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The familiarity of the situation makes the entire reality a damn sight worse. He's been through all this before. He was born into the fallout of a previous war and he had lived and fought through another. There is enough experience on his shoulders to know that ultimately the only outcome is pain.

This doesn't make him a coward. It makes him human. It makes him normal- something he has never quite been before. Why should he be expected to suffer just because he is an avenger, just because he's Captain America?

 

Today is a dark day.

 

In the grand scheme of things this day holds no real impact on the Earth nor does it affect the universe. The Earth keeps spinning, the sun carries on burning hydrogen and the universe continues to expand. But if you look closely, close enough to focus on a single organism, you'll see the dark shadow cast over this day.

 

April 12th 2018.

 

The day America fell.

 

All you need is a photographic I.D., a loss of the will to live and a personal signature to turn over your life to the government. It's that easy but that's the point really. It's accessible to anyone. Turn your life and your assets over to the government and voila, you're done.

Steve should have know it wouldn't be that simple for him.

Donned with the clothes on his back and the contents of his backpack, he unknowingly sets off the chain.

The queues stretch for miles. So many people had just given up, just like that. Steve lowers his hat, pulls up his collar and takes his position at the back...

 

The day the war was announced no one will ever forget.

 

Sirens tear through the bitter sweet silence. No one expected it. To the entire population of America it was just a regular August day. Little did they know that their lives were about to be turned upside down.

 

It's a funny thing really. Ask anyone. They'll be able to tell you exactly where they were when they heard the announcement.

Steve was with Tony.

 

Tony smiled sweetly at Steve from across the room. It wasn't an expression many people got to see on one of the most powerful men in America. It was an expression of pure innocence and undeniable fondness. It was undoubtedly beautiful.

It took a lot, on both sides, but months of careful persuasion finally convinced Tony to open up a little. To stop hiding away in his lab all the time.

Tony was fragile. A lack of parental upbringing, years of alcoholism, his crippling self hatred, Afghanistan or perhaps the scarcity of love in his life; put it down to what you will. Tony was fragile.

Of course it would take time for Tony to trust Steve, to accept Steve (and more importantly himself) it was foolish to think otherwise. But they had made massive progress over the last five years. Up until... six months ago? It had been a real rarity to ever see Tony outside his lab. Now, if Steve's there Tony more than likely is too.

Others had noticed too. Tony had been more comfortable in his own skin and Steve had begun to relax a little. It was endearing really.

Tony was happily tinkering away when the sirens sounded. Both men stopped immediately. Tony's eyes instantly darted over to Steve. The sound all too familiar to the fallen soldier.

A man strong enough to strike fear into the hearts of Germany reduced to nothing at just that one sound.

His entire body stills. Breathing becomes ten times more difficult. He can't focus. He can't see Tony racing towards him, kneeling in front of him, yelling to Jarvis.

The super soldier not so super now.

“Steve?” Tony doesn't crowd him. Doesn't even touch him. He knows from his father the effects war can have on people.

He has to stay calm.

Inside Tony has never been more scared. He's just heard his country crumble around him and watched the strongest man he knows deteriorate all in the same instant.

“Steve, I'm here.” He doesn't bother trying to tell him 'it's okay' because that is bullshit anyway. It's not okay. It's about as far from okay as it hAS EVER FUCKING BEEN but they have each other. He just needs to focus on here and now, and Tony provides an anchor to that. “I remember the first time I saw your face. I wanted to punch you in your perfect teeth.” Tony chuckles fondly at the memory despite the tears welling up in his eyes. “What can I say? I hate it when people are more perfect than me.”

“Tony.” Steve focuses on the screen behind the scientist's head just in time to hear.

“Today America declares war.”

 

It was all very poetic really. What had once been a carefree sunny day became a bitter thunderstorm within what felt like seconds. It was as if the weather provided an outlet for the universal feeling across America that day.

No one took the time to scoff at the irony.

 

A chill races up Steve's spine as two doors come into view. He had been in this queue for what? Eight hours now and yet it seems so sudden, as if he weren't expecting it.

He knew from the off that he had two decisions: fight or run away, be named a coward and give up. He chose the latter.

It wasn't a hard decision but at the same time it was the most difficult choice he had ever made. The guilt alone nearly convinced him to fight.

 

“I've seen this all before.” Steve whispers on the brink of silence. Tony sits opposite him still shell-shocked from the news last week, nursing a coffee.

Both men had barely spoken since the announcement. Tony had expected as much. Steve hid. He spent most of his time in solidarity, trying to comprehend the thoughts racing through his mind and the idea of yet another war. Hadn't they learned the first two times? What good can come out of this?

Almost as if a complete role-reversal, it became a rarity to see Steve outside his room. Tony tried everyday, three times a day to coax him out with the promise of food and a friend just as Steve had with him but always came up with nought. He didn't overcrowd or impose though. He gave the soldier the space he needed to process everything they had learnt.

Tony stays silent. This is the first time he has spoken more than a “no” or a “thank you” since the news and Tony doesn't want to prevent the progress.

“The mass hysteria followed by silence followed by outright anarchy.” Steve doesn't look up from his knotting fingers but continues. “They create fear and then they are silent. They don't try to console their scared citizens. They just leave. It's sick.” Tony can see the anger in his Steve's clenched fist but there's more than that. The soldier hates being left in the dark. He hates not knowing.

“Steve...”

“The people deserve to know.” Steve mumbles through gritted teeth.

“Wouldn't that cause more fear?”

“The people deserve to know!” Steve's eyes lock on to Tony's for the first time in what feels like months. And Tony can see it all. The purple rings that show his lack of sleep, the bloodshot whites that show his tears and the empty irises that show his pain. He looks beaten, battered, broken and Tony's heart all but shatters at the sight. It takes every ounce of restraint he has not to wrap his arms around Steve and never let go but he knows that could prove damaging in his current state. The last thing he needs is to feel confined.

“What was it like? In the 30s?”

“Hard.” And with that single word Steve seems to shrink. “We were at the tail end of the first war and tensions were still high. The war to end all wars had failed and people had lost faith. But this is so much worse.” He can't hold back the tears crowding in his eyes. “We fought for so long and so hard for peace. We fought for an end but you built nuclear weapons and called them deterrents.” Despite Tony's former place in the weapons industry, it isn't a personal attack. In fact Tony, despite his hypocrisy, agrees with Steve. It's one of the worst justifications he's ever heard. “A whole lotta good they did.” Steve scoffs bitterly at the irony. “And now the entire world is damned and it's their own fucking fault.”

 

The doors are directly in front of him. He's next in line. The building reeks of antiseptic, probably to disguise the stench of death.

“Next.” A suited man stood beside the door waves Steve forward. He keeps his head down as his person is searched for any concealed weapons. “All clear.” He is pushed through the door towards a desk.

It all seems too easy.

He hands the man behind the desk his I.D. If he suspects anything from the name 'Steven Grant Rogers' he says nothing. He scans the chip into the system, hands Steve a paper form to fill out and just like that it's over. Fill out the form and he's done.

 

He is directed to room '107'. A private room, where he will be met by a doctor after he completes his forms and discards his possessions.

Behind the door everything is bland although strangely calming. The walls are white and the furniture is a soft brown oak. At the head of the room is a window with a view over Brooklyn. There was never any doubt he'd choose here.

From his window he can see everywhere that made him who he is today. From the pub where he drank his first beer, to the cemetery where his mother is buried, to the alley he got beat up in on more than one occasion.

 

“You just don't know when to give up, do you?” The guy, who stands at least a head above Steve, sneers as his fist impacts the shorter man's face. Steve is instantly knocked backwards by the force but despite his better judgement immediately gets back up to his feet.

“I could do this all day.” Steve glares defiantly, holding his fists up in a feeble defence once again.

The guy swings for Steve's face but is intercepted. His fist is caught by a man clad head to toe in military grade attire. Steve's envy for the man almost matches the colour of his uniform.

The soldier's fist is denting the man's face before Steve can even process the thought. And he's gone. The jerk runs. Perhaps scared of the soldier's authority over him or perhaps seeing no conceivable way of winning the fight.

“Sometimes, I think you like getting punched.” Bucky- of course.

“I had him on the ropes.” He smirks. He knew he stood no chance but he had never been one to back down from a fight.

 

Bucky was always there to pick him back though.

 

He takes a seat in a soft brown plaid and oak armchair. In front of him is a glossy, light wooden desk and that's about all there is in terms of furniture. On the wall to his left hand three motivational posters- donned with phrases such as “Everything happens for a reason” and “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure”- framed in a similar oak to the chair, and on the wall to his right is a solitary clock which reads '19:45'. Beside him is an old fashioned radio playing smooth classics. It's all very minimalist, as if tailored specifically to him. Simple but tasteful some would say, although calming is most likely the intention of it all. Even the forms seem to continue the theme.

The paper is a subtle cream colour, edging towards a delicate beige, as opposed to the standard intense white paper usually is. Even the corners have been rounded off to provide a much milder, more aesthetically appealing shape. And the writing, although done in black, is cursive and gentle rather than solid and blocky. There are no unpleasant staples or paper clips holding the sheets together, instead they are held together by a short length of cream ribbon, with a wooden pencil attached firmly to it. There is nothing readily available that has the potential to easily cause harm or upset.

It's obvious a lot of thought went into this entire ordeal.

A soft sigh escapes Steve's lips as he swiftly unties the pencil from the paper and begins to scrutinise each question in alarming detail as if prolonging the inevitable.

'Name?' That one should be easy but Steven Grant Rogers takes an alarming amount of time perfecting each individual letter from the precise curve of the S to the solid straight lines of the V. It takes all of six minutes to exact the three words with a keen eye for detail.

'Date of Birth?' Well that one’s a little trickier given that he was born on the 4th of July 1918 but is physically only 33 years old. He's a familiar face though. People know him. People know his story. No one even bats an eyelid at his I.D anymore.

Something in Steve clicks. Thoughts of what awaits him- pain, suffering, loneliness- all of which cause him to look at his form and see an easier solution. An out. It's almost as if he can't fill in each word fast enough. Compared with the gentle calligraphy of before the rest is just scrawl.

“You can't do this.”

 

“So you don't drink?” Tony questions with drawn out scepticism and a quirked eyebrow, which enhance his disbelief even further.

“What would be the point?” Steve grins, overly amused by Tony's obvious confusion as if he doesn't understand how an adult can live without alcohol.

“Like never?”

“No.” He can't help the fond laugh that escapes his lips.

“Really?” Steve nods his confirmation.

“I can't get drunk, my metabolism is too fast for that, so it just seems like a waste.”

“Well then how do you let loose?” Tony looks as if everything he has ever believed has just come crashing down around him all at once. It's priceless.

“I draw.”

“You.. You draw?” His mouth hangs open, slack jawed. If only Steve had his sketchbook now. This would be his greatest masterpiece yet.

“It's very... relaxing. Sometimes I paint too.” And that's it. Tony can't handle it anymore. His head falls into his hands and Steve can just faintly hear him mumble 'he paints' under his breath in horror multiple times.

Steve claps a hand on Tony's back as an act of mocking comfort, as he leans in really close and whispers,

“Watercolours are my favourite.”

 

Steve's head snaps round but there's nothing. He lets out a sigh of relief. He's only going insane and at least that won't last long.

The only thing that remains is his signature. A signature and all this becomes permanent. He leans down and presses the pencil gently against the paper and-

“No.” He looks up.

 

“I used to play the piano.” It's an out of the blue statement but that is common of his character.

“Did you?” It's not an invading question but it has just enough curiosity to coax the other man into talking.

“My mother taught me.” Tony sighs softly at the memory, as if remembering it fondly.

“What made you stop?”

“I was never quite cut out for it. I had engineer's hands and an engineer's brain.” He stares down at his hands with an odd sense of both hatred and pride. He hates that he can't play the piano but loves the things he can create.

“Can you still play?” Steve asks with genuine intrigue, gesturing towards the solid black grand piano situated in the corner of the room.

“Badly.”

“Will you?” Tony looks over at Steve as if ready to object but his shoulders drop and instead he walks straight over to the piano.

“My mother used to play this. It was her favourite.” He lifts the lid and runs a hand gently over the keys before taking a deep breath and letting himself go.

It's extraordinary. The crotchets, minims and quavers all collide into a beautifully disorganised and yet precisely aligned symphony. The bass is subtle yet sweet and adds texture to the quaint little piece, whilst the overlying melody is strong although simultaneously fragile in the most beautiful way possible. Yes the notes are disjointed here and there from lack of practice but that only seems to add the raw emotion and authenticity of the music. It's perfect.

And then he begins to sing.

His voice rugged as he falters his way through the first few bars of Italian, until he takes in a deep breath and- wow. The nervous disposition evident in his voice before is gone and all that's left is a smooth baritone. The rough texture of his vocal chords only enhances the appeal. Steve has never been more glad to not understand a single word coming out of Tony's mouth.

And it's over.

“Wow.”

 

He is met by an empty pair of glowing eyes, standing just a foot or two to his side. The bold red against the subtle beige provides an alarming and unsettling contrast and it's as if all the calm in the room dissipates in Iron man's presence.

“How...?”

“Your I.D.” Of course. There's no escaping being Captain America. The minute his I.D is scanned it can be tracked by Jarvis and all stark tech software related to Avengers. “You're not doing this.”

“Tony-”

“You are an Avenger, Captain.” Any ounce of emotion is gone from his voice as he gives a command. Steve immediately feels like the runt of a man he used to be when he first joined the army. He feels small and Tony stands before him larger than life, like a General, whose will Steve must bend to. “It's your duty.” There is no warmth.

“Fuck duty.”

“Language.” And for a brief second Steve hopes that this is Tony speaking to him rather than Iron Man. That hope is crushed instantly. “You are a captain. Hell, you even have your country's name in your title. It is your responsibility to fight. It is your responsibility to protect your country.”

“Why is it any more my responsibility than someone else's?” He just feels drained.

“You are an Avenger.” His tone softens even if only mildly. “It's what we do, Captain.”

“I can't do it, Tony. I can't do it again.”

 

“What's your biggest fear?”

“I-I don't know. Losing everyone I love and not being able to stop it, I guess.” Tony replies with a confused frown and a dismissive shrug. “Why?”

“Just curious.”

“What's yours?” He adds a light smile at Steve's expression.

“I've lived through mine, nothing else seems quite as bad anymore.”

 

“I-”

“I thought I'd already experience the worst life can offer but I was wrong. This is it. This is my biggest fear.” He's a shell of the man he once was, a cowering mess, and Tony has a front row seat. Tony gets to witness everything firsthand.

“Steve.” Tony can't keep up this facade, when Steve is crumbling before him. Even the thought of what Steve was willing to do to escape makes Tony want cry.

He takes of his mask.

You can see it all. The pure, undeniable panic and fear in his softened brown eyes. He isn't strong; he isn't a general and he isn't going to pretend to be anymore.

“I have to do this.” The sincerity in his voice is devastating.

“You can't.” His voice catches.

“It hurt. It hurt so much last time.”

“I know.”

“I can't go through it all again.” Tony wants nothing more than to tell him he doesn't have to but he can't. They have to fight and he is afraid if Steve's gone he- they- won't be strong enough to do it anymore.

“We don't have a choice.” Tony is this vibrant, strong- willed, hopeful, rebellious character in Steve's life. He is the red amongst all the weak beige. Tony isn't just a soldier, he is the fight and as long as Iron Man is fighting, Captain America should be too. Maybe Steve is a little beige but as long as he has his red around surely that is strength enough to not give up.

“You have to promise me I won't have to go through it all I again. I can't lose him. I can't lose you.” It's a slip of the tongue, something Steve never meant to say aloud (you can see it in his eyes- the fear) but it says it all. The realisation crashes down around Tony- the real reason Steve was so reluctant to fight. It isn't just that he'd have to live through another war, it is much more than that. The effects of the last war were so vast on him. He lost everyone. He was thrust into a whole new era with not even one person by his side. But worst of all- he lost Bucky. He watched his lifelong closest friend, brother, comrade, call it whatever you will, perish. He lost Bucky and he gave up any concern for his personal wellbeing. He became reckless and as a result was frozen in time for 70 years.

The way Steve looks at Tony, he should've known. He is the Bucky in this scenario. He has not replaced the fallen soldier, nor does Steve care for him the same way but the effects of losing him would be much just as disastrous. If Tony died, he cannot even begin to comprehend what Steve would do. All he knows for certain is that it would be self-destructive, immensely painful and end in a suffering worse than death.

“I'm not going anywhere.”

 

“A toast, to Tony Stark, billionaire, genius and one of the best men I have ever known, for bringing the Avengers together and allowing us to live under your roof.” Bruce raises his glass with a raised eyebrow towards Tony.

“To Tony.” The declare in unison as a wave of cheers spread across the room. Despite the many people sat around the room, Tony's eyes remain on Steve who is smiling fondly back at him.

“Congratulations.” Steve mouths over at him, the soft creases around his eyes showing how genuine the sentiment truly is. Before Tony can respond another figure steps into his eyeline. Steve cannot hear what they are saying but the black suited man unnerves him.

“Steve?” Bruce calls over to him, before Steve can edge closer. He turns towards the scientist but looks back at Tony just in time to see him leave the room.

 

Later that night, Steve wanders down from his room unable to sleep only to find Tony alone in the living area, nursing a cold glass of scotch or bourbon or any other variety of hard liquor. The genius doesn't even notice as Steve enters the room, just continues to stare blankly ahead.

“Tony?” His head immediately snaps towards Steve as if sensing a threat but when he sees who is in front of him he relaxes with a sigh.

“What are you doing up? It's three in the morning.”

“I could ask you the same thing.” Steve smiles warmly.

“It's Pepper.” Tony already knows Steve's next question and answers before the soldier even has the time to ask. “She wants to 'talk'.”

“Oh.” Everyone knows from experience that the 'talk' is never good.

“I think it's over, Steve.”

 

“How are you feeling?” Tony walks cautiously into Steve's room. They got home late last night and went straight to sleep before anything could be said.

“I don't know.” Steve stares down at the floor from where he is sat at the end of his bed. It's nothing like the last room he was in. The colours in this room are much harsher. Everything is dark (greys and blacks) and miserable. “I was so sure yesterday.”

“And now?” Tony says softly but with an underlying urgency to his voice. He knows he can never be but he wants to be sure that Steve isn't going to go back.

“I'm scared as hell.” The nervous laugh reinforces the fear in his heart. “I don't want to fight, not again, but I can't imagine not fighting.”

“Scared is good. You've got to let yourself experience the fear for the count of five and then you've got to let it go and use it to your advantage.”

 

“I can't keep living like this, Tony.” She doesn't cry. She just stares at him, all the emotion in her eyes.

“Like what?”

“Scared. Unsure where you are or whether you're going to make it home. It's not healthy.”

“I can't just give it up. I am Iron Man.”

“I know that and I'm not asking you too.” Pepper takes a deep breath in before she says, “I'm just asking you to understand that I can't stay here anymore.”

“Pepper, please.” Tony's heart races in his chest, practically begging. This is Pepper. His best friend, CEO of his company. She can't leave.

“Tony, we both knew this wasn't going to last. I'm not the one you want. You want to be an Avenger, sure and that scares the hell out of me but it's more than that.” She plants a soft kiss on his cheek. “It's him.” And leaves.

“Pepper, wait!”

“Goodbye, Tony.”

 

“Coffee?” Tony gestures towards the pot brewing to his left.

“No, thank you.” Steve mumbles quietly under his breath. You can feel the awkwardness in the air. Steve isn't sure how to act anymore. Do the rest of the Avengers know? “To-”

“No one else knows.” Tony replies without even turning around. His grip tightens on the handle of the coffee pot as he pours. “Jarvis ensured this was classified.”

“Thank you.”

“They only get to know if you want them to.” Tony turns towards Steve and looks at him with as much sincerity as he can muster before taking a sip of his coffee. He winces as the dark liquid passes his lips.

“Let it cool down.” Steve laughs at Tony's pained expression. “I thought you were a genius.”

“That's just something I say to impress the ladies... and the gents.” He adds with a wink.

“And Billionaire? Is that a lie too?” The soldier replies with feigned shock at the scandal.

“Yes. I'm only a millionaire really. Shhh, don't tell.”

Sirens blare cutting through laughs instantly. The sound so loud, Steve's skull feels as if it's about to crack. He barely registers the mug smashing on the ground.

“Steve? Steve, stay with me.” Tony pleads, stood directly in front of Steve within seconds.

“It's an air raid siren.” Steve whispers, the fear taking over him.

“Remember what I taught you?” Steve shakes his head in silenced confusion. “1...2...”

“3...4...5” They finish together.

“We have to get out of here.” Steve grabs Tony's hand not letting the fear control him anymore and begins running towards the closest exit.

“Jarvis? Suit!” Tony yells letting go of Steve and stopping in his track as bits of armour fly at him.

“What are you doing!? We have to go.”

“Shhh.” Tony hushes and throws Steve's shield at him.

It isn't long before he transitions completely from Tony Stark to Iron man.

“You ready?” Steve nods. Tony fires up his suit, grabs Steve by his waist and takes off through the window. Glass shatters around there, a few shards nicking the soldier's skin here and there.

“What about the rest of them?” Steve asks, gripping tightly to Tony's armour to allow him to have more flight control.

“Off on missions- all of them.” He replies shortly, calculating his next step. “We need to find a bunker.”

“No, we need to help evacuate.”

“You're not wearing any armour. You're not indestructible, Steve.” Tony retorts with an angered defiance in his voice. He is not going to let the super soldier be reckless. Not this time.

“We can't just leave them.”

“We have two minutes until incoming. There is no time.” Tony's grip around Steve tightens.

“We have to try.” He all but begs.

“You can't save everyone, Steve and I am not about to let you die trying.” The first shell hits less than a mile from the avengers' current position.

 

“She's gone.” Tony whispers.

“What did she say?”

“She said she couldn't live not knowing whether I'd make home alive and then she just left. Just like that.” He chugs the full glass of liquor in his hand.

“Shit.” Steve mumbles under his breath.

“Language.”

 

After the first hit, bombs begin raining down all around them.

“JARVIS!” Tony yells frantically dodging any ammunition heading his way, whilst Steve attempts to deflect it with his shield.

“One minute until destination.”

“To your left.” Steve yells and Tony immediately veers right.

“Fuck.” Tony exhales deeply.

 

“Identification?”

“I'm Tony Stark and this is Steve Rogers.”

“Authorised.” The doors to the bunker open and the two men are quickly ushered in.

Shield had built a bunker in New York city in preparation for a situation like this as soon as the war was announced but up until today there had been nothing. Nine months of radio silence, no indication that the entire world was at war. Now comes the anarchy.

“So this is it then? World War Three?”

“I guess.” Tony takes off his suit as Steve stands, silent to his side.

“Don't forget your promise.”

 

The spark began in the Israeli/Iran conflict. Iran had been at war with Israel for years, and now threatened nuclear warfare. Israel couldn't stand idly by, so they struck. China came to backup Iran and the US came to the aid of Israel, which started a chain. Allied countries declared war on behalf of their counterparts and thus a single conflict spun out of control into World War Three. It was so simple in the end.

 

I'm not going anywhere.” Tony reinforces.

“STARK?” Tony's head snaps in the direction of his name. “You're needed up top!” Steve's eyes widen in fear.

“I'll be back. Wait here and stay safe. Try and get some sleep.” He takes off in pursuit of the agent and Steve is left completely alone once again.

 

“Steve?” Tony gently nudges Steve awake.

“Hmmm?” He hums not having fully grasped consciousness yet.

“It's over.”

“What did they want?” He sits up, rubbing his eyes.

“They wanted me to scan for radioactive substance to assess whether or not nuclear weapons were yet.”

“And?

“Not yet.” But it is clearly that Tony fully expects that to happen eventually.

“H-How much damage?” Steve stutters not entirely sure whether or not he is ready for the truth but determined to have it anyway.

“They wouldn't say.” That means it's bad. That always means it's bad.

“What comes next?”

“Drafting.”

 

Thousands upon thousands of men and women stand in messy queues waiting to be next in line. It's an all too familiar experience for Steve. He can feel it now. It's like 1940 all over again but with much more feminism. Tony stands beside him though, anchoring him to sanity.

“Next.” Steve is pushed forward and met with a young woman behind a desk. “Steve Rogers?”

“Yes.”

“Fury has assigned you to the 107th as commanding officer.” She stamps his enlisting form and hands him his military assigned uniform. “He thought you'd appreciate this.” She mumbles finally before shooing him out the door until he is called upon tomorrow.

“Next.”

“Steve, wait!” Tony catches up to him five minutes later. Of course the entire enlisting process is much faster for them given that they are Avengers, with previous battle experiences are world renowned identities.

“107th commanding officer on the front line.” Steve exhales. He shouldn't have expected any less from Fury really. “You?”

“I'm going to China, Steve.” Tony sighs heavily. He tried to get them to change their minds but they said he wasn't suited for arms combat and his skills were better utilised elsewhere.

“What?!”

“I've been assigned to the fleet of battleships along the coast as Lead Engineer and Head of artillery.”

“There must be a mistake.”

“Stev-”

“You promised.” His expression hardens. What's a beige without his red?

“I know.”

Steve takes off in the opposite direction.

 

That night the air raid sounded again. A fleet of aircrafts lined the air giving less than a four minute warning before artillery began raining down from the sky. Steve was already at the bunker but five minutes into the bombings there had been no sign of Tony and sure he was mad but that didn't stop the knots forming in his stomach. Tony had no choice when he was assigned to China.

“Any word from Tony Stark?” Steve asks the shield agent patrolling the gate. He tries to sound confident but in reality his heart is pounding and his brain is screaming.

“Not yet.” A tingle races up the super soldiers spine, a nervous disposition perhaps.

“You gotta let yourself experience the fear for the count of five.” He can hear Tony's voice as clear as the day they met in his head.

“1...2...3...” His breath catches in his throat.

“4...5...” He looks up and right there is Tony, as alive and well as he was this morning. He blinks and all of a sudden he's gone again.

The fear doesn't go away that night.

 

“Pepper and Happy are engaged.” He stares down at the invitation in his hand solemnly. It has only been six months or so since Pepper left. They have barely spoken since.

Tony is happy for them both- of course! Pepper is finally getting what she wants. She is finally settling down, getting married and with a man who can provide stability. But he is jealous too. He has nothing to show for the last six months, other than a downward spiral of misery, longing and alcoholism. He isn't any closer to settling down, in fact he's about ten times further away.

“Are you okay?” Steve asks with an air of caution. He doesn't bother with “that's fantastic” or “I'm happy for them” because he isn't sure how Tony would react. It would be insensitive.

“I'm fine. They're good together. She deserves to be happy.” Steve raises an eyebrow as if not believing a single word Tony says. “It's just I'm edging in on 50 and what do I have to show for it? One failed relationship and 30 years of flings.”

“I'm 100 and you're a hell of a lot further than I am.” Steve laughs slightly. “Take it from an old man, you're doing fine kid.”

“Did you just call me kid?”

 

It's 2 o'clock the next afternoon. Steve has been stood outside the airfield for over 9 hours, waiting for any sign of Tony. 2 o'clock- last call for deployment. The soldier’s heart races in his chest. Tony never made it to the bunker last night, what if..?

“ROGERS!”

“SIR!” He stands to attention immediately.

“The last carrier leaves in ten minutes, you better be on it.” A man walks by, coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Steve only catches a glimpse but his heart plummets. The Stark tower was hit heavily last night. Hundreds of bombs hit until it wasn't even a storey high anymore.

Tony doesn't show up that day. Steve has to be dragged all but kicking and screaming to plane.

 

“Tony,

It's been a month.

I can't stop thinking about the last time we spoke. I shouldn't have reacted the way I did. I know that was my wrongdoing and I deeply regret it.

I heard about the tower but I didn't hear from you. I waited, I waited all day for you at the airfield, so I could say goodbye but you never showed. I just wanted to make sure you are okay; and to make sure that my last words to you aren't so hateful.

Write back.

Steve.”

 

“Tony,

I don't know whether you got my last letter but I've been here two months now.

I hear Banner is down in China with you too. How is he?

Sam was deployed onto my battalion about a week after I arrived, and Clint showed up a week after him, so I'm not alone. No word from Nat or Thor though.

I hope you're okay.

Talk soon,

Steve.”

 

“Tony,

Six months? It's been six months. You haven't replied to a single one of my letters. I don't even know if you're alive but I miss home. I miss the Avengers. I miss you.

Steve.”

 

“Steve,

Pepper's gone.

Tony.”

 

He was on a plane back to New York that day. Clint was left as acting officer in command. He had to be there. He had to pay his respects to Pepper. He had to talk to Tony.

He wasn't sure how long ago she died or even if Tony had gone home. He wasn't sure if he was chasing empty leads. He just knew that he had to be in New York.

 

“Captain Rogers?” Maria Hill greets him in the main hall of the temporary Shield offices. “What are you doing back here?”

“I heard of Pepper's death.” He replies mournfully. “Have you had any word from Stark?”

“He attended the funeral three months ago but nothing since then.” She glances down at the tablet in her hands as if confirming everything she just said.

“Oh.”

 

Her grave isn't overly lavish but obviously it is good quality. Despite it's simplicity you can tell it cost vast amounts of money. The polished stone and the precision of the letters give that much away. Beside her grave is a blossom tree, that rains gentle petals down over her resting body. Tony clearly had something to do with it all. Only the best for Virginia Potts.

Steve places a bunch of delicate white lilies and the base of her head stone. He liked Pepper. She brought out the best in everyone but she didn't take crap from anyone. She had always seemed so strong, as if she would outlive all of them despite not being a superhero per se. But maybe she was a hero. She was always strong even when others couldn't be. She brought the group together and was the sole reason Tony joined the Avengers. She lifted Tony up when he could barely stand and she taught him to love. Maybe she wasn't a super soldier and maybe she wasn't a god but that didn't stop her being any less of a hero. In fact without her so many would've died. Without her so many in Sokovia and Wakanda would have perished and if that doesn't make her a hero, nothing does.

“Steve?” He turns to meet a solemn looking man, with roses in arm.

“Happy? I'm so sorry for your loss.”

“It wasn't you fault. There was nothing anyone could've done.” He mumbles quietly as if on the edge of tears.

“How..?”

“She was always trying to be a hero and in the end she died the most heroic death. I've never had more respect and pride for another person.” Happy smiles brightly at her memory. “She put her life on the line to save two children she'd never met. She ran out into a minefield, carried the children into the bunker but the bomb went off before she could save herself.”

“She was an incredible woman.” He claps a hand on Happy's shoulder and smiles warmly at him.

“Yes she was.”

 

“Tony,

I went to New York. I went to pay my respects to Pepper but also to be there for you like you were when Peggy died. No one had heard from you. I ran into Happy though. He's doing about as well as can be expected. He told me everything and she was one incredible woman- so selfless, so caring. She was a hero, more than me, more than all of us and she died kicking ass.

I'm sorry,

Steve.”

 

A grenade goes off two metres or so from Steve's position. His ears ring and his head pounds. He can barely see a foot or two in front of him.

“RETREAT!”

“MAN DOWN!” A bullet whistles past his ear. Too close for any kind of comfort.

“1...2...3...4...5” He takes a deep breath letting the fear wash out of him. “BACK TO BASE. WE'RE OUTNUMBERED!” He yells his command as loud as his lungs allow him. He can't afford to lose men. His battalion are an elite group of combat specialists and spies; they are all there for the sole purpose of gaining intel to overthrow the Iranian opposition. Steve's priority is to keep these men alive.

“Where's Wilson?” Clint saddles up beside Steve, loaded bow in hand.

“He's hit.” A soldier gestures over to where two men are dragging Sam behind them.

“INCOMING!” Four shells explode around them at the same time. Fragments of metal and dirt lodge deep in Steve's skin. Blood pours down every inch of exposed skin. Clint suffers much the same.

“The bastards.” Clint hisses beneath his breath, firing an arrow at the opposition. Clint never misses. They hear the grunt as yet another life is lost to the fight.

“We have to get out of here.”

 

“Tony,

I don't think I can do this anymore. I knew I wasn't strong enough to fight again but I believed you when you said I could do this.

Sam got shot. I'm his commanding officer, I shouldn't have let that happen. My men nearly got slaughtered and it was my fault. I lead them into anarchy. I let two innocent men die because I sent them in blind.

I shouldn't be here,

Steve.”

 

It takes every ounce of restraint Tony has not to immediately drop everything and fly over to Iran when he receives the letter.

 

“He has a bullet lodged in his hip, sir!” Blood gushes from the wound in Sam's hip at an alarming rate. It's obvious this is so far from good.

“Will he make it?”

“If we can remove the bullet, stop blood loss and prevent infection, he should be up again in a few weeks, sir.” Well if it's that simple... Steve's fear isn't dampened even slightly.

“Can I see him?” The acting doctor holds a curtain open and ushers Steve through.

 

“Steve?” Tony sits on the step beside the soldier and looks at him with concern. Both men are clad in tight black suits and sat outside the church.

“What if I don't do her justice?”

“She loved you. Whatever you say will be perfect.” He puts a hand on Steve's shoulder, forcing him to make eye contact. “Speak from the heart.”

“I miss her.” A frown laces itself onto his lips. She was the last connection he had back to the forties and now she's gone he has no one. No one who understands what he went through. “I never got to take her on our date.” Something in Tony's chest clenches.

“I know. Sometimes opportunities pass us by but she forgave you. She knew it wasn't your fault. You made her so happy when she found out you were alive.” He was the one who scoped out any of Steve's former friends and acquaintances from his previous life. He thought it might help him adjust but only Peggy was left.

“Steve?” He is called up by the vicar. Before him is a casket draped with the Union Jack and with a picture of Peggy resting on top.

“Just remember that she loved you.” Steve takes one final reassuring look at Tony before walking up to the head of the coffin.

He clears his throat.

“I owe Peggy a dance but I guess this speech will have to do instead.” He smiles fondly at the picture staring back at him. “Peggy Carter, was born before her time. She was a revolutionary by all rights of the word. She was so strong and not afraid to kick ass fighting back.” He laughs lightly as he pictures the hundreds of soldiers brought to their knees in front of her. “When men degraded her as a result of her gender, she showed them who was in charge. She was brave enough to fight against the attitudes of our time and that's something I admire about her. She fought for equality because she was just as strong as any of the men around and she never went down without a fight, which I think she proved right up to her last breath. 95 that's impressive. She was a woman of stature and beautifully righteous indignation. She never settled for less than she deserved and she achieved so much in her short life. I think we should all aspire to be like Peggy because she was a hero- my hero. Peggy Carter, I love you with all my heart but now is your time to rest. Farewell, my best girl.”

 

“Sam?”

“I have a bullet in me and you still won't let me miss role call.” Blood stains the sheets around him but he still smiles that cock sure smile of his directly at Steve.

“Can't have you getting special treatment, the others might get jealous.” He takes the seat positioned next to the bed but his grin falters as he sees the true extent of the wound. “How are you?”

“Been better, not gonna lie but I've always know the people that shoot at you usually wind shooting at me too.” He winces as the sheet on the bed grazes against the wound.

“Well I've spoken to the doctor, you're expected back on the field bright and early tomorrow.” Steve replies with a wink.

“I think I'm gonna call in a few vacation days here, Cap but Thursday any good?”

“Make it Friday. One day's on me.”  

 

Tony,

Nine months in. Word spread that a few ships in your squadron were bombed pretty heavily and sank. I just wanted to make sure you and Bruce were okay, well as okay as you can be in the middle of a war.

It's tough out here. The Iranians outnumber us five to one, with no sign of ceasefire. The lives lost on the front line are already in the millions. Everyday we wonder whether today is the day they'll finally go nuclear but nothing yet.

Sam's recovering well. He's back on the field as of last week but still has healing to do. Luckily no infection set in. Clint is still kicking ass too. His kids write him everyday and I think that's helping him pull through.

I received word from Nat about a month ago. She's deep in the heart of Russia. Shield sent her out there for intel and she's Russian so had no trouble crossing the borders.

Thor is still AWOL though. He's probably back in Asgard with Jane and Darcy, keeping them safe.

Time to go be Captain America once again,

Steve.”

 

Steve,

Tony and I are okay. We're alive. Our ship resides far off the coast away from most of the danger but it's still tough.

We lost a lot of men. China hit us bad. Tony took it pretty hard. He blames himself but there was nothing he could have done. It happened without warning.

Natasha tells me that her mission in Russia is nearly over. She intends to come stay with Tony and I for a while, although we aren't sure yet whether she'll be assigned here.

Thor sent word to Tony a month or so ago. He took Jane and Darcy up to Asgard but he continues to fight in China. They're lucky to have him. A god must strike fear into the hearts of their men.

He won't admit it but I can tell Tony misses you. I try to persuade him to write back but you know how stubborn he is. He keeps your letters, every one of them, under his pillow. He reads them when he thinks no one is looking, when he's lonely.

I'm sorry he doesn't respond but keep writing. He needs to know you're okay.

Bruce.”

 

It's been a year. A year on the front line in Iran. Today he's going home. His annual leave begins 12 o'clock this afternoon.

“Rogers?” He stands greeted by a soldier in his battalion. “A carrier is here for you.” He grabs a bag readily packed and follows after the lieutenant. “Safe journey, Captain Rogers.”

“Don't win the war without me.”

 

Bruce,

It's great to hear from you and it's good to know you're all okay.

I know you read all my letters so I won't bother updating you. But it's been quiet down on the Israeli/Iranian border recently. It's strange. You long for breaks in between fighting but when you're finally given them it feels wrong. It feels to good to be true and as if something terrible is about to happen.

Regardless, today marks the end of my first year as commanding officer of the 107 th . I used to dream of this back in the 40s but now I can't believe my ignorance. It's not the righteous position I once imagined it to be; instead it is brutal and the responsibility is far too great. It's a burden I sometimes believe I am not strong enough to carry but these men look up to me. They trust me with their lives, so I cannot let them down.

My assigned leave begins today. I'm heading back to New York to help Shield and aid in war efforts anyway I can. It's only a week but the generals insist we take it. We need to get rest where we can. Whilst I'm gone Clint is to be placed in charge, although he is reluctant to take on the responsibility again. Much like me, he sees this as a heavy cross to bear. Though there is no one else with his experience in the battalion, so he was given little choice.

Tell Tony... I don't know. It's been a long time. Tell him, from an old man- you're doing just fine, kid.

Steve.”

 

The carrier touches down in New York late that afternoon. Steve barely has time to process anything before he is being ushered into yet another bunker with air raid sirens blaring around him.

It's only five o'clock in the afternoon. The sun is still high in sky but hundreds of airships line the air, waiting to make their move. Each one poised and ready with hundreds upon hundreds of loaded bombs. With that kind of artillery to hand, why bother waiting until it's dark out?

The ground beneath Steve's feet rumbles with each explosion. If he didn't know better, he would believe the ceiling were about to cave in on them but these aren't the old 1940s bunkers he's used to; they're made of stronger stuff, much like the weaponry really. The ceilings might be ten times stronger but the bombs are ten times more powerful. It's a stalemate but no one will concede until a winner has been declared.

Steve tries to pay no mind to the explosions outside the doors. He tries not to hear each shell crack or each building turn to rubble. This is his leave. Instead he tries with every fibre of his being to curl up on the solid concrete floor and catch some sleep, even if only a few hours.

He drifts off to thoughts of home. The Avengers tower but not even just that. Anywhere the Avengers are is home. Anywhere Tony is...

 

He walks through the rubble of the city he once knew- twice! It's like a different place. He feels almost no familiarity or comfort being here. In fact he feels small, smaller than he's ever felt before. The city that has been his home for as long as he can remember and has provided so much for him, has been reduced to rubble for the most part. He is just a man. If it took a year to destroy a city, how long would it take to destroy him?

Few buildings stand above two storeys and those that do are charred as a result of each detonation. It's a societal mess. Steve can barely gauge where he is in relation to the city. He has a goal destination though- two in fact! At opposite ends of the city: Pepper's grave and the Avenger's tower.

The tower used to loom high into the sky. It was among the tallest skyscrapers in the city. Now? It is little more than rubble and ash on the ground.

This was Steve's first home in the twenty first century. It held so many memories and now it has become one too- a faint memory.

 

“An Asgardian feast to honour you.” Steve smiles coyly.

“Asgardian feast? What does that entail?” Tony smirks with a raised eyebrow as he tries on yet another blazer/tie combo.

“Mead mostly. Food likely. And a lot of shouting.” Tony's eyes light up ever so slightly at the mention of mead. “I like the grey tie and black blazer.”

“Black and grey, do you have no style?”

 

He stands where the entry way would've once been. A year ago this was his home. A year ago the Avengers would gather 90 or so storeys up and discuss missions, lifestyle or just have friendly conversations. It's hard to believe looking at the state of it now.

He always knew he would have to sacrifice so much for this war but this makes it real. It's a visual representation of everything he felt and still feels to this day. It's the suffering he wanted so badly to evade but Tony convinced him not to, wheRE THE FUCK IS HE NOW???!!

Steve is positively glowing beige. He has all but lost the will to fight but somehow continues on regardless. He wants so badly to just give in, to concede but he doesn't. Perhaps the rubble doesn't have to make him feel small and instead it should give him something to fight for- vengeance, revenge, retribution.

There's an anger in the pit of his stomach that he would have once mislabelled fear or maybe even worry. He was once so oblivious, to the point of contemplating (and even nearly accomplishing) death. Now? He has Tony.

It doesn't matter that Tony won't reply. It doesn't matter- any of it. If they're both alive there's a chance they can rebuild everything that once was and even improve on their original model (call it a prototype).

 

If there was one thing Tony enjoyed more than his suits or himself, it was this.

The feeling of the wind blowing through his hair as he cruises at almost full speed down the highway, with the roof down and seventies rock music blaring from the sound system at three in the morning. It was liberating; a feeling of absolute separation from the rest of the world. It was just him, the car, the tarmac and... Steve.

“The speed limit’s 70!” Steve screeches, clutching to the seat whilst desperately not trying to show his discomfort.

“Live a little, Cap. There's no one here.” It's an almost childish giddiness, complete and utter recklessness but in the best possible way. He feels lighter than life. He's on the edge of the world. He's tripping and he never wants to come down from this high. The possibilities are endless. The sky's the limit. He's free.

“It's not safe.”

“There's nothing about our lives that is safe.” His grins stretches from cheek to cheek, with a mad glint in the brown of his left eye. “Relax. We're gonna be fine.”

The engine blares loudly as he presses down on the accelerator. Steve's eyes widen in horror. Tony's grin widens in delight.

Exhilarating.

Until they get pulled over by a cop a mile or so on.

“I'm Iron man!”

“You were breaking the law!”

“I was only doing 120.” Tony shrugs as if it's nothing, only a mile or two over the speed limit.

“In a 70 zone.” The cop retorts with a raised eyebrow, which clearly shows he is not a force to reckoned with. “I'm afraid I'm gonna have to ask you to step outside your vehicle, Iron Man, this one's for the impound.”

“I'm not intoxicated, I have a license- I'm fine to drive.” Tony tries to defend himself but it's a certain futility.

“Fine isn't the word I'd use.” He laughs little under his breath. “Come on, I'll give you two gentlemen a ride home.” He holds the back door to his car open. “Where to?”

“The Stark tower.” The cop's jaw drops.

 

There isn't an air raid that night. Agent Coulson offered him a bed for the night and with nowhere else to go he graciously accepted. Steve doesn't sleep soundly. It's as if he has become unaccustomed to the silence and lack of threat, so he doesn't trust it.

He's constantly on edge- waiting for the siren to sound, shield at the ready so he can evacuate everyone in this apartment complex.

It never comes. And the next morning he slides out of bed with only an hours sleep in his holster for the day. It'll have to do. He has an entire day planned and with no time to waste.

First on his agenda: report to Shield. Fury was given word of his return to New York City and may have a couple of things he can do here and there to help. Obviously he isn't obligated to do this, in fact many would call this madness. He is 'wasting' his leave after all but Steve can't help but feel useless when not on the front line. There's a war going on out there and he can't stand idly by- even if only for a week.

He hops in a taxi as soon as he's out of Phil Coulson's apartment. Shield headquarters isn't too far (a few miles maybe) but he has an urgent pep in his step. He is twitching in anticipation the entire drive there and almost forgets to pay the driver for his inconvenience- almost!

 

“Rogers?” Hill looks at his with a mixture of curiosity and concern. “What are you doing here?”

“Just wanted to see if I could lend a hand.” He smiles at her warmly but she continues to frown.

“I've been given direct orders not to assign you anything. Go enjoy your leave and don't come back until your week's over.”

 

He roams the street aimlessly but with an intended destination in mind. He wants to help and feels worthless now that he is not being allowed. A week. He's never been one to just sit around a wait- he is much too impatient for that. A week.

 

“Pep, I know we didn't know each other too well but,” his mouth is dry. The chill in the air so cold it affects even a super soldier such as himself. He didn't feel inclined to bring a jacket this morning. Yet a strong gust of wind causes the hairs to stand up all over Steve's body. “Well, I don't know what to do.” He sighs loudly, a violent rumble in his throat. He wraps his arms tighter around himself in a feeble attempt to fight off the chill and gain any ounce of warmth left in the air. “It's Tony.” A bitter laugh catches in his mouth. “Of course it is. It's always him.” He has so much affection and appreciation for the man, but sided with that is all the negatives that come from having someone such as him in your life. He is stubborn as hell, cynical, impulsive, obsessive, secretive. Sure the good outweighs the bad but he's hard work. It takes so long to get on the right side of him and once you're there, he's still so unpredictable. But... he means a lot to Steve.

When he was thawed out the ice, Tony was there. They didn't hit it off at first but overtime they formed something meaningful. They became each other's dependable. They were just so in sync, connected like opposite ends of a magnet and they brought out the best in each other. Steve wants that back. He misses him.

“It's always him.” A fresh bouquet of dark red roses, vaguely resembling blood, sit atop the grass beneath the headstone- “beloved fiance, friend, daughter and kickass businesswoman”. “I don't know how to get him back. I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle without him.” It's a strange sort of desperation. It feels like the first two minutes of drowning. The self-preservation kicks in and it's the need (not even just the want) to survive. It's an insane panic like no other. You kick and you fight the water with everything you have because you're not giving in yet. You can't even remember what it feels like to breathe but you want to find out again so badly. You regret not savouring and appreciating every breath you took. You regret not taking a moment to be thankful that oxygen was plentiful. It's not too late though. You'll fight until it's futile. You'll fight to breathe once again for as long as it takes to either win or lose. Steve feels like he's losing. “I want to breathe again, Pepper.” He's never meant anything quite as much as this. “If only he knew how much I need him.”

“Steve?” He knows the voice. Most of the world does but not quite like this. He doesn't turn. He doesn't want to show how damaged he truly is. “Steve, please.” That voice causes anger to condensate in his stomach. “There's something you have to know.” What's this? A pitiful excuse. Yes, he wants Tony- sure as hell he does- but he's pissed and he has the right to be. This isn't even close to the apology he deserves. “It's Clint.” His stomach drops a thousand feet. The anger plummets with it.

“What?” His voice so small. Tony walks to stand beside him. He stares down at Pepper's grave solemnly.

“We lost him last night.” Steve feels as though every bit of strength he has is ripped out of him right then. His knees buckle but Tony is there to catch him and lower him to the ground. He kneels in front of Steve, wanting nothing more than to hug him and never let go but he doesn't.

“H-How?” It's a stuttered mess, confirming the shock in his heart.

“They hit hard near the base- biological WMDs.” No! Fucking no! He doesn't accept.

“Anyone else?”

“I don't know. I was only given word of Clint.” He searches Steve's eyes for any kind of sign of what he's feeling. His face turns red.

“Fuck them! Fuck this! Fuck you!” All but seething at the mouth right about now, his entire body tenses. “How fucking dare you?” His hands curl into fists at his side. “Don't talk to me for months and then tell me this.” He has to mentally restrain himself from delivering a left hook right into Tony's cheek.

“Steve, it's not your fault.” Although there is a morsel of anger directed at him, he knows that isn't really what Steve is thinking. He shatters. Curls in on himself in fact.

“I should've been there. I'm their commanding officer, I should've seen this coming.” Spoken like a true, guilt-ridden man of the people. “I could've stopped this.”

“There was nothing you could've done. If you were there it might've been you too.”

“Would that be so bad? It's what I wanted anyway but you stopped me. At least this way I could've gone done with my men.” His heart races in his chest.

“Steve! Clint's gone. There was nothing you could do. It's a war and losses like this happen. It hurts, sure as hell it hurts a fucking lot but pick yourself up. Fight back! Stop feeling sorry for yourself all the bloody time.” Fuck the beige in him. He is burning red right about now.

He pushes himself back, away from Tony, rising to his feet.

“Fuck you, Tony.” He storms off. He doesn't know what he hopes to gain from it but he can probably guess. Payback for the last 12 months likely.

“Steve, wait!”

 

The siren blared that night, louder than most had ever heard it before. It was a short warning- a couple of minutes perhaps. The losses would be great tonight.

“Steve, we need to talk.” Tony sits on the bunker floor beside the super soldier, back rested up against the wall. It's a concealed spot. A private little chamber for the super soldier to rest up in, courtesy of shield.

“Oh so you're not gonna say a word then.” It's a low blow but Steve's so torn inside, his organs are in tatters. He's so guilt ridden and so hurt. He's already lost much to the war. He can't stop thinking about Clint's wife and kids.

“I'm trying here.”

“What? Like I tried for the last 12 months.” He's so bitter about everything but he really needed a friend this last year and Tony did nothing.

“I'm sorry.” Steve scoffs. Sorry isn't the fix all word in this situation. They're not schoolboy friends on a playground. “Hear me out.” Steve doesn't say a word and Tony takes it as consent to continue. “I don't know what I can say to make any of this okay.”

“The truth.” He looks at Tony from the corner of his eye. He's a different man- rugged, worn and so goddamn skinny.

“It's not enough to excuse myself. I broke our promise; and after only one day too.” Steve stays silent, not even his breaths are audible. “I thought perhaps if I separated myself from you this would hurt so much less. All of this is my worst fear come true, losing everyone, losing you and I thought that if you were already gone physically I could phase you out emotionally in case the worst happened. I thought it would hurt so much less but it didn't work- in fact it probably hurt a great deal more. That day, when I found you ready to give up, I felt weak. Weaker than I ever have before and I couldn't afford to be weak at war. But then I lost Pepper. Pepper, who I had barely spoken to over the last year and it still felt like a bullet to the throat. You're always gonna end up hurting me, no matter how long I continue this facade.” He bites in his lip, lost in some likely morbid thought. So lost to world. So distracted. So broken. “It's no excuse. I don't deserve to be forgiven.” Perhaps this is his last desperate attempt to avoid getting hurt. If Steve rejects his apologies now, then Tony will not feel so at fault when the inevitable happens.

What does someone say to a declaration like that?

“I-” He's speechless. There is not a single word in his mind other than, “Fuck.”

“Language.” Tony looks to Steve, eyes glassy and raw with all the anguish but still so bright and hopeful. “You're going to be the death of me.” It's not even close to a joke. He says it with absolute surety. Steve lost all hope a long time ago- it's in his beige nature but here it all is. His hope is wherever Tony is. As long as Tony is here there is reason to keep trying. Steve reddens ever so slightly.

Tony makes the first move.

 

The next morning is tough. Aren't most days during war? This one stands out though. Given word of Agent Barton's death, Steve has been demanded to report back to shield. Tony stays with him though, right by his side wherever needed.

“Room 374.” They are directed up a flight of stairs, stopping outside the allocated room.

“I'll be just out here.” Tony can't go in. It breaches all confidentiality agreements. This information is specifically for Steve unless he agrees it can be shared. “Go.” Tony nudges the super soldier forward.

Behind the door sit Fury and a couple of other directors.

“Captain Rogers, take a seat.” It's all very courtroom. A panel of judges and Steve's on trial, sat directly in front of them. “I'm assured you've received the news. I heard Stark was sent to deliver.”

“I've heard.” He confirms, not loosening up even slightly.

“You're battalion were called to retreat immediately but many have fallen sick as a result of biological weaponry. It is feared they may not last long.” Steve has never felt more nauseous. He should've been there. “Some are saying it is the fault of the Captain but given that you were on mandatory leave you are not to be held accountable.” He should've been there. “The 107th need their commanding officer, so we are inclined to cut your leave short. You are being shipped out two days from now.” Four days. He is losing four days. “I'm sorry.” What if he isn't cut out for this? “You are dismissed.” He doesn't say a word, heading for the door immediately. His entire body trembles.

“Steve?” Tony's on his feet immediately, stood in front of the soldier.

“My men, so many aren't going to make it.” Tony's heart races in panic. Steve blames himself. Of course he does. Always so noble, so righteous. He is captain and the faults of his team stand with him alone. “I killed them, Tony.”

“No!” He places either hand on both of Steve's shoulders, forcing him to look him in the eye. How can he shake sense into the man? “The Iranians killed them, and we can't let them win.” Give him something to fight for.

“I'm being shipped out on Wednesday.”

 

“Tell me about him.”

“Howard?” Tony confirms, unsure. His mental image of the man is vastly different to the one Steve so often describes. If you didn't know, you'd be sure they were two different men but Tony knows. In Steve's mind he's some sort of saint- the perfect man, flawless. He was a genius. He was strong and kind and helped Steve wherever necessary. He made him into a greater man. For Tony the truth is the exact opposite.

“Yes.” Of course Steve knows this. He knows that Tony's depiction is far closer to the devil than some sort of saint but truly he yearns to understand why.

“We didn't get along. It was as if we were opposing forces.” That's an understatement. “He was an alcoholic, never had any time for me or my mother. I wasn't the son he wanted anyway and he resented me for that. I wasn't perfect. I wasn't you.” It's a backhand comment said with no real spite or force. He brushes it off with a shrug.

“Tony.” Steve sighs. He feels largely responsible for the relationship Tony had with his father although he knows at heart there is no way this is his fault.

“You felt like a son to him, more than I ever did. And when I was born I didn't live up to the expectations you set. I couldn't replace what he'd lost.” He doesn't blame Steve, not even slightly. He blames his asshole father. “He never stopped looking for you.”

 

“You can't.” Tony knows this is his selfish side talking but they have so much catching up to do. So much lost time to make up for.

“I don't have a choice.” It's Tony's turn to feel helpless. He feels as though he's fighting a losing battle with the war. “With Clint gone there is no one to command whilst I'm away.”

“I'm going back on Wednesday too then.” It's a decision he isn't willing to discuss. There is nothing in New York City for him without Steve... and the Avengers.

“Are you sure?” And he is. He's never been more sure.

 

His heart sinks about 29 feet through his shoes. He was just getting to know him,

“Close it.” It's not like he's never lost a soldier before but they aren't soldiers. Tony said that himself. He doesn't know why it hurts so much.

The portal above the Stark tower comes together at the seams and he's locked away- gone- forever, but... wait! It couldn't be. Something comes hurtling out of the sky just as the darkened abyss seals shut, something vaguely resembling a new familiarity. Red and gold and still kicking ass. Hope.

“Son of a gun!” He can't help the grin lacing itself onto his lips but even that doesn't last long. He's falling, free-falling and he's with no sign of deceleration.

“He's not slowing down.” Thor prepares to take off and catch him but before he can, a big green palm wraps around his fragile frame. The Hulk. Uncontrollable. Emotionless. Detached. And yet the Banner within him saw a man he knew and has quickly formed a tight-knit bond with, and helped him. Perhaps the Hulk feels more than they know. Truth be told, they were all quickly warming to Stark.

He slides down the building, glass flying everywhere. His grip around Tony's body staying strong until they are firmly on the ground. He throws the Iron Man down on to his back, a little more aggressive than is ideal.

Thor rips off the helmet and any hope previously within Steve seeps away as quickly as that.Tony is beaten, battered, bruised and.. dead. He can't understand it. He doesn't understand his drastic emotional response to a man he barely knows. He'd never admit any of this though. He'd say it was sad they lost such a great soldier but his life was not lost in vain.

Uncertainty.

The Hulk yells in fury or perhaps even anguish.

Tony's body starts awake, eyes wide, not lost to them yet. Steve's emotional state improves ten fold. He's ecstatic but thinly veils it with a coy smile.

“What the hell? What just happened?” Tony's eyes dart between the five bodies standing around him. His breaths are rugged, desperate perhaps. “Please tell me nobody kissed me.” Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

“We won.” Barely even a beat passes.

“Alright. Hey. Alright. Good job, guys. Let's just not come in tomorrow. Let's just take a day. Have you ever tried shawarma? There's a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is, but I wanna try it.” He's definitely back.

 

“Two days. How do you want to spend them?” He looks up at the mid afternoon sky. The sun shines blissfully to his left. A few clouds dot the sky here and there but that doesn't dampen the appeal at all.

“I don't mind as long as you're there.” Tony replies, with a cocky grin and a wink. They've chosen to forget for just a while. To pretend that the war isn't raging and instead the world is peaceful. “How about you?”

“I miss drawing. The peace never lasts long enough on the front line.”

“Come with me.” Tony holds out two hands and helps Steve to his feet. The grass hangs where they had once both sat, ruining the perfection. Now it matched the rest of New York.

 

Tony is special in so many ways. There are things he does, which no one would expect and for people no one would expect. There are things that matter to him more than he would usually let on- this was one of them.

He leads Steve forward by the hand, down a road somewhere off in Newark. It is significantly less affected by the air raids but the opposition isn't interested in small targets. They aren't playing the slow game.

“Where are we going?” It's confusion crossed with curiosity crossed with happiness.

“Shhhh. Trust me.” Tony hushes him as they stopped outside a door marked '49'. It's a nice place, very 'suburbs'- white picket fence and all that.

“Tony-”

“Shhh.” He repeats. Dragging him forward and unlocking the door. The inside isn't overly grand but it's homely. It feels safe, with the wooden floorboards and neutral wall colourings. “This was Pepper and Happy's home. You want to know where I was that night before China, I was here, but I made a short stop off first.” Tony leads Steve down a flight of stairs into a basement. It has been converted into a bunker but it seems no one has ever stayed a night here. He leaves Steve at the foot of the stairwell and walks over to a single cabinet stood firmly in the opposite corner. “I went to the Stark Tower that night and we both know how well that ended. But there are some things you can't leave behind.” He opens the door, pulling out some leather bound sketch pads and a set of watercolours. They are almost pristine condition. “When the first shell hit, I knew I had to go back; I had to get these. I brought them here in the hope of returning them to you one day.”

Steve's heart aches in his chest.

“You shouldn't have done that.” He mumbles through muffled tears. Shock, that's how he'd describe it. Tony can see how much he appreciates it.

“I had to- for you.”

“But that was stupid and reckless.”

“When have I ever been anything else.” He grins. All the pain he went through to get these was worth it just to see Steve's face now. “How else would you let loose?” Steve stumbles towards him, throwing his arms around the shorter man's neck. The edge of the pad digs into his stomach but he doesn't care. “I remember someone telling me watercolours were your favourite.”

“Thank you.” He says without skipping a beat, pulling back to look Tony in the eyes. The smile on his face is more than the genius ever hoped for.

“Go ahead.” He hand Steve the sketchpad and watercolours, still glowing with delight. The super soldier looks so innocent as he sits cross-legged on the floor, looking back over his drawings (something he has never before divulged to share with Tony). He just stands behind him, watching. A buzz in his chest.

“Come sit.” Steve looks back at Tony, eyes lightened with something so rare in war but they're not a war. Not today and not tomorrow. These days are for them only. No pain. No suffering. Just them.

He sits beside Steve, back rested up against the wall to the side. Steve hands him a sketch book- the full one and flashes him a consensual, encouraging smile. This sketchbook represents so much in that moment. It represents a trust they've never quite had before, a personal connection they had never quite formed. This is a little piece of Steve's heart and he's baring it open to Tony, leaving himself open and vulnerable. This is something he never had with Pepper.

He opens the book carefully, determined not to damage it even slightly. If he can pull these out of a burning skyscraper without so much as a scratch- he can do this.

The first picture is a soft pencil sketch of Peggy Carter. Not the Peggy Carter Tony knew though- Steve's Peggy. It is so precise, so perfect, highlighting all the reasons why Steve loved her in the first place. Her eyes, so bright and full of emotion. Her flawless, porcelain skin. Her kind smile. It is indeed a masterpiece. Tony thought he was a genius but it is nothing compared to this.

He turns the page.

The next is something that makes Tony want to rip his own heart out. It's a watercolour- all black, grey, dull- of James “Bucky” Barnes. It isn't a portrait like that of Peggy. It's much worse. It's a reality Steve would've had to live through, watching his best friend fall to his death. He can see all the raw pain within the image. The lines are rough and bold, unlike the gentle lines before. And the expression on Bucky's is a look of blame (disappoint perhaps), as if any of this were Steve's fault. His heart aches in his chest. He quickly turns the page.

Oh. Wow!

It's Tony but it's more than that. It's a idealised version. He's at work, on one of his suits likely, and he looks so deep in thought, concentrating so intensely. He's glowing. It's a vibrant piece, with oranges, reds, blues and so captivating. He could stare at it for hours and never get bored. Each line is so perfectly placed and so immensely detailed. It feels as if hours of thought went into every freckle. It's a symphony to his eyes. And just wow! This isn't the Tony, he wakes up and sees everyday but it's sure as hell the one Steve believes him to be. Isn't that very telling?

“These are amazing.”

Steve draws Clint that night, as he would like to be remembered- kicking ass. He's quiet as he works. Tony sits beside him watching every brush stroke and every pencil mark align into something extraordinary. Leonardo da Vinci has nothing on Steve Rogers.

And when he's done, they both just sit and stare silently. It's a memorial to Clint, a farewell and nothing needs to be said.

They stay in the basement. Life continues around them but they pay no mind to any of it. They fall asleep a mess of tangled limbs but blissfully happy together.

 

24 hours. 24 hours until they bid farewell to one another once again, with the likelihood that they won't see each other for months.

“Good morning.” Steve smiles down at Tony through his eyelashes. His arm stays firmly draped around the shorter man's waist. There's no rush to get up that morning.

“Nope.” He presses his face further into the flesh of Steve's shoulder, concealing his eyes from the light. He never was much of a morning person. Usually it took a litre of coffee to coax him to the point of talking this early.

“But the sun is rising and it's been awhile since I've seen one without corpses beneath it.” He shivers slightly at the memories in his mind.

“How could I ever say no to you?” Tony groans, pushing himself up into a sitting position with an exasperated sigh.

“I'll make coffee.”

“Now you've got my attention.”

Twenty minutes later they are sat atop the roof, smothered in a blanket and with a coffee in hand. Steve brought his sketch book but at this level of content he can't seem to bring himself to pick it up.

Tony's head rests on Steve's shoulder and Steve's arm sits around Tony's waist. Neither would wish to be anywhere else. It's a strange sort of comfort, one that both men feel guilty for (it's the middle of a war for God's sake) but they don't try to stop it or prevent it. Steve can finally breathe again. He won the fight against for the tide and Tony is the beloved oxygen he has now learned to cherish. He is not going to waste a single moment.

Steve doesn't watch the sunrise that morning. He watches Tony instead and he'd be lying if he said it wasn't 100 times more beautiful.

 

The next 24 hours pass too quickly and before they know it they're back at Shield.

Steve hasn't let go of Tony's hand yet. He won't until the last moment. Tony is the only thing currently anchoring the pit in his stomach. As soon as he's on the carrier, that's reality and it's gonna kick him straight in the face.

“I'll be right here when all of this is over.” It's a promise he shouldn't make but he does anyway; if just to see the smile on Steve's face.

“Rogers, we have to leave now.” Maria Hill smiles at him sympathetically. She knows.

“Tony-” He can feel his heart race quicken. It's a fear unlike he's ever felt before. Every minute with Tony feels like the last.

“Shhhhh.” He leans up, pulling Steve closer by the neck and resting their foreheads against each other. “It's gonna be fine.” The brown in his eyes is so telling. He's so unsure, so scared but so confident all the same. It's strangely comforting.

Tony kisses him. It's short and sweet and he pulls away all too soon, not savouring the moment perhaps giving Steve something to fight for or perhaps afraid he'd never let go.

“Go be Captain America. I'll be waiting for Steve Rogers to come home.”

 

There were two letter waiting for him when he returned to the frontline late that night. No one was awake. One was from Bruce and the other from... Tony.

 

Steve,

There are always things I don't say which i probably should. I hold back maybe because I'm afraid of how the other person will react or maybe because I'm broken. I'm afraid of getting hurt. I can't afford another heartbreak but there are a few things I can't go another day without saying.

First off, Steve Rogers, you are strong enough to fight in this war. You are strong enough to lead your battalion to victory and I know you've had a few setbacks, I know it's tough but it changes nothing. You are meant to be commanding officer and you are meant to beat the shit out of this war.

Secondly, there will be casualties along the way. There are some people you can't save and that doesn't make you any less of a man or a captain. You just have to learn from it. This is a war. Lives will be lost but none of them will be in vain. These soldiers know the risks but they fight anyway because it's the right thing to do and none of them blame you.

And lastly, I missed you too. It took everything I had not break during the last year. There were so many times I was tempted to give up and there were so many times Bruce had to stop me flying to you. I know it might not seem like it but I need you just as much as you need me. We balance each other out and maybe that makes us weak but there is always the chance it makes us stronger too. Knowing you're still kicking ass gives me reason to carry on.

It may be months until we see each other again but keep writing; I promise I'll reply this time.

Until next we meet again, oh captain my captain,

Tony.”

 

He falls asleep overwhelmed with happiness that night, forgetting to open Bruce's letter.

 

He wakes early, with the intention of visiting the sick bay. Sam's there. He looks tired- sure- but otherwise he seems just the same as before.

“Nice of you to finally come back.” Sam smiles but it's forced. He's solemn, mournful even.

“I was gone four days.”

“Four days too many.”

“Clint?” He doesn't want to ask but without Tony by his side he can't hide anymore.

“He went down fighting.” The glint in his eyes is fond. They quickly formed a close relationship over their time together (it was probably the similar sense of humour). “Did they tell you?”

“They told me he died- biological weapons.”

“Nothing else?” Steve shakes his head, what more is there to know? “The day before it happened, Fury was here. Clint's wife and kids, they died. They thought they were safe that far out. He thought they'd be okay.” A shiver racks up his body. “Clint ran out into enemy territory, looking for some kind of retribution, probably not wanting to survive anymore. I guess he had nothing left to live for.” Steve looks over at Clint's bunk. His bow and arrow holstered at the end of his bed never to used again. He understands though. Everybody gets a little reckless when there's nothing left to fight for. At least he's at peace now.

“And the rest of our men?”

“They followed him. I didn't. I knew it was a suicide mission. I tried to stop them but I had no authority and Clint, he was their commanding officer.” Fuck. A single string of one-worded profanities on repeat circles his mind.

“How many?”

“All of them.”

 

They don't head out at all over the next week. Two men against the entire Iranian army- they don't seem all that intimidating, even if one is Captain America.

They are both under strict orders to stay away from the battlefield and away from the medical wing. It is likely the virus is still contagious and although Steve is pretty certain he'd be fine, no one else is willing to risk it. Losing one commanding officer is enough.

He finds Bruce's letter again noon that day.

 

Steve,

You can't let Tony come back. They're gonna hit us hard. You have to stop him. I'm not gonna make it but there's still a chance for him.

Tell Natasha I'm sorry.

Bruce.”

 

SAM!” The falcon races towards him. “You need to get me in contact with Shield.” It's a constant cycle. Things keep going from bad to worse- but this...
His palms are sweating. He is hyperventilating. And he is pretty certain he's having a panic attack.
“Shit.” Sam finishes reading the letter. “Wait here.”

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE ALREADY WENT BACK!” He screams down the line at Maria. It's desperation. It's fear. “NO! FUCK YOU.” He slams down the receiver, his entire body shaking like a fir tree in a thunderstorm. It's a chill that won't go away no matter how many layers he puts on.
“CHINA'S HIT!” He hears the yell from across the base. He races over to the communications bay as fast as his legs will carry him.
“GET ME CONTACT NOW!” Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. He stands behind the men, fists clenched, nervous energy pulsating through his entire body. Sweat covers him, a sticky, skin-tight layer of the stuff. It's like suffocating.
“No signals are being receiver, sir. Two ships are down.” He can see the ships and their locations on a sonar scan to the left. Two blink out of existence.
“ROGERS! Get out of here.” Fury orders him out of the room, sealing the door shut behind him.
He falls to the ground, weak and helpless. He had one job .

“Tony,
It's been two days. Bruce has been confirmed dead but no one's heard from you. Please if you get this, you need to let me know you're alive.
Steve.”

He addresses the letter to shield. It took him two days to write three sentences. It's not like he hasn't been through this before but it's different this time. This time his ship was hit. Bruce died. And no one's telling him anything.

“I'm gonna propose to Pepper.” It's a passing statement, as they work alongside each other on the field but his brown eyes shine intensely. The grin on his face is contagious.
“Really?” Steve smiles back. Tony's finally getting what he wants and by the look on his face he really wants it.
“Tomorrow.” He lowers his visor. “But first time to go kick some alien ass off our planet.” And that's it. That's all he says and later that night he pretends he said nothing at all.

“They're getting worse.” Sam informs him. He has been placed on near constant surveillance outside the sick bay. They aren't willing to risk another attack, what with a good sixty percent of their soldiers being under medical house arrest.
“Have the doctors said what it is yet?”
“Botulism. The botulinum toxin was delivered via a gaseous grenade and they inhaled it- all of them.”
“They know what it is, why aren't they treating it?” There's a rage behind his voice. It's not well concealed but simultaneously it isn't intentionally aimed at the doctors. They're doing their best after all.
“We don't have the equipment or the antitoxins.”
“Why is nobody going to get them?”
“No one is willing to risk the journey. They'd be shot down just off shore.” Leaving had always been risky but China has pathed the way to much more dangerous and more personal warfare.
“I'll do it!”
“We're under direct orders not to let you. You are our captain first and foremost.” It's Fury's command- of course it is- but it Maria's intel backing the whole operation. They don't want another Clint-like death on their hands.
“Uuuurrrgh.” He groans, loudly, he is being smothered. He feels trapped as though the walls are caving in.
“You have work to do.” He hands Steve a pen and a pad of paper. “Natasha.”

“Natasha,
I'm sure you know China was hit a couple of days ago and I'm sure you're worried but they left it to me to deliver the news. Bruce is dead, Nat. He died and he knew it was coming. The last thing he did was try to save Tony and apologise for failing you. He didn't fail you. We don't yet know if Tony survived.
He told me to tell you he's sorry.
Remember no matter what, I promise if you need us. If you need me, I’ll be there.
Steve.”

Natasha was euthanised later that week. She left a note comprised of only one sentence: “I don't need anymore red in my ledger” . They all knew what she meant.

“They need to be put on ventilators. They can't breath.”
“Steve, we just don't have the equipment.” Fury sighs, staring him down with both arms crossed over his chest.
“Let me go get it.” This is possibly the hundredth time they've had this argument but the answer always the same.
“You are a captain. You stay here.” He's gotten more concise recently though. He used to give long-winded explanations that Steve paid no mind to but now? He's straight to the point.
“They are going to die.”
“And there's nothing we can do about that. A few lives for the greater good.” How can he be so willing to let so many die?
“I can get the antidotes, the equipment- all of it.”
“You're needed back on the front line.” That's new. He's been sitting tight for months, trying to stay distracted, trying to fight the system and save some lives, trying not to think of... “Suit up.”

“Tony,
I'm going insane. Everyone's telling me to stop, to mourn but I can't seem to let go. Look at me! I'm writing to a dead man-”

He doesn't sign off and send the letter that day. It's the first time he's acknowledged the truth.

It's so much harder on the front line now. There is a whole new dynamic. With sixty percent of his men fighting for their lives and a new shipment of strangers on route today, Steve feels crappy. On one hand he still fights against Fury everyday, determined that one day he'll win and be sent to New York for the necessary medical supplies; but on the other hand, he simultaneously knows how dangerous a pursuit it is, what with the tensions in the air today.
“TO YOUR LEFT!” Steve yells at Sam as a grenade lands within an foot of the man. He jumps and Steve races in the contain to explosion within his shield. “MASKS ON!” The entire squadron were assigned military grade gas mask after the incident. Steve refused to take one but he assured every other fit-to-fight man on this battalion had easy access. He wasn't willing to risk anymore lives.
Amidst the struggle, he helps Sam pull the his gas over his mouth and then aids him to his feet.
“You good?”
“You should wear one too.” It's an argument they've had a few too many times for Steve's liking but Sam is about as unrelenting as him.
“The serum protects me just fine.” He charges off, right into the centre of the fight. “FORWARD!” They advance, some in plain sight, some skirting around the edge for the element of surprise. Steve remains at the front of it all, a beacon of... distraction to the enemy line. They waste so much time, consumed by trying to take down the super-soldier that they don't suspect the soldiers coming in from the rear.
Steve's battalion has them surrounded. Sure the 107th is outgunned and harshly outnumbered but they have planning on their side (and a few handy extras which take the form of super-soldiers and mutants).
Wanda Maximoff, a mutant. Her skills: chaos magic and reality warping.The Scarlett Witch alone has the power to take down the entire Iranian army but not without careful preparation and planning. It'll take time and today is only the first day of many.

“FALL IN!” His squadron form a tight knight shell around their current opposition, with Wanda hidden and protected just behind Steve somewhere to the right. It's completely unexpected when it happens.
“MISSILE!” The troops scatter immediately. The plan falls through. They saw it coming. They have to run. They have to get out of there and Steve has to ensure the safety of his troops. It could be nuclear. This is potentially the turning point of the war and they're about to be at the centre of it.

It wasn't nuclear. The missile was jammed full of explosives and highly-concentrated chloroform, enough to knock down even the largest army despite their air filtration masks. Steve got them out of the blast radius just in time.

“Happy 99th, Capsicle.” Tony grins, almost psychotically as he place a cake (that is more fire than sponge) in front of the old man.
“Did you really put 99 candle on this?” He can't help the roll of his eyes. He really shouldn't expect anything less from the madman, Tony Stark. “Of course you did.”
“Blow them out, make a wish, yadda yadda. Let's get this birthday started.” Despite how juvenile this whole celebration seems to Steve, he plays along (if not only to make Tony happy). He blows out every candle in a single breath, amazing even himself with his super-soldier breath. “So what did you wish for?”
“Even I know that you're just not supposed to tell.” He smirks and sees Tony's face evidently drop. What can he say? The man hates not knowing.
“But we're friends, pals, buddies, bros... amigos.”
“Changes nothing... pal.” It's a low blow but Steve sincerely enjoys this. Tony's hands twitch like he can't handle the hidden secret.
“Okay, I'll let this go if you answer this question.” Steve quickly begins removing the candles from the cake, counting each one as he goes but pauses momentarily to raise a curious- yet suspicious- eyebrow at the scientist.
“Did they really only make you Captain America because your birthday's July 4th?” Back to the good old classic eyeroll. “I'm dying to know.” He leans forward eagerly, the psychotic back on his lips but now traces of it are in his eyes too.
“This cake only has 98 candles.”

Where's Fury?” Steve strides up to the closest soldier he can find. The young woman seems to cower beneath his shadow. His presence must be intimidating to those not familiar with him, what with his media portrayed identity.
“Communications bay.” Steve races over to the tent. The carrier is expected to arrive anytime soon.
He waits quietly at back of the room, watching cautiously as Fury directs the soldiers around him.
“Get me communication with the pilot.” He growls at the nearest man. They lost communication five minutes ago. And now they are unable to find any traces of the carrier in the sky. All signals are lost.
“Without a signal I'm afraid that's impossible, sir!”
“I don't care. Get it done.” The atmosphere in this one tent is tense. There are over 500 men aboard that single carrier, 500 men potentially shot from the sky by the opposition. Everyone within the room can feel the nervous energy bouncing around. Another 500 lives lost to the war... in vain. Fury will never let Steve go out on mission now. His battalion's lives will become collateral damage of the war and just another reason peace in our time is a hopeless dream.
“I'm getting nothing.” He can see the panic in the man's eyes, losing men is something you never forget. There's a dark cloud over everyone and it's not going away unless they regain contact with the pilot.
“Then try harder.” Despite his cool exterior, Steve can see the beads of sweat forming and his hands clenching. Not even Fury can pretend this doesn't affect him. “If I don't get contact in ten seconds you're all fired!” Desperation. The threats are traces of his humanity seeping through- a last resort, his final shred of hope.
“I have signal!” A faint static fills the air and a universal sigh of relief is released by everyone. “30 kilometers and counting.”
“Get the pilot on the radio.”

“Drinking? At 2 in the afternoon? Again?” Steve glares across at Tony, objection in his voice. What kind of life is this? Drinking it all away. It's a waste and Tony seems to have no shame or repulsion at the thought.
“So you think you're better than me?” He is wasted, plastered, hammered, drunk senseless- so much so that every word is paired with a telling slur. His eyes are unfocused, glazed and keep rolling to the side. His body rocks as he leans forward and the smell of liquor on him is so strong Steve's eyes are watering.
“No. I didn't say that.” His arms cross over him chest in a subconscious attempt at defence. He hates it when Tony's like this, and the man is too bloody stubborn to talk. There is clearly something wrong that Tony will never admit.
“Just because you're Captain America, doesn't make you special. You're just like the rest of us. You're not special.”
“I can't be around you when you're like this.”

“This is Pilot Tony Stark, sir!” Everything around Steve fades into oblivion. The frantic soldiers around him disappear from existence, Fury's command fails to register and the war disintegrates just like that. He has tunnel vision. Steve is at the entrance and Tony is the exit.
His heart races in his chest. His palms are clammy. Eagerness courses through his bloodstream like a missile but with more adrenaline. It's a feeling you are unable to understand unless you've experienced it yourself. It's elation. It's almost impossible to put into words but here's the closet you can get: imagine you're driving down a road. Everything darts past you but you are unable to stop. You can spend hours pushing the brakes and you do out of sheer curiosity and desperation but that only causes the car to speed up further until you eventually give in. The road seems endless and you have no idea when, where or if you will stop but you carry on regardless. Weeks pass by, months pass by, years pass by and still there is no end in sight. By this point you've given up trying to stop the car and you're just letting life run it's course. You've been in this vehicle for as long as you can remember and you've begun to believe that you're never going to get out but then it stops. The car brakes and you climb out. It feels great you are finally able to stretch your legs and feel the wind in your hair and all the other simple pleasures you've been missing out on all this time but after taking a few moments to enjoy all that, you look around and realise you're in paradise. It's your own specific utopia designed especially for you and suddenly you can no longer remember what it's like to be in the car- that is little more than a distant memory now. You are happy and free and you realise that the entire journey lead you to here and you don't regret it even slightly.
That is what this moment feels like.
Steve has hit so many roadblocks along the way. He has taken sharp turns and long winding roads. There were moments where his car has slowed so much he thought he was going to stop but this is it. He's finally closing in on his utopia. And damn it feels good- the homestretch.

“Stark, were you hit?” Fury barks.
“No. The signal dropped out crossing enemy lines.” His voice is a lot deeper than he remembers- a lot more rough and strained, but it is like music to his ears. It's the best sound he's ever heard. It's a choir of angels amongst the screeches of humanity.
Steve stays quiet. He knows Tony can hear everything. He can hear all the commotion of the communications bay and he can hear any words uttered louder than a whisper. Steve stays quiet.
No one knows he's there. He just stands at the back out of the way and grinning like a madman. Tony's dulcet tones ring through the air like a long overdue embrace. He never thought he'd hear that voice again and now he has... he can't be 100% sure this isn't heaven.
“10 kilometers!” They're closing in. The carrier is in prime danger zone. They're not even close to being safe yet (safe being the base despite the fact they're in the middle of a war). The red zone is redder than you've ever seen it before.
“Bring the bird into the nest, Stark.” Fury breathes a sigh of relief as the carrier begins the descend and turns towards the door but it stops in his tracks when he notices the 200 pound legendary Captain in his doorway. “You are unauthorised to be in here, Rogers!” He shoots a deadly glare, laced with venom at the super soldier. So much for inconspicuous.
“Rogers? Steve?” Tony gasps from the other line.
“Focus on the mission.” Fury barks back, practically foaming at the mouth in rage as he turns back to Steve. “Your being here could have potentially compromised our mission!”
“Put Steve on the line, Fury.” Tony demands, as if he possesses any authority over the general. He does not.
“Land that carrier or I swear to God!” Fury slams his fist into the control panel, cutting off all communications with the Stark. It’s a games of chances now.
“You knew he was alive and you didn't tell me?!” The usual workings of the bay seem to fall into silence as Steve growls at the balded general.
“My primary concern is winning the war, not protecting one soldier's feelings.”
“You self-righteous fucking bastard.” He has to physically restrain himself to avoid denting a five inch hole in Fury's face
“You are a soldier. I am here to lead and you are here to follow. Personal lives have no place on the field!”

The carrier landed safely that day but Steve was carted away. Sure was still buzzing from the revelation of Tony's non-dead state but that happened to go hand in hand with anger now too. He was cordoned off with Sam in their bunkhouse and Tony was whisked away to the engineering bay a mile or so off campus. Fury really was a fucking asshole.

“I can't believe him.” Steve snarls, throwing a fist into the solid metal bar holding up his bed. Harsh knuckle imprints stain the metal when he moves his hand away. He doesn't feel any pain though, only the anger-fuelled adrenaline buzz rising sky-high within him.

“I get it.” He should not have said that- Sam mentally scolds himself as 200 pounds of rage turn on him. The force of Steve’s glare is almost enough to knock him of his axises.
“You what?”

“I’m just saying, I know you, if you had known Stark was alive you’d have stopped at nothing to find him.” An exasperated sigh escapes Sam’s lips. He knows what he is saying is right and he knows he is the only level-headed man in the room, and yet he can’t help but feel guilty as if he is betraying Steve on some level.

“I can’t believe you’re siding with him. Why can’t you understand that what he did was wrong? He had no right.”

“We’re fighting a war, Steve. We can’t afford to be weak.”

“Fuck you.” He storms off through the doors, throwing any soldier that dares challenge him. None of them are a match for his super strength and nothing is going to stop him reaching Tony.

 

“Coffee?”  Steve gestures towards the high tech machine in the corner with a nod but earns only a grunt in response. He should’ve expected as much from Tony at ..? 11 o’clock in the morning really but he was always a hopeful. “Good morning to you too. I had a wonderful sleep thanks for asking.” Steve grins fondly with an overly exaggerated, sarcastic eyeroll.

“Don’t you start.” Tony grumbles down at the counter with his head in his hands.

“What are you gonna do about it?” Steve retorts with a challenging look to his face.

“Just shush.”

“Make me.” It slips out of his mouth before he has time to really process what he’s saying. He just stands there for a moment, slack jawed, unsure of how Tony will react.

“You asked for it.” The shorter man lurches forward, taking the supersoldier off guard and using it to his advantage. He may have miscalculated just a little (happens more often than he’d like to admit, what with being a genius and all). They both both lose balance but Steve’s reactions are swift. There is no way of stopping the fall but somehow he manages to flip them over, stop the coffee mug landing on Tony, throw out a hand to break their fall, wrap an arm around Tony’s neck and stop his head impacting the floor all within in a blink of the eye.

“S-sorry.” Tony all but stutters, a heat rising up his throat. Steve leans over him, arm still protectively in place around the smaller man’s neck, practically straddling him. He can feel the serum-induced heat radiating off the man.

“Someone needs to teach you a little something called “safety”.” Steve breathes and Tony’s breath catches.

“Oh yeah and who would that be?” He gulps, the tension in the air thick enough to slice through Tony’s heart itself but once a wisecrack...

“I’m sure I could think of someone.” The room is silent. The only sounds are the short breaths of the two men. Steve’s eyes flicker down to Tony’s lips briefly but long enough for Tony to catch. His heart races in his chest in: fear? excitement? confusion? He doesn’t move. Their eyes lock and all of a sudden they’re both leaning in. They can feel each other’s breath on their skin and almost taste each other on their lips. Steve’s eyes shut, leaning in closer but allowing Tony to make the final move. This is it! He’s going to do it. He lifts his neck from Steve’s hand, moving in closer and…

“Get a room.”

“Fuck you, Hunger Games!”

 

“Where the fuck is he?” Steve shoves the door open, storming into the communications bay, leaving a path of destruction as he stomps forward.

“Who the hell let Rogers in here?!” Fury yells ignoring the question, his forehead wrinkled with a hard-ass frown adorned on his lips- very much in character it seems.

“Don’t fucking ignore me! Where is he??!” Steve strides forward, straightening his shoulders to seem broader and to tower over Fury in an attempt at intimidation. It’s

failure is evident in Fury’s scoff.

“You know exactly where he is.” He grits his teeth. “You self-absorbed arseholes are risking the war and now he’s refusing to work without seeing you.” Steve hates to admit his heart flutters a little at the prospect.

He isn’t at all proud of his dependence upon Tony or the fact that his obsession is risking something so crucial, but at the same time this is the happiest he’s felt since… well since Peggy. He never thought he’d have something like this again and sure as hell Peggy was the only thing that got him through the war last time.

“I’m going to see him.” It’s not a question. It’s non-negotiable.

“I fucking hate you.”

 

“Delivery for a Mister Tony Stark.” Steve grins fondly at the familiar figure of Tony hard at work in his lab, knowing it’s probably been hours since he last ate and days since he last slept but years of concern have got him nowhere.

“Set it down on the table.” Tony mumbles distracted by the equations in front of him. See? Nowhere.

“No. I’ve been fooled too many times to fall for that. I’m not leaving until I see you eat.” Despite his predilection for Tony, the man is hard work. Steve’s already almost lost him one too many times.

“What’s this one then? House-husband and the delivery man?” Tony throws a wink in Steve’s direction momentarily turning away from his work and the super soldier knows all too well what he’s insinuating but foolishly assumes he’s making progress on the whole food issue.

“Not this time I’m afraid. Food only. Maybe next time if you’re good and eat all your veggies.” Steve can’t stop himself rolling his eyes and he swears he’s gonna strain those muscles beyond repair one day.

“Aw.” Tony pouts but gives in, reaching for a fork and tucking in. “You know, come in with an offer like that more often and I’d definitely be more inclined to eat.” He smirks knowingly in Steve’s direction.

“Tempting but I’d rather not prostitute myself just so you’ll eat now and again.” Steve can’t help but scoff at the idea despite the butterflies running riot in his stomach.

“Aw, you’re no fun.”

“I never claimed to be, honey.”

 

Steve strides towards the technology and weapons bay with great intent but no idea what he’s going to say. He tries to process every possible situation, every scenario but literally the only thing that comes to mind isn’t exactly the kind of grand gesture he’d like. He has so much to express but so few words to do it in and so little time to prepare. The only thing he’s certain on is Tony. He knows he’s making the right call. Fury can give him hell, he can die tomorrow, he could be stripped of his title and disgraced for all of eternity; none of that will matter as long as he tells Tony everything today. If God will allow him that, he’d be an eternally grateful but completely undeserving man.

“Rogers, you are unauthorised to be here.” War machine- James Rhodes- Rhodey. He stands in full ‘Iron Patriot’ regalia in front of the door.

“Step aside.” Steve sighs knowing full well he will not. Worth a shot though.

“I suspected you’d be here soon. Fury positioned me to keep you away.” Steve can tell despite the mask that his gaze is harrowing and steady. “Tony is busy.”

“Fury told me he’s refusing to work.” Steve glances down just enough to see James’ fist clench.

“You’re not the first. Far from it in fact.” Steve knows this ploy. He’s seen it so many times before but curiosity gets the better of him and he doesn’t interject. “There have been so many before you and there will be so many after. You’re merely a footnote at the end of a long list of lovers. He’ll toss you away once he’s had his fill just like the rest of his pathetic playthings.” He won’t pretend it doesn’t sting and he’s taken aback for just a second but that’s all it takes for Rhodey to load him with enough sedatives to take down half of Manhattan.

 

“She said “yes”!” Tony beams at Steve, his happiness and delight clear from a mile away. Steve gulps. He doesn’t know why his heart skips a little at the news.

“Congratulations.” Steve smiles back but the smile feels fake on his lips, as if a waxwork had been constructed around his mouth. “Tony Potts has a nice ring to it.” The slack-jawed expression on Tony’s face is almost worth the ache in his chest.

“Excuse you.” He gasps as if horrified by the thought. “Pepper Stark sounds better, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

“Mmhm.” Steve breathes out neither agreeing nor disagreeing but giving Tony a look which scream “bullshit”. He knows what comes next.

“Oh God! She’s gonna make me change my name to Potts.” He always knew the fatal retribution for the ‘12%’ comment would come but he never thought it’d be as harsh as this. “I can’t be a Potts. I’m a Stark. Tony Stark. Not Tony Potts. Never Tony Potts.” The fear in his eyes is almost a little too genuine.

“Potts Industries.” He can’t help pushing a little further.

“No.”

“Potts Tech.”

“Stop.”

“Make me.” Tony shoves Steve backwards, with no real anger in the move but as much power as he can muster, knocking him gracelessly onto the sofa. Steve lets himself fall, normally even Tony at strongest wouldn’t be enough to floor the supersoldier.

“Potts Tower.”

“My baby! Ooo you’ve taken it too far this time.” He turns on the soldier with a glare. A flare of excitement spreads through Steve’s chest but he chooses to ignore it and puts all his effort into keeping the cocky grin on his face.

Tony advances at speed, using the weight of his body to keep Steve’s 6’2” frame down. He knocks into his chest, landing on top of him, legs either side of the supersoldier’s body.

“Anything else you’d like to say.” Steve opens his mouth to respond and push Tony’s buttons even further but the scientist uses that moment to lean into taller man’s space, distracting him from anything he was considering saying. “Watch it.” He whispers, with none of the same farce as before. It’s barely a breath across the other’s lips.

Their eyes lock and the previous heat is replaced by something different- warmer perhaps. The tension in the air? Thick, heavy, confusing. Neither of them move them; neither of them look away as their eyes lock- pupils dilated. Tony begins to lean in, mouth starting to purse and Steve advances too. It seems all too fast but neither is willing to be the first to call ‘chicken’. Tony’s eyes flicker down to Steve’s soft, red lips. And then they’re…

“Tony.” He rolls off Steve immediately, refusing to look the other in the eye. Guilt burns in his chest. Who for? He does not know.

“Coming, Pepper.” Tony darts out the room.

 

When Steve comes to he has no idea where he is or why his neck is so stiff. The room around him is dark and he can vaguely hear a soft, eerily familiar beeping in the background.

He tries to turn his head but his neck won’t move. The pain is intense but nothing out of the ordinary.

The smell of the room is familiar, unsettling but nothing he can put his finger on. It smells clean… too clean.

Steve takes in a deep breath, inhaling a lungful of sterile air. It reminds him of something, although he can not place specifically where. It’s unsettling, like a ghost of his past- a faint whisper into the forgotten, something he blocked out long ago.

Ghost?

The memories crash down on him all too suddenly. It’s the smell of death, thick in his heavy lungs. It’s the smell of giving up. It’s the smell of something he once yearned for but now he aches to be miles away. It took Natasha, it almost took him and it has taken many millions of others.

Euthanasia.

Sealed in a veil of darkness, Steve begins to panic. Why can’t he see? Why is everything around him black? He doesn’t want this. Sure he wanted it once, many months ago but now? He wants nothing less.

“Tony,” Steve whimpers out into darkness, pleading for Tony to save him like he did once before. “Please.” Fingers intertwine with his.

“One...two...three…” His grips around the phantom hand tightens. It feels safe.

“Four… five…” They finish in unison. Calm washes over the room, filling into the cracks of unease and leaving behind a subdued atmosphere.

“Open your eyes.” He hadn’t even realised his eyes were closed.

The weight of his eyelids is intense as he struggles to reveal the world outside of his head but when he does he is blessed with a soft silhouette of red. He blinks away the tired residue to unveil a sight even more wholesome, even more refreshing.

There were a million different ways Steve had imagined this moment going; this was not one of them. He imagined a long romantic speech followed by a heartfelt gesture ending in a profession of love and the two of them falling complete into the other’s arms.

He never imagined the conflicting array of emotions he’d feel. Sure the same passion and lust is there but it is sided with an anger. Anger at Fury, at shield and at the war.

“They let me believe you were dead.” Steve whispers cautiously, eyes wide and brimming. There is so much hurt torn into that skin. “For months.”

“Just before I Ieft to return to China, I was told you were dead.” Tony’s lip quivers at the thought and his grip noticeably tightens around the supersoldier’s hand as if fearing it will become real if he dares to let go. “I couldn’t go back.” His body begins to tremble. “It wasn’t until I heard your voice the other day that I knew you were alive.” The anger in Steve’s chest burns even brighter, as if fuelled by the news but he can’t help but feel guilty too.

“What about my letters?”

“What letters?” Tony replies oblivious to the many a heartfelt letter Steve had sent for Tony.

“I’m sorry.” Tony turns on the man in shock, as if appalled by the profession of an apology.

“This isn’t you. It’s those assholes out there.” He nods towards the door, an ounce of menace in the action. The disgust and indignation in that one movement is overwhelming. It isn’t until then that Steve is drawn away from the other’s eyes and begins to assess the physical assets of the man. If he thought Tony was skinny last time, it is far beyond that now. If he weren’t layered in many tonnes of material, Steve is sure he’d see ribs sticking out. Not only that but bruises douse every inch of exposed skin, most visibly his cheek.

Steve reaches a hand out to press lightly against the smaller man’s wounded skin. It’s not exactly a significant wound in the context of the war and they’ve both endured a hell of alot worse but it still causes rage to bubble within the soldier. Tony’s a scientist and isn’t subjected to the harshness of combat, which means the inflictions on his cheek are from friend not foe.

“Who did this to you?” His words a sweet concoction of concern, affection and...

“Fury.” He sighs, Steve’s knuckles turn white at the news. “I told him I wouldn’t work until I saw you, he, well…” He gestures towards the bruises on his face.

“I swear to god I’m gon-”

“I’m sorry about all this by the way.” Tony interjects, distracting Steve from his warpath.

“What do you mean?”

“This. The sedation. It was the only way I could get to you.” Steve can see the shame in the scientist’s face. “They wouldn’t let me see you. Fury gave the entire squadron direct orders to keep us apart unless circumstances were dire. So well… Rhodey suggested we do this. He sends his apologies by the way.”

“I missed you.” It’s a forgiving in its own right. It’s Steve’s way of telling him it’s okay but also trying hopelessly to convey the affection he has for the other.

“I would hope so.” Tony tries to come off as arrogant and nonchalant but the oversized grin on his face is a giveaway; a grin that says “I missed you too, idiot.”.

 

“Steven Grant Rogers?!” Tony slides into Steve’s path. He’s lazily dressed in sweatpants, a white tank top and socks but seems full of life.

“Excuse you.” Steve raises an eyebrow, attempting to dodge the overly-excitable man but failing miserably as the shorter follows into his path. He can’t help but roll his eyes. “And what can I help you with today?”

“So I just happened to be scrolling through some top secret files that were coincidentally open on my computer,” *pause for glare*. “And I stumbled upon a rather handsome specimen.” Tony stifles and laugh behind his hand, keeping his eyes trained upon Steve. The glare fails to cease.

“Where is this going?” The pit in his stomach tells him that whatever this is it isn't good- he has a knack for this kind of thing.

“Meet Steve Rogers, 5’4”, 95lbs and hot as hell.” The conceited grin on Tony’s lips says it all as he turns around the paper in his hands.

Upon the sheet is a glossy picture of pre-serum Steve in all his glory. Quite a sight, even if he does say so himself. The bones sticking out left, right and centre really do add some sort of sickly charm. Steve just sighs in response, refusing to be annoyed by the image in front of him or the man holding said image.

“I hate you.”

 

“You’re so skinny.” Steve mumbles absent mindedly, stroking a bone jutting out just a little too much at Tony's elbow.

“Pre-serum Steve has me beat.” Tony replies with a distracting smile. He's not wrong though but that was just Steves natural state; seeing Tony like this (bony and weak) is just wrong. Tony’s body isn’t meant to be like this.

“I hope you know, I'll be fattening you up over the next couple weeks.”

“I was counting on it.” It’s little more than a mumble under his breath, paired with a frown.

Steve lifts himself up on an elbow so he can look down at Tony’s face beside him. The scientist remains distracted and absent, despite the movement.

“What’s wrong?” Without looking Tony replies,

“This isn’t how I wanted it to be.”

 

“You haven’t slept in days!” Tony stares at the wall, complete oblivious to Steve regardless of the pacing and yelling. “TONY!” His head snaps towards the supersoldier, eyes wide and confused.

“What’d I do?”

“You can’t live like this.” Steve comes to a halt in front of the chair the smaller man is sat on, clenching a now cold black coffee. He doesn’t turn to face the scientist but continues talking with his back to the man. “Downing 10 cups of coffee a day,” Tony scoffs. Steve grits his teeth but doesn’t let it phase him. “And not sleeping for weeks on end. You’re going to kill yourself.” That’s when his temper takes hold.

“Maybe that’s the FUCKING PLAN!” The coffee that was once held firmly between his palms now sits damp on his legs, with the mug smashed on the ground.

Steve’s reaction is instantaneous. He turns around the minute the mug hits the ground, eyes full of concern. The glass is an afterthought as he kneels in front of Tony.

“What are you doing? Get up.” Tony tries desperately to pull the soldier up but to ultimate failure. “You’re going to hurt yourself.” Looking down, he can already see the blood pooling around his knees. Worry takes over and it’s as if he’s almost forgotten his little outburst. The serum protects Steve but that’s no reason to test it and be reckless.

“What did you just say?” Barely a whisper. The fear on his face almost drowns Tony.

“Get up?” Tony mumbles, knowing it’s the wrong answer. Steve grabs Tony’s hand, radiating melancholy.

“Don’t.” Tony tries with all his strength to look away, but Steve’s gaze is intense and captivating and the last thing he wants to do is turn his head. The blue hue burns brighter than he’s ever seen before and Tony finds himself wondering is that’s a natural response to fear, making a mental note to look into it later.

“Steve?” The silence paired with the unending eye contact is just a little too much to handle, given his recent outburst.

“Why?” It’s as if he won’t allow himself to say anymore just in case.

“Why what?”

“You know what.” His gaze turns to a glare.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He finally manages to break eye contact, only to stare down into his lap in shame. Steve’s grip on his hand tightens ever so slightly.

“Come with me?” It’s phrased as a question but something tells Tony that’s in non-negotiable. The way Steve speaks is intended to comfort Tony, to show him that it’s ok and that they are friends.

He lets himself be dragged up towards the lift and away from his workshop without even questioning where they are going. It isn’t until they are stood outside his bedroom that he begins to understand.

Steve pushes open the door, looking over at Tony to make sure he’s not breaching any boundaries. Tony’s small nod is consent.

By the hand, Tony is lead towards the bed in the middle of the room. He sits on the edge as Steve hands him a clean t shirt and underwear to change into. The supersoldier averts his eyes and Tony dresses himself.

“Do you need anything before you go to sleep?” Steve asks, with a soft smile. Tony shakes his head fearing the words that could escape his lips. Steve turns to leave.

“Don't go!” Tony blurts out. “... please.”

“Are you sure?” He just reaches out a hand to coax the taller man towards him. Steve walks over as Tony shuffles to the other side of the bed to make room. He feels the mattress dip as the soldier sits. Tony grabs Steve’s hand.

“Help me?” Tony’s feels so small, so weak, so alone. Pepper’s gone; the only thing keeping him alive is killing him; he’s constantly haunted by his past; and he just feels there’s nothing left for him anymore.

“Just tell me how.” It’s masked but Steve is clearly begging. He can’t do this without a little help.

“I don’t want to be alone anymore.” Steve doesn’t say a word, just squeezes the hand in his and coaxes the smaller man into lying down. “Every time I close my eyes I see it.”

“It’s okay.”

“I see Afghanistan; I see myself carrying the nuke through the wormhole; I see myself almost killing Pepper.” The words cut to the core. “And I’m reminded that when I die I’ll have nothing to show for it… any of it. No one has ever loved Tony Stark. I’ll die alone: no wife, no kids, no lasting relationships. What an empty funeral that’ll be.” He can’t help but scoff, full of self-hatred and misery, at himself.

“I’ll be there, just like I am now. And so will Clint, Bruce, Natasha and even Thor. We’ll be there to tell the world what an amazing man you were. I’ll be there to tell the world that Tony Stark deserved better.” Tony doesn’t want to talk anymore. The sentiment to Steve’s words causes his heart to ache just a little too much, despite not fully believing any of it.

Ten minutes or so later, Tony’s breathing begins to level out. Asleep or so Steve assumes.

“Please don’t go anywhere. I’ll miss you. I need you. Just please.” Tony doesn’t say anything; those words are just for him.

 

“What do you mean?” Steve’s heart races at two hundred miles an hour.

“Maybe Fury’s right.” That’s the last thing Steve has ever wanted to hear out of Tony’s mouth. He’s the only person who’s always seen through that asshole’s bullshit and called him out on it. “Me and you- we make each other weak.” Tony closes his eyes, a single tear brimming as he whispers the next words: “I’m only human, Steve.” He says like it’s not enough and the thought alone breaks Steve in more ways than he ever thought possible.

“Tony-”

“If you feel what you say you feel about me, I’m going to make you weak. I’m not a supersoldier; I’m not a norse god; I’m not a master assassin.” It all comes out in one rapid breath but they have to talk about this now. They have to know where they stand going in because it’s sure as hell Fury’s gonna make life miserable for them from the off.

“I’m not expecting you to be.” If the issue is Tony thinking he’s not enough, he has it completely wrong.

“I’m never going to be able to keep up with you.” He sighs, finally opening his eyes again.

“Please, Tony-”

“I’m going to make you weak because if you care about me, you’re always going to feel like you have to protect me. I’m going to be responsible for distracting you.”

“You don’t need protecting.” Steve mumbles but he knows he’s lying to both himself and Tony. Tony is human and thus vulnerable. He is easily susceptible to the torment of war- the weapons, the biological warfare, all of it.

“You say that now but what happens when we’re on the front line.”

“I’ll…” He trails off.

“I’m always going to fall two steps behind.”

“I’ll wait for you.”

“That’s the problem. There’s not as big a divide between Steve Rogers and Captain America as you think. You won’t be able to stop the Steve Rogers part of you trying to protect me.”

“Maybe that’s an advantage.” Steve reaches out for Tony’s hand, clenching it carefully between his two palms. “Maybe me being a supersoldier and you being human will work for us.”

“How?” Tony really can’t see an upside to his presence. He’s vulnerable and he makes Steve vulnerable too. Steve will always be (both literally and metaphorically) two feet ahead of him. Tony is nothing special.

“You give me something to fight for. Without you I have nothing to go home to at the end. You know where I was before this, before me and you; I was signing up to throw away my life but now I have you and you make me stronger because you are my hope. You are my fight.” Unnoticeably to the soldier, his grip tightens around the smaller’s hand. “I can’t lose you. What do I have to do to make you understand?”

“Come here.” Tony pulls Steve in by the collar of his shirt, moulding their lips together in hopeful desperation, confusion and something Tony can’t quite put his finger on yet. It’s soft and slow but it’s the first real contact they’ve had since New York, so it’s welcome. It’s more than enough for both men.

“Plus I know you’ll be out there covering my ass too.” Steve whispers, eye closed, against Tony’s lips.

“It’s a very pretty ass.” Tony chuckles at Steve’s amused sigh. “You’re going to be the death of me, Steve Rogers.”

“I love you too, Tony Stark.”

 

“What do you want when this is all over?” Steve has yet to be released from army medical but he couldn’t care less at this point. Every second he’s here is a second he spends alone with Tony.
Tony’s head rests upon Steve’s broad chest in the hospital bed provided and honestly it’s just nice to be close to each other right now.

“You.” Steve hums, content.

“That’s sweet but you know that’s not what I mean.” Tony looks up at the supersoldier through his eyelashes, with a blissful smile spread across his lips. “Do you want family, a career, I don’t know, a puppy? Just give me something to go on.”

“After this is over it’d be nice to settle down. I’ve done enough fighting over the last 100 years. It’s probably about time I laid down the shield.” Steve mumbles, taking in a deep breath that cause Tony’s head to rise and fall with it.

“Anything else?”

“I’ve always wanted children, I suppose, but it’s not something I’ve ever considered possible.” Sure he wants a child or two but he’d never give up Tony for it. That love is worth infinitely more than searching out something that is currently theoretical.

“How many?”

“One, two maybe.” He can picture it now. A son.

“Names?”

“James after Bucky-”

“Or after Rhodey.” Tony chips in with a smile.

“Or Sarah after my mom.” He sighs fondly at the thought. “You?”

“I’ve never really imagined having children until you. I always thought I was a little too much like Howard.”

“You’d be a great father.” Steve says with absolute sincerity.

“Maybe we could do this.” Tony’s breath hitches a little at the suggestion.

“The most important question is who's surname would they take?”

“Then again, maybe not.” Steve throws a soft punch at Tony’s arm at the comment. “I’m serious. We could do this, Steve.”

“Won’t we be a bit busy, what with the aftermath of this war and all.” Steve sighs dead serious but it’s more an excuse than anything. If they’re even going to consider this Steve has to be certain they’re both in it for the long haul. He knows how hard it is growing up without a father.

“After all that. I’m not getting any younger, Steve. I don’t want to regret anything. I want to be proud of what I’ve left behind.” He stares intensely at the wall across the room, afraid to make eye contact. He does want this. He wants a family now that he’s figured out the kind of person he is; and the possibility of it being with Steve is all the more sweeter.

“Are we really going to do this?” He doesn’t know whether to be excited or overcome with fear and dread but he honestly hopes it isn’t the latter.

“When this is all over, run away with me?” Tony whispers, his voice beautifully hopeful. “Give up Captain America and I’ll give up Iron Man. Let’s just be normal people for the first time in forever. Let’s start a family.” It’s a close to desperate as Tony would like to admit he’s ever been. He’s so exposed and vulnerable and if this isn’t trust, he has no idea what is.

“Okay.”

 

The next morning Tony and Steve wake, a tangle of limbs. There’s silence but it’s comfortable despite the compromising position. Tony feels warm and safe, against to heat of the other’s body and Steve is just content knowing that Tony is okay for now.

“I didn’t have a nightmare.” Tony mumbles astounded at the prospect. He slept a full night undisturbed. Oh what a blissful rarity nights like these are to a man as twisted and broken as him.

“Really?” Steve can’t help but smile as something deep within him cheers ‘that’s you. You helped him.’.

“Nothing.” The look of shock on Tony’s face hurts a heck of a lot. Steve hadn’t known how bad it was but that look of sheer relief says it all. “Thank you, Steve.” And Steve vows to do everything he can to never have to see that look on Tony’s face again, even if that means never leaving his side for as long as he shall live.

 

Eleven months they’d fought together- Steve on the front line and Tony off in engineering somewhere but it worked for them.

Steve fought with everything he had to ensure Tony was away from the battlefield and safe, despite the other man’s constant protests. Tony was right, Steve would stop at nothing to protect him on the front lines and that’s a little more than a lot dangerous, so it is better avoided if possible

Steve had his battalion back too and in supreme shape. (Tony’s carrier had brought everything. Not only had it lent 500 more bodies to the fight but it brought: antitoxins, ventilators, antibiotics, even some things as simple as bandages. Tony had single handedly helped save the life of his entire battalion and Steve was never gonna forget that.) Tony didn’t need to fight because with the extra bodies plus the hundreds revived from the botulism toxin, there were enough men. That’s what he told Fury at least.

Everyday Steve would come back, with his battalion, from a hard day’s fight with a new fleshwound and Tony would insist on cleaning and stitching said wound, regardless of how much the supersoldier objected, and whilst doing so they would recount the trials of their day to one another (each providing comfort or advice where necessary). They just worked. No one could explain it.

“Steve?” Tony turns towards the door to his lab as the soldier enters. Concern fills his eyes as yet another deep gash adorns the man’s face. “Get over here.” Tony gestures, standing from his chair to allow Steve to sit.

“I’m fine, Tony.” He attempts a grin to reassure the scientist, which sends a pulse of pain storming through his skull, outwardly projected as a grimace.

“I’m calling bullshit on that one, Cap.” Tony pushes him into the chair by the shoulder and starts rifling through the drawer beside him in search of first aid supplies. “Do we really have to through this same routine everyday?” Tony groans under his breath, shaking his head slightly at the thought.

“I’m hardwork.” Steve shrugs fondly at the other man.

“But worth every minute.” Tony turns back to face Steve, bending down in front of him with eyebrows knotted together in deep thought. He cups Steve’s uninjured cheek with his hand and lifts the soldier’s head to get a better view. “‘I’m fine.’” Tony scoffs, mocking Steve’s earlier claim.

Letting go of Steve’s face, Tony pulls a cotton pad and some antiseptic cream from the box beside him.

“You don’t even know what fine is anymore.” Tony presses the cotton pad, doused in the cream against the wound. Steve hisses at the contact.

“We’re at war. I think a tiny cut can be considered fine.” Steve rolls his eyes at Tony’s concern, considering it entirely unnecessary.

“Bit more than a tiny cut I’m afraid, Oh Captain my Captain. You’re gonna need stitches.” He begins threading the needle, with his back to the soldier. Steve rests his chin on the shorter man’s shoulder, watching quietly content as he works.

“You’re too good to me.” Steve sighs happily. Tony’s hands falter momentarily at the words.

“Sit back. You’re gonna get blood all over my shirt.” Defence mechanism- Steve spots it a mile off but says nothing and complies.

The look in Tony’s eyes is intense as he turns and lines the needle up with the cut. Steve can spot a vast array of emotions from fear to relief but fear is definitely the most prominent of the lot.

“I’m sorry.” Tony sighs beneath his breath, feeling genuinely guilty about having to cause the soldier any more pain despite it being for his benefit.

Steve lifts a hand to Tony’s chin, consensually forcing the other man to look him in the eye.

“It’s okay.” He smiles softly at the engineer. It’s trust. He trusts Tony and he trusts that Tony will limit the pain (however minor) as much as possible, whilst also doing a good job at closing the wound. Their trust extends far beyond that.

Tony grimaces as the needle breaks through flesh, but Steve doesn’t even wince (if only to comfort the scientist a little). It hurts but he’s had a heck of a lot worse and if pretending helps to make Tony more comfortable, he sure as hell is gonna do it.

“I love you.”

“I know. That’s what scares me.”

 

Wanda Maximoff back on the front lines again. A year of careful planning and preparation has gone into this and this time it better not fail.

Soldiers crowd her frail yet not at all vulnerable form. If this succeeds it could easily be the turning point of the war. This could be the moment victory enters the entire nation’s sight. This could be the final corner they have to turn.

The plan has three steps:

Step one: Wanda, with the help of the 107th, will intercept the leaders of the opposition’s front line and manipulate their minds (break them down from the inside). If possible manipulate as much authority as they are able to in such a short space of time;

Step two (also day two): with as much manpower on the front line as they can muster, the now weaker opposition will have no choice but to concede;

Step three: pledge a treaty of peace and return home with a seemingly safe future in the holster.

Obviously the timings and fundamentals of the plan venture a lot further into sophistication and specifics but on a base level this was it. It all seems so easy but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this will be gruelling and painful but it’s the final push towards victory- or at least that’s what they hope. The losses might venture into the thousand, perhaps even the millions, but if Iran falls China, Russia and all other allied forces will surrender and the war will be over. The loss of the few is worth the possibility of peace because without it the death count will soon toss over into the billions.

“FORWARD!” Steve was placed at the head of the operation, what with his skills in logistics being parallel to none. America will go mad when this is all over. Captain America leading them to peace once again in the name of their country, what better propaganda is there than that.

“Captain, no heat signatures in the twenty foot perimeter.” Sam lifts the Stark tech from his eyes, squinting into the distance. “They must have noticed us by now. We’re not exactly being quiet about it.” Sceptical, paranoid perhaps. By all manner of speaking this war has been a short one- a little less than three years- but the consequences of such have been dire. All the pain has been condensed into a small timescale, leaving a mark no amount of rehabilitation or distraction can ever wash away.

“Stick to the plan.” Steve hisses with no real venom beneath his breath.

Tony had held him this morning as if he were never coming home; Tony had spoken to him as if it were their final moments together; Tony had kissed him as if it were the last time he’d ever have the chance. The look in the scientist’s eyes was so desperate, his grip was so determined but everything else about him was a mess. The way he held the supersoldier was if he would never be willing to let go. Steve hated having to leave him like that. As Steve headed towards the exit he had heard Tony mumble- “Worrying about you is going to be the death of me.” - and boy did he know it to be true. He felt the same but that realisation only fuelled the fire in him and made him even more determined to get the both of them home. Tony’s red has definitely washed off on him. Thoughts of running away together and anger for the fear the opposition had caused his Iron Man filled his mind as he left that day with a final- “ See you tonight ”.

“Goggles on.” Sam lowers his visor, heart jumping into his throat as a patch of orange lights up on the left. This is it.

“To your left.” Sam whispers beneath his breath, determined to give no indication to any hostile forces in the vicinity that he knows of their presence.

“Keep watch.” The orange patch stays stationary as the soldiers advance.

“Fifty metres to target.” James Rhodes comes up beside him, dressed in a fully mobile copy of the original Iron Patriot suit. Tony had modified it so the Colonel could easily walk even donned in the heavy alloy.

“Remain vigilant.” The first gunshots sounds mere seconds later. It’s the bloodbath they had been expecting since the minute they set foot into the arena. “MASKS ON!” Steve isn’t willing to risk anything. “CLOSE FORMATION!” The soldiers move in tightly together, flanking around Wanda, who stands protected in the centre. They continue forward with extra caution.

A bomb detonates to their left, only a few metres from hitting and potentially killing a soldier. And that’s when all hell breaks loose.

“PROTECT WANDA!” The only command that needs to be given. She is the key to this being a successful mission, so all these men better be willing to lay down their lives for her and for the good of the world. It isn’t something Steve is a big advocate of, he’d rather it were possible not to lose any of his men, but in this situation it is completely necessary.

Bullets ricochet, flying through the air, attempting to implant in any possible target. Grenades explode everywhere. Bodies fall and become yet more lives lost to the war. But they push on. They push forward with every ounce of strength they have, through the enemy line where the plan is to be implemented.

A small party of soldiers, Falcon among them, verge left- hopefully unseen by the opposition- with Wanda betwixt them at the centre of the group. The battle continues on in the field, merely a distraction as the smaller body of soldiers infiltrate the enemy barracks.

It’s all up to fate now.

There is nothing left Steve can do but fight for as long as he can or as long as is needed.

It’s five minutes later, when he gets the call.

“We’re in.” He breathes a sigh of relief. They’ve done it.

 

“Where’s Steve?” The soldiers flood back towards the barracks by the thousands, all of them muddied and bloodied and worn. “Steve Rogers?” He yells at the mass of confused, dirty faces. So many injured, so many dead, so many but no Captain America has yet to be seen.

No one replies.

Tony had learnt of mission success from Sam Wilson, who had flown in after escorting Wanda back to the ‘neutral zone’. It was a moment of celebration, quickly diminished by the lack of news regarding Steve, who had promised to radio in the minute his battalion were on the retreat.

“I need to know where Captain America is.” Tony’s heart pounds in his chest. They all knew how risky a mission they were facing. Tony knew and he wanted to beg Steve not to go, but he didn’t. He wouldn’t let himself be that selfish.

No one had heard anything. Tony searches through the crowd, each person he passes failing to give him any new information. His heart continues to sink further with each confused face he sees.

“Tony?” He was allowed to be worried. This was their hardest fight so far- the one with the most casualties. It was the final push and that meant all guns blazing, going down in a blaze of glory. Tony's nerves were completely just and that provided exactly zero percent comfort. “What are you doing!?” An arm is thrown around his shoulder, a familiar arm, pulling him back towards the barracks. “What are you thinking?! It's dangerous out here.” The voice scolds but all Tony can reply with is a small,

“Steve?”

“I’m here.” The grip around his shoulders tightens. “But you shouldn’t be. You’re unarmed and unprotected, Tony.” Tony doesn’t feel the need to say anything other than,

“Marry me?” He can’t not. And maybe it’s a spur of the moment decision, fuelled by fear and adrenaline, but he knows he won’t regret it- Ever!

Steve grinds to a halt, seeming to forget their location, and turns to the shorter man- his Iron Man.

“What?”

“Kind of in the middle of an active battlefield, Cap.” Tony jokes, despite the tears of happiness in his eyes.

“What did you just say?” Steve isn’t amused by Tony’s jokes. The stern look remains on his face.

“Marry me?” Tony replies with a sheepish more sceptical grin.

“Are you being serious?”

“We need to get moving.”

“I’m not going anywhere until I know.” He grabs hold of Tony’s wrist to stop the hand trying to pull him forward. They are the last ones around and the most vulnerable.

Tony looks Steve dead in the eye, happy, overwhelmed and a watery mess.

“Steve Rogers, will you marry me?” The most beautiful grin lights up on Steve’s face and Tony is certain his heart literally skips a beat. Steve drops the scientist’s hand, resting a palm on the man’s cheek.

“Yes. Of course. I love you.”

“Good, now let’s get the fuck out of here.”

 

Tony is called up to fight the next day- every man and every woman is. Steve fought, with everything he had, to keep Tony (his now fiance) off the field as he had so many times before but this was the final push and they need as much manpower as they could get. Fury wouldn’t back down and if Steve was completely honest he couldn’t blame him.

“Suit up.” Steve whispers to Tony the next morning as he rouses him from a thoughtful daydream.

“I’ll be fine, Steve.” Although the supersoldier won’t admit, Tony knows what he’s thinking. He can read the man like an open book these days.

“Hang back. Stay hidden, okay?” Steve plants a quick kiss on the shorter man’s forehead and Tony nods shortly. “See you on the way back.” Steve leaves to prepare for the departure himself. If he wasn’t definitely going to go down in history before, he certainly is now. The first superhero, a national icon, a time traveller and the man who ended World War Three.

Tony couldn’t be any prouder of the man if he tried.

 

Grenades detonate every left, right and centre. Body’s fall by the masses. Tony can see Steve in the front, twenty five metres or so ahead, fighting- hard. His suit is torn and covered in blood but still a striking blue among the masses of beige. He keeps retaliating with all the strength the serum lent him.

Tony fights too but he is significantly less experience than the other man, with no Iron Man suit and no high tech weaponry- just a gun, his fists, a couple grenades and a blade. He's just as beige as the rest of them.

Tony swipes left with his knife, slicing blindly but somehow managing to plant a perfect cut across the opposition’s throat, dropping him to his knees instantly. With a final wet gurgle, the man keels over and dies. Blood drips down Tony’s sleeve from the handle of the knife, and shock is able to register for only a moment before his life is threatened once again.

A gun is fired in his direction. He just about manages to dodge the bullet and grab the gun from the other man’s hands, using his strength to thrust the but of the gun into the man’s chest shattering a rib or two in the process. Bone pierces through the skin and clothes of the soldier’s chest and he is dead within seconds, most likely of a pierced heart.

They fight like that for hours, until pain aches over every inch of their bodies. They watch as so many bodies fall, friend and foe, until the attacks become less and less frequent and Tony is able to catch his breath for the first time in what feels like forever.

“SURRENDER!” A silence washes over the field. No explosions, no gunshots and sure enough in the distance Tony sees the white flag he has longed for for so long. The men they were just fighting flee back to their barracks and Tony’s allies let them go because they had won. Their mission was a success. They had done it.

The first thought that crosses Tony’s mind? The supersoldier (of course!).

He doesn’t have to look for long.

Tony sees Steve walking towards him (the only thought on his mind- “thank fuck.”) and runs at him, knocking into the man and throwing his arms around the supersoldier’s neck. They both made it despite the odds being stacked against them. It’s relief and it feels wrong to be this happy when surrounded by this many bodies but it’s bliss and it’s uncontrollable. And if Tony’s honest with himself, they worked fucking hard to get here and he couldn’t feel any less guilty about it.

“You did it.” Tony grins into Steve’s shoulder, relishing in the warmth. He may never have to let this man go again and he’d be damned if he were any happier about. They are safe, something they had never been in this relationship, and they are together. “You’ve saved millions.”

“It’s finally over, Tony.”

 

They were on the retreat. Iran had called ceasefire, with a lack of militia in comparison to what those on the Israeli side had.
“INCOMING!” Steve can see it, the bullet heading towards him at full-speed. He can't move though. He has men either side of him and they're in the middle of a literal fucking minefield. The silver shell, streamlined to fight against any kind of resistance (and fuck knows what kind of shit it's carrying), races towards him at a speed incomprehensible to most men. Steve isn't most men. He sees it all- in slow motion. A fifty caliber, red-tipped, pointed bullet shot from a sniper, intended specifically for him. That thing is probably laced with enough toxic fallout to take down a mammal three times his size.
It never made it to Steve.
Tony throws himself into the path of the bullet. The shell lodges itself directly above the bone of his hip and explodes. Shrapnel courses through his skin, releasing whatever hellish concoction had once been there into his bloodstream. Steve sees the realisation on his face as it happens. It isn't regret or even pain, it's relief and Steve be damned if that wasn't a thousand times worse.
“Fuck.” Steve falls to his knees, pulling Tony's limp body into his arms. “Tony, I can't fucking die from these, you idiot.” His grip around the smaller is strong and desperate, scared that if he were to loosen it even slightly he'd lose him. The world outside of them seems to fade from existence. It was over. They were safe.
“You don't know that.” He splutters, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. Steve looks down at him, overwhelmed in horror. Devastation. It was over. They had just been fine.
“You're an asshole.” He mumbles through a veil of tears. There is blood, so much blood but it won't be the bloodloss that kills him. He can already see a thick layer of sweat forming at Tony's hairline and he can feel the slight tremors travelling up his spine.
“Damn straight, Capsicle.”

It took four men to get Tony back to the carrier that night. They were advised to wear gas masks to fight of risk of infection- Steve declined.
The flight back to New York was tough. It should have been easy. It should've been relieved and peaceful. Instead it was the opposite.

The fever was setting in and fast. Speed was paramount. The minute Tony was on board the carrier Steve was ushered away and a team of elite doctors began working to remove the shrapnel, stop the bloodflow and identify whatever the fuck they had laced him with.
Steve heard everything
With Sam by his side, he heard the faint pleas and cries for “Steve”. He tried to get to him. He kicked and he screamed and he put up a fight but he lost. This carried on for hours until they reached Shield.
Tony was carted away immediately. No one would tell him where. Maria Hill tried to talk to him but everything she said was a blur. He couldn't focus, he couldn't pay attention, when all he wanted to do was be with Tony.
Eventually everyone stopped trying. They left him in a private room by himself to await further information.
“Steve?” He doesn't look up from his position on the floor in the corner of the room. He is beyond tears by now. He is angry, and tired, and in so much pain.
“Is he..?” His lip trembles as he speaks. It's the fear. Tony promised. He promised this war wouldn't end like the last did for him.
“He wants to see you.”

“Tony?” He is a mess- so small and frail- not half the man he was a few hours ago. Bandages are wrapped tightly around his torso but are already soaked through (despite the many layers) with sweat. His entire body is shaking regardless of the fact that it is beyond warm in this room.
“Nice to see you again, Captain Rogers.” He smiles, opening his eyes just a fraction wincing at the light. “Or at least the two of you anyways.” Steve's head darts round. There is no one in the room besides him. “Would you believe my luck? Seeing doubles and they both happen to be a pretty, old thing like you.” He begins to laugh but is cut off by a throaty cough. Before he knows it, Steve is holding a bucket beneath his chin and Tony is emptying the contents of his stomach directly into it. “Go ahead, you can say it. You've never seen a sight as beautiful as this.” He grins weakly, eyes closed and sweat dripping down his skin. It's not the same cock-sure grin Steve's used to it. It's feeble, powerless; not the grin that used to strike fear (and arousal) into the entirety of America- America, as in Captain. “Hey, who died?” Steve winces. The look on his face pure, melancholic and beautifully devastating to the beholder.
“Don't.” He sighs, sinking into the chair beside Tony's bed. “Please.” Steve reaches out for Tony's hand, desperately in need of an anchor and yearning for reassurance. Tony's weak hold causes Steve's heart to leap into his throat as if searching for an immediate escape route.
“Steve,” Tony reaches a hand out to Steve's cheek but falls short. He stares down at his limp arm in horror before shaking it off and returning the smile to his face. “Have I ever told you how much I like your spangly outfit?” It doesn't matter how long Tony tries to hold up this facade, Steve can see the unadulterated fear. He closes his eyes, holding back the tears threatening to escape and takes a few deep breaths trying to calm the pit in his stomach.
“A few too many times.” He looks up at Tony, with a smile plastered on. It's false but... he doesn't want to waste whatever time they have left. Steve gently squeezes the smaller man's hand in reassurance.
“You look good in it though.” Tony winks but it's faltering and slowly and doesn't invoke the usual steamy reaction. It's hard for Steve to keep smiling. “I'm not sorry.” Tony's eyes glassy and trained- there is no lie within their soft brown irises.
“What for?”
“Taking the bullet.” Steve's unoccupied hand clenches into a fist in his lap. Without thinking he forgets to breathe. “I don't regret it.”
“I would have been fine. The serum would have made sure of it.” He snarls through gritted teeth. It's not an attack on Tony, in fact much the opposite. It's the anger burning inside of him, anger that he let this happen.
“You're not... worth... risking.” His eyes fall shut. Steve starts to panic but the soft up and down movements of his chest alleviate his worry (even if only mildly).

It only gets worse from there. Steve wakes the next morning drenched in a thick layer of sweat. It's not his own. He looks down at Tony's face rested against his chest. He is soaked, so much so that you can see the perspiration forming at his hairline and cascading down his tan skin. Steve can feel the heat radiating off the man but he's still shivering. He can hear the raspy gasps for air.
He pushes the call button. He's not prepared to take any risks- not with Tony. Doctors flood in, rousing Tony from his peaceful sleep.
“Steve?” His eyes dart open, Steve's body still firmly beside his. His eyes are pale and tired in comparison to their usual brown glow. He just looks fragile and confused and stunned, like he has no fucking idea what's happening and the likelihood is he doesn't. He was safely tucked away in his dreams mere moments ago, and now the spotlight glares down harshly on his bitter reality. There's no comfort here in any of this.
“His fever, it's worse.” He informs the first doctor into the room. It's a calm yell but it's not all that calming. His grip around the smaller man tightens ever so slightly. Steve helps Tony to sit up but stays sat beside him on the bed. Tony's weak frame can barely stay upright, so Steve is there to provide both literal and emotional support; and to be fucking honest, he doesn't want to be more than a foot away from him anyway.
A stethoscope is placed against the bare skin of Tony's chest and is a cooling relief against his continually spiking fever. The scientist let's out a sigh of pleasure at the contact. The look on the doctor's face though is not at all pleasing. He has concern knitted into his eyebrows and horror etched into his frown. “What is it?”
“His lungs. We need to do an x-ray.”

Steve is forced to wait outside during the procedure, something about harmful electromagnetic waves causing cell ionisation and eventually cancer. He wasn't worried about anything other than Tony but the doctors protested against his pleas. Steve was too beige to fight back.

The mad dash to the x-ray machine has Steve certain something's not right. Something's 100 fucking times worse than they were expecting. He hugs the bucket between his knees like a lifeline. He's at a permanent inch away from vomiting but he's pretty certain it's the fear.
Reality has hit him straight in the chest. He's gonna be alone again. He can't imagine life without Tony but he knows full fucking well that that's where he's headed. He knew from the minute the war was announced it'd end up like this. Tony promised he'd be fine, that he wasn't going anywhere- what a load of utter bullshit that was. Tony's leaving just like Bucky bloody motherfucking Barnes left too and just like everyone else will. He knew. He knew he'd suffer and he knows he can't take another heartbreak. He lost the most important person in his life and now he's about to lose him again. He told Tony this would happen but being the asshole he is, he promised Steve this would be different and guess what? It's exactly the fucking same. He should've just killed himself whilst he had the chance. There were so many opportunities. Too many people have lost their lives for Steve; both Bucky and Tony died and are going to die because they thought Steve was worth it. All he's done is prove them wrong. He's not worth it. He may be Captain America but Bucky and Tony are worth ten times what he is. Bucky was strong, he was a fighter, he was brave and courageous and he had a chance in life. Tony is a genius, he's dynamic and inventive and powerful and reliable. He single-handed redefined the 21st century but he gave all of that up for Steve. Steve has nothing to offer in return. He's the disappointing consolation prize you throw away at the end of the day. Tony's irreplaceable. Steve's a carbon-copy of what the world wanted him to be. Everything special of him came out of a bottle. He's been told that a few too many times before. Why would Tony ever think that Steve was worth dying for?

“Tony?” He gently edges the door open, careful to be quiet just in case he is disturbing anything. It's about twenty times worse than he was expecting though.
Tony's skin has ghosted. It's so pale and lifeless. There is blood and vomit staining everything: him, the bed, the floor.
“Shit.” He races over to the frail man's side. “Tony? Wake up. Please, you have to wake up!” He shakes the Tony's body rougher than he intended. His fingers curl in around the genius' shoulders as he clings to him for dear life. “Tony, please.” He is desperate. He's begging. Tony doesn't respond to his pleas.
Tears races down his cheeks, blurring his vision. He loses all sense of now. Each breath is strained, short and rapid and he can feel the edge of a panic attack, ready to sneak up behind him and uppercut him straight in the nose.
“HELP!” Tens of people flood into the room and Steve is dragged pulled away. He fights with everything he has but he doesn't have much left to give when all of it's in the other room with Tony. Any red he once had is in there, fighting for it's life and Steve is weak. His kicks and his screams do nothing to prevent being pulled away. He isn't strong enough.
“Steve, you have to let them do their job.” Sam lets go once Steve stops fighting and takes the seat beside him.
“I hate him, Sam. I fucking hate him.” Steve's sobs, burying his face into his hands and letting tears flow freely. He crumbles in on himself. He has never felt smaller or more powerless than he does now. There is nothing he can do. He can't even save the man he...
“No you don't.” Sam sighs. This is going to hurt. Steve is going to break.
“I do. I hate him for making me feel. I hate him for being able to hurt me. I hate him because he promised me he wouldn't let this happen again.”
“Sounds like something so much worse than hate.”

“He's stable.” A doctor gently shakes Steve awake, giving him an apologetic smile before walking away. He's on his feet immediately, racing through the door towards Tony. It's a much better sight than yesterday. Almost enough for him to believe it was all just a terrible dream. Nothing that bad could have been cleaned up this quickly.
Tony's eyes are shut (peaceful). Steve almost panics until he focuses on the soft rise and fall of the man's chest- breathing. Sure he's still deathly pale and if that doesn't scare the life out of the super soldier he'd be lying but he seems calm. He is also scarcely thin, to the point that Steve is afraid to touch him just in case he breaks. He's never seen a man more fragile.
Cautiously he makes his way to the seat beside the bed. There is more machinery and wires than there were this morning. Tubes seem to be coming from Tony in every direction- clear liquid, yellow liquid, blood... the list goes on.
“Mr Rogers?” His head snaps towards the door. A kind looking woman smiles warmly back- a doctor most likely. She's small in height, dark haired and has an aura of kindness about her but her eyes tell otherwise. If eyes are the window to the soul, then her soul is being tormented beyond belief. There's so much pain in her irises; so much sadness in her pupils; so much anguish in her whites “We have the results of the x-ray.” Her voice is timid but enough to cause Steve's spine to straighten in anticipation- a desperate kind of anticipation. “There is excess fluid in his lungs, making it difficult to breathe and slowly suffocating him but he is too weak for us to even consider draining it.”
“What are you saying?” He lets out a deep breath. Every muscle in his body knots with tension. He knows he doesn't want to hear the next words out of her mouth but he also knows he has to face the truth.
“The fluid is slowly drowning him from the inside but the disease will likely take over first.” Her eyes darken. “He has perhaps three days at most.”

Tony is the first to wake. He smiles fondly at the sight of Steve asleep in the chair beside his bed, still holding tightly to his hand. He moves to sit up but as he does...
“Tony?” Steve's eyes snap open. “Are you okay? Do you need help? Do you want me to get you anything? Are you...”
“I just wanted to sit up.” He grins, holding his hands up in mock surrender at Steve's concerned attack.
“Oh.” He stands up, wrapping an arm around Tony's waist to help him into an upright position but as he does a frown quickly adorns his face. “Tony you're hot.”
“Why thank you.” Tony winks but the fear in the super soldier's eyes doesn't go away. Within in seconds he has the back of his palm against the smaller man's forehead and that fear only grows.
"You're burning up." Tony's face falls. The cocky glint hidden in his skin just seems to disappear.
"Steve-" but before he can even finish his sentence Steve's off, running through the doors and screaming for a doctor.
Two women and one man come rushing in, dressed in all white.
"Lay him down!" A frantic woman screams at Steve, as he edges towards Tony's side. He'd only just sat up as well.
Within mere moments he is pinned down on his back, Steve crouched above him pinning his arms and legs down.
"I'm sorry." Steve whispers, refusing to meet Tony's gaze but the reluctance in his voice is enough.
"Mr Stark, we have to get a better look at your lung. This isn't going to be comfortable." The males doctor holds his head firmly in place as a tube is thrust down his throat. Comfortable? This is as far from comfortable as he's ever been. His eyes are watery with the strain. He is choking, and gagging and doing everything in his power not to throw up. He can't breathe. He tries to struggle but he is held firmly in place. What are they doing? Are they trying to kill him? Is Steve trying to kill him? He tries to scream but the pressure of the tube restricts any access to his vocal chords. He is dying.

“Tony, you need to be still.” Steve tries to soothe the quivering man but his eyes are awash with tears, and a watery glare conceals at least 50% of his vision. “They’re trying to help you.” Their eyes lock together, Tony’s wide and betrayed, and Steve’s heart plummets. They were so blissfully happy only days ago. The scientist doesn’t stop struggling.

After what feels like a lifetime the tube is pulled out.

“We couldn’t see anything.” The doctors sigh, defeated. Something in Steve believes it’s his fault. He couldn’t stop Tony struggling so he is to blame. “We could sedate him.”

“NO!” The two Avengers yell in unison. If Steve only has three days left with his Iron Man he doesn’t want them wasted; and Tony, after that attack on his lungs, doesn’t trust the doctors as far as he can throw them.

“We’ll leave you to it.” They leave, sensing their presence is unwelcome and Steve turns back to the man beneath him, only loosening his grip slightly.

“Tony?” The scientist opens his mouth to respond but all that comes out is a raspy splutter. “I’m sorry.” It’s a guilt unlike any other he has felt before because it is so confusing. On one hand what they had just done was completely justified and they were doing so to try and save the smaller man’s life but on the other he caused Tony pain- he knew that would be the case but he let it happen anyway.

All that Tony feels in that moment is relief, as all sense comes back to him. Steve wouldn’t try to kill him, it was the confusion, delirium and adrenaline of the moment but why would he even think that in the first place?

“No.” Tony grumbles, Steve doesn’t have to think like that- ever! “You’re trying to save my life, Steve.” The supersoldier falls into the space beside Tony on the bed, relieved perhaps and definitely worn out, lying on his back and looking up at the ceiling. He can’t look at the other man as he utters the next words,

“I love you,” it hurts too goddamn much.

It’s nothing like all the other times they’ve woken up in each other’s tangled embrace. It’s sticky and cold and painful. Tony wakes up first absolutely drenched in sweat but shivering nonetheless. Steve’s arms are wrapped protectively around the smaller man’s waist as he continues to sleep on none the wiser.

Tony reaches a trembling hand to brush a strand of hair from the soldier’s face and just to be able to touch the other man’s soft, golden skin. He carefully turns around in the embrace to get a better look at Steve. He doesn’t regret any of this. He doesn’t regret throwing himself in front of that bullet for one second. Seeing Steve now makes all of this worth it. Sure that bullet might not have killed the man but that was never something Tony was willing to risk. Some things just aren’t worth it.

“I know I’m not making it out of this one alive, Cap.” He runs a hand slowly through the perfect hair of Captain America. If only a teenaged Tony stark could see him now. This was something he had had fantasies about (usually without the whole ‘certain death’ situation but still...). “But that’s okay. I’m okay.” It’s quiet; it’s not something that he wants to be heard but it sure as hell needs to be said. “I needed to do this for you. Don’t ask me why, i just know that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t.” He closes his eyes just briefly, collecting himself to say something he has never said before. It’s something he refuses to admit he has felt before because that would be weakness. He’s never, in almost 50 years of life, let himself be this open (vulnerable even) and even now he’s still managing to take the coward’s route out. It took death for him to admit to himself that this is what this is but he still can’t say it to the one person that truly needs to know, and if that isn’t a little bit twisted… “I love you, Steve Rogers.” It’s barely a breath escaping his lips but it’s enough to open the floodgates. “I am so hopelessly, impossibly and madly in love with you. You mean more to me than I will ever be able to understand and now I’m not going to get the chance to try. Some genius I am.” He scoffs but he is sobbing, quietly but sobbing nevertheless. “I am not a genius. If I were I would’ve realised all of this so long ago. I would’ve realised that the pit in my stomach when I’m around you isn’t anger, or annoyance, or fascination, or whatever I’ve labelled it as before. I’m too late now though.” He rubs at his eyes, trying to blink away the tears and stop the sobs. He doesn’t want to give any indication that any of this happened. “I’ll never understand why a coward like me ever got to love someone as extraordinary as you, even if only fleetingly.” He leans up tears uncontrollably running down his cheeks, and presses a soft kiss against Steve’s lips. He can't stop himself. A tired groan rumbles at the back of the soldier’s mouth as he is revived from consciousness and begins to kiss back, until he feels wet tracks tracing pathways along his cheeks and opens his eyes.

“Tony?” He breaks away. “Are you okay?” Concern fills him like a rush of adrenaline but is returned with the same cocky grin he has begun to know and love.

“The best I’ve been in a long time.”

 

Tony took a turn for the worst that day. His fever rose and was continuing to rise even higher; his trembling was uncontrollable; and any sustenance he ingested was immediately purged from his system. He was growing weaker by the minute.  

It seemed to happen so fast.

One minute they were talking and happy, and the next Tony was placed on oxygen, barely able to breathe for more than a few minutes without assistance.  

Steve sat by his side as the doctors went through a long list of bodily defects, not too dissimilar from a list the now supersoldier had once been given. Fever, nausea, severe cough, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and congestion, were all present within the ever weakening man. Not long now.

Steve doesn’t leave his side. He sits in the chair or lies on the bed, just relishing every last minute he gets to spend with the man. He doesn’t leave to shower or change his clothes or to eat; he just stays, despite the other man’s constant protests. If these are his last day with the amazing Tony Stark he intends to spend as much of them with him as possible and to cherish them for all they are worth.

 

“I’m sorry, Steve.” Tony lifts the mask from his mouth, turning to the supersoldier with utter dismay. The wet intakes of deep breaths remind Steve of the ever looming death hanging on their shoulders and the constant shivering reminds him how little time there is left to go.

“What for?” He honestly cannot think of a single thing the other man has to be sorry for other than the obvious- jumping in front of the bullet for him- but that was done with good intention despite the dire consequence at stake.

“I promised you...so much. A life, no more Iron Man, no more... Captain America, marriage, perhaps even children... and I can't give you any of... that. I let you down.” Steve reaches a quiet, dismissive hand up to the oxygen mask, pulling it back over Tony’s lips at the sound of sharp intakes of breath. Tony can’t interrupt him now.

“I don’t want to hear any of that. You have given me more than enough, do you understand?” Steve uses his best authoritarian voice. Tony nods meekly in response but the weight isn’t lifted off his chest. He still feels guilty. “Now I don’t want anymore of this doom and gloom. Can’t we just be happy for once?”

“Doom and gloom is kind of my forte.” Tony defiantly lifts the mask once again, despite the other man’s glare.

“I’m about to change that.”

“God, you’re always trying to change me. Am I not good enough for you? Do you not think I’m pretty?” Tony clutches his heart in mock heartbreak and Steve can’t help the grin that plasters itself on his lips.

“The prettiest I've ever seen.”


They lost Tony the next morning. He just couldn’t seem to catch his breath anymore. Steve fought, he fought so goddamn hard, but there was nothing they could do but wait until Tony eventually drifted away.

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t painless or swift. It was messy. It was agonising and so long, but there was nothing anyone could do. Steve had to watch as Tony slipped away in front of him and do everything in his power to make it as comfortable as possible.

The nausea overwhelmed everyone. Bile and blood and sick pooled around the genius but no one could keep up and stop it. They’d think he was done vomiting and turn away but there’d be so much more yet to come.

Tony’s bladder wasn’t able to control itself either. They couldn’t take him to the bathroom- his legs were too weak for that- and they couldn’t attach a catheter- not with the vast amount of other substances surrounding them.  

Steve was forced to watch as the legendary Tony Stark broke down in front of him, lying in pools of his own blood, sick and urine. It was wrong. Steve would even go as far as to say unnatural.

The shivering was the worst though. No matter what they did, Tony was permanently cold. It took all the energy out of him. They tried everything from more blankets, to turning up the heat, to medication- nothing worked.

Even with all of that it still seemed too sudden when the final breath escaped Tony’s lips and his body stilled. Steve suddenly felt so alone in the world, so lost and confused. He kicked and screamed and fought with everything he had for the doctors to do something, and when that failed he fought to just be with Tony for as long as possible. He lost.
But amongst all the screaming and crying an announcement could just about be heard:

“Today marks a new era of peace and the end of a war. Today we are a single planet, united as one entity. Today we live in harmony and look forward to a brighter tomorrow. Today we end the fight and sign a treaty to last generations to come.”

In the end they learnt the bullet was sent from allied grounds. An American citizen on his battalion attempted to kill the supersoldier and then shortly afterwards committed suicide. No one knew his name or his identity but in his pocket there was a note- “End Captain America, end war forever.”

What is and what can never be:

“She’s beautiful.” Tony’s grin lights up the entire room. Euphoria- it’s the only way Steve can describe it. The reaction it invokes in Steve is messy. It’s all he’s ever wanted and it’s glorious. His heart skips in his chest, missing every other beat, stuck in a permanent lovestruck daze. “We did it.” Tony looks up at him and Steve is hit with the full force of the infamous ‘Stark grin’. His walls crumble instantly. “Would you like to hold her, Captain Stark?” All he can do is nod, and the minute that blonde haired, brown eyed little girl is placed into his arms he is complete.

“We did it, Tony.” He sniffs, blinking through the tears of sheer bliss. “We actually did it.” No one ever thought he’d get there, himself included, but as he holds his daughter in his arms, with his husband by his side, he knows he has everything he’s ever wanted and he’s the luckiest man alive.

“I love you, Steve Stark.” By now Tony is crying too and with an arm around the supersoldier he vows never to let anything bad happen to that little girl as his life depends on it. He has the perfect little family and he won’t let anything screw it up. That’s when he knows he is nothing like Howard and he never will be. “And I love you too, Sarah Virginia Stark.”

“Tony,
In the end we lost Banner, we lost Nat, we lost Clint, and we lost... We lost you but your lives weren't lost in vain. We lost you but in return we found peace. We found hope. All nuclear weapons were scrapped the day after the ceasefire was called- they're no longer excused as deterrents; the Avengers were disbarred, because they were no longer needed to keep peace and all lives lost to the war were honoured internationally, as one single united planet.
Cities are being rebuilt. Slowly everything is returning to what it once was. Children can play safely outside and everyone volunteers a helping hand. I'm not going back though. It just doesn't feel right. It's not my home anymore. Home is wherever you are, Tony.
If I had been euthanised all those years ago I know I would have avoided so much suffering but I'm glad I wasn't. If I had been I would have never experienced love and loving you is worth more than this. Being loved by you is irreplaceable and I'm glad I got the chance to experience it, however briefly. If I had clocked out all those years ago I would've died never knowing the truth and honestly I would've lived a wasted life.  How could I have been so wrong so many times? It’s you. You’re my biggest fear. Losing you is what I’m most scared of and it’s the one thing I can’t survive.
I'm glad I got to suffer for you and I would go through all of this again just to tell you I love you one last time.
I love you, Tony Stark. Don’t ever forget it,

Yours Steve.”


"Steve,
There are things I don't say, which I probably should and now there are things that I will never say, which of course I'll regret. I can't let this be one of them.
You... You are the best thing to ever fall ice first into my life.
From day one you turned my entire life upside down and I know we haven't always seen eye-to-eye but I've always admired you.
There are so many things in life I will regret: the alcoholism, my relationship with my father, the selfishness but I'll sure as hell never regret you.
You taught me a great many things, like: being a hero doesn't always mean being at the centre of attention; and you taught me to trust, but the greatest lesson I learned from you is that I deserve love. I may not have deserved you but I'm glad you settled for someone like me. I'm a mess but you saw past that and I can't begin to thank you enough.
I love you, Steve Rogers and my biggest regret will always be not telling you soon enough. I’d like to think I was doing it to protect you because if anyone had known you’d have been in permanent danger and of course I wasn’t willing to risk that, but ultimately I know I was a coward. I never told you because I was scared of being screwed up and spat back out; I was scared you wouldn’t love me back. It was the worst decision I have ever made and I will regret it for the rest of my eternity whatever form that may take. Life had other plans though and I guess we just skipped each other by.
Don't make the same mistake I did. Don't let love slip you by.
Forever yours, Tony."

 

Steve never received that letter.