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Northwest to Nowhere

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Day 0

The landing is rough, as can be expected from an unplanned tandem jump with a semi-conscious person—a feat that would probably be impossible without enhanced abilities. Steve does his best to take the brunt of the impact, shielding Tony with his body.

It's not graceful or pretty, and they end up as a heap on the rocky ground, but at least Steve manages to come through with nothing worse than bumps and bruises. He works Tony free of the improvised harness getup, and rolls him onto his back to check him over.

Tony's eyes are half open, and he blinks slowly, clearly trying and failing to focus on Steve's face. "...the hell is going on?" he mumbles, sounding way too calm about it.

"We got kidnapped, they were taking us somewhere on a plane, we escaped," Steve summarizes.

"Mm, okay, that's great," Tony says like he didn't actually understand a word of it, and his eyes close again.

Steve sighs. Whatever was in those tranquilizer darts, it's clearly not out of Tony's system yet. Hopefully it's just that and not something more serious, like an actual overdose. He cursorily goes over Tony's body and doesn't find any significant injuries. That's good, at least.

First priority: get off that plane in one piece. Check.

Steve takes off the rest of the harness and drops the parachute container to the ground.

Second priority: make sure they're safe from their captors and any potential environmental hazards.

No one followed them out of the plane, Steve made sure of that. The plane hasn't returned to circle over them, either. Whoever those thugs were, they're probably going to limp home to lick their wounds. Nevertheless, Steve would prefer not being out in the open. The problem is, he notes as he evaluates their surroundings, that there is no place in sight that's not out in the open.

The landscape is quite beautiful, in a rugged and unspoiled way. It looks like highland, or fell: they're surrounded by rolling hills, some high enough that one might call them mountains, with patches of bare rock here and there. The vegetation is sparse, just grass, moss, and low bushes. He can't spot a single tree, and there are absolutely no signs of civilization, not even any paths. He can see a body of water, maybe a river or a small lake, beyond a hill, around a mile away.

Steve has no idea where they are. He also has no idea what time it is. He doesn’t know how long he was unconscious, and he doesn't have his watch anymore. A quick check of his pockets reveals he doesn't have anything else either.

The sun is low in the sky, but still above the horizon. If Steve had to guess, he'd say they're somewhere all the way up north, where it doesn't set all night.

He gathers up the parachute canopy. It's a grayish green color that will offer them some camouflage. It's also their only option for shelter, and that's something they'll definitely need: although it's late June, it's cold enough to make Steve's breath mist. The temperature can't be much above freezing.

Steve is dressed in his full Captain America regalia, so he's quite well prepared. Tony, on the other hand, is wearing a flimsy light-gray suit. Perfect for a summer PR event, a lot less so for a hike in the highlands. The thugs have taken Tony’s tie and opened the top buttons of his pink dress shirt, probably to make sure his breathing isn't compromised while he's unconscious.

"Tony?" Steve tries, shaking him by the shoulders. "Come on, now isn't the greatest time for a beauty sleep."

"Nu-uh, not available," Tony mutters, without even opening his eyes. "Have Pepper schedule something." He turns onto his side, his back towards Steve. The ground is hard, cold and slightly damp, but he seems too out of it to care.

It really looks like the only option is to wait and let Tony sleep it off, because Steve sure as heck isn't going to start carrying him through this unknown wilderness. He's got to do something, though, or Tony's soon going to be hypothermic as well as drugged.

Steve drew the short straw when the Avengers were deciding who would join Tony on the trip to Oslo, Norway. Now it's beginning to look like that straw was even shorter than Steve first thought. He knew this was going to be a babysitting mission, but that’s turning out to be an almost literal description.

It's a blessing that Tony's asleep, because that means he's not complaining or wisecracking as usual. Steve makes use of the only extra layer of fabric that they have, cocooning Tony in the parachute canopy. He's not too gentle about it, but the only response he gets from Tony amounts to occasional unintelligible mumbling.

It would be far better to build an actual shelter and to light a fire, but Steve doesn't see anything nearby that he could use to do either, and he doesn't think it'd be a good idea to stray beyond the line of sight, leaving Tony alone in such a vulnerable state. Besides, a fire would make them much more visible if their captors should return to look for them after all.

Steve sits on the empty parachute pack to wait, his knees drawn up and his arms around them.

All in all, things could be a lot worse. The view really is stunning, and so perfectly serene that it's difficult to imagine anything untoward ever happening here.


Day 1

Tony's first impression on waking up is that he's passed out on a park bench. Must've been a hell of an after-party.

He's numb with cold, but the sun is warm against his closed eyelids, much warmer and brighter than it would be through a window. The chilly air smells of the outdoors, of moss and grass and dew. And whatever he's lying on, his first impression can't have been right: it doesn't feel like a bench, way too uneven for that. He's pretty sure there are pebbles under his head.

Someone grabs his shoulder roughly, startling him.

"Tony? You finally awake?" a familiar, deep voice asks.

Tony blinks his gritty eyes open to squint at Captain America. That's odd. Definitely not Cap's style to spend his night in the park with passed-out drunks. Now that he looks past Steve, though, it doesn't look like they're in a park. More like on the moors. Huh.

"I'm not entirely sure," he answers Steve’s question.

"You feeling all right?" Steve asks. Oddly enough, it's almost sounds like there's a note of concern in his tone.

Tony is ever so slightly dizzy and achy, very much like he's spent the night drinking and fallen asleep on the cold ground. "Been a lot worse,” he declares. “Water?"

"Sorry, but no, we'll have to do a bit of hiking first."

Tony groans and sits up. He realizes he's wearing a toga. No, wait, that's not right. He grabs some of the fabric between his fingers. Sleeping bag? Too thin. It's vaguely familiar, though. He should know what this is.

"It's the parachute," Steve offers.

Ah, that figures. Parachute fabric. Curiouser and curiouser. "Why am I dressed in a parachute? Must've been a wild party. Why were you there? No offense, but you're not exactly a party animal."

"You're dressed in a parachute because, God knows why, I didn't want you to freeze to death out here. Starting to regret that already," Steve replies, ignoring that part about partying.

"What's wrong with our hotel?" Tony asks. "Don't tell me we got thrown out. No. I did not get thrown out. If they'd threatened to do that, I'd just have bought the place. Why are we here? And where's here anyway?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Steve replies, making an unhappy face. "What's the last thing you remember?"

Tony tries to think about what happened after the reception last night, but he can't remember a damn thing. "We got into a cab, stepped out in front of the hotel, and—that's it. Nothing. Nada. Drawing a blank."

"I guess that makes sense, you took a hit and went down almost instantly. I put up a fair fight, but the tenth or so tranq dart was too much even for me. Still, I'm surprised you don't remember a thing. You seemed sort of awake part of the way. No memory of leaping out of a plane with me?"

"We leaped out of a plane?" Tony repeats, raising his eyebrows. "At least the parachute's starting to make sense now."

"I woke up on the plane. They hadn't been expecting that at all, we weren't even tied up, and there weren't that many of them. I dealt with them, blocked the cockpit door, and got us out."

"Jesus, Cap! That's got to be the worst escape plan I've heard of, and I've done some pretty high-risk ones myself. You jumped with one parachute and with me unconscious? It's a miracle you didn't get us both killed! You didn't, say, consider taking control of the plane instead, like any sane person would?"

"Last time I took control of an aircraft, I ended up crashing it in the ice," Steve says rather frostily. "Would you rather have stayed up there?"

"Potentially, yeah. I'm not overly fond of camping. Especially not without any gear."

Tony peels off the layers of parachute canopy and reaches for his breast pocket to grab his phone, but it's not there. Neither is anything else, he learns as he quickly pats through the rest of his pockets.

"Yeah, they took all of our stuff," Steve comments. "They were quite thorough."

He doesn't have his watch; they've even taken his tie. They've taken everything—

His thoughts stall and his heart skips a beat.

They've gone through his pockets, they've taken his stuff, he was unconscious, he was totally helpless—

His hand makes a reflexive grab for his chest, where, yeah, sure, he's fine. He can feel the solid surface of the arc reactor through his shirts. Of course he can, he's still alive. Shit. Whew.

He's breathing just a little too hard and Steve definitely saw that. He lets his hand fall and tries to act casual.

"They missed one thing," Tony says airily, like it doesn't scare the hell out of him how easy it would've been for their captors to grab the reactor. Like he's not slightly shaky all over. "So, we've got an unlimited energy source, but nothing electronic that we could run off it."

Steve is giving him a sharp, appraising look, but refrains from commenting. "Seems that way. We're not entirely without gear, though. I did an inventory while you were sleeping off the sedation. We have the parachute, which means shelter and plenty of cord that will come in handy. And this was attached to the harness." He hands Tony a rectangular cloth-covered package twice the size of a matchbox, with text that says "SURVIVAL KIT".

"I assume this isn't the latest, most high-tech miniaturized full set of camping gear," Tony comments, turning it in his hands. The package is way too tiny to contain much of anything as far as regular outdoor equipment goes.

"It's better than nothing," Steve says defensively. "We've got fishhooks so we can get food and matches and tinder for lighting fires—"

"Which would've been trivial anyway," Tony says, though his first solution for lighting fires would’ve involved the arc reactor, and he’s happy to have other alternatives.

"And more importantly, a knife and a compass."

"Okay, fairly useful," Tony admits.

"And there's a condom."

"What?" Tony exclaims. There's a word he wouldn't have expected to hear from the good Captain.

"Intended for water storage, it says in the instruction sheet," Steve explains all innocently.

Tony can't help laughing aloud at that. "Water storage, is that what they're calling it? It's a survival kit all right. Like the Boy Scouts. Be prepared."

He doesn't think Steve is quite that perceptive or manipulative, but Tony's got to give it to him, talking about practicalities and injecting a bit of humor has worked wonders for his anxiety. He's gotten over that little freak-out in record time.

"Okay, so. If you're feeling up to it," Steve begins. "I think we should make our way to that lake over there," he gestures beyond the hills, where Tony can see sunlight reflecting from a smooth surface.

"Wouldn't mind a bit of walking, I'm freezing my balls off sitting here."

********************

It's a lot warmer now than during the night, though it's more like a relatively warm late autumn day in New York than what you'd expect from the last days of June. Steve considers offering the parachute to Tony as a sort of a cape, but decides against that and just packs it away instead.

As they start walking towards the lake, he checks the compass. They're headed almost directly to the west. Not that it means much when they don't know where they are to begin with, but at least they'll know their position relative to where they started from.

There are no paths in sight, but luckily, the terrain isn't particularly challenging: there are very few plants, and the rocky patches are easy to avoid where they get too steep. It's also mostly dry. Even Tony, with his expensive-looking sneakers that are probably more suited for posing than walking, has no problems moving at a fair pace.

Steve wouldn't mind walking in silence, since the nature is breathtaking and the sky a brilliant clear blue, but obviously, he's stuck with the wrong person for that.

"Never been a big fan of hiking," Tony is saying. "Basically, it's just slow walking with a heavy pack, right? I get that the landscapes are nice, but you could just, you know, get there with a chopper, have a picnic, and fly back home. Or drive to some remote place that's sensible enough to have actual roads. No need to burn your dinner on an open fire, pitch your tent in the pouring rain and sleep on the hard ground while a raccoon steals the rest of your food."

"It's not about getting there, it's the journey itself.”

“Oh, spare me the clichés, Zen Master.”

“Maybe it’s a cliché because it’s true? The whole point is that when you’re moving slowly enough, you can truly see everything around you.”

“And more clichés. Besides, human eyes are a poor tool for properly observing anything. If you really want to see stuff, you need to take it to the lab.”

“Okay, fair enough,” Steve concedes. “But you’ve got to admit that many of the great naturalists who started modern science spent a lot of time walking around really slowly.”

“Well, yes. But there was a purpose to that beyond simply getting from point A to point B.”

“How about proving to yourself that you can cover that distance on your own two feet?”

“Like everyone who’s relatively healthy and able to walk couldn’t? I don’t need proof of that.”

Steve sighs and shakes his head. “This conversation obviously isn’t going anywhere.”

It's not like he hates Tony. Tony's great at what he does, and an invaluable member of the Avengers. But in all honesty, out of the entire team, Tony is the last one he would’ve picked to get stranded in the wilderness with. He's pretty sure the feeling is mutual. They get along well enough and they can work as a team, but he can't see them becoming best friends. They really just don't have anything in common.

It takes them what feels like almost an hour to reach the lake. Steve is hopeful that where there's water, there might also be some signs of civilization, but no such luck. The entire view is still devoid of any signs of human interference. Wherever they are, it truly is the wilderness.

They walk down to the shore. The water is crystal clear, and there's a stream flowing out at the far end of the lake, which isn't very far. Steve kneels on the grassy bank, cups some of the water in his hands, and brings it closer to his face. It doesn't smell, and it looks clean. He knows that's no way to tell if it actually is potable, but they have no means to purify it and they won't last long without water, so it'll have to do. He takes a sip.

"Tastes good," Steve notes. "A lot nicer than the tap water at home when I was a kid."

Tony follows Steve's lead and drinks eagerly from the lake. "Don't care if I get the runs. That'd just perfect the camping experience anyway."

Having quenched their thirst, they sit back, gazing at the surroundings. The picturesque valley is similar to the one they landed in, with the exception of the lake. Slightly greener, but there are still no trees about.

"All right. We're not going to die of thirst. Might not die of hunger, either, if there's fish in there," Tony waves a hand at the lake. "What next? I assume you've already got a plan."

Steve has been thinking about it, of course, but he's still undecided. "We could set up camp here. It looks like a nice enough place. A little challenging to build a shelter without any trees we could use for supports, but maybe we could make do with those bushes. Possibly could use them for firewood as well."

"And then what? Sit here and rot?" Tony gives him a disgruntled look.

Steve shrugs. "Sit here and hope someone shows up. We could make a sign out of what we've got at hand, something to catch the attention of planes flying over us..."

"Okay, now you're just making it up as you go. No. That's the worst plan ever. Worse than jumping out of the plane to strand us here in the first place,” Tony declares, stands up, and takes a few restless steps. “I haven't spotted a single aircraft yet,” he motions at the clear and very empty sky. “I doubt we’re close to any main flight routes. We have no idea how far we are from civilization. Someone’s probably noticed we’re missing, but they’ll have no idea where we are. Even if they’ll manage to track down the correct plane, they won’t know we jumped out of it. We've got to keep moving, try to find something or someone who can help us get in contact with the rest of the world."

"Yeah, I actually can't disagree with you on that,” Steve admits.

Moving is by far the better choice, Steve just isn't sure how viable that'll be in the long run, considering Tony's unsuitable gear. As long as the weather remains like this, they're fine, but should it change, they'll be in trouble soon.

"I suggest we follow the water," Steve adds. "That way, we don't need to worry about carrying any, and if there's someone living out here, they're likely to be close to the water, too."

"You're probably right. See, we're really getting along here. Agreeing on everything. Next thing you know, we'll be digging that condom out of the survival kit," Tony says, voice heavy with sarcasm.

Steve rolls his eyes. "Let's get walking. We can keep going until the sun starts going down, and make a proper camp for the night."

********************

The view is nice, Tony can't deny that—both the moorland or whatever it is that surrounds them, and Steve's shapely behind in front of him. As annoying as the guy is, Tony can still appreciate the eye candy.

He can’t help but think how excited he would’ve been about this a couple of decades ago. An adventure in the wilderness with Captain America! Like a dream come true!

Of course, in reality, it turns out to be one of the dullest days he's had in ages, and that's comparing it to several intercontinental flights and long business meetings that he's had to sit through.

At least he stays warm while they're walking.

Walk, walk, walk, walk some more. Uphill, downhill, across. On grass, on rocks, skipping over streams. On and on and on.

As the day wears on, he's starting to feel it, too, after an hour or five, his feet getting heavier, not to mention how sore his soles are. Being hungry doesn't help at all. But he's had worse. This is almost literally a walk in the park. Unfortunately, it's a park that might go on for hundreds of miles.

Since talking to Steve is about as much fun as talking to a block of concrete, Tony occupies his mind with planning things he could do with the minimal gear they have.

He could probably work out an approximate latitude and longitude using the sun or the stars. The biggest challenge there is that they don’t have a watch. Anyway, that information wouldn’t help them a whole lot unless Steve has memorized a world atlas down to the tiniest detail, because Tony definitely couldn’t tell where the nearest town is based on the coordinates. It’s obvious they’re somewhere far north, but whether it’s Norway or Russia is anyone’s guess.

He toys with the idea of building some sort of a crude hang glider from the parachute canopy. Unfortunately, he lacks materials that he could use for the frame. They still haven't seen anything growing that'd reach past waist height—not enough to build a shelter with, let alone something more complex.

Finally, when the sun is lower in the sky, they come to a place where the stream is wide, more like a proper river, and there's a thicket of sad thin little trees nearby. It's better than anything they've seen so far, and they agree that this'll be their campsite for the night.

Steve takes up the task of trying to catch something to eat, while Tony puts his engineering skills to use and fashions a shelter out of what's available. It’s an interesting challenge, making a structure with nothing but a knife, a parachute and some twigs. He considers settling for a basic lean-to, but ends up making a proper, pyramid-shaped tent, where one of the sides can be either left open or closed with a door flap. With a fire next to the open side, they should have a relatively warm night, though rather snug.

By the time Tony has finished building the shelter and started setting up the fire, Steve returns with an impressively sized fish that has an even more impressive fin on its back.

"I've no idea what this is, but it's food," Steve declares.

"Good enough for me," Tony says.

They light the fire with the matches from the survival kit, and burn the fish to a crisp. It's still better than many a five-star dinner Tony's had, because the long day of walking has left him desperately hungry in a post-mission sort of way.

"Would've preferred a burger, but this isn’t too bad. Thanks, chef," he tells Steve.

"You're welcome. And thank you, too, for the shelter—considering you say you hate the hiking, what you've put together looks pretty convincing."

"It's an engineering project, of course it does. In the morning, we can take it apart and pack away the supports, and set it up again tomorrow night even if we fail to find a forest."

Steve gives him an appreciative smile and nod. "We'll make a hiker out of you yet, Stark."

"Just because I deal with what I've got to doesn't mean I have to enjoy it," Tony grumbles.

Once they've finished every last edible piece of fish and unsuccessfully tried to wash off the smell of it from their hands in the river, there's not much left to do but to try to sleep.

It's strange going to bed with the sun still in the sky. The ground beneath the lay-to is hard and uneven regardless of the insulating layer of dry plant debris Tony's covered it with. Even the smells are odd: smoke from the fire, the earthy tang of the ground, and Steve, who doesn't exactly smell of flowers after the long day of walking. He’s lying quite close to Tony, which is very distracting in many ways, but also makes him feel warmer than he has all day.

“Tell me, Tony. Why do you really hate the outdoors so much?” Steve suddenly asks, his voice soft and sleepy, making this sound way too much like actual pillow talk.

“I don’t remember ever actually saying I hate the outdoors,” Tony notes. “I don’t hate it. Not all of it, anyway.”

“You do a very good impression of doing so, though. Obviously it’s not because you can’t handle the physical side of it. You’re perfectly okay with being really uncomfortable for long periods of time in the suit, so it can’t be just that, can it?”

“Did I ask for a psych eval? Because I’m pretty sure you’re not qualified to do one.” This is starting to get a little too personal for Tony’s liking. He’s lying on his side, his back turned to Steve, but he can practically feel Steve’s gaze on the back of his head.

“If I were to do one, I’d say that you’re just uncomfortable with the idea that you’re not in control of the situation,” Steve declares.

Tony rolls around to glare back at Steve. “So what if I am? That’s hardly unreasonable right now.”

“It’s not, and I feel the same way often enough. Not here, though.”

“We don’t know where we are and have no idea how to get back home, and all we have to work with are a parachute, a knife and a few sticks, and you feel in control? I knew you’ve got more than your share of confidence, but that sounds more like delusional to me.”

“Look at it this way: we have food, water, and shelter, all of which we were able to get without a hassle. That’s more than many people can say in their everyday lives,” Steve says. Tony can’t imagine how he could possibly sound more patronizing. “We’re safe and sound, and not in any danger. We could probably go on like this for weeks. It’s hardly exaggerated to say we’re in control.”

The most annoying thing is, Steve isn’t entirely wrong. They’re not too badly off, all things considered. But it’s nearly impossible for Tony to see it that way, because just like Steve suggested, he hates feeling like he’s not in control, and he feels utterly powerless out here, because he’s entirely out of his element. He doesn’t feel like they’re safe. He doesn’t have a suit, anything could happen and there’d be nothing he could do. He hates feeling like this, hates it more than anything. Maybe irrationally so, but what can he do. His sanity very much depends on being in control. He’s got to be in control, or everything will just fall into chaos—through a wormhole—and oh, shit, he really, really shouldn’t be thinking like this, because he’s definitely starting to feel anxious here, and Steve is giving him a frown.

“Tony?” Steve asks, placing a steady hand on his bicep.

“What?” Tony returns, swallowing and focusing on those blue eyes which reflect the warm yellows of their campfire, and that actually helps. It’s amazing how Steve’s face can look so boyish and still ageless at the same time.

“Want to talk about it?” Steve suggests, just casually, not demanding at all.

“Not really, but thanks,” Tony says, and he really means it.

Steve gives Tony’s arm a squeeze, and pulls his hand back. Too bad—Tony hadn’t minded it being there at all. Oh, well.

They lay there in silence for a while, and it feels like someone should say something else, but Tony can’t quite come up with anything.

“Good night, Steve,” he finally says.

“Good night, Tony,” Steve says.

Tony's fully expecting to spend the night tossing and turning and unable to rest because of the circumstances. The side of him closer to the fire is almost too warm, the part that’s further away feels chilled, and that whole chain of thought about not being in control has left him kind of jumpy. On the other hand, he’s been walking all day and is thoroughly exhausted thanks to that, and having Steve right next to him makes him feel unexpectedly, ridiculously safe, like he hasn’t felt in a very long time outside of his armor. In the end, it doesn’t take long before he's fast asleep.


Day 2

When Steve wakes up, the fire has gone out, and the sun hasn't quite reached its daytime height in the sky. Tony seems fast asleep, looking peaceful for once, his face a good few years younger without the ever-present lines of worry.

Steve gets out of the shelter, stands up and stretches. The night must have been just as cold as the previous one—the air is crisp, and there's even frost on the ground here and there. The sky is still perfectly clear.

There's a slightly higher hill quite close by, on the other side of the river, and Steve decides to make use of his idle time by doing some reconnaissance. He crosses the river easily without getting his feet wet, hopping from rock to rock, and takes off at a slow jog, upping the pace as his muscles warm up.

From the top of the hill, he's treated to the best view he’s seen so far, stretching as fairly similar into each direction, lakes and rivers gleaming in valleys here and there. He still doesn't spot any signs of human influence, except—what's that?

In the distance, to the northwest of them, by the largest lake he can spot, sits what looks very much like a cabin of some sort. It's not close—Tony, with his ordinary eyesight, might not even see it from here—but Steve thinks they’d be able to reach it within the day.

Feeling relieved that they're no longer entirely disconnected from the rest of humanity, Steve makes his way back to the shelter.

He finds Tony fishing.

It's a sight Steve wouldn't have expected to see in his lifetime: the billionaire genius in his expensive, though by now very rumpled suit, standing by the river, attentively watching the lines he's set.

"Morning," Steve greets, and he can't help grinning.

"Oh, Captain America, fancy meeting you here!" Tony replies, and surprisingly enough, he's smiling, too. "Was starting to wonder if you'd had enough and decided to leave me by myself out here. I figured I'd try to get us some breakfast."

"Ha! It's just like I said, you are turning into quite the outdoorsman!"

Steve thinks about the cabin he saw. They could head there and probably be done with this before the day's over. But then he looks at Tony, who actually seems more relaxed than he ever does. He thinks about the talk they had last night, which, although brief, was one of the most candid discussions he’s ever had with Tony. He feels like they’re starting to connect in a way they never have, maybe actually beginning to understand one another.

He looks at the blue sky with its ever-present sun, and the majestic landscape, and he can’t help thinking how nice it would be to keep going, just a bit longer. Another night or two. They can afford to spend a few more days here. Call it a learning experience, or a team-building activity.

He decides that Tony doesn't need to know about the cabin yet. They can just as well take a little detour first.

********************

Add it to the growing list of things Tony isn't going to admit to Steve, but it turns out he’s slept better out here than he's done, well, ever since New York. Sure, he wakes up feeling sore, itching all over from a truly ridiculous amount of bites from mosquitoes or midges or whatever species this armada of man-eating bugs represent, and chilled to the bone, since the furnace that is Steve isn't nearby anymore, but the thing is, he’s made it through the night without waking up once, and without a single nightmare. Which means he starts the day in an unexpectedly good mood.

Since Steve is nowhere to be seen and Tony doesn't like sitting around doing nothing, especially when it's this cold, he spends his morning digging up worms and setting fishing lines. As many as he can, making more hooks from the bones of yesterday's dinner, to maximize the probability of catching something.

When Steve shows up after his recon trip, Tony has only caught a handful of tiny things that he's put to use as bait. After a while, he gets lucky and manages to haul up a fish that's almost as big as the one Steve caught yesterday. They cook it on a newly kindled fire, eat half of it, pack the rest in a piece of parachute canvas as lunch, and then it's time to start walking again.

So much for his good mood. Tony really isn't looking forward to another full day on his feet. It’s not that he categorically hates walking, but he's already sporting several spectacular blisters—as comfortable and good-looking as his Lanvin sneakers are, they aren't exactly made for this kind of use. Even though he washed his socks in the river and let them dry by the fire overnight, they’re still downright disgusting, but there’s nothing to be done about that. Not wearing them would feel even worse.

He's been through worse, he tells himself once again. A lot worse. This isn’t bad at all, in the grand scheme of things. And maybe today's the day they find their way to the civilized world.

"Any ideas for which way to go based on your morning jog?" he asks once they're done with packing away their makeshift camp (just like he’s planned it: the fabric in the parachute container, the sticks tied together in a bundle that's almost handy to carry).

Steve looks slightly hesitant before answering, "Not really. It's pretty much more of the same in every direction, I'm afraid. At least there are plenty of rivers and lakes, we’re not going to run out of water. I suggest we keep following this stream."

"I guess it's as good as anything. And there's fish in it. Okay. Lead the way, Captain," Tony motions with his hands.

So, they walk again. Tony channels his declining mood into complaining about the little things, like the dull repetitive nature of trudging through the wilderness, the lack of coffee and the mosquitoes. He'll be damned before he admits that he's afraid his feet won't be able to take many more days of this, or that the constant cold is really starting to get to him.

********************

Steve does feel guilty for not leading them towards the building he saw—but only a little, because the day is undeniably beautiful. Whatever country this is, he thinks he's in love with it, all the wide-open space and that incredible midnight sun.

He keeps up a brisk pace, to make sure they stay warm and to cover as many miles today as possible. He's leading them in a westerly direction. His plan is that tomorrow, they'll start heading north, and by the end of the day, they should be able to see the cabin again. Of course, they won't need to go back at all if they happen across another building first, or meet someone, both of which feel far more likely to happen now that he knows someone has built a house out here.

"I'm going crazy with this itchiness," Tony complains behind him. "Seriously, aren't you getting this at all? I don't think I've ever seen this many bloodsucking fiends outside of a vampire movie, or a meeting with the shareholders."

Steve glances over his shoulder to catch a sight of Tony scratching at both his forearms through his suit jacket. There are several angry red spots on his face and neck, too.

"I'm not," Steve replies. He's been bitten a fair amount of times, but the bites just heal right away, never itching for more than a few seconds. "These bugs must be quality-conscious, they're focusing on the more expensive option."

"This isn't fair. Also, what? You're the more pricey option, whichever way you look at it! Any scientist or collector would pay an arm, a leg, and their left kidney for a vial of your blood! I'm just a regular guy, nothing special to offer. Not to mosquitoes, anyway. Oh, hey, maybe that's it, they bite you first and turn into super-mosquitoes, that's why they’re particularly persistent."

"They're a part of the whole experience of being out here."

"I could make a tiny laser and zap them off the air. if I had anything more than a bunch of twigs and a wad of cloth to work with. Of course, if I did, we wouldn't be stuck here anymore."

"It's not all bad, though."

"Yeah? Okay, so, the view is nice, but the accommodation is sub-par, no heating, no room service, no minibar, can't turn off the lights at night, the other customers try to eat me alive, and the restaurant only has one item on the menu."

"But the view really is nice."

"I'll give you that."

********************

The day goes by uneventfully. Around midday, they take a lunch break (oh, what a surprise, fish again!), and then it’s more walking. Walking is good, actually, because just stopping for what can’t have been more than half an hour was enough to make Tony’s teeth chatter with the cold. Cotton silk blend is not a good choice for the occasion. The weather gets slightly warmer towards the evening, and Tony’s glad for every degree.

The most exciting thing they see all day is a herd of some kind of deer, across the valley from them, which they agree look like caribous. They toy with the idea of trying to catch one for dinner, but decide against it¬. With the small knife from the survival kit as their only weapon, their best way of hunting down a caribou would be for Steve to catch it running and break its neck. Steve doesn’t sound too excited at the concept.

“If we’re stuck here for much longer, I’ll make a spear, or a sling. Or both. Set some traps, too,” Tony announces.

This whole experience would be entirely different if they’d, say, landed in a forest. Tony’s never really thought about how handy trees are. He’d probably hug a tree if he saw one right now. As their luck runs, they fail to find any trees of any sort, not even the sad small ones that grew by their previous campsite. If he hadn't made their shelter so that it’s collapsible and portable, they would be spending the night out in the open.

Fishing for dinner turns into a competition. First, it's "who can dig the bigger worms", which Tony wins by pure chance, then "who's the first to catch a fish", which Tony also wins, this time with statistics.

Tony's sticking to the method he came up with in the morning, setting multiple lines. He hangs them from the bushes by the little lake they've decided to camp by. Steve takes a simpler approach, with only one line that he's holding on to himself.

"You do realize that's not half as efficient," Tony calls out to Steve, sitting on a rock by his lines.

Steve doesn't even look at Tony when he replies. "I can pull up a bigger one this way. Your lines will snap too easily. Now, shush, you'll scare away the fish."

Steve is quite the sight: crouched by the lake, dressed in his preposterous stars and stripes, staring at the gently rippling water with a look of utmost concentration on his face. He must be the most patriotic-looking fisherman in all of history.

Unfortunately, as triumphant as Tony feels upon catching the first fish, it isn't exactly huge. It would definitely leave them hungry. His second one is even smaller. They keep at it, and in the end, Steve has the last laugh: he lands a specimen that could easily swallow both the fish Tony's caught.

"Quality over quantity," Steve announces, holding his catch by the tail in a pose that's straight from the cover of a fishing magazine.

"I'd win eventually, on both counts," Tony states. "But that's a fact which I don't need to prove empirically, I'm way too hungry."

********************

They manage to forage some low, twiggy plants that burn long enough that they can cook the fish for dinner, but there’s no way they can keep a fire going overnight. Luckily it's not quite as cold as the previous night.

They settle close to one another in the tiny shelter, Steve on his back, Tony on one side, his back towards Steve. After just minutes of lying there, trying to sleep, Steve can't help but notice Tony's shivering.

He feels a pang of guilt again. They could be sleeping in that cabin now, if he had just taken them straight to it. But it's not like Tony's in any actual danger. He's just a little uncomfortable. Suits him right, really, for all that pointless complaining. Plenty of people sleep in similar or worse circumstances every night, while Tony's used to the sort of luxury most can only dream of.

Nevertheless, when Tony wordlessly moves closer to Steve, clearly seeking for whatever warmth he can find, Steve can't help feeling sorry for him. He rolls onto his side, puts an arm around Tony and pulls him closer.

There and then, it occurs to Steve that he hasn't slept this close to someone since some very cold nights out in the field during the war.

"Hmm, getting frisky, Rogers?" Tony comments sleepily.

"You made the first move. And I still don't want you to freeze to death. I've tried that, it wasn't fun."

"You didn't die, though."

"You know, I'm not always entirely sure about that. Maybe Steve Rogers did, and I'm just Captain America now," Steve says, before he can stop himself. He didn't mean to be so gloomy or so candid, but the whole situation has thrown him off balance.

Tony turns around, pushes his head under Steve's chin and tucks his hands between them. "You feel way too warm to be dead," he murmurs into Steve's chest.

Steve's too baffled by this sudden closeness to actually say anything. Obviously, Tony is very used to sleeping close to people and with people all the time, so he probably doesn't even think anything of it. Just like Howard. For Steve, though—half of him wants to push Tony away, leap up and go for a jog so he can clear his head. The other half is feeling way too happy that they're here and not in the cabin.

He doesn't even like Tony, he tells himself. This selfish rich asshole who always thinks he knows everything, doesn't appreciate the untouched magnificence around them, and can't shut up for two seconds. Who also did an extremely impressive job with the shelter though he has very little experience of survival situations, and, complaints aside, is doing long days of marching like a champ in totally unsuitable gear. Who’s clearly more shaken with everything that’s gone down recently than he lets on, and is doing his damnedest to deal with it, hiding behind that nonchalant façade.

"Steve?" Tony asks.

Steve realizes he's gone all tense while he debates himself. He takes a deep breath and tries to relax. "Yeah, sorry, got caught up thinking about the past," he lies quickly.

“Want to talk about it?” Tony asks, mirroring their conversation last night.

“Maybe some other time,” Steve replies, and maybe he should, though he wouldn’t even know where to start.

“I’ll hold you to that,” Tony says, and yawns against Steve’s chest.

Steve pats his back lightly. “Try to get some sleep, Tony."

********************

Goddamn Steve's stupid spangly uniform to hell. Tony would so love to perform some empirical research into how squishy Steve's pecs actually are, but the thick fabric effectively prevents that. It's the missed opportunity of a lifetime, since this must be the closest he'll ever get to this example of physical perfection. And like any sane person would, he's all for it—Tony can totally put aside the patronizing and holier-than-thou attitude and appreciate the work of art that is Steve's body. He appreciates the warmth, too. And okay, overall, Steve’s a really nice guy, at least seventy-five percent of the time.

So, yeah, maybe there are some perks to being stuck out here. Not enough to counter everything that sucks—like mosquitoes, hah—but enough to make it bearable.

Steve obviously isn't too comfortable about the rather compromising sleeping arrangements. No surprise there, there are probably about five billion people on the planet he'd rather hug. Oh, well, at least he cares enough that he doesn't push Tony away, that's better than nothing and Tony’s happy to settle for it. Being held like this by Steve doesn't just make him warm, it also makes him feel incredibly safe and really just unable to think about anything else.

And it so happens that for the second night in a row (well, third, but that first night he'd been drugged), when Tony finally falls asleep, he sleeps soundly until the sound of rain hitting the canvas over them wakes him up.


Day 3

It's raining. That's something Steve wasn't expecting when he made his decision to take them on a detour, and now they're about a day's walk away from that cabin.

The hour is still early, with an orange tint to the sunlight that filters through the layer of clouds and their shelter's canopy. Maybe this is just a short shower that'll pass.

"You awake?" Tony asks.

"Yes."

Tony's still pressed really close to him, his back against Steve's front, and curled into himself, hanging on to every smidgen of body heat.

"Can we just not go out and walk if it's raining?" Tony suggests.

"Well, it's not like we have a schedule, so we could. I'm not sure it's a good idea, though, I don't know how waterproof this shelter is. But let's wait and see what happens."

Tony rolls over to his other side so he's facing Steve, their faces mere inches apart. "Thanks, by the way," he says. "For being my personal radiator. I know it wasn't something you enjoyed, but, uh, I was a lot warmer than the previous night, even though we didn't even have a fire. So. Yeah. I appreciate the sacrifice and all that."

Steve frowns. "Tony, what are you on about? It's not like touching you is some terrible punishment. Sure, you do stink, but so do I. Honestly, I didn't mind. We're teammates, of course we take care of one another."

Not to mention it's Steve's fault they're still out here. Then again, if they weren't, they wouldn't have ended up bonding like this. God, he's so conflicted about the whole situation.

"So, you're saying you liked sleeping with me?" Tony says, with a crooked grin and a wink.

Steve rolls his eyes in response. The truth is, he kind of did, but he's not even ready to admit it to himself, let alone to Tony.

"Hey, hear that? I think the rain's letting up," Steve changes the subject.

"Oh, joy," Tony groans. "More walking."

Soon, the rainfall has petered out entirely, and they step out of the shelter to a transformed landscape: the sky is still entirely covered, and everything is dripping wet. There's a fine mist in the air, which reduces the visibility somewhat.

Luckily, they saved some of yesterday's dinner fish for breakfast, since there's no way they'd be able to get a fire started with everything so wet.

"Better get going so we'll stay warm," Steve says. "I suggest we head up that hill over there, see the surroundings better to help us decide which way to go." He motions at a hill to their north, the direction that'll take them towards the cabin. He'll figure out an excuse for why that's the best direction when they get up there.

********************

Tony's socks are wet. He made the mistake of leaving them outside the previous night, after washing them in the lake, and now they're soaked. He wrings out what he can and stashes them in his pocket. Can't be helped, he'll have to do with wearing just the shoes and the parachute fabric he's wrapped around the worst blisters and abrasions.

Steve would probably laugh if he knew how much grief Tony's feet are giving him. Steve must have seen a hundred times worse during the war, marching with the infantry. At least the rain has offered Tony a brief respite from the mosquitoes.

When they've finished putting away their waterlogged shelter, they're off again.

The pain in Tony's feet has gone from a slight "ow" on every step to feeling like he's treading on fiery hot coals. There's no way he's going to be able to stay on his feet for another eight hours. He's going to have to admit defeat, sooner rather than later. But goddamn it, he will at least make it to the top of this first hill, they're nearly halfway there already.

It takes a while, with Tony struggling to keep up with Steve's relentless pace, but eventually, they do reach the hilltop. The view is the same as every other view so far, except for the mist in the valleys. Here and there, it's lit up by the few rays of sunlight that filter through the clouds. Yeah, it's pretty, but right now, Tony would much rather be staring at a brick wall or a dull concrete car park. He'd kill for motorized transport of any sort. Hell, he'd even take a pony. A donkey. A camel. Anything to get him off his feet.

Steve is drinking in the vista, gazing into the distance, a dreamy look on his face and a vague smile on his lips. It's like he can't get enough of this.

"Did we climb up here just so you could enjoy the sights?" Tony asks. He can't help the acrid tone. "I mean, what does it matter which way we go? We're just wandering aimlessly anyway."

Steve's face falls. "Well, yeah, that sort of is all we can do. Although, I think the terrain seems to be leveling out over there," he motions ahead. "Seems like a promising direction."

"I've half a mind to say you're lying, because no way you can see that much farther than me in this weather, but whatever. It's not like I've got much choice. Where you go, I go. Avengers, assemble, and all that."

He's getting the odd feeling that Steve's following some unknown plan, but he can't imagine what that could possibly be. It was the same yesterday—Steve seemed to be leading them steadily into a specific direction. It doesn't make any sense, though. Maybe Tony's just being paranoid. Starting to lose his mind, being too isolated from the civilized world.

They head down the other side of the hill. It's steeper than the way they came up. It's also very slippery in places, with loose rocks and moss. With Tony's soles already in shreds, making him reluctant to take a single step more than he absolutely must, it's only a question of time before he falls. Of course, he never does anything by half measure. Oh, no, when he goes down, he has to make it spectacular.

Instead of, say, stumbling and landing on his ass, he first slips, just a little, then trips on his feet, feels a bolt of pain sear through his left ankle, and sends himself tumbling downhill on the wet ground.

Ouch.

********************

Steve is walking maybe twenty feet ahead of Tony, who's started lagging behind again. Since he's not looking, the first sign of anything wrong comes too late for him to help. There's a yelp of surprise, and when he turns to look, he sees Tony hit the ground and roll down the hillside.

Steve rushes after Tony, and reaches him just as his momentum dies and he stops on a level stretch of ground. He ends up lying on his back, staring at the cloudy sky, eyes wide.

"Well, that was a lot faster than walking," Tony comments breathily as his gaze lands on Steve. "I should've kept going, would've been at the bottom of the hill in no time."

"Are you hurt?" Steve asks, crouching next to him.

"Possibly," Tony replies with an unhappy smile, and sits up, brushing dirt off his shoulders.

"More than just your pride?"

"Yeah," Tony groans, reaching towards his left foot. "Yeah, definitely more than that."

"What is it, your ankle?"

"Uh-uh. I'd rather if you didn't touch it."

"We need to figure out how bad it is," Steve says matter-of-factly, and turns his attention to Tony's foot. "This is probably going to hurt. Sorry," he warns, before he starts to work off Tony's shoe.

Tony's sneakers are low-tops that clearly offer no support to the ankle, and taking the shoe off the injured foot seems like the logical first move. As Steve goes on to untie the shoelaces, he can easily see that Tony's ankle is already starting to swell, because Tony's not wearing socks.

"What happened to your socks?"

"Got wet. Agh, are you sure that's—oh, God, ow!" Tony groans, as Steve pulls the sneaker off as gently and carefully as he can, to reveal—

"Jesus, Tony, your foot! Why didn't you say they're this bad?"

Tony's foot is haphazardly bandaged with strips of parachute fabric, which is stained with blood here and there. It's obvious that he's put it there as an attempt to protect the blisters and broken skin on his sole. Steve has seen his fair share of blisters during his military career, but those were on feet used to marching, wearing shoes that were meant for it. This is much worse. Steve can guess that if he took off the other shoe, Tony's right foot would look the same. It must've been torture to walk like this. No wonder Tony wasn't too eager to set off this morning, and kept falling behind.

"And if I had told you, we would've done what, exactly?" Tony replies. "It wouldn't have changed a thing. We couldn't just sit around doing nothing. Or, we could, but then we'd be that much further from getting home."

He should've realized, Steve berates himself. He should've made sure that he wasn't pushing them forwards at an unreasonable pace. It's just so easy to forget these things when he doesn't have the same issues himself, and when on missions, in the suit, Tony's strength and speed easily surpass Steve's.

"We could’ve—I—" He needs to be honest. Worst-case scenario now is that Tony won't be able to walk at all, and there's really only one reasonable thing to do. He has to come clean. "I saw this place on my recon run the other day, okay. A building. A cabin of some sort. We're around a day's walk from it."

"You what?" Tony exclaims incredulously. "I thought you were acting a little weird, but—you fucking—why the hell didn't you tell me? Are you actually saying we could've been there yesterday? What the everloving fuck, Steve! You—ow!" He's trying to back away, but clearly, his injured ankle isn't too fond of movement.

"Look, Tony, I'm sorry, okay, it was stupid and I shouldn't have, but the fact is, I know where it is, we just need to get there," Steve says, doing his best to remain calm and rational. Losing his temper isn’t going to help anyone.

Tony glares at Steve and tries to get up, only to go down again with a grunt the moment he tries to put weight on his injured foot. "Agh, shit! Whatever point you were trying to make, you've definitely done it. I suck. I'm a pathetic, physically inept individual who can't even handle walking a few miles and wouldn't make it two days out here on my own. Happy now?"

"God, Tony, that's not—I wasn't trying to prove a point. If anything, I thought you were doing amazingly well, and I though we were having a good time! I actually didn't want it to end so soon."

"What, so we were hanging around for fun? You didn't think it would've been fair to ask me if that's okay? Right, of course not, you're Captain fucking America and you always know what's best."

"I said I'm sorry. I should've told you. I made a mistake, I can admit that. Look, sitting here yelling at one another isn't helping anyone. We need to get to that cabin."

"So, you think I'm being unreasonable and throwing a tantrum?"

"No! I think you're perfectly right to be mad at me!" Steve finally can't keep his voice down. "I've said I'm sorry at least twice already, what else can I do?"

"When were you going to tell me?"

"I was planning on taking us there today anyway,” Steve replies truthfully.

"So, you weren't going to mention that you'd seen it before. Right,” Tony scoffs.

"There's nothing I can say that'll change this for the better. I messed up and I know it, okay? Let me see to your foot, and we can try and get going again, Tony, please?"

"How about you just leave me alone and go fuck yourself."

"You know I won't," Steve says sternly, and moves closer to Tony again, crouching by his injured foot. Tony lets him, though he's still glaring daggers at Steve.

The outside of Tony's ankle has taken on a vivid shade of purple. At least there's no visible deformity aside from all the swelling. Steve knows first-aid guidelines would say to stop, rest, elevate it and keep pressure, but right now, he thinks the most pressing thing is to get them to that building. The clouds haven't cleared at all, and there's a constant threat of rain hanging over their heads.

He tries poking at Tony's foot in a few places—toes, sole, top. At each point, Tony grimaces, and at the last, he's clearly struggling to stifle a groan.

"I take it you felt all of that?" Steve asks unnecessarily.

"Right now I'd be overjoyed if I didn't."

"Can you move your toes?"

Tony bends them in response, his face scrunched up with the discomfort. That's a clear enough answer.

"I can't tell if it's broken or just badly sprained, but I'd better splint it anyway," Steve announces.

He turns to the stack of tent-pole sticks that he's been carrying, which he dropped on the ground earlier. They shouldn't need those anymore, so he can sacrifice a few as splinting material. He's essentially building a support structure, which he thinks Tony could do better, but Tony's not commenting at all, and Steve avoids looking at his face.

He feels terrible about the whole situation. Steve isn't one to go pointlessly blaming himself for things, but whichever way you look at it, this is entirely his fault. Never mind that he did it because he was actually starting to enjoy spending time with Tony, it was a massive misjudgment.

"Okay, how does that feel?" he asks once he's finished with his handiwork, tying the sticks together with spare paracord. "Not too tight?"

"Since when do you care how I feel?" Tony sneers.

"I've never not cared," Steve says, raising his head to look straight into Tony's eyes, and that seems to strike a chord, because Tony's expression softens ever so slightly. "I also don't want you to lose your foot," Steve adds.

"Right," Tony says. "Honestly, it's hard to say, my toes were hurting before I fell and they still are, so, yeah. I'll let you know if I start losing the feeling from them."

"Let's try walking, then. And I'm sorry, but your tent sticks aren't long or sturdy enough to use as a cane, so you'll need to lean on me."

"Let's just get on with it."

********************

The way Steve's talking to Tony and treating him feels so patronizing that it just makes him even more furious. He's not a kid having a fit, he's righteously angry with Steve. To think that he could've been spared all this torturous trudging over hills—okay, he would also have missed the night he spent in Steve's arms, which was unexpectedly nice—but weighing the cost against the benefits, it wasn't quite nice enough.

He's pretty close to Steve again now, too, thanks to his busted ankle. It's not nice at all, though. The only way he can walk is leaning heavily on Steve, because his foot flares up in agony every time it touches the ground. He's willing to bet it's broken. The only good thing about that is, with his left foot constantly sending such deafening distress signals, he barely notices that he's putting all his weight on his blistered and battered right sole.

They're moving at a snail's pace, but he can't go any faster. Steve must be glad, because Tony is quiet, for once. As angry as he is, he's so focused on getting forwards without crumpling to the ground in a whimpering heap that he's not going to waste his breath on talking.

As if the day hadn't been bad enough already, it starts raining when they've been going for maybe an hour or two. Not pouring, but enough that within a few minutes, they're soaked through. Since they're not moving very fast, Tony's soon starting to feel chilly.

This is the most miserable he's been during this whole unplanned hiking trip. Cold, wet, and barely able to walk, Steve's solid arm around his back the only thing that's keeping him on his feet. He loses track of time. That's very easy to do when you don't have a watch and can't even see the sun. He's stuck in a gray limbo of never-ending hobbling through the mist. He kind of forgets why he’s even doing it. There’s nothing else but this.

At one point, they stop and Steve wraps the parachute over Tony's shoulders, but since he's already chilled to the bone and wet through and through, it doesn't do much.

The second time they stop, Steve helps him to sit down on the ground. "Tony," he says, his face the only splash of color in the bleak landscape, his hair looking almost black, soaked and plastered against his head. "I'm not entirely sure of the direction anymore, but we must be getting close. I'm going to run up there to take a look," he motions at one hill or the other. "You stay here and wait."

"Not like I could walk away if I wanted to," Tony replies, his teeth chattering. "Go on. I'll be right here."

Steve throws him a desolate look, and dashes off.

Tony curls up on the ground. Rainwater is running down his face, and he can't stop shivering, even though he keeps jarring his ankle because of it. At least the cold makes it less painful.

Why did he make the heat shielding on the arc reactor so efficient? Okay, obviously to keep it from frying him with all the radiation, but a little more heat leaking through would've been good. What he wouldn't give for a couple of extra joules right now.

He presses his fists against his chest, but he can't even feel the reactor's surface through the three layers he's wearing. He tries to fumble at the buttons of his jacket. He can't get a hold. His fingers aren't working properly. Loss of fine motor control: probably not a good sign.

He pushes his hands beneath his jacket and shirts instead, and finds the metal circle, which does feel warmer than the skin around it.

He's…

He's fallen asleep on the cold concrete floor of his shop in Malibu, with the air conditioning blasting cool air on him. He tells JARVIS to fix it. Take it up a few degrees.

Eventually, he's not feeling so cold anymore.

He drifts off.

The next thing he knows, someone is shaking him. He tries to push them away, but his hands are stuck.

His balance shifts unexpectedly, and then he's not on the ground anymore, but squished tightly against something warm. Wet, but warm, smelling of sweat. Oh. Steve. Tony tries to struggle against his hold, but it’s like fighting solid rock.

Whatever. Doesn’t matter.

He's not shivering so much now. He's not sure whether that's good or bad.

********************

The last thing Steve wants to do is to abandon Tony on the fell when he's already starting to show signs of hypothermia—he's shivering and stumbling even worse than before—but no matter how Steve looks at it, he can't think of a better alternative. He needs to get a visual on the cabin. So far, he's been following a compass bearing and the few landmarks that he memorized, but now that they're getting close, he's worried they'll accidentally miss the building since the visibility isn't the best it could be. Scaling the relatively challenging-looking hill they're closest to isn't going to be possible with Tony unable to walk.

So, although it makes him feel like the most neglectful person on the planet, Steve sets Tony on the ground and heads off as fast as his feet will take him. This is not like the first, friendly round-topped hill they climbed today, but so steep and rocky he needs to use his hands in places.

It takes him far longer than he'd like to reach the top. To his immense relief, he sees from there that the cabin is in the very next valley, at the closer shore of a large lake. He rushes back, skidding and leaping down the slippery hillside at breakneck speed.

He finds Tony exactly where he left him, curled up in fetal position, his splinted foot sticking out. When Steve grabs him by the shoulders, he opens his eyes a crack and tries to push Steve away—a useless attempt since his hands are tucked beneath his clothes. He peers at his shirtfront, looking confused, then looks at Steve again.

“We’ve got to go, we’re almost there,” Steve tells him.

"Nah, I’m good. Leave me be," Tony says, the words slurred through bluish lips. His face is frighteningly pale.

"No," Steve says adamantly. "I'm absolutely not going to leave you again."

He gathers Tony up in his arms, parachute cape and all. Without armor, Tony's weight is nothing to Steve, and really, Steve should have done this earlier, because they will be able to move a lot faster now. Tony tries to struggle, but it’s feeble and half-hearted, and eventually, he either just decides it’s pointless, or loses consciousness, Steve isn’t sure which. He doesn’t stop to find out. Time is of the essence.

He moves as fast as he dares. Tony's clearly not just slightly chilled; his body temperature must be several degrees below normal. Steve needs to get him somewhere warm as soon as possible. He's paying no attention to the view around them. He's entirely focused on getting to that hut, only looking straight ahead for the best possible path.

None too soon, he can see the lake and the small, wooden building next to it, alone in the middle of the wilderness. There's no smoke coming from the chimney, and no lights inside. It doesn't seem like anyone's at home.

Finally, they're at the door. Steve gives it a tentative kick. It's not locked. He steps in, Tony still tightly held in his arms.

The inside of the hut is lit only by what little light filters in through the windows. There’s obviously no electricity here. It’s just the one room, and sparsely furnished: one long table and a bench by each side, a few empty shelves, a wood-burning stove by the door, and a large wooden platform covered with thin mattresses for a bed. Thankfully, there's also a stack of woolen blankets in one corner of it.

Steve sets Tony gently on the bed. Tony doesn't really seem to have noticed the change in environment. He tries to curl up into himself, not quite unconscious, but as good as.

This is no time for modesty—he needs to bring Tony's temperature up, which means the wet clothes must come off. The jacket, shirt and undershirt are relatively easy to deal with. The lower half is more of a challenge. Steve made the splint on top of Tony's pant leg, so he has to take the whole thing apart. He'll make a better one later. It’d be easier just to cut Tony’s pants off, but then he’d be left with nothing to wear, so Steve only rips open the seam on the injured side. He wrestles off the rest of Tony's clothes, eliciting a groan as he touches the injured foot.

Steve tries not to think of the fact that Tony is now as naked as the day he was born, and quickly goes on to grab several blankets, which he piles up on top of Tony. He gets a strong sense of déjà vu—this is almost like a rerun of the night they landed here. It’s hard to believe that was only a few days ago.

He finishes by setting a few folded-up blankets under Tony's foot, to keep it elevated. The obvious first aid maneuvers done, Steve stops to consider his next move. The hut would be a lot warmer with a fire in the stove, but to make one he’d have to turn his back on Tony.

He rests the back of his hand against Tony's cheek, which doesn't feel any warmer yet. The light inside the cabin is so dim it’s difficult to tell if his color has improved. Steve checks Tony's pulse at his wrist, and is surprised to find that it feels quite normal—he knows it tends to slow down the colder you get. Maybe Tony’s not quite as badly off as he seems, then.

Steve decides Tony is stable enough that he can spare a moment to light the stove. There is plenty of firewood stacked next to it, and a book of matches as well. Whatever this place is, he’s eternally grateful to the people who have built it and kept it well stocked. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s home, not even a summerhouse, more like some kind of a free-to-use shelter.

It doesn't take long before there's a fire crackling merrily in the stove. Steve lays Tony's clothes to dry and undresses so he can do the same for his soaked outfit.

There's one obvious thing left that he can do to help Tony. Without pausing to think too hard about it, he crawls beneath the blankets and settles behind Tony on the mattress, his back against a wall. He does his best to maximize the skin contact. He even puts his arms around Tony, careful to place them below the arc reactor, yet keeping them high enough that it doesn't get awkward. Not that there's much risk of mistaking this for anything else than an emergency measure. Tony's so cold that holding him feels like hugging a block of ice. He's breathing steadily, though, and Steve is cautiously optimistic that he'll be okay.

It's funny how things have progressed. The first night, Tony slept on the ground under the open sky while Steve sat by his side. The second, they were in the shelter, quite close, but not really touching. The third, they did share body heat, though not quite this. And here they are, pretty much as close to one another as it's possible to be if not having—nope, he's not going there. Steve pushes the completely inappropriate thought aside before it's even fully formed.

Much later, when Tony is actually starting to feel less like an Iron Snowman and more like a human being against his chest, Steve allows himself to close his eyes and drift off to sleep.


Day 4

Tony wakes up with a jolt to the sound of someone knocking.

He's used to being confused on waking up. He has a history of falling asleep in unplanned places. Before Iron Man, it was usually because he'd been drinking. Now, it's more often just because he's been working so hard and stayed up for so long that he passes out in the middle of something.

This has to be some kind of a record, though, because he has absolutely no clue where he is or how he got here, let alone why he's buck naked and resting very comfortably in the arms of someone equally unclothed, seriously buff, and most definitely male. Very impressively so. Somehow, the obvious explanation for the situation doesn't quite seem to fit.

Tony's almost uncomfortably warm beneath several thick blankets, plus the additional heat from Mr. Beefcake behind him. His left ankle has been propped up, and it's aching like it's had an unfortunate run-in with Mjolnir.

Looking around, he notes he's in an ascetic room with wooden walls, like a log cabin. Not a whole lot of furniture. He's certain he's never been here before, and it's not the sort of place he'd normally choose to visit.

Someone knocks on the door again, and Tony realizes that's what woke him up in the first place.

The guy behind him starts to stir, then freezes completely for a few seconds—with Tony's mind going to all sorts of naughty and nice places feeling that bare body behind him—and scuttles away so abruptly that it jostles Tony's foot, sending a sharper flare of pain through it.

"Ouch," Tony complains.

"Sorry," the reply comes in Steve's familiar voice, and he appears in Tony's field of vision, hastily wrapping a blanket around his waist, like a towel.

That's finally enough to jog Tony's clearly quite addled memory, so that he understands what's going on. He's still stuck on the hiking trip from hell with Steve. He hurt his ankle coming down a hill, which lead to Steve admitting that he'd seen some kind of a hut earlier. That must be where they are now. After that incident, though, all Tony remembers is walking and being really, really cold. Cold enough that even his memory iced over, apparently.

The door opens with a loud creak.

A tall man with glasses and graying brown hair, probably in his 60's, steps into the hut. He's dressed in the sort of garb one is supposed to wear in settings like these: oilskin coat, cargo pants and hiking boots.

"Huomenta," he greets in a language Tony doesn't recognize.

"Uh, hello," Steve replies. Tony can't help but grin at Steve's flustered expression, meeting a stranger in the middle of nowhere dressed in nothing but a blanket. "English?" Steve tries.

"Yes, little. I have tent over there," the stranger explains, gesturing towards the door. "All wet. Came to see who is here. Can come back later."

This guy is looking far less impressed by Steve's bare torso than Tony would expect. (Tony sure is impressed; it's certainly a sight he'll never grow immune to.) His accent is thick and blunt-sounding, with rolled r's. Eastern European, maybe? Not Russian, though.

"No, no, it's fine, please stay," Steve replies quickly. "Do you have a phone? We're in a sort of an emergency situation here. My friend's hurt," he motions at Tony.

The stranger turns his eyes towards Tony, and his eyebrows climb a little—huh? If Steve does not impress him—does he recognize Tony? Oh, wait, no, damn it. Tony's let the blankets slide to his lap, leaving the arc reactor completely visible. He quickly pulls them up, and then waves at the stranger. "Hi. Yeah, I'm okay, mostly. Just a really sore ankle."

"And recovering from a brush with pretty severe hypothermia," Steve adds.

"Aha," the man says. "Phone yes, but not working. No…" he gestures vaguely at the air around him, clearly looking for the right word. "No field?" he finally offers.

"No reception?" Tony corrects. "Right. Hardly surprising, haven't seen that many cell towers out here."

"How far to the nearest town?" Steve asks.

The man replies with an utterly incomprehensible word that must be the name of the city. "Thirty-five kilometers," he adds in English. "Two days."

"I could get there by the evening," Steve comments thoughtfully.

"And I'd be stuck here all that time, getting bored out of my wits. No thanks," Tony declares. "I'm sure we can work around the no reception thing. Have you tried on higher ground?"

"No," the man says sharply, almost like the question is stupid. Of course, someone who comes out here alone just for fun probably wouldn't feel the need to be in touch with the rest of the world.

"Okay, Steve can sprint up the nearest hill and see if it works," Tony says decisively. That is the obvious course of action anyway. "In the meantime, I'll work on plan B."

"What's that, then?" Steve asks.

"Building an antenna, of course."

********************

It's pretty impressive how Tony's gone from yesterday's shivering incoherent mess to being very obviously the smartest person in the room and in complete control of the situation. It takes some more explaining, but in the end, their new friend hands his phone to Steve, and heads back to his tent to grab whatever supplies he can spare for Tony's engineering project.

"I'm still pissed at you, by the way," Tony says, when they're alone again. He's still in bed, sitting up against a support pillar. "Even naked cuddling won't fix that, though I'm not going to complain about the cuddling."

"Yeah, well, you better not, it may have saved your life," Steve replies as he pulls on his uniform. It's not entirely dry yet, but at least it's closer to slightly damp than dripping.

"Which would never have been in danger in the first place if you'd acted like a rational, sensible human being," Tony says, scolding.

Steve doesn't answer that straight away. The truth is, of course, that Tony is right. Steve thinks of the way Tony looked yesterday, curled up on the fell, deathly pale—he would not have survived for long without help, Steve's sure of it. The thought that Tony might've died because Steve underestimated the risks out here makes him feel nauseous.

Tony is still paler than Steve would like, but at least he's not in any immediate danger. Steve gathers Tony's clothes, which are very nearly dry, and walks over to drop them on the bed next to Tony, who is still clutching the blankets to his chest.

"I'm not sure if you got it when we had our argument up there," Steve begins, in his most serious tone, hoping that's enough to make Tony listen. "But the thing is, the reason I didn't want us to come straight to this hut was, I was starting to enjoy spending time with you."

Tony's face says he's not buying one word of it. "What? Come on, you think I'm going to believe that? You hate being stuck here with me."

"That's not true," Steve says, keeping his voice steady.

"Okay, so you love the mountains and the open skies and all this outdoor stuff. But you'd rather be here with anyone else."

"I wouldn't! If you'd just stop and listen to what I'm actually trying to say, because that's the whole point! Yes, to be entirely honest, I did think I'd rather be here with anyone else, but then I started to kind of like being here with you. With you, Tony, not someone else."

"Huh," Tony says, looking very confused now. "Why would you? I mean, obviously I'm not entirely opposed to being here with you, because you're unfairly hot, not to mention I had a huge crush on you as a kid, but—"

"You think I'm—you what?" Steve says dumbly, feeling just as confused as Tony looks.

"Oh God, I didn't mean to say that aloud, ever," Tony says, covering his eyes with one hand. "That's a whole other conversation I'm not prepared to have right now."

"You had a crush on me," Steve repeats.

"Well, technically, I had a crush on Captain America, I obviously didn't know Steve Rogers back then. Now, I've learned he's a bit of an asshole."

"Gee, thanks. Turns out Tony Stark is one of those, too."

"Tell me something I don't know."

"I—" Steve is so goddamn baffled by this whole exchange he doesn't know where to even begin, so he goes for the easiest alternative. "I think I'd better go. Check the reception on that hill."

"Yeah, that might be a good idea. I should get dressed."

"Yeah. Well. See you later, then."

Steve turns around and rushes out of the cabin.

Outside, it's still cloudy, gloomy and rainy, just like yesterday. Steve had almost forgotten it inside their cozy hut with its warm fire and sturdy wooden walls.

He takes off at a run. The hilltop looks like it's right next to him, but he knows how misleading the perspective can be here. It'll probably take him a few hours to go up and get back again. All that time, stuck with his thoughts. He barely even feels the rain lashing at his face.

His thoughts are all about Tony. About what the hell he's actually feeling. Things were so clear a few days ago. They were just colleagues, teammates, Tony was annoying as heck, and warm feelings towards him were last thing Steve would ever have. Except now he's—why does he feel so flattered that Tony thinks he's hot? People generally think he's good-looking, goes with the serum. He rarely thinks anything of it anymore. Coming from Tony, though…

And there's the way he feels about the thought of something bad happening to Tony. Like he's ready kill anyone who'd hurt Tony with his bare hands. There aren't, or haven't been, many people in the world he's felt quite this protective about. It's like seeing Tony at death's door yesterday made something click in his head.

Not to mention those thoughts, quickly repressed, that he's had when they've been resting close to one another at night.

It's almost like he's—like—goddamn it, he's not queer!

He's living in the future, though. Nowadays, it's perfectly fine to be that way. It's not like in his previous life. Somehow, the idea is both exciting and terrifying at once.

He reaches the mountaintop and digs the cellphone out of one of his pockets. Their new friend, clearly well prepared for the wilderness, has placed it in some kind of a transparent, waterproof pouch. It's not one of those touch-screen smartphones, but one that has actual buttons with letters and numbers on them. The signal strength bars are still absent.

Just to be sure, Steve types in the SHIELD emergency number he's memorized, and presses the button with the green phone symbol. The phone makes a sad little bleep, and nothing happens. Steve glares at it, disappointed, sighs, and puts it in his pocket again.

********************

Tony is starting to think he might be going through hypothermia-induced hallucinations, because things really are looking up, so much so that it's kind of difficult to believe.

First, he wakes up in a nice warm place in the arms of an entirely naked Steve Rogers.

Then, he finds out the reason they're still here is that Steve wanted to spend more quality time with him, which, yeah, talk about doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons. Yeah, he wouldn't mind spending more time with Steve.

As if that wasn't enough, their new friend, whose name turns out to be Tapio (assuming Tony got that right), brings him enough bits and pieces that his little tinkering project is certainly going to be a success, and working on it is more than enough to take his mind off his foot, which would otherwise be almost intolerable.

And now, there's coffee.

Coffee, oh God, out of all the things he's missed out here. This guy is just the best. The most awesome person in the entire world. Tony's new best friend. He has food, too, some sort of porridge, which Tony eats without really stopping to think what it tastes like, happy for every calorie, but that's very much secondary to the fact that there's coffee.

Yeah, the probability of this being a wish-fulfilling hallucination seems awfully high.

The thing that makes it feel real again is Steve, who returns looking like a drowned rat, his expression so despondent that there's no need to even ask whether he was successful.

"Didn't work," Steve says, dripping water by the stove.

"Not big surprise," their benefactor says. He's clearly trying very hard not to stare at Steve's uniform. "You are Captain America?"

"Yes," Steve admits.

"And he is your—boyfriend?" Tapio asks, deadpan, tilting his head towards Tony.

Tony chortles, while Steve must be blushing like nothing, since it's perfectly obvious with only a small part of his face visible below the cowl.

"Oh, I can totally see where you got that idea from," Tony says, still chuckling.

"No, he's not!" Steve cries out. "This is Iron Man!"

"I knew that. I can recognize Tony Stark," Tapio says with the slightest smirk, and Tony's not sure whether or not his original question was meant as a joke. "But tell me: why are American superheroes in Lapland?"

"Lapland?" Steve echoes, and Tony realizes to his amusement that they still haven't asked what country they're in. Had more important things to think about, like how to get away from wherever they are.

"Lappi, Suomi, Finland," Tapio elaborates.

"Okay, never been here before," Tony notes. "As for why we're here, well, we just sort of fell from the sky, you could say. Important superhero business. Fighting bad guys."

"You weren't fighting anyone, Tony. More like half asleep and babbling incoherently while I got you out of trouble," Steve says tetchily. He still seems miffed by the boyfriend joke.

"Anyway, Captain, you wait a moment, I make more coffee," Tapio says. He moves closer to the stove, to put on the kettle.

"Don't get too cozy, love," Tony tells Steve, unable to resist the temptation to beat that dead horse a little longer. "I'm almost done with this," he waves at the antenna he's working on, "And since I'm not doing so well in the walking department, you'll be the one to put it to use."

********************

Steve is glad Tony is busy working and their Finnish friend is still in the hut with them, because that means they can't pick up their earlier conversation. That silly question about them as a couple didn't help Steve's confounded state of mind at all—it just served as a reminder that indeed, that isn't an impossible concept in this day and age.

He's immensely glad for the hospitality of the Finn. "You shouldn't waste all your rations on us," Steve tells him, as he hands Steve a steaming cup of coffee and a cereal bar.

Tapio replies with a broad smile and a dismissive shrug. "It's no problem. First time I meet people like you. Least I can do."

"We'll owe you one," Steve says, and tears the wrapper open with his teeth, since he's starving and he's holding the coffee in one hand.

He barely has time to finish what’s actually his breakfast for the day when Tony calls out in a sing-song voice, "Stevie, sugarplum, I need you!"

"Cut it off or you can go and make the call yourself, bad ankle or not," Steve complains, maybe more sternly and humorlessly than he should.

"Oh, cheer up, Grinch! We're going home," Tony returns happily. He holds out a contraption that resembles a kid's science fair project more than anything that might have any real world use.

"That's a tin can attached to a stick," Steve says incredulously.

"No, it's a state of the art cantenna," Tony says. "Stop looking at me like that. It will work."

Steve tries to force his face into a less doubtful expression. He's seen Tony do enough crazy improvised engineering to know that it usually does work. "Okay, tell me what I need to do."

"Apparently, the nearest city lies to the southwest of us, so that's where you need to point it. That's it, pretty much. Point and try to find a position where you get a signal. Then just make the call. Shouldn't be too difficult even to an old-timer such as yourself."

"I'll manage," Steve says, grabs the improvised antenna and heads out of the hut again.

The rain has ceased for a while, luckily. The others follow Steve out, Tony leaning on the nearest wall for support. He and the Finn stand watching wordlessly as Steve roams the hut's surroundings, cantenna in one hand, pointed roughly towards the southwest, connected with a cable to the phone he has in his other hand. He half feels like Tony's just pulling a prank on him and that this ridiculous contraption was never even meant to do anything. The best he gets is one bar, and when he tries to make a call, it doesn't connect.

"So much for that," he tells the others. "Any other bright ideas, genius?"

"Climb on the roof," Tony says instantly, not looking discouraged in the least.

"Come on, that's barely ten feet above the ground," Steve says, rolling his eyes.

"Might be all it takes. Go on, we're waiting. My new best friend would like his phone back," Tony says, pointing at Tapio, who's standing close by, looking mildly amused.

Steve grabs all the items he’s carrying with one hand and uses his free hand to reach for the roof. It's easy enough for him to swing himself up one-handed.

He stands up on the roof, points the antenna towards the southwest, and—"Hah! Three bars!" Steve announces victoriously. He punches in the numbers.

A phone's dial tone has never sounded so welcome, and the official, sharp voice that answers "SHIELD operations. Identify yourself," is better than the warmest greeting Steve's ever received.

Once he's done describing their situation and location, he leaps down from the roof and grabs Tony in a hug, actually lifting him off the ground and making him yelp with surprise.

"We're going home! Thanks to you," Steve says happily.

"About time!" Tony declares. "I'm so done with this place."

"It’s not bad place,” the Finn says defensively. “Fishing is very good. You should come back some day. Just take better equipment."


Day 1 (Day 85)

They set out at the brink of dawn from Kilpisjärvi, the tiny village in the very northwest of Finland where they ended up when they were picked up from the wilderness.

Although almost three months have passed, it's not much colder than their first few nights here, back in June. The landscape looks different, but no less beautiful to Steve: instead of green here and there, there are varying shades of green, brown, yellow and red, both in the small trees and the moss and grass on the ground.

"You've got to admit it's lovely, now," he says to Tony.

Tony's looking quite different from last time, too. Instead of the summer suit that was woefully inadequate for the setting, he's now dressed from head to toe in top-of-the-line outdoor garments. The only thing setting him apart from any other hiker is the red-and-gold woolly hat. He's spent the past few weeks breaking in his hiking shoes, to the amusement of the other Avengers—he hasn't just been stomping around the Tower in them, but also attended meetings and PR events wearing them.

"I never said it wasn't pretty," Tony replies defensively. "It's just that I was a little distracted by everything else. It's beautiful, all right. Wouldn't have wanted to come back otherwise."

It was actually Tony's idea that they come back, though Steve did quickly and whole-heartedly agree to it.

The months that followed their unplanned outdoor excursion were difficult for both of them, for very different reasons. Tony was laid up due to his ankle, which turned out to be broken. It was a simple, clean break that didn't require surgery, but he was stuck with a cast for weeks and unable to walk normally for much longer, which made him exactly as frustrated as one could expect. He stayed holed up in his workshop for days on end. Not being able to take part in Avengers missions only seemed to make him more stressed, not less so. He spent some time in his mansion in California, and when he got back, the bags under his eyes only looked more pronounced.

Steve was glad he had plenty of duties to attend to, because he was stuck struggling between wanting to cheer Tony up and actually not wanting to see him at all. He still couldn't quite figure out what to do with his entirely uncalled-for feelings. It was stupid, it made no sense. Tony was no less annoying than before, particularly since he was constantly in a foul mood thanks to the inconveniencing injury. Still, every time Steve managed to crack a joke that made Tony smile, he felt like the happiest man on Earth.

When, around a month ago, Steve finally managed to work up the courage to try and talk things through with Tony, the discussion didn't quite go like he'd planned.

"Tony, there's something I've been meaning to talk about," Steve began, having caught Tony alone in the kitchen.

"As it happens, I could say the exact same thing!" Tony said, seeming quite excited about it.

"Oh? You go first," Steve said, all too glad to put that dreaded conversation off a bit longer.

"I want to go back," Tony told him, with a slightly manic look. "I've come up with enough fancy camping gear to start up an outdoor division for Stark Industries, I need to field test them."

"You want to go back to the wilderness? With me?" Steve asked, taken by surprise. He would've thought that would be the last thing Tony wanted.

"Yup! Just you and me, just like the good old times," Tony said eagerly. "For a week or so. Hike to that hut and back, maybe a little further. My ankle should be up to it by the end of next month."

"Sure," Steve replied without a second thought. "I'd love that!"

"Awesome! So, what was it that you wanted to say?" Tony asked curiously.

"Uh, nothing that can't wait," Steve said. If there ever was a perfect time and place for that conversation, it would be where he'd first realized he might be falling for Tony.

Looking at the striking view around them and seeing how excited Tony is about this, Steve thinks that even if nothing happens between them, he's happy just enjoying the outdoors with Tony, without any pressing concerns about their survival or uncertainty about getting back.

"Thanks for suggesting this, by the way," Steve says, and Tony, who's been walking ahead, stops and turns around to face him.

"Thanks for agreeing to it. I just, well, let's say I felt there was a lot of untapped potential there, last time," Tony says, and gives Steve this look, with raised eyebrows and a crooked grin, that could only be called suggestive.

Steve should say something. Right now. He should say something clever and come clean with everything, but that look makes his mind go blank. All he can manage is a goofy grin and "Yeah, I kind of felt the same way," and the moment is gone.

They keep walking. For the entire first day, they stay on a marked path. Tomorrow, they'll be heading away from it, because the state-owned wilderness hut where they spent the last night of their previous adventure isn't next to any major hiking routes. They walk at a leisurely pace. Steve is aware that too much exertion still makes Tony's ankle sore, and they're not in any kind of a hurry.

The summer with its midnight sun is long gone. When the sun disappears behind the hills, they stop to make camp for the night. It's a proper spectacle with all the gear Tony's come up with, most of which Steve is witnessing for the first time. There's a self-assembling tent—all they need to do is to anchor it to the ground with a few pegs; self-inflating air mattresses; a handy water purification device, which Tony tests although they know the stream they've camped by would be clean enough to drink from anyway; and a camp stove that's easily the most efficient one Steve's ever seen, which they use to cook some fairly edible mac and cheese.

All through the evening, the atmosphere is somehow expectant, even a little tense. Tony's chattering away as usual, describing his forays into tent materials and his plans for mass-producing the water purification system for charity, but he seems edgy. It almost feels to Steve like Tony's waiting for him to make a move. He just doesn't know where to start.

Eventually, after coffee, it's much too dark to see a thing without a light, and they retreat to the tent. Inside, it's larger than the emergency shelter Tony built last time, but still quite snug.

Steve feels far more self-conscious than usual as he undresses before crawling into his sleeping bag, wearing nothing but his briefs. Is he just imagining or is Tony trying to avoid looking at him? Tony did say he thought Steve hot, back then, didn’t he?

They're both in their sleeping bags and Tony is reaching out to turn off the LED lantern—yet another thing he's made, weighs next to nothing and makes the place bright as day—when Steve finally, finally decides he can't put it off a second longer. He reaches to grab Tony's wrist to stop him. He wants to see Tony's face properly for this.

"Look, uh, Tony, I've—" he begins. He's gone through the conversation in his head a thousand times, but now that it’s the real thing, he’s at a loss for words. He's not used to this sort of talk at all. He can give an uplifting speech to troops off the top of his head, but flirting he's never been any good at.

"Yes?" Tony looks at him, leaning on a fist, eyebrows raised, urging him to go on.

"The last time we were here, I—" Steve tries, but he's still not sure where to go with it. "I was really, honestly starting to think I like spending time with you. And I still do. And I might... I might kind of be starting to like you. Quite a lot."

"And here I was starting to think I had imagined that little conversation we had in that hut. Glad to hear I wasn't, because I kind of like you too, have done for a while. When you're not being too annoying," Tony says with a lopsided grin.

"Well the same goes for you," Steve replies without really thinking, and then does think—and whoa, wait, did Tony just reciprocate?

Tony bends closer, easily bridging the small gap between them, and bringing his lips to Steve's. Steve can't say he wasn't hoping for this. He leans forwards, too, and they kiss, ever so lightly, just a quick touch of the lips. It's electrifying. It's the first time he's kissed a man like this. Hell, he's barely kissed anyone like this in his life.

"That bad, eh?" Tony asks.

Steve has no idea what the look on his face is, but it's probably somewhere between bliss and shock.

"I could learn to like that," Steve says.

"Makes me wonder what else you could learn to like," Tony says.

They kiss again, and this time, it's less chaste, with Tony pushing his tongue to meet Steve's, and though some tiny voice at the back of Steve's head is crying out wondering what the hell does he think he's doing, he doesn't care. This feels right, no matter what anyone might say.

"I think," Steve says breathlessly when they pull apart, "That there's way too much fabric and feathers between us."

He unzips his sleeping bag, and Tony follows suit. While Steve's barely wearing anything at all, Tony's dressed in thermal underwear that resembles what he wears under his Iron Man armor, and it looks very, very nice on him. It doesn't feel quite as nice as skin would, though, when Steve pulls Tony into a hug, so he goes on to push his fingers under Tony's shirt, running them up his back. Tony's wraps his arms around Steve, drawing them even closer to one another. He presses a kiss into Steve's neck, and trails a line upwards along Steve’s throat with his lips.

"Oh, all the things I'd like to do with you, you have no idea," Tony murmurs into Steve's ear in a low voice that sends shivers down Steve's spine. It’s like Steve has stepped into one of those fantasies he's barely allowed himself to think about.

All of a sudden, Tony freezes and pulls back.

“What’s wrong?” Steve asks, dismayed, sliding his hands away from Tony.

“Nothing,” Tony replies, with a smile that easily convinces Steve he’s telling the truth. He looks incredibly attractive like this, flushed, his hair sticking into all directions. “I just remembered there’s another important piece of camping gear that I didn’t show to you yet.”

Tony crawls over to the door flap that leads to the tent’s vestibule where their backpacks are, and spends a while rummaging his belongings. Steve can’t imagine what he might be looking for. Surely his camping gear design spree didn’t involve… equipment for this sort of activity?

“Aha!” Tony announces, and turns around, pushing a small object towards Steve.

Half dreading what it is, Steve grabs it, and instantly realizes it’s the familiar, cloth-covered box of the little survival kit he found attached to the parachute harness when they first landed here.

“I seem to remember there is exactly one item in there that we haven’t used yet,” Tony says, waggling his eyebrows. “Might come in handy this time.”