"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that there is a plane headed your way that's planning on dropping a bomb in the middle of Manhattan, Grandpa. That's what I'm saying. It's not rocket science. Man with a plan? We need a fucking plan. Right now."
Steve skidded around the next corner, sprinting up the stairs by fives. He was only on the twenty-third level. He needed to get to the roof, or at least on a balcony or something. It was extraordinarily depressing when he thought about it. Hulk was prancing over buildings, Iron Man was flying around in a metal suit, and Thor was soaring with a hammer. Steve? Steve was taking the stairs.
"Two planes in total, correct?"
"On the money. I've got the other one in sight right here."
Steve kicked down the door in front of him and burst onto the cement floor of the roof. He sprinted to the edge, quickly taking in his surroundings. The plane Tony was chasing was at least ten miles to the left. As he watched, the lithe form cut away a circle in the plated siding of the aircraft, and he disappeared on the inside.
Tony's suit still stunned him sometimes. He just couldn't quite grasp how something so powerful could be created, much less in a cave. Tony had once attempted to explain the mechanics of it to him, and Steve had walked out of the room shaking his head. The engineering side had sort of made sense, how the pieces all fit together, one complicated web of interlocking parts resembling the joints of the human body. The arc reactor had flown right over his head.
Steve heard the dreadfully familiar sound of propellers whipping through the air above him. The second plane was about a mile behind him.
"Thor, do you copy?" Steve asked.
It had taken a lot of convincing for Thor to become comfortable with using a communicator in his ear. Thor wasn't quite used to having a team yet. He had worked alone for a long time. It was the same with Natasha and Clint.
Actually, now that he thought about it. Steve was the only one who had worked with a team. The best team ever. They were amazing. They were gritty and tough, and Bucky never minded bringing him down to level. He missed that. He missed everything, but even approaching his memories burned like a wildfire, so he shoved that aside.
"I hear you, Captain."
"—I need help over here, guys! Ow, fuck! What the hell was that? Jesus Christ, what is this—looks like a fucking leprechaun! Is that even possible? It bit me! Guys, it bit me! What if I die? What if I get some sort of leprec—damnit, get off me!"
Steve looked up. "Clint, how urgent is this situation? Can you spare a minute?"
He heard a strangled yelp come from the intercom, only it wasn't Clint's voice. "Eat it, Patty! Yeah, Cap, I can hold them off. Big bad bombs are obviously more important than me."
"Thor, I'm going to need you to give me a ride. Just drop me off, I'll find a way to disable the bomb, and then you can go help out Clint."
Tony interrupted, "What? Cap, that plan is shit! You don't know how to disable a bomb, and what are you going to do if you even manage to stop it? Fly a fucking plane?"
"I'm on my way, Captain," Thor replied.
"Steve! I'm not done!"
"And neither am I. Disable the bomb on the plane you're on right now. I'll handle this one. I've flown plenty of planes in my time."
He heard a startled grunt as Tony took someone out. Out of breath, he argued back, "Yeah, planes from the 40s, Steve! Not exactly the height of all technology! You remember what happened the last time you flew a plane, Cap? It didn't end well!"
Steve exhaled roughly. "Yes, I remember. Thor, where are you?"
There was a rumble and a gust of wind as the god landed next to Steve. Thor was an imposing guy. Larger than life in every sense of the saying.
"Can you get me on the plane?"
Thor's face creased with uncertainty. "I am unsure about this as well, Captain."
"It'll be alright," Steve smiled reassuringly. Thor pulled out his hammer and held out his arm. This reminded Steve of how much he hated not being able to fly. He wasn't comfortable with physical contact, and that's what flying with Thor or Tony required. Thor, without any reservations, tugged Steve against his side and they sailed into the air.
He could vaguely hear Tony yelling in his ear, but he was too preoccupied with the fact that he was dangling over a thousand feet above the ground. Captain America wasn't afraid of heights, but Steve Rogers wasn't exactly dancing a jig in them. Thor closed in on the plane, an impressive feat, considering the wind and the speed of the craft. On his first approach, he pounded a hole in the side, and the entire plane veered to the right, shuddering under the blow. On his second, Thor carefully tossed him through the impromptu entrance.
Steve tucked his legs in, rolling to his feet on the inside.
It was a retired commercial airplane. He thought it was strange, that a terrorist would use something so conspicuous to drop a bomb. He was in coach, according to the faded sign above the doorway. All the seats were missing, deadbolts rattling on the floor.
Shots went off. Steve ducked, bullets pinging off his shield. He advanced forward, the attacker firing at his feet, until he launched his weapon down, disarming the guy and quickly taking him down with an elbow to the head.
He really wasn't challenged these days.
Steve had a bomb to find.
The most obvious place would be the bathroom. But it wasn't like these guys were interested in hiding anything. Being able to fly the thing would become a problem soon, but for now he'd let them fly it. Steve entered the space where the flight attendants stored food and the actual door was.
Sitting under the compartment where garbage was usually stored—not that Steve was entirely sure, he never flew commercially anymore—was a large black box.
"Tony, I'm looking at the bomb. How do I disconnect it?"
A heavy clanging preceded Tony's voice. "Jesus, Steve, this isn't an equation with an equals sign at the end. The best I can do is to have you stop it for a while, but it's going to blow eventually, because I'm pretty sure they've got some sort of reactant in there that's a failsafe, but I'm not sure. It's kind of interesting, because I've never—"
"Tony! Solution! Please."
"Open the box and pull the red cord. Then just wait, don't touch anything else, and just…don't die, alright?"
Steve did just so, hands shaking as he made sure not to bump the tangle of wires surrounding the single red one. Talk about tense. He hated bombs. He hated anything that reminded him of bombs. Hell, fireworks made his skin crawl. He flinched when Tony had his music too loud.
He was tired. He wanted a long nap, and a large, juicy cheeseburger.
Steve stood up heavily and started towards the front of the plane. He vaguely wondered why the Air Force wasn't tackling this one. Then again, the Avengers had exclusively been dealing with the weird green aliens on the ground when the planes had sailed in. Why they had escaped a flight zone alarm, Steve didn't know. Smart people, he supposed. He just wanted this to be over with.
There was a familiar humming noise that he always associated with flying. Being on an airplane had never bothered him before, during the first fight with Loki, but after the Avengers were well-established and the missions started rolling in, he was on a flight every few weeks. Then the anxiety showed up. It wasn't like he was throwing up and hitting the floor in a fit. It was just that sometimes he got cold sweats and accidently broke the seat handles.
Nothing debilitating. He was totally okay with flying.
The plane dipped to the side, and Steve's fingers left five dents in the wall. He grimaced and pulled back. He still underestimated his strength. Then again, he hadn't been Captain America for that long either. Steve was still working on that one. He wasn't always on missions, and he didn't always have to be his alter-ego. But the Cap was something he was used to, and stepping out of that familiar, unfeeling skin was hard.
He wanted to; he was just... "emotionally constipated" according to Tony.
Stepping over rolling bolts, Steve picked his way to the entrance to the cockpit of the plane. He pushed the handle down and entered. There was an older guy sitting in the chair in front of him. He swore loudly and reached for his gun, only to be promptly knocked unconscious.
"Tony, I'm in control of the plane. How are you doing with the other one?"
"First of all, you are not in control of the plane. It's on autopilot right now, and you're going to have to fly it over the ocean. Gives us the most amount of spread if the bomb does go off, because I'm not there to completely deactivate it, and that's what I'm hoping to prevent. I'm going to land this one quick. Try not to freak about the whole flying a plane over the ocean thing, alright?"
"Got it, Captain," Steve said with a smirk.
Tony let out a harsh bark. "Oh my god, it made a joke. Not a very good one, admittedly, but still. You must be horribly stressed."
Steve carefully put both hands on the steering manual of the plane. "I'm a puddle on the floor, Stark."
"I knew you were attracted to me."
Taking a deep breath and ignoring the man on the other side of the communicator, Steve started turning the aircraft, as slow as he could manage. The thing the huge, probably bigger than the one he'd crashed before. Goosebumps layered his arms as the hair on the back of his neck prickled. The familiar feeling of getting drenched in ice water covered him.
He was fine.
This wasn't 1943.
Besides, he didn't have a pretty woman on the intercom, he had Tony. Two very different people. Steve preoccupied himself with this thought as large boats and white docks started canvasing the view below him. Then everything went blue. It was all blue. The ocean water laid bare, unforgiving in its waves.
This wasn't 1943.
Steve swallowed roughly, trying to still the tremors taking over his fingers. Fine shakes ran up his arms. His brain was just threatening to spiral out of control with the memories creeping up on him when a voice interrupted.
"Cap, everything good?"
Clearing his throat, Steve replied, "Good. Everything's good."
God bless Tony.
Wow, that wasn't something he thought very often.
"Alright, Steve. I just landed this one. I'm going to come save your life again, because I'm a great person like that."
Struggling to maintain control of his voice, because Tony would rip him into a new one if he showed any sort of weakness, Steve shook his head, bearing down on his anxiety. Tony would come and disable the bomb, and then he would land the plane, and Steve could get off it and everything would fine. Nothing bad would happen.
This wasn't 1943.
"Shit, Steve! Cap, you hear me? Are you listening? Oh, fuck, this is bad! Steve! Hey, answer me!"
Steve blinked, muscles tensing again. "Tony? What? What's the problem? What's wrong?"
"The military decides to intervene now? When the problem's practically solved? Jesus, how fucking symbolic of them. Steve, you need to get off that plane. Jump for all I care. Get off. They're gonna blow the fuck out of that thing. I'm going as fast as I can, but I don't know if I'm going to make it."
His heart pounding harder than he thought it could handle, Steve craned his neck and looked out of the window. He saw two sleek aircrafts advancing on the horizon. He was screwed. The water churned beneath him. There was no way he would survive that drop.
"Steve! Fucking answer me!" Tony half-yelled half-growled.
Lungs bordering on hyperventilating, Steve shakily replied, "Tony," he stopped short. "Tony, I'm not going to survive that fall. That's… That's too far. I can't—. I'm not. That's—."
"Okay, okay. Just, I'll try to patch my way through." Tony paused. "Fuck!" he screamed. "Steve, I'm coming, I swear, I'm coming. We'll get you out of this."
Steve looked out of the window again.
"I'm not so sure about that one, Tony." He spurted out a laugh. He sounded hysterical to his own ears. "I guess second time's the charm, huh?"
The world exploded into fire.
He heard the squealing of bombs. He heard the sickening collision of metal on metal as his cataclysm hit the wings of the plane. The entire earth spun and shook and tore. He was thrown, tossed against the controls as the air dropped with the aircraft. There was fire and pain and his lungs were failing and dying. He was going to land in the ocean again. He was going to die. He was going to die and he was going to wake up some other place again. He slammed into what he later identified as the windows of the front console and things were sheeted in blackness. He wasn't passing out. Pain was everywhere.
There was a thunderous crash that intercepted Steve's bleeding ears.
He was cold and freezing and it was everywhere and he couldn't breathe.
This was 1943.
The water rushed through the broken windows, throwing him against the chairs and the doors and the controls. He was going to die. Why wouldn't he die? Didn't he do enough? Suffered enough?
Steve opened his mouth in a soundless scream but only water flooded in. His lungs seized, coughing and choking but only more suffocated him. Everything burned. His arms, legs, bones, heart all blistered and ripped apart. This was just like the last time. It was the same. It was freezing cold and he knew something was broken and why wouldn't he pass out already?
There was no air.
He was going to die.
A spur of instincts, of a last second will to leave, had him kicking his legs, struggling to survive. Only his foot was stuck. He was stuck. There was no getting out of this. There was no ice to freeze him.
He heard a pop.
Then he felt it.
The bomb went off.
A concussion of air sent him careening through the cockpit, ripping his foot from where it was caught on the wheel. His head slammed against the overhang but the shockwave sent him through the empty window and spinning into the open water.
Everything went fuzzy.
Steve felt his eyes roll into the back of his head, which was a strange sensation when he couldn't control it, couldn't roll them back. A heavy exhaustion deadened his limbs. This was how he expected it to be, dying. Like falling asleep. Just drifting away. Resting with the fishes wasn't how he planned it. Nope, he dreamt of a bloody death, a valiant goodbye speech. Yet, as the tension drained out of him, Steve thought that this was okay, too.
The faint burn of the lack of oxygen bit at the back of his mind, but Steve figured that wasn't going to matter for too much longer.
Not breathing wasn't very pleasant.
He was pretty sure his complacency was due to the fact that he had a grievous head wound. Steve was almost positive Captain America shouldn't be so comfortable with dying. Captain America was supposed to fight for life, for everyone's life.
Steve was only twenty-four years old, but he'd fought for everyone long enough.
He had made many decisions in wartime, killed many people with his mistakes. He crashed through that because he was expected too. He got over it because he was expected to.
Promise them heaven, and they'll follow you to hell.
Steve was tired. His exhaustion was threaded to the bone. He'd played this pretense of being okay in this decade for a long enough, and he finally got to be done. He could see Peggy again. See Bucky. Meet his father. Kiss his mom. Be reunited with people he was positive loved him back.
The Avengers would survive without him. Might even be lightened without his oppressive presence hanging around the Tower. Tony could drink excessively without Steve badgering him to stop. Clint could go back to running missions alone, like Steve was aware that he missed. Thor could be Thor. No one could affect Thor. Steve didn't talk to Bruce much; maybe he'd be relieved that Steve didn't bug him with twenty-first century questions. Natasha didn't need anyone.
They would be just fine. Right?
Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine.
Maybe he didn't want to die.
Steve vaguely felt himself floating. Part of him wished that he wasn't healing already. Hell, it had to have been a few minutes. How long could he survive without air, anyway?
Someone was touching him. He wasn't okay with that. He didn't like being touched, no matter how grabby women were these days. Maybe it was due to the fact that he was trained to think that any physical contact was bad physical contact. Most of the time that was the truth. Although, maybe it wasn't someone. It was something. It felt too hard to be skin.
Then air was everywhere, rushing, whipping, and he was freezing again.
He didn't want to be cold anymore.
Someone was yelling and rambling swear words in his ear. It was annoying. He wished they'd stop. Suddenly he was on something flat and solid, and hands were on his face. They dug their fingers under his jaw. He wondered why they would do that. It didn't feel very good.
Why was it thundering? There hadn't been any clouds when he was in the plane. This storm must have brewed up real fast for that to happen.
Warm, stale air was fluttering like bird wings down his throat. Well, that was strange.
Steve felt hot water dribble down the corner of his mouth.
Someone was kissing him.
His lungs jumped and everything rushed back.
He was on the plane, and he was crashing, and everything was burning and everything hurt. His stomach rolled as he threw up saltwater. Hands were on his shoulders, tipping him on his side as he heaved up anything he'd ever inhaled ever in his life. His throat burned and he couldn't stop coughing and he couldn't breathe. Steve could almost hear his strangled breaths scrape past his throat.
The hands jerked him upright, propping him against something, and the pressure on his chest lightened. But the wheezing wouldn't stop, and he'd been in the plane again. He didn't want to wake up somewhere else. He couldn't do it. He wouldn't be able to handle it. He would crash and burn just like he always did.
"You ever do that to me again and you won't see the light of day for the rest of your God damn life."
Steve blinked, watery tears caused by the force of trying to breathe falling down his cheeks. He looked up at Tony.
"Jesus, Steve, when I tell you to jump, it's not like I'm not going to catch you."
Steve coughed hoarsely again. "'or crushin' me," he rasped.
Tony let up from where he was holding Steve against his shoulder. Steve's eyes drifted away from the billionaire. They were sitting on a boardwalk, and Thor was looming over Tony's shoulder. The god looked terrified. Steve turned his head to the other direction.
There was the ocean.
He saw the plumes of smoke, the remnants of the plane floating on the surface. There were a few boats hovering nearby, picking up the wreckage. A couple jets were flying away.
Steve didn't want to go back to 1943, but it had happened again anyway. The shivers started at his feet and raced up his spine, clenching every muscle, shaking every tendon. He was freezing and breaking, suffocating and dying. His foot was trapped under the console, except he wasn't getting out. The cold was trapping him, and he was never getting out. He was frozen. The ice was gripping his veins. He was stuck.
He was gone for seventy years while everyone he loved died.
A warm hand landed on his cheekbone and tugged his face skywards.
"We got you out this time, Steve."
His tremors escalated to near seizure-like levels. He didn't want to go back. He didn't want to die. It wasn't 1943. He just needed a minute. He just needed a couple minutes, and he'd be okay again.
Tony's hand gently pressed his head against the shoulder of the Iron Man suit.
Steve sucked in a strangled breath and said, "D-d-don't wan-want t' freeze."
"You're not going to," Tony stated. He sounded absolutely positive. Steve clung to that.
He heard a whispered exchange that was shuttered beyond the clattering of his teeth. Thor knelt beside him, a bright red blanket clenched in his hands. Tony snatched it from him, and Steve let himself be jostled, wrapped in the warm fabric.
Steve belatedly realized what it was
He jerked, tugging at the cape with his twitching fingertips. "B-but th-this 's your c-cape!"
Thor gravely shook his head.
"Not in your time of need," he said compassionately. "You should fear not, Captain. For your teammates would never allow you to suffer in such a matter that pains you so greatly. I swear by it."
Tony absently tugged the makeshift blanket tighter around Steve and muttered, "See, Thor swears by it. Consider that a good luck charm. Wow, you really know how to shiver like a pro. JARVIS, do you think you could heat up the outside of the armor?" Steve felt the hard metal on his right side warm. He self-consciously shifted closer. "And I'm obviously a genius."
A damp strand of Steve's hair fell into his eyes, and he felt clumsy, calloused fingers shove it back, threading through the rest of his hair on its way across. The action was uncharacteristically fond, and Steve was reminded of Bucky.
Only this wasn't 1943.
Steve was sure of that.
"Why does he shake so?" Thor asked, directing his gaze to Tony.
Tony shrugged. "It's a thing we humans do when we're cold…and it's a—I imagine the past is kind of slapping him in the face right now."
"Ahh," Thor hummed in understanding. "Captain, this is… this is but a memory revisited. You are not in that place anymore."
Steve sniffed, his head heavy and threatening to tip back with exhaustion. Maybe if he wasn't so thoroughly bruised, he'd be more up to acting strong, but he just couldn't pull that together right now. Captain America hadn't crashed a plane into the ocean.
Steve Rogers did.
"You're right. I just…" he trailed off, cold and hurt and tired.
"—need a minute," Tony supplemented.
The pain was coming back in throbbing waves, localizing around his right foot and forehead. He was still routinely wheezing, trying to cough up leftover water in his lungs. His stomach rolled violently, and Steve turned his head away from Tony, spitting up watery blood.
"Whoa, that's probably not a good sign," Tony said, something resembling concern coloring his voice. Steve grimaced, the bone-deep bruises that covered his entire body screaming in protest as he moved. He ignored Tony as he reached forward and fumbled with his boot, attempting to pull it off.
"'m fine," Steve mumbled. Tony slapped his hand away and carefully slid the red shoe off. Sharp pain shot up his leg, and Steve shoved two fingers in his mouth, biting away a whimper.
Tony swore, gently prodding at the swollen, purple ring around his ankle. "You're the paragon of health and longevity," he snapped. "Yeah, that's definitely broken. What else hurts, besides the not breathing for ten minutes and coughing up blood thing? Oh, and the gaping wound on your forehead, that's pretty visible, too."
The plane, alarms blaring, world shaking, heart breaking. Peggy crying, eyes burning, lungs seizing.
He sucked in a rasping breath, muscles jerking hard, and hazardously pulled his hands from where they were trapped in the blanket.
Water rushing, ribs breaking, head bursting, ice freezing.
A short burst of adrenaline, a realization of how everything was so suffocating, too close to him, and he scrambled out of Thor's cape, simultaneously shoving Tony in the chest. Space. Space. Air. He just needed air. Steve hid his face in his hands, struggling to maintain some semblance of control, because he wasn't okay. It was so hard to breathe. Because he was in the plane, always stuck in plane, in every nightmare, during every day. Steve Rogers was always stuck in that plane, and he was dying.
Everyone else was dying. Oxygen was nowhere to be found.
Steve pulled his hands away from his eyes, staring in mute fascination at how his palms shook. Small starbursts of contusions covered his knuckles, covered his fingers. Everything about him was black and blue. It made him strangely exposed, stripped down.
He was just a walking bruise. A breathing, gaping, throbbing wound.
Salty, thick liquid gathered in his mouth, and he weakly spit it onto the worn wood beneath him.
A rough sigh, the faint sound of footsteps, and calloused hands covering his.
"Okay," Tony said, practically whispered, really. "I get it. I truly do. And you know I do. You've seen this happen to me, to Clint."
He kept shivering. It wouldn't end. Steve focused on the light scars littered across Tony's skin. Remnants of Afghanistan. "I know, I-I just can't stop," he mumbled.
Tony shifted from where he was crouched in front of him. "And everyone reacts differently when stuff like this happens. I drink copious amounts of alcohol and almost destroy my company. Clint tries to stab us in our sleep." He exhaled heavily, waiting for Steve's next coughing fit to end. "And this was… Hell, Steve, this was identical to what happened the first time, and you have absolutely every right to freak out."
Steve's throat felt blistered, burning. His stomach flipped. He wanted to cough; he could feel the blood. But he was worried if he started this time, it wouldn't stop.
"Always a plane…" he drifted, barely opening his lips. His head was spinning, hearing muffled.
Tony nodded. "I bet it feels like that. But you're here. Now. No ice, I promise." His voice went low and fervent. "There will never be anymore ice."
The urge to cough was murdering his ability to speak, though he didn't know what he would say if he could. Steve slid his trembling hand out from underneath Tony's, and then carefully folded the other man's fingers. He tapped his knuckles against Tony's.
"That was undeniably cheesy, but I'm glad you're starting to get with the times. Signs of improvement."
Tony was doing that smirk thing he did when he wanted to smile, but was too cool to do, so Steve leaned over and threw up blood.
And didn't stop.
"Damn, that's not a sign of improvement," Tony muttered. Hands wrapped around Steve's shoulders and lowered him to his back.
"H-h-urts," Steve squeezed out between heaves.
Tony's hand landed on his cheek. He leaned over him. "I know, but it'll be all right, okay? Just relax, I've got everything under control. I've got you." Tony started shouting things to people, but he looked perfectly calm and composed, defying the flurry of his fingers as he began tearing the top of Steve's suit off.
Steve didn't know why he was doing that, but everything was washing dark anyways. Tony seemed to know what he was doing, so Steve figured it was okay to sleep for now, even if they were all shouting at him not to.
"This Wizard of Oz guy is really feeding them a line of bull, you know that? I can't believe you made me watch this."
Steve blinked sleepily, shuffling under the soft blanket pulled up to his neck.
"It has a good message," he mumbled.
Tony's eyes lit up when he saw Steve looking at him. "Well, hello there! I was only sitting here, graying, losing precious minutes of my inexplicably more important life while you slept the day away."
Steve pulled his hand from underneath the sheet and uncoordinatedly tapped at the side of the tablet Tony was holding until he turned it and showed him the movie. He watched the Scarecrow sing about wanting a brain. He kind of felt like that when he listened in on Tony and Bruce's conversations.
"How you feelin'?"
Tony snorted. "I can deal with that." He awkwardly let his gaze roam around the room until he sighed dramatically and argued, "Would you quit it with the toddler innocent blue eyes? You're making my stomach uncomfortably warm."
Steve smiled tiredly.
"Thank you, Tony. I'm glad you were there."
Tony rolled his eyes, propped the tablet at an angle, and they watched Dorothy go back to Kansas.
"So am I."
Shameless, shameless fluff... Couldn't help myself, guys. I'm sorry!
So. Update on my other story. The actual filled-with-plots-and-stuff one. I kind of ran into some creative headway. It originally was only going to be three chapters of action-filled Steve-centric angst and whatnot. Then I started making brownies and this whole other dimension, "Oh my God, Mandy, you should throw in another character who's name rhymes with Flint and flirt with their SHIELD-issued issues! MORE EMOTIONS, MANDY. MORE EMOTIONS."
So, yeah. As it turns out. I probably have another few thousand words to write.
I was gonna give you guys some frosting, and my muse decided, what the hell, let's put some substance-y cupcakes under it.
Well, you are aware of my reasoning for delay if you read that.
So, expect a few more days wait. Sorry, kids!