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There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out, but I’m too tough for him
-Charles Bukowski

 

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“Well, I suppose it could be worse.” Tony grumbles, squinting up at the high tower. It is times like these that he wishes he hadn’t lost his Flying Suit.

The shield feels heavy, like lead, in his hands and as he hefts it up onto his shoulder he momentarily doubts the intelligence of his decision to become a thief. Then he glances down at it, at the colors that are still vibrant even after so many years of being on display in the palace atrium, the long lost relic of a long lost prince, and decides his life really isn’t so bad all things considered.

Still, his eyes frantically search for a hand hold – he knows the dream team can’t be too far behind him. And while the tower stands tall, taller than the palace’s highest turrets, and is clearly old, Tony can not see any loose stone or convenient hanging ivy.

“Man, I can’t believe this is going down,” He complains loudly to the tower. “I mean, really what, what am I supposed to do with this honking thing when I don’t-“ He is abruptly cut off by a anchored rope narrowly missing his head. For a moment he stares down at it, then slants a suspicious look at the tower. “Huh,” any hesitation he feels swiftly disappears when a loud curse and bustle erupts from the bushes behind him. “Looks like the dream team finally caught up with me,” He reaches to secure the shield on his back and grips the rope. Taking a breath, he begins to climb as quickly as he can, up and up and up some more. “Hopefully this will not lead to my untimely doom.” Although, with his luck lately it probably would.

By the time he reaches the top he’s panting and sweating through his threadbare shirt. The shield on his back is an albatross, digging without mercy into the meat of his shoulder. “Stupid thing,” He curses its existence as he reaches the darkened window and grasps wildly at the rough wood, wincing as his fingers get splinters. Finally, he fumbles over the sill and lands hard onto the cold stone floor. For a moment he just lays there, soaking in the cold of the stone against his hot cheek. Then he scrambles up and quickly pulls the rope up the side of the tower. With that done he slumps down against the side of the window and glares gleefully down at the two goons stomping around the tower. Occasionally they would glance up at the tower in confusion but Tony knows they can’t see him from the tower’s height.

“Suckers,” He crows to himself with glee, then he turns around right as a pan swings into his face.

 

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He comes to with his hands tied tightly behind his back, and shoulders pressed hard against a creaky chair. His head is pounding behind his eyes. Moaning he manages to lift his head up, jerking back as the pan comes into his line of vision.

“Wha-“ his voice is slurred.

“Who,” The pan bobs in a threatening fashion, “Are. You.” The voice is distinctly male, deep and earthy. Tony struggles to squint beyond the pan into the dimness of the room. Unfortunately, he can’t make out much in the patches of sunlight beaming through the rafters but copious amounts of dust. Still, he tries to give his classically charming grin.

“uh…hi,” The pan raises. “Wow, wow now let’s all just calm down a minute here. I’m clearly at a disadvantage, being tied up and all. Obviously I won’t hurt you. I mean, I wouldn’t have hurt you anyway, I am but a humble farmer lost in the woods that came upon your tower-“

“You’re lying.” The voice is steady, but the pan lowers. Tony bites his lip, a flush of embarrassment at being interrupted suffuses his face.

“Well…” He sighs. “I really was lost in the woods. And I won’t hurt you.”

There’s silence from the pan-holder. Then. “What do you think Peg?” Something soft brushes past his leg, making Tony jerk in concern for his limbs. A loud meow erupts to the right of him.

“Yea, that’s what I thought.” The pan drops to the ground with a clang. There’s a shuffle and then the man comes into the light.

Wow.

Tony’s mind goes kind of blank and his mouth drops open as he takes in the wary blue, blue eyes, lush frowning mouth and god, hair that looks like it is spun from gold. The man’s frown deepens at Tony’s stare and he holds up the shield that had been hidden behind his shoulder.

“What is this?” The man frowns at the shield, at Tony.

“What is that?” Tony huffs out a laugh, but his smile fades away as the man continues to frown. “Are you serious?”

“Yes.” Geeze, well Mr. Gorgeous wasn’t winning any prizes for humor anytime soon.

“It’s a shield; it’s mine.” Tony is trying to play it casual. He wriggles his wrists around behind his back, hiding his wince as the ropes dig into his skin. Who ever this guy was, he sure tied a mean knot.

The man stands there, shield held in a casual jaunty way against his hip. He seems to be summing Tony up because after a moment he nods and turns to walk away.

“Hey…hey!” Tony does not much want to be left sitting in the dank tower forever. “Are you gonna let me go or what?”

“Why should I?” The man’s voice is disembodied once again and cold. “You’re a liar. I don’t deal with liars.”

“Wait a minute now,” Tony scrambles his brain. Nothing. “You can’t just leave me here, it’s inhumane!” There that wasn’t too bad, the guy seemed pretty moralistic. “Besides, you’re the one who dropped the rope down to me, so technically it’s your fault I’m here in the first place.”

The man is silent and Tony hears some more shuffling around. Suddenly, another window is thrown open and the room brightens a significant amount. Tony watches the sun hit the man’s hair making it look like blond fire, and then his eyes catch on the walls of the tower.

On every side there are paintings in brilliant colors. Some are of trees in bright greens and reds; some are of wheaten fields in the midst of a heavy harvest. There are sunsets painted in a loving hand with deep oranges and purples. And right in front of him is a huge mural of fireworks in brilliant gold, blue stars and shimmering lights in a deep life pulsing red against a midnight sky. Tony’s breath catches and he looks over to meet the man’s eye.

“Did you paint these?” His own voice comes out surprisingly soft. Truthfully, he’s not sure if he’s ever seen paintings more lovingly rendered then on these walls. Strangely, the man seems embarrassed because he colors and looks away.

“Yea,” he clears his throat, runs his hands through his hair, mussing it. For a moment he seems at a loss for words but then he shakes his head and stomps, rather angrily over to the painting of the fireworks. He gazes up at it and then turns to look at Tony, jaw set. “I have a proposition for you.”

Tony can’t help it, he really can’t. “Oh yea?” He wiggles his eyebrows. “That’s what I like to hear.”

The man looks taken aback and the cat at his side meows with a decidedly unimpressed look on its feline face. “What?” He says and then, with an uncertain glance at the cat, continues, “Good? Anyway, I’ll let you go and give you back your shield thing, which I’m pretty sure isn’t yours by the way, if you take me here.” He gestures behind him up at the painting then bites his lip looking suddenly unsure.

Tony’s slightly confused. He looks at the man’s arm gesturing at the fireworks. “You want to go there?”

“Yes,” The man nods. The cat at his side rubs up against his leg and purrs loudly. “Every year on the fourth day of July there are these lights,” He moves his hands up and down as if to illustrate. “And I have always wanted to see them and the Fourth is in five days.” He lets his hands drop, and then stuffs them in his pockets. His face as flushed again. Tony wonders idly how far down that pretty blush goes.

“The fireworks?” He says after a moment, tilting his head at the painting. He knows of them of course, in his travels a few years ago he had even been present in the capital city on the day of Remembrance. It was a beautiful, yet depressing festival that gave thanks to the warmth of the summer while mourning the crown prince lost so many years before. “Sure, I can do that.” He shrugs his shoulders as best he can against the chair.

“Fireworks.” The man murmurs, staring up at the painting. Then he turns again to Tony, eyes searching. “You’ll really take me there?”

Tony shifts, uncomfortable at the look of hope on the man’s face, but then nods. “Yea. Just, get me out of these ropes will yah? Bondage isn’t really my style unless I prepare for it.” The man just gives him another confused look but shrugs and walks behind Tony, loosening his bonds. Tony sighs in relief and rubs his wrists, standing up and stretching, eyeing the man and noting how damned tall he was. Well then, this would be harder than he had anticipated.

“What’s your name?” The man looks at him warily, and Tony sighs. “Look kid, I’m not gonna bite you unless you ask me to. What’s your name? Or do you want me to call you Kid, because honestly I’m ok way with that, I’m pretty easy for the most par-“

“Steve,” The guy’s eyes are wide, like he almost can’t believe he willingly gave out that information. “My name’s Steve. This,” He gestures at the cat, who is licking its paw delicately. “Is Peggy.” The cat doesn’t deign to grant them with even a glance. Tony doesn’t like her.

He manages a nice smile anyway, until he realizes the shield the guy had been holding is gone. He crosses his arms, and plants his feet firmly shoulder width apart. “I’ll take my shield back now, thank you.”

The man smirks a little smugly like he’d been expecting that request and he shakes his head. “I don’t think so.” He lifts a hand to stave off any outburst from Tony and continues calmly, “I said I’d give you back the shield once you took me to the festival.”

Tony momentarily struggles to maintain his calm, he can feel his blood fizzing up angrily and in his chest the arc reactor seems to buzz irately. He takes a deep breath, unclenches his fists and manages a much less friendly smile. “Yes, I did.”

Well. Damn. At least Steve is drop dead gorgeous, there is that. Tony tilts his head and watches as Steve putters around the small room, stuffing this and that into a threadbare sack. After a moment of watching, he saunters over to the window, glancing down at tweedle dee and tweedle dum still wandering around like morons. “Slight problem,” He jerks his thumb out the window smirking as Steve leans over to look out past him. “It’ll be dark soon though, they’ll probably be gone in the morning. Now, we could always stay the night-“

“No!” The word booms in Tony’s ears and he winces reflexively. Steve with his propensity to blush, turns bright red. “Sorry,” He mumbles, blue eyes sad, “I just think we should get out of here as soon as possible.”

Tony frowns. “Well, if you have any ideas, be my guest.”

“Actually,” And strangely enough, Steve is staring down at his cat, as if addressing her. “I do have an idea.” The cat eyes him warily.

 

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“Well,” Tony drawls, picking leaves out of his hair. “That went well.” His poor hair, he doesn’t think it will ever be the same again.

“I didn’t see you coming up with anything.” Steve’s mouth is pinched and he is poking at one of the many claw scratches on his arms. “Anyway, I knew Peggy could get the job done.” As he says this a angry yowl comes from the direction of the bushes.

Tony can’t help it, he feels a smile tugging his lips and suddenly he is laughing a deep belly laugh – a laugh he hasn’t given in a long time. Steve, he realizes, is smiling goofily at him and Tony feels a strange warmth suffuse his body. Clearing his throat he looks away, to the direction Peggy’s yowl had come from. “We should probably get out of here.” His voice is husky, and as he walks towards the woods at the edge of the clearing, he is irrationally mad at himself – and unaccountably nervous.

“Hey. What’s your name?” Steve’s question brings Tony to an abrupt halt and he stares at an unassuming tree. He follows the trunk up up up and muses at the height of the canopy. “Hello?”

“Hmm? Oh. Yes.” He clears his throat again and then turns to face Steve. He smirks cockily, hands casually shoved into his back pockets. “You can call me Iron Man.”

Steve does not look nearly as impressed as Tony anticipated him being. “Iron man?” He repeats incredulously, fixing Tony with a flat stare. “That’s your name?”

“Yup.” Tony grits his teeth in a smile.

“I’m not calling you that.”

Tony shrugs, turning back around. “Well anyway, we should get moving. Like I said earlier; it’ll be dark soon.”

Steve is silent but Tony can hear his footsteps as he follows behind.

 

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They break at the foot of the Mist Mountains as dusk falls heavily around them. Tony lays out his bed roll, collapses on it and bites into an apple he had plucked an hour or so back. Idly, he watches Steve fumble around, create a pathetic little woodpile and attempt to light it. Laughter bubbles up in his tummy again but he manages to swallow it down along with his apple piece. After ten minutes or so he musters up the strength to put Steve out of his misery.

“Here, I got this,” He squats down next to the other man and moves to take the tinder from Steve’s hand. Steve jerks back like he’s been burned and goes to set up his own sleeping roll. Tony frowns, striking the flint, hard. It’s pretty easy, especially when you’re a certified genius, to start a fire. He moves back, ridiculously pleased with himself and smirks into the flame. Something soft brushes by his arm and he yelps, glaring at Peggy who is staring at the fire with wide green eyes. “Don’t jump in there,” he advises wisely in her direction but, as usual, she ignores him.

Tony turns to ask Steve if he has anything else to eat, but pauses when he sees the look on Steve’s face as he watches the sun set in the valley. It’s a look of pure wonder, so intimate that Tony feels uncomfortable watching. Instead, he clears his throat and Steve jerks out of his reverie. “Sorry,” he says, though he’s really not, “Do you have any food?”

Steve sighs and reaches back into his pack, pulling out a wad of something wrapped in wax paper, he tosses it at Tony. “Don’t eat all of it – it’s all I have.” He warns.

Tony unrolls the wax paper noting with glee that it appears to be dried out venison. “Awesome.” He takes a happy chomp and chews, noticing that Steve’s attention has wandered back to the sunset. “You like that?” He gestures when Steve gives him a questioning glance.

“Ah,” And there’s that telltale blush again. “Yea, it’s beautiful.” His voice seems oddly sad. Tony watches, chewing slowly, as the dying light makes Steve’s hair shine to an almost red color and his cheeks brighten to a healthy ruddy hue.

“Yeah.” He says, making himself look away. Peggy has turned away from the fire and is giving him a look of disdain. He sticks his tongue out at her.

 

That night he dreams of fire, of smoke curling thickly around him and flooding his nostrils with the foetid scent of burning flesh. His lungs scream with the need to breath, his mouth opens like a gaping fish out of water but he can’t stop running. His eyes are wide open, pathetic, and they burn horribly but there’s nothing he can do – he can’t see, he’s fumbling in the dark. His chest hurts.

He hears a dark laugh in the distance; he doesn’t know if it is behind him or in front of him. He just knows he can’t be caught.

He trips, coughing as the smoke catches in his throat and thick fingers wrap themselves around his neck.

“Come on Tony.” The words are cooed. “Just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean it belongs to you.” There’s a heavy weight at his back and the fingers abruptly tighten. The laugh rings out again and the flames blur before his eyes. He can see now, and he finds himself looking right at the man’s face.

He jerks upright, sitting hunched over in his bedroll, muscles drawn tight. The air is a strange heather grey, kissed with the approaching dawn and there is a tranquility to the stillness of the valley as the fog creeps slowly along in a heavy rolling blanket. Tony takes a deep breath of the cool mountain air and relishes the expansion of his lungs that he often takes for granted. He reaches up, under his sweaty shirt and rubs gently around the reactor humming in his chest. Looking down, he gazes at the soft blue light hidden from the world by black fabric and feels a wave of sorrow for everything that his life has become – though he knows he deserves far less than he has been granted.

“Oh Pepper,” he mumbles to himself, turning his attention to the swiftly rising sun. “I’m sorry.”

If he listens hard enough, he thinks for a moment he can hear her whisper: It’s alright.

As hard as he tries, he can never hear her whisper: You’re forgiven.

 

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“Right,” Tony rubs his hands together and sidesteps an interestingly shaped boulder the size of two of him combined. “We’ve got about four days to get to this festival of Remembrance, so we’re going to have to high tale it.”

It’s nearing mid day already and the sun is a burning ball of unsympathetic light in the sky. Tony’s dark hair feels like a helmet of flame against his head and he wonders vaguely how badly he smells. Oh well, maybe they’ll camp by a waterfall tonight- there were plenty in the mountains. Although sleeping by water tended to invite more danger.

“Festival of Remembrance?” Steve takes a swig of his water jug. “What is that?”

“Oh yea, I forget you’ve lived in a tower your whole life,” Steve glares at him, eyes surprisingly hurt and Tony looks away towards the mountain ridge in front of them. “It’s the festival where they shoot off all the fireworks you want to see so badly.”

“What is it celebrating?”

“Well that’s the thing,” Tony wipes his sweaty bangs out of his eyes and holds a bunch of branches back for Steve to pass under them. The man mumbles his thanks. “I’m not originally from these parts, but I think it started out as a summer-grain festival, only when the prince disappeared some twenty odd years ago they morphed it into some kind of memorial festival. Kind of a downer if you ask me.”

“Disappeared?” Steve frowns, blue eyes locked on him. Tony thinks about warning him to pay attention to where he’s going but really, he’s okay with the interest.

“Yea, swept up in the night I think, by some evil wizard or so they say.” Steve’s face is oddly pale. “Hey, you ok?”

“Huh? Oh yea…I’m just thinking. His parents must be very sad.” Steve turns his attention to a misplaced root jutting out of the ground. He steps over it.

“The King and Queen? Well, yeah I imagine so since he was their heir and all. Truthfully, I’ve heard the Queen has never really recovered. I guess there was some sorcery involved in the birth of their son.” Tony shakes his head. “That’s the problem with sorcery you know, you can never be too careful. Really shouldn’t mess with it at all.”

“And what do you know about sorcery?” Steve has paused his walking, instead he is bending down and petting Peggy who has been hot on his heels for attention all day. His eyes are once again on Tony’s.

“Well,” Tony scratches the back of his neck, keenly aware of the blue light radiating out of his chest. He itches to glance down at his shirt and make sure nothing is showing. “Not much. But I’ve heard stories. Most people who get muddled up in sorcery live to regret it. Or. You know. Don’t live at all.”

“Hmm.” Steve says, biting his lip. Tony tries not to watch as his tongue comes out a second later to wet his mouth. Luckily by this point, Steve has turned his attention back to Peggy. “Still. I feel sorry for his parents.”

Tony shrugs. “Yea. Tragedy, yuck. Really though, you should feel sorry if we don’t at least get halfway through the mountains today because that means we probably won’t make it in time for your little festival. So, up up up let’s get moving. Sorry cat,” He adds to Peggy who is giving him a death glare as Steve pulls his hand away and stands up.

“Her name’s Peggy.” Steve’s glare is less fierce, but he does seem disappointed.

“Yes,” Tony gives him a toothy smile. “And my name is Iron Man. But it seems we can’t all get what we want.”

Steve rolls his eyes but doesn’t say anything else as they press onwards.

They spend the rest of the afternoon quipping back and forth about a variety of subjects from books (Tony likes adventure novels, Steve likes history) to art (where Tony compliments Steve’s murals so excessively the more man turns as red as a beet and begs him to shut up). Steve, Tony finds, actually has a surprising pithy sense of humor that is easily misinterpreted as douchiness (privately, Tony is pretty sure the Kid is just shy). All in all the afternoon passes with surprising quickness and before Tony can really fathom it, night is encroaching once again.

They make camp by a running stream and modest waterfall with a small pool at the foot of it, Tony having complained that he couldn’t stand another second of smelling so bad he could smell himself. They quickly lay out their bedrolls and Steve offers to take first watch while Tony takes a dip in the water.

“You’re just saying that so you can sneak a peak,” Tony leers and he can’t help but laugh when Steve turns bright red again. How the kid didn’t pass out from all that blood flow, Tony didn’t know.

“Wha- I- you-“ Tony leaves Steve sputtering and laughs his way down to the water’s edge. He knows better than to hope he’s actually being perved over. Although, a quick glance over his shoulder shows Steve still watching him, eyes wide.

“Like what you see?” He hollers back and laughs to himself when Steve huffs and turns away quickly. “Good.” He smiles, turning back to eye the water warily.

In these parts it behooved a person to pay very close attention to what they were doing. Tony had heard many a tale and indeed had seen for himself a couple of times, the types of creatures that lurked in the depth of rivers and lakes in the area. Not quite human, not animal either, something in-between and not earthly.

Sidhe, his mind supplies and he shivers despite himself. Best to not think about it. After a quick but cautious look around, he determines that there aren’t any strange tracks or milkweed or oddly smooth sunning rocks around and so he goes for it. He shimmies out of his dirty pants and, after a moment of hesitation, his dirty shirt and, making sure to keep his back to the camp on the off chance Steve gets curious takes a leap into the water.

The water closes heavily over his head, and Tony blinks his eyes open but all he can really see is green. He pops above the water and scrubs vigorously at his hair, reaching onto the shore to get the soap out of his pants pocket; he makes sure he is covered up to his shoulders. Sure enough, Steve is staring at him again, a curious look on his face. When Tony meets his eyes, he turns away and goes back to bashing at the flint with great concentration.

“Bad idea.” Tony tells the flare of heat in his stomach as he turns away and sets to scrubbing his messy hair. The arousal persists.

 

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Later, after Steve has gone to bathe and Tony has decidedly not sneaked a peak (okay, maybe he’d sneaked a couple, damn that kid did have one fine ass.) They settle again around the campfire Tony has lit.

“So tell me something,” Tony says, munching on the deer jerky. “Why did you let down that rope to me that day if you didn’t know me.”

Steve sighs, crossing his legs and chewing the last of his own piece of jerky. “Well…” He hesitates. “I honestly thought you’d said ‘Steve put this down’.” Steve glances over and frowns. “Well it was muffled! The tower is really high!” He waves his hands defensively.

“Yeaaaa,” Tony drawls out slowly, a strange feeling of unease spreading through his body. “But why would you respond anyway? Were you…expecting someone?”

The pallor of Steve’s face says enough but Tony wants to hear him explain, wants to understand the sudden urgency that Steve had had of leaving before the sunset that Tony had never thought about until now.

“Steve?” He prompts softly when the other man just looks at him, mouth soft and uncertain in the firelight. Tony wants to kiss him and he hopes the urge is not visible on his face.

“I…yes, I was.” Steve sighs again. “The truth is, I’ve been wanting to leave that tower for god, years now it seems but I’ve never been able to. You see,” He smiles self abashingly. “I guess you could say I’ve been kept up there.”

“You were a prisoner?” Somehow, Tony had never come to that conclusion but he feels like a right moron now when he sees Steve’s eyes widen.

“No, no,” Steve hastens to reply. “Nothing like that, well not really like that I mean,” He lets out a frustrated breath. “I didn’t think of it like that. Not really. Not until more recently. You see, Fury, he just wants to protect me.” He’s staring at the fire again, body still.

“Protect you from what?” Tony’s chest feels tight.

“Oh,” Steve’s smile is a sad, crooked thing, and he gives Tony the look of a very tired man. “Everything. Nothing. I don’t know anymore.”

He waits for Steve to elucidate further but the other man says nothing, simply watches the fire.

“I’m sorry for what I said before. About you and the tower.” Tony says quietly. “I really don’t know you at all.”

“No.” Steve whispers. “You don’t.” His eyes seem very blue and very bright in the light of the flame. Tony feels mesmerized, a moth drawn unerringly to flame.

“To be fair though.” Tony continues just as quietly, and his hands curl gently but persistently into the dirt on either side of him. “You don’t know me either.”

“You’re right.” Steve has turned again and is watching Tony’s hands dig groves into the dust. His eyes move over Tony’s hair, his mouth, before he bites his own lip and looks back to the fire. “I don’t even know your name.”

For a second Tony is tempted to say, Sure you do, it’s Iron Man, but even he isn’t that much of an asshole. Instead he swallows, throat clicking, and moves a little closer to Steve’s side. The other man doesn’t move away but rather puts his own hand down to the dirt and spreads his fingers until his right pinkie barely brushes Tony’s left pinkie. Heat of a different kind zings up Tony’s arm and settles in his belly.

“I’m sorry.” It’s all he can say.

 

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The next day Tony wakes up beside the dead fire, and wipes away some ash that has settled on his face in the night. The grey smears itself across his fingertips and he looks at it, listens to the sound of Peggy wandering somewhere nearby and the lilt of Steve mumbling quietly to her. By the swiftly brightening sky, Tony puts the time at somewhere around seven.

He sighs, rubs his tired eyes and forces himself to sit up in his bedroll. Steve and he had sat in silence for a long time the night before with just their hands touching and Tony could still feel the warmth of the other man and the residual zing that traveled his body, frying his nerves. He shivers.

“You getting ready to go?” Steve’s voice is quiet in the brightness of the morning. The birds chirp loudly around them and the creek burbles cheerfully behind them.

“Yeah,” Tony’s own voice is sleep rough and he clears his throat a couple of times. Standing, he focuses on rolling up his bed mat and packing it tightly. “We need to move quickly today, we’ve still got a decent amount of mountains left and the Forest of Dawn to get through besides.” Frankly, he is kind of surprised Steve could even see the fireworks display from his tower, but then he probably has good eyesight.

“Okay.” Steve says, agreeable as ever and waits patiently as Tony quickly collects the rest of his things into his own pack. Tony pauses before they leave and goes back to shuffle up the fire remains and cover their bedding indentations on the ground with leaves. No use asking for trouble and whoever this Fury person is, well, if Tony has to meet the guy he wants it to be on his own terms.

They set off, Peggy romping happily around them and pawing at their feet. Tony, despite himself, finds himself smiling at her antics.

 

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The day passes quickly and before they know it, evening is approaching. They have reached the foot of the mountains and the Forest of Dawn lays before them in the valley, deep green and as vast and far as the eye can see. In the far distance, the plains are just visible golden in their summer harvest, and beyond that Capital City and the sea.

They decide to make camp in a small cave. It’s Steve’s suggestion, with Tony’s track record concerning caves he would never have suggested such a thing, but he’s still feeling bad about being an asshole the night before so he doesn’t say anything just hums in agreement and rolls out his bedding. The blankets are beginning to smell a little musty and Tony thinks back with envy to the days when he was rich. His old self would have laughed in the face of anyone suggesting he would ever live in the woods - granted his old self couldn’t have foreseen Tony having to live with a large energy outlet in his chest either - hindsight as they say, is a bitch.

“This isn’t so bad,” Steve’s trying to start a fire again. He had to hand it to the guy -he doesn’t give up.

“Yup,” Tony hums absently, rubbing at his chest. It’s aching pretty badly today, must be the cold mountain air. He grits his teeth and looks around the cave, breathing slowly. Tony then turns to watch Steve strike the flint again and again without avail. He is hitting it at the wrong angle.

“Here, this has gotten ridiculous, let me show you how to do this.” He strolls over and squats casually next to Steve, it’s almost a repeat position of two days before.

This time Steve doesn’t pull away when Tony touches his fingers, rather he looks down at their joined hands for a moment before looking up at Tony, eyes a deep blue in the dying light. Tony bites his lip and flushes as Steve’s eyes follow the movement. For a moment it looks like he’s leaning in and Tony feels a wave of panic swirl in his belly offsetting his desire. He takes a breath and looks down at the flint.

“You’re striking at the wrong angle,” He demonstrates proper technique, gently moving Steve’s hand to show him the correct way of hitting the flint, then he forces himself to let go and settles his hands in his lap. When he gathers enough courage to look up, Steve’s mouth is in a thin line, eyes unreadable. It’s for the best Tony wants to say. Instead, he gestures for Steve to try and light the fire. Furrowing his brow, Steve moves to strike the flint.

He gets it on his first try. The satisfied smile that suffuses his face warms Tony, and he looks up with an innocent glee. “That wasn’t so hard,” He grins at the flame.

“See, you learn something new every day.” Tony gives Steve’s shoulder a friendly slap and bids a hasty retreat back to his bedroll, tucked against the rock wall. His stomach rumbles with hunger but he’s too tired to go out and forage for anything and they’d eaten the last of Steve’s venison for lunch. His blanket moves and he stiffens, looking down his legs and meets the eyes of Peggy who is walking inquisitively up his body, paws heavy on his tummy. She stops, standing on his chest and looks intently at his face.

“Please don’t bite me,” Tony entreats, voice soft. “It would suck.” Peggy simply stares at him and then meows, lying down on his chest, chin settling on the arc reactor. “Oh alright, I guess you can make yourself at home.”

“She likes you.” Steve’s voice is soft, and Tony looks up as his shadow falls over his horizontal form. Tony looks up at Steve’s dark eyes and smiles. He tugs his hands out from under the blankets and reaches down to hesitantly pet the cat. She sticks her nose towards his palm and, after a moment, purrs loudly.

“Yea…” As he scratches under Peggy’s chin, her eyes close with bliss. “Typical female.” He smirks up at Steve, who is staring silently down at Tony and Peggy.

At Tony’s words he frowns and runs his hand through his hair. “Yea.” He says quietly and they gaze at each other for a moment before Steve sighs, shakes his head and turns away. “I’m gonna head to bed, make sure you don’t roll over Peggy in your sleep.” He shuffles off quietly to his bedroll. He’s laid out closer to the mouth of the cave, probably to keep watch.

Tony lies there for a while; petting Peggy and watching Steve snuggle under his covers and tuck his hands behind his head. The man’s profile is a thing of beauty, especially against the backdrop of stars shining brightly beyond the entrance of the cave. Tony has never been an artist but his hands suddenly ache for a brush or to reach out and trace the contours of the other man’s face.

“I’m a coward.” He confesses quietly to Peggy. She purrs in response, kneading her claws into his chest. The heat from her small body helps to soothe the ache in his reactor. “Trust me though, it’s for the best. If he knew who I was-“ He cuts himself off, and sighs closing his eyes.

 

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He dreams of the Great Ocean and himself as a boy, running across the sand, feet sinking, sinking as the waves rush up cold around his ankles. He’s laughing as he watches her run ahead, red hair a bright flame in the sunlight.

“Wait!” He gasps out, falling forward onto his knees. Gritty sand sticks to his trousers, legs, palms of his hands. He coughs as a wave breaks over him and salty water gets in his mouth. Bracing against the ground, he pushes himself up again and is off like a shot, sea spraying around his feet.

He hears her laughing at him from down the beach and his legs burn as he pumps them as quickly as he can. “Wait,” he pants. “Pepper!”

“Toooonnyyyy,” Her dulcet tone reaches him from the rock edging at the far side of the beach. Her hair is a beacon in the distance. “You’re too slow!” She’s laughing again.

“I’m trying!” He huffs at her, nearly the re now. “Geeze,” He pants coming to a stop in front of her, hands on knees. He looks up at her through his sweat-drenched bangs, shirt itching his back and clinging to him. “You’re fast.”

Her green eyes are calm on his face. “No,” she appraises him. “You’re just slow.” She holds a slim white hand out towards him. In her palm is a small spiral seashell: it glows an eerie cold blue. He reaches a hand up but hesitates to take the shell. Something doesn’t feel right.

“Don’t be afraid,” She whispers to him, pink lips curling into a soft frown. “Don’t wait to long.”

“I’m sorry Pepper,” His throat feels tight and he drops his hand back to his knee. “I’m so sorry.”

She looks at him for a moment and then curls her little fingers over the blue shell, forming a fist. “It’s okay Tony,” She says cheerfully, smiling now. “I forgive you.”

She draws her hand back like a snake, and punches him in the face.

 

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He sits up, a cold sweat coating his body, beading down his neck and curling his hair. He’s shivering in the dampness of the cave and his chest is cold- Peggy must have long since slinked off. It’s still night, pitch dark, the witching hour he reckons. Tony runs his hands through his hair and heaves a sigh. The fire is dying down, a mere ember glow to its earlier cheery flame and he can barely make out the shape of Steve across the cave.

Standing and wincing as his knees crack, he shuffles over to the fire and stares blearily at it for a few minutes, eyes gritty. Rubbing mindlessly at his chest he blinks away his dark thoughts, turns to look at Steve and frowns.

The lump of blankets is empty.

Tony’s heart is in his throat as he strides quickly to the nest of blankets, kneels and places a palm in the covers. They’re cold, Steve’s been gone for a while then.

“Shit,” He hisses, stepping over the bedroll and runs out of the cave. Tony’s eyes dart around frantically but he can’t see anything, just darkness. The stars are bright overhead, netted like thousands of lightning bugs in the sky. For a moment Tony is mesmerized, then he hears a meow from beside his foot and he looks down at Peggy who is gazing up at him in an entreating fashion.

“What is it girl?” He crouches next to her. “Where’s Steve?” She meows again, imploringly and turns to walk into the bushes. When he doesn’t follow immediately she looks over her shoulder and hisses. “Alright, Alright,” He hastens to follow.

Cats must have incredible night vision, Tony muses, because Peggy treks sleek and silent through the underbrush. He is straining his eyes to keep her in sight. She leads him down from the cave in the cliffs to the edge of the forest and beyond.

Eventually they come to a small clearing in the wood, a large willow tree curls in over itself, leaves shining silver in the moonlight. Under the tree is a figure and Tony moves closer, chest tight. As he reaches the edge of the willow’s fronded leaves, he hears the singing. It’s male, deep and melodic; it makes the hairs on the back of his neck raise. Unearthly his mind supplies, but that can’t be right because he knows this voice. He raises a shaky hand and pushes back the veil of leaves and for a moment he can’t see. It’s as bright as the fire was earlier that evening, an intense red behind his closed lids but when he opens his eyes: gold.

It’s Steve, who’s singing, his voice is as clear as a bell but somehow Tony can’t understand a word he’s saying. And his hair, Tony suddenly realizes, his fine golden hair is glowing.

What? His mind blanks and all he can do is stare. What? Glowing hair? How is this possible? It doesn’t make any sense.

He looses track of time as he watches Steve sing, watches his hair gleam and float around his face, highlighting his features. Eventually Peggy rubs her tabby self up against his leg and lets out a “preoow” And Steve jerks violently, turning to look at them eyes wide and face pale. As soon as he stops singing, his hair stops glowing and dims back to a light flaxen.

They watch each other silently.

“Well.” Tony eventually says, voice unsteady. “Glowing hair?”

Steve blushes an impressive vermillion, visible even in the dark. He bites his lip for a moment. “I did say Fury was trying to protect me.”

“Yes, but-“ Tony waves his arms around to illustrate. “Glowing hair? Magical singing?” At Steve’s hurt look he takes a deep breath. “Look, it’s not like you owe me any explanations,”

“You’re right,” Steve cuts in, voice cold and eyes unreadable, “I don’t owe you any explanations.”

Wow, okay ouch. Tony supposes he technically deserves that censure. Still, it is a little left field coming from someone as mild mannered as Steve. “Cruel but admittedly true,” Tony allows, and strokes his chin. “Although,” He continues hesitantly, “I was beginning to think of us as friends.”

Steve fixes him with a blank look that creates a knot in Tony’s stomach. “Friends?” The other man says quietly. “I don’t even know you’re name.” He doesn’t wait for Tony’s reply, but turns and walks out of the willow’s protective veil. Peggy watches him leave and then looks back at Tony, glaring.

“What?” Tony doesn’t know what to say. He’s way out of his depth, mind still spinning in circles around glowing hair and lovely voice. The disappointment in Steve’s eyes was depressingly familiar but what can he do? “I can’t tell him who I am,” Tony reminds her, “I can’t.”

Peggy looks unimpressed and her ears twitch as she lets out a loud meow.

And then it hits him like a bolt from the blue. Steve won’t know who he is. He’s lived in a tower his whole life.

“Damn, for being a genius I am one hell of a moron,” He smacks his forehead in anger before hastening to follow Steve’s retreat.

The man must be booking it because the meadow is already deserted and Tony’s panting by the time he stumbles his way out of the forest. He almost slams into the back of Steve who is standing still as a statue, and staring up at the stars.

He stops though just in time, and stands behind him, close enough to smell the musky scent of sweat sleep and man. Deep breath, he thinks, but it is a long time before he can gather the courage to speak.

“Anthony. My name’s Anthony. Well, Tony really.” It’s also been a long time since he’s had to tell some one who he is and the hesitance in his voice reflects this.

“Anthony.” Steve’s own voice is strained and he keeps his blue eyes affixed on the stars. “Tony.” The word flows out of his mouth and hit Tony like soft syrup and he shivers.

“Yea,” Voice husky, he licks his lips. “So. Now you know.”

Steve looks away from the sky, and this time his eyes on Tony are soft. “Yeah, Tony.” He says gently, full mouth curving into a shy smile. “Now I know.”

 

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They stand in silence for a time, until the first rays of the sun make themselves known over the horizon. Birds begin to chirp and Tony’s eyes feel like lead weights and he can’t help the yawn that escapes him. Steve slants him a quiet look and suggests he should get some sleep.

“Don’t have time,” Tony yawns again, jaw cracking. “We need to travel far today cause it’ll probably take a few days to get through the forest.” Never mind all the shit they’d surely run into. Tony had traveled through the wood more times than he could count but he was never successful at guessing what he would run into.

One time he was lost for days, chasing after a faerie girl who had stolen his horse only to find it waiting for him at camp when he’d finally made his way back. Another time he’d been accosted by a gang of Raiders and suffered a few broken ribs for his troubles, although he had gotten away –eventually. Then of course there was the first time, where’d he’d been running for his very life, Obadiah’s goons hard on his heels and he’d found himself bleeding to death on the side of the Great River. They’d be staying away from that part of the forest if possible. Tony’s pretty sure the grass is still stained red from where he’d lain dying.

He shakes himself out of his reverie, turning to catch Steve’s eye. The other man is watching him with a strange look on his face. “What?” Tony rubs his nose self-consciously.

“Nothing,” Steve shakes his head, but he’s got a smile creeping over his face. “Tony.”

He could kill himself for the hot blush that floods his face with vigor. Still, he finds himself smiling back. “Yup,” He tries for blasé but knows he falls short. “That’s me.” Steve just goes on smiling and Tony eventually has to turn away, capillaries under his skin fit to burst. “Anyway, we should get going.” He stomps back to the cave and eyes his bedroll for a moment with and envious stare. Sighing, he bends and packs his blankets away, listening to the movements of Steve do the same behind him.

Moving to the fire, he eyes it for a moment. It’s completely burnt down due to the lack of airflow in the cave and he bends to scoop up some ash and the husks of wood in his hands.

“What are you doing?” Steve asks, watching as Tony carries a few handfuls of ash out of the cave, throws it on the ground and covers it with dirt.

“Cleaning up,” Tony putters back into the cave. “I don’t want anyone to be able to track us.” Though he’s really been slacking on that regard.

“You think someone could be following us?” Steve’s face is pale, eyes worried.

“Well….” Tony shrugs, brushing his hands off on his pants. Hm, his pants were getting pretty gross too now that he was thinking about it. He looks off at the forest below them. “You never know. Besides I’m sure your man Fury is looking for you.” And the two Royal Guards who wanted that shield back besides, though he didn’t mention that part.

Steve makes a noise of protest, “He’s not my man.” He comes up beside Tony, squints off into the woods and then glares down at his hands that are fiddling with his rucksack. “You can ask me you know.”

“Hm? Oh…I just figured you’d tell me on your own time. Or, you know, not.” He rubs his face, tries to smooth down his goatee and mustache. At this point it’s more of a full on beard and he’s kind of ruing the day he will see a mirror. He’s certainly not as well kept as the Tony Stark of old. He sighs, glances over and catches Steve’s eye. “Ready to go?”

“Yea…” Steve glances around and motions for Peggy to come along. She gives him a look of displeasure but walks on ahead of them. As they make their way down from the rocks to the edge of the forest he reaches a hand out and for a moment rests it on Tony’s arm, shocking him. “Thanks Tony, for not rushing me.” He lets go and tromps into the trees.

Tony watches his back for a moment then sighs again and follows after. “Yea,” He mumbles. “No problem.”

 

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By lunch, they’re so deep into the trees the sun only comes through in singular beams of light. Tony’s focusing on not tripping over the tree roots, glancing enviously at Steve’s back now and again. Tony likes to think of himself as a pretty graceful guy, but he’s nothing compared to Steve.

Just when Tony is thinking that they might actually get to Capital City without running into any snares, they stumble, quite literally into a Raider camp. Fortunately, the Raiders all appear to be passed out; booze dangling from fingers, various states of ruffian undress, etc. Unfortunately, Tony sees the dogs right as the dogs see Peggy.

“Rwooo Rwaaooo,” The big dogs stand up, yelping in excitement and suddenly everyone is awake.

“Right,” Tony spins to clutch Steve’s arm, Steve who is kind of standing with a look of frozen surprise on his face. When Tony grabs his arm he looks from the quickly rousing men and turns away to reach for Peggy. She hisses at him and takes off into the bushes, three dogs hot on her tail.

“Peggy!” Steve shouts, voice distressed, he makes to go after her but Tony captures his arm again, this time with force.

“No, Steve come on,” Tony eyes the men, who by now have arisen and are swiftly coming towards them yelling curses and holding a variety of sharp looking knives and guns- right they have to leave now. “Steve, we have to go, she’ll be fine,” Something in his voice seems to jerk Steve back to reality and he grabs Tony’s hand and drags him into the woods.

“Steve,” Tony gasps out as they trip race through the underbrush. Steve is relentless, pulling Tony into a full out run despite Tony’s propensity to trip over seemingly every root. “Steve,” He says again after tripping for the fifth time in as many seconds, “We’ve got to separate, it’s the only way-“

“No.” Steve’s voice is steady; he’s not even winded.

“Steve-“

“No Tony.” Steve halts for a second, pulls Tony against him, looks down into his eyes. “I’m not leaving you.” Then he’s off again, dragging Tony behind him. “Come on Tony,” He says softly. “You can do this.”

Tony grits his teeth as he trips over another root, breath coming quick, chest aching.

They don’t make it very far before they’re overtaken- Tony blames himself. The first man comes out of nowhere and launches himself at Tony from the side, ripping him out of Steve’s grip. “Shit,” Tony grinds out, fumbling. He manages to land a solid punch across the man’s face, angering the man enough that he lets go.

He can hear Steve fighting some men behind him, and he focuses on the Raider who is sneering now, wiping the blood from his nose onto his cheek. “Pretty,” He leers at Tony before lunging at him. Tony takes a hard hit to his temple, knocking him down to the ground. He takes the opportunity to swipe the man’s knees from under him and the guy goes down like a tree. Pushing his way on top of him Tony grabs his head and slams it into the dirt again and again and again.

Just as Tony’s leaning back, chest heaving, another Raider grabs him by his hair. “Agh!” Tony reaches up and tries to dislodge the guy’s fingers but the guy just yanks his head back. “Fuck.” He hisses.

“Tony!” He slants his eyes open and sees Steve standing there amongst a group of at least ten unconscious Raiders. Steve’s eyes are huge and dark, face pale as death. “Let him go,” He hisses at the man holding Tony, and when the man laughs, Steve’s lips compress into a thin line. “Let. Him. Go.” He says again, this time his voice is very cold and very quiet.

“And why should I?” The Raider laughs again, his breath is rank and Tony just manages to stifle a gag. “I found him, lovely thing that he is,” Tony can feel the guy actually sniffing his hair. Ew. “I think I’ll keep him.”

Steve’s mouth pinches tighter. “I don’t think so.” He says, voice still quiet. Tony sees his fists clench at his sides. “Let him go now and I’ll let you go.” As if on cue, one of the men at Steve’s feet lets out a wet gargling sound, coughs up a copious amount of blood and seems to die. Tony holds his breath as the Raider’s grip tightens and then abruptly releases.

Tony propels forward and Steve reaches out to grab his shoulders, hands clenching tight enough to bruise. Looking over his shoulder, Tony watches the lone Raider sprint into the woods. He pants, breath tight in his chest and reaches up to put his hands on Steve’s wrists. “I’m okay.” He says when Steve doesn’t let go. The other man’s eyes are wide. “Steve-“

He’s interrupted by the yowl of a cat coming from somewhere in front of them. “Peggy,” Steve breathes, lets go of Tony and takes off at a high sprint through the woods.

Tony stands there for a moment, and when one of the men at his feet stirs he gives him a fierce kick to the ribs. “Sucker.” He’s not sure if he’s saying it to the man or to himself. Still, not one to waste an opportunity, he bends down to the first man and searches his pockets.

Over all he finds: 15 gold coins, 25 bronze coins, three workable pistols of which he packs away, two knives, and a wanted poster of himself crinkled into an oily ball in the dead man’s pocket.

“Well shit,” He sighs to himself and stands. After gathering their packs from the ground, he turns to go after Steve.

 

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When he comes upon them even deeper in the woods, Steve is doing his best to coax Peggy down from a tree. “Come on Peg,” Steve says softly. “They’re all gone now I promise.” He looks pretty distressed, blond hair mussed and sweaty, face streaked with dirt. His cheeks are a vivid red, blue eyes concerned as he looks over and sees Tony. “Tony, she won’t come down.” He stares hopefully at Tony like he’s hoping he will do something. Right.

Tony sets down their packs and squints up the tree. It’s a big Oak, he’s not sure how Peggy even got up there, but he’s pretty sure he can just make out her body skulking along a branch. “Hey girl,” He says quietly up to her and she freezes, green eyes glowing down at him through the gloom. “Sorry about that,” He puts his hands on the body of the big tree. Even side by side and shoulder width apart, the trunk succeeds in making them look small. He presses his fingers into the bark. “They really are gone,” He assures her. “Why don’t you come down now?”

She looks at him, suspicious.

“Steve’s really worried,” He adds and listens to Steve huff behind him. Eventually, and because Tony’s charisma and appeal knew no bounds Peggy leapt down into Steve’s arms.

She is a little worse for wear, hair as scruffy as Steve’s and she digs her claws viciously into Steve’s shirt. To his credit, Steve doesn’t wince at all, just pulls her close and smiles at Tony. “Thanks,” He says, eyes soft. Tony nods and looks away.

“No problem,” He goes to their packs and roots around for his compass. It’s an old brass thing that had belonged to his father. It had been luck he’d had it on him the day in the woods. He pockets it and hefts their packs onto his shoulders. Pulling the compass back out of his pocket, he palms it. “Since we’ve completely lost our direction in that little skirmish, I’m having us head North. That’s the direction of Capital City. Hopefully we haven’t gotten too far off direction.” Glaring down he notes they’re facing West. Well, it was too much to hope they’d be going North.

“What is that?” Steve comes up to look over his shoulder, breath warm by Tony’s neck.

“What?” Tony looks up at him. “Oh…uh it’s a compass. It shows which direction we’re going in.” He adds when Steve gives him a blank look.

Steve shakes his head and turns away towards the north, strange look on his face.

“What?” He asks, watching as Steve bites his lip and sighs.

“Nothing, It’s just…I never realized how much I missed by living in that tower.” He shrugs, looking uncomfortable. Tony is hit with a wave of sympathy, but he refrains from comforting. If their situation had been reversed, Tony would hate being pitied. Instead he slaps the other man’s shoulder earning a surprised look from the blond and a look of dislike from the cat in his arms.

“Well it’s a good thing you met me then,” He smirks. “You could say I’ve lived too much.” And ain’t that the truth. Steve smiles back. “Now come on, we’ve really got to hike now. It’s gonna get dark soon and we honestly don’t know how far we’ve got to go.”

“Right,” Steve sighs and sets Peggy down. She shakes herself off and looks at Tony expectantly. “I’m ready when you are.”

Tony hesitates. “Are you…okay about what happened back there?” He isn’t normally one for a heart to heart but a man died.

Steve’s watching Tony, expression sad. “Yea,” He says eventually. “I know…what I did but…” he shrugs. “I didn’t have a choice. You don’t think I’m-“

“No, no!” Tony hastens to reassure him. “I would have done the same thing in your place,” have done, “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m okay.” Steve says quietly, eyes steady on his face. Tony believes him.

“Good,” He sighs in relief. “Then let’s press on.”

 

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Exhaustion hits them some hours later. They haven’t reached the edge of the wood and Tony is admittedly, beginning to worry. It does take more than one day to get through the Forest of Dawn but usually by the end of the first day the trees have begun to thin out. He’s rarely spent the night in the deep part of the wood and the few times he had he’d been properly rested. He presses them on until they reach a decently sized glade. Motioning for Steve to pause on the tree line he edges his way into the meadow, senses alert for anything untoward.

The day has reached its twilight hour and the light in the dell is a silvery blue. More willows grow in sleepy groups around the middle of the field, and Tony wades his way through the thigh high grass to the very center. Looking around he breathes deep taking in the dampness of the air and the softly swaying limbs of the trees. Seems safe enough. The trees grew close together, in a decidedly circular shape. Interesting, Tony thinks. No doubt they grew this way purposefully. He’s heard stories of constructed havens in the woods, which protected travelers from both unwanted earthly and unearthly attention. The grove of trees, with their long branches, could very well provide such cover.

Either way, nothing would happen until nightfall.

Trekking back to Steve’s side he shrugs and the questioning look the other man throws at him. “Just wanted to make sure there wasn’t another Raider camp waiting for us. It looks safe enough for now. Let’s make camp in the circle of trees just there,” He points. “We’re gonna have to forego the fire tonight too. Shame,” He adds as they make their way to the circle of trees, “Since you’ve just now learned how to make one.”

“Oh hush up,” Steve flushes, but he’s smiling. He stands in the center of the copse of willows and inhales deeply. “Beautiful.”

 

Tony watches him lay out his bedroll, the blue light makes his hair shine a silvery gold. “Yes,” He says quietly. “Beautiful.”

 

After Tony lays out his bedroll he sets out to forage for food, leaving Steve in charge of watching camp. They haven’t eaten since the day before and after that afternoon’s action, well Tony’s glad he’s a frugal eater. Steve though, that man’s built, he must be starving. Too polite to complain about it though.

“Absolutely no mushrooms,” Tony reminds himself. Trudging back into the forest, feet heavy. In a suspiciously short about of time he manages to find a blackberry bush heavy with ripe berries. Eyeing around the bush for bears and curvy green women (he has a bad experience with a tree sprite he will never forget) he lays out his handkerchief and picks as many berries as he can to fill it. That done he rubs his hands on his pants and goes to see if he can find any wild carrots.

“Success!” He pulls up some of them, and manages to luck out and find some chives as well. It’s a meager meal to be sure, but it’s better than nothing. “Still strangely easy to forage tonight.” He mutters to himself. He’s gone days before through this wood without seeing anything edible. He tries not to think about it.

He tromps back to camp and hefts up his treasures for Steve to see. “It’s not much,” He apologizes. “But it’s something at least.” He cleans off the carrots as best he can and hands a few over.

“It’s great!” Steve says with enthusiasm and takes a bite. Tony’s respect for him increases substantially when his expression doesn’t change as he chews the root. “Yummy.” He says, swallowing.

Tony bursts into laughter. “Yes,” He gasps out as Steve glares at him. “I’m sure.”

They eat in companionable silence. Tony then moves to set up his bedroll right next to Steve. “We don’t have the fire’s protection tonight,” He sits on his roll. “I’m not gonna lie to you, this forest is dangerous as I’m sure you know. We have a better chance grouping together.” He digs in his pack and pulls out a pistol and knife. “Here, I want you to tuck these next to you but be careful I don’t need you shooting yourself, or me, accidentally by rolling over it in your sleep.”

 

Steve rolls his eyes but he cautiously takes the gun. “I’ve never shot one of these,” He admits quietly, palming the knife readily enough.

“It’s loaded,” Tony says, watching Steve carefully lay the gun down by his blankets. “You just need to point and shoot. Hopefully you won’t need to use it.”

“Right.” Peggy crawls onto Steve’s lap and he focuses on petting her. “Hopefully.”

They go to bed shortly after that. Lack of fire and sleep the night before urging them into slumber quickly.

Tony wakes up sometime in the night to Steve’s arm around his waist and nose tucked up in the nape of his neck. Tony’s hard as a rock and he can feel Steve’s own interest against the swell of his ass.

He holds his breath for a moment, a wave of arousal making his cock twitch. He tries, he really does, but he can’t help the way his hips tilt back and grind against Steve’s. He releases his breath in a quiet moan as the other man pushes back in response.

“Jesus,” Tony gasps to himself. He’s got to pull away now. Steve nuzzles behind his ear and sighs, pushing his cock against Tony’s ass. “Right.” Tony takes a breath and swiftly drives his elbow into Steve’s side. The other man jerks upright and Tony feigns sleep, muttering and rolling over onto his back, scooting a few inches away.

There’s a minute of thick silence as Tony listens to Steve breathe heavily. Finally, he lies back down as far away from Tony as he can get.

“Damnit.” Tony hears him exhale quietly to himself. Eventually Tony listens to his breathing even out and he knows he’s asleep.

He’s perversely proud of himself. The old Tony Stark wouldn’t have hesitated, would have taken full advantage of the situation. At the same time, he’s worried about how he’s reacting to Steve. He hates to even think about emotions but…well…there it is. He’s not stupid, he’s a genius, although admittedly emotionally retarded, he knows what infatuation feels like and this is not quite it.

The alternative scares the shit out of him.

He must fall asleep eventually, because he wakes up to sunlight bright on his face, bad dreams blessedly absent.

 

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Steve’s not at camp, and Tony spends fifteen minutes in a self-contained panic, rolling up his blankets and packing them up. Peggy sits quite unhelpfully admist his covers.

“Move cat!” She just glares at him until he has to pick her up and bodily move her.

Just as he’s decided to go after Steve, he comes back with a fistful of wild onions and black berries.

“I couldn’t figure out what the carrots looked like,” He apologizes, setting the food down. Tony stares at it for a moment, in a sleepy stupor.

“No, no it’s great.”

They tuck in.

After the paltry meal, Steve goes to pack his blankets. Tony tries not to notice the awkward air about the man but the pointed lack of conversation makes him nervous. He clears his throat, twitches as Steve looks over his shoulder at him.

“Er, you ready to go?” He scratches the back of his head, wrinkling his nose. “Ugh, I’ve got to bathe today.” He frowns at Steve’s laughter. “What?”

“Nothing,” The other man shakes his head, still smiling. “You just worry about bathing more than I ever thought possible.” He blushes.

“Uh, bathing is important,” Tony says nonchalantly. “I skimp on basically everything else but I can’t skimp on bathing. Now, I may be skimpy-“

“Okay, okay I get it!” Steve face still red, “we’ll find you somewhere to bathe.”

Tony hums. “I’m glad you approve.”

Steve ignores him.

 

 

They take a break near a decent sized lake shaded by trees. Taking a swig from the water skin, Tony wipes his mouth and chin, scratching at the itchy beard.

He eyes the lake - the water is preternaturally placid. “I’m gonna catch us some fish.” He declares.

Steve, who has collapsed on the ground some feet away, legs splayed, gives the lake a suspicious look. “Doesn’t it seem a little…I don’t know….still to you?”

“Bah,” Tony waves a hand, goes to pick up some twigs and proceeds to whittle four sharp hooks with one of the Raider knives he’d knicked. “Ha ha!” He holds it up, then fumbles around in his rucksack for a piece of rope. Tying them together to a larger stick he wields his fishing rod at Steve who is watching with a bemused expression. “Behold!”

“Nice.” Steve smiles like he’s impressed despite himself. He’s picking at a worn patch of fabric at his knee. “Still gotta catch a fish though.” He cocks a brow.

“Yah yah,” Tony tromps to the water edge and eyes it warily. Honestly, he is a little suspicious, but hunger outweighs the risk. “Come on baby,” he digs up a worm, hooks it, tosses in the bait. “Don’t let me down.”

He sits for about ten minutes before something nibbles, hard, on his line. Crowing softly, he pulls it up out of the water and glares at the line. “Damn.” Something has bit through his line.

Grumbling he sets up another one. This one gets bit off as well. “What the hell.” He sets up his third line, double checking the integrity of his rope.

“Something wrong?” Steve calls from his spot in the shade. He’s petting Peggy and sprawled drowsily against a tree. He looks like he’s about to fall asleep.

Tony feels a nibble on the line. “Nope, no problem.” He sticks his tongue out in concentration, and pulls up the line.

It isn’t a fish that comes up, instead it’s a rather irritated mermaid. The hook is clenched in her webbed fist.

“Oh shit!” He yelps as she hisses at him and breaks the hook off the line.

“Human!” She snarls at him, red hair tangled like snakes around her head. “How dare you hunt in my home!”

“Ah!” Tony pulls his feet back from the edge of the lake. “I apologize miss,” quickly pulling the rod back next to him. “May I offer something in trade?”

The mermaid looks decidedly displeased; she brings her sharp chin up and flicks her tail out at him getting him wet. Sputtering, Tony reaches into his pocket and pulls out a shiny gold coin. The sun hits it, making it glitter.

“Oh!” The mermaid gasps out, grey eyes wide. “Well…maybe we can work out a deal.”

Tony pulls out a silver coin, tilting it in the light to make it shine. “Two coins for two fish?” He tosses them to her.

She chitters happily, clutching the gold and silver coins. She gives Tony a coy smile, baring pointy teeth. “Pretty.” She flicks her mossy green tale in pleasure. “Alright, two fish. And I’ll make them fat ones.” With one last grin she dives below the water, a flash of silvery green tale and red hair.

Tony leans back on his elbows. He doesn’t have to wait long. Soon two fat trout lay wiggling next to him on the bank.

“There you go pretty,” The mermaid nods to him and then laughs, a clear laugh like rainwater falling on river stones. “Don’t stare too hard gold-hair, you’re face may get stuck that way.”

Tony just manages not to look over his shoulder. “You don’t mind if I take a dip do you?”

“Oh,” She leers, “Be my guest.” With a fancy twist of her tale, she dives back under the water.

Tony gathers the floppy fish, and hauls them back to Steve who is sitting straight upright, mouth gaping.

“You look like these fish,” Tony quips to him, setting them down and going to gather some twigs to start a small fire. “It’s just a mermaid. They frequent these areas.”

“Right,” Steve’s voice is weak, eyes wide. “Of course.”

“Start the fire,” Tony suggests. “I’ll gut the fish.”

They have a hearty meal, Tony having found some wild onions to cook the fish with. Afterwards, Tony proclaims he’s going to take a dip in the lake.

“You’re really going to bathe in there with her?” Steve’s cheeks flush.

“Well yah,” Tony leers, slipping out of his pants and making Steve turn away in embarrassment. “Give her the thrill of her life!” He gets his bathing supplies from his rucksack and saunters down to the bank. Glancing over his shoulder he makes sure Steve is occupied with stomping out the fire before he takes his shirt off.

The water is cool, and Tony sighs feeling cleaner already. He hums to himself as he washes, making sure to keep the arc reactor beneath the water.

Perhaps it is the blue light that attracts her, but either way he jerks when a pale hand presses itself against the blue light. She arises out of the water and arm’s length away.

“What is that?” She asks quietly, tapping at the glass.

Tony moves away subtly, not wanting to offend. He doesn’t like to be touched.

“That,” He answers, almost too quiet for her to hear. “Is my heart.”

“Tony?” Steve calls from the fire site. “You okay?” Tony realizes belatedly that he’s sunk beneath eye level on the bank.

“I’m fine,” Tony yells back, lifting a hand up over the side of the bank to wave back at him. “I’ll be out in a moment!”

“You’re heart,” She murmurs, gazing at the light. “How peculiar.” Her eyes are a fathomless grey, deep as the most cavernous of wells. “Tony Stark,” Her voice is soft. “You’re journey has been a long one.”

“It’s not over yet,” He mumbles, throat tight. “What do you see?”

She cocks her head at him, hair streaming out in the water around her. “I see…a battle long fought. Lost and then won. I see a child returned to his home after years spent lost in the woods.”

Tony wrinkles his nose. The problem with mermaids was their propensity to speak in riddles. “Thanks?” He says when she stops speaking.

She looks at him solemnly, bow mouth settling in a frown. “You’re welcome.” She backs away and raises a webbed hand in farewell. “Be well Anthony. And you will be happy.”

And then she is gone.

Tony finishes his washing quickly, the chilly water turning from revitalizing to extremely cold in the blink of an eye. He throws on his clothes, facing away from Steve and shuffles back to the other man.

“Hey,” He rubs his hands together. “Sorry it took so long.”

“It’s fine.” Steve doesn’t seem keen on conversation. He’s whittling away on a small block of wood. Peggy is asleep at his side. “I kept myself busy.”

“Not gonna take a bath?”

“Not with her in the water,” Steve scoffs, giving him a glare.

Oookay. Tony raises his eyebrows and busies himself with putting away his bathing supplies. “Right. I can understand that.” He stands. “Ready to go?”

The other man puts his block of wood away and stands, brushing off his slacks. “Yup,” Steve gestures towards the wood. “Lead the way.”

Tony sighs and does so.

 

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By evening the trees are beginning to thin out to younger oaks and creeper vines. The sun begins to shine more fiercely through the canopy. Tony is feeling pretty good about their pace.

“We can stop soon,” He offers as they come by a large creek that Tony is pretty sure is a tributary of the River Ni that flows all the way from Capital City. “You can take a bath if you want and I can set up camp. If we leave at daybreak tomorrow we can make the festival by noon. Plenty of time to see the festivities and the firework show.”

Steve’s quiet. When Tony looks over the man is watching him, a curious look in his eye. “What is it?”

“I can’t believe we’ll be there tomorrow.” Steve sighs, dropping his pack on the smooth rock bed around the river. “I’ll see the, the fireworks and then…” He looks down, focusing on unrolling his bedding. “I’ll give you back your shield.”

Tony watches him methodically set up his little nest and take out a rough looking bar of soap. “Yup,” He tries to keep his voice nonchalant, ignoring the sick feeling in his stomach. He bends to lay out his own bedding. “It’ll all work out for the best.”

Honestly, he’s not sure what he’s going to do. He’s wanted for treason in Capital City he knows (though he’s not sure how since he isn’t technically a citizen) but hopefully the scraggly beard he’s boasting will protect him from recognition. He figures he’ll do what he always does, bullshit his way through the City, get Steve to tell him where he hid his shield and then go back to the tower to get it. After that? Who knew. He’d like to sell the shield and use the money to rebuild his armor and finally take Obadiah down once and for all. Avenge Pepper.

“I’m going to bathe.” Steve voice cuts through his thoughts and Tony watches him trek, mouth tight, down to the bank of the flowing creek. He lays down his drying cloth, soap, flat edged razor. Tony can’t believe that after days of not shaving Steve’s stubble is a barely visible gold. He looks lovely, all hard muscles and tan skin as he pulls off his shirt. Tony makes himself look away and focus on building a fire. Peggy comes back from wherever she’d run off to and she looks well pleased.

“At least you’re in a good mood.” He complains to her, listening to Steve splashing around in the creek behind him. He considers bedding down, exhaustion sweeping through him but then he heaves a sigh and goes to set out some rabbit snares. “Keep watch over the camp,” he grumps to the cat.

By the time he makes it back, it’s grown dark, Steve’s finished bathing and is running his hands through his wet hair. It curls around his face and ears, drying to a burnished gold by the heat of the fire. He looks like a creature of the wood, eyes soft and dark when they meet Tony’s.

“Where’d you go?” He asks quietly.

Tony shrugs. “Setting up snares for what will hopefully be our breakfast. How was your bath?”

Steve smiles. “Pretty good thanks,” He rubs his shaven chin. “I’m glad I got to shave, my face was really itching me.”

“Showoff,” Tony smiles back and for a moment the air between them is clear. “Are you excited for the festival?”

“Yea!” Steve grins as Peggy settles herself in his lap and proceeds to lick her paws. “For as long as I remember I’ve wanted to see the fireworks in person.” His eyes glow in the firelight. “I can hardly believe it’s going to happen.”

“Well,” Tony clears his throat. “I’m glad to be of service.” He goes to lie down in his bedding. Steve has set his up a good distance away and Tony tries not to feel bad about that.

“Do you like the festival?”

Tony gazes at the fire with sleepy eyes, pulling the blankets over him. “Hm? Oh yea I guess. I mean, in one way it’s a pretty great party. Lots of food, lots of dancing – you’ll like that. But as I said before, in another way, it’s a day of mourning. You can feel an air of sadness about the City, especially after nightfall.”

“Do you think the prince will ever come home?”

For a moment Tony doesn’t speak. What he thinks is that the prince’s bones lay, like so many others, bleached and forgotten on the forest floor. He can’t say this to Steve though, who is looking at him with a bright hopeful stare from across the fire.

“Who knows,” He says. “Maybe someday. Anything’s possible.”

 

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“I am not afraid of you.” Tony grits out, teeth clenched. His hair stings his eyes and he blinks rapidly against the rain. In the corner of his eye he can see Pepper’s body. She’s not moving. The behemoth of a suit stands tall above him so high it seems to block out the sky itself.

He can hear Obadiah breathing through the microphone. “I’ll give you a fair chance.” The man says, as if Tony hadn’t spoken. “I’ll give you to 60 to run for it. I suggest you take this chance Tony, though it really won’t do you any good.”

Tony looks at Pepper. Her face is so pale, paler than new milk. It makes her freckles stand out like starbursts against her cheek. There’s mud on her nose.

“One,” Obadiah says softly. “Two,”

Tony sits there, heart in throat. He can’t make himself move, he can’t, he’s as frozen as Pepper, poor Pepper lying there in a pool of her own blood. Head wounds bleed a lot Tony thinks, like that supposed to make him feel better.

He sits until he hears Obadiah say ‘25’ voice breathy like he’s barely containing his excitement. Tony feels nauseous, more so than he’s ever felt in his entire life, even more than the one time he’d woken up hung over in the middle of his office stark naked. How did it come to this? The man he had reluctantly accepted as a mentor after his father had died, his business partner, betraying him with such ease. He gags, stomach sour.

“32 Tony,” Obadiah huffs a laugh. “You gonna sit there like a fool the whole time? 33. That’s so like you, wasting an opportunity. 34.”

“You don’t know me,” Tony snarls out, digging his fingers in the mud. He drags his eyes off Pepper, stands upright. God, sorry. He thinks to her, one last time before fumbling his way down the muddy hillside and into the Forest of Dawn.

And then, then he runs.

He doesn’t get very far of course, and what follows is a blur of pain. He falls over the side of the bank into the deep river and holds his breath until his heart is fit to burst. The current is strong and it takes him quickly.

In his haze, Tony imagines little pale hands pepper hands grabbing his clothes, stroking his hair, pushing him through the water. Dark eyes, as boundless as the deep ocean stare at him as he goes past. A rose bud mouth forces air deep into his lungs.

A thousand years pass in a blink of an eye. Tony wakes with a gasp on a riverbed, drenched to the bone and freezing. Foggy white shapes tease the corners of his vision. His throat hurts, like he’s spent a lifetime screaming but his chest hurts worse, if possible, like a huge spike has been rammed through the cavity. He lifts a numb hand and lays it over his arc reactor, somewhat reassured by the steady hum and blue glow. It wasn’t his most updated version, Obadiah had ripped that out of his chest, but it was something.

His vision is fuzzy and his head pounds in his skull. His mouth has a sweet sour taste to it, like old candy. There is a bitter metallic smell in the air. Blood, Tony’s mind supplies hazily. The spots in his vision grow darker and he knows he’s going to pass out. Right before his eyes close, he thinks he can hear the sounds of girlish laughter.

 

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He awakes to the chirping of birds and for a moment lies still in his bedroll thinking about his dream; about the time he spent on the bank of the Great River.

To this day he’s not sure how he survived. He remembers dark river water eyes, seaweed dark hair wet against a pale angular face. A smile against red lips, sharp shark-like teeth.

He remembers a soft hand on his chest and a soft voice telling him to wake up. It sounded just like his mother, Maria, and how she would sing him lullabies as a child: Dodo, l’enfant do, L’efant domira bien vite, the voice said.

“Je veux aller dormir” Tony mumbles, to the sky, listening to the birds sing to each other.

'Non,' the voice that sounded like his mother had said. 'Non.' A hand had brushed his forehead. Cold, and smelling like the deep recesses of the sea. Sorry, he remembers saying, overwhelmed by pain. No helping it. He had let the pressure in his head sweep his consciousness away.

Now, he sits up and goes to check the snares.

 

 

Steve still sleeps when he makes it back to camp, morning sun giving his face a healthy glow, long dark lashes set soft against his cheeks. Tony guts the rabbits and sets them each on a stick over the fire. Peggy strolls up and rubs herself against his leg. Bending down he strokes her fine grey fur.

“I guess we’re friends eh?” He listens to her purr. “You’ll take care of him when I’m gone?”

Steve mumbles in his sleep and rolls over. Peggy lopes to him and jumps onto his chest, startling the man into consciousness. “Peggy!” He rasps out, voice sleep heavy. “What are you doing, girl?”

“Waking your lazy self up,” Tony grins when Steve looks to him in surprise. “It’s been sunup for a good hour now. Come on and break your fast.” Pulling the charred looking rabbits from the fire, he hands a smoking stick over to Steve who looks at it with glee.

“Rabbit?” He says, sniffing the meat. “Tony!”

“I know,” Tony takes a bite and then blows out a breath. Damn that’s hot. “I’m awesome.”

Steve laughs and they spend the rest of breakfast in good cheer.

 

After packing camp, Tony takes out his compass to check their bearing. Due North just as planned.

“We’re on track.” He flips it closed and pockets it. Leading the way, they trek in silence through the woods. Tony is so sick of camping; he’s looking forward to his friend’s Inn in Capital City. He’s planning on leaving the city the day after the Festival of Remembrance and giving Steve the left over coins to do with what he willed. Tony couldn’t stay in the city, no matter how much he may want to – it was simply the equivalence of suicide to stay.

They make their way, for the most part, in a friendly silence. Tony every once and a while offering a story about his times in Capital City.

“They’ve got these drinks there that they light on fire I’m tell you it’s true!” He laughs at Steve’s look of disbelief. “My favorite is a flaming sambuca, it has coffee beans in it. Gah, coffee…Truly the drink of the gods.” Tony sighs dreamily then blinks and looks over at Steve who is laughing at him and not even trying to hide it.

“I don’t even know what coffee is,” He admits and Tony’s jaw drops.

“Oh. My. God.” He stops and waves his hands in front of Steve’s face. The blonde looks at him in amusement. “Steve. Steve! This must be remedied. As soon as we get there.” Tony whistles cheerily and starts walking again. “Well are you coming?” He calls back at Steve who’s standing there laughing.

“Yea yea,” Steve runs to catch up. “I’m coming.”

They make it to the edge of the Forest of Dawn before lunch and, after a moment’s hesitation, Tony leads them into the fields. The harvest of corn is tall around them, stalks moving in the breeze. Tony takes a deep breath, enjoying the freshness of the country air, sweet smell of grain and flowers so different from the earthy scent of the woods. It is a risk going through the fields because technically they were privately owned plots of land. However, the road with the Royal Guard is a far greater hazard.

“How big are these fields?” Steve seems right at home amongst the corn, walking tall and sure next to Tony. “They seem to go as far as I can see.”

“Not quite,” Tony looks ahead and yea, okay; the rows of corn and wheat seem to go on forever. “It breaks a couple of miles ahead, then we go over the River Ni Bridge and into Capital City.” By that point there should be enough people around to provide Tony with some security.

Steve is practically humming with excitement, so much so, Tony forgoes a break for lunch and they press on right to the main road, popping up through the cornfields abruptly. Steve grips Tony’s arm in surprise, a soft sound escaping his mouth.

There are vendors everywhere at the Four Point crossing, the main crossroads before the River Ni. “Let’s wander for a bit and find something to eat,” Tony suggests, pulling gently away from Steve. “Don’t get under anyone’s feet.” He warns down to Peggy.

“I’ll get her.” Steve scoops her up and drapes her around his shoulders. Peggy looks unexpectedly comfortable and she sticks her nose into Steve’s hair. Tony feels a stab of jealousy and shakes his head – she’s a cat for goodness sake.

He leads the way to a vendor selling kabobs and points out a lamb grilled one. “Those are very delicious.” He orders one and Steve follows his lead. He pays with some of the bronze coins in his pocket.

“Gosh this is good,” The other man enthuses, chewing quickly and licking away some stray grease at the corner of his mouth. Tony clears his throat and focuses on his own meal.

After eating they make their way over the bridge, stopping every so often when Steve gets caught up at one of the stalls. It’s amazing, Tony has never paid much attention to the variety of clothing shoppes, sweet shoppes, glass blowing shoppes, but Steve looks into every stall and shoppe, talks to every young blushing girl running the booths and every tall strapping lad selling wares or pigs or lame donkeys. It’s really something to see.

Capital City was built at the dawn of the new century, into the great Hills of Den that swept all the way to the ocean. Houses were built great and small along the roadside, right into the cliffs lining the sea. Today, the doors of people’s homes were propped open, and you could see quite literally into the hills of which they were made. A woman motions Steve to her doorway and offers him a candied apple. Rolling his eyes, Tony tosses him a few coins for which to purchase.

They dawdle, accepting drinks and various treats from the happy city dwellers and Steve looks even more amazed at both the hospitality and the engineering of the great stone rooms.

Still, the day’s pressing on and Tony wants Steve to see the main square and maybe coerce him into running the May Pole around a few times before they find the Tawny Frogmouth, settle a room there with Clint, and borrow his small dingy to take them into the harbor – the perfect place to watch the firework show.

“This is amazing,” Steve’s eyes are wide with excitement as Tony grabs his sleeve to drag him along. “There are so many people.” He shakes his shirt free of Tony’s death grip and grabs his hand instead, threading their fingers together. The bottom of Tony’s stomach drops out and he bites his lip, looking steadfastly ahead, weaving them through the thick crowds. Steve’s palm is warm, significantly bigger than Tony’s own slender hand, but their fingers fit together like they were made that way.

“Yea, well,” He hollers over his shoulder, above the voice of an enthusiastic auctioneer shouting out prices for a prized sow. Somewhere nearby a group of people are playing pipe reeds, and folks have begun to dance. “Welcome to Capital City.” An eager dancer plows over his foot and he scowls.

“Thanks.” Steve laughs, close to his ear, watching him with a smile on his flushed face.

 

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In Main Square, the city girls and village girls have come together to set up the May Pole. It stands tall above the crowd, striped with a myriad of different colored ribbons hanging down. The girls clutch the ribbons and run over and under each other’s arms as the band plays a jolly tune on some fiddles and reed pipes. The girl’s laugh, grabbing the wrists of unsuspecting boys and making them join the dance.

“What is that?” Steve asks, as Tony pulls him through the crowd, he gazes with wonder at the intricate dance.

“Maypole,” Tony says idly. “The most awesome dance ever,” They press up through to the front of the crowd and Tony casually puts his arm behind Steve’s back. “You never really live until you’ve danced around it.” He gives a push and Steve fumbles into the fray. A pretty girl scoops him up quickly, grabbing his hand and giggling up into his face.

“Hi!” She says, and tugs him along. Steve’s face is a mask of surprise but he quickly gets a hang of it, and Tony watches him, a blond beacon dancing amongst the revelers.

“Flowers?” He looks down and there’s a little girl, probably six or seven looking up at him with big brown eyes and curly dark hair. She holds out a wreath of blue flowers up to him in earnest. “Flowers would look pretty in your hair,” She smiles.

“Ah,” Tony colors and despite himself, finds his hands digging into his pocket for a coin to give to her. “Thank you darling.” Bending down, he lets her place the crown over his hair and smiles when she claps her hands.

“Pretty!” She blushes. “Dance with me?”

And how could he refuse a face like that? He takes her little hand and lets her lead him into the crowd. He grabs a ribbon and loses himself in the dance and laughter, moving around the maypole. Partners interchange and he smiles into the faces of cheerful girls, boys, older women and men, people of every age, eventually his hand folds into a familiar one and he’s looking up into Steve’s blue eyes.

“Hi!” He chirps as they turn together. “You having fun?”

Steve’s eyes shine as he looks at Tony and then he catches site of the crown of flowers on Tony’s head and he laughs, using his free hand to brush against Tony’s hair. “Yes, and lovely crown you’ve got going on.”

“Thanks,” Tony says, refusing to be embarrassed, “Little girl convinced me blue was my color.” They weave around the other dancers.

“It looks very fetching,” Steve grins. “So I’d say she was right about that.”

“Oh shurrup.” Tony mutters, but his mouth slips up in a betraying little grin.

After the song, Tony retreats from the fray, pulling Steve with him. They’re panting, breathless from the dancing and laughter. Tony goes to remove his flower wreath but reconsiders when he sees Steve smiling at it out of the corner of his eye. He does feel rather fetching, though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone under pain of death.

They wander over to a drink vendor station and Tony buys both him and Steve a cup of coffee with a few bronze coins. Moving over to the cream and sugar he explains the significance of sweetening and adding cream and then loads up their drinks.

“Sometimes I don’t sweeten, but that’s when I’m working, usually I prefer it sweet.” He hands a cup over to Steve who smells it and lets out an interested hum. “Sip slowly, it’s hot.”

The look of surprised delight on Steve’s face makes Tony grin and he slurps at his own coffee. “Gah, so good!” He takes a bigger gulp.

“This is amazing.” Steve enthuses, drinking more. Peggy, who had stayed on the outskirts of the dancing, meows around their feet. “Sorry girl,” he apologizes down to her. “I don’t think this is good for kitties.” And isn’t that the cutest thing Tony’s ever heard anyone say.

“Decidedly not.” He agrees, smiling down into his cup.

 

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“Tony, my man!” Clint catches sight of them as they round the corner of Baker Street and South Side. He’s dressed for the occasion, bright purple shirt and stylish brown trousers. Tony is envious of his hygiene and plots to steal some clean clothing from Clint as soon as possible. He grins as they reach the broad arched doorway of the Tawny Frogmouth Inn.

“Clint, what’s going on?” Tony accepts the casual bro-hug Clint offers him. He’s not a touchy feely person but he will allow Clint this – he’s gonna get a free room after all.

“Nothing much- it’s a surprise to see you here!” Clint pulls back and eyes Steve who’s standing awkwardly behind Tony. “Who did you bring home with you, huh?” He leers, friendly like.

“Uh…” Steve stutters, face red, he looks to Tony with wide eyes. “Err.”

Rolling his eyes, Tony takes pity on him. “This is Steve,” He puts a casual arm around the other man’s shoulder, enjoying the heat radiating off of him. “I rescued him from being locked in a tower in the middle of the woods.” He winks up at Steve who, if anything, has turned a brighter red.

“To-nyyyy.” Steve frowns, but he lays his own hand on the small of Tony’s back. Tony feels a wave of heat flood through his belly and his eyes shift to Clint’s face.

Clint raises his brow but does not comment. “Uh huh.” He smiles and sticks out a hand. “Nice to meet you, Steve.” After they shake hands, he waves them inside.

They wedge in; the pub on the bottom floor is packed with rough looking travelers and families alike. Tony just barely manages to dodge a little boy who was running for his knees.

“Whoa there,” The kid looks up at him, dark hair haloing around his head. “Hiya.” Tony smiles and the kid smiles back.

“Rudd!” A large woman in a floral dress calls to the child and the boy gives Tony one more excited gap toothed grin before running away.

“You seem to be doing pretty well,” Tony drawls as Clint leads them up the stairs to a private office. “Last I was here, there weren’t nearly this many folk about.”

“Yeah, she’s really exploded this season.” Clint looks like a proud father. “Though admittedly the festival does account for a lot of it. Still, Tasha working the bar has really brought people in.” Clint laughs at Tony’s full body twitch. “Anyone who could sass you I had to keep around Tony, you know that.”

“Tasha?” Steve asks, awkwardly positioning himself against the wall. His shoulders are so broad they make the cramped room look even smaller.

“Natasha,” Tony grits out, frowning at Clint. “And I let her sass me.”

“Surrre,” Clint drawls, plopping down in his chair and putting his feet up on his desk. “What ever you say.”

“Anyway,” Tony says, pushing on. “I was wondering if you had a room we could take for the night? If it’s all booked, don’t worry about it-“

“Of course it’s all booked,” Clint sits up, “But we’ve got a few reserved rooms, for family and such. I think Bruce might be popping by, but you never know.” He stands, “Come on, I’ll lead you up to a spare.”

On the third floor they run into Natasha, who’s coming out of her own room.

“Stark,” Her brows rise, the most expression Tony thinks he’s ever seen from her. “What a pleasant surprise.” She doesn’t look like it’s pleasant but Tony realizes with a jolt of fear that she’s just addressed him by his last name.

“Always aim to please,” He manages to force out, ignoring the look of confusion on Steve’s face. “Excuse me.” He eeks past her, motioning a smirking Clint to continue down the hall.

“Who are you?” He hears her ask Steve, but he doesn’t stop to listen to Steve stutter out an introduction.

“Clint,” He hisses, catching up to the man. “Steve doesn’t know who I am.”

“What?” Clint stops outside a room, taking a key to open the door. He glances back at Steve and Natasha before turning to Tony with a glare. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, he knows my name, my first name,” Tony hastens to continue because Clint is looking decidedly unimpressed, arms crossed accenting his rather impressive biceps. “I couldn’t tell him Clint – I didn’t know him! What if he was one of Obadiah’s spies? What if he-“ hates me he couldn’t make himself say.

“You said you found him in a tower?” Tony nods and Clint sighs, lifting a hand to tug it through his messy hair. “Tony, he probably doesn’t even know who you are. And even if he did,” they both turn to watch Steve walk slowly towards them, a dazed expression on his face eyes focused on Tony’s. “He wouldn’t hate you. Look at him,” Clint’s voice is quiet, “He can’t look away. If anything I’d say he lo-“

“Steve!” Tony practically shouts when the tall man reaches them. “Natasha catch you in her web I see?” Steve’s got the look of having stared directly into the sun, but his eyes when he reaches them are strangely clear.

“Hm? Oh no, she’s very nice.” Tony’s jaw drops before he quickly recovers himself. ‘Nice’ is not the word he would use to describe Natasha. Deadly, passionate, likely to break your body in five different places, but not nice.

“Ah, she can be?” Clint doesn’t sound so sure of himself but he opens the door wide. “Well, here’s your room. Excuse me, I’ve got to go back to the bar and make sure no one’s breaking my stools again.” He’s halfway down the hall before either of them can reply.

“Well,” Tony hums in his throat and moves into the room. “Here we are.” The room is spacious, large windows open up over a quaint garden, wooden floors adding a rustic feel to the place. There’s a big bed on the back wall that Peggy leaps up onto. Bed, singular, Tony realizes with a sudden jerk, only one bed. “Errr…I guess I’ll sleep on the floor.” Damnit, he was never going to sleep in a bed again. He sighs.

When he turns to Steve the other man is staring at the bed with a strange look on his face. “We could…” Steve takes a deep breath, places a palm gently on the white comforter. “…We could share? It’s a big bed.” The man blushes so red he could provide the light source in a cave.

“Ah.” Tony doesn’t know what to say, he stares out the window at the pretty garden. After a moment he looks back at Steve and they gaze at each other. “Sure, if you want.” Tony’s breath is tight in his throat; he fancies he can feel the arc reactor’s hum increase in an attempt to keep up with his heart. He finds himself, almost before he realizes it, stepping up to Steve and then they’re standing toe to toe and he’s looking up into Steve’s face.

Steve’s eyes are dark, mouth a soft pink. “I want.” His voice is raspy and Tony’s breath escapes his mouth in a gasp.

“God, Steve-“ And then they’re kissing, mouths moving wetly against each other. Tony reaches up and threads his fingers through Steve’s hair; it’s as silky as he’s imagined it being. They tumble onto the bed, legs tangled around each other.

“Off, off,” Tony moans into Steve’s mouth, biting that tempting bottom lip and tugging on the man’s soft red shirt. Steve huffs out a laugh but complies, pulling away for a moment to lose the shirt. God, his muscles, Tony runs his hands over Steve’s chest, nipples, tummy, down to the fastening of his pants. “Off,” He bites where Steve’s neck and shoulder meet.

“Tony,” Steve groans, pulling back, hands tight on Tony’s hips. “This seems unfair,” he slides his hands under Tony’s shirt, spreading warm palms over his belly. Tony gasps.

“Steve, Steve,” He reaches down to catch Steve’s hands. “Pants.” He tugs the man’s hands over his cock, which is very much interested.

“God,” Steve pulls at the buttons of Tony’s pants with vigor, cheeks flushed and eyes dark with arousal. Tony’s cock bobs against his stomach when it’s released. “You’re gorgeous,” Steve breathes against his mouth.

Tony gasps, clutching at Steve’s shoulders. He widens his legs and pushes his hips against the other man’s moaning as he feels the hard length of Steve’s cock against his own.

“Steve,” He whines, high in his throat. “Please, I need-“

Steve reaches down and as he fumbles off his pants Tony scrambles to his bag and grabs the vial of oil he carries for this purpose. “Here let me,” He unstops the bottle and spills the flowery scented stuff all over Steve’s long fingers. Pressing his mouth against the other man’s for a moment, he looks up through his lashes into Steve’s soft eyes. “Put them in me, honey, come on.”

Steve’s remarkably sure of himself, gently pushing apart Tony’s legs and nuzzling at the apex of his thighs. He licks Tony’s cock making him gasp, noses his balls and then goes lower, running his tongue over Tony’s opening until Tony’s blinking back tears. “Please,” He finds himself whispering to the ceiling. “Steve, please.”

“I got you,” Steve slips oily fingers down and inside and Tony’s lost in a world of pleasure. When Steve finally presses within, god he’s huge, Tony clutches at his shoulders and gasps against his mouth, sucks on his tongue. Steve shakes against him, pressed in deep and waits until Tony can’t take it anymore.

“If you don’t move now, I might die,” Tony gasps as Steve laughs against him, cock jerking. “Don’t make me beg.”

“Alright beautiful,” Steve leans up on his elbows and pressing another kiss against his mouth, begins to move steady and deep and somehow, somehow right against his prostate.

“Jesus fuck,” Tony tilts his head back and keens, “yes, keep doing that.”

Steve moans against his neck and begins to thrust harder, hips pistoning against Tony’s ass. “You feel so good Tony, so tight, this, I’ve wanted you for so long, since the moment I first saw you-“

“Yes, yes, yes,” Is all Tony seems to be able to say. Steve keeps going, balls slapping against the backs of Tony’s ass with every movement of his hips. Heat builds up in his tummy, tighter and tighter with every hit against his prostate, his cock is leaking all over the place and he feels himself stiffen around Steve’s prick as he sobs out in sudden orgasm. Through his haze of pleasure he can feel Steve’s completion flood his insides.

They pant out against each other’s skin in the quiet of the room. Steve presses his mouth against the crown of Tony’s hair, sighing his content.

“You’re amazing,” He says quietly, leaning back to look down at him. “Thank you.” And can you believe it? He blushes.

“Shucks,” Tony’s voice is shot, “What can I say? I’m a people pleaser.” He pets Steve’s head as he shakes against him in laughter.

“Yea you are.” Steve’s voice is soft against him.

They doze for a while.

 

They wake, just as the sun begins to set, bright orange and red rays paint the room in a gorgeous flame. Tony sighs, runs his hands through Steve’s hair and the other man blinks sleepily at him, eyes catching against each other.

“Hi,” Steve’s voice is hoarse, and he grins a quirky shy grin. Like magnets, they are drawn together in a kiss that goes on and on. Tony opens his pleasantly sore legs, wraps them around Steve’s hips and grabs for the lube.

 

“We’ve got to get out of bed if we’re going to make it to see the fireworks in time.” Tony says lazily, sometime later. He’s sprawled out over Steve’s chest, idly tracing patterns on the man’s impressive pectorals.

“Hmmm, yea.” Steve doesn’t sound too worried, though as he runs his big hands through Tony’s dark hair, curling the locks indolently around his fingers. He hums out a nonsense tune and Tony feels his eyelids drooping again. Fighting against the seductive pull of sleep he tilts his head up, leans his chin on Steve’s chest and gazes up at the man.

Steve’s hair is glowing again. Tony’s breath catches in his throat and his stomach gives a funny swoop. He lifts his hand up and softly touches Steve’s hair. It doesn’t feel any different, soft as ever, but Tony’s fingers tingle where it touches him.

“Your hair is glowing,” He murmurs softly and Steve stops singing. His hair fades back to a pale gold.

“Oh.” His voice is quiet, cheeks coloring. “Sorry.”

“No,” Tony clears his throat. “It’s lovely. Your voice, your hair, it’s lovely.” Great, now he’s the one blushing.

“Oh, thanks.” Steve looks unsure, but he seems to believe Tony after a moment of staring because his mouth quirks into a smile.

“How does that happen?” Tony asks quietly. “Will you tell me? If you want to?”

Steve bites his lip, but his smile widens. “Yea. I mean. I don’t really know how, it just has always happened as long as I remember. When I sing.” He clears his throat. “When I sing, my hair glows.”

“Do you know what you sing? It’s in no language I’ve ever heard.” Tony’s eyes fall closed as Steve rubs his head and he retaliates by rubbing the other man’s blond hair and listening to him hum in pleasure.

“No? I mean, when I sing…it just happens.” Steve leans into Tony’s hand. “My hair.” He hesitates. “It…heals people.”

Uhhuh. What? “Uhhh….yea?” Tony leans up on his elbows. He gazes down at Steve’s hair, rubs it between two fingers. “Magical healing hair?” He feels a smiling curving his lips and he looks down at Steve who seems embarrassed. “That’s hot.” He winks.

“Tonnyyy” Steve looks pained but he’s smiling. “What am I going to do with you.”

Keep me is the first thing that comes to Tony’s mind but before he can voice it he realizes that after today, he’s more than likely not going to see Steve again. He can’t stay in the City, it’s too dangerous and Steve, Steve hasn’t had the freedom to really live before and loves the city. He deserves more than an outlaw on the run.

“Don’t know,” He manages to smirk, gathering enough energy to sit up. Steve gives a noise of protest, but lets his hands fall from Tony’s hair.

“What is it?” He asks as Tony moves from the bed to get his pants.

“We’ve got to get moving for the show!” he winks in Steve’s direction then wrinkles his nose as he steps into his worn pants. When he asks to borrow Clint’s boat he’s going to beg a pair of clothes off the man too. “Come on lazy bones.” He lets his eyes rove over the supine form of Steve. He really was a thing of beauty, built like a god, with smooth soft skin. Not that soft Tony’s brain helpfully reminds him and despite all the orgasms, he still feels a wave of arousal in his belly.

Steve pouts but eventually sits up. “Hey why did Natasha call you Stark anyway.” He asks, trying to smooth his hair down with his hands.

“Ah,” Tony pauses in his own attempts to smooth down his hair. “Well, that’s my last name actually. Full name: Tony Stark.” He bites his lip but Steve doesn’t look angry, or confused or hateful. In fact, he looks happy with the knowledge, soft smile curving his full lips.

“Anthony Stark. Tony Stark,” He tilts his head, blond hair flopping back into disarray. “I like it.”

“Oh yea?” Tony can’t help but preen; he saunters up to the bed and leans down to kiss those smiling lips. “Well, what can I say? I’m awesome in every way. Now get those cloths on and let’s raid Clint’s closet before we beg a boat off of him – my clothes are so gross they’re about to get up and walk away on their own.”

Steve laughs against his mouth.

 

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Clint let’s them borrow his boat without fuss, but he doesn’t look very happy about the purple shirt Tony steals from him.

“That’s one of my favorite shirts,” He grumps, eyeing the button up Tony is sporting proudly. ‘It does fit you rather well.’ He admits begrudgingly.

“Yea, I look good in everything,” He glances back at Steve who looks delectable in one of Clint’s baggier shirts. Of course on Steve it fits quite snuggly around the shoulders. “Steve’s even rocking your blue button down that I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear so you should probably thank him for doing that shirt a favor.”

Clint rolls his eyes. “Uh huh. Thanks Steve, anyway you all should probably head out if you want a chance in hell to get to the harbor before the show starts.”

“Shit,” Tony grabs Steve’s sleeve and tugs him along. “Come on Peggy!” he hollers down to the cat.

 

They race like the devil is on their heels down to the docks. Tony points out Clint’s red rowboat and they clomp across the wooden slats and into the boat. Peggy hisses, but eventually when Steve speaks softly to her, she hops onto the dingy looking extremely unimpressed.

Tony picks up an oar, Steve picks up the other and they eye each other for a minute before Steve sighs and passes over the oar. “Stubborn.” The blond complains, with a smile.

“You know it!” Tony huffs out, putting his back into rowing. He tries to control his breathing but he’s panting by the time they get into the middle of the harbor. It’s quiet around them, a swift fog settling across the water and Tony wipes his sweaty bangs from his eyes and watches as the stars come out.

“Hey,” Steve scoots over to Tony and gently takes the oars out of his hands. Leaning forward he kisses him, sucking intently on Tony’s bottom lip and sighing into his mouth. “Thanks.”

“Welcome.” Tony moans breathily. Puts his hands on Steve’s things and massages them for a moment before making himself pull back. “Watch the sky,” He whispers. “The show should be starting soon.”

“Okay.” Steve pulls Tony against his side, pressing his nose against the man’s hair. “You smell nice.” He inhales.

“Not possible.” Tony flushes, but doesn’t move.

“Possible.”

“Not possible, gah!” He jerks as Peggy steps over his legs and settles on both of their knees. “Make yourself at home, cat.” He says fondly. She purrs.

 

Tony is dozing against Steve’s shoulder, mind drifting hazily, when the fireworks start.

Red and blue lights fill the sky, exploding in bright starbursts, white streaks fizz and crackle. Steve gasps, arms tightening around Tony’s shoulders.

“Look Tony,” He says, voice hushed. “It’s amazing.”

Tony watches as the fireworks explode in star shapes and swirls. He can’t help but agree. “It is.”

“I can feel them exploding in my chest.” Steve’s eyes are a wide blue with wonder.

“Yea,” Tony turns to watch him. The lights shine off of his hair, making it shine. He really is beautiful.

After a moment, Steve turns to look down at him smiling.

“Hey.” He gasps then as a big red fire work goes off in the shape of a circle, a big blue star igniting in the middle. “Hey, that looks like your shield.”

“Yea…” Tony whispers. He feels the sudden urge to come clean about everything, about his past and his recent life as a thief but as the sky explodes in a brilliant finale, he realizes this is not the time.

He holds his breath and watches the sky light up. The lights reflect off of the still water and it really is gorgeous.

They’re quiet as the sky clears and the stars make themselves known again, bright spots of white light in the velvet night sky.

Eventually Steve pulls back to look at Tony. “Thank you. For taking me here.”

Tony’s throat feels thick and he has to clear it a couple of times before speaking. “You’re welcome. I wanted you to see this. I mean, technically we had a deal but…I’m glad you got to fulfill your dream.” He can’t help himself, Steve is so tempting in the starlight and he has to lean forward to steal a kiss.

“I have to give you back your shield.” Steve says when it’s over.

“Ah, yes,” Tony sighs. “It’s gonna be a pain in the ass to go all the way back there – I am so sick of sleeping on the ground I’m not going to lie. Especially with the new development of having you in my bed.” Tony leers, biting his lip and chucking when Steve blushes. “God, I love how you blush.”

“Toonyyy,” He also loves how Steve draws out his name. “You don’t have to travel all the way back to the tower,” he looks hesitant for a moment before admitting quietly, “I have it in my pack at the Tawny Frogmouth.”

“What?!” Tony’s mouth drops open in astonishment, before he lets out a laugh. “You little vixen! I had no idea you could be so devious.” Really, he can’t make himself be mad, he’s actually rather impressed and frankly, happy he doesn’t have to travel back through the mountains.

“Sorry.” Steve looks embarrassed, and actually, rather sorry. Tony can’t help but give him another kiss.

“Oh, don’t be sorry,” Tony pulls back and laughs again. “I’m actually rather impressed. Alright sir, I’ll take back the shield from you at the Tawny Frogmouth. And maybe you’ll take something from me too if you know what I mean.” He wiggles his eyebrows.

“Tonnyyy,” Steve says again, laughing. And Tony, damn himself to hell, could really get used to this.

They lay in the boat for a while kissing and dozing when they almost flip over and Peggy scratches at their faces, before arguing over who’s going to row back.

“Let me,” Steve insists. “You rowed all the way out here.”

Tony opens his mouth to retort but Steve’s already grabbed the oars and is beginning to row to shore. He closes his mouth instead and enjoys watching the flex of Steve’s biceps and shoulders work the oars. “Alright,” He agrees, leaning against the side of the boat. “I take pleasure in watching you work.”

Steve blushes, but he meets Tony’s eyes with a smile. “Alright.” He agrees, making Tony choke out his own laugh.

 

 

When they get to shore a man with an eye patch is waiting for them. Steve stops when he sees him just feet from the dock, face pale.

“Steven.” The man says. And the hair on the back of Tony’s neck rises. He feels a spike of unease ball itself in his stomach.

“Fury.” Steve’s voice is quiet beside Tony.

“You disobeyed a direct order.” Fury says to Steve, ignoring Tony’s existence entirely. One of the burly men standing next to Fury, reaches out and stomps a heavily booted foot down on the gunwale flipping them over.

Tony is submerged in an instant, cold brackish water going up his nose. He surfaces, coughing, and sees Steve pop up next to him, hair plastered to his head. Peggy bobs up too, looking pissed. She makes a beeline to the shore and scrambles up on the dock, yowling at the men.

“Are you okay?” Steve whispers to him, brow furrowed heavy with worry and treading water. Tony manages a nod and they both, seeing no other option, haul themselves up onto the pier.

Just as Tony gets his hands under him, a boot slams itself down on his back pinning his chest to the wooden planks and grinding his arc reactor into the dock. He can hear Steve calling out his distress next to him but he can’t turn his head because it’s now being pushed into the ground by some asshole’s hand.

“And don’t think I don’t know who you are, Tony Stark,” Fury is saying, voice low with menace. “Wanted for the murder of at least five people, yes I am well aware of you.”

“What?” Steve gasps out, and then he snarls, “You’re lying.” to Fury. Tony is gripped roughly and turned over; he inhales at the sharp pain in his chest as the pressure is relieved. He wants to close his eyes, but he makes himself open them wide and meet Steve’s scared face.

“Am I?” Fury asks, nonchalant now. “I don’t think so.”

“Tell me he’s lying,” Steve gazes at Tony, a plea clear on his face, in his voice. His mouth has drawn into a tight rosebud. “Tell me, Tony.”

But all Tony can think of as he looks Steve over, taking in his wet form sweetened by the blue shirt and somehow so dear, taking in his bright hair and soft eyes looking with a sure trust at him. All he can think of is he did, he did cause the death of his best friend.

“I…” He croaks. “I can’t” Perhaps this is his penance, he thinks, watching the pallor of Steve’s face, the wetness in his wide eyes as surprise hits him. Tony bites his lip hard enough to taste blood. Perhaps it’s better this way, someone like him could never deserve, could never keep a man like Steve. With Steve hating him, he was allowing the man to have a fresh start. It had all been a delusion anyway.

“I don’t believe you.” Steve snaps at Fury, voice a thundercloud. “Why are you making him lie?”

“I do not make him do anything.” And now Fury just sound tired. “Are you not in possession of a shield Steven?” As Steve’s eyes widen, the man continues, and Tony can almost feel an anvil pounding the last nail into his coffin. “This shield is the Royal Shield and it was stolen some weeks ago by a thief in the night. This man is not at all who he seems to be, rather a practiced imposter full of charm and witticism.”

And wow, the look of dawning betrayal Steve casts him hurts like a bullet to the brain but Tony still can’t make himself speak. His mouth feels like it’s full of cotton, tongue sandpaper dried and brittle, saliva long gone. It’s like he’s watching a movie of himself in full color: Tony Stark – you’re life, so almost lived. It’s for the best, he repeats to himself savagely.

“It was a lie?” Steve sounds like he’s got something stuck in his throat, his eyes still beg for a denial from Tony, but Tony won’t speak.

“Anyone who can kill his family and friends cannot be forgiven Steven,” Fury says quietly, watching Tony with a mild eye like he knows he’s got nothing to fear. “This man does not even have a heart.” He lunges quickly then, into Tony’s personal space and tears open his water-logged shirt in one foul swoop. The arc reactor shines like a blue albatross in the center of Tony’s chest and he feels a rush of nausea like he’s about to be sick. Steve’s eyes are locked on the light, face impossibly paler as he stares at the place Tony’s heart should be.

“How can this be?” His face is as blank as new parchment, voice barely audible. He drags his gaze away and meets Tony’s eyes. “This. This is why you wouldn’t let me...” It’s not a question but it makes Tony’s breath catch in his throat.

“You see Steve,” Fury moves in for the kill, so casual walking around Tony in his big black combat boots. “Whatever he told you was a lie.”

And Tony, looking into Steve’s dark eyes, can say nothing.

 

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They take him away, bind his hands tightly behind his back, fold a dark cloth over his eyes. The last glimpse of Steve is of him standing straight and tall, arguing fiercely with Fury.

Tony’s stomach is one giant knot, his mind flashes back to the time in the Afghani Wilds when he was betrayed by his mentor and beaten into an almost submissive state. He remembers, as he is dragged down some hallway, echo-y like a sewer, the extreme pain in his chest when he woke up, when his wound festered and he cut his own rotting skin away, when he had pushed a new arc reactor into his chest.

He remembers, even as he’s strapped to a chair, beaten with something hard, until he’s gasping out in pain, he remembers.

“Tony Stark.” A voice, deep and monotonous intones. “You have been found guilty for the crime of high treason. You are hereby sentenced to death by fire, to be carried out in three days time in the centre square.”

Well, Tony thinks, as someone gives him a sip of water and then throws the rest on his face making him sputter, at least they work fast.

The next two days pass in a blur of pain, as some bruisers come in and take pleasure in beating at Tony’s face, sides and tender places. He’s hungry, but it’s a displaced sort of phantom hunger, like a dream. Mostly, he’s just exhausted.

They leave the blindfold on and the resulting perpetual darkness, gives Tony too much room to think. When they leave him alone in the dark, he can’t help but picture Pepper’s green eyes at six years old, eleven, fourteen, twenty seven, so sad at twenty nine. He can’t help but picture Steve’s mouth, his sweet face and smiling eyes. The look of absolute despair as Tony’s shirt fell apart and Tony failed to speak.

Tony guesses it must be the third day because they come for him, untie his cramped legs, drag him back through long corridors and up some steps that his legs deeply protest.

They tie him against a tall pole, and he can imagine the crowd behind his eyelids. He can hear them, talking amongst each other; rowdy. Well, he supposes as he hears some man give a speech to the crowd that he doesn’t bother to listen to, at least he’ll be able to provide some sort of entertainment before he goes.

He chokes on the smoke long before the heat of the flame reaches him. He wishes he had the energy to call out a pithy remark something like, goodbye cruel world! Before he passes out, but he’s simply too tired. He imagines his voice would only be audible to his own ears anyway.

He blacks out.

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He comes to, head feeling as if some great vice were pressing it. Throat too swollen for air. It’s only for a moment, but he swears he can hear a sweet voice singing. A bright gold light blinds him and burns away his awareness

 

"And at last I see the light
And it’s like the fog has lifted."

 

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(The day Anthony Edward Stark dies, he does not see his life flash before his eyes. Later, Steve asks him what he remembers when the fire reached his body and set him aflame.

“Not much.” He’ll say. What he does remember seeing: the bright glow of Steve’s hair against the stormy sky, the fear and sadness and courage in his blue eyes, the sweet shape of his mouth as he sang Tony back to life, he doesn’t mention to Steve. Maybe someday, years later when they are wrapped around each other in bed, or while Steve teaches their son how to take his first steps, maybe then he will tell Steve what he saw. Now, however is not a time for reminiscing. It is a time for looking ahead. )

 

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Later, much later he feels, he awakens. He’s in a bed and he squints his eyes open against the sun, looking around the room. A warm pressure on his hand makes him look down despite the pain radiating through his body.

Steve’s hand is atop his, arm pressed against his own bandaged arm. He’s dressed in a blue suit made of some sort of fine material, soft golden hair a muss around his head. He is frowning in his sleep, sweet mouth pulled down, brow wrinkled.

Tony must make some sort of noise because Steve jerks up, eyes wide and very blue when he meets Tony’s gaze.

They stare at each other in silence for a moment before Tony manages a smile.

“Hey.” His throat hurts like the devil.

“Tony,” and it’s like a dam has broken. Steve leans forward and presses his mouth against Tony’s own. “I’m so glad you’re alright.”

Tony hums against him, his hair. “What happened?”

Steve leans back a little, cheeks flushed with happiness. He reaches behind him and gently gives Tony some water. Tony drinks with relish. “Not too much Tony.” Steve says gently, placing the half empty glass on the table where Tony gazes at it with envy before raising a brow of inquiry at Steve.

Steve takes a deep breath. “I realized how stupid I was being. I had a long talk with Fury, finally found out who he was, who I was. Tony…they had a file on you.” He looks guilty. “I read it.”

“Oh…” Tony doesn’t know what to say. He waits for the inevitable accusation, but Steve just looks at him softly before kissing him again. Tony moans gently.

“They have Obadiah in custody.” Steve blurts out when he pulls away.

“What?!” Tony jerks upright then hisses at the pain that movement sends through his body. God, he feels like he’s fallen off of a mountain or something. He gives Steve a level look and asks again. “What happened?”

Steve tutts at him to stop moving and heaves a sigh, holding Tony’s slender hands in his own. “Tony,” He says quietly, looking at him. “Don’t interrupt okay?” At Tony’s nod, he continues. “I read your file. I know about Obadiah, about how you got your arc reactor. You did nothing wrong, and Fury knew this. He was just waiting for the right time. You see…” He looks hesitant for a moment before visibly forcing himself to continue. “I guess, there was some sort of prophecy surrounding my birth and…well, my parents thought it better to send me away. Away until the prophecy was ready to be fulfilled and my shield was brought to me-“

“Now, wait a second what-“

“Tony,” Steve lays his large palm over Tony’s mouth, softly. “You said you wouldn’t interrupt.” He’s blushing and Tony’s lips curve despite his confusion. He nods and kisses the man’s palm. “Right,” Steve clears his throat. “Well, it turns out that I’m the missing prince.”

He tries to say it casually but his wide eyes betray him and Tony, if he hadn’t promised his silence would be laughing hysterically right now. Steve, broad shouldered, glowing hair Steve, of course it would be him, of course.

“Fury was assigned my care until the shield was brought to me, thus fulfilling the prophecy. You brought the shield Tony.” He bites his lip looking shy. “You found me. And…I almost couldn’t save you. I had to sing you back to me. Tony…” Now he looks even more hesitant, if possible. “Pepper’s still alive.”

“Goodbye cruel world,” Tony says faintly as the room spins. Shock makes him shiver for a moment.

“Tonyyy,” Steve huffs a laugh. “You’re fine. She’s fine. Says Obadiah left her for dead to go after you.” He stops for a moment just looking at Tony. “I didn’t know you had a little sister.” His smile is sweet.

“I,” Tony says softly, throat clicking as he swallows. “I didn’t think she was still alive.”

“Alive and well. Working for Fury this past year trying to find enough evidence to bring Obadiah down.”

Pepper. Red haired, green eyed little sister Pepper alive and well.

“Where is she?” He asks, voice hopeful. “Can I see her?”

“She’s been by when you were out. Said she’ll stop by later today.” Steve squeezes himself into the bed and Tony curls around him on his side. It’s moderately comfy, Tony thinks as he leans his head on Steve’s chest and breathes him in. Kind of like what being in a womb must feel like. His eyes feel heavy.

“Stay?” He manages to ask and feels the rumble of Steve’s chuckle against him, a hand weaving through his hair.

“Always.”

 

Pepper looks the same, hair a little shorter to just under her chin, body maybe a slightly thinner but still identifiably Pepper. Her eyes fill with tears as she hugs Tony and then she goes off on him berating his general stupidity while Steve watches with wide eyes from next to the bed.

“-And I can’t leave you alone for a second. Tony. Tony are you even listening to me?” She rolls her eyes when Tony shakes his head innocently. “Honestly, I don’t know what to do with you.” But she’s smiling.

“Pep,” He sips his water that he had begged off of Steve. “It’s okay. Most days I don’t know what to do with myself. Except well, the obvious.” He leers down at his lap for a moment and then over to Steve who blushes a bright red.

“Errr.” Steve says and his eyes dart around like he doesn’t know where to look. “I intend to take care of Tony.” He straightens his shoulders and looks like he’s forcing himself to meet Pepper’s eyes.

Pepper raises her eyebrows and lets out a laugh. “Oh?” She looks at Tony who’s own eyes are wide and who is cursing himself and his traitorous flush and contented smile. “Well good, cause I’m sick of him.”

“Hey!” Tony glares at her but when Steve leans over and wraps a hesitant arm around him he can’t stop himself from sinking against his heat. “I don’t like you anyway,” He grumps at her, nuzzling his face into Steve’s neck. “He’s much nicer and has a big dick.” Hey, it’s true.

“TONY!” Steve yells, aghast, just as Pepper yelps out – “I’m related to you, you fool!”

“Even if you weren’t,” Tony yawns, feeling himself slip away again into sleep. “I wouldn’t be interested.”

He feels Steve press a kiss against his hair and lets himself float away.

 

 

The next day, after Tony is released Steve ushers him into a huge bedroom in the castle and onto a large soft bed.

He feels his legs be pressed apart, feels Steve lick his hole open with intent. He arches his back and bites his lip and moans like a whore as Steve sucks and pushes his tongue in and in and in slurping obscenely. Eventually, Steve pushes his huge cock inside and fucks him, pumping hard with his hips, biting his nipples and neck red, licking the scars around his arc reactor before kissing him deeply. Tony sobs and holds on, because yes, Steve’s cock is gigantic. He comes all over himself, feels the warm spurts hit against his chin as he cries out in ecstasy. Steve follows shortly thereafter, pushing to the hilt and flooding him with warmth.

Later, Steve wraps his body around him and whispers soft words against Tony’s cheek. “I don't know how but, I love you,” He says, voice catching. “I thought I’d lost you. I can’t lose you.”

Tony feels his eyes stinging and he clears his throat, somewhat embarrassed at this talking of emotions. This feels impossible. He’s not good at this shit. “Steve,” His voice is hoarse. He turns to look into Steve’s eyes that are right there, dark and warm. “I love you.” It just falls out of his mouth and he would be embarrassed except for the way Steve’s face lights up. “Huh…” He itches his nose with a hand that still tingles from awesome sex after effects. “That just came right out there, didn’t it.”

“Yea.” Steve’s smile is bright. “So, I guess you’re stuck with me?” It’s a question, and Tony can hear the hesitance, the hope lurking in Steve’s voice.

“I want to be,” He admits. “But can a prince really be with someone like me?” It comes out more seriously than he had anticipated

“Yes.” Steve presses his delighted smile against Tony’s mouth. “Yes they can.”

“Oh.” Tony feels like he’s lit up inside. His own smile opens to Steve’s inquisitive tongue. “Okay then. Good.”