“Anthony Edward Stark, what in the hell do you need another PhD for?”
“I don’t think the program at MIT was complete enough, I didn’t get nearly enough experience in mechanical engineering," Tony said as he followed his father into his office, catching the door as it almost closed on him. "There’s a program at NYU-“
“No, absolutely not. I need you to start working in R&D yesterday - have you seen Hammer’s most recent line of missiles?” Howard slammed his briefcase on the desk and opened it with rushed, jerky motions, tossing out a pile of photos that slid across the desk towards Tony. “Stark Industries doesn’t have anything like this, and I’m too busy keeping the business running to do it myself.”
Tony spared a brief glance at the photos but they didn’t look like anything special. “Look, Dad, it should only take me a year, eighteen months max-”
“I said no. If you don’t want to be a part of the family business, then fine.” Howard straightened and pointed towards the door. “Get the hell out of my house.”
Tony took a deep breath and tried not to roll his eyes at his father’s dramatics. “Well, it’s not like I could live here anyway, I’ll live near campus-”
“No!” Howard shouted, face growing red. “I’m not going to let my son be a lazy bum freeloading off my hard work to screw around with a bunch of undergrads and claim he’s working.”
Tony reared back like he’d been slapped. “I’m – I’m not-“ He’d put in twelve to fifteen hour days six days a week to get his degree a year early; going out on Saturday nights and sleeping it off on Sundays had only seemed fair. “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I worked my ass off-”
“Cut the shit, Tony. Playtime's over, it’s time to start pulling your weight around here. Report to Stark Industries on Monday or I’m cutting you off.”
“Cutting me off?” Tony repeated numbly. “What-”
“You heard me. I’m done. Start working, or stop spending my goddamn money like it’s water.”
Tony blinked for a long moment as Howard’s meaning sunk in. “Ok. Well. Then fuck this,” Tony said, turning on his heel. “I don’t need you or your goddamn money.”
Infuriatingly, Howard barked out a laugh. “Right. You won’t last a week out there without me. I’m the one who pays your bills every month, remember? The one who puts money in your account and pays off your credit card?”
“Fine, then don’t,” Tony snapped. “I’ll pay my own fucking bills and you can design your own goddamn missiles.” Tony slammed the office door on his way out, half expecting Howard to come storming after him. But he didn’t, the office door stayed closed and the whole way to his car he never heard the voice calling after him that he expected.
“Because he doesn’t care,” Tony muttered to himself as he got in his car. “No, it’s because he doesn’t believe me,” he said, rubbing his temples and relaxing his jaw, that just realized had been clenched so hard it was giving him a headace. “He thinks I’m going to run back to him in a few days, begging for help.” As he threw the car in gear and roared down the driveway he swore the only way he would come back to Howard for anything would be if the old man begged him to.
Of course, the first person he called was Rhodey, because, duh, Rhodey. It was only after the phone started ringing that he remembered that he was currently stationed in Alabama working for DARPA. “Well, dammit,” he said out loud right as Rhodey picked up.
“Tony? What’s wrong?” With a sigh, Tony told him the story. “Oh, shit, Tony. That fucking sucks, I’m sorry,” Rhodey said. “How can I help?”
“I just…” Have no fucking clue what I’m doing, Tony thought with a sigh. “Needed someone to talk to,” he answered instead. He was a grown ass man, he didn’t need help figuring out how to survive without his dad’s money. That’s what the internet was for. “How are you liking Alabama?”
“Well…the job is cool,” Rhodey said. “Can’t talk about it much though.”
“Yeah, I understand.” They chatted for a little while longer until Rhodey needed to get back to work. As Tony hung up he realized that he was driving and had no idea where he was going, so he pulled over to the nearest gas station and fished out a scrap piece of paper and a pen from the mess in the back seat.
“Ok, so, first. Place to live.” Tony wrote that down and then wrote a question mark beside it, then he grabbed his phone and googled ‘apartments near Tandon School.’ He scrolled through the hundreds of listings before admitting to himself that he had no idea what he was doing. What was considered a good location? Was four thousand a lot for an apartment in the city? He rubbed his eyes and checked the balance in his bank account, since that would have to last him until he got a job. “Right. Job,” he said as he wrote that down on the list. He tapped his pen against the steering wheel as he thought. “Or figure out how to pay for school.” Since that was the whole point. But school didn’t start for a while so he would need something in the meantime. He still wrote that down though.
He looked down at his list. House. Job. School. Three words, like it was going to be that easy. He might as well write down “fall in love” and “live happily ever after” on this stupid list.
“I’m gonna need some coffee for this,” he sighed, tossing the list into the passenger seat, and got back on the road to the nearest coffee shop.
Four hours and as many cups of coffee later, Tony had a short list of rooms for rent that would fit his budget. No progress on the job front, but first things first, right? He needed a place to sleep before he needed a job.
He didn’t even get past the front door at the first place. The woman who answered the door took one look at him and said, “I’m sorry, I’m not renting out to guys.”
“What? Why? I didn’t see that on the ad for the room-”
“Well, no, I can’t just say that,” the woman said, rolling her eyes. “It’s like against the law or something. But I’ve lived with dudes before and I’m not doing it again.”
“Um…ok then.” Tony didn’t know what to say to that so he just turned on his heel and left. The second place turned out to be a place where three guys were sharing a two bedroom apartment, and when Tony took a look at the kitchen and bathroom he got an idea why the first lady didn’t want to have a guy as a roommate.
When Tony pulled up to the third place, he was confused to see a garage instead of an apartment building. “Hello?” He called out as he got out of his car. The building was an old two story brick building that said JB Automotives across the top; there were two bay doors but only one of them had a car in it. “I’m here for the room?”
“One moment,” someone called out from inside the building. Tony shoved his hands in his back pockets and waited, rocking back on his heels. Mechanic, Tony mused. He’d been working on his dad’s old cars since he was big enough to pick up a wrench. How much did mechanics make? Would it be rude to ask?
His thoughts scattered and his eyebrows climbed skyward as the sexiest man he’d ever seen came out of the garage to meet him on the sidewalk. Cool grey eyes studied him and Tony’s eyes dropped to the full lips as the man approached. A stained white T-shirt stretched over broad shoulders and a muscled chest and Tony’s eyes were somewhere around the man’s belly button, about to head into creeper territory before he jerked his gaze back up, face hot. The man wiped his hand on a rag tucked into his pants pockets before he held it out and that’s when Tony’s brain registered that one of the sleeves of the shirt was empty. Tony stared at the long fingers and broad calloused palm for probably a second too long before he shook it. His eyes flew up to meet the grey eyes again and his brain suddenly turned back on, replaying the last five seconds of conversation.
“Hey, uh, Bucky was it? I’m Tony, Tony Edwards,” he lied, knowing from experience that saying ‘Stark’ was a fast track to ending up in the tabloids. He realized that he was still holding Bucky’s hand so he let go quickly, feeling the tips of his ears burn.
“Nice to meet you,” Bucky said easily, somehow apparently unaware that Tony had been ogling him, or at least willing to pretend as much. “You said you’re here about the room?”
“Yeah, I sent you a text earlier?”
“Yep. Follow me.” Bucky tilted his head back towards the garage and led him through the empty garage bay. Tony allowed himself five seconds of checking out Bucky’s ass in his loose-fitting jeans before he dragged his eyes back up to the back of Bucky’s head, where it looked like a buzz cut was just starting to grow out. It looked somehow soft and bristly at once; Tony’s hands itched to touch it.
“So is this your place?” Tony asked, looking down at the floor instead and trying to sound casual as he followed Bucky up a set of stairs on the side of the garage.
“Yeah, I grew up here and bought it when my parents retired. Between the repairs and my disability checks, I manage to pay the bills, but a roommate would certainly help.” He opened the door at the top of the stairs and stepped out of the way for Tony to come inside. Tony kicked his shoes off next to a messy pile already next to the door and looked around the apartment; the stairs opened into the living room, which was connected to the kitchen with just a short bar separating the two. A small table pressed against the wall made up the “dining room”, and then there was a short hallway that presumably led to the bedrooms. Bucky led Tony past one door that was ajar, closing the door on the messy bedroom and muttering about needing to clean, then opened the door at the end of the hallway.
“This is nice,” Tony said gamely. The room was small, small enough that the double bed sitting in the corner dominated the space, with a window and a long low dresser along the far wall. There was a sliding wooden door that opened into a shallow closet and a faded blue rug on the floor that matched the floral pattern curtains on the window. “Perfect.” Well, what was perfect was the body on the man standing behind him and the fact that the Tandon School of Engineering was a reasonable commute away, but the room would do.
It took another few minutes to get the business part of the rental agreement out of the way and then Bucky went back to work while Tony waded through the mess in his car. He was relieved to find that his backpack with his laptop and charger were under a pile of textbooks and that the trunk was full of dirty clothes that he had completely forgotten about, so that was nice. Bucky showed him where the washing machine was and how to use it, and Tony loaded it up gratefully. When he was finished, the sum total of his belongings made a pitifully small pile on his bed. He lay down next to the pile and sighed, rubbing his eyes and wondering if it would be terribly irresponsible to just go to sleep right now. Suddenly he felt exhausted all the way down to his soul.
He was trying to get up the energy to put his stuff away when the sudden buzz of his phone vibrating against the nightstand almost gave him a heart attack. He grimaced when he saw the caller ID and hesitated for a moment before forcing himself to answer.
“Hey, Mom,” he said with a sigh, closing the door to his new room, even though the walls were probably thin enough that it didn’t help much.
“Tony,” she said with her characteristic mix of exasperation and concern, “what is this nonsense that happened between you and your father?”
“Did you ask him?”
“He said that he told you he didn’t want you to go back to school so you stormed out.”
“What? No. He kicked me out,” Tony said, making a conscious effort not to raise his voice. “He said if I didn’t come work for the company, I wasn’t welcome in his house anymore and that he was cutting me off.”
“Oh, Tony, you know he didn’t mean that,” his mom said quellingly. “He was probably just angry and letting off steam. Just watch, if you come back tonight he’ll be over it.”
Yeah, Tony could just imagine that. All of them sitting around the dinner table, the silence tense between Tony and his father even as his mother tried to keep up a light patter of conversation. The little jibes Howard would make whenever he could work them into the conversation and Tony gritting his teeth as he tried to ignore them. That’s what had happened the first time Tony had mentioned getting a PhD, and that had been almost every family dinner since Tony had come out as bisexual. Howard had said he was ok with it – eventually – but man that was the first thing that usually got thrown in Tony’s face whenever they argued, ‘that hippie-dippie liberal free love bullshit.’ “I’m not coming back, Mom.”
“I’m sure if you just both apologize-”
“Mom, no. Not this time. I’m going to prove to Dad I don’t need his goddamn money so he can’t hold that over my head for the rest of my life,” he snapped, and promptly felt bad when his mother was silent for a long time.
"Okay,” she said finally, to Tony’s surprise. “Can you tell me where you are? So I don’t worry? I can also have Jarvis come over with some of your things.”
“I’ll text Jarvis the address,” he said, a little guilty for the sidestep but really not wanting to hear a lecture from his mom about where he was living or risking that Howard would find out. If his mom noticed, she didn’t comment.
“I love you, sweetie,” she said. “Please be careful, ok?”
“I will, Mom. I love you too.” As he hung up he felt his eyes stinging, so he sat on his bed and pressed his palms to his eyes until the feeling went away. “You can do this,” he muttered to himself. “Take it in steps. Everything’s going to be okay.” He took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and started putting his clothes in the dresser drawers.