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No Exits in Foreign Land

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VLADIMIR: You must be happy too, deep down, if you only knew it.

ESTRAGON: Happy about what?

VLADIMIR: To be back with me again.

ESTRAGON: Would you say so?

VLADIMIR: Say you are, even if it's not true.

ESTRAGON: What am I to say?

VLADIMIR: Say, I am happy.

ESTRAGON: I am happy.

VLADIMIR: So am I.

ESTRAGON: So am I.

VLADIMIR: We are happy.

ESTRAGON: We are happy. What do we do now, now that we are happy?

VLADIMIR: Wait for Godot.

*

The world was on fire after the snap.

But really, Steve thought that the world was doused in violence and decay long before a Mad Titan unveiled humanity for what it was. Hell, he fought Nazis and the Red Skull nearly a century ago. Yet, he woke up from ice, very much alive and disappointed that not much had changed. In fact, it was worse, as if the world ran amok with greed for money so much so that world leaders were willing to sacrifice human life in order to conquer the next plot of land and secure oil.

As Captain America, he really tried to believe in the order, but even dressing up in a monkey suit looking like a flag wasn’t enough. Tony was right. For the man who refused the Accords but wore the colors of the U.S., Steve didn’t understand that he’d be cuffed to do the deeds of imperial governance. Captain America in the 40’s did that. In a way. He wasn’t gonna argue with those who wanted his head after Germany and Siberia. At least, not anymore.

Years on the run taught him something: politicians shouldn’t be left in charge to deploy the militia when people ask for justice. For help.

Some mourned the sudden disappearance of their loved ones after the snap and, all over the world, resulted in riot and demands from the left-over governments to address their loss.

It all came to head when people began protesting the conditions and the governmentss inadequate response. Ross, somehow surviving the snap and the next in line for authority after the Vice President died, declared martial law and released the militia on his constituents. Many lost their lives. Ross even encouraged the brutality unleashed upon civilians. The superheroes couldn’t save them all. They were just good for extraterrestrials and maybe super villains, but heroes like Steve were at a loss of how politics worked and how it was the very governments they served that justified murder in cold blood.

You look at the belly of the beast when it stares at you in the face. Then, when you see that it’s just your reflection, you might turn away, do better, or accept that you’re part of the swine. Steve, who’s turned away for so long, looked at the mirror instead and vowed to harness the beast into something productive. Transformative.

Crisis was always an opportunity for difference. For change. And after losing Tony in space for weeks and watching the state of the world erupt in chaos with no one to blame but pesky, meddling superheroes and their disreputable states, Steve decided that things were gonna change.

And so it did.

Only, Tony, Steve’s Shellhead, wasn’t by his side to see the aftermath of Steve’s work. Tony’s been hiding the last three years and Steve’s scoured every part of Earth looking for him. He didn’t want to partake in Steve’s rise into power. Tony said that power was a slippery slope, and he’d seen good men fall from their thrones at the hands of the people.

Couldn’t Tony see that the people placed Steve there?

Steve understood during the following months, after Tony fled the Compound with War Machine and Rescue, that it’d take Tony seeing the changes in the material conditions for him to understand the Alliance’s mission. War Machine and Rescue, once, Pepper and Rhodey, never liked him. They always belonged on Tony’s side.

At the present, Steve sat in his office in the Tower. It used to be Tony’s, but he never used it when he was CEO of SI. Wanda and Bucky suggested that Steve stay in the Alliance’s headquarters “just in case” their intel was wrong.

Last time, he stormed up into a warehouse expecting to see Tony. But it was just some low-class, new heroes on the rise and a couple of former X-Men. They were a small group and easily subdued between him and Wanda. But Nat warned that such emotional reactions were unacceptable during a mission.

Shit, has she met Steve? His calls were either in two extremes: exploding with sentimentality or completely apathetic.

Well, he needed to prepare the Tower for Tony’s homecoming anyway, so he didn’t argue,but waiting for updates drove him up the wall. He’d already changed the mastersuite’s sheets several times and prepared a welcome home dinner. Steve reviewed reports from missions and held a press conference about a new bill he was able to sign. Being anxious made him productive, but it also made his head hurt the entire time.

With nothing else to do, he obsessively tracked the screen showing Bucky and Wanda’s visuals in a desert cave. Shit, he was really hoping they’d get Tony this time.

“Widow, you on stand-by?” Bucky asked, his voice crackling through the speakers in Steve’s office.

“Still on the quinjet but checking aerial visuals,” she replied.

Steve wished Sam was still with them, he would have cleared their sky of potential threats.

“Oh. Hello.” Steve could hear the smile in Wanda’s voice. It made him uncomfortable sometimes. She sounded scary when she was pleased. He sure as hell was glad to have Wanda on his side.

Wanda confirmed, “Steve, we got them."

His heart skipped a beat as he watched Wanda and Bucky smirk at each other. They were an efficient team as missions again and again had proven. Both were quick with their hands. While Bucky was a master at hand-to-hand combat and shooting, Wanda’s powers have gotten more precise over the years. She was able to rein in its wildness and hit her targets better than Hawkeye.

Seeing Iron Man in action was astonishing. Once again, Steve's impressed with Tony. He made upgrades to the suit even in a cave. War Machine and Rescue spotted similar weaponry, nanobots quickly covering their haphazard and sweat-soaked bodies. Living in a dugout without running water and electricity must have been unpleasant, but that’s what happens when one’s resources are dismantled and their hideouts are destroyed.

Tony, though, was magnificent, snarky and filled with righteous anger. Here’s the thing though, while they’d put up a fight, Wanda’s powers easily put them under a sleep spell and they collapsed. Bucky didn’t even have to pull a trigger.

“Firing up the quinjet. We’ll be home at approximately 1947 EST," Natasha announced.

*

Tony woke slowly.

Steve watched Tony’s eyes flutter open, unhurried, as if he was still chasing a dream. Tony groaned, hand grabbing his head before rubbing his eyes. He tried to stand, but fell back on the sofa. Steve, sitting on the other side of the mattress, removed Tony’s hands and hushed him.

“Tony? It’s Steve. You’re with me. You’re safe. You’re probably still disoriented.”

Tony tried to sit up, but immediately fell back on the cushions. “What? Ugh. Pep? Rhodey?” He looked around the room before he landed on Steve. It was comical to see the metaphorical lights turn on inside Tony’s head. But it was a pity to see his eyes shutter once he realized Steve was talking to him. “Rogers.”

Steve grinned, the expression coming to him easily. He didn’t have to force it this time. “Hi, Tony. Welcome home.”

“No,” Tony replied, eyes wide. He stood on rocky legs. “No. Steve.”

“You’re not happy,” Steve said, the words coming out like confusion.

“Why would I be happy? You’ve fucking kidnapped me. Where’s Pepper and Rhodey?”

“They’re safe.”

“I don’t believe a single thing that comes out of your mouth.”

“Tony. I wouldn’t harm your friends,” Steve replied, appeasing. He moved from the edge of the sofa to the other side, the part that Tony vacated. Steve swung his legs and leaned back on his hands, the very picture of nonchalance. “I know they’re important to you.”

“Release me. Now.”

Steve shook his head. “Can’t do that, Tony. I have to keep you safe.”

“The only thing that would cause me harm is you!” He yelled. Steve smiled, pleased that time away from each other never stopped them from playing this game of dance: Tony yelling, pointing out the flaws in Steve’s plants. Steve countering, smug.

“That’s not true. I know some of the radicals want your head.”

“Yeah? Well, those are your followers.” Tony moved back, edging to the wall. It’s an old habit. Nat and Bucky do the same. With their backs against the wall, they had time to focus on potential threats across the room.

“No, they’ve warped the vision of the Alliance and turned it into something else.”

“Let me go, Steve.”

“Tony, please. Try to see some reason. This is for you.” Steve, dredging up courage, sought Tony’s gaze. “I care about you.”

“Jesus fucking Christ. You’ve really lost it,” Tony murmured. “You’re beyond saving.”

“People needed someone to take the reins after the snap. This is the price of freedom. That’s alright, I decided to pay for it.”

He’d change for Tony. Steve would take any form Tony demanded just as long as he stayed.

“So it’s true. Hell is other people.” Tony looked up at Steve's form, calculating, lips turned down.

Steve can’t have Tony look at him like he was a monster. “Can’t you see that everything I did was to save this damned world?”

A world that Steve thought was not worth it. The mission of reconstruction was only viable because of Tony. He’s the light that kept Steve pushing through the brutality and carnage of destroying the governments of the Americas and Europe, of Africa and Asia. That wasn’t even the hard part. The most bestial part of the mission is rebuilding the world and instituting governance.

“This isn’t trust or love. Or whatever fucked up thing you cooked up in that brain of yours,” Tony said like he swallowed something bitter. His eyes were hard, refusing to look away from Steve. Where others in his council would cower if Steve even gave them a glance, Tony met him dead on. “If you think this is anything other than captivity, you’re wrong.”

“Is that what you think, Tony? I’ve brought you home.” Steve looked pointedly at the renovated Tower. He received the specs from a former employee and had his people set it up exactly as it was when the Avengers and Tony lived there after the Chitauri attack.

“I saved you,” Steve said, shaking his head at the absurdity of Tony’s statement. “War Machine and Rescue hid you from this world and are using you to return everything back to its status quo. Back to war. Back to inequality. Back to corrupt governments that don’t care about the people, but only give a shit about getting voted in and staying in power.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, Steve?” Tony demanded, breathing hard. Tony stood up and strode towards Steve, arms waving and eyes ablaze. Steve loved seeing him so alive. So true to form. So Tony.

Steve crossed his arms and leaned against the bar with a pleased smile. He simply hummed, “You were right. I’m sorry.”

“Are you done? Done with this sick game? How the fuck are… how the fuck are we even gonna rebuild after the mess you made?”

“Mess? I think not.” He raised an eyebrow. “There’s basic income for the world. No monopolies. Higher education accessible to all. It’s all coming together, Tony. I’m not sorry about that, nor am I trying to change what the Alliance has done.” He leveled and walked towards Tony. Eyes soft, Steve dropped his hands on Tony’s shoulders, aching to pull Tony into a hug. “I am sorry about not listening to you when you said we needed a suit of armor around the world. You were right about that. We can do that together. You, me, the Alliance. We’ll do good work, Tony.”

Tony batted his hands away with extensive force. Steve raised an eyebrow at his outburst.

“You’re a fucking lunatic, Steve. What the fuck happened to you? Are you even Steve Rogers? What you’ve done...what you’re proposing is tyranny. How the fuck are you different from Lenin? From Thanos?! You’ve enslaved and imprisoned those that oppose you. Equality? Education? Income? That’s if they vote you and the Alliance. But they don’t have a choice, do they? The people have nothing else, they’ll turn their heads to the hand that feeds them. How the fuck did Romanoff allow this to happen? Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you, Rogers. This isn’t love for a nation or its people.”

Steve smirked. There would always be an opposition to his ideals. Shit, even Steve opposed some of the political proposals from the Alliance. But Steve was assured that his administration was fair, even if it was ruled by an iron fist. People needed structure in their lives, especially after the fall of their previous governments. After Thanos, chaos ensued. The world's leadership wasn’t up to par for the challenge of reconstruction. Their senators and leaders complained of carpal tunnel from signing too many documents. They didn’t give a single fuck about their constituents, choosing instead to enjoy the luxuries that came with political power.

It wasn’t the same under the Alliance. There were basic laws, yes. But they were equitable. Better. Still striving for true democracy. But good things took work. Patience. Those that followed the rules were rewarded. Everyone was assigned a role in the rebuilding of the world. Everyone had the choice to follow. If not, then, they were in the opposition, and as writ large, the opposition was to be punished.

“Tony, this is what people wanted. They just didn’t want to get their own hands dirty.” Steve explained the truth easily. “They voted for this.”

Basic, ordinary people needed taking care off. They’d never admit to the sins of their fathers and mothers because they’d be accomplices. They’d rather have the Alliance institute the punishment to the opposition.

Really, the Alliance was just keeping hard-won peace.

“Well, the people are wrong,” Tony bit out.

“Didn’t you say that numbers are data and that data is the story?” Steve shrugged, removing his uniform’s overcoat and running a hand over his hair. He was tired and grimy from the day’s work. But it didn’t matter because Tony was finally here.

It took about a year of working closely with his inner circle, Wanda and Natasha, to find the Resistance hideout. Their headquarters was in a ramshackled cave in the Arabian Peninsula. A fucking cave, like Tony hadn’t suffered enough. Steve had to admit, the cave was well-lit and has Tony’s signature tech. But it was nothing like living in civilization with the Alliance.

Rescue and War Machine forced Tony Stark to make their weapons and sympathize with them. Worse, they housed him in a place that Tony must have feared. They weren’t good enough friends to consider Tony’s trauma. Couldn’t they see that they’d all be better working with the Alliance? They were all about destroying plans, shouting about tyranny. But it’s evidence of what the Resistance has been reduced to: hiding in foxholes, lives filled with scraps and nothing but a dream of the past.

It’s unfortunate. The Alliance could have used Rescue and War Machine.

“Steve,” Tony whispered, eyes red-rimmed and glassy. “Pepper and Rhodey. Are they safe?”

“The Alliance has the need for them.”

“So that’s it. You say they’re alive without guarantees.” Tony laughed bitterly, a barking sound coming from his lips. “There’s no reason to be alive if they’re gonna live a life in captivity.”

“War Machine and Rescue are brilliant in ops. Even the Alliance recognizes that. They’ll have use.”

“They’d rather die.”

“Is that what you want, Tony? For them to pass?” Steve’s eyebrows furrowed, confused. Surely, Tony would prefer that his best friends remained alive.

Tony stayed silent and unmoving until he slowly pressed his back against the wall. There are no exits in the Tower, just the facade of a revolving door. There will be no one to take Tony away. No one in their right mind would cross the Alliance. Not if they wanted to stay alive. It’s a surprise that War Machine and Rescue held out so long with their ragtag bunch of knock-off superheroes.

Tony dropped to the floor, knees hugging his chest. “What do you want, Steve? I’m no fucking use to you. You can kill me before I make weapons for you and your merry band of tyrants.”

“Tony.” Steve held up his hands in a placating manner. “I won’t hurt you. I could never do that.”

He didn’t want weapons from Tony. No, Steve just wanted Tony to be happy, with him and the world. Steve’s brought peace, and he wanted Tony to realize that now, they can finally rest. Tony can finally rest. Steve will handle everything else.

“Too late,” Tony growled, tapped his chest, made the move to stand. Only there was no arc reactor or nano bots to help him. He looked down, shocked and filled with fury. “Fuck you. Give me my reactor!”

“You keep saying that. Might make me think that’s what you really want.” Steve suppressed a playful grin. There’d be time for that later. Instead, he turned to examine Tony’s form, stripped of his armor and tech, he was in sweats and a t-shirt. Black socks covered his feet. Classic Tony. It reminded Steve so much of their tenure at the Tower and Compound, back when they were still the Avengers.

“I’ll never want your crazy ass. Holy fuck.” Tony scrubbed a hand over his face and hair.

“You must be tired.” Steve nodded towards the double doors in the penthouse. It was Tony’s old room. “Get some rest.”

Tony flicked up his wrist and gave Steve the finger. “Shut up.”

“I’ll make some food then.” Steve rolled his eyes and moved toward the kitchen. Unworried that Tony would try to escape or hurt him. There were no weapons in the penthouse, save for the kitchen knives. But Tony couldn’t overpower Steve without the armor.

He pulled out a carton of eggs and vegetables, opting to make them both an omelet and toast. He whisked the eggs, watching the swirls of whites and yellows, before glancing towards Tony.

He sat cross-legged, arms over his chest, jaw jutting out stubbornly.

“Mushrooms and spinach. That’s your favorite for an omelet.” Steve offered a smile. “I can start coffee after you’ve finished eating.”

“You seem to think you know a lot about me.”

“After all the years we’ve spent together, of course I know you, Tony.”

It’s unfortunate that they also spent so many years apart. In different time zones, in war zones. In opposing teams, fighting head to head. But not anymore. Steve’s finally got his head out of his ass and realized that all he wanted was Tony in his arms. All his life, he’s fought for the greater good of humanity, striving to ensure that the government retained people’s freedoms and basic human rights. He’s fought tooth and nail, bloodied his knuckles, and eliminated threats to make certain of that.

Wanda said he deserved to be happy. Tony was Steve’s happiness. He deserved good things.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” Tony yelled, fisted hands slamming at the marble floor.

Steve shook his head, tutting. “Why’d you do that? You hurt yourself.” He turned off the stove and walked towards Tony.

“Don’t come near me.” Tony glared. It was cute, adorable even.

“I’ll look at it later. Helen’s invented a serum that can heal cuts and bruises immediately,as long as it’s not life threatening. It’s still in the early stages of development, but we can try it out with you,” Steve said conversationally. He made his way back to the kitchen and dropped the eggs and vegetables in a pan. The sizzling smell cut through the silence.

“So you got Helen, too.” Tony shook his head. “How the fuck did you manage that?”

“She believed in the mission.”

“Did she? Or did you force her?”

“She came willingly after she learned our goals.”

“Maybe she came because she knew you’d hunt her down and gun her until she said yes. By the way, how’s Barnes?”

“Bucky’s doing well. He’s out scouting intel in the Tail of America and overseeing the reconstruction there.”

Tony snorted and looked away, to the glass windows.

“They’re reinforced and repulsor-proof.” Steve winked. “After all the times you jumped out of a window, I had them build that.”

“Them?”

“My team, of course.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course.” Tony laughed without humor. It hurt to hear, it was like listening to the sound of glass breaking.

“I hope I can change that one day, Tony. That laugh of yours.”

“What?!” Tony exclaimed. “Haven’t you changed the world enough, now you want to make me… what…your little pet? What the fuck do you even want from me?”

“I just want you,” He said, voice plain. A simple statement that took Steve years to admit. Finally, he’s understood that since waking up on ice, the only thing constant was Tony. The man gave him life, melted the numbness and pessimism growing within Steve.

For years as Avengers, they argued through their missions and debriefings like a married couple. It wasn’t until Tony refused to want anything to do with him that Steve realized he ached and was useless, without a mission or a light, if Tony wasn’t around. Tony lost in space was the last straw. The world needed to change. Perhaps, the Mad Titan was right. Humans didn’t deserve life.

Steve made sure that they did.

“Tony,” Steve called softly, smiling as he assembled the eggs and toast. Steve brought it to the sleek table and motioned Tony over. “C’mon, food’s ready.”

“I’m not hungry,” Tony denied.

“Yes, you are.”

“How would you know how I’m feeling?”

“Because your group has been on rations for months. You’ve lost so much weight that your shirt is slipping from your shoulders.” Steve approached and offered a hand. “C’mon, please. You’re hungry, I know it. You could use some food.”

“No.” Tony, somehow, attempted to glue his butt to the floor. Steve just shook his head, amused.

“I’ll carry you to the table if I have to.”

“So, what? I don’t get a choice now?” Tony snarled, lips pulled back. He looked lovelier with a pout, Steve decided. He’ll have to cox the expression out of Tony some time.

“You always have a choice.”

“Get the fuck out of my face, Rogers.” Tony refused to look at him, instead scanning the perimeter.

It was laughable. There was no escape. He’s got his team on guard at all times. So, Steve just shook his head and pulled Tony up in a fireman’s carry. He had the strongest urge to slap Tony’s ass when the man punched his back and tried to wiggle free.

Steve deposited him onto the kitchen chair and sat across the way. “Eat.”

“Fuck you.”

Steve sighed. “Please stop cursing me.” He settled and took a bite out of the meal, eyeing Tony to do the same.

Instead, Tony crossed his arms, petulant and scowling. It was obvious that he was hungry. Steve, with his enhanced hearing, could hear the grumbling of Tony’s stomach. He couldn’t have that. Steve couldn’t have Tony starving himself just because he was too stubborn. Steve would take care of him.

Slowly standing to alert Tony of his intentions, Steve moved to the seat beside Tony and pulled his chair closer so they were face to face. Steve sliced a piece of the omelet and raised it to Tony’s mouth.

“Open up.”

Tony stared, eyes widening before darkening in warning. A curse would be on his lips, Steve suspected.

“You’re hungry. You need to eat, regain your energy. I made it just how you like it. Extra cheese,” Steve assured, eyes pleading.

It hurt to see Tony refuse the meal. Steve was trying here. Tony always challenged him, made Steve second-guess his choices, and whether or not he was worthy of praise, trust, and loyalty. But Steve’s learned that he’s a patient man. He’d be willing to wait for Tony even if it meant the end of time.

He returned the fork to the seal of Tony’s lips, prodding it to open, and feeling successful when Tony closed his lips around the fork. It was the same feeling of conquering Eurasia, removing the world leaders from their positions of corrupt power and reinstating common, democratic laws.

Only, it lasts for a moment. As Tony leaned closer to Steve, eyes with righteous fire, he spat the food on Steve’s face.

Tony snarled, punching Steve on the jaw. “Fuck you, Rogers.”

Steve rubbed the spot where Tony’s fist connected, fingertips feeling the warmth from the blow. It’s been ages since Tony last touched him. He couldn’t figure out if he wanted to jump out of the building and laugh, or cry.

If this was the reaction he’d get, Steve would take it. At least for now. He grabbed a napkin and swiped the chewed food from his cheeks. Steve had no false pretense that Tony would throw a fit at being taken away from his playthings and substandard superhero crew. It was only a matter of time before Tony would bend and realize what Steve has done to the world is actually success. Not repression. The world needed, no, demanded, the rule of an iron fist under reconstruction. This is what was necessary for civilization to survive.

He was patient. Tony will come around. Hell, Steve got Helen and Bruce and their team to build the suit of armor around the world, didn’t he? Steve was just fulfilling Tony’s wishes. It was all for their survival. Especially Tony’s.

“Tony, saying ‘fuck you’ is getting really old. You’ll have to come up with other comebacks. I’m missing that quirky, lighting-fast tongue of yours.”

Tony dropped back and moved his chair further from Steve. “I’m sorry I don’t have the appetite to hold court with you.”

Steve sighed, rested his hands on his lap. “You should get some rest. I’ll make something else when you wake up. Burgers? I’m sure you haven’t had that in a while.”

“You’re seriously trying to lure me and get my trust from food?”

“Well, isn’t the saying true? The way to a person’s heart is through food.”

“Only because those people are starving and have nothing else but you to rely on.”

“That’s not true,” Steve countered with a frown. “People have to work together for society to function. We all rely on each other.”

Tony’s stomach grumbled. He scrunched his nose and resolutely ignored it. But Steve wouldn’t have that. He tried once more, pushing the plate of food towards Tony. “Please eat. I want you healthy.”

“For what? What the fuck am I even doing here? You don’t want me to build weapons? Fine. Just throw me in with Pepper and Rhodey.”

“You’d rather have that than the comfort of your own home?”

“So they aren’t comfortable? Wanda’s your guard dog, right? Knowing her, she probably has them trapped in a prison cell and is fucking with their minds!” Tony stood, throwing his hands up in frustration, grabbed the plate and threw it towards Steve’s face.

Steve didn’t flinch. Tony was in no shape for hitting a mark accurately. That’s why Tony needed to eat, Steve thought wryly.

Tony walked away from Steve, returning to his corner against the wall.

“Wanda is under orders not to harm them. I know they’re important to you.” Steve picked up the shattered plate, depositing the pieces into the trash. He dumped it with the rest of his meal. He’ll have to figure out how to get the best burger meat in this side of the country into the Tower by lunch tomorrow. He wanted Tony full, satisfied, and sated.

After cleaning, he opted to sit across from Tony, meeting him where he was rooted. Tony raised his eyes from where they rested on his arms and knees, glaring at Steve.

“I just want the best for you.” Steve inched towards Tony, raising a slow hand to wipe at Tony’s sweat-soaked hair.

Tony batted his hands away roughly. “I said don’t fucking touch me or I’ll punch you again.”

“That was some punch. You always favored your left,” Steve teased, rubbing at his jaw once again. Tony started on a litany of expletives, cursing Steve for what he’s done to the country, saying he’s no better than Doom or Thanos.

“I’m not Thanos. He destroyed life. I’m rebuilding,” Steve replied.

Tony, for his part, just began screaming, hands up in the air, fists hitting what he can reach–the wall, the floor. Steve couldn’t have that, so he came forward, grabbed Tony’s hands before they hit the floor again and brought them to his chest. Steve rejoiced at every punch. It wasn’t a punishment. It felt like salvation. Tony touched him again and again, every stroke and strike felt like life breathing back into Steve.

Steve simply observed the outburst. The patch of red on Tony’s cheekbones, the frustrated cries that emerged from his throat. He cursed and screamed until his voice was hoarse. Until finally, tired and defeated, Tony slumped back to the wall, knees once again to his chest, eyes red-rimmed.

He kept his tears from falling. But it was a close thing. Steve knew it was only a matter of minutes before Tony would succumb and cry.

Tony took a deep breath. “Steve… Steve. What happened to you?”

“The world was in shambles. I just wanted us to be okay.”

“But what you’ve done. What you do. It’s not okay. You killed hundreds of thousands who wouldn’t follow you after half the world disappeared. Steve. You weren’t rebuilding.”

“I finally understood you, you know? We all have to make hard choices. I finally understood what you wanted with the Accords. We had to keep people in line. We needed a defense system that wasn’t saturated by politicking. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you before, Tony. ”

“Don’t twist my words. That’s not what I wanted. And what your rule does is way off base from the Accords or any form of governance.”

“Tony, you were right. People don’t want their fists bloodied, that’s why they have soldiers to keep them safe and so they can stay home and do what they do–take care of their kids, study, cook, live normal lives. This is finally the chance for people to have that. Local governance, accountable leaders, a world bloc united.”

Tony’s eyes flashed. He shook his head as if Steve was a pathetic thing. “No. They report to you. And if you don’t like them, they’re eliminated.”

“We can’t have people disrupting the peace we finally have.”

“Fuck. Fucking Christ, Steve,” Tony whispered, the tears finally dropping from his face. “You were good once.”

“I still am,” Steve replied. “I like to think I am. I hope you see that, too.”

Tony glanced at him before looking away, back to the glass windows, eyes calculating.

Steve allowed it. He always loved to watch Tony work through problems. He caught Tony’s tears with his index fingers, wiping a line from the tip of Tony’s eyes to his cheeks. Steve hummed, shushing him. “It’s gonna be okay, Tony.”

“I don’t know why I’m here.” Tony didn’t try to move away. If anything, he seemed to press his cheeks further into Steve’s awaiting hands, seeking comfort in the only person in the room. Even if it was Steve.

“Because I want you here. Safe, with me.”

“I’m captive, Steve. There’s no freedom in that. Stop lying to yourself. Don’t think this is anything other than captivity. You didn’t save me. You stole me,” Tony said the words as if reciting a script. He must have thought about this a lot. Steve suspected Tony believed that was the truth. It was torturous to hear the words from Tony. But Steve’s always been good at convincing people to follow his lead, his reign. This is no different, Tony will see. One day. Soon. This was all due to love.

“Tony. I’m doing this for your own good. If you’re out there with the rebellion, you could get hurt. I’m serious when I say that the Alliance could use War Machine and Rescue. They’d be good Colonels for the cause.”

Tony snorted, lips turned into a bitter frown. “You can’t even call them by their names! Pepper Potts and James Rhodes. You shared meals with them, fought beside them. Can’t you see even the way you talk about them is with some sort of sickening detachment? They were your friends.”

Steve shook his head. “They’re yours.”

“Rhodey and Pepper will come for me.” Tony held up his head, eyes sure and challenging. His lips twisted into a defeated smirk. “They will, Steve. And they’ll kill you.”

“If that’s what you think, Tony.” Steve shrugged. War Machine and Rescue would never escape Wanda’s hold. Their punishment is to be damned under her tutelage. Wanda’s methods and operation of Eurasia was a necessary force needed to overcome the rebellions in the East. “What will you do in the meantime? They might take awhile to escape.”

“Wait.” He measured out as if he was logical and clear-headed.

Steve almost felt threatened until he remembered where the people’s loyalties lay. He smiled at the challenge. Steve stood, offering Tony a hand. He wanted to give him a bath, change his clothes, and take him to bed. Steve knew, though, as Tony bit his hand, that he'd be refused. That’s alright. He has all the time in the world. He’ll wait patiently for Tony.

“Okay, Tony, if that’s what you want.”

“I’ll wait.” With resolute determination, he nodded his head.

Steve smiled. There’s his Tony Stark.

*

Steve’s in love.

His relationship with Tony wasn’t perfect. But when is anything? Natasha was wrong. Love wasn’t for children. The one who thought that was the poor soul that was hurt. Love was for the brave, afterall, he’d never have the courage to do what he’s done unless it was for Tony.

It was worrying though, in the last week since Tony’s been in the Tower, he hasn’t eaten, refusing the meals that Steve left on his door. Each time, Steve would return from his meetings just a floor down, the plates would be broken, food staining the hallway’s walls. Tony refused to eat, no matter how many times Steve begged and assured him that no, it’s not poisoned or drugged.

Tony had no trust in him, the thought kept Steve up late in the evenings, mulling over what he’d done wrong. Everything followed his carefully crafted plans: bring Tony home, make him understand Steve’s reasoning, have him partake in the new society just waiting to be explored. And in Steve’s most humble fantasies, he wished that Tony would return his feelings.

There was once a time, during their tenure as Avengers, that Steve thought that he and Tony might have been more than friends. There was potential for it. But he was too bullheaded to listen to his own desires, putting the call to order and being Captain America as his priority. Choosing instead the safer option. He’d been a coward, but not anymore. Steve went after his inclinations and longing without reservation now.

Steve tried something simple. A cup of coffee prepared in the way Tony liked best. Steve whistled, grinding the coffee finely, then poured water into the ibrik. Coffee, sugar. It's sweet. Tony would appreciate it. Once the coffee was in its final boil, Steve poured it into the cup and smiled, pleased. He turned on the TV to jazz radio station, wishing that Helen and Bruce were brilliant enough to make a copy of JARVIS. Though Tony wouldn’t appreciate the bastardization of his AI, Steve missed hearing the snide remarks.

It’s alright, maybe he’ll allow Tony to make another AI in the future, once he could be trusted enough to stay. Once he was happy, Tony would forget all threats of escaping. Steve would make sure Tony’s happy enough to stay. He’ll see that this is the best place for him.

“Tony.” He knocked softly on the door, side stepping the broken plates. “I made you coffee.” Steve waited a few minutes but there was no response. So far, he hadn’t breached the lock, not wanting to invade Tony’s privacy.

It was understandable that Tony wanted to be alone. But Steve really couldn’t have him isolated with his thoughts. Steve paced, fretting. Tony hasn’t eaten in nearly a week. He’s entertained the idea of force feeding Tony. Gripping his chin, pulling his body close, and pressing Tony’s cheekbones with his thumb and pointer finger. Not hard, just enough for Tony to open his mouth so Steve could shove food inside.

The idea was becoming more and more tempting, allowing him to imagine other things he could put inside Tony’s mouth. His fingers for one.

Shit, Steve blushed, and shook his head. He couldn’t think like that. He’ll wait until Tony’s ready for him.

“I made you coffee. Turkish style, like you prefer.” Steve knocked again. “I worked really hard to get this right. Had to try three times before perfecting it. I even added sugar.”

No answer.

Steve was tempted to pull his phone and check the feed into Tony’s room but he stopped. He’s been doing that all week and seeing the sight of an unshowered, starving Tony left him feeling dejected. He’ll have to try harder, he reasoned with himself.

Last night, Steve watched the feed for nearly three hours. Tony only stared blankly at the wall, no longer calculating escape routes after his first three evenings trying to escape the Tower. The place was impenetrable, inside and out. Steve made sure of it. Tony could leave, but only when Steve deemed it was safe enough. Once the rebellion in the nearby states were quelled, he’d walk around New Manhattan hand in hand with Tony.

But for now, Steve twisted the door knob, rattling the lock easily. A locked door didn’t stop anyone from breaking in. Surely, Tony must know that.

Steve went in and considered the haphazard room. Tony ripped off the sheets and upturned the mattress against the wall to block one of the cameras. It demonstrated effort, but it was futile, and didn’t stop Steve from checking on him and making sure he was alright.

Tony gave a quick glance, then a sigh. His anger must be bleeding out. It’s all in the steps. Surely enough, he’ll get to acceptance. Steve looked forward to what he could bargain for from Tony. That’s the thing with Tony, every conversation was a negotiation. What an idea.

Steve set the bedside table right, gently dropped the coffee cup, and went on to place the mattress back on the frame.

Tony spared him a curious look, arms crossed protectively against his chest. He glared at Steve, but stayed silent.

Grabbing a set of fresh sheets from the cupboard, he replaced the ripped up silk. Taking his time, he tidied up the rest of the room, picking up a series of paintings and plastic vases littered in the room. He would have much preferred to give Tony glass, but Tony couldn’t be trusted to not hurt himself. Even though Steve knew that Starks were all about self-preservation and that Tony wouldn’t go as far to physically hurt himself. His refusal to eat, shower, and get more than a few hours of sleep was basically self-punishment.

Steve sat on the newly made bed, rubbing his hands on his thigh. Tony’s behavior was expected, but it still made him nervous.

“What do I have to do to get you to eat?” Steve asked.

“Release me,” Tony gritted out, seemingly scooting further into his corner.

Steve shook his head in disapproval. “You know I can’t do that. It’s too dangerous out there. You’re safer here. Aren’t you… can’t you be happy, here? You’re home.”

“There’s no happiness in being your little pet, Steve.”

“You’re not my pet.”

“Then what the fuck am I?” Tony exclaimed, eyes flashing. “You have an entire wardrobe tailored to me, all carbon copies of all my shit from when I was a kid. There’s a box of condoms and sex toys in the closet! What a fucking surprise, though, really. Can’t say I expected Captain America to have sexual urges.”

Steve started, shocked. “I’d never force you into anything you didn’t want, Tony.”

The items were there just in case. And it was for Tony’s pleasure.

“Yeah, right. I’m already here and I’ve no doubt you have guards on the door. And I know you’re watching me all the time.” He nodded at the little cameras in each corner of the room. “You think I wanna be here? No. Yet here I am. Forced into your company.”

He dropped his head to his hands. “You’re here because this is the safest place for you. It’s your home. Where else would you be? In a fucking cave? War Machine and Rescue made you live in a cave. How could they do that to you? Don’t they remember Afghanistan? They weren’t taking care of you.”

Tony snorted. “And what, huh, Steve? Is this taking care of me? I’m trapped here as your little toy or whatever so you have a friend to play house with. Fuck that. We were only in a cave to stay away from your lot. That’s the only place your team hasn’t colonized.” He paused for effect, then barked out, “Well, I guess not anymore.”

“Tony, please. I don’t want to fight.”

“Then release me.”

“I can’t do that,” Steve replied, thinking only of Tony and how to get him healthy and happy again. It’s a fine line he’ll have to thread, but Steve must do what he can to take care of Tony. “How about we make a deal then? You eat. Shower. Sleep when you can, and I’ll let you see War Machine and Rescue.”

Tony eyed him with distrust. His lips twisted into a frown, eyebrows furrowed together. “What’s the catch?”

“No catch. You just eat, sleep, take care of your body.”

“For you?”

“No,” Steve insisted. “For you. You have to take care of yourself for your own sake.”

“Ha,” Tony hissed. “My life isn’t worth much now.”

Steve tutted, disappointed that Tony didn’t see how brilliant and full of life he was. The magazines have lauded him for decades for his bravery and intelligence, yet he had such low self-esteem. He needed Steve to show him that he was worth so much more than he believed. “Yes it is. You’re the greatest man I know. You’re everything.”

“You’re a creep, Rogers. Did the serum also enhance your obsessive behavior and righteous personality?”

It was a barbed statement. Steve only wished it came with a teasing grin.

Biting his lip, Steve knew it was important to always be open and honest with Tony. Nothing, no secret or person would ever come in between their relationship again.

“I just want you to see yourself like I do. Someone deserving of life in this new age.” He stood. “Do we have a deal?”

“How long will I get to see them?”

“As long as you want,” Steve replied.

“I guess it won’t cost me much since I literally lost everything. What kind of fucked up manipulation are you trying to pull? You know what, nevermind.” Tony rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll eat.”

Steve beamed, barely stopping himself from running into the kitchen. He made a simple chicken soup, wanting to ease Tony’s stomach. Returning to the room, he dropped the tray on the bed and beckoned Tony forward.

Tony stood uneasily, wobbling to the bed. It made Steve’s heart ache to see him so weak. Tony sat on the edge of the bed. Steve wasn’t too disappointed at their distance because Tony finally agreed, willingly, by his own choice to consume something.

Steve pushed the tray closer, willing himself not to blush as Tony eyed the soup.

“Uh,” He started, scratching his head. “I’ll do better next time. Couldn’t give you the whole five-star shebang on short notice. Besides, I wanted you to eat already.”

Tony barked a laugh. “Wipe that boyish look off your face. You have no right to look like a kid giving his crush chocolates.”

Tony joked. That’s a point in Steve’s book. He’s making progress already.

Steve watched as Tony’s shaking fingers grabbed the spoon. He wanted so bad to feed Tony, but Steve willed himself to not push. He’s already won for today.

Tony ate slow and in silence. Not bothering to look at Steve, mind focused on slurping and swallowing. The sound was like a mantra to Steve. He filed it for his evening fantasies.

Tony dropped the spoon as he finished. “Let me see them. Now.”

“Drink some water first.” Steve nodded at the cup. In the previous week, Tony refused to eat or drink anything Steve made him, opting instead to drink water from the bathroom sink.

Tony grabbed it with a glare and sipped. “There.”

“No, more.”

“Fuck you.”

“C’mon, you’re dehydrated.”

“I’m not.” He took a gulp, pointedly looking at Steve. “There. Take me to them.”

“Oh.” Steve paused. “I said I’d let you see them. I can’t take you to them, though. They’re not in the state.”

Tony screamed, “Liar!”

“Be reasonable. You’re too weak to leave the penthouse.” Steve shook his head, he never promised to bring Tony to see War Machines and Rescue in person. “I said I’d let you see them.” He pulled his phone, tapped the screen, and brought the feed to Tony’s awaiting hands.

Tony’s entire body shook and a sob ripped up from his chest. Steve wanted to pull him into his arms and tell him he’s safe. Instead, he stood still as Tony watched the visual feed of War Machine and Rescue. They were safe, unharmed, in a dormitory under Wanda’s management. He wouldn’t lay a finger on them because they were important to Tony. Steve would never do anything to intentionally hurt the man. Not anymore.

The same, however, couldn’t be said for Wanda’s persuasive techniques. She was charged to recruit War Machine and Rescue as soldiers for the Alliance. It’ happen. People always bent if you gave them enough pressure.

Not Tony though, he’s a man cladded in vibranium. And Steve liked Tony as he was.

“They’re strong,” Tony whispered, looking up at Steve with an air of determination. It was intoxicating to see Tony edge from stubborn willfulness to steadfast resolution. “They’re gonna come after you, Rogers.”

Steve gave him a smile. If that’s what Tony preferred, so be it. Wanda assured him that War Machine and Rescue would fall in line with Steve’s cause. Once Tony realized that his friends were in no harm and wholeheartedly agreed with Steve’s decisions, Tony would no longer refuse Steve’s care and affection.

“Alright, I’ll look forward to it. But for now, sleep.” Steve pried the phone from Tony’s fingers, snorting at the man’s attempt to keep Steve from getting the device. In the end, he was able to overpower Tony. The man was weak from days without food or rest. “I’ll let you see them again tomorrow if you eat all the meals I bring you,” Steve bargained, pulling the covers and rearranging the pillows, fluffing it and fussing over Tony.

He tucked the blanket under Tony’s chin, hands moving of their own accord to pull Tony’s hair away from his forehead. The flinch hurt like a repulsor to the chest. He didn’t have Tony’ trust. But he sure as hell was going to work for it.

Tony moved deeper into the mattress, avoiding Steve’s touch. “You’ll let me see them tomorrow?”

“If you’re good,” Steve said, as Tony shut his eyes and turned away from Steve. He heard the sigh and the sob all the same. “Goodnight, Tony.”

*

Despite the rocky start, Steve and Tony fell into a routine. Tony would wake up to Steve’s knocking and eat breakfast in bed. Steve would sit in the plush reading chair he placed by the windows and make sure Tony ate. He’d taken to bringing his sketchbook and drawing Tony’s figure as the sun bled through the windows. It reminded him of the times he’d spent in Tony’s workshop, watching Tony tinker with his projects and suit.

Tony still rejected all of Steve’s invitations to eat on the dining table. Instead, after every meal, he would ask for Steve’s phone in silence, palms facing up. Steve wished Tony would joke and say something snarky, or even wiggle his fingers as Steve conceded to the rest, but he was only met with glares and silences.

Oh well, Tony required work, Steve knew that from the beginning. He even ignored Wanda’s not so subtle attempts to speak to Tony. She fired up her magic, blush red flames dripping from her fingers. Steve just rolled his eyes and shooed her out with a subdued glare. He didn’t want Wanda messing with Tony’s mind. No, Steve wanted Tony here on his own will. His choice.

Steve just had to prove to both himself and Tony that they deserved happiness together.

After every meal, Steve allowed Tony an hour with his phone. Steve didn’t understand the obsession with checking on War Machine and Rescue. They were fine. Safe, even. Fed three meals a day and required to train so they wouldn’t lose their skills. He needed them sharp and ready for battle. From their reports and footage, Bucky trained the duo like dogs.

It was better than their musty cave, anyway.

But Tony wanted to see his friends, so Steve acquiesced. He couldn’t deny Tony anything. Well, most things. He’d give into all of Tony’s wishes, as long as it was within reason.

A few weeks into their routine, Steve witnessed improvement in Tony’s health. He began to fill out, regaining some of the weight he’d lost over the years. There were no longer dark circles under his eyes. He really had to thank Helen for finding a treatment that allowed Tony to get sleep. Steve’s taken to dropping some of the condiment into Tony’s water.

He’d ease Tony off the herb after a couple of weeks, once Steve was assured that Tony could sleep without it.

But for his part, Steve was getting ill at ease with waiting. He’s kept distance for a long time now, forcing himself to stay away from Tony after his outburst last week. Steve tried to pull Tony into a comforting hug after seeing War Machine and Rescue’s bruises. It was just part of training. Tony should be used to it. They used to run similar drills as Avengers. Instead, Tony grabbed the lamp and smacked Steve in the head with it.

He walked away. Left the room. Got into the shower to wash the blood from his temple. He wasn’t upset. Steve just wished Tony talked to him instead of throwing punches. He sighed and stayed away for the next twelve hours. He kept busy with reports and updates from the rest of the Alliance and only checked the footage from Tony’s room every half hour.

Steve’s taken to bargaining, realizing that it may be the only way to get Tony to do something. React to Steve. Spend time with him.

“Tony,” he called over from his chair.

Tony flipped the page of his novel, a classic, one of Nat’s favorites, The Stranger. “What?”

“How about another deal? If I let you speak to War Machine and Rescue, will you eat dinner with me? You have to get out of this room. You’ve been here for weeks.”

Tony perked up, closing the book and turning to Steve. “You’ll let me speak to them.”

Steve nodded. “Yes, but not in person.”

“Thanks for being specific this time.” Tony snorted. “Fine. Let’s have dinner.”

“You just had lunch.”

“Well, I’m hungry now. Increased appetite, whatever.” He waved Steve off, much like those times Steve used to pester him in the workshop to eat with the team.

“You’re just saying that because you want to talk to them already.” Steve rolled his eyes, but smiled anyway. It was progress. “Fine, I’ll get dinner started. There’s been a recipe I’ve been meaning to try out. I think you’ll like it. It’s Thai.”

Tony scrunched his nose. “If I remember correctly, you were never good with getting the spices right for Asian cuisine.”

Steve laughed, a loud sound erupting deep from his belly. “I missed your sarcasm.”

Tony opened then closed his mouth, jaw tense. “Just go.”

Tony willed it, so Steve followed through. He hummed on the way to the kitchen, already thinking what to cook for the next few days.

*

They shared every meal on the dining table. Steve’s taken to chatting idly about his day filled with meetings, careful not to give too many details on mission status and reports. Tony listened, nodding off, often staring at his food or playing with it until Steve offered him another deal: eat with intent, and enjoy the food, and he’ll give Tony his own phone.

They had another barter for Steve to lift his phone restrictions from an hour after every meal to Tony having it all day. Tony agreed to spending time with Steve, specifically watching a film after dinner.

He wanted actual conversations with Tony. Steve wanted Tony smirking, laughing at him, giving him a sarcastic remark. Instead, it was like Steve was having a one sided conversation with himself. Tony only engaged when Steve offered a bargain.

Three months into Tony’s stay, he still remained quiet, always sitting at a distance from Steve. Thoughts seemingly far away.

It didn’t stop Steve from observing him, taking in the contours of Tony’s bright eyes, his thick lashes, and curly hair. He smelled good too, now taking daily showers at Steve’s request. Sure, he had to give Tony something in return, but it was his victory. Tony engaged in their little game, offering to spend time with Steve as long as Steve told him about War Machine and Rescue. Slowly, he let Tony read mission reports concerning his friends, then told him of local governments in the southern lands, rebellions in the West.

Confiding in Tony was cathartic, in a way that speaking to Bucky, Nat, or Wanda never was. They were too hardened by the mission. Steve wished Tony would push past the fort of blankets he made sure was between them every time they settled for movie night.

Instead, Steve returned to his room, stripped, hopped into the shower, and touched his cock to the thought of Tony.

He’s long tampered down the feeling of shame in touching himself to the thought of another man. Now, Steve chased the pleasure each time he jacked himself, mind focused on fantasies of Tony.

It wasn’t even purely pornographic. After he orgasmed, sated and in bed, Steve planned how he might bargain with Tony. He’s been aching for touch. A hug. Every night was a challenge to stop himself from wrapping an arm around Tony’s shoulder. All he wanted was to comfort him, physically, because Tony didn't seem to believe Steve’s platitudes and explanation that everything would be alright. Mission reports be damned. Never mind that crime was low all across the world. Never mind that the world approved the Alliance’s rule. Tony didn’t care.

And, Steve realized, Tony didn’t give a shit about what he’s done. There it was: in bed, cock spent, Steve had an epiphany. Tony wouldn’t judge him for the crimes he’s committed. He’s long understood that everything Steve did was to ensure peace and justice. Tony was angry. No, betrayed by Steve.

Once again, it was down to Steve’s personhood, not his moral righteousness. If Tony could forgive Steve’s betrayal in leaving him in the dark, in the shadows, then perhaps, Tony and he could move forward.

The next evening, Steve didn’t even have to beckon Tony to the living room after dinner. He drank his herbal tea and offered some to Steve.

He should have known. But in the moment, Steve simply shrugged. The super soldier serum would metabolize it quickly. Steve swallowed the water, not expecting it to be bitter. He frowned at the thought that Tony drank that nightly.

But the moving started, too distracted by Tony’s running commentary. For once, he was finally talking, even if just to talk shop about the new Star Wars films.

Steve found himself at peace. He settled into the sofa with a smile.

He suspected Tony was merely acting aloof, and he was right.

*

Steve woke feeling like a building dropped on him, ignoring the sound of the blaring alarms. It was worse, really, he felt dizzy as he stood. Gathering his wits, he shook off the grogginess and walked over to the kitchen sink. He cupped his hands under the running water and took a sip, hoping the water would ease his pounding head and blurry vision.

Belatedly, he realized that the sound system was voicing out protocols of an escape. In a rush of panic, Steve ran to Tony’s room only to find it empty. He shouldn’t be surprised. In retrospect, Steve should have expected Tony to break out. After weeks of being in the penthouse, slowly warming up to Steve, and the effort invested in movie night… Steve should have known. But he trusted Tony. And a deeper park of him truly hoped that Tony finally wanted to be here.

Before he made it past the living room, the penthouse’s elevator doors opened to Bucky.

“Tony!” Steve ran forward, smacking Bucky’s hand away from Tony’s biceps. There’d be a bruise there. Bucky was only gentle to stray cats.

Unlike Steve, Bucky was rougher with how he handled potential threats. “Found him closing in on the lobby,” he barked, throwing a flash drive at Steve. “Looks like your boy found War Machine and Rescue’s location.”

“You should have pulled the trigger, Barnes,” Tony replied icily.

Shocked, Steve dropped his hands from where he was examining Tony for injuries. “Tony! Don’t say that.” He half turned to Bucky. “Buck, did you hurt him?”

“Of course not.” Bucky snorted, before tilting his head to the side, eyeing Tony curiously. “He begged me to, though.”

“Yeah. Steve. I begged Barnes to put me out of my misery,” Tony spat out. “Because I couldn’t stand to be here anymore.”

“Tony…,” Steve started, not knowing how to react, “I thought… you were happy.”

“You can’t demand happiness from people.” Tony watched Bucky guarding the elevator, the only entrance and exit in the penthouse, minus the window. But Tony had enough self-preservation to stay alive. He couldn’t make the jump without his tech.

If they were to make progress, Tony had to unlearn his resistance. For his own sake, not just Steve’s.

With a heaving sigh, Steve nodded at Bucky in dismissal, waiting until the elevator doors closed before addressing Tony. “Open your eyes, Tony. The world is in much better shape. You just have to learn how to appreciate it,” Steve reasoned, keeping a firm eye on Tony’s form. He tried to catch his gaze, but Tony just sat back on the floor. “Please don’t take me for granted.”

“You beating me bloody would be better than this false kindness,” Tony said, absurd and petulant, only ever like a child throwing a tantrum. Cutting remarks and bravado. Sometimes Steve hated himself with how much he wanted this man. How much he refused to give up no matter how many times Tony rejected him. Spat on his face. Yelled at him.

Tony never said Steve was unwanted though. Not in the months he’s been here. Unhappy, yes. Betrayed, indeed. But they were friends. That had to count for something. He pulled Bucky out of Hydra’s claws. He’d pull Tony from his own stubbornness, too.

“I’d never do anything to intentionally hurt you.” Steve ran a hand over his face, edging closer to Tony, who winced and grabbed his side as Steve walked over. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” Tony muttered, hands still pressed against his ribs. “It’s nothing.”

“You always said that after missions when you wanted to skip medical, so I know that’s not true.” Steve sighed, sucked it up, if Tony hit him for coming close, then so be it. “I’m still upset you drugged me.”

“Like you weren’t drugging me with your herbal tea?” Tony jutted his chin in challenge. “Yeah, I know. I wake up every morning feeling groggy as hell.”

“It was to help you sleep,” Steve replied.

“Whatever.”

Steve shook his head. “I’m just trying to look out for you. Now let me look at you.” Steve grabbed the edges of Tony’s shirt, finding a superficial cut on his forearm. He tutted, grabbing a hold of Tony’s hand gently, he tugged them towards the bathroom.

He sat Tony down on the toilet and pulled out a med-kit then decided that Tony should have a bath first. Steve kneeled in front of Tony so they were eye level. With conviction he said, “I’m sorry about Bucky.”

“I have no issues with Barnes. Wish the bastard shot me, that’s all.” Tony laughed something deep and bitter. “I guess he doesn’t really follow commands from me though. Only you right?”

Steve didn’t like the sentiment. Bucky had his own thoughts, they safely removed the triggers from Hydra’s brain scramble. Bucky was there by his own choice. He wanted to look out for Steve. And so, he told Tony.

“How’d you get this?” Steve pulled his forearm, examining the cut. It was crusting over, no longer bloody, but a deeper, dark red. The wound was closing.

“Barnes tackled me and I hit the corner.” Tony pulled away, glancing past Steve.

“Did you get everything you wanted from the files?”

Tony nodded, but remained silent. So Steve promised, “If there’s anything you want to see. Anything you want at all. Tell me, and I’ll make it happen. As long as I can trust you.”

Tony just glared, eyes dark in unhappiness.

“Why are you being nice? Shouldn’t you shout at me for breaking out?”

Steve took a deep breath. He’d almost lost Tony. And he was sure this wouldn’t be the first time that Tony would try to leave him. He can’t have him gone. If he left, Steve would be alone, and all of this would have been for nothing. He allowed his eyes to fall closed, then dropped his hand to Tony’s thighs. Head bowed, Steve swallowed a sob.

He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t. He wasn’t. He wasn’t– no. With a shuddering breath, Steve rose, and plastered on a small smile.

Yelling at Tony only resulted in them in saying barbed words, throwing insults, and not speaking for days. He wanted to talk to Tony all the time. He couldn’t risk a tense silence.

“You can leave any time you want. You’re not captive.”

“Right. I just can’t leave without you,” Tony replied.

“Just looking out for you, dear.”

“Shut up.”

“As you wish,” Steve said, he turned on the bath, running his hand under water to test the temperature before dumping a bag of bath salts in. “You know, back in Brooklyn, in the 40s, we didn’t always get hot water. It’s a treat to have it now.” Steve offered a smile, starting a story about his time working in the coal mine to distract Tony. He pulled at Tony’s shirt, then his sweatpants.

Averting his eyes as he gestured to Tony to get in the tub, he felt flush all over, like asking a girl to dance.

“I’m naked as the day I was born,” Tony whispered, sitting on the tub with his knees pulled up.

“The hot water should ease your muscles. Then I’ll wrap your ribs. I’ll see Helen about getting you pain killers.”

“No. I don’t need them.”

“Yes you do.”

“No, I don’t. Let me feel it.”

“Stop punishing yourself.”

“I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“I’m not.” Tony slapped a hand on the water, making a mess on the tiles and Steve’s jeans.

“Oh, you’re punishing me. Because I don’t like seeing you hurt. So you think this will hurt me.” Steve sat on the edge of the tub, back to the wall, facing Tony’s defiant eyes. “Well, it does. Congratulations.”

Tony seethed. “Look at me.”

“I am.”

“You’re not.” He shook his head, a smirk on his lips. “You’re not looking at me. You don’t see me. Only what you want to see.”

“Tony. I see you. All of you. And I’m okay with it. I wish you were too.”

With simmering disappointment and worry coursing through him, Steve roughly picked up the bath sponge, squirted some soap, and began scrubbing Tony. He deserved this. He needed grounding. Tony was here to help him. He focused on soft, slow circles on Tony’s arms, then his back. For so long, Steve resisted staring at Tony. Even as Avengers he always felt guilty when Tony caught him with eyes wide and parted lips. For the months Tony’s been here, Steve was always careful not to touch him too often, afraid that it would scare Tony away. Steve wanted to ease into Tony’s life, go slow, prove himself. But now, Tony, here, naked, body littered in scars and bruises. He was handsome. Gorgeous. As always, Steve was weak for him.

Steve set the sponge down, hesitant fingers moving from Tony’s bare neck to his hair. It was like every part of Steve was on fire with desire. He scrubbed at the hair, before moving into a massage. “I hope you can learn to like it here, Tony.”

“You mean learn to like you.”

“I wouldn’t be opposed to that,” Steve admitted after a pause. It was the truth.

Steve finished washing Tony. It was intimate. Not just because Tony was naked, but the fact that Tony was letting him. Tony had his back to Steve and trusted Steve to care for him. Steve stood, hovering over Tony’s body. He turned around, busying himself with fetching a fresh towel. Feeling embarrassed and warm all over. “Is it too much to ask for us to be friends again?”

He eased Tony from the tub, scrubbing his arms and the rest of his person dry. Tony just stood there with an unreadable expression. He didn’t even bother to push Steve off or bare his teeth or insist that he could get dressed alone.

So Steve continued drying him. Then signaled down for Tony to put his feet through the boxers. He bandaged the ribs, then brushed Tony’s hair, before pulling him into the bedroom. Steve pulled on the blankets and waited until Tony got in. Steve usually sat at the edge of the bed, but this time, he inched closer, bringing his hands to cup Tony’s face.

Steve was done resisting what he deserved. “I just thought you’d be happy. Being home.”

“I’m stuck here, aren’t I? You really think this is the best for me. And if I escape, you’ll find me? Again and again? I’ll just return here.”

Steve nodded. It wasn’t a lie, he’d scorch the Earth and kill every man who got in between them. Yeah, maybe it was borderline possessiveness. But shit, he’s a man who grew up with nothing. Once Steve has something, he’ll hold on, tooth and nail.

“Then, I’m here. But Steve, you’ll never really have me.”

“I could. If I wanted to,” he murmured. “But I want you to be here on your own terms.”

He kissed Tony’s forehead as a goodnight before slipping off to sit on the corner chair. Without the herbal tea, Tony didn’t fall asleep until dawn so they just eyed each other silently.

*

Steve called a meeting with Nat, Bucky, and Wanda, telling them he wanted War Machine and Rescue moved back to the States. Wanda flat out refused and instead offered Steve an alternative. Steve tried not to listen. He’s given her carte blanche on handling two of Tony’s friends. He didn’t care how Wanda got them on their side, just as long as they could convince Tony in the future that War Machine and Rescue supported them.

Steve took Nat’s silence as agreement. She didn’t talk much these days, preferring working in solitude. Whereas Bucky suggested that Steve take Tony out of the Tower. “Show him some freedom. Carrot. Stick. It’s pretty basic, Stevie. He doesn’t trust, you know. You need him to warm up to you again.”

So, he returned to the penthouse in the afternoon, showered, dressed in a casual blue shirt and jeans, and checked on Tony.

“Let’s go out,” Steve said, setting a set of casual clothes on the bed beside Tony. He moved to the wooden drawers in the closet and pulled out red-tinted sunglasses. Tony always looked gorgeous in them.

“Why?” Tony kept still on the bed, expecting the other shoe to drop. “What will it cost me?”

Steve bit his lip. It wouldn’t cost anything but Tony’s time. Effort. A smile, maybe. “Nothing. Just thought you’d like some fresh air.”

Tony kicked the bed sheets off, throwing the clothes that Steve had set down. “Bullshit. You always want something in return. I’m not stupid, Rogers.”

“Fine. I want to go walk around Central Park with you and hold your hand. Since everything is a bargain with you. What do you want in return?”

Tony glared, then shook his head. “You’re really fucked up if you think this is a date. This is not how one loves. You have to know that.”

“We have to be inventive and ingenious when we want to rebuild after the almost end of the world, Tony. Sometimes love looks different.”

Tony threw his hands up, yelled for half an hour, until Steve promised they’re moving War Machine and Rescue back to the States. Wanda wanted to chop off his hand for even making the request, but she conceded as long as Steve doesn’t disrupt her work in the gulag.

Anyway, Tony got dressed, and Steve stood in front of him, holding his chin, pausing to look at Tony in the eyes. Deep, big brown eyes. He pulled the sunglasses down the bridge of Tony’s nose and smiled.

Steve offered a hand, waiting for a few beats until Tony relented and intertwined their fingers. Seeing him give in was glorious.

*

After their walk in Central Park, they went on what could only be dates around Manhattan. Steve showed Tony new improvements in the city, taking him to the edge of the Hudson River, cooing at the clear waters. It wasn’t Steve that did that. It was Thanos, he reminded himself, it was up to him to reign in the chaos and bring in order in the aftermath.

They went out every day if Steve’s schedule allowed it. Tony held his hand the entire time. They walked close together, steps in sync. He was more pleasant, declaring when he was hungry and demanding food from Steve.

Steve didn’t always have to initiate the conversation. They’d talk about random things around the city but he couldn’t help the feeling that Tony was just trying to distract him.

He’s been careful to not piss off Tony, stopping the herbal treatments entirely and letting him sleep whenever he wanted. In short, Steve couldn’t rule their home the same way he led the world. Tony needed autonomy and Steve was happy to give it to him as long as he stayed.

After dinner one evening, Tony suggested having dessert on the sofa. He turned to Steve, chocolate on his fingertips. He watched Steve with intense curiosity, as if he was trying to figure out a puzzle, then said, “You really want me, don’t you? All of this is... really because you want me.”

He glanced at Tony. His face was shuttered, an unreadable mask Steve couldn't penetrate. No, he knew Tony’s masks, understood that they emerged when he was hurt or confused. Steve wished that Tony wore an actual mask, so he could peel it off from the edges and see the rest of what’s underneath. The truth, if possible. He wanted to lay witness to the scars and scabs under the disguise. Rub it out, bandage the wounds. Steve wanted to be inside him in more ways than the obvious. He wanted to crawl inside Tony’s ribs, take root there, and stay.

Steve nodded. “I’ll take anything. Even if it’s crumbs.”

It’s true. Sometimes he wished he could go back in time and punch himself in the mouth. For so long, Tony gave him the world, everything without asking for anything in return. He didn’t realize it then. Steve begged for it now.

The best case scenario was that Tony loved him back. That’s all he wanted. But if it’s any less, if it looked like the remnant of love, even through glassy eyes, Steve would take it. He’d bear the close approximation only because he wouldn’t know what he was missing anyway.

Tony chewed on his lip, then, came to some sort of conclusion as he nodded in determination and looked back at Steve. “Okay, then.”

He played the movie and gestured for Steve to watch. They stayed silent through the entire film. Steve didn’t know what the hell was playing, but it was in black and white. A play, perhaps. After the film was over, Tony murmured goodnight and left Steve to his thoughts.

*

A week later, Tony stood in front of Steve, bracketing him on the couch. In the last few days, Tony’s been withdrawn. Quiet. Well, more than usual. Steve couldn’t even steal a barking laugh or a small smile from him.

“Okay,” Tony said, hands on his hips.

“Okay?” Steve questioned, confusion overriding his appreciation of Tony so close to him, unguarded.

“You want me.” He deadpanned with a grimace.

Steve nodded. “I do.”

“Well… Here.” He gestured towards the front of his sweats, shoulders tense… in anticipation? Tony sighed heavily in exasperation before pulling his pants and underwear down to reveal his flaccid cock.

Steve, embarrassed and suddenly massively nervous, sat still. “Um. What?”

His eyes darted from the patch of hair above Tony’s cock, the fine hair trailing into his lower stomach. It was a pit that the rest of his body was still hidden by the t-shirt. But no matter. If Steve had it his way, he’d take it off.

“Suck,” Tony said in a harsh hiss.

Steve gasped at the demand, the sound unfamiliar to his own ears. Then, suddenly, he was on the floor, on his knees, grabbing Tony’s ass gently and as carefully as possible in the fear that Tony would pull away and laugh at his face. Tony wouldn’t do that. Steve glanced up to catch the determined look on his face. He stood with his chin down to his chest, looking down at Steve.

Steve couldn’t stop the groan that escaped him. It was a fantasy fulfilled. He pinched Tony’s shirt in question, silently asking if he could lift it up. Tony ignored him, grabbed his chin and brought it towards his cock.

Steve was so hard, the burn low his belly feeling like a slight kick. He ignored it in favor of slowly licking the head. Steve decided that he’ll use his mouth and make Tony hard. Painfully erect. Steve took his time, licking the length experimentally, then, when Tony was half-hard, Steve swallowed Tony’s cock, eager to please.

In his effort, he gagged but refused to pull away, mentally focusing, Steve closed his eyes and lost himself in the sensation. He had no idea why Tony suddenly asked for this form of intimacy. But perhaps, Steve reasoned, it was just the proper next step to their relationship? Their outings… dates? They were doing well. Tony was still moody, refusing to talk to him for hours and he often kicked him out of the room, but that’s just because he was still getting used to living with Steve.

“Ohmp,” He said like a complete, inexperienced idiot when Tony grabbed his hair like he was holding reins.

Steve liked it a lot. The pin pricks on his scalp heightened the fact that he was sucking Tony’s now fully-hard dick. Steve did that.

Steve was on his knees, yeah, sucking cock. Who would have thought? He was on his goddamn knees but it felt like a prayer and he was repenting for his sins. Steve let himself get lost in the sensations of Tony’s heavy dick in his mouth. It was sloppy and messy that he had spit dribbling for his chin. But he tried going faster, groaning at the feeling of Tony’s thick cock on the back of his throat.

He moaned when Tony tightened his hold on Steve’s hair. Fingers, tight in a fist across Steve’s scalp. It was almost painful. Like Tony wanted it to hurt.

“Yeah. Fuck you, Rogers.” Steve raised his eyes to catch Tony’s closed ones. His face was flushed and slightly shiny with sweat.

There were tears streaming from Tony’s face. Steve was making him moan, making him feel good to the point that he’s teary. Tony kept grunting, pulling Steve’s hair, his face scrunched up in concentration. Belatedly, Steve realized his own eyes were also watery.

Steve just gagged for it, grabbing Tony’s hip with his other hand in an effort to get Tony to push his cock in harder, faster.

“Fuck…. Fuck… you. Ugh…Steve,” Tony repeated, shoving in deeper. Steve just took it like a champ, wishing like hell that he installed cameras in the living room so he could watch Tony’s face in orgasm.

Steve nodded, pulling off and rearranging them so Tony sat on the couch with Steve in between his legs. Still unsated and like hell, who knows, maybe this is the only chance he’d get to give Tony a blow job, Steve gave light licks across Tony’s dick, catching the come dripping from his thighs and balls. Once satisfied, he looked up at Tony, in hopes for getting approval. It was the first time he’s ever done that, but Steve, in the last few months, has been proactive with his research.

Tony petted his hair. Tugged on it, lips twitching. It was a familiar sight, similar to the time he came back from space, destitute, thin. Except, this time, Tony didn’t have any cutting remarks nor did he grace Steve with cynical sarcasm.

Tony heaved a deep breath, dick still hanging between them and Steve still on his knees. He’s still half-hard, but Tony made no offers to give him a hand. It was fine. Steve would only last a few minutes. He enjoyed the burn of waiting instead.

“Why the sad smile? Did I… was it bad? I thought you were enjoying it.” Steve searched for words, feeling self-conscious like the time he got stood up on a date back in the 40’s. “I can get better,” he said shyly, adding, “for next time. You might have to direct me on how, though.”

Steve offered a sheepish smile. In return, Tony continued petting his hair, hand dropping to rest on Steve’s shoulder. He shook his head. Steve could tell Tony was thinking on how to say something; so he stayed silent, letting the hum of post-orgasm take its course.

“I loved you. Once. But it was forever ago,” Tony said, like he was seeing dawn for the first time. It was a quiet realization that Steve watched unfold in Tony’s expression. Hope bloomed in the deepest parts of him, a place where Steve thought was barren and dark, but where he knew could only be awoken by Tony.

Steve raised a hand to clasp Tony’s own, still on his shoulders. Tony could still remember. Relearn. Steve won’t give up. He leaned forward, asking, “Can you love me again? Can you try, at least?”

“There really isn’t a choice is there?” Tony replied, a lip swooping into a fleeting twist, before pulling away.

*

Every night like clock work, they’d finish a film, then Tony would run his hands over his own hair, making it even more mused and fluffy, then stand in front of Steve. Every night was a new challenge. Tony never smirked or smiled, just jutted his chin out, jaw locked, eyes defiant. Steve met the provocation with enthusiasm and eager hands. He wanted to please Tony so badly. Steve would be good to him.

Since they started this sexual dynamic in their relationship nearly five months ago, Tony never once touched Steve. But Steve milked as many orgasms from Tony as possible. After Tony finished, they’d slump on the sofa for a few minutes and Steve would memorize the open expression of Tony’s face after coming. The rise and fall of his ragged breath calmed Steve, making him forget all his worries. Then, Tony would pull up his pants and they’d part for the night. Usually, Steve returned to his room, masturbated, then took a shower.

Other evenings, when he was so painfully turned on, he’d quickly walk into his room, hand palming his cock. Those evenings were when Tony was rougher with him, the memory seared into Steve’s brain, and ha, eidetic memory was helpful in that case, making him come just by a few strokes.

This evening, however, Tony was focused on the screen as the movie played, an adaptation of a French play called Endgame, Tony had said haughtily. Sometimes Steve forgot that Tony was raised in high society. Even if he wore baggy sweats and holes in his t-shirt, he always looked good because the name Tony Stark couldn’t be separated from money or Iron Man. Tony made looking bruised post-battle into a fashion statement. Whereas Steve, dirt poor and starving in Brooklyn, couldn’t even tell the difference between posh and pretentious.

When Tony selected the film, he mentioned being forced to read it by a tutor who was fond of the dramatics. Steve couldn’t follow the basic premise, too keyed up in anticipation. Awaiting for the film to end so he could suck Tony or give him a hand job, or maybe finger him as he fucked Steve’s face.

Tony laughed, high and loud, a bit hysterical. His face was shuttered as he paused the film and stood over Steve.

Steve, for his part, licked his lips, leaned forward, hands already reaching for Tony’s waist-band.

“Didn’t you hear that, Steve?” Tony asked, looming over him, a familiar sight that got Steve half-hard. “I forgot how good this play is! Didn’t you hear what Nell said? For all of the times you’ve asked me to be happy, they say that ‘nothing is funnier than unhappiness; it's the most comical thing in the world.’ Don’t you agree?”

Tony liked watching all these old films, French plays, or weird, avant-garde stagings. Steve didn’t understand it. He’s got no depth or patience to sift through meaning between words and silences. He preferred direct action, when one says what one means, rather than having to guess and misinterpret. And then again, he only suffered through these plays because Tony was posh. Even if he liked Sci-Fi and Star Wars and Star Trek, he couldn’t shed out decades of interacting with the nobs.

Steve shook his head. “There’s nothing funny about being unhappy.”

Tony snorted, a wild beseeching sound. “You don’t get it.” He looked at Steve with pity, sighing. He looked down, where Steve’s hands rested on Tony’s thighs, then sighed giving a look that somehow spoke well, get on with it.

Steve would try to make Tony happy. He pulled Tony’s pants, and did just that.

*

And so their lives went on. Steve made Tony come every night, a routine he’d never tire of. Hearing Tony moan and curse him out gave him energy to live through the next mission, the next report, the next day. It was a form of salvation in his sorry-ass life, making him process the grief and desperation of losing so much. It shouldn’t be sex that does that, but it does. Perhaps, it’s because he’s having sex with Tony.

Three times a week, Steve had cleared his afternoon of meetings to take Tony out into the city. He had to rely more on Bucky and Nat to keep things in order at the headquarters, but Steve trusted them. Besides, Steve much preferred spending time with Tony rather than sitting in on strategy meetings. He’d read the reports in the evening, and Bucky made sure to call if Steve’s presence was needed.

Tony was no longer withdrawn, but he complained a lot. About everything. First, it made Steve feel like shit, like he wasn’t doing enough. He tried very hard to please Tony in all ways possible. It felt like a slap in the face.

It began with something miniscule: Steve was bad at cleaning. Tony had said that he was used to cleaners coming in and making his home spotless. Well, his lab in the Compound said otherwise, but Steve didn’t argue. If anything, he tried harder, waking up early in the morning to make sure all the grease from the stove was gone. Tony went on and on about the state of the windows, saying that the water stains on the glass windows were driving him mad.

It went like that for weeks, Tony nitpicking about everything in the bed house from the sheets to the state of the bathtub in his master bedroom to Steve’s choice of clothing. Finally, one day, Steve just threw his hands up and called Wanda, who patched his phone to War Machine and Rescue.

Steve held the phone out to Tony as a peace offering. The weekly calls seemed to calm Tony, somewhat. In retrospect, Steve thought that Tony was persnickety just to fuck with Steve. Well, Tony won. Steve, as always, relented.

A year into Tony living in the Tower proved that he was harmless. He didn’t try to escape as long as Steve kept giving him rewards. Tony’s calls with his friends stretched from a quarter of an hour to two hour long calls. Steve had no idea what they had to talk about for such a long period of time. He didn’t even talk that much to Bucky these days, unless it was related to a mission. Tony made Steve promise not to spy on his calls, so Steve didn’t, but he made Natasha monitor the calls just in case.

Tony, then, was easy to subdue as long as Steve tried his damndest to meet his demands, as long as he just let the callous, biting comments slide.

He was happy.

So he wanted to make Tony happy too.

He checked in with Nat about remodeling Tony’s old lab in the Tower. Steve oversaw the process, hoping that giving Tony the lab would solidify the trust they were building with each other. Over many weeks, Wanda warned that giving Tony a lab might not be in the Alliance’s best interest. ‘What if he builds another suit? What if he hurts you, Steve?’

All valid points, he assured her. But Tony was bored out of his mind, and the best way to keep him happy was to give him what he wanted. Albeit, access to the lab would require conditions–Tony can’t miss any meals and had to wrap up his projects by dinner time. He wouldn’t be allowed to build a new armor unless it was to be used in the name of the Alliance. Mostly, Steve just missed watching Tony in his element, tickering in the lab, blowing things up, getting minor cuts that Steve could kiss better.

They were doing well, and good behavior deserved rewards. Thus, Steve told Tony that his old lab would be available by the next month.

“It’s yours, anyway,” Steve said over dinner. He baked a chicken parm. It was a bit dry. Tony grated him about the sauce, too.

Tony dropped his fork, looking at Steve with furrowed eyebrows. “Er. Thanks, I guess.”

“Why are you confused?” Steve asked.

Tony shook his head, picked up the fork, and shoved food into his mouth. Dinner was a quiet affair and Steve didn’t try to fill the silence with any form of talk. He had no updates. He was excited about the lab, hoping that Tony’s face would light up and he’d thank Steve, maybe even finally give him a kiss, even if it was on the cheek.

Steve washed up, with Tony not bothering to dry the dishes, as usual. He refused, stating that the dishwasher would suffice. But Steve insisted on washing and drying by hand, the repetitive steps calming him and clearing his mind. After dropping the last pot in the rack, he padded over to where Tony sat cross legged on the sofa.

Steve glanced at the blacked out screen. “You haven’t picked a movie? It’s your turn to choose.”

Tony glanced up, humming, as Steve sat down. He turned to face Steve, eyes narrowing. “Steve. Do you really think loving me will fill the emptiness, the darkness, inside you? Giving me what I want doesn’t mean love, you know. And I would know, for all the years I overcompensated by giving people things to show them that I care. I figured way later that talking actually helps. Shit, Steve. I’ve been here for a year now, and I still don’t know why you want me. We don’t talk.”

“Yes, we do,” Steve countered, confused. They talked all the time. Yeah, Tony fussed and griped a lot, but it was adorable, so Steve didn’t mind.

“You tell me about missions. The Alliance.” Tony looked sad, eyes vacant. “I don’t think that really counts for talking.”

“I’ll try harder,” Steve promised, nodding with determination.

Tony nodded, appeased, then, gestured for Steve to sit between his legs.

They always have sex in the living room. As if Tony’s room was not allowed. As if the living room was the only place they came together as equals. Steve pulled at Tony’s pants, opened his mouth like a revelation, and licked, slow, measured, eyes on Tony at all times.

“Let go, Tony. C’mon, baby, let go,” Steve urged, feeling Tony clench inside his throat. He pulled him up, holding his thighs over his shoulders as he fingered Tony’s hole faster, fingers slick with lube.

Tony came, shoving deep into Steve’s mouth. He swallowed the come like a greedy, unfed beggar. Steve knew that once they parted, he’d fist himself with quick short, strokes, imagining he was coming all over Tony’s battered hole.

“I want to talk to Nat,” Tony requested, still sticky with come.

“Sure,” Steve replied, not really concerned as to Tony’s reasoning to see Nat. He was more surprised that it took a year of Tony being in the penthouse to request a meeting with her.

Tony's eyes narrowed as if knowing better than Steve’s half-fulfilled bargains. “Alone.”

“Yes, dear,” Steve replied fondly, preening that he made Tony come.

Steve tried to hold onto his part of the deal. He really did. Besides, he didn’t like disappointing Tony, nor would Steve try to jeopardize his hard-won trust. But… he couldn’t stop thinking about what Tony could say to Nat. Would Tony try to convince Nat to release him?

No, she’s too immersed in the mission of the Alliance. However, Nat’s always been soft on Tony. They were close, once upon a time. Steve could never mimic their relationship because while Nat served as his confidant, a general, she and Tony had a friendship. Steve’s own relationship with Nat was inborn from respect for each other’s vision and the knowledge they’d do better work side by side. She wanted to wipe her ledger; she could only accomplish that beside Steve.

Steve opened the footage of Tony’s room on his phone, sitting up on his bed. Through the screen, it looked like Nat was about to leave. She had a hand on handle door, half turned to Tony as if she was called last minute.

“It’ll be easier if you gave in. He’s harmless. Benevolent, even,” She said, body language still defensive, facing Tony head on.

“Yeah, maybe to you. To the rest of you,” Tony replied with vitriol. He sat on the foot of the bed, cross legged.

Nat raised an eyebrow. She almost looked amused as she shook her head. “That’s where you’re wrong, kotenok. He’s only like that to you.”

“Right,” Tony drawled.

“Tony,” Nat called. “Try to be happy. Even if it’s only an approximation. You like Samuel Beckett’s work, too. You know what he said, ‘Try Again. Fail again.’”

“‘Fail better.’” Tony crossed his arms, the movement lagging on the screen’s feed. “This isn’t love, Nat.”

“Who said it was?” She replied, shook her head in determination. “Goodbye, kotenok.”

Tony murmured, “I guess neither of us would know.”

Steve shut the footage and placed the phone down, waiting for Nat to appear from the corridor. She walked over to where Steve was planted on the kitchen’s bar stools.

Nat greeted him, cooly, probably knowing that Steve was listening.

“Take care of him,” She said, but Steve knew better than to take it as anything other than a warning.

“I always do,” Steve quipped back.

She tilted her head, a small turn of the lips, then was gone.

*

Steve was hopeful. Hope was necessary for survival. Captain America represented that once upon a time: a symbol of freedom. But Tony was right, they couldn’t storm into other countries and bring freedom. Not when they didn’t belong in the hearts of the people. The Alliance fixed that. Progress in the early months of their rebuilding showed Steve that things take time. Sometimes change was slow in the upkeep, but it eventually happened.

Ever since his conversation with Nat, something changed within Tony. He seemed curious about Steve’s life, asking questions about the last few years, as if he was trying to fill in the gaps between their time apart. It wasn’t just the interest that came from wanting to manipulate Steve for information. Steve always told Tony the truth, finding no reason to lie.

Tony’s also taken into helping prepare meals. Though, often he’d just distract Steve and make a mess, purposely bollocking a recipe because he wanted to “fix” the meal by adding a random assortment of spices.

Tony spent afternoons in his lab. Steve settled on the sofa and watched him work. He filled his sketchbook with Tony.

One afternoon, Steve presented Tony with DUM-E, U, and Butterfingers.

“You had them?” Tony asked, awed. He still had FRIDAY. But his access to her was limited and controlled by Steve. He still couldn’t allow them full interaction. He needed Tony’s loyalty. FRIDAY always hated Steve. And she’d probably never forgive him for locking her in a dusty server.

Steve nodded. “I saved them for you.”

He didn’t say that Wanda suggested destroying them after they found the bots in Tony’s hideout. They were Tony’s. He’s been good, so he deserved this. Hopefully this would illustrate Steve’s intentions.

“Thanks.” Tony smiled.

Steve blushed. That smile fucked him up, no other way to describe it. Especially because it was unclouded with anger or resentment. Nor was it falsely saccharine. “You’re welcome, sweetheart.”

Their life was quite domestic.

Sometimes Steve forgot he had the pressure of leading a world on his shoulders. He’s allowed more responsibility to Wanda and Nat, too, preferring to defer to their recommendations. It promised more time with Tony.

They skipped the movie tonight, preferring to talk. Tony explained his latest project and mentioned wanting to see War Machine and Rescue–no, Tony insisted that Steve call them Pepper and Rhodey.

“Stop dehumanizing my friends,” Tony said. “Using their call-signs makes them sound like your enemy. They’re not your enemy. Right, Steve?”

“They’re friends,” Steve replied. Tony’s friends were his friends; it practically made them all family. But he knew Tony’s just doing his bidding. Friendship usually promised no harm would come to them. And none would as long as they obeyed. Oh well, Steve would keep an eye on Pepper and Rhodey.

It’s been 19 months since Tony’s seen Pepper and Rhodey in person. Perhaps it was time. Steve was about to agree to arranging a meeting amongst them when Tony removed his feet from under Steve’s thighs. He crawled over to Steve and straddled him.

Steve’s fingers went to grip Tony’s waist, settling.

Tony twisted, moving his arms to circle around Steve, before dropping his ass right above Steve’s crotch.

“I want to see them.”

“I know what you’re doing,” Steve gritted out. It came out as a groan.

This was the first time Tony touched him. The first time Steve was able to hold him up close. He wanted so badly to just hold him for the rest of the evening. Steve wasn’t even aching to get his hands on Tony’s hole or cock. Yeah, he was half-hard, but it seemed like a natural reaction to Tony moving his hips in slow circles.

Tony looked up at him from under his lashes. The imagery just about killed Steve. Tony was difficult to resist on easy days.

“You have to trust me if you want me to trust you,” Tony said.

“Can I be there?” Steve didn’t try to suppress the groan that escaped him when Tony bounced down on his cock.

“Fine.” Tony paused, chewed on his lips, then said, “Because you asked.”

Steve expected Tony to remove himself from the embrace. He’s gotten what he wanted, afterall. But instead Tony placed head on Steve’s left shoulder and snuggled closer.

“Let me just stay here for a little while,” Tony sighed.

Steve pulled him, arranging them into a more comfortable position, and rested his head on top of Tony’s.

Steve’s heart was beating so fast that he had the fleeting thought to be embarrassed by his body’s reaction. But he quelled the thought. Loving meant vulnerability. Steve had to trust Tony not to pick at his scabs and revel when they bled. They’ll be fine. Happy, even.

Tony mumbled by Steve’s ear, “I’m tired, Steve. I’m tired of fighting.”

“It’s alright. Rest. I’ll take care of you.”

“I think I’m okay with that now.”

*

Steve woke to the feeling of wetness around him. He blinked, the ceiling lights letting Steve know that he was still in the living room. The moan around his morning erection literally made his brain freeze. If someone was to walk into the penthouse and shoot him, Steve wouldn’t be able to move.

Tony had his mouth around his cock, eyes teary as he bobbed up and down.

“Shit, baby.” Steve threw his head back, then looked back down at Tony’s ass high up at the end of the couch. Steve spread his thighs wider, hoping to give Tony enough space to rock his own dick on the futons. “Ah,” Steve moaned, putting a hand over Tony’s hair.

How many times were they in this position before? This is the first time Steve is on the receiving end. After over a year and half of living together, this was the first time Tony ever touched him, intimately. Steve moaned louder, gutted that it would be over embarrassingly quick. Tony seemed to know and set up a brutally fast pace. Steve caught the saliva dripping down his cock each time Tony pulled up and down. Those plum, pink lips sucking his dick were mesmerizing. Steve didn’t try to stop his orgasm when it came. Tony hummed, satisfied, and licked Steve dry.

Tony moved up Steve’s torso with a grin, straddled his chest.

“Open your mouth.” He said in a garbled voice.

Steve followed the direction, eager as Tony bent forward and deposited a mix of come and spit on Steve’s awaiting lips. Steve moaned, his cock twitching at the scene. It wouldn’t be long till he was hard again. Tony hummed.

“I wanna taste you, too,” Steve said, pulling Tony closer above his head so he could easily access Tony’s ass with his tongue.

“Ste–Steve,” Tony groaned, no doubt touching his cock as Steve gave quick flat licks over his hole.

Steve took his time, wanting to take Tony apart piece by piece, letting him drop all his weight on Steve’s own body. He licked and sucked over Tony’s hole, then arranged them so he had all of Tony’s weight on one hand as he reached for the lube on the coffee table. Thank god the serum helped with his coordination. With lube-slicked fingers, he entered a digit inside Tony and did a little internal dance at the long moan that came out of the man. He was gonna make Tony come so hard.

He loved that Tony was loud. When Steve first started pleasing him, he was always quiet, grunting, seething or upset after coming. But as of late, Tony seemed to let go of all that emotional turmoil and just let Steve make him come.

“Come, Tony,” Steve said, pushing and twisting his fingers to hit Tony’s prostate. He shifted forward gesturing for Tony to feed him his dick. “Let go, baby. I love it when you let go. You’re so beautiful when you give in.”

Tony came, saying a litany of curses. Steve tried to swallow as much as he could. He loved the taste of Tony in his mouth. He was only slightly disappointed when Tony pulled off, whining about sensitivity, because some of the come dribbled over Steve’s jaw and throat. Steve realized earlier on that he was incredibly possessive. Tony marking Steve with his come made his insides sing.

“Well shit, I’ve missed sucking dick,” Tony deadpanned, slumping over Steve. They were both sticky with come and sweat, but Steve didn’t mind. There was something about being so debased that appealed to him.

“Why did you?” Steve asked, a bit shy. “I mean, er. Not that I don’t appreciate it. Obviously I enjoyed it.”

“I know.” Tony snorted and shimmed so his pelvis grinded over Steve’s once again hard dick. Tony raised his head, eyes on Steve. He nodded in determination as if stealing himself with whatever he was about to tell Steve. “And because you try to make me happy. I see that. You’re good to me, and somehow my fucked up brain thinks that’s good enough. Besides, you’ve been patient enough to have blue balls for a year. I figured you also deserve a reward.”

Steve kissed his cheek. He wanted so bad to kiss Tony’s lips, but he was leaving that up to Tony. “Thank you, Tony.”

“Yeah, yeah. Make me breakfast. That tired me out.”

“Yes, dear,” Steve said, but made no move to get up, content on staying close to Tony even if it meant ignoring his own hunger. He let happiness wash over him.

*

That evening they came between each other’s stomachs. Even after all these years on the run, Tony still had definition in his body, a man made of iron. Steve pulled Tony back to his chest after they cleaned up and they played a film. A funny one, an American classic. Tony had said, “I want to watch one with a happy ending this time.”

Steve didn’t think the movies they’d screened nightly was morbid or tragic. But then again, maybe he didn’t understand international cinema.

The days following Tony sucking him off were a whirlwind of sex. As if Tony’s initiation opened up something new between them. Something fragile just blooming. Steve realized then, that when he’d touch Tony, there was desperation this time, an unrestrained want in the way he opened himself up to Steve. His mouth, his tongue, the rest of his body. It wasn’t until then that Steve understood that the one-sided sex from before wasn’t as satisfying as both of them coming together. This time, Tony touched him too. Sucked him, licked him, fucked him, and it was much more gratifying to lose each other to moans.

In short, it was a couple weeks of non-stop fucking between them. Tony didn’t seem to tire out, always wanting to push the limits between them.

“You may be fucking me, Steve. But I’m in charge. I’m in control,” Tony gritted out as he rode Steve.

Steve just moaned, ceded the authority to Tony.

“Whatever you want, whatever you want, baby,” Steve replied, mouthing over Tony’s collarbone and grabbing his hip to penetrate deeper. He aimed for Tony’s lips, again and again and again, but Tony turned so Steve can only pepper in kisses to his jaw.

They fucked on the couch so much, that Steve might have to purchase a replacement. Sometimes it was on the living room carpet between the TV and the coffee table. Yet, despite everything, they’d part ways and sleep alone.

They still haven’t made it to a bed.

Not until Steve woke to the sound of footsteps in the kitchen in the middle of the night. He was on high-alert, heart shattering with the thought that Tony might try to leave him again. Steve threw his blankets off and rushed out of the room in nothing but his boxers and a loose, threaded shirt.

Tony was by the fridge, filling up a glass of water. He turned around at Steve’s stomping foot steps with a look of guilt. He closed the door and sat on the bar stool, nodding to the seat beside him. Steve made a beeline, taking in Tony’s shake fingers circling the glass.

“Tony? What are you doing?” He hoped he didn’t sound accusatory, and softened it with a raised eyebrow.

“Water,” Tony croaked.

“Are you alright?” Steve reached for the hand on the glass and covered it with his own. It was damp from the condensation.

Tony shook his head. “Nightmares. I get them all the time.” He side-eyed Steve. “It’s gotten better but this one was a bad one. Bad, Steve.” He paused, looking at the counter as if to avoid looking at Steve. “It was about Peter. Spiderman. You met him once.”

“Oh,” Steve replied. “I did. He was good. Strong.”

“Loyal to a goddamn fault.” Tony laughed, and it sounded wet, like he was about to sob but kept swallowing the cries.

Steve’s only introduction to Peter Parker was that he was a kid from Queens. Spider-Man. He knew Tony lost him in space due to the snap. They never recovered him. He was gone, disappeared into the air and then nothingness. Much like Sam.

“I’m sorry, Tony. He was important to you.”

“Yes. He was,” Tony started. It came out hesitant. He paused in between words so much so that it sounded stilted to Steve. As if there was a bunch of cotton on his mouth and he couldn’t figure out what to say.Then, all at once, as if the levees broke, Tony continued, “brilliant, too. Could’a gone to MIT. I would have named him my heir. Well, between him and Harley. But even Harley didn’t make it. I checked for both of them. Everywhere. I lost him, Steve. It was my fault. He shouldn’t have come. Stubborn shit didn’t listen, of course. But I was glad to have him by my side there. Against Thanos. I couldn’t have done it alone. Not without a team.”

Steve blinked, digesting the information. Tony talked to him more in the last few months, opening up, allowing himself to joke with Steve. He talked about War Machine and Rescue, but never about Peter Parker or the war with Thanos. Steve has tried to coax Tony into seeing a security-cleared specialist about his war trauma. But Tony just looked at him like he was an idiot and changed the subject. But here he was in his pj’s, hair floppy, in the middle of the night talking to Steve about something substantive. Steve felt accomplished. Tony trusting him again was the highest form of power and authority he could ever have.

“I’m so sorry, Tony. I’m sorry for not being there,” Steve whispered. It ached to see Tony shaky and disoriented. Steve still had nightmares, too. About the war, about starving as a kid in Brooklyn. Sometimes he dreamt that his mother hated him and thought he was a monster. Usually he'd wake up alone and stare at the ceiling. But with Tony, he didn't have to be by himself anymore. No, they had each other. They could smooth anxieties away, ground each other when one of them woke up confused with voices raw from screaming.

“I needed you. You weren’t there.”

It was the same exact words Steve’s heard long ago. Tony saying Liar! With wide eyes. It still haunts him in his dreams some nights. Steve's mind flashed to when Tony was weak with dehydration, sitting in a wheelchair in the Compound. It was pitiful, even more so to see an IV drip in Tony’s veins. Steve was to blame. He fucked up. He didn't listen to Tony, and see where it got them: half their friends and the universe dusted.

“I’m here now, sweetheart. I’m here,” Steve said, hoping that the conviction in his voice rang true to Tony. “I won’t leave you. Not again.”

Tony snored, a look of amusement on his face before it turned somber. “I know. The fucked up thing is that I know. You’ll take care of me.”

“I will, Tony,” Steve promised. “I’ll take care of you. Anything you want. I’ll give you everything. All of me, even. Just please. Let me take care of you.”

Steve stood and pulled Tony up, tucked him under his shoulder and walked them back to Tony’s room. Steve held him close, savoring Tony’s being so close to him. It was more intimate than sex. It was as if things were finally falling into place and solidifying. Tony wasn’t trying to sneak out in the middle of the night, disable the security system, and leave. He wasn’t gonna break out War Mach–no, Rhodey and Pepper. They were all friends. Tony was finally convinced about the political project and chose Steve. He was here to stay.

Steve turned on the bedside lamp by Tony’s bed, catching the haphazardly thrown comforters across the bed. They sat side by side, Tony closer to the headboard with Steve at the foot of the bed. The hair on Steve’s legs stood when the AC automatically turned back on.

Steve didn’t know how long they stayed there, sitting in the cold with nothing but thin clothing covering them. It could have been minutes or hours. Eventually, Tony yawned and moved under the covers, kicking Steve off his side of the bed.

He made the move to exit, understanding when he was being kicked out. It was late anyway. Steve watched Tony observe him curiously. Like he couldn’t figure out Steve. After all the time they’d been together, the irony was that they didn’t seem to recognize each other’s ticks. Steve did a bang up job of it, going solely by intuition and the driving need to care for Tony.

“Do you want to…,” Tony started, turning away to face the other side of the bed away from Steve’s prying eyes. “You can stay. If you want.”

Steve expected a request to come soon. Tony knew Steve wanted nothing but to share a bed together. They’d calm each other. Steve would reach over in the middle of the night and check if Tony had blankets over him because he had a habit of kicking it off and then complaining he was cold. He’s seen the footage. Steve’s hinted at it almost every other evening.

But nothing came. Instead, Tony stared at the pillows on the right side of the bed, still willfully ignoring Steve.

Something settled inside him. Victory. It was a win, Steve understood with clarity.

Steve shut the lamp off, then padded to the other side. He slipped inside and turned to Tony. Light from the glass windows filtered in and created shadows across their faces.

They were just inches apart. Soft, shallow breath came out of Tony’s lips. Steve couldn’t stop staring.

“Well shit, is this the only form of intimacy I can have? With such messed up…” he shook his head, sounding sardonic, but it came out as a whisper. “Nevermind. Fuck it all.”

Steve thought he sort of understood Tony. Sex didn’t mean intimacy. Steve just had to wait and naturally, they’d inch towards the companionship and quiet affection Tony sought.

“Tony,” Steve called in the quiet. “Can I kiss you?”

For all the fucking, hand-holding, and dates they both had, not once had Tony and Steve kissed. Tony always turned away. When they were fucking and he was on top of Steve, he’d hide his face under Steve’s neck. If Tony was on the bottom, he’d prefer facing away so Steve just shrugged and kissed Tony’s back. He took whatever he was given, whatever Tony offered. Steve meant it: he’d settle for specks and morsels.

Tony gasped so softly that Steve only heard it because of his enhanced hearing. He stilled, raising his eyes to meet Steve’s.

“I’m amenable to it. Fine.”

They kissed. Soft. Slow, unlike the beat of their frantic fucking. Tony pulled away first, looking at Steve with some sort of marvel. Steve couldn’t exactly place Tony’s reaction. But he hoped it was fine.

“Does that count?” Steve stared at Tony’s closed eyes. Long lashes fanned out. He was mesmerizing. Gorgeous, and Steve’s. There was a small smile on his lip. “As intimacy?”

“Yeah, it does. Point for you.”

“Anything else?” Steve asked, afraid to say anything else.

Tony nodded but the movement seemed like he was debating his next words. “Just hold me,” he said.

Steve moved closer, wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulder and pulled him close. Tony huffed, then settled his cheek over Steve’s pectoral, and wrapped an arm on his waist. He listened to Tony’s breath until it evened out and they were both asleep.

He slept well for the first time since waking up on ice. There was no one else for him, no one else would understand Steve. He and Tony are meant for each other.

This was winning and Steve didn’t even have to lose a man in his victory.

*

They fuck, but slower. Like Steve and Tony weren’t chasing something unattainable anymore. They look at each other when they have sex and Tony actually said he preferred to be on his back so he could see Steve’s face. They don’t even fuck everyday or every other day anymore. Not that Steve is complaining. In actuality, they seem to get on better. Steve’s old room became his art studio after a couple of weeks sleeping in Tony’s room.

Tony said, “Just bring your shit here and stop being coy. You hog the blankets but that’s alright because the ones you have are softer than mine. Just for that, I’ll tolerate sharing a bed with you, Rogers.”

Steve moved in his clothes that evening and they shared a warm bath until both their fingers were pruned.

They bickered a lot. About food, about the state of the house, Tony’s time in the workshop, and whether Rhodes and Pepper might visit them. Steve was still unsure about having Rhodes and Pepper in their house. But it was time. Soon. Wanda assured Steve that the duo would be complacent and supportive of Tony’s decision to be with Steve.

He just hoped it was true.

But before then, Steve was called for a mission.

Usually he let Nat and Bucky handle the administrative part of the job, but Steve had to make appearances to keep the rebellion in line.

“They’re getting brave because they haven’t seen you around.” Nat stood at attention. She opted to stay home and protect Tony.

“Teach them a lesson,” Wanda added.

Bucky just grunted and glared. The warning was clear, though: Steve, all too happy to stay in his Tower with Tony, had to break some necks and thwart the rebellion.

And so he did. Well, he tried.

His team didn’t expect Jessica Jones and Luke Cage to team up with Frank Castle. They weren’t seamless. In fact, they were rocky as hell as if they weren’t used to working together.

Yeah, they were strong. Forceful in the fact that they had muscle and righteous will.

But Steve had Tony to come home to and the thought that these sons of bitches would prevent him from returning home enraged him.

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones made Steve their own personal punching bag, while Castle shot endless sounds at Bucky and Wanda.

“Give us back Stark,” Jessica Jones drew out, looking both bored and infuriated.

They were so pathetic. They couldn’t even call Tony by his first name.

Steve stood taller. He spat at her face with manic glee and unclasped his shield, throwing it at Cage.

He could hear Bucky grunting in the background, but was unable to provide support because Jessica Jones caught the shield and clocked him in the face with his own weapon. Steve was pretty banged up from Jessica Jones’ fist and screams. She straddled him, called him a monster, a fucking asshole.

Steve, for a moment, just took the shots. A little part of him agreed with her. He didn’t even try to refute it, and his silence seemed to make her angier. “Where the fuck is Tony Stark, you piece of shit?!”

Steve held her steel gaze. “Safe,” he spat out.

“Fucking liar!” She punched him again, in the mouth this time. He might lose a tooth with the force of the blow. “People aren’t safe with you. You’re a goddamn lunatic.”

“I’d never hurt him. You have to know that,” Steve seethed, eyes flashing.

She paused, one first held high, the other one pining Steve to the ground in a chokehold. He was a super soldier filled with serum that made him resilient to casual blows. Steve could easily push her off and snap her neck.

But she was an angry woman who wanted to yell about a man’s injustice. He deserved her wrath. Steve, once again, let her have the stage. He didn’t try to move or block when her fist came down to clock him in the eye.

“So, your obsession with Stark wasn’t just talk. You’d burn the world just to have him. I knew a man like you once.” With that, she took out a shiny knife in which she used to stab Steve again and again all over his stomach.

In the fight, Steve once again wished he had aerial support. He might have to relent and allow War Machine and Rescue back on the field, as long as they followed commands.

“People like you ruin things for everyone else.” Jessica punctuated each hit with a curse. Her wild eyes gleamed. “You took away his choice. You deserve to fucking die, Rogers.”

“He chose me,” Steve growled, finally waking up from the fog of Jessica’s accusations. Tony chose him; he said so. Steve just made the decision to eliminate barriers from that choice. Everything would work out if only these vigilantes stopped terrorizing society. He was starting to think more and more about locking them up rather than having them serve under the Alliance.

Steve focused on throwing her off as he caught Frank Castle punching Bucky in the throat like a savage, while Wanda and Cage battled it off.

Eventually, Wanda subdued Jessica Jones, which allowed them to bargain a ceasefire with Luke Cage. Just as Wanda turned to apprehend Frank Castle, the She-Hulk came out of nowhere and the rebels all escaped.

Steve was fine. Mostly.

Bucky, however, had a broken collarbone, stab wounds all over his left thighs, and bruised throat. Steve couldn’t help but worry. Frank Castle was insane. They all knew his M.O.

If Bucky had another minute under Castle, then Bucky would be dead.

Presently, he was in bed, replaying Tony’s shock at Steve’s state and his demand for Steve to explain everything that happened in the mission. Nat gave Tony permission to access the files, but he asked for her mission report instead. With a nod, Steve allowed it.

Tony’s face did a whole gymnastics show that he should score full points for: hesitancy, defiance, happiness, anger, and then disappointment.

“Sorry,” he said.

“It’s alright, Tony. You could have warned me not to underestimate your friends,” Steve tried to say. He’s not sure what came out of his mouth. It felt like cotton and he spent the entire trip on the quintjet spitting blood into a basket.

“I did tell you that,” Tony said wryly, in a tone that was almost boastful. Proud.

Steve had Tony. But he realized Tony didn’t just belong to him. He had friends. People who watched his back and demanded that he was returned.

Not a chance in hell, Steve thought. Tony was better beside him. Happy and comfortable. He didn’t have to live in a shithole like Jones and Cage and the rest of those delinquents screaming about their warped, apologetic version of justice.

Those three had to know that justice always meant getting your hands bloody.

“They were good,” Steve mumbled, feeling like throwing up, minding filtering between Jessica Jones’s snarls of accusation and between Tony’s fussing over him. Steve chose to focus on Tony instead. He was in awe of how much Tony was caring for him. Maybe he should get hurt more often. Tony changed his bandages, forced him to drink water, and kept brushing Steve’s matted hair back.

His mind kept returning to Jessica Jones’ allegations. He felt like shit. “Sometimes I feel dead inside. But when I’m with you, Tony, I finally feel normal.”

Tony murmured, “We’re fucked up, Steve.”

Steve tried to refute that, but instead he dropped his head further down the mattress. Their shared bed.

“All I want is to be normal,” Steve replied.

“You’re Steve Rogers, something in the world would be wrong if you were ordinary.” Tony sounded so far away, like Steve was underwater. He couldn’t be without Tony. He felt like he was drowning, dropping back into the waters still stuck in the Valkyrie.

“Tony. Tony…,” Steve insisted, wincing when he made the move to follow Tony’s voice. “Come close. Please. I want a simple life.”

“We’re not cut out for that, baby.”

“But we’ve done a good job trying, sweetheart, don’t you think?”

Tony sobbed out a laugh, bitter, amused, and cynical all at once. “I’ve lost my goddamn mind. I thought, at least…. I’d have that. Fuck. You took everything else, you know that? Steve.”

“What?” He was still slightly loopy from the painkillers Helen shot him with, even if the super soldier metabolism was going through it quickly.

“I could–,” he paused, searching for words. Steve watched Tony look away and back with some sort of determination. Steve’s vision was still fuzzy, but he knew the set of Tony’s jaw meant he was steeling himself for some sort of declaration. “You asked me before, you remember, don’t you? If I could try to be happy.”

Steve hummed, content on listening and watching Tony talk, talk, talk. Barely holding onto the words as his head spun, and so did his vision. There were two Tonys, three Tonys in his periphery, above him. All saying the same thing: love, love, love.

“I could, Steve. I think I could love you. But you have to get on the good side of my friends. That was just Jessica and Luke. I don’t think you’ve met Charles.”

Then, Steve realized, the fight won’t be over for a long time. “They’ll keep coming after you.”

“They will,” Tony confirmed with resignation.

“They won’t give up?”

“You’ve met them. I only associate myself with stubborn idiots, it seems.” Tony paused, running his hand over Steve’s hair. “You’ll have to convince them of the Alliance. The mission.”

“Like I did with you?” Steve searched Tony’s eyes. “Tony, look at me? Please? I want to see you.”

Tony’s gaze was far off before he turned back to Steve. There was a tone of sadness, maybe grief, that shadowed his face.

“I’ll be fine, Tony. Don’t worry about me.”

Tony went on to talk about his friends. But not one of them has succeeded in defeating Steve and the Alliance. Steve had nothing to worry about. He had Wanda as his first line of defense. She’d persuaded the vigilantes to join their cause once they were apprehended. This time, Tony was on Steve’s side. He was resigned to it. Happy, even. Tony said he could love Steve. That’s all that mattered. Somehow everything would work out in the end. They always did.

“Thank you. That’s all I wanted,” Steve replied, pawing several Tony’s in his line of sight. He grunted, wishing Tony would stay still so that Steve could pull him into the bed. “I love you, sweetheart.”

“Fuck. I’ve always been weak for you.” Steve heard the defeated exhale and then, suddenly, there was a dip in the mattress and Tony was beside him.

“Jessica said I’m a monster,” Steve whispered, like a secret. He hoped it wasn’t true. He searched Tony’s shuttered face, unsatisfied with the quiet. “Am I?”

Tony didn’t say anything for a long time.

Steve took the silence as validity of the statement and choked on a sob.

“Please don’t think I’m a monster, Tony. Not you too. Please.” Steve clasped Tony’s shirt, pulled him close so he could tuck himself right over Tony’s head. “Everything I did… what I’ve done. Wasn’t it for the best? It was for everyone. You see that, you understand, Tony.”

Slowly, Tony twisted and wrapped his arms around Steve. But Tony stayed silent, seemingly farway. Again, Steve wondered if he’d ever have Tony’s hard-won loyalty.

He wanted Tony’s comfort, sought it out like it was the only patch of sunshine left on this decaying Earth.

Tony seemed to withhold himself, hesitant in his gesture, expression masked.

Steve cried, assuming that this was the correct response. Perhaps, then Tony would refute Jessica’s claims and tell Steve he’s a good man. The tears that came out of him were hard-won. He’s slightly confused, unsure if crying meant that he was pathetic or actually upset about the turn of events. Steve was mostly doubtful. If he didn’t cry at the accusations, did that mean he’s a monster?

He didn’t care about Jessica. But Steve wouldn’t be able to live if Tony actually thought he was a horrible man.

In the years he’s been awake, he’s numbed himself to the pain, especially after almost losing Tony during the war with Thanos. Steve forced himself to think of who he was: a Brooklyn kid who starved because he was poor. All he wanted to do was make a difference in the world. As he did now.

The means are different. But he’s not ashamed.

Slowly, tears streamed from his eyes, running down like parallel rivers across his face.

He thought of his father beating his mother. Poor Sarah Rogers, a push over to an alcoholic man who could never love him as much as he adored the bottle. He thought of her bruised face and the shaky smile when she’d put Steve to bed. Her heart was probably the same hue as the molten blues and greens of her cheeks. Love gave her a beating. Steve wept for her.

Steve felt like a fool. He’s a man who owns the world. Saved it from destroying itself. But here he was mourning the life of a dead woman.

It did the job though. He’s crying heavily. Sobs ripping through his chest as his memories think of Bucky falling off the training and waking up having to endure the feeling of loss.

Tony tightened his hold around Steve.

“You’re not a monster,” he said vehemently, like he was forcing Steve to believe it.

“Tell me I’m good. Say I’m a good man,” Steve begged.

Steve was rocked, side to side, a shushing sound from Tony’s lip calmed him. Over and over, Tony murmured platitudes, “You’ve always been good, Steve. Always.”

Steve almost believed him. He knew it was a lie. He wasn’t good. But he’d sure as hell try. For Tony. This was all for Tony. Suit of armor around the world? Steve should have listened all those years ago. And now look at what happened to their world. Destroyed by a mad Titan.

But that’s alright. They have a peaceful, united world now.

Tony’s where he belonged: home. Beside Steve.

“I’m not. I’m not good,” Steve replied. “I know that. But I’m begging you to love me anyway.”

“You are good. You’re just wrong.” Tony withdrew his hands from Steve’s head. He might have made a protesting sound because Tony resumed his ministrations right away. “You can still be a good man and be wrong.”

Steve preened. Tony finally thought he was a good man, meaning Tony was finally understanding Steve’s logic and the Alliance’s mission. Tony would be on board soon enough. So, in effect, he dragged up memories from waking up into the new century, recalling the misery of seeing Tony back from space after months away. The vivid echo of the past; when Tony left the compound once he learned of Steve and Natasha’s governmental coup.

He felt all of that. He wasn’t a monster… no, he wasn’t. Steve Rogers was a good man.

Steve cried until his voice was hoarse, lamenting to Tony about mistakes and regrets, the feeling of hopelessness once he realized that humans were nothing against a Mad Titan, but they were even worse to each other. He told Tony that the world deserved a new era of governance. If not for those that lived, but future generations. People would not be born into misery and poverty. Not under the Alliance.

“Hush, my love,” Tony whispered, then pressed a chaste kiss to Steve’s dry lips. “You’re safe. I’m here.”

Eventually, they both fell asleep, and sometime later, Steve woke up to the feeling of Tony tightening his arms around him, their legs closed over each other as if they were afraid to let go.

This was evidence enough. Tony held him and didn’t let go. Burrowing closer to Tony, a smile slipped on Steve’s face. He closed his eyes and fell asleep.

*

One must assume that they were both happy.