Pairings/Characters: Steve/Tony, Natasha Romanoff, Bucky Barnes, Bruce Banner, Dummy, Thor Odinson
Continuity: Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers (2012)
Genres: Angst, Drama, Hurt/Comfort, A Touch Of Romance
Warnings: PTSD, Major Canon Character Death
Spoilers: For Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and The Avengers (2012)
Summary: Steve and Tony deal with Steve’s PTSD.
Date Of Completion: January 21, 2014
Date Of Posting: February 16, 2014
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, Marvel and Paramount do, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 1879
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
The entire series can be found here.
As I gaze upward
While my heart weeps.
"The Stars Have Dimmed"
Steve stared out through the glass of Stark Tower. Snow was piled on rooftops and down on the street far below, glittering in the pristine air. Frosted patterns were scattered across the windows, creating a beautiful set of wintry designs. He carefully touched the glass.
It was cold. New York, like the rest of the Northeast and Midwest, was currently suffering Arctic temperatures. Today it was 6 degrees with the wind chill dropping it to –10.
He was no stranger to cold, of course, having spent 67 years in the deep freeze. And recently he had been lured back to the ice by malicious Sirens who had nearly succeeded in their nefarious task.
Tony’s love saved me.
His brief warmth at the thought of his lover faded as he thought of the past few months. He was ashamed of what had happened.
I hurt Tony.
He closed his eyes, touching his forehead to the glass. Cold seeped into his bones.
I should have stayed in the ice.
He recognized the signs of depression but had no energy to fight it.
The voice was soft and non-judgmental. He stirred and lifted his head up. “Natasha?”
Her reflection was placid in the glass but Steve could see the concern in her eyes. She placed a small-but-strong hand on his shoulder.
Steve followed her, feeling bone-weary. He sat heavily on the living room couch and leaned back, closing his eyes. Natasha sat next to him.
It was quiet enough to hear the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece. Tony had built it with a modern appearance but old-fashioned ticking. Steve had teased him about it but appreciated the old-fashioned part.
“Another flashback?” Natasha asked quietly.
“Close to it.” Steve sighed. “Double dose: the war and the Sirens.”
“Tell me about it.” Steve felt himself relax a little. Natasha’s calm attitude was just what he needed right now. “Where is everybody?”
“Thor and Clint are sparring in the gym, Phil is asleep in his room, and Bruce and Tony are in the lab.”
Steve rested an arm over his eyes. “I’m tired.”
“You’ve been dealing with your PTSD for awhile.”
“We called it battle fatigue during the war. Our fathers called it shellshock.”
“Different names, same symptoms.”
“I thought Tony was Bucky when he went over the terrace.”
“I hurt him.”
“He’ll get over it. You weren’t responsible.”
“No? I kept thinking that Tony was Bucky, the man I couldn’t save.”
“I saved you.”
Bucky smiled. “You sure did.”
“We always took care of each other.”
“You bet, Steve.” Bucky grasped Steve’s arm. “Always.”
Steve drew his old friend into a hug, feeling Bucky tremble.
“I finally came to my senses and realized that I hadn’t saved Bucky.”
Natasha’s hand was on his arm and she squeezed gently. “Bucky wouldn’t blame you.”
“He should,” Steve said bitterly. “He always took care of me and when he needed me, I failed him.”
“You’re beating yourself up.”
“You can’t do this to yourself. You’re a soldier. You can’t agonize over every loss.”
“This one was special.” Steve lowered his arm. “All losses hurt, but Bucky and I grew up together. We were best friends.” He opened his eyes and looked at Natasha with a haunted expression. “I think of him every day.”
Natasha’s expression was sympathetic. “It doesn’t get easier.”
Steve’s sadness rolled off him in waves as he thought of his past.
Natasha patted his arm and stood. “Rest for awhile. Would you like some tea?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
Natasha left the living room but did not head to the kitchen. Instead she took the elevator down to Tony’s lab.
Bruce and Tony were deep in conversation about something scientific when she entered. Neither man looked up as Dummy drifted around their area.
“Tony, you should be with Steve.” Natasha’s tone was firm.
The genius did not look up. “He wants Bucky.”
This time he looked up. “So?”
“Yeah, so. You love him. Be with him.”
“He’s wrapped up in the past.” Tony ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t help him.”
“He doesn’t need you to be his shrink.” Tony looked torn. “He needs you to be his friend.”
“…know how? Just be there for him, Tony. If he’s wrapped up in the past, show him he’s got a good thing going here in the present.”
Tony still looked uncertain. “I want to help, but I’m afraid of making things worse.”
“I’m glad you have so much faith in me.”
Natasha ignored Tony’s sarcasm. She knew that he was afraid and worried for Steve. She started at him steadily. No menace, no guilt-tripping, just waiting to see what he would do.
Tony’s shoulders slumped. “Help me.”
Natasha felt a pang of sympathy for both Tony and Steve. Bruce put his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Do as Natasha says. Show Steve what he’s got in the present.”
Tony nodded briefly as Dummy hovered protectively around him. He left the lab and slowly walked up the stairs, ignoring the elevator.
“Do you think Tony can really help Steve?” Bruce asked Natasha.
“More than he thinks.”
Tony entered the living room, his heart going out to the defeated man slumped on the couch. He sat down next to him and said, “Steve.”
Steve opened his eyes. Tony saw the raw emotions and was afraid. What if he screwed this up?
Buck up, Stark. After all, Stark men are made of iron, right?
“It’s okay, Tony.”
Tony felt like crying. Instead he laughed. “You’re worried about me?”
Steve’s eyes were tired but he managed to chuckle. “What are friends for?”
“Yeah.” Tony managed to smile.
“I’m sorry, Tony.”
Amazed, Tony asked, “Why? You’re the one suffering.”
Steve waved a hand. “For all this…PTSD stuff.”
Tony felt strong affection surge through him. Steve was young in relative terms though approaching a century chronologically. He was adapting to the 21st century but was still of a different generation, and that generation found it difficult to speak about things like PTSD.
Not that I blame him. Even with everybody spilling their guts through talk shows and the Internet these days, sometimes it’s tough for men of even my generation to talk about something that deep.
“I thought you were Bucky.”
Tony ignored the pang in his chest. “I know.”
Steve slowly let Tony go. “I saved you,” he said in a small voice.
Steve looked frightened. “I…I grabbed you before you went over the side…I mean, fell.”
The light of the moon was silvering Steve’s blond hair as they sat in the living room of Stark Tower. Thor and Bruce were in the room, ready to give aid if necessary. They had come directly from the Biltmore Hotel after the harrowing incident with Tony nearly falling to his death due to a faulty railing on the balcony.
Steve’s relief at saving Bucky was turning to confusion. “You fell into the chasm. I couldn’t…but it was a railing…a train…”
Thor stepped forward and gently squeezed Steve’s shoulder. “Breathe deeply, my friend.”
Tony held his breath. Steve’s delusion was breaking down. Dangerous.
Tears shimmered in Steve’s eyes. “Bucky.” He grabbed Tony’s arm. Tony winced. “Bucky, please. Tell me you’re all right. Tell me…tell me that…”
Tony looked helplessly at Thor. The Asgardian was about to speak when Steve’s expression crumbled. He slowly let go of Tony’s arm and shrank back.
The anguished whisper tore at Tony’s heart as Steve began to cry, burying his face in his hands.
Tony remembered how the sobs had wracked Steve’s large frame. The pain of losing Bucky all over again had crushed Steve, and he was still suffering.
“You don’t have to be sorry,” Tony said gently.
“I’m just…at loose ends. I never meant to hurt you.”
Tony heard the unsaid pain over Bucky. That moment when Steve had lost his childhood best friend would haunt him forever.
The mantel clock ticked loudly in the silence. Tony was proud of his design.
Maybe I should try a cuckoo clock next time and drive Clint crazy.
The thought cheered him up. “Hey, you know, it’s cold out.”
“Cold as a well digger’s…”
“Let’s go up to the solarium.”
Steve hesitated, then said, “Okay.”
They took the elevator up to the top floor. During the repairs to the Tower after the Battle of New York, Tony had designed the solarium on the roof, leaving part of the roof open but taking up a quarter of the space with the new enclosure. Pepper had taken charge of the plants and flowers while Tony had supervised the installation of the large Jacuzzi.
The riot of color was eye-catching: orange, red, yellow, purple and pink as the exotic flowers released their perfume. Steve smiled with delight at the lemon and orange trees in the main area of the large glass enclosure.
Tony led him into a smaller room with fewer trees and flowers but still abundant. In the center was the Jacuzzi, the water already bubbling courtesy of JARVIS.
Tony began disrobing. There were towels and robes kept in a cedar chest that doubled as a bench and he grabbed a few towels. Steve smiled and copied him by undressing, easing into the heated water. They rested back against the wall of the tub, letting their legs float. Steve stared up at the ceiling.
“The stars are really beautiful tonight.”
“They always are on a cold night.”
Steve frowned slightly. “I remember seeing more stars when I was growing up.”
“It’s light pollution. We use a lot more lights now and you can can’t see the stars as well.”
“Progress?” Steve murmured. “A pity.”
Tony thought so, too. He loved glitz and tech but it was a shame the stars were dimmed.
“Bucky and I would lie on the rooftop of our tenement in the summer and look up at the stars.” Steve smiled fondly. “It was free, good for poor kids with no money.”
Tony wondered what being poor was like. As neglectful as his father had been, he had always provided Tony with plenty of creature comforts and a generous allowance.
It doesn’t matter how much S.H.I.EL.D. pays you, you’ll never have to worry about money ever again.
Tony had disrobed except for his T-shirt, and the water level in the Jacuzzi was automatically kept low by JARVIS whenever Tony was present. He couldn’t swim anymore because of the arc reactor, but he could still enjoy a Jacuzzi with the proper precautions.
“They’re so beautiful,” Steve murmured as he gazed up at the stars.
Tony gazed at Steve. “Yes, you are,” he said softly. He moved closer to Steve and kissed his shoulder. He rained kisses across his lover’s broad chest. He hoped that he was on the right track. He didn’t want to make things worse.
Steve turned his head and looked at Tony. He gently encircled Tony’s shoulders and drew him closer. “Thank you,” he whispered.
There was still a long road ahead, but for now, they were all right.