Tony's staring at the ceiling. He's been dreading that moment, when the exhilaration of finishing a project comes down and leaves him just empty.
It took almost a week this time. He should be glad; that's a lot, but then, the armour is amazing. It's red and gold again; he stupidly thinks he never should've changed the colour scheme. But at least this way he has something untainted to cling to now.
People would laugh if they heard how sentimental he gets.
He wants to laugh. It's just that he kinda wants to cry more.
He should be glad. New York doesn't need rebuilding after crashing into its mirror version, and San Francisco isn't recovering from an untested tech virus.
Tony can go on and work on the future again—but he's not sure anymore it's a good thing.
No one remembers—well. Steve does. Which is for the best, really, Tony's done experimenting with that. He knows better than to hope he could pretend now—but it would be so much easier, if there wasn't the shade of betrayal always hiding behind Steve's eyes now.
Tony throws his arm over his face, presses his wrist into his eyes until colours bloom under his eyelids.
“You're late for a meeting taking place two floors below,” someone says, and Tony freezes.
He must be hearing voices. It can't be. “How did you get here?” escapes his mouth.
A dry chuckle. “You've mailed me all your passwords.”
Probably . . . But maybe it's really not him. “Are you trying to be funny, Friday?” He doesn't think he programmed his AI to be cruel, but . . .
“You're late,” Steve—but he can't be—repeats.
“It's an Avengers meeting,” Tony mutters. He feels the bed dip, and only then does he move his hand and stare at Steve incredulously.
Steve raises his mouth in a small smile. “I'm an old man, standing around isn't for me.”
“I could build you an armour,” Tony offers before he has a chance to think about it.
Steve's expression doesn't change, which only serves to show how fake it's been in the first place.
“You can't give the kids a bad example and skip the first meeting,” Steve speaks up again, as if Tony didn't say anything.
Tony sits up. “Yes, I'm sure I'm a much better example in person,” he snaps. “Come on, Steve. You couldn't look at me the last time we'd seen each other. What is it about?” He's tired, he's so tired; whatever it is that brought Steve here, he wants to hear it, and then he wants to be alone again—
Steve yelling at him is better than Steve avoiding him, though, and Steve isn't even yelling now.
The last time he'd seen Steve in person, they'd just woken up in Latveria, other superheroes around them, and had tried to learn of what happened.
(Tony still isn't sure he knows the answer to that question.)
“Do you,” someone started asking, and Steve answered first, “I remember,” and everyone started nodding in agreement. Tony's eyes met Steve's and for a split second before Steve turned away, Tony understood Steve really meant I remember everything, how about that, Tony.
“The Avengers, Tony,” Steve repeats now.
“We can't be on one team together.” It's not a question. They both know it.
Steve tilts his head. His hair is grey, but his eyes are as clear and blue as ever. “We've been through that once already.”
“And that should've taught you not to trust me,” Tony mutters.
“Did I say I trust you?” Steve asks. It's wrong, his tone almost friendly, for the things they're suddenly discussing. Tony desperately wishes he had the armour on—or at least one of his bespoke suits. Not slacks and a tank top.
“So what are you doing here?” Tony asks.
“Well, for starters, I'm not going to be on this team,” Steve says. “Can't really help them, can I.”
Tony stares. “You're the best strategist we have,” he says. “You know how to bring people together. You're the best leader they can have.” It's easy to talk now, just recite what he knows to be the truth. “You know it's not about actually hitting the bad guys.”
“That's why you put on that suit,” Steve returns, louder. Tony notices he closed his hand into a fist.
“It's different,” Tony mutters.
“It's the Avengers. You need them,” Steve says, “but I know that won't convince you. They need you too.”
“And you?” Tony asks before it occurs to him how this question can be taken.
Steve seems lost for a moment, and the last time Tony saw him like that was seconds after he'd said “I used you,” when Steve had looked like he still had hoped—
Tony shakes his head, wills himself to forget. He's pretty sure now why he doesn't remember the superhero civil war.
He turns to face Steve. He would prefer to be standing, but if Steve is old now, then maybe he really needed to sit down, and Tony won't force him to look up at him.
“Why did you come here, Steve?” he asks seriously. “And don't give me that Avengers—”
“That part was true,” Steve interrupts. “They're waiting for you. You are an Avenger. Unless you really don't want to, but . . .”
But Tony won't say no to that. Not really, not ever. He thinks he should, but he can't.
He takes a deep breath. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. I'm an Avenger. Why did you come here?”
Steve draws circles with his fingers on the top of his other hand. It's a bit weird, to see him stressed and unable to hide behind his shield.
Tony remembers the old world, and most of all this: he's never wanted to hurt Steve like that.
Steve should stay away from him.
“I miss you,” Steve says finally.
“No,” Tony says, almost panicking. “No, you can't say that, you can't—you know where we end up, if we try, you know—”
Steve nods. “I do. I still miss you.”
Tony shakes his head. “I won't survive it again,” he says. “I can't. I won't hurt you again, I—” he's rambling without any sense now, he's pretty sure, but—he can't do it again.
“It hurts,” Steve says, and it sounds like he doesn't want to keep talking, but he does anyway. “Of course it does. I—I can't think about that. But I miss you.”
For a moment, Tony's tempted to call Friday, to ask her to run Skrull detectors—but he knows it's Steve.
That's why it feels like he can't breathe.
Because it's Steve, and he's reaching out a hand, and Tony—Tony doesn't know if he should, if he can take it.
He's made so many mistakes. Many more since the last time they'd been in a situation like that.
Steve said Tony needed the Avengers, but that's not true. He needs Steve on his side.
He doesn't deserve to have him.
“It is possible,” Steve says, “that I'd be mad, if I had the energy to spare.”
Tony reaches out, almost blindly, grabs him by his wrist before Steve has a chance to get up.
“Stay,” he mouths.
Steve bits on his lips, as if he's having second thoughts now. “That sounded honest,” he says. “And yet, so had everything else.”
Tony lets go as if burnt.
“The Avengers meeting,” Steve reminds him, getting up. “But we—maybe we should wait.”
“I'm glad you came,” Tony lets out.
Steve nods. “So am I. Come downstairs, Tony.”
The door closes quietly behind him.
It takes Tony a while to compose himself. He doesn't look in the mirror. He puts on the armour—he's so much safer in it, and it is an official meeting—and goes downstairs. He can hear Thor's laugh, Miles and Kamala talking too quickly. He's ready, he tells himself.
He's not ready to see Steve standing inside too, next to Sam who's holding the shield now.
“Finally, Shellhead,” Steve says. His smile doesn't seem forced this time.
If that's what Steve meant by waiting, maybe, just maybe, Tony can do it.
“I'll leave you to your team,” Steve says and leaves, but Tony's almost sure it isn't for forever now.
They might be fine yet.