His eyes were drooping and his movements were sluggish. For the moment he had stopped fighting his bonds - cold, metal chains made from some kind of reinforced material specifically meant to keep him down. His hands hurt too much from the cold and even rolling his head from side to side was becoming more and more of a strain.
It was the worst kind of irony that this was how he was going to die.
Should never have woken from the ice, he thought. But even thinking was exhausting. Concentrating on anything by now was close to an impossibility. His thoughts were like endlessly flowing fine grained grains of sand in an hourglass.
He tried hard to remember the sneer of the man who had put him in this place, with his hateful eyes and the distinct old fashioned Hydra uniform. But the old fashioned uniform had been for show. The equipment he and his men used had been anything but.
Steve hadn’t actually seen him for long, after he had made sure that Clint made it out of the place alive. He’d already been down, taking the fire and drawing the attention of their pursuers so Clint could get away and make sure he got back to Sam and Wanda.
Then things had gotten fuzzy. There had been an explosion. A hard metal object had connected with his Skull and he’d gone down on one knee not ready to just give up, but walls had come down on him. He’d woken drifting in and out of consciousness right here.
What had the man said?
“That’s what you get for taking our best weapon.”
He’d been talking about Bucky.
The Winter Soldier.
Let’s see how much cold you can stand, Captain. Must be quite a bit from what I’ve read about you.
Too much and not enough, to be honest. He’d always hated the cold, but he knew he could survive it. That didn’t mean he liked it any better. He liked it less even when the heavy door closed and left him drifting and in pain, in impenetrable darkness. At least in the ice he hadn’t woken once. There was no memory of being trapped. Now he took shaky breaths, woke, went under, woke, fought the chains, felt his breath leave him in hot puffs and cold, cold air made his lungs hurt. To survive he needed to fight, but he longed for the real darkness, the one where he didn’t have to feel this. He fought instead until his wrists hurt and he gave up again.
Disorientation was bad.
His body would heal, his head would clear. But even then he had no idea where he was. A building had toppled down on him. He had been moved. He might be in a different part of the country by now.
Some of the sluggishness might be something else in his system.
He let himself fall back on the hard and cold metal surface of the table he’d been chained to. A slab. His thoughts were still drifting, dreaming of lying on a dissection table.
Would Clint be able to track him?
Had he found Wanda and Sam? Were all of them safe?
He tried taking careful breaths, tried not to give in to nausea or tiredness. His strength would come back. It just needed to come back, before the cold killed him. At some point he couldn’t tell anymore if he was drifting because of the hits he’d taken or because he was going to fall asleep, giving in to the cold to die here. He caught himself shivering.
Even in his muddled state he knew he was running out of time. The cold had seeped into his bones and moving was simply too much effort. They had put Bucky back on ice. Perhaps this was his curse, that everything would always be taken from him by the cold?
When the door opened, bringing with it light and shapes and shadows, his head was down again and he couldn’t even open his eyes completely. It hurt too much.
His name phrased as a question wasn’t the taunting, the laughter, he expected.
The red and gold metal gleam got his attention. Iron Man. He recognized Iron Man; the mechanical sounds of the armor, the clear shapes of the suit. His mouth formed the name: “Tony.” But there was no sound.
“What the hell,” Tony cursed and started to unlatch the helmet, set it aside. Steve wanted to tell him that was stupid. He did not need to experience this cold. “What the hell, Steve?”
Steve was reminded of the last time they had seen each other, knew his attempt at an apology could have made things better or worse. They’d never talked to each other after; hadn’t seen each other. He was too exhausted to care, tried to slowly sit up. His joints ached. The surface beneath his fingers hurt with the icy cold. His fingers were stiff. Tony reached out and grabbed his uniform. Steve half expected a hit, but Tony helped pulling him up.
He couldn’t even hold his eyes open.
Tony was here.
He wasn’t alone.
He wasn’t going to die alone in the cold.
“This is so typical,” Tony said and cleared his throat. “You give me a fucking phone, but you can’t be bothered to actually use it.”
“Wha…?” He tried to make sense of that, only half registering the tone that wasn’t as brash as the words. Tony looked at him and he actually looked like he wasn’t angry, wasn’t anything but worried.
“You have a direct line to my side of the Avengers, but you insist on taking on the so called Masters of Evil all on your own. For an old wise man, you’re stupid, Captain America.”
He tried to concentrate on keeping upright, and even from mostly closed eyes, noticed how Tony’s eyes fell on the chains. “... Clint call you?” he croaked.
“Clint?” Tony asked, his eyes on the restraints, leaving Steve awkwardly pondering why he wanted him to look at his face again. He shivered. “God there’s frost all over your uniform,” he muttered. “No, Clint didn’t call me. Why? Did everyone on your side get the number? I haven’t even told anyone I got the phone. I thought this was a you and me thing.”
At the moment he really couldn’t follow. But the babbling was familiar. Soothing. Had he found it annoying before? He couldn’t remember. He didn’t think so.
“You and me thing.” He nodded and felt like keeling over. Only then did it occur to him that Tony was here. That he was a fugitive and Tony was supposed to bring him in. They would have another fight on their hands.
But Tony only surveyed the chains and then with one long pull got him free. The cold metal was still clasped around his wrists and the chains were dangling, but he was no longer attached to the slab.
“Let’s get you out of here. There’s only so much time Natasha can buy us. Seriously. Ross has been hounding our every step and it’s your fault. I hope you’re proud of yourself.” Tony cleared his throat and pulled him along. Steve needed to lean on him heavily. Tony grabbed his helmet and talked all the way until they were outside.
He was still so cold, but the sun was shining and that was a good. The whole trip to the Quinjet felt like a dream. He should still be fighting. He was going to jail or worse, still, and Sam would be so annoyed if he had to come bust his ass out of something like that. But Tony hadn’t been angry. There had be no sneering.
And he was so cold and tired and aching.
He drifted out again as soon as Tony made him sit, the icy cold clinging to him like it had become a part of his being.
* * *
“He is awake.” He recognized the voice as Vision’s.
“Hi,” Tony said and finally looked down. “Better?” There was still no anger in him.
Steve had no idea what to even do with the question. Tony still looked so worried, trying to keep the distress in, but communicating it much too openly. He had seen this before. It was all in the eyes. “I’m sorry,” he thought he said, but wasn’t sure.
* * *
“Wakanda,” T’Challa said quietly and his brow creased.
“No,” Steve said. “Tony… Where…?”
“They dropped you off and left. Said they couldn’t risk anyone tracing them here. Stark indicated they were under surveillance.”
“They just dropped me off here?”
“Yes, Captain. It seems… some of the bitterness has passed.” T’Challa stood and dropped an envelope on the bed.
A knot formed in his throat and he half expected the phone to be inside, returned to him because Tony didn’t want it, hadn’t wanted it from the start. But it was too light and there was no object inside, only one slip of paper. “Next time call,” it read.
He let himself fall back on the bed, sighing.
A day later he weighed his own phone in his hand and finally typed out a message: “It was good to see you, Tony.”
“You barely saw me,” was the immediate answer. “And you looked like shit.”
“Thanks,” he wrote back. “Next time I’ll call.”
This time it was hours before there was an answer. “Perhaps I’ll even pick up.”
He smiled. Perhaps something good had come from all of this after all.