It was terrifying, really, how quickly Barnes managed to ruin one of the few truly good things to happen to him. Tony understood his reasoning, of course, considering Steve Rogers had asked him to be his boyfriend. He even understood the intent behind the threat, it was just shovel talk, it happened to everyone, right? And considering his own history it was understandable that Bucky would want to impress on Tony how good of a person Steve was and that Tony had better never hurt him. He got all that, okay, Tony didn’t even mind it.
He just wished the former soldier hadn’t picked a threat that legitimately terrified him.
The arc reactor and its connection to his heart was the only serious physical weakness Tony had and even now, hours later, he couldn’t stop holding a hand over the light of the reactor as Barnes’ words repeated in his mind. They brought memories to the surface that hadn’t bothered him in years but that he now couldn’t push away. The thrumming fear and anxiety that held Tony frozen in place at a worktop also had him covered in cold sweat as his vivid imagination replayed the last time someone had forcibly removed the reactor while he was physically incapable of stopping them.
He was so lost in his terror that Tony was blind to anything not going on in his head and so startled violently when he was pulled into a hug from behind. Tony made no sound but lashed out instantly, utilizing every bit of hand to hand training drilled into him by Happy, Steve and Natasha. He managed to push free of the hold but couldn’t land any hits as his wrists were caught in a firm but careful hold and Tony recognized his name being called in a familiar voice. The voice pulled Tony from the haze still locking him in his mind and Tony woke up enough to recognize the chest he was staring at. He’d fallen asleep cuddled on that chest often enough to know that it was Steve and if Steve was there then surely he was safe now, right? Upon realizing that, Tony relaxed enough to become aware that he was hyperventilating and focused on breathing steadily.
By the time he was recovered, he found himself being held against Steve’s front in a hug while big hands rubbed soothingly across his back. Tony’s own fists were clenched in Steve’s shirt like he was afraid to let go but forced himself to anyway. Taking that as a sign, Steve’s hands shifted to grasp his sides lightly.
“Tony? Are you okay now?”
Exhaling slowly, Tony nodded and allowed Steve to move him back a step and peer at his face, blue eyes wide and concerned. “What happened?”
“Sorry.” He said automatically in response, unable to meet those eyes as shame bubbled in his chest over the freak out he just had.
“Don’t apologize, just tell me what’s wrong.” Steve ran a hand through Tony’s hair soothingly and knew better than to force the other man to look at him.
“Nothing, it’s nothing important, I swear. I’m fine. You startled me is all.”
“Tony, you don’t react like that just because I startled you. And you should have heard me come in, not to mention Jarvis announcing me. Now, you want to try that again?”
Tony winced and tried to think how he could get Steve to let this go but just as quickly realized it wasn’t likely to happen. When it came to Tony and anything involving him, Steve was far less likely to let an incident like this just disappear when it could be serious. “Okay, look, it’s stupid. I was just thinking about some stuff that I hadn’t thought about in a long time and it was bothering me. That’s all, I’m alright now, okay?”
“Okay.” Steve said softly but didn’t let him go. “What brought the thoughts on?”
Steve just waited him out, as patient as ever and Tony pouted up at him before sighing, resigned to having to talk about this. “Look, don’t get mad at him, okay? Barnes was just looking out for you.”
Tony saw Steve frown but hurried to keep talking before the other could interrupt. “He didn’t know, probably, that I’d end up like this so it’s not his fault, alright? I mean, yeah, it wasn’t exactly in good taste or whatever but you’re his best friend and I expected to get the shovel talk from him and everyone else.”
“Tony. What are you talking about?” The soldier asked, visibly bewildered.
“What, you don’t know what that is? The shovel talk. It’s what people do when their friends enter a relationship. They warn the other person that if they break the friend’s heart they’ll regret it. It’s usually quite creative.”
Steve scowled and shook his head. “So Bucky and the others threatened you for agreeing to go out with me?”
“No, no, just Barnes so far. And when you say it like that it sounds so bad. It’s supposed to be heartwarming and stuff.” Tony said, waving a hand off to the side but the look on Steve’s face didn’t change.
“Sorry but I don’t really see how threatening someone I care about for something that hasn’t even happened yet is all that heartwarming.”
“Huh, must not have been a thing in the forties.”
“No and I wouldn’t approve even if it had been.” Steve said sternly, tipping his head down to kiss Tony softly. “Now what did he say to you?”
“Why do you want to know?” Tony whined, not even pretending otherwise.
“Because it upset you and I don’t like that.”
“Fine! Just remember, don’t get mad.” Tony took a breath, gathering himself together. “He said that if I hurt you, he’d take it out.”
Although Tony didn’t elaborate, it only took a moment for Steve to put it together and once he did, he almost couldn’t believe it. “Not the reactor?” He demanded, chest tight with rising anger. When Tony just shrugged, once more not looking at him, Steve put all the rest of the clues together. The way Tony had looked when he came in, pale and obviously thinking hard, and how badly he’d reacted when Steve tried to touch him all formed a picture Steve did not like. One of the soldier’s own biggest fears was something happening to the arc reactor and losing Tony because of it. To think Bucky would even mention something so horrible made Steve both deeply disappointed in him and searingly angry.
Seeing the emotions passing the Captain’s face, Tony grabbed hold of him impulsively. “No, no, no. I said no getting mad.”
“What? Tony, what he did was wrong and I’m not just letting this go!”
“Oh, come on. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Steve stared at Tony in disbelief and shook his head. “You just had a panic attack because of him! That is a big deal and you can’t tell me otherwise.”
Tony scowled at him and rolled his eyes. “And just what do you plan on doing, huh Steve? Go up to Barnes and tell him off for looking out for you?”
“No, I’m going to tell him that he is never to say something like that to you again and that I don’t appreciate my boyfriend being threatened.” He said forcefully, already forming the words he intended to tell Bucky.
Blinking, Tony suddenly smirked. “Your protective face is insanely hot, just so you know.”
Steve blushed but didn’t let the look Tony was giving him sway his resolve, no matter how tempting the expression was. “Tony, no. Stop it, I’m talking to him.”
“Stop what? I have no idea what you’re going on about. I’m just saying that you’re very attractive like this is all. Not to say you aren’t sex on legs all the time anyway but...”
“Tony! Enough.” Steve rolled his eyes and brushed a kiss to the genius’ forehead before letting him go. “Stay down here, okay?” Steve ordered before heading for the door, determination in his steps.
“Steve.” Tony called, his voice giving the Captain pause. “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me.”
“I know. I’m not. I’m doing this for me just as much as for you. I won’t have Bucky acting like this, or any of the others for that matter.”
Tony sighed. “C’mon, Steve. You have to admit that given my history you can’t blame them.”
“Yeah, I can. They should have more faith and trust in you then that.”
“Not everyone is as strong of a believer in others as you are.”
Steve turned around to look at Tony, his face as serious as Captain America in battle. “I believe in you and love you, that should be enough for them.”
And just like that Steve disappeared through the doors before Tony could gather up the pieces of his blown mind enough to protest. Tony spent a moment just gaping at the doorway before grabbing a chair and sitting down. “Who the hell says something like that and just walks away?” He demanded but the growing smile that he just couldn’t fight gave him away and this time he didn’t even care.
Because Steve loved him and when faced with something that amazing, well, his fear wasn't quite as crippling anymore.