"Relax, Cap. We're almost home," Tony said, glancing up from his tablet to see Steve sigh and sit down.
"I'm fine," Steve said stubbornly, picking up his own tablet and swiping away at it with a grace Tony admired, though Tony doubted that he was doing anything but changing the app pages.
Tony resisted calling Steve out on his rather obvious lie. The flight to Seattle hadn't been this bad. Steve had been relaxed on the way up. The mission had gone well too, with Tony keeping the media attention on his 'business trip' and allowing Steve a necessary diversion to find the stolen weapon blueprints a hacker had been trying to sell on the black market. Easy as pie. Steve hadn't looked worked up until their early morning flight home.
Tony didn't know what happened, but he knew something was off even in his pre-coffee haze when Steve stiffly shouldered his pack this morning. Unfortunately, he was no closer to figuring out what happened than he had been two hours ago, and Steve's denial was slowly driving him nuts.
Honestly, he was the worst candidate to accompany a temperamental team mate, especially since the last time he tried give comfort to Steve it had failed spectacularly. Thinking about that night would only get him in trouble though, so Tony pushed it aside. Not knowing anything he could say that wouldn't make the situation worse, he re-focused on his own tablet and tried to ignore Steve.
It worked until Steve started pacing again, and as much as Tony liked watching Steve's ass as he walked by, it was really not helping.
"Steve-" Tony started.
"I apologize," JARVIS's voice interrupted. "But it would be best to remain seated and fasten your seat belts."
"Turbulence?" Tony asked, mentally sighing in relief as Steve sat down again.
"It appears a stor-" JARVIS cut off, his voice replaced by static. Tony immediately stood up, his tablet falling to the floor. He ran to the intercom. "JARVIS?" he asked frantically before switching over to the pilots. "Herrera, something's wrong with-"
The plane shook violently. Tony only had second to cry out before pain on the side of his head flared up and took him out.
* * *
Tony woke up to the cold. Cold and darkness, plus a lot of pain and a dash of nausea on the side. He twisted, trying to break free from whatever was holding him as his panic started to consume him.
"Tony, stop," a firm and familiar voice said above him. Very close, in fact. Too close for comfort (but not close enough), and Tony realized he was being held by a pair of strong arms rather than being pinned down with something on top of him. "Calm down," Steve said after a hiss of pain.
Tony immediately stopped moving. "Cap?" he asked tentatively, failing to keep his teeth from chattering and ignoring the sharp pain in his head as he tried to force words out around the slur that snuck up on him. "What's... What happened?"
"Crashed," Steve said, and it took Tony a moment to realize Steve was being even more succinct than usual. "Lost Herrera and Johnson on the way down. Snow's too bad to see. Found a cave, got you out of the storm."
Tony's eyes slowly adjusted to the little light to be had, slowly taking in that they were, in fact, in a cave. If he hadn't already been shivering, he would have shuddered. He was almost glad of the cold for that, because Steve was pressed up against him in what Tony assumed was an effort to conserve body heat. They were on the ground, curled up together with what had to be the remains of a parachute thrown on top of them. Tony felt a familiar, unhappy pang, but he pushed that to the side. Not the time, nor the place.
Tony's clothes were mostly dry at least, which was a small miracle, but Steve was stripped down out of his clothes, probably down to an undershirt and potentially boxers going by the bareness of his arms and legs. Again, not the time or place to be thinking about Steve half naked. It was always the wrong place and the wrong time for Tony. He could probably give John McClane a run for his money at this point.
Tony shifted, noticing Steve's hiss of pain even as his head throbbed. "You're hurt," Tony said, trying to move off Steve. His head ached, but at worst it was a concussion and he'd worked through those before. If Steve was hurt, he had to be proactive or Steve would try to do everything himself.
"Think my leg got broken on the way down," Steve said, his voice quiet and low like he was finally making an effort to sound normal once anyone showed even a speck of worry.
Christ, and Steve had still managed to drag both of them to a cave? There were times Steve was practically inhuman when it came to his endurance. But not inhuman enough to start a fire, at least. That Tony could do. "I'll get some wood to start-"
"You can't," Steve said, hand wrapping around Tony's wrist with an almost crushing grip.
Tony fought back a wince, though he doubted Steve would be able to see it. "Little strong on the grip there, Cap."
Steve's grip loosened immediately, but didn't give enough to allow Tony to escape. "We need to get warm," Tony reminded him.
"You can't," Steve repeated, motioning to the mouth of the cave. "You go out there and you won't come back."
"I won't go far," Tony snapped, losing patience despite the fact he knew something was off with Steve. "You won't even know to miss me. I'll be back before you can sing that Disney song about the cold. I promise, Snow Queen. We need a fire."
"And you can find your way back in that much snow?" Steve growled.
Tony opened his mouth to say something, then looked outside. Right. That looked like an actual blizzard and Steve had mentioned something about the snow being too bad to see. Maybe Steve had a point and wasn't just being clingy. Not that he would cling to Tony like that anyway.
Then again, Tony could probably do a lot better than a fire. He cursed mentally, his thoughts too sluggish to hit upon the obvious answer. "I'll call the suit then and get us out."
"It'd be real swell if you could," Steve said, and he didn't sound too sarcastic about it either.
"You have to let go of me first," Tony said in exasperation.
Steve didn't look happy, but he let go of Tony's wrist. Tony stood and moved off of Steve, regretting it immediately. Steve had been warmer than the cold air. He called the armor, but after a minute of waiting and still no response, he quickly got back under the parachute.
"No armor?" Steve asked.
"None," Tony said, putting his hands between him and Steve as he curled back into Steve's lap and tried very hard not to think about how much he actually wanted to be there in different circumstances. "The plane can't be that far. It wouldn't take long for the armor to find us."
"JARVIS was interrupted," Steve said, bringing up Tony's hands to rub them between his own.
Tony could sort of remember that. The last few minutes on the plane were a little fuzzy, which he attributed to the concussion. "Something happened to JARVIS," he said, trying not to let that panic him. He couldn't think about JARVIS right now, not when there was nothing to do to help him. He'd fix JARVIS when they got back, but right now he had to help Steve.
"Let me at least set the bone," Tony said, calculating how long it would take for Steve's healing factor to kick in. He didn't know how long he'd been out, but the last thing they needed was for the bone to heal wrong.
"Already did," Steve grit out.
Tony swore. Of course Steve had.
Carefully, Tony pulled away again from Steve to feel along the line of Steve's leg. There was a crude splint made from what was probably a tree branch and torn bits of parachute, and Steve was, in fact, just wearing his boxers. Tony wondered how wet Steve's clothes must have gotten, for him to shed most of them like that.
"Not the time to be getting fresh, Stark," Steve said, though he wasn't disapproving like Tony expected him to be.
"You're crazy," Tony said instead of replying to that. "Bat-shit insane. Seriously, how did you even-"
"Serum," Steve interrupted.
"God damn stubbornness," Tony countered. Because the serum would help, but Steve's will power had done the majority of it, make no mistake on that. And he'd done all of that while lugging around Tony's dead weight and managing to keep Tony out of the wet snow too.
Tony felt his throat constrict. Steve would have had better chances without having to worry about him. And the idiot just did all of that like it was nothing.
"You're letting the cold in," Steve muttered.
Tony leaned back against Steve's chest, pulling the parachute over both of them again. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing and it was military grade that Tony himself had worked on. Waterproof, which explained his relative dryness, come to think of it. He rubbed Steve's arms, trying to give Steve what little heat he did have. Speaking of...
"What're you doing?" Steve asked, half attempting to pull Tony back.
"I'm wearing a long-sleeved shirt," Tony said, tugging off his suit jacket with as little space as possible between them to conserve the warmth he was about to lose. "You've got no sleeves at all."
It was dark, so he couldn't actually see, but Tony was pretty sure Steve was frowning at him. "You need it more than I do," Steve said.
"You're the one sitting against the damned rock!" Tony only just held back from shouting at him, and he considered that an accomplishment. At least his hands were already shaking from the cold, because he was pretty sure they'd have been trembling anyway.
Steve didn't reply, instead lifting up to help Tony settle the jacket around his shoulders. It was a bit of a bad fit around Steve's shoulders, but it was better than nothing. Tony didn't like to think about why Steve had given in so easily, nor about Steve's arms wrapping around him and the hand rubbing at Tony's back. He also didn't want to think about Steve wearing his suit jacket, because that way led to madness. And if he curled up tighter against Steve for more reasons than warmth, Steve at least didn't mention it. Tony was far more grateful for that than he should have been.
"We won't last long like this," Tony said, teeth chattering. He was tired of being cold and shivering. Just tired in general. What he wouldn't give for a nice, warm, bed.
"We will," Steve replied, holding Tony tighter. "I'll figure something-"
Guns. Screaming. "We need more time." Waiting. Terrified. Too late. The plan was failing. "This was always the plan." No. Yinsen. He can't... "I want this."
"Tony, it's okay. Come on, Tony. Come out of it for me."
Tony gasped, trembling. He fucking hated caves. He blinked, seeing Yinsen's face in the darkness as helplessness washed over him. Steve's voice was a gentle litany in his ear as he calmed down though, grounding him in the present. It was weird, and Tony held on to that strangeness as his heart beat slowed.
"You never talk this much," Tony said finally, glad there was only a slight note of hysteria to his voice.
"Oh, thank God," Steve said, and Tony could feel the breath that rushed out of him as Steve's chest went down. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to hold you down, but I couldn't let you go in this cold."
Hold him down? Tony carefully unclenched his hands from Steve's undershirt and traced his way up to Steve's face. He hadn't thought that he could get colder, but he realized he was wrong the moment his hand was no longer trapped between them. He didn't care though, continuing his path and ignoring the way Steve's breath hitched slightly as Tony's fingers brushed against his neck. When he got to Steve's cheeks, it took him a moment to realize that they were wet.
Tony went still. "Your leg-"
"It's fine," Steve said, though now that he was listening, Tony could hear a new level of pain in Steve's voice. Tony had struggled while he'd been in the panic attack and he'd... "You didn't even jar it too much." Steve's voice cut through the guilt, but it didn't lighten it.
"Liar," Tony said, wiping away Steve's tears with thick, trembling hands. He couldn't let the tears freeze like that after all. "What the hell happened?" he asked before Steve could try to deny it. "I don't..." Something had triggered the panic attack, and it was worrying that he didn't know what it was.
"I think it was thunder," Steve said, sounding unsure. "It sounded like thunder. It was really close too."
"In a snow storm?" Tony asked incredulously. Then he did a few mental calculations. "We were probably flying over the Great Lakes, come to think of it. Fucking lake-effect snow. That's just messed-"
The second thunder strike only made Tony jump now that he was aware of it. He hid his hands back in between him and Steve, trying to breathe naturally rather than in big, gasping breaths.
"Think it's Thor looking for us?" Steve said after a minute.
Tony to give a sharp bark of laughter. "They'd never find us in this storm," he said, curling closer. His head was pounding, and he just wanted to sleep. The thought of sleep would normally have worried him, especially so soon after a panic attack. But if he was asleep, he wouldn't have to shiver so damn much. He couldn't quite feel his toes anymore, even if he was practically curled up in Steve's lap in the darkness.
"Tony? Tony! Stay awake," Steve said, gripping Tony's shoulder's painfully. "What did you mean, stick to the plan?"
If Tony hadn't been shivering so uncontrollably, he would have stilled completely. "I hate caves," he said instead of answering.
Steve understood, even if Tony didn't say anything more. The grip on his shoulders was released, and Tony was pulled into a proper hug. "I hate the cold," Steve replied, his voice almost lost in the howling of the wind. "And planes. Especially crashing ones."
And that really explained a lot, if Tony had been bothered to think. "You had a nightmare this morning," he said.
"Yeah," Steve admitted, then laughed softly. "Didn't expect a real life repeat of it though."
Tony's hands threaded under the suit jacket around Steve's shoulders. He pressed his face against Steve's neck in a vain effort to feel his nose again, and his lips brushed dangerously against Steve's pulse, but Tony ignored that. Steve's breath hitching again probably had nothing to do with that and everything to do with the cold nose and plane-crashing flashbacks.
"No worries, Cap," Tony said, wishing he could see better, to see Steve's face one last time. "You'll be found easy. It doesn't stay cold here."
He didn't say they didn't know if the serum would keep Steve alive this time, or if it only worked last time because it happened so fast. This was Steve, and Steve was the single most obstinate person Tony knew, including his own self. Steve would survive, no problem.
He also didn't say that the likelihood of himself surviving was dropping drastically with every passing minute. But that was the part Steve heard, and he felt Steve curl around him protectively as if that would shield him further from the snow that rapidly piled up outside. "It won't be that long," Steve said.
"It won't," Tony agreed, because the Avengers would never stop looking for Steve, even when any hope for Tony would be lost. He was... not fine with it, not really. But not afraid like he was last time. Steve was with him, and he'd heard that freezing to death was just like going to sleep. It wouldn't be so bad this time.
He couldn't tell, but Tony liked to imagine Steve's lips were pressing small kisses against his hair as Steve buried his face in it. Steve wouldn't, not without permission or after what he'd told Tony last time, but Tony liked to dream. The would haves and maybes were a pleasant enough dream to fall asleep to...
"Tony," Steve said. "You need to stay awake. Please."
"Yes, Sir," Tony said, too tired to inject a proper amount of sarcasm. There was thunder again, but it sounded further off. Which meant it was still probably quite close, given snow's terrible acoustics. Not what he should be thinking about now, when he couldn't afford to get off track. Focus on Steve. "Always bossing me around. I don't take orders from anyone."
"You take them from Pepper," Steve said, a hint of a smile in his voice. "And sometimes from Rhodey."
"That's 'cause they're sexy when they give orders," Tony replied. He'd always loved Pepper getting bossy in bed, and while Rhodey might rate a one on the Kinsey scale, Tony most certainly did not and he allowed himself to look and appreciate from time to time. Rhodey didn't really mind, considering he knew Tony was just appreciating.
"You take orders from me too," Steve said, his voice soft and low. The wind almost whisked it away, but Tony's breath caught as he heard it.
"So I do," Tony said, not denying what he'd said earlier. He didn't believe in shame when his body could actually blush, and he wasn't about to bother now that it was too cold to do so. Though admittedly, blushing would actually warm him up a little, so he wasn't as opposed to it as he usually was. It wasn't like Steve didn't know anyway.
Steve went quiet after that, and Tony struggled to stay conscious on his own. A clap of thunder helped, sending a spike of adrenaline through his system. If it was Thor, he wished the Asgardian would make it a bit warmer instead of bringing thunder and lightning.
"Are we going to talk about this?" Steve asked, interrupting Tony's thoughts.
Tony needed a hangover, not a concussion, to deal with this. Better yet, a drunken black out. He snorted, not caring about the jolt of pain that caused his head. "You want to do this now?" Tony asked. "And you said my timing sucked." Which, for the record, Tony's timing was always good. Especially in bed.
Steve sighed. "It wasn't a good time when you... brought it up last time."
"And this is better?" Tony asked bitterly. Maybe kissing Steve and wanting to explore whatever it was between them right after the fall of SHIELD hadn't been one of his better ideas, but the last thing he needed right now was the emotional equivalent of a pity fuck. And that was definitely a point against freezing to death. It may be peaceful, but it was long and drawn out and too cold for him to even get his rocks off one last time.
"Maybe not," Steve said, resting his chin on Tony's head. "Maybe there's no good time."
Given their lives, Steve was probably right. That hadn't stopped him from turning Tony down the first time though. "Well, this time I don't want to hear it," he said, resolutely pushing away the hope Steve's words brought up. He wasn't that much in denial that he would blindly accept Steve's affection if it was merely a response of guilt or pity. He would probably be dead in a few hours without a fire, but he didn't need faked romance.
"No. If you want to say something, say it when we're not dying." Not that it was possible they'd be found in time. Unless the blizzard abated and Tony somehow found the energy to go out for firewood and start a fire, there wasn't much of a chance he would survive. The blizzard howled around them outside the cave and the snow was too thick. The armor wasn't responding, and he knew search parties wouldn't make it through the storm. Statistically speaking, his chances weren't good.
Steve didn't speak, and Tony almost thought that the conversation had ended with Steve's polite nature trumping his stubborn insistence. Which was why Steve's soft reply startled him. "Okay."
"Okay?" Tony asked.
"I'll wait till we get home."
"You'll get home, Cap," Tony said, fighting to keep his eyes from falling shut as he breathed against Steve's neck.
"We'll both get home," Steve replied with enough stubborn optimism that Tony could almost believe it, statistical improbability or not. Being with Cap made him believe a lot of things he didn't think were possible. Almost enough to have made him think that Steve might possibly agree to...
"Still here, Winghead," Tony muttered, forcing his eyes open. He could do that much at least, keep Steve company as long as he could, even with the cold and concussion telling him he wanted to sleep.
"I don't want to wake up alone again," Steve said, his voice frightfully small in the darkness.
"You won't," Tony said, realizing with a start that he wasn't shivering as much. That was a bad sign. "Everyone will be there when you wake up. Trust me, Cap. They'll keep looking for you."
"I'll stick to the plan," Tony said, vaguely aware that that didn't make as much sense as it did inside his head.
"You usually don't," Steve said, and Tony thought he must be smiling a little. "And what is the plan, anyway?"
"The plan to get out of this cave," Tony said, because that was obvious, wasn't it? "Yinsen was bad at following plans too. He... I hate caves."
"We'll stick to this plan then," Steve said as he held Tony close. "We'll get out of here."
"Yeah," Tony said, though how he'd be leaving was up for debate.
Things got a little fuzzy after that, but he did force his eyes open again when he felt Steve shake him. "Steve?"
"Come on, Shellhead. Tell me your plan to get out of here. You're always telling me you've got a plan when you go off."
"You're the one with the plan," Tony muttered. He wasn't supposed to sleep, he remembered. He thought back to see if he could remember a plan, but if he'd had one it escaped him.
"Stay with me, Tony," Steve said, almost pleading.
Oh, yeah. Staying with Steve for as long as possible. "Still here," he said, though he thought he sounded far away. A fire would be nice. He couldn't quite muster up the will to go get firewood though, but Steve would take care of it.
Before he could slip away again, a loud crash of thunder tore through the air. Tony's mind was running too slowly for a panic attack, but he did jump. It took him a while to realize that someone other than Steve was talking. "Thor?" he asked, feeling confused.
"Aye, Tony. We'll get you out," Thor said, and Tony blinked as something vaguely warm was wrapped around him. "Captain, I will return once he is safe."
"What?" Tony said, now trying to bat off the red material he was being wrapped in. It took longer than it should have to realize he could see now. Had Thor brought a light? Didn't matter though. There was something else important. Something... Steve! "We can't leave. No, put me down!"
"Easy, Tony," Steve said, his face pale in the now lit cavern. "I'll be fine. You need to go first."
"But how will they find you again?" Tony tried to push Thor away, but Thor was stronger than him on a good day. Neither of them answered his question, which made Tony think it must have been too slurred and Steve's earlier answer had simply been a good guess to try to comfort Tony. "No, you can't..."
"I hear you guys could use a hand," another very familiar mechanized voice said.
"Colonel Rhodes," Steve said, smiling weakly. "Can you get Tony to settle? He's going to hurt himself at this rate."
Thor had been standing protectively over Tony, but he stood aside when Rhodey clanged closer. The face plate shot up despite how cold it was and Tony could see a pair of worried brown eyes looking down at him. "Thought I told you not to worry me like that," Rhodey said, his voice rough without the suit.
"We can't-" Tony started to say, his tongue feeling thick and unwieldy in his mouth.
"Found you by the tracker Thor's carrying. JARVIS is okay. He fought off the Hydra attack then called me. Romanov, Barton, and I will take care of it. The pilots from your flight are safe. They made it to a small cabin and shacked up there. Pepper and Happy are safe, just worried sick about you, and Cap here will be fine with a bit of rest. Now we're going to get you and Cap out of here, okay?"
Rhodey spoke slowly, letting each point sink in before moving to the next one with an efficiency that Tony always appreciated about him. It calmed the slowly whirling thoughts in his head that panicked him since they weren't at his normal speed, and Tony nodded, allowing Thor to pick him up.
"Never thought a sitrep would calm him down," Steve said, hissing with pain as Rhodey helped him to his feet.
"Our friend merely needed to be told everyone was safe," Thor said, carrying Tony out and trying to shield him from the worst of the storm. "He has a noble heart indeed, worrying first for others rather than himself."
By this point, Tony was drifting again, though he didn't quite drift off. He wasn't really warm yet, but the red cloth - Thor's cape? - was keeping the cold at bay. His stomach lurched uncomfortably as Thor took off, but he could hear Rhodey's repulsors behind them. Was it okay to sleep now?
He didn't know, so he struggled to stay conscious even as the cold tried to seep in through the cape wrapped tightly around him. He managed about as far as the quinjet before passing out in Thor's arms.
* * *
Tony woke up feeling warm, which was definitely an improvement over his last wake-up call. It was warm and the lights were muted, but not off, and when he managed to open his eyes, Pepper and Rhodey were both sitting at his bed side. Pepper was on her tablet, frowning down at it with a frustrated expression and her feet in Rhodey's lap. Rhodey had a book in hand and an exhausted look in his eyes as he absently rubbed Pepper's feet.
"I didn't die?" Tony croaked out.
Pepper dropped her tablet, immediately reaching for-
Tony whined, not that he particularly wanted to admit he'd made such a sound. The only reason he didn't turn away when Pepper gave him an ice chip was because his throat hurt and Pepper was glaring at him. It was unpleasantly cold, and he refused the second one with a pleading glance.
"If you weren't damn near dehydrated before the plane crashed, we wouldn't have to do this," Rhodey said, picking up an old argument between them.
"Just take it slow," Pepper said as she relented and gave him a cup of water that was thankfully room temperature. He took small sips to avoid her bringing back the ice.
"And no, you didn't die," Rhodey said, a tired but blinding grin on his face.
Iron Man beat the statistics once again. Tony closed his eyes, trying to focus on his extremities. "My feet itch."
"You got mild frostbite, so don't scratch them," Pepper informed him briskly. "And you had a concussion, but that's mostly faded and you've been out for a while. Don't think I haven't noticed you haven't been sleeping much lately. You can thank Steve for getting off so easy later, because you should have been a lot worse off given how long it took to find you."
There was anger in Pepper's voice, and he pat her hand absently to show that it was okay. She deflated a little, her shoulders slumping as her hand slipped into his, clutching at it with a bruising grip that could have rivaled Steve's.
"What happened?" Tony asked, because apart from Steve jumping them out of an airplane and getting them to a cave with a broken leg, Tony really had no idea what had gone down. "Steve-"
"He's fine. Sam and Thor are with him," Rhodey replied. "His frost bite is worse than yours, and walking on that leg set back his recovery, but he'll probably heal faster. As to what happened, Hydra was trying to hack JARVIS. It was a coincidence that you hit thundersnow when you did, but having JARVIS out of the picture probably didn't help the plane's instruments."
Thundersnow was actually a thing, apparently. Just his luck. "Hydra?" he asked, trying to ignore how fucked up weather around the Great Lakes was.
Rhodey's smile turned a shade of vicious Tony hadn't seen since putting Hammer behind bars. "Don't worry. Natasha, Clint, and I took care of it. Natasha's interrogating the survivors now."
Tony would have actually paid to see that. Then again, he wasn't entirely sure he could handle that much bad ass sexy in one place. He wasn't twenty anymore and Rhodey was entirely too straight for those fantasies. The thought of it was really doing things for his competency kink though.
He let Pepper and Rhodey fuss, considering his options. They'd probably let him out of the hospital soon, since Captain 'Ted Striker' apparently could jump out of a plane without hurting an unconscious team mate despite a bad case of PTSD, even if the same couldn't be said for Steve himself. It said far more about Steve's experiences with jumping out of planes than Tony really cared to think about.
With a bill of (mostly) full health, Tony could stick around and visit the man who had saved him. He could also put off their talk awhile longer and go through JARVIS's code with a fine-tooth comb to make sure Hydra hadn't succeeded in leaving any surprises. The latter would test Steve's resolve to actually talk about 'this'. Considering the last time Tony had brought it up he'd been shot down, he was leaning towards the latter option at the moment. Once burned, twice shy, and all of that.
Tony Stark could hardly be called shy, but coward wasn't too far off the mark at times. Option two it was, then.
* * *
Option three was actually what Tony went with, because when didn't Tony find a third option? He scrolled through the code on a special tablet he'd had Pepper bring him as he sat in a horrible monstrosity the hospital called a chair just outside of Steve's room. Since he was hacked into the monitors, he managed to disappear the few times Steve had tried to come out.
Hospitals were terrible places. The inoffensively painted walls and the pastel green of the chair made for a terrible work environment. Add to the fact that nurses, doctors, and patients alike had a tendency to stop and stare at celebrities who randomly sat outside a hospital room, it was amazing Tony could concentrate at all. But he plugged in his earphones and blocked out anything but Steve's monitors with hard rock as he meticulously went line by line through JARVIS's code.
Which is why he didn't notice Natasha until she sat down next to him, despite the fact he was getting better at sensing her presence. He really was. No, that wasn't just an excuse. Damn it.
"You could just go in and talk to him," she said as he pulled out his earbuds. That was what Pepper, Rhodey, and even Bruce had said, but Tony didn't bother that with a response. "Frostbite sucks," he said instead, wiggling his itching toes and hearing Rhodey's voice in his head telling him to behave and not pull off his shoes to scratch them.
"It's a bitch," she agreed, letting it drop.
He wanted to curl up in her lap and let her pet his hair, but there wasn't enough room and the chair was no where near that comfortable. He was a bit glad when she leaned against his shoulder and rested her head on him, since it gave him the physical contact he craved.
"How did the interrogation go?" he asked, sighing internally because she was warm and curled up against his side.
"Cut off one tongue and two more will wag," she said. "Those don't grow back."
"Did you...?" Tony asked, only half-afraid of the answer.
"No," Natasha replied, her voice only slightly petulant. "But it would have been fun."
He pat her head in consolation. He was getting better at telling when Natasha was messing with him, but it was always good to be sure. "Have you ever made near-death confessions?" Tony asked after several minutes of companionable silence.
Natasha wrinkled her nose. "They're considered bad form. People you love should know how you feel before hand and it gets messy when you survive anyway."
Tony nodded. "Do whatever you want to do with whoever you want to do it with," he said, thinking back to her words on his ill-fated birthday. If he'd actually been listening, that birthday might have gone better for all involved.
"He tried," Tony said as he looked away, answering her question.
"That explains a few things," Natasha said.
Tony didn't ask how much she knew of the rest. She was Steve's confidante, so he might have told her. Even if Steve hadn't, she was good at reading people and was smart enough to fill in the gaps.
"He's sentimental," Natasha said, though it didn't sound like she disapproved. "You didn't let him talk?"
Tony couldn't help how his shoulders hunched inward. "It wasn't a good time," he said, mostly succeeding in keeping the bitterness out of his words.
She nodded, slipping her arm in his. "Will you listen if he comes around later?"
"Yeah," Tony said in an out-rush of breath, because he owed Steve that much.
Natasha nodded again. She'd let Steve know, he was sure. "You know what warms you up the best?" she asked.
Tony, who was the king of non sequiturs, didn't even bat an eye. "Vodka?"
"Vodka," she confirmed. "We could drink until you don't care about itchy feet any more. It'll get Rhodey to lighten up too."
Contrary to popular belief and her original purpose of spying on him, Natasha really was his favorite.
* * *
"Sir, Captain Rogers is requesting permission to enter the workshop."
"His codes still work," Tony muttered as he wiped his hands on a dirty rag, looking over the engine he'd been working on.
"He is aware of this and wishes to repeat the request."
Tony sighed and shut the hood of the Audi. He could play with his babies later. He pat You on the head as he walked by, refilling his coffee before sitting down at the lab computer. "Let him in, J," he said, sipping at the hot drink. He couldn't avoid this forever.
He watched as Steve came down the stairs, expertly navigating them despite the crutches. He waved the door open so that Steve wouldn't have to stand awkwardly while inputting his code. He kept his face blank as Steve hobbled inside, motioning to the chair across from him, which Steve sank into gratefully.
"Hi," Steve said, his voice soft among the hum of machinery.
Dummy came up behind Tony, clicking in a worried manner. Tony smiled at him, patting Dummy's arm structure comfortingly. He could do this. What was one more disastrous conversation about feelings, right? "Hi," he replied, looking back at Steve to see that Steve had been watching him with an expression Tony couldn't quite identify.
"We're not nearly dying anymore," Steve said.
"Nope. We beat the statistics. Or Thor did, in finding us, but I'm pretty sure he was using some Asgardian trick to find us."
"It's not like it's the first time. I should take this into account the next time I run statistics, that Avengers have higher than usual averages," Tony said, plowing right through Steve's attempt.
"You're not going to make this easy on me, are you?" Steve said, rubbing his eyes with the palm of his hands.
Tony resisted the urge to let his shoulders hunch, just barely. "Should I?" He hadn't been able to see Steve's face in the cave. It could have been true, what Steve was trying to say. It also could have been pity or desperation. And the other two options? Those weren't so hot.
"What I was going to say in that cave is true," Steve said, his face determined.
"And what was that exactly?"
"That I'm still a mess because of... everything, really. Bucky included. My attempted dates with Sharon proved that. But I think that I've gotten a handle on most of it now. Better than I was, at any rate," Steve said.
Tony couldn't break eye contact, though he wanted to. Steve's eyes were full of stubborn will and a touch of uncertainty as he spoke. "Great," Tony forced himself to say. "You can go back to Sharon then."
"That ship sailed, Tony," Steve said, finally looking away and allowing Tony some relief. "She's moved on. And to tell the truth, so have I."
Tony didn't immediately squash the hope those words brought up. The stolen kiss after the Avengers reunion battle had been short and desperate as Tony tried to give what little comfort he could. Tony had initiated it, but Steve was the one who pulled him back after the first chaste press of their lips. There had been a moment when Steve smiled at him, a small half-smile that made Tony's chest ache like he still had the arc reactor. In that brief moment, Tony had thought it would work out.
It was over far too quickly though, Steve's expression closing off only seconds later. Tony hadn't known about how Steve and Sharon had just called it quits, or about Steve dating Sharon at all. He had known about the Winter Soldier baggage, but he'd been impatient. He'd rushed in like always and ruined things once again.
Which is why he held back this time, determined not to make the same mistake as he chose his words with care. "Moved on to what?"
"You really won't make this easy on me," Steve said with a small chuckle. "Moved on to you, you punk. I'm ready to give this a try, and you seemed to be carrying a torch still. Was I wrong?"
"Not really." Tony was never the sort of person who could fall quickly in and out of love. He was still half in love with Pepper, and he doubted that would ever change.
"Then what do you say?" Steve asked, a mixture of hesitance and hope in his eyes. "Should we give this a shot?"
Tony stood, uncertain if he was going to bolt or agree. Steve seemed to be wondering the same, if the way he was watching Tony was anything to go by. But Tony's feet seemed to move forward of their own accord, and soon he was in front of Steve. He leaned over until their noses were almost brushing, his hands planted on the table on either side of Steve as Tony boxed him in. "This is what you want?" Tony asked, shivering slightly at the lack of space. "Are you sure it's still not the wrong time?"
There was a soft smile on Steve's lips and a light blush that Tony could get used to seeing. "I think I'm ready to step up to bat. My batting average isn't as good as yours, but I like to think I'll hit a home run eventually. I don't think I'll strike out this time."
"Baseball innuendo? Really?" Tony asked, trying not to laugh at how ridiculous a goof Steve was being. It would only encourage him. "America's golden boy dirtying America's favorite past time?"
"Baseball's always been a dirty sport," Steve said, and this close Tony could see the way his eyes danced when he laughed. "Though I wouldn't mind first or second base if a home run is off the books for now. Gotta warm up, if I'm gonna start pitching or ca-"
Tony couldn't handle Steve being that much of a dork. He really could not. So he leaned forward the last inch and claimed Steve's mouth for his own. It was hesitant and still unsure, but Steve was warm underneath him and solid. Then Steve deepened the kiss, and hesitance left the building as need washed over him.
Steve's arms tightened around him, and Tony realized he was straddling Steve's lap as Steve tilted his head up to kiss him. He wasn't exactly sure how he'd ended up in this position, or when his hands had gone from boxing Steve in to clutching at his shirt, but he definitely did not mind. In fact, it was really, really good, especially with Steve's tongue in his mouth. Tony let out a small whine as he pulled Steve closer. He could get used to this. In fact, he could-
Tony pulled off, half standing as he remembered Steve was still injured. "Your leg-"
"It's fine," Steve said, pulling him back down to kiss his nose. Tony settled back in Steve's lap with a small laugh, but the desperateness from earlier had broken, replaced by a softer mood that allowed Tony to loosen his grip on Steve's shirt and sigh contentedly. "Third time's the charm?" Tony asked quietly, thinking back to the McClane curse.
"Guess so," Steve replied, and Tony could feel Steve smile as he pressed a kiss to Tony's neck. "Guess both of us have terrible timing in the end."
"We canceled each other's bad timing out," Tony said, curling closer. "And thanks for the save, by the way. I probably wouldn't have survived without it."
"I don't know," Steve said, hands tracing Tony's back soothingly. "Herrera and Johnson survived well enough. More than well enough, from what I heard."
Tony laughed. "Yeah, I'll pass on being a third wheel in that cabin. Figures. We get caught up in a plane crash and the pilots get sex out of it, while we just get frostbite and you end up breaking your leg."
"I think I got a bit more than that," Steve said, his eyes dark and serious in a way that Tony knew he wasn't talking about their relationship, but more about planes and ice and all those things that kept Steve up at night.
Tony placed his hands on Steve's cheeks, feeling a small thrill as Steve leaned into the warmth. He kissed Steve's forehead. "You're warm now. No more planes for a while, huh, Winghead?"
"Sounds good," Steve said, burying his face against Tony's neck as a small shudder went through him. "And no more caves."
Tony stiffened, and not in the way that meant he was happy straddling Steve's lap. "Steve..."
There was a chaste kiss to Tony's lips before Steve leaned back and looked up at him with serious eyes. "You don't have to tell me. But you anchored me while we were in the cold, Tony. If you hadn't been there, I'm not sure I'd have had the presence of mind to keep going like I did. Thank you for that."
"For being a concussed dead weight you had to drag around?" Tony asked.
"For listening and staying with me," Steve replied, bringing up Tony's hand and kissing the palm. "And if you ever do want to tell me, I'd be honored to return the favor."
Tony did not want to talk. But he didn't mind Steve's arms around him and the comforting circles he was rubbing in Tony's back. Though it was surprisingly low for-
Tony bit back a yelp at the hand gripping his ass, giving his best mock glare at Steve who looked like innocence personified. "Not the right time?" Steve asked just as angelically. "We could go up stairs and order pizza. Then we could play some baseball and see how many bases you'll let me steal."
Tony groaned. "Only if you stop with the baseball innuendos."
"But they're working," Steve said with a laugh, kissing Tony again.
Tony leaned in, feeling Steve's warmth wrapped around him. It was nice to be warm again even if it did come with dirty baseball talk. Always in the wrong place, at the wrong time... "Yippie ki-yay, motherfucker."
Steve frowned. "Tony," he said, disapproval and confusion mixing in his tone.
"No one's made you watch that movie yet?" Tony said, acting affronted. "Come on, Cap. Pizza and a movie. You'll like this one. It's a Christmas movie, even, so it's warm and fuzzy. But it's set in California, so there's no snow."
"Isn't it a bit early for Christmas movies?" Steve asked. An adorable confused look mingled with affection on his face, affection that was aimed at Tony.
Tony laughed, arms tightening around Steve as the hand on his ass started to knead lightly. "It's always the right time and place for Die Hard, Steve. Always."