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Between the Alive and the Living

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Sometimes, between the sleepless nights and the restless days and trying to forget everything that's happened, Tony Stark needs someone to remind him that it will get better.

Because it will.

Right?

At least, that's what he tells himself when he calls Steve at three in the morning, feeling like his heart is pounding out of his chest, feeling like he can't breathe and his mind is groggy from the sleep he never got and his hands are sweaty because the nightmares are there, even when he's awake and he hates every minute of it.

That's what he tells himself when he's sitting in a tiny booth in a mom and pop diner that smells like stale cigarette smoke with a cup of coffee that tastes even worse than he thought it would forty-five minutes later. The neon light that flickers once in a while (there's a short, easy fix, maybe he could fix it for them) illuminates the bulky figure of Steve, and for some reason, the stone that has been resting in the pit of Tony's stomach disappears as the bell jingles on the door, announcing the new arrival.

Steve's hair is wet, plastered to his forehead by the drizzle and Tony is reminded that it is indeed only three forty-five in the morning and he probably shouldn't have woken Steve. The puffiness beneath Steve's eyes are testament to that.

"I just… I needed to— to get out." Of my head. Tony's voice shakes a bit, and he tries his damnedest to control it, because he is Tony Stark, and Tony Stark doesn't lose it.

And despite the early hour, despite all the shit Tony has pulled on the blond guy, Steve cracks an understanding smile.

"I know." To avoid the inevetible and always awkward pauses and ensuing tender moments that Tony abhors, he switches tactics, turning the tables as he waves down the waitress.

"How's Bucky? Still with Natasha?"

Tony doesn't miss the way Steve's fist clench briefly at the mention of his friend atop the cheap plastic tabletop. He winces. Good one, Stark, he thinks.

"He's fine. It's… difficult. After what HYDRA did to him… I'm surprised there's anything left." Steve shudders, as if he'd rather not talk about it, and Tony scrambles to turn the topic to anything else.

"The tower's almost done, and there'll be more than enough for all of you, even the Big Guy— and for once, I'm not talking about Bruce. Thor's had some stuff to deal with, and frankly, I get it. Loki was kind of an asshole, but he was Thor's brother. He likes to crash at my place every once in a while, but my townhouse is running out of coffee mugs. The tower is a bigger place, more mugs, working garage. What do you think?"

If Tony was honest with himself, it was less to do with practicality and more to do with loneliness. Being the richest man on Earth was great, but it was lonely as hell.

Steve remains silent through his speech and taps his fingers on the tabletop, considering.

"Alright. I guess. I mean, since SHEILD is pretty much gone, except for a few underground workers, it would be a good idea to have a home base…"

Tony's spirits are lifted quite a bit, and as he is greeted by the waitress, he almost forgets why he called Steve.

Steve orders the eggs, which are sure to be interesting, given Tony's pretty sure that the cook smokes. The blond turns back to Tony.

"Why'd you call? I mean, something made you call me, why me?"

Tony inhales, and he knows he can't hide it forever.

"There was no-one else. Clint's off with Natasha in Italy doing some super-secret whatever, and Bruce is in Africa, and…"

"But what about Pepper?" At that, Tony winces, and he watches as understanding dawns on Steve.

"Oh. I'm sorry, Tony."

Tony shrugs, and his voice is too small when he replies. "It was inevitable. I thought after Extremis, things might be different. I destroyed the suits, no more Iron Man. I'm Tony Stark, just Tony. But it wasn't enough. We still fought, but— It stopped being about Iron Man, and then one day it was about how I'm too much for her and we're too different and she just wants some space and—" Tony cuts off there, acutely aware that Steve doesn't want to hear this because who does and he can't repeat himself anymore and he's just plain fucking tired of making excuses. He tastes the bitterness in his voice, raw and salty, and he is dimly aware of his vision getting blurry, but Tony can't cry, won't cry.

"That's all fucking bullshit. It was my fault. I'm Tony Goddamn Stark, and all the money in the world wasn't going to make her stay."

Steve nods quietly, and Tony can tell that Steve is sorry for him.

"I don't want pity. I want… Fuck, I don't know what I want. I just want someone to look at me like maybe I'm not fucked up— I don't want to be a hero, anymore, Cap, I'm tired of that. So tired. I just want to sleep."

"You aren't sleeping?"

"I haven't had a good night's sleep in… years."

Steve looks at him from beneath contracted brows and Tony isn't quite sure he's completely awake enough to compute what the patriotic hero says next.

"I could stay with you… I mean, tonight. If you want. I know what it's like."

The tone in Steve's voice says that maybe he's not just talking about being lonely, and that maybe, just maybe Steve needs some company too.

"Okay, sure. When you're done with your food we can go. I can show you the garage. State of the art parts for your bike."

Steve smiles at that, and for the first time in a while, Tony smiles back.