Despite the opinion of the free press, Tony was terribly sentimental even at the best of times.
And besides, it wasn’t as though Steve’s old Brooklyn apartment had actually cost that much in the scheme of things. Tony arranged to have the damage fixed and the apartment cleaned up, but other than that, everything was left as it was. It was probably the cheapest piece of real estate in Tony’s folio, and some days, when he went there to sit and think, he was fairly sure that it had a rodent problem. But what the hell. Live and let live.
Tony had the fridge left empty, the cabinets cleaned out. There hadn’t been that much in either even at the beginning, only a depressing amount of cornflakes: it seemed that Steve probably ate at the Triskelion’s canteen or at the Avengers base. To be fair, the apartment hadn’t really been lived in once the base had been made liveable. Even before the damage done, Steve had always felt embarrassed about bringing Tony there, as though Tony hadn’t lived in worse, what with college dorms and then that delightful little sojourn in Afghanistan.
Now, the apartment was pretty much just a piece of Steve that Tony could still have. An alcohol-free zone. Somewhere to go off-grid.
He had been taking a nap on the lumpy couch, and was woken up by a scraping sound from the kitchen. Grumbling, Tony rolled over, pulling a pillow over his head, and the sound grew closer. “Seriously?” Tony groused. “There’s a limit to my tolerance, guys. Now shut up or I’m going to build a mousetrap from Steve’s shitty radio.”
Above his head, Steve laughed. “It’s not a shitty radio. It’s an antique.”
Tony sat up so fast that he nearly tipped himself off the couch and onto the dinged up coffee table. Steve grinned at him, arms folded on the back of the couch, a white tee stretched over his shoulders. “Steve?” Tony asked blankly. He prodded Steve in one arm. Solid.
“Heard you bought over the old place.”
“You were only renting it before,” Tony said, instinctively defensive, and rubbed his eyes. “What the hell. What are you doing here?”
“Did you get the phone?”
“Steve, you have to get out of the country.”
“It would’ve come through the post with a letter-”
“All right, this is totally you and not some post-whisky hallucination.” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “We are somehow having a conversation that’s running on completely separate wavelengths. Yet again.”
Steve frowned. “You’ve been drinking again? We’ve been over this. It’s bad for your liver. At your age-”
“Oh my God, are we having an argument about my drinking problem when someone, meaning you, just broke so many international laws that we’re going to need a fucking spreadsheet to keep track of them all-”
“So you do still have a drinking problem!”
“Okay, so my therapist was right. Rampant communication breakdown. Only it escalated into some sort of complete global shitshow, because that’s how my life rolls nowadays-”
“You’re seeing a therapist?”
“I’m a trust fund brat with daddy problems, textbook narcissism and an excessively overdeveloped IQ, of course I’ve been seeing a therapist since I was twelve-”
“You never told me,” Steve looked horrified. “Tony.”
Tony took in a deep breath. Things with Steve Rogers always seemed to escalate wildly out of control. On this point, he could, in some ways, empathise with a certain brainwashed Hydra assassin. “Okay. Okay. Can you sit down? My neck’s getting a bit strained.”
Steve seemed about to say something else, but he swallowed it in a sigh and rounded the couch, sitting down a hand’s breadth away, their knees almost touching. “You really should take better care of yourself.”
“Says the man who nearly gave me a series of heart attacks and cracked three of my ribs.”
Steve flushed darkly, staring down at his hands. “Sorry.”
“Oh, you’re sorry, are you?” Tony grit out.
Tony glared at Steve, who lifted his chin to stare evenly back at him, and after a long moment, it was Tony who looked away, slouching back on the couch, looking up at the ceiling. “I hate this couch.”
“Your apartment has a rat problem.”
“I know that too.” Steve inched closer, tentatively, until their thighs were flush, and he worked an arm gently around Tony’s waist. “God, I’ve missed you.”
Should’ve thought of that before becoming one of the World’s Most Wanted, Tony wanted to say, but he bit the words down, closing his eyes. Lips pressed briefly against his jaw. “I still want to punch you in your perfect face.”
“You tried,” Steve said, wry humour in his voice, and kissed lower, against Tony’s neck. They had never truly fit together, Tony knew that now, with a sense of leaden despair, not even like this, with Steve and his anxious gentleness, Tony and his brittle urgency. It was Time that stood between them, Steve and his ‘30s ways, Tony and the turn of the century. It was Steve and his fucking American way.
“Few years ago if you’d pulled out the reactor like that you would’ve killed me,” Tony said flatly, because even with the suit, he couldn’t hurt Captain America with sticks and stones, not really, but words, now. Words could make Steve take in a strangled breath and shudder.
“I know,” Steve whispered. “You should have called me. When I sent you the phone.”
“You said it was for emergencies only.”
“That’s not what the note said.”
Tony would beg to differ. He’d read and reread the fucking thing, at least once a day. “You were expecting me to call you to bitch you out?”
“I was ready to explain,” Steve admitted quietly. “You still mean a lot to me.”
“Don’t you dare,” Tony growled, incredulous.
“It’s true. I still stand by what I did. But some things,” Steve hesitated. “Some things I would’ve done differently.”
“Like what?” Tony demanded bitterly. “The bit where you decided that the UN didn’t matter? Oh! Or the part where you didn’t even consider, maybe, legal process?”
“I’ve been through wars, Tony-”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
“-and what the World War, Afghanistan, Iraq and SHIELD taught me is that when it comes down to where it counts,” Steve ignored him, “Sometimes you have to do what’s right. Sometimes rules have to be broken.”
“That’s such a depressingly American sentiment that I don’t even know where to start. And I would’ve thought that having seen so much war would’ve given you some kinda perspective. But you know what? I don’t care anymore. I’ve thought back on everything that’s happened. Wondering where I went wrong, where I could’ve done something different. All your lofty fucking ideas, it just boiled down to one thing. You wanted your friend to get off scot-free. And you didn’t care about what or who you burned to get there.”
Steve narrowed his eyes. “Bucky was innocent. He wasn’t himself when he did what he did as the Winter Soldier. I’m sorry, Tony, but that’s the truth. I knew your father too. I’ve met your mother-”
“Going to have to stop you there, or I am going to punch you.”
There was a weight on his shoulder. Steve’s cheek. “Can we just,” Steve began, then he sighed. “I didn’t come here for a fight.”
“I missed you. I wanted to see if you were all right. I heard that you retired. As the Iron Man.”
“Yes, well,” Tony tried to sound icy, but only managed weariness. “The suit’s broken.”
“You can fix anything.”
“Clearly that’s no longer the case.” Tony turned, to brush his mouth against Steve’s hair, all hot water and soap. “Thor came by.”
“I think I managed to lower his already low opinion of ‘midgardians’.”
“He spoke to me.”
“Really? How did he find you guys?” Tony frowned, opening his eyes, and found himself looking right at Steve, both their cheeks now pressed against the couch, nearly nose-to-nose. “He didn’t tell me about it. What did he say?”
“Something about treasuring the fragile things in life. It was surprisingly philosophical.”
“Did he give you the impression that he felt that he was talking to children?”
“The way he started speaking very slowly did, yes.” Steve’s mouth quirked briefly, then flattened out into an uneven line. “I wish that I could love you the way you want me to.”
Something seemed to squeeze tight in Tony’s chest, filtering his next breath out in a tiny wounded gasp. “I’m used to not getting what I want.”
“I do understand why you did what you did.”
“You know what?” Tony curled his lip. “At the end? If your bestie had shown some sort of remorse… some kinda shock, or even, I don’t know, apologised sincerely, I would’ve stood down. Probably would’ve let the two of you walk away, even. I told Sam that I wanted to help. That’s why I followed you to that base. But to watch that video and then look at Bucky and-”
“It wasn’t him. He doesn’t even remember doing it.”
“I don’t know, Steve. If you’d killed two civilians in cold blood and didn’t remember, but you were shown video evidence of it later in front of their son, would you have been like ‘welp, that wasn’t me’?”
“You go on about legal process but you wanted to kill him, Tony, I could see it!”
“And here we go again,” Tony continued, resigned. “I talk, you talk, and neither of us are actually listening to each other. On hindsight, things probably could’ve been worse.”
“I’m getting help for Bucky.” Steve said quietly. “In Wakanda.”
“Good call.” Tony blinked. There wasn’t the least measure of wariness in Steve’s tone. “No wonder you guys dropped off-grid so quickly.”
“T’Challa’s people are studying the mental programming. Maybe they can undo it. Their medical facilities are far more advanced than the rest of the world.”
“Are you about to ask me for a favour? Because Senator Ross isn’t actually in my pocket, even though it’s an election year. I’m backing a few horses. Trying to get some clean energy bills passed.”
“No,” Steve let out a frustrated sigh. “I’m just. I’m just trying to show you. I still trust you. You’re still important to me.”
“In a way it’s ironic,” Tony admitted, after a long pause. “If it hadn’t been you on the other side, I probably wouldn’t have cared so much where the cards fell.”
“I’ve never seen you as an enemy.” Steve kissed Tony’s cheek, then lower, as Tony finally conceded, pressing their mouths together, as tentative as the first time. Maybe they’d taken a step back, mapped their way back to the very beginning. Maybe this wasn’t going to be worth it. But Tony let Steve push him down on the couch, still kissing, and now, as before, they fit imperfectly, and it was all that he wanted.