It was supposed to be a routine raid, as much as any Avengers action could ever be considered routine. Quick in-and-out, just how Tony liked it; some spinoff of AIM that hadn't gone to the island, but was instead supposedly stockpiling Gamma weapons in the southwest. Why was it always the southwest, with Gamma bullshit? The old bomb tests, that was understandable, but since then Hulk and the Leader and anyone obsessed with Gamma radiation always seemed to gravitate to New Mexico.
"Captain America, respond, or so help me Thor I will find you and drag you out of there by your ankle," Tony warned.
He'd thought the raid was a little beneath him, to be honest, beneath them -- let some of the junior members of the team get some practice in -- but then everything had gone to hell. Fifteen hulks had come bursting out of the villainous lair, and while they weren't quite up to Bruce's Hulk standard, fifteen hulks was still fifteen hulks. By the time Tony determined their gamma transformation was being controlled by a radio signal and jammed it, Carol had been punched through a mountain, Natasha was limping, Sam was grounded, and Steve had stopped responding. He was down there in the wreckage somewhere, and Tony flew in circles over it, scanning for signs of life -- heat, movement, anything.
"Ah, gotcha," he muttered, as something moved in one of the nearly-undamaged chambers -- it no longer had a roof, but was otherwise whole. He touched down and flipped up his faceplate. "Hey, Rogers, come on -- "
"Tony?" a voice called, Steve's voice, but incredulous, full of confusion. Tony shifted aside a heap of roof tiles, concerned now, and looked down at Steve Rogers -- shrunken, sharp-faced, staring up at him bewilderedly.
"Oh, god, they got to the Serum," he breathed. "Look, it's okay, most of their notes are intact -- "
"What are you talking about?" Steve asked, standing up, rubbing one leg awkwardly, the one that had been under all the roof tiles. "Where are we? It's like a million degrees here."
Tony blinked at him. "New Mexico."
Steve swore. "Again? I swear I'm gonna punch Thor in his big benevolent face -- "
"Steve, you're..." Tony gestured at him, because he didn't seem to have noticed he'd shrunk. "Uh, let's worry about Thor later, right now we need to get you looked...at..."
He realized, with slow horror, that this wasn't Steve.
Well, it was Steve, he'd seen Steve without the serum before and this was clearly Steve, but he was wearing a SHIELD tactical suit, and he never wore those. This morning when they'd suited up, Steve had been in his Commander Rogers uniform, better for stealth infiltrations. The tac-suit was fitted to his small frame as if it had been tailored for it, and there was no sign of the shield. And Tony realized his face looked different -- it was narrow and thin, but not shrunken or pinched as Steve's had been the last time he'd lost the serum --
"Tony, what the sam hill are you doing?" a voice asked behind him. Steve's voice. "My radio's busted, who are you talking to? You keep saying my -- "
Tony just stepped to one side. He turned and saw Steve, their Steve, the proper Steve, stop dead in his tracks as he took in the other Steve. The pair of them stared at each other for a long moment. Then as one, they turned to Tony.
"So, this is interesting," Tony observed.
"Look, I don't know what to tell you," Steve said, for what felt like the hundredth time, sitting in a SHIELD transport on its way back to New York. The other Steve, the much bigger, brawnier, impossibly muscular Steve, was watching him from the other end of the jet, about as far away as he could be. This strange, slightly off-kilter, vaguely taller Tony was sitting a little too close for comfort. "I was in the Baxter Building, helping with an experiment -- "
"Was I there?" Tony asked.
"Yeah, you and Reed...do you have a Reed Richards?" Steve asked hesitantly.
"For our sins, yes," Tony said.
"You -- they -- were working on something, I was just there because SHIELD wanted an observer there -- "
"So you work for SHIELD?"
"Yes, I'm a supervisory agent."
"This is really interesting. Go on."
"They were doing fine and then there was a flash of light, and boom, I'm in New Mexico."
"It's possible that's because our Steve was there," Tony said, nodding at the other Steve.
"He's freaked out, huh?" Steve asked softly.
"I've never seen him react this way," Tony said. "He's lost the Serum before -- "
"You keep talking about this serum. What serum?"
"You never had the serum?" Tony asked.
"Not that I know of."
"When were you born?"
Steve narrowed his eyes. "1988."
"Gettin' a little tired of being the one giving all the answers," Steve said pointedly.
"Okay, the thing is, I literally have no answers for you. This is really and truly fascinating but I don't know what other-me was up to or why you ended up here," Tony said. "So we're gonna take you to the Baxter Building and -- "
"See if anything explodes again?" Steve asked drily.
"Well, you definitely got the Rogers mouth on you," Tony sighed.
Steve spent most of the afternoon sequestered in a lab at the Baxter Building, where the most interesting thing to happen was this universe's Tony and Reed getting into a shouting match over some math. They seemed to be making progress, shouting notwithstanding, so he tried to stop worrying about whether his Tony was also zipping through alternate universes, and just let them get on with it.
He was supposed to stay there, he knew; Reed had all kinds of theories about whether he could rip space-time apart if he went wandering around unchaperoned. Still, he felt the likelihood wasn't great, and he was bored, and there was another him, a big, strong him like he'd always wanted to be. The other him didn't seem to want to go near him, but he hadn't left, either.
Steve slipped out of the lab while Reed and Tony were warming up for round two of Shouting About Math, and eventually found the other Steve standing on the balcony outside of what seemed to be a communal kitchen. He made himself a cup of coffee, literally, and carried both mugs out with him.
"You're not supposed to be here," his other said as soon as he saw him.
"Have a coffee and unwad your pants," he suggested. The other raised his eyebrows, but accepted the coffee and took a sip. "I know you're trying to avoid me but I thought we could talk."
"I always thought talking to oneself was a little pointless," the other said.
"We're not exactly twins," Steve pointed out.
"Tony says you were born in 1988," the other said.
"I was born in 1922."
Steve choked on his coffee. "Come again?"
"I was -- like you. Little. I was given a drug that..." the other gestured to his body. "I fought in world war two. I crashed in the ocean in '45 and -- "
"Oh, my God," Steve said. "You're Captain America."
The other's jaw dropped. "You mean you aren't?" he said.
"No! Captain America's a comic book hero! He's not real!" Steve gaped at him. "You're really Captain America! He was my favorite!"
"Well, I guess we know why," said another voice, and they both turned to see Tony in the doorway. "We've reached a conclusion. Sort of. You should both come see."
"I can't believe I'm Captain America," Steve said to the other, as they followed Tony back to the lab. "Do you like it? Is it cool?"
"Um," the other said. "I don't...dislike it. It's just who I am."
"Wow, but that means -- how did you and Tony meet, if you were Captain America?"
The other shot a fond smile down the hallway. "The Avengers were testing out a submarine. They found me in the ice and thawed me out. Tony's faceplate was the first thing I saw when I woke up."
"Oh," Steve said, eyes huge. "That's really romantic."
"Ro -- what?" the other said, stopping. Tony, already distracted again, continued down the hallway without them. "No, we're not -- Tony and I are friends. Why, are you...?"
"You and Tony? Really?"
"Yeah. Almost a year now."
The other Steve looked down the hallway, an almost wistful expression on his face. "Is it -- are you two happy?"
"Sure. It's not easy, you know, but we do okay."
"Hey! Captains slow-ass, come on," Tony called from the lab doorway.
"Once in a while you do want to throw things," Steve said.
"Yeah, that's normal," the other Steve replied.
"So we think you've been dimensionally displaced," Tony said, as both Steves entered the lab.
"I think unmoored is the more proper term -- " Reed began, but Tony rolled his eyes.
"Something in the lab on your end knocked you sidelong through a dimensional wall," Tony continued. "We're working on the theory that you ended up in New Mexico because it was proximity to our Steve, and in this case like is attracting like. Now, the bad news is -- "
"Your dimensionality is unstable," Reed interrupted.
"That sounds terrifying," Steve said.
"It means you're probably not going to stay here long," Tony added. "We don't know when or how but probably you'll bounce through our dimensional walls too. The multiverse knows you don't belong here."
"But that's also the good news," Reed added. "Because if you are gravitating towards other versions of Steve Rogers, then eventually you're going to ricochet home again, probably."
"Do you have the TV show Sliders in your universe?" Steve asked his other.
"I don't know," the other said, looking at Tony.
"It's on Netflix, we'll do a marathon," Tony promised. "And yeah, it's a little like that, but you probably won't get much warning, and if our math is right, you'll always be moving closer to home. So your worlds should get more and more familiar."
"Okay, that's less horrible," Steve admitted.
"We can try to throw together some kind of detection unit," Tony began, but there was a sudden bright light in the middle of Steve's vision, which made it hard to concentrate.
"Uh, either I'm having an aneurysm or something's happening," Steve said, reaching out a hand blindly and clutching the uniform shirt of his other, staggering for balance. He heard more than saw Tony come forward, taking his other arm. He pulled hard on the other Steve's shirt, until he got the message and bent down.
"He's worth it," he said in the other Steve's ear, and barely heard Tony say Who's worth what? before the light filled his world -- eyes, ears, mouth, light everywhere, he could taste the light --
And he woke up in a field of grass, staring at a bright blue sky full of people flying around in it. A familiar face came into view: a square-jawed, thick-necked Steve Rogers, with shoulders for miles and pectorals you could serve a meal on.
"You again," he sighed, and flung his arm over his eyes.
"So you're telling me," Steve said slowly, gazing at the small man seated in front of him, "that you are from another universe."
"And you were told this by a version of Tony Stark, also from another universe, but not your other universe."
"If it's any consolation, I probably won't be around long," the other Steve replied. "I was only in the last one for a couple of hours. But I guess there's probably no way to tell."
Steve rubbed his forehead. "Should I be calling our Tony Stark?"
"I don't think there's much point. Just, I don't know, give me somewhere quiet to hang out for a while." The other Steve looked out the broad window of the training facility's conference room, watching as Vision and Wanda practiced a grab-and-carry maneuver, a modified version of one that Steve and Thor spent a lot of time on.
"Can I ask," Steve said, drawing his attention back again. "You said you're from...now, not -- not like me."
"Or the other Steve I met," he said. "But you're both Captain America, and I'm just a Captain America fanboy, so that makes sense," he added with a faint smile.
"Do you have -- do you have a Bucky?" Steve asked, and immediately regretted it. "Don't, you don't have to answer that -- "
"Of course I do. You must too, if you asked."
"Not right now," Steve murmured. The other man frowned. "He -- Hydra got hold of him. They did something to him. Brainwashed him, I don't even know if he knows who he is anymore. I'm trying to find him now but I'm not having much luck."
The other Steve exhaled sympathetically. "That's rough. That's really dark, I'm sorry."
Steve shrugged. "Guess I just wanted to know if he's okay, if yours is...safe."
"Sure. Safe and happy." Steve nodded at the window, where Sam and Vision were discussing some kind of dive maneuver. "He and Sam are engaged."
"...Bucky and Sam?" Steve asked, shocked.
"Yeah. Where I come from, Buck came back from the war with some real problems. I don't know if you'd say Sam saved him, but -- yeah. Actually. I think Sam did save him. Sam's amazing," he said, and Steve had to agree. Sam was amazing.
"I uh. I wouldn't mind the saving, but I hope that doesn't happen here," Steve said, rubbing the back of his head.
The other Steve laughed. "You and Sam? For real? Man, that's lucky for you. I mean, I wouldn't give up Tony for anything, but Sam's a real catch -- "
"You and Tony. Tony Stark?"
"Why is everyone so surprised by that?" he asked, sounding amused.
"Just. It's Tony." Steve shook his head. "I like the guy but I really have to spend a lot of time reminding myself of that so I don't strangle him."
"I did notice a significant absence," the other said. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
"This day just gets weirder. Sure," Steve replied.
"You want to spar with me?"
Steve blinked down at him. "You. And me. Sparring. Look, we both know how tough you are, but -- "
"Just, I want to see how our fighting styles measure up. Come on, it'll be fun. Bet I floor you at least once."
Steve glanced outside. Vision was hovering at the window with Wanda on his back, both of them peering in; Vision smiled and waved when he saw Steve looking. Next to him, Sam was sitting on the shoulders of the War Machine armor, fiddling with one of the smaller shoulder-mounted guns. Natasha was hanging upside-down from a grappling rope, calmly checking her email on her phone. Rhodey was watching the little guy with a faint smile on his face.
"You mind if the team watches?" he asked. "If you do mind, I'm afraid you don't have much choice."
"Bring it on," the other Steve said with a laugh. "I'll do my best not to embarrass you."
Half an hour later, Captain America lay on the mats in the sparring room and blinked.
"Holy heck," he said, when he got his wind back. "How are you so fast?"
Agent Rogers -- Steve decided he'd definitely earned the honorific -- reached down and helped haul him to his feet.
"Natasha," he said. Natasha, sitting nearby, beamed at him. "If you can't be strong, be fast. If you can't be fast, be sneaky. You're a nice guy, Big Rogers, but you're not sneaky."
Steve shot a rueful look at the others, who knew this better than anyone. "No, that's not one of my strong suits."
Agent Rogers was bruised, bleeding in a couple of places, and looked worn out; he'd taken several falls already. But Steve had to admit he'd given him a run for his money in the sheer stubborness department, and he was a better fighter than Steve could have dreamed of being as a little guy. Steve had to work for every victory, and Agent Rogers was doing better than men literally twice his size had sometimes done.
"I'm not certain I understand the end goal of this exercise," Vision said, studying the pair of them with keen eyes. "Emotionally, testing one's strength against oneself may be cathartic, but you are hardly very alike."
"I think we're probably more alike than either of us wants to admit," Steve said.
"Besides, variety is the spice of life," Agent Rogers added with a smile, but it was fleeting; his eyes seemed to unfocus briefly, and he staggered a little, one arm going wide to maintain his balance.
"You okay?" Steve asked, catching him by the elbow.
"It's happening again -- be out of your hair real soon," Rogers said. "Hey, listen -- about Bucky -- "
"Don't worry about that, what can we do for you?" Steve asked.
"Nothing, I'm fine. When you find him, hold on tight, okay? Bucky an' me, we're not meant to be apart." Rogers looked up at him, face pale, lips bloodless, and gave him an attempt at a grin. "And hold onto Sam, too. Don't let that asshole steal your man."
There was a brief flash of light, not even much brighter than a firecracker, and he was gone.
"Wait," Wanda said, into the silence that followed. "You and Sam?"
Earth's Mightiest Heroes
Steve was getting uncomfortably accustomed to not recognizing himself in the universes he'd visited.
This was the third Steve Rogers in as many worlds to come from the forties, to be tall and broad where Steve was small and wiry. In theory – he'd ask some Tony or other at some point to do the math -- there must be billions of worlds out there where he was young and small; he was perplexed as to why he hadn't visited any of them. If the first Tony's theory was right, and he was getting closer to home with every interdimensional hop, surely he ought to meet a smaller Steve sooner or later.
This Steve had a strangely small head. Not -- not freakishly small or anything, but compared to the rest of him, particularly his shoulders, his head was like a breadbox sitting on a king-sized mattress. Steve tried not to stare.
This world's Tony was peculiar as well. Steve's own Tony had blue eyes, and so had the other Tony, but this one's eyes were almost metallic, the color of polished copper in the sunlight. He had crazy hair, too, cut in a widow's peak like he'd never quite achieved escape velocity from the 90's.
Some universes seemed to have lots in common -- always a Steve, always a Tony, usually a Rhodey and a Sam, often a Natasha. But they had variants too, like Wanda in the last universe and, in this universe, Janet.
Steve liked Janet. She'd busted into the lab while he was explaining himself to a very perturbed looking Steve and Tony, insisted that they were being rude to a guest, and dragged him upstairs to the kitchen, where she'd stolen a sandwich from Clint (such things carried heavy consequences in Steve's world) and settled him at the kitchen table to eat while she told him jokes.
"So then, Clint said -- "
"It's a farmer's tan!" Steve finished, and Jan laughed. "That happened to us, too. A slightly different setup, but basically the same."
"You must miss home," she said, a sympathetic look crossing her face.
"Yeah, I do," Steve agreed. He looked down at his food, suddenly not that hungry anymore. "I'm not sure I'm getting any closer. None of the Steves I've met look like me."
"But I bet they act like you," she said. "Stubborn and surprisingly sarcastic when you get past that apple-pie exterior."
"Not sure I've cultivated the apple-pie part yet," he said ruefully.
"Well, Steve once had his serum drained by Loki," she said. "Have you met Loki?"
"Only the one in my universe. Sounds like the kind of dick move he'd try."
"Wow," she laughed. "Hearing Steve Rogers say 'dick move', that's new. Anyway, he looked a little like you, but not nearly as cute."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"You should. If you didn't have to get back to your own universe I'd say we should keep you."
"Well, you are the first universe to feed me," Steve said.
"Hey Tony," Jan called, as Tony slunk into the kitchen, looking guilty. "He followed me home and I fed him and now he won't leave."
"Don't look at me, you're responsible for walking him," Tony shot back, pouring himself a cup of lukewarm coffee as the other Steve walked in behind him.
"This is making me a little uncomfortable," the other Steve said. The fact that the cleft in his chin seemed to run all the way down to his Adam's apple was making Steve a little uncomfortable, but he didn't say anything.
"Relax, I'm working on a dimensional transducer," Tony said. "Given that we've checked you're not a Skrull and the worst thing you seem to want to do is eat Clint's food, which I'm for, by the way, this is karmic payback, I'm going to take you at your word that you're in some kind of dimensional flux. If I can pin down the details, I should be able to slingshot you home from here."
"I appreciate that," Steve said, straightening and looking him in the eye, strange as it was to see those copper eyes in Tony's face. "It doesn't...it doesn't feel like I'm getting closer."
"Well, come down to the workshop when you're done and I'll try to explain the theory to you, so that if you leap before I finish it, you can explain to the next Tony how to get it done." Tony sipped his coffee. "How does it feel to be saved by Tony Stark in every conceivable universe?"
"Don't give him the satisfaction of answering that," the Other Steve said, resting a hand heavily on the back of Tony's neck. "Jan's right, it must be hard for you. Come find me if you want to talk. Or if you don't, because that's weird, don't feel you have to."
"I'll see you in the workshop when I'm done eating," the other Steve said to Tony, who nodded and left, taking the carafe of coffee with him. The other gave them a faint smile and wandered off as well.
"He means well," Jan said.
"Well, both, really," she replied. "So you don't know me at all in your universe? What's that like?"
Steve smiled over his sandwich. "Believe me, when I get home I'll look you up. I like your style, van Dyne."
Steve spent the afternoon trying to wrap his head around the theory of the machine Tony was building for him, still upset that this universe didn't seem to be any closer to his; given everything, it seemed even further away. Eventually he stopped trying to comprehend it, and instead just started memorizing key phrases and the general drift of the technical drawings. Tony seemed pleased with how hard he was trying. He was nice, this Tony Stark, kind as his own Tony and more polite, but Steve missed his Tony more with each passing hour.
All the Avengers (so he guessed the Avengers Initiative had a pretty good chance of succeeding) were really welcoming at dinner, even the Hulk, but he was grateful that Jan had taken him under her wing, deflecting the occasional curious look and keeping the conversation light. After dinner, she and Clint challenged him and Natasha to a game of Scrabble, which devolved into storytelling about their respective universes until Steve began to yawn.
The guest room they gave him was bland but nice, and Steve had hoped he'd drop right off, but once he was in the quiet and the dark he found it hard to sleep. He wondered if the other Steve had trouble sleeping too; he wondered if the other Steve had been honest about his offer to talk. Then again, the other Steve was him, and Steve never made offers like that unless he meant them.
"JARVIS, can you show me to Steve's room?" he asked, and a light-path blinked its way along the hallway. "Thank you."
"My pleasure, Agent Rogers," JARVIS said.
"You know, we have a JARVIS too," Steve told him, as he followed the lights down the hall and up a flight of stairs. "It's reassuring to hear your voice. The last two places didn't have one. So I guess that's something."
"It's pleasant to know there are other versions of myself protecting other Tony Starks," JARVIS said.
"I know the feeling," Steve said. The lights came to an end at a door with a pair of little desk-top flags attached to it; one was the stars and stripes, the other was what Steve assumed to be the Avengers logo, an A with an arrow emerging from the crossbar. He knocked, trying to think of something not-creepy to say about this, and the door was opened --
By Tony Stark.
"Oh, I'm sorry..." Steve managed, distracted by the fact that he was apparently wearing a bathrobe and nothing else. The arc reactor lit him up blue through the thin robe. "I asked JARVIS to show me where Steve's room was, he must have misheard me."
"No, this is Steve's room," Tony said, a small grin on his face. Behind him, the other Steve loomed out of the darkness, shirtless, proving that the bulk under the uniform really hadn't been padded at all. God, his head was tiny.
"We weren't sure if we should mention it," the other Steve said, possibly misinterpreting the look on Steve's face. "Sorry to shock you. Did you need something?"
"No, I -- " Steve's chest tightened, because -- well this was the sign he was looking for, wasn't it? The sign that this was almost his universe. The first time another Steve had actually had Tony, not just wanted him, not had someone else. "I don't mean to intrude – I'm not shocked, he's mine too -- I mean, oh God, that sounds awful..."
Tony's smile crinkled his eyes. "I'm yours in your universe too, huh?"
Steve nodded, face heating.
"I'm glad to hear it. You see? A guy can get this lucky more than once," Tony said to Steve.
"It's not luck, I keep -- gah, nevermind," the other Steve said. "Steve, would you like to come in?"
"And now that I know you're likewise inclined, would you like to come in?" Tony asked, waggling his eyebrows.
"No, I ah. No, that's fine, I'll leave you to it," Steve said with a smile. "I appreciate the offer but that feels a little like infidelity."
"Well, I can't promise the other me wouldn't mind, I am the jealous type," Tony said. "But I can leave you two to your mysteries if you need to talk to the big guy."
"Honestly, I think I'm all right," Steve said.
"Well, I'll see you in the workshop in the morning, then, and we'll try to get you on the express bus to home," Tony said. Steve saw his counterpart slide a hand around Tony's waist, pulling him back and close as the door shut. He leaned against the opposite wall.
"Oh thank God," he muttered to himself.
"My apologies, Agent Rogers, Captain Rogers has monitoring off in his room and I was not aware Sir was there," JARVIS said.
"No, JARVIS, that's -- that's the best thing that could have happened to me tonight," Steve said.
Steve half-expected to slide dimensions in his sleep that night -- none of his stays had taken more than five or six hours -- but when he woke he was still in the mansion, and Tony was already in the workshop, waiting for him. Jan intercepted him on the way and handed him a tray filled with coffee mugs and muffins.
"To get your strength back before you go traveling again, and to make sure Tony's lucid before he pushes the button," she said, and kissed him on the cheek. "Good luck, Steve."
"Thank you, Jan," he said, giving her his best smile.
"Now that's a Steve Rogers matinee-idol look," she said, and pushed him gently onwards. Down in the workshop, he handed around coffee to Tony, half-buried in the transducer, and Steve, who was sitting at one of the worktables, sketching.
"I think we're all set," Tony said, extracting himself and taking a muffin from the tray, eating half of it in a single bite. "Now if you don't make it straight home, don't worry," he said, around a mouthful of crumbs. "It'll get you closer, and one or two more hops should do it. You ready to go zipping through the universe like the prettiest spinning top ever made?"
"Yeah, I guess I am," Steve said, moving to where Tony pointed, falling to parade rest.
"Got any words of wisdom, as one of the only known transdimensional tourists?" Tony asked.
Steve thought about the first Steve and Tony, longing for each other but not quite within reach, and about the second Steve, terrified he'd lost Bucky and clinging to Sam's steady imperturbability in a big, busy new world.
"You two are doing okay," he said. "Don't let him run you off," he added to Steve, who nodded. "And uh. You should do something nice for Jan. That's it, really."
"Okay. Bon voyage, shorty," Tony said, and before Steve could roll his eyes, he'd pressed the button. The now-familiar feeling of light exploding inside him was more intense this time, and Steve struggled to breathe for a few seconds before unconsciousness claimed him.
When he woke, he was home. He just knew it -- it smelled like home, and he felt at ease in his own skin for the first time in days.
He was lying on a hard metallic floor with Tony leaning over him, a worried expression on his face. When he saw Steve open his eyes, he broke into a smile.
"Don't move," he said, and Steve stayed obediently still. "Does it hurt anywhere?"
Steve ran through a checklist, the way he always did after a bad fall or a fight, when he might be high on too much adrenalin to notice pain.
"No," he said, after he'd finished.
"You know who I am?"
Steve smiled. "You're my Tony," he said.
"Well, you seem a little loopy, but essentially fine," Tony said, helping him to sit up. Yes -- this must be his world. He was back in Reed's lab, in the Baxter Building.
"I think I'm ok. How long was I gone?" Steve asked, slowly getting to his feet, wobbling as Tony helped him to a chair.
"Gone?" Tony asked. "You were out for about thirty seconds, why?"
"I...strange dreams," Steve said. The memory of them was already fading -- something about meeting another version of himself, a huge man in the Captain America uniform, and -- and other versions of Clint and Sam, and a Tony with eyes like new pennies...
"Follow my finger," Reed said, elbowing Tony aside to do a standard neurological exam. Behind him, Tony held up his middle finger, imitating him, and Steve laughed. "Steve, please."
"Sure, right," Steve said, obediently watching Reed wave his finger, looking into the penlight Reed produced, until he was pronounced probably-not-concussed and free to go.
That evening, curled up on the sofa in a nest of pillows, blankets, and Tony, Steve huddled down against Tony's chest and sighed happily, glad in a way he couldn't quite identify to be home. He hadn't even gone anywhere. He'd just had some weird dreams.
"Hey," he said sleepily, not sure why he was asking, "do we know anyone named Janet?"
"Janet?" Tony hummed thoughtfully. "Well, I know a Janet, but I don't think you've met her. Jan van Dyne?"
"Name sounds familiar."
"You'd remember her, Jan makes an impression. She's a fashion designer, she does my suits when I feel like being particularly loud and beautiful."
"That's not all the time?" Steve teased.
"You'd really like Jan. She's very artistic. Society girl, but fun to hang out with, works really hard, tells funny jokes. Makes a mean Sidecar. She'd love to dress you."
"You say that about every tailor we've ever met."
"It's because you're tiny and divine," Tony told him. Steve smiled, rubbing his cheek on the soft nap of Tony's shirt, feeling the reassuring edge of the arc reactor under it.
"Do you think there are other Tonys and Steves out there, in other universes, who are in love?" he asked.
"Mathematically, sure, if you buy the multiple-universe theories. There's probably a universe out there where you and I are both, I don't know, chefs or gangsters or something, or I'm a woman, or me and Rhodey and Pepper are all teenagers but I'm still Iron Man, or one where you're Captain America, or like, one that's totally normal except I've built an army of flying Roombas to keep the place clean."
"That got weird," Steve said.
"The point is, yes, there are probably millions of universes where I am in love with you," Tony said, kissing the top of his head. "I'm glad I live in one of them."
Steve sighed and closed his eyes. "Me too."