The Real Thing

by Speranza

Author's Note: Tony talks dirty. Steve gets a nosebleed. This is not a Stony story.

Afterwards, Tony tried to convince himself that it hadn't been malicious, except that was a lie; it was totally malicious. He'd learned to be honest with himself, because no one else would be, and the truth was that he'd done it meanly, wanting to knock some recognizable human expression onto that hard-chiseled face. Captain America was carved from cold marble, or maybe ice; hell, he even looked like a statue, what with those ridiculous shoulders and that stick up his ass. And something about his face, the wariness of his eyes and the judgment Tony saw in them, that cartoon-perfect jaw, made Tony's insides jam up: Tony'd wanted to hit him, or maybe, in the bad old days before Pepper, fuck him and hit him.

He'd been surprised by how strongly he felt the impulse to cruelty—they'd been okay, he thought, after the Battle of Manhattan, him and Captain America; he thought he'd basically come to terms with the fact that this was the guy—this guy—who'd made his father go misty-eyed when he was drunk. His whole life he'd been braced for—not this exactly, but for a literal half-brother, a half-sibling or five, because if there was ever a Voted Most Likely To Be Maintaining A Whole Other Family In Another City award, it would have gone to Howard Stark. Tony'd had lawyers on it the second his parents died; making sure everything was written up in such a way that when all Howard's other kids inevitably showed up, it would be crystal fucking clear that he, Anthony Edward Stark, was the sole legitimate heir to this mess. They hadn't, though, and Tony'd finally begun to think he was safe—and then they'd dug Captain America out of the ice, and he was a million times worse than any half-brother, because he was maybe even the real thing.

It was Cap's first time back in New York since the battle two months ago; he'd been on some mission with Romanov and she'd just blithely dropped him with Tony like he was the sitter or something. To be fair, Cap seemed equally uncomfortable with the situation, hands shoved into his pockets and looking awkwardly around Tony's temporary digs with his jaw clenched tight—he and Pepper were living on a lower floor while the Tower was rebuilt overhead. Still, Tony figured he'd make the best of it, which mainly meant amusing himself—Pepper being out for the evening, he ordered an elaborate dinner for two and had it served at a small round table swathed in damask and candles; treating it as a game in his head, like a first date from hell, chatting on and on, mostly about himself, while watching Captain America uncomfortably poking at the best, most elaborate micro-gastronomy money could buy.

It was only at the end, when Cap was dubiously eyeing his olive oil ice cream (which was, for the record, terrific) that Tony was suddenly overwhelmed by hostility. "So," he said, putting his chin on his hand, "Pepper's out for the night, what do you say you and me take a tumble. I'm flexible, top or bottom, or I'm happy to keep to oral if you're not comfortable with anal," and if he'd wanted to knock that guarded look off Cap's face, he'd sure as hell managed it; Cap's mouth fell open.

It was a better pay off than he'd even imagined; Cap's face was a 9.5 on the Richter scale of shock. It was too good not to keep going; Tony felt like he was standing at one of those Test Your Strength machines; he felt he could get a 10.

"C'mon, Cap," he said, waggling his eyebrows and then sucking his lower lip, slow and dirty. "I'll blow your fucking—ah, I see you're worried about Pepper," he said, mock-concerned. "Don't be; you're on the approved list. We keep a list," he explained, with an airy wave of his hand. (There was, of course, no such list; Pepper would have flayed him alive) "of people I'm allowed to fuck. I have to submit names at least three days in advance," he added; that sounded plausible. "You made the list weeks ago, no worries." He had a final, savage idea: "She might even want to join in when she gets—"

He'd been betting on outrage, a punch to the face for being obscene—which, great: a fight would have cleared the air, and the broken nose would've have been worth it. But Rogers wasn't gearing up to fight; instead, he looked like a lost, terrified kid—-Jesus fuck, he was a kid, he was what, twenty-six? Tony suddenly felt his age settling around him like a cloak; every goddamned year of it.

“I, are you—" Rogers stopped, a deep line appearing between his eyes. "Is this really how people..." He made a vague gesture, moving his hand between them: talk to each other? Converse, engage? Is this really what passes for normal dinner conversation in the year 2012?—and Jesus, the stupid bastard didn't even know he was being fucked with.

Tony could have backed off; instead, he doubled down. "I'm not people, Rogers," he said.

"Okay," Rogers said faintly.

"Most people have to find sex on the internet," Tony explained, going in for the kill. "You know: male seeking male, cute bisexual looking to suck dick, ass worship A+," and that was when things officially went off the rails, because Rogers's face kind of twitched, his right cheek and eye—and then he was jerking his hand to his nose and squeezing it, tilting his head back, and Tony saw blood dripping from between his fingers, bright red; Steve Rogers's nose was bleeding, holy shit.

"I'm all right," Rogers said wetly, fumbling for the napkin on his lap and bringing it to his face; there were immediately huge red splotches on it. "I just—" and then he was stumbling, gracelessly, to his feet, still trying to keep his face tilted back and so nearly dragging the tablecloth with him, and now it was Tony's turn to stare, shocked, at the train wreck in front of him. "Sorry," Rogers muttered. "I have to."

"Bathroom's that way," Tony said, pointing, and then he was sitting alone at the table, blinking.

When Pepper came home, Tony tried to keep cool and look casual, but he followed her around hopping vaguely from foot to foot while she took off her coat and then said, "Cap's here, I think you should check on him," and swung both of his arms vaguely in the direction of the guest bedroom.

Pepper looked hard at him. "Why?" she asked.

He'd found it was best in these situations to be as literal as possible. "I think I maybe gave him an aneurysm," he said, and when she looked pleadingly at him, he confessed, "I dazzled him with sex talk and his face exploded. Like...literally exploded," he said, miming the blood gushing out of Rogers's face, and then he trailed after her, calling: "To be fair, that's never happened before!" Pepper yanked the champagne out of the bucket and filled one of the linen napkins with ice after giving the elaborately-set table a double-take. Tony hung back as she disappeared down the hall toward the guest rooms.

Romanov arrived while he was waiting for intel; she knew right away something was wrong. "What did you do?" she asked Tony, and that was good; he preferred playing defensive ball. "Where's Cap?"

"He's fine. I'm pretty sure he's fine," Tony said, frowning, because actually he didn't know if Rogers was fine. "We were having dinner, he got a nosebleed," and all right, Romanov wasn't what you'd call expressive - she was beyond cool and heading for cold - but it was weird for that to get no reaction at all.

"What were you talking about?" she asked instead, like it happened all the time. "When it started?"

"What are you," Tony shot back, "his shadow?" and she arched her eyebrow. He blinked and said, "Oh, wow, you're his shadow?" and then: "Rogers needs a shadow?" but she was already walking off.

A few minutes later, Pepper came back holding the bloody napkin. "He's all right?" Tony asked.

"Yeah, I think he's all right," Pepper said slowly, sitting down. "He's got a headache, he's lying down. I got him to take a couple of aspirin, though I don't know if it'll help at all, with his metabolism."

"Romanov's shadowing him now," Tony said accusingly, a little jealous. "Did you know that? That she's shadowing him?" and then, to let it out of his head, he singsonged: "She shadows Steve's shadow on the SHIELD shore..."

"I—yes," Pepper sighed, tossing the napkin onto the ruins of the table. "I knew she was assigned to him."

"Why? Why the hell does Rogers need a shadow? He's a boy scout—what, does he double park?"

Pepper's answer, if it was an answer, came slantwise. "You shouldn't tease him, Tony," she said.

Tony laughed darkly. "Oh, I don't have that kind of willpower. He's the shiny red button of—"

"He's having a hard time adjusting," Pepper said quietly. "He's dealing with a lot. You have to remember how strange everything is for him." Pepper made a face and then said, "He talks to things; the wrong things," and when Tony stared at her, she groaned and said, "The fridge, the television. He tried to buy a newspaper with his VISA. Look," she said, face going thunderous at Tony's look of helpless glee, "the guy's 93 years old, and the first place he comes is here—and JARVIS talks, our place is full of robots: how's Steve's supposed to know that the ATM machine doesn't talk? We live in a world of touch screens, automatic doors, robocalls, people wandering the streets muttering to themselves, or staring down at little screens; New York is a town of five dollar coffee and eighteen dollar movies, Tony. Give him a—"

"You're saying," Tony said seriously, because honestly, this was just too good, "that SHIELD's put a shadow on Captain America to stop him from making small talk with the vending machines?"

"It isn't funny," Pepper said.

"It's hysterical," Tony said.

"It's not," and Pepper had her I'm about to be seriously angry face on, which seemed really unfair; because come on; this was comedy gold. "You lose your shit, Tony, if something doesn't work exactly the way you want it to for five minutes. You nearly had a nervous breakdown during the blackout—"

"There was no internet!" Tony nearly shouted.

"Exactly, so—just for a second, as a thought exercise, okay?" Pepper said. "I know it's something you don't like to do, but just for a second, take on someone else's point of view. Pretend to be Steve—"

"Ow, my shirt feels too tight," Tony said. "Also—oh." He rubbed his nipples. "Oh, my!—"

"—and imagine being in a world where nothing works like you expect it to." Pepper glared at him, and Tony sighed and slouched back in his chair; nothing was fun when Pepper was in lecture mode. "Every light switch, Tony. Every touch screen," Pepper said. "And every conversation is a potential landmine."

"Okay, fine." Tony raised his palms. "I won't suggest anymore threesomes. Your loss, I might add…"

Pepper let out a groan and covered her face. "Oh, God, you didn't, did you? Really? How's he supposed to know you weren't serious?"

"Who said I wasn't serious?" Tony asked, and as she stormed off: "What, you'd say no?"

He'd nearly forgotten all about it, but the next morning, he came out to find Rogers sitting at the kitchen counter with a cup of coffee at his elbow and a—mirror?—in his hand. Tony came around the counter and stared, and he wasn't sure what was more shocking—the red-purple puddle of blood under Rogers's right eye or the guy's skill at putting on makeup, because that was definitely a lady's compact, and Rogers was carefully brushing on some kind of beige cream with a little round sponge.

The huge shoulders tensed as he cut his eyes over, but he kept his composure otherwise. "You should see the other guy," Rogers said wryly, and it took Tony a second to remember that he kind of was the other guy. He'd pictured them fighting; now it seemed like he'd won without ever throwing a punch.

"You're pretty good with that," Tony said. "This is a whole new side of you."

Rogers glanced over at Tony again. "You forget I was in the theatre, darling," he said, and Tony laughed unexpectedly. The joke knocked the apology out of him: "I'm sorry if I, if that bruise was—" but Rogers's mouth thinned and he waved the apology away, shutting him down. "I get nosebleeds. You were—teasing me. It's fine; I get it."

Romanov appeared from nowhere. "Are you going to NYU?" she asked Rogers.

"No," Rogers said, snapping the compact shut and offering it to her. "I want to go back to DC."

"Third time, CAT scan, they said." She snatched up the compact. "And stop using my makeup."

"I'm not going to the hospital for a damn nosebleed," Rogers said, and then: "Do I have any money?"

Romanov just looked at him.

"How much money? A lot of money?" Rogers turned to Tony. "Is Tiffany's still at 57th Street?"

"Yeah," Tony said. "Why, you want jewelry now?"

"You have a VISA card," Romanov said with exaggerated patience; she plucked an apple out of the bowl and took a bite. "Swipe it through, sign your name."

"I got a guy there." Tony thought he'd spotted the chance to do Rogers a good turn. "At Tiffany's. He usually comes to me; tell him what you want and he'll bring a selection of things for you to—"

Romanov's eyes flashed, and Jesus, was everything with this guy a timebomb? Tony stared in horror as Rogers's face started to do that weird twitching thing again and he fought to get it under control. "I, I don't really know what I—" and then Rogers was raising his hand and pressing his fingertips under his eyes, against the side of his nose. "I don't know, I need to look at some stuff."

"You're sure you don't want to go to NYU," Romanov said softly.

"I'm sure," Rogers half-snarled at her, and all at once Tony got it: this was real, this was happening. What he'd taken for cold-chiseled marble was a mask: beneath it, Rogers was kind of falling apart.

"I'll go with you," Tony heard himself saying, and Rogers looked at him warily. "To Tiffany's. If you want," and he supposed he deserved the guarded expression Rogers turned on him; Rogers had no reason to expect anything but shit from him. "C'mon, we'll be dudes. Dudes buying jewelry."

"Okay," Rogers said, hesitantly. Romanov was still glaring at him as she chewed.

He found out why in the limo, when he picked up the phone to tell Tiffany's that he was on his way over; they had private rooms for clients like him, and he thought it would be better to keep Rogers out of the public eye. "You got a sense of what you're looking for?" he asked, phone pressed to his ear. "I'll have them start pulling things for you to look at."

Rogers didn't answer; just stared down at his hands. His pale skin had reddened again, and he seemed to be struggling to breathe and to control his face, which was still doing terrible, worrisome things.

"Hi," Tony said automatically. "Tony Stark, I'll be in the store in five minutes." He hung up, eyes still fixed on Rogers, and maybe Romanov had been right about NYU: he could bang on the divider, tell the driver, and they could turn around and cruise on down to the emergency room. A CAT scan was maybe not at all a bad idea: what kind of blood pressure made you blow out a blood vessel like that?

A vein bulged at Rogers's temple as he looked up. "They—won't let me marry her. Peggy," and Tony blinked, because Peggy Carter, while a fine looking woman, had always been older than his mother, plus vaguely terrifying; he'd never needed to be reminded to call Peggy Carter ma'am, put it that way. He'd known—everybody had known—that she and Captain America had once been a couple, but he hadn't really thought about it since—well, he'd never really connected this Steve with that Peggy.

"They won't—they say she's not legally—" Rogers said, and then he was laughing and covering the side of his face with his hand. "She can't enter into contracts," he managed, mouth trembling and then twisting into a sad smile. "Course a lady would have to be crazy to marry me anyway, right?"

"Ladies do crazy things, though," Tony observed; and that was true: he'd had first hand experience.

"I guess," Roger said, breathing out; he'd got on top of it now. "Just as well; it was a selfish idea anyway, don't think I don't know it. More for me than for her, she's been married twice already: three kids, four grandchildren, one great-grandchild so far," —and right; Peggy'd had a son and two daughters; he remembered them as cool teenagers back when he was small: bell bottoms and sunglasses, psychedelic shirts. The boy was called Steve, he remembered, and Christ, that was weird. Tony looked at Rogers; no wonder his head was about to explode. "I just wanted..." Rogers was saying softly, staring at his bare hands, "some mark, some proof of—I don't know." He looked up at Tony. "But they can't stop me buying her a ring, right?"

"Hell, no," Tony said; the limo'd pulled up in front of the entrance. "Let's go buy some bling."

"Some what?" Rogers asked.

Pepper's voice, don't tease. "Some jewelry," Tony said, backtracking. "Gold, diamonds."

"Okay," Rogers said.

Tony'd bought a rock or two in his time, and once he'd ascertained that Rogers's taste in romantic jewelry was not diamond-focused, he was able to direct the clerk to bring out some of the more old fashioned stuff, rings set like flowers with chips for petals, pretty multicolored stones. This being Tiffany's, he suggested they do up one of the rings special for Rogers with rubies, diamonds, and sapphires - "My friend's patriotic," he told the clerk, who did a double-take and nodded, wide-eyed.

"You've got an eye for this stuff," Rogers told Tony, eyebrows raised.

"Yeah, well, my dad made it clear that some taste in jewelry was worth developing," Tony said wryly, "if a guy wanted to stay out of trouble."

Rogers made a face. "That sounds like Howard."

Their eyes met. "He bought in bulk," Tony said.

"I'm sorry," Rogers said, and Tony turned away; the only one who hadn't given a shit about jewelry, Tiffany's or otherwise, was his mother. He remembered the way her mouth had twisted up when his father gave her the flat, rectangular boxes; after a while, she'd refused even to open them.

"You know what? This stuff doesn't matter," Tony heard himself saying. "It's junk, it doesn't fix anything," and he realized that he hadn't ever bought jewelry for Pepper: he'd bought her a fifteen foot rabbit, he'd bought her garlic and mushrooms; he'd bought her a really good bicycle. "Dad taught me that too."

The misery'd crept back over Rogers's face. "I know," he said. "I just—" He reached into his pocket and came out with a battered compass. He flipped it open and stared down at a faded picture he'd pressed into the cover: Peggy Carter, as she had been. "I had this in my pocket. And..." He idly touched his throat, fingers nudging a chain; something clinked under his shirt. "And that's it. That's all I have left."

"That's not all you have," Tony said. "Peggy's alive, right? She's in DC?" and Rogers nodded. "So what the hell are we doing here? Come on," he said, getting up abruptly. "I'll fly you back home."

"I hope you know what you're doing, Stark," Romanov said; she'd called when they were over Delaware. "You break him, you bought him," and Tony rolled his eyes and hung up; he couldn't think about that.

Rogers seemed completely unimpressed that he was flying his own plane, and he didn't blink either at the black Lamborghini Tony had waiting for them on the runway. It was a fifteen-minute drive to Peggy's nursing home; he hadn't seen her for ages, and she was much, much older than he remembered. But she lit up at the sight of Steve and reached for him with a shaking hand— and suddenly he saw the implacable, terrible reality of it: that Steve Rogers was a twenty-something kid and the woman he loved was ninety and had lived her whole life without him. She'd been someone else's wife and had someone else's children, and Tony found himself backing toward the door as Rogers smiled and leaned over her bed and kissed her mouth, their hands sliding possessively over each other's and then twining together, clutching, because the whole thing was—fuck—resistant to any amount of problem-solving or engineering. It was impossible, fubar, and he hated situations—situations where he couldn't, where there was no—

"Howard," Peggy said, looking over at him, lips curving, and Steve said, "No, that's Tony, Howard's son."

Peggy frowned and then leaned in and whispered to Rogers, "Is it?"

Steve smiled sadly and murmured back, "Yeah, Pegs. That's Tony. Tony Stark."

"But where's Howard?" Peggy asked, and Tony saw Steve wrestling with it, debating whether to tell her—or rather, whether to tell her again, because he knew that Peggy knew that his father was dead; she'd been at the funeral, thirty years ago. Tony remembered seeing her there like it was yesterday, eyes wet and mouth quivering, grieving his father.

In the end, Steve couldn't lie to her, even if lying was a kindness. "Howard's gone, sweetheart."

"Is he?" Peggy said, her eyes widening, suddenly stricken. "When did that—?"

"I don't know," Steve said, and he was still smiling, all patience. "I wasn't here. But Tony's here now—" and Tony raised his hands and said, "No, hey—I just wanted to say hello. I wouldn't want to—you crazy kids spend some time alone, I'll be outside, I'll—" and he could see from Steve's face that he knew Tony was running for it, but there was sympathy there too.

Tony waited outside, the collar of his coat tucked up around his face, ostensibly not to be recognized, but really because he felt like an ass. He thought about running for it; the Lamborghini was parked in front and Rogers was Captain America—he could find his way home. He no doubt expected Tony to be long gone. He'd think it was weird that Tony was still here—and it was weird. He should totally go.

After forty-five minutes, Rogers came out and sat down on the chair next to his in the waiting area; he seemed distracted, elsewhere. Tony felt the urge to apologize—man, twice in one day, he had to get away from this guy—for not being good with people: old people, sick people; he was bad with death and things that couldn't be fixed. But before he could do anything, Rogers began to apologize to him.

"She's not normally that bad," Rogers said ruefully, "in fact, she's normally really clear—clear more often than not. But when she gets confused, she remembers my time better than yours—so I mean, seeing us together, you can understand why a person would get mixed up." Tony nodded, frowning at Rogers—it took him a second to realize what was wrong here, and then he had it: Rogers was happy. "It was a really good visit though," Rogers said, thunking his head back and smiling up at the ceiling. "I'm glad you came, because she remembered all these things she'd hadn't thought to tell me—" His head jerked up. "You never told me that Jarvis was a real person!"

"Yeah. Well. He was," Tony said, his jaw tightening; he felt that odd anger building again, Rogers digging into what he thought of as his private life, which he'd locked in a box in a box in a box.

Rogers didn't seem to notice; he was still somewhere else. "Yeah, that's what Peggy said. She really liked him, your Mr. Jarvis," Rogers said, almost dreamily. "And she liked Howard, of course—we both did—except for how he sometimes couldn't take no for an answer. He proposed to Peggy six times, did you know that?" and Rogers was grinning so hard that Tony could see that his lower teeth were slightly crooked. "The last time - she said she ran into him in Palm Beach while she was doing an op—do you know this story? - and he was with Ava Gardner, and he ditched Ava Gardner, can you believe it, to go chasing after Peggy, except then he got mixed up in the operation, and got kidnapped, and Peggy rescued him and then later he tried to grope her and she broke his jaw." He'd never heard Steve Rogers laugh before. "That's my girl," Rogers said softly, sounding unbearably fond, "my sweet honey," and then the smile fell off his face and he jerked to look at Tony, wincing a little: "Sorry. That's probably not a funny story to you."

"Are you kidding, my dad got slapped all the time," Tony said, which was true.

"Peggy'd do more than slap you. She shot me once," Rogers said, reminiscing like it was one of the great days of his life, "and one time she hit Bucky with a— Which, he was really only fooling, because—" The smile stuttered on Rogers's face, turned into a grimace, and was pushed aside, "Because he was," Rogers finished; he'd got his smile back in place. "He had an enormous bruise after, all over his…" He gestured vaguely toward his shoulder.

"Well, I can see why you were attracted to her," Tony deadpanned.

Rogers was only half listening. "She was never afraid of anything," he said. "She still isn't. I'm the one who..." He smiled ruefully, then shook his head and frowned at Tony. "You didn't have to stay."

"Yeah, I didn't mean to," Tony said, standing up. "I lost track of time, checking email, you know." But he didn't know. "Can I drop you off?"

"Um, sure," Rogers said. "Thanks."

It was dark by time he pulled up in front of Rogers's building, some brownstone a few miles away. "Tony," Rogers said, turning to him, and Tony steeled himself, because Rogers was looking at him all sincere and earnest. "Thanks for today. You didn't have to."

"I totally didn't have to," Tony agreed. "I'm not sure what I was thinking, actually; I'm probably coming down with something," and Rogers smiled; he looked less terrible now. "I'll see you when I see you, all right?"

"Okay," Rogers said. "Get home safe." He got out of the car, slammed the door and banged his fist softly on the car's top before turning and going up the steps into the brownstone. Tony blew out a long, relieved breath, put the car in gear—and kept his foot on the brake. "Fuck," he said out loud. "Fuck!"

It turned out that Rogers only had half of the top floor of the place, and there was no elevator, and Tony cursed as he walked up the two flights of steps. He knocked with maybe more force than he needed to, and Rogers looked surprised when he opened the door. "Hey," Rogers said. "Did you forget—?"

"I lied," Tony said, coming in without being asked. "I did have to; I did. I—" and he stopped, knocked off track by the sight of Rogers's apartment. There was hardly any furniture—a sofa sat, stranded, in the middle of the room, and there was a chair with a lamp beside it in the corner. Big white boxes were everywhere, their cardboard flaps hanging open, like someone had done a heist in an electronics store. There was a percolator on the counter. In the drainer beside the sink, one mug, one plate, one spoon.

"Why are you living like a political prisoner?" Tony asked.

Rogers was immediately on the defensive. "I'm not, I..." He trailed off as Tony began to rummage through the various boxes. "I—don't know what any of that shit is."

Tony's head jerked up at the unexpected profanity; Rogers's pale skin was mottling, his mouth tightening. Some of the boxes were obvious enough—there was a big screen television, the huge box from the Apple store—but others were less obvious, and Tony cast away molded styrofoam and packing peanuts to identify a Tivo, a set of really nice wireless speakers, a home server, a gaming station. "Okay, well," Tony said, yanking out a styrofoam clamshell and pulling it apart, "this is a router."

"Oh yeah?" Rogers shot back. "What does it route?"

"It," Tony began, and then he abandoned that as lost cause and tossed the router back in its box; he could see that Rogers had also opened a couple of boxes before giving the fuck up. "I can't believe SHIELD sent you this stuff and just left you with it. Jesus Christ that's poor customer service."

"Do I need any of it?" Rogers's jaw was twitching. "Because I don't see that I need any of it."

"You do and you don't. You don't," and Tony felt rage boiling up inside him and had to suck for air to stop himself kicking in the big-screen television. "Jesus Christ," Tony muttered again, because he was right and he was angry about being right: this wasn't his job, this shouldn't be his responsibility, but he'd known it was and he hadn't managed to numb that knowledge with fast talk or booze or cruelty or bad manners: he somehow couldn't manage to get Steve Rogers filed away into his proper goddamn box. "Didn't—Romanov didn't do anything about this?" he asked, waving his hand. "She lets you live like this?"

Rogers looked uncomfortable. "She hasn't been in here. Nobody's—you're the first one," and that somehow pulled the plug on his anger; Tony felt it spiraling and spiraling, like blood down the drain.

"All right," Tony said quietly; it was time to stop fighting it. "Come back to the Tower."

Rogers looked surprised, and Tony turned away, his eyes drifting toward the armchair, the only part of the room that Rogers seemed actually to live in. There was a hardback book on the seat and a corkboard fastened to the wall. Rogers had tacked up some papers and a couple of drawings; a pretty blonde who was definitely not Peggy Carter, and a man with a shock of dark hair and a fucking Mona Lisa smile: Bucky Barnes.

"I can't," Rogers said, almost automatically. "Peggy's here—and the job; the job is here."

"I have your stuff," Tony said, and when Rogers just stared, he came out with it: "My father bought everything of yours he could get his hands on. Not just the Captain America stuff but—your stuff. Letters, drawings, things off the black market. Your footlocker." Tony smiled thinly. "I've got some of your clothes, too; they probably still fit. Of course the pre-serum stuff is much rarer. A year before Dad was killed, a tool box came on the market: art supplies, pencils, charcoal, some paint brushes and dried up tubes. You'd written your name on a piece of masking tape inside the cover." He mimed pressing the tape onto the box with his thumbs. "Handwriting expert verified it. Dad was thrilled."

Rogers raised a hand; he looked a little sick. Tony couldn't blame him; his head was pounding too.

"Obviously it's your stuff, you can have it back," Tony said. "If you want it—anything you want." He drifted over to peer more intently at the corkboard. "Does Peggy know you left a girl behind when you went to war?" Tony asked, and then he tapped the picture of the pretty blonde with his finger: "I've seen her before, there's pictures of her in your pre-war sketchbooks. Dad figured her for your Brooklyn sweetheart."

"Kinda," Rogers said, sounding strangled. "That's my mother," and Tony laughed, unable to help it.

"Oh, that's Dad all over. Right about everything except what matters. She was young, huh?"

"I guess. She was..." Rogers concentrated, "thirty six? Thirty-seven. When she died. Bucky died when he was," and he broke off to count on his fingers, "twenty-eight. Just turned." He rubbed his lower lip.

"Why no Peggy?" Tony asked, nodding his head toward the board.

"Because she's alive," Rogers replied; then he frowned. "I need to see her as she is, not as she was."

"Come on back to the Tower," Tony said again.

This time Steve hesitated. "I don't think I..."

"You know my dad went to look for you when you crashed," Tony said. "In '45, I mean—he spent months looking for you. Flying over the Arctic. That's when he found the Tesseract." Steve bit his lip, jerked a nod. "Well, he never stopped looking," Tony said flatly. "He went once a year for the rest of his life—just took a plane and flew up there. It was like a fishing trip, you know? At least, that's how we thought of it. We figured he wanted to be alone and you were the pretext—fly to the Arctic, look for Captain America's body. Someone with marketing flair might have made a thing of it: the perfect manly man's adventure vacation." Tony forced a smile, and then was surprised to find a real smile taking over his face.

"When I was fifteen, he asked me to go along. I was in my second year of MIT, and I'd had an idea about— See, the technology got much better," Tony explained. "I should say, it wasn't actually you we were looking for—I mean, it was, but the shield: vibranium returns a unique signature. We figured you'd be where ever it was. Anyway, him and me, we started competitively developing tools for the search: sonar guns, RAS, SAS, acoustic and magnetic triggers. Each year we'd be up there with...pow." Tony mimed sitting in the co-pilot's seat of the tiny plane, the sonar gun over his shoulder, then held his hands to his eyes like they were binoculars. "I thought it was a game," Tony said finally, letting his hands drop. "I didn't really think about you being there, even your body. I didn't think of you as real. And to the extent to which I did—well, I guess I didn't want to find you. Because then it would be over, the game. Those were the best times we had, Dad and me." Tony looked around Rogers's apartment again and said, softly, "If he were alive, he'd be so fuckin' pissed off."

"Tony," Rogers said suddenly, low and serious, "you don't owe me anything. Your father's..."

"—obsession," Tony supplied helpfully, forcing a grin. "I'm pretty sure that's the word you're looking for."

Rogers's mouth worked; he didn't want that word but couldn't land on a better one. He started over. "You don't owe me anything; I mean it. Your father is dead, and you're not responsible for his—"

"Believe me, I wish it were different," Tony told him, meaning it. "I'd rather—hit you, or hire you, or ignore you - but that's what I'm saying; with family, you don't get to choose. You either acknowledge them or you don't, and if you don't, you're a schmuck. It's like you're from the old country; of course I have to—Tell me I'm wrong. You're stuck with me too and you know it. I'm the brother you never wanted: tell the truth."

Rogers covered the lower part of his face and Tony wondered if his nose was bleeding again, but when Rogers dropped his palm, he was smiling. "You are—absolutely the brother I never wanted," Rogers agreed, and Tony laughed, relieved and angry, and said, jabbing a finger at him: "See? You can't disown me, either, whatever you say."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Rogers said. "Hell, I'm stuck with a lot worse than you."

"Aw," Tony said, mockingly.

"See, I can be nice," Rogers mocked back, and then, tensing: "You're right: I'm stuck—I'm stuck here and I'm angry about it and I hate being obligated to—anyone. You. But I—haven't got anyone else."

"I know," Tony said. "Don't worry, I'll give you an apartment. Make it your New York base."

"Okay," Steve said.

"Meanwhile this..." Tony wrestled off his overcoat and threw it onto the chair. "Jesus Christ, this." He yanked out the router again, then decided to go with the modem first and ripped open that box. "Go get us some sandwiches," he said; he'd run everything through the server, the hell with the DVR and the stereo—everything would come in wireless. "Make mine turkey and swiss, little bit of mustard," he said, yanking the power supply out of the box. "I wouldn't mind a beer, either."

Steve hesitated for a moment, and then laughed and reached for his jacket. "All right, fine. Turkey, swiss, mustard, beer," Steve repeated, "why not? Guess now I know what it is to feel like a kid brother—"

"Wait, what?" Tony said, head jerking around. "You're not the— You were born in 1918! I wasn't born until—"

"But you've lived so much longer. And you're so much wiser in the way of—you know: routers—"

Tony bit his lip. "Oh, fuck off."

"—and things with lights on them," Steve fluttered his fingertips, then raised his eyebrows and smirked, and well, shit.

"You are such a jackass, I can't believe people don't know that about you," Tony yelled after Steve as he left the apartment, but it was kind of a relief, actually: there was some family resemblance there after all.

The End

If--ahaha. Yeah. If you liked it, please leave feedback at the Archive of Our Own and consider reblogging on Tumblr. (Or whatever, come talk to me about Tony.)