“I don’t know, Steve. I can’t really explain it myself. Maybe it’s because you bring me coffee at three in the morning even when you’re still mad at me, or because you apologized all seventy-six times for stepping on my toes when we danced. Maybe it’s a hundred other ridiculous things about being your fake husband. I don’t know how it happened except that somewhere along the way I forgot how to pretend. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to really be in love with you.”
warnings: implied emotional abuse, discussion of abuse and abusive tactics
says, putting one hand on his arm just as he’s about to climb out of
Steve turns to
listen to whatever it is she has to say. Her expression is grim,
delicate brows twisted just a little.
“Remember how I
said I thought Tony’s boyfriend was abusive?”
“I want you to
also remember that whatever he shows you may not reflect that.”
understand.” Steve frowns as he tries to piece together what he
thinks she’s telling him. “You’re saying…he’ll hide what he
“It could be
misdirection, distraction, or the abuse may just be part of a private
facet of his personality. Whatever it is, he may not seem
like the type of man who could be abusive. Do you see what I’m
swallows. “You think he might pull one over on me. Make me think
he’s a nice guy.”
looks him unflinchingly in the eye. “He’s an abuser. Abusers are
exceptionally good at camouflaging themselves. If they weren’t, they
wouldn’t have partners, and they wouldn’t get away with the things
Steve says, back straightening. “I have to be alert. I
can do that.”
catches him by the arm again and Steve pauses, surprised. “Don’t
beat yourself up if he gets you, Steve,” she says. “There are
trained professionals who study men like this who still get caught up
in their webs.”
creeps up Steve’s spine. This
time when he reaches for the door, Natasha lets him get it open. He
steps out into the bright sunshine and he’s turning to shut the door
when Natasha calls, “And Steve?”
pokes his head back in the car.
Tony gets weird, or seems not like himself, that’s why. It won’t have
anything to do with you. Don’t make it about you.”
Steve says, throat suddenly dry. He can do that.
Natasha’s always right.
goes in fully prepared to be civil with Tiberius, but not a bit
warmer. But then, as Tony—who is strange and sullen, just like
Natasha said he might be—is introducing them, Tiberius
spots an older woman to Steve’s right who has a swathe of bad burns
up her arm and across half of her face, the scarred skin completely
covering her eye.
Tiberius opens his mouth, Steve is braced for something that will
grind his teeth, but all Tiberius says is, “I’m sorry, give me just
he goes to the woman and touches her shoulder. Steve doesn’t expect
to see her light up the way she does, or the warm hug they share.
must see his confusion because he says, “That’s Aiyana. She works
for Viastone. Two years ago her husband set her house on fire with
Steve stares at Tony.
pays his janitorial staff better than most places, but four weeks in
the hospital is still over the threshold of affordability for them.
He paid her bills, visited her three times a week the whole stay.”
Tony’s expression is soft and said. “Ty’s good to his people—it’s
a big part of why I fell in love with him.”
Tiberius says when he returns, hand outstretched to shake Steve’s
hand. “Friend I haven’t seen in awhile. So, Steve, what is it you
like to do?”
Steve sits in shock, a beer in one hand. “He seems like a good
guy,” he says incredulously to Natasha. “He asked about my art.
He brought Tony drinks and talked about how Viastone’s success is
founded on treating every employee like a person first and an
employee second. He’s funny and—” Steve takes a long pull from
his beer, feeling hunted. “He got me,” he croaks. “But I knew—”
how it went for Tony.”
pales. “He never stood a chance.”
nods. “He’s all smiles and charm until he’s got you in his web.
Then it’s too late. You’re stuck.”
glances over at Natasha, away from the wall. “Then how do we—how
can we help him?”
shrugs with one shoulder. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. All
it takes is one person who treats you like you matter—like you’re
more than a thing.” She looks across the room to where Clint is
sitting and they exchange a look that says more than some of the
books Steve’s read. “Be patient. Tony has to see for himself what
Tiberius is doing to him or he’ll stay stuck.”
chews his lip. “There’s nothing else I can do?”
turns eyes that know too much on him. “Rhodes and Pepper are Tony’s
oldest friends aside from Tiberius. You’ve seen how Tony holds them
at arm’s length. They tried to make him see. All you can do is refuse
to let Tony lie to himself about his culpability in this and wait.
Then, when he’s ready, you help him get free.”
takes a shaky breath. Inaction in the face of something like this
goes against everything Steve believes, everything he’s fought for.
He wants to forcibly remove Tony and make him see sense, even though
he can hardly see it himself. But yeah, he’s seen the way Tony all
but cut Rhodes out of his life, how stiff and formal he is around
Pepper, and according to Natasha they’re his best friends. Rhodes
spent three months in
the desert searching for Tony. They had tried what Steve wants to try
and it had blown up in their faces.
can’t make the same mistake.
he says, taking another unsteady breath. “Then that’s my play. Wait
smiles thinly behind her own glass bottle. “Might just be the
hardest fight of your life, Rogers.”
I don’t think Tony had ever tried to kill himself before. Not actively. Because he’s clever enough that if he wanted to, he would die. Rather, I think he just lived in a sort of way where it was quite clear he didn’t care whether he lived or died. Driving fast, drinking too much, and when he had the suit, risking his life to save others. As though his life was lesser than theirs. And maybe those are the actions of a hero, but they’re also the actions of someone who values their life a lot less than they should. And that hurts.