With a flash of light, the world was re-made in Red Skull's image. The last thing Captain America saw was Iron Man flying toward him full tilt. Then there was a hard hit. Then blackness. When he woke up on the gentle slope of a hillside, he noticed that there was still a metal glove grasping his arm. He tried to pull his hand away.
“I wouldn't do that,” Tony said.
“What are you doing? What happened?” Steve asked.
“Saving you. Skull got his hands on the cube again, and apparently he knows how to use it now.”
A sinking feeling hit Steve. Red Skull had gotten his hands on the cube before, but he'd always been arrogant to the point that it ruined his plans. A Skull who kept himself under control was too dangerous a thought to contemplate.
“How?” Steve asked.
Tony shot a glance at the distance—a wide expanse of land engulfed in a plume of black smoke. Wherever they were, everything was burning.
“That's not what I meant. How did you keep him from killing me?”
“Oh, that. I managed to get my hands on the cube Doom created a few years back. I reverse engineered it and adapted my armor to be immune to its effects.”
“And you couldn't share this information sooner?”
“I'm sharing it now. Only the armor and what it's touching are immune.”
“That's great, Tony. Now we can stop the Skull while holding hands.”
“Don't get snarky with me. Just touch my chest for a second.”
Steve shot Tony a look of animosity, then obliged and put his right hand over Tony's reactor. With his newly freed hand, Tony took his left glove and placed it around Steve's hand.
“There. Now you're safe. No hand-holding required.”
“Okay,” Steve said. “So first thing's first. We need to figure out where we are and what he's done to the world.”
“We're in Riverside Park.”
“How do you figure?”
“GPS. We're in New York. What should be New York, anyway. Red Skull could have remade the continents or whatever he wanted.”
“Let's take a look.”
It barely looked like a city had ever been there at all. Aside from burning cars and pieces of debris, it was barren, and there was no sign of whatever did the destruction.
“It doesn't make sense,” Tony said. “It looks like an army did this, but there's no army. He just did it, so why make it look like this?”
“It's a message.”
“How can you...?”
Steve was looking at a pile of bodies. Recognizable among them were: Nick Fury, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Black Widow, Sharon, and Bucky. Painted on the wall behind them were the words “Two to go.”
“He knows we made it,” Steve said.
“We need to get out of here.”
No sooner did Tony say the words than a group of six swastika-adorned robots appeared. He grabbed Steve and flew. The robots followed.
“Oh, they can fly too. Great.” Tony said. “Point your hand at them, would you? Mine are preoccupied.”
“I don't know how to use your glove.”
“As if you could. I control it with my mind. I just need you to point the thing.”
They awkwardly dispatched the robots, then Tony landed somewhere outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania. There was nobody around and the two men made their way into an abandoned house.
“This isn't going to work,” Tony said. “If we're going to be flying, you need your own suit.”
“Stark Tower's not there.”
“No, it isn't.” Tony grinned. “But I'm betting Skull didn't think to re-make the moon in his image.”
Within seconds, a grey and red suit of armor descended through the roof of the building, spreading wood and dust around the room. Steve coughed a little.
“Let me guess. You made all of your armors cube-proof.”
“No, actually. But that one is, yes.”
“You couldn't have used that technology to protect the earth?”
“I'm good, Steve. I'm not that good. Reed was working on doing that, but he works on a lot of things at a time. I'm guessing he never finished it.”
Steve stared at the armor, perplexed. “How do I get in there?”
“Yeah, about that. All the armors are entirely controlled by my mind. They won't 'open up' per se unless I make them.”
“So if you're knocked out, I'm stuck in a death trap.”
“Basically. The good news is the motor functions are manual. You can run away on your own.”
Tony opened the armor and enveloped Steve in it, then took his own glove back.
“That's a good look for you.”
“Shut up, Tony.”
That night, the two agreed that they would need to take turns sleeping. Steve was supposed to sleep first, so Tony removed all of the space armor except a glove. He kept his own on and sat at the bottom of the home's staircase, watching over Steve and thinking about how to destroy Red Skull. When it came down to it, Tony figured that they would have to kill him no matter what. They couldn't let someone so evil with so much power live. Not after what he had shown himself capable of.
Shortly after Steve fell asleep, he began jerking violently from side to side. It wasn't something Tony hadn't seen before, but it was something he hadn't seen in years. Steve muttered to himself, “Can't save the world...Couldn't save you...” The words were almost exactly the same as those he said in his nightmares when they first thawed him. He soon sprung up and shouted a loud “No!” Beads of sweat cascaded down his face.
“You're okay,” Tony said. Steve was still shaking. “You're fine.”
“I'm not.” Steve's eyes expressed a look of desperation they rarely did. “How can we fix this?”
Tony put a hand on his shoulder, which twinged with emotion. “I don't know, but we will.”
“We just will.”
Tony gave Steve a brief hug and, after some time, Steve fell back asleep.
They didn't talk about that night, though its events repeated themselves. For the next few days, they only discussed plans for defeating the Red Skull. “Plan” was too strong a word since there wasn't even one with the potential for success. What they both agreed on was that they needed to get to Berlin. That was where the Nazis were headquartered, and that was most likely where Red Skull was headquartered. They needed to see what they were really up against. They flew off to find out.
By the time they had flown as far as the Netherlands, the Skull's surface-to-air missiles were coming with such frequency that they were forced to land in a forest and begin walking. They were still 400 miles away. Tony pulled back their faceplates.
"So he controls all of Europe from the looks of it. Well-fortified, to say the least. We'll be better off laying low and walking."
"Yeah," Steve murmured.
Tony stopped walking. "Why do I get the feeling that you're mad at me?"
"Because I am. You should have mentioned what you were doing with the cube. You should have mentioned that Red Skull had one."
"One: I have a lot of projects that never come up in conversation. Two: I didn't realize he had one until about ten minutes before I showed up and rescued you."
Steve's tone grew harsher. "Then why didn't you just stop him? Why go after me?"
Tony flinched noticeably, but regained his composure to explain. "I already got you killed once, okay? It's a thing. In hindsight, yeah, I probably should have just hit the bastard. But if it didn't work and I didn't stop him, you'd be dead. I can't let that happen again. I won't."
Steve wasn't sure how to respond to that. He hadn't really been dead, of course, but just thinking that he had been must have done a number on Tony. They walked in silence for a while until Steve found the words he was looking for.
"What happened after the civil war wasn't your fault."
"Don't. Just don't." Hearing the words “civil war” made Tony feel like he was being stabbed. He turned away.
"I mean it. It was Red Skull, and so is this. I don't... I can't blame you for either."
"Please don't. We have a mission here. For all intents and purposes, you were dead. And I can't think about that right now."
There was more silence as they continued walking, Tony staying just ahead of Steve. Five minutes passed. Then ten. Suddenly he came to a stop and turned around. Streaks under his eyes glistened where tears had obviously streamed.
"How can you even stand it?"
"What?" Steve asked.
"Talking to me? Looking at me? I don't know. I don't get the way you forgive things."
"You're my friend," Steve said.
The simplicity of that statement overwhelmed Tony. Steve saw the unnerved look on his face, then reached out and hugged Tony. Tony stifled any further tears, but allowed himself to go limp in Steve's embrace. He closed his eyes and let reality fade away.
It was several days before Steve and Tony encountered a town. They didn't discuss much in the interim. They were both too tired from hunger and from sleeping on the ground, and Steve's nightmares and Tony's emotional outburst had strained their interactions. Luckily for them, the town they found was a small one: easy in, easy out. They snuck into an empty home and filled two backpacks with food from the pantry, then proceeded back into a wooded area.
"It doesn't feel right," Steve said.
"What? Stealing Nazis' food?"
"They're not really Nazis."
"And we're not really stealing, so long as we make this reality disappear. Now..." Tony reached into his bag and pulled out some granola bars. "We feast."
They ate in silence. When they had finished, Steve stood up and gazed at the town. There were Nazi flags everywhere.
"How do you know?" Steve asked.
"How do I know what?"
"If we destroy the cube, will it bring back our reality or will be just be stuck in this one?"
"Come on," Tony said. "We should move."
Steve kept staring until Tony grabbed his shoulder. "Come on."
As they were walking, Steve said more than he had in a while. "I don't think you understand how much this bothers me. For you, this is another romp in another universe..."
"It's not a romp. It's serious. I'm just not as emotional about Nazis as you are."
"This could have been the world, Tony. It could have been, and now it is."
"This is about what we saw in New York, isn't it? I know that's been bothering you..."
"When I woke up in the future, everyone I knew was dead and for all I knew Hitler had won the war. It's taken me a long time to get a life back and fit in here... And now it's gone again."
Tony stopped walking to face Steve. "It's not gone. We're still here and we're going to win."
Steve kept walking, not looking at Tony. "Yeah..."
They continued this way for a week and a half: walking, trading sleep, walking some more, and stealing enough to survive. Steve's nightmares were almost a nightly occurrence and each time Tony held him tightly until he calmed down. They didn't talk about it.
They moved through a clearing one day to find the city of Hanover right in front of them. It was frighteningly secure. A wall at least twenty feet high had been erected around the city, there were armed robot guards posted all along it, and there was only one entrance.
"If that's what Hanover looks like," Steve said. "What are we going to find in Berlin?"
Tony could see the dismay on Steve's face, and tried to lift his spirits. "Hey. We could get in there if we needed to."
"If you say so," Steve said, making his way back into the woods.
"Okay. Stop that. You're almost making me wish I hadn't saved you," Tony said.
"I wish that every day."
"Christ, Steve. It's only been three weeks."
"It's been long enough to tell that we can't win this. We are two people. Say we could defeat every Nazi in Berlin. You know what then? He can just make more. Hell, he could decide to just move the planet and leave us stuck in the middle of space."
"That's actually... Please don't ever turn evil if that's the kind of plan you can think up."
Steve glared. Tony changed the subject. "Why don't you listen to me when I say we'll figure this out?"
"Because you have a history of bad decisions. Your solutions? They tend to make things worse, Tony."
"I knew you didn't forgive me. I knew..."
Steve sighed. "I did. I just didn't say you were right."
"And now I'm always going to be wrong?"
"No... Maybe. You're my friend. I love you, but I don't trust you."
"You will," Tony said. "I don't know how yet, but we're going to fix the world, then I'm going to say 'I told you so.'"
Four days passed. The towns were becoming larger and less sparse and the two men had to constantly keep changing direction to avoid them and stay hidden in the forests. They stopped at a stream to drink. They began the usual routine of running water through a purification device Tony kept in his armor. They sat on a log while they waited for it to finish.
"So here's a mood lightening question I always wanted to ask," Tony started. "When we found you frozen, were you an 80-year-old virgin?"
"Tony," Steve scolded.
"Just answer. Humor me."
"No," Steve said.
"That's my answer. The answer is no."
"But I thought you and Peggy never..."
Before he could finish that thought, they were under fire. The first bullet had ricocheted off Tony's armor and hit Steve's face before he closed up their faceplates and returned the attack. There were only three soldiers, and they were of the human variety. They went down quickly, and Steve and Tony ran.
When they felt they had gone far enough, Tony opened their faceplates and examined Steve's face. The bullet that had bounced off of him had barely grazed Steve's cheek. A normal person may have needed stitches, but Steve was far from normal.
"Are you okay?" Tony asked.
"Why were there soldiers in the middle of the forest? Red Skull already controls the world..."
"He knows we're here," Steve said.
"If he knows where we are, why..."
"He wants to torture me. He wants me to live in this world for a long time before he kills me." Realizing this, Steve became angry.
It was three more days until they made it to Berlin, and Steve had become more resolved yet more distraught at the same time. He was going to either take Red Skull down or die trying; he was not going to die on the run, and he was not going to suffer. As expected, the security was intense. Everything they had seen in Hanover was present here, with additions: enormous turrets, interior walls beyond the first, giant robotic walking skulls, and armies of soldiers—human and robot alike—patrolling the streets.
"There's a lot of tech down there. Would you be able to shut it off?" Steve asked.
"No. I mean, I could, but..."
"It's too risky. If he put any kind of virus in there, any security measure... We'd both be screwed."
"We need an army, then." Steve said.
"That's gonna be hard with all our friends dead."
"You can build it."
"Steve... Look, I appreciate the confidence, but I don't just build things in caves with no materials."
"You did once."
"I had an armory full of weapons at my disposal, and all I built was a suit. There were no computers involved like I need with Extremis."
"We'll find an armory. We'll steal some of their drones."
“I'm not opposed, but we have no idea where he's storing these things. We have no idea if he's storing them. He can make them out of thin air, like you said.”
“He's storing them. He's not clever enough to deviate from his old plans.”
“He was clever enough to figure out how to use the cube,” Tony pointed out.
“In 1943, the Howling Commandos and I crippled his weapons supplies. Six locations: Warsaw, Danzig, Milan, Prague, Munich, Oslo. I'm willing to bet you those are still key.”
Tony was at best unsure of this plan, but he didn't have a better one. Since they couldn't stroll into Berlin and confront the Red Skull directly, they might as well check the cities Steve mentioned. If nothing else, it would get them away from the most dangerous part of this world. They spent three days winding their way to the northern coast of Germany, then they flew toward Oslo, staying over water as much as possible. The flight went without incident and they settled on landing on Kjerkeberget mountain.
“It should be somewhere around here,” Steve said.
The area was covered in snow, and there didn't seem to be a sign of life anywhere. Snow began falling from the sky so heavily that there was no visibility. Steve couldn't help but wonder whether the weather was a natural occurrence or motivated by the Red Skull.
“Well, the armor will keep us warm.” Tony remarked. “Do you want to start looking or take cover?”
“Cover for now. I'd like to actually be able to see."
“Fair enough,” Tony said. He didn't bother to point out that he could have used any number of settings in the armor to look for life in the area. He knew that when Steve said he wanted to see, he actually wanted to see with his own eyes.
The two men found a cave nearby that, if they ever found the supplies they needed, had plenty of room for engineering an army. But taking cover “for now” soon turned into over a week of blizzard— uncharacteristic for the month of October. They quickly ran out of the food they left Germany with and had eaten nothing but snow for two days. Tony calculated that they had been living in this world for six weeks now.
Sitting around in armor wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world, so they had built a fire and taken the armor off aside from one glove each to stay protected from the cube. Now Tony was in his gold underarmor and Steve was in his Captain America uniform—a silly sight without the shield that was lost in the reality shift. They sat close to the fire.
“We could go out and find a house and some food,” Tony said. "Visibility sucks but I can work something out with my sensors and..."
“I'm not hungry,” Steve insisted. His face was solemn again and a week trapped in a cave had obviously killed some of the spark he'd regained in Germany.
“I'm getting a sense of the time this is going to take,” Steve said. “It already feels like it's been forever.”
Tony inched in closer. “Yeah...”
“I think we can do this,” Steve said. “I just... This world is disheartening.”
“Yeah. To say the least.”
“It's getting harder to remember why we're fighting.”
“That's what the Skull would want you to say.”
“I know,” Steve said. “I know that, and I feel awful for it.”
“Can I help?” Tony asked.
“I don't think you can.”
"I wasn't asking if it was possible. I was asking permission. I can help."
"Everyone's dead. You're disconnected from the world again, and you need to release that frustration before you get yourself killed."
"And what are you going to do?"
Rather than answer, Tony grabbed the back of Steve's head and pulled him in for a kiss. Almost as quickly as that had happened, Steve jerked away and stood up, his face stuck in a state of perturbation. After a few seconds, he spoke.
Tony stood and extended an arm toward Steve, who brushed it away. "Look, Steve. You're bottling emotions like your name is Anheuser Busch. We can play this out one of two ways. We can fight, or we can..."
"Or you can knock it off," Steve interrupted.
"We're the last two people and it's going to be that way for the foreseeable future. I am not going to deal with mopey depressed you for much longer, so take your pick."
Steve chose to shove Tony across the room, sending him back to the ground. "You are unbearable. The reason I'm so frustrated here, so overwhelmed... is because I'm stuck here with you."
Tony stood up and dusted himself off. "What happened to 'you're my friend'? What happened to that?"
"You are. I just can't stand you..."
"Ah, okay. I see." Tony said, moving in closer. "I'm good enough to hold you when you wake up screaming about Bucky or god-knows-what, but I don't meet your high standards for people to save the world with."
"Shut up," Steve said.
"No." Tony stared straight into Steve's piercing eyes. Steve grabbed Tony by his lean hips and pushed him against the wall. He claimed Tony's mouth for his own, stroking its inside to ecstasy. He felt Tony's rigid shaft pressing against his own, and pulled Tony to the dirt floor. Hours of stroking and kissing gave way to Steve burying himself deep inside of Tony. They climaxed together, their bodies stiffening then collapsing to the ground.
Whether they were working together or fighting, Steve's feelings for Tony were always intense. Accordingly, that night had consisted of the most passionate sex Steve had ever had, and the next morning brought about passionate regret. He woke up without his clothes and with his arms around Tony. He quickly moved them and reached for his clothing.
"You're gonna call me, right?" Tony laughed.
Steve hurriedly pulled up his pants as Tony turned around to face him. "I've already seen everything, you know."
"I'm sorry," Steve said. "That was a mistake."
"Didn't feel like it."
"What? No... Everything was great. I just...shouldn't have."
"Seriously. Last two non-Nazi people on Earth. Trapped in a blizzard. Sometimes these things happen."
"And sometimes people get struck by lightning. Drop it," Steve said, awkwardly tugging his shirt sleeve over the armor glove he'd had to keep on all night.
"What did you say?"
"I said to drop it."
"Not that. The lightning. You just gave me an idea," Tony said. He stood up and drew out his underarmor. "Thor. I really doubt Red Skull could kill him, so where is he?"
"He was probably human when Skull touched the cube," Steve said.
"I bet you he's alive. He'd have become Thor if he were attacked. We should go find him."
"I'm not sure..."
"Look, Steve. As much fun as it is waiting for a blizzard to pass so we can go on a wild goose chase, I think this will work."
"Why should I believe that?" Steve asked.
"Well, I was right about the sex, wasn't I?"
He was right. He was definitely right. Steve was hard again just from looking at the contours of Tony's body underneath his glistening metal skin.
"Fine," he said.
"Great!" Tony said, playfully tapping Steve on the shoulder. "We'll go to Oklahoma, then."
"One thing," Steve said.
He grabbed Tony and drew him in, sliding his tongue between Tony's parted lips.
Two hours later, they were finally ready to leave. Tony's flight path took them out of the blizzard, across the Atlantic, and above the Gulf of Mexico. From there they flew over only two major cities--Houston and Dallas--and both were utterly destroyed. Red Skull didn't want the United States; he wanted it gone.
Broxton, Oklahoma was basically empty before Red Skull took over the world. It was no different now. Why Thor had remained there even after Odin restored Asgard to its rightful location was a mystery. Tony and Steve headed for the building that had served as Donald Blake's office. They knocked and, to their relief, Doctor Blake opened the door.
"Go away," he demanded, then swung the door back toward himself.
"We need your help," Steve said, sticking his foot in the door.
"I don't help people like you."
"People like what?" Tony asked.
"Superhumans. Whatever medical help you need, I'm not giving it so you can go on and destroy more people. You can kill me if you want."
"Destroy?" Steve wondered. "We're not Nazis."
"We're not," Steve repeated.
"You don't remember us?" Tony asked.
"Uh, yeah. Just let us in to talk to you for a minute," Tony said.
Doctor Blake hesitantly agreed. He led them into his living room where he told them how Red Skull had destroyed all of America's major cities and left the rest a wild wasteland. Tony and Steve explained everything that had happened. Afterward, the doctor began to laugh.
"And you're telling me I'm a god?"
"Well, technically an alien. But Thor. Yes," Tony answered.
"Please! I can't even walk without a cane. And I don't know you two. I think I'd remember being friends with a couple of gay robots."
"We're not... " Tony and Steve both started, then finished their sentences differently--Tony with "robots" and Steve with "gay." They shared a silent glance.
"We're not getting anywhere," Steve said.
Tony whispered to him. "No. I'm moving to plan B. Beat this guy up until Thor pops out."
Steve asked the doctor to excuse them for a moment, then pulled Tony aside. "In what way is that a good idea? Blake doesn't know who we are. The last thing we need is an amnesiac Thor pissed that we brought him here."
"I don't think the cube can affect Thor."
"Because when I deconstructed the thing, half the technology was Asgardian in origin."
"Oh," Steve said bitterly. "And when were you going to bring that up?"
"Now-ish." Reacting to Steve's glare, he continued. "Hey, I was going to say something back in Norway but you jumped on me first."
Steve didn't argue that point. Instead, he asked whether Tony was sure about this.
"As sure as I can be."
They returned to the living room and walked toward the doctor. Tony punched him square in the jaw.
"I'm sorry, but we don't have time for this. We need Thor."
A few blows and a burst of lightning later, Thor was standing in the living room holding Tony by the throat. Tony choked out the word “Thor,” and the god got his bearings and set him back down.
"My apologies," he said. "I was under the false impression that I had been attacked.”
"No problem," Tony replied.
"What can I do for you, friends?"
"We need your help," Steve said. "Red Skull has a cosmic cube. He remade the world and we're the only ones left."
"I will help in any way I can. What do you need me to do?" Thor asked.
"We need an army," Tony said. "Can you bring Asgardians here?"
"My father sleeps and I command Asgard. It should be of no consequence."
"How long will it take you?" Steve asked.
"Not long. There are some who will need convincing, but I should be ready in a fortnight at most."
"Should we come along?" Steve asked.
"No," Tony said. "We have no idea what effect being in Asgard would have on the armor, or if it would work when we got back here."
"Then I am off," Thor said, disappearing in a flash of light.
"Tony..." Steve said dryly. "You didn't just say that to get me alone for two weeks, did you?"
"Not entirely. I can't say I mind the thought, though."
Doctor Blake's house was a nice break from what they had been dealing with over the past month and a half. He had a power generator, which meant they could have food that was actually cooked. They weren't sure what kind of meat was in the freezer, but it seemed safe enough since Thor's human self had hunted it. A water pump provided water, which meant they could actually shower instead of splashing about in cold streams. Steve took advantage of this almost immediately.
As he was showering, a very naked Tony Stark appeared in the bathroom.
“I am so coming in there with you,” he said.
He slid open the shower door and stepped in, placing his hands at Steve's hips. His thumbs traced the “V” of Steve's lower abs. Steve trembled slightly and his lips parted, ready to accept whatever Tony chose to thrust toward them.
Tony gave Steve a long, intoxicating kiss. Steve drudgingly pulled himself away.
“What are we doing?” he asked.
“Does it matter?”
It didn't. Not at that moment. Steve slid to his knees and took what he wanted. Tony groaned in delight as Steve took him into his mouth. As he stiffened in release, he looked down and watched Steve blissfully devour the entirety of his climax. He dropped down to his knees and shivered for a moment, then savagely took Steve's shaft into his own mouth. Before long, Steve was violently thrusting his hips at Tony until he released himself into Tony's impatient mouth.
Afterward, when Steve was out of his charmed state of mind, what they were doing suddenly mattered again. He and Tony were cuddling on the couch when Steve moved away again.
“I really don't understand this,” he said.
“That makes two of us,” Tony said.
“It almost feels right.”
“Almost?” Tony asked.
“But it's not. We would never do this if we weren't the only two people on Earth.”
“No. I guess not,” Tony started, then changed his thought. “Actually, Steve... I need to tell you something.”
“I kind of love you.”
“I know. This won't change that.”
“You're not following me.” Tony put his hand to Steve's face. “I'm in love with you.”
“Oh...” Steve stumbled. “... How?”
“It's something I realized when...” Tony paused. “...when you died. I never thought about how much you meant to me until then, but... it's a lot. You make me a better person. You believe in me. I'm never as good at anything as I am when I'm doing it with you.” He paused again, reflecting. “And these last few weeks, taking care of you during your nightmares... I finally felt like I have something to offer you.”
“You always have,” Steve said. “You challenge me, you don't take orders, and you treat me like a friend. But...” He hesitated. “...I've honestly never thought of you romantically. I still don't think I do.”
“You do realize we were just cuddling, right? For like an hour?”
“I do. This ordeal has made us closer, and there's something primal in me that wants you. But I can't say I love you like that. I just can't.”
“So this is pretty much over once we fix the world, then? You'll go to Sharon or whoever for your, uh, needs.”
“Probably. I'm sorry.”
“Well, hell,” Tony replied. “I might as well make the most of the meantime.”
They did. For nine days, Tony and Steve were practically honeymooners. They did little but eat, sleep, and have sex. What Steve said didn't change anything. He still wanted Tony for the time being, and that was enough for Tony. On the morning of the tenth day, they were standing in the bedroom kissing when Thor walked through the door just as they pulled their lips apart.
There was an awkward moment when the two were unsure whether Thor had realized what they were doing. That was quickly ended when Thor made it clear that he had.
“Iron Man!” he said blithely. “Well done. Truly there is no better warrior on midgard.”
Steve and Tony looked at Thor, then back at each other. Their faces turned red. Thor ignored this and informed them that the army he'd brought was outside. Tony suited them up and they headed outside. It was quite an army. Thor had more than met his promise. Their feeling of relief turned to one of alarm, however, when they noticed a man standing to their left: Loki.
“What's he doing here?” Steve asked.
“My brother will cause no harm,” Thor answered.
“What makes you think that?” Tony asked.
“I freed him from the Isle of Silence for this favor.”
“Besides,” Loki butted in. “I want this realm to be in order before I take it for my own.”
“I will watch him closely,” Thor added. “Are you ready?”
Loki transported everyone to Berlin and within seconds they were in the middle of a battlefield. Asgardians and drones clashed everywhere. As Steve had suspected, destroyed robots were replaced out of thin air.
“We need to find the Skull,” Steve said.
“Gee, you don't think he's in that foreboding castle that wasn't there before, do you?” Tony asked.
Steve offered a sardonic smile, and the two flew toward the Red Skull's sanctuary. Thor flew with them, knocking incoming projectiles away with his hammer. It was all too easy. Either they were flying directly into a trap or Red Skull had no knowledge of his Asgardian vulnerability.
It turned out to be the latter. The Skull had attempted to use a power with an origin he didn't comprehend. When the three Avengers were standing before him, he began to create allies out of thin air, but it was pointless. Thor blasted the cube out of his hand, and Tony picked it up and placed it on a table. With Red Skull defeated by his own hubris, Tony and Steve turned to the cosmic cube. They approached it cautiously, as though it could harm them of its own volition. Tony pulled back their faceplates. Their eyes focused on the cube, then back at each other.
“You should do it,” Tony said. “I really, really shouldn't have that power.”
Steve nodded. He picked the cube up with one hand and turned to face Tony. “This is it.”
Sensing the end of their relationship as he had known it in this reality, Tony spoke. “Steve, I...” He moved his face forward and brushed his lips against Steve's.
Steve kissed him softly and briefly. “I hurt you,” he said.
“Yes,” Tony replied, his eyes wet.
“You won't remember.”
Tony's eyes widened with the realization of what Steve was going to do.
“No. You have no right,” he protested.
“It will be easier this way.”
“No, Steve.” Tony's voice became angrier. “Don't take this from me!”
Steve Rogers commanded three things of the cosmic cube: that it return the world to the state it was in before Red Skull altered it, that it make Tony forget that they had been together, and that it erase itself and the Skull from existence. Two of those things were no problem. It was the middle that caused him anguish. He knew that changing someone's memories wasn't the right thing to do, especially when that person was someone he loved and who was deeply in love with him. It was, however, the best way he could see to it that Tony didn't have his heart broken. There were too many reasons Steve could never be with Tony. Too many, the most important being that he would be using him if he kept sleeping with Tony. He couldn't be with someone who was in love with him if he didn't feel the same. Steve extended a lot of effort rationalizing.
When the cube had worked its magic, he found himself sitting next to Tony at an Avengers movie night. Spider-Man had chosen Birdemic, and everyone was mocking the movie mercilessly.
“I think it's awesome,” Peter said. “Someday, when I'm off on one of my alternate reality adventures, I want to be in Birdemic world.”
“Why?” Clint asked.
“These people are all idiots. They would worship me!”
“I think I need more snacks to make it through this,” Tony said.
“The movie or those two?” Jessica asked.
As Tony leaned forward to stand up, Steve's eyes focused on a few wires of chest hair emerging from his shirt. His glance moved down the buttons of the shirt to a pair of black jeans that fit snugly around his package. Steve looked up and met Tony's intrepid blue eyes.
“Did you want to come?” Tony asked, noticing the other man's gaze.
Steve had made a horrible mistake.
He walked with Tony to the kitchen, where Tony turned to him and asked. “What did you do to Red Skull?”
“What?” Steve asked.
“I would expect us to have gone back to that fight, right before he used the cube. Instead we're here, as if he never attacked in the first place.”
“That's because he didn't. I willed him out of existence.”
Tony scrutinized Steve with his eyes.
“Do you have a problem with that?” Steve asked.
“No. He was too dangerous. I'm just surprised.”
“Because that's what I would have done.”