shut your mouth & see straight through me

Tony dies and leaves behind a hologram of himself. Steve tries to keep going.

Avengers fanfic for BOTF competition.

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They can hear Tony’s voice throughout the new Avengers compound and in their comms, but only under the harsh lights of Tony’s workshop does his hologram appear. Steve wanders in after a mission almost out of instinct, and tries not to flinch back when the hologram flickers into life beside him.

The hologram is Tony on a good day. There are no dark circles under his eyes, no oil stained clothes, no cuts or burns on his hands from nights staying awake tinkering a little too late in the lab. His hair is perfect, how it never is in real life. His shirt isn’t grimy or creased. He  doesn’t wear the armour.

In a way, it doesn’t even look like Tony at all.

“How was the flight back?” Tony asks. “Everything okay?”

“Yes, fine,” Steve replies. The words come difficult out his throat. When he sees Tony like this – the blue electric light turning him into something almost too perfect – he can only think of the real Tony’s absence. “It was fine.”

It hadn’t been, really. The Avenjet had hit a storm and the turbulence had almost taken it down, but it didn’t matter. They were back in one piece, and Tony didn’t need any more troubles on his mind than he already had.

He moves deeper into the workshop, past benches and tables littered with half-made robots, armour upgrades, old tech, new tech, gadgets that could thrust the world into a new era of science. It looks, he thinks, just like the lab at Avengers Tower did. Tony must have spent more time here than Steve had realised.

“You okay, Cap?” Tony says. “You’re being quiet.”

Steve turns over a dead Stark tablet, wires and circuitry sticking up at odd angles. “I miss having you around,” Steve says.

The hologram flickers and Tony looks at him with soft, sad eyes. “I am around,” he replies.

But there’s a difference between having Tony and having his ghost. Steve can’t beat a hologram at cards. He can’t spar with one. He can’t drag a hologram up and out of the lab when Tony’s been awake stressing on a project for too long. A hologram can’t get bagels with him at two in the morning, just because they feel like it. A hologram can’t throw popcorn at him when he drifts off during a movie. A hologram can’t fall asleep on the couch in the middle of the day, or make coffee next to him in the kitchen, or lean against a wall on his tablet, or touch anything, or–

It’s the touch thing. Steve knows that, really. He’s got so used to being around Tony, he’s not sure he knows how to be apart.

“I know. I know, I’d rather have you like this than not at all,” Steve says. He reaches out, and his hand passes straight through the pixels. “But I still…”

“Miss me,” Tony finishes. “I know. I miss you too.”

A breath escapes Steve’s lips, almost like a laugh. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

Something in the corner of the room catches Steve’s eye: a lone pin board that’s the only thing in the room not plastered with tech or blueprints. He moves towards it, pulled by reflex.

It turns out to be mostly documents – bills, contracts, and papers that looks suspiciously Pepper-approved. The only thing on the pin board that’s not a neatly printed sheet of paper is a lone postcard, tacked onto board in the top right hand corner. The card boasts a glossy photo montage of Madripoor, all neon lights and sandy beaches. Steve unpins it and flips it over.

 

Tony ––

             Wish you were here!

                                                  –– S

 

He recognises his own handwriting. The memory of writing it slips back into his mind – he’d bought it in a souvenir shop whilst undercover last year, a last ditch effort to blend in. Ultimately, his cover had still been blown, and he’s got a broken nose for his trouble, but in the end the villain hadn’t got away, and that was all that mattered. In the aftermath, he’d found a stamp and sent the postcard, much to Natasha’s fury when she’d found out.

“This was a classified mission,” she’d said, eyes dead ahead on the sky as she flew them home, the way they only were when she was trying to restrain herself from murdering someone.

“Tony’s an Avenger,” Steve had said. “We have the same security clearance.” He’d tried not to grin too much. He was all too aware of how weak an excuse that was, and all too aware of how Natasha knew that too.

The card is a solid weight in his hand. It’s being faded yellow by the sunlight in the lab, the pictures beginning to lighten. The feel of it between his fingers is grounding, somehow, as though just touching something that Tony once touched makes him feel closer to the earth.

“You found that, huh?” The hologram flickers into life beside him. 

“I didn’t know you’d kept it,” Steve replies.

Tony laughs. The sound is electronic, distant. Just out of reach. “I liked the pictures,” he says. The pictures are terrible. He’s fairly sure he can see Madame Masque in one of them, lounging on the beach. Wish you were here!

Steve smiles despite himself. “I thought you would.”

With trembling hands, he pins the postcard back onto the board. Tony’s hand comes up and covers his, electric blue. It doesn’t feel like anything.

Steve forces himself to keep his breath steady. He’s caught himself doing it a lot, recently. He’s been five seconds from panic for months now. Every moment is a violent feeling of missing something, something important, something he can’t live without. There’s no brightness in anything – not hanging out with the team, or getting burgers from his favourite joint, or punching Hydra. He doesn’t have sleepy mornings any more, not when every waking moment is lethargic.

Now, breathing is just living. Avenging is just surviving.

“Tony,” he says, pointless.

“Hey now,” Tony says, tinny from across dimensions. “Hang in there, soldier.”

Steve doesn’t know how much more of this he can take.

 

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