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ineffable love

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The thing is, Tony doesn’t actually quit trying to get Steve to run away with him after they both survive the end of the world.

Tony’s plans are usually as unpredictable as he is, so it’s hard for Steve to try and guess which ones he’s gonna breeze through and forget within the week and which ones are gonna stick around for a while. Alpha Centauri, as it seems, is not going away any time soon. The idea of them living there together, more specifically, is the idea Tony seems to have imprinted on like a baby duckling, to Steve’s absolute dismay.

It’s not a terrible inconvenience, really, to have Tony come around at least once a day trying to convince Steve to leave with him to see the stars, it’s just that his excuses are getting flimsier by the day and even then Steve still has a hard time turning down anyway.

“I’m ready to leave this forsaken world, angel,” Tony says, throwing himself on Steve’s cough with an exaggerated sigh, a hand coming to rest on his forehead for extra emphasis on his terrible misery, “Are your bags packed yet? We’re leaving, I’m not kidding this time around, I’m going and if you’re not ready in five minutes I’m leaving you behind, I swear I’ll do it.”

His threat is immediately ruined by the way he tries to peek through his fingers to see if Steve is watching him though, so Steve grants Tony a benevolent smile and very deliberately does not move, God forbid he accidentally ends up encouraging Tony’s plans; he’s been carefully mastering the ability of expressing just the right amount of impassiveness through the centuries as not to seem uninterested in Tony’s woes but also not to give the demon the idea that Steve is a willing participant in his schemes.

“Who’d you piss off this time, Tony?” he asks instead, and he is immediately pleased at how Tony squawks in outrage at him before Steve even finishes asking.

“Me? Me?” Tony says indignantly, raising from the couch so he can pace around Steve’s living room in a way that is decidedly very much Tony — it reminds Steve vaguely of a grumpy old cat, which Tony has come to resemble more and more as time passes them by — and Steve chooses not to think too much about how pleased he is at the fact that the demon can avoid all of his furniture like it’s a second nature even when all his attention is diverted into his ranting like the old, old soul that he is. “No matter how much time I have lived and I have never known worse torture than being stuck in traffic in this city!”

“Isn’t traffic an invention from hell—” Steve tries, beyond amused.

“And I have survived the 14th century, worthless, little awful period of time that it is,” Tony goes on like he hasn’t heard him at all, but then he turns so he can look straight at Steve, all caught up in his outrage, “but this, this is— It’s undignified, Steve, it’s what it is. I have never sunk lower, and I’ve literally been a snake in literal hell—”.

“You just hate it because you drive like a maniac.” Steve replies, definitely failing to hide his smile behind his mug.

“I’m a demon!” Tony says, like Steve has just offended him mortally by expecting better of him. “That’s expected of me! I’m all but a small cog, Steve. Merely doing my part and contributing for the greater evil and all that stuff.”

“You don’t believe that for a second,” Steve says promptly, with the kind of ease acquired with the practice that comes from having this exact same argument again and again through the centuries.

Tony immediately smiles — like Steve knew he would — all tension leaving his body at once in the way it does when Steve says the right thing, and then manages to plop himself on his lap very smoothly — which Steve didn’t expect at all, but doesn’t complain about — wrapping his hands around Steve’s neck easily.

“You know me too well, angel,” he says as a matter of fact, slitted eyes twinkling coyly at him and Steve just loves how Tony sometimes won’t even pretend to be mad that he, in fact, does.

“I guess I do,” Steve replies, only now noticing how his hands have fallen on Tony’s waist with the same ease. His stomach does a funny somersault that Steve has learned to associate with Tony being too close a long, long time ago.

“Let’s go off together,” Tony whispers, his eyes studying Steve’s face with a sort of focus that does all sorts of funny things to Steve’s insides. “The stars are waiting for us.”

“We can’t leave the planet just because you don’t like the morning commute, Tony.”

“Why not?”

Steve takes a look around the small apartment filled with his and Tony’s things — Steve’s because, well, he lives here, and Tony’s because it’s impossible to make him stop leaving his stuff everywhere he goes, so Steve has just accepted he’s bound to find at least one pair of Tony’s silly sunglasses in every one of his drawers, and also a surprising amount of animal printed socks under his furniture — and thinks back to all the time and effort they’ve put into turning this place, earth, a home for the both of them.

“Because we belong here,” Steve says after a while, running his hand through Tony’s mess of red hair “This is our home.”

For once, because it’s just the two of them and Steve has got nothing else to hide, he lets his face show the wonder he feels at how Tony’s eyes go soft like he knows exactly what he means and leans into Steve’s touch gently for a second, big yellow eyes staring up at him from above his sunglasses.

“You say the silliest shit, I swear,” Tony says, laughter in his voice.

To his credit he doesn’t look surprised in the slightest when Steve stands up, dumping his butt on the floor.

“I’m gonna go make myself some more cocoa, mine’s gone cold,” Steve says, walking away and desperately trying to squish the fluttery feelings blooming in his chest.

The last thing he can see before going through the door is Tony climbing back up onto the warm spot Steve’s left behind in the chair.

 

**

 

It’s a frail little thing, the balance they’ve built in their relationship through the centuries.

Every bit of Tony that Steve manages to snatch for himself is precious, he knows that now, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re still wildly different beings. Time has changed a lot of things for him, but that Steve is still every bit of the soldier he was created to be is not one of them. He likes making plans and following them through in a satisfying order, thrives in it, really. And even though he hasn’t been so good at the following orders part of his deal lately, it doesn’t mean that Steve can’t do it, it’s just that he’s found that he’s better at it when he knows exactly whose orders he’s following and for what, he just thinks it’s easier for everybody when things make sense, really.

Tony hasn’t actually had a real hard time letting go of the stuff he was supposed to be doing for his lot, and that of course has a lot to do with the fact that he’s usually not joking when he says never actually meant to fall in the first place, but the fact is that Tony’s works at his best under absolute chaos, it’s fascinating to watch, how his mind gets sharper and smarter the more pressure you put him under. He enjoys it too, takes immense pride in his quick wit and smart mind. The louder, faster and flashier things are the more he usually enjoys them.

They’ve both found common ground in their appreciation for humanity and how flawed they are, but even then Steve tends to find human kind beautiful and inspiring while Tony just finds endless joy in the irony that humans can find their own way to impossible cruelness without any demon having to meddle in their business in the first place.

Their conflicting natures often puts their relationship under test, Tony will get testy and push Steve’s boundaries until he snaps. Steve tends to be either infinitely patient and forgiving of Tony’s moods, which upsets him in a way Steve can’t quite understand, or he can let Tony goad him into a prickly enough mood that will make him fight back, always a little too caulous and a lot too sincere, which also always ends up upsetting Tony in worst ways Steve thinks possible.

Sometimes when they fight, Tony will kick and scream and throw things around until he’s done and all the fight leaves him at once, leaving him in a sad little pile on Steve’s couch, and Steve will come and hold his hand in silence until he’s feeling better. Sometimes they fight and Tony will set one of Steve’s books on fire just to miracle it back together when he notices he’s made Steve really, really, sad.

Sometimes he’ll apologize, most times he won’t.

Sometimes Tony will leave for days and Steve can do nothing but sit in his bookshop, full of worry and regret, and wait for him to come back.

Most times the only thing that holds Steve together through the wait is the fact that Tony always, always, comes back.

 

**

 

It’s probably after a couple of thousand of centuries of knowing each other that they start sharing the same bed.

Steve doesn’t need a whole lot of sleep, but he does like to indulge in it every once in a while. Just like with food, it’s not something he needs in order to survive, but he’s learned to take pleasure in it anyway. There’s something about waking up feeling toasty with the first rays of sunlight touching his skin that makes him feel at peace in a way that hasn’t been very familiar to him since he’s left heaven, so every once in a while he bundles up in bed with his favorite book until he falls into an easy slumber.

Tony, though, not only doesn’t need any more sleep than Steve does but he is also very openly, very loudly, against it. He has in fact made ridiculously clear what a waste of time it is — Steve thinks he’s still got the strong worded letter Tony wrote to him about it somewhere in the bookshop, and he’s learned not to argue (much) (anymore) — so it’s not frequently they’re both in the right mood for it.

When it does happen though it’s always nice, it usually starts with Steve already in bed and Tony climbing up after him, nowadays with minimal grumbling, and settling right on top of Steve in whatever way he thinks it’s most comfortable that day, it’s been a while since they’ve stopped pretending by now that they won’t wake up entangled around each other like that’s where they belong in the first place.

Their bed sharing adventures have lead them into making some quite interesting discoveries about themselves in Steve’s opinion, if the feelings he discovered the first time he woke up with Tony pressed all over against him have anything to say about it, as long as some interesting ways to both improve and ruin the human experience a little bit more, Tony is the very proud inventor of the urge people feel to shove their cold feet against their bed partners warm legs, while Steve, well, he’s not shy to admit that cuddling has been one of his best accomplishments to this day.

They won’t talk about it of course, it’s just something that they do, like all the other things they do for each other but won’t talk about. Steve has grown to accept Tony’s presence in his bed just like all the things Tony has managed to talk him into before, with little reluctance and maybe a bit too much enthusiasm if he’s being honest.

Steve loves it, though, he loves when they’re quiet, getting ready for bed around each other and making jokes out of how weirdly human they’ve come to be, he loves when they just pass out on top of each other in the living room, usually a bit too drunk to drag themselves to bed. But he especially loves when Tony’s particularly talkative even after they’ve put themselves to bed, because that’s when Steve gets to hold him for hours while Tony paints pictures in Steve’s mind with his words alone.

“You have to see it, Steve, it’s beautiful!” he says, lying sideways on top of Steve’s stomach, hands flailing around excitedly, carefree in a way he only allows himself to be here, alone with Steve. “Did you know that its primary star is the fourth brightest star in the sky? Ten percent bigger than the sun, angel, imagine what it would be like up there, with all that light and stuff, imagine painting that view! I bet you’d love it, we could take your books you know, and find a way to miracle your favorite restaurants up there too, I could learn how to cook, it can’t be that hard, really.”

Tony’s voice becomes a sort of static of background noise when Steve is very effectively attacked by a wave of longing that leaves him a little misty eyed. I love you, he thinks, fiercely and all consuming. I love you so much, he wants to say. He looks at Tony, his beautiful and clever little demon, and thinks about how there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to keep this, to keep him, by his side.

It’s not the first time he realizes he’s in love with Tony, but it’s surely the first time he has a hard time not doing something about it.

It’s the lack of the sound of Tony’s voice that brings Steve back to the present, and when he manages to focus again is to see that Tony is already staring at him.

“Where did I lose you?” he asks, tilting his head curiously.

Steve reaches for Tony’s hand, links their fingers carefully.

“You didn’t,” he says, still trying to reign in his feelings as not to scare Tony away, “I don’t think you could even if you tried.”

Tony smiles the sort of smile that tells Steve that he’s being cheesy but not enough that activate his fight or flight instincts, and sits up so he can finish climbing up the bed and cuddle up to Steve’s back and bury his nose on the back of his neck and settle for the night.

Tony snaps his fingers and the lights turn off, and Steve is left to listen to the pounding of his traitorous heart that threatens to give away his most precious secret.

“Run away with me, angel,” Tony says in a quiet a little whisper that never fails to make Steve’s toes curl.

And if Steve has to hold him a little closer so he won’t say yes, that’s nobody’s business but his own.

 

**

 

Steve is not dumb, and Tony isn’t a subtle person (demon? whatever), in the slightest — also he’s an angel for heaven’s sake — it’s not like he can’t feel the love Tony radiates every time he’s around. But that’s just Tony, really. Tony feels a deep, if a bit skewed, kind of love for the world as a whole, even if he does his best to hide it.

Messed up pranks against humanity and threats to run people over apart, Tony has helped as many human souls as Steve has, and he’ll always blame it on the arrangement they have since forever ago, but Steve knows that deep, deep down Tony does what he does because he genuinely cares and wants to help, one misguided soul at a time.

Tony loves so much and so fiercely that Steve has learned to sort the different kinds of love Tony feels into a few special categories, just for himself of course, nothing that will attract any attention to the fact that Steve’s noticed, or that will make Tony uncomfortable enough to feel the need to hide.

There’s Steve’s favorite kind, the one that he usually takes notice of when Tony is sitting in the little chair Steve keeps by his favorite bookshelf on the bookstore, tinkering distractedly with something or another while giving off gentle waves of contentment and joy, which will make the entire store feel loved to an extent that will make even a couple of more sensitive humans stop and take a second look at the store before continuing on their way, a form of love so present that sometimes Steve ends up staring until Tony notices and grumbles angrily at him until Steve leaves, but his mood never changes, and Steve is left to feel his heart pounding and his breath being taken away every few minutes all day.

There’s the kind of love that is reserved mostly for when they’re alone in Steve’s place late at night, a little drunk and a lot daring, and Steve can’t pry his eyes away from Tony as the demon stares at with him his slitted pupils dilated into big, black pools of some melted feeling that Steve can’t quite identify but will make his face burn anyway, that one is hot and heavy and feels all consuming in a way that makes Steve feels like he’s drowning, he often will find himself wishing he could.

There’s the kind of love Tony feels when Steve makes him laugh, the one that is reserved for his beloved little plants — which Steve isn’t completely familiar with since Tony doesn’t let him near them often because he says Steve is too soft on them for his tastes — the kind of love that Tony feels when he gets to witness humans being specially helpless and dumb around him, and the kind that he tries to smother when Steve does something really nice for him and Tony doesn’t want to thank him for it.

Steve is also very well aware that a lot of the feelings he associates to Tony feeling love are related to himself. But the thing is that he’s not sure that Tony himself is aware of that, he insists that he isn’t really sensitive to that kind of stuff when Steve asks, growing more impatient and closed off the more Steve pokes around for answers, and he usually lets it drop when Tony starts threatening to desimbody them both in increasingly stupid ways.

Either way, Steve knows that for as long as they’ve known each other Tony has spent a lot of that time feeling some sort of love for him.

But it’s usually in the dead of night, when he’s alone in his apartment and wishing for all in the world that his best friend was there with him, that Steve finds that it would be impolite to maybe let him know about it.

 

**

 

“Steve! Steve— Steven, angel! Listen, we gotta hurry, the old lady with the terrible breath is coming over, she’s got an entire album of her smelly family to show you! We can still make a run for it if we leave now.”

“That’s not a very nice thing to say, Tony.”

“I’ll pack all your shit, meet me upstairs in a minute and we’ll be ready to—“

“If you touch my stuff I’m breaking up with you.”

Tony pauses, stares at Steve in shock for a moment, then turns around and leaves without saying anything else, an unmistakable blush coloring his cheeks.

Nice, Steve thinks, beyond pleased, even if he can feel a familiar burn in his own face.

 

**

 

It’s not like Steve hasn’t ever considered accepting Tony’s offer, their quiet nights and quieter mornings with Tony sleep soft and so very open in his bed are always a close thing, so are the times that Steve lets his mind wander and he catches himself daydreaming about walking among the stars with his love by his side.

Nothing else quite makes him want to run away and like failing to save a human life, though. Steve is bound by duty and the intense need to serve ingrained in his very soul, even now that he’s not really working for heaven anymore, Steve can’t shake his old meddling habits off. He knows Tony can’t either, even though he’ll never admit to it.

Steve has done his fair share of slightly evil things in life since realizing he’s been forgotten on earth by heaven and hell alike unless they needed him, but he takes pride in knowing he’s been mostly good through the centuries of his existence. He takes pride in every single soul that he’s managed to nudge into a less destructive path, and while part of him has chosen to stop thinking about what happens to their souls after they’re gone, Steve knows that while all caught up in their petty little squabbles as heaven and hell are, nobody is really looking after humans anymore. And he can’t help but get a little sad every time he’s reminded that humanity has been left all alone to fend for itself a long time ago.

Mostly Steve thinks about Bucky, and Peggy, and how he’s failed them once, he thinks about all the people he can still help and about humanity’s terrible habit of driving themselves to the brink of extinction regardless of the meddling of celestial beings, and he knows there’s nowhere for them to belong but right here, where they can make a difference either way.

He stares at where Tony is sitting on his spot in the bookshop, flashes of Steve’s favorite kind of love radiating off of him steadily, and smiles.

“You know I’d let you take me anywhere in the galaxy as long as we got to come back home, right?” Steve says, because he still can’t help to offer Tony just another little temptation.

Tony looks up with a smile that Steve knows belongs to him and no one else, and they hold each other’s gaze for that infinite moment that lasts just a second but never fails to take Steve breath right away. and just like that Tony brings his attention back to his book and the moment is broken leaving Steve to blink back a wave of impossible emotions that only Tony can make him feel.

“I know, angel, I know.”