It’s not sunlight, not the hazy, stifling lights like the end of a joint that he always found in clubs, not the loud, pulsing light from the paparazzi cameras- instead it’s soft, almost tender, and brilliant blue, and when he swallows, his throat clicks against it.
But the important thing is it’s light, which is a definite tell if Tony ever saw one, because there isn’t any light, not here. Not here, with the violent shove-clutch-push that blurs him up and leaves him spitting out clots of blood, leaves him struggling to breathe over cracked ribs and a punctured lung. Not here, where he’s nearly forgotten what light even goddamn looks like; there’s just cloth after cloth of fumbling darkness and dirty bandages, and he hasn’t been able to feel his fingers for- for-
He can’t remember how long it’s been anymore, and he’s stopped trying too many un-scrubbed plates of slop ago. It’s probably been since he said yes, fine, I’ll do it, I’ll do anything please don’t-since it stumbled through his broken teeth, over the bloody valley of what used to be his mouth.
There’s light, and at first he backs away from it, until he’s pressed up against the wall and the chains are cutting into his wrists again but he barely even feels it because people are screaming that aren’t him, the people-not-people are screaming so hard it has to hurt and Tony knows this because his throat has been hoarse so long he thinks it’s permanently scraped, and the light, the blue light, is washing over him, and for the first time in a long time, he feels-
He breathes out without meaning to, shaky over his swollen tongue, and the light follows his exhale, tugs gently at his wrists, which aren’t cuffed anymore, and Tony doesn’t-
Come with me, the light says, and Tony can feel it washing through him, smoothing over his broken ankle and over his bruises, over his heart, his lungs, and thinks that it’d be so easy just to lean forwards and let it take him.
But he’s gotten most of his internal bruising from fighting, from lashing out, from biting down and tasting blood and spitting it right back in their faces so they yell at him, slap him away with ringed fingers, and he’s not going down without a fight, not after everything.
And like before, like yesterday and all the days before that, he bares his teeth.
Hand over hand, breathing through his torn-up sweatshirt, Tony breaks through the lip of the grave with both hands. He has to crawl, does an undignified shimmy that Rhodey would have laughed at him for, and flops down sideways onto the grass, heaving air and vomit and probably earthworms.
He has to blink for a long time until can do anything but squint. He rolls over, still panting, and shoves himself to his feet as he looks over the piece of shit grave they buried him in.
“Christ,” he says into his hand, and has to spit out dirt before he keeps going. “Fucking hell, they really took the whole ‘undercover’ thing seriously. Not even a gravestone.”
Whining about it is better than imagining Pepper digging it. Better than thinking about how her hands must have shook around the shovel, how her hair would have fell into her face, how Pepper wouldn’t have said anything but she’d have wanted to.
Dumb son of a bitch, Tony imagines Rhodey saying beside her, and thinks of how his voice would’ve broken around it.
Rhodey tries to stab him when he sees him, and Pepper does the same thing, nicking Tony along the side of his torso as he ducks out of the way.
It takes Pepper longer to convince, and her voice only wobbles a few times and they all pretend not to notice.
They don’t talk about Happy, about the extra grave in the yard, about how jumping in front of Tony didn’t do any good in the end, and Tony finds that he can’t look at it when he glances out the window.
He swallows thickly, and Rhodey pushing a hand down over his face tiredly is something Tony never thought he’d want to see until now.
“Back from the dead,” Rhodey says flatly, but he’s smiling. “What shit did you get yourself into this time, Tones?”
The nickname makes Tony’s mouth curl. “Fucked if I know.”
The man- angel- man, Tony tells himself, more insistent this time, because in the legendary words of Tyler Durden, sticking feathers up your butt doesn’t make you a chicken, and no matter how many times blondie says he’s an angel, it’s not going to make anything feathery appear from his butt or otherwise- frowns slightly when Tony stabs him through the chest.
“That was rude.”
Tony stares. Stares some more, and then makes the mistake of looking up into the man’s face.
“What the fuck are you,” Tony says again, default, because he’s on autopilot right now. Those eyes, the flood of blue around his pupil, it’s-
“I’m an angel of the Lord,” the man repeats, and Tony catches himself, has to physically make himself slide the knife out. It sticks to the fabric of the guy’s shirt as he does.
“So say you’re not insane,” Tony says, and doesn’t believe him, doesn’t believe him for a fucking second, just because his eyes are the exact same as the light doesn’t mean anything, “why would an angel rescue me out of hell?”
“Because God commanded it.”
Shit fucking fuck.
“Because we have work for you.”
It takes him a month, two hunts and Pepper nagging him for Tony to find out his name.
“I feel weird calling him Rogers, okay,” Pepper had snapped as she was doing her hair in a tight bun, no mirror required. “He’s- I mean, he’s an angel, Tony! Shouldn’t we be calling him something more- more-”
Tony had held up both hands, taking care not to drop his razor. “Okay, and just how many angels have you known before him, Pep?”
Pepper had thrown her soggy towel at him and Tony had caught it in time because he’s Tony and his reflexes are something less co-ordinated people would gladly kill for.
The next time Tony sees Rogers, he taps him on the shoulder as he walks past.
Rogers, bless him, turns to where Tony tapped him, where Tony is now about a meter away from, because apparently he’s a millennia or so old and doesn’t know the classics.
“So, Rogers,” Tony says, and Roger’s head turns to him, his gaze following Tony as he makes his way over to the fridge. “What’s the whole deal with the last-name-basis? You’ve stopped calling me Stark, I should be able to yell your first name into the ether when you disappear as I’m talking to you. Which is rude down here in the big ol’ humanity soup, bt-dubs.”
Rogers makes that face which means everything Tony just said has gone straight over his head, and also Tony’s a moron. “Bee-tee-dubs?”
“It means BTW. Which stands for By The Way. Which means-”
“I know what by the way means, Tony.” Rogers’ jaw does that adorable flex-y thing which means Tony’s still a moron, just more prominently so. “I’m an angel, not an idiot.”
“Could’ve fooled me.” Tony watches Rogers’ jaw go tick, tick, tick, and definitely doesn’t grin. “So, first name?”
For a second, Rogers doesn’t say anything, just stands there at parade rest in the middle of the hotel room, looking like one of those action figures. Finally, he says, “Steve,” in a stern, sort of confused voice, like he doesn’t know if that’s right or not.
Tony watches the emotions play out across Steve’s face, silent for a reason that he’s not entirely certain of, and doesn’t understand until later that he was watching the dominos falling.
They save a town. They save two, three, and this apocalypse thing is still coming at them with no intention of stopping.
Tony washes blood off his hands at three different rest stops as Rhodey and Pepper stand watch, and never catches his reflection’s eye.
Pepper and Rhodey are still there, of course- still there even though he’s fucked this up beyond belief, even though he’s some messiah who’s supposed to do this gigantic, enormous destiny thing when he can’t even remember birthdays, even when he drinks too much and makes bad life choices in general and wakes up screaming two nights out of three.
Those nights, Tony wakes up to Pepper stroking the sweaty hair out of his face, with Rhodey’s voice low and never far away.
And because they’re Pepper and Rhodey, they don’t talk about it in the morning, and don’t ask what he was dreaming about. Tony suspects they have at least a good idea, due to what he’s been screaming.
But they don’t ask, and Tony’s thankful for it. They don’t even ask what he dreams about on the nights he doesn’t wake up on the tail end of a hand shoving him down, and Tony doesn’t know what he’d tell them if they asked, because he doesn’t know how to explain the light, or the angel that’s attached to it.
Tony dreams about it some nights, when his head isn’t full of hellfire and grimy hands with ragged nails grabbing at him, catching in his clothes.
About the light, and how it touched him carefully even when he struggled, when he clawed into it, tore it open. How it cradled him in a makeshift palm, stroking his cuts closed, healing him inside-out and filling him up to the brim with a soft blaze of blue.
Once, he wakes up to Steve sitting on the end of his bed like an obedient puppy, who doesn’t say anything about it when Tony blasphemes loud enough for the people on the other side of the wall to thump on it.
“Hello, Tony.” Steve looks at him with the eyes he’s had on the back of his eyelids for months now, the hands that pull him up, out from the choke of it all. “What were you dreaming about?”
Tony says something, probably lewd and wildly inappropriate to say to anyone, let alone an angel. He’s not sure what it is, only that it makes Steve’s jaw clench, and god, that’s saying something, isn’t it? That Tony can royally piss off an angel? That Pep and Rhodey get along with him fine, Tony thinks he heard Steve laugh once at a joke Pepper made, but any mention of Tony gets Steve’s eyes tightening around the edges?
“There’s a seal demons are trying to break,” Steve tells him. “We need your help.”
Tony closes his eyes for a moment, to get himself together, to collect himself and pull everything back where it’s supposed to be, and is caught off guard when that familiar, steady blue blinks back at him from behind his eyelids.
They drag Bruce along, out of his usual hideaway cave of books and into the field- if the ‘field’ counts as the hotel they’re currently staying at as Bruce sifts through pile upon pile of lore and Tony, Rhodey and Pepper do the groundwork, then, well.
Bruce doesn’t bat an eyelash when Tony mentions angels. Or being pulled out of hell, or the up and coming apocalypse, or Tony being the only one to stop it, apparently. Okay, that one he reacts slightly to, in the form of raising his eyebrows in Tony’s direction.
Tony sighs. “Yeah, yeah, God and his loyal minions made a dumbass decision and the world is fucked. Got it.”
“Total faith in you,” Bruce deadpans, and Tony flips him off, but they’re both smiling.
“You’re just a human, Tony.” The angel- bald, with a pissy expression and a cheap fucking suit- rakes his eyes down Tony’s body as he says it. “And not much of one.”
I know, Tony wants to tell him. I know, I know.
Everyone’s quiet the whole trip to the hospital. Whenever Tony shifts, it causes another wave of nausea to hit his head, and he has to grit his teeth against the bile.
No-one says anything about Steve, or how he actually sat back when Tony said he wanted to be taken to a hospital, damnit, not get whammied again, can we do something the human way for once- or how he’s hunched over, a dent in his forehead, slouching.
Slouching. Goddamn it. He’s screwing up an angel. Tony’s really capable of that much.
They don’t look at each other until the nurse asks what happened, and Tony’s kind of past speech at that point, and Steve glances at Tony as Pepper says he fell down a flight of stairs.
Tony used to keep a tally of how many times they’ve used that excuse, but now it just rolls forwards, over the limit point, over and over like bumping his way down a flight of stairs, smacking his elbows and knees and jaw over the edges as he does.
It reels in his head. Obie’s voice, half-laughing over the blood in a continuous loop: as he breaks, so shall it break.
Steve doesn’t heal him until Tony is well and truly out of it, and when Tony wakes up everyone is sitting by his bedside and he doesn’t even have it in him to yell at anyone.
“It’s not-” Steve falters and Tony looks at him. Angels, faltering. Angels, making mistakes and miscalculating and being so, so stupidly human-
“We don’t blame you,” Steve says, and it’s like a gush of air down his windpipe. “None of us do. No one in heaven, no one on earth, we don’t-”
“Doesn’t change the fact that I fucked it all up,” Tony says, and his voice sounds like it used to back when he hadn’t had any water for years at a time, and he remembers every tiny sip he ever took down there.
Steve is silent, so Tony keeps going. “I mean, fucking hell.” The laugh is like barbed wire, hurts like hell and Tony welcomes it with open fucking arms. “I can’t just be an ordinary fuckup? I can’t just- just- accidentally father a few kids and get a beer gut and cheat on my wife and generally be a shitty person? No, I have to start the fucking apocalypse-”
“Don’t,” Pepper sighs from beside him, and Tony bites down on his tongue, turning away.
He forces his teeth closer together until he tastes blood, until it wedges between his teeth.
Before he leaves, Steve heals that, too.
“You’re just a man, Tony. I’m an angel.”
Tony knows. He knows, and it’s more prominent than ever now, and Steve says it like he might actually regret it, which only makes Tony want to break his fist on his jaw.
I know, he wants to tell him. I know, I know, I remember, you’re still that light and sometimes I see it in you.
Instead, he locks his jaw. Spits something, he’s not sure what, but it makes Steve flinch.
Look at me now, Tony thinks. Making angels flinch.
Most of the time, Tony forgets that Steve’s, y’know, an angel of the lord. Probably because of his bambi eyes and perpetually straight face, but then something happens and Steve is in battle-gear, slashing past, and Tony can’t look away if he wanted to.
Fighting, Steve looks like what he is: lightning, thunder, a force solidified into a human vessel, and his hand never stutters once.
Angels are warriors, Steve had told him once, and Tony wants to tell him, I know, because he’s watching Steve, Steve and his silver shield cracking the skull of the demon and then slitting his throat with the razor edge of it.
“Uh,” Tony says. “Thanks?”’
The look Steve gives him isn’t as annoyed as usual. It’s more- concerned, sort of, and Tony very pointedly doesn’t look into it.
Steve heals him over and over until the only scar that’s left is the healing-over handprint on Tony’s chest, which won’t heal, according to Steve, who was always puzzled by that.
Steve calls him soldier and Tony snaps at him, is close to getting up in his space and shoving at him before he decides it’s not a good idea, not that that’s ever stopped him.
He thinks that Steve wouldn’t be surprised anyway, with Tony doing everything but punching the shit out of Steve, with Tony swearing and being too human around him and being an all-around asshole 24/7, which is enough to make anyone dislike you, let alone an angel.
But somehow, they get into this thing, this thing where Steve is his usual infuriating self and Tony is his usual more infuriating self and they bitch at each other in their own way, half of it with heat and half of it just for the sake of it, and they pull each other out of fires.
Tony saves Steve from getting shivved by one of his mutinous brothers, one who makes Steve’s face twist and shout something like Buck or Bucky as Tony drags him away, and Steve saves Tony from vampires, a falling car, an arrow aimed at his head.
They don’t talk about it. They don’t get comfortable around each other, even when Pepper and Rhodey are making Steve laugh a little in front of the TV and Tony is off to the corner, pretending to do research with Bruce.
Bruce nudges Tony one day, when Tony’s flipping a magazine and not absorbing anything.
Tony shoots him a look. “I’m busy.”
“With new ways to make your nails look glam, yeah, I can read,” Bruce says. “What’s with you and Steve?”
Tony looks up from the page where, admittedly, there are a lot of helpful tips. “What’s with what and who now?”
“You,” Bruce prompts. “And Steve.”
“He’s the angel that got stuck protecting me and I’m the annoying guy who he heals when he thinks I’m being less of an ass than usual,” Tony says, frowning. “Why?”
Bruce shakes his head. “Nothing. You guys just-”
“Piss each other off?”
Bruce sighs through his nose. He’s starting to sound a lot like Pepper. “Never mind.”
Tony is yelling, he’s yelling and he’s only half-aware of what he’s saying now; only realizes it when he says, “God fucking damnit, Steve, if there is anything worth dying over, then this is it.”
Steve looks at him. Opens his mouth. Stops, and just stands there.
When he disappears in the space of him blinking, Tony takes a long, hard breath inwards.
There’s a halo of blood around Obidiah’s head, and again: light.
Light; this time the blinding kind, and Tony’s using the last of his strength to crawl his way over to the door, kicking at it with his heels until the wood whines, and Pepper’s screaming on the other side of it and the light is getting so bright he can’t open his eyes.
He thinks of Pepper’s wild-set eyes, how they’re less than an inch of wood away, how Rhodey is pounding with both fists and Bruce is screaming himself hoarse and Steve-
Fuck, shit, Steve- Steve, left to die in the dirty kitchen of Peter fucking Parker, who can’t prophesize for shit, who can’t protect Steve even if he tried, and Steve is going to die next to a pile of unwashed dishes.
Steve, who had shoved Tony up against a wall and slid a knife out of his jacket, who had kept Tony’s gaze as he cut a thick line across his own palm and started on the sigil.
Tony can still feel the warmth of Steve’s two fingers pressing against his forehead.
He yells I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m sorry, but can’t hear it over the pitch of whatever’s coming out of that light, so he keeps yelling it and keeps slamming into the shaking door and keeps his eyes closed.
He takes a breath to yell it again, but on that breath the light dies and the ground is scooped up under his feet.
He exhales on the seat of a plane, with Pepper and Bruce and Rhodey in the seats around him, just before light explodes upwards from a few hundred meters down below.
When Steve pushes a blade through the throat of the angel who’s trying to snap Tony’s neck, Tony nearly laughs.
He catches himself, though, because there are still three more bastards trying to kill him and he can laugh when he’s not in imminent danger of getting impaled.
He dodges a knife, sticks his own into the ribcage of an angel and closes his eyes against the light.
When he opens them, Steve is standing among the corpses of his dead siblings, and Tony can’t think of a worse time to laugh just as he does.
I’m glad you’re not dead, he doesn’t say.
“You stubborn son of a bitch,” he laughs, and his eyes are creasing, and Steve’s mouth tips upwards, just a bit.
Hunters are getting privy now, and Bruce makes calls long into the night about supplies, and the network, and recent demon activity, and the wheels screech every time Tony cuts corners on the highway.
He goes off for a few weeks, kicks some ass and takes some names and dreams about drowning, and when he gets back, there’s a new hotel room to pay for.
Natasha and Clint are unassuming, kind of bitchy and kill demons like they’ve been trained to do it since birth, which Tony finds out that Natasha actually is by the end of the first week.
He also finds out that Clint met her shortly before exorcizing her, which they’re touchy about, and Tony nearly gets impaled ‘accidentally’ with a barbeque fork when he doesn’t take the hint and stop asking about it.
They’re wary around Steve- trademark hunters, of course, they don’t take a shower without a weapon strapped somewhere to them and have built in trust issues and get understandably shifty when there’s a supernatural creature in their hotel room- but they don’t try anything, like behead him, so there’s that.
Steve’s been riding in the car lately, even though he can zap them anywhere faster than any car Tony drives, no matter what Tony says.
Pepper’s in the seat next to Tony, and then Rhodey, Bruce and Steve in the back. Natasha and Clint follow behind them, honking whenever Tony does something too stupid, like nearly flip the car to prove a point to Bruce about physics. Both Pepper and Rhodey slap them in the head for that.
Steve just sits back and does that funny smiling thing he’s been doing lately.
“You’re just going to send all your friends into a meat grinder?” Tony stares at- himself, his future self, his five-year-to-be self if things keep going how they are, and knows that look. “Steve, too?”
Other-Tony doesn’t even flinch.
Later, when Tony’s running, running like he’s been doing too much lately, running so his lungs are burning and he can feel his blood rushing and the Croats are gaining, he can’t stop replaying it over in his head: Steve, too, and how Other-him had just stared at him, eyes half-lidded. Autopilot, he knows. What he does when something’s too much for him to process right now, or even ever.
He remembers, just before Obie with blood on his head, just before the apocalypse getting blown fully open: We’ve been through a lot together. I just- I wanted you to know I’m sorry it had to end like this.
Remembers the snarl that had curved into Tony’s mouth before he had started yelling, remembers how Steve had stood there and taken it. Remembers telling him, you can take your peace and shove it up your fucking ass.
Steve, and how he had held him against the wall, how Tony hadn’t struggled even though he could’ve, because despite everything, he trusted the goddamn bastard. Steve, and how he had turned his back on everything he’s ever had since his creation, pissed it all away for Tony and his rag-tag bunch of runaways who stand as much chance at saving the world as they do at all spontaneously growing wings.
Steve, who put Tony before God, and fuck if that doesn’t scare Tony shitless.
Steve, too, Tony thinks, and forces himself forwards.
“Don’t ever change,” Tony says, and means it, and grips Steve’s shoulder for a second before letting his hand fall.
Steve smiles. “Sure, Tony. Whatever you say.”
He says it lightly, half-patronizingly, like he says most of his things to Tony, but there’s something else in it that has Tony’s stomach tie itself in knots.
When a big, blonde- bigger and blonder than Steve, which is more of a shock than anything- guy shows up at the doorstep, they do the usual.
Holy water, silver knife, blah, blah, and all it takes is for Steve to walk in and say, “Thor,” in a surprised voice, for everyone to trust him completely.
“Aye,” Thor says. Because he’s apparently a Norse God who’s tuned in to the angel radio, and he wants to stop the apocalypse, same as them. That, and he can braid hair like a pro. Even his own.
Tony keeps glancing over at Steve who’s looking over at Thor, who are both getting along swimmingly, and Bruce keeps sending him these knowing looks.
“Fine,” Tony says finally. “But he’s not sitting in my car.”
Natasha and Clint let him ride in theirs, because it’s a pickup truck big enough for eight Thors, let alone one. And two weeks in, after Thor’s spent over a hundred miles with his head stuck out the window and his hair flowing in the wind, after he’s hammered- yes, hammered, with a giant fucking hammer- down his share of demons, when he’s kicking Tony’s ass in a drinking game to the point where even Natasha and Steve are looking tipsy, Tony decides that Thor’s alright.
For a Norse God, anyway.
Whenever Pepper gets blood in her hair it always makes it brighter, and right now Pepper’s hair is rivalling the goddamn sun from where it’s streaking down onto the dirt, glinting across their arcing knives.
It’s been full-on Apocalypse Now lately, and they’ve been coming across hoard after hoard of demons, all one after the other in nearly every town they come across.
They kill a few dozen, head back to the hotel and all take turns at yelling at each other in different hotel rooms through the bathroom door when someone uses the shower for too long.
Tony gets to it first, so he’s able to wash off most of the excess demon gunk, pulls on some clothes and sits on the bed next to Steve, who is thumbing through a book. “You know, you could just shazam yourself clean again.”
Tony blinks. “What?”
“I can’t,” Steve repeats. “My powers have been- uh, limited, for a while.”
“I’ve noticed,” Tony says. “But this is first grade shit, Steve. Seriously, you don’t have enough mojo to shazam the demon gunk?”
Steve lets the book fall into his lap. “What is with you and the word ‘shazam?’”
“It’s fun to say.” Tony butts his shoulder with his own. “Go on, say it.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Saaaaay it,” Tony says, nudging his shoulder repeatedly, and Steve’s smile breaks into a grin. “No, Tony.”
Tony sighs, making it as melodramatic as he possibly can. Which is pretty damn melodramatic. “You’re no fun.”
Steve shrugs, picking up the book again. “Angel of the Lord.”
He says it differently, now. Two years ago, when he said it for the first time in the warehouse, he had said it like a fact, like you’d say you were a stockbroker. Then, later, he had said it as a defence, almost desperately, like, this has to mean something, I have to be fighting for something, I have to be doing this for the right reasons, right?
Now, though, he says it like he’s listing off groceries, and Tony isn’t sure how to feel about it. There’s always guilt edging it, off to the sidelines, like there always is when Steve acts less than usual. Less angelic, less like he’s this big, glorious thing with invisible wings who’s watched over mankind for thousands of years, seen every possible destruction and horror humankind can pull and fought for them anyway.
He says it like a shrug instead of a shove, and Tony’s smile slips, because he’s sort of the main contributing factor of it.
I was getting too close to humans in my charge, he remembers Steve saying, and remembers how Steve had paused and the weight behind it. You.
Tony never knows what he’s doing anymore.
The first punch connects with Tony’s cheek, blossoms blood over his teeth.
“I gave everything for you,” Steve is yelling. He sounds hoarse, like he’s a decade-long smoker, like his throat’s been scraped by a pair of tongs. Mostly, he just sounds furious.
Tony takes the punch, then the second, and the third one knocks the breath out of him. Then he’s being yanked up, so he can feel Steve’s hot breath. “And this is what you give to me?”
I’m sorry, Tony doesn’t say. Doesn’t say how he’s sorry, he’s so sorry he fucked it all up, he’s sorry he didn’t save Steve’s siblings, his family. He’s sorry he sent them all to get decimated, he’s sorry Steve had to watch, he’s sorry that it was a necessity. He’s sorry he had to, that he had to, Steve, it was either this or there was a ninety-eight percent chance of losing, of us losing, of Hell winning.
He’s sorry he’d do it all over again if he had to.
“They were my brothers,” Steve grates. The next punch is loud, and sinks into Tony’s gut. “My sisters-”
So many angels, so many wings crisping at the edges just before their grace blows out.
“I’m hunted, I rebelled,” Steve yells, his voice cracking. “I did it, all of it, for you, and you murdered-”
Angels, dying like a sigh, burning hot white before blackening. Tony can still see their faces through the mouthfuls of blood.
Steve’s fists come like a benediction. One after the other, again and again, and Tony’s right eye is swelling. He’s spitting blood.
“I gave up everything so you could-”
Steve’s faltering again. He’s doing this a lot lately. Stumbling, tripping, mixing up his words and falling over his feet sometimes. The punch is a fumble that ends up never ends up actually impacting.
“Damn it, Tony-”
Tony feels Steve’s hands, but this time in the form of hard, clenching fingers in his shirt.
The next breath comes as a sob. “We could’ve- figured out another way-”
The punches have stopped now. Instead Steve clutches, his entire posture terrified and broken and hunching his shaking shoulders in, his eyes wet, and Tony remembers this very same man- angel, always angel, even when Tony forgets- taking down a hundred demons, a thousand, right in front of his eyes.
Remembers Steve slicing through, shield-first, a million times over, to get them out, and never flinching no matter what came his way. Fighting in the front lines like he must have done for millennia before Tony was even born, before the wheel was pieced together for the first time- the short, practised strokes of his shield felling demon after demon, smooth and lethal.
Steve Rogers, an angel of the lord, his saviour over and over, with his head held high and shield pushed in front of him: Tony could always see the light, those times. Could always, always see what he first saw of Steve. The soft, brutal blue, curling gently but steadily around his wrists, saying, come. come with me.
The gentle blue, and then the brilliance, the blinding blaze of it all as Steve takes down whoever he has to to drag Tony up and out. Stunning and glorious and so inhuman it made Tony remember, and remember, and remember.
Steve, learning how to drive and nearly crashing the car twice in the first five minutes before becoming one of the most flawless drivers Tony’s ever seen.
Steve, pressing two fingers against his forehead so the scene around them dissolves and Tony opens his eyes to another city, another country, but always Steve beside him.
Steve, brushing his teeth and frowning the entire time because ‘it tastes weird.’
Steve, rebelling for an asshole with emotional problems that he’s only known for less than a hundredth of his existence, and Tony giving him nothing in return.
And now Steve, bending, with his mouth twisted in grief, after witnessing the death of the only family he’d ever had for thousands of years. His head is on Tony’s shoulder, his breathing is ragged, and Tony’s finally done it. He’s capable of this much. He can break an angel this completely.
Both of their knees are pressed into the dirt, and Tony’s fingers are clumsy as they come to grip the back of Steve’s head.
Blood bubbles up in his voice as Tony says, “’m sorry.”
Steve’s sobs land in Tony’s shirt along with his hands, and Tony would prefer the punches. Would prefer Steve break his ribs, every bone in his hand, split his knuckles open, than crumple down like this.
“’m sorry,” Tony says again, and this beautiful, holy thing is crying into his shoulder, dampening his already bloody shirt.
Tony can feel himself start to heal even as Steve cries. Feels the cuts on his face close, slowly, and then scab over before vanishing. Feels his cracked ribs seal back into place. Feels his dislocated shoulder snap back into its socket.
Tony says, “I’m sorry,” because he doesn’t have to talk through blood anymore, and Steve’s eyes are scrunched shut as tightly as his hands, and Tony brings both arms up to wrap around Steve’s shoulders out of lack of other things to say.
When Steve’s breathing is getting back to normal, Tony moves to help him up, but Steve stops him by yanking gently on the front of his shirt.
“I understand why you did it,” Steve says, his voice like ground gravel. “I know you had to. Thank you for making the decision that I- that I couldn’t.”
“They were your family, Steve. It doesn’t make you any less for not wanting to hurt them.” Tony swallows. “I’m s-”
“It’s okay,” Steve says, and his eyes are still wet when he meets Tony’s gaze. “It’s fine. Really. Thank you.”
He shifts forwards, keeps his hands still, and presses his mouth to Tony’s.
Angels, like humans, Tony realizes, still taste like salt after they’ve been crying.
They keep fighting.
They nearly lose Bruce and kill every single goddamn vamp who tried to take him. They smile menacingly at shady guys who hit on Pepper at bars. They cut each other’s hair, because it gets longer over months of killing demons, and they’re getting better at this, at this whole team thing.
They gun down who and what they have to- even a few hunters who hit Tony with a barrel and try to get some sort of twisted revenge for starting the apocalypse, and Natasha empties an entire clip into each one of their heads. Thor glares at anyone who comes near either of their cars.
They don’t need to pray for Steve anymore, because he’s become a permanent add-on. That, and he can’t zap anywhere over a few miles away, which is a bitch but still helps them out of one too many hunts gone wrong. He can still heal people, but only sometimes, so they try to keep it to a minimum, so Steve only uses his powers if someone’s bleeding out or in danger of it, which is far too often.
“So, this is it.” Tony tips his drink back- he’s been drinking less, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever stop. Not when the apocalypse is still going strong, anyway. “Team Free Will.”
It’s half an hour after a firefight. They’re all in separate states of bloody- Tony has a busted lip, various scrapes and a twisted ankle, and almost everyone else looks worse.
Rhodey looks at him with the usual tired glare he gets after shooting too many heads. “What?”
Tony gestures towards the rest of the room with his beer bottle. “The half-demon Russian,” he says, pointing at Natasha, who doesn’t move to grab anything to stab him with, so he takes it as a win. Next, he points at Clint. “The carnie-turned-archer-turned-hunter.”
Pepper’s mouth lifts when Tony points at her. “The secretary way above her pay grade.”
“I miss those days,” Pepper says, half-mournfully, combing her fingers through the dried blood in her hair so it flecks away. “Never thought I’d miss paperwork.”
“The best friend way above his pay grade.”
Rhodey grunts in acknowledgement.
“The Man of Letters who got in way over his head,” Tony continues in Bruce’s direction, and Bruce huffs a laugh.
“The Norse God who said fuck this,” Tony says. Thor hefts his hammer, grinning warmly at Tony, and for a second Tony expects a battle cry, or something. When it doesn’t come, he points at Steve.
“The angel who said fuck this. And me, the genius playboy with six bucks to his name.”
Everyone’s looking around now, surveying the damage, smiling at the titles.
“Team free will,” Bruce echoes.
“Team free fucking will,” Clint says, raising his empty glass.
One by one, they say it, and for once, Tony thinks that they actually have a chance.
Steve has to learn how to shave exactly three years after the night in the warehouse.
Tony scrapes the razor through the shaving cream, up the curve of Steve’s throat, careful over his adam’s apple, and Steve doesn’t make a noise through the whole thing, even when Tony nicks him and blood trickles into his shirt.
It’s slow, scarily intimate, and Tony can’t meet his own eyes in the mirror, let alone Steve’s.
Steve thanks Tony afterwards, assures him he’ll be able to do it by himself now, and squeezes Tony’s wrist gently before he leaves for bed.
Tony remembers the cave again, and the light, and how it had squeezed gently, slipping Tony’s beaten head into the hollow of Steve’s neck, where Tony had just grazed the razor.
Come with me, he remembers, and the soft, insistent tug.
It’d be easy to just slip into Steve’s bed with him. To follow Steve under the blankets, to let Steve make a move, if he wanted to. To let Steve move in, kiss him quietly so they don’t wake anyone.
God knows Tony’s thought about it: ruining Steve until he moans into Tony’s mouth, wrecking him so completely that he’s rocking against him or into him, trembling with it.
God knows he’s thought about it: running Steve’s hair through his fingers briefly when he leans over to grab a coffee. Pushing his hand a little closer when Steve’s arm brushes his. Letting his fingers linger on the nape of Steve’s neck just now, in the cold bathroom when Tony’s hip was pressing into the sink. Steve’s shirt was rucked up, ever so slightly, from where it had hitched from sitting down on a too-short chair.
Tony could ruin him even further than he already has. He could crumple Steve’s shirt in his hands when he pulls him in, could bite down on his lips until they swell. Could kiss his way up his calf, his thigh, breath coming fast over his navel, the trail of hair downwards. Could make Steve’s pupils bloom until the only light is a thin line around the black, could make Steve buck into his hand, gasp into his neck, could kiss Steve until he’s dizzy with it, until they have to stop to breathe, until he’s drowning in it and Steve is saying Tony’s name into his skin.
He could, he could, he could, and maybe Steve would pull him closer, would slip a leg between his, wrap a leg over his waist. Maybe he’d laugh into Tony’s neck and press a kiss there; kiss his crow’s feet, the freckles over his shoulders, the backs of his knees. His knuckles, one by one. The blunt of every finger.
Maybe he’d kiss him and Tony would kiss him back, over the line of his eyebrows and the shell of his ears, his palms, his ankles, everywhere, everywhere.
Maybe Steve would kiss him and Tony would drag him down and see if they could be holy like this, curled into each other like this, if Steve slotted his hand into place over the handprint on Tony’s chest. If anyone really needs to pray anyway, and if they did, they could do it into the space above where their spine ends.
Pressing kisses down it, down Tony’s spine: Steve would take his time with each vertebrae, kissing each damn knot of bone that he built from the ground-up, after Tony had scattered himself all over and shattered every bone he had, burned every drop of blood from him.
And Steve- Steve would kiss him like he always touches him, like Tony’s this precious, infuriating thing that needs and takes and shoves; like he’s so thoroughly damaged but Steve loves him anyway. Steve would kiss him like a soft squeeze at his wrist after Tony taught him how to shave, kiss him like a gut punch in a dirty alleyway that he heals afterwards, kiss him like he kissed him in that dirty alley, soft and salty.
Tony remembers being filled with light, remembers it pressing into every single one of his edges until they blurred.
Come with me, he remembers, and the soft, insistent tug.
Tony knows now he’d follow it anywhere.
They have too many close calls, and Pepper takes her last breath once, twice, before Steve is there, pressing the blood back into her and sealing up the skin over it.
Tony nearly tells him, god, I could fucking kiss you, but the words congeal in his throat.
They pick a birthday for Steve. The 4th of July, which everyone but Steve finds hilarious, and they sit on the roof of the hotel and watch fireworks and eat crappy store-brought cake with hideous icing. They tease Steve about not having enough candles in the entire state of Mississippi.
They wake up the people in the room below them from laughing too loud, and nearly get kicked out by management, and it’s the most fun Tony’s had in- years, maybe.
“Best birthday I’ve ever had,” Steve deadpans, and Clint shoves him, because they’ve already pointed out that it’s the only birthday.
Pepper’s doing her hair, this time in the mirror. “Next time, we’ll bake a real cake.”
None of them say the lingering if we’re alive next year which hangs off the end of that, and it could be because of that that Steve kisses Tony for the second time later that night, still salty from the chips they’d been eating. When Tony opens his mouth against Steve’s lips, there’s a warm brush of air before his tongue runs along Tony’s bottom lip.
Steve’s cheeks are flushed when he pulls back.
“Uh,” Tony says when he’s got his breath back. “Happy birthday.”
“Happy birthday,” Steve says. Then he shakes his head, like, wait, no, that’s not it. “I mean, thanks.”
Natasha knocks the both of them on the back of their heads, but her mouth is doing that funny half-twitch that means she’s trying not to smile.
They all pile into their two cars and drive off to the next town.
“The very touch of you corrupts,” Sif says through gritted teeth, and Thor tries, again, to calm her down with a hand that Sif slaps away.
“When Steve first laid a hand on you in hell, he was lost,” Sif yells, her voice cracking, her fists clenched, shaking, at her sides, and Tony’s breath is stuck in his throat no matter how much he tries to force it down.
He thinks of Steve in that fucked up version of 2014, where he had stubble and a lazy, smeared grin and a mouth that pursed perfectly around a joint.
What the hell happened to you, he remembers.
Remembers Steve raising an eyebrow, looking him in the face with that bullshit smile that Tony knows from experience, knows from perfecting it in the mirror every day growing up.
Life, Steve had said, and Tony hadn’t even bothered to look further, because he had too much shit on his plate.
Life, Steve had said, and Tony had believed him, when Steve’s smile had been splitting at the edges, when he had really said you and Tony hadn’t heard it.
You happened, Tony happened, Tony realizes. This stupid, moronic human charge turned into something more, something with enough gravity to pull Steve off the celestial track and down into the human coil.
Steve steps forwards then, jaw clenched, and tells Sif to step down, and Tony remembers how infallible Steve isn’t, not anymore. Instead he’s sweet, clumsy, lethal Steve; Steve who kills demons with guns instead of an open palm and bakes with disastrous consequences and kisses Tony sometimes, once or twice a week. He smiles into it, most of the time, when they’re not covered in blood or running from something or just too damn tired.
And Tony still can’t get over this, can’t get over how he has the ability to do this to anyone, let alone an angel, let alone Steve.
Sif tells Steve that he’s fallen in every way possible, and Tony doesn’t miss how Steve’s gaze falls on him, just for a second.
Goddamn it. Goddamn it.
They’re getting closer to maybe, possibly, taking down the devil.
They’re past keeping their heads down; they charge through and forwards and most days Tony wakes up to gunshots.
Natasha dies choking on her own blood, and Clint doesn’t come out of the hotel room for three days, until Steve stumbles into the corridor with a particular pissed off redhead in his arms, who is swearing in Russian and swatting at Steve and yelling how he could be such a fucking lunatic, they have more important things to worry about than collateral damage.
Steve says weakly, “Yeah, well, it was either get you back or lose Clint, as well,” and Clint doesn’t even attack Natasha, just breathes oh thank fuck and hugs her, tight enough that it hurts.
They’re getting closer to taking him down. They are. They high-tail it the fuck out of there after the Colt backfires, they use fake names in hospitals and Tony hacks into some rich guy’s account, once, twice, too many times.
They’re up to having their own separate near-death experiences at least once a week, and it’s- it’s tiring. They’re all getting snappish, especially stuck in such close quarters, and more often than not a conversation nowadays ends with a screaming match.
Steve still kisses Tony, more and more often, and finally they start getting their own hotel room after everyone starts complaining about the noise. Nowadays, along with gunshots, Tony wakes up to Steve’s warm arm slung around his shoulders.
“Hey, uh, did I ever say thanks?”
“…I always do the dishes and no-one’s thanked me for four years, so no, you haven’t.”
“No, no, not that. I mean, uh. Have I ever thanked you for getting me out of hell?”
“I mean, it just seems like a dick move, since you saved me and I haven’t even said thank you-”
“It’s fine, Tony-”
“It’s not, and I’m sorry, and thanks. Thank you. Is what I’m saying.”
“I’d do it again.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know.”
Tony’s had a lot of dirt in his mouth, and this is just the same.
Just another handful of mud to spit out, just another clot of blood, and Steve’s screaming and Rhodey’s struggling a few feet away from him and he doesn’t even know where everyone else is anymore, except that he thinks he sees Pepper lying motionless next to Natasha, their red hair bleeding out over each other. He sees Bruce’s hand, shaking on the ground.
Tony thinks he says, no, and the devil mimics him, laughs in his face.
He hears Thor make a sound like a yell over too much blood, and then Clint do the same.
Stall, he remembers Steve telling him. Stall, just stall, we’ll take care of the rest.
So Tony does. He mouths off and gets a broken arm for his troubles. He spits blood in the devil’s face and doesn’t sob when his kneecaps are shattered.
And the devil’s laughing, Lucifer’s positively gleeful, and then suddenly he’s not, and there’s light. Light, streaming out of everywhere, and everyone’s blades suddenly still. Light, burning a trail through the sky, comforting and blazing and brilliant, always brilliant.
Hello, Tony thinks. Hello, hello, I remember you.
Lucifer starts to scream.
Tony wakes up to gunshots.
He wakes up to gunshots, and his phone going off. He wakes up to Pepper yelling at Rhodey to get the hell out of the shower. He wakes up to the safety being clicked off next to his ear, and the muzzle of a shotgun being shoved into the blunt of his spine.
He wakes up to Steve, always Steve. Steve kissing him and Steve refusing to get up and Steve nudging him on the shoulder with the frying pan. Steve’s fingers tracing long-forgotten languages into Tony’s bare back. Steve kissing lines along Tony’s scars, Steve fitting his hand over the handprint on Tony’s chest, Steve laughing in the mirror at his own new wrinkles.
Tony wakes up to Natasha yelling the alarm for demons, wakes up to Thor bellowing about who should get to have the last pancake, wakes up to Clint throwing dirty socks in his direction. He wakes up to the TV being turned on, to a car engine starting up, to the hotel manager knocking.
He wakes up to a door opening. He wakes up to a lock clicking. He wakes up to the curtains being drawn. He wakes up to the sound of seagulls, the phone ringing, the radio, Steve’s absentminded humming as he makes breakfast.
Tony wakes up and wakes up and wakes up.
Then one day, he doesn’t.
It doesn’t take Tony long to recognize this place, even though it had burned down over a decade ago- there’s still the same glass of water he had been drinking the last time he saw this room.
“Huh,” he says, smiling, and runs a finger over the rim of it, taps at it with a nail.
When he walks around the room, his reflection has less wrinkles than he remembers. His hair is less grey and more salt-and-pepper dashes of white among the brown.
The kitchen is just like he remembers, except for the people inside it.
Bruce, with his lopsided glasses, as always, smiles warmly at him from the stove where he’s probably cooking something too spicy for everyone. Natasha uses two fingers in a salute, her legs entangled with Clint’s, who is balancing a fork over his knuckles. Thor beams like he always used to.
Jarvis is there, drinking tea and smiling up at him, and Happy says, “Hey, boss,” with no blood in his mouth, or anywhere else. And Jane, bouncing her baby girl on her knee. Phil, with his torso blissfully intact. Darcy and Peter, bickering over who gets the first serving, shoving each other hard enough to rock their chairs but not enough to hurt.
They all look younger, so much younger, the kind of young Tony only saw in the old photos he keeps in the attic, the ones that are yellowing by now, that are curling around the edges. They all look younger, and happier, and so incredibly, unbelievably alive.
Rhodey nods at him from the table. “Hey, man. Took you long enough.”
“I got distracted,” Tony says, fighting a grin, trying to hold off on blinking so he can soak all of this in.
Pepper rolls her eyes at him, squeezing his shoulder as she passes, sliding into the seat next to Phil. “Can’t imagine what with.”
Her hair is longer, fanning out over her shoulders, and Tony’s smile turns watery as he looks at it, at the familiar hairclip pulling it back out of her eyes, and god, he’s missed them so much.
“Speaking of which,” Tony says, and his voice doesn’t crack, not even a little, no sir, “where is that bastard?”
From behind him, Steve says, “Gosh, thanks,” and then his hands are coming to wrap around his torso, his chin fitting snugly over Tony’s shoulder.
Tony shrugs, and Steve’s head lifts with it. “Oops.”
“Oops,” Steve says, teasing, and he’s younger, too, without any of the lines at his eyes that Tony had come to love in the evenings. “Worried I wouldn’t follow you here?”
Tony snorts, but it might come out as a sob. “’Course not. You promised.”
“Damn right,” Steve says, and kisses him three times along his jawline, soft and warm, before walking him forwards. “Now are we going to have a family dinner or not?”
Tony blinks, and it’s all still here. Everyone’s still here, and this is heaven, he’s finally made it, and more importantly, so did everyone else.
He laughs, just for the sake of it, and it’s light, and the kitchen is full to the brim with it, with light that tangles around everyone’s ankles, around their fingers, through their hair.
His family are around him, slinging over the chairs and whining at Bruce to hurry up with the food, and Steve’s arms are heavy and wonderful around his waist.
“Yeah,” Tony says. “Yeah, of course.”
He sits down in a kitchen in heaven, in a room full of people who he’s watched grow up and die and get buried, who have buried him, people who he’s loved, who he still loves, and who love him- and knows it was all worth it.