Tony Stark didn’t grow up in this life, not like most of the people who called themselves hunters. In fact, for most of his life Tony was just as weak and clueless as the rest of the world. That comfortable time ended when a goddamned werewolf slaughtered his girlfriend and he got a crash course in the darkness that lingered out there in closets and shadows.
He used his considerable money and resources to make a badass silver gun with liquid silver bullets and killed the beast. The kill didn’t fix anything though and Tony had to content himself with wearing the ring he bought around his neck on a silver chain. A promise he never got to give.
After that he put all his genius toward research and discovered the underground hunters society and he was amazed at all they could accomplish while skirting the laws to do it. It wasn’t easy though, he could see that much and started dedicating days of his time toward developing more effective weapons against the supernatural monsters lurking out there.
He was careful and his name was never connected to the donations that showed up at various hunter bars across the country but that was fine, that was good. Tony Stark was far too big of a name to be able to get out there and do the hunting himself. In respect of that, he decided to do all that he could from his standing point and could only pray it would be enough.
Life went on, as it always did, but Tony never failed to keep in contact with the underground so when rumors of unusual happenings in a Captain America exhibit at a Stark sponsored museum came to his ears, he was suitably interested. A little digging showed that the exhibit had recently received a shipment of newly discovered relics, one of which included a replica shield that looked just like the original that was lost when Captain America disappeared.
Suspicious and intrigued, Tony suspended his meetings for the next few days and flew out, ordering the museum closed for all but for himself.
He arrived just hours before sunset and quickly set up all his equipment, perusing the exhibit and the things on display all the while. When he came across the shield though, he knew that was it.
This was no replica.
Tony turned the sleek metal in his hands and caressed the round edge. This was the real deal, the vibranium specialty made exclusively by his father. He was absolutely going to be having a talk with whoever found it and berating them for not informing him of its discovery so he could give an inspection.
It was absolutely a beauty, just amazing. Hefting the shield, Tony slid his arm through the hold and sat down in a chair ringed with a salt line. He didn’t think there was going to be violence tonight but there was just no way to be sure. Not all ghosts retained the memories or morals of their original selves and regular ones were strong enough, he didn’t fancy being thrown around by a super soldier ghost.
Provided this worked, which it would because he was Tony Stark and he was (mostly) always right.
Finally the sun disappeared and Tony clicked on the overhead light for just this room. Then he waited, hands moving slowly over the shield as he sat. About two hours into the night, he shivered and dim mist appeared at his exhale. Stiffening slightly, Tony held his seat, hands paused over the shield.
“You might as well show yourself soldier, I’m gonna be here all night.” The long moment that followed made him almost worry he was wrong.
“Who are you?” The voice was calm and wary but sounded perfectly reasonable and Tony allowed himself to smile ever so slightly.
“My name is Tony Stark. You’re Steve, right? Steve Rogers?”
“Yeah.” There was a moment of silence then Tony blinked as a tall, well built blond man materialized in front of him. “Are you...related to Howard?”
Tony ducked his head briefly, sorry he had to do this but there was just no other choice. “Yes, I’m his son.”
“Oh.” The guy sounded like he’d been punched in the gut and Tony’s heart ached for him. “How, how long have I been gone?”
“It’s been seventy years, Cap. I’m afraid things didn’t go quite the way you’d been hoping.”
The man repeated the number and sort of stared through Tony. “I had a date.” He said faintly, brokenly and Tony winced.
“I’m sorry.” He said sincerely, hands stroking over the shield again absently.
Steve’s form trembled and those electric blue eyes focused on the shield. “That’s mine.” He breathed out, almost desperately and stumbled forward toward Tony as if he couldn’t stop his own feet. He hit the salt line though and jerked backwards, hissing in bewildered pain.
Tony’s heart thumped sympathetically and he frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“I, I don’t understand. What am I doing here? What’s going on?”
“You were under a lot of stress, Cap, the whole world was depending on you. You saved us all but you didn’t know it and your heart wouldn’t let you rest until you got proof. Unfortunately, it took us a very long time to find you again and by then all that was left of your crash site was this.” Tony said softly, lifting the shield as the overhead lights gleamed off its surface.
Steve just stared at him, looking so confused and broken that Tony almost couldn’t face him but had no other choice. The man was a hero and he deserved to know. He deserved to be able to rest.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying it’s time to let go, Steve. You did it. We won the war, there is nothing left to fight. You don’t have to hold on anymore.”
The Captain looked at his own hands, saw how they faded and reappeared like a bad radio signal and made a wounded noise. “I’m...am I dead?”
“You’re supposed to be.” Tony said, his own heart breaking at the stricken look that crossed the hero’s face. “Instead you’re tied to your shield as a ghost. You’ll never be able to rest like this. You need to move on.”
“I don’t know. That’s up to you. Since I’m not dead, I don’t know how.”
Steve just looked around them and back at his own hands, silent and lost.
“I’m sorry.” Tony said again, more truthful than anything else he’d ever said. “You didn’t deserve this and I wish there was a way I could help.”
Steve met his eyes and held the gaze. “Could you just stay with me? Until...” He didn’t seem to know what to say but Tony got the message and nodded.
“Of course. I’ll stay as long as you need me.” he promised. “Would you maybe like to hear some things about the world you saved?”
“I would like that.” Steve said and folded down cross-legged on the ground.
So Tony gave him the history of everything that happened since the 19940s, the good and the bad. It was only fair. The telling took hours and made Tony grateful for his habit of not sleeping for days because it meant he could do this for Steve. This one last thing.
It was nearly an hour before sunrise by the time Tony began to wrap it up and Steve was as attentive as when he’d started. And then, with a half hour to spare he talked about the future, what he had planned and what he aimed to achieve. At that, Steve stood up, smiling gently at him and Tony’s heart stuttered.
The man was gorgeous when he smiled. It lit up his face like the noon sun and Tony sat stunned at the sight of it.
“Thank you, Tony. You’re an amazing person and I believe that so long as there are people just like you out there, fighting in my place, then everything will turn out okay.”
“Cap, Steve.” Tony breathed, confused and touched but Steve raised a hand.
“It’s okay, I promise. I understand now why I had to wait so long. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet you, Tony Stark. I’m sure that one day, when the timing is appropriate, we will meet again.” Steve turned toward a window, the sun just starting to break over the horizon view and looked over his shoulder to wink at Tony. “Just do me a favor and look after my shield?”
Struck dumb, Tony nodded and watched with wide eyes as pink sunlight spread over the floor, Steve vanishing just before it could reach him and Tony was abruptly alone again. The warm rays washed over him and Tony ducked his head, palm placed firmly over the star at the center of red, white and blue metal as a single tear splashed down.
“I promise.” he said thickly and sat there motionless for several minutes more before getting up swiftly and gathering up his equipment, shield tucked under his arm the whole time.
There was no need for another stake-out night, Steve was gone and it was time Tony moved on too.
He had a lot of work to do.