Tony is ten when The Accident happens. Capital letters are important here: there were many accidents in Tony’s life, but only one of them is special. Isn’t even a big thing, it is simple and happens like this: Tony doesn’t’ have many friends in Philips Academy because he is too smart for his own good and doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut. He has some colleagues, right, but there are a few times more people he would call, very seriously, his enemies.
Howard says that it’s good, because that’s how things go in real life: friends are scarce and useless, but enemies are everywhere and you need to learn to live with that.
Tony is managing just fine, right until one time there is a fight and one of the boys pushes him, Tony trips over something and falls down the stairs; he knows that it isn’t the boy’s intention because that would be too harsh: they are gentlemen and they have rules they really stick to.
Tony lands in hospital for two months with a broken leg and a head wound with a nasty concussion.
The time away from school is not much fun because Tony is sleepy from the drugs he’s getting and very, very bored. The doctors decide to be very careful though because head injuries can be quite unpredictable.
It takes them a full week to understand that something is wrong, mostly because Tony spends a great part of said week actually sleeping. When he starts feeling a bit better he asks his mother for his physics book to keep him occupied.
Maria doesn’t come by the next day but Jarvis does, bringing a bag full of university textbooks and two of Tony’s favorite novels. Encouraged by the man, Tony takes one of those instead of a technical tome – and then he realizes that he can recognize what it is only because of the illustration on the cover, he isn’t able to read the title.
Just like that – he can see the letters, the shapes that he knows are letters, but he can’t recognize them at all.
He panics completely and before Jarvis manages to make him explain what is happening, Tony already has about a dozen scenarios of what will happened when Howard learns about this and it makes him feel even worse.
Maria and Howard are away from the city so Jarvis stays with Tony all day and all night, calming him down and assisting him every moment when various doctors are going there and back, asking Tony questions and doing tests, leaving him distressed enough to throw up a few times simply because he’s so nervous.
It takes the doctors seven weeks – that’s why Tony has to stay in the hospital for so long – to figure what has happened: the fall resulted in an injury to a part of Tony’s splenium and he developed pure alexia, a condition that means loss of the ability to read while an individual can still write and speak just fine.
Tony’s parents for once seem concerned, even if it is more about his education than Tony himself.
The boy who pushed him is expelled from the school and Tony continues his education in Phillips Academy taking individual lessons; it is an agreement between Howard, who doesn’t want the world to know what has become of his son, and the Academy that doesn’t want the world to know what happened within its famous walls.
Tony has an assistant, a bland middle-aged man who seems completely impervious to everything in the world, including Tony’s endless comments. The man reads everything to him and with his exceptional memory Tony can memorize most of the information he needs, so studying isn’t as much of a disaster as everyone expects it to be.
Tony gets admitted to MIT and Howard is able to pull some strings and make sure no one will know about Tony’s condition; he still has an assistant, too, who copies notes from blackboards for him and reads to him endlessly. The whole Institute decides that the man is some kind of a modern slave who does all the tough job for Tony, leaving him to party and be a genius sometimes.
Tony builds Dummy and a few other robots that are more of machines than A.I.s so he doesn’t care to keep them. He can still figure out drawings just fine, as long as there is no information in the form of numbers or letters.
Sometime during Tony’s second year at MIT he befriends Rhodey – years later he still isn’t sure how that happened, because there are complete opposites in about ninety five percent of aspects – and he becomes the first stranger to learn about Tony’s condition. To say that Rhodey is surprised isn’t enough, but he learns to understand and adapt and Tony learns that he is not half of a man only because he has this problem.
He graduates summa cum laude and then disappears from the world, starting real work for Stark International and at the same time working on his baby project – with Rhodey’s extensive help – that will enable him to be relatively independent.
JARVIS is ready within a few months, it would have been a much shorter time if Tony himself could go over the code that he wrote without asking Rhodey for help, but it doesn’t matter when the A.I. says its first words.
If it weren’t for JARVIS, Tony is not sure if he would have made it.
When his parents die, Tony Stark takes the reign of Stark International and steals attention of the whole world from everyone and everything else. He is loud, self-confident, smart-mouthed, incredibly handsome, and he doesn’t let anyone interrupt the show to see whatever might be behind – more, he makes sure the world never suspects there is something other than a genius mind behind.
Obie knows and that’s one of the big reasons why Tony doesn’t want to antagonize the man: he could probably force Tony to stop being CEO if he was unruly, simple because it’s easy to prove that he is not really fit to fulfill his duties. Imagine: a CEO who can’t read. Laughable.
Tony goes on, forgetting about his problem as often as possible and taking all the best life has to offer.
In the meantime he goes through dozens of assistants a year because he is just too annoying for them; it’s all on purpose, though. If he is enough of a jerk about everything, asking repeatedly what the documents he is supposed to sign are about is a normal thing. JARVIS helps, but he can’t be everywhere and all the time with Tony.
Then he meets Pepper and she becomes the second person from the outside to know, mostly because she proves to be more stubborn than him and instead of getting mad at Tony for acting like Tony, she starts to mock and tease him and he loves it.
When he tells her the story, she listens intently, asks about million questions, and in the end hugs him the way someone would hug a younger sibling. Tony knows he can never let her go.
Years go by, everything goes according to an established routine, until Afghanistan happens.
Yinsen is the third person who knows because he has to – Tony’s blueprints need to look legitimate to the bad guys, including words that Tony doesn’t normally do much – and besides that, Tony figures that they will both die, so what the hell. In the end Yinsen dies and Tony lives, and when he comes back he stops the weapons manufacturing, but everyone else is still the same. Tony is… comfortable enough.
Then all of sudden Agent brings him a computer full of information – that JARVIS processes for Tony when the man is gone – and surprise, he is part of a world-saving committee.
On the Helicarrier, Tony is stressed the hell out, especially when he gets to work in one room with Banner, the man is a fucking genius and Tony wouldn’t know him to know. Fortunately, the computers are running most numbers by themselves, based on Banner’s algorithm, and JARVIS does a great job assisting Tony invisibly as always, almost reading his mind.
Fighting is, in a way, easier than the few hours they spend in the lab room. It’s something Tony knows how to do and there’s no one to control him, no one to see what’s going on inside Iron Man’s suit. No one will know that all the information on the HUD display is carefully chosen set of symbols and signs that Tony and JARVIS have tested endlessly to make sure Tony would be okay with them.
The fight, they win, Tony almost dies. Just another Monday.
Then Fury says he wants them all to stay together and play a team. At first they’re against that, but it only takes a few weeks of S.H.I.E.L.D. pressuring them all before Tony gives in and says he’ll let them all live in his tower. It seems like a great idea at that time, there are enough floors for everyone.
Tony doesn’t realize that they will end up getting closer and closer until they are almost friends, and he doesn’t realized that it means they will be around him helluva lot.
So during the next few weeks the team is around a lot. Tony has never lived with more than one person at time, save few miserable years at Phillips Academy, so he definitely is not used to meeting someone in the kitchen when he stumbles there, sleepily rubbing his eyes at 3 a.m. He’s definitely not used to people claiming his sofas in the afternoons and watching movies either. Not that he minds so much, he spends most of his time in the workshop anyway, but he keeps being surprised by their presence.
And, he realizes all of sudden, it means he has to tell them or control himself all the time because there is a lot of many things that he does almost instinctively now that could give him away, mostly asking Pepper or JARVIS aloud about some piece of information he needs but can’t – access.
‘You should tell them,’ Pepper decides when they are eating dinner out on the terrace one evening. ‘I mean, you do know that it’s not going to make them think less of you –’
‘God, I hate that expression,’ Tony sighs, pouring her some wine.
‘I know, but it’s true,’ Pepper continues. ‘And if they think it’s a problem they are utter jerks and I’m not letting them stay here. Tony, I know you’re insecure about –’
‘I am not insecure,’ Tony cuts in sharply, ‘I just don’t want to talk about it.’
‘You are perfect the way you are,’ Pepper offers and gives him a kiss on the cheek, leaning over the small table and almost getting her blouse all dirty with pasta sauce. ‘Okay? You’ve done more than most people despite all difficulties you encountered. Got it?’
‘Sure, sure, got it,’ Tony agrees half-heartedly.
He knows it’s not his fault, he knows it was just an accident, he knows he has adapted, but it doesn’t change the fact that he still feels completely embarrassed about his inability to read. Preschoolers can read. About 99,5% people in the USA can read.
Howard’s words keep echoing in his head, something the man told him when Tony was being released from the hospital: I don’t care what the doctors day, that it’s an extremely rare medical case. That’s only an excuse. You better live up to Stark name.
That is a lot to live up to so there’s no place for mistakes.
In the end Tony decides to tell the team, but he just can’t make himself. He has no fucking idea how to do that:
Hey guys, you know, I am Tony Stark and I can’t read, that’s like and AA meeting.
I’ve got a funky splenium of the corpus callosum and therefore the information exchange between by brain spheres is incomplete, it wouldn’t mean anything to them.
So, sorry to interrupt team dinner, but I’ve got something to announce, no, just no.
There is no good way to do that so Tony, every time the team comes together, keeps thinking entirely too much of something he won’t do anyway and it only makes him more self-conscious about his disability. He hates that word, it makes him pathetic and pitiable, but that’s exactly what it is: a disability.
But it can’t go on forever, something is bound to happen, and it does: the team finally witnesses something being wrong on a bright perfect morning, when Tony is hoping to have a great day. It’s about three months after everyone moved in.
It’s the most basic mistake, a pointless situation easy to avoid what makes Tony even more angry afterwards: there are two different cartons of milk that strangely look all the same – no difference in color or some sign that would be obvious to Tony – and he knows one of them is full-fat and the other is skim.
‘Which is skim?’ he just asks casually after giving the cartons a few long look and not being able to find his answer.
‘You’ve just been starting at the label, go figure,’ Clint replies instantly around a spoonful of lucky charms.
Tony has expected Pepper to answer, so he starts to stretch his arm waiting for an indication – right or left – but then he freezes, not getting the information he needed, and feels panic raising rapidly in his gut, making him feel slightly sick; his eyes are locked on the lines of symbols that he doesn’t comprehend, and then he quickly pulls back his arm.
It’s only a second in real time, but it feels like ages.
‘The one on your right,’ Pepper says and it’s just a beat after Clint, but Tony’s hands are in his lap already.
Tony tries to figure out a joke to say and laugh it off, but there is a knot in his chest and his saliva feels thick and bitter all of sudden; he knows the information is printed in big letters on the containers, so he can’t explain it with saying he can’t see the words or anything, and he can’t just stay there and act as if nothing has happened – hell, he should be able to but he’s too fucking nervous, that’s what happens when something goes wrong. He knows he was staring at the containers for a few moments too long, long enough to make the others notice, and even if he is exaggerating –
He should know better than to even care about the kind of milk, it’s not like that information is even important.
Now everyone is looking at him strangely or unsurely, so Tony gives in and does one thing he knows how to do best: he gets up and walks out of the room without looking back, making his steps deliberately slow – he knows he would run if he didn’t control himself.
And he is perfectly aware that such an exodus is the worst way to handle this situation.
‘Well,’ he tells himself when he is in the safety of his workshop. It really was the worst possible way to tell them. Trust Tony to fuck everything up in the least complicated moment. ‘Full lockdown. Only Pepper can come in. Gimmie my tunes, okay?’
‘Sir, you should not worry about –’
‘J, not now, sweetheart, just please shut up or I’ll make you, ok?’
‘… of course, Sir,’ the A.I. replies. ‘I assume you’ll work on the cars since I won’t give you any input over the music?’
‘You got me,’ Tony agrees and takes off the nice shirt, staying in the undershirt only, and crawls underneath one of his babies.
Tony emerges out of the workshop three days later, glad that he is wise enough to have everything a human might need to live down there.
It’s five a.m. and everyone is asleep, according to JARVIS, so it’s pretty safe to be out. Tony heads towards the kitchen to get himself some fresh fruit to eat – he only has apples down in his kingdom, and he is sick of them at the moment – and something to drink.
As he looks into the fridge to check if there is any cocoa water, he notices that there are two milk containers in the fridge now, too, but the caps have different colors, and it makes his cheeks hot with embarrassment.
‘You’re being ridiculous,’ he murmurs to himself, taking a bottle out of the fridge, grabbing a peach and walking out onto the terrace.
New York looks pretty picturesque at dawn but Tony can’t bring himself to really enjoy the sight.
He doesn’t know how to play this situation. Of course the easiest way would be just to tell them. To verbalize an explanation. But Tony doesn’t feel ready, however lame that sounds. He could move to Malibu for some time, but hey, that’s a bit too extreme even for him. He could pretend that nothing has happened, but he knows that he would have trouble looking them in the eye without feeling like a terrible liar and an awful person in general.
Or he could flaunt the disability at them, making it flashy and obtrusive and making a point of explaining how he’s become a great Tony Stark despite this, but – he doesn’t want them to think he’s more of a jerk than they already thing he is; he knows he couldn’t pull it off.
In the end, after he’s gone through all possibilities, including jumping off the tower – no worries, just a joke – he decides that no, he is not going to be a coward he’s been his whole life and he is going to do another classis Stark act: throw a riddle at them and play a game of letting them figure it out while he disappears.
When the Avengers come into the kitchen for breakfast, Tony is just finishing his coffee.
‘In case you were wondering,’ he says with a wry smile, ‘I’ve got a girl that I’ve been down there in the workshop, and well, most of my life.’
All the eyes turn on Pepper who frowns and stares at him without blinking for a long moment of the dramatic pause, before she starts smiling slightly, almost invisibly. ‘Her name is Alexia,’ Tony adds, chuckles darkly and leaves the room, all the heads turning as he walks past them.
Pepper comes down half an hour later.
‘You know that they kept giving me these strange looks saying I thought you were his girlfriend,’ Pepper sighs as she enters the workshop, not even bothering to look around and find out where Tony is hiding now. ‘That was a bit idiotic, you know, but so damn brave. And so you,’ she adds, spotting them between You and Dummy, rummaging through one of the drawers; he is sure the part he needs it there, but his useless babies couldn’t find it.
‘Mhm,’ he murmurs, going through the contents methodically. Maybe he needs to organize his things a little better.
‘You know they will figure out what you meant soon, because it was pretty obvious that you don’t actually have that girl.’
‘I know,’ he mumbles, and then – ‘A-ha!’ he cries triumphantly, taking out the small piece from underneath a paper box. ‘I told you it was there,’ he scolds the bots who, admittedly, look a bit apologetic. ‘Now, clean this up, chop-chop – did you tell them we’re not actually together?’
‘I hinted that several times since they moved in,’ Pepper laughs. ‘I like you much more as a friend.’
‘Same here,’ Tony says, moving towards the piece of armor he’s working on.
‘Tony,’ Pepper says his name softly, still standing in the same spot; Tony hasn’t hear her heel clicking.
‘You know I’m not going to let you hide in here for a week.’
‘And why not? I could actually stay here for –’
‘A year or something, given the in case of an apocalypse supplies in the basement, but you know what I mean. Just talk with them. They love you enough already. It's impossible not to adore you, you cute puppy, even if you are a complete ass sometimes.’
‘Bad words,’ Tony laughs a little nervously. ‘Mean girl,’ he adds and kisses her on the forehead quickly.
‘I’m dragging you up for dinner,’ Pepper states.
‘You’re a devil,’ he states, shaking his head with resignation.
In the end Pepper doesn’t have to drag Tony up for dinner because there’s an avenging emergency and another freak attack and when the first fight is over, so she has to fly over to California to placate some of the Board members who are publicly saying Tony should not be involved with Stark Industries if he is only going to be responsible for that much damage. Not like it’s Tony's fault that he’s repeatedly forced to blow things up – after making sure civilians won’t be killed or injured, of course – to stop one madman or another. Those morons don’t seem to get it, though.
When the team is back in the Tower, Tony tries to run away and hide in his workshop, but Steve stops him as soon as he’s out of the armor and heading towards the elevator.
‘Tony,’ he says in this voice that makes you melt inside a little. ‘Why would you give us this – clue – and then disappear as if you didn’t want to see us?’
‘Well, maybe because I don’t?’ Tony asks back, crossing his arms. The rest of the team is still around, scattered in various places, and Tony knows they are listening closely.
‘It wasn’t actually difficult to find out what you meant,’ Steve states, giving Tony an expectant look. Tony feels a slight blush creep up his neck because seriously, when you are confronted with a perfect human, you are suddenly aware of every single of your imperfections, and Tony knows he’s got a few.
‘So?’ Tony asks impatiently and only a bit defensively.
‘Don’t you have questions or something?’ Tony asks in the same tone, eying Clint who is sprawled on the nearby sofa, still in his gear, with a bottle of apple soda in hand.
‘I guess… I guess I just wanted to know, if you don’t mind,’ Steve adds, the perfect well-mannered gentleman he is, ‘how long have you…’
‘Since I was ten,’ Tony replies easily. He could do that all day.
‘Since when the fuck?’ Clint asks, sitting up abruptly. ‘You mean –’
‘Tony,’ Bruce cuts in, adjusting the belt of his normal pants he’s just put on, preferring them over the post-Hulk ones. ‘MIT?’
Tony laughs, making them all stare in surprise, only Natasha’s face is slightly more composed, but it always is.
‘If you’re gonna be all wow now, spare me this shit,’ Tony states, talking a step to walk past Steve. ‘It’s bullshit,’ he adds easily.
‘Who knows?’ Natasha asks instead of responding to Tony’s angry spat. Well-played.
‘From the living? A couple of doctors, Pepper, Rhodey, and now you. And maybe some people back in MIT know something, but they didn’t ask a lot when Howard threw all the money to get me special treatment.’
‘Tony, I can’t believe this,’ Bruce says softly, making this funny face he does when he is confused. ‘You actually –’
‘Probably yes and can you please stop doing this? This – dumbstruck thing. I hate it. This, the thing I have, this doesn’t mean I deserve some kind of a special prize. It only means I adapted because I had no fucking option. End of the story. My only actual accomplishment is not letting everyone know,’ Tony finishes and strides out of the room without looking back.
Their fascination is probably ever worse than if they simply said you are a freak, because that’s something Tony is used to.
He goes to the workshop and locks it down before anyone can try to enter and drinks himself into a very pleasant state of being very smashed, when he can pretend that he doesn’t recognize his own name written on a piece of paper because of the alcohol and not a set of circumstances that come down to it was your fault, admit it that a certain someone drilled into his mind.
When he goes out, two days later, he finds Steve sitting on the stairs outside the workshop and drawing something in his sketchbook that he closes immediately when Tony steps through the door.
‘What the actual fuck,’ Tony states drily, taking in Steve’s body sprawled on the steps as they were a comfortable water bed.
‘I was hoping we could talk?’ Steve half-says, half-asks somehow reluctantly, composing himself and standing up, all his things shoved into a tote bag he slings over his shoulder.
‘I was hoping we could not talk ever again,’ Tony responds mockingly and ignores the pang of guilt in his gut.
‘I was hoping –’
‘I was hoping you’d drop the matter,’ Tony cuts in, walking past Steve and up the stairs. Steve of course follows.
‘I wanted to tell you that you’ve been an incredibly brave person all these years,’ Steve states before Tony can stop him. Tony just laughs humorlessly. He probably is still a bit too drunk to deal with this rationally.
‘You know what, Capsicle?’ he asks, stopping abruptly and turning around; he is a step higher than Steve so he can look him straight in the eye. ‘Sometimes I envy normal people so much that I hate them to the point of feeling sick,’ he spits and watches Steve’s eyes widen and then a frown forming on his forehead. ‘You know, there’s my name on the tower, and I look at it when I fly and I know that it spells my name, but I. Can’t. See. It. And sometimes I can’t buy myself a fucking candy bar ‘cause I’m allergic to almonds and they’re in lots of things and I can’t read the label. Or I can’t pick up a greeting card because I don’t know what it says. I can’t watch a foreign movie with subtitles or anything like that. People can’t text me unless I’ve got JARVIS in my ear reading things for me, but it hurts if I have the device in all the time. And that’s without mentioning my real work, when I have to ask my bots to handle me the right screws because sometimes I can’t tell if the length is right and I can’t measure them with a measuring tape,’ Tony stops to take a breath and tries not to panic again because fuck, he’s just said all the fucking things he was never going to share. He should have never left the ‘shop. ‘I know there are endless people who have it worse, but – they are somewhere. And I am here. So, you know, I hate people who do things just like that, effortlessly, and don’t give a fuck about what others have to deal with – yeah. That.’
‘It was just easier,’ Tony interrupts Steve again, because whatever Cap wants to say will hurt, ’when you all weren’t here. Y’know. No one to compare myself to,’ he finishes, turns around and basically runs to his bedroom. He was going to grab something to eat on his way, but it’s not that important, he’s not starving yet.
When Tony steps out of the bedroom the next morning – Pepper is in Asia, so there’s no one with access codes to his room to mother-hen him – Tony finds Steve slumped against the wall, snoring slightly, but as soon as Tony takes a step, the soldier’s instincts kick in and Steve is wide awake within a fraction of a second.
Tony stares. It was easier to handle without a hangover.
‘You know, Tony, I haven’t always been like this, the body…’ Steve says looking up and taking in Tony’s cleaned-up persona; he made an effort to look perfect since he’s got a few meeting to attend. ‘You’ve read my file, you know how I was before the serum. I – I did my fair share of resentment and anger.’
‘I haven’t always been him. Before, I was just a smartass from Brooklyn.’
‘Sweet story,’ Tony scoffs and leaves without saying anything more.
He spends the next two weeks in Europe in business meetings and ruling the fucking continent. And at the same time, he absolutely hates how the whole situation seems like rubbing salt into the old wounds – and he can’t stop wondering about Steve.
But Steve is the perfect human being, whatever he might say, and Tony is far, far, far from that.
Also, he’s been totally overreacting about the whole situation and he is aware. It’s just that he knows – he can see how they look at him. He doesn’t want that kind of attention. Or he doesn’t want something else, but he is not sure what, something they have in their eyes. Things feel confusing as hell.
‘To your left, Sir,’ JARVIS tells him over the comm when Tony wants to use the toilet and someone clever decided that writing men and women was a better idea than putting up symbols, like the rest of the world does; they are possible to figure out.
Tony feels like breaking down and crying in the middle of the corridor because he knows that if he didn’t have J in his ear and hacking security cameras, he would just have to stand there like an idiot, waiting for someone to enter or leave one of the rooms to know where to go. Sometimes even knowing that he made JARVIS himself and he fixed his problems himself is not enough.
Tony is drunk when he enters the tower, having spent the whole long flight drinking bourbon slowly and getting smashed in a perfectly controlled and mellow way.
So, if this is going to be the day of honesty, then be it, he decides.
‘I am sorry for being an ass,’ he tells Steve who is reading a book in the otherwise empty living room. It’s Tuesday morning so all people with actual jobs are out somewhere. Tony and Steve are special cases.
‘You are drunk,’ Steve states the obvious, putting a bookmark between pages and closing the thick volume soundlessly.
‘A very astute observation, Captain.’
‘Not drunk enough to need me to carry you to bed?’
‘Definitely far from that amazing state,’ Tony concedes and takes off his tie with one smooth movement and throws it on the floor, wondering for a moment why didn’t he do that earlier.
‘I could carry you up there anyway –’
‘What, you’re gay for me now, Captain-oh-Cap?’ Tony asks and giggles, walking through the room perfectly, his steps straight, years of practice, and heading for the bar.
‘Tony, please don’t drink anymore,’ Steve says, standing up and following him. ‘I imagine this must be difficult for you, but you need to pull yourself together –’
‘I was doing fine before you came here,’ Tony offers easily, pouring himself a shot of tequila.
‘Then why do you let us stay, if it bothers you?’
‘Because I like you,’ Tony says and then drowns the glass. Damn him and his vow to say the truth. He should just ignore himself. ‘Also, the problem is not you. The problem is me.’
‘You are wrong,’ Steve declares, narrowing his eyes angrily. Tony laughs at his face.
‘I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and when someone got bored and decided to knock the sass out of me, this happened,’ Tony waves at his head randomly.
‘You were ten –’
‘Old enough to expect consequences of my actions,’ Tony notes, pouring himself another shot and drowning it quickly.
‘Yeah? Consequences? This?’ Steve asks and boy, he is seriously angry right now. ‘Something that left you struggling with endless things every single day? Something that left you disabled,’ Steve stresses the word the way Tony can physically hear it, ‘in a way that is not visible but is very difficult to live with, especially for a smart person like you are, for decades? You didn’t do anything to deserve this!’
‘I was born,’ Tony points out and lifts the bottle, but Steve takes it out of his hand.
‘Enough of this,’ he states firmly, placing the bottle out of Tony’s reach with a thud.
‘This is my house, Cap –’
‘And mine too, since you’ve just told me you’re not going to kick me out. So deal with it – you know what is most frustrating?’
‘Huh?’ Tony makes a face, focusing his eyes on Steve’s face. There is the concerned gleam in his eyes.
‘That there is no way I can help you, or anyone – I asked Bruce. He told me there is no way to fix that connection in your brain. There is no serum to take care of this like it took care of me. No miracles. And it’s painful to see you hurting –’
‘I am not hurting,’ Tony protests quite seriously. This is pretty close to an sober-up words and to some dangerous matters Tony would rather ignore.
‘It seems to me that you are,’ Steve counters.
‘Well, you’re wrong,’ Tony politely explains, resting his hands on the pleasantly cold marble countertop. ‘I’m doing fine, fine with Pepper – being friends, if you didn’t get that – and with Stark Industries, hey, I’m doing more than fine with Iron Man, so I’m peachy –’
‘There is no fixing you,’ Steve says and while it might sound a bit harsh, Tony is thankful for the honesty.
‘There really fucking isn’t,’ he chuckles, trying not to feel anything more than dry amusement. ‘So you should better –’
‘So I could settle for the un-fixable you.’
‘– give up – wait, what?’ Tony pauses, shaking his head, and wondering if this might be a new instant sober-up sentence. ‘What did you just say?’
‘So I could settle for the un-fixable you,’ Steve repeats, blushing a tiny bit, but his voice is very steady and sure. Huh.
‘I don’t think I get –’
‘I’m trying to tell you I like you the way you are, you moron,’ Steve says and hell, he is actually smiling, with this cutest little smirk in the corner of his mouth.
‘Like you, Tony.’
‘… so you actually are gay for me? How twenty-first century of you,’ Tony breathes because seriously, he doesn’t know what he is supposed to say, maybe he’s just still a bit too drunk for this, right?
‘I’m just saying, I used to be an unfixable guy, so I guess I might do pretty good at dealing with one. You know. From personal experience.’
‘So, I’m like a charity case –’
‘You are like an I like you case,’ Steve cuts in and leans over the counter. ‘I know we don’t really know each other well enough, but you’re an amazing person to be around, Tony. Even if you won’t believe in what I’m trying to tell you.’
‘… you sat by the door waiting for me?’ Tony asks weakly. And it’s not even noon.
‘We were all concerned,’ Steve replies, his voice warm.
‘I don’t want to talk with them about anything. Not now. Not… not anytime soon.’
‘It’s okay, no one is telling you to, just – make sure they know you’re okay, all right?’ Tony nods in agreement. He can do that. ‘You do this a lot, don’t you? Lash out, attack, overwhelm the others, and then takes a few steps back and retreat and hide.’
Tony doesn’t reply because now he is really trying to figure if he is dreaming or not. Such things don’t happen to people in real life – especially not to him. And Tony Stark doesn’t get surprised, he’s always the one in control, that’s what he needs to feel safe.
But then, this is Captain America.
‘Tony? Can we just – give it a try? Being friends? Being – being something more, maybe?’
Tony wonders. He’s had only three friends in his life, two of them still around; the third was the original Jarvis. JARVIS is not a friend – JARVIS is Tony’s life. And Tony’s had endless lovers, but none of those would qualify for something more.
‘I have no idea how to do this,’ Tony hears himself saying and silently swears he’s going to sew his mouth shut at some point of his brain decides to keep acting like a separate being with a free will.
‘Well, neither do I, at least not entirely and not in this century,’ Steve admits and his shy smile makes Tony think about dinner dates, bunches of red roses and being back home before midnight. Maybe it’s the alcohol, but hey, that doesn’t sound too bad. ‘Are we going to try? You know, I’ve got some… issues to work out on my own, so we’d make quite a pair…’
‘It’s not easy to get used to how I operate,’ Tony warns Steve, just in case. God, Pepper is the first to admit that Tony is such a mess sometimes, especially when he gets frustrated, and despite him living with alexia for thirty years, there are always some new challenges to figure out.
‘I don’t really have a job to keep me occupied, so I think I will find some time to work on you. With you,’ Steve declares and his enthusiasm is so genuine that Tony can’t help but grin a little, his eyes probably shining.
‘O-kay then,’ Tony agrees finally and yes, it’s probably the tequila because he is known for making bad like choices, but not of this kind. ‘Just don’t feel obliged to stay if you decide you can’t stand me at some point –’
‘Stop that already,’ Steve orders firmly and walks around the bar to get closer to Tony. ‘I think I have an idea that might help you. It works for me, and I used to do something similar – before. You know. When I was the tiny frustrated guy.’
‘I’m going to help you with starting a drawn diary. Bruce explained the condition doesn’t affect anything but actual perception of writing, so you could do and then understand drawing all right, I assumed. And I’ve seen some of your specs, you’ve got a great eye for details –’
‘I don’t need a diary,’ Tony protests even though he’s just agreed to Cap’s crazy packet of ideas under the popular name of relationship. He thinks.
‘– when you are not drunk,’ Steve finishes. ‘And yes, you do and I know you’ll like it: you can whine and rant all you want on endless pages. That’s what I do mostly,’ Steve adds, wrinkling his nose slightly and taking Tony’s hand. ‘Come to your room. See, no carrying, but you need a shower and some sleep.’
‘Ugh,’ Tony comments eloquently, but it sums up his thoughts perfectly. He was planning to go down after he’s had a bite and work for a few hours. Or a few days.
‘Natasha gave me this book to read,’ Steve says, ignoring Tony’s grumble and leading him by his hand to the staircase going up to Tony’s bedroom, ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. She said it’d be educational for me. I thought – no offense, JARVIS, but maybe it would be nice to change the voice for once – I thought I could read you to sleep –’
‘How fucking sweet of you,’ Tony’s mouth says before he can stop himself. Years of perfecting being an asshole are paying off, huh?
‘I’m serious,’ Steve just says, not getting mad at all, and Tony blinks a few times.
‘Yeah, I guess? Why not,’ Tony agrees in the end, taking the steps and trying not to trip. He is pretty sure this is not how he has planned his confession time – it was supposed to make Steve and everyone realize that Tony is not worth their attention and that’s he’d rather they stayed out of his penthouse and that that hey, he can keep going on by himself just like he used to – but this is not a bad alternative.
Nothing is going to change because nothing can change, Tony leaves it will get better to all the gullible idiots out there, but – maybe he’ll learn to enjoy books again.
There is no fixing him, Tony knows, but Steve does have a damn lovely voice.