Brown hair… brown eyes… soft hands. Red hair… deft fingers. Broad shoulders... Steve floated in the afterlife, while dreams of other faces filled the empty spaces in his mind. Sometimes, he almost felt like he had a body again, but it would leave as soon as it had arrived, bare whispers of sensation that fluttered in and out of the edge of his consciousness like butterflies.
His sense of himself had eroded over time. Were these fleeting visions memories of faces he had worn? Those he had known? But anchored in the centre of his mind was a core thought that he was Steve Rogers, and some vague idea of what that meant.
And then bright light shattered the world around him into a million pieces, tearing his heart out of his chest to be squeezed, bruised, punished until it shocked back into rhythm, and for the first time in seventy years, he drew in a lungful of air.
"This is Manhattan?" Steve tipped his head back to gaze up at the forest of buildings that towered overhead. They'd spent the trip from somewhere off the coast of northern Canada to New York City going over everything Steve had missed.
He'd missed a lot.
Thor clapped him on the shoulder. "Isn't it magnificent? Come along." He guided Steve through revolving glass doors and into a vast lobby, The Avengers flanking him on either side.
The Avengers. They'd found him frozen in the ice, told him he was immortal, of all things. And with the way he'd lived through seventy years deep in the Atlantic, he found himself inclined to believe them. They'd also been very… convincing.
Without question, they integrated him into their unit - The Avengers, a secret team of unkillables seeking wrongs around the world and making them right, supported and housed by an enigmatic billionaire named Tony Stark. Their immortality, it seemed, was a secret to everyone but him.
"Come meet Tony," Clint called, as he led his way across the lobby. "He'll want to meet you."
Natasha shook her head and said something softly in Russian which made Clint laugh. Sleek, metal doors slid open to reveal an elevator which took the whole team down several floors, so smoothly, it hardly felt like they were moving. But Steve's attention was yanked elsewhere as soon as the doors opened again.
"This… is Tony's workshop," Clint said, spreading an arm to welcome Steve in.
It was like something out of one of Bucky's science fiction novels.
The walls were lined with shelves filled to bursting with bits and bobs - from shiny chrome to coloured plastic to rusted steel. Two half-dismantled cars were spread across the sprawling concrete floor. Along one wall was a bank of desks and screens, almost as big as the ones they'd seen stuck to buildings on the street. Beside the screens were glowing blue shapes, hanging in the air without any visible string or hooks, and in the middle of it all was a man.
Steve's body earnestly reminded him that he wasn't frozen anymore, a hot flush spreading through him. The man had tousled, dark brown hair, lean but well-muscled arms and shoulders, and a pair of jeans that did obscene things to the shape of his… Steve coughed sharply and yanked his eyes away before he could finish that thought.
Natasha smiled at him. "Steve… this is Tony, our benefactor, outfitter and…" she trailed off as Tony tossed his electronics aside and crossed the room, arm extended.
"Hey, Steve. You're here. They finally found you. You okay?"
"Yeah. I guess. As okay as I can be." He took Tony's hand and shook it, swallowing hard at the rough warmth of his hand. "Thank you for inviting me here."
"Of course." He gestured vaguely. "You're family now, yeah?"
A different kind of heat bloomed in Steve's chest at the thought. Family. What did that even mean anymore?
"I hate to thaw and run but we have a mission," Natasha said. She shared a look with Tony that Steve couldn't decipher then turned back to Steve. "Are you alright here?"
Steve nodded. "I'm fine. Good luck?"
"Thanks." Natasha squeezed his shoulder. "Be nice, Tony!" she called as made for the elevator.
"I'm always nice," Tony said, and when Steve looked up, Tony's eyes were fixed on him. "We found you."
"Apparently." Steve looked around the room again, trying to take it all in.
"Feel free to poke and prod. Most of it doesn't blow up, and even if it did, you'd be fine."
Steve snorted. "Might stain, though."
Steve pointedly shoved his hands in his pockets and started to wander around the room. Most of the stuff was clearly for battle: weapons, armour, and his untrained eye didn't really know how to distinguish it. But the way Tony's workshop was decked out gave Steve no doubt that it was all much more special than it looked.
"Do you wanna see how that works?" Tony asked, suddenly at his elbow.
Steve managed to keep himself from flinching. "Actually, I'm…" He trailed off, his brain simply running out of words.
Tony's fingers curled around his wrist. "Hey, come on." He gently led Steve back across the workshop and eased him down on a surprisingly soft couch. "You may be immortal, but you're not impervious. Take a breather, yeah?"
The couch sucked Steve down until he was boneless, leaning against the back. "Yeah…" He closed his eyes for a minute.
When he opened his eyes again, Tony was at his desk, typing rapidly as blue, glowing screens flashed around him. "What time is it?" Steve asked, his voice rougher than he expected. He cleared his throat and pushed up to sitting - and when had he laid down?
Tony turned in his chair with a smile that crinkled up around his eyes. "Well, hello there. It's just after seven. You slept for about five hours."
"Oh, wow. Sorry."
"Don't be sorry. You needed it."
"I mean, I just slept for seventy years," Steve grumbled.
"I doubt well. Did you have the dreams?"
Steve did startle at that. He wouldn't have thought the others would have told Tony about that. "Yeah."
"Well, now you're here. You'll sleep better. And you'll need a lot of it for a while."
"Ah okay." Steve looked down at his hands. "Thanks?"
There was a long moment of awkward silence.
Tony cleared his throat. "You like sushi?"
"I don't know what sushi is."
"Ah, well." Tony picked up what Steve had been told was a phone. "You're just going to have to trust me, cause if I tell you what it is, you're not going to want it anymore."
Steve paused for a moment, then tilted his head in agreement, a slow smile blooming. "Okay."
"I like you. You're dangerously trusting."
"So I'm told."
Tony typed on his phone for a while, then tossed it aside. "Sushi's on its way. I got some of everything since you've never had it before."
"Oh, thank you. I just… I just realized I have no idea if I have any money."
"You have tons of money. Oh! And a new apartment. Let me show you up. We'll take care of your identity and credit cards and stuff like that over the next few days, get you a driver's license and whatnot." Tony made for the elevators, and Steve hurried after him.
"Do I really need that?"
"Unfortunately, yes. It's the information age, sweetheart. You need data or you don't exist. Luckily, I love data, so I'll take care of that for you." Tony pushed the button for the eighty-ninth floor and the elevator took off, making Steve's stomach swoop. A few seconds later, they stopped and the doors opened to reveal a short hallway and another door. Instead of a lock where a key should go, there was a smooth, black panel.
"Your pin is 1918," Tony said. "Type it in."
"Here." Tony tapped the panel and numbers appeared. "It has bio-readers, but you need to enter the pin too, just in case. No one else but me knows it, and if you want to change it, you can, so even I won't know."
Steve pressed 1-9-1-8 and the door unlatched with an audible click. He stepped inside and his jaw dropped. "Wow. This is all for me?"
Tony chuckled. His hand on Steve's lower back guided him into the massive open-plan main floor. "Sure is. Living room, kitchen, den at the back. Bathroom's behind the piano. Upstairs has the two bedrooms, two full baths, laundry, and an office. Balcony has a hot tub, but we all share the pool on the roof."
"Holy shit." Steve stepped towards the kitchen then stopped and spun in a slow circle. "I don't know what to say."
"Say, 'Thanks, Tony,' and then please for the love of god never mention it again."
Steve grinned. "Thank you, Tony."
Tony smiled back, a light dancing in his eyes. "Do you -" He cut himself off, digging his phone out of his pocket. He found his phone and peered at it for a moment. "Oh, sushi's here. I'll go down and grab it. You settle in here."
Tony disappeared back into the elevator and Steve was left alone in the vast apartment. Settle. How? None of this stuff was remotely like anything he'd ever owned before. He didn't know how to fit himself into a place like this. He wandered over to the window and gazed out at the lights of the city. It was so bright, so tall. So much. And apparently he had forever to get used to it.
Heat prickled the back of Steve's eyes, but the elevator started humming again, and he took a few sharp breaths and turned back from the windows. Wanting to give the impression he was comfortable in his new home, he sat himself on the couch and waited for Tony to reappear.
"So how'd they convince you that you were immortal?" Tony asked, around a mouthful of rice and seaweed.
Steve shook his head with a wry grin. "Still not sure I'm convinced. Though waking up after seventy years on ice does require some explanation."
"Did you try to run?"
"Of course." Steve dipped one of the rice balls in the bright pink ginger and stuck it in his mouth. He chewed, watching Tony fiddle with his chopsticks. "Clint shot me in the head."
Tony burst out laughing. "Bullet or arrow?"
Steve spluttered, almost spraying soy sauce everywhere. "It could have been an arrow?"
"Oh yeah. Bird Brain's projectile of choice, actually."
"Oof." Steve poked the green goop with a chopstick and rolled it over his tongue. He coughed. "Wow."
"It'll put hair on your chest."
"It's good." He poked it again, but this time smeared it over the fish and stuck the whole thing in his mouth.
Tony pointed his chopsticks at him. "It's good you're open to new things. You're going to need that."
"Well, when it's fresh fish and vegetables instead of boiled potatoes and overcooked beef - or even worse, C-Rats - I'm very, very open to new things. So're my sadly abused taste buds."
Tony laughed. "I'll make it my mission to introduce your taste buds to the 21st century, Cap."
"Thanks." Steve gave him an honest smile. "Speaking of missions…"
"They'll bring you in when you're ready." Tony quirked an eyebrow at him. "You've got forever now, bud. Take your time, get settled. There's no doubt that you can help, so don't get all riled up thinking you need to prove yourself. Your goal right now is to adjust to the future."
"Alright." Steve couldn't keep the smirk off his face. He looked up at Tony from under his eyelashes. "You gonna help me adjust?"
Tony laughed, but he didn't say no.
The team returned twelve hours later. Thor's shirt was marred with several bullet holes and they were all coated in blood. Steve's stomach churned, the smell of pain and injury rocketing him back to the frontlines, but they were all smiling and happy, joking around with each other. Clint wrapped his arm around Steve's shoulders while Thor gave Tony a fist bump.
"All clear?" Tony asked. "How was the belt?"
"Wonderful." Thor unclipped his belt and dropped in on the worktop. "However, the blood shorted it out at one point and it electrocuted me." He clapped Tony on the back. "Bit distracting."
"Uh, yeah." Tony eyed the blood-covered belt. "I'll check on that."
Natasha dropped an axe next to the belt. "Debrief in an hour?" She raised her eyebrow at Tony.
"Come on, team, clean up!" They all grumbled off towards the elevators, but Natasha paused by Steve. "You okay?"
He nodded. "Yup. Tony's teaching me about modern life."
Natasha laughed. "Nobody better," she chuckled, as if there was some other joke there that Steve didn't get. "Come see me after the meeting?"
Natasha left, and Tony followed her shortly after. Steve got the impression that Tony wasn't entirely comfortable with leaving him in the workshop alone so he left at the same time so he wouldn't have to be asked. Up in the room Tony had given him, Steve wandered aimlessly around in circles. He didn't own anything, had no books or art supplies or radio. Tony had fed him so he wasn't hungry, though he spent almost ten minutes going through the entire kitchen from top to bottom and exploring all the colourful packaging and bizarre foodstuffs that had been left for him.
He had no idea what to do with himself. For the first time in what felt like forever, he had no one to take care of, no fights to fight, and he wasn't putting at least eighty percent of his energy into merely staying alive.
It seemed he no longer had to fight for that at all.
A wild, reckless urge to test the bounds of his newfound immortality rushed through him, as hot as the bright green wasabi paste, but he sat on the sleek, black leather couch in his new living room and forced himself to quash that urge. He still wasn't even sure he believed what was happening.
Without permission, his fingers went up to the back of his head to seek out the place where a bullet had shattered his skull less than twenty-four hours ago. It was completely gone, undisturbed hair and skin retaining no memory of the shot. He looked down at his hands. Seventy years gone, but to him, he'd last held a pencil just two days ago.
Nope. Try as he might, he couldn't make that feel real. It just turned into a white-noise buzz in his head when he tried to process it. Seventy years. Everything had changed. His hands went to the back of his head again. He had changed too.
A knock on the door startled him up off the couch. He pulled the door open to reveal Natasha, blood gone and hair wet. "Hey, Steve."
"Oh, sorry. I was going to come see you." He glanced at the clock and realized three hours had passed.
"It's fine. JARVIS said you had speakers turned off so I couldn't send you a message that way. Thought I'd come see how you were settling into your apartment."
"Speakers?" Steve stepped back to let Nat in.
"JARVIS. Tony's artificial intelligence. He runs the building - like an electronic butler. But by default Tony has him turned off. If you're okay with having him on, you have to type your pin code in the pad by the door to enable him."
"Oh, uh, ok." Steve let Natasha lead him to the pad and walked him through putting his code in again.
A moment later, a gentle, British voice filled the room. "Eyes and ears activated, apartment forty-three. Good afternoon, Captain Rogers."
"Uh." Steve's eyes flicked up to the ceiling. "Hello."
"If you require anything at all, sir, please don't hesitate to ask."
"Anyway," Natasha said. "How are you settling in?"
"To be honest? I'm not sure. What does settling in even look like?"
"Fair point." She sat on a kitchen stool, leather boots crossed at the ankle. "I guess I'm asking if you have everything you need. The basics. I know the other stuff happens later. But we want to make sure you're not uncomfortable in any way we can fix."
"Ah. No, I'm fine then. Food, water, clothes." He shrugged. "Tony fed me sushi."
Natasha laughed. "Of course he did." She watched Steve quietly for a moment. "You know why I didn't have you in that meeting, right?"
"I'm… settling in?" Steve offered.
Her sly grin made Steve unable to help grinning back. "We're in the middle of something. We've been looking for you for a long time, but we've been in the middle of something for a while too, and we don't know you yet. There's… there's a connection, between us. Bruce says you had the dreams too?"
"I don't want you to think we don't trust you. It's not that. It's just… well, we're in the middle. And we're not in a place where we can bring you in."
"That's okay. I understand."
"But we're a family, Steve. You're part of that family now, okay? Join us for dinner."
Dinner was soft and warm and full of laughter. Steve's heart ached at what he'd lost and what he'd gained. When the first rush of discomfort wore off, he managed to tell a few stories about the Commandos, and the way the team listened made him feel like they were really listening, like they wanted to know Steve's old friends too. He wasn't quite ready to accept they were his old friends, though. Just yesterday…
But whenever he fell silent, the table gave him space in a way that felt more like leaning in close rather than pulling away, and he was able to take a breath.
And slowly, like coming alive again, lungs pulled in and out and his heart started to beat again… and then pound. And Steve couldn't pull his eyes away from Tony.
A voice that sounded concerningly like Bucky's whispered in the back of Steve's mind that this was a bad idea. Tony would grow old while Steve remained unchanging if what the Avengers said was indeed true. But Steve brushed the concerns away as easily as he used to ignore Bucky back in the day and charge into an alley anyway. The future was impossibly far away and Tony was here in front of Steve right now. And beautiful. Steve dropped his chin to his fist and listened to him talk about something he didn't understand a single word of. Every now and then Tony would send a small smile in Steve's direction and the entire rest of the world vanished.
Steve was woken by a knock on the door. He opened it to find Clint there with gym shorts on and a smile. "Join us for training?"
Training with the team was exhilarating. No one held back - no one needed to. They charged full tilt into every move, and Steve found himself thrown to the mat over and over. His blood rushed through his veins, a runner's high hitting him hard and fast.
Then Natasha caught him in the chest with her heel and he felt two ribs crack, jagged edges stabbing deep inside him.
"Fuck." Steve landed hard on the mats and sucked air through his teeth, but his lungs refused to expand.
"Jesus, Nat. At least give him a week before you start breaking bones." Tony's hand landed on the back of Steve's neck. "You okay?"
Steve panted with short, sharp breaths against the burn in his chest. His ribs were on fire and every inhale made them scream.
"Just relax," Tony said. "It'll pass."
And it did. It took a few more agonizing breaths until Steve could feel the bones start to knit back together. In… out. The next in barely ached. One more and he could breathe clearly. He pushed up on his elbow, and Tony gripped his shoulder, worried eyes fixed on his. "I'm okay," he gasped out. "I'm okay."
Natasha crouched down on his other side and patted him on the back. "Sorry, Steve."
"It's alright. I'm fine." Steve let them each take a hand and haul him back to his feet. He sucked in a full lungful of air and there wasn't even a twinge of pain. Healed. "Wow."
"It gets faster," Bruce said from behind him. "After the first few hits, it gets faster."
Steve wiped one hand over his face and gave Tony's hand a squeeze with his other before releasing it. He turned back to the mats. "Better get the first few hits over with now then."
Tony went back to where he'd been perched on a bench near the sidelines and picked up his tablet again, but whenever Steve glanced his way through the entire rest of the training, his eyes were up and fixed on Steve instead of on his work.
After dinner, a week later, they all piled into the living room with a pack of cards and four huge bowls of popcorn.
"Nothing else on the Immortal Tracker?" Clint asked, tossing a kernel in the air and catching it again.
"Nope." Tony started to deal. "Aces high. But only ones that haven't been in your sleeve." Tony tapped the coffee table they were gathered around. "Looking at you, Romanov."
"Immortal Tracker?" Steve asked.
"It's like, uh, A GPS for finding people like us," Bruce explained. "That's how we found you, out in the middle of the ocean."
"I've been meaning to ask," Rhodey said, frowning at his cards. "What were you doing out there?"
Steve pretended to examine his hand for a moment, trying to decide how to answer. "I put a plane down. In the war. It had a bomb on board."
Everyone around the table went still, eyes snapping up to stare at Steve. "That was very brave of you," Thor eventually said.
Steve shrugged. "I did what I had to. Expected to wake up dead, though. Or rather… not wake up." He shuffled his hand together a few times. "So thank you."
They played a few more hands. "Sorry, I meant to ask - what's GPS?"
Bruce tilted his head. "Pardon?"
"You said the tracker was like GPS. But I don't know what that is."
"Oh, it's a system for tracking things down, finding them. It uses, um, satellites and gamma radiation traces to determine if - uh…" Bruce trailed off, seemingly noticing the perplexed expression Steve had no doubt donned. "It finds people like us. Tells us where in the world they are. We all have the dreams, when a new immortal awakens. That used to be all we had to go on. A sketch, a feeling. It took hundreds of years sometimes, to find each other. But Tony changed all that." He smiled at Tony, whose lips quirked up.
"You've been trying to find me for seventy years?"
Nat nodded slowly. "You were underwater. Frozen. We had a general idea, but… there was just no way to be more specific."
Steve turned to look at Tony.
Tony nodded. "I built it to find you."
"Thank you," Steve said roughly.
Rhodey clapped his hands together. "We gonna play cards or what?"
Everyone laughed, the tension released.
The next time the team left on a mission and didn't take Steve with them, he found himself much more interested in the time he'd get to spend with Tony than whatever they were off doing. As much as he wanted to help, wanted to be a part of the team, Tony was an indulgent draw he couldn't resist.
They had started to tell him a little about what they were doing - a man named Killian, an attempt to use the immortals' blood to make something called Extremis - but like a schoolboy with a crush, part of Steve's attention refused to be anywhere else but focused solely on the beautiful man sitting at the table beside him.
If anyone noticed his feelings, they didn't dissuade him, to his surprise. He honestly expected Clint to sit him down and explain the terrible pain of falling for someone who would grow old when you wouldn't - he'd seen pictures of a woman's lifetime in Clint's room, children grown and gone too - but he didn't say a word. Even Bruce and Rhodey, who were both terribly protective of Tony, would shoot little smiles in Steve's direction.
He hoped that meant the team thought he'd be good for Tony. After all, as horrible as it would be to fall in love with someone you knew you'd outgrow, if he could make Tony's life happier in the meantime, it'd be worth it.
As soon as the team was gone, Steve grabbed a random book off his shelf and trotted down the stairs to Tony's workshop. Tony was elbows deep in shiny, blue holograms, special goggles covering his eyes. Steve threw himself on the couch and watched Tony work, until Tony pointedly looked his way and Steve realized the opaque glasses could be seen through on the other side. He snapped his gaze down to his book, cheeks flushing.
After an hour or so, Tony set his work aside and ordered food. They sat side by side on the couch, eating their way through cheesesteaks and fries.
"I can build you something," Tony said, catching a dribble of melted cheese with his tongue. "An axe or a laser pistol or something."
"Sure." Tony looked him up and down. "Maybe you're more the shield type, actually."
"Yeah. Something you could - uh - throw…" Tony gazed off into the middle distance.
"Throw?" Steve asked, amused, but Tony had completely checked out. Steve watched him unabashedly now, drinking in the beautiful view of Tony in engineering mode. It was a sight to behold.
A soft sound snapped them both out of their hazes: the tinkling of breaking glass. "Tony -?"
Tony was already at his computer. He typed for a moment then blanched. "Shit. Killian." He leaped to his feet and charged across the workshop to start digging through a cabinet.
"He's after the GPS. We didn't think he knew where our base was, but it's gotta be him. Fuck." Tony hauled out an armful of guns and tossed several to Steve who shoved them in his pockets.
"You should stay here. I can -"
"Not to be that bitch, but I outrank you, Steve. You need to listen to me." Tony gripped Steve's bicep hard. "We need to stop Killian's team before they reach the workshop. He knows how immortals work. He's going to come in hard and fast with a big team and try and steamroll us. If he gets the tracker -"
"Tony -" Steve shook his head. "You can't -"
"Help me do this."
Steve swallowed hard. "Okay."
Tony patted Steve shoulder and handed him another gun. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and led the way to the stairs. "Fourteen. They came in through the atrium over the foyer and brute forced their way through R&D to the emergency stairs. Damn those fire codes," Tony grumbled. He pointed at the screen. "They clearly don't know where they're going, so we should cut them off, group by group, working our way down. If we work fast, we might even catch them off guard and take them out before they can alert the others, but at some point, they'll find out."
Steve checked his ammo then nodded at Tony. "Yippie ki yay, motherfucker?"
Tony burst out laughing. "Knew we shouldn't have let you catch up on modern movies."
Steve turned and ran for the stairs, shoulder to shoulder with Tony, and as quietly as they could, they made their way down ten floors to where the first group of three was heading down, clearing each floor as they went.
When they reached the door, Steve shifted in front and pressed his shoulder against it. Tony checked his phone once more, holding up a finger for a moment, before nodding. Steve slammed his shoulder against the door and came through, muzzle first. There was a shout of surprise and Steve found himself looking down a barrel. He fired twice, and two bangs behind him told him Tony had taken out one of the others.
Tony's hand pressed against Steve's back, guiding him towards an open office door, and a heartbeat later, the other two men from that floor came flying through and were quickly dispatched. Steve could hear Tony breathing heavily behind him, and he resisted the urge to spin around and check on him. There were no hitches in his breaths and he hadn't cried out. He was okay. "Two on the twenty-fifth floor, two on the eighteenth, three in the lobby and three went down to the basement. They'd better not be in the mailroom stealing my shit cause I'm waiting on a package from ebay and it's a limited run so -"
"Tony!" Steve hissed, too antsy to laugh. God, he loved how adorably distractible Tony could be, but right now his fear for Tony's safety was overpowering everything else. "Focus."
"Back to the stairs."
The twenty-fifth floor was quiet when they first stepped out. It was a backup research lab, rarely used, but anyone searching for Tony's workshop would consider it a likelihood. Tony pointed to the computer lab at the east end, and Steve nodded. On his own, he'd use the element of surprise to his advantage and charge in, guns blazing. As much as he wasn't looking to get shot, the benefit of being immortal was that guns were a deterrent but not a preventative. And there was nothing on earth that could deter him from protecting Tony, protecting the team.
He pressed his back against the wall and sidled up to the lab's open door. He could hear clicking inside - Kilian's men trying to hack into the Avengers' system. But he was on the wrong side of the door to easily see in so he had no choice, he needed to move. Steve raised his gun, ducked low to change his target area and swung around the doorframe.
The man by the computer banks went down in one shot, and Steve's adrenaline fueled focus told him immediately that the other man was missing from the room. He twisted around in time to see a second figure step out from the electronics closet and raise his weapon at Tony. Steve ducked under Tony's arm and turned his back to the attacker, drawing Tony against his chest and using his own body as a shield. A bullet slammed through Steve's shoulder, but Tony lifted his weapon up under Steve's arm and fired. Then all was silent again.
"Fuck," Tony swore. "I'm too goddamn old for this." He poked at Steve's wound as if anything needed to be done for it. He cut his eyes to the side to give Steve a look. "You know I can take care of myself?"
"I know." Steve wasn't sure why he was squirming. "Instinct. I was in the army."
"Uh huh." Tony looked unconvinced but also a little pleased and it made Steve's stomach flop. When they got through this, he was going to tell him, he was going to throw his cards on the table and confess his feelings. Because immortal or not, he lived a wild, dangerous life now, and if anything happened to him, if he ended up frozen in the ocean for seventy years again, he needed Tony to know.
They ran down to the eighteenth - Steve's shoulder healing in three flights - and Steve blasted through the door to find the whole office block filled with smoke. The ratatatat of gunfire echoed off the two-story ceilings, and Steve counted more than five sources of fire. There had to have been more of Killian's men waiting outside, but they were inside now.
"Shit. They're on to us!" Tony shoved at Steve's back. "Move on! I need to go back to the stairs so they don't pincer us."
"Tony - shit - we shouldn't split up!"
"Go!" Tony shoved again, and Steve charged forward. He caught sight of a muzzle flash and took off for it, hoping Tony was staying back and finding cover instead of putting himself in more danger.
All Steve could do now was dispatch this group as fast as he could, so he braced himself for the pain and threw himself full force into the fray. He felt metal heat up on his arms and legs more than once, but it ebbed as quickly as it flared and he barely paused.
"He's one of them!" someone shouted. "Killian wants him whole!"
"How do you stop him?" another screeched, panic flooding his voice.
The smoke worked in his favour - the men were firing near randomly and he hardly cared if he got hit, but their shouts and muzzle flashes made them easy to find. They hit the ground one at a time until the area was clear.
Steve took off back for the stairwell. He could hear gunfire and then silence. "To-!"
The door burst open, and Steve raised his weapon, but it was Tony, doused in what must have been someone else's blood because he was clearly unharmed. "Well, that was fun."
"Jesus. Tony. How many left?" Steve bent to tug an ammo bag off the nearest body and started rifling through it, matching bullets to weapons and deciding what was worth taking.
"Looks like there's just -" Tony was cut off by a loud bang.
Steve spun around just in time to see Tony's shocked expression as the bullet ripped through his neck. Blood sprayed everywhere, and Tony fell backwards, landing with a dull thud on the hard floor. "Tony!" Steve flung himself across the room towards Tony's crumpled body but he could already see the glassy stare in his eyes. The puddle of blood was too big. Tony's chest wasn't moving.
With a growl, Steve pivoted on his heel and charged at the man with the gun. The man fired again and Steve felt hot lead rip through his gut but he ignored it. He grabbed the barrel of the gun, a burn instantly searing the palm of his hand, and shoved it upwards. A second shot - panic making the man's hand twitch - fired straight up through the ceiling, but Steve ignored it. He drove the man backwards until he hit the wall. He yanked the gun back down, shoving it up under the man's chin and fired.
The body crumpled to the ground, and Steve turned to catch another bullet to his thigh. He felt the pressure, but he didn't feel the pain. Nothing hurt in comparison to the agony writhing in his gut. He'd failed Tony; he'd lost him. He'd failed the team. Tony was dead, just like that.
Steve slammed shoulder-first into the gunman, his broken collarbone knitting back together only to be shattered again by crashing into the man's face. He fell, blood splattering everywhere. Steve healed; the gunman didn't.
With the room empty, Steve turned back and crawled over Tony's broken body, a wretched, choking sob slamming its way up his throat. He cupped Tony's head with one blood-stained hand. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He had to keep fighting, protect Tony's workshop, but he couldn't leave him here, not alone.
Then Tony woke up.
With a great, heaving gasp, Tony shot back among the living, eyes springing open, bright with shock, bright with life. "Fuck."
Steve stared. "What…?" he gasped, voice sandpaper-rough. He grabbed at Tony's shirt, hauling handfuls towards himself until Tony sat up.
"What?" Tony asked. "What happened?"
"You took a bullet to the neck. You died." The wound was gone, still blood-covered, but completely healed.
"Yeah, I was there for that part." Tony's eyes cut to the door. He grabbed Steve's arm and pulled until Steve rocked back and hauled them both to their feet. Steve kept his hold on Tony, as if he'd crumple to the floor again, dead, if Steve let him go. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You were dead," was all Steve could say.
Tony frowned. "I've seen you die like three times."
"I didn't know."
Tony's mouth fell open, and Steve could see realization starting to dawn. "You… didn't know."
"I thought you were human. Regular human."
Tony's lips twisted into a soft, incredulous smile, but before he could speak, the clap of a distant gunshot ricocheted through the room. As one, they twisted towards the sound and powered off towards it. Tony paused at a metal wall panel by the elevators and typed a code into a keypad behind it. A section of the door slid open, revealing a cubby. He tossed Steve a fresh gun then rifled around inside until he came up with a metal glove - like the kind from old sets of armour, only bright red - and pulled it on, then followed Steve to the hallway.
Killian's men had amassed in the atrium for a final strike, and Steve could practically taste the fear-sweat drenching the room. He and Tony paused outside, on either side of the door and their eyes met.
Now that Steve understood he didn't need to protect Tony, he was able to focus solely on the battle. The two of them ripped through Killian's forces. They clearly hadn't been expecting to find anyone left at home, let alone two immortals. The training Steve had received in the gym with the other Avengers combined with a massive surge of powerful adrenaline, and he sailed along, leaning into sheer power and lack of fear when technique failed him.
He took out three of Killian's men before getting knocked back against the wall and shot in the chest. He twisted the gun out of the man's hand and fired back before slumping down, hand around his middle. Steve could feel his body, healing, knitting, but it would take a moment before his breath was back. He looked up and found Tony among the chaos.
It was like watching a dance - not the cheesy can-can the USO girls did, but a beautiful ballet. Tony slid seamlessly from one attacker to the next, spinning from a sharp knee to the groin, to wrap himself around another man from the back and twist him to the ground with a snap of breaking bones.
Tony raised his gloved hand and shook it and a baton shot out from the centre, pointed at the end, and he ran it through the next man. Tony was careful and precise and brutal, and Steve couldn't believe he'd never seen him in action before. It was stunning.
As his area cleared, Steve regained his breath and hauled himself to his feet. He flung himself across the room towards Tony, and towards the final gathering of Killian's men, gunfire peppering the air. "Fountain!" Tony shouted, tossing something at Steve. Steve caught it. It was a metal ball with a blinking light on the side. Following Tony's instructions, he tossed it in the fountain as he ran by, and the whole thing lit up, crackling with energy like lighting, arcing across the surface. The two men who had been charging across it, soaked to their knees, seized up, frozen in place, then crumpled to the ground.
As one, he and Tony turned to fight, shoulder to shoulder.
No one stood a chance against the two of them. They both went down. They both got up again. Killian's men didn't.
By the time it was all over, the tower was bathed in blood, and so were Steve and Tony. They radioed back to the jet and worked their way back up the stairs to the landing pad, checking each floor for any stragglers and locking it down with JARVIS.
By the time they reached the hangar bay, the quinjet had landed and the team was filing out. "What happened?" Rhodey shouted, grabbing Tony around the neck and pulling him in for a hug.
Natasha was scowling, taking in the ruined building. "Killian lured us away so he could send his strike team here."
"They were trying to steal the Tracker," Tony explained.
"Fuck." Clint pushed his hair back from his face with a sigh. "We should have seen that."
Tony shot Steve a look. "We handled it."
"Well, we handled Killian," Rhodey said, and Steve and Tony both turned wide eyes on him.
Bruce nodded. "He wasn't expecting us to come in as hard as we did. Tony, the repulsor cannon worked exactly like you thought. It was perfect. We took care of him. This was his last hurrah. There's nothing left. We got him."
There was a collective sigh of relief, followed by one of exhaustion. As a group, they each cleaned up then went to the kitchen and started to pull together sandwiches, crackers, cheese and beer. When the meal was over, they curled up in comfy chairs and stretched out on couches, a prevailing sense of family filling the room.
Steve couldn't stop staring at Tony. When Tony looked his way, he cut his eyes away but it was too late. "Steve thought I was a squishy," Tony finally announced, and the whole team turned to stare at Steve.
"What?" Clint asked, half laugh, half question.
"What!" Steve tossed his hands in the air. "He never fights with the rest of the team. Not even in training. He builds… technology! That's such a… future thing…" He turned to Tony. "You never told me."
Tony was smiling now, and Rhodey was outright laughing. "I didn't think I had to tell you. I'm the oldest one on the team, Steve."
"The oldest? But someone said something about you being in your thirties."
Rhodey patted Steve on the shoulder. "Stark is in his thirties. That's just one of Tony's identities. He makes new ones all the time. Some ages are more convincing than others."
"Making a new identity is both easier and extremely harder in the digital age," Tony opined, grandly. "You used to be able to just, like, walk to a new town and be like, 'I'm Frank Haverly, the blacksmith,' and they'd be like, 'Cool. Hi, Frank.' Now I have to do shit with servers and databases and birth certificates."
"You love that shit, though," Rhodey shot back.
"I mean I never said it wasn't fun." He grinned, and Steve's heart flip-flopped.
Natasha sat on Steve's other side. "Tony fought for a long time. He prefers to build, to create. He always has. Now that he has a team, he gets to do the tech instead, protect our home base. Besides, he has an identity he likes right now, and he doesn't want to blow it."
Tony nodded. He perched on the arm of the couch, his feet pressing against Steve's thigh. He squeezed the back of his neck. "You were pretty worried for a minute there, champ."
There was no point in pretending his heart hadn't broken in that moment. "I was," Steve said seriously.
Tony looked up, glancing around the room pointedly, and everyone else evaporated, leaving Steve and Tony alone.
"Um," Steve said, meaning to follow it up with words, but not able to come up with any.
Tony brushed his knuckle down Steve's cheek. "You really didn't know."
Steve shook his head.
"But I dreamed about you."
"I dreamed about you too," Steve whispered. "I didn't know it was you. It was all a mess in my head, down there in the ice."
"It was me. I was waiting for you."
Steve couldn't breathe. "Tony…"
"I've wanted to kiss you since the day those lovely idiots dug you out of the ice and brought you home. At one point, Nat asked me if you should be off the bench yet, and all I could think about was how shitty it'd be to watch you leave with them instead of staying here, all for me. I wanted to keep you, selfishly. But if there's any chance that when you came home, you'd be mine, all mine, I could let you go more easily. I could -"
Steve surged up off the couch and hauled Tony into his arms, pressing their lips together. Tony gasped into the kiss, breaking into warm, soft laughter, as he ran his lips along the seam between them. He clutched Tony's head between his hands and let him take his weight, focusing on twisting and guiding the angle of Steve's head just right to set off fireworks.
Tony pulled back, opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head and dived in again. It was minutes, hours maybe, before they parted, Steve's lips tingling. "Forever's a long time," Tony mused. "I have first hand experience of that."
Steve nodded. "It is."
Tony bumped the tip of his nose against Steve's. "I think I could love you forever."
"Okay," Steve breathed. "Let's start right now."
"Yeah." Tony was laughing now. "Yeah, let's."