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In A New York Minute

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Steve didn’t ask how Tony had found him.  The sensors in the armor were useful for all kinds of things, but Tony didn’t tell him that.  He didn’t tell him that he’d been scanning New York for him for hours, either, that he’d started when Steve hadn’t answered either his cell phone or his Avengers communicator earlier that afternoon.  He landed beside Steve, gravel melting, then crunching, under his boots, and tugged off his helmet.

Steve was in civilian clothes, but his shield was strapped on over his shoulders.  Oddly enough, it didn’t look incongruous at all, despite the battered old leather of Steve’s jacket or the scuffed boots he was wearing.  The fading light glinted in dull, burnished gold off of Steve’s hair, gilded the firm, determined line of his jaw.  He looked like a painting of himself, almost, Tony thought, a little wistfully, a little fancifully, like an artist had somehow managed to capture both Steve Rogers and Captain America, the legend hidden inside the man, at the last bright moment of a Brooklyn sunset.  Golden sun, almost bronze, slanted down through the high-rises around them.  Steve’s eyes were far away and very blue.  They looked sad.  “Steve?” he asked.  His own voice sounded low, uncharacteristically a little hesitant.  “What’s up?”

“Tony,” Steve said, then sighed, looking down.  “Sorry.  The Avengers don’t need me, do they?”

“No,” Tony said, quickly.  And even if they had, he’d find some way to deal with it, to make it go away, if Steve needed time for something personal.  “What’s—is something wrong?”

Steve grinned a little, but it wasn’t a real smile.  It was forced and it trembled around the edges.  It was the first time it had ever hurt Tony to see Steve smile.  “It’s stupid,” he said.

“Whatever it is, I promise you I've got something stupider,” Tony replied.

Steve’s smile was a real one, this time, as he looked over at Tony, just for a moment, then his eyes returned to the construction site in front of them and it faded.  “It’s really stupid,” he said.  “I just . . .” he stopped, then shrugged.  “I used to come here,” he said, “after I woke up in this time.”  He was silent for a long moment, then spoke again.  “I never told anyone.  It was just a diner, but it was the same one that was here the last time I was in Brooklyn.  The same name and everything.”  He looked down at his hands.  “Now it’s gone, and they’re building another high-rise here.”  He shook his head and looked up at the building in front of them.

Tony’s voice died in his throat, and it was suddenly hard to swallow.  He wanted to say something (come on, Tony, anything), but how could he?  He hadn’t known anything about this building, but he’d had a thousand like it demolished himself, for factories, for other buildings.  He’d brought so much change to the world, and he wondered himself how much of it was for the better, even as he tried, did his absolute best, to change it all for good.  “Do you want me to go?” he finally managed. Pathetic.

“No,” Steve said, with another quick look over at him.  “No.  I mean, everything changes, right?”

“I—I’m sorry,” Tony said, awkwardly.  His throat was aching at that look in Steve's eyes.

“It’s not that things are different,” Steve said.  He still looked sad, and there was a horribly vulnerable cast to his mouth, behind his eyes.  “It’s that I wonder if I can keep up.”

“You can,” Tony said immediately.  “Of course you can.  You’re the strongest person I know, Steve.  And . . . one of the best.”

Steve smiled at him.  The expression was sweet, lopsided, a little wry.  “Thanks,” he said, then sighed, and squared his shoulders.  “Thank you, Tony,” he said.

Tony laid his hand on his shoulder, wishing it wasn’t through the cold metal of the armor, but feeling like it would be too strange and a little obvious to tug off his gauntlet just so he could touch Steve with his bare hand.  He squeezed lightly.  “I never doubted that you belonged here,” he said, and maybe it was a little too much, but it was true, and Steve looked like he needed to hear it.

There was a long moment of silence.  The light dimmed, the sun sinking behind the buildings around them.  A light wind ruffled through Steve’s hair.  Tony looked at the skeleton of a skyscraper in front of them and for one of the first times in his life wondered why New York had needed another high-rise.  Why couldn’t they just have left Steve Rogers his diner?

“I doubt it all the time,” Steve said quietly, finally.  “How can you be sure?”

Tony shrugged.  “I just am,” he replied after a moment of thought, a moment of rejecting a thousand other explanations he couldn’t have said out loud.

“You just are,” Steve said, and there was just the hint of a smile in his voice, of fondness.  “Great reasoning, by the way.  I can definitely tell you’re a genius.”

“Of course you can,” Tony said, “I am a genius. So you should trust me.  I know these things.”

“Right,” Steve said with a sigh.  He tugged restlessly on the strap of his shield; Tony had noticed he did that, sometimes, or touched it, a nervous gesture, one of the only ones he had.  He slid his arm around Steve’s shoulders, and Steve’s arm stilled.  Tony was stupidly, ridiculously proud of that.  “Look,” he said.  “Are there any other places left over from the Big Apple you knew?”

Steve looked at him oddly.  His eyes were still shadowed.  “A few,” he said, eventually.

“Well,” Tony said, sweeping one arm out to encompass the city, “show them to me.  How about it?”

“You don’t want to see places I remember from seventy years ago,” Steve said dubiously.

“Of course I do,” Tony replied.  “And I think I’m a little insulted.  What, you think billionaire industrialists aren’t interested in a little nostalgic Americana every once in a while?”

“Uh-huh,” Steve said.  “Okay, Tony.  If you insist.”

He looked at the building one last time, then sighed and turned away, squaring his shoulders again.  “Well, we could head over this way,” he said, gesturing at a nearby street.

“What’s over that way?” Tony asked, and followed Steve as he started walking.

“An art supply shop,” Steve said.  “I used to go and look in the windows at all the paints and brushes I could never have afforded.”  He grinned, a little embarrassedly.  “I still shop there sometimes, when I can.”

"Let's check it out," Tony said. "Just let me change into something more comfortable first." He winked at Steve and gestured at the armor.

He bought them, of course.  Afterward.  The properties.  Every place Steve showed him that night.  Pepper gave him strange looks, and the board complained, but Tony ignored them.  It was worth it.

He never wanted Steve to have to feel lost in his own city.  And a little bit of Steve Rogers’ New York was worth preserving.