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take your time (coming home)

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Tony can count the number of times he's died on one hand.

Once, right after his parents had died and then Jarvis, and he'd never felt more alone in his life, not even when he was eight and he could feel the weight of his father's disapproval and the press of his mother's thin fingers against his spine, making him stand straight. At age seventeen, he'd sat alone in the mansion, listening for the sound of Jarvis' footsteps or the click of his mother's heels, or even his father swearing under his breath. It did not come, however, and so Tony took swig after swig from his bottle, put pill after pill into his mouth and waited until his world faded to black.

He woke up some days later in a bright hospital room, Rhodey by his side.

"You scared me, man," he'd said, and Tony hadn't answered.

Another is one people know about, the one that makes Tony feel vulnerable, open, exposed when he talks about it. So, his solution is that he doesn't talk about it. In any case, it's the deal with the cave and the kidnapping and the arc reactor in his chest built from a box of scraps. The precursor to Iron Man. Everyone knows this story. Well, most of it. What they don't know is what Tony doesn't tell-- the thrum of the reactor in his chest, the terrifying flicker of the car battery from time to time, the jolt of electricity through his body when it shorts out as he is violently submerged, over and over again, into the dirty cave water. He figures people don't need to know that.

The third is the flight through an opening in space-time, carrying a nuclear warhead and trying to call Pepper (Tony doesn't think about the fact that if he hadn't woken up, she never would have known how much he loves her) before his systems shut down.

He always wakes up, of course, because he's Tony Stark, and he never goes down without a fight. He cracks a joke, smiles, reassures everyone and resolutely ignores the fact that no one reassures him.

---

After the debacle with the shawarma restaurant-- look, he didn't know it was going to be that bad, he'd just wanted to try it-- the team goes their separate ways, and that's fine. Tony has Pepper, and Bruce, who he's invited to come and live in the Tower once it's been remodeled.

"Always room for you, big guy," he grins easily, slapping Bruce on the shoulder, and Bruce smiles back at him.

"That's what you think," he answers, but he comes back anyway, takes a room in the middle of the building with a big window, so he can always see what surrounds him.

And it's peaceful in the Tower with Pepper and Bruce. Tony still spends most of his time down in his workshop, Pepper's almost always traveling for Stark Industries, and Bruce will disappear for days or weeks at a time and come back with strange gifts for them from South America or India or Asia (Tony asked Bruce once, if he'd gone to Tibet, but Bruce had just smiled and patted his shoulder), but when they all manage to find each other in the living room and sit down on the couch for a movie, well, those are Tony's favorite times.

From time to time he thinks about Natasha and Clint, and how they are. He wonders if Fury has them doing missions still, or if he's keeping them safe in case of another large-scale attack. He thinks about Cap sometimes too, and whether or not he knows how to work a cell phone or a computer and then quickly pushes the thought away.

He doesn't think about Coulson.

Eventually, he gets to the point where he doesn't really think about any of them because he's too busy designing and inventing and creating. It's not that he doesn't care about them, because Tony Stark does not let his affections wane easily once someone has gained them, but instead he lets himself get distracted, because that's easier than thinking about why none of them have contacted him.

---

He runs into Captain America at the bodega.

Well, he runs into Steve, actually, since he's not in costume, but it's still almost one in the morning and Tony just needs milk,-- because he knows Pepper will get mad if she wakes up in the morning if there's no milk and he doesn't want to get that look from Bruce-- and Tony can't help but think of him as Captain. Or Rogers.

But, he supposes, that he could think of him as Steve since no one's suited up and Steve's actually wearing what seems to be workout clothes as he browses through the milk. He's also kind of sweaty, which is surprising. Doesn't he shower before leaving his apartment?

"I hear organic milk's the way to go nowadays," Tony says from behind him, and Steve jumps, spins around so fast that it makes Tony dizzy.

"Stark," he says, sounding a little breathless, and Tony ignores the sting of the last name basis.

"The one and only," he smiles tightly at Steve-- no, at Rogers-- and motions to the case behind him. "May I?"

"Of course," Steve says immediately, moving out of the way but holding the door open. Tony scans the shelves for the one with the label that Pepper likes and grabs it, then grabs one of chocolate milk for himself.

"Thanks," he says, moving down the aisle, pretending to look for something else while Steve clearly struggles with the variety of choices. Eventually, Tony sidles back up, reaches in the fridge and grabs a bottle, presses it into Steve's hands.

"This kind's good. Thick, like it used to be and not full of hormones."

Steve looks down at the bottle in his hands and then back up at Tony, nodding.

"Thanks, Tony," he says quietly, and Tony waves a hand.

"You looked like a kicked puppy, and everyone knows I have a soft spot for small, helpless animals. Also, you're wasting energy, close the fridge for God's sake," he rambles, ushering Steve down the aisle.

"How have you been?" Steve asks him, planting his feet so suddenly that Tony nearly slams into his back.

"Uh- Good. I've been good," he replies, pleased to find that it's not a lie.

"You look good. Have you- uh- have you seen anyone?" Steve asks, blushing and Tony is confused.

"What do you mean, 'seen anyone'? I see a lot of people, Steve. I'm seeing you right now, in fact, and--"

"Have you had any contact with the other team members, I mean."

"Oh." Tony shrugs. "Yeah? Kind of? Bruce lives in the Tower with me and Pepper. He kind of comes and goes but mostly we all just, live together in harmony. I haven't heard from either of the SHIELD agents, but you know how they are. The only times I ever saw Coul-" He cuts himself off with a coughing fit that lasts so long his eyes sting with tears and Steve's using his super strength to smack him on the back.

"I'm fine, I'm fine, stop hitting me, please," he says finally, waving his hands at Steve to get him to stop. His eyes are wide with concern, and Tony hopes to god that they don't have to talk about the fact that he just mentioned Coulson.

"Are you alright?" Steve asks carefully.

"Definitely, just tired. Actually, I- uh- need to get back. Pep's waiting, and so is Bruce, for that matter. But it was nice to see you, Steve," he says, taking some bills out of his wallet and throwing it at the cashier without waiting for the change. "You should come by the Tower sometime. Just call me. Or Pep. Or Bruce, I guess, and uh, yeah I'll see you!"

He runs out of the store so fast he nearly trips on the tables set outside the cafe next to his bodega.