Tony comes to with a gasp. Someone’s hand is immediately at his shoulder, holding him down; he struggles against it, blindly, not sure what’s going on but sure that being restrained can’t be a good thing.
“Calm down,” a voice says, and Tony relaxes almost before he identifies the speaker.
Everything’s fine, then. Tony settles.
Someone’s poking at him, checking his vitals, he assumes, but he can’t focus on it. He can’t focus on anything much; his thoughts seem sluggish. Steve’s hand never leaves his shoulder, though, and Tony thinks about it, how strong and warm Steve is, how Steve means home and safety, how it would be nice if he touched Tony more often, if he actually touched him, touched him the way Tony wants him to, not just a friendly hug now and then . . .
Tony thinks of Steve, because Steve keeps him strong and Steve keeps him fighting, and he can’t find a reason to think of anyone else right now.
He feels a prickle in his arm and tries to raise his hand on instinct, and then Steve’s holding him down again.
“It’s okay, Tony,” he says, full of reassurance.
Tony can’t answer, forced back into sedated sleep.
The next time he wakes up, he doesn’t move a single muscle.
He remembers Steve, supporting him for once, not fighting a war against him. He remembers how happy he was at that. He remembers Carol fighting him instead, and the heartbreak that brought.
He remembers Carol punching him, and the injuries, and the way his body went into a coma.
He remembers more.
He remembers Steve talking to him.
He loved you. He loved you, and he admired you.
The words were everything Tony’s ever wanted to hear, but he can’t be happy at that.
Tony remembers everything.
This is not Steve. It hasn’t been Steve for months, and Tony has never noticed. Some friend he is. Of course it’s not the real Steve, the real Steve would never have sided with him in this war, the real Steve knows too well Tony only destroys everything he touches. And Tony doesn’t know where the real Steve is, if the Skrulls are keeping him captive or if it’s his Steve here, only mind controlled, but Tony will find out, he will save Steve Rogers, whatever it takes, because he can’t do anything else.
He wants to know in what shape his body is. Was it really just a sedative he was injected with? Even that is bad enough, and Tony should’ve noticed immediately something was wrong: Steve knows Tony hates drugs. But that was the first time he had awoken from his coma, and he couldn’t think, couldn’t act.
He can think now. He can plan.
But he can’t move a muscle to check if his body still even listens to him, because that will let everyone else know he’s awake, and Tony doesn’t know if he’s still at SHIELD, where he has allies and Steve’s playing a role, or if he’s in a Hydra cell.
The sound of a door opening. Steps. A chair being pulled closer.
Tony doesn’t even twitch.
“I know you’re awake, Tony,” Steve, not-Steve, says. “We’re monitoring you very closely.”
Tony doesn’t react. Steve doesn’t seem as if he’s even trying to pretend to be the real Steve. This is not what Tony’s Steve would say, not even close, which means they’re probably somewhere this fake Steve has allies.
“I’m not an idiot,” Steve says, and his tone is off now, almost threatening. It doesn’t fit with how Tony remembers Steve ever speaking to him.
(Or maybe it does, he remembers, pushing the memories of the first superhero civil war down, turning away from the memories of the incursions and the lies and betrayals . . . Yes, he knows what Steve sounds like when he hates Tony.
Except . . . that’s not quite what he sounds like now either.)
“The world is ours,” Steve says. “You already lost, Tony.”
Tony looks at him then. “You’re lying.”
“Why would I do that?” Steve asks him patiently. “You’re a genius; you’d figure it out. No, I’m honest.”
“You’d never win,” Tony says. “The Avengers, the X-Men, every civilian would fight you—”
“If they knew?” Steve finishes for him with a smile. “But everyone trusted me, Tony. You said it yourself. You were going to follow me, whatever I’d say. Your heroes woke up too late . . . And I’m not the villain here. People know it.”
Tony laughs, hysterically so; he can’t stop. “No, I mean, how could a Hydra agent be a villain, right—”
“You were weak. You couldn’t protect people. You—”
Tony stops laughing as suddenly as he started, turning dead serious again, and most of all, angry. “Spare me,” he snaps.
Steve shakes his head. “Let me show you something.”
He gets up, gestures at Tony to follow him. Tony raises his eyebrows, but untangles himself from all the medical wires. He sways on his feet, but he refuses to accept Steve’s hand outstretched in help.
Steve doesn’t cuff him, but it’s not like Tony can put up any fight right now. He goes after Steve, noting that he seems to have been in the medical wing of an expensive building. Steve leads him through a few pairs of doors until they end up in a spacious room with ceiling-high windows.
Tony looks out and immediately feels sick.
There are Hydra symbols everywhere. Sentinels roaming the sky with the Hydra symbol on their chestplates. Green-clad troops, down in the streets.
“It’s easy,” Steve mocks. “Two words.”
Tony’s shaking his head, but Steve continues talking.
“Hail Hydra,” Steve says.
Hearing him say those words is like a physical punch to the gut.
Tony spits in his face. “Never.”
Steve punches him.
The next time Tony wakes up, he’s in a cell.
Tony tries to fight him, the first time.
It’s pointless, he knows it’s pointless, but he can’t stop himself. He’s no match for Steve in hand-to-hand without his armour. Steve catches the punch easily, and then pulls Tony close, wrapping his arms around Tony’s body, immobilising him.
“He loved you so much,” Steve whispers into Tony’s ear. “He always wanted this.”
He didn’t, Tony wants to scream, he didn’t, Steve, the real Steve, he’d never—he’d never touch Tony if Tony didn’t want him to; and Tony would never not want him to.
He kisses Tony and laughs when Tony bites him.
“As if you never wanted him, too,” Steve mocks.
Tony shakes his head, because he wanted Steve, not—not this, but Steve pays him no head. He throws Tony down on his bed like Tony’s struggles mean nothing.
Tony’s thoughts are a litany of nonono.
They stop when Steve finally pushes into him, hard and brutal, and Tony’s own scream drowns out everything else.
He keeps struggling the second time, and the third, and the next, and then he loses count, but he notices that Steve’s acting nicer when Tony doesn’t try to fight him, almost gentle, and it’s just easier to give in, listen to him, avoid the pain.
Tony’s always known how weak he is.
Traitor, he thinks, as Steve pushes him to his knees, fight him, bite him, maybe he’ll kill you and it’ll be for the best—but he doesn’t, he opens his mouth willingly and sucks Steve and blinks back tears. Steve makes an appreciative sound, and Tony trembles. This isn’t how he wanted to get to know Steve’s body at all.
It’s worse than a nightmare, because it’s everything he’s ever dreamt of changed into a mockery and a violation.
Steve’s hand in his hair can’t be mistaken for a caress.
Steve makes Tony eat dinner with him, sometimes. The only drink is always water, cold and fresh. Tony gulps it down, grateful; hating that he’s grateful; unsure why Steve’s doing this. It would be so easy to make him drink, on top of everything else.
He gets a knife to cut his meat, these days, but he never tries to steal it. Steve would notice, and Tony’s hurting pretty much everywhere. He can’t fight his way out of this, he can only think it out, except he’s broken and out of ideas and scared of what Steve would do in retaliation. He has shown Tony the ruins of Vegas.
He makes guesses, based on what Steve tells him and what seems real and what seems a lie (they all died, Tony, you don’t have to fight me anymore, join me at the top of the world); he discards them all the next day, he starts again; he thinks that the other heroes haven’t lost yet, but Tony has.
He should be stronger than that.
Steve smiles at him over the table and Tony shivers.
“Are you cold?” Steve asks, raising his eyebrow.
Tony shakes his head, but it doesn’t stop Steve from crossing the room to him and putting his jacket over Tony’s shoulders. It’s green and gold, his new ceremonial clothes, and it makes Tony’s skin crawl.
Steve doesn’t move away again.
“I need you to find something for me,” Steve says, looking into Tony’s eyes intently.
Tony wants to laugh at him, wants to make a scathing reply, wants to punch that smile off his face, and he remembers Steve’s fingers digging into his hips and can’t do anything but shake his head again, a minute movement.
Annoyance flickers over Steve’s face. It lasts less than a second, but it’s enough to let Tony know that the question was genuine. There is something Steve needs.
An Infinity Gem, Tony wonders, or a piece of information on the resistance? He’s got no way of knowing.
“He never wanted to hurt you,” Steve says. “You betrayed him so horribly, and he still loved you.”
That’s his favourite lie to tell. It doesn’t get any less effective. Tony makes his hands into fists, tight until it hurts, and he shakes his head.
Steve’s rough with him that night. Tony thinks he could deal with the humiliation and the pain and the fear—but it’s the fact that it’s someone looking just like Steve that’s unbearable.
It’s Tony’s home; gone in a way it’s never been before.
“Strip,” Steve says, and Tony does.
“Kneel,” Steve says, and Tony does.
“Beg,” Steve says, and Tony does.
“Touch me,” Steve says, and Tony does.
“Kiss me,” Steve says, and Tony does.
“Hail Hydra,” Steve says, and Tony laughs at him.
Steve doesn’t need to tell him to scream.
The Avengers save the world, as Tony knew they would.
Rescuing Tony is incidental, there; a part of him wishes they failed at it, another hates that he’s allowed himself to become so weak as to need rescuing in the first place.
But mostly, he hates that he’s unable to smile as he sees the real Steve come back.
Tony doesn’t take off the suit for a week after he puts it on again.
It keeps him safe, a layer of metal protecting him from the world, hiding his own body from his eyes when the bruises heal and the memories stubbornly don’t fade.
He doesn’t sleep, save for a few hours when he all but passes out from exhaustion and wakes up screaming. He goes to the Avengers meetings and listens to plans about going forward and doesn’t open his faceplate. He plans to rebuild his company, again, he plans to rebuild Vegas, he plans to help people; he puts his workshop into lockdown with a time lock not even he can override because he fears he’ll go to the nearest off-licence otherwise.
Mostly, he doesn’t think of Steve.
(He can’t stop thinking of Steve.)
Tony goes down in a fight with one of the remaining Hydra cells. He’s sleep-deprived, his reflexes are too slow, it’s his own damn fault (what isn’t), and he doesn’t dodge an energy ray in time.
He doesn’t remember falling.
He wakes up in hospital, sees Steve in the chair near him, and panics.
An alarm goes off somewhere, but Tony can’t pay it any attention because he needs to get away and he’s connected to too many wires and devices and he blindly pulls at them all, scrambling to run. There’s a sudden pain in his arm and he sees blood and then Steve pushes him down by his shoulders.
“Calm down, Tony, it’s—”
Tony stops moving. He goes completely still under Steve’s hands.
Steve backs off Tony in horror, his face white as a sheet, and then the nurses are running into the room.
“I’m sorry,” Steve says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think, you were pulling out your—” and then Tony can’t hear him anymore.
The text is simple. Can I come by? it asks, the letters sharp in the high resolution the newest Starkphone offers, and Tony grips it in his hand until his knuckles go white.
The phone doesn’t break. Being designed to withstand superhuman strength is one of its selling points.
Tony’s not half as resilient.
The phone pings again.
Look, just forget it
And Tony wants to laugh or cry because he’d love to do that, he really would.
(He had made himself forget, once; he could do it again. He had made Steve forget, once, too; he thinks Strange wouldn’t refuse him the favour if he asked.)
Sure, he types back at last, because he’s not a coward and it’s Steve and Tony can’t tell him no.
Tony’s in his general lab, the one in which he never works on his armours and more important projects, tinkering with a half-disassembled Starkpad. He wanted to be as far away from the living floors as possible, and he initially waited in his main workshop and then thought of Steve coming there, the most secure place Tony has, his last defence, and he just couldn’t.
He hopes Steve won’t pick up on that.
Tony told him to use his codes to get in. This way, Tony can safely stay on the other side of the lab the whole time. He’s planned it like a fucking military operation. Talk to Steve, show him you’re all right, don’t risk getting close to him.
Steve didn’t hurt Tony. Steve didn’t—Steve didn’t do anything to Tony. Steve was—is, he is his friend.
A friend that Tony betrayed, a friend whose personality was changed by a Cosmic Cube and Tony never noticed until it was too late; a friend whose face Tony now can’t look at.
Steve knocks on the glass door. Tony looks up, forces himself to wave him in, so Steve finally inputs his code and walks in, two coffee cups from Tony’s favourite place in his hands.
“Hi,” he says.
Tony’s trying to breathe. “Hi,” he answers.
It’s fine. It’s fine.
“I brought you coffee,” Steve says, and Tony thinks, nonono.
Steve holds one cup out to him. Tony feels like it’s not his body moving, slowly crossing the lab and trying to smile and—
Steve frowns, but he already put Tony’s cup down and pushes it in Tony’s direction, not making him take the final steps.
This doesn’t make any sense. Steve’s never made it easy for Tony yet; if something is offered, Tony has to take it and thank him and thank him or Steve will take his gratification himself—
“Tony,” Steve says, his voice soft and worried and honest.
He immediately realises he’s in his lab, not Steve’s apartments at the highest level of Hydra HQ, and that Steve is gone; it’s the real Steve in front of Tony now.
Tony hates that he has to think like this now, the real Steve. More than that, he’s furious at himself, that he can’t get over it, embarrassed Steve had to see it—and not for the first time.
But he doesn’t seem surprised, not now, and not in the hospital earlier.
A horrible thought occurs to Tony.
“How much do you remember?” he blurts out.
He can’t make himself look at Steve and watch his expression to see if he’s lying, but it doesn’t matter. Steve’s silence speaks volumes on its own.
“What do you want?” Tony asks. Why is Steve here, if he knows? Does he hate Tony that much?
“I—” Steve hesitates. “I wanted to say I’m sorry. For what I—he did. That he, that he hurt you, that he—”
“It wasn’t you,” Tony snaps before Steve can finish that sentence. He doesn’t want to hear it. “What do you want me to say? That I should’ve noticed? I know that. I’m sorry. I know you won’t forgive me.” He’s breathing fast and he can’t quite see straight anymore and everything’s so very wrong. “It wasn’t you, so I don’t know what you’re apologising for, but it’s not your fault, and—and it wasn’t you, okay, it wasn’t, I know that, but he looked like you and I’m sorry that was enough to fool me and—”
“Tony,” Steve says. It sounds like a command.
Tony shuts up. He’s trembling. He hopes it’s not visible.
“Look at me,” Steve says, and Tony does.
He forces himself to look at Steve, not even blink, and Steve’s in a pair of jeans and a blue t-shirt with his white star on, and it’s the real Steve and Tony still can’t blink because what if he looks away and it’s all been a lie and it’s that Steve, ready to hit him and push him down?
“God, Tony, I’m going about it all wrong.” Steve runs his hands down his face. “Look. Just. Just sit—no, I’m sorry, god. Just do what you want to do.”
Want to do?
That’s a funny question, Tony thinks, but he moves a few steps away and looks down. He keeps Steve in his field of vision, just in case, but he stops looking at him. He can’t do it any other way. He’s pathetic.
“I’m sorry,” Steve says again. “I’m sorry for coming here. I shouldn’t have.”
“I told you to come,” Tony whispers.
“And I was an idiot to even ask in the first place,” Steve says. “But seeing you rip out your IV in the hospital—I thought I could—talk, help, I don’t know, Tony.” He gulps down some of his own coffee, his eyes darting around the lab.
Tony can’t move. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “I should’ve known it was you.”
Steve shakes his head. “I should’ve stayed away. I just . . .”
“He looked exactly like you,” Tony hears himself say. “I knew it wasn’t you, when I woke up, but he looked like you and I believed that’s why he wouldn’t hurt me.”
Why is he telling Steve that?
“I’m sorry,” Steve repeats.
“He told me you loved me,” Tony continues. Maybe he just wants it all to hurt. Maybe if it hurts enough, it’ll finally end.
Steve hisses. Tony looks at him, just for a second, long enough to notice the problem: he crushed the paper cup in his hand, spilling the hot coffee over his fingers.
It’s the real Steve, Tony tells himself. The good Steve. He won’t harm you.
He’s shaking but he picks up a clean cloth and he runs it under the cold water from the tap in the wall, and then he walks towards Steve.
It’s the Steve he knows.
Each step is making it harder to breathe.
“Tony,” Steve says. “I’m fine, you don’t have to—”
Tony puts the cloth over Steve’s hand. Sure, they don’t make the takeaway coffee as hot these days anymore, but it must still be painful.
He manages to wipe the worst of it off Steve’s fingers and he moves away, walks back to the sink as fast as he can. He thinks he’s crying by the time he reaches it.
“He was right,” Steve says quietly. “I did love you.”
Even now, a part of Tony just breaks at the past tense used. Of course Steve doesn’t want him anymore, used and dirty and broken.
“That’s what I’m sorry about the most,” Steve says. “That I never told you. That I never thought—that you might feel the same. But maybe you didn’t. I don’t know. But I should’ve told you in time. So that that . . . monster couldn’t have hurt you because of me.”
I always loved you, Tony thinks and he can’t say it, even just thinking it makes him feel sick.
He’s still crying. He’s pathetic. He thought—it would be good to touch this Steve, show him it’s fine, show himself it’s fine, it’s over, they can move forward.
But all he can think of now is Steve’s hands, Steve’s strong, long-fingered hands of an artist and a warrior pushing him down, cutting off his air, bruising his hips, holding him as Steve fucked him.
And his Steve knows. And came here anyway. Why? Why is he so cruel?
Tony could ask. He could open his mouth and make the right sounds, he’s pretty sure.
But it won’t change anything. He’s weak, useless, he can’t even fucking look at Steve; he’ll never kiss him the way he used to dream of, he’ll never get his home again because home was always Steve, he’ll never get his best friend again. He can’t even imagine being on the same team.
There’s no fixing this, not even for Tony, the best engineer in the world, certainly not for Steve, with all his good intentions. Tony can’t and it’s his fault and he can’t change it, he’s given up, and he just wants to breathe, he wants to be alone again and not think of all the ways Steve could hurt him right here in this lab, bend him over a table or push against the hard concrete wall or—
“Get out,” Tony asks, his voice breaking. Steve closes his eyes briefly, nods, and leaves.
They’re done, finished, before they could even begin.