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And The Void Would Be Calling.

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Cutting his boot repulsors, Tony dropped first to his feet then to his knees. He flipped the catches on his helmet and gauntlets, feeling the bitterly cold mid-winter air on his exposed skin and set them down on cracked sidewalk.

The Hulk’s scream of mingled rage and pain caused the cement underneath Tony to ripple like a breeze-touched pond. Pulling out as many tools as he could reach from the compartment in his shin plate, Tony began cutting into the metal encircling his team-mate’s knee with a mini acetylene torch.

“I know big guy, I know.” Hawkeye tried to console the green goliath, his full-body weight pressing across the Hulk’s chest. It would do little to restrain the Hulk in most circumstances, but Bruce’s psyche had imprinted upon his alter ego one absolute command. Don’t harm the other Avengers.

“What is it?” Captain America asked from just over Tony’s left shoulder as the Hulk’s fist smashed an indentation into the gutter.

“Frankenstein’s bear trap,” Tony answered absently, cutting further into the metal casing. “A restraint manacle that’s been butchered into a torture device, the more he struggles the tighter it gets.”

The condemnation emanating from the Captain threatened to melt the snow pattering gently onto their little tableau. A few moment of relative quiet as Tony tried to identify what the hell this thing was made of.

“He’s shrugged off direct hits from tanks, how is this hurting him?” Cap was now actually at his side and seemed to be protecting Tony’s tools from the minor tremors caused by the Hulks thrashing.

“I don’t know,” Tony gritted out as he tried to catch a wire in some needle-nose pliers that were far too big for the intricate work he was doing. “The metal isn’t metal, but it isn’t anything I’ve worked with. And I’ve worked with every alloy on this planet.”

“Alien then?”

“Depends on who was sponsoring these mooks doesn’t it? They looked human to me.” Tony had recorded everything for his SHEILD masters, but while the weapons were tech no-one had seen before, the terrorists had been human. As far as they knew.

“Off, OFF!” Hulk yelled, shaking off Hawkeye and waving the huge, deadly palm of his hand towards Tony. Fortunately Cap’s shield blocked the blow and allowed Tony the time he needed to attack the tiny engine within the manacle.

“Hulk! Stop moving.” The Captain ordered his voice even and sure. “Tony is getting it off for you. Calm. Down.”

“Not too calm.” Tony said, finally using the small pair of pliers to pull a fishing-line snarl of wires into view. “Hulk’s toughness is the only thing stopping it from breaking his knee, if he turns into Bruce….”

“We’d have a crippled Avenger.” Black Widow finished as she dropped from the top of an upturned taxi. “We’ve got the ringleader, and SHEILD are bringing in the last of her troops.”

Cap handed Tony another set of pliers as soon as he had separated five wires from the bundle stretched across his palm. Stripping the casings, he began neatly cutting and finishing each wire, one eye on the slowly tightening circle. Bottle green bruising had started to mottle Hulks lower thigh while Barton literally straddled his chest, speaking urgently into the rage twisted face of their friend.

“Status of the hostages?” Cap spoke to Widow but Tony knew that the clear blue gaze was on his hands and their desperate work.

“Two dead, two injured. Some survivors say the bank teller was the inside man, others that he was just helping them because he was threatened.” She reported without an opinion offered one way or the other.

Silence once again save for the Hulk’s pained grunts and Tony’s humming of the base line of ‘The Beautiful people’. The general chaos of New York after an ‘event’ seemed distant from their little group.

The unmistakable sound of bone cracking was followed by a terrible noise somewhere between a bellow and a cry of agony.

“Stark…” Cap began.

“I know, I know.” But Tony wasn’t there yet, the system was complex and he was pretty certain he’s just caused that broken bone by ripping out the wrong piston. “Here…pass me that cable?”

Quickly Cap handed Tony the piece of sign rigging, watching as Tony forced the half-inch wide metal rope through a small hole he’d made in the manacle. Looping and twisting Tony pushed an end back at Steve.

“Pull one end and tie the other to a car or something, it might delay the squeeze.” Tony didn’t bother to look as Widow darted to yet another abandoned taxi and Steve leaned back against a power pole, bracing his feet firmly underneath the snow.

“Thor’s still ten minutes away.” Hawkeye reported, hands moving across Hulk’s forehead in an effort to stop the behemoth’s thrashing.

“We’ll be done by then.” Tony promised, the turn-over of the taxi’s engine causing the cable to pull taut and Hulk’s breathing to slow a fraction.

It also caused the final piston to shudder momentarily, allowing Tony to get deep enough to access the last links to the power source. Four more stripped wires and he was done.

“I deserve that genius tag, thank you very fucking much.” He said as the mechanism pressure stopped and the opposing pull of Captain America and a taxi cab tore the manacle in half.

“Glarrrghhh!” Hulk surged to his feet, wobbled unsteadily for a moment and then stomped-limped onto the street, Hawkeye at his heels.

Tony looked up to see Captain Rogers seated on his perfect ass in the snow, a small bruise forming on his chin where he’d been clipped by the cable’s recoil.

He tried not to smirk. “Sorry.” He must have failed, because Rogers just rolled his eyes and climbed to his feet.

“A little warning next time Iron Man?” His eyes on their large team mate attempting to ‘walk off’ a broken knee bone.

“Certainly, Captain America.” Tony collected up his tools. “Next time you’re playing tug of war with a taxi I’ll definitely warn you to be careful not to fall on your ass.”

That small crease appeared between Cap’s brows, denoting his regular expression of slightly pissed but mostly disappointed. He always seemed to be sporting it around Tony for some reason.

And yet… “Good work back there.”

Tony paused and looked closely at his team mate. They’d reconciled somewhat after the invasion, apologized for bad first impressions and made a deal to work together for the good of the team. But they were no-where near friendly.

“Okay. Good.” Simple but inoffensive and the best Tony could come up with faced with approval in that handsome face rather than distrust and scorn.

“Good.” Cap hovered for a moment as Tony pulled on his gauntlets and helmet.

Tony couldn’t deny his pleasure as the faceplate came down and gave him some privacy. Rogers had hooked his shield onto his back and was rubbing his hands slowly over his elbows. Frowning Tony wondered at the gesture given that the serum had rendered Cap immune to most extremes of temperature.

Oh, yeah.

Frozen in ice for over seventy years.

“Wanna ride back to the base?” Tony asked and then wanted to smack himself in the face for being such pushover.

Rogers’ head snap would have been funny if Tony hadn’t been mentally backpedalling as swiftly as possible. Looking down and nudging the remains of the manacle with his toe, Rogers seemed to come to a decision. “We need to get this to base ASAP. I’ll take that ride, thank you.”

Refraining from pointing out that he was capable of flying and carrying something the size of the manacle at the same time, Tony gave himself a mental shakedown and stepped close enough to curl an arm around Cap’s waist.

“It’ll be cold.” He warned, because phobias were a complete and utter asshole to experience.

Rogers stared into the faceplate as if he could see Tony’s hiding place. “I’ll be fine.”

“Sure.” Tony shrugged as well as he could in the suit and activated the boot repulsors, propelling them high above the Manhattan skyline. “Hold on.”

***

Officially the Avengers were in New York, sitting on their hands and making nice with their SHEILD supervisor, also known as their SuperNanny. Unofficially the Avengers had crossed three disputed borders, entered territory currently ‘on the table’ in a UN sub-committee, approached the private compound of a known para-military leader and were currently involved in the liberation of nearly two hundred local people from said compound.

Normally this kind of operation would be so far outside of the Avenger’s charter that Coulson would have an actual facial expression if they tried it. But the conventional special forces teams had reported ‘off the grid’ technology that far too closely resembled Loki’s magically enhanced alien weapons and vehicles. This had resolved Coulson’s possible facial contortions into his creepily competent blankness and had given the Avengers a ‘go’.

Black Widow had then reported the nearby population being used as test subjects for some of the alien tech and all bets were suddenly off.

Hawkeye’s concussion missiles were doing a fantastic job of removing the guards, while the Hulk took out some of his eternity of rage on the compound’s inner wall. Captain America, competently ferrying the rescued civilians into the hovering air transports that had been called in after Widow’s report, was also directing the shadow agent in her kidnapping bid for the Colonel.

“We have time, don’t push the envelope,” he assured her, red gloved hands lifting another staggering teenager over the rear gate of the transport. Stark Industries patented and legally private repulsor technology kept the craft aloft and steady even under the echoing tremors of Hulk’s fist slams.

“I’m not.” Widow assured him over the private comm line that Iron Man was monitoring in flagrant disregard of Captain America’s orders. Her voice professionally even despite the fact that she was likely running around a half destroyed mansion in the searing African heat with about 140 percent humidity.

Tony was particularly grateful at moments like these that he’d created the Iron Man armour with its own internal environment.

“Only if you can, otherwise disengage, we’re almost done here.” Cap slammed the gate into place, lifted the bolt and gave a hand signal to the SHEILD agent manning the rear hatch.

Iron Man kept position over the compound, watching for and disabling regular human escape vehicles manned by the so-called military.

“I have contained the children.” Thor reported over the comm disgust and anger heavy in his voice.

“Did you get their funky guns?” Tony asked, watching a rolling garage door begin to rise.

“I did,” the god affirmed. “That this man armed children and sent them to fight for him reeks of base cowardice.”

“Not that uncommon I’m afraid,” Tony said, banking a little to look through the now-open door to see...ah…

“Chopper coming out Cap, would you like it gift-wrapped?” Tony aimed just about everything he had at the sharp wasp-like vehicle. “It has upgrades that look a little too not-of-this-world in my opinion.”

“Can you confirm the Colonel is on board?” Rogers asked, because Coulson had said he’d prefer if the Colonel could be brought back to SHEILD for questioning over where the fuck he’d found non-terran technology.

Iron Man’s camera feeds were state of the art, but they couldn’t penetrate the darkened glass from the distance Tony was maintaining. “Gimme a second.”

He twisted and dived, coming up under the helicopter as it gained altitude. A gun that could have been a segmented insect unleashed something towards Tony that looked a little too Star Trek for his liking. He spun away to the left to avoid any impacts, because after the invasion Tony was very, very wary of testing Iron Man against any technology he didn’t recognise.

Boosting up on the machine’s other side, Tony spotted a small human shape between whatever the fuck those mutant generators were on the underbelly of the chopper. It was at that moment that one of the armored doors slid back to reveal the Colonel himself sporting a large complicated weapon that no human had ever invented.

“Not again,” Tony dodged, firing the boot repulsors to keep out of range and wondering if he could snatch the figure from beneath the craft without getting lasered open. Another near miss as the Colonel changed weapons and fired what Tony could reliably guess was an alien version of a rocket launcher.

He just managed to avoid that one too, but only because JARVIS had improved the suits response times the previous week. Those new systems couldn’t help Iron Man avoid the resulting explosion of the nearby guard tower and he tumbled head over heels before drilling a large divot into the dry ground. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem because he could just stand back up and go gut-punch the thing.

But normally the explosion wouldn’t also have caught the chopper and sent it into a disastrous tail spin.

A tail spin that the pilot couldn’t recover from as the chopper had never been designed to carry those extra generators, alien tech or no.

A powerful blast from his boot repulsors and Tony got into position as the mutant helicopter collected a barb wire chain-link fence in its rotors and spun with a ferocious sound of tearing metal across the compound. Towards the final passenger filled transport and Captain Steven Rogers.

Tony’s position being a location between an out of control death engine and eighty-odd civilians.

He saw Rogers actually try and push the transport out of the way, before taking up a stance behind the red, white and blue shield with his back to the slowly rising transport.

He saw the Hulk chase after the machine, long green arm falling short.

Tony didn’t know what Hawkeye and Thor were doing as before he could get a location on them, the chopper was right there.

Iron Man caught the helicopter. Hard.

He took most of the impact from the rear fuselage across the chest, but when the propeller started to slice in his direction, Tony couldn’t stop himself from raising an arm to protect his face.

Everything went sort of blurry with red edges at that point.

****

Tony came to when his faceplate was removed and his body exploded into pain. Because he wasn’t actually that much of a hero, he put back his head and howled. Strong fingers stopped any further head thrashing and a rush of compressed air made movement impossible.

“Neck and back stabilized, I can’t get to his midsection without removing the armor…” Widow’s voice was its usual business-like self, but when Tony opened his eyes against the pain spots she was definitely soot-streaked and mussed.

“…was th’t you on ‘copter…?” He managed.

“The struts," she answered eyes on his chest. There was definite difference between the pain in his arms and chest as opposed to the crushing agony of his lower body. “I jumped off.”

“…jumped...” Tony repeated, vaguely impressed under all the ‘oh god stop’ signals his brains was sending to his body.

“Transport Gamma was damaged and can’t risk a change of course, it’s heading back to the base. Delta is here in eight minutes with a response unit,” Cap’s voice drew Tony’s attention to the other side where their leader seemed to be doing something to Tony’s hips. “We might have to move him before then.”

“Unless we can lock the armor, it will…” Widow’s response was lost as a wave of spot scattered fog took Tony’s brain. There was more pain and then more screaming behind his teeth for a while.

“Hulk’s ready.” Cap said before a loud grunt echoed over the area and Tony felt some of the pain stop to be replaced by disturbing warmth running from his stomach to his knees.

“Did ‘e juss lif’ it ‘ff me…?” he asked but Widow seemed to be more concerned with arguing with Cap over her refusal to move him because of possible spinal injuries and internal bleeding. Well, that’s certainly what all the pain was about then. But as it was lessening somewhat and the fogginess increasing Tony suspected that Natasha’s emergency medical kit had contained a load of the really expensive drugs. Nice.

“Tony? Tony?” A gentle tap to his cheek had Tony looking back at Cap to see an expression mainly composed of concern and blood. Probably all because of him. “The casing on the arc reactor is broken, how will that impact on you?”

“...impact…” Tony snorted amused before taking a moment to review Cap’s words. “…light still glow...?”

“Yes, its unaffected I think. The case had two fractures.”

“…s’okay then…make a new one…”

“Good.” Cap leaned forward to take a grip on Tony’s shoulder. He spoke in slow, short sentences. “The Colonel’s second has rallied some of the soldiers and called in their re-inforcements. They have more of the advanced weapons. This whole area is about to become a firestorm. We have to move you. The transport is only a few minutes away. We’ve locked as many of the armor joints as possible but JARVIS isn’t responding so we don’t know if you’re safe.”

Tony almost understood what Steve meant but the ramifications were lost on him until he processed ‘joints’ and ‘armor’. He tried to lift the arm that wasn’t wrapped in a sheep-worth of wool and then when nothing happened except some pain spiking through the fog, decided against that idea.

“…catastrophic impact so armor…goes into lockdown…in case…for this…”

Tony was treated to a pleased smile on Steve Rogers’ face being directed at him.

That was probably just the pharmaceuticals.

“Well done. But the rest of us should know that.” Mild reproof but Tony was still cruising on the drugs and the smile. “Widow, are we ready?”

The Black Widow didn’t look ready, she looked busy and unhappy. The first was a common face for her, the second wasn’t. “If we have to.”

“We have to.” Tony saw Cap count a mental one, two, three then those lovely shoulder muscles flexed…

…and Tony, thankfully, passed out.

***

Tony was thinking about a schematic of a space station repair mechanism he’d designed when he was thirteen. He relaxed into the grey nothingness that surrounded him a little more before he realized that he was awake again. Although not really awake considering he was just a floating thought train with no body and a suspicion that if he didn’t have a body he was either dead or so heavily drugged that he didn’t want anything to do with his body right then.

Of course Tony actually really liked his body, particularly the amazingly good stuff it could feel even amongst the horrible painful things. Like sex. Sex was fantastic and Tony loved his body when he was having sex. A lot. But also his hands. Not just for sex, although they were great then too, but his hands were awesomely useful when he wanted to build something. With his brain working all Tony needed was his hands and anything was possible.

Somewhere deep inside Tony’s mind he knew that he needed more than his hands, but then his main thought process was distracted by a design for a radar, then a space faring battleship before configuring the air-filtration system for an undersea habitat that didn’t exist.

Apart from thinking and the desire for some hands, the only other thing Tony was aware of was grey. Well, a floating, comforting grayness that cushioned his consciousness and had Tony briefly wondering if he was dead and that his heaven was unlimited time to think.

But no hands. Or sex.

“Time landscape suspended. Preparing infiltration.”

That didn’t sound good.

“What?” he asked with no mouth but made the thought as loud as possible.

“Now.”

“Huh?” But Tony wasn’t there anymore.

***

Tony closed his eyes as a ripple of goose bumps across his skin washed away a wave of vertigo. He swayed and but for the weight of the repulsor boots and the hand at the back of his neck he would have fallen.

“Tony? God you’re so pale. I knew this was a bad idea.” Steve Rogers’ voice and Steve Rogers’ face displaying both concern and irritation.

An interesting combination to be directed at Tony, but what was even more interesting was the warm hand curled into the hair at the back of Tony’s head, the fact he was standing, helmetless in his armor on the roof of Stark Tower and the he had no idea how he came to be there.

“You’re not fine, and you’re not mission ready.” Steve gave him a gentle shake, “back down to your suite fella.”

“Uh,” the last thing Tony remembered was a very heavy helicopter and there were echoes of pain in his ribs and a deep throbbing itch in his right hip. But Tony was nothing if not quick on his feet and memory loss or no memory loss, Cap was trying to bench him for a mission and that wasn’t going to happen. “I’m fine, just getting used to the weight of the armor after so long.”

A guess, but Steve’s words clued him to the likely scenario of Tony persuading Steve to allow him on the mission and then almost fainting in front of him with minutes to their ‘go’.”

Steve’s mouth tightened. “You’re a grey color that shouldn’t be on a human, Tony. It’s giant octopuses; Iron Man can sit this one out.”

“No, I’m good to go. I’ll be careful and…” what would Steve have demanded Tony agree to, to let him join in? “...I’ll stay out of combat and provide ‘support only’.” It wouldn’t be a direct quote, but close enough to something Rogers would say that he’d hopefully get away with it.

With an unimpressed huff, Steve let go and turned at the sound of a helicopter approaching. From his vantage point Tony could see Widow and Hawkeye on board while Thor waited with Bruce by the red ground lights. It felt like about five in the evening, but with no memory of the last day, Tony couldn’t be sure.

“Maybe the good drugs have just worn off, or I’ve been in shock?” He said to himself as he put on Iron Man’s helmet and followed Cap to the chopper with a distinct sense of unease at the viciously spinning tail rotor, “but I know who to ask. JARVIS?”

“All systems online Sir, manual control is fully…”

“Yeah cool,” Tony interrupted. “What date is it?”

“Sir?” A hint of surprise in his friend’s usually unflappable voice.

“Just having a memory blank, Honey, humor me.” Tony forced himself to approach the helicopter and weighed up flying to some unknown ocean destination or riding in a death machine that probably wanted to avenge its fallen comrade.

“November 8th Sir, two thousand and twelve.” Definite concern in the AI’s voice now.

“Eight weeks.” Tony pretended he didn’t see the surprised expressions on the other Avengers’ faces as Thor rose into the air as the chopper’s only wingman. He settled himself stiffly onto the seat opposite Cap and made JARVIS tell him everything that had happened during Tony’s blackout phase.

He couldn’t remember a single thing. Not waking up in the hospital or the three complex surgeries that saved his life, instructing JARVIS and Rhodey to build an arc reactor and then weeks of physiotherapy with a specialist he apparently feared more than Natasha.

All gone.

“Please, Sir. Inform the Captain of your amnesia and remove yourself from the mission, it’s far too risky. For yourself and your companions.”

“Noted, JARVIS, but I can fly this baby while drunk off my nut. I’m good.”

JARVIS’s response was muffled by Steve’s voice over the chopper’s comm. “The two words I never want to hear in relation to you again Tony are ‘Induced’ and ‘Coma’. So keep clear and let us do the heavy lifting, you’re too fragile.”

Tony seriously considered punching Cap for that compliment but decided against it as there hadn’t been the usual under thread of distaste that normally occurred in his team-leader’s voice. In fact, had Tony not been distracted by sudden acute memory loss, a helicopter and a fair amount of pain, he would have noticed sooner that Rogers…was being really friendly all of a sudden.

What the fuck had happened in those eight weeks?

“So, I was thinking we should get dinner tomorrow and talk about the new comm system you were complaining about?” Cap tilted his ear-phoned head in enquiry.

Tony had a sudden Twilight Zone moment, reinforced by Natasha and Bruce’s synchronized head snap towards Steve.

If Steve was asking him out on a date then Tony absolutely had to remember the last eight weeks because they must have been in-fucking-credible, but then if Tony (and Natasha and Bruce) were wrong then Tony could fuck up the first tentative offers of friendship between himself and a man he really, really wanted to like. And be liked by in return, juvenile as that was.

“Yeah, sure. Sound’s great.” Fortunately Iron Man’s face plate hid Tony’s distinct lack of savoir faire.

“ETA twenty seconds.” The pilot informed them, giving the team time to unbuckle and check a rather brutal amount of weaponry.

Twenty minutes later, the giant angry cephalopods attacking the British royal battleship were made even angrier by Thor’s repeated lightening strikes into the ocean. Tony dutifully kept himself in the air over the battle and monitored the comm. Until one tentacle, moving like an out-of control garden hose, managed to catch Widow’s ankle and knock Hawkeye overboard.

Tony let Widow and Cap handle the de-tentacling but his reaction times were off and he almost let Hawkeye drown.

He managed to snag the archer only a couple of yards under the surface, but he’d had to repulsor the tentacle around Hawkeye’s leg and according to JARVIS managed to dislocate his team-mates ankle in the process. Given that it took less than ten seconds for Cap to roll him onto his side and another ten seconds to finish coughing up water before cursing them all into oblivion, Tony wasn’t actually that concerned.

Impugning the parentage of both Tony and octopuses, Hawkeye tried to fight Widow’s ‘stay down moron, you’re hurt’ face, but was having little success. Thor had shocked the giant creatures into unconsciousness and was having a hilarious conversation with Coulson about what was to be done with the insensate animals.

According to Coulson, some kind of Nordic sushi was not an option as the creatures might be sentient.

Walking over to stand by Cap, Tony pushed up his faceplate and felt water drip onto his eyebrows. He was a little surprised at how frightened he’d been by the thought of not getting to Clint in time. “We’re all fragile, Captain.”

Their leader nodded a slow agreement, blue eye on Hawkeye’s prone form.

“Agreed, Iron Man.”

***

Tony told no-one but JARVIS about the memory loss. As far as he could tell from all the scans he’d had the AI run, he wasn’t brain damaged and had, most likely, been in shock. But as JARVIS politely informed him that shock couldn’t last for eight weeks then there must be something going on in Tony’s mind that he couldn’t be explained by technology. There were enough CTV recordings of his recovery period to give him a quick up-date the next day and if he didn’t start getting his memories back soon he’d contact a professional about it.

But not tonight. Tonight was date night.

Maybe.

***

The journey to the restaurant Rogers had picked was made in relative silence with Steve looking out the window and Tony sipping a scotch and wondering if he’d need to check into a hospital because of his brain delete thing.

He also wondered if Cap knew any good restaurants in New York and if he could stop himself from being a complete ass if the food was crap.

Sometime’s Tony was both stupid and wrong.

While his mouth was hardly a stranger to orgasms, Tony was fairly sure that his taste buds had just reached a whole new level of climax. Opening his eyes, Tony looked down at the deceptively simply mix of foods on his plate and debated what he should honor his tongue with next.

“This isn’t actually possible. Food just isn’t this good.”

Steve grinned down at his own meal, fork moving no less furiously than Tony’s. “It’s great, right?”

Tony snorted his disgust at the massive understatement in that sentence. “How can I have never tasted this before? I don’t even know what you ordered, but I’m planning to marry the chef as soon as I finish about six more courses.”

Steve laughed, resting the back of his hand, fork still loaded with something asparagusy looking, under his chin.

“Orlando and Layela are already married but I can see if one of their boys is available?” He offered with sparkling eyes.

Tony nodded as he swallowed another mouthful of heaven. “As long as he’s legal and knows the recipes I’m in.” Taking a moment to savor a burst of paprika, Tony sipped at his wine and asked, “Seriously. How did you find this place?”

The tavern wasn’t exactly hidden in a Brooklyn alley, but the dubious front signage and stellar position between a laundromat and pawn broker left much to be desired.

Steve also set down his cutlery to sip at the beer in his own glass. “I knew Raina and Sando before the war,” a gesture with his glass to a black and white photograph of a fat, dark haired couple. Both sporting proud grins as they stood out the front of the restaurant. “Bucky used to bring all his girls here and Raina tested her recipes on me. Trying to build me up she’d say.”

Tony had seen the photographs, he knew how thin Steve had been before the serum and could easily imagine the couple on the wall taking a shine to that earnest young man.

“They’re still alive?” Tony asked, because he didn’t own many restaurants and this place would be an ideal way to start.

Steve’s baby blues took on the shine of grief that signalled another painful reminder of what he’d lost. “No, they died in the nineteen seventies. Both smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day, and we didn’t know…back then…”

Tony silently returned to his meal, giving Steve a moment to deal with his regrets.

“Layela is their granddaughter, Orli…Orlando…her husband. They make all their food just like her Nianno and the rest….” Steve spread his hands over the beautiful feast lying between them.

“…is history.” Tony finished. “Very delicious history, is there more?”

Steve nodded and his smile once more in place waved over a dark haired youth with the same eyes as the couple in the photograph.

***

Steve insisted on paying despite Tony looking at him like his brain hadn’t completely thawed from the Arctic.

“I’m considering buying the whole place just so I can have the bread, Steven, let me…”

“No.” Steve finished counting out bills. “My treat.”

Tony was still trying to come up with a polite way of saying that his black credit card wouldn’t even have noticed itself being used when he became aware that Steve was guiding him from the restaurant with a palm pressed to his lower back.

The feeling was unique, warm, kinda sweet and totally not something people did to Tony Stark. If anyone made a gallant exit and did the whole almost ass-grope it was himself not Captain Rogers. Although Steve probably wasn’t going to go for the falling away cheek slide, he was just being polite. To Tony.

Slipping away from that hand as soon as the late evening chill hit them, Tony turned to watch Steve’s profile as he said, “Now Cap, much as it pains me to admit I may not be able to better the food, you have to give me a chance. Give me a couple of days; let me make a few calls…”

“Yes,” Steve interrupted, hands now buried deep in his own pockets.

Tony was still processing the instant acceptance when the unmistakable sound of shattering glass spun them both to look across the street. As they started moving, two people plummeted from a third floor window and hit the pavement with a hard gut-wrenching sound.

“Fucking hell.” Tony slipped his phone from his pocket and woke it up with a touch. “911 JARVIS, we need ambulances at my location, the works…” his voice trailed off as one of the bodies, a man, got to his feet and shook glass shards out of his hair.

He took one look at Steve and Tony dodging traffic as they crossed the street then ran.

“Coulson as well!” He barked, “Dead guy not dead anymore. Grab a satellite and get a fix on me then track a black haired man, jeans, light blue sweater heading north with…” Tony skidded to brief halt at the side of the other body. “…Captain America chasing after him.”

Looking down he knew there was no chance of another survivor; too much blood and other matter for anyone to breathe, let alone walk. As three more people joined Tony at the scene, all with phones in use, he left them to the gruesome find and took off after his team mate.

No way in any kind of hell he could keep up with Steve Rogers, but Tony was in the best shape of his life chasing bad guys across the world, and even without the armor he could help Steve against one lone not-dead person.

“Sir, Captain Rogers has been injured. Eighty yards ahead then north thirty yards.”

Tony sucked in a shocked breath. It wasn’t as though Steve never got hurt. They all did, regularly and with painful repetition. But it had been maybe thirty seconds since he’d run after the survivor and now he was injured?

Skidding into a turn, his ridiculously expensive Gucci shoes likely ruined, Tony stopped cold at the sight that greeted him.

A cascade of fine gold electrical sparks tumbled down over a body.

A blond man, face up, blood spattered and unmoving.

No.

A sudden adrenaline surge broke Tony from his frozen immobility. Pulling off his jacket he shouted orders to JARVIS for immediate help and sharply executed every single process of first aid that Coulson had drummed into his disinterested brain.

He’d never needed to know how to save the life of one of his team mates. Tony was often the most hurt because he was the most heavily protected but also the most reckless Avenger.

Steve wasn’t supposed to get hurt. Not like this.

Tony’s first thought was electrocution given the sparks and the fact that the nigh indestructible super soldier would hardly be brought down by a cut, no matter how much blood seemed to coming from it. But Tony knew electricity, knew power sources and what they could do and there was nothing…nothing in the alley that could have shocked Captain America.

Deciding that whatever or more likely whoever was responsible had fled, Tony considered the risk worth the reward. He checked for pulse then breath and when he found nothing but a bleeding slice in his friend’s chest, pressed his jacket against the wound and began CPR, yelling for help between breaths.

It was the most helpless seven minutes Tony had ever experienced because he wasn’t even sure he was doing this right and what if it wasn’t working?

It wasn’t working. It couldn’t be because Steve wasn’t breathing except for what Tony pushed out with the compression and his jacket got bloodier when he did that too. It was making the injury worse but he wasn’t breathing and Rhodey had told him a story once about two Navy SEALS who had given CPR for hours to keep a paralyzed team-mate alive.

Steve was going to die or was already dead and Tony was completely fucking everything up….

Capable arms reached between him and Steve, almost causing Tony to lose count before he saw a stethoscope move under Steve’s shirt and a white bandage replace Tony’s jacket over the bleeding wound.

“Keep going, I need to get this in and then I’ll take over.”

“’kay.” Tony said with almost no voice and kept up the mental count while more legs came into view at the corner of his eyes.

“Bag and ready. Thank you Mr. Stark. You can stand back now, we have him.”

“’kay.” Tony repeated rolling back onto his feet and wondering for a moment if he was about to lose that awesome dinner against a brick wall in an alley.

He didn’t, instead watching as two women with far greater calm and incredible skills kept Steve’s Rogers alive as if they did it every day. They did do it every day.

Tony’s phone buzzed on the ground near his foot.

Shaking his head and refusing to look at the blood staining the cuffs of his sleeves, Tony answered Coulson’s icily calm questions and followed Steve into the ambulance.

It wasn’t until he heard the driver report that they were bringing in an electrocution victim and that he was stable, that Tony realized exactly what had just happened.

A wave of goose bumps ran over his skin. He dropped the phone still buzzing with Coulson’s miniature voice before burying his face in his hands.

***

He was back in the grey nothingness with no body and a serious sense of dislocation. What he’d thought was a dream obviously wasn’t and now he was back in the not-dream and thinking again about his lack of hands and how that could be possible.

“The fuck?”

“On November 9th, 2012. Captain Steven Rodgers died after attempting to apprehend a suspect he witnessed leaving the site of a homicide. After being electrocuted by the suspect Gregory Rice, known as ‘Mr Shocking Grasp’, Captain Rogers died before emergency technicians could find him.”

God, what? That wasn’t what had happened. “What? But I….”

“During the prior time-stream landscape furrow, you rejected Captain Rogers’ offer for a shared dinner.”

“I did?”

“Yes. He was alone at the restaurant and he died. You weren’t there to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation.”

“Oh.”

Tony couldn’t look around the grayness because he had no eyes, but he could experience it with his mind for all he was worth.

“Can I go back now?” Although if it was back to a helicopter up his rectum then maybe he could get used grey. Such a peaceful color.

“Time landscape suspended. Preparing infiltration.”

“Again? How…”

***

The goose bumps were obviously symptom, as were the back outs or ‘grey outs’ but as none of Tony’s doctorates were in medicine he had no idea what they might be symptoms of. The first sensation that came to him was of coffee, both the smell and the taste of really, really good coffee. The kind made with espresso and, just off the boil water with heated milk that hadn’t been burnt. Tony normally took his coffee black because it was bracing and Dum-E couldn’t ruin it no matter how much he tried, but this? This milk adorned confection was how Tony had discovered coffee and how he loved coffee and he hadn’t had it for years.

Opening his eyes Tony took in the scene of the kitchen at his Grandmother’s mansion, the half-finished schematics on a tablet in front of him, the coffee in his hand, Steve Rogers sketching beside him at the antique silky-oak table with one foot hooked around Tony’s ankle and the silver haired gentleman cooking bacon at the stove.

“Edwin?” And even though Tony knew that he wasn’t supposed to be surprised, he couldn’t hold back that name because he hadn’t seen his parents’ butler in nearly five years. Almost as long as since he’d set foot inside this building.

“Yes, Master Anthony?” That gentleman replied, back still to Tony and eyes on his work. “If you’d like to change your mind there is plenty to share.”

Tony looked at the bacon and egg meal in front of Steve and felt his stomach roil from what was likely a hangover coupled with his ‘just jumped in from another dimension feeling’.

“Okay. Okay this is really happening,” he said with what must have been a strange tone because Steve dropped his sketch pad (revealing pencil lines that showed a hand far too attractive to be Tony’s) and sat up.

“Tony?” Baby blues warm and concerned.

Tony looked at his tablet; saw the date, six months, and the design that he had no memory of drawing. “I have amnesia.”

Edwin turned from the stove and Steve curved his fingers around Tony’s bicep, just beneath the cuff of his t-shirt sleeve. “What has happened?”

“I’ve no idea.” Yes, there was a touch of hysteria in Tony’s voice but this was getting to be ridiculous. He was forgetting chunks of time and apparently had moved into his family home that should be giving him nightmares and was wearing a pair of jeans that he didn’t remember buying. Of course Pepper had used to buy all his clothes, but as one of the most powerful business-women on the planet she had better things to do now.

Her e-mail had been fairly blunt.

Nonetheless, the pants weren’t his, and his face must have done something weird because Steve stood up and by dint of his hand on Tony made him stand too.

“We’ll call Bruce and see what…” But whatever Bruce might do was interrupted by a horrible high-pitched siren that issued from Steve’s shirt and Tony’s ass. Digging around Tony pulled a phone from his back pocket that didn’t look like any type of phone he’d even imagined with the SHEILD logo emblazoned across an image of Tony’s face.

Steve’s fingers danced across the screen giving Tony the unique mental scenario of Steve Rogers being more proficient with technology than Tony. It was humbling. For about three seconds.
“Captain America here, but we may have a…”

“There is a giant jello eating Brooklyn.” Only Agent Coulson could say that sentence and not sound like he was high.

Steve met Tony’s eyes.

“I’m good. It’s only a little memory loss, I’ll stay out of the way and monitor the comm. And provide rescue if Hawkeye gets his ass kicked…again.”

Because no matter how much he didn’t remember, Tony knew that in battle, Hawkeye would always try to fall off something.

Steve’s eyebrows looked doubtful for a few seconds then cleared. “Agreed. Do not engage anything. You might have brain damage.”

“Might?” Tony muttered, but under his breath as he was sure that only his confidence had convinced Steve he could go on the mission.

Steve lifted the phone back towards his face. “We’re coming.” He tapped the screen.

“My armor?” Tony asked, because last time he’d been at the mansion, he’d gutted the garage and salted the earth around it.

Steve’s face went into a horrible contortion for a second before it smoothed into his bland soldier mask. “Sub-basement two.” A hand at his shoulder guided Tony into a rather awesome elevator off the side hallway. “I’ll meet you on the roof.”

“It’s a date.” Tony smiled without much humor because what the fuck was happening? Bouts of amnesia and voices in a grey bodiless void followed by heroics and imminent death.

What is this life?

Sub-basement two was presumably below sub-basement one and despite Tony not remembering building it, it was the first comfortable place he’d stepped into since being crushed by a helicopter.

Killed by a helicopter?

No. Tony was almost certain that he wasn’t dead. Maybe he was from an alternate reality and currently occupying his other-self’s body, but his brain was alive and if that was the case then Tony was very far from dead.

Or a ghost.

Ignoring his inner pessimist Tony called, “JARVIS?”

“Yes sir, I have received the Avengers alert and the Iron Man armor is ready…”

“Do I have an amnesia file on my private server?”

“Sir? Yes, you do. If you are suffering another episode it would be wise to inform the Captain and remain here…” JARVIS bought up a number of documents and scans on the screen in front of Tony.

“He knows. I’m still going.” Tony walked over to the platform that held feet impression just like the roof of Stark Tower. “Armor me up. You have control until I get the hang of it.”

“Yes sir.” JARVIS sounded sulky and Tony wondered if he’d added more personality sub-routines in this reality.

As the weight of Iron Man closed around him and the HUD came up, both familiar and different, Tony relaxed just a little more.

“Fly us to the roof my man; we have a Captain to collect.”

***

Tony’s thirteen year old self was doing a happy dance of joy at the creature currently devouring a post box on the corner of Nostrand and Clarendon.

“A Gelatinous Cube.” Because that’s what it was. A twenty foot by twenty foot cube of clear gelatinous material, moving slowly down the street and enveloping anything it touched. According to witness reports, it caught unwary bystanders and pulled them in. Where they died, horribly, from whatever acidic material made up the cube.

Tony’s inner nerd stopped dancing.

“You’ve dealt with one of these before Iron Man?”Cap asked over the crystal clear communication line that Tony wanted the specs for as soon as the crisis was over.

“Not exactly.” He didn’t think his role-playing teenage years were going to be much help.

“I have,”Bruce chimed in. Not the Hulk at the moment, but the man, sitting beside Agent Coulson on the SHEILD chopper in case the situation needed some undiluted rage. “It’s a monster from Dungeons and Dragons. I used to play it as a kid.”

“Fistbump!” Tony tried not to get too ridiculous with the awesome manoeuvrability this Iron Man was capable of.

“Iron Man?” Coulson’s voice held just a touch of amusement. “You’re geek credentials are stronger than I suspected.”

Tony flew past the helicopter, keeping a safe distance from the murderous death machine. “Are you actually surprised?”

“Not really," the Agent replied. “It makes a kind of sense now that I think about it.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. But if it isn’t relevant to the current situation then can the chatter.” Cap was standing on the road, directly in the cube’s path, head tilted as he likely looked for weak spots. On a cube of jello. “Ideas on how to contain it, people?”

Tony realized why Steve hadn’t moved from the path when he saw what his team leader had been looking at.

“You threw your shield at it?” The HUD showed him the vibranium disk buried seven feet inside the cube’s core.

“I was distracting it from a family hiding in a doorway.” Cap didn’t sound particularly upset by the idea of his shield’s possible destruction. Tony didn’t know the man that well, despite playing footsie under the kitchen table, but he was certain that should Captain America loose his favorite thing in the world saving a single human life, it wouldn’t even cause a moment of doubt.

Let alone a family in Brooklyn.

Dragging his thoughts away from his team-leader’s many noble attributes; Tony focused on the problems at hand, namely amnesia, probable brain damage, possibly being a ghost and the giant jello trying to digest one of the rarest elements on the planet.

“Try lightning?” Tony offered, because much as he longed to, he didn’t actually have an eidetic memory and the particulars of a game he played thirty years ago were not something he’d felt important enough to retain. He knew electricity affected one type of ooze.

It generally took Thor about two minutes to generate enough static charge to create lightening. Tony still didn’t know how he did it exactly, but as soon as their godly teammate agreed to let Tony study Mjolnir, he knew he’d get some answers.

The lightning bolt cracked down and temporarily threw the HUD into the red, before protocols that he’s been outlining six months ago came into play.

“There appears to be no effect on the cube Sir.” Tony knew that sometimes JARVIS enjoyed stating the bleeding obvious.

“Err, cold?” Tony offered without much confidence given that the creature having a similarity to a fantasy monster didn’t mean that what had worked in the game would work here. It’s not like Norse gods were real or anything. “Any ideas Dr. Banner?”

“Cold was my first choice. SHEILD’s on it.” Bruce replied.

Tony tried more repulsor blasts, from directly above. Each one resulted in a small split as if he’d used a spoon on a smaller counterpart. Unfortunately, within a ten count the creature had completely ‘healed’ over the breach. Even concentrated assaults from Hawkeye’s arrows and Widow’s bullets couldn’t maintain a weak spot. They weren’t even slowing it down.

The only advantage they seemed to have on their side was time; as the cube wasn’t damaging inanimate objects and all living people, save Captain America, had been cleared from the creature’s path.

Bruce remembered about as well as Tony apparently because liquid nitrogen wasn’t working either.

“JARVIS, bring up a search engine.” Tony gave detailed instructions for what he needed and the moment the images came up with their attached information he had the answer.

“Fire! Guys we need to set it on fire.” Of course this Mark XII or whatever he was up to now armor didn’t have flame throwers like the Mark I. He’d have to look into that.

It didn’t take long for the flames to begin which made Tony wonder how well-equipped SHEILD was when they could douse an area in flammable chemicals in under ten minutes.

Cap was still standing in the cube’s path.

Tony landed beside him. “Whatcha doin’?”

“Readying myself to see if this works and to make sure no-one else gets in its way.” Eyes still on the cube, Tony knew that Steve was made of sterner stuff than he was. It wasn’t his shield he was watching, rather the civilians and police officer hopefully dead inside the creatures acidic insides.

“Okay. Don’t get eaten.” Tony hesitated. “The armor might protect me. Do you want me to see if I can get them?”

Captain America looked into the faceplate with a small, grim smile. “No Iron Man, we’re not sending you or anyone else into that thing.”

“Right.” Tony gently thumped Cap’s shoulder and boosted up to the roof of a nearby building.

“On my mark,” Cap ordered, pacing himself against the relentless flow of the cube. “Three, two, one…now.”

A great arc of flame from the SHIELD flame thrower sent the area surrounding into a conflagration. Once again Tony had his doubts about the solution because a fantasy game did not equal real life monster, but as the cube fractionally slowed down those doubts faded away.

“That’s the first reaction we’ve had.” Cap reported, standing nearer the blaze than Coulson had advised but not as close as Tony knew he’d have liked.

“More fire?” Tony suggested, because the cube had stopped but it wasn’t exactly burning. It just sat in the centre of a fire and looked like jello.

“Sir? The creature appears to be reducing in size.”JARVIS offered.

That couldn’t be bad could it?

“It’s getting smaller. I think we got it.” Iron Man informed the other Avengers and the SHIELD guys attempting to melt the pavement. There was no other response from the cube and Tony wondered if it could feel anything. If it could scream.

Then he saw a blue blur against the fire.

“Cap, no!” Iron Man made to leap off the roof, because Steve was running towards the cube rather than away. Running into the flames towards a human-like figure crawling out of the mass; a glistening sheen to the exposed skin protecting it temporarily from the flames.

Tony hesitated as he saw a second movement on the other side of the cube. He could pull Cap away, get him to safety because he didn’t have his shield and the uniform was good but it wouldn’t hold out against acid and fire.

Tony was amnesiac, but he had never been stupid. He knew that he’d saved Steve the last time he’d had memory loss, the grey voice had told him that without Tony, Steve would have died.

If Tony didn’t act then Steve would die again.

But while the Tony from this world seemed to be in a relationship with Steve Rogers, he wasn’t. He barely knew the man, had only had one date that ended in electrocution and CPR. Tony had to trust his instincts. The instincts, the ones that seemed to turn a sharp three-sixty and decide that now they trusted Captain America.

Iron Man rescued two civilians from the fire, helped SHEILD hose the acidic gel off them and did anything he was asked to do.

Captain America saved the policeman.

He didn’t die.

***

Tony smiled with his whole brain at the grey void around him.

“How did he die the first time around?” he asked.

“On May 22nd 2013, Captain America died as a result of injuries sustained when he entered a gelatinous creature to save the life of Officer Stanton Chu. Both he and Chu suffered acid burns to eighty-five percent of their bodies when they were trapped within the creature while the fires remained too intense to attempt a rescue.”

Tony’s cerebral smile became a frown. “Why couldn’t I just…?”

“Tony Stark in the Iron Man armor had been rendered unconscious by Captain America when he had attempted to intervene in the Captain’s first attempt to save Officer Chu.”

“The other me didn’t trust him?”

“The other Tony Stark let his love for the Captain affect his better judgement. It killed the Captain and sent Tony Stark into a deep depression. Only the intervention of Ms. Potts and Colonel Rhodes seems to have prevented Stark from taking his own life in guilt.”

Tony digested that. He knew he’d never been and likely couldn’t be a man able to love someone that much.

“Who the fuck are you people?” He asked wearily, because he might not have a body but sleep wasn’t only for physical tiredness. “And are we done?”

“Time landscape suspended. Preparing infiltration.”

“I’ll take that as a no.”

***

As much as he was able, Tony mentally braced himself for the sudden rush of sensation. Three times now, he’d been pulled from the floating, dreaming grey into harsh reality. Well, someone’s reality. Certainly not Tony’s if the memory loss and strange behavior was anything to go by. Still, even with a cerebral tensing of muscles, Tony was obliterated by sensation the moment he faded in.

Because he was having sex with someone.

Not just anyone, of course, Steve Rogers of the verbal fencing, first date and near death was pressing his tongue deep into Tony’s mouth and his cock into Tony’s ass and it was such an amazing combination that Tony saw white spots while his brain caught up to his nerve endings.

“Yes, yes, you feel so perfect. God, Tony….” Steve pulled back just enough to breathe into the beard covering Tony’s chin. One big hand pressed against the curve of Tony’s spine, lifting his hips into that perfect position for three long, slow thrusts.

Tony gasped, unable to process the incredible flood of sensation, where he was, what Steve was saying as everything was caught in a whirlpool of ‘want’, ‘right there’ and ‘impending orgasm yay!’

Pulling his hands down from where he’s apparently been doing his best to bend a headboard into origami, Tony grabbed Steve’s shoulders and was instantly distracted by smooth, sweat slick skin over spectacular muscles.

“Guh.”

“Don’t stop talking,” Steve ordered a short circle motion of his hips causing them both to gasp. “Tell me what you like and I’ll do it, anything. All night, I promise.”

Off all the things to pull Tony back from the edge, it was the lilting amused tone with which Steve spoke those last words. There was an undercurrent of meaning that Tony didn’t know. A private joke, about keeping promises, but a joke that was between Steve and another Tony.

Not meant for him.

Tony pushed Steve back and dragged in enough of his voice to say, “Stop. We’ve got to stop.”

Steve had been in the process of pulling Tony’s leg high up onto his hip, but at the words completely stopped moving.

“I know, I know. God, I don’t want to, really. But we’ve got to stop, please.” Tony acknowledged his cowardice by putting in the please, because he needed Steve to end this. Not just because he was in the upper position but because Tony knew, if it was left to him, he’d never move from this spot ever again.

Something like a shudder raced through Steve and with a harsh grunt he pulled back, his cock slipping free from Tony in a way that was less than comfortable and in three strides had crossed the room and closed the bathroom door behind him.

Naked, painfully hard and regretting every single ounce of morality he’d clawed into his soul, Tony rolled off the bed and dragged on the nearest sweater and pants he could find. Ferociously cursing his dick, Steve’s dick, the other Tony’s dick and every dick in the mansion, he dropped to the floor underneath the window on the far side of what he now recognized as Steve’s room and tried not to think about Steve jacking off ten feet away.

He timed it as about twelve minutes later, that the door opened and a dripping, white towel clad Captain America moved carefully into the room. He dressed in silence, without looking at Tony, who after noting the faint blue tinge to Steve lips wondered if he’d get a turn at that cold shower next. Although judging by the completely expressionless face of the other man, the following conversation was likely to render any stimulation completely dead.

Steve sat carefully on the edge of the bed, keeping a healthy six feet or so between them. Tony’s stomach sank to his knees.

“Are you okay?” Steve asked quietly.

Mentioning a near fatal case of blue balls was probably going to get him tossed from the room, so Tony just nodded and hoped Steve extra-special eyesight could make it out in the glow from the bathroom light.

“I’m so sor….” Tony began.

This time Steve was the one with the head- action, a vigorous shaking in the negative.

“No, no, don’t even think of being sorry Tony,” he interrupted. “Was it something I did…or said…that hurt you?”

For a long moment Tony couldn’t parse that question because of course Steve hadn’t hurt him. Tony had asked him to stop…oh. Steve’s question made sense as Tony realized the conclusion he must have come to.

“Oh jeeze no Steve, you didn’t hurt me,” Tony sat up and knee-walked over to put his hands on Steve’s thighs. “It’s nothing like that. Not at all, I swear. I’m fine.”

Steve’s expression was one of both relief and hurt confusion chasing each other across lowered brows and unhappy mouth.

“Then why did you…? I thought it was a flashback to Afghanistan or something else…” he trailed off at Tony’s expression. Which would have been something odd, he’d admit, considering he was doing that mental shimmy between his history and the history of the Tony he was currently occupying?

“You didn’t do anything,” he said emphatically. “I don’t know what you believe, Steven, but I’ve never been sexually assaulted. Are we clear? I’m not being strong or in denial I promise. In the cave they wanted me to build a weapon for them. Apart from some violence to get me to co-operated no-one touched me. Okay?”

“Okay.” Steve breathed and that was definitely relief. “Then…?”

Tony sat back on his heels because touching Steve during this explanation probably wasn’t the best idea.

“I’m not your Tony,” and as he saw Steve swiftly adopt a military tension. “I’m still Tony Stark; I’m still Iron Man, an Avenger, a good guy and your friend. I’m just from another dimension, or time, or something. Not evil.” Hands up to show he wasn’t a threat.

Steve’s hands were curled into fists on his knees, but some of the impending danger had disappeared. Some. “Where is he?” the voice was one Tony had never personally had directed at him, even during the worst of their ‘I hate your stupid face la, la, la, la, la’ time.

“Still here,” Tony pressed a hand to arc reactor. This version of him had one too, he wondered if any Tony in any reality hadn’t been such as asshole before that trip. “This is him, his body; I’m just the current occupier. I don’t know if he’s still here or if he’s in my body,” the one lying broken under a helicopter.

A long slow exhalation and Steve tilted his head slightly in thought rather than anger.

“When did you ‘arrive’?” he asked.

Tony felt his lips twist in a mirthless smile. “Right in the middle of you two getting your porno on.” A hand wave at the rumpled sheets behind Steve. “Delicious as that was and much as he made the decision to be there, I…” Tony cut his eyes to one of the charcoal sketches blue-tacked to the wall. It was of Dummy. “You went to bed with another man, not me. I’m a giant asshole, but I’m not and never have been that kind of guy.”

There was silence for a little while.

“Thank you.” Steve said with quiet gratitude.

“Yeah.” Tony dismissed as he climbed to his feet. “So, do you have a Bruce here or do I need to mangle some scientific theory all by myself?”

Steve stood and while he couldn’t be described as warm, he did move to open the door for Tony which was rather cute. “We have a Bruce, a Henry and a Jan.”

“A Henry and a Jan?” Tony asked speculatively. “What’re their specialities?”

***

“Bugs?” Four hours later Tony sat on an unpleasantly cool steel table in the Stark Tower laboratory and watched the husband and wife science team play with his blood.

Janet Van Dyne, a woman who Tony only vaguely remembered from his childhood of attending various ‘millionaires only’ parties, looked at him with a worried frown.

He returned the frown then added an inquiring eyebrow. He’d heard she’d gone into fashion design, not molecular biology.

“You’re sure you don’t remember?” She asked. Dark Asian eyes cool with speculation. Another glance at the screen where she’d typed in all the information he’d given them about his alternate realty time warp Star Trek experience. Like a ride at Disney World. “Nineteen months with only two periods of lucidity?”

“Plus the grey ‘out of body’ thing.” Tony corrected with a hand-wave and considered offering her a ‘blue steel’ expression to counter the dubious one she now levelled at him. “JARVIS promises I’m not drunk. He’s trustworthy.”

“Hmmm.” Tony couldn’t tell whether her doubtful expression was for him or JARVIS. “Everything we have suggests you have amnesia, but if you do it’s the most convenient amnesia I’ve ever heard of.”

Tony leaned his elbows on his knees and gave her a ‘steely glare of not amused.’ “Not lying either.”

Suddenly her face changed into one of surprise. “Oh Tony, I know that. I’m just thinking out loud you know how I… oh. You don’t, sorry.”

He nodded and gave her ‘friendly’ in return for her ‘regret’. “I’d suspect the patient was hallucinating if I was where you’re sitting Ms. Van Dyne.”

Tony was sure he remembered Pepper wearing a Van Dyne gown to an awards party a few months back. Fashion design and molecular biology? Interesting.

“I always suspect you of something Tony, just depends what day of the week it is.” Janet winked, a smile bringing out two dimples that Tony sorta loved right then and there.

His answering smirk turned towards the door as it slid open to reveal Steve bearing a sexy earpiece and full Captain America regalia. He walked to Tony’s side and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“Excuse me, Hank?” He asked the nine foot tall man currently sliding information across the top of a ceiling high touch screen. “I need Jan for a mission. Can you monitor Tony by yourself?”

The careful tone had Tony looking a question at Janet who didn’t notice as she was unbuttoning her blouse to reveal a light-weight armoured bodysuit, not unlike Natasha and Steve’s Avengers uniforms.

Then the actual content of Steve’s question registered, causing Tony to sit up at grab Steve’s hand from his shoulder. “I have to come with.”

Steve sent him a looked of exasperated amusement. “I think the correct response is ‘no way in hell Tony.’”

“I have to.” Tony dropped all the play and spoke with absolute seriousness. “Every time I arrive somewhere, you nearly die and I save you. If I’m not there you’ll die.”

But Steve was obviously familiar enough with Tony’s mind as well as his body because he didn’t relent one iota. “I don’t know what you said to convince the other ‘mes’ to let you go on missions with potential brain damage but it’s not working this time.”

“The whole point of be even being here…” Tony began.

“You don’t know what you need to do to save me until it happens correct?” Steve countered. “You said there was a whole mission where I was fine and I was hurt after a date?”

Tony fought the logic as best he could but he finally gave in to his mind’s pleas, “True.”

To give him credit, Steve didn’t look triumphant to have won the concession, only relieved. “An Avengers mission is too dangerous for an injured Tony Stark. You won’t even recognise the armor interface; you’ve had JARVIS upgrade it so many times. You’re staying here.”

That was most definitely an order.

“Okay, but Ms Van Dyne?” Tony directed the question at the now black and gold clad superheroine.

“Yeah, Tony?” She came back over to the table, fine wings unfurling from her back to shimmer under the LED lights.

“Pay extra attention to the Captain here, please?” Tony jerked a thumb into the white star on Steve’s chest. “I’m here for a reason and the easiest way to kill him is with something we can’t plan for.”

Jan smiled at him. “So prepare for the unexpected? That’s every day, idiot.”

“Yeah,” Tony acknowledged because nineteen months ago his life had been hectic, he couldn’t even imagine what these Avengers dealt with on a day to day basis.

He wasn’t ready for Steve coming so far into his personal space, so Tony jerked backwards awkwardly when Cap leaned down as if to kiss him. His palm on the star now, keeping some distance.

“Not him, remember?” Even though, right then and there, he definitely wanted to be.

Steve smiled a little. “I know.” He leaned forward again for a gentle press of lips that held none of the knowledge of a lover and more an opening gambit.

Feeling far too warm and a little unnerved, Tony pushed a cocky grin onto his face and managed to hold it until the door slid closed behind the pair. He turned to the giant man tapping on a tablet that looked ridiculously small in his huge hands.

“Pym?”

“Hmm…?” Eyes still on the information scrolling over the screen.

“Answers.” Tony knew a scientist lost in his own special world when he saw one and kept his questions to one word.

“Maybe.” Pym looked up and seemed to notice for the first time that his wife had left the room. “Uh… you’re not from an alternate reality and you’re still you. I think you’re a time traveller.”

Tony processed that for a few moments but spoke quickly when it seemed Pym was starting to get lost in his work again. In too deep and he’d never come out, Tony knew all about that.

“I’m jumping forward in time? Into my older body?” Interesting parameters.

Pym nodded. “That’s the best theory based on the evidence. Given that you didn’t do this to yourself and there is another entity at work in the ‘grey void’, I would suggest you’re being used in someone’s quest to change time.”

“By saving Captain America?” Because that was a noble cause but one better suited to someone other than Tony Stark.

“Apparently.” Pym settled down into regular human proportions and sat at a screen next to Tony.

Tony forced himself to think time-space theory rather than worry about Steve being eaten by a living asteroid or something. “Why doesn’t Steve remember me having amnesia? I told him last time.”

Pym looked up. “Odd.”

“Understatement.” Tony could do one word conversations or three hundred word ones. Just ask Pepper. “JARVIS remembers.”

“Odder still.”

They were on to two words now. Before Tony could get to three, an alarm sounded from Hank’s lab coat. As the man moved to answer, Tony went cold because he should be out there protecting Steve, saving him…

“Captain America here Giant Man.” The familiar voice was its normal, calm self. “We’ve got about twenty broken doombots scattered around the East Village, do you want any pieces?”

Tony snatched the communicator from Pym’s hand. “What’s a doombot?”

Quiet from the other end. “I’m not telling, give me back to Hank.”

“If it’s a robot of doom I want to see it. Do I have any already?” Because twenty broken robots could be really fun to play with.

Pym snatched back the comm. unit. “Only the heads Cap, I doubt we’ll get anything more than last time but it’s worth a try.”

Tony leaned over into Pym’s personal space. “Did you nearly die?”

“No, I’m fine.” Steve reported thoughtfully.

Tony would have replied that he needed to be careful as robots of doom sounded like they could sit up and bite a certain blue head off if a man wasn’t looking.

But he couldn’t reply though because he couldn’t speak, couldn’t move as goose bumps rippled over his skin. Pym’s monitors started making orgasmic noises around them.

“Bye.” Tony thought, but he was already gone.

***

Tony waited until the voice came from the grayness because he was lining up some questions and wanted the debriefing done before he spoke.

“On September 2nd 2014, Captain Rogers was poisoned by a virus created by Dr. Doom meant to incapacitate the Avengers. Tony Stark and Henry Pym were unaffected by the virus and able to synthesize a cure before any of the victims entered the critical stage.”

“Do you realize what you just dropped me into? That was the shittiest thing you could ever do to a person. To either of them, let alone me. How the fuck do you calculate where I’m going anyway?” Okay, that was a lot of questions but seriously? Who was driving this crazy bus?

“In the prior time-landscape, Captain Rogers died peacefully in his sleep two days after exposure. He had shown only minor flu symptoms and these were disregarded as life-threatening. Tony Stark’s response was to attempt to fly the Iron Man armor to the moon. He survived the fall but was naturally never quite healthy again.”

“I get that I’m saving him. Yay me, but you have to give me more to work on. If I’d gone on that mission he would have died right? Right? I’m guessing here and pretty soon I’m going to guess wrong.” Tony could feel the anger and strain taking a hold, pouring his desperation onto this neutral grey whatever the fuck it was because there wasn’t anyone else.

“Landscape-furrow resolved, update in progress.”

Oh fuck that. He wasn’t going to be ignored by anyone, god of time or not.

“I get that you want me to keep saving Steve, but why this way? Why not just warn my future selves of what happens?” Because, honestly, hadn’t they tried that?

“Unless direct intervention by Tony Stark’s consciousness, no time landscape can be altered sufficiently to save Captain Roger’s life.”

“Who are you?”

No answer.

“This isn’t fucking fair! Am I dead? Did you grab me as I was dying under that chopper and bring me…?”

“Time landscape suspended. Preparing infiltration.”

“You piece of shit, answer me mutherfucker…”

***

Tony was making an omelet. Badly. He was looking down at the sizzling mess on the stove, base already going an intimidating brown while to top still oozed with a yellow sluggishness across an awkward kidney shape of egg. Beside him on a wooden cutting board was some trimmed bacon, a diced tomato and a small mountain of grated cheese.

“Err.” Whatever was happening to this Tony was bad. Really, horribly bad if the man had come into a kitchen (mansion kitchen of course) to cook an omelet wearing nothing save pajama pants that were too long.

Tony only cooked an omelet or anything really, when he was dying. That had been his master plan. Present Pepper with an omelet and tell her he had less than two months to live. Oh and that he loved her and would she take pity on his dying self and have sex with him as his last wish?

Yeah, Tony had known he was an asshole even as he’d planned it.

But simple egg-based meals were important statements for Tony so he was either dying or…

…or…fuck.

The only other time Tony had tried took cook someone an omelet he’d been in his twenties and his Japanese girlfriend had just told him she’d loved him and promised to quit her job in her father’s multinational to come back to LA with him. He’d burned that one as well, which might have been an omen since he’d caught her cheating on him with an old college friend and they’d never spoken again.

Tony hoped for a fraction of a second that he was dying. Until a pair of long, gold hair flecked arms curled around his waist and Steve Rogers kissed the side of his neck.

“You. Are. Cooking.” The pauses were obviously to covey complete shock.

“Uh huh.” Tony turned down the gas, pushed the pan to one side and took a deep breath.

Steve snorted a laugh under his ear. “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”

Tony nearly swallowed his tongue.

***

After forcing Steve onto a bar stool, finding a shirt and giving a five minute explanation, Tony learned that they weren’t due to go anywhere, fight anything or risk possible death and dismemberment.

So he started looking at various appliances with what just might have been ‘crazy eyes.’

“Maybe a chandelier falls on you?” He suggested, trying very hard not to think about the fact that his future self got married to a sexy blond fifteen years his junior and no-one had laughed at him for being a foolish old billionaire.

Steve, when after some serious questioning, dubiously accepted Tony’s story. He made several phone calls to SHEILD, Stark Tower and the Avengers. Most of whose names Tony didn’t know. A conference call took place that Tony wasn’t allowed to hear where it was apparently decided that they should just sit and wait until something happened or Tony warped back out.

Luckily for Tony’s nerve-endings he also managed to very politely keep his hands to himself. But Tony wished he had the same level of self-control because all these little days, windows into his future life with Steve were starting to generate things inside Tony that could possibly be known as feelings in another time or place. He couldn’t want Steve Rogers. His Steve was kind of a dick, unimpressed with Tony and probably boning the cute SHEILD agent with the itchy trigger finger and her great-aunty’s smile.

After an unpleasant phone call with a Nick Fury who was still alive and still hated them all except Coulson, Steve made omelets that had no burnt areas and they ate breakfast on the third floor balcony with someone’s cat curling around Tony’s ankles. It was far less exhilarating than the previous time-space shifts or whatever the fuck Bruce or Pym had decided they were, but Tony so badly needed a rest from sudden death and frantic first aid that he sat in relative silence for nearly twenty minutes after their meal.

“Why don’t I remember the last time this happened to you?” Steve asked; his hands curled around his half empty glass of orange juice.

Tony mentally pulled some of Pym’s fairly incoherent explanations into some sort of order.

“I think and don’t quote me on this, I’m the robot guy not the physics guy remember, I think that whatever is pulling me through time isn’t finished with me yet and nothing will be permanently changed until I stop…jumping…in time…” he waved a vague hand to indicate the general vagueness of the situation.

“Or you get home?” Steve asked blue eyes sharp and calculating. Sometimes Tony forgot, with all the beauty and heroism, what a clued-in guy Cap actually was.

Tony nodded. “Elastic band theory thing. I’m being pulled further and further away from my moment in time and eventually I’ll snap back.” He considered for a few moments. “Or I’ll go past my spot and end up sixteen again, oh wow…that would be trippy. Sixteen year old Tony with forty year old Tony’s brain? So much to do.”

He’d shoot Obadiah in the face; that’s what he doing fucking first.

Steve’s face became grim. “I’d be in fear for the world if that happened.”

“Really? You have no idea what I could do with just the business experience alone…” But Tony’s not-at-all defensive tirade trailed off at the small smirk curving Steve’s mouth. “Asshole.”

He’d been yanking Tony’s chain? God, this guy was getting more interesting every moment Tony spent in his company. Without life-threatening battles and inappropriate sexual contact they were actually able to function like two people having a conversation.

“You’re so much more anxious than he is.” Steve commented, the smile gone and his gaze now speculative. “My Tony, I mean.”

And fucking what was Tony supposed to do with that? Of course he was just a little anxious; he was damn well lost in time and apparently embarking on some grand romance with Captain America.

Anxious was not the word.

“A tad tense, I admit,” he said with all the care of a bear-trap. “I’m trying to decide whether I should be worried about you falling off this balcony, worried that I’m dead and this is a heavenly way of letting me balance the scales or more concerned that I’m somebody’s ‘Tony’ at all.”

Yeah, somewhat anxious.

Warm, capable fingers reached across the abandoned dishes to take his hand in a firm grip. Tony looked up into the endlessly understanding eyes of his team-leader. A man who’d only ever looked at Tony like that when he was thinking of having Fury hurl him from the team or a rooftop.

“You’re not dead.” So very confident, no possibility of being wrong. “My Tony is here with me now and you’re from his past. He’s not dead, you’re not dead and you are saving my life. Thank you.”

Oh…so that’s how Tony fell in love with this man.

“You’re welcome.” Low and quiet without a waver in the confidence he didn’t feel. “This isn’t fair. On you, him or me. I don’t even know if he remembers what happened to him. You don’t, the only one with any record of these spells is JARVIS and that makes no goddamn sense…”

He would have continued his little petulant rant, but because Tony’s life sorta sucked sometimes, Steve was just then put in life-threatening danger by responding to mugging going on in the park just fifty yards from the mansion’s back gate. They’d seen it start from the balcony, over which Steve had leapt cleanly (not fallen) and sprinted towards the danger while Tony snarled at JARVIS, was refused Iron Man because of his lack of brain and arrived, once again, late to the party.

Fortunately this time there was no gaping chest wound, no blood and only a cursing purse-snatcher with his face firmly planted in the gravel of the footpath. Steve being healthy wasn’t really reassuring because Tony’s worry went into overdrive, his gaze darting around the park because he hadn’t changed anything. Hadn't donw a single damn thing.

Excelt have breakfast with the man and talk about himself for an hour.

Looking back at Steve, Tony felt goose bumps rise on his skin. They hadn't done anything this morning. Realization dawned so Tony offered his startled husband a cocky salute.

“My work here is…”

***

"Captain Rogers was jogging in the park that morning and set upon by a dozen Hydra agents. They used a chemical weapon derived from the Red Skull’s DNA and temporarily neutralised the super soldier serum. Despite incapacitating seven of the agents, five fled the scene with Captain America in pursuit. He was fatally injured when hit by their vehicle. He died nine days later in hospital after his husband agreed to have intervention by life-support machines halted.”

***

Iron Man shoved Captain America to one side and took an adamantine axe blow to the throat that cracked the armor casing and left a scar across his collar bone.

***

“After the Skrull Ambassador beheaded Captain America on a live broadcast of the Peace Summit, the Earth was plunged into a terrible and bloody interstellar war.”

***

On Tony’s sixth return to reality the goose bumps didn’t stop. In fact, the tender prickles covering his skin increased until he could sense them along his scalp, between his toes and across the soles of his feet. Opening his eyes, Tony became aware that he was feeling goose bumps on his eyeballs.

Except, he didn’t actually seem to have eyeballs. Or a scalp or any of those other body parts that were earnestly sending him weird information about sensations that weren’t possible. But he could see, obviously, because he was currently looking past a translucent wall and into the main body of a large workshop. Holographic schematics of amazing detail hung suspended like lanterns over their actual counterparts, spread like a robotic autopsies on clean, white benches.

Tools, both recognisable and from his imagination, lay scattered beside the constructs or ordered neatly into assigned holders on the what-might be concrete but probably wasn’t, walls. Most of the designs were way beyond anything Tony could have ever dreamed of, interfaces he didn’t recognize, not a single screen or monitor but an awesome pyramid of crystals that swam with coding in a language that Tony could only begin to understand.

Even at sea amongst the beautiful machines around him, Tony could hazard a dozen guesses what they were for, but he didn’t need to. He knew exactly what their purpose was the moment he set eyes on the figure leaning, hand braced, on one of the tables. The armor was a smooth, sun-kissed gold and looked to be less than a millimeter thick.

It was as much a creation of Tony Stark as the white beard that adorned the very tired, very old face.

Apparently Tony had a voice too because he said, “You look like Colonel Sanders.”

The helmetless head snapped up at the sound of Tony’s voice, oddly distorted through whatever speaker older Stark was using to hear a ghost’s voice. A familiar expression of wry amusement stole over those oft loathed features.

“You look like my grandson, but nowhere near as good-looking.” There wasn’t even the hint of mechanical grind in the suit’s movements as otherTony crossed the room. “I thought it would be another hour before you arrived here.” Gold metallic fingers danced across several of the crystals as otherTony, who Tony was now going to call Stark in his head because it was getting too weird too fast, frowned at him.

Holding up his hands in denial of any responsibility, Tony saw that he did have hands, or at least something like them. The shivery, goose bumps feeling was explained by the fact that he seemed to be a waterfall. A waterfall of…something, energy? Data maybe?...contained within a massive test tube. Turning his hand back and forth, Tony was reminded of a funky modern art installation Pepper had fallen in love with, where the artist had projected old eight millimeter footage of people playing on a beach onto a fine waterfall.

Given that Tony was well past his quota for impossible things happening to him, becoming a hipster art installation was hardly shattering. He eyed Stark from his holding cell and came to the only correct conclusion to the mystery of his recent life.

“Have your memories finished adjusting or are you inside a time bubble?”

Stark finished whatever he was working on and looked up, a tightness to his mouth indicating unhappiness. “Like an incredibly harsh hangover, even worse than that time with the grenadine in Singapore, but it’s worth it. The only things outside the causal string are you…” a gold finger first pointing at Tony then to a second waterfall to Tony’s right, “…and him.”

There wasn’t an image projected but as soon as he heard the voice Tony knew why.

“The thirty-second tremor has settled, Sir. I do not project any further instability.”

Tony chuckled because he felt, just a little, like crying. “JARVIS. You sound exactly the same. Asshole. You couldn’t have mentioned who you were?”

“My apologies, Sir. We were severely restricted by the compression of my projected form. We felt it necessary to convey information as swiftly as possible. There was no time for small talk.” JARVIS sounded far more human-like and emotive than the one Tony left behind in twenty-twelve.

“Not forgiven.” Tony shot towards to AI’s tube, but his gaze returned to Stark. “Steve’s alive?”

This time Stark’s expression held no hint of despondency. “Oh yes.” The uncomplicated joy there was something Tony knew his own face had never shown. “Over a fucking kilosenth of brushes with death but none of them ever took. Thanks to you.”

Tony decided he had grown too sentimental in his old age and preened happily. “Not that you gave me any god damn choice you lunatic. You’re lucky I didn’t let him get beheaded by that alien with the chin.”

“I always wanted to save Steve. If I had only been given the chance.” Stark smiled and in it Tony saw all his confidence and bluster burnished into something deep and healthy. Tony had doubted he’d ever reach that place because it looked a lot like self-respect.

He was prevented from replying by the door of the lab sliding smoothly open and Steve Rogers garbed as Captain America stalked towards his older self with a helluva mad-on. Blue gloved fingers closed around the gold armor on Tony’s upper arms and the man who must have been over eighty but looked in his late fifties said, “Tell me you locked me out by accident and not because you tried to pretzel the past again?”

Stark apparently couldn’t stop smiling even in the face of Cap’s anger, put his hands to the man’s face and kissed him with a slow, steady need that put goose bumps on Tony’s goose bumps. After nearly a minute Tony decided that while the show might be lovely to look at, his older self needed a cockblocking like nobody else in history.

His wolf-whistle resounded off the various surfaces even if some of it was swallowed by Tony’s waterfall self. Steve spun around, shield risen to protect Stark, eyes widening as he saw Tony.

“What? Is this…?” Crossing the room so they were almost nose to nose Steve shot Stark a concerned look. “Is this a past you?”

“August, two thousand and twelve.” Tony grinned wickedly, because Cap was still delicious even with more silver than gold in his hair and wide, thicker shoulders.

“The Avengers.” Steve breathed in some awe, before his gaze became frankly appraising. Tony turned a full circle. Cap shifted to look back at Stark. “I’m having some distinctly impure thoughts about you both. And I used to be such an innocent lad.”

Both Tony’s snorted their disbelief of that statement.

“Well,” Steve consented and he smiled ruefully at Tony’s waterfallness. “I used to not feel like a dirty old man when I looked at you.”

Tony’s draw dropped a little. “Forty-one last April, I’m a long way from jail-bait Cap.”

Smile still in place, Steve ran the back of his fingers across the place where Tony’s cheekbone would be if the tube wasn’t there. “Younger me never stood a chance.”

Stark choked a little. “Before his ego inflates enough to crush his brain, I’m sending him back.”

Tony flipped himself the bird and braced for more grey nothingness.

“Wait.” Steve joined Stark at one of shimmery pyramids.

“No threesome for you, he’s not even really here…” Stark began with a sharp jab of his elbow.

“I mean,” Cap’s hand covered Stark’s on what could have been a keyboard but looked like a sensor. Telepathic maybe? Tony’s mind whirled with the possibilities. “You’re not sending him back to change the past are you?”

Identical dark brown eyes met.

“No love. I swear on your life, I’m not sending him back to change anything. The time-line will stay exactly as it is right now.”

Stark winked.

Tony grinned back. “Won’t tell a soul.” He vowed.

Steve released Stark’s hand and Tony’s final vision of them was the Captain running his fingers through Stark’s white hair and saying something about dragging him out of this workroom by it if he didn’t come breathe some fresh air.

***

Grey voidy nothingness.

“On July 8th, 2062 Anthony Edward Stark created the technology to reach back into the past to a point in his own lifetime and return with the conscious mind of his younger self.

The technology was never used.”

***

Tony awoke without even the slightest trace of lassitude. One moment he was floating in the smokey grey of void-time and next his eyes were opening on a hospital ceiling. He could hear the gentle snores of someone as they slept with their forehead pressed to his hip bone.

Pepper.

Moving quietly so as not to wake her, Tony lifted the arm that wasn’t held immobile off somewhere to his left and explored the linens until he found the bed controls.

Unfortunate familiarity had him pressing the correct button sight unseen and soon Tony was upright enough to get a proper look at himself as well as his slumbering friend. There was a cast encasing his right arm and what was very likely a morphine drip, thankfully dealing with any kind of pain, in his left.

Willing to take a moment to indulge in having an advantage over Pepper for once, Tony dropped his fingers to her hair and wondered how much her shoulder had stiffened up from holding her phone at such an awkward position at her collarbone.

“Hey Pep, I think someone spiked my drink.” His voice wretched from the dry, chemical feel of his throat.

“Tony?” She asked, sitting up with her eyes closed and a crease along her cheekbone. Then the world must have righted itself because her eyes snapped open, landed on him and his name was repeated as an astonished whisper.

“Sorry.” Because Tony knew that although he could never give up being Iron Man, he would also never stop feeling shitty for the expression it put on his friend’s face.

Pepper didn’t say anything, just leaned forward until she could press her lovely, lavender scented cheek to his stubbled face.

“Sorry, again.” Tony said, hoping she wouldn’t cry because he’d never seen that and he never wanted to be responsible for hurting her that badly.

A small laugh and Pepper leaned back, eyes bright but not wet and one hand very firmly threaded through Tony’s while she pressed a button on his bed control and then began typing a text with the other. “You’ve been in a coma for ten days and unresponsive for another six. I’m not sure ‘sorry’ can even begin to cover it, Tony.”

But she didn’t mean it because she was smiling and Pepper didn’t smile when she was angry with him. Her anger was always writ plain across her face and eyes.

“Maybe shoes?” He offered hopefully.

Pepper shook her head as she dropped the phone to the bed and met his eyes once again. “We have to have another discussion about the way you stereotype women, Tony. It one of the reasons people think you’re an asshole.”

“One of the reasons…?” But was interrupted by the door opening to admit several medical personal in blue uniforms, some white coated, some not. A woman doctor moved to his bed side and offered a gentle, professional smile that Tony suspected precluded some intense questioning about all the horrible things that had happened to his body and what they were trying to do about them.

Knowing he wasn’t going to get out of this one, Tony relaxed back onto his pillow and let them do their worst.

***

Steve arrived as Pepper was having a phone conversation with Rhodey that mainly consisted of ‘yes, yes he’s talking’ and ‘I don’t think they’ll let you land War Machine on the roof again.” This meant there was a whole series of stories that he’d have to be caught up on later. Right at that moment, he had a super soldier parking his perfect butt on Tony’s bed and the last of the hovering medical staff nodding at each other.

“So,” Tony eyed his Steve, good god his Steve at long last, and tried a cocky smile. “Helicopter to the face.”

“You saved fifty-eight lives, including mine and Natasha’s. If I ever….” Steve looked down at his gloved fingers and Tony had the sudden urge to hold his hand, because Steve felt so familiar and Tony just wanted to touch him and never stop. “…had any doubts that you were a hero, they became dust in that compound.”

Tony stared at him for a few seconds and rewound the information he’d received since waking and while he was hurtling through space-time.

“You’ve been rehearsing that for sixteen days haven’t you?” Because that had been far too eloquent to be said on impulse.

He was delighted to see a small blush rise across those strong cheekbones. And then, because he was ridiculously honest, a small nod.

“Oh, you are awesome Cap,” but Tony gave into temptation and put his hands on Steve’s to show there was no harsh intent behind the mockery. “Seriously, you’re delicious, and I want to go out to dinner with you. What say when I can walk again without perforating something, we go on a date? Where’s your favorite place to eat?”

With all the insider information at his mental fingertips, Tony was going to rock Steve’s fucking world.

***

They managed to go on that date after saving Clint from drowning and Tony from bleeding out, again, in the suit. He also kept Steve alive, by leaving the restaurant three minutes early and interrupting the domestic disturbance going on across the street. Steve’s wasn’t the only one he saved that night.

A week containing a movie night at the theatre in his suite and Tony’s ravenous libido had led him to manfully resisting a hesitant and obviously inexperienced Captain while they made out against the kitchen bench. Buttered popcorn was likely staining the seat of his jeans as Tony gently held Steve’s head in place while they explored every inch of each other’s mouths.

But, because Tony had all the practice and all the advantages he gently pushed Steve away when the hands at his waist started to slip lower. It was an effort, particularly when he had those far more intimate memories.

“Hey there, no rush,” Tony breathed, “we’ve got all the time in the world.”

Steve slowly licked his lower lip and regarded Tony thoughtfully.

“You seem really confident of that.”

Surprised Tony leaned back even further and searched the expressions on Steve’s face. He hadn’t actually thought something like this might occur. That Steve might work out something had changed and suspect Tony of changing the game.

“I mean,” Steve continued shifting to lean one of his own hips against the marble bench top, but kept his left fingers hooked through Tony’s belt loop. “Since the helicopter you’ve been different, to me. Like…I finally have your attention.”

Tony blinked. “You always have my attention.”

“Yes, now I do, but before…”

“Ignore the ‘me’ who was before. He was an asshole.” Tony wasn’t even joking when he said that.

“Not really,” Steve smiled and leaned back in until they were once again sharing the same space. “We just rubbed each other the wrong way.”

Tony literally hurt his tongue biting back his instinctive innuendo. He dragged his eyes away from warm baby blues and looked desperately around the kitchen. Steve was inexperienced, if not a virgin in truth, and Tony could demonstrate some restraint despite the entire internet arguing differently.

“How about another beer…?”

“Can we have sex?”

They spoke at the same time but of course it was Tony who nearly swallowed his just bitten tongue at his companion’s question. His reaction caused a definite heat to rise in Steve’s curved lips and knowing gaze.

“Err, yes?” Suave was not Tony at that particular moment.

“Good,” Steve fisted his hand through Tony’s belt and pulled him inexorably towards the master bedroom.

***

Getting Captain America naked wasn’t the problem. They’d had an amusing race to see whether Tony’s playboy could out-disrobe Steve’s barracks skills. In then end they’d both won because naked skin had been cuddled up to naked skin on Tony’s obscenely luxurious bed and neither actually cared anymore.

The problem, if it could be called one, was keeping Steve still while Tony did his very best to be a considerate and understanding lover. Super strong fingers pulling at his hair and trying to grope his ass were not part of the plan.

“Just lie back and enjoy, Steven, you can play when I’m done down here.” Tony shook off the exploring hands and ran the edge of his teeth across the hills delineating Steve’s abdomen while his own fingers smoothed pre-cum around a delicious, flushed pink cock.

“I want to touch you,” Steve groaned, head arcing back on the crisp navy pillows.

Tony just chuckled and started looking for Steve’s ‘oh fuck yes’ spots.

His hand moved slow and smooth, because if this really was going to be Steve’s first orgasm with another person present, it had to be fantastic. Easy, confident strokes had Steve gasping while Tony drew sweet little patterns over Steve’s abdomen with his tongue.

“Guh..Tony…”

“Hmmm?” Tony didn’t want to stop because Steve’s dick felt so good, and his own erection was pressing a hot line onto the warm thigh beside him. This would set the bar for Steve right here, an expert hand job then Tony sneaking a rub off on his leg. Perfect, safe way to start a relationship.

“That…more…” About to eagerly reply with his mouth, Steve managed to drag together some coherency and in one swift lift and roll, had Tony on his back with two hundred pounds of muscle pressing him into the mattress. Tony was quite proud of the fact that he hadn’t lost his grip.

“Okay, would you like me to…?” But he was cut off by the firm push of Steve’s tongue in his mouth and a warm fumbling hand between his legs. Wants to reciprocate before he even gets his, Tony thought with a flare of amusement. What a guy.

It wasn’t until Tony had spread his legs encouraging Steve to settle between them and Tony’s hard-on pushed into Steve’s belly that Steve’s fingers pushed his thigh a little wider and his cock stuttered down against Tony’s ass.

“God…I…” Steve was still working in one word blurts but Tony wasn’t going to pass up this chance.

“Yes, yes, definitely. Perfect. Here, just a minute…” his empty hand flailing off to the side, he wrenched open the bed stand draw and deposited most of the contents on the floor. With reflexes that proved Tony was the peak of human perfection in bedroom tactics; he caught the tube of lube before it fell and unscrewed the lid with his teeth.

The carpet did little to muffle the impact of the draw itself, but it was Clint’s room below Tony’s, and as far as he was concerned the archer could listen and suffer.

“Oh, I didn’t mean that.” Steve said in a worried tone when Tony reluctantly let go of Steve’s cock and squeezed lube onto his fingers. He stopped, looking up with the cap still clenched in his teeth.

“No, okay that’s fine. Maybe another time.” But as he said it he saw the deepening flush across Steve’s collarbones and uptick of passion in that considering gaze. But a no was a no was a no.

Tony used his thumb to run the slick down each of his fingers, across the minor burns and calluses, till they glistened.

Steve’s cock twitched.

“I mean, you don’t have to.” He said in a husky voice, hips unconsciously pressing his cock against Tony’s balls and perineum.

And wasn’t that so typically Steve?

“Of course I don’t have to.” Tony got more lube onto his palm and resumed his finger-lock on Steve’s dick, which obviously had far better ideas than Steve’s brain at that moment. “The only words in this bed that matter are ‘yes’, ‘fuck yes’ and ‘more’, are we clear?”

Steve rolled his hips forward again. Then with a confidence that seemed to be improving every second, pushed his fingers down until they briefly twisted with Tony’s slick ones before running over Tony’s ass.

“Fuck. Yes.” He said, lips only a breath away from Tony’s mouth.

“Yes.” Tony guided Steve’s fingers in and encouraged exploration. “Fuck.”

Long minutes until Tony’s noises of minor discomfort became noises of major comfort and he could use his heels to pull Steve in where he needed to be.

“Yep, just like that.” He praised, head falling back at the long slide of flesh inside him and the prickle of heat that ran down his spine. “Do that again, but slower.”

Steve complied, his face a picture of hungry pleasure warring with absolute wonder. He seemed intent on lots of kissing, which was fine, delightful in fact, but Tony wanted a lot of things from Steve and he was sure that a super soldier could multi-task.

“Another one, however fast you want.” That got him a hard snap of his lover’s body against his, pushing him up the pillows and making the threat of a collision with the headboard a distinct possibility.

“Sorry, sorry.” Steve’s hand came up to cushion Tony’s skull. He battered it away.

“That was fine. Brilliant.” Tony shook away some of the pleasure sparkles from his sex-hazed brain. “More of that. Go.” He slapped a commanding hand on the large bicep curved so magnificently next to his shoulder.

Steve froze for an intense moment and Tony thought he’d wrecked the mood until his partner seemed to come to some kind of mental decision and pushed back into Tony with a fair amount of that super soldier strength. It wasn’t particularly nice. Hardly a sweet, passion-blossoming connection of bodies that Tony had thought they might have. Oh no. This was a good, hard fuck and Tony was all over that kind of ‘connection’.

Losing all finesse to the white hot thrill ride his body was enjoying, Tony pushed himself closer and just held on.

At one point he rocked his hips in counter-point to Steve’s thrust and nearly set them both off right then.

“Right, you do that, I’ll do this.” Tony instructed and the moment he recovered from Steve’s obedient response he had one of those genius moments that allowed him his most arrogant boasts.

“You like it when I give you order, Darling?”

Steve slowed to deep languid rhythm, fingers deep in Tony’s hair.

He didn’t answer.

“Uh-huh.” Because at this point Tony’s life really couldn’t get any better.

It wasn’t long before they both moaned their way to orgasm and Tony may have shouted “Put you back into it, Soldier” but unless Clint was recording them then there was no proof either way.

Blinking away the lovely sex drenched mist in his mind; Tony gently stroked his hands up Steve’s sweat-smooth back and tightened his arms at the noises that weren’t gasps being pressed into the pillow beside him.

“That was amazing. You’re amazing. God Steve, so good.” He murmured over and over until the shaking stopped and Steve moved just enough to separate them and return Tony’s embrace.

“…love you...” Low and half mumbled.

Tony’s hands skittered without co-ordination for a moment or two as his brain processed what his ears had just heard. Then he remembered. Virgin. First time. Tower rocking orgasm. Of course he’s say that.

Opening his mouth to very likely insert his foot, Tony had a sudden memory of his white-bearded self, eyes softer than he’d ever seen as Steven Rogers’ fingers had played with his hair.

Maybe of the two of them it was Steve who actually knew what the hell he was doing.

“I think I’m going to love you for the rest of my life.” He said, smiling as Steve’s head snapped up to meet his eyes, blue on brown with surprised hope between them.

“Wow.”

Tony was never gonna stopping grinning at Steve’s blush.