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Secondhand Hope

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Steve wished, for probably the eighth time, that he had left Tony back up on the ship. It was supposed to be a simple recon mission, a quick look around so that Dr. Banner could get some more readings on the surface and input this unknown planet into the ship's database, but then Barton’s scan had brought up readings that indicated that some kind of man-made structure, something mechanical, was down here, and Tony had practically leapt onto the transporter to join them.

Unfortunately, an excited Chief Stark was remarkably similar to a five-year-old that had been given too much candy.

“So, if there are robots, I get to take one, right, Steve? I’m pretty sure the Prime Directive has nothing on AI and human interaction, so any loose tech is fair game.”

“Stark," Steve replied with what he felt like was remarkable patience, "whatever we find here has to stay here. And need I remind you that it's Captain?"

“Aw, come on, Steve,” Stark complained with a grin. “We were in the same class at the Academy. I scored better than you on the final exam for Command Tactics and Strategy!”

“A final that you were not even slotted to take, seeing as you were completing a degree in Engineering!” Steve snapped back. This was another reason that Stark should stay in Engineering, far from the bridge and therefore usually far from Steve.

"I was bored."

That, Steve thought, seemed to explain most of Tony’s motivation for anything.

“And, you never know,” Tony continued, just as Steve thought he was done. “If you should ever, I don’t know, if you get sucked off the ship like Pike did a couple years back, I can pull a Kirk and you'll be happy I’m prepared. “

“Stark!” Steve stopped short, temper rising, because he’d spoken at Pike’s funeral and only a medical miracle had kept him from having to attend one for Captain Kirk as well. “Why the hell…”

But Tony had kept walking, mind no doubt having moved on, quick fingers tapping on the data pad he was rarely without.

Dr. Banner, always an expert on reading a situation, lagged back to step slightly in front of Steve, an apologetic smile on his face.

“He didn’t mean it, sir. Stark rambles when’s he’s nervous, and frequently those thoughts come out without checking in with his brain.”

“If a little transporter jump made him nervous, it’s amazing he made it out of the Academy,” Steve replied sharply and then felt bad. It wasn’t the doctor’s fault, even if he and Stark were friends.

Dr. Banner winced a little.

“No, not that. It’s just this planet, sir. It looks a great deal like Gaspar II.”

Steve had to think for a moment to call up specifics.

“So our undiscovered country looks like a Federation colony, doctor, you’re still not making your point.”

Banner looked ahead, almost like he wanted to make sure Stark was out of earshot, and then said quietly, “He wouldn’t like me telling you, I had to get him very drunk on some Rigellian ale before he would talk about it, but Stark lived on Gaspar II until he was fourteen.”

Banner paused.

“And?” Steve prompted, already sure he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“Shuttle crash. A family friend raised him, but it wasn’t… it was one of the reasons he signed on to the Avenger, I believe, to get away.”

“But,” Steve watched Tony ahead of them, head bent to mutter at his data pad. “Everyone’s heard of the Stark Corporation. I’m pretty sure most of the ships run on Stark warp cores. I figured his family…” What had he thought? That the Stark name had bought Tony a place in the Academy? That his smug grin was the product of overindulgent parents all too willing to backroll their son onto a starship?

“Just him, no other family. He left the company in capable hands, friends of his, then joined Starfleet.”

This new view, of Stark being nearly alone as he was, made Steve’s chest tight. Harder to think that the sarcasm might be born from something darker, closer to the chill riding Steve's own memories.

“So you’re telling me it’s all right for Stark to be an ass?” Steve tried to keep his words angry, but the heat was fading rapidly.

Dr. Banner smiled a bit.

“I’m just saying that sometimes we’re the way we are for a reason,” he said quietly.

Before Steve could think of a response, Stark’s voice rang out from ahead of them, out of sight behind some rocks that, with their luck, would turn into a cave or a pit, or something else nasty.

“Bruce! Steve! You guys gotta see this, my pad is going bananas!”

Steve sighed, checked the setting of his phaser (in his experience, things that got Stark excited also had a tendency to want to cause bodily harm) and looked at Dr. Banner.

“Maybe the atmosphere is messing with his readings?”

The doctor shrugged.

“I would bet it’s robots, but then you’re much more optimistic than I am.”

Steve sighed again.

“Let me check in with Natasha on the bridge and then we’ll see if we can track down our chief engineer before he blows up the planet.”