, with Steve’s tiny frame curled into Tony, knees drawn up beneath the blankets, the way gentle hands hold Tony’s, eyes blue and trusting. Steve’s hands are small as they trace his face, fingers cool, thin, almost fragile, but he’s seen what these hands can do, watched as they flit across a sketchpad, or patch Barton’s bruises, watched as they bring a memory alive right there on paper. He loves these hands.

Tony counts the freckles on Steve’s face. He likes to think of it as their own little secret, Steve having freckles. The freckles are only ever visible in the dim light of grey mornings, when they’re tangled together in the sheets, skin pressed to skin, when they’re slow and sweet and so very in love with one another, or on evenings like this, when the sun casts an orange glow across the floor, lighting up Steve’s face in a way that maybe even the least poetic person on the planet could find beauty in.

Tony should know.

Steve’s brushes a hand across Tony’s arm and grins.

“I missed you.”

Tony can’t help but smile back.

“I missed you too.”

Later when Tony wakes with a start, the shadows long and sinister and the ghosts of nightmares sending him reeling into a panic, he’ll look down at Steve, blond hair mussed with sleep, lips flushed pink and open, and remember how to breathe.