Title is taken from Mumford & Sons wonderful masterpiece called "I Will Wait."
Tony Stark is alive, and the first thing he sees is Hulk roaring in his face. His heart is still freaking out a bit. Whether it's from the almost-dying bit or the holy-shit-he-almost-died, he's not quite sure. What sits below the fact that Jesus fucking Christ he flew a bomb into a portal in a total on-the-wire move (eat that Captain Crotchety) is the adrenaline rush of the century. He's either mainlined caffeine or overloaded on the Adderall because he feels like he could run a few hundred miles. That, or let every single nerve in his body shake and explode.
Hell, he's done a lot of scary things, seen a lot of scary, been through some brutal stuff, but falling like that was absolutely terrifying. A complete loss of control. He had no way out.
It was a long way down from cloud nine.
The whole "sacrificing himself for the country" thing is quite the monster lurking in the background, and he's sure it's going to take a hell of a lot of alcohol to sort through that one, but it's not necessarily the worst problem he's ever had.
Everyone's still alive. Snotty New Yorkers and their despicable manners all breathing and all alive. The Starbucks around the corner is okay. His tower, his poor, Loki'd tower, still standing. Stupid gods and their stupid hurt feelings.
Back to the minor heart problem he's having.
There is no other way to describe his reaction other than to throw around the name of a sacrificial dude who came before him. And, man, respect. He's torn between having a panic attack and celebrating his victory with shawarma of all things. He almost leans toward the former, but he can't. He won't. That isn't manly, or a Tony Stark thing to do, and he's sick of not breathing, anyway. And he really, really can't because there's a pair of blue eyes and chiseled-by-Hollister features leaning over him and looking something like relieved.
His kneejerk reaction is to scream "I told you so!" in Rogers' face and jump up and down on the couch like a five year old, but he isn't a child no matter what Pepper says, and everyone looks just a hair past tired and verging on completely exhausted.
So beyond oh-my-god-that-was-terrifying-never-doing-it-again, a panic attack isn't lurking, so he settles with, "Please tell me nobody kissed me."
Things happen and people catch their breath, and then, "We won," follows and dominates everything. Because if Captain America says we won, then they probably did.
Captain America is also the guy who holds out a hand and helps him to his feet, and doesn't let go for a second longer than necessary. If he stops to think about that for a second, Captain fucking America just helped him up and that would be really cool if he didn't want to strangle the guy every time he looks at him.
So he smirks and drawls, "What? Worried about me, Captain?"
Rogers gives him a flat, exasperated glance. It mirrors Pepper in a way. God, Pepper. "Are you okay? Falling like that, it's not fun."
He thinks about whether crashing a plane into the ocean is equivalent to falling from the sky, and decides that it probably is. He's hacked into the guy's files, read the extensive injury list, and ouch, is about how that had looked, and a lot like how he feels now.
"I'm golden, Captain Spanx."
The mildly irritated look returns, probably tempered by the fact that they're all so tired. "Just get to medical, yeah?"
"You're so caring."
He salutes Rogers with plenty of gusto, and starts to head towards the helicarrier, because a solid, heavy aching is starting to swamp him, and he's pretty sure he has more than a couple cracked ribs from the Hulk's catch. He's just a few feet away, when a voice makes him turn around. "Stark?"
There's a serious tone in there, so he's not quite as snarky as he wants to be. "Yeah?"
"No more portals for a while."
Ugh, there's a peace offering in there, and it just figures that Rogers is the one to slide it across the table.
"Not planning on it, Cap," he amends. "Definitely not planning on it."
Steve's heart is in his throat. He's flipping everywhere and falling and things are breaking and the winds blowing in his ears. There's a whipping noise, and he's vaguely aware that that's probably his clothes. It's ripping, whipping, zipping, and he's falling. He wasn't ready for this fight, wasn't wearing his suit, didn't have his shield. He had trousers and a button down shirt on, because he doesn't care about the rest of society these days. He feels positively naked without a tie and a belt on.
But that doesn't matter now, because clothes aren't going to save him, not when he's heading for the concrete. He's a super soldier, that much is true, but he's not going to survive that one, not a direct impact.
He can't see anything, just flashes of dizzying colors and spinning lights and he's going to die.
He's going to die in one painful splat and that's not how he expected to do. He thinks of that documentary he watched, about those towers, and the people falling, and how he probably looks just like that. Spinning, flipping, turning, crashing, dying.
Except there's a rush of warmth and missiles going off, and he hits something hard, really hard, but not cement. All the air is squeezed out of his chest in one pop, pushed out by the metal wrapped around his lungs.
He tries to focus on breathing, needs to focus on breathing, needs to focus on something, and ends up looking at the single red arm holding him in the air.
"Cutting it close with the swan dive there, Cap," he hears Tony yell.
Steve doesn't respond, can't talk when he's like this. Tony slows, and Steve looks down at the streets a hundred feet below him.
"Where am I dropping you off, Cap?"
He tries to squeak in a breath. He can hear himself wheezing, whether it's from the sudden stop or close call is undecided. Steve settles with a hollowed-out gasp of, "Anywhere."
Tony jets downward, and Steve almost falls to the ground in prayer when his feet hit a solid surface.
"You gonna be okay?"
Steve, hands on his knees, tries to shake his head. "Just need a minute."
There's a pause, in which Tony doesn't leave and Steve doesn't talk, and he wonders what's going on. He looks up, red-faced and tired. He meets Tony's eyes, and they exchange something, Steve's not sure what, but it's not bad.
Bullets, bombs, pounding, wrenching, pain—
Tony starts awake, heart pounding and lump in his throat. This is what he gets for staying conscious for two days. He gets sleep-deprived and drinks too much and watches horror movies, and it's a horrible combination—trigger—the logical part of his mind screams. There are fine shakes running up his arms. It feels like ants are crawling up and down his spine, and for a moment it's boomboomboom, but he's not there. He's here and he has a wonderful girlfriend and Jarvis and other people living in his house.
That's what he does when he gets like this. He lists everything he has, because as of late, it's amounting to a hell of a lot. He has a kickass suit and a kickass Pepper. He has a majority of America backing him because he's no longer a self-absorbed billionaire and the "redemption" story never wears thin. He has two spies, a Hulk, a god, and a Captain, on his side, so suck that anyone who has ever said he doesn't keep good company.
Right now all he wants is something to drink. The little voice in the back of his head is helpful in reminding him that below alcohol he just wants to be reminded that someone else is around. He might be ashamed of that, how not-Tony that sounds. But, hell, it's true.
Pepper is away on business, a week-long thing in Maui or something. She's gone, so bad movies and bourbon are his go-to.
He lurks his way to the kitchen, absently running his fingers along the wall, grounding himself. The sheetrock is smooth and temperature-less against his skin, and if anyone discovered this habit it'd be really embarrassing, but no one has, and he's going to keep doing it.
When he rounds the corner the first thing he sees is the view, which is as stunning as always, and the second thing he sees is Captain America sitting cross-legged on his living room looking at said view. For a moment he's worried that he's interrupted some sort of philosophical brooding session, then he laughs at himself because this is Steve Rogers. Well, he's pretty sure it is. There are ridiculously broad shoulders and stupidly blonde hair, both traits possessed by one person and one person only.
He blinks away the sleep when he hears, "Hey, Tony."
Steve didn't turn around to look at him, so those are some awesome awareness skills, but he's not going to tell him that. His vision clears up, and he realizes that Steve's right arm is moving with small, measured movements. It's almost like he's drawing something. A buried memory sparks, worn paper, bubbly cartoons on a journal, his father.
He walks up behind Steve after he dismisses how so damn cool it is that Captain America is drawing on his living room floor. When he leans over, he gets a glimpse of a picture.
"Are those colored pencils?"
Steve picks up a red.
"No," he replies easily.
Tony squints. "Uh, I'm pretty sure they are."
The Manhattan skyline is rising from the yellowed edges of the paper, and the eye-catching part of the picture are all the colors bleeding between the buildings. There are mellowed pinks and oranges misting through the air, gray clouds smudged with a thumb fading in the sky, lights reflecting off the windows.
"Don't people normally paint a sunrise? Like, with brushes and watercolors and whatnot?"
Steve shrugs, carefully rubbing his forefinger over a pair of wings, with one movement letting the blackbird take flight. "I'm not good with 'watercolors and whatnot.'"
"I doubt that," Tony mocks mildly. "From what I'm looking at you're pretty damn talented."
Steve's hand stops, and Tony watches him slide another piece of paper from underneath the folder on his lap. A black and white Iron Man is laid out in front of him. "So are you. The dimensions on that suit of yours are flawless."
He blinks, surprised for a moment. "Thanks, I guess."
"Any particular reason why you're shaking?"
Tony freezes where he's perched over Steve's shoulder. "Am not."
He hears Steve breathe out slowly. "Okay, then. Why don't you go back to sleep?"
"Why don't you?" he retorts shortly.
Steve hums quietly, lifting his head up enough that Tony can see just a hint of ice blue as he stares into the muffled colors of the rising sun. He looks like a strange cross between a star-struck tourist and a tired soldier long-since scarred from the war. "That view—it's only here once a day." He presses three fingers to the glass, like he's going to reach out and touch the light. A stray ray hits his cheek, and for a breath Tony truly isn't sure whether he's looking at a ninety year old man or a twenty-something youth. "Hasn't changed in seventy years."
"Look," Steve finishes.
Tony raises his head and witnesses the sunrise for the hundredth time and maybe the first.
Warmth is filtering through the windows. Gentle yellow light is rising from the buildings, the heart of its source obscured by a skyscraper. The sun outlines the buildings, pours into his room, pours into the world. A gray haze is dissipating, burned away by heat, but it lingers in the atmosphere, clinging to the clouds. His walls double as windows, and they're partly open, because a cool breeze wanders in and graces his cheek. A bird swoops down in front of them, a light flickers on across the street, water rushes in the nearby harbor. The city looks and breathes alive. Tony takes it in, and releases the rest of it, releases the black and blood and lets the gold and yellow wrap around him. His nerves loosen. This must be what relaxing feels like.
Steve's hand falls away from the glass, and the opening closes. A rustle from upstairs, someone moving, the soft shuffle of footsteps, breaks the air.
Tony backs up until he feels the couch behind him and sinks into it. He glances over at Natasha's How the Steel Was Tempered lying right next to Steve's The Old Man and the Sea.
He watches Steve pick up the yellow pencil and listens to the quiet scratching.
Tony finds that he can't remember his dream anymore.
Passing out is something that Captain America doesn't do. Nope, he doesn't. He can't. He wonders if he's even physically capable of it. He probably is. Hell, he blacked out when the plane crashed—a little too late to ignore the whole suffocating and drowning part, but he'd done it.
So he's not entirely sure that he's immune to it right now.
Actually he feels like it's a pretty damn good possibility.
It's not even for a good reason either.
Tipping the scale on eighty-seven hours without sleep?
Especially when a solid seventy of those hours were spent fighting for his life in an adrenaline-fueled haze. He feels pretty hazy now. Things have started to taken on a disconnected feeling. He doesn't really remember much, or focus on much. He's aware of the fact that Clint's hanging on his shoulder—or is he the one hanging? He's not really sure, but the archer passed giggling a few minutes ago and has reached the point of acting like he's shuffling his feet when he's really not and sleeping.
Sleep would be nice.
Steve wants to go to bed.
After getting checked out with a clean bill of health at the headquarters and adamantly refusing to spend the night there—he was much more coherent then—he'd dragged Clint out the door and Clint had dragged him, and it's a good thing there had been a taxi because he's positive he would've driven his bike into a pole or something. Once he stabs the UP button—floor 87, 45, or 98?—he and Clint and kind of sag against the door, and Clint says something, mumbles it really, and they start laughing for no reason whatsoever. In reality, Steve's reaching the point to where he's not sure whether he's laughing or crying in complete hysteria. Everything's too bright and too dim and wow, he's tired.
When the door opens, he's in the living room and Natasha is right there like a spider monkey.
She takes Clint off his arm and says something about sleep, bed, food, or moisture. He's not real sure.
But he is sure that he's starving.
So he spins away, sort of, probably stumbles, and wanders into the kitchen, and oh, chicken, and they really didn't have this much meat back in the forties. It's breaded, and that tastes pretty nice, even if it's kind of greasy and he doesn't like that. After he almost swallows that whole, he moves onto the banana and finishes out with the Gatorade. As it turns out, if he doesn't feel like fainting after an extended battle, electrolytes are a good thing. Ugh, hadn't that been an awkward lesson learned.
Then he's really tired.
Hugging the Gatorade with one arm to his chest, he meanders down the hall and sees sliding steel doors and the computer-guy-man/butler says something but it's really garbled, and Tony should fix that.
There are two steps onto the main floor.
He realizes that a step too late.
This mistake results in an awkward downward stumble, but he remains standing during it, so he figures that's a plus. Tony pokes his head up from the shiny-something he's working on, and he's got oil stains on one cheek and coffee on his collar and looks very mechanical and domesticated and that's real weird compared to the suits and pressed-smile Steve is used to.
"—look like a train wreck—what are you—even conscious—now—Steve?"
Steve blinks and Tony is right in front of him.
He settles with, "Hi."
"I'm pretty sure you just took a nap standing up. While impressive, it's really not healthy, and Jesus, you need to go a few rounds with the sandman."
The room is blurring in and out of focus.
Steve's lips feel sluggish and slow, but he manages to push an eloquent, "Huh?" out.
"Why don't you turn around and walk to your room and sleep for a really long time, yeah? Insomnia-drunk is definitely a look only I look good in. Hey, I'll even have Jarvis tell you where to go, 'cause you don't look like you could make it—" Steve sways a bit to his left and Tony blurts out, "Hell, maybe I better help you there. Don't want Cap passed out in the hallway, do we? No, that definitely wouldn't be good. So let's just turn around and go that way and you can take a nice, long, not-seventy-year cat nap."
Tony's hands are on his biceps, and Steve tips his head down and announces that, "You have a couch."
"That," Tony deadpans. "That is indeed a couch." He goes back to rambling. "I'm proud, excellent approximation skills and whatnot, you incredibly tired mess, you."
Tony sounds strangely fond right now, but things are spinning in lazy circles, so Steve's not going to analyze.
Steve proudly decides that he's going to fall over. Hey, at least it's a decision.
And that's exactly what he does.
He tips forward, mostly downward, and sags against Tony. He feels his cheek mash against an overly warm collarbone and hears his bottle hit the floor and wonders about the weird airy sensation in his knees and a startled oof! of Tony's, "JARVIS, what the hell, he's, Jesus, bleeding, not bleeding, tell me no bleeding, I hate bleeding. Tired, right? Really fucking tired? God, dude, give me heart attack why don't you. JARVIS, what gives? Analysis, pronto, Houston, hurry up."
He's heaved up and over and settled into a sitting position on the couch.
Fingers push open his jacket and tickle his ribs which doesn't feel nice so he pushes them away and—
"Definitely not trying to tickle you, junior. Checking for-. Never mind. Jarvis, what's the deal?"
"Captain Rogers is showing signs of severe fatigue and has a wound on his abdominal which is sixty-five percent healed."
Steve's head dips down and he drags it back up, blinking widely at Tony's features. The other man heaves a sigh, shoulders dropping, and then he pushes Steve to lay down on the couch, simultaneously picking up his feet and plopping them at the end.
"Gonna kill me, smalls, jeez. Go to sleep."
A blanket drapes over his body, followed by "Could at least use the pillow," and a not-so-uncaring hand shoves the pillow under his head and the support feels real nice on his neck and… "Golden retriever, I swear," he hears Tony mutter and then, then, there are fingers in his hair, and then…
The Iron Man's thrusters just shut off.
One second he's flying and the next he's dropping out of the sky like a brick thrown in a lake.
It's terrifying and heart-stopping and he just falls and falls and falls.
Voices are screaming in his ear, and he can specifically pick out Steve shouting in that admittedly-intimidating Captain America to Thor. His mind tailspins in a thought train of no wonder why people fell to their knees to follow the guy around in the forties, Steve's got the octave of Thor with the authority of fucking Jesus. It's either that or the monster set of washboards.
Then he's wrenched back to the fact that he's plummeting to earth with no end in sight except the ugly gray of the cement, and this was not how he planned his 72 virgins. Buildings whip past him and windows and a gay couple eating watermelon and making out, and isn't it nice how integrated New York is, and oh, fuck he's going to die.
He comes to swinging halt.
No, it feels more like someone is trying to rip his femurs out of his pelvis, but he's suspended upside down and not falling and looking at the previous couple. Wow, that's some intense tonsil hockey precedes the Steelers are winning which is followed by a loud cranial booooooo. Ow, whiplash. Once the buzzing starts to fade, he cranes his neck up, sees Steve wrapped around the boots of his armor, and starts laughing a bit hysterically because that was way too close.
With a couple heaving jerks, he's pulled through the window of some abandoned building or another, and Steve catches him for a second time when hiss knees aren't ready for standing and they both hit the dusty wooden floor. He looks over and Steve's sweating with exertion, one arm caught under the neck of his suit and the other sprawled out aimlessly, appearing like he never wants to move again.
"You didn't dislocate anything, did you?"
Steve turns his head and his eyes waltz up and down the armor. "No. You okay?"
"Cool as a cucumber."
Steve blows out a heavy breath. "Your suit is heavy."
"Like you're one to talk."
"Don't make me throw you back out of that window, Stark."
"Fair point," he concedes. "Thanks, for that, anyway."
Steve pats the arc reactor.
This plan had backfired. Most of his plans, if not all them, never backfire. It sounds cocky to say so, arrogant like he's pretty sure he isn't, but it's true, and he's proud of it. He puts heavy thought into every one of his plans. He tries to cover every base. He tries to make sure everyone has the highest chance of winning. He plays to everyone strengths. The robots coming out of nowhere had not been accounted for. One second he was in a manageable battle with a droid, and the next there were six steel-eyed monsters around him, and then whack goes something against his skull.
The noise is more disorientating than the hot flare of pain, but it's the things that wrap around his legs that send him careening off the side of the building. He leaves his stomach somewhere at the top.
He flips, flips, flips, and then hits with a heavy jolt, but it's not an impact with cement he opens his eyes to, it's the grinning face of Tony Stark.
"Princess, we have to stop meeting like this."
His head is spinning and everything is shaking like an earthquake is rocking the world. Steve blinks rapidly, redirecting the stream of blood that threatens to fall into his eye. He reaches up with one arm and wipes it away, flinching back when pain assaults his brain. This makes him tilt dizzily the other way, except he's not standing and his ear hits what feels like metal and—.
"Is there a threshold nearby that I need to walk over, or what?"
Steve looks over Tony's shoulder and the ground is beneath him but he's not touching it…
"With this catch, I thee wed?"
"Okay, I know we've got this whole 'bromance' thing going on, but this is seriously kinky, even for me. That's saying something, too."
The roaring in his forehead finally settles down, the concussion healing. He looks the other direction, and realizes that that's Tony's arm on the side of his ribcage, which means that—
With a positively undignified squeak, Steve flips out of Tony's arms because he's not a lady or a bride and how very awkward. Ears red, he rubs at the itching, closing wound on his head. He throws Tony a sheepish look. "Thank you."
Tony doesn't even say anything, he just laughs really hard and snaps the faceplate of his suit back down. His thrusters fire up, loud and impressive, and he zooms back into the air. Steve watches him fly away.
Steve owes him a lot.
And the biggest thing is probably his life.
Tony fights through the dirt, claws at it, feels heavy rocks cut his fingers and rip his nails. He pushes and pushes and pushes because he's good at it and that's what he does. Everything he has is bleeding and everything he's not is glowing and burning and fucking thing is useless. His breath is ragged and punctured. He feels punctured. He feels like he's leaking blood all over the place, leaving a nice trail for the wicked witch to come and try and kill him again.
Sweat stings as it falls down his face and he hopes to fucking God that those are beads of sweat and not tears because he's not going to fucking cry. He's not.
His chest heaves, full of metal and shrapnel and absolutely pointless because it holds nothing because he is nothing, and they have to be gone by now. It's been days. Weeks. It's been too fucking long and he's too fucking hideous to keep and to wait for and damn it he cares now, he cares about surviving and they don't and he just can't breathe.
He slaps at the branches and weeds in his way. He pushes forward. He has to.
Maybe they're looking.
He shoves dirt and blood and gore and god, the rings. Water falls off the leaves above him, wet from the rain, clear and perfect. He thinks of professional skirts. He thinks of storms and lightning and black spiders scuttling across the ground and flaming arrows and powerful roars and red, white, blue.
It's a strange combination to anyone else but it's everything to him.
It's everything and it's dead. He's been dead.
He trips and stumbles on fallen logs and weeds and hanging trees.
The sun burns his cheeks and the heat empties his skin and his heart and everything else.
He's in the middle of fucking nowhere, with no help, because who wants to help Tony Stark? Perpetual pain in the ass, narcissistic, self-worshiping dick who thinks of no one but the reflection, which is so wrong, that's not how it is, but it's hard to change and he does care, way too fucking much.
He's going to get out of this and he's not. He's away from them.
But he's going to die here. He's going to die on his own terms.
That should be a comfort, would be a comfort to someone who was truly a hero and noble and all the stupid shit like that, but he's not, because damnit, he doesn't want to die.
Not at all. He's not ready. He has friends and a beautiful woman and a company and gets to see Captain America with paint in his hair and Thor eating poptarts and he looks forward to it. Every fucking day he looks forward to it.
Tony starts coughing, hard and long, spitting out blood and maybe a tooth, and he can't catch his breath. His vision flickers in and out and his knees wobble and he wants to sleep. He wants to lay down and take a nap for a few decades, but he doesn't. He doesn't. He gets up, even though every joint screams and rips in protest. He gets up because he wants to. It hurts. It's agonizing. He does it anyway.
He lurches and crawls and yells his way through the chaos.
Tony walks for hours.
Not a soul.
His head is heavy and blurred. His heart slows. The arc reactor starts to dim. The tension unfolds from his muscles. They never came. Didn't come. Probably left. He's going to die. He rakes in a strangled breath. He doesn't want to die but he's going to anyway. He doesn't want to die at all. The pain flares up in one massive wave. It swoops over him and takes control of everything, sends the rhythmic rasping of his breaths into a panicked whimper.
Then there's a voice.
There's a rustling in the trees, and hands close around his arms and he looks up into worried blue eyes. He sees blonde hair, and Steve's stupid fucking face that looks perfect no matter what he does. Steve's shouting his name, and not even in his Captain America voice, no, in his Steve voice that sounds tired and worried and relieved.
He'd thought they left.
"Left? To go where?" Steve asks in a confused tone, tightening his grip and looking directly into his eyes, because is he's practically allergic to hiding, completely embraces being right there in every moment and nakedly honest because that's how he's raised and everything's black and white with him. They came. Some of his mumbles must have slipped out because Steve blinks and says very matter-of-factly, "We all had nowhere else to be unless it was finding you."
Oh, Steve. Stupidly honest and openhearted and wonderfully kickass Steve.
It hits him hard. It hits him like a tidal wave, is a tidal wave, that he'll wake up tomorrow and smell coffee and see paint-streaked cheeks and eat Pop-tarts and he'll take a breath and he'll be alive. A hand grips the short hair on the back of his head, and if hot tears wash his face when Steve locks him in a hug, well, that doesn't matter because Steve won't tell a soul. Captain America catches him and Steve carries him out of the rainforest and Tony doesn't find it nearly as surprising as he thought he would.
Steve's limp and bleeding in his arms, motionless and unresponsive.
He's barely breathing and leaking red all over his fucking suit.
He's not pissy about almost plummeting to his death or complaining about how Tony's clutching him too hard or having trouble catching his breath because falling like that scares the hell out of both of them. Both of them.
No. He's just there but not and Tony's gaze skips around his white face and down to the scenery blurring below them, and he's going to fly fast enough, going to get Steve help fast enough, going to—
Return the favor lags behind do what they always do.
And Tony pulls him closer and ignores the strangled breaths and focuses on the all the ass he's going to kick of fucking doctors of doom and he's going to rip that guy to fucking shreds—
The arc reactor is laying on the floor.
Tony is not attached to it.
Steve's mind short-circuits at this.
Then he curses himself and springs into action and grabs the thing and it slips through his fingers and he's not fast enough.
Tony's sprawled out on the floor, unconscious and not moving and probably slipping into cardiac arrest. Steve scrambles forward to kneel in front of him and stares emptily at the damn hole in Tony's chest. He doesn't know how to put this back in. He has no clue. He has no idea because he's such a damn fool and never, ever prepared for this and now Tony's going to—
"Captain, in order to reinsert the arc reactor you—"
And everything slips away after that, as he puts Tony's heart back into his body under Jarvis's careful instruction and Tony wakes up, gasping for air, and alive and all sorts of good things like that. Tony isn't breathing right so Steve props him up against his arm and Tony pats his knee and lets out a strangled, "Good catch."
Steve wakes up alone.
Steve goes to sleep alone.
Steve wakes up and everyone's dead.
Steve goes to sleep and everyone's dead.
It's a vicious cycle: Steve has nothing and refuses to take something. It spins and spins and wrecks him. He gets run through the washboard and twisted dry until every last drop of hope is gone. This is a self-inflicted disease. Steve wasn't he one who shot himself, but he is the one who hurts too selfishly to pull it out. He won't let himself hurt and he won't let himself heal and it's equally exhausting and terrifyingly lonely, but he does it. If some nights he sleeps on the floor, tucked into the corner of the room with swing music thundering over and over in his eardrums, then, well, he's surviving, isn't he?
He lives in the Avengers' tower. His team calls it that. They are his team. He accepts this and embraces it with a different part of himself. He holds them close to the side of his heart that isn't burnt and blistered and charred beyond belief, because that's just an open sore.
It's not that he doesn't feel happy sometimes. He does. He does quite often, actually.
He feels happy when they win and there are no casualties.
He feels happy when Natasha laughs, when Clint plays a prank, when Bruce chuckles, when Thor blushes as Jane walks in the room, and even when Tony spins off into an insane ramble of some enlightenment that Steve wouldn't understand in a thousand years.
So there are good things.
But there are mostly bad things.
There are mostly smells that make his stomach hit the floor, references that make the hair on his neck stand up, touches that make him miss minutes of conversation, and moments that have him retreating to his room and sliding down his wall and staring at the picture of Peggy he drew and wondering why he didn't die in that plane crash.
Steve picks an anniversary.
He picks the day that his old life ended without him knowing, not the day that his new life started without his permission.
It's January. It's the twenty-second of the month.
It's been seventy years.
Peggy died three months ago. She died with her eyes on Steve and left him walking out of the room while the nurses rushed in, left him flying home without saying a word, left him entering the tower without saying a world, left him falling to his knees in his room without saying a word, left him not saying much at all for a week. He's over that now, and he's okay every single day of the week, but today is the twenty-second of January and Steve's going to accept it for what it is. Peggy had told him not to linger, anyways.
He's not sure he knows how to do what she asked.
So he stands in front of Bucky's grave and stares at the numbers engraved there. It's snowing heavily but slowly, and the ground is coated with white. Everywhere he looks is white It's white and contrasts blankly with the gray of the headstone. There's no body underneath it, but Steve had used his meek pay and sent to get it made, because he figures he's going to need something to come back to and thank once this war is over with.
The war ends but it doesn't, not really.
Maybe he sits down in the snow and curls his knees up and holds his arms underneath them for a long time, tracing that date over and over again. Maybe. He stares for a long time. He stares until the burning ache in his heart spills over his eyes. He stares until that ache dries, as most things do, and the snowflakes falling on his hair settle and the ones on his cheek melt. He stares until the cold sinks into his bones and he has to gather himself tighter around his wounded chest.
He stares until the jacket drapes over his shoulders, warm with use, warmer than he feels now, has in over a year.
Steve buries his head in his knees at that, because it aches, aches in a way he's not prepared for but wants too much to bear. He takes in a staggered breath. For him, hiding is a strange thing. It's an unfamiliar beast after spending years with his arms spread wide and daring everyone and everything to take a shot. He's not comfortable with this. His first reaction with this gaping wound is to let it bleed and let it stay because he's not afraid of it, but he really truly is.
Then an arm with blood in its veins and breaths in its lungs settles over his shoulder and Steve lets it stay there, because just this once he thinks that maybe someone else can stand on the frontline for him.
Steve wakes up alone.
Steve goes to sleep not.
"Have you ever noticed that they—"
"—have a knack of—"
Thor looks between Clint and Natasha with confusion written all over his face, and peers at Bruce for help.
The scientist shrugs. "I don't know."
Clint and Natasha seem to think that their conversation is done, or maybe it's not, maybe they've developed some sort of telepathy he's not privy to.
"Comrades, what is this interaction you speak of?"
The spies startle, like they were completely unaware that two other people were in the room. Well, a Hulk and a god. Clint nods toward where Tony and Steve are eating ice cream directly out of the bucket with two spoons. Bruce has seen weirder, unfortunately. "Tony and Steve," Clint starts. "They're little bromance—"
"—they kind of—"
Bruce rubs the seemingly perpetual crease between his eyes. "Guys."
"I possess the power of Allspeak and I fail to comprehend this confabulation!"
Bruce gives Thor a sideways look. "Confabulation?"
"I know what it means."
Natasha casually takes a sip of wine and looks at Clint. "You should—"
"—take this one?"
Bruce looks over at Steve and Tony's ice cream and sighs.
"Cease this wordless communication!" Thor thunders loudly, the building shaking in response.
Over the low buzz of the TV, Tony's voice echoes, "Kids, don't make Thor angry. You're shaking my building."
"Tony and Steve are like…eerily in tune with each other."
Bruce thinks about this for a moment, watching as Tony says something and Steve laughs. "Is this a bad thing?"
"No, of course not, no. It's great, actually. It's just… Well, did you see it coming?"
He thinks about their first meeting on the helicarrier and the arguments and the tension and the completely polar opposite personalities. He thinks about Tony's overanalyzing tendencies and Steve's never-talking tendencies. He didn't, not really. He doesn't really pay very much attention to team dynamics, that's Steve's job, but it was just a thing. Steve and Tony kind of just became friends. It was just that.
"You make a point. I don't know, maybe with Tony's—"
"—people issues, trust issues, dark places issues…"
"—twenty-four seven grieving session that he thinks he's really good at hiding but not?"
"They balance one another."
Bruce, Clint, and Natasha blink at Thor in surprise.
"I have lied. This language of yours 'tis simple intuition and camaraderie."
Bruce chuckles and pats Thor's shoulder, eyeing the two men sitting on the couch, watches Tony boo and throw popcorn at the television and Steve attempt a rough sketch of the Miami Dolphin's logo.
"That it is, Thor."
Um. What was supposed to be a 2,000 word little blurb about two scenes turns into what is hopefully a slow-burn relationship build that ends in a great friendship. I wasn't sure how to end it so I wrapped it up with a bunch of unfinished sentences and cheesy metaphors.
Anyways. Yeah. Steve and Tony whump! Always enjoyable.
Did you like it? I haven't had a good one shot in a while...