“So,” Steve says, and it's with great effort that he keeps his voice even as he turns around, “you're alive.” His tone doesn't betray his disbelief, nor does the dizzying rush of emotion at seeing Tony, alive and breathing, cause him to betray his pride and have the meltdown right here.
The lock clicks as Tony shuts the door to his private quarters behind him. “I figure so.” He quirks his lips. “If I were dead,” he holds up two fingers, “then either I'd be in heaven and you'd already be sprawled out waiting for me on those sheets,” one finger down, “or I'd be in hell and back in the British Honduras, freshly betrayed by my paramour in a ghastly attempted murder. Well, not so attempted. She did get one out of the three of us.” That's the other finger.
The flippancy cuts deeper than Steve expects. “No,” Steve snaps off, “you're not dead, so things can't revolve around you just yet. Or so one would think.”
Tony's eyes widen slightly. “Whoa there. One would also think you're overreacting. Just a tad.”
“Overreacting?” Steve's laugh is short. “This isn't anything compared to how I reacted when I believed you were dead.”
Tony actually looks guilty at that one. “That was the point,” he muttered.
Steve resists throwing his hands up, to avoid lending credence to Tony's claim. “The point? To lie to me for months? To have me be useful in the fight after swearing revenge in your name?”
Tony stares at him. “No,” he says slowly, enunciating the word, “to defend our country against an alien invasion, and that's not just the high-ups fear-mongering about the Reds here.”
The aliens had indeed been very green in their natural forms. Steve deflates. Maybe he is overreacting. Tony loves him. He wouldn't hide things from him, hurt him just for his own convenience's sake. As long as Steve remembers that, then things won't end up like –
“But I thought we were past this,” Steve admits. “The war's over. The war's been over.”
“Past what?” Tony huffs. “The need for secrets? Steve, you can't tell me that you think that all the world's evil was eradicated when the Axis surrendered?”
Tony's scorn is jarring, unlike him. Steve can't be that naive; he's seen enough of the worst sides of people growing up as he did. He's talked about it enough for Tony to know better.
“I thought we were past living like we were still fighting the war.”
Tony scoffs, scuffs at the carpet with his shoe. Steve's jaw sets. Why is Tony acting like this? He's of half a mind to push, but the other half pulls him back, warning him of where that leads, what he's witnessed with his own eyes.
“Fine then. Why won't you tell me now?” Steve asks.
Tony stiffens. “Excuse me?”
“Cat's already out of the bag. You might as well let me into the inner circle.” Where he hadn't been earlier, and the thought stings before Steve can push it away. “But even now, you won't tell me more about what you were doing, or more about the...aliens, and why they were here, or anything.” Tony's avoiding his gaze, and Steve steps closer in.
“I punched in the faces of a few dozen of them. I'm not in the dark anymore. I deserve to know.”
It takes a long moment for Tony to shake his head. “You can't.”
If Steve had deflated earlier, then the whiplash at hearing those words is a rush that has him set to explode. “That doesn't make any sense. Why would you say that?”
The wait is even longer for Tony's next response. “There are some things that you would prefer not to know.”
“Well, I don't very well know that, do I?” Steve thinks he might be shaking. “I fought in the war right besides you. You know that all I want is to serve my country.”
Tony bristles – or are those shivers? His expression is odd, like he's torn. “Well,” he breathes finally, “no, I can't know that.”
“Damn it, Tony!”
Damn the consequences, damn the future that was never theirs but always hangs over them, a shadow they can't shake off, damn everything. Steve's suddenly so angry, and he wants Tony to understand, because there's no way he does, and how could it be that Tony could see right through Steve yet still do this to him?
“I lost you. Even if you're here now, it doesn't change that. You were gone and it was – I had to live with that.” He barely had, and now it's a whirl of too much and emptiness, bubbling over here all at once. “You've controlled the situation – controlled me enough here. I want to know why. I need to. Or else – ”
Steve stops himself, but not before Tony recoils. Steve remembers, like he does at the worst of moments, that in other times, other places, love hadn't been enough for them, and for the first time, he thinks he understands why.
Tony is breathing hard, and Steve realizes distantly they're both trying to hold back tears. It's enough to make Steve reach for him. He's still angry, Steve knows, but pushing Tony away is worse than any affront to his pride.
“I actually believed,” Tony muttered, “that if it came to it, I could let you go.”
The silence is deafening. “Why would you want that?”
“I'd never want it.” The answer is immediate. “I'd rather carve out my own heart.” It's a pet phrase Tony likes to use, ever since his heart had been restored, but it's the first time Steve has thought he's meant it.
“I was thinking about the other Cap.”
Steve remains quiet. They almost never talk about what happened with their counterparts back in Cassino, but it doesn't mean its hold over them has lifted.
“He committed treason against his government.” Tony's face is pale. “Steve, everything that's happening right now with the government has something to do with the Soviets. Even these aliens.”
“Tony, what does that have to do with – ”
“And he died.” Tony stops him. “He disagreed, and at the end, was dead for it.”
“That has nothing to do with us. Don't you think you're getting carried away?”
“Do you think they considered it could happen? Not my other self, at least.” Tony's laugh is hollow. “You saw what it did to him. I don't even know if that could be the worst of it. I'm not the head of any counterterrorist intelligence agency. You get it, right? I was – am – scared that it'll be you, next.” His voice drops. “And I thought, anything but that.”
Steve breathes out, the anger crumbling away like ashes with it. Him and Tony aren't so different, after all. Knowing that is what makes them different from the others. He's realized that for a while, and it's about time to act like he believes it.
“It won't,” Steve says, finally, firmly, no questions left. “Our world isn't theirs. We aren't them. Wherever we end up, it wasn't inevitable, following a path that was already laid in place. We're carving our own way through, and anything can change.”
His hands are on Tony's shoulders, and Tony looks up, eyes shining, and nods. “I hated keeping things from you, anyway,” he says. “We're not in the future. We're here, instead, and maybe I can't have radar in my brain and armor in a suitcase, but I'm glad for it.” Tony's hands frame Steve's face, and he's looking at him, intent. “If I was in hell, you wouldn't be there.”
Steve ducks his head. “I know how that feels.” Tony's fingers tighten, and when he tilts up Steve's head up, draws Steve in for a kiss.
“You've been holding back on me,” Tony muses as his fingers play with the hair at the nape of Steve's neck. They're lying in bed, Steve sprawled across Tony's chest. At the words he feels rumbling through Tony's chest, Steve props his chin on his forearms, looks up at Tony.
“Was it that good?” Steve smiles in satiated exhaustion.
“No. I mean, yes, but that isn't what I was talking about.”
Steve blinks at him, tilts his head, waiting for Tony to proceed unbidden.
“You think I don't see exactly how bullheaded you get, Captain America? All that unwavering resolve they talk about? Don't you mean a stubborn son of a bitch who doesn't know what's good for him and won't let things go?”
“How charming,” Steve says dryly.
Tony grins. “The most.” He tugs at a tuft of Steve's hair.
“Speaking of, you'll debrief me...?”
“After I've slept off the orgasm and had some coffee. I'll need it.” That's good enough for Steve. Tony's looking at him oddly. “But no, really, you've never been like that with me.”
“We disagree all the time,” Steve objects.
“So we do. Over strategical matters, or whether it's really appropriate to display a skull in the sitting room.
“It's unsettling. No one wants their dinner guests to feel like that unless they're General Fury.”
Tony looks amused. “We get into one little disagreement, and sometimes, yeah, I'm about ready to gear up for a shouting match that'll shake the rafters. But then you...” he frowns. “It's not like you agree with me. If you did, that'd be fantastic for my ego. No, we butt heads just a bit, make it a little personal, and then you just...give up.” Steve can't fathom what his own expression must be, but Tony runs the back of his fingers across his cheek and tugs the corner of his lips upward. “And here I thought we were in love, so how come I haven't seen this part of you for myself?”
“I do love you,” Steve says, and with it comes the thrill of warmth at admitting it. Tony's smile is dazzling, like it always is at hearing it, then turns fonder. Steve wants to squirm, well aware that his response wasn't any denial.
“Like I said, you've been holding back on me.”
“I don't mean to,” Steve admits. “Not at first, at least. But then I would remember what could happen when I'm angry at you.”
Sometime between their first night at the Van Dyne's party and those rushed, frantic days in Cassino, Tony had fallen in love with Steve. But Steve is the one who's been half-in-love for most of his waking life. He hadn't wanted to consider any threat to it, losing something that had long been a part of Steve Rogers before he'd become a hero.
Tony hums. “You really aren't him. I mean, as far as I can see, you're not frozen solid at the bottom of the Arctic. Nor are you so repressed anyone in their right mind would know to steer clear, even if it's in the opposite direction from this gorgeous face.”
“He got better.” Steve chuckles, tucking his cheek into Tony's touch. Being in love with Tony drives Steve half-mad at the best of times; he can't even imagine what bottling all of his feelings up while remaining in close proximity to the man would have done to him. He doesn't want to understand, really.
“Well, I won't do that anymore, if that makes you feel better. You're one to talk, though,” Steve says. “You've never pushed me like that.”
Tony sighs. “And so I haven't. Neither of us have been very honest about this. It's a mutual engagement, as many relationships tend to be, and as many breakups have told me I didn't understand.”
Steve hmphs, pulls himself up and leans in to kiss Tony.
“And,” Tony adds after Steve pulls away, his breath ghosting across Steve's cheek, “not holding back can't be so bad, if the make-up sex is always like this.”
Steve decides not to deign that with an answer. He leans down and kisses Tony's clavicle, before shifting and pillowing his cheek on Tony's shoulder. Tony runs a hand through Steve's hair, lulling Steve's eyes closed.
So they don't know where they're going, but their sky is clear now. Steve drifts off with a smile.