When he was a boy Tony had wanted to touch the stars.
On the days when Howard was drunk or angry, and Howard was always drunk and angry, Tony would scramble out of his window and clamor up onto the mansion’s roof.
He’d stand there, starlight dripping down on him, and stare up at them in awe, hands stretch upward in longing and in wonder.
More than once he’d fallen asleep up there, awash in starlight, and Jarvis had been forced to climb up onto the rooftop after him.
For a long time that roof and Jarvis’ arms had been the only two places Tony had ever really felt safe.
And when Howard had finally shuffled him off to boarding school at eight, tiny and frightened and so alone…
Well the stars had been there to comfort and to welcome him.
It becomes a side project of a sorts for him, a lifelong obsession.
Tony goes through life with his head tilted up and his eyes fastened ever so faithfully on the sky.
All of the possibilities that they contain.
Tony knows he and James Rhodes are meant to be friends.
It’s in the way they’re both wearing NASA t-shirts the first day they meet.
It’s in the way Rhodes’ hands are gentle, careful, when he pulls Tony into a hug.
It’s in the way Jim’s smile gleams like starlight.
It’s in the way that Rhodey’s fondest wish is to fly.
Rhodey, Tony finally decides after two long years of friendship, is a thing of sun and wind and open skies. He’s a wide smile and an even wider heart. Is good and true and all of the things Tony hasn’t really believed in since the first time Howard made him taste blood at six.
At seventeen with bruises the shape of Howard’s hand on his heart, with cuts the exact size of Maria’s absence on his soul, Tony is already a bastardized amalgamation of stardust and iron, a conglomerate of spaces-in-between.
And yet, somehow, they still manage to fit together just right.
Birds of a similar sort of cosmic feather.
Tony grows older.
He keeps his eyes on the sky even as he builds and builds and builds some more.
He ignores the way his chest aches as if it’s missing something.
Like there’s a hole there, cut deep into the bone and tissue.
A hollow at the core of him, just waiting to be filled.
Someone inevitably asks him who his first love was.
“The stars, darling,” Tony laughs, head tilted back and sunglasses firmly in place, “nothing else could ever light up my black little heart like they do.”
They play it off of course.
A clever quip, a sneaky sort of deflection.
But oh Tony has never been so serious.
What else could touch a soul like his, stepped down in shadows as it is, than the glory of the burning light of infinity?
Eventually, when asked, Tony calls himself a futurist.
But all he’s ever really been is a boy in love with stars he’ll never touch.
Then there’s Afghanistan.
There’s a bomb.
There’s a cave.
Tony’s chest is ripped open and carved hollow, bones left jagged at the edges.
His heart, star captured and sky cluttered as it has always been, is left in tatters.
It is cold and dark and there is agony ripping at the seams of him, burning him at the edges like a solar flare.
Tony’s thought about what it would be like to be remade before but it was never supposed to be like this.
It was always going to be like this.
In the end Tony has to build himself a new heart there, in the cold and unforgiving dark of the cave, trapped in the middle of the burning waste of the desert.
It seems almost fitting somehow.
Tony leaves the cave behind in a storm of fire and death.
For a split second he flies.
For a single, infinite moment, he is weightless and breathless and the sky is right there.
Wreathed in flame Tony finally knows the glory of the supernova first hand.
Here is the secret about boys who love stars:
They always grow up to be black holes.
Edges bending light.
Hungry at the core.
The armor feels like benediction.
When Tony flies he swears he can taste stardust heavy on his tongue.
It’s a sweetness that Tony knows he hasn’t earned.
But by the stars if he isn’t going to try.
It almost isn’t a surprise when the reactor begins to kill him.
It’s as close as he’s ever come to holding a star in his hands.
Of course it was always going to burn him.
But, in the end, underneath JARVIS’ loving and watchful eye, Tony does what he can to push through the pain.
And in the process he births a new element into existence.
At first, the new element singing in his chest, Tony doesn’t understand what he’s done.
Doesn’t understand the full consequences of his actions.
But, to be fair, there’s no way he really could have.
Not even a futurist like him could have ever seen this coming.
There’s a murmur in the back of his mind now, a soft little voice that hums and chimes on a different track than his normal thoughts.
It’s easy enough to ignore for the most part.
Tony has a lifetime of practice ignoring the parts of himself he doesn’t understand after all.
Tony goes through a wormhole, a bomb on his back and the reactor glowing star bright in his chest.
Space stretches out her arms and meets him halfway.
Cradled in infinity Tony closes his eyes.
He wakes up on the streets of New York, an angry buzzing in the back of his mind and Steve above him.
It feels like a new beginning.
Looking back it’s no wonder Tony falls in love with Steve so easily.
Tumbles head first into the abyss with a deep breath and a smile.
The first time they meet Steve’s eyes are sky bright and just as endless.
He is bold and biting and he wears a white star on his chest.
To Tony, who has always loved the stars far too fondly for his own good, it feels like fate.
It’s just not the one Tony thought it was.
Not the one he wanted.
But then, perhaps, that too is fate.
Tony has long grown used to loving things far out of his reach.
Stars that he cannot touch.
Time passes, SHIELD falls, and the Avengers come back together.
Steve still has a star on his chest and on his shield and he is just as good and beautiful as Tony remembers.
And, just like the stars he used to stare up at from the mansion’s rooftop, he’s utterly out of Tony’s reach.
Until the very moment that he isn’t.
Flying in the armor leaves Tony tasting stardust, sweet and pure.
Kissing Steve isn’t sweet but it is better.
With his sky blue eyes and his sun gold hair, Steve is like a solar system Tony is aching to explore.
And for a while it is pleasure and warmth and that faint feeling of home.
And then Maximoff slips her way into his mind, digs scarlet tipped fingers into the most tender parts of him.
And then she rips them open.
Rips him open.
Bleeding starlight and cosmic dust from every pore Tony tries his best to stop his own free fall.
To hold his world together with hands that shake.
Because of course he does.
Boys in love with stars only have one fate.
There’s a party, the Avengers all together, laughter and joy sliding between them as easily as breathing.
“If thou be worthy,” Thor intones with a challenging grin as he settles Mjolnir on the table in the middle of them all.
It moves an inch or so for Steve but refuses to budge for anyone else who tries.
Tony, drunk more on the blue of Steve’s eyes when he smiles at him than the actual champagne, just grins and steps forwards.
He wraps his hand around Mjolnir’s leather covered hilt.
There’s a flare of rage and betrayal in the back of his mind and he rips his hand away from the hammer with a yelp.
“Not worthy,” Thor murmurs as he steps forwards and picks the hammer up, flipping it easily in his hands.
Tony, staring down at his red and slightly smoking palm, tries to pretend like he doesn’t see the looks the others trade.
Tries to pretend like he doesn’t see the frown that flickers, comet like, across Steve’s face.
And then …
His dreams that night on the Barton farm are angry, filled with hurt and betrayal.
Tony gets the impression that he’s broken some sort of covenant that he doesn’t remember making.
Hurt something he didn’t even know existed.
Mine, something snarls in his dreams, voice young and angry and betrayed. Not That One’s. Mine.
Tony wakes up sad and cold and aching.
The side of the bed that’s belonged to Steve for months now no matter where they sleep is empty.
For some reason Tony’s not all that surprised.
Everything Tony thought he’d been building towards dissolves in his hands, slips through his fingers like starlight and comet dust.
Like the cosmos saw what he was trying to keep and said no, this was not meant for you.
Tony bites back a bitter laugh as JARVIS, his best and brightest son, is scattered like a constellation. The pieces of him that are left settle light years apart, a caricature of a legend drawn out in bright lights that will never meet.
His star bright boy forced to go iron heavy at the core.
Tony is tired of burying Edwin Jarvis.
Once was enough.
He should have never had to do it again.
But he seems to be the one person Tony is destined to never be able to keep.
Almost father and would be son alike.
Tony won’t try again.
Can’t bare to.
After that nothing is ever the same.
Steve doesn’t look at him like he used to, shies from his hands whenever Tony reaches out to touch him.
There are no more kisses.
No more solar systems to explore.
Tony doesn’t look towards the sky anymore.
He is tired of being scorched by celestial bodies.
In hindsight he should have seen the Civil War coming.
In fairness not even star blind futurists can see every eventuality.
No matter how hard they try.
No matter how everyone else seems to expect them to.
There is a white star on St- Rogers ’ chest.
There is a red star on Barnes’ arm.
Tony’s used to being killed by the things he loves but god this feels almost like mockery.
Tony’s not sure which would be better.
The shield comes up.
Tony’s eyes lock on the star at the center.
Tony closes his eyes in a snow strewn bunker in Siberia, a furious roar in the back of his mind and Steve above him.
It feels like an ending.
Tony hopes it is an ending.
The word rips its way across the back of his mind.
This is not Our end.
It’s a whisper, a humming chime in a voice not his own.
But it’s familiar, achingly so.
Tony is tired.
He just wants everything to stop.
Tony opens his eyes in a Siberian bunker.
Everything is awash in a fierce and familiar electric blue.
When he sits up the armor sloughs off of his skin like water, unable to withstand the heat coursing through his veins as he is rewritten from the inside out.
Tony steps naked from his makeshift cocoon.
The truth of it is this:
Tony Stark dies in an abandoned HYDRA bunker in Siberia.
Cut down by the shield of a man he’d once thought held the cosmos in his eyes.
Tony Stark does not stay dead.
It takes him a day or so after he gets back to the Compound to truly understand what’s happened. To piece together the whispers and the inborn sort of knowledge he now has into something cohesive and understandable.
Tony was drawn back to life by the demand of the star he’s been harboring in his chest for years now.
The element he’d created and the reactor sunk into the very center of him had come together to birth something into existence far beyond what he’d ever dreamed of.
And Tony has been its shelter since he pulled it into reality.
Has been unknowingly nurturing and protecting it during its infancy.
It’s no wonder he’d been rejected so viciously by Mjolnir.
Stars are, at their hearts, possessive of what is theirs.
Tony was claimed from the moment he slotted the perfected reactor into his chest.
And now it will never let him go.
Tony has always wanted to touch the stars.
He never thought one would reach out and touch him first.
Time passes, Tony builds Rhodey a new set of legs, the Accords are rewritten, and the world moves forwards.
Tony hurtles towards the future like the comet he’s always been, but now he does it with his star singing sweetly in his ears.
Two years click by like an afterthought but they mean little to Tony in the scheme of things.
Stars do not, after all, count the passage of time like regular humans do.
And now neither does Tony.
A blessing and a curse.
And then the Rogues are pardoned.
Hurt, his star hisses as he watches them come striding towards the Compound from the jet they’d all arrived in.
“I know they did, darling,” Tony whispers back as he presses his hand against the front of the arc reactor. “But we’re safe now.”
Tony turns on his heel and walks away.
It’s easy now to ignore the Rogues, to ignore Rogers and his soulful sky blue eyes.
Tony doesn’t have to reach for the stars anymore.
Doesn’t have to yearn for the untouchable.
A piece of the cosmos lives inside of him now, sings sweetly in his chest and whispers love and secrets into dreams filled with swirling galaxies.
Every beat of his heart is echoed by another.
Tony will never be alone again.
Barnes looks lighter than he had the last time Tony had seen him, less bloody too.
He’s also sporting a new arm, a black and gold beauty of a thing.
Tony think back to the silver beast of a thing still sitting in his lab, thinks of the red star he’d seared straight through when he’d blasted the thing off of Barnes’ shoulder.
It was, he thinks, a fair enough trade.
“Stark,” Barnes’ voice is soft and easy, almost gentle.
“Barnes,” Tony dips his head in Barnes’ direction and keeps moving about the kitchen, humming lightly along to the sweet chiming in the back of his head.
“What’re you singing?” Barnes asks softly, hesitantly, like he’s not sure he has the right.
It’s more courtesy than most of the Rogues have shown Tony in the Compound since all of this began.
Tony turns enough to look at Barnes over his shoulder, eyes tracking across the way his NASA t-shirt is stretched across his chest, before he looks away again.
“Just a star song,” Tony tells him vaguely, nonsensically, as he picks up his coffee and his plate of food.
He leaves before Barnes can say anything else.
That’s not true.
Tony hears what Barnes whispers at his back.
“I like the stars,” Barnes murmurs, voice faintly musing and just a bit sad.
Tony hears him.
He just pretends like he didn’t.
The next time he sees Barnes it’s night, the Compound’s outer lights are off, and Tony’s laid out on the rooftop basking in the starlight and the blue glow of the reactor.
“Need something, Barnes?” Tony asks softly.
“No,” Barnes’ steps are almost silent as he moves closer to Tony’s blanket. “I was just … I like to watch the stars. I can leave if you want.”
Tony’s eyes drift shut for a split second, in his chest his star hums softly.
“Stay,” Tony tells him gently as he moves over to make room on the blanket. “If you want.”
There’s a moment of silence and then Barnes is there, big and warm as he lays down beside him.
They watch the stars together in silence for the longest time.
“I’m sorry,” Barnes whispers to him minutes or hours later. “For everything.”
Tony breathes out.
His star trills almost sleepily in the back of his mind.
“Do you know the stories behind the constellations?” Tony asks as he shifts enough to look over at Barnes.
With his hair pulled back in a bun, his jaw stubble covered, and the light of the reactor tinting his skin in shades of celestial blue he looks otherworldly.
And yet, all at the same time, utterly within reach.
“No,” Barnes whispers, a tension of some sort seeming to melt from his shoulders. “Will you tell me?”
“We’ll start with some of the more popular Greek ones and move on from there,” Tony tells him easily enough. “Might take a few nights to get through all the ones I know though.”
“I’m free if you are,” Barnes’ smile is soft and almost shy.
Tony can’t help the way he smiles back.
Not asked for or demanded, but given all the same.
It becomes something of a habit and a secret indulgence for the two of them to meet there, up on the roof with the lights out and the stars streaming down at them.
They lay there, side by side on that blanket, night after night as, one by one, Tony shares with Barnes, with James, every star story that he knows.
A lifetime of knowledge laid out like a gift.
Or an outstretched hand.
And James …
He always reaches back.
“Are you sure, Tones,” Rhodey asks him softly one afternoon, a hand on the back of Tony’s head and attention focused on James’ back from where he’s standing talking to Rogers.
His worry is blatant in his tone.
Of course Rhodey knows about the growing closeness between him and James.
Just like he’d been the one to call Tony out on his growing infatuation with Rogers back at the beginning of it all.
“It’s different this time,” Tony answers as he inhales the familiar scent of leather and sunlight that will always be Rhodey to him.
“I hope so,” Rhodey tells him gently. “You deserve something good Tony. You really do.”
Tony isn’t sure if he agrees exactly, but he loves Rhodey all the more for the faith he’s always had in him.
It takes six months before James kisses Tony for the first time.
They’re on the roof again, drinks and a platter of fruit settled between them, when James shifts and reaches out to touch Tony.
Tony, eyes drinking in the way the reactor, his star, spills blue light across the planes of James’ face, lets him.
James’ hand slides shyly across Tony’s jawline with a touch that feels almost reverent.
“Can I?” James whispers as he leans forwards even more, mouth a hair’s breadth away from Tony’s. “Tony, svet zvezd, can I?”
Starlight, Tony can’t help but think as a sweet sort of ache wells up inside of him.
He calls me starlight.
“Yes,” Tony tells him because he doesn’t think there was ever going to be any other answer. “James, yes.”
Tony can feel the way James shudders from the force of his sigh as he leans forwards and kisses him.
James doesn’t taste like stardust the first time they kiss.
He tastes like apples and caramel instead.
Tony likes it.
“I like the stars,” James whispers to him later on that night. “I like you more.”
Tony closes his eyes and presses closer to James’ chest, one hand coming up to fist in the fabric of James’ NASA t-shirt.
He feels as if he’s standing on the edge of an abyss again.
Breathless and yearning.
He knows exactly how this is going to end.
Boys who love stars only have one fate after all.
The first time Tony lets James lay him down on their blanket on the roof and take him apart right there beneath the stars Tony swears he can taste infinity.
Eyes wide and back arched, James’ hand covering the arc reactor protectively, his mouth pressing biting kisses against the line of Tony’s throat, Tony thinks he sees it again too.
Tony Stark knows a secret of the universe.
He knows how to birth stars into existence without stepping foot into the vastness of space.
He carries the one that chose him in his chest.
Wears it twined around his soul.
Hears it whisper and chime sweetly to him in the back of his mind.
One day, he thinks, fingers twined with James’ as they lay together on the roof of the Compound, neither of them will be alone.
He has at least one more star inside of him, just waiting to be born.
And Tony knows exactly who he wants to give it to.
Just like he knows that James will take it with gentle, reverent hands.
And together, starstruck and cosmos chosen, they will rise.