Chapter 1: Fake It Till You Break
Tony feels…gross. His eyes are swollen and blurry. His throat feels like it’s been rubbed raw. His muscles just ache. And his head feels like it is about to explode…or maybe it already has. God, he hasn’t felt this shitty since…well, he isn’t sure, but it’s been a long time.
He feels like he is experiencing the world’s worst hangover. But that can’t be right, can it? He hasn’t picked up a drink in months and hasn’t done any heavy drinking in years.
He blinks his eyes open and waits for them to adjust to the light filtering in through the window. And okay, well that’s good. It looks like he’s in his own room. So at least if he had gotten drunk, he hadn’t gone home with some random stranger.
Suddenly, he notices the arm looped over his waist, holding him close to a warm, muscled body. Oh, okay, scratch that. Maybe he had gone home with a random stranger. Then again, he is fully clothed so…what?
Peeking over his shoulder, Tony’s breath leaves him in a whoosh. Steve. God, he is in bed with Steve. Captain He’s-Too-Good-For-You-Tony-So-Don’t-Even-Dream-About-It is in his bed. And what the actual fuck happened last night?
As soon as Tony puts any effort into thinking about it, everything just rushes back to the forefront and he immediately jumps out of bed. Running to the bathroom, he slams the door shut behind him and tries to halt the panic-attack trying to take over.
And yeah, that thing called breathing? Not going so well right now. He’s starting to go light-headed and his body is shaking. It takes a lot of effort to calm down enough just to be able to drag a breath into his aching lungs.
There’s a soft knock on the door. “Tony? Are you alright?” Steve sounds concerned and Tony really cannot reassure him at the moment. Because yeah, trying not to pass out.
Tony slides to the ground, his hands clenching in his hair, tugging nervously, frantically, as everything from last night flashes through his mind.
The video…“But he said…” a choked cry, “he said that I was a horrible son for wasting his time. I’m not good enough, Uncle Henry. Why can’t I be good enough?”
The almost freak-out…“Come on buddy, deep breaths. You’re in control. You’re fine. I’m fine, Bruce.”
The actual freak-out… “Stop looking at me like that! All of you. Stop looking at me like I’m some broken thing! I’m not. I’m not broken. He didn’t break me.”
The breaking to pieces… “I’m still not good enough. Why are you guys even here? I don’t get it. I’m not good.”
The comforting embrace… “Shh…Tony, it’s okay. I’ve got you. It’s okay. You’re going to be alright. We need you, Tony. And we want to be here, for you, with you.”
The pathetic begging… “No, stay. Please. I…Please, don’t go.”
The quiet reassurance… “I’m not going anywhere, Tony.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck….
How…god, how could he have been so unintelligent? He is supposed to be a genius, right? And how could his shields have been so fragile? He is Tony Stark, weapons-engineer-extraordinaire, his armor was not supposed to be so weak…
“Tony?!” Tony’s head snaps up when Steve’s panicked voice breeches his frenzied thoughts. “Answer me, Tony. You have five seconds to answer me before I break down this door. Are you okay?”
Actually make that a fuck-no.
He is not okay. At all. In fact, he is pretty much the exact opposite of okay. But there is no way in hell he is going to admit that out loud. Again. Because yeah, he did that last night and the regret is almost drowning him alive.
“Yeah…” His voice comes out hoarse, choked. Clearing his throat, he tries again. “Yeah, Steve. I’m fine.”
He hears Steve’s relieved sigh from the other side of the door and feels a leaden ball of guilt settle uncomfortably in his chest, heavier than the press of the arc reactor. Steve doesn’t deserve this. Or Bruce. Or any of the team, really.
They don’t deserve worthless, broken Tony Stark. Not as a teammate. Not as a friend. Not as a burden.
Tony refuses to make them responsible for putting him back together. They would though. He knew they would. Gladly too. And that is exactly the reason he can’t let them.
He can’t be another thing for them to be concerned with. They had enough problems to deal with, what with being world-saving superheroes and all, and they so did not need to worry about a fracturing-to-pieces-billionaire-philanthropist-genius. He will not be a liability. He refuses to inconvenience them like that.
So…okay, decision made. Fake it till you break it, Stark. Or…it would probably be more apt to say, fake it till you break, Stark.
He can’t remember a time in his life in which he was so thankful to have the childhood he did. But this moment right now, he is thankful. And maybe that is messed up. Nope, okay, that is definitely messed up. Because his shitty childhood is exactly what caused this problem to begin with. But it’s also providing the solution to his problem.
Because yeah, something Tony learned how to excel at during his childhood was how to be fake, how to lie to people, how to make them see what he wanted them to see. He did after all have the best teacher.
Like father, like son.
And god, he kind of wants to throw up at that thought. Because he hates being like his father, in any way. He had promised himself he wouldn’t be like his father…but sometimes it was just necessary.
And this situation right now?
“Can you come out here?”
So fucking necessary.
Time to burry Tony under an impenetrable layer of Tony Stark.
Struggling to his feet, he walks over to the sink and hastily washes his face. Looking into the mirror, he watches as an easy grin spreads across his face, well practiced and familiar. Makes his dark gaze brighten, shoves the feelings away from the surface and becomes shallow.
It’s weak. His façade is flimsy at best. But he just doesn’t have time right now to make it better. A lot of fucking shit was revealed last night and he is going to need to compartmentalize all of it. But he needs time.
And time is not something he has at the moment. But it’ll have to hold, for now.
Standing straight, he opens the door and meets Steve’s concerned gaze.
“Hey, Cap. Sorry about that just now…and last night. You being here, means a lot and all that other emotional stuff. So thanks.” He smirks wryly. Clapping a hand over Steve’s shoulder, he continues, “Wow, Tony Stark apologizing and saying thank you in a single conversation? Consider yourself lucky, Cap, this is a rare occurrence. Like Haley’s Comet rare. You should ask JARVIS to get you a recording of this…you know, for proof. Cause no one is going to believe you. Right, well, things to build, things to blow up. Later, Steve.”
Before Steve has a chance to recover from the onslaught of words, Tony is pushing away. Making his escape.
He’s out the door and into the hallway.
It’s 24 steps to the elevator. Then he’s pushing the button, frantically, because it’s not coming fast enough.
Hold it, Stark.
Finally it arrives and he practically jumps in, pressing the thumb-scanner to take him to his lab.
The elevator swoops to a stop and he nearly falls out in his haste.
The glass doors swoosh open. He takes one step into his haven...
…and loses it.
Chapter 2: An Issue of Trust
Steve's thoughts about Tony's breakdown
Steve wakes as soon as Tony bolts from the bed. It takes him a second to remember why he’s there in the first place and sorely wishes he hadn’t remembered when the memories flood his mind.
He feels like he is going to be sick.
He remembers the horrifying sounds- screaming, panicked yells, a child’s cries- from the video. And he’s never been so ungrateful for his photographic memory than in that moment because every detail of a young Tony Stark pops into his mind and all he wants to do his tear the image out just so it won’t haunt him.
Pushing away all the dark and heavy and crippling emotions running through him, he focuses on tending to Tony. It’s good to have a task. Distractions, at the moment, are very much appreciated.
Swinging his legs off to the side of the bed, he quickly makes his way over to the bathroom door. He can hear Tony’s ragged breathing and more worry floods through him.
“Tony?” Steve knocks on the door softly, trying to keep his voice level. “Are you okay?”
He waits patiently for a response…well, as patiently as he can considering a man he cares deeply for is having what appears to be a panic-attack on the other side of the door. Tony’s breathing is frantic, short little puffs, as if he can’t get a proper breath in.
It’s a sound Steve is far too familiar with after last night.
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He’s a man out of his time. He woke up in a world completely different from the one in which he went to sleep…everything he knew just gone. And he thought that he could have never felt more useless and lost than when he first woke up in this new age…but this moment, right here, with Tony Stark falling apart in his arms makes him feel more lost than ever before.
A fresh stab of pain pierces his heart as Tony starts rambling. His words gasped out between choked cries and stuttering breaths.
“I’m still not good enough. Why are you guys even here? I don’t get it. I’m not good…”
And Steve can’t help it as tears water his eyes. No one deserves to have to question their worth like this. Especially not someone as amazing as Tony. Clutching the genius tighter to his chest, Steve tries to make his voice steady as he answers.
“Shh…Tony, it’s okay. I’ve got you. It’s okay. You’re going to be alright. We need you, Tony. And we want to be here, for you, with you.” His hand rubs up and down Tony’s back, trying to quell the shudders running through him.
He knows that he is stealing some of the comforting words from Peggy, but he just doesn’t know what else to do. His eyes dart around the room, looking for help, because he isn’t sure if he is enough to hold Tony together, not when he is just barely holding it together himself.
Studying the rest of the team, Steve doesn't think any of them are holding up much better at the moment.
Thor’s face is pained. His eyes are the color of a brewing storm. His mouth is set in a grim line and his hands are clenched into fists at his side as if he sorely wants to punch something. Wants to be pointed in the direction of something he can destroy, just to get rid of the protective rage seething under the surface.
Natasha and Coulson are as stoic as ever. Faces blank and grim, but their eyes are shadowed. Both of them have positioned their bodies to block the entrances to the living room, an unconscious act of defense. Poised and ready to fight anything from encroaching in on this extremely private moment.
Clint is doing his best to maintain his stoic mask, like his fellow SHIELD agents, but the shock and guilt are leaking through. His eyes are focused intensely on Tony, his body flinching with each self-loathing phrase falling from Tony’s lips.
And Bruce…god, Bruce looks utterly devastated. He’s exhausted from his earlier battle against the Hulk and his usual calm serenity has vanished. His eyes are too open, too expressive. They are filled with indescribable sorrow as he watches his friend breakdown. His eyes stray briefly to Tony’s arm, where a dark bruise is already forming, and his body draws tight, remorse flooding his dark eyes.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I’m not good enough…” Tony draws Steve’s attention back.
And even though he feels like he is drowning, Steve knows falling apart is not an option right now. Tony needs him to be strong. So he will be. He pushes all thoughts of Howard to the back of his mind to be dealt with later. Right now, he has to focus on the Stark in his arms.
They stand there for what seems like hours. Tony eventually collapses in Steve's arms, emotional exhaustion turning into physical exhaustion, making him pass out. Steve catches him, an arm looped around Tony's waist. He holds Tony against his side, one of Tony's arms thrown over his shoulders.
Looking up at the rest of the team, none of whom have moved an inch, he studies each of them carefully. They all look tired, strain making their bodies tense.
“I’m going to go put Tony to bed. I want everyone to go get some rest.”
“Captain, we need to talk about this,” Coulson says, soft but insistent.
Steve looks at him sharply. “We will, but not now. My team needs to…process things. We will talk tomorrow.” Steve stares at Coulson, daring him to challenge him on this, but Coulson just nods in understanding.
Steve starts to carry an unconscious Tony out of the living room. Bruce automatically moves to escort them out. Glancing back, Steve sees that Natasha and Clint have already vanished. Coulson is tidying up the living room and Thor is looking out into the dark night from the balcony, thunderclouds already forming outside.
The walk to Tony’s room is quiet but when they reach the door, Steve turns to Bruce.
“I’ve got this. You should go get some rest,” Steve keeps his voice soft. Bruce looks about to protest so Steve continues quickly. “He’ll be fine with me, I promise. You look exhausted, go get some sleep.”
Bruce’s gaze lingers on his friend’s limp form in Steve’s arms before he lets out heavy sigh and nods his head tiredly. Steve waits till Bruce is out of sight before opening Tony’s bedroom door and carrying him inside.
“Jarvis, can you turn the lights on, please?”
“Certainly, Captain.” The lights turn on, a muted glow settling over the room. “Is Sir alright?” The AI asks, hesitant. Steve doesn’t know if he should be surprised or relieved to hear the concerned undertone in the AI’s voice.
Steve lays Tony down on his bed. He looks down at the weary, pained face of his friend, worry and grief and anger and a thousand other emotions welling up inside him.
“No,” his voice cracks with emotion. “I don’t think he is, Jarvis.”
“Mr. Stark is strong. Stronger than most people give him credit for,” Jarvis’s voice is protective, defensive.
“I know he’s strong, Jarvis. Believe me, I know. But…something like this…it isn’t something you can just bury…”
There is silence for a moment, and then Jarvis speaks again. “Mr. Stark does not like depending on others. There are not many people he trusts. There are not many people he can trust,” Jarvis sounds wary… as if he isn’t quite sure he can trust Steve with Tony’s well being.
And how horrible is that? That even Tony’s AI is paranoid enough about people’s intentions that trust is not something given lightly. A brilliant pair, man and his creation, depending on each other for so long because…well, because there wasn’t anyone else they could depend on.
Steve’s hands clench into fists at his side as anger overwhelms him. It’s not fair that life taught them to be so mistrusting. And it makes Steve angry.
“He can trust me.” Steve’s voice is pure conviction. “He can trust the team.”
Jarvis is quiet for a moment, judging. “Yes, Captain. I do believe he can.”
Relief courses through Steve. Because it’s good to know that Tony's creation, Tony's AI, Tony's Jarvis, someone he trusts so implicitly with his life…it’s good to know that Jarvis has judged Steve worthy of trusting.
Steve gives a shaky nod of thanks and then moves to pull the covers over Tony. Tony groans when he is moved, his eyes blinking blearily, and his face is just so open that Steve feels his breath punched out of him when he sees the vulnerability there.
Tony grabs for Steve’s shirt, tugging weakly. Steve pats his arm softly, tries to pull away.
“No, stay. Please. I…Please, don’t go.” And Tony’s voice is just so small and insecure. Steve shuts his eyes briefly, trying to push past the sharp pain in his chest.
Sitting down on the bed next to Tony, Steve runs a hand softly through Tony’s wild hair. “I’m not going anywhere, Tony.”
He sees the tension leaves Tony’s body and watches over him as Tony falls back into unconsciousness. Steve shifts into a more comfortable position, his back leaning against the headboard. He continues to run his fingers through Tony’s hair, reassuring himself just as much as Tony. Eventually, Jarvis dims the lights.
In the darkness, Steve finally lets go. Silent tears stream down his face as he mourns the loss of a friend he thought he knew. Mourns the loss of a child, forced to grow up and confront the horrors of the world far too early. Mourns the loss of a chance to thank Peggy for more than just believing in him, but also for showing love to a boy who didn’t get it from his family…
Looking down at Tony, Steve makes a silent vow to prove to Tony that he doesn’t have to handle things by himself anymore. Steve will be there for him. The team will be there for him. His real family will be there for him.
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“Tony?!” Steve can hear the panicked edge to his own voice, but he doesn’t care. “Answer me, Tony. You have five seconds to answer me before I break this door down. Are you okay?”
He holds his breath, readying himself to tear the door down.
“Yeah…” Steve cringes at the frail answer. He hears Tony clear his throat. “Yeah, Steve. I’m fine.”
Steve rests his forehead against the door, arms at either side of his head. He doesn’t believe Tony is okay in the slightest, but he is so relieved that Tony is speaking. He waits a minute to get his own emotions under control before calling out to Tony.
“Tony? Can you come out here?”
Because he needs to see him. Steve needs to know just how hard Tony is taking this. Needs to know how much of a fight he is going to have to put up to get Tony to let Steve in, to let himself be healed.
He hears Tony scrambling to his feet and then the sound of the sink. He waits nervously, not sure what to expect when Tony comes out. When the door finally opens…he inwardly curses.
Tony’s defenses are up, not full-force, but more than Steve is willing to knock down right now. He knows that last night was- difficult would be an understatement- devastating for all of them. He understands that Tony needs a chance to pull himself back together, at least a little.
So he let’s Tony run over him with false bravado. Lets him escape to his lab. Lets him go…for now. But he will not let Tony just bury this. Will not let this wound fester and infect Tony until there is nothing left to save.
But first, he needs to go talk to his reinforcements.
Hmmm...I'm not sure if I got Steve's POV right, but...yeah. I think I am better at Tony's POV XD
Chapter 3: Fading to Black
Tony engages in drunken-engineering.
Steve makes his way to the kitchen and is not surprised to find Natasha, Clint, and Coulson already gathered there. Three assessing gazes land on him and he tries his best not to fidget as he goes to the fridge. After pouring himself a glass of orange juice he settles onto one of the stools and looks up at them.
“No one outside of the team will learn about this,” Steve’s voice is commanding, his eyes hard as he looks at the SHIELD agents.
Natasha and Clint nod their heads slightly in quiet acceptance and turn back to the toast and fruit salad they were eating. Coulson levels a weighted look on Steve.
“SHIELD already had guesses as to what occurred in the Stark household in the past,” Coulson says slowly, carefully.
To say that Steve is shocked by this is an understatement, but he’s at least a little placated by the fact that both Natasha and Clint snap their heads up to study the older agent. Their faces are blank, for the most part, but Steve can read the shock in the slight downturn of Natasha’s lips and the slight crease in Clint’s forehead.
“What do you mean SHIELD had guesses?” Steve asks, trying to keep his voice level. He’s not sure he succeeds. He grinds his teeth in frustration as he feels that anger start to bubble up in his chest again.
“We had ascertained some documentation from Mr. Stark’s childhood when we were first investigating him in consideration for the Avengers initiative. Our techs had found some medical files, legal documents, and pictures that suggested abuse, but before they could be properly catalogued and analyzed, someone had hacked into the system and erased all evidence. Erased all evidence everywhere, to be more exact.”
None of them had to guess whom that someone was. There was no way Tony would let SHIELD have that information.
“How come I was never informed about this when I took up my undercover position at SI?” Natasha asks coolly, a perfectly shaped brow raised in question.
Coulson shrugs a shoulder. “Like I said, all evidence was wiped from our system before we could fully analyze it. All we were able to do was hypothesize as to the nature of the little intel we had seen.”
Steve rolled his shoulders, trying to shake some of the tension out of his body. “Be that as it may, I don’t want SHIELD knowing that their speculations were correct. It isn’t their business.”
Coulson takes another moment to study Steve before nodding his head. “I can accept that, but I do think something needs to be done about Stark. As he is right now, he’s emotionally compromised. I suggest he be put on stand-down and deactivated from the field. He needs…time to get his head on straight.”
“You can’t be serious,” an incredulous voice speaks up and everyone turns to look at Bruce who is leaning against the entryway to the kitchen. “The last thing Tony needs is for us to treat him like he’s incapable.”
“Dr. Banner, I’m not suggesting it be permanent, just for the present. Until Stark has a chance to recover…”
Bruce lets out a bitter chuckle, his eyes stormy as he stalks forward into the kitchen. “This isn’t something that has a quick fix, Coulson. You can’t just give him a day off and expect him to be a-okay and ready to be of use to you again. Cause that is what SHIELD most cares about, right? How useful someone is? Do you even remember that we’re people? Or do you just think of us as tools?”
Clint jumps to his feet and moves between Bruce and Coulson. “Lay off, man. He’s not suggesting we just leave Tony alone to shake it off or something. But we have to consider what will be best for the team if something comes up. You can’t really expect Tony to be fighting at his best when something like this is weighing him down.”
Bruce’s voice is challenging when he speaks. “He’s been doing so for the past few years without anyone knowing. What makes you think he’s incapable now?”
“Because it’s not as scary when the demons inside you are just yours. Once someone else knows, that’s when they become real.”
Bruce looks about ready to snap something back when Steve interferes. He can’t let them get sidetracked with unnecessary in-fighting. Their focus has to be Tony right now. Steve rises from his seat, keeping his tone calm as he tries to get his team back under control.
“Guys, us fighting isn’t going to help Tony. I know that what happened last night was difficult for all of us,” Steve gives Bruce a meaningful look, “But we need to come up with a plan on how to help Tony or we risk letting this destroy him. He’s already working at building his defenses back up and if we don’t get through to him now, we might never get the chance again.”
Bruce and Clint glare at each other for another second before they drop their gazes to the floor and give stilted nods. Steve breathes a sigh of relief and settles back onto his stool.
“Alright, so what’s the plan, Cap?” Natasha asks and everyone settles in to discuss how they are going to save their teammate from himself.
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“Sir, you are considered a genius by human standards, correct?” Jarvis’s tone is dry, as usual, but it’s just a pretense. The hesitant wariness, the guarded concern is there, just under the surface. He’s trying to hide it, for Tony, but he isn’t successful. Tony knows him too well.
Similarly, Jarvis knows Tony too well. Knows him better than anyone. And he knows that there is no way Tony can handle open emotion, especially now, when Tony is feeling so raw and exposed. Tony can’t handle honest emotion on a good day. And these last twenty-four hours? Yeah, they have been so very, very bad.
“Of course, Jarvis, why do you ask?”
He hisses when the searing metal burns the tips of his fingers.
“I ask, sir, because I don’t believe it is exactly smart for you to be handling the soldering iron when your blood alcohol level is quite so high.”
Tony lets out a snort as he stubbornly reaches for the beer bottle sitting on his workbench. He polishes that one off, his fifth, and goes to grab another from the fridge. On his way back to his workbench, he checks on the distillation column he has running before settling back onto his lab stool.
“This isn’t the first time you have watched me do drunken-engineering, Jarvis,” he says as he places the new bottle on the workbench and returns to his work.
“An accurate statement, sir. However, I do not think you have indulged in this pastime so early in the morning before.” There is a brief pause. “May I ask what has brought about this relapse into one of your more…distasteful activities?”
And great, now even his AI is judging him. Which isn’t really any different than normal, because Jarvis is always judging him. And Tony usually loves that about him. He loves that his AI is frighteningly brilliant and sarcastic as fuck and so willing to be honest about when he thinks Tony is being an utter ass. It’s great to know that while everyone else might lie to his face, Jarvis never will.
Like he said, he usually loves that judgmental tone Jarvis has. But not right now. Not when he knows that there is also a group of people upstairs judging him too. And he knows that they aren’t judging him in a pretentious way or with any malice behind it…but it still stings. It still hurts to have their perspective of him changed so drastically just because they learned about something he hadn’t even had any control over.
“No, Jarvis, you may not.”
Because the whole reason he’s drinking himself into oblivion anyways is so he can forget the images of pitying faces. It’s not what he wants. He isn’t even sure what it is that he wants, or what it is he expects of his team. He just knows it’s not pity.
He sets the soldering iron down though, because he figures it is the best way to get Jarvis to just let him work. And that’s all he really wants right now. Work means numbers and algorithms and lines of code. You know, simple things. Things that don’t make his mind take unpleasant strolls down memory lane…
He gets to work in peace for about five minutes before Jarvis’s voice breaks through his thought process.
“Jarvis, I’m working. On Dummy’s code upgrade, in fact. So please…”
“Sir! The fractional distillation!”
Tony swings around in his chair to see the contents of the flask burning up. There is a high-pitched whine emanating from the distilling station. Time seems to slow down for a second and then his sensory system is assaulted with a dozen inputs at once.
He hears Jarvis’s panicked voice and an alarm start blaring. Sees the hot blue flame blaze brightly to a shocking white. Hears the whistle of exploding glass. Feels the hot wave of heat. Feels the searing pain.
Fucking ow…he thinks before his world fades to black.
I don't know why i always make clint and bruce fight...it just always seems to happen.
Chapter 4: A Question of Worth
Tony feels betrayed.
As soon as he opens his eyes and registers the group of people surrounding him, he promptly closes his eyes again.
“Tony, you are an super-hero-engineer, not a Disney princess, so quit the sleeping beauty act,” Bruce says, dryly, and Tony can’t help the involuntary twitch his lips make as he tries not to grin. A small wave of relief spreads through him because it’s normal. Before all this shit went down, Bruce would have said those words with that tone and it’s just…it’s great to hear that dry humor now. It means things are salvageable.
“How much damage did I do?”
“To yourself or your lab?” And yeah, he really can’t help the grin that spreads across his face when he looks up to meet Bruce’s gaze- concerned, sure, but also alight with biting wit- cause Bruce just gets him. Gets that science is always more important than self.
He hisses a breath as he shifts to sit up, giving Steve a grateful nod when he feels the supportive hand on his back. He avoids Steve’s eyes though, because he’s feeling good. Bantering with Bruce is good. And seeing the sad worry in Steve’s eyes would just bring the tidal wave of guilt crashing over him. And yeah, it might make him a coward, but he’s okay with that.
“What were you doing anyway?” Bruce asks as Tony takes note of his injuries. Nothing to be too concerned with, just a few cuts, a bump to the head, and a bruised rib or two.
“The distiller blew up.”
“What were you using the distiller for?”
“I was making stronger alcohol,” Tony says with a shrug, wincing as it pulls on some of the stitches in his arm.
“You made a drunken mistake while trying to make stronger alcohol?” Bruce asks in disbelief.
Looking around at everyone, Tony realizes that maybe he shouldn’t have admitted to that. But at least the pitying looks from last night are long gone. Yeah, they have all been replaced by a spectrum of looks going from concerned exasperation (Steve) to outright annoyance with his stupidity (Natasha).
“It seemed like a good idea at the time…”
“Man of Iron, if you are in need of stronger drink you just need ask me. I shall happily supply you with barrels of mead! There is no need for you to harm yourself in quest for a more potent brew.” Thor’s face is shifting between humor, earnestness, and concern. Tony has no idea how Thor's head didn’t explode with all the conflicting emotions and thoughts.
“Appreciate the offer, buddy, but it isn’t really necessary. I’ve distilled vodka before…I must have accidently added some superfluous chemical. I really should stop doing experiments when I’m drunk.”
“You’re just figuring this out now? I thought you were supposed to be a genius,” Clint says with a look of skepticism on his face.
Tony crosses his arms across his chest and huffs- hisses, because yeah, bruised ribs kind of slipped his mind- out a breath. “Why doesn’t anyone believe that I’m a genius today?”
“Because recent events have made us question your worthiness of the title, sir,” Jarvis inputs.
I want something of value, something worthy of the name Stark!
Tony flinches as the words scream across his mind. So he still needs a little more time to suppress those memories again. He’s working on it, okay? And he knows that they don’t mean it like his…father…had meant it. But right now? With the wounds so raw, it’s just…it’s hard to suppress decades of mounting insecurities. Cut him a break.
Tony looks at Steve who is staring at him sincerely, his blue eyes shining with a quiet intensity that sends shivers running down Tony’s spine.
“We are not questioning your worthiness of the title. We know you’re a genius.” Steve gives him a tentative smile. “But can you try to be a little more careful next time?” And fuck, how was it possible to convey that much sincerity with a single look? Seriously.
And Tony just feels himself nodding dumbly, his brain deciding to go offline for the moment. Because, huh? How could Steve have possibly known what he had been thinking...
Running a shaky hand through his hair, Tony tries to regain his mental balance. He slides off the bed and grins at Steve. “Sure thing, Cap.” His head swims as he takes a step forward.
“Wait, where are you going?” Steve asks as he puts a steadying hand on Tony’s shoulder.
“Back down to the lab.”
“Oh no you’re not. You are going to come with me to the kitchen so we can get some food in you and then back here to bed so you can rest,” Bruce orders as he starts steering Tony towards the kitchen.
“But I’m fine,” Tony protests. He really needs to get back down to his lab…
Bruce’s gaze slides sideways to give him an assessing look. “Sure, you are, but just humor me, okay?”
Heaving a sigh, Tony just lets himself be led to the kitchen. The sooner he appeases them, the sooner he will be left alone. Hopefully.
When he gets to the kitchen, he sees that everyone else has idled off elsewhere, leaving him and Bruce alone. Bruce sets about making some sandwiches for the both of them while Tony taps his fingers anxiously against the countertop.
“Bruce,” Tony interrupts. “Can we please not talk about this? Please,” he’s begging. He knows he is. His voice sounds annoyingly whiny even to his own ears, but he doesn’t care…he can’t talk about this right now.
Bruce settles a weighted look on him, his eyes dark and piercing. Tony fidgets under the gaze, but he is more than willing to put up with it if it gets him out of talking. After a few minutes of tense silence, Bruce nods his head slowly.
“Just one thing, I promise, and then we can drop it until you’re ready to talk about it, okay?” Bruce’s voice is more serious than Tony had ever heard it before. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Tony opens his mouth to interject but Bruce just talks over him, insistent and firm. “You were a child, Tony. You were a child and it wasn’t your responsibility to have to fight to feel safe in your own home with your own father. And it’s okay if it messed you up a little. It’s okay and it doesn’t change anything. We don’t think less of you, in any way, I promise.”
Tony swallows around the lump in his throat, dropping his eyes to the countertop where he his fingers draw unfinished schematics of the next armor upgrade. Taking another second to compose himself, he looks up to find Bruce watching him carefully.
“It’s not easy for me to believe that…but you’ve never lied to me before so I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.”
Bruce smiles a little wryly but seems satisfied enough with Tony’s answer for now. He finishes making the sandwiches and the two lab-partners eat their meal in heavy but peaceful silence.
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As soon as the alarm starts blaring through the tower, there is a whirl of action as the team gathers in the living room. Coulson is on the phone getting intel from SHIELD headquarters while the rest of the team preps for battle.
“Am I in armor now, or should I go get the suitcase armor?”
Tony frowns when everyone turns to him with looks of disbelief. “What?”
“Stark, you’re deactivated from the field. You won’t be joining this fight.”
Anger blazes through him so fast he’s not sure how he didn’t spontaneously combust. “And why the hell not?” He clenches his jaw and curls his hands into tight fists, trying to contain the white-hot rage inside him.
Steve approaches him slowly with that stupid concerned look back on his face. “Tony, you’re not at 100% right now…”
“News flash, Steve. I won’t ever be at 100% and I’m sorry that we can’t all be so fucking perfect, but I’ve been good enough for the team until now.” Spinning around, he points an accusing finger at Bruce. “You promised me that last night didn’t make you guys think less of me. You promised me!”
And no, his voice did not crack at the end. It didn’t. Really. The burn of betrayal sears through his body but he refuses to let them see him breaking down, again. No matter how fucking frustrated he is with the unfairness of it all.
“Tony, that’s not what…” Steve sounds pained but Tony is too angry to listen.
“No! Stop! I don’t want to hear it anymore. Fine, I get it. Poor Tony Stark is too broken to play super-hero any longer. Yeah? Well, fuck you. Fuck all of you.”
He storms out and goes straight to his lab. He spares a fleeting glance at the six-foot circle of charred cement where the distiller used to be, his sneakered feet crunching over shards of glass. He quickly settles in and hacks into SHIELD’s communication network and the visual feed they have going of downtown Manhattan where a team of robots is laying waste to a poor city-block.
He might be
disappointed furious with the team, but there is absolutely no fucking way he’s just going sit by and do nothing.
Okay, I promise the pre-slash Steve/Tony is not false advertising. There will be more interaction btwn them...eventually. Patience is key. It will prevent you from strangling the author in frustration XD
Chapter 5: A Waiting Game
Tony thinks on the situation the video has left him in.
He’s already figured out that the robots are at least low-level AIs; he also knows they are communicating with each other because of their coordinated attacks which is making it more difficult for the team to take them out. Unfortunately, it’s taking Tony a little bit longer to be able to pinpoint which short wave frequency they are using to communicate.
Glancing up at the screen, he pauses in his work as he watches Black Widow get thrown through the air by one of the robots. Luckily, Captain America is able to catch her before she slams into the side of the building. His eyes flicker towards the suit, his fingers twitching over the keyboard as he calculates the probability of achieving success from his lab.
If he went out in the field then his own sensory receptors could work so much faster than hacking into other systems to use what they had. The way him and Jarvis are going about it now requires too much time, time that he isn’t sure his team has.
“Sir, I’ve located the frequency,” Jarvis’s calm voice rings out. Tony grins and thinks maybe he should stop doubting the awesomeness of his AI.
“Good work, Jarvis.”
Tony’s eyes scan over the data flashing across the screen. And then his fingers are flying as he goes about configuring a kill switch to neutralize the robot pests. His ears pick up every grunt and shot and explosion going on in the fight, and he’s pressured to work faster.
“Hawkeye!” Widow’s voice is sharp. Tony curses under his breath when he sees Clint has taken a nasty hit, his arm hanging limply at his side, shoulder dislocated from falling on it roughly.
Tony’s heart starts to race faster, his jaw clenching in an effort to restrain himself from putting on his suit and laying waste to the fucking threat hurting his team. But he’s almost done now and it would be faster, better, to stay and finish the kill switch.
“Iron Man?!” Steve’s voice is strained, his eyes darting around the air as he tries to locate Tony. He nearly misses the blow coming from behind, but turns just in time to block it with his shield. “Where are you?”
“I’m still at the lab, Captain, don’t worry,” Tony drawls, trying to keep the frustration he’s feeling out of his voice. “I’ve got a nice little present for the annoyances you are currently dealing with. See the little shit hanging back behind the pack?”
Tony watches as Steve scans the field, inclining his head when he spots the one Tony has singled out.
“I believe that is the one coordinating the rest of them. I need you to go over and hold your comm. as close to its head as you can,” Tony explains as he sets up the program that will broadcast the signal to deactivate the leader-bot. Once they took out that one, the rest would be running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Tony closes his eyes and his head ducks down, the line of his back bent, as if there’s a heavy weight on his shoulders. “Do you trust me?” He asks lowly, a little afraid of the answer.
“Of course.” Steve’s reply is immediate. No hesitation. Pure conviction.
Tony releases a shaky breath, his head nodding in gratitude even though Steve can’t see it. He can’t even grasp the sheer amount of relief coursing through him. But it’s…good. It’s good to know Steve is so sure in his ability, regardless of what had been revealed. And it gives Tony hope that maybe Bruce had been telling the truth, that no one thought less of him.
“Good,” Tony’s voice is thready and he clears his throat. “Good…now go, quickly.”
Captain America takes off in a flash, sprinting towards the robot hanging back. Two of the other bots try to stop his mad dash but he slams his shield through the chest of one and jumps over the other. As soon as he is within fifteen feet he pulls his comm. out and Tony activates the signal.
At first, it doesn’t seem to be working. The leader-bot raises an arm to take a shot at Steve but once Steve gets within five feet, the robot starts shaking. Sparks fly off it as its circuitry goes haywire. It collapses to the ground and the remaining bots go still for a second before continuing the attack. Except this time there is no sense to their attacks. They just shoot at anything that moves, including each other.
The team makes quick work of them after that and then calls in a SHIELD clean-up crew to dispose of the scattered parts. Tony watches the video feed to ascertain how much damage his team took. Other than Clint, everyone looks okay. Tired, sure, but okay. Tony runs a hand through his hair as he slouches back in his chair, his eyes slipping closed.
He isn’t sure how he is supposed to be feeling right now. The only thing he does know is that he’s exhausted. He’s not built to handle so much emotion in such a short time period. Humans are an emotional species, thrive on interaction with other humans...but Tony’s never been quite normal.
He’s programmed wrong. There is an error in his code. It makes interfacing with other humans…difficult. And his emotional circuitry gets overtaxed much too easily. And his fucking childhood hadn’t exactly helped to counteract this insufficiency in his software. In fact, it kind of reinforced it.
He knows this.
But he’s also never accepted being limited by his inadequacies.
He doesn’t accept his limitations. And that’s why, regardless of the fact that he has failed 99.99% of the time to make honest and real connections with people, he still doesn’t give up. He wants those human connections…and he fights for them. In his own way.
He tests people. Has to test people. It’s his way of making sure that they can handle him, that they are strong enough to make up for his weaknesses, that they won’t just walk away the second they realize how messed up he is.
And there weren’t that many people that passed his tests. Just two- Rhodey and Pepper. Yinsen would have…
But yeah, just two people. Two people that were such undeniable forces that they had battled their way past his mask of Tony Stark and saw the man beneath the name. Seen Tony…but not all of him.
Because even with them…even with the two people he trusts more than anything in the world- save Jarvis- he still hides things. Still hides the dark shadows haunting his every step since well before he even met them.
Rhodey knew some of the nightmare from which he had been born, but not all of it. He’d seen Howard yell and berate and criticize. Had seen it and stood by Tony still. And Tony had been so fucking lonely at that point in his life that he had been desperate for a connection. He hadn’t been willing to risk telling Rhodey just how fucking worse it really was because he had been terrified of losing his one friend.
And Pepper…god, Pepper. There was absolutely no fucking way that Tony would mar her brightness more than he already had. She was too good for him, much too good. And he protected her as much as possible from the horrors of his past. Lied and built up better barriers. Made sure that he would never let his darkness loose for fear of snuffing out her bright flame.
So yeah, two people. Tony had spent his entire life with only two people to depend on. In his childhood, it had been Aunt Peggy and Uncle Henry. As a teenager it had been Rhodey and Obie (who had been the worst fucking person to trust, ever. Seriously, he was still berating himself for that one). And then as an adult, it was Rhodey and Pepper. So two. Two was Tony’s magic number. It was his maximum capacity for stable-ish human interactions. Or so he thought.
Because as soon as the Avengers started up…as soon as he was thrown into a team with this group of strange, bewildering, terrifying, yet amazing people…he knew he was fucked.
They pushed him past his limits, in every way. They shoved their way into his life before he had a chance to make some upgrades to his defense systems. The only part of him he had been able to shield was the horrifying truth of his distant past. And now even that had been revealed thanks to the fucking video.
So yeah, he had freaked the fuck out. Excuse him for being scared, okay? But it was a little bit hard to be ripped open and have the most gruesome parts of you lain out on a pedestal to be judged. No one knew Tony so completely like his team did now. And it fucking terrified him that they knew all his monsters.
It scared the fuck out of him that now all he could do was wait. It was their move now. He had provided the input and now their systems had to process it. Process it and then make a decision. Understand that this was just another part of him and work with it or conclude that Tony Stark was a faulty system that needed to be scrapped.
Accept or reject.
There’s a decision to be made but it’s not his decision to make. So Tony just sits there, waiting.
Sorry this chpt took me longer to get out that I expected. Another plot bunny entrenched itself in my brain and took up a lot of my time this past week. I tried to get it to go away but it was a very manipulative little bunny and convinced me it needed to be written. It ended up being the slutty-cousin-plot bunny to this story's plot bunny XD My time will be split btwn the two stories now so updates might not be coming quite as quickly as they were before, sorry
Anyways...hope you enjoyed the chpt. Next chpt will have some of the Steve/Tony I have been promising you guys :D
Chapter 6: Beautifully Imperfect
Steve and Tony...finally XD
Captain America runs concerned eyes over his team, trying to pinpoint every bruise and cut they had sustained during the fight. Clint is the worst off, having dislocated his shoulder, but Natasha had popped it back into place in the field and the SHIELD doctors didn’t think it would take more than a week to get back in working condition.
Steve knew that a large reason why the team came out of it as well as they had was because Tony had saved the day, like he was prone to do. Thinking of his missing teammate, Steve wills the debriefing to go faster. He needs to get back to the tower as soon as possible. Needs to see Tony, now.
He remembers the sheer relief pouring through Tony’s voice when Steve said he trusted Tony and…god, that was just not acceptable. Tony should never doubt for a second that Steve, or any of the team for that matter, trusts him.
And if Tony has been sitting in his lab, thoughts turning darker by the second because of this whole…mess, then Steve needs to sort it out, right now. Because Steve refuses to lose Tony to his past, refuses to let Tony tear himself to pieces with self-deprecating thoughts.
Lunging to his feet as soon as Fury dismisses them, he stalks quickly to the garage and gets on his chopper. The roar of the engine is a good way to drown out his distressed thoughts as he darts through New York City traffic, the tower looming in the distance.
It feels like ages have passed once Steve finally pulls up to the tower, ditching his bike and racing towards the elevator. He hesitates once he steps in.
“Jarvis, where’s Tony?”
“In his lab, Captain Rogers,” Jarvis is quick to respond. Jarvis starts the elevator moving before he’s even done responding, sensing Steve’s necessity to see Tony. Steve tries to calm his breathing as the elevator descends to the basement level lab, attempts to rein in his racing thoughts revolving around Tony Tony Tony…
He steps into the lab, boots crunching into broken shards of glass. He sees Tony slouched back in a desk chair, head tilted towards the ceiling and eyes closed. Steve stops for a second and studies him. Takes in the grim set of Tony’s lips, the furrowed eyebrows, the tense lines of his body, everything about him screaming defeat.
A fierce and sudden urge washes over Steve. More than anything, he just wants to pull Tony into his arms and hold him, reassure himself that Tony is still there and not lost to him. But it’s an urge he pushes back down to the depth of his soul. Now isn’t the time for him to get lost in his wants…to be with Tony, in that way.
The only sign that Tony even hears him is the slight twitch of his hand where it rests across his leg. Steve is about to call out again, but then Tony takes in a heavy breath and opens his eyes.
Steve tries not to the let the pain show on his face, but it’s like a biting lash slicing across his heart when he sees the resignation in Tony’s eyes. He’s got the look of a man beaten down one too many times, a quiet acceptance of his tortured fate.
Steve sets his jaw in a firm line. That’s not acceptable.
Tony nods his head towards the other chair nearby, an offer. Steve gladly accepts and pours his long frame into the chair. Tony watches him closely, a heart-breaking wariness in his eyes as he waits for Steve to start speaking.
“It wasn’t because of the video, you know?” Steve starts, letting sincerity flood his voice. “Deciding to deactivate you from the field had nothing to do with…that. It was because you had just been injured. Bruised ribs and a possible concussion. I…” A red flush spreads over Steve’s cheeks and he finishes in a rush, “…we wanted you to be safe.”
Tony inclines his head, dark eyes inscrutable in the muted light of the lab. “Yeah, I figured that out once I calmed down,” his voice is low, detached in a way that puts a mile wide gap between him and Steve, and Steve doesn’t now how to breach that distance.
“Oh, um…that’s good,” Steve mumbles.
Okay, so maybe Steve isn’t as prepared to handle this as he thought. Because more often than not, Steve finds that he doesn’t know what to say to Tony. He’s usually the good at inspiring speeches or quiet reassurances, knows just what to say to people to make things right…but Tony has always been his exception. When it comes to Tony, Steve tends to say exactly the wrong thing and messes things up even more horribly. And if he fails so horribly with Tony, the one he wants to help the most, then maybe he fails at being a leader.
“I never know what to say to you,” Steve admits, figuring honesty is always a good route to take. “There are times when I think that Fury chose wrong, that I am the absolute worst person to lead this team…because for all of his confidence in my ability to connect with people and lead them,” Steve shakes his head in disbelief, “I just don’t see it…”
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Tony does his best to keep his face impassive as he listens to Steve. He doesn’t know what to expect from Steve’s little speech. He’s bad at reading people in general, and Steve is even more impossible for him to read than most.
But if there is one thing Tony knows about Steve, it is that he tends to shoulder any burden he comes across, even when he doesn’t need to…even when it shouldn’t be his burden to bare. And Tony knows that the whole revealing that his father, Steve's friend, was of the not-so-kind variety was a huge fucking burden if there ever was one.
And that’s why it isn’t entirely surprising when Steve starts in with the self-criticizing…but just because it’s not unexpected, doesn’t mean that Tony is accepting of it.
“Steve,” Tony interrupts. “Don’t think that…” And Steve just looks lost, his blue eyes broadcasting how helpless he feels.
And god, how is Tony’s life so fucking unfair? How is it that the one person Tony wants to impress more than anyone else is also the one he shows his darkest, most unpleasant side to?
“You can’t think that. Not because of me,” Tony’s voice is beseeching, he needs Steve to understand.
He’s been unfair to Steve. Snapping at him in anger, taking his frustrations with this whole fucked up situation out on Steve…innocent, kind, good Steve. And now, like the more than decent person Steve is, he’s taking the blame, as if he played any role in Tony being an eternal fuck-up. Which is…just no. No.
Tony stands abruptly, a shaky hand tugging at his hair as he starts to pace madly. His body is thrumming with frustrated energy and he knows his voice is creeping into the realm of hysteria. But seriously, this whole thing has just gotten ridiculously out of hand.
“You can’t fucking blame yourself, Steve. I know that we have miscommunications…but it’s me. I’m the one inadequate at the whole talking thing. At least the talking that involves any depth, because let’s be honest, I talk. A lot. But it’s all just noise; nothing I say is usually of any worth. And if it is, it’s science related so Bruce would really be the only one to understand my rambling. But, in general, I’m bad at conversation, okay? There’s something wrong with me. I’m an outlier. I don’t fit into any normal or predictable pattern. I mess things up. It’s what I’m good at…”
And Tony has thrown himself so thoroughly into his little ranting explanation of his proficiency for screwing things up, that he doesn’t even realize Steve has moved. Doesn’t comprehend what has happened when he pivots around to continue pacing, only to run into a very solid wall...of muscle.
Tony eyes dart upwards to meet Steve’s gaze and he’s sure he must be hallucinating because he swears there is affection thrown in there with the more expected emotions of concern and exasperation.
“What?” Tony says dumbly, his eyebrows arcing in confusion.
“You’re an incredibly vexing man, Tony Stark,” Steve states, blue eyes intense as they scan Tony’s face.
Tony frowns and nods in agreement. “Yes, that is precisely what I was just trying to explain…”
“No,” Steve interrupts. “You’re incredibly vexing because of how blind you are.”
What? Tony is extremely confused. And decides to tell Steve so. Because yeah, they were just discussing their inability to communicate and Tony feels like he should do his part to resolve the matter.
“What? I’m extremely confused.”
Steve raises a hand slowly, his fingers reaching out to trace along Tony’s cheekbone. There is a hint of indecisiveness in Steve’s eyes as he captures every detail of Tony’s face, but then it is overwhelmed with a blaze of determination.
And oh…Yeah, Tony kind of has a feeling he knows what’s coming next and he’s not sure what to think about it. It’s what he’s wanted, for so long. It’s what he’s yearned for, just to have Steve…but…
Before he can formulate a counter-argument, Steve is leaning down, his lips softly meeting Tony’s. Tony should be embarrassed by the small whimper that leaves his throat, but when Steve just smiles into the kiss and presses more firmly against Tony, he thinks that embarrassment is a small price to pay for this.
Steve’s hand move to cradle Tony’s head, and all Tony can think is a jumbled mess of words… safe, protected, wanted. Tony’s fingers tangle in Steve’s shirt, clutching onto him with a desperate need. One of Steve’s arms slips to loop around Tony’s waist as his lips coax Tony’s open, and Tony let’s Steve in with a small sigh.
And Tony feels safer than he ever has in his entire life. He feels like he can finally let go…let someone else take care of him. He thinks that if there is anyone who can help put him back together, it’s Steve.
Tony’s eyes snap open at the thought, quickly pulling away, hands coming up to push against Steve’s chest in order to get a little bit of space between them. Because they can’t do this.
“Tony…what….” Steve looks down at him, confusion in his azure eyes.
Tony swallows deeply, taking another step back and letting Steve’s arm slide off his hip. He shakes his head, tries to calm the frustrated tears building in his eyes. Because seriously, so fucking unfair. Steve is all he’s ever wanted. But Tony’s been able to cope with not having him, because he knows…knew Steve didn’t want him like that. And now that Steve has proven otherwise, it’s up to Tony to be the levelheaded one, to be the one to realize the horribleness of this idea- them being together.
“We can’t…Steve…” and yeah, admitting it to himself is so much easier than saying it out loud, but he forces the words out anyways, “I’m broken.” Tony looks up and sees a pained grimace on Steve’s face, a simmering anger in his striking eyes. “You’re too good for me. I’ll destroy you.” And Tony won’t do that. He can’t.
Steve takes a step forward, crowding Tony and pulling him into his arms again. Tony tries not to squirm and drops his gaze but Steve forces his eyes up with a firm hand under his jaw.
“Tony, you listen to me, and listen carefully, okay? You are a good man,” Steve says firmly, voice strong and resolute. “You are brilliant and beautiful and kind and selfless in so many ways you don’t even realize. And yes, you can be stubborn and idiotic at times and frustrating…but even with all your faults, you are a good man. A better man than most, than me,” his voice dips a little, going soft, “better than your father. And I will spend the rest of my life proving that to you, gladly. Just don’t push me away. Don’t deny yourself this just because you think I’m too good for you. Because I’m not, not at all. And I want you, every perfect and beautifully imperfect part of you. I want you, Tony.”
And Tony doesn’t know what to do, except stare wide-eyed at the man he’s been in love with for a while now, hearing the words and trying not to reject them, trying to see himself as Steve sees him. And it’s hard. It’s harder than anything he’s ever attempted before.
But when Steve leans down to kiss him again…Tony arches up to meet him, thinking that maybe….just maybe, with a little help, he can start believing those words. Start believing that he might not be perfect…but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good. Doesn’t mean he’s worthless or useless.
He’s good enough, imperfections and all. But with Steve and his team at his side…he can grow to be even better.
Okay, so just like last time...this is an end, but not a true ending. Next part of the series will be more focused on Steve and Tony growing together. Also planning a one-shot scene for Tony & Bruce.
Thanks for all the support. You guys have been totally awesome :)