Steve meets Tony for the first time in an alleyway in 1935. He’s seventeen and running from a guy who looks a lot older and a lot bigger than he is before he finds himself trapped by a dead end. He turns and raises his fists up to defend himself only to watch a man who Steve could have sworn wasn’t there a second ago punch his attacker in the face, sending him crashing to the floor with the force of the blow.
“Get out of here” the newcomer says firmly, before turning to Steve, without checking to see that the man does. He’s wearing an odd black body suit, made of some kind of material Steve has never seen before. His hair is messy but looks well-kept and Steve thinks that he looks far too clean to be hanging around a neighborhood like this one.
The man grins. “So what was it this time, Steve?” he asks, his tone teasing but fond. “Did he insult a girl? Push over an old lady?”
Steve gapes at him. “How do you know my name?”
The man’s face falls. He looks like Steve just hit him, and Steve is very confused. The man takes a step back and looks around a little, seeming to take in the surroundings properly for the first time.
He looks back to Steve and asks “What year is it?”
He sounds much older suddenly, tired, and Steve answers without pausing to think. “1935”
The man nods. “1935” he repeats, almost to himself, “So this is as far back as it goes.”
“As far back as what goes?” Steve demands, “Who are you?”
The man smiles again, softer than before. “I’m Tony.” He says. He turns and starts to walk back down the alley, towards the open street.
“Wait!” Steve calls, hurrying to catch up, “What-”
“I have to go” Tony interrupts him, “But you’ll see me again.” He turns out of the alley just a moment before Steve reaches him, and when Steve steps out onto the street he’s gone.
A year or so later, Steve is drawing in his apartment, working in the margins of a newspaper he’s found and using the few art supplies he can afford, when there’s a voice behind him.
Steve jumps up and turns around, brandishing his pencil.
Tony stands in front of him, looking exactly the same as before, his hands crossed and his eyebrow raised. “Are you planning to stab me with that?” He asks.
Steve gets the feeling he’s being laughed at. “How did you get in here?”
“It’s where you were.” Tony says, like that should explain everything.
Steve resists the urge to hit him. He’s pretty sure he’d lose that fight. “What are you talking about?” He demands. “Who are you?” He can hear the anger in his tone, and almost feels bad for it.
Tony only smiles. “Time travel curse” he answers. “At least I think so. Seems to be centered around you. I’m from the future.”
Steve stares. “You’re crazy.”
“Probably” Tony grins. Then he simply disappears.
Steve’s mouth falls open as he looks at the place where Tony had definitely been a second ago. “Maybe I’m crazy.” He mutters.
It’s 1937 and Steve is standing by his mother’s grave, his hands shaking and tears running down his cheeks. He’s trying to pull himself together before he goes home, where he knows Bucky will be waiting.
Suddenly there’s someone beside him, and he turns to see Tony, who looks completely disoriented for a moment, his eyes taking in everything around him widely. Then he looks at Steve and his eyes soften.
“I’m sorry, Steve” he says and takes his hand.
Steve doesn’t know why, but the warmth of it helps, a little. They stand there in silence for a while, until Steve feels the hand disappear from his, and turns to see Tony has gone.
It’s 1939 and Steve is stood at the back of a dance hall, sinking into the shadows while all around him people flirt and dance and drink. Bucky is dancing somewhere in the room but Steve has lost track of him.
“Not dancing?” a voice asks from beside him.
Steve turns to see Tony lounging against the wall. He’s attracting more than a few looks for his strange outfit, and Steve is desperately glad. He’d never been entirely Tony wasn’t just something he’d been imagining.
“I don’t know how.” He admits.
Tony gives him a narrow eyed look. “Well that won’t do.” He looks around the room slowly, then asks “How far is your apartment?”
Steve’s not sure why, but he leads Tony back to his small flat, let’s Tony pull out a small silver device that somehow, impossibly plays music, music that was like nothing he’s ever heard. He lets Tony take his hands and show him how to dance. It’s not like any dancing he’s ever seen before, but it feels nice, nicer than he thinks it probably should, to have Tony’s arms around him.
When Tony disappears the small silver thing stays laying there on the floor. Steve keeps it in his pocket until he can give it back.
It’s 1940 and Steve sees Tony several times. At the cinema, his apartment, in a park. They have a meal together once, in a small Italian restaurant that Steve choses because it’s ridiculously cheap. He talks to Tony about how much he misses art school, now that the little money his mother had left has run out, he tells him what he thinks of the war in Europe, he tells him about the latest girl Bucky’s been dating.
Tony tells him stories that Steve can tell are heavily edited, about being an inventor, about a red headed woman and a best friend called Rhodes. Steve can tell he misses them and he wonders, not for the first time, where Tony is from originally, and why he’s been pulled into Steve’s life.
It’s the evening before project Rebirth, and Tony appears on the floor next to Steve’s bed. He doesn’t seem angry at Steve for joining the army, not like Bucky would be. He just wishes Steve luck. For the first time, Steve wonders what Tony knows about his future.
Steve’s sat drawing after a performance, still in his USO costume.
“I really hoped I was gonna get to see you in that.” Tony says, sounding gleeful. “This is a dream come true.”
He must see the hurt that flashes across Steve’s face, because he looks regretful as he says “Steve-"
“I know we must win the war.” Steve interrupts. “Or at least, if we don’t, it must work out okay because wherever you come from seems to be alright. But I wish I could help.”
Tony looks at him with an expression that Steve can’t decipher. “Be careful what you wish for.” He says.
Tony briefly makes an appearance at one of the Howling Soldier’s camps. He’s suddenly sat Steve’s side where he sits, a little away from the main camp, watching the others. They’re far enough away that his presence goes unnoticed.
Tony is staring at Bucky, a funny expression on his face, before he turns to Steve.
“I’m sorry.” He says.
Steve frowns. “For what?”
Tony looks sadder than Steve has ever seen him. “I want to tell you.” He says, “I wish I could Steve, I really do, so just, try not to hate me too much, okay?”
Steve doesn’t get a chance to answer before Tony is gone.
When Tony appears in the bar, just after Peggy walks out, Steve throws the bottle he’s holding at him.
“Get out.” He orders, voice flat.
A rush of anger fills Steve. “YOU KNEW” He yells. “YOU KNEW AND YOU DIDN’T STOP IT.” He lets out a small sob. He puts as much anger and grief as he can into his next words. “Get. Out.”
Tony looks stricken, but he leaves the bar.
Steve takes a breath, and calms a little. He doesn’t blame Tony, not really. He doesn’t know how it works, but he understands that maybe Tony couldn’t change the past. He just wants to blame someone other than himself. He gets up and leaves the bar, looking around for Tony, but he’s already gone.
As Steve directs the plane towards the ice, he thinks, I never got to tell him I was sorry.
Steve wakes up and his entire world is gone. He’s in the old gym SHIELD recommended, training, because it seems like he’s the only thing he has any control over. There’s a sudden noise by one of the windows, and he turns to see Tony, looking the same as always, staring out of the window.
“This must be nearly my time.” Tony says, almost to himself, before he turns to Steve.
He looks apprehensive, like he’s not sure how Steve’s going to react to seeing him. Steve feels a smile form on his face, maybe his first true one since he woke up. Maybe he didn’t lose everyone.
He crosses the rooms and hugs Tony hard. Tony blinks and says “I’m so sorry I couldn’t warn you.”
Steve shakes his head. “It’s okay.” He lets Tony go but stays close, drinking in the sight of the other man. “I’m just glad you’re here.”
Even as he says it he can see Tony start to fade, and he tries to grab him, knowing it won’t do any good.
“I’ll see you soon.” Tony promises, and is gone.
Steve reads all the files he’s given, but Tony Stark’s file is the only one he reads more than once. He reads about Pepper Potts and James Rhodes and a suit that was one of the most impressive inventions of the time. He thinks of a night in a small Italian restaurant seventy years ago.
Tony Stark meets Steve Rogers at SHIELD headquarters after he’s been called in for a consult. He’s walking towards Fury’s office, with Coulson beside him, when a man walking in the opposite direction suddenly stops, his face lighting up.
“Tony?” He calls.
“I’m sorry, but who are you?” Tony asks, his voice polite, but cold.
“This is Captain Steve Rogers.” Coulson says, his voice full of barely contained excitement. “Captain Rogers, I didn’t think you’d met Mr Stark yet?”
Tony watches with some interest as the face of the man who is apparently Captain America falls. Rogers seems to freeze for a moment before shaking himself a little and answering “No, I guess I haven’t.”
He smiles a forced smile and meets Tony’s eyes. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Mr Stark.”
He turns and leaves before Tony can respond, leaving Tony wondering what the hell just happened.
Steve didn’t realise it would be this hard, seeing a Tony who didn’t know him. Tony is so familiar but he’s not his Tony. The one person in the entire world he really knows doesn’t know him. He’s angry at the universe and he takes it out on Tony. He throws insults at him, using everything from the file that hadn’t quite fit with the Tony Steve knows. He sees the hurt in Tony’s eyes and hates himself a little bit. When Tony gives as good as he gets, when Tony acts against what Steve knows, Steve feels like his world is falling to pieces.
When Tony flies into space with a nuke, he realises what an idiot he’s been.
When Tony lays on the floor, gasping as he comes to, Steve decides it’s time to trust that Tony’s the same person he’s always been.
The Avengers fight together, more and more until they’re all living in Tony’s tower. Steve finds himself settling in. He manages to wake up most mornings without wishing for a moment that it was still 1945. He discovers that he likes this ragtag group of heroes.
He takes Thor aside early on, asks him about magic. Asks him about time travel.
He develops a friendship with Tony, refusing to let Tony push him away when he tries. He hangs out in the workshop and watches Tony work, bullies him into movie nights and team dinners and baseball matches. Gradually, Tony lets him in. One day, Steve realises that he knows this Tony better than he’s ever known him before.
Steve is sketching in his room, when there’s a crash and Tony, wearing the black bodysuit Steve knows so well, is stumbling from where he’s walked into the bed.
Tony looks around widely, his eyes wide and frightened. “Steve? Where are we?”
Steve gets up, and answers. “It’s 2014 Tony, what’s wrong, where have you come from?”
Tony’s eyes go wide “2014?” He closes his eyes for a second. “I really hate magic.”
“This is the first time for you.” Steve realises.
“First?” Tony asks, “Steve, what’s happening?”
Steve takes his hand and pulls him close to him, noticing how Tony’s breath hitches a little.
“Time travel curse.” Steve tells him. “It’s centered on me for some reason, I don’t know why-”
“I was thinking of you.” Tony says, “When the curse hit me I was thinking of you.”
Warmth pools in Steve’s belly and he smiles. “You’re going to be okay.” He pauses. “I promise, you’ll always be safe. I asked Thor, and he’s found a counter spell, we’ll get you back, you just have to trust us.”
“I do trust you.” Tony says, and Steve kisses him.
It’s uncoordinated and he doesn’t think he’s doing it right but when he pulls away Tony is breathing heavily and staring at him with an expression that seems a little like wonder, so Steve thinks it’s going to be okay.
“We can talk about his when you get back” he says, “If you want to.”
Tony looks like he’s going to answer but then he’s gone from the room, leaving Steve standing alone.
It’s 2016 and the Avengers are fighting a rouge Asgardian with magic. She’s conjured some sort of shadow creatures that are proving difficult to kill, and Steve finds himself near her but cut off from the others. He throws his shield at her, but she moves, faster than should be possible. She throws some sort of magic at him, but before it can hit him Tony is there, pushing Steve aside and taking the hit. He hangs in mid air for a moment, the suit glowing a faint purple, before the suit falls to the floor in small pieces, with Tony nowhere in sight.
He hears the hulk roar as he kneels next to the suit. By the time he looks up the other avengers are surrounding him, the Asgardian apparently defeated.
He sees their faces, sees the tears in Thor’s eyes and the blankness in Natasha’s, and pulls himself together.
“He’s not dead.” He says.
Thor shows them how to set up the spell, drawing some kind of circular pattern on the floor with a liquid that vaguely glows. Steve can sense that the others are sceptical, but they stay silent. Thor says a few words. There’s a long, aching moment, in which nothing happens, and Steve feels his heart stop.
Then Tony appears in the circle, wearing his black under suit, a tired smile on his face as he looks around.
“Steve.” He says, and as their eyes meet. Steve takes a second to appreciate that this is the first time they’ve meet in the right order, where they both know everything. They’ve finally come full circle.
Then Steve is grabbing him, pulling him close and kissing him.