Pairing: Steve/Tony, OMC/Tony
Disclaimer: I don't own The Avengers.
Word Count: 5764
Beta: BakaRamenBowl & General16
Note: I know the time line doesn't allow it but in my fic Tony is 35 like he is in Invincible Iron Man 500 Vol 1 from the Marvel Database website. Also, in the comics Tony Stark has blue eyes. Robert Downey Jr would be beautiful with blue eyes :)
Summary: They all just assumed.
The Fallen Spark
Natasha broke his left cheekbone.
She didn't ask any question, she didn't check her sources; she just assumed. Like she always did.
She never went deeper in her assumption when she was so sure about him. Tony Stark was an immature, selfish jerk and that was final. He didn't deserve half of what he had on earth. He didn't deserve friends like Rhodey or Pepper. He didn't deserve to be part of the Avengers, and he sure as hell didn't deserve Steve Rogers.
She never saw their going out as a good thing, because she knew. She just knew. It was going to end in a disaster and someone was going to end up broken-hearted, and Stark was too self-centered to even have feelings. He didn't have a heart and he was only interested in things that could profit him. He was conceited, arrogant and too in love with himself that he couldn't love anyone else. There wasn't enough space in his heart for anyone else.
So, the day he cheated on Steve, she broke his cheekbone. It felt right. The crunch under her fist felt satisfying like no other blow she had ever delivered.
Tony's head jerked to the side, his eyes blank and his face emotionless. He didn't make a sound and she had to grudgingly admire him for that. He blinked once, turned to stare at her, then at Steve standing behind her, before smiling coldly at them both and leaving the kitchen to most likely hole up in his workshop.
"Natasha," Steve said in a trembling voice.
"Don't," she interrupted him harshly, but her soft eyes belied her harsh tone. "Don't try to defend him," she said smoothly. "Stop trying to excuse his behavior. He doesn't deserve you."
And with that she turned around, her heels clicking on the tiled floor of the kitchen.
Bruce ruthlessly pressed a pack of ice against his cheekbone, lips thinned.
Tony didn't so much as grunt and just grabbed the ice pack and turned around on his stool, typing away on the keyboard.
Bruce was standing behind him, fists so tight the knuckles were white and trembling. "How could you—" he stopped and had to take a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "How could you do that?" he breathed out, voice slightly growling.
Tony turned lightly and looked at him above his shoulder. "Get out if you can't control yourself," he whispered flatly.
Bruce jerked and walked briskly in Tony's direction. "I should just let the Other Guy have a word or two with you!" he snarled. "I knew you had a self-destructive streak but I didn't think you capable of fucking up the best thing in your life!"
Tony flinched slightly and licked his lips. He looked down for a moment before taking a trembling breath and turning back to his computer. "I have work to do," he said quietly.
Bruce laughed sharply. "I thought I knew you better than that, Tony," were his last parting words before he left the lab.
"I didn't want to believe it."
Tony stared at the untouched Whisky glass resting at his elbow. He had promised Steve he'd stop drinking. He had made good of this promise and had been sober for the last five years now.
"I don't understand," Pepper snapped harshly. "What have you been doing the last five years?" she spat. "Was all of this just a big joke to you?"
Tony stared at the vibranium ring on his left finger and gently rolled it around his finger. "You know it wasn't," he murmured.
Pepper had her lips pressed together so tight they appeared almost gone. "You don't go out of your workshop anymore," she said after a while, voice dripping sarcasm and resentment. "Are you too much of a coward to face him?" she asked snidely. "He doesn't sleep, he cries a lot…and no matter how much we try, nothing can get him to…to be Steve again. He doesn't even speak to us. He just—avoids us."
Tony tilted his head to the side and smiled ruefully at Pepper. "I don't think he wants to see me," he whispered hoarsely.
She glared. "I should have stopped this all those years ago. I could have spared him so much heartache. He could be with someone who really deserves him right now. He could have a family and be happy."
Tony turned his head, eyes brimming with unshed tears. "You're right," he agreed and his voice broke on his words.
Pepper took another breath. "I spoke with the others. We all agreed that…that it would be easier for Steve, for everyone if you just went back to Malibu for a while. The Avengers can function without you."
Tony flinched and his head jerked reflexively. "You're kicking me out of my own home?" he asked emotionlessly, hands trembling violently.
Pepper stared at him unflinchingly. "You went too far. It's best for everyone if you leave."
Tony didn't watch her exit the lab and kept his eyes on the glass. He could just simply take it and drown it. It would be so easy to fall back on his former addiction.
He grabbed the glass and lifted it to his lips. Just as the amber liquid was about to touch his lips he stopped.
Tears running down his cheeks freely, he threw the glass against a white wall.
At least Butterfinger, Dummy and You would be happy to see him back.
"Man of Iron."
Tony didn't look up from his suitcase. He didn't really need any clothes, but there were some things he still wanted to take back to California. "Son of Odin," he said in a soft voice.
They lapsed into silence before the big man sighed, a river of disappointment in the simple sound. "Was it worth it?" he finally asked.
Tony stopped the motion of folding an old MIT sweatshirt and stared at his hands, scarred and brunt from years of building things.
"Was a fleeting romance of a night worth the loss of your soulmate?" the mighty god boomed.
Tony licked his lips and blinked, and blinked again when it didn't clear his blurry vision. "I just wish—" he stopped. He couldn't talk anymore or he'd break down and start sobbing.
Thor snorted in disgust and turned back, exiting the bedroom.
Tony slowly finished his packing and gently closed the suitcase. He stood and looked around the bedroom one last time before grabbing his bag and leaving.
Clint was in the back of the car Happy was driving to get him to the airport.
The archer was silent during the entire ride and it was only when Happy wordlessly opened the door that Tony realized Clint came, not to talk him down like all the others, but to make sure he was boarding the plane and leaving the city.
Tony tried not to flinch when Happy put his suitcase at his feet and climbed back into the car without a word.
Clint walked with him to the boarding desk and waited for him to pass the gate leading to the plane. Tony gave his plane ticket to the smiling attendant and nodded at her when she wished him a good journey.
Tony walked a few step toward the plane and turned around.
Clint was staring at him, unmoving, eyes hidden behind black sunglasses, arms crossed over his chest.
Tony stared at him miserably and turned back.
Leaving everything he loved behind.
Tony called Fury the day after and told him he wouldn't be part of the Avengers anymore. The man told him he already knew. The first thing Natasha did after breaking his cheekbone was to call him.
Tony got rid of his goatee at 3:08am two days after returning to Malibu.
He rinsed his face off with clear warm water and rubbed his cheeks softly. He hadn't been so smooth faced since he was eighteen.
He had claw marks on the sides of his head.
His eyes never left the old razor Howard gave him when he'd taught him how to shave.
JARVIS was quiet.
He didn't ignore Tony but he seemed to know his creator needed peace and silence.
Butterfinger was gently rolling around, Dummy was following him a bit desperately, as if afraid he'd do something stupid and You simply hung out in the background, making sad whirring noises.
Tony didn't sleep, didn't eat and barely drank.
It didn't matter.
Nothing mattered anymore.
The sixth or seventh day of so little sleep and barely any food and water, Tony started seeing things.
He didn't know what to do with the sudden presence of Howard Stark.
The tall man barked at him.
Tony didn't have enough strength to agree.
One night, Tony couldn't bear it all and grabbed his shiny silver razor.
He dragged it harshly against his skin, yelling with satisfaction and sobbing in relief as his blood spilled out and formed a puddle under him.
Two hours later he woke up with a start. He looked down at his wrists and only saw smooth, pale skin.
After a while, different people came.
Rhodey, Clint, Bruce, Thor, Steve.
Tony laughed at them every time.
He woke up on clean and fresh scenting linen. He didn't remember going to sleep in his bed, but the harsh artificial light and the pungent odor of detergent told him he wasn't home, but in a hospital.
He licked his dry lips and tried to sit but soon realized his wrists were held in leather straps to the railing of the bed.
After pointlessly trying to break free, he let out a huge sigh of anger and desperation and let himself fall back against the pillow.
When he closed his eyes, he could see bright red behind his eyelids.
It didn't scare him like it should.
They all came. One by one. Soundless figures.
Tony only half listened when one talked, all the time trying to rip the I.V out of the back of his hand and the nasal cannula giving him oxygen out of his nose
They all look desperate for something. Distressed.
Pepper had red eyes and her face wasn't her normally patient one. She didn't wear make-up and she wore flat shoes.
Tony didn't want to listen to her anymore; her sobbing and pleading hurting his head. He turned his head away from her and shifted on his side as best as he could with his bound wrists and turned his back to her.
It was the first time in his life that he was the one turning his back on someone and not the other way around.
He was cold.
He was shivering all the way to his bones and the flimsy hospital sheet and blanket weren't thick enough in the cool room.
He had his back turned from the door; the side where the chair which always held someone was placed.
His teeth chattered. It was midnight and the beeping sound of his heart monitor was the only sound in the room, but outside, Tony could hear the soft squeaking from the nurses' rubber shoes on the Linoleum floor.
The walls were pale cream and the floor was orange.
There was someone in the chair behind.
He didn't know who.
He didn't care.
"I won't apologize," Natasha snarled.
Tony would have spit in her face if he wasn't so exhausted.
"Are you going to talk to me?" Bruce pleaded. "Are you going to say something? Anything? Yell at me? Punch me? Tony?"
Tony closed his eyes and looked away.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Pepper sobbed. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Tony ignored her.
And everything and nothing was in the timbre of Thor's voice.
Clint stared at him silently.
His face pale and gaunt.
Tony just. didn't. care anymore.
In the end, it was like this:
Tony just couldn't tell the others the real story. It had been nearly natural for Tony. He was protecting himself. Protecting himself from the shame and the bone deep screeching pain he felt when he found Steve in bed with Rhodey.
Tony didn't cheat on Steve.
Rhodey left as soon as he saw Tony on the threshold to the bedroom, face remorseful and the full weight of his actions suddenly seeming to fall on his shoulders, leaving behind him the smell of guilt and sex, and the shards of two decades worth of friendship.
Steve prayed, begged and ran after Tony when the smaller man couldn't bear to look at him anymore. It was too late.
Tony was already holed-up in his lab with the door securely closed and not admitting entrance to anyone.
Several hours later, the team caught a glimpse of a sobbing Steve burning their bed sheets and they all just assumed.
Natasha broke his cheekbone.
Bruce swore off their friendship.
Pepper took everything from him.
Thor reduced five happy years of marriage with Steve to a mere joke.
And Clint destroyed him by his silence.
Coulson came to see him a few days later.
Tony stared at him and the man shifted nervously in his seat.
It was probably the first time Tony had managed to make the normally unflappable man ill at ease.
Tony didn't even feel good over it.
He just shook his head when Coulson told him his place with the Avengers was waiting for him.
"I retire," Tony whispered. "I'll take back control over S.I and I'll destroy Iron Man," he rasped.
Coulson paled dramatically and shook his head, trying to convince him to not make any hasty decision.
Not while on morphine and recovering from nearly dying.
Tony turned his head away, not willing to hear anymore.
He fired Pepper as soon as he could walk.
He got dressed and grabbed his phone.
It was time he took back what was his.
The board asked him a motive.
He told them the reason was a breach of trust.
They accepted because he agreed to pay compensation worth one million dollar.
He cut all ties with the military.
In the three months following that event, Tony was more prolific than he'd been in the last ten years. He developed a staggering amount of projects, reminding the world that behind the Iron Man, before the Avengers and underneath the self-centered billionaire, playboy; there was an inventive mechanical engineering prodigy, constantly creating new technology and looking for ways to improve it. That his intelligence was classed as above genius and he was one of the three smartest people on Earth. People often forgot that beyond the armor, the gold and red, beyond the image of a hero, the suit of armor had been a complicated piece of engineering.
This also extended to his remarkable ingenuity dealing with difficult situations such as challenging business decisions and death traps where he was capable of using his available tools in unorthodox and effective ways.
People only saw his public image as an eccentric who loved to throw money away and buy nice cars and liked to party and drink. But people didn't seem to grasp what such a fortune entitled. They thought he inherited everything from Howard, but the truth was that Howard Stark hadn't been as successful as his son, hadn't accomplished a quarter of what Tony had built.
Tony was extremely well-respected in the business world. He was able to command people's attention when he spoke on economic matters by virtue of the fact that he was savvy enough to have, over the years, built up several multimillion dollar companies in every part of the world from virtually nothing. He was known for the loyalty he commanded from and returned to those who worked for him, as well as his impeccable business ethics. He also strived to be environmentally responsible in his businesses, and a week ago, immediately fired an employee who made profitable (but illegal) sales to Doctor Doom.
He wasn't bitter enough to hide this from SHIELD and sent the information directly to Fury without adding anything. He didn't want the Avengers to come barreling down his door because they found themselves facing Stark technologies.
Lately, the media preened with his 'rebirth'. They called it the 'New Golden Age of Stark Industries'. Tony didn't know what to think about that. He'd always been a hard worker, but he guessed his intellect and unadulterated genius had been darkened by his alcoholism and his loss of focus on things.
Being Iron Man had been great but it had dampened his worth as an engineer / businessman. People didn't identify to a hero. They loved them, adulated them, but they didn't see them as human beings. Tony's miraculous tale; publically fighting two serious bouts of alcoholism and his subsequent recovery put him on a normal human scale. People could identify to a former alcoholic, not to a man in a flying piece of metal.
His show of tremendous strength of will, never giving up and often emerging from defeat stronger made him the new US sweetheart. The media loved him, people loved him and, dare he say, they were proud of him.
Quitting the Avengers and leaving the Iron Man suit behind had probably been the best idea he'd had in a long time.
It had become clear for people that the true 'Iron Man' had not been the armor, but the man himself.
For the first time in a long time, Tony felt free. He felt good at what he was doing and he felt like he could breathe and stop pretending.
He didn't miss anyone.
A few months later, he met with the Avengers at a charity ball organized every year by New York City. It was to gather funds for all the times villains attacked the city.
Tony nodded politely but didn't linger.
Coulson was brave enough to engage him in small talk but Tony's cold, expressionless blue eyes were enough to make him nod and go back to Barton, Thor, Romanov, Banner and Rogers, who were standing not far from the bar.
He felt Steve's intense gaze on him all night.
An entire year later, Tony met a man he thought he could love as much as he still loved Steve. The man worked for the pharmaceutical company recently associated with S.I.
"Hello," he said smoothly, looking down at Tony with a gentle smile. "Harold King."
Tony looked warily at him but still shook his hand. "Tony Stark."
Harold smiled. He was tall, Tony thought, really tall. 6'3" Tony would guess and a good 205 pounds on him. But while his body was intimidating, his face; his eyes were gentle and soft. The man exuded something irreverently calm and loving.
"I don't believe I've ever had the chance to meet you," Harold continued, still smiling.
Tony licked his lips nervously and shuffled a bit, feeling like he could blush under the man's intense stare. "I—uh, no. I just only recently opened the S.I medical branch."
Harold nodded. "Well, let's get down to business, shall we?" he said softly, waving in the direction to the conference room.
Tony nodded and followed, putting his briefcase on the long conference table. "Uhm," he stopped and looked around. "Are we waiting for others?" he asked uneasily.
Harold smiled and swirled left and right on his chair. "Nope," he said, "I'm the only one representing Omni Med Corp."
Tony nodded jerkily and opened his suitcase, grabbing two computer tablets and passing one to Harold.
The next four hours were spent discussing Tony's new designs on artificial limbs and the careful hinting at starting an experimental R&D concerning artificial organs.
After a few moments of diving into what he loved and what he did best, Tony felt more at ease and even traded jokes with Harold.
Two months into collaboration, Harold asked him for dinner.
"Not about work. Just—dinner," the tall man said with his ever present smile.
Tony froze, looked everywhere but at Harold's face and shakily accepted after a long while debating with himself.
Dinner was fantastic, sweet and not pressuring at all.
Harold—Harry—talked about his life, never asking Tony any painful questions. Tony learnt that the man was 52, a biology major from the University of Austin and was born in San Antonio.
"But you don't have an accent!" Tony exclaimed with a teasing smile.
Harry laughed. "I worked very hard to get rid of it," he confessed. "Nobody took me seriously when I started hinting at building my own pharmaceutical corporation. They didn't think someone sounding like they'd swallowed a chewing gum could pull it off. So, I had speech therapy and I pretty much talk like a New Yorker now."
They shared dessert and Harry never asked him once about the ring on his finger.
Four month into dating, Harry kissed him.
Tony didn't think about Steve.
Tony Stark was nominated for the Nobel Price of Physics after their one year anniversary.
In his speech his thanked Harold King for believing in him.
They didn't sleep together until eighteen months of dating.
Tony found it incredible Harry was still with him after all this time.
"Are you going to take it off?" Harry quietly asked one night as they both lay in bed, sated and content.
They were holding hands and Harry was idly playing with the ring still adorning Tony's finger.
Tony tensed and took his hand away from Harry's. "I—I don't—"
Harry made a soothing sound and pressed his chest against Tony's back. "It wasn't a question to trick you, love," he whispered. "I was just asking if you were going to take it off."
Tony licked his lips nervously and took a shuddering breath. He didn't want to answer Harry. He wasn't even divorced. Officially, he was still married to Steve Rogers even if they hadn't been together for two and a half year. He didn't know if he'd ever be ready to actually go through a divorce. He was stupid and he knew it, but deep down he still clung to his marriage. He couldn't erase the happiest five years of his life like that.
But he also knew it wasn't right. It wasn't right to Harry, to Steve and to Tony.
"I just don't know," he sobbed.
Harry tightened his arms around him. "I'm not asking you to take a decision right this instant, sweetheart. I'm asking you to follow your heart," he whispered while one of his big hands came to rest on the Arc Reactor. "Whatever you chose, I'll accept it because I know it'll make you happy. That's all I want for you."
His words only made Tony feel guiltier.
Tony sobbed through the night, Harry's loving voice whispering sweet nonsense in his ears.
Tony was elbow deep into the bowels of a new hardware when JARVIS announced the presence of someone at the door of the Malibu mansion. Harry had moved in two months ago, and even if the house was big, it was perfect for two very independent men who wanted to avoid stepping on each other's toes every minute.
Harry was generally in the library, working on medical reviews and his conference speeches while Tony was down in the workshop 'building things' like Harry said.
"Who is it?" he asked absently. If he could just reach that circuit board everything would work out just fine.
"Captain Rogers, Sir."
Tony froze and only jerked out of his momentary lapse when the welding iron he was holding burnt his palm. Hissing in pain, he wrenched his hand away and dropped the device.
"Shit," he muttered breathlessly, gritting his teeth at the angry about two inches burn crossing his palm. "Fuck." He looked around, holding his trembling hand and stood shakily. He didn't know if he was shaking from the pain or the fear he felt. "Uhm—JARVIS, where's Harry?" he asked a bit desperately.
"I believe Mr. King is now making coffee for himself and the Captain."
Feeling faint, Tony paled. "What?" he breathed out in disbelief.
"I know what you said!" Tony yelled and hissed when he bumped his hand on the worktable angrily. "Damn it!" He growled and kicked the table, hurting his foot more than accomplishing anything else, before storming out the glass door and up the stairs. He stopped abruptly when he neared the kitchen and took a deep breath. Shaking himself and remembering he was Tony Stark, he held his chin up and walked into the room.
He wasn't prepared for what he saw.
Harry was leaning against the kitchen counter, a mug of coffee at his elbow and Steve was sitting on one of the kitchen stool, a mug of his own between his hands. But what really got to Tony was Steve's disheveled appearance; his unshaved face, his mussed up hair and the bags under his eyes.
"Tony," Harry smiled gently before his calm face turned dark as he took notice of Tony's injured hand. "What happened?" he said quietly before dragging Tony by the hand and holding it under the faucet to cool down the wound.
"I—uh—I burnt my hand," he answered weakly.
Harry chuckled. "Well, that you did," he muttered, before pushing a mellow Tony into one of the seats and grabbing the first aid kit. He carefully applied Biafine on the burnt flesh and finished quickly by bandaging the wound, his smooth movements proof it wasn't the first time he'd fixed Tony. That done, he pressed a delicate kiss to the corner of Tony's mouth. "Talk," he whispered in his ear.
Tony nodded dazedly and watched Harry exit the kitchen.
Feeling exposed all of a sudden, Tony grabbed the coffee mug Harry had prepared for him and drank it in one gulp, almost wishing it was whisky.
"Y—you look good," Steve finally said after a while in a shaky voice.
Tony shrugged, not looking in his direction. He didn't particularly look good. Not today anyway. He was wearing a pair of old, tattered jeans, black working boots and one of Harry's shirts; too small for the man but clearly too big for Tony, and it was now smudged with grease and oil. His hair was longer, covering his ears and nape and his face had remained clean shaven since that day. It made him look younger, Harry said. More carefree and relaxed.
"I, uh, I heard what you did with Omni Med Corp. You helped a lot of people. And I…well, congratulations for the Nobel Prize."
Tony grimaced slightly. "It was a year ago," he said blandly.
Steve flinched slightly. "I know…I just didn't have the occasion to tell you. I—" he stopped and heaved a great sigh, shoulders shagging. "I wanted to tell you how sorry I was, still am. I know that whatever apologies I tell will never make up for the way I treated you and what I did to you, us, but I—" he stopped and rubbed his face, stifling a sob. "I wanted to tell you I am sorry I made you carry the blame. I never told the others it wasn't you. I let them tear into you and…and cut you open. I took everything from you. Your friends, your home…and also your dignity. And for that, I will never forgive myself."
Tony fidgeted and wrapped his arms around his middle protectively. "Why did you come?"
Steve looked up and their gazes met; blue against blue; Steve's tormented and Tony's agonized. "I just—" Steve stopped and shook his head. "I'm just so sorry, baby," he sobbed, lowering his head and putting his face with his hands. "I don't know why I did it, I can't even comprehend why I would do that to you, why I would destroy the most beautiful thing in my life!"
Tony's body was shaking and he took a step back. He didn't want to listen to Steve anymore. "It—it wasn't a good idea coming here," he said in a broken voice. "I—Harry he's…"
Steve nodded and rubbed his face, getting rid of the tears. "Yes, I met him. He seems like a good man."
Tony jerked his head in acknowledgment, rocking back and forth slightly. "He's good for me," he whispered.
Steve nodded and looked up at Tony, eyes catching the ring still on his hand. "I didn't take mine off either," he laughed shakily in a huff of breath. "Couldn't admit I'd lost you forever." He paused and sighed. "I knew you were seeing someone else. Just not so…seriously, I thought—"
"What?" Tony interrupted. "That I would forgive you? Take you back?"
Now, anger was better than that flinching, trembling nonsense from minutes ago.
"You fucked my best friend in our bed!" he yelled. "In our bed!" He violently shook his head and grabbed his hair harshly. "I couldn't even defend myself after that! They just all assumed! So what?! Our five years of marriage wasn't enough to convince them I had changed? That I wasn't the same mindless playboy from before? Romanov broke my fucking face!" he sobbed and angrily rubbed his eyes to stop the tears. "I'm just so tired of all the 'poor Captain America's lost in the 21st century bullshit'! They all threatened me with bodily harm not an hour before our marriage, even Rhodey and Pepper who supposedly were my friends. But no, no one could spare a nice word for me because they all were just so sure I was gonna fuck it up! That I was going to break your fucking heart! But never mind Stark; he doesn't have a heart!"
Steve stood, carefully approaching Tony like he would a terrified, cornered animal. "I'm so sorry," he whispered.
"What was I supposed to say?" Tony pleaded. "I couldn't even tell the truth, because who do you think they'd believe? You or me? How was I supposed to defend myself against them? Against my family?"
Steve took a last step and embraced Tony in his strong arms, quietly trying to sooth him as he rubbed a large hand up and down Tony's back. "I'm so sorry, please, Tony, I'm so sorry, baby. Please, I love you, I'm so sorry," he repeated like a mantra.
"Get off me!" Tony yelled and tried to get out of the taller man's embrace. "Get off me!" he repeated, hitting his fist uselessly against Steve's unmovable chest. "Why would you do that to me?" he crumbled in Steve's arms, too tired and overtaxed to keep fighting. "Why would you leave me?" Tony's knees gave out under him, his body not able to hold him upright anymore. "Why?" he sobbed again and again. "Why didn't you love me enough?"
Steve held him tightly, following him down to the floor as he cradled Tony in his arms, rocking back and forth; his penance being Tony's agonized cries and pleading.
Two months later, Hary was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Tony yelled himself hoarse in his workshop and broke every single item within reach.
"I love you," Tony whispered one night while curled up against Harry in the hospital bed.
The doctors had said he didn't have much time left.
Before Harry collapsed and had to be confined to bed until the end, the both of them had had time to make sure Harry had everything arranged for his death. Tony tried to hold on but had a breakdown when the man working at the funeral home had asked if they preferred inhumation or cremation.
Taking care of Harry's business had been surprisingly quick; he'd already had a testament written down and had a designed successor waiting to take control of Omni Med Corp. Tony had refused to know anything and had only sat waiting for Harry and his lawyers to deal with it.
"I love you too, Tony," Harry answered in a labored breath.
"I don't want you to go," Tony pleaded, "Please, you gave my life meaning!"
Harry made a soothing sound and nuzzled Tony's cheek. "It's gonna be okay, love, you'll see."
Tony shook his head and a tear fell down his cheek. "How?" he asked brokenly. "How am I gonna live without you now?"
Harry took his hand in a weak grip and lifted it to eye level, showing the gleaming silver ring. "That's how," he answered.
Tony sobbed harder and tore off his ring angrily, throwing it on the bedside table. "I should have gotten rid of it a long time ago!" he hissed. "I love you!" he whispered fervently. "Please, Harry, I love you."
Harry kissed him gently. "I know," he nodded. "You're the most beautiful thing that happened in my life, Tony."
Harry died that night.
He kissed Tony one last time, said he loved him, said not to forget to live, and just…closed his eyes and died.
Tony begged, prayed, threatened and pleaded but Harry never woke up.
Harry didn't have any family.
He was an only child from San Antonio and his parents both died when he was in his thirties. The only people standing and offering Tony their condolences were mostly business partners and associates.
Tony knew half of them from having met them across negotiation tables but didn't know the other half.
Nonetheless, standing alone in the front pew, surrounded by hundreds of people, Tony had never felt so alone.
He sat for hours in front of the gravestone afterwards.
He talked but Harry never answered.
He forgot again.
To eat, to drink, to sleep.
It wasn't a surprise for him to wake up in the hospital, Steve sitting in the plastic chair next to him; head in his hands, shoulders sagging and trembling.
Tony hoped he was suffering.
There was no reason why Tony should be the only one.
Harry donated his fortune to different charity associations. He knew Tony didn't need and above all, didn't want his money.
The press was surprisingly gentle with him. He didn't appear in any scandal magazines or papers after his stay in the hospital. He caught a glimpse or two of photographers when he got out but never saw his emaciated, gaunt picture in the news.
Harry left him a letter.
And when Tony opened it years later, curled up in bed surrounded by Steve's warmth, he cried and told Steve all about what a great man Harold King had been.
Chapter Two: Butterfly Of Courage