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The New Normal: 1/3
Pam, True Blood
thevampirepam
Title: The New Normal
Chapter Title: Tony
Fandom: The Avengers (2012)
Wordcount: 6000 for this chapter
Pairing: Tony/Steve for this chapter, (Tony/Steve/Bruce overall)
Fic Summary: In an attempt to cope with recent events, Tony, Bruce, and Steve find themselves taking comfort in each other and their own, new version of normal.  In which Tony finds relief from his nightmares, Bruce learns to control his ability, and Steve figures out how to belong.
Chapter Summary: Once Steve admits how he feels for Tony, he can help him cope with the nightmares that plague him after his long fall from space.  

As a child equally obsessed with science and getting into trouble, young Tony Stark spared no time in beginning his ongoing love affair with outer space. He was constantly imagining how many more adventures he could have if only his father would allocate the family's considerable resources to building him a rocket ship. Indeed, Howard Stark's refusal to indulge him in this whim had once resulted in six year-old Tony giving him the very cold shoulder for nearly a month.

Even when he was a little older and his ambitions slightly more realistic, Tony would still spend more evenings than not gazing through the telescope on his balcony, hoping to discover a new piece of the heavens to call his very own. After all, he figured, even if his father had already made it clear that he was not welcome in this corner of the world, there had to be another one out there somewhere with enough room for him.


So when the news of his parents' plane crash came in, Tony did not seek solace at any of the mindless frat parties which had been consuming his free time, or even in the safety of the physics lab. No, it was the MIT observatory that he ran to, or rather drove to, all the way out in Westford, Mass.

After achieving the minor miracle of making it to his destination without crashing his cherry red Porsche Boxster into any of the irate Boston drivers in his path, Tony tumbled blindly out of the car and bolted for the trees, not stopping until he hit the building housing the radio telescope. He broke in with none of his usual finesse and began to frantically type random coordinates into the computer, causing the giant dish above his head to swivel nearly a hundred and eighty degrees before shooting an invisible beam into the night.

He didn't know what exactly he was looking for, only that he wanted a sign or signal that someone, somewhere out there was still watching over him. When the display window revealed nothing more unusual than a few slowly developing protostars, Tony desperately banged once more on the keyboard until the dish pivoted again, this time focusing on the outline of the Crab Nebula. Again he pounded, and again it turned, capturing pulsars, and star clusters, and quasars all in turn - but nothing that couldn't be accounted for by the normal workings of the universe.

In despair, he fled out onto the observation deck, hoping against hope that his eyes could find what MIT's finest instruments could not. Scanning the darkness, hand periodically brushing the tears from his field of vision, Tony was amazed when a bright silver light suddenly emerged from behind the trees.

He watched, transfixed, as it painted a glittering streak across the sky before his eyes, spilling silver light over the deck where he stood. And for just a moment, Tony was struck by the strange, but unmistakable feeling that this was his sign. That somehow, somewhere out there in the depth of space, his mother was still there, watching out for him.

It was this very love for space that made it cut so much deeper when he could no longer look at the stars without shuddering; without remembering the feeling of falling forever into the endless, cold blackness of the void; without feeling the weight of the knowledge that any attempt on the part of humans to impart meaning onto it was at best wishful thinking.

Tony did not enjoy in the least his newfound bent towards introspection. Indeed, he usually avoided deep thinking about matters like emotional trauma and mortality at all costs. This wasn't even counting the terrible nightmares that would begin soon after his return to Stark Tower. So really, all things considered, space had quite a lot to answer for.

Yet as much pain as his terrifying journey from earth had given him, Tony could not deny that it had brought him just as much happiness. After all, Tony knew that if it hadn't been for his characteristically dramatic near-death experience, he might never have found out just what sort of feelings had been lurking beneath the surprisingly thin fabric of Steve's spangly costume.

It had begun when, after a busy day of shawarma and saving the world, Tony had deemed it his moral obligation to offer the admittedly luxurious accommodations of Stark Tower to his new teammates. Thor had muttered something about Asgardians sleeping beneath the stars and blasted off in the direction of Central Park. Natasha, meanwhile, had declared her days of silk sheets long behind her and departed to an undisclosed destination, Clint following closely at her heels.

Only Bruce and Steve had assented. Though it had taken some convincing on Tony's part, and his assurance that Stark Tower was equipped with a steel reinforced holding cell, to get Bruce to take him up on the offer, the smile on his face when he'd agreed had made the effort more than worth it as far as Tony was concerned.

Steve had made no similar protestations, but it was with a taciturn nod and a solemn expression that he'd climbed into the limo Tony had taken the opportunity of calling for while they were finishing up at the Pita Palace. Indeed, the most he'd said for the rest of the evening was a murmured good night to Bruce when he turned in early to spend the night with Tony's new handheld electron microscope.

Consequently, Tony was shocked when he turned around from admiring the expansive view from his bedroom window and trying not to think about what had almost happened to find Steve leaning against the wall opposite, staring at him from the shadows with uncharacteristic intensity.

"Scared me, Cap," Tony said with a smile that showed more confidence than he felt at the moment. "Had you pegged as a sparklers and fanfare sort of guy. The stealth is a surprise."

Steve said nothing, but shoved off the wall and began to make his way purposefully toward Tony.

"What, not a word? From you?" Tony asked incredulously, taking a sip from his scotch in the hopes that it would steady him. "No patronizing proverbs? Long-winded lectures? Cheerless chastisements?

"You could have died, Tony," Steve said finally, stopping a few feet from him. "You almost did." Though his voice was quiet, almost a whisper, Tony could hear the undercurrent of something far more powerful beneath it.

"Oh I see," Tony said, punctuating his remarks with a gesture of his tumbler of scotch, "so now you're yelling at me for my, I'll admit unprecedented, act of altruism, when it was a matter of days ago you were berating me for, what was it, 'not being the kind of man to lay down on the wire.' A bit inconsistent, don't you -"

Tony was cut off mid-sentence by Steve surging forward to slam him against the wall. "Damn it, Tony!" he shouted, and Tony was shocked to see tears in his eyes. "You think I wanted to watch you plummet from the sky? Or pray with everything I had that you'd wake up again?"

Though he prided himself on having a quip for every occasion, all Tony could think to say at that moment was, "Oh."

"I've...lost enough people that I care about," Steve continued, his voice wavering. "I can't lose you, too. I just...can't."

"Steve," Tony said quietly, grimacing slightly as he laid a hand on the arm pinning him to the wall, "You're hurting me."

Steve released him as suddenly as if had caught fire and stumbled back a few paces, prompting Tony to reach for his arm, stilling his retreat. "Hey," he said, making an effort to keep his voice gentle as he reached up to cup Steve's face in his hand. "I'm not going anywhere, you know. It'll take a hell of a lot more than a temperamental child wielding a badly disguised metaphor and an alien army to stop me."

Steve closed his eyes and raised his hand to cover the one Tony had shifted to his cheek. When, after a minute or so, he opened them again, fixating his gaze on Tony once more, Tony felt his breath catch in his throat.

Hypnotizing eyes, he thought, and impossibly blue. Had they always been like that, or was the thin film of water still coating them somehow magnifying the effect? Tony had only just begun to wonder why those transfixing eyes seemed to be moving in his direction when Steve's lips were abruptly on his, and any and all wondering suddenly seemed utterly unimportant.

For the first time since it happened, there wasn't a single corner of his mind still trapped in that long fall through the stars. There was only Steve's hands in his hair, the heat of Steve's body pressing his against the wall, and the crescendoing hum of the arc reactor as his heart beat faster and faster beneath it.

It was only when Tony allowed a low moan to escape his lips that Steve pulled back, looking panicked. "Did I...are you...?" He looked so helplessly worried that Tony deemed it necessary to give him another kiss, this time a leisurely one.

"Slowly," he murmured after a minute, brushing a stray hair back from Steve's forehead, "Slowly is good."

Steve nodded solemnly and folded his arms firmly but gently around Tony's torso before pressing their lips together again. Tony was soon so wrapped up in the kiss that he barely registered that the floating feeling he was experiencing was the result of Steve carrying him across the room to the bed as if he weighed nothing at all.

Tony thought about complimenting Steve on his ability to follow instructions as the other man lowered him onto the bed inch by inch, being careful not to apply any undue pressure to any one area, but as this would have necessitated him ending the kiss, he quickly rejected the idea.

Steve, however, seemed to have other ideas. He leaned up, straddling Tony's hips, and stripped off his own shirt with a grin. Before Tony had a chance to prepare him, Steve had reached down and begun to remove Tony's, only to inhale sharply when he saw what lay beneath the fabric.

When Steve's hands continued to rest, motionless, on his stomach, Tony sighed and took it upon himself to maneuver the shirt over his head and toss it on the ground. "It's not as bad as it looks," he attempted, though he was pretty sure the wince he hadn't been able to suppress when he was removing the shirt had seriously damaged his credibility on that front. "Really, I've had worse from playing touch football with JARVIS. Well, I say 'touch,' but obviously -"

"Tony," Steve interrupted, placing a hand carefully on one of the only spots on Tony's torso not discolored by purplish bruises, "Tell me the truth - are you okay?"

Tony was about to brush off the question with a quick, "Of course, never better," but something about the way Steve had said, "Tell me the truth," stopped him. Like he was telling Tony that the usual bullshit wasn't going to cut it here. That this was something that was actually important.

He considered for a moment, and finally settled on telling Steve as much of the truth as he could manage at that moment: "I am right now. Don't stop."

As Steve hesitated for only a second before leaning down to kiss him once more, albeit even more carefully than before, Tony could only assume with great relief that it had been enough.

He couldn't tell Steve about the creeping terror that kept making its way up from the dark recesses of his mind where he'd been trying to bury it, not yet. All he could do was cling on tighter and have faith that it was enough to keep the darkness at bay, at least for a little while.

It was hours later, when the two of them were tangled up in both each other and Tony's Egyptian cotton sheets, that Tony suddenly found himself in the midst of a bout of seemingly uncontrollable laughter.

"What?" Steve asked, turning to look at Tony, the expression on his face perplexed and slightly worried, "What's so funny?"

"I was just thinking," Tony said, when he had staved off the more hysterical peals of laughter, "you are the one guy I could have brought home to my father that he couldn't possibly have objected to."

"Look, Dad!" Tony had to wait a little while for the renewed laughter to die down before continuing, "I'm dating Captain America! Still want to threaten to send me to military school?"

"He said that to you?" Steve asked, sounding horrified. "My memories of your father are not of the sort of man who would do that to his own son, just for being different."

"Yeah, well," Tony said, suddenly not feeling like laughing anymore, "Maybe he was more tolerant then. The man I remember tried to beat the shit out of me when he caught me playing doctor with Bobby Francone at age fourteen. Lucky me, he was too drunk at the time to manage more than a couple good hits before my mother beamed him with a vase."

If Steve looked horrified before, it was nothing compared to the expression on his face now. He said nothing except a murmured, "Tony," as he wound his arm around Tony's waist and pulled him in close.

Oh, good job, Tony, he berated himself, terrific pillow talk - child abuse, alcoholism. Why don't you just tell him about your two months in captivity while you're at it? He honestly had no idea what had possessed him to bring it up. He'd never told anyone about that night with Bobby Francone before, not Pepper, not Rhodey, no one. Just Steve.

"It was only the one time," Tony continued, since he was apparently incapable of doing anything else, as he rested his head on Steve's chest, "My mother made sure of it. A few months later, she sent me off to MIT. Three years after that, they were both dead."

"I'm sorry," Steve whispered, winding his fingers through Tony's, "I can't even imagine..."

"Ancient history now," Tony insisted firmly, raising his lips to Steve's to drive the point home. In an attempt to inject some levity and change the subject, he added, "Well, not as ancient as you, of course, but..."

"Oh, you're hilarious," Steve retorted, though there was little bite in his voice. He brought his lips an inch or two from Tony's, as if to kiss him again, then asked, "What was this you said about dating?"

"Mmm?" Tony asked, distracted, before he remembered his exact words of a few moments before. "Oh, that." Hoping desperately that he hadn't taken something for granted he shouldn't have, Tony tried to brush it off with, "Well, I figured you were the sort of guy who'd only do, um, this with somebody you were dating, so..."

"Tony," Steve said, catching his gaze. "Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm the sort of guy who'd only do this with...someone I love. So if this is you suggesting a more permanent arrangement, I am decidedly on board."

Tony could feel the warmth spreading through his body manifesting itself in a smile. "Wow, Cap," he said, tracing a hand over Steve's cheek. "they really did break the mold when they made you."

"So they tell me," Steve said, grinning as well. "Now," he continued, giving Tony a quick peck on the lips, "you've had an excruciatingly long day, and I think it's about time you got some sleep."

"What about you?" Tony asked, puzzled. "I don't even want to know about your usual lifestyle if leading a ragtag bunch of misfits against an invading alien army doesn't count as a long day."

"I don't sleep much," Steve said with a little shrug, "Guess I got my fill when I was under."

"Steve, listen, if you want to talk -" Tony began, but the other man cut him off quickly.

"I'm fine, Tony," he said, "honestly. All I want now is for you to get some rest. Fury wants to meet us at 0900 tomorrow, and the last thing I want to be hearing about in the morning is how you were deprived of your beauty sleep. Really, you'll be doing me the favor."

"You're lucky even you seem like a smooth talker when I'm this tired," Tony said with a yawn, settling down on Steve's chest in a move of capitulation.

"Yes, I know, I'm a regular Mr. Smith at two in the morning," Steve said, drawing the sheet and coverlet over both of them.

"God, we need to get you a new set of references ASAP," Tony mumbled. "That means new movies. First up, Star Wars. We should start as soon as possible. Tomorrow night."

"Does that mean I'm staying?" Steve asked, a slight hitch of uncertainty audible in his voice.

"For the sake of your ability to successfully interact with media-literate human beings, I think you'd better," Tony said, hugging Steve a little tighter so the other man would know he meant it.

No more discussion was needed, and Steve, as well as Bruce, made Stark Tower his official residence on the following day. It saddened Tony how little actually needed to be moved; though he would gladly have offered Steve and Bruce a floor each to do with as they wished, it turned out that neither's worldly belongings occupied more than a couple duffel bags.

Tony told JARVIS to remind him later to buy them each a clutch of useless knick knacks. After all, he reasoned, nothing says 'Hey, this is my space' quite like a Starship Enterprise pen holder or personalized drinking bird. At least that's what he was hoping.

Still, Bruce and Steve's mutual displacement did have the advantage of it taking them little time at all to get settled in. Indeed, after a couple of weeks, Tony was having a hard time remembering what life had been like before.

Bruce proved himself to be just the cure Tony needed for the ennui which had been plaguing his work in the lab for the weeks prior to the Avengers Initiative taking over his life. Indeed, Tony quickly discovered there were few things in the world that pleased him more than finding a new piece of gadgetry that made Bruce's face light up like a child's on Christmas morning.

Steve, on the other hand, appeared to be slightly less thrilled at being turned into one of Tony's personal projects. Barely a week had passed before Bruce began commenting on their tendency to "bicker like a married couple." Still, Tony was determined to find something in the modern world that captured Steve's imagination more than destroying a dozen punching bags a day.

But though the events surrounding the Avengers Initiative had in so many ways made his life better and more fulfilling, Tony could not deny that they had also brought to the surface many of the demons he had hoped to keep permanently repressed. The darkness he had been quelling first with his playboy lifestyle, then with his devotion to making Stark Industries the best it could possibly be would not longer be kept at bay.

Indeed, it hadn't taken Pepper long to realize that the Tony Stark she returned to after her trip to Washington was not the same one she'd left a few weeks prior. She'd done everything in her power and more to be there for him, but no matter how hard he tried, Tony couldn't bring himself to let her in to the increasingly chaotic mess he called a psyche. In the end, he'd been forced to tell her that she needed to go find someone who could.

So she'd said goodbye in the same way she did everything - with grace and kindness. Tony had watched her board the helicopter with no small amount of regret, and when she'd given Steve a kiss on the cheek and told him to "take care of him for me," he'd nearly lost it.

Still, the nightmares that would come to plague him in the coming weeks more than convinced Tony he'd done the right thing. They started small enough, a leviathan crashing through the front of the tower, or an ever accelerating helicarrier engine that wouldn't switch off. Nothing an hour or so on the treadmill followed by a Valium didn't seem to solve easily enough.

But as the weeks wore on, the images grew more hellish and apocalyptic, the dreams more all-consuming. The various terrors of his past began to mix and mingle in horrific combinations; his father's fists, raised in anger against the son who could never live up to his expectations, became Raza's, pounding his head against the wall of that Iraqi cave until he agreed to build the Ten Rings their missile.

Suddenly the old remedies were no longer enough. Tony found himself keeping absurdly long hours in the lab in the hopes that sheer exhaustion would be enough to bypass the REM sleep that produced the dreams; it rarely worked.

He wanted to tell Steve; half a dozen times he nearly did. But each time, there was a little voice in his head insisting that Steve had enough to deal with without worrying over whether or not he was sharing a bed with a crazy man.

Well, sharing a bed was not strictly accurate, Tony supposed. Though they began most nights occupying a disproportionately small percentage of Tony's impressive king-size bed, Steve's seeming lack of need or want for sleep meant that Tony woke up alone most nights.

It was on just such a night that the worst nightmare to date had Tony tumbling from his bed, clutching in panic at the arc reactor in his chest in the fear that his rapidly accelerating heart rate would cause it to malfunction. Breathe, damn it, he ordered himself when the room began to spin in front of his eyes, you have to breathe.

Though he conquered the problem of obtaining oxygen after a few minutes' concentrated effort, Tony's one and only subsequent attempt at standing resulted in him pitching headfirst onto the carpet, and consequently abandoning the endeavor altogether.

So it was that he found himself crawling on his hands and knees over the plush carpeting of his bedroom until he reached his private elevator. After extending a hand up to press the call button, Tony slumped against the wall beneath it, torn between his desire to close his eyes and his knowledge that the second he did, he would be pulled into the horrifying world of his dream once again.

"Where to, sir?" JARVIS asked politely as the elevator doors opened with a cheerful "ding."

"Down," was all Tony could manage to say as he crawled into the elevator, but he could see from the destination displayed in flashing red type that JARVIS understood.

The second the doors slid open with another "ding," Tony went stumbling across the gravel floor of Stark Tower's environmental research level, grasping at the many tables containing varieties of exotic plant to keep himself moving and on his feet. Only when he reached an empty patch of grass did he allow himself to fall again, and not a moment too soon, judging by the shaking that quickly began to permeate his body.

Slowly, deliberately, Tony focused his attention away from his shuddering limbs and toward the solidness of the ground beneath him - it was the hope for this sense of grounding that had lead him to choose this floor as the one most likely to give him any solace.

He forced himself to lie flat, contrary to his natural instinct to curl up into a ball, creating as many points of contact with the grass as possible. Tony was rewarded by the feeling of his labored breaths coming just a little easier.

Never before had he been so glad that Pepper had insisted on equipping Stark Tower with a state-of-the-art, urban greenhouse. He'd have to remember to send her some flowers for it the second he stopped having a full-scale panic attack.

So focused was he on the seemingly insurmountable task of calming himself down that Tony didn't hear the approaching footsteps until they were inches from his head. Though his eyes flew open in a brief moment of panic, the sight of Steve standing over him, concern written all over his face, sent a wave of relief flooding through Tony's body.

"You must think that I've really cracked it," he said, his attempt at letting out a laugh coming dangerously close to a sob, "that I'm mad, unhinged, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."

Steve never took his eyes from Tony's as he knelt slowly beside him, nor when he shifted to a laying position. "Tell me what happened," he said firmly, running a hand through Tony's hair.

"You're going to laugh," Tony said, feeling the hysteria building again, "Tony Stark, the billionaire, genius superhero, defeated by a few random bursts of neurons in his prefrontal cortex."

"You had a nightmare," Steve said slowly, after a second's thought.

For some reason, hearing Steve yet again boil a complicated concept down to a simple truth lightened Tony's spirits, and he let out a small, but sincere laugh. "Yeah, Steve, I had a nightmare."

Steve said nothing, just waited patiently for Tony to go on, while continuing to card his fingers soothingly through his hair.

Tony knew once he started speaking, the truth would spill out of him in waves until it was all told, but went on nonetheless, too exhausted to do it alone any longer. "Truth be told," he began, "I've been having them off and on for the past month, but at some point along the way, 'off' just stopped being an option. Like someone flipped a switch in my subconscious to change my past pain from 'successfully repressed' to 'back with a vengeance'."

"You've been having them for a month...but this one was different," Steve intuited, the look on his face still one of deep concern.

Tony shuddered as the memory of it hit him anew, and he rolled reflexively onto his side, facing away from Steve, knees partially drawn up to his chest. "Some of the ones before had been bad, others verging on The Shining levels, but none of them like this." As the tremors running through his body began to grow violent and more frequent, Tony forced himself to take a deep breath in before whispering, "I watched you die, Steve."

Tony felt the hand in his hair slide lower and lower until it was wrapped around his waist, pulling him back so his back was pressed tightly against Steve's chest.

"It was the Chitauri all over again," he explained bleakly, "except this time the tide turned the other way. One by one, each of you died before my eyes - Nat, Clint, Thor...Bruce. Even when your turn came, there was nothing I could do but watch."

"I'm fine, Tony," Steve murmured, extending his other arm to pull Tony in even closer. "We all are, I promise. Bruce is just upstairs, hopefully sleeping, Nat and Clint are no doubt enjoying their well-deserved vacation on an unnamed Caribbean island, and Thor is probably off thundering around the playing field of whatever passes for sports on Asgard."

When Tony laughed a little, he felt Steve slide his right hand up from where it had been laying on his stomach to cover the part of his chest where the arc reactor was still frantically spilling forth blue light.

"And I am right here," Steve said earnestly, "whenever you need me, for as long as you want me. Right here."

Tony instinctively shifted his own hand to cover the one Steve had placed on his chest, and took a moment to absorb the warmth that Steve's presence and his words had sent radiating through his still shaking body. Yet even such a powerful influx of heat could not displace the deep feeling of cold that still seemed to weigh heavily in his chest.

After a minute or two of Tony's silence, Steve asked quietly, "There was more to the dream, wasn't there?"

Tony nodded slightly and forced himself to go on telling it. "I was running, trying to reach any of you, on the off chance that there was something I could do, and suddenly the ground began to crumble beneath my feet. I looked up, and the whole city was collapsing rapidly around me, people and taxis and skyscrapers all tumbling into the ever-spreading vacuum of space now swallowing the city."

"I tried to fly, to escape from it," Tony went on, the words spilling out rapidly now, "but the power of the void was too strong. Everything else seemed to fall away, and I was completely alone. Even my suit froze and cracked, each piece breaking away one by one until finally it was just me, falling."

"When I tried to yell and nothing came out, I remembered that line from Alien about no one in space being able to hear you scream, so I laughed, except no one can hear you laugh either, and all I heard was more endless, empty silence."

"So I fell on and on, if you can call it that when down and up don't even exist anymore, and all I could think over and over again was, 'This is it. I'm just going to keep drifting through the blackness forever. And no one will ever find me.'"

When he lapsed into silence again, Tony was surprised when Steve used his grip on his torso to spin him around so they were facing one another. "Tony," he said, and Tony could see by the look on his face that he was in deadly earnest, "that is never going to happen. Do you hear me?"

"Why not?" Tony asked despairingly, the memory of it all still chilling him, "It almost did, Steve! Don't you get it? That's what's so all-encompassing, down-to-my-marrow terrifying about all of this - if Nat had closed that portal a few seconds earlier, it all would have been real."

"Nothing is going to happen to you because I won't let it," Steve shot back, blue eyes seemingly blazing. "If she'd closed the portal, I would have figured out another way. Space travel, time travel, somehow I would have found you. Just like I will alwaysfind you."

Faced with a fierceness in Steve that he had seen on very few prior occasions, Tony found himself uncharacteristically speechless.

"You are everything in my life, Tony," Steve continued, raising his hands to rest them on either side of Tony's head. "I lost everything once, and I'll be damned if I do it again."

Tony felt the cold chills running through him abruptly stop, to be replaced by a sensation far warmer and more pleasant. After spending a lifetime taking care of himself because nobody else seemed to be up to the task, that he could matter so much to someone, that someone would be willing to risk everything to get him back...what were a few measly nightmares compared to that?

Though he felt like it would be an insufficient gesture in proportion to how grateful he felt, Tony surged forward to kiss Steve, not letting go until the highly inconvenient need of his body for oxygen necessitated it.

"That thing you said that first night?" Tony said hesitantly, when they had broken apart a little, "Me, too. Love you, that is."

Steve grinned, and Tony felt compelled to add, "Just promise me you won't tell Thor. Nothing I hate more than a smug Asgardian."

"I promise," Steve said, leaning forward to brush his lips lightly over Tony's. "Now, are you ready to come back to bed, or are we spending the rest of the night on the grass?"

"Right..." Tony said, only now remembering that they were still sprawled on the floor of the greenhouse. "Bed, I think. Bed is good."

Steve sprang nimbly to his feet, then reached down a hand to pull Tony to his. Tony couldn't help but smile when Steve slung an arm around his shoulders as they made their way back toward the elevator, and felt only a little like the leading lady of a 1950s romantic movie when he let his head rest on Steve's shoulder.

"Feeling better, sir?" JARVIS inquired as they got into the elevator, which automatically began making its way back up toward the penthouse.

"Yes, thank you, JARVIS," Tony said, before the nature of the virtual butler's inquiry made him wonder something. "JARVIS, I have a question for you."

"All the answers within my databanks are at your disposal, sir," JARVIS replied, with all his customary politeness and eloquence.

"How did Steve know where to find me?" Tony asked, preventing Steve from answering by placing a firm hand on his chest.

"I am afraid that as a virtual being, I am ill-equipped to judge the inner workings of a creature as human as Captain Rogers," JARVIS replied smoothly.

"JARVIS," Tony said, in his best imitation of the tone his mother would take when she knew he was hiding something.

"In my discharging of my usual duties, I may have communicated to Captain Rogers that you could be in need of some assistance, at which point my divulging of your location became a simple matter of wishing to provide the correct response to a query," JARVIS replied, utilizing the sort of circumlocution that reminded Tony just how much of himself he had embedded in the programming.

"JARVIS, if I paid you, I'd give you a raise," Tony declared, following Steve out of the elevator when it reached its destination. "As it is, what would you like? Vacation? Knicks tickets? Virtual housekeeper to flirt with?"

"Knowing I have properly served you is thanks enough," JARVIS replied magnanimously, before adding, "although that server upgrade you have been promising certainly wouldn't go amiss."

"Consider it done," Tony proclaimed. "That will be all, thank you, JARVIS."

"As you wish, sir," JARVIS said, dimming the lights and closing the curtains in lieu of a goodbye.

As they climbed into bed, Steve's face suddenly took on a mask of worry once again as he asked, "Will you be all right trying to sleep again?"

Tony nodded, settling himself down on Steve's chest before adding, "And if I'm not, you're here."

In lieu of a response, Steve drew his arms around Tony and repositioned him so his head was resting in the crook of Steve's neck.

"I really don't know how you get me to say things like that," Tony observed after a minute. "My parents spent seventeen years trying to get me to take things seriously, and you manage it in a matter of months."

"I've been told I have an honest face," Steve said pensively, "Maybe that's it."

"Yeah, maybe, Boy Scout," Tony said, leaning up to kiss him goodnight. As he settled back down, an instinctive wave of fear washed over him again, prompting him to inquire, "You will...be here, when I wake up?"

"Tonight, and for as long as you want me to be," Steve promised, brushing his lips over Tony's forehead.

Tony couldn't help but smile as he closed his eyes for the first time in a month without being terrified of the consequences.

Though they did not dissipate immediately, Tony's nightmares grew less frightening and less frequent as the days wore on, until they became a matter of anomaly rather than a matter of course.

Steve was unsurprisingly as good as his word that Tony would never wake up alone, and there came to be a point where Tony's certain knowledge of that seemed to be enough to keep the nightmares away all together.

Upon waking up on his seventh consecutive morning following an utterly peaceful night's sleep, Tony murmured, "Who would have guessed it?"

"What?" Steve asked curiously.

Tony kissed Steve good morning before observing with a smile, "I guess even nightmares are no match for Captain America."



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