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Took All the Trees (And Put ’em in a Tree Museum)

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nos·tal·gia
näˈstaljə,nəˈstaljə/
noun
a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

****

Steve goes to the Smithsonian every Sunday after mass, without fail. He knows why. He used to spend every Sunday afternoon after church with Bucky, playing cards out on the porch, eating lunch with Bucky’s parents and sisters. Sundays were for God and Bucky, and now Steve’s doing his best to hold onto them both.

Sometimes it feels like chasing ghosts.

The worst part about the museum, apart from the constant worry he’ll be recognized, is how much he wants to reach out and touch his things. How nice it’d be to curl up with his old sketchbook or run his thumb over his beat-up radio, and remember.

It’s homesickness. Nostalgia. And it sucks.

It’s his fifth or sixth Sunday in a row, and the holiday crowds have Steve shoved off to one corner, trying to remain inconspicuous. It’s there he ends up next to a fancy gold plaque that reads:

The Man Behind the Shield: Discovering Captain America
All items on loan courtesy of Stark Industries

Which makes sense. Of course Howard would have collected his stuff. That was Howard. And it makes sense Stark Industries would loan it out. The hurt he feels, that no one-- well, Tony in this case-- would think that maybe he’d want his stuff back is unreasonable. It doesn’t belong to him now.

Though maybe if he asks Tony he could get some access to it. Come in after hours, and have a security guard unlock it. Have some privacy, maybe. It’s worth asking.

Except Steve doesn’t ask. A month passes, then another. Steve comes up with a dozen reasons not to seek out Tony. Just because he’s Captain America doesn’t mean he’s immune to the pang of rejection or a distaste for being mocked. Tony will tease him about wanting his relics. Remind him he’s an old man and offer to buy him a new sketchbook-- a digital one with all the bells and whistles. He won’t understand.

Eventually, though, it eats at Steve. Chafes him at the edges because he wants his stuff. Even for one night, he wants it. One Sunday he finally snaps and gets on his motorcycle to ride to the museum and just keeps going. All the way to that big ugly building in New York. It’s stupid, and he realizes just how stupid as he’s walking in the front doors of the building and he doesn’t even know if Stark’s there. Or if Tony will even see him.

Steve walks to the security desk and looks down, keeping the brim of his hat over his face to hide some of how idiotic this is.

“I’m sorry,” he starts. Because he is sorry. “I know this is a long shot, but is Mr. Stark in today?”

“Mr. Stark?” the security guard asks incredulously, with all the rebuke a native New Yorker can manage in just two words. “As in Tony Stark? You got an appointment?”

“No,” Steve says. It would be a whole lot easier if he’d brought his shield because then he could use it to pry open the elevator and crawl up. That would be preferable to this conversation. But Steve’s come all this way, and he’s not a pushover even if this wasn’t the best thought-out plan. “There’s a chance he might see me anyway. Would you mind asking him?”

The look the guard gives him is almost comical in its mix of pity and contempt.

“You got a name I can give?”

“Steve Rogers,” Steve says.

“Like Captain America?” the security guard asks.

Steve looks up so the man can get a better look at his face. “I go by Steve when I’m not in uniform.”

The guard doesn’t look impressed, but he does seem a little less skeptical about the odds of this working. He types something, waits, types something else and then nods toward an elevator that has opened from the blank wall behind him.

“It’s your lucky day. Next time make an appointment.”

Steve smiles at that. It’s not convenient to be treated like a regular Joe, but it is kind of refreshing.

“I’ll do that,” Steve promises.

The ride up is mundane. There’s no loud music playing in the elevator, no flashing lights or surprises. When the elevator stops and a polite voice suggests Steve exit, he does, and he’s in a room he recognizes. It’s where they found Loki after the battle of New York. It’s nicer now. Finished.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Steve says. It’s a little modern for his tastes but it suits Tony.

“Yeah, I do too,” Tony says. He looks beat. “Was gonna keep the Loki-impression in the floor but Bruce went and got all sulky about it so I had the whole place cleaned up. Want a smoothie?”

“Sure,” Steve says. “How’ve you been?”

“Busy,” Tony says. “You’re lucky you caught me. I’ve been in Malibu. Am going back to Malibu. I only stopped by here for Bruce. We scienced.”

“Sounds fun,” Steve says. “How’s Dr. Banner doing?”

“Doesn’t leave the tower. Pale as the day he was born. Is that why you’re here? To check in on him for SHIELD?” Tony asks, sounding displeased as he hands Steve a really horrendously green smoothie.

“No,” Steve says, then looks at the smoothie in his hands and he can’t help making a face. “I’m not sure this is edible.”

“It’s not,” Tony says. “It’s potable, though. Give it a try. And if it’s not Bruce, what’s up? Why are you here?”

The words are so full of suspicion and poorly hidden animosity, Steve considers bailing. Clearly a win and some shawarma hadn’t smoothed over all their differences. But Steve’s faced worse than a cranky Stark and he’d rehearsed his words all the way from DC to New York so he knows exactly what he wants to say.

“The Smithsonian. There’s an exhibit.” Steve pauses, and makes the mistake of nervously taking a drink of the smoothie, since it’s right there in his hands, and it sends him into a coughing fit.

“Huh. Superman has kryptonite, Captain America has chlorophyll. You super-beings and your weird-ass weaknesses,” Tony notes as he walks to the fridge to pull out a bottle of water. He tosses it to Steve. “That might be more your speed, Yankee Doodle.”

Steve unscrews the top and takes a long swig of it.

“Yeah, I think you might be right,” Steve says. “I’ll have to add Green Smoothies to my list of things to avoid.”

“Right under my name?” Tony asks.

That takes Steve by surprise.

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

Never mind that it took him almost two months from when he’d first thought he ought to contact Stark to get here. Tony doesn't know that.

“Right. About that. Why?” Tony demands.

He’s so angry, Steve wishes he knew what he'd done to earn this ire. This isn’t the petulant upset of a billionaire playboy who’s used to getting his way. Whatever’s eating Tony is deeper than that. Darker. Steve recognizes something in Tony’s eyes he’d seen plenty of in the war.

“There’s an exhibit of my things at the Smithsonian,” Steve says gently. “They’re on loan from Stark Industries and I’d like them back.”

That’s not actually what Steve had come to ask. He’d wanted to ask for some time alone with his stuff and that was all, but Tony’s attitude has him feeling honest. It reminds him of long-lost friends, and how they took no shit from anyone, and it gives him strength. And, more importantly, thinking of Bucky, Howard and Peggy gives him patience, because Lord knows they had infinite patience with him.

“I’m sure Howard paid quite a bit for some of it,” Steve says, “I’ve got all kinds of back pay so I can write you a check. And if you have an agreement with the Smithsonian maybe we can work something out to keep some of it on display.”

Steve’s calm tone has the desired effect and Tony takes his hostility down a notch.

“They’re all fakes,” Tony says. “Everything at the museum is a replica.”

“Really?” Steve asks. “They fooled me.”

Tony shrugs. “They wouldn’t have if you could touch them. The real stuff’s in storage upstate. There’s a lot. You might want to go through it first to see what you want to take with you. Anything else can stay secure in Stark storage until you’re living in something bigger than an apartment. I’ll have Jarvis send you the address and you can pick up security credentials on the way out so you can go back as often as you want. It’s all yours. Go wild.”

“Thank you,” Steve says genuinely. “That’s more than I could have hoped for.”

“I should have given it to you sooner,” Tony says, waving off the appreciation. “Honestly, I forgot about it. Unlike Howard,” Tony continues (and the spite and anger is back in full force) “I don’t need a shrine to Captain America to get me through my day. Whiskey works fine, all on its own.”

Well, that explains some things. The anger and hostility are aimed at Howard and Steve’s a living, breathing reminder of the man. They’ve never really talked about Howard. Steve knows he’s pressing his luck with even a simple question, but he doesn’t have it in him to back away from the subject. If Tony’s going to hate Steve, Steve wants it to be for a better reason than a grudge against his father.

“Did he go visit my things a lot then?” Steve asks.

Tony’s eyes narrow. “They weren’t in storage until after he died. He kept it all in his home office. He never let you go. Not even for a second.”

Steve doesn’t know what to make of that.

As an artist, he’s struck by the image of Howard standing at a desk, hands splayed wide over rocket designs, in full science mode. And there across from him, a dark-haired child, no taller than the desk, trying to get his attention. In Steve’s mind’s eye, Howard can’t see Tony over all the Captain America memorabilia stacked between them. It’d make for a gorgeous painting, but a lonely childhood.

“That doesn’t sound fair to you,” Steve says.

Tony had looked ready to get defensive. At Steve’s words his posture relaxes slightly though the smile he gives Steve is entirely false. Tony grabs for a bottle of the nearest alcohol and pours a shot into his smoothie.

“Doesn’t matter,” Tony says. “Go get your stuff, Cap.”

“Can’t get me on the road fast enough?” Steve asks.

“I didn’t say that,” Tony says.

“You didn’t have to,” Steve says. “I’ve got lots of experience with being shown the door.”

“Just thought you’d be in a hurry. If you aren’t, kick up your heels. Stay awhile.”

Steve doesn’t miss the challenge in Tony’s voice. It’s obvious Tony doesn’t expect he’ll stay. Won’t want his company. And why wouldn’t that be his expectation? If his own father couldn’t bother with him, Steve reasons, why would Tony ever think Captain America would?

“If you’ve got time before your flight,” Steve says in a firm voice. “My stuff can wait.”

Maybe Howard had gotten his head in the wrong place and ended up valuing collectables more than he valued time with Tony; Steve won’t make that same mistake.

Tony looks surprised. Then suspicious. Then something in between that Steve can’t quite comprehend. Not happy. That much he knows from the new false smile Tony gives him a second later. It’s so frustratingly fake Steve wants to shake him.

“Sure, why not?” Tony says abruptly. “Jarvis, reschedule the jet and warn Bruce we’ve got company. Naked science time is over.”

“Don’t cancel the fun on my account,” Steve says.

“Doctor Banner sends his regrets but he’s unable to join you. His project won’t allow him to leave the lab.”

Another blow off. Steve isn’t surprised by this one, at least.

“Naked science is nothing you’d have wanted to see anyway,” Tony says, before taking a swig of his smoothie. “I was serious about the pale thing. Banner’s ass is stellar but blinding and I doubt he wants to be the one to defile Captain America’s virgin eyes.”

Steve snorts a laugh. “Virgin eyes?” Steve asks. “You do realize I’ve probably seen more naked ass than you have, right? Spend a few years on tour with showgirls then another couple in a warzone and there isn’t much left to corrupt.”

Tony lifts an eyebrow.

“You can believe me or not,” Steve says, putting up his hands in surrender. “All I’m saying is that it gets hot in the summer and we weren’t hauling our swim trunks across the eastern front.”

Tony’s face lights up with mischief. Steve thinks this smile is much better.

“Oh my god, Captain America swam naked with dudes,” Tony exclaims.

Steve smiles. “Something like that,” he says fondly. “Anyway, the two of you can naked science to your heart’s content if I’m ever around. I won’t be scandalized.”

“That’s disappointing,” Tony admits. “Scandal is my favorite.”

“So Google would have me believe,” Steve says.

“Wait. You’ve used The Google? Captain America has googled me?”

“Can you not call me that?” Steve asks. “Cap is fine but Captain America... I’d just rather you not.”

“Okay Steve,” Tony says, drawing out the word in a way that makes it sound pleasantly filthy. “Tell me the truth. Have you or have you not watched my sex tapes?

Steve shakes his head. “I have not,” he says. “I saw a link, but I don’t believe just because you’re a celebrity you don’t have a right to privacy.”

“That’s--” Tony pauses. “That’s very Captain America of you.”

Steve gives Tony a dirty look, and Tony looks extremely pleased with himself. He really must love being a little shit. Which is probably why Steve is enjoying this conversation.

“If you really want to know what I do on the internet,” Steve says. “Most of what I look at is the art. Pictures of famous paintings I’d only ever seen in books that could never really capture what was there. And lately I’ve been looking at the art people make of us. There was one set of individual painted panels in the Art Nouveau style that if I could have figured out the artist I would have tried to buy. They were incredible”

“Awwww, Cap. You should have called me,” Tony says. “Jarvis can track down anything, can’t you J?”

“I’m already working on it, sir. However, Captain Rogers will need to take a look at my results as there are multiple sets by varying artists.”

“They were all signed R.J. if that helps,” Steve says. “That was the only identifying information.”

“I believe I have found them, then. I am displaying them on the television now.”

The large flat screen built into the wall flicks on and Natasha’s portrait shows up first. On Tony’s high definition tv it looks even better than Steve remembers. BLACK WIDOW is emblazoned across the bottom in a fancy script and above her code name, their fellow Avenger is drawn over a background of intricate snowy curves and flowing lines. Russia in the winter, Steve thinks.

“See how delicately they’ve shaded her face?” Steve asks. “And how that contrasts with the strength in her pose and in her build? It’s perfect.”

His open admiration seems to catch Tony’s attention.

“Yeah, we’re buying this,” Tony agrees. “J, track down the artist. Make them a generous offer on my behalf.”

“You haven’t even seen the rest,” Steve says.

“You’re impressed, I’m impressed,” Tony says. “Let’s see yours.”

The picture changes to Steve’s panel. He’s in his uniform, turned slightly to the side, with the shield front and center. Behind him on the left is an interpretation of Brooklyn and as the scene flows to the right, the buildings become more modern.

They both take a minute to stare at it, before Tony speaks again.

“Jarvis, show me mine. Let’s see if they got my good side. Actually-- let’s face it, there’s really no bad side.”

“That does seem the point of a symmetrical face mask, sir,” Jarvis says.

Which makes Steve laugh, because it is so like a Stark to create a smartass artificial intelligence.

Tony ignores the comment and is clearly delighted when the screen changes to the portrait of him, though as the seconds creep on Steve glances at Tony’s face and sees the beginnings of something less happy. Less sure. Then downright unfocused.

“I’ll-- with-- back in a few,” Tony rambles. “Make yourself... home.”

There’s a breathiness to his voice and Tony all but runs from the room. Steve looks up at the ceiling, silently wondering if Jarvis has any input but he’s met with silence. Steve turns his eyes back to the television, puzzling out what sent Tony running. The picture is equal in skill to Natasha’s. Iron Man is front and center, done in gold and red, with his name below. He’s painted against an ornate circle of clouds that ring a black and silver night sky. It’s gorgeous from an artist’s point of view.

Steve’s stumped. Not that Tony’s ever been particularly predictable.

“Jarvis, would you mind turning off the screen? I think I’d rather watch the city while I wait.”

The television shuts off, and the lights in the room dim slightly as Steve walks to the window. The windows had been slightly clouded before but now they are clear, and Steve can’t help but think that Bucky would think this was incredible. The future. Now.

A few more minutes pass as Steve watches the people below until it is starting to be an awkwardly long time for Tony to be gone.

“Jarvis, is Tony still in the building?”

It did seem like a prank that could be played. Ditch Captain America. Tony and Bruce laughing their way down the elevator.

“Master Stark is in his suite,” Jarvis says. And yeah, it’s a British Robot Voice, but Steve feels like he senses worry there.

“Can I go check on him?”

“Sir has initiated the manual override on the elevator so it will not rise to his suite.”

Which sounds like a no, but then panels in the wall light up with a blue glow that flash in a pattern Steve takes as direction. He follows them up the stairs, and then down a clear-plated hallway lined with two levels of labs. Steve sees Dr. Banner below, but Bruce seems thoroughly engaged in his work and Steve doesn’t want to bother him. The lights that are showing him the way end at door that’s up one more set of stairs.

Though now Steve sees that although he’s come around a different direction he could have taken the elevator up two floors and ended up near where he is now. Steve tries the door and it doesn’t open. He knocks and waits.

“Jarvis? Can he hear me?”

“He will neither confirm nor deny that he’s heard your knocking. Captain Rogers, when the tower was built, Ms. Potts insisted I have protocols that allow me to override privacy settings if necessary for the health of an occupant. This is one of those instances.”

The door unlocks, and Steve doesn’t hesitate to step inside. He doesn’t know what set Tony off and honestly, he’s expecting blood since Jarvis’s concerns are running high enough to override his creator’s settings. He’s definitely expecting angry shouting when he barges in. What he doesn’t expect is to see nothing much at all. One side of the bedspread has been dragged over the edge of the pristinely made bed and Steve can hear sharp, rapid breathing coming from the other side of the mattress. Hidden from view, and definitely Tony.

The pieces of the Tony puzzle snap into place. Panic Attack. Steve’s had similar episodes since waking up from the ice. He suffers through them alone. That doesn’t mean Tony should have to.

“Tony,” Steve says quietly. “I’m going to walk around the bed, now.”

“Go-- away,” Tony grits out. “Mfine-- totally dying-- but fine.”

“Let me check on you,” Steve says. “I’ll sit with you.”

“It’s not-- Don’t bother--”

Tony’s hyperventilating between words and Steve walks around the bed and sits down next to him. Tony has the blanket half covering his head and he’s folded himself into a tight ball. It’s no wonder he wants privacy since it’s such an intimately helpless scene.

“Can I put an arm around you?” Steve asks. “It might help.”

Tony’s face is buried in his knees but Steve sees his head bob and understands it as permission. He eases closer to Tony and wraps an arm around him. Tony leans fully into his grasp, still breathing rapidly and Steve applies a little pressure to his shoulder to help ground him.

“You can get through this,” Steve says. “I know you can. We’re going to try and breathe together, okay? In-two-three-four, out-two-three-four. In-two-three-four, out-two-three-four.”

Steve keeps his voice calm. It doesn’t help. Tony shakes his head ‘no’ almost violently.

“You shouldn’t be here-- I have to tough it out-- like a man--”

Tony’s really shaking now, and Steve can tell things are getting worse, not better.

“There’s no such thing as ‘like a man’,” Steve soothes. “That’s the kind of thing I heard when I was a kid. The world knows better now. Besides, you want Widow to hear you say something like that?”

Tony doesn’t respond but he does give a slightly hysterical laugh. And then a sort of coughed sob.

“I’m proud of you, Tony,” Steve says. “You’re breathing. I know it’s hard but you’re breathing. And I am so proud of you for that. Can you breathe with me?”

Tony nods this time. It’s shaky but there.

“In-two-three-four... out-two-three-four... In-two-three-four... out-two-three-four... In-two-three-four... out-two-three-four...”

Steve keeps it up until Tony’s breath evens out ever so slightly.

“That’s perfect,” Steve soothes. “You’ve got this. Keep breathing, nice and slow.”

Steve starts to talk to give Tony a solid distraction, first about himself as a kid, and then the story stretches on to his teen years. The bullying, the fighting, the never staying down. Steve talks about Bucky and missing him. About the first time he saw boobs. When it moves to the war, Steve avoids his own triggers. He talks about how much better grapes tasted off the vine in Italy, and about learning to steal cars. Basically anything that comes to mind until finally Tony relaxes against his arm. It’s maybe 30 or 40 minutes later.

“It was the art panel,” Tony says, a little uneasily. “The background-- was the portal. The wormhole. It sets me off. I- I had panic attacks when I was a kid. Hadn’t had one for years. Then after the battle they started again.”

“Howard made you tough them out?” Steve guesses.

Tony shakes his head. “He’d have had to be around to do that. Mom wasn’t a fan of needy children. Or of me in general. She wanted me to deal with them on my own.”

Steve feels a pang in his chest. His own mother was a saint. They hadn’t had much but he’d never doubted once that he was loved, safe and wanted.

“You shouldn’t have to,” Steve says. “I know I won’t be around every time, but at least for this evening let me stick around. We’ll order pizza or stir fry or something.”

“Don’t you have a whole warehouse full of boxes to dust off?” Tony deflects.

“They’ve been sitting there for years. Another day isn’t going to make a difference.”

“Ugh, you’re making it really hard to resent you,” Tony sighs, pulling away from Steve’s arm and letting out a groan of exasperation. “And shit-- my ass fell asleep. And here at least I thought I could make a dignified exit.”

Steve’s able to stand with no problem and he reaches down a hand to Tony to help him up. Tony stares at Steve’s hand, then takes it.

“I bet you pop out of bed looking like a daisy, too,” Tony scoffs wearily.

“Depends on what I’ve been doing in bed,” Steve says. His tone is pure innocence, but his smirk gives him away and Tony’s mouth drops open slightly.

“You’re trolling me,” Tony insists, turning carefully on his heel toward the elevator. “I am being trolled by the star-spangled man with a plan. In my own bedroom. J, order us some pizza?”

Steve practically chokes at the mention of that god-awful song. “Please tell me that’s not your private elevator music.”

“It could be,” Tony says. “I guess you’ll have to join me to see.”

Steve shakes his head, hoping against hope Jarvis will take pity on him, as he follows Tony into the elevator. Thankfully, there’s no music at all as it begins to descend. Only the gentle hum of movement.

“Thank you,” Tony says. “For-- all that.” He gestures upward to indicate what had happened in his room and then leans against the wall for support.

“I have them, too,” Steve says, sparing Tony from any more than that simple thanks. “I don’t know if they’re official panic attacks or just something similar. This last time it was fireworks that set it off. It made for a rough birthday.”

“Who sat with you?” Tony asks.

Steve shakes his head and gives Tony a sad smile. “No one. I just-- toughed it alone, I guess. After that I read up on what I could find. What helps some people. What might help me. A lot of what I read was more for friends or family members. Thought it might come in handy someday.”

“So I was your first?” Tony asks, stepping out of the elevator. The tease is practically lost in Tony’s exhaustion. “That you’ve helped through a panic attack, I mean.”

“You’re my first,” Steve concedes. There’s so much innuendo floating around at this point, Steve isn’t even sure which conversation they’re having.

“Fourteen-year-old-me would have been so into that,” Tony says.

He flops down on the couch and Steve follows, taking a seat on the other end. Tony drapes a blanket over himself and it’s endearing to see that it’s not an expensive blanket or a fancy one. This blanket is well loved.

“So fourteen-year-old-you didn’t hate me, at least,” Steve says, without realizing for a moment that he’s said it out loud.

“I don’t hate you,” Tony says. “Hate isn’t the right word.”

“What’s the right word?” Steve presses. He keeps his voice even, trying hard not to be defensive about this. Just because it isn’t his fault doesn’t mean it’s not valid.

“Dunno,” Tony says, pauses, then adds. “Have you seen Back to the Future?”

“Not yet, no,” Steve says.

“Jarvis, put it on. Have the pizza delivered to the workshop and Dummy can bring it up.”

They spend most of the rest of the evening in silence. Comfortable silence at least. Steve gets Tony a glass of water and Tony doses off without having eaten a single bite of pizza. Steve carefully tucks the blanket around him before he leaves. He stops by the security counter on the way out, and gets the pass for the warehouse in upstate New York. The guard strongly suggests Steve make an appointment for that visit, as the Stark Industries Head of Security doesn’t like surprises.

Steve nods, heads out to climb on his bike and replays the whole evening in his head on his ride back to DC. He’s got clarity now, and as nice as it will be to have access to his stuff, he realizes that wasn’t even close to what he was missing in the first place. He’s just not sure friendship is going to be as easy to attain as a warehouse full of memories.

****

Monday is never a good day to try and take off, so it’s Tuesday before Steve can get out of town. He’s made his appointment with SI and rented a truck from a place near the airport. He arrives at the remote warehouse a few minutes early, and is a little concerned when there’s not a single car in the lot. There’s no guardhouse either, so as Steve walks to the front door he’s not entirely sure it’s open.

When he approaches the building, the front door slides open all on its own.

“Must not have been in too big a hurry if it took you two whole days,” Tony points out from where he sits on top of the security counter. He’s got a Starkpad in one hand and he’s typing without looking up.

“Some of us don’t get to set our own hours,” Steve says. “I thought you’d be in Malibu by now.”

“Bruce needed a hand with something,” Tony says.

Except Tony’s not with Bruce, he’s right here, right now. Waiting.

“It was good of you to stick around for him,” Steve says.

“Yeah, well, he needs me. What can I say?”

Tony hops down off the counter and puts down the Starkpad, finally meeting Steve’s eyes. “C’mon, it’s all back here.”

The place is totally deserted except for the two of them. They walk through one full building and half of another before they reach a door that takes a special code to open. Once they’re inside, they are surrounded by carefully shelved crates.

“This is everything,” Tony says.

“Everything...” Steve repeats. There are a lot of crates but when they’re meant to encompass everything it doesn’t seem like much.

“You’re barely 90,” Tony says. “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.”

Steve chuckles though there’s an unmistakeable touch of sadness in it. “I guess that’s a silver lining, yeah.”

He turns slowly, looks at the crates and knows what they represent and well-- it turns out he doesn’t want them. Not now. Maybe never.

“I think I might have wasted a trip,” Steve says.

“Not entirely,” Tony says. “There’s a restaurant a couple miles from here. They’ve got the best cheeseburgers in New York. Eat one, and the miles will have been worth it.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Steve asks. “Cheeseburgers?”

Tony shrugs before turning on his heel. “I’ve flown further for less. Come on, old man. Let’s get some lunch.”

****

Steve sees Tony a few times a month after that. Never for any logical reason, never with any warning, and generally announced by the most obnoxiously loud rock music Tony can make happen. Once he even hijacks the speakers of Steve’s SHIELD-issued phone during a major debriefing to make his entrance.

The look on Fury’s face is worth the inconvenience of being handed a new phone the next day.

It’s a week after that that Steve finds himself in Stark Tower, this time via a quinjet and a promise of any favor that strikes Clint’s fancy for being the short-notice pilot. Tony’s text had been brief and alarming.

Can’t tough this one out alone.

Steve’s out of the jet before the ramp’s done lowering, and he takes the path Jarvis had shown him before at a sprint. Tony’s on the floor against his bed, in a compact Tony-shaped ball, shaking and struggling to slow his lungs. Steve asks no questions, he simply sits, wraps an arm around Tony’s shoulder, and launches into a monologue about his thoughts on motorcycle helmet laws. It’s the first thing that comes to mind, and slowly, eventually, Tony’s panic attack subsides.

This time they don’t move any further than the bed.

“Don’t go?” Tony asks, once he’s collapsed on the mattress and covered by a blanket.

“I won’t,” Steve says. He sits down on the other side of the bed and pulls out his phone. “I’ll read. You rest.”

Steve’s not sure how Jarvis knows to time food delivery for a few minutes after Tony wakes up, but he’s grateful just the same. Steve eats while Tony sips water and they watch a nature documentary on baby hippos. It’s another quiet evening, and Steve realizes belatedly, a Sunday. He hasn’t thought about the museum even once.

****

It’s two months after that that Rumlow snaps his fingers in front of Steve’s face sharply.

“Earth to Captain Rogers,” Rumlow tones, in his best NASA impression. “You with me, Rogers?”

“What?” Steve asks. “Yes. Sorry-- What?”

“I said, Stark’s around so we’re all heading out early to avoid whatever scene he’s gonna make. You want to join us for a drink?”

“Maybe next time,” Steve says. “Someone’s got to keep Fury and Stark from killing each other.”

It’s weird calling him Stark, Steve thinks. In his mind, he’s always Tony now. And since he’s given Tony an embarrassing amount of thought lately, the given name sticks.

“It’s your funeral,” Rumlow shrugs.

The rest of the guys walk out with Rumlow and Steve gets in the elevator for the ride up to Fury’s office. He should not be surprised when music suddenly swells from the speakers right at the most rousing part of the chorus to The Star Spangled Man With a Plan.

“Really, Tony?” Steve asks to the air.

“You know you love me,” Tony’s voice echoes loudly from nowhere. “It. You love it. When I’m an ass.”

“It’s the best,” Steve agrees sarcastically. Or well, it’s meant to be sarcasm though it comes out absurdly sincere.

“Get a room, you two,” Fury chimes in. From where or how, Steve really does not care to know.

“Re-routing the elevator now,” Tony says.

It starts ascending a lot more quickly than before. When it stops, it’s at roof level. Tony is leaning casually against a new model quinjet.

“Is this our ride?” Steve asks.

“Jarvis will fly us anywhere we want to go,” Tony says. “I made it for the Avengers. Technically it’s SHIELD’s but I can use it when I want.”

Tony pushes away from the jet and makes for the ramp, but Steve stops him with a hand to his arm.

“Tony.” Steve thrills a little at the feel of the name on his tongue. Mostly he only ever says it in his head. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s a gesture,” Tony says, waving toward the jet. “A grand one. I show up, take you anywhere in the world. Fourteen-year-old-me gives me a mental high five when I kiss you somewhere over the Atlantic. It’s a hell of a first date.”

“I thought the world’s best cheeseburger was our first date,” Steve says.

Tony turns in his arms looking horrified. “We’ve been dating for five months and you didn’t think to tell me?”

Steve makes a face. “Not-- not dating dating. I don’t know. I’m out of practice. You’re the expert.”

Now it’s Tony’s turn to make a face, though this time he simply looks exasperated. “Fine. I’m here for our second official first date. Get in the damn quinjet.”

Steve laughs. “Yes, sir.”

“Oh, I like that,” Tony says, his smile turning wicked as he wraps an arm around Steve and tugs him toward the ramp. “I like that a lot.”

“Well, I don’t,” Fury barks over comms. “Get your schmoopy asses off my Triskelion. And Stark?”

“Yes?” Steve asks.

“You break it, you buy it.”

Tony leans back to take an overly obvious look at Steve’s ass and then nods.

“Deal.”