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Proof of Life

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There's nothing about this that's right or easy or gentle. It's about an overwhelming sense of touch and assurances. It's about near death and proof of life. When Steve attacks him after they finally return from the latest battle from the newest alien incursion, Tony invites it. Body against body, skin heaves against skin, sweat mixes, breathes pant and groan. He wants this, urges Steve on, thinks nothing of their circumstances. They've just finished a twenty hour battle where neither one of them could be sure the other survived, so these moments are a flurry of intended assault, but unplanned passion that borders on violence. The motion captures them both, holds them like hostages and Tony welcomes it because this near destructive force of lovemaking validates life.

They cannot get at each other fast enough, and Tony’s only lucky he's able to remind Steve of the others coming back from battle to the Tower before they are both completely disrobed. Tony's heard enough complaints about his actions from Pepper to last a life time. Steve murmurs a reply when Tony mutters something about the bedroom, slightly kicking him with his feet. Steve listens and without tenderness stumbles Tony into the back bedroom of the penthouse and rips at the underarmor Tony's taken to wearing with the suit. It's a thick Kevlar fabric meant to give him extra protection, but it doesn't hold up to a super soldier's desperate hands.

Not wanting to be left behind, Tony peels away Steve's clothes, the uniform’s in tatters anyway. They work their way to bed and then something both magical and bestial occurs. The next hour or so it's frenetic, a blur of hot bodies and sweat and movement. Tony grunts as he becomes compliant to anything Steve wants, anything Steve begs for. In turn after aching turn, they thrust and shove as if they are re-enacting the battle, each of them playing the enemy, each of them taking bruise upon bruises that are already there from the real combat.

In a hazy of sensation, Tony moans and blinks away the sweat as it pours into his eyes, as Steve pushes in again for the second time, not finished. It seems Steve might never finish this time. He's overcome, undone with need and want of verification. At one point, Tony swears he hears Steve growling as he comes to completion.

After the maniacal sexual encounter, it transforms into a softer session, where Steve lines Tony's body with kisses, where he searches for every nerve ending that Tony possesses to lift it to fire and then tease it just lightly, perfectly. This time Steve waits, looking for Tony to finds his way to orgasm. He drives in slow and seeking until Tony's haze breaks and he comes in a flush of sensation that leaves him spent and broken and so much more in love than he'd been before this whole attack (alien and Steve combined) started.

He lies for a while Steve on top of him, trying to catch his breath.

"Hey, babe, you're kind of ruining the merchandise. Can you get up?"

It takes a few minutes before Steve responds and he grumbles something before he rolls off of Tony, practically boneless as he moves.

Tony slips over to him, nuzzling into his side and Steve's arm curls around him, but it feels like dead weight. Looking up at Steve from his position, Tony notices that his eyes are half lidded, close to sleep.

"Tired, babe?"

"Hmm," Steve says. "Exhausted, need to." He drags his other hand up to his face and scrubs at his eyes. "Damn it, I'm dizzy, I feel -." And he stops again, looking positively green.

"Steve, you didn't get hit by some of those magic rays or crap, did you?" Tony says, perching up on his on hand to study Steve.

Steve lays an arm over his eyes as if the minimal light in the bedroom from the cityscape outside the panorama windows hurts. "No, I need to rest, that's all. Let's just sleep, okay?"

Tony hesitates, bending his elbow as if to lower himself back into the cozy comfort of Steve's embrace, but then he stops and pops back up. "You'd tell me if it was something, right?"

Steve screws up his face, but manages a low mumbled affirmative. His eyes droop and he sighs, but Tony jostles him. "Oh, no you don't, we need to get cleaned up."

Steve slaps at the air and mutters, "Tomorrow."

Tony yucks at him, and then tries to haul a very unresponsive Captain America out of bed. Steve staggers to his feet, following Tony with half closed eyes. When Tony finally drags him to the bathroom, Steve grabs onto the sink and bends over like he's fighting to not vomit.

"Hey, hey, what is this? What's going on?" Tony puts a hand on Steve's back, rubbing.

"Just tired," Steve hisses through clenched teeth.

"Nothing else?" Tony says, considering him. He looks worn, with shadows and hollows that should not be on such a strong perfect specimen of man. Tony shifts and debates contacting Bruce.

“Just give me a minute, I’m tired, I swear that’s all,” Steve says and reaches to turn on the faucets. His hands tremble and he doesn’t hide it. “It’s nothing.”

“Doesn’t look like nothing,” Tony says and leaves the bathroom. He rummages through clothing and then realizes his phone won’t be in his underarmor. “JARVIS, contact Bruce.”

“Yes, sir.”

As Bruce comes on the line, his voice tremulous at best - being the Hulk really took it out of him this time – Tony hears the shower turn on and he relaxes a degree. “Hey bro, just checking in on you.”

“Hmm, thanks?”

“Everything good there?”

“Yeah, yeah, and you?”

Tony scratches at his messed hair. “Yeah, we’re good. Talk to you later, maybe get a smoothie or, you know, some of that twig tea you like.”

“Sure,” Bruce replies and switches off.

Tony stands in the dark of the room for a moment, feeling a little bit of a fool and a lot of a man so desperately in love he can’t see straight when he comes to Steve. He strolls back into the bathroom and goes to open the fogged shower door, only to find one super soldier leaning against it, balled up in the corner on the floor of the shower. He can’t move the shower door due to Steve’s weight against the door.

He stands there like a fool for about five minutes, staring at Steve, checking with JARVIS to ensure that Steve is actually breathing (he is), and then deciding if he should call Bruce again.

“That’s not going to happen,” Tony says.

“Sir?”

“Ignore,” Tony says and raps again on the shower’s glass door. He’s done it at least five to a dozen or more times, he doesn’t know. Steve remains unresponsive. “You’re sure he’s alive?”

“Captain Rogers is asleep, sir.”

Huffing out a breath, Tony says, “Okay, let’s do this the hard way. Cold water, JARVIS, turn off the hot.”

As soon as the cold water hits him, Steve startles and jerks in the shower. He whips around at the same time Tony knocks on the glass door. Shivering, he calls to JARVIS to turn the hot water back on and opens the door. “Thanks a lot, shellhead.”

“Don’t fall asleep in the shower when I want to clean up, too,” Tony says as he steps in.

Steve looks surprisingly abashed and, for Tony’s troubles he ends up with a wonderful round of fellatio to finish off the night of life affirming sex. Eventually they both stumble to the bed, too tired to eat, and too satiated to care.

The next morning when Tony wakes up wrapped in Steve’s arms, he bats at the octopus like grip around him. It takes a few maneuvers but Tony breaks free and amazingly doesn’t end up waking Steve in the process. He shrugs it off and decides it might be best to let the old geezer sleep in for once. Capsicle normally gets up at the crack of dawn, but since they were fighting until the middle of the night, Tony can see why Steve might have decided to allow himself one day without his sunrise jog.

Dressed, Tony tidies up the room, tossing all of their clothes in the hamper and heads to the communal kitchen. A ruckus event is happening with Thor pouring out another story of the Warriors Three while Clint keeps on working in questions about Lady Sif. Natasha glowers at him with a look Tony does not envy.

“Finally, the man of the hour has arisen,” Clint says and perches on the counter near the coffee pot.

“Get off,” Tony says and whacks at him until he hops down. “Long battle wanted to sleep in.”

“Oh, yes,” Natasha smiles. “Looks like your battle went on a little longer than any of ours.” She lifts an eyebrow and Tony rubs at his neck.

He noticed the love bites on his neck earlier when he shaved. “You’re jealous.” He doesn’t wait for her reply, and asks, “What’s for breakfast? Since when do we eat pizza for breakfast around here? This isn’t a frat house.”

“It’s three in the afternoon,” Bruce says as he walks into the kitchen. “You and your better half have been hibernating for twelve hours.”

“We were tired,” Tony says and grimaces. “Since when is Steve the better half of this duo?”

Natasha actually snorts at that one while Thor chortles into his large mug of beer.

He slaps Thor on the arm and says, “A little early to start drinking.”

“It is five o’clock in some realm, somewhere my friend,” Thor says and raises his glass. It seems Clint is partaking as well and they clink mugs and gulp the brew down.

“You’re all disgusting,” Tony says and pours his coffee, steals a slice of pizza, and exits with a call back to the house guests that never leave. “Be in the workshop.”

He works straight through for another twelve hours. Bruce joins him and they go over footage from the latest battles, mainly for his research on the flight of the Iron Man armor and getting it to smooth out and be more proactive rather than just reactionary.

At about four in the morning and three more slices of pizza later along with a fruit smoothie and some granola, Tony realizes he hasn’t seen Steve all day long. “Where’s Steve?”

Bruce pops up his head and says, “If he’s a normal person, which other than the super serum and the 70 year stasis, I would think he is – he’s probably in bed. It is nearly dawn.”

“Huh,” Tony says and swipes away the holographic console. “He never visited me.”

The corners of Bruce’s lips curl and turn upward. “That’s cute.”

“Stop it,” Tony says.

“No, that’s really adorable. You miss him.”

“No, I’m worried about him. The dope never takes care of himself. I mean he’s our leader he should be setting an example-.”

“Steve always take care of himself. You’re in love and it’s adorable. Admit it,” Bruce says and there’s such a look of sweet regard in his eyes that Tony has a hard time brushing him off.

“Oh shit,” Tony says and throws down his tools to go and find his guy. He hums a little as he rides the lift up to the penthouse, expecting to find Steve exactly where Bruce stated – in his bed. He crosses through the quiet common room and then down the hallway to his main bedroom suite.

Stepping into the bedroom, he sees Steve in the bed, quiet, undisturbed and naked. The sheet is too the side, exactly the way Tony left it this morning or yesterday afternoon. When Tony stops to examine Steve’s position he notes that he’s in the same position Tony left him in.

“What the hell?” Tony rushes to Steve’s side and reaches out as if to touch him, but halts centimeters above his shoulder. “JARVIS, is Steve breathing?”

“Yes, Captain Rogers is breathing.”

The tension strung out in his shoulders releases and Tony says, “Oh fuck, oh damn it, shit, thank God.” He places a hand on Steve’s shoulder and jostles him. “Steve?”

No movement.

“Steve?” Tony shakes harder.

Steve’s head lolls to the side and he’s not answering.

“JARVIS, has Steve been here the entire day?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Damn it, why didn’t you tell me?” Tony says and all the little warning bells that like to scream in his head to cause those very lovely panic attacks begin wailing. “What the hell?”

“According to his status, sir, Captain Rogers is sleeping.”

“Sleeping?” Tony peers down at him, and there does seem to be a peaceful aspect about his repose, and it reminds Tony of something else. The footage he’s seen – the damned footage. “Sleeping or in stasis?”

“I can assure you that-.”

“God damn it, get Bruce, get him here now,” Tony says and flips the sheet over Steve to cover him. “Come on babe, please, wake up.” Tony can only think, at least, he’s not cold and it brings all kinds of horrible thoughts bubbling to the surface. “Where the hell is Bruce?”

“I’m right here, I was going to bed,” Bruce says as he enters the room. He’s in sleeping pants and a t-shirt that says I heart the Hulk. Tony rolls his eyes. “Hey, I’m trying to show some balance here.”

“Whatever, just check him out,” Tony says and points to Steve.

Bruce chucks his bag on to the nightstand and lightly touches Steve’s chest. “What seems to be the problem?”

“He’s sleeping.”

“It’s four thirty in the morning, Tony, we talked about this, people sleep at night.”

“Not for twenty four hours they don’t,” Tony says.

“What?”

“You heard me, JARVIS tell him,” Tony replies and crosses his arms over his chest. It’s the only way he can hide that he’s physically shaking, trembling with nervous fear. What if Steve went into some weird coma, or stasis again, or that alien craptastic villain of the week did some kind of mojo on him? All the while, Tony was down in his workshop playing? What the hell kind of boyfriend is he? What kind of proof of life is this?”

As Tony comes back to the present – he hears JARVIS explaining, “-has been asleep for approximately twenty-five hours and thirty-two minutes.”

“He hasn’t woken once?” Bruce asks.

“No, he has not. His systems including his cardiovascular, renal, and gastrointestinal systems have slowed down, Doctor Banner.”

“Slowed down?” Tony says and adds, “Cross reference with the data from SHIELD regarding the time Steve was found in the ice and thawed. What kind of status do we have there?”

“They are somewhat different, sir.”

“How different?” Bruce asks as he pulls out a stethoscope and listens to Steve’s heart, places it on his abdomen and listens again.

“During the time in the ice, it is speculated that Captain Rogers did not have a heart beat but was preserved perfectly and that the reason he lived was due to the serum’s presence. Once it warmed enough, it reacted and caused his systems to revive.”

“You mean he wasn’t technically asleep, but dead?” Tony says and wants to gag.

“In technical terms, yes sir.”

“That’s one theory,” Bruce says and holds up his hand as if to ward off the anxiety creeping up Tony’s spine and ready to attack every brain cell he has. “There are several others. Unfortunately, SHIELD did not have the actual data from the moments before Steve thawed, only when they realized he was alive did they hook him up to all of the equipment and start recording.”

Tony nods and swallows hard but still feels like something is choking him. “So, what’s up now?”

Bruce checks Steve’s pulse points.

“If I may, sir?” JARVIS says.

“Yes?”

“According to my observations, Captain Rogers had not eaten for approximately twenty-six hours before the battle,” JARVIS says. “Factoring in how long the battle was, your activities, and then how long he’s slept, that means he has not eaten for nearly seventy two hours. Considering his metabolism-.”

“He’s beyond tired, he’s fatigued and starved,” Bruce finishes. “His metabolism runs at four times ours. If he hasn’t had anything to eat in seventy two hours that means he’s missing at least 24,000 calories. And that’s without a battle,” Bruce waves his scope at Tony. “And your other activities. He probably needed more than that.”

“Damn it, so?” Tony says and ruffles his hands through his hair. It’s like he can’t think when this happens to Steve. When he saw Steve take the side of the building to the head, he’d nearly flew into another building. He cannot think when Steve’s in danger – of any kind.

“So, I string up some fluids and we’ll run a naso-gastric line, get some foods other than lactose in him,” Bruce says. “Should work.”

“Should? That’s confidence, man,” Tony says.

As he walks out of the room, Bruce says. “Confidence kind of went out of the window the day the other guy showed up. Be right back.”

It takes no time for Bruce, along with some fancy machines and JARVIS’ assistance, to string Steve up with the intravenous line for fluids and a tube down his throat for nutrients. For good measure Bruce also puts a blood pressure cuff on him, pressure cuffs on his legs, and then a heart monitor and pulse ox monitor as well. With a little help, Tony’s able to get some boxers on Steve and bundles him with blankets. When Bruce offers him a questioning look, Tony only says, “He doesn’t like the cold.”

Tony doesn’t sleep that night. He lies down on the bed, next to Steve, spooned up against his side, hoping for him to wake up. He spends a good amount of time staring into the night and then watching the shifting light as the dawn appears and the room is bathed in a slow glow of warm sunlight. Running his hand up and down Steve’s shoulder, Tony whispers words – those that are too secret and sacred to think out loud, but still he says them hoping to rouse Steve.

Somewhere along the way, Bruce appears, checks on Steve, and nods. He changes out the ringer solution and checks on the tubing. He squeezes Tony’s hand and then quietly departs.

Tony knows something’s different about an hour later when Steve’s breathing heightens and he moves his legs once. Leveraging his body up, he waits and watches as Steve opens his eyes. The blue is startling, almost translucent like a crystal or gem. Steve peers around and the look only reminds Tony of fear, loss, and complete confusion.

In seconds, JARVIS must alert Bruce because he enters the room without a word and the rest of the team appears, hanging to the side as if on vigil as well. Tony shuffles to sit up and tries to quell the fear battering him again.

“Steve?” Tony says at Bruce’s silent prompting.

Only a low grunt answers him and then Steve’s clawing at the tube going down his throat.

Bruce stays his hand and says in a low soothing tone. “It’s okay, Steve. I’ll take it out, now.”

Steve glances at Tony as if to verify trust. Without knowing what to do, Tony grasps Steve’s hand and says, “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Bruce clears things up quickly and efficiently. He removes all of the equipment, cuffs, and monitors. The intravenous line is removed and the feeding tube pulled with a groan of pain. Steve does vomit a little after the tube is taken out, but Bruce was ready for it with a small pan to catch it.

Natasha is suddenly there with a glass of water and Tony feels like an idiot. He should have been the one to do that, he should care enough, know enough to care for Steve. Steve accepts the water but looks around for something to wipe his mouth. Tony scrambles for it, determined not to allow anyone else to step in his place as caretaker.

He offers Steve a tissue from the box on the table. Steve cleans up and drinks the water. He scans the room, frowns, and says in a hoarse voice, “What’s going on?”

“You forgot to eat,” Bruce says and packs up the last of the medical equipment.

“What?” Steve says and rubs at his eyes. “Last I remember-.” He colors a brilliant shade of red.

“Yeah, I don’t think I want to hear the rest of that story,” Clint says. “Good to see you awake, Cap. Never thought I’d see the day that a good roll in the hay put a super soldier out for the cou-.”

Natasha elbows him and then says, “We’re glad you’re feeling better, Rogers.” Taking Clint by the collar, she hauls him out of the room.

Thor only grins and says, “It is a fine day to know that one of my warrior brothers is well again. Good day, Captain.”

“Thanks, Thor.”

Bruce ushers Thor out of the room, checks on Tony with a quick sidelong glance, and then closes the door.

“Hey,” Tony says as Steve scoots up the bed.

Steve yawns and blinks a few times before concentrating on Tony. “Yeah?”

“Don’t do that again.”

“Do what?”

“Not eating for like three days. Apparently that’s pretty bad for you,” Tony says. “JARVIS, order out?”

“Already done, sir.”

“You are the love of my life, J man,” Tony says.

“That is quite nice of you to say, sir, even though I know you do not mean it.”

Steve snickers and edges off the bed.

Catching him, Tony says, “Where are you going?”

“I have to use the bathroom,” Steve says and gets up. “This usually doesn’t happen.” He goes to the bathroom and says from behind the door. “Three days shouldn’t be a big deal, really. But the battle and the extra activities both before and after.”

Oh- Tony thinks. Yep, that’s what they were doing before they were so rudely interrupted by evil.

After Steve cleans up and enters the bedroom again, Tony says, “I still think you need to remember to eat. Crap, I don’t eat for days and just about the whole world knows about it and my stock prices plummet. Which, if I do say so, is not half as bad as seeing you out like death warmed over.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve says and drops onto the bed. He looks healthy, a nice rosy glow to his skin, but still – the idea of it, the memory of it brings all the anxiety back and Tony snaps.

“I’m sorry, that’s what you have to say for yourself? You’re supposed to be our team leader, everyone’s supposed to look up to you. And what do you do? You don’t fucking eat. You drop over into a stupor that just about kills me – because I thought you were dead. D-E-A-D, do you know how that feels?” Tony throws his hands up and glares at Steve. “I thought you, you, the man of the hour, the man with a plan, the man of my dreams, the love of my life was dead. And that I caused it. I did it. I thought I was stupid enough to just leave you here, and not check up on you. My absentee brain, not checking on you. You gone, dead, on my watch. You who everyone knows is the best of the-.”

Steve stands up and grabs Tony’s hands as he violently waves them about him. “Shhh- shhh, quiet.”

“I mean I can’t. I just- I can-.” Tony stops because the words are a jumble in his brain anyhow and he can’t get them out, and they are colliding and crashing and he’s falling and sitting on the bed, encompassed in Steve’s broad arms. “What would I do if I lost you?”

“Not going to happen.”

“It could, it might-.”

Steve kisses him quiet and it isn’t about the taste or the excitement of the kiss – it is more about the lingering touch, the delicate promise, the words not spoken that calms Tony.

“I’m sorry,” Steve says.

Tony whispers a hand, a caress down the line of Steve’s cheek. “Don’t do it again.”

“Never,” Steve says and pets Tony’s head as he leans into Steve.

They sit, cuddled together for long moments, but then Steve says, “Do you think we could eat now?”

Tony only laughs and sighs, and celebrates because this is life and it’s right and perfect and sometimes life is just about the simple things – like sleeping and eating and loving. And that’s what makes it worth it – every day, every minute. That is proof of life.

THE END