No one knew when it started, or how for that matter.
It must have started long ago.
It appeared innocuous at first, a small black 0 nestled just below the neck, above the collar bone.
No one paid any attention to it when it first appeared. Of course it was well studied now but no one had any clues.
Everything would seem fine for a while, then a truly great moment would be ruined.
First words would be tarnished by the small black 0 ticking up to a 1.
People knew by now it, along with any more words, stopped at 1000
Once someone with the mark had spoken 1000 words, they could no longer speak.
It was hard to explain this to children, so many people came out of childhood with little to no words remaining.
The lucky few who had all the words in the world were both admired and hated.
The world was forced to develop a universal sign language, which still wasn't capable of bringing anyone together.
Public speakers were seen with awe as their message was delivered and their word count rocketed. Such bravery such determination to get their message heard.
Many tried to hide the marks, pretending they too could speak an ocean of words, not a river.
Steve Rogers had been one of those people.
So determined to help his country he threw away many of his words in meaningless phrases and forgettable interactions.
In the questioning moments darkness brings, he regrets his decision, wishing he had saved his words, so they could rain down on people, bringing joy and love to those whom with he shared.
But what was done is done and can't be undone.
Tony Stark had no 0, no horrifying tick towards silence. His parents had used all their words long ago, their house rife with silence. When his mother died, It somehow became even quieter. Though Tony had words, he didn't use them.
Steve was the quietest of the avengers, yet somehow the leader. Tony didn't actually think he had heard Steve's voice ever. Tony had installed clever thought to speech modules in each of the comms for those with the marks, and all they had ever heard was the robotic tones of the A.I
Tony soon found out why, when Steve and the others moved into Stark towers, after the attack. Steve had used 997 words. The black numbers were clearly visible above his white training shirt. That was when Tony decided to learn sign language. Steve only had three words left, so he was definitely not using them any time soon.
Tony found the blond haired man was thrilled that Tony had gone to so much effort just for him. Tony was pretty sure it was the main reason they had their first date. Tony liked to think the rest were down to them liking each other.
They had been dating for almost two years before Steve worked up the courage to get down on one knee. Signing with a box in his hand was rather difficult so he simply held it up towards Tony, who agreed almost instantly. After much embracing and crying from everyone Steve took a step back and looked directly at Tony before taking a deep breath and saying
"I love you"
Tony just watched as the counter ticked up to 1000.
"Why me Steve?" "How am I worth wasting your last three words on"
Steve simply looked at Tony with a smile and signed
"There is no one I would rather waste my words on than you"