Steve stared at the golden figurine. It didn't look like a weapon, but a weapon was what he was supposed to find here. He guessed it could be something magical.
He reached out to touch it, but before he could, an explosion threw him into the wall.
When he regained his senses, the figurine . . . Was taller than him. And moving. If he hadn't seen it so tiny moments earlier, he'd say it looked like a man in a really weird armour. As it was, he had no idea.
“Steve?” it asked, and Steve couldn't contain his surprise.
“How do you know my name?”
The— creature took a step back. “You don't know me,” it said. The voice sounded as if it was filtered through something, but even so Steve could tell it was almost hurt.
“Steve, don't—” It seemed pleading. It looked down on itself. “That's an armour I haven't worn in a long time.” It reached out, to its helmet, and pulled it off—revealing a very handsome man underneath. “Steve,” he repeated, electrically blue eyes piercing him. “Do you remember me now?”
Steve shook his head mutely.
The other man sighed. “I hate magic,” he said to himself.
Steve got up. The creature was bigger than him anyway, but he preferred to be on his legs. “Who are you?” he asked. He had to get information, to get some idea of what was going on here. Fury told him there was an artefact hidden here, something they couldn't afford to let get Hydra their hands on. Steve didn't know what it was—but he was willing to bet it wasn't that.
Whatever, whoever that was.
“Tony Stark,” the man said. He hesitated for a second. “Iron Man.”
The name told Steve exactly nothing.
“You're Steve Rogers,” Stark said. He tilted his head. “And that shield in your belt . . . Does it mean anything?”
Steve covered it on instinct. Most people assumed he was a fan. Stark . . . He knew the truth, Steve felt he could be pretty sure of that.
“What year is it?” Stark asked.
“1942,” Steve replied, stopping the questions running to his mind. One thing at a time. He had a name, but he still didn't know who the man actually was.
He looked around the cave. Steve already knew everything about its setting and knew the man wasn't going to find anything worthy of attention. A few dripping stalactites, some stones, like so many other caves in the world. He opted to observe Stark instead. The first thing Steve had already noticed was that the man was really attractive. He had an angular face, with a neatly trim goatee. His dark hair seemed smooth. A few strands fell over his forehead, and Steve wanted to reach out and push them back. He shook himself almost as soon as he thought it. Not time for this, not here.
And he didn't really know if the man wasn't enemy.
He doubted that, though; he wanted to trust him, almost instinctively.
As he watched, the armour morphed. It became smaller, better fit to Stark's frame, the lines smooth but strong. It was no longer just gold, parts were bright red. It looked beautiful and dangerous.
Steve wanted to touch it even as he had no idea what it was. Magic, probably.
“Okay,” Stark said, his inspection of the cave done. “Where are we?”
“North Spain,” Steve said shortly. “Where did you think we were?”
“Well,” Stark drawled. “Considering you never told me about this happening, I'll say I'm from another universe, and my knowledge of geography might be skewed.”
Steve raised his eyebrows.
Since the beginning of the war, many things he'd previously deemed impossible have happened. He got injected with an experimental serum. He's fought vampires and werewolves. He's seen magic.
But another universe . . . He couldn't begin to imagine that.
Stark shook his head. “Never mind. I'm not where I belong—I need to get back.”
“You talk like you know me. Are we friends?” Steve asked before he could stop himself.
Stark's face closed off. “No,” he said.
That wasn't a full answer, but it told Steve they weren't enemies. He looked hurt saying it. Steve continued to look at Stark questioningly.
“Dammit,” he said. “Not anymore,” he corrected himself.
Steve's spent five minutes with this man, seen his armour do an impossible thing, heard him speak about impossible things—so maybe it wasn't that impossible that while he could definitely imagine getting to know him, to be close to him, he couldn't quite imagine throwing that away. There was something in Stark pulling him in.
Dangerous, he thought.
The ground shook.
“Fuck,” Stark said, pulling the helmet back on. Steve looked around alarmingly. A stalactite dropped down. Stark moved, stood between it and Steve, even though it was too far to be able to hit him.
The cave was stable when Steve came in; it must've been the explosion before Stark appeared . . . No time for it now, he thought.
“Exit?” Stark asked.
“Follow me,” Steve said, and ran.
Steve was aware that he should not show his back to someone he didn't know, but it didn't worry him. Stark wouldn't hurt him, and they were both in danger now.
He was glad the serum had given him perfect memory. The caves were a maze of tunnels and blocked off passages, but he remembered how he got here. He could just run, not think about the directions. He heard the cave collapsing and glanced back just long enough to make sure Stark was still behind him. He was, but he no longer had the armour on. Another thing to focus on later.
He thought the ground was still shaking a bit, but maybe it was the ringing in his ears, the sudden change in pressure.
“Steve!” Stark called. “Steve, we're safe now.”
“How do you—”
“My armour,” Stark said, even though the armour was nowhere in sight, “has sensors—this part is safe.”
He finally took in his appearance out of the armour. He had on a tight—really tight, so what, stop glaring at him, Rogers—dark body suit. Stark was lean but muscled, as the suit so nicely showed off. There was something glowing set in the middle of his chest. Steve assumed it had to do with the armour. It illuminated Stark's face, making the bones more pronounced. He looked good in the eerie light, like something beautiful not from this world . . . Which he literally was, apparently.
“Figured it'd be easier for the narrow passages,” Stark said, noticing him staring.
“Let's go then. We still shouldn't stay here too long,” Steve said.
“So, what have you been doing here, all Indiana Jones-y?” Stark asked moments later as Steve turned right.
Steve could just assume it was someone else from his universe. “Looking for weapons,” he said out loud.
Stark's step faltered.
“How did you get there?” Steve asked. Stark's first instinct on noticing that stalactite falling was to cover Steve. This—well, this probably meant Steve could trust him.
“Did I mention I hate magic?” Stark replied idly.
“Then what's with your armour?”
Stark gasped. “You did not call my beautiful suit magical,” he said.
Steve chuckled at the outrage in his voice.
“It's not funny,” Start murmured. “It's high tech. It's my high tech. Magic does not have any place near me.”
His tech? Did he build it himself? That was nothing short of amazing.
“I like to keep an open mind,” Steve shrugged. “Careful, it gets a bit low here.”
Stark was his height, Steve didn't want him to knock himself out by walking into a stone, distracted by ranting about science.
Steve's torch flickered over the uneven ground. He minded his steps. Even if these tunnels were steady, the little loose stones could still be treacherous. He didn't need a sprained ankle.
They moved slowly, in silence. The crouching position wasn't comfortable and it strained at Steve's muscles. He glanced behind from time to time, and always saw Stark following him without a word of complaint. Even so, Steve tried not to go too fast. He wanted to reach the more spacious corridors again, but sometimes it was all too easy to forget not everyone had his stamina.
It wasn't objectively that long, a bit over ten minutes, but it was different when he was aware someone else was there with him.
He breathed deeper when he reached the end of the narrow passage. Stark emerged off it after him and stretched himself.
Steve observed the long line of his neck as he leant back. He wanted to follow it with his mouth, not eyes.
Time and place, he chastised himself. And there was something in the way Stark held himself now . . . He was too tense. “You okay?” Steve asked.
Stark nodded, but seconds later he sat down abruptly, as if it was this or falling. “Just a moment.”
“We can rest a bit, Mister Stark,” Steve offered. Better wait a bit than have him fall down later. And the tunnels seemed steady now.
Stark winced. “Tony,” he said, but it sounded like a request.
“Tony,” Steve agreed. The name rolled off his tongue easily, like he was always meant to greet him like that.
A small smile played on Tony's lips and Steve watched it, almost hypnotized.
“We can go,” Tony said a few minutes later and moved to get up.
He swayed on his legs almost as soon as he straightened up, and Steve grabbed him by his elbow to stabilise him.
Tony was warm, and Steve didn't exactly mind touching him, but he didn't want it to be like this, he didn't like the feeling of being worried about him. He wanted Tony to welcome his touch instead.
“You shouldn't push yourself,” Steve said. Tony seemed steady on his feet now, but Steve didn't let him go. “I don't want you to get hurt.”
Tony stared at him with wide eyes. “You don't know what you're talking about.” He freed his elbow and stubbornly walked forward, one hand on the wall.
“I know you're—” What was happening to him, really? It looked like he was dizzy, and it wasn't exactly uncommon to feel bad underground, especially after escaping a cave-in. But just as well it might've been caused by the magic that brought him here. How long had he been in that cave? Did he even remember it? Steve shuddered. It was horrible to think about it, someone frozen in time.
He caught up with Tony in a few long strides. “Let me help,” he asked. It was obvious Tony hated admitting to any weaknesses.
“Damn you,” Tony said. “I can never—okay.”
Steve carefully put Tony's arm around his shoulders. Pulling his weight wasn't a challenge.
“We're almost there,” Steve said.
“Good,” Tony answered.
“So what's wrong?”
Tony stiffened against him, just for a second. “Not sure,” he admitted finally. “But I'm gonna blame magic. I don't know how I got here.” He paused for a bit. “I hate not knowing stuff.”
Steve laughed. “Of course, genius.”
“Sorry,” Tony said. “Whatever weapon you hoped to find here—pretty sure I must've switched places with it.”
And even if he didn't, the collapse hid it forever, but Steve did not have any problems with it. As long as whatever it was that Fury wanted from the cave was gone, it was good. Hydra didn't get it first. That's what counted. Steve thought of Hydra getting to Tony first and shuddered.
“I'm glad I found you,” he admitted.
There was more light in the cave now and a breeze of fresh air. Steve inhaled. He didn't have problems with being underground, but he didn't exactly like it; there was nothing like the touch of wind on his face.
They turned right and found themselves near the exit of the cave. There was a forest outside; the sun low over the trees.
Steve helped Tony sit down and then moved to where he'd left his things, hidden in a gap behind a large stone. He pushed it aside.
“Ah,” Tony said. “There she is. I wondered.”
Steve ran his fingers over the edge of the shield. He never liked leaving it, but he hadn't been sure how narrow the corridors might get.
“It's almost sunset,” Steve said. “We can stay the night here.”
“And then what?” Tony asked carefully.
Steve stared at his backpack. “I have to report to Fury,” he said. “But . . .”
“What about you?”
“I have to find a way back to my world,” Tony said matter-of-factly. Steve wasn't surprised. He knew it was stupid to hope Tony would want to stay, that he'd get to know him. There was no telling how long it would take him to get back though.
“They're probably better off without me,” Tony continued, as if he was talking to himself. “But I can't—I have to go back.”
Steve turned to stare at him. “I really doubt that.”
“You don't know what I did.” Tony's look almost dared Steve to ask. “You should've left me in that cave.”
“I have known you for an hour,” Steve spoke up, “and I already know you're brilliant. This armour of yours—you said it was technology, not magic, but I don't think it's that common where you're from either. And you very obviously regret something, but that alone tells me you're not a bad guy.”
“Steve Rogers,” Tony said. “Always looking for the good in people.”
“It serves me well.” Steve crossed his arms.
“Until you met me, yes,” Tony said.
Steve wondered what the hell happened in that other world, but he knew he wasn't going to ask.
He knelt in front of Tony instead, to put them at the same level. “I trust you,” he pronounced each word clearly. “And you won't change that.” Tony's face was blank, as if he wasn't sure how to react. “If you want to go home—I will help you find the way. But you could stay.”
“I don't remember the last time you said you trusted me,” Tony let out shakily.
“Then I'm an idiot,” Steve said. “Now. I have canned food. Saying it tastes like nothing is a compliment, but it's better than being hungry. We'll share, we'll wait till the sunrise, and then we'll go to the base and you can decide what you want to do.”
Tony looked as if Steve had grown two heads, as if he didn't know how to react to simple, obvious kindness. He seemed almost shellshocked, really, and Steve wanted to kiss it all away and see him smile.
Tony nodded after a long moment.
“Right,” Steve said. “Stay here.”
He got up and pulled two rations along with water out of his backpack. The nights were warm here, they wouldn't need a fire. It was for the best, really; Steve's debriefing had said there weren't enemy troops in the vicinity, but one could never be sure.
He passed one can to Tony and sat next to him. They ate in silence.
“North Spain, you said?” Tony asked when they finished.
“There are a lot of Celtic monuments in these parts of Europe. Thor has a mythical explanation, of course, but the truth is, the universes are closer to one another in some places than in others, like planetary orbits. Stonehenge would be perfect, but even with my armour, it'd take a while to get there. There's—well, with some tech, you'd see I'm not from this world. This makes it easier; leaving your own universe is always more difficult than going back. I don't belong here, so forcing a portal open won't even need that much energy.”
Steve felt a pang in his heart, but he ignored it. “I passed a field of stones them on my way here,” he said. “I can take you there.”
“You can just show me—”
“I can take you there,” Steve repeated, and that was it.
They watched the sun hiding behind the line of trees.
“I have a blanket,” Steve offered.
“Take it,” Tony said. “I can sleep in the armour.”
Which was where, Steve wondered. For all he knew Tony might summon it out of thin air and claim that was science too.
“Because that must be comfortable.” He rolled his eyes and reached for his backpack.
He didn't say he was just afraid Tony would try to sneak out. He took a blanket because it took less space than a sleeping bag and he always ran a bit warm; he was glad now. It could cover them both.
“Come on, lie down,” Steve ordered, pulling it out. The entrance to the cave was almost invisible from the outside, covered by bush on both sides of it; they would be safe here.
Tony seemed uncertain but he listened and got down, and Steve put the blanket over him. He lay a few centimetres away, close enough that he'd wake if Tony moved, far enough that they didn't touch. “Good night,” he said.
“Good night,” Tony answered quietly.
Steve woke up feeling too warm.
He opened his eyes. The sun was already up, but it wasn't the sunlight which warmed him up. At some point during the night, he must've moved closer to Tony. He had an arm over his waist, and Tony rested his head on Steve's shoulder.
Steve didn't want to move, but he made himself anyway. He very carefully untangled himself from Tony and managed not to wake him up. Good. He didn't think Tony would react well if he saw their position. The way he spoke about his world's Steve . . .
Steve shook his head. He wasn't going there. He pulled out another two rations and looked at Tony, debating whether to wait or wake him. Tony was peaceful in his sleep. The edge of worry in his expression, always present when he was awake, was gone now. One of his hands covered the shiny thing in his chest.
Steve didn't want to wake him.
He was spared the choice: Tony moved slightly, and then sat up suddenly. He blinked his eyes open and stared at Steve for a moment. “Steve . . . ?”
Steve was pretty sure Tony he didn't see him, not really.
“Morning, Tony,” he said. “Forty-two.”
Disappointment showed up on Tony's face, almost too quickly to notice. He nodded. “Ah. Yeah.” He pressed the edge of his hand into his eyes for a moment. “I suppose it's too much to ask for coffee.”
“Sorry. It doesn't do much for me.”
“Yeah, I know.”
They ate quickly, and then Steve packed his things and stood next to Tony at the edge of the cave.
“Give me general directions,” Tony said. He looked better than yesterday. He must've really needed the rest.
“We've been over this.”
“What?” Tony glanced at him, and then shook his head. “No, no. You're going with me, I get it, I know better than to try and change your mind. Just . . .”
The armour surrounded him—and why, it did come out of thin air—and then he was hovering, just a few inches of the ground, but definitely hovering—and then, before Steve quite realised what he was doing, Tony sneaked an arm around his waist and they were flying, really flying, over the trees, the sun bright in Steve's eyes.
He exclaimed in joy. He'd piloted planes, but this was different, better, the rush of air around them and just Tony keeping him from falling.
“So,” Tony said, his voice sounding strange through his helmet, “will you give me directions now?”
“North-east,” Steve said, laughing.
Tony made a loop through the air, his arm holding Steve safe, and then he flew where Steve told him to.
Steve hoped they'd never reach it, that the flight would never end. The rush of air was cutting.
“Is it okay?” Tony asked.
“Yes,” Steve shouted over the wind as he realised Tony purposefully flew slower than he could to keep from harming Steve.
The trek through the forest had taken Steve hours when he'd made it, but it wasn't long till he saw the monoliths now. He wished it was. Flying like this was something he'd never imagined, and beyond the wildest dreams. He wanted more.
“Now let's hope these are what I need them to be,” Tony said.
Steve nodded numbly.
He didn't say a word as Tony brought them down and they landed near the monoliths. There were a dozen of them, each at least twice as tall as Steve. They looked like placed at random and he knew they probably weren't.
Tony walked around the field, studying the stones closely. He reached out to one, part of a three-stones construction that looked like a doorway, and stopped short of actually touching it. “Should work,” he said.
He flipped up his faceplate and turned to Steve. “Thank you.”
“What for,” Steve asked. “I—”
“Don't crash in the Arctic,” Tony said.
It was good bye, Steve realised, and he still had no idea what Tony was going to do.
Tony touched the stone with his open palm. Something flashed brightly, and signs showed up over it, like in coding machines Steve had seen in SSR. Tony kept his hand pressed against it, and the signs changed, as if he was modifying them somehow.
There was light coming from between the stones.
Tony turned to him, and Steve stood on his toes and kissed him.
Tony's stubble prickled, and it took him a moment before he responded, almost shy. Then he stepped away. “I wish this was my world,” he said, and walked through the stones.
He was gone.
Everything was cold. He ached, deep inside. He tried to move, but he couldn't. It was as if he was changed to ice—
He remembered his plane going down, the crash, and then nothing more. But now—it was all melting away, he felt lighter, he could breathe.
There was someone leaning over him. A red and gold armour.
Steve found the strength to sit up, and he felt himself smiling.