i find it so fascinating and interesting and telling that it’s the moments of tragedy and heartbreak where you see how much tony and steve really loved each other. bc trust and intimacy, caring so deeply for each other, risking their own lives to save the other person –– that’s just second nature. it’s instinct. it’ll always be a part of who they are and their relationship with each other, it’s not something that needs to be Telegraphed and pointed at to be real and profound and life-changing.
they both know that the moment they met, the moment when steve opened his eyes and saw the avengers, when tony’s voice was the first one he heard after decades of the ice, that their lives would never be the same. there are Direct Quotes to illustrate that but tbh even if those didn’t exist they know.
because this is a friendship that’s been building on over a decade. ten years of fighting beside each other, inspiring each other to be better men, better heroes, better leaders, seeing each other at the best and the lowest. this friendship is one of the most long-lasting & significant friendships for both of them. the avengers liken them to mom and dad because this is literally the closest analogy there is in terms of the sheer closeness, understanding and compatibility that exists between them. when it’s been that long, everything becomes implicit, unspoken, it just is. you don’t need the constant affirmation – even though stevetony do that too – of the love and loyalty between you.
so, it’s really only when they hit those Dark Times that it manifests in all this terrible conflict and anger and ugliness. people are constantly trying to characterise modern stevetony (e.g. 2007 – present) as ‘steve and tony are always at each other’s throats’ but like Again, As I Always Do, i want to point to the revolutionary concept that the only reason they can hurt this much and hurt each other this much is because of how much they loved each other in the first place. their love and hate at different periods throughout their wars or conflicts or civil wars aren’t mutually exclusive, the anger / betrayal / grief / heartbreak bleed into each other.
these moments of conflict wouldn’t have as much impact as they do if they happened all the time. and they don’t. steve and tony have lead multiple teams, saved the world, endured one or both of them being brainwashed, and remained steadfast in who they are to each other throughout. marvel pits them against each other because of how significant their relationship is and the fact that tearing them apart means they can generate a universe-wide event, a film franchise, multiple spin-offs and essentially lasting (albeit unacknowledged) consequences for the rest of their comic universe.
tony spends a year in mourning, hallucinating steve and throwing himself into suicidal self-destructive missions during his tenure as director of shield after steve dies. when steve rejects any of his attempts to compromise and make peace during cw1, he literally prepares to die and let steve kill him. when steve thinks the illuminati has betrayed him and committed the most unforgivable act of erasing his memory, he only goes after tony. it’s tony he’s furious at, it’s tony he’s single-handledy hunting down, and it’s tony he wants to pay the most for what he’s done.
tldr, tbh, altho depressing and utterly typical of marvel to do so, i find it v. true to life and realistic that it’s only in moments of point-of-no-return tragedy that we get the big moments and confessions and ‘i loved him’. the tragedy of stevetony is that these two men do love each other, and they both know it on an instinctual, intuitive level. everything about the way they interact and trust and hurt each other is indicative of that love. they never expect there to be a moment where that love won’t be there in the subtext, they never Expect that there’s going to be a ‘this is my last chance to tell him’ kind of moment. (bc usually, lbr, it’s some kind of world-ending crisis where they’re in the middle of a war on opposing sides.) their tragedy is that they’ve spent so long loving and being in love w/ each other where the timing has never been right, or they keep convincing themselves they’re content with the status quo, or the other person isn’t in the right place or headspace to hear it, that they just never get their Moment.
so their moments end up being morgue-side confessions, hugs and speeches where one person all but tells the other person they can’t live w/o them, and y’know, the ultimate act of no homo where the only universe they’d ever be together is if they can become a heteronormative straight™ couple.