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Keep the Earth Below My Feet

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Far beneath the soles of Steve’s shoes, the city street trickles along in a yellow flood, the honking of taxi horns making its way faintly to his ears. It’s warm for late February, very pleasant. From the edge of the roof here, he can see clearly to the Freedom Tower and the sparkling ocean beyond.

Out on the horizon, silver flashes like fire under the sun. Steve turns his phone over in his hands and runs his thumb along the edge. “He still doing alright?”

There is a pause before JARVIS’ voice answers, tinny through the phone’s speakers. “I believe I will let you judge for yourself, Captain.”

The comm opens up and Steve hears Tony’s whoop, full and bright. He looks up, squinting against the light. Over lower Manhattan, the X1 suit loops and turns, shoots upward in a burst of clean blue fire, and then pauses and drops, freefalling until the gauntlets ignite again and Tony arcs gracefully back upward. A laugh, a “Beautiful, baby, yes!” as he reaches a pinnacle and banks on a dime, soaring serenely away to the left.

The suit is still unpainted, bare metal like a mirror catching light. Steve smiles faintly. “Okay. Let him have it to himself.”

The comm dutifully cuts out, and Steve rests his elbows on his knees, eyes following the flash and flip. He tugs the zipper of his jacket the rest of the way up and hunches down until the collar rides up just under his ears. The suit zooms low, skimming rooftops in Noho, then rises again. Drops again. Rises, coming ever closer.

When Tony reaches the Flatiron Building, Steve gets to his feet, brushing off his hands and returning his phone to his back pocket. He shades his eyes, watching the suit materialize from a mere ideal into the shape of the man inside it. It’s not hard to tell when Tony notices him: the suit’s flight checks very slightly, dropping pace and evening out from its series of barrel rolls. Steve steps away from the edge as Tony approaches, giving him the space to land.

Tony comes down without fanfare, boots touching onto the rooftop with a quiet double-thunk. His grace is unmistakable. For a moment, Tony stands there unmoving, and then he steps forward and the helmet rolls back.

“Steve.” Tony stops again, not three feet from where he started.

Steve nods a greeting, hands in his pockets. Tony’s jaw tenses. His gaze flicks across the roof, far away into the distance out of which he just flew, and then returns to Steve’s face.

“I know I didn’t tell you,” he says, a gauntleted hand rising palm up and dropping again. “You don’t have to worry, I took precautions. Still a little clunky, but it’s safe, I swear. It wasn’t about not—well, yes, it was about not telling you, but.”

He falls silent. Steve nods again, watching the play of emotion through Tony’s eyes. As always, his face gives away nothing, but his eyes—Troubled hazel, almost green in this light.

The color changes as Tony looks away. The edges of his mouth curve downward. “I had to do it first. Do it myself, make sure I could still.” He breathes, an in-and out that lifts his shoulders visibly, even under all the metal. “Still do this.”

Steve looks down and shakes his head. Peers at Tony again for a long, long moment. “You looked amazing out there.”

Tony’s eyes skip up to catch his again, and this time they hold. Steve smiles. Can’t help himself, really. Something under his ribs vibrates like the wings of a hummingbird, reawakening at the sight of something that, until today, part of him had truly feared lost.

Steve walks forward, and Tony watches him come, the ever-present twitchiness finally at rest. The silver suit frames his face like the cowl of a robe, and the lay of the metal is almost as sleek, the joints as smooth as scales.

Steve gets his gloves out of his trouser pocket and pulls them on, then steps up slowly, placing one foot and then the other atop of Tony’s boots. Tony’s arm rises automatically to steady him, circling round his waist. He squints his confusion, and Steve hooks both arms around the cold metal encasing Tony’s neck, clasping his hands loosely behind his nape. “Take me up, flyboy?”

Tony stills and Steve feels the hand against his back splay gently, easing him up against Tony’s front. He searches Steve’s face. The still-bright bloom of pink in his cheeks makes him look younger. Steve brushes a thumb over Tony’s jaw and looks right back.

It seems an age, and then Tony’s mouth curves into a smile, widening until the sheer childlike pleasure Steve hasn’t seen in weeks overrides everything else. He adjusts Steve even closer, his grip firming into something Steve knows it will take a hell of a lot to break. “My pleasure, soldier.”

Steve smiles. Tony lifts his free hand and brushes gauntlet-encased fingers through Steve’s hair. He doesn’t pull the helmet down, just smiles right back at Steve as his boot thrusters fire, and they rise off the roof into the sky, as smooth as a breeze.