Steve jogged behind the gurney, pushing aside the agents who were foolish enough to get in his way. He felt bad when one of them flew back against the wall, but he forgot all about it as soon as his eyes fixed back onto the gurney. Tony was his only concern.
Tony looked okay, as if he had just fallen asleep, but he hadn’t responded to anything since Steve had found him on that damn Skrull ship. Steve kept expecting Tony to wake up and smirk up at him. He wanted to shake Tony awake just to hear his voice.
“You have to stay out here,” a brusque nurse said, stopping Steve at the door to one of the Helicarrier’s hospital rooms. He nearly pushed her out of the way like he had the other agents, but she was a woman and he never laid a hand on a woman. Well, not unless she was aiming a gun at him. Self-preservation usually overrode his manners. Usually.
“Stop looming over the poor woman,” Clint said. “Let them do their jobs.”
Steve stepped back and glared at Clint who was leaning casually against the wall as if nothing was going on, as if Tony wasn’t unresponsive.
“There’s no reason to glare at me either,” Clint said, pushing off of the wall. He took Steve’s arm firmly in his hand. “Come on, you’re going to take a shower before you camp out here.”
Steve seriously considered ripping his arm out of Clint’s grasp and refusing to move, but he was covered in some sort of sulfurous slime and he was pretty sure they would never let him into Tony’s hospital room like that. He was actually surprised that Clint was willing to touch the slime.
“Fine,” Steve muttered, letting Clint guide him. “But for the record, I don’t loom.”
“Of course you don’t,” Clint replied. “And Bruce never gets angry.”
“How is he?” Steve asked as soon as he entered Tony’s hospital room. He’d managed his fastest shower since boot camp and did feel better for it. He was still worried about Tony, but at least he didn’t smell like rotten eggs too.
There were several doctors gathered around Tony’s bed, but only one bothered to look up at his question. She scanned her clipboard and stepped over to talk to him. “As far as we can tell he’s not injured. The coma appears to have been induced.”
“But he’s okay? He’s going to wake up?”
“It’s impossible to say,” she replied. “There isn’t anything medically wrong with him, but we don’t know anything about the Skrulls. Without knowing how they induced the coma or for what purpose, all we can do is wait and see.”
His expression must have betrayed his worry because the doctor’s face softened and she laid a hand on his arm.
“He should recover on his own, but if not we can call in a telepath.”
Steve nodded curtly and let her get back to the other doctors. He stood in the corner out of the way until they left, and then he pulled up a chair next to Tony’s bed. Thankfully, they didn’t come back for hours. He wasn’t in the mood for company.
He stared into the thing’s eyes, searching for something, anything, that proved this wasn’t Tony—the real Tony. Reed’s machine had proved that this creature wasn’t actually Tony, but Steve still couldn’t see it. All he saw was Tony, his friend…his lover.
“I know I’m pretty, but you don’t have to stare,” the fake Tony said. “If you let me out you can do a lot more than just stare.”
There was a seductive quality to the creature’s voice that made Steve’s heart race even though he knew it wasn’t Tony. It sounded like Tony and that was enough to make Steve’s body respond. He pushed the arousal aside and leaned forward, continuing his study of the creature.
“We’ve found Tony, the real Tony, so you can stop pretending.” Steve said. They were the first words he’d spoken since he’d traded the uncomfortable chair at Tony’s bedside for the one in the brig more than half an hour ago.
“I’m not pretending. I am the real Tony,” the thing—Skrull—wearing Tony’s face said. “What do I have to do to prove it to you?”
“You can’t,” Steve responded. ““I saw your skin turn green.”
“Come on, Steve,” the fake Tony said. “You know me better than anyone. Reed’s wrong about this.”
Steve had wanted to believe that, he had believed it until Reed had shown him the proof. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he would have never agreed to put Tony—the thing—in a cell like this. “He’s not.”
“Then how do I know that you always keep a sketchpad close at hand or that you visit Peggy in the nursing home twice a month?” Fake-Tony asked. “Or that our first kiss was in my lab after the fight with the Mandarin. How do I know the sounds you make when you—“
“Stop,” Steve interrupted harshly. He couldn’t hear the rest of that sentence. Steve didn’t want to know how much the fake Tony knew. More importantly, he didn’t want to know how much the fake Tony had actually experienced.
Fake-Tony took a deep breath, schooling his features into a concerned expression. “I don’t know who is in the hospital, but it isn’t me. After everything we’ve been through together, I can’t believe you’re letting Reed and Fury confuse you like this. I’m worried about you, Steve.”
Steve stood up so fast the chair he had been sitting in tipped over with a loud crash. He turned toward the door without a word. It had been a mistake coming here and he needed out now.
“I’ll be here when you realize your mistake,” Fake-Tony called after him.
Steve forced himself to maintain his control until the door had closed behind him. As soon as it had swung shut he lashed out punching the wall hard enough to dent it.
“Do you know how much this ship cost?” Fury asked. “Removing that dent might cost more than you’re worth.”
Steve looked up and saw Fury standing at the end of the hall. His arms were crossed and he looked pissed. “I’m not in the mood.”
“Tough,” Fury responded. “There are doombots wreaking havoc downtown so you can either stay here and throw a tantrum or suit up. The choice is yours.” When Steve didn’t respond, Fury frowned. “You don’t actually have a choice. Go get your shield.”
Steve jerked forward as he began to nod off. He rubbed fiercely at his eyes, forcing himself to stay awake. Once he’d cleared the sleep away, he glanced at the machines, afraid that something had changed during the few minutes that he’d slept. Nothing had.
He sighed, scooted the chair closer to the bed, and picked up Tony’s hand. It was cool to the touch, so Steve began rubbing gently, trying to get Tony’s blood circulating.
He really needed caffeine or sugar or something to keep him awake, but he didn’t want to leave Tony’s side. He was irrationally afraid that if he turned his back on Tony he would be switched out with another Skrull. Considering what they had in the Helicarrier’s brig, maybe the fear wasn’t really that irrational. He shouldn’t have gone to see the Skrull. It had gotten into his head, planting seeds of doubt.
Steve gently set Tony’s hand down and stood up. He moved around the bed and sat on the edge, picking up Tony’s right hand. He began to massage it like he had the other. He rubbed his fingers over the familiar calluses and felt a small smile tug at his lips. Tony didn’t have the hands of a billionaire businessman. They were rough and covered in scars from flying sparks and sharp metal.
When they had first met, Steve had only seen a pompous, rich man-child, but Tony’s handshake had told another story. It hadn’t taken long to see that Tony wasn’t really about glamour and parties. He would rather spend hours underneath a car or working on the Iron Man suit. Steve had never seen Tony more at home than when he was holed up in his lab brandishing a welding torch.
Steve’s smile faded. He knew Tony’s hands almost better than his own. He knew every callus intimately. He knew how they felt cradled in his own hand or running over his body. But what if the hands he knew had never been Tony’s at all?
Steve slammed the door open and marched wordlessly toward the only inhabited cell in the brig. “Let me see your hands.”
“What?” Fake-Tony asked.
“Your hands,” Steve ordered. “Put them through the bars now.”
“Yes, sir,” Fake-Tony said sarcastically, just the way Tony would have. The way Tony had on more than one occasion. Despite the sarcasm, he obeyed Steve’s order, standing up and turning around so that he could slip his bound hands through the bars. “Whatever you say, Captain.”
Steve ground his teeth, but didn’t respond. He grabbed the thing’s hands, none too gently, and ran his fingers over them. His stomach dropped. They were all there. Every callus and scar was where it should be.
“Any chance you can undo the cuffs?” Fake-Tony asked. “They only take them off when I eat. I haven’t been able to feel my hands for days.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Steve said, distracted. “I’ll mention it to someone.”
Steve stared at Tony’s hand. He wanted to pick it up. He wanted that physical connection to Tony, but he didn’t know if he should. He didn’t know if he had the right.
They didn’t know when the Skrull infiltration had begun. They had recovered information from the Skrull ship that indicated some Skrulls had been imbedded in the human population for decades and others for only weeks. They had no way of knowing how long Tony had been gone unless he woke up.
What if he had been missing for years? What if he woke up and didn’t even know Steve? What if their entire relationship had been a lie? What if that Skrull in the brig was the only Tony that he’d ever known?
Steve sat on his hands to keep from reaching out.
Steve caught his shield and immediately turned, launching it at the nearest mannequin. The head went flying but the body kept lumbering forward.
“Thor,” Clint called, his hands a blur on his bow. “Does your brother watch Doctor Who?”
Thor demolished three mannequins with one toss of Mjolnir before responding. “I don’t understand. Who is the doctor?”
“Never mind,” Clint replied. “Bringing mannequins to life just isn’t that creative. That’s all.”
There was a flash of light and suddenly the mannequins were armed with swords and guns.
“Can you not taunt the god please?” Steve asked in a pained voice as he ducked under a swinging sword.
“Sorry,” Clint replied.
“He taunts me all the time,” Thor pointed out.
Steve turned his back on both of them and took out a row of Victoria's Secret mannequins with one hard toss, lingerie flying through the air. He batted away a red thong that flew at his face and really hoped that no one was getting cell phone footage of this. The last thing he needed was a picture of him standing in a pile of women’s lingerie making the news. Fox News was already out to get him since he’d been caught on camera kissing Tony. Something about degrading the American flag with his homosexual agenda, whatever that was supposed to mean.
Thinking of Tony made him throw the shield even harder the next time and he inadvertently took out a Build-A-Bear kiosk sending stuffing flying through the air. At least the white fluff covered most of the lingerie, hiding it from sight.
“I think that’s all of them,” Clint said a few minutes later. “The mall is safe once again.”
Steve looked around, surprised to see that all of the mannequins were in pieces and appeared to have stopped moving. “Loki?”
“Gone.” Thor sighed. “I wish he would talk to me instead of throwing tantrums like this.”
At Thor’s words a few of the mannequin arms began to rattle ominously. Steve glared at Thor who rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything else.
“Let’s get out of here while we can,” Steve said. He radioed Coulson to let him know that a clean-up team was needed at the mall and walked out, trampling on lingerie and teddy bears. There was probably something symbolic about that.
“So, how’s Tony?” Clint asked hurrying to catch up with Steve.
Steve shrugged. “No change.” He glanced at Clint’s nearly empty quiver. “Shouldn’t you be retrieving arrows?”
“Coulson will make sure someone gets them,” Clint said dismissively. “How’re you holding up?”
“I’m fine,” Steve replied, curtly.
“Then why are you here instead of the hospital?”
“Loki was here,” Steve said.
“And yesterday you stopped a bank robbery and the day before that I think you were giving out parking tickets.”
Steve glared at Clint. “I am not a meter maid.”
“You know what I mean. When was the last time you visited Tony?” Clint asked.
“You really ought to get those arrows. A kid might stumble across them before the clean-up team shows up.” Steve sped up, leaving Clint behind. He didn’t want to talk.
Steve was at the prison, again. He had finally learned his lesson about actually talking to the thing. No good came from that. So instead of going into the room with the fake Tony, he was in the guard room watching it pace around its cell on the monitor.
Steve knew that he should be with the real Tony, waiting for him to wake up, but he couldn’t stand the thought of Tony waking up and looking at him with blank eyes. So instead he was here. He’d spent most of his free time here lately, studying the Skrull, hoping that it would finally give something away. Surely if he watched long enough, he’d catch it in a mistake.
The door opened behind him, but he didn’t turn around.
“Fury said I’d find you here,” Thor said. “I checked the hospital first.”
“Did you need something?” Steve asked, his eyes following the creature's progress as it circled its cell.
“No,” Thor replied. He joined Steve at the monitors. “The likeness is disturbing.”
Steve nodded. “He’s identical down to the burn scar on his left index finger.”
“When Loki first learned to change his shape, he took on Sif’s appearance,” Thor said. “Sif and I were dating at the time. It was quite a shock.”
Steve glanced over at Thor. “I’d say so.”
“It took a long time for me to trust my eyes after that,” Thor continued. “The relationship soured because of it.”
Steve turned around and gave Thor his full attention. “I’m sensing that this isn’t just idle conversation.”
“You need to get out of your head before you make yourself crazy,” Thor said.
“And how am I supposed to do that?” Steve asked, frustrated. “I’ve gone on every mission, even the ones that Fury usually gives to novice agents.”
“A good fight can help clear the mind,” Thor agreed. “But so can a night with friends. I have a cask of Asgardian mead with our names on it.”
“I can’t get drunk,” Steve said. He wished that he could. The last time he’d tried had been after Bucky had died, and losing Tony was almost worse. Sometimes he really hated the serum.
“But you can try,” Thor said. He clasped Steve’s shoulder, giving him a shake. “We will give it a mighty effort.”
“Why not,” Steve said. “If anything can beat my metabolism it’ll be Asgardian mead.”
Thor blurred, going soft around the edges, and Steve had to concentrate in order to focus on him. “I think I’m drunk.”
“Think?” Thor asked.
Steve tilted his head and the room began to spin around him. “I’m not sure. I can’t remember what it feels like. Does it feel like floating?”
Thor laughed, a deep rumbling sound. “That it does.”
Steve squinted at his half empty glass. “It only took…” he paused trying to count on his fingers. After a moment he gave up, “a lot of your mead.”
“There are Aesir who cannot drink as much as you,” Thor acknowledged. “And I believe any other human would be dead by now.”
“I should have been dead seventy years ago,” Steve muttered. “I don’t think death knows where to find me.”
“Perhaps not, but I wouldn’t tempt her.”
Steve shrugged and tried to take another drink, but it spilled down his chin instead.
“I think you’ve had enough,” Thor said, taking his glass away from him and setting it aside.
Steve leaned back in the chair and stared at the slowly spinning ceiling. “I tried to get drunk after Bucky died. But I couldn’t. Not even a little.”
“Tony isn’t dead, Steve,” Thor commented.
“Isn’t he?” Steve asked. “He might never wake up.”
“He might not,” Thor agreed. “But the doctors think he will.”
“But what if it’s not him?” Steve asked. He sat up too fast, nearly falling out of the chair. “What if when he wakes up he doesn’t remember anything? What if it was all the Skrull?”
“Do you really think that?” Thor asked.
“Maybe?” Steve replied. “The Fake-Tony knows a lot of stuff. Important stuff.”
“Fake-Tony?” Thor repeated, amused. “Steve, you can’t let the Skrull get to you like this.”
“He knew things, Thor.” Steve leaned forward and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Sex things. What if I slept with that thing? I think I slept with it, Thor.” Steve buried his head in his hands, digging into his scalp with his fingers. “What if I slept with it?
Thor took a deep breath and laid a heavy hand on Steve’s neck, squeezing gently. “Then you did. Then it violated you. But Steve, that doesn’t mean that you’ve lost Tony.”
“But what if I never slept with Tony?” Steve whispered. “What if it was only ever the Skrull?”
Thor didn’t have an answer.
Steve woke up with a piercing headache. Apparently chugging Asgardian mead not only managed to outpace his serum-enhanced metabolism enough to get him drunk, but it also managed to give him his first hangover since his eighteenth birthday.
He sat up slowly, the sheet sticking to his face. Apparently he had drooled in his sleep…a lot. He was disoriented and it took him a moment to figure out where he was. He was so out of it that he stared at Tony lying peacefully on the bed in front of him for several seconds before he actually registered where he was. Steve took a moment to study Tony since he hadn’t been here in a while. Tony still looked like he was merely sleeping, but his cheeks had begun to sink in and his skin had lost most of its color.
Steve must have fallen asleep sitting in the chair with his head resting on the bed, but he didn’t remember coming here. The last thing he did remember was Thor walking him to his room. Or at least Thor had started to; he vaguely remembered muttering that he wanted to see Tony and trying to pull away from Thor’s supportive hold.
Steve's stomach rumbled threateningly, and he stopped trying to think and rushed as fast as he could on unsteady legs into the bathroom. He swallowed convulsively for several minutes before he gave up and threw up last night’s dinner. He had always hated throwing up, but at least it did make him feel better.
Once his stomach had settled, he splashed cold water onto his face and neck. He looked into the mirror over the sink and shook his head. He looked just like his father had every morning when he was growing up. He’d hated his father when he was a kid for being a drunk, for being so weak that he chose alcohol over his family. He hadn’t understood how a man who’d come home from the war a hero, with the medals to prove it, could abandon his family to a bottle. After he’d gone to his own war, Steve had understood better why his father had drunk, but he still hadn’t respected it.
He didn’t respect himself very much at the moment either. And yet, by midmorning his metabolism had conquered his hangover and by evening he was seeking Thor out. Oblivion had a certain appeal.
Thankfully Thor was out of mead.
Steve stomped down the hall, his scowl dark enough to make agents turn around and head the other way. When he reached Fury’s office, he threw the door open and barely kept himself from shouting. “Where is he?”
“Where is who?” Fury asked calmly. He shuffled the papers in front of him casually as if Captain America wasn’t looming angrily over his desk. And okay, maybe Clint was right. He did loom.
“The Skrull. He isn’t in his cell.”
Fury leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “He’s been transferred to the Raft.”
Steve clenched his fists hard enough that his nails cut into his palm. “But he hasn’t talked yet.”
“He doesn’t have to,” Fury said. “Reed’s machine exposed him for what he is.”
“He might have information, valuable information—“
“It’s been a month, Rogers,” Fury interrupted. “He’s not going to talk.”
Steve recoiled as if he’d been slapped. Had it really been a month? A month since they’d first discovered that Tony was gone? Had maybe always been gone? He turned around and walked out of Fury’s office. Fury was calling his name, demanding that he turn around, but he didn’t.
“Steve?” Peggy whispered, her voice hoarse.
“It’s me,” Steve confirmed. He leaned forward and helped her sit up to take a sip of water. “How are you feeling today?”
“I’ve been worse,” she answered. She studied him with her milky, cataract-covered eyes. “I’m not sure if you have been, though.”
“I’m fine,” Steve said. “I just realized I haven’t visited you in a while.”
“You lie.” Peggy reached out and laid her frail hand over his strong one, reminding him that it wouldn’t be long until he lost her too. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”
“It’s nothing,” Steve insisted. “I don’t want to bother you.”
“Steve, the most exciting thing that happened in here this week was one of the orderlies stealing Ms. Johnson’s jewelry.”
“That sounds pretty exciting,” Steve commented.
Peggy made a tsking sound. “Talk.”
Steve sighed. Peggy’s body might be shutting down with age and illness, but her mind was as sharp as it ever was. He was never sure if that was a good thing or not. The thought of being locked inside a broken body again scared him, but the thought of losing his mental faculties scared him even more.
“Is this about that young man of yours?” she prompted. “The one Fox News keeps throwing a fit about?”
Steve couldn’t help the laugh that escaped. “Still?”
“It’s not every day that Captain America is outed,” Peggy pointed out.
Steve shook his head. “I’m glad I’m so entertaining. And yes, it has to do with Tony.”
Before he really thought about it, he was telling Peggy everything. Well, almost everything, he wasn’t comfortable talking to her about his sex life and his concerns about that. For heaven’s sake, he still wasn’t able to use the word “sex” around her. She had once asked him if he had finally found a dance partner in Tony and that was as close as they’d gotten to talking about sex.
“I’m sorry, Steve,” Peggy said when he was done. “But I don’t think you have to worry.”
“Even if it wasn’t him,” she said. “He’ll fall for you again. How could he not?”
Steve pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead to avoid responding. He didn’t share her certainty.
Steve was standing in the doorway, watching Tony’s chest rise and fall. He hadn’t managed to set foot inside the room since the night he’d stumbled in drunk, but he hadn’t been able to entirely keep away either.
“You aren’t doing him any favors by keeping your distance,” Bruce said, walking up to stand next to him. “I kept away from Betty for her own good and all it did was hurt us both.”
Steve barely refrained from pointing out that Bruce was still keeping Betty at arm’s length. “That’s not what I’m doing.”
“I know self-sacrificing when I see it. Do you really think Tony wants you to beat yourself up like this?” Bruce asked. Steve didn’t reply and Bruce held up his hands in a surrendering gesture. “But it’s not really any of my business.”
“No, it’s not,” Steve agreed, relieved that Bruce moved on without further conversation. He would probably take Bruce’s advice more seriously if Bruce actually followed it himself.
He turned his attention back to Tony’s breathing, subconsciously matching his own breaths to Tony’s.
“Did you really not know it was Loki?” Steve asked as soon as Thor opened his door.
Thor raised an eyebrow at him and opened the door wider in invitation. He gestured at a chair, but Steve ignored it, opting to pace instead.
“I didn’t know, not at first,” Thor answered, sitting down in the chair Steve had refused.
“But you did figure it out?” Steve asked.
Thor nodded. “Eventually.”
Steve stopped pacing and ran his hand through his hair, tugging fiercely. “How could I not know? Tony was gone and I never even realized.”
“Loki wanted me to know. He wasn’t really trying to be Sif, he was just trying to mess with my head,” Thor said.
“How did you figure it out?” Steve asked, curious.
“Loki kisses like a man,” Thor replied making Steve very sorry he’d asked. “But even then it took a while before I trusted my instincts.”
Steve held up a hand. “I probably don’t want to know any more.”
Thor laughed. “To think that was Loki when he still liked me,” Thor paused, his face going distant. “I think…. Regardless, they are two very different situations. Everything we know about the Skrulls tells us that they’ve spent decades learning how to infiltrate our lives. They make sure you can’t tell a difference.”
“I still should have known,” Steve whispered. “Tony would have known.”
“You can’t know that,” Thor said.
Steve didn’t argue the point, but he couldn’t help thinking that he was right. Tony would have known.
Steve looked up at the statue. He had only been here once since he’d woken up in a new millennium. Seeing himself larger than life had been unnerving and not altogether comfortable, but he wasn’t here for that. He ignored the statue of himself and looked at the men standing behind him; each one of them had followed him into battle at great risk, and they were all gone now, lost sometime in the years after the war while he slept.
He walked around the memorial until he was standing in front of Bucky. He looked up into the familiar face and had to take a steadying breath. The statue was eerily lifelike.
“Sometimes I really miss you,” Steve whispered. “You always managed to get me out of a bind.” Steve sat down on the wall across from the statue. “My life has gotten pretty complicated these days. I wish you were here to talk to. Everybody looks at me and sees Captain America; no one remembers Steve from Brooklyn. Even Tony had trouble seeing past the flag at first, but he never held back his opinion because of it. I like that about him. You would probably like Tony, too. He’s a real smart ass sometimes. Just like you were.”
Steve rubbed at his burning eyes and looked back up at the statue. “The future isn’t all it was cracked up to be either. Remember how Howard swore that there would be flying cars? Well, there aren’t. Nothing is turning out the way I expected it to when we were boys.”
Steve fell silent, lost in the past.
Clint set his tray down on the table across from Steve and sat down. “Why aren’t you in the hospital?”
Steve sighed, tired of being asked the same question over and over again. He hated everyone sticking their noses in his business.
Clint opened his water bottle and took a sip. “I mean, I’d have thought you’d be inseparable now that he’s woken up.”
“What?” Steve asked, dropping his sandwich in shock. “He’s awake?”
Clint’s face softened in pity and Steve clenched his jaw. He hated being pitied. “You didn’t know? Phil told me he woke up a couple of hours ago.”
“Is he okay? Did he say anything? What happened to him?” Steve asked in a rush, leaning forward intently.
“I don’t know,” Clint said apologetically. “All I know is that he woke up this morning.”
Steve stood up, his chair scraping harshly against the cafeteria floor. “I have to go.”
“I’ll toss your trash then,” Clint called after him.
Steve made a beeline for the hospital, but once he got there he couldn’t bring himself to go any further. Instead he began to pace up and down the hallway trying to get up his nerve to go in and see Tony. He tried to tell himself that at least now he would know, but it didn’t help.
“You’re being a coward,” he muttered under his breath. He stopped and straightened his shoulders. He’d faced artificially enhanced Nazis and Norse gods; surely he could face this. Mustering his courage, he stepped forward and entered Tony’s room.
Tony was asleep.
Steve dodged behind a rock out of sight of the Tyrannosaurus Rex that had been chasing them for the past mile and gestured for Clint to head for the quinjet ahead of him. He tightened the makeshift bandage on his arm and brought his shield up for cover as he followed Clint onto the plane.
Once Natasha had the plane in the air, narrowly avoiding the dinosaur’s snapping jaws, he let himself relax back into his seat. It had been a long week. The mission was only supposed to have taken a few days, but trips to the Savage Lands rarely went as expected.
Fury had been surprised when Steve had volunteered to lead the mission so soon after had Tony woke, but he hadn’t complained. After all, Steve was their foremost expert on Hydra. Well, other than Natasha who had spent the last several months ferreting out information on Hydra’s secret base in the Savage Lands.
Tony had been out of his coma for a few days when they had left, but Steve hadn’t been able to tell a difference. According to the doctors, Tony had been sleeping normally, but he was still unconscious and the wait had been killing Steve. He had to do something other than wear a hole in the floor pacing outside of Tony’s room. Fighting a few dinosaurs had seemed like the perfect outlet for his nerves.
Between infiltrating the base and avoiding Velociraptors, Steve had managed to push the Tony situation to the back of his mind for most of the week. Now that the mission was over though, all of his worries were coming back, and the closer they got to New York the more worried he got.
Suddenly, he wasn’t feeling very relaxed anymore.
“He’s been asking for you,” Coulson said as soon as Steve had gone over every minute of the last week—twice—for his debriefing.
“Stark. He’s been asking for you for a couple of days now,” Coulson said. “We told him you were on a mission, but he keeps asking anyway. The doctors think his sense of time is a bit off.”
Steve stood up. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? Like when I got off the plane?”
“The mission isn’t over until the debriefing is done,” Coulson explained as if that made it okay, and maybe in Coulson’s world it did.
Steve shook his head. “Thanks a lot.”
“You’re welcome,” Coulson replied, ignoring the sarcasm.
Steve clenched his jaw to keep from retorting. The last thing he needed was a fight with Coulson. Fighting with Coulson was always futile. The man never lost.
Steve stood in the doorway to Tony’s room and watched Tony fiddle with the remote control. The way Tony was looking at it, Steve was pretty sure that he was figuring out ways to alter it to do a lot more than change channels. If they left him alone for long enough, he would probably start moving satellites with the thing.
“Steve?” Tony asked quietly, squinting at the door. “Is that you?”
“Yeah.” Steve was relieved that Tony recognized him at all, but he hesitated at the door, still not sure of his place.
“What are you doing way over there?” Tony asked. He reached out with his hand and Steve stared at it uncertainly for a moment before crossing the room and taking it into his own. He half expected Tony to pull away, but he didn't. Steve was glad that he was at least allowed this much, that their entire relationship hadn’t been a lie. “Where have you been? I was asking for you.”
Steve’s heart ached at the insecurity barely concealed in Tony’s question. “I know. I’m sorry. I was on a mission.”
“Is that where you got this?” Tony asked, his free hand ghosting over Steve’s bandaged arm.
Steve nodded. “Courtesy of Hydra.”
“Hydra never leaves you alone, do they?” Tony asked. “They’re like the creepy stalker girl that sends you love letters in middle school and just won’t take no for an answer when you try to let her down gently.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Steve said. “I never got love letters in school and thankfully Hydra doesn’t send me any either.”
Tony laughed. “Well, to be honest, I skipped over middle school entirely, so I wouldn’t know either.”
Steve shook his head fondly. “You’re impossible.”
“I try,” Tony said. “So what have I missed? They tell me I’ve been out for over a month.”
Steve’s smile faded as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “That depends. How much do you remember?”
Tony’s brow furrowed and he raised his free hand to his temple. “It’s hard. Everything is a blur. The Skrulls were stealing my memories, pulling them all to the front, so everything is out of order.” He paused for a moment and Steve could tell he was thinking hard. “When did we go to that Yankees game? I seem to remember you bitching about how much better baseball used to be for hours.”
Steve let out a breath he hadn’t realized that he’d been holding. They had gone to the Yankee game only two weeks before the Fake-Tony was discovered. “I’m sure I didn’t bitch. I’m sure it was a very reasoned argument.”
“Uh huh,” Tony rolled his eyes. “If that’s how you define whining.” He paused and squeezed Steve’s hand. “Are you all right? You seem nervous.”
“I’m fine,” Steve answered. “It’s just been a hard month, but everything is going to be okay now.”
“So you didn’t answer my question,” Tony prompted. “Other than trips to the Savage Lands, what did I miss?”
“I got drunk,” Steve answered with the first thought that popped into his head.
“Really?” Tony asked, surprised. “You told me you couldn’t get drunk.”
“I didn’t think I could,” Steve said. “But apparently the serum can’t compete with Asgardian mead. At least not when I chug it.”
Tony grinned. “I wish I had seen that. Please tell me somebody got video of it?”
“I hope not,” Steve replied. “Fox News doesn’t need any more footage of Captain America ‘spiraling into depravity.’”
“You worry too much,” Tony said, his eyes twinkling.
“Yeah, I probably do,” Steve agreed. “That’s why I need you around. To help me keep things in perspective.”
“I’m back on the job.” Tony yawned. “Or I will be after I take a nap. You’ll be here when I wake up?”
Steve nodded and settled back in the chair to watch Tony sleep. They still had a lot to talk about when Tony was feeling better, but the future was bright again.