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Dead Hearts Are Everywhere

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Cover made by me

When Tony started losing his hair, he decided he didn’t need that shit and shaved it all off. Except it made his head look funny, because his head looked better with hair on it. And it didn’t help that Mr. Tall-Blonde-Gorgeous Perfection who had begun invading his favourite coffee joint was staring at him from one table over at the café. “Yeah, get your zombie fix in, asshole, because this is what the walking dead looks like!” he called.

The kid flushed bright red, dropping his eyes.

“Yeah, that’s right. Be embarrassed,” Tony groused.

The kid seemed to be mumbling something.

“Sorry. What’s that?” Tony said with a hand exaggeratedly cupped to his ear. “Can’t hear you over here. Must be losing my hearing too.”

The kid looked up, flushing brightly, gathering his things and scurried off. Except that he missed a piece of paper that fluttered, half-caught beneath the foot of the table. Ignoring the annoyed looks of the other patrons, Tony walked over and picked it up, just to see what the kid had been doing.

And blinked. Oh.


Drawing him.

Tony didn’t see him again for another week. He went for stealth in the meanwhile. Hat, shades, and a hoodie to blend in. Eventually the kid showed up, looked around, seemed...relieved? disappointed? that he didn’t see Tony. Who else would he be looking for? Right? And then settled in, sketching, the barista bringing him a drink. Tony called her over and told her to put the next on his card. Except the kid didn't order another. He sat there. Just sketching. For almost three hours. Tony slouched down in his seat, feet propped up on the second chair as he toyed with his phone. With his hood pulled down, there was very little chance that he would be recognised.

When the waitress walked by, he snagged her wrist. She jumped and looked down at him in surprise that quickly vanished behind some attempt at professionalism. It was a look Tony had grown used to. "Sir?"

"That kid." He jerked his head at Steve. "What's his story."

She narrowed her eyes at him.

"Relax!" He said sharply. "I just want to know why he seems obsessed with me..."

She snorted. "I don't know why after the way you embarrassed him the other day."

Tony dropped her wrist. "People stare a lot, okay?"

"Steve is a really nice guy. Don't—"

"His name is Steve!"

She tutted, rolling her eyes. "Yes. And you should leave him alone."

Tony snorted. But didn't open his mouth to say anything. He probably should leave Steve alone. That would be for the best. His attention focused in on the kid, he didn't notice the waitress walk off. Tony finally just stuck his phone in his pocket and slouched off.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tony turned into a stalker. The waitress wouldn't tell him anything else about Steve and must have warned the other waitresses off him because they weren't saying anything either.

So he became a stalker. Tony got very good at following and loitering, making it seem like he was busy with something, usually his phone, so that he wouldn't be noticed. With no way to search him out digitally, seeing as Steve was a depressingly common name, and Tony didn’t even know if it was 'Steve,' 'Steven,' 'Stephen,' or even 'Stephano.' Okay. Probably not the last.

One day he followed Steve all the way back to what appeared to be a small art college. Of course. And then, by complete chance, some guy ran up to Steve, calling, "Rogers!" So. Steve Rogers. Steve's face lit up, a smile spreading across his lips.

Tony turned and left.

The next day he loitered at the café. He had Steve's drawing on him. He'd scrawled, 'this doesn't even look like me' on a corner and then folded it up so his message was on top. Sipping his coffee anxiously, Tony waited. He waited an hour and thirty-eight minutes for Steve to show. Had given up too when the guy finally trudged into sight, dropping into his usual chair.

swallowing, Tony waited until he settled in before flagging the waitress down. "Hey. Go give this to Steve. Please." He held the folded drawing up to her.

"What is thi—"

"None of your business," he interrupted smoothly.

"Why should I?"

"Come on..." he cajoled, tipping his face up towards her, so she could see the circles under his eyes and his baldness. "You're not going to deny a dying man are you?"

Her face softened just how he knew it would. "Alright. I guess."

As soon as she turned her back, Tony jumped up, wincing at his hip banging the arm of the metal chair, and darted away to hide at the edge of the crowd on the corner. He could see

Steve jump up as well, looking around frantically.

"Then let me do a better job!" Steve shouted, still looking for him, drawing clenched in his hand.

Tony left.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He had doctor appointments the next day, meetings with his lawyers the next, and then he felt too sick to go anywhere the two days after that. But he returned to the cafe that Monday, bald head bare, hands in his pockets.

“You!” Steve accused, coming right up to Tony's table when he arrived.

“Me?” he replied, looking up from his phone, feigning disinterest.

“I've been...” Steve trailed off, face flushing. “Do you mind me using you as the subject of my art final?”

Blinking, Tony looked up at the kid. Gestured for him to take a seat. “You don't even know me.”

“I don't have to know you to want to draw you,” Steve countered, setting his portfolio down, the metal scraping on concrete as Steve pulled the chair out.

“My name is Tony,” he said, lips tugging upwards at his earnestness.


“Rogers, I know.”

Steve's expression changed. “Do I—”

“No, I'm a creepy stalker and found out,” Tony breezed.

To his surprise, Steve laughed. “Alright. Tony. So. Will you?”

He swallowed his unease, or maybe that was the chemo sending his breakfast back up his throat and, to his surprise again, nodded. “Sure,” his mouth said. “I'll do it.”

“Great!” Steve breathed, beaming.

“Orders?” the waitress prompted.

They both ordered, Tony a triple shot espresso, Steve a milky latte, and sat and talked for a while. “So...” Tony finally prefaced, “Why do you want to draw me?”

Steve tilted his head at the question. “I... it's hard to put a finger on it. Some people are really easy to capture in media Some people... Some people you need just the /right/ media to capture them. Some you may have to try thirty times before you get something that looks right. And some're going to have to work really hard to get their essence down, and it's a challenge, and it'll take hours of work and dedication and study, but once you get it, when you really get it, it'll be amazing. Totally worth it.” The guy's face had softened during his little rant, eyes sparking with his passion as his hands waved about in front of his face.


“And?” Steve blinked, jerked out of his flow. “Oh. And you're the latter, and I really want the challenge.” He grinned.

Tony shook his head, sighing ruefully. “That's encouraging.”

“No! I mean, it is! It's... It means you're interesting.”

“Well I knew that,” Tony drawled.

Steve gave him a reproachful look, tempered with excitement. “It will. I have a couple ideas. But I didn't really want to put a whole lot of thought into them, just in case you didn't agree, or I couldn't find you again.”

“Huh. So... What do you want from me?” Tony asked, folding his arms across his chest. His phone dinged in his pocket. Dammit. He flicked it out and looked at it. Meeting reminder in half an hour.

“Some uninterrupted time where I can draw you,” Steve said, large hands cradling the coffee mug.


“Soon? I was hoping that we'd be able to do this soon so I can get a bunch of sketches down.”

Nodding, Tony glanced at his watch. “Great. Uh... How about you give me your number, and I'll let you know when I can? Kind of have to be at a business meeting soon.”

“Oh. Oh!” Steve's eyes widened in surprise. “You don't look very old.”

“Thanks,” he replied drily, standing. “I try not to.”

“No, that's not what I meant,” Steve said, flushing at his faux pas. “I just meant that, for your to have a business meeting. That's...good. Right? Impressive? Because you're so young?”

“Oh. I. Guess?” He stood, dropping some cash on the table for the waitress. And watched Steve's eyes widen.


Tony grinned. “I'll bring coffee next time. Where do you want to meet.”

“Well, I've got all my materials at my apartment. If you don't mind.”

“You sure you're not propositioning me for sex?” Tony said with a leering grin, just to watch the guy sputter some more.

“What! No! No! I—art! Really! That's all I want!” Steve blustered, ears reddening.

Laughing, Tony stuffed his chilled hands into his pockets. Circulation wasn't so great these days. He waved to Steve and walked off, Happy meeting him around the corner to take him back to Stark Industries.

Tony wasn't able to meet Steve for another three days. He had work to finish up while his fingers could still do it, and he had projects to prioritise, which to scrap and dump before he passed them on to someone else with his detailed plans. There were directions to give Pepper. Because who else was he really going to pass his company on to? No one else knew it like she did. No one else knew him like she did. And no one else loved it like he did. He was absurdly grateful for that.

By the time he shot Steve a text, he'd found out all about the kid. Orphan from age sixteen, not too different from himself in that respect, he had served one tour in the military and then returned to conquer art school. Leaving them, roughly, about the same age. Where he was currently doing quite well for himself. He had honours for every semester, and had placed highly in a few art contests, even had some of his work published in amateur publications, did some work for movie posters and band posters. And he was good. Tony was impressed. The guy's record was mostly spotless, a couple of bar fights where the record stated that the policeman that Steve had punched had been harassing a girl. So. You could hardly hate the guy for a thing like that.
Steve got back to him in a half hour, giving him an address where Tony could meet him. Happy warned him to be careful.

“I'll be fine, worry-wart,” he called back fondly as he got out and shut the door.

“Don't forget your meds, boss.”

“I've got them,” he said crisply. “Now I'll let you know when I need a ride. Thank you.” Waving, Tony walked up the steps to the building and right through the front door. “Great security,” he said, when Steve opened his apartment door.

Steve shrugged. “Don't really need it. Besides. Nobody bothers a former soldier.”

“Right,” Tony said, breezing past him, into the small, but homey space. “Well. What do you want me to do?” He poked his head into the kitchen space, wandering through the sitting room, taking in the saggy couch and garish crocheted blankets.

“Whatever. We can sit ant watch TV,” Steve began, following him quickly. “Just sit and relax, and I'll sketch you until I've got the hang of you.”

“I hope you realise how dirty that sounds,” Tony said absently, shucking his jacket and flopping down on the sofa.

“Oh my God. Do you have to be so...”

“So what?” he said smugly.

Steve threw him a glare and then left, disappearing into what must be his bedroom and returning with some pencils and a sketchpad.

Watching him settle, Tony pursed his lips in thought. “So... I just sit here? And you draw me. While I sit here.”

“Yeah. Sure. We can talk if you want. I'm just getting down some gestures, facial structure. That type of thing.” Steve paused, looking down at his blank page. “Did I really get it so wrong last time?”

“Huh? No. No, it wasn't—it was really good! I just... needed a way to... I was getting under your skin. That's all.” Tony offered him a quick grin. “Anything I need to do?”

“No,” Steve laughed. “Just relax. I'll do all the work. Just be normal. Why don't you tell me about yourself.”

Fiddling with his phone, Tony let his eyes wander around Steve's apartment. “Uh...”

“Or not,” Steve said when Tony's silence dragged on.

“What? No. Just...thinking. What is there to tell.”

“Well, for starters, I don't even know your last name,” Steve said, pencil already scritching on the paper.

“Oh... Right...” Tony said lamely. “Uh. Stark.”

Steve's hand paused. He looked up, squinting at Tony, then reached over to dig around in his bag. He pulled out his phone. “Stark.” Then looked back at Tony. “As in...?” And pointed at his phone where the Stark swoosh was clearly visible on the back.

“Uh... Yeah. That Stark.”

“Oh my God.”

“No! Do not freak out. I cannot handle freaking out!” Tony said firmly, holding up a finger.

“Your dad owns the company?”

Tony's face wrinkled, affronted. “My dad? What the hell! No. No, I do.”

Steve's jaw dropped as he gaped unattractively. “Oh my God.” Then paled rapidly enough that Tony sat forward in concern. “Oh my God. You have cancer! It's been all over the news!”

His stomach curdled as he sat back, folding his arms.

“Oh my God. I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry! I shouldn't—that was incredibly rude!” Steve blabbered on.

“You thought the bare head was just a fashion statement?” he quipped sourly.

“I... I didn't know?” Steve said weakly. “You look so different without hair.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “So glad my hair is a defining feature...”

“Well. That and your goatee. hair,” Steve mumbled, dropping his eyes. “Sorry. We... You don't have to do this. I didn't realise...”

Forcing a laugh, Tony said, “What. That you were getting a celebrity? Come on. I agreed.”

“You can back out!” Steve said a little desperately.

“What. Do you want me to back out?” Tony said defensively, nose wrinkling up in affront.

“What?” Steve's eyes widened. “No. No, I just thought... Because of everything... You wouldn't want me to.”

Glaring at Steve a long moment, Tony finally just sighed. “Trust me. If I hadn't want to do this, or if I'd minded, then I really wouldn't be here. You'd probably have never seen me again.” He offered a wry smile.

“Oh. Well. I just want you to be comfortable,” Steve said firmly.

“It's fine,” he assured. “Now can we move on, and let's forget this whole awkward business?”

“Yeah. Sure. It's just... I mean. Do you have time? For this?”

If his smile was a little bitter, Steve didn't comment on it. “I've been given... liberties. I'll live until you finish it. If that's what you mean.”

“Oh God! No.” Steve looked horrified.


“Right.” Silence.

Tony sighed gustily, rolling his eyes again and slumping on the sofa. “Well. Get a move on! Draw! Create! Make me beautiful!”

That brought an attempt of a smile to Steve's lips as he ducked his head. Lifting his pencil, he drew for a minute, the pencil on the paper the only noise while Tony looked at Steve's apartment. Mostly sparse. Cheap furniture. A folded flag on the bookcase. Full of lots of books. Drawing books, literature classics, a couple how-to books. There were a few picture frames featuring Steve in uniform. Another guy. And then a gorgeous woman. “That your girlfriend?”

“Hm?” Steve replied absently before looking up and following Tony's line of sight. His face tightened. “No. No, she...maybe.”

“Maybe? Ho—”

“Maybe would have been.

“Oh.” Tony looked down at his lap. “Sorry.”

“She died.”


“It's fine,” Steve said, still drawing “Tell me about your work. What you do.”

“Make executive decisions. And create stuff.”

“Tell me about that.”

Tony launched into a meandering expository of his creations, and Pepper, and his workshop. Two hours later and he's a bit hoarse. Steve looked up.


Tony blinked. “Okay?”

“I'm done for now. I'll fix you some tea. For your voice. No more for today, probably.”

“Oh.” He watched Steve get up, followed him to the kitchenette, and loitered while the man fixed tea. “So... Can I see? The sketches?”

Smiling, Steve handed the mug to Tony. “Here. And no. They're just preliminaries.”

“So! It's my face. I want to see!”

Steve laughed. “Drink your tea.” And sipped from his own mug. “So. Pepper. Is she your girl?”

“My girl?” Tony snorted. “You are such an old man. No. No, Pepper is my CEO. Well. Will be the CEO. When I'm...”


“Jesus. This is awkward. Pepper's taking over the company. Because I'm going to die. And obviously I can't do it if I'm dead. So.” He nodded firmly. “There's that.” And swigged his tea. It did make his throat feel better. “So. When do you want me to come next?”

“When are you free next week?”

Pulling out his phone, Tony hummed. “Let's see.... Thursday? When's this thing need to be done?”

“May. That's my show. So a little over a month.”

“Cool. Tell me when. I'll be there.”


“Well. Yeah. I want to see the final version of my face.” Tony grinned.

“Great!” Steve beamed at him. “I think it's going to be may 10? That's a Friday. I think.”

“It is.” Tony flashed his phone calender at him, drained the last of his tea, and then handed his mug back to Steve.

“Good. Thanks!”

“I gotta get going,” Tony said, taking the cue from Steve. “Next Thursday. Let me know what time I should get here and stuff. I'll try and be on time.”