Steve trudged back into the apartment, groaning softly as the muscles in his legs pulled uncomfortably. He wanted nothing more than to fall into bed and sleep off the last 36 hours. He tossed his shield into his closet and then laid down, uncaring that Sam would probably yell at him in the morning for getting grime all over the sheets. It wouldn’t matter, though, not really. Steve would do the laundry and make him and Bucky breakfast, and it would be fine.
He was asleep moments later. When he woke, he was still alone, still flopped out on the bed. Still grimy. The room? Undisturbed. And Steve was starting to wonder where Sam and Bucky were. Usually, they slept right beside him, but neither one seemed to even be in the apartment. He couldn’t hear them; their footsteps or breathing. No movement anywhere.
He pulled himself up off the bed, the soreness gone. The serum was doing its job. He stripped out of his suit and showered, keeping an ear out for anyone moving around the apartment. Even as he toweled off, there was still no sound.
His footfalls were silent against the carpet as he walked back into the bedroom, pulling on an undershirt and a pair of sweatpants. He noticed, though, that the dresser seemed emptier than usual. Maybe Sam or Bucky were doing their laundry this morning? They could be in the laundry room, elsewhere in the Tower. That would make sense. The thought certainly eased the knot forming in his stomach.
“JARVIS,” Steve called, “please, let Sam and Buck know that I’m waiting for them.”
Usually, JARVIS would answer, and Steve would be told approximately when the two would be arriving. But there was no reply.
Steve swallowed hard as the knots in his stomach tightened again. “J?” He headed for the elevator and pressed the button. It opened easily for him and he got in, taking it down to the common floor. Maybe there was someone else he could talk to, Nat and Clint asleep on the couch together after a movie or something. No one was down there, either.
He scoured the level thoroughly, checking every room, every closet, every crevice.
He took the elevator down further to the lab levels, running - sprinting - through each floor hoping to find Tony or Bruce, or maybe one of the many Stark Industries employees that should have been working, or just getting into work. No one. Nothing. No thrum of machinery.
Panic started to set it, gripping at his chest and clawing into his lungs. He heaved in air as he tore open the door to the emergency staircase. He ran down the stairs, two at a time, until he reached the ground floor. He ran to the entrance doors and tried to pull it open.
It wouldn’t budge.
He yanked at it again. And again. And again. Nothing.
He stared out at the street. People were moving along walking and talking and smiling at each other. He sighed in relief, even if his stomach wouldn’t relax, and started to pound on the door, hoping to get someone’s attention. No one looked his way. He pounded harder. No one’s heads even twitched in his direction. The people that did face the doors seemed to look straight through him. He sobbed and pounded at the glass, frustrated that it wouldn’t so much as crack.
“Help me!” he cried. “Let me out!”
He kicked the door, hoping it would help, and when his foot landed back on the floor, a small splash reached his ears. It didn’t register for a moment, and he took another step, made another splash. He looked down, frowning, and saw a small puddle of water under his feet. He took a step back, away from the puddle, but it followed him, growing larger. He watched in horror as it widened, reaching each corner of the room before starting to fill, slowly. It reached his ankles, and he was starting to realize its temperature - ice cold. He shivered and ran towards the door again. The water had suddenly risen, reaching above his knees as he tried to run. He reached the doors again and started to pound, to try to kick, to do anything to escape. The door wouldn’t budge, and it was harder and harder to keep his feet on the ground as the water rose to his neck, slowing his arms and choking him with its ice. He swam up with the water as long as he could, trying to keep his mouth and nose above it, shivering and screaming for help.
It soon overtook him, and he swam back down to the door, desperately trying to pull it open. He could see the team. They were standing on the sidewalk outside the building. He pounded and shouted, trying to get their attention, but they didn’t notice. They were focused on each other, laughing and talking. Hugging and touching. Sam and Bucky’s arms were around each other. Sam leaned over to kiss Bucky’s cheek.
Immediately, a current ripped him away from the door, tearing a scream from his throat. The team faded from view and the world around him became darker, colder. He shivered and drew a breath. Water flooded his lungs and he gagged, writhing and turning over and over in the water, reaching out but finding nothing to grab. A weight settled on him, and he was pushed down. Down, down, down. Ice threaded through his veins, chiling him from the inside out. His lungs felt like blocks of ice, weighing him down and furthering his body’s shutdown.
A hand landed on his shoulder, searing his frozen skin. He screamed, his lungs bursting and he jerked up. He rolled away from the touch and fell onto something solid.
The air wasn’t cold. His own harsh breathing echoed in his ears. He trembled and choked down sobs, eyes shut tight as his fingers gripped and tore the carpet beneath him. The rip of fabric grounded him enough that he could open his eyes. He stared at the rent carpet, still clutched in his hands. After a few moments, he could hear the breaths of two others. His head tilted slightly in that direction, but he couldn’t make himself look up. Someone knelt in front of him, and two dark brown, warm hands cupped his cheeks. His breath left him all at once and he leaned into the touch, eyes closing again.
“I’m here, baby,” he murmured.
Sam pulled Steve closer, helping him up onto the bed and cradling him to his chest, gently rubbing his back and petting his hair. Steve trembled against him, tears slipping as his breath shook.
“Buck?” he whispered, afraid to open his eyes.
A colder arm wrapped around Steve’s middle, but it filled him with warmth instead of chilling him. Warm lips pressed a kiss to the back of his neck, stubble gently scratching the skin.
“Right here, Stevie.”
Steve sobbed once, and reached back to hold him closer, clinging to Sam’s shirt with his other hand. “Please,” he whimpered, “Please, don’t leave…”
“We’re not goin’ anywhere,” Bucky assured him. “Right, Sammy?”
“Right.” Sam pressed a soft kiss to Steve’s forehead. “We’ve got you.”
Steve nodded, even as he cried, letting them wrap themselves around him, surrounding him and keeping him safe and warm.