Steve’s pretty sure he was never meant to find that letter, he was probably never supposed to know that Tony—his wonderful, brilliant, goddamn exasperating Tony—had ever reached a point in which he thought his own life was worthless. His brain can’t even compute what this means, how to process the fact that he could have lost everything he has without even trying to get it. His brain feels empty, and he feels like he swallowed cotton ball the size of the arc reactor, and he has to sit down before he does something stupid like destroy everything in sight. He clutches the piece of notepad paper to his chest and tries to will the sobs down as he breathes.
He wasn’t even supposed to be in the Tower when it happened, he had gone to DC to coordinate some SHIELD business with fury and had been scheduled to stay there for a week, but turns out Captain America can make people agree with his ideas damn fast if he wanted to. Or, maybe, Captain America’s boyfriend could be pretty damn obnoxious when somebody took the soldier’s time away from him for too long. Either way, he’s glad to be back at the tower and he’s glad that he could help Barton and Nat escape from the tediousness of spy business.
He’d arrived about two hours before he stumbles into Tony’s workspace; he had taken a shower and eaten a whole carton of left-over Chinese before he stumbled down the stairs. Smooching it with the SHIELD higher ups was always tedious, and sometimes left him feeling dirty. Talking to Tony always helped; he’d spent his whole life talking to the press and convincing company dirtballs that he was up for the job as owner and CEO of Stark industries after all. So he goes down to the workshop to attempt to pry his boyfriend from whatever invention/update/renovation/experiment/concoction he’s working on. He doesn’t find him there, though, which surprises him a little considering he wasn’t in their bedroom and it was barely three p.m. JARVIS informs him Master Stark was at some meeting with shareholders to which he had been dragged kicking and screaming by a very determined Pepper. Steve chuckles, but still feels a little twinge of pity for his lover; Ms. Potts can be quite scary when she wants to be.
He turns in a half circle in the middle of the workshop, resembling the lost puppy Tony often accuses him of being, but he doesn’t have anything to do now. He was hoping to lure Shellhead into a little cuddling and then, hopefully, some very intimate hours in their bedroom. But his sweetheart was being responsible, for once, and he wasn’t going to pull him away from that. He notices that there are papers and schematics and tools and plates and cups littering all of Tony’s workspace; some are pushed back as if Tony was desperately trying to make some space to make something and was afraid he’d lose it if he took time to tidy up. He gets the cups and plates back into the kitchen first, and then tries to put the tools back but Tony has a weird system going on with them so he just kind of places them in a pile next to Dum-E and lets him sort them out. He’s trying to arrange papers into two piles, schematics and business, when he suddenly presses something in the touch screen table that Tony uses for his personal things. He doesn’t know how to turn it off, but he presses random buttons and then he’s facing a holographic image of his much-younger-looking lover. He looks to be about sixteen or seventeen, with the beginnings of his trademark facial hair and his hair in the same kind of mess.
Steve’s heart gives a twinge when he realizes that Tony, even at seventeen, has the same world-weary look that thirty-seven year old Tony has. There are deep circles under his eyes and his fingers shake slightly as he runs them through his disheveled hair. He looks directly at the camera, Steve can feel those chocolate eyes boring into his soul. He’s slightly derailed in the beauty of them to realize that the onscreen Tony has started talking, until he catches a name.
“Howard,” Tony says, “I found this thing on one of my old text books. You know, the ones you always told me were useless. I mean, I’m an engineer, right, not a freaking philosophy professor? Anyway, I found this poem thing, and it kind of reminded me of me. Of what I am to you. I have it right here,” Tony grabs a piece of paper and puts it in front of the camera. Steve doesn’t really catch what it says other than the title, but when Tony pulls back he knows it was something that deeply troubled the boy. “whatever, I know you don’t care. This was supposed to be a note, normal kids leave a note behind in good old fashioned pen and paper, but when has a Stark ever been normal, right? So, I guess this is my note.” Steve feels bile rising in his throat, a note, there’s only one reason why Tony would leave a note behind for his father. “I've been toying with this for a while, you know in between the moments when I try to make you give a shit about me, and like… I guess it wasn’t until this happened” he pulls down the collar of his shirt and Steve can see purple and red blotches, as well as on his wrists as they come into view “that I realized that I’m done. I’m done with you, I’m done with your obnoxious talks about Captain America, I’m done with you neglecting me, and I’m done with you hurting me. so guess what I’m gonna do? I’m taking that control away from you, Howard, ‘cause now I realize I have a say in who hurts me. And the only person who I will ever let hurt me from now on is me. So, I’m ending this. This little cycle we have going on. Have a nice life, sir.”
Steve keeps looking at the Tony on screen; he doesn’t realize he’s shaking at the beginning, too busy focusing on the precious boy on screen. Tony must have been very far under if he didn’t realize he hadn’t stopped recording, so Steve gets it in Technicolor as the boy rolls his office chair away to a desk back and to the left, and starts lining supplies on it. He sees three pill bottles, two liquor bottles and a boom box sitting in it.
Gonna do this the old fashioned way, huh, Dum-Dum? Tony tells Dum-E as he pets him and methodically starts opening bottles and pressing the play button on the boom box. Steve now realizes that the reason Tony calls Dum-E Dum-Dum, it’s because of the stories he was told as a child. That’s not what’s important though, because Tony chooses that moment to look back at the camera, at Steve, and seems to realize the recording is still going. He smirks, that devilish smirk he gets when he’s made a break through, and flips him off before telling Dum-E to finish it. The last thing Steve sees is Tony dry swallowing a handful of pills and grabbing a whiskey bottle.
Steve turns to the side and grab for the trash bin under one of the desks before he’s emptying the contents of his stomach in it. The bile seems to keep coming and coming, and he can’t stop shaking. JARVIS asks him if he’s okay once, and then leaves him to try to calm himself down. He can’t believe Tony ever tried to… that he could… that he thought… God, he can’t even fathom the pain his lover has gone through if he had been so weary when he was seventeen.
“JARVIS,” he says hoarsely, the AI is quick in replying. “How many times?”
The computer system takes a while to answer, but when he does his voice is more subdued. He sounds apologetic. “Three times. The first one, you saw, there was another when Colonel Rhodes went missing for a few weeks and another one on his thirty-fifth birthday.” JARVIS says the last one gently, but Steve sill flinches. Thirty-fifth… that had been two years ago, Tony had tried or at least thought about killing himself while they slept in his tower. He thinks he might throw up again. He wanted to punch Howard in the face, but he wanted to kiss and mother Tony more.
“Oh God,” he says. “That… That paper that he had, JARVIS, what was it?”
“It is a poem Master Stark found in one of his old college textbooks, Captain. I believe the name is Genius Child and the poet is Langston Hughes,” the AI says briskly and then Steve hears the whirring of something he thinks is called a printer. JARVIS leads him towards it and he picks up the paper, his eyes mist as soon as he reads the title.
There is a song for the genius child.
Sing it softly, for the song is wild.
Sing it softly as ever you can—
Lest the song get out of hand
Nobody loves a genius child.
Can you love an eagle,
Tame or wild?
Can you love an eagle,
Wild or tame?
Can you love a monster
Of frightening name?
Nobody loves a genius child.
Kill him—and let his soul run wild!
“Oh Tony,” Steve sighs as he clutches the paper to his chest. He can’t even begin to fathom what could have been done to Tony to make him believe that his intelligence would be cause for rejection. He’s crying now, and he knows that, but he can’t seem to help himself. He needs to talk to Tony, needs to touch him, reassure him that he is perfect and guarantee that his lover will never, ever try to do something like that again.
He methodically folds the paper and puts it into his back pocket before he leaves the workshop. He needs to plan a perfect night for Tony, needs to talk to him, but not without some careful crafting first. His lover will never have to look at himself that way again.