Fury sends them out on their first ‘mission’ two days after Steve had called Tony a coward. Tony snaps down the faceplate and boards the Quinjet, Clint at the wheel and Steve by his side. Natasha is already clipped into a seat just behind them and she raises an eyebrow when Tony falls into the seat beside her.
There are words, but Tony doesn’t want to say them. He shrugs a shoulder and closes his eyes. Two days without sleep. He should know better by now.
The jet leaves the bay without any incident and they’re flying for a good hour before Steve stands up and starts moving about the plane. Tony watches him out of the corner of the HUD and Natasha goes to join him, her voice low.
Clint calls out, “We’re about ten minutes from the drop zone, guys. Get ready.”
The side bay door creaks open and Tony turns in his chair, surprised when Natasha shoves at Steve’s chest, gesturing wildly behind her at the seats. “We are ten minutes out, Captain. And the parachutes are in the bags above the cockpit.”
Steve raises an eyebrow at her, pulling his cowl over his face. He grins at her as he hoists his shield over his shoulder, securing the straps. The air whips by them both, the night an empty hole gaping in the side of the jet. “I’ve jumped out with less.”
And with that, he actually jumps.
Tony makes a noise low in his throat, leaping up from the seat. Natasha is leaning out the side, her eyes wide in surprise and Clint is too busy piloting the damn plane to do anything more than shout. Tony wastes five precious seconds thinking stupid stupid why are you being stupid? before he’s jumping out after him, the plane whirring off without him.
The repulsors come online and he can just make out Steve hurtling toward the ground at a dangerous speed. He puts on an extra burst of speed, fighting back the equations that whisper about trajectory and gravity and mass and shhh. He pushes the repulsors harder and he can see Steve perfectly outlined now, and he’s actually facing Tony, his arms behind his head and a bright grin on his face.
When Tony reaches out to gather him up, matching his descending speed, Steve throws an arm around his neck and turns to face the ground again, letting out a whoop of laughter. Tony adjusts the repulsors to compensate for Steve’s weight and can feel himself shaking inside the suit. He stares at Steve for a few seconds before adjusting their arc, getting Steve used to the new speed and levelling them out until he can start their ascent back to the plane.
In the meanwhile…
“Are you fucking crazy?” Tony shouts, but Iron Man’s regulators change his fury to blank words. Steve grins at him, eyes peering at the darkness beneath them.
“Knew you’d catch me.”
And that, well, that punches him right in the gut. He doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know how to act; he thought surely that Steve hated him after their words in the lab, after Steve had called him on his joking nature and his daddy issues. He tightens his arm around Steve’s waist but doesn’t say anything. Steve worms about in his grip until he’s facing the other way, staring up at the sky. Tony slows their speed, the HUD blinking the minutes until their picked up. Steve is still smiling.
“I’ve always wanted to fly,” he says, and readjusts again. Tony refrains from chastising him. “Just take off and leave it all behind, catch my fingers in the clouds and swim through the rain. Doing what you’re doing.”
The soft note in Steve’s voice, the vulnerability, closes off some snarky part of Tony’s mind and he says, “It was one of the first things I worked on. I don’t have much freedom now, what with the reactor, but it’s nice to know I can fly whenever the thought strikes.”
Steve laughs, tugging on Tony’s shoulder. Tony changes their course, spiralling upward. The night curls around them, dark and easy, and there isn’t a cloud in sight. The stars coalesce into shimmering pools of light, and the moon hangs like an ostracized peer. The air gets colder and Tony slows his ascent. The plane is turning around in the distance and will meet them if Tony drops down again. Instead, Steve lets go of his shoulder, grabbing for the hand around his waist.
“Catch me again?”
Before Tony can react, Steve pries off his fingers and then he’s freefalling, laughter booming up into the air, and Tony pelts after him. He doesn’t catch him right away, just circles around him, tapping on Steve and spinning him this way and that, a strange sense of freedom blooming behind the arc reactor. When Tony’s sensors go off, he gathers Steve up and levels them out, his cheeks hurting from his smile. Steve practically howls with laughter, his face red with wind burn and exhilaration.
“Fantastic. Do you think we have time for one more go?” he asks, looking longingly up at the sky. Tony bites his lip, glances out over at the plane, and decides fuck it. To hear Steve laugh again, like he didn’t just lose his entire world, like he didn’t wake up in a foreign place with nowhere to run, turns something over in his damaged heart. They climb faster this time. He feels Steve tuck his face against his neck, feels the blush creep up his own cheeks, and then he’s hovering in mid-air.
“We have about two minutes before Clint is just below us, so drop fast,” Tony says, and he lets Steve go. Steve grins and pushes off him, plummeting to the ground with another whoop. Tony follows after him, catching and letting go of Steve, their hands coming together, their bodies moving through the air in a strange semblance of a dance. They spin and move and Tony can catch the formulas in the splay of Steve’s hands and the wind under his calf. He can see the numbers on his lips and the equations spread in his eyes. It’s beautiful and unbelievable and Tony can’t quite catch his breath. When he finally gathers Steve to him again, Steve clings full, his face inches from Tony’s own, and if Tony were a more daring man, he would’ve kissed him, faceplate or not.
The plane roars beside them and the moment is gone. Tony moves Steve around until he can balance them both and flies them right back in. Steve pushes off his cowl and beams at Natasha, who just clicks her tongue at him. Clint is trying to peer over the back of his seat while keeping the plane level.
“We were ten minutes from the drop site, Cap. Couldn’t wait?” Clint says. Steve clambers into the seat beside him.
“I’m used to falling outside enemy territory. And besides, it was more fun this way.”
Natasha is staring at him, Tony knows she is, but he can’t think of anything to say, the last daring dance with Steve playing through his mind. He clicks off the outside mic and asks Jarvis, “Did you record that last bit, Jarvis?”
“Affirmative, sir. It has been uploaded to your personal computer,” Jarvis replies, humour colouring his tone. Tony flushes again.
“Thanks. Be back in a few hours.” He clicks the mic on again. “Well, we have an experienced pilot flying for us now, Cap, so you don’t have to worry about that now.”
Steve glances at him over the seat and nods, that grin still tugging on his lips, and Natasha bumps into Tony’s side. Tony brushes her off and clicks himself back into his seat, quietly bringing up the recording of Steve’s face as they moved throughout the air. He leans back and lets it play, wondering how a man who hates him so much can make him feel as free as he does in the workshop.
He is so screwed.