Poets described liquor as golden, but it never was. Brandies, at best, were only ever a clear light brown, with a touch of gold when held up to the light. That was what Tony was doing just then, turning the shot glass back and forth in a shaft of sunlight coming through his office window. It was like a shot of morphine. Enough of it could take the pain away for a little while. Too much would take it away permanently.
Closing his eyes, Tony threw back the shot. There wasn't a working taste bud left on his tongue, but it hit the back of his throat like fire and burned all the way down. Rotgut—rough as a gravel road, but it was all he'd had on hand. It was his eighth of the hour, and he hoped he was getting to the "too much" mark fast enough. His head was well past the "pleasantly floaty" phase and into "ready to fall off his shoulders". If he passed out too soon again, that would just be embarrassing.
Everything hurt, deeper than just the body. His chest bore all scars and pains of the hell he'd been put through, but that was all nothing. He was just tired. Tired of waking up every morning, tired of getting everything wrong, tired of being worth only as much as his bank account held, tired of being alone all the time. He caused more problems than he solved for everyone around him. If he weren't such a coward, Tony told himself, he would have just gotten it over with. Instead, he played roulette with the bottle, and hoped his lucky streak would run out.
Tony started to sag forward to the desk. He caught himself, and reached for the bottle again.
A big, red-gloved hand covered his, holding the bottle down to the desk. "I think you've had enough," Steve said, carefully peeling Tony's hand away. His cowl was down, showing off the white-blond streaks the sun had put in his hair. Only out of the ice for six months, and Steve was already looking more like a modern movie star than a clean-cut soldier from the forties.
That had been the reason he was drinking, Tony remembered suddenly. The Avengers had answered a call at Daytona, and then stuck around to relax. "Tony Stark" hadn't been there, and Iron Man couldn't take off the armor to swim, obviously, but he'd watched Steve being swarmed by beautiful women. They were all out of costume, but the ladies still surrounded him, even without knowing who he was. Steve, who was honest and kind and a real hero and probably the most heterosexual man since God created Adam. When they'd gotten back, Iron Man had vanished, and Tony had started trying to do the same.
"Tony?" Steve's hand tightened on his, and Tony realized faintly that he'd still been trying to lift the bottle. "Have you heard anything I've said?"
"Nope. Not at all." The words didn't come out slurred, but Tony had a lot of practice at not sounding drunk. He was pretty sure he'd be okay, as long as he didn't try to sit up straight. "What can I do for you?"
"You can put down the bottle, for one."
"And you can stop being so damned gorgeous and— and kissable and straight," Tony snapped without thinking, yanking the bottle away. He didn't want to deal with this. He just wanted Steve to go, so Tony could try for that last round in the chamber. If he were going to die anyway, at least Steve would know the truth. It didn't even matter any more—everything else would come out after he died, why not this too? "What do you want? I'm a little busy."
Steve stared at him, eyes wide, mouth slightly open. For a moment, Tony wished he were sober enough to stand. He could have gotten in one kiss, and then Steve might have done the whiskey's job for him.
It was sort of amazing, watching Steve collect himself. His shoulders straightened, chin lifted, mouth closed, gaze firmed—it was like watching a piece of propaganda come to life, from man to poster boy. "What I want is for you to put down the alcohol, and let me help you to bed. And then when you wake up, I want to talk. Please."
"Go talk to Thor." But Tony capped the bottle of whiskey. He couldn't keep drinking with Steve's disapproving stare. It just felt wrong. Sagging back in his office chair, he looked away. "Or Iron Man. I'm sure he's around here somewhere."
"I want to talk about that too." Steve's hand covered his again, this time on the arm of the chair. Tony blinked up at him, not able to remember when Steve had moved around the desk. "I..." Steve licked his lips, and Tony found himself staring, fascinated, waiting for it to happen again. "I'm worried about you."
"You are?" Why should Steve be worried about him? It wasn't Tony he was friends with, it was Iron Man. Tony shook his head in denial, and the motion was enough to upset his balance. His left leg folded under him, tipping him sideways and starting the slide off the edge of his chair. Before he could fall out of his chair, Steve was there, propping him up with a sturdy shoulder and lifting him to his feet.
"Come on, Tony. Let's get you to bed." Steve's arm was firm and warm around Tony's waist as he started guiding him towards the door.
Blue-enameled scale mail dug into Tony's fingers as he tried to support himself on Steve's shoulder. "Wait," he protested, twisting around. The whiskey still sat on the table, along with his shot glass. A few more drinks. Just a few more, and he knew he could have finally done it. One of those shots would have a bullet, if he could just pull the trigger...
Leather brushed his jaw as Steve's fingertips touched it, turning Tony's eyes to his. "Please, Tony. No more."
It still hurt. The soul-deep ache wasn't going to go away just because Steven Rogers had decided to be nice, instead of giving him the rejection he deserved. But a little of the loneliness had eased, and it was hard to be hopeless with the very symbol of it holding you up.
"Don't..." Tony swallowed, letting his head sag forward, until the scales scratched his forehead. "Don't let me wake up alone? I don't think I can..."
"I won't." Steve's arm tightened around Tony's shoulders in a brief embrace. It wasn't much, but it also wasn't anything he'd done before. In spite of himself, Tony felt the tight place in his chest that usually only alcohol reached relax. He tightened his grip on Steve, and left the whiskey behind on the desk. It would wait.