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The world is black and white.

Steve draws in charcoal, sometimes thinking of how it would be to see colours. Everyone’s heard the legends, myths, stories; every person who’s found their soulmate has exclaimed in wonder, looking around. But it’s not something that could be described.

He uses pencils sometimes, and never stops hoping.

Maybe the next day, he’ll learn what blue looks like.

Maybe.

There’s a fleeting thought, just before he gets injected with the serum – what if this will make him see? But it doesn’t.

He goes in the ice, and he doesn’t know what blue really is.

***

He wakes up, and something is immediately different.

Everything hurts. He’s cold, so very cold.

There’s a robot looking at him, and the world isn’t black and white anymore.

He looks around, at the small woman and a tall man standing next to the robot, and none of them look as if their world just changed. The robot – it looks like an armour, Steve thinks, dazed. It’s bright, and shining, and wonderful. He doesn’t know how to name the colours. Green? Red? Purple? He knows the names, but he doesn’t know what they mean.

It doesn’t matter. He can see them, and it’s wonderful.

It makes it all easier.

***

Steve asks, once. Iron Man nods, and refuses to take his helmet off. “It’s better this way, Cap,” he says.

“But we’re soulmates,” Steve whispers. It’s not just a word: he’s never understood anyone the way he understands Iron Man, never felt the same connection as he does during the long nights when they sit in the library together.

But Iron Man never tells him who he is.

***

Steve learns the colours.

Red, like blood, and gold, like sun, and both of them, like Iron Man. The sky is blue. Steve loves the colour.

Tony Stark’s eyes are blue, too, and Steve sometimes catches himself looking in them, losing track of the world.

Steve starts drawing him. He never asks him to model. He thinks he wants to, but it seems too intimate somehow, so he only sketches him in his notebook and then adds the colours.

Steve loved charcoal and pencils, but the colourful world is so different he doesn't like leaving his pictured black and white.

(The first time he went to an art gallery after waking up, he was amazed. There were pictures clearly painted by people who hadn’t met their soulmates, and they astonished him with the wild, unnatural choice of colours, a world that might be.)

***

Sometimes his vision goes blurry, the colours getting desaturated, almost grey. He panics, never knows what it means.

He learns years later that those were the times Iron Man’s chestplate almost ran down.

He wakes up in hospital once, Iron Man standing next to him. “Black and white world isn’t really interesting anymore,” he says. “Don’t do this.”

Steve thinks he’d like to see his eyes, but he doesn’t answer.

***

When Iron Man armour dissolves, leaving a mostly naked Tony Stark, Steve can’t even get mad.

The red thongs seem too sharp, the rich colour like blood.

***

He corners Tony hours later, hands on the both sides of him, and finally understands why he’s never could look away from his eyes. “Shellhead,” he says.

Tony looks at him, and Steve can see all the arguments he’s going to throw at him any moment now, all the reasons they shouldn’t be together.

“Oh, fuck it,” Tony says, and kisses him.

***

Steve isn’t sure if it’s possible, but he thinks the colours are even fuller now.

He paints Tony in various light, wishing to catch all of him on paper.

(Tony’s smile is more beautiful than any colour could ever be)

***

“SHRA,” Tony says. “Superhero Registration Act.”

Just like that, the world goes grey.

Tony looks stricken. It’s a few long seconds, and he runs, and Steve doesn’t catch him. He’s not sure what’s going on.

***

“Finish it,” Tony says, the world all black and white but for his eyes –

Steve hesitates, and then the civilians are on him, catching him, pulling him away.

Steve stares at Tony, and the colours slowly return to him, never as strong as they used to be.

***

Steve dies.

He comes back, and everything is black and white.

His thoughts run to Tony, and the next thing he knows he’s standing next to him, listening to a recording asking if he wants him to come back.

(He does, if only to yell at him.)

***

“I don’t remember it,” Tony says one night, hiding his face in Steve’s chest. “When you died. The world must have went monochromatic, but I don’t remember it. I’m so glad.”

I do, Steve thinks, remembering Tony’s still form lying on a life-support, Steve's world grey and all of Tony's memories on a hard drive.

(Not all, but that’s for the best.)

***

The world briefly goes dim again, questions about the Infinity Gauntlet, about the Illuminati, on his tongue.

There's a snowstorm going on around them. Steve isn't cold. You lied to me is what he can’t stop thinking. “You’re off the team,” is what he says.

Tony’s armour seems black.

***

“We go bigger,” Steve says, and Tony puts his arm around him.

The world is bright, beautiful and hopeful.

Steve kisses Tony with his eyes open and remembers every shade.

***

There are tall men standing over him.

Steve wakes up, his head hurting, his breathing too quick. He’s not sure why the dream scared him so.

Tony’s there, and he leads Steve away, calms him down with the ideas about the Avengers World.

It’s before dawn, all the colours subdued anyway. Maybe that’s why Steve doesn’t notice his world went grey till later.

***

Tony’s crying. “I can’t,” he says.

“Why?” Steve asks quietly.

“I don’t know,” Tony says, and it sounds like a lie. “It’s me, I – look around you, Steve, what colour is my shirt?”

“Are you breaking up with me because of a superstition?” Steve grits out.

“I love you, you idiot,” Tony says. “But we can’t, we –” He can’t talk anymore, and he’s shaking all over, his words ending in sobs.

Steve thinks he should hug him. He doesn’t.

(Tony’s armour is black and gold. Steve doesn’t know if it’s a new colour scheme or if he can’t see the shades of it anymore.

Tony’s eyes stay blue, forever.)

***

"Do it, Stephen," Tony says, and Steve can't even question it as he falls to the ground --

He wakes up.

There are tears in his eyes. He wills himself not to cry, suits up, goes to Tony.

“I remember,” he says, and he thinks he sounds calm.

Tony looks at him with black eyes.

***

They work together, because they don’t have a choice. Steve’s world has colours again. He hates it.

Tony covers him in a fight. Steve doesn’t think much of it (that’s a lie) until later, when he notices the world getting darker, looks up and realises it’s too early for the sun to set.

He runs to where Tony lies, still firing repulsors at Ultron’s forces.

“What’s wrong?” Steve asks, kneeling next to him.

“What isn’t,” Tony says.

Steve presses at the faceplate release. He wants to see –

Tony’s very pale. There’s blood around his mouth, and his eyes, his brilliant blue eyes, are half-closed.

“You shot my targeting system,” he gasps out.

“Carol has it,” Steve says. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing” Tony lies, and Steve shakes, leans down over him, presses his forehead against Tony’s and closes his eyes.

“I need you,” he whispers.

“You really don’t,” Tony says quietly, with difficulty.

“I’ve always loved you,” Steve says.

Tony makes a sound like laugh, but his hand finds Steve’s. He squeezes, gently.

They’re on the battlefield, and Steve doesn’t care. “Tony,” he says. “Tony, I –” He stops himself. He opens his eyes, and looks at Tony –

The blood on his face –

His still open eyes –

There are no colours in the world, and Tony isn’t breathing.