A New Beginning
Steve found himself back where it had all began. Stretched out on his back, the soldier stared up at the sleek ceiling, drowning in his thoughts.
After an entire day of contemplation and self-imposed exile, the swirling lump of anger and loneliness lodged in his chest that accompanied Steve’s ‘bad days’ had lifted. In its place, however, was a toxic mixture of sorrow, guilt, and helplessness.
For hours, Steve cursed his temper, his blindness, and his words – the desire to take everything back engulfed him, settling upon his body with such a force that even his serum-enhanced body could not fight it off.
Steve rolled onto his side, tucking his elbow beneath his head, and screwed up his eyes in an effort to rid himself of images of a young Tony Stark.
He needed to apologize. But how? And Rhodes had warned him to let Tony come to him. It had been three whole days, and Steve knew that the genius had approached the others already.
Clint had come into the den waving around a thick glove and a ridiculously poor drawing of Iron Man in front of Natasha’s face. Steve had grinned at the picture while listening to the archer rave about how much easier the glove was going to make flying with Tony. He had pushed down jealously as the two assassins argued over which new toy was better – Natasha’s deathly hair accessories, or Clint’s new glove.
To his great surprise, Bruce had wandered into his room the day after and detailed his and Tony’s brief exchange. Again, Steve was plagued first with jealousy, but then anxiety. What if Tony never came to him?
“Jarvis?” he asked suddenly.
“Can you please call Lieutenant Rhodes?”
Steve sat up and walked into the small sitting room, standing in front of the television and waited for Rhodes to answer.
“Hello, Captain Rogers,” Rhodes greeted solemnly, his face appearing on the screen. The man looked better than the last time Steve had seen him – the dark circles under his eyes were gone and there was sharpness now in the depth of his eyes. “What can I do for you?”
“Lieutenant,” Steve greeted, nodding. “It’s about Tony.”
Rhodes’ eyes hardened as worry flickered across his face. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Steve said quickly. “But that’s the problem.”
The Lieutenant’s face softened as he realized the problem. “He will come, Captain,” he said, his voice surprisingly gentle. “Tony just needs more time.”
“But there’s so much I want to say. I want to apologize and –“
“Tony doesn’t really like apologies,” Rhodes said, cutting Steve off.
“But I was so wrong about him. And I can’t believe all the things I said to him.” Steve began to shift, wringing his hands as he spoke. “I feel horrible about everything. I wish I had known, I want to –“
“Captain,” Rhodes said, interrupting Steve. “I appreciate that you feel bad, and I want to remind you that you couldn’t possibly have known about Tony’s childhood.”
Steve took a breath and watched the Lieutenant’s face cautiously, wanting desperately to believe the assurances the man was providing him.
“Tony didn’t expect you to know those things, and I doubt he’d ever want you to know, really. But I need you to listen to what you just told me.” The man’s eyes focused on the soldier with intensity.
Steve complied, running through his words and the feelings behind them.
“I know you feel guilty,” Rhodes continued. “I know you want to apologize, but why do you want to apologize?” Steve frowned at the man, unsure where he was trying to go with this.
“Because I was wrong, and I feel horrible about it,” Steve answered slowly. Rhodes just nodded.
“What you want, in order to make you feel better is to apologize,” Rhodes continued. “But do you think that is what Tony needs from you right now?” The man’s voice wasn’t hard or chastising, but the words still pierced Steve.
The Captain thought on that for a moment, letting the Lieutenant’s words sink in.
“No,” he finally said, looking up to Rhodes’ eyes. “It’s not.” The man gave him a small smile and a nod.
“You’re a good man, Steve,” he said. “And I know you feel guilty for pushing him, but if Tony really didn’t want any of you to see those things, you wouldn’t have.” Steve nodded, remembering Pepper’s same words from that day.
“And though none of us can really understand what you’ve gone through,” he continued, his voice softening. “We’re here for you. And for what it’s worth, I can understand your actions that night. It’s not easy to lose people you love,” Rhodes stalled for a second, his eyes darkening. “And you’ve lost more than anyone else.”
Steve swallowed back the lump in his throat, but nodded at the man. The tightness in his chest loosened at his words, and the guilt swirling in his stomach calmed.
“Thank you, James,” Steve said, his voice small. He received another small smile before the call disconnected, leaving the soldier standing alone in his rooms, his thoughts calm for the first time in three days.
The next day, Steve and Clint were lounging on the couch in the den, the archer trying to defend his new favorite television show.
“Marriage is supposed to be a sacrament,” Steve argued, frowning at the man sitting opposite from him. Clint just snorted, twirling an arrowhead expertly between his fingers.
“It’s the 21st century, Cap,” he retorted. “And sacraments aren’t nearly as entertaining as wealthy bimbos fighting over frilly, outrageously expensive dresses.”
Steve’s frown deepened. “Weddings are a time for love and the joining of families. Not throwing around money and petty squabbles.”
“What’s petty about flower arrangements?” Clint asked in mock-horror, hand coming up to press against his chest. Steve snorted.
“Listen here, Cap,” Clint said, gesturing to the soldier with his arrowhead. “There’s nothing – nothing – better than a couple of babes playing tug of war with some lace.”
“I could think of at least twelve things better than that,” a voice huffed from the doorway.
Steve whipped his head around so fast, his neck cracked.
“And those don’t even include anything sexually deviant.”
“Tony!” Steve exclaimed, fighting the urge to run over to the man. Stark’s face was held forcefully indifferent, but Steve could see the exhaustion written into every line of the man’s silhouette.
“Hey Cap,” he responded, uncrossing one arm from his chest to inspect his nails.
The following silence was awkward at best. Clint looked between the two heroes with a frown before standing and walking briskly out of the room. As he passed Tony, he poked the genius in the side with the tip of the arrow and quipped out a soft, “Play nice,” before retreating.
Tony grunted in response, but continued the silence. Steve squirmed in his seat, caught between not wanting to scare the man away, but wanting to talk to him. He had planned his speech carefully, each word memorized to the detail.
“Meet me in the garage in thirty minutes,” Tony said suddenly, catching Steve off-guard and completely ruining his carefully contrived speech. The man turned on his heel and began to leave.
“Oh,” he added, pausing and looking back over his shoulder at the stunned Captain. “And wear your dress blues.”
Steve just gaped at Tony’s retreating back, flabbergasted.
Thirty-five minutes later, Steve exited the elevator and into the garage, his steps slow and hesitant. He half expected to be alone in the garage, that their short conversation was just a dream.
Those expectations were thrown out at the sight of Tony Stark leaning casually against his silver Audi.
“You’re late,” the man remarked, turning and sliding into the car. Steve took a moment to collect himself before walking over to the passenger door and joining the billionaire.
Without any explanations, Tony revved the engine and pulled out of the garage and onto the road.
Steve clenched his seat as Tony expertly maneuvered the car at ridiculously fast speeds through downtown Manhattan. Nearly thirty minutes later, they had made it out of the city and onto open road, hugged the coastline, and Tony sped up.
At the protesting of his hands, Steve finally released his death grip on his seat, flexing his fingers and focusing on the view from the window. As time passed, it was tempting to start his speech, as Tony was stuck in the car and therefore forced to listen to what Steve wanted to say.
But as each minute passed and the silence continued, Steve noticed that Tony’s tense form began to relax. His death grip on the steering wheel loosened to a lazy, one-handed hold, his jaw unclenched slowly, and by the end of the first hour, the man was leaning back in his seat comfortably.
The soldier decided to wait until Tony wanted to speak, focusing his attention on the coast as the car sped down the highway, content to take in the sights for a while.
As another hour crept by, Steve’s curiosity roared its head, making the man shift in his seat. Finally, he decided to break the silence.
“Where are we going?” he asked, his voice soft, fearing the sound would bring back the tension in his companion’s shoulders.
Tony’s grip on the wheel tightened minutely, but other than that, the man didn’t respond. Seconds turned to minutes, and Steve gave up on any answer.
“Someplace I should have shown you a long time ago.”
Steve chanced a glance at his companion, trying desperately not to spook him, but desiring to study his face. Tony’s eyes were tight, but otherwise the genius was calm. Steve accepted his answer, settling in for a potentially long and silent car ride.
As the two neared their third hour in the car, Tony pulled off the freeway. Steve sat up straighter in his chair, eyes drinking in the surroundings.
Old stone buildings fitted together down long blocks adorned with huge maple trees, thick orange leaves glowing faintly from the afternoon sun. Steve raised his eyes skyward, taking in the distant rise of skyscrapers, the buildings unfamiliar to him.
“Where are we?” he asked, unable to contain his curiosity.
Steve turned to Tony, his mouth agape, his stomach dropping.
“Massachusetts?” he repeated, ignoring the fact that his voice just went up several octaves.
“Hmm,” Tony confirmed, eyes focused solely on the road. Steve gulped.
He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t prepared. He had always meant to see her, but this was too soon. Steve closed his eyes and willed his heart rate back to normal. What if she didn’t remember him? Fear burned through his chest.
Steve forced himself to glance at Tony. The man turned down another street, peeking over at Steve with a frown.
The Captain let out a shaky breath, inwardly laughing at himself. This is what he wanted. This was Peggy.
The Audi cruised down several more streets, the skyscrapers looming ever closer as they neared the city, before Tony pulled the car into a small parking lot.
The genius exited the car quickly, leaving a hesitant Steve to linger with one hand on the door handle. Much to Steve’s surprise, Tony didn’t rush him to move. Instead, the man leaned back against the hood, his back to Steve, fingers flying over his phone.
With a deep breath, Steve opened the door and joined Tony. At his presence, the genius started for the quaint building, not looking back to ensure his companion followed him.
Steve observed the building over Tony’s shoulder with apprehensive interest. He wasn’t sure what he had expected, but an old Victorian style, three-story building with a small rose garden in front surprised him. It was quaint, homely, and traditional – three things Steve wouldn’t have ever expected from Tony Stark.
Steve followed the slightly shorter man up the front steps, his artist’s eye taking in the russet brown bricks in contrast with the ivory pillars lining the entrance. His eyes moved to the modest plaque adorning the wall next to the front door.
‘Carter Stark Institute’ was written in elegant gold script, catching Steve’s eye and forming a lump in his throat. Reaching out, Steve brushed the tips of his fingers against the curling letters forming Peggy’s name.
Tony opened the door and strode into the foyer, bringing Steve’s attention away from the plaque. The soldier noted the ease and familiarity in his companion’s strides, speaking to the number of times those feet had taken this path.
“Mr. Stark,” a pleasant voice greeted, directing Steve’s attention to the large desk spanning the entire back wall of the front sitting room. “It’s lovely to see you again,” the woman continued, her smile genuine as she looked at the billionaire.
“Couldn’t stay away from such a pretty face,” Tony said, giving the woman a brilliant smile.
“Yes because you’re so obviously lacking in the eye candy department, Mr. Stark,” she replied, winking and sending a grin to Steve, who felt himself blush slightly.
“His legs might beat yours, but baby his pecs have got nothin’ on yours,” Tony said, leaning against the desk and tilting his head down to look at her over the top of his sunglasses suggestively. Steve rolled his eyes, but the woman’s bright laugh sounded through the cozy room.
“I’ll let Edith know you’re here,” she responded, still smiling.
“Let her know I’ve got a guest,” Tony said, moving to the elevator and pressing the button.
“Of course, Mr. Stark.”
“Thanks, Caroline,” Tony added softly. Steve caught a glimpse of a fond smile forming on the woman’s lips before the doors closed and the two men began to ascend.
The short elevator ride was silent, Tony leaning with his back against the railing and arms crossed, and Steve nervously standing at rest to his right.
The gold doors opened to reveal another sitting room decorated with plush, confortable chairs and warm hardwood floors. Tony pushed off the rail and moved forward, passing through the sitting room, and stopping before a thick wooden door, rapping his knuckled lightly against its surface.
After only a moment, the door opened to reveal a short, plump woman with sharp brown eyes and light grey hair pulled back in a tight bun. Her eyes locked on Tony, narrowing slightly as she looked him up and down.
“You need to sleep more, Tony Stark,” she said in a thick British accent, disapproval in her eyes. “You look like hell.”
Steve watched, surprised, as Tony looked down and shuffled his feet in an uncharacteristic gesture of contrition. “I’ll work on that,” he said, his voice containing only a hint of the usual Stark sarcasm.
“Hmm,” the woman hummed, pursing her lips. “I’m sure.”
Steve grinned slightly. This woman was a force to be reckoned with. His grin faltered as brown eyes turned to him.
“Hello, ma’am,” he said, straightening and offering his hand. “I’m –“
“Captain Steven Grant Rogers,” she said, bringing her wrinkled hands to her hips and observing him. Steve dropped his hand and found himself mirroring Tony’s sheepish posture.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.
“We’ve been wondering when we’d get a visit from you.”
Steve winced. “My apologies, ma’am.”
“It’s not his fault.”
Steve looked up to gape at Tony. The man had recovered his usual spark, and was now grinning at the woman.
“I should have brought him along sooner,” he continued, shrugging. “By the way,” he said, as the woman just observed him quietly. “Steve, this is Edith Davies, head nurse here, and a good friend.”
Steve nodded at the woman, determined to gain back whatever favor he had lost. He held her gaze firmly, feeling like the woman could read his soul through his eyes with the intensity of her gaze.
Whatever she saw, she must have found it satisfactory, for her lip twitched in a small smile and she nodded to him.
“I’m glad you’ve come, Captain,” she said, offering the man a small smile. Steve returned it with one of his own, relieved that the ice was gone from her stare.
“She is having a good day today,” Edith continued, looking now to Tony while reaching for a chart on the wall next to the door. “She didn’t fight her medication this morning.”
Steve watched as Tony nodded, his face serious, and took the chart. His eyes scanned the paperwork and nodded again, apparently happy with whatever the charts said.
“Where is she?” he asked, eyes still locked on the paper. Steve tilted his head in confusion.
Edith sighed, apparently understanding Tony. At the resigned sound, Tony frowned, his mouth turning down as he continued to stare at the chart.
“I believe she’s still in the ‘70s, unfortunately,” Edith continued, her voice softer now, eyes full of sorrow as she looked at Tony. “I’m sorry, Tony,” she added, resting one hand lightly on the man’s forearm.
“I’m afraid she hasn’t responded to the new treatment. She hasn’t been able to hold onto any short term memories.”
Steve’s heart ached for the man, understanding now what he had been asking. He made to reach out for the genius as well, but his attempts at comfort were thwarted as the man stepped aside, replacing the chart.
“Well, let’s do this,” he said, rubbing his hands together and plastering a fake smile on his face. “Hop to it, soldier,” he continued, turning to walk down the hall.
Steve watched the man saunter down the hall for a second before moving to catch up. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said, turning back quickly to Edith. The woman nodded solemnly before returning to her office.
Steve caught up with Tony as he turned the corner, and together they stopped outside another wooden door. Both of the men stood silently for a moment, each hesitating on the doorstep.
“Well,” Tony said finally, turning his back to Steve, facing the large bay window and inserting his hands into his pockets. “Here you are. I’ll be waiting out here while you two get reacquainted.”
Steve stared at the man’s back, confused.
“Aren’t you coming in?” he asked, turning to face the man.
“Nope,” Tony said, popping the ‘p’.
“Tony,” Steve began, uncertain.
“This trip is for you, Cap,” the man said, shrugging his shoulders.
“But she’d want to see you too, Tony,” Steve insisted, taking a step toward the man.
“She doesn’t even know I exist,” Tony hissed, shoulders tensing. “She couldn’t possibly want to see someone she doesn’t know.”
Steve flinched, heart aching.
“Go on, Cap,” Tony said, his voice tired. “I’ll be waiting out here.”
Steve hesitated. He wanted to see Peggy – he hadn’t realized just how much until he had walked up those steps. But what if she didn’t recognize him? What if it she was mad at him? What if –
“You’re going to hurt yourself if you keep thinking so hard,” Tony said, amusement in his tone. “Just go in.”
Steve took a deep breath, nodded, and turned back to the door. Before he could second guess himself, he turned the nob and opened the door.
The afternoon sunlight streamed in through open windows, casting a warm glow on the room, enhancing the grains of the wood floor. Turning his head, Steve’s breath caught in his chest.
Peggy Carter was sitting up in bed, completely engrossed in a worn book. Though seventy years had passed, Steve could still see the woman he knew under the laugh lines and silver hair. She was beautiful.
Brown eyes blinked and peered up at him from over the book in her hands. She blinked again. Then gasped.
Her soft voice brought back memories of late nights huddled over maps, too-short breaks in the dining commons, and whispered goodbyes over a radio.
“Steve,” she said again, her voice growing thick as her eyes filled with tears. “Is that really you?”
“Yeah, Pegs,” he said, smiling through his own watering eyes and moving closer to her bed.
“You’re alive,” she whispered, the book dropping from her fingers as she reached out to clasp his hands with surprising strength. “You’re alive,” she repeated, her voice wavering.
“I’m alive, and I’m here now,” he said, taking a seat in the chair next to her bed, doubting the strength of his legs at the moment.
“I’ve missed you so much,” she said, one tear finally escaping as she brought his hand to her cheek. Steve pushed down his own tears, determined to smile for her, and wiped the tear from her cheekbone.
“I’ve missed you too, Peggy.”
They sat in silence for a moment, Steve’s eyes roving over Peggy’s familiar features, cataloguing each change.
“You stood me up, you know,” she said finally, moving their clasped hands to rest on the bed beside her. Steve chuckled.
“My apologies,” he said, smiling at her sadly. “I really wanted to make that date.”
“Well,” she said, fixing him with a stern glare. “One apology isn’t going to make up for it. You kept me waiting awfully long.”
Steve could see the glint of a smile in her eyes as she reprimanded him, and he couldn’t help the grin forming on his lips.
“Oh you think it’s funny do you?” she asked, raising a brow. “I’ll have you know I fended off at least three unwelcome advances while I waited.”
Steve couldn’t help it. His small chuckle turned into a giggle, then into full out mirthful laughter. After a moment, Peggy’s light laughter followed, and the two grasped onto each other as their laughter filled the bright room.
He was pulled from his happiness when Peggy began to cough – a deep, throaty cough that sounded horribly painful. He helped her sit up a little straighter, rubbing her back lightly. When it ended, Steve reached over and helped Peggy drink from a glass on the bedside table.
With another light chuckle, Peggy fell back into the pillows and patted Steve’s hand gently. “Thank you,” she said, giving him a small smile. “I caught a cold last week, and Howard demanded I come get it treated.”
“Stubborn man,” she continued. “I told him that it was nothing. We have so much work to do these days.” She shook her head. “We have a meeting planned with the White House next week, and I haven’t finished putting together the paperwork.”
Steve watched sadly as she continued, outlining her preposition for S.H.I.E.LD.’s newest budget change. It ached to see what the disease had done. But she seemed normal, Steve mused, watching her. She had the same sharp wit, fiery passion, and confident command as before.
Steve focused again when she suddenly stopped talking. He looked to her to see she was staring at him, wide-eyed. “Peggy?” he asked, concerned.
His heart plummeted.
“Steve?” she repeated, eyes wide and glistening with unshed tears. “Is that really you?”
Steve pushed back the overwhelming sorrow. “Yeah, Peggy, it’s me.”
“Oh Steve,” she whispered, reaching out hesitantly to rest her hand against his cheek. He closed his eyes, relishing the feeling and fighting back against the sadness.
“It’s been so long,” she whispered, voice thick with emotion. Steve’s breath caught in his chest.
“Yeah,” he said, pausing to clear his throat. “Yeah, it has Peggy. I’ve missed you.”
“I knew you were alive,” she said, sniffing. Steve opened his eyes to watch her, smiling at the happiness in her face. “I knew you’d come back.”
“Couldn’t leave my best girl,” he whispered, breath hitching again. Peggy chuckled weakly, a tear falling from her eye.
“What happened?” she asked, eyes wide and curious.
Steve hesitated. “When I crashed the plane, I was encased in the ice. My body was preserved.” Peggy nodded, and Steve could see her thoughts whirling.
“Howard was right,” she said, reaching out her hand. Steve took it carefully, rubbing a thumb over her knuckles. “He never stopped looking.”
Steve felt the vestiges of guilt and anger swirl in his chest.
“I thought he’d go crazy,” she said, the happiness slowly fading from her eyes, replaced by something darker. “He was fine for the first few years,” she continued, looking up at Steve, pain in her eyes. “He helped so much with forming S.H.I.E.L.D., and dove head first into his work.”
Steve swallowed and tried to calm his beating heart.
“He even married,” she sighed. “Who would have thought the Howard Stark would marry?” Steve grinned lightly. “She’s great, Steve,” she said, capturing his gaze again. “Elegant and kind. She convinced him to start a charity under Stark Industry’s name.”
Steve nodded, squeezing her hand softly.
“And they had a son,” she said, a brilliant smile breaking out over her features. Steve took it in, a little breathless at the site of such happiness. “Steve, he is absolutely wonderful.” Steve’s heart clenched.
“What’s his name?” he asked, his voice tight.
“Tony,” she said, her smile widening. “He’s brilliant, Steve. Absolutely brilliant.”
Steve couldn’t help but feel his heart warming at the look of pure adoration on Peggy’s face. He had seen the look from the camera, but there was something infinitely more tender seeing it in person.
“He’s still so young, but he’s built the most incredible things.” She turned to him, gripping his hand more tightly. “He is going to do great things, Steve.”
Steve nodded. Peggy was absolutely right – Tony accomplished incredible feats, built the most amazing technology, and survived through the most horrible situations.
He felt the grip on his hand tighten and he looked back to her face. She fixed him with the most piercing gaze, and Steve’s heart clenched to see the fear in her eyes.
“Peggy, what --?”
“Steve,” she whispered. “You have to get him out of there.” Steve’s breath left him.
“I’m not allowed to see him,” she continued, panic now swirling in her brown eyes. “Steve, he won’t let me see him.”
Steve stood up and leaned over her, rubbing her shoulder soothingly. “It’s okay, Peggy, deep breaths…” She was clearly panicking, her breaths coming in short gasps.
“Steve, you have to talk to Howard,” she continued, looking up at him. “He’s gone mad – he isn’t himself.”
“Shh,” he said, rubbing her back softly. “I know, Pegs. I’ll talk to him.”
“I haven’t seen Tony in months, Steve,” she said, her voice breaking. “Tony…”
Steve watched as Peggy’s breath broke in shuddering sobs, her eyes screwed up again the tears threatening to spill. He panicked.
Turning, Steve walked to the door and wrenched it open.
“Tony,” he said, almost flinching at the pleading in his tone. The genius was standing where Steve had left him, gazing out the large bay window. At his call, Tony turned around, eyes wide.
“What’s wrong?” he said, fear on his face. “Is she okay?”
“Please, Tony you have to come in,” Steve begged, taking the couple steps to reach out and grab the man’s arm. “Tony, please,” he said, when the man didn’t move.
Something in his tone must have convinced the man, for Tony nodded and rushed to the door, Steve right behind him.
“Peggy,” Steve said, stepping in front of Tony and returning to Peggy’s bedside. “It’s okay, look, Tony’s here.”
He looked over to Tony, intending on calling him over, but the look on the man’s face stopped him. He looked utterly terrified.
“Aunt Peggy,” he started, backing up a step.
Confused, Steve turned back to Peggy. His stomach dropped.
Pure hatred was written in every line of Peggy Carter’s face.
The venom stunned Steve into silence.
“YOU,” Peggy hissed. Tony flinched. “How dare you show your face in here!”
“Peggy, what --?” Steve began.
“You monster!” she screamed. “How could you?”
Steve was shocked and utterly confused. He looked back and forth from Tony to Peggy, the former looking completely defeated, the latter venomous.
“He is you child!” she yelled, eyes staring holes into Tony’s head. “And you are the most vile excuse for a man I’ve ever seen!”
Understanding hit Steve with such a force he had to literally take a step back. “Peggy, stop,” he begged, coming forward again. “That’s not Howard.”
“Damn right it’s not! You’re not the man I though you were, Stark,” she spat, eyes never leaving Tony’s face. “You can say all you want about making the world better, but I know what you really are. You’re a vile human being, an utterly heartless monster!”
That was the last straw for Tony. The man turned tail and practically ran from the room, the door bouncing off the wall as he threw it open in his haste.
“Tony!” Steve called, moving to the door. Looking back to Peggy, who had lowered her head into her hands, Steve made up his mind.
Steve ran down the hall in search of the genius, passing Edith and a woman in scrubs as they headed to Peggy’s room.
“Captain Rogers, what is –“
“Please just take care of her,” he said, barely sparing them a glance as he continued down the hall in search of Tony.
Turning a corner, Steve halted. At the end of the hall, back pressed against the corner of the room, stood Tony Stark.
Shoulders hunched and hands covering his face, Tony Stark looked as if he was trying to disappear into the dark wood at his back. The man’s shoulders shook lightly, and Steve could hear the shuddering gasps as Tony attempted to control his breathing.
The sight broke Steve’s heart. He could see ten year old Tony Stark cowering in front of his father’s desk, nineteen year old Tony Stark curled into himself against his kitchen counter, fighting back the tears that would only further evoke his father’s rage.
It took four long strides for Steve to reach Tony, one second to pry the man’s hands from his face, and another to pull him tightly to his chest.
It took Tony two seconds to comprehend his new position, one more second for him to start pushing weakly against the soldier’s chest, and five seconds of protest for him to realize he didn’t want to break free.
Steve felt Tony slump against him in defeat, and tightened his arms in response, tilting his head down to rest his forehead against Tony’s shoulder.
“You’re amazing, Tony,” Steve said softly. To hell with his prepared speech, Steve thought. Throwing out the words he’d painstakingly memorized, Steve just jumped in.
“You’re so brave – to the point of stupidity sometimes, you know that?” he chucked, voice muffled against the other man’s shoulder. “You’re the first to jump into a fight, and the last to leave the scene.”
“You spend a ridiculous amount of time in your workshop making sure that we’re safe and prepared – don’t think I don’t know that it’s you who makes our gear and not S.H.I.E.L.D.” He was rewarded with a gruff chuckle.
“You try to sneak your kindness by us, and it doesn’t work. You’re a giver, Tony. You specially designed each of our suites so that Bruce had an easy escape, Clint with a rooftop exit, Natasha with only one avenue of entrance or exit, and Thor with a view of the stars at night.”
“When you drink, you become giddy and ridiculous and sloppy, but never angry, aggressive or rude,” he continued, despite Tony’s mild flinch.
“You talk to Dum-E like a child when you change his oil, and it’s always with fondness, if a little exasperated. You never shout.” Tony tensed again.
“And you gave Pepper so much love,” Steve pressed, squeezing the man a little bit tighter. “You never gave her any reason to think you didn’t care, or that you were too busy for her. You gave her the world, Tony, and she knows that.” Tony’s breath hitched again, and Steve rubbed the man’s back slowly.
“Tony,” he said slowly. “You are nothing like your father.”
The tears Tony had been fighting against so valiantly finally escaped, and the man clung more tightly to the soldier as they spilled down his cheeks.
Steve just accepted the tight embrace, rubbing soft circles into the man’s back and offering gentle soothing words.
When Tony’s breath evened out, Steve released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Picking up his head, Steve opened his eyes and rested his cheek against the side of Tony’s head, breathing deeply.
“And Tony,” Steve began, tightening his hold once again, fearful of what he had to say next. “She wasn’t saying those things to you. She was saying them to Howard.”
Tony didn’t respond, just flinched in Steve’s hold.
“She does remember you,” Steve continued, his voice barely above a whisper. “She told me all about this beautiful, brilliant child who was going to create the most incredible things the world would see. She told me about a kind, sweet child who she loves. She said his name was Tony Stark.”
Tony gave another weak laugh that sounded like a sob. “She said that?” he asked, his voice incredibly small. Steve just chuckled.
“She did,” he said. “And she was right.”
The two men stood together, embracing, for several more quiet minutes, each collecting themselves.
“Thanks, Steve,” Tony whispered, voice hoarse, finally pulling back from the man’s chest. Steve smiled.
“I shouldn’t have said those things,” Steve said slowly, closing his eyes again, pushing back the guilt as he released the genius. “And I definitely shouldn’t have grabbed you.” Steve’s voice turned dark with anger. He had lost control. He could have hurt his teammate. Tony just chuckled.
“I’m made of stronger stuff than that, Cap,” he said, a hint of spark back in his voice.
“I know, Tony,” he said sincerely, looking up into his eyes. “You’re Iron Man. You’re a hero.” Tony’s answering smile filled Steve with warmth, easing away the pain in his chest.
“I’m sorry, Tony,” he said, looking at the man earnestly, hoping he could convey his sincerity through just those three words and his eyes.
Tony nodded and rested a hand on Steve’s shoulder. The smile didn’t quite remove all the shadows from his eyes, but the haunted look had disappeared.
“You’re forgiven, Steve,” he said, his voice open and warm. Steve grinned and mirrored the man’s gesture, bringing his hand to rest on Tony’s shoulder.
“After all,” Tony continued, his smile widening, finally bringing the spark back into his brown eyes. “We all have our bad days.”
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