Happy Holidays, everyone!
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Summary: In the wake of a bad break-up, the man who has everything and nothing and the man lost in time must learn to move forward, forgetting something they both cherished. Of course, that would be easier if life, fate, and several political games weren't busy pulling on their strings.
Warnings: Character bashing? It's a bad break-up, and people are taking sides. It's not intended to be character bashing, but could be viewed that way.
AN: Sequel to Truth Comes Out. http://cauldronofdoom.livejournal.com/86
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Tony was furious.
He’d been angry since Rogers’ phone had ruined his afterglow, but this was even worse. He, of all people, should know how easy it was for people to purposely fuck over others for their own gain. He’d gotten a very pointed lesson in exactly that when his first girlfriend had admitted at the end of the school year that she’d only been sleeping with him so she could copy his homework while he was snoozing. For some reason, though, knowing someone in a position of power had ordered someone else to whore themselves out made it even worse.
Senator Sterns had given Rogers the assignment to get toys from Tony. ‘By any means necessary’ was actually even in the mission briefing (thank you Agent Romanov that they knew him well enough for a file that thick).
Rhodey could tell he was planning something. Well, he’d have been an awful best friend if he couldn’t, so Tony didn’t even mind the wary glances and nervous ticks. But he didn’t pressure Tony to reveal his plans, just cautioned him to think things through.
Tony always thought things through.
It didn’t look that way from the outside, but he did. Stopping arms production wasn’t a ‘ready, fire, aim’ situation. He’d planned for ten weeks how he was going to do that. Iron Man wasn’t a moment of hopeless rage at Gulmira, it was born from the realization that I can do this too, I can help, when he’d escaped the Ten Rings. Granted, he hadn’t expected to unveil his invention quite that way, but Rhodey had fallen prey to the belief that he didn’t know what he was doing and had turned his back. Even his casual fucks were just because he knew everyone would eventually leave, and it was easier to let it not mean anything than to pick up the pieces after.
Rogers was proof of how damaging letting someone in could be.
There was little enough Tony could do to Captain Steve Rogers, considering everyone but SHIELD still considered the man seventy years dead. Senator Sterns, however, did not have the dubious protection of a KIA designation.
Working for Ellen DeGeneres was a dream come true for Kelsey. She’d always been interested in film, and getting to run a camera for such an important show was more than she could have wished right out of school. She’d gotten a lucky break when another cameraman had been forced to resign due to a family emergency and she’d just been there.
Today they’d gotten a sudden change in line up as Tony Stark had agreed, last minute, to show up. He’d bumped actor Chris Hemsworth from his spot, but the blonde had taken it quite well, agreeing to stay in a hotel on Stark’s dime and to go drinking with him later. Or at least he’d seemed to take it well when Stark had breezed up to him backstage and made his proposal.
They’d exchanged a few soft words that had caused Hemsworth to grimace in sympathy, and Kelsey was wildly curious as to what the inventor had said to get that soft expression. She had a good feeling that it was going to be revealed during this episode, and anticipation was twisting her stomach into horrible knots.
She shook her distraction off as Ellen called her surprise guest out to confused yet heartfelt applause. It was finally time to figure this out.
Marlene sighed the seventh time someone asked her if she’d seen that days episode of Ellen. Every time she had replied that no, she taped them, and she’d been at work since before it started. Old Eddie, though, just would not shut up about it, even though she didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.
“It’s a damn shame, that’s what it is. No decency left in this world. Back when I was young we’d never have stood for this, I’ll tell you that! By golly, a man should be judged on his actions, not held against his youthful indiscretions all his life. Disgraceful, that’s what it is. I assure you that the current government will not be getting my vote, not if they okay things like this. We gotta take a stand on this!”
“Eddie,” Marlene broke in, her voice exasperated, “What are you talking about?”
“The old lady called me in to watch highlights of one of her daytime shows.” Eddie grouched, looking every inch the petulant old man he was. “Don’t usually watch that trash, but it’s better than setting that harpy off. That young Stark boy was on it, and he had some pretty dirty little secrets to share.”
“So you’re mad at Stark? Again?” She heaved a sigh. It was even odds whether Eddie hated Stark because he could never figure out technology or because the man was young and handsome, but the old codger had never had a kind word for Tony Stark in his life.
“Not Stark.” Hank said, flushing lightly as he broke into the conversation. He was always a little shy around Marlene, but she hadn’t decided what to do about it yet. One failed marriage had left her with two kids of her own, and she wasn’t sure if she was prepared to take on Hank’s three in place of their dead mother, God rest her soul. “Not this time. You should probably flick on the news. Even though it was a talk show, it should make the highlights.”
Marlene shrugged and got on a stool to reach the ancient tv over the diner counter. No one was watching the golf game anyway.
“… Things going with that handsome blonde you’ve been seen with? You ready to tell us who he is yet?” There was Ellen, just as Hank had thought, being replayed on the evening news.
Tony Stark was in the frame with her, and he only smiled wryly at her question. “I’m afraid that actually kinda crashed and burned, sweetheart.” He admitted, looking resigned. Ellen’s face fell as soon as the news sunk in.
“I’m so sorry to hear that. You guys really looked good together, and you seemed happy.” She was genuinely upset, but Marlene could see the curiosity she held barely contained in her slight fidgets.
Tony’s expression turned grim at that. “I thought so, but there’s only really one thing you can do when you find out your boyfriend is a military spy under orders to steal your intellectual property when your back is turned. Apparently someone decided that my suits should be government owned, even after the Supreme Court ruled them mine last year.”
Marlene sucked in a breath. Someone had done that? Ordered some poor young man to seduce someone in order to steal from them? She knew what it was like to have to go above and beyond to keep a job in tight economic times, and she didn’t envy the man in question the soul-searching he must have done before accepting the assignment. She was a bit of a romantic, and had been following Stark’s relationship with avid interest. The idea of someone so completely his own man being willing to settle down after falling in love always brought a tear to her eye. She’d really thought, looking at the pictures in her magazines, that Stark and his mystery man would make it.
The story title emblazoned across the bottom of the screen left no doubt that she’d been mistaken. STARK DUMPS MYSTERY MAN AFTER EVIDENCE OF GOVERNMENT ORDERED CORPORATE ESPIONAGE SURFACES said it all.
Movement at the doorway drew her gaze, and she stared in complete shock at the pale, sickly looking face of someone she’d never expected to see outside of a magazine picture. It was Stark’s mysterious ex, looking shaken and wrecked and standing at the door of her work. She considered tossing him out for a moment, but compassion eventually won out and she caught his attention, waving him over to one of the quieter corners.
He shuffled towards it, all the time keeping his eyes trained of the TV. There was a hungry look in them, something she’d have labeled possessive if not for the wistfulness also present. Even after he sat down, he continued to just gaze at the screen with that same odd expression until the story switched to something about protests in China.
Marlene approached tentatively, despite having years of experience waiting even on people she found personally horrid. “Hi there. I’m Marlene, and I’ll be your waitress today.” She handed over one of the rarely-used menus. “Would you like a moment, or are you ready to start?”
“He hasn’t been sleeping.” The blonde’s voice was dry and a lot harsher than she’d expected. He sounded like he hadn’t had anything to drink all day. “Probably not eating, either, but that’s not something you can tell over the TV in less than a week.”
Marlene bit her lip, thinking hard. “You know, we may not always like him, but we will all stand behind Mr. Stark in a situation like this. It’s probably best you keep quiet on this in public.”
He gave her a pained smile. “What makes you so sure I’m unaware of that?”
She pursed her lips, reverting to mother-mode in an instant. “Getting into fights doesn’t prove anything except that you’re to young to be trusted in these situations.” She informed him, exactly as she had her six-year-old when he’d come home from school with a split lip. “Beating people up is the mark of a bully, and trying to get beat up is the mark of a coward.”
He gave a full body flinch at her uncompromising words, his lips twisting down almost viciously. “Coward I’ll own, and even ‘bully’ probably isn’t that far from how I’ve apparently turned out.” He propped his elbows on the table and dropped his head into his hands, self-disgust evident in every line of his body.
She hesitated then, before continuing delicately. She knew non-religious people often responded badly to suggestions like this, but, “Have you considered seeing a priest?” He had the look of someone who was in dire need of a confession.
“I can’t.” His voice was almost wistful again, so she decided the suggestion hadn’t been a complete bust.
“Because of what you did? If you regret it, Jesus will understand….”
He waved her off with one hand and a tired chuckle. “No, I mean I can’t. I swore myself to silence over most of the situation I got myself into. That’s why I had no option to talk to someone else when I started to realize how deep I was getting in. If I can’t come totally clean, discussing it with a priest will only add to my guilt.” He twisted his face to peer up at her. “Plus saying I’m military is almost laughably inadequate. It would be irresponsible of me to put an innocent life in danger just because I want to rant about how stupid I was. God will hear me anyway, whether I say it out loud or not.”
She hesitated again, but Marlene was notorious in her town for being a soft touch. “If you need to talk that badly… I won’t ask for specifics. I can tell you what I know or have gathered from the news, and you can fill in what you’re allowed to explain.”
That got her a much more real smile, even though it was still heavily tinged with grief. “I’d appreciate that, but you’re at work. I wouldn’t ask you to drop everything for me.”
She considered him for a moment, then nodded. “I get off in an hour, and the kids are at my sister’s house for the night. We can have a coffee.”
Steve was both surprised and humbled that someone so obviously angry with him would take the time to talk with him about his mistakes. It made him both proud to be American and embarrassed to have disgraced his country’s ideals while having the gall to wear the flag.
He continued to stare at the screen anytime Tony was on it, cataloguing the slight changes that had already affected the man he loved. Tony looked… almost brittle. He hadn’t seemed so breakable since the press conference right after Afghanistan, and it tore at Steve’s heart to know he was equating himself with kidnapping, torturing, mercenary terrorists.
He sipped at the coffee the waitress (Margie? Mabel? He hadn’t really listened, had watched Tony like a hawk instead) brought him and picked at the food she’d placed before him. He didn’t remember ordering, so he’s not sure if he did or if she just decided he needed to be fed (she seemed like a mother, and they always tried to feed him, even now that he’s big) and had ordered for him.
His metabolism burned quickly enough that he almost always needed to eat, if he had the chance, but today he just couldn’t stomach food. He knew his body needed it (he’d eaten only sporadically ever since the breakup, to lost in his head to hear what his body was saying) but he felt almost physically ill every time he took a bite.
“You should eat. Starving doesn’t help anyone.” She was back, and Steve smiled reflexively at her. His mother had taught him manners, and they almost always came to his rescue when he was out of his depth.
“Thank you, ma’am, but I’m afraid I’m just not feeling like food right now. I appreciate your concern, though.”
She snorted a laugh, and Steve found himself offereing her an honest smile in return. “Marlene is fine, and what you’re feeling like is punishing yourself, yes? Eat.”
He bit back a grin at her no-nonsense tone and attacked the food on his plate with more appetite than he’d had for a week. It was nice to talk to someone who’d tell him things as they are, not sugar-coat them for his obviously heartbroken self (not that he thinks truckers can’t be kind, but it was a bit of a shock when the man who’d picked him up on the side of the road had clumsily and tentatively tried to get him to talk. A shock, and also very, very awkward. Tony would have laughed).
“Well,” She drawled, obviously amused. “You respond well to straight talk, and you’ve very aware of what’s happened and why. Care to explain your obviously faulty train of logic here?”
Steve squirmed under her stern gaze, unable to meet her gaze. “It’s just… There were orders, and then he was so Tony… And I didn’t know…. I just couldn’t say….”
“So you got orders to manipulate him, accepted them, discovered you liked him, and then hid your background like a coward and didn’t ‘fess up? That sound about right?” Steve was flushing with shame, but nodded.
Her voice was skeptical. “You are aware we’re talking about Tony Stark, right? What on earth gave you the idea that messing with him would be a good idea?”
Steve fidgeted again, still twitchy due to her direct stare and serious questions. “As for that… I honestly didn’t know. I didn’t… growing up, I didn’t really ever hear much about SI. It just… wasn’t in my zone, I guess? Then I joined the military and fought, and it’s hard to get good intel on civilian life while overseas. Then I came back, and people were briefing me with all of his public scandals, and tearing him down in front of me, and I just… I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about what it would mean to be in the spotlight all the time, I didn’t think about the stupid things I did when I was younger that I’m so glad no one knows about, and I didn’t think about the fact that they had years to pick the worst of his bad days from. Then I met him, and he was what they said: rude, dismissive, flighty, and undisciplined. Then I got to know him, and… Sure, he’s what they say he is, but he’s also so much more. He’s utterly brilliant, he’s kind at odd times, he’s snarky because that’s just who he is, he doesn’t mean to be rude, and totally loyal to the few people he considers worth the time to be with. And… At that point I turned into a coward, because how do you tell the most amazing person you’ve ever met that you originally sought out his company because you wanted something from him, especially when he gives you this wondering little smile that makes it obvious he’s not used to people liking him for him?”
His head is in his hands again at the end of his little tirade, and he startles when he feels a hand settle softly onto his shoulder. “I don’t know.” Marlene admitted, her voice soft. “But I do know that he deserved to hear the truth from you.”
Steve was silent for a moment, contemplating the thoughts he’d had in the moment before everything went to hell. “I know. I meant to tell him. I kept trying to say something, anything, to him about it, but I could never force the words out. That last day… I think I would have actually said it, given another hour or so. I had something else to tell him, something I’d been putting off for a while because I knew I’d have to confess my motivations first.”
Her trepidation is obvious in her voice. “And what was that?”
Steve dropped his head to the table, tears finally falling. “That I love him. I… I never even got the chance to tell him that I love him. And that’s all my fault too.”