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Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

The rest of the night was fairly quiet, since Tony left him alone to his thoughts. The flight back was also quiet, and Tony didn't question the fact that Steve asked to be dropped off in Virginia instead of New York. He did throw Steve a surprised glace when he told the driver to go to Arlington Cemetery, but he didn't say anything after seeing the look on Steve's face.

It wasn't until Steve was finally standing in front of the grave as the wind pushed at them that Tony gave in to his curiosity. "This is..."

"Bucky's grave," Steve said. He wondered if he was supposed to be feeling some kind of cathartic release. That was how these things went, right? He visited the grave and now he could move on. It was even a cloudy day, dark and lonely, with a threat of rain. Except Steve felt nothing looking at the carved headstone, other than feeling as empty as the casket below. He'd known this was a bad idea and that it wouldn't help. That didn't stop him from doing it, but he hadn't expected the weariness to settle about in his bones that made him want to sleep another seventy years.

Tony looked between Steve and the headstone, trying to understand what was going on through osmosis, but Steve didn't offer an explanation, simply tracing the letters of Bucky's full name with his eyes. "So not that I begrudge you coming here," Tony started hesitantly, his voice soft, like even Tony Stark couldn't be loud among the dead. Steve didn't acknowledge him, but Tony plowed on anyway, still not raising his voice. "But you said you had to be here today. What's so special about today? It's not the day he-"

Tony cut off at that, biting his lip, but Steve still didn't look up. He saw it out of the corner of his eye, and he could see how uncomfortable Tony was by being here. "It's not the day he died," Steve said easily, finishing Tony's sentence. "It's not his birthday either."

"Then what is it?" Tony asked, tentatively placing a hand on Steve's shoulder.

The touch woke something in Steve, and he stepped away, breaking the contact. It was too familiar, too intimate, and Tony's continued hurt was covered away so fast that Steve could pretend he didn't see it. He was getting good at that, though he almost wished he was getting better at not hurting Tony, rather than at pretending not to notice. "It's two weeks before it makes one year since I've woken up in the future," Steve said by way of apology, as if that explained everything.

Tony watched him, then stared down at the hand he'd used to touch Steve. "You've been out of the ice for a year?" Tony asked.

"Just about," Steve replied. "And two weeks before I put the plane down was the week we went after Dr. Zola's train."

That got recognition out of Tony. "So for you..."

"For me, it's the one year anniversary of his death, no matter what the actual date is," Steve finished.

A silence fell between them as they stood at the grave. Idly, Steve reached out to touch the headstone, but it didn't give him any more closure. It just made him realize the stark difference of the cold stone from Tony's hand. "I didn't get to go to the funeral," Steve said, breaking the silence. "We were putting it off because we didn't have time to mourn, not while the Red Skull was still loose. Not like we had a body, anyhow. Bucky wouldn't have wanted us to miss destroying Hydra's main base just because I was..."

Steve stared at the ground where the empty casket was buried, then moved up to the headstone again. "This is the first time I've been here. Didn't seem like there'd be much point to it."

"Maybe you're looking for closure?" Tony asked, sounding like he was way out of his depth.

"I'm not feeling any," Steve replied. He'd felt more emotion at seeing Bucky's personal effects that had been collected by SHIELD than he did staring down at the empty grave.

"I'm sorry," Tony said. He started to reach out again, but pulled back, holding his hand against him like he was afraid of being unable to stop himself. "I'm sorry, Steve, I-"

Steve's head snapped around. Tony visibly braced himself for a blow, though Steve couldn't tell if he expected it to be physical or emotional. Maybe both. How awful had Steve been to him that Tony was expecting a physical blow?

When none came, Tony's eyes relaxed into confusion. "You're not going to tell me to stop?"

Steve didn't answer his question, turning back to the grave and picking up like Tony hadn't interrupted. "Peggy found me, after we got back. When I was trying to get drunk. Except it didn't work. Part of the serum means that my metabolism's too fast, so I couldn't even get drunk after he died."

For once, there was no quip about making that into a challenge from Tony. In fact, Tony had been surprisingly quiet since the hot pot. Too quiet, now that Steve thought about it. Earlier he'd thought it was because Tony was still recovering from the fight, but now he wasn't so sure. Steve wondered if Tony was trying to give him what he wanted. Sadly, Steve didn't really know what he wanted, and Tony was left to grasp at straws. He didn't like the thought that Tony was trying to change for something as stupid as Steve wanting quiet though, and he sort of missed the quip in a way he couldn't explain.

"She told me it was his choice," Steve continued once he realized Tony wasn't going to interrupt. He thought back to that night, in the ruins of a city whose name he'd long forgotten. Funny, how he could remember everything else, from the smell of the ruined wood, to the specific brown of Peggy's eyes as they tried to comfort him, and down to the burn of the alcohol as it raced down his throat. Yet for some reason his normally excellent memory couldn't recall the town's name. "She said I needed to respect his choice, and not blame myself for it."

"She was right," Tony said, breaking his silence. "Steve, it's not your fault that-"

"Do you want to know what choice it was that got him killed?" Steve asked, unable to take Tony's interruption now. Bitterness entered his voice, the first emotion he'd really felt since getting on the plane.

"To be a soldier?"

"To follow me," Steve said, not meeting Tony's eyes. "I asked all the Howling Commandos, and they said they'd follow Captain America. Bucky though, Bucky said no. He refused. He said he wouldn't follow Captain America. He'd only follow..." Steve choked off, suddenly blinking back tears. He shook his head as if to clear it, refusing to break down now.

"He said he'd only follow Steve Rogers. So he did," Steve said, falling back into his earlier calm. "And look what that got him."

The empty grave and the wind spoke enough for the two of them.

Finally, Tony took a hesitant, limping step closer. All this flying around hadn't been kind to Tony's twisted ankle, and Steve felt a pang of guilt over making things worse again. "Steve, Peggy was right. He chose that, and I doubt he'd have changed it even if he knew what would happen. He knew the danger. It wasn't your-"

Steve whirled around, slapping away the hand that had been reaching out to him. "It was my fault. My shield failed to protect him. I failed him when he needed me. Not Captain America, but Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers couldn't do anything more than watch as Bucky picked up my shield and wasn't able to stand against the force of the blow. I couldn't do anything but watch as Bucky fell."

Tony cradled his hand, and Steve immediately felt even more guilty. How hard had he hit Tony? Why could he do nothing but hurt Tony, and for God's sake, why did the man keep coming back for more? "I'm sorry," Steve choked out. "That wasn't... I shouldn't have done that."

Tony looked down at his wrist for a moment, before meeting Steve's eyes. "It's okay. It doesn't hurt that badly."

"That doesn't excuse it. Don't just forgive something like that!" Steve wanted to shake Tony, but he kept his body in check this time. Tony was being stubborn about all the wrong things. "Let me see it," Steve said, taking a deep breath before moving closer.

"I told you, it's fine. I should have known better than to try again when you're worked up like this. It's not like I don't know how stupid that is to do when I've seen you react like this before, and no one expects you to be able to control yourself all the time, Steve," Tony said, but he let Steve take his hand and run light fingers over the reddening skin.

Steve would have said something about not feeling worked up like he had been in the gym, but the shame had him biting his tongue. At least Tony was right. He might get a bruise, but he didn't seem too badly hurt. This time. How many more times would Steve be wound tighter than a wire and hurt someone?

"Is that why you don't want me to call you Steve?" Tony asked while Steve stared at his wrist, returning the conversation to the rails. Steve stiffened, wondering if Tony had a death wish, bringing up the topic that had gotten him hurt in the first place while Steve was still so close. But this time, Steve held himself in check, not letting his hand tighten like it wanted to around Tony's wrist. He wondered if that was the point, to make Steve aware that he was in control again, but that didn't make it worth the risk.

Steve stepped back, putting distance between them. Tony didn't follow, though he looked like he wanted to. "My shield didn't protect you either," Steve said finally. "And all I seem to do is hurt you."

"Is that what this is about?" Tony growled. "We can follow the orders of Captain America, but we can't get to know Steve Rogers? Because if we do, we could die? That's a fantastic show of trust, Cap."

Tony was getting angry, but Steve didn't feel any guilt for that. Maybe it was wrong, but it was tried and true by this point. "Because Steve Rogers can't afford to lose anyone else," Steve said, the sense of defeat he'd felt on that train coming back full force.

"So are you just going to push everyone away or is it the team that gets special treatment?" Tony snapped.

"You nearly died!" Steve shouted back, feeling awful for yelling at a graveyard but unable to stop. "You nearly died, and I... I didn't have the shield again. I couldn't do anything."

"And because of that, I'm suddenly this fragile? Then tell me what the point of getting you out of the ice was, Cap?" Tony yelled. "Why even bother, if you won't try to live again?"

Steve snorted. "You think I don't ask myself that, Stark? Every. Damn. Day."

Tony looked like he was going to yell more, but he must have seen something in Steve that stopped him. He took a shaky breath, forcing his shoulders down as he ran a hand through his hair. "Steve," he said in an out rush of breath. "Jesus. Don't just... Don't agree with that. Please."

Steve looked away, to the grave, to the tree just down the way, to the cloudy sky that looked like rain but didn't fall, like it was mocking him. To anywhere but Tony. "Then what else do you want me to say, Stark?" he asked with a defeated slump of his shoulders.

"I want..." Tony said hesitantly, taking a tentative step forward. When Steve didn't stop him, he came up until he knocked his shoulder against Steve's. "I want you to call me Tony, if it's all the same to you," he finished with a quiet tone as he looked at the ground. "Not Stark. Tony."

Steve sighed, the tension draining out of him. When had he gotten this tense? He was calm, he really was. He had been other than when he was getting angry at Tony. But maybe Tony had a point about being wound up. Steve obviously wasn't a very good judge at the moment, if he was lashing out so much. Was this shell shock or something else? Steve didn't know, but he did know he was tired of it. He was tired of constantly hurting and hurting other people.

Steve sat down on the ground in front of Bucky's grave, Tony following after him. "Col. Rhodes told me about your bet," Steve started, feeling more tired than he ever remembered being, and he reached out to touch the gravestone again, wondering if it might ground him, even if it wouldn't give him closure. "Why me? You could have picked anyone else in the world, so why me? Someone else would have been easier."

"You didn't have anyone else," Tony said. "Natasha and Clint, they've got each other. Thor has his family and Dr. Foster. Bruce has Betty, regardless of how he denies it. Hell, even Coulson has the cellist in Portland. But you... you didn't have anyone. And you never smiled. You gave the press and sometimes us a goofy PR grin, but never... it was never a real smile."

Tony leaned against him, a warm, soft constant to the cold stone under Steve's fingers. "I didn't want to see anyone like that," Tony admitted. "Especially not you."

It was the 'especially' that caught Steve off guard. "What makes me so special?" he asked, baffled. He'd thought Tony had every reason to dislike him, to be honest.

He turned back to look at Tony, who had a surprised expression. "You're shitting me, right? You're... of course you wouldn't know. Steve, you've only saved the western world and democracy at the price of everything you hold dear. No, I can't imagine why America idolizes you for something like that."

Tony was actually blushing. Tony Stark, who had no shame to speak of, was blushing and admitting he thought Steve was worth the hype. Maybe not in so many words, but the implications were there. With all the fights and spats they've had, Tony still thought of Steve as someone worth looking up to.

And that thought gave him pause. They'd both said some pretty rotten things to each other, but coming from Tony, it was just a spoiled rich guy who knew nothing about Steve and whose opinion ultimately hadn't mattered at the end of the day. Or at least, that's how it had been at the start. Steve's words, on the other hand, would have carried weight. He had the opinion of someone who mattered, and he'd told Tony that he hadn't mattered at all.

How was it that Tony managed to guilt-trip him without saying a word? That really wasn't fair.

"So you're doing this because I'm Captain America?" Steve asked to cover his guilt.

"I'm doing this because Steve Rogers looked lonely," Tony replied, leaning his head against Steve's shoulder. "And because he was miserable. And if I could help him be less miserable, then maybe..."

Tony trailed off. Steve debated knocking Tony off his shoulder, because this was too... intimate. Too 'touchy-feely' as Barton would say. But Tony didn't push for more, and he seemed like he needed the comfort. It certainly wasn't because Steve needed the comfort (and he wanted it. He wanted the contact that told him he wasn't alone, that there was someone willing to touch him in this empty future. But damn it, he did not need it to survive, despite what his body told him), but Steve couldn't find the will to deny Tony the touch after all he'd put the man through. He'd hurt Tony enough recently.

"Maybe?" Steve prompted.

Tony was quiet for so long that Steve wondered if he'd actually get an answer. But then Tony spoke in a small voice that was so unlike his usual bluster: "Maybe if I made someone happier, I wouldn't be so miserable."

The now familiar 'Tony ache' settled over Steve so fast that it almost took his breath away. How many people thought this man was selfish - how Steve had thought Tony was selfish was mind-blowing when forced with the reality of it all. Tony Stark couldn't be happy himself, so he tried to make others happy instead. It was so selfless and misguided, and Steve swore he could hear Rhodes laughing at him, but all he wanted to do was shake Tony. Because of course he'd pick someone who didn't want it, yet tried to save them anyway even if he couldn't have salvation for himself.

Steve's hand tightened over the gravestone, but he made sure not to use too much force. He didn't want to destroy Bucky's grave, and he had the feeling Tony would take that as a bad sign.

Tony continued on when Steve didn't say anything, his voice returning to a more normal state, though he didn't quite lose the air of vulnerability. "Look, we both know... This is a dangerous line of work. No amount of promises that we'll still be here when you wake up can change the fact that tomorrow, some idiot with ideas of world domination might get a lucky shot that takes one of us out. But when Happy was in that coma..."

Tony paused, his shoulders shaking slightly against Steve's. "When Happy was in the coma, I still had Pepper and Rhodey to ground me. It still felt like my fault, and I was angry at the Mandarin, and myself and everyone, and I still did colossally stupid things, but they helped ground me. The other Avengers could do that for you if one of us falls."

"And if I lose all of you?" Steve asked, his chest tightening at the thought. Even when he'd tried to keep his distance, it scared him more than he wanted to think about. It was a question that had to be asked.

Tony held up his fingers, tacking them off as he went. "A, if something has taken out the whole team, you're probably lost with the rest of us. B, if you do survive by some miracle, I fully expect you to avenge us. It's a Thing. It's in the name, and therefore it's a Thing. C, after all of that... well, that's your choice. Go back to this, move on a third time, or go to the Avengers extended family, since despite all of us being broken and damaged goods, we've managed to collect an odd group of misfits that seem to like us anyway."

There was a fourth option, but Steve was just as glad Tony didn't mention it. No matter how rough it got, Steve was still religious enough to feel chilled just thinking about it. He could tell Tony was thinking it, but he shook his head and went on. "But the thing is, Steve, it'll happen whether you let people get close or not. Will you regret not taking what you do have with us now? If not, fine. But if so, keeping this up will make it worse."

Steve considered it. He considered all of the regret that was already in his life, and what he'd missed out with Peggy. He considered his regret about Bucky and how much more that could have hurt. He already didn't have room for more regrets. He considered how far Tony and the others had already wormed their way in, because Steve was terrible at being alone. The conclusion seemed inevitable. That didn't mean he liked it, but the truth of the matter was starting to filter past his denial, like a dam that was on the brink of overflowing.

Or maybe it was the fact Steve really didn't want to be lonely anymore.

He took a deep breath, looking longingly at Bucky's grave one last time. He knew what Bucky would be telling him at any rate. "You remember what you said about wanting me to smile?"

"That was - that was the drugs talking, Steve. I thought we agreed that we weren't mentioning what was said while on drugs. I'm pretty sure that's mentioned in the Avengers charter somewhere so-"

"Tony."

Tony shrugged again, mumbling something about having to try.

"I..." Steve started, closing his eyes for a moment to gather his courage. Funny how he'd never had a problem with that going up against Hydra or bullies, but starting again was somehow more terrifying. "You've seen this. You saw how I acted with Hydra. I just... It'll take a while. And I can't promise you anything."

"But you'll let me keep trying?" Tony asked, his eyes so pathetically hopeful that Steve wondered if that was why he wore sunglasses a lot of the time. Or maybe Steve was just learning to see the shutters Tony puts up around himself after Tony tilted the blinds enough to let a little bit through.

Steve hesitated another moment, before nodding. "You can keep trying," Steve said to affirm it further. Tony smiled at him, a shy little thing that Steve thought wasn't used near enough, and all the more real for it. He wondered if it could work both ways. If he should try to make Tony smile more as well. He could pay it forward, and maybe see if he couldn't cheer Tony up a little since the break-up seemed to be hitting him hard. That's why people connect, isn't it? It wasn't just misery that loved company.

"Good. Great. Um, fantastic. That's not a g-word, but I'll come up with something else eventually," Tony said, letting out a soft breath of relief. Then, quieter so that Steve had to strain to hear it even with his enhanced hearing, "Thank you."

They sat that way in silence for a while, Steve with his hand on Bucky's headstone, and Tony with his head on Steve's shoulder. It was a comfortable silence though, and he wondered what Bucky would have made of Howard's son. Bucky probably would have liked him, while Peggy would have been unimpressed with his bluster, but Steve bet she'd have warmed up to Tony eventually. Tony had a different sort of pluck from Howard, and Bucky and the others would have enjoyed going head-to-head with him. Bucky would have...

"Is it betrayal?" Steve asked suddenly, a panicked note in his voice that he hadn't realized slipped in. Tony sat up, opening his mouth to question, but Steve continued on, "Leaving them. Leaving this. Is it betraying them to..."

A warm hand covered his on the gravestone. "Steve..." Tony said, looking more serious than he'd ever seen him, and just a little scared and out of his depth, but trying to sound confident despite it. "Moving on isn't betrayal. If Bucky were any kind of friend, he'd be furious with you for taking this long to mourn him and grieve. It's not betrayal. No one wants you to torture yourself like this for so long."

"It feels like betrayal," Steve said, feeling alone and lost and scared, because he couldn't do this. He was supposed to be strong, to hold it all in, but he couldn't-

Tony's hand left his, and suddenly Tony was kneeling in front of him, his arms slipping around Steve's neck. "It does," Tony said against his ear. "It does feel like betrayal. But it's not. I promise you, it's not."

Steve should push him away, should tell Tony that he was fine, but instead he just let Tony hug him, because letting Tony have his way was the path of least resistance. It wasn't because he was trembling and leaning into the touch. It wasn't because he needed something solid, something grounding, or else he'd be too far adrift in his own grief.

Or maybe it was because he did. Steve didn't know what to do anymore, which path to follow. It was strange, but even without the reactor, Tony was still like a beacon shining in a lighthouse, and for the first time Steve wanted to grasp at the path Tony was offering.

Tony held him as he calmed down, until Steve was able to let go of Bucky's headstone and open his eyes without fear of seeing betrayal on a ghostly visage. Logically, he knew Tony was right. That didn't make it easier to believe, but Tony's solid bulk pressed against him eased the choke hold the emotion held on his chest. Almost without realizing it, his arms wrapped around Tony's waist, pulling him closer.

They both started when Tony's phone blasted some noise that Tony insisted was music. Tony reached into his pocket and jabbed at something as he growling, holding tight to Steve with his other hand to keep him from pulling away. Steve felt a little warmer despite the wind at the fact Tony had ignored a call for him.

When it started ringing again though, Steve did what he should have done at the start; he pulled back. "It sounds important," Steve said, secretly relieved that his voice sounded calm. "You should answer it."

Tony pulled out the phone to jab at it this time, not even looking at the number as he cut it off. "Look, I know I'm crap at this sort of thing, but even I know the damn phone can wait."

It wasn't five seconds before the phone started ringing again. Steve had to take Tony's hands to keep him from turning the phone off completely, shaking his head. "I'm fine," Steve said, rolling to his feet after another moment. "It's okay. You should answer it."

Tony didn't look happy, but he took the call this time, standing up as well and moving a little ways off from the graves. Steve could still hear him speaking softly but angrily into the phone. "I'm in the middle of A Moment here, Pep. Company business can wait."

Tony was quiet for a moment as he listened to whatever Pepper had to say. "So the doctors called. If it were important, they would have - no, I didn't give them your cell phone number on purpose. Yours is the only one I remember. It worked, okay? It's better than... they want what?"

Steve had been trying to politely ignore the call, but his head snapped up at the tone of Tony's voice. Tony looked pale, like the blood had drained from his face. But Tony was already moving, his mouth unhindered by the distress. "Okay, okay. Look, I'm not in China at the moment, but I'll get back. I know I said I was going to stay, but it was important, okay! Sorry, I... Set up the appointment. I'll be there, I promise." He was silent for a moment before he said softly, "I love you."

Whatever Ms. Potts said left Tony staring at the ground. "Yeah, still broken up. Got it. Don't worry about me, Pepper. I'll be fine. I usually am, right? Yeah, I'll be careful. Bye, Pep."

"What was that about?" Steve asked sharply, unable to help from moving closer any longer.

The vulnerability that had been laced through out Tony's body snapped off like broken ice, his usual facade falling into place. It was shaky though, and anyone would be able to see through that mask. "Pepper called. Apparently the doctors have been calling her. They want..." Tony stumbled over the words as it started to rain. He looked up, wiping away the rain that was starting to gather on his eyelashes. "Anyway, I've got to head back to the land of Communists. Sorry. You can stay longer in the rain, if you want. That's broody and manly, right? Should be right up your alley. I can send a jet for you later if you still-"

"What do the doctors want?" Steve asked patiently, because it was that or strangling Tony, and the latter wouldn't help with the doctors' wishes. Tony didn't answer, looking away.

Steve looked down at Bucky's grave as the rain started to pick up, making his decision. He took a step towards Tony. "You want this connection to work, Tony, it goes both ways. Don't snap it off when it starts to pull tight."

Tony's eyes went wide before he shut them against the rain. Steve didn't know if he was closing himself off or preparing himself, but he waited as Tony's shoulders rose and fell, slowly being soaked by the rain.

"They think they found something," Tony said tightly. "They want to run more tests."

"Something?" Steve said, his chest tightening. Tony wouldn't look upset if it was good news, and suddenly the graveyard seemed like a much darker place.

"Yeah, of the 'it could be nothing serious, but we want to make sure' type. You know, the kind the doctors have already found, but want to reassure you that nothing's wrong yet," Tony said, his voice unsteady as he kept going on. "One of these days, the universe will find a new way to kill me. Really, the whole heart thing is getting old. If it's going to keep throwing this shit at me, the least it can do is be more creative, right?"

Tony was walking back to where they'd left the driver, trudging through the rain. Without thinking about it, Steve grabbed his arm as he walked by, holding him in place. Tony tugged ineffectively at it. "Look, I've got to get on a plane again, which is really starting to suck at this point even with my private jet making the ride better than most planes, so-"

"You're not going without me," Steve growled.

"Great. You take your responsibility personally. Fantastic," Tony said, pulling at his wrist again. "Really, you can let go now. I won't just disappear."

"Won't you?" Steve asked. Tony stopped tugging and looked away. "I..."

"I'm sorry," Tony said, not meeting his eyes. "I know. I'm screwing everything up. Again. I've just made things worse, haven't I? Trying to get you to open up when there's a good chance I'm dying. Again. Have I mentioned the again bit? Because I think it bears repeating that-"

Steve let go of Tony's wrist and gave in to temptation. Shaking Tony was far more satisfying than he'd imagined. Tony shut up, his eyes going wide as his wet hair fell between them. Steve didn't let go of Tony's shoulders as he stopped shaking, glaring down at the now soaked genius. When Steve didn't say anything, Tony sighed. "I'm fine, alright? I've done this all before. It's not exactly surprising news, Steve."

"You're not fine," Steve said, eyes daring Tony to argue. "Stop denying that. You're not fine, Tony. And neither am I." The last was added softly as Steve resisted the urge to rub the rain out of his eyes. It was galling to admit it, but if Tony was going to just bundle things up after finally moving the unmovable Steve Rogers, he had another thing coming. As he'd said earlier, connections work both ways.

Of course, Steve hadn't counted on Tony closing his eyes, taking a shuddering breath, and leaning against Steve's chest as he buried his face against Steve's shoulder. He felt Tony's fingers curling around the fabric of his shirt while he tried to decide what to do with his own hands.

"I can't..." Tony started, cutting off with a shiver that never quite stopped. It took Steve a moment to realize Tony was trembling. "I couldn't tell them the first time. I don't know if I can do this again. I was - I was trying this time, and I've put them through so much crap already. I can't..."

Steve finally settled his hands gingerly on Tony's back. He closed his eyes, and he could see his mother coughing the first time he realized she wasn't going to win against the illness, and he couldn't handle that right now. Instead he looked back through the rain at Bucky's grave for guidance, but no inspiration struck him. He was going to have to forge forward on his own from here on out. He looked down at Tony trembling against him and realized that while the hurt was still there, the prospect of moving forward wasn't as frightening as before.

"You won't have to tell them," Steve said, easing the one doubt he knew he could. Telling Col. Rhodes, Ms. Potts, and Tony's ex-bodyguard would be a living nightmare, he was sure, but he could promise Tony that much. "You don't have tell them. That's my job, remember?"

"Your job is to keep me from hiding it again," Tony corrected, but he didn't argue. Steve must have said something right, because Tony relaxed marginally against him. "They'd still know," Tony said after a moment.

Steve looked at the sky, taking back his earlier thoughts about the sky mocking him by not raining. He was soaked, Tony was soaked, and the rain didn't wash away the pain like it was supposed to. He sighed, hugging Tony a little closer and wishing his shield once again wasn't so useless. "They'll know. You were the one talking about regrets earlier though. I don't think they want any more of those either."

"So you're saying I'm being selfish. Not the first time," Tony said, with a low chuckle. He leaned back and Steve let go of him immediately. "Selfish and hypocritical. That's practically my MO by this point. I don't..."

Tony was back to his sneaky non-eye contact, but Steve didn't call him on it. "So you ready to go?" Tony asked, rather than finishing his sentence. He ran a hand through his drenched hair. "Or do you actually need to do the manly brooding in the rain thing? What we just did was pretty non-manly, so I can get you needing to reaffirm your 1940s masculinity after a heart-to-heart."

Point of fact was that he did want to stay and brood. But he also didn't want Tony catching a cold on top of his heart condition, and the living couldn't wait like the dead could. Bucky would... he'd forgive Steve for that, wouldn't he? "I can 'be manly' next time the sun comes out," Steve said.

He took one last look at Bucky's empty grave. Maybe it wasn't the closure he wanted, but now he felt like he was moving towards it rather than staying still. He followed Tony back to the car, shielding Tony as best he could from the rain.

* * *

Beijing was just as smog-filled as Steve remembered it, and they were both jet lagged after so much time spent flying in the past couple of days. It really didn't help that every time Steve fell asleep, not five minutes later fireworks would go off close to the hotel, and it'd send him tumbling out of bed looking for cover. The fifth time it happened, Tony obviously heard the thud and offered him ear-plugs, shrugging as he said it must be the start of a Chinese holiday or a wedding.

If it were a holiday, the doctors were awfully swell about seeing Tony the next morning despite the holiday. The tests were simple enough, and some of them were retests to see if the tranquilizer had any lasting effects. Tony sat through them all patiently, but Steve could tell that he wasn't happy.

He debated just letting Tony work out his frustration for himself. Tony's words about regret filtered through his list of pros and cons though, and he reached for Tony's tablet, searching for something that would be suitable for his needs.

When the doctors said they were free to go for the next couple of days, Steve called them a taxi and refused to let Tony see the address that he showed the driver. They drove halfway across Beijing (and took a picture with the taxi driver before they were allowed to pay), but the look on Tony's face when he saw their destination was kind of priceless. Steve made a mental note to draw it when he got back to the hotel.

"You're taking me out for ice cream," Tony said in disbelief as he stared at the Cold Stone Creamery logo.

Steve shrugged. "You were being good at the doctor's office," he said as if Tony were a child to be mollified and really, he was only half teasing.

Tony narrowed his eyes, about to come up with some undoubtedly scathing reply as Steve raised his eyebrows. Then he looked at the ice cream though the window. "You're getting away with this only because it's American ice cream and not some crappy Chinese ice cream. Don't expect this to work again," Tony said, stalking off to smile charmingly at the lady behind the counter as he ordered.

Steve just smirked, knowing that it would work again, no matter what Tony said. He picked a chocolate ice cream with Oreo sandwiches smashed into it (they surprisingly enough didn't taste too differently from the time he and Bucky had saved up for a box of them, and he'd grown fond of them since he'd woken up), while Tony chose at least three different flavors (one of which Steve didn't recognize, even with the English letters on the card as well), sprinkles, and hot fudge sauce before sliding down in a seat next to Steve. They sat there, eating their ice cream as they watched people walking by out of the long window. Tony checked his phone as he ate, nearly choking on his spoon. "This is not cool. I did all the work on this. I was the one who nearly died. But I apparently don't even get space in the headline!"

"What are you talking about, Tony?" Steve asked, polishing off the remainder of his ice cream.

Tony looked up at him in surprise at the sound of his name, a tiny smile appearing on his face before he hid it away. It struck Steve how little it took to make Tony happy, if all it took was Steve using his first name. Considering how unhappy Tony looked in most of the pictures and videos in his file, Steve wondered how many people bothered to give it to him. Out of all the Avengers, Steve was pretty sure only Banner didn't use Tony's family name.

But soon Tony was back to groaning, shoving his phone in Steve's face. "Chinese media sucks. Also, I'm totally not doing any more PR events here. Fury can suck it."

Steve looked at the headline, and then blushed at the picture. "Captain America saves China's national treasure," he read, sparing another glance at the picture of him with his shield, standing heroically over the panda. He skimmed through the article after that. "They mention you being hospitalized in the attack."

"Five paragraphs down," Tony said, but he looked more amused than anything. "So, how does it feel to be China's new darling super-hero?"

"I'm not-"

Tony flicked his finger across his phone, showing the next headline: 'China loves Captain America!' "Stocks are saying your merch just went through the roof in the Asian markets," Tony said idly.

Steve slouched down, pressing his head to the counter. Fury would be on him like a tiny, vicious tick to do PR now, just to encourage the good press. There would probably be awards involved. He hated awards. "Sorry for stealing your thunder," Steve grumbled.

"Just don't steal it from Thor. It's kind of his gig," Tony said far too cheerfully.

Steve wondered how much worse walking around Beijing would be, then decided he was just going to stay at the hotel for the remainder of their stay. Bucky would be laughing hysterically if he'd been here. And that... the thought hurt, but it didn't hurt as much as it usually did. Tony's hand patting his shoulder helped chase some of the pain away, and for once, Steve didn't knock it off.

* * *

"Did you know the Chinese invented cock rings?" Tony said as Steve paced the floor. "Apparently they were originally made with the eyelids of goats. With the eyelashes left on, because it felt better or something, though that sounds kind of freaky to me. And not a good kind of freaky."

Steve blinked. His mind pictured it without prompting, and what was that phrase Tony used? Brain bleach. Yeah, he was positive he needed lots and lots of brain bleach right now. Tony adding "Your ears really do turn bright red when you blush," really didn't help matters either.

"Why are you telling me this?" Steve asked, ignoring the heat in his cheeks and ears.

"Seemed like something that should be shared with the rest of the world," Tony said casually. "Also, your pacing is driving me nuts. Sit down, will you?"

Steve glanced at the chair next to Tony and did a mental check of how much pent-up energy he had, and resumed pacing. He'd gone far too long without a punching bag. "How do you even know that?" Steve asked, trying not to think about dead goats anywhere near his nether regions.

"Well, you've got the pacing bit down this time, so I was doing some research. I got a notice saying there's an unlicensed cock ring in your colors with a white star on the clasp going around. They're claiming it's more of an American thing instead of a Captain American thing though, so I was trying to research the claim when one thing led to another and-"

Steve was not having this conversation with Tony anymore. It was better for his sanity and for Tony's continued existence of not dying by a super soldier induced death by shaking. "Stow it, Stark."

Tony deflated a little at the name, but looked like he was fully intending to continue talking regardless. Thankfully, the door clicked open as Dr. Wu walked in, followed by the pretty woman who was acting as their translator. Tony stood immediately, every bit as tense as Steve, and greeted the doctor.

"What's up, Doc?" Tony asked. Steve wondered if Tony made the reference to soothe him, since he usually stuck with references that were made after Steve's time.

Their translator stepped forward, smiling. "The cardiac dysthythmia doesn't seem like it will be a long-term problem. It appears that it is just your heart needing time to readjust to not having the arc reactor any longer. It's evened out since your last fight, and the elevated heart rate probably saved your life at the time."

"But it's still a problem, isn't it? The whole breathing thing?" Tony said, his fingers tapping at his chest in a rhythm not unlike a heartbeat.

"You said it's been happening with less frequency, and that it took longer than the last few times during the last battle and the tests," the translator said. "And even in this past week since we re-did the tests, there has been some improvement. It will probably be back to normal in a month or two. If it is not, then let us know and we'll see if there's something we missed. But right now there doesn't seem to be any problems with your heart."

"What about my temperature running too hot?" Tony asked. Steve almost wanted to stop Tony from asking, because this was good news. But he saw the tension in Tony's shoulders. Steve realized with a start that he probably wanted to be certain before getting his hopes up.

Dr. Wu said a few words, and the woman nodded. "Dr. Wu thinks it was probably just a small fever as your immune system recovered from the surgery, and you need to get some proper rest."

"Oh," Tony said.

Tony was quiet for the remaining explanations of the test results, letting Steve ask most of the questions. Dr. Wu and the translator left eventually after thanking both of them for saving the pandas.

When Steve returned from walking them out, Tony was staring at his tablet without seeing it. "Are you alright?" Steve asked, wondering what had gotten into the man. It had been good news!

"Fine," Tony said, looking up at Steve with a slightly lost expression. "I'm fine, right? That's what they just said, and it's not a dream or anything, right? So I have to be fine now. It's good. Isn't it?"

Steve got the 'Tony-ache' as the genius spoke, but at least this time he could do something about it. He sat down beside Tony, pinching him lightly.

"Ow!" Tony yelped, the lost expression turning to a glare. "What was that for?"

"This isn't a dream," Steve said. "You're really okay, Tony. So don't think you can use this as an excuse to get out of training."

"Yeah," Tony said, taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly. "Yeah. I'm... I'm okay."

Then Tony turned and smiled at Steve. It was a small, little thing that was almost shy around the edges, and it went against every instinct Steve had when it came to Tony Stark. But it was there, small and broken, but happy. Really, it was only the last bit that mattered.

"Steve, you..."

Steve blinked, coming back down from his thoughts. "What?" he asked, feeling a little self-conscious at the way Tony was staring at him. He felt like there was something on his face, but surely Tony would have made a fuss about that earlier if it were true.

Tony just smiled wider. "Nothing," Tony said quickly, jumping up and dragging Steve with him. "Come on. Let's go celebrate with expensive food and baijiu! And fireworks. We should totally set off some fireworks. From a distance so they're not loud though, because yeah, that's... anyway, let's go!"

Steve felt his lips twitching upward again to meet Tony's infectious grin. And, oh. Again.

He'd been smiling.

Steve hadn't even noticed it. It'd just felt so natural, returning the broken smile given to him by Tony that he hadn't even noticed. His own smile had probably been just as broken, but Tony didn't seem to mind.

He thought back to Bucky and the others, and it hurt, but not as much as it usually did. Tony continued to talk at a breakneck speed in front of him as he tugged Steve along. Tony, who wasn't a screw up at this whole connecting business.

Maybe that meant Steve could get better at it too. Watching Tony smile wasn't a bad payoff either....

"-track down those cock rings too, because, obviously we need first hand evidence!"

...even when Steve really wanted to shake him.

~FINI~

Memory: Well, there you have it.  I should like it noted again that when I sprained my ankle the day before heading up the Great Wall, I had no Steve and only my work heels to wear, so Tony got off easy.

Grumpy Steve was surprisingly sassy.  I'm still not sure if I liked how his characterization turned out in this one, but hey.  It worked out in the end, even if I did turn Tony into a tragic shoujo heroine.  You can take the girl out of the shoujo writing, but you can't take the shoujo writing out of the girl...

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed!  And now for the quote of the fic:

"Grief can take care of itself; but to get the full value of a joy you must have someone to divide it with."
--Mark Twain