Tony stared at the papers on his desk. They were taunting him, had been since he’d thrown them down in a fit of pique two days ago.
It hadn’t even crossed his mind when he’d said his vows that he’d be looking at divorce papers only a few short years later.
The doors to the workshop slid open and he twisted in his seat to see who dared to interrupt him doing absolutely nothing.
“Are you doing okay?”
Tony rolled his eyes and looked back at the envelope. “Fine. Just, you know, busy. As usual.”
Pepper sighed and squeezed his shoulder, ignoring the way he flinched slightly under her touch.
“He’s been asking me about you. Said you seemed upset.”
“I am allowed to be upset!” Tony burst out, glaring at her.
She held her hands up in surrender. “Don’t shoot the messenger, Tones. I know why you’re upset. So does he. He doesn’t look in the best of shape himself.”
There was a subtle glee to her words, and Tony was once again reminded that Pepper was as protective as a bear with her cubs where Tony was concerned. He softened and leant his head against her stomach.
“I’m sorry, Pep. I don’t mean to snap at you.”
“It’s fine, sweetheart. I come bearing good news for you.”
“Hmm. I can’t go to Japan next week, and I need someone to take my place. Feel up to a trip across the world?”
Tony sat up straighter so he could see her face, and for the first time in what felt like months, he smiled.
“You’re a goddamn saint, Pepper Potts.”
“You’re leaving?” Steve demanded, when Tony stepped onto the reinhabited penthouse floor. He’d been avoiding it since the Avengers had returned, but since he had to pack for Japan, he hadn’t had much of a choice.
If the way that Steve was staring at the elevator when the doors had opened, the super soldier had been waiting for him.
“I’m going on a business trip,” Tony replied shortly. “For, you know, my business.”
“Do you really think now is the best time for you to be leaving, Tony?” Steve asked, leaning forwards in his chair.
From the sofa, Natasha and Clint watched on, neither of them even trying to hide their interest. Everyone, it seemed, was invested in the newest episode of the Tony&Steve show.
Not that they were Tony&Steve anymore.
Tony had the divorce papers in his workshop to prove it, after all.
“I can’t actually think of a better time,” he replied, as he walked past the living room on his way to his room.
Back when the Avengers had first moved into the tower, Tony had given them all their own floors, but since the team split and the so dubbed ‘Civil-War’ had happened, he’d used the spaces for other things.
That had left him to host the Avengers on his own floor, which, while spacious, was feeling rather cramped at the moment. Especially since he couldn’t simply ban everyone from his floor anymore.
“We need to talk,” Steve insisted. “Tony, the papers… I haven’t signed them. We need to talk about this, you can’t just have papers delivered to me and—”
“I don’t have time to talk at the moment,” Tony interrupted flatly. “Just sign the papers and be done, Steve. Talking about it isn’t going to change what happened. If you’ll excuse me.”
He ignored Steve calling his name and firmly shut himself in his bedroom. “Nobody in, J,” he murmured to his AI.
“As you wish it, Sir.”
Steve slumped back in the armchair and rubbed a hand down his face.
“Maybe you should just… give up, Cap,” Clint suggested quietly. “After everything that happened, honestly it’s a surprise that he’d even let any of us back in the tower, never mind… well. Whatever.”
Steve shook his head. “I can’t just… let him go, Clint.”
Natasha arched an eyebrow. “I think Tony thinks you already did, Steve. You can’t blame him for that, can you?”
Steve huffed frustratedly. “I wasn’t the only one that messed up! I wish people would stop acting like I’m the only one who made mistakes.”
He regretted the words as soon as he’d said them, but he couldn’t take them back. Part of him, a small part of him, meant it. It seemed that no matter who he spoke to, he was the bad guy in the situation.
Natasha nodded once but then her lips twisted thoughtfully, and she replied, “No, you weren’t. But Tony messed up professionally, didn’t he? You messed up personally, Steve, and that tends to hurt a whole lot worse and a whole lot deeper.”
Japan didn’t help.
Tony wasn’t really sure what he’d been expecting but when he returned to his workshop, ten days after he’d left New York, the cream coloured papers were still on his work table, and he still felt shitty about them.
Still, it had felt somewhat good, to be useful to Pepper, even if it was only sitting in on meetings for her.
Sitting down in his chair, he pulled the packet containing the papers closer and flipped open the first page. He had to sign them. He knew he had to sign them.
There was no other option.
He wasn’t sure there was any way forward for him and Steve, and he certainly didn’t want to go back. The worst of it, Tony thought, was that he didn’t think Steve even knew what it was that Tony was so stuck on.
Maybe he did, Tony wasn’t really sure.
It was the lying that had done Tony in. It wasn’t that Steve wanted to protect Barnes. It wasn’t even that he’d almost killed Tony in Siberia, or that he’d left him there to die alone.
It was the fact that night after night, Steve had laid in bed beside him, had held him against his chest, had made love to him and whispered words of love and adoration to him, and the whole time, he’d known that Hydra had killed his parents.
And he hadn’t told Tony about it.
Tony really wasn’t sure if he could get past that, and honestly, he wasn’t sure he wanted to try.
The wine bottle sat in front of him. He’d long since gotten rid of the hard alcohol, but he still kept wine for when Pepper joined him for dinner. It wasn’t whisky, but if he drank enough of it, it would still have the desired effect.
Tony turned to see Steve leaning against the wall. He looked, well, he looked fucking fantastic in general, but to Tony, who knew him—or thought he did at least—he looked like hell.
Steve edged closer until he was sitting on the barstool beside the one Tony had perched on.
“How was Japan?”
“Japanese.” Tony shrugged. “It wasn’t a pleasure trip, Steve. I had meetings the whole time I was there.”
Steve nodded and swallowed hard. Tony saw his gaze flit to the wine and back and he sighed.
“I’m still sober. I just… really don’t want to be.”
“I know that feeling. If there was ever a time I wished that the serum didn’t immediately obliterate alcohol, it would be now.”
It was weird. Sitting there, feeling uncomfortable when it was just him and Steve, it was so weird. Foreign, because even when they’d argued in the past, they’d never really suffered from awkward silences before.
He didn’t like it.
“Have you, uh. Have you signed the papers?”
Tony pursed his lips but shook his head. “No.”
Releasing a sigh of relief, Steve reached out for Tony, pausing in his movement when Tony flinched away from him. He dropped his hands back down into his lap and looked away.
Tony had to fight the urge to apologise. It was just habit, he supposed, to try and fix it anytime Steve looked anything other than deliriously happy.
A wave of anger filled him, and he clenched his hands into fists. His nails dug into the flashy parts of his palm, turning it white.
“I’m sorry,” Steve murmured. “I don’t know what else I can say or do to make you see how much I regret not telling you the truth the moment I found out, Tony. It’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I… I’m just so very sorry.”
Tony nodded. “You’ve said. I don’t think it really makes much of a difference. Sorry doesn’t really mean anything, does it?”
“What can I do to—”
“I don’t believe that.”
Tony rubbed a hand through his hair and then met Steve’s eyes. “I don’t know what to tell you, Steve. I can’t tell you that it’s fine, because it’s not. I can’t tell you that we’re okay, because we’re not. And… I can’t tell you that we can get past this, because… I don’t think we can.”
“Tony. I love you. I’ve loved you for so long, and I’m not going to stop loving you,” Steve said, and there was a pleading tone to his voice that shattered what was left of Tony’s heart. “I don’t believe that we can’t fix this, because fixing things is what you do. It’s what you’ve always done. Why can’t we fix us?”
Tony slipped off his stool and stuffed his hands in his pocket. “Because I’m not sure if I want to.”
“He still loves you, Stevie,” Bucky said softly, watching on with pained eyes as silent tears fell down Steve’s cheeks.
“You don’t even know him,” Steve replied. “I’ve never… he’s never said that he didn’t want to fix something. Not once, in the whole time I’ve known him.”
“I’m here aren’t I?” Bucky asked, waving his hand to encompass the room, possibly even the tower. “If he didn’t want to fix anything, he’d have told you, me, all of us, to go straight to hell. He would have been within his rights, Stevie, and we both know that.”
Steve opened his mouth to argue and then slumped. “I know.”
“He let you come back, he let you come home, Steve. So no, I don’t know him, you’re right, but I know enough to know that if he didn’t want to fix this, he’d have told you to go to hell with a smile on his face.”
“He hasn’t signed the papers.”
Bucky’s lips tilted up. “If he didn’t care, Steve, he would have signed them weeks ago, wouldn’t he?”
Steve nodded. “I don’t doubt that he cares. One of Tony’s biggest strengths is the way he cares about things, about people, about everything really. I can still see it in his eyes when he looks at me, and I know this is hurting him. I just… I don’t know how to make him see that I’m truly sorry.”
“Maybe he doesn’t need to know you’re sorry,” Bucky replied softly. “Maybe he just needs to know that he’s important to you. The way everything went down… you can’t really blame him for thinking he isn’t important to you.”
“Of course he is!”
“Then instead of repeating apologies he doesn’t want to hear, show him that.”
“So, how is it having the Avengers all back at the Tower?” Nina Strong asked, shifting slightly in her seat.
Tony didn’t know why he’d agreed to the televised interview in the first place, and he was sorely regretting it now.
“It’s the same as it was the first time around,” he replied, making sure to flash a charming smile. “Clint leaves his dirty socks everywhere and Steve bitches at everyone to wash up after themselves.”
She arched her eyebrow at him, clearly disbelieving.
“After a very public falling out, you can’t expect us to believe that you’re all living back in harmony, that everything has fallen back into place so easily? ”
Tony shrugged. “I wouldn’t say it was easy, but we’re all adults, and we’ve got a bigger purpose than letting stupid arguments get in the way. The Avengers are as strong as they ever were; stronger in fact, with the new additions to the roster.”
“Ah yes. Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. It was quite a surprise when it was announced that the Winter Soldier was being signed onto the initiative, given the video of him killing—”
“That wasn’t him,” Tony interrupted coldly. No matter his own conflicted feelings about Barnes, he wasn’t about to let the public doubt the abilities of the Avengers to work together. “It was Hydra, and I’d thank you to remember that this interview isn’t about the Winter Soldier.”
Nina flushed slightly, clearly embarrassed about being called out, and she nodded her head slightly. “Of course, my apologies. Well, as I was saying, we know that the Avengers are all back together, and of course, that makes us all feel safe in our bed again, knowing you’re out there, ready to protect us.”
Tony nodded hesitantly, almost completely sure that he was walking into a trap.
Nina continued. “But the public, your fans, we’re not just interested in you as heroes. We all—and I count myself in this—like to know you as people. As humans who go through the same things everyone else does.”
“Well, except for Thor, though his pop-tart addiction is just the same as many American’s, I’m sure.”
Nina chuckled lightly. “Well, I’m sure there are many who can relate to that. Though, we’re more interested in the romance. So, I have to ask, your relationship with Captain America?”
“What about it?” Tony asked, narrowing his eyes. He’d known this was coming, and yet it still made his stomach churn like he’d swallowed acid .
“Before the Civil-War, the two of you were married—happily if your public appearances were anything to judge.”
“Was there a question in there?”
She glared at him, and it made his lips tilt up slightly. He did so enjoy annoying the media.
“Are the two of you still together?”
His smirk vanished and he glanced to the side. “Steve and I’s relationship is private, and for the moment, I think we’d both like to keep it that way.”
“Next question, please.”
At the end of the segment, Tony de-miked himself and fled the set as soon as possible. Usually, he stuck around, entertained the audience for a few minutes, signed autographs and enjoyed the moment, but not this time.
He turned to see that Miss Strong had followed him.
“I’m sorry. You know that that was nothing personal, right? I was just doing my job.”
Tony sighed but nodded. “I was expecting it, of course I was. I have to go now, Miss Strong.”
He walked away, furious with himself for letting the questions get to him. He’d known they were coming, had since he’d agreed to appear on her show, and he knew that the papers would be quoting him for days, picking apart his words left and right.
He left the studios and climbed into the car Happy had waiting before he could be accosted any further.
“Do you ever wish that the ground would just swallow you up, Hap?” he asked, as he slumped back in the seat.
“Everyone has days like that, Boss. It’ll get better, you know?”
“Will it?” Tony asked, rhetorically. “Because it really doesn’t feel that way.”
“It will. Would you like some time out? We could go and get burgers and I’ll drive out into the sticks for a while? I promise not to grass you up to Pepper.”
Tony chuckled, and if the sound was mixed with a sob, neither of them mentioned it. “I’d like that, Hap. You’re the best.”
The punch bag flew from the hook, landing heavy and hard on the ground. Steve winced. He’d been letting his fists fly harder and faster than usual, his emotions all pent up inside him, begging for some form of a release.
Sometimes, he cursed his strength, because it was so much harder to just… let go. He couldn’t spar properly, unless it was with Thor, for fear of hurting anyone. He used to be able to spar with Tony in the suit, but even the thought of it was enough to make him feel sick at the moment.
Flashbacks of Siberia, of the shield impacting the arc reactor, always left him nauseous.
The interview that Tony had given that morning was still replaying in Steve’s mind, and he really wanted to talk to Tony about it, but the genius was nowhere to be found. Once upon a time, Tony would always come to him after an interview, to moan and complain about it, because as good as he was at it, Tony hated playing up to the media.
Now Steve had no idea who Tony went to following an interview, and that… it hurt.
It really hurt.
Unwrapping his hands, Steve threw the bands on the bench and sat down, grabbing his water bottle as he did.
He’d been thinking about what Bucky had said, about showing Tony how important he was. The problem was that Steve had absolutely no idea how he could do that. Tony didn’t need him. He never had. He wanted him, of course he did, Steve had never doubted that Tony wanted him, but he’d never needed anything from Steve.
Steve had needed Tony. He still did. Tony was like oxygen to Steve, undeniably necessary, but he didn’t know how to show that.
Bucky had been right in that words wouldn’t be enough this time.
Steve just… didn’t know what else there was.
Tony woke up, gasping for breath, tears running down his cheeks. His heart was pounding violently in his chest, and he cursed out loud as he wiped away the sweat dripping from his temple.
Tony threw back the sheets and swung his legs from the bed onto the cold floor. It helped sometimes, to ground himself that way, but this time, it didn’t seem to help. He tried to breathe through it, but…
Getting up, Tony left his bedroom, JARVIS lighting the way for him. The lounge was empty, unfortunately. For all that Tony had been cursing the lack of privacy in the penthouse, he really wanted someone, anyone, to just be there.
Just to prove to him that he wasn’t alone.
That his nightmare wasn’t real.
He fought with himself for a moment, but in the end, he had no choice. Disregarding the inner conflict, he had to do what he needed to do. He stepped into the corridor and knocked quietly on the second door he came to, waiting none too patiently.
The door swung open, and Steve was there, hair mussed but eyes alert. Tony doubted that he’d been sleeping, even if he’d technically been in bed.
His navy pyjama bottoms clashed horribly with the burgundy t-shirt he wore, but the sight was so achingly familiar, Tony could hardly bear to look at him.
“I, uh. Sorry. I shouldn’t have—I had a nightmare, and. Well. You were, everyone was, and I just, wanted to, but—” Tony cut himself off, because he wasn’t making sense to himself and if he couldn’t understand his own gibberish, how could he expect Steve too?
And yet. Steve seemed to, because broadcasting his movements slowly, he wrapped his arms around Tony. He pulled him close to his chest, and he just held him.
“I’m okay, we’re all okay, sweetheart,” he murmured in Tony’s ear, rocking them both slightly.
Tony knew he should push Steve away. He knew that he was sending mixed signals and that he wasn’t being fair, but finally his heart was starting to beat at a normal pace, and the panic was receding.
Shame seeped into him, because this wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair on himself, but it wasn’t fair on Steve either.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, pressing the words into Steve’s chest, because he couldn’t bring himself to pull away.
Steve halted his hand on Tony’s back and pulled back enough to look Tony in the eye. “What… what are you sorry for?”
“I shouldn’t be doing this,” Tony whispered. “I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t be so weak. I’m not… not your problem anymore, am I?”
“Tony,” Steve said, his tone full of pain. “Tony, you were never my problem. You’re my, you’re my everything. You’ve never been a problem! That you can still come to me for comfort…”
“I shouldn’t have.”
“Yes. Yes you damn well should,” Steve said his grip tightening slightly. “God, you’re the most intelligent person I know but sometimes, you can be so damn stupid. Tony, even if you signed the papers, even if you said the cruellest things, or hurt me physically, or… it doesn’t matter. None of it matters, because I’m always going to be there if you need me. Always. Doesn’t matter what happens, or if you can’t forgive me. I’m always going to be here, just in case you need me.”
Tony stared at him for a long moment. The look shining from Steve’s eyes told Tony that he was being honest, that he was completely serious, and after everything, after all the hurt and pain that they’d caused each other, that Steve could still say something like that and mean it?
Tears slipped down Tony’s cheeks and he reached up to wrap his arms around Steve’s neck, pulling himself up until his legs were wrapped around Steve’s waist, and Steve’s strong arms were holding him up.
“I love you. I hate what you did, and I hate what happened to us, but I love you,” Tony confessed. “I haven’t signed the papers.”
“I haven’t either,” Steve replied. “I won’t. Not unless you do, and it’ll kill me if I have too.”
“I—” Tony cut himself off for a moment. “I don’t want to give you false hope. But I love you. And I don’t want to sign the papers. Not yet. Maybe not ever.”
“Then don’t,” Steve replied. “Don’t sign them. Not until you’re absolutely sure that we can’t set things right, Tony.”
Tony stared into his eyes for a long moment before he nodded.
Tony never made it back to his own bed.
Steve had carried him into his room, letting the door fall closed behind them, and he’d laid them on the bed with his arms still wrapped around Tony, holding him closer.
“Is this okay?”
Tony had nodded, shifting only enough so that he could press his face in the crook of Steve’s neck. Despite everything, Steve’s scent still gave him the strongest feeling of safety he’d ever felt.
Just like it always had.
They lay together, silent but for their breathing. Neither of them fell asleep, but Tony didn’t feel like he needed sleep. He needed… he needed what he had.
Proof that they weren’t broken beyond repair.
For the first time, he thought maybe they weren’t. Maybe they could pull it back and maybe… maybe he wanted to fix things more than he’d thought he did.
He didn’t fool himself into thinking it was going to be easy, but he contemplated what could come from this.
Could they really put themselves back together? They both had new scars, both physical and emotional, and maybe their puzzle pieces had changed slightly. Maybe they wouldn’t fit as perfectly as they had before.
But… but maybe deep down, they were still the same people they had been. Maybe they were still the perfect, slightly jagged edges, that fit one another so snugly, they couldn’t be torn apart.
Not really. Not completely.
This was the calm after this particular storm, but there would be more storms. It was the nature of life, he supposed.
But the divorce papers in Tony’s workshop were still unsigned, and, as Steve stroked a gentle hand through his hair, he thought that they’d remain that way.
He wasn’t ready to rip them up yet, but he had hope. He had hope that one day, he and Steve could rip up unsigned divorce papers and put them in a metal can and burn them.