The quinjet is quiet in the dead of night.
Nat went to sleep a little while ago, and Sam is listening to music huddled up in his bunk.
Steve watches the expanse of sky passing over them from the cockpit and thinks of the same thing he’s been thinking about for the last two years.
He’s been trying to stop.
The press conference he saw on YouTube, almost a year ago now, still feels like a knife through his heart.
Tony is getting married. When, exactly, Steve doesn’t know, but it’s gonna happen soon. It must be. It’s been months since the announcement.
He feels suddenly uncomfortable in his old suit. He shouldn’t be; the uniform is worn out, the leather has taken the form of his body after all these years of use. It remembers him.
He deserves that. Probably. Yeah.
He wishes they could just talk. Just once. That he could apologize for real, looking Tony in the face. It’s made things easier, in the past. Worse too, sometimes, but Steve wants to be hopeful, now, since no one can see him in the darkness. He wants to imagine it going well.
He imagines Tony’s serious face listening to his words. He imagines him nodding, brushing a hand over his mouth, immersed deep in thought. He imagines his resolute gaze at the end of Steve’s perfect little declaration of intent. He’d say, “Welcome home, Cap,” and maybe he would even hug him. Friendly, warm. Nice, like Tony is with so many people.
And that would be it. Maybe he would even get an invitation to the wedding. Steve would go.
He’d dress up for the occasion, maybe even shave. He’d get them a nice present. He’d kiss Pepper’s cheek and tell her she looks beautiful. He would squeeze her tiny, elegant hand, and envy every inch of her skin, but he wouldn’t let any of that show on his face. His smile would be sincere, open. She’d thank him for coming.
Then, he’d congratulate Tony, maybe even make a toast, afterwards, while they eat at some fancy place Pepper chose. He’d make a few jokes. Everyone would laugh. And he wouldn’t feel like he’s dead inside. He wouldn’t feel like his soul is rending at the seams.
He’d be happy for them. He would be really, truly, genuinely happy for them.
He touches his belt. He lets his hand land over the pouch where he keeps his phone. He takes it out, opens it. He scrolls down the few numbers listed and stops at Tony Stark.
He’s thought of calling him so many times. Of just getting his head out of his ass and calling him. He never has.
Because the simple truth is: Steve is a damn coward.
When it comes to Tony, Steve starts vibrating out of his own skin, and becomes someone he hardly knows, sometimes.
He clutches the phone in his hand, careful not to break it. He’s always careful not to break things. The only time he wasn’t, he got Tony lying on the hard cold floor of a HYDRA compound, the arc reactor powering his suit shattered beyond recognition, just like their friendship.
It suddenly feels stupid, this thing in his hand. This little heap of perfectly arranged bits of metal and plastic, this silly tiny object that is the only thing that separates him from Tony. It’s also the only thing that would allow him to reach Tony, and the sick irony of the situation isn’t lost on him.
God, wherever he is in his omnipotent silence, must be looking down on him and laughing his ass off.
The screen flashes in front of his eyes. It takes him entire seconds to realize that it’s an incoming call.
Tony Stark, the display says.
His heart stutters in his chest, and he sucks in a breath, so sharply it almost catches in his throat and makes him cough.
It can’t be. It’s impossible. What could have possibly happened for Tony to finally call him?
He scolds himself, shaking his head. He should answer the call before Tony gives up and hangs up. After all this time with no contact, he can’t have Tony think that he doesn’t want to talk to him, that he doesn’t care. He’ll always care.
He brings the phone to his ear.
“Tony?” he says, and his voice sounds foreign to him, nervous and hopeful, tense but excited. His hand trembles, and he presses the phone to his ear a little bit harder.
He hears noise on the other side. He can’t tell what’s going on. The line is disturbed, as though the phone isn’t working all that properly. There are ragged, shallow breaths.
“Tony, hey. Hi,” he says, and his voice, god, his voice. What’s happening to his voice, why does he sound like this.
Steve’s whole world hangs in those few seconds of silence.
He wants to say so many things.
How are you?
How have you been doing?
Talk to me.
Anything you need.
I’ll be there at once.
I miss you.
I love you.
“Cap?” says Bruce Banner’s voice from the other end of the phone.
For a moment, Steve thinks of the worst. Of the absolute worst thing, the one he could never live with.
“Is Tony okay,” he says, forgetting to make it sound like a question, because he needs to know, he needs to know right now, right the fuck now, that Tony is okay.
“He… he was until a few minutes ago, but now—”
Bruce tries to explain. Steve almost can’t hear him over the pounding in his ears, the tension rushing out of him.
He wipes the tear that escaped his self-control and is falling, traitorous, down his cheek. He closes his eyes for a few seconds and breathes.
“Okay. Tell me exactly what’s happening.”
On the dumb donut spaceship Tony realizes he’s lost the flip phone, and panic floods him.
It’s stupid, he tells himself a minute later. He wouldn’t be able to call Steve anyway from up here. He wouldn’t be able to call anyone. Even Pepper’s voice started breaking up and then disappeared as soon as they got far enough from Earth.
He’s in space, Tony realizes.
It’s a time of realizations, apparently. Of bad realizations. Very bad ones.
He’s in space.
He still wishes he had the phone with him. That he could open it, and stare at it, and marvel at how fucking old it is, and read Steve Rogers on the black and white display, and feel his heart rate go back to normal while he counts every single pixel it takes to spell out that name.
And then call him, this time. Even just to hear Steve’s voice again, one last time.
He regrets his hesitation, earlier, in Strange’s home. He wishes his finger had obeyed him.
He glances to the side and sees Peter, and a renewed sense of horror fills up his throat.
He looks so small. He’s a kid. He’s just a little kid. He goes to high school, for god’s sake. If something happens to him Tony’s never gonna—
He hopes Bruce can reach Steve, somehow. He hopes Pepper is okay, while she pretends to be planning their non-existent wedding, that started as a way to mislead the press about Spider-Man joining the Avengers and then got out of their hands when the stock market gained 8 points in one day. The things you do for your company.
He idly wonders for how much longer they can keep up the act. When are people going to realize that it’s been almost a year since the engagement?
They’ll have to make a new announcement. Tell everyone that the wedding’s off. It won’t be hard to make it believable. Tony’s Tony, after all; he’s always been.
Or maybe, Tony thinks while he looks at the endless vastness of space stretching in front of him, maybe they won’t have to make any announcement at all.