I feel like I'm always apologizing to my readers lately. First, for my absence, then for getting distracted from my upcoming chapters by one-shots... Anyhow, hopefully you can bear with me. I'll be getting more on "Dark Angel" (NCIS) and "There is Life Outside Your Apartment" out soon, hopefully this weekend. But this story will not let me go. Originally, it came about as part of Antonia Stark's backstory in my Lady Avengers universe, but it began to work even better for me in the movieverse we know. Running around at Dragon*Con as Antonia, with one of my best friends as my Pepper, was profoundly awesome. Stan Lee himself crashed the genderbent Marvel shoot! And he flirted shamelessly with us. Geekgasm for sure!
Rated T for Tony's love of naughty language. :) Also – I do not own the Avengers, Marvel, Jonathan Coulton, Portal, or The Lion King Just getting that out there.
The information in the files was pretty sketchy. Steve Rogers only knew the when and how of his friends' deaths, scattered across the seventy years he'd spent encased in ice. Peggy was still alive, retired, and Steve thus far had been too chicken to visit her. SHIELD had listed her last known address as being located in England, and Steve knew all he had to do was ask and a Stark jet would fly him there. But first he had to gather the courage to do it.
It was easier, visiting graves. No less heartbreaking, but at least he didn't have to explain anything to them. Given his beliefs on the afterlife, Steve figured they probably already had figured it out. Even if he was wrong, there were no tearful eyes to face. Cold, hard stone – nearly all that was left of the life Steve had known.
Howard Stark should have been the easiest to follow, given that Steve and the rest of the Avengers had ended up moving into his son's tower. But Tony was very secretive about anything having to do with his father; other than occasional wisecracks, it was a subject that was Not Discussed. Steve had been able to gather the relationship had been a troubled one, and he knew from doing the math that Tony had only been seventeen when Howard and his wife Maria died in a plane crash. Not nearly enough time to resolve their differences.
Steve hadn't planned it to work out this way. He'd been looking into Howard's death that morning, trying to piece together the details. What little he did know didn't all piece together – and while Steve was no conspiracy theorist, he wanted to know more. Then it had struck him – March fifteenth. The Ides of March, which Tony had been joking about in morbid tones over breakfast. Steve hadn't been able to tell if Tony had gotten an early start on his drinking or was still drunk from the night before. But as his eyes locked on the date of Howard's death – March 15, 1991 – Steve's annoyance at Tony's antics began to give way to sympathy.
There were still things that didn't make sense – missing pieces of the flight log, conflicting information about the hours surrounding the crash. Steve wanted to know more, but he was either going to have to ask Tony or Nick Fury, and neither option was appealing. Tony, Steve didn't want to hurt. Fury, Steve didn't want to deal with. So he ventured outside – and, on a whim, decided if there were any good time to pay his respects to Howard, this might as well be it.
Steve was surprised, but not shocked, to find Tony had beaten him to the gravesite. Tony had flippantly announced a time or two that he'd shed no tears over his father's death, but tough talk covered a lot of old hurts when it came to Tony. Besides, his mother had died that day also – and while Tony rarely mentioned her, he always did so with the utmost reverence. Tony treated almost nothing with reverence, and so Steve had been able to infer that Tony and Maria had been close.
Tony was leaning against the side of Howard's headstone, facing Maria's, when Steve arrived. He cocked a sarcastic eyebrow and looked up. "...the hell, Cap'n? You tracking GPS on me?"
Steve had been in this world long enough to know what GPS was, but he feigned ignorance to cover his awkwardness. "I'm sorry?" He took a step back. "I can go if you'd like to be alone..."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Ah, no, no." He patted the ground next to him. "Go ahead, get comfy. Mom won't mind. She's heard all about you."
Steve considered his options briefly, and sat down on the ground in front of Tony, technically not on either grave. Anything else felt too intrusive. "How are you?" A stupid question, probably, but he was driven to ask and he figured Tony was drunk enough to let it slide.
"Oh, I'm fine," Tony murmured. "Just fucking fine. Bruce, however, is an asshole."
Steve nearly laughed. That was the last term he'd have expected someone to use to describe Bruce Banner. "Come again?"
"That song," Tony groaned. "That fucking song. He downloaded it, the bastard, and it kept popping up in his playlist in the lab."
Steve was afraid to ask, but he did so anyway. "Um, what song?"
"The one," Tony explained, as if it made perfect sense to him – and it probably did. "When you play the game and you finish and the computer sings to you. I could beat that damned game with my eyes closed, and so could Bruce – I don't see why he has to download the song if he wants to hear it."
Steve was officially lost. "Okay." He knew Bruce and Tony enjoyed video games, as did most of the rest of the team, though their tastes varied. But that did nothing to explain what was going on in Tony's head. Steve wasn't too proud to admit it. "I honestly have no idea what you're talking about."
To Steve's surprise, Tony stopped trying to explain and started singing – a little off-key, a lot drunk, but Steve did recognize the song from its frequent play in the lab. "Well, here we are again...it's always such a pleasure. Remember when you tried to kill me twice?"
"Oh, that one." Steve nodded. He wasn't entirely sure how it related, but at least he had some frame of reference now.
Tony didn't acknowledge Steve, his gaze unfocused, as he murmured another line of the song to himself. "Oh, how we laughed and laughed...except I wasn't laughing... Under the circumstances, I've been shockingly nice."
Tony usually explained his tangents eventually, and Steve was inclined to be patient. He chose his words carefully, not wanting Tony to clam up, but also hoping he wouldn't have to sit through Tony's rendition of the entire song before anything else happened. "Okay, I know the song now. You don't like it?"
Tony shrugged. "Didn't really give a shit about it. Kinda cute, little catchy. But then I think. And it was actually three times, technically. That I know of."
Steve was beginning to follow Tony's logic, and that worried him a little. "Tried to kill you three times? I'm gonna guess we're not talking about your father." He knew there had been problems between father and son, but Steve couldn't see Howard actually resorting to murder.
"No." Tony shook his head, then frowned. "Well, yes. Actually...fuck. No, for all the wonderful times he failed as a parent, Dad never tried to kill me. It was the rat bastard. Not Bruce. He's okay, actually, other than the song."
And, once again, Steve was lost, and it was strangely reassuring. "Who tried to kill you?"
Tony scoffed. "You want an alphabetical list?"
Steve could relate, if on a different level. Tony wasn't a soldier in the traditional sense, but he'd fought his fair share of enemies. "Okay, let me speed this along. Who tried to kill you three times?"
"That I know of," Tony repeated, emphatically. "And on the Ides of March, he nearly had me." He put a hand to his face, groaning. "Oh, Stane, you rat bastard."
It took Steve a moment to place the name, but then things began to make sense. He knew Tony had ended up fighting Obadiah Stane – his one-time mentor turned enemy – not long after the original Iron Man was created. And that fight had led to Tony's infamous press conference. "So he tried to kill you on the anniversary of your parents' deaths?" That was pretty low, but Steve had seen greed and ambition turn a lot of people absolutely insane.
Tony rolled his eyes. "No, you idiot, that was the first time. Freezer burn or something?"
Steve sighed. Patience was going to be key. "Enlighten me, then."
"He went all Lion King," Tony said, waving his hands around excitedly. "And it hadn't even come out yet. It was pretty much Hamlet with lions, though, so I guess it's not new. Anyway, what does the guy do when he wants to take over? Kill the king and his little cub, too."
Even though he was still a few steps behind Tony's mental gymnastics, some of the missing pieces Steve had in his own mind began to come together. "You're not saying the crash wasn't an accident?"
"Can't prove it," Tony sighed. "He was too good. I've tried, I've tried. But there were files, and...it's the only thing that makes sense. We're gone; he's king. But he fucked up and didn't kill Simba right the first time."
The conclusions Steve was beginning to reach were uncomfortable, and he hoped he was wrong. "Tony...were you on that plane?"
Tony shook his head. "No, no. Tragic orphan, left behind." He slammed a fist against his open palm. "Fuck you, Stane, you couldn't have left her alone?"
"Your mother?" Steve guessed, knowing this was tender ground.
Tony nodded quickly. "She was a saint, for putting up with him, for putting up with me. She didn't do anything to anyone." He looked away, not meeting Steve's eyes.
Steve nodded, moving slightly closer. "Yeah, my mom died after working in a TB ward." This wasn't about him, but he sensed Tony was getting uncomfortable with the level of emotion and wanted to give him an out.
Tony looked back at Steve. "Really? I thought that was just another of your crazy 'how can I get into the Army, because apparently I don't know how to quit' stories."
Steve shook his head. "Nope, that's what happened." He'd skip the details – the ones he got uncomfortable with – where his mother lived in terror that he'd get the disease from her, that it would destroy his already fragile lungs. Where he could only view his dying mother from a room away.
"Sucks," Tony said quietly.
Steve couldn't argue with him. "Yeah." He took a chance and scooted a few more inches toward Tony. Now he technically was on Howard's grave, but he figured his old friend would understand. "Did you want to talk about your mother?"
Tony's eyes softened, and he wiped a hand over his eyes. "Not now. Maybe later. I just...I can't, I fucking can't." He swallowed hard and was quiet for a long moment. "I just...I was angry. I let it get in the way. Maybe I should have died then...I don't know. Seems like I don't know when to quit either."
Steve shook his head, reaching out to put a hand on Tony's arm. "No. Don't let yourself go there. It's too easy. You lived for a reason. Maybe it was to save Manhattan from that nuke, or maybe it's something even bigger we haven't gotten to yet." He tapped Tony's arc reactor lightly. "That right there tells me you didn't want to quit."
"So says you," Tony muttered, "Captain Perfect."
Steve scoffed. "Believe me, I'm far from that."
"Oh, that's just sickening." Tony rolled his eyes. "He's all like, 'Oh, I'm not perfect,' even though, clearly, according to the reports at the time, he could do no wrong. At all."
Tony had opened a few of his old wounds, so Steve only felt it right that he be willing to do the same. "I let my best friend die, Tony. That's not exactly a spotless record. A lot of good men died because they followed me."
Tony turned a skeptical eye on Steve. "Dude, would you blame yourself for the invention of gunpowder if you found a reason? Because, really, that's just...geez, whatever. Wars suck. People die. Good people. You know what really sucks? When you find out you've fucking armed an entire village full of people who go and blow up other people."
Steve raised an eyebrow, finding the jab about unnecessary guilt a bit ironic in this context. "As I recall, that was Stane playing both sides of the table. I mean, didn't you manage to take out an arsenal once you found out? Wasn't that after you decided to get out of the weapons business?"
"And after a lot of really damned good people died because somehow they thought I was worth a damn." Tony seemed sobered in the in the revelation. "There. I said it. Think SHIELD's shrinks are happy now? We're all just a magazine stand's worth of issues."
"Yeah, that we are," Steve agreed. Somehow, Tony's hand had wandered on top of his and stayed there, companionably. He didn't draw attention to it, not knowing how Tony would react. "You ever read comics?"
"When I was a kid, sure," Tony replied. "You want to talk about that stuff now, you go to Bruce. Let me guess, you're the Superman type? Truth, justice, American way?"
"I always kind of liked Batman," Steve admitted. "No super powers, just a clever guy. Kind of reminds me of you. Rich genius with a house full of toys."
"No parents," Tony added. "Yeah, I can see it."
Steve winced. "I didn't meant it like that."
"Relax, Cap." Tony patted Steve's hand and didn't pull away afterward. It made Steve realize how much he missed simple yet essential things like human contact. "Not like you killed them."
"Doesn't mean I can't feel for you," Steve pointed out.
"Doesn't mean you-" Tony shook his head, waving a hand in the air. "Fuck it. I am not drunk enough to deal with this right now."
Steve tightened his grip on Tony's arm slightly. "If you think that's going to let me let you run off and trash yourself more, you might be in for a surprise."
"You're just jealous that I can get drunk and you can't," Tony accused.
Steve shrugged. "Took me a long time to realize that some things are best dealt with sober."
Tony laughed, almost maniacally. "Like that's gonna happen." He was silent for a long moment, until something seemed to possess him, a streak of defiance. "Fine, you wanna know what happened? Are you sure? Because this is where shit gets real. And if you're just gonna bolt because you want your happy fantasy back of how my dad was before your perfectness disappeared and he couldn't fucking handle it, you better run now."
Multiple protests jumped to Steve's mind, that he would never turn on a friend that way, that he knew Howard had changed, but none of it mattered. Not with the state Tony was in. Steve lowered his head to look directly at Tony's face, and there was a palpable connection as brown eyes met blue. "Tony. Tell me."
Tony sighed. "Fine. Just...okay, all my life, it was Steve this and Steve that. You were a fucking god in our house, all right? And he'd go off weekends and look, and do his business with spies, and even though he leaves a damned video when I'm a kid and tells me he cares, he can't even do it to my face. Not once. And one night, he's trotting off on some damned business trip, and I'm home from MIT for the week and he thinks I should come. And Mom thinks I should come. And I'm some fucking punk kid who thinks he knows everything, and he mentions you and I finally can't take it. And I scream at him that I'm not Steve-fucking-Rogers and I never will be and I storm off and pack up and head back to school. And I'm in my dorm, in my little private room that all our fancy money scored me, and there it is on the television. Plane goes down, end of story."
"Oh, my God." It wasn't the angry tone or even the self-loathing he heard that took Steve aback. It was the sudden realization that, despite that past, despite the guilt Tony had carried his entire adult life, despite the reasons Tony might well have hated him...that Tony had accepted Steve into his life anyway. Had accepted his friendship. Had trusted him enough to bear his heart and soul. "Tony, I don't even know where to-"
"No." Tony made a hushing sound that came out more like a hiss. "You don't say anything. I shut up now and we pretend like this whole conversation never happened. Then we figure out where the hell the board members decided to put the marker for Stane and we dance on it, all Calvin and Hobbes like."
Steve didn't know who they were, but he wasn't going to ruin the moment. "Sure."
Tony frowned, as if lost in thought. "No, never mind. Just our luck, the paparazzi will see the booty-bumping and we'll be Superhusbands in the headlines for, like, forever, instead of just that one week where you got antsy about the reactor rebooting after a power spike and you lip-locked me. You remember that?"
Steve nodded slowly. "I remember."
"Good." Tony nodded firmly. "Don't ever do that again. I don't even know who thought it was a good idea to teach you CPR anyway, never mind let you teach it to anyone else, considering you're supposed to clearly establish first that the person is dead..."
Steve smiled as Tony's ramblings continued, and eventually he got to his feet and helped Tony up. Something very important had taken place between them, and though Steve knew they would probably never discuss it openly, it was a good feeling to know they had walked through the fire together and come out unscathed.
And when Tony tripped and Steve caught him and it ended up on the front page of the tabloids, Steve figured if that was the worst that happened, they'd be okay.
Hope you enjoyed! I'm off to nap, then write some more!