Art by ireallyshouldbedrawing; find the original post here. Go give them some love!
Steve was tired, and he really should change out of his uniform after the mission, and he was also verging on starving -- he hadn't eaten since dinner the night before, and the early-morning mission had been minor but time-consuming. He'd like to stuff his face and change.
But he'd come into the mansion to the news that Tony had holed himself up in his lab on a no-entrance order, and that was rarely a positive thing.
So he trooped down to the basement where Tony kept his private lab, and with ruthless efficiency bypassed the lockdown protocol, passing down the hallway to where the inner lab door stood open. Light flickered through it, not the bright white of welding or the yellow of grinding but the green-and-blue of monitors.
"You look wonderful, sweetheart," he heard Tony say, and grinned. Talking to his machines again, maybe. A better sign than he'd expected.
"Thanks!" came a second voice, a little buzzy like it was over a radio, and Steve paused. He peered in the doorway, grateful for the shadows in the hallway that more or less kept him hidden.
There was a woman on a screen in the lab, beaming prettily at Tony, and Steve narrowed his eyes in what he told himself was absolutely not a jealous manner.
"I think the veil with the armor works in a weird, butch kind of way," she was saying.
"You could have gone with the dress, nobody attacked the ceremony," Tony said.
"Yeah, but if they had, I'd have been useless. You know I hate being useless."
"I do," Tony said, amusement in his voice, though something else seemed to be roughening it, too. "I'm so happy for you, Tasha."
"I'm glad you could come, even if it is by proxy," the woman, Tasha, said with another sunny smile. She leaned closer to the camera, probably to see a monitor mounted below it. "Are you crying, Tony? No crying at my wedding!"
"Tears of joy," Tony said, and Steve saw him raise an arm to wipe at his face with the cuff of his sleeve. "It's nice to see one of us happy, is all."
"Tony," Tasha said, her voice warm and full of understanding, and now Steve was annoyed, because who was this woman? One of us? She wasn't an Avenger, for God's sake. "You'll find someone."
"We're not giving me relationship advice on your wedding day, Tasha," Tony said.
"You're not allowed to argue with me today, so there's no better day to try," she said. "You will." She looked to one side, as if seeking someone out, then back to him. "I still say you should try Steve. Your Steve. I know all universes are different, Tony, but it's so hard to imagine one in which he doesn't love me -- "
Steve blinked, thoroughly confused now.
"He does. Just not that way. Like you and me," Tony said. "I always wanted a sister."
"And I always wanted a big brother, but Tony, there are lots of ways to love and sometimes we don't see what's in front of us. You should at least try, so you can say you did."
"Ah yes, your famous YOLO philosophy," Tony said, and Steve was pleased to hear a genuine murmur of laughter following it. "Tasha, you haven't been through with Steve what I have. We came out stronger, but there are still faultlines. I don't want to accidentally hammer on one."
That hurt, a sharp ice-pick pain, because Steve had thought they were solid, thought they were good now, this far out from the civil war -- and he didn't like the idea that Tony thought he had to walk on eggshells. If there was one thing Tony Stark had never done, it was tread lightly.
"The war wasn't your fault. The wedding today proves it," Tasha said.
"And you should get back to it, rather than yelling at your sad sack brother from another mother," Tony said. "Go, Tasha, give my love to your boy and dance at your wedding."
"You won't drink tonight, will you?" she asked.
"No, sweetheart, I won't."
Steve watched as Tony stood still but the view on the screen pulled back, widening to show this Tasha crossing a patch of grass to a big white party tent, where --
He tilted his head. That was him, a man with his face, his body, wearing a morning suit with a blue tie. When Tasha reached him, he kissed her. That was him, but --
"Mute," Tony said, and the sound of applause when the other Steve kissed this woman -- a woman from another universe, Tasha, one of us --
That was Steve Rogers, kissing Tasha...Stark.
Well, perhaps Steve and Tasha Stark-Rogers now?
Steve cleared his throat. He hadn't meant to exactly, but this was something private he'd intruded on, and the guilt assailed him with sudden intensity. He'd rather rip the bandage off now than hide this from Tony.
Tony stiffened, but he didn't turn around.
"She looks nice," Steve said, to fill the awkward silence.
"She looks beautiful," Tony replied. "Which is a stroke of ego you won't understand just yet."
"I think I do," Steve said, stepping into the room. Tony was still watching Tasha, laughing, getting ready to throw the bouquet. "That's you, in another universe, isn't it?"
"Well, you've never been slow," Tony murmured. "Tasha. She's about five years younger than me. You know what the date is in their universe?"
"No," Steve said, curiosity piqued.
"It's the date in our universe that you were shot on the courthouse steps," Tony said. On screen, the other Steve looked up and waved, briefly, and Tony faked a smile and waved back, then flicked a switch. The little green camera light turned to red, though the screen with the partygoers on it stayed lit.
"A happier ending for them than we got, at least back then," Steve observed.
"I'm glad for her." Tony said. His face was wet, still, and he sniffled. Steve offered him a handkerchief from his combat belt. Tony wiped his face with it, blew his nose, tucked it away. "She's sweet."
"How did you meet her?"
"Remember about six months ago, I went missing for a few days?"
Steve nodded. The panic had been a constant knot in his chest. When Tony had returned he hadn't been willing to answer any questions about where he'd been, which had been annoying. Though Steve hadn't been half as annoyed, or as vocal about it, as Reed and Hank McCoy, who clearly knew something was up.
"A bunch of us got swept up in a quantum intra-universe event. Imagine twelve Tony Starks all in one place. The shouting was terrific." Tony tapped a command on the keyboard and a photograph appeared, himself and a dark-skinned man with a goatee and the woman, Natasha, all smiling for a selfie.
"That's Natasha, and that's Tones," Tony said, pointing to them. "The rest of the Tonys were kinda jerks. Well, Short Tony was okay but he loved to push buttons, and High School Tony'll grow out of it -- both of him. Anyway, Tones and Natasha and I got along like peas in a pod. We've kept in touch. She asked if I'd like to go to her wedding, but interdimensional travel is tricky, so I had to send a proxy."
"I'm glad you didn't risk it," Steve said quietly.
"How much did you hear?" Tony asked, clearly a question he'd been holding for a few minutes.
Steve studied the monitor. Natasha and the other Steve were stepping out to dance, a slow number by the look of it.
"You know," he said slowly, "that being a hero makes a space in your heart -- sometimes a really big space -- for the whole world. You don't just belong to yourself anymore. And sometimes that space in your heart is so big it pushes out other things. Desires. Love."
"Steve -- "
"It pushed Sharon out," Steve said doggedly, because Tony should understand this the...the right way, even if terror was rising in his chest, threatening to choke off his breathing. "She wouldn't be second-best to the work, not in the way I was making her, and rightly so. She left me because I didn't have the right kind of room for her. That was my mistake. But I also haven't -- had -- the right kind of room for what I want, always. And it didn't seem important, the fact that I...sometimes wanted..." He exhaled, frightened -- but Tony would understand, and it was time he said something out loud. "Sometime wanted men. So I pushed it out. I never acted on it. One more casualty of Captain America's wars."
Tony glanced at him, confusion on his face.
"It was my choice to give what little space was left to something that was easy," Steve said, still watching the monitor. "And maybe that was a mistake too. So I am trying now to make room for people I love, the right kind of room, not just the leftovers. And maybe I should make room for something more difficult, too."
"Nobody's ever accused me of being easy to get along with," Tony said.
"You're not the difficult part, Tony," Steve said quietly. "You were never very difficult to love. Even during the war."
"Jesus Christ, Steve -- "
"This -- is not easy for me. Making space, admitting that I am maybe not the person I've let everyone assume...but you aren't part of that difficulty," Steve concluded. On the screen he saw himself smile at Tasha Stark in a way that warmed him, that tamped down the terror a little. "They seem like they're doing all right. Maybe we could try?"
It came out more plaintive than he intended, more vulnerable, but Tony didn't laugh or push back or make a joke. He followed Steve's gaze back to the screen, until Steve reached out and touched his chin, turned his face.
He could see the screen in the corner of his eye, could see the other Steve dip Natasha low and kiss her, just at the moment he kissed Tony -- lightly, as gently as he knew how.
Tony drew back, eventually, then tilted forward, resting their foreheads together.
"Tasha told me on their first date, Steve took her out to a roller rink because all Starks love roller skates, but he didn't know how to skate, and he fell on his ass like fifty times," Tony said. Steve laughed.
"How about we just do lunch, huh?" he said, managing to thread the fingers of one hand through Tony's. He stepped away, pulling Tony with him towards the door. "I'll get changed. I'll buy you lunch."
"You can't skate either, can you?" Tony asked, as they left the lab.
"How hard can it be?" Steve asked. "I have super-soldier balance."
"I'm gonna take you to a roller rink," Tony said.
"Do we even have roller rinks in New York in this universe? I gotta find out," Tony continued, but Steve kept hold of his hand, so he had to work his phone one-handed. "I suppose I could just build one."
"Tony," Steve said, pulling him around for another kiss. "You start on that. I'm going to change. Meet you at the garage in ten minutes, okay?"
Tony met his eyes -- he still had slight red rims where he'd been crying, but his gaze was clear.
"I'm buying retail space to convert to a roller rink," he said.
"Romantic," Steve said fondly.
"Ten minutes, Steve. If you're late, I'm telling Tasha that no Steve Rogers in any universe is any use at all on skates!" Tony called after him.