"Wait!" The harmonics of Tony's voice travel down his spine, locking his knees, but he's already in the air. He has to do this, he can't give in, can't let them win. It'll kill him, he knows that, the way he knows the weight of his shield and the stretch of his muscles.
Besides, death won't take him from Tony. It's in his veins, waiting like a promise. Maybe Tony's not certain, but he is.
Overhead, the moon scuttles behind dark clouds, just a sliver of light peeking out at them. It isn't much for Steve to see by, even with the Super Soldier Serum in his veins, but he doesn't need much. His body moves for him, even before his eyes have a chance to register movement. Sight would be a hindrance.
Block. Jump. Kick. Throw. Dodg—
Pain slices through his side, biting through mail and his ribs to tear him open. He drops like a rag doll to the New York pavement, blood already starting to cool on his skin. His heartbeat slows, struggling to maintain a rhythm in the face of the damage. It doesn't even hurt anymore.
Overhead, the battle goes on, in showers of light from Tony's repulsor gauntlets and swirls of rainbow color from Jan. Avengers, even in the face of tragedy.
"No, no, no, no, no..." Tony's voice carries through his communicator, but that's not where it sounds most loudly. Every cell beats with the sound of Tony's mantra. It's a cadence of denial that does nothing to stop the inevitable. Sight dims as his heart gives one last, struggling beat.
He takes his last breath.
When Tony lands beside his body, lips still framing "no", Steve finds that the worst thing in the world isn't dying. It's leaving someone alone when you do.
"But was he in cuffs! What if he's evil?"
"Shut up, Peter. Steve can't be evil."
"You're not exactly an unbiased source."
"Will both of you knock it off? He's coming around."
Steve kept his eyes closed and his breathing even as best he could while he tried to get a feel for what had happened. He'd been in DC—on the steps of the courthouse, about to be arraigned. That was one thing he was sure about. It wasn't the kind of memory anyone forgot. Then... absolutely nothing. Not even a hint of anything that could have knocked him out. There'd been the glare of the sun in his eyes and the murmur of the people who'd come to see Captain America brought to trial.
...Wake up. Wake up, you fool. Tony needs you.
The voices had been familiar, but they certainly didn't help. After what had happened, Peter would have rather cut off his arm than deal with Tony again. And what was Jan doing there?
"Steve. Steve, come one. We know you're awake," Tony said, right next to his ear, voice tight with pain, as if his heart were giving him trouble again. Cold fingers brushed over his forehead soothingly. "Look at me? Please?"
Pretending to still be unconscious had pretty much lost viability. Steve pushed Tony's hand away and sat up. He didn't want to deal with his ex-friend yet. "What's going on—" He froze. "The mansion?"
It couldn't be. It was impossible. But at the same time, he knew he was in the mansion's kitchen, exactly how he remembered it. There was the rough patch in the wall, where Thor's hammer had accidentally left a gaping hole that he'd insisted on patching himself. The stove where he'd seen Jarvis handle more meals than could be counted was exactly the same, mirror bright black glass gleaming in the overhead light. Even the tile was the same, creamy white laid out in an oddly hypnotic geometric pattern. "How...?"
"Where else would we bring you? Time Square?" Jan's voice behind him made him twist. She grinned and tucked a strand of hair behind her distinctly pointed ear. Tattoos lined her eyes and down her cheek in glowing shades of green and blue. "Are you feeling alright? You landed pretty hard."
Beside her, upside down on a webline, dangled Peter. Two sets of his arms were crossed. He waved cheerfully, then hurriedly grabbed for the line again when his grip started to slip. "Good morning, moonshine!"
Slowly, Steve turned to Tony, who smiled shyly. Elongated canines rested cozily in his mouth, starkly white against the bloodless tan of his skin. His hands were locked together, but it couldn't hide how they shook, like those of a man going through withdrawal. "Steve."
... Tony. God, Tony.
One word carried through Steve's mind, but all the associated memories counted for far more than any word could. Blood and death. Good soldiers, kids, laying torn apart in their tents. Emaciated, bloodless corpses screaming as his shield took their heads.
Steve rolled off the breakfast table. He levered it up with his shoulder, throwing it at the caricatures of his friends. Jan and Peter shouted and tried to stop him, Peter's webs barely missing tangling in his feet as he dove for the door. Even though the mansion he knew had been long gone, he'd lived there long enough to know its layout by heart. He used it, taking two quick turns before finding an escape.
...I didn't bring you here for this!
Glass crackled and rained down as Steve dived through the window. Tiny shards caught in his skin, but for the most part his costume protected him. He landed on his shoulder and rolled to his feet, barely stumbling before making a break for the gate.
No one came after him.
New York wasn't New York.
Old, familiar neighborhoods were gone, replaced with shining expanses of mausoleums and graveyards. The streets were completely changed, following no pattern he could recognize. Children played in them, flesh literally hanging from their bones, their empty eye sockets not at all keeping them from staring as he passed. Families used grave slabs as picnic tables and half-human things in clothing walked around freely.
...turn back... turn around, go home...
A tiny shadow scuttled out of an alley, bright eyes gleaming as it bounced and pointed a clawed finger at him. "Mommy, look! It's a human!"
"Hush, Jean, it's rude to point." Another, larger shadow stepped after the first and scooped it up. The faintly canine woman smiled, showing a muzzle full of sharp teeth. "I'm sorry, sir. Puppies. You know how it is."
Steve rose from his defensive crouch and tried to smile, but his heart was pounding so fast that it emerged as a grimace. "Don't— don't worry about it, Ma'am."
After that, Steve tried to avoid the main thoroughfares. His costume was too highly visible, even if it hadn't been torn and bloody from the last battle he'd been in. Even in a city filled with ghouls, he stood out too much. The full moon overhead provided the only real light—there weren't any street lamps at all, and even the cars that passed by didn't have headlights.
He needed someplace safe—it was obvious that something had happened, and he needed to get home. Guilt twitched at him about his reaction to Tony, but vampires were vampires—there was no such thing as a good one.
By the time Steve stumbled on the apartment building, the moon had nearly set and dawn was coloring the sky purple. Graffiti marred the outside in broad, colorful strokes while broken windows gaped like wounds. It obviously hadn't been lived in by anyone—alive or dead—in a long time.
At least it wasn't a graveyard.
Amazingly, the building still had electricity. Bare bulbs buzzed in the overhead fixtures as Steve took the stairs. The first three floors were completely ruined, filled with trash and debris. He kept climbing, all the way up to the top level. Even with the serum in his veins, exhaustion dragged at him. Sleep on the Helicarrier had been impossible, and whatever state he'd been in before waking up hadn't been restful enough to make a difference.
The tenth floor corner apartment proved cleanest, with only a few pieces of old furniture and a mattress. The walls were dusted with spots of rusty red, so thickly studded with nails that it looked like they were bleeding. Sunlight peeked through the curtainless windows, filling the apartment with golden warmth. He took time to block the door with the gutted remains of a refrigerator before collapsing onto the thin mattress.
Steve's last thought before sleep took him was of the hurt on Tony's face when he'd run.
Steve woke up to shadows stretching across the room and a rough, lumpy mattress under him. He was still in the same battered costume he'd given himself up in. God only knew what people would think, the way he'd vanished from his cell. Maybe they'd cancel the arraignment and say he'd escaped, or send an LMD in his place. Maybe Tony would think he'd been assassinated and would change his stance on Registration.
Maybe Deadpool would get therapy.
He snorted to himself and sat up to inspect the place he'd passed out in. It actually wasn't bad, for a choice made while only half-conscious. Iron spikes were embedded in the walls, mostly horseshoe nails, though he could see patches of flaking paint where sheet metal poked through. Hardwood floors in beautiful, warm shades spread across the floors, scarred with symbols that had been roughly etched into them. The windowsills were crusted with white granules—salt. That would take care of magic, if the stories he remembered from childhood meant anything. Maybe not anything on a par with Dr. Strange, but with any luck Jan and her pointy ears wouldn't be able to snatch him. A lack of invitation would bar Tony. He didn't have any idea what would work on Peter. Bug spray, maybe.
Someone had wanted to be very, very safe. Judging by the holes in the walls, they hadn't been. Steve would just have to make do. He didn't have any better options.
A survey of the floor—the thirteenth, of course—resulted in a table, one chair and a cache of salt, horseshoes and wooden stakes. Some of them were only half-sharpened, but the whittling knife had been left behind too. The water and electric worked, though there were only two surviving bulbs. He put one in the kitchen and left the other in the hall outside his door.
Rumbling from his stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten in over twenty-four hours. There wasn't any time though. The sun was gone, set while he'd been inspecting the building. Right on cue, a familiar voice sounded outside his window.
"Steve, come outside." Tony's voice pulled at him, slithering through his bones and gliding sweetly through his blood. Steve had taken three steps to the door before he caught himself. He grabbed onto the edge of the bedroom door, clinging. His legs itched with the need to move, to go to Tony and let him make everything better. "No."
... go to him. He needs you...
Tony's frustrated growl echoed through him, tingling at his ribs and tickling the hair behind his ear. That wasn't right. He was thirteen stories up. Tony was outside. How could they hear each other so well?
"At least come to the window. Talk to me." The itching got even worse. Wood splinted under his hands as he held on, breath coming in short pants as he fought the compulsion. He couldn't think around it, around the need to move, to do anything if only to make Tony stop hurting.
"I miss you."
... love you...
"Just talk to me."
The window was safe, wasn't it? Tony needed an invitation, and Steve needed answers. If Tony could walk in, he would have already. So the window was safe. It had to be.
Steve leaned on the windowsill, breathing in the cold night air as it flowed over his cheeks. Splinters stabbed his palms through his shredded gloves. He didn't even remember moving, much less opening the window. Tony was just a dark figure standing in the middle of the street, a featureless shadow that could have been anyone. But Steve knew. "Okay. I'm at the window. We're talking. Why do you want me?"
"I need you—"
"Why?" The breeze was amazing, without nearly as much pollution as what filled his own New York. "Why me? What did you people do to me?"
Tony's figure stepped closer to the building. Silver light glinted overhead, just touching the roofs of New York, even though the moon was still out of sight. Steve's imagination filled in the details that the darkness masked—the shadow of his goatee here, the blue of his eyes. The last time he'd seen Tony, he'd been in the Iron Man suit and mad from the Extremis. Did Iron Man even exist in this place?
When the silence stayed unbroken, Steve risked leaning a little farther out. "Tony?"
"I don't know."
What? "How can you not know?"
A tiny sliver of moonlight crept between the buildings, catching Tony's hair. "Jan cast the spell. It wasn't supposed to do this." The light shifted again, taking away even the vague shape of Tony's shadow. "Come outside. We'll talk here."
Bone and muscle moved without Steve's consent. Wood creaked as he hefted himself over the windowsill, legs dangling down over thirteen stories of empty air. Steve froze, staring down into the street, breath frozen in his lungs.
God, he'd been about to jump.
"No." Steve held on to the window and clenched his eyes, blocking out the trashed-filled streets below. The compulsion ate away at his will, making him lean forward. He knew, logically and absolutely, that if he jumped, broken bones would be the best he could hope for. Death was much more certain.
At the same time, with the same certainty, he knew that he wouldn't fall. Tony would catch him.
Cold breath brushed over his ear. "Jump." Glass slammed into the back of his head as Steve jerked back. His eyes flew open to find Tony clinging to the thin ledge that ran under the window. Tony grinned from inches away, teeth sharp as surgical knives.
Without thinking, Steve jammed the heel of his hand into Tony's jaw. Tony rocked backwards, hanging on only by his fingertips. Steve scrambled back into the apartment. His shoulders slammed into the bare hardwood just as fingers like steel bands wrapped around his ankle.
Scale mail scratched furrows into the floor as Tony pulled him hand over hand out the window. A kick loosened the grip, but not before his hips were digging into the window's latch. His knee connected with something that felt like Tony's head, then his heel with something much softer—his stomach.
The hands on his leg vanished. Steve rolled back into the safety of the apartment. Adrenalin burned in his veins as he scooted backward. He kept moving until his back pressed reassuringly against the wall.
Tony appeared in the open window. Rage twisted his face, pulling familiar lines into something hungry and monstrous. A gash cut across his forehead, bleeding only sluggishly. "Steve!" He pounded at the window, clear air as sturdy as glass, blocking his blows from going even an inch inside. "Steve, let me in!"
Steve pressed his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.
He wished he could close his ears.
... I'm listening, Tony...
Cold. So cold it's like being trapped in the ice, but more than that. The ice was sleep, unaware and innocent, the blink between two moments. This is death, conscious and horrible and so necessary. He can feel it all: the creep of decay as it withers flesh, the blood thick and clotting as the walls of the vessels break, the rot of his organs.
Here and now, in his own decomposing body, he's more trapped than he'd ever been in the ice.
Someone takes his hand. If he were alive, he'd be able to wrap his fingers around it, to open his eyes and see who it is. He doesn't have eyes left to look. But he doesn't need to. Only one person watches over him this way any more.
"A little longer. Just a little longer." Tony's voice shakes. He's not holding up well. He knew Tony wouldn't, but it sounds worse than they'd expected.
A year and a day. How much of that has passed? Weeks? Months? He can't tell; there's no time when he's like this. Tony can't be breaking apart already. He has to hold on. He has to, or there'll be nothing left at the end of the year except for the sun.
More than anything, more than even being able to block out the feel of his body falling apart around him, he wishes he could squeeze Tony's hand.
Steve gasped and sat up in bed, his heart pounding. He rested his palm against his chest, letting the thud of his heart reassure him. His body wasn't rotting around him, he wasn't dead and cold on a slab somewhere. Even the exhaustion tugging at him was comforting. As long as he was tired, he wasn't dead.
Three days. Three days in a weird, nightmare world and three days of the same dreams. It had to be a coincidence. Anyone would have weird dreams when the only people they ever saw were straight out of a pulp horror.
A glance out the window showed the sun just barely in the sky. It couldn't have been late in the morning at all. Sleep was out of the question, after that dream. He might as well take advantage of the daylight to find some sort of supplies. With a groan, Steve levered himself off the mattress. It was so low on the floor that his knees came up to his chin, but the alternative was the floor.
Another day. Soon enough, another night.
The knocking at the door startled him. Steve set down the length of wood he was whittling, exchanging it for one that was already sharpened. He didn't bother to tread softly as he stepped up to the door to look through the peephole. Whoever was outside would hear him anyway.
Jan stood on the stoop, palms up, the hood of her cloak pushed back to show the delicate tattoos that swirled down her cheeks. Even in the dim hallway, her eyes glowed green. "I came to talk. Let me in?"
"Just talk." Her golden-gloved fingers wiggled, the shining fabric winking in the yellow hallway light. When she smiled, her teeth were reassuringly normal. Not that he could think of any other way they'd be, but people here tended to have fangs more than he was used to. "Look, no magic. I didn't even bring any chalk."
If she decided she wanted in, he couldn't stop her. Unlike Tony, Jan didn't have any sort of limitations about where she could go. More importantly, she had been the one who brought him. He needed her to get back home, and her kind were notoriously fickle. He couldn't risk snubbing her. Carefully, Steve unlatched all five locks and stayed behind the door when he opened it just enough for her to slip inside, which she did. Jan didn't ask for an invitation, which was good—she knew Steve wouldn't give her one.
"You've made yourself cozy, I see. Not a bad place to go to ground." Jan wrapped her arms around her stomach, the green glow of her eyes dimming as she took in the simple apartment. "Horseshoe nails in the walls? How traditional."
"My parents were Irish. There's salt at the windows, too." He'd even managed to buy salt to refresh it from the ghoul who lived down the block. Practice had the door closed and all its locks turned in under five seconds. Jan glanced at the stake in his hand and snorted.
The tread of her heeled boots against the hardwood floor was loud as she walked over to the kitchen table and picked up the half-sharpened stake. "Oh, Steve. Is this the way it is? Tony would never hurt you."
"So you say." Steve kept his back to the wall as he watched her. She moved like a predator, with a conservative grace that the Jan he knew had never really mastered. "You wanted to talk. So talk."
"Tony asked me to come, but you probably already knew that." The wooden stake clattered down next to a small pile of sharpened ones. Jan's fingers passed over them. Steve knew by her expression when she touched the rowan. "You were expecting me."
"I figured he'd send someone. Tony isn't the type to lurk outside windows for long."
"No, he's not." Jan heaved herself up onto the table, crossing her legs demurely. Under the cloak, she was wearing something that resembled her Wasp costume. The differences were so slight, Steve wouldn't have noticed them at a glance—a piece of trim here, embroidery there. It was almost unnoticeable. "Why are you doing this? The spell was suppose to bring help. Not..." Her hand flicked at him, golden silk winking. "You."
Iron-peppered stucco was reassuringly solid against his back. "Help? Or Tony's lunch?"
"You make it sound so tawdry." Every minute she was surrounded by iron, the shine of Jan's eyes faded a little more. It made Steve breathe easier to see the stories work. "He loves you. Just talk to him."
... love him...
The thought of himself and Tony together as lovers wasn't one Steve wanted to deal with. After the Civil War and everything that Tony had done, the mistakes they both had made, thinking about the what ifs could drive him mad. "It's not conversation he wants."
Jan snorted and scattered the stakes. "He's Tony. Of course that's not all he wants." Her eyes were almost completely normal. Oddly, it made the tattoos stand out even more without prominent evidence of what she really was. Even the points on her ears were almost hidden by the fashionable bob her hair was in. "Our Steve wouldn't be this stubborn."
"Then where is he?"
"Dead." Jan's lips quirked. "A temporary set-back for now. We just need to keep Tony sane until he rises. Tony..." Her smile faded, pink-stained lips twisting. "His kind doesn't handle loneliness well."
Steve's hand clenched around the stake—he didn't want to hear more. She'd said everything he needed to know. "And so you got me as a replacement. People aren't toys, Jan."
Her teeth ground together, a harsh sound of frustration grating in her throat. "I know that— Danu preserve, you're the most impossible mortal I know." She shook her head, hair swirling around her ears. "Look. A phone call. Just give him that."
A phone call. Tony couldn't get to him through a telephone line, could he? There were probably a thousand ways Tony could get to him even without an invitation. He still had to leave to get food and supplies during daylight hours. If Tony hadn't had anyone abduct him then, a phone call was probably safe. "Fine."
Jan jumped off the table, her cloak settling around her dramatically as she swept towards the door. "Expect it in a half hour then." Black wool flared as she reached the iron-free safety of the hall and twirled, tilting her head to look up at him with an impish smile. "Oh, and Cap?" The cloak parted as she raised her hands and wiggled her fingers again. "Not silk."
Steve cursed as Jan vanished in a swirl of colorful magic.
Exactly a half an hour later, the wall phone in the kitchen rang. It had been dead when Steve found the building, but it didn't surprise him that Tony had been able to get it turned on. Steve eyed it from the living room. After Jan's trick, he wasn't sure talking to Tony was such a good idea.
"I miss you."
Memory decided for him. Even if this universe's Tony was a monster, he was still Tony. If a phone call would help...
A more practical side said that maybe he could talk Tony into having Jan send him back. Maybe.
He picked up the phone on the third ring, before he could talk himself out of it. "Tony."
"You answered." The line was surprisingly clear. Steve would have thought a world of magic and the undead would have neglected technology, but he should have known better. Any place that had Tony Stark would have a good handle on the tech of the day. "I didn't think you would."
...always for you...
Guilt twinged Steve's chest. He cradled the phone against his shoulder, sliding down the cabinets to sit on the floor. "I said I'd talk to you."
"Jan told me what she did. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked her to go. I shouldn't have let her do it at all. She was just trying to help." Even through the lines, Tony's voice was hypnotic, the cadences rolling so smoothly that Steve got caught up in the rhythm and almost missed the meaning. "I wouldn't have blamed you if you hadn't wanted to talk."
Steve closed his eyes against a sudden need for fresh air. To drop the phone and fling open a window, lean out and welcome in the night. "Stop it, Tony."
... don't stop...
"The voice. Stop using the voice, or I'll hang up."
"... I'm sorry." The rhythm had gone, leaving just Tony's usual smooth baritone, the same voice Steve had known since he'd been pulled from the ice ten years before. That was still bad, but at least he could fight it. He'd had practice with that. "It's habit. I just— I just miss you."
"You don't miss me. You miss your own Steve Rogers. A substitute isn't the same thing."
...just for now...
"It's not..." Tony's breathing shuddered. Steve wondered how upset a vampire had to be to even bother breathing. "I know. I know that you're not him. But it's—it's scent and touch and taste—" A sharp whimper ended the sentence. "God, I love how you taste. There's nothing else like it in the world."
Something cracked. At first, Steve thought it was on Tony's side, but then a piece of plastic broke free of the phone in his hand. "I'm sorry."
"It's— just a little time. One night. One hour. Please, Steve."
"If all you wanted was time, but it's not. I'm not going to become a monster for you. Like you."
Tony's laugh was too high-pitched to be entirely sane. "You're one of only two hundred humans in New York. Maybe you should re-think your definition of monster." The call disconnected before Steve could reply. He let the remains of the phone slip to the floor, bits of plastic bouncing off the ceramic tile.
"You've really put your foot in it this time."
Steve opens his eyes blearily. Jan's perched on the edge of his bed, examining herself in a hand mirror. She's dressed in a bright yellow sundress and a broad-brimmed hat, with no trace of her tattoos in sight. "Is this what I look like in your world? Ick."
"You're human." Steve rubs his face. His head feels foggy, like he has to fight for every thought. Outside the window the full moon's rising over the city, round and full, but that's wrong. The moon's supposed to be waning. It won't be full again for weeks. "I'm dreaming, aren't I?"
"Right in one." She keeps on admiring herself, pulling her hair back to look at the rounded tips of her ears. "This is so weird. How do humans stand it?"
It's better than the dreams of being trapped in his own dead body, but Steve's getting tired of weird dreams. It's been nearly a week since he'd been snatched from the courthouse steps, and he hasn't had more than a few hours of sleep at a time since the first day. "We try. What do you want, Jan?"
Jan snaps the pink compact mirror shut loudly and glares at him. "I want you to stop being an idiot. You've only got a week to put up with, you know!"
Steve forces himself to sit up all the way. It's been years—more than a decade—since he's felt this tired. The serum usually keeps him from getting truly exhausted, but even the height of human perfection has limits. How worn-out does someone have to be for it to carry over into their dreams? "What are you talking about?"
The appearance of humanity doesn't make Jan's anger less intimidating. For a woman who barely comes up to his chin, she's always been more than capable of holding her own. "I'm talking about the spell. You know." As he stares at her uncomprehendingly, her anger visibly fades to chagrin. "... you... don't know."
"I don't know." It almost isn't worth the effort to keep his eyes open. The room seems light, ready to spin around him if he moves too quickly. "Just tell me what it is so I can sleep."
"The spell was twisted—it wasn't supposed to bring you." She leans forward, sundress gaping open over her bosom. If Steve forces his way past the exhaustion and concentrates, he can see her fading in and out. Maybe the iron is helping to block her, at least a little. "It doesn't have the strength to hold out on its own. When the moon dies, it'll break, and you'll snap back to your own world."
That's only seven days. He can hold out for seven more days. Can't he? "That just means I'm half-way there."
"Tony's dying, Steve." Jan's nails dig into the mattress, leaving long furrows and torn stuffing. "It takes a year and a day for a vampire to rise. He only needs to make it another two months, but he's not going to. Thor had to stop him from going out into the sun yesterday, and Peter's been webbing him in his rooms until nightfall. Pretty soon he's going to snap, and sunlight will be the least of our problems."
Even though he's spent nights being stalked by Tony, the idea of him—any version of him—effectively committing suicide sends a chill through Steve's chest. "What do you mean?"
Faint traceries of her tattoos curl down Jan's cheeks, then vanish as the dream wavers. "The last time a vampire went insane unchecked, we lost most of France."
Steve almost can't believe that a single person could do that much damage. But then he remembers Wanda and her spells, or Doom with his seemingly endless plots for conquest. Even Reed can probably think of a way to take out half of world, if he were so inclined. "Why do you think that I'll be able to keep him sane? With only a week left."
"I think you're the best hope we have." Tears, real tears, shine in her eyes. For the first time, she seems human. No, not human—a person. "Please. I don't want to bury a friend."
Tony needs him. The whole world needs him, according to Jan. A sinking feeling in his gut says that he might, just might, have to make a choice he doesn't want to make. "I'll think about it."
"Thank you." When Jan smiled, it lights up her entire face. "I'll let you sleep now. Good day, Steve."
The vision of the bedroom wavers, then fades to darkness.
When Steve woke up later, the rips Jan had made in the bed were still there. As he moved, tiny glass teardrops rolled on the mattress where she'd been sitting. Some of them dropped off the edge and scattered across the floor, tinkling as they bounced. He rested his hand on the torn foam of the mattress and stared out the window at the early afternoon sunlight.
He didn't know what to think anymore.
... so don't think... do...
Tony showed up exactly fifteen minutes after the last bit of sunlight vanished. Steve sat below the window, pinning his hands to the floor with his thighs while Tony's voice drifted in through the glass, begging, pleading with him to go down. Logic said that Tony was thirteen floors down. Steve shouldn't have been able to hear him and he shouldn't have been able to hear Steve, but logic also said that Steve shouldn't have been hiding from his best friend.
He'd left logic behind in his own world.
"Steve, please let me in." At least Tony had dropped the tricks. His voice sounded human, without the harmonics that made Steve's chest tighten and his legs move of their own volition. "Or say something. Anything. I'm sorry I hung up—I overreacted. I need to hear your voice. Please, just say—"
"I don't want to bury a friend."
"I'm sorry." The words stumbled out of Steve's lips before he could stop them. "I shouldn't have called you a monster. You're not."
"If I'm not a monster, then let me in."
...let him in...
Steve wanted to, so much that it frightened him even more than it had the nights before. When Tony had been trying to trap him, he could convince himself that it was just the voice that made his heart pound. But it wasn't mind tricks, and he couldn't pretend that it was any more. "If I do, you'll make me like you."
"I— I can try not to." Tony's voice was soft, but so clear that he might as well have been on the telephone. "I won't bite you. I can control myself."
... but it's so good...
"But it's been months." And he'd done it to the other Steve Rogers. Jan practically admitted that—how else did one make a vampire? "Can you really control yourself?"
"I'll try." Indecision echoed in Tony's voice, its twin vibrating in Steve's chest, but Steve didn't have the heart to snap at him for it. "If I can't, stake me. I know you're strong enough."
It was a bad idea. Steve knew it, the same way he knew that he couldn't let Tony—any Tony—go insane because he was too afraid to try and help. And he was wearing down. The dreams kept him awake all day, and Tony all night. One of them had to give. "Then.... then come in. You're invited."
Three breaths. That was all the time it took before Steve heard the door open and close. Tony's shoes clicked on the hardwood, and then on the tile, probably deliberately. If anyone knew not to sneak up on Steve, it would be Tony.
Steve lifted his head. Tony looked the same, in a perfectly creased suit and a thin tie, his shoes shined to a mirror finish. Even his goatee was the same, and that must have been tricky, if what Steve knew about vampires and reflections was true. If his skin hadn't been a pale mockery of its usual tan, he wouldn't have known anything was different at all. "Tony."
"May I— God, I missed you..." The sound of Tony's breath was harsh in the silent kitchen, as if he'd run the whole ten flights. He dropped to his knees at Steve's feet, fingertips resting on the edge of his red boot. "Just let me hold you?"
Maybe it was twisted, but the sheer need in Tony's voice was more frightening than the inch-long canines in his mouth. "No biting."
... yes biting...
So quickly Steve didn't see him move, Tony was in his lap, clinging to Steve's shoulders so tightly that Steve's mail dug into him. Fine tremors wracked down him, just strong enough for Steve to feel it.
Tony's skin was chilled. Not even the thick fabric of his expensive suit could hide the total lack of body heat. Gingerly, Steve wrapped his arms around Tony's waist. It was a fight not to tense up, especially when he felt Tony's beard scratch against his throat. He had no idea how Tony would take that, and he didn't want to have to be the one to reach for a weapon first. "Are you okay?"
"I'm okay." Goosebumps rose on Steve's skin as Tony's cold breath brushed over his neck. "I won't bite you, I swear I won't. Not unless you want me to. You just... you smell good. I forgot how good."
Steve swallowed and fought the urge to hunch his shoulders. It felt good to have Tony against him, clinging like a drowning man to a life preserver. Even knowing what Tony was couldn't stop the warmth from blooming in his chest. Maybe it wouldn't end well, but he had to try.
Cold, rotting baggage, a corpse that wraps around him, advanced decay already liquefying his features—
You're going insane, Rogers, think of something else. Anything! Think of Tony.
Tony, his chest silent but for the occasional breath to speak. His heart doesn't beat, blood doesn't pump, but that's never bothered him. It's always been the man in the skin, behind the armor, that he's loved.
Warm hands against cold flesh. The sharp bite of teeth into a vein.
Steve's back arches as teeth pierce his skin. It's so delicate that he can barely feel it—a needle's jab of pain vying against the cold hands that are wrapped around him. He doesn't need to open his eyes to know he'll see Tony over him, black hair against pale golden skin.
A predator's smile. Hungry. Needy. Tony.
Warmer now, from exertion and the leeched heat of Steve's body. Still low enough that Steve's skin prickles in the wake of his fingertips. The bed under them is soft, like down, but it carries memories of tables and walls and, God, the hood of the Mustang.
A taste of copper flows over his tongue where Tony's nicked his lip. Slick fingers spread him open, stretching him wide as Tony suckles at his lip. It's a sharp sting, sharper than the bite had been, but Steve lets it go. Tony loves kisses.
There's heat and friction and just a hint of pain as Tony settles inside him. Blue eyes that Steve loves look down at him, cheeks flushed with the tiny bit of warmth Tony's stolen. He traces Tony's smile with his thumb. Tony never smiles enough—business or villains or any number of other issues conspire to take it away. It makes these moments even more important.
Steve's eyes cracked open to stare up at the ceiling, where water stains and cracks had left spider web patterns in the dingy plaster. The sunlight from the window had reached his face, which meant it was at least mid-afternoon. That was better than what the nightmares had gifted him with, though he wasn't sure he wouldn't rather have those back instead.
They hadn't. He knew they hadn't. The most Tony had done had been cling to him until just a little while before dawn. But he could still feel the dream against his skin, more real than it had any right to be. If he closed his eyes, he could see Tony's hands wrapped around him, his lips still stained red...
Steve groaned and covered his eyes. A few more hours until nightfall. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or very, very bad.
...but it's so good...
When Steve opened his eyes again, silvery light from the half-moon peeked in through the window, barely illuminating the bedroom at all. It was enough light to hide the stains on the walls, but not enough to do anything but highlight the octagram carved into the floor.
No amount of light could hide Tony, curled up on the other side of the mattress. He was just in reach, but his arms were curled tight against his chest. "Steve."
Slowly, feeling like he was handling some sort of wild animal, Steve crossed the distance between them. His fingertips touched Tony's cheek, which was so icy cold that he might have just come inside. "Are you okay?"
With a moan, Tony slid across the bed and wrapped his arms around Steve's waist, clinging like a child. "I missed you," he whispered, his voice frail and broken against Steve's chest. "Jan wouldn't let me lay with you. She said it was too dangerous. Too close to the sun."
Steve ran his hand through Tony's hair. It was hard to remember that Tony was a killer, a thing that fed on human life. He wasn't very different from the Tony that Steve thought he knew, except the desperate need to have Steve close.
Steve tried not to wonder if things could have been different. "Lay with me?"
... with me...
"In the morgue." Freezing hands crept under Steve's mail, pressing against the small of his back like two ice packs "Jan means well, but... I can feel him when I'm in there. Listening. Waiting."
"Oh, God, Tony..." To say that was unhealthy was to make a potentially criminal understatement. Steve suddenly understood much more clearly why Jan had been so worried. "Tony, you need to promise me something."
It was so quick, so completely honest that Steve was taken aback. Was it desperation, emerging from looming madness, or just some quality of Tony that he only ever gave everything he had to give?
"... we lost most of France."
"Promise—promise me that you'll stay out of sunlight." The lump in his throat kept like knotted wire, solid and tangled beyond all saving. Steve didn't even know if it would work, as close to the edge as Tony was. "No giving up on him."
Brittle, high-pitched laughter was barely muffled against Steve's mail. Tony's shoulders shook, the muscles coiled tight under Steve's arms like he'd spring away at any moment. For all that, his fingers dug into Steve's back like knives. "Why do you care?" Tony asked, voice still bouncing. "You'll be gone soon. Why not let the world burn?"
"I care because you're my best friend there." There wasn't a need to go into Stamford, or Registration. How it all got so impossible was confusing enough to Steve, and he'd lived it. "And I was wrong when I ran. I shouldn't have made a snap judgment like that."
"You hate vampires."
He did. He'd seen good men die from them in the war, ripped apart or sucked dry. But it wasn't the same. Those had been madmen—animals, who only knew killing. Tony was different. "I don't hate you."
Steve didn't know what compelled him to push Tony away from his chest and meet his eyes. He just knew that he had to make his point. "And you can feed off of me."
Almost as soon as he said it, he wanted to take it back. But the moonlight finally finished flooding the room, and Tony's eyes were so bright—so hopeful—that the words stuck in his chest.
"Steve— you don't have to..."
"I want to." He swallowed, feeing himself redden under Tony's stare. He'd given that same look to Rumiko once or twice. It was pure hunger. Steve had never realized that just an expression could be erotic. "You said I taste good."
"You do. God, you do." The sharp edge had vanished from Tony's voice. Instead it vibrated against Steve's skin like a chord of music. "Let me taste you...?"
He knew what that voice meant. Tony was pulling tricks, slipping past Steve's conscious to make him obey. It was automatic, instinctive to tense up, but worry flashed over Tony's face and he forced himself to relax instead. It was only a week to the new moon. And Tony wouldn't hurt him.
No, Tony was the one hurting. If this could help, Steve had to give it.
He didn't fight when Tony rolled him back, settling over his hips. He ground down, the expensive fabric of his suit smooth against the leather of Steve's uniform. "Perfect human," he murmured, cold lips a spot of lightning against Steve's jaw. "Perfect soldier—perfect blood. Relax..."
...give it to him...
Chill kisses pressed along Steve's jaw, ghosted over his lips as Tony pinned him down against the bare mattress. Steve would have thought being hypnotized by Tony would be like falling asleep, but instead everything was sharpened to an edge, each touch real and immediate. When Tony's fingertips trailed along his waistband, all he could do was cant his hips and whimper, breath stolen by the tongue that traced his jugular.
"Shhh." Against his skin, Tony's voice had texture, thick and rough. It felt like a promise being pressed into him. Twin points nudged his neck, not quite piercing.
Helplessly, Steve stretched back his neck. "Please..."
Sweet pain lanced through him, stronger than anything else had been. It sped straight down his spine to his groin, curling through his veins like a shot of liquor. A groan clenched in his chest, where he didn't have enough air to set it free.
"Sorry, I'm sorry— too rough..." Shivers spread down Steve's back as Tony's tongue slid over the wound, lapping the blood before it spilled. The only sound in the room was the wet suckle of Tony at his neck, and Steve's occasional gasp as the need for air finally forced him to breathe. Their hips ground together languidly, the age-old tempo nothing compared to the pull of blood leaving Steve's veins for Tony's lips.
...love you so much...
It seemed to go on and on as Steve bled out. Spiked pleasure turned to languid satisfaction, then to heavy-limbed exhaustion before Tony finally pulled away, his lips smeared dark with blood. When he smiled and left a damp kiss against Steve's mouth, there was no energy to do anything more than lick the blood from his lips. It was sweeter than he was used to—candy rather than copper. He ignored it as a trick of exhaustion.
Tony's voice was a satisfied murmur in Steve's ear. "Let's go home."
Steve stared up at the mansion's ceiling, feeling the lethargy creeping through his veins. Tony stretched out next to him, still as a corpse, his arms wrapped around Steve's waist. Steve had gotten used to being cold, either from blood loss or Tony. Most of the time, they were simultaneous. But the cold was getting heavier, weighing him down like a wet blanket over the head of a drowning victim. He could heal fast, he always had, but even Steve could only take being constantly drained for so long.
The clock on the wall chimed with the sunset. In a flash, the weight of Tony's arm dropped away, grit and marble slipping under his boots as sunlight blinded him. The chatter of reporters and SHIELD guards filled the air, clouding it with meaningless words.
He was back.
Steve straightened, blinking past the sunlight that glared into his eyes. It was just like Jan had promised-he hadn't even been gone a moment.
Commotion in the crowd caught his attention. It was a jumbling shuffle of people and, overhead, the glint of a gun.
He relaxes into his body, rotten and decrepit as it is. When he twisted Jan's spell, he hadn't thought it would work so well. But it has, wonderfully so. He can feel it in the life that slithers under Tony's skin, blood fresher than any animal could provide giving him new strength.
Six weeks more. Tony can survive six weeks now. And then...
Then they'll have their forever.