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Burn it All

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They just sat back laughing at the wounded city. Each breath sucking in ashes and fumes. Oh it bled all right: drier than Moore county. All expatriate flames hurrying to found new nations of blinding dust. But the two of them, they just squinted at that pipe-cleaner skyline. And it burned hotter than their oil slick pupils. One elbowed the other and said “I’ve seen better.” Knowing that they were paid to remember the past - he blew out a hot breath and said “Burn it all.” — Pax Am Days - Fall Out Boy

Everyone else was asleep when Steve climbed to the top of Stark Tower. The building was too quiet. The whole world felt too quiet. He had walked right past the elevator and chose the hollow stairs instead. Making the trek up flight after flight of metal steps was a better fit for his mood; the cheerful ding of the elevator doors and the gentle lighting inside the carriage felt all wrong.

He had been wrong about everyone else being asleep. Steve spotted a male figure at the edge of the roof, outlined against the city skyline. That dark head of hair blowing in the wind made his heart skip for an instant. It was just Tony. Of course it was Tony. Who else would be up here?

“They have no idea,” Tony said as he approached, not turning. He was gesturing at the sleeping city below. “Not a damn clue.” He spoke just loud enough to be heard above the steady howl of the wind.

Steve paused a few yards from the edge, behind Tony. “Must be nice,” he said softly, looking out at the pattern of lights that spread out below them.

Tony’s legs dangled recklessly over the ledge. He passed Steve a bottle, almost two thirds empty. “I really fucked up this time.”

Not answering, Steve took a swig, then closed his eyes as the liquid burned down his throat. It was good, and strong. He wondered how full the bottle had been when Tony had come up here. He held on to it, for now.

Tony sighed. “I mean, I’m used to fucking up. Obviously; you can’t learn without making mistakes, can’t improve. But this-” he shook his head. “No man should have the power to fuck up quite so… so.... ” At a loss for words, he flung his arms out to indicate the vastness of his mistake.

Steve knew he couldn’t argue Tony’s fault in the matter, but this was not the time to add to the man’s self-imposed guilt trip. “We stopped it,” Steve reminded him. He moved to sit down next to his friend, but not as far out. Unlike Tony, he could survive a fall from this height, but it would still hurt.

“Barely.” Tony pulled the bottle out of Steve’s hand and took a long swallow. “Barely,” he repeated with a sigh. “Pulled it out of our ass, is what we did.”

“You say that like it’s not our usual method.”

Tony had to chuckle at that. He swirled the bottle, watching the liquid catch the twinkling lights from above and below. Before he could raise it to his lips for another drink, Steve gently plucked it from his hand and set it out of reach. They sat in comfortable silence for a few moments. Faint sounds of traffic drifted up to them in the wind, along with smells of the ocean mixed with exhaust fumes. Steve wasn’t sure how much time had passed before Tony spoke again. “If I ever try to pull that shit again,” he began.

“Don’t,” Steve cut him off. They stared each other down for a few long seconds.

“You’re a good little boy scout,” Tony sneered. “If I get too cocky, if the power goes to my head, are you gonna let me put the whole planet at risk? I don’t think so.” His words were a little slurred, but his gaze was steady.

“You’re my friend,” Steve told him in reply.

Tony raised his chin. “Wouldn’t be the first friend you had to sacrifice for the greater good.”

Steve narrowed his eyes, then turned away, not giving Tony the satisfaction of a response. The man was still wallowing in guilt and self pity, and he clearly wanted to drag Steve down to wallow in the muck with him.

“Whatever you wanna tell yourself,” Tony went on. “I know you’d do the right thing when it came down to it.”

“The right thing,” Steve muttered. He turned and stared at the man beside him. “Right by whose standards? I’ve lost too many people. Don’t ask me to do that.”

Tony’s brown eyes were wide in the dim light. On a whim he raised his hand as if to touch Steve’s face, then hesitated, instead combing his fingers through the other man’s thick hair.

Steve felt his pulse speed up. He held as still as a statue. It was like being approached by a feral animal. Don’t startle it. He had to remind himself to breathe.

“I’ve lost people,” Tony began. “You know that. But I thought... I could make it mean something.” His thumb absently stroked Steve’s jaw as he spoke. “I could show everyone it wasn’t for nothing. Give their deaths meaning.” Tony shook his head bitterly, let his hand drop. Unshed tears glistened in his eyes. “I can’t let anyone else get hurt because of me.” He leaned forward, peering down over the edge of the roof, and Steve’s heart dropped to his stomach.

“Don’t talk like that. Please.” He didn’t have the right words, but he was desperate. “Listen to me. Your heart was in the right place. Who can ask more than that?”

Tony laughed bitterly. “I’m guessing- the families of all the people who were killed because of my brilliant invention? Yeah, they probably don’t give a shit where my heart was at.”

“What about all the people you’ve saved?” Steve was more terrified in this moment than facing a thousand killer robots. “I’m not saying you can make up for it, or that saving enough people will cancel out your mistakes…” He stopped, chewing his lip anxiously. Was he actually making this worse?

Not meeting his eyes, Tony nodded. “I get what you’re trying to say. I appreciate it.” He patted Steve on the knee. “You’re a sweet guy, Cap, but you can’t save everyone.”

Steve had just opened his mouth to protest the nickname, but Tony was gone. In half a heartbeat he had tipped forward and let himself drop off the edge of the roof. Steve scrambled after him, and was just in time to see his friend’s body disappearing into the darkness below. Without a thought, he flung himself over.

Newspaper headlines were flashing through his imagination. “Billionaire Commits Suicide” above a stock photo of a smiling, radiant Tony in happier days. Steve’s mind caught up as he was plummeting down through the cold night sky. Tony might be pissed when he saved him, but maybe he would be a little grateful. Either way, Steve couldn’t let the guy go out like this. He pressed his arms flatter to his sides like a human bullet, attempting to reduce the wind resistance and catch up to his friend. He was getting nearer by the second. It worked in his favor that Tony was spread out like a flying squirrel. Wait, what? Just as Steve got close enough to reach out and grab Tony around the waist, flipping them mid-air so he could take the brunt of the landing, Steve noticed a flash of red out of the corner of his eye.

Pieces of the Iron Man suit were snapping together around Tony’s arms and legs as they fell. One whacked Steve in the elbow and he momentarily lost his grip. As it dawned on Steve that he wasn’t actually saving Tony, and it was quickly turning into Tony saving him, he felt foolish. Another piece of the suit thumped him in the shin. Tony was grabbing ahold of him, and their descent was slowing. By the time their trajectory changed and they were headed back up, Tony had both metal-clad arms wrapped around Steve’s torso.

They floated up past the roof, then gently came back down. Steve pushed away as soon as his feet touched solid ground. Tony laughed. “Come on, that was fun. You’re like my Lois Lane!” The suit was already disassembling itself into a neat pile in the center of the roof. Steve silently scolded himself for not noticing it when he first came up.

He looked around and saw that the bottle was right where they’d left it. He slumped down near the edge and took a long chug, then set it down hard, almost cracking the glass.

Tony eased down beside him. “Sorry, man,” he said, not sounding very remorseful at all. “I thought you might do that, but I wasn’t completely sure.”

Steve shot him a bitter look.

“Maybe next time you won’t,” Tony shrugged. He took a drink, then looked out thoughtfully over the city. “I’ve been doing this for the past few hours. It’s kind of like therapy.” When Steve didn’t answer, he gave him a gentle punch of the shoulder. “Hey man,” Tony said gently.

Steve turned and looked him in the eyes. “Fuck you.”

Tony was taken aback. “You okay?”

“No, I’m not. That was really ...cruel.” He stared at Tony for a few seconds. “That’s exactly how I lost Bucky.”

Realization dawned on Tony’s face. He opened his mouth to apologize.

Steve cut him off. “I watched him fall. I can’t-” He grimaced, the memory bringing almost tangible pain. “I’ve replayed that in my head a thousand times. I wished I’d gone after him, even if it meant we both died. I should have. I could’ve spared him from everything they put him through.”

“I’m so sorry,” Tony said, his voice almost a whisper. Gently, slowly, he took Steve’s hand in both of his. “I didn’t even think of-”

“I can’t lose any more friends,” Steve insisted. “I can’t watch you fall. Don’t do that to me.” There was fire in his eyes, not quite anger anymore, yet something that burned even hotter. “I just… can’t.”

Tony nodded, not breaking their gaze. This was a new side of Steve he had not previously considered. It was reckless, selfish. He was intrigued. “What about the rest of the world? All those innocent bastards?”

Steve brought his free hand to grab at Tony’s shirt, pulling him closer. His other fist was still cradled in Tony’s smaller hands. He shook his head. “I can’t,” was all he said. He leaned forward so their foreheads were touching. “I can’t.” At the last second, he pulled away and looked down at the lights of the buildings stretching out across the horizon.

Tony pressed a quick kiss to Steve’s temple. He wrapped his forearm around Steve’s neck and pulled him closer.

Steve let himself fold against Tony’s shoulder, curling into his embrace like a frightened child, despite his size. “Let ‘em burn.” It was barely above a whisper, half lost in the wind, and Tony could almost tell himself he imagined it. He could almost convince himself that Steve didn’t mean it. Almost.