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Falling to Earth

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Tony doesn't do paperwork after a mission, though he does sometimes record his own summary of events, which includes all the pertinent information. Or maybe just the interesting parts. Which is where things get complicated because what he considers interesting and what Fury considers interesting - interesting apparently being 'vital and need-to-know' - are often two very different things. Pepper flatly refuses to do his mission reports, due to the weak excuse that she's never actually there. Like that's ever stopped her from knowing what's going on.

Tony's summary of the mission so far would involve an angry diatribe on supervillains who build their lairs on the top of a mountain and then rig the whole thing to blow at the first hint of trouble. It would also include a scathing attack on people who use a combination of acid and electricity as their front porch burglar deterrent, because that's just nasty. As is crashing through the roof of said supervillain lair. Though Steve Rogers might have some sort of note to add there about whether landing on him is more unpleasant than landing on the ground. Tony always appreciates outside input from reputable sources. All things considered his post-mission summary wouldn't exactly be a ringing endorsement for the supervillain lifestyle. Because no matter how cool it all sounds on paper it always seems to end up being a really bad day for him.

That is if he actually gets to the post-mission part, since him and Steve are currently buried in the half-collapsed basement of a mountainside retreat, and the temperature is dropping about ten degrees every hour. Though he could be wrong about that, he's been known to exaggerate when he's testy. They're not going to see back-up any time soon either, since everyone's on downtime. Last he remembers, Thor's in Asgard doing something which likely involves a lot of shouting, drinking and encouraging people into things that will leave them with bruises and memory loss. Banner is probably still in his lab, either working on a cure for cancer or secretly making his own LSD. Clint, Coulson and Natasha are - hell if he knows - probably playing the world's most badass version of Clue. They were only supposed to be doing basic recon, nothing hazardous, no reason to worry. They're not supposed to check in for a couple of hours, and after that it'll be another two hours minimum before anyone worries about them, then thinks about sending help. Which is more than enough time in this underground freezer. Because it's more than cold in here, it's the nasty, persistent painful sub-zero temperature that doesn't bother with the pleasantries of introductions but knifes straight through you like an assassin instead.

Tony can't feel his fingers, which is making the repairs difficult, metal grating against metal without any of the finesse he's capable of. Technically it's not even repairs any more. He might as well be just jamming everything together for all the progress he's making. The only reason he can see to work is the faintly muted glow coming from his chest. He's not sure of the sunlight/ice penetration ratios but it certainly felt like half the mountain came down on them. He's going to concede that maybe cold weather gear would have been a really good idea. Only that's just another one of those things he only ever seems capable of regretting later. Flying by the seat of your pants wouldn't be half as much fun if you remembered to pack absolutely everything before you left.

He's already wearing Steve's jacket - because of course Captain America dresses for the weather - which he would have refused, in some sort of manly way, if he'd been able to talk through the sound of his teeth smashing together. And he'd refused to suffer the indignity of Steve wrestling him into the damn thing, which Tony knows he would have done, with the sort of steely determination usually saved for small children who want to go out and play in the snow. Because he would never have lived that down. But he can still feel the cold taking the scenic route through his entire body. He can't tell which way it's traveling - up from his feet, down from his neck, the middle of his chest to everywhere else. All he knows is that it feels like he's bleeding out backwards.

Fucking gloves at least, he couldn't have packed gloves? Steve had thought to bring gloves - granted he'd lost them putting down the acid-spitting sentry robot, but he'd had some originally.

Not that it matters, the suit is going nowhere, he was pretty sure of that at the start but now he's certain. He could probably make it move, at a push. It wasn't going to fly again, but he could probably get it to slowly crash into a wall, maybe, if he really tried. Before the cold and the wet turned the whole thing into an expensive and attractive but ultimately useless modern art sculpture. Though that wouldn't solve their current problem. Also, Tony's bones have taken about as much blunt force trauma as he's willing to today. They do not deserve this much punishment.

The only reason he's still trying - he cuts his eyes sideways and watches Steve, who's been digging his shield into the ice wall for the last hour. He's staying out of Tony's way, letting him work. It's the only reason he's still over there. Steve thinks he can fix it, that's easy enough to read, that's what Tony does, he fixes things. The guy shouldn't have that much faith in someone he doesn't really know. Tony's pretty sure you shouldn't have that much faith in anyone. Steve's just waiting for him to do something with all these broken pieces, before the cold kills everything - and he means everything. The guy doesn't know any better, starting every day like he's never been disappointed in his life. Also, having metal in your chest, not a fucking plan when it's thirty below. Tony can feel it when he breathes, which he keeps trying to tell himself is a good thing, that nasty, widening stab of cold, because once he can't feel it any more he's going to freeze to death from the inside out.

So, not enough working systems to call for help, or fly up through the wreckage, or break through the ice, or the basement walls, or melt the ice. The list of things he can't do is a lot longer than the things he can. He could probably irradiate them both, though that isn't very helpful. Even taking into account the one in a billion chance he develops helpful mutant powers. He's good, he's really good, but he's not a wizard. All he's managing here is writing a long check-list in his head of all the adaptations he's going to need to make for sub-zero temperatures, acid, possible subterranean conditions. He knows exactly how he's going to improve the suit to make sure this doesn't happen next time - if there is a next time.

Steve has given up bashing at the wall, proving that even his reserves of determination aren't enough to overcome an immovable object. If he's cold he's not showing it, he's not even breathing hard.

"How's it going?" he asks. Though the question's offered quietly, from just behind his shoulder. He's familiar with Tony's tendency to tell people to go away when he's thinking, or working, or doing something stupid and inadvisable.

"It's not." Tony can't pretend to fix things any more. Especially when he can't feel his fingers, when they won't stop shaking. "I'm just rearranging the pieces now. Everything the acid didn't melt is fried, everything that isn't fried or melted is iced over. Even if I had the proper equipment I'd be lucky to get anywhere. It's a brick." He drops what he's working on, clenches his fists a couple of times, though that doesn't help, and he's breathing out plumes of warmth that he can't afford to lose.

He turns just in time to register Steve frowning at him, moving into his personal space and reaching out, laying a hand over Tony's where it rests on the floor. His fingers don't burn but it's a close thing, and Tony has no idea how he's managed to keep hold of his body heat in this crypt.

"You're freezing." Steve seems to realise all at once how inhospitable this place really is, and how much less so it's becoming. "Why didn't you say something."

"What was the point, you got another jacket tucked away somewhere?"

Steve gives him a look, as if he wishes he had thought to bring another jacket. He's taking being unprepared for a supervillain hideout to collapse around them as a personal failing. Only Steve could take that as a personal failing.

"We're not getting out through the wall, I've barely made a scratch and I can't see daylight yet."

Yeah, Tony's day just keeps getting better. "Why couldn't it have been snow? Snow is like the beginner's substance of choice for all cave-ins and trapped-in-the-wilderness scenarios. I could have taken snow."

"It looks like we're waiting on the rescue party after all." Steve doesn't look any happier about that than Tony feels. It's one of the few things they have in common, the inability to sit on their ass and wait for someone else to solve the problem.

"Do we have to? I mean, I know they like to feel useful and everything, but I much prefer to rescue myself. It's more dramatic that way."

That gets him a smile at least. Maybe the day isn't a total washout.

"At the moment the cold is the thing we have to worry about." Steve sets his shield down and slots himself in behind Tony, elbows knocking into the wall, knees pulled up. He's a man who clearly still forgets how much space he takes up sometimes. He doesn't even hesitate to tug Tony back into him, because of course Captain America will invade your personal space if it's a matter of life and death. Tony's pretty sure he should say something about the whole thing, but Steve's body heat is immediate and obvious wherever he touches. Even through the suit fabric, which seemed a lot more substantial when they weren't stranded inside a freezer, and though Steve hasn't said anything about the cold yet, hasn't even looked like the brisk temperatures are inconveniencing him he's still human and it's only a matter of time.

"You're going to have your back to the wall." Tony thinks that's a nice, sensible thing to say, while Captain America is trying to work out how to hug him in the most efficient way possible. Honestly, you couldn't make this shit up.

"I'm going to worry about that, while you think of a way to rescue us."

"You do realise that even my genius has its limits?" He's annoyed that he has to admit to that. What's the point of being the smartest man in a room if there's nothing to work with?

"I'm going to tell people you said that." It's an actual threat, Rogers is threatening him.

"Fine, fine." Tony tips his head back until it rests on Steve's shoulder and acts for all the world like he isn't using him as an armchair. "Teleportation," he decides eventually.


"I need to work on teleportation, obvious really. Because if you find yourself in a crappy situation you should be able to immediately extricate yourself by the fastest means possible. Teleportation. That would come in handy for emergencies - also surprise parties."

"Can you actually do that?" Steve's weight curls in over him, interested enough to forget for a moment that he can squeeze harder than the average guy. He's probably serious as well, science in the forties was more about dreaming up shit you could get done and then doing it, rather than the science-by-committee of today, that tended to be more about dream-crushing and peer-review than anything else. Hell, maybe Tony's a throwback too. The laws of physics would protest, strongly, but hell there are more than a few mutants who manage it, so it's at least feasible - or was there that study that it wasn't so much teleportation as travel though inter-dimensional space?

"Sure," he says instead. Because when Captain America sounds impressed you just go with it. He can work out the details later.

"So what are you going to make this teleportation technology out of?" Steve's obviously noticed the pitiful conditions he's being forced to work with. Even to a non-scientist they probably look pretty crappy.

"Something will come to me. Of course this isn't exactly new for you, is it? You've done this before, the whole freezing to death in the middle of nowhere."

There's no reply to that. The only reason Tony knows Steve's breathing is the burst of warmth across the top of his head. Tony's offended so many people in so many ways, that it doesn't even occur to him any more. Until people are giving him the 'you're a dick,' face, which is pretty universal. Steve doesn't have a 'you're a dick,' face, or if he does Tony hasn't seen it yet. No, he has the 'I'm so disappointed in you right now, you're solely responsible for lowering my faith in humanity' look. That look - there's no verbal response to that look. You get that look and you've already failed in some way. Tony can feel it hovering above him.

"Hey, forget I said that." It's a shitty apology and he knows he should offer a better one. But Steve's already moving his arms, chasing away the little drafts and murmuring 'it's ok,' so close to his ear that the warmth blanks out everything else for a second. He manages through force of will not to lean towards it like the greedy hedonist he is. There's a low tremor under his skin that won't stop. It doesn't feel like shivering but it probably is, starting somewhere in his gut and working its way up. His chest is just a constricting knot of numbness and pain. Which he's going to ignore, because there's nothing he can do about it.

Steve has to notice though, because he does that, he notices things. He shifts his arm from along the back of Tony's, and lays a hand over the metal, which must be freezing cold. The blue glow fades out a little. Tony can only feel the tips of Steve's fingers, the pressure from his hand - which makes sense, no matter how many times his brain tells him he can feel more than that. It's a careful sort of pressure, one that doesn't tell Tony whether it's the 'touching the machine that's keeping you alive' careful, or the 'this is weirdly intimate and beyond the bounds of our friendship' careful. Hell it's Steve so it's probably both. But there's nothing awkward about the other arm, which is curled round Tony's waist, fingers locked at the bend, as if he thinks Tony might just slip out of the hold and fall away through the damn floor. That's probably the hold he should be making jokes about, but he doesn't have the energy for it. Or maybe he will slip away through the floor. Stranger things have happened - literally, breaking the laws of physics seems to be on every mad scientist's check-list.

He thinks he just called himself a mad scientist there, but he figures the shoes aren't exactly too big.

"When I'm dead promise you'll take your jacket back. I know you, you have this weird, polite, respectful thing going on. But trust me you'll need it, and I don't need to be dignified if I'm dead."

Steve's arm does this weird little flex thing, briefly painful before it relaxes again. "Shut up, Tony."

There's a harder edge to the words than Tony's ever heard before. Nothing like his 'I'm going to lead this team with all of my experience and good judgement' voice. This the first time he's heard teeth in Steve's voice. Steve is not fucking around now. Tony kind of likes it. He could have lived to see a few more of Steve's layers of badass gradually revealed under the threat of death.

"You're in the awesomest physical shape it's possible to be in, me not so much. We both know it's going to happen, not talking about it isn't going to get us rescued."

"It's not going to happen. I'm not going to let it happen."

"There's a fine line between optimism and delusion, I feel like I should remind you of that."

"It doesn't hurt to have a little faith in the team," Steve encourages, there's even a little jostling going on. He's going to make freezing to death exhausting. Tony really wants to complain about how transparent Steve's enthusiasm is sometimes.

"I do remember telling you I'm not a team player. I only show up to practice because they make me."

"You say that, but I don't think you're doing so bad."

Tony's pretty sure that's a compliment but it annoys him anyway. Which is...pretty screwed up.

"Promise you'll at least try to have a little fun without me around. I feel like I made progress, so you're not allowed to backslide. Spend more time with Thor. Seriously, you have to promise not to be boring. I don't want the guy that comes along to replace me have to work his ass off - no, what am I saying, of course I want him to work his ass off. You'll all hate the new guy, I insist on it."

"Tony, no one could replace you," Steve says, and he actually sounds serious and upset, as if Tony dying would severely inconvenience his day. "Where are we going to find anyone like you?"

"Flattery will get you everywhere, at least I think that was flattery. I'm going to pretend that it was."

Steve, unfortunately, doesn't take the opportunity to say any more nice things about him. Which is a little disappointing. He's shivering again, and even the immovable Steve Rogers can't hold him tight enough to stop it.

"Jesus, do you even feel cold?" Tony asks - though 'asks' suggests a certain amount of politeness that's missing from his voice at the moment. The stretch of cheek Steve presses to his temple feels warm, but that could be him, just because everything feels warmer than you, doesn't mean it's doing so good. He still wants to twist around and just bury his whole damn face in it all the same. "This is my punishment for complaining about the desert," he offers, though he doubts Steve will know what he's talking about.

Steve obviously thinks he isn't doing enough though, because he stretches his legs out until they're sliding sideways. Instead of letting Tony sink back into him Steve twists him around, until he's face down in Steve's neck, legs tangled up in a way that should be uncomfortable, or unworkable, or something. He's going to tug away, complain that he doesn't need to be mummified, he's an adult. But Steve's already pulling the sides of the jacket down, struggling to detach and pull up the front of his suit. Suddenly Tony has a wide expanse of hot, naked skin against his stomach and he can't help the way he presses down into it. Movement enough like sex to give him a weird moment of disconnect.

The whole room darkens, with only the barest glow still visible, and Tony is crushed against Steve in a way that even the people who think up team-building exercises would find a little excessive. He's never been this close to someone that wasn't trying to either have sex with him or kill him.

"I'm pretty sure there'll be a memo about this later. 'Agents may not engineer any life-or-death situations in order to get other team members naked,'" he says carefully.

"You never pay any attention to the memos," Steve says, which is true but Tony's not sure how he knows that. "Do you even read them?"

"I don't need to, I just assume they're all about me." Tony can feel the way they press together when they breathe, hands curled round Steve's shoulders, and it's tempting to dig his fingers into the muscle just to get an overall suggestion of how firm everything is. But that's probably the cold talking. Speaking of cold, that's probably actually a point in his favour right now. "I feel like I should warn you that if I wasn't freezing to death I'd be really enjoying this right now." The words tumble out between shivers. He tries to laugh but it comes out as an embarrassing collection of shuddery exhales instead. Also, he probably shouldn't have said that. This is uncharacteristically honest of him. But he figures he's going to die so he gets special dispensation to say whatever the fuck he wants. Not that he's ever needed special dispensation before he opens his mouth. It's just all specially official now. No one is allowed to object to the ramblings of the soon-to-be-deceased. Steve doesn't peel himself away though, instead he makes a noise like Tony has said something not particularly surprising.

Captain America is finding him predictable, the world is officially coming to an end. It's the glacial apocalypse.

"I can't take all your body heat, you're going to to need it later." He doesn't mention why he won't be needing it later, because they both know it, even if Steve doesn't want to hear it.

"You're too cold to argue." Steve really has that parent tone down.

"I'll make an exception for you." Because that seems to be a habit, and he sees no reason to break it.

"If we separate we'll just waste the heat."

"Stop being sensible, it's irritating." Tony can't help dropping his face into the curve of neck and shoulder, because just for a second he can feel his skin again. Though once it's there it's very hard to move away. He's naturally greedy, it's a failing he'll admit to, except for when it's not. It may be freezing cold but Steve still smells really, really good. He probably got up this morning and put on his old man cologne with no idea of how the day was going to end. "You are so lucky I'm lurching towards hypothermia right now."

"Tony." His name sounds quiet and important. "Please put your hands under the suit."

It's the politest request Tony's ever had to touch someone's naked body.

"If I put my hands in there I think we're officially going steady."

"You're making fun of me." Steve makes it sound like this is news. He's not allowed to still be surprised that Tony will take the path of least resistance and endless amusement.

"It's what I do," Tony says, mostly into his neck, because tipping his head back to talk still involves exposing far too much of his face to the world at large. Steve exhales, a long - and also long-suffering - burst of air. But then his hands are folding round Tony's wrists, squeezing a little too hard, which tells Tony the cold is finally getting to him too. His own hands quickly end up pushed somewhere warmer than they were a moment ago, and it's all skin all the way up. Steve is doing his boy scout thing, with his steely determination to share his body heat and save the day.

Tony is thinking awful things. Mostly concerning all the non-life-saving ways in which he'd like to use Steve's body heat. All of which he's going to regret not having done - tried to do - once he's deceased rather than soon-to-be-deceased. He had no idea there were so many things to regret. He's trying to ignore the fact that he has his mouth pressed under Steve's ear and the palm of his hand pressed down over a nipple. He's been fighting a mischievous urge to move that hand for the last minute, it's like an itch in his brain. How much body heat would they create if they pushed the rest of the clothes out of the way? How much body heat would they waste in the open air of the room? The amount of skin touching versus the amount of energy necessary to bleed all that warmth out as they pressed into each other - Tony is officially awful at hypothetical survival situations. This is why he's a bad influence, it's all true, everything everyone says about him.

"I'm a terrible person." He thinks Steve should know, just in case he's still thinking noble things about him. "A terrible person, you have no idea."

"You're not." It's so insistent. It's in his head somewhere, Tony's sure of it, typed in serious black font. Tony Stark is a good person and Steve Rogers will hear nothing to the contrary.

"I'm thinking about you naked," Tony provides. "I would apologise, considering the efforts you're making towards saving us both from a horrible frozen death. But I'm a terrible person and I can't stop...but if it's any consolation, I think it's helping."

The pause is very long, Tony imagines that the stillness is some heady combination of confused and scandalised, because it amuses him.

"Thinking about me naked is helping?" Steve's voice is a fraction less steady, but Tony's pretty sure that's the cold.

"Not thinking about you naked was taking too much energy. Also I'm pretty sure your impressively warm abdominal muscles are the only thing my nervous system is still capable of registering."

"You're really not afraid to say whatever you're thinking, are you?" Steve sounds impressed now. Honestly sometimes the man is predictable as hell and sometimes he's so far out of left field Tony ends up blinking at the sun wondering what the hell happened. It wouldn't do to make it obvious though.

"What could be more important than every random observation that goes through my brain? The world is richer for it."

Tony can feel the way Steve's head turns and tilts down, as if he's trying to look him in the eye, only to realise it's not currently possible.

"You don't know how rare that is?"

"What's that?"

"Someone that will always tell the truth, even when it hurts, even when it's not what people want to hear."

"I think you're overlooking my capacity to make shit up on a whim too." He has to stop talking for a while because the cold gets under the jacket somehow, runs the length of his spine. He's shivering like he's gong to break apart, body desperately trying to shake itself alive. Steve tugs the jacket down, pulls him in, even though there isn't any room to get closer. Tony slides his hands further underneath the suit without thinking about it. But Steve doesn't object, he stretches a little to make it easier.

"How long have we been here, do you think?" Steve asks, he seems to be trying to use his voice to warm up Tony's ear and it's kind of working so he's not going to complain.

"About five hours," Tony mumbles into his shoulder. It comes out sounding like a garbled alien language, but Steve doesn't ask again.

Everything goes very dark for a little while. Until Steve shakes him, hard.

"Don't fall asleep."

"My brain's cold. It doesn't work any more."

Steve somehow manages to lock his fingers together against the skin of Tony's back, face tucked down into his hair, and he's squeezing so hard the reactor has to be digging uncomfortably into his chest. But he doesn't say a word. He's not as warm as he was. Body tensing and relaxing like he's fighting shivers.

"If they find us like this I'm going to tell everyone you let me get to third base," Tony warns.

Steve's quiet for a minute.

"If you promise to still be alive when they do, then I won't deny it."

He's laughing, he's laughing out warm air and pressing his face into Steve's neck because no one, no one in the whole damn world could have made that sound so fucking heroic.

"Gonna hold you to that." It's hard to talk through the clacking of his teeth. It's hard to talk while laughing and shivering at the same time. He lets it take him for a while and then shifts, trying to find a warm space for his left shoulder. He gives in, realising there's no comfortable space left in the entire world right now. "I bet you look amazing naked," he says, just to give him something else to think about.

There's a long period of breathing, and chattering teeth before Steve answers.

"It took me a while to get used to," he says, very quietly, like he's admitting something he's not sure he should.

"I'd look at you all the time," Tony mumbles, because it's true, he would.

He can't feel any of his limbs any more. It would be so easy to just -

"Tony, wake up, stay with me."


"You're an asshole," Tony decides. Because he'd just managed to reach that place where his whole body felt pleasantly numb, and now he's shivering again, Steve's hands jostling against his skin, definitely not as warm as they had been before, and his body is not enjoying it at all. He's officially past the stage where he can appreciate half naked Steve Rogers, therefore this has to be what death feels like.

"I'm doing this for your own good," Steve says, for someone who's probably never been called an asshole before he's taking it surprisingly well.

"If you were anyone else I'd die just to spite you."

"Well then I'm really glad I am me." Steve manages to sound all firm and heroic and self-sacrificing. Tony officially hates him, that's going in the next memo.

"Let me sleep."

"It won't be sleep, Tony. You're smart enough to know that." Steve's shivering too now, voice turned into bits and pieces as it shakes out. Tony doesn't like the way it makes him sound. He forces his sluggish limbs to move, covering as much of Steve as he can before he runs out of body. It takes pretty much everything he has. But he's not taking Steve Rogers with him. If he does one last good thing it will be to keep Steve alive.

"Promise you'll take the jacket."

Tony waits for an answer, teeth gritted against the painful, never-ending shivers that won't stop, even though he's certain he passed empty a mile ago.

"I promise." It's soft and flat and it sounds like it hurts coming out.

Even the determination of Captain America can't repel the impending ice age they seem to be trapped in. Tony's almost immediately drifting off again.

"I wish I was someone that could help you." Steve's last sentence mostly gets lost in his hair. But there's nothing else to focus on.

"Never be anyone else - perfect just the way you are," Tony reassures him, with all the sense that's left to him.

He doesn't remember a lot after that. It's cold, and he never quite manages to forget it again. Steve's shaking hand is on the back of his neck, holding him tight against the skin until the only warm place is the small space he's left to breathe into, Steve's skin under his mouth, slightly damp, pulse thumping slowly. Steve's fingers never stop moving, sliding on his back and then dragging through Tony's hair in a way that manages to be soothing and awful at the same time.

Everything hurts.

Tony's barely conscious when the ground shudders like it's going to tear apart. He thinks he's imagined it at first, a distant earthquake in his sleeping brain, but then it happens again, and Steve's arm twists out from under his shirt. When the wall caves in, Steve manages to roll his shield out to deflect most of the shards of ice that are flung inwards.

The wide gap of blinding sunlight is almost immediately eclipsed by something loud, and green.

That big, ugly face is the most beautiful thing Tony's ever seen.