"Howard Stark was a good man," Steve said, trying to connect with that man's son, nearly seventy years later.
Tony laughed harshly. "Yeah? He might have been a good man, but he was a hell of a bad father!"
Steve tried to interrupt, but seeing the obvious pain in Tony's eyes, the words died on his lips. He didn't know why it was so important to get Tony to accept that Howard Stark was a man worthy of a son's pride. But he'd felt like he owed it to Howard, owed it to Tony.
"I get that dad was your friend, and you want me to know that guy, but I've spent a lifetime trying to deal with the man I did know. You want to know my Howard?" Tony demanded. "That one shipped me off to boarding school as soon as he could. Mom didn't want me to go, begged him. I heard them fighting about it. But mom never won those arguments, hell she never won a damn thing married to my dad." He stopped for breath, beginning to pace around the room. "You think I didn't want him to be proud of me? Well, I did! But nothing I ever did was good enough. Graduate from MIT at eighteen? Why couldn't I have done it at sixteen? The only time dad ever showed even a hint that I might be worth his time was when he was wasted. Not just your run of the mill drunk, but totally wasted. Sober Howard didn't have much use for me." It was as if all the anger had drained form Tony, leaving nothing behind but the emptiness of regret.
"Tony, I'm sorry," Steve said quietly, feeling like the biggest jerk ever. He'd never wanted this to happen.
Tony didn't respond right away, a coldness settling over his face. Then he asked, "Sorry he wasn't father of the year, or sorry to have your illusions shattered?"
Drawing back, startled by the controlled ferocity of the question, Steve felt his own anger rise. "That's not fair!"
"Fair? Are you kidding me? If you don't know by now, that there's not a damn thing that's fair in this life, then you will be constantly disappointed, my friend." He paused, holding up a finger. "Wait, that's right, I'm not your friend, Howard was."
Tony strode from the room before Steve could react. Shoulders slumping, he sighed. "But I'd like to be, Tony, I'd like to be."