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Time and Again

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Steve dodged to the left and rolled, and another orb flew over him, close enough that he could hear the faint sound of a bustling street corner emanating from within it, before it passed by his head. It collided with the building behind him and flashed, taking a large chunk out of the wall.

This Kang-knockoff was fast, and competent with his weapon, but with all of the Avengers to fend him off, he was having a hard time finding the time to aim properly— instead he was trying to hold them back with a wide spread of small, spherical temporal mines to avoid. It was designed to look somewhat similar Iron Man’s repulsors, which had immediately put Tony on edge, but the similarities ended there. The knockoff had nearly flattened Spider-Man with a lucky shot—one of his orbs had taken out most of the supports holding up a billboard, and he had been hit by debris trying to shield civilians from the falling rubble. Carol had flown him to safety, dropped on the roof of a nearby building, and to Steve he had looked down for the count.

According to Tony’s scans, the weapon was giving off chroniton particles. They were confusing his sensors, each orb opening a little portal through space and time. Apparently, as far as Tony could tell, it was only the field that the machine generated that allowed them to travel through time. Tony was confident that studying the weapon would be enough to learn how to bring things back to their appropriate times, provided he knew where—and when—they had been sent. He was... less confident on how to determine the when, so Steve was inclined to be cautious.

“Watch yourself,” Steve warned the team, rolling to his feet and tossing his shield. Aiming was tricky. Where these things let out seemed to be random, and for all he knew, one wrong move might put his shield somewhere in the Middle Ages. The shield bounced low to the ground to avoid another of the orbs, and then ricochet upwards on the rebound, to glance off the man’s armor.

It wobbled on the rebound, deflected by some kind of force field. The armor the man was wearing was hundreds if not thousands of years more advanced than anything they had, and while Tony was working on understanding how it worked, there was nothing for the Avengers to do but keep him busy.

Carol was flying directly above him, smoothly keeping out of the way of the orbs while Jan darted alongside her, blasting the force field with her stingers. Nothing they were doing made a difference; the field had some sort of energy dampening properties that were keeping them from making any real impact. Still, Steve could see the moment the time traveler’s attention shifted towards them even before he attacked, and Carol spotted it too, because she urged Jan upwards almost the same moment he fired on them.

The shot sprayed wide, sending orbs scattering, and he’d aimed too low to hit Carol or Jan, but not—

“Steve, look out!” Jan shouted from above him.

Steve tried to twist out of the way, but it was too late to dodge with them all so tightly packed. He heard the sharp report of gunfire to his right and flinched away from it almost on instinct, pulling back from that orb, directly into the path of the orb on his left and—

—total silence.

The blinding whiteness passed as quickly as it had come, and Steve was standing alone in a darkened hallway. He cursed and spun around, but there was nothing he could do now. He’d just have to rely on his teammates to take care of that weapon without him.

It was eerily quiet, and for a moment the disorientation of being flung from battle into such oppressing silence was overwhelming. He drew a shuddering breath, trying to orient himself, and blinked against the darkness to allow his eyes to adjust.

This was Stark Tower, he realized after a moment. This was Steve’s floor.

Steve’s eyes rapidly adjusted to the dark, and he walked cautiously, not sure what to expect.

Where was he?—or maybe it was better to ask when. He stepped carefully through the apartment, leaving the lights out to avoid attracting attention, but the place seemed deserted. Finally he swung around to where his room was, and tried the door.

Steve felt like an intruder, in the silence. He almost expected it to be locked, but the doorknob turned and the latch clicked. He let himself inside, and then came up short just inside the doorway.

The room was stripped completely bare, with nothing left on the walls and desks. He tried the drawers, but they were empty. Had he been sent back far enough in time that he hadn’t yet moved into the tower? Steve tried the closets and found no clothes, but there were boxes shoved as far back against the wall as they would go, and Steve pulled the flap on the first one.

Steve looked inside and froze, the realization churning his gut like poison.

He pulled the first item out of the box, and aged, candid photograph of himself and the commandoes. He knew what this was. Tony had pulled him aside—years ago, not long after Steve had come back to life—to give him this. It was all that he’d left behind in the Tower during the war. Tony had told him that he hadn’t been able to get rid of this, not even after Steve had died. It had meant so much to Steve, Tony said, and it felt wrong to throw it away, even if... well, even if he didn’t think Steve would be needing it anymore.

At the time Steve had just been grateful to have the items back, and hadn’t thought too hard on the significance of Tony holding onto them for him.

Steve closed the lid on the box roughly and pushed it back into place. If these things were already boxed into the closet, that could only mean one thing.

He was dead.

Steve was familiar with the events that occurred after his assassination, whether from news articles, SHIELD reports, or hesitant explanations from the Avengers once he’d come back. Depending on how long it had been, Tony would be… in bad shape, to say the least, but he would still be one of Steve’s best allies in figuring out how to get back to his own time.

Steve didn’t even know if it was possible. Maybe he was stuck here, and he would have to live out the rest of his life in this alternate time, watching as his presence altered the timeline not necessarily for the better. He didn’t know what he would do, if his presence here ended in more death.

He would need help to get back to his own time, and for that he needed to find Tony. Steve just had to hope that Tony was in a state of mind where he could help.

Steve took the stairs. The elevators might draw attention, and he didn’t want to set anyone on edge, though it was becoming clear that there was no one else living in the tower currently.

The common room was empty, but Steve could see a faint light down the hall. He followed it to Tony’s study, where the doors hung slightly ajar. Tony was sitting at his desk, signing papers. The desk didn’t face the door, and he didn’t notice Steve.

He looked like he’d just gotten home. His briefcase was discarded on the floor, and his coat hung partially draped over the back of the armchair inside the door, half of it crumpled where it touched the floor like it had been tossed there haphazardly and then slid loose. He was still in his SHIELD uniform, though he’d lost the boots and gloves. He’d hardly made it in the door before he’d gone back to work.

“Tony,” Steve said, and Tony’s hand froze on the line he was signing. He didn’t look up, not at first, but Steve saw the way the tension rose in his shoulders, the way his hand shook as his grip tightened on his pen.

He continued on with his paperwork, like he hadn’t heard a word.

“Tony?” Steve tried again. Tony blinked and pointedly flipped a page over, scribbling something on the back. Steve stepped into the room and pulled the door closed behind him gently. He walked around to the other side of the desk. Tony grit his teeth. “Tony—?”

Steve reached out and laid a hand on Tony’s shoulder. The moment he touched him Tony flinched violently, like he somehow hadn’t expected the contact, and swore.

He lept to his feet and shoved Steve back, hard. Before Steve could blink the undersuit slid up his arm, stopping just short of the elbow. Tony’s chair skidded back and banged loudly against the wall. The gauntlet snapped smoothly into place, humming menacingly.

“What the hell—” Tony whispered. “You touched me.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve said, raising his hands placatingly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“You touched me. How did you—” Tony’s eyes widened, and he said, “You’re really here.”

“Yes,” Steve said.

Who are you,” Tony demanded.

“I’m—” Well, shit. How was he going to explain this.

“Don’t even think about saying Steve Rogers,” Tony warned. He took a step back. “Of all the people you could have shapeshifted into… It looks like didn’t do your research,” Tony said. He shook his head, smiling self-deprecatingly, “Or maybe you did.”

Steve took a step forward. “Tony—”

“Not another step,” Tony snapped, bringing his gauntlet up higher. He charged the repulsor, but held his fire.

Tony didn’t believe it was really him. Well, Steve couldn’t really blame him.

“I’m not a Skrull,” Steve said. Tony scoffed. “You can prove it,” Steve insisted. “Do you have a Skrull detector? You can scan me.”

Tony frowned, and then nodded hesitantly. He gestured with a flick of his wrist, and Steve backed slowly away from the desk, hands still raised where Tony could see them. Tony didn’t take his eyes off him as he pulled open the drawer, sliding the contents aside so he could reach the Skrull detector at the back.

Tony pressed a button on the side, and the screen lit up. With the way he was watching him, like he expected Steve to drop the ruse and attack him at any moment, he figured that Tony didn’t trust his story as much as Steve would’ve liked.

The Skrull tracker flashed negative, and Tony nearly dropped it.

“It’s really you,” he breathed, collapsing heavily in his chair. His voice broke on the last word, and he clamped his jaw shut so tight his teeth creaked. He turned slightly away, and quickly wrested himself under control, before setting the Skrull detector down on the table deliberately, and then turning back to look at Steve.

Tony dragged his hands through his hair, sweeping the dull black strands into a disarray. His hair was growing a little long, curling a bit at the ends, and he left it looking mussed when he dropped his hand back to his side. He looked more tired than Steve had ever seen him, his cheeks hollow, his skin pale. He looked thin, like he hadn’t been eating, and Steve wondered how long it had been this way.

Steve knew it had been bad. He’d heard. But nothing could have prepared him for seeing Tony like this, hiding behind his armor, hiding behind SHIELD, so thoroughly exhausted but still pushing himself and pushing himself until he hit the breaking point.

Tony’s expression was calm, but his eyes were haunted. “How did you get here,” Tony asked, all kinds of wonder and pain in his voice. “How are you alive?”

There was no telling how it might affect the timeline, if Tony knew that Steve was alive. All the choices he had made after Steve had died, with the weight of that on his shoulders. He couldn’t tell him.

“I’m not from here,” Steve said, and it wasn’t entirely a lie. “I’m not the same man you fought with.”

Tony nodded, but he still looked stricken. He stood from his desk, idly spinning the desk chair. He stepped around the desk, away from Steve and toward the other end of the room. He looked strained, hunching his shoulders slightly. He turned around to lean against the cabinet, facing Steve, and crossed his arms contemplatively.

“So how exactly did you get here, Steve?” Tony asked.

Steve considered his answer for a moment. “I wasn’t as careful as I should have been.”

“You don’t have anyone watching your back where you come from?”

“You do,” Steve said honestly. “But you were busy. It was my mistake.”

Tony looked surprised by his answer.

“And you and I are... close where you come from,” Tony said, carefully neutral. Steve knew the look well—this was Tony, pretending not to care, hiding that he cared too much, and Steve had seen it more times than he could remember over the years.

“You’re my best friend,” Steve reminded him. “You always have been.”

Tony looked like he’d been punched in the gut.

Steve knew they would be okay, but for now Tony thought that Steve hated him, and died hating him, and it was killing him to leave Tony thinking that. This was cruel, Steve thought. As far as Tony knew, he would never have what Steve has now, in his own time, and the guilt obviously weighed on him.

“Did you have the SHRA, where you come from?” Tony asked.

“Yeah, we did,” Steve said.

“And you—what did you do?” he asked, “How can you still call him your best friend?”

Steve shrugged, because it was certainly complicated, and he wasn’t really sure he knew the answer himself. It had been a long time, and while Steve could still remember that he had been angry, hurt, and more, the feelings weren’t there. He had moved past it, and Tony had as well. “We worked it out,” he said.

“How,” Tony asked. “How can you forgive him, he—”

“Tony,” Steve interrupted before Tony could say anything more. “You can be an incredibly difficult man to get along with,” Steve said, “but if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that I can never stay mad at you for long.”

“I don’t know how things are where you come from,” Tony said, “but some things don’t deserve to be forgiven.”

“You’re a good man, Tony,” Steve said.

Tony looked pained to hear it, and he still wouldn’t look Steve in the eye. Steve put a hand on Tony’s neck, the skin hot beneath his palm, and Tony jumped.

“I mean it,” Steve said. He tightened his hold slightly, but Tony wasn’t trying to pull away. Instead, he was watching Steve with a mixture of adoration and regret. “You’re absolutely infuriating sometimes, but. I mean it.”

Steve could see Tony thinking, the familiar expression of a man making a hard decision, a moment before his resolve snapped, and Tony threw caution, proprietary, or whatever it had been holding him back to the wayside.

Tony leaned up and kissed him roughly, biting Steve’s lip and dragging him forward into the kiss, and it wasn’t difficult for Steve to slide his hand upward, threading his fingers through the soft black strands. Tony’s lips were surprisingly soft, the light scratch of his moustache a unique but pleasant sensation.

Steve wanted this, had for some time, but he’d had no idea that Tony felt the same. Still…

“Tony,” Steve said, hesitant. He pulled away slightly, and Tony’s grip on his shirt tightened, the knuckles whitening. He should stop this. Tony was in mourning, driven by guilt, and Steve wasn’t entirely convinced that he would have initiated anything under normal circumstances. He thought Steve was dead—hell, he thought it was his fault—and somehow that didn’t seem right.

But Tony had his fingers twisted in Steve’s uniform shirt like his life depended on it, like he was afraid he’d lose him if he let go.

“I feel like I’m taking advantage of,” Steve said, breath coming quickly, “...of you, of this.”

“You’re not,” Tony said, and there was a note of desperation to his voice that struck Steve at his core. “Please—I want this, I’ve wanted this, and I might…not…” he said, trailing off, but Steve understood.

Steve leaned in to kiss Tony again, and the noise Tony made surprised them both. When they pulled apart this time Tony leaned in to kiss Steve’s neck, nipping lightly, his breath coming in hot puffs of air.

He smelled the same, Steve realized. It was a strange thing to notice, how the sharp bite of his aftershave stirred so many memories, how the scent of his cologne was so familiar. Steve softened the kiss, savoring the gentle touch of his lips. This was his Tony, younger, strung out and still haunted by the choices he’d made, the things they had yet to resolve, but still the same man.

Tony broke the kiss, pressing their foreheads together as he looked down at his hands to fumble with Steve’s belt. He worked the button on his uniform pants, tugged hard on the zipper, hooking his thumbs under Steve’s underwear and tugging down, reaching to palm his cock.

Tony dropped to his knees in front of Steve, pumping his cock a couple times to bring him to full hardness.

"Let me do this for you,” Tony said, leaning forward, breath warm and heavy on his skin. Steve’s breath caught as Tony looked up at him from beneath his eyelashes, and he nodded.

He gripped Steve at the base of his cock and swept the broad side of his tongue along his length, tracing wet lines from base to head, sucking wet kisses along the shaft. He tongued the slit, lapping up the precome beaded on the tip, and Steve made a noise he couldn’t hold back, his breath coming in short gasps as Tony put his mouth around the head of his cock and sucking lazily.

Tony took him in fully, and it drew a broken moan from Steve. He gripped the desk hard, then leaned forward to bury his fingers in the soft curls of Tony’s hair, not to restrain him, just to rest there. He always liked it when Tony wore his hair longer, liked the way it curled and the way he could imagine it laced between his fingers. Tony hummed in approval, and the feeling of the vibrations on his cock made Steve’s breath catch.

Tony’s eyes fluttered shut, both hands settled on Steve’s hips to pin him to the desk, as he began to bob and suck, hollowing his cheeks. He didn’t hesitate to take Steve deeper, until his cock bumped against the back of his throat. He didn’t stop, just tilted his head to take him in.

Steve looked down, and the sight of Tony bobbing around his cock, lips spread wide and head tilted back to accommodate him, was almost enough to make him come on the spot. He was close, he realized, and Steve hadn’t even had the chance to touch Tony.

“Wait,” Steve gasped, tugging loosely on Tony’s hair to guide him back. Tony pulled off of him with a lewd sound, mouth glistening and pupils blown, and Steve ran a thumb over his bottom lip, traced a wet line across Tony’s cheek.

Steve traced the lines of Tony’s shoulders, sliding his fingers underneath the straps. He’d thought Tony looked amazing in his SHIELD uniform, loved the way the fabric clung to his shoulders and pulled taut across his chest. He grabbed Tony by the shoulder straps and effortlessly pulled him to his feet. Tony caught himself with one hand on Steve’s chest, momentarily off balance, and huffed out an exasperated laugh at being manhandled. Then he leaned forward, mouthing kisses down Steve’s throat while Steve worked his belt loose, freeing Tony’s cock, and Tony groaned in relief when he was finally free of the constricting fabric of his uniform pants.

Tony kissed him again, wet and sloppy, until they were both short of breath. He drew back to place sweet kisses against the corner of Steve’s mouth, his jaw, working his way down again. He’d never imagined sweet as a description for Tony in the bedroom, but now it seemed perfectly natural that he be that and more. Still, it was too slow for Steve’s liking.

Steve wrapped one hand around both of them, bringing the other hand down to pin Tony’s wrist to the desk, and Tony whined at the touch, nipping at Steve’s jaw. He jerked them together, setting a steady pace, and Tony leaned forward again, so that Steve was pushed even further up the desk, and captured his mouth again. Steve loved the noises Tony made, whining breathily and biting and sucking on Steve’s bottom lip as they rocked against each other. Tony canted his hips forward, trying to get more friction, and Steve stepped up his pace. Tony gasped at the sensation, breaking their kiss, pinching his eyes shut and breathing hard against Steve’s cheek.

“Hng, god, Steve,” Tony groaned. “Please. Please,” he cut off, choking on the words and pressing his hips forward hungrily, bracing one knee against the desk and moving in time with Steve’s hand. Steve was close, and he sped up his pace, pumping and thumbing the slit and Tony gasped, finally, and came, clutching Steve’s bicep hard as though it was the only thing keeping him upright. Steve stroked him through his orgasm, coming himself a few moments later with a soft grunt, until the spots finally cleared from his vision and Tony let out a soft sigh.

Tony leaned forward and pressed his face against Steve’s neck, panting. His skin was warm and flushed pink, the color creeping down and disappearing beneath his uniform shirt. Steve let go of Tony’s wrist and brought his hand up to rest on Tony’s neck, drawing loose circles on his skin. After a long while Tony leaned back, and Steve let him go. He nudged Steve aside to pull one of the desk drawers open, grabbing a handkerchief to clean themselves.

Tony had never mentioned this.

Because he didn’t remember, Steve realized.

In a few weeks’ time Norman Osborn would give the order to hunt Tony down. In a few weeks, Tony would decide that the risk of being caught was too much, with all of the intelligence from the SHRA locked away inside his head, and he would set out to destroy himself.

Steve looked at Tony now, breathing hard and completely disheveled as he tried to pull himself into some kind of order, and his heart ached over what lied ahead of him.

He could understand why he would have come to that decision. He hadn’t had anywhere to turn. Pepper, Maria Hill—they’d both been in just as much danger as Tony, and he could see that. Tony would never put his own life above the people he loved. It was one of his most infuriating, terrifying—and god damn bravest—qualities.

And he’d never told anyone about this. He could see Tony rationalizing it to himself—if he told them that he’d seen Steve, he’d be forced to explain to them what happened, and if he left some of the details out, somehow Steve didn’t see Tony making it through that conversation.

So Tony hadn’t told anyone, and it had died alongside the part of himself that Tony had deemed expendable.

Tony was looking at him like he was waiting for something, some kind of reaction, and Steve sighed, leaning back against the corner of the desk.

“I have to get back, Tony,” Steve said. Tony nodded, though it was clear to Steve that he didn’t want to see him go. Of course, Steve wasn’t really sure what Tony could do, considering that he didn’t have the full story, and Steve couldn’t really tell him the full story, either. Tony thought Steve was from another universe, but if he was going to help get Steve home, he would have to tell Tony the truth. Steve couldn’t risk altering the timeline too drastically, but… Tony wouldn’t remember any of this. Which gave Steve an idea. “Will you help me?”

“Of course,” Tony said. “Anything. I’ll call Reed, and—”

“Actually, I need you to send a letter,” Steve said. Tony paused mid-word.

“A… letter?” Tony asked, and Steve nodded, already pulling a piece of legal paper off the nearest empty pad. He wrote the date, the time, where the time traveler had sent him, and then folded it twice, sticking it into an envelope. He wrote, Tony Stark on the outside of the envelope, and now Tony was clearly interested, as Steve wrote, smaller, a date below the name—the day that the Kang knockoff had sent him back in time.

“Can you arrange to have this delivered, on that day?” Steve held it out to him, but Tony didn’t immediately take it from him, eye’s fixed on the date. When Tony did finally take it, the paper crinkled under his fingertips, and Steve could see his hands shaking, just slightly.

“You’re not from another universe, are you?”

“I can’t explain,” Steve said. “It’s better you don’t know. Just… make sure the letter gets delivered, and don’t read it before then.”

“I promise, I won’t read it,” Tony said. He started to pull the desk drawer open, to put the letter inside. “I’ll keep it here, until—”

Steve caught his wrist, stopping him.

“Give it to someone you trust,” Steve said. “And ask them to deliver it to you.” Now Tony was looking at him like he was a little nuts, but Steve couldn’t exactly explain that in a few short weeks, Tony would forget that that letter ever existed.

“I will,” Tony promised “I’ll ask Rhodey.” He hesitated, the letter pinched between his fingers, and then sighed.

“Steve—”

Whatever he was about to say was swallowed with a resounding crack, loud as any gunshot in a closed room, and a flash of light so blinding that it had Tony’s hand’s coming up on reflex, one moment away from calling his armor.

Before either of them could act, the light consolidated into a more familiar shape. That was fast—but he supposed they’d had all the time in the world to find him. Steve had been specific down to the time, uncertain how much information Tony or Reed would need to get him home. This may be the present from his eyes, but to Tony—his Tony—the past was already gone, and he had all the time in the world to get back to it.

Tony was staring at the portal, his grip on the letter white-knuckled. He looked exhausted in a way that Steve hadn’t seen him in a long time. The portal flickered, and Steve stepped toward it, momentarily worried that it would close before he could pass through to his own time.

“Steve, wait,” Tony said, grabbing Steve by the forearm, pulling him back. “About the letter. You… you’re not actually—”

Steve kissed him soundly, resting a gentle hand on his neck, and it would have been perfect, if not for the portal snapping angrily behind him, threatening to close, or the way Tony clung to his shirt, clearly desperately hoping for something he wasn’t certain would come.

“I thought we’d have more time,” Tony said.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said. He took a step back, untangling Tony’s fingers from his shirt, and moved toward the portal.

“Make sure you deliver that letter,” he called behind him.

“I will,” Tony promised.

“I know you will,” Steve said with a lopsided little smile, squinting into the light of the portal. There was movement on the other side, just vague silhouettes that he couldn’t possibly, logically identify, yet somehow Steve knew them. Steve turned away from them, back to where Tony was standing with his arms crossed over his chest, staring at Steve like he was everything, and like he was losing him all over again—

—and Steve stepped forward into the light.