“Route to Metro General!”
“NO! I am not going to that fucking hospital! I will never set foot in that hospital again even if my lif-”
“Tony, I swear if you don’t listen to me right now-“
“YOU’RE BLEEDING OUT!”
“Cap, if you make me go there so help me g- ughHHH-“
Tony threw his head back writhing. There was a sound of ragged breathing and a loud thump as the billionaire smashed his fist down onto the flooring of the ambulance. For a moment his eyes were tightly shut, gritted teeth, trying to stop himself from screaming. The next, the two Avengers had their gaze locked, both watching each other, eyes wide.
“Tony….” came the Captain’s steady voice. It managed to hold it’s usual seemingly unshakable resolve, the earnest. “…please.”
The brunette stared into the baby blue eyes. Two deep breathes. In, out, in, slower out. He swallowed. “…Jarvis, call Christine Palmer.”
Clunk. Clunk. CLUNK.
Steve swallowed, hard. He watched, a bit wide-eyed as the very pretty woman, a doctor clearly, chucked down various medical tools onto the metal tray with each use. She seemed dismayed, irked. Definitely knew Tony enough to be on the first-name basis but almost refused to meet the billionaire's eyes other than to glare from time to time.
An old friend? Upset the billionaire managed to land himself in another dangerous situation? An ex? From a relationship that ended badly? Tony had many.
To be frank, Steve’s bet was on the latter. After all, by now the Captain had definitely understood better what they meant by “woman’s scorn”. And this doctor, Christine Palmer, seemed to be acting very much against her real nature by being cold, unreasonably rough. People don’t manage that often without some strong emotional drive behind it.
Christine had dismissed the other nurses and staff as soon as the bleeding was managed. She was currently dressing the wound herself in an efficient manner as Tony intermittently flinched from time to time at the unforgiving pace.
“When was the last time you drank water?”
“Drink the damn water, Tony.”
Tony closed his mouth with a snap. Eyes locking with the soft hazel gaze that did not entirely match with the harshness of the words. Steve watched as the engineer silently lifts the cup to his lips, taking a large gulp, eyes never leaving the doctor. Steve absentmindedly wondered if maybe Tony had a thing for doctors. There wasn’t much in the world that held the genius’s undivided attention for this long.
“I’m going to draw blood.”
“Oh come on-“
“I’m not asking.”
Tony scoffed, “Is that even legal-“
“Ma’am-” Steve made a motion to step forward, but Tony gave him a look, stopping the Captain dead in his tracks.
“Cap… can you maybe wait outside? Please?”
Steve hesitated for a long while but eventually swallowed before nodding. He ran his fingers through his now messy hair. “….Okay. Okay, I’ll just… be right outside, Tony.”
Tony briefly flashed his well-practiced smile, “Thanks.”
Christine waits till the Captain left completely, the door closing shut with a click. “I’m going to check for alcohol and substance abuse.”
Tony opened his mouth but she beat him to it.
“I’ll run it myself. It won’t get leaked to the public. But if I find that you are killing yourself-,” her voice breaks without meaning to. He sees the tears forming in the almond-shaped eyes. Although the next second, she shook her head before going about the task at hand. “I’ll send them over to Pepper and James. I doubt they would be letting you out of their sight for the next weeks-“
There was bitterness, bite, in the way she spoke.
Tony let out a sigh, though he didn’t try to fight her as he felt the needle pressing. “Why are you being so judgmental today? Are you PMS-ing or something-“
That made her stop. She looked up, suddenly making eye contact in an intense glare. “You expect me to be kind to you right now? I haven’t seen you in months. MONTHS, Tony. And now you just stride in here flaunting about how you’re moving on when he suffers? I’m his best friend!“
The words caught him off guard, the meaning soon sinking in. Suddenly, the pretend nonchalant wiped clean from his face. “You think I’m not suffering? You think-“
“You broke up with him!” Her voice was not loud, barely above normal speaking volume. But that tone, the ever heated sincerity behind those hazel orbs, she may as well been yelling. “Just because… because what? Because he doesn’t fit into your fun, extravagant lifestyle anymore? Because his injury is troublesome? …You… I thought you loved him. I thought-… he NEEDED you. And now you just… He LOVED you. He loved you with everything he’s had. He loved you in ways I never thought it would be possible for him! And you just… threw him away… so fast… It’s only been months-” She stared at him with almost desperation. “Not even… just months and you already moved on with HIM??”
Christine lowered her gaze, throwing aside the tube with an unsteady exhale. “I’m sure… it must be wonderful. Finally dating someone who is also a hero. The most beloved Avenger.” She was cleaning up now, putting away the tools that she finished using loudly. Anger resonating with each movement.
“Someone who can really keep up with you and be at your side in every aspect of your life. I’m-… I get it. Iron Man is huge part of your life. I get that. But… You know Stephen was always… so damn worried about that. So insecure that he wouldn’t be enough for your trilling superhero life. I kept stupidly telling him how that won’t matter to you-“
But Tony wasn’t listening. He already stopped listening after her first sentence. The words replaying over and over in his mind.
“He broke up with me.”
It was quiet. Much too quiet. The words felt foreign even as he uttered them.
She paused, staring at him with disbelief. “What…?”
“He… Stephen… he broke up with me.”
There was a sigh before he looked up to meet her eyes once more. A ghost of a smile playing on his lips at an attempt to suppress a scream. He swallowed his pride, trying to form the next words. “I begged. I begged him to just… give me a chance… and he-… You should have heard him. He sounded so… I didn’t know… How unhappy he must have been… and I guess… I didn’t know. He said he was tired of me, Christine.”
She turned away, fixing her gaze to the far end of the wall, biting her lower lips. Tony can already see the streaks of tears trailing down her face.
“Hey-“ he said softly. He swallowed, hard. Reaching out to put a hand lightly on her shoulder, pulling her towards him. “Hey, come on-… Christine, sweetheart, it’s-“ It’s not okay. It’s far from okay. But he admits he never liked seeing woman upset… at least ones he cared about.
The doctor leaned against him. First hesitantly before falling completely into his arms. Christine had a hand over her mouth, trying to quiet the muffled cries.
“It’s…” Tony placed a hand to the back of her head lightly then trailed down gently to pat lightly at her back. “It’s going to be alright… It’ll be alright in the end-“
“N-no…” she replied almost inaudibly between sobs. “No, it’s… not.”
He felt the familiar tinge of burning in his eyes, the tears threatening to form. He looked around, trying to fix his attention elsewhere, his gaze soon falling to the glass door where the Captain stood at the other side.
Steve had his arms crossed, his eyes down cast after glancing at the crying doctor. A look of confusion, nervousness, sympathy clearly visible as he paced.
“I just thought… I just kept thinking…”
Tony’s attention snapped back to Christine.
“If you were… if you just stayed with him… he would be okay. I just kept thinking how… you’d know- what to do…” She took a sharp inhale. “It was just easier to blame you than… to accept he’s-… I shouldn’t have… believed all the stupid gossip. I knew that. I really did. I’m… sorry-“
“He… he didn’t tell you,” That caught him by surprise. Tony had simply expected Stephen to have told Christine about their breakup. She was his closest friend. Who was helping him then? Who was by his side? It couldn't be an easy adjustment after the accident.
“No… No he didn’t.” She took a half step back, wiping her tears away with the corner of her sleeve hastily. “I think… I’m losing him…he’s pushing me away.”
Blur. Everything was a blur.
“Nat, if we delete that computer, we are burning the only evidence that will vindicate Strange-“
“This was what Stephen was asking for. We don’t have much time before some agent-“
“There are a lot of agencies involved, a lot of moving players. There are tons of gray area to this! We need to play our cards right... We need to think about this carefully-“
It felt cold.
“Tones… Tony-“ Rhodey. “Tony, come on man. You need to snap out of it.”
He felt a wave of shiver that radiated throughout his body. His own blood felt cold, foreign. He flexed his fingers, hands balling into fists only to quickly open them once more. He needed the reminder. A reminder that this was still his body, his own limbs, that he still had control over something.
“Not one more step, Captain. That’s my warning-“
“Thor, this is not the time!”
“Cap, maybe you should-“
“For God’s sake, he’s not breathing!”
That particular edge in his tone. One that only appeared on rare occasions. A crack to the perfect, proud, infallible demeanor.
Cap. That was Cap. Tony could always make out Steve’s voice. Anywhere, anytime. Especially out in a battlefield. It cut through the fog and kept him from straying. Even now.
He hated to admit it. Especially… now.
“What will happen to him?”
“We can’t be sure. There is no standard procedure for something like this.”
“UN was already distrusting of those with supernatural powers and Doctor Strange is the epitome of everything they fear. If they use this as a chance to put him down for good-“
“Come on, Strange can break out of there in seconds-“
“And even if he did, what? That’s signing up for never being able to live out in the open again- What about Stark or the kids-“
“Breathe, Tony. You need to breathe-“
Bruce. That soothing, mellow tone. It often calmed him.
But it’s not what he wanted right now. It wasn’t right.
Tony wanted the familiar low baritone that often held a hint of satirical laughter. That was right.
The words that always flaunted the sharp intelligence. The gaze that exuded bold arrogance. There was a pang of shrill pain as he thought of the particular shade of icy blue-green.
“TONY!” Rogers…? “BREATHE!”
Tony gulped in the air, harshly, abruptly.
He felt a little light-headed as he locked eyes with the Captain. There was relief in the blonde’s expression as he finally stopped struggling against Sam who seemed to have still been holding him back.
It was wrong. That shade of blue… it was wrong. But at least… it was familiar.
Things were moving too fast, then too slow, then too fast again. Tony couldn’t fully focus on any of the conversations. The expression. The emotions. He couldn’t even feel the full control of his body, his movements, the words that flowed from his tongue.
His kids. Where are his kids?
“I need… I need you to take the kids to the bedroom. To Peter’s.”
“Da-…Tony …I- I didn’t mean… I didn’t want-“
“Harley. Harley… it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I’m not mad at you. But I need you to go with Pepper right now. Okay?... Peter… Peter, don’t-… no, no, don’t cry. Hey it’s going to be alright-“
Lies. It felt like lies.
“We don’t have time!”
“This is irreversible!”
“Even if we don’t wipe this out now, what are we going to do? Turn it over to the UN and have the kid stand trial?!”
“We already agreed not turning a kid in!”
“Then what happens to Strange?”
“He’s a kid. The UN has to understand that. He was upset, impulsive, overcome by emotions… They might just let this go-“
“He’s not that young. We see him as a child but he’s nearly 21. They will see him as an adult.”
“So it’s either the kid or Strange…”
“… Maybe… Tony-… what… what would you like us to do…”
The hard decisions. Always the hard decisions. Shoved to him as if it was some courtesy.
He didn’t want to hear it. His brain didn’t want to process it. None of it was real. This can’t be real.
He doesn’t… he can’t-
The world came to a sudden halt. A silence so empty it echoed his wretched emotions.
Tony swallowed as he looked up, meeting the eyes of the one who spoke.
“Deleted it,” Steve repeated as he turned to each of them then back to meet Tony’s gaze. “If they trace it back to Harley, they won’t hold back on him. And Strange… it’ll prove he just lied. …Strange has leverage. They fear him enough they won’t do anything rash at the very least. Get rid of the device. Any evidence that indicates who really did this. The kid will be safe and it’ll buy us more time to make a plan on what to do next.”
Tony let the breath he didn’t know he was holding. Another long look, then he turned away. Hands stretching over onto the cold surface of the table, leaning heavily.
A book. Old, foreign, definitely not anything common.
Next to piles of papers and textbooks.
He knew that book. Stephen’s book.
What time was it? The sunlight from the window didn’t reach to this side of the room anymore. How long has he been standing here? There was less noise. Less presence.
He kept looking without really seeing. Kept listening without really hearing.
Tony rubbed his eyes, blinked harshly trying to clear the blurriness that just would not go away. Or was it all just in his head.
He heard Rhodey at some point. The voice that was unmistakably Pepper as well. The careful touch he became so accustomed to over the years.
They were trying to help. They were trying to make sure he’s okay.
“Platypus… I… just leave. I need… space.”
Rhodey… Pepper… Harley… Peter…
“Tones, come on-“
“Tony, we can’t just leave you like this-“
It wasn’t okay. They weren’t okay. They were upset. He, Tony, he needs to be here… he needs to make sure they are okay. That was his job. So why couldn’t he be here.
He needs to make sure they are okay. He needs to… That was his responsibility.
“Get out! …Just please. Get. Out.”
He’s failing to protect them. As he failed to protect Stephen.
He was… supposed to have protected him. But he selfishly couldn’t get a hold of himself. He couldn’t… not right now. He didn’t have the energy to assure them… that it’s okay. To make sure everyone is okay.
He was not okay.
Tony was not okay. He could feel it. The familiar anxiety, the panic… just a step away from the cliff that led to a fall.
But that was… this was Stephen’s job.
It wasn’t Rhodey’s… Pepper’s… this was Stephen’s job.
He needed... Stephen.
He needed the rest of them… to leave.
He didn’t have the energy to be strong. To be what they needed him to be.
He dug. Dug, and dug, and dug. Tony was in their bedroom. His and Stephen’s. How did he get here?
Clothes were flying all over, making random piles all around him as he rummaged through drawers and drawers. Where was it?
Closet. He ran towards the door. Nearly tripping over the mountain of fabrics. He kicked them away without a second thought.
He clawed at the boxes, throwing them open one after another. Flipping them, the content scattering onto the floor unceremoniously. Where was it? He needed…
Tony let out a sigh of unmasked relief. The air coming out shaky, unstable, almost a sob.
He reached for it, the white dress shirt stained with spots of red. With trembling hands, he fingers the inner lining of the right cuff until he felt it… the feeling of cold metal… a small heart made of shrapnel.
He felt his knees give out, hitting the hardwood floor with a thud. It hurt, but just a splinter compared to the stab he feels in his heart. He wanted to scream. Scream and scream till his lungs gave out as well, till all the oxygen left his brain.
He brought the shirt close to his chest, burying his wretched cries into the soft fabric.
Tony stared at the shirt that was being laid gently on his lap. The confusion was at the tip of his tongue but then, he felt a tiny metal between his fingers. He turned it slowly, revealing the heart-shaped metal, barely a centimeter in width, sewn to the inners of the cuff.
“He was… wearing it when he was admitted. I didn’t have the chance to give it to him before he… disappeared,” Christine said quietly, hesitantly. “I… mended it the best I could- I couldn’t get all the stains out. I wasn’t sure… if it was proper to give it to you… but… it felt wrong to throw it away.”
Tony smiled softly as he put a hand over her’s.
She smiled back at him, or at least tried to. “I know… what it meant to him and…”
He took a deep breath, twirling the metal lightly between his fingers, reminiscing.
It was a tiny pendant he, Tony, cast himself with some of the shrapnel removed from his heart. He had sewn it to one of Stephen’s favorite dress shirt. Quite badly he might add. He had never sewn anything before in his life and had to get a quick lesson from quite exasperated Rhodey.
“Tony, I told you! If you are going to take my clothes, put them back. …Wait, what is this?”
“What does it look like? A heart. I cast it from the shrapnel. …I sewed it there.”
“Clearly. It’s terrible stitches.”
“You never sewn anything in your life have you?”
"Oh, shut up, Doc. … And stop grinning! Why are you grinning?!”
“… Your heart on my sleeve, huh?”
“…Shut up, Stephanie-“
He had forgotten that Stephen had been wearing it that night of the accident. The surgeon often did when he had to go to an event without Tony. A deliberate choice the billionaire knew Stephen’s pride never let himself admit out loud.
“Thanks… for this.” Tony gave another light squeeze over Christine’s hand before standing to leave. “And for stitching me back up too.”
He stood to leave, grimacing as he felt a shot of pain in his lower abdomen. But it wasn’t unbearable and frankly, he has been in worse shape before.
“I’m sorry,” Christine blurted out.
Tony turned towards her once more, questioningly.
Her eyes darted towards the direction of the door, though subtle. “From what I said before. I mean… I just… I’ve been Stephen’s friend for a long time. But I am sorry. You deserve to move on. You deserve to be happy.”
She wore a sad smile, a bit forced from what Tony can assume.
He had to think over the words for a moment to realize what she was getting at.
“Oh. I’m… no,” he said in a hurry, letting out a huff of laughter at the thought. “It’s not like that. Cap and I are friends… sort of… I think. Teammates, for sure. But completely platonic. Pretty sure he doesn’t even swing that way and has a thing for Nat. I mean look at him. The guy is the epitome of the 40s stereotypical American Dream with the house in the suburb, a stay-at-home wife, white picket fence, 2.5 kids with a dog. Though pretty sure Nat won’t go for that-…The media is just spinning gossips… you know how it is-“
But he quickly stopped himself as Christine gave him an odd look. “What?”
There was a slight frown that overcame her expression. “… He… he hasn’t left your side since you got here… he basically hasn’t taken his eyes off you since you got here. I’ve… seen interviews and news. Saw how he looks at your other teammates, how he talks about them. It’s different… the way he looks at you. He doesn’t see you as just your friend, Tony…”
He didn’t turn around. Simply lift the glass to his lips, taking a large gulp. The amber liquid led a trail of burn down his throat.
There was a soft sound of the elevator closing, footsteps drawing near.
Steve took a deep breath in, eyes surveying the unusual mess that scattered around the lab. He opened his mouth as if to speak but…
“Why are you here?”
The words died at his throat. Steve knew what he was in for when he came down here. Completely knew he would be unwelcomed. He would be lucky if he made it out without at least a couple of objects thrown for his head. But still, the coldness of Tony’s words, the quiet bitterness and anguish it carried, simmering just beneath the surface… it made him flinch.
Tony let out a harsh laugh. “Do you really think I want to see your face right now, Rogers? I heard about how fast UN got involved because of your bitching. Fine, I get that they may have gotten involved eventually either way but if you just didn’t speed it up we could have-…” he let out a scoff before throwing back the rest of his drink, drowning the rest of his anger in it. “…Seriously, why the fuck are you here?”
Steve continued to stare for another minute. The baby blue eyes meeting the whiskey brown. There were so many things unsaid. So many things Tony could simply guess.
That was the thing about them. They didn’t agree on so many things, bickered at every chance they got, opposite sides in terms of fundamental beliefs and morals… often told they were too different to actually understand each other.
But as their gaze locked, the silent moment as they simply stood still… it always felt like they did. Some understanding that surpassed logic or reason. Something that was far more innate, build into their bones.
Tony felt his anger starting to falter. He hated it. Often hated that aspect. How he was always swayed if he continued to stare into those clear blue orbs.
It was often said that Stephen was his weakness. But he knew the truth. Stephen had and always will be his greatest strength. Steve… Steve will always be his greatest weakness.
“Get out, Rogers.”
His head snapped up towards the Captain’s direction at the blatant retort. The anger rearing its head once more. “I’m not in the mood right now, Cap. Get the fuck out before I make you.”
“No,” Steve replied once more. His arms were crossed though his expression told Tony the Captain was far from angry. He seemed… sad, resigned, but determined.
“What the hell is your problem?!”
“My problem is that you can potentially kill yourself!”
Tony closed his mouth, glaring at the other. Though subconsciously, he set down the glass in his hand.
Steve took a step forward, swallowing hard. “You’re… not okay. You needed to be reminded to breathe earlier. You’re off the deep end. You’re disassociating in the worst of ways. Do you even remember how you got here or the past couple hours?”
He sighed, looking around before fixing his gaze back to the brunette. “You can hardly even look at your kids… This is not like you to be unable to… Now you are drinking on empty stomach… I… I know when things… get there. When you’re just a half a step away from hell-”
“I am in fucking hell, Rogers,” he snapped through gritted teeth. “I was this close. THIS FUCKING DAMN CLOSE… to having it all!”
“All the sacrifice I made to get here. Every goddamn drop of blood, bead of sweat, the fallen tears- IT WAS MY TIME! I DAMN EARNED IT!” The brunette crosses the room in quick strides, pointing a finger directly to the other’s face. “…You… You always take everything from me!”
He realized how crazy he must look right now. The raw emotions fully on display.
But to his surprise, for once, Steve didn’t look judgmental... just… sad.
“I know.” The Captain stepped back, running a hand over his face, shaking his head slightly. “I also know… it shouldn’t be me here right now. But I’m only here because you managed to chase everyone… and I mean everyone out of here. It’s to the point Rhodes and Pepper let me down here because one thing greater than their want for my blood right now is making sure you are alive. You managed to drive everyone away but you’re not going to get me to leave.”
Tony was just about snarling, “You really think I can’t-“
But Steve cut him off. “You already hate me. I’m not afraid of much else.”
There was a long silence as they both stood their ground. A tense moment where each of them wondered of the next step.
Then it hit him… his mind was clear. For the first time since Tony had arrived back at the compound, since he heard of the chaos that had transpired, he felt clear-headed, focused. He was here. Not floating off somewhere in the corners of his thoughts, didn’t feel trapped in his own body, his body finally felt like his own. He was in control.
He took a deep breath, letting his eyes fall closed for a split second before turning back towards Steve.
“You made the call,” he said softly, a definite contrast to his earlier tone.
Steve’s expression turned to one of confusion. “What?”
Tony turned away, hands reaching for the bottle to refill his glass. “When they were all arguing about what to do next. And they asked me. …You made the call. To erase the evidence. You made the decision.”
“Look. Tony-“ His voice was even but there was underlining of nerve as if he was just waiting for the other to start yelling at him once more. “Strange already turned himself in. I’m sorry… but… there would be no use both of them being taken in-“
“I know,” he stops him. “I know. …It was the correct choice. But why did you make the call for me?”
Steve let out a sigh, glancing away. “You know why-“
“I need to hear it.”
There was a short pause, a tense one.
“You would have hated yourself…” he started softly, slowly. “If you made that call, having to choose between your… fiancé-“ Steve licked his lips. The words tasted bitter, even now. “…or your kid… either way, you would have never stopped… hating yourself.”
They both looked up at the same time, their eyes meeting.
“You…” Steve pursed his lips briefly then let out another heavy sigh. “You already hate me… not much loss there. And I figured… better you hate me than yourself. … You shouldn’t… make that call. It would have killed you.”
“hm…” The corner of his lips twitched as he glanced away. “Well… no one else… understood.”
Tony let out a bitter laugh before lifting the glass to his lips. The harsh truth.
As much as he loved Pepper and Rhodey, as much as they loved him in return, the reality was that they never fully understood him, not in this way. They dealt with each other well, knew just how to interact with one another, they had a great dynamic… and they put up with him better than most… but never just… got it.
Perhaps, before Stephen, that was the reason for the loneliness Tony couldn’t shake quite shake off… even when he felt like he never had the right to be. It felt like an insult to what his two friends were giving him already. Wrong to want more.
Steve... as much as they bickered, as much as they disagreed… when push comes to shove, oddly enough, he got it. Maybe not to the level as Stephen. The Civil War incident was proof of that... although there were many other factors playing during that event. But, he came close.
How did it all turn out like this? Would it have been different had he just… been stronger? If Tony just didn’t let the loneliness and the misery overtake him. Never stopped believing Stephen would come back to him.
If he had just never acted on this… Perhaps things would have been simpler between him and Cap. Between the whole team, in fact. They were good as friends. It was a shame…
He raised the glass to his lips, not wanting to think any further into the convoluted mess that was his life.
“How many is that?”
A second, then two, Tony simply stared. Then slowly lowered the cup. “Four,” he said simply as he slid it away from him.
Steve nodded, still watching as Tony moved away from the table and the liquid poison.
Then, the blonde started to pace.
Tony’s eyes lingered on him for a bit, noting the tenseness of the shoulders, eyes darting around but mostly landing back onto the floor, an awkward nervousness the Captain tried to reframe from acting on in public.
“You seem… better. I can leave... if you want. I can get Rhodes… or Bruce, Nat… Thor…“
“No,” Tony blurted out. He shocked himself at the rashness of the answer.
Steve cleared his throat. “No meaning… I shouldn’t leave? … Or leave but just don’t get anyone else…? Because at the very least I’m telling Rhodes…”
The engineer debated the question. He knew… what he wanted but wasn’t sure if he had the right to want it. Familiar guilt was settling in from the corners of his mind.
“Stay,” he turned away. “I… can barely… take care of myself right now. I don’t know how to be… not okay… around them… Not in this way. Maybe my anger at you is helping me focus.”
Steve snorted but nodded, running a hand through his own hair then settling at the back of his neck.
“I’m not fucking you though.”
That made Captain snap his gaze back up, very much startled, offended even.
Tony noted, however, Cap didn’t choke on air or become completely flustered as he used to. But, well, he supposed after many years even Steve would have become used to his outlandish remarks.
“Really, Tony?” Steve said with a frown. “I’m not- … I’m not here hoping to take advantage of you! That’s not what I’m doing!”
The billionaire gave him a flat stare. “Then what are you doing?”
Steve opened his mouth though closing it back up almost instantly. He seemed as though he was asking himself the question, trying to figure out the answer himself.
“I guess… in a way this… this was me trying… to be your friend.”
It wasn’t a lie. Steve definitely missed this. Being able to talk to Tony, being able to be around him. He missed the unique friendship that they shared. It was so rare and incomparable to anything else – something he didn’t fully appreciate till it was too late. He desperately wanted it back. The only thing that he wanted more was… well… more.
But he was slowly coming to terms with that as well. About Stephen Strange becoming a permanent fixture once more in Tony’s life. Steve had to admit, he hasn’t gotten there fully yet but today had helped. He didn’t have to like it but it helped for him to see.
Strange didn’t hesitate to throw himself to shield Tony’s kid. Probably fully knowing that it will, quite possibly, be at the cost of his own happiness with Tony. After all Steve heard about Strange, how the sorcerer never wanted kids, he was surprisingly good with them… almost instinctively knew how to be with them. The whole thing reminded him of Tony in an odd way.
It haunted him for several hours. What would he, Steve, have done if he had been in Strange’s position? He wasn’t sure.
“Did you…” Steve started quietly. He wasn’t sure if he was ready for the answer. “Did you want me to stop?”
Tony was just staring at him. The Captain can see the gears turning in the genius’s head.
“Tony, you never… actually told me to stop. It’s always not now, you don’t want to talk right now, you want me to leave you alone now, but you never tell me to stop… trying. I need… Tony I just need you to tell me to stop… not Rhodes, not Strange, not everyone else… I need you to tell me to stop trying…”
There was long silence as they stood still, eyes locked. The only sound was the soft vibrations of the many engines in the lab. Then, with a soft sigh, Tony leaned back onto one of the work desks to steady himself. He didn’t realize how tired he was, how his legs felt like giving out.
“I…” Tony bit his lips for a moment, debating his words. “I don’t want you to stop trying.” A pause. “…but I’m not ready to say yes.”
Steve smiled softly. “Okay.”
“You can’t just take the earpiece out like that! Not out in the field!”
“Well if you stopped yelling at me I wouldn’t have had to!”
“Tony, this isn’t a joke! That was dangerous!”
The billionaire let out a scoff, walking even faster. But Steve was hot at his tail, matching the long strides rather easily. Of course, he can. The Captain was at least a good several inches taller in height. Which lately had pissed Tony off more than he’d like to admit.
In fact, everything about the first Avenger was irking him. Those perfect jawline, the tall well-toned frame, the golden blonde hair, the clear sky blue eyes… And that voice. The voice that somehow can be so gentle and commanding at the same time.
It was all getting under his skin. All the traits that first made Tony easily warm up to the Captain, made him even become fond of him… now… all it did was clawed at his conscience.
“You nearly got yourself killed! This isn’t a one-man show. We are a team. You can’t just throw away the communicator just because we weren’t letting you do what you want!”
“It got the job done, Cap. Stop being a bitch about it-“ Tony snapped.
Steve frowned, quickly closing his mouth. Lately, Tony had been quite temperamental. Acting out left and right, taking any chance to go against him from something minor as food choice to directions out in the field. And for the life of him, Steve could not figure out what had caused the sudden turn in their dynamic. Things were good. They were great. Then suddenly, it wasn’t.
Sure, they didn’t always see eye-to-eye but Tony had never been this irrational or unreasonably snappish. Especially not for something as serious as the team’s safety.
He grabbed for Tony’s arm, careful not to overexert his strength. But the Captain only had to pull slightly before the other to came to a halt. But as their eyes met, something made Steve’s stomach turn.
“Tony, what’s going on?” he blurted out before he could stop himself.
“Nothing.” The voice sounded odd. Not particularly angry but off. “Only thing going on is you, Cap, are over-reacting.”
“I…” Steve was taken aback. “I’m- no. I’m not over-reacting! You acted on your own when you should have waited for one of us to get to you! You rushed in with no backup then threw away your communicator when I pushed for you to wait-“
Tony didn’t know why he was arguing still. He knew. He knew this time, he was clearly out of line. But he just wanted to yell. He just wanted to shout at Steve until he had something more tangible to hate. “You were annoying! I got the job done. That’s what matters!”
“You got lucky. You could have died! If Thor didn’t manage to get there in the last minute-”
“Well, I didn’t!”
Steve ran a hand over his face, the frustration starting to overtake him. This was definitely not like any of their other arguments. This was outright getting unreasonable. Childish even. This wasn’t making any sense.
“Tony, do you really not see what you did was a problem?”
“Whatever-“ Tony muttered before sharply turning around, walking away once more.
The Captain gritted his teeth, hands falling to his hips. He didn’t want to. He really didn’t. But there was no other choice if the other was not even listening, being this stubborn. “You’re benched.”
That stopped him dead. There was a defining cold silence before…
“What?” Tony sounded offended, very offended. He took couple swift steps back towards Steve, fist clenched, jaws set.
Steve, however, remained grounded. “You heard me. If you are refusing to work together as a team then I can’t let you out in the field. This is dangerous. Not just for you but everyone else with you out there.”
Tony let out a harsh laugh. “You can’t fucking be serious, Rogers. Just because I went against your orders once-“
“This isn’t the first time this week! You’ve been doing this for the past four missions. Doing whatever you want without any regard for anyone else or the plan. And if you are not even going to talk this out like an adult then you are not giving me any other choice.“
There was a tense silence, their gaze locked in an intense glare. Tony was stepping closer. One. Two. Till they were barely a foot apart.
Steve can already sense it. The storm that brooded, foreboding, behind those penetrating dark eyes.
“Nat goes against your orders all the time. I don’t see you lecturing her or benching her-“
“She doesn’t- Tony, that is different and you know it-“
Tony let out a laugh, though his eyes remained cold, frigid. “Want to talk, Cap? Want to be adults? Why don’t we talk about your actual problem? Problem with me-”
Steve stared back, slightly confused. Although a particular dread that had haunted his dreams for past months was starting to knock at his heart. “What? I don’t have a problem with you, Tony-“
“No?” That sounded sarcastic, a feign surprise.
Steve’s brain was running a mile a minute. He gulped involuntarily. They were too close now. Much too close.
Tony was leaning in. Steve had a split second of debate whether to take a step back, although, in the end, his pride got the better of him.
“Do you follow the rest of the team around lecturing them? Or am I just special, Cap-“
Something caught in his throat, uncomfortable heat rising to his neck. “I-“
“Would you have benched any of the others if they pulled this? Would you have kept going on and on about their safety? Freak out to ridiculous proportions every time they do something with some risks? …See, I used to think maybe it’s because I’m the only one on the team that didn’t have some superpowers or some black op training. Which fine, I get it, understandable. Or that we had some… nice friendship thing going so you just cared a little more-….”
There was a pause before a snort. “What if I just let you bend me over? Would that help you stop being so fixated? Clear your head? Would that help you to lose the extra interest in me?”
Projecting. Maybe he, Tony, was the one fixating. Maybe that’s why Steve had been getting on his nerves when technically, truthfully, the Captain wasn’t doing anything out of the norm. Maybe… just maybe… all Tony needed was one good fuck to satisfy the curiosity, the tension… and they can both just move on.
Tony smirked, watching as Steve open his mouth several times without being able to form proper words. Those blue eyes were wide, shocked, scandalized, somewhere halfway between embarrassed and offended.
God, it was so obvious. After all, Steve didn’t have much talent for lying. Christine was right. How did he not notice before? How could he have been so blind to the clear signs? He was THE playboy for god’s sake.
Right. Because of Stephen… there was Stephen. Or perhaps… still. Maybe that’s what this all was about. The guilt for feeling anything remotely to… interest… for another.
Stupid Steve fucking damn Rogers.
Tony had to admit, if he really was being honest with himself, really dig deep into his subconscious, he may have had a small crush on America’s golden boy from the start. It didn’t help that the engineer spent much of his childhood looking up to the other man as a hero, thanks to all of Howard’s endless stories. Didn’t help that the Captain was so easy on the eyes.
And once Steve started paying attention to him, really paid attention… took interest in his work or opinion, followed him around seeming all too happy with the simple thought of spending time with him… Tony couldn’t help but become fond of the blonde. He was human. He liked feeling liked. He liked feeling wanted.
But he could have ignored it. Happily went on with this friendship, comradely, or whatever it was. Didn’t have to think about anything more. Ignorance is bliss.
But Steve just had to… just had to be like him. Like him, to the point, everyone knew and now it became impossible to ignore. Impossible for Tony to not think about it all the damn time.
Once you know, you can’t un-know. A burden that can’t be put back into Pandora’s box to lock it away.
The billionaire stepped even closer, their faces near inches apart, sharing the same air.
“Curiosity, right, Cap? That’s what this is about? Why don’t we just do it once? Any way you like. Though I bet you want me underneath you. Moaning your name as you finally have your way-“
“Tony…” he said warningly.
But Tony could already see the cracks. The way the pupils dilated, his stance too rigid, the way that gaze kept stealing quick glances to his lips.
He doesn’t bother to wait. Wait for the other to come to terms with some annoying debate about morality.
Tony threw his weight onto the other, grabbing the sides of Steve’s face crushing their lips together, flushing their bodies.
For a heartbeat, Captain remained motionless, clear shock in the way his eyes became impossibly wide. Then hesitantly, a hand rose to the brunette’s waist in a gentle hold, started kissing back, slowly, cautiously.
Tony started using his teeth, forcing his tongue between Steve’s lips, rough, demanding, releasing the tension from the argument just moments before. Cap was starting to follow suit, his touch becoming bolder, more confident with each passing second.
Then, Tony felt himself being pushed, his back soon hitting the cold walls of the hallway with a soft thud. He threw his head back with a low laugh. Arching his back to grind their bodies together. A moan escaped both their lips as their cocks rubbed together beneath the layers of their clothes.
Getting an idea, the brunette shifted his weight, wrapping both his legs around the other’s waist. Steve caught and held him as if it was nothing, the firm hands supporting Tony up by his thighs. Of course… super-strength. Tony knew. And yet, it didn’t dampen the appreciative shiver that ran down his spine as he felt the strong body and grip on him.
He threaded his fingers through the sun-kissed hair, enjoying the softness slipping between his fingers.
But as their eyes locking in a heated stare, he was taken aback.
Just as quickly, however, Tony hastily brushed it aside, feigning ignorance.
Pretending he didn’t see the look of pure adoration behind those clear blue orbs. The look yearning, affection, passion that stretched far beyond simple lust.
And just as quickly, he disregarded the quickening of his own heart.
“So who really leaked the tape?”
Everett Ross ran a hand over his face as he leaned back on the chair.
They have been at this for the past days. He doesn’t know exactly what exactly transpired for it to all get here but his instincts told him something was not right.
“I know you didn’t.” He said with great deal of exasperation. “You’re for some reason protecting who is really responsible. Look, Doctor Strange, We don’t want to prosecute you but if you continue to lie, that’s what you are forcing us to do.”
“I already told you. I made your job easy. I confessed. Now go about your way in deciding the appropriate penance and stop wasting both of our time.”
Stephen, who was sitting opposite side of the metal desk from the agent, merely closed his eyes, almost getting comfortable.
He let his mind wander elsewhere.
To the warm sun, soft bed Tony didn’t want to leave from just this morning… Because that's what it was in his head, just this morning.That particular laugh. The real one. Not the one that was often faked for the world. One that reached all the way to the large doe eyes.
“Why are you protecting them? Who can you be this hell-bent on protecting? I know it’s not Stark. Stark did not release that footage-“
“Oh, do shut up,” the sorcerer snapped. Annoyed to be interrupted from his own world that held where he truly wanted to be. Not this cold, boxed room. “Your voice is starting to be grating to endure.”
But Ross didn’t relent. “Someone close to Stark then. Someone who must also care about Stark’s well being. It gives them the motive and a reason why you would be this insistent on protecting them as well.”
Stephen let out a huff. “You assume you know me-“
“I know I’m right about this.” The agent said as he leaned forward once more, leaning his arms onto the cold surface of the desk that separated them. “Because I’ve seen you since you came back into Tony Stark’s life. You hardy care about anything, anything at all. There are only two things you went out of your way for. Threw yourself in headfirst. Your duties as Sorcerer Supreme… whatever that even really means… and anything and everything pertaining to Stark.”
He paused for a brief moment, eyes fixed on the sorcerer. “Don’t make me. I will get to the bottom of this one way or another. I will interrogate every person in Stark’s life. Starting with Colonel Rhodes, Pepper Potts, his two boys-“
“Did you know, that Fury has me under close watch?”
There was a silence that followed. Empty, much like the dark interrogation room they were in. Ross sat still, trying to fully understand the implication of that statement.
Stephen slowly opened his eyes, peering at the other man with almost a bored look. “Do you know he fears me enough to have me under surveillance?”
The sorcerer then sat a little straighter, a small smirk playing at the corner of his lips. “I know. He probably already knows that I know. It’s this game we have going since the day we met actually…” He spoke in a nonchalant manner, as if they were talking about something insignificant as the weather.
Ross’s expression remained impressively blank, though his mind was going a mile a minute, getting lost in the endless train of thoughts this has created.
“But you do not need to know any of that,” Stephen went on. “All you need to really know is that he fears me. While I’m part of Avengers, I’m an asset. If I choose, for any reason, to deflect… I’m the greatest threat. He fears it.” Then added in a chillingly light tone, “…And he merely seen a hint of what I can do.”
Stephen raised a hand, flicking his wrist. Ross had just split seconds to duck before a blast of gold energy shot straight towards the direction of his left ear. It hit the two-way mirror that was behind him, shattering it completely, as well as, tearing though the opposite wall of the viewing room. Couple agents who had been watching from the next room all looked petrified.
But Ross didn’t have much time to pay them much attention, his gaze sharply turning back onto the sorcerer as he spoke again.
“This? This is nothing.” There was still the same calmness in the voice, but now it was lined with something the agent could not pinpoint.
“The telekinetics, the portals, flight, the magical lightning, pyromancy, cryomancy, are just a taste of what I can do. Did you know I’m not casting spells from a book to control the elements much like many sorcerers? I’m rewriting the codes.”
The next second, their eyes locked. Something there made a shiver run up the agent’s spine without really understanding it.
“I’ve collected endless amounts of relics with powers you can’t even fathom. I can conjure them and draw powers from them at will. I can do it right here and no walls, your petty guards, the useless security systems can prevent me.” He gave a quick glance towards the viewing room, then to the concrete walls around them. “In fact, all your tech to control those with powers are Stark tech and I know him... he would have given you nothing, nothing, that can be used against me.”
“Time? Space? Dimensions? Alternate reality? I know all of it far better than any human alive, any Avengers even. I control time. I’ve seen millions of possibilities and futures like the back of my hand.”
The sorcerer slammed a hand onto the desk, the sound reverberating around the four walls. In an instant, the other agents in the viewing room had their weapons raised. But Stephen didn’t bother, didn’t even give them a second glance. He fixed his eyes on Ross who still sat on his chair watching him.
“I am THE most powerful mortal. I am destined to be the greatest Sorcerer Supreme to have ever lived. I have the power to move the world and shake them to their foundation. I can tear planets from the heavens and place them into new sky. Fury? SHIELD? The United Nations? You can watch me all you want… at the end of the day, I’m untouchable. No matter how much a menace I can become.”
He let out a short, soft laugh. “So you see, the reasoning? Whether I’m truly innocent or guilty? That matters very little.” He took a deep breath as he sat back down, almost too calmly. “You are not looking at the bigger picture, Agent Ross. Don’t be stupid. It’s boring. This is going to be your only chance. The only chance to put me down. This is the only chance I will allow. So stop asking the stupid questions and Get. On. With. It.”
“Or get Fury down here so he can do it himself.”
The silence stretched for another minute, then two. Then Ross blinked quickly trying to fully recover. He waved a hand towards his back, signaling for the rest of them to drop their weapons before facing the sorcerer once more.
“From what I understand,” he said evenly. “Fury has yet to hand over your contract to the UN. Stalling actually. My best guess is that he’s seeing how this plays out. Debating if you being an Avenger means you’ll be allowed leeway or by claiming that the contract was never fully processed… well… that would potentially mean this is not a breach of contract.” He paused for a moment, thinking. “I don’t know what mind game you two got going on but he seems to be trying to keep you from being prosecuted. You’re right, maybe because you are an incomparable asset as of this time or he knows the havoc Stark would undoubtedly unleash if we keep you here for long. …Who knows what really is going on in that head.”
Ross turned his gaze towards the other end of the room. He knows he doesn’t have the full picture, both with this situation and another that was definitely there but seems to be only visible to some. He doesn’t dare think that he has Fury fully figured out, or rest of the Avengers for that matter. There was a long history here and he was just scratching the surface. He often wondered… but well, this isn’t the time. He had a job to do.
“…I’m trying to help you, Doctor Strange,” he said as he fixed the other with a stern look. “I’m trying to tell you… if you just give up the correct name, you would be able to leave here. Seems like no one will even reprimand you for perjury or at the very least stalling a very imperative and urgent operation.”
“Are you really thinking of going down for something you did not do? Are you really ready to accept what comes with that? You will never see Stark again. At the very least I know that means something to you.” He let out a sigh. “…Have you accepted the fact you’ll be giving him no choice but to move on? The popular choice would be Captain America… one you clearly seem to despise. There are words going around from agents monitoring the compound since you got here how Captain Rogers and Stark might be patching things up.”
“Do not bother me with rumors,” came the quick snap of a reply.
That… was the most honest reaction he had gotten from Strange since this all started. As minor as it may be. Just a split-second flash of emotion before it was carefully wiped blank. It almost takes Ross by surprise.
“It’s a fact Stark seems to have been allowing Rogers access to the floor. Your floor. That’s not rumors, not speculations. That is an observation."
“Are you telling me you are willing to accept the possibility... with you out of the picture, that Iron Man will move on with Captain America? How do you know for a certainty that it wasn’t simply your presence that stopped the two of them from making things work between them again?”
He was speaking fast now, low in tone. The agent doesn’t bother to hide his own emotions. If it just means they can have some sort of honest conversation… “I know… you care. I know you love him. I know you seem to love the two boys and the family you two seem to be building. Give me a name, tell me the truth, and you can go. Go back to him. Go back to that perfect family of yours. Because I don’t believe the gossip. I think you two are quite happy together. I think you will give up the world for them.”
He waits. Seconds past. Then a minute. “Who released the footage, Doctor Strange?”
“Come on, Clint- just let it go-“
“Why don’t we just play a board game or something?”
“Because last time we played monopoly, we nearly killed one another over fake money.”
“How the fuck did this end up so tangled??? Where’s Tony?”
Clint had been trying for the past thirty minutes to untangle the mountain of cords that prevented them from watching a movie. Thor, Bruce, Rhodey waited patiently in various positions on the couch, looking more amused than bothered. Sam had been trying to help, though not very successfully. And Steve had been doing the last of the dishes from dinner in the nearby kitchen counter while Natasha dried them.
“It’s tangled wires, Clint. That’s not Tony’s job,” said Steve with a sigh, as he handed another dish to the redhead.
Clint scoffed. “As if you don’t call him for every little tech issue-“ he muttered.
Natasha had heard, of course, but it only made her take a sideward glance at Steve. Now that she thought about it, the Captain’s, quite frankly, conspicuous attempts to get Tony’s attention were becoming less and less occurrence as of late. Although, his fixation for their residential billionaire surely hadn’t dampened.
But before she can continue her train of thought, the elevator opened, revealing Tony… and an attractive tall blonde.
All of the team stared as the pair separated from a heated lip-lock. Tony didn’t look flustered one bit as his gaze landed on them.
“Right. Movie night-“ Tony said quickly with a smirk. He strode over quickly to the kitchen to pull out a bottle of wine from the cabinet. “Sorry, bit busy tonight but you guys have fun-“ With that, the billionaire got back onto the open elevator, arms soon wrapping around the woman once more.
As soon as the door closed shut, Rhodes let out a scoff shaking his head a bit.
“So he’s moving on, huh? Back to his old ways,” Clint remarked, still half-heartedly fidgeting with the cord. “About time… I guess better than moping around here pining for the pretty doctor-“
But there was a sudden crash making all their heads turn towards the kitchen. Steve was soon griping his right hand with a towel, the shattered pieces of glass littering around.
“Sorry,” the blonde said quickly, not meeting any of their eyes. “Uh… I’m going to go wrap this up-“
They watched him leave with varying levels of confusion. Natasha stared down at the small droplets of blood around the broken pieces of crystal.
She doesn’t mention it… what she already can put together. She simply cleans up the mess quickly before following Steve.
She also doesn’t mention the bits of the conversation that she ends up overhearing.
“We fucked. Don’t make a big deal out of it, Cap.”
“What is this about, Tony? …You did that on purpose. Parading her just to-“
“I wanted sex. I’m about to get it. I’m bored. So unless you’re offering to warm my bed instead just let me go about-“
“…Are you so upset by my feelings for you? Or yours?”
“We were just blowing off some steam! Stop making that into something when it isn’t. I was trying to help you get it out of your system so it’ll end this temporary thing you have for me. If I knew you would be this clingy-“