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Armistice Day

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Tony was not often at a loss for words.

That was an understatement, actually; Tony had been rendered speechless on a precise number of occasions that he could count on one hand, and while he hadn't exactly been rendered speechless at the moment, he didn't really know what to say, either.

Something was going on with Steve. Something…bad wasn't quite the right word, but wrong. Steve was prone to bouts of depression, Tony knew; they'd been dating for nearly six months now, and they'd come a long ways. Steve didn't need space when he got depressed, he needed Tony as close as he could keep him, needed Tony to listen to his stories and hold him tight and chase the darkness away, and Tony had always, always been more than happy to do so. He knew Steve could still feel embarrassed about needing it at times—there was a part of Steve, a 40's era, man's man part, that felt a little emasculated by it, though Tony was doing his best to chase that part away—but Steve always came to him. He didn't try and tackle it alone anymore. They were a team, were partners, for a reason. Steve had his bouts of depression and Tony had his bouts of alcoholism and they both had their fair share of nightmares, but the important thing, as they'd hashed out a while ago now, was that they came to each other when they were struggling. Communication was why they worked. They’d been friends long before they’d been anything else, and the result was that Steve knew he could talk to Tony about anything, and that Tony could do the same.

So it understandably worried Tony that Steve wasn't really talking to him anymore. Hadn't in almost a week, at least not about anything of substance. He seemed distracted when Tony tried, and when Tony tried to ask what was on his mind, Steve only shook his inquiries off. Steve was never around anymore, either; he never came to visit in the shop, never accepted Tony's multiple offers to take him out to lunch during a break, or dinner at night. Maybe they just needed a good date. They'd never assigned a regular date night, because they'd never needed one. They dragged each other out to things all the time—why wouldn't Tony want Steve with him just about anywhere he went?—and they'd gone out to dinner just last week. Everything had seemed completely normal then. Had things been changing between them without him even noticing? They must have, or this wouldn't have happened.

He hadn't woken up alone in months.

He had the inane urge to lift up the covers, check to see if Steve could possibly just be hiding underneath. He resisted, instead sitting up with a weary sigh. He pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose, then, unsatisfied, brought his knees up and buried his face between them. Christ.

He was scared.

He hated to admit it, and worse, he hated how it felt, crawling around the space in his chest that used to house the reactor and freezing up his veins like ice. It was a stupid little thing, waking up alone just the oncebut it felt like the last of a lot of little signs that Tony could see all too clearly but couldn't do anything about. He couldn't lose Steve. He absolutely couldn't. He could do anything, could do everything, if it kept Steve by his side. This had to be Tony's doing. He always fucked up good things, but not this time.

For once in his fucking life, he was going to hold on to his good thing if it killed him.

He threw off the covers and headed into their bathroom. "JARVIS, where's Steve?"

"On the roof, sir."

Steve loved to sketch the morning skyline. Any skyline, really, but he was partial to mornings, something about the light. Tony didn't claim to understand art, but some of the only mornings he'd ever enjoyed had been spent with Steve on the rooftop, watching the sunrise. Fuck, he was already getting sentimental.

"Where did he sleep last night?"

Steve's old suite was completely emptied. They'd started sharing a suite maybe a month and a half into their relationship—once they'd started making love, it seemed ridiculous to trudge up and down ten floors afterwards when they already practically lived together. Steve had moved into Tony's admittedly larger suite, and never gone back. They'd had plenty of fights, but Steve had always been deeply adamant about maintaining that old adage of never going to bed angry. They could occasionally drag out fights for a few days, but they never went to bed until they could agree amicably to continue the conversation the next day. Neither of them had ever slept on the metaphorical couch, or in this case, Steve's old suite.

"He did not, sir."

That threw Tony for a loop. That was…better, maybe. It depended on why he hadn't slept in the first place, but at least he hadn't made the active decision to sleep in a different bed rather than with Tony.

Teeth brushed and hair moderately combed, Tony tugged on a shirt—they did live with other people, after all—and headed up to the roof. He found Steve precariously on the edge as always, feet dangling off like he wasn't more than a hundred stories in the air. Then again, this was the man who leapt out of planes without parachutes on a regular basis, always laughing off Tony's concern with an easy, "what do I need a parachute for when I've got a Tony?"

Tony took a seat beside him in silence. Steve glanced up for only a moment before he resumed his sketch. It wasn't the skyline, Tony noticed. It was one of Steve's commandos…Dum-Dum Dugan, he was fairly certain. The man was in his military best, but his posture was sloppy, an easy grin on his face and a teasing look in his eyes that felt like an inside joke.

They sat there a little while without speaking, and though they'd been comfortable with each other's silences for a while now, Tony couldn't help feeling like he wasn't getting something.

"I missed you," he said at last. He could've added 'this morning', but however oddly he'd been behaving this past week Steve still knew Tony to the core, and Tony knew he would hear the I've been missing you all week buried there either way.

"Sorry," Steve said, but it wasn't one of his usual, sincerity-infused apologies. He sounded distracted, distant; like he had all week. "I've been busy, I suppose."

"Have you?" It wasn't a demand, or a confrontation, though they both knew he really hadn't been. Steve hadn't gone in to SHIELD all week. While Tony was all for playing hooky, usually that meant they'd spend the time together, or at least some of it. He'd barely seen Steve.

"I've been…" Steve started, but just trailed off. He rubbed a thumb to the corner of his forehead, a sure sign of frustration. Tony swallowed his pride.

"Is it something I've done?"

He hated this. He hated how it felt like admitting he'd failed, like he was admitting he couldn't even understand Steve well enough to figure out what he'd done. Hedid understand Steve, damn it, he knew Steve better than he knew himself, but he also knew not asking was usually his problem. Not talking about it, notcommunicating like every cliché relationship book and TV show had ever advised meant things just got bottled up, and bottling things up meant explosions, and explosions could mean Steve leaving, and Tony would do absolutely anything to prevent that.

"What?" Steve finally seemed to register he was there, really register, and he looked at Tony curiously, the little furrow of his brow that meant he was confused appearing.

"Because if I've done something, or said something, just—just tell me, talk to me. Whatever it is, I promise, we can fix it."

"Fix…you think we need fixing?" Steve blinked rapidly, the furrow deepening. He set aside his sketchbook and pencil, focusing all of his attention on Tony. "Why?"

"You didn't come to bed last night. And you haven't…you won't talk to me anymore." Tony was painfully aware of how pitiful that sounded and he winced a little, but forged on. "Something's going on in that head of yours, I know it, but you've been shutting me out."

Something in Steve's expression crumbled, and he pulled Tony into a terrifyingly fragile embrace. He buried his face in Tony's shoulder with a gusty sound that wasn't quite a laugh, but wasn't quite anything else. Tony, stunned, just wrapped his arms around Steve in return. He was too grateful to dwell on the surprise of it.

"I'm sorry, Tony." Steve said it sincerely this time, nearly squeezing the breath out of Tony as he did so. "I didn't mean to give you such ridiculous thoughts."

"Ridiculous, huh?" Tony couldn't hold back a smile.

"Completely." Steve released him enough to shoot him one in return. It still had a tired, not-quite-focused edge to it though, and Tony's smile dipped into a concerned frown.

"Then what's been going on? Has something happened?"

"No." Steve sighed, looked conflicted. He shot Tony a look that held some exasperation. "Do you even know what tomorrow is?"

Fuck, he was so bad with dates. It couldn't be their six month anniversary; Tony had extensive, romantic-as-hell plans that included reservations that JARVIS would've reminded him about. It couldn't be a major holiday, the other Avengers went fucking nuts for that stuff and would have been decorating all month—besides, they'd only just finished packing away the Halloween crap, Thanksgiving had to be at least another few weeks away. Steve's birthday was in the summer, and Steve would've just reminded him if it was someone else's. What else was there?

"You don't." Steve sighed again.

"Monday?" Tony tried.

"It's Veterans Day, Tony."

"Vetera—oh. Oh."

"Yeah." There was something ugly in Steve's expression, but it wasn't aimed at Tony. "'Oh'."

Tony wanted to say something, but couldn't figure out what exactly he ought to say. Sorry? It didn't feel right. Steve wasn't looking for sorry. Veteran's Day was a day of respect for soldiers everywhere, a day to be grateful, not to mourn. It wasn't loss that was bothering him. Everything Tony could think of just felt trite, contrived, all of it the same kind of cliché he could find in a Hallmark card. Steve deserved more than that, but Tony couldn't figure out how to give it to him. Steve spoke before he could, the look in his eyes far beyond Tony's reach.

"It used to be called Armistice Day. Still was, when I went under. Wasn't changed until '54. When I was a kid…Armistice Day was world peace. It was the end of the most destructive war the world had ever seen, and it was like—it was like we could breathe again, Tony. Who wouldn't want to thank the soldiers who risked their lives to give us ours back? Even later, even after the second World War began, it just became all the more important. It was a day to honor the soldiers working so hard to regain that peace, doing what was right, what was needed, and now…now it's just a fucking day off work."

It wasn't that Steve didn't swear. He was just reserved about those kinds of things off the battlefield, and it meant that when he did it carried a lot of gravity. Tony reached out, took his hand.

"There's a ceremony in D.C.," Tony told him, "At Arlington. It's at 11 tomorrow, but we should take the jet up today so we don't have to red-eye it tomorrow morning."

"I don't want—" Steve started to spit out, but Tony already knew what he'd say.

"Not as Captain America." Tony squeezed his hand. "And not as Commander Rogers, either. Just as a soldier who went above and beyond every possible call of duty, who tried as many times as it took to get in when he could've taken the easy way out, who gave up everything he had for his country without a second thought. Go as the soldier I am so proud of, and so grateful to. Go because you didn't do it for a thank you, but that sure as hell doesn't mean you don't deserve one."

Steve leaned into him again, enough to tuck his head into Tony's shoulder. Tony moved his arm up and around, lacing his fingers into Steve's hair and stroking it softly. Steve cut it short a few months ago. Tony had liked the swoop of his 40's-era look, but he appreciated that the new style was hard to mess up, meaning Tony could comb his fingers through it without Steve making a fuss.

"Thank you, Tony," Steve said at last, "I'm sorry I've been shutting you out. I'm just…frustrated, and I didn't want to take that out on you. I thought it'd be better not to say anything."

"It's alright." Tony pressed a kiss to the side of his head. "Try to at least come to bed next time, though. I might have built it up a little in my head."

"A little?" Steve tilted his head up enough to shoot Tony a knowing look.

"Possibly a lot."

"I'm not going anywhere, Tony." Steve bumped him with an elbow. "Honestly."

"Don't 'honestly' me." Tony bumped him back. "You stopped talking to me, stopped coming to bed, what was I supposed to think?"

"That I had a lot on my mind?"

"I think we're just going to have to agree that I can't be expected to come to sane conclusions when you're involved."

"Clearly." Steve nodded in faux-solemn agreement. "Explains why you ever agreed to start seeing me in the first place."

"Oh, honey." Tony just laughed, hugged him closer. "You're the only sane decision I've ever made."