It had been Clint's idea and Steve had easily agreed that after weeks of nothing but hunting Hydra across the globe the team needed a break. Getting away from it all for a while seemed like a very good idea. Journalists had started camping out in front of Stark Tower; Maria Hill was setting up a constant stream of press conferences that Tony and Pepper then took charge of. And between all of it, they were all of them running themselves ragged in the field. Now it was just time to get a bit of rest and maybe get to know the people on your team a little better.
Steve had fought in a war. He knew about these things. He was in a war against Hydra now, although the circumstances were very different. The people around you were the ones keeping you alive when it counted. And people had their limits, even if he didn't like to admit his own sometimes. He just knew he did not want to be the one who led this team of exceptional people into disaster, because he'd failed to recognize when it was time to take some time off. So perhaps it was time.
“I could use a day or two without the scrutiny,” Natasha said lightly, lounging in an armchair, still dressed smartly from the latest press conference in a two piece with a white shirt. “That gets tedious very fast.”
“There is this cabin up in Alaska,” Clint proposed and threw a long meaningful look in Natasha's direction. “We could have a nice little winter vacation and be back again in time to give Hydra a little New Year's fire work they won't forget.”
Steve shrugged. He couldn't remember ever having had any kind of vacation. Before the war he'd not exactly had the means for traveling around the country, and since then he traveled from war zone to crisis, because the down time was usually when the dark thoughts came. Now he wasn't sure Alaska would be his first choice for his first real vacation either, but he agreed they all needed this break and he really wanted to spend time with the team. And not just because he was a sad old men who didn't know anyone outside of work. “Is it quiet?”
“Nothing around for miles.”
“One of our off the grid safe houses. Not even Fury knows about it.”
“Then it's probably not big enough for all of us,” Steve said and considered the option. The idea was appealing enough that he would consider it even if all of them had to sleep on the floor, but he doubted the rest of the team would see it that way.
“Oh, don't be fooled,” Natasha said softly. “It's got room. And we should make sure anybody else even wants to come along, before we start fretting about that.”
She was right, of course. Bruce declined the invitation with a slightly panicked expression before he had even finished his explanation, when Steve suggested it over the meeting table. “Last time I lived in a cabin in the middle of nowhere I was on the run and I was very much alone and nobody else could get hurt. I don't think that's a good idea. The other guy does not exactly associate being stuck in a space like that with safety.”
Tony, wearing an obviously tailored gray suit and looking good, had just slipped into the chair beside him. He was running late and now pretending that nobody had noticed that he'd slipped in last, carrying a bright red Iron Man coffee he was now taking a sip from. “You've been living with us at the tower for months and you've not had a problem.”
“Yeah,” Bruce said and he looked at Tony then and smiled a bit: “Because I can be alone when I need to. You know how it is.”
“Do I?” Tony took another sip from his coffee and nodded. “Perhaps I do. But do you really want to miss out on team building experience with Captain America and friends?”
Tony's voice wasn't particularly mocking, and he threw Steve one of those challenging half-smiles that usually meant he was winding up a friends, before he took another sip of his hot coffee.
Steve grinned and then corrected in his best commanding voice: “Avengers team building experience, please. You're the boss around here.”
“Around here I'm Tony Stark, the person who pays for everything. I'm not the boss of anything. If you haven't noticed even the company that has my name on it is run by Pepper. Because I asked her to. I hate running things. Do you really think I want to run this bunch of heroic chaos? I don't think so, Cap. You're the boss.” He grinned winningly at Thor who was standing at the other side of the table with his arms folded in front of his chest, waiting for something, as if he wanted him to agree.
“Ah,” Steve said and nodded, only half bothering to hide his own grin. “I'll gladly remind you of these words when you tell me to shove it in the field.”
“Don't bother,” Tony said and let himself fall back into the chair. “Never works anyway.”
Natasha was the one to chuckle at this. “So you're coming?” Apparently she was surprised that Tony had agreed to this so easily.
Only then did it occur to him that he had expected Tony to be the one to nod out of a retreat in the middle of nowhere with them. To his credit, Tony didn't look the least bit surprised or ruffled at the question and just shrugged. “Sounds a bit too idyllic for me, but Avengers team building experience. What could possibly go wrong?”
* * *
In the end Thor had stayed behind with Bruce, who insisted that the green guy was doing much better in the living quarters in New York than in a cabin where Clint and Tony where going to annoy the crap out of each other while the rest of them allowed it to happen. Thor simply insisted that someone needed to be around in case the Avengers were needed.
Steve had had no objections. It was reasonable that at least someone would be reliably on call in case Hydra decided to surface.
Instead Steve had invited Sam, who he knew had been no less busy following up the few leads they had on Bucky, to come along and rest with them for a while. To his surprise Tony didn't turn up alone either, as Maria Hill strode into the cabin on his heels as he joined the rest of them.
“Looks nice,” Tony commented and sat down beside Steve at the simple, slightly quaint table in the small kitchen. “There's enough snow for skiing. Ever skied?”
“In fact I learned how to ski in France.” It had been a necessity at the time, not something to enjoy. He wasn't sure he was ready yet to find something to do out in snow and ice and the cold of winter. But then perhaps it was time. “Want to race?”
“Does everything have to be a competition with you?” Tony complained goodnaturedly, but followed him as he stood up to go out and survey the area outside.
The words I'm glad you came were on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed them down before he could voice them. They'd become good friends and he was thankful for that. He couldn't help it that he was also feeling attracted in a way that he had only felt a handful of times. And the cold of winter out here painfully reminded him of how his last romance had ended. Perhaps he wasn't ready for that. Perhaps it was too soon. Or perhaps he didn't want to ruin a good thing.
He wasn't going to be buried in ice again, of course, but with the lives all the Avengers were leading he wasn't sure he wanted romance to complicate things. And surely Tony was acting cocky and friendly and annoying with all of them, not just with Steve, secretly caring for all his friends and not making a big deal of the things he was doing for them.
But Steve had noticed and he was sure Natasha and Bruce were also both perceptive enough to know how much time Tony spent on making sure they had the right body armor, the best equipment – and the right food in the kitchen. In the beginning he had not imagined that Tony Stark would turn out to be someone who was all about the little details. But he had learned to look through the mask and see the small gestures that meant Tony cared. It was charming and quirky enough to be heartfelt and real.
And now that they were friends and working together so well, Steve was reluctant to even test the boundaries and figure out if Tony could ever even be interested in him.
He doubted it very much.
* * *
Tony way lying on his side, facing away from him, while Steve had stretched out on his back and was staring up at the ceiling, grinning a little. He wasn't feeling awkward. You shared much closer living quarters on the battle field and he had shared everything with Bucky once upon a time. He remembered of course that Tony had had no siblings, no brothers, growing up, and even if there had been, they would probably have had their own rooms.
“I'm fine,” he said into the darkness.
“Yeah, Cap, I know that. You're better than fine, even when someone just threw a helicopter at you. You always look unruffled and like the peak of human evolution.”
He laughed and that seemed to relax Tony a little, his posture seemed less strained and with a sigh he also rolled onto his back, their arms touching at the elbow for a second, before Tony folded his hands behind his head and also stared up at the ceiling as if there was something to see. Steve had expected to share a room with Sam, just because he had brought Sam along to this little team building adventure. Instead when he had entered the room Natasha had pointed out to him an hour ago, he'd found Tony, dressed in slacks and a t-shirt sitting on a big double bed, reading something on a tablet. “I think Clint thinks if we have to spend enough time together we'll provide him with bickering entertainment again.”
Steve had shrugged and grinned. “We bicker all the time anyway. It's fun.”
Tony had grinned back.
There had been no awkwardness there then, but for some reason Tony had become tense as soon as they'd switched off the lights.
“I warn you,” he told him now with a sigh. “I do steal the blankets.”
“I think I'll take my chances. I'm strong enough to make it a challenge for you.”
“Well, don't complain when you wake up and realize you're a Capsicle all over again. It's cold.”
Oh, he had noticed. For most of the day while they had kept busy it had not been a problem, and even talking and joking about it wasn't bothering him much. He'd spent enough time with Clint and Tony and all his new friends now that bantering about it had become a common occurrence. But he couldn't help the uneasiness at the cold. It didn't physically hurt or harm him, but he preferred warmth. He was sure it was all in his head.
“We have enough dry wood stored. Tomorrow lets make a nice warm fire in that cozy fireplace downstairs.”
“That sounds nice, Steve.”
He listened to Tony move around under the blanket, his breath loud in the silence of the room. The moonlight outside was reflected back by the white snow and the night seemed less dark for it. He stared at the dark, but not so dark sky for a while, before finally drifting off, curled up on his side and feeling comfortable and warm under the stack of blankets.
“Goodnight, Steve,” he heard Tony say to him before he fell asleep.
When he woke up the night was still the same snow lit darkness that seemed to shine at him in perfect and comfortable silence. But on the other side of the bed Tony, still asleep, seemed to be having a restless night. He moved around as if he was in the grips of a nightmare. Steve carefully turned over and tried to get a better look.
The handsome face was scrunched up, like Tony was fighting monsters in his sleep, and Steve wanted to reach out and stroke a hand across his sweaty brow. But at the last moment he stopped himself.
He remembered the awkwardness from before and could picture how well Tony would deal with the embarrassment of Steve waking him from a nightmare. Unsure of what to do or how to proceed he finally curled up on his side again and listened to Tony's erratic breathing. When it got worse and Tony started to toss and turn without any sign of waking, mumbling “no”, Steve closed his eyes and – as casually as possible turned from one side to the other, rolling closer to Tony in the process. Deliberately uncaring of where his arm fell, Steve stretched and tossed himself around. His arm landed very conveniently and with some force on Tony's upper arm.
The man gave a half swallowed yelp of surprise and jolted, tensing up even more as he came awake and out of whatever dark dream had a hold of him.
In the darkness, pretending to sleep, he listened to Tony's erratic breathing, the deep intake of breath and the slight rustling as he moved around. They were so close now and although he couldn't see it he could feel Tony watching him.
Tony carefully shoved his arm away and settled deeper into the blankets. Steve could feel his body heat close-by and the movement of the mattress as he settled into another position. The man sighed contently, but didn't fall asleep right away. His eyes were still on him, Steve could feel it, and he was surprisingly okay with being stared at while he pretended to be sleeping.
He had his own nightmares. Who wouldn't after all the things he had seen? He hated them, knew how uncomfortable they could be. Tony shouldn't have to deal with that, not when they were all here to relax and enjoy themselves together.
It was much better to be stared at in the dark. It was okay to be the last thing Tony saw before drifting off to sleep again.
He could very much live with that thought.
* * *
Steve looked over at the little clock on the night table. In Washington this would have been time for him to get up to get his morning run in and he'd kept with that habit when moving back to New York. He had planned to make himself useful around the cabin and keep his morning routine out here too, but Tony was warm and now sleeping peacefully and Steve knew he should break this up and just go, but couldn't remember when he'd last been this comfortable.
Just a few minutes, he told himself, before allowing his eyes to fall shut.
* * *
Natasha and Maria grinned at them over their cups of tea when both of them turned up for breakfast late.
“Getting old?” Clint asked with a bright grin. “Or did Tony keep you up all night talking science? Does he ever shut up? Does he talk in his sleep?”
They hadn't talked about nightmares or waking up tangled together. They had just gone back to snarky comments and friendly interaction like nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened there, but now Tony, for a split second, looked at him with a questioning frown, before that vanished and he turned to Clint: “He was just waiting for me to wake up, so he had someone for intelligent conversation over breakfast, Hawkeye.”
“Right,” Clint said, not insulted at all.
* * *
The man turned, jolting away from the touch as if he was scared.
“Tony?” he whispered and tried again. “It's me – Steve. You're okay.”
Suddenly the man came awake, brown eyes wide and far away before they recognized Steve. “Did I wake you?” Tony whispered and his face looked blank suddenly.
“No,” Steve said. “I'm sorry. I thought you looked uncomfortable. So I woke you.”
“Thanks,” the man said. “Happens.”
Steve pondered that for a moment. Tony Stark seemed like a man who enjoyed life when he could, who joked and bantered and enjoyed the finer points in life. He seemed happy and self-confident. Somehow nightmares had not been something Steve would have expected. But then what did he really know about his friend? Small cracks in the armor just made the man more real to him.
He nodded. “Happens. Too often.” Admitting his own little weaknesses was easier when you knew you'd just been witness to another person's vulnerability. “Not sure why I thought coming up here to ice and snow would make for a good vacation.”
“Don't like the cold?”
Steve shrugged. “It's fine most of the day. But I can't stand the cold at night.”
“We could go down and make a fire.”
It sounded like a wonderful idea, but it involved getting out of bed. “I'm warm now.”
“Fair point,” Tony said and seemed suddenly aware that they were close enough to touch. “It's easier to face the darkness when I'm not alone.”
Steve did not ask him to elaborate.
That morning they woke up again, pressed together, one of Steve's arms resting on Tony's hip.
* * *
“If I had known you came in so handy, I'd brought you the PlayStation I ruined last week,” Clint commented.
“Are you saying you saw me in the Iron Man and didn't realize that tech went in there?”
Clint shrugged. “Never looked at it and thought the man who had built that must enjoy repairing toasters.”
“I just like a challenge.”
By the time the windows showed nothing but white anymore they all became restless. There was no end to this in sight.
“That's not how I imagined the vacation to go,” Sam told him. “Blizzard out here is as fun as blizzard in New York.”
“You're okay right?” Tony asked Steve an hour later.
“Because we're snowed in and nobody has yet dared to say it out loud?” He grinned at Tony's slightly apologetic expression. “Yeah, I'm fine. As long as nobody makes me sleep outside in the ice, I think I'll remain that way. Don't ask me fly a plane today, though.”
Tony smiled, but it looked thin and nervous and when Steve looked at him more closely he recognized the lines on his face, the way the muscles in his jaw were working, the way his hands worked constantly, never still, always restless. “I didn't even bring a suit.”
“You won't need it. And you can call it whenever you do. It's just snow.”
Tony shook his head. “Signal broke off two hours ago. No way to reach New York through this wall of ice and snow.” He sounded annoyed, but the way his lips were quirking, Steve though he really was nervous.
“Want to help me cook?” he asked, because he thought any assurances were not going to go down well. This was the first time that he had noticed something of the haunted look of the vulnerable Tony he only knew from their nights in a shared bed on the face of the usually happy and unfazed daytime Tony.
“Why not?” Tony agreed easily. Apparently he needed something to do with himself, because Steve could not remember ever seeing him in the kitchen at the tower busy with actual food preparation.
* * *
“And then Romanoff shot the guy in the the face and Fury managed to take back controls,” Maria finished her story. “It was one of those days.”
“Happy days,” Clint said. “When you still thought you knew the SHIELD agent beside you was actually with SHIELD.”
“Not sure we would be better off being all of us blissfully unaware,” Maria pointed out and then grinned over at Steve, who was lying on the floor on a blanket playing cards with Sam and Natasha who had settled down beside him and was sitting cross-legged, leaning with the back against the armchair that Tony was occupying. The man was doing something on his tablet again and both Clint and Maria had wondered out loud how that thing could still have power after being in constant use since the power outage. “Stark tech,” Tony had answered cryptically and added: “We're working on better batteries, but nothing that's viable for the consumer grade tech yet.”
“Could that power my wings?” Sam had grinned widely, probably joking, but Tony had paused his work for a moment and stared at him as if he was thinking.
“What's powering your wings now?”
The following conversation about flight aggregates and the limitations of energy storage had gone somewhat over his head from then, but he'd smiled at Natasha who stole a card from Sam without him noticing, and gathered that Tony was very interested in getting a better look at the Falcon's wings. He'd been terribly quiet since they'd run out of things for him to repair or fiddle with in the darkness, but now he was making notes about everything Sam had to say. It eased some of the worry Steve had not even admitted he'd been feeling.
“Don't you want to join in?” he asked, when Natasha won the next round easily and with a slightly mocking grin, taking the chocolate bars they were using as betting money.
“No thanks, Steve,” Tony said and then threw a lopsided grin at Natasha. “You already have one shark at the table.”
It was comfortable. Everyone had a story to share and for a while it was easy to forget they were only sitting here, because the weather had forced them to.
“Not sure I'm glad Banner stayed in New York, or sad he isn't here,” Tony said. “I'm sure he has some awesome stories to tell.”
“He traveled far and wide,” Natasha agreed. “And Thor is probably older even than our resident dinosaur.”
“Ha, ha,” Steve enunciated, taking this round with a grin.
* * *
“Goodnight then, Sam. Let's hope things look better in the morning.” Steve wasn't looking forward to taking a freezing shower either, but if the water was still icy cold in the morning then he really wouldn't have any choice. He found Tony, half undressed in the bathroom, washing himself with a wet towel over the sink. “Hey,” he greeted from the doorway. “Not the luxury shower you're used to, huh?”
“Not the worst thing that ever happened to me, really. Try getting clean while living in a cave prison for three month.”
He knew about that and he never really forgot that kind of information, but it was surprising to hear Tony make jibes about it so easily. Were these the nightmares that were keeping him awake? He didn't dare ask. “On the great scale of things being snowed in is actually kind of peaceful, isn't it?”
Tony looked at him with something between incredulity and, well, perhaps it was fondness. “It makes me uneasy,” he admitted. “Anything could be going on out there and I can't even contact JARVIS. I'm going stir crazy here.”
“How did you survive in the cave?” he asked before he realized how that sounded.
But Tony shrugged, like this was the kind of bantery conversation they had everyday. “I wasn't alone and I wanted to pay them back.”
“And the desire to get my stuff out of their grubby little terrorist hands.”
It made sense. “So you had something driving you?”
Tony nodded as he stepped past him out of the dark bathroom and into their bedroom, scarcely lit with a candle. “And now it's just sitting and waiting. I'd deal better with being under attack.”
“Me too,” Steve admitted and laughed, as he sat down on the bed.
He watched as Tony walked over to him. “I mean it, Steve, I'm going stir crazy.”
“Go to bed,” he ordered. “I'll guard your sleep.”
“You're only saying that, because I'm warm and you're getting cold.”
He was not going to deny that. Because although he had no plans of risking this friendship by putting any moves on Tony, he wasn't going to pretend that he wasn't looking forward to having Tony wrapped around him again and feeling warm.
And Tony was not sitting down on the bed. He stopped in front of him looking down at him as if he was thinking something through. His hands were moving. He was making and then releasing a fist and his muscles tensed, before he looked away. Steve's hand was on his in an instant, reaching out, to give comfort, to take comfort, he couldn't be sure. Off guard, Tony turned to stare at him and just then their eyes met and it felt like an electric current springing from one to the other. It had been so long since anyone had looked at him without the awe and calculation and just this kind of want. The surprise that he felt at that got lost somewhere in pulling Tony closer and down for a kiss.
Tony froze, catching himself with a hand on his shoulder. For a second Steve thought he might be the one who miscalculated, but then Tony ended up sitting in his lap and the next moment he fell back on the bed with the weight of the other man on top of him, kissing him, taking his breath away. He hadn't been aware how much he had wanted this, or not been aware how much he had wanted to be touched. Tony was so warm and perfect against him and for a blissful moment he was just perfectly happy to let Tony sit there above him and kiss him.
But then Tony jerked up, and Steve's arms encircled his waist and pulled them both over. Both of them were too hot, too impatient and Steve saw no reason to hold back. Tony was pulling on his shirt and the muscle shirt he was wearing didn't leave much to the imagination. He slipped a hand underneath, stroking along the hard and well trained stomach he found there.
“God, Steve,” Tony breathed in his ear.
“Hell, don't you dare stop.” He pulled insistently at Steve's shoulder until their faces were close enough for their lips to touch again and this time it was soft, exploring, but still so damn hot. He lost all trace of thought, as Tony kissed him, his legs suddenly wrapped around his waist and his own arms braced on either side of Tony. Tony's hands were in his hair, pulling him down even closer, even as he broke the kiss and gasped, red in the face and breathing hard. But Steve followed the lead, moving his lips and tongue along Tony's throat, happy when that seemed to make Tony shiver even more.
He vaguely, very vaguely remembered that he'd had second thoughts about this, had been afraid to push and lose something.
Now he had no idea how to stop.
“I...,” Tony gasped. “Damn it, Steve, I'm not some desperate teenager I swear. I just... you're so hot.”
At this point there was no denying they were both very much interested.
“Tony,” he said and a sudden, surprised grunt escaped his throat, when Tony moved his hands up his sides and pushed their bodies together in a way, that made his now much too tight jeans feel even tighter. “Tony, please.”
He wasn't even sure what he was asking for.
Warmth or connection or love or simple release.
Perhaps it was all of it.
But in a tangle of hands on skin and legs between legs and searing hot kisses, he thought that coming to this place in the middle of nowhere, buried in the middle of ice and snow, was exactly where he wanted to be.
* * *
“You're warm,” Tony whispered, slowly relaxing.
“Seems we're both getting something out of this deal.”
After a moment of silence Tony started to laugh and it warmed Steve's heart to hear it.
* * *
They exchanged a look and then Tony nodded at Sam while Natasha went on smiling her knowing little smile and Steve, remembering who had set them up in a room mouthed “thank you” in her direction before following his friends to the fire place.
Only a few hours later the crack of thunder and a loud roar announced the end of their confinement.
Tony smiled at him: “Are we leaving now? This place has just grown on me.”
Steve grinned back. “I'm sure we can make you remember why you love New York so much.” He put the rest of his things in his duffel back and watched as Tony shrugged on a suit jacket.
“I'll hold you to that.” In contradiction to his words he was already half-way out of the room.
He very much hoped he would. Because he had plans to enjoy a wonderful hot shower the moment they were home. And he hoped he would not be doing it alone.