The first thing that he notices when he enters the bedroom is how dark everything is. All the lights are turned off and the thick drapes are drawn firmly across the glass windows so that not even the faintest flicker of light can get through.
It’s the silence that hits him the hardest though.
Steve’s always gotten edgy when it got too quiet. He preferred to have the radio on in the background and he slept better when Tony was there, so he could hear the sounds of his breathing. Tony knows he’s not in a good place when the room is this quiet. It takes a few seconds for his eyes to adjust but he’s just about able to make out the shape of his boyfriend, curled up under the thick blanket and duvet in their king-sized bed. He’s still, but Tony knows it’s an act, Steve’s awake, and if he’s guessing correctly, he’s been crying.
Making his way over, he slips off his shoes and socks, pulls off his tie and jacket and unbuttons the first few buttons on his dress shirt before reclining on the bed next to Steve. He’s close enough that Steve can sense him, but far enough that if Steve doesn’t want to deal with anyone, he won’t have to. Tony just wants Steve to know that someone cares.
A few seconds later, there’s a shuffling sound and Steve pushes his way over, letting himself be folded up into Tony’s arms. With the way he tiredly sinks into the elder man’s embrace and from the puffiness of his eyes, Tony can tell he’s been crying. He presses a kiss to his forehead, wishing not for the first time that he could take away all of his love’s sadness.
He lets his head rest on Steve’s for a second before murmuring quietly, “Do you want to talk about it?”
Predictably Steve shakes his head and burrows deeper into his embrace. Tony lets him, idly rubbing his back and a more comfortable silence overtakes the room.
“Just overwhelmed, I guess.” Steve says suddenly, and he stops as though ashamed of what he’s saying.
Tony hums quietly, not stopping his massage and encourages the younger to continue. He’s been in university before, he remembers how stressful things were. The difference he supposes, was that he’d drank a lot of his troubles away and he’d been a lot more extroverted. Steve’s different, an introvert at heart, who hates social situations. He pours his heart and soul into his work and sometimes forgets he’s human.
“It’s stupid,” he stammers, “I know I’m not the only one. But… I mean, I can’t help but think this is so pointless. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life and I can’t help but think I’ve just wasted so much time and money and I’m just tired and fed up.”
His shoulders start to shake and his voice cracks towards the end, and judging by the growing wetness on his shirt, Tony knows he’s started to cry again. He doesn’t stop him, instead letting him get it out of his system. He shifts so that they’re more comfortable, letting Steve lean against his chest and allowing him the ability to gently rock Steve back and forth.
All the while, he murmurs promises that it’s going to be okay and when Steve finally stops crying, he forces him to drink some water before getting a damp washcloth to wipe his face. He tucks the pair of them into bed and Steve falls asleep almost instantly, exhausted by his outburst. Tony stays awake, soothing him when he stirs in his restless sleep.
When Steve wakes up, he’s quiet, but Tony knows well enough not to expect anything different.
He makes him his favourite tea and hands him a slice of cake to nibble on, before dragging him onto the sofa to watch mindless YouTube videos.
Later that night, he doesn’t press him to eat a lot of dinner, he knows the younger man’s appetite is shot. But he watches him like a hawk and makes sure he eats enough that he won’t fall ill. They watch more mindless entertainment, all the while with Tony rubbing circles onto Steve’s arm and only when Steve drifts off, he switches off his laptop, presses a kiss to his cheek and allows him to go to sleep.
The next morning, Steve’s shy, pretending that nothing happened before and largely, Tony allows him that luxury. But as they’re heading out, he catches Steve’s wrist and hugs him tight.
“You know, I sometimes don’t say this enough, but I’m really, really proud of you. And don’t try and make me take it back, because I am,” he says fiercely, ignoring the flush of colour that’s painted itself across Steve’s cheek.
“It’s been a tough year and I know sometimes you want to give up, but you never have, not once. You try so hard and I know it hurts that no one notices. And I know it seems like there’s nothing that’s going right now, but I promise you, things will look up soon and even if they don’t, I’m going to be here, making sure that you’re ok. Because I love you and you make me so happy and proud and I don’t understand how I got so lucky with you.”
By the time he’s done, Steve’s flushing and he looks like he might cry again, but Tony gives him one last kiss before sending him off.
And Steve doesn’t know it, but he’s going to stop by his campus today, when he knows that his classes are done, and drag him away from the library and his books. Instead, they’re going to go to that quaint café Steve had found a few weeks ago, the one he’d told Tony about with stars in his eyes. They’re going to drink tea and eat cakes and sandwiches and then when they come home, he’s going to take Steve apart, slowly and gently.
He’ll make sure Steve feels cherished and perfect and whole, because that’s what he deserves and Tony’s very persistent when he wants to be.
With that thought in his mind, he whistles a merry tune and strolls down the hallway, idly making a mental note to pick up a bouquet of flowers later in the day.