Notes: So, this took longer than I expected. Sorry about that. I'll try to do better on the next one.
Warnings: A bit of mind-fuckery on Tony's part.
Naturally, they could not tell the entire story. Trying to explain magic to the legal system would have been an effort in futility in itself. Pepper stepped up, after graciously dismissing the agent Fury had sent over to coach them on handling the press, and reminded them of the shit storm that would occur should actual events come to light.
"Not only will it harm Mr. Stark's public image, but the Avengers, by extension, will be cast in poor light for associating with it," she told them frankly. "We're going to stick to Cassie's story up to the time Tony first passed through La Grande."
They scripted it out, the story heavily edited for the police, lawyers and social services. Cassie had seen Tony 'Iron Man' Stark when he had been temporarily detained in La Grande during a snowstorm. She realized he had the resources to help her and ran away, following him to New York several weeks later. The Avengers took her in, and the rest was swept under the rug.
"It's kind of shitty that we can't just handle this," Clint remarked.
About a week had passed since things had returned to normal. At least, things were as normal as they could get under the circumstances. Cassie was gone, currently in the care of social services until they could get her into foster care. Despite her absence, the tension level in Avengers Tower was higher than usual.
"We are not in the business of vigilantism," Steve reminded the man. "And SHIELD is still a government agency. They are not above the law."
"That's only because Stark took this public," Clint grumbled.
Steve had to give him that one. They all knew it was true. If he was being perfectly honest with himself, Steve was glad Tony had taken the initiative. That choice had taken any potentially violent decisions out of their hands. Specifically, he had taken the choice from Steve. He was still struggling with the memory of Tony—much different in appearance perhaps, but still Stark—howling like an animal trying to escape a deadly trap. It made him want to do unsavory things to the people who had caused that. By taking Cassie directly to the police, Tony had ensured public knowledge (because with Stark involved, it would not remain quiet for long), which resulted in a safer world for the Morgan family.
"Where is Stark anyway?" Clint glanced over his shoulder, as though Tony would suddenly appear behind the sofa. "He's been MIA since dumping the kid off at social services."
"Bruce said he's been in meetings almost nonstop."
Steve was not sure if he should feel sorry for Tony or grateful that the man was able to leap right back into the saddle. Pepper was good at her job, but Tony was the company's namesake and the chief reason Stark Industries still produced relevant technology. The company could survive without him. With him, Stark Industries thrived.
"However. He's supposed to be meeting me for a training session in a bit."
It was pretty much the only time anyone other than Bruce or Pepper saw Tony. Between business meetings and negotiations with social services, Tony had little free time for anything else. Steve understood there was a lot he needed to catch up on, but he knew lost time was not the only reason Tony was isolating himself.
This was his thought when he declined Clint's offer to join them. While he and Tony were not the best of friends, it seemed a betrayal of a sort to do anything the man did not expect.
Steve knew he had made the right decision when he arrived in the gym. He could hear Tony already inside, the dull sounds of impact informing him that the other man had gone straight for Steve's usual method of relieving stress. This was a bit worrisome, considering Steve had never seen Tony express anything other than academic interest in punching bags.
Tony's back was to the door, but Steve was not mistaken. The sandbag rocked with the force of each blow Tony delivered—not nearly at the caliber of Steve's punches, but impressive nonetheless. He had not even changed clothes but to discard his shoes, socks, and tie. His shirtsleeves were rolled up, but those were black dress slacks, and Steve recognized that red button down as one of Tony's favored 'power-suit' shirts. The back was already darkening with sweat.
It was obvious to Steve that Tony had very little practice with this form of exercise. His form was terrible; he was a hair's breadth away from breaking or tearing something, and it would not be the punching bag that sustained the damage.
In retrospect, grabbing Tony's shoulder had not been a good move. If Steve's reflexes had been less acute, if he did not possess the strength and size over Tony, that wild punch probably would have connected in a much more damaging capacity.
Deflecting the blow did not shock Tony out of whatever battle he was fighting. Steve honestly thought the man would back off the instant he saw who he had taken a swing at. Instead, Tony's eyes hardened, and he executed a roundhouse kick Steve never would have predicted from him. (Natasha or Clint, yes. Tony—well, obviously the man was learning from his sessions with Natasha.)
This was not blind anger. There was recognition in those eyes. Tony knew exactly who he was fighting, which made the manic attack all that much more confusing.
"Hey!" Steve protested. He avoided another kick and swept a fist away. Tony was definitely improving. "Can't we at least take this to the mats?"
Tony snarled and lashed out again, following when Steve danced around him. He was visibly tiring, a week not nearly enough time to build up the endurance necessary for this kind of activity, but he had the determination to make up for it. Steve was not sure that kind of determination was good for a man with a heart condition.
"Tony!" he tried again. "Slow down!"
The objection went ignored. Steve did not expect it to work, but he had to try. He also knew he was completely justified when he caught Tony's wrist, hooked a foot around an ankle, and brought the man flat to the floor. Tony's movements were too wild, more likely to cause himself harm than Steve, regardless of any of his fancy new moves. He needed to be stopped.
What Steve did not foresee—but perhaps he should have—was how Tony would react to being unexpectedly pinned beneath a larger body.
Tony exploded. The fit was violent and loud, and Steve would not soon forget the fear-tinged rage that assaulted him.
"GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME!"
He was just startled enough to let go, which gave Tony the opening he needed to dig an elbow into Steve's ribcage and again into his chin.
It actually hurt quite a lot.
Even as Tony was scrambling to his feet, Steve rolled away, gingerly touching his jaw, glad to note that it was nothing more than a bruise, and holding his free hand up in the universal sign of surrender.
Tony shouted again, raging against some demon Steve could not see, turned, and attempted to put his fist through the heavily weighted punching bag. It rocked lazily on its chain, barely moved by Tony's wrath. For a moment, Tony relented, clinging to and leaning on the punching bag.
Steve rose, hesitating when Tony growled and struck the bag again, despite having no leverage in his close proximity. A few quiet seconds passed, and it seemed as though the worst had passed, but Steve was not stupid enough to approach from behind again. He inched into Tony's line of vision and waited until the man reluctantly pried his eyes open to fix his suspicious glare on Steve.
The anger faded, replaced by flat exhaustion, and Tony's eyes closed again with a sigh.
"What happened?" Steve asked.
He winced at the bluntness of his own question. When dealing with a wild animal, it was best to be unassuming. Tony was not an animal, and he usually seemed to respond better to frankness. Even so, the situation was unique in that Steve had never seen Tony fly into such a violent tantrum. The man was usually much more methodical in his replies, no matter how much anger lurked behind them. Steve did not know which approach was better.
He was lucky. Tony grunted and pushed away from the punching bag. He made his way toward the water jug in the corner, barely glancing when Steve followed.
"Nothing," Tony said, almost flippant in his manner. Steve knew better now. "A day filled with lawyers and social workers is like a spa day compared to the usual routine."
"Don't." Water in hand, Tony wheeled on Steve, glaring and angry. "I have had quite enough of people looking at me and wondering what the hell my problem is."
Steve was a bit offended by that accusation. Unlike the lawyers and police, Steve was one of the people who did know the story.
"You didn't want to make this about personal vengeance," he said to remind Tony of his insider knowledge. Tony glared at him for it over his water bottle.
"Are we getting me back into semi-decent physical shape here, or is this a counseling session, Cap?"
"I'm not trying to shove you at a shrink, but have you spoken with anyone about this, Tony?" Steve demanded.
Aside from this, the few times he had seen the man between business and bedtime, Tony had a drink in his hand. Tony wasn't drinking now, but he would be at the bottle as soon as this was over. Steve was sure of it. The man was notorious for internalizing his issues, and that was unacceptable. The Avengers needed Iron Man. They needed Tony. The did not need a drunkard, and Steve was not sure how to keep Tony from that path.
Bruce might stand a chance, but it was hard to say. Aside from Pepper, Bruce had seen Tony more than any of the rest of them. According to the other scientist, that was not saying much. The pair exercised every other morning, doing yoga for half an hour, and then Tony was gone. Bruce said they never spoke outside of basic instructions and practical advice—such as how not to strain your back doing a downward facing dog. (Steve was tempted to join a session just to find out what a downward facing dog was.) Such as it was, Tony was obviously not opening up to one of the few people Steve thought might be best able to help him.
"What the hell would I say, Cap?" Tony snarled, clearly displeased with the line of questioning. With another man, Steve would worry about further violence. He was still a little concerned, considering the outburst a few moments ago. However, Tony's first response never had been to strike out physically. He would make a verbal attempt at taking Steve down a notch or two first. "This isn't something that happens every day. Have you ever tried talking about how fun it is being a forties man in the twenty-first century? Who do you know who has that kind of perspective?"
Tony was off his game. Steve had been expecting something far more hurtful than that. He had an easy response for that question, and from the livid expression on the billionaire's face, he knew it.
"I talk to you about it." Tony's lip curled, a clear precursor to a snide response, so Steve cut him off. "I don't need you to understand, Tony. I just like knowing you're listening."
"How are you so damn sure I listen? I'm always working when you come to me with that shit."
Finally they were delving into mean spirited commentary. Steve was used to this by now. He was not sure that was a good thing, but he did know how to interpret this.
"Because you remember what you were doing when I came to you with that shit," he retorted.
It was not quite enough to pull Tony out of his anger, but it did throw a wet towel over his barbed tongue. The man's mouth snapped shut, and he glared as though Steve had somehow personally wronged him.
"Now, how about another run of it?" Steve offered. "This time on the mats."
The anger melted into suspicion. Tony followed him warily onto the wrestling mats. He looked convinced that Steve was trying to trick him into something. Steve would have liked the man to fold to the implied offer, but he knew better than to hold his breath in wait. For a man who lived in the spotlight, Tony was an intensely private individual when it came to anything regarding true emotions. While Steve suspected masculine pride to be a factor, he knew just enough about Tony to know something else made him fear any sort of intimacy. At least Steve was certain it was not related to the past couple of months. This kind of protective behavior had been in place long before Cassie Morgan had come into their lives.
When they faced off on the mats, Steve flashed a smile, a clear warning that he was going to strike. This was their first actual training session, Tony's other ones having been with Natasha, and, of course, his yoga sessions with Bruce. Regardless, Tony was excellent at reading people. He saw the smirk and was ducking long before Steve's punch reached him.
Tony was good at reading people, but he was not a natural fighter. Steve caught him on the backswing, and Tony went down like a sack of potatoes.
"I've got more than one arm, Tony," Steve reminded the groaning man. He caught a shift of movement and twisted just in time for Tony's foot to hit his thigh. It hurt—Tony wasn't pulling his blows—but not nearly as much as it would have had he not moved. He caught the vicious look and returned it with a disapproving frown. "That's fighting dirty."
"Whatever knocks the other guy down," Tony retorted, rolling back to his feet easily.
Steve could appreciate the simplicity of that principle, but it was a bad code of conduct for a reason.
"That might work for the short term, but you shouldn't rely on it," Steve advised.
He turned, shoved aside the fist which aimed for his jaw, and stepped into Tony's space. It took less than five seconds and as many movements to put Tony back on the floor, held flat by one hand at the base of his skull.
Tony probably could have thrown him off. It was a fairly simple hold. Instead, his movements had gone uncoordinated and angry. He slanted a venomous glare at Steve from the corner of his eye, the angle not allowing for much more.
Steve frowned and tightened his grip in Tony's hair almost to the point of pain. Tony hissed and scrabbled at Steve's fingers, his body curling toward that instinctive fetal position. It was probably more from displeasure than actual hurt. Steve had long since learned the extent of his own strength, and he was always careful with his friends.
"You'll make someone angry, and then they'll respond in kind," he said.
Point made, he released the other man and backed off. Tony grumbled and sat up, rubbing at his head moodily. He made no attempt to rise, his body language clearly announcing that he was finished. Still sitting, he planted his feet flat, arms braced on raised knees, hands hanging wearily between his legs. No way was Tony getting up quickly from that position.
That made this the shortest sparring session Steve had ever initiated.
Steve was always leery when Tony was in a pensive mood. No one ever knew how it would end. Considering how it had begun, Steve doubted they would soon find themselves out celebrating.
Despite his misgivings, he sat on the mat next to his friend and manfully resisted the urge to ask if Tony wanted to talk about it. The man either would or he wouldn't, and only when he was ready. Prompting him would probably result in more sharp comments and frustration.
Steve wondered what it said about him that he found Tony so much easier to handle now that he was back in his own body.
"Do you remember before?" Tony asked abruptly. Steve looked at him askance, not quite sure what he meant. Sighing impatiently, Tony added, "I read the reports, saw the before and afters. You were a little twerp and couldn't run half a mile without wheezing. Do you remember it?"
At first it seemed an odd question. Still, it had been posed in a serious manner and deserved a solemn response.
"I remember." Of course he remembered. More than half of his life had been lived as Tony so casually described it.
"You grew up with it," Tony remarked, and then he promptly echoed Steve's own thought. "Of course you remember. I remember being small, too."
Steve winced, but, again, it was not what he thought.
"I know," Tony said, smirking faintly. "Big guy like me. How could I ever have been anything but larger than life? But I was. I was just this kid, not even sixteen, hanging out with eighteen to twenty-year-olds. Big man on campus. I felt like a child."
"Fifteen?" Steve glanced at him curiously. "You were a child."
"Yes," Tony agreed. He scratched at some invisible itch behind his ear and glanced away. "No one ever actually touched me. You know that? I got more shit from my nannies than I ever got from kids that should have been pissed that some upstart preteen was showing them up in college level coursework."
There was probably a point to this. For all that Tony could ramble, Steve could not recall the last time he had ever said anything less than calculated out for maximum effect. At least, not while he was in good health.
"I got used to that," Tony murmured. "Being Tony Stark. I've seen you shake your head at me—don't think I don't notice when you do that—but there's a certain privilege that comes with being who I am."
"Rich?" Steve asked, more to see the smile it wrought than anything else. Tony had been serious far too long. It was not normal.
"Funny," Tony snorted. "Yes. But also influential. People know the name, know the power, and they don't dare give me any shit. Except Doom and your Hydra buddies, and don't even get me started on Loki, but we're talking normal people here. Super villains don't count."
Any humor he had found in thoughts of their greater foes drained away in an instant, leaving that expressionless exhaustion in its wake.
"So you can imagine my shock the first time Mrs. Morgan slapped me," Tony continued, voice going flat as he recalled his time spent in La Grande. "And when they shipped me off to Danny's farm to help paint over the weekend…"
Tony had mentioned that name once. Only once. Steve knew who it was. A week was not nearly enough time to dampen the feelings of rage that instantly rose in Steve's gut when he heard that name. Somehow he managed to cool his temper, though he knew Tony noticed the cloud that passed over his expression. The other man did not remark on it.
"The thing about it? It's like it happened to someone else." Tony turned his hands, considering the broad and calloused palms. "I remember it—I remember all of it—but then I see myself in the mirror, and I know. It never really happened to me."
Steve looked at him incredulously. Tony caught the bewildered look and shrugged carelessly.
"Think about it, Cap," he reasoned. "Me. In my own body. Someone would have to be both incredibly sadistic and completely confident to try anything. Most of the guys we go up against would sooner throw me out a window—you'll recall Loki actually did, and I'm pretty sure Pepper has had some fantasies. But this other crap? That kind of shit happens in prison gang bangs and college hazing. I'm a forty-year-old man. Who the hell wants that?"
There was no good way to respond to that. Tony seemed not to expect it anyway. He grimaced and rubbed at his eyes. After this, Steve needed to make sure this man got some sleep.
"It's bizarre having these memories and not know where to put them. How do you even categorize that?"
It was strange, but Steve was pretty sure he understood what Tony was trying to say. The man had spent a month as a teenage girl—a sick, pregnant teenage girl. Back in his own body, he had to reconcile the memories with a body that could not physically experience the things which had happened.
Unfortunately, Steve could think of nothing appropriate to say. There was nothing he could say. This was not a commonplace situation. Steve would have been better able to conduct himself had someone died, which was unfortunate but true. That, at least, was a naturally occurring event.
"By the way, you might be interested to know that Daniel Porter is already behind bars and likely to remain there for a long time," Tony said abruptly, as if the past conversation had not happened. "He's implicating Mr. and Mrs. Morgan as well as Deputy Jansen. The Morgans probably won't stay in prison long—neglect and physical abuse are dicey even when they're documented—but Jansen's career is shot. He'll be run out of town if he's not arrested."
Steve was appalled. As far as he was concerned, all four should be put away for life.
"Can't more be done?" he demanded.
"I've ruined the lives of four people," Tony offered Steve an arched eyebrow. "What more do you want?"
"They hurt you!"
That sounded much less dramatic in his head. Steve kind of wished he had not said it. Tony's amused glance told him the comment was as ridiculous as he had feared.
"The Hulk keeps putting Thor through walls in manly displays of triumph and we still haven't put him behind bars," Tony drawled. "That is actually far worse than anything Daddy Morgan did."
"And Mrs. Morgan?" Steve demanded.
"Well," Tony considered it. "I did find it rather offensive the day she decided my morning wakeup call would best be achieved by pulling me out of bed by my hair. Still not as bad as when Barton gave Romanov a bloody nose for stealing his favorite sweatshirt."
"That was an accident."
"Of course it was," Tony scoffed. "Barton gripes about the stains on his shirt to this day. His fault for starting that fight while she was wearing the sweatshirt in question."
Steve was not sure what to say to this. What Tony was saying was horrible. Living with a bunch of superheroes could get a little hairy, it was true, but a child should always be safe in their parents' care.
"You should not be justifying their actions," he said finally.
"I'm not," Tony looked at him, that direct stare so utterly honest that, despite not understanding, Steve believed him. "Look, as much as I appreciate you defending my honor here, the point remains that the Morgans aren't a threat. The only person they ever hurt was Cassie—"
"Who they believed to be their daughter," Tony continued without faltering. "And Jansen's shot as a police officer. He'll have a harder time getting a job than a convicted murderer on parole. My work is done."
That was not enough. Steve could not accept it, could not believe Tony accepted it. These people were getting away with abuse and standing by silently while their daughter (while Tony) was suffering the unwanted advances of a man twice her (his!) size. It was disgusting.
"We should be doing more," he insisted. "It's not right when people like that go free."
"The justice system isn't perfect," Tony sighed.
He climbed stiffly to his feet and headed toward the door. Clearly, the sparring session was through, as well as their conversation. Steve hurried after him. He did not want it to end so unsatisfactorily.
Tony's sidelong glance told Steve the man saw straight through him.
"Maybe you're mixing signals. When I walk away, that means the heart-to-heart is over," Tony said bluntly.
"You don't really believe it never happened, do you?" Steve asked, purposefully ignoring the rebuff.
Tony stopped and turned to face him directly. He swept calculating eyes over Steve, as though considering a machine which needed fixing. Or a complete overhaul, as was more Tony's wont.
"I've said my piece, Captain Sharing is Caring," Tony said finally. "I appreciate that you're trying to help. It's nice. But I'm sick of crying on everyone's shoulder. Now, since subtle isn't working for you, here's the last thing I want to share for the moment: I'm going to go upstairs, shower, and go to bed. These are things I have been able to do without assistance since I was four. So unless something happens which requires the Avengers to assemble, you are welcome to leave me alone until I get up and have my morning coffee. Is that clear, or should I condense it into a few, monosyllabic words?"
While he disliked the thought of parting on such sour terms, Steve was quite familiar with this side of Stark. He had butted heads with the man enough times to know that pushing him now would only end badly.
Of course, there always had been something about Tony that brought out both the best and worst in Steve.
Ignoring Tony's bemused frown, Steve straightened and folded his hands behind his back, at military parade rest.
"Will that be all, Mr. Stark?"
The shocked expression on Tony's face was worth it.
"Go fuck yourself, comedian," Tony grumbled. He put on a good show, but Steve caught the amused snort as he passed.
It would be some time, but Tony was going to get his head back in the game. Steve was not looking forward to whatever hell the man would go through to get there, but he knew it would happen. If anyone could bounce back from a mind-twisting experience as this, it would be Tony Stark.
There was a sense of mourning in the tower. It permeated the building and its inhabitants in a fog, strangling them into a familiar lassitude.
Thor had experienced this once before, on Asgard. When he thought his brother lost to the abyss and Midgard well out of his reach, he had struggled to find an equilibrium of sorrow and accomplishment.
It was true that Thor and Anthony Stark had never been particularly close. The human was arrogant and tossed metaphors about for which Thor had no point of reference. His saving grace, in Thor's eyes, was the selflessness he hid behind a mask of acerbic wit.
He was so similar to Loki that it hurt. He strutted about, proud and cocky, but beneath that armor he was just a man.
The terrible ordeal with Cassie and her foolish magic had done very little to change this. Stark still moved about like he was the ruler of this place, baring his teeth in false smiles that folded into haggard exhaustion when he thought no one would see.
It was the smile of a father, refusing to allow his children to see how much effort went into protecting them. The others were equally guilty, jesting and laughing when the mood was clearly melancholy. None of the people in this place were parents, and none of them yet children. Thor wondered if they even realized what stress their lies wrought.
As was the case with his brother, Thor was never quite certain how to handle Stark outside of easy banter. Such interactions were typically best handled by those more capable. Banner did well, as did Barton, and of course, the lovely Miss Potts.
Such was the misfortune that no one else was around that evening when Thor next encountered Stark.
The last time Thor had seen Stark, the man had guided the young Cassandra into the care of a woman Banner explained to be a Social Worker. Banner had also insisted the rest of them leave to allow Stark and Miss Potts the freedom to do their duties. Apparently the Social Worker found the Avengers intimidating.
Stark had been strong and proud in that moment. The trip home from the distant La Grande of Oregon had been intriguing, to say the least. If ever Thor doubted Stark's decency, the memory of the man holding that sad child's hand banished it.
The memory was difficult to maintain when Stark looked anything but decent that evening.
The hour was late, the others since sleeping, but Thor had done something to the phone Stark insisted belonged to him. He was attempting to determine what had caused the screen to go dark and was admittedly anxious about sharing this with anyone. Banner might help, but Barton would mock him, and the Captain was not much help in matters of technological origins. It should have been ideal that Stark would enter just as the frustration built to the point where Thor would sooner toss the wretched item from a window. However, such was not the case.
The man paused when he noticed he was not alone in the room. Thor had taken up momentary residence on the bench—the sofa—and Stark had not seen him until he finished pouring himself a drink and turned toward the room.
He looked awful. Thor had seen his friends in the aftermath of battle, bruised and bloody and exhausted. No one should look so downtrodden when not recovering from a beating.
"Ah…" Stark startled upon seeing Thor, spilling his drink as he did. "Shit! Jesus… Thor! What…?"
Setting aside the small communication device for another time, Thor rose to aid his friend. His friend who, as could be seen as Thor drew near, was already severely inebriated.
"I do not intend to startle you," Thor offered.
Stark gave an undignified snort and threw back what little drink remained in his glass. He seemed puzzled as for what to do after, so Thor took the glass and watched curiously when the man wandered aimlessly away. Setting the glass aside, Thor followed, relieved when Stark merely dropped down on the sofa with a weary groan.
"You seem unwell, my friend," Thor tried again. Previous offers of assistance had been met with irritability and disdain. Let it never be said that Thor could not learn. He had always been a direct man, but sometimes subtlety was useful. Perhaps he was not particularly adept at it, but he was willing to try.
"I… am well," Stark said. He measured his words with the care of a drunk attempting to hide his unsteady state. Thor knew this façade well from the feasts in Asgard where everyone was drunk and no one wanted to be the first to admit it. "Well is how I will always be. Yes? Yes."
"Do you always answer your own questions?"
Stark pondered for a moment before smiling at him.
"Who else would?"
Such responses were not uncommon from this man, and no matter how cheerfully stated, they always left Thor feeling melancholy. The Avengers were a group of very lonely people. All of them were strong enough to live with it. Few of them were smart enough to realize they did not have to.
This was an irony even Thor did not miss when sitting with Stark.
"I can answer some of your questions," Thor told him.
Stark chuckled again and rubbed at his bloodshot eyes. He needed sleep far more than he needed alcohol.
"I don't mean to sound like a dick here, Thor, but most of my questions even Bruce can't answer," Stark retorted.
"And yet the one you recently answered, you did so incorrectly." Thor sat cautiously on the table beside the sofa, facing Stark. The table was a glass top, and while experience told him it would hold his weight, experience also told him that it was breakable and that breaking items in Midgard was less than appropriate. "You are not always well."
"Well…" More laughter. Harsher, colder than the rocky terrain of Jotunheim. "Well why shouldn't I be well? Hmm? What reason do I have… to not be well?"
"I can think of many reasons," Thor admitted.
His drunk friend stared at him, mouth agape as though to speak but suddenly struck dumb. Thor thought perhaps it would be a good time to convince Stark his time would be best spent sleeping now.
"The hour is late, my friend," Thor started, rising. "Allow me to escort you to—"
It was not often that Stark initiated any physical contact beyond the lighthearted shoulder-pat or nudge of an elbow. Thor noticed this trait in many Midgardian men. Clasping another man's hand or arm was reserved for moments of necessity or cold business. So when Stark's eyes remained averted though his hand was tangled in Thor's cape, it made a certain amount of sense.
"Who am I?"
"You are Anthony Stark," he said bluntly. "Man of Iron, Avenger, and my friend."
When Stark looked at him, Thor was struck by a sense of familiarity. He recalled a time when he had felt equally lost, abandoned by all that he had once taken for granted as truth. Without the aid of Jane and Selvig, he would have been lost.
There was very little forethought in much of what Thor did, he would be the first to admit. Even at that moment, the only thought in his mind was that this was his friend—a brother in arms, and as much his family as any Asgardian—and that he could not sit idly by while Stark suffered.
Stark did seem a bit startled when Thor caught the back of his neck in one hand and grasped his shoulder in the other. Thor looked him in the eye, willing him to understand where Loki had not.
"You are, have always been, and will always be, Anthony Stark," Thor declared.
He let Stark search his face. All the man would ever find would be truth. From the looks of things, truth might not have been what Stark wanted.
"God, that's so awful," Stark whispered.
That said, Stark promptly tumbled forward into him. At this point, Thor was at a loss. He caught the man, of course, but after that he was not certain how to proceed. Taking Stark to his bed seemed the most logical course of action, but the man was still awake and clinging to the heavy red fabric of Thor's cape like a child.
Cautiously, Thor settled onto the sofa. He noted, with no small amount of bemusement, that Stark seemed to thwart his every move. He was, in fact, much like a toddler who knew that the best method of hindering the adult was to go utterly limp. Even Thor was not completely immune to this treatment. In the end, he decided it was an accomplishment that he kept Stark from falling off the sofa entirely. It was easier to simply allow the man to collapse against him in this drunken, semi-clingy manner.
"My friend," Thor ventured, setting a gentle hand on the dark head which had made its home in his lap. "Would you like me to fetch Banner?"
He would have suggested Miss Potts, but the hour was late. The capable woman would be at home and asleep by now, Thor suspected.
Stark managed to open his eyes. He was not quite so successful in forcing his gaze to Thor, but he seemed lucid enough.
"I think I screwed up with Bruce. I don't even know what I was thinking. I shouldn't have… He's right. I'm too fucked in the head. No one wants that."
"You are not…" Thor did not quite understand what Stark was saying. It sounded much as though he had insulted himself quite thoroughly. "I still would like to be your friend, Anthony. I am certain Banner is of the same mind."
"Yeah…" Stark sighed and closed his eyes once more. "Thor…?"
"Your phone's out of power. You need to charge it."
Thor could not contain his laughter, though he did manage to muffle it to a low chuckle. It seemed rude to dislodge the man who had made himself so at home on the sofa, using Thor's leg as a pillow.
"Thank you, my friend," he said. "Tomorrow, would you go over the particulars of the device with me once more?"
"Don't move, and I'll do just about anything you ask of me," Stark mumbled into his thigh.
Thor doubted the truth in that, but he was amenable to the request. It was almost charming, the way Stark curled into the stroke of Thor's palm over his hair.
"Sleep, my friend," Thor suggested.
It was unnecessary to say it. Stark had already sunk into the heavy, easy slumber of the inebriated. There was an afghan draped across the back of the sofa. Thor tugged it down until it fell around his sleeping companion. He doubted Stark would hold him to the oath of not moving, but Thor was a man of his word. Even if he had not given that word aloud.
Notes: Writing from Thor's perspective was exhausting. He's just... He's an alien god. Yeesh. Oh, and yes, in that little sparring session, Tony did, in fact, attempt to kick Steve in the crotch.