Iron Man fell to the ground.
Steve didn't run to see if he was all right. Med teams would be here soon. Tony Stark wasn't his problem.
He looked up, at the other planet. Saw it disappearing slowly into its own universe. Safely. With no explosions. For the last time, if everything worked out.
At least one thing was right with the world.
Sam landed next to him. “That's it, huh?”
“Hopefully,” Steve said.
Steve didn't know. It was so easy to push everything away, to plan to save the world, not to think of a future further than that – but now that it came . . . He was lost.
“Steve!” Carol ran to him. “Get your ass over to Tony and open his armour.”
“Why,” he said, emotionless.
The look she gave him was purely dangerous. “He's not responding. You have the codes. Open it.”
It was so unfair, he thought, the way the universe forced him right back into Tony's orbit. The way Tony kept betraying him and putting his life in Steve's hands at the same time.
He went after Carol, of course he did, and there were medics around Tony already, looking lost.
The suit was crushed. There was no salvaging it. Steve wasn't even sure his codes would work, the way it looked, broken in a few places, too little to let anyone to tear it away . . . enough to let blood sip to the ground.
He froze, and he couldn't think.
“Don't call me that,” Steve snapped. Tony raised his hands, defensively, his hands aimed to the sides, not at Steve.
“Captain,” Tony said, and Steve couldn't tell if he was being ironic, and he didn't care. “I need your shield.”
“I'm serious, I do –”
“You need to leave,” Steve said.
“Just trust me,” Tony said, the mechanical voice of Iron Man making it seem emotionless.
“Trust is not something you would know about, Stark,” Steve said, and walked away.
“Steve,” Carol repeated, and he shook himself.
He wanted to hurt Tony – he didn't want to see him hurt, not like this, not if he could've avoided it.
“34-44-54-64,” he said, the same combination for ages, since before the last time they fought. “Steve Rogers. Armour override.”
“Armour computer online,” a cold, mechanic voice said, and it wasn't possible, not really, but Steve thought it was different to Iron Man's voice.
It did; the parts moved away, revealing Tony underneath it. Medics rushed to his side and pushed Steve away, and it wasn't necessary, none of it was necessary, because it was all so obvious.
Tony looked like a broken doll, and there was still one part of the armour driven into his side, bright red surrounding it, and the RT node, always shining bright like Tony's life, was off; cold and dark.
The days were all a blur.
Someone told him the funeral was coming. He hauled off and punched the person, and he still wasn't even sure who it was.
Tony was dead, not much mattered.
It had been easy to hate him from afar, when Tony had been there, always in sight; unapologetic yet begging for forgiveness with his every action. It was much harder to remember why Steve refused him help, when Tony paid with his life for all the mistakes that led them there.
It wasn't worth it.
“You were right to be mad at him,” Sam said one day.
“Yes,” Steve agreed. “And I killed him.”
“Steve . . .”
“No,” Steve said. “Don't. It's on me.”
“You can't know that!” Sam said. “So stop – this damn saviour complex of yours –”
Steve laughed at him, and he might have been crying too, it was hard to tell.
Sam's words stayed with him though, this tiny little sliver of hope; it was his fault, but maybe not as completely as he thought –
Steve had to know.
Reed looked alarmed to see him in his living room, drinking tea with Sue, who of course didn't know. But Steve wasn't there to tell her that. That was between them.
“Doctor Richards,” Steve said, and if his voice was cold, no one could blame him. He could feel Sue's eyes on him.
“Captain,” Reed said.
“Was there any chance for him?” Steve asked without any preamble.
“No.” Reed looked thoughtful. “He aligned the universes back together to stop the incursions. That much energy – he must have updated the armour for it to even work. I would have said it was impossible, without vibranium to stabilise the reaction.”
“And if he had it . . .”
“It would absorb it fully,” Reed said, and opened his mouth to add something, but Steve wasn't listening.
He crushed the mug he was holding. The edges pierced his skin, and he couldn't feel anything.
The funeral was in two days.
He was supposed to attend it. He was supposed to give a speech.
“Tony Stark was my best friend. I loved him, and he wiped my mind. He was a good man, and went to unacceptable lengths to do what he thought was right, and I hated him for it, and I killed him. It wasn't supposed to be this way.”
Steve didn't think it would go down well. But thinking of what he couldn't say was still better than thinking of why he had to think of something in the first place.
To think of Tony, dead.
Steve didn't know a world without him, anymore. To lose him was like to wake up in a new century again.
He couldn't do it.
It would be easier if he could remember what hating him felt like.
He didn't go to the funeral.
He stopped answering the calls.
If he didn't go out, he could pretend Tony is still alive, working on making the world a better place. The world that he saved; that he didn't hesitate to die for.
Steve wondered if there was a world where it was him that died. He dreamed it was him.
He wished he could fix it.
The shield seemed to taunt him.
He woke up one day, and his phone was ringing, his Avengers card flashing up, and none of it mattered, because the sky was red outside his windows, and he knew what it meant. He knew what it couldn't mean, because Tony had died making it right.
He looked outside, and there was another Earth over New York.
He put his hand through the window.
“What did he die for,” Steve said without any inflection, and Reed startled. “There's an incursion happening.”
“Yes, Captain, I noticed.”
“What did he die for,” Steve repeated.
“Clearly he couldn't reroute enough energy after all – one world must have gotten unstable again, it's –”
Steve stopped listening.
“We have six hours,” Carol said. “How do we stop it?”
Steve knew what the first suggestion was going to be. He knew he was going to say no. He knew it all, but a small, traitorous voice in his voice said, Tony died to keep this Earth safe.
Tony died to stop the incursions, and it was pointless.
Steve went to the incursion site, to see how it looked like there; to have something to do other than trying to lead people when he had no idea how to solve the problem.
The Avengers were there, observing the other Earth, unsettled. Jan spotted him and flew to him.
“Steve,” she said, unusually tense.
“What is it?”
“I – you shouldn't go there,” she said, and he recognized worry in her voice.
Unnecessary. Tony was dead. Nothing worse could happen.
“Steve,” she said, growing to her full size. “Don't.”
“I have to do something,” he muttered, and went ahead. The Avengers saw him, and stepped to the sides. He could hear Jan talking to him. Nothing mattered.
Because there, right under the other Earth, was Tony.
Of course it wasn't his Tony.
The universe was too cruel for that.
It wasn't his Tony, but it was Tony, identical down to his smile and bright spots on his blue irises. He lit up to see Steve, of course he did, he didn't know Steve killed his counterpart –
“Steve,” Tony said, and stopped. He looked closer at him, his head to the side, and he was so much like Tony it hurt.
He wasn't in the armour, but Steve knew it didn't mean anything. It was Tony. He might have Extremis, or the Bleeding Edge armour, or hell, he might've invented an invisible one –
Steve thought of Tony, naked, in another realm, joking just after being tortured, and a minute ago he'd have said it wasn't possible to miss him any more, but he did.
Tony, not his Tony, wrong Tony, looked thoughtful. “What happened here?” he asked, carefully.
Steve wanted to reply. He couldn't. A Tony was here, alive and well, and it wasn't right, it wasn't fair, it wasn't –
Tony was dead.
Steve ran away.
He ended up in Brooklyn. People were looking at him, and the sky was still red, and he didn't care.
It wasn't as if he could help. It was Tony, with the ideas and solutions and answers to every question. It was Tony who the world needed. It was Tony who was dead. His comm was busy, he could hear the Avengers talking and couldn't understand a word. He took it out and crushed it in his hand.
Tony would glare at him for destroying perfectly good tech. But Tony wasn't here.
Steve didn't know if he was surprised to see Carol landing in front of him.
“What the fuck are you doing?” she asked, sharply.
“You don't need me,” he said.
“Fuck, Steve, you can't –”
He extended his hand with the shield towards her. “Take it.”
“You might need it,” he said. Tony did, he didn't add. “Take it and don't give it back.”
She was looking at him, her eyes focused, calculating. He knew she'd come back, later, when they weren't on the clock. He knew she could make a tactical decision and deal with emotions later.
She took the shield.
He didn't look as she left.
He was back at home when the light turned back to normal, two hours later.
So they saved the world, and Tony was still dead.
Steve didn't know if he was disappointed.
Steve's world had just shattered around him, and Tony looked as if he might cry.
“Please,” he said. “Let me fix it.”
“There's nothing to fix,” Steve said, “Stark.”
Tony flinched. Steve turned back.
“Please,” Tony whispered. “I'll do anything, just –”
“You always want to do anything,” Steve said without looking at him. “And that's the problem.”
Steve knew Tony had meant it. He really would have done anything.
Shouldn't Steve return the favour?
He knew the names. He'd met most of them. It wasn't dark magic and arcane knowledge if it was his life, right?
So. Strange wouldn't do. But . . . Doctor Doom, possibly. Hel would know. So would Loki, but he wouldn't be inclined to help nor would he have the power. Chthon . . . But Steve didn't want to go there. He would, if it was his last chance, but he didn't want to. Mephisto?
How the hell do you contact Mephisto?
He would do anything, at this point. Anything to get Tony back.
He heard a loud noise and swirled around, then took a few steps back.
“Who am I to decline, when Captain America calls?” Mephisto drawled.
“What do you want?” Steve snapped.
“I think,” the demon said, “the question is what you want.” He smiled, clearly insane. “But I know the answer, don't I?” And he swirled around and looked just like Tony.
Steve wanted to close his eyes and couldn't. Wanted to push him away, and couldn't. “Stop it,” he said, and just like that, the demon was before him again in his own body.
“I want Tony Stark alive,” Steve whispered.
“It's not that easy, Captain America,” Mephisto said. He waved his hand and a man appeared next to him, out of nowhere. He seemed strangely calm, his face expressionless. “You know the rules, Captain. A life for a life.”
Steve looked down at his hands. He thought of Tony, dying, because of him. Of this other Tony, alive and brilliant and dangerous and fragile.
Steve would do anything.
The moment his hands touched the man, he snapped out of whatever trance he was in; he trembled and tried to push Steve away. Steve grit his teeth. The man wasn't important. Nothing was, but Tony. He pulled, and the man screamed, and screamed, and the sound stayed in the air as Steve ripped his head off, blood spurting everywhere.
Steve didn't care.
“Give me Tony,” he said, facing the devil.
Mephisto laughed, long and insane, and then disappeared. Steve looked around – Tony. He'd done that for Tony, and if he wasn't here –
Tony stood in front of him, naked, with no signs of the injuries that took his life. His chest was smooth, the RT wasn't there, but Steve could see it lifting in regular breaths. Everything was right with the world again. Tony Stark stood in front of Steve, and Steve thought he'd never be happier in his life.
And then Tony looked behind him, at the decapitated corpse and the blood, and his eyes widened. He took a step back.
“What the fuck have you done, Steve?” he asked, his voice unsteady.
“What you would do,” Steve answered with absolute certainty.