Tony still remembers that one girl at the press conference- she had stood up, looked at him coolly and said: one day, Stark, you will see the ruins you’ve made.
His smile had faltered, but then it had been up again a million miles an hour, because it’s his job and he’s good at
So yeah, it’s stupid.
It’s stupid, and he’s a fucking idiot for thinking about it, but this is what he’s thinking about when he’s breathing through a split cheek and the world starts caving in around him.
For a few months, Tony just walks.
He walks until his shoes are worn through, and he’s seen so many dead bodies that their faces blur together in his mind. When he buttons up his coat, he can feel his ribs through his skin. The skin stretches taut over them, and he drums his fingers against them, closing his eyes, letting the equations wash over him, because even if he’s not Stark anymore, he’s still Tony.
He taps his fingers: one, zero, one, one, one, zero-
He doesn’t get recognized- he makes sure of that. He lets his stubble grow, doesn’t talk to anyone until he has to, doesn’t ask for shelter.
For a while, he tries to keep track of the cities. It takes him a few weeks before he realizes that there are no cities anymore- he’s leaning against a huge piece of rubble, before he matches the grooves to the engravings to the colour, and-
It’s the hand of Lady Liberty.
He laughs until he’s crying, until people are sort of staring except not, because they’ve all seen much worse, so much worse that it physically hurts Tony to think about.
He laughs until he’s curled up on the ground, his ribs pressing into the concrete like nerves, like pressure points, and fuck, he’s not even making sense-
His mouth is so dry.
He shoves himself up, and keeps walking.
He makes it to Manhattan.
He thinks it’s Manhattan, it’s got to be Manhattan, he’s always liked it there: the sharp gravel against his cheek is one of his first memories, when he still liked his parents, when his father didn’t leave marks on his neck that bruised for days afterwards.
He’s babbling, he’s sure of it: angles and how he got the scar on his elbow and ‘sorry,’ he says ‘sorry’ too many times, and he’s lying with his back pushed into the concrete, and he’s tilting his head so his cheek is pressed into it and laughs, because it’s okay now, everything’s fine, it’s just like when he was three and none of this had happened and he wished none of this has happened, Jesus Christ, he wishes it more than anything, anything would be better than the dripping weight of all this blood on his hands-
Someone’s saying his name. Which is impossible, he must be hallucinating, his name must be like a bad taste in people’s mouths nowadays, he must be dreaming this man that fuzzes around the edges.
The man has strong, gentle hands- he’s beautiful, Tony realizes through his haze. His eyes are blue, so fucking blue- the kind of blue that happens in seashells, Tony thinks, and it’s barely intelligible but whatever.
His hair must be soaking in the sun that’s hitting him through the broken window, because, Jesus, oh-
Tony looks up and says, “Sorry,” but it comes out as a hoarse croak because he hasn’t drank in a few days, at least.
The man is saying: “Tony, you’re going to be fi-”
Tony says, “Sorry,” again, because the guy needs to know. He needs to hear it, because god knows everyone deserves more than what Tony can give them, what he did give them, and they would have been so much better if he had just-
“Sorry,” Tony says, and the guy is still talking, so Tony repeats it: “Sorry.”
The guy says, “We’ll take care of you, just keep-”
Tony forces his eyes open, because the man needs to know this: “I’m sorry. I’m s- I’m sorry.”
He says, “I’m sor-”
Everyone knows that quote, ‘not with a bang, but with a whimper,’ yes?
T.S. Elliot, if you care. Which you probably don’t.
But if there’s one thing Tony knows (binary, advanced physics, the molecular structure of-) it’s that the world ended with a pretty loud fucking whimper.
Officially, it hasn’t ended yet, but most people know by now that that’s bullshit.
For months, it had been all over the newspapers:
Stark Industries releases new prototype, many argue the effects of-
Attacks in New Yor-
Stark Industries! Friend or foe? Find out on pa-
Chaos reigns ove-
Tony Stark, Howard Stark’s nineteen-year-old son, ha-
After that, the productions had been shut down. Or, rather, America had declared a state of emergency and had shut everything down until further notice.
No-one had been allowed out. Planes, boats, fucking hot air balloons- they were all either banned, bombed or hidden.
There are a few radio stations that Tony had found a while back- it’s the same all over the world, apparently. Japan had fallen, so had New Zealand, Australia, Russia, Canada-
He keeps a newspaper clipping in his pocket. The very last newspaper that had been printed before everything had gotten shut down.
It reads, not with a bang, but with a whimper: is this the end?
It’s some gaudy, bitchy newspaper, and Tony’s forgotten the name by now, and he really has no idea why the fuck he keeps it.
Okay, that’s bullshit:
It’s the only newspaper, he thinks, that didn’t mention his name in their last edition.
The first thing Tony hears when he wakes up is: “I say we kill him.”
He hears his guy- the guy, not his guy, it’s the guy from before who had known his name- snort softly. “That’s your solution to everything.”
The first voice, indignantly: “It is not. I only thought that since he’s the one who started all of this-”
Then his- the guy’s voice, flat and slightly pissed off: “Loki, we are not killing him.”
Tony clears his throat- not so much to make his presence known, more to actually clear his throat. “I assume I don’t get a say in this.”
Loki snaps, “No,” at the same time Steve says, “What?”
Tony eases himself up before gasping at the sharp spike of pain in his- everything, and slamming back down into the mattress.
Those disturbingly gentle hands are on his shoulders. “Christ, Tony- don’t try to move.”
Tony glares up at him through slatted eyes. “How do you know my name?”
“Everyone knows your name,” Loki says from the other side of the room, arms crossed.
The blonde guy shoots a glare over his shoulder at Loki before turning back to Tony. “I recognized you from the papers. Almost didn’t, from how you…” he swallows. “from how you looked.”
Tony cracks a feeble smile. “Photoshop’s a bitch.”
The guy laughs quietly, but Tony can tell it’s forced.
He can only imagine how he looks: concave stomach, hollow cheeks, cracked lips, pale as fuck and generally an eyesore.
If only the press could see me now, Tony thinks to himself.
He really, really doesn’t miss it- the lightning-burst of cameras, the slick, fake smiles, the murmuring when he walks into a room. Tony Stark, Howard’s son, eventual heir to Stark Industries, teenage genius, colossal fuck-up-
The guy says, “Tony? Are you awake?”
Tony jerks. “I- yeah. Zoned out, I guess.” His next smile hurts his mouth- the skin is peeling; he can taste blood. “I do that a lot.”
The guy’s gaze flicks over him. “We need to get you eating while you’re awake, okay?”
Tony swallows. Then he swallows again, because the initial swallow did nothing for his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
The guy hesitates. “I- did someone do this to you?”
Tony lets out a bark of startles laughter. “Someone-? No, it’s- Not much food around here lately, y’know?”
Tony’s good at reading people. It’s something he actually prides himself on- so he can tell that the guy knows he just spout a load of bullshit.
“Right,” the guy says. “Uh. I’ll go get some soup, okay? Loki’s right there if you need help.” He starts for the door, and then pauses. “Actually, Loki might try to smother you with a pillow, so, uh.” He ignores Loki’s whining and sticks his head out the door.
“Thor, get in h-” He blinks and takes a step back. “Uh.”
Tony hears a female voice say blandly, “What? You’ve got the notorious Tony Stark. We want to see if he’s as skinny as you said he was.”
Tony cranes his neck. “I probably am,” he calls.
Steve gets nudged out of the way as people start milling through.
“Uh,” Steve says. “Okay, so everyone can make sure Loki doesn’t kill you in your sleep.”
“I can’t be held accountable for my actions,” The woman from before says, smiling humourlessly at Tony, who doesn’t wince. “Natasha. Not pleased to meet you.”
Tony gives her his famous shit-eating grin. “I think I’m going to like you.”
For the first few weeks, Tony just lies in bed and tries to get up and fails miserably.
Everyone else is either his age or slightly older- Clint’s the oldest, stupidly enough, at age 23.
Thor, who is basically a wall with great hair, stands outside the door and glares pointedly at Loki whenever he goes in.
Loki is just a creepy bastard, which is apparently normal for him, according to everyone he’s asked.
Clint’s okay. He just raised his eyebrows when he had saw Tony, and then said, “Dude. You are so much shorter than I thought you would be.” He’s the hunter of the group- food is scarce, and rats are better than nothing.
Natasha doesn’t come inside much- Tony hears her and Clint sparring sometimes one room over. Either that, or really weird and kinky sex.
Bruce is great. He hadn’t expected much from the quiet, modest nerd at the back, but he’s actually pretty fun to hang out with- ‘hang out’ being a relative term, since Tony can’t move from the bed- and he can actually keep up with Tony when he’s doing equations when he’s bored.
His guy- the guy, god fucking damnit, he’s not his in any sense of the term- his name is Steve. He’s genuine and brings Tony soup and smiles at the right times and fluffs Tony’s fucking pillow.
Tony very pointedly doesn’t think about how long this is going to last.
Tony hadn’t known he had gotten this bad- the first time he looks in a mirror when he still doesn’t have enough strength to stand, he thinks it’s a picture of some starving fucking Jew from the second world war or something.
Then he sees the reflection’s mouth move as he starts to speak, and its eyes widen in realization, and fuck, he looks like a walking skeleton. His hair is falling out, his nails-
“Fuck,” Tony spits.
Steve shifts anxiously from side to side. “Sorry, it was a bad idea, I just-”
“It’s fine,” Tony says, watching the skeleton’s mouth move. “It’s- it’s fine. Really, Steve. Chill.”
Steve tries to smile. “I, uh. More soup?”
The skeleton says, “That’d be great.”
Tony’s finally able to get up to take a piss.
Electricity’s still out. It has been since it started.
The radio stations, too- the statics blares through the entire house and everyone looks at their feet, out the window, at the insides of their eyelids.
Bruce says, “What do you think happened?”
Natasha shrugs. “Who cares? The last one’s gone. America’s all on its own now.”
“So…” Clint is fiddling with the string of his bow. He looks strangely childish. “What do we do?”
They’re all looking to Steve now. They always seem to gravitate towards it, like they all seem to come to Tony’s room more often than they need to.
Steve’s face betrays nothing. “We keep doing what we’ve been doing: surviving.”
“No offence meant, good Captain,” Loki says, clicking his jaw, “But forgive me if I don’t want to just survive for the rest of my life.”
Steve looks at Loki, and Tony sees it: Captain, square jaw and steady gaze, barking out orders on an imagined battle field.
Tony starts to re-consider ‘imagined.’
Steve says, “Do you have an alternative?”
Loki meets his gaze for a good eight seconds before dropping it. He slides himself off of the table. “I’ll get the next bucket of water, shall I?”
Tony wakes up one night to a scratching sound.
He frowns, thinking, fuck, rats, and turns slightly to yell for Clint, when he catches sight of Steve, sitting in a chair, doing- what?
The scratching sound starts again, and Tony watches the pencil as it scratches across the page in a semi-circle.
Tony just watches for a while, before Steve glances up and Tony snaps his eyes shut, watching instead from underneath his eyelashes.
Steve’s eyes travel over Tony, and then the scratching starts up again: pencil to paper in tiny strokes, scratch, scratch, scratch.
Tony almost wants to laugh- he’s drawing him? Steve’s drawing him while he’s half-starved and can barely walk and looks like a train wreck?
But Steve stays for the good part of an hour, glancing up at Tony and then to the paper, and Tony watches him watch him, and tries not to think about how those hands would feel on his hips.
When Tony goes outside for the first time in two months, something’s odd.
He blinks around before realizing what it is: the skyscrapers are gone. It’s like someone’s mouth with too many teeth punched out.
“Keeps getting worse and worse,” Steve says behind him, and Tony shifts to let him stand beside him.
Tony nods mutely, unable to speak past the lump in his throat. He’s losing his definites: the colour of the sky, the flickers of the cameras, the roof over his head, and now the skyscrapers.
Steve (the bastard) notices. “Tony, we don’t- we don’t blame you.”
Tony huffs quietly. “Tash and Loki sure as fuck do.”
“They’re getting over it,” Steve says, and it comes out softer than Tony thought it would.
Still, he shoves his hands in his pockets, loving that he actually has basic motor functions now- he can walk, he can run, he can jack off, finally.
Tony breathes out harshly, and it comes out in a rush: “Why the fuck are you being so nice to me? I did this, I-” he stops, his head swimming, fighting back stubborn tears. “You shouldn’t-”
“You didn’t do this,” Steve says. “I don’t believe what the newspapers said.”
Tony laughs, because how Steve’s saying it, like it’s so simple- “It doesn’t matter. I made the weapons, he just-”
“Used them,” Steve cuts him off. “He used them, Tony, and you didn’t.”
“You thought you were doing the right thing.”
That, of course, shuts Tony right up.
He looks out over the dead city, broken in all the wrong ways, smoke still rising in some places, and everything hits him at once, the sheer weight of it pulling him down.
He remembers that stupid fucking quote from his junior year English textbook:
There are many names in history, but none of them are ours.
Steve starts sketching.
He never stopped, apparently, but he starts sketching in front of everyone and they’re all kind of surprised but kind of not, because it’s Steve.
Natasha leans over, toeing at the couch pillows. “What do you usually sketch?”
Steve scratches the back of his neck. “Uh, you know. Bits and bobs.”
Me sleeping, Tony’s brain supplies unhelpfully.
“Bits and bobs my ass,” Clint says. “Give me the folder.”
“Shove off,” Steve says, circling the folder and pulling it close to his chest. “It’s none of your business.”
“I- no! It’s personal!”
“Okay, so porn.”
“I- what- no! Jesus, Clint, it’s just personal, okay? I don’t show people my drawings.”
Tony’s practically itching to see whether his picture is in there- why the hell Steve had drawn him when he looked like that, how he had even looked at that point, anyway.
Clint leans back into his seat. “Whatever, man. Who wants to play scrabble?”
“I,” Loki says, “Would rather eat my foot off than play that infernal game again.”
“I miss Pepper and Rhodey.”
Steve looks over at Tony. “What?”
Tony blinks. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “I, ah. They were my friends back- before.” He doesn’t have to clarify it. Everyone divides their life into before and after.
Steve stays silent, but Tony can feel his sweeping gaze on him.
“Don’t know where they are,” Tony says finally. “Don’t know if they’re dead, or they just…” he stops, licks his lips.
Steve glances back out over the city- not a city, there are no cities, but what the hell else are they supposed to call it other than a wasteland- and then back at Tony. “Mine are definitely dead.”
Tony’s gaze jerks up. He opens his mouth to say something, but Steve interrupts: “Bucky died in the first blast. Died- uh, reaching out to me, actually. Almost-” his throat clicks, and he squeezes his eyes shut. “Almost made it inside the house, but, uh. Yeah. And Peggy- she got out, but her- her helicopter got shot down, I’m pretty sure. I don’t know. I heard it on the radio, but it might not have-” He stops, lowering his head and pressing his lips tight together.
Tony feels the familiar surge of guilt like backwash up his throat. “I’m sorry.”
Steve doesn’t look at him, but he’s smiling faintly. “Don’t be.”
The sky is gone, now- no blues, or blacks, or greys, or oranges, or anything that Tony now misses like a damn phantom limb, but when Steve finally looks back up at him his eyes make him think back- the old ocean, the old sky, the old worn jacket that he used to wear as a kid.
Tony smiles back tightly, and looks away so he doesn’t lean in towards that damn mouth.
November, apparently, is haircut month.
Honestly, Tony has no idea how Steve keeps track, because he had lost count of the months a while back.
But Steve is set in his morals, and according to him, everyone’s hair looks like a bird’s nest.
“Well,” Loki drawls, arching an eyebrow, “We can’t exactly go down to the barbers.”
Steve just waves the scissors at him, and Thor clutches at his own hair. “I like my hair the way it is.”
Steve sighs. “If everyone would just shut up and let me-”
Natasha sighs and skates her chair over to him. “Fuck. If it would make you shut up. Just-” she winces away from the scissors. “A little off the top?”
Steve nods. “Sure.”
“He says, as he chops massive chunks out of your hair,” Clint calls, and Natasha swats him.
Maybe because his hair is the shaggiest- it’s not long, per se, Thor’s is the longest (even longer than Natasha’s), but it’s matted.
“Uh,” Tony says as he sits in the chair. “You’re probably going to have to shave it all off.”
“Do you want to shave it all off?”
Tony hesitates. It’s fucking annoying, honestly- it gets tangled up and drops in front of his eyes and generally just pisses him off.
“Yeah,” he says.
When he looks up, Steve is holding the scissors aloft, but not moving. “You sure?”
Tony settles into the chair. “Nope. Do it.”
Steve laughs quietly. “If you say so. Also, uh. Don’t move.”
“Duh,” Tony says. “I don’t want to get my ears chop-” he stops, because Steve’s hand is in his hair, and fuck, he did not count this as a factor of having his hair cut.
He stays unnaturally still, and the room is completely silent except for the soft snick of the blades as they slice through Tony’s hair.
Tony contemplates crossing his legs- who gets a hard-on while getting their hair cut, Jesus fucking Christ- and instead tries to concentrate on his hair falling in clumps around him.
“Sorry,” Steve grimaces. “Won’t happen again.”
“Steve, I am ridiculously glad to have both my ears right now.”
“Glad to see you have faith in me, Tony.”
Tony can feel himself becoming lighter.
Another few snick-snicks and Steve’s holding up a mirror in front of him. “Good enough for an amateur?”
Tony raises his hand, runs it over his head- it’s stubbly, and static electricity buzzes through his fingers. “Huh. I look kinda hot like this.”
Tony glances at Steve, but he’s staring at the ground.
Tony misses his watch.
It’s a fucking stupid thing to miss, he knows- but there aren’t many clocks here, so most people just judge what the time is by the sun.
It’s not even that that he misses.
He used to fiddle with it when he was working. On robots, especially, and Jesus Christ, he misses Dummy, and isn’t that just fucking sad?
He misses the watch because even after all these months- a year, even- he keeps reaching up to rub at his watch and gets an empty wrist, and it slaps him in the face again with everything he’s already lost.
In the evenings, most of them find themselves gravitating towards the longue again.
Steve usually sketches, Bruce and Tony work over logistics, and Clint, Natasha, Thor and Loki usually fight over who gets the space in front of the fire.
It’s strangely domestic- Tony keeps thinking family, and then crosses it out.
“Do you think we’ll rebuild?”
“I said, do you think we’re going to rebuild? America, I mean.”
“I know we’re going to rebuild. Don’t know who’s going to do it, but if there’s something I do know, it’s that Americans are the most stubborn motherfuckers on the planet. Fuck cockroaches, we can withstand anything if we have beer in one hand and a twinkie in the other.”
“Sure. Let’s go with that.”
“You wound me, Steve.”
Tony’s starting to forget what the sky used to look like before- then Steve turns the corner, mumbles, “Hey, Tony,” around a mouthful of toothpaste, and Tony catches a flash of his eyes and thinks, oh. That.
“Thought I’d find you out here.”
Tony hoists himself up the stairs and leans beside Steve.
Steve shrugs. “Wanted some quiet.”
Tony freezes. “Do you want me to-”
“No, no!” Steve practically yells, and then winces. “No, I meant- it’s fine. Stay. I can handle ‘Tony quiet.’”
Tony nods, bouncing his hands together. “You do realize that I cannot physically be quiet for over 30 seconds, right?”
“False,” Steve smiles. “You have to sleep.”
They stand there like that for a while, leaning into each other’s shoulders and watching the makeshift-moon.
Finally, Steve exhales sharply. “Hey, what do you miss most about before?”
Tony shrugs. “Fuck, I don’t know. The Internet? Showers?”
Steve smiles that soft smile that makes Tony’s brain turn to mulch at the best of times. “Seriously?”
Tony lightly shoves his shoulder against his. “I don’t know, I don’t really think about it. I try not to think about it. What about you?”
Steve considers for a moment. “I don’t know. This place- seems kinda hopeless, you know? Most of the time, I mean. Everything’s just… gone.”
“The sky’s kinda fucked, too.”
“Mmm.” Steve looks up at it, at the seething mass of used-to-be-sky. “Drive-thrus.”
“Tony!” Steve laughs, butting his shoulder. “Not funny.”
“Whatever you say, Tony.”
Tony turns to watch the not-sky again, his gaze slipping over the not-stars, and when he looks back, Steve’s staring at him with a strange smile on his face that makes something zing through Tony’s hands.
Tony says, “What?”
Steve says, “Nothing,” but he’s still staring. “I’m really glad I met you, Tony. Even under the circumstances.”
Tony blinks. “Uh,” he says. “You, too.”
Steve leans in, and Tony’s sort of expecting it, but he still can’t help the shock when Steve’s mouth closes over his.
Tony doesn’t move at first- his brain is still on the loop of Steve what holy shit and after a few seconds, Steve pulls back, blushing furiously. “I-”
Tony pulls him back in and crushes their mouths together, stifling Steve’s surprised gasp against his lips.
One of Steve’s hands go up to grip Tony’s shirt, and the other slips around the back of his newly-shaven head, tipping it back so they can kiss more easily, tongues sliding together.
They finally pull away for air, breathing hard.
Tony swallows a few times. “Under the circumstances,” he says shakily, “I think we’ve had a pretty good end of the world.”
Steve laughs, and kisses him again.