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Conversations in the Void

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two thoughts, equally as terrifying:
what if I see you again?
what if I don't?

Untitled, Margaret Schnabel

*

"The Avengers broke up? Like a band? Like the Beatles?"

Bruce's face would be hilarious if the whole situation weren't so damn ... not. Tony remembers Germany, Siberia, remembers the impact of Steve's shield shuddering through his armour as the light of the ARC reactor sputtered. The shame, the guilt, the rage come back at once, making his next words sound choked and forced.

"We're not on speaking terms," he admits, turning away because he can't stand looking at his old friend's confused expression.

It's the truth.

It's also a lie.

To be honest, Tony really doesn't know what it is.

***

He keeps the flip phone in a drawer in his workshop for the first couple of days. Out of sight but subconsciously close, like the memories of their fight, floating in his mind when he's getting distracted, when he's not actively trying to focus on his work. Rhodey's new prosthetics are making great progress and it's one of the few things Tony feels he can- well, maybe not fix, but make better, rebuilding some of the mess he's made.

He tries not to think, not to remember, tries to ignore the aches and pains in his body because he has no reason to complain. He could have gotten out of this so much worse for the wear - or not at all.

(Could Steve have done that? Kill Tony? Or let Barnes kill Tony in his stead? Tony likes to think not, likes to think that Steve was and will always be the better man. Better than Tony. Still, the idea alone leaves a chill in his bones he can't quite shake off.)

Five days pass until he takes the phone out again, flipping it open and staring at the one name saved in the contact list:

>> Steve Rogers <<

He stares until his eyes water, feeling furious and stupid and righteous and guilty all at once. Cap was always good at that, was the only one who could ever make him feel like that: small.

I promise you, if you need us, if you need me, I'll be there.

Tony huffs and flips the phone shut, tossing it onto the workbench.

He doesn't touch it again for another five days.

But it doesn't go back in the drawer, either.

*

Time goes by, faster than he'd like to admit.

Rhodey's prosthetic takes up most of his attention in the beginning, as does damage control and keeping together the meager rest of the Avengers. He tries to keep tabs on the missing members as best as he can, but they've got Natasha with them - they're not going to be found unless they want to.

There's always the phone, of course, untouched but not unforgotten on his workbench, but that's- not an option. He throws it a glance every now and then and curses under his breath when he recharges the battery with a positively medieval charger.

Damn Rogers. He probably had a good laugh when he bought that clunky piece of junk for Tony. Just having it in the same room with his bleeding edge tech feels like an insult.

After a while Tony decides it's easier to just keep it in his pocket instead. At least that way, he doesn't have to look at it.

*

He develops a quirk of a sort. As quirks go, he's had worse (just ask Pepper), but it's a silly one nonetheless: checking the inner pocket of his suit every now and then, taking the phone out to check if there's still enough battery left, flipping it open just to see if it still works. He doesn't need to look at the one saved number - he knows it by heart by now.

Rhodey catches him doing it once, then twice and throws him such a meaningful look that Tony starts fumbling with the phone and nearly drops it into his coffee.

"What," he says, distracted, and Rhodey's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline.

"Oh, nevermind me, Tones," he says in that way that means the exact opposite. When Tony sputters, he adds, "you ever intend on using that thing?"

No, Tony wants to say, not unless I have to, not unless there's no other choice. Because that's the correct answer, that's the only answer, right?

But Rhodey just sighs and pats his shoulder, not waiting for any answer at all.

*

Tony is not one for being self-indulgent concerning alcohol. Not anymore, not for a long time now. But he feels he's deserved to open that bottle of Scotch tonight. That spider-kid almost got himself killed - again - had Tony not generously intervened, and Vision keeps sneaking off grounds lately, thinking Tony won't notice or doesn't know where he's going. He really has to babysit everyone these days.

He works himself up to a buzz or mabye a bit more than that, that state between numbness and too much emotion when his heart clenches tight and his tongue feels loose. Being like this means being reckless and he usually calls Pepper or bounces ideas off Bruce or JARVIS to keep his emotions in check. Neither option is available to him anymore and while he likes FRIDAY, it never quite feels the same with her.

It's his fifth glass of Scotch when his hand slips into his pocket and touches the warmed form of the flip phone. A pang of ... something hits him. Anger, as usual. Curiosity, maybe, at how the others are doing and where they might be. Mostly longing, though.

He takes it out and flips it open, staring at the sole contact like he did many times before. Only this time, he presses the dial button.

It rings five times, six, seven, eight until Tony's fleeting moment of courage (insanity, more like) is about to run out, until he's ready to flip the phone shut again and-

"... hello?"

The voice is rough, frayed around the edges, whether by sleep or guarded apprehension, Tony can't tell. But it's Steve; Tony would know that voice everywhere. He tries to picture him: alone in a shoddy hotel room (or maybe sharing with Sam - Barnes? Tony can't bear to think about that), hunched over in the semi-dark, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes somewhere in Europe or South America or Canada.

"Stark?" he says, and then, more quietly, "... Tony?"

Tony's breath hitches and for a second there's a whole litany of things he wants to say, things he's been dying to say for months.

My dad. My mum. He killed them. Why did you choose him over me? (Why did I ever think you'd choose differently. I was never that much to you, was I.) No one has ever hurt me that much and I hold a record on being betrayed by people I trust. Why. I miss you. Why.

Tony swallows, closes his eyes, opens them again and with that, all of the words are gone. He feels dry, empty, and maybe it's for the better. There's nothing he could say to express how he feels.

He expects Steve to hang up any moment, but he doesn't. He doesn't speak, either, and the minutes tick by in silence. It's deafening, the crackling sound of the line and Steve's breathing the only proof the connection's still up.

There's a train rattling by in the background, drowning out the sound of Steve taking a sharp breath like he's about to say something. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Tony wonders if he could find Steve just from that: trace the call to at least a country, an area, and then go through any suitable hotels or hideouts near the train tracks. He could do it. That is, if Steve and the others won't be gone by morning.

It's that thought, more than anything, that tears Tony out of his trance and makes him flip the phone shut. He throws it aside, catching his breath like he's just run a marathon, and only calms down once he's downed another glass of that Scotch.

What the fuck, Tony, he thinks, what the fuck.

*

The phone burns a hole through the fabric of his pants, his suit, wherever he puts it for the next couple of weeks. He's acutely aware of its weight and form, warm to the touch whenever his fingers absently reach for it. Like it's waiting to be used.

But he won't. Steve isn't the only one that can be stubborn as a mule. Steve isn't the only one with pride.

Tony always loved that about him, even as the Sokovia Accords were about to happen, even as he knew it would tear them all apart. He loved that Steve would stand up for his beliefs, even as Tony wanted to shake and scream at him.

He still loves that.

It's just that he can't get past the part with the shaking and screaming.

*

Three weeks pass before Tony gives in and pushes the dial button again. He's not drunk, not this time, so there's really no excuse for this but his own pathetic weakness. So much for pride.

"Tony?" Steve sounds hushed but awake this time and the clicking sound of a door tells Tony that he must have left the room to talk in private. "Tony, is everything alright?"

To be honest, I don't know.

"Do you need our help?"

Of course. Steve must be wondering, must assume that it's something serious this time and not Tony misusing a secure line twice in a row. He grits his teeth even as his mind races, desperate to come up with any other reason than "I miss your voice".

Steve is silent for a moment before he huffs out a breath. "Is this about Vision? Because Wanda is missing, too. Again."

There's creaking, like Steve is pacing an old, wooden floor. "Give them some time, Tony. They're young," he says, wistful as if he's not young himself, as if he's actually lived those hundred years and not spent them on ice. "They're ... in love."

They're being idiots, Tony thinks, oddly annoyed, and he has to swallow a dozen sarcastic comments about how he feels like he's in the middle of a fucking Shakespeare play. If Wanda and Vision go on about it like this, it might just end like one, too.

Steve sighs, his voice tired. "I'll talk to Wanda, you talk to Vision. We'll figure something out."

Tony doesn't answer, doesn't know what to say that doesn't sound desperate to keep Steve talking.

"Tony." The pacing has stopped and it's scary how loud Steve's voice sounds in his ear. "About Siberia ..."

Tony's heart rate speeds up.

What about Siberia? he wants to ask. You wanna talk about how you and your buddy broke two of my ribs? You wanna talk about how I dragged myself home in a barely functional armor? You wanna talk about the nightmares I had? You wanna talk about how, after all of this, I still can't stop thinking about you?

He swallows hard and flips the phone shut before any of that can slip out of his mouth.

So much for pride.

*

Tony has A Talk with Vision about responsibility and not disappearing off the radar for days on end, and feels like a silly parent while doing it.

Vision does seem rueful but not exactly surprised when Tony addresses the issue. He's painfully polite and reasonable about the whole thing, and they agree that Vision will inform him whenever he's off to one of his unofficial dates and keep his transponder on at all times.

"Captain Rogers and the others will stay close and make sure Wanda returns safely," Vision provides with a nod.

Ah. So Steve already had his Talk. It occurs to Tony that maybe they worked out that plan long before he even made his call. He feels miffed in a way, not only like a silly parent but a left-out one as well.

"Alright," he says, smiling and patting Vision's arm awkwardly. For a second he considers offering some ... tips but then thinks better of it. Vision has the entirety of the world's internet at his feet, surely he'll get the knack of it all on his own without Tony's questionable sex advice.

"Just be safe," he offers instead, hoping that'll be enough.

"We always are," Vision says gravely.

And isn't that the whole fucking tragedy? That he and Wanda can't be together without watching their backs, can't be stupid kids in love, can't simply be without the baggage that Tony, Steve and the rest of the world dropped on them.

"Right," Tony says lamely, watching Vision phase through the opposite wall of the workshop, and slumps into his chair.

He feels tired, tired to the bone, and all he wants to do is call Steve.

*

Spoiler alert: he does.

Later that week, just to check if their little arrangement with Wanda and Vision is going to be working. At least that's what he tells himself, what he'll tell Steve should he ask.

"Tony. Hey."

Steve sounds soft, like he always did in the morning hours or right before going to sleep. For a moment it's so painfully familiar Tony feels dizzy.

He remembers that one time he caught Steve after one of his morning runs: searching the kitchen for fresh juice, his blond hair a tangled mess, his sweaty shirt clinging to his chest in all the right places. When Tony came in there was this smile on his lips, small and surprised, and Tony almost forgot how to breathe.

It all comes back to Tony in an instant (that one moment, peaceful, precious, beautiful) and all the clever replies he had ready are gone. "Uh," he blurts intelligently.

"Thanks for talking to Vision. Wanda wasn't exactly happy about the arrangement but she came around. It's better they meet with everyone in the know than behind our backs. There's too much at stake here."

There's a pause, deliberate probably, a space for Tony to put his own thoughts and words into.

He doesn't, choosing instead to listen to Steve's breathing and a distant jumble of voices: people talking, calling and laughing to each other. Maybe a market. Tony can catch phrases in Spanish or Portuguese, he's not sure, and he has to stop his brain from analysing it too closely. (No, no, you don't want to know, you can't know, stop.)

"I'm glad we could work this one out," Steve says after a while, his voice flat and vaguely disappointed.

He doesn't add "at least this one" or "what about all the other things", but it's hanging right there in the silence between them. Tony flips the phone shut and throws it aside. He closes his eyes, his mouth a thin line of frustration.

Funny, how talking bullshit was always the one thing he excelled at and now he's run out of words to say.

*

He has no excuse, literally none at all, the next time he calls Steve.

"Hey Tony."

Hey Steve, he imagines himself saying, his lips twitching and moving along with his thoughts.

Birds are chirping noisily in the background and he likes to think that Steve and the team are keeping clear of the cities for a while, staying on a farm or in the mountains. That'd be nice. They deserve a little downtime.

It's only when Steve clears his throat pointedly that Tony realises five minutes have passed without him saying anything at all. Again.

Steve sighs, a soft little noise that sounds wistful, indulgent and amused at the same time. „You're not making this easy, Shellhead.“

And oh, Tony has a ton of replies to that ready on the tip of his tongue (and what's with the nickname?), but Steve doesn't even give him time to get worked up. He chuckles, and it's the saddest sound Tony has ever heard him make.

„But I guess neither did I.“

Tony bites his lip, fighting down the memory of Steve's shield cracking through his armor's chest, the sense of utter fear and betrayal. No. No, you didn't, Cap.

Neither of them knows what to say next, maybe because there's nothing left to say. They're at an impasse, stuck in the middle between regret and forgiveness and neither knows how to let go or move forward. So they say nothing at all for another two minutes, five, ten, until Tony can't stand it any longer and breaks the connection.

*

He keeps doing it: reaching for the flip phone late at night or in the early morning hours, not even looking but blindly fumbling his way to its only contact and pressing dial.

It's not talking, not technically. Tony doesn't know what it is they're doing and he can't allow himself to stop and think about it. It's not even a regular thing - or at least he tries to keep it from being one - but Steve never seems surprised when he picks up.

"Hey Tony," he'll say, and if Tony's being particularly sappy in that moment, he'll imagine a small smile on Steve's lips. Sometimes, Steve will add "how are you, Shellhead?", soft and careful as if talking to a shy animal, even though he knows he won't get an answer.

It's not that Tony doesn't want to, but his voice keeps failing him the moment he has Steve on the line. There's a lump in his throat, has been there ever since Siberia, and he doesn't know how to get rid of it.

Eventually, Steve starts talking. He is careful not to give anything away about their current whereabouts or plans, but he makes sure to let Tony in on the tiny, unnecessary details, casual stuff that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Tony usually starts tinkering with his tech in the meantime, just to keep his hands busy. But the receiver will always be pressed close to his ear until his skin prickles hotly.

"Sam found a rat in his room and screamed like an old lady."

"Natasha helped a little girl find her cat again."

"Wanda made us a Sokovian dish tonight."

"There's this song I like listening to lately. I think you'd like it, too."

Barnes is never mentioned and he doesn't know if it's out of tact or because there's nothing to tell, because they left Barnes behind somewhere, someplace safe. He doesn't care either way. If Barnes is out of harm's way, at least that's one less target off Steve's back.

When Steve seems particularly tired or has run out of words, they will just sit in silence, listening to each other's breathing. It's strangely peaceful and agonizing at the same time and Tony vaguely wonders if this is the most comfortable they'll be around each other ever again. (Sometimes he wonders if that's a good or a bad thing.)

No matter what is or isn't said, no matter how much time they spend on the phone, it always ends like this: Steve's voice cutting through the void with a sigh and a muted "I gotta go" and Tony humming non-committally, trying to ignore the wave of disappointment whenever the connection dies.

Their conversations are fruitless at best, non-existent at worst and he always feels like shit afterwards. Sometimes the ache in his chest gets so bad it feels like the ARC reactor's back, clamping down until he can barely breathe.

It's pointless, is what it is, but that never stops Tony from doing it again.

*

He calls Steve on a Tuesday night, when something turns out to be ... different.

"... Tony?" Steve sounds strangely out of breath, like he's been running or still is, but there's an edge to it Tony can't quite pinpoint.

"... sorry, this isn't, ah, the best time."

Tony's hand twitches, ready to flip the phone shut because he's not about to distract Captain America in the middle of an emergency. But Steve only breathes out a somewhat desperate laugh.

"Wait. Please don't hang up. It's not- I ... huh." There's rustling - bedsheets, Tony's mind provides immediately - and creaking - a mattress? - and ... oh. Oh.

Tony freezes, swallowing hard.

Is Steve with someone right now? he wonders weakly, not sure if he wants to know the answer. Don't be stupid, they've been on the run for almost two years. Of course there would be someone. Barnes. Agent Carter, maybe. Anyone but him.

Steve lets out a long shaky breath. "... I'm on my own."

Well, that's ... fuck.

"Oh," Tony chokes out and it sounds more like a moan than he's comfortable to admit. He should apologize, he should hang up like he's usually so quick to do, but he can't. His fingers are clenched around the phone as if his life depends on it and he doesn't hang up.

Neither does Steve. He just keeps breathing unevenly, unnervingly quiet, and for a moment Tony wonders if that's what it's like to bear his own silences, to be on the receiving end of so much uncertainty. But there's also an invitation in that silence, a dare.

"Should I go on?" Steve rasps, his voice low and hesitant, and it hits Tony that Steve is scared. Despite all the bravery, despite being the better man, always, despite everything, Captain fucking America is scared of Tony's rejection.

His brain doesn't know what to do with that information, but his body seems to get on fine on its own: want coils low and hot in his stomach and he lets himself slump down in one of the chairs, legs falling apart slightly.

He hums, affirmative and light-headed. Go on. God, please go on.

It's another moment before he can hear rustling sheets again, the sound of something snapping open (a bottle of lube maybe?), and then the line goes silent for a while, until-

"Tony."

It doesn't even sound like his name, more like a low gasp that happens to sound similar, but it's so desperate, so needy that Tony's mind shorts out for a second.

He can picture it in his head perfectly: Steve, hand on his own cock, propped up on a bed somewhere, a light sheen of sweat on his chest and that gorgeous flush on his face, the one he gets when he's excited or worked up about something. Tony always wondered what it would be like to see that in a different context, to be the one to get Steve to look like that.

There's another moan, a sigh, and it's like the spell is broken. His hand flies to his own pants to pull them down (sweats, thank fuck, so there's no long fumbling around), palming his own erection. He's so hard it's ridiculous and almost painful, precome already leaking from the tip.

He takes himself into his hand, trying to align his strokes with the sounds at the other end of the line. It's a little dry, even with the precome, but he doesn't mind. He feels like he could get off just by Steve's sounds alone: a constant stream of sighs and breathy little moans, like he's desperately trying to keep from being too loud. The others must still be close by.

Kinky little shit, Tony would tease. If Steve were here. If they talked.

"To be honest, I was hoping you'd call me," Steve says, half gasping, half laughing, "I really wanted you to ... I've always wanted you."

And that's. That's. No. Tony can't deal with this and everything it implies (all the missed opportunities, all those times he thought he'd never be good enough for Steve). Not now, when all he can focus on is the creaking sound of the bed, like Steve's hips bucked upwards just once. Not when he feels like this: dizzy with want and desperation, like he's burning up from the inside.

He groans, pressing the phone to his ear as he strokes himself harder, faster. It's just this side of too rough, but it's good, so good. He could come like this, but he's trying to hold out a little longer. Steve seems to be close, too, going by the little gasps in Tony's ear. He must look gorgeous right now.

"Tony," he moans, his voice cracking, and then more urgently: "Tony. Fuck."

It's really all they both need. Tony groans just as he can hear Steve do the same, and then he's coming, hard, shuddering through his release. Steve's voice is an obscene, drawn-out moan that runs through Tony's entire body, lasting even longer than his orgasm. There is nothing quiet or choked off about it and Tony realizes with a certain kind of glee that the others probably must have heard that.

There's nothing but their unsteady breathing now and he leans back in his seat, boneless. For a silly second, Tony thinks he can hear Steve's racing heartbeat through the phone, running wild just like his own.

"... I miss you, Tony."

I miss you, too, he thinks somewhere in the haze. I feel like I'm drifting. You were my rudder and I'm no goddamn use without you.

He wipes his hand on his sweatpants, feeling hollow and stupid all of a sudden. What exactly are they doing? Sneaking around, stealing time like star-crossed lovers, like Wanda and Vision? Except they're not star-crossed, they're not lovers, they're really nothing at all.

"Was it all worth it?" he says, surprised by the sound of his own hoarse voice. After all the time spent in silence it feels weird and exhilarating to talk to Steve again. "The accords. Tearing us all apart by sheer force of will. Lying to me. Siberia ... Tell me, Cap. Was it worth it?"

Steve's breath hitches and it sounds so lost that Tony presses the heel of his hand to his eyes. He shouldn't have asked that. He should never-

There's banging, so loud and close that Tony has to look up. But it's not in his workshop. It's on the other end of the line, with Steve. A muffled voice, male and urgent, probably Sam. There's cursing, scuffling, more banging.

"Shit. Tony, I have to-"

"It's alright," Tony says. He didn't want to know the answer anyway.

"Next time," Steve whispers hurriedly, even as he starts moving about. "Promise."

"Just go. Be safe."

It's the last time Tony gets to hear his voice before everything goes to hell.

***

"What does it matter now?" Bruce asks, incredulous and still so very much out of the loop. "Call him."

He's right, of course. Sentimentality and bruised egos shouldn't matter in the face of the end of the world.

It's why Tony wanted Steve so desperately to sign the Accords - so they could be prepared, fight whatever would come next with full resources and, more importantly, as a team. Together. Just like Steve always, always wanted. But then - well.

Tony sighs and takes out the phone, staring at it like he hasn't used it more than a dozen times over the past months.

Was it worth it? He never did get an answer for that one.

When the ground of New York starts to rumble under his feet he's beginning to realise that he may never will.

*

They lose.

They lose everything and they're not even together, torn apart and separated by galaxies.

The end is quiet, hauntingly so: he sees everyone around him turn to dust, people he's barely known, but there is something about trying to stave off the Apocalypse that bonds together. It really doesn't make it any easier.

He feels cold to the core and not only because he's probably bleeding to death on the inside.

"Mr. Stark, I don't feel so good."

Fuck. No. Not him. Not the kid.

But the universe doesn't give a shit about what he wants. The universe wants the kid. He holds Peter's trembling body in his arms, sees the fear in his eyes until he starts to crumble away like the others.

"I'm sorry," Peter says, as if this wasn't Tony's fault. As if Tony hasn't egged him on, bought him the newest tech, pushed him further into the superhero business. If it weren't for Tony, Peter Parker wouldn't even be on this rotten planet right now. He fades away with the barest whimper and then there's nothing left at all, as if he never even existed.

The blue woman - Nebula - comes up to Tony after a while, her black eyes focused on nothing.

"We should go," she says, matter-of-fact, unceremoniously helping him back to his feet and taking him to a ship that he only later realises must be Star-Lord's - or was. Might as well. The ship is probably the only one functioning on this planet and it's not like the Guardians will have need of it anymore.

"Where are we going?" he asks Nebula after she's taken the captain's seat and for a split second she seems caught off-guard, unable to answer.

"Does it matter?" she says, hands clenching around the steering wheel, the joints in her fingers whirring faintly. "Gamora is- Thanos won. There's nothing left to do, no matter where we go. "

He doesn't have it in him to argue, not only because he feels defeated, broken beyond repair. He's losing his strength with every passing moment. The wound in his stomach may be sealed, but that doesn't mean it's taken care off.

"I just- I'd like to go home."

Nebula shrugs, starting the enginges. "Earth, then."

Tony drifts in and out of consciousness, trying to fend off images of people turning to ashes, of Peter clinging to him, his panicked "I don't wanna go" still ringing in Tony's ear. He's not sure if he'll ever be able to forget.

Somewhere in the haze of his mind it occurs to him that when - if - he comes back home, all he might find is more dust, more ashes, more of a whole lot of nothing. Everyone he ever knew might be gone. Everyone he ever loved and worked with. Pepper, Rhodey, everyone.

Even Steve.

*

Later, after Nebula crashes their ship somewhere in the outskirts of Wakanda, after she drags Tony through a wasteland of war and destruction (cursing with every step because he's half-delirious and more or less dead weight by now), after a swarm of Wakandan warriors and medics surrounds them, ushering them into one of the buildings, after he's been barely patched-up and doesn't feel like he's tiptoeing on the brink of death anymore.

After all of this and more, someone bursts into the treatment room, snapping at doctors and nurses to get out of the way or else. The voice is hoarse and rough as if from too much screaming (or crying). But there's something achingly familiar about it when it speaks to him, something that sounds like home.

"You're alive."

Tony still feels dizzy, out of sorts, and he has to blink twice to recognize the man standing in front of him. "Steve," he breathes, unbelieving, and the hard set around Steve's jaw melts away, his eyes turning soft, helpless.

He looks rugged, no longer America's Golden Boy whom Tony so grudgingly learned to respect, then admire, then so much more. It's not just the torn uniform or the tousled hair or the scruffy beard; he seems ... older, as if grief and pain have worn him out beyond his years.

Tony staggers forward. He barely makes two steps before Steve rushes forward, meeting him halfway, pulling him close. The embrace is warm and crushing and almost-painful, especially in those places that still feel tender from his injury, but Tony doesn't mind. He buries his nose in the crook of Steve's neck, smelling blood and sweat and dust and defeat.

"'No'," Steve whispers into his ear, like it's just the two of them again, connected by two shitty flip phones in the middle of the night. "The answer to your last question is 'no'."

Tony chokes out a noise that's somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "Shut up, Rogers," he says, because fuck that, fuck all of it and everything that's happened. What does it matter now? The world has ended. He doesn't want to walk in its ruins without Steve.

"Just ... let's never do that again," he says and feels weak laughter rumble through Steve's chest. But what he really means is I thought I lost you and never leave again and sorry.

"No, let's not," Steve mutters gently. He cups his hand around Tony's jaw, his thumb brushing lightly over Tony's cheek. His smile is dimmed and mirthless, but there's that familiar curl at the left corner of his mouth, the one that seems to be reserved just for Tony.

Tony didn't think he'd ever get to see that again, didn't think it ever meant more than exasparation and mild fondness. He needs to ask Steve about that, has questions, so many questions and things to say, and he's not going to be stopped by anything this time. Not by himself. And certainly not by Thanos or the end of the world.

"Come on," he says, pressing his forehead against Steve's, eyes wide and heart open. "We have a lot to talk about."