I want to tell him to wait. To come back. To simply let me touch him and look at him and make sure he’s okay. I need to know that everything’s all right with him and the world. I just need to feel the heat of him. But I don’t know how to tell him all this. That I’m scared and I don’t know how to be normal. I’m broken, just like him, and I’m not sure I can fix myself.
hollow bones by Brooke Shaden Via Flickr: Darkness is a place that calls out to us, asking for a light to be brought into her depths so that she might see what she is made of.
Day 14 of my December self-portrait challenge.
I may need to take some time to collect my thoughts. But once collected, I don’t think I’ll necessarily be okay.
I dug myself this hole. I hyperfixated on a handful of things to the point where every other thought and emotion (some really strong emotions!) I had was about them, these stories, and everything was tangled up in them… And yet I knew they would eventually be ruined. I knew it was coming – hence the anxiety – but it was too late to fix things after so many months.
Imagine if half of the thoughts in your (flawed, neurodivergent) brain suddenly turned bad. Some disappear, some curl up like wilting leaves, some go dark.
All that’s left it this inescapable emptiness. This hollow place where I should have put all kinds of thoughts, I just had two fragile obsessions, and they shattered.
There’s a lesson to be learned here. I hope I do learn it. But for now, it’s pretty unsettling. I saw it coming a mile away but the axe has finally fallen.
For anyone followers who have been keeping track of my mental state… you’re probably not that surprised, huh? This is exactly what was always going to happen.
Mostly, it was a running joke, that Steve didn’t get sick. They chuckled about it, when Clint was huddled under a battered SHIELD hoodie looking petulant and feverish. When Bruce got up and drank a cup of tea, then promptly went right back to bed. When Tony sneezed continuously through a meeting, ignoring everyone’s attempts to get him to leave. When Natasha moved slowly from room to room, porcelain pale and with dark hollows beneath her eyes until she found a safe hiding place. Even when Thor stomped from one end of the Tower to the other, the thunder rattling inside his head almost audible for anyone nearby.
Steve didn’t get sick. He hadn’t since the serum.
And when they groused at him, when they muttered half-hearted curses at his immune system in half a dozen languages, he just smiled, and said that he’d done his time. He’d been sick enough, thank you very much. His entire life, he’d been sick, and he’d gotten it out of his system.
Steve didn’t get sick. It was only fair. If life could ever be called fair, this was fair.
Sometimes, he wished he could, though.
Tony didn’t like to be sick, and he didn’t like to admit that he was sick. During the day, he’d deny it with a few tense words, and swallow a pill or two when he thought no one was looking. A few aspirin and a cup of coffee, and he’d be on his way, his jaw set and his eyes promising murder to anyone who dared to bring it up.
Steve brought it up anyway. Tony didn’t appreciate it.
Steve didn’t get sick, Tony grumbled about that, when he got sick, and Steve would just smile and get him something warm to drink that didn’t involve caffeine or alcohol.
But some nights, Steve would be awakened by the sound of Tony coughing, and he’d remember.
He remembered that, remembered it in a way that was still vivid, still terrifying. He remembered the way a coughing fit could go on and on and on. The way he would cough until there was no more air left in him. Until the cough was not a sound, nor a exhale of breath, but just a rattling contraction of muscle and bone that shook him to the core. The way that he would inhale, desperate and afraid, only to lose the hard won oxygen before it could do him any good.
He remembered coughing until his body was drawn up tight, his arms and his legs and his head all folded up, wrapped around his spasming, empty lungs. He remembered coughing until his ribs vibrated like a drumhead, hollow and empty and about to split.
He remembered coughing until he cried, and until he nearly bled. Until he did bleed, flecks of red like glitter across his pillow. He remembered learning to bury his face in arm, his fingers clawing at whatever they could reach, just to keep things clean. He remembered the way it would dry on his skin, bright red going dull, going dark against skin that was almost whiter than his linens. It stayed there, because he was too tired, too weak to get up and clean it.
He remembered all of it, as he listened to Tony struggle to hide his cough, to muffle the sound in his pillow or a tissue.
The air wasn’t stained with coal soot anymore, and their bedroom was always warm, their bed was always clean. There was no hint of black mold, clinging to the damp edges of building materials so substandard that they were probably illegal. There was a doctor near, who would come if Steve called, there was medicine and care.
Tony wasn’t going to die, because of a cough.
But Steve would lie there, in the darkest points of the night, and listen to Tony cough, ragged and hollow, and he would feel his own lungs empty. In some half-rational sympathetic response, he would wait, unwilling or unable to inhale until he felt Tony do it first.
He’d spent years, unable to take a deep breath. He was used to it. He’d been sick for so long.
Steve couldn’t get sick anymore.
But sometimes, he’d roll over, curling close to Tony’s back, wrapping an arm around him, giving him something to hold onto as he coughed, as he shook, and wish that he could.
Instead, he held on, and tried to breathe for them both.
And then his lips are on mine. It’s the warmth I feel first. The pure heat of him when he opens his mouth as if to devour me. There’s such an urgency–such a hunger between us–born of a need to be something to someone.