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Phantom (page 4)

page 3

Day 18

They were gathered in the kitchen, mostly because Bruce wanted Tony to eat something and it was as good a place as any to hold a meeting. Fury had come down to join them, to get a status report on Steve’s most recent escapes.

“I thought you said you had him under control here?” Fury pointed out.

“The first time he surprised us, but the second was Thor’s fault,” Tony answered tightly.

Thor nodded solemnly. “I underestimated the Captain’s resolve and skills. It is not a mistake I shall repeat. However, I suspect that whatever has taken possession of his body and mind is making him stronger.”

“Not by much,” Natasha observed. “Otherwise we would have a much harder time catching him.”

“I wonder if there’s a pattern,” Coulson mused. He had some papers in front of him, and he kept tapping his pen against the table beside them. “He keeps escaping, but short of traveling to the Tower the first time, he has not shown any intention of disappearing, like he did in Brazil.”

“He traveled from Brazil to the States – I’m not sure he was disappearing even then,” Bruce said. “Everything suggests that he does nothing on a whim.”

“So why keep breaking out?” Fury asked. “Why does he keep fighting us one second, only to calm down the next?”

“Why did he show up in my bedroom?” Tony added.

“As interesting as your reasoning for that might be, we don’t want to hear it,” Fury snapped.

“Actually, I think that’s the most important clue of all,” Bruce came to Tony’s defense. “I have been – as well as Agent Coulson, I believe – compiling information of what Steve’s been doing each time he escaped. Each time, he went to Tony. Last night in his bedroom. Earlier that day, in his workshop. On the Helicarrier, he locked himself in with Tony on the observation deck.”

“But he also attacked Tony various other times,” Thor frowned.

“Yes, but he stopped fighting whenever Stark took off the helmet,” Coulson spoke up. “As long as it’s just him and Stark, he’s calm. Just like when he came to the Tower after escaping the first time: the security feed showed he ceased fighting once Stark showed his face.”

“And, most importantly, he traveled all the way to Cambridge when Tony was there. He didn’t come to New York City, to the Avengers Tower, but he instead went to a city he has never been to before – because Tony was there,” Bruce finished their theory.

“Why me?” Tony asked.

“I believe only you can answer that,” Bruce mused, a lot softer than earlier, and Tony gave him a somewhat confused look – until it clicked that Bruce knew that…

Tony dropped his eyes and nodded, once. “Maybe,” was the only thing he said.

“‘Maybe’ what?” Fury demanded. “This isn’t the time to hold back.”

“Do we have any idea how to undo whatever’s happened to him?” Tony asked instead, stubbornly not delving deeper into how or why Steve kept showing up around him. He looked at Thor, because he was getting desperate, and if the Asgardian had some magical solution up his sleeve, he was about ready to go for it.

“The nature of the magic still eludes me; it is very old, and very powerful,” Thor answered. “It may be a clue that the Captain has a fondness for Tony, but we cannot rely on that to handle the situation.”

“I wouldn’t call it ‘fondness’,” Tony started.

“Oh shut up,” Natasha muttered. “We all know what it is. Just because the two of you have never acted on it doesn’t mean it isn’t there for all to see.”

Tony blinked – as did Fury, who looked back and forth between the engineer and the spy before closing his eye. “I don’t need to hear more about that. The only thing I want is an answer to how we resolve this situation. And if the only thing you can give me is that Stark is Rogers’ new happy place, then I say we stick them in a cell together and put an end to this running away business while we find a permanent solution.”

“Hey!” Tony exclaimed, frowning. “That’s against more than one article of the bill of human rights.”

“Then give me answers!”

“I would, if I had any!”

“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir, but it would seem Captain Rogers has escaped again,” J.A.R.V.I.S. interrupted what was becoming a rather nice shouting match.

“What?!” Fury roared.

“How?” Tony asked, because it was starting to bug him.

“This time it seems the answer isn’t purely scientific: there was a spike of unknown radiation, approximately 54 seconds ago. The readings are similar to the ones S.H.I.E.L.D. recorded at the ruins in the Amazon. The radiation seems harmless, but is heavily interfering with all mechanics around it – including my sensors in the area and the locking mechanism of the containment level.”

“So when he can’t be bothered to break out the old-fashioned way, he does this?” Tony complained. “Please tell me it’s magic.”

“Would it make you feel better?” Bruce asked skeptically.

“Not really, but I could try,” Tony shrugged, then looked around. “Okay, why isn’t anyone moving?”

“Well, if our deduction is correct, all we need to do is sit here and wait for Captain Rogers to come to us,” Coulson stated dryly. “Or rather, to you.”

Tony scowled at them, but guessed they were right, if past experience was anything to go by.

It took Steve fifteen minutes to reclaim his shield from where it had been locked away – Tony told J.A.R.V.I.S. to just open the door for him because enough things had been broken or destroyed at the Tower already. Eight minutes after reclaiming his shield, Steve stepped into the kitchen, giving them all a glance, tension written all over his body.

“How are the radiation levels?” Tony asked.

“Nonexistent, sir; none can be detected at present time, save for the residual on the containment level.”

“What do we do now?” Natasha asked cautiously.

“Well, we know what will happen if we attack him,” Coulson mused. “So, maybe another kind of approach is in order.”

No one needed to look at Tony to give him a hint – but they all looked at him anyway. Pointedly. Tony gave them all a dirty look in return and stood up. “I’ll haunt every single one of you if he beheads me with his shield,” he promised, then turned towards Steve and cautiously walked over to him. It pained him, to still be in this position, fearing that the other man would attack him out of nowhere. This wasn’t Steve, though, not really. Tony had to see that, and remember that, but then he remembered the scene in the workshop, and the flash of a memory of a hand reaching out to touch his shoulder on the Helicarrier.

“Steve,” Tony said hesitantly, walking closer still. Steve hadn’t moved, and his eyes kept following Tony. At least, that’s what it felt like, but it was still impossible to say. “Look, I… We’re getting desperate here,” Tony went on, slowing down, but when the shield didn’t come flying and it looked almost like Steve was more relaxed the closer Tony got, he kept pushing it: “We want you to come back,” he said softly. “The real you. Wherever you are now… I know you’re still in there, no matter what Thor says,” he stated vehemently, and took two more steps, putting himself right in front of Steve.

Being so close to him wasn’t normal, not even before all this. There was personal space to take into account, and whenever they had moved closer than that, they’d felt almost guilty about it. They had never talked about it, but so often Tony had seen that uncertain look on Steve’s features. Not fear, but…

“I’m scared,” Tony admitted in a whisper. “I’m scared that you’re gone forever and I can’t get you back. That I can’t do anything to bring you home.” And although it was probably the most stupid thing he ever did in his entire life, he reached out and took both of Steve’s hands into his own, holding tight, feeling a sense of desperation burning inside him.

Steve’s hands squeezed back. Their eyes met – glowing white and brown – and then Tony’s breath stopped short and everything went white in his head.

- - -

It all looked promising: their assumption that there was some sort of bond between Tony and Steve appeared to be correct, as Steve made no move to attack any of them. While it was no cure, it sure as hell was a relief, and potentially something they could study to further understand the situation.

Tony was talking quietly and reached out to take Steve’s hands in his. It was a small, sweet gesture, especially from Tony Stark, and Bruce guessed this was the first time in weeks that someone had touched Steve without ulterior motives.

The peaceful moment lasted for two seconds before both men suddenly fell to the floor as if marionettes cut from their strings.

Natasha jumped up, freezing slightly as her still-bruised back caught up with the motion. Fury and Coulson both jerked, and Thor flew up from his chair and was a step ahead of Bruce when they moved over to Tony and Steve.

“What happened?” Bruce asked, confused. The two men were still holding hands, and both their eyes were closed. Tony wasn’t a surprise, really, but Steve hadn’t so much as blinked since Brazil, far as they knew, yet his eyelids were firmly lowered now.

Bruce moved his hand to their throats, starting with Tony, and could feel his pulse, steady and only slightly slower than normal. As if they were just calmly asleep.

“They just collapsed,” Coulson stated the obvious, probably to challenge someone to offer an explanation. The others had joined Bruce and Thor, leaning over, peering at their fallen teammates.

Bruce frowned then gently tapped Tony’s cheek, then a little harder. “Tony. Hey, Tony!” No response. “Let’s get them to the lab,” Bruce decided, moving his hands down to his teammates’ clasped ones and tried to pry them apart. “Huh,” he breathed after a bit and tried again; every time he attempted to dislodge their hands, both men would tighten their hold on each other, although it didn’t seem they were awake or aware. “They won’t let go.”

“What?” Natasha asked.

“Let me,” Thor offered, and Bruce leaned back. Thor went at it from a few different angles, a frown deepening on his face. “They are truly determined to not let go of each other,” he finally observed.

“Let them be for now: I don’t want you to accidently break any bones,” Bruce ordered, then glanced up Steve’s arm. “At least cut the straps of the shield; we don’t need that to be in the way.” Natasha presented a knife from her belt and they carefully cut the shield free of Steve’s forearm, then Thor lifted the Captain while Fury and Coulson grabbed Tony.

“What do you think triggered this?” Fury asked as Bruce helped Natasha open doors on the way to the lab.

“Connection, perhaps?” Bruce threw a wild guess into the air. “Or maybe it was just the right time. I don’t think Steve had been emitting radiation before today. Let’s move those beds together,” he gestured then, and he and Natasha pushed two hospital beds together and lowered the sides.

With Tony and Steve laid out, Bruce went around examining them. First he checked their eyes. Both of them were completely white, although Tony’s just looked like they had rolled back in his head; Steve’s were still glowing, although less brightly. Next he hooked them up to a few machines. “Heart rates are lower than normal, but not alarmingly so. It’s like they’re deeply asleep – or in a coma.” He went around again, poking at them. “Reflexes are sluggish or nonexistent. However…” He tried tugging at their hands again, and immediately both heart rates spiked, but other than that, there was no reaction save for tightening arm muscles.

He stopped circling the beds and looked at Thor. “Please tell me this is a good sign.”

Thor shook his head. “I fear not, yet I do not know what kind of magic we are dealing with.”

“Why now, and why Stark?” Fury asked. “People have been touching Rogers, even making direct skin contact. None of them went into a coma with him.”

“Maybe it’s the hand-holding,” Natasha offered.

“It has to be Tony,” Bruce decided. “Steve has been drawn to him, and he was the only person he wouldn’t attack, even when provoked. Well, when it was Tony without the suit, anyway. I don’t think the two of them touched each other before now.”

“So this could have been resolved on day one?” Fury groaned. “Great.”

“And we would have been even more clueless of what is going on,” Bruce snapped, trying to see something good in this. There weren’t a whole lot of things to be happy about…

“Should we try to wake them up, or do you think they’re… sorting out whatever it is that’s going on?” Coulson mused.

“If we can awaken them, I think it should be done,” Thor decided.

“Let me try a few things,” Bruce offered.

- - -

Nothing worked. Bruce was convinced that even an explosion wouldn’t wake up the two men, who remained unmoving, holding hands. The only way to confirm they were alive, save for their pulses, was to try and make them let go of each other – which was impossible if they weren’t prepared to cut some limbs or crack bones.

They weren’t nearly that desperate.

However, they needed to find a solution, and none of the medical tricks, usual or controversial, were working.

“Thor,” Bruce said to the Asgardian as the two of them stood staring at Steve and Tony. “You need to go and find answers. I’ve done all I can, and while S.H.I.E.L.D. might still have a few aces up their sleeve, I’m worried.” Steve had survived in the ice, but Tony was only human. Whatever was happening to their bodies… Bruce could keep them alive, but for how long if their organs started to shut down or their brain activity died down?

Thor nodded. “I should have returned to Asgard earlier, but I hoped the magic would fade or I would find an answer in the texts. Alas, I have failed our friends.”

“There’s still time to fix things,” Bruce reassured him. “The quicker you leave, the sooner you’ll get back. I shall care for them in your absence, but we need help. We need a cure.”

Thor nodded again, and gave Bruce a thankful look. “I shall not return before we know how to release our friends from this curse.” Then he left, red cape fluttering in the air, and Bruce watched him go before turning back to the two men. They looked peaceful, and Bruce hoped appearances weren’t deceiving.

- - -

The brilliant white hurt his eyes for a moment, but the sensation slowly ebbed away and left Tony feeling slightly disoriented and… was he drunk? No, that wasn’t it, but the feeling was somewhat similar, although he didn’t need to pee, nor did he want to puke his guts out.

Tony looked around, confused. Colors were bleeding into the light and… “Steve?” The other man turned around, and his eyes had never looked so amazingly blue to Tony. Also, those eyes distracted Tony for about five seconds from noticing that Steve was completely naked, which was a little weird, but Tony didn’t care.

“Tony?” Steve spoke quietly, hesitantly, blinking as if he wanted nothing more than to rub his eyes and make sure he wasn’t dreaming. Guess Tony wasn’t the only one doubting his eyes. “How are you here?” Steve finally went on, taking a step forward, and Tony determinedly closed the distance between them, tired of all the bullshit that had taken place prior to ending up here.

Steve reached out with his hands and Tony was just about to grasp them…

Tony stopped, remembering what had just happened; he had taken Steve’s hands in his and then he was suddenly here. Which was… where, exactly?

He looked around, confused. There was no scenery, not really. It was all white and misty, but behind Steve there was something that looked like the ocean, only there was barely any sound. No wind, no waves. Something like the sun shone in the distance, but it was also covered in mist or clouds or whatever.

“Tony,” Steve said again, and Tony looked at him, seeing fear on his face.

“I’m here,” Tony reassured him, and closed the distance between them. He hesitated for a second, then took Steve’s hands in his, and nothing happened. “Huh,” Tony mused, then looked down at himself. Yup, he was naked, too, which really shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise, considering Steve’s birthday suit. Clearly clothes weren’t a requirement wherever they were. However, the arc reactor still sat in his chest, which was maybe a little weird, considering, but he could live with that.

If they were even alive anymore.

Tony looked at Steve and frowned. “Is this where you’ve been?”

Steve frowned right back at him. “Where I’ve been?”

“A little less than three weeks ago, something happened to you while you were in Brazil. In the Amazon.” Which reminded him… Tony released his right hand and punched Steve in the chest, which resulted in a rather hurt expression from the other man. “Who the hell told you to go all Indiana Jones on us in some old rainforest temple? You idiot!” Tony snapped at him. “You’ve been going totally berserk ever since, attacking everyone and causing a shitload of problems.” He didn’t mention the people Steve had killed.

Steve was still frowning, idly rubbing the spot where Tony had hit him. “I… remember Brazil, I think. It was…” He was thinking hard, clearly. “It was like being in the ice, all over again,” he said. “I couldn’t move. I could barely think. But then there were moments when things just… calmed down. It felt better.”

“When did that happen?” Tony asked, although he thought maybe he had an idea.

“I think I was trying to come home,” Steve finally guessed. “Not just… not just home, but…”

“To me,” Tony finished for him.

Steve looked surprised, and his left hand grabbed Tony’s right one again. Tony noticed his collarbone didn’t hurt, so at least all the pain of his actual life hadn’t followed him here. “Did I hurt you?” Steve asked.

“Not more than I can take,” Tony hedged. They could do the injury count later.

“The others?”

“Well, you messed up Natasha’s back, detached Clint’s retinas, critically wounded Thor’s pride on many occasions, and you also owe me, like, three suits at least,” Tony finished, then squeezed Steve’s fingers. “It’s okay. As long as we get you back, it will be okay.”

Steve looked at him, then around. “I don’t… How are we going to get out?”

“No idea,” Tony confessed, looking around as well. “You said something about ice? I think it’s pleasantly warm here.”

“It melted, into the ocean,” Steve noted. “Not like that, but… I just know it did.”

Tony tilted his head, looking past Steve’s shoulder at the noiseless water. Creepy. “I would consider it a good change; it seems I didn’t pack my winter clothes.”

Steve let out a small, sharp, embarrassed laugh, but he didn’t try to cover himself. Tony guessed it was pointless, seeing as they had no way of knowing how long they would be trapped here. Might as well get used to it. Not that Tony was complaining, because Steve being buck-ass¬ nude was definitely something he would gladly stare at until the end of his days, if this was it. He wondered if Steve agreed, on some level, because there was a very faint flush on his cheeks as he looked at Tony almost coyly – and this time he didn’t stop at his face.

“Let’s sit down,” Steve suggested after a bit, and he pulled Tony over to the water’s edge. It was kind of peaceful, when they sat down and sank their feet in the water, Tony going first because he couldn’t wrap his head around this being ice just moments ago. After they settled down, they sat staring at the water for the longest of time, then slowly Steve scooted a little closer, and Tony did the same, and it was okay to wrap their arms around each other, even with the nudeness factor pushed into the equation.

“I was so afraid of losing another lifetime again,” Steve confessed against Tony’s shoulder a moment later. “It’s not like I have actual flashbacks of the ice, but I’ve had nightmares… And I would have lost all of you, too. When I could, I kept thinking… I kept telling myself what a coward I was for never saying the things to you that mattered.”

“You didn’t need to,” Tony reassured him. “I knew. I always knew.”

He could feel Steve’s breath on his skin, warm and sweet. If they weren’t alive anymore, this was as close to heaven as Tony was ever going to get.

“Even after the Battle of New York, I knew you were the one I could count on,” Steve went on. “Hell or high water, you would answer my call, every time. No matter how inconvenient it was for you. All the snarks and complaints were just a front, to keep people from finding out who you really are. Had me fooled, too, at first.” The lips curved into a smile, and Tony had to echo it, although a bit sadly.

“Do you think we wasted all that time?” he asked.

“Yes,” Steve replied immediately, with zero hesitation.

“Why did we?” Tony mused, frowning. They had never talked about it, but he knew he had told himself a lot of things to keep his feelings under wraps. Some of those things might be the same Steve had told himself.

“For the good of the team,” the other man said. “At least, that’s what I told myself.”

Tony nodded. “Sounds familiar.”

Steve’s arm moved more firmly around him, drawing him closer. “I know it sounds selfish, but if we never leave here… I’m glad you’re here with me.”

Tony shifted lower and turned his face to rest against Steve’s wide chest, just under his face. “I know a thing or two about selfish… This doesn’t begin to cover it.”

And so they sat there, at the edge of the abyss, wrapped up in each other, and it felt like years passing. Time didn’t move the same way, and the scenery remained as it was, but Tony could feel Steve’s fingers caressing his skin, and he could count the seconds if he wanted. He chose not to.

They might be snapped out of here in the next second – or never.

“Tony,” Steve murmured against his brow.

“Yeah?” Tony asked.

“I lo–”

“No,” Tony cut him off, pulling back slightly to look Steve in the eye. “Don’t say it.”

The blue depths, which he had feared he might never see again, were bright, brimming with unshed tears.

Tony felt his own eyes burn and reached up to frame Steve’s beautiful, noble, conflicted face with his fingers. “You’ll say those words to me when we get out of here. Deal?”

“Deal,” Steve nodded in agreement, and pulled Tony back into his arms.

Tony was fairly certain he could spend an eternity here, not hearing those words but knowing they existed in Steve’s heart.

Day 24

“Thor’s been gone for almost a week,” Clint huffed. He had been released from the S.H.I.E.L.D. infirmary, with his eye-sight unimpaired by the incident. He was still recovering, but he had claimed he would heal better around the other Avengers.

Two of which were still in a coma, for lack of a better word.

“Give him time,” Bruce said softly, checking an IV drip going into Tony’s arm. Their bodies hadn’t shut down, but certain things needed to be taken care of in order for them to remain healthy, Tony more than Steve. With the two men still holding hands like teenage lovers at their first party together, maneuvering them was rather difficult. Clint had tested their grip more than once, forced to admit defeat each time.

“How much time?” Clint asked impatiently. “What if it takes him a really long time to find answers? Maybe he got distracted.”

Bruce looked at him sharply. “You have that little faith in him?”

“Let’s just say that I would feel more comfortable with some status updates,” Clint amended.

Bruce held his gaze a bit longer, then let out the air from his lungs and sagged a little. His hand ghosted over Tony’s shoulder, tugging the blanket over him a little lower to check on the persistent glow of the arc reactor. “He’ll come back. He has to,” he finally decided.

Clint guessed that was all they could hope for. This waiting around sucked, though. It had almost been better when Steve was still trying to hurt them.

Getting up, Clint walked out of the room they had moved Steve and Tony to; it was more comfortable than a lab, and it wasn’t as if they didn’t have the room at the Tower.

Clint headed up to the main floor, finding Natasha and Coulson there. Clint glanced at them, and Coulson looked up briefly, then away again. Clint knew the man sat with their two teammates more often than the others. Maybe it had something to do with him watching Steve being thawed from the ice. Perhaps he was just keeping watch, in case anything happened; after a couple days, it had gotten a little old for all of them, but Coulson still kept going there, staring at the two of them as if that alone was going to make a difference.

“Any change?” Natasha asked eventually, as Clint moved to the fridge to grab himself a beer.

“Nope,” he replied and sat down on the couch.

She nodded without looking up from the book she was reading. In the first few days she would say ‘they’re going to make it, you’ll see’, but she didn’t bother with that anymore. However, Clint liked to think she still believed it, but just didn’t feel like repeating herself.

Coulson got up after a moment and left the room. Clint knew where they would find him, should they need him.

- - -

Nine days after Thor left, he returned in a blaze of thunder and lightning. New York City hadn’t seen such a storm in years, and the clouds were the darkest above the Avengers Tower.

When Thor showed up in Central Park, S.H.I.E.L.D. was on location in ten minutes. In twelve, they had called the Tower and Bruce gathered everyone to greet Thor – and the woman he had brought with him.

“Who’s the crone?” was the first question out of Clint’s mouth. Natasha elbowed him hard for that, but it seemed she would have liked to know as well.

“She is both old and wise, well versed in dark magic,” Thor said by way of introductions and had Bruce lead them down to the room Steve and Tony were in. They had gathered copies of the texts and the slab of stone for her to see, and she inspected them long and hard, murmuring foreign words beneath her breath.

“Can she help?” Natasha asked at length, impatiently.

Thor gave her a quick look. “I have told her as much as I knew, but there are many questions yet to be answered. I believe, however, that she can help our friends.”

The Crone, as Bruce now called her in his head because of Clint’s comment, finally turned to Thor and spoke to him in a strange language that definitely didn’t sound like any ancient Scandinavian dialect to him. Thor nodded and then took her further into the room with the two men.

Bruce watched anxiously as she circled, touched and examined them – at times roughly, but Thor would not let any of them intervene. She nodded, finally – and drew a long, twisted knife from under her robes.

“Woah, okay,” Coulson snapped into attention. “We won’t need to sacrifice any goats, will we?”

The Crone spoke, and Thor nodded gravely. “It is as I have feared: dark magic, very ancient and powerful.”

“Can she do something about it?” Natasha asked, hand already reaching for her gun, eyes on the Crone’s blade.

“She thinks so,” Thor noted, “but the counter spell requires blood – from them both.”

“I’m sure we can get blood without… any of that,” Bruce volunteered, pointing a finger at the blade. “Please?”

The Crone muttered something but stepped aside at Thor’s request.

Bruce drew blood from both unconscious men and presented her with two tubes. “Tell me if she needs more. Just… no cutting, unless that’s part of the spell. And even then, I vote for no cutting.”

The Crone opened the tube with Tony’s blood, tilted it, then poured some onto her hand. Then she began to draw a rather complicated-looking symbol on Steve’s chest, above his heart, murmuring under her breath. Once she was done, she did the same thing to Tony, with Steve’s blood. She glanced at the arc reactor before smudging blood over it as if it were skin as well, then drew her knife once more.

Clint, Coulson and Natasha all reached for their weapons again, but Thor moved to the side, bringing over the slab of stone, presenting it to her like an offering. She turned, dragging her knife back and forth over what remained of the substance Steve had smeared his hand with, then leaned over the two men again.

“This must be done,” Thor said, looking at the three armed people in the room. He also looked at Bruce, to make sure he understood. “The magic was begun by blood, and so it must end. I am sorry.”

The Crone began to murmur something, and then stabbed her knife first into Steve’s chest, and then into Tony’s. The wound was small and shallow, but it bled and Bruce was worried about the substance she had carved out of the stone, which would now possibly cause an infection. Also, if that had started all their troubles, wouldn’t adding more make it worse?

“Have faith,” Thor murmured, and looked on as the Crone kept muttering words, chanting something, and it felt like the room darkened for a moment, lights flickering. Bruce felt something like electricity on his skin, as well as an intense, momentary cold – and then the Crone lifted her knife, pointed at the slab of stone and screamed a string of unintelligible syllables. What looked like dark smoke appeared from somewhere between Steve and Tony, and shot out into the slab of stone, disappearing just as fast as it had appeared.

The Crone gestured at Thor, and he handled the stone carefully, carrying it outside – then proceeded to smash it into bits with Mjolnir, followed by a flash of lightning that darkened the entire building for a few seconds before the power was restored.

“That was dramatic,” Clint observed.

“It is done,” Thor said and returned to the room, bowing his head at the Crone.

“So, what was all that about?” Natasha asked. “Why did Steve get possessed in the first place?”

“Ah,” Thor nodded, “that is a story indeed. It would seem a jealous witch cursed the soul of some long-lost being, condemned forever to search for its lost love – and to never find the one it was looking for. This is why the Captain continuously sought Tony’s attention, for the spirit was trying to connect with him, convinced that Tony was its lost love. That is, of course, because of the deeply buried feelings our leader holds for the Man of Iron. Otherwise he would have simply tried to destroy everyone and everything around him, in a mad search for something he could never find.”

“That’s… ridiculously clichéd,” Clint decided. “A cursed soul looking for its beloved?”

“Never underestimate the power of eternal love, Hawkeye,” Thor said gravely. “It is stronger than hate and fear combined, and can conquer all obstacles in its way.”

“Which included beating us up,” Natasha mused. “That makes so much sense.”

“The spirit must have seen us as a threat – or as an obstacle between it and its destination,” Bruce guessed and moved to the side when the Crone left the bedside and the room. “Are they going to awaken soon?” he asked Thor.

“I would think so,” the blond nodded, a hopeful look on his face. “They may be disoriented and weak, before their minds and bodies –”

A gasp came from the bed, and they all turned to watch as Tony’s eyes flew wide open, mouth opening and closing a few times before he settled slightly. A few seconds later Steve inhaled deeply, blinking as well, his eyes back to their normal blue color. He moved slightly, gazing at Tony, and then the super-soldier was moving, pushing himself upwards.

“Easy,” Bruce hurried to assist him, but before he could reach the bed, Steve rolled forward. Their entwined hands let go, after nine days, only so that Steve could prop himself over Tony’s body and kiss him with a passion that made Bruce flush. Tony moaned, reaching up, grasping at Steve, drawing him in, and there was definitely more going on under the blankets.

“Okay, guys,” Clint called out, “you’re happy to see each other in the land of the living, that’s great. Drinks for everyone.” There was no reaction whatsoever. “Stark! Drinks!” he called out again, as if the magic word would snap Tony out of it.

Bruce cleared his throat, but nothing happened – save for Steve’s arm moving down and grabbing Tony’s leg, pulling it up and around his waist.

“My friends!” Thor boomed loudly, as only he could, as finally Steve and Tony froze, lips locked for three awkward seconds before they parted and Steve turned to look at them. A blush colored his skin, whereas Tony simply looked annoyed at being interrupted.

“Welcome back,” Coulson said, voice deceptively calm.

“Uh, thanks,” Steve replied hesitantly and inched the blankets slightly higher over their bodies.

Tony propped himself up on one arm, then hissed and fell back down, remembering his injuries once more. He lifted his head a moment later and stared at something. “What the hell is that?” he asked.

Everyone turned to look, seeing the Crone standing near the doorway, looking quite bored regardless of the eyeful they had just gotten from their two teammates.

“She saved you,” Coulson said flatly. “Dark magic, possession, desperate souls seeking their lost loves, that sort of thing.”

Tony, for once, elected to say nothing at all.

Steve, however, seemed to have something on his tongue he wanted to share; he gazed at Tony with a sickeningly sweet look and said: “I love you.”

It took more than Thor’s booming voice to break them apart after that. Bruce had never seen a grown man pout so wholeheartedly than when he told Tony he would have to check his vitals before he could be allowed to go to bed – with Steve, by the looks of things.

- - -

“About fucking time,” Fury growled when the Avengers filed into the briefing room. “Captain, good to have you back.”

“Thank you, sir,” Steve nodded his head, then halted briefly to see where Tony was going to sit, and chose the chair next to him. It was nothing out of the ordinary, really, but Coulson had warned Fury that there had been certain amorous feelings flying around the Tower since the two men had regained consciousness. While it was still unclear what exactly had happened to them while they were under, it was clear an irreversible change had taken place afterward.

Fury wasn’t yet certain whether it would be causing him extra headaches or not.

Judging from the stupidly content look on Tony’s face, he prayed this was a change for the better. The two of them secretly pining over each other had been bad enough. However, he had always been of the opinion that it was better if they didn’t explore the depths of their relationship, and what it could become.

Now that it was too late to go back down that road, Fury guessed he just needed to roll with it and hope for the best.

“Alright,” he called out, snapping everyone to attention, “let’s start with someone’s stupid-ass decision to let Captain America crawl into a hole in a wall – and how that turned out.”

“It turned out okay,” Tony noted, giving Steve a lopsided smile.

“The honeymoon’s over,” Fury told him.

“That’s what you think,” came the flippant answer, and Steve seemed to be making a point of not argue that point.

Headaches, Fury decided. A lot of extra headaches.

“Relax, boss,” Coulson whispered to him. “It’s a good thing.”

“Shut up, Agent,” Fury muttered, but he certainly hoped Coulson was right. At least something good had to come from all that had happened, and considering the things Steve would blame himself for once everything he had done came to his knowledge, the man certainly deserved a little happiness right now.

The End

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