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Hollowed Out

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Before he kisses Tony for the first time, Steve feels hollow.

Like maybe he can’t breathe or maybe he forgets how his lungs function. But it doesn’t matter because Tony’s lips are warm on his and Steve can feel the soft prickle of Tony’s groomed facial hair and Steve is lost in this bliss, lost in this moment of utter perfection, and he can’t help but grin as they break apart moments later, each man breathing heavier than before because that kiss was something, wasn’t it? and they’re both smiling like idiots and they just can’t help but stare at each other. Clint walks in on them, whistles low and then leaves before Tony can kill him, and yet, Steve Rogers is so very, very filled to the brim with happiness that his face aches all day because he can’t stop smiling.

Before Tony tells him he loves him for the first time, Steve feels unsure.

He doesn’t want to pressure Tony, because he knows how Tony gets when he’s backed into a corner, he’s seen it before: aggressive, angry, lashing out. Everything special about you came out of a bottle! Tony is staring at him, watching his every movement, deciphering Steve, and Steve’s not entirely sure if he should be worried at the look his boyfriend is giving him and then Tony says it.

“I love you.” His voice is quiet, tentative, and between the low timbre of Tony’s voice and the buzz of the lab machinery around him, Steve isn’t sure he hears him right.

“What?” He asks, more than a little embarrassed that he has to ask again because what if Tony takes it back, what if he heard wrong, what if Tony doesn’t mean it—?

“I. Love. You.”

Steve can’t help but lean in for a kiss, and he doesn’t care that it’s four in the morning or that Tony’s hands are stained with grease or that they’ve only been dating for three months, he just wants more, and in that moment, Steve is very, very certain that he loves Tony back.

Before they make love for the first time, Steve is worried.

What if he does something wrong? He doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he’s not even sure that Tony knows, so they just sit there for a while, the dark city night illuminating the room with tiny pinpricks of light from signs and windows, and Steve is sure that Tony can hear his heart beating out of his chest. He can’t quite see Tony’s face in the dark, in the half-silhouette, but he tries.

He squints.

Maybe if he stares long enough, he can read Tony’s mind. But instead, Tony’s eyes are full of love, of understanding, and Steve feels relief wash over him when Tony’s hand clasps his, the warmth of his palm pressing into his fingers.

“Do you trust me?”

“With my life.” And that is a certain fact, because Steve trusts Tony with his life over and over again.

Steve feels safe here, and he is not worried anymore.

Before they gear up again for the first time since New York, Steve feels sick to his stomach.

“Be careful, Tony. Please,” he says through the comm, and Tony’s voice crackles a bit when he answers him, and his voice sounds a little tinny coming from inside the suit.

“Always am, Cap.”

He says it with such certainty that Steve should be reassured.

He isn’t.

So when Steve is cradling Tony’s head in his lap, the chest plate of his suit crushed, begging Tony to hold on, please, I love you too and the arc reactor in Tony’s chest flickers once, twice, three times and then goes out, Steve can’t quite believe it.

You told me you would be careful!

After Tony dies, Steve feels hollow again.