Riassunto: Steve finds himself alone during a snowstorm, unable to see where he's going. The only think keeping him sane is Tony's voice. More or less.
Note: Scritta per la M2 della 2° settimana del COWT9 per "Neve e Oscurità"
Steve has been walking for what feels like days. The heavy snow makes every step more tiresome than the last, and the cold is hugging him like a second skin.
He feel every muscle in his body shiver and it's not a pleasant sensation, not only because it brings back memories that Steve would prefer lie dormant in his head, but also because he knows there won't be a reprise any time soon.
He's stuck there, with the heavy snow impeding his movement and the pitch black night impeding his vision.
God, he hopes he's going in the right direction, but there's no way to be actually sure. There is only snow, and trees that he keeps having to avoid at the last second. It's too dark to really get a layout of his surrounding and from everything he remembers about the mission brief... there's only forest for as long as one can imagine.
For all he knows, Steve might be even walking in the opposite direction from where the rendezvous point is. Wouldn't that be a bitch.
"You haven't said anything in the last five minutes. Talk or I'll kick your ass when we find you, capsicle." Tony's voice comes strong over the comm and Steve can't help but smile.
He relaxes marginally and keeps walking forward. "Every time I try to talk snow enters my mouth. I don't particularly enjoy it."
"That's why I have a proper helmet. A mask. Would you like a mask, Steve? I can build you one, I can even paint it red, white and boring."
"I would prefer if we could just avoid missions in Antarctica, really."
"You're not in..." Tony starts but then he huffs, annoyed, "what am I talking about, of course you know you're not there. You're just being a dick. I'm glad, I like you more when you're a bit of a dick. Also I'm sure that your natural sass will keep you warmer. Or maybe you want to get angry at the president. That usually fires you right up."
Steve can't help but laugh, making sure he doesn't make too much noise. He would enjoy nothing more than to talk politics with Tony, a subject that usually made them both scream a lot before they landed on a mutual hatred for almost anyone in politics.
He doesn't have the luxury now. "Why don't you tell me how far you guys are from here, instead?"
Tony doesn't reply immediately, and that's really all Steve needs to know. Not close enough.
"If I could pinpoint your location," Tony says, "I would come as quickly as I could." Steve knows that tone of voice all too well, the sign of Tony feeling guilty over something that's out of his control.
He probably feels like he's failing Steve, that he isn't doing enough. "It's not your fault if they smashed my tracer. And most of my gear. You'll find a way."
"You believe in me too much," Tony mumbles.
Steve would shrug, but he feels like his shoulders are frozen solid. Who knows, maybe they are.
"Someone of us has to and there seemed to be a vacant spot."
"God, even when you're complimenting me you're an ass," Tony immediately replies, but his voice seems lighter. Steve smiles to himself, pleased.
At least he managed to do that.
"Tony," Steve says, looking ahead at the vast amount of black he's walking towards. "Tell me a story. I don't care what. I just..." he always worked better if he had something to focus on, and right now there's so little for him to look at, so little to distract him from the cold and the fatigue.
He needs a distraction.
"Yeah, okay. But you gotta say something every couple of minutes or I will start shouting in your ear. Don't believe I won't." Tony tries to pass it as a joke, but Steve can hear the seriousness in his tone, the underlying worry.
"I know you will. I have no doubt. I promise," he smiles, trying to cover his mouth a little bit more.
"Ok. Then I'll tell you about that one night me and Rhodey got arrested. I know you already know it, but you liked it so much last time!"
"Yeah," Steve says, with a sad smile, "I did."
It's wednesday at Avengers towers and that, for a reason and another, means date night. Not a normal date night, but an Avengers date night. Steve doesn't remember who decided to call it date night. It might have been Clint, because it sounds like something Clint would do, but at this point anyone of them was stupid enough to come out with it.
There was nothing romantic about date night, it was just a night where all the current Avengers on the team (and those who were not, most of the time) would spend some time together eating, watching a movie and forgetting about supervillains and almost deaths.
(In fact it was Steve himself who was the first one to use the term date, the first time Clint had said "You know what we should all do? Dinner and a movie?" "Wait, like a date?" "Yeah, sure, Cap. Let's all fucking date each other.")
Now it's a tradition going three years, and no one ever skips it. The only time a super villain had attacked on a wednesday, he had been attacked by the full force of the Avengers.
Wednesday nights were suspiciously quiet from that day onward.
They are playing cards this wednesday and, as always, Natasha is winning. The reason why they still decided to play with Natasha was unknown, really, Natasha always won.
"You know, I feel like this is a little unfair," Clint says looking at his cards. "I mean this is Avengers date night, but Natasha and Bucky can still get a date night out of it."
"If you think this is how we spend our date nights, you're strane," Bucky immediately replies. He's better this days, and the fact that he's meshed so well with the Avengers makes Steve breathe easier.
"Still, you two are the only couples here. I mean, I would like to spend date night with someone I like too." Clint took a chip out of the bag and ate it quickly.
"You're not the only one that can't spend the night with someone they hold dear, friend Clint," Thor says, looking up from his cards. "Or maybe you're just trying to masquerade the fact that you don't have anything in your hand."
"You know, I liked you better when you didn't know how to sass me. We already have Tony and Cap, we don't need you too," Clint pouts, folding all the same.
He really had a shitty hand, from what Steve can see.
"The point is you're not the only one that has someone they like," Rhodey interjects, covering his hand from Tony's eyes. "So stop complaining and stop cheating Tony."
"I'm not cheating! Not by looking at your cards anyway, I already know what you have!" Tony immediately replies.
"Stop counting cards, then!" Rhodey immediately replies angrily.
"Half the table is doing it anyway!" Tony immediately defends himself, pointing at everyone of them. Rhodey turns towards them and Steve knows he won't find any supporters there.
Counting card comes easily for most of them, really. Bucky used to cheat a whole lot when they were kids, and Steve's mind now couldn't help but pay attention and figuring out what cards where going to come next.
"You're all a bunch of cheaters! Why do I even play with you guys!" Rhodey huffs, folding as well.
Tony just shrugs and raises the post. He doesn't have a very good hand, if Steve's calculations are correct, but there are some perks about being a multi billionaire. And that's raising the post so much no one else is able to check anymore.
"That's more the reason to just band against Natasha and Bucky, really!" Steve hasn't been really listening to them, focusing on the game and trying to see how much he could bluff. He has a good hand, and everyone else knows it as well, after all, when he hears Natasha's reply.
"Then shouldn't you be screaming at Steve too?"
Everyone, beside Natasha, freezes and Steve looks up, startled.
Don't look at Tony, he thinks desperately. For the love of the Lord, don't look at Tony.
"Natasha..." he whispers in warning but Tony's voice immediately covers his.
"What?" Tony shrieks, sounding more shocked than he has any excuse to be. Steve hasn't been exactly subtle, or at least the fact that all of their friends have figured him out makes him think so.
"Natasha is kidding," Steve says, with a scowl. "Trying to throw our game."
"She doesn't really need to, we all know she has a poker again—even if the mathematical probabilities are so low, how do you do it?—but that's not the point," Tony's starting to babble and Steve makes the mistake of looking up and into Tony's eyes. Shit. "You like someone? Someone here?"
There's something that Steve can't pinpoint in Tony's eyes. But what Steve can't see is hope.
Tony doesn't hope Steve will declare his love for him. It's not even a possibility in his mind. Their friends have been joking about Steve's pining ass for months, and it's not even a blimp in Tony's radar.
Because Steve isn't in Tony's radar.
It's immediately too much for him. He stands up and folds his hand. "No," he lies, hoping against all odds that Tony doesn't questions his terrible excuse, "I'm going to meet them right now."
Before anyone can say anything he leaves the building and doesn't look back.
Of course, he has nowhere to go and nowhere to see, but what else could he have done? Tony doesn't like him that way. He barely likes Steve as a friend, after all, and that's something Steve has come to terms with.
Why did Natasha had to open her mouth?
The snowstorm has been getting worse the last fifteen minutes. Steve didn't really believe it was possible, but the little snowflakes are like daggers against his skin.
Everything that touches him burns. It's a good sign, he thinks, he hasn't lost all sensibility yet.
"And then," Tony says, telling him about one of his terrible escapades in college. Steve already knows them all, but he enjoys hearing them again. Tony's college years don't seem like the best of his life, if Steve is honest, but Tony always recounts them with enthusiasm. Steve likes that.
Before he can say something stupid, Steve hears something and, out from the darkness, he sees a light shine in the distance. A helicopter, probably.
"What are the chances that you guys are already here?" he asks, knowing full well what the answer is.
"Very low, I think," Tony immediately replies. "You have to hide, Steve."
Steve doesn't have to be told twice and he runs even deeper into the forest. The vegetation has grown more here and he's safer, far from the very faint light of the moon and covered from any possible helicopter.
Of course, Steve now doesn't see anything at all.
"You can't stop moving," Tony reminds him, even if he sounds apologetic.
"I know. Any idea how to understand where's the North with no moon, no stars and no way to see any musk in the trees?" he can't help but ask.
"I'm sure I could find a way," Tony answers honestly and Steve almost laugh. Almost because his lips hurt at the mere idea of a smile. "But just... start walking. We'll find you wherever you end up."
There's a part of Steve that knows he should leave it at that. What he wants to say is nothing that he should voice out loud. A fear he should keep inside him, locked far way. And yet, he can't stop it from spilling from his mouth.
"After how much time?" he whispers, afraid of who will hear this terrible thing he just said. No one, that's who.
"Steve. Steve stop," Tony says, desperate. Steve closes his eyes and forces himself to go a little further. Walk a little faster. He has to make it.
He has to find the others. He doesn't want to be forgotten again. God. He really doesn't want to be forgotten by Tony.
"Steve, you can't think like that," Tony pushes, his voice raising in volume. "You have to promise you won't give up. That's an order, soldier."
"I won't give up," Steve repeats, dutifully. Maybe the first order he has ever followed in his life.
"Then you keep going. You keep moving. That's the only thing that's important," Tony repeats it like a mantra and Steve allows his voice to lull him.
He still can't see where he's going. There's nothing but snow and darkness. It really is so much like the airplane.
"I would really love to have a portable arc reactor right now," he says, before he can even stop himself. Thinking about the pale light of the arc reactor brings him peace. He hopes... he hopes Tony is warm wherever he is.
He hopes he will learn to love himself.
"I will build you one," Tony promises, "I'll strap it to your shield. You'll see."
Yeah, Steve thinks, closing his eyes and taking another step, he'll see.
Avoiding Tony isn't the easiest thing to do, really especially because Tony really wants to talk to Steve.
There's no doubt what about, and that's why Steve has been spending all his time between Shield and training, avoiding any situations where he and Tony could end up alone.
It's harder that he thought it would be. It seems that most of Steve's normal routine consisted in the exact opposite: create opportunities for him and Tony to be alone.
Of course his friends figured it out immediately, he was really really transparent in his affections wasn't he?
The fact that Tony hasn't seen it... well, that really speaks volume.
He's training with Natasha tonight, more an excuse to blow off some steam, and he's waiting for her in the gym. Her text: "Sorry, but someone needed to do something" is still impressed in his mind.
It's probably why he isn't really all that shocked when Tony enters the room and Natasha still hasn't shown up. Set up, of course.
"Well! Fancy seeing you here, since we haven't seen each other literally anywhere else! I mean, I know it's a big tower. But that seems to be an exaggeration even for me." Tony doesn't stop talking while he walks confidently towards Steve. "And I mean, you're not the first one to try and avoid me, believe me, but I'm still a little hurt."
"I just don't want to do this, Tony," Steve explains, helplessly. "Can't we just drop it?"
"Of course! Consider it dropped and forgotten the moment you tell me who you're crushing for!" Tony exclaims, smiling at him.
Steve has spent enough time looking at Tony to know that it's not one of his happy smile. Not even a friendly one. This is Tony getting ready to go to war. Tony preparing for a meeting at Stark Industries.
Steve doesn't know why this conversation requires that smile, but he won't be defeated so easily.
"Why is this so important?" Steve answers, "I just don't want to talk about it."
"It's important, my dear, dear Steve, because everyone knows but me! Did you all have a sleepover and didn't invite me?" Tony actually sounds hurt about that. As if they ever did something without inviting literally everyone else.
Even the Avengers that were on another planet that day.
"Don't be stupid, Tony," Steve says, exasperated. "The others just... figured it out. I really didn't have to say anything."
"Ah!" Tony exclaims, pointing a finger at him. "So there is something to figure out."
Steve shrugs, refusing to answer and confirm anything. He knows it's too late, that Tony is like a dog with a very juicy bone and won't let go until he has eaten every single piece of meat. There's really nothing Steve cna do about it.
"Why haven't I figured it out, Steve!" Tony says, brow furrowing in thought. "I'm very smart."
Steve sighs, resisting the urge to laugh. How is this his life? "Maybe not as much as you thought."
"Take it back, you monster!" Tony says, looking at him and dramatically gasping. "Well, it just means that you'll have to tell me yourself and then I'll figure it out after."
"How does that even work?" Steve can't help but ask, confused.
"That doesn't matter. Come on, Steve, chop chop. Spit it out."
And Steve thinks about telling him now. What face would Tony make? How would he even take it? He doesn't want to lie to Tony anymore and tell him another name, but he also doesn't want to put the entire team dynamic in jeopardy.
It's really not an easy solution.
"Tony, please, can't you just drop it?" he hopes that maybe, for the first time in his life, Tony Stark will decide to listen to him.
Of course Steve isn't that lucky.
"No!" Tony sounds offended and he glares at Steve. "How can you ask me to drop it? I can't be the only one who doesn't know. Rhodey knows, Steve! You two don't even spend time together!"
It's true, and it's even more mortifying knowing that even Rhodes figured him out. God, Steve really is a lost cause.
"Tony..." Steve tries, but Tony immediately stops him.
"No, haven't you heard? The best thing to get me to shut up is giving me what I want. And what I want is to know who you like!"
Steve blinks looks at Tony. Well, Steve has never been one of the patient or smart ones. "You."
Tony blinks, surprised and looks at him. "What did you say?"
"I like you, Tony," he repeats, without looking away from Tony's face. He punishes himself, analyzes the shock, the surprise, the uncertainty.
There's no happiness in Tony's eyes. Of course.
The other opens his mouth, tries to say something but closes it up immediately. Well, Tony was right, it was the best way to get him to shut up.
Unable to stand there any longer Steve pushes past him and walks away. He's sure he can ask Fury for a mission far far away from there.
Maybe he should have asked a mission less far away, he thinks now. He doesn't feel his feet anymore, and he just wants to sleep.
His movement have slowed down considerably and he fears that what he's doing can't even be considered walking anymore. He's so tired.
"You have to keep moving Steve. You know what happens if you fall asleep," Tony is almost screaming in his ears, but he still sounds so far away.
"I'm tired, Tony," he tells him. His mouth is heavy, his lashes keep try to freeze shut every time he blinks.
"You know this is the serum," Tony says, desperately. "It's trying to put you asleep so it can preserve your vital functions but... you can't stay there. No one knows where you are."
"No one will know even if I keep moving," Steve reminds him.
"I will," Tony whispers, feverently. "I will."
"No. You aren't even real," Steve says, with an ugly laugh. "I've been talking with myself for the past... I don't even know how many hours. I'm pathetic, Tony."
"Steve..." Tony's voice says, but Steve is too tired to keep up the charade.
"My ear piece broke with the tracker," he says out loud, because he has to say it. "I just didn't want to be here alone. I just... God, Tony. I wanted you here with me because you would have known what to do."
Of course Tony, the fake version Steve made up in his head, doesn't answer. The illusion is shattered now and there's no pretending anymore.
Steve is alone, frozen and surrounded by darkness. He'll sleep for another seventy years probably. Maybe even more.
"I regret not staying," he says to the air. "I should have let you reject me." He doesn't know why, but he thinks that a closure was better than this. At least, with Peggie, he had a kiss.
What did he have with Tony?
He wanted to say nothing, but that wasn't true. He had Tony's friendship and that was more than enough.
Steve closes his eyes and apologizes to the Tony in his head. He really was shit at following orders.
When he opens his eyes he's in a bed and there's no one else in the room. He's hooked up to a machine that beeps in time with his hearth.
Looking at the rest of the room there's nothing out of order. It appears to be one of the standard rooms at Shield Medical, but that had been so even for the first room he had ever woken up to in the twenty first century.
Doesn't mean he's still in his time. Either one of them.
There's no one else in the room with him and he looks at the bland decor and the spotless pavement and he thinks here we go again.
He really doesn't have the strength to run away this time so he just lays down in the bed and looks towards the closed window. Now that he notices it the room is impossibly warm, possibly to make him feel a little more at ease.
Steve appreciates it, he really has suffered the cold too much in his life.
He's almost gone back to sleep when he hears the door click and open. Steve still doesn't open his eyes, trying to gauge whomever has just entered the room. Maybe they already saw him wake up, but he doesn't care.
What he hears, instead is: "I swear to God, if you do anything I'm going to kick you, Clint, I mean it."
"I just think you should go back home to sleep a little, Tony, I mean, what are the probabilities that he's going to wake up while you're not here?"
Before Tony can do something stupid like actually list the probabilities, because he probably knows them at the top of his head, Steve turns towards them, unable to stop himself, and asks: "Tony?"
His voice sounds strange, a little raw. He definitely needs some water. Clint and Tony both turns towards him so fast that they must be feeling some whiplash.
"Holy Shit," Clint says, blinking, "he really woke up in the ten minutes we managed to drag you both out of here!"
Tony, instead, runs towards Steve, immediately checking him. "Steve! You're awake! How are you? How do you feel? Bruce told us you could feel some confusion. Probably a little bit stiff. But who knows with your serum."
"I'm..." Steve tries to concentrate and push past the itchy throat. "I'm fine. Thirsty."
"Oh! Right! We have..." Tony looks around before Clint appears beside Steve with a water glass. Steve takes it immediately and drinks it all, gratefully.
"I need to tell the others," Clint says when Steve gives him back the glass. "Bucky will be furious, Natasha just managed to drag him away. Just... I'm glad you're okay, dude."
Clint smiles at him and then walks away, leaving the room quietly.
Silence falls between them and Steve is acutely aware of how relieved he is. He had been so scared that he would never see these people again, that he would never see Tony again. He doesn't care if Tony doesn't love him, he has never cared about that.
"You run away pretty far," Tony says, out of the blue. He looks tired, worried. Of course he does, because Steve is his friend and that's what Tony does. Cares.
"I'm sorry. I was stupid," Steve tells him, sincerely, "I was afraid of you rejecting me. I was stupid. I don't care. When I thought I had slept for seventy years again I..."
"Never. I would find you, Steve," Tony promises him. He sounds so much like the Tony in Steve's head that he almost laughs.
"I know," he says, with a smile. "Sorry for doubting you."
"You should be sorry for a lot of things," Tony starts. His face looks a little bit more alive with his irritation plain to see. "First of all for doubting me, second of all for going into a mission without back-up..."
"I had Shi-" Steve tries, but Tony shuts him up immediately.
"Shield isn't back-up! I'm back-up. Natasha is back-up. Even that Buzz Lightyear of your best friend, but not Shield," Tony says, pointing an accusing finger at your chest. "Third of all, you should be sorry you told me you loved me and then run away to get yourself frozen."
Steve blinks and then, unable to resist: "You all always say I'm too dramatic."
He sees Tony fighting the smile and so he relaxes and laughs. "God, I'm sorry, it's just that I'm so relieved."
"Me too, you stubborn stupid idiot," Tony says before he takes Steve's face in his hands and turns him to kiss him.
Steve's eyes shot open, and he freezes (okay, bad term) too shocked to move.
"The fourth thing you should be sorry about, is not giving me more than five minutes to react to your confession," Tony continues, holding onto Steve's face. "And the fifth thing is not kissing me properly."
"I... you..." Steve tries, really, but nothing comes out of his mouth. He gulps and tries again. "You don't like me."
"Who the fuck says?" Tony asks, looking at him. "I never said anything of the sort. Now shut up, we wasted enough time between you running away to get yourself frozen and this charade."
"You will never let that go, will you?"
"Hell no, it will be the story I'll say at our wedding." And well, there's nothing Steve can really say to that, right?
So he kisses Tony again.