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it could be worse, you know

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Tony passes through the living room on his way to bed at four in the morning and notices Steve out on the balcony. Tony hesitates, shakes his head, and heads to his room. He gets all the way to his own door before pivoting and heading straight back out to the living room. He throws open the door to the balcony and is hit with a blast of icy air. Steve spins around. He seems startled, which is kind of cool; Tony never gets to startle people. Living with Nat means everyone is always on guard against people appearing from thin air.

And then Tony’s breath makes clouds in the air, and he grimaces. “Okay, nevermind, it is way too fucking cold out here. Do-over in five minutes.”

Steve blinks, and Tony slams the door shut again. Steve watches through the glass as Tony hurries back to his own room.

In five minutes, Tony is once again at the balcony, except that, this time, he’s actually dressed for the weather. He’s also carrying a thermos in his gloved hands. He offers the thermos to Steve, who eyes it warily. 

“I don’t drink,” Steve says. Then, after a second, clarifies, “Normal alcohol doesn’t affect me anymore.”

Tony rolls his eyes. “I’m aware, Cap. It’s tea.”

“Oh,” Steve says. He takes the thermos and frowns after the first gulp. “How much sugar did you put in this?”

“A… normal amount?” Tony says, squinting at the thermos. “I thought. Did I not add enough?”

“That is definitely not the problem.”

“I used, like, half as much as I normally would,” Tony says, now glaring at the thermos like it’s betrayed him. “Since I didn’t think you liked sweet things as much as I do.”

“My god, Tony,” Steve laughs. “This is like drinking faintly tea-flavored sugar.”

Tony’s scowl deepens, and he swipes the thermos back. He takes a drink and makes a face. “Are you kidding me? It’s so bitter.” He shoves it towards Steve. “Take it back.”

“How are you still alive?” Steve asks.

“Willpower, mostly,” Tony says. “Money helps.”

“Money helps everything,” Steve agrees.

“Except character,” Tony says. Steve laughs again, and bumps his shoulder against Tony’s.

It’s nice. It’s nice, when it’s like this, when they’re talking but not, when neither of them is pushing, when they’ll just let it be nice. 

(When Tony will let it be nice.)

Unfortunately, Tony’s whole life has centered around pushing things until they break so that he can either build the broken thing back better or leave it for junk. Tony doesn’t want to break this, not really, but there’s that whole pesky thing about people and their natures, so Tony’s asking what Steve’s doing out here before he can even think to stop it.

Steve frowns, and Tony looks away, towards the New York skyline, and says, “You don’t have to answer that.”

“No, it’s not--” Steve shifts. “It’s not an unreasonable question or anything. I just couldn’t sleep, is all.”

“Okay,” Tony says, even though there’s something in Steve’s voice that alludes to more. He nods and doesn’t ask because, contrary to popular belief, Tony can shut up, even if it goes against his grain a bit, and he actually honestly really doesn’t want to break this. Not now. 

“I have nightmares,” Steve says into the silence of the night. “I guess.”

Tony glances over. Steve is looking down, fiddling with the cap of the thermos. “Have, like, have them frequently?”

“Yeah,” Steve says.

“PTSD?” Tony asks.

“Probably,” Steve says.

Tony snorts. “Samesies.” 

Tony pretends not to notice the way Steve’s eyes are now intent on Tony’s face. “Do you want to talk about it?” Steve asks.

“Do you?” Tony asks.

Steve shrugs. “It’s not like there’s anything you don’t know. Everyone knows.”

“Oh, gee. People knowing everything about your life? I have no idea what that’s like,” Tony says, elbowing Steve gently.

Steve smiles and ducks his head. “Right. Sorry.” He looks at Tony. “I don’t, though.” 

“Yeah, of course not. I’ve been in the public eye my whole life. You’re new to this weirdness.” 

“No, I meant that I don’t know everything about your life. I get that you grew up hearing about me--and that’s still weird by the way--but I’m a few decades behind on the gossip columns.”

“You read the SHIELD file on me.”

“Somehow, I doubt that that’s quite the same as hearing about it from the source,” Steve says

“And I doubt the comics I read told it like you would,” Tony says, eyebrows raised.

Steve chuckles. “They might have downplayed the survivor’s guilt a bit.”

“Hey, I have some of that too! Should we high five?”

“I think we can probably skip that.”

Tony shrugs. “Suit yourself. Do you want to blow something up? I always find that cathartic.” He perks up, but Steve winces. “Okay, not your brand of coping. Got it. Will double-check soundproofing on the lab tomorrow.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Steve says. “I mean, I can handle it. It’s not like I have flashbacks or anything, mostly. You’ve seen me in the field; you know I’m fine.”

“I know you can do your job,” Tony says. “But that’s work. This,” Tony jerks his head towards the tower, “is home. Right?”

Steve’s staring out towards the city. He doesn’t say anything.

Tony hesitates. “...Right?”

Steve looks back and Tony and blinks. “Oh, yeah, of course. I thought you were being rhetorical.”

“Just making sure you’re paying attention, Cap,” Tony says and tries not to broadcast relief relief relief too obviously. “Anyway, my point is that home is a safe space and all that crap. Whatever you need, you know?”

“Thanks, Tony.” Steve’s smile is soft. “Same to you.”

“Oh, don’t do that. I can offer because you’re a trustworthy person. I, however, will ruthlessly exploit any opening you give me.”

“Undoubtedly,” Steve says, voice dry.

“For example,” Tony says, “It is really fucking cold out here. I need warmth. And you just said--”

Steve snorts and puts an arm around Tony’s shoulders, pulling him in until he’s tucked against Steve’s side.

Tony’s breath catches in his throat. He stays very, very still.

“Sorry, did I read that wrong?” Steve asks, voice pitched somewhere between amusement and concern.

“No. Nope. You read that perfectly,” Tony says, getting himself together and snuggling up against Steve like the champion cuddler he is when Captain America isn’t shorting out his brain. “I just didn’t really think it would be that easy.”

Steve rests his head on Tony’s and hums. “We’re learning all sorts of things about each other tonight, huh?”

“Things I have in common with Steve Rogers: insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and cuddling. Look at me now, Dad.”

“Do you really need to bring him up right now?”

“I’m a bitter person, Rogers,” Tony says. “Also chronically inappropriate. It’s better you that find out now.” 

“So you’re bitter, chronically inappropriate, would probably eat a spoonful of pure sugar--”

“I would. I have.”

“--and care about your friends enough to brave the cold of a new york winter at four a.m. just to bring them bad tea and ask if they’re okay.” Tony feels his face heat up, but Steve can’t see, so it’s fine. Everything’s fine. Be still his beating heart, etc. “Anything else I should know?”

Extreme sleep deprivation + Steve saying nice things = bad decisions. It’s math. Not Tony’s fault. 

“I’ve had a crush on you since I was eight,” he says, faux-casual. “Maybe earlier.”

Steve laughs, once, and pulls back enough to stare at Tony. (But he doesn’t actually remove his arm from Tony’s shoulders--that’s a good sign, right?) “You did not.”

“I would never lie to Captain America,” Tony says, placing a hand over his heart. 

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” Steve says, a moment later, with another laugh. Tony thinks he might be in shock. “I was just stories and drawings to you, after all. You must be disappointed now.”

“I am deeply disappointed,” Tony says, and Steve half-tenses before he barrels on, “in my own imagination. Never once, in years of daydreaming, did it ever occur to me that you could possibly be snuggly. You are the definition of a life-ruiner, Steve. Offensively perfect.” 

“Aw,” Steve says. “You’re sweet.” He runs his free hand through his hair and doesn’t meet Tony’s eyes.

But he’s smiling.