Tony was pretty used to crashing.
It seemed like these days more often than not his return to earth in the Iron Man suit was at least somewhat out of control. He couldn't count the number of times he'd used a helpfully situated building, a local landmark, or, hey, even a teammate to slow a wild descent. And he'd be damned if he'd admit it to Pepper, but on more than one occasion he hadn't even been conscious when he'd hit the ground.
So crashing wasn't really a new experience. He would get banged up a bit, maybe put a scratch in the suit somewhere, but bruised ribs healed and there was no better way to work off the post-battle high than smoothing dents out of his most prized possession.
He had a feeling crashing in the Quinjet, without his armour, was going to be a bit different.
As usual Tony Stark was right. The jet plowed into the side of the mountain, sending a plume of pulverized snow high up into the air. The force rattled Tony's teeth and whipped the breath of his chest. When the vehicle finally came to a sudden stop, he sucked hard against the tension in his lungs, desperate for air. Finally his muscles relaxed and he almost sobbed with the pleasure of oxygen returning to his body. He could still hear the rumble of snow settling around them, but, for now at least, the jet had stilled.
“Cap, you still with me?” He called out, his voice coming out more weak and breathless than he had hoped.
“I'm here.” Steve's voice came from the back of the jet. “You okay?”
“Think so.” Tony struggled briefly with his seatbelt, simultaneously thanking and cursing SHIELD's safety officers as a feeling of profound claustrophobia settled over him. Finally freed from the straps he staggered away from the pilot's seat and stumbled halfway across the jet before getting himself stable. Okay, so he might have been more affected by the crash than he thought.
Breathing calmly and gently he took careful stock of his status, ignoring the sounds of Rogers scrambling his own way towards the cockpit. Pounding headache, but doesn't feel like a concussion, a rib or two might be slightly bruised – breathing in too hard is a little painful, nothing broken, toes are fine, fingers are fine, holy hell that's going to be a giant bruise on his leg from when it whacked the console, torso is fine, no blood, got all his teeth.
Well, that could be worse.
Pulling his StarkPhone out of his pocket he whimpered when he saw a broad crack across the dark screen and a bit of exposed, sadly crunched electronics. Now that hurt.
Steve Rogers finally shoved his way through the bent door and appeared in the cockpit. He had a large cut across his brow, but it had stopped bleeding already, and his hair was sticking up wildly, but otherwise he looked fairly unscathed. “Injuries?”
“Nah, pretty banged up, but nothing serious. You?”
“I'll live,” He grumbled, looking around at the damage. “I guess we'd better take stock. I'll have a look through the supplies, you check out the jet, see if we can get her in the air again.”
“You want me to go hike around in minus forty poking around in the snow to tell you what I already know: we're screwed?” Tony glared and a parka hit him solidly in the face. “Oh, very mature.”
“Oh yeah, cause you really aced mature last week when you hid all my shoes,” Steve bit back.
“You would have found them sooner if you were more fun.”
“You know I'm not affected by alcohol. I don't drink, why would I be in your bar?”
“You could fix me one once in a while, especially when I'm up to my elbows fixing your kit.”
“I never asked you to touch my stuff, Stark.”
“Your one-eyed boss man recognizes a genius when he sees one though.”
Steve just sighed and turned away. Tony opened his mouth for one more jibe, but there was something about the tension in Steve's shoulders that had him grabbing the parka and picking through the mess.
Steve wandered off to dig through the supply cabinets and Tony just stood for a moment, looking around at the shredded ship in frustration. Finally, he pulled on the jacket and stepped out into the frigid air to do a systems check. Twenty minutes of poking and prodding later he swung back inside to find the captain.
“So, I don't think we're going to have much luck getting her back in the air, Cap.” He sighed, blowing feeling back into his chilled fingers.
Steve furrowed his brow and dropped the parachute he had been putting back in place. “Really? I thought you were a genius Stark, but you can't fix a jet you helped design?”
“Well,” Tony drawled sarcastically, “almost all the guidance and autopilot systems are shot, but I can fly without them. The hull is breached in a few places, but nothing too serious. A few hours in the engine and it'll probably get up to 30-40% percent efficiency which could just barely fly.”
“So? Why are you just standing here then?” Steve growled out, jaw clenched.
“Well, we're missing a wing.” There was a full beat of silence where he was pretty sure Steve was deciding whether or not to punch him. When instead the other man went with a joke, Tony nearly had to sit down he was so surprised.
“Hmm. Well, I've never studied aerodynamics, but I understand those are pretty important, huh?” Steve raised an eyebrow at him.
“We could push you off a cliff and see how you do without any.”
“When we run out of food I'm going to eat you without any remorse,” Steve deadpanned.
“Promises, promises,” Tony drawled with a leer. He started to say something inappropriate when he noticed the way Steve was holding himself was odd. He was moving the supplies with his off hand, holding his right still, down near his hip. “What's wrong?” He asked, suddenly serious.
Steve tracked his gaze and sighed. “It's broken, I'll have to reset it, and I'll need your help, but I wanted you to have a look at the plane first.”
“Gah, can't we just wrap it up until you can get a doctor to do it properly?”
“If I don't reset it now it'll start to heal wrong. As long as I get it back in the right spot I'll be healed up in a couple of days, maybe sore for a week.” Steve shrugged, like a broken wrist was nothing.
“You alright Stark? You look pale.”
Tony sat down heavily on a bench. “Hey, just cause I regularly stick my hand in my own chest cavity doesn't mean there aren't things I get to be squeamish about.”
Steve chuckled. “Yeah okay, sorry.” He looked pensive for a minute. “Chest cavity...Tony how far in does that thing go?”
Tony held up a hand and estimated.
“Geez,” Steve whistled, “I always thought it was kinda just on the outside. Fury showed me some files and stuff, but I didn't really understand...”
In the way only a manic genius can, Tony was instantly sucked into explaining the glory of the arc reactor. He described its development (hazy on the specifics of the environment it was first manufactured in), re-development and function. When he finally realized how long he had been babbling he looked over at Steve and all the words he had lined up just fell out of his head.
Steve was utterly enthralled.
He was leaning back against the wall of the jet, watching Tony with such interest, there was simply no way he was feigning to make the man feel better. His broken wrist hung limply at his side, forgotten, and his eyes were fixed solidly on the light in Tony's chest.
When he noticed Tony had trailed off in the middle of a sentence, he flicked those eyes up to his face instead. Tony could see him opening his mouth to ask a question, but he held up a finger, silencing him.
Steve just looked so honestly interested, Tony was helpless in his gaze. No one ever wanted to hear about it. Pepper was actually slightly repelled by the thought of Tony needing “24/7 life support”, everyone at SHIELD either got it already, didn't care, or didn't have clearance and Rhodey didn't like to let Tony toot his own horn too much. Even Bruce wasn't that into hearing about the arc reactor once he had understood the basics.
And what Tony didn't tell anyone was how madly, deeply in love he was with his own invention. It was a thing of engineering beauty and Tony wanted to shout it from the rooftops. The reactor was more than life support, more than a shiny light, or the power behind Iron Man: it was part of him. It was his book light at night and a solid edge he tapped his fingers on when he was nervous. It was his heart and his favorite thing in the whole world. And this was probably the longest conversation he'd had with Steve Rogers without either of them yelling or using the word “jerk”.
Tony slipped his hand under his shirt. Pressing the release he popped the reactor out of its casing and held it out to Steve. “Wanna look?”
Steve recoiled so hard and fast there was a thunk when his head hit the wall behind him. “Gah, Tony, put that back in! It's keeping you alive!”
Tony just chuckled. “It's okay. I take it out all the time. I've got a tiny two-hour battery backup and even if that dies too, I won't. At least not right away.” Steve moved forward, but still hesitated. “Seriously, Rogers, take it. You're like the only person who's ever wanted to who I'm pretty sure will give it back.” He was going for joking, but Steve gave him a pained look. Still, he reached out his good hand and gently cradled the arc reactor.
While Steve examined the machine with visible fascination, Tony sung, “don't go breaking my heart,” softly under his breath. Steve rolled his eyes at him before handing it back.
“It's amazing, Tony, really. Howard would have-” Steve cut off when he saw Tony's face cloud over. “Sorry. Sometimes I forget...”
Tony waved a stiff hand at him while he snapped the reactor back in place and watched its comforting light spring to life. “No worries. You guys were friends. I get it.”
“I don't know if friends is the right word...” Steve mumbled, almost more to himself. He turned back towards the pile of supplies and his stiffened movement caught Tony's eye.
“Fuck.” Steve started at Tony's harsh word and the engineer gestured pointedly at Steve's arm. “You got me all in the zone and I forgot about your wrist. We'd better get that bad boy set and wrapped so we can get our shit sorted and make a plan before it's too dark to do anything but freeze to death.”
Steve frowned, but crossed the small space to kneel in front of the bench Tony was perched on. “Okay,” he explained, “you're going to hold it here, and no matter how hard I pull, don't let go or give, okay?”
Tony gave him a pointed look. “Uhh, Cap? I can guarantee there's a hard you could pull where I would have no choice over whether to give or not. You're like 700 pounds of solid muscle and I had to ask Natasha to open a jar of pickles last week.”
Steve let a smile pull at the corner of his mouth which tickled Tony to no end. It was almost impossible to get the guy to relax and smile. Tony knew for a fact he was one of the top seven funniest people on earth, but Steve was rock solid whenever he cracked a joke.
He also couldn't lie, having the super-soldier kneeling in front of him was calling up some rather filthy shower thoughts Tony had been experiencing since he met the blonde for the first time, and he had to stay focused on other things if he didn't want a certain other part of his body to remember also. Who could blame him? The man was fucking gorgeous, plus there was something utterly delectable about the idea of getting such a pristine national icon all dirty.
He knew none of those fantasies ever had a hope of coming true – Steve Rogers was almost certainly an “after marriage” or at the least a “not until the third date” kinda guy and Tony had no plans for one date, let alone three.
Still, here they were, stuck in the middle of godforsaken nowhere, with a downed jet, no backup, and a broken Captain. Maybe he could make a play for “this could be our last night on earth”?
He forced the thoughts out of his head as Steve took his hand and positioned it on his wrist. “You sure you're okay with this, Stark? You look kind of awful...”
“I got it, Cap. First time for everything. Though it won't be the first time I throw up on someone's shoes. Come to think of it, not even first SHIELD agent I've thrown up on. First time on a nonagenarian though. I think.”
“Seriously. Do it.”
The noise and the feeling of Steve's wrist resetting was something Tony would never forget. Not that he wasn't going to give it a solid try with an entire bottle of whiskey and possibly some hazily-legal substances he'd cooked up in Bruce's chem lab, but that would have to wait until they got home and for now that shit was going to haunt him.
“Oh god, Jesus Christ, urgghh, that was the most disgusting thing on the planet. How do you even get broken bones? You're a superhero for crying out loud. Fuck.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut.
Steve grimaced a little as he tested his newly set wrist, but his eyes sparkled with mirth. “Are the security cameras still working in this thing? Cause I'd pay good money to see you make that face again.”
“Har har, China Doll. Want it getting out that all it takes is a measly plane crash to bring down Earth's Mightiest Leader?”
“Wow, was that Tony Stark admitting I'm the team's leader? I want that on tape too.”
Tony just sighed as his headache redoubled it's pounding. Suddenly their situation was a lot less funny, and a lot more unpleasant. Steve sensed the change in his mood and flipped into Captain mode, while he wrapped a bandage tightly around his wrist. “So if we can't fly, can we send a distress message to the team?”
“Hmm.” Tony did some quick calculations in his head. “Not with the parts we have here. Too many important parts of the comm system were obliterated. We still have nav, but my phone is beyond dead and I'm guessing you forgot yours. Again.”
Steve flushed a little, but ignored him. “So we can't tell anyone what happened.”
“Nope. Not from here anyway. If we got close enough to some kind of broadcaster I could rig something up...but yeah. They'll have no idea we went down. The EMP took everything out before we could send a distress signal or anything. They'll probably just think we went silent to stealth our way in, they likely won't even think anything is wrong until we miss two check-ins.”
“So 48 hours before they even start to worry...” Steve muttered, staring at nothing. “Wait, EMP?”
“Yeah, that's what brought us down. What did you think it was just my shitty driving?”
“Well, uh..” Steve shrugged.
“Gee thanks, Rogers,” Tony ground out. “I can keep a jet in the air, you know. Something hit us with an EMP, took out everything, we were already flying pretty low as it is, so yeah, hello enthusiastic mountain landing.”
And now the jet was down, they had no hope of rescue for at least the next two days and someone was out there firing around EMPs.
“Shit,” Tony breathed and Steve had to admit he had come to the same conclusion. Steve ran a tense hand through his hair and stared at the console, trying to formulate a plan that wouldn't end with one or both of them dead.
“What are our options?” He mused out loud.
“Hole up and wait for two days until the Avengers shift ass and come find us.”
“At least two days,” Steve reminded him.
“Okay, what's the other option?”
“Well, the distress signal that brought us here - “
“You mean the trap.”
“Yes, the false distress signal that brought us here. Well, it must be broadcasting from somewhere. Somewhere nearby. Somewhere with equipment. You said with the right stuff you could send a message...”
“You're saying you want to hike out into the snow so we can get lost on a godforsaken mountain and die of hypothermia trying to find a trap so we can potentially send a signal back home to the team?”
There was a pause.
“Yup, that sums it up.”
“Cap...” Tony started.
“Look. We don't have much in the way of supplies. You don't have your suit, I only have my shield. There isn't enough food or water here to last more than a couple of days. The jet is wrecked, if we stay in here without any power we won't be able to run the heater anyway. We have a tent and lots of cold weather clothing. We can layer you up and hike out. Before we crashed we were reading as only five miles away from the signal. We could do that easily in a day. I bet you could even rig something up that will help lead us to it.”
“I know you think flattery will get you everywhere, Cap, and it's certainly a factor, but.... well, I could definitely take apart the main rigging for the nav system and just remove the central console...hmm...it wouldn't filter anything, but we'd just want to go towards the nearest signal. I could take the -”
“Oh, yeah, right, I got distracted, sorry. No.”
“No, I don't think we should go for a stroll in the wilderness.”
“You said it yourself, this is a trap. They almost certainly saw the crash if they were waiting for us. They are on their way right now. Here.”
Tony squirmed a little, tapping his fingers against the reactor in frustration. “Who's to say they won't be at the signal point as well??”
“I'm sure they will be, but at least then we have a chance of getting a message to the rest of the team!” Steve's voice was rising out of “Team Captain Mode” and verging into “Tony Stark, You Go To Your Room Right Now” territory, but he couldn't reel it back. Tony could be so aggravating.
“At least here we have the jet as protection from the elements,” Tony insisted.
“It's a tin can with the lid peeled off, Stark. It won't be that helpful. We're safest if we move out.”
There was a long tense silence then Tony tossed his hands up in frustration. “Fine. If only because if we are forced to spend two days locked in this metal box together, we will kill each other. Or at least, you will kill me, and I might manage to muss your hair a little or something.”
“Ok,” Steve said, exasperated. “Let's pack up.”
They packed up the tent, as much warm clothing and blankets as they could and enough food for a few days. Steve also put together a kit with a fire-starter, first aid and a wicked hunting knife while Tony sorted out the navigation set up. An hour later they were hiking out into the mountains, each with a backpack on.
Steve knew that “pissed” wasn't the best way to start off their trek, but with Tony in tow, did he really think it could go any other way? Tony was a button-pusher and Steve knew his own buttons were many and too easy to push. It was like leaving a two-year-old in a room full of large, red “Don't Push Me” signs. The other man just couldn't resist.
It wasn't like Steve didn't play a role in their constant bickering, he knew he did. Tony reminded him of Howard and Howard reminded him of everything he had lost. He couldn't look at Tony without feeling the weight of his grief redoubled.
And yet, at the same time, Tony was one of the few people that treated Steve like he wasn't a poor lost puppy to be pitied and tucked in at night. Tony didn't say “sorry” after every 21st-century reference or assume he didn't know how to use a computer like everyone else did.
And so Steve was conflicted.
Day one didn't go too well. Tony spent most of the time complaining and Steve spent most of the time trying not to push him down the mountain. On top of Tony's ceaseless talking, he also couldn't walk nearly as fast as Steve and after an hour or two Steve was starting to get increasingly frustrated with checking his own speed.
Plus there was that whole thing with the damn goat.
It had already been past noon when they had crashed and the sun set early in winter this far north so it wasn't long before dark started pressing in. Steve suggested they set up camp and Tony just dropped his backpack and tipped backwards in the snow with a groan. “Starks are not built for hiking,” he said.
Steve just chuckled. “They're built for flying, right?”
“Yes, they are,” Tony huffed.
“Well, you shouldn't have left the suit behind.”
Tony sat up angrily. “You are the one who said and I quote: 'Don't bring the armour Tony. It's a peace conference, Tony. You'll scare everyone, Tony. Besides what could go wrong in the middle of nowhere.'” Tony glared pointedly at him.
“Ok, I might have said something along those lines,” Steve admitted, “but I honestly didn't think you'd listen to me.”
“Well I certainly never will again,” He huffed, but he hauled himself out of the snow and helped Steve set up the tent and gather wood for a fire.
Tony wrapped both blankets more firmly around his shoulders, parting his legs slightly to make a lovely tunnel of warm air that wafted up from the fire and under the blankets. The sun had gone down completely and after they had finished eating power bars and weird SHIELD emergency rations they both sat in silence watching the fire crackle.
Tony tried to ignore the slight shaking of the log they were sharing, but after twenty minutes he couldn't take it anymore.
“Oh for god's sake. Don't be an idiot. Take a freakin' blanket, Steve.”
Steve frowned in his direction and shifted a little on the log.
“Sorry.” He clapped a hand to his knee as if it could stop the shaking. “Thanks, but it won't help.”
“Don't be sorry. Be... warmer.”
Steve sighed and rubbed his fingers together. “I'm not cold. After the serum I'm not really that affected by the cold. I can't get hypothermia or frostbite or anything. I'll be fine.”
Tony waited, uncharacteristically quiet. There was something still unsaid hanging in the air and he hoped if he stayed quiet it would slip out. After a long moment he got his reward, but it wasn't what he expected.
“I remember it,” Steve sighed.
Tony struggled to keep his expression under control when he realized what Steve was talking about.
“Really? The whole - ?” He cut off, not sure how to ask it.
“No, not the whole time.” Steve was staring very intently at the fire now, avoiding Tony's gaze. “They say I slipped into a coma eventually, but it felt like it took days. I remember freezing to death. So, yeah, I have some issues with the cold. I'll adjust, it'll be fine.” And then, “sorry,” almost as an afterthought, spoken quietly and more to the fire than anything else.
“I can't swim anymore,” Tony found himself saying. Steve finally turned to look at him, confused. “In Afghanistan they, uh, drowned me, to try and get me to make weapons for them. I had this car battery hooked up to my chest – the original chest piece wasn't as flash, or as waterproof as this one. I still kinda freak out if I'm submerged in water. It took me three weeks just to face my shower when I got back. So yeah, I know that's not really the same thing, but I guess, I, uh, get it...” Tony trailed off feeling awkward, but Steve was giving him a quiet smile when he flicked his eyes towards him and his embarrassment evaporated.
Silence fell and they watched the fire burn lower and lower until they seemed to reach a silent mutual agreement that it was time to go to bed. Steve covered the fire pit with a pile of snow while Tony added the fire-warmed blankets to the sleeping bags in the tent.
They each pulled off their boots and crawled in, trying to combat the discomfort of sharing a space, by ignoring each other, but lying there in the dark, despite the long day behind them neither found he could sleep.
“Sooo, who do you like?” Tony drawled in a kids-at-a-sleepover voice.
“Nevermind.” Tony sighed. “It was a joke.”
“You have a strange sense of humor.” Steve informed him, but he sounded more amused than aggravated.
“Yeah, I get it from JARVIS.”
“Didn't you build JARVIS? Wouldn't he get it from you?”
There was a pause where Tony said nothing.
“Oh,” Steve said suddenly, “that was also a joke.”
“Nailed it, Cap.” Tony smiled in the dark.
“Tony?” Steve asked, but then fell silent.
“Nevermind.” The blankets rustled as Steve shifted position.
“C'mon, Cap. If you can't ask me embarrassing personal questions now, when can you?”
“I was just. I was curious.” Another rustle. “Is it scary? Relying on a piece of equipment?”
Tony thought for a moment. “Yes. And no. I mean isn't it scary relying on an organ? Hearts fail all the time, lungs puncture, brains make mistakes. I worry about all the things that can go wrong, I guess. And yeah, I get paranoid sometimes, that it'll break, but for the most part it's not that different from before. At least with the reactor I can build backups and failsafes. Honestly, with the amount I drink, I'm going to kick it of liver failure long before either my heart or the reactor fails.” He chuckled.
“Tony.” Steve chastised gently.
“Someone stole it once. Someone I thought I could trust. I mean, you've read my files, you probably already knew that, but yeah. I didn't used to have as many failsafes as I do now, so I guess it must be scary. I have two backup reactors back at my place. They're not quite as strong or as efficient as the main one, but they do the job.”
“I think it's amazing,” Steve breathed sleepily and Tony smiled again.
They were quiet again for a long time. Tony squirmed in his sleeping bag, trying to work up the courage to ask his question. Finally he spoke up. “Steve? Is it weird? Working with me 20 years after my father died, but to you, it's only been a year since you saw him last?”
But Steve was asleep.
Tony was a little more tolerable on the second day. He woke up and grumbled about coffee for a while, but once they got going, he was pretty quiet. Whether from being less pissed, or from being too exhausted, Steve didn't know.
After accidentally leaving him behind a few times the day before, Steve made Tony walk ahead so he could set the pace. Now that they were getting closer Tony had to adjust course more and more often to keep them facing the signal origin.
It had only been five miles away as the crow flies, but they were quickly realizing that with this terrain it would be at least three times that on foot. It didn't help that the nav system was designed to work on the jet and it didn't function well under tree cover. Several times they walked for an hour in one direction only to come to a clearing, get a signal and realize they had drifted off course.
Staring at his teammate's back for hours on end, Steve's mind couldn't help but wander in his direction. His feelings towards the other man were even more confused after being stuck with him the last few days, first at the conference, and then on this little detour on the way home.
He'd always felt quite protective towards Tony though he tried to mask it as much as possible – Tony hated being fawned over. Of all of them the engineer was the most vulnerable. He managed to combine being the squishiest Avenger (out of his suit) with being the most famous and therefore most likely to be a target. It was like he had a “kick me” sign on his back and so Steve felt the need to watch it more than the others on his team.
Of course, it was also such a nice back...
He couldn't deny that more and more he was noticing how attractive Tony was. It wasn't the first time Steve had been attracted to another man, but did it really have to be Tony Stark? Stark who bitched him out every chance he got, who called him Capsicle and any number of other embarrassing nicknames. Stark who never, ever, ever listened to orders in the field.
Steve watched him grumble at the nav, giving it a shake and a few choice swear words, and smiled.
Yup, it was Stark.
Tony held the GPS box up towards the sky. “I can see the satellite, you idiot, don't tell me no signal!” After glaring at it for a moment, “finally,” he huffed and set off again, Steve lagging behind.
Over the next few hours Tony started to feel the effects of their grueling pace. The night before they had hiked into the dark trying to find a safe place to set up the tent, for the last two hours the trail had turned violently upwards until they were scrambling on rocks and picking their way across cliff edges, plus that whole thing with the angry goat yesterday had left Tony feeling on edge.
Mr. “I'm only 25 despite being 95 and I like to workout 23.75 hours out of the day” was still marching along without trouble, but he must have noticed Tony flagging because he called out for a break earlier than usual.
They dumped their stuff and collapsed in the snow, Tony closing his eyes and trying to relax. When he opened them Steve was gone.
“Cap?” He called out.
“Over here,” his voice came out from behind a copse of trees to Tony's left. “I heard something..I think...yeah! Water!”
Tony hauled himself to his feet and followed Steve's path into the trees. There was a dip in the ground where a rocky pool had formed, the water crystal clear and glittering. Steve dipped a hand in and recoiled. “It's hot.”
“Hey! You found a hot spring,” Tony explained, dipping his own hand into the bathwater-temperature water.
Intrigued, Steve dipped his hand in again and slowly a look of intense longing bloomed on his face.
“Well, go on then, you know you want to,” Tony said.
“Get in, have a splash, warm up. If you sit there yearning any longer, you'll end up just tipping in anyway.”
“We shouldn't waste time.”
“Screw should. We're going to die anyway. Cross one off the bucket list.”
Steve looked at him for a long time, then shrugged and started pulling off his clothes, looking at the spring eagerly.
Tony subtly turned his back on Steve while he stripped, turning to his backpack for a power bar. A slight splash and he turned back to see Steve sliding into the warm water. The expression of pleasure on his face was one Tony found himself wishing he could be the cause of. But that way lay horribleness so Tony kept his eyes firmly above the water line and sent a stern message to his southern states to keep their damn thoughts to themselves for once.
The call of the heat was too much to resist and after a few moments of watching Steve steam happily in the deep end, Tony slipped off his snowpants and wadded them up on one of the edge rocks as a seat cushion. He removed his boots and socks, rolled his jeans up to the knee and dipped his aching feet into the water.
It was heavenly.
After a long day and a half of hiking in boots that hadn't been broken in, with the bruises from the crash still fresh and making their presence known, there was nothing better. The heat started to chase the chill away and soon he was pleasantly tingly up to his knees. The satisfaction of having his feet warm started to make his head feel colder and colder and it wasn't long before he found himself hiking his jeans up even higher, pitching forward, chasing the warmth.
Watching Steve paddle around happily wasn't making it any easier to resist, and Tony's fear of water was duking it out wildly with the tip of his nose (whose only argument was "cold as fuck"). Finally his brain chimed in with "Steve won't let you drown." And Tony knew there was no hope. Standing up he quickly stripped off and slipped into the water before his bare skin got too chilled. If Steve was surprised he did nothing more than cock his head in Tony's direction and slightly change the path of his paddling to stay close by.
There wasn't much of a shallow spot here so Tony had to go in whole hog and while it was nice to feel the warmth all around him it wasn't long before the lapping of the water around his chest started to make his breathing quicken. Gripping the rocky edge until his knuckles were white, Tony stared at the waterline where it nipped at the bottom of his arc reactor casing, trying to get a confident footing on the rocky bottom.
"You're very waterproof, you're very waterproof," he repeated to himself, but his fear was trying to drown it out with shouts of, “GET OUT! GET OUT!”
“Nice, huh?” Steve spoke up suddenly, pulling Tony's attention away from the water.
“Hmm.” Tony shifted, nervously. “It's warm.”
Steve smiled – and Steve had this way of smiling when you were being silly that didn't make you feel like you were being laughed at, how did he do that? - and grabbed Tony's wrist, giving it a gentle tug.
“I think I'm good here,” Tony ground out through clenched teeth.
Steve didn't stop tugging. “Trust me.”
Tony looked up and saw the earnest look in Steve's eyes and couldn't resist. He just nodded and let go of the rock. Staying close to the edge Steve gently guided Tony around to the other side of the pool, taking his time and letting Tony get his footing with each step. Finally Tony saw where they were headed. A small rock slide along one side of the pool had cracked and dislodged the edge creating a shallower patch lined with small rocks. Tony hopped up onto the ledge and found it the perfect height to sit fully in the water without feeling unsafe.
“Thanks,” he mumbled, avoiding Steve's eyes, knowing he'd see his “I Just Earned a New Boy Scout Badge” expression and not sure if he'd find that more annoying or arousing. Really, actually, didn't want to know the answer to that one.
“You remind me of someone I used to know.” Steve tipped onto his back and floated, staring up at the sky.
“I know,” Tony said, his voice hard.
Steve glanced up at him. “Oh, sorry, no, I didn't mean Howard. You guys aren't really all that similar.”
“Oh.” Tony couldn't think of anything else to say to that.
“Sometimes you remind me of my friend, Bucky.” Steve sounded wistful.
“Bucky Barnes?” Tony asked. Of course everyone who knew anything about Captain America (and Tony knew everything) knew about Bucky Barnes.
“Yeah... he was stubborn as shit.” Steve laughed and Tony couldn't help smiling. Steve's accent always got way more Brooklyn when he talked about the past. “And he always had time for the ladies. More often than not he'd try to set me up on a double date and end up going off with both of them, though.”
“Yup, sounds like me,” Tony agreed, waggling his eyebrows.
“But he also never gave up. He always fought bitterly until the end. He taught me to stand up for myself, even though he would have stood up for me every time on his own. I don't think Bucky ever really saw me as Captain America. I was always that scrawny kid to him. He was willing to sacrifice everything to protect the little guy.”
Tony was silent, respecting Steve's need to speak. Steve went on to tell Tony stories of the war, of the Howling Commandos, even a little bit about Peggy – a topic upon which Steve was usually stonily quiet.
It was only when Tony's fingers started to prune that he realized how long they had been sitting in the spring. Reluctantly the two men pulled themselves out of the water and tried to dry off quickly and pull their clothes back on. Tony grimaced at the dampness and glanced over at Steve, who was making a similar expression.
“Shoulda brought towels,” Steve joked.
“Yeah, next time we visit the Middle of Nowhere Spa and Angry Goat Resort we'll bring towels and a wine and cheese buffet,” Tony quipped back. “I'm going to freeze my ass off now.”
“Not if we keep moving,” Steve said, chipper, setting back off through the trees.
Tony just groaned and followed the blonde head bobbing along through the snow.
The uncovered, very exposed-looking blonde head...
...and all this snow...
...he did say keep moving...
The first snowball hit Steve square in the back of the head and he spun around, ready to face an attacker only to see Tony laughing himself silly, a layer of snow still stuck to his glove. Tony instantly regretted taking the time to gloat when a tightly packed ball of snow whizzed artfully through the air and hit him square in the chest, sending a spray of slush up into his face. “Ok. It's on now, Rogers.”
Tony tossed aside his pack and dove for tree cover while Steve did the same on the other side of the clearing. Packing several snowballs in advance he crouched low and snuck along the treeline, hoping to come around onto Steve's left. When he dove out of the trees to attack, however, Steve had already advanced and popped up to Tony's right.
Tony let fly all three snowballs immediately, but Steve dove down into the snow and none met their mark. With the precision of a superhero who throws a shield for a living, Steve flicked his wrist and got Tony right in the face with a wet smack.
Tony staggered back, trying to steady himself so he could grab another handful, but Steve, putting that super-strength to good use, was already back on his feet and flying straight at him, an evil grin on his face. At the exact moment that Steve made contact with Tony's front, Tony's back made contact with a large evergreen tree.
Tony suddenly found himself the filling in a Steve/Tree sandwich, one of Steve's arms solidly braced across his chest, his other hand fisted in the collar of Tony's jacket, presumably to keep him from scurrying away. They were both startled by the sudden arrival of their tree friend, and for a second the two just sucked in a breath, re-calibrating to accommodate their sudden stop.
Then there was an unholy creak and the tree divested about three dump truck's worth of snow on top of them.
Okay, so it probably wasn't that much, but it sure as hell felt like at least one truck's worth was down the back of Tony's jacket. Steve was silent for a moment, the look on his face pure shock, and then his face split into a grin and he broke down laughing, shaking snow out of his hair.
It was contagious and before long Tony was chuckling too, the snow sliding down his back actually feeling nice on his now sweat-soaked skin. Steve hadn't moved his arm, keeping Tony trapped against the tree and when he slumped forward in his mirth, their faces were suddenly only inches apart.
The moment shifted and Tony watched as Steve's eyes slid down his face, following a droplet of water as it drew a line from his hair to his chin. Steve's eyes, however, got stuck at Tony's mouth and he heard the taller man's breath hitch ever so slightly.
The tension only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough for Tony to read the lust in Steve's eyes. It was very much a real possibility that Captain America wanted to fuck Tony as badly as Tony wanted to get fucked by Captain America.
Steve's eyes flicked away and he backed off, releasing his captor with a pat on the shoulder. “I think the tree won that one.” Steve joked, seeming unaffected by the brief increase in tension.
Tony was definitely not unaffected.
He wiped the sweat off his brow with a snow-covered glove. He seriously considered shoving a handful of the stuff down his pants as well to try and calm his dick which was suddenly enthusiastically pulling blood from the speech and coordination centres of his brain for use elsewhere.
Tony could pinpoint exactly where the blood was coming from because when Steve said “what's that?” and pointed in the sky, Tony, very articulately said “huh?” then tripped on nothing and fell face first in the snow.
“God, Tony, are you okay?” Steve hauled him back on his feet with one hand.
“I tripped,” he gasped out, the second most articulate thing he'd said in the past two minutes. Steve gave him a look that was probably worry, but came out more like “are you brain damaged?” in Tony's eyes.
He gave his head a shake. “I am fine. I tripped, but now I am fine,” he said, carefully, pushing Steve's hand away from his shoulder.
Steve gave him another look, but then pointed in the sky again. Tony followed his sight-line and saw he wasn't pointing in the sky, but up towards the top of a very tall tree. There was a little flash of light glittering against the snowy backdrop.
Tony swore for the fifteenth time at not having his suit with him. Trotting back over to his pack (without tripping at all, thank you very much) he pulled out the nav and studied the screen carefully. “That could definitely be it, Cap. Nav-y here thinks we're practically there.” Tony informed him. He was squinting at the glint, trying to figure out what it was when something bumped his chest. He looked down and saw Steve's hand, clutching a pair of binoculars.
Of course, the freakin' boy scout came prepared. Snatching them out of his hands perhaps more harshly than necessary he pressed them to his eyes and scouted out the situation.
“There a satellite dish up that tree, Cap. Yeah, I can make this work...” He techo-babbled for a few minutes, talking it out as he alternated between pulling equipment out of his his pack and staring at the equipment in the tree. Steve stayed carefully quiet, letting him work through it. The dampness under his clothes had fully cooled and Tony was starting to feel uncomfortably cold, hungry and ready to build up an epic grump if need be. He had to take off his gloves to work on the electronics and his fingers were bright red, chapped and numb.
“Okay, here it is, Cap. You can climb that tree, right?” Tony didn't even wait for an answer, plowing ahead. “I've modified this comm unit to be ready to broadcast as soon as it has a signal. It's broken though, so it has to be hardwired in. Take the case off the little box under the dish and there will be two wires that look like this. All you have to do is cut them here, and then use these caps to wire them together. This light will go on and then you know it's working.”
Tony shoved the equipment into Steve's hands and then turned to scan the cliff edge nearby. “I'm going up there and I'll use the nav to see if I can see the change in the broadcast signal to make sure it's working. We don't have a way to communicate so I'll just wave at you or something if it's good. Good? Okay, three-two-one break!” Tony started packing everything else back into his pack.
“Wait, Tony, are you suggesting we split up? I don't think that's such a good idea. We should still be expecting an ambush.”
“Seriously? We've been out here for days and haven't seen another living soul except for that fucking goat. I'm tired, I'm dirty and I'm pissed off. If we walk all the way to that tree, wait for you to climb it and set up the broadcast, and then climb down and walk all the way around to the clearing it will take forever. The jet nav doesn't work well in dense trees and I need clear sky to make sure everything is set up right. We could spend three hours going through all of that and then have it not work and have to hike back and do it all over again. Not a fucking chance.”
Steve shifted into Captain mode. “It's too dangerous, Stark. You seriously want to put your life in danger to save yourself some walking?”
“I want to go home,” Tony spelled out carefully. “Perhaps you haven't noticed this but I'm a spoiled, bratty, little rich kid. I miss my workshop and my bots and JARVIS and pizza and heat. I want my silver spoon back as soon as possible. I need about 72 hours with a bottle of bourbon, my workshop and no freakin' Avengers.
“Perhaps you disagree, Rogers, but this 'mission' has kinda gone tits up and I'm not really in the mood to be taking orders from oh Captain, my Captain. Climb the damn tree and I'll see ya on the Quinjet, Sweetheart.” Tony swung his pack up onto his back and marched off into the snow.
Steve turned towards the tree, jaw clenched, trying to ignore the irritation that was boiling up under his skin. That man was so infuriating! It was like he made it his entire mission in life to piss Steve off at every opportunity. If Steve had been his old small self he would have been chiding the billionaire into “taking it outside”, but now that he was bigger and stronger than, well, pretty much everyone, he had to be careful not to be the bully.
Righteous turns self-righteous all too easily.
It didn't help that half of Steve's fantasies of “taking it outside” with Tony ended with them both “taking it inside” instead which made it hard to stay angry.
The walk was not a pleasant one with Steve's mind supplying him with alternating images of punching Tony full in the face and pressing him bodily up against the inside of the elevator at Avengers Tower. Steve took to scrubbing a handful of snow across his face, letting the slight burn of ice clear his mind.
Steve reached the base of the tree and could clearly see the dish and equipment at the top. He decided to put all his frustrated energy into climbing and scaled the tree without breaking a sweat.
For a moment he just took in the amazing view from the top of the enormous spruce. The mountains towered up on one side and drifted down into fog on the other side. Pristine, white snow blanketed everything. He swung his leg over the branch below the dish and pulled the little pack of supplies out of the pocket in his parka.
Tony's instructions had been clear and simple enough, but he was still nervous about making a mistake and it took a while for him to hook everything up carefully. When he flicked the switch on the little box though, the little green light turned on and gave a little fist pump with pride. According to the engineering genius this was now broadcasting, not a fake distress signal, but a specific, coded message just for the Avengers.
They should be here in a matter of hours.
Steve shifted around on his branch to try and see if he could spot Tony. His eyes scanned the treeline and finally he caught a glimpse of a parka. Tony was standing near the cliff edge, fiddling with more equipment, likely testing to see if the message was broadcasting properly.
He could see Tony give a little “yes” when the message came through and he saw the other man look up and start searching the treeline for Steve. Steve smiled at their similar reactions, but his heart sunk when a figure stepped out from behind a tree and Tony spun around.
Tony's hands went up in the air, the equipment falling to the snow. The other man came into view and Steve's breath caught when he saw the gun in his hand.
Steve watched helplessly as the two argued, frustrated that he was too far away to hear what they were saying. His first reaction was to immediately climb down and make his way to Tony, but there was no way he could get up there in time to be any help.
But maybe he could help from here...
Steve pulled his shield off his back. He could throw it that far easily, and with great accuracy, but Tony was standing between him and the attacker.
Tipping his shield he saw it catch the bright sunlight and after a little testing he was able to flash the light onto the trees behind the man with the gun. Hopefully Tony would be able to see it. Hopefully only Tony would be able to see it.
There was a tense moment when the two men were clearly talking, but Tony showed no signs of acknowledging Steve's message.
And then there was a slight change in Tony. His shoulders tensed and Steve flickered the light a little faster. Tony took a step backwards and looked behind him as if making sure he wasn't going to fall, but Steve saw his eyes flick up to the tree line.
The change in Tony now that he had a plan was amazing and complete. His hands came out in front of him and he gesticulated wildly as he talked.
And as he talked, he moved.
Slowly but surely he shifted away from the cliff-edge and towards the inner line of trees. The man with the gun waved it threateningly, but shifted too, keeping Tony in his line of sight, which meant putting his back clearly in Steve's.
As soon as Tony was clear Steve steadied himself on the branch and threw the shield with all his strength, the twinge from his broken wrist hardly registering.
It flew true and slammed into the back of the attacker's legs. There was a bang as the gun discharged and the man went down into the snow like a sack of potatoes, the smoking gun flicking away off the cliff. The shield bounced hard and embedded itself in a tree ten feet away. Steve held his breath – Tony had disappeared.
There was a moment when Steve swore his heart didn't beat, but then Tony popped up in front of a tree nearby, his arms coming down from where they had been held over his head, looking tentatively over at the prone figure.
Steve saw Tony slump against the tree in relief as the unknown man writhed in the snow, gripping his legs. Tony's eyes flicked up to the tree and Steve caught the glimpse of a smile before a hand snaked around the tree, grabbed his jacket and Tony was suddenly ripped out of sight.
“Tony!” He yelled, already starting the slide back down the tree, but Tony was gone and too far away to hear him anyway. As soon as his feet hit the ground he was off and running.
Despite his super-strength Steve's breath was ragged and harsh in his throat as he scrambled up the cliffside. The path made by Tony's footsteps led him up to a crest in the hill where a huge evergreen tree grew twisting out of the rock. Tripping up against the tree Steve cast his eyes around desperately searching for the answer to Tony's whereabouts. But it was too confused. The snow was packed down and mussed, footsteps everywhere. There was a small pool of blood staining the snow which had Steve's heart catching in his chest as he prayed to anyone listening that it wasn't Tony's.
After pulling his shield out of the tree and a few moments of desperate wandering around, Steve cast back to his army training and tried to calm himself down a little. He went back to Tony's last known location – the tree – and began a careful spiral outwards, searching the ground for any sign of the other man.
So intent was his search that he didn't notice the tree branch hanging down until it poked him right in the eye. Staggering backwards in pain and surprise the usually agile super-soldier found himself tipping backwards as his foot caught deep in the snow. Expecting the soft landing of a snow drift he instead felt the sudden jarring of a hard surface beneath him. Rolling over and scraping the snow aside he realized he was kneeling on a large rock. The snow had been falling steadily over the last few hours, covering most clues, but the more he looked the more he saw how disturbed the area was.
Running his fingers around the edge of the rock he could feel the groove in the dirt underneath that suggested it was moved frequently. It wasn't heavy and came up easily once he got his fingers under the well-worn edge.
A large hole was revealed underneath and as soon as the stone settled in the snow Steve's super-powered hearing caught a tiny whisper of pained breath from below.
“Tony!” he called throwing himself into the hole. “Tony!”
There was no answer but the cave wasn't large and after wriggling his way through the entrance he saw the crumpled form of his teammate, crowded against the far wall.
Falling to his knees next to Tony he repeated his name over and over as he gently flipped him over. He was breathing, his pulse was steady, his face was bloody, but all superficial. His skin was pale and his lips were blue. He looked beaten and cold, but alive. But none of that mattered.
The arc reactor was gone.
Tony's parka and shirt were ripped open revealing a bare patch of chest and the empty, gaping hole where his electronic heart used to be.
“Tony?” Steve whispered, gripping the man's collar and bringing his face close to his own. “Please wake up. I don't know how to fix this.” But Tony didn't wake.
“Shit.” Steve lay him down gently, pulling his coat closed again over his chest to keep him warm. Methodically going through his army first aid training he checked Tony over completely. No frostbite, no excessive bleeding – he patched a few wounds that were threatening-looking – airway is unobstructed...
When Steve ran his fingers carefully over Tony's scalp he found a huge, angry welt forming on the back of his head. At least that explained why he was unconscious.
Forcing himself to take a breath and calm down, Steve rocked back on his heels and thought back over everything Tony had taught him and showed him to do with the arc reactor.
It powered the magnet that kept him alive.
He needed it to live.
But there was a battery that kept the magnet going if the reactor was taken out.
"I take it out all the time,” he had said. It didn't used to have a backup, but then Stane tried to steal it. Now it's safer.
“I get paranoid sometimes, that it'll break.”
The battery lasted two hours and it had taken nearly an hour for Steve to hike up the mountain to reach him. That meant Tony only had an hour before he started to die. Steve felt the panic start to well up in him again and he helplessly tried to push it down.
Well there wasn't much he could do about the reactor but he sure as shit wasn't going to let Tony die of something else. He double checked all the wrappings he had done of Tony's injuries then made sure all his clothes and cold-weather layers were done up as warm as possible. Once he was carefully wrapped up Steve took off his own coat and gloves and layered them on over Tony's. Climbing back out of the hole he took off his belt and attached his shield to it, then hung it from a tree branch over the hole – a flag to any of the Avengers who might be out looking for them.
Back in the cave he sat down behind Tony and scooted up against the wall of the cave. Gently sliding Tony's limp body backwards he tucked him up against his chest and held him tight.
The minutes ticked by and Steve couldn't help counting them off, his heart drooping as he realized how close they were coming to the two-hour mark and still no sign of help.
“ I didn't used to have as many failsafes as I do now.”
“...failsafes...” a sudden thought had him scrambling up again and rifling through Tony's layers and layers of clothes. Finally getting down to his jeans' pocket his search was rewarded with a tiny metal case in Iron Man red and gold. Steve could have cried when he pulled it out and it contained two tiny batteries held still in grey foam.
“Oh god, Tony, please don't make me stick my hand in there,” Steve whispered as he unzipped Tony's coat and examined the arc reactor casing. It took a few minutes and more than a few tries for Steve to figure out what to do, but once he was confident he popped out the old battery and slid in the new one. Even in just the few seconds it took him to settle the new battery Tony's breath caught and his heart rate skyrocketed. Scrambling to connect the new one, Steve finally breathed a sigh of relief when it clicked into place and Tony calmed again.
Now they had two more hours.
And then two more.
Steve set his watch for one hour and fifty minutes, pulled Tony up against his chest once more, trapping as much heat as possible, and closed his eyes. Within ten minutes the combination of cold, exhaustion and stress had him drifting off into a restless sleep.
Tony slipped into consciousness and everything hurt. He couldn't breathe properly and something felt wrong. There was a warm weight against his back though and his head was just pounding so much...
He slipped out again.
This time it was pain, pain everywhere and fingers scrambling around the arc reactor – someone was trying to steal it! He tried to move his arms, but they were too heavy. He heard a voice and it sounded like Steve's. Was Steve okay? Did they have him too? What were they going to do to him? His heart was pounding in his chest and the air was cold on his skin. If only he could just get in enough oxygen, then he'd be able to figure this out. He sucked in a hard breath and felt the pain radiate through his whole body. The blackness tickled against the edges of his mind. He tried to fight it, but it was useless...
Those voices, they were voices he recognized. He cracked an eye and saw red hair and a small smile. They had found him, he would be okay. Did they know Steve was captured to? He tried to tell them but when he opening his mouth his teeth were chattering too hard to speak.
“S-s-s-s-s-t-t-t...” he tried.
“Shh, it's okay Tony,” Natasha whispered.
He was lifted easily off the ground by someone and the pressure on his ribs sent pain shooting through his body, smacking him back into unconsciousness.
The next time Tony awoke everything was much clearer. He felt a little woozy, but he was pain free, he knew he was in SHIELD medical and he knew that the gently snoring scientist in the chair next to his bed was a sleepy Bruce Banner. He scanned the room quickly, but there was only one bed and one chair and no one else there.
His ribs were wrapped tight and it didn't hurt much to breathe anymore. Tentatively he reached out a hand and touched Bruce's arm. The other man gave a little start and came to.
“Tony!” He exclaimed softly. “You're awake! How do you feel?”
“Like I pissed off Thor and the Hulk at the same time and then was put in a freezer for a few days.” His voice came out scratchy and worn.
Bruce chuckled. “You were pretty beat up there, Buddy. If Steve didn't have the metabolism of a hummingbird on caffeine you both probably would have frozen to death.”
“What? What happened? Is Steve okay?” He scanned the room again, even though he knew he wasn't there.
“Tony, Steve's fine. He was the one that found you. They had, um, they took the arc reactor.” Bruce gestured towards his chest and Tony automatically snapped his hand up to check his life support. The casing was fine and the reactor was in it – but it was his backup reactor from the lab. The sharp spike of adrenaline at the thought of being without it started to abate now that he could feel it settled there.
Bruce continued, “Steve was able to keep you on battery backup for nearly four hours while we found you guys. We had to keep charging your batteries in the jet on the way back and as soon as we were wheels down I had JARVIS lead me to your alternate.”
“Umm,” said Tony, trying to process it all. “Where's Steve now?” He tried not to sound too eager or interested, but he was desperate to see the other man, to know he was okay.
Bruce's gaze shifted away and Tony's eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Well,” Bruce started, “he was cleared by medical hours ago. You've been out for about - “ Bruce checked his watch “- ten hours. Steve was cleared and, umm, left. I'm not sure where.”
Tony had his doubts as to that. Bruce did not exactly have a poker face. But his ribs were starting to hurt again, and the pain meds were making him sleepy, and he didn't care to fight it. As long as Steve was okay.
He tipped back onto the pillow and Bruce seemed to sense his exhaustion. He quickly checked through Tony's monitors and then leaned back in his chair, picking up his book.
Over the next nine days Tony recovered from his bruised ribs and graduated from SHIELD medical to his own apartment. Bruce even brought him a few projects to work on, though Bruce, Natasha and JARVIS had all ganged up to block him from going down to the workshop.
He found himself getting more and more irritated that Steve hadn't come to see him. He thought they had really bonded on their little escapade and so, yeah, maybe they weren't exactly besties, and sure the last time they spoke was a bit of a fight, but by all accounts Steve had gone to some serious effort to try to save him, so where was he?
Part of his project was improving the jet to make it EMP-proof and he spent most of his days elbows deep in plans and calculations. Unfortunately, several calculations needed a lab to be tested out and Bruce was making him write them out and send them to him to be tested. It was very aggravating and Tony was about ready to take a magnet to JARVIS and break into his workshop.
Of course, Natasha was probably stationed outside right now to prevent that very thing...
There was a gentle knock on the door which must be Bruce with his results so Tony called out “Finally! Come on in,” his focus still on the tablet in front of him. When he heard the door creak open he said “Hey Kermit, I don't think you adjusted for the momentum well enough it's -” He cut off as he lifted his eyes and saw Steve standing just inside the door, carrying a small duffle bag.
“Sorry, it's just me.”
“Don't be sorry.” Tony tried to ignore the swelling of relief at seeing Steve again. Nine days was a hell of a long time and he'd just started to worry that Steve had been sent back into the field too soon and something had happened to him. “I just didn't expect to see you.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. I had something to take care off. Natasha and Bruce assured me they could keep you amused while you healed up.”
“Well I would have been heartily amused by tinkering around in my workshop, but a certain Russian assassin and her scientist sidekick kidnapped me and trapped me here. I hope you're here to spring me from this hellhole.”
“This is your apartment, Tony, you built it.”
I repeat. Spring me, please.”
“Sorry, Buddy, you're on your own. I don't want to take on Natasha any more than you do.” Steve gave him a careful smile.
“Oh well, it was worth a try. Drink?” Tony sauntered behind the bar.
“Sure, why not.” Steve tossed his bag down and sat heavily on one of the tall stools, but twisted in it so his back was against the counter top, elbows hooked over the edge, looking out at the view of New York city.
Tony just took him in for a moment. The tension in his jaw was gone and his shoulders were more relaxed than they had been the entire time they'd been gone. He had a rough scrape on the back of his neck that was already almost entirely healed, but must have been created in the last day or so. He wondered once again what it was Steve was “taking care of” over the last week and a half.
He slid Steve's drink across the bar and came around to grab the stool next to his, turning his right side to the window to face Steve instead. Tony was feeling antsy, the fire under his skin relit by Steve's presence so to hide his restlessness he slumped against the bar a bit, leaning on his left arm. He swirled the amber liquid in its glass with his other hand, suddenly no longer interested in putting it to his lips.
Steve turned his head towards the limp man beside him and frowned. “Bruce said you were almost entirely recovered.”
“Yeah, just a few bruises now. Plus, you know, all the emotional scarring.” He let sarcasm twist his voice. Steve's hand lay flat on the bartop only a few inches away from his own and a strange little loop on his sleeve captivated Tony's manic interest. The shirt was some semi-shiny workout material, probably advertised as 'super acti-dry with double wicking power' or some such nonsense and some ad exec somewhere thought a little loop on the end of the sleeve looked 'athletic'. Tony reached out and started fiddling with the loop, pulling on it, trying to see if it had a function, as he continued. “I'm never going to look at a goat the same way again, you know. I've been traumatized.”
Steve slid his eyes down to Tony's hand – which was now pulling the loop taut and releasing it over and over again – and furrowed his eyebrows. “Are you ever going to look at a goat at all again? You live in Manhattan.”
“Okay fair point. But if I come across one, I'm giving it plenty of distance. Especially if it's in the city. Only reason for a goat to be in the city is a nefarious one I'm sure.” Snap, snap, snap went the loop
“Tony why are you – okay, stop!” Steve's hand moved to smack over Tony's so fast, the smaller man's whole body jerked in response. He was half braced for pain, but Steve had merely covered Tony's hand with his own, the speed and suddenness of his movement tempered with the gentle way he always kept his strength locked down. He turned in his seat so he and Tony were facing each other, mirror images of each other. Arms resting on the bar, knees nearly touching.
“Wow,” Tony said, staring at their hands. “You have got amazing reflexes, have you ever considered becoming a superhero?”
Steve just rolled his eyes, then gripped Tony's hand, gently tipping it over on top of his so he could see the inside of his forearm. The cut Steve had wrapped back in the cave was almost entirely healed, but a faint red line still blazed along his skin. Steve sighed so gently Tony felt his stomach clench with want.
Because that was the thing about Steve: he really cared. When other people looked at Tony and sighed it felt like they were calculating how much whatever he'd broken would cost to fix, even if he was the broken one. But when Steve looked at him like that and sighed he was somehow offering to carry the burden of Tony's pain for him – was feeling it himself because it hurt to see his friend hurt.
And god help him, Tony wanted to keep that.
They just stayed still for a moment, Tony's hand resting on Steve's palm. The larger fingers curled slightly in, but not tight enough to restrain him there.
“So, there's something I want to try,” Tony said quietly, staring at their hands instead of Steve's face.
“Okay.” There was no hesitation, just trust, which actually made Tony falter a little. He was used to flirting with sass and banter, he wasn't really sure what to do with a serious, open Steve. But this had to be done, he had to know.
Tony set his drink down on the stool beside him and slowly turned his hand over so their palms were touching. He wrapped his fingers around Steve's wrist, pressing against the pulse point there and thrilling when he realized how quickly the other man's heart was beating. He finally slid his eyes up to meet Steve's, which had been fixed on his face for some time now. His expression was soft and questioning, in contrast to his racing heart. The acceptance there spurred Tony on to further action.
He reached out with his free hand and grabbed Steve's knee, using it to pull himself off his stool. He held his breath as he settled on his feet in front of Steve, willing his eyes to telegraph his intentions, to give Steve a chance to push him back, to laugh at Tony's teasing, to stop this before it went too far.
But Steve didn't stop him.
Instead his knees twitched apart, just the tiniest amount, as if he wanted to pull Tony in to settle him between his legs, but wasn't sure. And that was all the invitation Tony needed.
When their lips met it was like the itchy, hot, fire burning under Tony's skin was soothed into a pleasant, sleepy warmth. His restlessness melted away and a deep calm took its place. The man who never stood still could have stood there for hours, just breathing in Steve, feeling his solid, safe presence there.
Steve snaked his free hand up Tony's side and grabbed a handful of t-shirt near his hip, crushing the fabric in his fist. He was afraid if he didn't grab something, he would grab Tony and the man was still bruised from his beating. The last thing he needed was super strength groping.
Tony clearly didn't feel the need to be as delicate, his tongue pressing quickly past the barrier of Steve's lips and exploring the taste it found inside. The hand gripping Steve's on the bartop clenched, his right hand sliding up Steve's chest to wrap around the nape of his neck, pulling his head forward and the kiss deeper.
Steve couldn't ignore the spike of arousal that shot straight to his groin and it was all he could do not to slam Tony against the counter and start ripping clothes off.
The shock at Tony's sudden come-on was buried so deeply under holy mother of god that feels good, Steve hadn't even really had a chance to acknowledge what it meant yet, but when Tony pulled back with a gasp it came rushing suddenly to the forefront.
“Uhhh,” was all he was able to get out. He must look ridiculous, mouth still open, eyebrows raised, hair mussed from Tony's fingers running through it.
“Um, so yeah, there's that...” Tony said, self-consciously, eyes fixed on Steve's mouth. “I was kinda thinking maybe we could just resolve this unresolved sexual tension thing we've got going on? Or am I way off base here?”
Steve looked at Tony, trying to reboot his brain enough to process what was going on. “No.”
“No?” Tony was trying, and failing, to hide his disappointment.
“What? Oh, no I meant, no you're not off base,” Steve breathed, clutching Tony's shirt harder. “Not at all.”
“Oh thank god.” Tony dove in again and this time Steve parted his legs all the way, drawing Tony between them. He slid forward on the stool until their hips met, dropping his hand from Tony's shirt to wrap it gently around his back. The kiss was rough and dirty, gasping breaths against each other's mouths, Tony licking into Steve's mouth, Steve sucking hard on Tony's bottom lip.
“Uhh, wait,” Steve said suddenly and Tony bounced back like he'd been set on fire. Steve didn't relinquish his grip on Tony's back though so Tony couldn't bounce far and ended up half stumbling back against Steve. The taller man just chuckled and grinned.
“Why, Steve? Why wait?” Tony huffed impatiently.
“I have something for you,” Steve said. He leaned back towards the duffle bag he'd discarded on the floor. Tony flinched a little as Steve moved away, gripping his arms and Steve smiled again. Pulling out his prize he twisted back up and handed it to Tony.
It was his arc reactor.
There was a long pause as Tony stared at it. “That's where you've been?”
“It's dangerous tech, Tony, we couldn't let the bad guys get their hands on it,” Steve said, carefully, his steady voice hiding something else. Something cold and sharp and more than a little scary.
There was another long beat and then Tony took a huge handful of Steve's shirt, pulled him off the stool, pressed their lips together and started backing them up towards the bedroom. Tony tipped over onto the bed still gripping the arc reactor. Steve landed on top of him, hands bracing on either side of Tony's head. Steve drew a long line of kisses down Tony's neck, then licked a stripe back up to his ear earning him a moan and an upward grind of his hips.
Tony slid his hands up under Steve's shirt letting his fingers ridge along his abs, finally pulling the shirt up and off. Steve wasted no time in following suit, grabbing the hem of Tony's t-shirt and pushing it up almost frantically. The second it slid free of Tony's head though, Steve felt a change come over him. His eyes flicked down to the smaller man's chest and he slowed, his hands stopping their pawing and groping. Steve took a long slow breath then lifted his hand and gently placed his finger against the surface of the backup arc reactor.
Tony's eyes stayed fixed on Steve's face. The finger circled around the edges of the reactor casing and when it reached the tiny release he paused. Not a long pause, but a significant one.
Tony didn't flinch.
Steve pressed the release and the reactor popped forward out of the casing, just enough for fingers to grab it and pull it lose. Ever so gently Steve pulled the backup reactor out of the casing. Taking the other one from Tony's slack hand, he pressed it softly into place again, waiting for the click and glow that let him know it was properly seated. For a long moment Steve just ran his fingers slowly around the edges of the reactor casing, his eyes bright in the blue glow.
“You're amazing,” Steve whispered reverently. He immediately regretted letting the words slip out, but when his eyes flicked back to Tony's face, the billionaire was looking back at him in amazement, all leers and smirks banished, his hair was mussed from where Steve had been pawing at him and he was so beautiful in that moment, Steve wouldn't have been able to stop for anything short of a call to assemble...maybe not even that.
Diving back in to trail a line of kisses down Tony's exposed chest he found a soft spot under his ribs and sucked hard.
“God yeah, that feels good. I just want to touch you everywhere. I've wanted you since day one. Your mouth is uhh amazing,” Tony groaned out as Steve scraped his teeth along his skin. “You can do whatever you want to me, I want you to do everything to me and then, yeah, and then we can go back to normal. Just, god, don't stop.”
Steve hid the sudden clench of anxiety in his stomach by running a new path with his mouth up Tony's chest. Go back to normal he said. Tony just wanted to resolve the tension they seemed to have built on their little adventure, by having a night together so they could go back to the way things were before the jet crash.
Steve knew there was no chance he could go back to the arguing, the avoiding each other. It all seemed so silly now, now that he knew what Tony's lips felt like on his, the grind of his erection against his thigh. How could he possibly pretend this had never happened?
And he knew he should stop it now, stop it before it went further, tell Tony he wanted everything or nothing. But he couldn't. If this night was all he got he wasn't going to throw it away, wasn't going to waste it. Future Steve could worry about that. Now Steve just wanted to finally get the other man naked already.
Steve's hips pressed forward and Tony couldn't hold back a groan. The noise switched Steve back into action and he dove down to kiss Tony again. His grip tightened on Tony's side and Tony let out a little squeak that didn't sound at all like pleasure.
Steve rocketed back, finding the will to stop after all, pulling his hands and mouth away from Tony and scanning his face. “What, what's wrong?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “It's nothing, I'm just still a little on the bruised side. It's fine c'mere.” Tony made grabby hands at Steve's bare chest.
“Tony...you're still hurt, we shouldn't be doing this.” Steve tried to hide his aching disappointment, but after seeing Tony alive and whole again he'd let the list of his injuries slip dangerously out of his mind.
Steve started to back off, but Tony hooked a finger in his waistband, skating along the skin it found there, and a shock of anticipation shot straight to his groin. Tony sat up, but held Steve close, hooked his ankles around the backs of Steve's calves and pressed a soft kiss to his stomach.
“Wait, Steve, stop. Just listen to me, okay? I am fine. Do I still have bruises? Yes. Do they hurt? Yes, sometimes it's a little sore. Am I in danger?” He met Steve's eyes carefully. “No. It's nothing serious, everything is fine. You won't hurt me Steve, not as much as stopping right now would.” There was a tense pause while Steve scanned his face, searching for deception. He trusted Tony to take care of pretty much everyone but himself. What he saw there was honest though, and Bruce had said Tony was almost safe to fly again, so he couldn't be too bad. Tony pressed his face back into Steve's stomach, fluttering light kisses everywhere he could reach and Steve heard a tiny mumble that sounded a lot like “please?” and that was it.
Groaning Steve tipped forward again, leaning Tony back and kissing him like his life depending on it.
Trying to regain a little control of the situation, Tony flipped Steve onto his back, straddling his thighs. Grinning down at him he rolled his hips and Steve's tense little exhale tingled down his spine and straight to his dick. Steve just lay back, letting his arms flop open, blinking languidly up at Tony.
Tony ran his hands down Steve's bare chest, pausing briefly at the waistband of his khakis to flick his eyes up to Steve's. His answering smile was the permission Tony needed and he deftly flicked the button open and pulled off the rest of Steve's clothes.
He took a moment to enjoy the view, the epitome of human perfection spread out naked on his bed. And this, this was so much better than sneaking a glance in a hot spring when they were probably going to die. Here they had all the time in the world, and he could look all he wanted, touch all he wanted, lick all he wanted...
Steve had let his eyes drift shut while Tony took him in, a sultry smirk ghosting across his face. It quickly turned to shock when Tony suddenly sucked him down completely. “Holy shit, Tony,” he breathed, jerking his eyes open and half sitting up.
Tony slipped off, letting his tongue slide along Steve's shaft after his lips. “Yes?” he asked innocently.
“Well...” Steve blushed. “I didn't mean stop.”
Tony just grinned and went back to Steve's cock, sliding down slowly and relishing in the little shudders that were his reward.
He slid one hand up Steve's thigh while the other gripped the base of Steve's dick finishing the warmth and pressure where his mouth ended. Sucking off Steve Rogers might be his new favourite thing in the world – and the world included coffee, so this was a pretty big deal.
Suddenly Steve fisted a hand in his hair and pulled gently, Tony immediately came up and met his eyes. Steve was totally gone. A flush ran up from his chest to the roots of his hair, his other hand was gripping in the sheets so hard Tony was sure his mattress was now permanently dented. His breath was coming in hard pants. “You okay?” Tony asked gently.
“I just – I don't think.” Steve took a breath. “That was not going to last much longer.”
Tony chuckled. “Well then I'm glad you stopped me.” He slid up Steve's body until they were pressed chest to chest. He tucked his face in Steve's neck and sucked gently on the skin there. “Cause I was really hoping you'd fuck me.”
“Tony...” Steve choked out, sounding half-shocked and half aroused.
Tony pulled open his bedside drawer with one hand while his mouth continued to leave its mark on Steve's neck. He grabbed a bottle of lube blind and almost added a condom before realizing with a smile that it would be pointless. Steve was completely immune to all STDs.
The super-soldier was still writhing underneath him, but he hadn't exactly agreed to what Tony wanted.
“Steve?” He asked, pulling back to meet his eyes.
Steve looked conflicted. “I don't want to hurt you, Tony. You're still beat up and I, well sometimes I forget my own strength. It's not the best time to test how far that could go...”
“Do you want to?” Tony asked, bluntly.
Steve sighed. “Of course I do, but -”
Tony leaned forward until his lips were right against Steve's ear and whispered, “Steve, fuck me...please?”
Steve groaned and wrapped his arms around Tony's back his hands gripping and releasing the waistband on Tony's pants. “I'm going to take that as a yes.” Tony grinned with satisfaction, knowing he'd found one of Steve's buttons.
“I know you think you've discovered some thing of mine, Tony,” Steve huffed while he frantically undid Tony's pants and helped him push them off and on to the floor, “but you haven't. It's just a coincidence.”
“Oh really?” Tony licked a stripe up Steve's chest and shifted their hips until their bare erections pressed together. “So you don't like it when I beg, then?”
“No, I just – I just trust you when you say you're feeling up to it,” Steve explained weakly.
“Yeah?” Tony straddled him fully and pressed their foreheads together, grinding against Steve in a rhythm that was setting both of them shivering. “So, it wouldn't affect you at all if I said I was desperate to have you inside me? If I begged you to please, god, fuck me now?”
Steve growled and flipped Tony back on his back, underneath him.
“Good to know,” Tony quipped breathlessly.
Steve grabbed the bottle of lube and clumsily coated his fingers, distracted by Tony's hands scrambling all over his body. Steve parted Tony's legs and slid one finger inside him, just a little too fast, pushing Tony right on the edge of almost uncomfortable which drove him wild. His hands stilled from their groping and slid above his head to grip the pillow and ground himself.
Steve worked him open with urgency, being gentle but continuing to play with that edge of too much, too fast. Tony's cock was rock hard and leaking, desperate for attention, but when he snaked a hand between them Steve knocked it away and leaned forward, capturing Tony's lips in a burning kiss.
Steve pressed forward, guiding himself into Tony's heat and they both moaned into each other's mouths. Steve's lips slipped down to Tony's jawline, his breath coming out in little gasps. He was still for a long moment, adjusting to the feeling, letting Tony relax. When Tony took a deep breath and let it out Steve starting moving, slowly at first and then with more urgency.
Tony could feel Steve's whole body under tension and started to understand what he must be like for him – having all that strength wound up inside him and having to hold back all the time for fear of hurting someone.
Luckily, Tony wasn't made of glass.
Stilling Steve with a hand on his chest he flipped over quickly onto his elbows and knees, guiding Steve over him. Steve braced himself with one hand on the headboard and one next to Tony's side. The engineer wrapped a hand around the gorgeous, massive forearm and held it tight, digging in his nails a little, silently giving Steve permission to let go.
He couldn't help the moan that was ripped out of him when Steve pushed back in, a little too hard, a little too desperate. He heard the click of the lube bottle and then Steve's slicked up hand wrapped around his swollen cock. With every thrust Tony felt the tight squeeze of Steve's grip and it was quickly pushing him to the edge.
Steve's pace increased, his face coming down to press against the back of Tony's neck, breathing hard against his sweat-soaked skin and sending tingles down his spine. The pressure against his back tipped Tony forward and the sudden change had Steve driving in at the perfect angle. Pleasure radiated deeper with every thrust and soon it had Tony crying out and coming all over Steve's hand.
Steve's hand shifted from Tony's spent dick to his hip and dug in so hard Tony knew there would be a mark there the next day. It wasn't long before Steve tensed and came hard, pushing Tony even harder into the mattress as the orgasm ripped through him. Tony gripped Steve's arm even harder, pressing his face into the back of his hand and arching into the hand that held his hips tight against Steve.
When Steve finally released Tony – overly slowly and gently – Tony found himself overcome with an all-encompassing calm and he had just enough energy to roll out of the wet spot before he found his body giving in and drifting off into sleep. His grip on Steve's arm never relinquishing.
Steve collapsed, exhausted onto the bed next to Tony, his breath coming in little pants. Tony just curled onto his side, closing his eyes, hugging Steve's arm against his chest, a happy, calm smile on his face. Steve watched him as he drifted off to sleep, his heart clenching, breaking through the afterglow and shoving unwanted thoughts back to the forefront of his mind.
He ran his free hand over the marks his fingers had dug into Tony's hip, still shuddering with the power of his orgasm.
“I don't want us to go back to normal,” he whispered, unable to resist running a gentle finger along Tony's sleep-smoothed brow.
He knew he should leave, but his body was jello and his mind was about to follow. Oh well, if Tony wanted to kick him out, he would have. Steve would try and wake up early and slip out before it got awkward, but for now, he needed to sleep.
Tony woke when a bright morning sunbeam broke across his eyes. He tried to throw up his arm to block it out, but it was pinned to the bed by quite a lot of his favourite super-soldier, naked no less.
Steve was still fast asleep, curled up against Tony's body, looking unbelievably relaxed. As memories of last night flooded his mind, Tony let a grin split across his face. He turned a little and wiggled his arm free until he could run a hand along the bare chest beside him.
Steve's eyes flickered and adjusted as he waked, squinting against the light.
“Morning,” Tony sing-songed, still smiling teasingly.
Steve's brow furrowed, recognizing Tony's I've-got-something-up-my-sleeve look and not sure if he was going to like it or not.
“What?” He asked suspiciously and Tony laughed out loud.
“So you don't want us to go back to normal, huh?” Tony asked, smile growing.
Steve flushed instantly and turned away a little. “I thought you were asleep,” he muttered.
“My body falls asleep long before my brain does.” Tony chuckled and ran a teasing finger along Steve's blushing cheek. “Did you mean it?”
“Stop laughing at me.” He swatted Tony's finger away and turned to roll out of bed.
“I'm not laughing at you!” Tony exclaimed, his words betrayed by his tone and the broad smile he couldn't get under control. “What's wrong?”
“Look, I don't really know what I'm doing here. I don't get the 21st century dating rules – if there even are any rules – even less so when it comes to you. A week and a half ago I was seriously considering giving Fury all my back-pay in exchange for a mission-related reason for me to get to punch you in the face and now we're here and I'm not entirely sure how that happened. And I'm sick of feeling like I'm misunderstanding people all the goddamn time.” Steve clenched his fists in frustration and Tony scrambled off the bed to stand next to him, grabbing at his arm again, sensing he was ready to bolt.
He took a moment to get himself under control and when his eyes next met Steve's they were serious. “Steve wait, wait. Can I just – let me just ask you two questions, okay? And you just have to answer them totally honestly, without worrying about what I think or what is weird, or right or whatever. Just tell me honestly and I promise I won't laugh at you.”
Steve hesitated, but Tony's open look seemed to persuade him finally and he relaxed in Tony's grip. “Okay.”
“Do you like me?”
Steve raised his eyebrows and glanced sarcastically towards the mussed bed. “Uh, yeah, I think that's pretty obvious.”
“Ok, good.” Tony gave him an encouraging smile and stepped a little closer. “Do you want this, between us, to stop now, we find our pants, part ways and go back to being teammates? Or do you want to get back in that bed, eat waffles for breakfast and then, when we've given this old man some time to recover his decidedly non-super strength, go for round two? And three. And four and then tomorrow we can give five and six a go.” Tony gave Steve an exaggerated leer to make it obvious what he meant and he saw the corners of Steve's mouth twitch a little.
“Well, I do like waffles...” He was almost smiling properly now.
“So am I allowed to laugh if you are?” Tony asked, slipping his palm along Steve's chest as he stepped closer. “Cause I'm feeling pretty awesome right now and that almost always comes out as laughter.”
Steve's hand closed gently over his hip. “Seriously though Tony, I need to hear you say it too.”
Tony leaned in, pressing their bodies together and bringing his lips to Steve's ear he whispered, “Yes. And the second one. Now, tomorrow and as many days after that as you'll let me. So much yes Steve.” He paused briefly, his lips quirking up in a smile again. “Please stay?”
“That's not a thing,” Steve grumbled, but he turned and captured Tony's lips in a kiss then pulled away to murmur against his mouth, “why'd you say it then?”
Tony knew exactly what he meant. “It was just me being stupid and nervous and wanting to make sure we had an out if we needed one. Despite all the flash and loud noises I'm actually fairly insecure, as you may have noticed. But then after all the mind-blowing sex I figured we'd both forget I'd said anything so stupid and you'd stay here with me in the morning. And maybe, you know, forever.” He dragged his nails gently down Steve's back.
Steve finally quirked a smile. “So if the sex hadn't been mind-blowing?”
“You'd be kicked out on your naked ass.” Tony quipped, finally succeeding in pulling the other man back down on the bed and stretching out on top of him, smothering his laughter with kisses.