One year, six months ago.
“You know, one day I’ll stop letting you break in here.”
Tony’s voice is flat and tired, and he doesn’t even look up as he walks into his bedroom, undoing his tie and dropping it to the floor next to his bed. He sits down heavily and reaches down to unlace his shoes, kicking them off. He breathes out heavily, resting an elbow on his knee and covering his face with his palm.
The figure standing in his bathroom doorway doesn’t move. Just stands there casually, arms folded, shoulder against the doorjamb and one ankle crossed over the other.
“Liar,” Steve says, and there’s no amusement in his voice, just fact. “Rough day?”
“You are a wanted man, Rogers,” Tony says, scraping his hand down his face and blinking tiredly. He glances over, checks that the small light above the storage unit in the wall is glowing as it should be. He knows that Steve is smart enough around computers these days to disable the compartment, and there’s no chance that Steve doesn’t know where the armour is, so it probably says something that Steve allows him to have it so close and easily accessible.
“Arrest me, then,” Steve replies.
“I might,” Tony says hollowly, and Steve does laugh at that, a soft huff of sound. He pushes himself up away from the doorframe and wanders over to the bed, climbing up on his knees and shuffling over until he’s behind Tony. He’s wearing sweatpants and a fitted grey T-shirt and if Tony didn’t know better he’d think Steve has spent all day lounging around and relaxing.
“What happened to Doctor Barrett?”
Steve’s hands slide onto his shoulders, thumbs tracing gently over his neck, just above his collar. “Do you really want to know?” he asks, and Tony can feel the warmth of his body pressing closely against his back. Tony shuts his eyes. Months ago, Steve might have denied it. Weeks ago he might have casually evaded the question. These days he doesn’t even bother with either, and Tony doesn’t know if that’s better or worse.
“No,” he says thickly. “I probably don’t.”
Steve moves again, dips his head and leans down to press a kiss against the side of Tony’s throat. Tony reaches up and pushes him away irritably. To his credit, Steve takes the hint and sits back, and Tony wishes he didn’t feel as cold.
“He stole your tech,” Steve says simply.
“I know. We were in the process of getting it back,” Tony grits out.
“And now you have it back, ahead of schedule,” Steve says, and his know-it-all tone is absolutely maddening.
Tony makes a noise of frustration in the back of his throat, running his hands through his hair. He knows that what Steve did today means that he got his tech back a lot quicker than anticipated, but that’s not the point. SHIELD would have Steve strung up six ways if they could connect him to what happened to Doctor Barrett today – hell, if they could connect him to any of the things Tony knows he’s done in the past year. God, he can barely remember the days that Steve would be the one insisting that they do things by the book, all rules and regulations.
“Shield know, you realise,” he says abruptly.
“They probably do,” Steve agrees easily, and a warm hand slides onto Tony’s waist. “Come on, it’s not like you’re in charge anymore, is letting me help really going to-”
“Just don’t,” Tony interrupts harshly, and Steve stops talking but the hand doesn’t slide away.
“I didn’t like that he thought he was better than you,” Steve says quietly, and a second hand slides onto the other side of Tony’s hips, nimble fingers pulling at his shirt, easing it from the waistband of his trousers tug by tug. “He deserved it.”
And Tony feels his heart break all over again, because he never, ever thought he’d be hearing Steve Rogers justifying murder, and justifying it not because the guy stole tech and killed eighteen people with it before Steve intervened, but because he was defending Tony’s non-existent honour.
A hot palm slides under his now-untucked shirt, sliding over his side and round to his front. Steve edges closer again and this time Tony reaches back over his shoulder to slide his fingers into the short hair on the back of Steve’s head, holding him close.
“Your moral compass is off centre,” he breathes.
“My moral compass is fine,” Steve says, and reaches up with his free hand to turn Tony’s face to the side, catching his mouth in a kiss.
Tony’s breath catches in his throat and Steve’s mouth moves against his and Tony can’t help it; he surges forwards and presses hard against Steve, drawing a pleased grunt from the depths of Steve’s chest. He twists around fully, pushing Steve down onto his back and clambering over him, still kissing him.
“Gonna thank me?” Steve says.
“No,” Tony replies, and Steve smiles like that was the answer he was looking for. He cranes his neck up and Tony kisses him hard, reaching down to pull Steve’s t-shirt up over his head, and Steve smiles again like he’s happy and content and like the last year never happened.
Tony reaches for the buttons of his shirt, and lets himself pretend that none of it ever happened. He strips Steve bare and lays him back against his pillows, and Steve’s urgent hands pull him free of his clothes, throwing them aside like discarded wrapping paper.
Steve is beautiful like this, and Tony wishes he didn’t know just how much so. He falls to pieces under Tony’s hands, limp and panting and greedy, pushing and pulling at Tony until he gets what he wants. The noises he makes as Tony fingers him open are obscene, and Tony wants to steal them all, keep them under lock and key so no-one else can ever get at them but him. God, he’s in no place to talk about Steve’s moral compass; his own has quite clearly upped and left.
Breathing hard, he leans over Steve, pulling one powerful thigh up around his waist, other hand curled into a fist and planted in the cushions next to Steve’s head. Steve smiles breathlessly, cheeks flushed and hair mussed, spilling messily over his sweaty forehead. The man can take out twenty armed insurgents without even blinking, but thirty minutes here with Tony and he’s wrecked.
“Tony,” he groans, and Tony knows that look, knows that Steve is about to say something that’s too much, and he quickly lets go of Steve’s thigh to clamp a palm over his mouth.
“Nuh-uh,” he says, shaking his head. Steve’s eyes glint with something for a moment, and then it’s gone and turns to amusement, before he licks Tony’s palm in an effort to get him to move his hand.
“Not an incentive,” Tony laughs, and the relief that he feels at managing to bypass whatever Steve was going to say is palpable. Steve raises an eyebrow, reaches up and takes hold of Tony’s wrist, pulling his hand back with gentle strength before sucking two of his fingers into his mouth.
Tony groans. “You are dangerous.”
Steve releases his fingers. “I know,” he says, and pulls Tony down into another kiss, hips surging up to push against Tony’s, and Tony decides to ignore the double meaning of the words, and shuts Steve up by thrusting his tongue into his mouth and reaching down to guide himself into Steve’s body, snapping his hips forwards ruthlessly and revelling in the gasp that falls out of Steve’s mouth.
“Christ,” Steve manages, sounding strangled like he’s never done this before, like they haven’t done this countless times already. Tony leans down to box him in, forearms either side of Steve’s head and mouth hovering above Steve’s, breathing hotly into the scant space between their mouths. His hips snap forwards again and again and Steve turns into a writhing mess, body taught and tense, head tipping back against the pillows as Tony fucks him like he’ll never get another chance.
It’s the early hours of the morning when they both finally still, sated and worn out and able to lie next to each other without feeling the urge to touch and grab and take. It’s always like this; they could have spent the morning taking each other apart and still act like they’d been apart for years come nightfall.
Steve is asleep, breathing easily and evenly, and as the afterglow fades Tony feels the worry come back. He lies on his side and looks at Steve’s profile, peaceful and pale in the moonlight that spills in through the open blinds. He looks exactly as he did when Tony first met him; innocent and righteous and stubborn. Back when he was the Captain.
Throat tight, Tony leans forwards and presses a kiss to Steve’s temple. Steve stirs and sleepily reaches out, mumbling something that sounds like Tony’s name, brow creasing in a frown. His hand reaches out and Tony allows himself to be pulled up close.
“Sleep,” Steve murmurs groggily, and Tony nods, not trusting himself to speak. He vows he won’t, swears that he’ll stay awake and slip away the moment he can, but it takes scant minutes until the lull of Steve’s warmth and presence pulls him into a sleep more comfortable than he ever finds when he’s alone.
One year, five months ago.
“You look exhausted.”
Bucky is straight to the point as always. He leans against the desk and sets the shield down, and Tony fights back the ever-present and irrational urge to snatch it from him and give it back to Steve. Hell, Steve is probably still asleep in Tony’s bed right now; he could take the shield and leave it beside the bed, just to see the look on his face when he decides to get up-
Tony shakes his head. Steve isn’t Captain America anymore. Never will be again, if anyone ever proves what he’s done.
“Yeah,” Tony says moodily, pulling a wire free, wrapping it around his hand and wrist and yanking at it. Of course he’s exhausted; he’s got to fix the armour and finish the calculations for Reed, and SHIELD are on his ass about finding Steve and the damn idiot had turned up at the tower at four o clock this morning, covered in blood and with bullet holes in his jacket. “Rough night.”
Bucky is silent for a long moment, and Tony looks up to see him watching him, eyes serious. He’s in uniform, gleaming blue that won’t ever look right to Tony. It’s awful of him really, how he can’t help but compare Bucky to Steve, but he can’t really be blamed. It was when Steve was still Captain America that Tony had first kissed him, first slept with him, first developed feelings for him.
But Steve had died, Tony had given the shield to Bucky, Steve had refused the offer of its return when he’d come back, and that was that.
Tony’s hands have stilled on the wiring, and Bucky is still looking at him and his expression is far too understanding.
“Rough night. I’ll bet,” he says, and then he picks up the shield and leaves, and Tony can only think fuck, he knows.
He unwinds the wire from his wrist, picks up the gauntlet and hurls it across the workshop. The sound of shattering glass doesn’t make him feel any better, but then again he never expected it to.
Two years, two months ago.
The day after Steve goes missing, SHIELD goes positively frantic. Eight different teams are sent to look for him, and the Avengers also all leap into action. Even Logan goes, despite spending most of his time complaining about Steve and threatening to punch him right in the ‘A’ on his forehead.
The only ones that don’t go are Tony and Bucky.
Tony sits in his workshop, listening to the communications from the Shield teams and checking the updates from the Avengers. Bucky comes and sits at his side, not in uniform and without the shield.
“They ain’t gonna find him,” Bucky says listlessly. “Not if he don’t want them to.”
Tony blinks, listens to another ‘negative’ from one of the SHIELD teams.
“No. They won’t.”
One year, eight months ago.
“So. If I told you that the hooded guy who keeps turning up and beating the shit out of super-villains was actually a serious threat, would you take him out?”
Clint stares at Tony, and then reaches up and takes his sunglasses off. Tony inwardly groans, wishing that Clint would just treat this conversation as flippantly as he does everything else.
“You know I know exactly who the hooded guy is, right?” Clint says slowly. He puts his sunglasses down and pulls an arrow out of his quiver, turning it over and over in his fingers.
“No you don’t.”
“Best friends with Natasha who is sleeping with Bucky?” Clint says, pointing the arrow at his chest to indicate himself, then flipping it around and balancing it on the tip of a finger. “And besides, I have eyes, and I am not an idiot.”
Tony shuts his eyes for a long moment, still breathes out. “The question still stands,” he says, and tries to act like he doesn’t care. “Would you?”
Clint breathes out slowly, still balancing the arrow on his forefinger. “You’re sleeping with him still, aren’t you.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Tony replies quickly, and he doesn’t bother to deny it. “Clint.”
“Why are you asking me?” Clint asks, and his tone sounds almost pleading. “Why not…”
He trails off, and Tony laughs bitterly. “Why not Bucky? Sam? Me? Come on. And any hand to hand fighters would get ripped to pieces the moment they got close enough to try and hurt him.”
“If anyone can bring him back, it’s you,” Clint says, and Tony flinches away from the statement like it’s stung him.
“But if we can’t,” he presses. “If you had a clear shot, would you?”
Clint stares at him, dropping the arrow from his fingertip and snatching it out of the air. “Would you give me the order?”
Tony rubs at his mouth, feeling exhausted. “Yes,” he says finally. “If I had to, yes.”
Two years, three months ago.
“This is bullshit!” Steve bellows, and the coffee table is sent crashing over with a kick that could have broken a man’s spine. Crockery and glass smash and the table splinters, and coffee sprays across the carpet and wall.
“Jesus Christ, Steve!” Tony shouts, scrambling up out of his chair. “Take it out on the fucking furniture, why don’t you?!”
Steve rounds on Tony, chest heaving with his breath. He’s wearing his navy Shield gear, the one he’s worn since he got promoted to Commander. “Bucky is in a fucking Russian gulag,” he spits. “For shit he is not responsible for, and what am I meant to do? Sit here with my thumb up my ass?!”
“Calm down,” Tony says, and steps over the wreckage of the table, shards crunching under his feet. “Steve, come on.”
“Fuck calming down,” Steve snaps, but he’s stopped demolishing furniture, so Tony takes it as a win. God, he’s never seen Steve like this before, and it's unnerving to see him so far past the line he normally keeps himself behind. He stands there for a long moment, very still and very tense.
“I think this is the angriest I’ve ever seen you,” Tony says to break the tension, and Steve looks at him, and then starts to laugh bitterly, one hand on his forehead.
“Not even when I was about to brain you with my shield?”
The reminder of the war aches as it always does, but by now it’s not the same piercing pain from before. They both know how it is; there’s no glossing over it but they’re working on getting over it. As such, Tony just lifts a shoulder in a quirked shrug. “I deserved it,” he says with a small twist of his mouth. “The coffee table didn’t do anything, the poor thing.”
Steve laughs again, and this time the sound is more genuine, less twisted. “You have a way of putting things in perspective,” he says, and holds out a hand.
Tony takes it, and it’s still as frightening as ever how Steve always comes back to him, terrifying how they can almost end the world and still find it in themselves to come back to each other, how they can still feel this after all they’ve said and done. Tony hates to admit the glaring, singular reason as to why that is, even to himself.
“Sorry,” Steve says, and pulls Tony up close, rests his forehead on Tony’s shoulder.
“You should apologise to the coffee table,” Tony says seriously. “I mean come on, kicking innocent bystanders, that’s just unsportsmanlike-”
“Shut up,” Steve says wearily, and he lifts his head up and kisses Tony gently. He breathes out, and Tony catches the edge of his expression and knows how frustrated he must feel, how angry he must feel at his own powerlessness.
“You, Steve Rogers, are not useless,” he says, and Steve pulls a face.
“Feels like it,” he says heavily. “Damn. I told him I’d never-”
He breaks off, shaking his head, and Tony silently adds another notch to the tally of burdens that Steve has had to deal with in a lifetime. He pushes it away, not wanting to become maudlin, and instead focusses on the feel of Steve in his arms. He slides his hands up Steve’s biceps and to his shoulders, hooking his thumbs into the straps of his uniform, breath hitching as he feels Steve nuzzle into the side of his neck.
“Tony Stark, are you trying to distract me?” he murmurs.
“I don’t know, would it work?” Tony asks, and Steve laughs and kisses him again, this time harder and dirtier. Tony grunts appreciatively and hauls Steve up against him so their bodies are flush together.
“I think it might,” Steve says, and catches Tony’s hips in his hands and walks him backwards through the wreckage towards the bedroom. They both stumble through the mess left by Steve’s anger, and even as Tony does his damnest to make Steve forget about the situation with SHIELD and Bucky, he can’t fully shake the lingering unease that he feels after witnessing Steve’s loss of control.
Five years ago.
And the very first time that Tony sees the cracks is just after the Winter Solider is taken down. Bucky Barnes lies in a hospital bed, both hands handcuffed to the metal rails on either side, and Steve sits in a chair next to him, head in his hands.
Tony stands outside, a few steps from the doorway in the darkness of the corridor, unsure if he’ll be welcome. He’s supposed to be looking at Barnes’ arm, figuring out if the tech is truly safe for him – and everyone else – but he’s not convinced this is the right moment to go in and start poking and prodding.
Barnes stirs. Mutters something, tries to lift his hand. The cuffs scrape against the metal rails and Steve immediately sits up, reaches forwards and catches his fingers, holding them tightly in his own.
“It’s me, Buck. I’m here.”
Bucky forces his eyes open, head lolling from side to side on his pillows, uncoordinated and sloppy. Jesus, they weren’t joking about having him on enough painkillers and sedatives to knock out a horse.
“Yeah,” Steve laughs brokenly, and he lifts his free hand to scrub at his eyes with the back of his hand. Bucky stares at him for a moment and then a drunken grin breaks out over his face.
“You got bigger,” he slurs, and Steve makes an odd noise in the back of his throat that sounds like a sob. He reaches out for Bucky in an aborted, jerky movement; anger flickers over his face and then he abruptly reaches down and snaps the chains of the handcuffs with a brutal tug. Tony takes a panicked step forwards because Jesus, the Winter Solider tried to strangle Steve not a week ago, but he forces himself still, body still tight and tense. Steve leans over and repeats the motion on the second pair, and then roughly pulls Bucky into a hug.
“Look what they did to you,” Steve tries to say, voice rough and sharp and Tony wants nothing more than to touch him, to smooth away the pain and hurt any way he can.
Bucky’s arms – both arms – wrap clumsily around Steves broad shoulders, metal fingers curling into the fabric of his shirt, and Tony swallows thickly and turns away as Steve’s back shudders with fiercely restrained emotion, and Bucky’s metal hand moves up to clumsily pat Steve’s hair.
Two years ago.
And Steve has been missing for eight weeks and Tony is happily pretending that it’s not killing him every time he wakes up and checks and there’s still nothing. Not so much as a whisper, not a sighting, not anything. They’re dealing with it the best they can, but everyone is stretched and strained.
Of course Hydra, AIM and the rest of the super-villain community haven’t taken a break, and eight weeks after Steve upped and left Tony finds himself being battered by an AIM solider in a mechanical suit that looks almost identical to a power-lifter from Aliens. Tony would laugh, if he weren’t so busy having his ass handed to him.
An armoured fist punches him in the face, sending him catapulting through the air, hitting a brick wall hard enough to crack the masonry. Dust showers down on him and he gasps in painful breaths of air, the digital readings inside his helmet flashing a trillion different alarms and warnings. God, he’s being beaten up in an alley. This must have been what it felt like to be Steve, back in the day where he’d run his mouth and be beaten stupid for being obnoxious. Minus the superheroes, mechanised suits and threats of city-wide destruction, of course.
“Submit,” the soldier demands, booming voice amplified by the suit and echoing along the alley.
“Not today,” Tony bites out, and he pushes himself to his knees. He raises a hand, repulsor charging and whining-
And then a figure drops from above, both black booted feet hitting the soldier square in the face and sending the whole power-lifter-robot-contraption crashing backwards onto a dumpster, which bends with the horrid sound of screeching metal. The figure is wearing black trousers, a black hooded top and has a scarf pulled up over the lower half his face, and Tony knows who it is without even looking twice.
The figure crouches on the chest of the robot, and smashes through the centre console with one swift punch. Sparks fly and the soldier inside screams, and the figure effortlessly bends the metal frame apart, reaching in and yanking the soldier out before standing up and literally throwing him across the alley. The guy hits the wall with a sickening crunch and then crumples to the floor at Tony’s feet, unmoving.
Heart hammering in his chest, Tony flips the faceplate up. He meets blue eyes, bright under the shadow of the hood, and then the figure jumps down and sprints away, vaulting over the wall at the end of the alley.
Tony feels like he’s just been suckerpunched, breath coming too quickly and organs feeling all swollen and displaced. He blinks, dazed, and then manages to get himself together enough to hack into a private comm channel that connects him to Captain America.
“Bucky,” he croaks, and staggers to his feet. “Bucky.”
“Damn it, Iron Man,” Bucky replies, sounding pissed. “You know to call-”
“We’re on a private channel,” Tony interrupts, and stares down at the crumpled figure at his feet. “Bucky, someone just came and wiped out one of the manned robots. They came in and saved my ass, ripped the thing apart.”
“Who?” Bucky asks, and Tony hears measured breathing and the clang of the shield even over the comm link.
Tony swallows, takes a steadying breath. “Steve,” he manages to say. “It was Steve.”
Seven years ago.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Steve says, sounding dazed. His hands are on Tony’s elbows, fingers gripping tightly and mouth hanging slightly open. His lips are wet and the sight makes Tony want to drag him up to his bedroom poste fucking haste.
Tony runs a hand over the white star on Steve’s chest, bright on a background of blue. “Bad unexpected, or good? Are we talking a phonecall to say a family member has died, or a surprise party when you figured everyone had forgotten your bir-”
His words are cut off as Steve kisses him, hard enough to steal the breath from his lungs. His hand slides up to Steve’s shoulders and holds on tightly, and good god where did Steve Rogers learn to kiss like that?
“This is a dumb idea,” Steve says against his mouth, but he’s panting and his hands are on Tony’s hips like he’s never going to let go.
“It’s the best dumb idea,” Tony replies, catching Steve’s lower lip between his teeth and tugging gently, relishing in the shudder that goes through Steve’s frame. “Unless you’re serious about…whatserface?”
Steve pulls back, giving him a flat look. He knows damn well that Tony knows exactly what whatserface's real name is, but Tony’s not going to validate it. Eh, he knows he’s coming across as a petty, jealous idiot but he can’t bring himself to care.
“I don’t know, are you serious about me?” Steve asks, and kisses Tony so slowly it makes his head spin.
“Always,” he says, and before he can cringe at just how earnest and soppy he sounds, Steve is kissing him and pressing him back against the wall and he’s never again going to knock being earnest and soppy if this is how Steve reacts.
Three years ago.
“At least we can stand to be in the same room as each other now,” Steve says casually, and to everyone else it looks like he’s joking, but Tony knows better. Fuck, Steve is going right for the jugular with that one and he knows it, and Tony wants to punch him in the mouth instead of forcing himself to return the smile, tight and strained.
Two years, eight months ago.
“Jesus, Steve! Warn a guy!”
Tony glares at the figure that’s sat on the edge of his bed, hand pressed to his chest to try and still its rapid thumping. He bends down to pick up the tablet that he’d dropped when he’d jumped, sending Steve another dirty look.
“How the fuck did you even get in here?”
Steve just watches him, quiet and still, and Tony’s glare slowly fades. “Cap?” he asks uncertainly, and Steve physically flinches at the word. He draws back, shoulders hunched and tight, pressing a hand to his forehead and clenching his eyes shut.
“Whoa, whoa, Steve,” Tony says, anger and everything else falling away, replaced by a primal urge to protect, to make Steve feel safe and secure again. He steps forwards and sinks to his knees on the carpet in front of Steve, pushing his knees apart without a second thought and shuffling between them. Gently, slowly, he reaches up to cup Steve’s face in his hands.
“I haven’t slept properly in weeks,” Steve says, sounding exhausted. He tilts his head to the side, pressing his cheek to Tony’s palm. “I miss you.”
Tony swallows, feeling raw and vulnerable. “No you don’t,” he says, and Steve jerks away, opening his eyes and shoving Tony’s hands away.
“I missed you even when we were trying to kill each other,” he says violently, and Tony tries to keep his breathing even and not give away the flicker of fear he feels because this doesn’t sound anything like Steve, no matter how many times everyone says he’s still the same as he was before.
“I’m sorry,” Tony says, and Steve’s hands and eyes go calm and gentle again. He heaves out a breath, shaking his head.
“They won’t let me do anything. They wouldn’t let me help Bucky, even when he was rotting in that godforsaken place,” he says, and his hand clenches into a fist, and it’s trembling. Tony stays quiet for a moment, slightly disconcerted by the change in topic. “Tony, I can’t-”
“Shush,” Tony says gently, and he slowly, so slowly rises up on his knees so he’s nose to nose with Steve. He hasn’t been this close to him since he came back. “You need sleep first, even a super-solider needs rest before working things out.” He’s so close he can feel Steve’s breath on his face and oh god, this is a terrible idea, this is such a terrible idea, all the things they’ve done to each other and the fights they’ve had – they fought through a war for god’s sake-
And then Steve’s trembling hand reaches up to push Tony’s hair back from his forehead and suddenly Tony doesn’t care. The rest of the world can go to hell.
“Tony,” Steve says softly, brokenly, and Tony closes the gap between them before Steve can say any more.
One year, three months ago.
“As of this point, Steve Rogers is considered an enemy of the state,” Maria Hill says, face and voice impassive. “He is suspected of neutralising threats without authority from any agency affiliated with the World Security Council, and will be considered a wanted man as such.”
She pauses, looks around the room. “He is to be brought in alive. Unless the cost of bringing him is deemed to be an unacceptable threat to civilian life.”
Her eyes flick up to Tony, and Tony forces himself to look back neutrally, even though he’s tearing to pieces inside. His eyes are warm and too bright and his stomach feels twisted up into a painful knot somewhere in his ribcage where his heart should be. He feels cold metal fingers touch the back of his arm and breathes in through his nose, steadying, calming.
Director Hill looks around, and when she looks down at the papers in front of her, she looks like she’s absolutely disgusted with what she’s just had to say.
Tony understands that feeling all too well.
One year, four months ago.
And Times Square is being completely overrun with soldiers in red jackets, all of them with wide blank eyes, willing to fight to the death for the man they’re calling Johtaja, and that’s all the world needs, another megalomaniac with superpowers and access to brainwashing technology.
Tony blasts a solider in the face and then grunts and staggers as bullets pepper his back. There’s the swish of an arrow streaking past and the guy drops, but Tony hears Clint curse over the comms and the sound of shattering glass. Over on the other side of the Square, Bucky is in full swing with the shield, fighting beside Natasha, but for every minion he puts down four more seem to appear from nowhere.
There’s a shout, and another, and another, and then the horde of red soldiers seem to part, all scrambling to get out of the way. The Johtaja raises his staff, yelling in fury, turning around with flashing red eyes and demanding to find the source of the disturbance-
A lone figure in black trousers and a black hooded top walks forwards through the crowd, and Tony’s breath catches in his chest.
Steve walks forwards, a man with a single purpose. The scarf still covers the lower half of his face and Tony can’t help but think of Bucky and the Winter Soldier. God, it looks wrong. Steve should be in the suit with the shield, not dressed like scum looking for a bar fight.
Calm as you please, Steve walks through the throng towards the Johtaja. He reaches up and pulls down the scarf, showing his face to everyone watching. Including the SHIELD agents who still don’t know where he is or what he’s been doing . Fuck. Oh God, his expression looks exactly the same as it always did, and Tony aches so fiercely to have him here at his side in red, white and blue.
“Olen liittolainen,” Steve shouts, and the Johtaja turns to face him, eyeing him carefully. “Mitä minun pitäisi tehdä?”
The Johtaja’s face turns triumphant and gleeful. “Voit tappaa hänet,” he calls back, pointing over at Tony. “Kill him.”
Steve raises a gun in his right hand and points it straight at Tony.
And then he raises a second in his left and without even looking, shoots the Johtaja straight between the eyes. A look of shock passes over his face before his knees give out and his body falls, a graceful arc before he hits the floor. The first gun stays pointed at Tony for a moment longer and then Steve turns to the side and shoots four red soldiers, one after the other, not so much as a pause.
So much for SHIELD wanting the Johtaja alive at all costs. Oh god, Tony thinks hysterically. That’s approximately eighty-six different intergalactic truces and treaties all smashed to pieces with a single bullet. The fallout is going to be horrendous.
Without blinking, Steve empties both clips into the unfortunate group of soldiers standing nearest to him, surveys the scene for a moment and then steps back, guns still raised up by his shoulders.
“Wait,” Tony yells, but Steve is pulling the scarf back up over his face and turning on his heel, vanishing into the chaos like a shadow.
One year ago.
“Oh, fucking hell.”
Clint turns away, disgusted and sounding like he’s about to throw up. Tony swallows against the rise of bile in his throat and forces himself to keep looking. He can hear the thundering of the rain against the metal roof, and water drips steadily from his armour onto the concrete floor.
The warehouse looks like a slaughterhouse. Tony can’t even guess how many of Hammer’s minions were in the building when Steve turned up a few hours ago. They’re spread out in so many different directions and pieces it’s impossible to tell.
“Call it in,” Tony says. He looks around and he spots a piece of paper taped to the front of a ruined computer terminal. He walks over and carefully pulls it off, eyes burning hot as he reads the words.
Deleted the files. Your secrets are safe.
“You need to stop him,” Clint says harshly, mouth and nose covered by his forearm. “Tony, look at this mess.”
Tony screws the note up, clenches it in his fist and shuts his eyes.
Six months ago.
“I heard it was when he wasn’t allowed to go and rescue Barnes from Russia. You know, when they arrested him for the stuff he’d done as the Winter Solider?” the agent says. “Sitting there and not being able to do shit…” he clicks his fingers, nodding knowingly. “Lost it.”
“Bull,” a second replies. “The war. Easily. Come on, the guy died.”
“Yeah, but he came back and was fine for months after that. It was just after the mess with Barnes that he went missing.”
“Yeah, but it was still there on his mind, it had to be. Seeing Stark every day and knowing what they did-”
Tony’s hand clenches atop his workbench and he resists the urge to rip the comm unit from his ear. He stares at the screen, watching the gaggle of agents that he’s eavesdropping on.
“It was the mess with Agent Thirteen,” another chips in. “No, really, that’s what Jeremy said, they were dating and he-”
“That’s bullshit,” the seconds says scornfully, and Tony can’t help but vindictively agree. “You think Captain America would lose his mind over a bad breakup? Look, he fought in that war for a stupid cause-”
“Don’t start this again,” the fourth one says, sounding exasperated. “We’re not having this argument again, it won’t do anyone any good.”
“Rogers slept with Stark years ago,” someone says, and there’s the sound of sharply drawn breaths.
“That would explain a lot. Maybe it wasn’t a breakup with Agent Thirteen that-”
Tony can’t listen to any more. He yanks the comm unit from his ear and shuts down the video feed with a swipe of his hand, fighting the urge to put his head in his hands and cry. He doesn’t know what to do. Hearing it like that makes it so glaringly obvious, all the burdens Steve is carrying on his shoulders. Most people couldn’t deal with half of the problems Steve has without cracking.
He knew it. Fuck, he knew something wasn’t right from the moment he saw Steve with Bucky after he’d regained his memories - the old, good memories, not the Winter Soldier ones. He privately thinks that the first Agent was right; being refused the right to go and help Bucky had cut Steve deeply, a crippling blow which left him feeling frustrated, useless and incompetent.
And maybe it’s cowardly, but if he thinks about what has happened between Steve and Bucky, then he doesn’t have to think about the war and the hideously tangled mess that’s been left between him and Steve.
Five months ago.
“Jesus fucking Christ, what did you do?” Tony asks as he carefully peels Steve’s shirt up over his head, horrified gaze on the bloody bandages wrapped around Steve’s torso. They look to be a few days old and that’s even worse, knowing that any injury that made Steve bleed that much must have been truly awful.
“Batroc and his gang,” Steve shrugs. “Won’t bother you again.”
Tony stills, whole body going rigid. “What did you do?”
Steve reaches out for him. “He was working with Modok,” he says, like it’s really that simple. “Planning to take your armour-”
“God, are you even listening to yourself?” Tony yells, suddenly past all endurance and tolerance. “What happened to the punishment coming after the crime? You’re going against everything you ever believed-”
“Things change,” Steve says shortly. “You die in a war and then say you can come back and still be the same person-”
“You are Steve Rogers,” Tony says, pointing an accusing finger at Steve. “Captain America-”
“I’m not,” Steve says vehemently, shoving Tony’s pointing finger aside. “I am not Captain America anymore.”
“Too right,” Tony spits. “You’re not a hero. You’ve lost your mind - you’re acting like a damn attack dog that was grown in a lab-”
Steve grabs Tony by the throat and shoves him up against the wall, fury blazing in his eyes. “I’m doing this for you,” he bites out.
“I wish you wouldn’t,” Tony says, and he knows he sounds broken. He is. “I wish you would be the Captain again. My Captain. The one who was doing the right thing even when the rest of us weren’t.”
Steve swallows, and the hand around Tony’s throat eases, moves down to his collarbones in a caress. “I didn’t do the right thing,” he says. “You know that. You wouldn’t have fought me if you thought I was doing the right thing.”
“I’m fighting you now,” Tony whispers, and then Steve’s mouth is on his, his hand grasping at Tony’s waist. It’s hard and brutal and Tony can’t do anything but let himself be swept up along by it. He gasps, reaching up to hold onto Steve, hands on either side of his neck as he lets Steve take and take and take.
Steve pulls back, panting harshly, and Tony notices with a jolt that there’s something in Steve’s expression that looks oddly and strangely familiar, some part of him that looks like the old Steve, the one who wore the red white and blue-
Maybe it’s not too late to pull him back after all, Tony thinks, brain now tuning over at a million revolutions a minute. Maybe if they take Steve back and get him past all the things that chipped away at his resilience-
Steve kisses him again, soft and gentle, and Tony catches his hips and pushes him back towards the bed. Steve blindly sits back and Tony clambers onto his lap, holding Steve’s head in his hands and kissing him breathless, knees either side of his hips.
“Tony,” Steve murmurs, and Tony kisses him again before any more words can escape. Steve lets him cut him off, though Tony doesn’t miss the fleeting hurt that passes over his face. He tries to kiss it away, pressing his mouth to Steve’s brow, his cheeks, all over his face.
He pushes Steve all the way back and strips him out of his boots and trousers, reaching up to pull his own shirt off as well. Steve lies back, pushing his hips up off the mattress and catching his lower lip between his teeth. He’s all blond hair and blue eyes and devastating deceptive innocence, and it hits Tony like a blow to the head.
“Stop doing things for me,” he says as he mouths down over Steve’s chest and down his stomach, over the bandages that are wrapped tightly around his midsection.
“No,” Steve replies, broken. “I won’t.”
“You will,” Tony replies harshly, biting at the jut of Steve’s hipbone and ignoring the way Steve’s hips grind up, desperate for friction and contact. “Fuck, Steve, you know you’re not doing the right thing-”
“I don’t know,” Steve chokes out, words descending into a moan as Tony pushes his thighs back up, so far that his kneecaps are touching his chest. “Stop – just do it, Tony. Stop talking about it, come on.”
Tony hides the hitch in his breathing by biting at the back of Steve’s thigh. Steve doesn’t know. He doesn’t know if he’s doing the right thing, which means if Tony can help him get through the trauma then there’s still hope-
“Tony, Tony, Tony,” Steve is chanting, and the words turn into a guttural cry as Tony breathes over his hole, licking at him with the flat of his tongue. Steve twists and arches against the bedsheets, one hand coming down to grip at Tony’s hair, and Tony wants nothing more than to stay here in this moment forever, with Steve pleading acquiescence as Tony takes him apart with his mouth.
Slick fingers push past his chin, and he’s been so busy trying to break Steve with his tongue that he didn’t even notice Steve going for the lube, but either way he’s not complaining.
“Do it,” he pants, and leans back with his hands still pressing against the back of Steve’s thighs, watching as Steve roughly shoves two fingers inside of himself. God, if only everyone knew what happened behind these closed doors…they don’t understand what it’s like between them, they never will.
“Tony,” Steve says again, and he sounds wrecked. He pulls his fingers free and rolls them over with a surge of strength that Tony couldn’t hope to match even in the armour. He settles sat across Tony’s waist, breathing heavily and staring down at Tony’s face. Tony looks back up at him, chest heaving and hands on Steve’s hips, thumbs tracing small circles into the skin on his hipbones.
Without breaking gaze, Steve reaches behind him and takes Tony’s dick in hand, steading it as he breathes out and slowly lowers his body. Tony can’t help the groan that escapes from his throat, the way his hands tighten on Steve’s skin as Steve’s body gives way to him.
“I’m here,” Steve murmurs, and he leans forwards and leans down with his arms either side of Tony’s head, lips brushing Tony’s.
“You will be, by the time I’m through with you,” Tony breathes back, and Steve doesn’t question it. He just draws in a steadying breath and allows Tony to snap his hips up, thrusting into him roughly. He just gasps and grunts and takes everything that Tony can give him, hands gripping Steve’s ass tight enough to leave bruises, no matter how quickly they’ll fade.
Rolling them over, Tony pushes Steve back down, one hand on Steve’s wrist and holding his hand up above his head, the other hand tracing down his thigh.
“Steve,” he whispers, mouth pressed to Steve’s, and for the first time ever he feels himself biting back the words, realising exactly what is it that he stops Steve from saying every time they end up here.
Two months ago.
Iron man’s boots hit the rooftop with a loud crunch, his fist hitting the gravel as he balances himself. He straightens up, his heart twisting in his chest. Shit, he knows Hawkeye is on the next building over and all it will take is a word from Bucky or Hill and he’ll let fly.
“Steve,” Tony calls, and then flips the faceplate up, and then changes his mind and reaches up, taking his entire helmet off. The wind whips at his face, tugging at his hair and stinging his eyes. He takes a step forwards, trembling. “Steve, don’t.”
Steve looks over his shoulder, back towards Tony. He’s standing on the very edge of the building, holding his right arm out rigidly. His fingers are clenched around the neck of a terrified looking man who is gasping and crying, tugging ineffectually at Steve’s fingers. The man is dangling out in space off the edge of the roof, and the drop beneath his feet is twenty stories.
“He deserves it,” Steve says, and the man makes a strangled screaming sound, feet kicking at the empty air.
“You don’t believe that,” Tony shouts over the noise of the wind. “Steve. Come on. No matter what he’s done-”
“He was passing information to Hydra agents,” Steve yells back, and his fingers tighten enough to make the man splutter and choke. “People died because of his choices. His selfish, cowardly choices.”
“We know,” Tony says, trying to keep his voice calm. “Steve, we know. But this isn’t right. Come on. Captain America knows that two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“I’m not Captain America,” Steve says. “Haven’t been for a long time. Not since I died.”
“Hawkeye, confirm you are in position,” a voice says over the comms. “Take the shot.”
“No,” Tony butts in, and he can hear Bucky yelling over the comms as well, furiously telling them to stop. “Clint, don’t.”
“Hawkeye, take the shot,” the voice repeats. “This is WSC command, take the shot.”
“Don’t you fucking dare!” Bucky screams, and Tony feels like he could throw up.
“Steve,” Tony says. “Please. Listen to me, come on. This isn’t fair. Hand him over, let the police deal with him.”
Steve hesitates. He frowns, looking distressed. “They won’t do enough.”
“You’ll do too much,” Tony replies, and he takes a step forwards. “Steve. Please."
“Tony,” Clint’s voice says, sounding wrecked. “I can get him. Your call.”
“Hawkeye, this is WSC command. Take the shot. Confirm that you have received the order.”
“Barton don’t you dare, I swear to god, Nat, let me go-!”
“You realise I’m listening to an argument about whether Clint should fucking shoot you or not?” Tony yells at Steve, and Steve jerks around, eyes darting over the surrounding buildings. His free arm jerks as if he thinks he has the shield to raise. “Steve!”
Steve’s expression turns ugly. “Come on then!” he shouts out into the air, eyes flashing and chin lifted. “Shoot me if you honestly fucking think I’m not doing the right thing!”
“Tony, for god’s sake, make the fucking call!” Clint pleads, his voice tight and angry and sounding like he's about to scream.
Tony ignores Clint, ignores the multitude of voices arguing and screaming over the comms. “Steve,” he repeats, and he knows he’s begging and he doesn’t care. “I need you to put him down. I need you to come back and talk to me, to sort this out.”
“There is nothing to sort,” Steve snarls, and the guy screams again as Steve shakes him. “Nothing.”
“Tell me you don’t spend every damn day fighting against all those terrible memories that make you feel like this,” Tony challenges. “Tell me you don’t feel it every day, all those terrible moments that make you feel useless and violent-”
“Stop it!” Steve bellows. “Tony, don’t.”
“No,” Tony says, and his voice breaks. “Steve, put him down. Come back – let me help. We can help.”
“You can’t,” Steve says forcefully. “It’s too much-”
He breaks off. The wind tugs at his hair, glinting blond in the sun. His shoulders shake and his head lowers, dipping down so his chin nearly touches his chest. The whole world seems to stop, and Tony can only hear his own pulse thudding in his ears.
“I can’t,” Steve says, and he sounds broken.
“I know what you wanted to say,” Tony says, and Steve goes very, very still. “Every time I shut you up. I know, and I’m so, so sorry that I never let you.”
“Yeah, well,” Steve says. “You didn’t.”
“I will,” Tony makes himself say. “Just – for fuck’s sake, Steve. Put him down.”
There’s a pause which lasts a lifetime, and then Steve steps back and drops the goon to the gravel. The guy gasps, clutching at his neck and curling up in the foetal position. Steve takes a wavering step back, his hand coming up to cover his eyes.
Tony is there as quick as he can move. He drops his helmet with a clang and darts over – as much as he can dart in the suit – and catches Steve with a hand on his waist and one on his elbow. Steve crumples to the floor and Tony staggers back and sinks down with Steve sprawled in his lap. His hands reach blindly for Tony, and Tony catches his fingers in his one his gauntleted ones, holding them tightly.
“I’ve got you,” he says roughly, his free hand holding Steve’s head to him with a palm on his forehead. He can hear Clint swearing repeatedly and violently over the comms, can hear Bucky frantically asking Clint and Tony to tell him what the fuck is happening, can hear the demands for updates from the WSC. He reaches up and pulls the earpiece out, throwing it to the ground.
“You don’t need to,” Steve says, sounding tired. “I can’t think about it all, Tony. It’s too much, I just-”
“Shut up,” Tony says, and he holds Steve close. “Trust me on this one.”
Steve hesitates, and then nods, sinking down into Tony’s embrace and shutting his eyes.
One month ago.
Stephen Strange eyes Steve contemplatively. He’s laid on his back on the floor looking scared yet determined, hands fisted by his sides and jaw clenched tightly. He’s lying in a circle of intricate patterns that have been etched into the bare floorboards, candles lining the outer edge of the circles, light flickering in the air.
“It would be simpler just to permanently erase all the memories you’ve had me repress,” he says indifferently, and Steve’s eyes flick to Tony. He’s breathing shallowly, breaths snatching in and out. Over at the edge of the room, Bucky takes a step forwards and Clint stops him with a hand on his elbow.
“No,” Tony says sharply. “Bring it back. All of it, like you said you would.”
Strange sighs as if Tony’s being difficult. “As you wish,” he says, and sits down next to Steve’s head, cross legged. “You know he still may be the same when he wakes up. All this will do is…prioritise his memories, let us say. Give him a chance to push past whatever drove him to become the vigilante he’s been of late.”
Huh. A vigilante. Tony never thought of it like that. He looks over at Bucky, who meets his eyes and then nods jerkily, jaw set tightly.
Strange still looks unsure. “It may make him worse,” he says. “We’re only guessing at the memories that have made him feel like this, the experiences which have led to such behaviours. I might bring all the memories of the past few years back and exactly the same will happen, no matter what I twist.”
Tony crouches down next to Strange, brushes his fingers across Steve’s forehead, tucking stray strands of blond away. Steve’s eyes are locked on him, trusting. Tony feels his chin tremble, fights it back.
“Give him the chance,” he says softly, and leans down to gently kiss the tip of Steve’s nose before standing up and walking away.
And Tony presses a kiss to Steve’s temple, and Steve’s mouth curves in a weak smile. He yawns, and his body flexes against Tony’s where Tony is pressed up against his side, hand on Steve’s chest and one leg thrown lazily over Steve’s thigh. They've been in bed for the past two days but Tony can't bring himself to care. Steve is still under tower-arrest whilst SHIELD decide what exactly they're going to charge him with, and keeping him in bed seems to be as good a way as any to keep him comfortable and distracted.
“Feeling okay?” he murmurs, and Steve’s hands go to his waist. He pulls Tony over so Tony ends up on-top of him, elbows either side of his head, boxing him in. He sighs and strokes a hand up Tony’s bare back, down again to the dip of his spine.
“Feels strange still,” he says, and Tony leans down and presses their foreheads together. “Like…like there’s blurred edges in my mind. Like there’s some things, some memories that have been half washed away.”
Tony nods. “It wouldn’t be fair to get rid of them entirely,” he says softly. “I just wanted you to be able to – I don’t know. Still have them and learn from them, but without them overwhelming you.”
Steve nods, breathing out, nostrils flaring. “I think it’s helping,” he says cautiously. “In – in therapy, I can talk about things. I know what I want to say about different things, it’s not like one big wall-”
He stops, breathes out through his mouth. He’s finding it hard – God, Tony knows that getting Steve to talk about his feelings properly can be like pulling teeth, but at least he’s trying and not just repressing everything anymore. SHIELD will be thrilled; they’re still on standby to ‘neutralise’ Steve if there’s even the barest hint that he’ll go rogue again.
Like Tony would ever let them, even if he did. Fuck that; he'd let Stephen Strange wipe everyones damn memory if it kept Steve safe and by his side.
“One more bad experience might tip me over again,” Steve says, eyes on the ceiling, and Tony can hear the worry in his tone, but it’s okay. If Steve is worried about it, then it shows his moral compass is pretty much back in alignment. Tony’s willing to bet that with his memories reshuffled and tweaked back into some semblance of order, he could stand the damn Red Skull in front of Steve and the worse he’d do would be punch him in the face and then announce he was under arrest.
“Nah. You’re aware of it all now, aren’t you? And you’re not doing it alone this time,” he says, and presses his mouth to Steve’s. He expects Steve to pull back and say something else, but Steve just leans up, kissing Tony harder, hands sliding up his back to his shoulder blades. Tony's breath catches and he slowly lets it out through his nose, feeling the sheets pulling over his lower back and the firmness of Steve's body beneath his.
“I could have decided I didn’t want you anymore,” Steve whispers suddenly, and Tony nods.
“You could have,” he concedes, and then grins down at Steve. “But if I remember correctly, we started sleeping together well before you lost the plot, so I figured I was safe.”
“Sleeping with you probably made me lose the plot,” Steve says with a quirked smile, and Tony knows he’s joking without Steve adding, “I’m kidding.”
“I know,” Tony says, and drops his head to press open-mouthed kisses to the glorious expanse of skin on Steve’s neck. Steve hums contentedly, tips his head back into the pillow in wordless encouragement, hips rolling lazily. “I think being together is the only thing that stopped us both tipping permanently over the edge.”
“Tony,” Steve breathes, and Tony pauses, remembers all the times he would cut Steve off when his voice got like that, open and vulnerable. His hand twitches, but this time he makes no move to stop him. He nudges Steve’s jaw with his nose, wanting to hear it.
“You know I’ve always loved you, right?”
Tony shuts his eyes, breathes in and out deeply and then smiles weakly when the expected torrent of fear and loathing doesn’t come in response to Steve’s words.
“Yes,” he says simply. “And you know I wouldn’t have put up with you for this long if the feeling wasn’t mutual.”
He lifts his head so he can look Steve in the eye, show him he means it. “You’ll be fine, Steve. Just hold on to the good stuff.”
Steve grins, and his hands go to Tony’s waist, gripping on tightly. “I will,” he says, and Tony can only roll his eyes and kiss him again.