You start, stop, start again. This is the cycle.
You get up, work, save the world. This is your day.
Once, you were a child with a heart of gold, or so the newspapers tell it. Precocious and beloved. That’s not what you remember.
You remember cold rooms and colder staff. You remember empty dinners and emptier parties, with the room stuffed with people and you alone in the corner because all the other kids are stupid and your parents don’t have time for you.
You remember being lonely in a house with thirty bedrooms and a guest wing.
You have a press conference at three; you’re announcing the new phone you developed out of boredom four months ago. The board is salivating over it, the greedy bastards. You look at the daily schedule Pepper has taped to the side of your favorite whiskey and wonder if it’s time to nearly drive the company into the ground with scandal again. That’s always fun, and it seems to be annual.
It’s your company, not your father’s and not the board’s. (Pepper is running it now, but it’s still yours. You both know it too.) Your father would have wanted you to build the future, so you have. The board wants you to make them money, so you do. Both feel like accidents, like you shouldn’t be taking credit for them. Which is fucking ridiculous, you know, because this is your goddamn company and your arrogance won’t allow for anything less.
The press conference is at three, so you limit yourself to getting only slightly drunk instead of plastered.
Baby steps and all that.
Sex is sex. When it’s great, it’s fantastic, a natural high. When it’s horrible, it’s a war story to be repeated later -- names redacted to protect the incompetent, of course. You only kiss and tell when it’ll cause the maximum amount of embarrassment and unease. You’re sick like that.
Sex with Pepper is a natural high. Pepper breaking up with you is the worst crash you’ve ever experienced, and that includes that one weekend in Madrid with those girls whose names you still can’t remember and that thing that was a drug and probably illegal. That was some fucked up shit.
However, you scrape yourself together just in time to save the world, again. It earns you a small smile from your ex-girlfriend, former personal assistant, and current CEO.
Meeting Steve Rogers shouldn’t hurt so much, but there you go. Childhood dies hard and so on. He’s combative, pissed off, and yeah you were poking at him with words, little catches and snide turns of phrase, but that’s practically how you shake hands, isn’t it? But Steve hasn’t lived with thirty years of Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist Tony Stark’s antics on tabloids and television, so he doesn’t understand that he can’t take it personally. Instead he attacks, and his insults are clumsy and broad. Good ol’ American boys, unable to hit were it hurts.
So you think.
Right up until he brings up your father, waves him around like a goddamn flag, and then throws him in your face. You punch Captain America. It feels good, even though it sprains your hand and puts you on the bench for two weeks. The good Captain has a bruise for all of two hours until whatever healing juice they put in his steroids kicks in.
Your latest scandal is boring. A few models and a hint of drug abuse. Blah blah blah, sounds like a Tuesday. The media isn’t even into it; the only ones seriously taking potshots are Fox News, which. Yeah. It’s Fox News, and they haven’t liked you since you returned from Afghanistan and, in their eyes, turned liberal.
(You privatized world peace, you think to yourself with an eye roll. That’s hardly socialist behavior. Not that they could even define socialism if you left them in a room with Robert Owen.)
Captain America, however, doesn’t take it so lightly. Fury has to call him off after the second hour of shouting about how your behavior reflects on the team.
You’re angry, of course. It’s not like what you do matters, is it? You’ve always done your own thing, and no matter how much people whine and groan and, yes, shout about it, no one ever stops you when it comes down to it. And this is hardly your first rodeo. Fury doesn’t care, so long as you show up for missions and emergencies relatively sober and functioning. So long as you don’t get caught committing treason, he doesn’t give a fuck. And even then, he’d probably find some way to turn it to his advantage. Fury’s good like that.
Once Captain Fussypants stops blocking the door, you storm out. The effect is only slightly ruined by the fact that you’re hungover as fuck and trip over something on your way out.
You save Captain Fussypants’ life. Well. Yes. Yes, you do.
You save his goddamn life, and then he shouts at you about it, but he also has his hand on your bare, bloody shoulder like he can’t bring himself to let go. It hurts, because it’s kind of maybe dislocated, but.
You take what you can get, as always. You’re greedy like that, after all.
You have insomnia, and nightmares when you don’t have insomnia, so you’re in your lab at the Avengers base in New York. They pretty much leave you alone down there, because between improving the armor and inventing shit for Stark Industries, you make stuff for SHIELD, and they like that. A lot.
Anyway, you’re working on this thing with another thing when Cap wanders in, easy as you please. You stare at him, unsure about whether he’s really there or not. Maybe you really are asleep and this is going to be a sexy dream. You like those, even though they leave you horny and achingly hard when you wake up.
But no, it’s not a sexy dream, it’s reality, which as someone or another once said while you were sober enough to remember it, isn’t a porno. Usually. You would like to hold your life up as a counter argument.
To your shock, Cap doesn’t just wander in. He pulls up and chair and watches you, silently. After a few minutes of silent watching, you’re starting to have PTSD flashbacks to that time you pissed Rhodey off and he convinced JARVIS to play that movie with the sparkling vampires nonstop for three days on every system you owned. It was hell.
“What?” you snap eventually.
“You’re different than I expected,” Cap says.
“How so?” you ask. You wish you could snatch the words back; they reveal too much, you think. They’re too open. They’re an invitation for attack, a weakness that someone could exploit.
Then you remember that Obie is dead and this is Captain America, who hasn’t insulted you to your face since you saved his life.
“You’re not your father,” Steve says, proving that his brush with death hasn’t cured him of his foot-in-mouth disease.
“I’m not a lot of things,” you growl. It shouldn’t hurt this much, and you hate yourself for wanting to escape emotional pain that shouldn’t even register at this point. You’re better than this; just the other day, you watched Fox News break down why and how you’re going to bring about the downfall of America. It was funny.
“No!” Steve says, suddenly awkward and shy and painfully young. “That’s not what I meant.”
You wait for him to explain.
“I meant--” he starts, but then all the alarms go off and fuck it, could HYDRA’s timing be more horrible?
Don’t answer that.
You leave the conversation where it stopped. You don’t think about it, you don’t question it, you don’t allow yourself to get curious about it.
Okay, that’s a lie. You’re burning to know what he was about to say, what he was about to do, but. Well. It won’t end well, because nothing ends well in your life. Pepper was the best thing that ever happened to you, and even that didn’t end well. (Technically, it hasn’t ended, because she’s still your friend and she runs your company and sometimes you both go get drunk together and do the beast with two backs, but only sometimes.)
You don’t like being kidnapped. That’s a straightforward statement. You don’t. It’s unpleasant and annoying and often very distracting. You have better things to think about, like whether or not you can start a lobbying group devoted solely to having Pluto reinstated as a planet. (It could work. Honestly. You should talk to Pepper about it.)
You don’t like being kidnapped, and you certainly don’t like it when your kidnappers threaten people you care about. That pisses you off.
“If you touch one fucking hair on her head,” you tell them flatly, “I will fucking end you. There will be no arrest, no court date, no prison cell. I will maim you in this shitty warehouse you call a base and block all routes of escape. Then I’ll light this motherfucker on fire and leave you to burn to death, you cowardly fucking morons.”
The head kidnapper sneers at you, like he hasn’t gotten the memo that you’re Tony fucking Stark, the man who did the impossible in a cave with a box of scraps. You’re Iron Man.
Soon, they’re going to figure out what that means. It’s not just photoshoots and hot dancing ladies. You’re the man who privatized world peace.
You’re dangerous, and they’re going to die screaming if they go anywhere near Pepper or Rhodey or anyone .
They give you blueprints and tell you to build them a weapon. Deja vu. You’ve definitely heard this song before. They smack you around a bit, just to sure that you know that they’re serious. They don’t exactly go lightly, and you’re pretty sure that they fuck up your knee something good. It hurts to put weight on, which. Fuck.
The room is cool and windowless. And damp. You’re in the basement, of course, because your life is a cliche.
“Does no one understand the purpose of heaters?” you grumble, shivering slightly. There’s dried blood under your fingernails. You feel almost as bad as you did in Afghanistan, and that, considering that you had just gone through some seriously fucked up heart surgery in a cave, is pretty damn bad.
You might die here. They have you supervised, since someone apparently remembered what you did to the last guys who kidnapped you. You might die here, never getting to see if the right combination of alcohol can get Steve drunk or whether you and Pepper might work something out or whether you can convince Natasha to give sex a try. It’s a depressing thought, one that deserves a shot or two to deal with, but all you have is stale water and shitty military MREs.
You could die here.
You don’t even bother pretending to build their weapon. A monkey with a wrench could do it. It’s fucking embarrassing. They shouldn’t need the second smartest genius in the world to put this thing together. (Reed is the first smartest, which still stings a bit. Then again, the guy is basically a human-shaped rubberband who got his powers from impossible space bullshit. You’re not sure if he counts.) Perhaps you should talk to Pepper about creating a few grants for expanding the sciences in schools. Start more shop classes. Improve the breed of homegrown terrorists, because this is pathetic.
They put you in their basement, which is damp and dim and dank. There are no windows, no way to see out. No way to see the passing of time. They leave you alone, mostly, and they don’t understand most of what you’re doing anyway. They watch, but they don’t understand.
You build a distress signal that emits a code only JARVIS can work out. Now all you have to do is wait. Your knee hurts, and your ribs ache, and the idiot kidnappers clearly have no idea how to torture someone without maiming them.
You might die, but the Avengers will sure as hell be able to find your body and live up to their name.
There’s a bang from above you. The warehouse shakes with it; it feels like an explosion. A few gunshots, another bang, and then screaming. A boom of thunder that can only be Thor. You heave yourself to you feet and sway in place, waiting for the room to stop spinning. There’s another shuddering explosion; it knocks you back on your ass. You stay there. The lights flicker and then go out, leaving you almost completely in the dark.
The sounds from above you fade off.
You hear the door to the basement open.
“Tony?” you hear Steve call. “Tony!”
“Steve,” you croak. Your voice sounds like sandpaper. “Finally. Took you guys long enough.”
You hear Steve come down the stairs. He finds you pretty easily, guided by the light bulb in your chest. When he draws close, you can see the panic in his eyes, eerily lit by the arc reactor. His face is smeared with blood and grime, but he’s a definite sight for sore eyes.
“Sorry for the wait,” he says, sounding like he’s barely holding it together. He tries, and fails, to look reassuring. Unfortunately, only one Avenger should be freaking out at a time, so you pass the fuck out.
You wake up in the hospital. Steve and Pepper are at your bedside, and in that one brief moment in between you waking up and them noticing you, you see that they’re holding each other hands like that’s the only thing keeping them together.
Huh, you think with a thread of jealousy, although your not sure which one is the focus. When did this happen?
Then they realize that you’re awake and there’s shouting (Steve) and crying (Pepper and Steve). You find out that you’ve been in that damn warehouse for two and a half weeks, and that your knee is definitely fucked up, and that you won’t be walking yourself to the bathroom or fighting crime any time soon. The kidnappers are dead. Natasha ‘accidentally’ killed the only survivor when she saw Steve carry your near lifeless body out of the basement.
(Fury had grumbled about it, but you don’t bring a former Russian spy onto the team without expecting some unconstitutional violence. The Colonel makes it go away, and you can tell that Steve is trying very hard not to think about it. Ideals die hard.)
Pepper sniffs one last time and then smacks his uninjured leg. “Don’t ever do that again,” she orders him. Steve nods in agreement, placing his hand on Pepper’s shoulder in support.
“I won’t,” you promise, and everyone pretends that that means something.
Your knee is seriously fucked up. They do a bunch of surgeries, one right after the other, but there’s more damage than they can deal with. They tell you that it’s amazing that you can feel anything below the knee. You might recover, they say. You just probably won’t.
You stare at your hospital-issued cane and feel like screaming. You don’t, but you want to. They’re already calling you things like ‘crippled’ in the media. You don’t need to add ‘mad’ to it.
You’re released from the hospital eight days later. Fury tried to threaten you to keep you in bed the whole time. It wasn’t as effective as Steve’s puppy eyes or Pepper’s glare. You wonder who the fuck is running your company right now, and then you decide not to think about it. The two of them, plus Happy, are there to escort him through the media circus. The vultures circle and shout, but all you can focus on is Steve’s hand on your lower back and Pepper’s grip on your hand. You feel--
You feel safe between them. It’s entirely ridiculous, but here, in the middle of a paparazzi blitz, you finally relax.
Fury benches you for two months to begin with, and then longer. Your limp seems to be permanent, and on the bad days you have to use the damn cane. You feel weak and clumsy and useless, fucking useless. It infuriates you. Pepper visits you whens she’s not giving the board hell or doing press conferences. Steve spends a lot of time in your lab, sketching while you bang around in frustration. He’s calm and supportive, and you want to set him on fire for it. Just a little.
“If you rested, you’d heal faster,” he says when you become especially belligerent.
“Why don’t you go get your mack on with my ex?” you snap. It’s not your best comeback.
Steve’s eyes narrow as he translates the modern slang. “Excuse me?” he asks, his voice dangerously low.
“You heard me,” you say. “I saw you and Pepper in the hospital. You guys are ‘fondueing,’ aren’t you? Have at it.”
Steve just looks at you and then leaves without dignifying that with a response. You feel like shit and more of an asshole than you’ve been in a while.
You start, stop, start again. This is the cycle.
You get up, limp, save the world via satellite. This is your day.
You don’t see either Pepper or Steve for two weeks. Watching them on TV doesn’t count. They went to an event together, sparking rampant speculation from the media about the state of their relationship. You bang around your lab, eating fast food you have sent down and refusing to sleep until you pass out from exhaustion. Your knee hurts almost constantly, and you really should have that looked at again. Really. But that would require calling Pepper to figure out who your doctor is, because JARVIS refuses to find out until you apologize and you’ve forgotten. Again. You threaten to rewrite his code, but he just huffs in that British way of his and ignores you.
It figures that you would program an AI with attitude .
Usually, whenever you feel lonely you build something. A robot for the lab or a new gadget or an advanced toaster with attitude . Now all you can do is stare at the wall and think of Steve and Pepper. Pepper and Steve. Pepper and you. You and Steve. It goes around and around in your head, until it’s a whirl that doesn’t stop, a constant streams of ‘what if’ that even alcohol won’t kill.
You should get laid. You should get high. You should call Pepper. You should call Steve. You should do a lot of things.
You stare at the wall, thinking of what ifs and maybes and should-have, could-have, would-haves.
Pepper and Steve breeze into your lab together. You’re bent over one of your desks, sketching a new electric toothbrush on a tablet. Your knee is propped up on a pillow, not that it’s doing any good.
“You’re an idiot,” she tells you as you struggle to your feet. “Seriously, for a genius, you’re kind of a dumbass.” Steve nods. They’re standing close to you, very close. Ready to catch if you fall, probably. They’re standing rather close together as well. The air seems to leave the lab, even though JARVIS would tell you if something is wrong with the ventilation. Probably. Maybe you should check to make sure that no one has hacked him or something. Maybe someone is pumping poison in; you should do something about that. You should really--
Pepper leans in and kisses you, and Steve watches with hungry eyes, and then Pepper pulls away, and Steve takes a kiss of his own, and holy shit, how did a boy from the forties learn such dirty kissing? Their combined grip is the only reason that you’re still standing; your knee trembles sporadically. Steve pulls back and you can’t seem to catch your breath. This has to be a dream, a dirty, sexy dream that you’re going to wake up from any minute now. There will be an attack or an explosion or an accident or--
“Tony, calm down,” Pepper says with an eye roll. She grabs Steve and then kisses him, and damn, that’s a view. Steve pulls you closer, drawing you in.
“I could get used to this,” you say from between them. And then everyone is too busy to talk.
It’s hardly the first threesome you’ve had, but it is the best.
Pepper and Steve take you to the doctor. You’ve left your knee for too long; there was yet another surgery that they could have done. They do their best with what they can, but you’re going to limp for the rest of your goddamn life. Pepper threatens file a malpractice suit, but you wave her off. It’s your own damn fault for being a stubborn bastard.
Fury doesn’t want you on the team any more. He’s replacing you with Rhodey. It stings, of course, and you can’t bring yourself to talk to him for a week, but. Well. He’s your best friend, and it’s not like you’re not already planning out a way to get around the new restrictions. You’ve been delegated to tech-support, but that won’t last. All you need to do is make some adjustments on the Iron Man suit....
You start, stop, start again. This is the cycle.
You get up, kiss your special someones, limp to your lab, and save the world via satellite. This is your day.