Shatter every window til it's all blown away
Every brick, every board, every slamming door blown away
Til there's nothing left standing, nothing left of yesterday
Every tear-soaked whiskey memory blown away
-- Carrie Underwood, "Blown Away"
JARVIS told him, just one more status report among the many. He had been back at Stark Tower for a couple hours by then, long enough for the pain to set in. Battered and bruised, he listened to it all without a word, staring at nothing.
"Sir, is there anyone you would like to contact?"
"No," Tony said. He felt amazingly calm. The dwindling rational part of his brain knew that he was in shock, that in fact he had been in shock pretty much since Loki had thrown him through that window. Just six hours ago, that was.
What a day.
"Ms. Potts has called again. She will be at the Tower in approximately half an hour."
"Okay," Tony said. He turned in a slow circle, surveying the devastation in the Tower, taking special note of the god-shaped hole in the floor. Later he would ask JARVIS to pull up the security footage. It would be interesting to see someone else taking the savage blows of fate for a change.
Silence hung in the air. He could almost see a ghostly eyebrow raised, his ever-patient AI waiting on him.
"Oh," he said. "Yeah. Pepper. Um, just tell her… When she gets here." He stopped, not sure what he was supposed to say. "I'll be, um."
JARVIS took pity on him. "I'll tell her, sir."
Tony just nodded, and wandered toward the elevator.
It took him almost a week to make it out to the site. There was a lot to be done after the attack. Midtown Manhattan needed to be rebuilt, to say nothing of his own home. After the first couple days when he couldn't get enough of her, and her of him, Pepper sort of faded into the background. When he bothered to think about it, he felt a vague puzzlement over how exactly that had happened, but he lacked the energy to really delve into it, so he gave up and let it be. It was just easier that way.
He had contact with the other Avengers (minus Thor, of course) from time to time. Bruce had vanished at the Port Authority, but Clint and Natasha had taken him at his word when he had sat there during their shawarma interlude and carelessly invited them to come stay at the Tower. Occasionally during that week he saw signs of their presence, but he rarely saw their actual faces.
Steve, though. Steve was there. All. The. Time. It was a little bit infuriating, in truth. He hadn't meant to include Steve in the invitation, but it had been hard to make that clear when they were all sitting there exhausted and beaten down. So here Steve was, and unlike the two sneaky assassins, he saw more of Steve than he cared to.
Fortunately he didn't see Steve as he left the Tower late in the afternoon, already well beyond half-drunk and intent on making it all the way just as soon as he could manage it. The car glided through those streets that had been cleared of debris, past the scant traffic, and it was not long before they were there.
Tony got out of the car and just stood there and stared.
JARVIS had been very succinct. "The Stark Mansion on Fifth Avenue was destroyed in the attack, sir. There is nothing left."
Words were one thing. It was entirely another thing to stand here and actually look upon it.
The house where he had spent his childhood was…gone. Stark Industries security guards stood around the perimeter, keeping away looters and reporters alike. None of them paid him any attention as he slowly drifted toward the ruins.
The proud mansion had once boasted six floors altogether, three aboveground and three below. As a child he had been denied admittance to the lowest two floors; only Howard Stark had ever been allowed there, along with a few select friends and colleagues. But he had scaled the roof, slid down the elevator shaft, and blown up a portion of the eastern stairwell. He had lingered in the enormous first floor kitchen, sovereign territory of Edwin Jarvis, the esteemed butler who had donated his name to the most advanced artificial intelligence ever created. Night after endless night he had sat in the elegant dining room, trying to keep from catching his father's eye, eating mechanically as the arguments raged across the long table.
He had built his first circuit board here. His first engine. Dummy had been created in the basement workshop, a proud secret no one knew about until the grand unveiling. He had sat for hours in the corner bedroom, wearing a black suit, an empty glass in his hand, after his parents' funeral.
Now nothing remained.
Careful not to step on anything and twist his ankle, Tony picked his way through the rubble. He stood in what had once been the music room. He remembered the grand piano that had stood here. He had sat on the bench with his mother, learning the octaves by her side, watching in silent admiration as she coaxed music from the instrument, the notes rising in the air in a delightful mathematical dance.
His father had put a stop to the lessons when he learned of them. His mother had continued to play the piano, but only when Howard was gone. Tony had not sat at a piano since he was six; only Obie had ever used the one in his house in Malibu.
He walked on. The kitchen had been here, and his bedroom above. He closed his eyes and he could smell bread baking, warm and chock full of raisins. In a moment Jarvis would bring him a tray with a couple slices of raisin bread and a glass of milk. If he had been bad recently, Jarvis might also bring him a matched set of children's aspirin, dusty and orange and tasting like old blood.
The late spring breeze, though, brought only the scents of dust and wood and cement. He opened his eyes and was mildly surprised to see not the mansion as he recalled it, but twisted rebar and shattered glass and broken boards.
He could not leave until he had seen it all. He kept walking. A little further in, he discovered one interior wall that was still standing. He hadn't seen it at first, hidden as it was behind a larger mound of rubble. The plaster was punched through in several places, gaping holes revealing the old laths behind it. The wall looked as battered as he had on the day of the invasion; it would not take much to bring it down for good.
Tony stared at that wall for a long while. Then he moved forward through the destruction, through the parlor where his father had entertained important guests and knocked him to the ground one day when he had been caught hiding behind the sofa, pretending he was the great Captain America spying on the enemy as he listened in on his father's conversation.
Without knowing he was doing it, he stooped down and picked up a piece of wood. It had snapped right in half, the ends splintered and charred black. It was a good fit for his hands, even better than the bottle he had been carrying for most of the afternoon.
And yes, here was where he had taken his first drink, staring up at his father, so desperate to please. He's got to learn, if he's going to make anything of himself, Howard had said. To be tough, strong. To be a man.
He remembered how awful the bourbon had tasted. He had drained the glass, but Howard's approval had never come.
You want him to stay a sissy little boy forever? "Guess I showed you," Tony said. "I'm Iron Man, you son of a bitch."
He swung the board like a baseball bat, putting everything he had into it.
The sound of impact was like a gunshot. A new hole exploded in the plaster of that lone wall still standing. Dust puffed up, irritating his eyes, making them water. He brought the board down again. And again. The wall trembled and groaned, but remained standing.
Doggedly, Tony kept at it. He knew he could do this. He was a master at tearing things down. He had learned that fine art right here in this house.
Over and over he swung the broken board at the wall. He heard distant shouting and he figured it was coming from himself, but he didn't really care. All that mattered was tearing down that last wall, finishing the destruction, obliterating this last remnant of Howard Stark's presence.
Well, the second-to-last, anyway.
He could take care of the last one later.
Steve had heard the news about the Stark Mansion only yesterday. He hadn't intended to come out here – there was far too much to be done in the city. It wasn't until he was halfway here that he realized the destination he had in mind, and by then it had been too late to turn around.
It saddened him to think that here was one more link to the past lost, one more missed opportunity. He would never get to walk through Howard Stark's home, never get to see his history, never get to reconnect with an old friend – even if it was only his ghost.
But here he was. And he was surprised – unpleasantly so – to discover that he was not the only person here. As he coasted the bike to a stop, though, he re-evaluated his reaction. The sleek black car parked at the curb, the bored driver still sitting inside, could only belong to one person.
He pulled up behind the car and got off the bike. A security guard stood at the twisted ruins of the black iron gate that had once surrounded the property. The man took a step forward. "Sir, you're going to have to turn around."
"It's okay," Steve said. "I'm Captain America."
The guard peered closely at him. Steve stood his ground, wondering why this was so important that he would use his identity as a wedge to get his way. That was not like him.
"Sorry, sir," the guard said. "I didn't recognize you." He stood aside. "Mr. Stark is already here."
Steve just nodded. "Thanks." He did not bother correcting the guard's assumption that this was a planned meeting.
From the street the destruction looked bad. Walking through it was far worse. There was nothing left. Charred bricks were piled high. Metal objects had melted under the extreme heat of the Chitauri weapons, then cooled and reformed into fantastic new objects that bore no resemblance to whatever they had been in their previous life. Dust rose thick and choking whenever the breeze kicked up, and he had to put his sleeve over his mouth more than once to keep from coughing.
A shout rose in the air, loud and angry. It came from behind a tall mound of rubble. A second later, there was a terrific crashing noise.
Alarmed, Steve ran forward. He leapt over a scattering of broken glass, ducked under a sharp piece of rebar poking out from the rubble, then rounded the pile. New vistas of ruin stretched before him.
And there was Tony Stark, just as the security guard had said.
Stunned speechless, Steve simply stood there and watched as Tony did his level best to tear down the last remaining wall of the mansion. He was clutching a broken board in both hands, swinging it with all his might at the wall, shouting and swearing, a steady flow of virulent hatred that seemed aimed at the hapless wall itself for its refusal to crumble.
It wasn't the cursing that got Steve moving again, or the increasingly desperate way Tony attacked the wall. In the end it was the blood that got his attention, bright and red as it wound down Tony's arms in thin scarlet ribbons.
"Tony!" He broke into a run.
Without missing a beat, Tony turned and hurled the board at him. Steve bent his knees and threw himself backward, so that he was looking straight up at the sky for a few seconds. The board sailed harmlessly over his head, then vanished from sight.
He stood up straight. "Tony, what happened?"
Tony stared at him, wild-eyed, panting with effort, bleeding hands curled into fists. "Get out of here," he said hoarsely.
"I can't," Steve said. "You're hurt."
"Get out!" Tony screamed at him. He started forward, but after just two steps, his foot came down on a chunk of plaster, and he stumbled and fell.
Steve hurried toward him. "Are you okay?"
Tony stayed where he had fallen, down on his knees in the rubble. The fury that had animated him just moments before was exhausted. He didn't shout anymore; he just stared dully at Steve. "What are you doing here? You shouldn't be here."
"I wasn't planning on it," Steve said. "It just sort of happened." He went down on one knee. Up close, the smell of alcohol was overwhelming, which explained a lot, unfortunately. "Tony. Your hands."
Tony blinked. "What?" He looked down. Vague surprise registered on his face as he saw where the splintered ends of his makeshift bat had torn open his palms. For a long moment he just stared. Then he suddenly winced, as though seeing the wounds had enabled him to finally feel the pain.
"Come on," Steve said. "Let me take you home."
"I used to live here," Tony mumbled to his injured hands.
"I figured as much," Steve said with a wry smile.
"They sent me away when I was seven," Tony said. He swayed a little on his knees, making Steve wonder just how drunk he was. "But I still spent the summers here. Dad would go looking for you then, when the ice was thin. I was glad. When he was gone, I didn't have to hide. I hoped he would never find you."
Sudden cold pierced Steve's heart, a chill that had nothing to do with the mention of the ice that had stolen seventy years of his life. This was no laughing matter, nothing to smile over. This was very, terribly serious.
"I hate this house," Tony said. "I hate this house." He looked up, and with sinking horror Steve realized that he was close to tears, that in fact he had been crying as he attacked the mansion's last wall. "I'm glad it's gone. I just wish I had done it myself."
Steve didn't know what to say. He had been given all kinds of reading material from SHIELD when they moved him into his tiny apartment, but nothing in those government files had prepared him for this. Nothing had warned him what kind of man Howard Stark had become, or told him the truth about Howard's only son.
"I can't…be here right now," Tony said thickly. He blinked rapidly, pushing back the tears, trying to get a grip on himself. He got one foot underneath him, then held out one trembling hand, patting at the empty air like he was searching for something to grab onto.
Without thinking, Steve clasped his wrist, reaching well beyond the cuts left by the broken board, so he would not hurt him. He stood, pulling Tony up with him.
Tony swayed and nearly fell. Steve made a grab for him, preventing him from tumbling back down to the ground. He kept his arm about Tony's waist, supporting his weight. He could feel the way Tony was shaking all over, and his unsteady lack of balance. Some of that was from the liquor, but not all. Not nearly enough.
"Let's go," he said. He began walking, sort of pushing and carrying Tony all at the same time.
"You shouldn't be here," Tony said again. He wasn't crying anymore, thankfully, but his gaze was turned inward; he was not seeing the mansion's destruction. It was like being on the helicarrier with him again, standing there in the place where Phil Coulson had died. That same distant pain was in his eyes, like he didn't dare let himself get too close to it, for fear of what it would do to him. "I never wanted you here. I never wanted you."
"I'm sorry," Steve said stiffly. He forgave Tony for the insult. It was not his fault, he told himself. He could not be blamed for Howard Stark's obsession with finding him, or the way that obsession had led the man to neglect his only son – and possibly worse, if what Tony was saying had any truth to it.
Sadly, he suspected it did.
"I need to go home," Tony said. "I need a drink." He was starting to come back to reality, his head moving in small motions as he looked around him, truly seeing his surroundings now.
"Actually, I think that's the last thing you need," Steve said as he steered Tony around the mountain of rubble that obscured them from the street.
"Get off me," Tony snapped. "I'm not one of your damn soldiers."
The quick retort that sprang to Steve's lips had to wait, though. No sooner had Tony told him off than his eyes rolled up and he collapsed, out cold.
Steve held him up for a moment, checking his pulse and breathing to make sure that this was just a faint brought on by too much alcohol and exertion. His cursory examination showed nothing to be too worried about; in a few hours Tony would wake up with a terrible hangover and some painful cuts on his hands, but that was all. Given his inebriated state in a place full of dangerous debris, Steve was thankful that was all he would suffer.
He was also thankful that there was not much traffic on the road. Only the security guards and the driver of Tony's expensive car saw him as he scooped Tony into his arms and carried him through the rubble. The driver got out of the car, pale and shaken. "What happened?"
He started to reply, then looked up as he saw another car was approaching. His mouth tightened. With his luck it would be a reporter, along with a cameraman eager to take pictures.
To his welcome surprise, though, it was not a reporter in the car. It was Pepper Potts.
"Tony!" She hurried toward them, ridiculous in her high heels, stepping over fallen debris as though it did not exist. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure," Steve admitted. "He's pretty drunk."
Pepper stopped before them and sighed. "JARVIS told me he had come here. I didn't think it would be this bad, though." She saw the blood on Tony's hands and cried out. "How did he get hurt?"
"Trying to tear down a wall," Steve said.
Pepper eyed him for a long moment. "With his bare hands?"
"With a board," Steve said curtly.
"Why?" Pepper asked, totally bewildered.
"He said he hates this house," Steve said. He saw comprehension spark in Pepper's eyes, and he knew he would not have to say anything else. With just that simple statement, she understood.
"We should go," he said. "Tony will kill us if someone drives by and takes a picture of him like this."
Pepper started, then nodded. "All right." She led the way back to her car. She did not have a driver; she opened the door herself to allow Steve to lean in and lay Tony down on the backseat. He wanted to find something to wrap Tony's hands with, but the bleeding had nearly stopped, so he settled for just gently resting them atop Tony's chest.
"Get in," Pepper said. "Happy can take your bike back with him." She gestured at the driver of Tony's car.
Steve was not quite sure how Happy was going to accomplish this, but he did not press the issue. He just slid into the passenger seat and watched as Pepper put the car in drive and pulled out onto the road.
"Can I—" ask you something, he started to say.
And at the same time Pepper said, "Please don't tell anyone what happened out here."
Steve frowned. "Who would I tell?"
Pepper glanced at him, then returned her gaze to the road. She bit her lip briefly. "I'm sorry. I keep forgetting who you are. Anyone else would already be on the phone to the press right now."
Disgusted, Steve recoiled a little. "I would never do that."
"I know," Pepper said with a conciliatory smile. "Now what were you going to ask me?"
"Nothing," he said. There were some things he was not meant to know. Things he was better off not knowing.
"Tony's relationship with his father was not a good one," Pepper said, shrewdly guessing at what he had been going to ask. "I suppose you figured that out. I'm not going to say anything more because it’s not my place to tell you. But you're owed that much, after seeing all that back there."
"I didn't know him that well," Steve said quietly. "Howard, I mean. But it's like he was two different people. The man I knew, the one who gave me my shield and my first chance at being more than just a figurehead." He paused. "And then the one Tony knew."
"You're not wrong there," Pepper said, and the tension in her voice told him more than anything else she might have said.
"I'm sorry," he said, inadequate, unnecessary, and spoken to the wrong person. But he had to say something, so he might as well apologize.
"Don't be sorry," Pepper said. "But…don't let it change anything. He likes you. He just can't admit it yet. Just give him some time, and some space. He'll come around."
"Okay," Steve said. He had already planned to do pretty much just that, but it was good to know that he was on the right track. Even on a good day, he had a hard time figuring out Tony Stark. At least now he had some guidance.
"I'll try to stay out of his way," he said. "I know just seeing me hurts him."
"No," Pepper said with some exasperation. "That isn't true. Seeing you is fine. It's dealing with you, realizing that you're a real person and not just a figure in a comic book, or the ghost his father was chasing all those years. That's the hard part. That's what hurts." She threw him another glance, and gave him the tiniest of smiles. "In case you haven't noticed, Tony doesn't do people very well. They're kind of his Achilles heel."
Steve permitted himself a small smile in return. "I noticed."
"Then you know what to do," Pepper said, serious once more.
"Yeah," he said, because he did. He had to go slowly here. Tony was like a wild animal; any loud noises or sudden moves would scare him off for good.
"And just so we get this part out of the way," Pepper said, "if you hurt him, intentionally or not, I will hurt you."
"Don't worry," Steve said. "That's the last thing I plan on doing."
"Because I've had enough of seeing him hurt," Pepper said. She was starting to get worked up, color staining her cheeks, her hands tight on the steering wheel. "It's all I ever do, going behind him, cleaning up the mess, trying to protect him. It's not easy, Captain."
"Call me Steve," he said.
She ignored him. "And this is where you come in. Because right now I'm having to clean up around you along with everyone else. But I think you could be one of the few to cross over, to switch sides. You're already halfway there."
This was news to Steve, but he did not let that show on his face. "Yes, ma'am."
Pepper shot him a look. "Don't 'yes ma'am' me," she snapped. "Are you in this or not?"
Still not entirely sure what "this" was, Steve nodded. "Yes."
"Good," Pepper said. She took a deep breath, and her shoulders slumped, the fight abruptly leaving her. She looked tired, he realized. He supposed she was. Even though they did not seem to be a couple anymore, dealing with Tony all day, every day, had to be exhausting. "Because I sure could use someone on my side."
Steve got it then. He and Pepper had just made a deal. They were in this together now, working to protect Tony, to keep him from harm, to shield him from the world that cut him down even while it glorified his name.
He glanced over his shoulder. Tony was still soundly asleep on the back seat. Blood stained his shirt and was drying on his hands. Lying there, he looked profoundly vulnerable. Steve thought about what he had heard in the ruins of that elegant mansion, and suddenly ached for him.
He turned back around to look out the windshield and the road that led to Stark Tower. The past was truly gone now, for both him and Tony. There was only the future stretching ahead of them.
He looked forward to what it held.