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Brave new world

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Tony got the call late on a Thursday evening, as he was just getting ready to pack things up and go to bed.

 

It was a number he had saved but never called, and who never called him.  It was a stinging memory, more than anything, and Tony’s sleep-addled mind simply stared at it for a moment as it flashed on his mobile, unsure of what to do. It was hardly going to be a social call, not at this hour- but Tony wasn’t in the mood to be drunkenly informed of a what a disappointment he’d always been, and really, that was the only reason he could think of for having this particular number ringing his phone at such a late hour.

That, or there was something serious going on.

Tony pondered it for another three seconds, before finally sighing and then swiping a thumb over the answer button. If worst came to worst, he could just hang up and go to bed, pretend it never happened. It wasn’t like they talked much anyway, not any more. Only the occasional forced meeting or visit to the mansion, because the press would have a field-day if they ever realized what sort of relationship they had behind the spotlight and Tony really couldn’t be bothered to deal with the fallout of that shit.

He lifted the phone to his ear and took a deep breath. “Howard?”

Down the line, there was static. Heavy breathing. Tony frowned, wondering if his father had accidentally butt-dialed him. But then there was a muttered curse, and the sound of shuffling, like Howard was picking up the phone. “You were wrong,” he gasped, and yeah, okay, he definitely sounded drunk, “you never fucking believed me, all this time, you called me senile and insane and delusional but you were wrong-“

Yeah, okay, so it was gonna be one of those phone calls then. Tony sighed, holding his head up with a hand and then beginning to remove the phone from his ear. “Goodbye, dad-“

“I found him.”

Tony stopped. Took a moment. And then slammed the phone back to his ear, leaping out of his seat. “What did you say?” He asked slowly, his voice barely above a whisper, because fuck, there was only one person that Howard could be talking about in that context, only one man that Howard would ever want to call Tony for, if only to gloat-

 

“I’ve got Captain America. And he’s alive.”

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

Steve woke slowly.

Like coming out of a vivid dream, part of his mind clung to unconsciousness desperately, as if it wanted to return there as soon as possible. But ever since the serum, he’d never been able to sleep for long anyway. Once he woke, he didn’t doze. He was up and ready for action, his body almost vibrating with the stored energy it needed to release.

And right now, his body felt as if it carried more tension than ever before. Like it had been stationary for far, far too long.

He blinked his eyes open, looking at the plain white ceiling directly in front of him. Everything felt sluggish, and something in his brain was on edge. It was a feeling that he couldn’t identify, but it felt a little too much like danger.

What was the last thing he remembered?

The- the plane. Peggy. All those bombs, and they’d had to go somewhere, and Steve… well, he’d been the only one with the power to do that, hadn’t he? So he’d made the sacrifice. He’d spoken with Peggy as he’d taken his last breaths and plunged into the Arctic waters, and then the last thought that had been on his mind was the horrible, all-encompassing cold of the plane before-

Nothingness.

So, he wondered idly, as he blinked a few more times: if the last thing I remember is dying, then how the hell did I end up here?

A second after the thought occurred to him, there was a small cough somewhere to his left. He wasn’t alone, he realized with a jolt, before sitting up violently and turning to face his assailant, fists raised. Everything screamed ‘wrong’ here, and he couldn’t remember a damn thing.

Howard Stark looked back at him, his eyes blown wide, his hands raised with the opposite of Steve’s intent- flat and open, a sign of peace.

He was older. Steve noticed it immediately, along with the seven hundred other bits of sensory information that attacked his overloaded brain. There were new lines on his face, his hair was almost completely grey, and his skin somewhat more sunken, pallid.

But it was him. There was no doubt about that.

“Steve, just take some deep breaths, okay?” Howard asked him, not stepping any closer, just keeping his hands high and non-confrontational. “Just relax. This… this is probably going to be incredibly disorientating for you, but you gotta trust me, alright?”

“Howard,” he spoke, and then frowned when the word came out as nothing more than a croak, like he was sick, or merely hadn’t spoken in a long time. “Howard, what… what the hell?”

Howard smiled; it filled his entire face, and made him look like the man Steve had known. Still the same bright-eyed scientist, underneath it all. “Yeah, we got a lotta catching up to do, buddy. You… what’s the last thing you remember?”

Steve swallowed, looking around the room. It was big, with high-ceilings and expensive looking furniture. Not a hospital. And he couldn’t hear traffic, so he was either on an estate or out of the city. “The ice,” he whispered, “going down into… into the ice. Dying. Where’s Peggy? Did I save everyone? Why are you so old?”

Howard took a deep breath, and then smiled again, like he couldn’t contain it. “You did save everyone. And then I saved you. Steve… you’ve been in a coma under the ice. For a long, long time. Sixty years, to be precise.”

He blinked, and took in the words. That… couldn’t be true. “No I haven’t,” he said. Because that was impossible. He’d… died. He’d felt it. He’d welcomed it, at the time- it’d been a goddamn relief. This didn’t make any sense.

Howard pursed his lips, but then turned to the window. Steve watched him walk, eyes never leaving the man’s body. If this was a trap, he could cross the room in under a second and incapacitate him. If this was just a dream… well, he’d know when he woke up, wouldn’t he?

Howard’s fingers curled around the fabric of the curtains, and with one swift motion, he pulled them apart, and then turned back to Steve. “Come see for yourself,” he said gently, motioning Steve forward.

 

Steve stared at the landscape in front of him for a long time before even moving.

 

He’d thought that they couldn’t possibly be in the city, because he couldn’t hear anything of it. But apparently the walls were just soundproofed well- because he was looking at the Manhattan skyline at about midday, whilst lights glared and sirens flashed and glass buildings towered up in front of him, so different yet so similar to what he remembered.

It looked like an alien version of home. He couldn’t wrap his head around it. There was something hot in the back of his eyes, the sense of overwhelming panic, of loss, of realization:

He was a long, long way from everything he’d used to know.

Someone- Howard, because he was the only other person in the room- clapped him on the shoulder. He was still smiling when Steve turned to look at him.

 “Welcome to the 21st century, Steve Rogers.”

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

Being Iron Man had its ups and downs.

One particularly annoying ‘down’ was his lack of sternum, which made every waking breath a hefty pain that was impossible to get rid of. Oh, and also the metal poisoning that had come with it. That hadn’t been a fun period of his life either. 118 elements in the periodic table, and not one of them to possibly help him. Until, of course, SHIELD had gone and pulled up his dad’s old work and then pushed Howard into his workshop to explain it, handily fixing everything by creating a new element that saved his skin.

Howard hadn’t even asked if he was alright. Just puffed his chest at the fact he was still changing the face of science at his ripe old age of eighty-whateverthefuck. And the fact that it had been him, of all people, responsible for saving Tony’s life…

Yeah. That one had smarted.

He was pretty sure Howard wouldn’t even have fucking bothered if he hadn’t wanted to test out his own theory and see whether or not he was as smart as he thought. Fuck the fact it was Tony who’d ended up doing all the math, all the trial and error, all the experimentation and risk on his own damn body in order to procure it. Howard took the credit anyway. Tony had to wear one of Howard Stark’s ideas just to keep him alive, and that… that fucking sucked.

Although in the grand scheme of things- in comparison to the terrorists and the mass-murderers and the psychopaths that Tony had to deal with as Iron Man on a bi-weekly basis, his little family feud with his old man was hardly the most important downside. Although it sure as hell felt like it, some days. God, as soon as Howard had heard about the Iron Man suit, he’d been trying to get Tony to weaponize and sell the thing. Like that wasn’t the whole fucking antithesis of the suit in the first place.

But anyway. Back to the matter at hand: There were upsides to being Iron Man too.

For instance, he could hack or get into pretty much anything, at nothing much more than the click of a button.

 Like he was about to do right now, actually.

“JARVIS,” Tony clapped his hands and then sat back in his chair, eyes fixed on the monitors in front of him, “feed me the CCTV footage of the apartment that Howard bought a couple days ago, would you? I’ll type the address now.”

“Of course, Sir,” JARVIS responded smoothly, because he was absolutely game for anything that could make Howard Stark’s life even remotely difficult. Tony hadn’t even programmed that; the AI had developed that streak on his own, and God, Tony loved him for it. “May I be so bold as to ask what the reason for this is?”

“Call it reconnaissance,” Tony muttered, fingers firing all over the keyboard as he quickly sidestepped all of Howard’s security protocols, “I need to know whether the shitbag’s messing with me or not. It’s…” it’s too good to be true, it’s impossible, Captain America could not feasibly be alive and well, not after all this time.

Howard had to be lying. He goddamn had to be. He’d not even bothered to explain anything over the phone; just gloated for a minute and then hung up, leaving Tony to stew. And if there was one thing that Tony was never going to do, it was give Howard the satisfaction of appearing even remotely bothered about it, so he’d had to just sit on his ass and think about it rather than get his jacket and race over there to see for himself.

He wasn’t a kid any more. Cap wasn’t his idol, he was just a man, and Tony wasn’t going to sacrifice his dignity for the sake of him.

“CCTV retrieved,” JARVIS said a minute later, pulling Tony from the pit of his own thoughts. He blinked, and then waved a hand vaguely, sitting forward and resting his elbows onto his knees as he stared up at the huge screen.

“Play it, J.”

The computer did. It was smooth footage; of course it was, this was all Stark Tech, Tony designed it himself- and it showed a video of two men in a room. This was from several hours ago, and as one man slept peacefully on the bed, the other man- Howard- simply paced the room, occasionally stopping just to stare at him.

Tony cursed under his breath. “Freak.” Who just watched someone sleep? Come on, he knew Howard had probably wanted to fuck the guy, but this was just creepy.

He sped up the tape, going through another few hours of more of the same. Howard paced, then sat, then ate, then pulled out a hipflask and drank, and all the while the man on the bed slept. And Tony still wouldn’t put a name to him- despite the uncanny similarity, the flop of golden hair and perfect body that pointed toward all this being true- he wasn’t going to believe it until it would be impossible to deny the fact.

“JARVIS, just search the tape and find when the guy wakes up,” Tony said after another few minutes. He was getting bored of just watching Howard gape in adoration at a man that he’d known for what could only have been a few months. Not once in Tony’s whole life had he ever been looked at like that. But then again, how exactly could Tony have ever compared, right? Howard had always been obsessed with Cap; a trait that Tony himself had ended up picking up over his childhood. Whenever summer came around, Howard would head off to the Arctic with his search team and spend months there, just looking through icy wasteland. He never stopped. Not once. Long after Tony had given up the illusion that Howard would have any luck, long after the media and press had stopped caring about it, Howard still continued to search for him. It was probably the one thing that Howard had ever actually given a damn about.

Then when he’d turned 21, his mother had died in a car accident. Of course, Howard survived- like a cockroach, he was always so damned hard to get rid of. He’d been driving at the time, and to this day Tony was certain that he’d been drunk at the wheel. But that was irrelevant- the fact was, whilst Tony had been in his grief-stricken and emotionally vulnerable state, Howard had decided to choose that moment to retire and dedicate all his efforts to the hunt for Captain America, and then used bullshit like ‘it’s what Maria would have wanted’ and ‘don’t let her name go to waste, kid’ in order to make Tony agree to taking on the role of CEO instead.

 So Tony had been pushed at the tender age of twenty-one into one of the most important roles in the whole damn world, and his dad had gone and fucked off back to the arctic, hunting for a ghost. Of course, though, the contract that Tony had been coerced into signing whilst in his grieving, half-drunk state meant that Stark Industries still ended up having to fund the ridiculous search missions every year, all just a massive waste of money.

Or that’s what he would’ve said if you’d asked him a day ago, of course. Now? He wasn’t so certain.

“Footage found. Would you like me to skip to the mark?” JARVIS asked, and when Tony nodded, he watched as the tape rapidly sped up for a few seconds, until slowing back down to normal speeds once more.

A second later, Tony watched the man’s brilliant blue eyes as they opened for the first time.

Tony couldn’t help it- he gasped. “JARVIS,” he murmured, standing up, “pause and zoom.”

On the screen, the beautiful features of the man’s face got closer. His perfect bowed lips, his thick eyelashes, the azure glow of his eyes. Tony swallowed, breath coming in a little shorter. “Facial recognition?” He asked JARVIS softly, because he couldn’t trust his own eyes. They might see what they wanted to see- just because he thought it looked like Captain America didn’t automatically make it-

“Face found- Steven Grant Rogers, born 1918, declared KIA in 1944.”

Tony’s jaw dropped.

 

It really was him.

Captain America. Alive.

 

“Play the rest of it,” he whispered, his nose so close to the monitor that it was almost touching the screen. There was a childish sense of euphoria building up in him, and he couldn’t stop from grinning in utter disbelief at the fact that this man, this impossible war hero, was actually still kicking in the 21st century. It was utterly and completely absurd.

But then again; Tony had always secretly thought that Captain America defied all realms of possibility. He was just like that.

Tony watched, completely transfixed, as Rogers sat up swiftly in his bed, turning to glare at Howard with suspicious eyes. His voice was throaty when he spoke, probably because his vocal chords hadn’t been used in decades. It was still a lovely voice though, Tony couldn’t deny. Velvety and deep, with a strong undertone to it.

God, it had been what, two minutes? And all the childhood fantasies were already flooding back.

They both moved to the window, where Howard ripped open the curtains, a manic look of glee on his face. Tony’s lip curled in distaste- his dad was a tactless piece of shit, quite obviously taking joy in this, oblivious to Rogers’ obvious distress. If it had been Tony, he would’ve done things far differently, explained more thoroughly, exposed him to everything a little less fast.

But he wasn’t there. He was here, four hours later, and the damage had already been done.

He watched until the end, when Rogers told Howard to give him a moment and then made the man leave the room. As soon as Howard did, Rogers face fell into something completely blank, as he stared out into the New York skyline with a look of detached misery on his face.

Tony’s fingers brushed the monitor without even realising. He still couldn’t believe it was real.

A second later, he told JARVIS to stop the recording. It felt wrong to watch Rogers grieve when he’d asked Howard to give him some privacy. As the monitor switched off and went back to a black screen, Tony stared at his own reflection; his wide eyes and gaping mouth, a look of general disbelief still etched on his face.

Steve Rogers. It really was him.

“How is that… how is that even possible?” Tony muttered to himself as he jerked forward and then pulled up the files that Howard had kept on the Arctic Explorer missions over the past sixty-odd years. He read through all the information- crashing into the ice, the serum keeping his body in stasis for decades and decades, heart and brainwaves practically non-existent. It was a medical marvel, and one that Tony was desperate to get his claws into.

In fact, he was halfway to grabbing his coat and making his way over to Howard in the Iron Man suit before he realised that that would probably be a dick move of massive proportions.

God. Rogers was… he’d just woken up in the future. Everything he knew was gone, and he’d undoubtedly already have Howard tactlessly poking and prodding at him. If Tony sauntered up and just added to that, the poor guy would have some sort of breakdown. Tony was getting so caught up in the science of it all that he was forgetting one very important thing: Captain America was still a human. And Tony’s presence there, whether it was well-intentioned or not, was only going to make Rogers end up feeling like some sort of spectacle, an animal to be passed around and gawped at.

Tony might be an asshole, but he wasn’t a fucking monster. Rogers probably needed some time to adjust. And as much as it made his skin crawl to leave that task to Howard, that was probably the safest bet there was, considering they’d known each other back in the forties. He was… familiar, at the very least.

Tony stared at the wall, jacket still in hand, and sighed irritably. “Am I really not going to dive headfirst into this, JARVIS? Are we really doing this?”

“It would appear so, Sir. Perhaps you are finally maturing into an adult.”

“Ha ha,” Tony muttered, dropping his jacket on the floor and turning around, eyes going to the suit in the corner of the room. “Can I blast some shit, J? Is there any shit for me to blast?”

“The new training program was completed two hours ago, if you would like to test that out?”

Tony paused, debating it for a moment before shaking his head. He made his way back over to his comfy desk chair, flopping into it and then staring at the blank monitor whilst his mind trawled through a billion different thoughts. He remained silent for a few more moments, before finally deciding what he wanted to do.

“Pull up all of Captain Rogers’ fight records and information you can find from the archive, J, and monitor his tactics. I’m creating another new training program. Who knows if and when Rogers is gonna want to get back into the action- and whether we might have to fight together when that happens. I wanna be able to mesh with the guy.” He settled down onto his chair and hitched his knees up to his chest as a handful of holographic screens popped up in front of him, displaying various news reels, records and grainy photographs.

“What would you like the file name to be called, Sir?”

Tony paused, watching the staticky footage of Rogers with all the Howling Commandos as he stormed through enemy territory, the mask on his face doing little to hide the proud triumph in his bright blue eyes.

“Winghead,” he said with a cheeky grin, as his eyes caught onto the tiny little white pair of wings that were printed onto each side of his mask, “call it Winghead.”

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

A lot had changed since Steve was last conscious.

 

Everything was bigger. Louder. Brighter. Steve could barely look out of the windows some days- it scared him, the vastness of everything that was out there. There had been wars- wars for ‘peace’ and wars for religion and wars for oil and all of them were wars that the US government had promised him would never even happen, once Hitler wad defeated. But here they were. Same old same old.

There were new medicines, too. Polio wasn’t even a problem any more, or smallpox. Women could work without anyone batting and eye and black people weren’t segregated because of the colour of their skin. They were some of the best things that Steve had discovered about the new world he had unwittingly become part of. He was glad for those improvements, at the very least.

Howard had given him a lot of history books. He’d said that there was an easier way to search for things now, but when Steve asked for it, he said it was too soon, and he didn’t want to overwhelm Steve. He’d wanted to argue, but then again, he didn’t have context for any of this. He had no foot to stand on, here.

Some days, when he thought about all of it a little too hard, the realization of what had happened was enough to suffocate him.

It had been two weeks. Two weeks since he’d woken up to a Howard Stark that was decades older, to a world that had moved on without him. He was still learning of everything, still spending hours with his nose in all the history texts, trying to make sense of the world that he was in now. It felt sort of like a dream. Like he was going to wake up soon, back in the forties, and everything would be okay again. There were nuclear bombs now; ones they’d used to destroy entire cities, ones his own country had used on a civilian population. They’d put man on the moon, just so that Russia wouldn’t get there first and threaten their nation. It seemed everything that mankind did was done to reach the top of the food chain. Whoever had the bigger stick had control.

It seemed like a sad world to live in.

 

“How’s it going?”

Steve blinked, looking up as Howard leaned against the door frame of his room, two cups of coffee in hand. “Good,” he reeled out on autopilot, no truth in the words, “yeah, it’s good.”

“Where are you at?”

“Uhh, I just got to the fall of the Berlin Wall.” Steve accepted the cup that was offered to him gratefully, clasping it between his hands and feel the heat see through him. He always felt a little too cold, these days.

Howard nodded, leaning over Steve’s chair to look at the pages. Steve watched him, still sort of unable to believe that this was the same man he’d known all those years ago. His features were still the same, but age had withered him. His hair was grey, almost white, his face somewhat sunken. And he acted differently to what Steve had remembered. There wasn’t as much life in his eyes, but instead, something else. Something less like happiness and more… dark.

But he was the only connection Steve had. Howard had taken him in, given him a place to stay, and he treated Steve like an old friend. He’d been overjoyed at Steve’s return, told him he’d spent years and years of his life looking for him. Hell, the only reason Steve was even awake now was because of Howard.

Steve was still contemplating whether or not he was glad of that, but either way, he owed Howard Stark everything he had now.

“I was thinking of seeing Peggy,” Steve said quietly, looking down at the desk and then swallowing the lump that had formed, simply from the mention of her name. “She’s still alive. One of the only ones left. I’d-“

“That’s probably not a good idea, son,” Howard said with a shake of his head, “she’s… she’s happily married now, Steve. It wouldn’t be good-“

“I know that,” Steve said, trying not to feel that like a punch in the solar plexus, “I know. But she’d- I’d… it’s been so long-“

“I think it might do more harm than good, Cap,” Howard said, his voice soft and apologetic as he patted Steve on the shoulder, “she’s had her time to grieve and move on. Bringing her back into all of this? She’d only get upset. It’d be better for you to just stay here for a little while longer, get more adjusted to life, and leave her alone.”

Steve opened his mouth to argue, but again, what did he know? Howard probably still kept in touch with her. He probably knew far more than Steve did. He had no room to argue here, did he? And if Peggy was happy now, then who the hell was Steve to come in and disrupt her life like that?

So he nodded, slowly, and looked away. “Yeah,” he answered with a short nod. “Yeah, I guess.”

Howard patted him on the back again, and jumped onto a different topic before Steve could dwell. He appreciated that- it was so easy to get lost in the thoughts sometimes. They made light conversation; reminiscing about the good old days and laughing over shared memories, until Howard had to stand up and recheck one of his experiments or whatever.

As he got up to go, he paused in order to smile gently down at Steve. “I know this is hard right now,” he said with a nod, “but we’re gonna get this sorted. Once you’ve adjusted, I’ll show the whole world what I found, and we can get Captain America back, front and center, yeah?”

Steve smiled tightly. “Talkin’ about me like I’m some sorta circus act there, Howard.”

The other man just rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean, Cap. You’re one in a million. And you can still be a hero today. World’s still just as fucked up as it was back then- that’s why I got my company to protect this ol’ rock we call America. You… God, you could front it all.” Howard beamed, and then threw his hands out in front of him. “The beacon of hope! Captain America! You should try a Stark Automatic. Anth- I made them perfectly, they fire off a beautiful shot. I’ll show you one tomorrow.”

Steve nodded, and Howard left the room with a big grin on his face. At least he seemed happy with all this. Steve couldn’t blame him- if he’d dedicated so many years to finding someone, then he’d be over the moon when he actually got them, after all this time.

He wished he could feel the same. All that he felt was emptiness.

God. Decades. He’d lost decades of his life, and hadn’t even aged a day. The world had moved on left him behind, and Steve had no idea how to catch up. He could read all the damn books he wanted, but that wasn’t going to change the fact that he was nothing more than a ghost now. Howard thought of him as a legend, a myth turned real. It was jarring- to Steve, it had been less than a month ago since he’d seen the Howard of the 1940’s, his friend, his colleague. This Howard treated him more like a God than a friend.

Steve didn’t want to be a God. Steve just wanted to go home.

He shut his eyes and swallowed. He was more lost than he’d ever felt in his entire life, but breaking down wasn’t going to fix anything. He just had to… keep moving forward. Try and make the best of this. Like Howard said, he could still help people. And it seemed that was all he had to offer now, but still. It was something. It was what he’d signed up for, back when he’d been nothing more than a skinny runt getting beat up in the back of a Brooklyn alley.

He pushed down the voice that asked him what the point of it was. Whatever he did, it seemed nothing helped. There was still suffering. Downing that plane had saved those New Yorkers, but then a few months later the same, if not more, lives had been lost in Hiroshima. Nagasaki. People still fucking suffered-

He shook his head harshly, wiping a hand over his face. He hadn’t slept more than three hours over the past week. It was getting to him. That’s all this was. He’d be okay. He would. He’d find the silver lining in all this. There always was one, no matter how dire the situation might seem.

He just needed to find it.

 

And an hour later, Steve was doing just that. He wasn’t sure exactly how he’d made his way to Times Square- things were passing in blurs, most of the time- but he knew that was where he was. The basic layout was still the same; everything was just a lot taller now. It was familiar, though. The city was his home. Bucky had used to drag him here to try and pick up showgirls who’d been on their way to lunch break, and nine times out of ten he would’ve ended up spending his fare home on a pretty trinket for a dame.

The thought made him smile, if only for a second, until it gave way to the pain of everything else. Of what had ended up of his best friend, on that train in the Alps.

He took a sharp breath and looked down, adjusting his baseball cap as he walked on through the streets aimlessly. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Hope, maybe. Again, though, he wasn’t quite sure in what form he would find it in.

Everything was just so goddamn different.

He walked, and passed people who dutifully ignored him, in the way New Yorkers always had done. Now, though, they used their mobile device things to ignore everything around them, rather than just fixing their eyes on the floor like Steve had done back in his day. It was strange to watch their glassy, empty eyes and constantly moving fingers tap tap tapping at their blue screens. He’d seen Howard do it too, a few times, but he said that Steve wouldn’t understand them yet, and so Steve hadn’t pushed to try it out.

He tried not to let it make him feel too out of loop. These were all things he could learn, he supposed.

He’d probably need to find an apartment. And a job. People still had both of those these days, right? God, he hoped so. Would anyone even need a Captain America? Howard said they did, but like Steve had mentioned earlier, Howard did seem to be putting him on a particularly high pedestal. And hell- did Steve even want to fight any more? This could be his time to just… start again. Just be normal. Get a job as a sales assistant and live in a small apartment and go to art school and maybe have a dog or something. Was his bank still active? He’d have a hell of a lot of backpay to keep him going if that was the case-

Out of nowhere, he heard a sudden whining, whooshing noise from up above him, and he ducked on autopilot, his hands going up to protect his head. What in the god damn hell? There was even a slight breeze, which meant the projectile must’ve been close. Fuck, they were under attack, Steve had to-

People were cheering and whooping.

He blinked and cracked his head upward, looking around for whatever it was that had rushed past them all at such a high speed, whilst the crowds around him simply laughed and held their mobile telephones up into the sky, pointing it to a specific point and taking a recording.

He moved his line of sight to match up with the mobile devices, and saw what they were all filming. It was a bright gold blur; some sort of rocket, and it was arcing down the road, apparently headed right for the huge skyscraper directly in front of them all. Steve’s eyesight was better than most, and he managed to make out that it looked almost like a-

“What the hell is that?” He blurted, eyes widening. That… surely they hadn’t advanced as far as robots yet, the history books hadn’t even mentioned anything about that.

Someone turned to him; a young-looking girl with piercings in her nose and eyebrows. “Have you been living under a rock? That’s Iron Man, dude.”

Steve just blinked at her, uncomprehending, as she walked off with a small chuckle. Iron Man? Was that really what it said on the tin?

He watched it, rooted to his spot on the sidewalk, as the Iron Man flew up the side of the tower and then landed itself on what looked to be the landing pad at the very top. It was too far away by that point to make out any specific features, but Steve still continued to stare at the spot in complete bafflement until someone bumped his shoulder and knocked him out of his reverie.

So this was the future, huh? A world of glass and lights and flying metal men.

His eyes caught on the name of the tower, and he frowned slightly. Stark. That was all it said. But the logo, the style, it was exactly the same as the one of Howard’s company. Was this his building? Did Howard know about the Iron Man? Steve had to remember to ask- there was something strangely enrapturing about the thought of robots living among men like normal citizens. Steve had only ever read that in fantasy books.

A small, boyish sort of grin tugged at his lips as he looked up through the rim of his cap, at the tower in which the Iron Man had landed. The future was too bright and too loud and too foreign- but damn if it wasn’t interesting.

“Iron Man,” he murmured under his breath, playing the word out on his lips. “Huh.”

 

The next day, he skimmed all the history books that he could find, looking for a reference to what he had seen last night. He could read faster than any average human, but still, no matter how many books his read, none of them seemed to mention the Iron Man, despite the fact that that girl had thought he was something everyone in the world knew of. Maybe he’d only become prevalent over the past few years? He wouldn’t show up on these history books, if that was the case. The most recent one was published five years ago.

Checking his watch, Steve sat up, intending on searching out Howard. It was early in the morning, but, like Steve, Howard didn’t tend to sleep much, so he’d probably still be awake somewhere in the building.

He did in fact find him less than five minutes later, sat in the kitchen with a newspaper in one hand and a half-empty glass of whiskey in the other. Steve noted the bottle which was also on the surface, although was now entirely empty. Steve could’ve sworn it had been full less than a few days ago- but then again, that wasn’t his business.

“Howard,” Steve said, and the man jumped rapidly, wide eyes going up and looking at him. When the old man recognized him, however, his face automatically grew into a happy smile.

“Steve!” He said joyously, placing his newspaper down on the table, “Steven, what can I do for you? Anythin’ at all, son.”

Steve raised an eyebrow at Howard’s slurred speech and swaying balance. He’d obviously been drinking through the night and into the early hours of the morning. “Uh, I was hoping to just ask you about something that I saw last night.”

Howard gestured for Steve to sit. “Ask away, m’boy,” he said cheerily, taking another sip from his glass.

Steve pulled up the chair, sitting tentatively opposite the other man. He wasn’t sure quite how coherent Howard would be if he asked him now. “Uh. Well. Have you… I mean, what’s Iron Man?”

-And Howard’s face fell like a sack of concrete off a top-story window.

“A bastard, that’s what,” Howard muttered, throwing back the remnants of his glass and then scowling, “where the hell did you see him?”

“Just flying up to the Stark tower on Park Avenue last night,” Steve explained, frowning a little, “why is he- I mean, what do you have against h-“

“He’s my son, you know that?” Howard asked, head jerking up- and Steve blinked in shock, because no, he had absolutely no idea Howard had even had a family, “so don’t take it lightly when I call him a damn bastard. It takes a hell of a lot to make a father hate his own child. But Anthony… Anthony takes the fucking prize when it comes to being a piece of shit.”

Steve could hardly believe it. Not only did Howard have family, but apparently, he had family who were… not so great. No wonder Howard hadn’t mentioned any of them. “Everyone cheered for him- it- is it a man? It’s a man, right?” He stuttered as he realized that he still wasn’t entirely sure whether or not the thing was human.

Howard snorted. “Too pussy to ever really be a true man, but yeah, he’s human. He just wears the ridiculous suit to show off. The suit that came from my ideas, mind you. Stupid brat wouldn’t have been able to put two and two together if it weren’t for me.”

Steve got the feeling that he had accidentally stepped on a landmine here, and quickly raised his hands. “Hey, sorry, I should just… I’ll ask someone else, this is obviously none of my business-“

“No, son, wait,” Howard leaned forward and reached out for him, a hand circling his wrist. He swayed a little on his seat, but his eyes were serious and desperate. “You need to stay. Because chances are, you’re gonna run into him at some point. And if you do, you need to be prepared. He’s a piece of work. And I mean… a real piece of fucking work. An’ I tried, okay. Brought him up as best I could. But the boy- he grew up in the limelight. Fame and power was all he ever knew. You wonder why he flies around in the big gold suit in the sky? Why he makes people cheer for him? He’s a manipulator, a fuckin…” Howard waved a hand, searching for the word before settling simply on “bastard” again.

Steve just blinked. Family feuds had never been his thing, and this… this seemed like a big one. “I- I’m sorry that he gave you a hard time, Howard, you didn’t deserve that-“

“You know he pushed me out of my own company?” Howard told him with a shake of his head, “I was goddamn grieving for my wife, for his mother- but like I said, all he wanted was power. He got me drunk and then had me sign a contract, passing all ownership over to him. I woke up in the morning, and nothing was even mine any more. He took it. He took it all away because he wanted control,” Howard’s voice was bitter and laced with hatred, and Steve’s own eyes widened in shock and horror.

Jesus. The man’s own son. “That sounds… awful. I’m really sorry, Howard.”

“That’s not even the worst shit he’s done,” Howard chuckled humourlessly, and Steve listened with a kind of morbid curiosity as the man continued. “Like I said- when Maria, my wife, died? First thing he did was throw a god damn party. Narcissistic, self-absorbed little bitch. Only ever fucking cared about himself. I tried to bring him up right, but he rebelled against me at every corner. I had to send him off to boarding school, but he got himself kicked out. MIT at fourteen, and the first thing I hear about him? Newspaper article of the idiot getting publicly arrested. He stole credit for my achievements, and hell, even when he decided to become this ‘self proclaimed superhero’ and go save cats up trees with his stupid flying boots, it was my invention that was powering it. My technology. Do I ever get credit for that? Nope.”

Howard was working himself up into a rage, breath coming fast and angry in front of Steve, who was just sat there, listening in horror. It sounded like Howard had hit it really rough with his son. Throwing a party for his own mother’s death? That was fucking sick. And considering Howard must have already been grieving…

“He’s Iron Man because it gives him good press,” Howard spat, shaking his head, “he goes out there and pretends to fight, but we all know he’s not really fuckin’ in that thing. He’s piloting it from the safety of his own little office, pretending to be some bigshot hero. Pretending he’s like you.” A finger was pointed harshly in Steve’s  direction, before it curled into a fist and then sunk into the table. Howard sighed, shaking his head sadly, and Steve’s heart went out to the man. To have a son who treated his own father in such a way… God, Steve couldn’t even imagine it.

“Whatever you do, do not get close to him,” Howard told Steve in the end through gritted teeth, “that man is incapable of kindness. He’s poison. You ever see him, out in the field, or out on the fucking street, you do not let him near you. I need you to promise me that, Steve.”

Steve stared blankly at Howard as the older man stared back, completely unwavering in his intensity. “Well, I- Howard, I mean, I can’t exactly… I prefer to make my own judgements of-“

“Son, think of everything I’ve done for you,” Howard sounded as if he was begging now, his hands curling into one another as he stared imploringly over to Steve, “think of all the years I spent looking for you. If there’s one thing, one single thing that I ask, it’s that you stay away from Tony Stark. He’s no good for you. He’s no god for goddamn anyone.”

Howard had a point, there. Steve was indebted to him- and hell, from what it sounded like, it wasn’t as if he was going to be missing out on much. Stark Junior sounded like a complete and utter tool.

So he nodded. “I promise.”

It took a second for the words to seep into Howard’s mind, but in the end he just smiled again, soft and tired. “I’m glad,” he said, patting Steve’s hand, “thank you.”

And with that, he got up and left the room, not even saying goodbye. He just left Steve in the kitchen, morning sunlight seeping through the curtains and a shattered dream that maybe the Iron Man which everyone had cheered for was the little ray of hope he’d been looking for.

Of course, life just wasn’t that simple, was it?

He sighed to himself, feeling the empty way it echoed around his ribcage, and then got up to head back to his room.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

For the most part, Tony forgot about Steve Rogers.

He says ‘for the most part’ because there was no way he could ever truly put the man out of his mind; not after finding out he was alive. But as a general rule, Tony just tried not to think about him as much as he could. A few weeks passed in that manner, and Tony concentrated on other, more pressing things: Stark Industries, Iron Man, and the growing presence of some sort of extremist organization that Tony had been hearing about in the underground networks. He was at least 80% certain they were experimenting with unstable elements in order to bind themselves with some sort of technological exoskeleton- a little like Iron Man, but permanent. It was taking up a lot of his time; trying to track down and find these guys before they could go public with their ideals in some undoubtedly dangerous manner, and so Tony used it as a welcome excuse and threw himself into the search with vigour.

And all the while, Steve Rogers remained with Howard, undoubtedly attempting to adjust himself to the 21st century.

Which was fine. It really had nothing to do with Tony at all, anyway. He didn’t know the guy like Howard did. He was just the equivalent of any other fanboy, at the end of the day, and he knew it wasn’t what Rogers would want just then. Plus, Howard would do his damn best to make it as difficult as possible for him anyway- Tony wouldn’t be wanted there if Howard was anywhere near the premises, and for the time being it was like the old shit was permanently in the vicinity of Captain America.

He could wait. At some point, Steve was either going to join back into the Army, get taken in by SHIELD, or just start a whole new civilian life in the 21st century. And maybe then, Tony could introduce himself. Not as a scientist, of course- but as a friend.

He figured the guy needed one of them right now. And no matter what Pepper said, he did have people skills. He could totally be nice and calm and polite.

 

Of course, life was never that simple though, was it?

 

At seven in the morning, whilst part-way through his morning coffee and happily just staring into space as he attempted to wake himself up, JARVIS decided to sound the loudest alarm in the building, plunging all the lights into a dangerous red flashing that signalled there was an immediate threat and also sending hot goddamn coffee all over Tony’s shirt as he jumped from the noise.

“The fuck?” He cursed and jerked out of his chair, looking up, “JARVIS, what’s the situation?”

As he ran to toward the workshop where the suits were kept, JARVIS reeled off the facts. “The group we have been tracking over the past few months appeared to have made their first move. They’ve taken Wall Street.”

Tony groaned, checking his watch. They weren’t even into the goddamn double digits yet. “How many hostages are we looking at?”

“Unconfirmed, but my best guess would be at least a hundred, perhaps more.”

Shit, that was going to be complicated. If they were using human shields, Tony couldn’t exactly go all in and blow them to hell. He jumped down the last few sets of stairs and then rushed toward the Mark IV, yanking the undersuit off the stand as he went and then stripping hurriedly in order to tug the thing on. “How far out is backup?”

“Police force are already heading to the scene, and SHIELD are currently ten minutes away. I fear that, unless apprehended quickly, the hostages may be in some serious danger.”

God. Typical Tuesday morning then.

Once the suit was on, he flew out into the New York skies and quickly made a beeline down to Wall Street, eyes scanning all the information as he went. For all intents and purposes, these guys really did look like knockoff Iron Men- Something the Senate was sure going to love seeing after the whole debacle earlier that year. Although in Tony’s defense, they were quite obviously not automatic suits of armour with their own internal systems, but simply pimped up metal exoskeletons that carried a lot of firepower.

And, as if proving his point, a moment later something blasted him out of the sky with enough force to send him spinning almost entirely out of control. He yelled in shock, and barely managed to re-engage his thrusters before careening into the side of a building. When JARVIS informed him that a section of the chest plate had cracked open from the impact, Tony’s eyes went wide in shock.

Okay, so he’d known there was firepower- but he could admit, he’d underestimated exactly how much. Enough to compromise the armour? From one blast? Shit. He was gonna have to be careful with this one.

“JARVIS, put me in stealth mode,” Tony said, ducking around a corner and then making the decision to try and come around the back instead, “and scope the building too. Tell me where the heat signatures are.”

He landed on the sidewalk softly, spotting men patrolling the next corner, their bodies covered with some futuristic-looking suits and heavy weapons. The rest of the street was entirely empty, but Tony noticed with a lurch that there were already some bodies on the ground. Maybe they’d stuck around to try and film it. Maybe they just hadn’t run fast enough.

Either way, bodies meant that these guys quite clearly didn’t care all that much about their actions. They were serious.

He took a small breath, and then peered once more around the corner. He could fly over the top, yeah, but he didn’t really fancy getting blasted again. Close combat might be easier in this circumstance.

Just as he was thinking everything through, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turned, watching someone creep down the same sidewalk that Tony had come down, eyes sharp and alert as he checked each turnoff for threats. Tony had a second in which he almost mistook the man for a civilian, and half-lifted his hands in order to tell him to get the fuck out of there before he got himself killed- but then he noticed the huge red, white and blue shield in the guy’s hand, and the unmistakable features that Tony had seen a few weeks ago on a CCTV tape in Howard Stark’s building.

That was Steve Rogers. Captain America.

Tony could admit, he was slightly confused as to where the damn hell to go from there. Did Rogers know he wasn’t a threat? Did Rogers even know what the damn hell Iron Man was?

Rogers caught sight of him barely a second after Tony had noticed the man himself, and he froze in his tracks, shield coming up on autopilot. Sensing something might go very wrong in the next few seconds, Tony quickly raised his hands in a show of defence. “Hey, whoah, stand down Cap- I’m a good guy, no threat, here to help, I promise.”

Rogers stared at him for a second, before something in his face closed off and he nodded. “I know who you are,” he said curtly, moving forward fluidly until he was at Tony’s side, “what’s the situation here?”

Tony blinked. Fuck. That really was Steve Rogers. Just… casually throwing himself into the middle of a domestic terrorist situation like it was- well, like it was just another typical Tuesday morning.

He’d been fucking dead less than a month ago, holy sh-

“Iron Man?” Steve repeated, his brow creasing a bit, “did you hear me?”

“Uh, yeah,” Tony nodded, snapping harshly out of his little spiral. God, this was so not the time. “We’re thinking over a hundred hostages on the bottom floor of the building. My best bet would be that they’re trying steal some shit from the vaults down on the lower levels, and the hostages are there in case any special forces try and get down and reach them.”

Rogers nodded, eyes moving constantly around the scene as he hoisted his shield a little higher up onto his arm. “Can that suit tell us if there are guards on the top floors?” He asked quietly, waving at Tony vaguely as he scanned the building.

Tony frowned. “Yeah- there are at least ten guards on every level, but the main concentration is down on the ground floor. But I can’t get up there without being seen- this might be in stealth mode, but it’s still pretty loud.”

“Well, I’m not loud,” Rogers declared, standing a littler straighter. He turned to Tony. “Give me a distraction. Head down to the front of the building and make a scene. I’m guessing you’re good at that. I’ll climb up the building and get in on the second floor, and from there I’ll work down.”

Tony paused incredulously. “You’re gonna take on dozens of heavily-armed guards all on your own, are you?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“They nearly broke through my armour with one shot, buddy. If you get hit, you don’t stand a chance.”

At that, Rogers just grinned a little. “Well then, better not get hit, right? They’re not expecting me anyway. I took out three of them before I even reached you. They’re looking up at the sky- probably for Iron Man, if you’re saying you were shot at by them. I have the advantage of surprise. So go and distract them, and I’ll keep the hostages safe while you blow ‘em all to hell, yeah?”

Rogers couldn’t see behind the suit, but Tony was gaping openly at him by that point. No one- literally no one, had ever been in the vicinity of Iron Man and then taken up a commanding position with him before. Not even SHIELD bothered with that- they knew that he knew his shit, and tended to just leave him to it. But Rogers, after spending all of thirty seconds with him, had just given him a plan and told him to follow along.

Tony wasn’t sure whether to feel impressed or offended by that.

He decided to go with the former, considering the fact that it was actually a pretty sound tactic, and Cap obviously knew what he was doing. He had a point- there was absolutely no way in hell that they were ever going to expect Captain America on their asses, and Tony was better at the more up-front approach to things anyway.

“Alright,” he said in the end, nodding his head, “don’t die, Captain.”

Rogers just nodded shortly, eyes on the target once more. “If I get caught, draw as much attention away from me as you can. Stay sharp,” he said, before taking off rapidly down the street at a sprint that Tony had only ever seen on Cheetahs in mid-hunt. He’d crossed the road and was already scaling the wall before any of the guards had even turned around.

Huh. Well fuck, then- that really was Captain America in the flesh.

Tony should probably stop staring and go take down some terrorists.

Shit.

 

The whole thing took a grand total of two hours, until Tony had finally managed to round up all the culprits and Rogers had taken care of all the hostages. Tony sustained some damage to the suit (those damn blasters packed a punch) and when he rendezvoused with Rogers, the man looked a little beat-up, but altogether intact. Part of Tony wanted to mention whether incapacitating over thirty trained men whilst managing to remain hidden was something Rogers was used to doing, but the other half remembered that, yeah, wait- superhero. The first ever superhero, for that matter.

“Thanks for the help out there,” Tony said, sitting down on the bench next to Steve as the medical staff bustled around and collected the injured, “also, uh, nice to meet you. You’re somewhat of a hero around these parts, if you weren’t aware.”

Rogers’ face didn’t change; simply remained a blank slate as he stared straight ahead of him. “So I’ve been told,” he responded dully, not bothering to continue the conversation further. Under the faceplate, Tony frowned a little. Howard had always said how kind-hearted Steve Rogers was, but it felt almost as if the man was giving some sort of cold-shoulder, despite the fact they’d never met. Was it the suit? Maybe it was freaking him out a little.

“You’re probably wondering how I know about you,” Tony continued onward, trying to at least get some sort of expression-change from the man, “so I think it fitting to tell you that-“

“You’re Howard’s son, yeah, he informed me,” Steve said, a little sharply as he turned and drove his icy blue eyes straight into Tony’s. There was something very hard in there. “Of course you would know everything that goes on in his life, whether he wants you to or not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should probably head off. It was nice meeting you, Iron Man.”

And then without another word, he was standing up and walking away, not even looking back at Tony as he strode off. There was still dirt in his hair, and a gash running along the top of his forehead that looked pretty severe, but he didn’t seem to care much about any of it. He just… left.

Tony watched him go, a billion thoughts running through his head. Most of them were confused, some of them were a little hurt, but most of them were downright pissed, because that last comment- the one about Howard- had been a jab. Tony wasn’t quite sure what exactly it was aiming for, but it definitely felt like an insult of some kind. Why the fuck, though? Tony had never spoken a goddamn word to the guy before, and everyone under the sun had told him how nice a man Steve Rogers was, so what could Tony have possibly done to get him so pissy?

Maybe it really was the suit that just creeped him out. Or maybe he’d looked at some of Tony’s less than stellar news articles, involving public nudity and a lot of swearing at senators.

Yeah… now he thought about it, probably not stuff that Steve Rogers would like.

Fuck.

With a sigh, he stood slowly, glancing back down the alley that Rogers had slipped through. As far as first-meetings went, he could admit, that one probably hadn’t been stellar. Then again- when exactly were they? He’d first met Pepper by throwing up on her shoes. If anyone could salvage this, it was Tony Stark. He was the king of second- or third, or possibly fourth- impressions. Just took him a while to warm up, that was all.

He kicked up his boots and then shot into the sky, his mind working away at a hundred different thoughts whilst he flew. Most of them were Captain America related, although in his defence, a good portion of them were battle-related too. He wasn’t completely unprofessional, after all.

As he started to come up to Stark Tower ahead of him, he noticed that there were a few helicopters circling the immediate vicinity, all with the conspicuous SHIELD logo stamped to the side of them. Tony grimaced, knowing exactly what they were there for. They must have seen Rogers on the TV or news reports, and were hunting him like a shark smelling blood in the water. He had half a mind to turn back to try and find Steve and warn him about the oncoming storm that was on its way- but then the pettier, slightly vindictive side of him remembered how blunt and cold Steve had been to him when Tony had tried to help earlier, and it kept him moving forward with a grim face and a heavy heart.

Whatever he did, SHIELD would find Rogers anyway. He’d given himself away now, pushed himself into the limelight. Fury and Hill weren’t just going to let an asset like that go to waste- whether they knew he was Captain America or not, the guy had still taken out over two dozen highly trained guards and scaled up a building as if it was no problem at all. That was the sort of skillset that SHIELD would kill for.

He sighed, looking back and thinking about the new problem that Rogers had to face now. He supposed it wasn’t really fair to get pissy with the man, not after he’d just lost everything and everyone he’d ever loved. Tony would probably be a bit cold too, if that had happened to him.

“Good luck, Cap,” he muttered to himself, as he watched the helicopters slowly begin to descend downward to the location where Rogers was probably sneaking around. He was sure that Howard would throw a lovely hissy fit once he realised that SHIELD were snatching away his prized possession so soon, but in all honesty, Tony didn’t have it in him to care. He was tired. His leg hurt from where he’d crash-landed funny and he desperately needed caffeine. His old man throwing a tantrum because Captain Asshole had been scouted by a super-secret spy organization was hardly his problem, especially seeing as it was barely even midday.

God, he was sure his inner monologues had used to be more normal than that.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

As it turned out, the attempted bank-robbery that he’d happened to have stumbled upon whilst walking through the streets of New York was not the last time he saw Iron Man. Not by a long shot.

It hadn’t even been less than ten minutes after walking off that the organization known as SHIELD had quietly found him, and after confirming that no, they were not the enemy, Steve had agreed to go with them, if only out of curiosity than anything. He was still full of leftover adrenaline from the earlier fight, and the thought of going back to that apartment of Howard’s had actually been less appealing than walking off with a group of heavily armed strangers.

Once aware of who exactly Steve was, they offered him a place in their ranks, promising to help him adjust to the 21st century whilst they trained him. With an uncaring shrug, Steve had agreed to it. If he could help people in the way he had at the bank, then he didn’t give a shit about anything else, really. Like he’d said; this was all he had now. If it killed him, then it killed him. It wasn’t like he had much to lose.

Howard hadn’t been impressed though, when Steve had come back and told him what had happened. Steve hadn’t been sure of why exactly it was that the older man had been so against it- possibly to do with the fact that he’d been wanting Steve to front Stark Industries rather than SHIELD- but by that point in the evening, Steve had just been too tired to argue about it. He’d gone to bed and asked if Howard would just leave it alone.

The heaviness had returned as he’d stared at the ceiling, and he hadn’t slept that night.

SHIELD were okay. They showed him what Howard hadn’t- the internet, phones, technology beyond Steve’s wildest imagination. He tried not to get annoyed when they treated him as if he were stupid- he supposed, to them, he was. Just a brainless fighting machine, really.

It was fine. He wasn’t sure what else he was either any more. He just learned quietly and efficiently, on his own, and then stored the information away for later use.

And of course, it wasn’t long before they were sending him out into the field. Recon missions and retrieval, mostly. Keeping him out of the spotlight for the time being. They’d offered him a bunk in the SHIELD barracks, but he’d politely declined. Howard seemed to enjoy his company, and Steve still owed him a hell of a favour. So he stayed in the apartment that Howard had bought for him, and then travelled to SHIELD via the subway, trying to ignore the way all the agents stared at him from the moment he entered the building.

It was barely a month later when he saw Iron Man again.

He’d been called up in regards to an information leak within the military. Trained professionals who worked for an unknown organization had snuck in and stolen the register of some of the US’ top agents, and were on the way to the transfer point in order to sell it on to the highest bidder. Steve got the call telling him a SHIELD car was on its way at 3am, and all he could do was sigh in exhaustion as he’d sat up from the bed he’d only just laid down in and then prepared for another long day.

The car was already outside when Steve stepped out of the door, and he hurried in, his shield strapped onto the back of his dark uniform. They’d said that they weren’t ready to reveal him to the world as Captain America yet, and so for now, he was wearing the regular SHIELD bodysuit. It was possibly one size too small, and clung somewhat uncomfortably when he moved too far, but it would do. He was just grateful he didn’t have to wear tights any more. That really hadn’t been fun.

As he slipped into the back seat of the car, he immediately realised that he was not the only person riding, and turned to look at the person sat next to him. For the very briefest of moments, his sleep-addled brain saw Howard; the Howard that Steve had used to know, younger and brighter and with hair as dark as the night.

Then it clicked. Not Howard. Tony.

“Before you say a single word, may I please just inform you of something.” Tony immediately held up a finger, not even looking in his direction as he spoke. He was wearing sunglasses. At 3 in the god-damn morning. “I am not going to be coherent until there is at least one cup of coffee inside me. If you want to say anything, it’s probably better to speak to the driver. You’ll get a friendlier response from him.”

Steve shot a glance over to the front, where a bald man was staring ahead of them, not even flinching at the sound of Tony speaking of him. He too, was wearing the stereotypical SHIELD bodysuit, and not one part of his body language looked at all welcoming. All in all, Steve didn’t exactly get the ‘friendly’ vibe there.

He looked back at Tony, who was now leaning against the window. It was the first time that Steve had actually seen the man in real life, this close up, and Steve noticed with a bit of surprise that Tony Stark was actually far more attractive in real life than he was in the pictures. It was difficult to see on the surface, but Steve was an artist. These photographers changed their bodies to shapes that weren’t natural, they gave them lips that weren’t supposed to be that full and eyes that were too large for their faces. The Tony Stark that was sat in front of him, with his messy hair and casual clothes and slightly unkempt beard were all far more human than the airbrushed design that he often portrayed to the world.

Still. Steve didn’t forget Howard’s words about him. He was a piece of work, and Steve shouldn’t even be thinking things like that anyway. It was just unprofessional.

“Just out of interest,” Tony said, breaking his own rule of silence about five minutes into the journey, “how pissed was Howard that you fucked off with SHIELD after he’d spent so long setting up all his plans to have you as his own dancing monkey? I would have loved to see the look on his face when you came back wearing that uniform.”

The mans’ face was amused, and he turned his head to give Steve a sideways glance through the lenses of his glasses. Steve simply shook his head, feeling the anger build up there automatically. “I’m sure you would have. Seem like the type’a guy to find enjoyment from someone else’s disappointment.”

Steve saw Tony’s expression freeze up as he stared in surprise. Steve only felt the ghost of regret- he had no reason to be even vaguely polite to a man who obviously held no respect for others. Steve had done some more research into him since the discussion with Howard, and it appeared there were many, many people who seemed to share the same sentiment. He’d seen clips from earlier on in the year, when he’d gotten smashed at his birthday party and used the suit to scare everyone on purpose. He’d watched the man waltz into a senate hearing ten minutes late, treat it like some sort of joke and then call them all a bunch of assclowns before walking out again. All in all, it seemed that the general consensus was that Tony Stark was just a dick.

And now it appeared that Steve was going to have to work with him.

“Okay, new question.” Tony’s face turned sharper as he whipped off his glasses, showing Steve the full depth of his piercing glare. His eyes were deep chocolate, and the lashes were long enough that they almost curled right up to his eyelids. “Is it the whole world you got this little teenager-style vendetta against, or just me?”

“Don’t worry, it’s just you,” Steve lied easily, holding his stare unwaveringly.

“And what exactly is it about me that’s getting your back up then, Capsicle? Because I take it you’ve got some basis for this opinion. You look at some of the articles on me? D’you not like people who party? Or is it the fact that I’m a slut that’s getting to you? Or perhaps the fact I’m queer, maybe that’s it- I know that you’d probably want to vomit at the thought, but some guys like dick in this century, Rogers, you’re gonna have to get used t-“

“I think it’s more of the fact that you’re selfish and rude and you treat your family like shit,” Steve snapped angrily, curling his hand into a fist on his lap as he fought the urge to tell the driver to stop the car and just let him walk. He wasn’t in the right mood for this, not right now. And Tony Stark didn’t seem like the type of person who liked losing an argument.

However, what Steve said seemed to have thrown him for a loop, because he didn’t say a word in response. Just stared blankly for a moment, and then broke out into a smile that was full of too many teeth to be real. Tony shook his head and then turned away, giggling to himself as he slid his glasses back onto his face and stared straight ahead of him. “Right. So Howard had a nice chat about me, I see. Don’t really know why I didn’t ever think of that happening. Guess that one’s on me.”

Steve said nothing, slightly confused by Tony’s words. The other man didn’t say anything else after that- simply turned his head back out of the window and stared at the passing traffic vacantly- and Steve didn’t attempt any other conversation either, so they sat the remainder of the ride in silence. He felt stiff and awkward, acutely aware of how large his body was in the small vehicle.

 He should’ve just fucking walked. The tension in the small space was heavy enough to slice through.

They walked through SHIELD in silence, Tony marching two steps ahead the whole time. Steve watched him move; the creasing of the fabric across his shoulders, the sweep of his hair. He was somewhat mesmerizing to look at, and more than once, Steve had to make a conscious effort to avert his gaze.

Of course, Tony spent the entire briefing being brash and arrogant, dismissing the mission and the lives that were at stake with a casual wave of his hand, saying that it wasn’t even worth his time.

“You have about a hundred other agents who could do this job far more efficiently than I ever could,” Tony leaned back on his chair and folded his arms, looking up at Fury with a raised eyebrow, “I’m sure Miss Romanov would be more than happy to take a mission from me-“

“Stark,” Fury ground out, staring him down with his single eye, “this is a top security retrieval that we need you to perform here. I didn’t just pull you into this briefing for nothing.”

“No, you didn’t.” Tony sat forward, chin resting on his hands as he leaned against the table and smiled sweetly, “but I don’t work for you.”

“Whether you do or you don’t, the fact is that these people’s lives are in danger and it’s your duty to help them,” Steve snapped in disgust. Howard had been right- there was no heroism in Tony Stark’s actions. He seemed entirely self-motivated; if this didn’t benefit him, then he obviously was simply not going to do it.

Tony didn’t even turn to Steve when he responded coldly, “it’s my duty to save New York when people try and plant bombs in the subway, or stop a war by disarming a nuclear missile in mid-air. I’m not a SHIELD lackey and I never have been. Fury’s only brought us both in here because he’s trying to see how we mesh for the future when something bigger comes along.” Tony chuckled at that, clapping Steve on the shoulder as he shot Fury an eyeroll. “Unfortunately that ship’s already sailed. Captain Rogers over here hates me, apparently.”

Steve opened his mouth to object, but before he could, Tony cut in, speaking to Fury as if Steve wasn’t even in the room. “Howard gave Rogers the run-down on me.” At that, Steve saw Fury’s eyes close in what seemed to be annoyance, but Tony just bulldozed straight ahead as he waved a hand in Steve’s direction and made an amused face. “So of course, I’m now a stupid good-for-nothing piece of shit in the dear Iced American’s eyes, isn’t that right?”

“Don’t call me that,” Steve said quietly, feeling something twist in his chest at the words. He knew it was the least of his problems- a nickname from a man who probably couldn’t give less of a shit about Steve if he tried- but for some reason, it still made him feel sick.

Tony turned to him. “Oh, you don’t like being called names, huh? You’re pretty keen on labelling me with them though.”

“Was I wrong?” Steve hissed, leaning forward, “I called you selfish, and you come here and say you won’t help these agents because it’s below your standard. I call you rude, and the first thing you say to the driver when you get outta the damn fuckin’ car isn’t ‘thank you for taking me somewhere at three in the morning’, it’s ‘you should get your license revoked-‘“

“It was a fucking joke, Jesus Christ Rogers, get that stick out of your fucking ass for a single second-“

“That’s enough!” Fury barked at the two of them, and they both shut their mouths, but continued to stare one another down. Steve felt as if his threatening grimace wasn’t quite as perfected and easy as Tony’s seemed to be- the man was probably used to pulling that face, considering how many people seemed to hate him.

Fury banged his fist against the table, and both of their gazes were drawn to the sound. He took the opportunity to speak, words hard and voice low. “Do you know how little of a shit I give about whatever fuck-awful first impression that you two have given eachother? Do you think that I fucking care about who pulled whose pigtails first? No. I fucking do not. Captain, you’ve not had an interaction with Stark that’s lasted longer than a total of three minutes, and you’ve apparently already concluded that he’s an asshole? What, did you just decide that suddenly the Press tell nothing but the truth now?” Fury cocked his head and glared at Steve, who simply opened and shut his mouth, caught off-guard by the blunt question. Before he could even respond, however, Fury’s head had jerked over to Tony, and he seemed equally unimpressed. “And Stark- Jesus Christ, the man’s just been thrown into a whole new goddamn century. I know most people round here are at least somewhat used to your dipshit tendencies, but he fucking isn’t. Cut him some fucking slack.”

Both he and Tony glared up at Fury for a moment, before Tony just huffed and then looked away, out into the window where the light was just beginning to light up the sky. Steve kept his eyes fixed on the wall, head whirling with a hundred different thoughts whilst Fury remained silent, apparently figuring out what to say.

“Stark’s right,” is what he decided on in the end, voice slightly quieter than before, “I did set this up so that you two could get to know one another better, and learn the way that each of you fight. Because you know what? There will probably be a time in future in which there will be a far, far bigger danger than what you’ve been brought in for right now, and that danger is going to require teamwork in order for you to neutralize it.” Fury shook his head irritably as he broke off. “My mistake was letting you get in the same car together. I underestimated both of your inabilities to get on with people who are slightly different to the type of company you usually associate with.”

“Listen, I fucking tried, okay, but there’s not much I can do when Fuckhead Howard’s already gotten inside Captain Goody-two-shoes’ head and told him that I’m a worthless goddamn piece of shit!“ Tony began, his hands curling angrily around the sides of his chair.

“I don’t-“ Steve began, before just sighing and shutting his mouth again. He figured whatever he said now was only going to fall on deaf ears. And honestly- was Tony wrong? He knew that this was mostly his fault. He’d taken Howard’s opinion of him and decided that Tony wasn’t someone he wanted to deal with, and so he’d been cutting and rude and brushed off any attempts at kindness. He didn’t regret doing that, exactly, because he still firmly believed that Tony was a douchebag- but he probably should have treated it more tactfully.

It was just… it was so hard to think logically, these days. His head was so caught up trying to figure everything else out, some things ended up slipping through the net.

Fury was watching Steve through his one eye with an intent stare, and Steve looked back- because whatever he was feeling, however goddamn isolated and confused he was with everything, there had not been a single instance in which he’d ever looked away from a man trying to stare him into submission, and he wasn’t going to start now.

Eventually, Fury sighed. “You two better sort this out quick, because you’re taking off in an hour for the retrieval, and you have to work together as a team or it’s not gonna go well for either of you. I don’t care if you hate one another’s guts- when it comes to the field, you need to be a unit. One day, the world might be depending on it. Stark, you’re dismissed.” Fury waved a hand and then shot another glance over to Steve. “I need to have a minute with you, Captain.”

Tony turned and looked at Steve with something unreadable in his eyes for a moment, before he stood jerkily and then walked off, not looking back as he slipped his glasses back over his eyes. The door didn’t slam behind them, because Tony wasn’t that sort of man. He just left it wide open, and made Fury have to close it for him a few seconds later.

Steve could hear his heartbeat in his ears, and every muscle felt tense. There was something about Tony that just put him so on edge. “I’m sorry, Director. That was unprofessional of m-“

“Talking of unprofessional,” Fury cut in over him as he wandered back to his desk and sat down, “I’m about to do something pretty damn stupid right now, and I need you to listen to it.”

Steve looked at him in confusion as Fury sighed, scratching a finger along his eyebrow and then placing both hands on the table, clasped together. “Captain, you’re not going to like this, because I know that you feel indebted to the man, but hear me out.” Fury sat back in his chair and folded his arms, sighing loudly. Steve got the feeling this was the last conversation he wanted to be having at that moment. “Howard Stark… he is not the man you used to know. The man who pulled you out of the ice- the man who raised Tony Stark, is a very different character to the one you became friends with during the war. I can’t say I know everything that went on in the Stark family, and I won’t even attempt to go into Tony’s long list of daddy-related issues that stemmed from it, but just remember: You’ve only heard one side of the story. Don’t let that alter your own perception of Tony Stark as a person.  He’s an asshole- but he’s also a hero, and a good man. You of all people should realize that not everything is as black and white as it seems.”

Steve nodded, his mind feeling slow and sluggish as Fury continued to watch him for another few seconds, before simply sighing and then standing up from his chair again. “Like I told Stark, you’ve got an hour until takeoff. If I hear you’ve killed one another before then, then believe me, I will find a way to make your time in the afterlife a living hell. You’re dismissed, Captain.”

Fury walked out of the briefing room, shutting the door behind him quietly and leaving Steve to sit in the deafening silence of his own thoughts. He wasn’t sure what to think any more, but he knew that one thing was for certain: Fury was right. If he was going to be working with Tony, then he needed to clear the air. And perhaps apologize. He’d gone too far with what he’d said to Tony and he knew it- even if what Howard had told him was true, Tony had never done anything malicious to Steve, but that hadn’t seemed to stop Steve from being a complete jerk to him.

God, was this what he was going to be like in the 21st century? A judgemental prick?

Tony wasn’t around the SHIELD base when Steve tried to search him out, so he had to wait until the jet came to collect them an hour later in order to try and talk to him. It seemed that while he’d been gone, Tony had picked up his metal suit, because as soon as Steve stepped foot onto the jet in his own darkened uniform, he was assaulted by the flashy red and gold armour that stood on the opposite side. Despite the fact that there was no need for it, Tony had his faceplate on, covering any expressions his face was making.

Steve figured that was intentional.

He coughed a little, signifying his entrance despite the fact that he guessed Tony’s suit had informed the man as soon as it had picked up Steve’s signature. When Tony still didn’t turn around, however, Steve just grimaced and then took a seat by the window, clenching his jaw and trying not to think about the last time he’d been in a plane.

It was only when they were airborne that Tony eventually acknowledged his existence at all. Having set up all his fancy equipment around the space, holograms and numbers flashing up everywhere and looking as if they were narrowing down a location, Tony finally stood up and then marched over to Steve, his armour clunking heavily on the floor. Steve didn’t think about how heavy the armor and Steve’s weight combined would be, and how much the aircraft itself could stand. That would just be silly. It wasn’t as if SHIELD wouldn’t have planned for that.

“I’d like to make one thing clear,” Tony said, before Steve could even attempt to speak. His faceplate gave no emotion away, and the vocal filter made his voice empty and cold. “You might hate me, you might think a whole array of things about me that I’m sure Howard has described to you in detail. But right now, I couldn’t give less of a shit. I don’t care about you, or Howard, or what anyone god-damn thinks of me. You don’t think I’m a hero? Fine. You don’t think I’m really in this suit? F-“

“I know you’re in the suit,” Steve told him quietly, keeping his eyes on the faceplate.

Tony paused for a moment, before snorting. It sounded odd through the faceplate; like a crackle of static. “Yeah, well Howard sure doesn’t, and last time I heard, you were busy doting on every word he said-“

“He’s the only one who’s even tried to be kind to me since I woke up to everyone else I know being dead and gone, so yeah, sorry for trusting his opinion,” Steve snapped angrily, the bitterness welling up inside him for a moment, hot and visceral on his tongue. None of this was fucking fair- he didn’t want to be here, arguing with a man who flew around in a robot suit and saved the world from evil computer viruses that Steve hadn’t even known existed a few months ago.

Tony said nothing, and his faceplate gave absolutely nothing away either. He was a blank canvas, and Steve just wished, more than anything, that he could have someone smile at him. A proper smile, one like Peggy’s when she’d told a joke or Bucky’s when he’d watched Steve do something stupid.

It was ridiculous to hope for one out of Tony Stark though. Not after the way they’d gone at one another.

“This mission doesn’t have room for personal shit,” was all Tony responded with in the end, beginning to turn away, “don’t let your feelings about me get in the way of doing your job. You look out for me and I’ll do the same. Then we go home. Understood?”

Steve watched his back as he turned and walked away, and he just nodded once, before looking out of the window. He hadn’t had room for personal shit in about five years, by that point.

“Understood.”

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

For the most part, Tony ignored Cap whenever they worked together.

On the field, they were a seamless team, not even he could deny that. As Tony had mentioned earlier, as soon as he’d known that Rogers was alive and kicking, he’d set up a training routine to monitor his fight pattern and try and work with it in case it was needed in the future, and it had proved invaluable to predicting Cap’s moves and working with him to do the job. Tony quickly found himself teaming up with the man on regular occasion, and could admit that when it came to the stealthier and more sensitive missions, his skillset was invaluable.

They didn’t talk though. Tony made sure of it.

God, the reminder of the things that Rogers had said still smarted, even now, weeks after. The crushing feeling of his childhood admiration being extinguished, and replaced with the bitter truth: Captain America hated his guts and wanted nothing to do with him.

He should really have seen it coming. Tony Stark was Tony Stark; he was loud and abrasive and his track record with the media was not exactly squeaky clean. Even if Howard hadn’t gotten in there first, Rogers still probably wouldn’t have been able to stand him. National icons and representations of the American dream hardly had time for partying loud-mouthed sluts, he figured.

He wasn’t ashamed of that. It was just a part of who he was, and yeah, maybe Cap didn’t like that- so what? It didn’t fucking matter. Tony had been disappointed by pretty much everyone he’d looked up to at some point or another. This was no new revelation.

Of course, there was always that bitter part of him that asked ‘what if?’. What if he’d gotten there before Howard had gone and ruined everything? Rogers might have been able to form his own opinion, and not be spurred on by bullshit that Howard had pulled out of his ass. Everything might have been different. Rogers might have been his friend.

God, that sounded pathetic. Tony didn’t give a shit either way.

Howard had always hated him. Ever since he’d realised that Tony would be better than him, he’d always done everything in his god-damn power to make people believe that Tony was a lesser person than what he actually was. All his ideas had apparently been ‘inspired’ by Howard’s- his Stark Industries designs had been accredited to Howard, not Tony. His entire life, Howard had done his level best to smear his reputation.

It hadn’t worked, for the most part. Tony was still his own man today, and he was still doing more than Howard ever fucking would. But it seemed that Steve hadn’t managed to escape the clutches of him. Rogers, whose link to his past, his entire life, rested in Howard’s hands, had just eaten up every word Howard spoke. Of course he had. And how could Tony blame him for that? Howard was all Steve knew. It wasn’t his fault.

That didn’t mean it didn’t hurt any less, though, when he saw the cold way that Captain America looked at him. The little boy inside him wanted to cry, to scream, to ask why Howard had to ruin absolutely everything for him.

Whatever though. He was used to it by that point.

Anyway, after the first SHIELD mission they’d spent together, which hard started with them almost having a fight in the briefing room, Rogers seemed to have cooled off a little. He didn’t make any remarks about Tony after that, and at one point he even tried apologizing. Tony figured he was the type of guy who didn’t like thinking he’d upset anyone, and Tony was the type of guy who didn’t like people thinking they’d managed to make him upset, so you could just imagine how that apology went.

Well. Let’s just say it involved a few sharp words from Tony, a lot of spluttering from Rogers, and then a slammed door as Tony had brushed it off and then hurried back into his workshop before Rogers could try again.

Yeah. Talk about dysfunctional.

 

Anyway. As Tony had said, for the most part, they tended to just ignore one another. Tony kept all comments to a minimum, and Rogers didn’t contribute anything either. He mostly just sat there, took his orders, fought some shit and then walked away. If Tony had cared (which he didn’t) he would have been slightly concerned. Rogers acted more like a robot than Tony did.

He supposed it must be a pretty lonely world for Captain America. Just stuck in an apartment with Howard fucking Stark for his only company. Jheeze.

 

“Cap,” Tony called his attention through the comm as he flung Rogers’s shield back to him, and saw a moment later as the man plucked it effortlessly from the sky. They were just getting started on their raid of one of the abandoned warehouses where people had been working on a synthetic disease that could potentially wipe out humanity, and so far, they’d gotten about a quarter of the way in with minimum fuss. Tony figured the big guns were probably protecting the most valuable area of the warehouse, where the labs were kept. “Hey, look- on your six, you got a guy.”

They’d perfected the art of keeping conversation to a minimum in the field, and so Cap merely grunted in affirmation before spinning on his heel and thwacking the man with the edge of his shield. Tony quickly moved on to the next target, which was the security lock on the other end of the room, but he didn’t fail to notice the way Rogers had to twist funny in order to keep up with him; part of his leg wasn’t able to extend quite enough to support his movement, and he was obviously being somewhat restricted by the material of his uniform. It was barely even noticeable to the untrained eye- but Tony was by no means untrained, and whether he liked it or not, he noticed everything.

Goddamn SHIELD manufacturing. Captain America was being restricted because the organization he was working for couldn’t find a uniform that fit around his crotch properly. And no, before anyone asked- Tony was not specifically looking there, he just had an eye for that sort of thing.

Shut up.

 It was actually kind of amusing, once Tony thought about it, and he found himself snickering at the mental image of Rogers attempting to do a scissor kick, but ending up only managing to get his legs half-way around before getting caught by his own pants.  Now that would be funny to watch.

“Something funny, Iron Man?” Rogers asked, walking up to him and breathing slightly heavily as he hitched his shield back up onto his shoulder. They’d cleared the first floor of targets, and so now all Tony had to do was break the lock and get down to the second, and they could be home before lunch.

He lifted his faceplate and looked upward at Steve, grinning. “I was just thinking- that suit brings a whole new meaning to the nickname ‘Captain Tight-ass’, doesn’t it?”

 Rogers just stared blankly at him, until it seemed to click in his mind and he went a slight shade of pink, fingers pulling self-consciously on his uniform. “I- this was the biggest size they had- I… I think that’s the least of our problems right now though, don’t you?” he stepped back a little, looking down at the floor as his cheeks just turned a steadier shade of pink.

“Hey, I’m only kidding, no need to clasp your pearls, Captain,” Tony rolled his eyes and then turned back around to the lock, flicking the switch in the bottom right and then finally tricking the sensor into opening. “Let’s just get this damn virus and go, shall we?”

And they did- efficiently, too, because Tony did in fact make it out before lunch. As usual, once both of them had briefed, they went in their separate directions- Steve to Howard, and Tony to his workshop where he proceeded to spend the next eighteen hours of his time. Sleep hadn’t been coming easily to him lately- he went through phases with it, and at this current moment in time, the nightmares were the things that were keeping him busy, as opposed to the general insomnia that he tended to suffer from.

But it was okay. It meant he had more time to work, which meant he was more useful. And everyone liked a Tony Stark who was useful.

So that’s how he spent all of his night and most of the early hours of his morning- tinkering and building and upgrading various pieces of his equipment. After the race to get to the virus before the bad guys, Tony had made a mental note to add a special gas filtration system into his suit in order to prevent any unwanted chemicals from reaching him, and by 1 in the morning, he’d gotten that down. After that, it was mostly just aimless fiddling.

However, at some point- possibly around 3am- Tony’s mind stumbled upon the conversation from earlier. With Steve. About his uniform.

It really wasn’t wise for Cap to be fighting in a suit that didn’t fit correctly. When it came to their jobs, the difference between life or death could literally be an inch, and if that was an inch that Steve couldn’t move, then terrible things could happen. And yeah, maybe that was a little extreme, but he was fairly sleep deprived. Everything was currently firing at 100%, and his manic energy had to go somewhere.

This was how he ended up synthesizing a graphene-lined material that could be made into the perfect-fitting suit for one Steven Grant Rogers. It was, in his humble opinion, a work of art. Flexible and strong, it would do a thousand times better than those shitty mass-made SHIELD bodysuits that they kitted all their agents out with.

The only problem though, was that he had all this material, but no measurements to make it with. Which was an issue. However- a problem that could be easily solved with a simple phone call. And by that point in the night, Tony was far too manic for pride or stubbornness; all he wanted was to get this suit finished and have Rogers kitted out in something that was actually safe.

“Hey,” he said quickly, before Steve could even give his own surprised greeting, “I need your body.”

There was silence, and then a sudden spluttering noise. “You need… what?”

“Your body. Measurements. I’m making you something! But I need you to fit into it, so you gotta come over here and help me out, Cap.” Tony leaned forward and grabbed his phone from the desk, pushing it up to his ear as he paced around the shop. “I promise I’m not going to kill you or try and seduce you with my evil slutty ways or whatever you think it is that I spend my time d-“

“I don’t…” Steve paused, before sighing, “why do you always say shit like that, Tony? It’s like you don’t even want to try and move past this-“

“I say it because I know it’s true,” Tony said with a grin. He didn’t even feel angry. Just amused, more than anything. “That’s exactly what you think of me.”

“You know I don’t-“ Steve broke off, sighing again. In contrast to Tony, he simply sounded sad. “Tony, it’s really late. I’m tired. I don’t feel like-“

“You’re tired, but when I rang it took you less than two seconds to answer the phone,” Tony told him quickly, “it’s late, but you’re not asleep. You can’t sleep, can you?”

Steve’s silence was answer enough, and Tony huffed whilst his fingers tapped erratically against the surface of his desk. “Well, if it helps, neither can I. And when I can’t sleep, I design. You got the lucky shot tonight, because it just so happened that I remembered how shit your suit is and decided to design you a new one. So, if you’d like to be able to move your legs properly the next time you head into battle, then come over. I promise I won’t keep you long.”

He heard Steve’s breathing on the other end of the line as he debated it for a moment, before eventually humming. “I’ll be over in ten,” he said quietly, “see you soon, Tony.”

“Sure, Rogers.” Tony ended the call swiftly, standing up with a jump and then looking around the room, making sure there was nothing too illegal or non-Captain-America-proof in the immediate vicinity. He realised with a small note of surprise, that this was going to be the first time that he would be with Steve Rogers in a situation that wasn’t life or death, and was in fact more of a social call than anything else.

Huh. That was going to be interesting.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

Their late-night meetings started to become… a thing.

Steve wasn’t sure how it happened. The first time ‘round, everything had been rather stilted and awkward, with tension thick enough to cut with a knife. Steve hadn’t known what to say, Tony had barely even stopped talking, and both of them had been overcompensating for the other’s failings. But somewhere along the line- maybe whilst Steve had been sat around waiting for the suit to finish rendering, or perhaps when Tony had offered to make him a smoothie- something small had broken through, and they’d ended having a conversation that could almost have been construed as pleasant.

It had been nice, to talk to someone who wasn’t just Howard or Fury. Someone who, maybe just for that brief period of time, had treated him just like any other normal human. Not the Living Legend, not the war hero, just… Steve.

Tony had been heavily sleep-deprived at the time, and maybe that was what made him easier to talk to. There hadn’t been as many masks on, because he was simply to exhausted to hold them up. So Steve had seen the real person there- the one who'd worn a shirt with a cartoon kitten on it and made a terrible science joke about the graphene suit and blushed when Steve had told him that his workshop was one of the coolest things he’d ever seen.

He’d been… nice. It had been a little awkward, still a little tense, but- but nice.

 

And so the next time Steve hadn’t slept for a few days, he found himself ringing Tony’s number and asking, on a whim, whether Tony had ever considered putting on grips for people to hold onto on his suit. When it turned out that no, he had not, Steve had gone over to Tony’s workshop again, at four in the morning, and talked about it with him until the sun had come up three hours later.

That’s when it officially became The Thing.

It was still a little unsteady. But both of them knew that the other had trouble sleeping, and more often than not, those periods of insomnia would coincide with one another, meaning that suddenly Steve found himself with- well, perhaps still not an entirely friendly, but certainly familiar- face that he could go to whenever the nightmares and feelings of complete and utter isolation got too loud. On some level, he thought Tony had the same problems. Steve knew he dreamed of being hurt, of something attacking him, although he wasn’t quite sure what. He flinched heavily if Steve moved too fast, and his hands sometimes shook when he was fresh from waking. They weren’t Steve’s sort of nightmares, where all he could feel was cold and alone- they were nightmares that stemmed from shellshock- PTSD is what they called it now.

But even if the dreams were different, he knew that Tony craved the company as much as Steve did. The proof that neither of them weren’t there any more. That there was someone- even if it was just one person, who was looking out for them in some way. It wasn’t enough, but it was definitely a start. And it was a comfort, too.

So that was how they did things for a while. They fought their battles, they bled and they escaped death by a hair’s breadth and went home, and then, when the nightmares got loud or sleep just wouldn’t come, one would ring up the other. Sometimes they didn’t even talk. Sometimes, Tony would talk too much and not stop until Steve got up to leave. It varied. But it was routine, and Steve… he liked it. He thought Tony did, too.

For the first time since waking in the 21st century, it felt as if he had a real friend.

 

Between missions and his nightly routine, he tended to just try and educate himself. There was so much to be caught up on- the wars and the protests, the civil rights movement and the mission to mars. Humans had done amazing, terrible, unimaginable things whilst Steve had been gone. It was almost impossible to even wrap his head around some of it.

Howard tended to hang around, too. Which was… it was nice of him. Kind. He was doing Steve a favour, keeping him company like that, and Steve appreciated it. He did.

But there was something about him that put Steve on edge. Fury had been right, and Steve had seen it pretty early on- Howard wasn’t the man he had used to be. He was different. Colder. Some of the things he said were just… wrong.

“When he kicked me out of the company, guess who got put in charge?” He’d asked Steve one day, as he was reading the morning paper and huffing at the stocks. “A god-damn woman, that’s who. Man, I knew Tony was stupid, but that one really took the biscuit.”

“Do you… do you not remember Peggy?” Steve had asked him incredulously, sitting up a little straighter as his eyes had widened. “Jheeze, Howard, she was the most capable person I’d ever met, and she was a dame. I don’t think it’s fair to say something like that.”

Howard had just waved a casual hand. “Well yeah, but that was Peggy. This one- Virginia Potts- she was just some airhead with a nice ass that Tony wanted to impress so that he could get in her pants. He threw away the entire company for a relationship that only lasted a few months. Fucking ridiculous.”

Again, Steve hadn’t known the full details, and so didn’t have the knowledge to be able to argue the case- but later on, when he’d met up with Tony in his workshop and helped him to fix up one of his old cars, he couldn’t help but ask about it.

“Who’s, uh, Miss Potts, then?” He’d said casually, looking up at Tony’s grease-stained face and trying not to stare too intently at a mark that looked a little like a smiley face on his left cheek.

Tony tended to look very… adorable, sometimes. Steve tried not to think about it too much- but sometimes it was impossible to ignore the little fluttery feelings he got in his chest at the sight of the other man.

Tony had paused, before breaking out into a tired, but fond smile. “A devil, that’s what she is,” he’d said, “works me to the bone. Keeps my business running because I’m incapable of doing it myself without causing a major stock-related disaster every month. Generally keeps my ass in line. I couldn’t survive without her, honestly. Why do you ask?”

Steve had felt something harden in his gut- something a little like distaste, as he’d thought of Howard’s earlier words. They were obviously untrue. “Never mind,” he’d dismissed, and then moved on before Tony could question him further.

But that? That was the first warning bell in Steve’s mind, that maybe Howard Stark wasn’t the man that Steve had previously believed him to be.

For the most part though, he was too busy to think about it that much. There had been a huge surge in criminal activity during the past few months, and it had kept them all on their toes and on standby for any potential threats that would arise. More often than not, Steve found himself having to shuck on his suit and run at truly ridiculous times of day in order to save various cities and states that were under threat from ominous evil forces. Not much had changed since the forties, really.

 

Two months had passed since Steve’s jump in time, and that was when they got the call for the big one.

 

It was an organized attack. There were… robots, all over New York. Fairly easy to take down, but there were hundreds and hundreds of them, and once they swarmed, it became deadly for whoever was being targeted . Fury had gritted out something about it being to do with the Latverian dictator and a pissing content between him and another scientist in New York that had been going on for decades, but in all honesty, Steve didn’t even know Latveria had been a country until five minutes previously, and the major concern that he was facing in that moment was the fact that these ‘Doombots’ as they were being called had effectively taken over a quarter of the city already, and were spreading fast.

So it was Tony and Steve’s job to get in there and shut them down at the source, before they could cause any more damage.

This seemed feasible. SHIELD would cause a distraction, and then Steve and Tony could get into the main building and shut down the transmitter that controlled all the bots. Of course, it was going to be heavily guarded, and Steve got the feeling that these robots weren’t going to give in easily.

Then again, they had the most advanced robot in the world on their side- Iron Man- and by extension, JARVIS. If anyone could do this, it was them. Steve had perfect faith in the both of them- if anyone could get the job done, it was Tony.

Of course, no plan ever went perfectly. Steve should have known something would get fucked up. It usually did.

 

“Iron Man,” he breathed heavily through the comm as he swiped a robot off his back and then looked up at the groaning metal ceiling, “Iron Man, they’re doing something to the infrastructure of the building. You need to shut it down fast- I don’t know how long it’s gonna hold.”

“Working on it, Cap,” Tony’s modulated voice gritted out over the comm in Steve’s ear, and he heard a muffled curse as Tony’s repulsors fired off, “God, I thought SHIELD were supposed to be distracting these things?”

“Apparently they ain’t doin’ a great job.”

Tony just sighed. “Steve, I think we need a bigger team.”

“Agreed.” Steve ducked quickly under a metal blade and then crushed the machine’s chest into his shield, using his momentum to push another bot out of the window. They were swarming the place like flies, and although Steve was managing to hold his own, it seemed that the roof above him wasn’t. He knew the building had already been damaged from the fight, and the added scuffling between Iron Man and the targets up above him was undoubtedly not helping much.

“Okay Cap, I think I’ve got the switch release,” Tony’s voice came through the comm a minute or so later, and Steve sighed in relief, wiping sweat and dirt off his face. “I need you to get out from underneath me though- this thing’s gonna let off quite the explosion when I neutralise the transmission, and the structure’s already unstable.”

Steve whipped his head around, searching for the exit. Unfortunately, it was in the process of being utterly swarmed by Doombots and rubble, and there was no way for Steve to get through it without being lacerated. He could probably smash through the wall- but Tony was up above him, and Steve couldn’t afford to bring the whole building down before Tony had finished the job.

He growled, flinging his shield across the room and decapitating a row of bots. “Not an option. I can’t get through the exit. Just blow it, Iron Man, I’ll be fine.”

“What? No, Cap, just climb out of a window or something, I dunno, you’re captain America, I’m sure you can figure something-“

“We don’t have time to figure something out!” Steve cried out as a bot caught his midsection, and he felt a hotness there as blood immediately seeped through. “Iron Man, we’re being swarmed. Any longer and I’m dead anyway- just blow the damn thing and get out!”

Tony cursed again, and Steve heard another heavy groaning up above. There were at least twenty floors in the building- once it came down, Steve knew he was in trouble. But he’d cross that bridge when he got to it- until then, the biggest problem was getting rid of these damn robots.

“Cap, I need you to brace,” Tony told him eventually, his voice sharp and quick, “tense your midsection, keep your arms open.”

He paused. “Wh-“

“I’m coming in for you in five, four, three-“

“Iron Man, negative, do not try and grab me, you’ll get crushed by the building before-“

“Two, one-“ there was the sound of a rumbling up above, and then Steve was thrown off his feet by a shockwave that rattled the entirety of the building. Immediately, all the bots around him fell to the floor, no longer receiving any orders from their commander, and Steve’s problem quickly stopped being whether he would get stabbed by a Doombot and started being about whether his body would be able to withstand 19 floors being dropped on top of him.

He remembered at the last second what Tony had told him to do, and quickly bent his knees, going against the instinct that screamed for him to cover his head with his hands and instead spread them open, as if awaiting a hug from someone. A second later, however, it became clear why Tony had told him to do that.

Because in the blink of an eye, Tony had shot through the wall in front of Steve and was hurtling toward him, arms outstretched as he careered into Steve’s midsection and grabbed him by the waist. Steve gasped, the air forcing its way from his lungs as he felt his back hit the ground, hard, and then it just became more spikes of pain as him and Iron Man rolled over and over and over the rubble, not losing the momentum from Tony’s flight until a good few seconds later. Steve could hear a tremendous rattling around him; he couldn’t see from the ash and dust at all, and knew that despite Tony’s best efforts to get them out of the other side, they weren’t going to make it. The whole thing was coming down.

“Iron Man, GO!” Steve choked, shoving him off- but rather than fire up his repulsors and run whilst he could, Tony instead pointed his hands upward, some sort of switch releasing in the wrists and then spraying out a greyish fluid. It hissed with pressure and coated the fast-sinking roof directly above them, until each misplaced brick and steel girder was encased in a coating of the stuff.

The whole area continued to rumble for a few more moments as everything around them fell apart, and Steve had to shut his eyes and take cover as dust and rubble attacked his senses- but after what felt like an eternity, the noises finally stopped, and everything settled into an eerie sort of silence. Steve choked, rolling onto his elbows and then coughing up pieces of dust and blood, whilst a long metallic-sounding groan was drawn out directly above them, signifying that there was a hell of a lot of weight now bearing down right above their heads.

He turned his head and looked over to Iron Man, whose faceplate was pointed to his makeshift roof. “That was… stupid,” he muttered, “should’a just gone.”

The faceplate turned, the blue glow of his eyes settling right in on Steve. “You would’ve been crushed,” he said, pointing a finger up above him, “lucky that I had this solvent stuff on me, or we both would’ve been toast.”

Steve shot a wary glance upward, hearing how it creaked and groaned. “Yeah, it certainly seems solid,” he said wryly, sitting up a little and then coughing. Fuck, his side hurt.

Tony did nothing, but Steve got the feeling that he was rolling his eyes behind the suit. “SHIELD will dig us out soon. For now, I guess we just have to… sit tight.” His head turned and glanced around the small space that Tony had somehow managed to save for them, and Steve heard a sharp mechanical-sounding intake of breath as Tony marched over to Steve and then got to his knees, a hand going out to steady Steve’s shoulder. “You good, Captain?” He asked.

Steve shrugged. “Left side’s seen better days. But I’ll be alright. Just gotta hope this thing doesn’t fall down and bury us alive.”

Tony said nothing. It was… disconcerting, thinking that there was a man with feelings and facial expressions underneath that metal. Steve couldn’t read a damn thing on the faceplate, and it pissed him off, more often than not. He wished that he could just see what Tony was feeling in the same way that Tony got to see Steve.

“They’re gonna get us soon,” Tony muttered, almost sounding as if he was talking to himself as he glanced around him once more, “they’re gonna… we’ll be fine. They’re gonna get us.”

“Iron Man?” Steve said questioningly, leaning forward a little and letting a hand hover tentatively close to the metal shoulderpiece. “Iron Man, are you okay? You seem a little on edge.”

Tony’s head twitched. “Of course I’m fine. It’s fine. This is… it’s just a cave-in, nothing to worry about, I don’t- I’m fine, I’m goddamn… oh god, fuck, shit, I need to-“

And without warning, Tony suddenly yanked off his helmet, releasing it with a gasp and then falling onto all fours, sucking in huge breaths of air. Steve just stared at him in shock, wondering what the hell was going on. Had Tony been poisoned? Was he hurt?

Steve scrambled forward, ready to assist, but Tony just held up a hand and gestured for him to stay away as he clenched his eyes shut and then took in deep, shuddering breaths. At a loss for anything else to do, Steve simply began to mutter some simple platitudes- promises that they would be fine, they’d get out soon enough, and Tony was going to be absolutely okay. After another half a minute or so, Tony’s hyperventilating finally managed to cease, and although he kept his eyes shut tight, he no longer sounded as if he was dying. Which was a plus.

“Tony?” Steve called his name slowly, cautiously, “are you okay? Are you hurt?”

Another short breath, and then Tony opened his eyes, sitting up jerkily and with a tight smile. “Nope,” he shook his head, “I’m absolutely dandy. Just a tiny little panic there- small spaces… aren’t my thing. At all. I mean, I should really be over it; I lived in a goddamn cave for three months that could have collapsed at any fucking moment, and you know, I survived that- and then Howard always used to lock me in fucking cupboards too, so it’s not like I’m not used to it, Jesus, this is fucking pathetic, fuck, I just… small spaces.” He shuddered, clamping a hand over his mouth as if attempting to physically stop himself from rambling any further. “Like I said. Not my thing.”

Steve opened and shut his mouth, but no words came out as he watched Tony stare intently at the floor, hands fisting into his lap tightly. Steve realised that Tony had just had some sort of breakdown right in front of him, whilst he’d just sat there and done fuck-all.

Great.

“Tony, like you said, SHIELD are going to get us out any moment now,” Steve wheezed, attempting to smile reassuringly, “I bet they’d be real pissed if they let two of their best assets go to waste. Or- I guess, one- you don’t belong to them, do you?”

Tony shot him a slightly concerned look. “Neither do you, Cap.”

He paused, before smiling tiredly. “I gotta belong somewhere,” he said evenly, “it’s better than being alone. But that’s… not important. What’s important is that-“

“You’re hurt,” Tony cut in as his eyes zoomed into the side that Steve was clutching. He was obviously not keen on talking about the subject any further. “How bad is it, do you think?”

Steve shrugged. “Handleable. Just stings like a fucker, that’s all.” At the sound of another ominous creaking sound up above, he shook his head and then turned to Tony. “You should have just left, Iron Man. I gave you an order.”

“Yeah, and I didn’t follow it,” Tony waved a hand, leaning back against the wall, “get used to that, Captain, it’s gonna happen frequently. Anyway-“ he turned, looking at Steve with something that could almost have been construed as fondness in his eyes, “if you’d have been crushed, who would listen to me talk about cars for three hours at 2 in the morning, huh? No-one else is crazy enough to do that to themselves. This was entirely self-motivated, Cap, don’t get any ideas.”

He laughed quietly, shaking his head and then shutting his eyes, just so that he didn’t have to look at the wall of rubble in front of them that could collapse at any moment. He may not have been as afraid of it as Tony was, but he didn’t particularly fancy dying down here either.

The two of them remained fairly silent for a few moments, as Steve sat and pondered in his own thoughts. He couldn’t shake what Tony had admitted earlier, and as much as he attempted to push it aside and not think about it, the mental image plagued him.

“Did Howard really used to lock you in a cupboard?” He asked in the end, when he finally gave in to his curiosity and looked at Tony with wide eyes. His voice was quiet, but it echoed loudly in the space around them.

Tony just looked at him for a moment, before turning away with a wry smile. “Only when I talked too much. Which… okay, was a lot. But he could’ve done worse, I guess.”

Steve felt something drop out of the bottom of his stomach. He’d been hoping that he’d heard it wrong. He’d been praying that he’d heard it wrong. Tony wasn’t even looking at him any more; his jaw had, if physically possible, tightened even further, and although he was covered with the armour, Steve could still see the tense lines in his body.

“Why are you defending that,” Steve asked, feeling his voice waver. He couldn’t believe that Howard- the man that Steve had laughed and joked with during the war and trusted with his life at one point- would ever do such a thing to his own son. It just seemed absurd. “Locking you in a cupboard and giving you permanent trauma isn’t exactly-“

“I’m not permanently traumatized, fucking hell,” Tony snapped hurriedly, eyes flicking around defensively, as if Steve was judging him for that, “I just don’t like small fucking spaces, okay? And that’s not because Howard got drunk once and left me in a cupboard all night, I’m not that goddamn weak. It’s because I got kept in a cave just like this one for three months and fucking tortured, Cap, so drop it.”

“But-“

“I said drop it, Cap,” Tony outright snarled at him that time, anger lined on his face. Steve shut his mouth with a click, nodding once as he realized he’d overstepped the line. Tony glared at him for another few seconds, before turning his head away sharply and huffing out a breath, His fingers clenched and unclenched by his sides as he shut his eyes once more and breathed in, attempting to steady himself.

Steve wanted to say something else, but he wasn’t quite sure where to begin. His brain was still stuck on the fact that being locked into cupboards for the night was apparently a part of Tony’s childhood. Sometimes, it was difficult to even imagine Tony as being any less than the larger-than-life adult character he was now. Like he’d just sort of… appeared like that. Steve couldn’t really fit him to any particular sort of child- mostly because he didn’t know anything about the man’s childhood, aside from some snide comments from Howard that made him sound like some sort of stupid delinquent.

But the more Steve got to know Tony, the less likely it seemed. Because it was obvious to see that Tony was in absolutely no way a stupid man, and never had been.  It made Steve wonder why Howard so desperate to portray him as if he were.

“Hey,” he said a minute or so later, once Tony had seemed to have calmed himself a little, “this probably isn’t much consolation, but I just wanted to let you know that this new suit you did for me? It’s- uh- it’s really good. Really really good. I can actually move around in it properly without having to worry that my dick’s going to fall off from lack of circulation.” He smiled sheepishly and then gave him a thumbs-up, deciding that the best way to make Tony relax was change the subject.

It drew a small smile out of him, which was good. “Well, those were words I never expected to hear from Captain America.”

“You know, Captain America does actually know what genitals are,” Steve responded wryly, “we had everything that you got now back in the forties. Even porn.”

Tony gasped dramatically, eyes widening. “Are you saying that Captain America has seen porn?”

Steve just raised an eyebrow and turned back to the wall, a small smile on his face. “Oh, wouldn’t you like to know,” he said.

“I would, actually.” Tony shuffled around until he was sat cross-legged in front of Steve, elbows resting on his knees as he stared up at Steve. He still hadn’t put the helmet back on, and his hair stuck out in adorable tufts of hat-hair that truly shouldn’t look as good as it did.

Steve briefly wished that he could reach out and run his hand through it.

It was a thought he tended to have a lot, when it came to Tony. Simmering undertones of… something. From the very first moment that Steve had seen the suit flying up above him, he’d been fascinated by the design. And the man under the suit was no different. With his perfectly-trimmed facial hair that Steve would never have guessed he’d find attractive, and the beautifully crisp suits that Tony loved to wear. He was… well, he was mesmerizing.

And he was completely, totally out of bounds. Not only was Tony Stark the type of man who could, and probably did, have anyone he could ever possibly want- but Tony Stark also deserved so much more than anything Steve could possibly offer. After their terrible first meeting, it was amazing that Tony even wanted anything to do with him outside of work any more, never mind… the potential for anything else. Steve had fucked that up from the very start, and he just had to deal with the consequences that now.

 “We should look and see whether there are any other ways we could speed up our escape.” Steve leaped hurriedly to his feet, suddenly realising that the conversation he’d been having with Tony had probably bordered onto dangerous territories without him even realizing. He’d been flirting. It had been… maybe he hadn’t meant to, but he’d been flirting all the same. And Steve couldn’t afford to get carried away like that- he fell for people easily, too easily, and Tony Stark barely even tolerated Steve. It would only end in disaster if Steve got too attached. “SHIELD are coming, but maybe we could just make it easier for them to find us or something?”

Behind him, he felt Tony’s slightly surprised silence, before the man stood upright and joined him. “I don’t think any of this debris is gonna be moving any time soon. Although knowing dad, he’ll have stuck some tracker in you whilst you were sleeping. If SHIELD don’t come through, you bet your ass Howard’ll get you out. He might even leave me a spoon to dig my way after you if he’s feeling generous.”

There were a lot of things that Steve wanted to unpack with that sentence, and he frowned. “I’m not being tracked,” he said firmly, “Howard wouldn’t… anyway, he’d get you too. You’re his son.”

That actually made Tony laugh, and he simply shook his head as he turned and gave Steve a very dry look. “Yep. The same son that Howard told you such bad things about, that when you met me you’d already decided I was a selfish idiot off the bat. What does that say, Cap?” He turned back to the wall, still muttering to himself. “You know what- thinking about it, the spoon’s a bit ambitious. He’d give me a lump of metal and a blowtorch- make me work for it. And then at the end, I’m sure he’d be quick to tell me how shabby my spoon-making skills were.”

Steve said nothing. He didn’t even know where to start, and Tony wasn’t looking him in the eye any more. The careless airy voice was back, and his face had tightened up, letting nothing slip. The next time Steve tried to change the subject, Tony didn’t take the bait.

 

They spent the next twenty minutes in silence, until SHIELD did in fact manage to pull them out. Medics immediately rushed over both of them, and Steve just let them fuss as he continued to walk out of the crash-zone and survey the damage around them, Tony at his side. There were people already in the process of cleaning up doombots left right and center, and media trucks now lined the perimeter, with various reporters and bystanders milling around amongst the rubble.

One of which, Steve noticed in surprise, was actually the man himself: Howard.

Tony hadn’t noticed him- once he’d scrambled out of the caved-in building and gotten into open space again, he was pretty quickly surrounded by SHIELD staff and hounded by the reporters who yelled out questions from the sidelines. He was too distracted to notice his estranged father stood watching.

Howard, however, wasn’t even glancing at Tony. His eyes were fixed in relief on Steve, and before he could blink, the older man had ducked under the tape and was rushing over, arms outstretched. Steve just made a small noise of surprise, just about managing to twist his shield to a better angle before the man was careering into him.

“Christ, Steve,” he cursed, wrapping his arms tight around Steve’s shoulders, “you had me worried for a minute there. I’m glad you’re alright, son.”

Steve blinked and patted him warily on the shoulder, half-turning to see whether or not he was talking to Tony. He realised, however, a moment later, that the man hadn’t even acknowledged Tony was next to them at all- when he said son, he was talking about Steve and Steve alone.

They remained in an awkward hug for another moment or two, before Howard pulled away with a smile and a pat on the back. Steve returned it somewhat robotically, and as he glanced around the space to see who had noticed them, he made eye-contact with Tony. He’d finally spotted his old man whilst they’d been hugging one another, and was staring at Steve and Howard with a blank look on his face. Steve tried to grin and roll his eyes, but it just felt fake.

For a second, Tony flashed a bitter, bitter smile, before he shook his head and looked away. A second later, he jammed his helmet back onto his head and shut the faceplate, closing off his expressions to everyone around him. Steve felt his heart sink.

“Tony saved my ass,” Steve blurted to Howard, not taking his eyes off the Iron Man suit. He couldn’t see any more, but he still felt as if Tony had his eyes on him. “He wasn’t even in the part of the building that was collapsing. He went back in to get me.”

Howard paused for a moment, before turning around as if only just remembering that his son was there at all. He made eye contact with the faceplate for the briefest of seconds, before just waving an uncaring hand and turning away. “Well, you know him,” he said, “anything to get people to fawn over him. Of course he’d go in and save you anyway- he was goddamn infatuated with you as a kid. Just don’t be surprised if he asks for a blowjob in return for saving your life- that’s just the kind of person he is. A favour’s never just a favour to a man like Tony- he’ll use that as leverage for the next three years if you’re not careful.”

Steve gaped in horror, aware that Tony had probably heard that. He turned, glancing with wide eyes over to the other man, but again, the faceplate hid all emotion. They looked at one another for another moment, Steve trying to work out how best to step- but he never got the chance to even attempt anything. In the time it had taken for Steve to just start opening his mouth, Tony had quickly engaged thrusters and just… taken off. He was gone within the blink of an eye.

He hadn’t even stayed to hear Steve defend him.

“What the fuck, Howard,” he spun back around and stepped back, feeling the fury ignite under his sternum, “he just saved my life. He’s terrified of small spaces, did you know that? Partly because of you-“ he poked a finger into Howard’s chest, lip curling in distaste, “-and partly because of months of traumatic experience in enclosed spaces, but he still went and fetched me without a moment’s hesitation. And then you don’t even acknowledge it? You just… spit all over him like that? Fuck you.”                                   

Howard was staring at him in shock, eyes blown wide like he couldn’t believe what Steve had said. In all fairness, it had been somewhat out of the blue- Steve had never expressed any animosity to Howard, or any particular fondness for Tony either. He’d chosen to stay away from the subject entirely, due to his hatred of being involved in family affairs. But this? This was goddamn ridiculous. Steve was starting to seriously reconsider some things in this new century, and Howard Stark was   one of them.

“You let him get inside your head, didn’t you?” Howard asked him quietly, shaking his head, “I told you, Steve, this is what he does-“

“I don’t want to talk about this any more,” Steve pulled a face of disgust and turned away, hitching his shield onto his back, “you’ve talked a lot of shit about him, Howard, but I find it real goddamn suspicious how the only asshole that I can see in the Stark family is you.”

Howard’s mouth dropped open as Steve walked off, shaking his head in anger. He wanted to find Tony, tell him that Howard was talking out of his ass- but he felt somewhat as if he wouldn’t be wanted there. Tony would obviously think that Steve was taking Howard’s side, which he wasn’t- but at the end of the day, it was Howard’s home he was going back to, Howard’s opinion that he’d taken onboard when they’d first met and the one Steve had used to decide exactly what kind of person Tony Stark was. Why would the man believe that Steve thought any differently now?

Jesus. Steve hadn’t even asked if he was injured. He’d just let him fly off back home.

He refused to look back as the medics started hurrying him over to a SHIELD vehicle, and instead kept his eyes fixed on the ground. He was angry at Howard, yeah, but mostly he was just angry at himself. For being stupid. For… for spending so long listening to what Howard had to say, for taking his word as law and refusing to acknowledge anything else. He felt like he’d been living in a bubble that had just been popped rathe abruptly, leaving him in free-fall and with nothing to hold onto.

How could Howard say something so… crass? After Tony had gone and risked his life for Steve? Why would he just belittle and dishonour it like that? Steve could hardly even believe it.

But then again, now Steve thought about it, it hadn’t been the first time. There’d been the conversation about Miss. Potts. The subtle comments he’d slipped in about the folk who wore the head-coverings, that Steve had decided to let slip on the grounds that Howard didn’t seem to get out much these days, and he’d been drunk at the time. Steve had felt rude, calling out the man who’d fed and housed and brought him back from the dead after years of nonstop searching. It would’ve been like a slap in the face.

In hindsight, Steve should have put his foot down at the first sign. He should have spoken up. Shouldn’t have been afraid of losing the only familiarity he’d had. God, Howard was not the man Steve had once known. He was bitter and twisted and a goddamn bigot, and Steve had just been listening to everything he’d said without fighting back, without standing up for any of the people he’d smeared.

Steve pulled a face in disgust. He felt like he’d lost so much of himself in the ice, it was almost difficult to recognise the person that he’d once been. The man who’d never have stood for any sort’a talk like that.

Fuck. Is this who he was now? Was this Steve Rogers in the 21st century- passive and compliant to people treating others like shit?

No. No he goddamn wasn’t.

 

Enough was enough. He wasn’t doing this any more.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

He stared up at the ceiling with a numb smile on his face, and wondered, not for the first time that night, why he had such shit luck.

 

The workshop was quiet, because it was always quiet, no one else came down here except Steve, and that probably wasn’t going to be happening again. Just Tony, the bots, his trusty little AI, and a nice ol’ bottle of whiskey to see him through the night.

Just the way he liked it. Better off this way- no one to bother him. Less drama. He could mope on his own.

“JARV,” he asked, sitting up off the floor and then looking to his computer idly, “what’s the average lifespan of a human male?”

A brief silence, and then; “worldwide, the average male will live for approximately 70 years. In the USA, that number increases to 78 years.”

Tony pulled a face. “What about the ones who’ve been drinking heavily all their lives and have somehow managed to live on past their sixties like some god-awful human cockroach?”

“…I’d say that those type of men do not have much left in them, although there are outliers to every average. We can only hope that the particular man you are talking of is not one of them,” his AI replied curtly, cottoning on to who Tony was complaining about quickly. He was good like that.

Tony grinned lazily, and then sighed aS he pulled himself off the floor. He wasn’t sure why he’d decided that lying down there had been a good idea. He wasn’t even that drunk. Mostly just bored. And sad. “Play something, J,” he muttered as he waved a hand, “something loud and obnoxious, please.”

“Very well, Sir.” A second later, the fast-paced beats of motorhead filled his shop, and he grinned in satisfaction. See, that was the sort of music that could cool his head. This was how he relaxed.

He glanced down at the bottle in his hand, before finishing off the last few dregs and then throwing it into the trash a few feet away. He got it in one- lots of practise at that particular sport. Now he’d finished drinking, he needed to actually do something. His brain could only remain stagnant for so long.

Maybe he could discover a new element. His own, this time. Or he could build a rocket and take it to Mars. Or make a hover car. Howard had never been able to crack that one, had he? If Tony did that, then he’d be the first. He should totally make a hover car.

“Sir, your BAC levels are currently at a level too high for you to operate any heavy machinery,” JARVIS informed him a second later, as Tony reached out a hand for his soldering iron and looked to the nearest car. Tony frowned.

“When the fuck did I tell you to start restricting me when I got drunk?”

“Since your rather unfortunate birthday party several months ago, Sir.”

“Ah.” Tony nodded, the memory coming back to him. “Okay, that makes sense. Can I rescind that particular protocol?”

“You gave the responsibility over to Miss. Potts. Only she can activate and deactivate it.”

“Fuck you, that’s stupid,” Tony groaned and leaned back, falling against the back of his chair, “I just wanna build a hover car. Howard never built a hover car, JARVIS, d’you know that? Never… never quite cracked it. Me? I could crack it. I know I could. Jus’… jus’ let me use my stuff, and I’ll have it down by the end of the n-“

“May I suggest having a rest, Sir?” JARVIS asked, the first vestiges of despair beginning to filter through his modulated voice, “your stress levels are abnormally high, and your risk of injury increases by fifty-seven percent every time you consume excessive amounts of –“

“Shut up, shuddup, you’re bein’ no fun at all, mute mute mute,” Tony rolled his eyes and waved a hand, and a second later JARVIS’ voice fell silent. Tony just huffed, wishing that he had another bottle to hand.

“See- if you were a proper friend, you wouldn’t have just listened to me,” he murmured, rubbing his eyes. He was so tired. So so tired. “But you’re just a bunch’a numbers that I created to try and replicate the feeling of a friend. Not real. Just fucking… stupid of me. Stupid.”

Again, JARVIS said nothing. Of course he said nothing. He was programmed to follow Tony’s orders. That was his whole reason for existing- no wonder Howard and Steve thought Tony was a narcissist. This is what he created in his spare time.

Fuck. He was getting morose again. He needed… more to drink.

 

He just wished he was enough. For someone. Anyone.

 

He really wished that Howard hadn’t managed to alienate yet another person from Tony’s life. And not just any old someone- but the one person that had given Tony hope when he’d been a kid, living through the hell that Howard had made for him.

Truth of it was, Steve Rogers thought about as much of Tony Stark as Howard did- which was, to say, not very much at all. Seriously though, what had he been thinking? That just because they’d shared a few nightmares together and hung out when neither of them could sleep, that made them buddies? Pals? That suddenly meant Steve liked him, did it? Tony was being fucking ridiculous: Steve needed somewhere to go that wasn’t that one building with Howard Stark, and the only other person he’d known was Tony. It made sense that he’d go there. In fact, Tony probably needed to try and find Rogers some other, better friends. Good ones. The man had done a hell of a lot of research, sure, but he hadn’t actually invested any of himself into the new century at all. It was probably only alienating him further-

 

He blinked, snapping out of the spiral of thoughts. Why the fuck did he even care about that shit? Steve Rogers was not his problem. Howard had Steve Rogers firmly under his thumb, and the man was highly unlikely to let that go. He’d tell Steve all about Tony’s slutty tendencies, spin him a nice story about what a piece of shit Tony was, and then send Steve back into the world with a brand new raging hatred for everything Tony stood for. That’s just what Howard did. And he was really, really good at it.

He could still see Steve’s look of resolute horror at Howard’s words from before. About how Tony would probably expect a blowie for saving him. Like he’d ever

Jesus. What was the point in even getting angry about it? Howard probably thought it was true. Good old forties boy Steve was probably terrified of it. They’d both probably be at their apartment, talking shit and laughing together about how pathetic Tony was. Getting pissed about it wasn’t going to solve anything. It would just make him more bitter.

No. You know what he needed to do? He needed to give Steve a piece of his goddamn mind.

Because fuck him for believing every fucking word Howard said. Fuck him for turning on Tony like that, after Tony had just gone and saved his life. What fucking prick even did that, huh? He was an ungrateful bastard, and at the time, Tony had been feeling too crushed to argue, but now? Oh, now he was brave. Now he didn’t have a single fuck left to give.

So Steve wasn’t his friend? Okay. Tony had no reason to hold back on the asshole, then. He’d say exactly what was on his mind, and he’d let Steve know just what a fucking dick he was.

Stumbling upright, he leaned over the desk and snatched up his phone, dialling Steve’s number with shaky fingers and then pressing it up to his ear. In some part of his brain, the more logical and sober version of himself was saying that this probably wasn’t going to be a good idea. But you know what? Fuck that guy. He didn’t know shit.

It only took a few seconds for the call to go through, which made Tony realise that Steve wasn’t sleeping again, seeing as it was four in the morning. “Tony? I… hey-”

“Fuck you, Steve Rogers,” Tony said loudly before Steve could continue, “fuck you and your stupid buddy Howard. I never gave you any fucking reason to hate me. I never made you think I was gonna make you feel obligated to return any favours that I did for you. But you hear one thing from Howard fucking Stark, and you just believe every word that comes out of his precious little mouth. Fuck you.”

Before Steve could even take a breath, Tony slammed the phone down and ended the call viciously, looking at the caller ID in disgust. Stupid Steve. Stupid fucking Captain America with his stupid face and stupid… everything.

He picked up the phone again, less than a minute later, and dialled the number once more. He had more to say. He wanted Steve to know- just for once, he wanted to tell someone his truth. Not Howard’s twisted belief- his. His whole fucking life he’d kept quiet. He’d gotten on with it. Let whatever Howard said about him just go unchallenged, because it was easier to just roll his eyes and make a face than explain everything that had happened. But you know what? He figured if Steve Rogers was living with the guy, then he of all people should know the truth.

“Tony-“

“You know, when he came over today, I watched him treat you more like family than he ever treated me in my whole life,” he said bitterly, hand curled around the phone hard enough that he wondered if he was going to bend the thing, “he called you son. He hugged you. You know the last time he hugged me? Never.”

“Tony,” Steve said quietly, his voice concerned, “Tony, how drunk are you- do you need someone to-“

“What, you gonna judge me for that too? You ever wonder where I got that little habit from? Oh, that’s courtesy of daddy dearest too. I was seven when he forced that first glass of whiskey down my throat. Said I was a sissy and I needed to man up. I hated that stupid drink. It tasted like shit.” He wrinkled his nose and looked across the room, over to the empty Jack Daniels in the trash. Howard had gotten him into it eventually- it had just taken some time. “But hey- I just wanted to make him proud. All my life he was never… I just wanted, just once-“

“Tony,” Steve’s voice was quiet enough to almost be a whisper, “Tony, please let me explain. I wasn’t… I know it looked like I was judging you earlier today, because I happened to turn around and look at you, but that wasn’t it. I was horrified by what Howard had said, okay, and how he could be so cruel after you did something so selfless. After you left, I was furious at him.”

“Tell me what he said about me,” Tony asked out of the blue; the question popping into his mind like a lightning bolt, “I assume he said shit, yeah? That made you… that made you hate me so much when we first met. What did he say?”

At Steve’s silence, Tony got angrier. “Go on, Rogers! I’m curious! I’d like to know how he managed to make me the villain in all this- how the seven year old kid who got multiple bones broken by his drunken piece-of-shit father was the one who was to blame here! Tell me what he said!”

There wasn’t a sound on the other end of the line, but then Steve breathed out sharply. “Tony, this isn’t something you should be hearing right n-“

“Answer my Goddamn question, Cap, or I swear to God I’m gonna come over to Howard’s apartment and find out myself.”

“Tony, he just…” Steve tsked under his breath, and Tony got the feeling that Steve was pacing whatever room that he was in. “He said you weren’t good to him. That you never treated him with respect and- and that you were happy when your mother died. Used it to- ah- push Howard out of the company.”

Tony wasn’t even surprised. That sounded like exactly the kind of thing that Howard would say. In fact, he found himself chuckling.

 Fuck- this had been a mistake. He was too drunk. He was spilling all his personal shit to a guy who didn’t even care. The fuck was his problem? Jesus.

“I’m sorry for calling you,” Tony said after realising that they’d both been silent for too long, “it was inappropriate of me. I… I’m drunk, if you can’t tell. Makes me into a bitch. I’ll go-“

“No, Tony, don’t leave,” Steve said hurriedly, his voice sounded worried, “you stay on the line, okay? I know I’m probably the last person you want to talk to, and I understand, but I’m… you shouldn’t be alone right now.”

That was funny. Tony had managed to get drunk and depressed just fine on his own for the past four decades. “I don’t need you to babysit me because you feel bad, Cap,” he said bluntly, “I’m a big boy, I can handle myself thanks-“

“I’m not doing it because I feel bad- although I do- I’m doing it because you’re my friend, Tony, and I don’t want you to be hurting on your own.”

“We’re not friends,” Tony said with a laugh, “we’re barely even colleagues, Steve.”

There was another drawn-out silence, and then the sound of an almost imperceptible sigh. “You’re the closest thing I have to one, Tony.”

It was a simple sentence, but there was something unwaveringly tragic in the words. Tony- Tony Stark, of all people- the man that Steve only saw when they were fighting monsters or terrorists or the never-ending violence in their own minds, he was the only one that Steve considered a friend.

Tony paused, and then leaned back on the chair. He didn’t know what to say, and neither did Steve. This wasn’t just one of their usual late-night chats where they talked about aimless things until they’d managed to distract themselves into the morning- Tony was drunk off his ass and Steve was obviously not feeling too great either, if it was four in the morning and the man was still awake.

What a pair they made, huh?

“I used to adore you, you know that?” Tony said after a moment, shutting his eyes, “Captain America. You were my idol. You were… strong and brave and kind and good. I dreamed about showing you all my inventions and then watching you use them to save the world. I imagined hugging you a lot. It was pretty pathetic really. But you- you were everything that I wished I could be. Howard always told me I’d never even come close to being like you, but I dreamed of it anyway. I thought, you know, maybe if I was, then he’d like me a little more, right? Not hit me so much. I was really young- thought that’s how it worked.”

He laughed and shook his head. Oh, that naïve little boy was long dead now.

“Then, of course, I got a bit older. Realized Dad loved a ghost more than he would ever love me, and got bitter about it. Lashed out. I tried to beg for their attention. He sent me off to boarding school to toughen me up. That’s when I started to use more obvious methods to gain their attention. Criminal record, big parties, public scandals, the whole lot.” Tony grinned, looking up at the ceiling. “He ignored all that, too. I gave up in the end. Decided I hated you.”

He remembered that kid, the fifteen-year-old version of himself that had finally ripped the Cap poster off his wall, burned all his toys and trading cards and comics. The memory of that day was still vivid and clear in his head.

“I didn’t hate you really, though,” he whispered, “at least, not until I actually met you.”

Steve’s little huff of amusement came through the phone. “I don’t blame you for that. I’d have hated me too.”

Tony sighed loudly. What was he doing? Why was he spilling his heart out to Cap of all people? He was probably just going to go straight back to Howard and laugh about how pathetic his son was. This was stupid.

However, just as he was about to decide to just say fuck it and end the call, Steve suddenly cleared his throat. “Hey Tony?” he asked, his voice somewhat hesitant, like he wasn’t sure whether what he was saying would go down well or not, “Tony, for the record- I don’t like Howard Stark.”

He froze in his chair, eyes going wide as Steve continued. “I thought… I thought I could trust his judgement. But then I met you, and I realise that his judgement is impossibly far from the truth. Of course, I don’t expect you to forgive me for that- the things I said to you in the beginning were cruel and awful and untrue. I’m just… you’re a better man than he ever will be. You should know that. It’s important.”

Steve didn’t say anything else, and Tony remained rooted to his spot, unable to comprehend the words that Steve was saying to him. It felt like some sort of joke. “You don’t mean that.”

“I do, Tony.”

“Stop… no you don’t. I know you don’t. He might hate everything I am and stand for, but he doesn’t hate you. You’d… you’ve got no reason to dislike him.”

Steve just sighed, and Tony echoed the sentiment. That was the thing with him and Steve- they were just too damn stubborn. It sent them round in circles again and again, never actually moving anywhere. Steve said one thing, Tony denied it. Tony said another thing, and Steve denied that. They were goddamn hopeless.

“Tony?” Steve said his name softly after a moment of silence, and Tony blinked back into reality, taking a short breath and palming a hand over his head. He needed another drink. “Tony, can you let me in?”

That gave him a second of pause. Tony frowned, repeating the question in his head. “What, you mean emotionally, or physically?”

Surprisingly, Steve burst out laughing at that, and Tony couldn’t help but preen. He was irrationally obsessed with trying to get Steve to laugh like that- it happened so rarely. “Let’s start with physically for now, and we’ll work on the former a little later, yeah? For the time being- uh- I’m stood outside your tower, and it’s raining pretty heavily.”

Tony pulled a face, sitting up suddenly and then regretting it immediately afterward as it caused his stomach to overturn unpleasantly. “You’re what?” He asked in bewilderment, as his hands fluttered over the keyboard and then flicked on the screens, pulling up footage of outside the tower. True to his word, Steve was stood there- wearing nothing more than jeans and a t-shirt, one hand stuffed into his pocket and the other holding the phone up to his head as he shifted from foot to foot. “Steve, what the fuck are you doing outside my tower?”

He watched Steve shrug through the monitor. “I didn’t want to stay in Howard’s apartment tonight. I was gonna just… walk around until morning. But I was in the area when you called, and I thought you might… I dunno, maybe you’d need the company. Feel free to tell me to fuck off though. Considering everything you’ve just said, I figure it’s probably a little misplaced-“

He stopped talking when he watched the glass door in front of him buzz open smoothly. Tony had no idea why he’d allowed his fingers to let that happen- in his drunken mind, it seemed like a good idea. He had no idea what was going to happen after that though- he was feeling pretty temperamental tonight. He may invite Steve in simply to kick his ass back to curb again. That sounded like fun.

“Can I… are you saying I can come-“

“Elevator’s waiting for you,” he said briskly, before putting down the phone and then chucking it onto the desk surface.

If Steve had any sense, he’d just leave. There was no point in coming up, not now, not when Tony was like this. No one wanted to see him like this- he was a mess on a good day, but now? With all the drinking and the stupid emotions running through his head?

Well. At least Steve would leave knowing who the real Tony Stark was at long last. Not an evil mastermind and not a good Samaritan either- just a pathetic fucking drunk with a crush on Captain America that manifested itself in the form of figuratively pulling at Steve’s pigtails in the hope for a reaction.

Amazing. Really… real hero material right there.

 

Against his better judgement, Tony twirled around on his swivelly chair and shut his eyes, letting the breeze fan his face and cool his skin a little. He felt hot and agitated; already tired out from his emotional explosion, and now having to prepare his rather drunk brain for a visit from a man who managed to make Tony feel the entire spectrum of human emotion in a single conversation with him. That really took it out of a guy.

Damn, he should have just gone to sleep- but no, instead he’d chosen to stay awake and pity-drink himself into a stupor.

Despite the fact that that he’d been expecting it, it was still a shock when he heard Steve’s knuckles rapping against the walls of his workshop. He jumped from the noise and looked up, catching Steve’s eye through the clear wall and then blinking dumbly. He wasn’t sure why, but a small part of his brain had convinced himself that the entire interaction had just been a dream, and so seeing Steve, very much real and tangible and right in front of him, was kind of discombobulating.

“Can I come in?” Steve asked, an eyebrow cocked in question as he waved a hand at the door. Tony just stared at him for another moment, before nodding robotically and letting the doors slide open.

Then Steve was there. In front of him. For real.

“Hi,” the man said somewhat awkwardly, fiddling with the hem of his damp shirt and then using his spare hand to push the damp hair back from his face, “uhh-“

“I’m still not even sure whether this is real or just a hallucination, by the way,” Tony cut in with a blurt as he looked Steve up and down. “It doesn’t seem like a hallucination, but at the same time, you never know you’re taking a trip until you wake up in a ditch the next day with a banging headache and a memory of a hell of a lot more unicorns than there usually are in your day-to-day life-“

“You know I wasn’t lying about the whole ‘liking you more than Howard’ thing, right?” Steve jumped straight back into it, no hesitation at all, whoah, okay, Tony hadn’t been expecting him to go that hard that fast- “I want to make it clear. Tony, that what he said today was wrong. I haven’t been in the same room with him since and honestly, I don’t want to be. It’s why I’ve been wandering around New York. I basically went home, bandaged up my own wound and then walked back out again straight after. That’s it.”

Tony said nothing- just looked at Steve with a blank face as the man stared right back, a determined set to his jaw. Eventually, Tony just sighed, turning back to his desk. “Thanks, Steve. I appreciate the sentiment. But you should probably go home. I don’t need you to defend my honour.“

“That’s not my home,” Steve said, his voice quiet, but convinced. He looked down at the ground, and for a moment there was something so very sad in his eyes as he said, “but it’s the only place I have.”

Tony watched him shuffle his feet against the tiles, drawing an anxious little pattern with the toe of his boot. The action was almost endearing, and not for the first time, Tony thought about how young Steve was. How alone. How… scared. It was a daunting thing, being thrown into a world that was no longer your own and then getting told to just ‘deal with it’. But Steve did, and he did it as well as he could. It was certainly admirable. Tony would have given the middle finger to everyone a long time ago, if their situations were reversed.

He stood up, feeling the room spin a little as he did so. Steve looked up and half-raised a hand, ready to catch him, but Tony waved him off irritably. He’d had a lot of practise at being drunk- this was nothing compared to some of the benders he’d been on.

Steve looked at him as he approached, and sighed. “Tony, I’m sorry for- I shouldn’t have come and disturbed you. I was just… worried, I guess. But you should sleep. Get some rest. You’ve had a long day-“

“You haven’t left because he’s all that you’ve got, right?” Tony asked him, placing himself directly in front of Steve and staring up at him unwaveringly. Steve paused, blinking a few times as he processed the question- but then a small frown crossed his face, and he nodded uncertainly.

“I- I guess-“

“He’s done you favours before, yeah? Pretty big one being that he spent so much time looking for you, and now you feel as if you are obligated to him. I bet he subtly likes to slide that into conversation, doesn’t he? Just make sure you know who your life really belongs to, huh?”

Sensing that Tony was about to go on another tangent, Steve’s jaw clicked shut and he remained silent. Simply nodded once, eyes blank.

“So even though he does things you don’t like- even if, after some time, you start to actively dislike him, you can’t leave. You feel like you owe him. He’s done so much for you, so surely you can let this one thing slide? Except one thing turns into two, which turns into three, and then suddenly you’re seeing a whole different man to the person you once knew, but now it’s too late to get out.” Tony watched as Steve’s face slowly continued to contort in pain, knowing that with each word, he was hitting the nail on the head.

 If he’d have been kinder, he would have stopped talking after that.

“He’s got you trapped,” Tony told him quietly, “right under his thumb. He’s alienated you from the outside world, made you distrustful of everyone who isn’t him. Targeted the specific people that he considered threats, like me, and made sure you wouldn’t go near them. And now, the only person you know in this brand new, big ol’ world is him. So where else do you go? What else do you do except stay?”

Tony shook his head in disgust. Same old Howard- even after all these years, he just couldn’t stop himself from being a piece of shit. “He’s manipulating you, Steve. He’s obsessed with you- has been all his life- and now he’s got you, he’s doing everything to keep you in his possession. He doesn’t care about you- all he wants is control.”

Steve didn’t say anything. But from the way he was stood, from the lack of life in his eyes, Tony could see that everything he’d just said was true, and not just that, but Steve knew it.

“And what other option do I have, Tony?” He asked a few seconds later, his voice so terribly dejected, “where else do I go? SHIELD? Where they all stare and whisper about me, and treat me like an experiment? The street? Howard… he’s all I have left. He’s the only one who even pretends to care.”

Steve’s face was damp from rain, but the wetness in his eyes came from something else entirely. It seemed it wasn’t only Tony who was running high on emotions tonight- and in all honestly, Tony couldn’t blame Steve for that. He was going through a sort of pain that no one else in the history of man kind had ever had to experience.

 

And maybe it was because Tony was drunk. Maybe it was because he was looking at Steve’s stupid sad face, and could only see a hopelessly lost man who just needed a friend in the same way that Tony did. But in that moment, the solution to everything just seemed as clear as day.

 

“Move in here.”

Steve looked up, glancing at him blankly. “Huh?”

In response, Tony waved around the room. “Steve, do you know how many rooms I’ve got? So many fucking rooms. Big enough that you can live here and not even talk to me if you don’t wanna. Just come here.”

It was like he’d spoken in a completely different language- Steve was looking at him like he was crazy. “Tony, I can’t do that-“

“Well, what else are you gonna do? Live in an emotionally abusive home with Howard Stark for as long as it takes for one of you to die? No. I’m not gonna let you do that. As someone who had been there, I’m putting my foot down.” He slashed a hand through the air viciously, “Captain America shall not be made sad by my prick of a father. That’s that. You stay here for as long as you want.”

Steve let Tony pull him further into the workshop, as if that cemented his arrival, but he was still shaking his head, looking almost amused now. That was good. Tony liked when Steve was amused. Tony liked lots of things about Steve, if he was being honest. That guy before, who’d said Steve was a bitch, and stupid, and that he should fuck himself? He obviously didn’t know what he was talking about. Now Steve had informed him of how much he actually secretly despised Howard, Tony could like him again! And the people he liked got nice things. Like rooms to stay in so they could escape manipulative asshole men named Howard Stark.

“Tony,” Steve grabbed his wrist gently, slowing them down with a small smile, “Tony, I appreciate the offer, but you’re drunk. I feel as if you will regret this in the morning.”

Tony pulled a face. “I may be drunk, darling, but I make many of my decisions whilst drunk. They have an 80% success rate.”

Again, that nice little chuckle. “I’d still feel a lot more comfortable if you made that decision in the morning, okay? I’m… like you said, we’re not even friends.” Steve’s voice went a little quiet at that, and he looked down at the floor. He was terrible at hiding his tells.

Tony sighed, stepping forward. He was in Steve’s space- kissing distance, really, and wasn’t that a nice thought? The horny teenager inside of him would probably have already come twice, just from the damn proximity.

Tony had never really gotten over that particular infatuation. It had made it all the more difficult to hate the man.

“We are friends, Steve,” he said with a sigh, leaning his forehead into Steve’s wonderful shoulder. He was actually pretty tired, now he thought about it. All those emotions had tired him out. “You’re a prick, but it’s not your fault. You’ve been around Howard f’r too long. Happens to the best of us, believe me.”

Steve stayed very still as Tony leaned against him, like he wasn’t entirely sure what to do. “I.. okay,” he said in the end, voice tight. When Tony looked up at him through his eyelashes, Steve was staring right back down on him, his eyes a little wide. “You should probably go to bed,” he blurted in the end, “you’re- you seem tired. And you’re drunk. And sad. Sleep always helps for those things.”

Tony grinned, burying his head a little further into the warmth of Steve’s shoulder. “I should go to bed,” he said with a nod, “you could join me, if you like. Or is that a little too soon for the forties boy?”

Steve spluttered at that. It made Tony laugh again. He’d undoubtedly be mortified by that in the morning, if he even remembered- but for now, he didn’t much care. “Tony, you were telling me to go fuck myself a little while ago, among other things. I’m getting a few mixed signals here.”

Tony smiled. “Get used to that, Steven, I am an absolute nightmare. You’re going to hate living with me.”

Steve just sighed. “In the morning, Tony. We can… if you still feel okay with it in the morning, then we can talk about that. Until then, I think you should get some rest.”

“Rest,” Tony said, nodding. He was tired, that was true. And there was a remarkably warm and comfy spot just there, readily available. How could Tony resist. “Okay,” he murmured, shutting his eyes and falling forward.

Steve caught him, because he was Steve, of course he’d goddamn catch him- and the last thing Tony heard was Steve’s lovely deep voice as it cursed his name, before he fell into a gentle doze against Steve’s nice broad shoulders.

Ah, whiskey. Always put him to sleep nice and quick.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

As it turned out, Tony hadn’t been joking.

 

He’d woken up grumpy, hungover and looking like shit, but he’d told Steve that the offer still stood. As to why, Steve was still unsure. It wasn’t as if he deserved that much hospitality from Tony- not after the start they’d had, anyway.

Under any other circumstances, he might have turned down the offer, said it was too much. But he’d been desperate, and Tony… Tony got it. A little bit. He understood what it was like to be a hero, and to deal with all the demons that came with it.

So he’d said yes.

He hadn’t needed to move any of his stuff. None of it was important anyway- only his uniform, which he’d managed to grab and take over to Tony’s without Howard even noticing him coming in. And after that… well. Tony had just given him a choice of about fifty different rooms and let him go nuts.

Fast forward a month, and Steve was staring out of the window on the 90th floor, watching Iron Man as he flew back through Park Avenue and swooped low so that the public could cheer and take pictures. It always made Steve roll his eyes fondly- Tony was a show-off, no one could deny; but he did it because he knew that everyone loved it, and Steve was amongst those included. That suit really was a work of art.

Slipping out of his chair, he closed his book and placed it on his nightstand before walking out of his room and then heading up to the communal living room. The Chinese order had come in a few minutes previously, so it’d still be hot by the time Tony got back.

Steve had ordered it online, all by himself. He was really quite proud of that- especially seeing as he’d only really come to grips with the internet as a whole over the past few weeks. But yeah- the Chinese was there, JARVIS had an episode of friends already queued up, and Steve was very ready to spend the next few hours lounging around on the comfy couches and doing absolutely nothing but eating junk.

Of course, however, because it was Steve, and he was eternally cursed with bad luck, as soon as he sat his ass down on the couch he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Steve pulled it out and looked at Tony’s grinning face stare back at him, and swiped to answer immediately.

“Honey, as it turns out, I am unfortunately not home just yet,” Tony began with- and it was nothing, it was a joke, but Steve felt his heart clench just the slightest bit at the pet-name anyway. Ever since moving in with Tony, those little bouts of… feeling, had only gotten worse. They’d never spoken about the night Tony had been drunk and propositioned Steve- the day after, it seemed that Tony didn’t even remember- but hell, Steve sure thought about it a lot. A lot.

It was a strange, unspoken little thing. The tension in the room that neither of them had addressed yet. The shy glances and soft smiles. Steve just wondered who was going to move first.

“What are you talking about?” He asked, sitting up, “I literally just saw you outside.”

“Yeah- well I almost managed to get my feet on the landing pad when I got a call from Pep,” Tony explained through a sigh, “there’s been a fuckup in SI. Someone forgot to sign off for the right order, and now we’ve just discovered there’s a lack of stock and… everything’s just a mess. I’m probably going to be working through the night for this one.”

Steve made a face. Tony had already been in California for the past two days attending business meetings, and he knew the man must be exhausted already. This was going to wipe Tony out. “Jesus. That sounds…bad.”

“Yeah, you’re telling me.”

Steve glanced down at the untouched Chinese boxes, huffing. “And after I slaved away in the kitchen all evening, Stark, really?”

He got what he wanted- Tony laughed. “I’m sure arranging those takeout boxes were an absolute nightmare, Winghead. I’m so sorry to let you down.”

Steve smiled tiredly, glancing out of the window as a warmth spread through his chest. Tony had a dozen nicknames for him, but he was pretty sure that one was his favourite. It was just… nice- to be treated like a human being with a sense of humour, after spending so long being simply The Experiment. Tony called him names and got annoyed at him and absolutely lost his shit whenever Steve boiled his chicken, and at no point did he ever say Steve ‘wasn’t ready’ for something new from the future, not like Howard had. Steve wasn’t bound to him- he did his own thing, bought his own clothes, actually went out and saw things. It had been two weeks, and he felt better than he had in- well, decades, really. He’d never known how bad it had been until he was free of it.

Steve had to end the call shortly after, when Tony landed and then got straight to work, but the man remained on his mind for a long time after, as he tended to do these days. Steve thought about him when he was doing the dishes half an hour later, and he popped into his head again when Steve was sat sketching on the kitchen table. He’d only actually realised that Tony had been on his mind at all when he’d looked down and seen the man’s smile on his sketch paper.

He ran a thumb over it, grinning to himself before checking the clock. It was now 11 at night, and Tony would have set off flying at around 2 in the afternoon in order to get back when he did. If he’d been busy at work, then he probably hadn’t eaten. And for a matter of fact, neither had Steve- not after realizing Tony wouldn’t be joining him.

He leaned back and opened the fridge, looking at the piles of boxes that sat waiting for him. He could totally take takeout into a workplace, right? They hadn’t changed the rules on that? Health and safety was insane these days, but surely that was still allowed.

Mind made up, he quickly sat up and bagged all the food, before slipping on his jacket and heading down toward his bike. Once Tony had shown him how to access his bank, he’d realised that he had in fact accumulated a hell of a lot of back-pay, and the first thing he’d done with it was buy his baby. It was the perfect Harley Davidson, and he refused to let Tony even attempt to tamper with it.

The night was cool as he flew through the streets, but he didn’t mind too much, and before he knew it he was at the company building in Brooklyn, the bags of Chinese in hand as he marched confidently through the building. He’d been to Tony’s office here once before, and so he’d memorised the route perfectly.

The hallways were fairly empty as he wandered through them- everyone else must have given up and gone home. But Tony would work himself to the ground, and then as soon as he hit rock he’d just get a shovel and keep digging. It was ridiculous now, for Steve to ever even consider Tony being anything other than completely brilliant at what he did. The picture Howard had painted of him was a man entirely different to the person that Tony Stark actually was.

At the end of the corridor, he spotted Tony’s room and grinned to himself. Tony would love this, Steve knew it. He was a sucker for some chicken-fried rice, and Steve was sure he wouldn’t mind it cold.

A few steps away from the door, however, he heard more than one voice in the room, and realised that Tony was not alone.

Steve frowned. Not wanting to interrupt anything important. But from the snippets of conversation he could hear and the tone of voice that was being used, it wasn’t a professional conversation. In fact, both voices sounded familiar.

The penny dropped as he pinned a face to the name, and Steve felt himself tense straight up at the realisation that Howard Stark was in the room with Tony.

And they were arguing.

“-don’t know shit, Howard, you haven’t owned this company for a long time, now get out of my office,” he heard Tony growl as he crept closer and pushed his ear against the door.

“You think I’m here about the company? I don’t give a shit about it any more, this is your mess. No, I’m here to talk to you about something else, boy.”

“Oh, I wonder what that could possibly b-“

“I’ve waited long enough,” Howard hissed, and Steve’s enhanced hearing picked up the other man’s laboured breathing from the other side of the door, “over a month, for Steve to calm down and come back. For you to- to give up this ridiculous petty charade. But I’ve had enough. I want him back.”

Steve felt his stomach churn, and on the other side of the door, he heard Tony’s sharp intake of breath. “He’s not yours, you sick fuck-“

“I Pulled him out of that godforsaken tundra! I spent all that time looking for him! I won’t let you just swan in there and take him away from me!”

“I’m not doing anything.” There was a creak, and Steve imagined Tony sitting back on his chair, wielding his apparent indifference like a weapon against the furious Howard. “He made that choice off his own back. I just gave him a place to stay that wasn’t anywhere near your emotionally manipulative self, dear father.”

There was the sound of a harsh laughter. Steve had heard that laugh before from Howard. He was about to say something scathing. “Oh, and a place to stay was all you gave him, huh?”

A pause. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, stop acting as if you’re not just like every common whore who’s thrown themselves at him before. It’s all you’ve ever been good at, hasn’t it? Couldn’t do shit, but you could sure sleep around well. Did you just wear him down in the end? I mean, it’s not like you had anything else to offer him. He wouldn’t want to be your friend- no one ever has, aside from a few poor freaks. You don’t deserve him, Anthony, and I want him back where he belongs.”

Steve, on the other side of the door, held back the gasp of horror and rage as it boiled over inside him. And this was how Howard talked to people who weren’t Steve, then. This was who he really was.

Steve wanted to break his fucking nose.

Fists clenching angrily at his side, he slammed his shoulder into the door and strode in without warning. He didn’t know what his plan was- but he knew that he would never, ever let anyone talk to Tony like that. Least of all Howard fucking Stark.

In fact, the plan occurred to him whilst half way across the room. It was an impulse decision- one that he would never even consider if he was thinking clearly. But all he could see was Tony’s face, pale and tired in front of him, and then Howard Stark as he stood over the desk where Tony was sat, leaning over and trying to look as threatening as possible.

It was an obvious choice to make, really.

“Hey, Tony,” he said with a smile, not even acknowledging Howard’s existence as he walked around the table and then, without a moment of hesitation, leaned down and captured Tony’s mouth in a long, hard kiss.

He felt Tony’s eyes widen for a fraction of a second as his eyelashes fluttered frantically over Steve’s cheeks- but a moment later, Steve felt Tony hesitantly begin to kiss back, angling his head better and opening his mouth to let Steve in.

It lasted a total of 5 seconds, before Steve broke off and then placed the bags of Chinese down on the desk with a smile. Tony was just staring at him blankly, like his brain had shut down. His mouth was still slightly open, and his eyes wide. “I brought Chinese. Thought you might be a bit hungry.”

It took Tony a moment to respond. Well- if you could call his strangled squeak a response. But he nodded, and then wrapped his fingers around the bag and pulled it forward, peering in. He kept shooting disbelieving looks up at Steve. “Right,” he choked out in the end, “right, cool. Cool. Right.”

Steve smiled softly at him, before finally turning on his heel and then shooting Howard a steely glare. The old man was stood, rooted to the spot with a mixture of horror and shock on his face. He was staring at Steve as if he’d grown a second head.

Steve didn’t sugar coat it. Didn’t bother explaining. He just pointed to the door. “Get out, Howard,” he said simply, “before I throw you out.”

Howard opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish. “Really?” He whispered, “after everything I’ve done for you?”

Steve folded his arms so that he wouldn’t lash out. A punch might kill the old bastard. “I’m not your pet, Howard. You don’t decide my fate, and I don’t have to live under your rule for the rest of my life because of an unhealthy infatuation that eventually led to my discovery. I don’t know what happened to you, but for all I care, the man I knew from the war is dead and buried. I want nothing to do with you, at all.” He waved his hand once more to the door and raised an eyebrow.

Howard looked as if someone had slapped him in the face. He slowly moved his head from Steve to Tony, and the look in his eyes was so full of hatred that Steve wanted to forcibly shove him out of the door. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but ultimately decided against it, simply shooting one last blank look at Steve, before turning on his heel and walking out of the door with an angry slam.

There was a long silence in the room.

Steve breathed out after a few seconds, shutting his eyes tight as the sudden burst of bravery fled from him, leaving him with the immediate aftermath of what he’d just done. And what he’d just done was kiss Tony. Not even just a little one- a full on; tongue and teeth and makes-you-breathless kiss.

Fuck.

Fuck fuck shit fuck fuck.

“So,” Tony said, and Steve jumped at the sudden noise, spinning around and looking down at Tony, who was staring very intently at the bag of Chinese food, “I wasn’t aware that’s how we were greeting each other now.”

Okay. He could play this off. He could just say… he’d been doing it to piss off Howard. It hadn’t meant anything. It was just to get a reaction.

He could say any of those things.

“No one should ever, ever speak about you like that,” is what he said in the end, his voice low and quiet, “you are so… you’re so much more than what he thinks of you. And in the grand scheme of things, you were definitely not the one who was throwing yourself at me,” he added with a weak smile, feeling his heart start to hammer nervously in his chest.

Tony was still staring at him blankly, and with every passing second of silence Steve just grew more afraid. What was Tony going to say? Was this it? Had Steve just fucked everything up?

But then Tony stood up. He turned and looked at Steve- and his tie was hanging loosely around his neck, his collar was open, his hair was a mess and his face washed out- and Steve just thought he was perfect.

 

Then, a second later, Tony leaned up onto his tiptoes, lifted his hand to curl around the back of Steve’s neck, and then pulled him down for another kiss.

 

Steve went easily, the relief washing through him like a wave as he placed his hands on Tony’ slim hips and tugged him in a little closer, shutting his eyes and losing himself to the sensation of Tony’s mouth, the sharpness of his facial hair contrasted with the softness of his lips. It was slow, soft, and perfect.

Tony broke off and leaned back a little, but kept his hand fiddling with the hairs at the back of Steve’s neck. He swallowed once, and then smiled. Steve smiled back, and it set off a round of nervous giggles from both of them.

“We should probably talk about that,” Tony whispered, waving a hand between the two of them.

Steve nodded. “Yeah, probably.”

“… Chinese first though?”

“Oh yes please,” Steve sighed in relief, immediately pulling the bag forward, “I’m fucking starving.”

When Tony laughed, it creased his face with little lines and made his eyes sparkle. Steve grinned back, dropping a hand tentatively down toward Tony’s, and it was picked up without a moment’s hesitation as Tony dived into the bag and looked for his precious rice with a look of concentration on his face that he usually kept for his workshop.

 

It wasn’t much, but at the same time it was everything, and for the first time since he’d woken up in the 21st century, Steve thought ‘I’m glad I’m here’.

Maybe the future wasn’t… quite as terrible as he’d thought. It had good Chinese food and Tony Stark, and as he sat on the desk in Stark Industries and ate the greasy rice off a plastic fork whilst his spare hand held onto Tony’s, he thought that maybe, just maybe, he could get used to this.