Tony had never liked airports. They reminded him of his mom and dad, flying off to business meetings and galas and tropical vacations that always somehow seemed to be for adults only, never for children. He liked them even less now, with Steve standing next to him in combat uniform, a regulation duffle slung over his shoulder.
For the longest time, Tony had been able to pretend it wasn’t happening, that his boyfriend wasn’t going to receive marching orders for some combat zone halfway around the world. He’d just keep going through training on some sickening infinite loop, building muscle on his already impressive shoulders and waking up at the ass-crack of dawn to go running, whether Tony got up with him or not.
But then the envelope had arrived, the stupid little piece of paper that was taking his lover away, taking his lover somewhere where people would hit him and spit at him and call him a faggot. And those were the guys on the “good” side. Never mind the terrorists.
They stood before airport security and Tony could feel his throat tightening, sense the tell-tale prickle at the edge of his eyelashes. He turned to Steve and looked up, setting his jaw against the sobs because fuck if he was going to pile even more guilt on. Not after the fight they’d had the day the papers arrived. And the one before that when Steve had headed off for basic. And the one before that when he’d first enlisted. No. Tony did not want the last words he spoke to his boyfriend to be ones of anger or bitterness.
He stepped up and wrapped his arms around Steve’s waist, holding on tightly, clenching his fingers into the material of the desert camo, squeezing like a boa constrictor.
“Come back to me in one piece,” he whispered into Steve’s neck, teeth sharp against the skin.
“Always,” Steve said immediately, his arms just as tight, nails a rough scratch against Tony’s spine. “I, uh, I’ve got something…”
He let go with one hand and dug into his pocket. Tony didn’t bother looking, but he felt it when Steve settled a chain over Tony’s head. “It was my grandmother’s,” he said softly, something so delicate in his voice that it was nearly impossible for Tony to imagine him in just a few days fighting for his life, shooting at the people, being shot at.
He leaned back just enough to see a heavy silver ring on the end of the chain, a teardrop cut ruby glinting from the setting. “She always wanted me to give it to my fiancé…” Steve continued, his voice still so very fragile, and Tony looked up. There were tears on his face, but he wasn’t entirely sure when he’d started crying.
“Are you…now? Right now?”
“It doesn’t have to be that. It can just be a promise. But…I wanted you to have it.”
A sob wracked through Tony’s lungs, a harsh inhalation rattling in his throat. He wanted to scream, to beat at Steve’s chest and ask why now? He wanted to rush the plane and dismantle it piece by piece to keep Steve here in New York, safe and sound and not there.
Instead he pressed up into a kiss, breath shuddering between them, tears stark on his cheeks. He broke away almost as quickly, choking with lack of oxygen, but he pressed his face to Steve’s neck and said fiercely, “I’ll wait for you.”
Steve shuddered against him and it was only then that Tony realized the big blonde was crying too, albeit more quietly. “I love you,” he whispered in Steve’s ear, running fingers through the short, bristly hair at the base of his neck. “I’ll be right here when you come back. So you’d better come back.”
“I love you, too. Don’t worry. I’m like a bad penny. I always come back.”
“Shiny fucking penny. The best one in the whole damn bunch.”
They kissed one last time, faces wet and blotchy, and then Steve was heading through security his tall frame disappearing from sight.
Tony went to the observation window and watched the planes taking off and landing. He knew the exact takeoff time for Steve’s jet, and he had the information pulled up on flight tracker. On time. No delays. At 2:45, a big 787 rolled past and that was it. That was the plane that was carrying his lover away from him. He watched it taxi around, accelerate down the runway, and lift off, nose angling toward vapory cirrus clouds. It disappeared from sight in an eye blink, moving beyond Tony’s field of vision. And still he stayed, watching contrails disappear into the air. He gave himself two hours, staring into the sky as the sun slowly drew down, the clouds yellowing. Then he stood and left, fingering the ring around his neck as he walked.
Steve was on a two-year tour, but Tony was not the type to sit around and mope. He would miss Steve, certainly, but he knew for a fact that the empty space of their apartment would rip him to shreds if he let it. No. He had work to do. Steve would go out and make the world a better place his way. And Tony would go out and do the same.