Steve had been given dossiers on the Avengers Initiative, with a metaphorical wink and the statement, "It's an old, defunct project. But you might find it of interest."
He had. There were four files, then -- Clint and Thor would come later. As it stood, there was a giant green ogre like something out of a fairy tale, a Russian woman trained as a spy, himself, and Anthony Stark.
Anthony was eighteen years old, a fighter of some renown in this new world. When he was sixteen, already an orphan, he'd been abducted and held for ransom by a gang of would-be terrorists while on a trip with his father's business partner, Obadiah Stane. Stark promised to make the rebels weapons and instead had built a sort of walking tank, immensely powerful, and escaped. He'd returned to America a more-or-less hero, and announced that when he inherited the company at twenty-one he would shut down weapons manufacturing. Obadiah Stane -- still his legal guardian, then -- had died in a second attempt to kill him.
A woman named Virginia Potts had seized control of his company and guardianship of Stark, but SHIELD said Stark directed the company's progress through her. Potts had already discontinued their defense contracts and steered the company towards technology. Others had died since, trying to kill Stark (and Potts) or steal what was his.
Anthony was a child with blood on his hands. Steve understood the feeling. And yet -- the Iron Man armor had been withheld from the military for as long as it could be, and Stark didn't fight on any particular side. He fought for himself, defended only himself.
He was also Howard's son, fathered in the twilight of Howard's life with a very young, a scandalously young wife. He'd been raised mostly by tutors and household staff, but Howard had clearly had some influence before he died. Even in the flat, static photographs, Steve could see Howard's defiant, clever spark in his son's eyes, the father's closed-off self-interest in the boy's expression. Anthony was so thoroughly modern, a part of this self-obsessed era of America, and his antics in the press were outrageous if even half of them were true.
The first time they met, Anthony was loud rock music and strange nicknames, eyerolls and sarcasm and pointed remarks (perhaps Steve took them rather more pointedly than intended) about his age. Then, between his own angry confusion about the twenty-first century and Loki's staff prodding them all into antagonism, he perhaps hadn't shown Anthony as much compassion as he could have. Of course the boy fought for himself; he had to defend what was his, and nobody else would do it while men thirty years older than him were trying to kill him because of corporate politics.
Anthony's voice had been so young when he'd taken control of the bomb, that day they fought the Chitauri.
"You know that's a one-way trip," Steve had said.
Anthony hadn't answered. And Steve had given him at least this much respect: he hadn't told him he was too young for that sacrifice. After all, he'd seen younger men die in war.
The day they sent Loki and Thor home, Anthony had come up to him, all gangling limbs and high cheekbones and messy hair, and stuck out his hand and said, "Pleasure working with you, Captain."
"You too," Steve had replied, shaking the offered hand. Dr. Banner and a tall, pretty redheaded woman were waiting nearby.
"I guess I gotta go," Anthony said.
"That your girl?" Steve asked, tipping his head slightly at the woman.
"Hah! I wish. She runs Stark Industries, that's Pepper."
"Are all of you kids?" Steve asked, and had then instantly regretted it.
Anthony just grinned. "She's twenty-nine, she'll be flattered. Made her first millions writing code for social media when she was fifteen, but she likes business better. Got her MBA at twenty. I don't call us kids; I call us prodigies. She's setting Dr. Banner up on the payroll, I'm giving him a lab."
"Generous of you."
"It's Dr. Banner," Anthony said, a note of awe in his voice. "I've been studying his work since I was twelve. Hey, is that your ride?" he added excitedly, peering past Steve at his motorcycle.
"Yeah, I was thinking of doing some traveling," Steve said.
"What've you got, eighty horsepower?"
"Hundred and twenty."
"Is it street legal?"
"I won't tell if you won't," Steve said, and then on impulse, "Want a ride? I can leave you at the Tower."
"PEP!" Anthony yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth. "I'm riding with Cap! See you back at the Tower!"
Ms. Potts made an annoyed face and began shepherding Dr. Banner towards a waiting car. Steve, pleased that at least something impressed the kid, tossed Anthony his helmet and straddled the bike.
"At your service, Stark," he said, and the young man hurried onto the bike behind him, wrapping an arm around his waist, helmet knocking gently against Steve's shoulder. "Or do you prefer Anthony?"
"Tony's fine," he said, flipping the visor down. It didn't in the least muffle his whoop of enthusiasm as Steve started the bike and pulled onto the street.
He'd taken off after leaving Anthony -- Tony -- at the Tower, and for three weeks didn't really have much contact with people. He saw a little of the country, got a little more comfortable with what it was and what it meant, and returned to New York feeling...not happy, but happier than he had since waking up.
Ten minutes after he got back to his musty-smelling apartment, Tony called.
"I hear you're back in town," he said.
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
"Little bird told me."
"Fury?" Steve guessed.
"Nah, I put a tracker on your bike."
"You did what?"
"Remember when you gave me a lift home?"
Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. "How long have you been following me?"
"That would be creepy, Cap. I just checked up occasionally, made sure you were moving around, not dead in a desert somewhere. Did you a favor, really."
"Tony, I told you. Want to come see the Tower? I have something for you."
"If I do, will you take the tracker off my bike?"
"Well, if you don't, I definitely won't, so it's in your best interest to try," Tony said.
"All right. Let me wash off the road dust and I'll be there in an hour or so."
"Fair enough," Steve said, and rang off. He tapped the phone thoughtfully against his lips.
Across the city, in the heart of Manhattan, Pepper walked into the living room of the penthouse and found Tony soaking in his own triumph. She'd learned to recognize the signs. He was also slightly damp.
"You bathed," she said. "What's the occasion?"
"I bathe every day," Tony replied. She kept ominously quiet. "Nearly every day. No occasion."
"Then what are you celebrating?"
"I can't be happy I am rich, alive, young, beautiful, and a superhero?"
"Your are all of those things all of the time," she said. "Do you have time to go over some of the paperwork for the acquisition you've pestered me to make for the last two months?"
"Yeah, but only like ten minutes."
"Why, what's in ten minutes?"
"Cap's coming over, I said I'd have a look at his bike." Tony made the face -- she hadn't yet trained him out of it -- that said he was only telling a little lie.
"Cap, huh?" she asked, crossing her arms.
"Yeah! He's back in town."
"Captain hunk of beefy muscle and old-fashioned manners?"
"I didn't call him that," Tony said, blushing a little.
"Everyone thinks it, though." She grinned. "Aw, you got all prettied up for Captain Rogers."
"I did not."
"You totally did."
"I did not! Maybe a little. Have to keep up the rep in front of American Bandstand," Tony admitted.
"You have a crush," Pepper teased.
"I don't get crushes."
"You do! You adorable little ball of barely-subsided hormones, you have a crush." She patted his head. "Oh my God, is that styling wax? Did you do your hair?"
"Pepper! Firing you!"
"Stark Industries would fall apart in a week," she said, shaking her head. "Don't worry about it, we can go over the paperwork tomorrow."
"You know that if you ever decided to be evil and take over my company I would be left penniless and alone," Tony said. "Please don't do that."
"You'd get a job as a mechanic and be blissfully happy," she replied. "It'd be good for you. I should do it for your personal growth. Have fun with tall, blond, and ninety," she called over her shoulder as she left.
Steve hadn't really thought about where he should go once he reached Stark Tower. He had no idea what floor Tony was on, let alone what he should do with his bike. Fortunately, about two blocks away from the Tower, while he was stopped at a red light, his phone buzzed in his pocket.
He pulled off to the side, checked the caller name, and answered. "Tony?"
"My apologies, Captain," said a deep voice in an English accent. "My name is JARVIS. I'm Mr. Stark's AI."
"Is that like a PA?" Steve asked.
"Slightly more pleasant," JARVIS replied. "If you would please pull your vehicle around to the loading dock of Stark Tower, a cargo elevator is waiting to take you to Mr. Stark's garage."
"Uh, okay," Steve said. "Nice to meet you, JARVIS."
"The pleasure is mine, Captain. Please proceed to the loading dock."
Steve pulled the bike around the building, looking for a convenient alley, and eventually managed to find the dock -- a lot cleaner and better-smelling than any loading dock he remembered. Then again, New York was sort of...that way now. Not clean, exactly, just cleaner. He shut the bike off and walked it up the ramp, and the security guard grinned at him.
"You must be the guest Mr. Stark's expecting," he said. "Over there," he added, pointing to a wide platform surrounded by rails. Steve obediently got onto the platform, hauling the bike up after him, and it immediately began to sink into the ground.
"Well, this is all very...foreboding," he said, when it ground to a stop in a dark, cavelike room. There was a clank, and the lights came up. The room appeared to be a strange mixture of garage and workshop; a row of cars lined one wall, a row of Iron Man armor another. In the middle were tables littered with tools, bits of armor, and what looked like the guts of robots. Tony was standing in front of one, hands in his pockets, looking about as awkward and nervous as Steve felt.
"I do love a little drama," Tony said, grinning but not moving.
"And cars," Steve observed.
"Cars, robots, motorcycles, suits of high-tech armor, anything with moving parts, to be honest," Tony replied. "Leave the bike, I've got food."
Steve threw the kickstand on the bike and crossed the floor to the table, where a box of pizza and a couple of bottles of beer were laid out.
"Less classy than you were expecting?" Tony asked.
"No. This looks great," Steve said, seating himself. "Aren't you a little young, these days, for...?" he asked, waggling one of the bottles of beer at Tony.
"When did you have your first beer?" Tony asked.
"Fifteen," Steve said with a grin. Tony spread his hands. "Well, fair enough. Hey, you said you had something to show me?"
"Food first," Tony said. "I skipped breakfast."
"Why not? I was busy."
"Because it's bad for you."
"Everything's bad for me," Tony said with a roll of his eyes. "I got thrown off the top floor of the building once, and you're worried about breakfast?"
"Free fall is involuntary. You control your breakfast," Steve said, but he grinned. "You're a growing boy, Anthony, you need proper childhood nutrition."
"Yeah yeah, walking billboard for better living through chemicals," Tony grumbled. "I'm eighteen, you know. Sadly, I have probably grown all I'm going to."
"Good thing you can fly."
"Hey!" Tony threw a crust of pizza at him, and Steve ducked. It bounced off a robot behind him, which squealed in outrage.
"You do that again, son, and we're going to have words," Steve said, and they both cracked up laughing.
Tony didn't bring up whatever he had to show Steve again, so after lunch Steve followed his lead and they spent most of the afternoon working on the bike. It was fun; Tony never stopped chattering as he went over every inch of the bike with loving care, so Steve didn't feel his occasional lapses into awkward, uncertain silence were even noticed. As promised, Tony took the tracer off his bike, a little slip of metal that Steve held up to the light and studied.
"You could put it back on," he said, when Tony had finished his examination.
"What?" Tony asked.
"Well, it might be smart to know where I am, you know, in case..." Steve spread his hands.
"Oh. You don't mind?" Tony asked, peering at him curiously.
"Not now that I know it's there," Steve replied. "Plus, then if it gets stolen I can go knock some heads in."
"Your logic is flawless," Tony said, and took the tracer from him, hooking it back under the seat of the bike. "And if you go to a strip club, I will know, and blackmail you into taking me along."
"Not really my thing," Steve said, as Tony stood up, wiping his hands on a rag. He caught the rag when Tony tossed it to him, cleaning the oil off his fingers as best he could.
"Ready for your surprise?" Tony asked. "Have I kept you in suspense long enough?"
"I wasn't going to ask," Steve said, with dignity.
"I know you weren't. Come on," Tony said, and grabbed his wrist like a child, dragging him up and towards the elevators in the far corner.
"What is it, anyhow?" Steve asked, as the doors opened silently and Tony pulled him inside.
"You'll see. Hey, close your eyes."
"Tony, come on," Steve said.
"Do it!" Tony insisted.
"Brat," Steve answered, but he closed his eyes.
"Trust me, old man," Tony said. The elevator slid smoothly upwards, stopping long after Steve's ears had popped.
"Is this the penthouse?" he asked.
"Keep your eyes shut!" Tony insisted, as he led Steve through the elevator doors. He maneuvered him carefully, one hand on his wrist and the other on the small of his back, until they reached wherever they were going and Tony tapped him lightly on the chest to stop him.
"Open," he said. Steve obediently opened his eyes.
They were standing in what had to be an apartment somewhere in the upper floors of Stark Tower. In front of him there was a comfortable-looking sofa, sitting on a rag rug in the middle of a hardwood floor. Beyond that was a wall of glass that looked out over Manhattan, a truly spectacular view.
"Wow," Steve said, circling the couch to stare out at the city. "This is amazing. Is this your place?" he asked, turning back to Tony briefly. "You can see half the island from here."
"No, it's...uh, it's yours," Tony said. It took Steve a moment to comprehend this, stunned as he was by the view, and then he turned sharply.
"Mine?" he asked.
"Sure. I had...some empty space, this is actually a suite off the main penthouse, I made them for all the Avengers," Tony said, looking downright nervous now. "I've seen your crappy apartment SHIELD got you," he blurted. "Not the inside, I mean, but I went past it on, uh, on my way to somewhere else, and it looks tiny, so I thought..."
"Tony, that's really...really keen of you," Steve said.
"Keen," Tony mumbled.
"But I can't accept this. I could never pay you back for it."
"It's a gift," Tony said. "I don't expect you to. We should be together as a team, right?"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean you have to -- "
"But I want to," Tony said. There was an edge of desperation to his voice that Steve didn't understand. He cocked his head, silent while he puzzled it out.
Tony was young, so young, and Steve knew what it was like to lose your parents early. The boy'd had to defend himself since he was sixteen. And Steve remembered, too, how proud and nervous he'd been, hoping Bucky's soldier friends would accept him, how desperately happy he was when they did. He'd almost forgotten how it felt to be on the outside looking in, at least in that fashion.
"You're staring at me," Tony pointed out.
"I'm figurin' you out," Steve replied.
"Hah, good luck. Many have tried."
"I'll bet they have," Steve said, but he turned back to the window. "It sure is some view."
Tony was silent behind him, but he could see him twiddling his hands together in the reflection of the glass.
"It would be good for the team to spend time together," he said. "And I s'pose if the floor was going to be empty anyway, we might as well make use of it."
"It's a tax write-off too," Tony said eagerly.
"And you could use some supervision."
"Bullshit," Tony said cheerfully.
"This is very generous of you. Thank you," Steve said.
Tony lifted his nose so high in the air Steve almost laughed. "Well, yes, it is. You're welcome."
"So do I get the nickel tour, or what?"
"Nickel tour," Tony repeated, rolling his eyes. "Come on, I'll show you around."
Tony explained as they walked, an unceasing and soothing stream of noise. He, Steve, and Bruce were on this floor, three suites encircling a central area used for a lab. Below them was a kitchen and common room for the team, and below that was the same configuration for Natasha, Clint, and Thor, if Thor ever came back, with a gym instead of a lab in the middle. Steve got the idea Tony had enjoyed arranging everything more than he'd let on.
When he got home that afternoon, with the keycard to Stark Tower in his pocket and a couple of boxes he'd scrounged on the drive back, he looked around the apartment SHIELD had found for him.
It seemed really quiet, and really empty.
Moving in didn't take long. He didn't have much. Nor, apparently, did anyone else -- Clint showed up with two apple crates of belongings aside from his bows and guns, and Bruce had already moved in.
Natasha was the only one who brought more than a few boxes. As she explained to Steve while he helped her haul them to her room, most of what was in them was for undercover work. Steve looked askance at an entire box labeled Shoes (Heels [5"+]) but figured it wasn't his place to judge.
It took some adjustment, living with these people in particular, but in general Steve enjoyed the close quarters. He'd never lived alone in his adult life -- first rooming with Bucky, then Basic, then the Army, where even if you could escape the rest of the platoon you couldn't escape their smell. Even in the Star Spangled Road Show, he'd shared a hotel room with Bobby, his unfortunate stage Hitler. ("Well, it'll be somethin' to tell the kids about, that I used to play Hitler in a revue," Bobby had said to him once.)
He sought out the common areas, the kitchen and sometimes the lab or Tony's workshop. Tony was sociable and so was Natasha, at least when she wanted to be. Clint was awkward and stiff, the first few weeks, but once it became clear that he wasn't going to be held responsible for Loki's actions, he relaxed a little. Bruce still seemed shy, but Steve left Tony to lure him out, since Tony seemed to be good at that. The kid had a knack for leaping into adventures and dragging the reluctant along behind him. He sometimes reminded Steve so much of Bucky that it was almost painful, but he was certainly his own person. The week Tony dyed his hair bright blue confirmed that.
Steve did his part for the team by insisting they drill together at least twice a week and eat together whenever they could, dragging Tony and Bruce in from the lab and Clint from the firing range next to Tony's garage, making sure Natasha knew to tell them when she'd be gone (even if she couldn't say where, or why).
"You know, you should really be the den father," Tony said to Bruce one time, as Steve was shooing them towards the elevator down to the kitchen. "You're the oldest."
"I'm ninety," Steve said firmly. He somewhat relished his status as leader, and Bruce wouldn't enjoy it at all. "As you continually remind me, Tony."
"I'm just saying -- hey, how old is Natasha? Are she and Clint older than you?" Tony asked. "Are you second-youngest?"
"Still eight years older than you," Steve replied. "Don't get ideas, upstart," he added, putting Tony in a gentle headlock. Tony flailed and squawked, but didn't struggle very hard. Steve let him go before the doors opened; Tony stood on a lot of dignity for a teenager, at least in front of Clint and Natasha. Bruce gave Steve a tolerant grin as he followed Tony out of the elevator.
"It's fine," he said. "I'm not that good at giving orders."
"I know," Steve said, and Bruce laughed.
That had been one of the good days, of which there were many. On those days, Steve enjoyed joking with Tony, eating with everyone, and even the jokes at his expense. Most of the days were good days, at least now. He was adjusting, more than mere survival now.
Sometimes there were...not so good days, true, but he generally soldiered through them. On the not-so-good days, he'd still eat with the team and get out of his suite at least long enough to drill, but he spent most of his time in his bedroom instead of the gym or the common areas. He drew, once in a while, but often he just sat, staring blindly past a television show he'd put on for the noise or looking out at the city.
On the really-actually-bad days, he half-wondered if the Serum would allow him to survive a drop from the top of Stark Tower. He'd never have done it; there were people who needed him, and he wouldn't do that to Tony. He'd make it seem like an accident, if he did, so nobody would blame themselves.
He really didn't like the actually-bad days.
Most of the time, even then, he made it to meals all right, and managed to act normal enough that nobody worried. After all, it never lasted long. And he figured he was allowed a few bad days, given everything he'd lost.
He was having a fiercely not-so-good day, missing home and his Commandos, but he'd have been okay if he just hadn't missed dinner. Sometimes he set a timer to remind himself, but this time he forgot both the timer and the time. So when someone knocked on his door he looked up from his sketchbook, saw the clock, and flinched.
"Yeah!" he called, pushing himself to his feet and tossing his sketchbook on the bed.
"It's Tony," Tony's voice came through the door. "You missed dinner so I thought -- " he paused briefly as Steve opened it, then smiled up at him, a tray in his hands. "I brought you some leftovers."
"You should have come get me," Steve said, frowning. "I mean -- thank you. You didn't have to do that."
"Clint figured you were probably busy. Not like you to miss a meal, after all," Tony said, brushing past him and heading for the drafting table in the corner, one of the few really permanent pieces of furniture Steve had bought since waking up. With a practiced air, Tony kicked the tension gear loose and lowered the tilt of the table until it was flat, sliding the tray onto it.
"Natasha made chicken. It's in a sauce. I don't know what the sauce is, but it's pretty good," Tony continued, whipping the cover off the tray with a flourish.
"Thanks," Steve said. "I'll eat it in a bit."
"So whatcha up to?" Tony asked, settling on the edge of Steve's bed like he owned it. Technically, Steve supposed he did. "Don't tell me SHIELD's got you doing homework."
"No. Just...working on stuff," Steve said, shoving his hands in his pockets. "You don't have to stay."
"I don't mind," Tony said, flopping back on the bed, arms over his head. "My neck is cricked from working on the whiteboard all day. Bruce writes his math up high on purpose, I swear. Why is everyone taller than me?"
It drew a smile from Steve, and he was opening his mouth to reply, but Tony turned his head to the side and spotted the sketchbook.
"Hey, were you drawing?" he asked, pushing himself up on an elbow and leaning over the open book. "This is pretty good."
"It's nothing," Steve said, reaching for the book, but Tony had it in both hands now.
"He's cute," he said. "He looks a little bit like that guy who pulls coffee at the place down the street. Is that who it is?"
"No," Steve said, snatching it out of his hands and closing it. Tony looked up at him, startled.
"It was open," he said defensively.
"Yeah. Sorry," Steve replied. He cast about for an excuse or a reason Tony ought to leave, but Tony was looking up at him with narrowed eyes.
"You missed dinner doing drawing?" he asked.
"I wasn't hungry," Steve said, turning away to set the book on a shelf. "Thanks for the food though. I'm sure I will be. Later."
"Hey, Cap, are you okay?" Tony asked.
"I'm fine, Tony. Promise I won't miss breakfast tomorrow," Steve said, with a try at a smile.
"Who was that in the book?" Tony pressed.
"Nobody. I'm just tired. You should go."
"Nuh uh. Something's twisty with you, Cap. Come on, you can tell me. I tell you everything. Well, nearly everything. Everything you'd find interesting. Not the point," Tony added. "Oh my God, do you have a crush?"
"No!" Steve said, turning around. "Just leave it, okay?"
"Because you know that's cool and all now, right?"
"Tony -- "
"I mean, if it is the coffee guy -- "
"It's not the coffee guy!" Steve said sharply. "It's just an old friend. From..." he choked a little, but got himself under control. "From back before."
Tony's eyes widened. "Ohh."
"Please go," Steve said, because he could feel tears pricking behind his eyes. He didn't want to cry at all, soldiers weren't supposed to, but he desperately didn't want to do it in front of Tony.
"Steve," Tony said, with what was either pity or sorrow in his voice.
"You remind me of him, you know," Steve said, heaving in a deep breath, the words pouring out now. "Bucky. He was a wiseass. And pretty good with machines. Nothing on your dad, but -- "
He tried to breathe again and his chest hitched. His jaw ached from clenching.
"Aw, Steve, no," Tony said, throwing himself off the bed and into a hug Steve didn't want. He felt like he was cracking up inside, and he tried to shove Tony off, but he was like a limpet.
"Sorry, I'm sorry," Tony added, and Steve knew he must just be talking about looking at his drawing but it felt like more, and he pitched forward into the embrace with a sob.
"I miss them," he heard himself mumbling into Tony's hair. "I miss everything. I don't belong here, there's so much to know, everything's so complicated. I don't understand half of what people say and sometimes it just hits me and I never had many friends but everyone I did have is dead now -- "
"Shh, yeah, that sucks," Tony said, and Steve's next sob was half a laugh because it was so ridiculously modern. He let Tony walk him to the sofa near the window and push him onto it; Tony climbed up next to him and pulled Steve's head down to his shoulder. It was humiliating, and the humiliation made it worse, and he couldn't stop crying. He was setting a bad example, he was letting the side down, but he couldn't help it. He buried his face in Tony's slightly bony shoulder so at least he wouldn't see it.
Tony had a hand in his hair and was making soft soothing noises, but Steve could feel his awkward tension as well.
"JARVIS, call Bruce," he heard Tony say softly.
"Tony?" Bruce's voice rang over the speakers. Steve cringed further into Tony's shoulder.
"Bruce, I'm having a need-someone-older-than-me moment," Tony said. "Can you come to Steve's?"
"Sure," Bruce said, sounding puzzled. "Be there soon."
Steve tried to catch his breath, but his nose was all congested and he was shaking. He was still working on pulling himself together when his door opened and he heard Bruce inhale.
"Help," Tony called. "I broke him."
Steve laughed a little hysterically into his shoulder, which didn't help with the hitching sobs. Tony untangled his arm and pushed him back gently. Steve slumped over, elbows on his knees, head bowed. He could see Bruce's shoes, and the stretch of his trousers over his knees as he crouched in front of him.
"Steve?" Bruce asked gently. "Are you okay?"
Steve nodded. Then, readjusting, shook his head.
"Are you in pain? Are you hurt?"
"No," Steve managed. "Just..." he covered his face. "Just having a really bad day."
"Yeah, I know how those go," Bruce said. "What brought this on?"
"The bad day?" Steve asked. "Well, missing seventy years will do that to a fella."
"Yes, I agree," Bruce said carefully. "But this in particular."
"I was a brat," Tony offered.
"He wasn't. I'd just like to be left alone," Steve said. Neither of them moved to go.
"Tony, would you go get a glass of water from the kitchen?" Bruce asked.
"Are you -- "
"Now, please, Tony," Bruce said, a little more steel in his voice. Tony huffed, but he got up from the couch. Steve missed him almost as soon as he was gone, which made no sense.
"I'm sorry, I know I'm not supposed to," Steve said. "Bad day," he repeated.
"We all have them," Bruce said.
"That's why I can't. I'm supposed to be the leader -- " Steve broke off, wiping his cheeks.
"Well, let's take a minute out from what you're supposed to do," Bruce said.
"I have a handkerchief in the dresser," Steve said. Bruce squeezed his knee and stood up, going to the dresser. "Top drawer."
Bruce nodded and returned with the handkerchief, offering it to Steve, who wiped off his face and turned away to blow his nose. "Sorry."
"It's fine," Bruce said, waving it aside. "You don't know embarrassment until you wake up naked in a pile of rubble that used to be a nice apartment building in the suburbs."
Steve gave him a damp smile.
"Officers shouldn't show this kind of thing," he said, shoving the handkerchief into his pocket.
"Well, rank notwithstanding, you're not really in the Army anymore. And definitely not in the forties anymore," Bruce said. "Nobody's going to hold it against you."
"I scared Tony."
"Trust me, he's seen worse," Tony said, returning with a glass of water. "You just aren't as intimidating as a nuclear bomb, Steve."
Steve took the glass of water, sipping from it. "Thank you."
"Any time. If you want water carried during a crisis, I'm clearly your man," Tony replied. "I accept tips."
"You can't have scared him that badly," Bruce added, amused. Tony flopped down next to Steve again. Bruce gave him a scrutinizing look. "Can I ask you some questions, Steve?"
"Are you going to be honest?" Tony asked, turning to face him, crossing his legs on the couch cushion.
"Tony," Bruce said warningly. Tony held up his hands, innocent, and Bruce turned back to Steve.
"Do you have bad days often?" he asked.
"Not often," Steve said. "Sometimes."
"Does anything bring it on?"
"Just memories," Steve murmured.
"Do you ever think about harming yourself?"
Steve chewed his lip. Bruce reached up and brushed a hand over Steve's cheek, nodding.
"Are you now?"
"No," Steve said. "It's not -- it's really nothing, it's not that often. I wouldn't. I have a job to do here."
"And you haven't told anyone because -- "
"Soldiers don't cry. You just put your head down and keep going," Steve said. Tony made a soft, distressed noise. Steve glanced at him.
"Something my dad used to say," Tony said.
"It's the way we are," Steve said, trying to explain. "Were," he corrected quietly.
"Well, modernize," Tony said. Bruce shot him a sharp look. "No, I mean it. We don't think that way anymore and we may all be messed up but at least we don't have to like, pretend we're okay anymore, we can be messed up. That's half the reason we do this, right? Because we're profoundly not okay."
Steve frowned at him. "But someone has to keep it together."
"I thought that was the point of a team. I don't even like teams but look, here I am, because when one of us doesn't keep it together the rest of us can, I don't know, whatever. What do we do for you anyhow?" Tony asked Steve.
"Tony!" Bruce said sharply.
"Well, I don't know, that's why I called you but you're not making it any better," Tony replied.
"I'm not a psychologist," Bruce said. "I'm doing my best."
Steve looked at them, bickering, Bruce equal parts frustrated and perplexed by Tony like always, Tony being sensible and a little careless with the feelings of others. And he just burst out laughing.
"Great, now we broke him in the other direction," Tony said. Steve fought down another snort of laughter.
"Just, the two of you," he said, feeling a warm surge of fondness for them. "You're ludicrous, you know that, right?"
Tony looked offended. Bruce just smiled and pushed his glasses up his nose.
"I'm fine, I'm really okay," Steve said. "Just...don't tell Clint and Natasha, okay?"
"They wouldn't think less of you," Bruce said.
"Your call," Bruce replied with a shrug. "You look like you could use some rest."
"I have sedatives, if you want some," Tony said. Both of them looked at him. "What? A doctor prescribed them. I had nuke nightmares."
"You did?" Steve asked.
"Sure. Bruce gets nerves too," Tony added.
"Thank you, Tony," Bruce sighed. Steve turned to him. "I told you we all have bad days."
"Oh," Steve said. His voice sounded small, even to him.
"So," Tony said, bringing his hands together and rubbing them. "Evening in. You're stuck with me at least and probably Bruce until your life stops sucking."
"I'm okay," Steve protested.
"Then you won't mind hanging out. You do it all the time anyway," Tony said. "Video games? No, too much brainpower required," he said, before Steve could say anything. "Movies, eh, I can take or leave movies..."
"I wouldn't mind a game," Steve said. "Not a video game, though. Maybe...cards? A board game?" he ventured.
"Are board games still a thing?" Tony asked Bruce. "Do people do them?"
"Yes, I'm fairly sure board games still exist," Bruce said.
"Well, I don't think I own any."
"I can only imagine how you'd do at Monopoly," Bruce said drily.
"JARVIS, find me a board game," Tony said. "Wait, no. Fire up the fabrication units and make me one."
"Did you have a preference for type?" JARVIS asked.
"Surprise me," Tony said. "Let's get snacks while JARVIS prints."
"But you -- " Steve said, gesturing at the now somewhat cold chicken on his drafting table.
"Snacks," Tony insisted. Steve let himself be tugged off the couch, though he did stop and check his reflection before he allowed Tony to drag him downstairs to the kitchen. The Serum was good for a lot, including healing up red-rimmed eyes and congested noses.
They raided the kitchen, including several hiding spots where food had been stashed without Steve knowing it. He suspected some was Clint's, but some stashes appeared to have been designed specifically for Tony to squirrel food away in. Steve glanced at Bruce, arms full of snack foods, eyebrows raised.
"Tony likes options," Bruce said with a shrug.
"I like hiding things too," Tony called, head-and-shoulders inside the pantry, rummaging for something. A bag of rice cakes flew over the door of the pantry, and Steve grabbed it before it could smack Bruce in the chest. "It makes eating like a treasure hunt."
Steve tucked the rice cakes under one arm and followed Tony into the common room, mostly just going where he was told. Tony settled them in plush chairs around a card table and then took off running for his workshop.
What he returned with was certainly, per request, a surprise.
"Monopolife," Bruce read aloud from the box lid. "An exciting new fusion of two time-honored classics."
"Look!" Tony said, flinging the lid aside and shaking out the contents. "Little figurines and cards and things. This looks complicated."
"You built a suit of armor that flies," Bruce said.
"Yeah, and you'll notice that unlike this game, in that, nothing was left to chance," Tony said, but he did start setting up the board and placing piles of cards on the appropriate spots. Steve picked up one of the player pieces that tumbled out of the box and studied it.
"Very funny, JARVIS," Bruce said, holding up one of the other figures.
"I do my best," JARVIS answered.
"They're us," Steve said in surprise, offering the Iron Man helmet figurine to Tony. He picked up another one, a bow and arrow on a little stand, and set it aside along with a hammer and a spider. Bruce was holding a tiny pair of glasses, which left Steve's shield, standing upright on a wide base.
It turned out that Bruce wasn't wrong about Tony's skill at Monopoly, even this strange hybrid version. He'd played Monopoly back in the thirties, at least; the orphanage had a Monopoly set donated by some thoughtful society matron, carefully preserved and only given out to especially well-behaved children who wouldn't lose the pieces. He knew how long it could take to play the game to a standstill, but after about an hour and a half he and Bruce were both out of money and facing defeat at the hands Tony, who had chosen to become a supervillain.
"That's what you get for being honest and brave and stuff," Tony said, tossing his gigantic stack of money on the board. "Well, this was wholesome."
"I enjoyed it," Steve said quietly. Tony glanced at him and grinned.
"Good. Okay, I'm rethinking my stance on movies," he said. "I want popcorn and violence."
"That seems to be this century's motto," Steve said, cleaning up the game as Tony went to the kitchen. Bruce took the money and began sorting it neatly while Steve packed away the cards and game pieces.
"Sex, too," Bruce offered. Steve gave him an eyebrow. "Popcorn, violence, and sex. I can see why it would be hard to adjust."
"Aw, just leave it," Steve mumbled. Bruce clapped him on the shoulder.
"You look a little less freaked out."
"I wasn't...that," Steve said. "I just..."
"I know. A bad day. Feeling better now?"
"A bit, yeah," Steve said, putting the lid on the box. "Thank you."
"Sometime soon we're going to have a longer talk about this," Bruce said. "Not today."
Steve didn't know how to reply to that, so he didn't; he drifted over to the couch and said, "JARVIS, movie directory please."
A directory appeared on the television screen, and Steve wasn't sure he'd ever get used to that; books that weren't books, movie theaters in peoples' homes, and any film from the history of cinema available to him at any time.
"JARVIS, find something Steve can handle that won't bore me to tears," Tony yelled.
Steve and Bruce exchanged a look.