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Make Reality A Dream

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Steve and Tony emerge from the lab forty minutes later, fingers intertwined and lips kiss-swollen.  As soon as they enter the living room, five heads swivel around to look at them.  There is a moment of speculative silence and then an explosion of noise.

 

“Yes!  I win the bet!” Clint hollers, one arm punching into the air in triumph.  Tony rolls his eyes and an embarrassed blush spreads across Steve’s cheeks.

 

“You two will both have to fill out the paperwork about inter-office…inter-team… relationships,” Coulson pauses and a slight frown comes over his face.  “You know, I don’t think we have a protocol set to handle dating superheroes, which means I’ll have to invent the paperwork,” he informs with a put-upon sigh.

 

“I’m going to go grab my camera.  Pepper will definitely want picture evidence that her little boy is all grown up,” Natasha smirks as she jumps to her feet and glides out of the living room.

 

Bruce has a warm smile on his face as he says a quick congratulations.

 

A roaring laugh bursts through the room as Thor marches towards them, a bright grin lighting up his face.  “I see many good wishes are in order,” Thor beams as he slaps a broad hand down on each of their shoulders.  Steve grunts slightly and Tony stumbles, losing his balance a little.  “It has been a most anticipated event, the joining of you two most honorable men.  May Frigga smile upon your bond and Freyr bless your virility!”

 

Steve hides his face behind his free hand and Tony sputters indignantly about how they don’t need any blessings for their virility, thank you very much.  They are plenty virile all on their own!  Clint just snickers in the background before getting up and moving to collect Thor.

 

“Come on, you big lug.  Let’s go get the celebratory dinner started, yeah?” 

 

Thor bounds along beside Clint as he continues to exclaim his happiness with the new development, loudly.  “It is a shame Midgardian men cannot be with child like my brother, Loki.  I believe the brave Captain and the Man of Iron would have produced the most charming of offspring, do you not agree?”

 

Bruce lets out a chuckle when Steve’s face turns a shade of red he hadn’t even thought possible.  Tony just grins brightly up at Steve who mumbles a quick excuse about going to take a shower.  Tony bites his lip to stop himself from offering to join him, fully aware that Steve has already been embarrassed enough and also not wanting to mess things up so early on in their relationship.  Tony watches Steve go with a wistful look on his face.

 

“Well, I’ll go hedge off Natasha and tell her picture time will have to wait until later,” Coulson says as he departs from the living room, leaving the two geniuses alone.

 

Striding over to the leather couch, Tony throws himself down next to his friend.  A curious glint enters his eyes and he nudges Bruce’s shoulder with his own before voicing his question.

 

“So how long exactly have you guys been predicting this?”

 

Shrugging his shoulders, Bruce smirks slightly at his friend.  “Well, I knew you had it bad about nine months ago.  There was one day where you completely messed up a simple equation just because you were telling me a story about Steve.  I think the others clued in about a month later.  And about sixth months ago is when we all knew it was completely mutual. Remember that fight with the alien-bunnies?”

 

Tony winces as he recalls the fight with the furry little demons. He had underestimated them and been thrown into a building…which had then collapsed on him.  It took the team five hours to trap the little monsters and then dig him out.  He had lost consciousness due to the limited oxygen supply.

 

“Right,” Bruce continues, “well let’s just say Cap was having a mini-freak-out until we rescued you and then refused to leave your side until the doctors said you’d be alright.  Don’t get me wrong, we were all worried…but Steve took it way harder than the rest of us.  God, the look on his face when we pulled you out and you were unconscious…” Bruce shakes his head as Steve’s worried face flashes through his mind.  “Let’s just say, we are all surprised it took you guys so long to get together.”

 

There is a slight pause and then Tony let’s out an awkward, brittle laugh.  “Well at least one good thing came out of this whole fucked-up affair,” Tony tries to joke, but Bruce can still hear the vulnerability there.

 

Bruce frowns slightly and studies his friend’s face.  “How are you holding up with all that?” Bruce prods carefully.

 

Tony shrugs his shoulders, avoiding eye contact.  “I’m not too sure to be honest.  I mean, I think the whole reason I reacted so horribly to begin with was just because it was unexpected.  No one knew…and I had never intended to tell anyone either.”  Tony finally turned to look at Bruce, his eyes showing exhaustion but also a calm relief.  “But if anyone had to find out, I’m just glad it was you guys.”

 

“Tony…” Bruce bites his lip, seeming unsure of himself.  “If you ever want to talk…I mean, I get what you’re…”

 

“Tony!” Clint bursts into the living room, interrupting Bruce.  “Thor broke the microwave again!”

 

“These buttons are as tricky as the riddles Loki mocks me with!” Thor shouts from the kitchen.

 

Tony chuckles at his friends’ antics, thankful that things seemed to be on the right track of getting back to normal.  He had already made a deal with Steve to talk things through with him.  Steve doesn’t want him suppressing things again, and Tony understands, but it's going to be hard.  So he’s glad that at least the other areas of his life will provide the levity and normality –well, normal for the Avengers- Tony desperately needs.

 

“I’ll be there in a second,” Tony tells Clint.  Once the marksman has gone back to the kitchen, Tony turns to Bruce.  “You were saying?”

 

Bruce just shakes it off, “nothing important.  Go,” he waves a hand, “help the technologically-challenged.”

 

Tony laughs as he hops to his feet, grinning as he walks away.  “Thor, what did you do this time?!” Bruce hears Tony yell as he exits.  The physicist looks at his hands, twisting them together as he heaves a sigh and then gets up, moving to join the team in the kitchen.

 

 

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“So…” Tony speaks into the comfortable silence.  He’s leaning back into the curve of Steve’s body on the couch, both men finally enjoying some alone time after the boisterous dinner with the rest of the team.  “I know we agreed to talk about…”

 

Steve stops Tony with an arm tightening around the waist of the smaller man.  “We don’t have to right now.  Let’s just enjoy tonight…take things slow.  I don’t want to push you too fast, okay?”

 

Tony nods and then shifts, twisting himself around until he is straddling Steve.  Tony studies Steve’s face, wants to memorize every moment he has with the soldier…because in the back of his mind, there are still thousands of doubts swirling around and taunting him, telling him he is going to mess this up eventually so he better enjoy it while he can.

 

“Hey, stop…” Steve says softly, rubbing small circles into the small of Tony’s back.

 

Quirking an eyebrow, Tony asks, “stop what?”

 

“Over thinking this.”

 

Tony flashes a wry grin.  “I over think everything, Steve.  Comes with being a genius.”

 

Leaning forward, Steve brushes his lips gently across Tony’s.  “Is there anything I can do to make you stop thinking?”

 

Smiling warmly, Tony leans in to kiss Steve a little more firmly.  “I think you had the right idea,” Tony breathes against Steve’s lips. 

 

Tony knows he might- will- make a mistake, but he trusts that Steve will give him the chance to fix it.  So, pushing his doubts and insecurities to the back of his mind, Tony just let’s himself be swept up in the tender wave of emotion coursing through him and kisses Steve again.

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Tony laughs when Steve describes how he had met Peggy.  It was all too easy to imagine her punching out that A-grade asshole. Peggy had been the best person ever.  Seriously.  Tony dares someone to come up with a woman more awesome.

 

The two had agreed that talking about Peggy, a person they both admired, would be a good way to breach the topic of Tony’s childhood.  Tony also hoped that it would help Steve too.  Although Steve had adjusted well to being in a new era, Tony knew that he still felt isolated, in a way.  Steve didn’t often talk about the people he had left behind and Tony hoped that, just as Steve was helping him heal, he could help Steve heal too.

 

After his chuckles quieted, Tony thinks about what story he wants to share with Steve.  Even though he didn’t get to spend too much time with them, Tony has so many wonderful memories of his Aunt Peggy and Uncle Henry.  

 

“Oh!” Tony starts excitedly, spoon hanging out of his mouth.  Him and Steve were eating ice cream sundaes in the kitchen.  “One time Aunt Peggy and Uncle Henry took me to Coney Island…”

 

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Tony bounced up and down in the seat, frowning when the subway stopped once again and they didn’t move to get off.  “Where are we going?” 

 

Peggy turned to smile at Tony.  “I’m fairly certain you know the meaning of the word surprise, Tony.”  She had to stifle a laugh when Tony gave a loud harrumph, crossed his arms over his chest, and stuck out his lower lip in a pout.

 

“But Aunt Peggy…”

 

“No Mister Impatient,” Peggy cut him off before he could get into a full whine.  She knew herself well enough to realize that if he unleashed the puppy-dog eyes, she would be doomed.  “We are almost there, Sweetie, I promise.”

 

Tony nodded his head and went back to squirming in his seat.  Fifteen minutes later, Peggy stood and took Tony’s hand after a garbled announcement came through the speakers.  Tony hopped along beside Peggy as Henry led the way through the large crowd. 

 

When the trio finally made it to ground level, Tony gave a loud gasp and started tugging Peggy forward. Henry took hold of his other hand to make sure Tony wouldn’t get lost.

 

“An amusement park! This is awesome!”

 

Peggy and Henry laughed as a tiny Tony Stark pulled them along.  He jumped up and down, bursting with energy, as they waited in line to get into the park. 

 

“Now, Tony, you know you aren’t tall enough to go on some of the rides, right?  There will only be a few we can go on, but we can play all the games and eat all the junk food you want,” Henry told the little boy.

 

Tony nodded his head, “yeah, yeah, I know.  Let’s go on the Ferris wheel!”

 

Four hours later, Peggy was returning to the picnic table they had all stopped to eat their snacks at when a panicked Henry came racing towards her.

 

“I’ve lost him!”  Henry gasped out, his eyes searching the surrounding area frantically.  “I went to go get more napkins and when I came back he was gone.  He was only out of sight for three seconds and now he’s disappeared!”

 

Peggy set a comforting hand on Henry’s arm, looking around for what might have captured Tony’s attention.  She was worried for his safety, but she was not entirely surprised he had wandered off.  That boy was a born troublemaker.

 

“Attention guests,” the loud speakers around the park started blaring.  “We have a…” pause “Tony S. at the arcade.  If his parents would please come retrieve him, it would be most appreciated.”

 

Peggy smiled at her husband when Henry darted off before the announcement had even finished, trying to get to Tony as fast as possible.  When she made her way to the arcade, she had to blink away her surprise.

 

Tony was standing in the middle of a circle of park attendants, a sheepish look on his face.  Behind him was a large arcade game, a tangled mess of wires hanging out of its opened back.

 

“Tony…” Peggy began in a reprimanding tone.

 

“I’m sorry!” Tony apologized with wide eyes.  Peggy was about to continue chastising him when Henry went forward and pulled him into a giant hug.

 

“It’s okay, Buddy.  We’re just glad you’re okay.”  Tony’s eyes went wide with shock, wondering how he had gotten out of being punished so easily.  “I’m so sorry I lost you.”  Peggy rolled her eyes when she saw the devious glint enter Tony’s eyes.

 

“It’s okay, Uncle Henry,” Tony said, patting Henry’s back.  “I was a little scared, but you found me now.”

 

Peggy went over to apologize to the park attendants and thank them for finding Tony.  They just waved away her apology and said they thought it was one of the most interesting missing children cases they had seen.  Usually the child just starts crying, not trying to take apart one of the arcade games to ‘make it better.’

 

Turning to the still hugging pair, Peggy walked over and cuffed both of them on the backs of their heads lightly.  “You stop being manipulated by the little imp,” she said pointing at her husband before turning to glare playfully at Tony.  “And you, mister, need to stop guilt-tripping your Uncle Henry.  Use your powers of genius for good, not evil!”

 

Tony gave his Aunt Peggy a wicked grin.  “Okay, Auntie, I promise.”

 

Henry stood up, chuckling at Tony’s audacious behavior.  “How about we go see if we can win some prizes playing milk bottles?” 

 

Henry held onto Tony’s hand the entire walk over, not wanting to let go of the boy again.  It had really scared him when he thought Tony was lost.  Henry paid for each of them to have one try.  Peggy went first and knocked down all but one of the bottles, winning a medium stuffed animal.  Henry went next and knocked down all but two, winning small stuffed animal.

 

When Tony stepped forward for his turn, he had a look of intense concentration on his face.  He titled his head to the side, observing the pyramid structure of the milk bottles from numerous angles.  After a minute, Tony picked up the ball and lobbed it over, knocking down all of the bottles.  He jumped in the air giving a loud whoop of triumph.

 

“Did you see that?  Once I figured out the structural integrity of the milk bottles, it was easy to tell which point was the weak spot and would cause the entire structure to collapse.  There is one milk bottle that is slightly crooked…” Tony rambled on as he held out his arms for the large stuffed tiger that was almost as big as his entire body. 

 

He was still explaining how he had succeeded eight minutes later as they exited the park.  Peggy and Henry just nodded along with indulgent smiles on their faces.  They didn’t understand most of what he said but were happy enough that Tony himself was happy.

 

Tony finally seemed to succumb to the exhaustion of the day on the subway ride back home, his eyes drooping tiredly as he hugged his tiger.  Half way through the ride he fell asleep, leaning his head against Peggy’s arm, face buried in the stuffed animal’s orange and black fur.

 

Peggy ran her fingers through his hair, smiling at her husband.  “This was a good idea, Henry.  He’s not often given the chance to just be a child.  I’m glad we could at least give him this memory.”

 

Henry smiled warmly, “don’t worry Pegs.  We’ll be able to give him plenty of other memories like this.”

 

The couple kept careful eye over Tony as he slept, happy that they got to be a part of this special boy’s life.

 

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“It was a great day,” Tony finishes with a wistful smile on his face.  Steve smiles back, glad Tony has some good memories from his childhood, glad that Tony had gotten to be a child, at least for a little while.

 

Steve knows that Tony deserves more memories he can look back on and smile, and Steve would like nothing more than to have the honor of being with Tony as he makes those great memories.

Chapter Text

“That was the only time he hit me,” Tony says quietly.  And it’s so unexpected that Steve frowns for a second in confusion before his mind supplies the appropriate context for Tony’s comment.

 

Steve’s hand slips in his surprise and he ends up scratching a dark line through the sketch of Tony he had been working on.  Shaking his head, Steve hastily throws the sketchbook down on the couch beside him and turns his full attention to Tony.  Tony isn’t looking at him though.  His dark eyes are staring blankly at his hands, fingers twined together in his lap. 

 

The two have been down in Tony’s workshop for a few hours now, content to let each other work and just feel the other nearby.  Last time Steve had glanced up to look at the genius, Tony had been working on a new design for his armor.  So to have Tony suddenly bring up the topic they had been warily circling around for a few weeks now, well, it leaves Steve a little lost at how to respond.  Before he has to, Tony starts speaking again.

 

“I mean, there were times he would accidently hurt me when he was drunk…but that day,” Tony curled his fingers together tightly until his knuckles were white, “that was the only time he purposely hit me.  Stone cold sober and still pissed off beyond reason to have a son like me.”

 

“Tony,” Steve says thickly, getting to his feet to approach Tony carefully.  As soon as he’s close enough, Steve drops to his knees, gathering Tony’s hands in his and just waiting Tony out.

 

Tony’s eyes don’t move from their hands but he squeezes Steve’s fingers lightly, enough to assure Steve that he appreciates the connection.  After a minute of silence, Tony bites his lip, takes a deep breath and surges on, more brave than anyone Steve has ever known.

 

“That was one of the worst days of my life, and probably not for the obvious reason.  That day…” Tony shakes his head, frowning as he tries to open up to Steve.  “Peggy and Henry, they were...livid about Howard hitting me, yeah?  So there was this whole big confrontation and I remember…there was a lot of yelling.  Peggy was screaming at Howard about how horrible of a father he was and…she threatened to expose Howard if he ever laid a finger on me again.”

 

 

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He can remember it vividly, the fiery anger in Peggy’s eyes as she ranted and yelled at his father.  He’d been so shocked, never having seen his Aunt Peggy that mad before.  She had been fighting for him…and it had made him feel loved in a way that his own parents had never made him feel. 

 

And of course Howard had to strip that away from him.

 

“Howard didn’t take too well to that,” Tony says bitterly, hating his father for this more than anything else he ever did to him.  “He kicked them out of the house and filed a restraining order against them the next day.  With all his money, there was no way Peggy and Henry could fight him…and just like that, he fucking took away the only people I actually thought of as family.”

 

Tony hadn’t given up easily, but Howard made sure Tony realized that Peggy and Henry were no longer a part of his life.  He’d tried calling Peggy and gotten two words out before Howard came marching into the room and ripped the phone from his hand.  He’d tried escaping from the house, but two security guards that worked for Howard manhandled him back into the New York mansion.  He’d tried building something that would let him communicate with Peggy or Henry, only to have all his tools taken away from him.  He’d tried everything a six-year-old genius could think of, but Howard blocked his every move.  After a month of failed attempts, Tony had realized his father was not going to let this blow over…realized that he would never see Peggy and Henry again.

 

“You know…when I was given the news that my parents had passed away…I was actually kind of happy. “

 

He knows that’s horrible to admit aloud, especially to someone as good as Steve.  But it is the truth of how he felt at the time.

 

“The first thought that went through my head was ‘Maybe I’ll get to see Aunt Peggy again.’  I knew Uncle Henry had already passed away a few years before but I thought maybe…just maybe, I’d be able to make up some lost time with Aunt Peggy, at least.”

 

It had been hard to learn of his Uncle Henry’s death, five months after the fact.  The only reason he even found out was because of an obituary he had found on his father’s desk.  That night had been one of the biggest yelling matches in the Stark household.  He had been so pissed that Howard had hid the information from him.  The only good thing that had come of it was Howard letting him call Peggy to talk to her.  Thirteen-year-old Tony had shed tears for the first time since That Day so long ago. He'd talked with Peggy for hours, not wanting to hang up. But he did, with Peggy's promise that one day they'd get to see each other again. It wasn't a promise she was able to keep.

 

“I was stupid,” Tony let’s out a bitter laugh and ignores the slight flinch Steve makes at the sound.  “Because of course Howard wasn’t content with just being a bastard in life; he had to be a bastard in death too.”

 

Howard always had the upper hand, always made sure Tony knew that, even after he was gone.

 

“Apparently, a minor shouldn’t get any say in how his own life is run.  Because that stupid restraining order was still in effect until I was eighteen and I could revoke it myself.”  Tony closes his eyes, willing his voice to stay strong but knows it’s thready and laden with grief.  “Peggy died from cancer a month before I turned eighteen.”

 

It hurts to say the words, but it also ignites an enraged fire in Tony.  He gets to his feet, body thrumming with anger, pacing out his frustrations.  He sees Steve get to his feet too, but Steve lets him have his space.  Lets him work through this.

 

“How fucking unfair is that?!  One month, Steve.  One more month and I could have been reunited with my true family.  Because fuck whatever society deems appropriate.  Howard was not my family!  He gave me a name and took everything else away from me,” Tony croaks, chest heaving as he struggles to maintain his tenuous grip on control.

 

He’s on the edge.  There is just so much unvoiced pain surging through him, screaming to get out, and he can only talk so fast.  Can only handle so much.  There’s just too much.  Too much.  Anger.  Grief.  Resentment.  Sorrow.  Regret…

 

“I promised myself at Howard’s funeral that I’d be a better man than him.  I wanted to show Peggy I wouldn’t turn out like him but I never got the chance.  When I found out Peggy passed…I broke, Steve.  God, I fucking shattered.  And I was just so…angry.  Because it wasn’t fair.”

 

Fair had never been a word applied to Tony’s life.  Because fair was not getting a mother who drank and drugged herself into oblivion.  Fair was not his father hating him for no apparent reason.  Fair was not having his family taken from him by Howard.  Fair was not having a man he saw as a mentor betray him.  Fair was not having his two best friends, Pepper and Rhodey, always being put at risk because of him.  Yeah, Tony didn’t know what fair was.  And he showed how fucking unfair he thought that was by rebelling against everything.

 

“I became so reckless after that.  There was no one in the world that I really cared for anymore, no one left to impress…so I decided to try and ruin Howard.  Forgot all about that stupid promise.  Fuck being a better man, ruining Howard’s legacy would be a better life purpose.  Because if there was one thing Howard cared more about that anything else, it was his fucking reputation.  And if I could destroy that?  Well, that seemed like good payback for all the fucking shit Howard did to me.”

 

Oh, he still worked.  Still produced the best technology he could.  Society and progress didn’t deserve to be a casualty of Tony’s war with his father’s ghost.  But the Stark reputation?  That he felt he could tarnish.  SI was still known for producing the best of the best.  But Stark was known for being a right bastard with a disgusting drinking problem.

 

“But I was fighting a losing battle, Steve.  Destroyed myself just to spite a fucking ghost,” Tony shook his head, wondering how he could have been so stupid considering he was a genius.  “Went about it the wrong way.  All I ended up doing was proving I was as worthless as he always thought I was.  I fucking messed up, Steve.  And now, I’m trying to fulfill a promise I never should have strayed from in the first place.  I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to make up for all my past faults.” 

 

Tony looks at Steve, trying to see if Steve in anyway understands what he’s trying to tell him.  If he gets that Tony regrets living the way he had; that he’s trying to follow through with that promise of being a better man now, before it’s too late.  Because he lost the chance to prove to Peggy he's better than Howard.  And he fears, more than anything, that he’ll lose the chance to prove it to himself.

 

“Everyone makes mistakes, but you’re trying to fix things now.  That’s what matters, Tony,” Steve whispers, blue eyes filled with so much compassion that Tony doesn’t know how he came to deserve someone as good as the man before him.  Regardless of his feelings of being unworthy, Tony doesn’t put up any resistance when Steve pulls him into his strong arms.

 

Tony curls into Steve, breathing in his scent, listening to the steady beat of his heart, submerging himself in Steve.  He doesn’t cry, it’s a close thing though.  Tony already shed his tears over denied and lost opportunity years ago…but there’s still an overwhelming sense of relief that washes over him.  Because he’s never shared this with anyone before.  Never hinted at how much Howard had actually hurt him.

 

And it’s scary.  It’s scary opening himself up like this, letting Steve see all the dark parts of him.  But…it’s Steve, and he trusts Steve…and he kind of loves Steve.  So maybe it’s okay to be scared, as long as he still takes the plunge.  And he did that.  Dived right into his sordid past and let Steve take the journey with him.  And as much as Howard is to blame for a lot of the shit Tony suffered through, Tony knows that his own actions caused enough heartache for others.  Knows he was blinded by hate for a dead man and almost ruined his chance at proving himself worthy.

 

“It’s why I try so hard now.  Why I act the way I do with the Avengers.  The team…what we do…it’s the only chance of redemption I’ve got, Steve.”

 

He feels fingers run through his hair and the soft press of lips to the top of his head.  Tony knows that Steve might not agree with him; Steve already thinks he's a good man.  But at least Steve hears what Tony is trying to say.  That Tony needs to prove to himself that he’s a good man.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Status reports, now!” Steve ordered as he escorted a group of tenants out of their apartment building and down onto the streets below.  Once they stepped out into the open air, Steve pointed towards the police cars and buses set up just down the street where the people could go to be evacuated.

 

“All clear on my end,” Clint reported.

 

“I could use some help over here,” Natasha bit out, voice tense.

 

“On my way,” Clint piped up.

 

“I have helped all the fine people in my area to safety!” Thor pronounced as he zoomed by over Steve’s sector and started helping further the evacuation along.

 

“Iron Man, Dr. Banner, how are things looking over there?” Steve asked as he looked towards the rooftop where the pair was working to diffuse the bomb.

 

“This wiring is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” Tony muttered, sounding frustrated by that fact.

 

“As far as we can tell, there’s no biochemical component.  It’s a good old-fashioned bomb,” Bruce informed the team, relieving them of that fear at least.

 

“Yeah, a highly destructive bomb.  Seriously, the blast radius this thing is capable of is no joke,” Tony intoned seriously.  Steve could here the intense focus in his voice.

 

“But you’re estimate is accurate, right?  Or do we need to widen the evacuation?”  Steve asked as he led another group of people towards the pick-up site for this sector.

 

“Estimate is accurate.  It’s not the lives I’m worried about here, it’s the structural damage the blast is going to do.  If I can’t defuse this, then this entire neighborhood is going to be blasted to Timbuktu,” Tony informed the team.

 

“Sector B is cleared,” Natasha cut in over the comms.

 

“Good, I’m escorting the last group out of Sector A,” Steve said as he helped an old lady onto the last bus.  He waved a hand towards the police squads, motioning them that they could leave now. 

 

“Police and rescue personnel are evacuating now.”

 

“So everyone’s out?” Tony asked.

 

“Yeah, everyone’s out.”

 

“Good,” Tony breathed.  “You guys need to leave now too.  Hey, Thor buddy, want to come get Dr. Banner out of here?”

 

“What?  Tony, I’m not leaving,” Bruce sputtered. 

 

Steve jumped into an SUV with a SHIELD agent to be taken out of sector A.

 

“The only way you are staying anywhere near this thing is if you are in your other form,” Tony snapped, concern for his friend fueling his anger at being questioned.  “You are destructible, Banner.  And if you switch over into the other guy, then you aren’t exactly of any help to me in dealing with this bomb anyways, now are you?” 

 

“…Fine,” Bruce agreed begrudgingly, clearly not happy with being taken from his friend’s side.

 

Steve reconvened with Natasha and Clint in the designated safe zone where SHIELD agents were flooding the streets and organizing the hundreds of people who had been evacuated.  He went up to the rooftop of the building where temporary headquarters had been set up so he could try to get a better view of what was going on inside the blast zone.

 

“Here,” Clint nudged Steve’s shoulder, offering him a pair of binoculars so he could see where Tony was working at neutralizing the bomb about two miles away.

 

He saw Thor touch down on the rooftop and gather Bruce into his arms.  He gave Tony an encouraging pat on the back before launching into the sky again.  The pair settled next to Steve a few seconds later.

 

“…Shit,” Tony swore softly, making Steve’s breath catch.

 

“What?” Steve asked, slightly panicked.  “Iron Man, what happened?”

 

“Uh…” Tony started, distracted as he ran around to the other side of the bomb.  “I accidently triggered a countdown.”

 

“How long?”

 

“Little under three minutes.”

 

“Is that enough time?” Steve asked, fingers clenching around the binoculars tighter.

 

“Maybe…”

 

“If you haven’t neutralized it by the twenty second mark, then you get out of there, Iron Man.”

 

“What? No…I’ll be fine.”

 

“It’s an unnecessary risk.  Everyone has been evacuated.  Trying to prevent some structural damage is not worth risking your life,” Steve argued.

 

“We aren’t talking some minor damage here, Cap.  I’m talking complete annihilation of an entire neighborhood!  People’s homes! If I need those extra seconds then I’m taking them. This suit is built to withstand enormous amounts of force.  The blast won’t hurt me.  I’m staying until it’s neutralized or it blows up in my face.”

 

“Stark, I don’t think saying something like ‘blows up in my face’ is conducive to getting Cap to allow you to stay,” Clint said dryly.

 

“Yeah?” Tony snarked back.  “Well, you guys chattering away in my ear isn’t too conducive to me neutralizing the bomb.”

 

The team took the hint and remained silent on the comms, watching from afar as Tony worked.  The more time that ticked by the more Steve’s heart started to accelerate, worry overwhelming him.

 

“Twenty seconds,” Natasha whispered.

 

Steve counted down the remaining seconds in his head.  He watched as the Iron Man suit bent down, trying to get at some wires under the bomb.

 

“Tony…”

 

“I know!” Tony snapped, voice on edge and dripping with anxiety.

 

Five.  All of Steve’s attention was on the sound of Tony’s rough breathing over the comm.  Four.  His heart pounded against his chest, fast and hard.  Three.  He could here Jarvis announcing warnings to Tony over the comm., making more fear flood through Steve.  Two.  Steve watched helplessly as Iron Man suddenly straightened, moving closer to the bomb instead of away from it, arms spread wide as if was going to try and block the blast with his body.  One. 

 

Fire and light exploded across Steve's vision as he watched Iron Man, Tony, be consumed by the blast.  A loud roar drowned out any other sound as the blast echoed towards them.  The building they were standing on shook, smoke and debris shadowing the sky in a dark cloud.

 

“Anyone have sights on Iron Man?!” Natasha barked out.

 

Steve lowered his binoculars, letting them slip from his fingers as his body went numb with shock.  He shook his head, barely registering the angry shouting and panicked yells flooding the air around him.  All he could do was stare blankly at the utter destruction presented before him.

 

“Iron Man, report!” Coulson snapped.  “Stark!”

 

Steve’s sight went blurry and he realized tears had formed in his eyes.  He swallowed thickly, chest becoming shakier with each second the comms stayed silent.

 

Tony

 

Steve felt like he was suffocating, air didn’t seem to want to stay in his lungs.  His hands shook at his sides and his legs felt weak, barely strong enough to hold him up.

 

Suddenly, there was a thud behind him and Steve turned to see Tony standing there.  The armor was scorched, the paint melted off, dents bending the chest plate in odd patterns.  The helmet folded down into the suit to reveal a slightly battered, but alive, Tony Stark.

 

Steve took a step forward, fingers twitching at his side, wanting to reach out and touch Tony just to reassure himself that Tony was real.  He watched as Tony took off one of his gauntlets, wincing as the twisted metal pulled at his hand. 

 

“You used your body to block the bomb,” Steve said softly, still feeling numb with shock.

 

Tony shook his head, getting his sweaty locks out of his eyes.  “Yeah, I had hoped the suit would be able to minimize the damage by taking the brunt of the blast.”  Tony’s eyes flickered to the scene of destruction over Steve’s shoulder and he winced at the sight.  “Guess it didn’t work all that well.”

 

Steve took another step forward, a fire starting to burn through him.  “You used your body to block the bomb,” Steve bit out, anger making him curl his hands into tight fists at his side. Steve marched forward, wanting to shake Tony and make him realize how stupid he had been.  Seeing Steve’s anger, Tony retreated backwards until he hit a wall, watching Steve’s approach with wide eyes.

 

“Why would you do that Tony?!  Why risk your life like that?!”  Steve yelled.

 

“I…” Tony frowned, confused by Steve’s anger.  “I was hoping to save some homes.”

 

“Buildings?!  That’s what you almost killed yourself over?”

 

Steve knew the anger was fueled by his fear.  Knew he shouldn’t be yelling at Tony like this.  But seeing Tony being engulfed by the blast had frightened Steve more than he could properly explain.  Terror had clawed its way into Steve’s heart and was controlling his actions now.

 

“I know you think you have to prove yourself to everyone…”

 

Stop it! Steve yelled at himself.

 

“But risking your life through stupid and reckless actions…”

 

Stop!

 

“…doesn’t prove anything except how selfish you are.”

 

Oh god, stop…he begged.  He could see how Tony’s eyes were wide with shock and hurt, but the fear wouldn’t let him stop.

 

“Did you even think about how the rest of us would feel if you died over something so useless as buildings? Or are you too self-centered to think about how your actions affect the rest of us?”

 

Steve’s chest was heaving by the end of his panic-induced tirade.  His body trembled as he stared Tony down, swallowing thickly when he realized how horribly he had just messed up.  Steve could see the hurt and sense of betrayal Tony felt swimming in those dark eyes.

 

He wanted to go back in time, stop himself from saying those horrible things, stop himself from hurting Tony just because he had been scared.  But he couldn’t.

 

Lifting a hand, Steve tried to reach out to touch Tony but the genius skittered away from him.  Once he was in the clear, Tony gave Steve one last hurt look before taking off into the sky.  Steve watched as Tony disappeared from sight, the silence on the rooftop all-encompassing as everyone present tried to process what had just gone down between the Captain and Stark.  A hand landed heavily on Steve’s shoulder and he turned to find Bruce giving him a sympathetic look.

 

“I…” Steve floundered, not even sure it was possible to explain why he had snapped at Tony like that.

 

“It’s okay,” Bruce assured him.  “Just give him a little time and then you can go talk to him.”  Bruce squeezed Steve’s shoulder, offering the soldier some comfort.  “Right now, we need you here, Cap.”

 

Steve nodded slowly, looking around to assess the situation.  Right now, he’d handle things here, distract himself with action.  And later…

 

Later, he would find Tony and beg for forgiveness.  Steve just hoped that he would be able to find the words to express how sorry he was for behaving so horribly.

 

 

Chapter Text

As soon as the team stepped into the tower, Steve made a beeline for the elevator with access to Tony’s lab.  He pushed the button harshly, impatient to get to the man he had wronged.  When the elevator door refused to open, Steve let out a frustrated noise.

 

“Jarvis,” Steve called out to the AI, “is something wrong with the elevator?”

 

“No, Captain Rogers.  Mr. Stark has denied access to the labs to everyone,” Jarvis informed the soldier.

 

Steve cursed softly under his breath, swirling around to stare beseechingly at his team.  Before he could ask for their help, Jarvis spoke up again.

 

“Mr. Stark has changed his previous order,” the AI started, and Steve looked hopefully at the elevator, waiting for it to open.  “He requests Dr. Banner’s presence in the lab,” Jarvis finished and Steve’s shoulders sagged in defeat.

 

Looking behind him, he saw the guilty look on Bruce’s face and offered him a small but sad smile.  Steve titled his head towards the elevator, encouraging the quiet man forward.

 

“It’s fine Bruce.  At least he’s not shutting everyone out,” Steve tried to sound optimistic.

 

Bruce stepped forward when the elevator doors finally opened and turned around to face Steve.  “I’ll talk to him,” he offered before the door swiftly closed.

 

Steve stared at the elevator for a long moment, only looking away when he felt a hand rest on his shoulder.  “Come on, Cap,” Clint spoke, “let’s all go get cleaned up, get some food, and then you can go apologize to your man.”

 

Nodding tiredly, Steve followed the rest of his team further into the tower.  Hopefully later Tony would at least give him a chance to apologize.

 

 

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Steve was waiting in the living room, slouched back into the couch as exhaustion started creeping over his body.  This day had completely wrecked his nerves.

 

The soft pad of feet reached his ears and he looked to the entryway to see Bruce standing there.  The man looked more exhausted than Steve felt, shadows playing across his dark eyes.  Getting to his feet, Steve looked hopefully at Bruce.

 

“He’s willing to talk to you now,” Bruce spoke slowly, “but he’s a little pissed off so… he’ll probably be difficult about it.”

 

“When is Tony not difficult?” Clint shouted from the kitchen where he and Thor were cooking dinner. 

 

Steve ignored Clint in favor of smiling thankfully at Bruce.  “I’m gonna,” he waved his hand towards the elevator and received a nod from Bruce.  “Thanks.”

 

Making his way to the elevator, he breathed a sigh of relief when the door opened for him.  The descent was much too fast, yet no fast enough.  Steve needed to apologize, there was never any question about that…he just wasn’t sure what the right words would be.

 

When the elevator door opened up to allow Steve entrance to the lab, he opened his mouth to start apologizing and stopped in his tracks when he saw Tony.  The genius had his shirt off, his skin more pale than usual, and a cracked arc reactor sitting on the lab bench next to him.  The only thing that stopped Steve from completely freaking out was the glow from the other arc reactor secure in Tony’s chest.

 

“You…” Steve stepped forward, trying to fight down the panic building in him once again.  “What happened?” He asked, voice cracking as his eyes swung towards the cracked life-source sitting next to Tony. 

 

Tony pulled his shirt back on, avoiding eye contact as he swung around to face his touch screen panels.  “The reactor got a little…messed up by the blast.  I needed Bruce’s help to change it out for a new one.”  Tony’s voice was carefully neutral, void of anything that would give Steve a hint as to what he was currently feeling.

 

Steve crept closer, hand slowly reaching out to pick up the discarded arc reactor.  There was a small crack creeping along the one side it.  Steve ran a finger over the slight imperfection.  Such a small thing.  A small thing that could have cost Tony his life.

 

“This is why I ordered you to get away from the bomb.” 

 

Steve winced, cursing himself for saying the wrong thing again.  Before he could take the words back, Tony was swirling around in his chair and leveling an angry glare at him.

 

“I will not apologize for my actions!”  Tony snapped, raising to his feet and pointing an accusing finger at Steve.  “I calculated the risks and there were none to myself, so I did what I thought was necessary to save a neighborhood.”

 

Steve held the damaged arc reactor up, offering it to Tony as his argument.  “You calculated wrong, Tony,” Steve said softly.  “Risking your life…”

 

“Oh,” Tony scoffed.  “This is great.  I’m getting lectured about risking my life by the man who throws caution to the wind all the time.”

 

“I do not,” Steve protested.  “I’ve never…”

 

“Risked your life?” Tony barked out a sarcastic laugh.  Steve frowned, getting upset that Tony wouldn’t even let him explain himself.  “Do you not remember telling me how you were chosen to become Mr. Super Soldier?”  Tony waved a hand at Steve’s tall frame.

 

“That’s not the same…” Steve started only to get cut off by Tony once again.  The soldier curled his hands into fists at his sides, trying to curb the anger and frustration he felt at Tony’s dismissals.  If Tony would just let him explain…

 

“Oh, that’s rich!” Tony rolled his eyes.  “The man who throws himself on top of a grenade is lecturing my about throwing myself at a bomb.”

 

“I was doing it to save lives!” Steve snapped.  “You risked your life for buildings!”

 

“Homes, Rogers!  I risked my life for homes!” Tony snapped right back, glaring heatedly up at Steve.

 

“Your life is more important,” Steve tried to make Tony understand, trying to hide the hurt he felt when Tony called him by his last name.  He didn’t like the cold distance it put between them.

 

“I have a suit of armor!  You had nothing but your body when you threw yourself on top of the grenade,” Tony argued heatedly, face flushed in anger.  “You cannot be that much of a hypocrite to say that you’re good enough to play the self-sacrificing hero, but I’m not.”

 

Steve stared down the fuming engineer.  “It’s not a question of how good you are, Tony.  The circumstances weren’t the same.”

 

Tony’s eyes narrowed in a harsh glare.  “Yeah?  We were both trying to protect things we thought were important.”  Tony stalked forward, jabbing a finger into Steve’s chest.  “So explain to me, Rogers, how exactly the circumstances were different?!”

 

He shouldn’t have let Tony do it.  Shouldn’t have let Tony get under his skin.  Shouldn’t have let Tony start this fight he had clearly been itching for.  But Steve had been too slow to stop it. Too stupid to counteract Tony’s anger with patience.  Everyone thought Captain America was perfect, but Steve Rogers was just a man.  And like other men, he had a breaking point too. 

 

This moment, right here, with Tony throwing angry words at him, pushing his mistake right back in his face instead of letting Steve apologize…

 

…yeah, Steve had a breaking point too.

 

“Well, Rogers?!  What’s your answer?  How was me supposedly risking my life so much more unacceptable than you risking yours?!  How exactly is it different?!”

 

“It’s different because I didn’t have anyone to live for!” Steve screamed, his voice loud and angry and self-loathing, making Tony fall into a stunned silence. 

 

Steve dropped his eyes to the ground, trying to work through the emotions washing over him.  “You…god, you don’t know how much it would hurt me if you died, Tony.  How hard the team would take it…You have people.”  Steve forced himself to meet Tony’s gaze.  “I didn’t.  I had no one.  No one would have cared if some scrawny kid from Brooklyn killed himself.”

 

 

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“It’s different because I didn’t have anyone to live for!”  Steve snapped and Tony just fell silent.  Because…what?  That was just wrong.  Steve couldn’t possibly mean…

 

Tony watched as Steve struggled for words, his anger leaving him in a rush as he watched the man he loved show him just how little Steve used to think of himself. “You…god, you don’t know how much it would hurt me if you died, Tony.  How hard the team would take it…You have people.  I didn’t.  I had no one.  No one would have cared if some scrawny kid from Brooklyn killed himself.”

 

Tony flinched a little at Steve’s words, not quite able to stand the thought of Steve not being here, now, with him.  Tony had always gotten the feeling that Steve felt like the world didn’t need him, that they needed Captain America.  But Tony had never realized just how little Steve used to think of himself.  Maybe even how little he still thought of himself.

 

Maybe Tony wasn’t the only one who didn’t seem himself clearly.

 

“Bullshit,” Tony said, softly, a quiet breath of a word to convey his disbelief.  Steve’s eyes widened, confusion and slight hurt swimming in the bright blue color.  “What about Bucky?”  Tony asked, seeing Steve drop his eyes in guilt at the question.  “How about Dr. Erskine?”  Steve hung his head further and Tony reached out to tug on his hand.  “And Peggy?”  Steve threaded his fingers through Tony’s and clutched their hands tightly together.  “You’ve got people too, Steve.”

 

Tony closed the distance between them, pulling Steve into his arms.  The soldier buried his face in Tony’s neck, his arms looping around Tony’s waist and gladly accepting the comfort Tony offered.

 

Closing his eyes, Tony wondered how it was possible he had ignored the possibility that Steve would have his own insecurities.  They had been so wrapped up in dealing with Tony’s own wounds of the past…and in doing so, they had forgotten to take care of Steve’s problems.  God, maybe he really was as selfish as Steve had accused him of…

 

“I’m sorry,” Tony whispered, clutching tighter to Steve when the man tried to pull away at his words.  “I just…they were homes…and I guess, well, a home isn’t really something I ever had growing up.  Not really, not after Peggy and Henry were taken from me.  So I just needed to try to protect those people from that type of loss.”

 

Tony let Steve draw away then and smiled weakly when Steve cupped his face in those broad, gentle hands of his.  “I know, Tony.  I get why you did it, I really do.  But that moment when I thought I had lost you…” Steve choked, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Tony’s.  “I can’t lose you, Tony.  So please, just be careful next time.”

 

And Tony could so easily hear that naked terror in Steve’s trembling voice.  The man had lost his entire world once, and while Tony didn’t think he was Steve’s entire world now, he knew he was an important part of this new life Steve was building. 

 

And just like Steve was helping him work through the abuse of his childhood, Tony needed to help Steve conquer some of those ingrained fears about losing everything he held dear.  Needed to help Steve realize that yeah, Captain America might be great…but Tony would take Steve Rogers over Captain America any day.

 

 

“Yeah,” Tony breathed, moving up to meet Steve in a touch of lips.  “I can do that.”

 

 

 

 

The End

 

 

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Epilogue

 

Tony grunted as he lifted the lumber over his shoulder, knees shaking slightly under the weight until he managed to get his balance.  He walked slowly away from the truck, making his way towards the skeletal building just down the street.

 

“Delivery,” he panted, more than thankful when Steve moved forward to relieve him of his burden.  He lifted his shirt up to wipe the sweat from his face, snickering slightly when he dropped his shirt back down only to find Steve staring where he had just flashed his abs.

 

Rolling his eyes, Tony nudged Steve’s shoulder.  “Not now Romeo, we’ve got work to do.”

 

Steve grinned down at him, leaning down for a quick kiss before heading to the stairs.  Tony followed him up and picked up a hammer and a water bottle along the way.  Mr. Carson, the head contractor, smiled at the pair when they came out onto the top level, Tony offering the water bottle to the older man.

 

“How’re things progressing?” Tony asked as Steve added the lumber to the growing pile.  There were a number of other men wandering around the floor, the sounds of power tools ringing through the air.

 

Mr. Carson studied the blueprints, before meeting Tony’s gaze.  “Ahead of schedule actually.  At the rate we’re going, we should be able to sign off on habitation in a two month’s time.”

 

Tony nodded, happy that at least some of the displaced families would soon be able to move back into their old neighborhood.  “Good, good.  And the other buildings?”

 

Mr. Carson waved to a young guy to go get the electrician to discuss wiring before turning back to Tony.  “The two other apartment buildings are also on schedule, but the grocery store and youth center are a little behind.”

 

“I can hire on some additional crews…”

 

Waving the offer away, Mr. Carson smiled warmly at Tony.  “That’s not necessary Mr. Stark.  We’ve already got a long list of residents more than willing to help out with construction once they are moved back in.”  He moved forward and patted Tony’s back in thanks.  “You and Mr. Rogers have already been a great help in rebuilding this neighborhood…but the people want to do their part too.  It’s their home after all.”

 

Tony nodded his acceptance, feeling more than a little proud of this community of people.  “Yeah, okay.  Well, if there’s anything else you need us for, just let us know.  We’re gonna get back to work,” Tony nodded his head out towards the busy street where dozens of work crews were laboring away.

 

“Of course,” Mr. Carson waved them away with a grin.

 

Tony and Steve made their way back down the stairs and out onto the freshly paved street.  Looking around, Tony was proud of all the hard work these men were doing to help out a tragic-struck neighborhood.

 

“Hey, Steve?”  Tony asked, bumping shoulders with the man at his side.  “We’re doing good, yeah?”

 

Steve glanced down at Tony, smiling warmly at him before slinging his arm around Tony’s shoulder and drawing him close.  “Yeah, Tony,” Steve answered, understanding that Tony was asking about more than just helping with rebuilding this community.  “We’re doing real good.”

 

Steve and Tony both had wounds of the past to heal, insecurities to work through, fears to conquer…but they had each other and they had the team.  The daunting tasks set before them didn’t seem so impossible, not when you had someone to lean on.

 

Tony let out a content sigh, resting his head against Steve’s chest.  For the first time in his life, Tony didn’t feel terrified about the future.  He felt…happy.

 

 

The Final End