He woke up and it hurt.
But that was okay. Normal. It always hurt, nowadays. He didn’t even register it any more.
It was fine.
The sun was peaking through the curtains; warm and lovely and deceptively pleasant. The type of weather that made people smile and suggest stupid things like barbecues or swimming or whatever. Dumb stuff. Stuff that required friends, family- things other than just machines.
Not really Tony’s area, after all.
“Did you care?” And Tony was screaming now, eyes on fire, fists clenched so tight he was sure his knuckles would burst out through the skin. “Did you even care, at all?”
“Tony, you know I did, you know I still do, come on, please.” There was the pleading voice, the one that rarely came out unless Steve was truly scared, truly desperate. His face was absolutely ashen, hands visibly shaking by his sides.
The computer was still sat at the table- all those pixels, that grainy footage of The Winter Solder choking his mother to death serving as rock solid evidence to a truth Steve could no longer hide.
Tony screamed, because it was better than crying, and Steve was faltering, whispering words that Tony couldn’t hear over the ripped sounds his own throat was making. He looked like he was about to try and step forward, reach out to Tony with a hand that had cupped his face and traced his scars and counted the freckles on his back- the hand that had clutched the truth behind a closed fist and refused to let Tony look, not even for a second.
“You’re a liar and a bastard and I cannot believe I fell for it. I fucking trusted you, more than anyone.”
He just laughed. What else was there to do? It was kinda funny, really- that he’d actually gone into this thinking that it might work in the the first place.He should have known better.
“I’m an idiot. I’m a motherfucking idiot-” the world was just spinning, his head was exploding; every single piece of a future he had built up had just fallen on top of him, all at once, and he couldn’t breathe under the weight of it.
“Tony, I’m begging you, don’t do this. I love you, I can’t- it wasn’t Bucky’s fault, you need to understand-”
“Did you know? Truly, did you know?” Tony whispered, hoping for a change in what was truth and what was lies. Hoping for the universe to shift a little and let him keep this, just once.
Steve looked at him, and Tony had never seen him this distraught before; tears streaking down his face, pale and sick and haunted in a way that made Tony know the answer before Steve had even said it.
The universe wasn’t kind. Not to Tony. Which was why he only got a broken “yes” in reply.
The world stopped. Everything. Each atom and dimension, pausing to let him mull the word over.
Steve had known. Steve had held his hand and watched him pour his money into therapy, stroked his hair and kissed him through all the days when his mental illnesses had made him unable to function.
Steve had known.
The world was still paused as Tony quietly, calmly, slowly removed the gauntlet from his left hand and pulled off the ring that was sat there. Still paused as he sucked in a a breath through his teeth and launched it across the room at Steve’s chest. Still paused as Steve caught it, eyes wide as he pleaded for Tony to stop, to think, to not do this, please, I’m begging you-
It only started moving again once Tony had kicked up the repulsors and flown, leaving Steve’s gentle sobs and Barnes’ all-consuming guilt and the footage of his parents’ brutal murders behind him, numb and completely, utterly broken inside.
The compound was silent. FRIDAY said good morning. Tony didn’t answer. She didn’t try anything else.
JARVIS would have. But JARVIS was… offline.
(Dead. JARVIS was dead and he wasn’t coming back and that was Tony’s fault too-)
Whatever. It was fine. Tony hated mornings anyway, he didn’t like talking to anyone or anything before his morning coffee.
Well. Except maybe Steve, when he’d been just as grumpy and just as tired as Tony (because despite the whole ‘peak of physical human perfection’ thing, they guy sure did hate early mornings), with his adorable bedhead and sleepy face and involuntary smile as he’d leaned down to kiss Tony’s temple in greeting-
Fuck. That’s enough
He took a breath, steadied himself. Reached for the coffee pot and then grabbed the bottle of whiskey that he always kept next to it, because if he couldn’t treat himself today, when the hell could he?
(It wasn’t a treat, a treat was something you enjoyed, but this was something Tony needed, the burn in his throat to remind him that he could still feel, that he needed to stop, that he just wanted everything to shut up for a god damn fucking second-)
St–Rogers– was irrelevant. So was the rest of the team. He’d survived plenty of these days before they’d come along, and he’d damn well do the same now.
It didn’t matter that this time last year, Tony had been sat around with a group of people he would have moved heaven and earth for, as they sat and bickered and hugged him, smiling and rolling their eyes when Tony said he didn’t care, it was just a stupid day, pipe the fuck down it’s too early for this crap-
They’d hit him over the head with a stuffed toy and called him a loser. Steve had wrapped his arms around Tony’s waist and kissed the back of his neck until Tony got distracted enough for Bruce to slam himself into Tony’s front and declare a group hug. Everyone had laughed, and it had been the happiest Tony had been in a long time.
Stop it stop it stop it stop it stop it stop it
Tony gasped, because air wouldn’t come, air never fucking came properly any more, and his heart just hurt, like a constant pain where Steve and Clint and Natasha and-
The coffee was 90% whiskey, but that was how Tony liked it.
It was fine.
(It wasn’t fine. Tony knew it wasn’t fine. But, like falling asleep on a lilo at sea, it was only when you finally opened your eyes that you realised there was no way back, no fucking way to take it back, and he was stuck. He was alone. He was always fucking alone.)
“Happy birthday,” he said in a tone that might have been considered cheerful, to no one at all, and pretended that he couldn’t feel the cool absence of a ring banded around his finger as he poured the liquid down his throat.