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Roots

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The first dimension they visit, the other Tony Stark is already cold in the ground. Dead before everything even kicked off- age 32, from alcohol poisoning.

Steve asks, what’s different about this universe?

Tony just follows his gaze towards the sign: Stane Industries, bright and blaring into the New York rain, which Tony still thinks different to any other rain that he’s been in. 

He knows what he means- that something must have changed for him to do that.

Tony clicks his jaw and drops his gaze. Don’t know, Cap. Someone didn’t get to me in time, or whatever. Come on, time’s a-wasting.

-

The second one, Natasha had never been in the Avengers, and Clint had died a long time ago.

Other-Bruce has a scar, running up the side of his face, and he rubs his fingers across it before reaching for his coffee. I don’t know, he says. We just never got along.

Tony glances at the photographs- there’s only one, of a young girl with dark hair that falls to her waist.

Uh, he says. That sucks. In my world, we’re, y’know. Kind of close.

Other-Bruce’s gaze flickers between him and Steve, like a spark going out.You don’t say.

-

In the fourth one, Thor never had a brother, and he smiles more.

They all seem pretty happy, and everyone acts the same. 

Other-Steve and Other-Tony are… different, but only marginally. Like, Tony doesn’t have a coffeemaker.

I have no idea how your Tony survives without it, Steve says to his other self as he watches the other Tony’s comparing their work. My one practically lives on it.

Other-Steve’s mouth makes that funny little movement that Steve recognizes as him trying not to smile. He got rid of it when he threw out the liquor cabinet.

Steve nods, his eyes trying to track the differences between his Tony and the other Tony. It’s actually kind of hard- if his Tony didn’t have on that old AC/DC shirt, he doesn’t think he’d be able to tell.

What does he do to wake up in the mornings?

Other-Steve grins. Me, usually.

-

The eighth one, there are no Avengers. 

Instead, there’s a beacon shining up where Stark Tower should be- lighting up the sky the entire way.

It’s a wasteland, almost- a skeleton of collapsed buildings and wet wreckage. 

Tony doesn’t know how long it’s been when Steve finally tugs on his arm.

Come on, Steve says. We have to keep moving.

-

Twelfth, and everyone’s dead except for that world’s Steve.

He’s older- forty, maybe- and his palm grates against his stubble.

Bit too late, he says. Sorry.

Tony forces himself further away, because Other-Steve keeps flinching slightly whenever he gets too close. Is there anything we can-

Other-Steve says, don’t.

-

Fifteenth, and they’re dead.

-

Seventeenth, and everyone’s dead again, and they collapse into bed at a shitty motel, alternate universes be damned.

They wake up pressed against each other, and for a moment, neither of them can make themselves say, we have to keep going.

-

Nineteenth, and Coulson’s been alive all along.

Steve wants to tell him about the nightmares, about seeing a SHIELD agent in a suit and always imagining as Phil with blood in his teeth.

Instead, he says, you know, you were why we save the world.

Coulson, wonderful, ineffable, unbreakable Phil Coulson, looks slightly surprised. I’m aware.

Steve tells him, thank you.

-

Twenty-second, and Other-Tony is older, worse for wear, and stays as far away as humanly possible from the liquor cabinet.

Steve, Other-Tony says. I- fuck, is it-

It’s not me, Steve says. I mean, it is me- I’m from a different universe.

He tries not to notice how Other-Tony’s shoulders sag slightly, like he’s folding into himself.

Oh, he says.

I’m sorry, Steve tries. I- we’re trying to get home-

We?

Yes, me and the Tony from my universe.

Other-Tony’s eyes have smudges underneath them, and god, he looks soold.

Other-Tony swallows. Where is he? Can I speak to him?

I don’t think so. We’re almost going.

Wait- Other-Tony stutters forwards, one hand out before bringing it snapping back to his side. I- I wanted to- I know it’s not you, but

Steve can see his legs shaking. He can see the side of his mouth ticking, his fingers trembling, how he’s going to fall on the floor when Steve fuzzes like static and vanishes into the next dimension.

I love you, he says, and Other-Tony makes a sound like he’s dying. I love you, and I know that you’re not my Tony, but I know that whoever I am in this universe, I love you. I can’t imagine a world where I don’t.

Other-Tony’s breath rattles as he drags it in, and Steve watches as his face scrunches up tightly; hot, ugly tears in his eyes.

It wasn’t worth it, Other-Tony chokes, and Steve’s going, going-

-

Twenty-five, and when he finally finds his Tony again, the hug catches him off-guard.

He hugs back automatically, one hand coming up to cradle Tony’s head.Christ, what happened?

I fucking hate alternate universes, Tony says into his shirt.

Steve huffs out a laugh. What was it this time?

He feels Tony’s bitter smile against his skin, and when Tony doesn’t reply, he doesn’t push.

-

Twenty-eight, and they open their eyes to the ceiling of Tony’s workshop.

Tony doesn’t even sit up, he just lies there and groans: For the love of all that is deep-fried, please tell me this is my universe, because I really can’t be bothered with an evil Bruce or a female Clint or whatever the fuck-

The door slams open, and Pepper’s rushed, oh, thank god, is balm to Steve’s ears.

You guys took your fucking time, Clint announces from the doorway, over Natasha’s head. Thought we’d lost you for a second.

You looked better with breasts, Tony says, still flat on the floor, and laughs when Clint pulls the finger.

Steve is too adrenaline-flushed and world-weary to do anything but laugh weakly with him, and allow himself to be pulled up by Thor.

Natasha’s hand squeezes his shoulder briefly. Go anyplace interesting, Cap?

Steve wants to sit down. And shower. And sleep for a week.

He grunts, and Natasha smirks. Message received. I’ll be downstairs if you need me.

Steve tries to say thanks, but ends up smiling gratefully, because okay, is his vision supposed to be fuzzing around the edges?

He comes back into himself when he feels the warmth of Tony’s fingers through his shirt.

Yeah, me too, Tony says. Bed?

Steve finally manages, yeah, and numbly follows him up the staircase, stumbling into a wall twice and almost tripping over a desk.

He’s dimly aware of his face mashing into the pillow, of Tony’s hand curling into his hair.

Steve lets himself sag into the mattress, sloping his arm around Tony’s waist.

He feels, rather than hears, Tony’s mutter into his neck: Good to be home

Steve feels heavy. He feels like he’s sinking, like he’s a weight melting into the bed, and Tony’s hard lines against his body only help.

He pushes closer, tugs Tony further towards him until their entire bodies are pressed up against each other, Tony’s mouth at his neck, his hipbones angling into Steve’s stomach, one leg over his.

He blindly fumbles out towards Tony, and the kiss ends up on his forehead. 

Good to be home.