Here we have the final conversation. I tried to keep it as in character as possible. Hopefully I succeeded at least a little, and hopefully you all enjoy it.
Chapter warnings: same as the first. Also, at a point I guessed a bit at Steve's height pre-serum. I have no idea what it actually was, but I'm saying about 5-4 or 5-5. Short.
Chapter 3 of 3
If Steve thought Tony was driving a little too fast (okay, way too fast), he held his tongue. There was no talking while the car wove through the city traffic. Once they hit the city limits and got on the open highway, Tony gunned the engine, and they were flying. Steve had to remind himself to breathe, that Tony was neither suicidal nor aiming to kill Captain America in a fiery car crash. He still jumped when a cell phone landed in his lap.
"Tell them they can take off," Tony said. "We're driving to New York."
Steve fiddled with the phone, which was far more advanced than the one they had given him. He considered pulling out his own phone, then recalled that he had not actually brought it along to the benefit, choosing instead to leave it in the car. The other car.
Finally Tony pulled over and took the cell from him. He never actually spoke, so Steve figured he texted the message to Pepper. The phone disappeared, and the car was moving so fast Steve thought they would launch into the air. If it had wings, they probably would, and with Tony's engineering prowess, he might just be able to make it happen.
They drove about seventy miles in silence. It was something of a miracle that they didn't get pulled over since they did that distance in about forty-five minutes. It was late, and Steve would have worried about the hour, but he did not need much sleep and he had it on good authority that Tony was an insomniac. The glow of the dash on Tony's face showed he was not going to drift off anytime soon. His eyes were focused, sleep far from his thoughts.
Although Steve had been worried that he would have to force the issue, ultimately, it was Tony who broke the silence. Steve had not known what to expect, but he supposed he should have expected the no-nonsense tone that Tony always used.
"Fury thought you could keep me in line," Tony finally said, as they pushed closer to the Delaware border. "He told me that."
"He told me that too," Steve said, smiling at the memory of a statement that had been so much wishful thinking.
"Yeah? How's that working out for you?"
"Not as well as Fury hoped, I'm sure." After a bit of verbal sparring, Tony and Steve had gotten along well enough. He had learned that there were two ways to keep Tony in line, and neither would make him happy. Neither made Steve happy. Bullying worked until Tony found a way around it, and then it blew up in the face of whoever dared attack him. Subterfuge was another, but when Tony found out—and he always did—he found a way to make that poor sap's life miserable for no less than a month. Frequently longer. Barton had felt the burrs of that one incidentally. Steve never did find out what happened, but Tony had laughed, and then he had rigged Barton's practice bow to burst in a cloud of smelly ink that did not come off for days. There had been more retaliation, later, but that was definitely the most memorable.
"He said you had a real problem with authority," Steve admitted.
"Not true," Tony countered immediately. "Authority is fine. I love being the authority."
"You just don't like people telling you what to do?" Steve guessed. Tony glanced at him briefly, then stared back out the windshield.
"I don't like," he said, paused, and then started again. "I don't…"
Steve could not recall the last time Tony had been caught tongue tied. From the sour look on his companion's face, he was not pleased about it. Emotions warred for dominance through his eyes, until anger finally won.
Anger was not what Steve had been going for. It was a tricky emotion, and never one that came for its own sake. Something else always, always triggered anger. Usually fear or pain.
The past few months of working with Tony had taught Steve a few things. First and foremost, he should never think he could anticipate Stark's next move. The man had more than a few screws loose, and he reacted to situations in strange, sometimes alarming ways. Honestly, Steve had no idea what an angry Tony Stark was like. He had encountered the man hissing and spitting like an offended cat, but that had been when both were off balance and not altogether willing to understand each other. Hell, Steve was pretty sure Tony was still sitting back with his claws just hidden, waiting until Steve said something stupid. He just hoped that Tony did not choose this as the time to lash out.
He was—for better or worse—about to find out.
"I didn't go to normal schools, you know," he declared. "Even private schools. They tried, I caused problems, and they put me in a specialized boarding school. You know, the kind where only the ultra-rich can get in. It's how I made it to college by the time I was fourteen."
Steve watched, always fascinated by how animated Tony was. Even with both hands on the wheel, the man had an air about him that just screamed look at me! Pay attention. To me. Steve was paying attention.
"Dad made me go," Tony said. "And I went because he smiled when I agreed to do it. But I was bored at the pace, and thousand-dollar-an-hour psychiatrists thought the Stark kid was developmentally stunted, so—surprise!—play dates for a sixteen-year-old with some eighteen-year-old dumb jock son of a rising star politician."
Tony laughed, but he did not sound amused. Steve winced at the brittle edge to the sound.
"We hated each other from the start," Tony continued. "You know, he was just as big then as he is now, and I had yet to get over 5-6."
Steve had seen Tony's shoes. The man wore lifts even now. But in the mansion, when he wandered around the place barefooted, he was still quite small. Come to think on it, Tony was probably not all that much taller than Steve had been pre-serum. Three or four inches maybe. Which still put Tony Stark as a relatively short man.
"The pretense was that I would help him pass his math class. Which, as you might have figured, meant I did his homework and helped him cheat on his exams."
The words sent something strange through Steve's chest. At one point he would have felt disapproval, but he had seen Tony's reaction to Roland. Assisting the man in cheating on his exams was not something Tony would have done out of some misplaced sense of camaraderie.
"I should have told the bastard no, right?" Tony asked. Steve did not say anything. He had since learned it was better to reserve judgment with this man. Whenever Stark was involved, there were usually seven different sides to a story.
Besides. It was at about that moment that something loud occurred a very short distance from them, and smoke suddenly billowed out from beneath the hood of the car. Steve grabbed at the door when the vehicle swerved, tires screeching against pavement, and suddenly they were stopped at the side of the road. Alarmed, but realizing Tony had been in complete control of the car the entire time, Steve glanced over at the billionaire.
Tony was still, a dark shadow hunched over the steering wheel. His shoulders shook, and—oh god—was he crying?
There was no relief to be had when there were no tears. Because Tony was laughing, and Steve really did not like the hysteria racing through the giggles.
"Oh my god, Cap," Tony groaned, then chuckled again. "Just shoot me now. Before it gets worse."
"Can you fix it?" Steve asked. It seemed a legitimate question, but Tony looked at him as if he had asked for the moon. "You fixed up my bike once."
"Cap, it's after midnight on a dark highway," Tony said frankly. "The only reason that doesn't intimidate me is because you're here."
The statement was so straightforward and utterly honest that Steve had a hard time processing it. He blinked once, felt something odd and warm tremor in his chest, and decided Tony might deal better if Steve treated it as easily as he had.
"So you can't fix the car?" he asked instead of addressing the shockingly flattering words that had just spewed from Tony's mouth.
"The suit's in the limo. I don't even have a flashlight," he said. "I'm not quite that good, Cap."
"Should we call someone?"
"Pepper might just kill me," Tony muttered. He angled a wry grin at Steve. "I'm thinking we help the local PD feel good about themselves. What do you think? Morning headlines say, Police Rescue Iron Man and Captain America. See page B-11 for full story."
"We could walk," Steve peered into the darkness. It looked like cornfields. "This is farmland. There should be a house somewhere close."
"Then the headline will be Farmer Shoots Iron Man and Captain America in a Tragic Case of Mistaken Identity."
And wasn't that just a charming notion?
"I'll take the police," Steve mumbled.
Tony chuckled and rooted around for his phone.
Steve marked this as the breaking point. The other man's movements became increasingly agitated as he searched for his cell, apparently not finding it.
"Where the hell—?" Tony dug through his own pockets, squirmed in his seat to check that he wasn't sitting on the phone, and cursed again. Steve barely refrained from yelping when Tony abruptly reached into his seat, heedless of the fact that he was pushing against intimate parts that Steve would rather he not touch.
"I'm not sitting on it either!" he protested.
"This car isn't that big!" Tony snarled. "Where the fuck did it go?"
"I don't know!"
"I am! Tony, relax. We'll find it."
"I'm relaxed," Tony snapped. "I'm Zen. I'm fuckin' Buddha. Fuck." He glared at the ceiling of the car. "Fuck."
The instinct was to place a calming hand on Tony's knee. It was the easiest place to reach, and there was nothing like a little human contact to ground a person.
Steve had forgotten. The distraction of the breakdown and the lost phone had made the rest of the evening slip his mind for just a bare second. Just long enough.
He had never felt another person tense up quite so suddenly. Tony went utterly rigid, his breath catching for an instant before going ragged and quick. Steve snatched his hand back. He never would have imagined such a small amount of contact would cause that kind of reaction.
"Tony," he pleaded softly. "Tony, I'm sorry. I didn't think."
By some miracle the lights on the dash still worked, and Steve could see well enough to know that Tony had not moved. His head was back, his eyes open and staring blindly out into the dark. His hands were still somehow anchored to the steering wheel, for all the good it did him. But there was something eerie about his silence, because Tony Stark was never silent. Tony silent meant he was thinking, which could never be good if he did not have his workshop in front of him as an outlet.
"Tony, talk to me," Steve urged.
"He attacked me," Tony said softly. Steve's breath caught, and suddenly he was frozen, just as cold and still as the ocean that had taken him seventy years ago. Tony was talking, and he couldn't tear his eyes away, and he really wished he could. "The house was empty, just him and me, and he… was so damn big. He just held me down on the couch, and I couldn't breathe. It would have hurt so much less if he would have just let me breathe."
Steve understood that part completely. His chest had stopped moving, and he was not sure how to kick it back into motion. To force air into his lungs, which seemed to have forgotten their function.
"Just once," Tony continued, his voice a strange, dull monotone. "It only happened once. But he never let me forget it. Never failed to remind me that he could do it again, anytime he wanted."
When Tony had come up behind him earlier that night, all barbed wire sharp points and snark with Allen, Steve never would have guessed it stemmed from something like this. He never would have looked at Tony and thought, my friend was sexually assaulted as a child.
Now he wasn't sure he would ever get it out of his head.
Tony shoved the door open, stumbling across the street before Steve could get his name out. He left the door hanging, and Steve grimaced at the retching sounds that drifted back into the car.
While earlier experience told Steve to leave Tony the hell alone, concern for his physical well-being drove him out of and around the car. He had to be sure Tony was off the road, out of the way of any traffic that might, per chance, go by at this hour. He saw headlights approaching in the distance even as he crouched beside the man in the gravel—thankfully well off the road.
A little bit of coughing, and Tony seemed to be finished vomiting. There had been very little food and probably too much alcohol (and really, what had Steve been thinking letting this man drive?), so the fit did not last long. Fortunately, the sickness seemed to have knocked loose whatever fear Tony had of physical contact, and the man let Steve help him up and back to the other side of the road.
He propped Tony against the passenger side of the car, not surprised when the man curled over his knees miserably.
A sense of righteous rage had settled in his gut. It was a very good thing they were nowhere near Roland Allen, or Steve might have been tempted to do horrible things to the bastard. Shooting him in the leg was no longer enough. Steve would like to beat the man unconscious, wait for him to wake, and then do it again.
For the first time ever, Captain America wished brutal violence upon another person for no other reason than personal vengeance.
All the more reason it was such a good thing the car had broken down. Steve would never think Tony being sick was a good thing, but it kept him in the present. He forced his mind away from thoughts of Roland's filthy hands on Tony's struggling body. Tony was sick, and he needed help.
"Sorry." Steve blinked, startled both by the apology falling from Tony's lips and the fact that the man thought he needed to do it. Tony rarely apologized for anything, and it usually came off as a flippant, my-PA-made-me-say-it thing. "Just, no one…I didn't… That's the first time…"
"You never told anyone," Steve murmured, deciphering Tony's stilted attempts at explanation.
"Yeah." Tony gave another of those unhappy little chuckles. Steve was really beginning to not like that laugh. "Who would I tell? It would be tabloid fodder in under a week."
"What about Howard?"
"Dad? Are you joking?"
"I wasn't," Steve murmured uneasily, but he let it slide when Tony did not respond. Clearly the Howard Stark Steve had known and the one Tony had known were two very different men. "I'm sorry."
There was a warm pressure against his shoulder, and Steve shifted without thinking, bringing his arm up and around Tony's back. The other man made a low noise which might have been one of protest, but he did not tense up, so Steve just tugged him closer to his side. There was gravel digging into his butt, and the car was hard at his back, but Tony was breathing more easily than he had been since they first reached their table and he saw the names on the place settings.
"Does Senator Allen know?" Because Steve was not above suggesting to Coulson that maybe a certain politician needed a little scandal in his file.
"It was no secret we hated each other," Tony murmured. "He probably just figured his son beat me up."
Hmm. Maybe he would only punch Allen the next time he saw him. Fury would be pissed, but Steve could live with that.
"You know," Tony said, in that muse-aloud way he had, when he spoke and just expected that whoever was near him was listening. "You said I would feel better, but I really just want to hit something now. Seriously. If I was Banner, I would be running rampant and green through the countryside."
"I guess it's a good thing you're not Dr. Banner."
Tony laughed again, and this time it was not such a cringe-worthy sound. It was filled with bone-weary exhaustion, but it was far better than before. Steve kind of wanted to hear it again.
"You know, you do have a light source built in, if you really wanted to fix this car," he said, gambling on Tony's thick skin to accept the joke. He was not sure it worked. The silence that followed the remark was a little long, a little heavy, and he glanced over to see Tony staring at him. The light from the headlights of the car was not quite enough, and all he could tell was that Tony was, in fact, looking directly at him.
"You…" Tony started. "Want me to take off my shirt and use the arc reactor as a flashlight."
"It could work," Steve murmured, a bit helplessly now.
Tony burst into a fit of giggling. Steve sighed, relief flooding in at the sheer amusement rolling out of this man in waves.
"That… That's… Cap, you're something else," Tony managed between giggles. He swiped at his eyes, still chuckling and shaking his head. "Augh, you made me cry. Captain America made me cry!"
"No one saw," Steve said, smiling warmly now. "Maybe we should look for that phone now."
And, because timing was everything this evening, a pair of headlights suddenly lit up the space from behind their broken down car. Just as Tony was tensing up, and they both looked up, blue and red flashed, and there was the ear-splitting whup-whoop of a siren.
"Ah, the boys in blue," Tony remarked. "I bet they'll have a flashlight."
Steve snorted, and there was no stopping the laughter then. He and Tony fell against each other, laughing uncontrollably, and if it was a little hysterical, well they had had a long night.
The police officer was not as amused as they were. He asked them if they had been drinking, and then asked Tony to walk a straight line. By the time Tony proved himself sober enough to pass the test, the officer's partner was back with their IDs and looking completely horrified.
"Jesus Christ, Matt." The man tried to keep his voice down, but Steve could hear him easily. Tony probably could too. "You just made Tony Stark walk a line."
"Are you fuckin' kiddin me?"
"The other guy is Captain Steve Rogers. Man, that's Captain America."
It should not have been so funny, but Steve could hear Tony snickering, and it was just so hard to keep from grinning like an idiot. Fortunately, Tony had an excellent PR face, and he chided the officers until they were all laughing about the ridiculousness of the situation. After he finally dug his phone out from under the passenger seat, Tony led them all to the police cruiser, where he allowed Steve to push him into the back seat without too many complaints.
An hour later found them waiting at a small-town sheriff's department. Tony found the break room, complete with a sink, vending machines and coffee maker. Steve bought a bottle of apple juice from the machine and watched with a severe eye while Tony drank it.
"Mother hen," Tony griped.
"It's better than coffee."
"I'm having that too."
"When did you last sleep?"
"Hardly the point. Do you suppose it's asking too much that these people have a helipad?"
It was. Fortunately, there was an old air strip the local crop dusters used about twelve miles north. Tony spent a good fifteen minutes fending off Pepper's angry concern and arranging for his helicopter to come pick them up. Steve watched him, amused at the broad gesturing and pained pleading of the genius billionaire. No matter what, Tony was always Tony.
Somewhere around four in the morning, they were in the air, heading back to New York. Steve glanced over at his companion, not surprised that Tony had—despite the terrible racket of the helicopter—fallen asleep. He slumped against the harness seatbelt, a position that looked uncomfortable, but Steve let him be. Tony, he had discovered, would sleep anywhere when his body finally gave in and forced it upon him. It was better not to disturb him.
The man must have had some bizarre internal alarm, because he woke just moments before they started their descent. Although awake might be pushing it as a general description. Tony looked like a zombie.
It was strange seeing Tony so unsure of himself. Fake it 'til you make it. Tony had said that once, and Steve thought it was something of a life motto. He strutted about, on top of the world, and hoped no one saw through the chinks in his armor.
Well, Steve was not going to strike at those faults now.
"I won't," he said, looking away so he could pretend not to have seen that relieved look. "But for future reference, Tony. If I ever see that man, I cannot guarantee that I won't break his jaw."
The genuine laughter that followed Steve's heartfelt declaration was the most wonderful thing he had ever heard.
So yes. I went there. But it was a happy ending, yes? I never could go all angst and no cheer.