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Day One:

Titanic is called the ship of dreams, when in reality it’s actually kind of shit. Tony could have built a better ship in his sleep.

In his sleep, with one arm hacked off at the elbow. With his uninjured arm tied behind his back. And his eyelids cut off, just to spice things up.

He thinks about telling Obie this, decides he has better things to do than have someone laugh in his face, and shrugs instead. “I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It’s pretty much the same size as the Helicarrier.”

Obie laughs in a way that make Tony’s teeth clench. “Oh, come now, Tony. It’s 100 feet longer than the Helicarrier, at least.”

Tony sizes it up, craning his neck so he can look down the full length of it, and is about to shrug again before there’s a sharp pain in his left foot. He bites down on a yelp and looks to his side to see Howard glaring pointedly at him, his smile grimace-tight.

Tony bares his teeth right back at him before turning to Obie. “Whatever you say, dearest.”

Obie either doesn’t notice the sarcasm or wisely overlooks it, and judging by Tony’s many years of recognizing someone bullshitting their way through something, it looks like the latter as Obie throws back his head and laughs, his eyes creasing.

His eyes crease because he has eye wrinkles, and Tony is never going to forgive Howard for this as long as he lives, because Tony is freshly eighteen and the guy he has to marry is thirty-fucking-five, with eye wrinkles. Just- ugh. Ugh times a million. Ugh times however much money the Stark family used to have before Howard pissed it all away.

And Howard, being Howard, laughs along with Obie, his teeth white and properly proportioned and all the same size, due to a dentist who doesn’t get paid enough for this crap.

Tony can hear Maria laughing, too, but hers is flimsier, thinner, harder to hold onto. Sometimes, when he catches her eye in the middle of a dinner party, he loves her for it- that she’s not trying so hard to fake it anymore, after everything.

He listens to the laughter, and how it grates, and follows behind Obie as he starts to make his way through the crowd.

The boat’s big, he’ll give it that. He’s just not sure it’s the biggest, and again, he could build something better than this piece of shit without breaking a sweat. Or, well, design it. Obviously the building would be done by people who didn’t have caviar on a weekly basis.

His father is saying something behind him along the same lines, and Obie hums and agrees and Tony wants to turn around and slap him, punch him, kick the living shit out of him and make a break for it, because he’s stuck with this creep because his deadbeat father sucks at poker.

For now, though, instead of beating the shit out of Obie, Tony is just going to settle with downing every single bottle in the liquor cabinet until Pepper breaks regulations of being a maid and tells him to get his head out of his ass.

He smirks at that, though it’s not a very smirk-worthy image, and looks up at the ship again with a lessened urge to punch holes in it.

A month on it, he can handle.

The rest of his life drowning his sorrows in a mansion with Obie for a husband- well, he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.

 

 

 

Further along the docks, there are two men getting out of a car- a pair of brothers in pressed suits, one of them golden and grinning and the other bored, his gaze listing elsewhere.

Then another car and another pair of suits, less well-pressed, one wearing it like he came out of the womb doing it and the other shifting uncomfortably and worrying at the hem with his fingers, thanking the baggage handlers when they take his bags.

Three cars down from them, a man and a woman set their game faces and go over their cover story once more before letting their suitcases be taken up into the ship.

Remember, the woman says, you’re my brother.

The man rolls his eyes. Yeah, duh, like I’m going to forget and start making out with you in the middle of the lobby, jeez.

The woman’s mouth flickers, which she’s been trying to stop doing around him for a few years now. I wouldn’t put it past you, she tells him, and then the car doors are being opened for them and the game is on, and they’ve done this exactly three times before but it’s never the same.

 

 

 

Further, further, far enough that none of the others would see it if they looked, there’s another pair: two might-as-well-be brothers shoving into the boat, both with smudged charcoal on their sleeves and identical goofy grins, and Bucky yells into the wind as they run up onto the deck: “We’re the luckiest sons of bitches in the world, you know that?”

Steve’s laugh is loose, his grin bordering on manic, and it’s all the answer Bucky’s ever needed.

“Come on,” Bucky says in that giddy, disbelieved voice, the same one he had used when Steve had showed his hand of cards when they had won the tickets and scraped the money into Bucky’s bag.

He grabs Steve’s smudged sleeve, but he doesn’t have to tug much to make Steve follow him to the railing, past everyone waving.

Steve is still laughing as he says, “What, come where,” and Bucky just shoots another grin over his shoulder at him and pulls him so his hands are over the railing.

Bucky’s hollered ‘goodbye’ is almost lost in the lull of everyone else’s, and Steve scans the crowd, trying to spot a familiar face.

“Do we know somebody?”

“What?” Steve’s taller than Bucky now, so much so that Bucky actually has to look up to talk to him nowadays, but when he smiles like that, Bucky can still see the undersized, stubborn little squirt that’s underneath.

“No, Steve, that’s not the point,” Bucky says, and turns back to the forest of people, waving wildly and yelling goodbye again, the sun catching his hair and twisting at it.

Steve joins in, of course, whooping and waving at the sea of upturned hands, and at this point, neither of them are fully aware what they’re saying- nonsense sentences directed at nobody in particular, and Steve yells I’ll never forget you, letting it cloud his mouth, and just yesterday he was looking out across the docks behind the barrier line, looking at the ship that’s now under his feet.

 

 

 

Day Four:

The voyage starts out just as Tony expects it to: mind-numbingly boringly, and the only thing he’s found even moderately interesting on the entire ship is Phil Coulson, who apparently helped draw up the blueprints and is therefore Tony’s new best friend for the duration of dinner.

He’s arguing over schematics with him when a girl pipes up to his left, clearing her throat and drawing the eye of almost everyone on the table.

“Sorry to interrupt,” the woman says, all of five-foot nothing and the kind of redhead that only comes from having been born with it. “I just wanted to point out that Mr. Coulson is wrong in this particular endeavour.”

Ha,” Tony says, shoving a finger in Coulson’s face. “Told you.” He turns to the woman. “Wait, who are you?”

“Tony,” Howard hisses, and fuck, obviously everyone’s already been introduced and Tony was busy envisioning himself being speared on the olive fork.

“It’s quite alright,” the woman says, smiling in a way that Tony sees too often and still reminds him of a snake every time he sees it. “My name is Natasha Smith, Mr. Stark. I’m travelling with my brother, Clint. He’s- otherwise occupied at the moment.”

Coulson says, “You’re Clint’s sister,” in a surprised tone, and Tony glances back at him.

Natasha nods. “I am. I take it you two have met?”

“We- have,” Coulson says, only slightly stumbling over it. “I was under the impression that you would be- never mind,” he says, and clears his throat. “Uh, would you mind telling us why you think he’s right?”

“Because I am, obviously,” Tony says, and Natasha talks over him: “Well, I assume you two are going over the same schematics he was doodling in his book earlier, and they seemed correct when I happened to glance at them. Accidentally.”

Coulson looks at Tony, raising his eyebrows. “Do you mind?”

“You’ve said ‘mind’ every sentence for the past three sentences,” Tony says, only a bit high-pitched due to completely undeserved excitement, and has his notebook out by the time Howard covers it with his hand.

Tony looks up at him, something like bile wedging its way up his throat.

Howard says, “You know I don’t like you bringing that thing out when we have guests,” and it’s in the voice he usually uses when there are people around, the one that makes Tony sort of want to spit at him.

Tony says, “Yeah, but-”

“He knows.” Obie takes it out from under Howard’s hand and out of Tony’s, pushing it back into Tony’s overcoat pocket.

Tony’s empty fingers bracket around thin air, and it’s probably telling that he doesn’t even try to formulate a protest to it as Obie continues to the waiter: “We’ll have steak, please. Medium rare, and easy on the mint sauce.”

Then he’s turning to Tony, all closed-mouth smile and tilted head. “You like steak, right, darling?”

He does, but right now Tony knows that if he puts it in his mouth, it’ll taste like leather. So he smiles, thin-lipped, and doesn’t say anything, because if he does it’s going to accidentally come out as a swear and then Howard will really have something to yell at him for.

“Are you going to cut the steak for him, too, Stane?”

Tony looks over at Natasha, and almost balks at what he sees- Natasha, her smile obviously predatory and not even trying to hide it, and- and- fuck, even the way she blinks is menacing, and why is she doing this, she hasn’t even known Tony five minutes.

Actually, she’s reminding him scarily of Pepper, all that red hair and brimming homicidal tendencies hidden under prim dresses and lace.

Obie, however, just laughs, not noticing the brunt of the look he’s receiving, and Tony doesn’t meet either Coulson’s or Natasha’s eyes when they glance at him.

“Excuse me,” Tony says, and pushes his chair out, walking for the door to the deck before his father’s words can reach him.

 

 

 

Steve only narrowly stops himself from scooting line of coal across the page of his sketchbook when Bucky nudges him for the third time in thirty seconds.

He turns to him, snaps, “Would you please stop it,” in a momentary flare of annoyance, and Bucky holds up his hands, eyebrows raised.

“Whoa, fine. I just thought you’d want to see Smarmy-Smarmerpants over there.”

Steve is still frowning, but he follows where Bucky is pointing, and now that Steve looks up it’d be hard to miss the guy, even if Bucky wasn’t pointing. He’s standing next to one of the railings, looking out absently over the ocean with his hands in his pockets and looking uncomfortable, but more importantly, his suit probably costs more than anything Steve’s ever earned in his life.

“What’s he doing down in steerage,” Bucky says, voicing Steve’s thoughts. “I mean, look at his watch.”

Steve obediently looks at the man’s watch and thinks of how many meals he could have gotten with it.

He’s still thinking about it when Bucky slaps his hands down onto his own knees and stands up, breathing out loudly. “Well, if you’re not interested in finding out-”

“Bucky-” Steve makes a grab for him, but Bucky shakes him off easily, making for the man in question, and Steve curses his existence for a second before following.

“Hi,” Bucky says, beaming, and the man startles a bit, blinking before looking from the ocean to him.

“Uh,” he says. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Bucky says again. “I’m Bucky Barnes. You?”

“Bruce Banner,” the man says, and, to Steve’s surprise, takes Bucky’s hand when he offers it, giving it a firm shake before letting go.

Steve smiles- he may have been raised poor, but he wasn’t raised rude- and shakes his hand, too, introducing himself before stepping back next to Bucky.

Bruce says, “Nice to meet you,” and his smile seems tight, but not as fake as Steve expected it to be.

Bucky says, “Mm,” and Steve almost goes to stomp on his foot when he says, “So, in the nicest way possible, what the fresh hell are you doing down here?”

Again, Bruce blinks. He’s beginning to look nearly owlish. “Excuse me?”

“What,” Bucky says, “are you doing down here? You know, with that watch and the suit and the- hair. Is that gel?”

“Uh, no,” Bruce says, a hand coming up like he’s going to shove a hand through it before he drops it back down. “I just, uh.” He clears his throat, and his hands go in his pockets again, bunching up. “I feel more comfortable down here than I do up there.”

This is met with a silence, and Steve really does step on Bucky’s foot this time, hard enough to make him jump.

“That sounds fair enough to me,” Steve says over Bucky’s muffled yelp. “What brings you to the Titanic, Bruce?”

“Engineer,” Bruce answers immediately. Then: “Uh, is me. I’m one of the engineers. Not one of the important ones, I mean, just the- backup ones, I guess. They told me to look the part,” he says, and shrugs, self-depreciatingly. “and I guess that means I’m not supposed to stand around in steerage?”

“That’d be a pretty good guess,” Steve says, smiling despite himself. “Sorry about my friend here, he was raised in a barn and never learned how to be polite to strangers,” he finishes, glaring at Bucky, who looks sheepishly back.

“Right,” Bucky says, nodding. “Sorry, pal. Thought you were one of those rich folk come down here to slum it with the animals.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Bruce says, his smile gaining a little momentum. “To be honest, I’m just glad you thought I was rich. Whenever I go up there, it’s like they can smell the lack of trust fund on me.”

Steve thinks about mentioning that he looks about as uncomfortable in a suit as Steve would in one, but decides against it. “Where’re you from?”

“Chicago.”

“Yeah?” Bucky doesn’t sound flat-out judging anymore, which is a distinct improvement. “Nice. I got a niece from Chicago.”

“We’re both New Yorkers,” Steve says as Bruce opens his mouth.

Bruce smiles again, says, “Brooklyn, yeah. I can tell. That accent-”

“Is just swell, ain’t it,” Bucky cuts him off, but his tone is good-natured.

“Absolutely,” Bruce nods. “Took the words right out of my mouth.”

Steve laughs, but whatever he’s about to say dies on his exhale when he glances up to the upper deck.

There’s a man walking out, with the strides of someone who looks like they’re trying their best not to flat-out run, and his expression is pinched. He’s obviously one of the upperclassmen who was born into the life- black, trimmed beard, identical black, slick-backed hair, wearing the suit like a second skin- but both his posture and his movements are stiff; measured, like a clockwork doll.

And Steve had just meant it as a glance, had meant to look back at Bruce and keep talking, but suddenly he can’t care less who Bruce even is, because he failed every poetry class he ever took in high school but there’s something about how the man’s hands come around the railing that makes Steve want to start his own book of sonnets about it.

He’s vaguely aware of the breath leaving him, making him remember all those gut-punches he used to receive after class, and god, what he wouldn’t give for some watercolours- charcoal is all well and good, but they wouldn’t do shit to capture the pools of his eyes, the downward arch of his throat, how he’s holding the railing like he’s trying not to white-knuckle it, like he wants to open his mouth against the calm evening and start screaming-

The heady mess of his thoughts dull down and stop completely when the man meets Steve’s eyes and then almost immediately dart away, back to the wide expanse of ocean. Then, a few seconds later, they come to rest on him again, his screaming eyes and clenched fingers and there’s no sound, no scream, not really, but as the man looks away from him again, Steve swears he sees his lips part around it.

Bucky’s laughter brings him back, drags him into his body again, anchoring him down with a clap to his shoulder. “Don’t get your hopes up, pal,” Bucky says, light in his voice. “You’ll have better luck sprouting wings and flying the rest of the way to America than ever standing next to him.”

Steve opens his mouth to say- well, he doesn’t really know, but he was going to say something- and again, stops, because another man comes out of the same door the man had, and makes his way over to him, closing a hand around his arm.

It’s too far away to hear anything they’re saying, but both their expressions blare unhappiness and the fabric is straining from how hard the older man- much older, at least a decade, probably his father- is holding onto the man’s arm.

Bucky says, “Uh, Steve,” and Steve says, “What,” on default, and by the time he turns back again, both of the men are gone.

He doesn’t see either of them for two days, and then both of them on the same night, not even minutes apart.

 

 

 

Day Six:

Later, Tony doesn’t think back on it as a suicide attempt. He thinks back on it and remembers the line of forks, ranging from smallest to largest, and then the knives doing the same thing on the other side of his bowl. He remembers the stale air in the ballroom, how he could taste cigar smoke even though it was all coming from outside, how his feet were being squeezed in his too-tight shoes, even when he had told Pepper the night before that this pair was too small for him.

Then how everything had suddenly felt too tight- his shirt, his sleeves, like his skin was pressing up at the buttons, like the circulation in his wrists were being cut off by his cufflinks.

How he realized that everyone in this room practices their laugh when they get home, and practice looking surprised in the mirror, and that at least 60% of things that these people say are things they don’t actually mean, and he’s a genius, he knows these things, he can calculate them down to the second.

He remembers saying something like excuse me, and then some bullshit excuse that no-one listened to, because they were all too busy killing themselves laughing over a dull story told by a dull person about something so dull it made Tony want to hit his head on the table until he didn’t have the brain function left to listen to it.

So he walks out, his pace getting faster as he nears the dock, and then he’s jogging on the wooden panels, and then he’s full-out sprinting, breath coming in harsh yanks, nearly sobs, only stopping when he slams into the ropes that barrier the front of the ship.

He stands there for a second, his grip shaking on the ropes, sounding like he has water in his lungs with every gulping breath he takes.

And when he looks back, he remembers that as the thought that does it- water in his lungs, and he thinks of salt, and how he’s tasting it right now, tracking down his face.

He looks up at the railing, and it’s a split-second of I could, I could, I could.

Which turns into another second of it- I could, pure and simple, water clogging his windpipe and dragging at his suit- and then another, and another, and Tony’s mind is a symphony of I could, I could, I could, as he climbs over the rope.

He glances back over his shoulder as he walks forwards, and his hands come out to grip the railing when he gets close enough, the sound of his breathing nearly drowned out by the roar of the ocean.

His hands are still shaking, but they’re tight around the rail as he slots his feet one by one onto one of the bars, then hoists one leg over, then the other. His feet are shaking now, bursting with the adrenaline of being this far up in the air, that much of a drop, with only heel support, and even that is minimal.

He turns himself around, his back pressing into the bars, and when he looks up, there’s a dark blur of sea and sky, the stars being the only thing dividing either of them.

He thinks he should close his eyes, or say something, or curse the world or whatever, but everything is shaking now and he’s still gulping air in small, strained sips, and no-one’s around to hear it anyway. He’s still on the tail-end of that last part when he leans forwards, his arms straining.

When a voice says, “Don’t,” Tony nearly goddamn lets go of the railing from sheer surprise.

He twists around, hands still tight around the railing, and the guy says, “Don’t do it,” in the same steady, careful voice as the last time.

“Fuck off,” Tony says, and it comes out choked, ragged at the end of it. “Just- just fuck off, I don’t- fuck off, or I’ll let go, I swear to god.”

The guy pauses, and it’s then that Tony notices- it’s dark, so it’s hard to see him, but there are those blue eyes, there’s that full, pink set of lips, and yes, it’s the guy from before, from a few days ago, just before Obie’s hand had closed over his arm.

“I can pull you back up,” the guy says, taking a step closer. “Give me your hand, I can pull you back over-”

“Don’t,” Tony says, and it’s no less wrecked, almost barking it out. “I’ll let go, I’m serious.”

Nothing. The guy takes another step forwards, then another, then he’s standing semi-next to him on the wood. “I don’t think you will.”

Great. Out of all the guys to talk him down from a ledge, Tony had to get the one with the fewest brain cells. “I will. I’ll do it.”

“No, you won’t.”

Tony just stares at him for a second. He thinks he might be gaping a bit. “Fuck you! You don’t- you don’t know me, you don’t know what I won’t do. Or will do, whatever. Fuck off.”

“No.”

“Oh, my god-” Tony laughs, and it sounds bitter even to his own ears. “Just fuck off, okay? You want money? I’ll give you money, I’ll give you a thousand bucks if you leave right now.”

“How will you give it to me if you’re dead?”

And Tony’s the genius out of the two of them. Huh. “I- I don’t know, I don’t carry money, you can have my watch, or something. Just- go away.”

“I can’t,” the guy says, and takes another step. Towards him, not away like he’s expecting. “I’m involved now.” He strips off his jacket, never taking his eyes off Tony, letting the jacket fall to the deck. “If you let go, I’ll jump in after you.”

Tony laughs again. This time, it sounds more than a little hysterical. “Yeah, right.”

“I will,” the guy says, and fuck, he’s actually pulling off his shoes, still not breaking eye contact.

“You’ll die. Painfully. The fall will break your neck.”

Tony’s lying- he’s already done the calculations, there’s a very slim chance the fall will kill him- but hey, the guy doesn’t need to know that.

And, because apparently he’s an asshole, the guy just shrugs. “I don’t think so. Anyway, I’m more worried about the cold.”

That Tony hadn’t factored in. He pauses, and a few seconds pass. “How cold.”

“Freezing,” the guy answers. “Maybe a few degrees below it.”

Tony doesn’t really know what to say to that, but then the guy continues with, “Have you ever been ice skating?”

“What?”

“Ice skating. It’s-”

“I know what ice skating is,” Tony snaps. “I’m not an idiot.”

The guy nods. “Okay. Sorry.” He swallows, his throat clicking nervously, and for a second Tony sees just how this would be- talking to a guy that’s hanging off the edge of a boat and ready to let go. He really doesn’t envy the guy.

“One time, when I was a kid, my friend Bucky and I went ice skating on the lake near his house,” the guy says, and Tony wants to ask him what the fuck he’s doing, seriously, “and he was a few meters away from me, skating towards his mom. And I was about to follow, when I got caught in a patch of thin ice, and I, uh, fell through.”

“Well, sucks for you. Obviously you didn’t die.” And Tony Stark is even an asshole on his death bed, lets give him a pat on the back, and Tony flinches at how he sounds.

But the guy just keeps looking at him, leaning forwards to nod down at the ocean. “Cold like that- cold like the water down there, it makes you blind to everything else. It blocks it all out, until the cold is all you can think about. It’s physically painful, how goddamn cold it is.”

Now it’s Tony’s turn to swallow, feeling the square meters of empty space in between him and the water like he’s already fallen down it, and the guy continues with a grim smile, “Which is why I’m not looking forwards to jumping in there after you. Guess I’m hoping you’ll let me help you back up over that rail, so I don’t have to.”

Tony is smarter than this. He’s watched politicians weave better bullshit than this guy is, he’s even done a lot of the bullshitting himself- “You’re crazy,” he says, only aware of saying it as it’s coming out of his mouth.

“With all due respect, sir,” the guy says, gentle and still as steady as anything, “I’m not the one hanging off the back of a ship.”

Tony knows better than this. He does.

He does, but he finds himself reaching back, turning fully and carefully and the guy takes his hand like it’s a handshake, like it’s just as easy.

“I’m Steve Rogers,” the guy says.

“Tony Stark.”

Steve says, “Nice to meet you, Tony,” and there’s a bit of that smile again, one that Tony can’t help but reflect, and then Tony’s starting to climb back over, and- and-

And Steve’s grip turns vice-like when one of Tony’s shoes skids against the bars, taking both feet out from under him, and then he’s hanging there, one big empty drop and Steve’s hand dragging him away from it.

 

 

 

Day Seven:

When Steve wakes up, it’s from getting hit in the face with a lumpy pillow.

“Ow,” he says, default, because it’s Bucky and they do that even when it doesn’t hurt. “What.”

“What the heck,” Bucky says, and Steve hears him gargling for a second before spitting out the boat window, “was with you last night.”

Last night, Steve thinks, and opens his mouth to say I have no idea what you’re on about, just as it all hits him.

“Oh,” he says faintly, and there it is: the beautiful man from before, the one with watercolour eyes hanging off the back of a boat, the moment where he thought he was going to lose his grasp and drop him, the men who had punched him in the stomach before Tony had yelled no, no, he saved me, get the fuck off him, give him money or something, and finally the fiancé with the brutally plastic smile asking Steve to come to dinner with them tomorrow night.

Tomorrow night, as in tonight.

“Oh,” Steve says again, louder than last time, and then, “Ow,” again, when he gets another faceful of pillow.

Bucky sits down on his bed with a creak, pillow in hand. “Care to share with the class? You came in, mumbled something about watercolours and boats and meeting the man you’re going to marry someday, and then collapsed on the bottom bunk. Cue one damn confused Bucky.”

Steve says, “I,” and doesn’t know what to follow it up with. “I, uh. Sit down?”

“I am sitting down,” Bucky says, gesturing down at where he’s currently sitting, which is less than a meter away from Steve on his bed.

“Oh,” Steve says for the third time since waking up. “Okay. Good.”

Bucky looks at him wordlessly for a few seconds before saying, “Are you gonna tell me or what?”

“Give me a second,” Steve says, and gets another whack with the pillow for it.

 

 

They talk. No, really, they walk around the deck a few times and talk- about growing up, about the Titanic, about their parents (although that particular topic was short-lived on Tony’s side), and finally they find themselves talking about the other passengers.

Clint and Bruce have been hanging out with Steve and Bucky in steerage, and Tony says, “Wait, you mean Clint Smith and Bruce- what the fuck was it- Banner?”

“Banner,” Steve agrees, “and yeah, them. Why, you know them?”

“I know of them,” Tony says, “But mostly I know Clint’s sister and Bruce’s- colleague, I think. Coulson talks about him a lot, anyway. Says he thinks we’d get along.”

“Clint’s sister- Natasha, right?”

“Yeah, her. What, she hasn’t graced you guys with her presence in steerage?”

For a second Tony stiffens, thinking he’s fucked it up, but Steve just laughs. “Not really. She came down once, to get Clint, but I only saw the back of her head. From what Clint’s said, though, she sounds, uh.”

“Terrifying?”

“Not the word I’d use,” Steve says, laughing again, “but yeah, that. Is she?”

“What, terrifying? Yes. God, yes. Terrifying is actually the main word I’d use to describe her; I don’t blame Clint for coming down and hiding in steerage. Yesterday she nearly took Christine’s head off for bitching at me, it was great. Don’t know why she does that so much, though.”

“Does what?”

“Stick up for me,” Tony says without thinking, and then, realizing how that sounds: “I mean, she hasn’t really- we don’t know each other that well? Like, we have actual conversations, unlike everyone else on my deck, who make small chat and talk about how they’re masters of the universe, but her and Coulson- and Thor, he’s this gargantuan guy who talks like Zeus, he’s great- they’re actually good to talk to.”

Steve makes a mm-hmm sound in the back of his throat, and he’s quiet for a second before asking, “Did you talk to them yesterday? Before, I mean?”

The connection makes its way through Tony’s head lightning-fast, cracking into place. “Not right before, no.”

Steve nods, and uneasy silence falls between them until Tony takes a deep breath in, swallowing it down.

“Look,” he starts. “I, uh. Wanted to thank you. Not just for, y’know, pulling me up, but for keeping it on the down low.” Pause. “You did, right?”

“Did what?”

“Keep it on the down low. Like, you didn’t tell anyone-”

No,” Steve says, like Tony accused him of hitting a puppy over the head with a bag full of bricks. “I- that’s not something you go around telling people. It’s your business, and if you don’t want to tell people, then I’m sure as heck not going to.”

Tony- doesn’t know what to do with that. At all. He doesn’t know how to handle the tone Steve says things in, like he actually means this crap.

“Uh,” Tony says, because he’s eloquent like that. “Thank you.”

There’s another silence, weirdly easier than the last one, and Tony almost kicks himself for breaking it again. “I know what you must be thinking,” he starts. “Poor little rich boy, what the fuck does he know-”

“I’m not thinking that,” Steve interrupts, frowning. “I was wondering what could have happened to you to make you think that you didn’t have any other way out.”

And he’s still looking at him, just like he was last night, steady and patient, and Tony hears the words leave his mouth before he says them: “I don’t know, it was- it was everything, fucking hell-”

Again, his clothes are tightening around him, his cuffs digging into him, but Steve’s gaze is still on his, waiting, and that loosens them slightly.

“It was the people in my life and- god, I don’t even- and fucking Howard, Jesus, marrying me off to a guy who was practically my uncle, my creepy uncle at that, not even a good one,” and then he’s holding up his hand to show him the ring he’s considered flushing down the sink dozens of times already, and Steve just keeps looking at him, barely glancing at the ring before looking back up to his face.

And hey, it turns out Tony actually has something to say, because now he starts he can’t seem to stop. “And everyone from high society is going to be there waiting for me to fuck it up, and I don’t even want- and it, I feel-”

His clothes are tight, tighter, closing around him like nooses, and he sucks in a breath. “It’s like I’m standing in the middle of a crowded room, screaming at the top of my fucking lungs and no-one even looks up.”

Steve looks. He looks and looks and nods, minutely, so small that Tony nearly doesn’t catch it, like he sort of, kind of, maybe gets it.

“Do you love him?”

It takes a while for the question to sink in, and when it does, Tony takes even longer to answer. When he does, it’s not even good. He says, “What,” and Steve repeats the question.

Tony says, “I.” Says, “What,” again, and then shakes his head. “You’re not- you shouldn’t be asking me that. Wait, what?”

“Do you love him,” Steve says for the third time, unassuming, hands in his pockets.

“That’s- not even-” Tony mouths at empty air for a few seconds before saying, “You’re not allowed to ask me that!”

Steve shrugs. “It’s a simple question.”

“You’re being- rude,” Tony says, and now he’s really grabbing at straws, because he’s the rudest person on the entire fucking deck and it wasn’t even that evasive, really-

Again, the shrug. “Simple question.”

“And I’m not answering!” Tony’s voice is nearing a squawk, and he has to tone it down before he opens his mouth again. “I- you’re- I don’t even know you, we don’t know each other, you’re so not allowed-”

“It was a simple question, do you love the guy or not-”

“And I’m leaving,” Tony blurts, grabbing the guy’s hand to shake before he can do something sensible, like cut off his hand to stop himself. “Nice to know you, Steve, I looked for you to thank you and now I have thanked you and-”

“And you’ve insulted me.”

Tony splutters. “You totally deserved it!”

“Right.”

“Right!”

A few seconds pass, and Steve has this tiny, small smudge of a smile. “I thought you were leaving.”

“I am,” Tony says, realizing that he’s been shaking Steve’s hand for about eight seconds now, and turns on his heel before noticing the fancy hat the lady across from them are wearing, and as a matter of fact all the hats that all the ladies are wearing, and turns back. “Wait, screw you! This is my part of the ship, you leave.”

Steve steps back, crossing his arms over his chest, that small smile warm and so fucking kissable Tony has to take a step back. “Well, look who’s being rude now.”

Tony makes a sound that he’s only heard in dolphins before now, and then makes it again, staring at Steve with what he hopes is an indignant expression before making a grab for the notebook under Steve’s arm, mostly because he carries around a smaller one which in most other ways are identical, and also he wants to piss Steve off. “And what even is this, you’ve been carrying it around this whole time.”

Steve’s hands flex like he’s going to take it out of Tony’s hands, but then still at his sides.

The pages are well-worn, much like Tony’s own notebook that’s currently nestling in the pocket of his overcoat, and things lie splayed out over the paper. Mostly people- a man leaning against a lamppost with a cigarette hanging from his lips, a woman in a puffy dress sitting at a bar, a pair of hands-

“You’re kind of amazing,” Tony says, and it’s only after Steve says, “Uh, thank you,” that Tony realizes he said it out loud.

Tony flips wordlessly through the next few pages- more hands, a face of a freckled man with not enough teeth and a bird with one leg- “Fuck Picasso, I’m hanging these up when I get back to my room.”

“What?” Steve actually jumps at the mention of Picasso, his hands faltering outwards. “No, god, please don’t take anything down for my drawings, really, they’re not-”

“They are,” Tony says, and then stops on a drawing of a naked woman with a heart-shaped mouth and warm, liquid eyes, draping herself over a windowsill. “Huh.”

Steve is silent as Tony turns the page over to the next drawing- same woman, still naked, sitting at a table- and then the next, and the next, all of the same woman, some of it just random body parts and some of them full-scale.

“You liked this chick.”

“Peggy,” Steve says, and when Tony glances over, Steve’s looking at his face, not the drawings. “She’s a friend of mine, back in England. I’ll have to send her a telegram when we get to America.”

“Yeah?” Tony flips another page, trying to swallow the mounting disappointment that he tells himself he has no fucking right to feel. “Tell her I said hey.”

“I will,” Steve says, and at this point Tony is practically burning holes in the paper by how hard he’s not looking at Steve.

Steve’s thumb comes out to skim the edge of one of the drawings, at the corner. “She’s my best friend, next to Bucky. The first time she modelled like this for me- it was a few years ago, I was sixteen, she was older- I nearly died blushing.” The thumb curls the edge of the paper. “We laughed about it for hours afterwards, and after that, it wasn’t so bad.”

Tony may or may not be glancing-not-glancing at Steve now, so he startles slightly when Steve turns the page himself, to a girl about their age, leaning against the wall. Snow is falling in the background of the drawing.

“She used to sit outside Peggy’s apartment every day,” Steve says. “Waiting for her brother to come home from the war.” Again, the thumb comes out over the drawing, brushing slowly. “See, her clothes are all motheaten.”

Tony watches the parting of his eyelashes and has absolutely no fucking clue how to deal with this, how to shove this down, so instead he takes another breath and says, “That’s, uh. You’re really talented, Steve. You see people.”

“I see you.”

The statement comes so simply, so matter-of-factly, like the sky is blue and the sea is cold and Steve sees Tony, like it’s another one of those truths about the universe, so Tony nearly misses it.

He doesn’t, though, and because he’s a Stark, always has been, he makes himself preen, straightening up. “And?”

Again, when Tony looks at him, Steve is looking right back.

“You wouldn’t have let go.”

 

 

 

An hour later- maybe two, Steve lost count a while ago- he and Tony are leaning over the side of the boat, watching the dolphins as they arc through the water, and Tony’s laughing and Steve is watching him and thinking about what Bucky told him he had said last night, about meeting the man he was going to marry.

He remembers thinking that, at one point last night. Seeing Tony get walked inside with a blanket around his shoulders and thinking, dazed, I’m going to marry that man.

But he didn’t think he’d be dumb enough to blurt it out to Bucky, Jesus. Some things are stupid enough that you have to keep them to yourself.

Anyway, Tony’s laughing and then suddenly he isn’t, and he’s straightening up and saying, “Dad,” like it’s a prison sentence.

Steve straightens up, too, before turning around, and as the man says, charmed, I’m sure, he thinks he can see a little bit of Tony in there, underneath everything.

When Tony leaves, glancing back at Steve like he’d rather be thrown into a room of ravenous tigers than do so, the redhead that had been at the sidelines before stays behind.

“Steve, was it?”

Steve nods.

“I’m Natasha,” the woman says, and oh, that makes so much sense.

“I’m Steve,” Steve says, and Natasha’s lips curve upwards.

“Yes, we’ve established that, remember?”

Steve very narrowly manages not to slap his hand to his head. “I. Yes.”

Natasha surveys him for a second before asking, “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”

“Not really,” he admits, sighing.

Again, Natasha’s mouth bumps upwards, amused. “I thought so. Come on.”

 

 

When Obie tells him, you could almost pass for a gentleman, Steve has to chew on the inside of his cheek to stop himself from saying, right back at you, buddy, because Natasha had to dig through Clint’s things for fifteen minutes to find the suit Steve is wearing, and then another twenty minutes fixing Steve’s hair, and Steve doesn’t think it’s worth it, all that effort going to waste just because he can’t hold his tongue.

So he smiles the smile that Natasha made him practice in the extra ten minutes they had to spare and says, “Almost,” and follows them into the dining hall with Tony on his arm.

They make it past the doors until there’s another arm slipping through Steve’s free one, and when he turns, Natasha is smiling her cocktail smile. “Care to escort a lady to dinner?”

“I resent that, I’m everything you were ever jealous of,” Tony says, craning his neck so he can see her, and Steve doesn’t miss how Tony’s shoulders relax ever so slightly as he does.

Natasha smiles, less cocktail and more genuine. “Whatever helps you sleep at night, Tony,” she says, and Steve obediently curls his arm properly around hers.

She aims her smile-cocktail again, all liquor and liquid and the promise of champagne- around the room, but speaks to Steve. “Just act natural. They love money, so just keep your mouth shut about the whole ‘kid from Brooklyn’ thing and don’t mention that you’re lacking a trust fund and you’re in. They’re going to assume you’re new, though.”

“New?”

“New money,” Tony supplies from his other side. “Like a certain venomous snake standing beside you.”

“I resent that,” Natasha says quietly, pursing her lips so she doesn’t grin. “At least I act the part. My brother prefers to stay down in steerage, where it’s comfortable.”

Tony snorts under his breath. “What, all these tuxes and huge moustaches aren’t comfy?”

“I’d much rather be down with the rats, to be honest,” Natasha says plainly, which makes Steve and Tony look at each other. “But don’t underestimate my brother, either. He can play a part when he needs to.”

Steve is about to ask and does he need to, just as they come into earshot of the table they’re sitting at and wisely clams up.

The waiter- or someone, he’s in a suit and calls Steve ‘sir’ and makes Steve feel three types of uncomfortable- pulls out Steve’s chair for him, and Steve thanks him as he sits down in between Tony and Natasha.

“Hey,” Steve says, directing it to Natasha’s opposite side where Clint is sitting, looking clean and dapper and everything he hadn’t looked in steerage.

“Good evening,” Clint replies, in a prissy, put-on accent, and waggles his eyebrows at Steve, making him bite down on a grin.

Next to Clint, there’s a man in a stiff suit and then Bruce, who is looking the same three types of uncomfortable as Steve is. Bruce sends Steve an understanding grimace, which Steve returns.

“That’s Coulson, between them,” Tony murmurs, leaning in. “Balding guy, looks like he could kill you eight ways with a plastic fork. That seems to be a common thing around here.” He twists sideways to point at the men sitting the furthest away from them, one fair-haired and one dark, both bored. “Speaking of which, the hot one is Thor. The bitchy-looking one is Loki. He uses his butter knife like he wants to cut the oesophagus of everyone at the table.”

Steve nods, whispering, “What is it with rich people and being terrifying?”

Tony’s laugh is quiet enough that Steve has to lean in even further. “I’m terrifying?”

Steve turns at that, only slightly so he can meet Tony’s eyes. At first he doesn’t say anything, the default no at the back of his throat. Finally, he decides on the truth: “The most in this whole room.”

Tony’s smile flickers, along with his eyes: down, down, down.

 

 

The dinner- well, it could’ve gone worse, but it could have definitely gone a whole lot better.

But the memorable part, the part that Steve is still grinning about when he tumbles into the bottom bunk and falls asleep seconds after hitting the pillow, is after dinner.

Because dinner, of course, involved Howard making stabbing remarks covered by faux well-meant comments, Maria at his side and silent the whole way through, except for one time where she had quietly asked the waiter for another glass of wine. Dinner was Obie putting his thick, greasy hands all over Tony as they ate- a hand on the shoulder, on the waist, at the back of his neck, like he was marking his property. It made Tony’s expression go pinched again, and Steve’s own hands tightened whenever he saw it.

Dinner was starched bowties and more eating utensils in one place that Steve had seen in his whole life, and even Coulson, Natasha and Clint were on their best behaviour, laughing when everyone else does. Thor seemed okay, beaming and ‘playing the part,’ as Natasha had said, but not actually getting into it. Loki, however, had practically lit up when everyone started talking, manoeuvring the conversation where he wanted it to until he had everyone eating out of his hand.

But afterwards, Steve had slipped a ripped piece of paper into Tony’s hand as he was leaving:

Meet me at the clock.

Less than five minutes of standing next to it and there was an arm slipping into his again, warm and hesitant and Tony had said, “Lead the way,” and Steve grinned, and had.

Bucky was already dancing with a woman by the time they got down to the party- they had never been Steve’s thing, he preferred to sit back and watch- and as the woman span on Bucky’s arm, Tony blurted, “Pepper?”

The woman- Pepper, apparently- had startled, came to a halt, panting, her cheeks bright and shiny with sweat. “Tony?”

Bucky had caught Steve’s eye, mouthed, what the hell, and Steve had shrugged.

“Uh,” Pepper had said, a clump of hair coming dislodged from her forehead and falling over her face. She was still in uniform; the maid’s uniform for the high class: high ruffles, low hemline. She was wheezing, but straightened up as she did, planting her hands on her hips. “I’d like to point out, Mr. Stark, that you’re not allowed to be down here, either.”

“I’m not firing you,” Tony had said.

“Of course you’re not, who would dress you,” Pepper had said, and pushed the rest of her sweaty hair out of her face. “Well, then. I take it you can get your own drinks here, Mr. Stark.”

“I think I can manage.”

Pepper nodded, her chest falling up and down rapidly, still panting as she said, “Will that be all, Mr. Stark?”

“That will be all, Miss Potts.”

Pepper’s eyes had creased upwards when she had laughed, dragging Bucky back into the crowd, and Bucky let himself be pulled in.

When Tony turned back to him, smiling semi-apologetically, Steve had said, “Your maid?”

“Yeeep.”

“She seems-”

“Also terrifying?”

“Headstrong,” Steve had corrected him, and Tony had laughed again, that small, disbelieving chuckle that made Steve lightheaded.

They had danced until it blurred- dancing with anyone who came close enough, clapping loudly and singing along and downing enough drinks that Steve had felt a steady buzz that he only got from this kind of beer.

I don’t know this dance, Tony had said, and Steve had said, neither, I’m terrible, just go with it, and had proceeded to step on Tony’s feet no less than three times in the next thirty seconds.

But Tony had just laughed it off, and the banjo beat had been jaunty and spitting in odd places, and they danced with Bucky, danced with Pepper, danced with Bruce, who had shown up ten minutes after they did, and they had all been flushed in the face by the time they all joined hands and started singing, whirling in a circle and getting splashed with beer when they wobbled too close.

Steve had stepped on Tony’s feet one last time before they went back to their separate rooms, still laughing so hard they could barely muster a goodbye, and went back to their separate decks.

 

 

 

Day Eleven:

When Obie comes in, Tony meets his eyes in the mirror before putting it down.

“Hey.”

Obie doesn’t say anything for a second; walks slowly forwards until he’s next to him, and Tony looks down at the ornate jewellery box he’s holding.

“I was going to give you this on the night of our engagement party when we docked,” Obie says, in the voice that Tony recognizes as the one he uses to charm stockbrokers. He leans against the table, slotting one finger under the lid. “But I thought… tonight would be best.”

He slides open the lid, and in the velvet sits a pendant the size of a fifty-cent piece- bright blue, with lines running through it, and something about it makes Tony draw in a breath.

“I- thanks,” he says lamely, one hand coming out to skim the edge.

“Maybe as a reminder of my feelings for you,” Obie continues, lifting the slim chain. Tony bends his head forwards obediently, and when Obie clicks the necklace into place it dangles down into Tony’s shirt. Obie pulls gently at the chain, so the pendant rests at the hollow of Tony’s collarbones.

“It was worn by Louis the sixteenth. They called it-”

“The arc reactor pendant,” Tony cuts him off, swallowing his irritation at Obie thinking he doesn’t know basic history, like he thinks Tony doesn’t know most things, despite being at least 50 IQ points higher than he is. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

Obie says, “Mm,” and his hand clenches, so the pendant digs slightly into Tony’s neck. “I hope it will also be a reminder as to whom you belong to, Tony.”

Tony feels the chain tighten around his neck, the low threat in Obie’s voice, and fights the urge to flinch, not saying anything.

Obie says it for him. “I know you were below deck with the rats, Tony. Don’t think you can hide things. Not from me.” He leans in, so his chin brushes Tony’s head, and again, Tony doesn’t react, just stares ahead and hopes his lip isn’t curling.

“You will never behave like that again, Tony. You will not see that man, or any of the others, at least not when you are not in my presence. Do you understand?”

You will not see that man, or any of the others- not Steve, the main threat in Obie’s eyes, not Bucky, who won three rounds of cards when they played, not Bruce, who draws up schematics like no-one Tony’s ever met. Not Natasha, or Coulson or Thor, who are all people Tony half-cautiously calls genuine friends, who Obie smiles at icily when they pass nowadays.

Tony can’t swallow; the pendant is a blunt pressure against his adam’s apple when he tries. He lifts his chin, knowing it’s a bad idea even as he does. “I’m not a servant, Obie. You don’t control me.”

Bad idea, bad idea, bad, bad, shut up, his brain tells him, insistent and probably the best idea, but like always, he ignores it. “I’m your fiancé,” he says, something in his voice like he has this thing over Obie, like he tries to swallow again before remembering he can’t.

For a second, Obie stays quiet. It’s a thundering silence, one that rests heavily and presses on Tony almost as much as the necklace, and Tony tries to swallow, tries to swallow, tries again and can’t.

“My fiancé,” Obie says finally, and his voice cracks as he does. “My fi- my fiancé, yes,” he says, and the last word is a yell, and his hand is clenching even tighter and Tony can’t breathe now, can’t breathe as Obie slams his hand down on the table and turns the chair around so Tony’s facing him.

“Yes you are, and my husband,” Obie yells, straining the chain so hard Tony thinks it’ll break, hopes it’ll break, hopes he’d just get it over with and strangle him already so he doesn’t have to explain the bruises. Obie keeps pulling until Tony is forced up out of his chair, his hands coming up to his neck.

“My husband in practice if not yet by law, and you will honour me,” Obie hisses, and Tony is seeing spots, blooming right in front of his eyes, “as you are required to honour me.”

Tony tries to say yes, tries to say fine, okay, but he still can’t choke in a breath no matter how hard he gasps.

“I will not be made a fool of,” Obie says, and his voice has almost returned to normal as his hand is pulling the necklace back even further. “Is this clear?”

Finally, finally, the hand loosens, and Tony collapses against the floor knees-first, gulps air like he’s drowning, doesn’t wait until he gets his breath back to say, “Yes, yes, fuck, it’s-”

“Good,” Obie says, and lets the necklace drop again, so it’s behind Tony’s shirt buttons. “Excuse me, I have an appointment with Howard.”

Tony doesn’t look at him as he leaves, doesn’t even look up until he hears a quiet sob from the archway leading into the kitchen, and when he looks up, the spots have faded enough so he can see Pepper, her eyes bright, everything about her set in a desperate, angry tone.

She’s rushed over to him by the time Tony’s in the middle of saying, “I’m fine,” and is on her knees next to him as he’s on the tail end of it, her hands gentle and trembling as they push his face back, her fingers ghosting over the marks the chain has made- tiny little loops, all around his neck, and Tony says, “I’m fine,” again, and it sounds just as strangled.

Pepper is still crying, furious tears being shoved away by the back of her hand. “That- that bastard.”

“I’m fine,” Tony says again, like he’s the one he needs convincing, and half of it comes out as a gush of air, and Pepper’s arms come around to clutch him to her, and Tony breathes in, breathes glorious air over her shoulder and feels the pendant pressing against his chest, pressing so hard it burns.

 

 

 

Day Fifteen:

It’s surprisingly easy, avoiding everyone. Tony stays in his suite and puts ointment on his neck and doesn’t meet Pepper’s eyes when she comes in, and tells himself it’s for the best.

And it is, really. Everyone has something to lose, whether it be money, reputation or even their lives, when Obie’s involved. Tony doesn’t know specifically what he’s done, but he wouldn’t trust Obie’s alibi for the Hammond assassinations as far as he could throw them.

They’ll get over it, he assures himself. They all have other friends, they have other people to talk to, and Steve- well, Steve wouldn’t care that much if Tony didn’t show up for their morning walks around the decks, right? They’d only started them the day after the party, it wasn’t even a set ritual, they just catch each other and start walking around eight. Steve would just figure Tony was busy and get on with whatever he was doing before.

He repeats it over in his head so many times he starts to believe it, so when a hand closes softly around his arm and tugs, Tony almost yelps Steve’s name when he sees him under the brim of the bowler hat that obviously isn’t his.

Steve mouths, come on, and Tony looks back to where Obie, Howard and Maria are still walking, oblivious, before following Steve through a door that Steve closes behind them.

“Steve,” Tony says the second they’re out of earshot. “Come on, don’t do this.”

Steve, stubborn as ever, talks over him. “I need to talk to you.”

“No you don’t, you so totally don’t, there is no talking that needs to be done, I have no idea what you’re-” It sounds weak even to Tony’s ears, and he swallows before he remembers the tightness around his neck. “Steve, I’m engaged. I’m marrying Obie. I love Obie,” he says, and again, it’s weak, it’s weaker than the weakest coffee he’s ever had that actually turned out to be tea, it’s so see-through he regrets saying it even as he’s in the middle of it, because it makes it so obvious he doesn’t.

Steve looks at him like Tony expects him to, like he doesn’t believe him but isn’t saying anything, and takes a breath. “Tony-” he stops, sucks in a breath like he’s starving for it. “Look, you’re no picnic, all right? You’re a- a spoiled little brat, even.”

There’s something squirming under Tony’s ribs, no matter how much he tries to squash it, and the next breath comes in shakily. “If I wanted to be insulted I could just go and stand next to my parents, seriously, fuck off if that’s all you-”

“But under that,” Steve cuts him off, getting right into Tony’s space and holding his gaze, “you’re the most amazing, astounding, irritating, wonderful guy that I’ve ever known.”

Warning bells go off in Tony’s head. Warning signs, lights and fucking doves for all he cares, all ringing and cracking and going off with every word that leaves Steve’s mouth. “Steve-”

“No, let me try and get this out,” Steve says, rushed, like his exhale, like his eyes in the light. He says, “You’re ama-” and then stops himself, like he wants to hit himself over the head with the nearest blunt object, or maybe take Tony by the shoulders and shake him, make him get it.

“I’m not an idiot,” Steve tries. “I know how the world works. I’ve got ten bucks in my pocket- god, I don’t even have that, I have-” he stuffs both hands in each one, and his fist come out next to empty. “-lint, a lot of it, and a napkin. A used napkin, even.”

Tony chokes on a laugh, the first real one since he woke up this morning, and Steve mirrors it with a shallow huff, his lips twitching upwards. “I- I have nothing to offer you, Tony. And I know that. I understand. But I’m too involved now; you jump, I jump, remember?”

“Steve,” Tony says, like he’s been saying it for years instead of weeks, “come on.”

“I can’t turn away without knowing you’ll be alright,” Steve says, with something like urgency but softer. “That’s all I want.”

Tony’s good at faking smiles, he’s been doing it for years; it’s one of the very first things he learned to do officially, as a Stark. But this one feels pale and flimsy, even when he’s the one peeling it over his teeth as he says, “Yeah, well. I’m fine.”

And Steve’s looking at him, Steve’s still looking at him like he always looks at him, and Tony doesn’t look away and raises his chin, the necklace like an anchor around his neck. “I’ll be fine. Really.”

“Really? I don’t think so.” Steve’s hands, the fleshy part of his palm, the slim, pencil-holding fingers, are gentle around Tony’s shoulders. None of the strength that Obie has- or, well, all of the strength and more, he just doesn’t push down.

“They’ve got you trapped, Tony,” Steve says. “And you’ll die if you don’t break free. Maybe not right away, because you’re strong, but…”

Tony’s stood in front of Howard, knelt in front of Obie, and been pivoted between countless camera shots, but he’s never felt as helpless as he does right now, with Steve’s soft hands and his soft eyes on him, stroking slowly.

“Sooner or later, that fire that I love about you- that fire’s going to burn out.”

Tony definitely doesn’t jolt at ‘love.’ Doesn’t stiffen at it, doesn’t clutch or bring a fist back to punch him or shove him away, but doesn’t grab him by the front of his shirt and pull him in, either. Instead, he stands there, not pushed against the wall but not anything else, and swallows.

“It’s not up to you to save me, Steve,” he says, and doesn’t look away even when he sees the unbearable care in Steve’s eyes. “That’s not your job. You can’t, anyway.”

Steve’s pause doesn’t last long; only a few seconds before he’s smiling again, the malleable, comfort-smile Tony wants to drown in. A hand drifts up from Tony’s shoulder, comes to cup Tony’s face in a way that reminds Tony of birds, of taking off, of soaring.

“You’re right,” Steve says, and it’s like his thumb on the page again, skimming Tony’s cheek. “Only you can do that.”

Tony wants so, so badly to lean in. To close the gap and- and just breathe, just breathe in Steve’s exhales for as long as he lives, and his own hand comes over the hand that Steve has on his cheek, pulling it off gently. “I can’t, Steve. I can’t any of it. You’re-”

He wants to scream again, he wants to open his mouth and yell until the windows shatter, and Steve’s looking at him with everything Tony’s ever wanted in his eyes.

“I can’t,” Tony says, and twists to get out, and Steve, ever the saviour, lets him. “Don’t try to see me again,” Tony says as he closes the door and walks, and keeps walking, and remembers the same shaky steps being the ones leading to the back of the boat, to the railing, and, as always, to Steve.

 

 

Day Sixteen:

Thor manages to stay silent for a good ten minutes when he comes to sit next to Tony at lunch, but when Howard gets up to go outside for a cigar, he doesn’t waste any time.

“I know it is none of my business,” he starts, not looking at Tony, instead looking down at his plate where he’s been chewing steak, “but I have been instructed by Steve to carry a message to you. He says he is most sorry, that he sadly acknowledges your wishes and will leave you alone.”

Tony hums, taking a sip of his wine and looking in the glass, trying to play nonchalance. “Yeah, I bet he said it exactly like that.”

“I may have improvised slightly,” Thor says, “but the intent is still there.”

They both chew quietly for the next thirty seconds, and when Thor comes up for air again, Tony nearly says don’t even try, pointbreak, but restrains himself.

“If I may,” Thor says hesitantly, still never taking his eyes off of his plate, “I wish to express my deepest regret for the choice you have made.”

Tony’s fingers tighten around his glass. He takes another sip, wishes they had something stronger he could get his hands on before the day is over. “Yeah, well. What would you have done if you were me?”

“I would have gone to him,” Thor says instantly, his knife scraping against the plate. “I would have gone to him and played the part for the rest of the voyage, but in the end, I would have gotten off with him when the boat docks.”

“Yes, I bet they have done a lot of getting off in the time they had,” Loki says from beside Thor, his eyes half-lidded and looking across the room, and Tony watches as the table thumps upwards, like Thor tried to kick his brother.

Desist, Loki,” Thor hisses, glaring at his steak like it’s personally offended him before continuing to saw at it. His eyes flicker upwards to Tony before going back down. “I know my brother is not exactly in your good graces, but rest assured he fully supports the two of you being together.”

“Ignore my idiot brother,” Loki says, reaching for the gravy. “He thinks everyone means well, when in fact most people are morons who would do anything to get ahead. Like your darling fiancé, I’m sure.”

Thor hisses, “Loki,” and Tony shrugs. “No, it’s fine. I wouldn’t mind if you accidentally practiced some of your knife tricks on him, Loki.”

“I would be honoured,” Loki says to his asparagus, and Thor talks over him: “I wish for nothing but your happiness, friend Tony. As do the rest of us.”

Tony already knows what he’s talking about, but he’s saying it before he can convince himself not to: “The rest of you?”

“I- yes,” Thor says. “It is in my opinion that we have- bonded, shall we say, during the time that this ship has been sailing. It has not been much time, but we all care greatly for each other, as I am certain that you care for them.”

Tony thinks this has got to look weird for anyone eavesdropping- someone saying that speech to a clump of broccoli. “I’m not much with the ‘caring’ thing.”

Loki snorts. “Oh, we believe you, Stark. Because you’re nothing but the definition of asshole that you strive to make yourself out to be.”

“Loki,” Thor hisses again, nearly baring his teeth, and again, this would all be strange to be doing to the poor broccoli. “What my brother means to say is that there is much underneath your initial impression, Tony. And we would all very much like to see you again, after the boat docks.”

Tony hums again, non-committedly. “Where’re you guys headed?”

“That depends on many things,” Thor says, at the same time Loki says, “Damned if we know,” and Tony finally looks up, raising his eyebrows at the both of them.

“It is- complicated,” Thor says to his broccoli. “As it is with the others. Many of us have… no wish to live in America the way we did in England.”

Tony opens his mouth to ask what the hell that means, when he glances up, over Thor’s shoulder.

There’s a boy, sitting in between both his parents. Stiff cuffs, brittle shoes, and he looks like he’s at a funeral rather than at lunch.

Tony stares, watches as the mother takes a pull at her flute glass of champagne, as the father raps the boy across the knuckles when he tries to reach for a breadstick.

The boy doesn’t see Tony looking at him, doesn’t see anything other than the blank disapproval of his parent’s faces, and Tony suddenly sees it all in rapid succession, all at once, children being raised like this and getting married off to people like this and going on to raise children just like this, over and over until the world burns to a crisp and there’s no more cufflinks to pin on.

“I have to go,” he hears himself saying, and pushes his chair back, and doesn’t register what Thor says as he leaves until the sun is hitting his back:

Good luck.

 

 

 

He walks around the deck for a while, checks down in steerage, and finally gets Bucky to tell him, I dunno, sometimes he goes up to the front of the ship and just stands there for a bit, and Tony trips over his shoelaces on the way out the door.

He ties them up tighter than he usually would and tells Bucky to quit laughing as he closes the door behind him, taking off at a fast stride until he’s at the front of the boat, and Steve is standing with his back to him, staring out at the ocean and how the setting sun casts it alight.

Tony stands there for a while, watching Steve watching the sea, and his breath catches when he says, “Steve.”

Steve doesn’t startle, just looks over his shoulder and then turns around fully when he sees who it is. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Tony says, knots in his stomach, in his throat, looping around and around. “I, uh. Changed my mind. I think.”

He walks forwards, falters, walks forwards again. “Bucky said you’d be up here-”

Steve shushes him, and then ducks his head. “Uh, sorry. Just- come here, okay?”

Tony gives him the side-eye, smiling, but steps forwards and takes Steve’s hand when he offers it.

Steve’s smiling like he knows something Tony doesn’t, and Tony wants to melt into it.

“Come here,” Steve says again, and then: “Close your eyes.”

“Don’t throw me overboard,” Tony says, but does, his eyes drifting shut on the last word.

Steve laughs, and Tony can see it in his mind. “I promise. Now, step up onto the railing.”

“Again, I’d like to stress-”

“I’m not going to throw you overboard, Tony,” Steve laughs, and Tony feels it as Steve’s hands come around his waist, feather-light. “Step up onto the railing.”

Tony makes a face, but bumps his feet around until he gets the right place and steps up, remembering the last time he had done this, how much heavier his chest was last time.

“Okay,” Steve says, and Tony hears something as boots come to stand on the same railings as Tony is, his feet pressing into Tony’s shoes. “Now open your eyes.”

Tony does, and- and-

‘Speechless’ has never been a good look for him. He thinks he’s staring, can’t imagine he’s doing anything else, and Steve’s hands are sliding down his arms now, stretching them out like wings, linking their fingers, his chin tucking into Tony’s neck.

Tony can see it, clear and bright in his head- coasting through the clouds, miles up in the sky and streaking past and wholly free, wind scraping past their tangled hands.

“Steve,” he says. “Steve, we’re flying.”

He laughs, a sharp, disbelieved sound, and turns his head, because Steve isn’t saying anything, and when he does, Steve is looking right at him.

Tony, watching the blaze of sun and sky, and Steve, watching him.

And Steve’s smiling again, that small, smudgy smile, and Tony curls their hands inwards so they’re pressing into his chest; tilts his head so their noses brush.

Steve’s smile shifts, not gone completely, just uncertain for a second, his eyes going down to Tony’s mouth, and the wind, the sea, is almost as loud as the blood roaring in Tony’s ears.

They meet in the middle, mouths pressing together, and Tony’s eyes drift shut again, and Steve’s face is imprinted on the back of his eyelids.

They’re a mess: Steve’s hands around his waist, his fingers bending into Tony’s shirt, one of Tony’s hands sliding up to bracket Steve’s neck. They kiss and they’re breathless, they kiss and they’re drowning in it, they kiss and Tony says Steve’s name and Steve answers with his.

 

 

 

Day Seventeen:

Tony gets better at sneaking around the boat, thanks to Bruce pointing out a crawl space that runs all the way from the top deck to the bottom, and Clint guides him through the first few times.

“You’re weirdly good at this,” Tony says, after being forced to stare at Clint’s ass for a solid ten minutes due to him being behind him while crawling. “Navigating these, I mean.”

Clint waves a hand, which is hard to do in such a compact space. “Crawl spaces, air ducts, rabbit tunnels- you name it, I’ve shuffled through it. Now hurry up, Pep said she’d start without us and I’ve been perfecting my strategy.”

“At cards?”

“At snap, don’t tell me you’ve never dreamed of being supreme ruler of snap.”

“You’re a glorified five year old.”

“You have no idea,” Clint says, and shoots a grin over his shoulder at him. “Nice view?”

“When we get out of here I’m going to vomit,” Tony tells him.

“You’re just jealous,” Clint sing-songs, and Tony flicks him in the left ass cheek so he yelps.

 

 

 

They play snap, they play poker, they play whatever the hell a single deck of cards can get them, until it’s getting dark and everyone needs to leave and Tony and Bruce have been building an impressive house of cards for the last hour now.

Tony says, “See you,” and Steve kisses him goodbye and everyone hoots, and Tony grins against Steve’s mouth and kisses him harder, hard enough that he doesn’t notice it when his elbow nudges the house of cards and it topples, scattering cards all over the floor.

 

 

 

Day Eighteen:

Steve finds the marks on his neck- reaches out and brushes his fingers over the front, near his collarbones, and meets Tony’s eyes.

“Obie’s what you’d call a jealous kind of guy,” Tony says eventually, smirking the way he’s practiced, and Steve’s breathing hitches, along with his questioning expression going pained.

For a second Tony thinks he’s going to leave, or grumble something about Obie, and Steve carefully fingers the marks on Tony’s neck before looking back up to meet his gaze.

“Well,” he says, and leans forwards, presses a kiss to one of the less-faded marks, which is still an angry red. “We better make him think he doesn’t have anything to be jealous about.”

He peppers Tony’s neck with kisses, light and quick, and Tony feels a slow, steady flood of something he thought he’d never get a chance to have.

 

 

 

Pepper smiles smugly at Tony when he clambers out of the crawlspace, holding out a hand to help him up. “Always a pleasure, Mr. Stark.”

“Go screw yourself, Miss Potts,” Tony replies, attempting to straighten his jacket and tie before Pepper sighs loudly and starts to fuss at him, straightening them properly for him.

“You’d be lost without me,” she tells him fondly, all of three months older than him and the closest thing to a sister he’s ever had, stroking the side of his neck for a second before letting go.

“Probably,” he agrees, and it makes her smile. “And how is the illustrious Miss Potts today?”

“The illustrious Miss Potts found out how the Smith siblings plans to make their way in America.”

“And?”

“Grand theft,” Pepper says, smiling widely. “They considered trying to steal your arc reactor pendant, but eventually decided against it when they realized they like you.”

“Huh.”

“My thoughts exactly, Mr. Stark.” She busies herself with patting the dust from his jacket, from his shoulders, from his hair, threading her fingers through. “They have two fellow conmen waiting in America for them with the money. Well, conwomen- Darcy and Jane, apparently.”

“Darcy could be a guy’s name.”

“Clint mentioned something about her ‘bangin’ tits,’ so I’m guessing not,” Pepper says, combing her fingers through his hair and shaking out the dust from the crawlspace. “Also, they aren’t actually siblings.”

“Well, even I guessed that one.”

“I’m so proud.”

“You should be,” Tony says, closing the door to the crawlspace, and tries to smooth the wallpaper into place. He butchers it instead, just to see Pepper roll her eyes at him before pushing him gently out of the way and doing it herself.

 

 

 

Obie looks at him suspiciously later at dinner, but doesn’t try to strangle him again or anything, so Tony counts it as a win.

 

 

 

Day Twenty-Two:

It had started innocently enough. Sort of.

Tony had brought Steve into his room, crawlspace-style, and after shaking the dust from their hair, Tony had spent less than thirty seconds cracking Obie’s safe. The security is adorable, to say the least.

“Diamond,” Tony says, when Steve doesn’t say anything about the pendant he’s holding up. “They call it the arc reactor pendant.”

Still nothing, and Tony shifts nervously. “It’s worth about half of this ship?”

“Is that the necklace that he, uh.” Steve motions towards Tony’s neck, and Tony raises a hand self-consciously to the area he’s pointing, where the marks that haven’t faded are covered in his mother’s concealer.

Tony says, “Uh, yes,” and Steve looks at the pendant. For a second, his expression flickers, and he looks like he wants to take it and throw it out the ship window. He takes a step forwards, and for a moment Tony thinks he’s actually going to, and his hand tightens around it reflexively.

Steve stops, and when his hand comes out, it’s to stroke a few fingers down the length of Tony’s neck, over the marks, light enough so he doesn’t smudge the makeup. “You deserve better,” he says softly, and then huffs out a laugh. “I know that sounds overused, but you do.”

“Not overused,” Tony says. “Not- used at all. I mean, people have looked at me like that, but no-one’s- said anything. About that.”

At the silence, Tony clears his throat loudly, holding the pendant up again. “I, uh. Want you to draw me like one of your British girls. Wearing this.”

“Okay,” Steve says, eyes still on his face, and damnit, Tony’s done stupider things than this, but he’s having trouble doing it while Steve’s looking at him-

Tony says, “Wearing only this,” in a measured voice, and watches Steve’s face change, his eyes dropping down quickly down Tony’s body before flicking up again, his face heating along with his eyes, pooling with the same spark that’s starting to bloom in the bottom of Tony’s stomach.

“I,” Steve says, half-choked. “I, yeah, no, sure. Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay. Definitely okay. That’s- definitely okay,” Steve says, and nods, and then stops, and then nods again.

When Tony pushes the door open a few minutes later after glaring at his own naked body in the mirror for a good thirty seconds and cursing himself for not exercising more, Steve looks up almost instantly.

Tony tells himself, again, I’ve done stupider things, this is just a stupid thing, stop being so fucking nervous, and his fingers come up to unknot the robe, letting it catch on his shoulders first, then pooling fast at his feet.

Steve’s eyes rake downwards, taking a swift breath before gesturing with his charcoal. “Over on, uh. The bed. The couch,” he corrects himself, stumbling over his words and nodding again. “The couch.”

It’s only a meter or so, but it feels like a long fucking hallway as Tony walks over to the couch and sits down, then lies backwards, making sure he’s tilted the exact right amount so the pendant stays settled against his chest, instead of dropping sideways due to his lack of breasts.

“Is this-”

“That’s good, just- put your arm back where it-”

“Like this?”

“Like that,” Steve says, his eyes going from the paper to Tony to the paper to Tony to the paper, and clears his throat. “That’s, uh, good. Stay like that.”

The charcoal starts on the paper, soft slides of it, and Tony watches Steve watch him, watches his eyes travel slowly down the plane of his chest, down the length of his navel, down-

Tony says, “You’re blushing,” and Steve blushes even more before laughing.

“Sorry.”

Tony starts to rearrange himself on the couch, and then stops when he remembers not to move. “I never said it was a bad thing.”

Steve laughs again, breathier, and then there’s the charcoal on the paper again; short strokes.

“You said you stopped blushing with Peggy.”

“With Peggy,” Steve emphasises, looking up at him as he does. “Not- not with you.”

Tony almost says, I could get used to that, but Steve says, “Don’t move, please,” so Tony shuts up and doesn’t.

Then it’s just the scrape of charcoal and the soft glow of the fireplace, and Steve’s eyes heating him, and over half an hour passes and Tony doesn’t move, doesn’t fidget, just lets Steve drink him in and pour it onto paper.

Almost an hour and Steve sits back, runs a blackened hand through his hair, staining it. “Done, I think.”

“Can I move?”

“You can move,” Steve says, and Tony sits up, rolling his shoulders backwards to get the stiffness out of them.

He catches Steve watching him again as he reaches for his robe, and falters for a second.

Steve says, “You’re blushing,” with a huge, shit-eating grin on his face.

Tony says, “Lies,” and ducks his head, slipping the robe around him and willing his cheeks to cool.

 

 

 

Steve sees what he’s writing on the note as he’s doing it- basically it tells Obie to go screw himself, and that he’s never going to lay a hand on Tony again- and asks, “What are you doing?”

Tony finishes his signature with a flourish and puts the pen back down, folding the note. “You said before- I have to save myself on my own.”

“I said you were the only one that could do it,” Steve corrects him, and his arms come around Tony’s waist, his chin on his shoulder. “I never said you had to do it alone.”

Tony stops in the middle of folding it; feels Steve’s breath on his neck, remembers how Clint had cheered when he had won at snap yesterday, Natasha’s sly grin when Howard had ‘accidentally’ tripped at dinner last night, Thor helping Bucky when he got his pinkie finger caught in a window-

“I guess I didn’t,” Tony says, and grins.

 

 

 

As Tony’s buttoning the last button on his shirt, pushing the pendant, the note and the drawing into Obie’s safe, Steve tenses.

Tony looks over at him, pushing the safe door closed and spinning the lock. “You okay?”

Steve says, “I thought I heard-” and stops when there’s a knock at the door, and Howard’s voice saying, “Tony, I know you’re in there. We need to discuss something.”

Tony and Steve look at each other, eyes wide.

“Crawlspace?”

“No time,” Tony says, and grabs Steve’s hand, yanking him towards the back exit. “Run, run, run, run-”

“Running,” Steve says, doing just that, and they close the door behind them, sprinting down the hall, and Steve looks back to see the figure of Howard Stark emerging from the door they had just came out of.

Steve says, “Run faster,” and Tony says, “What do you think I’m doing,” and they’re both laughing despite themselves and Howard’s running after them as they make for the elevator, sliding in just as it’s closing.

Tony starts hitting the guy at the controls with the back of his hand, saying, “Go, go, go,” and Steve pulls the screen doors shut.

Howard arrives three seconds before they disappear from sight, Tony wearing a shit-eating grin and flipping him the bird as the elevator sinks low enough so the ceiling blocks the view.

Steve isn’t panting, but Tony is. “He’ll take the-”

“Stairs,” Steve says. “Jeez, how dedicated is he to this?”

“What, to us inheriting a fortune from Obie’s fat wallet at the expense of my future happiness?” Tony’s chest is heaving, mostly from adrenaline than from the sprint down the hall. “Very. Words cannot express how dedicated he is to Obie’s wallet. Like, for fuck’s sake, dad, you marry the guy.”

“Not touching that,” Steve says, and takes Tony’s hand as the elevator doors open, starting to laugh again just from the sheer stupidity of it, nearly tripping over his own feet as Tony drags him out the door.

They make it down nine hallways, run through a bedroom and into another hallway, down into the boiler room and finally emerge into the room where the cars are being stored- Tony is whining something about being near death at this point, moaning, “I see it, there’s a tiny light at the end of a long tunnel- no, wait, that’s another fucking hallway-”

“No more hallways,” Steve laughs, hauling Tony up by his armpits. “Come on, let’s check these out.”

“What, the cars? I have eight of those ones.”

Steve rolls his eyes, kissing Tony’s forehead before letting him rock sideways to stand on his own. “Well, I don’t. I haven’t actually driven a car, and this could be the only chance I get to try.”

“They’re tied down.”

“The illusion of driving a car, then,” Steve says, and pulls the door open to the car Tony had been pointing at. Tony flips him the bird, too, but he’s smiling as he climbs the steps and settles in.

Steve steps up to the plush leather and sits down, untucking his shirt so it doesn’t stretch as he does. He pulls down the screen door separating them, and circles both hands around the steering wheel. “Where to?”

Tony laughs, and then his arms are slipping around his neck, down his chest. His mouth is right next to Steve’s ear, still on the tail-end of a laugh when he says, “To the stars,” and Steve tilts his head back to look at him before he’s being dragged backwards, into the interior of the car.

They’re both laughing again when Steve sits up, their sides pressing together, but it stops slowly as they register the lack of space between them, how Tony’s still sweating, how his breathing is still harsh from running.

Tony swallows, and Steve’s eyes track his throat as he does.

Tony’s fingers come to Steve’s wrist, breathing shallowly. “Put your hands on me, Steve.”

Steve thinks back to the fireplace casting shadows, spreading them over Tony’s skin, remembers how he wanted to follow them with his fingers, with his tongue.

He kisses Tony then, warm and wet and opening up for him, Tony taking his hand and sliding it down his shirt, into his pants so Steve could brush his thumb to Tony’s bare hip, and still down.

“You’re blushing again,” Tony tells him, trying for casual and failing, his voice fraying, and he can feel Steve’s length, hot and hardening against his leg.

Steve says, “So are you,” and closes his hand around him, choosing that moment to kiss him so he can feel Tony gasp into his mouth. He watches Tony’s face, how his pupils are dilated to the point where there’s only a thin line of brown around the black, how his mouth has fallen open, his head falling back, and Steve kisses him again, his hand jacking Tony’s cock in time with his tongue pressing into his mouth.

He gets lost in it for a while, in the raw, mounting pleasure in the open sweep of Tony’s mouth, so he jerks when he feels Tony’s hand rubbing at the front of his pants. He arches forwards without thinking as Tony palms him, as he traces the outline of the tip with a shaky thumb before pushing his hand into Steve’s underwear, squeezing him around the base so Steve’s breathing stutters.

“I,” Steve says, his nerves overworked and being fried at the ends and he’s fumbling, he only has a vague idea what he’s doing, he’s kind of going in blind and has only done what he’s done so far because it’s what he’s done to himself, and when he says, “I haven’t, uh,” he sounds like he’s being strangled.

“You’re doing fine,” Tony says, his hand being very distracting around Steve’s cock, “you’re-” he groans, loud, his hips canting up into Steve’s hand, “doing extremely well, seriously, five stars, oh, keep doing that.”

Steve laughs breathlessly, and it cuts off into a long, halting gasp, twitching in Tony’s hand as Tony starts to rub his thumb over the slit, his other hand around him and pulling at him softly. When Tony asks him if he likes that Steve doesn’t so much as answer than let out a string of unfinished swear words on one exhale.

“I’m going to take that as a-” Tony stops himself to squeeze his eyes shut, momentarily overwhelmed as Steve sweeps a thumb over the head, down the vein, and up again. “As a y-yes,” Tony breathes, before biting down hard on his bottom lip so he doesn’t let out an embarrassing-sounding whimper.

They keep on like that for a few minutes, Steve sucking on Tony’s tongue and pressing closer until it’s degenerated from kissing to just moaning into each other’s mouths, and they’re both shaking, their pants pulled down almost to their knees.

Then Tony leans back, and Steve opens his mouth to ask what’s wrong before Tony slings one leg over Steve’s thigh, sliding the other between Steve’s opposite leg and the carseat, until he’s sitting in Steve’s lap, and Steve has to tilt his head up to meet his eyes.

Tony smiles against Steve’s mouth when he kisses him, shifting closer, and Steve grunts in surprise as their cocks brush together, slick and drooling precome. Tony starts jacking them, pausing at the end of each stroke to rub a thumb over the leaking heads, and Steve’s hand joins his, their fingers bumping.

They’re both thrusting, upwards, inwards, and Steve opens his eyes again when he hears Tony’s moans start to get louder, his movements getting more and more urgent until he stills against him. Steve kisses his open mouth and swallows the cry as Tony comes, slurring into Steve’s neck, his hand tightening around the both of them.

Steve strokes him through it, close enough that he can feel the usual build of it low in his gut, and is about to finish himself off on his own when Tony’s hand covers his, stopping it.

“Let me,” Tony says, his eyes hazy-bright. “Uh, move backwards?”

Steve does, his back pressing into the car door, and opens his mouth to ask why before Tony is moving off the carseat, coming to kneel on the car floor, and Steve’s question dissolves into a hoarse moan of, “Oh, Jesus Christ,” when he realizes what Tony’s going to do.

Tony says, “Close enough,” and Steve doesn’t have it in him to laugh as Tony’s tongue brushes against the head of his oversensitive cock, slow at first, in short, tight circles. His lips press against him; a morphed, strange kiss, before they part around the head and then Tony’s taking Steve in his mouth and sucking, his cheeks hollowing-

That’s all it takes and then Steve’s coming with a shout, the car door handle digging into his bowing back, and Tony’s mouth takes him deeper until Steve feels the head push at the back of Tony’s throat, making Steve whimper.

Tony wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and then smears that on the back of the carseat.

Steve says, “That’s unhygienic,” and it comes out weak, wobbling.

“So is sex in the back of a car,” Tony says, not sounding any better, and Steve helps him back up so they’re both half-lying on the carseat, breathing heavily.

“You’re still blushing,” Tony says after a few minutes of getting their breath back, and Steve laughs. “Yeah, so are you.”

 

 

They’re laughing again when they come to a stop in the middle of the deck, and Steve says, “Did you see those guy’s faces,” and Tony covers Steve’s mouth with his hand.

“When the boat docks,” he says, “I’m getting off with you. No innuendo intended. Though there totally can be if you want to.”

Steve just laughs and kisses him, his hands pushing through his hair, and kisses him, and kisses him.

 

 

 

On the other side of the boat, Coulson is yelling at Fury to get the ship to turn. Bruce is being shaken awake, the man who woken him is saying, the ship is crashing, sir-

Reverse the engine, someone yells. Get those propellers moving.

Coulson is standing at the window, his jaw clenched. Come on, come on, come on-

And the ice, the ice, and someone ducks their head in and screams, it’s gonna hit, and the ice-

 

 

 

Tony and Steve are shaken out of their kiss, literally, when the boat starts to shudder.

 

 

 

The man at the wheel is young; this is only his second time out at sea, and his hands aren’t shaking. His hands aren’t shaking, but the wheel is, which is making his hands shake no matter how hard he holds it in place.

 

 

 

At first, Bucky thinks he’s back at the house, and his mother is shaking the bed. Then, when he opens his eyes and it’s still going and he doesn’t live there and his mother died three years ago and it’s not the bed that’s shaking, it’s everything-

 

 

The room where Tony and Steve just came out of, the room full to the brim with cars and sweat, is suddenly flooded when the walls burst, sweeping the staff off their feet.

 

 

 

Natasha isn’t the only one who stops talking in the dining room but she’s the only one whose hand goes quickly towards the knife she keeps strapped to her thigh. The chandelier is trembling; the flute glasses of champagne wobble, and Thor frowns and asks Natasha if she feels that, too.

 

 

 

Steve and Tony watch the iceberg as the boat scrapes past, as one of the men standing too close to the side almost gets his skull caved in with a chunk of ice as big as a torso.

 

 

 

“Close the watertight doors.”

“The doors are closed, sir,” Coulson says as Fury passes him, and when Fury doesn’t do anything but stare wordlessly at the ice scattered around the deck, he says, “Sir?”

 

 

 

Bucky swears loudly when he gets out of bed and water- fucking cold water, he’s never felt water like this, the kind that makes him want to get back on his bed and stay there until the water’s up to his pillow and he doesn’t have any other choice other than to touch it again- comes up to his ankles.

When he opens the door, it’s at the same level down the entire hallway, and Clint is there- he usually is, he likes to sleep where everything doesn’t smell like starch, apparently- telling Bucky to grab his things.

Bucky says, “Yeah,” and then, “What’s going on,” and then, “Clint?”

“Just grab your crap and follow me,” Clint tells him.

 

 

“Sir, there’s no emergency-”

“Yes, there is,” Obie says. “I’ve been robbed. Get the master at arms.”

The guy hesitates, and beside Obie, Howard barks, “Now, you moron,” and the guy sets off running.

 

 

Understandably, Tony is reluctant to go back to his rooms. But Steve says, “Tony, this could be dangerous, we have to tell them,” and Tony sighs loudly and says, “Fuck. Fine.”

Howard is waiting for them outside the rooms, and he smiles when he sees Tony- which is suspicious enough, for a start. “We’ve been looking all over for you.”

Tony almost says, god, what next, a hug, but bites his tongue. “Yeah,” he says instead. “Sorry.”

Neither of them notice when Howard brushes up against Steve’s jacket pocket as he passes.

Howard closes the door behind them, and oh, great, everyone’s here. Pepper’s off to the side, Maria’s in a chair next to her, and Obie’s standing in the middle of the room with two guys in similar-looking suits.

Steve holds his ground. “Something serious has happened.”

“It certainly has,” Obie says, and nods towards the two men in suits. “Search him.”

“What-” Tony is shoved aside as the men start to go through Steve’s pockets, pulling his jacket off him. “Obie, what the fuck?”

“Tony,” Howard says, steely, the façade from before gone with it. “Behave.”

“Go fuck yourself, da-”

“Is this it,” one of the men says, holding up the arc reactor pendant, which he had just picked out of Steve’s jacket pocket, which- which-

Obie says, “It is,” and takes it from his hand, slipping it into his coat.

“I didn’t-” Steve looks from the men to Tony to Howard to Tony to Obie to Tony. “I wouldn’t- Tony, I wouldn’t!”

“He couldn’t have,” Tony says, staring. “He couldn’t, I was with him the whole time.”

Obie leans in as he passes, his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Maybe he took it while you were putting your clothes back on, dearest.”

Steve moves forwards like he’s going to deck him, but is caught by the two men, who shove Steve’s hands behind his back. One of them takes out a pair of handcuffs.

“I didn’t,” Steve says, louder. “Tony, you know I didn’t, you know I wouldn’t, you know me.”

Tony says, “I-”

“Oh, just take him away,” Howard says, directing it at the two men. “Makes me sick to look at him.”

“I didn’t-” Steve struggles against them, but not as hard as he could. “Tony! Tony, I didn’t!”

Tony watches as Steve is manhandled out the door, all the while yelling Tony’s name, and he sees Pepper out of the corner of his eye, her hands strained white over her mouth, Maria’s hands strained white around a glass of whiskey.

 

 

 

“Water,” Bruce says, shoving a hand through his hair, “Fourteen feet above the keel in ten minutes. In the front, in all three holds, and in boiler room six.”

“Yes, yes, when can we get underway-”

“That’s five compartments,” Bruce snaps, turning to the man who spoke before turning back to Fury, who looks as stoic as ever. “The ship can stay afloat with four compartments breached, but not five.”

He’s breathing fast; shoves his hand through his hair again. “Not five,” he repeats, and looks down at the blueprints. “As she goes down by the head, the water will spill over the tops of the bulkheads, at E-deck, from one to the next. Back, and back, and back. There’s no stopping it,” he says, rushed, turning to Fury again.

Fury nods, absorbing this, and the only reaction he’s had throughout the whole thing is his eyes have widened slightly. “The pumps. We could-”

“The pumps buy us time,” Bruce says. “But minutes only. From this moment, no matter what we do-” Bruce stops, looks around the room until he settles on Coulson, the man who’s stood by him after everything.

“The ship will sink, sir,” Coulson finishes for him, directing it towards Fury. Unlike Fury, there’s a sheen of sweat on Coulson’s brow, but other than that, he’s unflappable.

The man standing by the side of the desk scoffs. “But this ship can’t sink!”

“She’s made of iron,” Fury says. “I assure you, commander, she can.”

“It’s a mathematical certainty,” Bruce says, flustered, pushing his glasses up his nose.

Fury nods again. “How much time?”

It takes a few loaded seconds for Bruce to respond, and when he does, it’s low. “An hour,” he says, and the room visibly deflates. “Two, at most.”

Nod. “And how many souls on board, Coulson?”

“Two thousand, two hundred,” Coulson says, “sir.”

This is met by silence, a long, shuttered silence that only ends when Fury turns slightly to face the reporter.

“I believe you may get your headlines, Mr. Reed.”

 

 

The slap is expected, but when it comes, it still stings as much as it would if Tony wasn’t looking for it.

“Always the little slut, isn’t it,” Obie hisses, and his hand raises again. Tony’s jaw stiffens.

The knock on the door startles the both of them, and when the guy pokes his head in, Obie snaps, “Not now.”

“Sorry to interrupt, sir-”

“Not now,” Obie repeats.

“Terribly sorry to inconvenience you, sir,” the man says, “but it’s captain’s orders. Everyone must come up on deck with their life belts on, sir.”

 

 

 

Bucky has to press himself against the wall when a guy comes charging through, knocking on the doors and yelling, “LIFEBELTS ON, EVERYBODY PUT YOUR BLEEDING LIFEBELTS ON AND GET THE BLOODY HELL UP ON DECK, NOW.”

“Jeez,” Bucky says, frowning at the guy’s back. “What was that about?”

“Take a good guess,” Clint says. “Think really hard, Buck.”

 

 

 

Steve stands- there’s not really another option- with his hands chained in front of him around a pole, and watches the bullet roll on the downwards slant down the table before the guard picks it up and loads the gun with it again.

And again, and again: he places the bullet at the top of the table, and the slant of the ship sends it rolling back towards him.

Clink, clink, clink, and then a cher-chunk as he loads the gun again and takes a different bullet out.

Steve turns his head to the window, and watches the water rise.

 

 

 

Natasha makes her way over to Coulson the second she sees him, pulling Thor and Loki with her with both hands and motioning for Tony to follow.

“Hey,” she says. Then, louder, “Coulson.”

Coulson blinks before turning to her, his eyes skimming over Thor, Loki and Tony. “This isn’t the time, Natasha.”

That’s what she likes about him- he cuts the bullshit. Fortunately, so does she. “What’s going on.”

Coulson opens his mouth just as Tony says, “I saw the iceberg.”

Coulson stops, looking at Tony, his gaze vague and filtered.

It’s suddenly tense, confirming what Natasha’s been thinking for a few minutes now.

“Coulson,” Tony says. “Come on, I’ve had a really bad night and something tells me what you’re going to say is going to make it a shitload worse, but tell us anyway.”

Coulson looks at the four of them for a couple of seconds, and his eyes start to go vague again before he seems to snap out of it, standing up straighter. “The ship is going to sink.”

Natasha takes this and nods. “Lovely. And th-” she stops, the thought hitting her just like it’s already hit Coulson, like it’s hitting Tony right now.

She swallows. Remembers everything she learned about the Atlantic ocean and its lethal temperatures when she was training. Turns over all this information in her mind, and breathes in. “There aren’t enough lifeboats for even half of the passengers.”

“Correct,” Coulson says, folding his hands in front of him, saying it like he’s delivering the weather.

“Most of the people who don’t make it to the lifeboats are going to freeze to death.”

“Correct.”

“What the bloody hell are you on about,” Loki says. “This ship is supposed to be unsinkable, is it not?”

“Supposed to, yeah,” Tony says, his voice sounding faraway to his own ears. “Huh.”

Coulson puts two fingers to the bridge of his nose for a second, squeezing before letting them drop. “Don’t tell anyone that you don’t have to, it’ll only be worse if there’s a panic. And get to a boat, fast.”

“Will do,” Natasha says, and starts for the door. Her thoughts automatically flicker to Clint, but she quickly dismisses them- she trusts him to get out of this in one piece, and they can’t start the whole I’m-not-leaving-if-you-aren’t thing again, which 99% of the time ends with both of them worse off than they were originally.

The burst of cold air reminds her of her childhood back in Russia, and she breathes it in.

She has to keep going. Clint can handle himself. He’s going to be standing on the docks waiting for her when she gets there, after taking the Loch Ness monster as a shortcut, because that’s something Clint would do, nevermind they’re not in Scotland.

Clint will be fine. And if he isn’t- well, then. She’s just going to have to trust the idiot to pull through this.

 

 

 

“Let us out,” Clint barks, and shakes the screen doors again so they rattle.

The guard’s expression tightens. “It’s not time to go to the-”

“Boats yet,” Clint finishes for him. “Yeah, got it. Thanks, man, you were a great help, we’ll just sit down here and die quietly, then.”

“Or we could chose the third option,” Bucky says, and Clint tries not to laugh, because he’s been in too many life-or-death situations before and one thing he’s learned about them is that you’re not supposed to laugh until it’s over.

 

 

 

“You know,” the guard says finally, and they’re the first words Steve’s heard the guy speak since he locked his handcuffs, “I do believe this ship may sink.”

He smiles, snake-and-liquor style, and stands, walking over and leaving the gun on the table.

“I’ve been asked to give you this small token of our appreciation,” the guard says, and Steve gets punched in the gut once, twice, coughing up nothing as the guard straightens up again.

“Compliments of Mr. Obidiah Stane,” he says, straightening his hair.

And Steve, because he’s been punched more times by bigger men, chokes, “Tell him I said thanks.”

For a second he thinks the guy’s going to come back and punch him again for good measure, but instead he just smiles again, picking up the key to Steve’s cuffs and dropping it into his pocket. “Oh, I’ll be sure to,” he says, and closes the door behind him, so it’s just Steve and the rising water outside the window.

 

 

 

“Get in,” Natasha says, and Tony doesn’t move.

When Tony still doesn’t move after a few seconds, Howard sighs. “Tony, get in the boat.”

Women and children, Tony remembers the guy yelling down the megaphone. Women and children except if you have enough money to bribe the guards with, and looks at Howard, who is sitting quite comfortably in his seat in the boat. Then Tony’s going to sit next to him, then Obie next to Tony, and they’ll all row out safely as everyone drowns. Loki and Thor had gone with their family down the other side of the boat, and they’re probably doing the same thing.

Tony takes a step back.

“Tony,” Natasha says, half warningly and half curiously, and Howard snaps it: “Tony, get in the boat.”

Tony looks at Natasha, at her startling red hair, and wonders where Pepper is. He nods, not at the order but at Natasha, who looks at him silently for a few seconds before pursing her lips and nodding back.

Then Obie’s hand is at his shoulder again, pushing. “Tony,” Obie says, and Tony shakes him off.

He looks at his mother- his fading, beautiful mother with her gloves on down to her elbows, and she looks back at him blankly.

“Goodbye, mother,” Tony says, and he almost misses it because Obie grabs at him again, but she says, “Goodbye,” back to him.

He turns on his heel, making his way down the deck, and hears Howard calling his name, hears Obie saying, “I’ll get him, don’t worry,” and then heavy footsteps in the midst of everyone else’s, and Obie has his hand on his shoulder, turning him around.

“Where do you think you’re going,” Obie says, and laughs. “To him? To be a whore to a gutter rat?”

Tony is seeing things in statistics, now. All measured numbers and cold hands and he says, “I’d rather be his whore than your husband,” without feeling the phantom burn of the necklace chain around his throat.

Obie stares and Tony very nearly grins, turning away again.

“Wait,” Obie says, and Tony can hear his dad shouting his name, and Obie’s hands come to circle his wrists. “Wait,” Obie says again, shouting it as Tony struggles. “No- I said no-”

Tony punches him, hard enough that Obie reels back and Tony’s hand feels like it spontaneously combusted as he turns again and sprints, shoving his way through. He runs until he’s passing the dining hall, passing the hallways, passing the main staircase and there he is-

“Coulson,” Tony pants. “Coulson, where would they take someone who’s under arrest?”

 

 

 

Steve pulls fruitlessly at the cuffs which had started to cut into his wrists a while ago, and stops after he yells in pain, letting his hands sag.

“This could be bad,” he admits to himself, and apparently the universe either agrees with him or wants to laugh at him, because water starts creeping in from under the door, slow and steady.

 

 

 

The elevator makes it to the E-deck before water starts pouring in from that floor, and Tony yells as it hits hit feet along with the guy at the controls.

“I’m going back up,” the guy says, high-pitched, and Tony yells, “No,” and starts wrenching the screen doors open, the water soaking into his socks as he climbs through.

“I’m going back up,” the guy says again, more high-pitched, and Tony doesn’t bother answering or even turning to watch the elevator slide upwards.

Tony makes his way down the hall, already shivering, swearing out loud at the cold and at Coulson’s shitty directions.

“Crew passage,” he says when he sees the sign. “Okay. Crew passage. I take it all back, Coulson, you’re a god.”

The water comes up to his waist when he reaches the end of the crew passage, at the end of which are two hallways.

“Fucking hallways,” Tony gasps. “Bane of my fucking existence, I swear to- Coulson, you fucker, I take it back again, I loathe you, where the hell do I-”

There are chairs floating in his way, tables pressing into his legs, and he shoves them all out of the way and shouts, “Steve?”

Nothing. Zip. Nada. Complete lack of Steve.

“Steve,” he yells, and the water is rising, and he yells, “Steve,” again, shivering so hard his teeth are bumping together.

Then: “TONY!”

Tony stops. Listens. Yells, “Steve?”

“TONY,” Steve yells, his voice faint because- it’s coming from the opposite hallway. Well, Tony sucks.

“STEVE,” Tony yells, all but charging back down the hall, and if he trips over in this fucking water he is going to kill himself.

Tony hears his name again, louder this time, and follows.

 

 

 

The sight of Tony, albeit bedraggled and crazy-eyed, is one of the best things Steve has seen in his entire damn life.

“Steve,” Tony says, “Steve, Steve,” and he’s stumbling through the water towards him, pushing the desk out of the way when it blocks him, and kissing him full on the mouth, sliding his arms around his neck.

“Your dad put it in my pocket,” Steve says raggedly, and Tony says, “Yeah, fuck, I know,” equally as wrecked, and looks down at the cuffs around the pole.

Steve says, “Okay, now this looks bad-”

“No, yeah,” Tony says. “Cuffed to pole with freezing cold water rising and no-one coming to help, that’s my idea of a lazy Saturday, fuck my life.”

Steve laughs, suddenly dizzy with it, with Tony being so close and saving him and here- “How’d you know I didn’t do it?”

“Uh,” Tony says. “I didn’t? I just, y’know, who do I believe, you or the guys who are marrying me off to a guy who I hate. Guess who comes out on top.”

Steve laughs again, bordering on hysterical, and leans in to kiss Tony again before saying, “There should be keys in the case. A little silver one.”

There’s a few seconds of Tony shuffling through them. “These are all brass!”

“Check in there,” Steve says, and jerks his head towards the desk.

It’s not there, of course, because the universe hates them and wants to shit over them and let them drown in a fucking holding cell on a cruise ship.

When Tony points out the axe on the other side of the room, Steve nearly kisses him again. Actually he does, because he’s close enough to him and he’s allowed.

“Great,” Steve rasps. “Axes are great. You’re great, Tony, go get it.”

“I am, aren’t I,” Tony says, and picks up a lamp floating next to the glass case and smashes it with it, scattering glass.

He hefts the axe up, and Steve says, “Wait, wait, wait, wait!”

“What?”

“Try a few practice chops over there.”

Tony nods, and hefts the axe up again, bringing it down with a grunt on the wooden shelf.

“Great, now try to hit the same spot.”

Tony nods, hefts the axe up, and hits the wall.

They both stare at the gauge he’s made before Steve swallows and says, “Okay, enough practice, let’s go.”

Tony is wincing as he pushes through the water to him. “You’ll still love me if I accidentally cut your hand off, right?”

Steve says, “Of course,” without thinking, and when he looks up, Tony is staring.

“But please avoid doing that,” Steve says quickly.

Tony blinks. “Right. No hand-chopping. On it.”

“I trust you,” Steve says, and he does, completely, he just doesn’t trust Tony’s aim, so he might close his eyes and yell a little bit when the axe flashes downwards.

There’s a clang, and then Tony’s whooping, and Steve eases his eyes open and his hands are both in the water on either side of his body- attached, thank god.

“You did it,” Steve says giddily, jumping down from the desk and kissing him on the cheek, on the neck, then on the lips, and then: “Fuck, this is cold.”

“I made you swear,” Tony says, equally giddy.

“The water made me swear because it’s sofuckingcoldohmygosh,” Steve gasps, and starts shuddering.

“Trust me,” Tony says, “there’s more where that came from.”

 

 

 

The flares are brilliant from where Natasha’s sitting- bright and blazing and all she can see for a second, but she knows that any other ship probably can’t.

And there’s panic, like she knew there would be, because every single time in every situation like this, humans turn out to be more human than people expect them to be. People are already jumping into the water. Not many, but some, and if Natasha was back there, like she’s starting to wish she was, she’d be trying to shove her way through to Clint and stopping people from being more idiotic than they already are.

The ship is tilting, now- some of it is already beneath the surface, and it keeps making metal-on-metal sounds, like it’s groaning.

“Now there’s something you don’t see everyday,” she says, pulling an oar through the water, because she’s seen a lot of things, but this isn’t one of them.

 

 

 

Tony and Steve get screamed at by a waiter when they break a wall getting through onto dry ground, yelling about how they’ll have to pay for it, about how that’s white starline property, and both Steve and Tony turn around at the same time and yell, “SHUT UP,” back at him.

At any other time, they’d laugh at the guy’s expression. Now, they don’t have the time.

 

 

 

“You can’t keep us locked in here like animals,” a man yells next to Clint, “the ship’s bloody sinking!”

A guard on the other side of the gates shoves his way through the others, key in hand. “Women only,” he yells, and then yells it again when people start to mill through.

And it happens just like Clint knows it would: a man tries to get through, and then another one, and then everyone’s shoving and the guards are ‘taking extreme measures,’ as Clint has heard people on the other side call them.

Human nature, he remembers Natasha called it once.

When one guard brings out a gun, Clint drags Bucky to the back.

“If he’s desperate enough, someone’s going to start using it,” he tells him, and doesn’t tell him that he knows that from several past experiences.

But hey, he’s Clint Barton, and if that’s taught him anything, it’s that he’s not the guy to stand back and let things happen.

“COME ON,” he yells at the only guard who’s looking at him, the one who he just saw club a guy on the head with the butt of an axe. “THERE ARE WOMEN AND CHILDREN DOWN HERE- LET US UP SO WE CAN HAVE A CHANCE!”

The guard doesn’t react other than yelling, again, for everyone to get back. They’ve stopped saying ‘please’ at this point.

“Steve,” Bucky says beside him, and Clint turns to see Steve and Tony pushing past to get to them.

Bucky gives Steve a fast, one-armed hug which Steve returns before letting go.

“Hey,” Steve pants. “Any way out?”

“Not that way,” Clint tells him. “We need to do something and we need to do it fast.”

“Awesome,” Tony says, out of breath. “It can be a lovely bonding experience, let’s go.”

“I’ve had worse bonding experiences,” Clint says honestly, and follows Steve down the passageway.

 

 

 

At the next gate they find it’s slightly better, but gives Clint a huge urge to punch someone.

“Open the gate,” Steve says for the third time.

The guy says, “Go back down the main stairwell like I told you,” and his voice is so irritatingly grating that Clint’s hand twitches.

Steve’s apparently getting the same kind of vibe, because his mouth tightens before he grabs the bars and starts shaking. “God DAMN it, son of a BITCH!”

“Stop that,” the guard yells, and Steve shoves through the rest of them to get to the wooden bench, and starts yanking.

“I knew there was a reason I liked you, kid,” Bucky says, and starts on the other side, pulling with both hands.

Tony joins in, to Clint’s surprise- he didn’t think the guy would like anything that got his hands dirty, but there he is, his arm muscles straining in the middle of the bench.

But then again, Tony got his hands pretty filthy in the crawlspaces, so what does Clint know?

Clint gives the bench the final yank and it breaks off from the plastic floor, strips of it still stuck to the legs.

Steve backs up, Bucky on one side, Tony on the other, and Clint cups his hands around his mouth: “EVERYBODY KINDLY MOVE THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY, PLEASE.”

Most of them do, and Steve yells, “ONE,” and Clint grabs the remaining girl who didn’t move and gets her out of the way.

“TWO,” Steve yells, and the guard says, “No, no, no, don’t, put that-”

Steve yells, “THREE,” and they charge, and Clint watches as the gate vibrates, but doesn’t break.

“AGAIN,” Steve yells, and they’re backing up, and the guard is screaming at them, and the bench hits the fence with a crash that lifts it off its hinges so it bounces off the wall.

Steve says something else but Clint doesn’t catch it, but he does catch Tony when he says, “Wow, that was actually kind of hot,” and Steve huffs out a laugh as he climbs over the door.

“You can’t go up there,” the guard keeps saying as everyone mills past. “You can’t g-”

At least six people cheer when Clint punches him in the face, and he feels pretty good about it.

 

 

 

Coulson’s on deck and wishing he wasn’t, because already the guns are coming out and one of the guards he had talked to about his wife and dog less than three hours ago is waving a handheld at them.

“EVERYONE GET BACK,” he yells, and Coulson watches his throat bob with the strain. “OR I WILL SHOOT YOU DOWN LIKE DOGS.”

Coulson has other things to worry about, like how many people are getting shoved over the side of the boat.

“WE WILL HAVE ORDER,” the guy continues, and his name is Barry, or Reginald, or something, Coulson can’t remember, but his wife’s name is Margret and she likes jam in her sandwiches.

The man’s hand is shaking on the trigger. Coulson has seen this before, and it’s never good.

Again, Coulson has other problems. People are climbing down on the ropes.

Three hours ago, he was talking to a man about his wife and dog, and now there are people drowning underneath them.

A few minutes ago, Coulson saw a teenage girl get shoved over.

Coulson has other problems. People are cutting the ropes. People are swallowing water. People are screaming as gunshots go off, and Coulson can’t go back inside, not now.

 

 

 

“Music to drown by,” Bucky yells over the noise at Steve as they pass a group of people with violins, “now I know I’m in first class.”

Steve laughs and tries not to imagine water down his throat.

 

 

 

Thor wipes a sweaty hand on his sweaty pants, and looks up when Loki says, “You really are a dolt, you know.”

“I know,” Thor says. “But you love me.”

Loki snorts through his nose. “One of my few character flaws,” he says. “Come on, I think I see a few empty seats on a boat up there.”

 

 

 

“Get on the boat, Tony,” Steve says, because some people still recognize higher class and are willing to let people go because of it. It’s unfair, it’s so unfair Steve’s choking on it, but if it’s Tony then it’s enough.

Clint and Bucky got lost at some point while they were shoving through, but Steve thinks he heard one of them yell his name a few seconds ago, and-

And then Obie’s there, saying, “Tony, you look a fright,” and taking his jacket off and pulling it around Tony’s shoulders, touching Tony’s face, his neck, and Steve digs his nails into his palms.

Tony glares but it’s losing momentum, and Steve pushes Obie aside, taking Tony’s face in his hands. “Go,” he says. “I’ll get the next one.”

“Bullshit, Steve. Not without you.”

“I’ll be alright,” Steve says, and he’s never been a good liar, but this time he has to make it count.

Obie clears his throat, and at least he has the decency not to smile, because Steve thinks if he does he’s going to deck him. “I have an arrangement. They’ll take both me and Steve here on a boat on the other side of the ship. We’ll be fine.”

“I don’t care about you, you can go die in a fire,” Tony says. “Or an ocean, whatever.”

“Sir,” one of the guards say. “You have to get on the boat, Mr. Stark.”

“Yeah, yeah, just a second,” Tony says, and pushes forwards enough to kiss Steve, in front of Obie and the guard and everyone, and when he pulls back he doesn’t even look to see Obie’s expression, because he’s never liked other people playing with his things.

“You better be fine,” Tony blurts. “Seriously, I will swim the fuck back to the ship if you’re lying.”

Steve laughs because Tony’s beautiful and the flares are still going up behind them, showering down, and they’ve had a few weeks and it’s enough. It is.

“I’ll be fine,” he says. “Promise.”

And maybe it feels like he’s betraying Tony, that the last thing he’ll say to him is a blatant lie, but again, it’s enough.

The guard says, “Sir,” more stiffer, and Tony says, “Yeah, yeah, I’m going,” and lets himself be pushed forwards into the boat, taking one of the outer seats.

Steve doesn’t lose Tony’s gaze even when the lifeboat starts lowering, when Obie says, “You’re a good liar, boy.”

“Almost as good as you,” Steve replies. “There’s no arrangement, is there.”

“Not for you,” Obie says after a few seconds, and then he looks right at him. “I always win, Steve. One way or another.”

Tony isn’t yours to win, Steve wants to tell him. Tony isn’t anybody’s, he’s not even mine, he’s Tony and no-one can take that away from him, especially not you.

He wants to tell Obie that it proves it, that Tony’s nobody’s but Tony’s, when the stupid bastard jumps off the lifeboat and uses both arms to cling to the balcony of the boat.

“TONY,” Steve yells, and Obie yells it along with him, and Steve watches as a woman reaches to pull Tony back onto the boat, and he yells, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING,” but Tony just glances back up at him before starting to run.

“NO, DON’T, GET BACK ON THE-” Steve gives up, turning and starting through the crowd, going as fast as he can with this many people in the way. He slams into a guy and doesn’t apologize, bruises his already-bruised wrists on a doorframe, nearly falls down a flight of stairs and runs into Tony’s arms, kissing him all over his face.

“You’re an idiot,” he says in between kisses. “You’re- god, why did you- you were safe, you were going to get away, why did you do that-”

Tony says, “You jump, I jump, right,” with barely any breath left, and Steve can’t do anything but stare.

Tony touches his face, cups his cheek, runs his fingers over the back of his neck like he’s not going to get another chance, and Steve says, “Right,” and kisses him before burying his head in his neck, kissing whatever he can reach.

 

 

 

Bucky whacks Loki on the head before dragging him up to his feet, and Loki opens his mouth to swear at him before Thor hits them both, bellowing, “We do not have time for your childishness,” and there’s a guy waving a gun, and Clint really doesn’t like how antsy he looks.

“Stop PUSHING,” the guy yells, and fires three waning shots into the air. They have almost no effect- people scream, but everyone keeps shoving forwards.

Clint flinches as another warning shot is fired, and the guy yells, “WOMEN AND CHILDREN ONLY,” and Clint has seen this exact scenario play out in an abandoned warehouse in China, with Natasha three feet away.

Three feet away from Clint now, there’s a screaming woman trying to clamber back onto the boat, but Clint couldn’t get to her if he tried.

They’ve already seen Obie shove past, already seen him saying he had a child and using that to lie his way into a seat in the boat, and Bucky had started to yell something to the guard before Clint had stopped him.

“Not worth it,” Clint had told him, and Bucky’s lips had thinned.

Now that boat is gone and Obie with it, but hey, at least the child got off, right?

Clint tells himself it’s worth it, and that Obie probably wasn’t that bad a guy, even though every time he saw him he wanted to punch his fucking teeth in and possibly kick his skull until he was bleeding everywhere.

Worth it, worth it, you made the right choice, Jesus fuck I hope Natasha got out.

He pushes any thought of Natasha from his mind because that’s what it takes to survive right now, even though most of the time, it’s Natasha at his side being the main thing keeping it that way.

And Thor is yelling, “GIVE US A CHANCE TO LIVE, YOU MANGEY COWARD,” and the guard is yelling, “I’LL SHOOT ANY MAN WHO TRIES TO GET PAST ME, GET BACK,” and Clint’s already thought of a dozen different ways this could go down, and none of them are good.

And there we go, there it is, just like Clint knew it would happen: a man hoists himself up over the crowd, over the ropes, and the guard’s trigger finger tightens in his direction.

Now he has everyone’s attention, and people are screaming and tripping backwards and someone behind moves to help the man who got shot, pushing Loki forwards towards the guard, and no, no-

The gun goes off and then there’s a circular split in Loki’s lifebelt, blooming red across all that white, and Thor is screaming his name and his knees are hitting the deck so he can pull Loki’s head into his lap, and Bucky’s looking at the guard and spitting, “You bastard,” and Clint tries not to get knocked over by the jostle of everyone trying to get past, trying to get back, trying to get through.

Thor’s still yelling, half at the guard and half at Loki, and Clint watches the guard stare, first at the circle in Loki’s lifebelt and then at the pool of blood making its way towards him.

The guard looks around, looks at the men pulling the ropes who clearly saw what he did but are just doing their jobs, just pulling the ropes like they were told to do, and Clint opens his mouth to yell no as the gun is pressed into the guard’s temple.

He never knows if the sound escapes him or not, due to the gunshot drowning everything out.

The guard’s body hits the water and Clint remembers Natasha and her bloody hair, remembers her cleaning it from under her fingernails and saying, see? Look how fast we all turn into animals.

“Look how fast,” Clint says, and it gets lost in the screaming.

 

 

 

Coulson is busy running for his life through the dining room with Steve and Tony after meeting them on the stairs when he was ushering everyone else out, when Steve yells, “Wait, wait,” and Coulson skids to a stop.

And there’s Bruce Banner, standing still and staring at the clock in front of him on the mantelpiece, and when he notices they’ve noticed him, he says, “Oh. Hello.”

“Bruce,” Tony says. “Won’t you even make a try for it?”

Bruce just looks at him, and doesn’t move when Tony steps closer. “I’m sorry,” Bruce says, “that we didn’t build you a stronger ship, Tony.”

“Don’t even try,” Coulson says, and marches forwards, grabbing Bruce by the arm. “Banner, we’re getting off this ship.”

Bruce blinks feebly at him. “Sir, with all due respect-”

“We,” Coulson says, “Are getting off this ship. Understood?”

For a second, Bruce just stares. Then, slowly, he nods, like he’s resurfacing. “Understood.”

 

 

 

Fury expects an angry mob when he gets tapped on the shoulder. What he gets, though, is a woman clutching a baby.

“Cap-ee-tan,” she says. “Cap-ee-tan, where do we go?”

“The other side of the ship,” Fury answers automatically. “Go. Fast. You can catch some of the last boats if you hurry.”

He’s not taking up a seat that a passenger could use, he knows that. Knows that he’ll go down fighting like always, but he’s not going to take a chance to live away from someone.

“Sir,” a man says as he wades through the ankle-deep water, and shoves a lifebelt at him.

Fury shakes his head. “Give it to someone who doesn’t have one,” he tells him, and keeps walking.

The ankle-deep water becomes knee-deep water, then waist-deep, then he’s standing alone behind the wheel and as the saying goes, ‘a good captain-’

Well. Everyone knows the ending to that.

 

 

 

Bucky unties the bloodied lifebelt from Loki’s torso, eyes on the rising water that’s rising quicker than ever now, and when he gets up, he nearly trips over from the tilt of the floor.

Someone’s yelling for somebody, anyone, to cut the ropes that are holding up a lifeboat so they can get away, and Bucky cuts his hand open as he climbs up with his pocketknife but hardly notices.

It’s slow going, and the water is up to his waist, but he saws through the last one and no-one thanks him, just keep screaming and shoving and Bucky does the smart thing and gets the hell out of the way.

Clint and Thor are behind him when he glances back, but the crowd is getting thicker as people scramble to get out and Bucky thinks he’s going to lose sight of them soon.

He heads up because that’s where everyone else is going, up because there’s nowhere else to go, up because if he goes anywhere else then there’s just water and dead bodies.

 

 

 

Clint has to drag Thor away from the water; pry his heavy fingers from cradling Loki’s head. Has to say, again, “He’s gone, Thor, we can’t do anything for him,” and pull, and pull, and pull.

Clint says, “I’m sorry,” to Loki’s open, unseeing eyes. Says, “I’ll take care of him, I swear, I will, I’m sorry I couldn’t save you,” and Thor is sobbing now, and Clint hears him say brother. Hears him say love. Hears him say, sorry.

“I know,” Clint says, “he knows, he knew, Thor, he did, he knew you loved him, we have to move, I’m sorry.”

Clint pulls and pulls and pulls.

 

 

 

Natasha can hear someone crying; knows she’ll see who it is if she turns to her right but can’t do anything but stare at the ship as it breaks, piece by piece, body by body until they pile up so high they’re bigger than the boat.

Now that, Natasha has seen.

She thinks she says, “Clint,” but can’t hear it over the woman’s sobs.

 

 

Steve and Tony shove and shove and don’t let go of each other’s hand because if they do they’ll get swamped, and they can’t afford that at this point.

“As I walk through the shadow,” a man is saying in front of them, “of the valley of death-”

Tony yells, “Do you think you could walk a bit faster, pal,” and Steve’s hand tightens.

Everyone’s either heading to the very front of the ship or jumping off into the water, and Steve says, “Should we,” and Tony says, “No, don’t be an idiot, it’s too dangerous now and we’ll die anyway if we do.” Tony makes a face. “You know, as opposed to dying when the ship goes under.”

“Just keep going,” Steve says, and they push forwards, because there’s nothing else to do.

It’s nearly a horizontal climb now; they have to lean forwards to walk, and that’s when Tony sees her.

He says, “Pep,” because there’s no mistaking that face, that hair, fanning out over the deck; a pole barring across her waist the only thing keeping her from sliding downward. And she’s dead, she’s obviously dead because there’s blood all over the crown of her head and her eyes are open, staring down at the ocean she’s going to fall into but not breathe in.

Tony says, “Pepper,” and starts to move so they’re walking towards her, but Steve says, “Tony, we can’t, she’s not-”

“Pepper,” Tony says. “Pepper, Pep, oh, god,” and his voice is pitching, there’s a solid drag on it, his cheeks are wet with something other than the sea.

“Tony,” Steve says, tugging him close when Tony tries to move in her direction. “Tony, we can’t.”

Tony watches her, watches blood slide down into her eyelashes and watches as she doesn’t blink it out.

“Come on,” Steve says. “Come on,” and he grabs onto the railing and pulls so Tony is beside him, holding on tight.

It takes a few seconds for it to click, but when it does, Tony laughs, even though it dies on his lips. “Steve.”

Steve looks down at him, and Tony says, “This is where we first met,” and Steve’s eyes track for a second before he presses his mouth to Tony’s forehead, pulling him as close as he can.

No-one is standing up now, they’re either lying down or falling down or holding onto something, and Tony wonders how many dead bodies there are in a half-mile radius right now, under the water or otherwise. He wonders if everyone got out okay. He wonders if they’re on lifeboats or if they’re all like Pepper, angled like clotheshangers around a pole, staring but not seeing.

People are screaming, which has been a continuous thing for the past hour or so, and Tony watches numbly, dumbly, as a man with a polka-dot jacket under his lifebelt slides downwards into the water.

“It’s going to be okay,” Steve is saying. “We’re going to be okay.”

Tony watches as a man screams as he falls, hits the propeller of the ship and stops, hitting the water without so much as a whimper.

“Hold on real tight,” Steve says. “Hold on real tight, Tony, okay?”

Tony nods, and he would reply, but Steve probably wouldn’t be able to hear him.

 

 

 

Natasha doesn’t jolt when the lights on the ship go out. Every light, all at once, all down the ship, and then there’s the groaning again, more insistent, and she watches the ship as it slowly cracks down the middle.

Watches as it’s not a clean break, of course it isn’t, and then watches as the upper half of the ship starts to be pulled in along with the bottom half.

“Clint,” she says, and it’s useless, she knows. “Clint, please, you stupid-”

 

 

 

Coulson tells Bruce to hold on. Tells him not to let go of his hand, or Clint’s, and they’ll be fine. He catches Clint’s eye as he tells him this- Clint, who’s holding onto Thor, who’s holding onto Coulson, who’s holding onto the railing- and knows he’s been caught out on a lie.

 

 

 

When Steve notices Bucky, it’s just a lucky glance and Steve opens his mouth to yell before Bucky’s falling, his hand grabbing as he goes, and Steve still has his mouth open to yell as Bucky goes under the water.

Tony doesn’t notice, and Steve watches as Bucky doesn’t resurface, watches and screams out loud when something big and dark and lethal comes crashing down on the space where Bucky went under.

Steve watches and Bucky doesn’t come up. Says, “It’s going to be okay,” for both his sake and Tony’s, and Bucky doesn’t come up.

Says, “It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay, oh god, oh god, Bucky,” and Tony doesn’t hear most of it, everything else is too loud.

The ship tips upwards again, and Steve says, “Bucky.”

 

 

 

Tony obeys the first time this time around when Steve says, “Give me your hand, I’ll pull you over,” and then they’re both on the wrong side of the railing, the side that Tony was going to jump off, and Steve is squeezing Tony’s hand so hard it’s going to bruise, and Tony is breathing in shallow gasps.

“I’ve got you,” Steve is saying. “I won’t let go. Come on, I’ve got you, come on,” and his grip tightens on the railing, around Tony’s hand.

Tony nods along. He can hear someone yelling, help me, please. Someone help me, please.

 

 

 

The top half of the ship is now completely vertical, and Natasha wishes she were there more than anything as the woman beside her sobs even louder and the ship’s lights flicker and Clint doesn’t hold her hand as the ship bobs there, as Natasha imagines the screams that she knows are happening on the ship right now-

 

 

 

Tony says, “The ship is going to suck us down,” and it’s shaky.

“What?”

“The ship is going to suck us down, we need to start kicking as soon as we hit the water.”

Steve nods. “I can do that.”

Tony breathes out; a long, thin cloud of it. “Don’t let go of my hand.”

“Wasn’t planning to.”

 

 

 

“Take a deep breath when I say,” Coulson yells. “Kick for the surface and keep kicking.”

“And follow me when you get back up there,” Clint yells, and he’s dangling from a fucking pole and it’s still not the worst situation he’s ever been in, fuck, he needs to start re-thinking his life, this was supposed to be one of the safe missions. “I know where to go.”

 

 

 

The water is, somehow, colder than it was when Tony was in it waist-deep. It’s painful, true to Steve’s word, and Tony says, “S-shit,” and just that, and Steve says, “Yeah.”

When Tony’s back hits something, he pivots in the water, and for a second he can’t make out what it is.

“Don’t even try it,” Steve snaps at a guy who’s swimming in their direction.

“It’ll fit more than you two,” the guy yells back.

“We can’t take that chance,” Steve says, and then, “Tony, get up on it.”

Trembling so hard at this point that he can hardly do it, Tony clambers up, and Steve tries to do the same until it starts to tip sideways.

“Come on,” Tony says when Steve doesn’t try again. “Come on, it’ll totally fit two, this feels like a sturdy- what the fuck even is- there’s a doorknob, it’s a door, it’s a sturdy as fuck door, I swear.”

And Tony’s babbling and he’s jittering from the cold, and Steve still isn’t trying to get the fuck up, god.

“It won’t fit the both of us,” Steve says, and Tony swears loudly.

“It s-so will, I bet you- I bet you those eight c-cars that I have of that one car I said I had, I bet you ten cars, I bet you a million fucking cars you can fit on this, please, Steve, just try.”

“Tony-”

“Please,” Tony says. “Please, I can’t, I won’t, I swear to fucking god I’ll slide right b-back there with you in the water and we’ll both die, it’ll be very Romeo and Juliet, I’ll kick your ass if you-”

He gets cut off by a sharp whistle, and when Tony turns his head there’s a guy with a whistle jammed into his mouth, yelling about the boats rowing back, and Steve says, “There, I’ll be fine, the boats will be back any minute, see?”

Tony shivers and swears and he can’t feel his hands anymore.

 

 

 

“You don’t understand,” the man repeats. “If we go back, they’ll swamp us.”

“Not the way I’m going.”

“Would you just-” the man glares at Natasha like she’s his own personal bane. “Just sit down, ma’am.”

“Again, I-”

“Would you shut your trap,” the man hisses, “for one second? We’re in the middle of the North Atlantic, those people will drown us. Now, do you want to live or do you want to die?”

Natasha stands, walks the meter between the two of them, and stands right in front of him. “Honestly, I’m not too fussed. But I have a debt to pay, and I’m damn well doing to pay it.”

She punches him hard enough to knock him out, doesn’t wait to see if he falls in the water, and turns around. “I pinky promise that if you do what I say, none of you will die. If you don’t, then, well. I advise you all grab an oar if you want to live.”

Wisely, most of them grab an oar.

 

 

Clint thinks it’s kind of awesome that he can both kick his legs and not be able to feel them at the same time. Or, well, scratch that, it fucking sucks, but if he tells himself that then he’ll probably flounder and drown and that’d suck more.

He glances behind him again, checking to see that everyone’s behind him- Thor, Coulson and Bruce are all looking very blue-ish, but are all still breathing, which is the important part.

“Keep swimming,” Clint tells them, and takes another breath. They’re far enough away from everyone else, now.

He blows into the whistle- once, twice, three times, all fast. A pause, and then again, three shrill shrieks, one after the other.

One, two, three.

One, two, three, and Clint pauses to tell everyone to keep swimming, to keep everyone awake, and puts his lips to the whistle, and hopes Natasha can hear him, and blows.

 

 

As they wait in the water, there’s nothing much to do but talk. It reminds Tony of their morning walks, in a weirdly morbid way, but the conversation this time is a bit more strained than their morning walks.

“The boats are taking a l-lot longer than I th-thought they would,” Tony says at some point, and Steve just hums.

First Steve’s talking about how his mother used to curl her hair- he slurs it, sluggish, and Tony has to shake him to keep him awake- and then Tony suddenly doesn’t remember what they were just talking about.

He drifts in and out of consciousness, losing time and losing his grip and then there’s a light, and for a second he thinks he’s in his room in England with Jarvis waking him up for school.

But then the cold sets in, and Tony doesn’t even have the strength to gasp at the pain of it anymore, and there’s a voice, there’s a voice-

Is there anyone alive out there, it’s saying, and it’s so familiar. Hello, is there anyone alive out there.

Here, Tony wills himself to say. Yes, I am, we are, over here.

“S-steve,” he croaks instead. “T-there’s a boat, Steve.”

He grips Steve’s hand, and all Tony’s strength right now is barely tight enough to wake someone up from a sleep, much less whatever’s happening to them.

“Steve,” he says again. “S-steve, there’s a boat, we’re s-safe, there’s a boat.”

Steve’s eyes don’t open and Tony shakes him, and shakes him, and shakes him.

There’s ice crusted in his eyelashes, in the shell of his ear, under his nose, under his bottom lip, and Tony says, “Steve,” and his voice cracks.

Tony yells it as loud as he can and it’s hardly louder than a whisper, and his vocal cords feel like they’ve been shredded and Tony doesn’t care and Steve still isn’t waking up, why isn’t he waking up-

Their hands are frozen together. The ice has already set, and Tony doesn’t know how much time has passed, and he says, “S-steve,” and Steve doesn’t answer.

The voice- Natasha, he realizes, and then Clint, yelling, is there anyone out there, and Tony thinks he’s imagined it for a moment before he hears Thor yelling it, quieter than the other two.

“I’m h-here,” Tony croaks. “We’re here, w-we’re over here, we’re here, he won’t wake up-”

The boat is passing him now, their flashlights going over him, and Tony screams as loud as he can and it’s pathetic how loud it isn’t.

“Steve,” he says, and shakes him, and screams, and then- and then-

And then Steve’s eyes are opening, cracking the ice in his lashes, and his eyes are barely tracking but he says, “T-tony,” and Tony is stuck between kissing him or punching him.

He can’t do either, though, because he can’t even yell for the boat to come back, and Steve’s saying his name again and it’s all wasted because they’re going to die here in twenty minutes or so when the boat had been less than six meters away from them.

“There’s a b-boat,” Tony says. “Th-there’s a boat, they can’t hear us.”

Steve’s head turns, shifting just enough so he can see the lights, and Tony says, “Can you h-hold on by yourself?”

“Wh’t?”

“C-can you hold on by yourself?”

Steve makes a noise that Tony is going to have to hope is a yes, and squeezes his hands as tight as he can before pushing clumsily sideways, into the water, and Steve says, “Wh’t ‘r y’doin.’”

Tony doesn’t answer him as he half-dog-paddles-half-writhes through the water, still wanting to scream from it and not having the energy to.

He pulls the whistle away from the guy’s lips and it comes away with a crackle of ice, and Tony has to make a few attempts at it before he successfully slots it into his mouth.

He blows and it’s the best sound Tony’s heard to date, possibly surpassing the noise Steve makes when he comes: it’s a quiet, rattling noise, and Tony takes a breath and blows again, and again, until it’s the only thing he can hear in the whole world of ocean and the flashlights are in his face again, and Tony doesn’t stop blowing the whistle until Natasha takes the damn thing away from him.

 

 

 

It’s an intense ride to shore- Tony’s first question on seeing Thor is, “Where’s Loki,” and Clint says, “He didn’t make it,” before Thor has to.

The next question is, “Where’s Bucky,” and Steve, half-passed out, slurs, “’idn’t make it.”

Natasha says, “Pepper?”

It’s Tony’s turn, and he says, “She didn’t make it,” and realizes that they’re all going to have these stories about it- he’s the one who saw Pepper wrapped around the pole and they all probably saw Loki or Bucky ‘not making it,’ when none of them are going to specify exactly how they didn’t make it.

Just after he says it, his hand stops at a lump in his pocket. When he takes it out, his hand is shaking around the arc reactor pendant.

He stares at it for a while, and when he realizes no-one noticed, he opens his hand, splaying his fingers.

He lets the necklace drop through his fingers into the water, and doesn’t watch its decent down to the bottom of the Atlantic, because Steve’s starting to get more coherent and that’s more something that Tony wants to see.

 

 

 

It’s touch-and-go for a while- Steve and Bruce are the ones who are most in danger of corking it before they get to shore, and they both get swore at by several different people (in several different languages when it comes to Natasha) until doctors announce that they’re going to be fine, which is when the hugging starts. They’re quick, but they’re whole-hearted, and there are still hundreds of people on the docks trying to find people’s names on a list when everyone Tony needs is within arm’s length.

“So,” Clint says finally, when they’re standing under a porch, looking up at the Empire State building and none of them are cold in the least, “does anyone actually know where they’re going after this? Or what we’re going to do?”

Tony looks over at him. “I thought you had those girls waiting with your money.”

Beside him, Natasha shrugs. “It fell through. Not the girls, just the money. We’ll get in contact with them eventually, but I’m not counting on it being soon.”

There’s a silence, and it’s comfortable, even though none of them are going to be waking up soon without the phantom sensation of being surrounded by ocean on all sides- they’re united in that, even.

“Excuse me,” a man says, and they all turn to look at him. “Have you all put your names down?”

“Natasha,” Natasha says. “Romanoff.”

Everyone sort of looks at each other, but no-one mentions it.

Bruce is next: “Bruce Banner.”

“Clint Barton,” Clint says, and again, no-one says anything.

Coulson says, “Phil Coulson,” and pockets his hands.

Thor says, “Thor Odinson,” and then looks to his side, like he expects there to be something more than empty space.

Steve catches the look, and bumps his wrist. When Thor looks up at him smiling sadly, Steve says, “Steve Rogers,” and glances sideways at Tony.

When Tony says, “Tony Rogers,” Steve blanches.

Tony looks at him, and shrugs. “What? I wanted away from it, and you’re kind of the perfect way out. Plus, I get you, so hey, bonus.”

He grins, like it’s no big deal, he does this every day, and Steve distantly hears the man with the list say something before he’s pulling Tony in, slipping his arms around his waist and kissing him, lifting him up off his feet as he does and whirling the both of them around.

Tony’s laughing when Steve puts him back down, stumbling a bit before Steve rights him.

“I take it that’s a yes,” Tony says.

Steve says, “Yes,” and Clint snorts beside them.

They both turn to look at him, and he holds up his hands. “What? I was feeling sorry for the list guy, he left when your kiss was about six second in. That was a really long kiss, guys, I mean, wow.”

“Ignore my brother,” Natasha says, rolling her eyes, “he was dropped on the head as a child. Repeatedly.”

“You’re just jealous of my awesome.”

“Don’t test her, Barton,” Coulson says. “We’ve all had a long day.”

“Oh, god, agreed,” Tony says. “Who here wants to go someplace and sleep for a week?”

“Me,” everyone choruses, and Thor even raises a hand.

Steve looks at Tony; links their hands together. “Where do you want to go?”

Tony says, “To the stars,” and Steve shouldn’t have been expecting anything less.

“To the stars,” Steve says, and the storm is starting to get heavier.

They all shift closer together, out of the rain.