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A Promise Made, A Debt Unpaid

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Steve hovered above Stark Enterprises, unsure of what he wanted to do. He would have thought that knowing he had about fifteen hours to live would have made everything clear, all his decisions easy, but he'd spent the last seven of them bashing about not knowing where he was going next. He's made too many connections in the eight years since he'd woken from the ice, for good and ill, and now he had no feel for prioritising who to contact now and who to leave to his will. He should have done this weeks ago, after his first heart attack, but he hadn't been able to admit that he really was going to die, that after all his adventures, this really was the end.

Funny how easily he believed Black Crow's prophecy, though. Maybe he had really accepted it. And if he was going to die, there were some things he couldn't leave unsaid.

"I'm not getting any younger," he muttered, and settled on the roof. SE's security system recognised his armour and let him into the elevator, and the secretary on the intercom informed him that Mr. Stark was in his office, and would be able to see him. He gathered from her tone that she was shuffling a day's worth of appointments around him as she spoke, but couldn't bring himself to feel bad. Everyone else could see Tony tomorrow; Steve could not.

Tony was leaning back in his chair with his feet on his desk, and a cloth over his eyes. The blinds were closed and the lights low, casting the office in shadow, but even in the dark, he looked almost as tired as Steve felt. Steve remembered that Force Works and War Machine had just been involved in some huge fight in China, and Tony had only just gotten back.

"Can you give me ten, Mrs A.?" Tony asked plaintively.

Steve almost said he would come back later, but of course that was a lie. He had one chance, and that was all. All those years of war and friendship come down to a single visit.

"This won't take long," he said gently, making Tony scramble upright. "I just wanted to..." he hesitated, trying to work out what he'd said to Sam, to his team, but the words wouldn't come, "I just wanted to talk."

"Pardon?" Tony was still rubbing his eyes and blinking, "Oh, Steve. Yes, of course, as much time as you need. How's your armour doing? You haven't been in for adjustments lately."

"It's been working just fine, Shell-head," Steve said. "I don't think I could ever thank you enough for making it for me. The weeks it's given me..." he couldn't think of a way to finish. They'd largely been weeks he'd wasted, he knew. He hoped he'd done some good in South America, at least, and he was painfully glad not to have died in the dirt pleading to God to spare him. Even though Hank had eventually found him, Steve didn't think the haunted feeling of screaming for help yet knowing he was alone and unheard would ever quite leave him. He hadn't thought he was that much of a coward, but he'd never been that close to the end, either. It wasn't an easy thing to know about oneself, and he was determined to handle it more gracefully this time.

He realised that he'd fallen silent, and that Tony was watching him curiously, leaning forward on his desk so that he could peer at Steve in the dimly-lit office. "Steve," he asked, drawing the word out, "what's going on?"

"I..." Words failed Steve, and he felt a sudden wave of irritation at himself. Coward, he thought again. Stalling for time, he settled in the chair across from Tony. When he took his helmet off, he had to wave off Tony's alarmed look. "I can do without the life support for a few minutes," he said.

"It's not good for you," Tony replied mulishly. "You're not getting enough oxygen on your own."

A wave of fondness overwhelmed Steve, and he had to swallow before he could say, "No one's fought for me like you have, Tony. You've been trying to find knew ways to keep me alive for weeks, and I'm grateful. It means more than I can say, knowing I have you in my corner. But you can't stop death, and I wanted to see your face without this blasted visor in the way." He didn't have to say that it was for the last time; Tony paled and reached across the desk to take Steve's gauntlet between his hands.

"We'll figure something out," he promised. "I swear Steve, I won't–"

"Tony," Steve said, voice as gentle as it had been when he first came in and found Tony sprawled in exhaustion. "This is the end. I've had a good run, and I've made my legacy. It's time to say my goodbyes."

"I won't believe that," Tony insisted fiercely. He was holding onto Steve so tightly that his knuckles had turned white, yet Steve didn't feel a thing.

More than anything else in the world, Steve wanted to take him in his arms and kiss away his troubles. He'd wanted that for years, but it had never seemed like the right time. Now it was too late, and he regretted all the chances they could have had. "Tony," he said again. "Let me do this. I don't have long now, and I don't want to waste my last few hours fighting you." Already his breath was getting short, and he could feel his heart racing. He's have to put the helmet back on soon. This was his last chance. "I need to tell you how much you've meant to me, how grateful I am for everything you've done. You pulled me out of the ice, and gave me a home and a reason to live, and even if we haven't always seen eye to eye, when I've needed you, you've been there."

"Cap," Tony said, but just shook his head. He was blinking hard, and Steve wished he could make this easier on him, while at the same time feeling perversely glad that Tony cared enough to weep for him. Tony cleared his throat, and started again, "Cap, it was my singular honour. But I won't accept that–"

Maybe it was just the lack of oxygen making him giddy, or years of wanting, or just wanting Tony to shut up and accept what was going to happen, or maybe he just wanted to. Whatever the cause, Steve stood, pushing the chair back, leaned across the desk, and kissed Tony on the mouth.

Tony's lips parted in surprise and Steve got too much moustache, then their teeth knocked together, but their lips met properly after that, with Tony tipping his head and sucking at Steve's lip, both his hands still clutching Steve's gauntlet. Steve felt his heart fill with love and wished that it could last forever, that he could bury his bare hands in Tony hair, and strip his cloths off and lie with him right there on the desk. Only the time for that had passed. Steve had missed his chance, and now he couldn't breath, and had to pull away and slump back into his seat.

"Wow," Tony said, still leaning half across the table. He licked his lips. "What was that?"

Steve shook his head. He knew he needed to put his helmet back on before he passed out on Tony's carpet, but he couldn't stand seeing the steel face mask between them. "Call it a dying man's last wish," he said weakly.

"Okay," Tony said. His face clouded, and he pushed away to lean back in his chair. "You kissing everyone goodbye?"

"Just you, Tony," Steve said, and now he had to put his helmet back on. The rush of oxygen made him feel momentarily better, but he could still feel his body winding down, and hear the pounding of his heart as it struggled to keep up with what his body asked of it. Every move felt like a struggle against thickening cement. Black Crow was right: he didn't have long now. He was so tired. "I know you probably don't feel the same, and I'm sorry to leave you with that, but I didn't want to die not having had the guts to tell you that I loved you."

"That's a hell of a thing," Tony said, voice strained. Was he angry now? Christ, Steve hadn't thought that Tony was... well, he's always seemed so liberal-minded. Still, even if Tony hated him, he was selfish enough to be glad to die with one fewer thing shadowing his heart.

"I'm sorry," he said again. "I'll... I guess I'll go now. I want to see if the old team was around, before I... Before." He got to his feet, slow even with the exoskeleton doing most of the work. "Goodbye, Tony, and thank you. I mean it."

He turned to go, but Tony was out from behind the desk and standing in front of him before he took a step, arms folded, and still looking furious.

"Steve," he snapped, "you can't do this. How can you just roll over and give up?"

Steve couldn't think what to say except, "It's my time, Tony."

"How can you say that? How can you kiss me and then just go off to die?" He put a hand on the shoulder, to steady himself, and Steve rocked back a step. "At least let me try modify the suit again. I'm sure I can augment the life support and–"

As carefully as he could, Steve cupped Tony's face with his armoured hand. "I'll come by tomorrow, all right? I need to rest now." When Tony started to say something else, Steve shook his head and stepped around him. He couldn't force Tony to make his farewells if he didn't want to, and it would be selfish to try. He didn't look back as he left, and didn't answer Tony's hails as he flew to the Avengers mansion.

A few hours later, as he lay down to rest in his old room, the room Tony had provided for him when he'd first woken from the ice all those years ago, Steve wished that Tony had given him better answer. However, that was just one regret of many; Steve had left so many things left undone, unresolved, unsettled.

He thought, with an unexpected burst of clarity as the room faded out around him: Let my epitaph read, "He didn't do enough."