Walking up and down Timely's main street at least thrice a day is a habit for Steve by now. An unsubtle way to show everyone he's keeping an eye on things, perhaps, but it seems to work. He has a word with whoever stops him, may it be with a concern or just for a chat. Even though Steve quickly takes his leave if the conversations turns to gossip, he's glad that nowadays it's more common a subject than trouble. He's just saluted Daria, who's sweeping the bank's porch, when Tony exits his shop, locking its door. It's rare that he closes mid-morning; usually he takes advantage of the cooler hours to work in the forge.
"Hey there Sheriff," Tony says with a grin, joining him in the street. He's dressed in one of his best suits, and Steve's intrigued.
"Stark," Steve greets. "What's the occasion?"
"Can't a man want to look good, once in a while?" Tony teases with a wink
If there was no-one in earshot, Steve would say he always looks great, no matter what he wears. And even more so when he has nothing on.
"Carol is coming back today," Tony says, smiling. "She said to expect her on the ten o'clock."
The huff and puff of the train approaching is already audible. Steve was not aware that Tony had corresponded with Carol during her stay in Washington. She's been away for five months, on a mission to lessen Governor Roxxon's hold on the region and surely advocate for women's rights while over there.
Carol and Tony developed a close friendship after the showdown with Lester and Fisk two years prior. Steve admittedly didn't see the start of it, too busy surviving being shot in the back. He knows that he's crazy lucky to be alive; instead of leaving him for dead in the middle of the street, Fisk could have thrown him to the pigs. But while Red Wolf escaped, Daniel Drumm had dragged what he thought was Steve's corpse to his undertaker business. He and Jericho had then nursed Steve back to health in secret when he'd been too stubborn to die. Heck, the Drumm brothers didn't even think Steve would make it, convinced he'd join his coffin buried full of rocks sooner rather than later. While Steve clung to life, the Drumms hadn't asked for anyone's help, too afraid Fisk would have them killed.
First being comatose, and then fighting infection, Steve had missed the craziness following his 'death'. By the time he was strong enough to get out of bed, Bruce had almost died making the dam explode, Tony had created a crazy metal armor strong enough to protect the town, Natasha had shot Fisk in the head, Red Wolf was sheriff, and Carol was leading the town's government.
Steve's return to the land of the living had caused quite a commotion. He'd come out of Drumm & Drumm Undertaker at high noon, and it's as if the whole town had stopped moving. Like the others, Tony had stared and stared, but was also the first to run over to tackle Steve in a hug.
"You're alive, you're alive!" Tony had exclaimed, holding him tight.
Not that Steve had minded the reunion, but his whole body was still sore.
"Surprise? And ouch."
Tony's laugh had been beautiful, and he'd let go. His smile, though, it wouldn't quit.
"Sorry, sorry," he'd said, without looking repentant at all. "You son of a bitch. I'm so happy to see you."
"Same." Tony looked great, and didn't smell of whiskey at all, a novelty in this post-Fisk world.
A spontaneous party for Steve's 'return' had followed, but he had excused himself early. His own bed had been fantastic. The day after, Red Wolf tried to give Steve the sheriff's star back, which he refused. He felt better, but wasn't fit to go back to work immediately. He took it easy, and helped as a deputy for several months. Many people acted as if the star was still pinned on Steve's chest, though, which frustrated him to no end. It took a whole year for Steve to eventually accept having his name on the ballot again, which he only did because Red Wolf insisted.
Apart from an almost kerfuffle with Pastor Frank Castle and his posse, which was cut short because Steve needed no avenging due to his continued existence, Timely had changed. It was still the town where all the nations of the world sent their crazy people, but it thrived without Fisk's menacing shadow. Governor Roxxon had rebuilt his mine, but hadn't touched the river. Yet.
The people had changed, too, and that was most visible with Tony. He went from drunk eighty percent of the time to the hard working genius the East Coast papers used to boast about before the Civil War. The lack of drinking meant that Tony didn't serenade Steve anymore - which he missed at first - but what came next was even better.
Instead of dragging a drunk Tony home almost every night, they gravitated towards each other for long conversations. They rarely agreed on anything, from ethics dilemmas to Tony's prediction that machines could replace horses, but it was fun. They often played chess or checkers, a challenge if there was one… especially since Tony kept on smiling in a way that made Steve's stomach flutter. It sure messed with his concentration.
The unresolved something that was building between them came to a head on an exploration ride up the river. Allegedly, a beast was snatching Bobbi Morse's cattle. It was a hot day, and Tony had caught Steve looking when they'd paused for a swim. How was he supposed to resist, with a naked Tony right there? Instead of insults or fists, Tony had surprised him with a kiss.
They've been together since. The American West is a refuge for non-conforming people, but it's safer to keep their relationship secret. It's a constant exercise in restraint: no touching in open spaces, not even looking for too long. Steve is used to it, though, and it makes their stolen moments even more precious. He never thought he'd have this much when he realized that he was born different and women didn't do it for him. Steve's the happiest he's ever been, and he loves Tony.
With an indulgent smile, he follows his lover to the train station. It will be good to see Carol: he's missed her too. She's one of the last passengers to step down on the platform, with a smile and a wave as they approach. Before they are close enough to help, Carol unloads her baggage herself. Next, she offers her hand to a tall brunette who smiles down at Carol as she steps down from the train car.
Tony's step falters, but it immediately passes and he's speaking out. "It's about time you came back, Danvers! Timely's almost gone proper."
Carol laughs. "We wouldn't want that, huh? Look at that, my own welcoming committee!"
Steve grins too as they embrace, and he gets a kiss on the cheek.
"It's great to see you, Steve," Carol says.
"Same." He tips his hat to Carol's companion, who is watching the reunion in silence. She’s a beautiful young woman, evaluating them with alert green eyes. "Miss."
Smooth, as always, Tony smiles and offers his hand with a little bow. When the woman reaches out to touch it, he brings her fingers to his mouth for a light kiss. Tony's flirting used to annoy Steve, before they got together. He's now aware that it's just who Tony is, and there is no real intent.
"Pardon us, Mademoiselle. We've missed Mayor Danvers quite a lot. My companion is Sheriff Steve Rogers, and I'm Tony Stark, at your service."
The corner of her lip lifts as Tony relinquishes her fingers. "Pleased to meet you, gentlemen. I'm Jessica Dr-"
"Drusilla Danvers," Carol interrupts, talking over her. It's a surprise for them all, even Miss Jessica, whose eyebrows shoot up. "Jessica Drusilla Danvers, my sister," Carol repeats, with emphasis on their sibling relationship. It's almost as she's scolding her, and Miss Jessica rolls her eyes.
"Yes, sisters reunited at last. And Jessica is fine."
"Welcome to Timely, Miss Jessica," Steve says. He wasn't aware that Carol had a sister.
"It's a little dusty, but it's ours," Tony adds. "I hope you like it."
"Thank you," Jessica says.
Tony takes one handle of the travel trunk as Steve grabs the other and they start the walk towards Carol's home.
"You should take the day to rest after your travels. But how about you two drop by the casino tomorrow night?" Tony suggests. "It would be a nice way to introduce your sister."
He also says it with too much emphasis, and Carol punches him in the arm.
"Don't be an asshole," she says. "But sure, why not?"
Tony fills the rest of their walk with the town's latest gossip. One would think he's the person making multiple patrols a day: there's rumors even Steve didn't hear about!
After dropping the ladies home, Tony's weirdly bouncy. "Who would have thought, huh?"
"Didn't Carol write you about coming back with her sister?" Steve asks.
Tony shakes his head. "No. As you know, it's complicated."
Steve doesn't; it's not like he has an estranged sibling. Does that mean Tony has some? He'd slurred about his cheating father once, a long time ago when he was a fixture at the bar. Who knows what he left behind in his old life on the East Coast.
"It's been a while since we've seen the Parkers. I think I'll pay them a visit, ask if they need anything," Steve says.
While absolutely true, it's also an offer for them to go out of town and spend a little time together.
But Tony is distracted, looking back over his shoulder towards Carol's home, then smiling at Steve. Tony has missed her a lot more than Steve thought.
"Good idea. Tell him he's welcome at the shop anytime. I've been working on a new automaton I think he'd like. But Sam is coming over for a shoeing in a few. I need to change."
"Oh, okay." Work is work, of course. Steve wonders why Tony took the time to dress up to get Carol at the train station, but he's weird like that sometimes. "See you later, maybe?"
"Sure thing!" Tony says, already undoing his cuffs. "Later, Sheriff!"
The chance to meet a newcomer always draws crowds, and the casino is full of people who'd normally spend the evening at home. It's like Carol and Miss Jessica are holding court, dressed in the latest fashion - or so Steve's been told - which is an excitement in itself. Many came to welcome their mayor back, sure, but the word of Carol's beautiful sister moving into town quickly spread. Steve's pretty certain that all the single men living in a radius of twenty-five miles are present, and most of the married ones too.
There's a particularly febrile atmosphere in the room, with men tripping over themselves for an introduction while little clusters of women shoot Miss Jessica dubious looks. She's attractive for sure, even Steve who is rarely moved by women can attest to that. But it seems unfair that the poor girl is seen either as a prize or competition, not even two days in.
As far as Steve can see, Miss Jessica is being polite to everyone and nothing more. But that doesn't stop men after men from spouting their lines, trying their luck at a successful first impression. It's distasteful. By his side, in the back of the room, Tony's been observing the spectacle with a particular gleam in his eyes and a smirk on his lips.
"A penny for your thoughts?" Steve asks.
Tony huffs in amusement. "Can't they see that the most action anyone will get is Carol's fist to the face?"
It's true that if Miss Jessica has stayed gracious under the scrutiny, Carol is losing patience. Clearly, she is very protective of her sister. When one person touches Miss Jessica's arm in guise of getting her attention. Carol snaps, her smile tight.
"It was great seeing you all again, but we'll calling it a night," she announces.
"Aww, come on Danvers! It's early still, and we just want to welcome your sister properly!" Barton pipes up.
"Too bad, my head hurts," Carol declares, guiding Miss Jessica towards the door with a hand planted on her lower back.
"Thanks for coming by, everyone!" Miss Jessica calls out while waving, which prompts a series of cheerful replies and a few grumbles.
As she passes by Tony and Steve, Miss Jessica shrugs at them, in a way that clearly conveys "What can you do?" as her sister powers through. Carol almost snarls when Howie tries to block her path. At least he has the sense to back off, hands raised at chest level. He might live to see another day.
As soon as they're out, the volume level rises in the casino. Gossip at work, right there.
Tony turns to grin at Steve. "This is perfect."
Sure, it's entertainment in a town desperate for novelty, but it's not Steve's idea of fun. He hopes the buzz quiets soon, and that the town gives Miss Jessica the welcome she deserves.
Tony is doing that thing where he's talking out loud at himself and thinks it's an intelligible conversation for other people. Usually those rants are about one of his inventions, where he spouts theories just to have a sounding board, but not today. He's pacing the length of Steve's office, unusually nervous.
"She won't be mad, right?" he asks Steve. "If I suggest?"
"Carol?" Steve guesses. He got it right by Tony's nod. "Why would she be mad?"
Tony throws him a small smile. "Yeah, you're right. We're friends, she'll understand I had to try."
Steve is so confused. "Tony, what -?"
But Tony's leaving, without telling Steve what he's going on about.
"I'm doing it now before I'm tempted to find dutch courage!" he tells Steve over his shoulder, purposely striding towards Carol's home.
Tony hasn't even talked about drinking in months. Something is happening. Something big. Steve almost yells at Tony to come back and explain himself, but there's too many people in the street, it would draw attention.
Red Wolf is also entering the station with a frown on his face and a particular set to his jaw.
"Sheriff, there's been an incident at Roxxon's mine," he says.
Great, just what they need. "An incident."
Timely has held its collective breath since Governor Roxxon sent workers to rebuild the mine. Steve thought it was a prelude for renewed aggression, but it's been quiet. In retaliation for the dam exploding, the mine doesn't hire locals, just outsiders. It's fine, as long as they don't look for trouble. They mostly stay up by the river, which suits everybody.
Red Wolf winces. "There might have been an altercation involving Poito."
That’s one of the kids from the Paiute settlement in the mountain, and Steve gets up, tense. "What happened?"
"He went snooping around the mine."
"Isn't Poito about ten years old?"
"Yes. Eleven." Red Wolf passes a hand on his face, weary. "He shouldn't have gone, he's been told that, and he knows it. But he'd heard about glowing animals and wanted to capture one. He got caught, and an elder notified me that Roxxon's men are accusing him of theft. If I go there by myself…"
A native deputy could indeed complicate the situation.
"All right," Steve says, grabbing his gun and his hat. "I'm going with you."
He comes back hours later, frustrated by his long argument with Roxxon's racist foreman. At least Poito should be fine, and he promised to stay far away from the mine. To compound Steve's annoyance, it was windy down in the valley and he's covered in dirt. He can even taste it.
There's an unusual festive mood in town for a regular Tuesday. Sam is playing the fiddle and many people are dancing in the street. Not that it isn't nice, it's great when people have fun - their lives are hard enough - but Steve wonders what prompted the party. As far as he knows, it's not anyone's birthday.
Steve starts by leading Captain to his box, the horse is just as thirsty as he is. Once through Cap's nighttime routine, he detours to his house for a drink of his own, a quick wash up and a change of shirt.
Back out in the street, Steve's first instinct, as always, is to find Tony. Unsurprisingly, he's in the middle of things, busy twirling both Carol and Miss Jessica around. The three of them are laughing and flushed with exertion from the dancing. Somehow Steve ends up with a beer, and he's thinking about stopping the first kid that runs by to ask what is going on when Tony spots him. His grin widens, and he makes his way to Steve while still holding Carol's hand, who in turn tows in her sister.
"Tony. Ladies," Steve says, touching his hat.
He's surprised when Tony grabs his shirt with his free hand, pulling him close. He smells like whiskey in a way he hasn't for years, and Steve leans away.
"Steve, Steve," Tony says, eyes boring into his. "She said yes!"
Steve still does not understand what is going on, but Tony looks so happy that it can't be bad. He also realizes that Tony's breath doesn't smell of alcohol at all: he must just have gotten whiskey spilled on his clothes at some point.
"Yes?" Steve questions.
Tony laughs, reeling Carol in, who is smiling too.
"Yeah!" Tony turns to kiss her cheek, looking at her with adoration. "We're getting married!"
The words hit as hard as Lester's bullet in the chest, taking Steve's breath away. He's so shocked that he doesn't even react when Tony whoops, hugs him and the three of them are briefly tangled together.
"Isn't it amazing?" Tony asks, as if Steve's entire world didn't just crumble at the announcement. "I'll marry Carol and you'll marry Jess and everything will be alright!"
As if Steve wasn't flabbergasted enough by the news of Tony and Carol's engagement, his jaw drops at the idea of getting married too. And to Miss Jessica? He doesn't even know her, they've barely exchanged ten words!
"What?" he garbles out. It's as if his throat is full of gravel.
Tony doesn't answer, too taken by his celebrations. He gives Steve another beaming smile and pulls Carol back on the street for more dancing. Miss Jessica, by Steve's side, looks at ease with it all. She heard Tony… does she want to marry him? He can't think about that.
"He's something else, isn't he?" she remarks.
Making conversation is too much to ask; it's taking everything Steve has not to fall apart.
"I've... I've got to go."
"See you later!"
Steve starts a beeline for his home, slipping through the crowd and returning no salutations. He needs to be alone to not make a fool out of himself. His eyes are burning and he's having trouble breathing.
His Tony is getting married. Steve cannot wrap his head around it at all and it hurts so much.
They had never talked about the future, about forever, but that's what it was for Steve. He was so, so sure that Tony felt the same.
Obviously, he had grossly misinterpreted their relationship. Tony was just biding his time before finding a wife, and Steve feels like a complete idiot.
He's barely had two sips of beer, but Steve feels ready to throw up.
Steve cleans up and goes to bed by rote, only to end up looking at the ceiling for hours. He can't sleep, and it's not because of the music stretching into the night. His head is spinning as he reviews his relationship with Tony. How did he miss that he was so much more invested in it than Tony?
The man himself comes over at one point, yelling under his window.
"Steve! Steve, are you home? Where are you? It's okay if you don't dance!"
Doesn't Tony realize how hard this is? Even if he assumed they were nothing but casual lovers, asking Steve to be happy about this sudden ending is a lot. Steve doesn't want to deal with him - he'll say something harsh - so he stays silent.
"It's late." That’s Carol's voice, and Steve can't believe she did this to him. She has to know him and Tony were more than friends? God knows there are rumors enough, as careful as they are. "He was out all day, let him rest."
"Yeah, okay, okay," Tony says. "Thank you, Carol. Thank you.”
"Hush, enough," she replies. "Don't make me regret this."
Tony laughs, so happy that it makes tears roll down Steve's cheeks. This whole mess is so unfair.
"You'll see, I'll be the best husband," Tony promises as they walk away.
"I bet," Carol placates fondly.
Tony will be a great husband, Steve is convinced of it. He'll dote on Carol, able to have her on his arm for the world to see. Steve doesn't know if he'll be strong enough to stomach it.
He never saw their end coming. All was great between them, or at least Steve thought so. The last time they'd made love was the night before Carol's return, at Tony's, and it had been as good as always. They'd laughed afterwards, and Steve had caught a few hours of sleep curled around Tony. He'd left when the town was silent, Tony barely stirring himself, because that's what they did. Having to sneak out was frustrating, and getting harder and harder to do, but they had no choice. That evening hadn't felt like a goodbye at all. If Steve had known, he would have tried to convince Tony that what they had was worth keeping.
Did Tony move on because Steve didn't make enough time for them? He talked about seeing the Pacific Ocean, maybe San Francisco, but Steve didn't like the idea of a long trip. Timely was calmer these days, but who knew when the first stirring of trouble would happen? They fought sometimes, generally about stupid stuff, but they did that when they were just friends, too. Tony never told Steve he was unhappy.
Now it's too late. Tony seems so happy to marry Carol, too. He even implied that Steve should marry Carol's sister, as if it's easy to switch a brunet for another. Tony did a blond for a blonde, though, a little voice in Steve's head pipes up.
The more Steve thinks about it, the more his heartbreak colors with irritation, and then anger. He has to know what happened, even if it's just to confirm that it was only casual sex for Tony all this time.
The sun is barely rising when he bangs on Tony's door, who doesn't answer. He uses his key only to find the house and shop empty, and Tony's bed still made. There are a few early risers out and about when Steve re-locks Tony's door, and Daria gives him a pitying look. They might not have lived openly, but there had been gossip about their friendship anyway. If Steve hadn't been the Sheriff, they might have been locked up, driven out of town or even worse a long time ago.
There's nothing he can do about Daria's opinion, so Steve clenches his teeth and goes to Carol's. Miss Jessica is the one who opens the door, hiding a yawn behind her hand. She's dressed in a robe covering her nightgown and Steve almost feels bad at barging in so early.
"Miss Danvers," Steve greets. "Would you know where Tony is?"
"Asleep," she says, resting her head on the doorframe.
He's already bedding Carol? A burst of jealousy makes Steve clench his fists.
"I want to see him," he demands.
Jessica huffs. "Wow, you got up on the wrong side of the bed, didn’t you? Come in."
Steve closes the door behind himself and Jessica stops at the opening for the sitting room.
"Stark, your sheriff is here. Keep it down, alright? Carol and I are trying to sleep upstairs."
She throws a warning look at Steve before going upstairs.
It's a small comfort to learn that Tony didn't sleep in Carol's bed. He appears less than a minute later, yesterday's clothes all wrinkled and completely dishevelled.
"Ugh. I'm too old to sleep on lumpy couches," he mumbles.
As soon as his eyes meet Steve's, he smiles as if Steve's the best thing he's ever seen. It makes Steve's stomach flip: he loves Tony so much and it's so unfair.
"Hey Steve!" Tony greets. "I meant to ask: should we do a double wedding, or wait two months for you and Jess?"
Steve feels helpless all over again. How can Tony even suggest things like that?
"Tony," he says with clenched teeth. "I don't want to get married."
At least this time Tony winces, looking guilty. It's the first sign that he knows that he's hurting Steve, and the whole affair stings even more.
"Yeah, I thought that's what you'd say." He has the gall to look dejected. "I guess me and Carol is enough, but just imagine-"
"No," Steve interrupts, voice rising.
"But if you don't, you can't live here!" Tony argues. "Then it's not worth it as much."
Does he realize what he's asking for? Before they destroy everything, Steve has to change Tony's mind. He would never forgive himself if he let the love of his life get away without a fight. He swallows his anger and strides to Tony, takes his hands between his and bring them to his mouth. Maybe that's the last kiss he will ever give him. His heart breaks all over again.
"Tony, please, don't do this." His voice is cracking, but he hopes his love and sincerity shines through. "We could leave, move to San Francisco if you want. I can't live with you and your wife. Jesus. How can you ask that of me?"
Tony's eyes are wide and his mouth agape.
"Steve. Steve. Baby," he says softly, pulling their clasped hands to his lips and kissing Steve's knuckles. "Me and Carol, it wouldn't be a real marriage. Well... the certificate would be real, but that's it."
For the second time in less than ten hours, the world freezes.
"Jessica is not Carol's sister," Tony explains. "She's her girlfriend. They met in Washington and Jess came back with her."
Oh. How about that? The emphasis on the word sister at the train station and Carol's anger at the casino takes on a whole different meaning now. The relief that Tony isn't leaving him is so strong that Steve's knees buckle and he drops on a nearby chair.
"Darling, I'm so sorry," Tony says as he climbs on Steve's lap.
By reflex, Steve winds his arms around Tony and holds him close, hiding his face at the juncture of his neck and shoulder. He thought for hours that he had lost him, and he's so glad that he can still do this.
"You understand now, right?" Tony continues. "They lied about being sisters. So there are fewer rumors. But If Carol and I marry, it puts them to rest forever. We've been friends for years, it's believable. If you and Jess do it too, then she doesn't have to deal with a never-ending line of hopeless men trying to court her. And Steve, baby, you know they talk about us. It ends that too. Apart from how we're so codependent that we marry sisters, but it's a lesser evil."
Steve has to admit it makes sense, but Timely is full of very determined gossips.
"Not sure that the rumors would end, though," he says against the fabric of Tony's shirt. It smells of sweat and like the bottom of a barrel from the alchool Tony got splashed with, but Steve doesn't care.
Tony laughs. "Yeah, probably not, but we'd have the veneer of respectability, and no one could prove anything untoward. Think about it. This is a big house, we could live together. Carol's not the one I'd go to bed with, Steve, it was always meant to be you! I never wanted her, oh my God. I told you!"
"You didn't tell me anything," Steve protests. Thinking back, he believes that Tony meant to, and thought Steve was on board with the whole plan. His only oversight was that he didn't factor for Steve being so dense.
"Oh, sweetheart. I am so, so sorry you thought even for a minute that you are not the most important person for me."
Steve holds him tighter, then leans back to look at Tony in the eyes. "I love you. I don't say it much, but I should."
Tony's brown eyes shine with happiness. "I love you too."
They kiss and it's sweet even with Tony's frankly terrible morning breath.
Steve lets himself think about the possibility of living in the same house, the domesticity of sharing meals and a bed every night without having to leave before morning. There would still be some pretending out in the world where they'd just be best friends and brother-in-laws, but they could be together.
"No more sneaking around," Tony says as if he's reading Steve's mind. "If Carol and Jess are amenable, we could even try to make babies." Steve can't help the instinctive rush of jealousy, tightening his hold. It makes Tony laugh. "No need to sleep together. We could give the ladies a sticky gift in a cup or something."
Would that work? Steve supposes Tony knows, he's a genius. He's never let himself think about having his own children before now, or even kids at all unless he took in an orphan. He likes the idea, he likes it a lot.
"Or just a dog," Tony offers next, unaware that Steve's on board already. "You like dogs, right?"
"I do," Steve says with a nod, and then rests his forehead on Tony's shoulder, overwhelmed by the potential happiness shimmering in front of him.
"And cats for the barn," Tony says decisively, playing with the hair at the back of Steve's neck.
Tony's building their future with his words. Steve smiles helplessly.
"Okay," he says against Tony's collar bone.
"What was that?"
He leans back to look into Tony's eyes once more. "Okay. I'll roll with your crazy plan."
"Yes?" Tony looks so happy and beautiful, even just out of a night partying. Steve is ecstatic that he gets to keep him.
They meet for a kiss once more, but have to break it because they're both smiling too much.
"You've just made me the happiest man alive," Tony says.
"I don't know," Steve says with a slight shrug. "I'm pretty sure that's me."
He'll soon stand before God, next to a woman he doesn't know, and that day the vows he'll profess will be all for Tony. Is it dishonest? Sure, in a way, but it's not like he'll be going behind future wife's back. They'll all know exactly what they are walking into.
When you think about it, spinning tall tales is the West for you. And in the middle of the Valley of Doom, there's plenty of space for them to carve their happy ever after.