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Plastic Flowers

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He almost turns away when he sees the figure there already. The nerve of him to come here, the fucking—

Breathe, he tells himself.

Absolutely doesn’t tell himself he’s glad to see the man, living and breathing: solid.

Doesn’t mean he likes, just. It’s good to know. Check that box off the list: Steve Rogers, traitorous fuck: still breathing.

Tony sighs, and crushes the stems in his hands as he makes himself walk to the grave.

They’re his parents, after all. This is his perpetual altar of penance.

He comes shoulder to shoulder with Rogers—don’t think of him as Steve, don’t go there, don’t tempt it—to see two things.

One: Rogers has flowers in his own hand. Cyclamen, of all things. A few stray petals are bright, anomalous against his coat.

Two: there are already flowers resting at the stone. They don’t move with the breeze, and so Tony walks to them, suspicious: no one else would have left his parents flowers. Not now, some random day of the year; not after so much time, even on the anniversary of the loss.

He thinks they’re plastic, at first. Silk, but of an impressive quality. They’re exquisite: never dying.

Tony blinks, hard, and reaches: not plastic.

Violet hyacinths, catching the light, and it’s only on contact, the smooth against his fingertips; it’s only on lifting to the stray beams of sunlight that it’s obvious.

They’re made of glass.

“Do you know who they’re from?”

Tony fucking knows exactly who they’re from, because of what they mean, because they don’t decay, because they are everything that his parents cannot be or have, and flowers will never give them breath, or bodies again.

Tony wants, very much, to crush the fucking flowers between his fingers and let the grainy shards spill his blood, just to say you took them, take me, make an even fucking set, you

“No.” That’s what Tony says, out loud. Because he doesn’t want to have it out with Rogers at his parents’ grave.

And he’s tired. So, so tired.

His arm’s still in its goddamn sling. He’s getting too old for this shit.

“I could guess,” he muses, and keeps the words carefully devoid of feeling. His eyes trace the etching of his mother’s middle name, and he aches, suddenly, to feel the warm divots in the marble.

And so he does. S’a fucking disgrace, an insult to her. So rough, pulls his skin.

She was warm.

He doesn’t bother tracing his father’s name. In his case, the sensation would be fitting.

“He would understand,” Steve, no, no: Rogers says softly, nodding at the flowers; they both know who put them there—purple hyacinths.

I’m sorry

“He’d understand if you—”

“Yeah,” Tony scoffs, and just keeps staring at the curls of letters in the stone. “Because you would know.”

It’s not even a good shot, really. It’s pathetic. Tony should be ashamed of himself.

He doesn’t fucking care.

“Tony—”

“Don’t, Rogers,” Tony warns, but even that comes out weak. “Do not,” and he trails off, shakes his head and runs a thumb over the cameo under the carved-out dates. Lifts his chin and stares at all the strategically planted trees.

“Why are you here?”

He can damn well hear Rogers shrug, because there was a time he knew that, knew that and so much more about this man. And Tony doesn’t forget easily.

“Paying respects,” Rogers answers. “I was,” and Tony can hear him swallow, and does not see the motion of it in that thick neck in his mind’s eye, he absolutely does-fucking-not.

“I was a coward, for a long time, about remembering the people that I lost.”

Tony scowls and shoots him a glare. “That you lost?”

 

Rogers stands his ground, though his eyes hold only compassion. That fucker.

“Your father made me what I am,” he says simply. “Your father was a friend. Howard was...”

And that star-spangled man with all the fucking answers looks down, bereft, and there was a time when Tony would have reached, maybe, and touched, maybe; it is still a time, now, that Tony hurts for seeing those eyes so lost, and Tony has hated himself for a very long time, but maybe not as much as he hates himself for this: for that feeling, after all that’s come and gone.

“Coming out of the ice to find everyone gone,” Rogers says slowly, like he’s trying to figure it out himself, as he struggles through each word. “I didn’t handle well. I didn’t handle it all.”

And Tony doesn’t go back, in his head, to a rare night where they talked about themselves, about their fears, about the soft places in their chests. He doesn’t think about what those hands feel like on his sweat-slick skin.

“I am trying to do better.”

Tony snorts. It’s a good way to wipe the slate clean, to clear his mind of the bullshit it likes to vomit it, like any of it ever mattered.

“So this is, what, your guilt-assuaging road trip?”

“Tony—”

“Where’s Clyde?”

“Clyde?” Rogers frowns.

“I’m gonna be nice and give you Bonnie,” he nods indicatively to the hyacinths. “They say she was less trigger-happy.”

Tony doesn't know what he expects from that. Doesn’t know what he expects from pulling on this particular thread at all, but he’s not particularly good at letting things go, letting the past lie; he doesn’t know what he expects, but he does no it’s not the way that Rogers’ eyes narrow, and his chest deflates, and he’s both wrathful and broken at once as he snarls:

Don’t.”

“What?” Tony pushes, because if Tony’s pushing there’s still enough distance between himself and anyone seeing too close, finding too much. “Don’t like me calling a spade a spade when the goddamn spade’s your boyfr—”

“Bucky’s not my boyfriend,” Rogers bites out, like that’s the most important part.

Tony absolutely does not, in no way, shape, or form, dwell on the possibility of what it might mean if that’s the first thing Rogers really wanted him to know.

Because he can’t go there. He can’t.

“And I won’t apologize for what the Winter Soldier did, what Hydra did, to your family, Tony, I would never.”

And the smallest part of Tony, one of the parts he pushes the world away from: the smallest fraction of one of those parts knows that. Knows that Captain America wouldn’t ever disgrace the memory of his family, of any family. Any loss too soon, at the hands of injustice. He wouldn’t.

And yet

“And I would never expect you to accept, or understand, or warm to the idea of what Bucky was made to do beyond his own judgement, his own choice,” Rogers goes on, because fuck if anyone can avoid the rousing, righteous indignation of the bastard.

“But goddamnit, Tony,” he hisses through clenched teeth. “I will not stand for you maligning what’s left of his good name. By rights, he has nothing to atone for, except what, being too human, too breakable like the rest of us, in the end? But hell if he’s not trying.”

“Yeah,” Tony screws up his expression. “I kinda got the message that you weren’t gonna stand for that sort of talk.” He lifts his sling, because, well. If you’re gonna send a memo. “I’m a genius like that.”

Rogers blanches a little—good. But he doesn’t waver, not exactly.

Fucker.

That stupid little fraction of the smallest bit of Tony doesn’t, absolutely doesn’t speak soft and remind him that that’s what caught his eye first, that’s what he fell for, that’s what he lo—

“I’m,” Rogers speaks, and thank god for that. Tony’s stupid little fractions of self.

“I am sorry,” and it’s all earnest and heartfelt and wide-eyed and shit. Goddamn puppy that Tony doesn’t have the heart to kick.

Fuck it all.

“I shouldn’t have, there’s,” Rogers shakes his head. “I’m sorry,” he finally settles with, arms crossed over his chest, the blossoms of the flowers he still holds drooping, falling. “I owed you better than that.”

Tony snorts. “Don’t owe me shit Rogers.”

And goddamn, but that’s the kind of blow Tony’d been aiming for in Russia, that’s the impact he wanted to have, dead center. Eyes wide. He’d wanted it to hurt, to the point where contemplating death was a real option.

Somehow, here: it’s not as satisfying. L'esprit d'escalier. Too fucking late.

Too fucking late for a lot of things.

Tony,” Rogers says, voice tight.

“What,” Tony turns to him, considers him, pities him in pitying himself. “You think a coupla quick fucks made us bosom buddies? Soulmates?”

Tony doesn’t think about what he thought it all meant. Felt it all meant.

Hoped.

“Water under the goddamn bridge, Cap,” is what comes out of his mouth, and he even manages to pull out a sneer for good measure.

“Tuck that heart on your sleeve back where it belongs before it stains.”

Because Tony’s good at one thing, when it comes to people, and that’s burying everything he actually feels about them where no one will ever find it. Sometimes not even himself.

“He’s my flesh and blood, Tony,” Rogers says softly, and Tony does not let his mind wander to which sheets they’d lain between, the last time he heard that voice so soft. “He’s my family, and the only one I have left.”

And Tony could—even wants to, a little; he could twist the knife in both of them and say, well, ain’t that fuckin’ well. At least you have some left; he could do that.

But his head hurts. His chest hurts. His lungs burn.

He can’t.

“But say what you want to, Tony,” Rogers presses on, and all Tony wants it quiet, is still. He wants this to be done.

“I won’t pretend what we were was less than it was. You were, you,” Steve’s voice breaks—goddamnit, yes, Steve’s voice breaks when he finally says it, the fucking bastard:

“You are my heart,” Steve murmurs, low and full of that honesty that drives Tony insane even as it’s the only thing Tony’s ever learned to trust, and then to hate, and then to miss.

“And I am asking you not to make me choose between my blood, and the thing that beats it.”

And Tony, fuck: Tony can’t take this. Not now. Maybe not ever.

All he knows that, if he’s ever gonna be ready? He is not ready now.

“Think I’ve paid sufficient respects,” Tony sets his own bouquet next to the glass ones: takes a single blossom among tens, maybe a hundred between his fingers and lets the crack of it draw blood as it echoes.

He stands, and leaves the rest.

“See you around, Cap.”