It's a fitting end, Steve thinks, slamming his fist into Tony's jaw. They'll go down together, like . . .
No, they never lived together, did they? It was all a lie.
There's blood trailing down Tony's cheek, and Steve knows he'll never make him hurt as much as Tony hurt him.
The world goes dark.
Tamara Devoux—Captain Universe now—calls Tony a liar, and the small glimpse of hope that appeared in Steve's heart, unwanted, shatters.
He knows whom he trusts out of the two of them.
(He knows whom he doesn't might be more accurate.)
The one thing Steve doesn't expect is Tony grabbing him and beaming both of them out of the way of the Universe's anger.
“You lied,” Steve spits out, not even looking around. It doesn't matter where they ended up. It's not like he could focus on anything but Tony, and Tony is right there.
“I thought we established that months ago,” Tony says flatly, and Steve doesn't know when he's honest; was he in that diner, offering him hope, or is he now, acting like the villain again?
Maybe it's neither, maybe all he can do now is lie.
Tony's armour dissolves, and Steve doesn't hate Extremis any less the second time round.
“I really think we can solve it together,” he offers.
Steve doesn't know him anymore, but he can tell Tony doesn't believe his own words. What kind of a game is he playing, anyway? Why did he call Steve if . . .
“I don't like fighting you,” Tony whispers. He reaches into his pocket and takes out a pendrive, extends his hand towards Steve. “The Illuminati,” he says.
Steve hesitates a second before taking it. Their fingers brush, and then Tony's leaning in, a quick touch of his lips on Steve's.
He teleports out the next second.
When he comes to, everything is dark. After a few seconds artificial lights turn on—Steve looks around and sees all the buildings in Tony's town lighting up.
Tony's getting up, and whatever happened, Steve thinks he shouldn't let him.
He throws the shield, and Tony dodges, his movements full of grace. Then he looks at Steve. “So it's done,” he says, and adds, “Mark America, disassemble.”
The armour falls off Steve even as Tony's silver one reassembles around him.
Like he could've done it any moment.
Standing up suddenly takes effort, and it's almost impossible for him down, but he refuses to go down now, in front of Tony. “Why?” he asks.
The faceplate is smooth and emotionless. “I deserved a punch,” Tony says. “And my program needed time.” He sounds tired, even through the voice filter.
“What have you done?” Steve looks around. The sky is dark and starless, but everything looks all right . . . Everything they didn't just break while fighting, because demolishing cities is what they do best, Steve thinks, images of New York on fire flashing behind his eyelids.
“I'm a genius,” Tony says. “I've had a year longer than you to prepare. Or do you think I only built weapons?”
He sounds like the Tony Steve believed he knew, months ago.
“Then why did you lie,” Steve whispers, and Iron Man takes a step back.
Years ago, Steve asked him to show his face. Now he doesn't want to look at him. Why did you lie, why did you keep lying, you obviously knew how I feel, why did you do it, weren't we friends?
“I did what I had to do,” Tony says. It almost sounds rehearsed, or maybe Steve just wishes it were. “This building isn't called Resurrection for no reason, you know.” He points to the tower to their right. “There are no stars anymore, Steve. No other planets. There's nothing, because even I couldn't save it all. But the Earth survives. Isn't it worth it?”
Can anything be worth it if they ended up like this?
“Is it,” Steve challenges, because that's just another question he'd never gotten an answer to.
Tony tilts his head and remains silent.
“You didn't have to lie to me,” Steve says, and he hates it, hates what Tony can do to him, hates himself for letting him.
“I lied,” Tony agrees. “But you got to live without this burden. There was nothing you could do.”
It's almost as if here, after the end of the world, Tony finally finds his honesty, and Steve doesn't know what to do.
“I'm not some innocent needing to be protected,” he bits out.
“I saw you smile every day that year,” Tony says. “Call me selfish.”
“I woke up,” Steve says, “I woke up and everything was a lie.” It is after the end of the world. He can be honest too.
Tony shakes his head. “If you remembered—if I never made you forget—I wouldn't have changed a single thing I've done in that time, Steve.”
It felt true; this was what hurt the most.
“Take off the armour,” Steve finally orders him to.
Tony shrugs, and does.
He's thin and pale. He looks exhausted. There's blood on his face and Steve isn't sure if his left arm isn't broken. For once, he doesn't look like he's acting.
But it's not as if Steve is any good at recognising that, is it? He feels numb.
“I always wanted to make that team with you,” Tony says. “The Avengers World was never a lie.”
Steve shakes his head. He doesn't want to listen to it, suddenly. He thought hearing that would make it somehow better, but it doesn't. It can't.
You used me, he accused Tony in his lab what feels like a lifetime ago, and Tony's answer was the first true one he'd given him in months. He can't believe that was a lie, he can't let himself hope again, he can't, he won't survive that.
“What now?” he asks.
Tony looks away. “There are no stars,” he repeats. “There's no sun.”
“You didn't save the world,” and god, saying that out loud feels wrong, how did Tony save the world after hurting Steve so, “to let it die.”
“No,” Tony admits. “No, I didn't.”
The light coming from the buildings grows warmer, and if Steve closed his eyes, he could be fooled into thinking he's on a sunny meadow.
“Now we rebuild,” Tony says, and there's a question in his voice.
It's not something Steve can answer just yet.