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He’s awake when it goes down.

He keeps his hands on the yoke as long as he can, and then he’s shaking. There is metal, shuddering to pieces around him, but Steve Rogers has said his goodbyes. He knows what’s at stake. This is a sacrifice he can make.

He will die so they don’t have to.

His shield sings past him and lodges itself in the bulkhead.

The hull buckles, splits in two, and he clings, even though he knows he’s about to have a fatal fall, like Bucky from that train (he knows now), but it’s so much easier when you have something to hold onto -

And then he’s thrown, and he’s falling, falling, down into the white -


- - -


There's water, rushing in around him.

He’s fallen, he’s slid down, down, down against the wall, down into the corner. He thinks his leg is broken, he can feel the needles, the agonizing spike of pain every time he tries to shift his weight. There is steel rising up before him in a steep tilt, and he lies in the dead ship and breathes in strangled gasps.

He feels like he’s dying.  

The water is so cold.

It’s ok, he thinks. They knew where he was. They’ll come for him soon.


- - -


The water is cold, so very cold, and he lies in it, feels it seeping into his uniform, feels the break in the outer hull next to his hip, feels how he’s inches away from sliding into the ocean for good. Metal and engineering don’t mean anything here.

He doesn’t mean anything here.

There’s him, and there’s the cold, and there’s the fathomless black below him.

And sky, there’s sky above him, a patch of cloudless blue framed by the jagged, twisted steel.

They’ll come for him soon, he thinks.

If they don’t, well. He’s been ready to die.

Soldier on, he thinks.


- - -


There was cold, before.

There was huddling in deep forests and the crunch of snow. There was the sting of fingers trying to work a bolt-action rifle in the snow. Shaking hands trying to undo the snaps on boxes of ammunition. Blankets and socks worn too thin, clothes that couldn’t stand against the chill.

Bucky’s breath, hanging in the air before them, before it drifted into nothing.

Lights, from towns with warm hearths and fires and laughter they couldn’t enter because they were the enemy.

He’s looking in again, he thinks, except he’s looking out, and all there is is cold, here.


- - -


The day fades into night, and Steve wonders why he isn’t dead yet.


- - -


There is always more water, he learns. It’s hardened on his leg, crept up his left hip, clung to him like glass, stiffened his body so he doesn’t have to hold himself, but always, there’s more.

His head is floating and the liquid ice creeps into his ears. He feels it tingling on his scalp. It pierces his head, the cold, the ache is in his brain, but he can’t move, he can’t shake it away, he can’t do anything.

His body is failing him.

He should get out. He should leave, he should pull himself up, break the ice from his legs and crawl until he makes it to the surface.

It’s so much trouble to move, he thinks dimly.

It’s so cold.


- - -


His blood is thickening.

He can’t feel it anymore, the pulse that let him know he’s alive, the warm hiss of it in his ears. It prickles, slugs through his veins and sends aches up and down his arms. He imagines it crystallizing in his belly, his organs settling themselves into a frigid red slurry.

He’s the only one, the only one left. It’s in his blood. They need it. They said so.

They wanted his blood for something, once upon a time. Didn't they?

It seemed so important.

They’ll come for him.


- - -


He read a story, once, about hell.

He remembers, with vivid clarity, wretched souls mired in filth and and inescapable torment, doomed to flounder in pain for all eternity. Inferno, it was called. Because being burned alive, to have one’s flesh peeled away by heat and the stinging wrath of flame – unbearable, they say.

He knows soldiers, he’s fought with god-fearing men. They fear fire, they fear torment. They fear crushing flame and whips and agony for what they’ve done, for the lives they've snuffed out.

No one wants to burn.

Steve knows it’s the cold they should have been worried about.


- - -


This is a new kind of pain.

It wraps him, smothers, him, settles deep into his bones. He is bound, his muscles trapped and aching, the thinnest layer of glass clinging to his uniformed skin beneath his worn blue.

His body wants to shudder, but he can’t, he can’t move, so it gets channeled back, and he’s filled with a tremor that will never reach his muscles, a terror that he cannot cheat with bravado.

There’s nothing to do but wait for darkness to fall and those precious few beams of light to fall, once again, into the rusting carcass of the ship.

He swears his heart has stopped beating.


- - -


He’s always heard freezing to death is like falling asleep.

It’s not.

He’s imagined it, in dark moments during the war, when he felt hemmed and trapped and inches away from collapsing in fatigue. He always pressed on, though, there was always warmth to be had, even if it had to be coaxed out of months-damp rotting wood and frozen cow shit.

He’s seen the bodies piled in holes in the ground at Dachau, the snow dusting their twisted forms in the bitter cold. He’s seen the soldiers who couldn’t get up, who succumbed in snowbanks, stiff and purple with cold, their skin stretched taut over their bones.

He wishes it was that certain for him.

He thought he was ready, that he would take whatever momentary pain he must if it meant he was dying for a cause. He was willing to bleed out in a trench, to take bullets in his gut. To see his own life seeping into the dirt as quickly as he’d acquired it when he stepped out of that tube.

That sort of death would be finite, at least. There is relief to be had, at the end.

He wishes it was so simple now, but he’s cursed himself. That momentary lapse, that foolish, childish want grabbed him. He let them put the serum in his veins, thinking he had a chance for glory and martyrdom.

His body stops, his blood turns to sludge, his head aches and aches as his brain shrinks in his skull. He loses perception. He has no hands, he has no legs. His skin has been pulled to stinging. He imagines it, clinging to his bones in the cold, but he can’t feel.

What is he without his body?

Erskine would have an answer, but he can’t remember what it is.

There is nothing clean about this.

He won’t die.

Why won’t he die.

Let me die.


- - -


He can’t hear anything now.

The ice has been thickening, a steady creep, a bitter casket that moves and grows around him, Consuming. A glacial sarcophagus. The water no longer laps at his ears. As painful as it was, that, at least, was something. Now it’s over his neck, covering his ears, inching up his scalp.

He thinks there was wind, at the beginning, when he was tired and sore and he imagined he would be able to die soon. Wind, howling above a land he imagines is barren and white.


(There's no peace to be had here, not down here, in the dark.)

He’s spent so long in the company of bullets, of explosions that shook him to the core and deafened his unaltered companions for hours. So many long months assaulted by the din automatic weapons fire and the grind of steel and bombs.

There is nothing to hear now.

He should be grateful.

He’s turning into a stone.


- - -


He was so good at war, he thinks, when his mind is clear.

He was so sure.

It was so right.

He wonders if they’re going to win. If they’ve won.

It’s been so quiet for so long.


- - -


He feels his mind leaving him.

There are colors and sounds, deafening sounds that he knows can’t be real, because sound doesn’t exist here, in the ice. Everything is deadened. Everything dulled.

Everything dies.

Except him.

He can’t remember why he’s here, only that he did something, something horrible, to deserve this.

The ninth circle of hell.

Betrayers, his brain spits wildly. The word doesn’t mean anything. Words don’t mean anything when there’s no one to speak them.

He must have betrayed someone, but he doesn’t remember who.


- - -


He feels wind, bitter on his face, stinging his lips. It howls through the ship and blows pellets of ice into his eyes and he blinks and tries to make the needles stop.

He imagines his skin is like glass, but there’s nothing to break him.

A pity.

He’s a statue no one will see.


- - -


The ice creeps over his lips, over his jaw, over his nose.

He doesn’t think he’s breathed for months.


- - -


He thinks that maybe if he closes his eyes, if he tries hard enough, he’ll lapse into a coma, he’ll slow his cells one by one through sheer force of will. He will sleep and he will drift and he will die.

He tries, but they've frozen open.


- - -


Sometimes he feels fear.

He doesn’t have a name for what it is now, but he feels it twisting in his gut, remembers that once there were physical motions to go along with the sensation. Trembling hands. Shallow breathing. The clenching of fists.

Now, though, there is only panic, distilled as it never has before, clawing through him, welling up in his throat with nowhere to go.

There’s something awful underneath him, he vaguely remembers, something horrible, something gaping and black that could swallow him whole.

He knows if he falls, he’ll sink away where no one’s been, where no one is going to be, where no one will find him, where black is black and there isn’t night to turn into day.

Alone, in his glass cage for all eternity.

He wants to sob, but he can’t open his mouth.


- - -


He thinks he dreams, but it’s so difficult to tell what was from what he imagines.

There’s so much he can’t understand now, so much that’s been ripped from his mind with time and neglect.

He thinks he used to be someone important.

Perhaps that’s why he’s here.


- - -


He’s burning, suddenly, after so long in the cold.

His skin – he thinks that’s the word, skin – is on fire, it smarts and burns and cuts him to his core. It sings up his muscles, it fizzles in his veins, and there is nothing he can do.

He’s sure the ice should be melting.

Unbearable heat, after so long, should be welcome.

His blood is boiling in his veins.

He tries to scream, but his lips are cracked and frozen shut.

The ice doesn’t melt.


- - -


Something moves across the sky, once.

Steve wonders if he will be the last, if the world will crumble and he will be the only one to see, the only one left to imagine.




He doesn’t want to bear witness.

He just wants to stop knowing.


- - -


There is more snow drifting in, all the time. It settles around him and feathers, inches from his face.

There is more, and more, until it grows too thick to peer through, until the light goes grey and black and doesn’t reappear.

There is no more sky.

He’s alone, in the dark, and he feels himself coming apart in his head, feels his brain shaking itself to bits in his raw terror.

All alone, in the black.

The bravest.


- - -


He can’t feel anymore. The pain has receded, and there’s nothing beyond blackness and nothing.

He has no body.

He’s just Steve.

(Who is he?)


- - -


He sees them, people from his past. They come and go in the precious moments he can find it in him to remember light. There’s nothing behind his eyelids, now. He tries to move but there are no muscles to pull on each other, no flesh he can inhabit.

He lives in the dark.

He tries to remember what it’s like to have skin.

She smiles and presses her wine-red lips to his neck.

(This never happened.)

Bucky hands him the cigarette and he breathes (lungs, how distant a dream) and they clutch at each other in the underbrush and wait for the snow to stop so they can head back into the fray.

Does it mean anything, if he’s the only one who remembers?


- - -


He drifts, in nothingness.

There is little solace to be found. 

He thought it would be different than this, death.

He thought he would see them.

He thought.


Hell is abysmal, he knows now.


- - -


There is light, again, after so long in the dark.  

He tries to remember what that means, and can’t.


- - -


He’s burning again.

He’d thought he was past this.


- - -


He returns to his new (old) body with such pain he wishes he had never learned how to feel.

They’ve given it back, and he doesn’t want it. He doesn’t understand.

The ice melts from his eyes. Trickles away down his ears.

He nearly sobs at feeling something after so long in nothing.

His eyes are still frozen open.


- - -


It runs away from his skin, the ice, and there is movement above him.

Creatures swarm around him and Steve stares at nothing.

He doesn’t remember how to close his eyes.

The weight is lifted from him, and he remembers he has limbs.

Have they been there all along?


- - -


He was never dead, he comes to realize.

It feels like a betrayal.


- - -


They force air into his lungs.

He gasps and chokes because he hasn’t needed to breathe in so long, there’s only been cold and black, him and his non-thoughts, him and the dark.

He’s not willing. It’s too painful.

Please, someone says above him.

He wishes he knew what words meant.


- - -


He shivers, now, all the time.

He thinks that he used to know how to use his body once, that he could stop it from glitching like this.

He still can’t figure out how to close his eyes.

There is a hand on his forehead. It feels like burning.


- - -


Catatonic, they say, throwing their words into the air. Steve wants to tell them it’s not a good idea, that things get lost here, they disappear as soon as you’ve thought them.

He feels them moving his body, running waves of scorching heat over his skin.

You can’t, he wants to say. It’s stone now.

He wonders if they know it hurts.

He stares, and he feels liquid leaking from his eyes.

That’s something.


- - -


Wake up, someone is saying. This isn’t fair.


- - -


It hurts more all the time, the way they run things over his skin, the way he can’t make himself inch away from the heat.

He hears a terrible noise, grief and pain and anguish thrown into the air, and he’s startled to realize it’s coming from his own throat.

Something is pressed into his neck and he closes his eyes, finally.


- - -


Steve opens his eyes.

Things are clearer now, and his skin doesn’t hurt anymore.

They’ve fixed him.

There is a man, staring down at him, a man with impossibly brown eyes brimming with concern.

Howard, he thinks, but he knows it isn’t so.

The man moves his mouth, but Steve doesn’t know what he’s saying.

He wants to surface, but he only knows how to sink.


- - -


waste of time. I’m sorry. I wanted to believe in something. Probably selfish. Christ, this is bad.

Steve opens his eyes.

The light doesn’t hurt as much as it did, and he’s soft, now. Warm. He can move his arms. He can blink.

He didn’t think he’d get to feel that ever again.

The man is sitting by his bedside.

And it is a bedside. There are blankets against his skin.

Steve pulls himself away from the black, he gathers himself as gently as he knows how to do and he moves his lips.

“What,” he says, his throat feeling like gravel, not knowing what to say or what to ask.

The man must understand, though, because he leans forward in his chair and scrubs a hand over his red eyes and a smile, a terribly relieved smile, breaks out all over his face.

“Hi,” he says hoarsely. “Welcome back, Captain.”

Steve blinks. Did they call him that, once?

“I’m Tony Stark,” the man says.