It's silly of him, and it's damned unprofessional, but Steve wishes he could have been the one to head out to the rendezvous point.
This had all started a week ago. The Invaders had been ordered to the Italian front—the "underbelly of the Axis," Churchill had called it—to join the push north into occupied Europe, and here they were behind German lines. They had been sent to do reconnaissance on the nearby Benedictine monastery on Monte Cassino. They'd sneaked in and found the place only haphazardly-guarded, yet full of art and artifacts—dazzling, gleaming pieces covered in gems and precious metals, artifacts that wouldn't have been out of place in any of those issues of Marvels Steve had loved as a kid. Some of them looked downright magical. Some of the pieces—paintings, statues, jewelry, antique weapons, a mystical red sphere lit from within, colorfully-glowing bits of armor—were displayed in the open; most had been crated or covered.
It had been coincidence, random chance, that had led Steve to shove the edge of his shield under the lid of one of the wooden crates. When he'd pried the lid up, blue light had danced around the room, glinting off his shield, dazzling his eyes, and he'd remembered something he hadn't thought about in months, a memory he'd tried to preserve from the horrors of war: standing outside a mansion at night with Tony Stark, Tony Stark who'd smiled the most beautiful smile Steve has ever seen, Tony Stark who'd told him about a cube he'd never found, a Cosmic Cube that glowed blue and granted wishes.
It didn't take a lot of thought to imagine what the Axis could do with something like this. He didn't want to think about it. His capacity to imagine human evil has grown much broader over the past two years.
The Cube sat placidly in its straw-filled box, glowing.
He didn't touch it.
"Torch! Toro!" he'd called, in the loudest whisper he could manage, and he'd hammered the lid back down with his shield-edge. "Grab this, pack it up, go, go, go! Get Namor! We're moving!"
Rifle in his hands, Bucky had blinked at him from behind his mask, from his position guarding the door, as the other two Invaders had come barreling in.
"Cap!" Bucky hissed, as Toro shoved past him. "What about the mission? Recon only?"
Steve slung his shield on his back and lifted the box, holding it out to the other Invaders. It was bulky—bigger than it probably needed to be, for the size of the object within—but they could handle it. "New mission. We get this out of here, run as fast as we can, and we hope to hell no one catches us."
As they'd made their way back to camp, Steve was dangerously unaware, his mind wandering. All he could think of was that night. Tony. He was a consultant, he'd said. One of Fury's special agents. He'd said if they found something strange, they should let Fury know, and Tony could be there. Tony could be here.
The Italian forest at night was as dark as it had been that night in New York, the night they met, and it was all too easy to let his mind provide a memory of Tony, stepping close to him in the shadows, smiling, murmuring an offer that Steve had spent his whole life dreaming of. Even now he still can't quite believe that it really happened.
Tony had kissed him. Tony Stark had kissed him. Tony Stark had taken him to bed.
It's been two years, and Tony's still the last person Steve's slept with. There's not a lot of opportunities for companionship for Captain America, who has an image to maintain, true enough—but there have been a few opportunities, and every time they've come up Steve can only think of Tony's bright blue eyes and his smile in the darkness and the way he'd curled around Steve, afterward. The way he'd looked at him. Like Steve mattered to him.
They haven't talked since then. What was Steve supposed to say? It's presumptuous to think that Tony Stark of Marvels, the man who could have anything and anyone he wanted, would want more from Steve than he'd already had. Besides, any attempt at writing his true feelings would get him censored and court-martialed. So he's never written. He's never contacted Tony. Until now.
That night, they got the Cube back to camp, and Steve broke out the radio to contact HQ. He didn't explain the meaning of the message to the team; he'd kept it secret even from Bucky this whole time, even up through getting the confirmation. He hadn't told anyone until yesterday, when he'd needed to send someone to actually make the pick-up. And even then he'd only told Namor who Namor would be be picking up, and nothing of the reason.
It makes sense to send Namor. If Marvels is to be believed—and Namor concurred on this point—Tony and Namor have met. (Namor sounded a little displeased at the idea of meeting him again.) He'll be recognizable. Hell, Steve thinks, more than a little out of sorts, Namor's spent more time with Tony than he has. After all, Steve's spent less than two hours with the man, and most of it was in bed.
What if Tony never meant it when he offered his expertise? What if Tony wants nothing to do with him? What if he's awful to Steve? What if this will be the most awkward thing he's ever done in his life? He's had a week to ponder that. A week of second guesses. Still, Tony is the expert on the Cosmic Cube, he's sure; he's done the right thing for the mission. His personal feelings—their personal feelings—shouldn't matter.
And now he's standing here, looking out over the ridge, waiting for them to come back, and he still wishes it had been him who'd gone.
It would have meant a day alone with Tony. Shut up, he tells his overeager, lecherous thoughts. It only happened once. It's not going to happen again, no matter how much he wants it. Even if... even if Tony still wants him too, it would be a ridiculously bad idea. A great way to get a blue ticket.
He and Bucky have the watch, here on this chilly December afternoon, and Bucky wanders up next to him, lifts his domino mask to scratch at the skin underneath, and grins. "So, Cap," he begins. "You going to fill the rest of us in on the plan here? Gonna tell us why Namor's taking a vacation?"
Steve supposes that from Bucky's point of view the situation is inexplicable; they've been here for a week, here behind the Winter Line, which is longer than the Invaders usually bother staying in one place, especially in occupied territory, all because he hasn't wanted to risk shifting the Cube. They're still a little too close to the monastery for Steve's liking—the monastery that is still occupied by what are most likely Hydra personnel—but he doesn't want to move the Cube any more than he has to. He doesn't know if moving it can set it off, if it can be set off, and he really doesn't want to find out. Tony will know.
He hopes they can be professional. Do their jobs. Even if Tony doesn't want him.
What if Tony does?
He shuts his eyes. He can't think about that.
He looks up and smiles at Bucky. Bucky's going to have to know what's happening anyway, soon enough; they're all going to find out, when Namor and Tony get here. So he swallows hard and nods. Time for the truth. A redacted version of it.
"The artifact in the box is called a Cosmic Cube. I happen to have a... friend... with special expertise in the area, and I've called him in to consult. Namor's retrieving him from the rendezvous point. Hopefully he can tell us if the Cube is safe to move and how to handle it. I didn't want to—" get anyone's hopes up, he nearly says, and he bites his tongue. "I wasn't sure he would be available. He's a busy man. But it seems he can spare some time for us after all."
Bucky raises his eyebrows. "A civilian friend?"
Steve nods, and he can see Bucky frowning, running through the names of all the people Steve has told him about from his past life—they've shared a lot with each other, because sometimes there's nothing to do in war but talk—and Steve knows he can't match that description to anyone Steve has ever talked about.
He hasn't exactly mentioned to anyone what he did the night before he shipped out.
Steve takes a deep breath. "Tony Stark."
Wide-eyed, Bucky's staring at him like Steve's said he's gotten Glenn Miller and his Army Air Force Band to come play for them—which, Steve thinks, would probably be more likely than what he has actually managed to arrange, because there are celebrities and then there are celebrities, and Tony Stark is the latter.
"You're pulling my leg, right?" Bucky asks. His voice has gone high, cracking with excitement, and even though he's eighteen now and the Invaders' sniper, someone who's seen more than anyone his age should, suddenly he seems very, very young, like the excited kid he'd been when the Army had assigned him to Steve. "Tony Stark? Really? Tony Stark, who used to be in Marvels magazine? Not some other fella?"
"Tony Stark from Marvels," Steve confirms, and Bucky whistles in admiration. "No joke, Buck, I swear. You meet a lot of interesting people when you're Captain America."
"I'll say," Bucky says, and Steve wonders how that stacks up against the time he met the president and was presented with the vibranium shield. Bucky looks possibly even more impressed at the idea of Steve knowing Tony Stark. "You never mentioned before that you knew him." His tone is a little accusatory; as far as he knows, it's a great story and Steve has no reason to keep it a secret.
Steve shrugs awkwardly and feels the shield shift on his back as he does so. "I don't know him that well at all. I met him at a party once, right before I shipped out. We... we got on pretty good." That's one word for it, Rogers. "He said I should call him if I needed him, if I found something that looked like it belonged in Marvels. So I'm calling him."
He's not thinking about the other ways he needs Tony, he tells himself. He isn't.
Bucky is still wide-eyed. "Imagine that. Tony Stark owing you some kind of favor."
Something in Steve's gut recoils to think of it as a favor, even though the full story could easily be interpreted that way. But he hadn't slept with Tony because he'd wanted something from him—heck, Tony had been the one who'd offered. He'd just— he'd wanted him for his entire life, one of those daydreams he never thought could come true, and then Tony Stark, star of his fantasies for years, had held out his hand, and how was Steve supposed to say no to that? He's only human.
"Yeah," Steve echoes, dully. "Imagine that."
The rifle rattles on his back as Bucky practically bounces on his toes. "Hey, you think he'd sign a copy of Marvels for me? Did he sign one for you?"
"No, he didn't," Steve lies. "But I bet he'd sign one for you if you asked him. When he's not busy, though." He makes the admonishment a little sterner than it should be.
He knows he's a lousy liar. He hopes Bucky doesn't suspect anything. About anything.
Steve's autographed copy of Marvels, creased and folded, worn from hours spent rereading it, is in the bottom of his pack. Tony's autograph itself is innocuous enough, but he'd signed it right below the picture Steve drew of him, and Steve can't shake the feeling that anyone who looks at the drawing will know what he feels for Tony, just from the way he's drawn him, from the care he took with it. When he looks at it, he pictures Tony signing the page, setting the magazine down, and stepping into his arms for one last kiss—
"Keen! Right, Cap, I got it. I won't bother him. He's just a regular joe." Bucky rocks back and forth on his heels in barely-suppressed excitement, and then entirely contradicts the sentiment of his last sentence with more breathless anticipation. "How is he? What's he like?"
He's a great kisser, Steve doesn't say.
Steve tugs at one of the wings on his head and straightens his cowl. His throat is dry. "He's—" he coughs. "He's swell."
Luckily for him, Bucky is too caught up in the news to register any of Steve's discomfort. "Say," he says, "you mind if I go tell Torch and Toro the news? Boy, Toro'll be over the moon!"
Officially, Bucky's supposed to be on watch with him until they swap shifts with Hammond and Raymond—Torch and Toro—but in practice, Steve can cover it alone. Those enhanced super-soldier senses are good for something. And he wants to be by himself, right now. He's got a lot to think about.
He shouldn't be thinking about it, he tells himself. Nothing's going to happen.
"Yeah," he says, a little hoarse. "Yeah, go tell 'em, Buck. You've got my permission."
"Thanks, Cap," Bucky says, and then there's the sound of footsteps pounding away from him as Bucky turns and heads down the wooded slope to the bottom of the little valley where their camp lies. Steve knows if he turned back he'd just barely be able to see the little mass of tents—his and Bucky's, Torch's and Toro's, Namor's, and then the equipment tent, because they carry slightly more gear than most parties, and Steve's metabolism calls for more food. It's not like Steve can't lift it. So they're carrying Fury's special equipment. Prototypes of various things. Newer radios. This week they've got the Cube there too, in its box, under a tarp, just like everything else. Inconspicuous. He hopes so, anyway.
Steve turns back the other way, looking out at the ridge and the forest beyond, in the opposite direction from Cassino—the way Namor went, yesterday morning.
He sucks in a breath. The air is cold in his lungs.
He can't call him Tony.
Mr. Stark, he rehearses in his head. Agent Stark. Glad you could join us, Agent Stark. Steve is an officer. He's a captain in the United States Army. He has his duty. This is going to be professional. He can do this.
Agent Stark, he repeats to himself. They're colleagues. Mr. Stark is one of General Fury's civilian consultants. They will have a professional relationship.
Steve will be polite, and he will be cordial, and he will not think about how Tony's mouth tasted, and he will not think about how Tony's knowing hands slid down his body—
Steve shuts his eyes briefly and bites out an obscenity.
When he opens his eyes again there are two figures moving through the trees toward him, and Steve's heart pounds in his chest. The first is Namor, of course, and the second—
It's Tony Stark.
"Password?" Steve manages to call out, and he has one hand back on his shield, even though he knows full well who it is. There is something to be said for the familiarity of protocol. His voice doesn't even sound like his; it echoes too much in his head.
As they slowly move closer—both of them are wearing very bulky packs—Namor rolls his eyes, like the idea of signs and countersigns is something that Steve has come up with personally to inconvenience him. Steve can't bring himself to hate the man, though; he's good to have in a fight, and he has connections in the strangest of places. The ears are still a little odd though, he has to admit.
"Liberty," Namor says, sounding bored.
Steve nods. "Justice."
He can do this. He lets his gaze fall on the man next to Namor, the man who's just a little shorter than him, the man standing there with one hand bracing the strap of his pack, the man regarding him silently with deep blue eyes.
His first thought is that Tony looks good. Tony's dressed for the weather in a mix of civilian and military gear; there are no rank markings anywhere on his heavy Army-issue coat, not that Steve expects to find them. He lets his gaze settle on Tony's face; Tony looks a little older, a little more careworn, and there's a light scar by his ear that he didn't have two years ago. But he has the same immaculately-groomed Van Dyke framing his mouth, and his wide eyes take in Steve and his colorful Captain America uniform with equanimity.
Tony's not quite smiling.
Steve tries not to take it personally, and he holds out a hand. "Welcome, Agent Stark," he says, crisply, authoritatively, the way he's been rehearsing it. "It's good to have you with us."
Tony takes his hand off of his pack and takes Steve's hand in a firm grip—not that Steve can feel anything other than the pressure of it through his gloves. "Captain Rogers," Tony returns. His voice is cool and professional, and Steve tries to suppress the rush of excitement at the fact that Tony Stark knows his name, because it wasn't as if Steve had mentioned his last name when they'd met. "Likewise. It's good to be here."
Tony's still holding his hand, and then something in his gaze flares to life, something warm and friendly. And he smiles and it's that smile, the one that's haunted Steve's dreams for two years. The way Tony looked that night, when he wanted him.
Steve is dimly aware of chatter and pounding footsteps behind him—Torch, Toro, and Bucky coming up the hill—but then Tony pulls him close, pulls him into an embrace. Steve's arms go around him, reciprocally, and he can't focus on anything except the feel of Tony's body pressed against his.
Tony's breath is warm against his ear as he leans in and his voice is dark, husky, the kind of voice he really shouldn't be using in public. "Come on," he whispers, low and coaxing. "Don't be a stranger. I've missed you, Steve."
He tightens his grip on Tony briefly as he goes weak in the knees. It shouldn't affect him like this—nothing should affect him like this—but it's Tony Stark and he's right here and he says he's missed him and—well, this may not be exactly what Steve's dreams about Tony Stark used to be like, but it's what they've been for the past two years.
"I've missed you too, Tony," Steve murmurs, pitched—he hopes—so that only Tony can hear him.
"Wow," comes Bucky's awed voice, from somewhere behind him. "You really weren't kidding when you said you knew Tony Stark, Cap!"
Steve steps away and Tony draws back and he's smiling, he's really smiling, but as he turns to Bucky, his face shifts. He's still smiling, but the smile is different. Polite. Practiced. It's dazzling, all right, but it's not real like the one he'd saved for Steve. It's convincing, though; Steve wouldn't have known if he hadn't seen the first one. There's something different about his eyes, something a little more restrained.
Steve hopes no one notices.
The consummate showman, Tony spreads his hands wide. "Now, really," he says, with that charming grin, "would Captain America have lied to you?"
It seems strange to hear Tony talking about him like he's the famous one now, like Captain America is someone everyone knows everything about. Of course, he is famous, he knows he is—but it's not like he's had a lot of time on leave to meet the public, or to do anything more than very occasionally see his own newsreels from the back of a crowded theater. "Private Rogers" still has a cover to maintain, after all.
He's not sure he can get used to being as famous as Tony Stark.
Bucky has no ready reply for Tony's question; of course Captain America doesn't lie.
Captain America doesn't lie, but Steve Rogers is concealing a few facts.
Steve clears his throat. "Right. How about we move back to camp for the rest of the introductions?" Someone has to stand watch, though, and he supposes that should really be him. "Invaders, if you'll show Mr. Stark down the hillside—"
Bucky nods, and the rest of the group begins picking their way down the slope.
"I can take the watch, if you want to join them," Namor says, in another one of those long-suffering tones. He has several. This one is mostly annoyance. "I've seen more than enough of him since yesterday. You're welcome to him." He unslings his pack and holds it out. "Here. It's mostly Stark's gear."
Steve tries and fails to suppress his excitement at the offer, as he takes the pack, hoisting it over his shield. "Thanks, Namor."
"Have a good time," Namor says, as Steve heads down the hill after the group, and Steve's pretty sure Namor doesn't actually mean it, but he doesn't care, because Tony's here.
Tony's here and Tony likes him back and this is going to be incredibly awkward. They can't do anything. They shouldn't do anything, anyway. But Steve thinks about Tony smiling at him, about Tony's voice in his ear, and he's not sure he cares.
By the time Steve gets down the hill, Tony's in the middle of the little clearing in between all of the tents, and the other Invaders are gathered around as Tony tries to work out what to call them. It's not as easy at it looks.
"So," he says, turning to Bucky, "James Barnes, huh? Jim? Jimmy?" Tony's clearly been given files on them, but that will only get you so far with the Invaders. It won't even get you as far as their names.
Bucky shakes his head and grins. "Bucky."
Steve watches Tony mouth Bucky? to himself.
"His middle name's Buchanan," Toro says, slyly, like it's a taunt. "His parents were feeling all presidential, we bet. And you'll never guess my name, Mr. Stark." He's bright-eyed, eager.
God, they're kids, aren't they? Fury gave him kids to take to war. They're all grown-up now—it's war, and they couldn't not be—but sometimes Steve looks at them and really feels it, even though he knows he's only five years older than either of them.
Tony rubs at his chin in thought. "You're Thomas Raymond, but from the way you've said that I'm guessing you aren't a Tom or a Tommy."
"Toro," he says, and Tony throws his hands in the air and starts laughing in disbelief.
"Please," he says, imploring, to the man next to Toro. "Tell me you have a regular nickname."
Steve puts his hand over his mouth to hide the grin.
"It's Jim," Torch says. "Jim Hammond, but—"
"We call him the Human Torch!" Toro interjects, proudly. "Just Torch, usually."
Torch looks away for a bit, and Steve knows he doesn't want to retell the entire story. Still, he can't have hated the incident that much; he's never seemed to mind the name at all. "I— I set myself on fire once."
Tony blinks. "You're the demolitions expert, aren't you?"
"Well," Torch says, shaking blond hair out of his eyes, "I didn't explode, did I?"
And Toro, of course, is grinning at Torch like he thinks the world of him no matter what, because he always does, and Tony's brows are furrowed like he thinks this is some kind of elaborate joke, and that's when he spots Steve.
Steve can tell when Tony sees him, because Tony just lights up. Like a theater marquee.
"Steve!" Tony says, and then he pauses. "I can actually call you Steve, right? You don't have some bizarre nickname that I'll never guess?"
"You can actually call me Steve," Steve acknowledges, giving him the permission that he's already had, and Tony just beams at him again, and God, someone's going to notice. "Pretty sure you know my bizarre nickname already."
Tony meets his eyes, and his gaze is dark, intense. "The whole world knows you, Captain America."
Steve looks away; he doesn't quite know how to take the sheer depth of feeling in Tony's eyes. They barely know each other, but it definitely seems like Tony hasn't forgotten about him in the intervening years either.
"Here," he says, awkwardly, for lack of anything else to do, and he's holding out Tony's pack. "I brought you your gear. From Namor."
"Thanks," Tony says, "but it would actually be more useful if you put it with the Cube—that pack is all books and scientific equipment."
Oh. Right. The Cube. The reason Tony came here. Steve feels like kicking himself. Just because he—still—has a crush on Tony is no excuse to be an idiot about it.
"You probably want to see the Cube, don't you?" Steve asks, a little sheepish. "Do you need food first? We've got... well, rations." He almost mentions that he saved Tony his chocolate bar, but he wonders if that's a little too much. Even though he actually did.
Tony grins at him, and Steve goes all funny and wobbly, just looking at him. "I'm fine. Not hungry. Might as well get to work. I've only wanted to see a real Cosmic Cube for thirteen years, after all."
"Right." Steve clears his throat. "Invaders, leave Mr. Stark to it. Bucky, technically it's still your watch. Torch, Toro—"
"Cleaning the guns," Torch says, cheerfully enough.
Steve nods. "Okay. I'll just—"
Tony's fingers snake around Steve's arm, and Steve nearly yelps in surprise. "You'll come with me, Cap," he says. "You need to tell me all about how you found this thing, anyway."
It's a good excuse, he thinks, and he smiles back at Tony.
Steve pulls back the lid on the crate and watches the eerie blue light reflect in Tony's eyes and cast shadows on the angles of his face. Tony's gaze is avid. His lips are slightly parted, and all his considerable focus is trained on the object in the box. He's amazing to watch, like this; Steve has wondered his entire life what it would be like to really see Tony at work. There had been illustrations in Marvels of course, ranging from pen-and-ink to actual photography, but none of them captured the life in Tony, not like this.
It's a close fit, the two of them in the tent with all the gear, but Steve doesn't care. In fact, he's enjoying it.
Crouched in front of the crate, Tony inhales, a slow shaking breath. "Wow," he says. His voice is hushed, almost reverent. "That's... that's really something, Cap."
He's done this, part of Steve tells himself, brimming with a sense of pride that the rest of him knows is unseemly. He's brought Tony this. He's made him this happy.
Steve carefully removes the lid entirely and lets it drop to the ground, leaning it against the side of the crate. "Is that it?" His own voice sounds far too nervous, unsure. "Is that a Cosmic Cube?"
Tony is smiling, enthralled. "I'll need to run a few tests to be absolutely sure, but yeah. Yeah. Nothing else in the world could look like that." His gaze is still fixed on the Cube. "I can hardly believe you found it. How the hell did you find it?" He doesn't sound accusing, just... admiring. Like he can't believe his good fortune.
Steve shrugs. "You were briefed on the mission, yes?" Tony nods, but Steve continues anyway. "So there we were, doing recon on the monastery over there, Monte Cassino, and there's this room, big room, down a flight of stairs, and it's where everything was. Art. Artifacts. Our best guess had been that they were packing up... items of cultural importance, but then there were a few things there that seemed more like your Marvels specialties. A glowing red stone. That kind of thing."
"A Bloodstone?" Tony murmurs, and there's a jolt of surprise there. He meets Steve's eyes and then waves his hand. "No, no, go on."
"There's not really much to tell," Steve says, feeling a little awkward. "There were a bunch of crates. I can't really say why I picked this one. It was on the top of one of the stacks in the middle of the room. I just... opened it up. And there it was. This cube. And I remembered what you said to me about a Cosmic Cube, and I thought, well, maybe this was it."
Tony's reaching out a hesitant hand to the Cube like he wants more than anything to touch it but doesn't dare. "You remembered me telling you about the one that got away, huh?"
"Tony," Steve says, low-voiced. He uses the man's name deliberately and Tony's eyes snap up to meet his. Tony drops his hand. Tony's eyes are wide, but there's a little strain there. Nerves, maybe. What does Tony have to be afraid of? "You really think there's a chance I could forget anything about that night?"
Tony's silent for long moments, and Steve watches his mouth shape the words, the barest whisper. "I can't either." Steve realizes this is the real Tony Stark, the man behind the glamour. He's showing him himself like he can't help it, and he's maybe a little frightened that he can't.
It was only one night. They're practically strangers.
Steve wonders how in the world they could do this to each other. This shouldn't mean anywhere near as much as it feels like, and yet it does. For both of them.
One breath, another, and then Tony seems to pull himself together. He sits back on his heels, his spine a little straighter. "Okay," he says. His voice is crisp, brisk. "Okay. Right. Business."
Steve nods. "All right. So what does the Cosmic Cube do, exactly? Assuming this is it."
Tony's eyes slide over to his. His gaze is bright, eager, like a professor about to explain his theories. "If you want to know exactly what this does, ask me after I've had some time to study it. The legends attribute a lot of things to the Cosmic Cube, but it's impossible to know which of the stories are true, or even close to the truth. I will say, though, that if it's even a quarter as powerful as the stories say, it's a good thing you rescued it. Because the legends say it can do anything."
"Anything," Tony repeats, firmly. "Infinite power. Infinite energy. You just... hold it in your hand, and make a wish."
Steve resolves never to touch it. "But that can't be true, right?"
Tony gives a little shrug. "Obviously there have to be some practical limits; it can't be truly infinite. But in the hands of someone malicious—it gets even worse than that."
Steve can't even conceive of something worse than infinite power in the hands of the Axis. "How can it be worse?"
"Subjectively worse, I suppose." Tony's gaze is fixed on the Cube. "There are stories of people trapped in the Cube, imprisoned in fantasies of the wielder's choosing. I always thought those ones sounded particularly horrific."
Steve shudders. That's— God, that's such an awful thought, to be trapped inside something like that for years, decades, while life moves on outside. "Are there— what if there are people trapped in there now?"
What if he touches it? What if he brushes up against it and is sucked in and no one can find him? Worse, what if one of the other Invaders does?
Tony's hand settles on Steve's shoulder, bracing him. "If there are, I'm hoping that investigating the Cube will reveal a way to get them out. But there's also a chance that the Cube doesn't do that at all and it's merely an infinite power source." Tony's thumb rubs in a circle over Steve's collarbone. It's a friendly touch, and he's grateful for it.
"'Merely,'" Steve mutters, and Tony squeezes his shoulder a little harder.
"Better one of those things than all of those things, right?" Tony's smile is a little bleak. "Like I said, I can't know without getting a look at it how much of the stories are true. The story about it as a prison only occurs rarely, in comparison to the number of times it's been referenced for its power. Might be it got mixed up with something else. That happens in this sort of thing all the time. Folktales are messy like that." His grin is a bit wider now, thank God. "Trust me, Cap, I'm an expert."
"I trust you," Steve says, because of course he does; how can he not trust Tony Stark?
"Well, good." Another smile.
Tony's hand slides from Steve's shoulder up to his neck, then his face. Tony is cupping his jaw, his fingers stroking lightly over the exposed bit of his chin that is the only thing Steve's cowl doesn't cover. Steve shudders. He feels like he's dreaming, like everything's unreal, as he tilts his head back, baring his throat to Tony, and Tony's eyes go dark.
Steve draws a shuddering breath and with difficulty, drags his gaze away from Tony to the world past the tent flap. There's no one visible outside, but any of the Invaders could walk by at any second. He's just lucky they haven't.
"Tony," he begins, with reproach in his voice that he really doesn't want to have to put there, and Tony nods and drops his hand.
"Right," Tony says, and his gaze is a little rueful. "I'm usually better than this, I swear. I didn't know it was going to be like this. It's just so hard to think about anything else when you're right here—"
"I know," Steve says, fervently, because does he ever.
Tony smiles again. "Look. Tonight, okay? You go do whatever you have to do, and I'll start my analysis, and then later we'll—" He stops, like he doesn't know what words to commit to.
Maybe they don't need words.
"We will," Steve agrees, smiling, and Tony smiles back.
He leaves Tony bent over the Cube with various gadgets spread out on the floor of the tent next to musty books in a language Tony says is Old High German, and he takes his half of the watch back from Namor. Steve hopes no one nefarious stumbles across their camp, because right now he's honestly not much good for thinking about anything except Tony.
Bucky comes up next to him in the twilight.
"He's really just like in the magazines, isn't he?" Bucky asks, and there's no need to specify who they're talking about.
Steve manages to suppress a noise that wants to be a dreamy sigh; it comes out as a yawn. "He is."
"You think he'll be here long, Cap?"
A pang of sadness runs through Steve at the thought of not seeing Tony again for maybe months—maybe years—maybe ever—but he knows the truth. "Not more than a couple days, Buck. He's a busy fella, like I said. He's just here to see if the Cube can be safely moved back to HQ, and then if it can, he moves it. A couple of us might have to help him; it depends."
"Dibs," Bucky says instantly, and Steve laughs.
"I'll think about it."
"Aww, c'mon, Cap." There's a bit of a whine in Bucky's voice. "I didn't get to go to the rendezvous; at least let me help on the way back."
He tamps down on the entirely inappropriate feeling of possessiveness. Tony is his own person, and they both have their duties, even if Tony also wants— even if they both want—
Steve swallows hard and is glad it's dark enough that Bucky can't see him that well.
"Like I said," he repeats, "I'll think about it. Say," he adds, changing the subject as gracefully as he can possibly manage, "if Mr. Stark's not busy tonight you might get him to sign something. Coax a tale or two out of him."
Steve can see better in the darkness than most people, of course, and Bucky's grin is practically blinding. "Gosh, wow! I'll have to find that issue of Marvels after all." He pauses. "But you don't have anything for him to sign, Cap. That's not fair."
"I'll be fine." He bites back the half-embarrassed grin that keeps trying to spread all over his face.
When they come back in as the watch changes, Steve isn't really surprised to find that Namor and Toro have swapped, so that Toro has the free time to spend sitting at Tony's side. They've got a little fire going—albeit one heavily shielded by the forest, and it's cloudy enough that no one's going to pick them up from the air—and Tony is sitting next to the fire, holding out his bare hands for warmth, grinning and telling some ridiculous story.
"Any luck with the Cube, then?" Steve asks, and Tony looks up and brightens.
"Cap!" he says, grinning. "Sure, yeah, I've made some progress. It's a Cosmic Cube, that much is certain, and it should be safe to move if no one touches it directly. I'd like to spend tomorrow getting some more measurements, and then the morning after I can pack it up and be out of your hair." He doesn't look anywhere near as sad as Steve feels at the prospect of leaving, but his face is carefully composed; maybe he's just better at hiding it.
"We're willing to escort you, of course," Steve says. "I've been told to give you anything you require." He's pretty sure no one else notices the amused glint in Tony's eye at that statement. "Let me know."
Tony smiles. "Oh, I will," he says. His voice is a little lower, but not so that anyone else would notice the entirely different conversation they are also having here.
"So," Steve asks, "care to brief the rest of the team on the Cube? I'll relay it to Torch and Namor in the morning, or you can."
Tony's nod is businesslike. "Of course," he says, and he launches into the same explanation he'd given Steve, about the potential powers of the Cube. He says this time that he doesn't think anyone's trapped in it, when he says that they should avoid touching it. At the end of the speech, Toro raises a hand, and Tony nods at him to ask.
"Mr. Stark," Toro says, "when we found the Cube, it was crated with other valuables. In your opinion, did they know what they had?"
Frowning, Tony rubs at his chin, and it's a long time before he answers. "In my opinion," he says, finally, "they must not have known. Maybe they didn't think the Cosmic Cube was anything but legend." He shuts his eyes briefly, and opens them again; his gaze is haunted. "I hope to God they never find out what they had."
"You think they didn't know," Steve says, thinking aloud, "because if they had known, they would have used it."
Tony's response is a sad sigh. "Yeah. And if they knew but hadn't used it, they'd be after us now, which they don't seem to be. Unless they don't realize yet what's gone." He looks a little rueful. "In which case I at least am severely underpowered for any possible recovery team they might send. Should have brought the armor."
Bucky shifts position on the log next to the fire. "How come you didn't?"
"Didn't want to draw attention to your team," Tony says, with more than a trace of regret in his voice. "The suit's big. Not exactly inconspicuous. I need a full team of my own to haul the crate and help me get ready. Suiting up and getting fully-loaded for battle is not a one-man job. Plus, the current Iron Man armor only has enough power for a couple hours at most, especially if the new flight capability is involved. I was instructed to pack light, get here, get the Cube, and get out. Fast. Discreet. I love the suit, but it's not exactly compatible with 'fast.' Not like that."
"Oh." Bucky hangs his head.
"Hey," Tony says, low, encouraging. "Hey, no, it was a fair question. I'll admit that Marvels might have made the suit look a little more impressive than it is, in certain respects. A bit of artistic license."
Bucky picks his head up, heartened, and Toro now is the one looking enthralled. "It flies, though?" Toro asks.
"Yeah, it does." Tony's voice is brimming with pride. "That's new, the flight, since Marvels shut down. Still has a few kinks I need to work out, but it actually flies."
"Wow," Toro says. "That's keen! I always wondered how come you couldn't fly, when I read that issue where you fought MODOK, and he could fly—"
Now that Steve's watching it, he can see the mask slide over Tony's face. It's nothing so obvious perhaps as the Iron Man helmet, but it is undoubtedly a mask: the daring adventurer, brave and fearless. It's clear that it's a mask Tony's comfortable wearing, but it's concealing nonetheless. It's the man he'd expected to meet, when he'd told Janet Van Dyne he'd like to get a chance to talk to Tony Stark from Marvels. He'd expected the stories, the patter, the showmanship. He's not really sure how it happened, but instead he got the real man behind the stories: still brave, still determined, but tired and a little rough-edged, wound up tight from the battlefield. Better than the man from the stories, by far. And, incredibly, Tony, the real Tony, had liked him. Tony still likes him. That's the best part.
"Aww, well," Tony says, with a tinge of self-effacement in his tone, "MODOK couldn't really fly! He could only sort of hover. And mind you, he couldn't do either of those things after I was done with him!" He laughs, inordinately pleased with himself.
And he's off, bright-eyed, gesturing enthusiastically, retelling the story of his battle against MODOK. It's a good story, and Tony is, as one might have expected, an excellent storyteller, with a manner about him that could draw in a crowd; even though Steve's read the issue more times than he can count, watching him tell it is an entirely new experience.
When Tony gets to the end of the story, Bucky and Toro have produced battered old Marvels issues, and are offering them hesitantly to Tony, pencils in hand. Toro's is even the issue about MODOK, and Tony laughs again to see it. He scrawls an inscription and his name across Toro's copy, and then turns to Bucky's—Bucky has the issue about the Bloodstone—and repeats the process.
Bucky bounces over to Steve and shows him the inscription, barely visible in smeary pencil in the flickering firelight. To Bucky, keep your powder dry. —Tony Stark. The signature trails across the page with a bold flourish.
"That's great!" Steve tells him, because he knows just how exciting it is to meet Tony Stark for the first time.
Tony braces himself on the log and looks up, meeting Steve's eyes with an almost devilish grin. "How about you, Captain? Got anything you need me to put my mark on?"
Only my entire body. The thought is both instant and entirely inappropriate, and from the look in Tony's eyes, he knows Tony knows exactly what he's thinking.
"Not right now," Steve manages to say, "but thank you." He clears his throat. "Anyway, we should all probably turn in for the night. I can help you set up your tent if you'd like...?"
This is the tricky part, the offer. He hopes Tony will know what that means; Tony has to, doesn't he? And then they have to hope that Bucky won't notice when Steve comes to bed a little later than usual, not that they won't be as fast as they can anyway. It's not exactly the romance Steve's been dreaming of, but it's all they've got.
Tony coughs and looks away. "Actually, I, uh. Didn't pack a tent. I needed the space for gear, and the bedroll was bulky enough. I can always sleep in the equipment tent, out with the Cube."
It'll be little harder to convincingly arrange, Steve judges, and there's a lot less room there than even the regular tents—which are not exactly large to begin with—and the thought of either of them—of anyone—being next to the Cube for extended periods of time gives Steve the willies. But, well, if he has to, then he has to. "Want me to help clear you a space in the tent, then?"
"Aww, Cap, come on!" Bucky interrupts them. "You can't let Tony Stark squeeze into the equipment tent! Here, Cap's and my tent is the nicest, Mr. Stark. If I swap with you, and you share with him, then you'll get a bit more space and I can bunk down with the radio. I'm a little guy anyway. I'll fit way easier than you would."
Tony blinks a few times and Steve forces his face into something that he hopes is an expression of easy, uncomplicated generosity, because, dear God, if Bucky had any idea what he was helping facilitate—
"That'd be great, thanks," Tony says, finally smiling, and he looks up at Steve. "Only if the captain's all right with it, though...?" He lets the sentence trail off into a question. He's waiting for an invitation.
Tony's mouth is slightly parted. His eyes have gone dark, as dark as the night, and he licks his lips. Steve knows what Tony's thinking about now, and he knows it's the same thing that he is.
Steve smiles back. "I would be more than fine with it."
They don't waste any time.
In the tent, Tony lays his bedroll out next to Steve's and looks up at him. Steve's sitting on his own bedroll. They're inches apart. Tony says nothing, but Steve can hear his breathing speed up. Tony's stripped off his gloves and coat, and is sitting there, cross-legged, shivering a little in the night air.
The beam of Tony's flashlight, lying on the ground at the head of the bedrolls, casts long, drawn-out shadows on Tony's face, and the shadow of his body stretches out along the canvas of the side of the tent. Steve's shield, sitting as always within arm's reach, reflects the light and shines back at him, red, white and blue. It's almost eerie, a distortion of reality. Excitement knots up Steve's stomach and he realizes he's licking his lips. Tony grins at him, raises an eyebrow, and silently reaches out to flick the flashlight off with his thumb. The tent is plunged into darkness.
It's not too dark for Steve to see, but it is too dark for Tony, and Tony fumbles heading for him, a little awkward, stripping his cowl off for him, kissing him on the jaw, on the cheekbone, before their mouths finally meet and Tony surges against him in renewed confidence. Tony licks into Steve's mouth, hot and wet and real, better than all Steve's memories, because he's finally here, he's finally here again. Steve moans—he can't help it—and Tony groans low in response, dragging them closer together.
When Tony pulls his mouth away he drops kisses on Steve's jaw again and then leans in, burying his face against Steve's neck; his beard scratches at Steve's throat.
"God," Tony breathes, a shivery exhalation of warm air against Steve's skin. "I've missed you, Steve, have I ever missed you."
"I know," Steve murmurs. "I know. I've missed you too."
Tony kisses his way up Steve's throat. His hands are working at Steve's belt and in the back of his mind Steve wishes it didn't have to be like this. He wishes they had all the time in the world, an unhurried stretch of time to explore each other. But this is all they have: furtive, rushed fumbling in the night. He'll take it. It's the only thing they've got.
Tony pulls his head back, and his mouth parts in a grin; his teeth are white. His eyes are wide and dark with need. "Haven't found anyone you liked better in the meantime, huh?"
It's clearly meant to be a joke, or at least half a joke, but Steve answers it honestly. "Haven't found anyone else since you," he murmurs, and he watches as Tony's eyes go wider. "Haven't even wanted to look."
"Oh," Tony says, very softly. His mouth is slack with surprise, like he never expected that, and Steve leans in and kisses the corner of his lips.
Even though he's only had his own right hand for company, Steve's gotten a little better at holding in check some of the more embarrassing physical responsiveness of the serum. Still, it's a near thing not to come immediately as soon as Tony manages to unfasten his pants for him and work one clever hand around Steve's cock. Steve practically whimpers because, God, it's so good, Tony's right here and Tony's touching him and he already knows he's not going to last.
Mindful of the need to keep quiet, he leans in and seeks out Tony's mouth, trying to stifle all the noise he wants to make against Tony's lips. After a few kisses, a few long easy strokes of Tony's fingers on his cock, Tony pauses and draws back.
"You're lovely," Tony whispers, the words honest and raw. "I feel like I'd forgotten just how good this was. Christ, I wish I could take you to bed, a real bed again. Wish I could see you properly. There's so much I want to do with you."
"Mmm," Steve manages, and after a few shaking breaths he manages not to come at the mere idea that Tony has been thinking about this, that Tony wants more from him. "Tell me more?"
"Well," Tony says, and he knows Tony's smiling from the little quiver in his voice. "Of things we haven't tried, I'd really like you to fuck me."
Oh, God. "I'd like that," Steve agrees—the words feel like an understatement, like nothing can express the roaring desire within him—and he takes a few more steadying breaths.
Tony's fingers are sliding along Steve's cock again, squeezing tight, just exactly in the right place, and that combined with the thought of it—Tony spread out before him, him pressing into Tony, the way he had barely dared to do with his fingers—Steve's going to come in about ten seconds if Tony keeps that up. He feels heat gather and coil, low within him.
Steve doesn't want to come before he at least gets his hands on Tony. He draws back, yanks one glove off with his teeth, undoes most of the buttons on Tony's shirt with single-minded efficiency, then puts his bare palm against Tony's chest, feeling the rigid metal of the repulsor pump underneath his fingertips. Tony gasps and arches into the touch as Steve trails his fingers down Tony's stomach. He fumbles a little with Tony's trousers and then grins triumphantly as Tony's cock slides into his hand, hard, slick with pre-come; Tony is close already. Good.
Tony moans, nearly full-voiced, the sound far too loud in the silence. "Fuck, Steve—"
"Shh," Steve says, because the one thing they actually need here is not to get caught. "Quiet."
He puts his other hand, glove and all, across Tony's mouth, and Tony groans out something inarticulate against Steve's hand and thrusts harder into his fist, like he likes the idea of Steve covering his mouth, and that sends Steve's mind off into half-formed filthy ideas that he'd never even thought to wonder about, stopping Tony from talking with his hand or or his cock, maybe even a gag. Maybe Tony would like that. Maybe Tony would like everything, every one of these infinite possibilities.
Tony's hand tightens on his cock and gives him a few more messy strokes, setting up a rhythm that Steve mirrors, faster and faster until Steve reaches his peak, muffling his cry against Tony's shoulder, coming and coming and shutting his eyes and letting his release take him. Tony comes a few strokes later, shuddering, with Steve's hand still over his mouth.
They sit there, panting, pressed up against each other, Steve's head still tipped against Tony's shoulder, until Tony chuckles under his breath and starts awkwardly wiping them up with a handkerchief in the dark.
"Good?" Tony breathes, as if he doesn't know.
"The best," Steve says, very quietly.
Tony gives him a very small smile, so small that Steve isn't sure if he knows he's doing it. "Well," he murmurs. "Good. We should probably get some sleep," he adds, and he moves off his own bedroll so that he can slide under the blanket. His own blanket.
Steve wishes more than anything that they could share a bed. They can't. He can't cuddle up to Tony, put his arms around him, and sleep like that. They have no privacy. It would be compromising. So he gets under his own blanket, next to Tony, not touching him.
"Night, Tony," he says, quietly, and he tries not to think about how tomorrow is the last full day—the only full day—that he'll have with Tony.
Tony grins a fond, sated grin in the darkness. "Night, Steve."
Under the blankets, Tony's hand stretches out, brushes against his, grips hard for an instant, and then retreats.
He wakes up the way he always does now, the way he's been trained to: quiet, surreptitious, holding still and feigning sleep, taking in as much of the surroundings as he can. Somewhere outside the tent birds chirp and familiar voices chatter in English; cutlery clatters against cans. He smells coffee. Inside the tent, he hears someone breathing, shallowly enough that they must be awake, and it's another few seconds before he registers that it isn't Bucky. Then he remembers. Tony.
He opens his eyes to find Tony regarding him in the watery, gray, early-morning light. Tony's breath plumes from his mouth in the morning chill. His eyes, dark blue, are beautiful; it's a new experience, seeing him from this close, and he knows Tony is studying him in return. Then Tony smiles, and it's even more beautiful. Something warm in Steve's chest lightens in affection, and he doesn't want to think about where this could lead, because they're in the middle of a war—they can't indulge themselves, and he's a fool even to contemplate it.
"Hey," Tony says, softly, a little ghost of a word. "Did you sleep well, Cap?"
It could be a perfectly innocent question, but then Tony pushes himself up on one elbow, blocking anyone outside the tent from viewing them, and he reaches out with his free hand to run his fingers through Steve's hair, just above his ear, rubbing little circles at Steve's temple with his thumb. Steve shivers and sighs.
"Just fine," he says, his voice coming out of him lower than he meant to, and Tony's eyes flare darker, desirous; that, now, is a familiar look for him.
"God." Tony's murmur is almost amazed. "I can't keep my hands off of you, can I? Sorry."
Steve catches Tony's wrist as he starts to jerk his hand back. "Don't apologize. I— I like it." He feels more than a little awkward, being so plain, so honest, having to put it all in words. Sure, he's been with people—with men—before, before he joined the Army, but the kind of situations he'd found himself in never had much opportunity for talking. No opportunity for... feelings, really.
He'd already had feelings for Tony before he met him, of course—admiration, attraction, hero worship of a man he thought he'd never in a million years be lucky enough to meet. He hasn't even known him for twenty-four hours total, and he has the suspicion he's developing an entirely different set of feelings.
He's falling for Tony.
And from the way Tony looks at him, he thinks maybe Tony—as unbelievable as it is—might be falling for him too.
Tony slides his hand back and now he's holding Steve's hand, fingers interlocked, squeezing tight. He can feel the calluses on Tony's fingers, from guns and armor plates and God knows what kind of scientific equipment; there are a few old burns on the back of his hand. He's lived a long and interesting life, and you can see it on him; Steve likes that a lot. A map. A record. Permanence. His own scars all disappeared after Rebirth, a side effect no one had warned him about. Maybe they hadn't known to expect it.
"I wish," Tony begins and then stops, smiling ruefully, shaking his head.
Steve smiles back. "You wish what?"
"A lot of things." Tony's eyes, cobalt-blue, focus somewhere past Steve's shoulder, like he's trying to look into the future. "Most of 'em are silly. Fanciful. Mainly," he says, and regret clouds his tone, "I wish I didn't have to head back tomorrow, but I don't think I can come up with any excuses to stay, once the Cube checks out. Nothing Fury will buy, anyway."
Steve wants to hold Tony tight, like he can keep him from leaving with his body alone, but he settles for squeezing Tony's hand back, and a tired, resigned smile flits across his face. "I wish you could stay, too," he says, and he feels less silly saying it when Tony's smile brightens.
"You're based in London, right? You and the Invaders?"
"Yeah," Steve says. "Why do you ask?"
"I was just thinking." Tony's gaze is intent now. "If you have leave there sometime, I'm— well, I'm in England relatively often, not that I'm allowed to tell you why, and maybe we could—" he pauses, and his face tightens, and he looks away; he's nervous about this too. Steve would never have thought he'd see Tony Stark nervous about... about romance, but maybe he's only nervous when it counts for something. It seems like it counts. Steve still can't quite believe this is happening. "I mean, if you wanted to."
Steve can't stop smiling. "Yes," he says, low and fierce, "yes, of course, I'd love that. But how— how do we even arrange that?"
"Same way any other soldier spends time with his sweetheart," Tony says, with an easy shrug, like the word is simple to say, but his eyes go just a fraction wider, his tongue flicks out against his lips, and he knows Tony was scared to say it, too. Steve's heart pounds in excitement and elation. "You send me a letter and tell me you're arranging for leave and we work something out, Captain." The grin turns a little teasing. "You had no problem finding me for this op, so do you think you can manage to keep in touch with me this time?"
Steve's cheeks go hot and he knows Tony can probably see him blushing. "I couldn't just send a letter to you before. You— you're Tony Stark," he finishes, and he knows that sounds ridiculous. It had made sense at the time.
"Sure am. Doesn't mean I don't read my mail," Tony says, a grin curling about his lips. Steve desperately wants to kiss him, to kiss all the smugness away until Tony is gasping, breathless in his arms, but he doesn't dare.
"You could have written me," Steve points out, and Tony's gaze darts away; Steve has the interesting experience of seeing Tony looking about as embarrassed as he himself feels. "Don't tell me you couldn't have sent Captain America a letter."
Tony's darker than he is but even so there's a hint of color in his cheeks. "I didn't want to presume."
"Presume away," Steve says, grinning, inviting. "Take all the liberties you like. You are very welcome to." Unless—" he frowns as the thought occurs to him— "unless you think we— they'd suspect something, the censors?"
Tony chuckles. "Steve, I am more than capable of writing the most innocent letters in the world. As far as the Army knows, we met at Jan Van Dyne's party and hit it off and that is God's honest truth. They just don't need to know how well. Why shouldn't two fellas want to meet? There's nothing queer about having friends."
"If you say so."
"I know so," Tony assures him, voice brimming with confidence. And if Tony Stark knows so, well, that's good enough for Steve, isn't it?
"Right." Steve squeezes Tony's hand once more and reluctantly lets it drop. "Time to get on with the day. There's coffee."
Tony visibly brightens at the mention of coffee, but then his brow furrows in an inexplicable glower. "Only if Namor hasn't drunk it all."
"Namor should be asleep now," Steve points out, wondering what happened between them that Marvels never mentioned. Maybe Tony and Namor just don't get on; Marvels probably tried to minimize that. "And you can have my coffee ration if you want. I can do without; it doesn't do anything for me, not since the serum."
Tony's grin now is brighter than anything. "I'm going to like you a lot, Cap."
I hope so, Steve thinks, as they push themselves up and out of the tent, ready to face the day.
The day is somehow comfortable; everything goes on as normal, with the addition of Tony, as he works quietly by the side of the Cosmic Cube, scrawling down notes, taking pictures of the Cube, waving unidentifiable bits of wire and metal next to it. It isn't usual, of course, Tony's presence—but it feels right, like he should be here with them, like he should always be here.
There's not much to do for anyone who isn't Tony, honestly; at one point Tony's taking more photographs of the Cube from a different angle, still not touching it, and Bucky and Toro are watching, awed, glancing over every so often from the poker game Torch started, the game their attention is clearly not on. (They're playing for cigarettes. Steve's winning, possibly solely because he is devoting so much conscious thought to the game, because he can't just stare at Tony like he wants to.)
A hand waves at the edge of Steve's field of vision, and Steve looks up to see Tony, now all the way out of the tent, grinning and pointing the camera in their direction. "Hey, Invaders!" he calls out. "Smile!"
He takes the picture before Steve is entirely ready; Bucky and Toro, by contrast, are mugging for the camera with the silliest of faces.
"Fury's not going to mind?" Steve asks.
"America loves you, Cap," Tony says, grinning and setting the camera down, and Steve tells himself not to read anything into the amount of affection in that sentence. "They'll be thrilled for more pictures of you fellas. Of course he's not going to mind."
"All right," Steve says, and Tony grins again and turns back to his work.
Eventually the game breaks up, the rest of the Invaders wander off, and Steve walks to Tony's side.
Tony looks up. "Hey there."
Steve crouches down next to him, in the little space that is afforded inside the tent. "How's it going?"
"Almost done." Tony scrawls a few indecipherable words in an open notebook.
The Cube is still resting, uncovered in its crate, with Tony's equipment now scattered around it. Steve wonders how Tony can stand to be this close to the thing, and he suppresses a shudder. Something about it just isn't right. It's unnatural. It feels like the universe shouldn't be this way. He can't really believe that Hydra didn't know what they had. But they must not have.
"You'll be able to transport that tomorrow?" His voice is a little more curt than he intends it to be, and he wants to wince. He doesn't mean to sound hard or cruel, he just... doesn't want Tony to go. But he can't have that. Tony's going back at least as far as the current closest division—heck, Tony's probably going to hand-carry the Cube all the way down to Naples and then out to the States—and the Invaders are scheduled to keep pushing north, or at least Tony hasn't brought him any orders saying otherwise.
Tony doesn't seem to register the tone; his gaze has drifted back to the Cube. Steve kind of wishes he would just get away from it. "Mmm-hmm," he says, abstracted, his attention clearly wandering. "I can carry it out, no problem."
"Are you going to want help?" Steve asks
The look Tony gives him in return is long, languid, lingering, deliberately flirtatious; he looks up at Steve through lowered eyelashes and smiles a smile that takes Steve's breath away. "That depends on what you're offering," he murmurs.
He can't act like this, Steve thinks, he can't. They can't. They'll get caught. But—Steve glances back to check—none of the Invaders are currently visible. No one's watching them. Feeling as though something far more primal than conscious thought is driving him, Steve carefully reaches out and lets his palm settle on Tony's neck; he rubs his thumb just below Tony's ear.
Tony draws a shuddering breath; Steve half-hears, half-feels a small, needy noise gather in the back of his own throat.
And then they're kissing, and somehow his tongue is in Tony's mouth and Tony's hands are splayed across his face, pulling him close, like they could be one person if they just tried. He's in Tony's lap, half-kneeling across him, and through the layers of fabric he can feel that Tony is hard for him, because of him. He rocks up helplessly against Tony, and Tony groans into his mouth and clutches him tighter, and they can't do this, they can't—
He breaks the kiss, and backs off, and for a few moments Tony only stares at him, confused and bereft and breathing heavily.
"We can't," Steve says, and Tony's face falls. "We can't, not like this, not when anyone could see, I'm sorry. But tonight, right? We still have tonight?"
Tony's face brightens and he licks reddened lips. "We have all of tonight," he says, low and rough. "And don't think I've forgotten how many times you can come. I have plans for you, Captain."
Steve has to shut his eyes and take a few deep breaths to avert the suddenly very real possibility that he might come just thinking about it. "Okay," he says. "Right. Okay. The mission."
"The mission," Tony agrees. Amusement flickers in his eyes. "You were saying?"
"I was asking if you needed help."
"Right." Tony straightens up, where he's still sitting, and his voice snaps into an easy, cool, professional tone. "I'm authorized to borrow up to two Invaders to get this back to Naples, personnel assignments at your discretion, but please don't give me Namor again. I could make the trip by myself, easily. I certainly don't need to deprive you of two people, but I suspect that it would go better with one just so we can sleep in shifts. And I can't have the one I want—" Steve's heart pounds in his chest— "so it's really up to you. I'll take whoever you give me."
"Bucky wanted to go with you," Steve offers, and he watches Tony's face cloud in something that looks a heck of a lot like disapproval. "What?" If Tony's ended up hating Bucky, Steve thinks, maybe this isn't okay after all—
"Nothing," Tony says, but it's clearly something, because his face is pinched. "It's just— Christ, Steve, you know they're kids, right?"
It may have been a thought Steve has had himself more than a few times, but it's different when someone else points it out; it feels like something only Steve has the right to notice. He feels himself tensing in defense, coiling up tight. "Bucky and Toro are both eighteen," he says. His voice is clipped. "You know that. I'm positive you've read their files."
Tony doesn't back down. "Yeah," he says, "and I know that means they sure as hell weren't eighteen when you started. Barnes' file said he was training with the fucking SAS before you met him, or did he not tell you that?"
Does Tony think Bucky lies to him? "Yeah, of course he told me," Steve says, somewhere between bewildered and angry. "And Fury told me when he assigned him to me. You think they've never broken regs before, for a good reason? I wasn't even supposed to be a Rebirth candidate, and Fury took me anyway—"
"People lie to try to enlist all the time," Tony says. "Usually the Army doesn't catch them and keep them—"
"Look," Steve says, and it feels like Tony's looking at him and telling him he shouldn't have joined up, that he wasn't good enough, that maybe he's too young for Tony, and anger runs hot through his bones. "Buck's the best goddamn sniper I've ever seen, no matter how old he is, and Toro's a damned good scout, and if you have a problem with that, you can—"
"Oh, I'm planning on taking it up with Fury—"
"Take it up with me," Steve snaps, "because, goddammit, if you don't trust them to do their jobs, if you don't think I should have made it through Rebirth, if you think I'm too young—"
"Okay, whoa," Tony says, and then there's silence. When Steve looks up, Tony's holding his hands up, palms out. Surrendering. "I never said anything like that," he says, quietly, "and I definitely didn't say anything about you. It's just— they are young." He doesn't say anything about Steve's age. "And I know exactly why Fury did it, but I wish he hadn't had to."
Steve takes one breath and then another, calming himself down by force of will. "All right," he says, trying not to wonder what Tony thinks about how young he is. "All right. I jumped to conclusions. I'm sorry."
"I understand," Tony says, after a pause. "They're your team. You protect them. That's how it works. I'm sorry for doubting you. And if you want to loan me Barnes for the trip back, I would be happy. Honored, even."
He holds out a hand.
Steve brushes Tony's palm with his fingertips, and Tony smiles at him.
"Okay," Steve says. They haven't ruined anything. They're okay. "You can borrow Bucky. Okay. We're all right now?"
Tony's still smiling. "We're all right. A misunderstanding. All is forgiven."
Steve smiles back. They're still holding hands.
This is going to work, he thinks.
He stays up late enough to see Torch and Toro trade places with Namor and move out to take the first of tonight's watches; Namor heads to his own tent. Over in the equipment tent, Bucky curls around the base of the Cosmic Cube's crate and then switches his flashlight off; the last of the light sources save for the nearly-full moon visible between the branches overhead. Steve is the only one who can see at all well now, he thinks; super-soldier vision has its advantages.
When he heads to his tent, Tony's already there, half-asleep but quickly waking, and he pushes himself up on one elbow. The movement Tony makes is alert at first, efficient, trained, and Steve would bet anything that the shifting under the blanket is Tony reaching for his gun.
"Who's there?" Tony asks, a sharp question, and then he blinks a few times and the tension seems to go out of him as he slumps back against the bedroll. "Oh, it's you, Steve. Christ. Warn a fella, would you?"
Steve slides in next to him; somehow Tony is warm in the chilly winter night, although admittedly he's still wearing everything save his coat, including his boots. "Who else did you think was going to be in my tent?" Steve wonders.
"It's a reflex," Tony says. He doesn't sound sorry, and Steve doesn't expect him to; vigilance is a good thing. Steve hadn't thought Tony was quite that twitchy, though.
In the darkness, he can just barely make out Tony's profile, and Steve smiles, even though Tony can't see it. He pulls off his gloves, shoves the cowl back, and sets his palm against Tony's cheek; Tony's beard scratches at his skin. "You can stand down," Steve murmurs. "It's only me."
He feels Tony smirk against his hand. "Should I make a joke about certain portions of my anatomy standing at attention?" he murmurs.
Steve can't help but chuckle. "Only if you're willing to provide proof."
"Definitely willing," Tony says, his voice no more than a whisper, and he leans in to kiss Steve.
Words become almost entirely unnecessary after that.
Last night they had been hurried, rushed; tonight, by mutual, silent consent, they go much more slowly, even as Steve is painfully conscious of the fact—and Tony has to be as well—that now is not an ideal time or place to linger. But it's war, and for all either of them know, they might never meet again. Steve desperately wants to make this count, to give them both something to remember, so he presses kisses to Tony's face, captures his mouth for long moments, lets his hands slide inch by inch across Tony's body like he can memorize Tony by touch alone.
They can't really undress, but Steve doesn't let this stop him: he untucks Tony's shirt, slides his hands up the planes of Tony's chest, the muscles underneath his fingertips quivering in anticipation. Tony's hands are fumbling first with his own pants, then with the fastenings on Steve's pants. Steve slides his hands around Tony's side, over his ribs, his palms framing Tony's spine, holding him. Tony sighs and relaxes into the embrace even as he keeps working at their clothing in the dark. They're too close for Steve to see what Tony's doing, so he tries to draw back, wanting to see.
Tony shushes him. "Stay there," he breathes, warm air against Steve's ear. "You keep doing what you're doing."
So Steve tucks his head against Tony's neck, runs his fingers along Tony's spine, slowly, and Tony moans and arches into the touch, with a shuddering shiver. Tony works his hand into Steve's pants, carefully easing his cock out, stroking him a few times, slow and easy. Tony's hand is warm and a little bit slick around his cock, just like Steve likes it, like Tony knows exactly how he likes it even though they've only done this twice before. Then there's something else pressing against his cock that isn't Tony's hand. It's hotter, slicker. As Tony chokes back a bitten-off groan in his ear, Steve realizes he's got both of them in his hand, he's jerking them both off, and God, Steve wants to see that, he wants to watch Tony stroke them both with those elegant, gorgeous hands of his—
"Tony," he groans. "Please, Tony, let me see—"
He feels Tony's breathy laugh against the side of his neck. "You like that idea?"
He's tangling his hands in Tony's shirt but eventually he gets enough space between them that he can look down. It's too dark for anyone but Steve to see and even for him it's all shades of gray, but he can see the shapes of them. Their cocks are pressed together in Tony's hand, his fist tightening around them both, slick and hot and with the perfect amount of friction. Tony's thrusting up against him, rubbing up against him, groaning. He's close, Steve knows, and then all Steve can picture is Tony coming on him, and that's it, that's it, Steve's coming and coming and Tony's leaning forward and kissing his mouth. He's too lost in pleasure to kiss back, but Tony's touching him everywhere and it's perfect—
And then Tony's coming, his strokes slowing into jagged shuddering thrusts, but he doesn't let his hand on Steve's cock slacken, he doesn't stop, and Steve's still hard, and Steve whimpers and comes again, and again—
By the time he comes back to himself, Tony's wiped them both up and is lying there, his head on Steve's shoulder. They'll have to move apart before they actually fall asleep, of course, but it's... nice. Better than nice.
"I could get used to this," Steve finds himself saying. He whispers it, like it's a secret he's giving up to the night, setting it free.
Tony lifts his head. A very small smile plays about the corners of his mouth. "It's not going to be easy, you know. This. Us." He sighs. "It's all lies and secrets and more lies."
"That's to other people," Steve points out. "Not to us. Not between us." It's not like he's happy that he can't tell anyone. Hell, if one of them were a girl the entire world would probably be thrilled about their romance, but they're not and it won't be. But that's just how the world works.
Tony reaches out and traces the shape of Steve's face, smoothing out his eyebrows, down to his cheekbone, over the crease between his nose and the corner of his mouth. "No, but... it'll make it hard."
"It'll be worth it," Steve says, firmly, because it will be. He knows it. He still almost can't believe he isn't dreaming. Tony Stark wants him, and the real Tony Stark is a thousand times better than any of those fantasies he'd spent years constructing. "It is worth it."
Tony smiles. "I'm feeling optimistic, believe it or not."
Tony's grin is actually cheerful. "You haven't tried to murder me. You're already better than my last date."
Aghast, Steve can't decide whether Tony's joking—he hopes he is, dear God—and then he remembers the last few issues of Marvels. Gialetta Nefaria. Oh. It's entirely real. "We need to do something about your standards."
He hopes he's not being too presumptuous with the joke, but Tony just grins wider. "If by that you mean that you want to ruin me for anyone else, you're certainly making a good start." And then he bites his lip and looks away, like that was too much to say, too soon. But it can't be too soon if it's how they feel, can it?
"I like you a lot, Tony." The words come out of him, raw and honest—there'll be no hiding here, not for them—and Tony looks back at him again, eyes wide.
"Likewise," Tony says, with another faint smile.
Tony leans in and kisses him lightly, a brush of lips against lips, before retreating to his own bedroll, and Steve smiles.
The gunshots wake him.
Outside the tent there's yelling, half of it in German—which is never, ever a good sign—and then Namor's voice cutting over the others, ringing out.
"Invaders!" he yells. "Hydra is here!"
And if that's Namor warning them, Steve thinks, as everything within him settles into a calm, clear readiness, then that means that whoever Hydra sent got past Torch and Toro at the edge of the camp, but he can't think about that now. He can't worry about them.
They're here for the Cube. They know what the Invaders took, and they're here to get it back.
Steve gropes for his shield, feeling the familiar edge of it underneath his gloved fingertips. He doesn't remember putting his gloves back on last night but he guesses he must have, before he fell asleep.
The opening of the tent is occluded by two figures, dark-clad. Steve catches a glimpse of an all-too-familiar skull-and-snake motif high on the shoulder of the one on Tony's side of the tent, the man who is even now unholstering a pistol—
Tony sits up and puts three rounds into the man's chest without hesitation. Bright blood sprays across the tent canvas. The man staggers, falls backwards, and then doesn't get up. Good.
There's not enough clearance to throw the shield without bringing the entire tent down on them, so Steve lunges to his knees and then forward across the tent. He slams into the other man, shield-first. By the time the blow connects, Steve is on his feet, and the edge of his shield is under the man's jaw.
The man goes down, gurgling, and Steve tramples him, bone cracking under his boots, as he hurries out of the tent. Tony is right behind him.
The camp is chaos.
Torch and Toro are nowhere to be seen. Namor is trading blows with another Hydra goon, this one armed with a knife. His opponent seems to have gotten Namor's hat, because Namor's strange pointed ears are plainly visible in the moonlight as Namor dances back to avoid a powerful stab.
"Tony," he orders. "Help Namor! Then find Torch and Toro! Figure out how many people we're dealing with!"
Tony gives him a tight nod and runs.
But the real problem is Bucky. He's just outside the equipment tent, and he's fending off attacks from not one but two Hydra agents. They must have figured out that's where the Cube is.
Bucky's never going to be tall, but he's got a lot of muscle for his size, he's been trained by the best, and he's faster than he looks. That still doesn't mean that two against one is ever going to be a good idea. Steve is running across the camp, but the man behind Bucky has a garrote, and Bucky's busy punching the other guy as the man behind him drops his arms over Bucky's shoulders and yanks the wire across his throat.
The man's lifting Bucky backwards, into the air, and Bucky's legs kick out against nothing, Bucky's got his own hands wrapped around the man's, trying to pry the wire out of his fingers, trying to loosen his grip.
Steve throws the shield. It sails, spinning, a perfect throw—
It hits Bucky's assailant in the side of his head. Blood shines in the moonlight, and the man sags forward. Bucky drives a vicious elbow into the man's ribs and slithers down, out of the now-lax hold.
The other Hydra agent grabs the Cosmic Cube out of the crate. Blue light plays over his dark uniform and he allows himself a flash of a triumphant grin before turning and running, Cube clutched in his right hand.
Steve's fingers flex, searching for the shield—which is still next to Bucky. He's got nothing to throw, Hydra disarmed Bucky, and Namor and Tony are still taking on Namor's opponent; it looks like Tony couldn't get a clear shot and has brought his own knife, because Steve spies another glint of metal.
"Cap, go!" Bucky yells. His voice is a hoarse rasp. "He's getting away! Go after him!"
He knows the woods better than the other man does, but it's dark between the trees, and he's leaping over roots and downed branches, practically flying over little ravines as he runs up the hillside. His heart's pounding in his throat. He can't let him get away. He can't let the Nazis have the Cosmic Cube. It's not going to happen.
The forest clears at the very top of the ridge, moonlight shining onto long grasses. At any other time it would be picturesque, but the Hydra agent is standing there in the middle of the clearing, Cube held out in his palm, and Steve hopes to hell the man isn't wishing for anything with it right now.
Steve gathers himself and leaps, slamming full-force into his opponent. The Cube flies out of the other man's hand and they go down together in a tangle of limbs, rolling. Steve takes an elbow to the teeth and punches back as good as he gets, hard into the man's solar plexus, and he feels the wind go out of his opponent in a rush of breath.
The Cosmic Cube is a few feet away, starting to roll down the opposite, mostly cleared, side of the slope. It glows and glitters an alien blue in the night.
Steve puts a knee into the man's chest and stretches his arm out for the Cube.
His fingertips just barely brush it, and it's like getting an electric shock.
He crawls off his downed opponent and gets a good grip on the Cube just as his opponent gets much the same grip on Steve's ankle. Steve tries to kick him off.
He has the odd sensation of something else in his mind, some other entity, half-sentient, watching over his shoulder.
He can't let Hydra take the Cube. He needs the rest of the Invaders. He needs help. If the Hydra agent gets his hands on the Cube again—hell, Steve doesn't know what he's wished for, and it might already be too late—
Steve kicks his way out of the man's grip, finally, and pushes himself to his feet. He's holding the Cube high in the air, clutched in his hand. Light shines blue between his fingers.
Help me, Steve thinks. Please, somebody, help me.
The thing inside his head that isn't him says yes.
And then the sky above him opens up.
The sky is as bright as day, brighter than day, as bright as looking into the sun, and it hurts Steve's eyes. He squints, looking up into it. There's a darker shape in the blinding whiteness, something that looks like it's falling, faster and faster.
It looks human-shaped, Steve thinks. It's wearing black clothes.
That's all he has time to think, because then the sky snaps shut into nighttime darkness.
And a man lands on him.
The Cube flies out of Steve's hand and tumbles across the grass, and no, oh no, the Hydra agent's going to get it—
But Steve can't make a move, because he's falling in an entirely different direction, as the stranger's arms go around him and they're flipping backwards and over. Out of the corner of the eye he sees the Hydra agent picking the Cube up—
The stranger pressed against him isn't trying to fight him; he's just trying to hold on until they stop moving. Judging by the fact that the Hydra agent has the Cube and is starting to run, Steve's going to assume that the stranger isn't Hydra; they don't usually just abandon each other. Not without good reason.
Steve finally comes to a skidding halt and shoves the stranger off him. The man rolls a few more feet away, down the hillside, and he comes to rest on his stomach. He starts to push himself up, dark-haired head down and half-turned away, so Steve can't make out the man's face. The uniform is new to Steve, too. Well, at least he's not Hydra.
The man is not part of any organization Steve has ever seen. He's wearing a strange black uniform that's almost skin-tight, with white gloves, white boots, and a white equipment harness over his chest. He has a variety of pouches—also white—at his waist. He has a boot knife, a gun in a shoulder holster, and a larger firearm—it looks a little different from anything Steve has ever seen, in a way he can't quite identify—holstered on his thigh. The only sign of rank or unit affiliation on him is a shoulder patch depicting some kind of stylized eagle.
That doesn't exactly help Steve distinguish friend from foe, since Germany's got eagle insignias of its own.
And then the man lifts his head, and turns toward him, and—
He asked the Cosmic Cube for help, and he got Tony Stark.
For a few seconds, Steve honestly can't say which of them is more surprised. Then he decides that that honor goes to Stark.
All the color drains out of Stark's face and he blinks a few times like he can't believe what he's seeing. His jaw is hanging open. His eyes are wet. He's on the verge of tears.
He watches Stark's mouth move, watches it silently shape one word: Steve.
Stark doesn't even say his name aloud, but he's looking at him like a drowning man looks at his rescuer. He's looking at him like Steve is everything to him, like Steve is everything in the world that matters, that has ever mattered. Tony—his Tony, the one he knows—has never looked at him like this. It's simultaneously heady and terrifying, to be this man's sole focus.
"Tony," Steve says, gently, because what else can he say?
A pained look crosses Stark's face, like for some reason he hadn't thought Steve would say that, but it's just his name. There's nothing strange about that. Nothing should be strange. Everything about this is strange.
"Hell of a time for an Extremis hallucination," Stark says, under his breath, and he says it like he wants to cry. His voice has changed; his accent is a little different. He's thinner than he should be; Steve can see it around his eyes, in the hollows of his cheeks. His voice thickens as he speaks, and his eyes are— his eyes are— God, he looks like he's been through hell. He looks like maybe he's still there. "Extremis is acting up anyway. Seems like that portal knocked out my satellite connection."
Steve has no idea what he's talking about. "This isn't really the time—"
"You're not real," Stark says, wild-eyed, voice raised. As Steve comes closer he sees Stark's shaking. Stark raises his hand, palm out—an odd gesture—and then he stares around himself at the grass like he expects something else to be here, something else besides him. "The armor didn't make it through the portal with me? God. Like this isn't bad enough. You're not fucking real, you're dead, you're in my head again, so kindly tell me whatever it is you're supposed to tell me and disappear, because I can't do this again—"
Is Stark insane? Why is he dressed like this? Why does he think Steve isn't real? What the hell is going on?
"I'm real," Steve says, urgently. "I promise, Tony, I'm alive, I'm real—" and again there's that wave of pain, regret, disbelief— "but now is not the time to discuss it because there are Nazis getting away with the Cosmic Cube, so if you could help—"
The Hydra agent is still running down the hillside. With the Cube. It'd be a clear shot if Steve had anything to fire.
Stark laughs, a harsh sound, and he pushes himself to his feet. "Oh. Nazis." His voice is dry, incurious. "Guess that explains why the network's out. Just like old times for you, huh?" he murmurs. "Right. Hill will be so happy when I tell her I got to field-test the new pulse guns against Nazis—"
The weapon he draws, left-handed, isn't the gun in his shoulder holster. He draws the other weapon, the one that was at his thigh, aims—and he fires a bright burst of light. It's a ray gun. It's like something out of Amazing Stories, Steve thinks, awed.
The Hydra agent collapses a few hundred feet down the slope, body still twisted around the Cube that's clutched in his hand.
Stark has a ray gun. He's wearing a uniform Steve doesn't know. This Tony Stark is from the future.
"You're here from the future," Steve says, wonderingly, and the look he gets in reply is... impatient? Like Stark expects him to know that.
Even with the impatience, Stark's still wide-eyed, like he can't believe any of this is real, like he isn't sure how to act around him. "Yes? Of course I'm from the future. Are you feeling all right?" It's a strange combination of tentative and familiar.
"Fine," Steve says, still confused. He thinks maybe he's missed something.
Ray gun still in hand, Stark is picking his way down the hillside. "Come on!" he calls out, when Steve doesn't move. Steve has no idea what's going on. "You should know how a Cosmic Cube works by now," he adds, and Steve doesn't, of course he doesn't, but Stark said it like he thinks Steve is some kind of expert, and nothing is making any sense. "We have to get to the guy before he wakes up and figures out he can tele—"
In a flash of light, the Cube and the Hydra agent both disappear.
"—port," Stark finishes, and he shuts his eyes. His face has fallen into graven lines of misery. Sadness has worn into him like water on a riverbed. "Fuck. There goes our way home, huh?"
Steve understands none of this, except that the Cube is gone. "Tony," he says, and Stark just looks even more miserable. "I haven't understood a thing you've said."
Stark takes a breath and seems to compose himself, standing up a little straighter. "Right," he says. "Okay. You're not a hallucination. I can do this. Obviously—although apparently not as obviously as I would have thought—we can use a Cosmic Cube to get us home. To our respective homes, because you are clearly not from mine, much as I wish you could be. It doesn't have to be this Cube—" Steve wonders how in the world there can be more than one Cosmic Cube— "but I'm not sure what else we can find in this time period. I might be able to build something. Depends on what I can cannibalize. There aren't even transistors yet. God, I wish the briefcase had made it through the portal. Could have sworn I had grabbed it. What year are you from?"
He still doesn't understand half the words coming out of Stark's mouth, but he thinks he understands the last question. Stark wants to know what year it is. "1943."
"No, no!" Stark sighs, exasperated. "Not what year it is now. What year you're from. Are you sure there's nothing wrong with you?" He runs his gloved hands through his hair, making it stick up every which way. "I can't deal with this. Please be all right. One of us has to be."
"I'm sorry, Tony," Steve ventures, more confused than ever. "I don't know what else you want me to say. It's 1943. December. We're in Italy, just outside Cassino. I don't understand."
"1943," Stark repeats. "You're here with... Bucky? The Invaders?"
"Bucky and the rest of the Invaders," Steve confirms. "I'm one of the Invaders," he adds, feeling like Stark is waiting for him to say something else. He watches as Stark's face falls, twisted in sadness. Steve has no idea what any of this is about. "Is that... not the answer you wanted?"
Stark looks at him, his face pale in awful, tortured realization. Whatever he's thought of, he hates it. "You're not from the future?"
"No," Steve says, as patiently as he can, still mystified, because isn't the answer to that obvious? "I'm not from the future."
Stark's eyes have gone too wide again, white all around the irises, and he's staring at Steve like either he's insane or the entire world is insane and he can't tell which.
"Then how the hell," Stark whispers, "do you know who I am?"
Maybe they're both insane.
"Of course I know who you are," Steve snaps back, bewildered and more than a little offended, because how could Tony in the future just forget him? How could he forget what they are to each other? How could he think Steve would forget him? "You're Tony Stark. How in the world would I not know who you are?"
They stare at each other, a long frozen moment of silence, a moment that is broken by the sound of hurried footsteps coming down the hillside.
"Cap!" someone shouts. Tony. It's Tony's voice. "Are you all right? Did you get the Cube? What the hell happened? There were lights in the sky and—"
And then he stops dead, and Steve knows Tony's seen them. When he looks over at Tony, Tony's staring at both of them, jaw dropped, skin far too pale under the drying blood and purpling bruises.
"I lost the Cube," Steve says. "Hydra got it. But I... might have made a wish on it first."
Next to Steve, the other Tony Stark—the one from the future—takes several steps back and looks like he's about to faint. He mutters a word under his breath that sounds like multiverse, and the way he says it, it sounds like an obscenity.
"Goddammit," Stark says. "I am really, really not supposed to be here."