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In Timely

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Living in Timely is unbearable sometimes. But that is quite the point.

Tony came out here to forget and be forgotten, deliberately picking one of the most dangerous and most unfriendly towns he'd passed through during his travels to live out the rest of his sorry life. People in town think he drinks to make it all more bearable, but frankly he drinks because he's a coward.

He can't face his demons, can't face life as it is – and he sure as hell isn't brave enough just to end it himself.

It would all be so much easier if he would managed to stop caring.

But there always is something to care about. He leaves friends behind in New York and never gives an indication of where he's going to make it easier on himself and then he ends up living in a little frontier town full of outlaws, killers and crooks, just to find that even here there are decent people.

Caring. It's like a curse.

Not caring would have been a blessing.

Instead here he is sitting in the cell of their little prison, where the town sheriff has put him, and is left to contemplate when exactly this town has come to mean so much to him, while he stares up at said sheriff with a frown.

“I warned you,” Steve says with his Irish accent and a frown, hands at his hips like Tony is a stubborn child that needs a dressing down, and his blue eyes stern and clear.

It's a good look, even when his clothes are dirty with the dust and grime of Timely's streets and there's a small bruise forming on his high cheekbones, that he must have received in the brawl - that Tony may or may not have started. The details of that are fuzzy.

“You did,” he admits and slumps even more on the uncomfortable cot. He doesn't say that sitting here in the cell where Steve is on the other side of the bars, but only feet away, is better than drinking himself to sleep in the house that isn't so much a living space as a working place and always empty but for him.

It's hard to remember that he used to own a posh town house with a sitting room and a drawing room and a butler had been serving tea and biscuits. Someone had always been around. Not a saloon maid paid for her time, but friends and business partners and employees.

“You really shouldn't drink so much,” Steve mutters as he turns away towards his desk. There's a hint of disgust in his posture, but the true meaning underneath is the even worse revelation for Tony.

Somewhere along the line Steve has started to care.

Somewhere along the line Tony has started to care more than is good for him, too.

It can't end well.

Perhaps it should better end right here.

* * *

They never even admit they like each other.

Steve just pulls him from the river when he's drowning that one time, and pushes him out of the way of a carriage that other, and Tony comes to find him when he doesn't return from apprehending the Morston boys at their farm, finding him bleeding and unconscious. He takes care of him, drags him back to town and sits at his bed in Banner's shabby place until his fever breaks and he becomes more lucid. He says not a word about the nightmares, or Steve mumbling in the fever haze. That's just what they do for each other. They are neither the best of friends nor strictly speaking friends at all.

But there are things that don't need to be spoken out loud, that should never be spoken in a town like Timely. They communicate loud and clear in the way that Tony throws himself in front of Steve before he can take a hit from Lester or his goons, and in the way Steve pats his cheek when he thinks he's out in the cell, sleeping off the drink. There's a pull. Something undeniable and attractive. Sometimes they're eyes meet and it's painful to admit that a brief contact like that is enough to have Tony's heart beat faster. The blush on Steve's cheeks is enough hint that he isn't completely alone in this.

They never admit it.

And Tony thinks that's for the best.

Steve deserves better. Not something broken and dangerous like this.

* * *

The shot is what wakes him. By the time he's outside Steve is already bleeding out.

He doesn't know why there even still is a gun for him to grab, but he knows there's only one thing he wants to do with it. And then all the women are around him, soothing, calming touches, surprisingly strong hands, loud assurances. They drag him away like they fear what he's going to do, like they are afraid for him. They too care - and Tony has no idea when that has happened. He tried to make himself as much of a nuisance as possible. But when they usher him into a house and make him lay down he is grateful. It's better he can't watch. Doesn't want to hear.

Steve is dying. Dead.

The sounds and smells and the heat of the sun outside - it was all still in his mind, still burned in his memory.

Hopelessness lets it all plunge into darkness.

Steve is dead.

Tony should have died a long time ago, never brave enough to actually make someone kill him. And now Steve has done the noble thing and paid for it.

Tears are streaming down his face, hot and searing.

But he only feels hollow.

It's good they never admitted to liking each other or Steve would have been more disappointed in Tony. Because he knows there's only one thing he can do to keep the demons at bay: Drink some more.

* * *

He's stinking drunk during the service that either Carol or Banner or someone has organized. Nobody had dared to look at him or reprimand him.

Nobody had dared looking into the coffin either. And that little detail slips him by then, because he doesn't want to see what's left of his friend.

Steve deserves so much better. A better death. A better funeral. Better friends. A town that actually stands up for itself.

It doesn't matter anymore.

But when he goes to sleep not hours after he dreams of sleeping on the cot in the cell, Steve unaware of his being awake sitting down beside him, fingers ghosting through his hair.

He sleeps better than he should be able to.

* * *

He's too drunk to give the old man more than a cursory glance as he steps up and draws a fortune from his Vision and then passes it to Tony, claiming it's supposed to be his future.

He blinks at the thick paper card before laughter bubbles up from deep inside of him, crazy, hateful, and relieved.

“Steve Rogers is alive in the camp,” is written there in scrawly childlike letters. It's not a neatly printed card from the machine, but a secret message just for him.

Tony thinks it's a bad joke. But it's the first thing that kicks him into action. If Steve lies there in the Indian camp dying or holding on to life, Tony needs to make sure his enemies are dead before Steve can return.

He has work to do.

He never goes to see Steve, before he goes off to war.

It's not like they like each other.

It's not even like they're friends.

* * *

“You're sober,” Steve says, when he walks into the new Stark Industries, using a cane and looking years older than his actual age. He's still in pain.

“You warned me about the drinking, sheriff. It's going to be the death of me.”

“Not the sheriff anymore,” Steve mutters, but it's not a complaint. He lets a hand glide along the Iron Man armor that's standing propped up and to the side of the workshop. When he looks at Tony this time he smiles.

It's too much.

It's dangerous.

“I'm glad you're back,” Tony mutters, but doesn't move from his place on the work bench.

And it's Steve who stumbles over and sits down beside him just barely touching. “Thanks,” he says.

For today that's as close as they are going to get to admitting something.

Perhaps it's enough, he thinks, as Steve's touch ghosts along his arm in a reassuring gesture. He has missed even the nothing they have.