Steve looked down at the squirming baby boy in his hands, those little fists pumping the air. He’d had to call in almost every favor he had, pay back almost every favor he owed, promise at least a month’s pay of good cigarettes and adult magazines to the boys in personnel to get back here from the AOR on a 48-hour pass, but this moment, this one right here, was worth every bit of it.
The priest smiled at him and made a gesture for him to bring the baby up to the baptismal font. Tony looked up at Steve, his dark little eyes taking everything in, like he was already thinking and analyzing all of it. So much like his father, and only a few days old...
“I know you’re going to watch over him, take care of him,” Howard whispered in his ear, patting his shoulder.
“For as long as I’m still around,” Steve replied, cradling the little boy in his arms. He knew why Howard had asked him to be his son’s godfather, and it wasn’t just because of the years of trust and friendship between them, no.
It was because of that conversation they’d had a few months ago. The one about the last battery of tests they’d run on him. It’s conclusive, Steve. You’re not aging. At least, not by any appreciable amount. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but short of getting nuked, I don’t think you’re going to die for a long, long time. A revelation that, under different circumstances, would have been devastating.
Howard wanted somebody to look out for his kid. Somebody who would be there for the long haul, for as long as little Tony was alive. And Steve had agreed. Even if the horrible thought of someday having to bury this little baby, someday far away, when he was an old, old man, had filled him with dread, even as Howard was smiling and breaking out the brandy for a toast. What good was immortality, he'd wondered, when he was faced with things like that? What good would it do him, to get so deeply involved in a new life, when he'd only have to one day watch it fade and pass away from him?
But honoring Howard's request was the least he could do for his friend, the man who had done so much for him. It was humbling, to have that much faith placed in him, to have that responsibility entrusted to him.
And as he held the baby still, as the priest said the blessing, he promised himself, in his heart, that he’d never fail in the task.
“Amen,” he whispered back when it was done, and held little Anthony Stark to his chest.
Tony was five when Steve saw him again, just a little boy playing on the floor of his father’s study.
Steve hadn’t been there to see little Anthony Stark growing up, despite his enduring friendship with the boy’s father. Vietnam had been in full swing at that point, and Steve had been needed over there in the jungles, in the rot and the pointlessness of it all. In a lot of ways, Vietnam had been far more civilized than the things he’d seen in 1945 in the Pacific, in the 1950s in Korea, far behind the lines in China. But the press had been into the military’s business deep, the Viet Cong fought dirty, there were too many restrictions put down by the brass, too many draftees who didn’t want to be there, too many spoiled children back home protesting the very things Steve had watched their fathers die for, and it had all descended at some point into horror for him. One big, slow-moving disaster that had finally caught up with them all.
Steve had been on the last chopper out of Saigon.
He had no desire to go back into a war zone any time soon.
“Fuck the politicians and the goddamn hippies, you did everything you could in that fucked-up war,” Howard told him on the phone, when he’d called from his stop-over point at Pearl Harbor. “Take some time off and come visit. Maria and I have plenty of room.”
“Howard, I can’t just...”
“The Army’s had their super-soldier for what, twenty-five years now? They can give you some leave,” Howard had said firmly, in that way of his that brooked no argument, and the next day, a first-class ticket for San Francisco had shown up at the barracks CQ for him.
There was a note attached to it, along with fifty dollars.
Go buy yourself some civvies. Don’t wear your uniform home.
Howard married himself a beautiful girl about five years ago, fifteen years younger than him, but no less in love for it. She was the one who greeted him at the airport, the one who took him by the arm and dragged him past the hippies yelling obscenities at the boys in uniform getting off the transports from Hawaii, and she was the one who drove him home that afternoon.
Steve was grateful for that. There was something comfortable about Maria, something familiar, comfortable in a way thing hadn't been comfortable in a long time. And Maria just smiled at him, and chatted away about her little boy, and he’s so clever, you’ll just adore him, and you planning on getting back into art, Steve, it would be a shame for you just to let that go and showed him back to Howard’s office.
“He’s a bit punchy these days,” she explained, before she showed him in, and her face was dark. “He blames himself for all those failures in Operation... what was it?”
Steve knew exactly what she was talking about. The air campaigns. The complete and utter failures that had been the air campaigns. “Linebacker, and Linebacker II, ma’am.”
“That’s it. Howard keeps saying no matter how good he makes the bombs, they keep coming up with strategies that just aren’t physically possible.” She sighed. “He’s obsessed with getting the tech in line with what they want to do with it.”
“Thanks for the warning,” he said, and she nodded, and pushed the door open.
But Howard wasn’t there.
Instead, there was a little boy, barely bigger than a toddler, sitting in a shaft of warm California sunshine coming through the windows, surrounded by a sea of legos. Something - maybe a plane, or a ship - was just starting to take shape out of it, rising up, errily precise. He was humming to himself, the theme from The Lone Ranger, maybe, and his mother sighed as she knelt down on the edge of the mass of blocks.
Steve had the sudden impression that Tony was probably more than she was equipped to handle.
“Tony, baby, where’s daddy?” she asked him, brushing messy dark hair away from his brow.
He didn’t look up, intent on what he was doing. “He went to the lab.”
“A-at Stark Industries?” she stuttered.
“Yeah,” the boy nodded back, and dropped one of the pieces, going for another one. “He said he had some calculations to run through the computer.”
Maria huffed, and looked up at Steve, as if to say you see what I mean?, and then looked back down at her child. “Tony, sweetie, we’ve got company. Uncle Steve Rogers. You remember daddy talking to you about his old friend, your godfather? About how he was coming out to visit us for a while?”
That finally got the kid’s attention, his head snapping up, staring at Steve, curiosity intense in his dark, young eyes. And then recognition dawned in them. “Hey,” the little boy said, excited, pointing, grinning. “You’re Captain America! I’ve got an action figure of you!”
Steve smiled, despite that not really being what he wanted to hear, and went over to kneel down on the edge of the lego pile. “I’m just Major Rogers now, Army Special Forces,” he told the boy. “I haven’t been Captain America since the end of World War II.” And he swallowed, trying to push the rising memories of ‘Nam, of the protestors spitting on the soldiers at the airport, away. “We don’t really have heroes like that anymore.”
“You’re still Captain America,” the boy replied firmly, in the much same way his father always did when he was ending an argument. Like he was right, like he alone could lay claim to the truth in the situation. “I’ve got your action figure.”
Maria laughed a little, and ruffled her son’s hair, leaning in to kiss his forehead. He automatically hugged her back, legos still in hand, but he was looking at Steve. When his mother let him go, he held out one of the blocks and smiled. “I’m building a ship that flies!” he says proudly. “You wanna help me?”
“Sure, kiddo,” he said, and took the block. “But you gotta tell me where to put the pieces, okay?”
“Okay,” he nodded back. “Don’t worry, I’ve got it all planned out.”
Maria stood, straightening out her skirt. “We’ll do dinner around seven. Howard should be home then. You okay with him, Steve?”
Steve looked back down at the kid, who was furiously digging through the pile of blue blocks, obviously on the search for something, and there was just something so innocent about it all - so certain, in a way things hadn’t been certain for him in a very long time - that he almost felt himself tearing up.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m good.”
Howard, despite Maria’s assurances, wasn’t home by 1900. He wasn’t home by 2100. And by that point, it was Tony’s bedtime, and to get him away from the blocks and bundled upstairs, she had to concede to a no-bath evening.
“And I want Uncle Steve to read me a story!” he added, stomping his foot.
“You have to ask nicely,” Maria told him, and looked at Steve helplessly.
Tony hesitated for a moment, and then beamed at him. “Can you read me a story, Uncle Steve?”
“You pick it out, kid,” the soldier replied, and Tony, giggling, raced up the stairs to his room.
Following at a slower pace, Steve found him already in bed, sitting in the middle with an open book. A big one. He’d been expecting a picture book, or maybe...
“Princess of Mars?” Steve asked, a bit surprised when he saw the top of the page. Howard’s letting his kid...
“Daddy’s been reading it to me,” the little boy said, and then his face fell a bit. “Daddy doesn’t have time to read to me much anymore.”
Steve just nodded, remembering what Maria said about her husband, hoping his old friend wasn’t going to be stupid enough to throw away his relationship with his son, all in the name of building a better bomb. “Show me where he left off, kiddo,” he said.
Tony crawled into his lap then, the book spread out in front of them, and pointed. “Here,” he said, and grinned up at him. “Can you do different voices for the Tharks? Daddy does different voices.”
“I will,” Steve promised, and wrapped an arm around him, holding him close as he started reading, right where the chubby little finger indicated. And Tony just cuddled in to his chest, listening intently to every word.
Tony was beaming when he stepped off-stage in the sweaty DC conference hall, his trophy clenched tightly between his hands. Maria had her arms open to him, welcoming him into a big hug he didn’t - for once - protest. Howard, having taken a rare two days off to attend, just looked pleased, and said so when Tony turned to him.
But as far as it went for Steve...
Steve, up for the weekend from Bragg, up on a week’s pass that had taken a hell of a lot to get right in the middle of a new Schoolhouse class, up for what he’d hoped would be a proud moment, couldn’t summon the same kind of excitement for it.
Not after the way the kid had acted up there on stage.
And by god, if Howard wasn’t going to get his son’s arrogance in check...
So Steve persuaded Howard to take Maria out to dinner that night. “It’ll be fine,” he’d said. “You two haven’t gotten very much time together lately, I’m guessing, and I haven’t seen Tony in a few months. I’ll take him out for ice cream or something.”
“You sure?” Howard had replied, a questioning look in his eyes. “Tony’s a handful, Steve.”
Steve just shrugged. “I’d be grateful for some one-on-one time with him. I don’t get to see my godson very often.”
“Fine,” Howard smiled. “Ice cream. And if you can have him back to the American University dorms by around eight or nine, that’d be great. I think they’re having a dance or something for the delegates.”
Steve had nodded, like he was listening to every word, and taken the boy to the Jefferson Memorial instead. Bought them both chocolate-dipped ice cream pops from a vendor, and sat down on the steps with his, motioning that Tony should do the same.
The young teen - just into that awkward, gangly phase that Steve was all too familiar with - balked, frowning.
“Dad said we were going out somewhere.”
“We’re out,” Steve said, gesturing around.
Tony huffed. “I thought you meant some place cool, Uncle Steve.”
Steve took a bite off the pop, sizing this situation up. “And just hanging out isn’t cool enough?”
Huffing, Tony plopped down next to him and tore the paper open on his own ice cream. “I just thought we’d do something cool. Instead of you... trying to make a point.”
Huh, Steve thought, and caught a dribble of vanilla down the hard chocolate shell with his tongue. “What do you mean?”
“Well, you bring me to a memorial instead of out somewhere cool, you wouldn’t look at me after the science fair...” and the teen’s face dropped. “Oh. It’s about the science fair, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Steve agreed, taking another bite. “The science fair. Your little speech up there about how you won because you’re just smarter than everyone else was...”
“Oh,” Tony said again, quieter, and hunched into himself a bit. “I guess I should have known you wouldn’t like that.”
Steve sighed. “Tony, you’re the smartest kid I’ve ever met. Smart like your old man. But you don’t have to rub everybody’s faces in it to prove it to them. It doesn’t do anybody any good to behave that way.” He turned, and pointed up to the circle of columns behind them. “You know, Thomas Jefferson was smart, too, probably one of the smartest men in America in his day. But he didn’t beat other people up over the head with his smarts. You know what he did?”
Tony nodded. “He wrote the Declaration of...” and he paused, the pieces coming together in that quick mind of his, and he nodded again. “You’re trying to say that he used it for other people, right? Not just himself?”
“That’s what we’re supposed to do with the gifts we’re given, Tony. Use them to give back, not take.”
The kid didn’t respond, just started eating his ice cream, and Steve was perfectly content to sit there in silence, finishing his own, waiting for Tony to feel like speaking again. In a way, he felt sorry for the boy - his father’s expectations, trying to have a normal life with that exceptional brain of his... had to be hard.
“You haven’t been around too much lately, Uncle Steve,” Tony finally said, as he was licking the last of the ice cream off the stick. “I like it better when you’re around.”
“I make it out to California as often as I can,” he replied.
“Why can’t you come live with us again?” And there was a note of desperation in Tony’s voice then. “Like all those years when I was little.”
Putting an arm around the kid’s shoulders, Steve sighed, thinking about it almost wistfully. Those had been a few good years. Playing with Tony and watching him grow. Eating Maria’s cooking and laughing along with her stories. Consulting with Howard from time to time, helping him out with what would be useful, what wouldn’t. Trying to put himself back together again. Feel human again, after Vietnam...
He’d carried guilt about it, though. About never taking those promotions over the years leading up to that war, about not being at a level of command where he could have made a difference in the way the strategy was handled. His physical abilities were all fine and good, but Vietnam had shown him that it all meant nothing in the face of command-level cowardice. In order to make a real difference, he'd figured, he'd have to get himself into the right position at the right rank, find a way to make the system itself better. To bring everybody up.
“A very good man once gave me a gift, Tony,” he said slowly, not sure of how to put this. “A gift that I use to fight the evil people who’d do our nation harm.”
“Dr. Erskine, right?”
“Right. But that's not all it's about. There are other things I can do for the military, things I'm just as good at, like you're good at your science stuff. I can give that back. I... I have to give that back. I’ve got a lot of work to do to help bring the military up to where it needs to be. So they need me at Bragg, building up our the special forces components," he continued slowly. “There’s more out there in the world than just communism to fight, Tony. Threats change all the time. We have to be ready when...”
“And you’re gonna see it all long-term, right? Cause you’re the same age as dad but you only look twenty-five? Cause you don’t age.”
“Right,” Steve replied, hating the reminder of his particular condition, knowing that Tony didn’t mean anything by it. The kid just had a habit of going for the meat of the issue, without any kind of social filler at all. “Long term.”
Tony was quiet for a moment, no doubt soaking that in. Any other kid, Steve might not have laid something that heavy on. But Tony was smart, and his dad owned one of the biggest military contracting firms in the world, and he hadn’t exactly been coddled from some of the wider realities of life.
But then Tony did something Steve wasn’t expecting - buried his face in his shoulder, digging himself deeper into the awkward half-embrace he was already in. And Steve wrapped his other arm around the teen, pulling him closer.
“I miss you when you’re gone, Uncle Steve,” he said quietly, not a trace of his usual cockiness in the words. “I wish you lived closer, so I could see you more. You’re more of a dad than dad’s ever been.”
“I know, son. I’m sorry,” he replied quietly, a little taken aback that those word had just come out of the kid, and felt a tremor go through Tony’s body. Steve smoothed his hair down, just like he used to when Tony was still a little boy. God, he was growing up fast.
“Don’t be sorry. Just be around more, okay?”
Steve held him tight, and looked out over the Tidal Basin, glittering in the glow off Washington DC beyond it. His heart felt heavy. “I wish I lived closer, too.”
The next day, after Tony’s arrogant, self-assured exterior had reasserted itself, after he realized that it was going to take more than a few discussions to beat the worst of Tony’s habits out of him, he quietly asked Maria if Tony could come out and stay with him for the summer. She didn’t have a problem with it, and Tony had just grinned.
Steve had no intention of just leaving the kid up to his own devices in the back woods of North Carolina, though, and took him to the Schoolhouse with him during the day. During training and night maneuvers and tactics discussions and curriculum refinement and everything else. Tony, Steve knew, was going to have to learn to keep his mouth shut and when to offer his opinion and how to do it - spec ops boys were especially intolerant towards stupidity, but were more than happy to hear good suggestions. Tony took a few hard knocks before he started to figure all that out, but once he did, Steve was amazed at how much improvement he saw. Like it was a challenge worth accepting, almost a relief to the kid.
Showing Tony always yielded better results than telling.
Tony even used his free time to start working on something he said he thought they needed there at the Schoolhouse, fiddling around in Steve's garage - which he commandeered before he’d even dumped his suitcase in his room. He was just as obsessive as his father, Steve discovered, when he was working on something, and he often had to go drag the kid out to put him to bed, or found him there early in the morning, still in his pyjamas, tinkering away, some horrible new rock album on the turn-table.
“Night vision goggles,” he announced proudly when he’d finished, presenting a clunky helmet-cum-binocular contraption to Steve. “They see in infrared, so you can track your trainees on night marches and stuff. It’s just a prototype, but I think dad might be willing to put them into production if I could sit down with one of the teams and explain...”
Steve stopped him mid-sentence, and gave him a hug. Told him how proud he was of him.
Tony just smiled and rubbed his cheek into his shoulder, clinging like a lost kitten, and asked if Steve would write him, every week when he went away to MIT in the fall.
"Of course," he said. And drove up, every weekend he could.
Tony was sixteen, in his junior year at MIT, before Steve finally figured it out. What they were to each other. Where, maybe, they had always been headed.
It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and Steve was visiting, up in Boston. They were in between classes at the moment at the Schoolhouse, and while several of the other officers in his team had extended offers to the big blow-out party they were all planning together - c’mon, colonel, come over, beer and football and as much food as you can handle, it’ll be a great time - he begged his way out of it.
My godson needs me, he’d told them.
Tony had, his whole face lighting up when he opened the door to his little apartment, practically wrapping himself around Steve in an expansive, eager hug. “You made it!” he said triumphantly. “I knew you would.”
“I wouldn’t leave you alone for the holidays,” Steve replied, hugging him back. Tony was really filling out, getting taller, growing more handsome... growing up, he thought to himself. And was he wearing cologne? He was wearing cologne. And one of his better shirts, not the casual things he normally had on when Steve came over to visit. Odd...
Tony grinned at him. “You know I can’t cook worth a damn. I needed you around to do it.”
Steve just laughed, and let him go. “Of course,” he teased back. “That’s the only reason why I came up here. You’d have starved otherwise.”
He was in a cramped student apartment, the one he’d gotten because dad had insisted on him not living alone, even if he had gotten expelled from the dorms for that explosion in the basement last year, and he needed a place that a roomie could afford. The other guy in question, a solid AFROTC cadet, James Rhodey, was back with his family for Thanksgiving.
“So we’ve got the whole place to ourselves!” Tony crowed.
Steve just shook his head in fond exasperation, and asked where he could dump his bag. “Sleeping on the sofa again okay with you?”
And something... something new flashed over Tony’s face. Something almost like hurt. Or maybe... maybe need. It was hard to tell. The kid, despite his best efforts, was still so good at keeping up that inscrutable, amused front of his. But he just held out his hand for Steve’s duffel. “I’ll just put it in my room, U-Uncle Steve,” he said, and vanished.
He was better when he came back out, though, smiling his usual self-assured smile, and plopped down on the sofa next to Steve. He was more nervous than he usually was, Steve noticed. What the hell was going on with him?
“Wanna play Risk?” he asked quickly, before Steve could get a word out to ask him what was going on. “Or Monopoly? Or... or go out, or...”
“Tony,” he said soothingly, and put his arm around the young man’s shoulder, the way he’d always liked. “Tony, what’s going on? You’re so jumpy right now.”
Dark eyes looked up at him, and then Tony licked his lips, tried to smile but couldn’t quite manage it, nervous as all get-out. “Steve, I...”
“Yeah? What is it?” He shifted a bit. So they were looking at each other.
Tony just stared at him for a second, completely unreadable, and then got up. Disappeared back into his room. And came back with a book, a big leather-bound thing that looked ancient, like he got it from the library, ROBERT E. HOWARD etched on the side. One of his Conan volumes. Steve smiled a little.
“I loved those when I was a kid,” he said.
Tony handed it to him. “The stories are still good, even when you aren’t.”
Steve ran his fingers over the textured black of the cover, somewhat relieved that wherever they had been going, they were back on familiar territory. “You want me to read to you, Tony?”
“Yeah,” he said, like he was admitting to something, and sat back down, fidgeting a bit. “D’you mind if I...”
Tony did always like to cuddle when he was being read to, Steve remembered, and nodded. “Sure,” he told hm, and smiled a little as Tony burrowed into his side. “Which story do you want?”
“Any of ‘em,” Tony replied, and snuggled closer.
Steve was five pages into the story, into the familiar cadence of Tony’s heart beating against his own, when something shifted. Something changed.
Tony had moved. No longer with his back resting against Steve’s chest, but with his own down against it, his lithe young body wedged up between Steve’s thighs. His smile had changed. He looked...
Oh god, Steve thought to himself, his own heart starting to race. Oh god, my boy...
“Steve,” he said quietly. “Steve, please...”
And suddenly the old soldier couldn’t breathe.
Women had changed so much since his own youth of dance halls and kisses stolen in the picture show. Feminism, they called it, and it had only served to make the fairer sex all that much more remote for him, more inaccessible. Hell, half the military nurses he knew in Vietnam had been lesbians, and from what little he saw of them, it didn’t seem like most civilian girls would want anything to do with a soldier any more. There was just no grace left in any of them. It was all stripped away.
The upshot was that Steve hadn’t been with any in years. Hadn’t even bothered. Maybe not since Peggy broke even their on-again-off-again thing off in the early '50s, saying she wanted to focus on getting MI:6 built up, that she didn’t have time for him. It had been so lonely, the last few decades.
There’d been a few men, sure. When he was really desperate. Here and there, quick and fast, nothing that anybody would ever acknowledge, some kind of soldier’s code between them, knowing that mentioning such a thing would destroy everything. But he’d never lusted after somebody. Never felt...
The only love he’d had since the surrender of Japan had been that of the Starks. Tony’s love for him, Tony’s trust in him, when the boy never seemed to trust anyone else; hell, never so much as liked anyone else...
“Tony,” he said, his words coming out in a gasp. “Tony, I’m your godfather, I remember you when you were...”
“I’m not a kid anymore,” Tony said plaintively, and scooted up, pulling himself into Steve’s lap. “And you’re going to just keep watching me get older, right? While you stay twenty-five forever?”
“That doesn’t mean we can...”
“I love you,” the kid interrupted, cutting him off, desperate then. “Steve, I love you. I’ve always loved you. You’re my hero, I slept with a Cap doll when I was kid. Remember that thing? I’ve wanted to kiss you since I was ten. Don’t you love me? Don’t you want me too?”
Steve couldn’t help the way one of his hands came to rest against the kid’s arm, steadying him, even though he knew - knew - he should push him off. Stop this. Stop... “You know I love you. Like...”
“Like a son?” Tony asked, and his voice cracked a little, but he kept going anyway. “I know I said once that you were more my dad than dad, and I meant it, but...”
“It’s a very good reason, Tony, why we can’t...”
But Tony just slid up and nuzzled into his neck, kissing him with all the urgency a sixteen-year-old was capable of. “Daddy,” he breathed, hardly audible, perhaps not meant to be audible, “daddy, please love me, please...”
God help me, Steve thought to himself, groaning as that word left Tony’s lips, that word going straight to his cock. His beautiful, sweet, sarcastic, precious Tony, the boy he loved - truly - more than anyone else alive...
“We shouldn’t do this,” he moaned as Tony pulled his thigh up Steve’s side, kissing him harder, nipping now. His hands came down to cup Tony’s ass of their own accord. “Tony, we...”
“Just kiss me,” Tony begged, and did something with his hips that ground his own hardening groin down into Steve’s, and Steve was completely lost.
They didn’t do anything that night that could be considered fucking. At least, not in Steve’s mind. But he did strip them both out of their pants, kiss his boy in every way his own limited experience told him he could, wrapped one big hand around both their cocks and pumped them both to completion, swallowing down Tony's gasp at his own climax with a hard kiss, coming harder than he could remember doing in years. Right across Tony’s belly. Right there on the sofa in Tony’s tiny apartment.
Afterward he lay as if stunned, staring up at the ceiling, trying to collect his thoughts back from where orgasm scattered them, his spent cock against his thigh, Tony’s face pressed to his shoulder, both of them breathing hard.
“I love you, baby boy,” he whispered as Tony wriggled into what had to be a more comfortable position, and reached up with a still-boneless hand to stroke his fingers through his dark locks. “I really do love you.”
“More than just a son?” the young man asked, yawning, lifting up to smile at him. Steve couldn’t help but smile back. God, he was beautiful. Why was he so beautiful? Why hadn’t he noticed that before?
“Love you as everything,” Steve promised, but fixed him with a look regardless. “You still probably shouldn’t call me daddy.”
Tony rubbed his cheek into Steve’s shoulder. “You telling me you didn’t like that? Cause you... you’re...” and he bit his lip, whispering out a little, “cause I liked saying it.”
Steve felt a flush come over his cheeks at the question - because yes, yes, he did , but still - and just shook his head. “Baby, If we’re going to make this work, we can’t be obv...”
“So we’re gonna do it again?” Tony asked quickly, before Steve could answer, and his eyes were bright. “We’re gonna do it again. We’re gonna do it again a lot.”
Laughing a little, Steve kissed the top of that dark head, and Tony settled back against his chest with a contented little sigh, fingers splayed out against as much skin as they could touch. But only for a moment, because then those fingers reached over for the book again, and Tony was asking if Steve could finish the story. His tone of voice was like nothing had happened, but his eyes were full of a light that Steve had never seen in them before.
They spent the rest of the night like that, right there on the sofa, Tony snuggled into his chest, heedless of the sticky, drying mess between them, and when they went to bed, Steve spooned right up behind Tony and hugged him close. The feel of his body against his own, warm and pliant and sleepy, was the best thing he’d ever felt.
It was insane, Steve thought to himself. But then, when had anything with Tony been anything but?
Steve hated this shit.
I’m real sorry to bother you at work, sir, but I haven’t seen him in two days, and...
And nothing, cadet. You should have called me sooner.
Tony had been doing more of this lately. Ditching class, skipping labs, being out of touch for days at a time, coming back with bruises and hickies and black rings under his eyes and hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars missing from the trust fund. Since his parents had died last year, he’d gotten in touch with something dark in his soul, and it was eating through him like a cancer. It worried Steve sick to see him indulging it like that, but short of hauling the kid out of his master’s program and dragging him down to North Carolina, there was little he could do about it.
Except go up and find him.
Which was how he’d found himself in the warehouse that night, breathing in the fetid sweat of the cage and the crowd, trying to spot his bright light in all that darkness.
It was an underground fight club, one that Steve was well familiar with. He’d dug Tony out of it before. It was one of maybe seven or eight spots the kid liked to come, because he always went to the same places when he was in one of his moods. He was a creature of habit, his Tony, a man who liked to be sure of his surroundings.
Even if he was there to get beaten to a bloody pulp.
It was too late that night to stop him, Steve realized as he pushed through the crowd and got a better view of the octagonal cage of chain-link fencing and rough, heavy posts. It was like something out of those action movies the kid drug him too sometimes, big and heavy and inelegant, bathed in neons. The crowd was rabid - screaming, cheering, a few women and more than a few men quite clearly buzzing on one of those new drugs they had these days, all of them riled up by some asshole with a blue mohawk pacing around in the center of it, yelling unintelligibly into a microphone, speakers cracking with feedback.
Louder, all of it, as a new contestant - bare chested, jeans far too tight on lean legs, blood on his face already, looking somehow younger than his twenty years - stepped into the ring.
Steve’s breath caught in his chest as the guy on the mic started calling for an opponent, somebody to come kick his twink ass, the screaming too loud for him to hear his own thoughts. And he had no idea why Tony was doing this to himself. His parents’ death? He’d been upset, heartbroken, devastated even, but he thought he’d taught the kid better than that, taught him he was worth so much more...
And Steve realized his feet were carrying him forward. Toward the cage. Towards...
Before he could stop himself, figure out what he was doing and back off, mohawk had already spotted him and so had Tony, those dark eyes snapping up from their contemplation of the dark-stained concrete floor with some kind of smoldering challenge, just behind.
He didn’t know what Tony wanted. What Tony thought he was gaining from any of this. Why Tony did this to himself. Why Tony didn’t just come to him, if he was still grieving after almost a year. But his boy was smiling that damn smile of his, that shit-eating smile he’d inherited from his father, and for some reason, it pissed Steve off.
“Fine,” he said, and pulled off his shirt.
Tony, little shit that he was, just grinned as Steve stepped into the ring, as the gate was closed and locked behind them.
Tony knew something about fighting - Steve had taught him most of it, actually - but this was a place reserved for raw, brutal violence, not skill. Finesse counted for nothing, and the kid had to know that. But there was an anger in him that night, one that Steve had seen in countless soldiers over the past fifty years, one that needed to flare up and burn out. Steve held back for the first thirty seconds or so, kept himself from hurting the kid, dodging his clumsier strikes, letting the good ones fall, and Tony managed to land a few strikes that would have no doubt seriously hurt a lesser man. A normal man, one who could have a life with him, Steve thought suddenly, and a haymaker took him across the jaw.
Tony grunted as he came away, his knuckles fountaining blood, and from the look on his face, Steve knew then that he’d broken something in it.
So he did the only thing he could do. Faked pain, let Tony charge him again, and took him down with a single, strong, well-placed uppercut to the solar plexus. It knocked the air out of him, threw him back across the cage, his body hitting the chain-link with a dull thud, and Steve felt sick as he watched his boy writhe on the filthy floor on his back, struggling to breathe, struggling to get back up.
He went over to stand over him, staring down. “Don’t even think about it, babe,” he growled, shaking his head.
And Tony just rolled over, spit out a mouthful of blood, still smiling, and nodded back.
Steve just scraped him off the floor, wrapping his arm around the kid’s waist for support, grabbed the handful of cash from the asshole in the mohawk who wouldn’t let him leave without it, walked through the jeering, cheering crowd to the hot, still night, bundled him into his car, and took him back to his apartment, bloodied, shirtless, utterly wrecked. Rhodey was there when Steve opened the door, his girlfriend on the couch behind him.
“Colonel Rogers,” he began, and then his mouth made a little “o” as he saw Tony. “What the fuck happened to you guys?”
“Barfight,” Steve lied, and looked at the girl. “Ma’am, if you and Rhodey don’t mind, I’d like to get my nephew cleaned up...”
Rhodey, no doubt used to this sort of thing, just nodded and hurried her out the door.
Steve turned to close the door behind them, slid the dead-bolt home, already thinking about what he was going to say to the kid, but when he looked behind him, Tony was already gone.
The shower was on, though, roaring in the cramped little bathroom, and Steve sighed, and followed that noise.
Tony was already under the spray when Steve came in, bruises already rising from his too-pale skin - how much time had the kid been spending in the lab, in bars, away from sunlight lately? - and he head was bowed, water rushing down the hard lines of his back. He was still so young, nowhere near filled-in yet, the outline of the man he was going to become yet to be colored in by life.
“I’m okay, you know,” Tony said then, certain as always, swiping his uninjured hand up through his hair, heavy with water. “It’s a good mental exercise, fighting. Everything narrows down, demands that you focus on just that one thing, on not getting your ass kicked.”
Steve just stared at him as those dots - everything he knows about Tony Stark - connected in his head. It wasn’t because he’s grieving... “jesus, kid, you do that to yourself because it helps you think?”
“Yeah. Don’t you like the focus, Steve?” he asked, and reached for the shampoo, one handed, the other still cuddled up against his chest. It looked so pathetic and so vulnerable and so not Tony that it damn near broke Steve’s heart.
“I do,” he admitted, and started unbuttoning his jeans. “But you’ve never needed it like that before.”
“I guess... I guess I just wanted to know I was...” and he stopped himself, and shook his head. “What it was like for you. Fighting,” he finished quietly, and watched him with hooded eyes, and Steve divested himself of clothing as quickly as possible.
His boy was warm, wet, the last traces of blood still working themselves off his body, and Steve brought a thumb up to trace away a line of it, trickling down his cheek, aching. He didn’t want his life for Tony, didn’t want him out there getting hurt, seeing his friends die... “You want to learn how to fight, Tony, we need to teach you the right way. Find you a good boxing club or a... what do they call it? The stuff from your Hong Kong movies?” He took the shampoo away, pouring a little into his hand, lathering it up.
“Martial arts,” Tony supplied and closed his eyes, tilted his head back, let Steve run his fingers back through his hair, like he was six years old again.
“Something like that. A discipline.”
“Right,” Tony said with a sigh. “But it wouldn’t be real that way.”
They didn’t speak again for a while after that, not until Steve had washed him down every way he could, gotten rid of every trace of filth, every drop of blood. And when he had finished, when he’d started to smile, just formulated some argument for how they needed to go to the hospital and get his hand x-rayed and bound up, Tony just pitched forward into his chest, arms wrapped around him tight.
“Tony,” he said, surprised. “Tony, what do you n...”
“I miss them,” he whispered, and his voice was thick with tears. “I miss them so damn much.”
“Me too, baby, me too,” Steve murmured back into that wet hair, holding his boy tight as he cried out whatever it was that was haunting him, and they just stayed like that until the hot water was all gone.
Steve did what he could for Tony's hand himself that night. Took him to the nearest clinic in the morning and got him checked out. Kid was tough, took the re-setting before the cast was put on just fine, and smiled at Steve like he'd won something.
He found Tony a good karate dojo that week, a school that one of his combatives instructors at Bragg said was legit, not any of that watered-down shit they normally pedal here in the States, boss. Tony took to it like a duck to water, and he'd show off every new bruise, every new callous, with pride on those weekends when Steve could drive up and be with him, the two of them tucked away in some comfortable hotel room somewhere, or in Tony's bed, on the odd night when he could persuade Rhodey to stay at his girlfriend's.
"I love you," he told Tony, every chance he got, and Tony would just smile and laugh and say that he knew.
~~... and One~~
Steve grips the handle on the side of the Huey, the remnants of that dream echoing through him still, squeezing hard as they take off in a whirl of dust, as the ground drops away and they climb into the cold Afghanistan sky, the country falling away below them, a strange, dangerous, ancient country. It’s something out of some old Conan adventure novel, the kind he used to read to Tony when he was just a little boy...
The beauty of the scene is lost on him this morning, though. Because Tony isn’t here right now, isn’t with him. Because he’d spent the night dreaming about the christening, about his own quiet promises to keep the boy safe, and nothing’s okay now that he’s not.
They’ve never been parted this long. Sure, they might not get to be together as much as either of them would prefer, but Tony’s a pragmatist at heart. I don’t want you to get in trouble with that whole Don’t Ask Don’t Tell thing, and besides, I do my best work when you’re not around to distract me, he’s fond of saying, usually adding with a smile, but I think Stark Industries might have an upcoming weapons presentation to the DoD that I should handle personally.
They always make the time. Always find a way to be together, somehow. The strength of their relationship’s never faltered over all the years. Across all the deployments and the operations he can’t talk about. Through all those women Tony flaunts on the front pages of the tabloids but promises Steve he never sleeps with. All the gambling and the drinking and the fun the boy likes to have with his money, that playboy image he’s cultivated as an excuse for never settling down, for protecting their relationship, the behavior that still bothers Steve nonetheless - the boy just enjoys his little games too damn much. Other things, too many to remember.
They’ve survived it all. Been the better for it. No secrets, no shame, nothing to hide, nothing between them but love. Making a strange, happy life for themselves. A strange, happy little family. Just the two of them. And what a delight's been, seeing Tony grow from that gangly teen into the self-assured, proud, good man he is today. Helping him on his path - that extraordinary path he's taken. Giving him every ounce of support and love and praise he deserves. Steve had been hoping that it would all go on longer still, that he would have decades more time to spend with his life's greatest joy.
But Tony’s been gone for almost three months now.
And Steve’s starting to get desperate.
It’s not often he gets to come along on these search missions. Not as often as he’d like. Maybe one every three or four days. He’s considered more than once telling HQ to fuck off, shrugging off every other duty he’s got, and handling it himself, exclusively. But Steve’s got too many responsibilities, too many missions, to many other men to care for and keep safe, to let himself be that selfish. The CSAR teams know their business, he keeps telling himself. They’ll find him, they’ll find your Tony.
It helps his nerves a little to ride along, but not much. He’s barely been able to sleep since getting the news of the ambush on Tony’s caravan. And Steve just wants Tony back, alive and well, to wrap him up in his arms and kiss him and feel his heart beating against his own. If he can’t have that, god forbid, then he at least wants his body, wants to see that he’s laid to rest properly.
Tony’s his, after all. His godson, his lover, his nephew, his beloved. His boy.
Always and forever his boy...
Rhodey looks at him from across the chopper, taps his helmet and holds up the comm unit on his headset, showing it switched to B, off vox. Steve flicks his own over to the private line.
“We’re gonna find him, General Rogers,” the Air Force man promises him, voice crackling in the static. “I know you’re worried about him, but I promise we are going to find him.”
“I know you’re doing everything you can,” Steve says, keeping his own anxiety tamped down as best he can - wouldn’t do for the boys out here to watch the SOCCENT commander, the four-star general who’s fought in every war since World War II, every soldier's childhood hero, completely fall apart. “I’m not questioning you on that, James. Don’t take my rides as censure. I know he’s your friend, too.”
“I don’t, sir.”
Rhodes looks worried. He should be, Steve thinks uncharitably. He’s the one who’s responsible for Tony when he’s in-theater, he’s the one who was supposed to be watching Tony every goddamn step of the way. It’s not the colonel's fault, objectively speaking, that Tony got taken. But Steve’s not in a position - or even the correct service - to prevent the colonel’s superiors from laying the blame for the death of one of their biggest weapons developers squarely on his shoulders. If Tony turns up dead.
“I’m sorry I didn’t keep him safe, sir,” Rhodes says. “I didn’t mean to let him get away, but he turned the whole thing into a joke and...”
“He does things like that,” Steve replies automatically, trying not to be irritated with the man, adding a silent prayer in his own mind, God, please, keep him safe. "We both know that."
He hasn't told Rhodey the whole story, though. About how he'd expected the colonel to be able to handle it. The part where he raised hell about having some piss-ant captain assigned to escort Tony while he was over here in the AOR on his little visits. Where he’d asked for the man specifically. You need an O-5 on him, at a minimum. Somebody who’s going to keep up with him. James Rhodes has a history with him and won't take his bullshit, probably the only man in the service besides me who can. And everybody in the briefing room had laughed a little, and the Joint Forces Air Component Commander, the Air Force general he hadn't gotten a chance to get to know yet, had cracked a joke about last year's Playboy cover models, and everyone had just laughed more.
Steve had just fixed him with his best steely-eyed glare and reminded him that Tony Stark was his godson.
So Lt Col Rhodes it was.
Steve tends to get his way when he throws his weight around - being a living legend has that kind of an effect on people. Normally he hates doing things like that, but his boy does need a babysitter, after all. He wasn't going to let him wander around Afghanistan by himself. Thirty-nine long, wonderful, strange years of watching over Tony - almost twenty-three now as his lover - has taught him that. Hell, that lis it better to be feared or respected? Jerico presentation three months ago was proof enough that despite Steve's best efforts to knock some humility into him, he remains the same cocky little bastard he’s always been. It’s probably in the Stark genes, to be like that.
And god help him, but he sort of loves that quality in him. Loves everything about him. Loves his difficult, stubborn, beautiful, genius, precious boy. Loves him so damn much it hurt sometimes.
Rhodey doesn't say any more, and Steve goes back to staring out the side of the chopper at the barren world below. Out at where his boy is.
Three hours, after they’ve completed their grid for the day, when they’re about ten minutes from bingo fuel, Steve sees something on the other side of the long ridge they’re flying down. Something that doesn’t look quite like a rocket, doesn’t quite move like one. Like repulsors, he thinks, almost disinterested, and then realizes what that means.
And starts yelling at the pilot to turn them the hell around.
Tony’s dimly aware of the ride, of lifting through the air and falling again, on the ground, back up in the air. It was cold around him and his body ached from the hideous force of the impact, of the hot burn of the metal as flames erupted around him, of the ache in his stomach at watching a friend - a man he’d wanted to save, a man who hadn’t wanted to save himself - die on a sack of American grain, of the sharp, stinging pain in his chest, the one that would with him for the rest of his life...
The rest of my life, he can hear himself thinking through the delirium, and it would be funny. So funny he could die laughing. Because he was so sure he was going to die as he was falling into that parabolic equation of his descent. So sure he was going to be killed for forgetting basic algebra...
But he’s on a cot, the cotton soft and stretched under his battered body, and there’s a hand on his cheek, his chest, words whispering reassurance to him under the chop of the flight. A familiar touch. A familiar voice.
Steve, he finally realizes and safe for the first time in months, let himself fall fully into sleep.
He’s in a field hospital when he wakes up, one of those rough things they set up over here in temper tents and can’t quite keep the dust out of. His nasty clothing is gone, replaced by a clean, thin cotton robe. The lights are way too bright. The beep of machines is a comfort, something mechanical and clean, unlike anything that was in that damn cave, in the darkness, the stench of it...
He looks around the room they’ve got him in, wondering where in the hell Steve got himself off to. Wasn’t Steve just talking to him? His Steve, his big, beautiful super-soldier lover who’s always, always, always there for him when something’s wrong. What the hell?
That’s not going to do at all, Steve not being here. Tony wants to feel Steve’s lips on his, wants to rest his head on a broad shoulder and whisper all his plans to him, talk through everything that happened. Yinsen and the Ten Rings and his weapons in hands of those fucking terrorists and how great it felt to fly, even for a few seconds. Wants to feel Steve all around him, holding him, making him feel safe, like nothing else ever can.
Out of his whole life - his whole, strange, somewhat fucked-up life - it’s been Steve who’s been there for him through it all. He can barely remember a time when the man wasn’t in his life, and some of his earliest recollections are of being cuddled in Steve’s arms, listening to his voice reading him some pulpy science fiction story from an era gone by.
He’s been a steady, solid figure, the one person who was willing to stand up to him, who would tell him when he was being an ass or praise him when he did something well. Steve’s the one who challenged him to be more, who’s drug him out of his own self-destructive habits and told he was better than what he thought he was. Who held him when life was too much to handle, and told him everything would be okay. The one who showed him what it was to be a man, to stand on your own two feet and face the world as it comes. His shelter against the storms of life.
Tony had loved Steve from the first. Loved him like he’d never loved his parents. Loved his hands, his voice, how cool his drawings were, how awesome it was that he had his own comics, loved how much of a hero he was. He’d only wanted one thing for Christmas the year he met Steve - that Captain America doll he’s still got in his old college footlocker. He used to sleep with it on the nights when Steve wasn’t there - hell, he’d never admit it, but sometimes, he still does.
As he’d gotten older, that love had changed. Shifted when he wasn’t looking. Became something more. Something he hadn’t dared give voice to at first, and then, later, couldn’t bear not to say. But even as nervous as he’d been that night, that night his little sixteen year old self had crawled into Steve’s lap and tried to kiss him, he knew it would be okay.
It has been. For twenty-three amazing years.
Because Steve’s his.
His best friend and brother and father and lover. All in turn, all at once, always. And sure, maybe it’s a little kinky and a tad bit dysfunctional, but only by other people’s standards, and what the fuck do they know? It’s Steve Rogers, his... his everything. Tony had no idea what he’d be like without Steve in his life, if he hadn’t had him growing up. Probably a complete bastard, who knows?
His greatest fear over the last few months has been that he wouldn’t live to see the love of his life again.
And now the bastard’s not even here to kiss him hello when he wakes up.
Probably up at HQ, doing his general thing, Tony tells himself. And then tells himself not to be jealous.
But he’s attached to all those beeping machines, and he’s honestly not sure if he should unhook them - he’s got a fucking reactor attached to his chest now, after all, and fuck only knows if they’ve been messing with it. He’d hate to escape only to get himself electrocuted or something.
Especially if he doesn’t get to kiss Steve first.
So Tony grudgingly resigns himself to pressing the nurse’s button, and giving her shit instead.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Stark, but the colonel gave us strict orders to keep you here until...”
“Yes, sir, the colonel. He wanted to, uhh, determine what that, uhh...”
“It’s an arc reactor,” he replies matter-of-factly, rolling his eyes - seriously, why are people still surprised at anything he does anymore? “I’m fine. I’d like to get up now.”
“Sir, please, I can’t just...”
He holds up a hand to stop her. “I’m getting up. And I’m going to go see General Rogers. So you can unhook these machines and get me some clothes and get me out of here, okay? Or I can just start causing a scene and we can do it the hard way.”
She blinks, like she can’t quite believe what she heard. “Sir, I need to talk to my...”
“Save yourself the trouble and just do what I’m asking,” he advises her serenely, smiling at her in that way that Steve says drives people insane.
Twenty minutes later, he’s up, dressed, and sauntering out for what has to be the HQ tent, which the nurse was kind enough to give him directions to. The post is small, at least, one of those FOBs that Steve prefers to work out of. Nobody told him, evidently, that generals aren’t supposed to be in the field. Tony smiles, thinking about it - that’s Steve, always wanting to be in the thick of it, taking the hits that the non-augmented guys can’t take themselves.
As he makes the short five minute walk, Tony thinks about his Mark I suit, the one Yinsen helped him build, the one that helped him escape. Thinks about those boxes, Stark Industries stamped on the side. About the harm his company has somehow put America’s servicemen and women in over here, selling weaponry to their enemies. The whole thing’s making him sick. And he can’t help but thinking that maybe, if he treats that suit like a prototype, like a prototype for an armor...
The door to the little command center is woefully undermanned, Tony notes as he sails right in to the tent, looking around between the glowing computer screens and the milling Army personnel for Steve. Steve, Steve, Steve...
Who’s over in a corner, talking to another general and two full-birds, Rhodey at his elbow. They’re all deep in conversation, huddled around one of the command center controller stations, obviously discussing whatever they’ve got pulled up on the monitors.
Steve looks so young against the rest of them, a man in his prime standing in a group of men whose time has passed. Even Rhodey looks older than him. His soldier was only twenty or so, dad told him once, when he was given the serum. In the past seventy years, he’s only aged a few years. Physically, he’s not thirty yet. And to see him in his uniform, those stars on his ACU lapel, talking to the other generals who look so, so much older than him...
It’s almost funny. Like a little kid on Halloween.
Except Tony worries sometimes. He’s going to be forty this year. He’s starting to see those little silver hairs creeping in. He’s getting older, while Steve never will. Are they still going to be together in twenty years? In forty? Are people going to think Steve’s his grandson, when he comes to visit him in the nursing home?
Steve’ll make it work, he tells himself, believing in that with every fiber of his being, and just then, a pair of keen blue eyes meet him from across the room. He smiles at Steve, resisting the urge to just run over there and kiss the hell of out him right now. Steve smiles back, and dips his head in a faint impression of a nod, and drops back down into the huddle to excuse himself.
He’s there a moment later, giving him a purely platonic, albeit still affectionate hug. “How you doin’, kiddo?” he asks neutrally, but his eyes are shining with love. “I didn’t think you’d be up for another few hours.”
“I’m up now,” Tony replies easily. This little show will be over here soon. “I know there’s probably a debriefing or something you people are going to insist upon, so...”
“We can handle that in morning.” He lays both his hands on Tony’s shoulders, and squeezes a bit, still smiling, all his own tightly-wound emotion hiding just behind it. And then he drags Tony into another hug, whispering in his ear, “my quarters, babe, okay?”
Tony nods, and follows him off.
Steve barely makes it through the doorway of the tent before he breaks completely. Before he wraps Tony up in his arms and kisses him, kisses him like he’ll die if he doesn’t. Savoring the feeling of it, his own body begging for more, Tony lifts up on his toes and throws his own arms around his lover’s neck, tosses his hat away, and kisses him back, groaning as Steve cups a hand under his ass and pulls him up for a better angle.
“Mmph,” Tony grunts, breaking it off as he feels Steve move. “We don’t have a solid wall for you to slam me back into right now.”
“Wasn’t planning on slamming you into anything right now, baby boy,” Steve replies softly, still holding him up, and runs one hand over the round protrusion of the arc reactor. “I don’t think you’re in any condition for anything rough right now.”
“It’s powering an electromagnet,” Tony explains. “Keeping a bunch of shrapnel out of my heart. My own design, Steve,” and he tries to smile.
Steve just looks devastated, though, and turns them back around to set Tony down on the bed, to sit down next to him. His hand’s still on the reactor. “Oh baby...”
Tony smiles, and just tugs Steve slowly down, so they’re laying face to face. “It’s okay,” he tells him, running his hand up his lover's side the way he knows he likes. “I think it’s going to be useful. I’ve got this idea about this suit for...” And then he stops, worried. Because Steve’s eyes are closed and his cheeks are flushing red and his hands are balling up into fists against Tony’s side. Like he’s about ten seconds away from bursting into tears. “Steve?” No answer. He quiets down even further, uses a word he hardly ever uses, almost never beyond bed, but one that always gets a rise out of his lover.
Steve huffs a little laugh at that, rolls his head up, opens his eyes. “I remember the first time you said that to me,” he says softly, and brings up a hand to brush a bit of non-existent dirt away from Tony’s cheek. “You were so beautiful...”
Tony frowns. Has Steve ever said that to him before? Steve’s never said that. Why would Steve say that? “Come on, don’t...”
“I could have lost you,” Steve says, clearly fighting to get the words out, breath coming in ragged gasps. “I thought I’d lost you. Three months, baby... you’ve been gone for three fucking months. I held you in my arms once, made a promise before God... I thought... my precious boy”
The sheer force of the emotion in Steve’s broken words - how strung out he is, how exhausted, what kind of toll these months have taken on him - hits Tony with devastating force, and he feels himself starting to tear up.
And he feels like an asshole; for all those times he’s depended on this man’s strength, on his wisdom and on his love, he’s never really thought about how much Steve might need him in return.
He doesn’t let himself cry, though. For some reason, that doesn’t seem to be what Steve needs right now. Steve needs him, needs to know he’s alive, that he’s here, that reality hasn’t turned upside down on him.
Tony wraps himself around the most important person in his world, and holds him tight as three months of grief drain away.
He doesn’t let go.