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When Life Becomes a Play (and I Don't Know the Role I'm Cast)

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He couldn’t breathe.

 

He couldn’t breathe and oh god, oh god he was going to die right here right now in the middle of this damn cave in the middle of fucking Afghanistan of all places, taken out first by his own missiles, and now by the people who were trying to get his missiles and whatever else they wanted from him but none of that mattered because he was going to die right here and maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, maybe it wouldn’t be so -

 

“Tony!”

 

A voice, almost familiar to his buzzing, clogged ears was scratching at the back of his head, reaching for him, sending a shock down -

 

A shock.

 

The car battery, the fucking car battery.  It was going to kill him, the damned thing, he needed to get out, he needed to get out -

 

But then again, maybe he didn’t.

 

He went limp, stopping his mad thrashing, letting whatever divine being that was still watching down on him take hold, letting this scene play through, this scene in his pathetic life, this scene that might very well be his last, and -

 

But then again, maybe he didn’t have a choice in the matter, judging by the fact that he was currently being dragged to the surface, throat gasping madly for air.  Air, sweet, beautiful air.

 

“Tony?  Tony?!  C’mon, answer me here, don’t tell me--c’mon!”

 

Tony blinked.  And blinked again, just to promptly roll over onto his side to vomit out copious amounts of horribly disgusting salty water.

 

Salty, the water was salty.  And no water was as disgusting as New York water.  


New York.  he was in New York, not Afghanistan, and Cap and Clint and Natasha were hovering over him and he vomited again because the water was really fucking disgusting.  

 

“Status?” Tony managed to sputter out, and Steve was giving him that look, the one that meant you literally almost drowned to death and you’re asking how we’re doing?

 

Or well, something to that extent.  

 

It was Natasha who answered him, as Steve continued to gape over him.  “Enemy defeated, no casualties, limited injuries.”

 

“Okay cool, yeah, great...cool.  And uh, what exactly were we fighting?”

 

This time, it was Steve who answered, his voice as stiff as his limbs.  “Giant robot spiders.  Who can shoot electricity, I might add, that were able to short circuit your suit, and if you’d be cautious enough to scan the things you would've realized that before you went charging in.

 

And you wouldn’t have almost gotten yourself killed went unsaid, but Tony caught the Captain’s drift.  The blond was still staring into him, his face a mix of frustration, relief, and a rather large amount of worry--too much worry.  It made Tony’ skin crawl.

 

“Well, not to worry Cap, I managed to defeat the thing anyway right?  Right.  And the thing with the suit, it was like, 30 seconds, tops.”  Steve was still staring at him, and fuck, Tony couldn’t meet the man’s eyes, not after nearly drowning.  Any other day he could fake any expression that one could possibly conjure up, but his guard was down and god, he was so tired, his muscles sore and aching.  “Uh.  Okay.  Well, if you’ll excuse me I’ll be on my way, I’ve had enough of of public vomiting for one day.  Jesus.”

 

With that, Tony began to pry himself off the ground, and make his way back to the Quinjet, to meet with the others.

 

He didn’t need their pity.  He didn’t need anyone’s pity.  

 

Right?

 

----

 

People Magazine, February 21st, 2013

 

After New York’s most recent alien robot death machine attack - and yes, saying “most recent” still feels very, very odd - it’s apparent that the world famous Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, cannot swim!  Now I know what you’re going to say, that it was the suit, the suit was weighing him down!  And admittedly, the suit did short circuit, but it’s clear from recent pictures that the suit was back online as he was struggling in the water.  Who knows, maybe Starktech isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or maybe Stark really needs water wings every time he goes for a dip.

 

Say what you want, but I’m sure the good Captain can wrestle with a few waves.  Let’s just say, if your cruise ship is going down, don’t call Stark!

 

----

 

It started with the robot spider attack.  Really, it did.

 

Unless you want to count that goddamn movie.  Then, it started with the movie.  Tony doesn’t like to count that, but JARVIS does, so under all pretences, it started with the movie.  Tony’s just not very happy about it.

 

It had been months since the Battle of New York; one month less than that, the Avengers had moved into the Tower.

 

Well, maybe that’s when it started.  But not even JARVIS counted that.

 

It’d been weird, the month after the Battle.  The first day after, especially.  

 

Thor had gone off to New Mexico to stay with Jane, and Clint, Natasha and Steve went off to SHIELD right after Shawarma.  Bruce had stayed with Tony that night, but then returned to SHIELD the next day.  

 

Tony, he supposed, was the only one with a home (on Earth, anyway).  And that’s the way he liked it.  Really, it was.

 

One big, huge, semi destroyed tower all to himself.  And Pepper.  Until Pepper left.  For Malibu, of course.  On business.  Yeah, definitely.  The bachelor life was what he craved, of course.  Random fuckings, leaving his underwear strewn across his living room, alternating between pizza and chinese food every night.  It was great, really.  It was how it’d always been, after he’d left for MIT.  Well, in MIT he had Rhodey, but that didn’t count, not really.  

 

Rhodey always respected the ‘sock on the doorknob’ rule, and he too enjoyed pizza.  The underwear was a little much, so Tony managed to put them in his hamper.  But only because it was Rhodey.

 

It didn’t matter.  Tower constructions were well underway within two weeks, nearly completed in three.  And he had more than enough space.

 

According to Fury, however, he’d had enough for five more people.  Of course.  

 

It’s not like Tony had brought up the idea, nope, no way, definitely not.  Why in hell would he want a super soldier, two agents, a norse god living in his damn tower house?  Bruce, well, he’d be happy with Bruce.  Having someone besides JARVIS around that could keep up with him (well, within reason) would definitely be a change of pace.  

 

Of course, though, he’d been oh so fashionably late for the Avengers’ meeting with Fury one Thursday afternoon, and had flung the doors open right as Fury was discussing the team’s living accommodations.  

 

“...You all in the same location would be ideal.  I know that Barton and Romanov are used to it here, but Dr. Banner, and you Captain, aren’t so used to such living conditions.”

 

At that, Tony snorted, striding towards the last empty seat and flopping down, meeting Fury’s sharp gaze with an easy smirk.  

 

And then, of course, Tony managed to shove his foot straight through his mouth.  

 

“Yeah, I don’t blame them, wanting out of these cramped dormitories.  Doesn’t uh, exactly scream homey to me, especially not for Cap here.  What’s your version of home, huh?  White picket fence, tree house for the kiddies in the back, front porch with a rocking chair in the front?”  Tony shrugged, throwing his feet up onto the conference table.  “I, however, am fortunate to have acquired more than enough space for me, myself and I, what with a giant fucking tower and all.  Perks of being a billionaire, I guess.”  

 

Steve scowled at Tony, but only for a minute until he turned his attention back to Fury.  Fury, who had a snarky smirk growing across his lips.

 

Shit.

 

“Well, I think that’s settled, then.  Pack your bags, we’ll have you all moved in together ASAP.”

 

Shit.

 

Clint gave a hoot of victory, a wicked grin slung across his face.  “Sweet, I’ve always wanted to live in a billionaire's tower with the most advanced tech available at my whim.”

 

Tony was shocked still, but managed to pry himself out of his trance once he saw the team getting to their feet.  “Wait.  Wait, what?  What the fuck?  First of all, Clint, you keep your grubby little bird claws off my shit or I swear I will steal your kidneys and sell them on Craigslist.  Second, what?  What the fuck?  I didn’t agree to this, when did I agree to this?  You’re really going to move them into my tower?”

 

“Oh, but you were so eager to tell us about how much room you had.  Must need something to do with all that room, huh?”

 

Damn Fury.  Damn him.  

 

So, by the end of the week the Avengers each had their own floor of the tower, complete with a common area for team bonding and all that jazz.  Sure the renovations to the floors, making them more apartment-like and less office-like weren’t complete, but apparently Fury took ASAP very literally.

 

Tony could’ve kicked them out, of course.  But he didn’t.  Because hey, Fury might’ve been right for once in his life; having the Avengers in the same spot would be beneficial to the team.  Or something.

 

And maybe, maybe, Tony felt a slight sense of comfort when he woke up drenched in cold sweat, mind fresh of images of him in the damn wormhole, in that damn cave, in that damn barrel of water, to know that there were five someone's sleeping in his tower, just below him.

 

But Tony would never admit that.  Because really, it started with the damn movie.

 

----

 

Clint had been the one who’d picked the movie, so in reality, it was his fault.  Obviously.  

 

They’d been living together for months at that point, and movie night just sort of became a thing.  It’d started with Tony, who didn’t sleep, followed by Steve, who didn’t need sleep, not as much as the average human, then by Clint and Thor who came running whenever food was involved.  Bruce just kind of came on his own, followed by Nat, after figuring out where everyone was huddled at two in the morning.

 

Later, it became an after dinner thing (well, for those who ate dinner at reasonable hours) after the rest of them had realized that Bruce prefered to sleep at normal people hours.  And it’s not like it was every day, just some days, when they managed to coax Tony out of his workshop, and when Clint and Nat weren’t out on missions, busy with being Fury’s lapdogs

 

One particular night it was Clint’s turn to pick.  He picked Big Hero 6.

 

Tony snorted, shooting a raised brow towards Clint’s, but the man just rolled his eyes.  “You made us suffer through Wayne’s World, you have no right to judge.”

 

Tony was about to rebuttal with how the film was meant to show Steve the wonders of the nineties, but he held his tongue.  

 

He’d never seen this film, nor heard anything about it.  He did made the team suffer through his own fair share of horrible movies, so whatever it was, it wasn’t unjust.  

 

So JARVIS played the movie.  And it was pretty cute, Tony had to admit.  He found himself smiling throughout it (well, the happy parts anyway), with the robots and the eccentric characters.  It wasn’t until the end of the movie, where they jumped into the teleportation machine, that it all went to shit.  

 

He saw it happen, of course, and fuck, he knew what was going to happen, but his brain fogged up as it did, seeing the portal, seeing them jump into it, knowing that it was going to be a close call because it always was, wasn’t it?  

 

A sharp ringing sound grew in his ears; his senses numbed, his mind slowed down and his heart, his fucking heart.

 

No no no no no no no no no

 

His body was acting on it’s own as his mind sputtered to life, just to crash to a standstill; it did that again, and again and again and again and

 

“Tony….Tony!  What happened, what’s wrong?  Can you get up?”

 

He couldn’t tell who it was -- could’ve been Clint or Steve, or maybe Nat but it didn’t matter because he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe and he was in that damn hole, that damn hole and he’d just shot the nuke and he’d done it and he was happy because he’d fucking done it but he couldn’t breathe and the suit was going out, the arc reactor was going to give out and he was going to die right here right now in another fucking dimension and that was okay it really was but if he could only tell Pepper how much he loved her, just one last time.

 

And Steve.  He should apologize to Steve too.  

 

“Tony, c’mon it’s okay I’m right here, you don’t need to be sorry Tony it’s okay, I’m fine, just please...please…”

 

Gasping, his eyes flickered open, just to see a handful of worried expressions meet his gaze.  Bruce had the fucking landline in his hand, and if he had the landline, then…

 

“Bruce I swear to god if you call the fucking ambulance I’m sending all of your lab equipment to a community college.”

 

Bruce just blinked, but he didn’t put the phone down.  Huh, well that worked better on Dummy, apparently.  Oh, and why the phone, did they forget about JARVIS?

 

He glanced around again, and sighed as he realized he was still being hovered over.  “Guys, Jesus Christ, a little breathing room?  Personal bubble?  I’m fine, really.  Seriously?”

 

“Are you sure?” Cap asked warily.  The others had backed away, still skeptical, but Steve stayed hovering over him.

 

“Of course, Mon Capitaine, why wouldn’t I be?  Just uh, felt a little dizzy that’s all.  It’s normal.  Normal people get dizzy.  So.  Yeah.”

 

“So I’m supposed to think you got dizzy, couldn’t breathe, and just started apologizing to Cap over and over again because…?  What, did you insult the Dodgers earlier today or something?”  Clint was smirking now, an eyebrow raised, but the worry hadn’t washed out from his eyes.  

 

“Yeah sure, of course, right Cap?  Steve?  Remember?”

 

“Uh…”

 

“Well if you’ll excuse me, I have, uh, things to do.  Science things, Bruce will understand.  Obviously.  Alright, so…”

 

With that, Tony scrambled off the ground, and most certainly did not run for the elevator, leaving a somewhat befuddled room of teammates in his wake.  

 

“Workshop, J,” he breathed, leaning against the cool wall of his elevator, hand running through his cropped hair.  

 

“Of course, Sir.”  

 

When he reached the level however, JARVIS piped up again.  “If I may, Sir, may I make a recommendation?”

 

Tony blinked.  “Uh sure?  For what, exactly?”

 

“For dealing with panic attack, Sir.”

 

At that, Tony laughed.  A sharp, bitter laugh that bounced off the walls of his workshop.  Dummy whirred, abandoning his charging station to come greet him.  “Yeah, right, JARVIS.  Me.  A panic attack.  You feeling okay?”

 

“Of course, Sir.  But I have to ask, are you feeling okay?”

 

At that, Tony didn’t answer.  

 

----

 

“Sir, it appears that Captain Rogers is requesting access to your lab.”

 

“Denied.”

 

“He says that if you do not allow him access, he will break down the windows himself.”

 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Tony muttered under his breath, setting down his welding torch.  “Fine, whatever.  Let him in.”

 

Tony didn’t turn towards the door, but from the sound of Steve’s steps, he wasn’t here to deliver cookies and warm milk.  

 

“Tony, what the hell?”

 

Ah yes, of course.  Tony’s favorite greeting, and his most common one (next to ‘Tony no’, but who’s counting, right?)

 

He still didn’t turn towards the man, he saw no reason to.  Angry Cap is something Tony’s seen before, and honestly, it’s getting kind of old.  The whole ‘stick up his ass’ routine.  Sure, he was leader, but Tony was a grown fucking man, he didn’t need someone who was biologically younger than him chiding him about what he did and didn’t -

 

“Did you really think rushing in like that was smart?  Did you really not think it through?”

 

Do.

 

Sighing, Tony walked over towards his coffee maker, snatching his empty mug from Dummy’s claw.  “Yeah, Cap, I know he short circuited my suit, but it was for like, 30 seconds alright?  And I defeated it, didn’t I?  Plus it was like, their leader.  So, bonus points, right?”

 

Steve didn’t say anything, and was still quiet until Tony had finished making his coffee.  Cringing inwardly, he turned toward the other man.  

 

But Steve didn’t look angry, or not as angry as Tony had inferred.

 

Mostly, he just looked confused.

 

“What?”

 

“Your suit,” Seve started slowly, “it was only out for 30 seconds?”

 

“Um...yeah?”  Tony said warily, walking past the Captain back towards his desk.  The man, of course, followed him back, with that worried, confused gleam in his eyes that made Tony’s arm hair prickle.  “Why?”

 

“Then why didn’t you repulse yourself back up?”

 

Fuck.

 

Tony shrugged (as if he could shrug off something so life or death from someone like Steve) and took a swig of his brew.  

 

“Tony.  Why didn’t you swim up?  Why didn’t you even put the faceplate down?”

 

No, Tony didn’t want to talk about this right now, and Tony wasn’t going to talk about this right now.  Steve had no right to pry - Tony didn’t care if he was the goddamn team leader or not.  Some things were just private.  And Steve knew that, of course he did.  No one ever pried him about Peggy, or Bucky--or Howard.  God, no.  Tony knew boundaries.  Well, alright, perhaps that was an overstatement.  But he tried to respect boundaries--especially when it came to Cap, after what happened before the Battle.  

 

“Does it really matter, Steve?  I’m here, I’m alive, and I’m just swell.  So drop it, alright?”

 

For a minute, Tony actually thought he would.  But no, of course not.  He, of course, was Captain of morality and good will and feelings and shit.  Or something.  It didn’t fucking matter, did it?

 

“Tony, why do you keep doing this?  You, of all people, should’ve known to scan the damned thing, it was mechanical after all.”

 

With unnecessary force, Tony placed his mug onto his desk.  He inched towards Steve, eyes narrowing.  “Keep doing what, Cap?  Saving the world, being a hero?  Sorry it’s such an inconvenience for you.”

 

“Keep doing reckless stunts without warning...without warning the team!  You could’ve gotten yourself killed, Tony.  We have a plan, and if you’re going to stray from it, you need to tell someone.  And then, you need to actually think about what you’re doing!”

 

Tony could’ve said a lot of things, really.  He could’ve said how it wasn’t the team’s plan, it was Steve's plan; he could’ve said how he’d warned them from the beginning what they were getting into, with him on the team.

 

He could’ve said what would it matter, if he’d lost his life in battle?  What would it have mattered, really?

 

“What?”

 

Tony looked up, and nearly choked on his breath when he saw Steve’s face--hollow, strained, confused.

 

Pained.

 

Fuck.  Fuck his stupid mouth, talking on it’s own accord.

 

“Well,” Tony grinned, patting Steve on the back, “I suppose that’s enough uh, team bonding for one day, whaddya say?”

 

And with that, he bolted out of the lab, and into his elevator.  

 

Driven out of his own lab by his own, stupid mouth.  How pathetic.

 

----

 

There was before MIT.  Then there was MIT.  Then there was before Afghanistan.  Then there was after Afghanistan.

 

At the time of Pre Afghanistan, he probably would’ve told himself that those days were better than his MIT days.  Obviously better than his Pre MIT days.  Obviously.  

 

But now, he wasn’t so sure.  Because really, what was his life after MIT?  There was taking over Stark Industries, sure.  But that, of course, was when he was first really shoved into the limelight of modern media; his face everywhere, paparazzi following his every move, articles of him in magazines ranging from Time to the Inquirer.  That’s when he was no longer Tony, and became Tony Stark.

 

But at MIT, he was just Tony.  And he had Rhodey, and hits bots--and really, what else did he need?

So, quite a handful of years later on a bitter, February afternoon, Tony found himself on the green line, inbound towards Park Street.

 

It was surreal, really, to be back on the subway; on the MBTA really.  The green line was just how he remembered it, too: old and far too crowded, with shotty heat.  On that day, however, he was thankful for it, for it gave him a reasonable excuse to keep his scarf wrapped around his mouth, and his oversized hood strewn over his head.

 

Tony Stark on the MBTA.  Now that would be a feast for the media.  Between the sunglasses and scarf, he felt he was well enough disguised, despite the crowd of people.  

 

Woodland to Park Street was a bit of a journey, and Tony was glad.  That’s what he’d came here for.  To bring him back, back to before.  

 

It was at Park Street where the real nostalgia began -- not that Tony was a nostalgic person, or at least he never thought he was.  What did he have to be nostalgic about?  His childhood?  His early failures as an engineer?  The mess of his media life that was 2004?  

 

No, before the Battle, he would never reminisce.  He was an inventor; he moved forward, not backwards.  He looks ahead, he strived for change.

 

But some things, well.  Some things don’t change for the better.

 

Park Street.  It was nothing special, it wasn’t South Station or anything.  But MIT was on the Red Line, and whenever he needed to get on the Green, Park Street it was.  Not that he really had anywhere to go all that often while at school, but Rhodey had this thing for the pizza bagels at Faneuil Hall--not that Tony minded of course, because c’mon, pizza bagels--so they ended up going there quite often.  

 

They would play dumb games, too.  Sit outside Newbury Comics and people watch.  Rhodey got a point for each tourist, and Tony one for each college student (but Faneuil Hall was a breeding ground for tourists, so he got bonus points if he could spot an obvious freshman).  

 

Three or so years ago, it wasn’t something Tony thought he’d miss.  Then again, he didn’t think he’d miss any of Boston.  Not really, anyway.

 

When he got off to switch lines at Park Street, he made his way up to the actual city to grab a coffee (an iced in the middle of winter, in that Bostonian spirit of course) and a donut.  

 

Boston was like New York, in that way that most sprawling urban cities are similar, but it was it’s own city in so many ways.  A lot of times he felt most people who lived in New York felt obligated to live there, whether it be because of work, or seeking work.  But in Boston, he really felt like most people wanted to be there.  And it was nice.  Really, it was.

 

On the Red Line though, it really hit him.  He was fifteen again, mind whirring with new invention ideas that left him eager to get back to his flat and back to work.  So much passion back then, in his freshman year, so much optimism.  He’d finally escaped the pressures of his dad, of his name.  And he felt free, for the first time in so long.

 

Sitting on the subway then, with the pompous Harvard and MIT students, along with the not so pompous Tufts students, he almost felt free again.  Almost.

 

It was amazing, really.  Tony Stark could fly, time he felt the most free, the most unbound, was when he was an eager college freshman.

 

But on that train, he wasn’t Tony Stark.  He wasn’t, he really wasn’t.  If people didn’t recognize him, then really, he could just be Tony.  Right?

 

He sighed, watching the college kids and businessmen and women hop on and off; some frantic, some relaxed, most of them with ears hooked up to a phone or iPod.  

 

It had been so nice then.  Why, as the years went on, had he been so eager to finish?  So eager to take over the family business?  

 

He didn’t appreciate it enough, not nearly enough.

 

He took the line out to Alewife, and was on his way back, Braintree bound, when his phone buzzed.  

 

Well, it had been buzzing before, but this was Steve’s buzz.  

 

Even so, he’d debated answering, but decided to solely based on the fact that the last thing he wanted to deal with when he got back to New York was Steve’s disapproving gaze.

 

Well, he’d probably get that anyway.  But still.  

 

He swiped to answer the call, bringing the phone to his ear.  “Hello, you’ve reached the voicemail of Tony Stark.  I’m probably out doing science, or I just don’t give a shit.  So leave a message.  Or don’t.”  He then did his best impression of a mechanical beep, and waited.  

 

Hey, it was his actual voicemail, after all.

 

“Tony?  Tony are you really not going to answer me?”

 

Silence.

 

“Tony what’s with the noise, where are you?  Are you on a train?”

 

Silence.  

 

“Tony if you don’t answer me I’m throwing all your coffee makers out the window.”

 

“Wow, Steve,” Tony said, a smirk playing at the edge of his lips despite himself.  “A low blow, but uh, you do realize I could buy out Keurig at least 5 times, right?”

 

“Yes Tony, believe me, I know.”

 

Tony chuckled weakly to himself, proceeded by a dragged out silence.

 

“Tony, where are you?”

 

“In the United States.”

 

Steve sighed.  Apparently in the mood for joking, but not in the mood for games.  Kind of hypocritical, but here Tony was doing the fake voicemail stunt when he wasn’t really in the mood for it himself, either.

 

“I’m serious, Tony.”

 

At this, he stiffened slightly.  He should’ve gotten an emergency call if they needed him for something in New York, and he had left his suitcase suit in the car, so…

 

“Is something going on, do you need-”

 

“No!  No, I just…”  Steve’s voice sounded off; distant, somehow.  There was a pause, and Tony could almost visualize the other man shaking off whatever had come over him.  

 

Next stop, JFK UMass.

 

Tony winced.  The chatter on the train was at a minimum, and he was sure Steve heard that.

 

“Tony, are you on the subway?”

 

“Uh, sure.”

 

“In New York?”

 

Tony sighed.  “Do you really think there’d be a UMass stop in New York?”

 

“So you’re...in Boston?  On business?  Did you even tell anyone you were leaving?”

 

Again, Tony sighed.  Steve didn’t sound annoyed, not really.  Verging on frustrated maybe, but not annoyed.  Tired, he sounded tired, and Tony couldn't figure out why.  Sure, he was in Boston, who fucking cared?  And so what if he didn’t tell anyone, he didn’t need a babysitter; he was a full grown man and didn’t need to check in whenever he was leaving.


Alright, on an Avengers standpoint he probably should’ve told someone, but JARVIS knew, and if they’d asked him, he would’ve told them.


“Tony, I’m worried about you.”

 

And there it was.  It was like a spell; a hex of some sort.  Steve said those magic words, and bam.  The walls came up, surrounding him entirely.  

 

And Tony hated magic.

 

“Of course you are, sweet pea, I mean why wouldn’t you be?  I’m just a child, right?  Just a man in a can, not a real adult like the rest of you.  Behavioural problems, can’t fucking take care of myself, always need to be watched over.  Y’know, just in case.  Or something.  Right, Oh Captain My Captain?  Right?  I mean I know my file says some shit in there that you might not find to your liking, but-”

 

“Tony, I-”

 

“I was dying Steve, alright?  I was fucking dying and so what if I got drunk and destroyed half of my Malibu estate, and so what if I let my best friend take my suit and hand it over to the-”


“Tony-”

 

“Government to give it some bells and whistles and then, and then let the thing be given to HammerTech which is just a joke, really, and then the thing tried to destroy me but I mean it all worked out on the end and I did okay, I really did, y’know, I mean I thought I did but apparently not because Fury didn’t even want me on the team then!  I fucking saved the fucking world and that wasn’t good enough for Fury because I’m a damn narcissist and I don’t play well with others.  So, yeah.  Sorry, Cap.”

 

Silence.


Shit.

 

“Can we pretend that, uh, never happened?  ‘Cause I mean I could probably invent that memory erasing shit from Men In Black but it’d probably take awhile and I just-”

 

“Okay.”

 

Tony reeled.  What?  What the fuck?

 

Okay?  I just spew a bunch of shit at you and you say okay?!”

 

“Yeah.”

 

...Why?”

 

“Because you asked me to, Tony...But if you ever want to talk about it in-in the future, you know I’m here, right?”

 

Fuck.  Fucking hell, fucking shit.  This wasn’t good.  

 

“Yeah, well…”

 

“I’ll see you around, Tony.”

 

And with that, Steve hung up.  And Tony had never felt more alone.

 

----

 

It was Howard’s fault, anyway.  Of course it was, who else’s fault would it’ve been?

 

He was the reason Tony was a mess, he was the reason Tony had been in the weapons making business anyway, he was the reason Tony became the Merchant of Death, and he was the reason Tony became Iron Man, really.  

He couldn’t figure out if this was a good thing, or a bad one.  

 

And really, he was the reason for Steve, the reason Steve was here today, in Tony’s life.  He had a hand in SHIELD's formation, and consequently, the formation of the Avengers.

 

He was the reason Tony had more friends than Rhodey and Pepper.  

 

Well, he wouldn’t have met Pepper without Stark Industries, so….

 

But really, he was the reason Tony was really, really fucked up.  Obviously.  Or that’s what he told himself.

 

So at 2:34 in the morning, when Tony was jolted awake to find himself on the floor of his lab, drenched in cold sweat and not in Afghanistan, he blamed Howard.  Of course he did, because who else was there to blame?  To blame for the fact that his weapons were stolen; more than that, that it was his weapons, his creations that had killed millions of people.

 

And Tony just kept on building.

 

So yeah, he blamed Howard, because he was too much of a coward to come to terms with the fact that the only person he blamed for his shortcomings, for his failures, for his misfortunes, was himself.

 

----

 

Five hours later, Tony found himself awaken in his walk in pantry, a pounding aching head somehow shoved into a torn up bag of rice.  Rice, that was dampened with the contents of his now empty bottle of whiskey.

 

Well fuck.

 

Rubbing his temple with one hand and the other running through his nasty, sticky hair, Tony looked up and found the reason for his rude awakening.

 

Well, it would’ve been a rude awakening either way, apparently.  But the fact that it was Steve looming over him only made it worse.  

 

“Tony?” Steve’s voice was a sickly combination of worry, curiosity and disapproval that made Tony’s already churning stomach clench.

 

“You rang?”

 

“You’re hungover.”  It wasn’t a question, more of an obvious statement that made Tony roll his eyes.

 

“No, really, I’m not, honestly, I love sleeping in whiskey soaked rice.  It’s like a Tuesday night tradition.”

 

“It’s Thursday, Tony.” Steve deadpanned.

 

Was Steve humoring him?  He couldn’t tell if the Captain really wished to inform Tony on the day of the week, or if he was actually fucking humoring his hungover ass.

 

Tony didn’t even want to think about trying to decipher which it was, not with his pounding head.

 

“Ah, is Tony sleeping on rice and booze again?  It’s not even Tuesday!” Clint came rounding the corner, peering into the pantry with a wild smirk.  Steve just looked bemused.

 

“Fuck off, Barton.  Don’t you have eggs to lay or something?”

 

Clint barked out a laugh, rolling his eyes as he reached in to grab a package of Pop Tarts.  “Don’t you need to go off and think of some more bird jokes?”

 

Snickering, Clint darted off, leaving Steve blinking between Tony and the spot where the archer once stood.  

 

Steve had just managed to open his mouth, when Thor popped his head into the pantry.  “Ah, Tony!  Steven!  I see that Tony has once again passed out in a sack of rice, eh?  I didn’t realize it was a Tuesday.”

 

Steve was wide eyed now, cocking his head at Tony.  Tony merely shrugged.  Steve had usually gone for his run and made it back after Tony’d managed to collect himself from the pantry every other time this happened.  Today he just happened to get lucky.

 

Or unlucky.  Unlucky would probably be more accurate.

 

Thor was scowling now, however, eyes glaring into an empty box of Pop Tarts.  “Who would dare eat the last of my toaster pastries?!” he shouted, looking from Steve to Tony with fuming pupils.

 

Out of thin air, Natasha appeared behind Steve, making the man jump.  “Barton,” she stated, the smallest of smirks threatening her face.

 

With something resembling a warrior's cry, Thor rushed out of the pantry, with Clint screaming in the distance.  Natasha merely rolled her eyes, grabbing a couple granola bars and exited the closet as swiftly as she appeared.  

 

And then, it was Steve and Tony once again, with Steve looking utterly and completely confused.  Tony just shrugged.  

 

“It’s a thing…” he muttered, reaching for the other man’s outstretched hand, being tugged off the ground with ease.  He wobbled, and Steve steadied him, hands grasping at his shoulders.  

 

“Doesn’t seem like a very healthy thing.”


Tony rolled his eyes.  “What are you, Captain Obvious, yeah?”

 

Steve sighed, but frustration was bright in his eyes.  “No, I don’t think so.  If it was so obviously unhealthy, then why do you keep doing it?”

 

Really?  Steve was going to have this conversation right here, right now?  In this mess of a pantry with Tony’s booze soaked hair and stained sweats?  

 

Nope, nada, not happening.

 

“Why do you punch shit, Steve?”

 

He almost physically reeled, blinking.  “What?”

 

“Y’know, in the gym and shit.  Why are you always working out at two in the morning?  Can’t sleep, huh?  Need to get some tension out, yeah?  Same damn thing, Steve.  You take it out by hitting shit, and I take it out by drinking.

 

“To be fair,” he said slowly, either trying to quell his frustration, or acting like he was talking to a two year old.  Probably both.  “I really think that working out is far better than getting wasted.”

 

“It’s the principle of it!” Tony was almost whining now, and he winced.  No, not the time.  “Some people work out, some people smoke, some people smoke crack, some people cut, some people-”

 

“Cut?!  Tony, you’re not-”

 

“No, Steve, I’m not doing that.” Not anymore, he didn’t say.  He nearly shuddered, shoving the thought back down into the depths of his brain.  Thirteen year old him hadn’t discovered booze yet, and he didn’t have many other options.  But that was done, it was over, and he hated thinking about it.  So he didn’t.  Not usually.  

 

“I’m just trying to tell you, this is how I cope, alright?”

 

“Well, it shouldn’t be.”

 

“Yeah well,” Tony answered lamely, shoving by Steve, eager for a scorching hot shower.

 

----

 

“Suit integrity at twelve percent, Sir, I highly recommend-”

 

“Not now, JARVIS,” Tony grunted, eyes clenching as the train continued to weigh down on him.  He was almost there, almost there, almost-

 

“Nine percent, Sir, I-”

 

“Just put it on the screen, J, I know the drill!”

 

A pause, followed by quiet, “As you wish, Sir.”

 

This wasn’t going as planned, but then again, did it ever?

 

Stupid, giant mechanical Godzilla walking around New York, and Tony’s first thought was where the fuck did they build that thing?

 

His second thought, of course, was fuck.

 

It was narrow enough to walk down the street without hitting any buildings (unless it swung its arms, and thus the first thing the Avengers did was attempt to disable them) so it was somewhat of a saving grace.

 

Before they could do so, however, the thing had swung at one of the bridges, just as a train was approaching the now giant hole in the tracks.

 

Of course.  How fucking cliche.

 

So while the others tried to take the damned thing down, Tony flew to the screeching train and managed to “catch” the damn thing before it hit the ground.

 

But damn was it heavy.

 

And he knew it was too long and too full of people to lower to the ground, so his only option was to bring it back up.  And sure, the new model suit was stronger than the others, but the suit could only handle so much, really.  And the train, the train was fucking heavy.

 

He could’ve called Thor in to help, but he could still hear the mechanical cries of the machine monster in the distance, and knew that this was something he had to do alone.

 

So he pushed, and while he managed to make headway, he knew he wasn’t going to last.  Not with the suit unable to withstand the immense pressure.

 

A loud, shrill beeping, followed by a red blinking ‘1%’ filled his senses.  He could feel it, the suit caving in on him, the bruises forming across his skin, the cracking of ribs.  

 

“Hey, JARVIS, you still with me?”

 

“Of course, Sir.”

 

“You know what to do, right?  The message, back at the tower?”

 

A pause, followed by a solemn, “Of course, Sir.”

 

“You’re a good man, JARVIS” he was nearly there, the train was nearly steady on the tracks, nearly there, just-

 

A scream erupted from his mouth, and he’d never been more thankful he’d turned the comms off.  No one needed to hear that, least of all-

 

The arch reactor flickered in his chest, and pain shot through him, seizing him by the ends of his nerves and dragging him down into a world of agony.

 

But the train, the train was steady and the people were cheering and he did it, he managed to do something worthwhile, something-

 

“It has been a pleasure serving you, Sir.”

 

The light when out in his chest.  And he fell.

 

----

 

There was nothing.  And then, there was light, bright, white light shining down into the narrow slits of his eyes.  They weighed far too much, for eyelids, and it was a struggle to pry them open.  When he did, however, followed by a weak, scratchy cough, a face framed by curly, red hair stared down into him.

 

He blinked again.  “Are you going to steal my kidney and sell it?”

 

Her eyes narrowed, but his groggy brain could’ve swore he saw a flicker of a smirk on her lips. “If you weren’t a mess right now, I’d slap that goatee right off your face.”

 

“Harsh,” he muttered, trying to sit up and instantly regretted it.  Pain was still sharp in his ribs, along with his shoulders.

 

“Damage report?” he managed.

 

She sighed.  “Fractured ribs, a broken wrist, dislocated shoulder, a bit of internal bleeding and a mild concussion.  They said you got lucky.”

 

“Of course I did, I’m Tony Stark.”

 

She rolled her eyes, but her face softened.  “Everyone on the train survived.”

 

He nodded slightly.  “Good, that’s...good, that’s really good.”

 

He was about to doze off again, when the door to his hospital room was all but slammed open, the rest of the Avengers marching in.  Well, Steve marched in, the others just walked in.  Like normal fucking people.

 

“Thought you were a goner, Stark,” Clint said, his usual shit eating smirk lit across his face, but relief was genuine in his eyes.  

 

Tony returned the smirk.  “Yeah, you wish.  Takes more than that to get rid of a Stark.  Well, this Stark anyway.

 

Thor was grinning wide as usual, and nearly grasped his shoulder with his usual force, before Natasha stopped him.  His smile didn’t falter, however.  “It’s good to see you wake in the world of the living!”  

 

“Yeah,” he asked, giving a weak chuckle, “how long was I out?”

 

“Three days.”

 

At the tone of Steve’s voice, the room went stiff, the air thick and coiled with tension.  Bruce went to grab Steve’s shoulder as he inched closer to Tony, but the Captain merely shrugged him off.  “When are you going to learn, Tony when are you going to stop doing this shit?”

 

If it didn’t hurt to do so, Tony would’ve shrugged.  “Y’know, I think you’re missing the part when I saved a trainful of people, yeah?  Do you remember that?”

 

Steve just glared.  “You could’ve called Thor for help!  Why in God’s name did you turn your comms off?”

 

Tony furrowed his brow.  Why did he-

 

Oh.  Shit.  Shit.

 

“Does JARVIS know I’m, y’know, alive?”

 

Now it was Steve’s turn to look confused.  It was then that Tony noticed they were alone in the room.  Too much tension for the others, probably.  Or they were just sick of them arguing.  Or both.  

 

“What, why?  I mean, yeah, I think so.”

 

“Did he, like, say anything?”

 

Steve blinked.  “No, why?”

 

Tony sighed, slumping down slightly, now realizing he was painfully tense.  “Nothing, just wondering.”

 

“Tony, why?”

 

“I have a protocol, alright?” he snapped, glowering at the other man.  “It’s for...it’s for Pepper, it’ll tell her what to do with my shit if I die or whatever.”

 

“You mean a will.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever, does it matter?  I’m alive, so it doesn’t matter, right?”  

 

Steve gave off a long sigh, running his hands through his blond locks.  “Yes, Tony it does matter.  Believe it or not, your life does matter.”

 

Sure it did.  Whatever.  It mattered to Pepper, it mattered to Rhodey.  Probably.  They’d probably be sad if he died.  Or something.  Pepper would, he knew Pepper would.  The rest of them?  Well, sometimes, it was really hard to tell.

 

“Don’t worry, Cap, once I bite the dust, you’ll get some.”

 

He blinked again.  “What?”

 

“When I’m dead, Cap, you’ll get some of my money.  I’ve got it split between Pep, Rhodey, and the rest of you guys.  And Happy too.  You’ll get a suit, too.  Just don’t let Hammer get the damned thing, because I swear if you guys let him or AIM or anyone get my shit, I’ll haunt all of you until-”

 

Tony cut himself off, because Steve was laughing; a loud, wild, mad cackle, his head thrown back, chest shaking.  Tony narrowed his eyes.

 

“What?  What the fuck?”

 

“Tony, I know you’re a genius but you are honestly so stupid sometimes.”

 

Well, that hit him like a brick.  “Yeah, well fuck off then, if I’m too stupid for your liking.”

 

He shook his head, a sad little smile playing at his lips.  “Do you really think I give a shit about your money, Tony?  Really?  Tony, if you’re gone, I’m going to be miserable.  Because I’m your friend, Tony.  Has that really, never occurred to you?”

 

Oh.  Well.

 

“Sure, of course, yeah, why wouldn’t it?”

 

Steve shook his head, palms rubbing at his face.  

 

“When are you going to tear down those walls, Tony?”

 

Tony, of course, said nothing.

 

---

 

Stark Emergency Protocol 51

 

Well, uh, hi, I guess?  I dunno, I’ve never really done one of these things so I don’t know if ‘hi’ is appropriate, but whatever, right?  Well if you’re hearing this it probably means that I’m not around anymore and uh, died, in battle I guess?  Wow, alright, this is awkward.  But yeah I mean you already should know that, if JARVIS is playing this, so….I’m sure I was doing something amazingly heroic because I’m Tony Fucking Stark and how else would I go out than with a bang, eh?  Ah well...I just….I needed to leave you guys with something, and I’ve never been that good with apologies before but I’m sorry, okay?  I just, it was the right thing to do, no matter what you guys say.  But yeah, I know you’re going to say I was stupid for doing it, but I’m….or was….a grown fucking man and capable of making my own decisions.  So I did what I thought was right.

 

I doubt you guys are going to mourn me or whatever...if Pepper and Rhodey are listening, tell them they have their own message, protocol 49 and 50 respectively.  And Steve….Steve has his own, it’s 52.  But uh, yeah.  48 will have the will, you’ll all get some shit -- except Clint, he’s just getting money because not even my dead ass trusts him with my shit….but yeah.  I’m sorry for leaving you guys like this, but I’m not sorry for what I did.  It was the right thing, really.

 

But yeah.  Goodbye, I guess.  Yeah.  Goodbye.

 

----

 

It used to be a once in awhile thing.  Really, it was.  

 

He’d wake up in cold sweat once every few weeks; less often than that, he’d wake up screaming bloody murder.

 

Now it was nearly every night.  And he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t fucking sleep.

 

So he didn’t.  And it was after 78 sleepless hours that Steve found him sprawled across the couch at three in the morning, surrounded by coffee mugs and chinese take out containers.

 

Steve merely looks at him before he sits himself on the couch beside Tony.  

 

“Better than being drunk, right?” He was slurring, a smile managing to reach his lips.  Steve, however, didn’t look amused.

 

“When was the last time you slept?”

 

Tony furrowed his brow, counting off his fingers.  “Uh...fifty seven?”

 

“Sir has been awake for seventy eight hours now, Captain Rogers.”

 

“Fuck you, JARVIS…” he murmured under his breath, squirming into the couch.  

 

“Sir has also added a generous amount of rum to his coffee.”

 

“Hey, who’s side are you on?” Tony shouts, waving his fist at nothing.  Steve merely shook his head.

 

“C’mon, you’re going to bed.”  Steve lifted himself up off the couch to hover over Tony, his gaze stoic.  

 

Tony blew a raspberry.  “What, is it past my bedtime, Mom?”

 

Steve sighed, rolling his eyes, and then proceeded to lift Tony off the fucking couch, throwing him over his shoulder.

 

“Hey, hey what the fuck?  What do you think you’re doing?!” Tony squirmed, cheeks heating.  It was no use, of course; Steve’s arms were steel.

 

“Penthouse, JARVIS.” Steve said as they stepped into the elevator.

 

“Of course, Captain Rogers.”

 

“Traitor,” Tony muttered, slumping in defeat.

 

Tony thought Steve would just carry him to his floor, but the man brought him into his bedroom and all but tucked him into bed.  

 

Tony didn’t know if it was the booze, the insomnia, or the erratic thumping in his heart that caused him to do it, but as Steve was about to leave, Tony reached out and grabbed his hand.  Steve turned back to him, mild shock playing across his face.

 

“Stay with me, please.  I...I wasn’t kidding when I said I couldn’t sleep.”

 

Steve looked at him, a look filled with emotions Tony couldn’t even begin to decipher in the state he was in.  After a moment, Steve nodded, walking across the grand room to pull up a chair to the side of the bed.  

 

He tried to mutter something resembling a thank you, but before he could figure out if he succeeded or not, he drifted off into unconsciousness.


Tony sleeps soundly throughout the night, and awakens to find Steve slumped awkwardly in the chair, sound asleep.

 

----

 

The Talk, March 2nd, 2013

 

“Does that man have any regard for personal safety?”

 

“If you ask me, he’s a fool.  He wasn’t the only one who could fly!  Why didn’t he ask the Norse God for help?  Would’ve made a hell of a lot more sense!”

 

“It’s a pride thing, obviously.  I mean, we see him as Iron Man, but really, it’s just Tony Stark in a suit.  A man with that much ego always has to be the saviour, of course.”

 

“It’s just so silly!  He’s just a man in a suit after all, the rest of them are out there, they all have these, y’know, powers!  And he’s just-”

 

“A man in a can?”

 

*Laughter*

 

----

 

“Tony, what the hell are you doing?”

 

Bruce was hovering over him, which was odd considering Tony’s lab usually made the man too anxious, and preferred the quiet order of his own.  Tony’s was apparently too noisy  and too dangerous and Tony you can’t leave bombs lying around.

 

Please.

 

“Burning shit.”

 

“Well I can see that,” Bruce muttered, voice on the edge of exasperation.  “But, why?  And you do really think it’s a good idea to have a fire pit going in the middle of your lab?”

 

Tony shrugged.  The lab had good ventilation.  It was fine.  Probably.

 

“Tony, what are you burning?”

 

“Howard’s shit,” Tony mumbled, pulling his head out of the box he was digging around in.  Out of it he pulled a stack of notes, one of Howard’s notebooks and a pile of Captain America comics.  First issue, too.

 

“Wait...is this a replica of Steve’s shield?”


Tony peaked at what Bruce was holding; yup indeed, the stupid model he had lying around.  Oh well, it was good for leveling shit, anyway.

 

“More like a prototype, but yeah, sure.  Whatever.  You want it?”

 

Bruce merely raised an eyebrow, and Tony was about to throw the notebook into the inferno, when the lab doors opened.  

 

“Hey Tony, are you done with--what the fuck are you doing?”

 

“Burning stuff,” Bruce grimaced, shaking his head.

 

“Burning shit, actually,” Tony corrected, throwing the notebook into the fire pit.

 

“Well, it’s not the craziest thing you’ve--” Clint cut himself off, his eyes falling onto an open box at his feet.  “Oh my god.  Oh my god.”

 

Fuck.

 

Grinning like a madman, Clint reached in and pulled out a bundle of cloth.  That bundle of cloth.

 

“Give it, Barton.”  He knew he should’ve burned that first.  “Barton you fucker, come back!”

 

It was too late, for the man was already out of the lab and into the elevator, cackling madly.

 

Fuck fuck fuck.

 

He hadn’t seen Steve in nearly a week, not since that...night, and he most certainly didn’t want their first conversation since then to be about his stupid halloween costume.

 

“What did he…?” Bruce called, but Tony was already pounding up the stairs, two at a time.  

 

By the time he made it to the common room, Clint was about to show the damn thing to Steve, and Tony being the impulsive man he was, managed to tackle the archer to the ground.

 

“Hey--what the fuck?” Clint gruffed, now splayed on his back after the surprise attack.

 

“Don’t take me shit, Barton,” Tony growled, but it did nothing to quell the ever grown smirk on Clint’s face.  Tony furrowed his brow.  “What-?”

 

“Tony?”

 

He whipped his head around, and the sight he saw made his heart sputter.  Steve was holding the costume, unfolded, gazing at the thing with amused eyes.

 

And he was snickering, he was fucking snickering.

 

Fuck.

 

“I was just about to burn that,” Tony muttered, lifting himself off of Clint and snatching the wretched thing from Steve’s grip.  Steve, however, was still grinning.

 

“You were me for Halloween?” he asked, as if it wasn’t fucking obvious.

 

And Tony, Tony didn’t want to deal with this right now. Steve was still looking at him like he was some adorable puppy and Tony, Tony didn’t need that shit.  Not now, not ever.  But especially not now.

 

“Yeah, and little good that did, because even when I tried to be you, all my dad could do was pester me about how much better you were than me.  Captain fucking America!  The big brother I never had, and could never live up to!  Imagine that, being compared to a fucking adult your whole childhood, and anything less?  Failure.  And I was less to him, believe me.  I was a lot less.”

 

Steve’s face broke.  It fucking broke.

 

Before he had time to register guilt, Tony was in the elevator, headed back down to his workshop to finish burning all the useless shit.

 

----

 

Tony burned the rest of the papers.

 

The pictures, costume, and comics were shoved back into a box, and into the corner of his workshop.

 

---

 

It was barely two hours later when Clint sent his apology.  Literally.

 

Of course, because the universe hated him, Tony’d managed to run out of coffee in his lab that day, and needed to retreat upstairs to obtain the substance.  

 

And he was barely done licking his wounds.

 

Fortunately, the universe seemed to hate him less than normal that day, for no one was in the communal kitchen.  Or well, so he thought.

 

The elevator was an inch from closing, when an arrow whizzed through, landing millimeters from Tony’s ear.  He barely flinched.

 

He eyed the arrow, raising a brow at the letter attacked.  He unfurled the sheet, which read sorry for being an asswipe.

 

Tony indulged in a small smile, and pocketed the note.  

 

Steve’s apology, however, wouldn’t be so quick and painless.  Obviously.  

 

Hours later, late into the evening (as far as Tony could tell), Steve had appeared in his workshop.  Or, well, had requested access anyway.

 

“Denied.”

 

“Captain Rogers would like to add a ‘please’ to his request to enter the shop.”

 

Slumping his still tender shoulders, Tony succumbed and allowed the man into the room.  He didn’t meet Steve’s eyes, however, deciding instead to focus on the schematics he was throwing together for the new Mark.

 

“Tony.”

 

“Yeah Cap, you rang?”  He still didn’t look towards the man.

 

“I...I wanted to apologize for...earlier.  I-I didn’t realize it was such a…”

 

“Sore spot?  Touchy feely subject?”

 

“Uh, yeah….” Tony didn’t have to look to know that the Captain was hunched over slightly, rubbing the back of his neck.  “I wasn’t really Howard’s friend, Tony, and I had no idea that-”

 

“Stop.”

 

A pause.  “What?”

 

Finally, Tony spun around, and nearly flinched when he did so.  The man looked….almost ragged, too much so for a man who really, hadn’t done anything wrong.  He didn’t know about Tony’s “Daddy Issues”, because Tony didn’t bring it up.  Not intentionally.  But there was no real reason for Steve to beat himself up over it.

 

Well.  Tony had snapped at the man, and pretty harshly at that.  Had he-

 

Shit.  Well, fuck.  Fucking shit.

 

Tony buried his head into his hands, knowing and not caring that he was smothering his face in the motor oil he’d failed to wash off from his earlier tinkering.  It didn’t matter; it didn’t matter how he looked because he kept fucking up and he didn’t know what to do about it or how to fix it and he blamed Howard, he really honestly truly did because without him he wouldn’t have been in this mess and maybe he would never have been born, but of course he had because Howard needed a heir for his stupid company, and-

 

And he was being hugged.  If you could call it that, since it was really just Steve wrapping his arms around Tony, chin resting atop his shoulder and his arms were so warm, so warm and strong and oh so good so good so so so.

 

Fuck.  No, he couldn’t do this, not now not ever not-

 

But he was so good.  He was so good.

 

And he was muttering soft assurances into Tony’s ear and he didn’t know why, didn’t know why until Tony realized he was shaking and silent tears were streaking his face and he was so pathetic, he really was.  First drunk and now sober, Steve had seen him at his worst and-

 

And he was still here.  He was still here, and-


Tony knew it wasn’t going to last.  It never did, for he didn’t deserve someone like Steve, not even for his friendship.  

After a moment of Tony not reciprocating the hug, Steve gave a soft sigh and pulled himself away.  

 

“I’m sorry, Tony.”

 

And he was gone.  

 

----

 

It was three days later, from what JARVIS said, that Tony saw Steve again.  And he’d all but forgotten about their incident in the lab.  Yup, definitely.

 

Hah.  Hah.

 

He’d wanted to stay in the lab until, well, next month really, but Bruce was cooking duck that night and Tony knew that Bruce’s duck was not to be missed.  

 

Well to be honest he would’ve settled for peanut butter and pickles at that point, considering he hadn’t eaten in nearly three days, but Bruce did know how to cook.

 

Cap didn’t say anything when Tony emerged from the lab, and for that he was thankful.  He gave him a bit of a once over, but that wasn’t unwarranted, for he was sure that his appearance was less than desirable.  Not that he, uh, cared.  At all.  Obviously.

 

“Son of Stark has returned!” Thor boomed, grinning as Tony plopped himself into a seat at the dining table.  Tony rolled his eyes, as Clint came over to punch his bicep, carefully avoiding his injured shoulder.

 

“What, did you get lost down there?  Couldn’t figure out how to use the elevator?”

 

“Fuck you Barton,” he murmured, but it was good natured, of course.  Clint grinned.  

 

Natasha sat herself beside him, giving him a look that Tony couldn’t decipher, and he was slightly afraid to find out.  She wouldn’t let up, however, even when Bruce cut in between them to serve.  He rolled his eyes. “What?”

 

“Are you okay?” she asked, eyes searching.  He blinked.

 

“Of course,” he stated, looking away.  And that was that.  

 

The team made lighthearted conversation over the table; Thor and Clint cracking jokes, Steve and Bruce exchanging looks, and Natasha ate her dinner with grace, acting oblivious towards the commotion.

 

And if Steve kept shooting Tony looks, he didn’t notice.  Nope, nada, definitely not.

 

After dinner, Tony found himself on the couch with the others, debating over which movie to watch.

 

“I say Goodwill Hunting.” Clint smirked, eying Tony.

 

Tony’s stomach dropped.  No, no no.  Fuck that, nope.  

 

But Clint was still smirking so apparently his face hadn’t given himself away for once, and Tony inwardly sighed.  He hadn’t slipped, and he had time to throw up his walls. Thank god.

 

“Hilarious, Barton.  Are we gonna watch Birdman afterwards?”

 

Clint stuck out his tongue, and was about to keep scrolling through Tony’s digital collection when a voice piped up.

 

“What’s Goodwill Hunting?”

 

Shit.  Goddamn it.  

It was sort of a cardinal rule among them, that when Steve asked about a movie, they watched it.  And sure, Tony was never one for actually following rules, even his own, but he knew it wasn’t going to be worth the fuss.  Cap would just watch it on his own time, if they didn’t all watch it together right now.  And then he’d spring questions on Tony when he wasn’t prepared, and Tony might just freak out.  Or something.  

 

Tony merely rolled his eyes.  “Play the film, J,”

 

“Tony, are you….” That was Natasha, of course.  Like, no, not now.

 

“Just play it JARVIS.”

 

“As you wish, Sir.”

 

In Tony’s defense, he lasted longer than he expected.  He thought the bar scene might get him, but he’d been fine throughout that.  It was the therapy scene that got him, that first really intense one and it kind of caught him off guard, and his hands went clammy and his vision narrowed and oh god fuck-

 

He didn’t know why it affected him so much.  He just assumes that maybe because the kid was a fucking genius like Tony and people just didn’t get him and he was angry and--

 

And well, the kid didn’t really get himself.

 

Before things could escalate, Tony dragged himself off the couch and wobbled towards the elevator.  Clint gave him an odd look, but didn’t call after him.  It was Steve, however, who did

“Penthouse, JARVIS.”

 

That would throw him off.  Hah.

 

Or well, he hoped, for Tony had only managed to crumple atop the couch of his apartment when the elevator dinged again, a very distressed Captain walking out.

 

“What happened?”

 

Tony shrugged awkwardly, his curled up position and fucked up shoulders making it hard to do so.  “I think you know the answer to that, Cap.”

 

He sighed.  “Yeah, I guess I do.”

 

Part of Tony really expected him to leave.  Another part thought he’d go over to Tony’s kitchen and make him weird, calming tea or something.

 

His breath hitched slightly, when the man sat down on the floor to face him, eyes inches from his own.  

 

Shit.

 

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

 

“Not really.”

 

“Can I stay here, then?”

 

Tony blinked.  And blinked again.  The words hit him like a bucket of bricks; sure, Steve could stay there, he could do whatever the fuck he wanted.  But what Tony couldn’t figure out for the life of him was why.  Why did he want to stay now, and why did he stay with him before?  It wasn’t...right.  Sure, they were friends, but that level of friendship…

 

That level of friendship was reserved for Rhodey and Pepper.  They’d known Tony for ages, knew his past, and knew his present.  Well, somewhat.

 

Rhodey had been on ‘classified’ missions, as of late, and Pepper had been well, running his goddamn company.  

 

He could use Pepper here right now.  Pepper would know what to do.  Pepper would know why Steve was being so nice, so unnecessarily and incredibly nice.

 

“Tony?”

 

He sighed.  “Sure Steve, you can stay.”

 

Steve smiled gently, and laid himself across the floor.

 

Tony was out within the hour, and when he woke up, Steve was still there, snoring gently.

 

Again.

 

This was bad, this was really bad, he couldn’t keep doing this, it was going to tear him apart, Steve was going to tear him apart and his chest hurt and ached and his head was pounding and his limbs felt tingly and fuck it, fuck it.

 

He grabbed a napkin from his kitchen, scratched out a quick I'm sorry and raced out the door.

 

----

 

Tony Stark had been in love once before.  

 

Well, to be fair, he never really fell out of love.  The love just kind of...changed.  Because he still loved Pepper, he really did, but they weren’t together anymore.  And really, it’d been for the better; Pepper was better off as Tony’s best friend, not his lover.  

 

Not that it didn’t hurt when she broke up with him.  Because, well, it fucking hurt.

 

It was his fault, no matter what she said.  But she didn’t try to pin the ‘it’s not you it’s me’ schtick on him, no.  He just….knew.  She couldn’t deal with his self destructive behavior anymore, it was ruining her.  And really, it wasn’t fair of him.  Not at all.

 

And to think that he’d only gotten worse.  But nowadays it was easier to hide it from her.  So that was good, really.  Probably.  Sure, whatever, it didn’t matter.

 

But Pepper was gone, his first and last love.

 

Or well, he hoped it was his last love, because no one else deserved that pain, deserved that torment of being attached to Tony Fucking Stark.  

 

Least of all….

 

---

 

Again, Tony locked himself up in his lab for another three days.  But this time, however, it wasn’t Bruce or Clint or Steve who came to retrieve him.

 

“Pep!  Pepper!  Light of my life, have you missed me?”

 

“Of course,” she said simply, an amused grin playing at her lips.  He swooped her into a hug, and it felt….it felt good.  He hadn’t hugged anyone since….

 

“How’s your wrist, Tony?”  

 

He shrugged, turning back to his desk to retrieve a stack of contracts to hand to her.  At the sight, she raised a sculpted brow at him, giving him the look.

 

“C’mon Pep, I really did read them this time, I swear!”  He was nearly whining now, but it was just Pepper here, and he couldn’t be bothered to care.  And in his defense, he really did read them!  Well, mostly.  More than usual, anyway.  “You should be lucky I could even sign them, have you not noticed my broken wrist?”

 

She rolled her eyes.  “Your left hand is broken Tony, not your right.”

 

“So?”

 

She sighed, reaching out to take the stack of papers from him.  Her lips were pulled tight, but her eyes were dancing.  He loved that she could do that, look scary yet perfectly suave all at once.  A frightening power, really.

 

“You, uh, how long are you staying?”

 

She waltzed past him, settling herself down into his desk chair, eyeing him.  “Just until after the gala.”

 

He blinked.  “What gala?”

 

“Oh, Tony…”

 

Gala, gala gala.  Pepper was shaking her head slightly at him, scrolling through her phone, so it must’ve been something important.  What gala?

 

Oh.  Oh shit.

 

“Wait, is that…?”

 

“Tomorrow?  Yes, Tony it’s tomorrow.  And judging by that face, you completely forgot.”

 

“Pep, Pepperoni, I was so...caught up, y’know how it is, I didn’t even know it was Thursday!  I’ve been working on specs for new gear for Natasha, and I’m on the Mark 19 now and it’s been….”

 

“Tony, it’s fine.  I’m sure the rest of the Avengers remembered, because I’m sure they check their emails and put reminders in their phones, just...just show up, okay Tony?”

 

He sighed.  In theory, it wasn’t a huge deal; it’s not like he needed to find something to wear, or needed to clear his schedule or whatever.  It’s just.

 

It was the annual gala for the Maria Stark Foundation.  And he’d forgotten.  Because he was a fucking idiot.

 

“Tony it’s not….it’s not a big deal, really. Are you alright?”

 

He looked up into her worried eyes, mustering up the best smile he could manage.  “Of course, Pep.”

 

----

 

US Weekly, March 27th, 2004

 

It’s no secret that CEO of Stark Industries Tony Stark has a reputation for being a vulgar man with scandalous affairs -- nothing compares, however, to Stark’s stunt at this year’s annual Maria Stark Foundation gala.  The billionaire has been outed as bisexual for years, but nothing compares to this naughty and downright dirty display of man on man on man love making.  The man was found in the public restroom not only getting it on with one or two, but three men, all C List nobodies -- but it’s easy to say it was a shock to all, and not because of who he was doing it with.  After minutes upon minutes of being unknowingly watched, Stark caught on, and proceeded to drunkenly wobble out of the ballroom and into his car -- forgetting his pants along the way.  Despite the fact that Stark was supposedly drunk out of his wits, it’s easy to say that this isn’t going to be a night the billionaire will ever forget.

 

---

 

Tony had seen a lot of men in a lot of suits in his day.  Countless galas, balls, meetings, you name it.  But honestly, none of them compared to Steve in his formal military garb.

 

They were all dressed up, of course; Tony, Clint, Thor and Bruce in some suit Pepper had thrown at each of them (Clint had opted to wear a powdered blue tuxedo, which made even Tony cringe), Natasha in a chic, charcoal backless dress, and Steve, well….

 

Steve was in his olive green, form fitting, ass squeezing, peck hugging, bicep defining formal military wear and suddenly Tony was 12 all over again and all he wanted to do was get his hands on the goddam man and--

 

And Tony wasn’t twelve and he needed to control himself.

 

Miraculously, Tony just needed to remember what gala they were attending and why it was going to be such a disaster because people just could not let the past die a painful, pitiful death like it should and Tony’s hard on had vanquished because remembering what went down nine years ago was just too much and-

 

“Tony?”

 

It was Pepper, eyeing him from across the limo, eyebrow raised.  Her eyes were soft however, fluttering with something like worry and Tony, Tony just sighed.  

 

He mustered up his best smile for her, and she nodded.  It was going to be hard but she knew that, of course she did.  It’s been hard for the last eight years, and if this had been any other gala, he wouldn’t keep going.  But honestly, it was his most important one.

 

And he fucked it up, because that’s what he did.  Apparently.

 

The others looks were a mix of bored, nervous, twitchy, and overly excited.  Well, honestly Thor was the only one who looked happy to be there, his usual blinding grin on full display.  Natasha was glaring out the tinted window, with Clint attempting to play footsies with her (Tony swore the man had a death wish), and Bruce, well, Tony told Bruce that he really didn’t need to come, but he insisted.  Tony knew he was holding up much better recently, especially with all the shit going on (the ‘shit’ being their fucking lives), but still.  

 

And Steve, well, Steve kept tugging at the collar of his shirt and rubbing the back of his neck;  One would think that someone who used to parade around in a red and blue spandex suit for show would be used to being put on display, but apparently being frozen in ice for seventy years and being thrown into the disastrous 21st century limelight did a thing or two to a man.  Who knew.  

 

Too soon, far too soon, much too soon, the limo pulled up in front of the venue, and Tony threw together his best fake glitz and glamour smile, one that the press ate up and the girls adored, the one that got him the donations he needed.  

 

The one that tugged down at the corners of Steve’s lips, dusting off the shine from his blue, blue eyes.  But he didn’t dwell on that, because he couldn’t, not now.  

 

Tonight, he had a show to perform.  Because tonight he wasn’t Tony Stark: Iron Man, Avenger, Genius Eccentric Engineer.  No, tonight he was Tony Stark: Philanthropist, Schmoozer, ‘Darling’ of the Media, Playboy Flirt.  

 

And he was so tired of it.  But he didn’t show that, because what kind of actor would that make him?

 

No, instead he donned his overly expensive shades and swung the limo door open.  Before he could even make some witty remark to the rest of his team, he was blinded and ambushed by photographers and reporters alike.  

 

He was expecting this, of course he was.  But so close to the limo and so soon?  The Pierre usually had better control over the vicious animals that were the New York paparazzi, but apparently they were slacking tonight.  How distasteful.

 

But when Tony could clear his head enough to realize what exactly they were saying, cold blood ran thick through his veins, sending him stiff.

 

“-The last time you were here-”

 

“-How does it feel to-”

 

“-Stunt back in ‘04, do you really-”

 

“-Recent attack-”

 

“-Drowning, did you really, can you not swim-”

 

“-status with CEO Pepper-”

 

Like the absolute professional his father molded him into, Tony breezed by the mess of media, shit eating grin sketched across his face.  Warily, the rest of the Avengers followed him, faces similar to how they were in the limo.  Which was fine, really it was, because it’s not like Tony needed help fending off the absolute mess that was Vanity Fair and People and The Inquirer.  Really, he didn’t, not at all.  He’d been doing this since he was old enough to toddle.  It was second nature, it was engraved into his muscle memory, and he was definitely not cracking, no definitely not.  His walls were higher than skyscrapers and twice as thick.  He did not need help, because he was Tony Stark.

 

He flirted his way through the red carpet; a smooch here, redirecting a nasty comment there, a high pitched laugh here.  It was like baking; a spoonful of that, a pinch of this.  And before he knew it, he was through the door and into the ballroom.  Simple as that.

 

Of course, that was the easy part.  It always was.  

 

He let the team disperse to do whateverthefuck (seriously, he had no idea what they did at these things….well except Thor, who talked to anything with a pulse and drank his way through half the bar).

 

He danced his way around the ballroom, champagne in hand, with his free one waving and waltzing, adding to the pompous flair that was the Tony Stark Schmooze.  It was grand, it was over the top, it was too much, it was effective.  And that’s all that mattered, right?

 

“Vanessa, so good to see you, I’ve noticed how well your firm is doing, and from experience I know that’s, well…”

 

“Miles, it’s been ages!  And my my, are you happy to see me or is that a fat stack of benjamins you got there….Oh wait!”

 

“Audrey, so sad to hear about your breakup with Mags.  Though I do happen to know a certain CEO who swings both ways, if you know what I mean….”

 

It was ridiculous, but Tony didn’t care.  He didn’t care if it was grossly tiring, if it drained him more than a fight with an onslaught of Doom Bots did these days (though that could be a fault on Doom’s fault though, because seriously?  Did he know what an upgrade was?), and he didn’t care if it led him to, hours later, staring into the bathroom mirror with shattered walls and a broken grin.  What did it matter if he’s had more than a few fingers of scotch, despite disapproving glares from Pepper, and disappointed ones from Steve (which, somehow, seemed so much worse).

 

What did it matter?  He’d been in worse situations before.  It just didn’t matter.

 

The evening had gone as well as expected, with minimal questioning of his private life (and what he did get could be easily redirected).  The incident of 2004 hadn’t even been brought up, and he’d nearly forgotten it was it’s 9th anniversary.  

 

But of course he knew that wouldn’t last.  Of course.

 

“Hmm, Stark, funny finding you here.  Been awhile, hasn’t it?”

 

Tony blinked, and blinked again.  Fucking Stone.  He was nearly as bad as Hammer, but at least Stone didn’t look like a run over turkey burger.  No, Stone was a fine, fine man.  One the outside, of course.  On the inside he was just as snide as Tony, with an ego to match.  

 

Not to mention he was a total, overcompetitive dick.  They could be twins, really.

 

“Ty,” he deadpanned.

 

The other man cackled, because apparently his name was hilarious now.  Which it was, really, the man was a joke, and it was about time the man himself realized that.

 

Of course, he hadn’t, but Tony could dream, right?

 

“Who’re you waiting for tonight, Stark?  I saw a hefty pair of twins in there, you think they’d do that incest shit, just for you?  How disgusting, really, but whatever gets you off I guess.”

 

“Just waiting for you and your cheap ass to leave, Stone.”

 

Again, he laughed, and it didn’t bother Tony, it didn’t, because Tony was worth more than Tiberius Fucking Stone, in both brains and bills.  It didn’t matter, none of this mattered.

 

“Is that why Pepper dumped you, Tony?  Too loose for her taste, what with all those threesomes you’ve been having over the years?  Aren’t you a bit old for that, Tony?  Come now.”

 

No no no no no no no no no

 

“Fuck off, Stone, I don’t need your petty shit tonight.”  And really, he didn’t. They weren’t kids anymore, they weren’t comparing daddy issues and circuit boards.  No, they were grown fucking men, and they should be reasonable business competitors.  

 

But god, just one swing, even without the armor just one swing, and he’d-

 

“You can swim in semen, can’t you Stark?  But a bit of water and you get all...jittery, huh?”

 

He promised Pepper, he promised her, he’d be good today, that’s what he told her, he--

 

“You think the good Captain would still think so highly of you, once he knew all your dirty little--”

 

Before he could regain conscious control of his body, his arm had swung out, knocking the man out cold.  

 

He’d practiced said move with Natasha thousands of times, but still.  Damn.

 

His celebration was short lived, however, for he then realized he was alone in the bathroom at the Pierre and had knocked Tiberius fucking Stone out cold.  He was fucked, he was royally and honestly fucked.  

 

And because he was Tony Fucking Stark, he did the first logical thing he could think of, which was to jump out the goddamn window.

 

As he made a shaky landing, he tried not to dwell on what Steve would think of him once he found out.

 

----

 

Tony definitely knew he was only a story up when he jumped.  Yep.  Definitely.  Had it all under control.

 

Yeah.  Right.  

 

Brushing himself off, he glanced around, gathering himself.  Thankfully he hadn’t dropped off into the front area valet; no, he was around back, which was much more preferable.

 

Unfortunately, however, he hadn’t driven himself.  So here he was, outside his own fucking gala in the middle of New York, in his finest Armani.  Not exactly inconspicuous.  

 

Luckily where he was going, that didn’t matter.  

 

It was late, which he was thankful for, and as long as he kept his head low, it was easy enough to make his way through the dense streets of New York.  The deeper into downtown he got, however, the more the streets thinned out, until he was far into the red light district where he was one of the few people wandering about.  

 

Hopefully none of said people were paparazzi, or any nobody who gave a shit about him, but he was never really that lucky, was he?

 

And it’s not like he cared anymore, at this point.  Too tired, too worn down, too fucking over it to care about anyone seeing him wander into a brothel.

 

It was one he’d frequented before--before Afghanistan anyway.  Of course, he was Tony Stark and he could have any man or woman he wished (within reason, probably), but sometimes he didn’t want to be Tony Stark.  Sometimes, he just wanted to be Tony.

 

The building was a hole in the wall, with stained concrete slabs for walls, worn out flashing neon lights indicating just what the place was.  A bulky, tall man stood in front of the stairwell that lead down to the joint.

 

It was shabby, it was obscene, it was well, vulgar.

 

And for tonight, it was perfect.  

 

After shoving a handful of Benjamins into the bouncer’s hand, with a quickly muttered “I was never here,” he made his way swiftly down the stairs and through the clunky door.  

 

At a place like this, he didn’t need his usual, tiring Tony Stark charm that was required of him at galas or business meanings.  He didn’t need to try, which in all honesty, was a relief sometimes.  A lot of the times.  Tonight especially.  Tonight, he could just let go, he didn’t need to worry about what he would say and how it would affect the tabloids the next morning.  He didn’t have stocks or the Avengers in the back of his mind, no. Tonight, he was just Tony.

 

Okay, well maybe that was taking it a bit far, but he could dream, right?

 

Inside, the house wasn’t fairing much better than the outside of the establishment.  The place reeked of beer and heavy smoke, along with, well, the stench of sex.  It was thick in the air, buried in between the cracks and crevices of the worn couch cushions, lingering along the cards and chips that drunkards at the tables used to play poker and rummy.  

 

There were girls around them, of course, lips curved up into seductive smirks, fingers playing along their shoulders, the small of their backs.  The men were smirking smugly at them, whispering not so sweet nothings into their ears, leaving them giggling and swatting at the back of their necks oh so gingerly.  

 

There were classier men (or men pretending to be classier, anyway) at the bar, making awkward small talk with one another as they eyed the scarcely clad ladies that sauntered around.  It was so typical, really, the whole setup, but it sure as hell beat a gala.  Oh god did it.  

 

As soon as he strode through the hallway, entering the dimly lit room, a couple of girls came over to him, muttering sweet talk to him, but he had no interest in such things.  It was the room through the door near the bar that held his real desire.  

 

As soon as the ladies caught on to his motives, they strode off again towards the men jabbering over their poker match, drunkenly shouting at the bartender for another round.  

 

With haste, he pushed open the door to the desired room.  He’d barely taken in the area before a tall, broad man with coarse chest hair and a black mess of hair down to his chin.  His eyes were scalding, heated smile bright even in the dim lighting of the room.  

 

A hand reached up for him, fingers skimming across the side of Tony’s jaw, and he released a breath he didn't know he was holding on to.  

 

“Not that often we get such a handsome man like you wandering into here,” he murmured, taking in the sight of Tony (who was extremely glad for his dark clothing and undershirt, masking the glow of the arc reactor).  “Such a pleasure….won’t you join me?”

 

“Yeah….yeah of course I will,” he breathed, digging into his wallet, reaching for a handful of cash to shove into his hand.  Quickly, he dragged the man up the stairs, to the left, and into the closest bedroom he could find.  He’d barely slammed the door closed when his lips were met with another pair, full of heat and lust and nothing close to passion, and he was thankful for it, oh so thankful.  It was a breath of fresh air, a drink of ice cold water on one of Malibu’s cruelest summer days.  It was hungry and desperate, but maybe that was just Tony because he could feel himself moaning as he rutted against the man, the stranger, the prostitute, and there was nothing but the slow hum of his arc reactor in his chest and he was thankful for it, he really was.

 

“Lube...bedside table,” the man muttered, but Tony already knew this, of course, and was dragging the man with him towards the bed, letting himself be nearly crushed as he did so.

 

Out of nowhere the man pulled out a condom and handed it to Tony, who only handed it right back.  “No I’m...you top, fuck me, please….”

 

It wasn’t standard, as was shown by the man’s mildly shocked face, but he only grinned, a wicked curl to his lips.  “Oh baby, I feel like I should be paying you.  I’m going to make you feel so good, sweetheart, make it so nice for you, you’re going to love it.”

 

“Yeah, I...hurry, I’m…” Tony panted, cock throbbing as his mind was full of heat, nothing but heat and this desperate desire to have every last coherent thought fucked straight out of his whirring mind.

 

“Yeah baby, gotta make you nice and loose first, gotta open you up, get you ready for me,” he muttered, already halfway through ripping Tony’s pants off.  When he reached for his top layers however, Tony stopped him.

 

“Leave it on.”

 

The man nodded, unconcerned as he reached for the lube, squirting a generous amount onto his finger.  Quickly, he played at Tony’s hole, teasing it until he thrusted inside, slowly at first, then growing faster as Tony adjusted to the feel of the man’s thick digit.

 

“You good, should I…?”


“Yeah yeah, go ahead.”

 

More lube was added and a second finger entered, electing a moan from Tony.  He grasped his fingers into the man’s shaggy hair, closing his eyes as he let the man invade him.

 

“I’m...I’m good please, fucking-fuck me, god,”

 

And so he did, the man removing his fingers as he slid the condom on with practiced haste, and was quickly sliding into Tony.  Slow, at first, then faster as Tony withered under the man, hot, panting breaths escaping him.  It was hot and needy, Tony muttering pleads as he was pounded into, the headboard shaking as the springs in the cheap mattress creaked.  With a shaky hand he grasped his cock, jacking himself off into a quick, shooting climax, Steve’s name on the edge of his lips as he screamed his release into the stranger’s shoulder.

 

----

 

He was falling.  Falling through the New York sky, surrounded by darkness and static flashings across the screen of his HUD, and he’d done it, he knew he’d done it because he’d blown up the Chitauri’s base, he’d closed the portal but now he was falling and it was dark, so dark so so so dark because he was in a cave in Afghanistan and it was always dark, wasn’t it?  But he’d seen the light, he’d seen it and he saw the end of the tunnel, his escape but Yinsen was there, but it wasn’t Yinsen shouting for him it was Steve, Steve who was thrown across sacks of rice in the middle of an Afghan cave and he was crying, crying but when he saw Tony looming over him in that clunky metal suite, a smile lit up his face, a smile too bright for a dying man and Tony, Tony was wrecked, so wrecked and it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t because Steve deserved life more than he did, really honestly and truly because Steve was someone who fought for the good of America and Tony, Tony nearly destroyed America, didn’t he?  He’d almost destroyed America and New York and the Avengers and Pepper, oh god Pepper and Rhodey and Steve, Steve who was dying and bleeding and no no no no no no no no this was supposed to be different, it really was, really and honestly and--

 

“Don’t waste it….Don’t waste your life, Stark.”

 

WIth a gasping breath, Tony jolted awake, covered in cold sweat and dread coursing through his veins.  

 

“JARVIS, time?”

 

No answer.

 

Shit, shit shit shit shit shit-

 

Suddenly it hit him, like a fucking rock to the face.  The gala, Tiberius, the brothel, being fucked straight through the mattress.

 

And now he was sitting here in this dingy, cum stained cathouse bedroom, heart beating a mile a minute as he tried to gather himself, tried to gather himself but failing oh so badly because he’d been trying to gather himself for years now and he hasn’t really managed that, has he?

 

Groaning, he swung his feet over the bed, snatching his discarded clothes from the floor as he dug around for his cell phone to check the time.

 

Huh, well apparently he’d shut off his phone sometime during the night.  Probably smart, or ungodly stupid.  Not like he cared.  

 

Turning the thing on, he made his way through the door and down the stairs, clambering through the main room (nearly empty now), and through the door.

 

It was still dark out, the sky an inky black across the New York skyline.  So that was good.  Probably.  Not like he cared.  Obviously.

 

Phone turned on, he saw that it was creeping towards 4 AM.  Hmm, well.  It could’ve been worse.

 

He apparently had twelve missed calls from Pepper, ten from Happy, five from Bruce, three from Clint and one from Natasha (which was scary enough, really).

 

And well, there were twenty four from Steve.  And a billion text message which he far too exhausted to even go through.  They could bitch him out later.  Right now, all he wanted was to trudge his way home and collapse into his bed.  Or something.

 

He’d barely made it a block, however, when an approaching roar of a bike caught his attention.  He turned, squinting into the headlights as the motorcycle stopped beside him.  A broad man stepped off, approaching him.

 

When blue eyes met his, his heart dropped straight through and he could’ve sworn his arc reactor failed on him because Steve was looking at him and he looked so disappointed and that was so much worse than anger, it really was.

 

Before he could come up with some bullshit schpiel, a pair of strong arms were wrapping around him, pulling him in tight.  He let out a soft gasp as Steve buried his head into the crook of Tony’s neck, hands stroking the small of his back and Tony absolutely melted.

 

“God, you stupid asshole,” the blonde muttered, voice wavering.  “You turned your damn phone off, you didn’t answer, you didn’t tell anyone where you were going, you know that, right?  I was….we were worried Tony, you can’t just do that, you can’t…”

 

Steve grabbed Tony impossibly tighter and Tony felt his chest knotting up, a wave of emotions swarming him.  Guilt, shame, sadness, and something deep, so deep he refused to let it surface and he just gripped Steve tighter and tried to push down the tears threatening his eyes.

 

After what felt like hours Steve pulled back, staring down at him with sad, sad eyes.  “Let’s go, I can yell at you in the morning, but you can explain yourself when we get back to the tower.”  Smiling slightly, Steve handed Tony a helmet.  With shaky hands, he took it, throwing it atop his head.  Steve turned, throwing himself onto the bike as Tony paused, furrowing his brow.

 

“Wait….how did you find me?”

 

“JARVIS, tracker in your phone for uh, emergencies I guess.  But we couldn’t until you turned your phone on, so….”

He sighed, straddling the bike seat, chest pressed against Steve’s back.  “Right, yeah, I know, I’m an idiot, I know.  Yell at me tomorrow?”

 

“Maybe,” Steve said, revving his engine.  They took off, breeze biting at Tony’s hands as he wrapped himself tighter around the man, sighing closer into his firm back.

 

---

 

Tony woke up the next day from the most peaceful sleep he’d had in months.  It was odd, really, blinking awake on the soft sheets of his oversized bed, to nothing but the soft, cream color of his bedroom wall.  No sweat dripping down his forehead, none of his own screams wracking him into consciousness.  No, just...waking up.  

 

And he wasn’t hungover.  A miracle, really.  

 

Too good to be true, of course, for only mere moments after he’d woken up, a very distressed and visibly annoyed Captain waltzed into the room with nary a knock nor greeting.

 

“How did you…?”

 

“JARVIS,” Steve stated simply.  Oh.  Yeah.

 

Tony didn’t even have it in himself to yell traitor aloud.  Despite his restful slumber, he was absolutely drained.  

 

“So,” Steve started, gliding across the room to sit himself in one of the lush chairs, off to the side of the bed.  “Are you going to tell me what happened last night, or are you going to spew your usual bullshit?”

 

Tony’s eyes narrowed, but they didn’t hold the heat that they usually did.  In a sense, Steve was right, since Tony had been thinking up some sort of excuse for his behavior both during and after the gala.  

 

It was his own damn gala, and he’d punched a grown man across the face, jumped out the window, and walked himself down to a whorehouse.  

 

It was so terrible and disgusting that Tony burst out laughing, a sharp, bitter sound that stung his own ears.  Steve’s eyebrows shot up, his glare increasing as he leaned forward in his chair.

 

“It’s funny to you, right?  I’m sure it is, and I’m sure the headlines of how you punched Tiberius Stone are just hilarious.  Pepper has been up to her ears since last night trying to clean up your mess, and you don’t care, do you, Tony?”  

 

Tony’s brow furrowed at that, because he cared about Pepper, of course, it shouldn’t be her mess to clean up.  But because she was Pepper, she did it anyway.  She deserved a raise.  Fuck, she deserved all of Tony’s money, really.  

 

Did they make envelopes that big?  Hmm.

 

But about the headlines, about how they somehow (probably assumed, really), found out that it was Tony who knocked Stone out cold?  No, he couldn’t give a damn flying fuck about that.  He was over it, he was so over it, so tired of the press constantly following his every move, constantly eating up his personal life.  And most of all, he was tired of the mess that it made for the Avengers, for Pepper.  For Steve, who was still giving him a look sharp as broken glass and just as deadly, piercing Tony right in his cold, metal heart.

 

In turn, he offered the Captain a smile of nails, hopping of the bed and strutting towards the door.  

 

“Pepper can handle it, she’d done it before and she’ll do it again, I’ll buy her a new dress, I’ll buy her fifty dresses.  It’s not a big deal, Cappy, I don’t know why you’re so worked up about it.  This isn’t the worst thing I’ve done, by far, and you know it, too.  Fury can suck it, Coulson has a stick so far shoved up his ass it’s crawling out his nose so, yeah, nothing I can do about that, he’d be mad if I spilled my fucking cocktail on my tie, so.  Uh, yeah.  I got, like, science and stuff to take care of, so I’ll just….”

 

Before he could duck out the door, however, he felt a firm hand yank at his arm, and he was then face to face with Steve, blue eyes boring into his brown.  Eyes with a glimmer of something, something so similar to what he’d seen the night before, what he’d seen as Steve pulled him in, Tony firm against his chest….

 

“Would it honestly kill you to understand, for just a second, that I, that we, were worried about you, Tony?  Would it kill you to see that we’re just trying to help, trying to figure out what’s going on?  Please, Tony.  Just try.”

 

And oh, how ironic that a man twice his weight and a head taller than him, was gripping fiercely at his arm, trying to convince him that he cared, that it was for his own good, that they were just trying to help.

 

No, not again.  Not ever again.  

 

Yanking his arm, he turned wordlessly towards the door, and bolted out.

 

Oh, what a fool he’d been last night, and any night before, to fall for Steve’s act.  Usually, it was just his own that he falled for.

 

------

 

Tony found himself in his lab, two hours later and half a whiskey bottle poorer.

 

Everyone, he found out, was an idiot.  Except Pepper, of course, who was obviously too furious to call him.

 

Good.  He didn’t have anything to say to her, drunk or not.  Drunk at eight AM, no less.  But who cared, who fucking cared.  What did it matter if he drank too much and had too much sex and punched his fucking ex friend across his stupid mug, he didn’t care.  He didn’t.  He was Tony fucking Stark, why should he care.

 

Well, maybe that’s exactly why he should care, but that was a cruel, cruel joke in and of itself.  Just because of some stupid name, he had to watch his every move, had to do this and do that and god forbid if he ever felt pain, ever felt trauma.  That simply wasn’t allowed.  

 

So what if nobody would ever actually understand Tony Stark?  So what?  Did he really want people to?  What good would that even do?  It was ridiculous, the whole thing was ridiculous, his life was ridiculous.  Or well, maybe it wasn’t, maybe just Tony was terribly, terribly, ridiculous.  No, that didn’t even cover it.  Shitty, yeah.  A horrible menace to society, getting closer.

 

An asshat?  Yeah, almost there.  A selfish fucker who freaks out over movies and punches a grown man in the face over some petty name calling and then goes and gets a dick shoved up his ass, just to have Captain Fucking America come pick him up on the side of the road in some sleazy area of New York?

 

Yeah.  Sure.

 

But what did he know?  He was really drunk, in all fairness.  Really.  Really drunk.

 

Fuck.

 

A quarter of that whiskey sloshing around in the pit of his stomach was probably why he’d decided to let Steve into his lab.

 

About an eighth of it was probably why he’d let Steve take the bottle from him, drag him out from under his desk, and sit him down in an actual chair.  Huh.  

 

“I...that wasn’t right of me...before,” Steve mumbled, looking anywhere but into Tony’s eyes, and that was fine, really, because Tony was slouching in his chair and he probably couldn’t maintain any form of eye contact, anyway.  So instead, his own eyes loomed into Steve’s short, blond locks and wow, if Tony had been happy drunk and not...this drunk he might’ve made some curtain drapes joke, but uh.  No.  Not today.

 

“I was just worried Tony, we’re all worried,” and that, of course, made Tony scrunch up his nose because Steve would never admit that he alone was worried, he always had to bring everyone into this, because god forbid Steve admit that he was the one who was worried and it was his idea and his alone to confront Tony, because that would just be pathetic, wouldn’t it?  That he’d stooped so low that it was his idea to come give the drunken billionaire a pat on the back because that, that would be just embarrassing.

 

Or something.

 

What Tony had meant to say to that was something along the line of Sure, Capricorn, or, like, fuck off, but what came out instead was “I punched Ty across the face because he’s a fucking dick and said I like to swim in semen.”

 

Steve furrowed his brow, and wait, no.  Fuck.  Tony needed to stop talking, needed to get away from Cap’s blue, blue eyes and pouted lips and oh Lord, oh-

 

“And then I jumped out the window and walked to a cathouse and paid some guy to fuck me and well, after that you know what happened because you were there!  And I’m sure you didn’t think anything of it because here’s Tony Stark, once again to come fuck up the lives of those he cares about because, like, you know how I used to be the Merchant of Death, right?  Well the thing I did best before was kill people, and now I just kill people off, so I guess it’s kind of the same thing, right?  Y’know?  I mean, like, you can just kill me right now because it’s not even 11 AM and none of that was supposed to leave my mouth and now I think I’ll just, uh…..”

 

Oh, God.  The look on Steve’s face should be illegal, it was so twisted with horror and just kill him now, really, because no one should make Captain America look like a child who’d just witnessed their puppy being run over, least of all Tony Stark.

 

Or, well, perhaps it was fitting that it was Tony.  Because really, who else would it be?

 

Before Steve could utter something out of his slacked jaw, Tony scrambled off of his chair and out of his workshop before he could make an even bigger fool of himself, which he knew all too well was very possible.

 

Huh.  Running away in his own house again.  Hah.  Classic Stark.  

 

-----

 

Tony Stark was, undoubtedly, a genius.  However he  wasn’t exactly known for his good decisions.

 

No, really.  

 

Clocking a fellow billionaire square in the face and running off to a whorehouse?  A prime example.   

 

Downing half a bottle of jack in one night?  Also, probably not smart.  Probably.  

 

Running away from Steve at every corner he found him at?

 

Well.

 

It didn’t matter, though.  It really didn’t.  Being a billionaire meant you could do whatever the fuck you wanted.  Right?  

 

Sure.

 

It was frigid, that evening in downtown Brooklyn, with sweeping winds and dark, dusky skies.  However, it was down under some hole in the wall, disgusting bar that Tony was really interested in.

 

Or, well, not Tony, for his face was hidden underneath a mask, a mask with a crudely drawn face upon it that most definitely wasn’t his.  Really, it wasn’t.  

 

But it was cold and dark and Tony was alone, very alone as he meandered through the crowded bar towards the back, down the stairs and into the arena, with jeering people who reeked of stale beer and damp sweat, with two other masked men already punching it out in the ring that was centered inside the place.  And really, it was perfect.  Really.

 

That’s what he told himself as his fake name was called and he stepped onto the mat.

 

It was a seedy place, really, as was the bar it was attached to.  Girls with tight shirt and three nose rings, with half their hair buzzed off.  Guys with too big biceps and dark, flowing tattoos plastered across their sweat stained skin.  It wasn’t a place where you’d expect to find a genius billionaire.


Good.  Because tonight, there was no Tony Stark.  Just Tony.  Only Tony.  

 

His fake name was called and he stepped into the ring and found himself face to face with a man about a head taller than him and twice as wide.  Thick, dark stubble wrapped around his jawline, long locks slicked back with sweat.  His build was similar to Steve’s but while the Captain was perfectly proportioned, this man was too much, too thick, not

 

Not.

 

Fuck.

 

His fake name was called and he stepped into the ring, and the muscular man’s face twisted up with high, mocking laughter.  His breath was thick with the stench of tobacco and ale, looking absolutely smitten with Tony and his comparably tiny stature.  

 

His fake name was called and the man swung a fist straight into Tony’s jaw, sharp pain shooting through him as he staggered back, wracking his nerves and winding him tight.  But it was so

 

So

 

His name was called and the larger man kicked out, which Tony managed to dodge.  What he couldn’t dodge was the elbow that slammed down on his shoulder, knees buckling as his body slammed into the mat, blood pooling around his cracked nose.

 

His name was called and a body slammed down onto him, knocking the sweet, sweet air from his lungs, but he didn’t need it, not really.  His body was being crushed with 250 pounds of of dirty, not-Steve muscle and Tony was smiling, smiling as his spit blood out from between his teeth, sputtering out what had gathered upon his lips.

 

His name was called and the man kicked Tony over, so his own eyes were looming into the man’s.  The man, who looked absolutely disgusted with Tony and really, really, why wouldn’t he?

 

“For someone posing as Howard Stark, I expected more from you, you fucking pussy.”

 

His name was called and it was Steve, Steve looking down upon him with that damn sad smile that sent Tony’s ribs cracking and knees shaking, and it was Steve who held his last gaze as his world shifted from a fuzzy blur of color to complete darkness.  

 

-----

 

It was only minutes later, he assumed, when he’d come to.  He squinted at the fluorescents of the arena blaring down on him, trying to blink away the bleariness from his vision.  Someone was slapping him across the cheek, he realized (through the mask, thankfully).  

 

He sputtered, whipping his head around to find one of the workers of the arena staring back down at him.

 

“Hey, hey you awake?  C’mon, he didn’t hit you that hard, c’mon….”

 

He rolled his eyes and tried to get to his feet.  Now that he really was conscious, he could feel the relentless throbbing in his head, and the sharp sting of pain that wrapped around his torso.

 

Fucking hell.  Sticking a hand under the mask, he could feel blood still dripping from his nose.  Knees still weak, he began to limp away from the man, now realizing that he was in the hallway that lead down into the arena.  Slowly, he began to stagger up the stairs, into the bar and out the door, grunting at the pain that shocked through his body.  He could’ve sworm he could’ve heard a who fights with a broken wrist? calling after him, but he elected to ignore it.  Once outside, he ripped off the bloodied mask, throwing it onto the ground as he took his sweatshirt off and balled it up, pressing it to his nose.

 

It was still dark out, after midnight but only just.  Small blessings, really.  At least no one would be looking for him.  

 

He managed to find a cab, ignoring how the driver was more concerned with the fact that he was being directed towards Stark Tower than the shape Tony was in.  Another night, another year, another lifetime, he would’ve flashed the man a brilliant smile and offered up an well, it is my tower… but not tonight.  Not now.  Now….he just wanted to get home.  

 

Throughout the drive, he tried to ignore the pain in his head, his face, his ribs, his knees.  He tried to ignore the fact that it was what he needed, what he wanted.  Why he’d gone to the damn place at all.

 

He tried.  He really did.

 

Soon enough he was dropped off, Tony throwing a bundle of cash onto the seat as he stumbled out of the car, making his way into the tower.

 

It was in the lobby where it really it him.  Everything, all the pain, the pain that was supposed to numb his mind through and through, but it only coursed through his veins, throughout his brain as he remembered, remembered everything and anything all at once, all and once and Christ, did that hurt worse than any punch to the gut.

 

Breathing staggered, he pressed his back against the cool, smooth wall and sank down, his knees finally giving out after hoisting him up for decades, decades of sharp, sharp pain, sharper than the metal in his chest or a hand tugging at his wrist, too harsh and too unkind from a father to his son, his child, he was a fucking child and maybe, maybe he still is because he’s crying into his ratty sweatshirt, soaked through and through with blood and salt and cracks in his ribs and metal crunching against his torn and beaten skin and his name being slurred drunkenly from his father’s lips, blood on Yinsen’s lips and despair on Pepper’s and pain on Steve’s--

 

Pain.  Fucking pain.

 

He curled himself up onto the cool, marble floors and after hours, minutes, days, he let sleep take him.

 

-----

 

“Stark?  Hey, Stark, the fuck are you doing?  You’re in the fucking lobby and--shit, is their blood on the floor?  Tony, what the fuck happened?  Tony, Tony!”  

 

Tony blinked, groaning as he felt a hand grasp at his shoulder, shaking him.  Wiping his eyes, he now saw it was Clint who was waking him, concern wrinkled in his eyes.  And, well, that in itself was pretty telling.

 

“Jesus, Stark, what the fuck?”

 

Tony bit back a groan as he tried to raise himself, the same aches and pains stabbing at him once more.  He could feel dried blood thick on his lip, bruises dotted across his face.

 

“Are you going to tell me what happened?  Was there--don’t tell me there was a call and you decided to do that lone wolf shit again because I swear to--”

 

“There was no call, Clint,” Tony muttered, his voice rough in his ears as he began to lift himself off the ground and onto his feet.  Glancing around, he saw that no one was at the desk, and thank god that Clint woke up early today, to go out and do super duper secret spy shit or whatever.

 

“Then what happened?”

 

Tony turned towards the elevator, managing not to stumble.  He sighed though, as he realized Clint had decided to follow him, arms crossed firm over his chest.  

 

“I got mugged.”

 

“....You got mugged.  Really?”

 

“Sure.  I’m a fucking billionaire, of course I’m going to get mugged.”

 

This time, it was Clint who sighed.  “Yeah, sure, Tony.  Why were you out in the first place?”  

 

“I went for a walk.  It was nice out.”

 

“Tony, seriously--”

 

“What?” Tony snapped, glaring through his black eye at Clint as the elevator came to a stop on Tony’s floor.  The doors opened, but neither of them moved to get out.  “You spew the biggest sacks of bullshit around here, and yet you can’t take it?  Maybe I don’t want to fucking tell you, alright?  Maybe it’s fucking private?  Jesus Christ.”

 

Tony fully expected Clint to snap back at him, but the other man merely slumped his shoulders, sighing again.  “Tony, we’re just worried about….about you.  Steve especially, he keeps saying--”

 

“If Steve has something to tell me, then he can tell me, capishe?  I don’t need you to be his messenger bird, so just, drop it alright?  Now, I’m gonna go to bed, and you can go gather twigs for your nest or whatever it is you do at five in the fucking morning.”  

 

Clint’s lips didn’t even twitch at the quirp, but he said nothing as Tony backed out of the elevator, the metallic doors shutting behind him.  

 

He counted it as a win, anyway.

 

-----

 

Later that day, when Tony had isolated himself into the workshop, he realized that it was, in fact not a win.  

 

He hadn’t put the lab on max security, because for the level he’d had it on, only three people had access to, and he’d, like the dumbass he was, forgotten that one of them happened to live in the tower.  

 

He’d thought that Steve would at least have the courtesy to announce his presence, not just waltz in.

 

“Tony, what the hell happened?”

 

Funny how this kept happening.  Hilarious.  Fucking hilarious.

 

Tony only sighed, because he was tired, tired of this, of everything, so so so so

 

“Tony?  Please, tell me, I want to help.”

 

No.  Nope.  Fucking no, he didn’t need this, didn’t want--

 

He felt heavy hands on his shoulders, rubbing as gently as the voice in his ear.  “Please, Tony.  Let me in, for once just--”

 

He spun around, the hands on his shoulder falling in mild shock.  “For once?  I’ve let you in, I’ve let you in so many times, so many more than I ever meant to, than I ever should’ve--”

 

He stopped, the look on Steve’s face sending an all new wave of pain through him, crushing, solid pain and he wanted

 

He wanted.

 

But no, this wasn’t right.  This was his fucking life, and it didn’t work like that.  A bit of affection didn’t wipe away years and years of pain, it just fucking didn’t.

 

But oh god, did he want.  

 

“Tony, if you’re not going to talk to me about….this, then can you call my therapist?  Please?”

 

Tony blinked.  Of course, of course Steve was talking to a therapist, offuckingcourse, because Steve, unlike Tony, had real, actual issues to deal with, not fake pain and silly daddy issues.  Steve watched his best friend fall off a train and hundreds of feet into a valley.  Steve had plunged himself into an iceberg, saying goodbye to the only woman he ever loved as he did so.  Steve woke up to a world 70 years after his, everyone he’d ever known, dead and gone.  

 

That, Tony thought, wasn’t like waterboarding.  That was real torture.

 

And Tony, oh Tony, he’d been so selfish, so fucking selfish with his petty self destruction, and the way he clung to Steve, as if he was the one in pain, not the other way around.  Tony himself had tortured Steve with his bullshit and oh god, the realization clawed at him, wracking him to the core as he felt his skin shaking and his breath heaving, because it wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, Steve was too good for him, really, he was, his anger was well deserved, because Tony hadn’t been fair, not at all, not at all.  

 

He didn’t realize that Steve was clutching him, tears in his own eyes as he pressed ginger kisses to his forehead, his cheeks, his jawline, muttering it’s okay Tony and you don’t have to be sorry Tony and I’m right here Tony across his ear.  He didn’t realize his bones were rattling in Steve’s arms, threatening to come loose at the seams.  He didn’t realize, he didn’t realize.

 

And oh god, he wish he did, because Steve didn’t deserve this, not at all.  

 

-----

 

For all Tony could tell, it could’ve been years later when he finally came back to himself.  And really, did it matter?

 

Wiping away his thoughts, shoving them back down his own throat, he found himself wrapped in Steve’s huge, warm arms, hand stroking down his back and oh god, oh god oh god oh

 

Fuck.

 

Sputtering slightly, he pushed himself against Steve’s torso, unraveling himself from the man, as much as he was reluctant to do so.  He could feel Steve’s blue, blue eyes on him but he couldn’t look, not at all, it was too.

 

Too.

 

He sighed, hunching away towards his desk where he slid into his chair, letting his head fall to the table.

 

After minutes, hours, whatever, he knew Steve was still there and he just couldn’t, he couldn’t, he was so tired, so so so tired.

 

“I’m sorry Steve, I have to--”

 

“Yeah, I know.”

 

And Steve left and god did it hurt, did it ache, but it was for the better it really was because he was no good for Steve, no good for anyone, no good for Pepper, no good for himself.

 

Himself.  No good for himself.  

 

Fuck.

 

It’s not like he hadn’t thought about it, because he had, of course he had, his dad slapped him across the face on all days ending in y, and he’d been thrown into high school at too young an age, too young for his own good, then shipped off to college because, yeah, he wanted to go but seriously he was fifteen and he was a kid, a fucking kid at college parties getting blackout drunk and high on weed laced with who knows what, who knew what and god, god.  

 

Then his parents bit the dust and he was left with a company to run and damn it if he wasn’t a genius but goddamn it if he wasn’t still 21 when he took over the company, working alongside a man who was out to kill him as he made weapons that were out to kill others, kill innocent lives and there was blood on his hands, so so so so much blood on his hands and maybe, maybe that’s why he deserved it after all, deserved it for that wretched nickname that he earned all on his own, no one’s fault but his own.

 

Merchant of death.  Yeah.

 

Maybe even his own.  

 

It was ridiculous, wasn’t it?  This wasn’t how the stories went.  Tony wasn’t sixteen, crying into a pillow in his too small bedroom as his iPod shuffle blared in his ears, his parents arguing about getting a divorce as he slit his wrists.  No, this wasn’t like every single fucking stereotype he’d ever heard in his life.  Grown men didn’t do this.  Billionaire geniuses didn’t do this.  

 

This wasn’t romantic, this wasn’t graceful.  This wasn’t him being brave, this wasn’t him becoming a model for the other children at school, a name stuck to an assembly that told kids to Ask For Help and to Not Do Drugs and to Talk It Out.  No, this was disgusting and greedy and selfish.  This was him giving up, this was him realizing that fuck, fucking hell, you’re all fucking liars because this has been going on for years upon years and no, I’m not doing better, thanks for asking.  

 

This wasn’t him writing a note in choppy, tear stained writing as he confessed his sorrows for his parents to mourn over; parents who would forever think that they didn’t do enough and they didn’t care enough and fuck it if it was true because they were dead now and this isn’t how this story goes because real life isn’t glorious, real life doesn’t have your classmates crying over your casket, sobbing about how they didn’t know and they should’ve been a better friend and they could’ve helped but it doesn’t matter because they didn’t and they only care when you’re dead because they’re now the one in pain and you’re not there to witness it anyway because you’re fucking six feet under with a bullet in your head because you couldn’t keep it together, not for her not for him not for them because you’re a fucking coward and Tony, he’s always been a coward, hiding behind a bottle of gin or a girl around his neck or a gun at his side or a metal mask across his face because he can’t face himself, can’t look into the mirror and see what he’s become because he’s a fucking coward and he couldn’t even keep it together.

 

It’s not romantic, it’s not heroic.  

 

It’s disgusting, it’s the end of the line, bottom of the barrel, nothing left to give which is so ironic because he was the man who had everything.

 

But really, he never did, did he?


Right now, right now he has a bottle of god knows what and a glass of whatever and he downed the bottle and downed the glass because this isn’t heroic it’s not romantic it’s not something to be proud of, it’s a sickness and these pills won't cure it, they can only end it.

 

And really, that’s the difference, isn’t it?  

 

-----

 

Tony awoke with a start; everything flooding back to him all at once.  Bright light in his eyes, harsh beeping in his ears, the pressure of an IV in his arm.  

 

Fuck.  

 

“Tony?  Tony!”  

 

Before he can truly see what’s going on, there’s hands on his hips and lips on his own and fuck, fucking hell, he needs to breathe, he needs to--

 

“Steve, get off of him!  Let him breathe.”

 

He was 70% sure that was Natasha, but he wasn’t sure and honestly, he didn’t care.  This was so...so surreal, he was supposed to be dead supposed to be not, not here, not awake, not breathing, not--

 

He failed.  He fucking failed.  He sputtered out a laugh at the irony of it, even as the nurses who had entered right after his team began to flutter around him, measuring this that and the other and god, he was so tired and aching and nothing had changed except the tube in his arm and the fact that his team was staring at him with wide, concerned eyes.

 

Fuck.  Fucking hell.

 

“Tony, are you--?”

 

“What’s wrong with him?  Why is he--?”

 

“He’s probably in--”

 

“I apologize,” one of the nurses cut in, his face stern as he turned towards the Avengers, “but I need to ask you all to leave while we finish looking him over.”

 

Reluctantly (and with Thor nearly dragging Steve out) the team left, leaving Tony to be poked and prodded over.

 

The did some tests, asked him basic questions--his name, his age, where he lived.

 

They didn’t ask him why he was there, though.  Tony figured they had someone else for that.  

 

They told him he was under for nearly two weeks.  They didn’t need to tell him why.  

 

Soon enough, they left and the rest of the team barged their way back in.  This time, though, they seemed too afraid to say anything.  

 

For a minute, anyway.  Natasha was the first to speak up.  “Why didn’t you say anything?”

 

And really, that's rich, coming from Miss Tall Dark and Secretive.  Rich that she thought Tony would’ve said anything at all, rich that she had the fucking balls to ask him that, after being his fake assistant when he was dying of palladium poisoning.  

 

He rolled his eyes.  “Next question.”

 

“Tony, seriously--”

 

“Look, I don’t know if you’ve met me, but I’m not Mr Touchy Feely, alright?  It didn’t seem important, and I didn’t really--”

 

A groan came from the side of the bed, and Tony turned to see Steve, eyes struck in a fit of rage.  “Not important?  Tony, you tried to kill yourself!  After we….after all this shit that you’ve done, and, god, do not try and tell me it was an accident because I know it wasn’t and thank god for JARVIS, if not for him, you’d be, you….you’d be….”

 

At that, Steve began to shake, hands cupped to his face and Tony, Tony could only watch as every single one of his own ribs cracked open at the display, making him ache, ache everywhere…

 

It was selfish of him to think that he wished he’d managed to do it, so he wouldn’t have to deal with….this, but god, he was too tired to care.

 

Tony looked down, his voice low and soft.  “Don’t tell me you didn’t know this was going to happen, Steve.  You knew, you always knew, you just didn’t want to believe it.”

 

Steve was virtually screaming now, his voice high pitched and strangled, face twisted with sloppy tears, Thor physically holding him back from reaching out and shaking Tony apart.  

 

“Didn’t--?!  Tony, you never let me in!  You never wanted to talk, you always shut me out!  I tried, I tried to help you, I really did but what was I supposed to do?  I don’t--I don’t know how to deal with this.”

 

“Maybe you just can’t help me.  Maybe no one can.  Maybe I’m too fucked up to be unravelled.  What do you want me to tell you, Steve?  That my dad beat my every day since the day I could talk back to him?  That I got piss ass drunk every fucking night in high school when I was twelve?  That I used to do shit to myself because it was better than thinking, better than dealing with the ache in my chest?  That I know I deserve this?!  Is that what you want to know?”  

 

At that, Steve’s lips gaped, but he was silent, brow furrowed in thought or confusion or whateverthefuck and Tony sighed, sinking lower into the sterile covers.  

 

No one said anything after that, and he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.



Again, when he awoke, the room was empty except for the tear stained redhead perched towards his right.  

 

Rhodey was there, too, but he looked to damn shocked to move from his post at the door, let alone speak.

 

He sighed, squeezing her hand that was wrapped firmly around his.  God, Pepper, a part of him was happy she was here, with him, but the rest was so disgusted that she was seeing him like this, so weak, so cowardly, so so so

 

Fuck.

 

Despite his still hazy mind, he managed to put on his best, breezy smile, at which Pepper took with a small glint in her glazed eyes.  

 

“Hey, Peps.”

 

“Oh, god, Tony,” she began sniffling, again presumably, tears rocking her body as the grip on his hand tightened.  Tony pulled her close so she was half on his bed, her stuffed nose pressed into the crook of his neck.

 

“It’s okay Pepper, I’m here, I’m…”

 

“It’s not okay, Tony!  How could you say that, really?  Really?!  Y-you tried to….to-”

 

“I know, but I’m here now, right?”

 

She pulled away, staring into him with her wild, wide glassy eyes.  She looked...oh, god, she looked--

 

“But what if you weren’t, Tony?  What if--God, Tony, why didn’t you tell anyone?  You could’ve told me, you know, I know we’re not dating anymore but I still--I couldn’t lose you, Tony!”

 

Tony sighed, rubbing over his eyes with his fists.  He didn’t need this, he didn’t need the guilt of what could’ve been, he didn’t need that.  He knew he was terrible for it, for doing what he did, couldn’t they just understand that and let him be?  At least for five fucking minutes, after he’d woken up alive instead of six feet under?    

 

But, he supposed he deserved it, didn’t he?

 

Pepper was crying now, obviously trying to hold back the tears, but it was no use.  She sobbed into a clump of tissues she’d plucked from his bedside table.  Tony didn’t know what to say, so he just sat there in silence, soaking up her tears.  

 

Eventually, Pepper’s sniffling died down, and with a hastily whispered I still love you, Tony, she left the room, leaving him alone once again.

 

Rhodey came over after she left, gently squeezing his shoulder, offering him the smallest of smiles.

 

“You’re a fucking idiot, you know that, right?”

 

There was no heat to it, though, and he knew this was how Rhodey was coping.  He smiled, nodded, and let the man leave.

 

It seemed like ages, him sitting there, alone with nothing but with the whirring of machines and the dry sound of his own breathing.  In actuality, it was only minutes until another man strode into the room, one he didn’t recognize.

 

He stared at the man, who was now sitting in the chair beside him.  Tony merely raised an eyebrow at him.  He was well dressed, but in a suit, not in any sort of doctor attire.  

 

“Can I help you?”

 

The man gave him a small smile.  “I’m Dr. Andrew Garner.  I’m here on Coulson’s behalf.  He requested that I come talk to you.”

 

At that, Tony only blinked.  Coulson, who they thought had been dead for nearly a month, until Tony was hacking through SHIELD files for this that and the other and found out that, in fact, Coulson was most certainly not dead, and had been reinstated to active duty.  Fury’s excuse for not telling them was that it was none of their goddamn business.  To counter that, the Avengers had all explained that because of this man’s death that they’d managed to come together, set aside their differences and save New York.  

 

And now he was the man offering Tony over to a shrink.

 

Tony shifted in his bed, slipping further under the covers.  “So you take orders from a dead man, huh?”

 

The man’s gaze didn’t waver.  “Apparently I counsel them, too.”

 

Tony narrowed his eyes.  The quip was not undeserved, but it was unexpected.  “Uh, that doesn’t sound very ‘tell me what you think this inkblot looks like and why you hate your father’ about you.”

 

The man - Garner - chuckled, leaning back in his chair.  Tony stifled a sigh; he really wasn’t in the mood for this.  Any of this.

 

“You know, for someone who makes a living deciphering people’s feelings you’re having a hell of a time catching my goddamn drift.”

 

“Really?”  Garner raised an eyebrow at him, a soft smile still playing at his lips.  “Because to me, you’re an open book.  You’re restless not only because you’ve failed to take your own life, but because you have to deal with the guilt that comes with that, interacting with the people who think you’d be willing to leave them behind, and those kinds of conversations are what led you here in the first place.”

 

Tony sighed, turning his head to the side.  Where the fuck did this guy get off?  “Well it’s not the only reason,” he muttered.  

 

“Of course not.”

 

“You’re the most blunt therapist I’ve had, and trust me, I’ve had a lot.  They say I’m the kind of daddy issues, mind you.  But...isn’t that a no-no in therapy school?  Isn’t it about counting backwards from ten and deep breathing?”

 

There was a stiff pause, but Tony refused to look back over towards the doctor.  “Some patients require different tactics.  I feel like you need a dose of reality.”

 

Fuck.  Really?  What Tony needed was a dose of fucking reality?  He fought for his life nearly on the daily, he’s been captured by terrorists, he has sharpel trapped inside his chest that’s oh so close to eating him alive every single day, and what he needs is fucking reality?

 

“Not reality with the world around you, from what Coulson tells me, you’re life is very real, if somewhat insane.  But what you need is to confront yourself.  Really confront yourself.”

 

Well, shit.  

 

-----

 

Three days later Tony was released, with a prescription for an antidepressant and visits with Dr Garner already booked into his calendar by Pepper.  All the Avengers were there, Pepper Rhodey and Coulson included, but it was Steve who helped him out of bed and down the hall (despite his constant insisting that he didn’t need help, but, fuck, it was an excuse to lean against Steve and he was still too tired to care, or worry about the implications of what this whole thing meant).  

 

A nurse was kind enough to lead them out the back entrance since everyone, including the doctors, agreed that the last thing Tony needed right now was a paparazzi ambush.  Multiple SHIELD vans were brought around, and Steve led Tony into the one that Natasha had hopped into.  

 

It was just the two of them in the backseat, Natasha and Coulson, who was driving, muttering quietly in the front.  Steve wrapped an arm around Tony, shifting them so Tony’s head was tucked into the crook of his neck.  

 

“Is this okay?” Steve muttered, and Tony only nodded.  It was okay, very okay, but he couldn’t find the words to say exactly what he meant, so he just snuggled in closer to Steve.  The other man seemed to understand, as he let out a small, relieved sigh.  

 

Besides that, the drive back to the tower was uneventful, and the journey from the garage into the tower was even less so.  It was, however, the quietest he’d ever seen his team be, and that was just…

 

“Let’s go to the rec room,” Tony said, he and Steve having vouched to take the next elevator, originally planning to go back to Tony’s floor instead.  Steve merely raised a brow, but didn’t say anything.  

 

Once the stepped out onto the floor, the others turned towards him and Steve, varying degrees of shock and worry and, fuck, pity, clouding their faces and no.  Just, no.  That was not going to fly, at all.  

 

“Okay, let’s get one thing straight here,” Tony started, making his way over towards the couch.  He flopped down onto his, refusing to meet anyone’s eye.  “All of you are not going to treat me any different, capishe?  I’m still Tony Fucking Stark, I’m still an Avenger, I’m still me, goddamit, and if you’re all gonna walk on eggshells around me, then we’re going to have a serious problem.  Got it?

 

He scanned the room; Natasha nodded, firm but not unkind.  The others, however, seemed to only be looking at each other.

 

Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprising at all) it was Bruce who spoke first.  “To be fair, Tony, you did, uh--”

 

“Try to kill myself by swallowing a bottle of pills?”

 

Bruce winced.  “Yeah, that.”

 

Tony heaved a sigh, running a hand through his hair.  “Yes, okay, I’m just going to say it.  I did try to kill myself, okay?  I did.  But that had nothing to do with anything any of you did, okay?  It was all me, one hundred percent.  So don’t change your behavior, just because you’ve discovered my dirty little secret.”

 

Silence.

 

“God fucking dammit…” Tony muttered under his breath.  He couldn’t deal with this, this suffocating silence right now.  He pried himself off the couch, making a beeline for the elevator, with Steve right behind him.  

 

“Is it okay if I come--” Steve started, but Tony cut him off with a sharp nod.  

 

Once on his floor, the two of them made their way towards the bedroom, Tony shucking off his shoes as he went.  With a soft groan, he slid into his bed, curling the blankets around himself.

 

He laid there for what felt like ages, the room quiet except for the two men’s breathing.  Eventually, Tony cracked an eye open, squinting up at Steve who was perched at the edge of the bed, staring down at Tony.  Rolling his eyes, Tony threw back the covers, beckoning Steve forward with his finger.

 

“C’mon, get in here, you big lug.”

 

Steve smiled down at him, but it was a small, frail thing.  He threw off his shoes and climbed into the bed with Tony, breath becoming more relaxed as he did so.

 

Tony burrowed into the other man, who was nothing but pure, hard muscle, yet somehow soft and comforting.  Or maybe it was just because it was Steve, and Steve was here, with him, and fuck if that didn’t make his heart do funny, funny things.

 

The other man wrapped his arms around him, pulling him closer.  Tony breathed into his chest, feeling more relaxed and peaceful than he had in, well, months.

 

They laid there for awhile, Steve gently running his hand up and down Tony’s back.  It was wonderful, really, so wonderful he couldn’t exactly believe it was happening.  

 

Despite how tired he was, and how much he did not want to ruin whatever moment they were having, Tony still had to ask.

 

“What is this?” he murmured, his voice muffled by Steve’s heaving chest.

 

Steve made something of a small grunt, and pulled away slightly.  Tony nearly whined at the loss.

 

“I...think you know what this is,” Steve said, the same small smile sketched across his face, but this time, it managed to reach his eyes.  

 

And well, Tony knew what this was for him.  However emotionally stunted he was or could be, he couldn’t deny that this soft, throbbing hum in his chest, that coursed throughout his entire being, was anything but-

 

Well.  

 

And fuck if Steve didn’t look so earnest, so willing, so goddamn loving after all the shit Tony put him through.  It did strange things to him, but for once, strange wasn’t necessarily bad.

 

“Can I kiss you?” Tony blurted out, and the words had barely left Tony’s mouth when Steve’s own lips were pressed against his, pulling him in for a deep, searching kiss.  Tony moaned into it, arching his back as he wrapped himself around the other man.  The kiss was anything but chaste, hot and needing and desperate, desperate to make up for lost time, desperate to remind themselves what could’ve been, wasn’t.  Desperate to be lost within one another, to feel nothing but one another.

 

Steve rolled over, covering Tony’s body with his, but propping himself up on his elbows as not to squish the other man.  He cupped Tony’s head within his hands, as if it were fine and precious, as if Steve were scared to do any more damage.  

 

And well, to be fair.

 

Tony didn’t know when the tears had started, but soon they weren’t kissing so much as Steve pressing his soft, gentle lips atop Tony’s forehead, shushing him, whispering sweet nothings that Tony was okay, that Steve was here, that everything was going to be alright, somehow, some way.


Tony was so tired that he almost believed him; almost believed that he could have this, this pure, plain happiness that Steve promised him, that he would ever be worthy of such a gift.  

 

But he was tired, so, so tired, that he let Steve curl around him, drifting off to sleep with the soft weight of the other man pressing against his back.

 

-----

 

The next morning, when Steve and Tony padded down to the commonfloor, Tony swimming in one of Steve’s SSR shirts, things almost felt normal.  Almost.

 

Natasha merely raised an eyebrow at them, but when she rose from the breakfast bar to fetch herself some coffee, she pressed a quick, barely there kiss to his cheek, whispering a fond idiot as she went.  Both Rhodey and Clint let out a cackling laugh when they saw them, but it was Clint who congratulated Tony on scoring a piece of that “100% All American Ass”.  Thor sent him (and Steve) sputtering when slapped them both on the back, glad that they finally “as Jane says, gotten your heads out of your asses”.  Bruce, well, Bruce came up for coffee and a handful of granola bars, then shuffled back down to his lab.

 

And it was normal.  It was how they normally acted, really.  If, of course, Tony could ignore the hesitation in each of them, even Thor, as if Tony was going to snap in two at a crude joke.  

 

But they were trying, and that’s what mattered.  Steve, of course, was as wonderful as ever, making pancakes for the whole team, then slipping into the seat next to Tony and scooting him closer so their shoulders were touching.  He even rubbed against Tony’s feel with his own, which Tony could only roll his eyes at, because of course Captain America would like to play footsie.  

 

And it was normal.  It was so close to normal that Tony wanted to scream, because would he really ever get “normal” ever again?

 

It wasn’t until later that day, after a morning movie marathon spent cuddled with Steve on the couch, when Tony met with Dr Garner for the first time.  Well, the first time that mattered anyway.  

 

He decided to hold the meeting in his SI office, because there was no way he was going to SHIELD, where Garner was staying, for this shit, and taking him up to the personal floors seemed to make the whole thing a little too real.

 

At least at his office, he could pretend it was just another meeting.  He hated them both just the same.

 

“It’s good to see you again, Mr Stark,” Garner said, shutting the door as he settled himself into the firm leather armchair facing Tony’s desk.  “How have you been doing?”

 

“Isn’t that what you’re here to find out?” Tony questioned, and the other man let out a soft laugh.  

 

“Yeah, I suppose it is.  Do you prefer Mr Stark, or Tony?”

 

Tony didn’t meet his eyes, instead choosing to stare at the small, round cactus Pepper had gotten him a few years ago.  You’d never remember to water an actual plant, she had said.  And, well, she wasn’t wrong.

 

“Tony is fine,” he decided, and Garner nodded.   

 

“So, Tony, tell me about yourself.”

 

It took more willpower than Tony knew he had to keep from rolling his eyes.  “Yeah, right.  Everyone knows about me.  Don’t tell me you didn’t do a google search before coming here.”  He knew he was being unnecessarily rude, but years of being forced into therapy gave him a natural defense to those kinds of questions.  Nobody ever really cared about how he was doing.  He was like a token, to them.  The famous child of Howard Stark chose to come to my therapy office?!  How lovely!  It was always a goddamn game with them, and Tony hated it almost as much as he hated his father for subjecting him to the shit in the first place.  

 

“I think both of us know that the Tony Stark in the tabloids is much different from Tony Stark, the person.”

 

Tony shifted in his seat, fiddling with the pens atop his desk.  “You’d be surprised.”

 

“Would I?”

 

This time, Tony couldn’t hold back an eye roll.  “I have daddy issues so far up the fucking wall that I’ve been propositioned by MTV to have a show made about it.  I drink just as much as the tabloids say I do, and probably more.  I’ll sleep with anyone with a pulse, as shown by my stunt in 2004.  I’m narcissistic, I don’t play well with others, and I still don’t think I’m qualified to be an Avenger.

 

He blinked, then frowned.  The last part, about not being qualified to be an Avenger, had just slipped out.  The other things had been said to him constantly, whether it be through a trashy magazine, talk show, or having been directly said to him in person.  And granted, he had been told he wasn’t fit to be an Avenger, but it seemed so long ago now; never mind that after Tony threatened to leave the Avengers after the Chitauri invasion, both Fury and Coulson had made it very clear that Tony was, and is, an Avenger.

 

But maybe it was still all for his money, and his funding.  Fuck, like he thought he could escape that shit.  It’s not that he minded, because he really did have more money than God, but if he was really being used…?

 

“Do you really believe all of that?”

 

Tony narrowed his eyes at the doctor, cocking his head slightly.  “I do believe it, because it’s true.”

 

“But do you really believe that’s why you tried to kill yourself?”

 

Again, the bluntness of the whole thing caught Tony off guard.  Because yes, his other therapists had talked about touchy feely issues, but they never came out directly and said it.  That he was abused by his father, and when he was older, that he had a drinking problem.  

 

Maybe this is what he needed.  Maybe.  

 

“It seems to me,” Garner continued, when Tony remained silent, gaze flickering between the cactus and the pens strewn across his desk, “that your issues stem from deeper problems within yourself.  Am I wrong?”

 

Fuck.  Of course he wasn’t fucking wrong.  It was obvious, even.  

 

“....No,” Tony conceded, slumping further down in his chair.  The daddy issues, the drinking, the sex. They all wrapped around each other, strangling him into his current mindset.  His current, depressed, mindset.  

 

“Tell me when it really started.”  

 

At that, Tony couldn’t help but to snort out a laugh.  Because, really?  How fucking cliche.  

 

“Classic,” Tony muttered, and the doctor leaned forward onto the desk, raising a brow.  

 

“Classic, sure, but is there somewhere else you think we should start?”  And, well, no.  Tony really couldn’t think of anywhere else to start.

 

So Tony talked.  And it shocked him, how free and willing the words fell from his mouth.  People, therapist or not, usually had to pry the truth from him.  But maybe he really was changing, realizing how tiring it was to dodge every question, to circumvent the truth.  

 

Maybe things really could get better.

 

-----

 

The next two months passed rather uneventfully.  Well, uneventfully for Avengers standards.

 

Doctor Doom still sent out his bots to wreak havoc on New York, low level supervillains created giant mutant moose or flying robotic slugs or whatthefuckever.  But there were no alien invasions, no visits from Loki.  Just your average, daily superheroing.  

 

And Tony was content.  It was normal, it was his day job.  And he did his job well.  

 

The team was slowly realizing that they could be their normal selves around him, that they didn’t need to give him tentative looks after every wry joke, after every time they went to pick a movie, after every time they went to order takeout.  And it was good.  It really was.  It definitely was.

 

“How are you doing?” Bruce asked him one day.  It wasn’t the first time someone had asked him that in the recent weeks, of course, but this was just him and Bruce, both of them coming up from their labs for a 5 AM coffee (well, tea for Bruce), curled around their respective cups.  And Bruce had this goddamn earnest look in his eyes, one that could rival the likes of Steve.  

 

“I’m good,” Tony nodded, lips curling into a small smile.  “I really am.”

 

And Bruce grinned backed, grasping his shoulder and picking up his mug and shuffling off towards the elevator.  And in that moment, Tony really did believe it.  Therapy was still awful to sit through, but it was going surprisingly well.  He was taking his meds, and they seemed to be helping.  Somewhat.

 

There was the team, and the team was great.  He’d managed a pizza and video game marathon with Rhodey before he had to return to the Air Force, and it’d been too long, really.  As for the rest of the team, they ate dinner together, they laughed, they joked, they saved New York.  They had nerf gun fights and they sparred, and Clint pretended not to cry over sappy movies, and Coulson came by at least once a week--purely for paperwork reasons, he claimed, but somehow still managed to stick around until midnight nearly every time.

 

And Tony was there, and he was good, and he believed that he really, really was getting better.  He wanted to believe it, so badly.  

 

It was easy to think that he was getting better, when Steve was there.  Steve was….Steve was something else.  He was too good to Tony, too kind and understanding.  Perhaps more than Tony deserved, considering the way Tony treated him.

 

Steve of course, had his own issues.  But it was always Steve enveloping Tony in his arms, whispering soothing sounds into his ear as he shuddered through a panic attack.  It was always Steve who would listen to Tony as he screamed in rage, how he was worthless, how he deserved to die.

 

This happened more than Tony was willing to admit.  It wasn’t every day, but sometimes Tony just had Bad Days, and on Bad Days, sometimes, the voices inside his head were just too much.

 

I’m so worthless, I’m fucking useless, Steve, don’t you understand?

 

Why are you still here, Steve, you should’ve left months ago?

 

Why do you put up with me, Steve?  Why do you help me?  

 

You should just hate me like everyone else does, Steve, shouldn’t you?  

 

And Steve stayed silent through the whole thing, with shaking fists and tears rimming his eyes.  And, fuck, Tony would feel so guilty afterwards, guilty about the destroyed punching bags and knowing that yes, Steve left for a run 3 hours ago, and he’s not coming back for at least another hour.  

 

But after it all, after they yelling and screaming and the shaking and the crying, Steve would hold him so, so tight, and remind him that he was loved, and that Steve was here, and that it would all be okay, because Steve was here.

 

Those days, however, were becoming few and far between, and Tony was getting better, Steve would say.  They were fixing it, Steve would say, running a hand through his hair as they laid sprawled across Tony’s bed.  It was all going to be okay, Steve would say.

 

They had each other, they were fixing each other.  And it would all be okay.

 

-----

 

“When you have a panic attack, how do you cope?”

 

Tony looked up from the pens he was playing with, furrowing his brow slightly.  It wasn’t an unwarranted question, but it was one that had already been answered in a previous session.

 

“I told you, I go see Steve.”

 

“And when Steve isn’t there?”

 

Tony looked back down at his desk, not wanting to meet Garner’s questioning gaze.  He didn’t know why Garner was asking him about this again.  They’d been over it, and that was that.  It was helping, Steve was helping.  

 

“He’s always there.”

 

“And you think that’s always going to be true?”

 

“Yes,” Tony answered without hesitation.  But even he knew that the word carried no weight.  “If he’s not there then I’ll call him.”

 

“And if he doesn’t answer?”

 

“What does it matter?” Tony snapped, now glaring at the other man.  Garner looked as calm as ever, fingers entwined with one another, resting on the desk.  Tony scoffed, sinking lower into his chair.  “If he doesn’t answer then I’ll deal with it.”

 

“How?”

 

Tony glowered.  “I don’t know, but the bottle of Bourbon in my workshop probably does.”

 

Garner sighed, shaking his head slightly.  “You need a system, for if he’s not--”

 

“What do you want from me?  I’ll count backwards from ten, I’ll recite math equations, I’ll take some deep fucking breathes.”

 

Silence.  Tony tapped a pen against the pot of his cactus.  

 

“I want you to not rely on others for your health.”

 

At that, Tony said nothing.

 

----

 

Two months and two weeks after Tony woke up from a coma, Steve got assigned to a SHIELD mission.  Radio silence, in the fucking Amazon.

 

“Are you sure?  I can have Fury get Romanov to go, and some other guys for muscle, he won’t--”

 

“Yes, he will mind and you know it,” Tony cut in, burying himself into Steve’s chest as Steve cradled him closer, both of them leaning against the doorway of Tony’s bedroom.  “Not that I mind Fury being pissed of, because who fucking cares, right?”

 

“I do.”

 

Tony smiled.  “Exactly.  I’ll be fine.  He said a week at the most.”  Steve pulled them apart slightly, bending down and reeling Tony back in for a soft, languid kiss.  Tony sighed into it, wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed with Steve’s lips on his, but he knew Steve had to go, and it would be okay, it would be fine.  They both had jobs and duties, and it was normal, and it would be fine.  

 

“Be safe, okay?” Steve murmured, lips crawling up Tony’s jaw line to nip at his earlobe.  Too soon, Steve untangled his body from his, stepping into the doorway.  He smiled.  “I love you, Tony.”

 

And he was gone.  And Tony was okay, because couples were apart, and it was normal, and all Tony wanted was to feel normal for five fucking seconds, and he would be okay.

 

He was okay.  Really.

 

And he was okay.  For three days.


For three days, Pepper dragged him off to SI meetings, and he groaned his way through them.  Clint and Thor fought over the last package Pop Tarts, and Bruce nearly hulked out when the duo turned on him, after he suggested that there was a convenience store 2 blocks away where they could buy more.  Natasha sharpened her knives in the lobby, and was only removed after an old man nearly fainted at the sight.  

 

Tony worked on a stealth suit for Steve that was a billion times better than his SHIELD issued one, along with arrowheads for Clint, and forced Bruce to help him out with the conundrum of creating EMP arrows that would short out Doom’s shitty bots, but not Tony’s suit or Natasha’s Widow Bites.  

 

It was three days after Steve left when Tony realized that he was most certainly Not Okay.   It was so late it was early the next day, and Tony was lost in his work, so lost that when he was rummaging through his drawers, it took him a good minute to realize that what he picked up was not, in fact a socket wrench, and was a bottle of pills.

 

The same bottle that Tony had forced half a bottle down not 3 months prior.  

 

He threw the bottle down, backing away from his desk, but he soon found himself on the floor, crawling with what little energy still remained in his rubbery limbs.  He heaved in a breath, or at least tried to but it felt like he was breathing through a goddamn straw and he couldn’t get any air, he couldn’t breathe he couldn’t breathe again and again and again it was happening all over again and he couldn’t deal with this, not now, not now.

 

There was a voice trying to penetrate through the buzzing in his ears but it was nothing but white noise and it didn’t matter anyway because Steve wasn’t here, he wasn’t fucking here and Tony was alone, so very alone once again and it was ripping him apart from the inside out and he had to do something, he had to do something.  

 

Steve and the team had raided his workshop for booze before he’d gotten back to the tower after his incident, but he was Tony Stark and fuck, he had to have something down here.

 

With strangled, sputtering movements, he dug through one of his chest of drawers, mostly full of unfinished projects, hoping for something, anything, hoping for--

 

In that moment, he didn’t know why he had the gun in his workshop.  In that moment, he didn’t know that it was an prototype he’d thrown together for Natasha because, really, SHIELD issued guns sucked and she needed something good, something better than good.

 

And when Tony pulled the gun out of the drawer, that was the only thought that crossed his mind; that it was a gun, that it was loaded, and that was good, better than good.  Better than whiskey or vodka or scotch, better than a goddamn bottle of pills.

 

Because fuck if Tony could even swallow a single pill now, what with his throat shriveling up and his hands shaky and clumsy and he was tired, so so so tired of being alone and worthless and afraid and a coward, such a coward, always a coward, always a--

 

Tony didn’t notice the doors of the lab swing open, and he didn’t hear Natasha swear when she saw him, a withering mass strewn across the floor of his workshop, and he barely noticed when she snatched the gun out of his hand, throwing it across the room as she cradled him within her arms.

 

Tony didn’t know whether he was crying, screaming, or both, and he could barely make out Natasha’s soothing words as she shushed him, telling him that he needed to calm down, that it was okay, that he was safe, that he needed to pull himself together, that he was loved, that he was cared for, that he needed to take back control, that he needed to slow his breathing, that everything was going to be okay, somehow, some way.

 

“It’s not okay now,” she told him.  “But it will be, one day.  You have to work for it, kotyonok, you have to get there yourself.  But you will, I know you will, Steve knows you will, we all know you will.”

 

Tony’s breathes began to even out, and he could make out his surroundings now, he could feel Natasha’s petit hand rubbing small circles into his back, could hear her soft, soothing words without them being obscured by the chaos in his head.  Eventually he was able to detach himself from her, refusing to meet her eyes.

 

“Don’t apologize,” she stated, before Tony had even opened his mouth to do just that.  “JARVIS told me.”

 

Tony nodded, digging his palms into his eyes.   Saying that he was a mess didn’t even begin to cover it.  

 

They stayed like that for some time, sitting on the cool floor of the workshop, nothing but the quiet sound of their even breathing.  

 

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned as my time as an assassin, it’s to not depend on anyone.”

 

Tony looked up, cocking his head at Nat, but she was still looking down, refusing to meet his eyes.  

 

“How so?”

 

She sighed, eventually looking up and into him.  “They taught me that love is a weakness.  That love clouds your senses and makes you foggy, makes you lose track of the mission.  Because that’s all it was really about, anyway.  It was always about the mission.”

 

Tony narrowed his eyes.  “You know, I’m not in the mood for a lecture on--”

“I’m not done yet,” she cut him off, but her tone was not unkind.  “That’s what they told me, but I know it’s not true, and you do too.  But it did hold some value.  What makes us the weakest, is dependence.”

 

Tony still thought that was a bold statement, and somewhat unfair, but he could tell that Natasha wasn’t done, so he let her continue.  

 

“You need to learn to save yourself, kotyonok, you can’t be dependent on alcohol or drugs or sex, or Steve.  Because if you can’t learn to help yourself, then how can you ever accept the fact that you deserve to be happy?  How can you help yourself be happy?”

 

Tony pursed his lips, eyes darting over towards the discarded gun.  “You sound like you speak from experience.”

 

She shrugged, waving him off.  “That’s neither here nor there.  But you need to learn to help yourself when you have a panic attack, when your depression is beating you out.”

 

It would’ve been a bold remark coming from anybody, but more so because it was coming from Natasha.  Someone who’d been taught and forced to put her emotions second to all, and now here she was, talking about depression and feelings and well, saving him from himself.  And fuck if it didn’t resonate with him, because it was true, all of it was true.  

 

Slowly rising to his feet, he let her lead him into the elevator and up to his floor.  Once the doors opened, she placed a small peck on his cheek, and then she was gone.  

 

Exhaustion crashed over him, suddenly and all at once, and he’d barely managed to make it to his bed when sleep took him, collapsing onto his mattress with a muffled thump.

 

-----

 

It was two days later when Steve returned, the mission having ended earlier than anticipated.  The first thing he did was run upstairs, where Tony was lying half asleep in his bed, and folded the man into his arms.  

 

Tony shifted, snuggling himself into Steve.  But by Steve’s shaking, however, it was clear that something was wrong.  

 

“Natasha she...she left me a message, I was able to listen to it on the way back and, God, Tony, I thought...I thought…”

 

Tony had a good idea about what he was going to say, but he kept his mouth shut, waiting for Steve to gather his words instead.

 

He sighed, wrapping his arms tighter around Tony.  “I...I thought you were better.  I thought we were fixing this, I thought I…”

 

He should listen to Natasha more often.  Maybe Garner, too.

 

Gently, Tony untangled himself from the other man, sitting up on the bed and facing Steve.  The other man’s eyes were rimmed with red, and Tony tried not to wince.  

 

“You thought you saved me.”

 

“Well, I know I didn’t--”

 

“It’s okay,” Tony said, “I mean, I guess I thought you did too.  But that’s not how this works, Steve, it’s not--”

“Do you love me?”  

 

Tony blinked, the question catching him off guard.  “I, Steve, you know that I--”

 

“Is it not enough?  Am I not enough for you?”  Steve’s voice was strained, aching, and it made Tony’s insides squirm.

 

But it wasn’t just the tone.  It was the question and really it was so, so unfair.  Slowly, Tony rolled off the bed, and began pacing across the room, refusing to meet Steve’s screaming eyes.

 

Because what was he supposed to say?  What answer was Steve actually looking for?  It was too much of a question, one that hit him like a bullet and lodged itself deep within his gut.

 

But Steve needed the truth, and so did Tony.

 

“You are enough, Steve, you’re everything to me.  Ever since the beginning, after the invasion, after we set aside our differences, you were everything.  We fought, we bickered, but you were always everything.  But, fuck, Steve, this isn’t about you, or anyone else except for me.  You can’t...save, me okay?  I have to figure that out my own.  I have to learn how to help myself, how to stop my own panic attacks, how to force myself out of my own head.  And, fuck, I can’t deal with this ‘was I not enough’ because that’s not what this is about, Steve, and it never should have been.

 

Tony took in a deep breath, and waited.  Waited, it seemed, for years to crawl by around the Earth, and he wanted to scream, wanted to punch something wanted to--

 

“Can I not help you anymore?”  And fuck, his voice was so broken, and Tony wanted to crawl into the other man’s arms and wish all the demons away but this isn’t some fairytale, and life isn’t always kind.

 

“You can help me Steve, for fucks sake, but you can’t do the work for me.  Okay?  You can’t coddle me through my depression, through my anxiety, through my PTSD.  You can help, Steve, you can always help, because fuck if I don’t need comfort in my life, but I also need the goddamn truth.”

 

Steve seemed to process that for a moment, and Tony could practically hear his brain screaming in thought.  It was agonizing.  

 

“I…Okay.  Okay.  I’m sorry things got so messed up, but I can help you, I can, I’ll try, I really will.”

 

“I know you will.”

 

“You mean everything to me, Tony.”

 

Slowly, Tony turned around, and found himself walking into Steve’s outstretched arms.  Because this, this was okay.  This was wonderful.  And he wanted this, all of this, without the dark, murky words crawling within his brain weighing him down.

 

And he would get there.  Somehow.

 

-----

 

“You were right, Doc,” Tony said, as soon as Garner walked into the office.  The other man smiled, raising a brow at Tony.

 

“Was I now?”

 

“Yep, well about some things.  Others?  Not so much.  For example, counting backwards from ten is pointless and stupid.  Got anything else?”

 

The doctor let out a low chuckle, settling into his chair.  “Yes, I believe I do.”

 

----

 

Tony wakes up warm, almost too warm, from a very blissful dreamless sleep.  It’s been getting better, these past few months and Tony knows that the nightmares aren’t going to go away completely, aren’t going to stop forever, but whatever little relief he can grasp onto, he’ll take.

 

As he slowly climbs into consciousness, he feels Steve’s strong arm slung over him, snug against his torso.  He can feel the other man’s breathing, the rise and fall of his chest, and it’s soothing, oh so soothing to Tony.  It’s the perfect way to wake up, really.

 

It’s been months since that night in the workshop so long ago, and Tony knows it’s not over, of course he does.  This isn’t an end because his life isn’t at an end, not yet.  The pills he takes aren’t magic and therapy isn’t a cure all.  He tries to take it slow, tries to realize this isn’t something he can rush through.

 

And that’s the kicker, really.  All his life he’s been non stop, moving as fast as his genius brain would let him.  Having to take his time, going one step at a time through this process called healing, called Getting Better, called Becoming Whole Again.

 

It’s aching, sometimes, the struggle of it all.  Steve’s at his side, of course, ensuring him that yes, it’s all worth it and no, don’t give up now because fuck if Tony doesn’t want to sometimes.  Why wouldn’t he?  There’s always an easy way out.

 

But that way is a one way ticket, and Tony’s at the point where when he’s in the right frame of mind, he knows that it’s not worth it, was never worth it.

 

It was never meant to be romantic, never meant to be beautiful.  Just because he found romance on his way doesn’t neglect that what happened, what happened to him, was a disease, not romance.  Steve is romance, but Steve is not his cure, was never his cure, was never meant to be his cure.  That’s not the way this story was meant to play out.

 

He feels, sometimes, as if that is the case, as if he is living just for Steve, only for Steve.  He knows Steve relies on him too, of course, but, fuck, he knows it can’t work like that, it can’t be like that.

 

Laying in bed at five in the morning with Steve snoring softly beside him, he knows Steve is just his lover, not his saviour.

 

Tony knows who his saviour was, all along, and it’s the only other person in that bed with him.