There is more than a subtle difference between hot and cold than most people appreciate. For most, the touch of frigid ice or the melting sun brings about discomfort, for him it is something more visceral, more primal, and more deeply gutted in his belly. He doesn’t confess these things. Why would he? He’s a man of action, a man with a plan, he is Captain America, and the past does haunt him but it never affects him.
Ever since he woke up, everyone around him expects him to act and to react a certain way. They place him in therapy; they subject him to test after test. He passes them all, but they forget he is a strategist, a tactician. He knows how to play with the rules and he understands how the games are played. This isn’t something the serum gave him; it is something he learned on the dirty streets of New York before each and every one of them was born.
He does his best to play their games and follow their rules, but at times he twists them or smiles at them. They never suspect what is really happening, what he is really thinking, in his head, in his brain, in his damaged mind. He’s a soldier but he’s Captain America, first. He went through a world war, watched his friends die, saw the horrors of how people can tear one another apart for the oblique promise of momentary power. The expectations and dreams of his image escape his control and he’s thrust into a world and a position he must hold up and remain as the center of hope.
He does his best and no one suspects.
Until someone does.
He should have known better than to try and fool a genius.
Returning from the mission to save the injured scientist based on the Antarctic base leaves him depleted and exhausted. It shouldn’t take him so much time to lift himself from leaning against the elevator wall to exit. It is JARVIS who prompts him and leaves the doors open for an extra time period so that Steve can force himself to move. He wants to sleep; he’s been up for nearly seventy two hours with little rest between the journey and the rescue mission. Yet the thought of sleep bores into him like a drill into his brain. He doesn’t like it, he doesn’t want it. He fears it. Especially now.
He drags himself out of the elevator and across the long space of his rooms at the Tower. He’s thankful that Tony eventually called them all to the Tower and then gloated at Fury that this was an Avengers only team and no, he couldn’t come, too. He eventually permitted Coulson access, but that was only because of the look Clint gave him. He’s still surprised that Clint can actually pull off the puppy dog pout. He smiles a bit and that feels foreign today. His mouth hurts when he curls his lips upward.
Tugging off the gloves, his uniform, the boots, he lets them lie where they drop. He’s usually so much more careful. He’s usually meticulous about his appearance, his living quarters, and his life. But going into this mission crack open a space inside of him, he’d thought he buried. He continues to the bedroom and the en suite bathroom. He considers whether or not he should get a cup of tea, but then the warm shower calls to him and his aching bones and muscles win out. Even as a super soldier, he still hurts, he still needs rest; he still needs to recuperate in body and in mind. He shuns that last part of that, he’s a leader and he doesn’t have time for self-pity.
Walking into the bath, he flicks on the light and blinks. His eyes water and he looks at himself in the mirror. His hair is messed and his eyes look sunken. He cannot remember the last time he ate, which is never good for a super soldier. He needs to eat. Put that on the check list of things to do. Reaching over to turn on the faucets, his hand shakes and he pulls it back. The tremor continues and he holds his arm against his chest as if he has been injured. It doesn’t stop for several minutes and he chides himself. He can do this, being a ridiculous wimp about his experiences isn’t acceptable.
When the team had been summons to help with the rescue of the gravely injured scientist stationed at McMurdo permanent base in the Antarctic, Steve hadn’t given it a thought. Fury had noted that they needed someone who could withstand the cold and get in and out with ease. He knew he was the only logical choice.
Both Tony and Bruce left two days prior to go to a scientific conference. He’d never seen Bruce so giddy and Tony hopping off the walls like he did when he saw them celebrating about their decision to go. He didn’t understand why it was such a big deal, but they’d discovered something and wanted to present it. They were able to secure a late breaking spot for a session. It had taken Tony some convincing to get Bruce to concede to go to the conference since the man barely got out of the Tower. His acquiescence showed a great deal of trust in his team family, especially his science brother. Tony promised to keep him calm and control the situation, even though everyone raised eyebrows at that. With a quick glance, he had been able to silently convince Pepper to attend the conference as well. She, of all people, would be able to modulate the situation appropriately and all should be well.
Thor hadn’t been an option since once he left with his brother, they hadn’t heard from him. He still feels a kind of loss for his fighting companion. Thor had been enthusiastic, but also loyal and willing to work within a team. He wishes someday they might be able to open up a door way or bridge as they call it to Asgard and have Thor return.
That only left Natasha, Clint, and himself, so when the call went out a small half team assembled and Fury grumbled.
“This is it?” Fury grouched but he relayed the information to them. One of the science team at the base had taken a terrible fall which caused him to break a leg. Normally, they could deal with such an accident, but things had turned for the worse when setting his leg a latent and previously unidentified heart issue arose. He’d gone into cardiac arrest and the base medic had barely been able to bring him back from death’s ledge.
The window to evacuate the scientist was small and they had to scramble as soon as possible. When he volunteered to be the one to go, both Natasha and Clint whipped around and stared at him.
It was Natasha that spoke. “I would think you wouldn’t be the one to take this on, Captain.”
“It’s a mission, doesn’t matter where it is. Someone’s in danger.”
“Spoken like Captain America,” Clint commented.
“Well, I am Captain America, so it fits.”
“Cap, you can sit this one out,” Fury mentioned.
“I’m the most logical one to do it. The window of opportunity is small. I can get in and out, carrying what needs to be carried without heavy equipment back to the transport.”
“The window is hours, not days,” Natasha said. “The weather is terribly unpredictable at this stage of the seasons.”
“I know that, it should be fine,” he had said.
“And the ice?” Clint was the only brave one to broach the subject.
“The ice isn’t going to affect me.”
“Last time it put you into stasis, asleep. We can’t have that happening on this mission. It is too critical,” Fury said.
Fury crossed his arms and gave him that look that could drill holes right through him and the concrete wall behind him. “Explain it to the simple spies in the room, then.”
He had sighed, never intending for anyone to know his little secret. “I didn’t fall into stasis immediately when the plane went down. It took some time.”
“Time?” Natasha swallowed.
“More than hours, yeah,” he said but didn’t meet their eyes, he couldn’t handle their expressions.
“You were awake?” Clint said as he leaned over the briefing table to catch a glimpse of him.
He kept his eyes forward and straight, staring at the flags displayed at the front of the room. “Yes, I was awake.” He didn’t finish the sentence, on purpose. No one needed to know that he’d been awake on and off for seventy years adrift in a hollowed out gray world of need and terror and dread.
The room remained silent for several seconds until Fury unfolded his arms, knocked the table once with a fist and said, “Damn. Okay, we do this.”
That’s all it took to get the assignment. He pulled it off without a hitch, everything went according to plan. He withstood the pinch of the pelting snow, the wind, the smell of emptiness in his nostrils as the fine hairs froze. The scientist was safe and he journey home.
He steps into the shower and lets the heat take him, follows the water as it runs rivers down his body. There are no open wounds, no bruises, nothing but the mutation of his self-image. He had been thin and scrawny and sick once. Everyone could see the illness, the ailments, and the weakness. Now, with his serum enhanced mutated body, he’s become this image, this shield of perfection. Nothing shall break it, or scratch it or dent it or crack it.
Although, it is already cracked and shattered.
He stands in the water and hopes it will warm him, but it is an illusion of heat. He turns off the faucets and leans against the tiles, the cold tiles. Another illusion of cold and he’s thrown back to the ice. He presses his fists into his eyes and tries to forget the frigid darkness.
It has him.
Captured and overtaken.
It devours every morsel of him. It eats him like a monster might shred the weakest of prey. He’s torn asunder with nothing between him and the cold. The cold will always be there, death is cold and glacial in its aspects. He experienced death for seventy years; he felt its fingers creep up his spine like a million centipedes plucking at every nerve. He froze and froze but never did. How could he freeze if he’d been in stasis? No, his body didn’t succumb to the ice, it became the ice and he its prisoner. The mutation of the serum in his blood seized him, kept him alive and tortured him for seventy years.
Something warm and tight touches his back and he lashes out. His aim is off and he tumbles out of the shower onto the cold floor, his whole body shivering and rebelling against him. He is always in control, stoic, and the man with the plan.
“Let me,” the voice comes to him and he looks up. Tony, his love, kneels next to him on the small rug in the middle of the bathroom. “I’m here.”
“Wh-what?” he blinks up at him and sees the white of the towels, the white of the tiles, and it throws him, launches him to the snow and ice and bleakness of it all, trapped in a natural gulag.
“Steve, Steve,” Tony says and he has both hands on his face, holding him steady, anchoring him.
He’s Steve, not the ice, not snow, not death. “Tony?”
“Come on, I can’t get your star spangled butt up myself, can you stand?”
“I-I think?” Steve fumbles his way to his feet and Tony wraps an arm around his waist. They don’t move yet, Tony allows him to find his balance before they leave the bathroom.
“The bed?” Tony asks.
“Yeah, tired,” Steve replies and doesn’t realize it until he actually says it how very exhausted he is.
Tony leads him to the bed, yanks back the down comforter, and settles Steve in the bed.
“I’m wet,” Steve comments.
“I’ll get towels, just stay there,” Tony says and, in seconds, is back with an arm load of plush towels. For some reason he retrieved the red and gold ones and not the standard white ones from the bathroom.
Carefully, Tony tends to him and dries him. Steve tries to help but Tony slaps him away. He isn’t all that wet but Tony eases him away from the space on the bed and lies down some towels there. He then climbs into bed next to Steve and curls next to him.
“Sorry about that,” Steve says.
“Oh no, you don’t get to do that,” Tony says. “If I don’t get to hide my tendencies to have major nervous breakdowns because someone mentions caves, or nukes, or horrible endless space, you don’t get to hide your panic attacks because of the ice.”
He doesn’t respond.
“Hey, you get to be human too, you know.”
“I should have handled it, I can handle it.”
“What makes you, superman?”
“Yeah, you don’t. You aren’t superman, and if you were, every superman needs a kryptonite. Ice is yours.”
“I thought the future – no the present – is mine.”
“Well, look at that you’re lucky you have more than one,” Tony says and his arms are around Steve and it feels soft and gentle and good. The push of muscles against muscle supports and holds him.
He leans over Tony and slips his hand down his chest where the arc reactor used to be. “I miss it sometimes.” He knows he shouldn’t, he knows that Tony finding a way to save himself shouldn’t be something that Steve dismisses.
“So do I,” Tony says.
They stay silent as Tony threads his hands through Steve’s hair, as he runs his fingers along the expanse of his shoulders. The tension is still there and it is almost too much to release it. “Here, lie on your chest.”
Steve flips over and Tony straddles him. He starts at the shoulders massaging and kneading. His hands are warm and strong. Steve loves Tony’s hands, they are talented and expressive, and they symbolize the builder he is with their scars and roughened skin and fingertips. He loves the scrape of them against the smooth but rippled expanse of his back. He groans a little as Tony works.
“There you go,” Tony says and then adds, “What were you thinking?”
“You shouldn’t have gone in there alone, without me.”
“I had the US Navy with me, Tony,” Steve replies but doesn’t open his eyes.
Tony works his way down to Steve’s waist and then his ass. “You needed me there.”
“I need you more, now,” Steve says and opens his eyes and he turns over. Their gaze meets and, for all the coldness, for all the ice in the world, the heat in Tony’s eyes will always burn bright and save him. “Touch me, Tony.”
Tony wraps a callused hand around his erection, rubbing the pre-come along him. He’s not gentle or careful but pulls at him with renewed commitment. Bending over Steve, he kisses him and Steve feels the bristle of his beard, smells the metal and smoke of his laboratory, he takes in the scent of his sweat and cologne mixed to make a heady fragrance. Tony invades his mouth and pummels him with his tongue. Every nerve sings out, every nerve feels the heat as it plunges through his body as he succumbs to the fire inside and the cold, the absolute cold lurking in the abyss, the secret dark places within him thaws out, and dissipates, if only for this moment, these moments with Tony. He comes in a great heave and falls lifeless and spent on the bed.
He’s still panting and his brain is still catching up to his body, when Tony whispers, “Feel better, now?”
“Hmm, much,” Steve says.
“The healing cock does wonders, huh?” Tony murmurs.
“Well, not sure about that, I haven’t really had any of that,” Steve says.
With a chuckle, Tony shucks his pants and shirt, tossing them aside. “We’ll have to fix that, won’t we?”
“Yes, we will.”
After, when Tony wraps him in his embrace, Steve feels safe and secure. He’s not afraid of the shadows in the dark, nor does he fear the illusions of cold. The heat he knows, is true and not his imagination. It is true and right and good, and worth all the pain in the world. It is worth being held captive for seventy years if this is his reward.