A/N: The title was inspired by the song Lullaby by Nickleback, but the story itself wasn't really effected at all. My first Stony fic. I hope you like it!
Reviews are love.
The first two months were the worst. It was PTSD and memories and regrets. It was eating food he didn't recognize, looking out a window to a city he didn't know even though it was just down the street from his old place, sitting on the stoop and watching the people pass by - the women in their pant suits and short skirts, their bikini tops and short hair; the men in pants called jeans, holes throughout their clothes like they were all worn out. It was seeing the diversity and thinking of his team. It was trying to get used to people talking to themselves as they walked around, small devices pressed to their ears and held in their hands - no one making eye contact with anyone they passed. It was busy and moving and full of lights and sounds and monitors and colors and cars and helicopters and buildings taller than he could have imagined.
It was months of feeling small that would never really go away. He was larger than he'd ever been in his life, but he felt small all over again. The world was infuriating. No amount of cool metal or industrial steel should make a man feel so tiny.
He had a month where he thought he would be okay, he would finally move on a little and begin to integrate. It was a month of learning things like the click of a keyboard and wired circuitry of computers and the flimsy, slim credit cards. How did one use the trains? What about ordering food? How could he contact people? How did he activate the television in his apartment? He was beginning to learn, to adapt as usual. The memories and guilt wouldn't leave him at night, but at least he had things to occupy him during the day.
Then there was the day when Fury, the man with the eye patch who had sat him down and explained his situation, came by with the project - the Avengers Initiative. Fury put it on his table and left with few words exchanged. Somehow he'd known Steve wouldn't need to be convinced.
The first page was Loki, three different images. The page listed statistics and a known history. His psych evaluation glared out, insane and homicidal. Extremely Dangerous. The next section was the glowing, blue cube, blurred in the photo as though it wouldn't sit still. It stood out clear to Steve, who was used to much fuzzier images. He recognized it instantly, anyway. He cursed when he saw it. They'd really found it. Fury had said as much, but he had hoped they were mistaken. Steve hated weapons. He'd lost everything because of this alien cube. It had already caused so much destruction.
He was prepared to tell Fury he wouldn't help, that he didn't trust men who used the cube... but by luck he turned the page once more. The familiar name was stamped across the page like a beacon, a friend calming him down. It was big and capitalized and sitting atop a tower in the middle of New York.
Anthony Edward Stark. His documents ran ten pages - a detailed list of his life as Ironman as far as the public knew and a summary of his life otherwise. Steve's chest palpitated achingly as he soaked up every line. There was still a Stark. He was Howard's son. Howard. Howard Stark. Maybe Steven hadn't lost everything after all. Maybe he'd find some piece of his friend passed down into his son. Maybe Howard was still out there somewhere, sitting as an old man in a chair somewhere in upstate New York, retired and married.
Page 4. A car crash. March 15th. Howard and Maria Stark confirmed dead, leaving seventeen year old Anthony Stark an orphan just three weeks after his graduation from M.I.T. Howard was dead. And this man, this Tony Stark, was all that was left of the great Stark legacy.
Steve shook his head. He would make this work, would join the Avengers and meet the new Stark. He would meet him and they could talk... about Howard. Steve knew he was grasping at straws, but he wanted some proof that he hadn't been entirely left behind. He wanted some connection to that life. Just one comfort - something to ease the night.
And then the meeting... and Anthony Stark was anything but what Steve had wanted. Steve had read the psych evaluation on Tony, had known to expect stubborn and cocky and annoying and a loner attitude. He should have listened. It wouldn't have been such a letdown. But it wasn't just that Tony didn't act like Howard, didn't jump at the sight of Steve. It was also... Tony just wasn't Howard. He wasn't. He was brash and rude and crude, and he didn't like 'Captain America' from their first meeting. He wasn't Howard, and he didn't bring Howard up. Tony was just another man in a century Steve didn't understand. He wouldn't be that solace Steve wanted.
And yet... after the battles were over, Steve found himself thinking of the last moments... of Tony falling out of the sky, of his chest piece with no light. His heart would speed up when he thought of it, thought of the hard metal between his hand and Tony's heart, thought of what would have happened without the Hulk there. Tony had made the sacrifice call, just like Steve said he'd never do. Tony had gone and disobeyed Steve again, and he'd nearly died. The moment when those eyes opened and that chest circle had flared to life, that was the most relieving moment of Steve's life in this not-his-century.
Tony wasn't Howard, but he was there and physical. He was fiery and fit and an inch shorter than his father. Tony was impetuous and impatient and intelligent beyond belief. Steve was so thankful that the last Stark had survived to live another day with them. He couldn't imagine a world without a Stark, especially this new one, this Tony. But inside, Steve still ached to hear of Howard's life, of how the world treated a brilliant man like Howard in his final years. Tony knew those answers better than anyone. He still had a connection to that past. He still had the memories. Steve didn't want to stress the younger Stark, but Tony was still the only familiar thing in the world.
A week after the Loki incident, Thor had gone home. Bruce said he was heading for Africa, but had only told Tony. Unfortunately, Steve could hear farther than most people now. Two weeks after, Clint and Natasha had jumped on the boat back to base to rest and resume their work. Tony had gone home to work on his tower... and Steve had been assigned to move into it. Tony had told Fury it would happen over his dead body, which Fury reminded him had almost happened.
Steve was quiet the first two days. He sat on the steps in the tower's living room and watched Tony work, watched him hammer floors and walls and fly around fixing the street below as well as reform the lettering on the roof. Steve watched him load up on coffee and a strange green mixture he said was for an illness he was still fighting off the last vestiges of. Steve lent a hand when it was needed and had Tony explain the big words and the references during conversations. Tony only complained about it every five minutes or so, but he never kicked Steve out. He just continued to ramble about life to his unwavering audience.
On the third day, Tony lost himself somewhere. Steve found him on the roof with six cases of beer, three of them empty. At first, Steve was angry. There was yelling on both sides. Tony called him a golden boy, the perfect little soldier, and everyone's puppet. Steve called Tony a drunk and an alcoholic. But when the screaming had been lost in the wind, Steve hefted Tony off the floor and helped him down the many stairs to bed, leaving the remaining three cases on the roof. Steve didn't tell Tony how he'd watched his own father disappear into a cloud of bar smoke and vodka. Tony didn't tell Steve why he was drinking. Neither asked.
Everything was dark that night. No lights were on in the hallways or in Tony's room. Only the glow of the arc reactor through Tony's shirt gave any light. It ran strong even when Tony ran low and helped Steve guide Tony through the tower and to bed. Steve heard Tony give off a short sob, but there were no tears and Tony made no more sounds. As Steve went to his own bed that night, he dragged his hand along the curved walls, dragged his feet down the wide stairs, and almost wished he could get lost in that bar smoke too... just for a day. Before he got to his room, he shook the thought away. He couldn't lose himself to guilt and regret and nightmares. Drinking wouldn't find him a safe haven in this new time.
One month in, Tony bought a cake and gave it to Steve for his birthday. He said it was also their one month anniversary, and it mattered because only Pepper had been able to stand him for that long. It was a vanilla cake with bright red frosting all over it. On the top was a big white star outlined in blue. It reminded Steve of his star, but it looked a lot like the chest plate on Tony's armor too. Steve thanked him for the treat, said it reminded him of his mother when he was young, and made the mistake of asking how Tony celebrated his birthdays growing up. The walls went up. Steve could see it, the same expression as when he had wrongly spat at Tony and called him useless without his suit. Seeing the walls now, when he was trying to be friendly, hurt Steve more than he could have imagined.
Tony shrugged and joked the question away. Steve ate his cake alone. Suddenly the vanilla didn't taste as sweet, and every hit of the fork on the plate echoed too loudly.
Later on, after the fall of night, Steve heard the beep of Jarvis, but no warnings or updates. Then he heard a crash over the speakers. Before he could even ask where the noise had come from, Jarvis opened the elevator. It took Steve to the top floor, to Tony's lab. When the doors opened, Steve saw half the lab coated in liquid and glass, which crunched under Steve's feet as he entered. Tony was in the middle of it like a veteran, metal bat in his fist.
"This," he said. "This is the new nanotech Bruce promised we'll work on when he comes to play with my toys." He didn't sound like he was talking to Steve. Then the bat swung down and took out the display. It sparked and whined and sent Steve into thoughts of exploding bases. "And this is where I designed the Mach VII." A piece of tech flew faster than any baseball struck in Dodger's Stadium, and the crack brought Steve home from his memories. Tony aimed straight down at the counter with his next swing.
Before Tony could break the surface to pieces, Steve was beside him, grabbing the cold club and keeping it from moving. Tony ripped it back and swung at him, and at first Steve thought Tony was drunk again, but there were no bottles for alcohol in the area. Tony's eyes didn't seem clouded. He just looked disillusioned.
There were more tries to slug Steve with the bat, several that came so close to his face that he felt the wind and a few that clipped his shirt, before Tony slipped on the glass enough for Steve to get behind him. He pinned Tony against his body with the bat with such force that he heard a crack as the arc reactor connected with the metal. Tony let out a startled gasp and froze.
"Tony," Steve said and lowered the bat below the device.
"That would be the easiest way to off me," Tony joked, but he sounded so sour.
"You've been drinking?" Steve asked.
"Albums," Tony answered. "There's only one of them... in seventeen years. There's only one. And the only person in it is me."
Tony stopped trying to stand, and Steve dropped the bat to hold the other man as they fell to the ground. He could only see the back of Tony's head, but he didn't need to see the expression on his face. It would be blank and gone, maybe even calm and uncaring... but he could feel the vibration of the reactor too.
"I made that album," Tony muttered. "No one else saw it, you know? It was in the main living room, on the bookshelf, but it was never taken off the shelf. I tracked the dust. Not once in ten years did he take it off the shelf."
Steve hesitated, loosening his grip hesitantly. "Howard?" he asked.
Tony shoved out of his arms and kicked glass out of the way so he could sit on the floor against the counter. He snorted and shrugged. "Man, I can't even look at you. Are you only here because the Cyclops assigned you here? Has it crossed your mind that this isn't a war, Cap? This is life, and you're going to have to get used to it - make your own decisions, damn it."
"I chose to come here," Steve said. He'd chosen most of his targets in the war too, but this was different. This was Tony, where Tony lived, and this was where Tony worked and thrived. Why would Tony destroy it? Why would he shatter his plans with Bruce? Because Howard never saw a photo album?
Tony was scoffing and pushing more glass away with his feet, eyes diverted to other places, never looking forward at Steve. In the uncaring expression on Tony's face, Steve saw everything he hated reflected back at him. It was all the loneliness and repressed anger of the first two months in this new time. It was the facade Steve had mastered, the look that said he didn't care about what was happening around him, he could deal with it, but inside he was screaming. It was the facade he'd mastered... until he met Tony. Tony had mastered a level of this fake complacency so high that even Tony was convinced of his disinterest. Steve's mask had shattered when he met the new Stark and had butted heads with him. Tony had broken that barrier with an unimpressed glance in Steve's direction.
"About your father," Steve began.
Tony's fist was a surprise, but not entirely unexpected. Tony wasn't a super human, but his punch knocked Steve back regardless, and he fell into the opposite counter. The physical sting didn't last long, but the emotional feeling kept Steve quiet for a moment longer. He looked into Tony's eyes, suddenly clear but angry. They weren't narrowed or glaring, but the emotion on his face screamed that he hated the conversation. Steve set his jaw.
"I miss him too," he said.
Steve missed a lot about his old life, especially the war, where he had felt useful for the first time in his life. He'd felt strong and smart and valuable. He saw Tony right now, in this moment, and he saw how he used to feel - weak and not good enough... never to be good enough... and he wondered how a Stark, especially someone like Tony Stark, could ever feel frail and inadequate. How could someone as smart and proud and pompous as Anthony Edward Stark ever feel worthless?
And it hit him in his heart when he saw it - the longing no one in the world could fix, the longing Steve knew as well. For Steve, it had been a longing to make someone, anyone understand his worth outside of Bucky. For Tony, it was the longing to hear a father's praise, to make him proud. For the first time since he woke up, Steve realized that his return to the world had not only shaken his own world but had changed other lives as well, had upset Tony's mind. Steve being around reminded Tony of his father just as Tony reminded Steve. Steve was not the only one who'd lost that man, who'd lost everything in the blink of an eye.
There were no tears following Tony's outburst. There were no gentle words. They sat in silence for a long time, nudging the shattered glass around them with the sides of their shoes sometimes until it was in a small pile between them. The scratching, clinking noises were almost like a wind chime. It would take much more to fix the lab, but this was how they passed the time for nearly half an hour. After their reflective snow was made, Tony broke the silence.
"My dad," he started and stopped. He let out a heavy breath, eyes on the glass pile, and then matched his gaze with Steve's. "He talked about you all the time. I mean, seriously. He praised you every chance he had, and he always wondered where you were. Not for once second did he doubt you were alive somewhere. It made holidays kind of numbing for me, if I'm honest... and I usually am."
"Sorry," Steve muttered, unsure how to answer that. "I wish I could say he did the same about you, but you weren't even thought of yet when I... I'm sure he was proud, though. I read-"
"Yeah. Yeah. You read my file," Tony quipped, cutting him off. He looked away toward the elevator, as though he expected company.
Steve pressed his mouth securely closed and wished there was some way to make Tony feel better. "You remind me of him a lot, you know. Before the serum, I saw his inventions and I was blown away. He had such charisma and vision. When I went in for my procedure, I didn't even know he was involved. I heard them say 'Mr. Stark', and my heart nearly stopped from all the stress. Knowing your father was working on the project too helped me relax, though. Between him and Dr. Erskine, I knew I could go through with it."
"Yeah. Yep. He was a real inspiration, my old man," Tony agreed and let out a soft sigh. At least this sigh didn't carry the burden of an entire childhood with it. "He used to tell me how brave you were. He said you didn't even flinch when they stuck the needles in. Said you were a scrawny bastard but you didn't look half as nervous as he felt going into it."
"Howard? Nervous?" Steve asked, a smile playing with his lips. Tony couldn't help but cough out a chuckle and grin too.
"That's what I said."
Ice broken, Steve felt his heart truly calm down for the first time in months. For four hours, they sat there. Tony leaned his back on one counter, Steve with his on the adjacent one and both sitting on the floor. They smiled, laughed, frowned, nearly cried. They talked, whispered and yelled stories about the old man they both knew until Jarvis alerted Tony of daybreak. Tony shook his head and started in on a story about Howard hating it when Tony worked all night on a project. It was easy to pick Tony off the floor and lead him to the elevator. The man was ranting out this story and somehow still on his feet despite looking well beyond his limit. Steve took Tony to his bed, where he let the other man drop none-too-gracefully onto the bed. He was crushing the pillows and on half of the blankets, but he looked at least a little comfortable.
Tony said something near the end of his story about Howard's love for cheese and had Steve chuckling. Then Steve started in on telling Tony about Howard and fondue. He was only a few words in when Tony's eyes shut, but Steve kept talking. Halfway done, Tony smiled. His lips opened and his 'thanks' was almost lost under Steve's tale. When Steve asked why, Tony just shrugged and mumbled something about a lullaby. Steve thought about finishing his story, but Tony had fallen to sleep. Steve pulled the other half of the blankets over him, hand lingering on the other's bare shoulder a moment longer than necessary, and he thought again about the differences in times.
During the war, he had Peggy and Bucky and Howard. Now he had Tony and the Avengers. Yeah. Tony and the Avengers sounded right. Maybe it was because he was a Stark, but Tony's shining heart made him stand out among the others in more ways than one. Steve touched his fingertips to that glowing circle through Tony's shirt and let the small vibration take him away.
In the past, the only thing that let off a glow like this was Hydra's weapons. Steve suspected the reactor ran on something similar... and yet he didn't find himself nervous about the implications. If Tony had figured out how to harness something so powerful in this manner... well it was the best thing Steve could think of to use it for.
Steve fell asleep on the couch that morning, staring out the window and thinking about the buildings, the city, the crime, the fashion, the mindset and manners... he thought of them, how they had all become so alien, and he thought of Tony, a man who seemed to be at the top of every pop-culture list or was friends with whoever had beaten him and personified many of the changes to the society Steve had known. How was someone so different, so crass and impetuous, also so easy to talk to, to learn from, and to forgive.
When Steve finally fell asleep he dreamed of nothing, though he'd expected a dream of war or the people he'd lost. He expected it to be the same as every night since he'd gotten here, but instead he slept in a peaceful darkness.
Waking up three hours later, he found Tony sitting across from him, tinkering with part of a machine he'd busted in the lab a couple hours prior. He acted like nothing had happened, like he hadn't lost it last night and they hadn't talked so much. After lunch, Tony got ready to head over to Stark Enterprises, reminding Steve that not everyone could sit and watch people work.
Before he left, though, Tony stopped next to Steve and looked between the phone in his hands and the door, as though looking for a distraction. He took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders, and then asked in a very quiet voice if Steve would mind a repeat of last night - sans destruction. Steve agreed, knowing he'd always welcome hearing Tony rant about the past, or maybe even the future. Tony smiled then and shrugged again.
"Not that I like you, Cap," he clarified. "You just seem to help me sleep."
Steve smiled in return and watched Tony go out the door. He kept smiling as he found the TV remote and settled down to watch the news and learn more about the modern world. He smiled because of Tony. They had helped each other get a few hours of peaceful rest somehow. Tony reminded Steve of the past and present all at once, reminded him of what he'd lost and showed him what he'd gained. ... and under all his pomp and circumstance, Tony was just like Steve. He was a little bit lost and looking for something to believe in. Steve smiled despite the terrible morning reports because maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have to deal with nightmares anymore. Maybe he'd found someone to relate to, to confide in. Maybe he'd found his very own future century lullaby.
Steve liked the sound of that. It drowned out all the bad morning broadcasts.