Text, Subtext, and Context

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: This is in response to haruka89's flufflet request. Sorry it took me so long! Almost a month. Whoops. Also, I didn't get the line of dialogue in there, but I implied it a bit. *g*

Tony watched Peter out of the corner of one eye to make sure that he and Steve didn't get separated from the group. Amusement parks weren't really his thing--when he had that much free time, taking the armor out for a casual spin was a lot more fun--but the rest of the team was going, and it didn't seem like much trouble to just let them drag him onto various rides. Besides, he was good at multitasking.

"It's not the medium that matters," Tony said to Steve. "It's the content."

The little lines between Steve's eyebrows deepened. It wasn't a frown, not really, but it definitely signaled the onset of stubbornness. "Maybe when it comes to quick messages, like setting a meeting time, or delivering information, but if there's any depth to it at all, there's more to a letter than the words. There's sentiment involved."

Peter changed direction and Tony automatically adjusted course to stay with him, touching Steve's elbow quickly to make sure he followed, too. "The sentiment is conveyed by the words," Tony countered. "It doesn't make a difference whether they're electronic or hard copy."

"Words can only take you so far," Steve argued. "There's a reason people still send thank you notes in the mail. An e-mail is easy to dash off and forget. A letter takes time. It shows you cared enough to set a moment aside just for that person. An e-mail can be sent by a secretary; a letter you have to have actually looked at."

"Steve," Tony said, amused, "do you know how many documents I sign every day without ever looking at them once? Pepper could slip my own resignation into that pile and I'd sign it and never know the difference."

They climbed the platform for some ride or other and paused for a moment to let the people ahead of them climb into the cars. "Well, there's a spectrum," Steve allowed. "Letters that someone else types up for you to sign fall somewhere between e-mails and a real, handwritten letter, but you've actually proven my point. If the physical object didn't convey some sort of importance, you wouldn't still be signing hardcopy letters at all."

"I still send hardcopy letters because they have legal and archival value," Tony returned as they climbed into one of the ride's cars together. It was small and they were both pretty big men, so they each ended up laying an arm across the back of the car. "It's has nothing to do with sentiment."

Steve made a frustrated sound and turned a little towards Tony as the ride jerked into motion. "Listen, you get packages in the mail sometimes, right? Not for business, things for you personally."

"Sure, when I order something," Tony said. For a moment he caught a strange expression on Steve's face, but the ride slid into the dark before he could puzzle it out. It wasn't pitch black, but Tony had to concentrate to make out Steve's features while his eyes adjusted.

"Right," Steve said, an odd tone to his voice. He cleared his throat and went on more normally. "And when the package arrives, it's a little bit exciting, right?"

"Depends on the package," Tony said wryly.

"But if you're expecting more than one," Steve persisted. "You don't know which it is, but it's still a little exciting."

Tony thought about it for a minute. There was that little flare of the anticipation when Pepper brought a box into his office instead of a stack of papers. Or the sudden pleasure, the surge of energy, when he found a shipment waiting in his lab. "Yeah, okay, a little," he admitted.

It didn't seem so dark now, and Tony could see Steve smiling. "Right. Because whatever it is, it's for you. Because you don't get packages every day. They're special. Maybe even a little mysterious. Even if you know exactly what's in the package, I bet you still unpack it right there and examine it in detail, look over all the pieces."

"You have to make sure they're all there," Tony protested, but Steve's chuckle told him how weak it sounded.

"A letter--a real letter," Steve said, "is like that. It's special. Someone took extra time on it, and you can tell. And you can't help but wonder what it was they felt was important enough to be written by hand, instead of just banged out on a computer. And when you take it out of the envelope, you know that you're touching the same paper they touched, and there's a connection." Steve's voice took on a warm, nostalgic tone. "Sometimes you can image a smell on it, like the sweetness of a candy shop around the corner from home, or wind, or grass, and it's like a little piece of some other place." He trailed off, and Tony found he couldn't make himself speak. "Tony?"

"No one writes letters like that anymore, Steve," Tony said quietly.

"Sure they do," Steve said, surprised. "Not often, but when it's important. Letters to soldiers overseas, or love letters."

"Oh." Tony dropped his eyes.

"Tony...hasn't anyone ever written to you like that?"

Tony shrugged. "It's not important."

Steve hesitated a moment, as if to argue, but all he said was, "Still. I'll write you one."

"A love letter?" Tony asked, lips quirking up at the corners.

Even in the dark, Tony swore he could see Steve blush. "A real letter. I'd have done it before, but we see each other all the time. In person is even better than a letter."

Tony smiled. "All a part of the spectrum."

"Exactly," Steve said, smiling back.

Abruptly, the ride emerged into the light again and Tony was startled to realize just how close to Steve he'd leaned in the dark. He caught a camera flash out of the corner of his eye and blinked and turned to see their teammates standing on the platform, waiting, instead of riding in the cars ahead of them. The pink and white cars. Tony looked back at the team. Peter was holding his camera, and all of them were grinning like idiots. Tony looked back at Steve, who had craned his head around to look back at the ride and was blushing furiously.

Tony followed his gaze. The ride wound through a faux-stone cavern. The words "Tunnel of Love" arched over both entrance and exit in elaborate pink and white scrollwork.

The ride's cars shuddered to a halt next to the platform. "You two were so absorbed in each other," Luke said, smirking, as Steve and Tony climbed onto the platform, "that we thought you should have some time alone."

"You looked like you appreciated it by the end there," Jessica teased. "Have fun?"

"We just talked!" Steve protested, still bright red.

Jessica giggled. "Methinks the lad doth protest too much."

"Now, you two think you can bear to be apart long enough to try out a couple more rides?" Luke asked, folding his arms across his chest and raising an eyebrow.

Tony grinned suddenly. "Well, he did promise he'd write."