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in the shadows

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It was dark, dark enough Steve could hardly see. Before he could say a thing, Iron Man switched on the light in his unibeam.

“Thanks,” Steve said.

“No problem–”

There was a sudden sound, like something moving through the air quickly. The light died, and Steve swirled around.

He was alone.

He heard something, like a whisper, but he couldn't make out the words. Pieces of metal falling to the ground.

“Iron Man?” he called.

Nothing.

Steve swore under his breath. There was just silence around him now, silence and darkness. Steve couldn't explain it, but he knew Tony was gone.

The clouds slowly uncovered the moon. In the weak light, Steve looked around. He could see stones, some bushes, what he'd expect in an abandoned garden like the one he was in. Then he froze, his heart hammering.

There, a few metres from him, the light reflected on red and gold metal, lying in a heap on the ground.

***

“He's gone,” Steve said.

“What do you mean 'he's gone',” Peter repeated slightly hysterically. He was in his pyjamas, Darth Vader masks printed on white material. Luke looked tired and annoyed. Steve hadn't had to wake him up, because he was staying up with Dani anyway. Jessica was frowning.

“What was the call again?” she asked.

Steve shrugged. “Minor disturbances,” he said. “Nothing we thought we'd need the whole team for.”

“And Tony just disappeared,” Jessica said. “How's that possible?”

Steve looked down at the Iron Man faceplate he was holding. It was bent, and Steve couldn't imagine what could have done it to the armour. Tony was supposed to be safe inside it.

“I don't know,” Steve said. “I don't know.”

The room was bright lit, but outside, behind the windows, there was just night.

***

Steve woke up.

He'd dreamt of Tony, pale and with eyes black like ink.

“You let me go,” Tony was saying in his dream, and Steve could still hear the words in his ears, like eerie whispers.

“Why look now?” Steve thought he heard. He sat up, look around. His room was empty.

He felt cold wind on his face, but it was impossible, his windows were closed. He glanced at them to make sure –

He heard the sound of the door closing.

He stood up sharply, ran to his door, looked at the empty corridor.

He didn't sleep more that night.

***

Steve was running.

He was going faster than usual in the morning, but it wasn't his usual run, either. He needed to run to wake up, to spend some energy, but he couldn't do that, not when Tony was – who knew where.

So Steve ran, to the garden from which Tony had disappeared, to the streets around it, he ran and he looked and he didn't see anything –

Tony was in every shadow.

(Not really.)

One day, when he woke up earlier than usual, when it was still dark when he went out, Steve heard Tony's voice.

Help me.

Leave me.

He thought he was going crazy, and kept running and hoping for any sign.

Four days, nothing.

***

“Tony Stark! Looks kinda rough. #tonystark,” the tweet said.

The picture showed a street, a shop window, and nothing else. There wasn't a single person on it.

“That's a bad joke,” Steve said, his mouth dry.

Peter shrugged. “No one knows he's missing, right?”

Which made the tweet just stupid instead of mean, and didn't improve Steve's mood any.

Tony was gone. Steve kept seeing him in the corner of his eye.

***

Logan was back. Steve took him to the garden, in broad daylight. A part of him didn't want to go there in the night again.

Maybe he should. Maybe he'd find Tony where he'd lost him.

“There's nothing,” Logan said.

Steve looked down. “It's been a few days.”

Logan shook his head. “Not that. I can smell you, and that's it. Nothing else. Not even the plants.”

The wind grew colder.

***

“Who called you there in the first place, Cap?” Jessica asked.

Steve frowned. “I'm not sure – it should be in the logs.”

He followed her to the strategy room, looked over her arm as she looked for Avengers calls on last Thursday.

Error: Query empty.

“But that's impossible,” Steve whispered. “Let me.”

He used his override, looked at the logs.

Nothing. No one meddled with them.

The computer switched off.

***

Steve went back to the garden at night.

The stars were bright. There was no moon, and no clouds either. He walked through the paths, looked at the neglected flowers, dying trees. He stood in the place he'd found Tony's armour, looked around.

He thought he heard a laugh, but he wasn't sure. Something moved through the darkness. He raised his shield instinctively. There was a loud bang, and then a sound like a thousand wings. No one in his sight.

“Tony?” he asked. “Tony, are you here?”

“Aren't you stubborn, Winghead?”

Steve turned around. There was –

Something familiar –

He woke up in his bed.

***

He started going to the garden every night. Nothing changed.

“Tony!” he called.

Nothing.

“I'm not going to stop,” Steve promised the silence around him.

He was sure he didn't imagine the laugh.

“Tony, please,” Steve said. He wasn't sure why. Tony wouldn't stay away from him willingly.

It was a dark night. Almost no light. Just like the night Tony disappeared.

A touch of something cold on his cheek. “Stay away,” whispered like a threat.

Steve blindly reached in front of him, but there was nothing there. “I miss you,” he whispered.

More laughter.

***

Steve was going crazy.

He got back home, to the Tower, didn't think of how wrong it felt without Tony there. He went to his room, and there, at his night stand, was a piece of paper.

Stop, written in red ink, Tony's handwriting.

Steve shredded it to pieces.

***

He didn't tell anyone about the message.

He didn't tell anyone about his visits to the garden.

The darkness wasn't scary anymore. The solitude was.

***

It was still night rather than a day, but Steve was out on his run. Something, anything to keep him busy.

He was almost glad when he heard a scream. He ran to where it came from, a narrow side alley, and stopped dead in his tracks.

“I told you to drop it,” Tony said, raising his head from someone's neck, his lips as red as the blood that ran from the small wound on it. The person he held was a twenty-something man, unconscious now. Tony threw him to the side as if he didn't mean anything, straightened.

What,” Steve whispered, unable to think.

“Aren't you happy?” Tony asked. “You looked for me, didn't you, Steve?”

Steve took a step back. He – he looked like Tony, spoke like him, but . . . His eyes were dark and alien.

“Don't do it,” Steve asked quietly.

“Why, Captain?” Tony licked at his lips. “Ready to give up?”

“Never,” Steve said.

Tony laughed, and then he was gone, like he'd never been there at all. The man he bit was gone, too, a few drops of blood on the ground the only proof Steve hadn't imagined it.

***

He went back to the garden at night. Of course he did.

He took a deep breath, took out the knife he'd prepared, and sliced it through his hand. The next thing he knew, someone – Tony – had his hand on Steve's throat, pushing him against a tree. “You idiot,” Tony said.

“Tempted?” Steve asked.

Tony laughed. “Always, Steve,” he said. This close up, Steve could see his eyes were a dark shade of red.

“Come with me,” Steve asked.

Tony shook his head. “I can't,” he said.

Steve grabbed him by his wrist with the hand he'd cut through, tried to ignore the pain. Tony looked down to where Steve's blood was soaking his sleeve. “Don't,” he asked.

“So you can control yourself,” Steve said. “Why the show earlier?”

“It's you,” Tony said like it explained everything. “I won't hurt you.”

“I miss you,” Steve said.

“You should forget about me,” Tony said. Then he shook his head. “No. No. I –” He tightened his hand on Steve's throat briefly. “I know addiction,” he said after a moment. “I beat it once. This – this is not an addiction, Steve.”

Steve raised his other hand to Tony's cheek. His body was cold like ice. “Tell me,” he said.

“There's no fighting it when the hunger comes,” Tony whispered. “And then – it's better than being drunk had ever felt.” He smiled, his teeth too long. “Don't hold hope for me, Steve. Tony Stark is long gone.”

“If it were true, I'd be dead,” Steve said.

“Yes,” Tony agreed. “And you will be, if you stay. See, the hunger beats everything. Guilt. Emotions. Reason.”

Steve shook his head. “I won't give up on you.”

“I haven't killed anyone,” Tony admitted. “It won't last.”

“How do you know?”

“I know,” Tony said, and something in his voice stopped Steve from arguing. “And . . . I'm not the only one here,” he said, very quietly.

“Tony . . .”

Tony pried Steve's hand away from his wrist, raised it to his lips. “I have moments,” he said, “when I remember. When I care. And then . . .” He licked at Steve's palm, his eyes closing.

Suddenly he was several metres from Steve. “Don't come again.”

***

The next morning, there was another piece of paper and a wooden stake on Steve's night stand.

I lied, it said. Finish it, Steve.

Steve crumpled the card. He hid the stake in his drawer. He wasn't sure why.

***

“Steve?” Jessica asked during dinner. “What about Tony?”

“Gone,” Steve said. “He's gone.”