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Lessons in the Seen and the Unseen

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"Easy," Steve cautioned through the blackness that shrouded Tony's world, keeping his left hand gently but firmly locked onto Tony's right elbow as they all stepped out of the private elevator that accessed the penthouse level of Stark Tower. "That's it — we're home. Come on, let's get you over to the couch." 

"Twenty-three steps, Sir," Jarvis specified, maintaining his own guiding hold with his right hand curved under and over Tony's left forearm.  

"Thanks," Tony muttered, trying not to sound like he was swallowing rising panic for about the hundredth time that day. The thick cloth mask secured to his face only covered his eyes and the very top of the bridge of his nose, but he felt as if he was being actively smothered. It's okay. It's only temporary. I can do this. 

Jarvis must have picked up on it though, because the pressure of his fingers tightened fractionally on Tony's arm and he advised, "Count them down with me. Twenty-one, twenty, nineteen…" 

"… eighteen, seventeen, sixteen," Tony joined in, and oh yes, numbers were still a constant and a comfort in his universe, because that simple act did help to reduce the blind fearful journey to a set of values he could grasp and control. When they reached the couch he felt himself being turned by his husbands and tried not to fight it as they carefully swivelled him round and guided him to sit — and he would have sworn they'd brought in new furniture while he was at the hospital, because he couldn't recall this particular set of cushions being so damned soft before. 

They released him then, but he had less than a second to feel a pulse of fear before a hand — Steve's, big and powerful and oh, so tender in its carefulness for Tony's fragility — pressed itself to Tony's right cheek and caressed his chilled skin. "We're here, Tony," the big blond murmured as Jarvis's weight settled onto the couch on the other side, "and we're not going anywhere until you get that patch off in a couple of days." 

"Forty-six hours and twelve minutes," Jarvis stated, twining the fingers of his right hand with Tony's left, and the flash of memory that crossed Tony's mind — how long they were, how slender, how filled with efficiency and grace — made his heart briefly clench with something comprised of exultation as much as sorrowful loss. "Rest assured, you will never be alone." 

God, that voice… light, sweet as honey, melodic, possibly the single most beautiful thing Tony had ever crafted. He did his best to smile while returning the pressure of Jarvis's fingers. "Something tells me you'll both get sick of playing nursemaid a lot sooner than that." 

"Never!" they asserted in a single breath, and the harmony of it turned the sinking of Tony's heart into soaring.  

"You've always taken such good care of us," Steve stated, and the quiet certainty in his tone, as honest as clear cool water on a hot day, laid itself over the jittering of Tony's innermost nerves as soothingly as an embrace of fine velvet: Tony could hear how broad he was, how steady and how dependable, all in the timbre of each quiet word. The removal of his hand was a pang of desolation, but when he immediately sat down on Tony's right the sensation of being bracketed by both of their warm living bodies was a far more fundamental comfort. Tony turned his face, blind (of course) but hopeful, and was rewarded with a quick kiss as tender as the first blush of an opening rose and as strong as the masculinity that every contour of Steve's unseen body epitomized. "It's an honour to finally have the chance to take care of you." 

"And as I was created to serve you," Jarvis added, leaning in to press his lips briefly to the side of Tony's neck, "needless to say it is my profound pleasure to assist you now, although of course I deplore the circumstances." 

Caught and held securely between the warmth of their individual breaths on his skin, Tony could feel one corner of his mouth quirking upward. "Wow," he said, and felt the smile widen to a mischievous grin. "Let's hear either of you say that when you have to help me take aim at the toilet so I don't piss all over the bathroom walls." 

"I've seen you do far worse," Jarvis remarked drily, and when Steve emitted a tiny snort of laughter Tony finally relaxed into the shelter of their arms encircling him, and closed his currently useless eyes that were so unnecessary when it came to perceiving the things that really mattered. 

THE END