It’s a unique experience, being brought back from the dead.
That first desperate, agonizing breath—filling his lungs from a baseline of zero, for the first time since he was born. (Since the last time they killed him, yesterday or the day before.) The jolt of life on a TV screen feels like tearing apart in reality, but then again, these people don’t exactly have training. If they did they wouldn’t use it; preventing pain is hardly the point. Every time, Tony thinks his chest will finally crack open. He goes from thinking it to hoping for it, flat on the floor of their rocky cave cell with his hands and feet still twitching. Waiting for Steve to get back. They go slower with Steve.
When he staggers in, or is thrown, he always falls down next to Tony. Not too close, because neither of them can stand to be touched, and besides they have an image to maintain (we’ve never met) but Steve’s hair or his shoe will brush Tony’s and later he’ll lace their fingers together where the camera can’t see. Steve’s hands are still ice cold from before but he’s not the one who’s shivering. When Tony turns on his side to throw up, convulsing and choking, he still doesn’t let go.
Still here? Steve asks and, shaking, he whispers Yeah.
Forty-three hours before the convoy was attacked, Tony Stark met Captain Rogers on the Bagram Airfield tarmac. He’d heard plenty about Rogers — the ‘model soldier’, the ‘born fighter’ who ‘never backed down’ — from Rhodey, often and enthusiastically enough that Tony finally asked if someone might have a little crush. (Cue about a year’s worth of indignant fumbling as Rhodey tried to express that he did not, he would never, not that there was anything wrong with that but no, Tony, why do you always have to make it about sex, I admire the man and that’s all!)
He nearly brought it up again as they got off the plane and Rhodey leaned forward, muttering that’s him, that’s Rogers before heading to the hangar. But by the time Tony got close enough to check the name on Rogers’ uniform, he was glad Rhodey didn’t actually want to sleep with the guy.
Because Tony really, really did.
As what most people called a shallow bastard, Tony generally considered himself an aesthete of the human form. And he was good at it. His sex life didn’t involve searching for soul-deep connection or even basic intelligence, but when Tony stood there in the bright midday sun, jet-lagged and just a little drunk, and thought that Rogers was absolutely stunning, he was damn well correct.
While Tony shook hands and made nice with Generals Sullivan, Gabriel and Sherzai, he kept furtively glancing over at Rogers, taking him in piece by piece. Broad shouldered. Blond. Surprisingly pale. Perfect stance, even not at attention, eyes straight ahead. (Tony sidled closer.) Eyelashes glowing near-white in the sun and a gorgeous lower lip that just begged to be bitten, and often.
Nobody offered an introduction, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him.
“Captain Rogers, yeah?” he said, tilting his head back.
Rogers was startled, but when his eyes met Tony’s they were confident and calm. “Yes, sir.”
“Thought so, yeah. You know my buddy Rhodey— Air Force, ’bout yea high, kind of like a saint but less fun at parties.” He saw a couple guys grin, but Tony’s focus was on Rogers and his blank, inscrutable expression. “Says great things about you. Nice to get a face for the name.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Please, no ‘sirs’, you’re gonna make me feel ancient. Tony Stark,” he added, pointing to his own face, “in case you missed it. I don’t know, seems crass to just assume.”
There, that got a smile, just a tiny little blink-and-you-miss-it twitch.
“Nice to meet you,” Steve said as he shook Tony’s hand.
“Likewise, Captain.” As he withdrew Tony lingered, sliding his fingers just a little too slowly over the callouses on Rogers’ palm. No reaction; he’d have to try harder next time.
But that was where Stark’s day, begun so well, began its steady downhill slide. Some admiral was running late, to the point of not being in the country, and according to Gabriel they’d have to wait at least til morning to run the Jericho demonstration. “If all goes well,” Sullivan said as if Tony would be infected by optimism, “we can take the convoy out around 0700 and head straight to Kabul from there.”
“Ah.” Tony blinked behind his sunglasses and scanned his memory. Nothing. “I’m sorry, what?”
Gabriel glared. Law of averages or something—there was always one guy who thought Tony should keep his ass at home and leave war to the real men. “Stane said he’d fill you in.”
“Yeah? Well, he will,” Tony agreed, flipping open his phone, “any second now, if we’re lucky.” Around him, the rest of the soldiers were dispersing, and Sullivan led the other two generals off to give him privacy. Had Tony particularly cared, it would have been a nice gesture.
Obie picked up on the fourth or fifth ring. “Hey, buddy,” he said only a little blearily, sitting in bed and squinting at the screen of his own Starkphone. “How was the trip?”
“Great, fine, no complaints.” He’d have to do something about the flight attendants, too. “Reporting to you live from tomorrow morning, where I’m told we’re going to Kabul.”
“Yeahhh, sorry about that.” Obie gave him one of those rueful, affable grins that made it really difficult for anyone to be angry with him. He claimed to have perfected it making apologies for Tony—which, admittedly, was possible. “Last minute thing, they wanna talk to you at Eggers.”
“Which is... not a place serving breakfast.”
“No, Tony,” Obie said patiently. “It was renamed in honor of a soldier.”
“Well, now I’m staying for two nights, so it’d be nice if they fed me something.”
“And I only brought the one suit, a little warning wouldn’t’ve—”
“Hanging up on you, Tony.”
As far as he can tell, they want the plans for every Stark weapon. A working model, too, if they can get it, though god knows they’ve got plenty already. More than a raid (or five) would get them, so they have to be getting it elsewhere. Black market, maybe, or just sold off by an indiscriminate general. Now they want to get rid of the middle man; maybe go into business themselves, maybe just make some cheap knock-offs so they can kill more people faster. All this should make sense, but.
But it’s just too broad a goal, too ambitious. All the details of what happened are running circles in his brain, forming a shape he can’t name until Steve says “They’re lazy. And cruel. Like they’re waiting for something.”
Tony is lying flat on his back, aiming to inhale just once without his muscles seizing up. He could make a joke about cruelty, but the effort would hurt and he knows what Steve means. This isn’t all-out, relentless, or even systematic. They are tortured and then ignored, interrogated and left to regroup. They get food and water (more or less) and are allowed to sleep at night.
So finding out what they know is not the primary concern. There’s another game being played, with stakes bigger than blueprints or a few crude missiles. Ransom? Extortion? Who the hell knows. But if information is not the goal, they are that much more expendable, and torture is just...
“We’re the Friday night football.”
“I was more a baseball guy, myself.” Steve smiles at the shadows above them, as if he didn’t just refer to himself in past tense. Tony wants him to stop. He wants to stop waking up at night, afraid that his heart has stopped. He wants Steve to hold him, and it’s humiliating.
“Yeah,” he says, and breath hisses through his teeth. “Yankees?”
“Huh. We should switch coasts.”
It’s the last time they talk about normal things, real life. Tony will look back and regret it. What he meant was you should stay with me. What he meant was please don’t die.
“So, Captain,” Tony said as he plopped down next to Rhodey in the mess hall. Rogers, sitting across from them, raised his eyebrows just a little. “Can I call you Cap, or is that moving too fast? You should sign up for the convoy tomorrow, Gabriel wants volunteers.”
Rhodey just rolled his eyes and forked up some cafeteria-grade spaghetti. “And why should he do that?”
“Because he wants to sleep with me,” Tony informed him matter-of-factly, relishing the clang of two utensils dropped in unison. “No, wait! Sorry. That’s the other way around.” He meticulously opened his bottle of water as if this were just another day for him, which honestly it kind of was.
“Just ignore him,” Rhodey told Rogers in his second-most-pained voice. “I swear he’s harmless.”
“I resent that implication,” said Tony. “Would a harmless person win our little bet?”
Rhodey turned in his chair with one quick jolt, too startled to hide it. Then he narrowed his eyes at Tony and, after a short pause, shook his head. “I’ll believe that when I see it, Stark.”
“Get ready, then, Rhodester. You won’t even know what hit you.”
On the other side of the table, Rogers was peering between the two of them like he couldn’t decide whether to be amused, annoyed or alarmed. “Sorry— what bet?”
Tony turned to look at him straight-on again instead of just sneaking glances every few seconds. He only had so many hours to convince Rogers to sleep with him, and he was very ready to brag, if that was what it took. But then Rhodey said “It’s nothing, Captain,” and Rogers nodded crisply, and all of a sudden it was a rank thing. Tony didn’t think he’d win any points messing with that.
Instead he went back to staring at Captain Rogers, who was eating his meal in calm, methodical silence. Presumably on break, or off duty, or something like that, Rogers was still in uniform but had been nice enough to strip down to his t-shirt. The cotton strained across his chest and biceps, clinging to the lines of every muscle underneath, and Tony caught himself licking his lips. This kid was seriously like a present just waiting to be unwrapped.
Rhodey kicked him under the table.
When Tony hissed and turned his head, he got that look that begged him to stop it now, you are a dirty old man and it’s embarrassing. But Rhodey had to know Tony would just take that as a challenge.
Or if he didn’t, he was a terrible excuse for a friend.
“So,” Tony said a little too cheerfully. “Convoy duty?”
He could almost hear Rhodey’s teeth grinding over the noise of the mess hall. But in Tony’s defense, he’d never tried to get one of Rhodey’s war buddies into bed with him before, so he was way past due and Captain Rogers was just... offensively attractive, really. Not having sex would be the true injustice here.
Before Tony could say anything else or Rhodey could be a killjoy, Rogers answered.
“I, uh. Already signed up, sir.” His cheeks were flushed light pink and his fingers twitched around his silverware, but he met Tony’s eyes and held them. Stubborn.
Somewhere in that silence, Rhodey slumped slowly down until he was only kept upright by his elbows, too betrayed by the universe to do more than prod his food and sigh. Tony might have made fun if he hadn’t been fighting the urge to cheer a little, or dance, or something equally stupid.
“Did you now,” he said instead as a grin spread across his face. “Well then, Cap—”
“You can call me Steve, Mr. Stark,” he interrupted, and the hint of exasperation in his voice just made Tony like him even more.
“Okay, Steve,” Tony agreed easily. “Where are you from?”
For a second Steve just blinked at him, caught off guard in a way that should not have been so hot. Then he shrugged just a bit. “Brooklyn.”
“Oh, hey. My dad was in Manhattan— borough and Project, actually, back in the old days. Don’t remember it much—moved SI to LA in the eighties, so. Guess that’s why I’ve never seen you around.”
“That and Afghanistan,” Steve agreed, with a little smile that grew when Tony laughed.
(But why had he even said that? He knew plenty of people from New York, hell, he’d been born there after all, and Happy was even from Brooklyn. He could have mentioned that, instead of his dad of all things, he never talked about Howard unless he was standing in front of the press or trying to get money. But here he was, blabbering on because for some reason he liked it, wanted to keep talking to Steve and get Steve to talk back, which was clearly just...)
“How come you never bring your friends home?” he demanded, turning on Rhodey. “You know how much I love slumber parties.”
Whatever Rhodey mumbled into the mouth of his water bottle, it sounded disconsolate.
“I— have you, um. Been out here before?” Steve tried. Interested or not, he looked like he was getting onto the wrong side of uncomfortable, and Tony decided to take pity on him.
“First time, in fact. And what about you, it’s got to be— what, third tour, fourth?”
“Just starting the fifth.”
Tony managed not to whistle, but it probably showed on his face. Out here? That wasn’t just dedicated, that was career military with a side order of death wish. Rogers had to have signed up the second he turned eighteen, and it wasn’t as if they had a draft going— he could have come back to the States after the first few, coached Little League or raised sheep and nobody in their right mind would’ve faulted him for it. But he didn’t. He stayed here, fighting for his country in a half-forgotten war.
“D’you miss it? Home?” Tony asked for no discernible reason; to his right, Rhodey stared at him like he’d lost his fucking mind.
“Not...” Steve ran his thumb across his lower lip, which was horribly unfair. “Not a lot, I guess, no. But then, most of my friends are here now.” He cleared his throat, and when he spoke again his voice was extra captain-ish. “You get used to it, I guess.”
It occurred to Tony, in one of his more maudlin moments, that since Rhodey was at the table he could pretty fairly say that all his friends were here, too. The only one not on his payroll. Of course, he wasn’t about to say that, and he couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he shut up and thought of stupid things like velocity. Trajectory. Whether Steve was happy. And for a second Steve gave him an odd look, like he’d been expecting something else, but Tony just set about thoroughly shredding his bread roll.
Rhodey glanced at his watch and frowned. “I should get going; I need to meet Sullivan— be good,” he warned, pointing at Tony as he stood up with his plate. “I’ll see you later, Captain.”
“Night, Colonel.” It might have been wishful thinking on Tony’s part, but as Rhodey walked away he could have sworn Steve shifted in his seat a little. He glanced up at Tony, looked back at his food and took a very large bite of canned peas. Not that it made him any less conspicuous. Even chewing vegetables with his eyes down and his big shoulders hunched, Rogers was like something out of a really great wet dream.
Tony let the moment stretch on as he imagined how dumping the rest of his water on Steve would make that shirt stick to him, translucent, like a second skin. Molding even more tightly to all those muscles and dripping, water trickling down... not tonight, he told himself, leaning in closer across the table.
“So, Cap,” he said quietly, almost a purr. “Looks like we’ll be seeing more of each other.”
He really liked the way Steve blushed.
They’ve been leaving Tony in the dark cave cell for days on end; they say the last resuscitation took almost five minutes. He doesn’t remember, but he knows that his chest hurts constantly now, like a twisting knife below his sternum. And he knows he hates this more than anything, more than being tortured, even, because now there is nothing to distract his attention when Steve is brought back.
Tony doesn’t try to rise when the door swings open, and he doesn’t try to speak, just watches Steve fall and takes the hand that reaches out when they’ve gone. He can tell from Steve’s face that it still hurts like hell to be touched, but when Tony tries to let go Steve half-sobs and clutches his fingers.
Only a monster, or a saint, could refuse him, and Tony Stark is neither.
He does what he can. He talks. They don’t remember later what he said, but Tony spills out words with every gust of air he can wring from his lungs, engineering and math and stories, maybe. The rules Steve made god-knows-how-long ago keep Tony still, not on his knees searching for any, fuck, any unhurt bit of skin he could curl himself around because he’s done this to Steve, they were after Tony first, weren’t they, and now they’re breaking someone better. As he talks he shields Steve from the cameras and touches his less bruised cheek; sweat or a tear drips down Steve’s face but he leans into it, drawing a shaky breath.
Tony tries not to look down at Steve’s fingers, not ever, not since the day the shark-eyed man in charge said only Stark needs hands. (Hands that work, hands not broken, crushed, frozen and bloody)
Steve still holds on, and he can’t do any less.
The morning’s demonstration was a smashing success. Of course, the assembled brass tried to cover it up with a lot of solemn nodding and too-firm handshakes, but Tony knew the type. He’d seen the hunger in their eyes before the shockwave dusted them all. Before the end of the year he’d be a few million richer and maybe— hell, who knew? The war might even finally be over.
He’d spotted Steve a ways off, talking with some of the other soldiers, but before he could make a move he was intercepted by Rhodey. “Hey, Tony. I’m going to have to head out.”
“Out like, country, out?” Tony asked into the mouth of his glass.
“Just got orders this morning,” he confirmed, eyeing Tony’s drink with a resigned sort of distaste. “Nothing big, but you know how it is. They’ve got a plane waiting for me back at the base.”
“All right, well, try not to have any fun, you know it upsets your digestion.” Tony clapped him on the shoulder, already moving away, and jerked his thumb towards where Rogers was standing. “Love to come along, honey, but I think I’ve got a date.”
He turned towards the humvees and had to imagine the look on Rhodey’s face. “Tony, please don’t...”
“Yeah, no, wouldn’t dream of it,” he called back over his shoulder.
It was easy as lying to get the seat next to Rogers, who looked somewhere between pleased and exasperated to see him again. Hopefully a good sign. While the other two soldiers flipped a coin for who would drive, Tony plopped into his seat and placed the hand not holding his drink on Steve’s thigh.
It was removed almost immediately. “I’m on duty, Mr. Stark,” Steve told him, frowning. Once he seemed satisfied that Tony would keep his hands to himself, he went back to looking out the window.
Tony ran a thumb around the rim of his drink and smirked. Interesting choice of words. Not no, or stop, which would have put him off more permanently. Just I’m on duty, which to his mind suggested a time when Steve was off duty and might be a bit more receptive to Tony’s hand on his leg (or elsewhere).
A guy could always hope, he figured, so he sipped his scotch and settled in.
Dugan and Jones got in the front seat a few seconds later, and they headed off southwest in silence. Not break-in-the-conversation silence, but actual, total, listen-to-the-AC-rattle-in-the-deathly-quiet silence, and Tony wasn’t sure what to make of it. Speaking modestly, the Jericho demo was pretty goddamn impressive, and had to warrant at least a little wow, Mr. Stark, way to bring down some mountains. Not that he needed it, but still. Getting that many contained explosive modules synchronized in speed, release and direction was a hard enough job without also being thankless.
For a mile or two Tony drummed his fingers on the sides of his drink. Then he ran out of drink and set it down, starting a game where he stared at each person in the car in turn to see who would look at him first. Steve won, but sort of ruined it by rolling his eyes right after.
There was a CD player sitting on the floor between him and Steve, and Tony scrutinized it dubiously. He was pretty sure he’d built something better when he was five or six years old. The military probably wouldn’t spring for Jeeps with Stark-tech music interface, but he could design it anyway, just for fun.
Finally he’d had enough. He eyed the guys in front, leaned over toward Steve and asked.
“I feel like you’re driving me to court martial, this is crazy. What did I do?”
Steve’s lips turned up and he snorted quietly. When he glanced over and saw Tony still waiting for an answer, he raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly down at his thigh, then back at Tony.
“Oh, c’mon.” He held up his hands in a gesture of peace, or at least of don’t-shoot-me. “Behaving, look at me. Model inmate, should take ten, twenty minutes off my sentence. I plead irresistible impulse, your honor, the chance was there and I took it. For America.”
“America,” Steve repeated skeptically, but his mouth twitched.
“Yes, definitely.” Even in that helmet Rogers looked so incredibly lickable.
“Can’t say I’m convinced, Stark.”
“Then despite my selfish motives, I hope I can still get off lightly.”
Steve didn’t look at him, just spoke to the window. “I’d say your chances of getting off are better the less you run your mouth.” He said it calmly but his ears looked just a bit more red than before.
Behind him Tony gaped with his mouth actually, literally open, and then he shut up for the rest of the trip. He shut up with enthusiasm, shut up so totally that at one point Steve glanced at him with his eyebrows scrunched, then grinned and shook his head, which Tony really hoped was a good sign.
The presentation at Eggers had to be the most boring thing he’d done since high school, or the last board meeting he’d been forced to attend— all playing nice and answering questions and not a single explosion. He didn’t know how Obie did it. Then there was dinner with a couple of the generals, where at least he got to drink and crack a joke every now and then. Still, by the time he escaped it was nearly eight o’clock, and Tony Stark was a man with Very Important Things to be doing.
He found him in the mess hall.
Most of the soldiers from the convoy were there, eating or talking or playing cards on the tables, but Steve still managed to stand out in the crowd. He was clearly at ease, in a t-shirt again with his hair all mussed, nursing a drink and smiling as he watched two of his friends arm-wrestle.
All the soldiers on escort duty were free to do as they liked until the convoy shipped out in the morning, and Tony knew that. So when he sauntered up to Steve and asked “You off-duty, soldier?” it meant a dozen things, none of which he’d said, and Tony liked watching as all that meaning sank in. As Steve bit his lip and set down his glass. Long eyelashes lowered and rose again, revealing blue eyes bright and hungry, and when Steve said “Yes, Mr. Stark, I am,” it was all Tony could do not to maul him then and there.
It turns out there is something Tony hates more than dying, more than watching Steve thrown to the floor in agony and knowing it’s his fault.
Thick blood is draining down his throat because he’s strapped down on his back and spitting would be too painful to think about. He has never been shy about screaming because he doesn’t see the point in holding back, but this is something else, gagging and sobbing, keening high and hopeless. It’s too close, too intimate to defend against, they are inside him, ripping him to bloody shreds of bone.
The man standing above him shoves into Tony’s mouth with his hand and presses his finger down where there was (until quite recently) a tooth. Now there is only a bloody hole in his gums and the agonizing pressure, the scrape of fingernail on the open wound. The urge to curl around himself is so strong that he strains until the straps are cutting off his circulation.
When he draws breath to scream again he thinks of Rhodey, Pepper, Happy, anyone somewhere else who knew him once. Anyone home. (Anyone home?) But no, he can’t. It feels like he is dragging them right into hell with him and he chokes on blood and spit and the thought of them seeing it. He won’t let this place fucking touch them. As they drag him down the hall he begs with sounds that have no meaning, and they laugh as the door of the cell slams shut.
Tony won’t open his eyes. He hears Steve tell him that he’s strong and just cries harder, a stream of blood trailing from his lips. He doesn’t want to be that, keep living up to that, wants to stop and (oh christ please) let it end. He can’t fight this. He can’t.
This is not what he was made for. Tony Stark is math and machines and mechanics, computers and code. Not a hero or a soldier, just a smartass with money. And the worst thing is that he knows he will hang on, too damn stubborn to give up, and he doesn’t fucking want it anymore. He wants, for once, to be the man who knows when he’s been beaten.
That night he finally falls asleep to the sound of Steve’s breath, and he dreams of iron burning.
It was a pretty short walk to Tony’s room, but the way Steve kept fidgeting and sneaking glances and biting his lip made it seem like at least a half-marathon. Every turned corner felt like a chance to press Steve up against the wall and take him apart, goddamn it, the things Tony wanted to do to this kid. He slammed the door behind them and locked it. “Do you need to— say things, or, ease into it or something?” he asked, eyebrows raised, as he yanked at his tie and toed off his shoes.
“Oh thank god,” Tony sighed, and grabbed a handful of Steve’s shirt to pull him in.
For a second Steve’s lips were almost tentative, soft, but Tony just tugged him even closer and pressed in, licking right into Steve’s mouth and enjoying the quiet little whimpering sounds he made before they found the right pace. It was great— it was the best idea he’d ever had— Steve was so warm. So eager, kissing Tony like he couldn’t get enough. He got his hands on Steve’s chest, shoved him back and then down and just looked at him, sprawled and panting on Tony’s bed like he belonged there, Christ.
The clothes, though. The clothes were a problem. He knelt on the thinly carpeted concrete to unlace Steve’s boots, and made a frustrated noise when his knees ached almost immediately. Turning forty had been a terrible plan. “This isn’t gonna work.”
“What?” Steve asked, wide-eyed and startled.
“I wanna suck you off,” Tony informed him, and was too busy standing up and thinking to really savor the quiet moan that he’d shocked out of Steve. “Maybe if I’m on the bed. Scoot up?”
He stripped off Steve’s socks, and pants, and boxers in quick succession, and managed to miss the removal of the t-shirt and dog tags because there was Steve’s cock and his mouth was actually watering. “Yeah, this is happening,” he muttered, kneeling between his legs. Still a little awkward but it would work, because he kind of loved this, was great at this, and Steve was fucking gorgeous.
Tony ducked his head and licked along the length of Steve’s cock, thorough and wet, before swallowing him down until he nearly choked (and that was part of it, the fantasy of the soldier shoving him to his knees, holding him down and using him, but it was probably too soon to ask for that).
He’d take what he could get. He sucked harder and bobbed his head, humming contentedly, and Steve’s hands slammed hard into the mattress. The whole bed shook. “Fuck... Tony. Fuck.”
The way Steve said his name should be illegal, or required.
When Tony bothered to look, drawing off with a wet pop and palming his own dick through his pants, he saw Steve with his fists clenched around the iron bed frame, silent except for his short, sharp gasps for air. Forcing himself to be quiet. Tony liked that. He liked it even better when he broke that restraint with his lips and his tongue, got him to fuck into Tony’s mouth with a muffled cry. Tony swallowed him deeper, relishing every tense, helpless writhe of Steve’s muscles beneath his fingers.
It was nice, hell, it was wonderful, pouring every train of thought he’d ever thought about having into this delicious task of making Rogers fall apart. Getting him sweaty and begging and absolutely Tony’s, just for now, in the golden warm lamplight. Steve told him (only a little insincerely) that he could stop, but he didn’t. When his jaw got sore he just pulled back and used his hands, licking lazy patterns around the head of Steve’s cock until Steve actually dragged a pillow over his face so he could scream, which— ego trip much? He didn’t stop when Steve warned him, or when Steve came, or at all, in fact, until Steve dragged him up by the hair and forced him to.
“You’re... you’re...” Open-mouthed and breathing hard, Steve couldn’t seem to articulate what Tony was, but his glazed eyes and soft lips more than made up for it. Besides, the wide-eyed surprise when he reached between Tony’s legs was kind of completely adorable. “You—?”
“Yeah,” he said, and gasped a bit when Steve’s fingers tightened. Christ, this kid was dangerous.
They are both left alone, for almost (maybe) a week, and Tony learns that Steve’s hands are not as bad as they look. It’s mostly the fingernails, or what little is left of them. He splints the two broken-looking fingers with a shredded shirt and scraps of wood from the floor. A little of their precious bottle of water is poured over Steve’s fingers and when he sobs, Tony leans in closer, kissing his cheeks and forehead.
“You can’t,” Steve hisses, because even in agony he won’t forget the rules.
“Fuck you,” he replies, kissing him again despite the pain that stabs through his jaw. “I’m already leaning over you, right, and my back’s to the camera, just. Fuck, Steve, you have to let me.”
But when he’s done Tony moves away, because Steve is probably right. Basic human kindness they might sometimes be allowed, but never this. Not the horrible twisting need to hold Steve until they’re pried apart, until Tony’s heart finally gives out under the strain. If they saw it they could break him in seconds, with the threat of a single bullet. To keep Steve alive he just might build them anything.
And honestly, he doesn’t even know why.
Maybe he really likes this pretty soldier he hardly even knows. Or maybe it’s just that Steve’s the only friendly face Tony’s got in this dark empty hell, the only one that still looks at him like he’s a person (because Tony needs that sometimes, reassurance and reminder that he has not been hollowed out by the times they’ve killed him). Maybe it’s the night they fucked, or that Steve smiles like a day of endless sunshine, or maybe Tony just can’t stand to be alone. Does it matter?
Steve sits against the wall of the cave with his hands held stiff and his eyes closed and his teeth digging into his lip, and he doesn’t look at Tony for hours.
“Mmn,” Tony mumbled, feeling too heavy to open his eyes, let alone move. “I’m old. You c’mere.”
He meant it, but he was still a little surprised when Steve rolled over on top of him, using his elbows as props so he didn’t crush any of Tony’s vital organs. Tony cracked one eye open, then both (the better to see you with, my dear). He didn’t normally do this whole staying-in-bed thing, had in fact constructed elaborate plans specifically to avoid it, and he wasn’t sure why he was making an exception. Now would the time to say something that conveyed a certain ‘I am Tony Stark and having sex with people is so not a big deal, even when they’re as pretty as you and make noises like that.’
“Hi,” he said, only slightly less quiet than a mouse.
Steve’s smile, even soft and slow like that, was still as absurdly attractive as the rest of him. “Hi.”
“So, um.” He licked his lips. “Come here often?”
Mercifully, Steve started kissing him then— not messy like before, but gentle, careful, like he had a vested interest in learning every detail of Tony’s mouth. It was another thing Tony didn’t usually go for, but it was hard to remember that when Steve’s lips were so very soft and a little wet, sliding against his far too chastely to be making him feel so lightheaded. When he slung an arm around Steve’s neck, he told himself it was just to get his mouth closer, to make him stop teasing like that. Steve’s body pressed down more heavily, solid and warm, and a few minutes later he pulled back and muttered “your tongue,” in this dazed, awed voice that made Tony feel proud down to his toes.
“Please will you fuck me,” he mumbled in between kisses. When Steve pulled back with eyes like saucers, he felt the need to add, “or not. Not is fine, if you don’t want to—”
But Steve looked at him like he was stupid and kissed him again, thoroughly. “Of course I want to. Tony, god, I...” he exhaled harshly and rolled his hips, very nicely accentuating the fact that he was half-hard again. “I want to. I just, I don’t have any... anything to...”
“Oh.” Tony grimaced. “That’d be necessary, yeah.”
He lay there for a while with Steve rubbing slowly against him, kissing his neck, until it occurred to Tony that plotting to fly Captain Rogers out to Malibu so they could have sex in every possible place and position was weird, and kind of creepy, and also jumping the gun something fierce.
But no harm in thinking hypothetically, right? He wondered if Steve would brace his hands against the wide glass walls, spread his legs and let Tony fuck him from behind. Trembling, blushing harder every time he said Tony’s name; on display with no audience. He’d be so goddamn beautiful.
For the moment, though, Tony could only work with what they had.
“Gimme your hand,” he said, and Steve’s reaction fried his brain, a swift obedient movement to lace his fingers through Tony’s. No question and no hesitation. As if Steve trusted him.
When Tony tugged their hands down slowly, Steve bit his lip and said “I’ve never...” and fuck if that didn’t give Tony some new fantasies to work with. But for now he went slow, guided Steve’s hand and stroked his knuckles, and kissed him when he looked nervous. Steve could almost hold them both in one hand; Tony wanted to moan every time he looked down. Everything was the soft rough scrape of Steve’s callouses and the slide of Steve’s cock against his. The ragged heat of Steve’s breath.
Steve whispers in the dark that the chain of command has changed, though honestly Tony kind of figured that out for himself. Shark-Eyes and his translator are gone, along with a few of the more memorable minions. Now the leader is a guy Tony decides to call Blackbeard, who is louder and affable and has decided to kill them. (Tony thought so and he looked at Steve, who nodded, and he knew.)
First, though, there are the usual pleasantries for Tony: build weapons, or die screaming. He thinks about doing it, really he does, but then he remembers how yesterday they broke Steve’s splints and put his hands back in the ice water.
He spends three days on a chrome-and-steel Easy Bake Oven that Blackbeard doesn’t think is funny.
Tony doesn’t even remember being killed and resurrected, let alone dragged back to the cell. (A tomb—old myths, out of order. Scrambled Jesus.) He comes to wrapped in Steve’s arms, feeling ten kinds of dead, shaking and choking and yeah, apparently laughing, which he tries and fails to stop doing quite so loudly. It’s the first time Steve has held him since they left Tony’s bed at the air base.
“W-gh— wh’bout th’ rules,” he says, and gags on the air in his lungs.
“Shut up.” Steve sounds almost worse than he does, not hurt but ripped apart. “Shut up. You have to give them something, okay? Anything, I ... I can’t.”
“I know what I said!” His arms tighten, which hurts, but only a little bit more than just laying there alive. Tony’s laugh has turned into a cough and he thinks there might be blood in his mouth.
Steve rocks forward over his body, and back, and forward again like he’s going to be sick.
It feels like blood. Tony moves his tongue clumsily, feeling for bits of— lung, or whatever, in his front teeth, and finds nothing. Maybe his gums are just bleeding again. He wipes his mouth on his shoulder and looks up at the double-vision version of Steve. He asks “how’re your hands?” but Steve just stares like he doesn’t remember having any.
When Steve got out of the shower it was well past midnight, and Tony was sprawled naked on the bed checking stocks with his phone. He looked over at the towel around Steve’s waist and all that lovely flushed-pink skin, and he grinned. “Hey, dollface.”
A short huff of amusement escaped Steve’s lips as he shook his head. “You’re so...”
“Brilliant?” Tony suggested. “Handsome? A prodigiously… prodigal prodigy?”
“Oh, sure, fine. Well, weird guy would like you to get your ass back in bed.”
There was a strange look on Steve’s face for a second, like he’d been surprised, but then he shed the towel and quickly slid under the sheet, feet wriggling under Tony’s right ankle. Tony tossed the phone on the bedside table, rolled towards him and ran one hand down Steve’s chest and stomach. Still toasty-warm and a little bit damp. Why hadn’t they showered together again?
(That would be because a certain soldier, perhaps more familiar with furtive fucking in showers, had called it awkward and unpleasant— had actually flat-out refused to have that be our first time.
Which was ridiculous and mean and not remotely adorable.)
Tony traced feather-light patterns across Steve’s abdomen, squiggly nonsense and circuit schematics, watching the little involuntary twitches of muscle. First time implied other times; probably a slip of the tongue—right after saying it Steve had gone wide-eyed and all but shoved Tony into the bathroom.
He glanced up and saw Steve watching him, bemused. “What is it, Tony?”
“Want you on top of me again,” he answered without hesitation. “Feels good.”
There was a spot on Steve’s chin that his beard had rubbed pink, and Tony licked it as Steve rolled on to him. Steve laughed, then didn’t, because Tony kissed him over and over, teasing with quick light brushes of his lips until Steve’s fingers tangled in his hair and pinned his head down and they groaned into each other’s mouths.
It didn’t take much effort to coax Steve down until he was draped over Tony’s body, warm heavy dead weight and the steady beat of his heart. Inexplicably relaxing. Tony rubbed at his wonderful broad shoulders and let Steve control the kissing for a while, all soft and deep and... words like ‘reverent’ and ‘worshipful’ came to mind, and were quickly shown to the door because we don’t serve your kind here. He sucked on Steve’s tongue instead, like counterbalance.
If only Pepper could be swayed by ‘he followed me home and now we have to keep him.’
“Which begs the question,” Tony said, turning his face aside and manfully ignoring Steve’s discontented whimper. “Don’t you people get shore leave or something?”
“Not a sailor, Tony,” Steve murmured into his ear, all warm and breathy and totally unfair.
“W-well fine, be snide, see if I care. I was just gonna say th... um. Please don’t stop that. That if you show your face stateside, we could...”
Steve did stop (dammit). “We could?” he asked, his voice and muscles indecipherably tense.
“I mean.” Tony shrugged. “If you wanted.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” He pushed up on his forearms enough to look down at Tony again. The top of his hair was drying, ruffled gold. Steve bit his lip (and holy crap his eyes were huge and blue). “I’m due back in a couple months. It wouldn’t... not for very long, but I, um, I’d— well, I—”
“I’d like to see you again,” he blurted out, and quickly kissed Tony before his grin could get too wide.
He stroked Steve’s hair, dragging fingertips across his scalp, loving the way Steve shuddered and sighed and pressed closer. Tony had gotten hooked on worse things a lot faster than this.
But the stammering, his brain pointed out while he licked Steve’s upper lip. The stammering was like the blushing, the lip-biting, the uncertainty— out of place with confident Captain Rogers, kind of incomprehensible with the gorgeousness of Steve. He’d almost started to think it was a game, a way to make him even more absurdly tempting, but that couldn’t be right. Not with this guy. So what... why would someone like that get uncomfortable when—?
Oh. Oh. Tony, feeling triumphant, pulled back so fast that Steve looked startled. (And startled looked good on him, dazed and panting with wet swollen lips, but. Not the point.)
“You’re shy,” he announced, delighting in Steve’s immediate blush. “You know, I couldn’t tell before because you were in captain mode before, all hot and commanding—” and the way he licked his lips like that was pretty awesome too “—but you are, aren’t you?”
“Not... all the time.” Steve was carefully and very obviously not squirming.
“But sometimes, yeah? Sometimes. So...” He leaned in, peering intently at Steve, until he shifted his weight just a little and his eyes darted sideways and down, away from Tony. It was confirmation enough. There was a silly warm buzzing in Tony’s brain. “I make you nervous.”
Again with the huffing laugh as he buried his face in Tony’s neck. “God, how could you not?”
There is a prototype Tony has been working on, just for fun, for the past few months. A suit of armor that started out as a drunken bet with Rhodey, until JARVIS and Tony’s own brain made it real and made it fly. Project name Iron Man, really a gold titanium alloy first used in a satellite called Seraphim. (He’s not sure what it is with Obie and these biblical names, but then Tony hasn’t exactly been the face for PR. You make ’em and I’ll brand ’em, buddy, that was pretty much how they worked.)
Pepper doesn’t know because Pepper would worry, which called for some quick thinking when he crashed the suit through the ceiling. Luckily she was gone that night. More luckily, she’s known him long enough that when he said project, all she said was clean it up before anyone breaks their neck, okay?
He thinks about the suit now, as they wait for Blackbeard’s minions.
The plan to keep their distance is shot to hell. Once their captors realize just how much he will do to save Steve, it’ll take no time at all. If Tony had the suit he could get them out, even if he had to blast through the whole damn mountain range. If he had the suit they’d never touch Steve again.
Pipe dream. Not worth considering. Tony lies with his head on the crumpled-up cloth Steve gave him for a pillow, trying to count his ribs by the pain that flares whenever he breathes.
He thinks he is probably dying— thinks it’s probably a miracle that he’s lived this long, so maybe those men knew what they were doing after all. But he could swear sometimes that his heart stops on its own, like a runner collapsing to the ground and then picking up the pace again. Every once in a while there are dark spots in his vision. Dehydration, maybe. He doesn’t mention it to Steve.
Steve has his own problems. The constant pain in his hands and feet, the water in his lungs. The fact that he’ll be tortured to death if Tony doesn’t cooperate. He’s never asked what they want from Steve, or if Steve has ever given it. Doesn’t seem like any of his goddamn business.
He wonders how long they have been here, because he can kind of keep track in the short term but it’s fuzzy at a distance. (Myopic is the word.) It doesn’t really even matter. Constructed time is worthless, and all there is is the time they have left, more hourglass than sundial, spilling out. Sand. There is a lot of sand out there. How much death goes into a desert? Tony never was good at philosophical thinking until he hurt too much to think straight; go figure. He can’t tell if he still has a pulse.
“Tony.” Steve’s been coughing, and his voice is a thin, shallow rasp. “You can’t—”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” he snarls, and it sounds less than human. What Steve is saying is let them kill me, and just knowing that makes Tony want to hurt himself until he doesn’t know anything anymore.
Would he honestly do it? The odds are not good, because Tony Stark is a calculator, is numbers over sentiment and the math here is easy as sin. One man (well, two) to save thousands. Would he really put a bomb in Blackbeard’s hands to save Steve Rogers?
He might. Fuck, he really might. Tony puts his arms across his face, ignoring the pain.
The door explodes.
“I should probably go,” Steve murmured into the back of Tony’s neck.
As someone currently falling asleep in Steve’s big warm arms, with a lot of big warm Steve pressed all along his back (and spooning, really? he didn’t even recognize himself), Tony thought this was uncalled for. “Ngghm. No. Nope, no going.” He reached back to grab Steve’s thigh, to hold him there and also just because.
He imagined a truly unprecedented amount of lip-biting going on behind him. “Tony.”
“Steeeeeve,” he whined back. You couldn’t out-whine Tony Stark; proven fact.
“I’m sorry.” Steve kissed his neck, and his shoulders, and before Tony could say that’s more like it he pulled away his arms and sat up. “But I really should go.”
While Tony grumbled and tried to stay awake enough to think of an argument, Steve went about finding and putting on his clothes. Argument-concocting was hard when you were tired, the heavy sort of tired that made everything dull around the edges. Tony stretched his arms and let them fall again.
“’n I interest you’n another blowjob?” he asked, because he could totally wake up for that.
Steve just made this nice, strangled sort of sound. “I. It’s, um. It’s nice of you, to, uh, offer?”
He didn’t bother opening his eyes, but Tony laughed a little, silently, grinning wide and lazy.
“But.” Steve cleared his throat. “I need to get a few hours’ sleep, and I report to Morris in the morning. Can’t afford to be late.” Or seen leaving your room, he politely did not add.
Tony inhaled deeply so his disappointed sigh could be louder. “Mmmfiiiine. Rain check?”
“Rain check,” Steve agreed after a silence in which he might have rolled his eyes. It seemed like a shame not to be sure, so Tony half-opened his eyes and looked up. Yup, still gorgeous in that disarming, heart-melting way that apparently turned unrepentant lechers into cuddly little post-coital kittens.
He still really wanted Steve to fuck him, though, so he took that as a positive sign.
“See you soon,” Steve said, and hesitated, then ducked down and kissed Tony’s nose, of all things. Tony disapproved of the concept, just like he disapproved of butterfly kisses and eskimo kisses and everything else that belonged to the realm of small whiny children and not people he hoped to have sex with in the semi-near future. It was even more unfair that Steve managed to make it totally endearing.
Tony pressed his face into the pillow to hide a smile best described as smitten. “See you.”
(And he did, but not until they were on the floor of the cave, and Steve crouched there splattered with the blood of his friends and said don’t, we’ve never met before, don’t touch me, Stark, you can’t.)
The first thing Tony says to Rhodey is That suit is mine, and you’re giving it back, and the first thing Rhodey says is Shut the fuck up.
A moment of clarity is all he gets; the rest feels disconnected and false. Blinding light, blasts of cold air, metal and real beds. White coats and camouflage. Heavy dark swirls of sedation when Steve leaves for debriefings and he panics, can’t breathe. Wakes up with Steve beside him again and hopes to god it’s not a dream. They are halfway across the Pacific before he really, actually believes that it’s happening, and he looks over at Rhodey and says thanks.
Don’t you ever do that again, Rhodey says, half-smiling even though he looks like hell.
Tony’s head feels ready to implode as the jet makes its final descent, as if the pressure is filling every part of his skull. They did the dental work first, along with Steve’s broken bones, and even though it fucking hurts Tony can’t stop running his tongue over the shiny unfamiliar teeth. Maybe he’ll put something in them, transmitter chips or tiny bombs.
Their welcome home is a quiet thing, drenched in burning sunlight. Pepper is red-eyed and trembling next to Happy, and Obie isn’t there but no one will tell him why. Tony keeps his sunglasses on and leans into Steve every chance he gets. It’s pathetic, and people notice, and more often than not it just makes the pain worse, but Steve never once tries to push him away.
The day is a procession from airport to base to Burger King to hospital, and for the most part Tony is left alone, which suits him just fine. He keeps himself nestled between Steve and Pepper. He downs enough Vicodin to chew his cheeseburger pain-free. A reporter gets right up in their faces, once, but Happy just breaks the guy’s nose and mutters that freedom of the press can kiss his ass. Tony’s face hurts more sharply then; it takes him longer than it should to realize he is smiling.
That night in the soft blue glow of their third straight medical facility, Tony demands to know why Obie is gone, and Pepper finally tells him.
When she leaves, Steve is still there with his head bowed, bandaged hands crossed at the wrists in his lap. Silent. They sit together, breathing, and don’t say a word.
It’s a painful experience, coming back to life.