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Wasted on the Young

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Even though Tony was a novice to the use of Captain America’s actual shield, the vibranium sang in his hands and, to some extent, nearly seemed to do the work for him as he swung out and connected with sphere after sphere in the training simulation. Tony’s reflexes were still finely tuned after years of being Iron Man, and having Captain America on the sidelines of the training room cheering him on certainly didn’t hurt matters. Steve not only had encouragement down pat, but Tony was equally motivated by the desire to not make a fool of himself in front of Cap, even after all this time.

“Looking good, Tony!” Steve called. “Keep your forearm braced, not too much tension in the elbow.”

“Got it,” Tony grunted, metal clanging as a target glanced off the star at the center of the shield.

“Only two left,” Steve said.

Tony rotated his body and brought his arm around to block one of the targeting spheres cleanly; it collided with the shield and dropped harmlessly to the ground. That was the great thing about vibranium: no ricochet, at least not of the things that impacted it . The last remaining sphere zipped around the perimeter of its boundaries, then shot forward with a sudden burst of speed; Tony ducked down low, pushing up with the shield to pummel the sphere mid-flight, and came to land on his knees as the sphere spiraled up and crashed into the ceiling in a small plume of smoke.

The program shut down, the lights of the training room coming back up to normal, and Steve stepped away from the wall, toward the center of the mat to give Tony a hand up. “Good work, soldier.”

Tony laughed, accepting the help as he lurched back up to stand. “Why, thanks, Cap,” he said. He patted the edge of the shield that was still strapped on his right arm. “You know, I almost don’t want to give this back. I’m thinking about adding a shield onto the armor, what do you say?”

Steve offered a look that somehow managed to be at once withering and concerned.

“I get it, the shield’s your gig,” Tony said. He slid his arm out of the straps and offered it back to Steve. “Stars and stripes aren’t my color, anyway.”

Steve placed the shield in its usual holding place on his back and shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. You really pulled off that Halloween costume when you were eight.”

Tony laughed, slinging his arm around Steve’s shoulders as they headed for the door. “Maybe I’ll make a reprisal this year.”

“I could be Iron Man,” Steve said.

Tony grinned. “We’ll make it a couple’s costume, then.”

“On the condition that they’re actually Halloween costumes,” Steve said. They stepped from the training room and headed down the hallway to the lift, and he pressed the button for the penthouse. “Not that I don’t trust you, but when Hawkeye wore my uniform, it took me hours to get the coffee stains out of my pants.”

Aww, coffee ,” Tony said in his best Clint-like voice. “Are you going to make the Iron Man armor out of cardboard?”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Please. I’ve seen what the cosplayers do; I’ll get it 3-D printed.”

Tony laughed, loud and surprised. “You know, Steve, you never cease to amaze me.”

“The feeling’s mutual.” Steve led the way from the elevator when it slid to a halt, and down the hall toward their rooms.

Tony’s door was first, and it was open, so he steered them inside, only to cringe when he found the mess lurking behind from earlier. “I guess I should clean this up.”

“Hmm.” Steve took off his shield and set it against the wall, then knelt down beside the bed and carefully picked up the scattered papers, gently shuffling them into a neater stack. “Childhood mementos?”

“Just some scribbles,” Tony said, trying for a dismissive attitude he really didn’t feel. He sat down on the edge of the bed, resisting the urge to reach down and snatch the papers from Steve’s hand. “Stuff I’ve held onto way too long. I should just throw it out.”

Steve glanced up as he got to his feet, thumbing through the papers as he went. “Come on, Tony, these show some real talent.”

“Well, I am a genius,” Tony said, going for levity, but Steve clearly wasn’t buying it. When Steve sat down on the edge of the bed next to him, Tony sighed.

“You want to talk about it?” Steve asked. He offered the stack of papers over.

Tony took the bundle, and frowned as he flipped through them. “I don’t know,” he said, as he produced the birthday card where his father crossed out Howard to write Dad . The sad photo was still inside, of young Tony with a robot looking on as he blew out the candles on his cake.

“What even is this?” Tony wondered bitterly. “It’s like someone compiled documentation of Tony Stark’s crappy childhood and left it in a shoebox in my closet.”

Steve gently plucked the card from Tony’s hands and looked at it; he took out the photo and looked at that, too, and whatever he was looking for in it, it made him smile. Then his gloved index finger ran down over the spot where Tony’s dad signed, and he exhaled a sigh, reaching up to push back his cowl.

“I had a lot of respect and admiration for your father, Tony,” he said after a moment. “Howard Stark was a brilliant man. I owe a lot to him, from the creation of my shield, to being the only pilot crazy enough to take me behind enemy lines to rescue my best friend.”

Tony nodded along for a moment - then paused. “Wait, what?”

Steve smiled. “You remember when I broke out the 107th from that Hydra prison?”

“Everyone knows that story, Steve,” Tony said.

“Well,” Steve said, “I only made it that far because Peggy Carter enlisted your father to fly us into enemy territory so I could make the drop. It looked like a suicide mission at the time, but Howard never flinched.”

“Huh.” Tony frowned. “I never knew that. Dad didn’t really talk about the war.”

“A lot of people don’t,” Steve said. “It had to be harder on your father than it was on the rest of the Howling Commandos, since he was a civilian.”

“I don’t think he ever got over not being able to find you,” Tony admitted.

“Yeah,” Steve said softly. “I don’t know what to say to that, Tony. As much as it means to me that Howard cared that much, I don’t like the idea that he never moved on from my disappearance, either.”

Tony sighed, flopping back on the bed, his eyes turning to the ceiling. He recalled earlier, being reverted back to an eight-year-old, with all the emotions dwelling close to the surface thanks to youth, but his mind loaded with all the clarity of his years of experience since actually being eight, and ... it was a lot. “I’m sorry about what I said earlier,” he said. “About my dad wanting me to be like you. I, uh ... it was weird, you know? Adult brain, childish feelings.”

Steve set aside the card, peeled off his gloves, and stretched out next to Tony. “I know, Tony. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry you felt that pressure. You’re your own hero.”

“Nah.” Tony laughed quietly. “Captain America really is my hero.”

Steve leaned over and kissed Tony softly on the corner of the mouth. “Makes it a little less embarrassing that Iron Man is mine, I suppose.”

Tony grinned, seizing the opportunity to lighten the mood. He knew that there was more he and Steve should discuss, that Tony had a lot more feelings to unpack from the day’s experiences, but ... well, he was also pretty sure Steve would understand if it needed to wait for another time. “You’re embarrassed that Iron Man is your hero?” he asked, a teasing demand.

“I couldn’t ever be embarrassed by my love of Iron Man,” Steve said. Somehow he managed to keep his expression solemn, despite the twinkle in his eyes. “In fact, you could say that I’m his number one fan.”

Tony laughed again, his chest loosening as the tight knot of tension inside him began to unfurl. He turned toward Steve and hooked a finger in the front of his uniform, dragging him down for another kiss, more meaningful this time. “So ... did I mention that Cap being my hero included a healthy dose of, ahh, adolescent admiration?”

Steve opened his mouth to respond, but paused after the significant look Tony leveled at him. “Is that so?”

“Mmhm,” Tony said, his hand trailing down, fingertips tracing over the star at the center of Steve’s chest. “And, of course, a natural progression from there into ... teenage fantasy.”

Steve didn’t say anything for a moment, and Tony looked up to see a blush spreading across Steve’s cheekbones.

Tony paused. “Too weird?”

Steve looked down, the blush deepening as he rubbed at the back of his neck. “You were just eight years old a few hours ago,” he pointed out.

Tony groaned, but it turned into a laugh as he fell back against the bed again. “Point taken.”

“I’m sorry, Tony,” Steve said.

“It’s okay,” Tony said honestly, reaching out to pat Steve’s arm. “Little hard to go from babysitting your boyfriend to, uh ... yeah.”

Steve leaned over to kiss Tony, soft and reassuring, before he sat up. “I’m going to go get out of this uniform --”

“Not helping with the teenage fantasies, Cap,” Tony couldn’t help but heckle.

Steve rolled his eyes. “-- and then Steve is going to come back with a pint of mint chocolate chip ...”

“Ice cream in bed?” Tony asked. He sat up, ruffling a hand through his hair.

“... and discuss some very adult fantasies with his boyfriend, Tony,” Steve concluded, raising his eyebrows meaningfully.

“I suppose there are some perks to being a grownup.” Tony laughed, eagerly propping pillows at the head of the bed.

“Those and many others.”

“Don’t keep me waiting, Steven.”

“I won’t,” Steve promised as he turned to leave.

“I’m not getting any younger!” Tony couldn’t help calling after Steve’s retreating back.

Steve paused in the doorway, grinning back at Tony. “And thank God for that.”