He doesn't call Steve.
He leaves the phone on his desk, and very pointedly doesn't stare at it- but still. He knows it's there. Some sort of divine punishment, he supposes. The letter, he locks away and tries his damn hardest to forget. Briefly he wonders if he should lock the phone away too, but then decides against it.
Just in case.
He toys with the phone, tracing the outside edges from morning till dusk. He doesn't dare call.
Rhodey gets sick of it the fourth time he catches Tony asleep at his desk, the phone clutched in his hand- but never opened, the buttons never pressed.
"C'mon, Stank," he says, and gently peels the phone from Tony's hand. "Let's get you to bed."
Tony scowls at the name. "'M not sleepy."
"Yes, you are. I literally just caught you sleeping."
Tony wrestles internally with himself for a moment, and Rhodey watches with cool eyes, knowing that Tony will tell him sooner or later.
Finally he sits up and looks at Rhodey- really looks at him.
"Sugarbear, do you ever- do you-"
Words fail him and he picks up the phone, turning it over in his hands. The guilt presses swiftly from above, settling into his shoulders. He wears it like a cape. Rhodey's heart seizes in his chest. In all of his years of knowing this bright, brilliant man, he's never been at a loss for words. Not around him.
"I just get so angry, Rhodes," he finally says. "And I blame Steve and I blame them but I also blame myself. And now he's left- he's left this-"
Tony shudders, soundlessly. And then Rhodey is right there, holding him as he begins to sob in earnest.
"Tones, Tony," he murmurs, and that's all he can say.
He has no words left.
So Tony doesn't call.
The phone remains on the desk until Rhodey tosses it into some forgotten drawer.
They don't mention the team to each other.
They both start to heal.
Until the phone rings.
Jerky, uncoordinated, almost like his own hands couldn't believe that he was getting a call, he digs around for the phone and answers.
"Tony? Tony? It's me, Steve."
He breathes twice, the last breath rattling out of his bruised rib cage like a bat out of hell. If he thought the phone's simple existence was hell, then this call was on a whole new level. Who said God didn't have a sense of humor?
Suddenly he realizes he's forgotten to speak.
And God help him, but he can clearly picture Steve's anguished blue eyes. His heart twists uncomfortably in his chest.
"What do you want, Steve?"
"I. I wanted to talk.”
“You, Tony. I’m worried about you.”
Sarcasm is on his tongue before he can stop it. “You decide to be worried now? Great timing.”
Steve inhales sharply. “That’s not fair and you know it.”
“Do I? What else wouldn’t I know?”
His heart clenches and he hangs up.
Then he hurls the phone.
He doesn’t know where it lands. He needs a drink.
Kids don’t have favorite parents. Favorites are reserved for other things- like snacks and toys and bedtime stories. But Tony was always different. His favorite was his mother.
He names his foundation after her. His foundation, but it’s never really felt that way to him. It’s always been hers.
She sang him to sleep and played the piano for him when his father’s words were abrasive and cut at him like razors. She held him when he cried, and promised to keep it secret from his father-because, after all, Starks don’t cry.
3 AM finds him watching the video again with a glass of whiskey clutched in his left hand like a lifeline. Barnes’s hand wraps around his mother’s slim throat and he begins to shake so violently that the whiskey spills and he can’t seem to catch his breath- it keeps running, further and further and he’s wheezing, choking for air—
“My god Tony, what the hell?”
Rhodey’s voice comes in faintly somewhere to his left and he realizes he can’t see because he’s been crying.
“Good morning,” he chokes out, and moves to set the glass down- to realize he dropped it and the shattered remains are scattered on his shoes and pajama pants.
“It’s 3 AM.”
Tony sighs, gets up to get some paper towels and a broom to clean his mess. “I know.”
He tries to move past Rhodey to get through the door, but a firm hand stops him. “I’m worried about you, Tones.”
Steve’s voice comes unbidden, suddenly.
“You, Tony. I’m worried about you.”
It leaves a bitter taste in his mouth and he shrugs Rhodey’s hand off, a bit rougher than he’d meant to. “I didn’t ask you to be.”
It doesn’t occur to him for another two days that-- how could Steve know that Tony’s been spiraling? Has he been watching him?
He tries to drop it in casually with Rhodey. “Hey, Sugarbear,” he says as he pours himself a cup of coffee. Rhodey flips to the next page in his newspaper he’s reading as he eats breakfast.
“Has anyone…y’know…asked about me? Like how I was doing?”
He knows he sounds vain, but he’d prefer that over telling Rhodey that he’s spoken to Steve.
Rhodey levels him a stare over the top of his paper. “Not that I know of. Why?”
“No reason,” he mumbles, and hightails it out of there.
Curiosity killed the cat.
He waits about thirty seconds after leaving to search for the phone, hoping that the throw hadn’t damaged the already ancient phone beyond repair. He finds it wedged behind a
trash bin, dusty, but intact for the most part.
“Are you watching me?”
Tony waits the two seconds required for Steve to get over his confusion.
“Are you watching me? Or is it one of your friends?”
“They’re your friends too.”
Tony can’t help the scoff. “Don’t bullshit me. Is that why no one’s come to visit Rhodey?” Or me?
“They’re a bit concerned that they’ll end up in jail.”
He says nothing, waits for the pain in his chest to subside.
“I’m sorry things ended up this way, Tony.”
“Yeah?” He cradles the phone to his ear and sits against the wall, hunching into himself. “I’m sorry too.”
I miss you.
“Come home,” he whispers, breath catching.
He ends the call.