Fury and the other SHIELD agents were still on the ground talking to the Sergeant. They were coordinating the clean-up. Nasty battle. Took out a few square blocks. Steve could hear the ConEd trucks in the distance. The explosions had taken out some power and phone lines. New Yorkers had started calling in to complain about the outages.
Steve sighed. Some days, it felt as if they did more harm than good.
Where was Tony? Tony would have something to say. Something cynical maybe, or he’d try to cheer him up earnestly. Either way, it would be better than listening to his train of thought.
Steve looked around. Clint was chatting with Fury.
Sometimes he forgot Clint was a SHIELD agent first and foremost. He was a good Ultimate, but he wasn’t necessarily a team player. And speaking of poor team players, thankfully, Hank and Jan had left. Steve couldn’t stand to be around Hank for more time than required to complete a mission. Jan knew that too. They usually left once it was clear someone else, usually SHIELD, would handle it from there.
Steve was thankful.
He didn’t have to play nice with Hank and could continue avoiding Janet. He still found it difficult to speak to her off the field. He couldn’t understand why she’d go back to that man.
Tony had looked at him pointedly after they left the debriefing.
“Look, none of this is easy. And between us, I’m glad you beat his ass. He deserved it. Jan’s smart. I know she is. And I know she’ll leave when the time is right for her, but we can’t make that choice for her. We can’t force her hand. We must trust her judgment, and I know what you’re thinking. I know you’re thinking her judgment is flawed because she ended up with him. Maybe, maybe you’re right, but we can’t know what he was like before they got together. We can’t know what their relationship was like before he started hitting her.
“You have to trust her, Steve. She knows she can count on us. And that’s all there is to it. Now, quit it,” said Tony.
Tony must still be around here somewhere. He hadn’t seen Iron Man fly away and it was unlike Tony to leave without first announcing his departure. Besides, he was Steve’s ride back. He didn’t want to be stuck in a car with Fury.
Then he heard Tony’s — or rather, Iron Man’s — footsteps. He found the armor’s humming rather soothing. Not that he would ever tell anyone such a thing. He and Tony made eye contact. The armor was dented in several places, but it was nothing Tony couldn’t fix with several Irish coffees.
“Steve, I thought you left. I didn’t want you to leave without me though. We always leave together and I just… Enjoy spending time with you,” said Tony, quite suddenly.
He covered his mouth with his gauntlet. It would have been funny under any other circumstance. He didn’t need to see Tony’s face to know he was shocked by what he had said. Yet, Steve knew it was the truth. It was much too earnest to be a lie. But the question was why, why was he saying this? And why to Steve?
“Oh God, I said that aloud. Ignore that Steve… I don’t know what’s going on with me. I — I fell, landed on something. But when I was falling, I felt — I felt something wash over me. Why am I still talking? Why can’t I shut up? You don’t want to hear this. You don’t want to hear me ramble,” said Tony.
“Tony, you’re not rambling, but we should get back,” said Steve.
He didn’t know what else to say. Why was Tony acting this way?
They went back to the Tower. Steve phoned the other Ultimates. None of them had experienced what Tony had experienced. It left him feeling uncertain. Thor said he would investigate. In the meantime, Steve decided to keep Tony company. He couldn’t leave him; it was unbecoming of a good captain, of a good friend. Tony had been by his side when he’d been uncertain and unsure of this new time. He owed him that much, at least.
Tony was sitting on his sofa drinking yet another fifth of vodka. He confessed to drinking because it made it easier to talk to regular people. Part of it was his upbringing. He described what it was like to grow up in the Stark household. Alcohol lowered inhibitions and that made it easier for Tony to relate to others. His mind was always racing but when he drank, he could slow down a little, just enough that the other cars on the road had a chance of passing him. It made it easier to strike up conversations, develop friendships, and of course, hook up with women.
“Well, they weren’t always women,” he said.
“The hook-ups,” said Tony.
“You hooked up with men?”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that idea excites you, but what are the chances you’re not a straight edge? It would be my luck, to confess to having gay affairs when I can’t stop sharing with you all these things that were better left unsaid,” said Tony.
He eyed another bottle of vodka on the shelf.
“No more drinks, Tony,” said Steve.
Tony explained how much he hated waking up with a hangover. Told him all about the awful morning after’s he had had. And so, he’d built up a tolerance. If he could drink more than others, he’d never be more vulnerable than they were. He could feign control of situations. And then, when he started taking chemotherapy, it made it easier to hide the nausea.
Steve listened quietly and didn’t stop him from drinking.
“My brother’s probably the only person who could drink more than me. Well, maybe Thor. But, he’s a god and I’m not stupid enough to wager against a god. I don’t believe in god, but I believe in him. The way he throws that hammer around, kind of wish he…”
“Goddamn it, Steve!” Tony stood up, pointing his finger.
“You know I can’t stop saying what I’m thinking! Does it offend you that I find other men attractive? Does it offend you that I find a teammate attractive — not that you’d have much ground to stand on, considering you were fucking Jan knowing she’s married. I know, for a fact, that you were raised to believe that meant something! Or, is it that I don’t find your attractive? Because that’s a lie, darling. I’d blow you right now, if you asked. Just ask, all you have to do is ask!
“I see the way you look at me, don’t think I don’t. But you’re too scared, or too worried, or maybe you’re ashamed. I grew up ashamed. I slept with women far older than me so it would end up on the tabloids, and the paparazzi wouldn’t follow me to the bars on the Lower East Side. I’ve been ashamed of so many things over the years, but I’m not anymore. This is who I am! I’m dying Steve, I’m not going to stop drinking and I’m not going to deprive myself of eye candy. I may be a masochist, but that’s not the kind of pain I like.
“You on the other hand, have your whole life ahead of you, and you’re doing what? Sure, sure, you’re Captain America. Doesn’t that get tiring though? Don’t you want to be something else sometimes? Don’t you want to be Steve? I love Steve, I wish you had the courage to love you too,” said Tony.
Dropping back on the couch, he covered his face with his hands.
Steve didn’t know what to say. Didn’t know where to begin. He dropped to his knees beside Tony.
“You’re right. I don’t have to courage to ask.”
Tony looked up at him, eyes glassy.
“If I kiss you, I won’t stop,” said Tony.
“Wouldn’t want you to do that,” said Steve, pulling him closer until their lips met.