It hurt. Breathing hurt. He was sure that to anyone else that probably meant that something was wrong. But breathing always hurt when it came to Tony. But it was to be expected when you has a huge part of your body craved out and had a hunk of metal replacing it. So he was used to it. He dealt with the pain and even though he was drinking less, he took pills for the pain.
But of course someone had to find him.
“Tony, what are you doing?”
He didn’t look at Steve. That would hurt. It would probably hurt more than anything he had experienced in life. But maybe it was because Captain fucking America was standing there looking at his with blue eyes that looked so fucking disappointed.
He had disappointed a lot of people in his life. Most of them were strangers. One of them was his father. But to disappoint Captain America? Tony could feel the little child in him crying and wanting to beg for forgiveness. But the real pain in his chest (not the phantom pain that he learned were associated with panic attacks) was more pressing. So he continued to take the pills and continued to not look at Steve.
“You know I keep expecting you to call me, Anthony.” His father had called him Anthony. And in Tony’s mind Steve and his father where the same person. A person that he would be forever disappointing and that would never be happy with what he did.
“Tony, should you really be taking those pills while drinking?”
He looked at the glass that he had forgotten about. It held apple juice. He had wanted to see if he could trick his mind and body into thinking it was whiskey and it nearly worked and then he smelled it and it didn’t burn and he remembered.
He picked up the glass more so to have something hold than to actually drink it and turned to look at Steve a smile in place. A media smile. The kind that he had long since learned to perfect when he was young. “Is there something you wanted, Cap?” he asked holding off on a nickname. He knew that Steve didn’t like them and he was trying to be… a team player. He was trying to prove to his dad, the world, Steve, everyone wrong and show that he could be… something more.
He wasn't really sure if he could be.
“I wanted to check up on you.”
Tony blinked at him, “I’m fine.”
“You haven’t been out of your workshop in at least a couple days.”
“I have.” He answered, simply before turning back to the armor he had been working on. He hadn't.
“Tony, have you even been eating?”
It was that moment that Tony suddenly wanted to punch Steve. He was surprised that the feeling hadn’t hit earlier. Maybe because it was just Steve being a nosy friend of sorts. Now he was trying to be his mother. He didn’t need to be mothered. He had JARVIS and Pepper and an actual mother (sure she was dead but still his mother) for that. He clenched his hand and was tempted to turn around and just have his fist connect with Steve’s face. It’d feel great.
“How about you stop acting like a concerned mother and leave me to my work?” His words were a lot more forceful than what he had been going for. He had been going for teasing or something nice. He was sure he failed at it though. But it got the reaction he wanted and he listened to the sound of Steve leaving.
He sagged against the work bench feeling tired and waiting to sleep. But knowing what sleep meant. And he was sure that nightmares was worse.
“Sir, the rendering will take a couple of hours may I suggest rest?”
His chest felt heavy and it wasn’t just because of the arc sitting in his chest. It was an emotion. He was feeling it more often. Betrayal. He knew that JARVIS was just concerned but it still hurt. He nodded though and made his way to the couch. “Bring up something mindless to work on.” It was his way of agreeing with the AI and JARVIS knew that and pulled up some nonsense that Tony had been working on from some other sleepless night.
He sat and he started to work and got lost in it forgetting the pain and the nightmares that may come.
“You’ve finally left.”
He had blacked out the lab for days. It felt like it had been a couple of hours, but he had checked with JARVIS. And he had listened to his AI when he periodical told him that people were coming down to try and get in. Bruce had came down the most. And then Steve. And it bothered him how much Steve had come down. He had only left the lab because he was finally feeling hungry. And when he had left he asked JARVIS what day it was and who was awake.
It had been five days. And everyone was sleeping. It was the perfect time. Expect that apparently it wasn’t. He should have asked the AI to tell him when someone was coming but he had thought it had been a given.
Which ended up with Tony being snuck up on by Steve while he had his head in the fridge. Which ended up with him bumping his head and fuck he wanted to punch Steve again. He rubbed his head and removed his head to glare at Steve.
“You’ve been hanging out with the super spies too much.” He muttered pulling out the Chinese food that he knows Steve tried to feed to him yesterday. People really shouldn’t be allowed to sneak up on him. He had heart issues!
“You’re in a better mood.” Steve said as Tony dumped the food onto a plate and put it in the microwave.
He looked over to Steve and stared at him. “Can you stop doing that?”
“Doing what? Being concerned? I'm no-”
“Mothering me. You are mothering me.” Tony answered cutting off whatever it was that Steve was. Steve frowned and Tony looked away he didn’t want to see that look of disappointment again. He was always looking at him with disappointment.
“Tony…” Steve sighed and Tony wanted to punch him again. He knew that voice. He knew it without a thought cause he had heard it so often.
That was the voice of pity. And fuck you, Tony didn’t need pity. He never needed pity and he sure as hell didn’t need Captain America to pity him.
He nearly turned around to punch Steve but the microwave was beeping and he opened it. “Stop mothering me, Rogers. I had a mother, she’s dead now and I sure as fuck don’t need you to mother me.” He closed the microwave with more force than was needed and glared at the super solider, before pushing past him and leaving.
He sat with his hands in his face trying to remind himself to breath and trying to not let the tears fall. He had fallen asleep and the nightmare had greeted him and he was not happy about it. And now he was struggling to control his breathing.
“Fucking hell!” He shouted jumping away from the touch as he turned to look at Steve. Someone should really explain to the super solider that you don’t touch someone on the verge of having a panic attack. You don’t sneak up on someone freaking out and who has heart problems. And Tony lashed out and nearly hit Steve.
He wished he had punch him that moment.
He stood up his chest heaving as he stared at Steve across the couch and he lost it. “Fuck off, Steve." He said the name with a sneer like he hated ever letter and every syllable in that name. "Every single thing I’m doing you’re there with your eyes of pity and disappointment and fucking watching me. FUCK OFF!” He was screaming. And it wasn’t really Steve’s fault but it was all too much and Steve just kept reminding him of his dad and the nightmares were coming more and he couldn’t fucking sleep.
But yelling at Steve didn’t make him feel better. Steve didn’t raise to the bait like he wanted and instead he looked like a sad puppy before nodding and walking away. And fuck that made Tony even more pissed off.
Turning in his fit of rage Tony flipped over the coffee table before falling to his knees and just screaming.
Bruce had shown up at one point and sat with him. He was handed a cup of tea as Bruce sat beside him. He kind of didn't even notice that he took it from Bruce. He did notice that Bruce took very noticeable deep breaths. Breaths that Tony couldn’t help but count, which made him breathe deeply too. Which Bruce probably knew he was doing. He was tricky.
"I see you rage quit." Bruce commented easily, making a small smile twitch on Tony's face. Though it was short lived at Bruce's next words. “Why did you yell at Steve?”
Tony stared at the tea before deciding to take a sip to delay having to answer. Bruce waited. Bruce could probably out wait Tony forever. He could probably out wait time if he tired. “Why did he tell you?”
“He didn’t. I heard you yelling at him.”
That made it worse and Tony swallowed thickly before finally looking over to Bruce. “He keeps babying me.”
“Tony, he was just being concerned. Friends do that.”
He wanted to rebuttal that. But he wasn't really sure if he could. He didn't have that many friends in his life. Sure Rhodey and Pepper were always going on about being concerned with him. But it was different with Steve. He wasn't friends with Steve. They were nothing. He was Howard’s kid and he would never be what Howard wanted which was Captain America. And he could never be what Steve wanted which was Howard. He was just stuck being Tony which wasn’t good enough.
Fuck he wanted to punch Steve in his stupid perfect face.
And he hated that Steve thought they were friends when it was clear that Steve just wanted to be friends with Howard.
“Rogers’ isn’t my friend.” He muttered taking another drink from his mug and he wished for alcohol. God, did he want a glass of whiskey in that moment.
Bruce nodded, “Well he’s trying to be your friend. He’s spent many years looking after all the soldiers in his unit. So it’s hard for him to turn that off. He does it with everyone.”
Tony shook his head focusing back on Bruce, “He pities me Bruce. And he’s always so fucking disappointed.”
Bruce sighed and Tony wondered if the other knew something that he didn’t know. “You need to talk to Steve.”
He narrowed his eyes at his friend, “You know something.” He accused making Bruce shake his head.
“Just talk to him.”
Tony shook his head and leaned against Bruce. “I don’t want to talk to him. I want to punch him.”
Bruce laughed and Tony felt it through his body making him smile a bit. Damn Bruce and his easy going everything. He made it all hurt less. He made breathing easier. Stupid Bruce. “You know I may not be that kind of doctor. But from all the stuff you’ve told me I think it’s more that you want to punch your dad.”
Tony moaned and took another sip of the hippy tea. “No Bruce! No don’t psycho analyze me you shit.”
“You’re always asking me to do so and I finally do and that pisses you off?”
Tony pouted downing the rest of his tea. “It’s because you’re right and I take offense to you being right sometimes.”
“Well someone has to be right for when you are not.”
Tony turned to look at Bruce and stuck out his tongue. “You suck.” Truthfully he wouldn't have anyone but Bruce be right when he's not.
Tony was very good at avoiding things and even better at ignoring things until the problem went away. But he was also curious. Endlessly curious and he liked to get an answer. Bruce knew that. It’s why he teased Tony with information. Which is how Tony ended up spending the next week watching Steve interact with the others.
Bruce had been right. And Tony hated it when he was wrong but he never seemed to mind if it meant that Bruce was right. This was the one time that Tony wasn’t sure he enjoyed Bruce being right. He was going to be smug about it for almost forever. And Tony wasn’t sure if he could deal with smug Bruce forever.
He did what any scientist would do, he observed and he got information. And he hated the conclusion that he came to. The multiple conclusions that he had come to.
1. Steve was nice to everyone. Which meant that he worried about them and was concerned about them.
2. Steve spent a lot of time alone drawing. Which kind of made Tony feel creepy so he tried not to watch him when he was alone drawing. (Tony had expected him to spend most of his time in the gym. But he only went there after trying to talk to Tony. He didn't think about why. Probably imagining his face on the punching bag.)
3. Steve didn’t sleep for long. It could have been the super solider thing or nightmares (Tony didn’t know). He just knew that Steve was almost always in the gym or sketching somewhere.
4. Steve talked a lot. If Steve had a problem with someone he would find someone to talk to about it. And Steve’s current problem was Tony (which Tony hated, thank you very much) and that lead Steve to Bruce. Which lead to Tony hearing a conversation that he didn’t believe.
He was eating some type of food as he waited for a rendering to be finished when he decided to check up on his live action experiment. JARVIS pulled up a feed and he got Captain America mind sentence talking to Bruce.
“-Don’t know if I should go down there or not. I’m worried about him.”
Bruce nodded holding a cup of tea looking like he was just heading to bed. Tony was working up the energy to be upset with Steve for keeping Bruce from sleep. (Though he didn't know what time it was maybe Bruce always looked ruffled. What day was it?) Sleep was a thing that seemed to be fleeting for everyone in the tower.
“Tony has issues Steve.” This caused Tony to choke and flail angrily at the screen. So Bruce wasn’t going to tell him what was up with Steve, but he’ll tell Steve what’s up with him?! Traitor! “Howard has caused him a lot of issues. Even now from beyond the grave he’s fucking with Tony.”
Tony grumbled and got ready to turn off the screen, especially with the way Steve had hunched his shoulder a bit. Tony couldn’t see it but he was sure Steve was disappointed and angry. What he didn’t expect was for Bruce to suddenly look into the camera like he knew Tony was watching. He raised an eyebrow and now Tony was sure Bruce knew and he was now being challenged. And fuck Tony never backed down from a challenge.
“I hate what Howard did to him. A kid should always come first. I wish I could change something.” Steve shook his head before running a hand through his hair.
Bruce focused back on Steve, “The past is the past Steve. You can’t change it. But I think you instead should focus on the fact that Tony sent most of his childhood trying not to disappoint his dad and trying to be Captain America. Now when he’s in the same room as you all he can think about it not disappointing you.”
Tony threw his food at the hologram of Bruce watching Dummy hurry to clean it. He hated when Bruce did that psycho analyze bullshit. It was always pretty point on. But there he was giving his secrets away to Steve. What an asshole. It made Tony's chest hurt. Not in the way it did when the arc reactor was sitting a bit to heavy. Or when he was having a panic attack. This was a different sort of pain. Something to do with emotions he was sure. He didn't like it. He should make a note to get rid of those. He opened his mouth to do so when Steve was talking again
"I like him.”
Bruce smiled softly at Steve, “I know and you should probably tell him cause for all that arrogance and steam he’s blowing Tony will never see it.”
The conversation had taken a turn that Tony didn’t understand and that made Tony uncomfortable. What the fuck was going on? There seemed to be a silent exchange between Bruce and Steve before they parted ways.
Tony waved away the hologram and decided that he needed coffee at five in the morning. And no he wasn’t hiding he wasn’t a coward or anything. (His dad wasn't right. Steve wasn't right. He wasn't a coward.) But he will not lie when Bruce walked into his lab he nearly had a heart attack thinking it was Steve.
And then he got upset that he was thinking about Steve and though he really wanted to punch Bruce, he suddenly watched to punch Steve.
“Steve is not your dad. You don’t want to punch Steve.” Bruce words filtered through his brain and Tony glared at him.
“Hey, just because I’ve lost my brain to mouth filter doesn’t mean you get to either!” He said pointing accusingly at Bruce. “You traitor!”
“I said talk to Steve. You instead decide to stalk him via JARVIS.” Bruce answered looking at the mess Tony had made as Tony followed behind him glaring and pouting.
“I hate you.”
Bruce turned a smile in place as he took the coffee mug from Tony and pressed a sketchbook into his hands. Fuck Bruce for being able to hand him things. He used that to his advantage a lot the shit. “Steve wanted me to give this to you. He says he does them by memory and a lot of them aren’t done.” Tony stared down at the sketch book in his hand and made a face at it. He didn’t want this in his hands. He wanted his coffee. He looked up at Bruce who had set the mug down. “Just look at it Tony.”
Tony sighed and flopped to the couch flipping to a random page and stopping at a picture of Dummy. But it wasn’t just Dummy it was Dummy and Tony. He couldn’t remember when it had happened but Dummy was being a petulant child and had stolen something from Tony which had ended with Tony climbing onto of the robot to get it back.
He had remembered Rogers walking in on that and he had been smiling before he got all disappointed and upset. Tony sighed and flipped back a couple of pages. This one was a picture of Clint and Natasha and Bruce all the in the kitchen. Bruce was making food and Clint and Natasha had been signing to each other. He flipped forward again and there was another one of him. He frowned at it. He looked like shit. You could see ever line in his face and how he looked ready to collapse.
He flipped again and found a sketch of him and Bruce. It was during a night where neither of them could sleep. Tony had taken to watching movies with Bruce and commentating through the whole thing. Bruce was laughing in the picture and Tony was laughing back.
He flipped again and found one from after the invasion. It was of everyone but Steve. Tony tried to ignore that he seemed to have the most detail and he looked the shittiest. He flipped again and stare at a picture of his dad. It looked like Steve had copied a photo of Howard when he had been younger instead of drawn from memory. He swallowed hard and looked at Bruce, “Why are you showing me this?”
It was then that he noticed that Steve was there too looking like a scared little boy. “Because I wanted you to see how I see you?”
He swallowed again and wished he could find it in himself to want to punch Steve. “So you see me as an old childish man?”
Steve looked up frowning at Tony as he shook his head. “No. As this man who would rather work himself to death than have anyone question his worth. A man who doesn’t sleep because of nightmares. A man who still knows how to play even when he’s spent a lot of his life being serious. A genius with heart issues and anxiety issues and a boat load of other issues I don’t even know about.”
Tony felt his chest tighten and was going to interrupt Steve and tell him to fuck off his didn’t need his flaws waved around in his face.
“But despite all of that, I see a man worthy of Captain America’s love. No matter what his dad says.”
He had… not been expecting that. He swallowed hard as he sat up and stared at Steve and for once he didn’t want to punch the other. No now he wanted to punch himself. Especially since he was nodding and thanking Steve for loving him.
He could here Bruce rolling his eyes as he stepped forward. “Steve, it would seem that you broke Tony. I’m going to do a system reboot, come back in a bit.” Steve nodded glancing at Tony worriedly before leaving the workshop. Tony watched him go only distracted when Bruce came and hit his arm. “You’re an idiot.”