The thing that surprises Steve is not that Tony wiped his mind.
The thing that surprises Steve is not that he's angry about it.
No, the thing that surprises Steve, the thing that really surprises him, is the way that none of their friends, none of their teammates -- his friends, he reminds himself, his teammates, because Tony's lost them all and good riddance -- the way that none of them seem to believe he's capable of this level of sustained fury.
It's been almost eight months.
It's like they think he's going to forgive him. A handshake. A hug. Not this time. Tony Stark is out of fucking chances.
Tony's name is the first word on his lips every morning and the last word every night. He imagines that his heart, his ancient serumless heart, beats out Tony's name, a pattern, a tattoo. He imagines that his rage is what's keeping him alive.
They ought to know this about him by now. Steve obsesses. Steve doesn't let things go. He doesn't let people go. Maybe they never knew at first, because at first for him it was Bucky, and maybe when they all met him that was the shape he fit into: Captain America, the hero who'd lived when his sidekick hadn't. He'd covered his walls with pictures. He'd been so damn excited whenever they'd found someone who looked like him, someone who could have been. He'd tried to change the past. He'd let Rick Jones dress up as him, for God's sake. What did the Avengers say, when they looked at him? That's Cap, maybe they said. He's just like that. They were affectionate about it, maybe. Maybe they thought it was a charming, if sad, quirk.
Maybe they'd have figured it out if it had been Tony for him. But it hadn't been, not then.
It was him for Tony. It had always been him. And, oh, everyone knew that about Tony. Tony was the one with the Captain America tribute room. Tony was the one who dressed up as him at parties. Tony was the one who'd paid two million dollars for his ID card when he was dead. Tony was the one who collected him. Tony was the one who decorated with pictures of his goddamn face. But that was Tony, everyone said. Oh, that was just how Tony was. That was his personality. But no one ever looked at it like it was real, like Tony's burning passion for a a uniform, a costume, a man in a flag, had anything to do with his feelings for the man under it. No one ever acted like it was anything other than normal for a fella to have a shrine to his best friend. No one ever mentioned the elephant in the room, the part where they knew what those feelings were, where everyone knew what those feelings were. The part where they could have done something about it.
Tony never made a pass at him. Not once.
Steve's still not sure if Tony ever wanted him. The real him.
It sure as hell doesn't matter now.
Now, he lives and breathes for Tony, the way Tony used to for him, but it's twisted and backwards and it rips him up inside and he can't care. The universe is dying and he can't care about that either. When he shuts his eyes he sees Tony the last time he saw him, Tony forty-eight years in the future, Tony with his bloody, broken face, looking at him like he thought he had every answer in the goddamn universe, saying the only way you're going to stop me is to kill me.
And maybe Steve's supposed to slow down. Maybe he's supposed to stop. Maybe this is where they're supposed to make up. But he can't. He's set and he's ready and he knows what it is to have a goal. This is his goal now. This is the rest of his life.
And maybe the universe will burn, and isn't that Tony's fucking problem now? The geniuses picked their sides. Tony didn't pick his. He made that abundantly clear when he took away Steve's entire memory of it.
Maybe this is love. Maybe this is hatred. Maybe this is everything they are together, all at once, everything they've ever been. And this is how it's going to be. He's seen the future, after all.
In his dreams, he brings the shield down, and he wakes up with Tony's name on his lips and tears on his cheeks.
This is how the world will end.