Steve gets handed video footage of the Avengers fighting Kang the Conquerer while he flies back from France. He’s exhausted from a fifteen-hour stake-out at an airbase, tracking guys in black flack jackets and balaclavas, and here’s the Avengers duking it out with a guy who wears thigh-high purple boots. It’s hard to watch all the flipping around in colored suits when he’s got a gun strapped to his hip on his way back from yet another black op, but it’s part of the job.
Black Widow isn’t spending her flight on the job. Nat’s reading Glamour, in French. She laughs, points at a glossy photograph, and leans over to translate for Sharon.
From a glance at the title, Steve gleans it’s a series of ten tips to tell the difference between a soulmark and a tattoo. There’s something funny hidden in there, apparently.
It’s one of the stock articles that magazines like to write, along with Do you have one of the top ten common soulmarks? and What to do if your soulmark doesn’t match his?
Most people have one of about twenty most frequent soulmark variants. Of those with more uncommon marks, the vast majority aren’t any rarer than one in a thousand. Unique soulmark pairs are the stuff of cheesy rom-coms and melodramatic treatises on the nature of isolation and free will.
Steve has one of the unique ones -- they crop up a lot in the superhero circles, for reasons Steve can’t explain -- and he mostly tries to keep himself from dwelling on it.
Dwelling on it exactly the way he’s dwelling right now. Steve sighs and rewinds the recording thirty seconds and tries to pay attention.
Kang’s standing on top of a bus in the center of a wrecked intersection. He’s holding a dark-haired, gangly teenager, clearly using the kid as a bargaining chip. At this point, Kang is clearly losing the fight and is looking for an escape route.
Steve winces as Kang hurls his human shield in the direction of the camera and bolts. The poor teen bounces on the pavement, bangs his head, then skids to a rest close enough to make out his face in the video.
Steve almost drops the tablet. The kid is Tony. He’s at least fifteen years younger, mustache barely grown in, and bleeding from his forehead, but -- still Tony.
There’s no reason for Steve to take the stairs. The elevator is in perfect working order.
He takes them anyway. Nat gives him a look as he opens the door to the fire exit. Steve scowls back. Tony is probably upstairs, cross-examining his younger self. Possibly flirting with his younger self, which is disgusting.
Tony from the past. A Tony who hasn’t done anything soulless yet, who’s just a scared kid with a head wound and a shit father and more smarts than is good for him. Steve’s so tired his chest aches with it. God, two Tonys. A clean slate to compare to Tony’s tarnished one.
Steve has to protect the younger Tony from what he’ll become in the future. Spare him the pain of knowing himself clearly. It hurts Steve enough, seeing what Tony’s become. He’s been forced to draw away, put up a wall between them to keep things...safe.
Sometimes Steve thinks about going to a tattoo parlor himself and having them ink a black rectangle over his soulmark. So he doesn’t have to look at it and wonder if it means something about him and Tony.
The common marks are a mix of geometric shapes and representative pictures. A clenched fist in a circle, a bull’s head surrounded by starbursts, an insect preserved in a pyramid, that kind of stuff. Steve’s soulmark is a melding of his shield and circuitry that looks like -- it looks like -- Steve doesn’t like to think about it. Obsessing over the meaning of your soulmark is like believing in horoscopes. Impractical and romantic. Steve had been awfully surprised when he got the round shield and it matched exactly what was on his chest, but it didn’t mean anything.
People with unique soulmarks tend to have a hard time dating. Steve’s come to terms with it; the modern age had actually helped a lot with that, as people started to take soulmarks as more of a suggestion than a rule. There are dating apps for people with rare marks. Steve gets by.
The thirty-eighth floor comes much too quickly for comfort, but Steve refuses to be afraid of time travel crap anymore.
It occurs to him that he could avoid this meeting entirely.
Kid Tony is sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter, ice pack held to his bandaged head. Spidey’s sitting with him, mask pulled up to his nose so he can eat a peanut butter sandwich. He waves the sandwich at Tony while he talks for emphasis. To Steve’s surprise, present Tony is absent.
“So, Baby Stark, I have one piece of advice for you: do not watch the Star Wars prequels.”
“I’m twenty,” says the child version of Tony. “I appreciate the Spice Girls reference, but I consider myself more of a Posh Spice, honestly.”
“Actually, it’s two pieces of advice: don’t watch the Matrix sequels either.”
“Noted, Spider Guy. Am I supposed to know which movies are bad in the future, or will that disrupt the time stream?”
Steve steps fully into the kitchen and crosses his arms over his chest. “No, he is not supposed to know,” he tells Peter.
Peter shrugs and takes a massive bite of sandwich. “Mmph, w’ever, ‘s in service of the greater good.”
Tony looks up at Steve and his face transforms. He goes from being vaguely interested in Spidey’s sandwich, pupils lopsided and face tense from pain, to focused intensely on Steve. His mouth tugs into a smile, fledgeling mustache crooking upward at the corners. “Hi,” he says, voice soft and wondering.
Peter’s masked gaze flicks between the two of them. “Uh, yeah. I got Spidey tingles, somebody’s about to spraypaint a naughty word on the Empire State Building, yikes, can’t let that go down unchecked, huh? Make sure Totinos here doesn’t pass out or do anything mentally strenuous. Duty calls!”
With a hasty salute at Steve, Peter grabs his sandwich, vaults over the countertop, and makes himself scarce.
“I’m Tony,” says the kid, sticking out the hand that’s not holding an ice pack to his head for Steve to shake. His fingers are barely calloused or scarred. It’s like touching dough that hasn’t finished leavening, not even ready for the oven.
“I know,” Steve says. Tony’s still staring at him, the light in his face starting to waver. “I’m Steve Rogers,” he adds, since this Tony wouldn’t -- he doesn’t know.
“Nice to meet you, Steve,” Tony says. “I take it you’re another one of future-me’s friends.”
Steve tries not to wince.
“Tony and I -- you and I -- have worked together for a long time.” That’s true, at least. And a lot less complicated than friends.
“Oh,” Tony says, dimming farther. He takes the ice pack away from his head and uses both hands to fix the towel that’s wrapped around it.
The fall past-Tony took during the Kang battle was pretty nasty. Steve feels like a dick for not asking about his head straight away. Thinking about Tony somehow brings out the worst in him. It’s not the kid’s fault.
“Concussed?” Steve asks.
“Yeah,” Tony says. “Also I lost about four square inches of forehead-skin, so that’s gross. I’m not allowed to take a screwdriver to anything interesting, and I have to have somebody watching me for the next forty-eight hours. I guess you’re stuck with me until somebody else comes along.”
Steve wants a shower, a protein bar, and a heavy bag to punch until the coiled, useless energy leftover from fifteen hours of stillness and dread vacates the spot between his shoulder blades. He wants to sit on his bed and hug his knees until his body forgets the kick of a rifle. The silence between himself and Tony’s unfinished self sits between them, heavy and cold.
“Want to take me on a field trip to an electronics store?” Tony asks, transparently making an effort to rally.
Steve sighs. “No.”
“You’re a real ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” Tony says, which should be infuriating but instead Steve just feels sad. Tony doesn’t even sound like he’s teasing; it sounds like he knows something is wrong.
Damn Tony and his damn empathy. He makes you think he cares, he notices your hurts and your flaws and he looks at you like nothing could make him think less of you. Then the second he has a goal he’ll torch it all.
I miss you, Steve thinks, the thought flying in from out of the blue and landing, incongruous, in his head.
Tony shifts on his stool. “Is there something wrong with me in the future?”
Oh god, Steve thinks near-hysterically. This isn’t a question he can answer right now. More than you know, kid.
Steve’s saved from answering by the most unwelcome savior he can imagine: the proper Tony Stark hurries into the room, suit jacket thrown over his shoulder. There’s sweat on his forehead and concealer under his eyes. He looks objectively terrible, but Steve’s still amazed by how right he looks, compared to the young thing sitting on the stool beside him. Steve knows every damning facet of this man. He knows the whole of him.
“Cap,” real Tony says, inclining his head.
“It’s Commander, now, Tony,” Steve says.
“Right,” real Tony says under his breath. “Commander Rogers, how could I forget.”
The kid looks Tony up and down and his eyebrows knit together, clearly concerned. Tony’s still not quite back to normal after the mess he created with Norman Osborn. It’s been six months and it’s still like there’s a void behind Tony’s eyes, like a piece of him has been plucked out and replaced with black glass. In a way, it has. Steve wouldn’t like that vision of his future either.
Steve supposes his twenty-year-old self would be disappointed to see him now too.
“Hello, old me,” says kid Tony.
“He has a concussion. Make sure he doesn’t fall asleep,” Steve says, and leaves.
Steve gets the shower he wanted, and packs in a square meal his body needs but he doesn’t enjoy. He sleeps, he runs, he does paperwork, and he subs in for Jess on monitor duty. If he’s working, nobody can drag him into the two Tonys debacle.
Nobody, apparently, but one of the two Tonys himself.
Twenty-year-old Tony sticks his head into the monitor room. He glances at Steve, then looks away and becomes very interested in the screen designs.
“That’s off-limits future technology, mister,” Steve says, trying to be kind. The kid doesn’t have any of the context for Steve’s anger. It’s unfair to make him bear Steve’s bitterness when he doesn’t know what caused any of it. It’s not like Tony can repent for things he hasn’t yet done.
Tony pats the screen like it’s a friendly dog he’s met on a walk and smiles ruefully at Steve. “I gotta try.”
Pain lances through Steve’s heart. Sometimes this youth is so much like Steve’s Tony it kills him. He’s almost the man Steve met when he thawed out of the ice, with his love of transistors and joyful smile. When Steve’d met Tony for the first time, he’d instantly become synonymous with home. Between Tony and Iron Man, Steve’d had a full heart, and then they’d been the same man all along, and Steve had thought maybe -- maybe he would show Tony his soulmark and damn the fact that Steve’s soulmark had never shown up in a single mark dictionary. Maybe he could convince Tony to love him despite their marks not matching. Steve had even been stupid enough to hope, just a little, that maybe he’d beat the million to one odds and Tony would have the same image seared on his chest.
Now that hope is dead as dirt.
Dead as terrorists in the south of France.
“So,” Tony says in a small voice, “what did I do?”
Steve rolls his jaw and looks down at the desk. “Yeah. Nothing yet.”
“I’m fucked up. He’s not okay. I’m not going to be okay.”
Steve wants to scream through his clenched jaw. You’re going to deserve it!
“I don’t want that to happen to me,” says Tony’s past. The corners of his eyes well with tears. He’s got his lips drawn back in a smile that’s stretched over gritted teeth like he can hold it all back if he bites down hard enough. The kid still has a bandage wrapped around his head, making his hair stick up in tufts.
Christ, Steve’s being a real cad. What the hell is wrong with him? This youth, barely out of adolescence, wants to live a good life, and Steve’s about to tell him he’s doomed and it’s all his own fault.
“He -- you, I guess -- believe in all the things that will happen. All the things you do, you’ll think it’s the right thing. You’ll always believe it’s worth it.”
“Still a shit hand to get dealt,” Tony says thickly. “I can’t even drink yet, and I already know it’s all downhill from here.”
Don’t ever start drinking, Steve wants to tell him. There were good times, Steve can’t say. If he remembers all the bright things between the two of them, he’ll feel the wound left behind when they were carved out.
Tony lifts his beardless chin, still blinking through obvious tears. “I’m going to help him,” he says, the stubborn set of his face sending another shock of familiarity through Steve. “Tony told me you’re Captain America. I came down here to ask about something.”
“Shoot,” Steve says flatly.
“What do you know about this?” Tony asks, pulling the neck of his shirt down, exposing the soulmark over his heart.
It’s Steve’s shield, flanked by wings of circuitry, forming a digitally gilded heraldic crest. Tony’s still saying something, an explanation or justification for why he’s expected Steve to be able to do anything about a damn soulmark. The shield, Tony recognized it, surely Captain America would know -- Steve stares at his own sigil on Tony’s young chest. It’s exactly the same, down to the number of resistors ringing the white band of the shield. This has been under Tony’s shirts the entire time. Wherever Tony is now, he’s wearing Steve’s soul.
A million to one odds and they still managed to fuck it up.
Steve lets his head fall into his hands. He sits rigid with this elbows on the table and his fingers digging bloodless into his scalp, eyes wide open and staring at paperwork that Peter’s only half filled out. His vision is crystal-clear. Tears don’t blur his eyes. Perfectly round circles of wetness spread on the forms, so he must be crying. He doesn’t want to be crying in front of a Tony Stark who’s barely out of his teens. He doesn’t want to be crying over Tony Stark. Steve doesn’t want to be crying at all.
Tony’s hand alights on Steve’s shoulder, but Steve doesn’t move, just tightens his muscles until his back feels like a rock, smooth and safe from everything but the slow grind of wind and the rain.
“Steve?” Tony’s voice is careful as the first step onto a lake that hasn’t had time to freeze all the way to the center.
If Steve tries to say something, he’s going to unravel.
“I’m going to get someone,” Tony’s double says, and his touch vanishes from Steve’s back. Light footsteps scurry out of the room at a run.
It takes the kid a while to find someone. Steve spends the time staring at the security feed until his eyes are gritty and dry.
He would have run and hidden in his room if it wouldn’t mean leaving his shift unstaffed. What would he say to the person he asked to sub in? Tony Stark has my soulmark and I think I might throw first him, then myself, into a river?
The person Tony Stark sends to solve a problem is, it turns out, Tony Stark.
In retrospect, predictable.
Tony comes into the monitor room with his hands in his pockets.
“I was a real moron, at that age,” Tony says. “Not handling the unique soulmark thing very well. Which I guess you know about, now, so that’s -- it’s fine. I’m not lonely. I don’t buy into that shit anymore. Romantic fantasy garbage, you know?”
Steve remembers hugging a pillow to his chest as he read the Silmarillion when human Beren bared his soulmark to the elven Lúthien, the image of a nightingale bright in the haunted woods. He’d just woken, feeling lost as if he’d been wandering the wilderness for years, and he’d felt a terrible kinship with Beren and his impossible mark.
And here’s Tony, calling that fantasy garbage. Steve wants to re-read the songs of Elessar and scream into that pillow.
“Steve?” Tony asks. “There’s a lot of very emotional silence -- uh -- emanating. From your general direction.”
Steve barks a laugh. It sounds bleak even to his own ears. “More than anything I want to shout at you, and I can’t.”
“Newsflash, buttercup, nothing’s ever stopped you shouting at me before. Go for it.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Tony raises an eyebrow. “Really? Huh. Novel. You can try yelling at me for one of my many past sins if it’ll make you feel better.”
It really, really won’t.
“Hey,” Tony says, gentling. “C’mon, Steve, knock knock, open up. It’s me. Mini-me said you were crying, I’m worried.”
Empathy again. And Tony, for all his flaws, knows Steve and knows that Steve doesn’t cry.
Steve can’t say it. He just unbuttons his collar and pulls it aside so Tony can see the top quarter of his soulmark. The secret flies out so fast; it feels like it should take more. There should be a grand confession, music swelling, the sound of a glass shattering on the floor as it falls from someone’s nerveless fingers.
Tony’s hand goes to his own chest, palm flat over his shirt, over his soulmark.
He recognizes that, all right.
Steve doesn’t bother buttoning his collar back up. The mark stands out livid against his skin: here lies the heart of Steve Rogers, given to a man who doesn’t deserve it.
“Why did it have to be now?” Steve grates out. “Now, when we’re this?” His voice is rising. Tony’s shaking his head in slow motion. Steve shoves back from the desk, fuck it, he’s yelling, he’s furious, he surges to his feet and advances on Tony, who stays rooted to the spot.
“Where were you when I was a hero and you were a good man! Five years ago, ten! Damn you, Tony! Where was this when you were easy to love?”
Steve spins and punches through a chunky old CRT monitor, because he can’t punch Tony and he can’t punch himself. Its insides pop and fizzle. Glass cuts Steve’s knuckles on the way out, leaving behind a useless, cold pain.
Tony just stands there. Steve heaves for breath.
“Fight back!” he shouts. In his memory, Tony whispers finish it through a mouthful of blood. “Don’t just stand there and act like it doesn’t hurt! I kept the secret too!”
“You’re bleeding,” Tony says hollowly.
Blood is running thinly down Steve’s hand and he can’t even feel it. Drops of it fall to the wood floor like the patter of quick feet. He lifts his hand to look at it, trying to find the source, but the glass’s slices are narrow, invisible things.
Tony’s face is streaming with tears. Half-numb, Steve uses his bloody hand to wipe some of them away, returning a smear of color to Tony’s cheeks. “Don’t cry,” Steve says, hysteria bubbling up under the anger. “Don’t, Tony, don’t cry.”
“Too late,” Tony says, tongue darting out to catch a tear off of his upper lip. “Sorry.”
Steve lifts his other hand to cradle Tony’s head. “Don’t, don’t, don’t,” Steve whispers. This close, the pull of Tony is almost irresistible. Steve wants to clutch Tony so tight that their ribcages intertwine like clasped hands.
He kisses Tony then, in a fit of desperation and loss. Tony fists both hands in Steve’s open collar, yanking down until his knuckles brush Steve’s soulmark. They can both barely stand on their own; the places where they touch form the keystone of an unstable arch, about to topple.
Objectively, it’s a terrible kiss. Subjectively, it’s also awful. Tony’s face is tacky with tears and smells like Steve’s drying blood. He’s hiccuping into Steve’s mouth. Steve pours seasons of grief and anger into the kiss. His throat feels like it’s lined with acid, and every brush of Tony’s lips makes it sizzle.
Steve knows with a lurch of despair that this is where part of his soul belongs. Soulmarks aren’t all romantic mumbo-jumbo after all. Who knew?
He needs to leave. With an open palm on Tony’s chest, he pushes him away. From Tony’s shudder, he’s touched the soulmark under his shirt. There’s a ragged, wild look in Tony’s eyes.
“I have to go,” Steve says.
Tony grabs his wrist with hard, calloused fingers. His heartbeat is stuttering -- Steve half-wonders if he’s going to need to find one of the AEDs stashed around the tower. That would have been a hell of a way to discover Tony’s soulmark, tearing open his shirt to restart his heart.
“Wait,” Tony says, jaw tense and lips bitten red by Steve’s teeth. “I can’t be alone.”
“Because left to my own devices, I’m going to deal with this series of unfortunate events via a bottle of Jack,” Tony says, with a wry, painful smile. “Alcoholic, remember?”
Steve’s anger, banked but not cooled, blooms back into flame. “Don’t manipulate me, Tony. That’s low.”
“Fine -- then send Carol,” Tony says. He sounds tired, not canny. He sounds like all the hope has been wrung out of him. After a moment, Tony sighs and drops Steve’s wrist. “You know, there’s a lot of ways I thought asking you, hey, is this your shield on my chest? I played out a lot of scenarios. I’ve probably spent a solid year’s worth of showers imagining this conversation with you. And this? This is worst-case. So I’m not bullshitting you when I say I’m not at my most resilient right now and I want a fucking drink.”
Steve flushes with shame.
Tony notices. “Yeah,” he says. “Now you get it.”
“I’m calling Carol,” Steve says.
“Of course you are,” Tony spits.
“I’ll sit with you until she gets here.”
Tony’s voice is desert-like in reply. “Your sacrifice is appreciated.”
Kang returns with an offer of alliance. Baby-Tony is messing up the time stream, as predicted, and Kang cares at least some about cause and effect continuing to function normally.
Steve doesn’t have to shoot anyone to get it done. The younger Tony is replaced in the past, gifted back without memories of the future. His parents will die in a year. He’ll be captured and tortured a few years after that. It will leave him with heart damage that will dog him for a decade.
He won’t know that Steve is his soulmate until it’s far too late.
Steve decides he’s going to clean the upholstery inside the quinjet. He drags a vacuum up to the hangar bay and goes after every bit of grit, blue fur, and fast food leftovers. It hasn’t been looked after in far too long. Someone has crunched pretzels into the co-pilot’s chair.
Tony shows up a few hours into Steve’s chore. He looks awful. Steve thinks he’s beautiful.
Steve wants to tumble Tony into bed and trace the outline of his familiar soulmark with his tongue. He wants to never see Tony’s face again. He wants to be living someone else’s life.
“Lonely up here,” Tony says. “Brought you a protein bar.” Tony throws the snack onto the seat next to Steve, keeping his distance.
Reluctantly, Steve turns off the vacuum. The hanger falls silent. “Thanks.”
The granola bar Tony’s given him is Nature Valley. It’s going to leave crumbs all over his nice work.
“We have to do better than this,” Tony says, biting his lip.
Steve makes a non-committal grunt. He’d like his life to improve in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to get it. That would mean trusting Tony, and he doesn’t know if he can do that anymore. He’d have to knowingly set himself up for betrayal again and again. He almost thinks it would be a fair trade to have Tony’s mouth on his again.
“I don’t remember all of my mistakes, so I can’t learn from them,” Tony says with a sigh. “But I remember some good times. We could learn from those.”
“Promise--” Steve starts roughly, then halts. He doesn’t want more promises from Tony. It gives Tony another chance to fail him.
Tony flicks a loose resistor Steve fished out of a cupholder and left on the dash. It flies off into some awkward corner of the quinjet with a muted ping. “Everyone else, Steve, you look at their circumstances and you give them the benefit of the doubt. If they’re trying hard and have their heart in the right place, you think they’re forgivable. Everyone but me. Me and yourself.”
“We’re well past second chances,” Steve says.
“Not for me, maybe,” Tony says. “But for that twenty-year-old kid who thinks he’s going to remember this, who thinks right now that he has a chance to fix things -- we owe it to him to try.”
Steve shakes his head.
“He’s going to fall in love with you,” Tony continues quietly. “He’ll lay eyes on you and think you’re the most beautiful, unattainable thing he’s ever seen. And it won’t stop. Not for a second. Maybe I deserve a future where I figure out how to live with that forever. But he doesn’t.”
“I wish you hated me,” Steve grinds out, imagining the belt in his locker, hung heavy with guns. “It would be so much better if you’d just give up. No matter how many awful things you did to win that stupid war, you kept coming back, asking me to understand. Every time it ended in a fight, every time we made it worse, and still. Why?”
Tony looks down. “I don’t remember. Might have something to do with how our souls are supernaturally entwined,” he says with a half-hearted laugh.
“Fuck this,” Steve says.
Tony scrubs a hand over his face, scratching his beard for a long moment. Steve wants to throw himself off a cliff and kiss Tony on his knuckles, on his jaw, and he can’t, because it’ll end in a fight. It always ends in a fight.
“You really despise me, huh?” Tony asks eventually.
If Steve lies, he’s no better than Tony.
The anger Tony raises in him isn’t a normal reaction to injustice; Steve knows that. When love turns sour, the weight of all that emotion doesn’t dissipate. It hangs around, draped across your shoulders like a leaden weight, and the only way to put it down is to transform it into something else.
“That would be too easy,” Steve says.
Tony’s cheek dimples as he chews on the inside of it. His mouth is a hard slash in his face. Yeah -- that’s about how Steve feels right now too. They make each other so miserable.
“You’re a coward, Steve,” Tony says finally, meeting his eyes with a shock of intensity. He heaves a breath and squares his shoulders. He’s not mad, just stating a fact like he’s giving a battlefield briefing getting everyone up to speed so they can optimize their tasks. “You’re turning down a chance at happiness because it might be hard?”
Tony tsks and shakes his head. “That’s not the Steve I know.”
Unexpectedly, something knotted in Steve’s chest untwists. Tony’s standing up. Tony’s his anchor again, digging into the sand. Tony’s here to see Steve’s blind spots, and he’s brave enough to point them out when everyone else is too cowed by the cowl and the shield.
“It’s all gotten away from me,” Steve says, the air rushing out of him. “I don’t know who I am anymore.”
“Well,” Tony says, with a wry twist of lips, “all else aside, you’re still the man I’m cuckoo for coco puffs for; that’s been a constant for the past ten years. So what do you want?”
Steve thoughtlessly rubs his soulmark under his uniform. Tony watches, and Steve sees a familiar fuck it expression flicker across his face.
He grabs his shirt and pulls it over his head so that Steve can see the entire stark spread of his mark on Tony’s chest. Steve’s breath catches.
I dare you, says Tony’s gaze.
Steve reaches out and places his palm against Tony’s bare skin. He can the tracery of circuits is visible between his fingers.
With one clumsy hand, Steve undoes the fastenings of his uniform and bares himself. It’s a terrible idea. It feels right. Tony brushes his fingertips over Steve’s chest, then flattens his hand over Steve’s mark. The loop is closed. Electricity rushes through Steve, painful and golden.
The feeling is terrible -- not in the modern sense of the word, but the archaic definition -- something instilling terror. This could go wrong in so many ways. The fresh-faced child Tony used to be might now be facing an even worse future: one where they destroy each other utterly.
But he feels a path unspooling from his heart, one where he’s selfish and brave and short-sighted and takes this thing he wants, damn the consequences.
“It’s you,” Steve says softly. “It’ll always be you.”