Tony was inconsolable for weeks after Captain America went down in the ocean.
Not that anyone tried very hard to console him; Maria had flown out to be with Howard, and the first two weeks it was just Tony and the servants, who were all too busy , too excited that the war in Europe was over, to be concerned with one desolate four-year-old. Jarvis was a footman then, and he used to ruffle Tony's hair and slip him candy, but - that wasn't enough. The nanny just told him sharply that he was a big boy and shouldn't cry.
He'd made himself sick, in the end, and he'd been taken to the doctor and there had been some foul and pointless medicine. But he'd been a child, and after a few months Captain America had been tucked away as another little childish heartbreak, and in time it wasn't the worst of those.
So Tony had - not forgotten - but Captain America had been relegated to a dim corner in his memory. A fond memory, like his mother's perfume, or Jarvis' voice, but something lost and gone.
Until now. SHIELD had tried to suppress it, brought all their oppressive weight to bear, but the Internet slipped neatly through their hands, and if you had the time and patience, you could acquire clips of their latest security breach.
Tony didn't have time and he'd never had much patience; that was why he had JARVIS, who like his namesake always had time and always had patience. JARVIS combed it out of the Internet for him: fractional glimpses from CCTV here, a shaky mobile phone there, someone's laptop in a coffee shop whose webcam caught a figure running past, a satellite image of black cars converging on a figure. Conspiracy theories were bandied about, of course, but the only people who had enough data to make an educated guess were SHIELD - who were, of course, disinclined to participate - and now, Tony.
Tony had expected some little detail to tweak Fury's nose with; some way to say I know your secrets. He hadn't expected to see a dead man, a man who'd gone down in fire and ice thirty years ago, who'd been laid to rest with an empty coffin at the largest state funeral the country had ever seen.
He looked from the freeze-frame, the clearest picture they had - snapped from a StarkTech digital camera, synced instantly into the cloud, and backed up onto half a dozen servers before the camera had been confiscated by a SHIELD agent - to the black-and-white picture laid on his desk. From his father's trunk, a photo tucked into the back of a notebook full of better mousetraps; Howard Stark, hands resting on the surface of the famous shield, speaking to Steve Rogers, who was laughing. At his side was a man with stubble and a half- smile; and beyond him, a woman gazing at the camera, dark eyes and dark lipstick. There was no note written on the back, no date; Howard hadn't felt the need for a reminder.
"Play it again," Tony said quietly, and his eyes flicked from the photo to the figure who erupted from a nondescript building, bolted down the street at an Olympic sprint, and was snared in the bright lights of Times Square, spinning like a moth dazed by neon, long enough to be surrounded. And Nick Fury, stepping out to calm him, and Tony leaned forward to watch even closer, chest tightening with remembered grief as Steve Rogers looked around him with a face of desolate sadness.
"Shall I play it again, sir?"
Tony shut his eyes, and shook his head.
"JARVIS - "
"Sir?" A softer voice, because JARVIS had a sickening amount of processor power devoted to contextualising, and it still wasn't enough.
"Nothing, JARVIS." He looked up, and forced a smile, because JARVIS wasn't sensitive enough to discern a forced smile from a real smile, and that was the way Tony liked him. "Play it again."
A day of tugging gently at the hem of the SHIELD computers' skirts got him nowhere. A day trying to get an appointment with Director Fury, or Natasha, or even Coulson, got him nowhere.
On the third day, he did what he did best; he made a scene.
"Oh, Miss, I'm sorry," he told the receptionist as the robotic spider pounced on her computer. "It doesn't usually do that. It doesn't - are you going to shoot it? I wouldn't - "
In what was no doubt standard SHIELD procedure, she'd whipped out a palm-sized pistol and put a bullet straight into its centre of mass; as Tony was very much au fait with standard SHIELD procedure (although he'd so far managed to avoid a bullet in his centre of mass) he'd prepared for this, and the cunning little gadget sprayed a glue-like substance all around it, and then belched thick black smoke. It let out a ear-splitting yowl for good measure, and Tony occupied himself cracking the lock on the door that led to the more interesting bits of SHIELD.
Ten paces in, he was asked for his security pass; he was mid-bullshit when he heard the running footsteps, and turned to see Natasha Romanov coming down the passage like a tornado somehow contained in a catsuit. He supposed he should be pleased he got personal attention from the Black Widow the second he started misbehaving, but his immediate response was focused on stopping his shoulder being dislocated as she put him in an armlock and marched him back to the lobby, where only a faint haze in the air showed there had been any trouble. There was even a new receptionist.
Natasha didn't even speak; she shoved him towards the door, and then turned to the elevator bank and swiped her security pass. Tony cleared his throat as the doors slid open.
"I want to see Steve Rogers," he informed Natasha's back, and she spun on her heel, expression going from blank to enraged. She grabbed his wrist, did something complicated and probably Judo, and hurled him bodily into the elevator. By the time he'd regained his breath and his feet, they were dropping fast and Natasha was speaking into what was presumably a communications device. Something about security breaches and rat-filled dungeons.
The doors opened on to one of the sub-basement levels, a shining steel and glass dystopian nightmare. Fury was striding down the hallway towards him, coat flapping behind him; Tony was briefly reminded of The Matrix. Fury's glower was almost intimidating, even to Tony.
"I saw him on the the Internet," Tony said hastily. "File was out in the public domain."
"I forgot, he was wearing a name badge," Fury snarled. "It's probably up on Wikipedia, right? I've had it with your cavalier attitude towards - "
"I met him," Tony held out his hands; he wasn't experienced at placating Fury. Or anyone, really. "When I was a kid. He visited Howard a few times. I saw the clip, I recognized him. And you. That's it, okay?"
Fury still loomed over him, glaring, but the open rage had died out of his face. He just looked angry, now.
"Put him in 3-A," he said to Natasha.
3-A was a bare room, with bolted-down steel furniture and too-bright lights. Tony wasn't claustrophobic - he couldn't fly about in a suit of armour if he were - but it wasn't a friendly sort of place. It was obviously designed to unsettle the occupant; Tony, out of stubbornness, dug out his phone for a loud game of Angry Birds. He tried not to think about Steve, and if he were sitting in a room like this, wondering what the hell had happened to his life, his world, while he'd been away at the war.
Steve hadn't had anyone to say goodbye to the first time he went away to war. He hadn't even been meant to go to war, after all - he'd been going as a chorus girl, not a soldier. And he couldn't take his new body back to the street he'd grown up to say good-bye. A hundred extra pounds he might have explained away; eight inches height, not so much. Bucky he would have gone to anyway, of course; but Bucky had been months ahead of him, and he'd hoped for a meeting, not a leave-taking.
This time, though, he had someone who was going to miss him; they'd only known each other a few weeks, but that was apparently enough to form a firm attachment, at four years old.
"I have to go," Steve said gently, crouched on the doorstep so he was almost eye to eye with Tony. Tony's lower lip pushed out even further. "I'll be back soon, buddy."
"Can't you stay another week?" He tightened his grip on Steve's hands, only able to encompass two of Steve's fingers in his small grip. "A week isn't much." His big eyes were worryingly shiny; Steve wasn't sure he was ready to handle tears. Tony was so smart it was easy to think of him as a bigger kid than he was, but four was really pretty small.
"I have to. You know that, Tony. I'm a soldier, and I have to go to where the fighting is."
"I suppose so," Tony mumbled, and very slowly, he pried his hands off Steve's. Then he grabbed them again. "Wait here," he commanded, and turned to run back into the house. Steve looked up at Howard, who shook his head at the sound of small feet thundering on the staircase.
"It's nice of you to humour him," in tones that meant why are you humouring him?. Steve answered both with a shrug.
"He's a good kid."
"Tell that to the five nannies he's had in the last year alone," Howard sounded amused rather than reproving. Tony was a good kid, Steve was sure; he was just... spirited.
Tony seemed largely uninterested in the fact Howard was going back to the front; perhaps he was used to it. He'd been born during the war, after all, and didn't know anything but his father's comings and goings. When the war was over, Steve guessed Tony would have the chance to get to know his father.
Steve kind of hoped he and Howard would stay friends; Howard was a big shot, sure, but he was a nice guy and might not be too high-class to keep up their friendship. Maria Stark had been much nicer than he'd expected from a society dame too, her polished manners only the gilt on a genuine warmth, and of course Tony had been instantly charmed and charming with the new friend.
Tony charged back down the stairs and out of the door, holding something as big as two fists put together. He shoved it at Steve, eyes wide.
"I made you this!"
"Thanks, Tony." Steve took it, and almost dropped it when it wriggled in his hand, spreading out palm-sized sheets of metal with a grinding noise. It was - well, it didn't look like anything, it was a robotic thing that squirmed and tapped metal legs on his hand. Steve could not, for the life of him, think of anything to say about it.
"It has cameras and microphones," Tony said breathlessly. "And it holds a charge - you can set it so when anyone touches it, it'll zap them!"
"Come on, Tony, Captain America's got a lot to do." Howard glanced at his watch.
"I was going to make it prettier," Tony said, ignoring Howard to search Steve's face with anxious eyes. "But I didn't have time. Do you like it?"
"It's incredible," he said truthfully, but he set it back in Tony's hands; he couldn't carry unapproved tech back to the front line; it would end up so much dead weight, to be discarded in a pinch. Tony bit his lip. "Why don't you finish it now, and keep it safe for me, and I'll come and pick it up next time I'm back?"
"You promise you'll come pick it up?" Tony's face brightened, and he clutched the thing to his chest.
"I'll come as soon as I can," Steve temporised, because promises from a deployed soldier - well. He wrapped his arms around Tony, and hugged him tightly, the lump of metal shifting between them. "You take good care of it, now."
"I will," Tony said, and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Come back soon!" He clung on for almost a minute, and then reluctantly loosened his grip and stepped back.
Steve turned at the car door to wave at him, and Tony waved back. He looked very small, standing in the doorway of the Mansion.
After Tony had gotten bored of Angry Birds - which didn't take long - and started on Tetris, the door finally opened, to admit a stranger, a woman in the black leather uniform of a field agent. She was about Natasha's height and build, but her hair was salt and pepper, and her skin was crumpled at the corner of eyes and mouth. He stared at her; she seated herself opposite him, and stared back, hands neatly folded on the gleaming table.
"See, I was hoping for Steve, expecting Fury or maybe Natasha. You're new."
"I'm new," she agreed in a clipped voice. An English accent.
"So who are you?"
"I'm Director Carter. Of MI:13."
Tony tried to rock his chair back, and remembered it was bolted in place.
"What's the British interest in Captain America?" Memory stirred, and he tilted his phone, hit a key, and projected Howard's photo onto the shining desktop. It didn't work very well, but he could trace the line of the woman's jaw, her strong cheekbones and firm mouth. He looked up at the woman opposite him and saw the same lines.
"Are you Peggy?" he said, and caught the very faint flicker in her eyes. "You're Steve's girl. I'm sorry."
"I was," she said coolly. "In private life, I'm Mrs Nicholas Fury now."
"You're - oh wow, awkward." Tony blinked several times, trying to reconcile that with his image of Fury. He supposed, if he had to picture Fury with a wife, someone fierce and competent would be it; but he was honestly surprised the man had a personal life. Next Coulson would have hobbies, and Natasha relatives.
"Yes." Her mouth twisted. "And no."
"Does he know?"
"He knows. He's not the first soldier to come back from the war to find his girl didn't wait." Her mouth settled into a flat line. "You're not impressing me, Mr Stark."
"Do I need to impress you?"
"Nick says it's my call if you get to see Steve. It's up to you whether that's important to you."
"It's important to me," Tony said instantly, and studied her again. The kind of woman who'd loved Captain America - and presumably continued to love Nick Fury - was going to be a hard sell. "Howard flew Cap on his first mission, he offered, and she nodded.
"I asked him to."
"He didn't mention that," Tony said unguardedly, and her eyes twitched in what he was sure was an aborted eyeroll. "Okay, but they were definitely friends, right?"
"But you're not him."
"Well, you're not her," Tony said, and her eyes narrowed. "You're not the same. What does it matter I'm not the same Stark?"
"I think it matters, Mr Stark," she said, dry as dust.
"He promised," Tony said, and folded his arms across his chest. She tilted her head inquiringly. "He promised he'd come back, and then he didn't, and I - he owes me. I was - he was supposed to come back." He could hear the ring of childish grief in his voice, and shut his mouth.
Director Carter was very still, her eyes staring at him - through him, he thought, deep in consideration.
"Just for a minute," he pleaded, sensing weakness. "Just to say hi. I - come on, let me see him, I just want to know he's okay."
On Steve's second visit, Tony ambushed him before he'd even made it up the steps to the front door, pouncing out from behind one of the ornamental shrubs and swinging from his hand.
"Hi!" he tried to tug Steve sideways, towards the garden. "Come see my hideout!"
"I'm supposed to - "
"Daddy's in a meeting. It's going on too long. You're supposed to wait, but you should come and wait with me, or you'll have to sit in the drawing room. Come oooon." He dug his heels into the neatly raked gravel of the drive, and Steve looked about him, guiltily, before swinging Tony up into his arms and letting himself be directed. After all, he couldn't leave a little boy wandering about unsupervised, getting into trouble.
"There, look, there - " Tony squirmed in excitement and pointed into the boughs of a big tree - an oak, Steve thought. The early spring leaves just barely shrouded a treehouse, and there was a rope ladder, neatly looped up some seven foot from the ground.
"I'm not allowed up alone," Tony said, straining up so he could tug the ladder down. "When I'm bigger, mommy says. Come on!"
"Put your arms around my neck," Steve ordered, and tugged firmly on the rope ladder. He cast a last look around to see if anyone was going to jump out and scold him. The lawn remained green and empty, and Steve climbed up with Tony clinging like a monkey to its mother. "Wow," he said when he flipped back the trapdoor and stuck his head in, and Tony let go to scramble up.
The tree house was nicer than the apartment Steve and his mother had lived in. The floor was polished, and the windows were real glass. There were big, plush cushions on the floor, and to his amazement, what appeared to be electric light-fittings.
"Dad said he always wanted a treehouse in this tree when he was little," Tony explained as Steve gawked around. "So he built this one, but he's too big, so he said I could have it! But then he said I'm too little, so I can only come up with a grown-up and everyone's always busy." Steve had to chuckle at the frustrated whine in Tony's voice.
"It is pretty high up," he said. "No one wants you to break your neck."
"I knoooow," Tony rolled his eyes. "I don't see why we can't have an elevator, then I could use it all the time."
"An elevator?" Steve started to laugh, and settled himself on one of the cushions. Tony gave him a confused look.
"Then I wouldn't have to climb the rope ladder," he said slowly, like a child used to explaining things. "You know elevators, right?"
"An elevator would be perfect," Steve managed to choke out, and Tony beamed.
"Tell daddy that." Tony turned to rummage in a trunk, which Steve sincerely hoped didn't contain classified documents or anything Tony could injure himself with. To his relief, Tony came back with a stack of comics, and climbed into Steve's lap. "I have all of them," he confided. "Mommy says they change the stories, though, because of security."
"Your mom's very smart," Steve agreed. "Nazis read comics too, you know." Not to mention, they'd started publishing them before he'd even left America - but no point explaining that to Tony, who was carefully inspecting the cover and then peering into Steve's face, as if checking for accuracy.
Apparently deeming the resemblance sufficient, he opened it up in the centre, to a dramatic scene, and then sighed.
"So you didn't crash a plane into a mountain fortress?" he said wistfully, and leaned up against Steve's shoulder.
"I did, actually; but I guess the Nazis knew about that, huh?"
"Yeah," Tony said with satisfaction, and flipped ahead. "Oh, there's a girl. You don't know her name, but you love her, and she's in the French resistance."
"What are they putting in there?" Steve craned his neck. "I'm not - there's not a girl in the French resistance."
"Oh. Is there a girl? Is she nice? Are you going to marry her? What's her name? Can I meet her?"
"I hope so," he felt his cheeks going pink. They hadn't said anything, but - but there was going to be dancing, and surely - "And if I do, you can come to the wedding."
"What's her name?"
"It's a secret," he warned, and Tony crossed his finger over his heart. "Her name's Peggy. And she's not French, she's English. And she's wonderful. As - " he searched for a dramatic enough comparison. "As wonderful as your mother."
Tony's eyes widened a little, clearly impressed.
"Peggy," Tony repeated, then nodded. "I like that. You should write to the comic and tell them they got it wrong."
"Maybe I will," Steve said vaguely, and ruffled Tony's hair. Dark curls and blue eyes; maybe, one day, he'd sit like this with a child of his own. That's right, Daddy was in the war - And Peggy would tut at the woman in the French Resistance. Tell him to stop filling the children's heads with nonsense, as he'd heard Mrs Barnes say to her husband, telling war stories to Bucky and Steve.
He rested his cheek against Tony's hair, and watched the pages skim past, listened to his disapproving commentary on the planes and missiles and tanks. "This fuselage is the wrong shape, Cap, isn't it?"
"I don't really know, Tony; that's what I have your dad for, to tell me these things."
"Dad's very smart, isn't he?" Tony turned his head to inspect Steve's face. "You couldn't do without him."
"No sir, we could not."
"I figured," Tony muttered, and poked disconsolately at the page that had a nondescript man in uniform handing Cap his shield. "I expect because of security, daddy can't be in the comics."
"That's right," Steve said.
"Steve?" Howard's voice came from nearby, and Steve gave a guilty start. Tony seemed unconcerned.
"In the treehouse," Steve called back, and Tony sighed, obviously disappointed in him.
"Tony, you're not supposed to play in the treehouse." Howard's head appeared through the trapdoor.
"But daddy, I'm not unsupervised. Captain America's looking after me! He's a grown-up."
"Once a tramp came to the back door and Tony paid him fifty cents to bring him up here," Howard said to Steve in resigned tones. "Come here, scamp."
Tony carefully laid his comics back in the trunk, but then went to Howard with no fuss, turning his head to grin at Steve as he vanished from sight. Steve waited until they got clear, and then jumped, to applause from Tony and a sigh from Howard.
"Don't try that, Tony."
"Of course not, Daddy," he said scornfully. "I'm not a super-soldier."
"Five minutes," said Fury - eyepatch version. The British model was standing behind him, giving him an equally flinty stare. "Watch your step, Stark."
"Careful as a - as Coulson," he promised, and thought Carter's mouth twitched. He took a deep breath, and let himself in to Steve's room.
Steve was sitting on a little grey couch, with a glass coffee table in front of him. There were several framed prints hanging on the wall, generically pleasant, and an artificial palm in the corner of the room. It had clearly all been scavenged from office furniture to make the place look less of a prison; SHIELD did a shitty job of making places homely.
He didn't even look up when Tony sat down beside him. Tony just stared, for a little while, let Steve's face settle back into his memory. He'd remembered Steve was handsome, of course - there had definitely been a time in his early teens when Cap posters were a source of great fascination and furtive self-investigation - but yeah, he was even better than Tony remembered, and fuck, his palms were sweating, that wasn't what he'd planned.
"Hey," he said, and his voice was lower than he meant it to be. Steve looked up, slowly. He looked dazed, like a man who'd taken a blow to the head, and Tony knew that look; he'd seen in the mirror twenty years ago, when his parents had died in the car crash; when Jarvis, two days later, had died in his sleep.
Heart failure, they'd said, but now he wondered; with all three of them gone, he'd only had Obie to cling to.
"Who are you?" Steve's eyes skimmed over his face, no sign of recognition in there.
"Tony," he said, and Steve shook his head. "Oh come on, I remembered you, and it's only been a few weeks for you."
Another look, slower, and then a spark of interest showed.
"Yeah." Tony grinned, but Steve's expression darkened.
"They told me Howard..."
"Yeah," Tony was ready for that, and didn't flinch. "Twenty years ago."
"Yeah, me too." Tony grabbed his hand, and squeezed it. "Look, they only let me see you because I whined and begged."
"I don't know, maybe they thought you needed a little whiny in your life. Oh, why'd I whine? Because you owe me, Captain Rogers, you promised to come see me when you got back and have you? No, you're rocking it up here in SHIELD."
"Peggy got married," Steve informed him, and Tony nodded.
"Yeah. Yeah, I know. If it helps, Fury's..." He thought about it. "Well, the people he likes like him back," he said finally. "I really piss him off, I guess, so mostly he's an asshole to me, first time I met him he snuck into my house and turned all the lights off so he could pose dramatically against the window, and you know what, an eyepatch? Really? And the long coat, the man is starring in his own personal movie, it's only a matter of time before he makes Coulson follow him around humming his theme tune."
Steve stared at him. Tony stared back.
"I guess what I'm saying is I'm sure he makes Peggy very happy. She looks like the kind of woman who'd like a theme tune. Drama. That kind of thing. Looks good in ninja-wear." Tony squeezed his hand, and then shook it. "Can you smile a bit?"
"Because I've got five minutes, but I'll bet if you're smiling, they'll give me a bit longer."
"They're monitoring us," Steve said, glancing up at the ceiling. "They'll know I'm only smiling because you asked."
"It's better than nothing, right? Come on. Come on." Tony tugged insistently on his hand, and Steve leaned sideways and put his head on Tony's shoulder. "Okay, that works."
"You were four," Steve said quietly. "But I don't really have anyone else left."
"You have me," Tony promised instantly, grabbing at opportunity with both hands. "You - say the word. I owe you for taking me up in the treehouse, right? A lot of people would like Tony Stark owing them a favour."
"Not much of a favour." But Steve, wonderfully, had the faintest of smiles on his lips, a tired shadow of a thing, but unmistakably present.
"It's got thirty-five years compound interest," Tony countered. "I'd say you can have anything you want."
Steve turned his hand in Tony's grip, and squeezed back.
"Thank you, Tony."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, until the door opened and Nick Fury beckoned him out.
"All right?" Tony said as soon as the door shut behind him. Director Carter had vanished, and Natasha was back, face a beautiful mask. "I didn't do anything terrible."
"Your aspersions on my eyepatch have been noted," Fury returned. "It's going in your file as evidence for the case I will one day bring against you under the Americans with Disabilities Act."
Banter meant no real complaint, and no real complaint was basically praise, so Tony preened, and decided it was a good time to make audacious requests.
"So I think he should come and stay with me," Tony said, and Fury rolled his eye.
"Out of the question, Stark."
"Oh, come on. I know you guys have tight budgets, and I bet he eats a lot." Behind Fury, Natasha inspected her nails with vicious scorn. "And I can put him up in a room that doesn't look like a third-rate motel, seriously, you couldn't splash out on a rug or something?"
"Security concerns," Fury began, and then stopped as a door clicked, and they all swiveled to inspect Steve, who stood in the doorway and looked back at them. He rubbed his hands against his arms like he was cold, though it had to be almost eighty degrees in there.
"Do I get a say?" Clearly, either the rooms weren't soundproofed, or they weren't soundproofed against super-hearing. "Or do I have to stay here?"
"I'll personally drive him back here anytime you need him," Tony put in hastily. "Wouldn't it be good for him to be somewhere familiar?" Fury looked as if he were sucking on a lemon.
"It's... possible," he conceded.
"I'd like to stay with Tony," Steve said. "He's – I'd like to, please?"
"If that's what you want," and Fury turned his eye on Tony with a malevolence that promised hideous disaster should any harm befall Steve Rogers.
Although what Fury thought Tony could do to make things worse was frankly beyond him.
"Can we go now?" Steve said hopefully, and sighed when Fury shook his head.
"Tomorrow morning." Steve's whole body drooped.
"Bring him tonight," Tony took his life in his hands by elbowing Fury in the ribs. "Come on, don't make him spend another night in the jailhouse. You can move a SHIELD agent in to keep an eye on him, if you want. Send Coulson, all the Supernanny he can handle. Natasha, if she promises not to do the creepy thing where she cleans her nails with a gun. I don't know how that even works, but I find it unsettling."
Steve gave Fury a look of naked hopefulness, and Fury nodded.
"If we get finished in time, Cap, we'll send you over tonight," and Steve nodded and displayed that ghostly smile again. "Why don't you let Agent Romanov take you to lunch?"
Steve consented to be escorted away, and Fury waited until they were out of sight before rounding on Tony. Tony had remained only out of the conviction that if he didn't let Fury get his yells out, Tony wouldn't get his super-soldier.
"That's the first time in three days he's left that room on his own," Fury said. "It's the third time he's expressed a preference."
"What were the first two?"
"He wanted to see Peggy; and he doesn't like lime flavour. He showed no indication of giving a shit about anything else, from the Dodgers leaving town to the Civil Rights Act."
"So no lime, you're saying."
Fury blew out a deep sigh.
"Let's bring your daddy into this."
"Oh, let's." Tony bared his teeth, and Fury bared his back.
"You think you're a fuck up now? Mess up this one, Howard will fucking disown you from wherever he is. You want to shit on his legacy, this is your moment. You want to prove yourself the better man - now's your chance. Howard's not here for him. You are."
Natasha deposited Steve on the Mansion's doorstep at 7pm exactly. He advanced as far as the mat, and halted to look around him with doubtful eyes.
"Come in, then," Tony said. "It's not changed so much, has it?"
"No," Steve advanced a step. "No, it hasn't."
Steve stood stiff-backed in the hallway, trying not to look too intimidated. He'd known Howard was rich, of course he had, it was a running joke around base - only last week Bucky had crashed a jeep into a ravine, diving free at the last second, and when Gabe had sighed The Colonel's going to be mad, Bucky had snickered and said Stark'll buy him a new one.
But this, this wasn't jeeps or running a drinks tab or getting silk stockings and eye pencils couriered out so he could slip them to Steve to offer to Peggy. (She'd known, of course, her eyes had cut straight to Howard, but she'd given her lovely smile to Steve - after all, a soldier could give things to his girl, but a married playboy couldn't give stockings to a female agent.) This was opulent. This was the fanciest room he'd ever been in, fancier than the drawing room at the White House where he'd sat awed with a porcelain cup held very carefully in his newly oversized hand.
Polished floorboards, a plush-looking rug, huge forgiving mirrors that made everything reflected in them warmer and more inviting. Delicate chairs, made of wood curved like swans' necks, and down past all the double doors with gilded white woodwork, there was a sweeping staircase like something out of a fairytale.
And this was just the hall. The butler - the butler - had offered to show him into the drawing-room, and Steve's nerve had broken. He'd wait right here for Howard, and if Howard had meant it about looking him up when he was done with meetings, he'd drag Howard out to a diner for lunch.
He was starting to doubt whether Howard had meant it.
Someone was watching him; he could feel the prickle at the back of his neck. His eyes flicked up to the ceiling first, the most likely location for hidden cameras, but anything could have been hidden in the ornate dado rail. He glanced round the hall, and there, that door at the end was cracked open and hadn't been a few minutes ago. He looked at it for a second, the empty space revealed, and then looked down.
Then he grinned. Howard had mentioned he'd got a son, and those eyes looked about the right height for a four-year-old.
"Anthony?" he said. "Aren't you going to come out and say hi?"
The door swung further open, and Anthony Stark came trotting confidently down the hall. He had an armful of papers, and a serious face. He stopped right at Steve's feet, and stared up at him.
"Captain America," he said, not quite a question. Steve glanced around, a little guiltily.
"Well," he said, and really, no point lying. "I am, yes. How did you know?"
"Daddy said you might come. I've been waiting. And you're a Captain. And you look like the posters." He spoke with confidence unusual in a little kid, and then he hefted up his wad of papers.
Steve blinked down at him, and he raised his eyebrows expectantly. Maybe Anthony had a poster or comic he wanted signed? But it looked like construction paper. He took it carefully, and Anthony bit his lower lip.
"It's a present," he said, and there was a note of breathlessness in his voice. "I drew you some pictures!"
"Oh!" Steve grinned. That was pretty cute. He flattened out the wad into a surprisingly huge bit of paper, and stared.
Okay, that was - not what he'd expected. Fine precise linework, a detailed diagram of a sort of giant robot. It looked like something HG Wells would come up with, a high cockpit balanced on long, multi-jointed legs. Set out around it were detailed drawings of joints, of armour-plating, of gun emplacements.
"Do you like it?" Anthony moved closer, so Steve could see him peering under the edge of the paper. His eyes were wide. "I designed it just for you."
"It's - " he looked back at it, the careful detail. Up in the cockpit, behind the the curved pane of glass with thicknesses and coatings marked in a round hand, was a crude figure with a tufted head. Anthony's skills clearly didn't extend to portraiture. "It's wonderful. Thank you."
A huge smile, and then Anthony lifted up his arms. Steve went to offer him back the paper, but Anthony shook his head.
"It's a present," he said, and when Steve looked at him, bewildered, he gave a short annoyed sigh that was so like Howard Steve had to chuckle. "That means you hug me!"
"Oh, right," Steve dropped to one knee, and small arms went round his neck. Steve wrapped a free arm round his body and squeezed. "Okay. You, uh, you going to let me go?"
"Pick me up," Anthony ordered. Steve looked around; no mother, nanny or butler appeared to be in evidence. He lifted Anthony easily, and he loosened his limpet grip as Steve stood. They settled comfortably together, and Anthony beamed at him. "Want to see the workshop?"
"Uh - " Steve glanced about.
"I think daddy's in there."
"Oh, well. I guess, then."
They went down a flight of stone steps, and were faced with a big steel door. Anthony stretched up to turn the combination lock, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he turned and clicked the dial.
The lights came up automatically when they stepped in, and Steve hesitated, glancing around at the polished wooden surfaces, spotlit drawing boards, a whole wall lined with filing cabinets.
"There's no one here."
"Dad'll be back soon," Anthony squirmed round and pointed to a table. "There, go there."
They stared down at a table of blueprints; Anthony hummed softly under his breath.
"They're working on planes," he confided. "They need a different kind of bomber, for a different type of bomb."
"Is that right?" The prints had so many lines, so many exploded sections, he couldn't quite make out what was going on.
The sound of running footsteps from the doorway, and Steve looked up to see Howard charge into the workshop, face flushed.
"Tony," he said in tones of annoyance, and then spotted Steve. "Oh, I thought - how - "
Steve turned to display Tony, who directed wide, innocent eyes at them both in turn.
"Hi, daddy!" he chirped, and Howard sighed.
"Tony, what have I told you - "
"Captain America wanted to see your workshop, daddy!"
"Sure he did," Howard stepped forward to remove Tony, who whined and clung closer to Steve. "Come on now. Where's your mother?" Tony rolled his eyes in a very grown-up way.
"Howard can you look after Tony today because I have a charity luncheon - "
"Oh right. Well, why don't you run along and find Jarvis?" Howard tried to pry his fingers loose and Tony scowled.
"I don't mind," Steve said, and Tony beamed at him. Howard made a face, but apparently decided on the path of least resistance.
"He's going to be crushed by something in here one day," he said, and pinched Tony's chin. "Trouble."
Steve settled docilely into the best spare bedroom, inspected his en suite bathroom with zero interest, and ate three slices of pizza at Tony's urging. He barely spoke, but produced a faint smile upon command, which Tony judged the best he was going to get. When he'd finished his soda, he kicked off his shoes, lay down on the bed, and began to snore softly.
Tony should probably have let him be then; instead he sat in the armchair and watched while Steve slept, watched his eyes move under the fine veil of their lids.
It was late before he found his own bed; he dreamed of being a child again, dreamed of the forest of towering adults talking over his head; his mother stooping to kiss him, and Howard swinging him up. He woke early and unsettled, and went up to the attic, searching through boxes neatly labelled in Jarvis' handwriting. He was expecting to feel nostalgia; maybe even grief. But he felt more like a man at an estate sale, rummaging dispassionately through the debris of a stranger's life. He should throw it all out, really; if he'd valued it, he wouldn't have consigned it to the attic in the first place.
The metal monstrosity was carefully packed away in its own crate. He lifted it out, and checked the battery pack; that was going to need fixing. Or probably it wouldn't, it wasn't like Steve was going to use it. He re-wrapped it in its sheets of newspaper - 1956, the year he'd gone to MIT - and headed back downstairs.
He found Steve standing in the hall, looking at the flowers on the console.
"They're not the same, are they?" Tony said, and Steve turned after a few seconds, like he was on a time delay. "Tell me we didn't keep the same flower order all this time."
"No, it was daffodils last time." He shrugged. "But it was spring. And now it's autumn."
"You missed summer, sucks." Tony put a hand on his back, and pushed him towards the library doors. Steve was wearing an identical shirt to the day before, plain black with a SHIELD logo, the kind that agents wore in the gym. Tony would have to fix that; even if Steve didn't care, it was Tony who had to look at him. "Okay, sit down, I have something for you."
Instead, Steve frowned at him, and then took his chin in one hand and began brushing at his hair. Tony's breath caught at that warm, strong hand holding his face steady; he wanted to throw his arms around Cap's neck and hug him close. Maybe he could even get away with it.
"What," he managed, and Steve gave him a half-smile and showed him his hand.
"Where did you manage to pick up cobwebs?" he said and Tony grinned.
"The attic. I had to go fetch this." He pulled the package from under his arm, and when Steve just looked at it, hands dropping back to his sides, Tony unwrapped it himself. Steve's eyes widened as Tony grabbed his hand and placed the silly thing in his hands. It was painted up to match Steve's shield, only lacking a final coat of protective varnish; Tony had abandoned the project when the news had come from Europe. "I kept it for you, like you said."
Steve's face crumpled, and he almost collapsed into a chair; he bent over, shoulders shaking soundlessly, and he clasped the little metal creature to his chest.
"Oh, God damn it," Tony said, dismayed, and dropped to his knees beside the chair and threw his arms around Steve's shoulders. If Fury had them under surveillance, it was going to be raining SHIELD agents any minute, all demanding to know how and why he'd made Captain America cry.
But Natasha didn't come crashing through the window; he didn't even get a vicious text from Coulson. Just Steve, sobbing into his neck like - like his world was ending.
"Steve, c'mon," he murmured, and rubbed at his back. "C'mon, baby, don't cry."
Maybe crying was better. It was, at least, caring. Maybe 'this place sucks and I hate everything' was a step up from 'I don't mind'. Tony wasn't much of a crier, and he almost always had a strong opinion, usually several, so it was hard for him to judge. Maybe he should call someone.
"Don't cry," he said again, and kissed Steve's cheek, and then his mouth, and after a startled breath Steve kissed him back. That wasn't really what Tony had expected; his plan, such as it was, had revolved around surprising Steve, and diverting him into new thoughts. But if Steve wanted kisses, Tony could do kisses. Tony could do better than kisses.
"C'mere, Steve, it's all right," he crooned, running his hands up and down his back, into that soft blond hair. He tugged at Steve's shoulder, and Steve obediently slid out of the chair onto his knees, and let Tony pry the metal creature out of his hands and set it aside.
He let Tony push him down on his back, and straddle him, and he tangled a hand in Tony's hair and pulled him down into a kiss.
The urgent slip and slide of their mouths, and Steve's hot skin under his hands - Tony couldn't breathe, felt like he was drowning, didn't care. He didn't care that Steve was gripping his shoulder so tight he'd have bruises; did care, very much, that he could feel Steve getting hard, that his mouth opened and his tongue slid between Tony's lips.
It was possible he pulled away because he was a good person, despite what his SHIELD profile said; possibly just fear of Fury's wrath. Maybe, he told himself as he looked down at Steve's red lips and half-shut eyes, he just wanted Steve to be okay, and screwing him on the library floor wasn't the best way to ensure that.
"What?" Steve blinked, lazily, and tried to pull him back; Tony slid off him, and curled against his side, arranged so he couldn't really hump Steve's thigh.
"Nothing," and Steve hugged him close, and kissed the top of his head. That lasted for about forty-five seconds, at which point Steve apparently regained his senses and sat bolt upright, spilling Tony onto his back.
"Oh my God," Steve stared down at Tony, who gave him an encouraging smile. "What did I do?"
"Not me. Yet." Tony said with a shade of regret. "No, what, don't make that face, that's so unflattering."
"You're - you're Howard's kid."
"I'm older than you," Tony sat up to get a grip on Steve, in case he bolted. "I think - " he cast rapidly about for something Howard might, feasibly, have said. "Dad would say I could do a lot worse, right?"
"I'm sorry." Steve slumped against Tony's side, and leaned his head on Tony's shoulder.
"Nothing to be sorry for." He pressed a cautious kiss to Steve's cheek, and to his relief Steve turned his head and kissed back, a little shyly, none of the almost desperate passion he'd shown before. "C'mon, get up, come with me, I have a bed."
Steve resisted, frowning a little, and Tony's heart twisted.
"You don't want to? Sure, no problem, we can - "
"I'm hungry," Steve said abruptly. "Can we get breakfast?" He linked his fingers with Tony's, and squeezed.
"Breakfast? Sure, we can do breakfast." Tony kissed his cheek again, just to check, and Steve smiled. "I mean, sure, breakfast. You're going to like breakfast, we've made great strides in breakfast food."
"Yeah," Steve said. "Okay. Show me what you have."