They met again in the same place they always have: the midst of impending doom.
“This all feels vaguely familiar” is the first thing he hears out of Tony Stark in one year and six months as they watch the Mothership appear out of the sky. The Kree had first been spotted a little over 48 hours ago, but Tony had known about them for a week, a tip off from some group called the Guardians of the Galaxy. Steve didn’t know them, hadn’t met them, only seen the Milano flying high in the sky as it was even now. He’d sent Natasha to collect Steve and his Secret Avengers, but by the time the whole team was assembled together once more, the first wave was on their doorstep.
Now here they were, side-by-side, Iron Man and Captain America, the shield newly restored to Steve’s hands. They always ended up here. Only this time, it didn’t feel like a beginning to Steve.
It felt like an end.
“Hopefully we’ll have the same luck this alien invasion,” Tony added after a long pause. Over the comms, Rhodey gave a strained groan.
“Promise me, Tones. This time, no jumping into space portals. Have pity on an old War Machine.”
“You know what they say about promises, sugarplum.” And the line fell silent. Somewhere Rhodey was camped out with Carol Danvers and Stephen Strange, while Natasha led another strike squad with Wanda, Vision and Bucky at her back. Clint and Thor were with T’Challa, while Spider-Man was stationed with the Hulk and Sam. Scott and Hope stood with Steve and Tony, but the two were several dozen feet away, staring up at the sky while their hands gripped each other tight.
Steve could see Hope’s knuckles turning white from where he stood. He looked away.
There was a familiar hiss, and Steve looked over to see the faceplate retracting to reveal a tired, battered looking Tony Stark, staring straight back at him.
“What do they say about promises, Steve?” he said, head tilted and brow furrowed, something bright and hurt and confused in his eyes.
“Huh?” was Steve’s inelegant reply.
Tony turned; away from the sky, the ship, the thousands of soldiers that the UN and ATCU had amassed to help the fight, the jets in the sky flanking the Milano and the trembling breaths that sometimes echoed through the comms - all of it, to look at Steve. Steve remembered when that was all he ever wanted. It was still all he wanted, and nothing of what he deserved.
“Promises. What do they say about them?” Tony repeated flatly. “You must know.”
Steve flinched, mind scrambling. He had never broken any promises to Tony, he was sure of it, but he had broken so much more.
“Whoa,” Tony said from somewhere above him; Steve hadn’t even realized he had dropped his eyes. “That’s - that’s not what I mean. Sorry, ‘vaguely accusatory’ is my standard mode of communication nowadays. Bureaucrats, you know?” And there was the barest idea of a smile at the corner of his mouth now. “I mean, you, specifically you, must know what they say. What you say. Because you kept your promise. Came when I needed you.” Tony dropped his gaze a little. “Even when I never called.”
Steve opened his mouth, then closed it, realizing he didn’t even have the air in his lungs to form a response. Was this…forgiveness? Acceptance? He didn’t understand what Tony was saying; he never had and that had always irritated him. Why couldn’t Tony just ever-
Tony’s eyes moved to his face: his lips, then his nose, side to side to his cheeks, then carefully meeting his eyes through the lattice of his eyelashes. They were just so dark, and guarded and - hopeful?
“Phone works both ways,” Steve managed, his voice painfully hoarse, and Tony’s expression froze for a moment before that idea of a smile grew into a glimmer.
“I should hope so,” Steve tried for nonchalance, rocking back on his heels, allowing his own hint of smile. “I should - I hope a lot of things do, Tony.”
Tony eyes went this way and that before they came once again to meet Steve’s. He nodded. “Yeah. I mean. They do.” He reached out, so painfully careful, nothing like he, they, used to be, and rested his hand on Steve’s shoulder. “You still haven’t said.”
“Hm?” Steve brought his hand up to grip the suit’s forearm.
“What do they say?”
Steve barked out a short, surprised laugh, then considered it. “You know, I don’t know? But it might be another one of those things that works both ways.” Tony looked up at him, surprised, and Steve smiled ruefully. “I knew. If I needed you. You’d be there. Even if I was too stubborn to ever admit it.”
Tony nodded, hand clenching down tighter for a moment before releasing. “So if I promised to be here when this is finished…”
“Then I’m bound to do the same, Shellhead,” Steve said firmly. “And if I…if I promised to say it - to actually say the words -”
“I’ll say them first,” Tony cut him off, and before Steve can react, he slipped his hand off Steve’s shoulder to see Steve’s wrist, bringing the knuckles to his lips to drop a kiss before stepping away and letting the faceplate drop. “Can’t let you hog all the glory,” the robotic voice teased, and Steve rolled his eyes. Together they turned towards the sky. Over the comm, a German general called for the first strike.
“Holding you to that, Stark,” Captain America warned. Kree fighters began to swarm out of the Motherships, dropping deathpods that would release shock troops onto the ground.
Scott and Hope separated, while Hulk’s transformation audibly transmitted over the line. Beside the Captain there was a whine of repulsors and hydraulics as Iron Man rose into the air. “Call it, Cap.”
Steve was trapped in the press of medical personnel, scientists digging through Kree bodies and ships, and ATCU agents. He’d lost contact with most everybody the second day of fighting. Only a few had checked back in. The sound of Natasha’s voice when she’d told him that Clint never would…
He’d sent Iron Man off to protect the Milano when it had taken too much damage and began to fail. The Guardians were all superior fighters; no way were they losing them all to a crash. The last he’d heard, Tony had gotten them safely to the ground before they were set upon by an alien squadron. No one had heard any differently. Rhodes had gone off to search. That was two days ago.
“You promised,” Steve whispered. It was lost in the crush around him. They had won. Saved the world. Miracle of miracles, he’d even managed to somehow keep Bucky this time around. But it wasn’t enough. It had to go both way. That’s what they did. If he had learned anything it was this: he couldn’t do this without Tony.
There was that distinctive whine and Steve’s head snapped up, but all he saw was War Machine, hovering over the crowd and drifting like he was clearing a path-
Tony. In front of him. Just there, pieces of red and gold still hanging off of him, held up by some nameless field agent, surrounded by people, but all Steve could see. Tony. Tony. “Tony!”
“Steve!” Tony’s eyes fully focused and suddenly he was pushing the agent away, hobbling towards Steve on a leg that was Jesus, Tony clearly broken. Steve surged forward, meeting him at the moment he lost his balance, holding him up, holding him close.
“Oh God,” he breathed.
“Hey, huggy bear, none of that. Didn’t I promise?” was Tony’s return, somehow still smug even though he was trembling. Tony raised his head, determination creeping through the pain. “I promised you.”
“Tony, you -”
“Uh-uh. No glory hogging. I’m sorry, Steve. I messed up. I was…stubborn. Scared.” Steve felt a weight he didn’t even know he had lift off his shoulders. He had assumed that he had never blamed Tony for any part during that mess with the Accords, but hearing that Tony was sorry, that Tony knew, had not been sitting in his tall tower laughing at Steve and his idiotic, simplistic, out-dated morals all this time-
“I’m sorry, too,” Steve said. “For - for everything. For not telling you. For not listening. I’ll do better.”
“Another promise?” Tony asked, tipping his forehead to Steve’s chin. Steve ducked a little so he could press his lips there. Tony chuckled. “Then me, too.”
“I missed you.”
“I - yeah.” Tony pulled back, looked up, pressed closer. “This isn’t the end, you know. Quill said. First wave.”
“I know.” Steve gazed down at Tony, amazed he was here, that they were here. There was blood on the pavement beneath them, buildings on fire around them, and a Mad Titan only lightyears away, but for a moment it was just him and Tony. Steve leaned down to press his lips against Tony’s. Just a touch, a moment. A promise. “Whatever’s left, we’ll do it together.”
Tony repeats the movement. “Together.” It went both ways.