Hey guys! Just a small warning: this story contains mentions of suicidal thoughts and some pretty dark subject matter so please read at your own discretion. This story came partially from the song and partially from the fact that Steve never really seemed to get the chance to adjust to life in the 20th century before the events of the Avengers movie. My head canon runs along the lines of him having been unfrozen for maybe a month/month and a half at most when Loki came along and never really having a chance to deal with everything that's happened. This is sort of my response to that idea. Its darker than most of my other stories but I really hope you all like it!
Btw, the song is called "Sinking Like Stone" by the Blackchords. If you haven't heard it, I definitely recommend checking it out; its very beautiful
Disclaimer: I own nothing =/
Tony knows its going to be a long night the minute he finds Steve on the deck of the helicarrier. The deck is completely empty, an oddity considering how big the ship is and how many people worked on it. Usually there are at least a handful of agents up on the upper decks of the helicarrier at all times, running continuous maintenance and constantly checking to make sure everything is in line in the event of an emergency. Tonight it's empty though, completely devoid of life except for two lone Avengers standing on the vacant deck.
Tony takes a deep breath before he walks out onto the flight deck, limping just slightly from the brace on his left knee. He'd twisted it earlier in the day and there was every reason he should be on crutches at the moment to keep from agitating the injury any further but he refused. First, they looked stupid and second, he had bigger things to worry about other than the throbbing in his knee. Namely, the silent, detached, and obviously troubled Steve Rogers standing across the deck from him.
The day had been a complete disaster, one calamity after another, and it was easy to see that Steve blamed himself for a majority of the tragedy. It had started out as a typical city-in-peril kind of mission: masked men shooting up the block surrounding one of the larger banks in the city with some kind of incendiary weapons that could melt steel on contact. It was obvious their main target was the bank but that didn't stop them from taking out their aggression on any unsuspecting civilians who got in their way either. The Avengers had been dispatched just after the third car in front of the bank had met a grisly, molten end behind the barrel of one of the weapons.
Things had been going relatively well until they all got separated. Clint and the Hulk had skipped over to the next block, cutting off two of the men escaping with an armored truck full of cash. Tony had taken the front of the bank, effectively blocking the remaining thieves in the lobby and providing just enough distraction to allow for some of the remaining bank employees to escape through a broken window. Steve had taken to evacuating the streets and rescuing those who had been trapped in the melee. None of them saw the remaining gunman on the street.
Tony had turned just in time to see him shoot a fireball in Steve's general direction and he had called out to him just as Steve raised his shield to protect both himself and the woman he'd just pulled out of a car. The gunman prepared to shoot again and Steve threw his shield but he was just one split second too late. The trajectory was perfect, the hit solid, but it caused the resulting fireball to swing wide and collide with a school bus in the middle of being evacuated near the corner of the block.
In that one moment, that slow, shuddering halt of reality, time seemed to stop. Everything happened in slow motion, each awful detail in crisp, high definition precision. The explosion was deafening, the flames blinding, and Tony wasn't sure if he was hearing himself or Steve trying to scream above the blast. The robbery was forgotten, even the men with the guns were forgotten because there were children still on that bus and the flames were climbing higher and Jesus Christ, they were going to be burned alive!
They both cleared the distance from the bank to the school bus in a matter of seconds and had just reached the doors when the secondary explosion rocked the ground beneath them and knocked both of them backwards. Tony had landed in a pile of concrete and burning rubber and the read out on his screen had been just as devastating as the knowledge that they were too late. The bus was gone; nothing but chunks of metal and tire rims left, and the charred remains of things Tony didn't have the stomach or heart to identify.
He'd made out Steve's outline in the smoke and haze of fire, digging through flaming wreckage with his bare hands and completely oblivious to the fact that anyone who was still on that bus was completely beyond their help now. The gloves from Steve's suit had melted from the intense heat, his hands raw and blistered and black as he continued to dig and it was only when Tony physically dragged him away from the remains of the bus that he stopped trying to save what was already gone. There was nothing they could do, they were too late, and that knowledge burned like salt and vinegar rubbed into a gaping wound. The flames burned hotter, the smoke rose higher, and the screams grew louder all around them and they were too late…
Tony coughs as he tries to clear the tightness from his throat, tries to forget the smoke and the screams and the flames. Steve has his back to him, hands dug deep into the pockets of his jacket and he's staring out at the bay with all the animation and expression of a marble statue. He hasn't moved an inch since Tony got up here and he doesn't even seem to be aware that the other man had joined him on the deck.
"What are you doing out here, Tony?" Steve asks, not bothering to turn around to see the other man approaching.
Well, so much for going unnoticed. "Oh you know, just needed some fresh air after being stuck in the medical wing all afternoon. Thought a view of the bay would help to cure some of the restlessness," Tony explains flippantly, consciously choosing to leave out the real reason he'd spent the last hour and a half searching all over the helicarrier and even down into the basement looking for his wayward friend. He wouldn't admit he was worried or concerned; curiosity was more of an apt term to use for his search. Seriously, Steve was right up there with Amelia Earhart when it came to hide-and-seek champions of the world; when he didn't want to be found, he wouldn't be.
He's seen Steve do this before, isolate himself from the others when he had something dark and heavy and pressing on his mind. It's usually thanks to a resurgence of memories, flashbacks of people and places and events that none of the other Avengers knew about. Memories Steve keeps of the things he's lost, the things he can never get back. Tony figured out a long time ago that the best way to handle those situations was to simply leave Steve alone and let him work through it on his own; he'd bounce back like he always did but sometimes things are just better left handled alone, away from prying eyes and helpful advice from people who just don't understand. He can't do that tonight though, he can't allow Steve to have the luxury of isolation because if he does, he'll drown in that pit of failure and "what ifs" that's already threatening to drag him down and never let go.
Tony is silent for a second as he comes up next to Steve, looking the younger man up and down carefully. There's a lingering smudge of ash across one side of Steve's neck, stretching from right behind his ear and disappearing beneath the collar of his shirt. Steve probably doesn't even notice its there. Tony can just make out the line of bandages covering Steve's hands from where they're tucked into the pockets of his jacket. The burns had been severe, enough to cause permanent, crippling damage to a normal man but barely more than a painful annoyance to a super soldier. The burns would heal in a day or two, that much was certain, but right now it served as a reminder. It was a reminder of their failure…they were too late…those kids were dead…
"How're Clint and Bruce?" Steve asks quietly, still refusing to meet Tony's eyes and staring blankly out at the bay like he was waiting for something to happen.
Tony shrugs one shoulder in what he hopes is a casual gesture. It doesn't exactly work; everything feels stiff and uncoordinated right now. "Bruce is still down for the count and the last I saw of Clint, they were trying to reset the bones in his arm." After the school bus had been destroyed, after the blood of 6 children was on their hands, the Hulk had come lumbering up with Clint tossed over one shoulder like a sack of sand. Apparently he'd taken a pretty good fall at some point and broken both of the bones in his lower arm. The breaks were clean but his arm would be rendered useless for several weeks while they healed themselves properly. Bruce would be out for another hour at least, tucked away in a dark, quiet room in the medical wing of the helicarrier while his body transitioned everything back into its natural state.
Injuries and incapacitations were not uncommon after missions; actually it was vary rare if at least one of them didn't end up in the medical wing at the end of a long day of city saving. It seemed more noticeable now though since they were down two members. Natasha had been sent to Vicenza on a solo recon mission and wouldn't be back until the end of the week. Thor was back on Asgard and they had no idea when he was planning to return; with Loki's judgment and sentencing taking place all the way across the galaxy, it could be weeks or even months before the Asgardian rejoined them back on earth. For just the briefest moment, Tony wonders if today's outcome would have been different if they were both here.
He pushes those thoughts aside and turns his attention back to Steve because the emotionless, mechanical way the younger man is speaking is making him a bit edgy. There's a hollowness in Steve's eyes, his gaze blank, and Tony can only describe it as the 'thousand yard stare' that soldiers who have seen far too much in too short a time get when they're out on the battlefield. It makes a macabre kind of sense because Steve is a soldier but Tony wishes there was a better description he could rely on at the moment.
"What are you doing out here, Steve?" Tony asks finally, turning the younger man's previous question around and directing it back at him. "You know, I'm not exactly a therapist or anything…I mean, my method of dealing with problems is swimming my way to the bottom of a bottle of scotch, but I can confidently say that this isn't the best way to deal with things right now. Standing up here all alone on the deck of the helicarrier spells disaster in about six different languages."
Steve is silent for a moment, statue-still and frozen like he's carved out of granite. For a moment, Tony wonders if he's heard him at all or if he was just talking to hear himself talk when Steve finally speaks. "I can't go down there right now…" he says simply but his voice is still flat and empty like he's speaking in a vacant building. "Those people and the footage…" Steve shakes his head and some kind of unreadable emotion passes through his eyes, the first expression Tony has seen on him since he pulled him away from that bus. "I just can't go down there…"
One whole section of S.H.I.E.L.D agents were dedicated to nothing but battle strategy and analysis. After each mission was completed, file footage was combed over frame by frame by these agents to look for flaws in strategy and execution. Right now they were all picking through the footage from earlier in the day, the footage of the school bus incinerating with its passengers still onboard.
Tony had seen enough news clips while being treated in the medical wing to know that the general public had turned against Captain America thanks to the outcome of this most recent battle. The casualties had been high but the accompanying death toll was hard to ignore: all in all, 11 people had died and 6 of them had been children still stuck on that bus when it was engulfed in flames. The men with the weapons had been forgotten, the ones who had caused all the devastation in the first place. All the cameras saw was Steve's shield flying and then the bus bursting into flames.
He'd been too late, it was his fault, Captain America was responsible for the deaths of those kids. It was like someone had turned reality on its head and in this twisted, warped plane of existence, the hero was now the villain. The people cried out for justice, they called him a murderer, a child-killer, and Steve accepted the title without even a blink.
Some kind of dream
You're unkind words
"Its funny, you know?" Steve says suddenly and Tony feels like he's just been slapped because he honestly can't find anything funny about this situation right now and he's beginning to wonder if Steve got smacked upside the head with something heavy and blunt when he wasn't looking. "The way history repeats itself," he continues, still not meeting Tony's eyes. "In my day they were sending kids away to a gas chamber to be killed…today they're doing it with fireballs and guns. It's all just one, big, sick cycle carrousel," he mutters, each word coming out like it's laced with battery acid and sulfur.
Had it been any other night, any other time, and any other situation, Tony might have been willing to give Steve an endless amount of crap for the poetic diction he'd just used to describe the murder of children. Oddly enough, he doesn't feel much like a making a joke tonight.
"It never stops, does it?" Steve continues on, asking another one of the open-ended questions that really has no right answer. "I mean, we save the city today only to have it be attacked again tomorrow. We save one life to lose five others. We get rid of one threat and two more spring up in its place…its like Hydra all over again…" Steve is speaking in a strange, monotonous way that makes Tony wonder if he's actually speaking to him at all or if he's just talking to himself with Tony as an audience. It's making him increasingly uncomfortable with each passing second.
"Steve, listen to me," Tony says because he feels the need to say something, anything, that will break Steve out of this self-induced trance he's put himself in. "Today was a disaster, there's no way to sugar coat it and I'm not about to say that everything will be okay because that's a lie that's not worth hearing. But you have to understand that there was nothing we could have done after that first blast hit; the impact ruptured the gas tank and it would have reacted to the flames no matter what we did."
The explanation doesn't make Tony feel any better, six children still died in the explosion, but it helps to look at the facts. Tony hadn't been just sitting idly in the medical wing while they were bandaging his knee, he'd been running his own diagnostic analysis of the battle with footage recycled from his helmet. He put up a mental block between the emotional 'oh-God-what-have-we-done' side of his brain and the calculating, logical side. Focusing on the simple, physical mechanics of the explosion and not the human loss was the only thing that kept Tony from losing his lunch all over the blouse of the pretty blond nurse wrapping his knee.
Steve shakes his head slowly. "I should have been faster…I should have been able to do something…"
"What, Steve?" Tony asks, turning to face him fully. "What could you have done differently? He was shooting at you; if you hadn't thrown your shield when you did you would have taken the full impact of the blast and there would be nothing left but your spangley red boots."
"Would that have been so bad?" Steve asks hollowly and Tony feels himself freeze in place.
"Would it have been so bad if I had taken the hit?" Steve still isn't looking at him, he's still staring out at the bay blankly, his expression unreadable. "Those kids would be safe…the explosion never would have happened…"
"Steve, that's not-"
"Do you ever just wish it would end?"
Do you ever just walk away?
And head for the door
Tony feels every molecule in his body stutter to a stop at the question because that is the absolute last thing he ever thought he'd hear Steve say. Steve wasn't a quitter, he wasn't one to back down from a fight ever, and those kinds of thoughts just didn't exist in his head. Or at least they shouldn't.
Sure, Tony had his bouts of darkness and depression, the nights where everything became too much and it would be so damn easy just to brush his teeth with a pistol and be done with it. He knew Clint and Natasha thought about it too; he'd seen the scars both of them thought they could hide when no one was looking. Bruce had outright admitted his own suicide attempt when they all first met so it was no surprise that sometimes he still entertained the idea of mixing up a cocktail strong enough to wipe out an entire army just to get the 'other guy' out of his head. Tony wasn't sure where Thor's mental stability stood but he was pretty sure the thunder god wasn't all sunshine and rainbows all the time. But Steve was their rock, their solid foundation, the only one of them who never wavered and never backed down. Steve was strong, he was stubborn… he was Captain fucking America for God's sake! He was the only one of them who should never have these thoughts circulating around in his patriotic little head and now here they were out in the open and Tony doesn't quite know what to say.
"Steve, listen…" Tony starts but he doesn't exactly know where to take the conversation from there. Finding out America's golden boy housed suicidal thoughts was like finding out God is dead right after your parents announce they're getting divorced. It doesn't add up and the denial portion of Tony's brain is screaming 'shenanigans!' at the top of its lungs in protest. "I get it, alright? I really do…but these thoughts that you're playing around with right now? This new self-sacrificing, end-it-all notion you've got stuck in your head? Not the way to go about things, man."
"Its not new," Steve says softly and Tony feels like the last ounce of rationality has been yanked out from under his feet and his floating in a sea of insanity. "I've been thinking about this for a while."
The night suddenly feels much colder and darker than anything Tony has ever known. A heavy, weighted feeling takes up residence in the pit of his stomach like he just swallowed a cup full of molten lead. Not only did Steve just confess to having suicidal thoughts but he just outright admitted that they're a recurring phenomenon; plural, multiple, more than once. Everything has gone from totally normal to mirror-verse so quickly that Tony feels like he's going to develop some kind of whiplash from the sudden directional change.
Right now he really wishes Steve would take about two or three or ten steps away from the edge of the flight deck right now because the way Steve is eying the bay like he wants nothing more than meet the water face first and never come back up isn't really instilling too much confidence in Tony's mind for his friend's mental state at the moment.
"I've been wondering about it, you know?" Steve continues and Tony is still so busy trying to wrap his mind around everything that's been said that he almost misses the other man's words. "What it would be like to just go to sleep one night and never wake up again. The way it should have been the first time."
Sinking like stone
Tony has just enough cognitive processes left to grasp the fact that Steve is talking about when he crashed into the ice but he doesn't have the vocal capabilities to offer up a response on the matter at the moment.
"I wonder how long it would take sometimes," Steve goes on, speaking in a mechanical, scientific way as if he's discussing a cloud development off on the horizon and not his own mortality. "How long it would take for my body to just shut down and never restart. The serum makes it so that my body begins to heal itself and regenerate from injuries minutes after they happen but I wonder what it would take to stop that process."
Tony shakes his head slowly, stiffly, in disbelief. "Stop…" he begs because he feels that if Steve says anything else, the bottom of the world really will fall out and they'll both slip beneath the surface into the impenetrable darkness below.
"The weapons they were using today probably would have worked. I could have taken the hit and prevented it from hitting that bus. The kids would be safe and the serum more than likely wouldn't recover from that-"
"Although the burns on my hands are healing pretty quickly," Steve glances down at his bandaged hands in disgust. "Might take something stronger after all-"
"Jesus Christ, Steve! Stop it!" Tony snaps suddenly, grabbing the younger man by the shoulders and wheeling him around to face him. "Jesus man, what the hell has gotten into you? You're talking about suicide here! You're supposed to be stronger than this, smarter; fuck, a better person in general!"
"But I'm not a better person," Steve says simply, shaking his head slowly like the movement requires much more effort than it should. The usual defiant spark that lights up his blue eyes is missing, replaced by a dull, flatness like matte paint on a brick wall. This isn't the Steve Rogers that likes to keep Tony's patience and sarcasm on its toes at all times, challenging him at every opportunity to make him a better man. This isn't their leader, the one they would all follow blindly into battle. The person standing on the deck in front of him is like a mechanical clone, a hollow shell of the man he knows. It strikes a chord so deep Tony almost can't breathe.
"So that's it, then? You're just giving up?" Tony shakes his head in disbelief, a sudden swell of anger rising in his chest. "One mission goes South and you're turning in the towel, ready to throw yourself off the nearest tall building? Have you forgotten about all the people who rely on us in this city? All the kids who look up to you and want to grow up to be just like you and have their own star-spangled costume they hide in the backs of their closets? Things get a little bit tough and you're willing to throw all that away? That's bullshit, Steve! That's bullshit and it's really fucking selfish of you!"
Steve blinks and looks at him then, really looks at him, and starts to laugh. It's almost worse than anything he's said all night. The laugh is cold and bitter, like wind rolling off the face of glacier, and it shakes his entire body like sobs. Tony wonders if he's finally managed to fracture what little grip Steve has left on reality.
"I'm selfish?" Steve asks finally, breathlessly, his blue eyes dark and turbulent in the moonlight. "I'm selfish for admitting that I'm not the superhero everyone thinks I am? That I can't live up to those expectations anymore? I'm selfish for wanting some semblance of control over my life? For wanting to have a say in my own fate when it all comes down to it?" He shakes his head, bandaged hands clenching into fists at his side.
Tony sighs and shakes his head as well. "Steve, that's not what-"
"I can't do this anymore, Tony!" Steve cries suddenly, desperately, and Tony actually takes a step backwards. "I can't go on pretending like everything is okay because its not! I can't keep waking up every morning and putting on a brave face and pretending like I have everything under control! I'm not okay! I'm not okay now and I haven't been for a long time!" Steve is trembling now but Tony can't tell whether it's from anger or desperation or something else.
"I don't belong here, Tony!" Steve continues, still shouting but his voice is broken and wavering as he speaks. "I don't belong in this city or on this ship or even in this century! I died back in 1943! I died and it was all over and everything was gone...and then S.H.I.E.L.D brought me back."
Forget who I am
Tony stands motionlessly, silently, because its one of the few moments in his life when he's been struck absolutely speechless. For the first time since he's met him, he really tries to place himself in Steve's shoes, tries to see things through his eyes. He tries to imagine going to into the ice in 1943 and being revived in 2011; tries to imagine a handful of S.H.I.E.L.D agents very gently and politely telling him that everything he knew from his old life was gone and he would just have to man up and accept it. He tries to imagine dying and finally getting release only to be brought back because everyone else needed him. He tries to put himself in Steve's head and finds that he can't because its all so fucked up and shockingly unfair that his brain literally shuts that door and throws the key into an oubliette.
"Nothing makes sense here," Steve continues, gesturing toward the city with one bandaged hand vaguely. "We live in a world where children get incinerated on school buses and people can't go to the grocery store without worry about being caught in a gun fight. For all the good we do there's always someone out there who's willing to destroy it!" Steve shakes his head angrily, fists clenching and unclenching spasmodically at his sides. "All the reasons I joined the army: to protect our liberties, the keep innocent people safe and to defend those who couldn't defend themselves…all that means nothing now!"
Steve takes a deep breath but it sounds more like a mixture between a gasp and a sob than anything else. "The world I left behind was on the brink of devastation, one split second from complete destruction at all times…and then I'm brought back 68 years later and we're worse off than we were before! What good do we or anyone else do when the world and everyone in it is so damned determined to annihilate themselves the first chance they get!"
How quickly it unfolds
How far we fall
Tony doesn't say anything for several minutes because Steve is back to asking those questions that don't have clear, neatly-packaged answers and Tony has never been good at improvisation in situations like this. Loathe as he is to admit it, Steve has a point. Every other week there's some new disaster that's threatening the city, some new megalomaniac who wants nothing more than to watch the world burn down to cinders. People kill each other in the streets, commit senseless crimes with no rhyme or reason, and it never seems to end. As Steve had put it earlier, it's all one big cycle that's stuck in constant motion: no beginning and no end. It was like watching an inevitable train wreck and not being able to do anything to stop it other than hang on for dear life and wait for the fall out.
Then, standing there on the deck of the helicarrier and listening to Steve vent all of his frustrations about the world, Tony wonders if the younger man has ever been allowed to fall apart like every one else. Sure, he'd seen him go into a mini downward spiral every once in a while after everything got to be a bit too much, but never anything like this. At separate times during their trial-by-fire team building exercises, he'd seen everyone breakdown at least once: Bruce when he figured out that one of the Hulk's rampages had killed a man; Clint when Natasha went missing for four days and no one knew whether she was alive or dead; Natasha when Clint had taken a bullet for her on the battlefield; Thor right before he left for Asgard to face the results of Loki's trial…he'd seen the crack in everyone's mask at least once except for Steve. Because Steve never broke down, never showed weakness, never allowed himself to appear vulnerable in front of anyone…until now. Not for the first time, Tony bitterly wonders what kind of mental desensitization Steve went through in the military to make him the perfect soldier; how much of Steve Rogers did they take away in order to make room for Captain America?
But Captain America isn't standing in front of him right now, trembling and shaking and just on the verge of a panic attack on the deck of the helicarrier. Captain America is gone and all that's left is the angry, hurt, completely broken Steve Rogers in his place. In all the time he's known him, Tony has never seen Steve break because he's never been allowed to. But tonight, on the moonlit, empty deck of the helicarrier, he just…does.
Does it ever just
Work out all right?
Let you believe
"You know, sometimes I go to bed at night and dream of waking up back in the 40's," Steve continues, his voice shaky and wavering a bit as he speaks. "I imagine waking up and finding that everything here was just a dream, that none of it was real and I never came to the future." He laughs softly but its more a shudder of air than an actual laugh. "And Peggy and Bucky and the Howling Commandos and even Col. Phillips would be there and it would be like the end of The Wizard of Oz…'there's no place like home'."
Steve shakes his head then, squeezing his eyes closed and Tony feels the muscles in his throat constrict just a bit when the tiny shudder ripples its way through Steve's shoulders and down his arms and his breath hitches a bit. "But then I do wake up…" he says simply, his voice hollow and fragile as he speaks. "I wake up and I'm here and they're all gone…they're just gone."
Steve takes a breath but it doesn't do much to quell the emotions already bubbling to the surface. "Sometimes I want to go home so much I can't breathe. I find myself remembering and wishing and praying and God…I want to go home so bad but there is no 'home' left. Everything I knew is gone; the city is the same and yet completely different all at the same time…the apartment building I grew up in was turned into a lingerie store, the hospital my mother worked in was leveled in the 80's and turned into a super market…its all just gone..."
Any other time, Tony might have tried to lighten the burden of Steve's thoughts by making some kind of witty or sarcastic comment in response. Its his default response; maybe not the most effective means of accomplishing things but its familiar and its what he always falls back on. He doesn't do well with deep, heavy, emotional outbursts like this and usually avoids them like the plague if he can. That or he passes the baton to Pepper or Bruce or Clint or literally anyone else more equipped to deal with emotionally fragile super soldiers than he is right now. But no one else is here, no one else can offer advice or support or anything else that Steve so desperately needs. Its just him and Steve and the empty, empty deck of the helicarrier.
Sinking like stone
"You still have us," Tony points out softly because really, it's the only thing he can think to say. Sure, they still fight and bicker and challenge each other even on the best of days but Steve has to know that, if it ever came down to it, Tony would have his back without question. He knew that, right?
Steve offers him a weak, unconvincing smile and nods slowly. "I know. It makes things easier, believe me…even if you're still a pain in my ass sometimes."
"You can't ask me to change who I am, Steve."
Steve gives him another water-color smile and it looks like it can be whisked away with slightest breeze. "Its just sometimes-" Steve stops and shakes his head, letting the thought fall unfinished into midair.
Sometimes its not enough, Tony finishes the thought in his mind. Its not a bratty thought or even one born of pity, it's the truth. Tony spent the majority of his childhood being cared for by his father's employees and the people hired to take care of the house when he was away on business (which happened more times than not). A surrogate family helped, sure, but it was no replacement for the real thing.
"I mean granted, we're not the 2012 Brady Bunch or anything like that but we've got your back in this, Steve," Tony continues, crossing his arms over his chest and wincing just slightly when it jostles some hidden bruise beneath his shirt. "You're not alone in this."
A brief silence falls between them, nothing other than the sound of waves crashing against the sides of the helicarrier to break the void. Steve is still standing just a bit too close to the edge of the deck for Tony's liking, his expression still just a little too distraught and stricken, and he clears his throat softly before he continues. "The world still needs us, Steve; it needs you. People need something good to believe in. They still need heroes."
"'Heroes'?" Steve whispers back, a small, broken smile on his face. "The same heroes who don't always save the day? The ones who are too late…who don't get there in time? The same ones who can't stop the death and destruction and chaos in the world? The world needs those heroes?"
Tony is silent a moment before he nods. They weren't perfect by a long shot, he would readily admit to that, but that was better than nothing. It was better to believe in something, no matter how dysfunctional and shaky it may be, than nothing at all. "Yes, they still need those kinds of heroes too."
Steve laughs then, soft and broken and it sounds an awful lot like a sob. His shoulders shake a tiny bit, head bowed like a child at prayer, and the moonlight reflects off the tears rolling down the sides of his face. "God…what am I doing here, Tony?" He asks quietly, his voice wrecked and unsteady as he speaks, eyes shielded behind a bandaged hand. The flood gates have opened, the walls broken down, and Tony Stark watches as Steve Rogers quietly crumbles apart right in front of him.
Forget who I am
He's not aware of the movement, he doesn't register the fact that he's taken a step forward until his arms are around Steve and he's holding them both steady. He feels Steve's fingers tangle in the fabric of his shirt, bandaged hands gripping tightly like Tony is the only foundation he can get hold of at the moment. Tony stands silently and holds on to him, running through an endless list of derivatives and complex mathematical functions in his head while pretending to ignore the way the sleeve of his shirt is slowly but surely becoming saturated with tears.
He's not sure how long they stand like that before his knees (or maybe its Steve's?) lock and they both tumble gracelessly to the hard tarmac of the flight deck. Even as they fall and Tony lands on his bad knee, he doesn't let go. Steve's grip on his shirt is hard enough to bruise but the shaking tremors that run endlessly up and down his body are enough to quell any complaints Tony might have had. Steve is spiraling, losing every part of himself in that downward plummet, and Tony is hanging on as tightly as possible to prevent him from being lost completely.
Sinking like stone
The tears stop eventually and Steve is left breathless and shaking as he still clings to the older man's side. Tony still doesn't let go. One hand has traveled its way into Steve's hair and the other is planted in between the younger man's shoulder blades, firm, solid and grounding. He's speaking quietly, rambling on about bolts and sprockets and things Steve doesn't care about but its enough of a litany to break him out of his own head and provide background noise that isn't his own conscience spewing layers upon layers of guilt and regret all over his sub-conscious.
The night wears on, the moon a large, silver oval over the deck of the helicarrier. Any other night it would be beautiful, a breath-taking display that would cause even the most stoic to pause. Any other night but tonight. Tonight, Tony doesn't notice the moon or the stars or anything else around them.
Tonight, Tony sits on the deck of the helicarrier, Steve half-curled against his side and gripping his shirt like a lifeline in both hands. Tonight, Tony is silent and strong and offers the solid foundation Steve can't offer for himself. Tonight, Tony sits quietly while Steve falls apart in his arms, one broken, jagged piece at a time, and he holds on tightly and waits until its time to pick up the pieces again. It won't be tonight though, maybe tomorrow or even the next day, but not tonight.
Tonight Steve is broken and fragile, shattered glass eyes and hitched, unsteady breaths. Tony lets him have tonight because he doesn't know when tonight will happen again. He lets him have tonight because he can be strong for tonight and tonight he can hold Steve together even if Steve feels like he'll never come together again. Tonight he'll be here to offer support just like he will tomorrow night and the night after that and the night after that. Tony holds on tight.
Forget who I am
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