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Flying Blind

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~*~*~

It should have been simple! It had been simple! Nothing they had not practiced for, nothing they had not been prepared for. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Some minor drug lord had gotten hold of a mad scientists leash and had decided that he liked the idea of chemically altered monkeys running amok in the Queens and the Police had not managed to contain the threat in time, causing the Avenger’s alert system to react and calling the heroes out to work.
As per usual with missions such as this this, Bruce had refrained from participating and Captain America gave the rest of his team leave to deal with the situation as they saw fit. Apart from occasionally reminding Iron Man and Hawkeye that the team radio was not, in fact, their personal stand-up comedy stage, they worked with absolute efficiency and soon enough the threat was contained, the clean-up could begin.
Standing in the middle of a rather battered intersection, Steve, with his hood down, was assessing the damage done to both himself and the surrounding area when a familiar sound passed overhead. Smiling softly, the blonde looked up to see the red and gold gleaming armor slowly descend towards him. “I didn’t wanna fly off before making sure you were okay, honey!” Distorted by Iron Man’s speakers as it was, Tony’s voice still managed to sound both casually teasing and downright flirtatious. Steve could not help but chuckle softly, pushing a hand through his tangled locks. “Well if you went through the effort of coming all the way here you may as well come all the way …” He raised his hand, beckoning for his lover to step closer. “Come here, you big sap, get your ‘Well-done’ kiss and get lost …” Tony’s answering laugh almost got lost in the whirring of the armor as the mask detached itself from the rest, gliding upwards to reveal the handsome face underneath. For a second Steve allowed himself to just drink in the sight before him, always stunned anew that this beautiful man had chosen to be by his side. Warm brown eyes, gleaming with a mixture of mischief and adoration caught his own gaze and a bright grin formed on those full lips, reminding the blonde of the entire purpose of this moment. Stepping forward he extended his hand, reaching out to pull his lover closer.
And that was when everything went to hell.
The next few hours were blurred in his head. He remembers the brief look of surprise on Tony’s face, a stinging sensation on his own fingers, he remembers the screams, but not whether they were his own or his lover’s, the hands of his team mates, pulling him back, flashing lights of the emergency vehicles, voices in his ear, trying to calm him down, moving, walking, sitting in a car, starring out a window, feeling lost, finally, Natasha, pulling him into a tight hug, whispering Russian words to him, translated somewhere in the back of his mind, but still without meaning. Only with her hands in his hair, her gentle voice in his ear did Steve finally allow himself to calm down somewhat, to return to the sharp lines of reality. The world around him shifted again, moved into focus.

He found himself in a hospital, a waiting area, hard, uncomfortable plastic chairs and the smell of death and antiseptics a burn in his nostrils. His shoulders were cramped, hunched over, his fingers aching from being wrung together for endless hours already. A head lay heavy on his shoulder, a look down brought a mop of deep red into his vision, Natasha, asleep. Looking around the room he found James, Bucky, standing not far away, arms crossed, leaned against a wall, not sleeping but resting, hair still mated, still dirt caked from their fight, weary lines around his eyes. Across from him sat Phil Coulson, looking professional and pristine as ever if not for the hard, worried line of his mouth, betraying the Agent’s agitation. Next to him, sprawled across three chairs at once, was Clint, already wrapped up in bandages, arms and legs and most prominently with a big patch on his forehead. Absently, Steve made a mental note to talk to the archer about his disregard for his own safety, although he suspected that Phil had had these talks many times already to no avail. The Captain felt a small smile tug at his lips, reminded of how he has had these kind of discussions many a time with his own lover. The thought went sour in his mouth the very next moment, when he remembered why he sat in this hospital chair and why his team was surrounding him like a safety blanket instead of heading to their respective homes to get some much needed rest after an exhausting mission. Behind the heavy stainless steel doors of the emergency room, his beloved lay, with injuries Steve had no memories of, possibly fighting for his life if not gone already. The very idea send a shiver through the Captain’s wide frame, cause Natasha to stir and blearily blink up at him. “Any news?”, she whispered, voice rough with fatigue, her face cautiously hopeful. When her leader shook his head she sighed and put her head back down on his shoulder. “All will be well, darling, all will be well …” The soft lilt of her Russian mother tongue only helped so much to soothe the frayed nerves of Steve Rogers.

The waited for another four hours, Steve insisting that Phil took Clint home to rest, but not even daring to argue with his best friend and the redheaded assassin by his shoulder, until finally a dark-skinned man in a pristine, white lab coat approached them, the clipboard in his hand like a scepter of his trade. “Captain Rogers?” Immediately, Steve stood up, back ramrod straight with nerves and worry, deep lines across his forehead. He tried to read anything into the carefully neutral expression of the doctor, barely keeping himself from bombarding the men with questions. Any second without information on Tony felt like a lifetime, every breath drawn in uncertainty as painful as if he were pressing water through his lungs. Finally the other man gently cleared his throat, looked at Steve, then briefly at Natasha and James, who had joined the group and then back at the papers on his clipboard. “He is well … under the circumstances … we were able to keep the poison from spreading, saving his brain and therefore all vital functions from failure. With some treatment and possibly some surgery there will be next to no scaring either.” Steve sighed, relief flooding through him despite the fact that he was still not quite sure what exactly had transpired in the brief moments between the end of their battle and coming back to the sight of a hospital waiting room. But Tony was alive and, according to the doctor, well and that was all that matter. “Can I see him?!” The question broke from his lips before the other man had a chance to continue with his report. Obviously surprised by the vehemence of the question he threw one more questioning glance at the Captain’s companions and then nodded. “Of course, Sir … this way, please …”

‘He must be really well!’ Steve thought to himself as he trailed behind the doctor’s white-clad back. They were still in the ER wing of the hospital but not the part where life threatening conditions were treated. This was for observation only, giving him hope that he could possibly take his lover home that very day. At one of the many identical doors the doctor stopped, once more consulting his board and then nodding. “20 minute tops, he still needs a lot of rest and … try to speak quietly, his ears are only just adjusting to having to compensate for the missing sense …” With that he pushed the door open and Steve rushed past him, not even contemplating the meaning of the words just spoken. Pushing the door close behind him he stepped into the sterile surroundings, the stead hum of machines, the beeping of a heart monitor, the only sounds. “Tony? Love?” He was almost convinced his lover was asleep when the faint rustling of sheets and finally Tony’s voice, rough but strong, broke through the monotones of the life support. “Hey sugar … sorry … I made you worry again, didn’t I? Damn thing still had life in it after all … who’d have thought …” As Steve approached, pulling a chair closer with him, Tony made to sit up, groaning softly with the effort. It was only then that Steve noticed the bandages, white gauze wrapped tightly around Tony’s head, causing his short hair to stand up in spikes, with thick patches across both his eyes. Where the skin on his cheek was not quite covered the Blonde could make out angry red patches, like rashes on the beautiful olive tone of the others skin. And it was only than that the doctor’s words came rushing back to him. … ears only just adjusting to … compensate … missing sense … He felt faint, all of the sudden, glad for the chair’s support, as he sank down into it with the realization. Tony was blind … that one moment of distraction on the battlefield, his own selfish need to see his lover’s face before they were clearly and completely out of the rough, had caused his lover to loose his most valued sense. “Steve? You there? I can hear you shuffling … but I’m not quite sure with the ruckus of these neanderthalian machines … love? Hey! Gimme your hand …” Automatically, Steve reached out, grasped the mechanic’s work-roughened hand in his own, squeezed softly and for a brief moment he found himself thinking he was glad that Tony could not see the tears streaming down his face.

~*~

Tony stayed at the hospital for three more days, much to his own dismay but the doctors insisted, wanting to be sure that no poisioning had taken place and that the skin was healing up as it should. Steve stayed with him through all of it, only ever leaving the dark haired man’s side when the nurses made him shower or eat or change. One by one the rest of the team came by to visit, all visibly paleing the moment they were told what exactly had happened and what the consequences would be. The only one almost completely unfazed by it seemed to be Tony who, by the second day, had managed to develop a floor plan of the hospital for his tablet with extremely precise locating software which, with the help of JARVIS allowed him to navigate at the least his room and the path to the cafeteria with his ease, the gentle voice of the AI telling him if obstecales were approaching or if an upcoming door would require manual opening or would slide by itself.
When Steve questioned him about his optimism all he got in answer was a brief (sloppy, misplaced at first) kiss on the forehead and a grin, that would have looked so much more familiar to the Captain, had it been accompanied by the mischivious gleam in his lover’s dark brown eyes that he had come to adore so much. “As long as my hands still work and I can still tell JARVIS what to do … I should be fine … and hey … heads up, Captain! The doc says, they’re not even sure it’s permanent yet!” With a soft smile and then, remembering that Tony could not see it, a soft mumble, Steve tried to share in the others bright outlook for the future but could not fight the knot of dread that had taken permanent residence in his stomach.

~*~

A year later Steve had given up on hope while Tony seemed to strive under this new challenge. His first act, after returning to the tower had been to look himself up in the workshop to work with JARVIS on ways to make his home more navigable, found himself a teacher for braille and then proceeded to just live his life as he had merely stubbed a toe. If he was at all upset by the fact that he could not watch the sunset anymore, curled up in bed on Steve’s chest in the few lazy mornings their busy schedule and unpredictable job granted them, he did not let it on, instead mapping his fingers over his lovers body, grinning. “My hands have gotten so much more sensitive … I can feel every bump and ridge on your skin … scars I never even knew were there … it’s like … a kinky blindfold play that just keeps going and going!” Then he laughed, found his lover’s lips with absolute surety and proceeded to turn a lazy morning into a very lazy, very love-filled early noon.

~*~

Steve sketched, he had always done that in moments of great emotional turmoil, be it happy or sad moments but the artist’s blood in him did not allow for him to waste a single opportunity to put his feelings into charcoal, chalk or pencil and so, as often as he could, he would sit and sketch. Filling page after page with idle lines and crosshatches, sometimes abstract, most of the times of images that floated around in his mind. Ever since he had met him, Tony had been one of his favorite subjects, owed to the fact that the man simple evoked the most emotions in him. Annoyance, even anger at first, the curiosity, kinship, fascination with the amazing things Tony’s mind constantly came up with and finally love, absolute and utter adoration. Steve had entire sketchbooks filled with moments of his live with the futurist, some pages full of studies, just the other’s hands, his lips, his legs, shoulders and back, some full portraits, capturing Tony’s intense concentration when he worked on a project, tongue caught between his teeth, his infectious laugh, lines wrinkling around the spark in his dark eyes.
Sometimes Steve would pick these books up, skim through them and found himself completely and utterly desolate, tears streaming down his cheeks, sobs wrecking his body as he shook with the sheer unfairness of it all. He sketched, wet blotches smearing across the paper as Captain America, as Steve Rogers, wept in his helplessness.
Behind the door, his lover stood, blind to the sights of the world but fully aware of the desolation that had taken a hold of his lover. A soft sigh left his lips as he stepped away from the door, easily finding his way through the corridors towards his workshop. He had learned to deal with his blindness, had accepted it as something he could not undo but could work to make it his advantage. While he was still banned from active duty for the Avenger’s (and grudgingly accepting that as well, if only because Steve had begged him to) he had not ceased to work on his armors, had spent long nights thinking, calculating, engineering to adjust Iron Man to his new needs. He had just finished his first test flight and had been ready to tell Steve the good news, to share his excitement with the men he loved when his ears (now so much keener, so much sharper) had picked up the sounds of weeping.
Now, standing once more in the midst of his kingdom, hearing, feeling, breathing the thrum of machines around him, for the first time since he woke up to utter darkness, he felt like he had arrived at a dead end. Because for all of his inventions, all the gadgets to almost make him forget he could not see anymore, how could he bring the same faith, the same strength he felt when he thought about the future to his lover?

~*~

Christmas Eve, a year and a half after the fateful incident that had ripped the sight from Tony, a year and a half of Tony cheerfully dealing with his new status as the ears and hands of the team, a year and a half of Steve slowing slipping into depression, beating himself up over his failure to protect the one person he could not live without.
Ever since he had found his lover crying to himself, unleashing all the emotions that he seemingly felt like he had to bottle them up, Tony had kept quiet but had broken his own head for ways to show Steve that not all was lost. In a squeeze of the hand here, a soft kiss, placed so accurately that no one would even think him blind, soft, straying touches, whispers of love and adoration in the quiet of their bedroom. He had done all he could to proof to the other man that nothing had, in fact, changed except that he did not spend several hours a day in front of the mirror anymore, making sure his appearance was absolutely pristine when it had been fine after a quick brush and shave. And yet he felt like Steve was slipping further and further away each day.
As Christmas approached a plan started to hatch in his mind and, by enlisting practically the entire team for his idea, he was ready to strike on Christmas Eve.

~*~

All of them had gathered for their traditionally Christmas Eve dinner, prepared as a joint venture between Steve and Bruce with the rest of them taking care of table settings, drinks, dessert (by Clint who made an excellent Tiramisu) and the dishes afterwards. As per usual when all of them came together it was a rowdy affair, full of laughter, yelling, friendly insults thrown back and forth across the table, probably not followed by food only thanks to the presence of Phil Coulson, who had a firm grip on a certain archer’s thigh, the promise of a very cold and lonely night in his eyes. Even Steve seemed to have relaxed, joking with James and Natasha, sharing the occasionally sweet kiss with hi lover and for the first time in a long while looking like he was actually enjoying himself.
And while Tony could not see his beloved’s face scrunch up in amused disgust after a particularly lewd comment from his best friend, he could hear it, the way his voice swung as he threw back a reply, feel it in the way his shoulders shook against the smaller man’s. At long long last … things are going to be okay … Tony thought, smiling softly to himself, when he heard footsteps approaching him, a slim hand falling gently onto his shoulder. “You ready?”, Natasha’s voice was soft in his ears.
He nodded, pushing back his chair to stand up, reaching for his glass and lifting it. Clearing his throat he waited till silence had fallen over the table, smirking a bit when I could hear the soft intake of Steve’s breath that betrayed his confusion and surprise. “Hah! Did you guys see that? Not a single drop of wine spilled … makes you all almost forget about the disaster last year when I drenched Natasha’s new dress … although I still don’t quite believe you guys when you tell me it was white … sorry, darling! Just not your color!” He waited once more till the laughter had died down about before turning towards Steve, smiling now, more softly. “So yeah … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I could see your face right now love … in fact … through all of this? Through all these days learning to live with the constant darkness? That’s my only regret … hey … I found new, exciting ways to know you, learn your body … I can hear you roll your eyes right now, Barnes! … … what was I saying? Ah right … I miss your face, sugar … I miss the beautiful shade of blue of your eyes, the way that one stubborn strand of hair always falls into them, the way your lips curl when you’re mad at me but I’m too cute for you to stay mad … I even miss the Captain’s face, the stern looks, that thing with your cheek that I never quite figured out … of course the sunsets, too or the sight of New York … or even just looking around this table right now, seeing all the faces of our friends, of the people I care most for in my life …” He stopped briefly, directing his blind gaze at the glass in his hand, his smile faltering just a bit.
“But … I cannot change it! That crap hit me, hit my eyes and blinded me … but hey! If I believe the doc and I have every reason to … I could be dead as well! I think my sight is actually a small price to pay for still being around … for still being allowed to have all of you, to have you, Steve … by my side still and being able to breathe you, feel you every waking moment of my life! I … I know you have had a hard time dealing with all this, love … sometimes I think, you may have even been hit harder by it all than I have … and I think I know why … but that is not for this moment. What I’m trying to tell you with this little monologue is … I love you, Steven Rogers! I will always love, no matter the circumstances … and the fact that I can … careful, pun ahead … look into the future with such high hopes? That’s because of you! Because I know for certain that you are right beside me … and I don’t need to see to know that … I feel you, with every fiber of my being! And … if you are willing to keep going with me … I’d be the happiest man alive!”
Once more he waited, smiling softly to himself, listening intently to the sounds around the table, trying to imagine all of their reactions, Clint’s eyes rolling while trying to hide his grin behind Phil’s shoulder, the agent’s knowing smirk as he reaches up to roughen up the archer’s hair. James and Nat, her sitting his lap, head against his metal shoulder, just grinning like loons, like the nerds they were. He could hear Bruce chuckle and Rhodey gasp slightly (he may have forgotten to inform him of his plans, oops!), Pepper wiping her eyes daintily not to mess up her makeup. But most of all he could hear the slight hitch in Steve’s breathe, the sound of him swallowing against a lump in his throat. Then he heard the legs of a chair scraping across the wooden floor, the rustle of clothes before strong arms engulfed him, a warm cheeks, wet with tears, pressed against his own and his beloved’s breath on his ear, making shiver slightly. Steve’s voice was rough with emotion, trembling ever so slightly. “Is … that you asking me? To … to marry you?”
With a warm laugh, Tony reached up and pulled his lover so much closer, as if trying to completely crawl into him, answering so quietly that only Steve’s super soldier hearing would be able to pick it up: “Only if your answer is yes … but I do hope it will be … I love you, Steve … I want this and I want us and I will not let the fact that my eyes don’t work anymore stand in the way of that … so I guess … year … will you marry me?” The answer got lost in the kiss he received and the cheering of their friends, momentarily deafening him to the point that he was completely lost, if not for Steve’s warm, strong arms holding him tight.

~*~

Epilogue:

“Steve! Steve come quick! You have GOT to see this! Hurry!” The urgency in his lover’s voice caused Steve to speed up even more, skidding across the floor in just his socks, coming to an almost panting stop in the living room. “What is it? Did something happen?” He looked around, ready for any sort of attack or catastrophe that needed to be battle. All he found was Tony, Bucky and Clint sitting on the living room floor, crossed legged, with shit eating grins on their faces. Well, two of them, for Bucky was wearing the Winter Soldier’s menacing facial guard, only the wrinkles around his eyes gave away his utter amusement. Steve’s brow furrowed in confusion until Tony happily announced: “Look! It’s the three wise monkeys! See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil! … you know … with Clint being hard of hearing and all … Steve? Steve! Common, love! It was just a joke! Steve! Sugar! No! No don’t take my … I hear you gathering the bedsheets! Steeeee~ve!”

~Fin