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3 Rounds and a Sound

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Steve looked completely at peace.

The serum meant that he didn’t really have any lines to smooth out in sleep, not like Tony, whose skin was a mess of creases and tick marks of years passed. Nonetheless, Steve’s face looked strangely slack in slumber in a way it never did otherwise. He was stretched straight out on his back, his arms folded tightly against his chest as if he was huddled against the cold. Tony felt a surge of protectiveness at the guarded posture.

“Tony,” Steve murmured, nothing but his lips stirring. “What are you doing?”

“Making sure you’re still with us,” Tony replied unabashedly. “You look like the living dead when you sleep.” He poked at Steve’s bicep.

Steve’s eyes fluttered open as he unwound himself and rolled onto his side, peering up at Tony through his long lashes. “That’s because somebody didn’t come to bed last night.”

“It was still dark when I came in. I think that technically that makes it night.”

Steve just raised an eyebrow.

“Right. Sorry. I failed in my role as Steve’s body pillow. How can I ever make it up to you?”

“Like this.” Steve hooked an arm around Tony’s hip and tugged.

Tony yelped as he fell half on top of Steve. He wriggled a little until he could tuck his head against Steve’s neck and felt Steve’s arms tighten around him in appreciation. “Better?” he mumbled into the hot skin.

“Much,” Steve replied, his low voice rumbling through Tony. He dropped a kiss on Tony’s unruly hair and sighed contentedly.

Tony hand idly traced patterns over Steve’s very solid chest as Steve’s fingers ran through his hair. The last few weeks had been exhausting to say the least, with stranger and stranger dangers threatening the city and forcing the Avengers to work overtime. Tony wasn’t sure if it was just Steve’s paranoia rubbing off on him but it felt oddly like they were building up to something big.

“I’m starving. What do you say to some breakfast?”

Tony just tightened his fingers in Steve’s t-shirt and burrowed deeper into the gap between his neck and shoulder.

Steve laughed and Tony bounced slightly with the motion of his chest, the deep rumble vibrating pleasantly through him. “How many hours of sleep did you get?”

“About two,” Tony said through a yawn. He could feel Steve’s answering frown. “Suit’s been taking a lotta hits lately, been giving it some upgrades.”

Whatever Steve’s reply was going to be disappeared beneath the blaring alarm that was their call-to-arms.

“Seriously?” Tony exclaimed as they scrambled out of bed. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Time to put those upgrades to use, Iron Man!”

***

Their target was an AIM base somewhere in the Caribbean, one that SHIELD had been watching for awhile now. Something must have tipped the AIM agents off because they sure as hell didn’t seem surprised to see them.

“You know, I really need to hire whoever designs those yellow suits. I mean, look at how useful they are.” Tony smirked as he cut the power to his thrusters, landing next to Steve with a thump. He could hear Hulk’s angry bellows somewhere in another room and the usual ensuing sounds of smashing.

“What is with you and bee things?” Steve replied through a grunt as he tossed the shield at one of the approaching attackers. “First your armor, now these outfits? I’m starting to think you have a fetish.”

“Is that your way of saying you don’t like my new armor?” Tony shot back, locking on four AIM agents and firing.

“That’s my way of saying that I think you know just how good you look in black and yellow.”

“Oh yeah?” Tony replied with a leer, which of course, Steve couldn’t see anyway. “So you like my new armor.”

“I’m just not really sure it needs to be that form-fitting.”

“What can I say? All those workouts we’ve been doing have given me something to show off. I guess our sparring sessions helped too,” he added in an afterthought.

“Keep that armor on after, I’ll show you a ‘workout’.”

“Guys, can you keep your bedroom fantasies for when you’re not on the group channel?”

“Sorry, Clint,” Steve said. He shot Tony a sly grin, even as he kicked an agent creeping up behind him. “But I don’t think it’s healthy for a man to keep his sexual desires bottled up.”

There was a sudden violent gagging sound on the comm. “What’s the situation?” Steve asked, suddenly all business.

“We’re clear here,” Natasha responded. “Just need Stark to finish the job.”

“Only if he’s clothed!” Clint yelled.

“Should I tell him I’m going commando under the suit today?”

Steve just shook his head, stifling a laugh.

They entered the next room to find more AIM agents scattered across the floor in various spots. This room was much taller than the last, stretching four storeys high with a platform running all around the edge about midway up. Tony headed straight for where Natasha was leaning up against a terminal.

“What’s going on?” he asked, flipping up his faceplate as he approached.

“Two minutes to launch.” The cool female voice echoed around the cavernous room, sounding far too calm for so ominous a sentence.

“That,” Natasha said, gesturing vaguely over the railing at the drop-off in the middle of the room. There was a strange object sitting in the middle, its glow pulsing in and out. “Doomsday device, end of the world, you know, the usual.”

“Gotcha.” Tony retracted his gauntlets and cracked his fingers.

“Does it seem weird to anyone else that there aren’t more baddies around?” Clint called from his perch up near the top of the room.

Suddenly about thirty AIM agents burst in through a door on the opposite side of the platform, followed closely by what looked liked a gigantic floating head.

“I AM MODOK!”

“Ask and ye shall receive, Hawkeye,” Steve said dryly.

“I was a mere human guinea pig for the scientists of AIM! But they did their job too well…and now…I AM THEIR MASTER!”*

“Yeah, we’ve met you overgrown bag of wind,” Clint shouted, firing an arrow pretty fruitlessly at MODOK’s head.

“Do you think AIM programmed the monologuing into him or it just came with the package?” Tony called as he continued to tap at the terminal. “Because I think-- what the hell?!”

“Iron Man?” Steve called, concern lacing his tone.

“JARVIS just went offline. He must have some kind of interference going. Don’t worry, ‘s all good,” Tony called back.

“One minute to launch.”

“Foolish humans. You cannot--”

“HULK SMASH STUPID BALL!”

“Alright, lets do this,” Tony muttered. The sound of asses being kicked provided the perfect backdrop to the finagling he needed to do. He yanked his helmet off and out of the corner of his eye, caught sight of Steve’s shield whizzing by.

A couple of seconds later, he swore. Whatever he may say about AIM and their wardrobe choices, he couldn’t deny they seemed to know what they were doing when it came to their tech. He glanced over his shoulder, down at the giant device in the middle of the room. He needed to get down there ASAP. “I need someone to--”

It happened faster than he could blink - just as he was about to take a step forward, a blur of red, white and blue shot past him. There was a streak of yellow light and a bang and suddenly there was a body flying and then…

“STEVE!”

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Steve wasn’t moving. He lay slumped against the wall, collapsed like a stringless marionette.

“Thirty seconds.” The announcement was accompanied by the wind-up of an alarm that started to blare as the room flashed red.

“Goodbye, you pathetic dimwits,” MODOK crowed, blasting through a side wall.

“RRRARGHH!” Hulk roared, leaping after him.

Fuck. Okay, Steve was fine, he had to be, he was always fine.

“No!” Tony yelled, stopping Natasha in her tracks as she worked her way through the remaining agents to where Steve was. “Widow, go with the Hulk. We need MODOK alive.” Natasha nodded and abruptly turned on her heel. “Hawkeye, cover me.”

“But-”

“Clint!”

Clint nodded. Tony pulled the release on his suit - the dumb thing was really just deadweight at this point.

“What are you doing?” Clint shouted, straining to be heard over the alarm as the rest of the armor fell to the ground.

“I need to go down there,” Tony shouted back, pointing over the railing. “It’s too dangerous with the thrusters!”

He turned to the ladder and scampered down as fast as he could. Clint parked himself at the top, shooting at anyone who approached.

Tony sprinted towards the center of the device and kicked his legs out as he neared, sliding neatly underneath. “Okay, okay, let’s see.”

“Ten seconds.”

“Tony…” Clint called.

Tony dashed impatiently at the sweat creeping into his eye and tugged at a couple of more wires, ignoring the pain sparking through his fingers.

“Seven…Six…”

“Tony, you need to get out of there!”

“C’mon, c’mon,” Tony muttered to himself.

“Three…T--Launch sequence aborted.”

The room was suddenly quiet - the klaxons had ceased and there were no sounds of a scuffle from above. He let his head fall to the ground and lay there for a moment, until his pants evened out and the pounding in his ears slowed.

“Tony?” Clint called.

Steve.

Tony scrambled to his feet and climbed back up. Clint breathed a sigh of relief as he reached the top but Tony pushed past him and ran to where Steve still lay unmoving.

He dropped to his knees and raised a hand to Steve’s neck. His arm was shaking too much to find a pulse.

“Clint!” he yelled, desperation ringing out in his voice.

Clint was by his side in a second and Tony slid back, giving room for Clint’s SHIELD training to take over.

“We couldn’t get to MODOK in time.” Tony glanced up to see Natasha standing over them, Hulk hovering just behind. “We need to get back to the jet and…”

She trailed off as she caught Clint’s gaze and Tony whipped his head around, trying to catch what she’d seen on Clint’s face. “No…” he said softly. “No no no no no--”

“Tony…”

“No, Steve, come on!” Tony lunged forward and tangled his hands in Steve’s chain mail. “Wake up! Wake up, Steve! What the hell kind of super-soldier are you?”

“Tony.” Tony felt a hand tugging at his shoulder and looked up to see Bruce staring compassionately down at him.

“Bruce, thank god. He can’t be…the serum…there’s no way he could just…”

Bruce nodded wordlessly and Tony stood, letting Bruce take his place.

“You’re bleeding.” He glanced down to find Natasha poking gingerly at his forearm.

“Just a scratch,” he said distractedly, turning his attention back to the men on the ground. Bruce was hunched over Steve in a way that didn’t really give him much of a view from his vantage point.

“That is not just a scratch.” She tugged at his bicep. “Come on, let Bruce work.”

“I…”

“Tony,” she said firmly. “It’ll be easier for him if you’re not standing right there.”

Tony bit his lip but let her lead him slightly off to the side.

He sat quietly, his head a blur as Natasha dabbed at his wound. An evacuation team appeared suddenly - it seemed Clint had called them while Tony was trying to stop the doomsday device - and he snapped out of his stupor.

“What’s going on?” he cried as they circled around Steve, completely blocking his line of sight. “They don’t…that’s not a med team!”

“They’re taking him back to the Helicarrier. Which is where we’re going too so--”

“But why…no, he can’t…Steve!” Tony lunged forward, only to be caught by both Natasha and Clint. He struggled in their grip, trying desperately to get to Steve.

“Tony!” Clint yelled. “Tony, you have to let them work!”

“No I-I need to go with him! Steve!”

He fought and fought but between the two of them they managed to keep him well out of the way. And the next thing he knew…

Steve was gone.

***

Steve looked completely at peace.

Every muscle in his face was completely lax and his arms were folded across his chest, just like they had been…a day ago? A week? Tony didn’t even know anymore. Everything had been hazy since Steve had…since Tony hadn’t…

Since.

Tony stared at him, waiting for his lips to part, for him to ask why Tony was watching him sleep yet again, waiting for him to wake the fuck up c’mon this isn’t funny anymore.

Somewhere behind him, the door whooshed open.

“Tony.” Tony didn’t think he’d ever heard Clint speak so gently. “It’s not your fault, you know,” he said after a moment.

Tony just grunted, not tearing his eyes away from the body laid out on the long steel table.

“I know you’re blaming yourself, of course you are. But it’s not your damn fault.”

“Than who’s damn fault is it?” Tony hissed. He spun around on the stool and glared up at Clint. “Tell me, who the fuck do I blame?”

Tony sucked in a deep breath. “I left him,” he said softly into the tense quiet, feeling like the words were being dragged out of him. “He was hit. He was down and I just…left him."

“And if we hadn’t, thousands of other people would be dead. I was there too, remember? It’s what…it’s what he would have wanted.” Clint grasped his shoulder and squeezed. “He’d be proud of you.”

“Shut up,” Tony said, ducking out from under Clint’s hand and jumping to his feet. “Just shut up. Steve is a--was a--self-sacrificing idiot. He’s an idiot. You hear that, Steve? You’re a big fucking idiot and I’m an even bigger one for believing that--“ He wrenched his entire body away, twisting into a corner of the room, his lip caught between his teeth.

“Just…I’d like to be left alone please,” he mumbled to the wall.

He could hear Clint’s indecisive shuffle behind him but didn’t turn around until the door whooshed open again.

There was no way that there weren’t still people watching him - this was the Helicarrier and even in this state, Captain America was still one of Fury’s most prized possessions. But Tony didn’t care, not anymore. The time for masks had long past; Steve himself had seen to that, ripping them off him and tearing them to shreds so he couldn’t put them back on again.

He settled back onto the stool by Steve’s side and just stared at him for a moment.

“Look who’s finally made it to bed.”

“What, you were waiting up for me?”

“You know I don’t sleep well when you’re not here.”

“That’s because you see me as your own personal heater. You just want me for my body, don’t you?”

“Yup. Now get in here, I’m freezing.”

“You’re an idiot,” Tony whispered again. He climbed onto the table and tucked his body neatly in besides Steve’s, his head finding its usual spot against Steve’s neck. His smell - of simple soap and sweat and leather, Steve’s smell - still lingered, as if to fool Tony into believing that he was still here. Still ticking. But there was no familiar warmth, no soft pulse of a heartbeat that matched his own. This Steve was all ice, cold in a way that Steve had never wanted to be again.

Tony closed his eyes, wound his fingers in the front of Steve’s armor, and sobbed.

***

“…don’t see why it has to be him.”

“It’s what he would have done too. It’s his choice, Pepper.”

The voices were murmurs, just barely filtering through to his consciousness. Somewhere in his brain a little voice said that it was Pepper and Rhodey.

“I know but I just…I mean, look at him.”

“His choice. C’mon, he’s going on soon, we need to get him up.”

A small hand brushed his shoulder. “Tony…Tony, you need to wake up.”

Tony blinked groggily, his eyes feeling crunchy in a way he didn’t want to think about. His head was throbbing.

“The press conference is starting soon. We need to get back to the tower.”

He struggled to his feet, trying to piece together the night so he could figure out why the hell he was aching all over.

“What time is it?” He coughed slightly, trying to clear some of the hoarseness from his throat.

“Just past 7am. You’ve been asleep for about forty-five minutes.”

Forty-five minutes of sleep. Steve wasn’t going to be pleased. But really, it wasn’t his fault that Pepper scheduled these conferences so early in the morning. Seriously, what was so important that it couldn’t wait until a more human hour? What was more important then being with--

“Tony!”

Suddenly Rhodey’s hands were supporting him, holding him up as the memory hit him in the gut and doubled him over.

There would be no disappointed frowns from Steve for his lack of sleep. Nobody was going to tug on his arm to drag him back to bed with a pout, or better, a sly grin and the suggestion that work could wait twenty minutes, couldn’t it?

No, Steve was gone. Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.

“Tony…” He looked up to find Pepper staring worriedly down at him, Rhodey hovering just behind her shoulder. Somehow he’d ended up back on the stool, his back to the table. “Are you sure you want to do this? Any of the others--”

“No. I have to…I’m the…he was my…” He swallowed. “I have to.”

Pepper glanced helplessly at Rhodey and Tony tilted his head towards him. “I have to,” he repeated softly.

Rhodey just nodded.

Tony stared at him quietly for a moment. “What am I supposed to say? I don’t know how…how do I tell the world...”

“Keep it simple. Short, to the point. They don’t need to know the details, just get the basic facts out.”

Tony nodded stiffly.

“We should really get going.” Pepper said gently. “The press conference starts at 9.”

“Right,” he said, clearing his throat. “I need to not look like such a horrific mess when I go up in front of a hundred cameras.”

And without another glance at the table, he fled from the room.

***

“Welcome.” Tony tugged at his tie and coughed slightly. “I…um…”

As he stared out over the members of the press, the words catching in his throat, he felt a wave of déjà vu strike him. Maybe this had happened before, in another life, in another dimension. But Tony didn’t think it was possible. It couldn’t be possible for him to lose Steve like this twice. No, the universe would most surely collapse.

“Do you think he’s drunk?” he heard a voice whisper somewhere behind him.

“No,” came the firm reply from Clint. “He wouldn’t do that.”

Tony blinked back to himself and took a deep breath. Short and to the point, just like Rhodey said.

“Late last night, Captain America was killed in a raid on an AIM base.” He ignored the gasps and mutters and pushed on because really, that was the only way this was going to happen. “He died as he lived - a hero. I know he touched many lives, not just in those he saved as an Avenger, but in all those he-- Men, women, young, old…there were so many inspired by his…his pure goodness. And so, to honor this, to honor him, we will be having an open memorial. Any and everyone who would like to attend may do so to say their last goodbyes.” He finally glanced up again. “I…I guess that’s it. Thank you for your time.”

The hands shot up and he fought down the years of conditioning that told him he to call on one. Instead he stepped away from the podium and started to make his way back to where Pepper and Rhodey were waiting.

But apparently not calling on them wasn’t going to deter the reporters today and the questions chased him all the way down the aisle.

“Can you tell us more about how it happened?”

“What could have been strong enough to take him down?”

“Did Captain America really take a hit for you?”

“Will there be a new person wielding the shield?”

“Is it true that you and Steve Rogers were engaged?”

“What were his last words?”

Every question, every use of the past tense was like a punch to the gut. He thought he could hear Natasha addressing the reporters behind him but he didn’t stop, didn’t even pause until he was through the doors and back in the main lobby.

“How do they know about that?” Tony muttered as they stepped into the elevator.

“We think security footage got out. It’s online--”

“No. That we’re engaged. Nobody knew that. Wait, there was footage? Who has it?”

“It’s on YouTube,” Pepper replied distractedly, following Tony and Rhodey into the penthouse. “You were engaged?”

Tony nodded. “JARVIS, pull up the footage please.”

“Tone, I don’t think you should--”

“Hold on, I want to know more about this engaged thing.”

“Pepper,” Rhodey hissed.

Tony ignored both of them and turned his attention to the video JARVIS was playing.

The footage was from one of the warehouse’s CCTVs. Apparently AIM had just taken over the built in security system and made a few minor upgrades here and there and had completely ignored the crappy resolution on the cameras. The feed could be described as grainy at best, and would occasionally cut out altogether. But still, there it was, captured forever in black and white.

Whoever had put it online had cut it right at the moment when Tony realized something was really wrong, when Clint wouldn’t meet his eye and Bruce was giving him that look.

“Play it again,” he demanded as soon as it was over.

“Tone--”

“What the hell was that?” Natasha snapped as she stepped out of the elevator. “How do they know about the engagement?”

You knew?” Pepper asked incredulously. “Tony, when the hell did this happen?”

“Last week,” Natasha replied when Tony didn’t. Instead he turned away from the video and went to his bar to pull out a bottle of his favorite single-malt. He poured out a full glass and thumped the bottle back onto the bar, then squinted at Natasha.

“I guess he told you, then?”

She nodded, her jaw tight. “He wanted someone to know and--”

“And he knew you wouldn’t tell anyone.” Tony cut in. He took a sip of his drink, still watching Natasha over the glass.

She and Steve, they’d been close, as close as Natasha ever got to people. And the others…of course they’d all be feeling the loss too.

He tightened his grip around the glass, fighting down the sudden urge to fling it at the wall. It should have been him. Steve had sacrificed his life for what? For Tony Stark - obnoxious, aging, selfish, asshole? The world would have been so much better off if Steve had just let it be him.

“But why all the secrecy?” Pepper was asking.

“It doesn’t really matter now, does it?” Tony snapped, suddenly so fed up with everything. He threw back the rest of the drink and rounded the bar, snagging the bottle along the way. “JARVIS, download the footage to the hard drive.”

“Where are you going?” Pepper called after him.

Tony waved the bottle over his head in response.

“Let him go,” he heard Rhodey say as he walked through the doors and he was grateful. Because all he wanted right now was to be left alone, away from all the pain he’d, once again, managed to cause.

***

The day of the funeral dawned bright and sunny, which made Tony just want to stay hidden under the blankets even more. Yesterday’s memorial had felt like it was never going to end. It was not at all unexpected, to see so many people who’s lives Steve had touched. But god it was draining, in every possible way and he was so tired - tired of making speeches, tired of putting on a face, tired of constantly feeling like the rug was being pulled out from under him.

Because there were moments - moments like just now, in the small gaps between waking and dreaming - when he would forget. They never lasted long, no more than a few seconds really. But for those few seconds, everything would feel normal again and it made it that much more painful when something would inevitably bring him crashing back to reality.

The morning flew by in chunks, with scant moments here and there slowed enough for him to remember - like Thor clasping him tightly, not saying a word; Pepper fussing with his tie and cufflinks and barely meeting his gaze; and the crowds of people peering from afar as he climbed out of the town car, resisting the urge to throw on his sunglasses.

They’d decided to keep the service small, which was part of the reason for the circus yesterday. Most of the traditions of a military funeral had been performed at the memorial. Rather unorthodox but Tony didn’t want the burial service turning into a show; Steve had performed for the people enough times already.

It was barely five minutes into the service when he first noticed them, the small crowd gathered nearby hoisting signs. The words were too small for him to read at this distance but he had a feeling he knew what they said anyway. A small fire ignited in his gut as he turned back to the casket, deciding to ignore them.

That was, until the group grew steadily nearer and began chanting, quiet at first but louder and louder until finally Tony gave them the attention he knew they were after.

‘God hates fags’ was the first sign he caught sight of, followed swiftly by ‘Thank God for DEAD SUPERHEROES’ and suddenly he was in his armor and standing right in front of the crowd of idiots.

“What the HELL do you think you’re doing?” he roared.

“Celebrating!” one of them spat. “We’re glad he’s dead, the faggot!”

“Good riddance to bad people!” another yelled.

Tony swiftly brought his arm up, palm out and aimed a repulsor right at the pathetic waste who’d spoken first. His hand was shaking too much to get off an accurate shot but it didn’t matter which one of them he hit, really. The repulsor began its familiar whine and--

“Tony!” Bruce had appeared out of nowhere and firmly planted himself between Tony’s hand and the crowd. Tony quickly depowered the repulsor and dropped his arm.

“Bruce, what the FUCK?!”

“Tony, stop, you can’t just--”

“Yes, I can! Did you fucking hear what they were saying?”

“I know but technically they have the right to--”

“They have the right to what? Celebrate Steve’s death?”

Back at the gravesite, Natasha was staring down at the half-buried casket, head cocked. “Hey Clint,” she murmured, poking him. “Do you hear that?”

Clint wrenched his gaze away from where Bruce was trying to talk Tony down from committing mass murder. Much-deserved mass murder but mass murder nonetheless. “Hear what?”

She pointed wordlessly down at the casket.

Clint’s eyebrows drew together but he tilted his own head to mirror hers and listened.

THUMP

Okay, he definitely heard that.

“What the fuck?” he yelped, leaping backwards. Natasha, meanwhile, dropped to her stomach and began scrabbling at the dirt scattered over the casket.

“Thor, give me a hand, would you?”

“What art--”

“There’s something going on in there. We need to--”

THUMP THUMP

Thor and Natasha exchanged a wide-eyed look and then he got to work. Within seconds, he’d cleared the inches of dirt over the casket.

Clint’s looked to the funeral home staff, who were watching in silent shock. “Can’t you just pull it back up or something?” he asked, gesturing at the contraption they’d used to lower the coffin into the ground.

One of them nervously shook his head. “It, um, only works one way.”

Before any of them could reply, a loud crash drew their attention back to the coffin, just in time for them to see a fist punch through the wood.

A pale, serum-enhanced fist.

“Uh…is that supposed to happen?”

Natasha just shot Clint a look.

Thor leaned over the grave and, with one pull, yanked off the top of the coffin. “Hello, fair Steven.”

Clint scrambled forward on his knees and looked down to see Steve blinking blearily up at them. “Hello, Thor,” he coughed out.

“No fucking way.”

***

The door flew open and hit the wall with a bang.

“You’re not keeping him from me any longer. You’ve done your tests. It’s him. I don’t fucking know how but it’s him, who the fuck else would it be? Now let me see him before I make some use of the cemetery plot I paid for.”

“Always a pleasure, Stark.”

“Cut the shit, Fury. Where the hell is he?”

Nick Fury heaved a deep sigh. He flicked his gaze to the two SHIELD agents standing against the wall. “Take Mr. Stark to Captain Rogers’ room.”

Satisfied, Tony spun on his heel to exit the way he came. “And Tony,” Fury added, giving Tony pause. “I’m very happy for you.”

Tony turned his head back and nodded slightly, then continued out of the room.

Steve’s room was just down the hall from where Tony had ambushed Fury (though it was hard to believe that the man hadn’t seen him coming from a mile away).

The SHIELD agents stopped just outside the door, one on each side like pillars. Tony paused with his hand on the door and took a deep breath before pushing it open.

“Steve,” he breathed.

Steve was sitting straight up in the bed, legs folded and looking the picture of perfect health. As he caught sight of Tony, his face broke into the most beautiful smile and suddenly Tony was rushing forward, his eyes blurry and his heart in his throat.

He all but leapt onto the bed and Steve caught him easily with a laugh, letting their combined weight push him onto his back.

“Wait, you’re not injured, right?” Tony said, trying to pull himself off Steve.

Steve tightened his grip in response. “No, stop squirming, I’m fine.”

Tony huffed and tilted his head up, ready to chastise Steve but his words were cut off by Steve’s lips on his and all of a sudden he couldn’t even remember what they were anyway.

God, I missed you,” Tony murmured when they finally broke apart. He settled his head onto Steve’s pillow so that their faces were resting almost nose-to-nose. Steve’s hand was running up and down Tony’s side, a big warm reassuring presence. “The last few days were…” He swallowed hard, trying to force down the lump in his throat. “I just…it was…”

“Hey, hey,” Steve soothed, his hand moving up to rest on Tony’s cheek, thumb swiping at the corner of his eye.

Tony forced out a laugh and turned his head to look up at ceiling, breaking out of Steve’s hold. “Sorry. I’m an idiot.”

“I thought I was the idiot,” Steve replied wryly. “The big fucking idiot, to be exact.”

Tony’s eyes widened. “You- you could hear?” He scrambled up to a sitting position and gaped at Steve. “You were conscious the whole time?” Steve levered onto his elbows and nodded. “What the fuck happened to you?”

Steve shrugged. “No clue. One second I was staring at MODOK’s big ugly face, next I was trapped, no control of my body and you were…” He took a deep, shaky breath. “I wanted to touch you, to tell you I was fine and I couldn’t. I couldn’t do a damn thing but watch as you beat yourself up and you…” He dropped back flat onto his back and covered his face with one large hand. “I’m sorry, Tony,” he whispered through his fingers, his voice hoarse. “I’m so so sorry that I ever put you through that.”

Tony reached out and tugged Steve’s hand down. “It wasn’t…it’s not your fault.”

“It’s not yours either,” Steve shot back.

For once, the last thing Tony felt like doing was arguing, whether he agreed with Steve’s statement or not. Instead, he lay down again and curled into Steve, his head finding its familiar spot against Steve’s neck.

Steve exhaled deeply and pulled Tony in tighter.

“If whoever did this,” Tony started after a few quiet minutes, “if they did it just to torture us…” He swallowed hard. “They sure as hell did their job.”

Steve shifted beneath him and Tony could sense that he was readying for one of his big speeches. The door opened, however, before he could voice a word.

“It wasn’t just to torture you.”

“What the hell!” Tony yelped as Natasha came in. He gave up trying to sit up when he realized Steve had no intention of letting him go. It didn’t matter at this point anyway, his dignity was long gone. “Were you just listening in and waiting for the most dramatic moment to come in?”

“Yup,” Clint replied, following behind Natasha as Tony sputtered. Thor came after, dragging a man in AIM yellow with him.

“Tell them what you told us,” Thor said, shoving the man forward. Now Steve did let go and they both sat up, gaping at the others.

The man stared nervously down at them, mouth quivering until Thor poked him in the back, hard enough to send him lurching forward.

“The-the ray,” he stuttered. “The l-light that hit C-C-Captain America.” He swallowed hard. “It was-was me-meant for Tony St-Stark.”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “I figured as much, when I saw it heading straight for him.” Under the sheet, Tony felt Steve’s hand grasp for his and he latched on.

“The rest of it,” Thor boomed, arms folded tight across his chest.

The man nodded shakily. “It wasn’t-- Your serum. You weren’t meant to-to come back so soon. Stark-- he was sup-supposed to--”

“You wanted him to be buried alive,” Steve finished, his eyes widening. Tony felt his chest tighten at the image of Steve, completely aware and helpless as he was loaded into a coffin and lowered six feet into the ground. He tightened his grip around Steve’s hand.

“Why? Why would MODOK want--”

“Forget why. How did MODOK even do that? Steve was declared legally dead, which, by the way, is going to be a bitch to sort out. Pepper’s going to be so mad.”

“’Twas not MODOK.”

The man shook his head. “He-he got the power from someone else. I-I don’t know who.”

“Alright, that’s enough,” Natasha said. “We’ve got to get him back to holding before Fury gets the cameras back online.”

As they left, Steve turned to Thor, who was still watching them with a frown, one hand to his chin.

“You know who, don’t you?”

Thor nodded grimly. “And how. It is the why I am not sure of.” He unfolded his arms with a deep sigh. “I must take my leave once more. Farewell, brother.” He stepped forward and Steve let go of Tony’s hand to shake Thor’s, who did so with a clap on Steve’s back. “And to you, Anthony,” he continued, taking Tony’s hand. “I am most delighted for you to have your love back.”

Tony flushed but couldn’t help but smile at Thor’s genuine joy. “Me too, Thor.” He felt Steve’s hand land on his back and turned to meet his fond expression. “Me too.”

Thor gave them each one last wave and then was gone.

“So what now?” Steve asked.

Tony shot him a sly grin. “I think,” he replied, “we should make sure all of you is working.” He slid his hand into Steve’s lap and squeezed and Steve inhaled sharply. “But we should probably get out of here first. Unless of course, you’ve suddenly developed a exhibitionist kink through all this.”

“As fun as it would be to make Fury’s one good eye pop out of his head--”

“Oh man, forget that, after how I yelled at him? I think he may actually kill me if he found footage of me and Captain America getting nasty.”

Steve laughed and hooked his arm around Tony’s waist.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go home.”

***

Steve shuffled into the kitchen late the next morning and Tony followed blearily after him, his hands tangled in the back of Steve’s shirt like a child trailing after his mother.

“Good morning,” Steve said as he passed Clint, Natasha, and Bruce, who were gathered around the island, munching on breakfast.

“Morning,” Bruce replied as Steve went straight for the coffee machine. He poured two cups and twisted around to hand one to Tony. “Sleep okay?”

Steve shrugged, hiding his face in his coffee. Beside him, Tony had already downed the entire cup and was now pouring a second.

“This is like an episode of The Walking Dead,” Clint said, staring at Steve.

Bruce shot him a strange look. “Have you ever actually seen that show?”

“Nah,” Clint replied. “I hate zombie things. More of a vampire guy.”

“Are you serious?” Tony said incredulously, now completely awake. “Zombies beat vampires any day. Actually, forget that, werewolves are where it’s at.”

“Werewolves are totally lame-sauce. What the hell do they do the other twenty-nine days of the month? Brood about their lameness?”

Steve shook his head and settled onto the stool next to Natasha as Tony and Clint began another one of their long arguments. God, he was tired. They’d definitely worn themselves out yesterday getting reacquainted so he should have been able to sleep easy, no problem, but both he and Tony had been plagued by terrible nightmares. Being locked helpless in his own skin for a few days and then buried alive had been one of the more harrowing experiences of his life and had stirred up memories of another time when he’d been trapped like that, bringing back dreams he’d thought were long gone. Even worse than his own horrid dreams of being frozen and forced to watch everyone he loved suffer were Tony’s tortured cries of his name snapping him back to consciousness. They’d probably managed an hour of sleep between them at most.

Natasha frowned down at his slumped posture. “Feeling alright?”

He glanced up at her, then looked over to where Clint and Tony were now arguing about pirates and ninjas, with Bruce filling in as official debate judge, and felt something loosen just a little in his chest.

Because this was nothing like last time. He hadn’t woken up in a brand new world, all alone to struggle with everything he’d been through. No, this time he had a whole team of people ready to be there for him. And one in particular who he knew would do anything to make his world alright.

Tony must have felt Steve’s gaze on him because he caught his eye and shot him a warm smile, before turning swiftly back to Clint to completely rebut everything he had just said.

“Yeah,” Steve said to Natasha and somehow it didn’t feel like a lie. Especially when, having heard enough of the merits of various supernatural beings to last him a lifetime, he reached out an arm and tugged Tony into his lap, cutting him off mid-argument.

“Hey,” he murmured to Tony.

“Hey, yourself,” Tony grinned back.

“Eeyuch.“ Somewhere out of the corner of his eye he saw Clint throw his hands up. “I concede. You win, I’m out.” He snagged a banana and leapt off his stool.

Tony shrugged and pulled Clint’s bowl of cereal towards him as Clint disappeared into the living room. “He knew he was never gonna win,” he said between crunches of Trix. “Vampires. Honestly.”

“What the hell is this about you being engaged?”

Tony froze with the spoon in his mouth as Pepper clacked towards them. He gulped down the bite of cereal and slowly pulled the spoon out from between his teeth.

“Oh hey, Pep--”

“Hi, Pepper,” Steve chimed in from over Tony’s shoulder.

“Steve!” she cried. She came over and planted a huge kiss on his cheek. “I’m so happy you’re alive.”

“Hey, hey.” Tony batted at her, not unlike a kitten. “That’s mine.”

“You.” Pepper poked a finger right in Tony’s face.

“Uh-oh,” Tony muttered softly. He slipped off Steve’s lap and held his hands up defensively.

“I can’t believe you were engaged for a week and didn’t tell me.”

“I was going to!” he said, backing away from her. “We were going to do like, an announcement thing, tell everyone, but things kept happening and--”

“You were going to do an announcement thing?”

“I…uh…look!” He gestured at Steve. “Steve’s alive! Let’s get some perspective here!”

Pepper turned to Steve and he gave an awkward little wave. “Once again, very happy to see you, Steve. Really.”

She turned back to Tony only to find he was scampering out of the room. “Tony,” she yelled after him. “Get back here! And what the hell did you do to the Westboro Baptist Church?”

Steve watched them go, then turned back to the counter. Clint’s cereal was still sitting there, staring up at him in all of its disgusting, sugar-loaded, technicolor glory. He glanced up at the other two, who were watching him with matching smirks. “Don’t tell me you missed all this.” Natasha said.

He grinned back and scooped a big bite of cereal into his mouth. “More than anything in the world.”