His alarm went off at 5 in the morning when the sun was only just beginning to lift itself up from over the horizon, and Steve slammed a hand down on it with a tired sigh, blinking heavily as he pulled himself into consciousness with a great amount of force.
Jesus, he really hated waking up early on Sundays. Sundays were supposed to be lie-in days, for Christ’s sake.
Sighing again, Steve lifted his head off the pillow and sat up a little, sliding his hand delicately away from Tony’s waist so as not to wake his husband, who hadn’t even stirred from the alarm and was still curled up contentedly amongst the sheets. Steve smiled briefly across at him, his fingers lingering along the juts of his ribs before he sat up properly and then, with a great amount of effort, swung his legs out of bed.
No rest for the wicked, it seemed.
Nick Fury personally had called him last night, saying they needed him first-thing this morning for a highly sensitive mission involving busting a group of AIM agents that SHIELD had been tipped off about, and were residing within the high ranks of SHIELD itself. Thankfully not at the level it had been with HYDRA a few years back, but still a serious problem involving a dangerous amount of moles that needed to be caught and apprehended as soon as possible. The jet that would take Steve into some unheard-of corner of Russia was due to arrive in less than an hour, and from there he was going to track down the base of operations and hopefully a list of names that they’d be able to use to catch the double-agents running around within SHIELD.
It shouldn’t take too long. A week, probably. But still. It was Sunday. And Sundays were his and Tony’s relaxing days.
He made a face as he grabbed his uniform that was lying neatly over the chair and then began to pull it on over his boxers. He’d packed his duffle the night before, so he didn’t have any particular rush, but he knew that if he stayed around for too long then he’d be convinced into running late by a sleepy and adorable husband who demanded breakfast and possibly sex. It had been almost six years by that point, and Steve still hadn’t quite worked out how to say no to Tony when he was half-asleep and shooting him the full power of his bambi eyes.
Of course, almost as if he could sense Steve thinking about him, he heard a stirring noise from behind him and turned, just in time to watch Tony’s eyes blink open blearily and look at him from the bed. “Steve?” He asked sleepily, “what’re you doin’ up? It’s Sunday.”
Steve smiled at him, pulling his arm through the hole and then walking forward in order to crouch by Tony’s side of the bed. “I know,” he said apologetically as he stroked his hand through Tony’s curls, “but SHIELD called last night, remember? I gotta go.”
Tony blinked a few more times, and then sighed in annoyance, falling back onto the pillow with a pout. “But Sundays are our days,” he mumbled sadly, “Sundays are morning-sex days.”
Steve laughed. “I’m sorry, love. I’ll make it up to you when I get back, I promise.” He leaned down and kissed Tony’s forehead soundly, before turning on his heel and walking into their bathroom in search of a toothbrush.
As he cleaned his teeth, he heard Tony sit up slowly and he turned his head, watching his husband through the open door of the bathroom as he just yawned adorably and rubbed a hand over his eyes.
Steve loved him more and more every day. Sleepy Tony was one of his favourite Tonys ever. “Jus’ go ‘ack t’bed, babe,” he called out through the thick toothpaste, and then when Tony just looked over at him with disgust, Steve quickly leaned down and spat before talking again. “You have a free day today. Get some sleep. You had a late night.”
Tony scowled, before standing and then stretching out his spine. “I’m good,” he said gruffly, “m’awake now anyway. No thanks to you.”
Steve just shook his head fondly and then got back to cleaning himself up, hearing Tony shuffle around blearily in the other room until eventually stumbling into the bathroom with Steve and resting his head on Steve’s shoulder whilst he styled his hair. Through the mirror, Steve could still see that Tony was half asleep, and he grinned, feeling the warm love as it curled around his heart.
Waking up with Tony was never going to get old.
He did his hair slowly and with only one arm, but eventually he had to move Tony once more. Turning smoothly, he directed the other man’s head into his chest and then curled his arms around a slim waist, thumbs flexing across the juts of Tony’s ribs. Tony harrumphed in an attempt at annoyance, but the tired kiss he placed against Steve’s heart didn’t really make it seem convincing.
“I’ll be back before you know it,” Steve murmured into his hair, “promise. And then we can have all the morning sex you’d like.”
Tony huffed again. “Don’t jinx it. All the villains like to attack in the morning, anyway. We never get to have our fun.”
Unfortunately, Tony was probably right, but Steve didn’t mention it. Just lifted Tony’s head and then kissed him quickly, before slipping out of the bathroom and grabbing his duffle. Tony remained in their room in order to get ready, whilst Steve hurried down into the kitchen and quickly made some breakfast. Bruce was already awake (or maybe he’d just never gone to sleep) and preparing his morning caffeine hit whilst Thor sat on the stool and leaned his head into Bruce’s stomach, eyes shut in comfort. Bruce stroked absently through Thor’s long hair whilst he made his coffee, and Steve just smiled at them both fondly. They were almost (but not quite, obviously) as ridiculously in love with one another as Steve and Tony were.
When Steve made his presence known a second later, Bruce turned to him and raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Hey, Steve. Didn’t know you had a mission.”
“Neither did I ‘til last night,” Steve said with a wry smile.
Bruce made an apologetic face, poking Thor in the shoulder so that he could move without accidentally sending the good tumbling off his stool. “Oh, ouch. Sunday, too? Sorry Steve, that’s rough.”
Steve just shrugged, heading over to the toaster and quickly preparing four slices, hurrying rapidly through his morning emails before scoffing down his breakfast as it popped out and then wiping his mouth of crumbs. He had about a minute left before the SHIELD car was supposed to arrive, and he knew from experience that they hated tardiness.
So, with a sigh, he hoisted his duffle onto his shoulder and then made his way back out to the elevator, his eyes peeled for the person he was looking for.
Of course, Tony was waiting there. It was their routine by this point- Tony always saw him off at the elevator, and Steve always handed over his dog tags before he left so that Tony could keep them safe while he was gone. He wasn’t even sure how it had started, but he knew Tony found comfort in it, and so Steve was happy to let him keep hold of the tags until he got back.
“Okay, I’m more awake now,” Tony told him as Steve walked over, “like… a good fifty-four percent conscious, I’d say.”
Steve’s mouth pulled up into a smile as he got nearer. “Oh, I’m so lucky. Usually it’s a miracle that you get above 5% at this time on a Sunday.”
“Yeah, well, gotta see my husband off, haven’t I?” Tony told him as he closed the gap between them, wrapping his hands around Steve’s waist and returning Steve’s smile with a long-found ease. “Would hate you to leave without saying goodbye.”
Tony’s hair was still in clumps around his head, and his (Steve’s) shirt hung off his shoulders loosely. As always, Tony was smiling, but the familiar little twitch of anxiety was present on his face. It always was, whenever Steve left for missions.
He didn’t say anything about it. By this point in their lives, both of them were woefully used to feeling the apprehension when they saw the other insert themselves into a dangerous situation. Instead, Steve just kissed him slowly and then slipped his tags around Tony’s neck in one smooth motion. “I’m coming back for these,” he promised, tapping them as they rested against Tony’s arc reactor.
When they broke away, Tony’s fingers came up subconsciously and stroked over the imprints on the metal. “Stay safe, Steve,” he said quietly, “make sure to beat up lots of bad guys.”
“I’ll do my very best,” he responded with one last kiss against Tony’s mouth, before stepping into the elevator with a wave of his hand. “Don’t blow up the lab whilst I’m gone!”
The last thing he saw before the doors closed was Tony shrugging cheekily, and then giving him a wink. “No promises, sugar.”
The briefing was, as usual, boring and far too long, and Steve had to tell himself to focus up multiple times throughout. It was possibly made worse by the fact that Nick and Maria had had to take an emergency trip to the UK in order to put out some fires with the secret service there, and so some other SHIELD lackey had been put in their place. He was called Alex, and he seemed okay; if a little long-winded with his mission breakdowns.
Thankfully, however, he’d managed to get onto the jet before midday, and he settled down with a Tolkien novel whilst the plane took off through the air, destined for Moscow. One of the worst parts of missions was the strict prohibition of all communications with the outside world. So that meant no texting with Tony or any of the Avengers. The missions- especially longer ones, tended to get incredibly dull toward the end, when all the bad guys had been apprehended and all that as left was to sit around and wait.
But needs must, he figured. Anyway, Tolkien wasn’t so bad. It’d been a while since Steve had read one of his works.
He whiled away the hours of the flight with his nose buried in books, until landing later on in the day and being met immediately by the usual men in black who escorted him to a car and then hurried him through the streets in their sleek chrome car. It was another hour or so before he arrived at the safe-house, tucked away in the outskirts of Moscow. Steve stared up at the nondescript building, duffle in hand, and sighed to himself.
He’d be watching TV with Tony right now, if he was home.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t at home. He was here, where there didn’t appear to be any hot water and had no TV channels in English at all. Steve threw the remote onto the bed in annoyance, before doing a circuit of the room and checking it for wires or anything suspicious. Safe-houses were only as safe as the person inside them, after all. You could never be too careful with that sort of thing.
Once the checks had been done and Steve was sure that there was nothing potentially life threatening lurking under the roof, he stood in the middle of the room and checked his watch. It was 4am, but timezones had fucked up his routine, and so he was still on American time and not at all tired. Mostly just bored, by that point.
This Sunday had sucked. He hated travelling. He really hated the cold. And he hated being away from home, from his team and his husband and all his duties back there. That’s why he only went on-call for SHIELD if there was something extremely pressing.
Which, he guessed, was what this was.
Still annoying, though.
He shook his head and then dumped his duffle onto the bed, before falling down next to it. The pillow felt like a damn rock- although, that being said, he’d probably just become too used to Tony’s memory foam, like-floating-on-a-cloud pillows that he had on every bed in his tower. Really, the Commandos would’ve laughed at him if they could’ve seen him now. He’d slept on literal boulders before.
It took another four hours before he finally felt himself begin to get sleepy. The sun was already up and shining, but in New York, it would have been the time that he and Tony got to bed. Steve could afford a few hours of rest before waking up and getting on with his mission.
He turned onto his side, looking over to the spot where Tony should be and sighing. “Night, sweetheart,” he murmured into the pillow, before shutting his eyes and drifting off.
A few days passed by in a blur of fighting, infiltrating and information gathering. By that point in his career, Steve knew this stuff like the back of his hand, and so it ultimately wasn’t too much of a hassle to get the job done. Although, to be quite honest, this sort of thing definitely seemed like more of a job for Natasha or Clint- y’know- the actual spies of the group.
But whatever. Steve figured they were probably busy with other assignments, so the job fell to him instead.
He hadn’t got particularly far over the past few days, but he’d found a lead whilst having a nice conversation with a friendly Russian mobster, and hopefully that was going to take him somewhere a little more useful. SHIELD were also supposed to be delivering an information package to his door over the next few days, which would give him some extra help too. Steve spent any spare time he had either doodling or trying to learn Russian through the children’s programmes that his shitty TV was showing.
That was up until the call on the third night, anyway.
It was 3am, and Steve was fucking sleeping, so hearing his phone vibrating loudly in his ear was definitely not a pleasant thing to wake up to. He blinked sleepily and then scowled, a hand moving blindly over to the nightstand and grabbing it with clumsy fingers. He was half-way to just mindlessly pressing mute, before something clicked in his semi-conscious brain and reminded him that this was a SHIELD phone. So the only call that he would be getting was going to be from SHIELD itself.
That… that probably meant it was important.
He was wide awake a second later, fully switched into soldier-mode as he sat bolt upright in bed and then slid the phone into his ear, automatically checking his exits as he did so. “Hello?” He said quietly, “do we have a problem?”
There was the shortest silence, and then a curt, “yes. Captain, your life is in imminent danger.”
For most people, that would probably be cause for concern. For Steve, he just sighed. People were trying to kill him at three in the morning? Really?
He jumped quickly out of bed, grabbing his uniform. “I’ve been made,” he stated through a sigh, internally cursing a blue streak.
“You have,” the man- Alex, the person who’d stepped in for Fury, Steve remembered- confirmed for him. “We’re not sure how and we have no idea who, but they’re coming right now, Cap, and something tells me this isn’t just going to be a few lackeys with a pistol. They’re serious about taking you out, Rogers.”
Steve pressed the loudspeaker and then threw his phone onto the nightstand, shuffling quickly into his uniform. “How far out is evac?” He asked, “or am I going to have to make it out on my own?”
This time, the silence was longer. Steve paused for a moment, frowning a little at the lack of any answer.
“We can’t afford for you to back out now, Captain,” Alex said eventually, “this is a mission of extreme importance. There are hundreds of agents’ lives in the balance, and we have a dozen vital missions that are currently being put on hold because we have no idea who to trust. You have to find that list.”
Steve raised his eyebrows. “But I’ve been made. They know I’m here, how am I supposed to-“
“You need to die,” Alex declared, and Steve’s mouth shut with a definitive clack.
Had he misheard that? “Excuse me?”
“Captain, we don’t have time to send in any other agents. You are the best man for this job, and the only way you will be able to continue is if they think that you are out of the picture. I’ve run through it with a team, and they’re on their way now. We’re going to stage a public death. It’ll get them off your back, allow you the freedom to search at will. No one’s going to hunt for a dead man.”
Steve froze, eyes widening. He’d been doing this gig for a long time, but he’d never pulled off a plan like that before. However, he was a trained soldier, and he adjusted quickly, taking a deep breath and then wiping the doubts from his mind as he grabbed his shield and hoisted it onto his back. “How are we going to do this?” He asked.
“Like I said- a team is on its way to a secure location which I’ll send to your phone imminently, and they will arrange everything that is needed in order to make this realistic. Once the plan is put into action, you need to go into complete blackout mode, do you understand? No communication with anyone at all. You will be given a fake identity and a facial distortion mask, and you do not reveal to anyone that this is happening. Barely anyone at SHIELD is even aware. This has to remain genuine until the last possible second, do you understand?”
Steve paused, the realization hitting him. He clenched the phone tighter. “You have to tell Tony,” he commanded, “Tony Stark, and the rest of the team. I can personally vouch that all of them are secure and will not let the information get out.”
“Captain Rogers, when I say that this needs to remain watertight, I mean-“
“I refuse to do this mission if you do not tell Tony and my team,” Steve said adamantly, thinking with a shudder about the thought of Tony not knowing about any of this. “They’re the goddamn Avengers. They won’t let this get out.”
There was a pause, and then an irritated sigh. “Fine,” Alex gritted, “we will inform them of the plan. You do not get in contact with any of them though Rogers, do you understand?”
Steve nodded once. “I understand,” he said firmly, before standing a little straighter and looking out through the misty window, into the ice-covered streets of Russia. “So… where am I going to be killed then?”
Back in New York, sat in Fury’s office, Alex put the phone down and then glanced over to his assistant, who was stood at the door with a questioning look on his face.
“Anything needing to be done, Sir?” He asked, “you sounded like you got a message that needs passing on?”
Alex paused, before shaking his head curtly. “No,” he said simply, “there are no messages. Get me a news crew and tip them off about something going down near Moscow. I want full coverage of this.”
Tony was brushing his teeth in the sink, flicking through his new messages on the display he’d pulled up on the mirror in front of him. It was a slightly cloudy morning, but Tony hadn’t noticed it much. He intended to spend the day in his workshop anyway.
There was a message from Peter, asking if he could borrow DUM-E for a school project, which Tony quickly replied to with a curt ‘never in a million years’. The kid responded with about twelve crying face emojis, to which Tony just rolled his eyes and changed his answer to a vague ‘maybe’. Then Pepper texted, telling him he had a meeting that he needed to be attending at 12, and she would be supremely angry if he missed it. When he checked his emails, he noticed the exact same message had been pasted there as well. Obviously this one was pretty important, then.
He’d have to send her a very big bouquet this afternoon, in an advance-apology for not showing up.
He pulled a face in the mirror and checked the state of his beard, wondering if he could be bothered to shave. It wasn’t terrible- yeah, maybe it had seen better days, but it wasn’t like Tony was going to be seeing anyone today. He was sure it was fine. Although he could probably do with trimming his mustache a little- there was already toothpaste in it, and that was just unhygienic.
“Sir,” JARVIS said, and Tony blinked and looked up enquiringly. The AI sounded strangely somber, which was rather uncharacteristic of him. “Sir, there is some breaking news about Captain America currently playing on CNN. Reports are coming in that he has been involved in a fatal explosion.”
Tony felt himself freeze up, watching his eyes widen in front of the mirror. He looked almost comical; toothpaste all around his mouth, eyes blown open- like some sort of cartoon character that was about to be involved in something very messy.
The words themselves didn’t really sink in. Tony just blinked, and then leaned forward to spit into the sink. When he did so, he felt the clink of Steve’s tags against his reactor. “Throw it up, J,” he waved a hand to the mirror and then stepped back, toothbrush still in his mouth as he watched the grainy mobile-phone footage that played in front of him, bordered by a Newsflash Red banner which broadcasted words that didn’t make any sense and quite obviously had to be wrong.
Tony watched the footage play on screen.
He looked at the remains of the exploded building- the sounds of screams and the sight of blurry medics as they wheeled someone out through a stretcher covered in a white sheet.
A second later, someone else came out carrying Steve’s shield.
Tony still had the toothbrush in his mouth. That seemed sort of funny. He must have looked funny.
“Steve Rogers-Stark, otherwise known as Captain America, has been declared dead in a serious warehouse explosion in Russia this morning at 11am. Preliminary reports say that the Captain was involved in a scuffle with enhanced individuals, resulting in a large explosion and four people, himself included, left dead at the scene. Witnesses say Captain America had been killed whilst attempting to go back in and rescue the trapped civilians.”
They were saying his husband was dead.
His husband wasn’t dead. Steve wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be dead, obviously, this was just some horrific nightmare. Tony was going to wake up any second now.
Any second now.
He was going to wake up, any second now.
Tony still had the toothbrush in his mouth. He should probably take that out now. His teeth were clean.
His knees buckled and landed hard on the bathroom tiles, and he heard Steve’s dog tags click against his chest again as he fell.
No, he wasn’t dead. This wasn’t real.
Stand up, Tony. This isn’t real. Stand up and laugh, because this isn’t real. This is a joke.
This had to be a joke.
Someone grabbed his shoulder and he blinked, looking at Natasha as she stared down at him, her eyes wide. Her hands were shaking. Why were they shaking? Natasha’s hands never shook, not even when she was five nights without sleep and seeing all her past mistakes when she closed her eyes. Why were they shaking?
Tony, Tony, Tony, his name sounded like a song on her tongue. He didn’t want to listen to her. She was saying things that didn’t make sense, hugging him and pulling him up into standing. There were more people in his bathroom- four or five, actually, which was weird. There shouldn’t be that many people in his bathroom. This was his and Steve’s bathroom and had been for six years.
Where was Steve? Why the fuck were they showing him on fucking CNN? He was on a top-secret fucking mission, no one was supposed to know, but this was on every fucking news station in the world. This was being broadcasted everywhere. They were going to put him in danger.
He turned to Clint and grabbed his shoulders. He didn’t know what to say. Was he supposed to be breathing? He hadn’t done that in a while. Just a quick one, in and out, get a bit of oxygen to his brain so he could make sense of this.
He didn’t want to make sense of this. Because then that would make it true. And it couldn’t be true.
He looked at Clint, mouth opening and shutting uselessly before he settled simply on, “Steve,” and then suddenly realised he was falling sideways, unable to hold himself up any more.
Unconsciousness was almost a relief.
Being dead was weird.
For starters, Steve kept seeing his face everywhere. More than ever before. It was international news- the SHIELD team had done a fabulously convincing job, and so the entire world had known about it in less than an hour.
The news showed a lot of people crying. Mourning him. Thousands upon thousands of people, memorials in the street, candlelit vigils- Steve watched it all through the SHIELD-issued phone that they’d sent him in the information package earlier that week. It was… it was really quite touching, actually. Steve could hardly believe that people cared that much. He also felt extremely guilty that he was putting all these people through that, only to come back miraculously in a few weeks. But he knew it was for the greater good, and he was sure that his… his admirers would simply be happy to have him back.
As it was currently, he mostly just spent his time as a dead man hunting down other people and making them into dead men. But proper dead men, Not fake dead men like Steve was. He was getting closer to his objective with each day, but it wasn’t an easy task, especially now he had the added difficulty of trying to do it all whilst evading any detection. True, he was currently called Derek Paulson and he wore an electronic facial mask which depicted him as the man on his fake ID, but it still felt like he needed to be even more careful than usual, just in case.
After all, it seemed the enemy knew everything that he was doing these days. Steve could never be too careful.
Being dead was also kind of boring, however. In order to avoid any possibility of detection, Steve had gone into his new identity with a completely blank slate- all his Tolkien books and sketchpads had been left behind with the SHIELD team, and now all he had was his own imagination and the SHIELD phone for entertainment, which wasn’t much.
He supposed it wasn’t so bad. He spent most of his time hunting down the main ringleaders that were moving all over the place, and it took up a lot of his time, so he didn’t have a lot of opportunity to be bored anyway.
On the fifth night, he was ambushed once again. Luckily, he’d been awake and training at the time, so he’d been ready for them as they’d come in and had sorted them all out with a brutal efficiency- but he’d still left with a bullet hole in his shoulder and no safehouse left to return to.
Steve walked out of the door in annoyance, duffel holding all his belongings and a hand over his injured shoulder, trying to stem the blood flow. He had no idea how they kept finding out all these things about him- obviously his fake death had done absolutely nothing to throw them off the scent- unless of course, there was a third party involved here that Steve had no idea about. Which was starting to seem a little more likely by the second, now he was thinking about it.
Scowling to himself, he walked through the freezing cold streets and tried to find a motel he could stay at. His shoulder was aching like a bitch, and there were a hundred different thoughts running through his head as to what the hell was going on here.
For now, though, he just needed to focus on the mission. Like Alex had said, this was of utmost importance- Steve was close, he just knew it. A little more probing, and he’d get to the main source of the action. He was certain of that.
Stick around in Russia for another week or so, and it’d all be fine.
Tony stared at his reflection in the mirror blankly.
It was a nice suit. Tailored, obviously. Dark blue, double-breasted and made to fit. He looked good. Natasha had done his hair and Bruce had done his beard and Thor had… well, Thor had just hugged him, but he said it counted as help.
Steve was dead.
He took a small, insignificant breath, and as his chest moved up and down, the tags clinked against his reactor. Every time he heard the sound, it was like a knife in the heart. That being said, every second since the day Steve had been- since Steve had…
It was all like a stab in the chest, basically. Every single waking moment.
With a small sniff, he straightened his tie and didn’t even bother to hide the way his fingers shook against his collar. There really wasn’t anyone he needed to hide for any more. He was going to go out onto a podium in front of hundreds of thousands of people and talk about his husband, and they were all going to see his naked grief. He supposed they deserved that. If there was any time at all for Tony Stark to show even a shred of humanity, it would be for his own husband’s memorial, right? They wouldn’t mind if his hands shook.
He looked down, pulling out the cards that he’d written last night. The ink was smudged from fingerprints and teardrops, and he knew they were pointless anyway. It wasn’t as if he was going to read off them.
Steve was dead.
He’d thrown up five times since he’d heard the news. Lost weight, too. He just wasn’t hungry any more. Food wouldn’t go down and stay there, no matter how hard Pepper begged with her red-rimmed eyes. He couldn’t do anything to help her. She was just another in the long list of many who he had let down. He sometimes managed to eat an energy bar, and water wasn’t so bad- but coffee and heavy foods were impossible. They hurt.
“Hey, Tony,” someone said, 139 degrees to his left, and he glanced at the mirror so he could see their reflection, noticing Rhodey stood in his military regalia, a tight look on his face. He smiled, and Tony knew it was empty. Everyone’s smiles were empty now- fake and simply to give him the illusion of okayness that was not and would never be present in Tony’s life again. “You ready, bud?” Rhodey asked, stepping forward approximately one meter so that his hand could pat Tony on the shoulder twice.
Tony just nodded, slipping the cards onto the desk, face down. He’d come back to them later, when he was alone. When he looked back up at Rhodey through the reflection of the mirror, Rhodey just sniffed and then shook his head, pulling Tony into a tight bear-hug. Tony returned the gesture, because that is what you had to do when you were hugged.
Steve was dead.
When Rhodey pulled away, his eyes were wet, but he smiled again. Tony, at least, appreciated this one. Because it didn’t try to be a happy smile. It was what it was; tainted with grief and misery. He sniffed again, and then rubbed Tony’s cheek with a soft thumb. “I’m with you, Tones,” he said softly, “I’m here and I got your back.”
Tony loved Rhodey a lot. Even when nothing else but poignant grief and despair filled every recess of his mind, he still knew that he loved Rhodey. That was a constant that he didn’t think would ever go away.
He smiled at Rhodey, shutting his eyes. “You said that on our wedding night,” he whispered.
Other people came into the room, then, all of them dressed in black aside from Thor, who was decked in his traditional Asgardian funeral-wear. He was looking at the floor and holding tight to Bruce’s hand, and Bruce himself was simply looking at Tony and nodding a little bit, his face too grey and too tired.
Tony looked around at them, and then smoothed out the folds of his jacket before stepping through the doors, heading out into Times Square where over a million people were gathered to pay their respects.
Because Steve was dead- Steve who made pancakes with smiley faces and tucked his hand into the back pocket of Tony’s jeans and had proposed to Tony in the middle of a battle for the world. He was gone. Tony’s husband was gone, and Tony’s life had just gone right with it.
A few days passed with Steve moving off the grid, after deciding to abandon his SHIELD phone and all equipment they’d given him back at the safehouse he’d been attacked in and acquiring new gear of his own instead. He didn’t want any of his SHIELD tech being hacked, and not for the first time, he wished that he was allowed to just take Tony’s equipment with him on missions. At least he knew how to program phones properly so that they wouldn’t be tapped, dammit.
His shoulder was healing up nicely, and although the stitching hadn’t been pleasant, at least it wasn’t as likely to get infected or made worse. Again, it was something he wished that his team were there for- Bruce was a pro at stitching up wounds, and although Steve wasn’t half bad, it was entirely different having to do them on yourself.
God, he hated solo missions. They were so boring. And painful.
He’d been moving from motel to motel to avoid detection, but during a small window of down-time whilst he’d been letting his hair dry from the cold shower he’d taken a few minutes previously, he switched on the news just to see how the rest of the world was doing. In fact, it was lucky that he did- he got to see Tony on the TV. And yeah, it definitely wasn’t the same as hearing his voice or being able to touch him, but Steve always felt comforted by the mere sight. Just so he knew Tony was definitely safe and okay whilst Steve was out on the other side of the world.
Turning the volume up with a fond grin, he watched as Tony walked slowly onto the stage that had been set up in the middle of Times Square. This looked like it was some sort of public memorial- the biggest one that Steve had seen yet. Just like it had done the previous dozen times, Steve felt something clench down in his heart at the thought of all these people, coming out to mourn for him. It was a strange feeling- he felt guilty for lying to the world, but also touched that the world seemed to care about him so damn much. There were- God, there had to be a million folk stood around Times Square, all of them in silence, waiting and paying their respects.
And right at the front, stood wearing Steve’s favourite deep blue suit, was Tony.
He looked terrible. His hair was styled and his beard neat and his suit bespoke, but his face told an entirely different story. It was grey and exhausted; purple bags lined his eyes and his complexion just seemed sunken and ill.
Steve never knew how Tony was able to make his makeup look that convincing. Granted, he’d only ever seen Tony apply makeup to make himself look healthier and prettier rather than the other way around, but he figured that it was the same concept.
Steve sat on the bad, a cheeky grin on his face as he watched his husband act for the audience. He really was phenomenal at what he did- in another world, he would’ve put all the other Hollywood stars to shame. As Steve watched him through the screen, it almost felt real. The irrational side of Steve wanted to console him, even when he knew that Tony was aware of the situation and simply putting on a show.
Still. It was never fun to watch Tony cry, whether it was fake or not.
They were silent tears, slipping quietly from his eyes as he looked down at the podium and swallowed, attempting to compose himself. The entire crowd was silent in front of him, just waiting for him to speak- Steve himself included in that.
Eventually, Tony shut his eyes and breathed in, the sound of the air making the loud speakers crackle with static. But then he looked up and smiled at everyone; the perfect image of a broken yet strong hero. There was absolutely no way, with Tony’s performance, that anyone could doubt Steve was dead.
“Thank you all for coming,” Tony said, his voice so different- so much more subdued and defeated than anything Steve had ever heard before, “it means a lot to us. Steve would have been… he would have been very touched.”
Another long silence. Tony’s face was a blank slate in front of the crowds, and his hands gripped to the podium so tight that Steve could see the whites of his knuckles. “I… I know that this must be a great loss for everyone. America has just lost its greatest hero. But… it’s more than that. We’ve lost more than Captain America. We’ve lost Steve Rogers. And that- that is what I… I want us to commemorate. More than any other mantle my husband ever held. The goodness in his heart, the- the unwavering faith and love that Steve gave to everyone… that was all him. No title would ever change or amplify that.”
Steve watched him as Tony looked back down to the floor, a long silence stretching between his words as he clenched his eyes shut once more. It was ridiculously convincing. Steve could feel himself desperate to just get on the next plane home and comfort his husband, despite the fact that he knew Tony was aware of everything going on, and was simply showing up for the cameras. Steve couldn’t help the irrational part of him that was almost afraid- worried that Tony was taking it too seriously and was going to genuinely upset himself just thinking about it. Steve knew that he himself could lose nights and nights of sleep to the prospect of Tony being hurt, or worse, killed. It was never a pleasant thing to think about.
When Tony next looked up, his face was no longer composed. It was scrunched up, mouth in a long thin line as he desperate attempted not to sob out loud. “I loved him more than anything else in the whole world,” he whispered, hands gripping the corner of the podium so hard they shook, “he was, without question… he was the best person I ever knew. I…” Tony had to look away again, off into the wings of the stadium, over at someone who Steve couldn’t see as he shook his head hysterically. “I can’t do this,” he whispered, voice hitching, almost unintelligible by that point, “Rhodey, Rhodey I can’t- I-“
Quick as lightning, Steve watched as Rhodey hurried from the wings and onto the stage, taking Tony gently by the arms and shielding him from the cameras as he hurried them both off-stage, supporting Tony as they went. Steve watched, mouth open, right up until Tony was gone and Natasha was walking up stiffly on-stage instead, taking his place smoothly.
There was definitely no way that anyone else would be able to know that that was staged. Steve could hardly believe it himself. Jheeze- Tony really pulled out all the stops there. He was a goddamn genius- Steve loved him so much it hurt.
With a small smile, Steve switched off the TV and then reached for his clothes, thinking about whether it would be safe enough just to send Tony a tiny message, just to say thanks and well-done on the show. He decided against it in the end, however- it would be too risky. He would just make his appreciation known when he got back in a few days.
Until then, however, he had an AIM facility that needed infiltrating and a top-secret list that needed to be found and exposed.
All in a day’s work, he figured.
Steve was antsy on the flight back.
It had been two weeks. Two weeks in Russia, fighting and hunting and fighting some more, but Steve had found what he’d been looking for in the end. He hadn’t informed SHIELD of that fact, however. It was too dangerous to communicate with them, especially now he had the list with him.
Instead, he took an economy flight back from Moscow, tried not to feel too uncomfortable in the tiny little seats, and thought about how nice it was going to be to get back home.
He was cold, and tired, and a lot of places of his body hurt. But it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a hot meal, a nice shower and some lazy TV-watching with a clingy Tony. God, he could hardly even wait.
He wondered how SHIELD were going to handle his apparent rebirth. He would probably have to release a statement or two about it, and publicly apologise for the cover-up. But at the end of the day, it was nothing that Steve couldn’t deal with. Tony was good at handling that sort of thing, anyway. He had lawyers for his lawyers and a PR team that could spin any story into a positive light. Steve was tremendously lucky to have that on his side.
God, he couldn’t wait to see Tony again. That was, without question, the best part of coming home. Maybe it was a bit pathetic, but fuck, Steve missed him like a lost limb when he was away for long periods of time. It was always tricky, especially when Tony had to fly out across the country for SI or Steve had to go on these kind of undercover operations that lasted up to a month, but the reunions were always so full of love. Not to mention the welcome-home sex.
Yeah. Steve had struck gold with that man.
It was a nine-hour flight from Moscow to New York, and from there Steve quickly hailed a cab down from JFK and directed it to the Avengers Tower. He really should have gone to SHIELD first, but he figured that the list was probably more secure within the Avengers Tower than it would be at the compound in SHIELD anyway, so Steve wasn’t running much of a risk. Also, he was hungry, and he knew that Thursdays were usually pizza nights, and Steve was an absolute sucker for Tony’s homemade pizza. It was worth the telling-off he’d get from Fury later.
Handing the driver his fare, Steve stepped out right outside the Avengers tower and smiled softly at the sight of home. God, it was good to be back.
He slipped in inconspicuously through the doors and then made his way into the elevator, pressing the button for the penthouse. “JARVIS,” he said, unclipping the device from behind his ear which removed the mask of Derek Paulson, “it’s me. Take me up will you?”
He got no response. Steve paused, and then frowned. “JARVIS?” He asked a little louder.
There was still no response. The elevator remained eerily silent, and that…
That was the first warning bell.
Tony never switched JARVIS off. Ever. And Steve knew without a doubt that that could be the only reason for the lack of answer. Even when the AI was going through maintenance, he could still communicate with people easily, and he was definitely installed into the private elevator.
So why in the goddamn hell had Tony shut him off?
Feeling his heart begin to beat just a fraction faster, Steve turned to the keypad on the other side and then pushed the numbers in which gave him access to the elevator manually. Luckily, that function was still working, and soon enough the elevator was rising smoothly with Steve inside, fiddling nervously with his collar. God, he hoped Tony hadn’t done something stupid whilst he’d been gone. This couldn’t have just been part of the act, could it? No. Tony wouldn’t make such a massive security risk simply for the sake of a show. And he cared about JARVIS far too much to just turn him off on a whim anyway.
Steve’s foot tapped against the chrome floor, and he breathed in quickly. It was probably nothing. He didn’t need to worry. Tony tended to get very… fidgety, when Steve was away, and he would often find a lot of things were not as they had been whenever Steve came back after long missions. This was going to be fine.
Three minutes later, he finally got the penthouse floor and the doors opened for him, and Steve knew within a split second that things were far from fine.
He stared at the open-plan space around him in horror. It was dark, no lights switched on, but… God, it was a ruin. There were shards of glass everywhere. Broken furniture. Holes in the walls and goddamn charring marks on the floor, and oh, God, oh God oh God oh God, Tony must have been in a fight while Steve had been away. If he hadn’t heard it on the news already, then it could well have only just happened.
His heart leaped straight into his throat as he bent down, frantically feeling the scorch marks on the floor for any traces of warmth there. But there was nothing. These ones, at the very least, were old.
He swallowed, looking up and then beginning to sneak through, into the large kitchen. Again, things were just… everywhere. Shattered mugs and cutlery all over the floor, and God, this wasn’t just a fight… there was rage in these actions. Utter fury. It looked like a bombsite, but there was no blood. No sign of a struggle.
Steve felt like he could hardly breathe. “Tony?” He called out suddenly, the word forcing itself out of his throat in a panic, “Tony!”
His sneaking became flat-out running as he felt complete terror curl through his insides, wrapping around his throat like a vice. He had no idea what in God’s name could possibly have happened here, but he was already completely beside himself with panic anyway. How had none of the rest of the team seen this? Or maybe they had caused it? Or maybe they were already out, searching for the person responsible. “TONY!”
His feet crunched sickeningly against glass as he sprinted through toward the living room, intending to head through the corridor and go into their bedroom. But he stopped jerkily in his tracks just as he rounded the corner into their living room, feet making an ear-piercing scraping sound as they shuddered to a halt. He stared straight ahead of him- looking at their huge TV, one of the only things that seemed to be still intact in the entire floor.
Again, it was all pitch-dark, except, of course, for the screen.
It was playing the videos from his and Tony’s wedding.
Steve watched blankly as the video of his younger self danced with Tony in the middle of the floor, both of them looking at one another with such beautifully adoring gazes that it automatically made something soften up in his heart. They were whispering to one another whilst they swayed, and although Bruce’s camera-skills hadn’t captured it, Steve remembered the words they’d said to one another, clear as day.
‘I’m spending forever with you, Tony Rogers-Stark,’ he’d said, just because saying their new last name made him absolutely giddy with happiness at the time. Still kind of did, to be he honest.
And he watched on the screen as Tony smiled and leaned up, whispering into his ear, “you bet your pretty ass you are, Steven Rogers-Stark.”
And then they’d laughed and Steve had dipped him easily, because he’d been taking lessons for months in preparation for their first dance, and so by the time it had come around he was a pro at all the moves. Steve just watched the tape run, eyes wide and something horribly ominous clenching down in his gut. He didn’t know why that was on his TV. Tony kept all their wedding footage in a special file that they only really opened when they were drunk during date night and wanted something to reminisce fondly about.
Then something moved on the couch, and Steve’s gaze focused in on it with wild intensity, ready to pounce and attack, ready to fight whatever it was that had done this.
The feeling passed quickly, replaced with a swift and brutal efficiency by pure, utter terror. Because he knew that head of curls anywhere. They belonged to Tony.
He’d crossed the room in an instant, leaping fully over the couch and then landing easily on the other side. He turned on his heel and got to his knees, eyes wide as he took his husband in. The man was curled into the corner of the couch, head lolling back into the pillows with his eyes closed, and for one universe-halting, world-destroying second, Steve thought Tony might be dead. But a second later Steve heard the faint sounds of a small breath being taken in, and his frantic hands paused in the air, stopping their urgency in order to settle more delicately against Tony’s neck, feeling his pulse.
It was fine. Fast, but still strong. He wasn’t injured or dying. Just… asleep.
Steve looked around him helplessly, wondering what in God’s name could’ve happened as he settled his other hand against Tony’s cheek and then said his name softly, nudging him awake. Tony’s body was curled in on itself like a scared child, and his hand was still clutching around Steve’s tags, even in his sleep.
What on Earth had gone so wrong since Steve had been gone? “Tony, Tony sweetheart, wake up for me, please, come on, wake up-“
He continued to pat Tony’s cheek gently until bleary chocolate eyes blinked up at him slowly, pulling themselves open with great effort. Steve saw how spaced-out he was, saw the dilated pupils and suddenly became acutely aware of the smell of alcohol that permeated the air, and his breath caught in his throat.
It had been years since Tony had ever gotten drunk like this before. He’d… he’d promised Steve he’d stop. These days, he only ever drank in social settings, and never at the rate that he’d used to. It had almost split them up, at the start of their relationship, when Tony’s self-destructive tendencies mixed with the nearest bottle of whiskey had resulted in a mild case of alcohol poisoning and a trip to the med-bay for a night. Tony had looked him in the eye and he’d promised he’d stop.
Whatever had happened, it was bad enough for Tony to break that vow.
“Sweetheart,” Steve choked in terror, thumb rubbing anxiously back and forth over Tony’s cheekbone, “Tony, sweetheart, what- what the hell happened? What’s gone wrong? Tell me, please, please Tony.”
He shuffled closer, cupped Tony’s face between his hands at looked at him with his wide eyes, but Tony just stared at him blankly. Steve shook him, breath coming in short. He was absolutely terrified. “Tony, please say something. Tell me what happened. Please.”
Tony just stared at him, something completely and utterly broken in his eyes. Then, slowly, a set of shaking fingers rose from Tony’s side, lifting up between their bodies and then settling, almost disbelievingly against Steve’s face, the tip of his index finger just brushing Steve’s bottom lip.
“Steve,” he said dumbly, his voice throaty and harsh, as if it had been worn out from shouting. “Steve… you’re here-“
“Yeah, yes, I’m here darling, I’m so sorry for leaving,” Steve bit his lip and nodded enthusiastically, leaning forward and pressing a soft kiss against Tony’s stubbled cheek, “Tony, are you hurt? Is one of the team hurt?”
Tony continued to stare at him- almost through him, like he wasn’t there at all. His fingers dropped though; trailed down from Steve’s mouth, over his chin and then down his throat, before stopping almost nervously against the pulse point on his neck. A second later, upon hearing the beating there, Tony audibly gasped, eyes blowing wide as he shot his gaze back up to Steve. His mouth opened and shut once, then twice, before his entire body just stuttered to a halt.
“Steve?” He whispered, voice so quiet it was hardly even a sound at all.
Steve just nodded. “It’s me, baby. It’s okay. Whatever happened… I’m here now. I’m here. I promise.”
Tony’s eyes were staring into his own so hard that it felt almost tangible. Then he shook his head. “You’re dead,” he declared numbly, eyes slipping away, back down to the chain around his neck where his fingers were clutching the tags so tightly that they were cutting off the blood.
Steve stared at him incredulously. “No I’m… Tony, look at me. I’m right here.”
“No, no, you’re not,” Tony shook his head miserably, and Steve spotted in horror as Tony began to cry, tears slipping down his face and dripping off his chin, “you died, you died on that stupid fucking mission in Russia and I wasn’t there. You’re not real.”
Steve gaped at him in incredulity. “Tony, that was a coverup. You… you know that was a coverup. Come on, don’t be… don’t say that.” He blinked rapidly, something terrible and heavy beginning to settle in his chest and then sink lower, pulling his heart and his lungs and his stomach down, down, down, until they hit the floor and then just kept going, plummeting further.
This had to be… this was a mistake.
Tony still wasn’t looking at him, and every tear that fell from his face had that weight inside him get ten times heavier. Steve whined in distress, pushing their foreheads together and pressing his warmth into his husband’s body desperately. “Tony, Tony I swear to you… come on, tell me you’re joking here. Tell me you’re just pulling me leg. They told you, Tony, SHIELD told you and the entire team about the situation, I had to throw them off my scent and they didn’t have time to send anyone else in, so they staged a death and it gave me the opportunity to operate under the radar.” He leaned into his jacket and pulled the USB stick from his jacket clumsily, waving it in Tony’s face. “Come on baby, you remember, right?”
Tony looked down at the USB, and then back up to Steve. Something small creased in his brow, and he swallowed slowly. “You…” it seemed that he couldn’t quite form the words, but he just kept looking between Steve and the USB, the look in his eyes getting slowly more frantic with each second. “SHIELD didn’t say anything. I- they just said you’d… Steve, they told me you’d been killed. You were dead. You-“
Steve choked in horror, pulling Tony into his arms hurriedly and guiding the other man’s head into his chest as he shook his head wildly, fingers carding soothingly through Tony’s unwashed hair. A billion things were zipping through his mind at lightning speed, trying to work out what the goddamn hell had happened here.
Of course, he came to the conclusion pretty fast.
SHIELD had lied. They’d told him that Tony would be informed before-hand, and he hadn’t been. All the things- everything that he’d watched his husband do on the TV screen whilst he’d been happily relaxing in Russia, it was all real.
Oh dear god. The memorial. Steve had thought Tony had been faking it, but it was real. Oh Jesus Christ, Steve wanted to be sick. He watched Tony fall apart like that and he’d been proud of Tony’s fucking acting skills.
He couldn’t believe this had happened.
“Oh no,” Steve whispered, feeling something hot and painful sting behind his eyes as he clutched Tony’s face in his hands and rocked them both gently, head repeatedly shaking in denial, “no, no no no no, no, oh my God, Tony, my darling, Tony… Tony I’m so so so sorry. I thought they’d told you. I swear. I swear I thought they’d… Oh my God, I can’t believe-“ he broke away, biting his lip so hard he tasted blood as he pressed his nose against Tony’s temple and breathed him in. Tony was shaking violently underneath him, his hands curled almost apprehensively against Steve’s waist like he expected him to just disappear any moment.
Steve kissed Tony’s cheeks delicately, wiped away the tear-tracks on his face and pressed his mouth against Tony’s eyelids, all the while shaking his head in complete disbelief and heartbreak. It had been two weeks. Tony had thought he’d been dead for nearly all of that time. Steve tried to imagine what that would’ve felt like, tried to imagine their situations reversed, but he found himself feeling even more nauseous just at the thought of it.
“Steve, tell me this is real,” Tony shuddered uncontrollably underneath him, fingers clutching at his shirt as if he was going somewhere, which was ridiculous, “tell me I’m not making this up. Please. Please tell m-“
“I’m here, I’m okay, I promise,” Steve said between the kisses he peppered over Tony’s face, “it wasn’t real. None of it was real. It was just a hoax that I thought- I thought you knew, I told them to make sure you knew, I can’t believe this happened.” He swallowed heavily, guilt feeling like a steel vice against his throat. God, what Tony must have gone through. Just look at the Penthouse, for starters.
The thought sparked a question in his mind, and Steve gently pulled away for a second, looking down and lifting Tony’s hands away from his waist and up into the air. When he saw the state they were in, he felt his lungs seize up completely. They were red and ruined, torn from shards of glass and crusted over with dried blood. It looked like a few knuckles might even have been broken. “Oh, sweetheart,” Steve whispered, horrified as he pressed feather-light kisses across the broken skin, “oh Tony, I’m so sorry, so so sorry-“
Tony just shook his head, and Steve got the feeling that he only half-believed this was even happening. He had a glazed over look in his eyes, and he kept his face buried in Steve’s shoulder so that he couldn’t look him in the eyes, as if that might somehow give everything away. “Not your fault,” he whispered, “mine. I should’ve… should’ve been there. With you. I could have- I wasn’t and you-“
“Tony, nothing happened,” Steve felt like a broken record saying the same thing over and over, but he needed to get it into Tony’s head that this was no trick, that he was real and present and not fucking leaving, “it was just a setup-“
“I’m drunk,” Tony talked over him, hysterical as his hands once more curled impossibly tight around Steve’s waist, completely oblivious to the obvious pain he must be in, “I’m not thinking straight, I’m going to wake up and you’re not going to be there and-“
“Tony, listen to me,” Steve said quietly, hands pulling Tony’s face away from his shoulder and then holding his jaw between his hands, pressing their foreheads together once more, “trust my judgement, even if you don’t trust your own. Please. I’m okay. SHIELD lied to you, and I am going to make them pay for that later. But for now, I’m staying right here, okay?”
Tony said nothing, still breathing quickly and shallowly as he almost subconsciously pushed his forehead closer against Steve’s, to the point where it almost hurt. In any other circumstance, Steve might have backed off for fear of causing Tony pain- but he figured, just this once, that maybe Tony needed that. To give him some proof.
Jesus Christ, Steve couldn’t stop thinking about the way Tony had looked during Steve’s memorial. The way he looked now- in the darkness of their floor amongst the ruins of what had been his home.
It seemed, after a second or so more, that Tony just gave up any urge to fight against it, because he sagged exhaustedly into Steve’s arms, curling in and burying his head once more into the crook of his neck. Steve pursed his lips and then closed his arms tightly around Tony, wrapping him up in his embrace and remaining there, softly whispering words of comfort into his husband’s hair and feeling the dampness of Tony’s crying fall against the bare skin of his neck. All he could do was hold him as his lover let out all the grief he must have been feeling over the past few weeks.
Steve stayed there for two more hours; long after Tony had cried himself to sleep in his arms. He felt like he was too sick to move, or do anything other than stay right there. But eventually, he knew that Tony would need to sleep in a proper bed and not just in Steve’s arms, so he gently lifted the other man up, conscious of the injuries all over his hands, and then smoothly directed them toward the direction of their bedroom, sparing one last glance over to the TV where their wedding videos continued to play on-screen. Tony had loved their wedding; said it was the best day of his life.
Now Steve worried if the videos were going to be tainted with the memory of what had happened here.
He lay Tony out across their bed, finding with a small flicker of relief that Tony at least hadn’t laid waste to their room, and then bent down to gently take off Tony’s clothes. Luckily they were loose and easy to pry off, and Steve threw them carelessly into the corner of the room as he tucked the covers over his husband’s (Thin, so thin, God, he’d lost so much weight in barely two weeks, it was terrifying) body and then crawled in after him, pulling Tony close and wrapping his arms around his waist.
Tony slept. Steve didn’t.
The next morning wasn’t much better.
Tony woke up, saw him, and immediately started crying again. Steve wasn’t sure whether it was from grief or from relief, because no matter how many times Steve asked him, Tony didn’t speak. He just buried himself in Steve’s space and breathed shakily, whilst his hands clutched at any skin Steve had available.
He brought them both to the shower, figuring that both of them needed one, and quickly undressed whilst Tony simply stood there and watched him. Not in the way that he usually did; his stare was vacant and glassy, again, almost as if he was looking right through Steve. It made his heart break into a billion little pieces just at the sight of him, so very different to the husband that he knew and loved. His Tony would have raised his eyebrows and asked Steve to give him a show. Would have told him he was gorgeous and then probably squeezed Steve’s ass to prove his point.
This Tony just watched, empty.
He was compliant as Steve guided him under the warm spray though, and Steve was grateful for that. Whilst continuing to whisper things that barely made sense at all, things that were just meaningless strings of words simply so Tony could hear his voice, Steve got to work washing the other man’s unruly curls. Massaging the shampoo that Tony always used into his hair, he pressed his fingers down soothingly across Tony’s scalp, knowing that he probably had an awful headache from the hangover at this point in the morning. It did seem to help; Tony leaned forward into his touch and let his eyes fall shut under the spray of water, head swaying as Steve applied the pressure.
Steve kissed his temple and then tipped his chin up gently, holding a hand over Tony’s eyes so the suds didn’t fall in when he washed them out. Tony complied, still wordless. Steve bit his lip and tried not to beg for Tony to say something, anything at all. The silence was driving him insane- he wanted to know what was going on in his lover’s head- did he even acknowledge what was happening? Was he simply going through the motions, stuck in the nightmare that no amount of persuasion from Steve could bring him out of?
He clamped down on the dark thoughts, taking a short breath and tilting Tony’s face up to kiss him softly before pulling them both out of the shower and wrapping Tony up in a towel, getting him warm and dry. Unable to help himself, Steve hugged him again, cradling Tony’s damp hair in his hand and just breathing him in. The feeling of nausea hadn’t left him since he’d come home- God only knew how Tony was feeling. Yeah, they were superheroes, and they were used to losses. But… this?
Steve knew that if he’d found out Tony had been killed, there wouldn’t have been a thing on heaven or Earth that would ever have made him able to move on from that. Tony was his soulmate in every sense of the world. God, Tony was his everything. Just the thought…
He shuddered, pulling them out wordlessly back into their bedroom. It wasn’t real. Tony was fine, Steve was fine- okay, so the situation was far from fine, but at least no one was actually hurt. Except for Tony’s poor hands, which had taken the brunt of his destructive rage. When Steve sat Tony down and then began to delicately bandage them up, he heard the other man hiss and whine softly. Steve could hardly stand it- hardly stand any goddamn part of it, he hated seeing Tony hurting more than anything else in the world, and this? This was a deep wound to try and fix.
But Steve worked on, soothing and gentle, kissing each section of skin he touched and bringing Tony’s wrists up against his mouth and just holding them there, only for a moment, so that Steve could feel the heartbeat there.
For a moment, Steve watched as Tony’s fingers curled across his jaw, the feather-light press giving the feeling of disbelief as Tony touched him. It even looked as if he might say something, and Steve smiled at him hopefully, but nothing came out, and a second later Tony just swallowed and dropped his hand.
It was only an hour later, when Steve had taken them into the kitchen and started to clean up some of the mess so that he could make Tony some toast for his breakfast that his husband finally, finally spoke. Just one word. But enough to clear the heavy feeling of hopelessness that had been quickly invading Steve’s mind.
He whipped around, quick as a bullet and spilling the coffee absolutely fucking everywhere. Tony was staring at him, at long last with something other than emptiness in his eyes as he looked up at Steve from across the coffee table.
Steve abandoned the coffee-stained mess and leaned over the counter, taking Tony’s hands into his own. “Hey, sweetheart,” he said softly, “I’m here. Do you want something?”
Tony paused and then swallowed heavily, blinking about six times in the span of a few seconds. When he looked back up, once more, his eyes were wet.
“This is actually happening, isn’t it,” he said, his voice throaty and hoarse, “this isn’t just a dream. You’re… you’re not dead.”
Steve shook his head. “No. No I am not.”
Tony nodded slowly, seemingly unable to process the information for a few seconds. But then he looked back up, into Steve’s eyes, and without warning he threw out a hand and wrapped it around the back of Steve’s neck, standing up so suddenly that the chair fell from underneath him. He kissed Steve like a dying man, frantic and urgent and almost terrified. Steve gave back as best he could, pulling Tony in by the waist as he crawled up onto the counter to get closer to him and then feeling the beautiful lines of his husband as they flexed and tensed underneath him.
“Steve,” Tony whispered his name and his name only, and they sounded like sobs, “Steve, Steve, Steve-“
“It’s okay sweetheart,” Steve mumbled back, “I’ve got you, I’ve got you, we’re alright.”
The urgent kiss died out as fast as it had come, Tony moving his head away from Steve’s and falling into his neck, arms clutching around Steve’s hips like a lifeline. Steve hugged him back, eyes shut tight against Tony’s face as he breathed him in. His husband was still whispering his name like a prayer into Steve’s throat, placing messy open-mouthed kisses to any available section of skin as if it were previous, and Steve didn’t blame him for it. Like he’d said- if the situations had been reversed, Steve didn’t think he’d have let go of Tony for weeks.
“I love you so so so much,” Steve told him, promising those words into Tony’s cheek as he kissed the fresh tear-tracks away, “you have no idea how sorry I am that I put you through this.”
Tony muttered something incoherent, before sitting up a little straighter and kissing Steve once again. “S’okay,” he murmured, “not your fault.”
Steve swallowed back the argument, instead choosing to pull Tony over to the couch in the living room and then sit down, letting Tony fall easily into his lap where he just curled, so very fragile and so very vulnerable. Steve looked down at him as his fingers brushed over new prominent ribs from Tony’s weight loss, he kissed him as his hands smoothed out the sharp jut of his hipbones. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, over and over like a broken record, completely unable to stop himself.
Tony just shook his head, every time, and then responded with the whisper of Steve’s name, pressed into a new part of his body. He watched as Tony mirrored Steve’s motions- tracing tentative hands over Steve’s body, finding the healing gunshot wound and frowning, tracing over the small scratches from when Steve had been trying to clean up earlier that morning.
They sat like that, embraced in one another, for a good few hours. Until Tony had started to make little jokes again, until Steve had stopped apologizing, until both of them were just slightly back to normal again. Steve wasn’t naïve- he knew that being a superhero was never going to be easy. But things like this? These were the things that stuck around in nightmares, and Steve fucking hated it.
But for now, it seemed as if the worst had passed. Tony’s hands didn’t shake and his smile was real- in fact, his smile was a permanent fixture on his face; almost euphoric in his newfound realization that his husband was alive and well.
“I’m going to make it up to you,” Steve promised quietly, “I’m going to make it up to you so hard you won’t be able to… to think about anything else apart from how made-up I’ve managed to make things.” He smiled at Tony’s watery laugh, rubbing a thumb across his cheek softly. “Let’s go to Paris,” he said suddenly, “let’s just… go. For a bit? Just me and you.”
“Steve, we’re gonna have to… there’s gonna be statements, and SHIELD will want-“
“Fuck the statements, and especially fuck SHIELD,” Steve said harshly, feeling the rage simmer back easily to the surface, “you’ve spent two weeks being completely heartbroken. You deserve a break, okay?”
Tony obviously heard the conviction in Steve’s tone, because he didn’t argue any further. “Okay,” he agreed, voice quiet. He still seemed so tired. Steve had to wonder how much sleep he must have gotten- if he hadn’t even been eating, then Steve highly doubted that anything above short naps had been achieved.
“I’ll let the team know,” Steve continued, “and we can call someone in to clean up the apartment, yeah? Maybe you can put JARVIS back online while we’re sorting everything out- you know he won’t have liked being shut off one bit. And by the time we get back, everything’s gonna be back to normal.” He paused, before biting his lip and looking down at his husband. “Before any of that, though, I need to have some words with some people at SHIELD. Is it okay if I head out? I’ll be an hour, tops, I promise. And I’ll text you.”
Tony looked apprehensive for a moment, but then he just sighed. “Well it’s not like I’m going to be able to just attach you to my arm forever, I guess,” he muttered, before raising a small eyebrow, “unless you’re into that. Then I’d totally be up for it.”
Steve smiled in relief. That sounded like the Tony Stark he knew. “At this point, I’m not even that against the idea,” he said, pressing another kiss against Tony’s mouth. “You sure it’s okay if I go?” He whispered, “it can always wait, I don’t mind-“
“Go, Steve,” Tony said with a roll of his eyes, waving a hand and then patting Steve’s chest, where it lingered on his heartbeat for a few seconds before dropping, “I’ll be okay.”
Steve frowned. He really, really didn’t want to leave. But at the same time, the thought of letting anyone at SHIELD get away with this for a single fucking second longer was making his skin crawl with fury. And Tony was a hero- he could adjust to these things quickly. Steve would come back, and then they could just… go, go somewhere, anywhere else. It would be okay.
Steve leaned down, capturing Tony’s mouth and pouring all the emotion he could into the kiss. Tony reciprocated with vigor, and Steve could still taste the lingering fear under his tongue, which probably wouldn’t go away any time soon.
His husband had been dead for two weeks. That tended to do things to a guy.
“I love you,” Steve told him, “I’ll be back soon.”
“Don’t murder them.”
“I’m not going to promise anything.”
Tony paused, before shrugging. “Honestly, I don’t even care. If they don’t have the decency to let me know that my husband hasn’t been brutally killed, I figure I don’t have the decency to try and stop you from brutally killing them. Karma.”
Steve grinned. “Love you,” he whispered.
“You’ve already said that.”
“Yeah, but I love you more now than I did back then.”
“It was… ten seconds ago, barely-“
“So?” Steve asked, kissing him once more before grabbing his SHIELD duffel from the sideboard and looking toward the elevator. “I’ll text you when I get there,” he said, “promise.”
Tony nodded once, before swallowing and looking down. “Don’t die while you’re away,” he said eventually, “because that’ll really fuck with me.”
Steve just smiled. “Cross my heart.”
He got stared at quite a lot as he stormed through SHIELD. Which was fair enough, to be honest. Everyone thought he was lying in some morgue in Russia.
He didn’t care whether they stared. Didn’t care about any of them. He had one goal in mind, and it had nothing to do with any of the agents in front of him.
Fury’s office was five minutes into the building, and Steve never slowed down his pace the entire time. Some agents tried to stop him, but Steve just growled at them, punched a hole through the nearest wall and told them that he was the real deal, and it seemed they were too scared to argue, because they just stood there in terror as he marched past them.
The duffel bag was heavy with his uniform and gear, but he hardly noticed as he slid it higher onto his back and then pushed open the door leading out into the next corridor. Nothing mattered except his goal.
Three minutes later, Fury’s door loomed ahead of him, and Steve felt the fresh wave of pure anger sweep over him, making him pick up his stride. Two seconds later and he was at the door, and he didn’t bother knocking as he threw it open so hard that it crashed into the adjacent wall.
He noticed immediately that Fury was not alone. He was actually in what appeared to be the middle of quite a heated argument with none other than his substitute- the one who had told Steve he would have to fake his own death in the first place. Alex.
Both their heads flew up to look at him as he stood at the threshold, and Steve saw two very different emotions play out on his face. Fear from Alex, and suspicion from Fury.
Steve didn’t bother letting the sentence finish. He strode across the room, eyes set on Alex, and he’d swung a punch to his face before anyone could even attempt to move. It hit him square on the nose, and he stumbled back violently, eyes wide in surprise.
He was unconscious before he even hit the floor.
Then Steve turned on Fury as he shook the drops of Alex’s blood of his fist, and then noted with mild surprise that the man had a gun pointed at him. It didn’t particularly faze Steve, however. He’d had a hell of a lot of guns pointed at him in his time- Fury could do what he damn wanted, but they both knew he wasn’t actually going to be able to fire the thing at him. Instead, Steve just pushed his duffel off his back, opened it up and then tossed the SHIELD uniform onto the desk violently. “I resign,” he said bluntly, “and I want a damn good explanation as to why my husband and my teammates thought I was dead when I gave specific instructions to let them know, or you’re going to be in exactly the same position as Alex over there on the floor-“
“Who are you,” Fury said coldly, cocking his gun, “and why are you wearing a dead man’s face?”
Steve, admittedly, was a little thrown by that. He looked up at Fury for a second, before asking incredulously. “Wait- are you telling me that You don’t know either?”
Fury just continued to stare at him, face cold and impassive as he glared at Steve over the barrel of his gun. He and Steve held their staring match for a few seconds; Steve’s mind working a mile a minute as he tried to make heads of tails of this absurd situation. Because really? The director of the entire organization had no idea this was going on? Bullshit. He had to be lying, trying to save his skin. Or maybe-
Then it clicked, and he turned back to Alex, cursing himself for being quite so fucking stupid.
God. The moles within SHIELD. The list that Steve had been obtaining, that was supposed to bring back to Alex.
Alex was a fucking double agent. He’d set the whole thing up.
Shaking his head and kicking himself for being such a fucking idiot, Steve threw the USB down onto Fury’s desk. “Those leaks within SHIELD? The double agents? Yeah, your little substitute over there was one of ‘em. Made everyone think I was fucking dead, undoubtedly so everyone would stop monitoring me and they could pick me off in peace. That’ll be how they knew my damn location all the time, shit.” Steve palmed a hand across his face in irritation. This entire mission had been a fucking disaster. “If you check the list, I’m sure his name will be on there,” he continued coldly, resisting the urge to pick Alex’s (if Alex was even his real name, which Steve doubted) body up off the ground and throw him through the window.
Fury just blinked at him, before lowering his gun. “So you’re not dead?” He asked in mild surprise.
“Shit. We told Tony-“
“I fucking know you did,” Steve growled, “because I went home and my husband of six years was catatonic with grief. I can’t believe you let this slip through your radar, Fury. He was in your position of power, under your god-damn employ. He could have ruined so many more things. You’re goddamn glad I know you better than I know him, or I would’a put you through a fuckin’ wall ‘round about now.” Steve pointed to the opposing wall and growled.
Fury just stared at him blankly, before picking up the USB and then opening his desk draw, removing a pair of cuffs from within. “Thank you for retrieving the list, Captain. And I’m sorry for the inconvenience. Alex will be dealt with accordingly, and we’ll be formerly apologizing to Tony and the rest of the Avengers-“
“No, you don’t go near him again,” Steve snarled, banging his fists on the table, “you fucking told him that I was dead and then left him to stew in it for two weeks and offered him nothing else, you sick piece of garbage. He doesn’t need any more of your fucking input, and if I see you trying to spin this to be anything other than your fault, I swear to absolute Christ I am going to rain hell down upon this organization.” Steve curled his fingers into fists and then felt as they dented the desk a little, but he let up before any real damage could be done, taking a few deep breaths. Fury was just staring at him impassively, but Steve could see the barest hints of sympathy in his eyes, which was saying a lot in Nick’s case.
“You’re going to need to release a statement before you go anywhere,” Fury told him eventually- but his face froze when Steve just laughed and shook his head.
“Oh no,” he said, “I’m going to Paris with Tony. You’re going to be sorting out statements.”
“Captain Rogers, you can’t just stroll through France when everyone thinks you’re dead, you’ll cause an international incident-“
“Oh believe me, Fury, if you don’t sort this bullshit out before I get back from my weekend in Paris, then I will definitely be causing an international fucking incident,” Steve told him simply, before turning on his heel and leaving his duffel behind him.
Fury huffed irritably, but he didn’t bother arguing any further as Steve strolled out of the office. He stopped, however, at the threshold of the door, turning back around on his heel and staring Fury directly in his single eye as the Director folded his arms and watched him on the other side of the room.
“I don’t care whether this was or was not your fault,” he said quietly, “I don’t care whether you wouldn’t have done this had you been in control.” He leaned forward, face carved with anger as he recalled the memory of coming home- something that should have been relieving and familiar- but had instead been filled with panic and worry and raging guilt at seeing Tony so very broken over a lie.
“If you ever, ever hurt my husband like that, emotionally or physically, again, I will rip through this place with my bare hands and find whoever is responsible for it, understood?”
Steve watched as Fury stared coldly at him, before nodding once. Good. At least he was aware, then. Steve smiled politely, letting his body relax a little as he stepped back, pointing to Alex’s unconscious body with an absent hand. “Make sure he gets out of my fucking face and I don’t see him again, or I’m gonna do more than punch the bastard.”
“That’s what the cuffs are for, Cap,” Fury told him, waving to the handcuffs that he’d pulled from his desk. Steve just nodded in acknowledgement, then walked out without another word. Fury didn’t attempt to stop him. Didn’t ask him to stay for briefing or give him any extra information. He probably knew how completely useless that would be- after all, when Steve Rogers made up his mind, there was barely anything on heaven or Earth that could possibly stop him in his tracks.
He pulled out his phone as he jogged back down the corridor, typing out a text to the top contact on his screen as he made his way quickly back out of SHIELD just as fast as he’d come. Back in twenty. Pack a bag, we’re heading out tomorrow, okay?
Is that because you’re now wanted for murder and we have to flee?
No. Only punched him.
Your punches can crush steel, Steve
Punched him lightly. Sort of. He’s unconscious, but fine.
Also he was the mole. The Alex guy. It was all a big set-up, I’ll explain later.
I’m not even sure I want to know.
Just come home soon, Steve, please.
I promise I will. Love you.
Yeah, yeah, you can run faster if you don’t text- hop to it, Soldier
Love you too.
Steve smiled to himself, pocketing the phone dutifully and speeding up his steps even further as raced to get home. Tony had informed him that the team had taken the jet out to Russia and were intending on hunting down the people responsible and also bringing Steve’s body back, but Tony had stayed behind, unable to bring himself to follow them and see something like that with his own eyes. Steve understood that- and for the most part, he was glad. Glad that Tony had been there when Steve had gone back, glad that he hadn’t believed such a horrible thing for a moment longer than necessary.
He wished that his team hadn’t gone though. They’d made a trip all for nothing, and Steve… Steve really wanted to see them. To apologise to them all for putting them through this fiasco. He knew the importance of his place within the team, knew how much this must have hurt all of them. Maybe there had been a time, long ago, when they’d just been colleagues and team-mates who shared a tower together. But somewhere along the line- maybe when Bruce had first kissed Thor or Tony had shyly asked Steve on their first date or Natasha had told all of them that they were her best friends- they’d become more than just team-mates. They’d become a family. They knew the importance of one another’s place in their lives, and they cared. They cared a damn lot.
He really, really fucking hated SHIELD, just then.
Coming home was relieving, but at the same time, seeing the remnants of Tony’s destruction upon their home was almost as heartbreaking as it had been the first time around. Steve stepped tentatively over the broken glass and burn-marks, swallowing down the sadness that welled up within him. It would be fixed up easily, and Steve knew it. They were used to their tower getting messy, and nothing of importance had been touched. None of their photos of memories.
But Steve could still imagine the scene- Tony, a bottle of whiskey in one fist as he punched through the wall with the other. It was a horrible thing to imagine, and it made his heart clench in on itself painfully.
But what was done was done. They could only move forward after this, and try and heal.
As Steve stepped through the corridor and into the kitchen, he spotted Tony scurrying around the countertops, brushing off all the stray pieces of rubble and broken shards with a dust-pan. He seemed a little manic; vibrating with energy as he moved sporadically around their kitchen. The place certainly seemed a little cleaner- Tony had tried to pick up all the cutlery and cooking equipment off the floor and place it back where it had been before, at the very least.
He was still too thin. Steve hated it. He was going to have to spoil Tony absolutely rotten when they went away- which was absolutely fine by him. He was great at that particular endeavour, actually.
“Hey,” he said lightly, and Tony jumped a little and turned, eyes going a fraction wider as he took Steve in.
“Oh,” he said, before bursting into a huge smile, “hi.”
Steve walked forward and pulled him into a tight hug without another word, and felt Tony return the gesture with the same amount of force. “You doing okay?” Steve asked him softly, speaking into the soft curls that still smelt strongly of the conditioner they’d used earlier that morning.
Tony nodded. “Better,” he said, not bothering to lie and say he was fine. Steve knew him too well for that. “Glad you’re home.”
“Me too,” Steve leaned back, taking Tony’s face between his hands and kissing him soundly, “do you have your bags ready?”
“Uhhh…” Tony paused, pulling a face, “I was sort of distracted.”
“With what, exactly?”
In response, Tony looked up at the ceiling, and a second later Steve heard a wonderfully familiar voice above them. “Hello, Captain Stark-Rogers. May I say what a pleasure it is to see both of you in one piece.”
Steve’s face brightened, and he looked back down to Tony in delight. “You turned him back on,” he said happily, as Tony just nodded and looked down, biting his lip.
“Should never have turned him off,” Tony said, “sorry JARVIS. You know I was just… not doing too great. Still love you, buddy.”
“I know, Sir. The sentiment is appreciated and returned.” JARVIS’ voice got a little quieter, softer as he continued, “I am glad you are safe, Sir.”
Tony just nodded, subdued as he leaned his head into Steve’s shoulder. Steve swallowed, looking upward. “I’m glad too,” he said, thanking his lucky stars that all Tony had done was trash their home as opposed to… God, opposed to something worse.
They stayed there, hugging tightly in their ruined kitchen as Steve ran his fingers through Tony’s hair and Tony kept his hand pressed over Steve’s heartbeat, double and triple and quadruple-checking that what was in front of him was real.
“Thor’s probably going to break your ribs when he hugs you,” Tony said eventually, forcing a laugh out of Steve.
“I’ll put on a Kevlar vest, maybe.”
“Yeah, that’ll probably be a good idea considering Natasha might shoot you for scaring her.”
“At least Bruce will be nice to me.”
“Don’t count on it. He was definitely two shades of green away from ‘cataclysmically enraged’ when he left the house earlier.”
Steve just smiled. He would take the yelling and the hugging and the potential bullet holes. That was just his family- fucking insane, probably dysfunctional, but undoubtedly his.
He leaned back again, fingers brushing across the chain that hung around Tony’s delicate neck before tucking a finger underneath it and lifting upward, pulling his tags up. He smiled, then tugged them over Tony’s head and dropped them back around his own neck, leaning down to place a soft kiss against Tony’s mouth.
“Told you I’d come back for them,” he murmured, although both of them knew that it wasn’t the tags that Steve gave half a shit about right now.
Tony just nodded. “And Captain America doesn’t break his promises,” he responded, picking up the tags and then pressing his lips against the metal.
Steve thought back; back to the day he'd seen on the videos Tony had been watching last night, the ones at their wedding. He remembered his vows- his promise to be there, to protect and cherish in whatever way he could. His oath to Tony; loyalty and love, till death did them part.
And Steve wasn't dying any time soon. He was going to make sure of that.
"No," he whispered the words against Tony's cheek, "no he does not."