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The Phone

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Tony is still hurt when the phone arrives in the mail for Tony Stank.

He still has a black eye and a cracked sternum. He also has a broken heart but that doesn’t really matter. Not now anyway.

What matters is that Tony hates the phone.

He hates the fact that Steve has no single idea about how mobile phone systems work.
He hates the color of the phone and the fact that it flips.
He hates Steve’s nonexistent remorse in his apology letter, the gesture, the show off, the fact that Steve thinks he is the bigger person here to apologize and send the most stupid letter in the world.
He hates Steve, for leaving him in Siberia, for taking everyone with him and for breaking them apart and even more than that he hates himself.

But above all he hates the stupid phone.

(Later that night after the escape of the former Avengers from the raft prison is confirmed, and with a few too many whiskies in his system, he throws the phone right against the wall.
He might have then run his fingers over the stupid old fashioned handwriting of the letter, specially the “O”s, before passing out.

He must have then woken up in the middle of the night to get the pieces of the phone from across the room and put them back together, because when he wakes up again in the morning the phone is on his nightstand in one piece.

He also finds the letter at the foot of his bed, crumpled into a small ball.

He turns the phone on.)


***

Tony’s black eye gets better and his chest is not that painful anymore. His heart is still broken but it doesn’t hurt. At least not during the day when he is busy with SI work or when he is designing and building new gadgets to help Rhodey walk. 

He doesn’t think about Steve and his broken heart when it’s still light outside.

But as it gets darker, things start to shift and the pain becomes unbearable. Sometimes he wonders if there is another broken bone somewhere in his chest but FRIDAY has checked many times and she has not found any signs of bone damage.

No number of lights seem to brighten up the dark spaces inside the compound, and he suddenly feels that the walls come closer and he physically cannot breathe anymore.

So He comes up with a routine, only to avoid the horrible feeling of the nightly panic attacks, to start drinking before the sun goes down in order to pass out before it actually gets dark.

(His plan has a flaw though. He wakes up in the middle of the night with parched lips and burning eyes. He sits on his bed with a heavy head and a heavier heart, reaches for the damn stupid letter and reads it, over and over and over again. He sometimes even smells the letter and blames alcohol for being stupid enough to think that a letter could smell like someone.

His heart hurts at nights.
It really really hurts.)


***

One morning after a shouting match with Ross, Tony tracks Steve down. He knows that there is no way that Ross could get his hands on Steve or any of the other betrayers, and he doesn’t really care if he does, but he has to know for himself.

It’s an easy task, thanks to Steve’s naive take on technology, and it only takes a few hours for FRIDAY to hack into the GSM database and locate the whereabouts of the SIM card registering with Steve’s number.

Tony hates the whole thing.

He hates realizing that Steve’s in Wakanda, has been there the whole time, and how dumb Tony has been to not put two and two together to figure out that Steve has to be in Wakanda with James fucking Barnes, as Tony has known for sometime that T'challa is harbouring Barnes in Wakanda as well.

But most of all Tony hates himself and his broken heart.

(Later that night, after going through half of the whiskey bottle and passing out, he wakes up from a horrible nightmare.

He reaches in the drawer of the nightstand for the phone and clutches it in his hand, his breath coming out as little sobs, and tears roll down his face.

He wakes up with the phone still in his hands. He may or may not have changed into his worn Captain America sweater, and it has nothing to do with dreaming about Steve’s dead body at the bottom of a valley.
It’s just that he has been really cold.)


***

The attacks start to happen during daytime.

He thinks he is doing better. He is busy with SI and Rhodey and Vision. Peter makes extended visits to the compound and spends time with him in his new workshop. Tony rarely finds time to think about Steve and his fucking blue eyes and his big hands and his deep voice.

Then out of the blue, Steve’s face is all over the news along with reports of a tall person with a dark uniform in a rescue operation in Madripoor. The person is responsible for neutralizing a terrorist attack, saving 5000 civilians and blowing up a few buildings in the process.

An eye witness voice message is released describing the person, that absolutely matches Steve fucking Rogers, and ends stating that he was last seen badly inured and bloody.

Then it happens.

He runs to his room and searches for the phone, in the middle of the day, without being drunk. He might even have tried to dial Steve’s number right before collapsing on the bed, panting for air while holding onto the phone and trying to focus on his breath.

He may or may not have tried to focus on an image of a smiling face and the pinkest lips in the universe and the imaginary sensation of touch from a certain pair of hands.

He certainly does not imagine being held pressed against the broadest chest he has ever seen.

(Tony hates it that Steve has to operate alone with apparently no one around to beat some sense into him.

He hates Steve, he hates himself and he hates the stupid phone.)


***

Tony gets FRIDAY to research available dashboarding software and ends up writing one himself because everything on the market sucks. He sets up a map to visualize the live coordinates of Steve’s whereabouts based on the data received from Steve’s SIM registering to the GSM towers anywhere in the world.

He may have even used a cute shield with a star in the middle as Steve’s icon, but he strongly believes that he has not and blames FRIDAY for it the next morning.
FRIDAY does not deny or confirm anything.

The shield seems to be in Wakanda again so Steve is apparently not dead somewhere in the pacific ocean with no phone signal.
Not that Tony cares.

(He goes through a whole bottle of whiskey that night and throws the stupid fucking flip phone at the wall again, after opening and closing it so many times, imagining what would happen if he actually calls the bastard and hears his voice, just to make sure that he is still breathing.

He puts the phone back together in the morning right after he takes off the worn out Army t-shirt he has recently found in Steve’s drawer. The t-shirt may or may not have been smelling like Steve at the time.)


***

Holding on to the phone as soon as an attack seems to approach becomes Tony’s new routine. He doesn’t try to call, he doesn’t even open the phone. He just holds on to it, closes his eyes and focuses on a pair of blue eyes, two pink lips, a deep voice and unbelievably large hands as he breathes in and out.

He keeps the phone on him all the time because the attacks might happen anytime, like when he is going through his last photos with his parents or when Rhodey tentatively brings up therapy.

Not that he is waiting for it to ring or anything.

(He still drinks himself to sleep every night.
He may or may not read the damn stupid letter with the most beautiful handwriting in the world. He definitely does not go through Steve’s room to find new things that smell like him. He has no idea why he wakes up every morning clutching the phone and wearing yet another one of Steve’s plaid shirts.
Tony blames FRIDAY but FRIDAY doesn’t offer to replay the footage.
Tony may or may not have ordered her not to.)


***

The phone never rings.

Tony has Steve Rogers Coordinates Live Map on display in his office. FRIDAY hides it as soon as anyone walks into the room and that’s ok. Tony can always tap his phone to see the live update of Steve’s whereabouts. It’s also set as the lock screen of his watch.

Steve apparently takes the phone to his secret missions because he shows up on the map randomly in Transia, Symkaria or Genosha.
At least Tony is not caught off guard when the rumors of the tall person in the dark uniform who is strongly suspected to be the former Captain America show up in the news, and he doesn’t almost die every time a random eye witness talks about this person’s injuries.

His person, well his shield icon, has already showed up in Wakanda by the time of the TV reports, receiving the best available care in the world.

Not that he cares though. He just needs to know.

(He doesn’t read the letter anymore. He remembers every single curve of every “a” and the way all the “l” s are exactly the same height. He also remembers every whiskey stain and every wrinkle on the paper from each teardrop.
He goes through Steve’s belongings at night, and wakes up the next morning wearing another random thing Steve has left behind.
He also holds onto the phone and rewatches the video of Steve on top of him raising his shield, and the visible rush of fear that makes Tony cover his face involuntarily.

He hates Steve and he hates himself and he hates the fucking stupid feeling of unbelievable pain and betrayal and anger that cuts his heart open every time he thinks about Siberia.
And he hates the stupid fucking phone that Steve apparently keeps in his fucking pocket.)


***

The phone finally rings.

Tony’s been away on a conference the whole day and Steve going off the map after showing up randomly in Latveria is not an uncommon event.
He arrives at the compound late in the afternoon, checks up on Rhodey, eats a little bowl of Vision’s new Romanian dish experiment, Ciorba Radauteana, and takes a fairly long video call from Peter.
The phone ringing right after he sits down at his desk, that’s actually absolutely uncommon.

He takes the phone out of his pocket and looks at it for a second. Steve has not shown up on the map yet and that means his phone is not able to make any calls.

It’s Natasha.


***

Tony gets FRIDAY to play the recorded call over and over and over again but it doesn’t make any sense. He is definitely exhausted from the long flight but that has nothing to do with it.

Steve Rogers cannot be dead.

It simply cannot be true.

(He doesn’t think about the fact that Steve’s coordinates have not been updated in the past 15 hours. It’s never happened before but that doesn’t mean anything.

It just can’t mean anything.

He may or not may not have obsessed about his decision to not have a drink before suiting up. Or the fact that his suit has no hidden drinks compartment.

They have alcohol in Wakanda. Hopefully.)


***

No one is surprised to see him in Wakanda. They seem to have been expecting him which is stupid because why on earth would he fly overnight to Wakanda just because Steve has gone missing?

Familiar faces gather in what seems to be the most modernized war room of all time but no one is making any sense.

Steve’s been missing for the past 24 hours.

He has gone quiet on coms right before his aircraft has exploded in Latveria sky. He has simply vanished from the face of the earth.

(The little shield has been in Doomwood for the past 24 hours. No matter how many times Tony has asked for updates. There has been no update. That is the last update.)


***

Natasha wipes her eyes with the back of her hands. Sam comes over and clutches Tony’s shoulder. Clint’s voice is shaking and Wanda is looking outside the window to the tallest trees he’s ever seen and he’s been to Amazon, random objects suspended in the air behind her.

Tony looks at all of their betraying stupid faces and something starts to bubble up from right behind his healed sternum and his broken heart. He slams his fist onto the conference table and a large crack splits the table into two pieces. He realizes that he is still in his suit but he doesn’t care.

He shouts and pants and throws his hands in the air.

He asks FRIDAY to run facial recognition algorithms through any traffic and security cameras in Latveria and deploy the SI life detector drones to Doomwood.

T'challa runs his fingers in the air and the reports of the facial recognition works and the life detector drones show up on the display in front of Tony.

It doesn’t make any sense. Their tech is useless.

(His tech also proves to be useless, because there is no sign of Steve in any of FRIDAY’s reports. He needs to come up with new tech.)


***

This just can’t be true. There is no way that Steve Rogers could be dead. He is definitely alive somewhere in Latveria and probably enjoying the fact that he has the ability to hurt Tony even more than he already has.

He just can’t be dead. He is a fucking super soldier for god’s sake.
And Tony hasn’t seen him in months. He has almost forgotten what he looks like.

(Later that night, his whole body aching from the long flight and his heart too swollen to fit in his rib cage, he almost asks the staff for a drink.
Something doesn’t let him though.
A strange presence grabs his wrist and twists his arm, so he decides not to.

He locks himself up in the fancy room, fancy ward, holds onto the phone and asks FRIDAY to play the Siberia fight.
This is the last time he has seen Steve but he is wearing the fucking stupid mask. If Tony knew this would be the last time, he would’ve at least tried to take that shock proof mask off his head, and watched his beautiful face as Steve was raising the shield to break the arc reactor.
He would have watched that sweaty forehead and those desperate eyes and maybe somehow if he squinted enough he could imagine that Steve’s straddling him for a totally different reason.

He hates himself so much for not removing the mask.
He hates himself even more for wanting to see his face that badly.

And he hates Steve for leaving him and for being…
Not dead. He can’t be dead.)


***

The next morning he flies to Latveria. There is really no point but he just can’t sit on his ass and do nothing.
He flies over the debris of the exploded plane. There can’t be a body, because the largest piece of the plane is no bigger than two square inches. There is no sign of any DNA, but fire burns DNA.

(Fire burns everything.
And that’s that.)


***

Later in the afternoon in the same war room, now with a new not broken conference table, the rescue committee reports are played back.

There is no evidence of anything leaving the plane alive. There is no evidence of anything alive in the 100 miles vicinity of the explosion. There is no evidence of Steve being seen anywhere alive in the city.
There is no evidence of him being alive.

He is gone.
Exploded into a million pieces and then burnt out of existence.

Tony wants to break the conference table again but he is not in his suit, and he doesn’t want to test the patience of the king twice. He doesn’t believe a word though. Just because Steve is not found alive anywhere, it doesn’t mean he is dead. They just need to look harder.

(He doesn’t object to the conclusion of the search and rescue operation. He spends the next 48 hours optimising FRIDAY life search algorithms and comes up with a tweak that enhances the performance of the face recognition software tremendously.
He modifies the Steve Rogers Coordinates Live Map to refresh every 30 seconds, but he still finds himself refreshing it between the update cycles. FRIDAY is not happy with all the hard work but she doesn’t say anything.)


***

He can’t find Steve.
His tech is still useless and nothing seems to work. Steve has literally disappeared into thin air and his shield icon is stuck in Latveria for the past 72 hours.

Tony tries to keep focused on his solo search and rescue operations, with a now doubled number of SI drones on the field and FRIDAY hacking into each and every hospital, government agency and police stations of Latveria and the neighbouring countries, but there is nothing.
He has no clue. No new coordinates. Zero. Zip. Nada.

So when the attack comes he resorts to the known routine of clutching the phone and breathing but instead of Steve’s beautiful smiling face, Tony can only see a masked sweaty face panting on top of him with those sad, teary eyes.

(Later at night, he plays the Siberia fight again and pauses on Steve’s face. This is the very last time Steve is that close to him.

There is this thing in his eyes that Tony hadn’t seen in the last thousand times he had watched the footage. There is something that is not hate and it is not betrayal. It’s something else. Tony can’t quite work out what it is.

He tries to go to sleep and he regrets not drinking and regrets not having anything of Steve’s to wear.
He may or may not have asked FRIDAY to locate Steve’s room in the palace and guide Tony there.
He has no idea how he wakes up the next morning wrapped in Steve’s sheets with his nose pressed to Steve’s pillow.

He hates himself so much for not wanting to leave the fucking bed that smells so much like Steve. He hates the fact that Steve has been here until 4 nights ago while he hasn’t seen him in 4 months and there is nothing left in the entire compound that smells like him anymore.
He doesn’t leave Steve’s room.

He doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
And it’s not because he cares about Steve being alive or being dead or spending the last 4 months here with his bestie, it’s just because …
He doesn’t know what.)


***

Tony is shocked to find out that Barnes has been back to cryo. He can’t believe that during all those months of suffering through images of Steve doing all sorts of intimate things with his Bucky, he has actually been frozen out of his ass and Steve has been, well not with him.

(He might have actually been alone. And lonely.)


***

It’s been 6 days.
There is no update from the life search drones. No update from anywhere in the 400 miles proximity of the crash scene and the shield has not moved within the live update map.
(He better call it the dead update map now.)


***

There is not much to be done.
He flies out to Latveria a few more times, but after the heavy rain and flooding at Doomwood even the debris of the plane is washed out.
He contemplates going back to the compound but he just can’t bring himself to call it all off. For whatever genius reason, he feels that Steve is not actually dead until Tony announces him dead, so he gets FRIDAY to organize a few things delivered to Wakanda.

He takes video calls from Rhodey and Pepper. Peter has tears in his eyes and it takes all of Tony’s willpower to not yell at the kid or throw his recently arrived StarkPad at the wall.

(He can’t cry though. He has wept and sobbed so many tears because of hating Steve Rogers that he apparently has no tears left for his death. Or he just doesn’t believe that he is dead, whatever the science that he has contributed his life to says. Steve simply cannot be dead.)


***

He walks around Steve’s room in small circles and thinks about him. He goes through the unfamiliar clothes in his closet and opens and closes all of the drawers. There are no army t-shirts and no shield sweaters and even no Iron Man socks that Clint has gotten for them all those many years ago for Tony’s birthday. Everything is new but they smell like Steve and Tony wonders if Steve returns used clothes back into the drawers, because there is no chance in hell that clean clothes could smell like someone this much.

He reads all the notes in all of Steve’s 10 notepads going into details of his life in Wakanda, the day Bucky goes back to cryo, all the missions, even each and every meal.
Tony doesn’t know which hurts more. Steve mentioning each and every person back at home, even Happy and Pepper, but never mentioing Tony, or the image of Steve with the fucking super soldier apetite going without food for the past 10 days.

If he is alive.

(It’s obscenely crazy that Tony has practically lived with the man in the same building for the better part of 5 years and he has never been closer to him that the past 10 days that he has been dea… missing.)


***

People do come to visit.
Clint brings Tony’s favorite cookies, coffee bean and blueberries, sits with Tony on Steve’s bed and they go through all 24 cookies. They don’t say anything and Clint presses firmly on Tony’s knee before he stands up and leaves.

Sam talks a lot about everything. He talks about Ross, the Accords, and the fact that Clint is missing his family so much but they can’t really come join him here. He mentions Rhodey and Tony presses his nails into his palms but doesn’t say anything.

He later yells at Rhodey and Rhodey yells back at him and apparently they have been talking in the past two months. Perfect.

Nat comes and sits with him everyday. She comes up with all these funny stories from the time they all lived in the tower and Tony’s laugh sounds strange to his own ear. He begins to look forward to Nat’s visits though because he loves Nat and she is the only one who mentions Steve from time to time.

(Tony hasn’t been drinking in the past 10 days. He doesn’t sleep much and he still wakes up in puddles of sweat but it doesn’t matter. He can quickly take a shower and change into some other unfamiliar clothes of Steve which so very much smells like him.)


***

The phone battery is running very low on the 12th day.

Tony hasn’t charged the phone since the crash. He has ran the stats and he knows it takes approximately 15 days for the phone battery to die completely, but he feels better when he is holding the phone with the same amount of battery charge that must be on Steve’s phone right now.
(He ignores the fact that Steve’s phone is probably out of battery by now, because low reception, or in his case no reception, kills the battery at a much faster pace.
He also ignores the fact that Steve’s phone might have exploded and burnt and then washed with the flood.)


***

On the 14th day he finds the stack of sketchpads under Steve’s bed.
He feels unbelievably dumb for not thinking about looking for the sketchpads before, because he knows that Steve draws all the time. He puts all 12 of them on the bed and kicks himself for not thinking about finding the sketchpads back at home.
He opens them one by one and runs his fingers along the lines and the curves and the shades.
He looks at drawings of birds and trees and the Palace from so many different angles and in so many different lights. He looks at many drawings of Nat, Clint, Wanda and Sam. He skips through sketches of Barnes’ face and sleeping body, shuts that sketchpad and throws it on the floor.
He doesn’t get a chance to think about his absence in the drawings though, because the phone makes 3 continuous beeps and finally runs out of battery.
Dead.
The phone is dead.

And with that disappears Tony’s last shred of hope and the realization hits him, the fact that Steven Grant Rogers, Captain fucking America, has died on him and It cuts through his chest and rips his heart in two.

And the tears start to come.
They don’t stop.

(He cries when he sits down to eat and gets sick and runs to the bathroom. He cries when he walks, and he cries when he lies down to make his spinning head stop. He cries as he locks the door and doesn’t let anyone in, and cries as he wraps himself in Steve’s blanket.

He stops to eat and he stops to sleep.

He just walks around Steve’s room in small circles, wearing Steve’s clothes and wrapped in his blanket, and cries.)


***

Tony is coming apart.
He can see his sanity getting away from him like sand running through his fingers, and he grasps but he can’t catch it.
The world ceases to exist and all that is left is Steve. His eyes and his voice and his fucking good heart and the fact that he is now gone and Tony will never see him again.

Nothing else.

(Steve has a sea in his eyes that is bright and shiny when he is happy and turns grey when there is something wrong he can’t make right.
His eyes are grey and stormy in Siberia. Tony can’t remember the last time he has seen the blue waves gently coming to shore.

Steve doesn’t talk much and sometimes, a lot of times, he seems to want to say something but he doesn’t.
He should talk more. Has anyone told him that he has the most beautiful voice in the world? )


***

Steve is gone.
Steve is actually gone.
He is not away in DC on SHIELD business. He is not traveling around for fucking two days before he crawls right back to the tower and shows up at Tony’s workshop. He is not on a mission for too long.
He is simply gone.

And Tony will never see him again. He will never hear his fucking silky voice that is always tainted with a hint of disapproval. He will never check out his ass when he thinks no one is watching, and he has lost his chance to make Steve blush with his dirty jokes.
He has lost his chance to hold those hands, strong enough to break reinforced glass with one hit but so gentle when shaking hands with the hospitalized kids. He has lost his chance to run his fingers through those golden strands that are damp after a morning run and smell like heaven.

Steve is gone and Tony will never get to touch him, hold him, love him.

And fuck the accords, and fuck all the stupid disagreements and fuck the whole world and everything in it, because Tony doesn’t give a fuck.
He doesn’t want to fight anymore. He just wants Steve back.
He would chop his arm off and feed it to Ross if it will bring Steve back. He will tear out his own heart and set it on fire if it will bring Steve back.

It doesn’t.

(Steve’s a fucking virgin. No one has breathed shameless praises into his ear and no one has traced the tone of the muscles on his biceps. No one has admired his peak of human perfection body and it’s just not fair.

And what if he doesn’t know? What if he has no idea how beautiful he is? What if he has been lonely and touch deprived without anyone to talk to? What if he thinks no one really wants him? Because if someone fucking wants you they should have told you, and now it’s too late.
Tony will never have a chance to touch him, make him feel, make him see. To tell him how beautiful he is, how good he feels under Tony’s hands and how good he tastes all over. Tony has lost his chance to do things to him and take his breath away and make him come apart and put him back together.

It’s too late.)


***

Rhodey calls. Pepper calls. Peter calls and sends many StarkMessages.
Nat and Clint and Sam come to the door.

Tony is not being difficult and he is not trying to hurt anyone.
He just can’t talk. He is physically incapable of wiping his face clean long enough to see anything before tears make his vision blurry again.

(T’challa gets the door open and people bring in trays of food, but the smell of food makes him sick to his stomach.)


***

He watches the Siberia footage and listens to every single word Steve says and waits for the anger to flare through his veins. In some dark and twisted way he hopes to find some peace in his anger and his pain, like he has in the past 4 months, but it’s not there anymore.

The anger is gone.

Steve keeping the secret doesn’t matter. Steve defending his bestie and slamming his shield in the arc reactor does not feel like something cutting through his heart anymore.
Even Steve limping away, leaving Tony with a disabled suit and a broken heart is not infuriating.

In the face of Steve leaving life forever and all lost chances and unspoken words, nothing really matters.

And Tony hates it so much, but Steve’s words make surprising sense. Each and every word is suddenly full of wisdom and compassion and truth, and the pathetic part of all this mess is that it takes Steve’s righteous ass to die for Tony to realise that he was protecting Tony too, that he was defending Tony as much as he was defending Barnes because Steve knew that Tony would not be able to pull through life again if he killed Barnes in that bunker.

(Tony. Tony.

isn’t life a sad sadistic joke? This is the last time Steve calls his name and it could be different. It could be for something else, for one of the many reasons Steve calls Tony in his wet and wild dreams. But it isn’t.

He listens to Steve’s words so many times, until they lose their meanings all together.
There is only Steve’s voice and the familiar disapproving tone and it’s all Tony has left of him now.

Sad sadistic joke.)


***

He reads all of Steve’s notes for god knows how many times and looks at all of the drawings, even the ones that Steve has drawn of Barnes, and imagines him sitting on a chair next to Barnes’s cryostasis chamber, one hand holding a sketching pencil and the other one in the middle of the closed sketchbook, head slightly tilted back, asleep with his mouth slightly open.

That’s exactly how Steve used to sit in the workshop sketching and then falling asleep. It breaks Tony’s heart but now he knows that the reason Steve’s always sleepy are the nightmares he describes vividly in the notepads , the horror of sinking in the ice cold ocean and freezing and waking up in another time, in another city, another universe.

Tony wants to kick himself. He wants to actually kill himself for not knowing and for ignoring the signs. For never asking anything all those nights that he has seen Steve walking around the communal floor or crouched in front of the turned off TV. For passing by, for being afraid of being rejected and therefore rejecting the man, the only man that is the most important thing in the whole world.

(And now Tony knows, but it’s too late.
How ironic is it that he doesn’t die in ice only to die in fire?)


***

Barnes looks like a sleeping little boy and his face looks nothing like the person who cuts his mom’s airway in that video.
Tony sits on the chair Steve has sat on less than a month ago and wonders who he is crying for right at this moment. For Steve, or himself, or the frozen super soldier that has lost all of his life and his head is filled with screaming sounds of people he does not recognize and has no memory of killing.

(He nods off on Steve’s chair by Barnes’ chamber and when he wakes up the room is bright and it’s day time outside.)


***

On day 20, FRIDAY asks if she should stop the search and rescue operations.
Tony snaps and shouts and threatens to disable FRIDAY forever.
(FRIDAY stops talking to Tony, but she keeps the operation running. )


***

Tony finds the sketchpad on day 22.
He is running out of things that smell like Steve. The bed smells like sweat and saliva and he has worn all of Steve’s clothes, even all the underwear and socks.
He looks on the top shelf of the closet thinking that’s where Steve had the worn out iron man t-shirt hidden back in the compound and there it is, with a black leather cover along with Steve’s stark industries t-shirt. Tony drags them down and pulls the t-shirt over his head. He can’t believe that he has forgotten about this t-shirt, and about Steve wearing it, running into the kitchen to grab a water bottle before going for his morning run and never failing to flash the disapproving look toward Tony sitting at the kitchen bench half asleep trying to gulp down his coffee.

His hands are shaking and his tears are dropping on the pages of the sketchpad.
Pages and pages and pages of him. His eyes. His lips. His chin and the details of his stubble, even the few grey ones that have shown up in the past year.
Him at the workshop, talking to Dum-E. Him at a news conference on the fucking TV. Sleeping with his head fallen almost over his chest.
There are drawings of the Stark Tower as it was way back in 2012, Avengers Tower, the avengers compound from far above with Tony’s black Audi being the only car parked in the front.
Breathtaking flawless details of Mark VI and Mark XLIII.
Tony can’t really see very well anymore. He is trembling as he goes through pages of drawings of him lying on the floor with a broken mask and a bloody face and the shield lodged in the arc reactor.

They all look the same.
Exactly the same.

Tony is crying all over them but he can swear that the pages are already wrinkled, from old water stains.
Or tears.

(Tony finds the draft of the letter on one of the pages.
I thought I was sparing you, but I can see now, I was really spearing myself. Hopefully one day you can understand.
By sparing Tony, Steve was sparing himself. Because hurting Tony is hurting himself.
Tony doesn’t know what to do with that. He lies down and presses his nose to the sleeve of the t-shirt and falls asleep.)


***

FRIDAY wakes Tony up.

There has been an update.
The shield has moved on the Steve Rogers live Updates map 17 minutes ago and is now showing to be at Doomsdale.

Tony checks the data from the GSM towers and it’s not a mistake. The SIM card in Steve’s phone has been registered at Doomsdale. The location is approximate and hasn’t been refreshed, so Tony reaches into the pocket of Steve’s sweat pants and brings out the phone. He calls Steve’s number and it rings and rings and rings and then gets cut off. The location gets updated with a 2 miles accuracy.

Tony calls again but the phone is off. His head is spinning. His knees buckle and he collapses on the bed.

It can mean anything.
It can be someone else turning Steve’s phone on.

It can also be Steve.
Alive.

Then everything goes blank.


***

Tony wakes up in the medical ward of the palace. His fingers reach for his watch and he taps on it for the live updates.

The shield is in Wakanda.
The shield is in Wakanda.

His vision goes blurry and his head starts to spin again as he stands up. He doesn’t want to pass out, so he takes the IV bag with him.

He takes the phone out of his sweat pants pocket as he walks out of the room and dials.
Voices call his name. A hand touches his shoulder but he slaps it away, without even realizing.

It’s ringing.

He holds onto the wall as he walks past empty rooms and he now he can hear it.

The phone. Steve’s phone.
It is ringing.

He finally stumbles into a room and spots a tall figure in a dark uniform lying in a bed. He hears familiar voices but nothing registers. He doesn’t know how he gets to the bed.
Nothing makes sense and nothing matters, except for the person now in his arms, breathing.
Alive.

Then Steve smiles and Tony’s head stops spinning. The world around him stops spinning and the pain, excruciating pain in his heart is not there anymore.

Steve is there. In his arms, in one piece with no visible injuries.
And he is not gone. The sea in his eyes, blue and sparkling, is still there. His mouth and the pinkest lips in the world and that beautiful grin that Tony had started to forget how it looked, not gone forever.

The voices and the faces have magically disappeared and the only sound in his head is Steve’s soft silky voice and it might be Tony’s giddy daze but Steve’s voice is not disapproving at all.

Tony has no idea where his hands are running but he doesn’t give a damn. He touches and squeezes and presses every single inch of Steve’s body that comes under his fingers. He touches and touches and touches but it’s not enough, he doesn’t know if it’ll ever be enough, but it’s there. Steve is there and maybe Tony gets to touch him later too but it doesn’t really matter now.
What matters is the hand that wraps around his waist and pulls him onto the bed, and the other hand that holds Tony’s and places it on his chest and doesn’t let go.

(Tony presses his nose to Steve’s beard because Steve now has a beard. He doesn’t think about the fact that the man has not taken a shower in a month, but still smells like heaven. He doesn’t have time now.
He smells Steve’s beard and wipes his eyes on his dirty uniform. He sleeps.
He hasn’t slept in 5 months.)


***

The faces and voices are now back and Tony, sitting pressed to Steve on the bed and still holding his hand, has regained the mental capacity of facial recognition.

Clint, Scott, Sam and Wanda hover around and Nat comes closer and wraps her arms around both of them.
T’challa shakes their hands and presses Tony’s shoulder.

And Rhodey is there. Rhodey’s been there the past week, mostly sitting outside of Steve’s room. Rhodey has kicked the door down when FRIDAY has asked for help after Tony passing out. He is the one who picked Tony up and did not forget to shove the phone back into his pocket before carrying him to the medical ward.

He has also flown for the first time in the War Machine suit after the accident. To Latveria . To get Steve.

Rhodey has found Steve and brought him back to Tony.

Tony wraps his arms around Rhodey’s neck and drags him down to press Rhodey’s head to his chest. He rests his chin on Rhodey’s temple and Rhodey’s eyes shine with tears when he brings his head up.

(The operation has been a setup. Steve gets ambushed and captured as soon as he sets foot in Doomwood by an unidentified rebel group. They keep him 40 ft under the ground, and as far as the team can analyze now they were probably planning to extradite Steve to the US government. But for whatever reason, they never come back.
Steve’s been confined somewhere deep under the ground with so little food and water for 24 fucking days and he is only alive because the super serum can also slow his metabolism in starving conditions.

Tony waits for the usual infuriation at Steve’s heroic stupid plans to come to him, because for god’s sake who jumps at freeing a captured nuclear scientist in Latveria and who on earth does it on their own?

It doesn’t.

He brushes his finger across the extremely pale skin of Steve’s forearm. Steve’s talking to Sam and doesn’t turn his head, but he brings his other hand forward and gently covers Tony’s fingers, pressing them to his arm. Steve holds his hand there.)


***

They go back to Steve’s room because Steve needs a shower and Tony needs Steve.
No one says anything.
Rhodey is relieved to sleep in a bed in a room for a change.

The room’s been cleaned up but evidence of Tony going through all of Steve’s belongings is everywhere. Tony is wearing two pieces of them right now. Well, three.

Steve comes out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist and Tony is relieved to see the beard still there.

Steve looks in his empty drawers and empty closet. He then closes the closet door, leans back against it and looks at Tony with the most heart warming smile, one of those that crinkle the corners of his eyes and make the blue waves come across the shore, and only appear when Steve is really pleased with a thing.

He is pleased with Tony.
And that’s too much.

Tony walks across the room and stands in front of Steve. He is now close. Too close to hesitate and doubt anything. He is already too late.
He doesn’t have a second to waste with hesitation and self doubt.
Steve can speak up if he doesn’t want this.

He doesn’t.

Tony runs his fingers through Steve’s hair and traces lines from his temple to the sides. He brushes over his beard, the new golden brown strands of light covering Steve’s face, and it takes a lot of effort to not do anything about the way Steve closes his eyes from the touch.
Tony caresses the crinkles on the corner of Steve’s eyes, his golden eye lashes, his eye lids, the very pale patch of skin around the eyes and his blushing cheeks.
He touches Steve’s slightly chapped lips and the sensation of the golden hair brushing his fingers is almost overwhelming. He presses his palm over Steve’s throat, softly, and continues all the way to his waist.
He can’t resist it anymore. The way Steve’s breath hitches makes Tony try again, pressing his hands on Steve’s shoulders and his chest and with every small sound out of Steve’s mouth, something untangles deep inside Tony, wrinkles straighten and stiffness smooths all over.
Tony’s hands wander around Steve’s waist, his fingers hovering on the edge of the towel so Steve opens his eyes, looks down on Tony and smiles.
Maybe it’s the number of smiles in a row that Tony is not really used to or the magical fact of seeing Steve smile again, but it moves something inside Tony’s chest, a bulk he has not even realised existed until now, that has been wrenching his heart and clouding all his feelings, is not there anymore.

So he unties the towel, looking straight into Steve’s eyes, and he presses his hands on the muscles of Steve’s abdomen and his waist line until they meet on Steve’s back, then reaches up and rubs the hard lines of Steve’s shoulder blades. There is nothing between them now; Nothing except for Tony’s clothes, well Steve’s clothes. Steve is breathing heavily in Tony’s ears and his beard is soft and rough against Tony’s face. Tony presses his weight to Steve’s body and digs his nails into the skin of his back, and Steve’s murmurs turn into breathless moans.

Tony is now completely lost in the sensation yet fully aware of what each sound does to him, how each breath somehow takes Tony a step back in time or a step forward toward the future, and how they undo the hurt and anger and pain. How they are just proof, of Steve being there, being alive, being real and his.

Right there and right then.

Steve is alive, Steve is in his arms, and his soft and hard body is pressed against Tony’s and that’s all that matters.

So Tony scratches Steve’s skin, tenderly, all the way from the back of his neck to the bobbing knot in his throat, down the line in the middle of his chest to his naval. He massages down gently and Steve’s now out of breath, panting and his mouth is slightly open.
Tony tilts his head back a little, his hands not moving anymore and he waits until Steve comes back to himself and opens his eyes.
Tony smiles and moves his head forward in the slowest motion he can possibly manage with his body pressed to Steve and his hands just under his waist, until Steve’s lips form another smile that wash away the last bit of Tony’s uncertainty; then Tony’s lips are touching Steve’s and they kiss or smile or somehow do both.

And that’s it.
Nothing else exists.
Just the two of them, in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by nothing, holding on to each other, and that’s enough.
At least for Tony, to unbreak his heart bit by bit and put himself back together piece by piece, holding on to Steve as if it is the only thing he needs, that he ever needed, and for the tragic reason of life being a sad little joke, it takes an international fight, months of agony, and an almost dead super soldier for him to realise.

But it’s not too late. Steve’s here, clutching Tony’s t-shirt as he kisses him, a little shy and a little clumsy and that’s ok. That’s adorable.
That’s perfect.

(Later in the afternoon Steve needs a shower again.
Tony hasn’t had time to even take his clothes off, busy doing at least some of the things he has regretted not doing so many times in the past 24 days, to make Steve come apart over and over and over again and then kissing him and holding him as he comes back to Tony.
He has watched Steve nod off and even snore and he may or may not have run his hands in Steve’s hair when he was sleeping.

Tony doesn’t technically need a shower, but he doesn’t know if he can let Steve out of his sight ever again.

Steve doesn’t mind. He watches Tony as he takes his clothes, Steve’s clothes, off before holding a hand out and dragging Tony into the shower.

They don’t have anything to wear in this room.
They don’t really need anything to wear.)


***

They eat, because nothing smells sickening any more. They go through dish after dish of colourful Wakandan food and Tony feeds Steve enormous amount of mixed rice, lamb stew, and Wakandan doughnuts.

And it’s liberating, almost intoxicating that Steve lets him.

He sits back, opens his mouth for every single bite and doesn’t stop smiling the whole time. He lets go, he gives in and doesn’t argue a thing, and Tony doesn’t quite understand why but he can’t ask for anything more, to have Steve look at him like that and smile at him like that and let go.
Just let go.

(Steve says his name a lot. It almost seems to Tony that Steve enjoys calling his name over and over again, as if it gives him a way to fly higher in the hazy space of pleasure or somehow hold on and stay close at the same time.

Either way is fine by Tony. He is shifting the nausea of Siberia being the last time Steve calls him, slowly, and replacing it with this; Steve calling him for almost all of those reasons in Tony’s wild and wet dreams. It’s a miracle how every Tony from Steve’s lips makes the nausea subside and give way to the settling feeling of being alive and being together.)


***

Tony tells Steve that he is beautiful. Tells Steve that he has the most beautiful eyes, the pinkest lips and prettiest smile in the whole world. Says how amazing he feels under Tony’s hands and how good he tastes all over, how Tony can’t really put it into words, but Steve is everything he has ever wanted. Says how much he regrets letting all this time pass them by without even holding him or kissing him.
The genuine surprise in Steve’s face clenches Tony’s heart. Because Tony should have known, he should have said all of this years ago and it’s all his fault if Steve ever longed for being touched or if he ever felt lonely. It’s Tony’s insecure selfishness that caused this, that Steve simply has no idea of the miracle his existence is.

But it’s ok.
It’s not too late.

(Tony still has time to restate the facts as many times as Steve needs to hear them. He still has time, to hold, to touch, to talk, and to listen.
It’s not too late.

Steve is there.
Tony will never let him go.)


***

They finally get dressed and leave the room. Tony holds Steve’s hand as Steve sits down next to Barnes’, Bucky’s, chamber. He presses his thumb on the back of Steve’s hand and listens to Steve’s voice.

It’s uneasy and unpleasant, but Tony can do this now.
Because he is holding Steve’s hand and he can kiss him anytime he wants, or because he looks at Bucky’s face and it suddenly seems absurd that this whole play is written elsewhere and it’s not Bucky’s fault, not Steve’s fault, and not Tony’s fault. That it’s only the dark and twisted turn that events of life take sometimes.

(It still hurts to think about that hand and what it has done to Tony, but in the face of what Tony’s been through nothing hurts that much.

And even that hand is not there anymore.)


***

They walk around the palace together. They stop by the operations center and listen to Nat’s report on the secret op she has been on with Clint and Scott and Tony takes a quick look at Hawkeye’s Wakandan arrows. T’challa talks to them about Ross and the numerous times he has tried to reach out to confirm the rumors of Steve being found alive and Tony residing in Wakanda.

No one gives a fuck.
Tony will deal with Ross later.

They walk outside of the palace as the sun goes down and Tony is mesmerised by the things Steve has to say about his 4 months spent here mostly doing nothing and wandering around.

Tony is holding Steve’s hand the entire time.

(He lets Steve’s hand go for a second in the operations center when he is swapping his phone from left to right and Steve’s hand reaches for Tony’s now free hand and grabs his wrist, brings it down to his lap and holds on with both hands.)


***

Later that night, after being kissed and touched, after Tony doing things to Steve that take his breath away and leaves Tony panting for breath too, and after coming back down together in each other’s arms all sweaty and tired, Steve starts to cry.

He holds on to Tony’s hand and tells him how sorry he is, how much he has been missing him, how much he hates himself for not reaching out sooner, and how he wishes he could take everything back and undo the hurt and the heartbreak.

Tony presses Steve to his chest and wipes his tears away.

Then he hears another voice, his own voice, and he is amazed as if looking from outside that he is holding on to Steve’s shoulders and saying those exact things with the same words, the same tone and the same rhythm.

This is not some romantic bullshit movie that Clint used to make them watch back in the tower. This is their actual life. Captain America and Iron Man, tangled in the sheets covered with sweat and tears telling each other that they are sorry.
That’s all Tony has wanted in the past months. That’s all Tony has wanted his whole life.
That’s all that matters.

(It’s not too late.
They have all the time in the world.)


***

Tony asks FRIDAY to check both burner phones to be fully charged and reporting. He wraps his arms around Steve and presses his lips to Steve’s forehead. Steve breathes into Tony’s chest and his beard brushes over the sensitive skin where the arc reactor used to be, and makes the hair stand up on the back of Tony’s neck.

“Let’s go home.”
Tony whispers.