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An Untold Story (Eine unerzählte Geschichte)

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Tony gets his first Captain America shield when he’s three years old: a small, hand-painted thing made from a light metal – not bigger than a record, because Maria insists that everything else would be too dangerous. Tony is too small, too young, and doesn’t know the meaning of the star or the name behind it, but his Dad made this shield, just for him alone, so he loves it religiously.

“Steve – Captain America - had one exactly like it. He was a hero,” says Howard with a smile that Tony doesn’t understand. His Dad looks proud – but how can he look so sad at the same time?

“Explain.” Tony begs, because he’s wholeheartedly curious (which three-year-old wouldn’t be?). Because he loves to listen to his Dad, even if he gets the opportunity far too rarely.

And to Tony’s surprise, Howard does just that: explain.

*

Tony is a clever child. He quickly learns that Captain America is something that he can always lure his Dad in with, no matter how busy he might be. Even if he’s in the workshop – a place from which Tony’s actually forbidden, and that he’s thrown out of without a word of complaint – he lets himself be won over by the words, “Tell me about Cap.” every time.

Howard raises an eyebrow, as if he knows exactly what Tony’s intending, and grins anyway, saying: “Just this once more, Champ.”

His Dad doesn’t stop working whilst he talks. His voice, the metallic clang of the work tools and the occasional hiss of the blowtorch become a familiar melody to Tony. One which, often enough, lulls him and leaves him falling asleep on the chair in the corner.

Most of the time his Mom comes down at some point and scolds them both (“Tony, you know that…” and “Howard, how can you…”). Yet sometimes, when Howard is finally, finally done, he takes the small body of his son in his arms and carries him up to bed.

“Good night, Champ,” Tony thinks he hears and falls asleep with the smell of machine oil in his nose.


*


“When I grow up, I’m going to become Captain America too.” Tony says at eight years of age, when Howard’s attention is becoming more and more sporadic and no more new stories of Steve Rogers have come to his mind for a long time already.

He thinks to himself that if he is just as strong, just as brave as the friend of his father, then maybe they don’t need the Captain and the stories anymore in order to be together. Maybe Tony can become Dad’s friend.

Howard just looks at him for a while, perplexed, wistful, hurt, annoyed – and hundreds of other emotions on his face, for which a child has no words.


“As if you could.”

It isn’t meant for Tony’s ears, but he hears it nonetheless. Loud and clear.


*

Tony throws the shield and all the comics that his Dad has ever given him out of the window. Maria lets Jarvis collect everything together again and put it back in boxes in Tony’s bedroom, but he vehemently ignores their existence and never touches them again. At some point they end up in the attic and get forgotten.

*

Tony is too clever for the younger children, too small and thin for the older ones, too peculiar for the ones of his age. He’s not exactly a problem child, but he’s… problematic. Maria calls it headstrong, Howard calls it annoying.

Tony begins to take beatings on the playground because he’s cleverer, isn’t liked by the teachers because he makes everything into a question, and drives his parents insane when the phase begins in which he has to take everything apart and rebuild it again.

To a certain extent, Tony and his Dad talk to each other much more often, even if most of the time it’s only about how severely he’s disappointed Howard. Captain America goes on to remain a topic, this time as a model, as a warning, as leverage, in order to give Tony a guilty conscience.

“Cap would be disappointed in you,” says Howard, even though Cap’s recognition hasn’t been important to Tony for a long time already.

“Cap would never have done that,” says Howard, and Tony cannot come to believe that, even if Cap had done it – Howard would have forgiven him for it all.

*

When Tony turns ten years old, Howard has had enough and sends him to a boarding school. His parting words before Jarvis brings him to the bus are: “Be thankful. Kids back then would never have been able to afford such a chance.”

Howard doesn’t have to sound it out, Tony can read through the lines: Captain America was one of those kids.

*

The topic of Captain America is forgotten for a few years, like the boxes in the attic were forgotten, like Tony is forgotten, who has in the meantime ended up at MIT. He sees his parents too rarely to rouse their aggravation, much less their attention.

On the few occasions an adult is needed (when Tony blows something up, or gets into wild parties) people get used to sending Obadiah Stane for him.

Obie is a bit greasy, a bit too avuncular, but it’s alright. He brings Tony things from the science lab which he would otherwise never get his hands on. When his parents don’t appear at his graduation ceremony, Obie stands in the front row and afterwards buys him a bottle of whisky. Tony is only seventeen, but they both find that he’s earned it today.

*

After the accident, Tony has the crazy idea (and it’s born from the alcohol really, because he’s absolutely smashed at the time) to build his father a Captain America shield. Something that he can lay on the coffin or in his grave – whichever, it’s not like Tony has any idea how that sort of thing works. He just has the idea that it would be something Howard would’ve liked. Would’ve meant something to him, because Cap meant something to him. A last big gesture after his death, because despite everything, Howard is – was – his Dad, and Tony wouldn’t hate him so much if he hadn’t at one point loved him a lot.

The shield is half finished when it becomes clear to him what he’s doing, what an awkward, crazy idea it is. He’s spent half his life escaping Captain America. Why does he want to do this to himself?

Angrily, he throws the frame in the corner. Like everything else in his childhood was repressed and dismissed, it ends up in a dark corner where he can forget it, until one day Agent Coulson pulls it out again.

*

(Years later, he plays with the thought of calling his Butler-AI ‘Cap’- simply in order to annoy his dead Dad. A last gesture beyond death, because Howard would’ve hated it.

Tony decides against it because it’s just as much of a childish idea as the shield at the burial. Above all, however, because he wouldn’t bear constantly having Captain America’s name around him.

Eventually he chooses ‘JARVIS’ because the old, quirky butler was one of the few people who was actually interested in him.

*

“You are my greatest creation, Tony.”
Tony doesn’t know till this day if it’s really a compliment which Howard Stark had in mind, or just arrogant self-praise, or both. Either way, he’s thankful that at least this one time, Captain America doesn’t have the edge on him.

*

Agent Coulson (Tony refuses to call him Phil) brings him the data on the Avengers Initiative, on SHIELD, on the Tesseract. He recognises the blue cube immediately – his father’s notes were vague and extremely mysterious, even so, they alone were enough to make it clear how powerful this object must be.

What – who he also recognises, is Captain Steve Rogers, alias Captain America. Tony stares a good 20 minutes at the picture of the blonde bombshell, who could be a model from the last cover of the magazine Out. Just like in the comics and in Dad’s old pictures, and completely different at the same time. The Tesseract was a side matter for a while.

They found him.

Tony knows of course that his father never stopped sending expeditions into the ice, that he searched on year after year. He thinks that it was perhaps that, which made Howard so bitter. Sometimes it’s easiest to accept a death immediately. Sometimes hope is worse than certainty.

But he isn’t dead, right?

Tony feels a disgusting wave of excitement and anxiety course through his body, because his old man was right again and because, soon, he was going to meet the biggest shadow of his childhood.

*

Captain America is a command-horny, pretentious puppet on steroids. At least that’s what Tony tries to convince himself as he bangs out one insult after the other and tries to crack the shell of America‘s golden boy. And it’s easy, so easy, because Rogers, Cap, is outraged over simply everything Tony does. It’s as if Tony’s whole existence is already too much for him.

That’s the guy my Dad wouldn’t shut up about?” he says to Bruce, the only person with any sense on this ship. He doesn’t know what he should find worse: That he had to measure himself up to this showboat or that he himself once admired him.

*

“You may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.”

Tony doesn’t tell Cap he’s right, that everything Tony has ever done will never be enough, never good enough.

No wonder my Dad liked him so much. They have the same opinions.

The words almost fall out of his mouth, like so many things he spouts, unfiltered and un-thought out. He thinks better of it in the last moment and calls Captain America a lab rat.

Then all hell breaks loose.

*

You have to give Captain America one thing: In battle, he knows what he’s doing.

In Stuttgart and afterwards in the forest, Tony had only seen a small sample of what he really has up his sleeve. Now in Manhattan he gets to see the full show and – wow.

Cap’s movements are powerful, efficient and astoundingly elegant – not quite as feline as Natasha, but still similar to look at. (Tony would later rather bite off his own tongue than admit, that he had ever thought that, but in this short moment, in the middle of all the chaos and destruction, he can’t help but notice it.) Sure, he throws the shield around like a Frisbee, but it is at least effective.

Their interaction runs seamlessly: Tony shoots, Cap deflects the beam, several Chitauri fall to the ground. Cap conducts, Tony plays along, more Chitauri bite the dust.

For the first time, Tony begins to understand the appeal of the legend, and doesn’t just see the competition, the guy sitting on a high horse. Maybe he wronged the man after all.

“Stark, you hearing me? We have a missile headed straight for the city!”

But maybe that doesn’t matter anymore.

*

//Sir, shall I call Miss Potts?//

“You might as well.”

Tony has never been so happy to have created JARVIS as he is in this moment. He gratefully accepts the subtle hint and for a moment feels terrible because he didn’t think of it himself, because he forgot Pepper.

Maybe it’s actually karma, because Pepper doesn’t pick up and eventually Tony has no more time to pity himself. Because he has his hands full trying not to collide with the Stark Tower and to keep the bomb under control.

Eat that, Rogers, he thinks with no real satisfaction and flies in a sharp ascent through the portal to die.

*

Only to make one thing clear: Tony does not die.

The first thing that he sees when he wakes up are Cap’s wide open, bright blue eyes (then Thor and then the green, snorting visage of the Hulk; Tony can’t suppress the soft chuckle that lies somewhere between amusement and insanity.)

The Captain, Steve, laughs, sincerely relieved, and looks as if he wants to do something touching or embarrassing. Hug him or burst into tears or something. Although Tony would far rather have Pepper nearby right now, it’s okay.

There could be worse things than Steve Rogers’ smile after a near-death experience.

*

Manhattan has been reduced to rubble. Tony doesn’t dare to look up at Stark Tower, because he knows exactly how frayed his Baby must look. (Pepper’s Baby, he corrects himself, at least twelve to fifteen percent Pepper’s Baby as well.)

“I’m sorry.” Says – Steve (because Tony somehow can’t see him just as Cap). Around them the clean-up is in full swing and Tony feels profoundly useless. His armour doesn’t want to start anymore and all the older Marks are currently still in Malibu. At the moment he can’t do anything other than stand around and arrange for that a lot of money is sent to the city of New York and its victims.

“What?”

Steve rubs his hand over his neck, looking embarrassed – it’s a strange gesture after they’ve saved the world together. “The thing before. In the Helicarrier. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Oh, that.

“Oh, that,” Tony says, and tries not to swallow too obviously, before he waves it off. “Forget it. We were all a bit cranky, weren‘t we? Deranged God of lies on board, sceptre with an otherworldly energy source and all that stuff. People’s emotions already boil over with all that. Or in Banner’s case cell structure too.”

“It wasn’t fair. I jumped to conclusions without really knowing you. I would like to apologise for that.” Steve shakes his head and looks so serious that words fail Tony for a moment.

How can he stand there and calmly admit he was wrong?

Apologising is a concept that only vaguely applies to Tony’s everyday life and he isn’t awful at it for no reason (see the Strawberry Disaster with Pepper). Regret, guilt, yes, he knows them well, but communicating all that to the outside gives him a headache.

“It is okay. Really.” He answers, therefore again, with emphasis, because he isn’t in the mood for this discussion. (Strictly speaking, he never is, but Steve doesn’t need to know that. Not yet.)

Steve looks relieved in a disgustingly sympathetic way, and the fold on his forehead dissolves. Tony tries to ignore his feelings of emerging affection as much as possible, which isn’t difficult, because he’s hungry.

“Enough with the nonsense.” He says, shoving Steve’s side. “I want my schwarma at last.”

*

Steve gives him the idea, one day before Phil’s funeral.

He’s sitting, concentrating, in one of the SHIELD meeting rooms, signing each one of the Captain America trading cards. A few of them are still dark red from Coulson’s – from blood. They always will be. Tony tries not to look too closely.

“Why are you doing that?”

“Coulson asked me to,” Steve replies quietly, but collected, whilst he scribbles his signature onto the next card. His handwriting is terribly careful, every letter looks like it’s painted. “I didn’t know him well enough, but it’s something that I can do for him.”

“And then? Are you gonna throw them in his grave?”

“Maybe.” Steve shrugs his shoulders. “Maybe I’ll lay them down as well as the flowers.”

The thought of the funeral is lightly nauseating, for many different reasons that he doesn’t want to think about for many other different reasons. What comes to his mind though, is the shield that he began to make for a completely different funeral and never finished. Still today, he remembers the peculiarly threatening tone of Coulson’s voice when he found the shield: “What is that?”

And then it hits him like a brick: There is something he can do too.

*

The funeral is terrible and reminds him of all the people that he’s outlived without deserving to (Dad, Mom, Jarvis, Yinsen, so many more, and now Phil too).

Coulson didn’t have any living relatives, yet a lot of his colleagues respected and admired him. The seats are full of his SHIELD co-workers, the Avengers sit gathered in the first row and further back is – surprisingly – the cellist from Portland.

Tony can’t stop fidgeting, until Pepper takes his right hand. She must notice the chaos in his eyes because she squeezes his fingers once, quickly but comfortingly. Steve, who is sitting to his left, lays his right hand on Tony’s free one and likewise holds it to Tony’s chair. Tony throws him an annoyed look, but at least he can’t fidget so much anymore.

When Tony finally brings out the shield – the old self-made Captain America shield, now fully finished - he gets a few genuine laughs from the crowd. Apparently many people knew of Phil’s weakness for comics and for the Captain.

“Phil would’ve done a handstand naked for that shield”, says Clint, who until now had only sat there with a stony expression. His smile is small, bitter and wistful in a strange way that Tony can’t interpret.

At once he begins to feel doubt, he feels just as foolish as back then. Maybe it was a stupid idea after all. But then Steve stands beside him and takes the trading cards out of his breast pocket.

“Together?” He murmurs, only audible to Tony, and Tony nods.

*

The good-bye is short and painless. They shake hands, a polite gesture between two men who did risk their lives together, but don’t exactly know where they stand with each other yet.

“Don’t let yourself get blown up.” Says Steve.

“The Stark Tower is always open for you,” Says Tony, and after a short moment he adds: “Even if it’s big and ugly.”, grinning.

Cap smiles, and it’s so genuine and radiant that it looks a bit fake. A tiny little bit.

It will take a while until he can accept Captain America, maybe he’ll always remain the red rag to Tony’s bull – but Steve Rogers, thinks Tony, Steve, he can learn to like.