The first time Steve meets Tony, he has no idea who he is. He simply sees a young man sitting alone on one of the far tables in the mess hall, a barely touched plate of food next to him as he sketches something out furiously. Thinking him to be a fellow artist, Steve decides to sit with him, if only because he looks incredibly lonely. When he sets down his plate, Tony gives a quick glance before returning to his work, that Steve can now see are blueprints, apparently ignoring him entirely. He wonders if Tony is an engineer and if he is, why is sitting in the mess hall with the soldiers?
“The noise helps me think,” Tony explains shortly, as though he read Steve’s mind. Steve shifts uncomfortably at the abrupt dismissal and eats the meager portion of his food quietly. He looks at his empty plate forlornly for a few seconds and then hears a scraping sound that makes him look up to see Tony pushing his own plate towards him.
“I’m not hungry, but the cook insists that I’ll faint if I don’t eat,” Tony explains, “you look more along that path than I do.”
Steve protests for a moment but Tony just turns back to his blueprints and doesn’t touch the food. Steve eventually does eat and then takes out his own sketchbook and begins to draw a picture of the doctor that brought him here. They stay like that, sitting and drawing until the cook shoos them out of the mess hall. Tony drops a blueprint that Steve is quick to fetch and then with a quick flash of a smile, he’s heading to the area where the generals and engineers live. Steve watches him go and heads back to his bed, hoping there’ll be enough light and privacy for him to document the first smile anyone ever gave him here.
The first time Steve meets the Tony Stark, Howard Stark’s famous son, the young man is seated in the jeep he and the others are supposed to run behind. Tony doesn’t look up at any point during the run and he keeps their back to them with his head down. Steve wonders why he decided to join the run if he didn’t plan to even look at them but then he’s more focused on trying not to collapse as they move faster. When they come to the flag and are told what to do, Tony looks up at last and the first thing Steve notices is that he’s so young. When he heard the stories of Tony’s genius, of the things he’s created and is creating, he expected him to be at least in his thirties. That was probably why he didn’t recognize him in the mess hall considering no one would except the greatest mind of their generation to be a scruffy boy who looks like he’s barely legal. The second thing he notices is the intelligent, calculating look in his eyes as he looks at the flag, then at the men assembled before shaking his head and turning back to what he was working on. Tony doesn’t think any of them are capable of even touching that flag and in the back of Steve’s mind, he thinks this is his chance to be noticed.
Steve watches as man after man tries his hardest to climb the pole, but fails. He looks back at the truck to see Tony now watching them with amusement and then he laughs as one man falls on his ass, ignoring the glare he gets for it. Steve is struck with the urge to see that smile again. He looks at the pole, but he knows he can’t climb it and the only thing he’d do was injure himself. Then he looks down at where the pole is mounted and he sees the bolt that keeps it up and gets a brilliant idea. If he can’t reach the flag, he’ll bring it down. A quick move and the pole falls down with a thud, the flag on the ground where Steve picks it up with ease and gives it to his shocked superior with a smile. The amazed expressions of his comrades make him smile widely even as he clambers into the back of the jeep.
But it’s Tony’s hysterical laughter at their incredulous expressions that cheers him up the most.
The second time he meets Tony, the young man watches them practice their drills and unlike the Colonel or the older Stark, he doesn’t laugh or groan whenever Steve can’t do an exercise. Instead, he just watches silently, occasionally answering questions posed to him but his attention remains on Steve. When the Colonel throws the grenade among the new recruits, Steve dives for it, covering it with his body and when he looks up, Tony is nodding his head in approval as the Colonel stalks off in anger.
The third time he meets Tony, the man shows up at their target practice and watches over the men reloading their rifles and firing. Steve misses more often than not, but he’s used to the jeering comments by the others. What surprisingly gets him riled up is when Jason, one of his crew members who seems have it in for Tony after the flag incident when he had laughed at him, glances over at him and mutters something about “spoiled rich brats who hide behind their money.” Steve didn’t think Tony could hear that, but he can tell by the sudden hardening of his eyes that he knew exactly what had been said.
“Get up, soldier,” Tony stalked up to the offender and stood next to his lying body. The man sneered up at him, “Pretty boy get his feelings hurt?”
“Stand. Up.” Tony’s voice is hard as steel and Jason gets up, throwing in a mocking salute. Tony doesn’t back down though the man is taller, broader and much more muscular than him. Everyone’s attention is on the two of them and Steve wonders whether Tony’s going to get into a fight. He hoped not, because then he’d be obliged to step in and possibly would end his chances of ever going to war. Or living till his next birthday.
“Problem, sir?” Jason smirks.
“If you have trouble with me, soldier, you bring it up with me or with your superiors,” Tony bites out, “you do not spread rumors around the camp, do you understand?”
Steve winces at that. Jason had reportedly spread a lot of rumors concerning Tony as vengeance but Steve hadn’t heard the specifics considering nobody really talked to him.
“Oh, so it’s a rumor that you’re a queen who’s good for one thing only?” another guy laughs as he stands up and makes his way to his buddy, standing over Tony as well. “Cuz if it’s true, I wouldn’t mind you using that pretty mouth for something better,” he sneered, tracing Tony’s cheek with a finger before it was slapped away almost instantaneously.
Steve flushes in anger at the disrespect and gets up as well, moving around them to stand next to Tony, “Leave him alone, guys.”
“Should’ve known this is the only way you get any, Rogers,” the second guy laughs, “why don’t you and your dame get going? Leave the real men to work.”
Before Steve can say something that’ll get him in the hospital, Tony takes the rifle from Jason, loads it before dropping to the ground and firing at the target, hitting it dead center. The crack of the rifle resounds in the sudden silence of Tony managing a perfect shot in a fourth of the time it took everyone else, excluding loading and dropping. Tony doesn’t say a thing, just gets up and hands the gun back to the gaping man while dusting his suit off.
“Learn how to shoot before you devote any time to trash talk, do you hear me?” Tony’s voice was razor sharp and carried all the strength his untidy appearance hid. The man nods in shock and Tony gives him a mocking smile before turning to leave. Steve stares at his back and Tony suddenly stops and walks over to them.
“One more thing,” he smiles sweetly before delivering a right hook that brought the man who had touched him down to the ground, dazed. “If you ever touch me again, I’ll do a whole lot worse and it includes taking a knife to your genitals.” Steve hears the impressed murmurs of the remaining men increase as Tony walks away, dusting himself off and knows that there was much more to Tony Stark than what met the eye.
The last time he meets Tony as a stranger, Erskine has told him that tomorrow will be the day he gets the serum. Tony stops by with some cookies his mother sent him from home and Steve wonders about the reason for the kindness when Tony has never shown him much attention before. When he asks, Tony just smiles and says, “You’re a good man and I like you.” Steve tries to stop his heart from pounding as he convinces himself Tony just means it in a generic way.
“Did you ever wonder why I spent so much time around the recruits even though I didn’t seem to be paying attention?” Tony asks and Steve nods. “Erskine told me the serum needs a good man to work. I went out into the recruits trying to find not the perfect soldier, but someone with a kind heart. You sat with me when everyone else ignored me. You used your brains to bring that flag down rather than just relying on physical strength. You know what it’s like to be the underdog, yet to never give up. You stood up for me that day during shooting practice when you knew you couldn’t help me in an actual fight. Erskine and I decided on you without hesitation and I know that tomorrow, you’re going to be the world’s first super soldier.”
Steve doesn’t know what to say in response to all that beyond a small “Thank you.” They spend hours talking after that and Steve learns everything Tony is willing to let him know, from how old he was when he started building devices to the reason for him keeping longer hair than advisable for an engineer being that it annoyed his immaculate father to no end. “I’m a rebel,” Tony says with a smirk.
He falls asleep on Steve’s bed and Steve doesn’t have the heart to wake him. He just rearranges him the best he can to be comfortable, covers him with the scratchy regulation blanket and then uses the spare one to cover himself as he prepares for a night on the floor. Erskine wakes both of them in the morning and Tony looks extremely embarrassed for falling asleep but the Doctor reassures him that he’s glad he’s rested for the test.
While the equipment is being prepared, Steve sees the older Stark for the first time. In his late forties, the man appears to have a bit of a sour disposition and seems fond of yelling at Tony, while the son just continues his work without pausing. Tony clambers in every place he can, checking the smallest of things while Howard prepares the serum with Erskine. Soon, Steve is strapped on the table and he’s about to be injected and Erskine has reassured him of his worth before addressing the Generals in the viewing room. Tony comes up to him and puts a hand on his bare arm. Steve is surprised, but touched at the concern in his eyes and wishes he had a hand free to pat Tony’s.
“I’ll be fine,” Steve assures him, “I’m hardy.”
Tony grins and gives his arm a squeeze, “I know you will be.”
The serum is the most painful experience Steve has ever had. It feels like every muscle in his body is being torn apart. He feels everything stretch and it hurts. He hears himself scream and it feels like the pain will never stop.
“It’s not working, stop the machines!” He hears Tony screaming outside, but Steve can feel it working and there’s no telling what will happen if it stops now.
“NO! Don’t stop it! I can do this!” He yells out in protest and Tony obviously acquiesces as the process continues and then just as quickly as it began, it stops. He feels the tank being straightened and when it opens, Steve takes his first deep breath with his new enhanced lungs and he wonders if the air had ever smelt sweeter. Everyone crowds around him, touching him in various places and Steve can’t believe that he’s actually looking down at people instead of the opposite. Just as the probing hands begin to get uncomfortable, someone shoulders their way through the scientists to him and he feels another hand lightly touch his chest. Tony looks up at him with awe and then a small smile takes over his face.
“Guess I’m not the taller one anymore, am I?” he laughs and Steve grins back. The merriment is cut short as people begin to document the data and Tony and Erskine talk about the possibilities eagerly. Before anything can be saved, however, the Nazi spy darted out of the viewing room and detonated the Super Soldier Project. Steve watches the spy take aim at Tony and fire his gun, but Erskine shoves the boy back and takes the bullet instead. Steve freezes for a moment too long and then one of the turbines exploded, sending heat and metal everywhere. He hears Howard Stark scream for his son and turns in horror to see Tony hit the ground hard, his chest a bloody mess and feels a scream of his own lock in his throat. Erskine was most definitely dead after the combination of the bullet wound and the explosion, so Steve runs over to Tony, gathering him up in his arms as Howard screams for medics.
“You’re going to be okay, you hear me?” Steve frantically tries to get Tony’s eyes to meet his own. They’re glazed over with pain and shock but he can still see fear and recognition, “You’re going to be just fine, Tony. You’re going to be fine.”
He ignores the look Howard gives him in favor of Tony’s lips moving, one bloody hand coming up to grab onto his collar. He interprets the words “get” and “spy” and before Steve knows it, he’s giving the hand a squeeze before handing the son to the father to race after the man who did this to two people he cared about. That spy would not escape.
When he returns, he’s given new clothes and whisked away for some tests but he knows that there’s no one in the world who can recreate the Project. One was already dead and even if Tony did survive, he only assisted in the mechanics aspect, not in the creating of the serum itself. He asks for news on Tony, but all he gets is responses that he’s still in surgery and that it was too early to say anything. After hours of blood tests, poking and prodding, he’s finally released and the first thing he does is find out where Tony is being kept and fortunately, he meets no resistance. Tony looks extremely small in the hospital bed, bandages covering his chest and what looks like wires coming out of it, cuts and burns everywhere from the blast. Howard looks up at his entry and notices the questioning look.
“Shrapnel in his chest,” the stern man’s voice shakes at the words, “they can’t get it out. If I didn’t do anything, he wouldn’t live beyond a week.”
Steve feels his throat seize up in horror as he takes a seat next to Tony’s bed, “What did you do?”
“I modified an electromagnet that the doctors installed into his chest. It’s powered by a portable battery so that he can have some movement,” Howard chokes up, “my own son has a machine keeping his heart beating.”
“You always said the heart was an engine, anyway,” Steve’s head jerks up at those words and he sees Tony smile weakly, still heavily sedated as a result of the operation. Howard scoffs at those words, but Steve can see the relief in his eyes. As the father goes to get the doctors, Steve shifts forward in his seat and takes one of Tony’s bandaged hands in his own.
“Erskine?” Tony whispered, closing his eyes at Steve’s shake of the head, “That poor man.”
“I got the spy,” Steve says, hoping to give him some good news.
“Never doubted it,” Tony squeezes his hand with all the strength he can. “Super solider, huh? How do you feel?”
Tony laughs a little at that, but stops when it hurts his chest. Steve winces along with him and wishes he knew a way to help. All this strength now and he still couldn’t save the people that mattered.
“You didn’t even know what you were capable of.”
Steve looked up, startled. He didn’t think he had said that out loud, “I should have saved you and Erskine. I was fast enough, but I didn’t-”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Tony insists.
“You have an electromagnet in your heart because of me,” Steve croaks.
“And I’m getting pretty damn tired of it,” he looks down at his chest, “I’ll make something better when I convince dad to let me have some materials.”
“Can you?” Steve wonders if something like that is possible, but then again, Tony has an electromagnet in his chest keeping him alive, something he hadn’t thought possible before.
“With some research, yes. Bet you by the time you come back from whatever mission they’re bound to send you on now, I’ll have it done.”
“If it means you’ll get better faster,” Steve smiles, “I’ll take that bet.”
Steve’s mission turns out to be campaigning. He can’t believe the government spent this much money on the serum just for him to dress up in tights and punch a fake Hitler in the face 200 times. This was not what Erskine died for, not what Tony nearly died for and definitely not what Steve was willing to die for. He sends letters to Tony after every campaign he does and Tony writes back every time, reassuring him that he is, in fact, still alive and comments on his rising frustration. Tony becomes a means for Steve to vent, but he also makes sure to send Tony small sketches of things he sees while he travels and Tony always says he’s delighted to see them. When Steve sends him the sketch of a patriotic circus monkey, Tony sends him a package which Steve opens to see that Tony made the same monkey out of scrap metal which would start cycling if he wound it up. Steve keeps that toy with him and sometimes plays with it before bed.
When Steve meets Tony again, he wants to go after Bucky and he needs someone to get him across enemy lines. When he steps in the door, the first thing he sees is a glowing circle in Tony’s chest, right where the car battery had once been attached. Tony freezes in the middle of tinkering at the sudden entry and then Steve has an armful of hyperactive engineer clinging to him and babbling about how much he missed him and about something called an arc reactor.
When Tony has him settled down, he tells him about his idea to create the miniature arc reactor to keep the shrapnel away from his heart. All Steve really understands is that it’s powerful, revolutionary and it’ll keep Tony alive. Then Tony asks the real reason why he stopped by and Steve tells him about Bucky and his plan to go in alone. Tony refuses and insists on coming with him, but Steve feels guilty enough about letting him fly into an active warzone. He argues until Tony is forced to back down, Steve insisting that the arc reactor and the serum could not fall into enemy hands if they were captured. Tony doesn’t want to let him go, but Steve’s earnestness wins out and soon, Tony is taking them through enemy air, dodging explosions and bullets alike.
“You come back alive, you hear me?” Tony calls back to him as he opens the door to the outside.
“I’ll try my best,” Steve calls back and then leaps out.
He saves Bucky and several others, a team that later becomes the Howling Commandos. Tony is kept busy by his father demanding more and more inventions, but he still manages to take out the time to join them in the bar at night. Steve is glad that Tony and Bucky get along, even though they cover it up by snarking at each other. In the beginning, the Commandos didn’t really hold much respect for Tony, something Steve was sadly used to, but Dum Dum Dugan brought up the time Tony knocked out one of the cocky new recruits and now, Tony is making them all crack up with lewd jokes and one-liners. Steve sees Bucky looking at him sometimes and he has a feeling that Bucky knows that exactly what Steve feels for Tony. One night after they meet in a club for drinks and Tony wears a dark red shirt that Steve can’t take his eyes off but fortunately Tony hasn’t noticed.
“Why aren’t you asking one of these dames to dance?” Tony asks, waving a bottle in the direction of a cute redhead eyeing him up, “Isn’t that part of the whole Captain America image?”
“You know darn well I don’t like those dancers,” Steve grumbles, flushing a deep red as the girl waves at him coyly, “Plus, she’s not my type.”
“Oh really?” Tony raises an eyebrow and leans forward enough that Steve can see a bead of sweat trailing down his neck and into the slightly open collar of his shirt. He wants to tear it off him and follow that bead with his lips. Tony’s next question has his eyes jerking back up, “What is your type then, Cap?”
“Smart, foxy brunette,” Steve answers automatically and then looks horrified enough that Tony can’t hold back a laugh.
“I’m sure you’ll find her some day,” Tony winks, “and then you can ask her to dance.”
“I don’t know how to dance,” Steve mutters, looking down at his feet.
Tony makes a sympathetic sound and then one hand curls around his bicep, “Never got a chance, huh? Tell you what, once this war’s over and we all survive, I’ll give you some pointers. You’ll blow her mind.”
Steve can’t help the stupid grin crawling over his face, even when Tony announces that he needs to head back for work. He keeps that grin on until he and Bucky leave as well and it almost continues to last when Bucky tells him to just tell Stark how he feels.
“Hell, when will you ever do it, then? This is war. One day, we just might not make it home.”
“It’s exactly because we’re at war, Bucky,” Steve says softly, getting ready for bed, his mind wandering over to watching Tony walk away after promising to show him how to dance once the war was over. “What if this is just something spur of the moment because I know we can die at any time? Worse, what if I do tell him and he feels the same and I die the next day? I don’t want to hurt him like that.”
“Well, if you just keep blurting out shit, you might not have to tell him because he’ll figure it out himself,” Bucky shrugs and then mimics a bright cheery grin, “Smart, foxy brunette. You might as well add pectorals and biceps to your list along with a p-”
“Bucky!” Steve looks mortified, “Just drop it.”
“Fine, but just think about it, okay? Stark’s a great guy: he’s smart, he’s attractive and he’s sure as hell got moxie. Just don’t wait too long because you’ve seen what the father’s like: I’m pretty sure the kid’s got enough charm to make sure he never spends a night alone. You weren’t the only one eyeing him up in the club. If you had been there in all your Captain America glory, there would have been at least ten people lining up for him.”
“The Howling Commandos were the only ones in the club!”
“And at least half of them commented on Stark’s looks today.”
“I’m just saying, Steve. I don’t want you to regret it later,” Bucky pats his shoulder. “As long as you’re sure.”
The next mission they go on turns out to be Bucky’s last. The moment Steve gets back from the mission, he goes straight to Tony’s workshop and Tony barely catches him as he collapses in sobs. Tony somehow maneuvers them towards the cot he keeps in his lab and keeps his arms around Steve’s shoulders as the other man sobs into his grimy white shirt, fisting the material like he’s afraid Tony will disappear if he doesn’t hold on. Tony just makes soothing noises in his ear and combs his gloved fingers through his hair, rocking them back and forth like he’s trying to calm a child. Steve feels the arc reactor dig into his face and he can hear the hum of power in it. The sound reminds him of the explosions and he sees Tony collapse with blood on his chest and a hole where his heart should be. Before he knows it, his lips are on Tony’s, kissing him with all the ferocity he can muster.
Tony makes a startled sound against his lips and then he’s tentatively responding, licking lightly across Steve’s lips and dipping his tongue in when they part. Steve slides one hand up into his hair, brushing it back from his ear as he cups the back of his head, holding him still as he chases his tongue into Tony’s mouth, moaning at the taste of coffee and sugar. Only when air is an issue does he draw back and the sight of Tony’s lips, kiss swollen and temptingly red, almost makes him dive in again. But exhaustion is beginning to creep up on him and he knows Tony can see it because he’s being made to lie down on the cot and Tony takes his shoes, socks and jacket off. He leaves the shirt on as well as the pants and finds a blanket that he makes to unfurl, but Steve grabs his wrist.
Tony looks like he wants to protest but Steve must look truly wretched because he goes to lock his door before turning off the lights and making his way to the cot. The arc reactor shines brightly through the white shirt in the dark and Tony uses the light to make his way to the cot, trying to find some place for him to lie down. Steve just pulls him down and over him and Tony just pulls the blanket over them before laying his head on Steve’s chest. Steve lightly strokes his hair, concentrating on the feel of the silky strands and brushing them away from Tony’s closed eyes. Its Tony’s breathing that finally helps him fall asleep.
When he wakes up the next morning, he doesn’t feel any side effects of crying himself to sleep, but he attributes that to the serum. Tony is still asleep next to him, one arm around his waist and his hair all over his face, covering his eyes. Steve strokes it back, his fingers tracing the lines of his face before moving down to skim the corner of his mouth. He remembers how those lips looked after he had kissed them and has the urge to see them like that again. Tony stirs as Steve moves his caresses down to his neck and almost purrs when he kneads the back of his neck. His head moves up so that he can make eye contact with Steve and he gives a small “morning” before yawning. Steve smiles as Tony’s eyes close again and for once, he’s content to just remain in bed, holding onto the only person he had left in the world. That thought makes him tighten his grip as the complete events of what had happened yesterday flood his mind and then he hears Tony calling his name with increasing panic, finally grabbing his face in his hands and locking their eyes together.
He tells Steve to focus on him and Steve is able to stave off the panic attack as the artist in him starts noticing things like the shape of Tony’s eyes, the way they can look either brown or hazel depending on his moods, the long eyelashes that Tony bats at him playfully when he’s teasing him, the stubble that always seem to adorn his jaw and chin and the way his hair curls ever so slightly and frames his face. Tony breathes out a sigh of relief once Steve’s breathing slows down and rests their foreheads together, whispering small assurances in between butterfly kisses. They spend a good two hours lying in bed until someone knocks on Tony’s door looking for Steve. They share a kiss goodbye as Steve leaves and Tony gets back to his work, both of them knowing Steve will end up in Tony’s quarters again by the end of the day.
The night before Steve plans to lead a final attack on Schmidt, they spend hours just kissing on Tony’s cot. Steve takes it a little further and slips his shirt off before undoing the buttons on Tony’s. The other man covers his hands with his own, uncertainty slipping over his features, but Steve just bends down and kisses the arc reactor through the cloth and Tony allows him to take it off. Steve sits back for a moment and drinks in the sight of Tony’s body, taking in the surprisingly defined chest and abdomen and the muscular arms. Tony hid his strength behind masks and suits but Steve had managed to get through all of them to see that the young engineer had a core of iron. Tony laughs when Steve says so, “I’m a regular Iron Man,” before pulling him down for another kiss. Steve traces all the lines he can with his hands, wanting to take the memory of this with him tomorrow. When Tony finally falls asleep, Steve stays awake, taking in his features in the light of the arc reactor, wishing he didn’t have to leave the next day. When he wakes up the morning of the mission, he dresses himself and then stands next to the cot for a while, watching Tony’s sleeping body. He tries to memorize the way he twists around in an empty bed, the way the sunlight brings out the undertone of gold in his skin and mahogany in his hair and even the way he murmurs equations as he sleeps. He plucks out the sketchbook he keeps hidden in Tony’s room, which Tony doesn’t know about, and spends a few minutes adding a new sketch to the ones already filling the book. Once it’s done, he closes it and leaves the entire book on the pillow next to his lover, a gift in case he never makes it back. He looks down at his dog tags and then takes one off the chain, leaving it on the sketchbook before leaving without a backwards glance
He hopes it won’t be the last time he sees Tony.
Steve tries to get Schmidt to disarm the bombs but the Tesseract takes away that option as Schmidt disappears into the star filled void. He has no technical knowledge of his own, definitely not enough to disarm the bombs himself and there isn’t time for Tony to explain the procedure. He hears the Colonel telling him to abandon ship, but Steve can’t for fear that the ship will crash into a civilian zone. The only way he can make sure it doesn’t result in more casualties is by crashing it somewhere remote.
Steve closes his eyes at the sound of fear in Tony’s voice but he can’t bring himself to not answer, “Tony.”
“You…. You have to come back, okay?” Tony’s voice is shaking and Steve knows that Tony knows what he’s going to do.
“Yeah, I will. We still need to have an official date,” he doesn’t even care that the Colonel and Tony’s father are probably listening in.
“I still need to teach you to dance. We should go to the Stork club,” Tony tries to sound casual, but Steve can hear the emotions underneath the masking.
“Save a dance for me, yeah?” Steve can’t help the tears that are threatening to take him over.
“I’ll save them all for you. I’ll even wear that red shirt you like.”
Steve reaches into his pocket and takes out his compass, opening it and placing it on the dashboard. Tony’s smiling face stares back at him from the newspaper clipping and Steve keeps his eyes on it, only looking up occasionally to keep on course.
“We’ll dance the night away. And then later, I’ll take you back to my apartment and I’ll show you the rest of the sketches I’ve been making of you for months. We’ll spend the night in a proper bed, not the cot like normal.”
Tony lets out a sob that he can’t quite stifle, “I’ll tell you I love you.”
Steve swallows as the clouds part to reveal a white, icey landscape and he aims the ship down, “I’ll tell you that I love you too.”
There a pause and Steve thinks that Tony’s shut off communication because he can’t handle it anymore, but then he hears him speak up again. “Be at the club, Saturday night at 9pm. I’ll be waiting for you.”
“It’s a date,” Steve sees the ground come up closer and closer.
“I’ll be there. Don’t be late.”
Tony’s hand spasms around the dog tag in his hand at the sudden silence, a feeling of dread sweeping over him, “Steve?” No response. “Steve?” Still nothing. There is no response and the Colonel speaks up in a surprisingly sympathetic voice, informing him that the signal is gone. Tony knows what it means and he closes his eyes in grief, the dog tag still cutting into his palm.
Steve can hear Tony call his name somewhere in the dazed zone between pain and numbness. He wants to call for Tony, but his head hurts so badly and he feels so numb and all he wants to do is sleep. His eyes catch the fallen compass and Steve moves stiff fingers to snag it and he makes them curl around it as tightly as they can. He looks at the picture even as the world slowly begins to darken. Tony’s face is the last thing he sees as he falls unconscious.
When he wakes up in a time 70 years ahead of his own, the first thing he hears is an old ball game. He recognizes something wrong with the setting and he’s out before they can even hope to stop him. When he steps out, he doesn’t know where he is anymore. Everything is bright and confusing and when Nick Fury comes up to him and explains about the future. Steve doesn’t know what to say, even as he looks around at the incredible sights around him. The need for comfort brings up a name that punches him in the gut like the realization that he had slept for 70 years. The world seems to spin a little bit and his legs feel like they haven’t defrosted properly.
“Are you going to be okay, Captain?” Fury’s voice is gentler than he would have expected the man to be capable of.
“Yeah, yeah…. I just….” Steve looks up at the sky scrapers and they begin to blur due to tears he valiantly holds back from flowing, “I had a date.”
As they travel to what Fury calls Stark Tower, he is told that he’s lost seventy years of his life in suspended animation. Steve doesn’t believe him at first, but some of the sights around him make it very hard to argue. Fury takes him to a Tower that Steve is gapes at and they enter an elevator that looks better than some of the apartments he had seen before. He’s both eager and apprehensive at meeting Tony. If it had really been seventy years, Tony would have to be in his nineties now. Steve wouldn’t even have thought him to be alive if Fury hadn’t mentioned him. He wondered what he looked like now and he just couldn’t imagine the young man he had seen being some old, grey man who could probably not even remember him anymore.
That was another thing. What if Tony didn’t remember him anymore? What if Steve had become an old memory, best forgotten? Did Tony find someone else after he crashed? Had he gotten married? Did he have a family? There were too many questions and most of them were ones he didn’t want answers for. He’s led into an apartment that Steve thinks is far beyond what those movies showed of the future and is startled when Fury barks out an order for Stark to get his ass here, pronto.
He opens his mouth to berate Fury for his language but it just goes slack when the Stark in question enters the room, calling out for Fury to “hold his goddamn quinjets.” He stops on the spot when he sees Steve and the soldier can imagine the exact same expression of shock being on his own.
This Stark looks different, but his face is something Steve will never forget. His hair is shorter and well styled, his stubble has been replaced with a sharp edged goatee, his face is sharper and more angular but the resemblance to his Tony is most definitely there. He hears Fury leave the room silently, but his eyes remain of the impossible vision in front of him and he’s sure he’s either hallucinating or dreaming or dead and this is heaven.
Stark comes forward cautiously, but it seems to be more for his benefit than for his own and Steve doesn’t know how to react. Tony couldn’t possibly be alive or at the very least not be this young, but Steve can’t bring himself to care. Everything in him screams that this is his Tony, but he doesn’t know how to react. They just stand there, staring at each other until Stark lets out a small laugh that sounds more like a sob and his smile is blinding in that way that only Tony’s has been able to be. Steve doesn’t even notice his feet moving until he’s grabbing Stark around the waist and dipping him back before capturing his lips with his own. Stark doesn’t respond for a second and Steve has a moment of horror at thinking that he may have just kissed his lover’s grandchild, but once Stark gets over the surprise, his arms come around Steve’s shoulders and he’s kissing back just as fiercely. It’s achingly familiar and whatever doubts Steve had, the press of soft lips and that flutter of tongue that Tony always used erase all of them. This is Tony and he doesn’t doubt it for a second. The thought just makes him kiss him harder, his hand tightening on his neck and back as Tony moans into his mouth. Too soon, he has to let him go for air and no matter how had apparently changed, the way his eyes darkened when the soldier pulled away was still the same.
He doesn’t know what to say or how this is even possible but he’s seen so many wonders today, he thinks that he doesn’t care as long as it means Tony is still with him.
“You’re late,” Tony said with a small, watery laugh, his eyes shining with unshed tears.
“I’m sorry,” Steve honestly means that. He’s never broken a promise before and it doesn’t sit well with him that the first time he did, it had been to Tony.
The silence between them isn’t as comfortable as Steve remembers, but a lot has transpired since he last met Tony, so he’s willing to wait for Tony to think of something to say.
“So you met Fury,” Tony says and while it’s not the ideal topic, Steve recognizes the attempt for what it is.
“Yeah. He’s another one who doesn’t look as old as he should,” Steve says pointedly.
“That’s a bit of a long story,” Tony gives him a small grin, “And you’re missing out on a lot of technological advancement for me to explain. As for Fury, I just think he uses a really good youth cream.”
Steve huffs out a small laugh and his hand comes to brush Tony’s cheek, the bristling of the goatee making it different, but not unpleasant. They haven’t let each other go since Steve kissed him and he doesn’t think they ever will. He spies a couch to his side and he maneuvers the two of them towards it, falling on a soft cushion and yanking Tony into his lap when he makes to sit next to him. He locks his hands around his waist when Tony squirms until he gives up and just shifts to rest his head against Steve’s shoulder. He’s achingly warm and Steve lets out a relaxed sigh as his heat chases away the remains of the cold.
“How are you feeling?” Tony’s hand cards through his hair and Steve almost purrs at the action, “I mean, I was at your room this morning, so I know you haven’t been awake long. How’re you dealing?”
“I still think this is all a dream,” Steve admits, his arms tightening around Tony as though afraid he’ll disappear at the admission, “Has it really been seventy years? How do you look so young? And the world….”
“A lot happened, Steve,” Tony whispers, kissing his temple, “We won the war and Germany isn’t an enemy anymore. We’ve fought other wars, but nothing as bad as the one you fought in. When you disappeared, I…. didn’t take it well. I stayed in my workshop for weeks and I just wished I had been with you, that I had gone down with you. Sometime during that depressive period, I created something that would change my life forever. I created a high tech suit of armor that was something the Nazis couldn’t even dream of creating. It won us the war, according to Fury,” Tony smiles a bit, but it’s tinged with darkness. “Dad died soon after they launched the atomic bombs on Japan, a long story, and I took over Stark Industries completely. After seeing what the war did first hand, what it cost me,” the ‘you’ goes unsaid, “….I couldn’t do it.”
“Do what?” Steve asks with a soothing kiss to his jaw.
“The whole weapons business. I shut it down. Focused on helping America get back on its feet after the war. I brought cellular phones in by the 50s. Household computers were a reality by 1960. Clean energy, television, internet…. I had my fingers in many pies. But my focus remained on protecting the people. The Iron Man became a superhero and about twenty years ago, while I was way past my prime, I created an upgrade known as the Extremis.”
Tony goes on to explain how the tests kept failing and then he was forced to take it without failsafes to try and save the people in an attack that would have been devastating if not for him. What it did to him was fascinating and Steve wonders if Tony is part machine now, but the idea is buried by the thought that it is because of Extremis that Tony is here now, sitting on his lap as though they haven’t been parted for a lifetime.
“It’s amazing, if you think about it,” Tony hums, playing around with Steve’s hand, touching the fingers and their callouses as though trying to memorize a map, “you slept for seventy years in ice and yet you’re alive and perfectly healthy. I lived a long life before injecting a virus that should have killed me – the chances were about 3 percent with the failsafes in place – which restored my youth and health. I don’t believe in fate, but this is a good argument for it.”
“I don’t whether it’s fate or luck or just a coincidence,” Steve turns his hand over to grasp Tony’s, “All I know is that it’s a blessing.”
Tony smiles a bit but it fades as he begins to talk, “I looked for you, you know. Spent years trying to track you down from my workshop. I created some of my best inventions, the beginnings of the Global Positioning System, to try and find you. I travelled and searched, but no matter what I did, I just didn’t succeed. Even when I knew the chances of you being alive were nil, I still kept searching because I wanted to bring you home. I wanted to say goodbye.”
Tony audibly swallows and Steve’s heart aches at the thick sound of his voice as he continues, “And then seventy years later, I get a call telling me they found your ship. I didn’t know how to feel. When I came to see you….you were still half frozen in that ice and you looked so pale, but still exactly the same…. It hurt, Steve. It hurt so damn much. And then, wonders of wonders, while they were defrosting you, they get a heartbeat. I, I can’t tell you what went through my mind when they told me you were alive. Seventy years I spent letting you go and that one piece of news was enough to put me right back in square one.”
“Did you ever…?” Steve doesn’t know if he wants to ask the question, feeling like it would make him sound too self-centered, but he can’t help the warmth in his chest as Tony shakes his head.
“Actually let go? I tried. God knows, I tried. But then I’d do something and wonder what you would think and it’s like it just happened yesterday. I couldn’t let you go, Steve. And now I’m glad I didn’t. I waited so long for you and now you’re here and I feel like I can say, with all honesty, that it was worth it. It was worth every moment of heartache.”
Steve doesn’t know what he’s done in his life, but it must have been a damn good thing to have been given someone like Tony, who he loved and who loved him back. The separation had been just a couple of days for him, but for Tony it had been seventy years. Seventy years where he looked for Steve and tried to at least bring his body home. Seventy years where Tony remained alone, waiting for someone who likely would never return.
It makes Steve feel both proud and humble, to have someone this dedicated to him. He devours Tony’s lips in a kiss yet again, but this one is soft and tender and Tony opens up to him readily. Steve’s hand slips to the back of his neck, a motion that feels both familiar and at the same time not because of the lack of hair there that Steve would normally card through. However, he feels the bumps of a chain there and pulls back slightly, lightly tugging the chain back until a familiar glint of metal slips out from behind the collar of Tony’s shirt. Steve lets go of the chain for the dog tag, tracing the metal letters that spell out his name and feels Tony’s hand cover his own.
“I knew it. In the back of mind, I knew I’d find you some day,” Tony’s voice shakes a bit and Steve holds him tighter.
“Thank you,” Steve doesn’t know what to say beyond that, but the words don’t feel enough.
“I…I couldn’t leave you alone out there. In the ice and snow….” Tony sounds like he’s about to burst into tears and Steve fully realizes that Tony not only spent years looking for him, he had been completely aware of the possibility that he would find nothing but a corpse. Steve feels tears prick his own eyes as he thinks about the moments before he aimed the plane towards the crash zone. Looking at Tony’s picture in his compass, hearing his voice as Tony told him about what he planned for their date. The date he had known would never be anything more than a fantasy.
The thought is enough for him to turn Tony’s face towards him again and take his lips in another fierce kiss. Tony responds eagerly and Steve can feel the wetness on his cheeks as he grips his jaw and he doesn’t know whose tears they are. They pull away slowly because one of them kept leaning in for another kiss until air became a serious issue.
“I waited for you at the Stork Club,” Tony breathes out against his lips, “I waited till midnight. Everyone told me that it was pointless, but I made that promise and I was going to stick to it. I still go there, you know. Every year on the same day at the same time. Hoping that one day, because of some miracle, you’ll show up. They wanted to close it down years ago, but I wouldn’t allow it. I was supposed to teach you to dance.”
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Steve whispers back, nuzzling Tony’s neck. “When I woke up, you were all I could think about. When Fury told me how much time had passed, I wished that I had never woken up. I was sure you’d be long gone by now and I didn’t want to live without you. On the way here, all I could think about was what happened to you after I… disappeared. Did you move on? Did you get married? Did you even survive the war? I thought I’d be meeting a child or a grandchild, but the moment I saw you… I knew it. I didn’t know how, but I knew you were my Tony. I could never forget your face. You were the last thing I saw.”
“I know,” Tony smiles slightly and then slides off Steve’s lap. Steve wants to protest, but then Tony’s tugging him up and making him follow him through the slick corridors to a large room that looks more like something Steve had seen in one of Tony’s science fiction magazines. The smaller man moves towards a drawer next to his bed and Steve catches a glimpse of a weathered old sketchbook before Tony withdraws something dark and circular that he recognizes immediately. Tony places it in Steve’s hands and the soldier opens it to see his compass looking exactly the way he remembers it, with the scratched glass and the old black and white photograph of his past and now future.
“It wasn’t easy to restore the picture,” Tony shrugs, “But I had a feeling you’d appreciate it if I didn’t try to put in a different one or another copy. When they found you, they didn’t even know about the compass until they defrosted you enough to move your fingers. You never let go of it, even in the crash.”
“I couldn’t,” Steve grins, “I could never let you go. And not when I’ve found you again.”
“Good,” Tony smiles back, “Because you are never going anywhere without me again. That’s why I created the Iron Man: so that I could fight besides you. And I’m certainly not letting you fly a plane.”
“You were always the better pilot,” Steve laughs, slipping his arms around Tony’s waist as the other man rambles about the new models of planes that have been created and then about movies and music that Steve has to catch up on and feels a kernel of warmth bloom in him as Tony leans into him. He has a lot of learn, a lot to catch up on and he may have lost his world in a way, but at the same time, everything he loved about that world is in this one. As long as Tony is there, Steve knows that the future will be a beautiful place.