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A City of Millions

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Here was something that surprised people, that most people didn’t know unless they were from New York themselves: The city could be quiet.

And something even most New Yorkers didn’t know either: Midtown could be too.

Midtown, ugly and raucous, became something else when given the chance. A different side emerged when seen from a new perspective, with enough space. Like now.

Up here, the sounds of the streets dropped away, the tumult not entirely muted (and Steve was glad for that, glad of the reminders that the city wasn’t frozen, that he wasn’t frozen) but removed.

Up here, the city could breathe. Could just…be.

Distance sanded down dissonance to something smoother and more pleasant, and everything came to a standstill, allowing him to look past Midtown’s boisterousness and see what most people didn’t: the beauty unappreciated or never fully appreciated under that rowdy bravado.

A pause in its frenetic pace. A deep sigh. Midtown stopped moving, staying put so Steve could drink it in all he wanted, as long as he wanted. It became a postcard whose fabric he was stitched into. It became an artist’s subject, a still life. Under Steve’s observant eye, all fell away so that there was no pretense, no smoke and mirrors or distracting movements to hide behind, just its naked form.

The sun was high in the sky. The city glittered, steel and glass buildings rising like trees all around him. Whichever way he faced, they were there, and though only two skyscrapers nearby came close to the Avengers Tower in height, there were so many of them, a veritable forest, that they towered over him when he closed his eyes. He was small in their presence, swallowed up and anonymous—though not invisible. Not lost.

He was part of something bigger. A part of a great, hulking organism composed of the millions who lived and worked and moved around here, little cells circulating oxygen through the arterial streets to make it something living and breathing.

He peered out at his city from his perch and bled out of his own skin, dissolving like watercolor, until he wasn’t Steve Rogers anymore—he was New York. He was all the matchbox cars lined up far below him in the streets, all the mismatched buildings and bridges standing proud and strong, all the jewel-like windows sparkling back at him. He was brick and stone, steel and glass. He was lights blinking on, lights that had stayed on throughout the night. He was every single person in this city waking up, turning in after a late night, sleeping in, and sleeping on in these dewy beginning hours.

Threads ran out from every inch of him, from his fingernails, his toes, the roots of his hair, every pore on his body. They connected him to everyone and them to him, down every floor of every building, down to the pavement, down below to the subterranean city of tunnels and trains crisscrossing under Manhattan. They were invisible from where he sat, but he could feel them under his skin, thrumming with energy, could feel them move about in their homes and in the city they shared, readying themselves for a new day. They knitted themselves together, became the sinew binding muscle to bone, strengthening and shaping him.

He never knew the city could be like this. Peaceful despite the battle that had broken out in the early Sunday morning. Beautiful even at its most congested, most hideous heart. It felt like some other place this high up, some place that only belonged to him. His and no one else’s.

Here was Bryant Park, a small, green postage stamp he could collect in his pocket. Here was the Chrysler Building and its majestic crown, close enough that it was on private display just for him. A little down the way to his side was Times Square, effervescently and unapologetically neon at all hours. And even farther, avenues away, beyond the industrial plainness of the Garment District, the Hudson, the railcar yard. On the street there, or even as far from it as Penn Station, he could see the white wing of a seagull boomeranging through the sky if he looked up, could hear the seagull’s searching call. It brought Brighton Beach to him here in Manhattan when he needed it, when he missed home and the Fourth of July with his mom and the Barnes, Bucky making eyes at Betty or Ruth or the new girl from two streets down, Bucky’s sisters shrieking as they sprinted down the shore, the waves lapping the soles of their feet a shocking reminder of winter.

He walked down through Chelsea from there, walked east of the Flatiron Building, walked down until the buildings slouched and shrank and grew old and grimy but more colorful in character, past the college kids crowding into their favorite hole-in-the-wall on St. Mark’s, past Little Italy which had very little Italian in its makeup left and the vibrant markets of Chinatown, and then down and down, going everywhere and nowhere in particular. His mind took him every which way, and it occurred to him only when he roamed far enough that he was looking for something, but he wasn’t sure what until bright fire streaked across the sky and his heart soared at the sight.

There was a clarity to the brisk air. Everything was sharper and cleaner, more crisply defined, but it all smeared into a blur, smudging into the background, because there was only Tony in the sky, only Iron Man’s brilliant crimson and gold form standing out in sharp relief even in the watery daylight.

Steve watched Tony swoop effortlessly through the air, curving into a wide arc that brought him to the tower and landing with a grace that never failed to surprised him. His breath caught in his lungs as he turned to watch Tony lift his faceplate, the way it did every time, because he could see Tony again, see him smile and hear his voice, unobstructed. Every time, it was too much to take in at once. Tony was too much.

Tony, who was this future he found himself in. Tony, who was this present, this New York.

His New York.

Theirs—because “You’re this city,” Tony once told him, and that was what Tony was to him too. That was the only way Steve could aptly describe him, someone so impossible to capture whole in an entire poem, an entire story, let alone a few short words.

But Tony was Midtown, was New York, was every inch of this beautiful place of theirs, from its most elegant to its most rudimentary, from the needle tips of the Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building to train tracks girded in electrified steel underground. Michelin-starred restaurants that Steve would have never dreamed of stepping into before Tony came into his life, perfumed luxury shops on the wide streets of Fifth Ave and the cobbled ones in Soho. Dive bars that had seen their best days in decades past, late-night karaoke joints up a narrow flight of stairs in K-Town, blocks away from the sold-out concert at MSG that they had skipped because Steve was hungry. New buildings and parks and ideas spun of dreams to crumbling bricks and stomped dandelions poking through cracks in the pavement.

Tony was all of it.

He was home. He was second chances. He was something living and growing, constantly evolving.

Steve would discover new things about Tony every day the way he would this city. Another layer of paint to coat the canvas he had known. Another to peel away and reveal history that had never fully disappeared but had just been out of sight. Never changing and changing all the time, familiar and new all at once. A patchwork of contradictions that came together to make one complicated but cohesive whole, a place where past and future rendezvoused, where his New York and Tony’s coexisted.

Tony came to him, his armor slipping off until he stood in just the clothes he had slept and left in when the call came through. His eyes were warm, and his hair curled at his temple just the way Steve loved, flattened as it was against his forehead by sweat and his helmet. There was nothing between them, not like when they had first met and the only thing Steve caught was his veneer. Tony’s brashness had been too loud for him after decades of silent sleep that he missed the beauty of him, the little glimpses Tony offered of what lay beyond that exterior.

But he saw everything now because he learned to and because Tony let him, because Tony felt safe around him to slow down, to drop every single one of his defenses.

This Tony, the one that stood in front of him, smiling brightly with the whole of Manhattan waking up behind him…only Steve got to see this.

Even when stripped of everything that everyone assumed made him Tony Stark but was, in reality, just one side of him, Tony was dazzling, larger than life.

He was a city of millions in one man, an entire city unto himself.

A riotous beauty in constant motion (but still at the moment because he slowed down for Steve; he always did), someone who could go miles and leave the whole world in his dust but, miraculously, unfathomably, returned every time, no matter how far he traveled.

So when he told Steve, “You waited for me. You didn’t have to,” his voice fragile with surprise, like Steve hadn’t done this before, like Steve wasn’t an assured thing, Steve wanted to ask how could he not, when Tony did all that for him.

You always come back to me.

He didn't have to but did, just like Steve didn’t have to wait but decided he would, and Steve thought Tony needed to hear that, to know that what he did wasn’t out of obligation but a love founded on choice. He thought that Tony would understand.

“I know,” he said because of that. “But I want to.”

Because it was the same for him as it was for Tony—Tony had someone to come home to, and Steve…Steve had someone who chose to come home to him, who brought the whole of New York back to him every time he did, one that was theirs.