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these things take backbone (darling, everything's on fire.)

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It had taken the government three months to collapse. There were rumours, obviously there were, of various encampments that were set up across the world for survivors to flee to, but more often than not these rumours were just whispers on the airwaves of radio stations that had fallen weeks ago. No stronghold could have fought off such a sudden and strong infection – hospitals were overwhelmed within weeks, labs were unable to control the virus they were using to create an antidote and any form of transportation port was down within days in a failed attempt to control its growth.

The worst thing about this whole scenario, Tony thought, was that this monstrosity had started out as a revolutionary new cure for cancer. It had promise, had excelled in the animal trials, but then something had gone wrong. Horrifically wrong. It started out with death. Everyone who had ever been in contact with the serum keeled over, even if it hadn’t been administered to them. Doctors, scientists, patients, the families. All dead within days.

And then they weren’t so dead anymore. And suddenly the streets were filled with the sounds and the destruction of the reanimated dead. Scratches, bites were suddenly deadly. All it took was a graze of a nail of an infected and then it slowly took hold, taking over your organs, slowing them down until the stopped, just briefly. And then they kick-started with a vengeance, everything in overdrive until all you knew was the hunger.

The majority of the population were dead or infected within two months. The remaining survivors turned on each other eventually. At first, it had been all travelling, keeping moving, searching for family members, and everybody had helped each other, everybody had been on equal ground. And then word got around about the scratches and how easy it was to transfer the infection and paranoia spread just as quickly. Suspicion haunted everybody and the trust, the uneasy automatic alliances fell through. It was everybody for themselves.

And in amidst that initial panic, the running away from civilisation, from survivors, Tony found Steve. Well, depending on which one of them you spoke to; Steve insists it was the other way around, but Tony refused to be seen as the damsel in distress. Even though he was. He’d been in New York when the virus had broken out and he just hadn’t attempted to leave. He holed himself up in his Stark Tower, convinced he’d be able to wait it out. And then the blackouts started. Tony’s tower didn’t function without electricity and even if it was off the grid, it was still being affected. And then the barriers were breached and Tony didn’t have a choice but to leave – he couldn’t risk being trapped. So he’d packed up what belongings he figured were worth keeping, and he’d headed out, determined to find… well, something.

Tony had made it three blocks before he saw the first one, lurching towards him. And then there were more. Groaning, reaching for him on unstable legs. He’s surrounded.
‘Fucking hell.’ Unarmed, trapped and afraid, Tony heads down an alley. They are gaining on him, and the only thing he’d managed to do by hiding in the tiny space was to create a bottleneck so he could only get torn apart by two or maybe three of them at once. He throws his bag on top of a dumpster, and manages to scramble up himself, crushing his body against the brick wall as much as he could in an effort to avoid the reaching limbs. The stench is overwhelming, all rotting flesh. He can see bone and brain but his need to vomit is outweighed by his ‘oh god I’m going to fucking die here’ feeling.

The ladder of the fire escape above him clanks down, hitting the dumpster as it comes to a stop. Tony doesn’t want to look up because he doesn’t want to see these things above him as well as around him.

‘Hey! I don’t know you, but if you don’t have a death wish, you should probably get climbing.’ The voice… is enough for Tony to realise that he isn’t infected because hell, actual words? As opposed to the groans and moans that he has heard non-stop for months? Tony risks a quick glance up to see blue eyes peering over the ledge at him and that is all he needs as an assurance. Tony’s hands are shaking so violently, he can barely sling the straps of his bag over his shoulders and his fingers practically just flat out refuse to cooperate when he tries to wrap them around the sides of the ladder. He manages it though, climbs just a few rungs before the ladder is pulled up and he’s hoisted onto stable, metal ground.

Tony collapses forward into surprisingly strong, secure arms. They wrap around him and pull him away from the edge, guiding him through an open window into a pitch black apartment. Tony is still shaking, but he knows he shouldn’t be so trusting of this guy, he’s heard the rumours. The people that know they’re turning and for some reason want to drag down as many healthy survivors as they can. He pulls away from the warm body and steps backward, sliding down to the floor when his back hits a wall.

‘Are you okay?’ The stranger asks, perching on the windowsill. Tony can’t see much in the sparse light of the room, but he can make out the general shape of the guy, and he is huge. Tall and muscles to die for and that is more calming to Tony than he cares to realise, because even if this guy could take him down pretty quickly in a fight, it also means he’ll be damn good at defending them.

‘I-‘ Tony, for once in his life, is speechless. He stares at his quaking hands, willing them to stop. He claws them through his hair, fingers getting caught in knotted curls. He brings his knees up to his chest, crashing his head forward onto them and taking a few unsteady breaths.

‘Hey, hey. It’s alright. You’re safe now.’ The guy moves, settling next to Tony against the wall. They brush shoulders and Tony can’t help but flinch away, so used to being alone by this point that he couldn’t relax here even if he wanted to. This doesn’t faze the taller man, but he doesn’t press further.

‘I’m not though, am I? Nowhere here is safe, not since that goddamn virus made everybody go fucking Resident Evil.’ He lets out a bark of hysterical laughter, twisting his head to look up at the guy next to him.

Tall, blonde and handsome returns his gaze steadily, eyes hard and mouth twisted in a thin line. He clearly doesn’t like to think about that, the fact that nowhere and nobody is safe. He shakes himself out of it a moment later, and reaches out to offer his hand.

‘I’m Steve, by the way.’

‘Tony.’ He reaches over to curl his fingers lightly around the offered hand, feeling callouses and cuts. He flinches away even harder from that.

‘Don’t worry. Not infected. Promise.’ Steve holds his hands up in mock surrender. ‘How about you?’

‘I haven’t left my sanctuary since this started. None of them got close enough to touch.’ He signals the hoard below with a quick jerk of his head, before letting it fall backward, hitting the wall behind them with a light thump.

‘Sanctuary?’

‘You see that tower over yonder? The one with the big flashy Stark name on it?’ Steve nods, gazing out the window. ‘That’s mine.’

Steve whistles, long and low. ‘Tony Stark, eh? Never counted you among the survivors.’

‘Neither did I.’

Steve has nothing to say to that, instead choosing to turn his head and just look at Tony again.

‘If you keep looking at me like that, I might have to start charging.’ Tony murmurs, looking delighted when Steve huffs out a laugh at him. ‘What’s your master plan for survival then?’ He asks, spreading his hands out on his knees and studying them, refusing to look at the other man.

‘Keep moving mainly. Get out of the city at some point maybe. I’ve heard tell of an underground base just past the border, DC way. What about you?’

Tony shrugs. ‘Stay alive? Further than that, I have no idea.’ They’re silent after that, both contemplating the moment when they’ll have to separate, and Steve doesn’t want that. He may have been alone all this time, but there’s something about this man that makes Steve want him to stay. Plus it’s clear he can’t look after himself – his first venture out since this began and he gets attacked straight away with no visible defence methods?

‘Thanks, by the way.’ Steve looks up at that, startled out of his thoughts. His confusion must show on his face because Tony shares a small grin before elaborating. ‘For saving me out there. I’d be dead or one of them by now if it wasn’t for your impeccable timing. So, thanks.’ Steve smiles back at him, grin almost blinding, the skin at the corner of his mouth starting to crack from a combination of the dehydration and the fact he hasn’t smiled in nearly four months.

‘No problem.’

They sleep in that apartment that night, curled around each other for the warmth (and the comfort of having another living person so close). Steve shares the little food he has, and manages to make a small fire in a waste paper basket. He shows Tony the small radio he’d picked up a while back, and Tony manages to make it work with just a little tinkering and by hooking up to something that he explains to be an arc reactor and also, a very long story. They don’t talk about survival and they don’t talk about tomorrow, but they do talk about their past. Old stories from their childhood, from years before. Nothing about who they lost, what they lost. And they make it work. They laugh together, and both of them are grateful for that – it feels like years since either of them had laughed properly. They fall asleep both knowing that come morning they will go their separate ways and never see each other again, that they will never know if the other survives, but in that moment, they don’t care. Because the company is worth it. It’s worth it just because they can have one night that they don’t have to endure alone.

***

The sun rose in the east, just as it always had. Its rays still managed to touch every part of the city, but it wasn’t the same city. There were bodies in the streets, rotting corpses littered everywhere. Buildings were beginning to crumble and collapse. There was silence in the city that had previously never slept.

But waking up with another body intertwined with his? That was one thing that Tony was familiar with. His eyes twitched open as the light flooded the apartment and he squinted, turning his face away from the window. He glanced around the room, finally taking in his surroundings. The place had clearly been left in a rush – drawers were all over the floor, cupboards were wide open, clothes and various unnecessary objects were strewn over the wooden floorboards.

Then again, this could be Steve’s doing. Or anyone who had been here before them. Tony slowly extricated himself from Steve’s suffocating grip. He felt significantly calmer than he had been last night, and he stretched as he rolled away from the other man’s still sleeping form. He gasped as he hit his feet on an open door, hearing Steve huff out a brief laugh behind him.

Tony groaned. ‘Were you watching me sleep? Because I mean, we just met and that’s kinda creepy.’

‘I didn’t want to wake you.’ Tony glances back at him, sees the blush rising on his cheeks and smirks.

‘I wouldn’t have minded if it was for a valid reason.’ He practically leers at Steve, and the other man’s blush deepens impossibly.

‘I-I…’ He attempts to stutter out a response before shaking his head and clambering to his feet. He offers his hand to Tony, a shy smile gracing his features. Tony grins back and allows himself to be pulled to his feet. Steve busies himself with digging through a backpack balanced on a kitchen counter, pulling out a couple of cans of food, labels long peeled off, and a bottle of water. He offers the water to Tony first, who takes a few grateful sips before handing it back. They eat in silence, both filled with the feeling that they’re deliberately dragging this out because neither of them wants to separate.

Tony watches as Steve rolls up blankets and gathers the rest of his belongings, packing them carefully away. He throws his own bag onto his back, and hovers by the door, until Steve is finished.

‘So…’ Steve trails off, unsure of what to say, scratching the back of his neck.

‘Thanks for everything. Good luck in the miserable future.’ Tony offers his hand, and Steve shakes it. If he holds it for slightly longer than necessary, Tony doesn’t notice. They pull apart eventually, and with a brief nod, Steve sidesteps him to open the door, holding it open for Tony who ducks under his arm to shuffle through the doorway and down the corridor.

He makes it to the corner before Steve stops him.

***

They travel together from then on, never separating – where one goes, the other is directly behind. It works for them, with Steve’s common sense and defensive capabilities and Tony’s technical and survival knowledge. They travel as far as they can during the day, aiming to break out of the city and head to where Steve thinks this base is. At night, they shelter wherever they can – always high up and away from main streets. They manage to dance around most of the infected, who only tend to hunt at night and are fairly easy to outrun if they’re solo.

Tony learns fairly early on that Steve is capable of killing the infected quickly and precisely – but he prefers not to. The only way of dispatching them is to damage or remove the head, but they’re slow and stupid and where possible, Steve will run. Climbing is a sure-fire way to get rid of them – they lack the fine motor skills needed to scramble up a ladder or to jump from ledge to ledge. Tony doubts that they can even jump. The disease is, ultimately, a brain infection. The brain swells until it barely fits in the skull, and this results in an extremely short attention span, so they wander off fairly quickly as well. Out of the number of increasingly bizarre and horrific ways the world could have collapsed in, this one isn’t the worst.

But survival is still hard, regardless of the enemy. Pharmacies, supermarkets, corner stores were the first places to be raided and often lack supplies. The best place to find anything these days is in the houses and apartments that people had fled, if you didn’t mind coming across the occasional decomposing body, but they were easier to find than avoid these days, and were easy enough to shrug off after you encountered your first few. The days feel longer than they did pre-apocalypse and they can get a significant amount done in each section of daylight they have.

They loot through any residence that looks whole and promising that they come across, collecting food and water and anything Tony thinks he can fashion into a functional weapon. Which turns out to be a disturbing amount of everyday household items. Steve has to start limiting it after the first time they have to clear out their bags, because heavy things are just not practical in this day and age.

They get on like a terrible sitcom mostly. Tony takes great pleasure in making fun of just about everything Steve does, and the other man can never defend himself, which only ever makes Tony laugh harder. Tony fails to grasp the true severity of the situation, but Steve takes that as light relief after the weeks of silence and knowing that every day was just 24 hours closer to his inevitable demise. Tony is the comic relief that he’d never realised he’d needed, and he’s damn good at scoping out bountiful looting spots.

Until one day when they’re already pushing it – it’s mid-afternoon in early winter about a week after they meet and it’s already starting to get dark when Tony convinces Steve that just one more, and then we’ll find somewhere to camp. He promises this will be the last one. They’d only hit the suburbs yesterday and Tony is thrilled by the change of scenery. The house is darker than any other they’d been in that day, and that is already setting off nearly ever alarm bell in Steve’s head, but Tony pulls out his grin, the one Steve can’t help but agree to whatever he wants, and then Tony’s dragging him up to the house. Steve kicks down the door as he always does and he says the same thing he always does.

‘You take upstairs, I’ll cover down here. Fifteen minutes max.’ Tony nods and heads up the stairs. Steve wanders into the lounge, taking note of the rifles mounted on the wall and deciding that if he can find ammo, he might as well grab them. The house is eerily quiet, like the others, but he still stays low, mostly out of habit, checking around every corner before rounding it. He finds two full bottles of water and a selection of various cans among rotting fruit and flies. He grabs a can of salt (it’s rare these days, and fairly good at preventing infections), and a bag of pasta (if they can spare the water, it’d make a nice change). He finds a couple of boxes of shells for the rifles and shoves one in his bag, carrying the other one through to load one of the rifles. He’s in the middle of doing just that when he hears a loud thump, followed by a yell. He’s halfway up the stairs before he can think twice, rifle clutched in his hands.

He rounds a corner into a bedroom, finding Tony sprawled on a double bed, using a lamp to keep reaching hands away from him. Hearing his footsteps, Tony looks over to Steve, and lets his guard down, just for a second. But it’s long enough for the infected to grab his foot and pull, hard. Tony yelps, snatching his foot away and before Steve can even register what he’s doing, there’s a bullet sailing through the air, through its head. The noise of the shot echoes around the room, and both men freeze.

‘Shit.’ Tony whispers.

‘We should… uh…’ Steve gestures outside frantically, and Tony nods. Steve takes the stairs two at a time on his way back down, fleeing straight out the door, skidding to a halt on the road, Tony close behind him.

‘Your bag, Steve. Where is it?’

Steve whips around to face Tony. ‘It’s still inside.’ He pauses, looking around. When he sees the hoard coming from one end of the street, attracted by the noise of the shot, he curses, thrusting the rifle at Tony. ‘Take this. I’ll be right back. Be ready to run.’

Steve sprints back inside, snatching his bag from the counter. Cans fall out at the violent motion and he curses again, shoving everything back inside and sealing it hurriedly. He grabs the other rifle and the half empty box of ammunition on his way back through the lounge. He leaves the house, taking in the sight of Tony backing away slowly, rifle smoking from where he’s picked off a couple of the infected that were getting too close for comfort.

‘Run!’ Steve shouts, grabbing Tony’s arm and pulling him away. They sprint down the road, before Steve yells left! And they veer down the side of a house and into a back garden, tearing past reaching limbs and leaping over obstacles. They vault over fences and don’t stop moving, travelling in the most erratic way that they can. When they think they’re clear, they duck into a fairly small house. They pause for a moment, listening for the tell-tale sounds of being followed. They look for signs of infected inhabiting this house (blood stains, half torn apart bodies, and the more subtle things like furniture fallen over when it has been bumped into). This house looks pretty clean though, but before they can stop and get their breath back, they check every room, climb the stairs warily and repeat the process upstairs.

Once they’re satisfied, they blockade what they can and retreat upstairs, placing every obstacle they can in an attackers way. The collapse onto a bed, side-by-side, and breathing heavily. Tony’s legs ache like hell and their chests are heaving with the effort of fleeing so fast. Once they’ve got their bodies back under control, Tony decides to try and control the conversation he knows they’re about to have. As Steve lifts up the leg of his jeans and checks his ankle for scratch marks, he starts.

‘Thanks for saving my modesty back there, he was so grabby.’ And Steve punches him in the arm.

‘How could you let yourself be cornered like that?’

‘Oh, Captain, my Captain, it was hardly like I wanted that to happen. I do have standards you know.’ If there was a definite way to annoy Steve, it was for Tony to call him that. But the minute he’d learned about Steve’s military past, there was no fucking way he was letting that go.

‘This isn’t a joke, Tony! You could have been killed or-‘

‘Infected? It’s not that hard to say, Cap. Only three syllables.’

‘I would have had to kill you, Tony. I won’t, I can’t kill someone I care about again.’ Steve curls in on himself, bringing his knees up to his chest and resting his forehead on them.

Tony is silent for a moment. ‘I’m not sure which part of that to grasp onto, you know. The care about part or the kill again part.’ When this provokes no reactions from Steve, Tony shuffles forward. He places his hand on the back of Steve’s head and pulls it, manoeuvring them so their foreheads are gently pressed together. ‘I didn’t mean for it to happen. I’ll be more careful in future, okay? You can be the captain of this ship.’

Steve looks up at him through impossibly long eyelashes and bites his lip. ‘You didn’t-‘

‘Get scratched, bitten or whatever? No. I promise, I’m fine.’ Tony moves forward, just slightly, and Steve closes the gap. It’s chaste, just a brush of lips, but it’s the only sign Steve really needs that Tony is sorry. He pushes forward again, and this time the kiss is deeper. It’s not the most pleasant kiss either has ever had – water is scarce enough and toothpaste is a thing of the past – but it’s enough. Here in this bed, in this house, on this unnamed street, surrounded by death and destruction, it’s enough.

Tony’s hand drifts down to rest lightly on Steve’s hip, and Steve surges forward even more, uncurling his body just enough for Tony to invade his space completely. There’s no battle for dominance here, no need for it. It’s a slow give and take, and when Steve pushes for it to be more, Tony lets him take it, knowing that this is what he needs, that it was the loss of control that scared him the most. They have very little power in this new, dying world that they have to take it where they can. Tony trusts Steve, trusts him enough to follow him wherever he leads. And that’s saying something, because Tony has never been a follower by any stretch of the imagination.

Steve’s hand strokes down Tony’s side, and his whole body shivers when Tony slips his hand underneath his shirt and starts rubbing rough little circles into his hipbone. Steve’s other hand wraps around Tony’s neck and pulls him even closer, and it’s almost like he’s willing them to melt together into one entity. They separate for air, but they don’t go far, noses still touching as they simply breathe. Steve’s pupils are blown and his cheeks are flushed, and Tony knows he doesn’t look much different. When they join their lips again, Steve’s hands drags over Tony’s hip and down, tugging at his belt. Steve pulls away, but before he can ask if this is okay, Tony seals his lips over the other man’s and moves his other hand down to undo both of their belts.

They shimmy their trousers down over incredibly bony hips, and move in together. Steve gasps into Tony’s mouth at the light, dancing touch over his cock, and Tony lifts his hand up, spits into it as best as he can and reaches back down to wrap one large hand round both of their dicks. Steve descends into little breathless moans fairly quickly, ducking his head slightly to watch with fascination as Tony strokes both of them and they rub together. Tony covers his face with light kisses, all over his cheeks, his nose, his jaw. Steve arches his hips, just slightly, and Tony can feel the tightening of his muscles and knows he’s close, so he lets go of his own cock, focussing completely on Steve and the bitten off moans now spilling from his lips. He comes soon after, biting down on his lip and when Tony kisses him again he can taste the coppery tang of blood. Steve’s breathing is shaky, but he reaches down to reciprocate, wrapping a strong hand around Tony. The positioning is awkward, but neither of them can bring themselves to care as Tony’s hips stutter into Steve’s hand and he spills onto the bed between them.

There’s nothing delicate or elegant about the shared hand jobs in the bedroom of somebody who’s probably long dead, but nothing can beat the feeling afterwards, after they’ve cleaned up as best they can, and they’re curled tightly against each other underneath a blanket, trying to beat the icy bite of the cold. And there, curled in a second-hand bed, they can forget about the ex-people outside that are baying for their blood. They can feel something that neither of them has felt since long, long before the world collapsed – they can feel wanted, safe and unafraid.

***

It’s three days before Tony broaches the subject and by this point they’re breaking Steve’s cardinal rule of staying in one place for more than one night because they’re about to hit the main highway out of dodge and they need to seriously find a car or something. They’re intertwined in yet another old, dusty bed, with Tony staring at the ceiling. Steve has his head on the other man’s chest and they’re a mess of tangled limbs.

‘Before this thing happened, I only really had two people.’ He begins, shifting uneasily underneath Steve. ‘Pepper and Rhodey. Rhodey stayed on the west coast when Pep and I travelled over here. I never took the news seriously, so I never attempted to reach him. I don’t even know if he’s still alive. I know it’s highly unlikely, though.’

‘Why are you telling me this?’ Steve asks, moving until his head is resting on his hands on Tony’s chest and he can see his face.

‘The other night. You said you couldn’t kill someone you cared about again and I'm intrigued. I want to know the story. So I’m sharing information.’ He pauses, but the only response he receives is Steve closing his eyes, lips slightly downturned. ‘Pepper was with me in the tower, but she didn’t want to stay. She wanted to follow the rumours to safety. We fought about it for days, until she finally packed up and left without me. I- I watched her go. I watched her get ambushed and I…’ Tony swallows. ‘I watched my best friend die and I didn’t even try to help her.’

He closes his eyes now, refusing to cry, but Pepper had once been everything to him. He can feel his hands shaking, and for a previously renowned technological genius, his hands sure do shake a lot these days. He feels Steve move, but he doesn’t open his eyes, not even at the brief brush of lips over his temple. He senses when the pillow compresses under the weight of Steve’s head and he feels the other man’s breath on his lips when Steve starts to talk.

‘His name was Bucky. He was my best friend. We grew up together and all that jazz. We were together when the first rumours broke out, when the official news broke and when the officials broke down. He was the one that taught me all the techniques – he’d always had better common sense than me. It was about two weeks before we met, and he and I were travelling, it was broad daylight and there shouldn’t have even been a problem, but we split up and I heard a yell. I ran towards him, dispatched the thing clawing at him but I was too late. There was blood everywhere and most of it was his and I didn’t know what to do. It was too late but I couldn’t just leave him.’ Tony hears the tremor in Steve’s voice, and he opens his eyes, moving his hands. One comes to rest on his back, pulling the taller man closer to him, and the other one runs its fingers through his hair. Steve doesn’t stop there though.

‘He died and I was frozen. I couldn’t move. And then it was too late and he was back and suddenly he was attacking me. I couldn’t think straight and I- I-‘

Tony hushes him. ‘It’s okay, Cap. It’s over, I’m here. I’m sorry.’ Steve quakes underneath his arms, but Tony’s shoulder remains dry and eventually he stills. He tries to speak again, but Tony cuts him off with a fierce kiss, and they don’t try to talk again.

***

The next morning, they don’t mention what they’d been told the previous night. It’s an unspoken agreement that they don’t bring that up again, and they’re both grateful for that. Tony regrets asking Steve, but he’s glad he knows now. If they split up less that day, and if their hands brush together more often than normal, neither of them mentions it, but they appreciate the comfort.

They find a car, a Land Rover in a good enough shape that Tony can hotwire it. That means, more than anything, that they can loot a whole lot more now because they actually have some means of carrying it, and Steve’s so grateful that he doesn’t even raise an eyebrow when Tony sneaks most of the contents of a garage into the boot. They find a bottle of whiskey and normally Steve would reserve that strictly for emergencies, ignoring the little sips that Tony would sneak anyway. But tonight, they’re celebrating and they crash into a bedroom that night, merry and happy and together.

They’d agreed early on that there were some things that just weren’t practical after months without proper hygiene and in these days of constant emergencies, so they’d restricted what they did at night to kisses and hand jobs because this wasn’t about love or forever. It was about now and tomorrow and beating the loneliness.

That night the kisses are tinged with whiskey and they’re giddy and they fall asleep with smiles on their faces and hope in their hearts.

****

Hope that doesn’t last any length of time at all.

It couldn’t have gone any worse really. They wake up in the middle of the night to a crash and a groan and an overwhelming feeling that can only be describes as oh fuck. They scramble to get their clothes on, cursing the fact that that one simple thing that they’d been so strict about before had been forgotten about the one time they needed to have heeded their paranoia.

Steve is the first one ready, rifle in hand. He orders Tony to stay put and pack up while he checks out the noises. There’s another crash before Steve can finish his command and then there’s a hole in their hastily-made barrier in the doorway and a rotting arm grabbing at them.

‘Fuck. Steve!’ Tony rushes around grabbing everything he can and thrusting it into their bags and everything is spilling out just as fast as Tony can put it in and there are more groans and more holes and Tony has never been so afraid in his entire life; he has more to lose now than he did that day in the alley.

‘Tony. Look at me.’ Steve is kneeling in front of him, hand under his chin. ‘Get ready. I’ll distract them – you get out that window and into that car.’

‘You’ll meet me out front?’ Tony can hear the tears, the fear in his voice.

Steve offers him a small, sad smile. ‘Yeah, Tony. Sure will.’ He leans over and crashes their lips together quickly and violently before springing away and pulling Tony up until he’s standing. ‘Stay safe.’ He mutters, throwing the bags out of the window.

‘Steve-‘ Tony tries to protest, he does. But they choose that moment to burst through the door and Steve is shooting but there are too many of them and he can’t fight them all.
‘GO TONY!’ Steve shouts, and while he’s distracted one of them clamps its jaws down on his forearm and he screams. Tony knows there is nothing he can do and now is not the time to be scared of the fall from a first-story window so he jumps; rolling to avoid injury just like Steve had taught him in the first few days. He grabs the bags and hightails it to the car, throwing the bags in the passenger seat and starting the vehicle.

He hesitates, briefly. And then a shape is thrown into the view of the headlights. It used to be tall, blonde and beautiful, but now it’s mangled, ruined. Blood stained and dead. Tony swallows his disgust and reverses enough to give him room to swerve around the body of his friend. If he sees it move out of the corner of his eye, he doesn’t dwell on it, knowing that nothing he ever knew of Steve survived that attack.

Chapter Text

He drives until dawn, and by then the tears are gone, and all that’s left of him is the firm set of his jaw, the clench of his unshaking hands on the wheel and a determination to fuck up every son of a bitch that crosses his path. He knows there isn’t much he can actually do to avenge Steve’s death, but he’s going to goddamn try.

It’s in that frame of mind that finds him a week later strolling through overgrown wasteland, the car having run out of gas a couple of days ago. A rifle is clutched firmly in his hands, bag secured on his back. He isn’t taking any chances now, and he doesn’t even attempt to outrun them anymore. He sees one; it’s as good as dead.

He senses movement in the bushes over to his left, and he swings his sight over, immediately ducking into a defensive position. He doesn’t hear any groans, and the thing in the bushes is low, crouching. And unless they’ve gotten cleverer, the infected don’t have the capacity to duck. So it’s an animal or…

No. Tony hasn’t seen any other survivors. Not since Steve. He was beginning to genuinely believe he was the last one. And then he hears voices.

‘I don’t think he’s one of them, Tash.’

‘He can’t be. He’s got a gun, you idiot.’

A shape unfolds itself from the bushes, and damn it is not fair that she can still look that good after the collapse of civilization. She’s petite, but in the way that looks like she’ll sooner kill you than looks at you. Her hair is vivid red, and she wears a black catsuit that makes her look like some sort of spy and not a straggler like he is. She approaches him carefully, like he’s a wild animal that might bite, and he supposes he must look like one.

He sees movement out of the corner of his eye and he sees a guy scrambling down from a ridge of rocks that surrounds the area where they are stood. This guy is about his height, with arm muscles to rivals Steve’s and an honest to god bow held tight in his hand. Tony takes a step backward until they’re both in his sight simultaneously.

‘Are you okay?’ The guy asks him, stepping towards him.

‘Who are you?’ Tony asks, but no sound come out. He licks his lips and tries again. ‘Who are you?’ His voice cracks from lack of use and dehydration.

The guy slings his bow around his body and holds his hands out in a distinctly non-threatening gesture. ‘I’m Clint. That’s Natasha. Where have you come from?’

‘New York,’ he answers, being intentionally vague, mostly because he has no fucking idea where he is anymore.

Clint whistles, long and low. ‘You’ve come a fair long way, then.’

‘Why do you look like this isn’t the end of the world?’ They both laugh at that, and this time it is Natasha who answers him after a quick conversation created with raised eyebrows.

‘We have a base. Underground. A little west of here. It’s-‘

‘It’s like a city. There’s quite a few of us.’

‘Oh.’ Tony has nothing else to say to that. They stand there a little awkwardly for a moment, Tony thinking over the idea of more survivors and the other two clearly considering whether to take him back or not.

‘Black Widow? Hawkeye? Update.’ Tony looks around, startled, at the third voice. Clint takes a radio out of his belt.

‘We’re here. We found a survivor.’

‘Injured? Insane? Infected?’

‘Nice alliteration, but nope, none of the above.’

‘Bring him in.’ That seems to be the end of that conversation, and Clint turns to Natasha first, before facing Tony.

‘You can come willingly or we can force you. Your choice.’

‘Although the being forced sounds like a whole lot of fun, I’d quite like to see this city of yours.’

‘This way then.’ Natasha leads the way over a fairly simple course, and about twenty minutes later, they stand in front of a steel door that leads into a bunker. Natasha knocks on it three times, and Tony can hear the mechanism unlocking. They step through into a reasonably large empty room littered with empty crates. There’s another steel door at the other end of the room and they approach it. Natasha knocks on this one as well, and a screen next to the door lights up. She enters a code, and a face appears.

The man is small, greying and authoritative. ‘Everything of his as well as your weapons.’ He nods sharply towards Tony, and a slot opens up underneath the screen. Tony steps back. ‘Sorry about this, but we need to be sure you’re not infected. Bag, weapon and coat in the chute please.’

Tony thinks about refusing, but he knows they won’t just let him leave, and if on the other side of this door is the world that Clint mentioned, with all the amenities that Natasha had spoken of on the way over (including running water and regular meals) then there is no way that Tony is fucking this up. His feet ache from days on the move with nowhere to hide, he’s hungry and tired and he will do anything to get into this haven. So he throws his rifle into the hole, followed by his bag and his coat. The slot closes, and another one next to it opens. Into this one goes Clint’s bow, his arrows and Natasha’s 9mm. And her knives and dear lord he did not know you could hide that many knives on one person.

The door opens, and there is a short hallway with two more doors at the end of it, one red and one yellow. There is another screen here, and the same man from before appears on it.

‘Clint, Natasha you’re still good for yellow decon. And you, what’s your name?’

‘Tony.’

‘Tony. Well, Tony, you’re going to have to go through red.’ Tony raises an eyebrow, but before he can question it, the man explains. ‘Red is complete and utter decontamination for newcomers and explorers who have been out for over two days. Yellow is for explorers who have been gone for a day or less.’ Tony nods and heads through the red door while the other two head through the yellow one.

There is a man in a hazmat suit in the room through the door. He explains that Tony is going to have to remove his clothes so they can be sent for incineration. He takes the clothes and then he leads Tony to a shower room, leaving him with a towel, a pile of clean clothes and a promise that on the other side he is going to be poked and prodded for forever so he should probably prepare for that.

Tony clambers into the shower, turning it on and as hot as he can stand it. No words could ever describe just how good the water falls, raining down on him and washing months of grime away. There are a number of coloured bottles on a shelf to the right of the showerhead, labelled simply with ‘shampoo’ or ‘shower gel’. He massages a red shampoo into his hair, spending ages massaging his scalp and just revelling in the warm water. He uses a yellow shower gel, taking his time to wash the layers of dirt off of his entire being. He climbs out of the shower and undermined amount of time later, with wrinkled fingers and a feeling of contentedness. He wraps the towel around his waist and sees a small sink with a mirror hanging above it. There is a razor and a pair of scissors set side by side on the sink ledge, and he wonders over, wiping the condensation from the mirror with his hand.

He freezes at his reflection. Back, before any of this happened, Tony had taken a great amount of pride in his appearance, and now here he was. He had become a sunken, sallow eyed creature, with grey skin, hair down to his shoulders and a beard the same length. He pokes at the skin around his eyes before reaching for the scissors and he starts snipping away at both his beard and his hair. His first thought is just to get rid of it all and he cuts haphazardly at the strands until they’re short enough for his liking. He finished getting rid of all the facial hair with the razor and he runs a hand over his naked face, the first time it has been like this in years. He shakes his fingers through his hair and looks down at the mess he’s made. He pulls on the white tshirt and elasticated waist pants just before the man returns, this time not in the suit.

The man looks at the mess of hair on the floor. ‘I haven’t seen a change that drastic in some time. We’re running out of survivors it seems. The cleaners can deal with that. I’m Bruce, by the way.’

‘Tony.’ They shake hands and Bruce leads Tony through to a room that looks like a doctor’s surgery.

‘If you can just climb onto the bed for me, please.’ Tony does as he’s asked. Bruce looks over his arms, his neck, his legs - clearly looking for bites, but he finds nothing. ‘I’m going to need to take a blood sample that we can run a few tests on, I’m afraid.’

Tony nods and holds his arm out. ‘A doctor? It’s been half an hour and I’m already glad I’m here.’ Bruce laughs.

‘Just wait until you get to the cafeteria. It’s heavenly.’ Bruce takes his blood sample, and stands. ‘I’m going to need to go run a few tests on this. Until they’re done, this is my nurse, Betty. She’s going to ask you some questions.’ Bruce leaves, and Betty takes a seat next to the bed that Tony’s lying on.

‘Hi.’ She smiles at him and already, Tony likes her. ‘They like to keep a complete database of everything here. It makes them feel like they’re in control.’ Tony laughs. ‘So, full first name?’

‘Anthony Edward Stark.’ She raises her eyebrow at that. ‘Yep, one and the same.’

‘Woah. Everyone was convinced you were dead.’

‘That’s the assumption that’s correct for everyone else. That’s kind of how an apocalypse works.’ Tony says, and he knows he sounds bitter, but Betty doesn’t push it.

‘Age?’

‘Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to ask for anyone’s age?’ She smirks. He tells her his age and she scribbles it down on the clipboard in her lap.

‘Have you at any point been in contact with any of the infected?’

‘I’ve been wandering the country for weeks. It would’ve been stranger if I hadn’t.’

‘Bites, scratches, that sort of thing?’

‘Nah, they never got close enough.’ He winks at her. ‘Never asked nice enough.’

‘Have you seen any other survivors?’ Tony can feel his face close off at that.

‘No one that’s still alive.’ He looks away as he says it, but his voice doesn’t shake. The past days have hardened him to the loss, and now it’s just a numb gnawing in the back of his mind.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Not your fault.’ He doesn’t look back at her.

She carries on questioning him, asking him mundane questions about where he came from, how he’s survived, stuff like that. He asks here where they are and she explains that they’re just outside of DC, Virginia side and Tony isn’t sure what he was expecting her to say, but it wasn’t that. The fact that Steve had been right, all those nights ago, and that his goal had actually been real and present hurts, and Tony almost regrets asking the question. Bruce returns with news of clear blood work and no infection present.

‘Anything out of the ordinary with you?’ He asks Betty, who just shakes her head, but she points to the faint blue glow showing through Tony’s thin tshirt.

‘I was going to ask about that, but I figure you’d understand it more, being the doctor and everything.’

‘Okay. I’ll take that.’ He takes her clipboard from her. ‘You go get lunch, I’ll be out shortly.’ She leans in to peck Bruce lightly on the lips, and waves a farewell to Tony as she retreats.

‘Ooh, Doc. Love in the face of adversity. It’s a novel waiting to happen.’ Bruce swats at him with the clipboard before settling into Betty’s seat.

‘So. Blue glowing thing in your chest. Care to elaborate?’

‘I’m shocked it took you this long to ask, actually. I got blown up a couple of years back. Shrapnel in my veins. This-‘ He taps the metal disc. ‘-is an arc reactor. It’s an electromagnet that keeps the metal away from my heart.’

Bruce just nods and notes that down. He stands then, and announces to Tony that he must hand him over for more capable hands to give him a tour of the compound. And that’s how Tony is finally introduced, face to face, to the man from the screens.

‘Phil Coulson.’

‘Tony Stark.’

‘I know. You’re high priority now. I’ve been ordered to give you the tour and then to take you to report to our leader.’

‘And now this sounds like a cult. Or an alien spaceship.’

‘No such thing as aliens, Stark. Now, the tour.’ Coulson takes him to the cafeteria, and explains to him the meal system. ‘You’ll get a wristband eventually, once we decide which clearance to give you – that gets scanned every meal, so we know that a) no one is going to starve to death and b) no one is eating more than their fill. Very strict rationing, you see.’

Coulson explains the clearance levels to him as well. They range from green to purple, with green being most of the population, and purple being the top echelon of scientists, generals and such. There are gyms, various sports courts, computer labs, libraries and other such amenities in the green area. Blue is farms – crops and animals. Orange is soldiers and contains training areas. Pink means labs and scientists and explosions and is definitely where Tony wants to be, especially when he sees the pristine technical workshops and he just wants to ruin everything. Purple is officials and the cleverest strategists and other important bureaucrats, and the leader of this whole operation, apparently. Coulson tells him that it’s just security clearance; everyone can visit green places, but only qualified people can enter areas set for the other colours.

‘You’ll most likely end up being pink, I think. Maybe with a side of purple, depending on how little you piss off the boss.’

The whole compound is white and silver and metal and futuristic and Tony revels in every little shiny surface. Everybody wears similar clothes; tshirt and trousers or skirts and back in the days before this probably would have been what being in an asylum was like. But now, it’s a welcome change from days of solitude and dirt outside and Tony is so grateful that he stumbled across Clint and Natasha. He sees people playing tennis, people sat together reading and just talking and Tony had forgotten what it was like to be in a large group of people. He’s starting to get antsy, nervous and Coulson senses it.

‘It’s normal to feel uncomfortable, maybe even a little paranoid, at first. You’ll get used to being around people again, eventually.’ He explains as they round a corner. There is a couple sat on the floor down this corridor, curled up around each other and completely oblivious to their surroundings. The guy is massive, built like a brick house, with long blonde hair. And sat in his lap is a tiny brunette woman. They look like all they care about in the world is in front of them, and as far as Tony knows, it might be. But his heart clenches at the sight, and he misses Steve more than anything.

‘Doctor Foster?’ Coulson questions, and the woman visibly startles. ‘I didn’t expect to see you down here.’

The woman stands, as does her man. ‘Me and Thor were just going for a walk.’ She smiles. ‘You must be new. I’m Jane Foster.’

‘Tony Stark.’ They shake hands and Tony is really getting tired of introducing himself, especially considering he’d spent most of his life just being recognised. ‘Another doctor?’

‘Astrophysicist, unfortunately. And Tony Stark? As in-‘

‘Yep.’ She narrows her eyes at him and studies him, as the large man behind her introduces himself.

‘Thor Odinson.’ They shake hands and Tony swears his hand is nearly swallowed by the other mans.

‘He’s one of our best fighters.’ Coulson offers. ‘But, we must carry on, I’ve got a lot to get through.’

‘Okay. I look forward to maybe seeing you in the labs.’ Jane smiles at him and leads Thor off with a hand on his arm as Tony just nods.

‘Those two can never keep their hands off of each other.’

‘Jealous?’

‘Irritated. Your file said you hadn’t seen any other survivors?’

‘One. But he’s gone now.’ It seems that Tony can’t help but sound bitter whenever anyone asks about Steve, and he really wishes they would stop pushing the matter, because that hole inside him is starting to open up again, and he doesn’t want to have to deal with that.

Coulson just hums. ‘There’s a wall down there, and it’s covered in the pictures and names of lost loved ones. I would take you down there, but there’s no need if you haven’t seen anybody. You can go down there later and add anybody you want to.’ Tony glances down the corridor that Coulson indicates, but follows him through the door outlined with purple that he finds them standing in front of.

Tony follows through long, twisting corridors until they come to a stop inside a control room. Screens cover two of the walls in this room, and in the centre there is a man standing in front of a semi-circular control panel, tapping away. People sit at computers lined up around the outside of the room, working on something.

‘This room is security mainly. The ones at the computers are mainly greens with elevated security clearance, but only for this room.’ Coulson explains, and really, the whole thing is a fairly simple concept to grasp, not least because Tony is a genius. ‘Sir? I have Tony Stark to see you.’ The man at the control panel turns around. ‘Try not to annoy him.’ Coulson whispers out the corner of his mouth before retreating back through the door they’d used to enter.

‘Come up here, Mr. Stark.’

‘Tony, please.’ But he climbs the steps to the slightly elevated platform to stand by the man’s side. He is tall, intimidating and seems to only have one eye. This only adds to his daunting aura.

‘Well, Tony. I am Director Fury, and I’m in charge of this cosy little retreat. I trust Coulson explained the mechanics of it to you.’

‘Pretty much.’

‘It’s lucky we found you. We need an engineer.’

‘It’s lucky you need an engineer because I can just feel my genius slipping away after all these weeks without stimulation.’ He prods at a few buttons before Fury slaps his hands away.

‘Don’t touch. I’m willing to give you clearance to the labs and workshops.’ Fury pauses, but carries on before Tony can start. ‘But only if you promise to behave. No unnecessary explosions, and you will have freedom to do whatever projects you want, but only if my orders take precedence.’

So, he gets free reign of a workshop. He can build things and destroy things to his heart’s content, if he just makes sure he makes whatever Fury wants, when he wants it? That’s not actually a bad deal, even if Tony isn’t used to taking orders from anybody else.

‘Seems like you have a deal then.’

****

Tony’s clearance is upped immediately, and he’s given a pink wristband. He’s told that if he behaves, that could be elevated to purple, thereby giving him access to any part of the compound. For now, he gets the green areas, the pink areas and the parts of blue that he can improve (computer systems, harvesting machines) and the bits of orange that deal with weapons (‘No matter how you look at this, Stark, we’re in the middle of a war. So any reserves you may have against making weapons take a backseat. After all, it’s not like they’re being used on humans anymore’).

He settles in fairly quickly. His room is larger than most, he’s told, but it’s still little more than a box with a bed and a closet in it. He does, however, have a private bathroom because of his high status, and he’s pretty damn pleased with that. The first time he gets into a workshop is heavenly – and the first thing he does is create a mini Jarvis, because ever since Tony had first created his AI, he’d found it increasingly difficult to build anything without the reassuring, if mostly disapproving, voice at his side. He builds Dummy 2.0 and replaces all his other robots, and once the place finally feels like home to him, he improves the damn farming mechanisms like Fury wants him to.

Loki Laufeyson comes storming into Tony’s life one day about two weeks after he moves in. He’s a mess of arrogance, wit and sharp cheekbones and no less than an hour after they meet, they are falling into Tony’s bed together. It’s Jane’s fault they meet, considering Tony was just visiting her in her lab to ask if she needed anything building (because apparently even a post-apocalyptic society needs an astrophysicist) and Thor is there, helping her to lift a telescope. Tony doesn’t even know why she has a telescope considering the fact that they are living underground but he’s learnt not to question anything in the past days because he nearly never likes the answer. He doesn’t know if only the slightly crazy people survived, or this whole mess has made them slightly insane, but either way, this place is never boring.

Tony is just setting out to go over some calculations of hers that she thrust at him and demanded he check when Loki enters. He honest to god saunters into the room, glancing around, eyes coming to rest on where Tony is perched on Jane’s desk (Tony Stark does not use chairs when there is a perfectly good flat surface nearby, thank you very much). He elegantly arches an eyebrow before relaying some information or something to Thor. Tony isn’t listening because dear god those are the prettiest eyes he thinks he’s ever seen. He has to shake himself out of that rather quickly though, because pretty? Seriously? He must be losing his touch.

Loki introduces himself, stepping far closer than necessary until Tony’s knees are resting on either side of his waist. Tony reciprocates and Loki leans in even further.

‘You must be new. Care to let me show you around?’ Loki’s voice is deep, sultry and he has this English accent that Tony just kind of wants to swim in.

‘Unfortunately, I’ve already been given the grand tour. However my room is just down that-a-way and I’d really rather have you in that.’

‘I was trying to be subtle.’ And he legitimately fucking pouts and Tony smirks.

‘Subtlety isn’t my style.’

‘Will you two get a room? I’m trying to work here.’ Jane interrupts, looking extremely put-upon.

‘We were just going.’ Loki supplies and Tony drags him out of the lab, pinning him up against the wall next to the door. He leans in close; just close enough for their lips to brush.

‘Think you can handle this, darling?’ Tony drawls, and this, this is something he’s used to, even if his charm does feel a little rusty.

‘I am finding myself rather bored of all your talk.’ And Loki surges forward, locking their lips in a fierce battle. Loki’s mouth opens up to Tony’s assault, and the kiss is biting and rushed. Tony fists his hands in the front of Loki’s tshirt, Loki’s hands locked at the base of Tony’s neck.

Tony still isn’t sure how they make it to his room, considering that one moment they’re kissing up against a wall, and the next Tony is tapped between Loki and the door to his room. He twists just enough to open the door, Loki using this moment to attack his neck with sharp nips and soft kisses, the contrast making Tony shiver. Tony hauls Loki through the door, just for the other man to pin him on the other side of it, running his lips along Tony’s jawline. He pushes Tony’s tshirt up and over his head, not even stopping to question the arc reactor. He trails his lips down Tony’s neck, down his chest and gracefully sinks to his knees. He pulls Tony’s trousers and underwear down together in one swift motion, wrapping his hand around the base of Tony’s cock. He traces the vein up with delicate fingers, and then tips forward, ever so slightly, to take the head into his mouth.

Tony lets out a soft sigh and his head slumps backward to hit the metal of the door with a soft clunk. He wraps his fingers in inky, soft strands as Loki leans even further forward, taking even more of Tony into his mouth, sucking gently as he swirls his tongue around the head. Tony is never going to last like this, it’s been too long, and he tries to vocalise that, but his words are lost as Loki swallows his whole length down and Tony can feel his muscles clenching. He pulls on Loki’s hair, dragging him off of his cock.

‘Not like this.’

Loki nods at his words, eyes hooded. He licks his lips obscenely as he stands, leaning in close to Tony to whisper in his ear. ‘How about you fuck me?’

Tony’s breathing stutters, and he nods. ‘I don’t have anything-‘ Before he can finish that thought, Loki has pushed him onto the bed, and is standing at the foot, pulling his clothes off. There’s nothing sexy or sensual about it, and that is the first sign that Loki might just be desperate for this, because he strikes Tony as the sort to have complete control of his actions and the type who likes to make a show out of everything. Loki ducks through the door into Tony’s bathroom, and when he returns he has a small bottle and a condom in his hand.

‘You didn’t notice this? They stock up for every… eventuality.’

‘I don’t tend to come here a whole lot.’ Tony says as he sits up, wrapping his hand around Loki’s waist to pull him on top of him on the bed. Loki hovers over him on all fours, and Tony surges up to kiss him, rolling them over. They hit the wall, because this bed is in no way designed for this, but that doesn’t stop them. They’ve switched positions now, and Tony sucks on a spot just below Loki’s ear that makes him arch upwards, head falling back to expose his neck. Tony slicks his fingers with the small bottle of lube and bites into the muscle of the pale column of flesh in front of him as he slips one finger into Loki, swirling around the entrance before dipping in.

‘Is this okay?’ He asks, before running his tongue over the bite mark. Loki nods, biting his lip as Tony thrusts his finger in completely, thrusting it gently as his bites the same spot, nursing it into what will inevitably become a rather spectacular hickey. Tony listens to Loki’s heaving breaths, and when he moans for more, Tony pulls his finger out, going back in with two. He wraps his hand loosely around Loki’s cock, stroking a couple of times to distract him from the burn. He scissors them slightly, thrusting them and when Loki nods his assent, he adds the third finger. Loki’s breaths are shaky, unsteady, but eventually, they even out into moans and Loki announces now, so Tony pulls away.

Long, delicate fingers unwrap the condom, before rolling it onto Tony’s dick, wrapping his fingers around the base. He reaches up to kiss Tony once, deeply, a mix of need and anticipation before lying back, intertwining his hands with the bars of the headboard and lifting his legs up, and apart. Tony groans at the sight, before shuffling forward and lining himself up.

‘Ready?’ Loki nods and Tony thrusts forward, just enough for the head to slip inside.

He gives Loki a moment to adjust before muttering. ‘God, you feel amazing. Push back against me, come on, take control.’ Loki nods again, thrusting his body down slightly, taking Tony in, inch by inch. He wonders when this fast paced give and take became something more, but he isn’t complaining as he bottoms out and moans. Loki’s breath is escaping from him in little sighs as he locks his ankles together at the small of Tony’s back pulling him impossibly closer. Tony takes this as a sign to start moving, so he does. Gently at first, pulling out nearly completely, before sliding home again, until Loki becomes impatient.

Fuck, Tony, more, faster, come on.’ Tony plants one hand next to Loki’s head, the other by his waist and snaps his hips faster, Loki meeting him thrust for thrust. Loki is tossing his head from side to side, his breathing starting to hitch and Tony can see the tell-tale tightening of his abdomen muscles, so he shuffles forward on his knees, wrapping his hands around Loki’s back and shoulders to hoist him up until he’s perched in his lap. The movement sends Tony even deeper and Loki moans, low and long, planting his hands on Tony’s shoulders, and using that as leverage to hoist himself up and plunge back down again, fucking himself on Tony’s cock.

‘Oh, fuck Loki. Yeah, just like that yeah, oh god.’ Long, black hair is falling into the other man’s face, and Tony reaches up to tuck it behind his ear, leaning in to suck on that spot again, and that seems to be all it takes. Loki’s body tenses, his back arches and he keeps moving. The look in Loki’s deep green eyes is all it takes to send Tony over as well. It’s a look of intense passion, need and maybe even possessiveness. It’s haunting and Tony can still see it when he closes his eyes and lets his orgasm wash over him.

They’re silent for a while, Tony leaning forward to deposit a boneless Loki back against his pillow. Loki stretches in a feline manner after Tony’s pulled out and disposed of the condom. Green eyes look at him and he smirks.

‘Your reputation is well deserved then.’ Tony huffs out a laugh, and collapses to lie half on the empty space of the bed and half on top of Loki who pouts and rolls until he’s the one on top.

‘Good to know that even months of desolation and I can still live up to that.’ Tony wraps one arm around Loki as the other man turns to curl into him. ‘Do you do that often?’

Loki looks up at him and raises an eyebrow. ‘Only with people who interest me.’

‘Oh, so I’m interesting am I?’ Tony asks teasingly.

‘The rumours about you were.’

Tony laughs, only slightly. ‘We should probably go and clean up.’

‘Ugh. Probably.’ Loki fucking snuggles into his neck though, and that just shows he isn’t planning on moving.

‘We’ll regret it if we don’t.’ Tony entreats, but Loki hushes him and swats at his chest like a cat.

‘Sleep now.’

Tony hums a noise of agreement, and he’s too tired to fight Loki on the matter anymore, so he just turns his head to drop a kiss to the top of Loki’s head before letting sleep take him.

***

Four days of no sleep catch up to him that night, and he sleeps until well into the next afternoon. Now he doesn’t need to travel and stay alive every day, he’s fallen back into his old routine of not sleeping until he’s accidentally unconscious, and the only reason he even eats is because that damn wristband beeps at him incessantly until he does. When he wakes the next day, Loki is gone, but there’s a note stuck to his forehead that simply says ‘Tonight, 7pm. Be in your workshop, I’ll bring the dinner’ in elegant writing and Tony would be more stuck on the fact that this might be a date but fuck he feels pretty good this morning. And he wouldn’t mind awfully if it was a date, because even if they’d only spoken a few words to each other, Loki is cocky and arrogant and Tony can definitely relate to that, so he wouldn’t mind getting to know the other man a little more, and if he gets more sex out of that, then he is absolutely not going to complain about it.

He rolls out of bed and winces at the sticky feeling he has all over his body; dried sweat and come have never been a treat to wake up to. He heads straight for the shower, spending a little more time in there than he usually would – he may still not be used to the fact that he once again has water on tap, but he’s a busy man again and time is money. Well, not money, but still – every second matters. He thinks about making an effort for their date, but then he opens his closet to see a rack of the same outfits he’s worn every day since he got here, and shrugs, dressing the same as he always does. He throws the clothes from last night into the laundry chute next to the closet and he heads out, bee lining straight for his workshop. He’s accosted halfway there by Bruce who appears at his elbow and doesn’t say a word until they’re surrounded by machinery and tools.

He stands there for a moment, seemingly hesitating, before he beings to speak. ‘So, you and Loki, huh?’

‘How do you even know about that?’

‘Betty saw you two on your way to your room last night.’

‘Oh.’ Gossip travels around this place faster than the blink of an eye, so he really shouldn’t be surprised that everyone already knows. ‘And you’re here to admonish me?’

Bruce and Tony had quickly become fast friends. Tony didn’t often leave his workshop, but when he did, it was either to see Bruce, or because Bruce had dragged him away. He got on fairly well with Betty as well, so they often ate together (when Tony did eat), and once in a while, they’d go see a movie in the theatre room together (the only problem being that they obviously had no new movies, and they’d all seen most of what the theatre had to offer). He’d only seen Clint and Natasha a couple of times – they were orange and didn’t much venture outside of the training areas, and when they did, it was to go outside and forage for supplies. They were the best recon team apparently, Clint had been an Olympic archer, and Natasha had actually been some kind of spy.

‘Nope, just here to tell you to be careful, is all.’ Bruce says, poking at a project of Tony’s, until it burst into flames, and Bruce jumped about three feet in the air. Tony laughed as Dummy scurried over with a fire extinguisher.

‘We’re in the middle of the end of the world, forgive me for not thinking about the future or the possibility of a relationship.’

Bruce narrows his eyes, but he relents, instead choosing to ask Tony about ways to speed up the diagnosis machines in the hospital wing.

****

Loki arrives exactly at 7pm, not a minute earlier, and he elbows open the door to see Tony hammering away at some mechanism or another, grease and oil smeared across his tshirt. Tony doesn’t notice him at first, but when he does, he sees Loki sprawled in the sofa in the corner, steaming plates of food spread out on the coffee table in front of him. Tony had the sofa moved in here after one too many nights sleeping on the floor and waking up with aching limbs. He grabs a towel to clean his hands and he throws it over his shoulder as he makes his way to Loki, smiling.

‘Hey.’ He says, sitting down next to the other man, and leaning over to kiss him gently on the lips. Loki doesn’t protest, and Tony takes that as a good sign, pushing forward slightly until they’re making out on the couch like a couple of teenagers. Loki pushes at his shoulder.

‘Dinner’s getting cold.’ Tony hums a noise of acknowledgment and tries to carry on the kiss. Loki flicks him on the nose and pouts. Tony kisses him on the forehead and pulls away, shaking his head, but smiling.

They eat in companionable silence, stealing food from each other’s plates and leaning into each other more than is strictly necessary. It’s shockingly domestic, but if Loki doesn’t mind, neither does Tony.

And after they’re finished, they lie on the couch, Loki on top again, and they actually talk for the first time.

‘Where’d you come from?’ He asks, and Loki shifts until he’s lying with his head on his hands on Tony’s chest, looking up at his face. And fuck, Tony remembers not too long ago, being in this exact position with blue eyes instead of green and hearing the sounds of the groaning infected instead of the whirring of machines. He’s so distracted by the sudden crash of feeling of missing Steve that he nearly forgets to listen to Loki’s answer.

‘Up north. We only moved to this goddamn country about two years ago. Me and my brother started travelling down after this whole thing started. We met Jane on the way and she’d been told about this place, so we just accompanied her here.’

‘You sound so disgusted that you have a brother. Isn’t it good that you weren’t alone?’

‘I was adopted. Thor was the true son, and he was treated like some kind of prince. You grow to resent someone who gets treated like royalty and behaves like he is holier than you.’

Thor is your brother?’

‘Adopted.’ Loki has tensed beneath Tony’s hands, so he starts tracing patterns across his back, kissing the top of his head again. ‘What is your story?’

‘New York. Holed up in a tower for the first few months, then decided to give it a go. Made it three blocks before I was attacked. This guy, he saved me, and we travelled together, he was aiming for this place, didn’t even know if it really existed. Then we got trapped, he died so I could get out. I found Clint and Natasha and they brought me here.’

Loki hums. ‘Steve?’

Tony jerks away. ‘How did you know?’

‘You talk in your sleep.’ Tony had been having nightmares ever since the incident, but he didn’t realise they were as obvious as him talking in his fucking sleep. ‘You kick as well.’

Tony is grateful for the seemingly small subject change. ‘I guess we’ll just have to get a bigger bed then.’

Loki holds up a thin, pale wrist adorned with a purple wristband. ‘This might come in useful then.’

‘Is that how you managed to get so much food?’ Loki nods. ‘Why are you purple, anyway?’

‘Son of a diplomat. Not useful for much, really, but I’m pretty good at debating and convincing. Apparently that warrants high security clearance.’

‘Hm… That’s strange, I don’t remember you being all that good with your mouth.’ Loki lifts his head slightly, narrowing his eyes. ‘Maybe you should jog my memory.’ He leans down to kiss Loki, and there’s passion there, but there’s something else as well, contentedness on Tony’s end, unreadable on Loki’s end. It may not have been long, but this was the goddamn apocalypse and if you didn’t move fast, you didn’t move at all.

Chapter Text

When Bruce had said that there weren’t that many survivors left out there, he hadn’t been kidding. It’s over a month since Tony arrived, and there haven’t been any newcomers. So when the news gets around the there’s a new face in town, the whole place looks like it’s on the verge of throwing a party. Tony’s working on getting a radio network up and running that will hopefully allow them to contact other bases, but until that happens, they might as well be the last ones. So there’s something reassuring and uniting about anything that implies that they might not be the only ones left alive in the country, let alone the world.

Tony doesn’t really care for fresh faces though, so he doesn’t even leave his workshop. Loki swings by a little while after he hears, with food, and they’ve begun something of a routine and despite all the rumours that are going around about Loki, and the reputation Tony had always been reported to have, they’re good for each other. Loki ensures that Tony eats and sleeps, and that’s put him in Bruce’s good books, and Loki is just better to be around because of Tony – he’s less condescending about everything, and far slower to judge than he was before, and that’s put Tony in everybody else’s good books. They eat and talk and Tony, not for the first time, thanks whatever god may be up there for letting him find this sanctuary.

He’d never expected to find… companionship in this place, honestly the promise of food and running water and safety had been enough for him, but it was a pretty damn good plus.

‘So, new guy.’ Tony starts, knowing Loki is just itching to talk about it. They’re sprawled out on the floor after dinner and slow, languorous sex, sandwiched between two blankets that Loki had brought down one visit.

‘He’s… tall.’ Loki frowns. ‘Ex-military apparently. He’s orange.’

‘That it?’

‘As far as anyone can tell. Nothing special.’

‘Well. That’s disappointing.’ Loki nods in agreement and curls into Tony’s side. Loki is actually, despite appearances, shockingly affectionate, but Tony isn’t complaining because it’s nice after so long solo.

***

It’s three days after that, and Tony’s been blocked from his lab because he accidentally exploded the project he was working on for Fury, so he’s been locked out as a punishment. He made purple status about eight, nine days ago, so he could go and pester the big boss man about it until he lets him back in, but he can’t be bothered. He’s already pestered out from annoying Clint for the past hour or so. He is working on making the man an improved bow though, so hopefully that’ll make up for it. Loki is… doing whatever it is that Loki does when he isn’t with Tony. Probably spying on somebody or being a general little shit. And that is how Tony finds himself finally wandering down the corridor to the wall of pictures.

It’s not that he’d made the conscious decision to avoid it, but he hadn’t much deviated from the paths between his workshop, his room, the cafeteria, the library and the theatre. Although he had hit the gym on a couple of occasions, because keeping fit actually took effort now he was eating properly. He approaches it slowly, unsurprised to see that no one is around – a lack of new entrants had meant that there was no one to update the wall, whether it be good or bad news.

He’s scanning the rows of pictures, looking for anybody he can identify, anybody he knew before. He sees a couple that he recognises, but as infected that had tried to kill him, and he carefully detaches the pictures from the wall, laying them in the box over to the side, full of the pictures of the deceased. He sees one picture that makes him pause.

It’s of himself.

It’s a picture he remembers taking with him from the tower, of him and Pepper and Rhodey, although the photo is folded so the only face visible is his. He detaches it from the wall and unfolds it. There are blood splatters on it, but smeared, as if someone tried to wipe them off. He’d thought it had been lost in between his bag going down the chute and his belongings being returned to him, but now he thinks about it, maybe he’d lost it before then. That still doesn’t answer the question of why it’s on the wall though. He looks young in this photo, and he was young. It was taken a good fifteen years ago, and his eyes sparkle with youth and excitement.

Tony can’t think of why it would be there, and he’s starting to panic, hyperventilate, even though he has no fucking idea why. He’s just unreasonably scared all of a sudden. So he turns on his heel and hightails it to his room, running headfirst into Loki on his way there. Tony can feel the tears threatening to spill down his cheeks, and at first Loki looks panicked, so he guides Tony to sit on his bed. He takes the photo from him, glances at it, but clearly doesn’t understand where it came from.

‘The wall. Someone-‘ He gulps in air. ‘Someone’s looking for me.’ He stops fighting the tears at that point, and he feels so stupid, because there’s no reason for him to be upset about this, but he’s so scared because the only person who could have put this up is dead, long dead and gone and Tony is panicking so badly. Loki moves to lean against the headboard of Tony’s bed, pulling the other man over to curl into his chest. Tony curls his fingers into the thin material of Loki’s green tshirt, the cloth soaking up his tears. Loki doesn’t say a word, just hushes him and rocks him and kisses the top of his head, long fingers stroking his back.

Tony calms down some time later, and he pulls away, wincing at the wet patch on Loki’s shirt and lips ready to spill apologies, but Loki just leans forward to kiss him gently, lovingly. He pulls away and leans their foreheads together briefly, before lying Tony down and telling him he’d be right back.

He can’t even try to sleep, so after the door closes behind Loki, he stares at the ceiling for what feels like an age, but in reality is only about twenty minutes. So he gets up and has a shower, feeling the warm water ease the tension out of his muscles. He plants his hands on the wall, letting water run down his back and over his head. He hears the door open and close, and then the bathroom door closes and he hears the rustle of clothing. Loki slips in behind the shower curtain, plastering himself to Tony’s back, so his chest follows the curve of Tony’s spine. He kisses at the back of Tony’s neck, running his hands down Tony’s chest. He plants kisses down Tony’s spine, and Tony shivers under his ministrations. He turns, leaning back against the wall and he drags Loki up, kissing him hard and fierce.

Loki slows the kiss into something more passionate, more reassuring, and Tony whimpers, moving forward and pulling Loki until their bodies are sandwiched together under the running water, no gaps in between. They kiss, long and slow. Loki’s hand reaches in between their bodies, covering both of their cocks with one of his hands, the water easing the way. Tony thrusts his hips into Loki’s soft hand, gently. He moans, and buries his face in Loki’s neck. The water is turning cold now, but neither of them care as Loki continues to stroke bringing Tony slowly to completion. Tony tenses and sobs as he comes, and Loki wraps both arms around his shoulders, holding him as the icy water rains down over both of them. Reaching past him to turn the shower off, he grabs a towel and dries Tony off, and Tony is grateful that he has Loki to look after him now. He’s still shaking, still panicking, but it feels less urgent now.

‘You didn’t-‘

‘Doesn’t matter.’ Loki answers, as he dries himself off and they both get dressed. ‘Here.’ Loki hands him a key, a key that Tony recognises instantly.

‘How did you get this?’

‘Fantastic with my mouth, remember?’

‘That’s an image I didn’t need.’ Tony is slowly starting to come back to himself, and he leans over to kiss Loki gently, pouring all his gratitude and love into one kiss. Tony’s been dancing around the subject of love for some time now, but he can’t deny that what he feels for Loki is strong, and he feels like it might just be love. He might just have found in the apocalypse what he could never find in a fully functioning world.

***

Loki made the best decision when he went to get the key from Fury. Tony can hammer and explode and destroy to his heart’s content, pouring out the remainder of his fear into making something that might be useful to somebody. It’s always been the way that Tony deals with emotions, and the fact that Loki had inherently known that makes his heart clench in a not entirely uncomfortable way.

He’s not stupid though. He knows that while he’s here, Loki is scouring the compound to find who put that picture up. He returns to Tony that night with no news, apparently no one has been to the wall in forever, otherwise they would have been able to take down the picture of Tony as soon as he’d appeared. Loki crawls into bed with apologies on his lips but Tony silences him, because it doesn’t matter that much.

***

The next day sees Tony in the weapons vault in the orange sector. Although in a previous world he’d decided never to make weapons again, Fury was right when he said this was a war that they weren’t exactly winning. And his weapons were never going to be used to hurt good, honest people like they had before, so it was a win/win situation. He’s sat on the floor, surrounded by blueprints while he tries to work out whether to start by making missiles so they can create defences for the compound or guns so they can create defences for their scavenging soldiers, when the door opens and heavy military boots step through.

‘Should you be in here?’ Tony freezes. He closes his eyes and tries to breath, but that’s a feat that’s quickly becoming impossible as anxiety and outright terror seize his lungs. His hands start to shake, and his whole body quickly follows. Not because he’s scared he’s been caught where he shouldn’t be because he has fucking clearance to be here, no. But because he’s heard that voice before. Soothing him and scolding him and caring about him and screaming for him to ‘GO!’ every single fucking night in his dreams.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.’ The voice persists and Tony’s alarm gives way to anger because he fucking left him alone and now here he is putting up pictures that he stole and acting like he has more of a right to be here than Tony does. But Tony’s been here longer and he knows now that tall and ex-military just has to have meant him.

‘No. You didn’t startle me. It’s just that you’re supposed to be dead, so forgive me for being a little bit shocked.’ Tony’s blood is boiling as he curls his fingers into fists, standing far too quickly, but he ignore the dizziness and the spots in his vision when Steve speaks again.

‘Tony?’

He whirls around to face blue eyes and his anger must show on his face because the hopeful look on Steve’s slides sideways as he flinches back.

‘Shocked to see me? Well multiply that by ten and then maybe you’ll have just half of what I’m feeling.’

‘Tony, I-‘

‘No. Shut the fuck up, Steve. I watched you die. Even if they didn’t kill you, I watched that thing bite you. You should, by all accounts, be one of them. So, why oh why the fuck are you here?’

Steve looks panicked now, his hands are flailing and his mouth is opening and closing but he isn’t making a goddamn sound.

‘Steve?’ A female voice joins the chorus, and a brunette in the military uniform steps through the door. She places her delicate hand on Steve’s forearm, right where Tony watched Steve get bitten. ‘I heard shouting, are you okay?’ And normally Tony loves an English accent, (see exhibit A: Loki), but right now he just kind of wants to punch her in her smug fucking face and then he wants to punch Steve and maybe kill him and then punch everybody else he sees because Steve is supposed to be dead.

Before he really does lose control, Tony shoulders his way past both of them and out into the corridor, when he heads for where he hopes Loki will be, because he needs his calming influence right now. He doesn’t even glance at Steve’s face on the way out, because he doesn’t want to have to deal with any emotions other than his anger at the moment.

He beelines for Loki’s room, where he hopes the other man will be, even if it isn’t likely because Loki never goes to his own room anymore, he’s always in Tony’s, but Loki’s room is closest and he really really needs to be somewhere private to deal with this. He runs into Bruce on his way there, and the doctor takes one look at his face and hauls him down a few corridors before pushing him into his office and sitting him down. He hands Tony a cup of water before sitting in a chair he has pulled up to be directly in front of Tony.

Bruce doesn’t say a word, instead waiting for Tony to be comfortable enough to start.

‘The new guy. Steve. What do you know about him?’ Are the first words Tony finds himself able to say, and Bruce frowns but knows that if he doesn’t give his friend what he wants, he’ll pull out the I’m purple so do what I say card, and Bruce doesn’t want to deal with being ordered around by his friend.

Bruce rolls his chair over to his filing cabinet, sliding a drawer open and removing a file. Returning to Tony, he hands the file over. ‘Not much. Said he came from Brooklyn. Had only see one other survivor, but he didn’t know if he was still alive. I found bites on his arms, but they’d mostly healed and there was no sign of the infection in his system. Fury decided to keep that bit a secret from the general population.’

‘Do you know why he wasn’t affected?’

‘He mentioned something about a serum. Altered him. Big muscles, resistant to viruses and increased healing time.’

‘A super soldier serum, then?’

‘Looks like it.’

‘And you think that’s why he’s still alive and human?’

‘No other reason that I could figure out would be possible.’ Bruce frowns at Tony. ‘Why so interested in the new guy?’

‘He- He was the other survivor I found. I watched him get bitten, Bruce. I saw his body – it was mangled, beyond repair.’

‘Obviously this serum is mighty strong.’ Bruce shrugs, unable to offer any other explanation. ‘Have you seen him then?’

‘Yeah. Got a bit angry at him. Stormed off.’ Tony laughs, but it sounds hollow, fake. ‘My normal reaction to being afraid then.’

Bruce frowns again, but doesn’t press the matter, instead forcing Tony to drink the water. When Bruce lets him go, Tony heads straight for his workshop, and he sees Loki sat on the couch, concern scrawled all over his features.

Before Tony can even think about asking him what’s wrong, Loki is up and rushing to his side. ‘I heard about what happened. The new guy is your Steve?’

‘Yep. I don’t even understand how, but apparently he didn’t die.’ Tony’s voice is shaking and fucking hell why does everything always shake with him? Loki leads him over to the sofa, and Tony slumps on to it, lying down. He feels tired all of a sudden, and his limbs feel too heavy. Loki sits on the floor by his head, hand resting gently on his chest.

‘So, what does this mean?’ Loki asks in a small voice, eyes forlorn.

‘Huh?’

‘I mean, in relation to us.’

Tony lets his head fall to the side until he’s looking at Loki and he cups the back of the other man’s head, pulling him in for a kiss. ‘Why would anything need to change?’

‘I am not stupid, Tony. I know you two were more than surviving.’ He tries to pull away but Tony’s grip is firm.

‘It meant nothing. It was two people trying to ignore the end of the world. He’s been dead to me for over a month – any feeling I had for him is gone.’

‘A month isn’t that long.’

‘It is when the world has ended. Otherwise I doubt I would have maybe possibly fallen for you so fast.’ Loki starts at that, and his eyes grow impossibly wide in shock.

‘Okay. Okay.’ Loki smiles at Tony. ‘I love you too.’

Tony’s mouth quirks up in the corner and he pulls Loki in to kiss him, ever so gently on the lips.

Tony avoids everything else for that day, everything that isn’t Loki and his workshop and eventually his room because this is all Tony needs. He doesn’t need a man who should be dead, despite what his head seems to be screaming at him. He doesn’t need to go talk to Steve. All he needs is wrapped in his arms and he doesn’t even care that now he’s probably only admitting to loving Loki just to reassure himself. Steve left him alone, even if he didn’t mean to. He probably knew he would survive that attack and he never even told Tony there was any sort of strange serum-y thing going on. Steve saved his life, three times, and that’s it. There’s nothing more to them than that.

They why does he feel so fucking conflicted all of a sudden?

***

He manages to avoid Steve for another three days before he’s cornered in his workshop and how the fuck did he ever get in here? Tony would ask but that would mean acknowledging his presence and he still isn’t entirely sure how he feels about Steve. The anger has slowly dissipated, but now he just feels empty and he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to react, so he’s decided to just… not. But that’s becoming increasingly difficult with Steve’s voice becoming more and more desperate and it keeps breaking and goddamnit Tony is just not this mean.

‘What do you want, Steve?’

‘I wanted to explain-‘

‘Explain what? That you went and died on me but you didn’t really die? I’d hardly say that’s your fault.’

‘But I-‘

‘Still could have told me about the serum? Could have warned me that you weren’t actually going to die?’ Tony refuses to look up at Steve, continuing to solder the circuit board in front of him, even if it is ruined now because he can’t concentrate with Steve being right fucking there.

‘Will you shut up for a second?’ Pleased when Tony doesn’t say anything, he carries on. ‘I- I didn’t tell you about the serum because I didn’t think it was necessary. I didn’t need you thinking I was unstable or something to be afraid of.’ Steve pauses, clearly expecting Tony to say that he was wrong. But Tony doesn’t say a word.

‘I didn’t know that I could survive an attack like that. I didn’t know that the virus wouldn’t affect me, otherwise I would’ve told you.’ Steve doesn’t know what else Tony wants to hear.

‘Too little too late, Steve. You abandoned me.’ That’s all he has to say on the matter.

‘Don’t hold back, will you?’ Steve mutters sarcastically under his breath, and something inside Tony snaps. He slams the circuit board onto the worktop, spinning around, fists clenched at his sides.

‘I was angry. Angry that you’d died, that you’d left me. But I fucking got over it. And now here you are? Not as dead as you were supposed to be? I don’t know what to do with that, Steve! I had nightmares every night, watching you die over and over again and suddenly I learn that all of that was founded on nothing? You expect me to be okay with that? I cared about you, Steve! I was just lucky I found this place when I did because I’d reached a point where I didn’t care if I lived or died just as long as I took as many of those bastards with me as I could. Because I was alone. I had nothing to live for.’ Tony didn’t know when he’d moved, but he’d pinned Steve to the wall, fists clenched in his tshirt, breathing heavily.

Steve moves forward and kisses Tony and it’s like that first time and suddenly Tony is back in that bed, adrenaline running through him from running for his life. He can smell the dust and the rotting flesh and he can taste Steve. But that isn’t what his life is like anymore. He pulls away from the bruising kiss, and jerks away when Steve tries to chase his lips. Stalking away, running his hands through his hair, he returns to his desk.

‘You should go.’

‘Tony-‘

‘Go!’

And Steve does, and Tony doesn’t even need to look at his face to know that it’s covered in confusion and Tony knows that the other man will be upset, but he doesn’t care. As soon as the door slides shut, he slumps forward, head crashing onto the table in front of him. He doesn’t know how long he sits there until he feels hands on his back and lips on the back of his neck. Turning his head slightly to capture Loki’s lips with his own, he sighs into the other man’s lips.

‘You spoke to him?’ Although it’s more of a statement than a question as Loki backs up enough to allow Tony to sit up.

Tony nods anyway and Loki perches on the desk next to him, looking at him expectantly. ‘Well, I yelled at him.’

‘And?’

‘And we kissed.’ Tony mumbles that part, knowing he should tell Loki, because there’s no point keeping secrets in this confined space. He tenses up, but Loki doesn’t hit him, just looks at him sadly.

‘I thought you probably would.’

‘You’re not mad?’

‘Oh, don’t get me wrong, I knew it would happen, but I am still fucking furious.’ Loki’s hands have slowly clenched into fists, but he still doesn’t hit Tony, just grinds his teeth, closes his eyes and breathes.

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-‘

‘Is it over now? Can you be happy with me?’ And Loki just sounds weary now, weak and maybe even a little nervous, like he expects Tony to just leave.

‘Yes, it’s over. I promise.’ Standing in front of Loki, lightning fast, he cups the other man’s face in his hands, running his thumbs over the angular cheekbones as he leans in to kiss him on his forehead. Loki’s hands clutch at Tony’s shoulders, fingers digging into skin and bone desperately. Leaning their foreheads together, they just breath, Loki calming down and Tony thinking about how he was expecting the other man’s reaction to be something so much darker than that.

***

It takes a couple of days, but eventually, they fall back into the same routine they’d always had. Tony spots Steve a couple of times on his way back and forth between the weapons vault and Clint and Natasha’s rooms. The woman from before always seems to be with him, and Clint informs him that she’s Peggy Carter, and she was some form of special agent, but now she works on strategy and contingency plans in case this whole thing ever goes tits up. The first time he sees them kissing he is a little shock, but he gets over it fairly quickly, just offering Steve a small smile and continuing on his way. He realises that they haven’t had proper closure yet, they haven’t dealt with everything, but this dance around each other seems to work.

They’re not involved in each other’s lives any more than they have to be, but in close quarters like this, that’s still a lot more than Tony really wants. Three months later and there are rumours of Peggy being pregnant, and Tony’s heart contracts when he hears that, but only slightly, and if he’s slightly rougher with Loki that night, well the other man seems to enjoy it and Tony doesn’t want to read too much into what that might mean.

One night, Tony can’t sleep. It’s well after midnight, not that the time really matters under here with the lack of a sunset or sunrise, but they try their best with automatically dimming lights to mimic the season. He crawls out from under Loki’s arm, smiling softly when the man curls into the warmth he leaves behind. He dresses quickly and slips out the door, tiptoeing along the corridor noiselessly. He finds himself in the library after wandering the halls with no real aim. There’s no one around, and Tony’s grown to like the silence that this place can offer at times. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t go to his workshop like he usually would, but nonetheless, he ends up browsing through rows of books – for a post-apocalyptic underground society, they’re fairly well stocked in the literary department. He rounds the corner into the ‘G’ section, and finds Steve slumped on the floor, a sketchpad in his lap.

Blue eyes look up at him in shock, and he freezes under the gaze. He debates running, but Steve looks tired, and Tony could use the company, so he slides down next to the taller man, consciously leaving an acceptable gap between them.

‘Couldn’t sleep either?’ Tony asks, his voice seemingly too loud in this small peaceful space.

Steve shakes his head, and Tony waits for him to elaborate. ‘I’m kind of panicking here.’

‘About the baby?’

Steve sighs. ‘Yeah. It’s kind of daunting. Bringing a kid into this world, I mean.’

‘At least it’s safe down here.’ Tony supplies, and Steve nods. ‘But it is-‘

‘Really, really soon? Yeah, I know. We didn’t plan for it, but it seems better just to take it in stride. She seems to think it’s a blessing.’

‘A sign? Seems all a bit cliché for me.’

Steve nods, but doesn’t say anything else for a while. He taps the end of his pencil on the pad in his lap in a rhythm that only he understands. ‘I am sorry, you know. I would’ve told you if I’d known.’

Tony pulls his legs up to his chest. ‘I know you would’ve done. I’m sorry I can’t seem to be around you without yelling. I was just-‘

‘Scared? I know. I was too, when I woke up and didn’t have a bizarre craving for human flesh. I think I was just lucky they didn’t, you know, eat me. My first thought was to find you. I searched everywhere, before heading out in this direction – which was no easy feat considering you’d taken all the supplies with you.’

Tony laughs softly. ‘Sorry about that. If I’d known you were going to miraculously heal yourself, I would’ve left a few cans of beans and a bottle of water.’

Steve laughs, and bumps Tony’s shoulder with his own. It’s an eerie echo of the first time they met, in that apartment in downtown Manhattan.

‘I found the car a little while after that. You left plenty in there for me to live on.’

‘I couldn’t carry everything.’ Tony shrugs. ‘Figure I’d leave it for someone else to find.’

‘And then I ended up here.’

‘And you put that picture up.’

‘It must have fallen out of your bag when you were rushing to pack. I found it and kept it. I didn’t know what else to do with it. I hoped someone had seen you.’

‘And no one told you I was already here?’ Tony rests his cheek on his knees, looking up at Steve.

‘Nope.’ Tony hums at that.

‘You know I have to ask about the serum, right?’

Steve smiles faintly. ‘I was this scrawny kid from Brooklyn right? From a military family – there had never been another path for me. I couldn’t get any regiment to accept me though, until I met a doctor. Doctor Erskine. He signed me up for this trial treatment – the serum. It worked, I grew and filled out, but this was only a month before the virus broke out. I was in recovery, getting used to my new strength and everything, and then I found out that he’d died. Been one of the first to try and help find a cure apparently. I had no chance to ask him about anything.’

‘We’re just a pair of messed up people, aren’t we?’ They both laugh, and Tony sits up straighter.

‘Are you happy with her?’

‘As happy as I can be. Are you happy with Loki?’ And Tony should’ve known that someone would’ve have told him about that. Probably Natasha – those two seem close.

‘I am.’ Tony can’t help the smile that breaks onto his feature when he thinks about Loki, and Steve nods understandingly. And Tony maybe thinks that the only reason he’d ever been so attached to Steve was because he’d been the only person to attach to. Now he has an option, and he’s choosing Loki, because the man does make him happy. And Tony just wished his goddamn emotions weren’t up and down like a fucking rollercoaster all the time.

They don’t say anything to each other after that, but they’ve come to a silent agreement – they can come away from this being friends, because that feels like it’s all they would have been in any other situation.

When the clock approaches 8, Tony stands. He brushes down his trousers before turning to Steve and offering his hand.

‘See you later, Cap.’ Steve grins at him and shakes the proffered hand.

‘Bye, Tony.’ Steve smiles at him, big and wide and happy.

Tony grabs breakfast on his way back to the room, using his purple privileges to get them to give him Loki’s share as well. Bleary eyed and half asleep, Loki grins up at him when he returns with the breakfast on a tray. He shifts enough to let Tony slide in next to him, and as they sit and eat side by side, Tony feels a weight lift from his shoulders.

***

After that, everything goes pretty well. Tony and Steve are friends now, and even Loki is attempting to be friendly towards the man. Steve slots into Tony’s life exactly as he would have had they not messed around with feelings and emotions and each other. They’re best friends, and both are content with that scenario. Even Tony and Peggy become pretty close – not as close as Loki and Peggy though. They seem to have crazy inside jokes and both seem to revel in making fun of their other halves. It’s actually damn near perfect, if Tony thinks about it.

But nothing that good can last forever.

Chapter Text

The security breach came in the early hours of what is supposed to be a spring morning, according to the calendar. Loki shoots out of bed rather quickly, but it takes Tony a while to realise what is happening. They get dressed and flee into the corridor, into a mass of panicking people, who are being told to evacuate into the lower levels. Tony grabs onto Loki’s hand and fights to keep them together. Tony hauls Loki around a corner into a desolate corridor and out of the constant stream of people.

‘I need to get to my workshop. There’s equipment in there that could help. You go. Follow them, get to safety.’ He doesn’t really know what’s going on, but he’s thinking that it’s a break in or something, and the weapons technology he’s been working on could probably help.

‘I am not leaving you, Tony.’ Tony realises that arguing with the man will just make this take longer so he nods, and they take off down corridor and corridor, the compound getting emptier and emptier the further down they go. They run into Steve and, by this point, a heavily pregnant Peggy, on their way to the lower tunnels. Tony explains what they’re doing but tells them to keep going to safety.

‘No, you can’t go there on your own. Who knows what’s going on?’

‘And you’ve got a six months pregnant girl there. Take her to safety.’ Peggy is growing paler by the minute, and she’s starting to sway. ‘Go, Steve!’ Tony orders, not giving him a chance to argue. ‘And take him. Don’t let him follow me.’ He shoves Loki into Steve’s chest.

‘Wait, what? Tony, no. This is my-‘ Loki tried to protest.

‘No, it’s not. Go to safety okay?’ Tony kisses him hard and fast. ‘I love you. Now go.’

‘I love you too.’ Loki kisses him once more before being dragged away by Steve.

‘You better be down there quickly, Tony.’

‘Don’t worry, I’m not planning on dying today, Cap.’ He winks as he takes off in the opposite direction. He crashes into his workshop, gathering all of his work and equipment that he deems to be important enough into a bag that he swings over his shoulder. Tony hears an explosion, and now he is definitely confused – have the infected gotten smarter? He’d just assumed they were dying out, not getting better at surviving. He grabs the pistol that all purple citizens are given from his desk and sets out in the direction of the explosion.

Not clever, he knows. But people that he loves are down in the basement of this place, and he isn’t letting them be trapped if he can help it.

‘Tony!’ He spins around to face Steve running down the corridor. ‘Where are you going? We’ve got to get out of here!’ Steve shouts over another explosion.

‘Another couple of them and this whole place is coming down. There’s no way of surviving in those evac tunnels, and you know it. If I can prevent this, then everyone might just come out of this alive.’

‘You can’t do it alone.’

‘And I can’t endanger you.’

‘I’m practically invincible, remember? Shall we?’

Tony nods and leads the way down another corridor. He doesn’t like this, but there isn’t much he can do to change Steve’s mind, so he might as well go with it. They make it to the security room, and after a couple of quick system checks, Tony realises something.

‘It’s the self-destruct system. They’re intentionally burying us.’

‘Why the hell would they do that?’

Tony thinks back to a conversation with Fury he had a couple of days ago;

‘I’m not getting a radio signal. We’re too far underground.’

‘We’ve had information from the terminal out west. The army is looking for survivors.’

‘We don’t know if that’s recent though. It could just be a repetitive broadcast.’

‘Isn’t survival worth the chance though, Stark?’

‘How would we even get their attention? We can’t lead a charge out of here, it might still be too dangerous. Especially for such a big group of us.’

‘None of our recon teams have come up against any infected in weeks.’

‘Because they only go out during the day! Who knows what it’s like at night?’

‘It’s a chance we might have to take.’

Shit. ‘Because Fury thinks that blowing this place up will be some sort of beacon to rumoured army search parties.’

‘But why? We were doing pretty well down here on our own.’

‘Because, Mr Rogers, this place was only ever a temporary solution.’ Fury steps through a side door, menacing look on his face.

‘You don’t have the supplies.’ Tony realises.

‘So you’ll risk the deaths of hundreds of people?’ Steve demands.

‘If it has to be. It may be a stupid-ass decision, but it’s the only one we’ve got.’

‘You’re risking your own life though.’ It’s clear that Steve cannot grasp the situation.

‘Because you feel guilty. So you’ll die up here and leave the rest of us without a leader.’ Tony is fucking pissed off. ‘No. You do not get to cop out that easily. You made this decision and you will lead our battered ranks in the aftermath.’

Fury shakes his head, but Tony is not taking any of his shit. Not today.

‘No, you do not get to argue with me. Now we are moving out and you are taking responsibility for this. Steve.’ Tony gestures at Fury, and Steve grabs him, using his awesome strength to haul the other man from the room.

They hurry along the corridors as fast as they can, but soon enough they’re faced with infected who were not only attracted by the explosion, but allowed in by the ruined doors and failed security measures.

‘Shit.’ Tony says as he draws the pistol and starts shooting. Steve lets go of Fury to grab debris from the rapidly crumbling walls to use as a weapon. Tony and Steve fight like they were always meant to be partners in battling creepy ass, cannibalistic people. They move around each other fluidly, like some sort of twisted dance. It falters though, when they hear Fury curse and they turn to see blood flowing from his neck and his arm, where he’s been bitten. Tony and Steve look at each other.

‘Now is when we run.’ Tony announces, and they take off in the direction of safety. Steve leaps over a pair of infected and Tony slides underneath them, being hauled up on the other side by strong arms. Explosions echo around them as they run as fast as they can, but even Tony’s fastest can’t keep up with Steve’s impossibly long strides, and he’s beginning to tire. He skids to a stop when he sees Peggy stumbling towards them down a corridor to his right.

And that is just about the most fucked up sight he’s ever seen, her stomach a mess of blood and a hole where a baby used to be. She limps towards Tony arms raised, mouth already gnawing. Her skin is grey, streaked with blood. Hauntingly red eyes where once brown used to be. She’s gone, he knows she has. Steve, realising Tony is no longer by his side, turns and runs back. But Tony won’t let Steve see that, so he heads forward to meet him.

‘What happened?’ Steve is concerned and also looking around in a state of panic.

Before Tony can say anything, another explosion rocks the foundations, and Tony shoves Steve away just as the ceiling between them comes crumbling down. Staring at the mound of stone and dirt in shock, he doesn’t reply to Steve calling his name. And then he feels teeth on his neck, and screaming, he jerks away, feeling the horrific feeling of his tendons being torn from his neck. He turns to see Peggy chewing on them and grabbing at his arms. Tony does the only thing he can think of and he swings the pistol up to shoot her. He would feel bad about it but fuck she just fucking bit him and he’s going to die and at least she’ll be out of her misery. Tony falls to the floor, back against the barricade keeping him and Steve apart.

‘Tony! Can you hear me? TONY!’

‘I’m here Steve.’ His voice is croaky and already faint from blood loss, and he can feel the virus pulsing through his veins, and that might just be a phantom sensation but it fucking feels like it and he’s fucking dying so he can think what he wants.

‘Are you okay?’

‘Not really, no. Your girlfriend just had half my neck for breakfast.’

‘What? Peggy? No no no… she was supposed to be safe.’

‘Cap. I need you to listen to me, because I probably only have minutes. Go. Find Loki and get out of here. Don’t let yourself get trapped in those tunnels because you won’t survive. Get out of here and just fucking survive. The both of you.’ Tony’s head is swimming, and the hand covering his neck is doing little to stop the flow of blood, and he can feel the liquid flowing over his fingers and down over his shoulder.

‘Tony, I’m not leaving you.’

Tony is too weak to argue. He knows he doesn’t have long and he just needs to make Steve promise. They won’t survive in those tunnels, no one will, but trying to save everybody else is pretty much a lost cause now the whole place is coming down. ‘Cap, please. I know I’m gone. Just- I love you both. Make sure he knows I loved him. And please just keep both of you alive. Please. Do this one thing for me, yeah, Steve?’

‘I will, Tony. I promise.’

‘Good. Now go.’

‘No, I’m not going to leave you alone like this.’ Tony can hear the tears in Steve’s voice and he can feel the tears streaming down his face, and it’s a sick sensation when couple with the feeling of his blood rushing out over his hand from the wound in his neck. ‘I loved you too, Tony.’

‘Past tense already? That hurts, Cap.’

‘Always. I’ll always love you.’ His voice hitches as he responds, and Tony can feel himself getting weaker. His eyes are slowly slipping closed, and the last thing he sees before he loses consciousness is a photo of him, Pepper and Rhodey. It’s fallen out of his bag, half covered in papers and there are even more blood stains than before, but it’s still whole as he lays his hand gently across it. And then he goes limp.

***

Hungry. Very hungry. Food. Need food. Flesh. Smells good.

Flesh. Other side of dirt. Claw at dirt. Get the food. Smells good. Want to tear. Rip. Eat. Flesh smells strange. Different. Seasoning? Want to tear the food. Tear the human. Eat. So hungry. Claw at dirt.

Tony? Who is Tony? Flesh speaks. Is alive. Fresh. Want fresh food. Taste better.

Movement. Pause. Turn. No. Not tasty flesh. Dirty flesh. Old, broken food. Want fresh food. Other side of dirt.

Hungry.

Need food.

Want flesh.

Hungry.

***

‘Tony? Tony!’

Steve lets the tears fall as he hears the voice that once felt like coming home groan as Tony comes back. But no, he’s not Tony anymore. He hears him scratch at the barrier and he knows he should move but he can’t. He’s frozen in fear and despair. He’s just lost his girlfriend, his baby and his love? best friend? in one fell swoop.

But Tony gave him a mission. So he pushes himself up and sluggishly at first, but eventually he moves faster, fast enough to dodge infected as he runs, he’s screaming Loki’s name now, not caring who or what hears him. He promised Tony, and he never breaks a promise.

‘Steve?’ He hears the tiny voice come from a room over to his left, and he carefully makes his way to the origin, seeing green eyes peering out at him from behind a door.
‘Loki?’ He throws the door open and Steve sees that he’s covered in blood. His eyes widen, and Loki notices, looking down at himself.

‘It’s not mine. Don’t worry. No bites. Where’s Tony?’

Steve just shakes his head.

‘Steve? Where’s Tony?’

‘He- He’s dead, Loki. I’m so sorry.’ There’s no point in telling him the truth, it’ll just cause unnecessary pain.

‘What? No, he’s not. Do not be so stupid. Tony wouldn’t die. He wouldn’t leave me.’

‘I’m so sorry, Loki.’ And Loki seems to realise that Steve isn’t joking and he crumples forward into Steve’s arms. He clutches at Steve’s arms to try and keep him upright, but sobs are shaking his body. Tiny screams and curses and begs escape from Loki, and Steve’s heart is breaking and he hates this whole thing with every fibre of his being. But even more than that, he loves Tony and he needs to keep this promise.

‘Look, Loki. I know you’re hurting, but I promised him that I’d keep you alive, so we need to move. Now.’ Steve hauls Loki upright and looks him in the eyes. ‘When we survive this, I’ll tell you what happened. You can tell me what happened to Peggy. And then we’ll grieve. But we have to get the hell out of here first.’

As if to emphasise his point, the whole compound shakes again, and they hear groans around the corner. Loki nods and allows Steve to pull him a few feet before he starts to move on his own. Steve is just making this up as he goes along though, so he stumbles through corridors until he’s somewhere he recognises, and then they hightail it to the only entrance/exit to the outside world. And then he sees the sheer volume of infected that are milling around.

‘We’re going to have to fight our way out.’ Loki whispers, already visibly steeling himself against the impending onslaught.

‘No, it’s too dangerous for you. We’ll have to find another way.’

‘Through the decon? It might just be worth a shot.’

‘We’ll have to try.’ And Steve leads them around, through the medical bay and the red decon because that’d the one with the tightest security and is the least likely to be breached. They head through the medical office, the shower rooms and out into the empty antechamber before the steel door. On their way through medical, they grab anything heavy that can be used as a weapon, and Steve also swipes a whole bunch of medical supplies that he thrusts into an emergency medical kit in a messenger bag and throws it over his shoulder.

Steve insists that he goes first, because he’s near enough invincible in the current situation, and a hell of a lot less fragile than Loki. So he storms out, wielding the leg of a bed, but the situation he finds is rather removed from the one he was expecting. There are four, maybe five infected lurking about in what looks to be a parody of being on watch. He takes them out fairly easily, then calls for Loki to follow him.

They make it out, back into the wasteland to see a scene not much different from the one he’d left behind when he’d joined the underground sanctuary – there’s more greenery but other than that, the sparse wasteland is identical. He leads Loki out over uneven ground, supporting him over some of the trickier parts. Adrenaline is running thin now, and Loki is starting to sag from the exhaustion – he’s been underground for most of these months, he’s never had to run like this before.

Steve’s first concern is finding them food, water and shelter. The food part is going to be the hardest – if Fury is to be believed, their scavenging teams have practically wiped out any remaining supplies from the immediate area. He does however find cars and bikes that had been restored to allow quick travel for the recon teams.

‘Which way?’ He asks Loki as he loads him into one of the more stable looking cars.

‘West.’ Loki says, slumping back into the seat. And Steve can’t argue with that, remembering what Fury had said about the terminal in that direction, and maybe the army really are out there, somewhere.

Steve uses all his boyscout knowledge to work out which way is west, and he starts the engine, hotwiring it just like Tony had shown him to, all those months ago.

Ten minutes of silence later, and Loki starts to speak. ‘I’m sorry, Steve. I tried to get her out of there, but there were too many of them. There was nothing I could do. I am sorry.’
‘The ceiling collapsed between us. He shoved me out of the way. He was on one side with the infected, I was on the other. He told me Peggy bit him, I heard a gunshot so I’m assuming she’s properly gone now. He spoke to me before… he told me to look after you. To tell you that he loved you. He told me that we have to survive.’

‘He loved you too, you know. I do not think he realised it, but he did.’

‘Yeah.’

‘We have to survive now, don’t we? For him. For Tony?’

‘For Tony.’