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Finding Warmth in the Darkness

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The team really should have known better than to follow one of Hydra’s generals up on a snowy mountain in the middle of the stormiest season of the year. This really called for trouble and so it came to know one’s surprise when Jarvis announced that they were about to be hit by a storm.

Clint, Natasha and Bruce, still safely in the Quinjet, managed to fly away before it really hit them, but Steve, Thor and Tony were out searching for the general when the message came and they weren’t quick enough to board back onto the Quinjet.

Tony had refused to drop Steve on the mountain side, so that he could climb after the general, instead he had carried him as close to the surface as he could and then just flew with him, even though Steve complained horribly that they would be able to cover more ground if Tony just let him go for god’s sake, while Thor was flying by their side, trying to find a trace of the man. So far they didn’t have any luck but given the whole situation that was to be expected.

The storm had hit them hard, obscuring the view in seconds and almost as soon as that they had lost Thor in the bright white. They had been able to establish communications for a few seconds after that, before the storm also interfered with that and nothing but static came over their comms. Steve and Tony hoped it had been enough to tell Thor to fly back to the Quinjet. There was no sense in losing even more members of their team in this white hell.

Tony and Steve had long since landed on the mountain side, the storm obscuring the view and even though Tony had thought he had fixed the icing problem it seemed like snow was an entirely different thing. Maybe it was the cold itself or there really was something about the snow that Tony hadn’t considered but the suit had slowed down practically the moment the storm had hit them and Tony was no longer able to safely carry Steve.

The metal of his suit was ice cold after a few minutes and Tony shivered in his suit, though Jarvis assured him that the heating was on and it shouldn’t be that cold already. Maybe it was just the nerves then.

Steve couldn’t be so lucky, though, because while his armour was made to withstand really heavy hits, and even one missile if it ever came to that and he got lucky, it wasn’t really made to keep out the cold. Sure, it was thick and not the stupid excuse of a uniform Shield had outfitted him during their first fight, but it was nowhere near enough to keep him warm. Still, Steve wasn’t complaining and instead trying really hard to drag Tony along, who quickly got tired moving the heavy armour.

It felt like hours to Tony, even though Jarvis was adamant that it had only been 14 minutes, before Steve finally said “We need to find shelter. You can’t keep going like this.”

Tony scoffed at that. “I can go just fine. What about you? Your lips are already blue,” he retorted and immediately froze for a second. Steve just shook his head though, so it didn’t seem like it was out of the ordinary to note someone’s lips in these circumstances.

“Maybe. But my suit isn’t as heavy as your armour, so shelter. Can Jarvis find something for us?” Steve asked again when Tony stayed silent.

“J, can you?” Tony asked, changing to a private line.

“I can do a simple scan of the terrain to point you to anything remotely resembling a cave but the storm is too strong for more,” came the solemn response and Tony cursed. He had hoped Jarvis would be able to do a bit more than that.

“Fine, do it, J. And quick, this is not going to work for much longer,” Tony ordered while he stumbled along behind Steve. Steve’s hand came out to steady him but it looked like Steve had some problems himself because he wasn’t quite able to push Tony up again.

“Sir, there seems to be a cave not a mile to your left,” Jarvis said after a few seconds and Tony relayed the message to Steve, who nodded in acknowledgment.

“Can you do it?” he asked Tony, shield raised when a particularly harsh wind blew their way, and Tony could see that his arm was shaking, barely able to hold the shield.

“Can you?” Tony shot back and was met with a very determined stare. “Okay, yes you can, fine, I get it,” Tony mumbled. “And yes, I will make it to that cave,” he added, though he really hoped that wouldn’t turn out as a lie. The armour grew heavier with every step that he took and while he was wearing the undersuit the places that came into contact with the metal already burned with the cold.

Somehow they managed to make it to the cave, stumbling and dragging their feet but that didn’t matter, not when there was immediate relief as soon as the wind was gone. They went as far into the cave as they could, which was quite the way, it seemed like the cave went deep into the mountain, but when they found water before they found the back of the cave, they decided to stay there.

They couldn’t see the entrance anymore, only feel the occasional cold wind, and Steve immediately demanded that Tony came out of his suit. Tony didn’t make him repeat that, instead he stepped out of the armour as soon as he could and ordered Jarvis to keep trying to establish a connection with the team.

“I will, sir. I also triggered the emergency signal so that they can find us when the storm clears up.”

“Very good, J.” Tony turned around to Steve who had pulled out a flare from his backpack and lit it. “You get out of your suit as well. It’ll be soaked through in seconds,” Tony told him but was only met with a stern glare.

Tony’s face briefly went all hot when he thought about the tight undershirt Steve usually wore under the suit but then pure survival kicked back in and besides, it was not like he was actually wearing any more. This had been a planned mission, so Tony had actually enough time to get himself into the undersuit he had developed for his armour and that didn’t leave anything to imagination either. Still, being out of the armour was the best he could do right now and the same went for Steve. He needed to get out of the wet and cold suit.

“Steve,” he tried again but Steve didn’t even look at him, so Tony went over and crouched down in front of him. “Steve, you have to get out of your suit. It will only get colder if you stay in it and we don’t know how long we have to stay here before the team will come back for us. We need to try and stay warm. And for that you have to get out of it.” Steve didn’t show an immediate reaction, he was looking down in his backpack but then he let out a big sigh and slowly got up.

“Fine. You go and try to find out how deep this cave goes. Take two flares and come back if the first one goes out before you reach the end. I’ll check the entrance again, look how far the snow gets into it,” Steve instructed and Tony nodded. That he could do.

Steve handed him the flares but when Tony hesitated a second, he laid them down on the floor. He didn’t comment on Tony’s strange behavior whenever it came to being handed things but sometimes Tony wished he could just get over this and actually take something Steve handed him. He had managed it with Pepper and Rhodey but he wasn’t quite there yet with the team.

Tony took the flares and lit one before he got up and looked down the cave. It got dark pretty quickly, the light didn’t help that much, and Tony already felt his chest tighten. He had never been good with enclosed space but after Afghanistan he had developed a severe kind of panic for everything dark and cave like and this was very dark and an actual cave and Tony already felt out of breath.

He turn around to ask Steve to stay together, to explore the cave together, since it seemed to be easier with him around, but Steve had already peeled out of his suit and was quickly walking away from him and Tony grabbed the flare tighter. Fine. He would be able to do this alone. He just couldn’t think about where exactly he was and he had to walk quickly. It would be easy. He could do this.

Before he actually ventured deeper into the cave he made sure that the suit was in sentry mode and that Jarvis was able to track his vital signs with the embedded sensors. Who knew if he would need it. After one last glance back to the place Steve disappeared, he made his way deeper into the cave.

The red light from the flare did nothing to ease his mind, the hectic flickering made it look like the shadows were alive, and Tony swore he could see the walls creep closer. He tried to tell himself that it was impossible, that this cave was sturdy and didn’t move at all, but it didn’t really help.

After what felt like over an hour of walking, but couldn’t be more than 15 minutes since the flare was still burning bright, he realized that he had started to shiver violently, barely able to keep the flare in his hand. His breath was coming in short gasps and he didn’t seem to be able to take deeper ones. Tony knew that he had to make his way back to the armour, back to Steve, but he couldn’t move anymore, frozen to the spot.

He distantly wondered why Jarvis didn’t come to get him, why the sensors hadn’t alarmed him, but when he heard water drop that thought left his mind. Suddenly he was back in another cave, slightly better lit than this but it made no difference. He was shoved, hauled around, heavy footsteps behind him, and he could feel the pain in his chest and his lungs and even though he knew he shouldn’t take a breath, he would drown if he did, he couldn’t, he gasped again.

The pain in his chest exploded and Tony scrambled to get a hand on the arc reactor. Or was it still the battery? He didn’t know, couldn’t think, he just knew that they couldn’t take it, he would die, they couldn’t take the battery out again. He clasped his hands over his chest, startling badly when something hit the floor. He tried to take cover, to shield himself from the no doubt oncoming hit, but nothing came. There was just the steady drop and his harsh breaths and he couldn’t feel the arc reactor, it wasn’t there. Did they already take it? Was that why everything hurt so badly?

Tony was dimly aware that he sunk to the floor, that he was trying to take cover in a corner, but there was none, no way to go, nowhere to hide and the arc reactor wasn’t there, he would die without it, why did they take it? They wanted him to build something, they didn’t want him dead, or did they? Had they found someone else to do it? Wasn’t he useful to them anymore?

Tony tried to beg them not to kill him, to put the reactor back, to give him another chance, he would build their damn missile if it just meant they would put it back, but he couldn’t manage to form the words, he was just gasping for air, though nothing seemed to make it down into his lungs. His chest continued to hurt though and he couldn’t make it stop, he couldn’t do anything to make it stop and he was aware he was sobbing now but he couldn’t die like this, he still had things to do, this couldn’t be it, could it?

Tony violently jerked back, hitting the wall painfully, when something touched his shoulder. He tried to move away from the shadow looming over him but he couldn’t move, he was too weak and his legs and arms were shaking too much to actually get him anywhere and so he just pleaded over and over again for them to put it back in, to not let him die, he would do everything they wanted if they would just put it back in.

The person kept talking to him, still touching him, but the pain didn’t lessen and Tony didn’t even know if it was possible to put the reactor back in or if this was it, if this was how he would die after everything he went through. The thought chilled him to the bones and he finally fell silent, to worried that his last words would be words of weakness, he really didn’t want to go begging, and while he realized that this shouldn’t be his main concern it was the only thing he could think right now.

The shadow on his side had moved, Tony was aware of that, but he was too tightly strung to move his head and search for it, but when something pulled him back against a slightly warmer surface, Tony began to trash, trying to break free again, to move to a safer place.

“Shh, Tony, you’re safe, I got you. You’re safe,” someone murmured into his ear and Tony thought he should know this voice, but he couldn’t be here, no one was here, except Yinsen and even that was wrong because he was dead, wasn’t he? The voice kept telling him that he was safe, that he wouldn’t be harmed and while Tony thought he should believe that voice, he knew the person it belonged to even if he couldn’t quite remember, he couldn’t. The pain in his chest was still there, still slicing through every thought and he couldn’t dim it no matter how hard he pressed down on his chest, on his empty, arc reactor-less chest.

The thought brought a new wave of pain over him and then his hands were forcefully removed from his sternum. Tony started to thrash again, fought the hands on his body, but when something pressed down on his chest, applying much more pressure than Tony could, he started to sag against the body behind him.

“That’s it, Tony. I got you, you’re here with me, and you are not hurt. You are fine. Just try to relax.” The body behind him moved, moving him in the process, and Tony finally realized that the person behind him was taking deep breaths, that he wanted him to do the same. Tony tried to mimic the movement, but it was hard, he didn’t seem able to expand his chest at all and when the person behind him realized the same he started to pull his hand away.

But Tony couldn’t let that happen, that hand was the only thing that kept him together and he hurried to put his own hand over the one on his chest and the person behind him said “Okay, Tony, I get it. I won’t let go. It’s fine. Relax, I got you. Just try to breathe with me.”

“Keep,” Tony rasped and he had to clear his throat before he could manage to finish his sentence. “Keep talking?” he asked the person behind him, because he still couldn’t quite figure out who it was, why there was someone this warm with him, but he was determined to and hearing the voice was the only chance Tony got.

“Of course, Tony. We were out with the team, on a mission, remember? A snowstorm hit us and we lost Thor and our way and now we are hiding in a cave, waiting for the others to get us. Do you remember that?” The voice paused for a moment, but when Tony didn’t made a move to answer it continued. “We will be out of here, really soon, don’t worry. The team will only wait until the worst of the storm is over and then they will be back for us. We’re safe here until then, the snow doesn’t get in this far and we’re not hit by the wind so we won’t actually freeze to death,” there was a slight hitch in the voice but the person continued almost immediately. “We just have to try and stay warm until then, but this is working fine don’t you think?” the voice asked again and now Tony actually nodded.

He could feel the warm body behind his back, feel the still deliberately deep breaths and while the arms that encircled him were heavy he no longer felt restricted or held down. Tony relaxed slightly, sinking a bit against the chest he was pressed up against, and he could already feel the warm sink into him. He concentrated on that warm feeling instead of the pain in his chest and he relaxed further at that. The person behind him seemed to notice because the talking resumed.

“I’m going to have to move, okay? The wall is cold and we need to stay warm so I will move a bit and you will move with me, alright?” Tony was asked, and he could almost connect a name to the voice; if it would just keep talking he was sure he could do it.

The person behind him moved and Tony panicked again. He wasn’t sure if he tried to get away or get closer but he was pushing against the body again, afraid where he would be moved to, afraid that the person would let go, that the pressure on his chest would vanish.

“Shh, Tony, I just have to move us, I won’t leave, I promise. I won’t even let go, okay, I just need to move us away from the wall, it’s too cold to stay there,” the voice told him and as if to prove it the pressure on his chest slightly increased. Tony relaxed again and allowed the person to move him like he wanted, glad that the person kept his word and didn’t let go of him. He wasn’t sure if he could take that right now.

After a bit of shuffling the person stilled again. “See, that wasn’t so bad, now, was it? Are you back with me yet? Do you remember where you are?” the voice asked and the name of the person was right on the tip of his tongue but Tony couldn’t remember.

“Cave,” he said instead and he felt the person nod.

“That’s right, Tony. But it’s 2015, and you’re not alone. I’m here and your suit is a few feet away, just waiting for you. Jarvis alerted me that you weren’t well, so you’re not alone here, okay, I need you to remember that.”

Tony nodded and now he finally felt his head clear. He became aware of his surroundings again, it was still a cave but it wasn’t that cave and he could see his armour standing a few feet away, though the light was a bright yellow now and he realized that the flare couldn’t have lasted this long and that there was a glow stick a few inches away from him. The hands on his chest belonged to Steve, he should know, he had spent way too much time watching them draw in that little notebook he kept, and now Tony felt safe again.

“Steve,” he breathed and Steve squeezed him lightly.

“That’s right, I’m right here. You back with me now?” he asked carefully and Tony nodded. Steve immediately tried to remove his hands from Tony’s chest put Tony pressed down on them again.

“Not yet?” he asked and Steve pressed them back down.

“I just need a second to remember where it went,” Tony explained and Steve nodded.

“No problem. Take all the time you need. That was a pretty severe flashback.”

Tony could only nod to that, not willing to think too hard on what had set it off. He could totally do without a second one right now. Instead he focused on the heat Steve gave off and that was also when he realized that he wasn’t shivering anymore. Steve was giving off heat like he was a human water bottle and Tony sunk a bit more into him. In response, Steve tangled their legs a bit more and then said quietly “I think we actually should stay like that. If you…don’t mind. We need to keep warm and this seems to work quite well.”

Tony was about to agree with him when he realized that he was the only one that needed to stay warm, that there was no real benefit for Steve that came from this and he started to move away. “You know what Cap, I think I can do without snuggling you,” Tony said and he tried for a light note in his voice but given how raspy it still sounded he didn’t quite manage that.

“But maybe you shouldn’t,” Steve replied and his voice sounded weirdly strangled and Tony desperately wished he could see his face right now. Tony tried to turn around to look at him but Steve tightened his grip and Tony felt how he pressed his face into Tony’s neck. Tony was acutely aware of the feeling of skin on skin and a strange tingling feeling went down his spine.

“Okay,” Tony eventually conceded and felt how Steve let out a breath against his neck. Tony tapped the hands on his chest but kept Steve from actually moving them. “Tell me what happened to it?” he asked Steve because the pain was still there and Tony was afraid he would fall apart if Steve moved his hands and the arc reactor was gone.

“You removed it,” Steve replied at once, voice still low. “You had a surgery that not only removed the reactor but also the shrapnel that were still in your chest,” Steve explained to him and Tony remembered that now. It was okay that the arc reactor wasn’t there anymore.

“Right,” Tony breathed, “that’s right. I don’t need it anymore.” Steve nodded at that and Tony finally moved his hands away from Steve’s. “Okay, it’s okay, you can let go now, I think.”

Steve lifted his head again and Tony had the distinct feeling that he watched him intently but he didn’t say anything and after a moment he started to remove his hands. Tony expected him to let go of him completely, and wouldn’t that make the warmth sharing awkward (Tony refused to call it snuggling, this was not what this was), but Steve just moved his hands to Tony’s middle and essentially hugged him closer to his chest. Tony’s chest felt tight again, though for entirely different reasons than before, and he carefully rested his hands on top of Steve’s again.

“Okay?” Steve carefully asked and Tony only managed a nod. This was not how he had expected this mission to go and it was definitely not helping with these strange feelings he had regarding Steve.

Pepper had already told him what was seemingly obvious for everyone who cared to look but Tony refused to admit that he was in love. It would not end well, he knew that, and the team was too important for him to lose over the no doubt coming rejection would Steve ever care to look closely enough to realize that Tony was having more than platonic friendly feelings for him.

But Tony wasn’t above taking advantage of this and so he stayed exactly where he was, strange tingling sensation and fluttering stomach be damned. He needed the warmth, Steve hadn’t been wrong about that, and it served to justify this closeness.

They stayed like that for minutes before Tony decided to talk again. He couldn’t stand the silence, it gave his mind too much opportunity to interpret all kind of things into this and he desperately needed a distraction. “So,” he haltingly started, “Jarvis alerted you?”

“Yes. He said your sensors alarmed him that something wasn’t right but you didn’t react so well to him so he went and fetched me,” Steve explained. Tony hadn’t even noticed that the suit had approached him, he had been too lost in his panic and he was glad that Steve had been able to get him out of it.

When Tony focused back on Steve, he noticed that he was tense behind him and Tony patted his hands. “What?” he asked and Steve sighed.

“Do I even want to know what sensors he was talking about?”

“Probably not?” Tony answered but he felt that Steve still expected an answer from him. Tony rolled his eyes but dutifully explained. “I inserted sensors into my arms and legs to summon the suit some years back. So I wouldn’t need the bracelets anymore.”

“You inserted them,” Steve repeated and he sounded a bit nauseous. “Please tell me a doctor was actually present to supervise you?”

“….no?” Tony admitted and Steve’s grip on him tightened again. “I had Jarvis to supervise me, it was fine,” Tony went on, hoping to relax Steve again but it didn’t work. The grip around his middle stayed firm.

“Please don’t ever do something like that again without the proper supervision,” Steve said and Tony couldn’t deny him that, so he nodded.

“It’s done now either way, Steve, so don’t worry.”

“You’ll have to replace them, or you will come up with some other stupid ideas,” Steve mumbled and he had his face back to Tony’s neck again. “And I always worry about you,” he said into Tony’s skin, barely audible for Tony.

“I know, Steve, but honestly, it was fine. It went off without a hitch. I’m not that careless.”

“Sir,” Jarvis started from a few feet away and Tony’s head whipped around to glare at him.

“If you dare to say anything else right now I will disassemble you,” he threatened and he could feel Steve chuckle behind him. Tony squeezed his hands in reassurance but before he could say anything else to Steve, Jarvis continued.

“I can assure you, sir, that it wasn’t my intention to inform Captain Rogers of all the things that went wrong the first time you tested your new system,” Jarvis said evenly and Tony wanted to be able to hit him, especially with the way Steve’s grip became iron around his waist.

He gently rubbed Steve’s forearm while he said “It’s fine, Steve, I survived just fine, it wasn’t as serious as Jarvis makes it sound, I promise.”

“You always lie about your health,” Steve finally managed and Tony had to admit that he wasn’t wrong about that. He also knew that it wasn’t the wisest thing to tell Steve that.

“Not always, not anymore,” Tony admitted instead, and that was also the truth. He had gotten a lot better with letting the team in and he was also occasionally seen in the medical bay and that was some great progress for him.

He opened his mouth to say something more but Jarvis beat him to it. “My apologies for interrupting yet again but I was actually about to inform you and Captain Rogers that Miss Romanoff has been trying to establish communications. The storm has essentially died down by now and the Avengers came back to look for you.”

“And you’re telling us that only now?” Tony incredulously asked and scrambled to get away from Steve. He couldn’t justify staying in his embrace any longer and this whole thing was already awkward enough without him clinging to his contact. Steve seemed a little slow with understanding what Jarvis had said because Tony had to pry his arms away from his middle since Steve didn’t seem to want to let go.

“Steve, come on, let’s go,” Tony said when Steve still didn’t completely remove his hands. “We have to get up to meet the team.”

“I know,” Steve finally sighed and reluctantly released Tony. Tony was up and away from Steve in mere seconds, walking over to Jarvis to ask how communications were going only to be met with Natasha’s voice.

“If you would just come out of that damn cave we could all go home now.” The fact that Natasha didn’t sound as composed as usually was proof enough that the storm had been worse than Steve and he had thought and that the team had probably been more than worried about them.

“Relax, Romanoff, we’ll be there. We just need to collect Steve’s suit first,” Tony replied, already walking in the direction of the entrance, but looking back to see if Steve was following him. He was entirely unprepared for the sight that met him. Even though he had just said that Steve wasn’t in his suit anymore, that much he had been able to feel, he hadn’t realized that it meant that Steve was only in his under armour. Tony had designed it himself but it was still a shock to see how tight the shirt and pants actually clung to Steve’s body.

Tony was glad that Steve had had the time to put on the under armour pants; thanks to many after mission showers he knew exactly how little problem Steve had going without anything or just his shorts under the armour. Tony tried to tell himself that it was actually good that Steve had been wearing the proper things because him going commando underneath the suit would have been more than awkward now, not to mention dangerous with the cold, but seeing all those glorious muscles outlined by the pants and shirt short circuited his brain pretty effectively.

“Ew, Stark, tmi. No one needs to know about your love life,” Clint’s voice came out of the speakers and Tony immediately turned away from Steve. He didn’t really need to see his face to know that what Clint was implying would never happen.

“Shut up,” he snapped at Clint and stormed away, pretty sure that Steve would follow him no matter what. Tony could hear the armour behind him but Steve was much more silent and after a few steps Tony turned his head back around to check if he was really following him. Steve was still standing in one place, looking down at the ground and hand tightly curled into fists at his side.

“Steve?” Tony carefully asked, afraid that Clint’s comment had really upset him, but Steve quickly raised his head and relaxed his hands.

“I’m coming,” Steve answered and bowed down to pick up the glow stick and burnt out flare. Trust Captain America to clean up behind him, Tony thought dryly and finally followed his armour back to their backpack and Steve’s uniform.

“Natasha, are you already there?” Steve asked from behind him and Natasha answered promptly. “Just hovering outside the cave.”

Tony let out a relieved sigh because that meant neither of them had to get back into their suits. “Please tell me you have hot coffee?” he asked while he swung the rucksack onto his back.

“We brought tea,” came Bruce’s reply and Tony groaned. “Bruce, why would you do that to me? Why?”

“You could be severely hypothermic and tea is more appropriate than coffee,” Bruce explained patiently and Tony heard Steve chuckle behind him. Tony levelled him with a death glare but Steve just shrugged.

“He’s right, you know. I mean we’re not hypothermic but coffee is really no help here.” Tony narrowed his eyes at him, he could have sworn that he had stumbled slightly over the word ‘hypothermic’ but Steve was already walking past him, cradling his uniform in his arms and nothing seemed off. Maybe Tony had imagined it.

When they finally stepped out of the cave the Quinjet was already there, like promised, and they quickly boarded it, not wanting to stay out in the cold one second longer. Bruce and Thor were already waiting for them with blankets and tea nearby and while Tony didn’t feel as frozen as he could have been, he gladly sunk into the warm embrace of the blanket.

“Jarvis already told us that you two weren’t off as bad as you could be, but we need to make sure,” Bruce explained while Jarvis was already running diagnostics on them again. Tony was actually able to feel all of his extremities including toes and fingers so he didn’t even worry about the results. The only thing he worried about now was a cup of coffee and his bed. The panic attack had taken more out of him than he had thought and sleep seemed like the best thing ever now. He shortly worried about the possibilities of nightmares but dismissed that thought as quickly as it came; he was too tired to dream and he knew it.

The team fussed over them, asking them all kind of questions, but Tony quickly tuned them out, letting Steve answer any questions they might have. He dozed until they touched down on the landing pad of the tower and he only rose when Bruce shook his shoulder. “Tony, it’s time to get up. Go get some sleep and try to stay warm,” Bruce instructed him and gently led him out of the Quinjet.

“Will do, Brucie bear,” Tony mumbled and then searched the hangar.

“Steve already left,” Bruce explained, reading his searching glance correctly. “He said he wanted to take a hot shower and catch some sleep.”

Tony nodded, that sounded like a great plan actually. He would totally steal that idea and copy Cap. But first he had to get to the penthouse and the way seemed unmanageable right now. “You need help?” Bruce lowly asked and Tony contemplated his answer but in the end he shook his head.

“Thanks, but I will manage. It’s not that far after all.”

Bruce looked unconvinced but when Tony shuffled off, blanket still clutched tightly around his shoulders, he didn’t follow. Tony made it into the elevator somehow and he didn’t even need to tell Jarvis where to go. When he entered his suite he could already hear the water running, no doubt at a heavenly temperature and he quickened his pace.

He stayed under the warm spray for more than the usual ten minutes he spared for this but he needed to feel hot all around. When he finally managed to get out of the shower he quickly dressed himself in the warmest clothes he could find before he hurried under the blankets on his bed. It hadn’t seemed so cold in the cave after he and Steve had started to…share their warmth, let’s go with that, but now he seemed frozen to the bone. His feet were still cold despite the fuzzy socks he was wearing and if he wouldn’t dread getting out of bed as much as he did, he would totally get up to get some gloves, that’s how cold he still felt. Jarvis assured him that his temperature wasn’t in a dangerous range but it felt like he could freeze any moment.

Tony tried to tell himself that a lot of this was just his mind playing a trick on him; he asked Jarvis to display a thermal image of his body and everything was orange or red and not the blue Tony felt. He asked Jarvis to keep the image up in case something changed and while he stared at it he fell asleep.

~*~

He was a bit disorientated when he woke up, not knowing exactly where he was. There had been no nightmares, like he predicted, but the image of the cave was still lingering behind his eyes. Tony was sweating now and quickly peeled the shocks and pullover off of him, needing the space to breathe and then he asked Jarvis to turn the heating down a notch.

When that was done he slowly sat up, wondering if he only woke up because he was overheated or if there actually had been a reason. “J, why am I awake?” he asked when nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

“I woke you up, sir. I believe Captain Rogers is experiencing a severe flashback in his quarters.”

Tony was up and out of his bed in a second, already on his way to the door. “Why didn’t you call me sooner?”

“My surveillance of the bedrooms is severely limited and his vital signs only now surpassed the set perimeters.”

“Fine. Is there someone that usually helps him if this happens?” he inquired further while making his way over to the elevator.

“No, sir. He usually asks me to tell no one but this time I wasn’t able to shake him out of it.”

“He gets them often?”

“Often enough, sir,” was Jarvis low reply to that and Tony cursed. If Steve had allowed Jarvis to call him before he would know what he was dealing with right now but as it was Tony was stumbling in the dark. He had no idea what caused this attack or in what state Steve would be in and he wondered if it wouldn’t be better to call someone else to deal with this. Then he remembered the way Steve had talked to him in the cave and he knew that he had to do this. He had to return the favour to Steve even if he had no idea what he was doing.

Tony rushed to Steve’s bedroom door and only then did he slow down. “Does he still not respond to you, Jarvis?” he asked one last time to get an idea of the severity of the attack and Jarvis promptly answered.

“I’m afraid not, sir. I would ask you to approach with caution.”

“Will do,” Tony said while he knocked extra loud on the door. There was no reply, not that he expected one, and so he pushed the door open. He silently motioned for Jarvis to switch on some lights and a dim yellow glow filled the room a moment later. Steve was still lying in his bed, curled up tight and he was violently shivering, keeping his eyes shut and mumbling something.

Tony slowly walked closer, deliberately making noise but it seemed like didn’t even notice him. “Steve, hey, it’s me, Tony. You are fine, you are in the tower, 2015. Do you hear me?”

At the sound of his voice Steve opened his eyes but they didn’t see him. He was caught in whatever his mind was showing him and Tony silently cursed. As long as he didn’t have Steve’s attention he wouldn’t be able to do anything.

Tony carefully sat down on the bed, closely watching Steve’s reaction to the added weight but it seemed like Steve didn’t even notice the shift in the mattress. Tony slowly reached for Steve and lightly laid a hand on his shoulder. Steve’s body was wracked with shivers and he was cold to the touch. When there still wasn’t a reaction from Steve, Tony tightened his grip.

“Steve, can you hear me?” he asked but there was still no response from Steve, though he had stopped mumbling. Tony quickly thought about how much it would hurt if Steve lashed out at him but he decided that it wouldn’t matter. This was more important than staying safe. Tony settled down next to Steve, facing him and while he kept one hand on his shoulder, the other grabbed for the hands that were clutching at Steve’s chest.

“Steve, I need you to talk to me, okay? What do you see?” Tony lowly asked and this time it seemed like Steve heard him. His eyes slightly shifted and his hands gripped Tony’s tightly. “It’s so cold,” he whispered and his voice was rough and shaking. “So, so cold.”

“Jarvis, raise the heating,” Tony ordered even though he was already breaking a sweat with how warm it was in the room. Nonetheless, Tony gently extracted his hand from Steve’s grip to get up and get two more blankets. He threw them over Steve and when Tony went to lie down next to him again he slid under the blankets this time and shuffled as close to Steve as he was able to. He hoped that this would help.

When he had settled down again he carefully wriggled one arm under Steve’s neck and then pulled him close, resting Steve’s face in the crook of his neck and gently rubbing his back. “It’s okay, we’re not in the cave anymore,” Tony whispered into Steve’s hair but Steve shook his head.

“Not the cave,” Steve slurred into his neck. “Don’t want to freeze again.” Tony pulled Steve closer when he understood what he was seeing right now. Tony hadn’t even thought about Steve’s own trauma when they had been in the cave but of course he wouldn’t do so well with the cold.

“Did you shower?” he inquired because he really shouldn’t be this cold anymore if he did but there was no answer from Steve.

“No, sir, he did not. He went straight to bed.” Now that Jarvis said it Tony also realized that Steve was still wearing his under armour. He hadn’t even stopped to change.

“Oh, Steve,” Tony breathed and mentally berated himself for not noticing how the whole thing had affected Steve. “You’re not going to freeze, okay? I’m right here, and I won’t let you drown again.”

Steve pressed closer to him now and Tony wrapped his arms around him. There was the fluttering feeling in his stomach again when Steve’s breath hit his neck but his heart gave an unhappy twist when he realized that Steve was sobbing now.

“I don’t want to lose time again,” he managed between his sobs and Tony stroke his hair. “You won’t. I promise you that. I’m right here and you are not drowning and freezing. You’re alive.”

It seemed like Steve was listening to him now because he calmed down a bit but he still didn’t pull away. “I can’t…what if I’m dreaming this?” he asked. “I don’t know if I’m still alive.”

Tony’s heart broke at that but it also gave him a faint idea what to do. He gently moved one of Steve’s hands to his own chest, right over his heart, where it had rested not even five hours ago.

“I’m alive, Steve. Can you feel my heartbeat?” Tony questioned when he flattened Steve’s fingers against it. Steve gave a short nod and Tony sighed in relief. “As long as you can feel my heart, you’re not dead. I promise you, you’re not dead.”

Steve pressed his hand into Tony’s chest, almost painfully now, but Tony didn’t move back. “Can you feel how warm I am?” Tony inquired further and Steve nodded again. “Good. There’s no way you can freeze if I am still this warm.”

Steve stayed pressed close to Tony but his breathing was calming down already and he moved his head slightly, burrowing it further into Tony’s neck. “Don’t leave?” he wobbly asked and Tony resumed his stroking.

“Of course not,” he answered. “Are you back with me now?”

“Not sure,” Steve admitted and Tony nodded.

“That’s fine. You’re in the tower, Steve. You know, Avenger’s tower. And your team is right here with you. Natasha and Clint are probably asleep by now, Bruce went straight to his lab when we came back and I’m not sure Thor actually sleeps, but they are all right here.”

Steve didn’t acknowledge that but Tony kept talking, just like Steve had done for him earlier this day. “We had this stupid mission, following one of Hydra’s generals into a snowy mountain and that wasn’t our brightest idea, I can tell you that. We got lost for a bit in a storm but our team found us. Do you remember that? They came to get us before we even got really cold, that’s how worried they were.”

Steve huffed a little laugh into his neck and Tony allowed himself a small smile. “That’s right. They are lost without their Captain. I bet they went out searching again when the storm was still going.” Steve tensed again and Tony realized that that might have not been the best thing to say so he quickly went on. “And they brought us tea and blankets to get us warm again and you know what I’m thinking? I think we deserve a holiday in a very tropical state just to forget this whole stupid thing. What do you think? Bahamas? Tahiti?”

“Can’t leave the team,” Steve mumbled into his neck and Tony carefully shrugged.

“We can take them with us. They deserve a holiday as well. You think we can get Bruce to relax?”

Steve didn’t answer for a long time before he finally said “Natasha doesn’t like to wear bikinis.”

Tony was surprised at that but quickly recovered. “Do I even wanna know how you know that? Doesn’t matter. She can wear a bathing suit or stay in her clothes and not swim. As long as we’re warm, I don’t care what she does.”

Steve had relaxed against him again but he still had a hand pressed to his heart. “As long as you’re there, I don’t care what we do,” he whispered, barely audible enough for Tony to hear, and Tony’s heart stuttered in his chest. Steve seemed to notice because he pressed his fingertips into Tony’s chest but he didn’t comment on it.

“I will be right there next to you,” Tony eventually managed, proud that his voice didn’t break on all the feelings that were caught in his throat.

“Good,” was Steve’s reply before both of them fell silent again.

Steve had stopped shivering but he made no motion to move away from Tony. Instead he changed his hands on Tony’s heart so that he could sneak the other around his waist and pull him closer to Steve. Tony went willingly, wondering just how much of this was still for comfort and how much was because of other things, but he quickly chased that thought away. It would be unfair to interpret something other than comfort into this.

“Stay?” Steve asked him after a while where they just laid silently.

“Of course,” Tony immediately replied and wriggled a bit around to tangle his legs with Steve. He slightly jumped at the cold feet that met his calves but they quickly warmed to his touch. Tony moved one hand into Steve’s hair and the other kept stroking his back and it didn’t take long at all before Steve’s breath evened out and he fell asleep. Tony managed to stay awake for a little while longer, checking if Steve’s sleep was peaceful but eventually he fell asleep as well.

~*~

He was too warm. No one should ever be this warm. He would probably get a heatstroke if he stayed like this for one more second but when Tony tried to move away from the heater plastered to his side, he was grabbed tight. Tony opened one eye, trying to find out why he wasn’t able to move away from the source of the heat and he was met with a fully awake Steve. The events of last night came rushing back to him and he remembered that he had stayed with Steve this night to help him through his panic attack.

That didn’t explain why Steve wouldn’t let him go now but Tony tried to steal as many moments of this he could get before he had to go back to his own room, leave Steve behind and no doubt never talk about this ever again. He really didn’t want that but he wasn’t about to push Steve into something he didn’t want.

“You’re warm now. Maybe you should let me go?” Tony asked, voice rough from sleep and Steve just tightened his arms in answer.

“You said you would stay,” he replied and Tony briefly closed his eyes. This seemed like it would hurt a lot more than he would have thought.

“I did, didn’t I? I stayed the night. But you’re not having a flashback anymore and so there’s no real reason for me to stick around now,” Tony finally said. Steve frowned and slightly pulled away from him and Tony was already missing the warmth that had engulfed him. Steve seemed to struggle with some decision but when his frown turned into a determined glare, Tony suddenly realized that no matter what came out of that mouth now he would have to listen because there was actually no way he could wriggle out of Steve’s embrace even if he wanted to.

“What if there still is a reason?” Steve demanded to know and Tony slightly shook his head.

“But you are fine and I am fine and cuddling to share warmth is no longer required,” Tony immediately replied, trying again to no avail to move out of Steve’s arms.

“What if I want there to be a reason?” Steve went on, seemingly undisturbed by Tony’s attempts to get away. At those words Tony actually stilled but he didn’t quite allow himself to believe all the things his mind threw at him. They were too close to hope and he knew he wouldn’t be able to handle the disappointment that would undoubtedly come.

“And…what would that reason be?” he haltingly asked and Steve smiled at him.

“I want you here,” Steve answered simply and Tony wasn’t sure he heard that right over the ringing in his ears.

“I asked you to stay, didn’t I?” Steve went on when there was no reaction from Tony. He still needed a few seconds before he could understand that but then his mind went into overdrive.

“Yeah, but that was because you were cold and the flashback and not because you actually want me to stay, I mean, that would be ridiculous, right, it was just for calming you down, there was no more behind it, why would you want me to stay, not that I didn’t want to stay, but you wouldn’t”

He was cut off short when Steve leaned in to gently brush his lips against Tony’s. There was a small smile playing around his lips when he pulled back and Tony couldn’t do anything else but stare at him. “Is that reason enough?” he asked Tony who finally, finally, regained some sense and pulled Steve’s head back in.

This time he actually managed to respond to the kiss and he felt a bit lightheaded when they parted again. “That’s a good reason, perfect even, no arguing that,” he rasped and Steve laughed at him.

“I thought I could convince you,” he replied and then tucked his head back into Tony’s neck, brushing his lips over Tony’s pulse.

Tony slid one of his hands into his hair again and he was aware that it resembled their position from last night but now there was so much more to it. Tony’s heart was beating heavily in his chest and Steve seemed to feel it because he brought one of his hands up again to press it back against Tony’s chest.

“You like that, don’t you?” Tony asked fondly and Steve kissed his pulse point again before he answered.

“It means you’re here and safe and still alive. I’m a fan of that.” Tony couldn’t help the no doubt sappy smile that spread out on his face and he stroke his hand through Steve’s hair.

“It also means you are here and not frozen or drowning and I’m a fan of that,” he murmured into Steve’s hair.

“So we’re both each other’s biggest fans,” Steve replied and Tony could hear the happiness in his voice. He quickly squeezed Steve before he closed his eyes again, enjoying the embrace for what it was.

He was dozing off again when Steve sleepily said “You know, I wouldn’t mind that vacation you talked of. But maybe we could steal away from the team every now and then.”

Tony laughed out loud at that and he didn’t fight the fuzzy feeling in his chest.