Pretending To Be a Hero
Elbows on his knees and hands covering the bottom half of his face, Steve watched the screen flicker to life with trepidation. Swallowing back the lump in his throat, he worked to control his grief and steady his resolve.
The video opened with loud music and cheers, causing Steve to jump and Natasha’s hand to clench for a moment. A second to adjust and Steve grinned sheepishly as a large orchestra played the chords of Pomp and Circumstance in an outdoor amphitheater, bright sunlight and green trees surrounding a huge crowd.
The camera wandered briefly through a long line of young men and women donning sweeping black gowns and golden-tasseled caps before halting and zooming in on one figure.
Tony Stark, clad in black cap and gown, was weighted down by three cords and two sashes around his neck, but the weight didn’t seem the bother him. A bright smile adorned his lips as he sauntered across the stage, the familiar Stark charisma and confidence in every stride and nod of his head.
Steve narrowed his eyes to study Tony’s face, surprised by the youthfulness compared to his fellows. Round cheeks had given way to angular, handsome features, and dark curls splayed across his forehead – the wild tangles same as they had been years before. Steve grinned at the young man.
The grin faltered slightly as he noted that Tony’s smile didn’t reach his eyes, and was pulled too tight – a familiar sight for Steve. That was the smile of ‘Tony Stark – genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist’, and not Tony.
“Shit man,” Clint said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Tony looks young.” Steve nodded.
“Nineteen,” Natasha said, her voice void of emotion.
Clint whistled, leaning back in his chair and looking at the screen appreciatively.
“With two master degrees,” Bruce added, smiling softly at Tony on the screen.
“Jeez, Tony,” Steve said softly, seriously impressed with the man’s genius and dedication.
Eyes on the screen again, the team watched quietly as Tony and the other graduates took their seats on the stage. An elderly man crossed the stage and began a short speech announcing the successes of the class, the bright future each student had in store for them, and the pride that the administration harbored for the group.
It sounded awfully dry to Steve, but having never graduated himself, he couldn’t judge the ceremony properly. The video focused on Tony mostly, the camera zooming in on his face as the youth’s eyes roved around the crowd, a long-suffering look of boredom on his face.
The flat eyes suddenly caught the gaze of the camera and Steve felt his heart tighten as the brown eyes widened and promptly filled with moisture. A real, Tony, smile brightened his face and the tenderness in his eyes left Steve reeling with affection.
The soft, open features lasted only a moment before the emotions were reined back in, though not with the usual force or previous lackluster interest as before. Tony still smiled at the camera, even bringing his hand up to wave slightly.
The camera jostled violently as the holder waved fiercely, slender hand a blur of motion on the screen. Tony’s face melted again slightly, the warm affection and bubbling happiness suffusing across his features at the camera holder’s enthusiasm.
“Oh Tony dear,” Peggy’s voice sounded from behind the camera. Steve grinned at the sound of adoration in Peggy’s voice, and he hoped fiercely that this wasn’t the first time they had seen each other since the previous video.
“Jarvis,” he asked, suddenly needing to know.
“Why aren’t there any videos between this and the last one?”
“I have no video on file of Sir from the age ten until now,” Jarvis explained. “No private home collections,” the AI clarified. “There are news clips of sir’s accomplishments and several of his antics.”
The disembodied voice clearly contained disapproval, and Steve could guess what kind of antics the genius had gotten himself into, knowing the man.
“And Peggy?” Steve asked, his tone soft and hesitant.
“To my knowledge, Sir and Ms. Carter did in fact see each other on occasion, outside the Stark Manor of course,” the AI said, a lilting bitterness in his final words.
Steve released a breath, relief flooding him momentarily.
“Are his parents there?” Clint asked suddenly, fingers tapping his knee.
“They are not, Agent Barton,” Jarvis replied, his computerized voice soft.
Steve watched as Tony’s eyes moved to scan the crowd around the camera, coming to this realization himself just a moment after Jarvis’ response. Steve remembered the crushing disappointment that ten-year-old Tony Stark had shown when his father hadn’t shown up to his award ceremony, and was expecting something similar.
He was thus surprised when, instead of sadness, relief blossomed on the youth’s face for a moment before it was carefully smoothed away. Anger quickly followed Steve’s surprise, as his mind ran wild with the possibilities behind Tony’s relief.
The four watched in silence as names were called and young men and women walked across the stage to accept their diplomas, smiles on each face.
Finally, the announcer called out, “Anthony E. Stark, dual masters in physics and electrical engineering.” Steve grinned at Peggy’s loud cheers and fanatic clapping, watching as Tony strolled across the stage – a bemused and plastic grin glued to his lips – and accepted his scroll with a firm handshake. As Tony was about to step off the stage, he turned to Peggy, giving her a wide, real smile and winked. Steve chuckled.
The video cut to black for a second before returning to show Tony lounging easily in the back of a luxurious car, grinning mischievously at the camera.
“Congratulations, Mr. Stark,” came Peggy’s voice, light and teasing. “What great acts will you be performing, now equipped with your ‘dual masters in physics and electrical engineering’?” Her voice mimicked the dry, slightly nasal tone of the elderly announcer. Tony sniggered before responding, his tone lofty and pompous.
“Have I not already performed great acts?”
“Naturally, Mr. Stark,” she quipped back, matching his haughty tone – sounding much more pretentious with her crisp British accent.
“Actually,” Tony said, all pretense dropping to show genuine happiness as he gazed at Peggy. “I’m not the only one here to have performed ‘great acts’,” he said, grinningly wildly now and wiggling his eyebrows at the camera.
“Oh hush,” Peggy said, exasperation not quite covering the amused fondness in her tone.
“Nope, you don’t get out of this,” Tony said, grinning mischievously, reaching for the woman. “Come one, give up the camera – it’s your turn to shine.”
“No – Tony, this is your day –“ Peggy was obviously struggling against Tony’s hands, the image jostling before the woman let loose a shrieking giggle that pierced Steve’s sensitive hearing.
“Anthony Edward Stark!” Peggy warned between a fit of giggles. “I could end you with a spoon! I could –“
The group never heard the rest of Peggy’s creative capabilities, as Tony finally wrestled the camera from her grip and turned it on her. Steve’s heart expanded in his chest as Peggy Carter was shown on the screen, slightly breathless and pink-cheeked, staring daggers in the camera. She was absolutely stunning, and looked every bit the Peggy Carter who Steve remembered, albeit, with a few extra lines and grey hairs.
“For a superspy and founder of a powerful intelligence organization,” Tony’s amused voice sounded from behind the camera. “You sure have several weak spots.”
Peggy just raised a dangerously sculpted brow in Tony’s direction before saying flatly, “Hydra assassins don’t typically tickle their enemies.”
“A shame, really,” Tony quipped, a grin obvious in his voice.
The apparent camaraderie the two shared brought flutters of happiness and relief for Steve, who had feared Tony had gone years without love and friendship. It was so much easier to watch now that this Tony was decidedly more Tony-ish -- all snark and charisma.
“What were we talking about?” Tony asked quickly, receiving narrowed eyes from his companion. “Oh, yes. The wonderful accomplishments of the lovely Margaret Phillips.”
Steve quirked a brow, confused. Peggy, however, blushed slightly.
“Oh please,” she scoffed, “no one calls me Margaret,” she said, cringing slightly at the use of her full name. “And I haven’t changed my last name,” she snipped out, glaring at Tony. “Nor do I plan to.”
Understanding hit Steve in the stomach with a powerful blow. Peggy had married.
“Even if you did,” Tony replied, all snark now gone from his tone. “You’d still be Peggy Carter to me, Aunt Peggy.” The earnestness in his voice melted Peggy’s scowl and she smiled fondly at the camera.
“Thank you, Tony dear,” she said softly. “That means more than you know.”
Nimble fingers entered the frame and captured Peggy’s small ones, and Peggy’s red-lipped smile widened at the display of affection.
The emotions swirled around Steve’s mind, contrasting feelings fighting for dominance. Though he knew it had happened, seeing Peggy basking in post-marital glow hurt. He couldn’t decide if the jealously was directed at Peggy’s new husband, or Peggy herself, for living out the life he had desperately craved.
But there was also pure elation and happiness. Peggy obviously loved the man, and Tony must approve of him, leaving Steve’s two friends both with extra loved ones – always a cause for relief, especially in Tony’s case.
“Well we all know what should come next,” Tony chuckled, ending the heartfelt moment. “When shall I expect the little ones?” His tone was light and teasing, but Steve caught the flush in Peggy’s face and her sudden interest in the leather seats.
“And I fully expect several little ones,” Tony continued, oblivious to Peggy’s discomfort. “You better hop to it, because I’m looking forward to being ‘Uncle Tony’ to at least three – scratch that, five little –“ He trailed off, finally picking up on his companion’s unease.
“Aunt Peggy?” he asked, his voice soft, all teasing gone.
“Tony, dear,” Peggy began, finally looking up at the youth. She sighed. “I was rather hoping to tell you later, it is your graduation, after all.”
“Ohmigosh ohmigosh no way –“
“Don’t get your kickers in a twist,” she chided him, her tone sarcastic, but her eyes warm and bright. “But you will be ‘Uncle Tony’ in a little over 6 months from now.”
The camera suddenly tilted forward and collided with the seat of the car, the view now showing only Peggy’s lap as Tony bounded forward to envelope the woman in a hug.
“Oh Peggy,” he said, his voice uncharacteristically warm and thick with emotion. “You will be the very best mother.”
Steve’s heart clenched at the sound – such affection and warmth coming from Tony completely new to him. It ached to know that the man had little cause to have such warmth before or after this moment, but Steve pushed away the sadness to revel in the happy moment miraculously caught on video.
Steve’s breath actually caught in his throat as Tony’s face entered the frame, his nose almost touching Peggy’s stomach. The man’s sloppy grin and wet eyes made Steve’s stomach flip in multiple summersaults.
“You hear that, kid?” he asked, grinning at Peggy’s stomach. “You better be good to your dear ol’ mom, ‘cus she’ll wipe the floor with you if you misbehave – trust me, I know.”
He sniggered as Peggy clipped him on the back of his head, but pulled out of frame again, now leaving the four Avengers with just a view of his hand clasped over Peggy’s. Steve took the moment to look up and share a smile with Natasha, her face open and warm. Steve breathed in a ragged breath, the respite from the horrors of Tony’s childhood extremely welcome. Hopefully, the worst had passed, Steve mused, watching the happy companions.
“This deserves a celebration,” Tony said suddenly, voice becoming excited, the camera jostling as the youth began to bounce in his seat.
“Come to the house,” he insisted, squeezing Peggy’s hand. “We can sneak passed the party and have our own little celebration with some non-alcoholic beverages.”
“Tony,” Peggy chided, “you know we can’t do that.”
“What? I said non-alcoholic, didn’t I? I was sure I did…”
“You know what your father thinks of my presence in your house,” she said, her tone heavy and resigned – a tone Steve wasn't familiar hearing in her voice.
“What Howard doesn’t know won’t kill him,” Tony quipped, his voice tense. Steve flinched, recognizing the venom in Tony’s voice – the same he hears now when the man speaks about Howard Stark.
“Tony…” Peggy begins, her voice tight.
“It’s my graduation,” Tony interrupted, his voice turning slightly petulant. “And I’d rather celebrate it with you than any of those people Howard has waiting for me.”
“Oh Tony, dear,” Peggy says, all reluctance gone, replaced now with soft fondness.
“Besides,” Tony continued, “he’s just using my graduation as an excuse to host a grand party and invite every important person to listen to him talk.” The bitterness in Tony’s voice brought Steve’s head into his hands again, guilt and shame tearing through him.
Peggy didn’t respond, seeming hesitant in her silence. “Please, Aunt Peggy?” Tony asked, his voice small, a hint of desperation clouding his tone.
“Oh, alright,” she sighed, squeezing Tony’s hand. Tony gave a loud cheer of victory that covered most of Peggy’s dark mumbling, bringing a tiny smile to Steve’s lips.
The camera jostled as Tony picked it up, showing Peggy again, her eyes rather misty and an extremely fond expression on her face.
“We can even see if Obidiah can sneak us some food,” Tony said, his tone taking on a rather giddy quality. “He’d totally do it for me.”
Natasha’s hand stiffened against his shoulder. Steve looked up, a question on his lips before halting, taking in her expression. The normally calm and closed-off face now held utter loathing and contempt – the intensity shocking Steve.
“What –“ he began. The look Natasha shot at him cut him off, however, and Steve turned back to the screen, confused.
His confusion was abated slightly, as Peggy’s face echoed Natasha’s – though much less intensely. Tony was still rambling, but the woman seemed lost in her own thoughts, suspicion and distaste clearly written in her eyes.
“Why the face?” Tony asked suddenly, drawing Peggy from her reticence.
“I’m afraid I hold Obidiah Stane with less regard than you do, Tony,” Peggy sniffed.
“Well, the stick up his ass doesn’t really endear anyone to him,” Tony conceded, earning himself a glare from his companion. “But he’s a good guy.”
Natasha’ hand became even more tense where it gripped Steve’s shoulder, actually evoking discomfort with its strength.
“I don’t like him,” Peggy said, crossing her arms.
“Why?” Tony asked, his voice sounding genuinely surprised.
Peggy just shot him a look. “I just don’t.”
Steve could practically hear Tony toll his eyes. “Women,” the man huffed. Peggy just increased the severity of her glare.
“Really, though, Aunt Peggy,” Tony began, sincerity creeping back into his voice. “He has helped me a lot these past years.” The camera shifted as Tony seemed to squirm in discomfort. “He was there, you know, when…”
Steve felt the anger boiling in his stomach, realizing the events to which Tony was referring. Peggy seemed to catch on as well, her glare lightening.
“Tony,” she began slowly, reaching her hand out.
“Ah ah,” Tony chided in a sing-song tone, cutting off any protests Peggy might have had. “Nope, this is a day of celebration. Unless you’re praising my genius or your virility, no talking.” This earned him a small smile from Peggy and a chuckle from Bruce and Clint.
The camera jostled and the screen turned black for several seconds, Steve’s heart leaping at the idea that there wasn’t anything more to see. The joy was short-lived, however, as a familiar looking door lit up the frame with Tony standing before it.
“Let’s see the great Tony Stark demonstrate his subterfuge skills,” Peggy said behind the camera, her tone light and amused.
Tony raised a brow at her before chucking, “You’re the master spy – you should be teaching me.” Peggy echoed his chuckle before her hand appeared, gesturing for him to move.
Tony’s face lit up in a cheeky grin and Steve groaned – nothing good ever came from that look.
The four Avengers watched with varying displays of amusement as Tony and Peggy proceeded to sneak into Stark Manor -- Peggy holding tight to the camera to record their progress and occasionally shushing Tony, who let loose uncharacteristic giggles every few moments.
The duo had sidled through the foyer, scampered around the large sitting room, and had made it to the corridor near the kitchen when a loud bark of, “Anthony!” prompted a loud swear from the youth, and a harsh reprimand of “Language!” from Peggy.
“Oh hello,” Tony grinned, straightening from his stealthy crouch and turning to face the kitchen. Clint sniggered.
The camera panned to show Howard Stark standing in the entryway of the kitchen, a surprised look on his face. A tall, broad-chested man clad in smart dress uniform stood next to Howard, his thick brow arched.
“Tony, come meet Sergeant Major Anderson,” Howard said, recovering from his shock quickly, his wide eyes turning to stare daggers at the camera. Steve’s stomach boiled in anger as he realized the look was directed at Peggy.
“Anderson?” Tony asked, cocking his head to the side.
“Sergeant Major Anderson,” Howard repeated, gaze flickering to his son.
Though Steve couldn’t see Tony’s face, he noted the tension seep into the youth’s posture and his fists clench momentarily before he moved forward to greet the man.
“A pleasure, Major,” Tony said, his tone polite, but underlined with the same aggression Steve recalled hearing when the man addressed a difficult journalist.
“Likewise,” the Major huffed, shaking Tony’s hand with a firm grip.
“Sergeant Major tells me you are acquainted with his sons,” Howard slipped in, breaking the awkward silence after the initial greeting. Steve watched as the hand held behind Tony’s back clenched, one part concerned, another part curious.
“Ah, yes, well…” Tony stammered, seeming uncharacteristically nervous. Curiosity was thrown out the window at that point for Steve, concern taking over completely.
“Here is one now,” the Major called, turning bright eyes to a young man, who sauntered over to stand next to his father. The youth was extremely tall, almost matching his father’s towering height, with an athletic build and matching confidence plastered on his face.
“Tony Stark,” the youth said, his voice sneering. “Great party, thanks for the invite.” Steve glared at the screen. Everything about the boy’s posture screamed ‘bully’ – he’d had enough experience to spot one from a mile away.
“Spectacular,” Tony said, a hint of his usual sarcasm finally creeping back into his voice.
Howard eyed Tony with a calculating gaze, flickering between the two boys as they spoke. Steve wondered if the brilliant man was noticing the same signs he was – and a glimmer of hope bubbled up in Steve’s chest.
Any hope Steve had fled as the Major’s son began telling the story of his first meeting of Tony – in the library their freshman year. Steve quirked a grin at Tony’s, “I was surprised you could even find the place,” but didn’t miss the flash of anger and…fear? Steve’s eyes narrowed to watch the emotions play across Tony’s face.
The youth – Tom Anderson – continued to poke and prod at Tony during the entire conversation between the three men. At each prodding, Steve bristled in anger. The boy was a bully. He was now standing next to Tony, his arm wrapped around his shoulder, his hand gripping Tony’s shoulder in a fierce hold.
“… but you didn’t mind, did you Tony-boy?” the youth asked, giving Tony a little shake, smirking down at him.
Steve was surprised at the low growl that vibrated through his chest. Howard most certainly understood the situation – his eyes had been narrowed on the hand clenching his son’s shoulder – but he hadn’t done anything to call off the young man.
The camera jostled quickly, sending the room into quakes as Peggy set it down next to her and stepped into the frame.
“Sergeant Major,” she said, her tone clipped and edging into dangerous ire. “Agent Peggy Carter of S.H.I.E.L.D.” She strode over, offering her hand to give a firm handshake to the surprised Major.
“Ah, Agent Carter,” the man said, recovering from the shock. “I have heard a great deal about you. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Peggy released his hand and gave his son a stern, disproving glare, the youth literally shrinking away. “Likewise, Major,” she said, her tone not conveying any warmth to suggest it was indeed a pleasure. “However, there are some matters I wish to discuss with Mr. Stark. If you would be so kind,” she finished, lifting a brow.
“Certainly,” the Major replied, his brow furrowing and his hands moving to clasp behind his back. “Come, Tom,” he said, turning to retreat from the kitchen, dragging his still cowering son along beside him.
“I love this woman,” Clint said, leaning back against the couch and grinning at the television. “I really do,” he insisted, turning to Steve. Steve traded grins with the man – this Peggy was painfully familiar to Steve. The woman who would stand up against the world.
“Disgraceful,” Howard spat, grabbing Steve’s attention. The man was baring his teeth at Tony, anger etched into ever line on his face. “You just stand there and take that from them?” he hissed. Tony took a step back, silent.
“What would you have –“ Peggy began, her shoulders tense and hands clenched at her sides.
“And you need a woman,” Howard spat, turning his glare to Peggy, “to come to your rescue.”
“Don’t you dare –“ Tony said, squaring his shoulders.
“Such weakness!” Howard screamed, cutting off his son and moving to pace before the two. “God, what would Steve say if he were here,” the man hissed, wringing his hands.
Tony’s back stiffened. Steve watched with a hollow ache in his chest as Tony turned to face his pacing father. Steve noted the half step the boy took to put himself in front of Peggy, and felt pride and warmth bubble up in his chest.
“Even before the serum,” Howard continued, oblivious of his son’s growing ire, “Steve wouldn’t stand for bullies! Steve fought against them! Never backed down!”
Steve just watched, utterly helpless against the onslaught of harsh words directed at the Tony, the boy growing increasingly more agitated – hands balled into fists, jaw clenched, shoulders stiff.
“And you,” Howard hissed, finally turning to glare at Tony. “You just stood there, took it! Let a woman come to your defense! You’re pathetic!”
“Howard Stark,” Peggy said, her voice barely above a whisper, but tone harsh and dangerous. “Do you really want to talk about bullies? Do you really want to ask what Steve would do if he were here?”
Steve knew exactly what he’d do. He would have punched Howard Stark in the face years before this.
“He’d be disgusted!” Howard screamed, taking a step toward Tony. “Revolted. Disappointed! You think you’ve made it big with your degree from a fancy school? What good is a slip of paper when you’re to weak and utterly worthless –“
Peggy made to move forward again, her hand clenched into a fist. Tony, however, pulled her back with a soft, “No, Aunt Peggy,” before placing an arm between her and Howard.
“Oh you think you’re a big boy now, Anthony?” Howard sneered, looking at the display. “Think you’re brave?”
Steve’s hands curled into fists as he watched the determined look on Tony’s face harden against pain. No snarky comment, no sarcastic quip -- the boy just stood facing his father. It was so honest, Steve thought, no mask or front covering the hardened look in Tony’s eyes.
“Hmm?” Howard prompted, stepping closer, now face to face with his son.
“Yes,” Tony growled, straightening his shoulders.
Howard struck out, hitting Tony in the face with his fist.
“Tony!” Peggy shouted. Tony’s head turned with the force of the blow, but he held his arm firm, pressing Peggy back.
“You better stop pretending to be a hero, Anthony Stark,” Howard snarled. “I’ve seen heroes, Anthony. And you’re not even close.”
Steve gasped, all the air suddenly sucked out from his lungs. The words rang in his head, Howard’s voice morphing into his own, ‘you better stop pretending to be a hero’ – echoing over and over as he watched Tony’s face crumple in defeat.
“Howard, you daft arsehole!” Steve looked up to the screen, shock breaking through the crippling guilt to watch Peggy Carter shout obscenities at Howard Stark. “You’re a prat of a man, and an absolutely shit father! If Steve were here, he’d trounce you!”
Tony seemed equally as shocked, his brows disappearing into his wily dark curls as he watched Peggy throw curses at his father. Howard mirrored his son’s surprise, but came out of his stupor to take a menacing step toward her, his arm rising in threat.
Steve jumped from the couch as he watched Howard’s arm come forward, anger pooling in his stomach.
Tony grabbed his father’s arm and pulled him around, shoving his arm behind his back and pushing it up between his shoulder blades, earning a yelp from Howard.
“Don’t you dare lay a single finger on her!” Tony shouted, his eyes dark and his face snarling in anger. “Do what you want to me, but never touch Peggy Carter.”
Steve gaped at the screen as Tony held his father tight for a moment, the boy seeming to struggle with himself for a moment before pushing Howard away. The man stumbled forward into the wall before turning to gape at his son, his hand coming up to rub at his shoulder.
There was silence in the kitchen and in the Avenger’s tower as everyone watched anxiously.
Howard’s face changed from surprise to anger in a flash, and he stepped forward again toward Tony.
“Go, Peggy,” Tony said quietly, not taking his eyes off his father.
“Tony, no I –“
“Aunt Peggy,” Tony whispered, closing his eyes for a moment, pain flashing across his features. “Please.” He opened his eyes to glance back at her as Howard stopped to snarl in his face.
“You have another to look after,” he continued before she could protest again, eyes glancing down to linger on her stomach. Steve’s heart clenched as Peggy deliberated, obviously aching to stay and help, but concerned and protective as only a pregnant woman could understand.
“Oh, Peggy,” Steve sighed, bringing his head into his hands. “I should have been there with you,” he choked out, trying to suppress a sob. He felt a small hand on his shoulder, pulling him back to the couch. He was tilted to the side and felt his head pulled against a slight shoulder, a hand coming up to his head.
“I love you, baby boy,” Peggy’s voice whispered, her voice hoarse with emotion, pulling Steve’s head up. The woman reached out to touch Tony between the shoulders -- Tony’s eyes closing for a brief moment – and then turned toward the camera and disappeared from frame.
“Listen here –“
“No,” Tony hissed, cutting off his father. “You listen.” The vehement tone surprised Howard again, his eyes widening a fraction.
“You will stay away from Peggy Carter and Robert Phillips. This includes any tampering with their financials, resources, networks – everything.” Tony held his back straight and addressed his father with stern focus and dark anger in his eyes.
Steve felt his chest warm with pride. This was a side of Tony he’d only seen a handful of times – when he was protecting those he loves. Despite all the hurt and damage, Steve mused, watching his friend, Tony had turned out strong, even as a young man.
“And I’ll know if you try anything,” Tony continued, his voice dropping lower. "Don't think for a second I'll hesitate to take you down if you hurt her."
Howard recovered quickly, rallying to stand closer to Tony and glare at him. “This is a new development,” the man hissed, smirking at Tony. “What are you trying to do, Anthony? You think sticking your neck out for Steve’s Peggy will make you brave? Will make Steve proud?”
Steve felt sick. All those years growing up, Tony was compared to him. No, Steve corrected himself, Tony was compared to Captain America. What a burden to carry – Captain America’s weight was difficult enough to carry for Steve, let alone any other man. And Tony was just a child.
“I don’t give a damn what Captain-fucking-America thinks of me,” Tony spat.
Hot tears threatened to spill from Steve’s eyes, and the super soldier deftly wiped them away, gazing desperately at the screen.
Howard grabbed Tony’s shirt, bringing his face inches from his son’s and practically growling out, “Don’t you dare besmirch Steve’s name! If Steve were here he’d –“
“HE ISN’T HERE!” Tony screamed, pushing Howard away. Steve’s throat clenched at the truth, the admission that hammered guilt into every corner of his heart.
“HE’S LYING DEAD IN SOME ICEBERG AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO BRING HIM BACK.” Tony’s eyes looked manic now, his hands coming up to gesticulate frantically.
Steve winced as he recognized some of Tony’s hysterical gestures as Howard’s.
“I’ll find him!” Howard shouted, coming toe to toe with Tony again. “I’ll find Steve! You and Peggy can give up on him, but I won’t!”
“You’re wasting you time, old man,” Tony spat. “Captain’s long gone – he’s never coming back to us.”
Though Tony’s face was screwed up in malice, his words aiming to bruise his father, Steve could see the broken child hidden in the depths of his brown eyes. Steve’s mind spun at Tony’s words – ‘he’s never coming back to us’. To us.
Tony had been waiting for him. Of course he was, Steve realized, feeling stupid. Steve recalled how the young boy had clung to his Captain America shirt with a look of utter reverence. A small boy promising to help his neglectful father find his idol.
Steve had been wallowing in all the people he’d left behind – Bucky, Peggy, Howard, the commandos – but he never realized he had finally come back to someone. And he ruined it.
The soldier buried his head in his hands, tears spilling down his cheeks and a sob wracking his chest. Natasha’s hand tightened on his shoulder, but it wasn’t enough.
“You just wait –“
“No,” Tony cut him off, “Even if you could find him – which you can’t – I don’t ever want to see that ridiculous, spangle-clad monstrosity that you call –“
Steve’s harsh sob hitched in his throat as Howard struck Tony for a second time. Tears now spilled in earnest down his cheeks and beside him, Bruce had curled in on himself, muffled sobs echoing in the silence proceeding the hit.
“Steve Rogers is ten times the better man than you’ll ever be,” Howard said, his voice velvety smooth and dangerously dark.
This broke Steve. Sagging forward, he covered his face with his hands and sobbed.
“What’s going on here?” a man’s voice asked, pulling Steve’s eyes to the screen, attempting to make out the face through the blurring of tears. A tall, balding man with a thick, dark beard entered the kitchen, concern heavy on his brow.
“Tony – what?” He broke off, staring between the two Starks. Steve’s eyes moved to Tony, taking in his defensive position – shoulders forward and body completely withdrawing. The man’s eyes were on Tony’s face, where Steve could just make out a single tear falling across his cheek.
“Obie – I –“
“God, Anthony,” Howard groaned, stepping back and pacing again. “You’re nineteen fucking years old. What have I told you about crying?” he hissed.
“Now, Howard,” the man Tony had called ‘Obie’ said, stepping forward to put a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Why don’t we just calm down, then we can –“
“That’s fine,” Obie said, putting his hands up in a placating gesture. “I’ll go, I’ll just take Tony here to –“
“No,” Howard interrupted, turning his eyes on Tony. “You. Get out. I don’t want to look at you.”
“Howard, before you make any –“
“GET. OUT. OF. MY. HOUSE,” Howard roared, punctuating each word with a menacing step in his son’s direction. “Take your disrespectful, worthless ass out of my house. Don’t think about coming back.”
Tony, with what appeared to be a herculean effort, straightened his shoulders, tensed his jaw, and attempted to smirk at his father. Steve thought it came off more as a grimace.
“It would be my pleasure,” Tony quipped. He looked up at Obie and quirked him a small grin. “Don’t wait up – it appears I won’t be back here anytime soon.”
Chuckling darkly, Tony strode from the frame.
Steve watched in agony as Howard threw open a tall cabinet door, poured himself a large class of brandy, and guzzled it down, his face contorting as the liquid burned down his throat. “Good riddance,” he huffed, pouring himself another, more liberal amount.
“We have guests, Stane,” he said, turning to the man before striding out through the kitchen and out through a door. The man looked to the door Howard had retreated through, then turned to gaze at the hall where Tony disappeared, looking conflicted.
With a heavy sigh, he turned and followed Howard.
The Avengers stared at the Stark’s empty kitchen for a moment longer before the screen flickered to black.