Disclaimer: Don't own them. Not getting paid for this.
Summary: Steve experiences a moment of doubt about his whole life. Tony not-rushes to not-rescue him from melancholia, not-exposing himself to some of his own demons. Implied Stony slash.
Warnings: implied slash, symptoms of songfic (U2's inimitable The Hands That Built America; familiarity with this song is helpful in understanding parts of this story), alcoholism
A/N: Side-story/sequel to Still Learning, but you don't need to read that one to understand this. This is the moody, angsty story about Steve that Still Learning turned out to not be. Except maybe it's not all that angsty. Expect Stony non-fluff.
xLive With Your Dreams
There's a hand on his shoulder.
Steve flinches and looks up. Tony is watching him expectantly.
Steve is surprised for a moment, then he realizes what must have happened, and pulls the tiny buds of headphones out of his ears. "Sorry," he mutters. A tap of his finger on top of the tablet pauses the music.
Tony tilts his head to the side. This means that he is mentally working on a problem, but one that is neither too difficult nor too life-threatening. It is an expression Steve sees every once in a while. He is glad for it. Tony like this, with his head curiously tilted, is relaxed, open, with his walls briefly down.
"If I needed you I would have popped the summons straight onto your screen," Tony assures him sincerely.
The fact that people now send messages via the internet or text on their phones rather than walk a few yards and actually meet each other bewilders and saddens Steve at the same time. He and Tony could be in adjacent rooms, and yet the nearest distance between them would be through communication technology. It's one more quirk of this new age Steve has been accustoming himself to – is still accustoming himself to, in fact. Still learning.
Technology turning miracles and magic into everyday chores makes him pity today's people even more than they are inclined to pity him when they realize what going to sleep and waking up seventy years later means for him. People are closer to their mobile phones than to their families. They spend more time with computers than with friends. Steve understands a lot, but he will never understand this. He's lost everyone he loved, everyone he knew, and no amount of artificial intelligence could ever replace what few genuine relationships he has managed to form.
"You've put that song on repeat twenty minutes ago," Tony points out, implying any number of questions.
Steve looks into his lover's eyes. The shadows there are ever-present, but today they seem lighter, not quite as overwhelming as they can sometimes become. Steve is glad for this.
"I…" Steve momentarily hesitates, searching for the right words. "It makes me think. I don't entirely understand what they are saying, but I somehow feel as though I agree with everything anyway."
Tony presses his lips together, and a few seconds later throws himself onto the couch next to Steve. He steals one of the bean-sized earphones, sticks them into his ear and leans his cheek onto Steve's shoulder, so that Steve can comfortably listen along through the second earphone.
"From the beginning," Tony demands.
Steve awkwardly – since Tony's blocking his right arm – double-taps the screen.
Three seconds into the song Tony shifts. Steve looks down. There is a non-expression of Tony's face that lasts until a good half of the first verse has passed, before the man forces himself to relax again and continues listening.
Sometime during the second chorus Steve rests his forehead against Tony's crown. "You don't have to-"
"No, let me listen!" Tony orders.
Steve hums in accord and complies. Something about the song makes him feel as if someone were strumming his heartstrings.
Tony feels quite differently. The line 'of all of the promises, is this the one we could keep?' makes him shift again. There are hints of self-hatred, not buried under arrogance and narcissism because there is no one to see them except Steve.
This is about the history of Stark Industries and the mass-production of weaponry, Steve is almost sure. Tony, as a perfectionist, is hundred times harder on himself than on anyone else, and he doesn't forgive easily. Or at all. Even though it wasn't his fault, inasmuch as he wasn't aware what was happening and how he was aiding it, he feels he should have known.
Maybe he should have.
Steve suspects that he would have loathed that Tony Stark, and is guiltily grateful for the torment Tony went through to become this responsible, involved man with (perhaps unhealthily) deep-rooted sense of accountability.
Even if his problem-solving often consists of throwing money at a problem. Steve's ambivalent about this issue, but since Tony has so much money that his strategy works, he doesn't say anything about it.
The song ends. The next one starts, but Tony pauses the music again, throws the earphone he has appropriated into Steve's lap, and pulls away. He leans back, hands behind his neck, mouth slightly open in another sign of contemplation, this time a more serious one than before.
"It's practically an ode to you," he grumbles. "No wonder you like it."
Steve shakes his head. If Tony actually thought that, he might have felt injured, but this way the words are just pointless noise. Their only function is to allow Tony some emotional distance.
"Okay," Tony continues in the same vein, "maybe not you. Your folks, my old man, that doctor person of yours…"
It's all dissociation, Steve deduces. Tony knows a lot about Steve's parents. He knows nearly everything about Howard Stark, and has managed to rise above and grow out of anything he may have felt for the man that limited him. He has read Dr Erskine's biography and what little remains of his research notes. So the excessive slang and casualty is just deflection.
Steve only has to wait it out. If that does not work, he will pour Tony a shot. As many shots as the man will need.
Because, as much as Steve is opposed to drugs and alcoholism, to addiction and systematic poisoning of the body, he understands that Tony suffers and there is no cure, and this is a legitimate method of alleviating some of his pain. If he has to choose between seeing Tony hurting and seeing him harming himself in the long run… It's still Tony's choice. As he has once told Steve, chances are poor for them to survive very long, anyway.
"You do realize that they wrote it to get to people so they would sell more copies?" Tony inquires.
That is a very mercenary opinion, and probably not entirely correct, but it's still valid. Music would not sell well if the customers didn't approve of what it was expressing.
"That doesn't mean they aren't right," Steve objects.
"No, it doesn't," Tony admits. "On the other hand, even if they were right, it's still just a song. This is real, Cap. Getting blasted out of the sky by some fucker trying to take over the planet is real. Being bruised black and blue for trying to save some civvie sheep is real. Me and you, we know what life is about, and what it takes to make sure it doesn't stop. These-" he grabs Steve's wrists, "-are the hands that make sure America's still on the fucking map. Got it?"
Steve swallows, staring at his hands in Tony's grip. They're perfectly normal – just a pair of calloused male hands. He really needs them, but in the end, it's not in the hands.
He would say something philosophical about hearts and minds, but Tony would laugh at him. Steve is beginning to feel just how trite the rhetoric is. It would depress him, were it not for the fact that he regularly faces threats to humanity and humankind, and the humans are still here. To allow himself some of that triteness, he decides that it's not any particular part that matters, but the whole.
The whole of himself, of Tony, the whole of the Avengers and of the S.H.I.E.L.D..
Tony smirks. "Oh my love, there's a long way we've come."
Steve's heart attempts to hammer its way out of his chest. It's… It's not like Tony has actually declared anything, he has merely been quoting the song in a somewhat mocking way, but it nonetheless seems like he has used the medium of the song to address Steve.
It might be a mistaken impression, but it still feels like a huge moment to Steve. It takes him a few seconds to unlock his vocal chords and get out the words: "There is."