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Sunday, September 6th, 2009 12:58 pm
Title: Lethewards: Wants and Needs
Rating: R
Fandom: Marvel - 616
Pairings: Primarily pre-slash Steve/Tony, but with several platonic relationships, as well as references to past relationships and a few minor relationships
Part word count: 10,080
Genre: Drama, angst, hurt/comfort, character study
Warnings: These are warnings just this part, seeing as they may change from part to part. Please see this post for overall fic warnings Talk and depiction of mental illness, seizures, talk of animal deaths
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters and make no profit from them
Part Summary: Steve wants to be a part of Tony's life still and Tony reluctantly lets him
Thanks: My beta [personal profile] autolobotomysuicide and being absolutely fantastic. [personal profile] jazzypom and [ profile] pandanoai for their adivce and beta work, as well as cheer leading. And last but not least, [ profile] oddwildflowers for being an amazing cheerleader.
Author's note: Please, please, please see this post for a list of overall fic warnings and for background information/changes from canon.
As always, thank you for all the kind comments.
From this point on, Lethewards will be continuing as less of coherent chapters and more of a series of short stories tied together.
Previous Parts: Found here


It had been a few months since the Council had taken over super-human affairs. Steve's life since then had been filled with paper work, long days that turned into long nights, and cramped legs from too much sitting. This had not been how Steve expected spending the next two years of his life, no, but he had been elected, and he would serve the meta-human community to the best of his ability, then he would humbly withdraw his name from possible consideration when the next election rolled around.

Tony's case had come up for review two weeks ago. Steve had removed himself from residing over the proceedings because he felt he could not offer an unbiased opinion on the case. It didn't seem to matter much in the long run because Tony was released from his parole into the care of Doc Samson. More importantly, this meant that Tony was no longer being forced to work for Osborn's still state-sanctioned Avengers team.

Tony himself had been staying in the Avengers Apartment (officially dubbed by Peter) until he was able to move back into his Long Island estate. He was hardly noticeable, spending most of his time working in his room. Steve wasn't even sure if he was in the apartment sometimes until Jarvis would make up a plate of food and take it to his room. Steve felt terrible about not having spent more time with him, but between the Council's paper work and duty on the team, he barely had time to sleep.

Steve walked into the darkened apartment. It was late - later than he normally came home. He let out a deep sigh and hung his coat up in the hall closet. He was too tired to deal with food right now. He made his way straight for his bedroom, loosening his tie and undoing his button-up shirt.

As he went, he passed Tony's room. The door was cracked open and Steve peeked in. Tony was sitting at his desk. Steve knocked lightly, then pushed the door open.


Steve's shoe splashed down into something and he slipped a bit. He looked down and saw the room light coming in from the window, glinting off something wet and crimson.

"Tony? Tony!"

Steve's eyes shot open and for the briefest moment, he was unable to move. He took deep breaths as the paralysis that came with sleep left his limbs. He sat up when he was able to and scrubbed a hand over his face. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to shake the image of Tony slumped over at his desk from his mind. Slowly, he let out a shaky sigh, before throwing back the sheets, finding he no longer wanted to sleep.

He shuffled towards the kitchen, hardwood floor cold under his bare feet as autumn began to set in on New York. He was rubbing his eyes when he walked in, only to look up and be given a small scare. Tony was sitting at the kitchen table, laptop open and paper spread out before him. He looked up at Steve over his coffee mug.


Steve hesitated a moment before continuing into the kitchen, "Hey."

"It's a fresh pot if you want some."

"Thanks," Steve said, heading over to the coffee pot, deciding to take him up on the offer. He reached up and pulled down a mug from the cabinet, "Shouldn't you be resting?"

The last mission Tony had been on with Osborn's team had left him bruised and broken - his wrist having been shattered and shoulder dislocated in some sort of impact, for which he was still splinted.

Tony gave him a smile made painful by his still-healing split lip, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."

Steve fumbled with his mug, nearly dropping it as his mind was filled with memories of the dream. He offered a laugh in response, but it came out sounding more like a painful cough.

Steve was quiet for a moment as he poured himself a cup of coffee, trying to think of something to talk about, but he found himself drawing blank. A man who was one of his best friends, a man whom he hadn't really spoken to in three, four years, and he could think of nothing to say to him.

"What are you working on?" He forced out finally, hoping it would lead to something deeper.

"Sydney," Tony replied. "I'm trying to get him set up for running the house. That way I can finally get out of your guys' collective hair."

Steve's brow furrowed as he turned to look at him now, leaning back against the counter.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," Tony didn't look up from his work, "You all shouldn't have to babysit a full grown man. You have lives you need to get back to..."

"You're not--" Steve cut himself short, fighting down a frustration he felt at the man's statement. "You're not a burden, Tony. We're helping because you're our friend."

Tony seemed to want to say something at that, but hesitated a moment instead, before continuing doing whatever it was he was doing, "I'm capable of taking care of myself..." he mumbled.

"I don't doubt that," Steve said, though a part of him did as he eyes the sling Tony's arm rested in. "It's just...we're worried about you."

"And that's what Sydney is for," Tony replied with a brief, humorless smile. "My own personal keeper so you all can stop worrying."

"So..." Steve tried to understand what Tony was saying, "What? You're going to live in that house with nothing but robots as company?"

"Well, one robot at this point, but I have been meaning to build up my army again..."

"Tony," Steve sighed, setting his mug down on the counter, "Is that really how you want to live the rest of your life?"

"It's not a matter of what I want..." Again, Tony did not look up at him while he spoke.

"Then what is it, Tony?" Steve tried to keep in frustration, anger in check, but knew even as he spoke, it was breaking through, "'For the greater good?'"

Steve saw Tony recoil like he had been physically hit and Steve felt self-disgust stirring in him. He had told Tony, promised him that he was trying to understand but he felt like he didn't have half the story - actually, he probably didn't. Tony began to collect his things, closed his laptop and gathered his notes.

"Tony..." Steve said as gently as he could muster, feeling his stomach sinking. "Wait..."

Tony didn't stop, trying to carry everything with his one good arm.

"Tony--It's just...I feel like I don't even know you any more."

"That's because you don't, Steve..." Tony said hurriedly, cringing as he moved his bad arm while trying to heave the load.

"So..." Steve swallow, wanting to help him but knowing Tony would stubbornly refuse. "So this is it? This is how our friendship ends?"

"No," Tony answered quickly. "It ended three years ago."

Steve watched him go, anger and mild horror filling him to a point where he couldn't argue.


After that night, things between them were different. Steve left from work early whenever he could, offered to bring Tony dinner rather than Jarvis, passed the cracked open door whenever he had an excuse. He would not let it end like that.

Tony, however, seemed determined otherwise. Steve was sure he was avoiding him - leaving whenever he entered, closing the door if he noticed Steve passing.

Steve asked around. Peter said that during the day, Tony was out and about in the main rooms of the apartment, but retreated back to his private room in the evening when everyone started to come home for the day. Pepper said that Tony valued his alone time, but she was worried that maybe he was alone too often. Desperate, Steve even spoke to Maria Hill when she came by to check on him.

"He's embarrassed," she had said simply, sounding a bit critical that he hadn't realized this before. "He doesn't like that people know his weakness."

Steve had looked at her a long moment.

"He's not--" Steve had started, trying to put it into words, "We don't think--"

"But he thinks we do," Hill had cut him off. "And it's all that people talk about. Have you seen the news? They always mention it whenever his name comes up -- 'the incident,' 'Stark's break from reality,' 'piloted by a mad man.' God forbid if they ever find out it was a suicide attempt." She had shaken her head, beginning to walk towards his room, muttering, "What happened to decency and privacy...?"

After that, Steve had backed off. He still tried to come home early, take weekends off, but tired not to hover as much. Tony would come around when he was ready, that's what he told himself.

And, on one Sunday morning a couple weeks later, that's what happened. Steve was on his way to church - He couldn't even remember the last time he went to mass. Tony looked up from his ever present laptop stationed at the kitchen table and looked over Steve dressed in his suit and tie.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"Church," Steve replied, figuring that would be enough of an answer for him.

There was a brief silence, then, "Can I come?"

Steve stared for a moment - gaped really. He closed his mouth.

"Um, yeah, sure. If you want."

Tony nodded, then hurried off to get dressed properly. Steve watched him go, trying to fathom a possible reason why Tony would want to go with him. In the years that they had known each other, Tony had never once expressed anything to Steve to make him think he might be a religious man.

The walk to the church was silent. Again, Steve found himself pulling for something to strike up a conversation. He looked over to Tony, who had his hands stuffed in his coat pockets and looked...nervous almost.

Tony stayed seated after the service was concluded. Steve had stood almost automatically, but sat again when he realized his companion was. A minute passed as the other members of the congregation filed passed. Then, Tony looked up and let out a deep sigh.

"I haven't been to church since I was six," he said, sounding tired. Then, he laughed, "My mother's probably rolling in her grave. ...Howard too for that matter..."

"Why?" Steve sat back in the pew. This was the most Tony had said to him in three weeks.

"She was Catholic," he sad with a sad smile, looking down at his hands. "And he was a skeptic."

Steve smiled softly, then thought to probe some, "What about you?"

Tony looked over to him, but didn't lift his head.

"I mean," Steve thought to cover quickly, not knowing if he had overstepped his bounds, "I just...always thought you were a atheist."

Tony smiled and made a noise that sounded like a short laugh, or a cough, "Because I've always found that easier to say than explaining my tumultuous relationship with God."

Steve stayed quiet, not knowing if there was more he wanted to say.

"Did they..." he started, then stopped to clear his throat, "Did they tell you what...what happened to me?"

Steve assumed he meant the details of his mental break. The girls - Pepper, Maria, and Beth - had been tight lipped about what exactly had happened and Steve understood and respected that, assuming he would be informed when the time came.

"No," he shook his head a little, voice hushed.

Tony was still looking down at his hands and Steve found his gaze going there as well. Tony picked at his already short nails, to the point where it looked painful. One wrist was still in a brace and his hands were covered in cuts and healed-over scars.

"I..." Tony started then seemed to think about what he wanted to say a moment more. "I saw things -- people -- and they...they told me things that I'm...I'm not entirely sure they were wrong about."

Steve wasn't sure what to say. "Saw things" - hallucinations? Tony had--

" I thought maybe I'd...I'd come here and have some sort of--" he laughed then, it sounded wet and almost pained. He shook his head, "But it was the same as ever."

He stood and Steve stood with him. He turned and headed for the exit and Steve hurried to keep up.

"Tony--" Steve caught up with him, put a hand on his shoulder, "I...I had no idea."

"Yeah," Tony sounded more than just tired as he sighed the word. "I haven't...haven't told anyone before. Well, other than Samson. And he told the girls so they knew what they were getting into."

They began walking back towards the apartment, pace slowed from what it had been set by Tony when he left.

"Thank you," Steve said after he thought Tony was done talking, "For...for trusting me."

Tony snorted a laugh, "Yeah, sure. Maybe one day I'll tell you what they said."

He had a tone in his voice that told Steve that he would never share those details with anyone, but he felt like he should say, "You don't have to."

Tony gave him a smile, though it seemed more out of courtesy than anything else. The walk home was quiet after that. By the time they got back, Jarvis had made breakfast and Luke, Peter, and Bucky were at the table. They seemed a little surprised to see the two of them together, but invited them to sit and eat. Tony politely declined, taking his laptop back to his room. Steve took his seat instead, leaving him to think about this morning's conversation.


Tony walked over the threshold of his family home and felt that sense of anxiety begin to fill him. He should have waited for someone to come with him, but he couldn't stay in the apartment another day -- he felt out of place there, surrounded by people who had not yet forgiven him for what he had done.

He took a deep breath and walked further into the house. This was where he had spent nearly a year alone, three months of which had been with the hallucinations if he remembered correctly. Nothing but him, the hauntings, and the now long since dead house plant Pepper had given him...God, two years ago?

He had yet to truly regain a grasp on time. The months in 42 had blended together with his house arrest and his time on Osborn's team to create a blur of...of something that was hard for him to wrap his mind around, even now. Some how nearly a year and a half had passed and he had missed it.

He went into his lab and turned on the computer. The lab was clean, though things were out of place. He and Samson had stopped by to get a few things before he went under house arrest and though they had been returned, they weren't yet in their proper places. He hooked up the hard drive that contained Sydney's program and began the upload and boot sequence.

Tony leaned back in the chair and watched the progress bar on the screen. He let out a deep sigh, trying to push out the feeling like there was someone behind him. He fought it for about a minute before he finally turned around. No one. There never was. He was feeling a memory, not a person, not a ghost. A memory.

He looked back at the screen. It would take an hour minimum, more likely two or three. And for those two or three hours, he would be alone.

He hadn't been really, truly alone since 42. He'd always had someone there, whether it was Samson or Tomas or anyone who happened to be in the lounge, or Beth watching TV with him, Pepper telling him the current events at Stark, Maria sitting and reading with him while he worked on whatever project he currently had, or any Avenger passing through to go off to do something else.

Finally, he stood and decided to check on the condition of the rest of the house. Everything had been put back in its place - the clothes he had left at Maria's apartment returned, some of the furniture that had been used to fill the Arlington house replaced. Not even a sign that anything had happen save for the unsettled feeling in the back of Tony's mind. There was nothing for him to do, nothing to keep him busy, keep him from thinking.

He went into a back room that he had been using for storage. When he was a kid, it had been his father's work room, but now it was full of half-finished projects and prototypes that had never seen the light of day. He walked through the rows of shelves and boxes, not really looking for anything in particular, just browsing. Most of the boxes were labeled "SI Projects," which meant most of them housed schematics and half realized mock-ups of weapons. He walked past them, knowing there was nothing that would interest him. There was an entire shelf marked, "Avengers" with scale models of Quinjets, blueprints of add-ons to the mansion. Tony preferred to keep as much on the computer as possible, but he had to admit not everything could be done with a mouse and a 3D modeling program.

And there, in a back corner, was a cardboard box, bulging and bent out of shape because of its contents, labeled simple, "For Dad."

Tony stared at the box for a long moment. He had forgotten it even existed, though now that he was reminded, an inventory of its contents came streaming back. They were from his childhood mostly, some from his teenage years, all of them things he had made at his father's request or in the always futile effort at gaining Howard's approval. In that box was circuit boards, small robots, things made out of his erector set, toys that his father had given him and asked him to rebuild and/or make them better in some sort of test. If his memory was still good, there was even a toaster in there that he had made into a rather crude robot, much to the dismay of his mother.

He smiled softly at the memories, and then it occurred to him. He had boxes labeled for the company, for the Avengers, and for his father, but not for himself, partly because he didn't hadn't had any time to himself in years, and partly because what little free time he did have was devoted to the Iron Man. But now...he and Samson had decided that it probably wasn't a good time for him to put on the armor (and Maria, Pepper, and pretty much everyone else had agreed), meaning he was faced with a lot more free time, for better or for worse. He sighed. He might as well get started on something now.

He started rummaging through the boxes on the Avengers shelf. He figured that was the best place to start. The Council's team was funded by donations and private investors, including himself, so they didn't have nearly the tech as the old Avengers teams, and even Osborn's. He would consider this project part of his donation. He came across the original schematics for the mansion's computer and had to laugh at how dated it was. He knew Hank was working on setting up the new registration data base, maybe he ought to see if he needed any help. He dug out everything he found on the mansion computer and took it with him back to the workshop.

"Sydney online."

The voice rang out, making Tony jump. He looked at the screen, skeptical, but indeed the boot sequence had finished. He checked his watch. Three hours had passed since he had sat down to plan out the computer for the Council database. He looked back down at the plans, then up at the screen.

"How do you feel, Sydney?" He asked finally.

"Refreshed, sir."

Tony snorted a laugh, "Yeah, you've got a big, comfy house to run around in now."

He sighed and leaned back in his chair. He sat there a moment, then grabbed his Blackberry. He clicked through a few of the emails he had gotten, but ended up deleting all of them. He held the phone, just staring at the screen. While he was looking at it, the phone rang. His hand twitched a bit as the device started to vibrate and Pepper's name appeared on the screen. He answered it quickly.

"Hey, Pep."

"Hey, Steve said you were at the house," she went right into it.

"Yep, Sydney just came online," he picked up a pen and started to twirl it in his fingers.

"Is someone with you?"

"Just me and the voices," Tony joked, but he swallowed hard afterward. There was a brief silence as Pepper seemed to be thinking of a way to respond. "I'm kidding," Tony said finally. Pepper let out a hesitant laugh.

"Hey, um," Pepper said finally, "I know we were supposed to have dinner tonight, for the house warming..."

Her voice trailed off and Tony recognized her tone because he had used it so many times in the past, "Something came up."

"Yeah. There were a last minute change to a proposal and everyone's scrambling--"

"It's okay, Pepper," Tony smiled though he knew she couldn't see it, "Believe me, I understand."

Pepper let out a sigh, "We can do it tomorrow, I promise."

"Yeah, right, no worries," Tony set the pen down and got up to walk around. "Are you still going to come over?"

"Yeah, of course," she answered quickly, "When I get done, I'm heading straight over. I just...don't know when I'll get done."

Tony smiled, maybe just a bit bitterly. This was all too familiar, he just never expected it to happen to him. "Go. Get your work done so you can sleep sooner. Trust me."

"Okay," Pepper sounded tired already, "I'm sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry about," Tony said quickly. "Besides, I'll see you tonight sometimes anyway."

"Yeah, okay. See you then. Bye."

Tony said his goodbyes and hung up the phone. He had wandered into the kitchen, finding that talking about dinner had made him hungry. He figured he would save what he had been planning to have for dinner tonight with Pepper for when they actually ate together. He opted from something frozen since he didn't feel like making too big an effort for just one. He was about to put the pizza in the oven when Sydney's voice came on the intercom,

"You have a visitor, sir."

Tony looked up from the the oven, brow furrowed, "Who is it?"

"It appears to be Mister Rogers."

Tony's stomach did something weird, and he wasn't quite sure what . He cleared his throat, "Was I expecting him?" He didn't know if maybe he had just forgotten that Steve was coming over too.

"I don't believe you were, sir."

Oh, so Steve was just stopping by then. That could be either good or bad. Tony looked down at the frozen pizza in his hands. Maybe he should hold off fixing dinner until he figured out what Steve was up to. He put the pizza back in the box and the box back into the freezer.

He headed towards the foyer just as the door opened on its own to reveal a confused-looking Steve, apparently about to knock.

"That would be Sydney," Tony gave him a smile, opening his arms a bit to welcome him to his home.

"Oh," Steve put his arm down.

"So..." Tony watched him walk in and look around the house. "In the neighborhood?"

Steve continued to look around a moment as he started to speak, hand on the back of his neck, before turning to look at Tony, "Pepper called me. Said you were making dinner for two but your second couldn't make it."

"Oh. Of course she did."

"If..." Steve looked at him, looking almost...sheepish? "If you want me to go, I can. She just...was worried about you being alone."

"Right, no, of course," Tony flashed him a quick smile, then started towards the kitchen. "Wouldn't want to worry her."

Tony went to the fridge and started pulling out what he needed to make dinner, "Hope you like Italian."

"I didn't know you knew how to cook."

Tony paused and turned to look at Steve. He was grinning.

"Yeah, well," Tony rolled his eyes, going back to work, "Between my mother and Jarvis, I picked a few things up."

Tony took out the fillet of salmon as Steve went to sit at the dry bar. He moved around the kitchen, gathering everything that he needed. He felt Steve watching him as he went and he had to admit it made him a little nervous.

"How's the wrist?" Steve asked after a minute.

"What? Oh," Tony looked down at the wrist he had broke and tested it some. "Sort of hurts still, but it's nothing worse that what I've had before."

Steve nodded a reply. It was hard to read his face -- he looked...troubled? Tony turned back to prepping the salmon.

"So, uh," Steve started, then cleared his throat. "How have things been?"

Ah yes, the subtle probing to make sure he wasn't going insane again. Tony was well acquainted with every form of that question that one could possibly come up with.

"I've been all right," Tony said nonchalantly, as if he hadn't nearly had a panic attack when he walked in through the door. "Still sane."

Tony was also well accustom to the hesitant laugh that came next. People weren't comfortable with him talking about it, and he wasn't entirely sure he was either, but he knew he would have to eventually. Trying to be casual about it with friends was practice for reporters when they would inevitably come.

Tony put the salmon pieces on some tinfoil, along with some lemon slices and a variety of herbs. He sealed them up to make pouches, put them in the oven, and set the timer for thirty minutes.

"Can I...Can I ask you something?"

"Uh oh," Tony turned to look at Steve, again finding the man hard to read. "What is it?"

Steve hesitated. He looked at Tony, then down to his hands, "You don't have to answer if you don't want to."

Tony raised an eyebrow, "You haven't asked anything yet."

Another silent moment before Steve finally asked, " did this start?"

Tony swallowed, "Define 'this'."

"You're..." Steve waved his hand a little, apparently trying to think of the right word, "depression."

"Oh," Tony was actually quite grateful that he didn't ask about the recent events. Then he took pause - he hadn't ever really thought about it before. "I'm not...not exactly sure you can pin something like that down."

"Right. Of course. I just--"

"I could tell you my first memory of it, though," Tony offered after a quick moment of thought, "If you promise not to laugh."

Steve looked up at him with an expression of mild offense, "I would never--"

"I know, I know. Just...promise."

"I promise."

Tony took a breath, then turned to start to clean up the kitchen, "It started with a turtle."

A pause, then, "A turtle?"

Tony looked back at Steve, "You said you wouldn't laugh."

Steve held up his hands in his defense, "I'm not laughing! Just...a turtle?"

"Yes," Tony returned to wiping down the counter top. "It was at boarding school. We weren't allowed to have anything but fish, but I had snuck in this turtle because fish are lame. I sort of felt bad for him because I had to keep him stashed under my bed during the day in case they did room inspections, so at night I would take him out of his aquarium and let him crawl around." Tony focused on scrubbing a bit of stuck on grim with the cloth as he spoke, "And...and we had these built-in shelves in the rooms and mine was loose and one night it fell and all the books slid off and crushed him."

There was a silence that followed before Steve spoke, "That wasn't your fault, Tony."

Tony laughed, "I know that, I just..." he sighed deeply, "I just always felt like I should have been able to prevent it. Like, I knew that shelve was loose, I knew I should have fixed it, I just...never did. Not when it mattered. I could have prevented it."

Another silence. Tony wished he knew what Steve was thinking. He looked over at the other man - he looked like he was in disbelief.

Tony sighed, "Okay, you can laugh now."

Steve started, looking surprised, "I'm not going to laugh."

Tony scrutinized him a moment more before going back to cleaning. He was quiet a moment, thinking. "Though I suppose..." he stopped himself short, not sure if he really wanted to finish the thought, but it was too late.

"Suppose what?" Steve of course asked.

Tony sighed, "I suppose...The first time I really...recognized it as a problem was when I was fourteen."

"What happened when you were fourteen?"

Tony squeezed his eyes shut. He very much did not want to be having this conversation, especially with Steve.

"My father tried to disown me," he didn't look at the other man, instead flitting around the kitchen, trying to find something to occupy himself with until the food was ready.

"What? Why?"

Tony clenched his jaw, "Because of who I was dating."

"Who you were dating? Tony, I know your father was strict but--"

"It was a man," the words burst out of Tony's mouth finally. He threw the towel down on the counter and went over to the sink to wash his hands, "I was dating a man. A classmate. A couple years older than me."

The silence was painful, with only the running water filling it. The water was hot, nearly scalding, but Tony didn't flinch. He could feel his face and neck grow warm from embarrassment. He didn't dare look over at Steve, to see whatever expression was on his face.

"Oh," Steve said finally.

Tony snorted, shutting off the water and getting a new towel to dry his hands.

"Yeah, so," Tony went out, forcing himself to sound like it was nothing. "That was a good Christmas. My mother eventually talked him down and that year as a present I got to keep my name."


Tony jumped. Steve was standing next to him. He gave Tony a smile - a kind smile. Tony's mouth was dry, meeting his eyes.

"I told you," Steve said gently. "You didn't have to tell me if you didn't want to."

Tony swallowed hard, laughing some. He looked away and backed up, "Yeah well. Samson says I need to talk more."

Steve crossed his arms and leaned against the fridge, "Well, we can talk about something else."

"Oh thank God..."


"So she set you up on a date," Maria said matter-of-factly before taking a sip of her coffee.

Tony stared at her, "Pepper did not set me up on a date."

"She canceled on you, then sent someone in her stead, who happened to be your biggest man-crush this side of Rhodes. She set you up."

Tony looked horrified, "He's not-- I don't--" he sputtered for a moment longer, then sighed, looking almost resigned. "Rhodey's been talking about me, hasn't he?"

Maria snorted, "Yeah he has. He says you forgot what clothes were for a while there."

Tony choked on his coffee. Maria reached across to the empty table next to them and grabbed a stack of napkins. They were sitting a secluded corner of some cozy little coffee shop that Tony had heard about through a friend apparently. It wasn't bad coffee, even if the barista had given them strange looks when they ordered, eying Tony like he had two heads, she had just been surprised that he wanted to go out -- he had more or less been avoiding the public since he had been released from Osborn's custody. She suspected he didn't want to be in that house any more than he had to, and she didn't blame him - she knew that the place was a family estate, but she wouldn't have gone back if something like that happened to her.

Tony wiped his mouth, then crumpled the napkin into a tiny ball. "Is it really that obvious?" he was staring down at his fist as he spoke.

Maria shrugged, "Not really." She took a sip, "Pieces just sort of...come together. Plus you cried like an Army wife at his funeral."

Tony laughed fully this time. He rubbed his eyes, "God...I was sort of hoping everyone just thought I was drunk."

"Oh they did, don't worry."

Tony sighed. He gave Maria one of those smiles where you could tell he wasn't happy. He looked tired, worn down, like he could sleep for a week. He looked a hell of a lot better than he had though.

"So how'd it go?" She asked after a moment.

"How's what go?" he asked over his cup.

"You're not date with Rogers."

Tony rolled his eyes, "Please don't call it that. You're picking up bad habits from Pepper."

"This is what happens when I'm without some sort of military institution. I turn into a punk."

"Pepper's hardly a punk. Hellrung though, you've got to watch out for him." He set his cup down, looking at that crumpled up napkin again, "So what, the Marines won't take you back?"

"The Marines hardly stand up to SHIELD," Maria said with something of a huff.

"Oh, I get it," Tony leaned back in the chair, looking almost smug. "You're bored."

"Yeah. I haven't shot anything in weeks," she replied in a deadpan.

"Well you know, I've got this armor laying around..."

Maria rolled her eyes, "I think I'm good. And you're avoiding the subject."

"Now you're picking up bad habits from Samson."


Tony sighed. He looked frustrated that he couldn't talk his way out of the subject.

"I came out to him."

Maria stared for a moment, then laughed, "Are you serious?"

He scowled at her, "It's not funny."

"Oh, I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing because Potts will be so relieved."

Tony threw a hand in the air, "What? Are you all trying to play matchmaker or something?"

"I'm not. She is."

Tony glared some more, looking like he was trying to decide if he should be angry or embarrassed. He seemed to settle for a moment, "It wasn't on purpose."

"So you accidentally came out to him?"

"Yeah...we were talking about my turtle."

Maria stared a moment, "Is that code for something?"

"Yes. It's code of a pathetically traumatic childhood event." He stood up, taking his empty cup with him, "You should get a hobby."

"A hobby?" Maria raised an eyebrow, standing as well, "Like what?"

"I don't know," Tony headed towards the trash, dumped his cup and the used napkin, then started for the door, hands in his pockets. "Knitting? I hear knitting's cool again."

Maria stopped, hand right above the trash. She looked at him, not amused, "Knitting will never be cool."

Tony laughed, "I'm serious. Maybe you and Rhodey could go to the gun range on Tuesdays or something."

Maria shook her head, "Now who's trying to play matchmaker."

Tony shrugged, opening the door for her, "You two have a lot in common. You both like hitting things, you've both put up with my crap..."

"Well if that's the criteria, why not try to hook me up with Cabe?"

Tony paused, a grin slowly forming on his face and looking just a little like he was daydreaming. Maria rolled her eyes and walked out to the street.

"Are you not telling me something, Miss Hill?" he asked once he had come back to his senses, buttoning up his coat.

"Yeah. I fucking hate knitting."

Tony laughed again. He was actually smiling. That was something at least, she decided, even if it was caused by mental imagines of herself and Bethany in bed.


Tony's first visit to the Council's headquarters wasn't too terrible. The reporters had been expected, though as he found out, not entirely prepared for as they crowded around the entrance, apparently having set up a permanent encampment to keep watch on everything the people inside were doing. He had walked past them quickly, saying nothing and hoping they wouldn't make a story out of it.

He had been talking with Hank about the database and his possible plans for a computer system and they were finally meeting face to face to talk about it after a week of over the phone conversations. Tony's head was killing him and he knew it was the start of a migraine, but he couldn't miss this meeting. It lasted about an hour before he was certain that Hank just took pity on him and said he'd look at the plans in between hearings and that he should go get some sleep.

Tony stepped out into the wide, marble-floored hallway and felt the fluorescent lights stab into this eyes. He fumbled blindly in his coat pocket for his sunglasses.


Tony jumped and turned, eyes shooting open though he immediately regretted it. He had briefly seen the overexposed image of a tall blond man before his eyes crossed and he closed them again.

"Hey, Steve."

"You all right?" Tony felt him place a hand on his shoulder.

"I will be," Tony finally found his sunglasses and put them on. He turned to Steve and opened his eyes some, though he was still squinting under the dark lenses. He gave him a quick smile, "Where'd you come from? A meeting?"

Steve nodded, "Yeah, with some senators. You sure you're all right?"

Tony waved a hand, "Just a headache."

"Right..." Steve didn't sound convinced. "You...had the meeting with Hank?"

"Yeah. He told you about that?"

"He...yeah, something like that. He just sort of...talks sometimes."

Tony laughed, though the sound made his head hurt, "Yeah, technobabble. Him, Reed, and I are real good at that."

"Yeah," Steve rubbed the back of his neck. He looked Tony over a minute, eyebrow going up, "Where are you headed next?"

"Uh...well, home," Tony squeezed his eyes shut, "though Pepper's office might be safer for now."

"Safer?" Steve sounded worried.

"Well, until I can see straight again," Tony clarified. He didn't want to worry Steve.

"I can drive you."

Tony's eyes opened and he looked at Steve, "You know how to drive a car?"

Steve gave him an unamused look, "Just because I don't drive one does mean I don't know how."

Tony smirked, "Yeah, all right."

He looked back towards the doors. He could see the reporters outside, some of them hanging around the door, some of them giving interviews on live television. He sighed, but didn't even realize it until Steve commented,

"We have a back door."

Tony looked at him, "Why wasn't I told about it?"

Steve shrugged, brow furrowed, "Well, we usually go through the front when we start in the morning or leave at night, but when he go for lunch or something, we go through the back."

"Right. Of course."

Tony rolled his neck some, then gave Steve a nod. The other man started to walk towards the back of the building. Their footsteps reverberated off the stone walls, each one punching Tony's temple. His pace slowed some and he softened his step. Steve continued a moment more, then looked back and saw Tony falling behind and did the same. He put a hand on Tony's back and walked beside him out to the rear parking lot. There were a couple of reporters out back, apparently having gotten wise that this was where everyone left during the day, but not nearly the crowd that was at the front entrance. Tony was practically blind as he walked to his car, but Steve guided him along.

"You're sure you don't just want to go home?" Steve asked once they were in the car.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Tony said with a wave of his hand. He could feel Steve's skeptical look, so he added, "It'll pass."

Steve sat there a moment, then sighed and turned on the car, and then they were on their way through New York traffic. Tony leaned his seat back and shrugged out of his jacket to put it over his eyes. He figured the Extremis would have finished knocking things loose by now, or at the very least the dampening anklet might prevent it from getting to him, but things never seemed to go the way he thought they would these days.

"How'd the meeting go?" Steve asked after a moment, voice low like he wasn't sure if he should speak given Tony's headache.

"All right," Tony adjusted the jacket some so it was just over his eyes so he could talk. "Hank seemed to like the plans, but he had other things going on so he'd look at them more carefully later."

The car came to a stop and Tony assumed they were at a red light, or stuck in traffic, or...just in New York. There was a quiet between them as the dulled city noises made their way into the car and to Tony's aching ears. He didn't make any indication though, because he didn't want Steve to think he couldn't continue the conversation.

"What are you doing tomorrow night?" Steve said almost quickly, as if he wanted to get the question out there before he changed his mind.

Tony thought for a moment. What was he doing tonight? "Nothing. I don't think anyway." He didn't want to add that he hadn't really been able to keep track of the days of the week. But he was pretty sure he didn't have something tomorrow night, whatever day tomorrow was -- Pretty sure it was Thursday.

"Do you want to get dinner? I mean, if you're feeling better."

"Uh," Tony's mind stalled a moment, probably because he didn't really want to think about food at the moment. "Yeah sure."

"Yeah? All right. ...Okay."

They arrived at the Tower a few minutes later. Steve parked the car in the garage and wanted to walk Tony up, but he eventually backed down when he was gently reminded that he was still technically on Council time. He could find his way to his old office with his eyes closed, luckily because that's pretty much what he did. The name 'Anthony E. Stark' had been replaced with 'Virginia Potts-Hogan' on the door after the board had decided that Tony wasn't fit to even serve as Chief Technologist after everything that happened. He knocked and she called him in.

"Oh no," she sounded tired. "Another migraine?"

Tony nodded, shutting the door behind him while rubbing his temple with his free hand.

"Why didn't you go home?" She asked quietly as she dimmed the windows.

"I didn't want to strand Steve on Long Island."

"Steve drove you here?" he could of sworn he heard Pepper perk up.

"Yeah," Tony sighed as he leaned back against the wall and slid down to sit. "We met up at the Council building."

"Oh," Tony could her the pad of her steps as she walked over to him. She sat down next to him, hand on his shoulder, "You...didn't get lunch or anything?"

Tony rolled his eyes under his sunglasses but regretted it because he felt the ice pick in his brain go deeper when he looked up.

"Maria let me in on your little matchmaking scheme, Miss Potts," Tony stated firmly. "No, we did not get--Oh my God."

"What?" Pepper's hand on his shoulder tightened a bit and he heard her shift.

Tony's mouth stood open for a bit, then he spoke, "We're going to dinner tomorrow night." He turned to look at her, "Pepper, I think Steve asked me out."

Pepper looked stunned a moment, then her face positively light up. "Tony!" she said in a loud whisper, still minding his headache. "How could he ask you out and you not know it? Dating is one of your expertise."

"Because it's Steve," Tony shut his eyes again, resting his head in his hands. "It's not exactly who I was expecting it from... Did you talk him into it?"

"No!" Pepper almost sounded offended. "I haven't talk to him since I called him the other day about dinner."

So it was entirely Steve's idea. Maybe it wasn't a date then. Maybe it was just dinner.

"It can't seriously be a date, can it...?" he muttered.

Pepper rubbed his back some, "Well, we'll just have to see, right?"

Tony sighed, but didn't respond, finding that his head hurt for an entirely different reason now.


Tony was sitting on the couch in the apartment by the time Steve got back for the day. He looked unsettled, nervous, but then again Steve wasn't sure he ever looked at home in the apartment, even when he was staying there. Peter was sitting with him and there was some Science Channel show on that just seemed to be showing an explosion from multiple angles. Tony got to his feet when he saw Steve, like he had been surprised. Peter looked over to him as well.

"It's the hardest working man in New York," Peter said with a grin.

Steve laughed some, "Somehow I doubt that." He patted Peter on the shoulder and smiled at Tony, "Let me go change and we can head out."

Tony nodded in response, sitting down again. Steve wondered if he was feeling at all better, because he sure as hell didn't look it. Steve quickly changed out of his suit and into a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a hooded sweatshirt. He came back into the living room to find that Tony didn't look any more comfortable. Steve ran a hand through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck. Maybe this wasn't a good idea.

"Ready?" He asked finally.

Tony hopped up again, "Yeah. Yeah, let's go."

Peter leaned his head back against the couch so he could see Steve, "Where are you going?"

"Dinner," Steve replied simply, heading towards the hall closet to get his coat. He could see Peter's eyebrow go up, but the man didn't comment right away.

"Well, have fun. Bring me a spidey-bag."

Tony snorted, smiling some, "Wouldn't that involve us wrapping the food in webbing and dissolving it so you could suck out the juices?"

"Yep. That's how I did it when I broke my jaw," Peter didn't even miss a beat.

"Okay, and on that note..." Steve said, shaking his head.

They left the apartment, Peter still grinning. The cold had set in early this year and while it was barely autumn, if felt like it was well into winter, especially at night. Steve huffed a breath, a small cloud coming from his mouth with it. He turned to look at Tony and gave him a smile, which Tony returned quickly, then looked at the ground as they walked.

"Are you feeling better?" Steve asked, trying to see if they should be doing this at all.

Tony gave a shrug, "Headache's gone for the most part."

Steve's brow furrowed, "We don't have to do this if you don't want."

Tony looked up and over to him, "It...I'm okay. Hungry, but okay."

Steve smiled and nodded, "Well, the place isn't too far, so don't worry."

Tony gave a quick nod and went back to looking at the ground. The rest of the walk was quiet and they arrived at the diner a couple minutes later.

Tony smirked, "An old fashioned burger joint. Of course."

"Old fashioned," Steve sighed. "This place had just opened up when I started into art school."

Tony just laughed. Steve opened the door for him, grinning. He hadn't heard Tony laugh in a while. The restaurant had a counter area and booths. It was a small place, red and white tiles cover the walls, and the tables were a little less than half full. They found a booth and sat, taking up the old, greasy menus. A black haired waitress came a few minutes later and they ordered drinks, then were left to decide on the menu.

"Everything here is good," Steve offered.

"Everything here looks like it could give you a heart attack within an hour of ingesting it," Tony said with a smirk, looking down at the listings.

"Uh," Steve looked up at him, trying to tell if he was joking. "We can go somewhere else if you want."

Tony grinned, "Are you kidding? I haven't been allowed to eat this kind of food in years."

Steve smiled, the worry leaving him. He settled in, tried to relax in seat. He already knew what he was getting, same thing every time - Classic cheeseburger with the works. Steve set down his menu and looked around the diner. It wasn't busy, the place was never really that busy, which was one of the reasons why he loved it. But the people that were there seemed to be looking at them. Steve still wasn't used to people recognizing him, but everywhere that Tony went people recognized him. He didn't know how the man could do it.

Tony seemed to have decided and set down his menu as well. He gave Steve a smile, then his eyes seemed to drift to over Steve's shoulder and the smile faded.

"What is it?" Steve asked, looking over his shoulder a bit.

Tony sighed. He rested his elbow on the table and pinched the bridge of his nose, "People are scared of me. I can see it. I went out for coffee with Maria the other day and people were avoiding me. They probably would have crossed to the other side the street if they could get through traffic."

Steve frowned. He looked around at the people in the dinner. They looked tense - he hadn't noticed before - and they seemed to be talking quietly to themselves, as if afraid to make too much noise.

Steve sighed and leaned back. He rubbed the back of his neck, "We can take the food back to the apartment if you're uncomfortable."

Tony nodded his head, still rubbing his eyes some, "I'm sorry."

Steve shook his head quickly, "It's fine. It's still dinner whether it's in the restaurant or not."

Tony gave him a humorless smile. He seemed to think for a moment, then "Is this...just dinner?"

The waitress came and gave them their drinks. They each ordered in turn and Steve told her that they were going to have to take the food to go. Steve then thought about what Tony had said.

"What do you want it to be?" he said cautiously.

Tony's brows went up, "I--I don't know. I...was hoping you knew."

Steve couldn't help but laugh some, "I'm...I'm not really sure myself, honestly."

Tony's face became hard to read, "This is just some sort...whim?"

"No!" Steve said quickly, sitting up straighter. "It's not--It's nothing like that! I just--I thought..."

He really didn't know what he had thought. The idea to have dinner with Tony came to him one night while trying to fall asleep and he hadn't been able to shake it for nearly a week. More than anything he wanted to do this for Tony, but there was a part of him that told him it could work.

Steve couldn't find a way to put it into words, "If you don't want to do this--"

"Do you want to do it?" Tony cut him off, giving him a tense look.

"I--" Steve swallowed, meeting his gaze, "I do."

Tony kept his gaze for a moment longer, than shook his head. He laughed, almost sounding bitter. He looked down at the table, but didn't say anything else. The food came, already boxed and ready for them to go. Steve took the boxes and paid for the food. A silence hung over them until they got back to the apartment. The front rooms of the apartment were empty, thankfully - the team might have gone out on patrol. Steve took the food into the kitchen and set it down on the table, then went to get a couple plates, personally not wanting to eat out of the Styrofoam box.

"You want something to drink?" He asked Tony, glancing over at the man.

Tony went to sit at his usual place - it was odd to see him without his laptop, Steve realized - "Just a coke or something."

Steve stopped by the fridge to get to sodas, along with some ketchup and other condiments, before heading to the table. He placed a plate and a can down in front of Tony, then one in front of his own seat, then sat himself. Steve put the burger on his plate, then dumped the fries beside it. Tony opted just to rip the lid of the carryout box off, but squirting some ketchup out onto the plate. Steve started in on his food as Tony opened his coke. He took a sip of his soda and pulled a face.

"What?" Steve raised an eyebrow, wiping his face some with a napkin.

"I don't know," Tony set down his drink. "It tastes weird."

"You want something else?" Steve asked, getting up almost automatically, setting his napkin down. "Water?"

"You don't--" Tony sighed some. "Water would be great, thank you."

He sounded almost embarrassed and Steve was wondering if he was being a little too...ambitious. He went over to the cabinet and got down a glass - he wasn't used to bottled water, even though they had a fridge stocked with them.

"S-Steve," Tony's voice came, sounding strangely weak, almost slurred. "I think I--"

There was as a crash and a thud. Steve whirled around, forgetting about the water. Tony was on the floor, convulsing, his plate having been knocked off the table and his chair tipped over on top of him. Steve ran over to him, tossing the chair aside and moving the table. The only thing he could do was keep things clear.

The convulsions stopped a moment later. Steve rolled him onto his side in the recovery position. He took deep breaths, trying to calm his own nerves. He saw something wet and red on the back of Tony's head and cursed. He got up and grabbed a towel to press against the wound. He knelt beside Tony and put the cloth to his head. Tony came around a moment later, eyes drifting a bit, searching until they found Steve's face.

"Something smells like ketchup," He sounded tired.

Steve frowned. He looked underneath the cloth, then brought it to his nose to sniff it. Relief stirred in him.

"You have ketchup in your hair," Steve answered him.

Tony's face soured, "Fantastic. The cherry on top..."

Steve cleaned up the other man's hair as best he could, "Do you want to move to a bed?"

Tony nodded a little, not meeting Steve's eyes. Steve helped him sit up, then get to his feet. He wrapped an arm around Tony's middle and led him toward the master bedroom. Tony was stiff as he moved, taking small steps. Steve held him the whole way, eventually laying him down on the bed when they arrived. Steve then went to the bath room and grabbed a washcloth for Tony's hair and wet it.

"Here," he handed Tony the cloth.

Tony took it, looking absolutely exhausted. His arm flopped down and he sort of vaguely wiped at the back of his head.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

"For what?" Steve's brow wrinkled. He sat down on the edge of the bed next to him.

"Ruining the...the date in six different ways," Tony still wouldn't meet his eye.

Steve shook his head, "No, Tony, you did nothing of the sort."

Tony didn't answer. Steve left out a deep breath, eyes drifting to the floor.

"Just get some rest, all right?" Steve said finally. "We can talk in the morning."

He looked back up at Tony. His eyes were closed and his breathing was deep, apparently having fallen asleep, the washcloth still pressed against his hair. Steve stood carefully and took the cloth from his hands. He flipped the covers from the other side of the bed onto him, making sure he was tucked in. He let out a deep breath, thinking it would be best from him to try to get some sleep as well.

When Tony woke up, he was hurting all over. He groan as the sunlight pieced his eyelids. He rolled over, but something was off. He opened his eyes. Steve was laying next to him in bed, arm over his eyes-- he was fully clothed, yes, but still. Tony swallowed hard. He sat up, the comforter still wrapped around him like some kind of warm, plush cocoon. So...what happened? They had dinner and then-- he ran a hand through his hair and found it crunchy. Ah yes, ketchup.

Extremis really did not like it when Tony was happy.

Steve stirred and Tony froze. He watched the man with a certain amount of dread. Steve's eyes opened and focused on Tony.

"Morning," he said.

"Hey, uh, soldier," Tony's voice cracked a little bit. "Here I thought you were old fashioned." Maybe the jokes would distract him.

Steve rolled his eyes, "I didn't think you should be left alone."

"Right. Of course," Tony cleared his throat. He looked down and started to memorize the appearance of the comforter.

There was a heavy silence between them - or least it felt heavy to Tony. He was half hoping that Steve had fallen back asleep, but the man eventually sat up.

"Why?" Tony said quietly, not sure if Steve had even heard him.

"Why what?"

"Why do you..." Tony swallowed hard, "Why do you want do this?" He looked up at Steve finally, "Look at me. Look at what happened last night. I'm a mess, Steve. You don't... you don't want that burden."

"Tony..." Steve met his gaze. It was almost unnerving. "I just...I'm worried about you. I don't, I don't want to see you get hurt -- hurt yourself. I just want..." he swallowed, "I want to protect you. And if, if you don't want to do this, that's okay. Just...please, don't lock me out of your life."

Tony felt something come over him. He couldn't place it - relief, shame, gladness? He swallowed hard, looking away from Steve.

"What--" he cleared his throat, almost afraid to ask, "What about Sharon?"

Steve's face darkened, "She won't see me. She's...afraid that she something else to me. I haven't...I've seen her once since I've come back..."

Tony shouldn't have asked. The look on Steve's face was painful and it made him hurt to see him like that.

"I'm sorry," he offered, every bit of it truthful.

Steve shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck, "What about Maria?"

Tony looked at him, "What about Maria?"

"Aren't you...?"

Tony smirked, "No, no, she just...she was there when I needed it. She's a friend. Besides, she's with Rhodey. Or Beth. I haven't decided yet."



There was a silence, as if they were both considering possible exits. Tony was preparing himself, knowing this couldn't possibly work out.

"Look, we don't have to do this," Steve said finally.

"I--" Tony cut himself off. A part of him didn't want to be with Steve, felt that he didn't deserve him after everything Tony had done. But an even larger part of him was screaming yes, you'll never get this chance again, you never thought this would happen, you deserve to be happy. He cleared his throat again, nodding a bit, "I do. I want to do this."

Steve gave him a soft smile, "Then let's."