Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

He sank down into one of those uncomfortable chairs, not caring about how hard it was. His shield hung limply in his hands, because no matter how it failed him, he still couldn't give the damned thing up. All he could do was wait for the news he knew was coming. After an hour or so of sitting there and ignoring the rest of the world, a man came up to Steve. "Captain America?" he asked.

Steve wanted to snap, to point at the shield and ask if he saw any other super heroes wearing the American flag around who had failed to protect their teammates. He wanted to see if that rice wine Tony kept going on about might be enough to overwhelm his metabolism this time, or at least see if it burned on the way down. He wanted to wander around in the Arctic in hopes that no one would find him this time. He wanted a lot of things, but in the end he did what he did best: he buried it deep and nodded to the man.

"Mr. Stark had Iron Man protect him," the man said in hesitant English. "He only... né gè... It did not hit her."

"Her?" Steve said, wondering who the doctor was talking about.

"Him. Sorry. English is not my subject," the doctor said.

"So he wasn't hit?" Steve asked, relief flooding through him with a force that was nearly blinding. As it was, he barely found the breath to say "Then why-"

"Small cut. His right collarbone. Some of drug is in blood stream, but very small. Drug is not so strong."

It would only take a small amount to kill Tony regardless. A pinprick would probably be enough, even if they'd gotten enough adrenaline into him to try to counter-act the drug. Never mind that the adrenaline itself could kill Tony with his heart problems. "Will he be alright?" Steve asked after swallowing down the new rush of fear.

The man nodded. "Her - his heart is beating fast, but he should wake up."

Steve sank down in the hard chair, barely taking note of the doctor. He vaguely remembered telling the doctor 'thank you' before the man walked away, but it faded in the background of his swimming thoughts. Stark - Tony - was going to be okay. Where did that put him in terms of denial? Steve didn't know anymore, and fear and regret wore him down as they fought it out in his head. He didn't want this, but he didn't know if he could go back to the way things had been either. He could never go back to the way things were before. It wasn't fair.

Steve wondered if he should ask to see Tony, or if he should just wait here. Did China have laws like they did in the States? If not, someone needed to tell Ms. Potts and Col. Rhodes that Tony was alright. If they'd seen it on the news and no one called them, they would probably already be on the way here. Steve fumbled with his phone, wishing the buttons weren't so small and his fingers weren't quite so big. He didn't know Ms. Potts's number, but he did have Rhodes on his phone if he could remember how to find his received calls again. It was times like this he wished he used his phone more often, so he'd be more used to it.

The phone rang for a while, before a sleepy-sounding Colonel picked up. "Rhodes here," he slurred. Then after a beat of silence. "Hello?"

Of course, Rhodes and Potts might have just been sleeping and not watching the news. It was well past midnight on the other side of the world. "Sorry to wake you, Sir," Steve said. He should have remembered the time difference, emotional shock or not.

Rhodes just chuckled. "You might not believe it since Tony's so on top of things, but I'm used to it," he replied sarcastically. "What's up? Has Tony given you the slip?"

"He's okay," Steve said, needing to hear it himself. "They said he'd..."

"What happened?" Rhodes demanded, any trace of sleep gone from his voice.

"He took a hit meant for me," Steve said, his voice sounding far away. "It was a tranquilizer dart meant for my metabolism."

"Christ," Rhodes swore. Steve heard some furious clicking sounds that took him a moment to place as a keyboard. "He's alright? That lucky son of a bitch, because one of these days I swear his luck will run out. There's nothing on the news either, so China's keeping a tight lid on this one. He's okay?"

"He will be. He's fine," Steve said.

"Thank god," Rhodes said, sounding just as shaken up as Steve felt. "He's awake?"

"Not yet. The doctor said he'd probably wake up. It was just a scratch," Steve said, responding on autopilot.

There was a moment of quiet as Rhodes took that in. "Are you alright?" Rhodes said, surprisingly gently. "Cause man, you don't sound it."

Had anyone asked him that question since he'd woken up? Asked and really meant it. He laughed a little hysterically, not caring if that drew even more stares than normal from the Chinese people. "It was Hydra."

There was dead silence on the other end, and Steve knew he should be telling Fury first (if the man didn't already know, in which case Steve was going to hit something. Preferably Fury) but he couldn't hold that back any more than he could the hysterical laughter. "The Nazi bastards you killed in the second World War?" Rhodes asked finally, stunned. "That Hydra?"

"The same," Steve said, letting his laughter die as a surprising amount of anger took over. "Only I apparently didn't kill them. Couldn't even do that for Bucky. The one thing in my life that won't go away. Everyone is dead, but Hydra is always there. Always trying to take-" Steve cut himself off, looking up at the doors the doctor had gone through, back to Tony. Tony had only just started being important, and already Hydra was trying to take it from him.

"Well, fuck," Rhodes said. And damned if that wasn't the most eloquent way of summing up the situation. "Damn, that's... Do you need the team out there? Or hell, anyone you want me to call?"

Steve couldn't tell if he wanted to scoff or cry more. "I'm fine," he said, leaning over and running his hands through his hair, because who the hell could he call? "I don't want to think about if Fury knows. The ones we knocked out are in custody, and I'm pretty sure the Chinese searched for cyanide capsules before they woke up. I... I'm fine."

"Yeah, not really buying that, Captain," Rhodes said. "Look, I'm not saying I'll be the best person to talk to, but you're doing me a favor currently, so if you don't have anyone else I'll listen. I mean, you're... Okay, that's probably too much hero-worship for me to say, which is probably not what you need right now. Can we forget I said that and let me go back to being a higher ranking officer?"

Steve couldn't break down here, especially not on the line with one of Tony's friends while the Chinese people stared at him and took pictures. He took a shaky breath, deciding to try to change the subject. "Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot," Rhodes said.

Steve tried not to flinch at the terminology. "Before he was knocked out, Tony... Stark said he'd screwed up again. Then he mentioned you and said he wanted to be wrong. What was that about?"

He heard Rhodes sigh, and in any other circumstance, he'd have been impressed that he could hear that halfway across the world. "I challenged him," Rhodes admitted. "After he and Pepper broke up two months a-"

"They broke up?" Steve interrupted, thinking back over the past few weeks instead of how he'd just cut off a colonel. Tony had been acting a little differently lately. Quieter, almost.

That earned him another sigh. "Of course he wouldn't tell you," Rhodes muttered. "Why would he? Yeah, he and Pep broke up, and they've both been taking it pretty hard. Pepper's been keeping afloat by delving into SI, but Tony's... I'm sure you've noticed, but Tony has problems really connecting with people."

Steve nodded, forgetting that Rhodes wouldn't be able to see it, but the other man continued on regardless. "He's got me, and he's got Pepper and Happy, because we saw past the show he puts on and decided to stick around. Happy saw him yelling at his old driver, because the other guy wouldn't stop to check an animal he'd hit. They were on a tight schedule, but you know how Tony gets when he wants something. In the end, Happy offered to drive the dog to a vet, and Tony tagged along with him instead to help keep it calm on the drive."

"Tony hates dogs," Steve said absently. They'd passed a lot of dogs in China, both on a leash and without, and he'd gotten the rant of how Tony hates dogs ten times over.

"He paid the vet's bill without even blinking an eye," Rhodes said with a tone that said he was agreeing with Steve's assessment. "Happy saw that and figured Tony's bluster was worth putting up with if he'd fight for a wounded animal like that. Pepper's a bit different. She's only told me a little bit, to be honest. She said she found him drunk in his workshop one night, and that she'd overheard him talking to himself and the bots. She won't tell me what he said, but she went from hating his guts to taking care of him overnight. It threw Tony for a loop, and I still don't think he knows what the change was."

Rhodes chuckled lightly. "Then there's me. I was nineteen, stupid, and unable to bring the stray cats I kept finding home. I suppose that's why when I saw a fifteen-year-old boy crying under a desk who mouthed off at me when I tried to get him to come out, I couldn't leave it alone. If I couldn't adopt a cat, I might as well adopt a Stark. They're just as headstrong and bratty, but Tony doesn't make my allergies go haywire."

Steve could picture a fifteen-year-old Tony Stark crying under a desk far too easily after adding up all of the hurt expressions Tony had been so quick to cover when Steve had been curt with him. A younger Tony probably didn't have the shields up enough to cover that sort of hurt. He didn't want to admit it, but the thought of it made him ache a little. "Why are you telling me this?" Steve asked, since some of that sounded pretty private.

"Because I want you to realize that Tony Stark does not try to be friends," Rhodes replied. "That was all on us, seeing past the front he puts up and deciding he was worth the persistence. We tried, not him, because he knows he'll screw things up eventually, and it takes someone pretty strong to stick by him when that happens. And even then..." Rhodes fell quiet for a long moment before continuing. "Even then it doesn't guarantee we'll stick around when things get rough. Do you know why he doesn't try?"

Steve shook his head, but this time Rhodes was waiting for a verbal cue. "No. Why doesn't he?" Steve asked.

"Because the only people he's tried for ended badly. He tried for Howard." Steve winced as Rhodes spat the name, but wisely said nothing. The second name listed had even more anger. "He tried for Obidiah, who was a more of a father than Howard had ever been, and he tried for his mother. Howard ignored him on the best days, no matter how hard Tony tried. Obidiah paid for his death in Afghanistan, then ripped the arc reactor right out of him while Tony could do nothing but watch. Maria Stark..."

Again, Rhodes sighed, and this time Steve thought he was shaking his head. "Don't repeat this to Tony, but I think she was the worst, in some ways. He only ever wanted her to smile, and he tried everything he could think of to get her to, but by that point, I think she was too far into depression. But he never stopped trying."

Steve gave a full-body flinch at Rhodes's words, and he was relieved that this wasn't a video call. Stark had everything: money, smarts, a suit of armor. But he'd never gotten the one thing he'd wanted, and it was as simple as a smile. His mother apparently hadn't been able to give him one, his father wouldn't, his make-shift father hand tried to kill him, Holy Mother in Heaven.

And Steve had been too afraid to give him one. No, not afraid. Unwilling. Cowardly. He'd shut Tony down the few times he'd started to smile out of pure cowardice.


"I'm still here," Steve said, though his voice was weaker than he'd have liked.

There was quiet on the other end for a few seconds, but Rhodes didn't push. Steve was pathetically grateful when the other man continued. "Tony Stark does not try to make friends. Because every time he's tried, he's gotten shot down. But he hit a low after the break-up, so I challenged him. Because he works better with a challenge or a problem to solve. And because I hate seeing him like that, when what little support he has gets knocked out from under him."

"You told him to try," Steve said, putting the pieces together.

"I told him to try," Rhodes confirmed. "And he said he couldn't make a meaningful connection without ruining it, and I'm not sure if by choosing you he wanted self-sabotage, or if he actually wanted to solve an impossible riddle."

"I deserved that," Steve said with a wince. He didn't want to think Tony was doing this as self-sabotage. He had sounded sincere enough, and the hope in Tony's eyes and voice when Steve had fallen for some of his charms hadn't been faked. The hope that Steve had systematically killed. That hope had been far too real. Steve knew, because he'd seen it crushed, and he'd seen lost hope enough times to recognize it when it was sincere. And this time it wasn't Hitler or Mussolini, or any other dictator crushing it, but Steve Rogers.

Steve felt more than a little sickened at that thought.

"You deserved that," Rhodes agreed. "And I'm not blaming you, I'm really not, because you've been through just as much shit as the rest of us, if not more. But he's filled me in every night since this charade started, and you haven't given him an inch. Not an inch, Rogers. And I'm really trying not to resent you for that, because you don't deserve it when Tony's the one who's pushed his problems on you, but he is my best friend. He hasn't got anyone else to look after him."

Steve took a deep breath, fighting back the jealousy and bitterness. "He's got more than me," he said before he could think better of it.

If the sharp silence on the other end of the line were any indication, it was the wrong thing to say. "Shit, man," Rhodes said, after a while. "Okay, that's putting my foot in my mouth. Like I said, no one is begrudging the fact that you have issues. But Captain, there's something you should realize."


"If you let him in, Tony will have your back. And he will do it in his own socially inept way that will make you want to strangle him, but he will never, ever let you down, no matter how you've hurt him in return for it," Rhodes said with conviction. "Even when he's made you think that he's snapped your last straw, he will do everything in his power to make sure you're okay, or at least getting there."

Steve took that in quietly, fear and panic spiking again. If he let Tony in... The real question though, was if he'd already let Tony in. It was enough to send him careening back towards denial. But if he'd already let Tony in, how much was he needlessly hurting Tony in the meantime with that denial? "And what if he dies, like everyone else?" Steve asked, because he couldn't hold it back any more. "What if I fail him again?"

"I can't tell you that," Rhodes said. "In the end it's your choice. I could tell you that everyone dies eventually, and that you're in a dangerous line of work. I could say he's usually more than able to get himself out of those problems, especially when we fail him. But that won't make a lick of difference and they sound far too much like platitudes. So I'll tell you this: it's your choice. For whatever misguided reason in that stubborn head of his, Tony wants to make a connection with you. So you can turn him down and continue to have no one at your back, or you can let him in, and maybe stop being so lonely all the time."

Steve closed his eyes, wishing it wasn't a choice he had to make. Or maybe he wished he actually had a choice in the matter. But, as he was learning, it was so typical of Tony Stark not to even give him the option. Somewhere along the line Steve had fallen for the genius's charms without really realizing it, frustration turning to fondness quicker than he'd have thought possible.

"Just one thing," Rhodes said. "If you're going to turn him away, don't string him along. Tell him soon. You've got the power to hurt him, and that's something I set him up for, sure, but don't get his hopes up. He's been hurt enough as it is."

Privately, Steve thought it was too late for Tony getting his hopes up, and Rhodes knew it. But he duly promised, because Rhodes was right. Tony deserved a straight answer, if there was one to be had. Tony had been trying to cheer Steve up this whole trip, and he'd proven how good a friend and person he was several times over.

"Good," Rhodes said, trying to find his footing now that the heart-to-heart was over. Worry seeped back into his voice, and Steve wondered how much he'd been holding back just to talk Steve off his cliff. "So, are you sitting with him now, or did they kick you out with a no cell phones rule? Because if it's the latter, you should never leave him alone for too long. I swear, that man could find trouble even in his sleep."

"I haven't been in to see him yet," Steve admitted. "I'm not family, so-"

Rhodes cut him off with a curse. "Okay, I'll get Pepper to make sure they get the authorization ASAP, but you force your way in to see him if you have to. He does not wake up well in unfamiliar circumstances without someone he knows. If someone asks, those are orders."

"Yes, Sir." Orders Steve could understand. They were meant to be followed, and so long as they weren't stupid or unethical orders, Steve could follow them. All this to-do about him going against orders to suit his own morals was blown out of proportion.

Really, it wasn't his fault that a lot of the orders Steve got were bad ones.

In the end, there wasn't much of a fuss to keep Captain America from seeing Tony Stark. After a long discussion with a translator to ensure medical privacy, Steve even pulled his cowl down as he sat in wait for Tony to open his eyes.

* * *

It was two days before Tony woke up. It was decided that Ms. Potts and Col. Rhodes wouldn't fly over, though that had been a long conversation with the doctors to convince them to stay States-side. Steve had to call twice a day with any updates as a condition of them staying behind to hold down the fort. He was quite sure the moment Tony's condition stopped being stable, the two of them and Happy Hogan would drop everything and fly out. Even the Avengers had to be talked down and reassured that they didn't have to make a trip out, and Romanov and Barton went quiet when Hydra was mentioned.

Steve already had a healthy fear of dames, but when Romanov said she hadn't realized Fury didn't update him on Hydra and was going to bring this up at the next debrief, Steve did not want to be in Nick Fury's shoes. It also made him afraid in another sense, because the team was wanting to get close to him like Tony was, and he wasn't sure he could handle more right now. Besides, he was trying to tell himself that he wasn't jealous that they'd all been so worried about Tony. Rhodes was right. It was his choice, and Steve had chosen this isolation.

As Tony blinked awake, Steve still wasn't prepared for his first words. "Huh," Tony said,his voice sounding rough. "Guess I survived again. Wasn't expecting that."

Steve didn't know if he should laugh or cry at that. He forced his fingers to let go of the vice grip he had on the chair's arms, getting a glass of water for Tony to drink. Tony drank it gratefully, and he let a flurry of doctors and nurses poke and prod at him before settling down. His mouth was drawn at the edges and there was pain in his eyes, but that was probably the lingering headache from the tranquilizers.

"So," Tony started some time later. "How much of what I remember was drugged up hallucinations?"

"You said you wanted me to smile," Steve said, not tiptoeing around it.

"Ah," Tony said eloquently. "Yeah. So all of it, pretty much. Well. That's embarrassing. Not the worst thing I've done, sure, but hey. That's because my life is full of bad choices."

Tony didn't look embarrassed, but he also didn't meet Steve's eyes. It startled him to realize this too, because Tony was very, very good at faking it. He didn't look down or over his shoulder, but just above Steve's eyes or just off to the side. Steve wondered when he had perfected this tactic, and he was getting a now familiar ache that seemed to happen a lot when Tony was involved.

He'd heard Tony say the phrase "Fake it till you make it" once or twice in jest, but he didn't think he'd ever understood what that truly meant until just now.

"Right," Tony said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them. "This place is depressing, and I promised you hot pot. So, hot pot. Let's go."

"Now?" Steve asked. He could have sworn the doctors wanted Tony to remain over night for observation.

But Tony was already swinging his legs over the side of the bed, scrunching up his nose at the hospital gown. "Yeah, this has to go. And of course right now. When else? Get with the program, Rogers. In the future, we do things now."

Steve did not wince at the name or the jab, because he had asked for the former and the latter he was getting used to. He'd made that particular bed, no matter how much he didn't want to lie in it. "So you're just going to leave?" Steve asked.

"I'm just going to leave," Tony repeated. "You gonna stop me, Cap?"

Steve hesitated. He wanted to tell Tony to stay, let the doctors look after him, but he didn't want to push too hard right now. "I won't," Steve said as he came to a decision.

It was the wrong thing to say. He could see that immediately as Tony's mouth made a firm line before lifting into his PR smile. "That's what I like about you, Cap. You don't nag me like the others do. So let's blow this joint!"

Oh. The others would have tried to force him to stay. It wouldn't have worked, but they would have tried, and that was a concrete way someone like Tony could catalog as a sign to show they cared. Steve felt his ears burn, but he couldn't exactly take it back. Besides, it really was a losing battle to try to keep Tony here.

The fight with the hospital staff was no less explosive for the language barrier, but eventually, Tony pushed his way through after finding his clothes he'd worn during the fight. They were dusty and torn, but that didn't stop Tony from telling the taxi driver to find the best hot pot restaurant in town.

That didn't stop him, but not speaking much Chinese did. After five taxi drivers failed to understand Tony's broken attempts at Chinese, he found a Chinese person on the street who spoke enough English to tell a taxi driver where to go. This involved a surprising number of Chinese people who didn't speak English but wanted to help anyway. The Chinese seemed to be very helpful when the 'lost foreigner look' came out, as Steve had discovered in Beijing, but at the moment, it caused more trouble than it was worth, trying to explain to so many different people.

Tony looked so haggard by the end of it, that Steve nearly told him to march straight back into the hospital. But they went on, and soon enough they were in a brightly lit restaurant that didn't look twice at Tony's torn suit. Steve was quite sure he wasn't a peach himself, since he'd only left Tony's side for a quick shower and a change of clothes.

'Hot pot' ended up being a large pot in the center of the table with a division down the center of it. One of the sides of the pot was white and milky, and the other side was red. They both had what looked like vegetables floating in them as the pot started to boil. Steve watched curiously as Tony poured several different plates of meats and other things Steve didn't recognize into the different sides, spreading them evenly. Then he used chop sticks to stir the mixture on the red side, picking through until he found a white circle with holes in it that Steve thought was some sort of vegetable. "What is that?" Steve asked.

"Lotus root. Trust me, it's awesome," Tony said, motioning to the pot. "Dig in. Try from the red side first."

With some trepidation, Steve picked up the chopsticks. He found he could use chopsticks decently enough, but slippery things like noodles or soft things like tofu either slipped away from him or split in two. There was a myriad of different kinds of food that had been poured in though, so he should be able to pick something out of it. He watched Tony eat a few more things out of the red side, then decided he could do this.

When he picked a piece of unknown meat from the red side, though, Steve nearly spit it back out again. He coughed, forcing himself to swallow and then drink water as his mouth burned and eyes watered. "You okay there, Cap?" Tony said a little too cheerfully as he plucked another piece out of the red pot and ate it without batting an eye. "Welcome to Sichuan. Everything is spicy here. I'm surprised you hadn't already found this out through the hospital food. Or did you just eat sandwiches the whole time?"

Bastard. And no, he wasn't admitting to sticking to American food while Tony had been sleeping either.

After Tony's laughter died down, he had the waiters bring a non-spicy sauce for Steve. "Just stick to the white side, Cap. It's not spicy, I promise."

Red pot aside, the meal was actually quite nice. Having bones in the chicken was a little weird, but Steve got used to it, even if Tony ended up having to fish a lot of the food out of the pot for him. A lot of the food he'd never seen before was pretty good too, and after a while even Tony started sweat after so much of the spicy side. The latter circumstance appealed to the increasingly petty side of himself that Steve was starting to realize stemmed from an actual fondness rather than annoyance.

He tried smiling at a few of Tony's jokes, but Tony's fake PR smile only grew more pronounced. "Tony-" Steve started, wondering what he was doing wrong.

"Don't," Tony said, and for a moment the hurt and hopelessness took over before he covered it with a self-depreciating grin. "You don't have to keep pretending just because I said something pathetic while I was drugged, Cap. I'm a big boy. I can handle rejection."

Steve looked down at his bowl, suddenly not feeling hungry, though he continued to eat so as not to waste the food. Tony thought he was pretending? Out of what, guilt? Well, maybe both of those were partially true, but he'd promised Rhodes he'd give Tony a straight answer.

But he hadn't given Tony an answer, had he? He hadn't done anything to make Tony think he'd changed his mind, other than weak attempts to smile that Steve knew looked as fake as they felt. Steve closed his eyes and took a deep breath, calculating the time difference in his head.

"I want to go back tomorrow," he said finally.

He ignored the hurt that flashed across Tony's face and was once again quickly hidden, like Tony had still been holding out hope that Steve would correct him. "No problem, Cap. You can leave first thing in the morning. I'll set things up. If Rhodey worries that much, he can come himself."

Steve nodded, bracing himself. This was the hard part. He reminded himself how brave Tony was being by trying this at all, and of the hurt that kept flashing through Tony's eyes as his grip on the chopsticks tightened. "I want you to come with me," Steve said in an out-rush of breath.

Tony blinked. "You want... are you asking me to run away with you for a torrid affair, Cap? I am shocked and dismayed, Cap. Shocked and dismayed. Also a little turned on, but that's neither here nor there."

It was a weak joke that was more automatic than anything. Tony was on unsteady footing waiting for the ice to swallow him whole. Steve squared his jaw against the blush that he refused acknowledge. He resisted the urge to strangle Tony. Again. He didn't want to see anyone fall through the ice like that, much less Tony. Yet Steve couldn't quite dismiss the fact that shaking Tony wouldn't be deadly, and it would make him feel so much better. "I'm asking you to come with me," Steve snapped, then rubbed his temples as he tried to remember not to let Tony wind him up so much.

"Okay, you're being touchy about it. No jokes. Got it," Tony said, deftly picking through the non-spicy side before plopping a lotus root and some sort of green vegetable in Steve's bowl. Steve felt his annoyance fade. Tony's delusion that food solved any emotional problem was admittedly starting to grow on him, and it was rather sweet in Tony's own, dysfunctional way of apologizing.

"I've got to wait for the test results, Cap," Tony said after picking out what resembled an octopus tentacle for himself. "They might need to do more tests, or they might..."

Tony didn't have to finish that sentence. Steve knew as well as Tony did that the news might not be good news. "It's gotta be tomorrow," Steve said instead, telling himself there was no backing out of it now. "I can't... It has to be tomorrow. We can come back after, and I know it's a long flight, but... I need to go tomorrow. It's important." And maybe Steve was right, that going wouldn't do any good, but Tony deserved to know what he was getting into.

"And you want me to go with you?" Tony asked, confusion plain in his voice.

Steve took another deep breath and made eye contact, despite how difficult Tony made it. "I want you to come with me," Steve repeated. His pride at admitting that took a beating, but Steve didn't break eye contact and he didn't back down. "If you don't mind the flight, that is."

"Okay," Tony said simply, as if Steve were asking for a lift back to the hotel rather than a flight halfway across the world. He said it so quickly, as if he hadn't needed to even think about it once he realized Steve was being serious.

'He will never, ever let you down, no matter how you've hurt him in return for it,' Steve heard Rhodes say in his memory. Even when Tony thought he was pretending out of guilt, Tony didn't hesitate to say yes. No wonder Tony didn't have many friends. That was a whole lot of power to hand over to one person, and Tony already knew first hand what happened when someone abused that trust.

"Okay?" Steve asked, hardly believing the man in front of him.

"Yeah," Tony said, continuing to act like it was no big deal. He went back to the hot pot, using a tissue provided on the table to wipe away some of the sweat from his temples.

Steve sat there stunned as Tony piled more food into his bowl, before fishing out of the spicy side for himself. Then he shook his head and picked his chopsticks up again, snatching some sort of rectangle baked food that was covered with honey with a gooey center that wasn't put into the hot pot. The sweetness was a shock, but it helped him think. Tony was coming with him tomorrow. Which meant now he had less than twenty-four hours to brace himself for what he had to do next.

Steve really wasn't looking forward to it.