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“Nice,” Steve says when Natasha sinks the eight ball about three turns too early.

She tosses her hair. “I meant do that,” she says deliberately.

“Uh huh,” Steve answers as he starts to fish the balls out of the pockets one by one for a new game.

He’s been at the Academy about four months now and he has to say, Club A, with its pool table and small dance floor and robot bartenders is definitely one of his favorite perks of the campus.

There’s a shout of laughter from somewhere over his shoulder and he turns towards the bar to see Tony grinning as the girl he’s talking to doubles over in laughter. He’s leaning on the bar, his hip cocked and a beer in his hand and he’s got the collar of his stupid red and gold jacket turned up. Steve resolutely does not let his eyes linger on the way his tight black pants give everything away. Instead he watches Tony whisper something else, looking immensely proud of himself.

“Why do you put up with it?” he says. Natasha follows his gaze to where Tony is now leaning in and waggling his eyebrows at the girl. Steve can’t see her face from this angle but the way she’s winding her hair around one finger seems a pretty indicator of how she feels.

“What, Tony?”

Steve nods. “He’s always hitting on you – it’s like he’s physically incapable of talking to girls without it being a come-on.”

Natasha flaps her hand. “He’s harmless.”

At that moment, the girl Tony’s talking to gasps loudly and slaps him. She storms off, leaving Tony rubbing at his face. His cheeky grin hasn’t withered one bit. Steve shakes his head and turns back to the pool table.

He takes his shot – sinks three of his solids – and as he’s leaning over to take his next, glances up to see Natasha staring at him, her head at a tilt.

“What?” he asks, sinking another solid. He straightens up and circles around the table, shooting another glance her way.

Her probing look is gone. “I don’t know why I keep playing with you,” she says with a shake of her head. “Bouncing things off at an angle is like, your whole thing.”

Steve grins. “Maybe you just like losing.”

Natasha raises an eyebrow. “Is that a challenge?”

“Who’s winning?” They both turn at the sound of Tony’s voice.

He’s got a fresh cold beer in his hand, which is currently pressed to one side of his face. Steve is sure that underneath the perspiring bottle is the clear outline of a bright red handprint. He finds himself wincing sympathetically as he bends over the table and takes his shot, sinking his final solid and the eight ball all in one go.

Tony sniggers. “Forget I asked.” He sidles up to Natasha, filling up all her personal space. “Don’t worry Nat, I’m sure there’s plenty of other things you’re good at.” He takes a swig from his bottle, leering at her over the top.

She shoots a glance at Steve and then unexpectedly swings her hips, bringing her body into contact with Tony’s. “Oh, trust me,” she murmurs, and she slides the back of her hand down his unhurt cheek, “there are.” She leans in close, tucks her lips in beside his ear. “I can show you if you’d like.”

To Steve’s astonishment, Tony’s eyes go wide. He abruptly takes a step back, stumbling over the pool cue propped behind him.

“I, uh, I think I hear Jan calling me.” Then he turns tail and all but runs off.

Steve gapes after him. “Wow.”

“Yep.” She pops the P, looking immensely proud of herself.

“That was—he just—”

“Mmhmm.”

“And I thought I was bad,” Steve says.

“Told you,” she says, looking smugly at her fingernails. “It’s all a show. He’s terrified of me.”

“That’s just because he doesn’t know about your pink fuzzy socks.”

Natasha’s expression changes in an instant. “Those are private, Rogers,” she hisses. “I will murder you—”

Steve sees Sam approaching over her shoulder and bites down a grin.

“Hey, Steve.” Sam nods at him. He turns to Natasha and sticks out a hand. “C’mon Fuzzy Socks,” he says, “let’s dance.”

Natasha accepts his hand but shoots a death glare at Steve over her shoulder as she goes. Steve just laughs.

He leans back against end of the pool table and takes another swig of his Coke. The day is bright and sunny, with enough of a breeze to keep the crowd scattered around from sweating their shirts through. Over in the DJ booth, Vision’s spinning a pulsing, jazzy set - Steve’s already spent a couple of hours on the dancefloor but if this keeps up he’s definitely tempted to go a few more.

He looks out onto the floor, where Sam and Natasha are getting their groove on. Behind them Kamala and Jan are playing some sort of copycat game, with Kamala executing a ridiculous dance move and Jan mimicking it to her best ability. It’s not helped by the fact that she keeps collapsing into breathless giggles. Steve grins into his can.

The others on the floor are unfamiliar to Steve, likely strangers that Jan had invited over. Over the last few weeks she and Tony had turned what used to be a casual thing for the kids at the Academy into a daily rager for the locals. Jan, Steve has learned, is quite the social star; he doesn’t think he’s ever seen her without her phone in her hand, thumbs tap tap tapping away.

Right now, her partner-in-crime is conspicuously absent. Steve turns around and, as expected, finds him alone at the bar, perched precariously on the edge of his stool. A pair of sunglasses have appeared on his face and the drink in his hand has been upgraded to something amber in a short glass – whiskey, Steve’d wager.

Steve sighs. He makes his way over, downing the last of his soda as he goes.

“Another one please,” he says as he puts the can down. The robot behind the bar whizzes off to get it and Steve leans forward to watch – he’s not sure he’ll ever get used to the fact that this is the world he lives in now. And there are definitely days he’s not sure he wants to but times like this, they’re not so bad.

“Whoa, Cap.” Steve twists to see Tony’s arched an eyebrow at him over his tinted lenses. “Take it easy there. You really oughta pace yourself.”

Steve accepts the new can from the robot with a nod and sinks down onto the seat behind him. “Tony,” he says exasperatedly, looking pointedly at Tony’s drink. “It’s 4 o'clock.”

Tony shrugs. “I’d say it’s 5 o'clock somewhere but really, who cares?” He takes a deep swig from his glass. “Is there a magic switch that flips over then that suddenly makes this more acceptable?” He leans in close. “Hate to break it you Steve, but nobody gives a shit.”

Steve rubs his forehead. He opens his mouth to reply when an alarm blares across the campus. He gets to his feet and pull his Avengers card out of his pocket. It’s blinking red rapidly. He looks up to see Tony glaring down at his own (blank) card, his lips twisted sourly. It strikes Steve as odd, since he’d think Tony would be happy he could keep partying. But he doesn’t have time to think about that now.

It’s time to go to work.

---

It’s late when he and Natasha get back. Steve can’t be sure of the exact time – after 3am at least - but he does know that it’s way too late for the sounds of giggling and voices that are echoing out of the dorm. He and Natasha exchange a long-suffering look and push their way through the doors.

The blast of noise is immediate. Clearly the simple group hangout from earlier had evolved into something much bigger in the time they’d been gone. The place is an utter disaster, cups and bottles strewn everywhere, half abandoned pizza crusts littering the table, and the smell of booze permeating into everything.

Natasha murmurs something about finding Sam and Steve nods, bidding her goodnight. It’d been a long, difficult mission and he doesn’t blame her for wanting some human comfort right then.

He dodges around the clumps of people scattered through the hall, some dancing, some chatting. Some making out. And curled up against the wall, there is a familiar ball of red and gold.

Steve sighs. He shuffles wearily off to his room to shed his gear and takes a minute to steady himself. There’s a burning ache on his left side as the serum goes to work on the ribs he’s cracked.

He pops into the bathroom to scrub the worst of the dirt and blood off his hands and face. A quick glance in the mirror shows him the huge gash he’d had just under his hairline has all but disappeared. He smoothes his hair down and gulps down a couple of handfuls of water. Somebody seems to have changed the linens while he was out and the towel he picks up is soft and warm to the touch. He keeps his face buried in the fresh scent of it for a moment and swipes it over his arms and neck when he resurfaces.

Knowing his sheets are likely to be even softer, warmer, make it all that much harder to walk past his bed and back into the hallway. The sight that greets him doesn’t help.

Something seems to have motivated Tony into uncurling from the floor – something probably being the bottle in his hand. Steve rubs hard at his forehead. He knows logically the serum makes it impossible for him to get headaches but sometimes he thinks someone forgot to tell Tony that.

He’s seen Tony at this level of drunk before. He knows what comes after the melancholy stage and he’s really not in the mood to spend the rest of the night ensuring Tony doesn’t choke on his own vomit.

Tony’s swigging from the bottle like there’s a prize waiting for him at the bottom. He stops to take a breath and Steve takes him by the shoulder, lightly tugs him around.

“Tony,” he says, placing his other hand gently on Tony’s wrist, halting him from lifting the bottle to his lips again. “I think you’ve had enough.”

Tony raises his head and Steve’s breath catches. Tony’s eyes are rimmed with red. His eyebrows are knit together, as if he can’t quite figure out where this sudden obstacle has come from but he doesn’t say a word, just stares and stares and for a moment he looks so utterly defeated it makes Steve’s heart clench. Then he blinks and all that’s left is fury. It surprises Steve enough that when Tony tugs his arm free Steve doesn’t even put up a fight and then next thing he knows, Tony is three steps away from him and glowering hard enough to set the air on fire. He takes a deep gulp from the bottle, glaring at Steve over the top the whole time and Steve’s lip curls.

Seriously?” Steve says. He’s way too tired for this crap right now and he reaches out to pluck the bottle from Tony’s hand.

Drunk Tony, however, has faster reflexes than Steve anticipated and Steve’s left grasping at air.

“Just leave me alone,” Tony snarls. “What the fuck is your problem anyway?”

“My problem?” Steve repeats in disbelief. “Tony, what the hell are you doing?”

“You really are all brawn and no brain, aren’t you, Rogers?” Steve sets his jaw. Tony’s just lashing out, he knows that. “I’m getting drunk, what does it look like?”

“It looks like you’re already there.”

Tony shrugs. He downs the last dregs from the bottle and tosses it over his shoulder. Steve flinches as it hits the floor with a crash. He’s glad that the crowd seems to have cleared out some while he was cleaning himself up – he wonders absently if that was Natasha’s doing.

When he turns back Tony’s already got a fresh beer in hand, cap off. “Cheers, Cap,” he says, raising the bottle up. He takes a long sip and swipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. “Oh don’t look at me like that. It’s not like you should be surprised. This is what everyone expects, right? Tony Stark, party boy?”

“What are you talking about?”

“C’mon Cap. Nobody takes me seriously around here. You of all people should know that.”

“Well maybe that’s because you don’t take yourself seriously,” Steve shoots back exasperatedly. “You keep going around telling everyone you’re taking a half day and to meet you at the hot tub!”

“You don’t get it. Everyone loves you. Hell, even I—” He cuts himself off abruptly, looking suddenly alarmed.

Steve frowns. “What?”

Tony shakes his head. “Nothing,” he says and he takes another sip. Steve clenches his fists, fighting the urge to bat the damn bottle out of his hands.

“Tony—”

“Look, Steve. I tried, okay? But they wrote me off long before you got here.”

“Who? What are you talking about?”

“Listen,” Tony says, his voice cracking on the single word and Steve is shocked to see that his eyes seem to be glistening. “I know, okay? I know I’m a fuckup. I can’t seem to—I don’t know how to—” He swipes at his eyes with his free hand. “I’m trying, okay?” He murmurs, his voice hoarse. “But I just don’t know what else to do. You and Natasha and Sam and Kamala – you guys all got called out on missions today. And my card?” He takes it out of his pocket and holds it up in front of his face. “Stayed this stupid plain old white. All day. All week. Hell, I don’t know what I’m doing with it at all.” And he sends the card flying the way of the broken bottle.

Steve gapes at him. “Tony, that’s ridiculous. You’re a huge asset to the team. I’ve seen it myself.” He points at the bottle in Tony’s hand. “But you were drinking in the middle of the day. That’s probably why Fury left you off the roster.”

“Fury hates me. Told me nobody here respects me or thinks I can be a hero. I think those might have been his exact words, actually.” Tony sniffs hard, seemingly trying to regain control of himself. “And he’s right. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

Steve is still processing the fact that Fury had said that – it didn’t at all seem in line with the way he’d seen Fury treat Tony when they were out in the field, entrusting all of their safety to his genius on more than one occasion – but that was left for another day to consider as Tony spins on his heel, snagging another bottle before he storms off.

Steve takes off after him, diverting briefly into the kitchen to grab a bottle of water. He knows Tony can be a miserable drunk but he’s never seen him quite like this. He’s certainly never seen him cry.

The little detour means he loses Tony’s trail and by the time he picks it up again, Tony is outside, downing the last of his open beer as a briefcase unfolds into a bright red hoverboard behind him.

“Tony!” Steve calls through the open door from the top of the stairs. “Stop!” A voice in the back of his mind wonders if a HUI (Hovering Under the Influence) was a thing and he shakes the thought loose because Tony is ignoring him, the jerk, with the ease of someone who’s spent most of the last four months doing that.

Tony tosses the empty into the grass and leaps aboard his favorite toy with the fresh sealed beer in hand.

Steve huffs forcefully. He just wants to go to bed. The ache in his side has doubled in intensity and there’s a mild throbbing coming from his left calf, which apparently he’d pulled. He curses Fury and Jan and everyone else who’d had a hand in bringing them to this point, most of all Tony, and braces himself for the inevitable spike in pain he knows is coming.

He steps one foot back, then pushes off of it to jump the entire flight of steps at once. Tony’s already shrinking into the distance by the time he makes it out the door and he sprints after him, ignoring the growing burn in his leg.

Tony’s flight path is, predictably, incredibly erratic and he veers dangerously close to the thick brick wall of the library. Steve pours on the speed and when he’s close enough, leaps. He throws his arms out and tackles the smaller man, who grunts in surprise.

The momentum is enough to send them both flying off the side of the board and it’s possible Steve didn’t think this through because now they’re about to make a very rough reacquaintance with the earth. He twists them so that Tony is on top, knowing the serum can handle the brunt of the impact and squeezes his eyes shut.

Then he opens them because he’s pretty sure they should have made some contact by now.

The world is screaming by in a blur. Colors and mist swirl around them and in the distance shadowy figures are flying by, way too quickly to make out. Tony has started yelling at some point; Steve wonders if it wouldn’t do to follow suit.

Just when he thinks he’s worked up to a good shout of terror, his back collides with something hard, forcing almost all the air out of his lungs. Tony landing on top of him takes care of that last bit.

They lay there for a bit, both panting hard. Steve finds his eyes have somehow fallen shut again and he lets them stay that way for a moment. The surface beneath is cold and flat. It feels like a floor, likely metal, which means they’ve landed somewhere indoors. Which…doesn’t make any sense.

The weight on his chest lifts as Tony clambers off of him and he inhales deeply, steadying his breath.

His eyes flutter open. “Are you alright?” he says, casting the words up into the air with no particular direction. The ceiling above him is curved and metallic, meaning he was likely correct about the floor.

“Me?!” Tony’s voice breaks on the word. “You’re the one that didn’t have a squishy super-soldier to land on. Are you alright?”

Steve sits up gingerly, rubbing at the back of his neck. He’s grateful he’d kept his head tucked because that collision would not have been kind to his brain.

“Where are we?” he asks, not bothering to answer Tony’s question. He’s facing a wall covered top to bottom in panels and buttons. Combined with the structure of the surfaces, he’d guess they were on the inside of some sort of submarine.

“Well,” Tony says from somewhere over his shoulder, “it’s been awhile since I’ve actually been to Geography but I’d wager…somewhere cold.”

Steve turns to him with a raised eyebrow, then follows the point of his finger to the window.

“Ah,” Steve says. The view through the glass is misty but the bobbing ice floes are unmistakeable.

“Also can we talk about how much of a snoozefest those classes are? Coulson is about the least compelling teacher ever. You think being a super secret spy would help—”

“Shh!”

“Jeez, sorry Cap, I didn’t know you loved him so much—”

“No, you idiot,” Steve hisses. “We don’t know where we are and how we ended up here. We probably don’t want to call attention to ourselves.” He’s kicking himself for not realizing it earlier but in his defense, the long day was really starting to take its toll.

“Oh, right.” Of course, Tony is still very, very drunk. He lifts a finger to his grinning lips. “Stealthy, you got it,” he says in a voice that is not all stealthy.

Steve sighs. They haven’t been found out yet so it may just be that they’ve ended up somewhere unoccupied, but he isn’t counting on that luck lasting him forever.

“We need to get out of here,” he whispers, getting to his feet with a wince as the pain in his leg rears its head. They appear to have landed in a main control room of sorts – the kind of room that doesn’t tend to stay vacant for long.

“Right you are, mon capitan,” Tony whispers back, a good few decibels louder. “Should we try that door?”

There is, indeed, a door conveniently located behind them with a nice big wheel of a handle in the middle. Steve strides up to it and attempts to takes hold of one of the spokes but his hand slides right through.

“What the hell?” He tries again, lowering his hand more slowly this time, but again he fails to make any sort of tangible contact with the handle. He turns to look at Tony, who just shrugs. Steve realizes with a jolt that Tony’s still got the unopened bottle clutched in one hand; he pushes down the abrupt urge to snatch it and fling it against the wall. He’s got bigger concerns right now.

He turns back to the door. Extending one finger, he pushes his hand outward deliberately. The contact with metal never comes – his finger just seems to disappear through the surface.

He doesn’t quite gape because he’s seen enough strange things in the past four months that this just seems about par for the course, but he does blink twice in rapid succession. A sudden shove at his back saves him a decision on his next move, leaving him stumbling forward and through to the other side of the door.

Tony follows behind, shoving his free hand in his pocket. “Got tired of waiting,” he says cavalierly when Steve slits a glare at him.

The light is better here and Steve can see his red-rimmed eyes so he drops it. It’s easy to forget, in light of his behavior sometimes, just how methodical everything Tony does and says actually is.

There are definitely voices now, though Steve can’t quite make them out until an ear-splitting cry breaks through.

“Bucky-- Bucky! Look out!”

Steve’s eyes widen and he sees Tony’s do the same.

“You can’t kill him! You can’t kill Bucky! I won’t let you! I’ll smash you all!

“Thor! Iron Man! Stop him! He’s gone mad!

They scramble forward as quietly as possible, taking cover behind what appears to be a computer that almost fills the breadth of the room.

It’s hard to make out the skirmish in front of them – it’s a scramble of colorful costumes and violent tussles. Part of the scene resolves into a strange red and gold robot and a tall blond man in a winged helmet and red cape, both of whom are struggling to restrain another large blond man in a bright blue costume. A man who looks strangely like…

“Captain America,” Tony breathes. The red gloves and boots, the stripes, the giant white star on his chest – this was indeed the costume of the comics Steve had become familiar with and that he knew Tony had grown up reading. They’d shown it to him when he first joined the Academy. Steve was displeased but thoroughly unsurprised that they had usurped his mantle and his image for that kind of propaganda after he’d disappeared into the ice.

In front of them, the man suddenly subsides and half-collapses towards the ground.

“It’s useless! I remember now! He is dead-- he is! And nothing on Earth can change that!”

The red and gold robot is hanging back and Steve doesn’t understand how, with the mask it’s wearing, but it seems to be radiating sympathy.

The distressed blond man raises his head in the robot’s direction and Steve’s breath catches. The face around them might be older – more lined, jaw more filled out – but he’d recognize those blue eyes anywhere. After all, he sees them in the mirror every single day.

“Where am I?” the man is asking. “How did I get here? Who are you?”

“That’s what we were about to ask you!” the robot replies. Steve is instantly fascinated with the lilt of the mechanized sound.

The man pushes to his feet. “Who am I?” He looks around and spots something on a table in the far corner. “For a moment,” he says as he strides towards it, “I had almost forgotten myself.”

Steve can’t make out his next words – they’re muffled by the man tugging something over his head – but it’s impossible to miss what follows. The man turns around, his face now masked by a bright blue cowl with tiny white wings poking out on each side. Steve spares a moment to wonder just what fascination these people had with wearing wings on their head; maybe it was some sort of religious symbol here?

“I was once the man the world called—” The man pauses dramatically and snaps his legs together to stand to attention. “—Captain America!” he proclaims.

Beside him, Steve can hear Tony snigger. He rolls his eyes – this all did seem a little too dramatic.

“Everything fits, except one detail,” a gigantic man in a red suit comments. “You haven’t been heard from since the second World War! Why haven’t you aged?”

“I, too, have puzzled over that fact!” chimes in the blond in the cape. “How can the true Captain America still be as young as he who stands before us?”

“If this is some kind of trick, mister-- you’ll live to regret it!” Steve is starting to reconsider whether the robot is merely just high-tech armor – the complexity in body language and voice from the figure is unlike anything he’s seen.

“I’ve no need of tricks! Try to conquer me!” The man, ‘Captain America’, springs neatly into the air as the other blond flings a goddamn hammer at him and tries to do just that.

“Holy shit!” Tony yells as the scene in front of them devolves into a full on battle. He claps a hand quickly over his mouth.

Steve winces but strangely, nobody seems to have noticed. Tony appears to have come to the same conclusion and he drops his hand.

The fight to prove Captain America’s authenticity is brought to a screeching halt when a woman in a black and red costume appears as if from thin air.

“A girl!” Captain America exclaims, mouth hanging open dumbly. “But-- from where?” The shock is enough to drain the fight out of him, leaving behind a rather desolate looking man in its place.

“We’re convinced, fellow!” the robot exclaims happily. “You’re the real McCoy alright!”

“Why are they talking like that?” Tony murmurs.

Steve doesn’t answer, too engrossed in listening as Captain America starts to tell them of his life up to then.

His own past is a bit of a blur – it’s one of the many mysteries that seem to hover over the Academy. But the Captain’s tale is stirring something in Steve’s memory and his mention of his pal Bucky definitely strikes a little too close to home.

“What the hell is going on?” he whispers to himself.

Tony hears him though and, being Tony, doesn’t take it for the rhetorical question it is. Instead he bursts out from behind the computer and loudly greets the group with a, “Hey guys!”

Not a single one of them glance their way.

Beneath the stab of irritation at Tony’s complete disregard for planning and his own safety, Steve feels a comforting lack of surprise at this outcome. From the moment his hand had slipped through the door handle he’d started to suspect that their presence here isn’t entirely normal. (Not that there were any circumstances under which landing flat on your back on the floor of a submarine would be.)

Tony, much better practiced with being the ignorer rather than the ignoree, is now jumping up and down, hollering obscenities at the group. Steve goes to grab him and possibly throttle him but just as he takes a step forward, Tony disappears.

Steve stares at the space where he used to be, horror mounting inside of him.

“Tony?” he calls, raising his voice over the continued chatter from the costumed weirdos around him. He spins around, eyes scanning rapidly over the room. “Tony I don’t know what you think you’re doing but this isn’t funny!”

Steve creeps forward carefully, sliding one foot in front of the other on the off-chance that there was some strange hole in the floor he can’t see, his hands stuck out like a blind man’s.

“Tony?” he tries again. “To— ahhhh!”

The ground beneath him has disappeared and he’s falling yet again, the familiar swirl of colors and noises flying around him. He hears an echo of a voice all around him, makes out the second half its words to be “…you, Captain America, to the ranks of-- The Avengers!” and then suddenly he’s made impact again, though it’s much gentler this time and when his eyes fly open, it’s to see Tony’s hand stuck in front of his face, offering him a hand up.

“Welcome,” Tony cracks as Steve takes it. “Glad you could make it.”

“What the hell is going on?” Steve asks once he’s on his feet. They appear to be in someone’s living room, though the décor is definitely unlike anything Steve’s seen before.

There’s a man sitting in a tall blue armchair, though Steve reconsiders that classification when he circles the chair and sees a wire coming out of the man’s chest, going straight into the wall. Still, there’s something strangely familiar about his face, even with the grotesque moustache the man is sporting.

“Well, thanks to some extremely useful expositional monologuing, it appears that that the man watching the television is one of the Avengers from before. Judging by his highly fashionable wear, I think he’s the guy with the hammer,” Tony jokes.

“That’s a television?” They’d never had one when Steve was growing up (hell he didn’t think he’d ever even seen one) and this was nothing like the 60-inch flatscreen in the common area of their dorm.

“It’s retro, late 60s I’d guess.”

Something onscreen has galvanized the man into yanking the wire out of his chest (ouch) and leaping to his feet. He starts to assemble pieces of red and gold metal around himself.

“Banishment or no banishment-- the time has come for Iron Man to enter the scene again!” the man pronounces.

“What banishment? What’s he talking about?”

“Apparently he was benched from the Avengers for awhile,” Tony replies. Steve shoots him a questioning look. “I told you, extremely useful monologuing!”

Steve watches the man disappear beneath the robot, the nagging hints in his brain falling into place. “Tony…” he murmurs.

“Hmm?”

“No he’s— Iron Man. That’s Tony.” Steve turns away from armored man to look at his friend. “That’s you.”

“Oh, yeah, you figured it out. Yup, that’s good ol’ Tony Stark.” Tony’s lips twist up into a wry grin. “It’s sort of reassuring that I get benched in every universe.”

Steve wants to refute that but he’s distracted by— “Every universe?”

“Or time,” Tony replies. “I haven’t quite figured it out yet but I think universe makes more sense, because if the timefog had merely taken us forward into the future, you’d be part of the Avengers already, not just being unfrozen for the first time. Though there seems to have been a time shift too. And also—“

“Wait, hold on. Timefog?”

Tony gives him a look. “Yeah, you know the weird, mysterious clouds that hang around our campus that nobody can tell us about and are supposedly dangerous, and yet for some reason are not fenced off from the students? Seriously, Fury has like zero sense of student safety, I mean—”

“You think we fell into the timefog?” Steve cuts in again. He catches Iron Man jump out the window out of the corner of his eye. “That’s why we’re here?” That…makes a surprising amount of sense.

“Well, I don’t really know why we’re here yet, let alone where here is.” And just as he says that, the here shifts and suddenly they’re in the middle of the street in what looked to be New York City. At least they’ve stayed on their feet this time.

The familiar whine of a repulsor draws Steve’s attention upwards. He tilts his head back just in time to see Iron Man hit the large caped blond man from before with a blast from his beam. Steve’s not sure what kind of technology this Iron Man is using but it appears to be doing nothing more than catching the blond man in a spin.

With the help of the gigantic man, who appears to have grown even larger than the last time they’d seen him, the blond is restrained and Iron Man manages to break the spell that is apparently making him fight his peers.

“Iron Man!” The blond man blinks, coming back to himself. “What are you doing here? Is your week’s banishment already ended?”

“Well, that’s a tad ungrateful,” Steve mutters. “What?” he says to Tony’s surprised look.

Tony just shakes his head. Steve frowns, opening his mouth to say something else but, of course, that’s when the world starts to whirl away again. He hears Iron Man’s robotic tones ringing through the stream, asking worriedly after Cap’s health. Steve realizes abruptly that he hadn’t seen him in this last battle – he hopes the man is okay.

That thought falls away when he hits the floor again, this time right on his still-healing side. He allows himself a little groan and just lies there for a moment, eyes closed.

A thud beside him forces them open again.

It’s Tony. He’s already clambering to his feet. “Hey,” he asks, peering down curiously at the still-prone Steve. “You alright?”

“Fine,” Steve bites out, heaving himself upright.

Tony starts to object but Steve cuts him off with a slow, “Tony?”

“Yes?”

“...why are you naked?”

---

Steve is relieved to see with his own two eyes that Captain America is indeed alive and (mostly) well. There are two other men in the room they’ve landed in – a scrawny blond in a shirt and tie, leaning heavily on a walking stick, and a heavily muscled silver man (if he could even be termed that) who is, at the very least, wearing some silver underwear. The group appear to be recovering from sort of scuffle. Naturally, Iron Man is the only one who’d lost his clothes in the process.

Next to him, Tony is tilting his head at the group, smiling at the way the blond man sweetly offers Iron Man his coat and then full-blown grinning at the way Iron Man states it’s, “not my style”.

“You know, I didn’t get a proper look but I don’t think he was fully naked.” Tony says thoughtfully. “I think he was actually wearing a tiny red thong. Maybe the armor gives him VPL.”

“Shh!” Steve resolutely does not ask what VPL is. Nor does he pay attention to the sudden image in his brain of his Tony in a tiny red thong. “I’m trying to listen to the expositional monologuing.”

Tony laughs delightedly at Steve’s use of the term. He’s definitely still drunk, though their little adventure seems to have done away with his dark mood. Steve can’t help but be a little thankful for that.

“Wait a minute!” Captain America seems right het up. “Where’s Thor? And…Tony Stark…you’re…?”

“Iron Man! Right, Cap! I feel a little foolish about keeping that secret from you ‘till now. I’m sure Don feels the same way…”

“Right, Tony…” the blond man chimes in.

“Dr. Don Blake-- you are Thor?” Captain America seems utterly flummoxed.

“Little slow on the uptake isn’t he?” Tony whispers as the blond – Don – explains how he is, indeed, Thor, who Steve can only guess is the same blond Avenger with the red cape.

Steve feels his face heat at the comment. “He’s in shock,” Steve spits. “His teammates have both been lying to him this whole time.”

He doesn’t realize how defensive he sounds until he sees Tony’s face fall. “Hey, Rogers, I was just making a joke—”

What?!” They both snap their heads back towards the group at Iron Man’s loud exclamation.

“Surely you’re not serious,” Don/Thor is saying.

Both Iron Man and Captain America have their hands on their hips and are locked in a classic staredown. “Look, I understand your feelings, but our basic abilities are intact! Even without his board and my shield we can—”

“You think Iron Man is just a suit of armor, Cap? Is that what you’re saying?” Steve can feel Tony fidgeting beside him, though it’s hard to know if it’s from the current conversation or if it’s residual guilt from his last comment.

Iron Man raises one fist in the air emphatically. “Like it or not, we’re with you!”

“The Avengers stand assembled, Captain America.” Don/Thor declares. “Now, lead us!”

“All right! I get the message. I should have known better than to think you’d—” Captain America clasps each of them by the shoulder. “I mean, you two are the best…”

“Save it, Cap!” Iron Man cuts in. “We’ve got work to do!”

Captain America grins. “Affirmative, mister! Now here’s my plan…”

They gather into a huddle, listening raptly as Captain America outlines their play. Steve can’t help but be impressed and mildly envious at the way even Iron Man seems to hang on to this Captain’s every word. Clearly this team has an intense amount of trust and respect for the man.

It’s not that Steve wishes Tony would suddenly do anything Steve said, no questions asked. He firmly believes respect is something to be earned. But the guy could stand to take orders a little more frequently, if at all.

He watches this Iron Man go to work on building some sort of gadget from the parts around him. It’s something he’s seen his own Tony do dozens of times. Too many of those times, though, the result was a toy – something built more to wreak havoc around campus than to prevent it somewhere else. He understands Tony’s mood, especially if Fury really had said those things to him, but Steve’d meant what he’d told him – Tony desperately needed to take everything a little more seriously, himself most of all.

“Hey,” Tony murmurs, breaking into Steve’s thoughts. “Why do you think we haven’t ju—”

The rest of his words are swallowed into the noise as they’re transported once again.

He’s not sure what it is that prompts the jumps but he’s grateful that this one at least plants him on the end of a bed, albeit an extremely lumpy one. Past experience tells him not to complain.

He climbs off of it and looks round to see Tony wasn’t as lucky. “That is so not fair,” he moans as he uncurls from his heap on the floor.

They appear to have landed in a hotel room, though Steve uses the term loosely. There are huge cracks in the wall and entire portions of it where the lurid green paint has peeled off, revealing red brick underneath. Buckets full of stagnant water are scattered throughout the place, despite the clear sky peeking through the grimy window, suggesting it’s not just the faucet that leaks. Every piece of furniture in the room (not that there are many) is dented, cracked, or completely broken. He can’t even begin to imagine what had happened to put that giant gaping hole in the television set in the corner.

“Strange,” Tony says and Steve tears his eyes away from the break in the ceiling to look over at him.

Steve raises his eyebrows, as if to say ‘which part?’

Tony gestures with the beer bottle in his hand, which, against all odds, he is still clutching unbroken in his hand. Steve thinks there must be some sort of meaning in that. “You landed on the bed, right?”

Steve nods, no clue where this is headed.

“I feel like that shouldn’t have happened. Like, how come you didn’t just fall right through it?”

“Huh,” Steve says, understanding what Tony’s getting at. He kicks a leg out and immediately regrets it when his foot collides with the bedpost, sending a shock of pain through his injured calf muscle.

Tony twists his face up in sympathy. “Something’s changing,” he says. “I think from being in the timefog for awhile.”

“What do you think happens if we stay too long?”

Before Tony can answer, the door bursts open.

It’s this world’s Tony Stark, though he bears only a passing resemblance to the man in the last scene. This Stark is a total mess, his shirt hanging crumpled and half open, deep bruises under unfocused eyes and his hair in complete disarray. Poetically, he’s also gripping a bottle in one hand, though this Stark’s is much larger.

Steve holds his breath but it seems like even with the changes to their physicality, they at least still seem to be invisible to the people of this universe. Stark just brushes past them and ducks into the bathroom, a cloud of stale whiskey scent trailing behind him.

He reappears immediately with a cup and stops just long enough to toe off his shoes before landing heavily on the bed. Steve shoots a glance at Tony, who’s gripping his own bottle so tightly that his hand has gone white. His face has paled to match. Steve tears his gaze away, feeling an ache in his chest that has nothing to do with his healing ribs.

Stark has barely gotten the cap off his drink when another familiar figure appears in the doorway.

“Hiya Cap,” Stark says, strangely serene. Captain America is in full regalia, complete with shield, and with the firm set of his jaw and the fire in his eyes, makes quite the sight. Stark seems completely unperturbed. “C’mon in ‘n siddown.” He raises a glass in Captain America’s direction. “I don’t suppose you’d care to join me in a drink?”

“You’re right, I wouldn’t.” There’s unbending steel in every word. Steve shivers.

“Whaddaya wanna talk about? The weather?”

“Just tell me why,” Captain America spits. “You’re an intelligent man.” Stark pours a deep measure into his glass. “You must know what you’re doing to yourself with every single drop of that stuff you drink.” Stark takes a swig in response and Captain America grunts out a noise of frustration. “You have everything, man – you own your own company, you have plenty of money, you’re an electronics genius—”

“Uh huh,” Stark hiccups as he takes another gulp.

“—women find you attractive, you’re respected in the community, you have a brilliant future ahead of you and I find you here—” Captain America gestures wildly, his voice climbing with every word “—in a rundown hotel in the worst section of the city, swilling cheap liquor, wrecking your life and I want to know why!”

Ringing silence.

“Answer me, Tony.”

Captain America takes a big step forward.

“Stop sucking on that bottle and—” he knocks the bottle ferociously out of Stark’s hand. “—answer me!”

“Or you’ll do what?” Stark shoots back. “Beat me up? You know that without my armor I’m not match for you,” he says matter-of-factly.

Then, to Steve’s horror, Stark slides to the floor and crawls towards the bottle, which by now has spilled out most of its contents onto the floor. “You don’t understand. If you could be inside my skin…if you could feel what I’m feeling, you’d know…” Stark picks up the bottle and peers into its depths, as if he could conjure more within it. “…you’d know that I’ve got to drink…” he whispers to the bottle. He raises his head and Steve reels back at the tears streaking down his face. “I’ve got to…”

“Tony, what you say is not new to me,” Captain America states. “My father – rest his soul – was an alcoholic. We tried to help him, but a man has to want to be helped.” And to Steve’s disbelief, Captain America turns his back on Stark and heads for the door. “Let me know when you do,” he finishes.

He pauses in the doorway a moment, hunched over, and when he’s finally disappeared through it there’s a loud thump, like something hitting the wall hard.

Steve sniffs and when he raises a hand to his face, he’s surprised it comes away wet.

“Shit,” Tony murmurs. Steve dashes a hand across his eyes and allows himself to look at him. He’s surprised by the simple frown he finds on the other man’s face. “Do you smell that?”

Steve sniffs again, with intent this time. “Smoke,” he breathes.

“We’ve got to get him out of here!” Tony cries, gesturing at the human lump on the floor. Stark chooses that moment to list over to one side, landing hard on the wood. He stretches himself out on his stomach, still clutching the empty bottle.

Steve instinctively runs towards him. It’s only when he attempts to tug at his arm that he remembers their situation.

“It’s not working!” Steve exclaims. “I can’t make contact!”

“Goddammit!” Tony drops to the floor. He ducks his head close to Stark’s and yells. “Get UP you stupid, pathetic bastard! You can’t go out like this! This is not the way a Stark dies!”

Steve tries taking his arm again, huffing frustratedly when his arm slips right through.

“ANTHONY EDWARD STARK,” Tony yells, right into his ear and miraculously, Stark stirs.

“Cap?” he mumbles.

“Tony!” Relief bursts through Steve as Captain America comes skidding to a halt right inside the doorway.

“Go ‘way, Cap,” Stark slurs and Steve just wants to shake him. “Lemme ‘lone. I wanna be where I am…I belong on the Bowery.”

“Shut up you fucking idiot,” Tony shouts. He’s shoving ineffectually at Stark’s head with every word. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

Captain America doesn’t even attempt to reason with Stark, just bends down and hefts him over his shoulders in one smooth move.

“Lemme down,” Stark cries, the bottle still clutched in his hand.

“Shut up!” Tony screams and he throws his beer bottle at the wall. It slides right through, not even giving him the satisfaction of breaking and Steve’s heart is aching, aching, aching. He steps forward – he doesn’t know what he’s going to do or say, he just knows that he wants to be by Tony’s side.

Tony disappears.

Steve yells in frustration. He’s so goddamn tired of this. The flames have started to fill the room and though he knows he can’t actually feel it, his brain is shrieking at him to get out. Captain America has already taken Stark through the window out onto the fire escape. Steve dances around for a moment, feeling silly but hoping fruitlessly that somehow he’ll find the sweet spot and follow after Tony like before.

The fire is too big to ignore though and he doesn’t think now is a good time to test the limits of his interaction with the world. He scrambles towards the window and sees that Captain America’s already made it to the bottom, Stark safely still in hand. Somewhat relieved that at least this Tony Stark is safe, Steve puts one foot out the window.

The world falls away again.

---

He’s in a bar.

It’s the smell that tells him, before he’s even opened his eyes. It’s the stale odor that lingers on Tony’s skin the morning (or, all too often now, the evening) after a bender, the gross stench that teems out of his pores when they’re sparring sometimes and Tony’s reflexes are just a hair too slow.

He pushes off of the grimy floor and looks around, trying to force down the sick feeling of disappointment filling his gut.

The place is packed with people of all sorts, scattered in clumps around small tables, shooting some pool, or just hunched over alone at the bar, a tall glass of beer clutched between two hands. He spots Tony amongst the latter group and breathes a sigh of relief.

Tony’s managed to isolate himself in the corner by the register. He’s perched on the edge of the stool, body angled away from the bar, and head cocked, listening for something. Steve follows his intense gaze to the pair of men sitting at a table just a few feet away.

It’s Captain America and Stark, looking deeply engaged in serious conversation. While Captain America is dressed casually in a black turtleneck under a red coat, Stark sits in an expensive-looking bespoke suit and with so much more color in his face than the last time Steve had seen him.

He looks good, Steve thinks, as he weaves through the crowd to Tony’s side. He can hear Stark’s smooth baritone rumbling out a long speech but even with his enhanced hearing, it’s hard to make out exactly what he’s saying.

“You missed the expositional dialogue, Cap,” Tony says without preamble as Steve approaches. He props his elbow on the bar and sinks his chin into his palm, slitting Steve a wry look through half-lidded eyes. “Turns out our Stark is even bigger of a dick than we thought.”

“Tony,” Steve intones. “You’re not a dick. Neither is he. He’s just…” He can make out Stark’s words quite clearly now and his lips twist unhappily. “…troubled.”

Tony drops his hand and rolls his eyes. “Let’s see,” he says, counting off on his fingers, “he sucker punched Captain America and apparently never explained why, he let his tech get stolen, he gambled the lives of their team without warning, and apparently he ditched Captain America on another planet!”

“I’m sure there’s more to the story than that. You’re only hearing Stark’s side and if he’s anything like you…”

“What?”

“It’s just…you tend to make things sound different than they are. Your perspective is a little skewed.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Steve sighs. Tony isn’t going to hear anything he says in his current state. He wishes desperately he could understand why this is all happening and how to make it stop.

“He should’ve let him die,” Tony says bitterly, looking pointedly around at their surroundings. “He’s clearly never going to change.”

Tony,” Steve says, horrified.

“What?” Tony hisses. “Did you see him? He’s a pathetic waste of a human being. He deserved to burn,” he finishes viciously.

Steve gapes at him, his heart banging against his chest. He swallows hard, though it doesn’t seem to do much for the sudden lump in his throat. “Are you…talking about him or—”

“…probably dead.” Stark’s voice, which had been getting progressively louder and more distressed with each word, cuts through Steve’s reply. “You may…choose to disbelieve it if you want, but that thought made me…”

Stark falters. When he finally speaks again, the words are hushed, in sharp contrast to his tone just moments before. “I…Look, I’m not the crying kind, Steve. I didn’t cry at my own father’s funeral.” Steve shoots Tony a sideways glance. With the way Tony is resolutely not looking back at him, Steve knows he’s expecting it. “But right then and there I realized that in this crazy business we’re in, there’s no one I’d miss more than you, and I…well…

“You’re an inspiration to me, Steve. To a lot of us. We may not think like you or act like you—but we still respect you and appreciate what you do and the way you do it. You’re an idealist in a world that is far from ideal. I don’t know how you can do it Steve…how you can keep all the ugliness from getting to you…hardening you…

“I can’t. I’m not as perfect as you…” It’s disconcerting – how much Steve can hear the echo of his Tony in every statement Stark makes. “Forgive me,” Stark finishes in a prayer.

“Tony…” Captain America replies, absolute ache in the word. “I’m not perfect either. I’m sometimes too quick to judge…too slow to forgive.” Steve’s gut twists. He turns to Tony, opening his mouth to say something, though he’s not quite sure what. It doesn’t matter anyway.

“What are you doing?” Steve asks, gawking. Tony’s leaning way over, his stomach flat across the bar, and he’s waving his hand around trying to take hold of something.

“I just want—” Tony says, the words strained by his stretch. “I need to—” He lets out a little scream of frustration as his hand slips through everything he tries to touch. “Water! Or soda or some nuts or—something. I just, I can’t— I don’t want to feel—”

Steve suddenly gets it. He thinks of the water bottle he’d snagged, what seems like years ago now, with the tiny hope that it would help even Tony out just a little bit. It’s probably lying somewhere in the grass with the remains of Tony’s hoverboard.

“You know that time’s the only thing that’ll help,” Steve says quietly. “You just have to wait it out.”

“I don’t want to wait it out,” Tony yells, slamming his fist on the table and to both of their surprise, it shakes the whole damn thing, knocking over a couple of glasses and producing a terrific noise.

The bartender’s head pops up.

“Hey!” She swiftly circles around to their corner of the bar. “What the hell are you doing?” Steve stares at her, cursing his brain for suddenly going blank. She narrows her eyes at them. “Hey, how old are you two anyway?”

“Uh, gotta go,” Tony says, galloping off the barstool. He grabs Steve’s arm and Steve stumbles after him. They go about two steps before the world starts to whirl again but in those last few moments, as colors and sounds start to blur together, he thinks he sees Stark and the other Captain America looking at them, twin looks of curiosity on their faces.

---

Steve isn’t sure if it’s because they’d been in contact when they’d jumped but this time they land in the same spot, thankfully behind a tree. Steve’s adrenaline is still in overdrive from the bartender and his reflexes kick into gear immediately – he claps a hand proactively over Tony’s mouth. He gets a sticky tongue to the palm for the trouble. Steve pinches Tony’s side in retaliation, though he instantly regrets it when Tony squeals. In the end it doesn’t matter much – the shouting of the group in front of them is surely loud enough to drown out any sound they might make – and Steve steps away from Tony, wiping his hand on the leg of his already-filthy pants. The dirt on his knee – a souvenir from the afternoon’s mission – feels like it’s from another lifetime.

A group of costumed men, Captain America included, are clustered in what seems to be an atrium of some sort. Stark is also there, in the Iron Man armor, though unusually he’s got his helmet in his hand instead of on his head.

“It was- it was a DISASTER!” The man yelling and gesturing wildly is fully costumed in black and yellow, familiar to Steve.

“I WASN’T DRUNK!” Stark shouts back. Steve suddenly wishes he’d stayed closer to Tony.

“Say it again, Tony! I was THERE!”

“I wasn’t drunk,” Stark repeats quietly. Impassionedly. “I didn’t have a drink. I haven’t had one in who knows how long.” Tony scoffs and Steve glances at him sidelong. His jaw is set, his eyes burning into the scene in front of them. “I was overcome with the feeling – the feeling of being drunk – I wasn’t in control. That’s why I think this is some sort of attack. All of this. All of it happening at the same time. The mansion. Boom. Scott. Boom. Vision. Boom. And Boom! I’m asked to step down as secretary of defense.”

Secretary of defense?” Steve whispers, dumbfounded.

“What the hell is he droning on about?” Tony mutters with a practiced boredom.

Steve glances at him again, gnawing at his lip.

“Oh man…” The black and yellow man is talking again. “You’re actually using this, this nightmare, to whitewash what you did today? You would do that?”

“No. I am saying they’re connected.”

“Hey, I created Ultron. I’ll take responsibility for my nightmare. Don’t come here—”

“You don’t believe me? Fine.”

“I don’t.” Steve bites down a gasp.

“Really?”

“I was right there.”

“Is that it? You all don’t believe me?”

The silence is unbearable. Steve can’t stand to be there a moment longer, to look at this other version of himself just sitting quietly while Stark is in clear distress.

He gets his wish.

---

“So I guess you’ve figured it out too?” Tony yells at him over the sound of thundering explosions. Or given the rain beating down onto their heads, maybe it’s thunder and explosions.

“Figured what out?” Steve yells back. It’s utter chaos, heroes and convicts brawling in a bloody free-for-all on a glorified rock in the middle of the ocean. They’d hit the ground hard, getting their bearings just in time to see Iron Man save Captain America from his own hard smack into the concrete.

“Lord, look at all this!” comes Iron Man’s roboticized voice, echoing Steve’s own thoughts. “Guess we shouldn’t have broken up the Avengers.”

We didn’t.” Captain America shoots back, flinging his shield. “You did.”

“Did he just say they broke up the Avengers?” Steve exclaims, agape.

“Forget that,” Tony replies. “Did he really just say ‘Lord’?” He shakes his head. “There’s no way that’s me in the su— aaahhh!”

Steve instinctively yanks Tony down as a piece of debris comes hurtling towards them. He raises his head and looks over at where the projectile had landed.

“Is that a half-eaten apple?” Tony asks, though his words are muffled by Steve’s shirt.

Steve sheepishly climbs off Tony, dusting himself off. “Could be a tomato,” he says with a shrug. “Can’t really tell from here.”

Still sprawled out from where Steve had rolled him, Tony picks up a tiny chunk of rock. He eyes Steve speculatively for a moment and Steve’s nerves sing, rightly so when Tony freaking chucks the rock at him.

It sails right through Steve’s torso.

“Hey!” Steve yelps.

“Calm down.” Tony flaps his hand dismissively as he staggers to his feet. “I knew it wasn’t gonna hit you.”

Steve raises an eyebrow at him.

“I was like, 85% sure,” Tony amends. “Besides,” he adds, approaching, “that little pebble would’ve been no match for these miraculous things.” He smacks Steve’s abs with the back of his hand.

Steve, frustratingly, feels his face heat and is momentarily grateful for the chaos around them.

“So what’ve you figured out?” Steve says, turning to watch the fight around them and conveniently tilting his head away from Tony’s gaze. He’s just in time to see Captain America yanking a truck of a man off the purple person he was beating bloody.

“That we do have some control over this thing.”

Steve snaps his head back to Tony. “We do?”

“Gentlemen.” Iron Man calls from somewhere behind him. “If I were you, I would get back in your cells!”

“You mean that’s all we had to say?” a guy in red and blue spandex shoots back smartly.

“Okay, okay, all right! I give!” a voice shrieks.

Tony giggles. “They’ve seem to have finally gotten a handle on this superheroing thing,” he asides to Steve with a grin.

As if in reply, Captain America’s commanding voice resounds through the small island. “Ok, let’s wrap this up and call it a night!”

Steve and Tony watch the battle unfold for a couple of minutes, looking on in awe as the scattered group of heroes take the upper hand, seemingly in response to the Captain’s order. Tony is worryingly giddy about the whole thing, cheering with every uppercut and repulsor blast landed by the good guys. And it’s not that Steve doesn’t think it’s worth cheering for – because these guys, when they’re on, are truly are amazing to watch – but he’s still reeling from the last memory, or whatever these things are. He’s having trouble reconciling the uncanny physical resemblances of this world’s Captain America to him with the way the man seems to keep leaving Stark out to dry. Steve never would have thought there was any universe in which that was possible.

“So you’ve figured out what this is?” Steve asks. The sooner they can get back to reality, the better.

“Not even close,” Tony replies, pumping a fist in the air as a guy with his shirt half ripped off lands a kick right in the face of one of the prisoners. “But I’ve got a few thoughts that might help us get there. Here, take my hand.”

He sticks his hand out, palm up, and Steve feels his face warm again. He clasps Tony’s hand without meeting his eye and a second later, they’re whirling away again.

This time Tony, who seems to have known this was about to happen, lands on his feet. Steve is not as lucky.

“A warning would have been nice,” Steve complains, grimacing. Tony grins and shrugs, but sticks a hand out to pull Steve to his feet. Steve accepts with a roll of his eyes, grateful that his ribs seemed to have mostly healed by now.

He looks around. They seem to have landed on an aircraft carrier, which explains the rough landing. Then he looks over the railing and his world tilts on its axis. Because the water he’d been expecting to see over the side was there…it was just that it was about a hundred feet below them.“Woah!” And there was a Statue of Liberty in between. “Are we flying?”

“Guess so.” Tony shrugs unconcernedly.

“Think fast Captain America!”

Steve instinctively ducks and a bagel goes flying over his head.

“What is with all the airborne food ‘round here?” he asks.

“Dunno but didn’t peg you for a picky eater,” Tony says and Steve looks up to see Captain America clutching onto the plain bagel, asking after sesame seeds.

“This is fine,” Captain America is now saying. He’s leaning on the rail, dressed in his civvies and his blond hair flaps wildly in the wind as Iron Man touches down beside him, helmet in hand.

“So last night was one for the record books,” Stark says.

“Do they have a total on how many escaped?” Captain America replies, taking a big bite as he waits for a response.

“So it was me in the suit,” Tony murmurs.

Steve is bewildered. He takes his cue from Tony and assumes that he can speak freely right now without being heard. “First of all, that’s not you. But also, why would you think it wasn’t Stark?”

Tony shrugs.

“Tony…” Steve tilts his head at him.

“Hey, so you wanna know how this thing works or not?” Tony says, clapping his hands together.

“I…” He’s definitely sobering up, his control more firmly coming back as the alcohol works its way out of his system. As much as Steve thinks he should, at this point if Tony doesn’t want to talk about something, there’s nothing but more booze that would make him. And Steve won’t even think about that approach. “Sure.”

“Just now, when we were listening to another drunk Stark story – you wanted out right? You had your face on.”

“My what?”

“You know, the face. The ‘oh Tony, fucking up again’ face.”

“I do not have a—” Steve is flummoxed. “That’s not at all what—”

“Sure, Cap,” Tony says over him. “So anyway, you wanted so badly to get away from my— Stark’s drunken idiocy that you willed us to the next spot.”

“Tony, hold on. Go back a sec—”

“And as for the rock, well as far as I can see, yes, the longer we spend the more solid we seem to get but I think, at least as of right now, you really have to focus to make a physical, or aural, connection with this world.”

“Tony, will you just listen—”

“I think being drunk actually helps with that. Less inhibited. See, Rogers, would’ve worked in your favor to be a lush like me after all.”

“Will you listen to me, goddammit, why do you have to be so frustrating all the goddamn time?” Steve snaps.

“I’m a genius,” Tony deadpans. “Sorry if you dumb jocks can’t keep up.”

The words make Steve swallow his apology. “Right,” he says instead, suddenly completely drained. He looks away. Why does everything with Tony always have to be so exhausting?

Stark and Captain America are still talking by the railing, Stark sipping on his coffee and Captain America munching on his bagel, leaning easily into each other’s space. Steve feels a sudden pang of envy at the way Stark is looking at Captain America, listening intently, focus only on him.

“You want to assemble a new team of Avengers?” Stark asks.

“I’m saying that the new team already assembled itself,” Captain America replies matter-of-factly. Stark doesn’t seem to agree.

But even when they argue, there’s an easiness to the banter, a flow to the back-and-forth that speaks to an innate trust that he and Tony just don’t seem to have.

“Steve…” Tony murmurs and suddenly Steve doesn’t want to hear it, doesn’t want to be doing any of this anymore. He puts Tony’s words to the test, focuses his energy as much as possible on the word forming in his mouth, tries to picture the sound waves forming as they leave his lips and reverberate through the air to the ears of the men in front of him.

“Hey!” he calls and miracle of miracles, the two superheroes turn around.

They’re gaping at him and out of the corner of his eye, so is Tony, and Steve really should have thought through the next steps before he opened his mouth because the longer the silence drags on, the more jaws start to close and eyes start to narrow.

“Er…” he starts, mind scrambling. He lifts his hands up, palms open by his head. “I come in peace?”

He’s pretty sure they all hear the smack of Tony’s face against his palm.

---

“How come we get Cocoa Puffs?”

Captain America lowers his newspaper enough to frown at them over the top. “Hmm?”

Steve digs up another spoonful of cereal, milk dripping off the edge of it. “I mean, why’re we just sitting here, in your kitchen, eating breakfast? Shouldn’t we be locked up or something? Ow!” He glares across the table at Tony, rubbing his shin where Tony’s pointy little shoes had made contact.

Captain America smirks. “You’re not the first guests we’ve had from other dimensions. Not really much to be done while Tony runs his tests so we might as be comfortable.” He takes a deep slurp of his coffee. “Besides,” he gestures at Tony, “this guy doesn’t really seem to be eating it anyway.”

Steve shoots a curious look at Tony, whose bowl does indeed seem to be full. Tony himself is staring at Captain America’s hands, something Captain America seemed to realize the same time Steve does. Captain America rolls his eyes.

“I should have known,” he mutters, pushing away from the table. He comes back a moment later with another mug of hot coffee, which he sets on the table right in front of Tony.

Brow furrowed in concentration, Tony wraps both hands tightly around the mug and very deliberately lifts it to his lips. He doesn’t put it down again until it’s more than half empty.

“Oh,” Steve says, the relief on Tony’s face sucker-punching him. “Er, can he have some water too?” Steve asks.

Captain America raises his eyebrows but nods and goes to get the water. Tony doesn’t look at him.

“The cereal might help too,” Steve murmurs.

Tony shakes his head. “Coffee first,” he whispers. “Just in case…” He clenches and unclenches his fist and Steve understands.

“Everything alright?” Captain America asks as he plonks the water glass down on the table.

“All good,” Steve replies. He gets now why Tony is being so uncharacteristically silent – he’s putting all his focus into getting something into his body, a desperate attempt at soaking up the last of the alcohol.

Of course, Captain America has got his own Stark to contend with and thus doesn’t look terribly convinced but thankfully, he lets it go.

Once again Steve is struck by just how cavalier he’s being about this whole thing. All they’d done is ask him and Tony a couple of questions, swab their cheeks and then Stark had disappeared down to the lab.

He’s not letting his guard down yet but he takes some comfort in the fact that they can jump away if they need to. Leaning forward, he slurps down the rest of the milk in his bowl and sets the empty bowl heavily back on the counter. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until now; he always forgets just how many calories his healing factor burns up.

Tony slides his untouched bowl towards him, giving him a knowing look when Steve looks back at him askance. It warms Steve to his core but he shakes his head.

“You should eat it.”

A smiling Captain America settles it for them when he gets up to retrieve the cereal box and a gallon of milk from the fridge.

“Thanks,” Steve says, a little surprised.

“I know what it’s like,” Captain America replies, still smiling. There’s a warmth in his voice that wasn’t there previously; not that he’d been malicious before, just clinical.

“This a nice place,” Steve says, filling his bowl back up. That was putting it mildly. The place was massive, all high ceilings and oversized furniture and open-plan everything. They’re about a hundred floors up, the skies are clear, and the view out the floor-to-ceiling windows is stunning.

“No Stark Tower in your universe?”

Steve shakes his head, reaching for the milk. He doesn’t seem to have to focus as much anymore to grab onto things and he’s starting to wonder if that should worry him more. “There is,” Steve elaborates, “but it’s about two stories tall.”

Of course, that’s what gets Tony to break his silence. “With a hot tub on top!” He scrunches up his face, indignant. “I didn’t see any hot tub on this roof, did you?”

Captain America hides his face in his coffee mug, though it does nothing to disguise the laughter in his words. “I see you’re very clear on your priorities.” It’s meant to be teasing, that much is obvious to Steve, and the Captain’s tone is nothing but fond. But after the day they had Tony takes it like a slap to the face. A slap to the face from a character he’s idolized from a young age, Steve realizes, as Tony shrinks into himself instead of blustering back like Steve’d expected.

Clearly Captain America had been expecting that too, if his sudden stricken look is anything to go by.

It seems this Steve Rogers is not any better with foot-in-mouth syndrome when it comes to Tony Stark as he is – there’s a long beat of silence as both Steves scramble to think of what to say.

Stark solves it for them by making a grand entrance, still in his armor sans helmet, his hair sticking up everywhere. “They’re clean,” he announces, throwing his hands out. Then he catches sight of them and freezes in the doorway. “Everything okay?” he asks cautiously. His gaze lingers on Tony, who pushes to his feet in an abrupt burst of motion. The scrape of his stool against the floor is deafening.

“Fine,” Tony replies shortly. He strides towards his counterpart in short decisive steps. “So did you find a way to get us back?”

Stark peers down at him. “Not yet.” His lips twist up. “Wanna help?”

Tony visibly perks up. “Can I?” he asks and Stark looks taken aback by the question.

“Yeah, course.” He hooks an arm around Tony’s shoulders. “Nice jacket,” he says, tugging at the gold collar and then ruffling Tony’s hair. Tony squawks and Stark laughs. “C’mon mini-me, let’s go science shit up.”

On their way out Stark turns back and shoots Captain America an indiscernible look. Steve turns his head in time to catch Captain America’s grimace and, like a fan at a tennis match, twists again to see Stark’s answering lopsided smile.

His chest hurts and he’s not quite sure why.

“So,” Captain America says, leaning onto the counter on his elbows, “we got some time to kill. What do you like to do for fun?”

“Er,” Steve says, tilting his head, “I like crash landing choppers?” Captain America stares at him. “Traversing minefields? Hitting the heavy bag?”

Captain America just raises an eyebrow.

“Shooting some pool?” Steve tries, his voice trending up.

“There we go.”

---

“Huh.” Steve leans on his cue, staring at the pocket into which the black eight ball had just sunk.

He should never have let Captain America go first.

“Now I know how Nat feels,” Steve mutters and Captain America grins.

“Maybe we should switch to darts,” he suggests. Steve can’t nod fast enough.

They head over to the far corner of the rec room, where a beautiful wooden case hangs on the wall. Captain America opens the doors and slides them back, revealing a brilliant new dartboard, the metal round the edges gleaming bright. He plucks out three blue darts and hands them to Steve, then takes three red for himself.

Captain America gestures for Steve to take first go. “So you’ve got a Natasha too?” he asks as Steve steps one foot up to the line.

“Yup,” Steve replies, lining up his shot. He flings the dart, wrinkling his nose when it lands just shy of the bullseye and into the ‘1’ zone. “But I haven’t seen her in any of the places we’ve been here.”

Captain America hums thoughtfully.

“There was this giant man with long blond hair that kept turning up though – we don’t have one of them,” Steve continues and Captain America chuckles.

Steve lets his next two darts fly in rapid succession and goes to deduct his score on the board. Not a great start but it’ll do.

“That’s too bad,” Captain America says with a shake of his head. He takes his spot on the line. “There should never be a universe without a Thor.” He lets his first dart fly. “Doesn’t seem right.”

It turns out that Captain America is as good at darts as he is at pool, though at least with this game Steve actually gets a turn.

Captain America is kind of a sore winner.

“Want a soda?” he asks after he’s beating Steve soundly for the third time in a row.

“Yes,” Steve says, mostly because at least that he can’t lose at.

“So I’m guessing darts isn’t your game of choice?” Captain America asks as he opens up the mini-fridge. He pulls out two cans and tosses one to Steve, who catches with a nod of thanks.

“Not really,” Steve says, popping the top open. “I like playing pool,” he says with a shrug. “Just not with you,” he adds.

Captain America chuckles. He takes a sip of his own drink. “Do you just like playing it because it’s sorta like bouncing your shield around?”

Steve cocks his head. He’s never really thought about why he seems to only spend his free time shooting pool or dancing but he supposes that makes sense. Both activities keep his skills sharp and he’s never been one to waste time that could be better spent improving.

He's saved from voicing this embarrassing realization, however, when Tony bursts through the door.

“You’re done already?” Steve asks in surprise.

No,” Tony replies through a scowl, his arms crossed high on his chest. “White Dhalsim showed up.”

Captain America makes a noise like a dying whale and when Steve looks over, the man is bright red and seems to be choking on his Cherry Cola. He manages to swallow his mouthful and takes a deep gasping breath, his eyes teary.

“Oh my god,” he chokes out, sounding gleeful. “Oh my god.”

“White what?” Steve asks when it’s apparent Captain America is not about to die, his brow furrowed.

“Reed Richards,” Captain America translates, still coughing a tad.

“Yeah, that guy,” Tony says. He sticks his arms out in front of them and waggles them up and down. “Stretching his limbs out every which way; it’s creepy as fuck.”

Captain America slants a curious look at Steve. “You’ve never played Street Fighter?”

Tony snorts. “Are you kidding me? Rogers would never waste his time playing silly video games. He’s got real fighting to do.”

The words aren’t said maliciously – Tony’s tone, in fact, seems oddly admiring – but Steve can’t help but feel their sting.

Captain America’s expression turns knowing and Steve feels his face heat. It’s not that he doesn’t want to do other things…he’s just not sure he knows how.

“I’m not sure it’s the best idea to leave Reed and Tony down there alone. I’m going to go check on them.” He points to the far wall, where a massive TV is mounted across from a gigantic overstuffed couch. “We’ve got a few different consoles and a whole bunch of games, including Street Fighter, if you want to play.”

He hurries out of the room so fast that it leaves Steve with an intense curiosity about this Reed character. “Does that guy hate Stark or something?” Steve asks Tony.

“Probably,” Tony says, vaulting over the back of the couch. Steve circles more sedately around the couch and plops down in the middle, watching as Tony fidgets with the gadgets in the cabinet under the TV. Tony’s answer isn’t helpful, since he says it in a way that implies it’s a given, to hate Stark.

“Alright,” Tony says. He tosses a controller to Steve, who catches it just in time with his free hand. He puts his soda down on the table and leans back as Tony collapses onto the cushion next to his, his own controller in hand. “You ready for this?”

The screen is lighting up with flashing animations, though Tony doesn’t seem to have turned the sound on. “I guess?” Steve replies, feeling mildly apprehensive.

“It’s easy,” Tony says, flapping a hand. “Kick, punch, throw, block,” he explains, pointing to each button as he goes. “Use this to move and also to do combos. And when in doubt, just button mash.”

“Button mash?” Steve repeats.

Tony starts jabbing at the buttons on the controller, rapidly hitting a few at a time in random combinations.

“Uh...huh,” Steve says.

“Let’s just play, I’m sure you’ll pick it up fast.”

Sure enough, it takes only Steve a round or two to figure out how to play, though he finds he kinda likes ‘button mashing’ too. Tony occasionally throws out a comment on one character or the other, pointing out Dhalsim in particular, but for the most part they play in unusual silence.

“How’re you feeling?” Steve tries after a little while.

Tony shrugs.

Okay, so his buzz has definitely worn off now. The silence continues.

“Hey.” Steve glances over at Tony, who hasn’t taken his eyes off the screen.

“Hmm?” he prompts when there’s no follow up.

Tony hadoukens the last of the life out of him for that round, then turns decisively to Steve. “Was your dad really an alcoholic?”

Steve swallows. “Yeah.”

“Yeah,” Tony echoes. He looks down. “Mine too.” Steve thinks he knew that, though he’s not quite sure how. “A pretty mean one.”

Steve’s dad wasn’t a mean drunk. It wasn’t like he would come home and start whaling on him or his mother; honestly, it wasn’t often he would even realize they were there. He wasn’t mean. He was mostly just…sad.

Sorta like Tony.

“I knew it was genetic,” Tony continues, mashing at the buttons as the new round starts. Steve does the same. “I knew, I know, and I still…” He trails off and Steve lets the silence fill the space, his own mind churning over things.

Just for an instant, he’s selfishly grateful for the serum’s unexpected side effects. His inability to feel the effects of alcohol make this whole addiction a huge gaping pothole taken right out of his path. That feeling is immediately followed up with one of immense guilt.

“We just need to find you an outlet,” Steve says. “A distraction or something. I can help.”

Tony doesn’t reply. His mashing of the buttons has become more intentional again, his character on-screen systematically inflicting damage on Steve’s with every move.

“Maybe we can work out together? Endorphins can—” Tony snorts and Steve cuts off that suggestion. “Okay, what about dancing? I can teach you the Charleston?”

Tony shoots him a glance. “Yeah?”

“Definitely!” Steve says, pleasantly surprised that Tony even seems open to the idea.

“Yeah,” Tony says. “Okay, I’d like that.”

“Me too,” Steve says. He's struck by a sudden idea. “And maybe you can show me how to ride your hoverboard? Once you fix it of course.”

Tony stares at him, long enough that Steve actually manages to win a round “Yeah?” he says, incredulous.

“Yeah,” Steve says. “I’d like that.”

Tony smiles lopsidedly. “Me too.”

They play a couple more rounds before they hear voices floating in from down the hall.

“‘Cos he’s a dick!” That’s definitely Stark, though he sounds incredibly shrill. “And I told him to stop doing that gross spaghetti arms thing!

Steve can hear Captain America’s low baritone in reply, but can’t quite make out the words.

“But it’s creepy as fuck!”

Tony snorts.

The pair appear in the doorway. Captain America seems to be trying not to laugh and Stark looks distinctly disgruntled, though that falls away when he spots Steve and Tony on the couch. “Hey, kiddos. Who’s winning?”

Steve has no idea. He looks over at Tony, who shrugs. “We’re taking turns, I guess.”

Tony unfolds from the couch and meets Stark in the middle of the room. “How’s the portal?”

“Almost there,” Stark replies. “Easy peasy, never in doubt with this brain on the job.” Captain America shoots him a look. “Okay, maybe Reed had something to do with it.”

Captain America rolls his eyes. “Reed got called away for something so we thought we’d break for some lunch. You guys hungry?”

Honestly, Steve would rather they just power through. He wants to go home. But he’s nowhere close to being the brains of the operation here and Tony is already nodding.

A loud klaxon drowns out any further discussion on the matter.

“What is it?” Captain America asks Stark, who’s peering down at the small device in his hand.

“Some kind of disturbance. Maybe it’s something to do with where Reed went.” He taps at the device briefly, then slides it back into his pocket. “I’ll meet you at the Quinjet in two,” he tells Captain America and then he’s gone.

“Can we come?” Steve asks.

Captain America hesitates. “I don’t think that’s a good--”

“It’s just that it seems like we jump ahead when we’re separated from you guys,” Steve elaborates, “and I really don’t want to have to start all over again with trying to get home.”

Captain America sighs. “Fine. But you guys don’t engage, alright? We’re still not a hundred percent clear on your situation here.”

“Alright,” Steve agrees reluctantly, knowing it’s the only way this is going to happen. He can see Tony is itching to say something but, to Steve’s surprise, he just bites it back with a sharp nod.

They follow Captain America down to the hangar, stopping briefly for him to gear up. The Quinjet’s engine is idling, ready to go. Like everything else at the tower, it looks brand spanking new. It’s also far bigger, and, Steve sees when he gets on, much nicer than the one they have at the Academy.

Stark is waiting at the controls, fully armored, and lifts them off as soon as Captain America gives him the signal. Their constant nonverbal exchanges are frustrating and bafflingly painful to watch.

Apparently they’re not going far. Scarcely twenty minutes after take off, they touch down smoothly in what looks to be a deserted high school stadium. Stark shuts the engine off.

“Did we take a wrong turn?” Tony asks once they’ve disembarked, sarcasm dripping from every word.

Stark and Captain America ignore him, both on high alert. The air around them is warm, with a stillness to it that makes the hairs on the back of Steve’s neck stand up. Something is definitely off.

“Clear on civilians,” Stark mutters. “No heat signatures.”

Captain America nods, hefting his shield a little higher. He takes a couple of cautious steps away from the vehicle, eyes quickly and efficiently running over their surroundings, taking stock. Stark follows, his back at an angle to Captain America’s. It’s like watching a dance, their every move in tune with the other’s, like they’ve fought a thousand battles like this before.

They probably have, Steve thinks. He wonders if there’d ever be a day where he’d work so seamlessly with someone. He thinks he might have had that once, with Bucky, though he doesn’t have the memories to back that up.

Stark and Captain America, once again with their silent signals, both lower their guard as one.

“Strange,” Stark says. “This is definitely where the disturbance was.”

“Let’s expand our radius,” Captain America says.

They’ve only made it about ten feet from the Quinjet when it explodes behind them, catapulting them all violently forward.

Steve twists around to see...

“Is that a dinosaur?!

“NAAAARRRGGHH,” the dinosaur replies.

Stark’s taken to the air at some point, probably to avoid the hard landing the rest of them experienced. “Hey!” he yells at the creature Steve would guess is a t-rex, though paleontology isn’t part of the vigorous Academy course load so it’s hard to be sure. “A Quinjet’s 2x2 symmetrically-mounted modified Pratt and Whitney J48-P-8A turbojet engines don’t exactly grow on trees, y’know!” He socks the t-rex hard on the jaw. Steve is impressed. “And I’m not made of money like I used to-- argh!”

Apparently the t-rex is not impressed. It’s trapped Stark right between it’s gigantic jaws full of massive, sharp teeth in retaliation.

“Er,” Steve says. “Should we…” He really wishes he had his shield on him right about now. “What should we do, because--”

“He’s got it,” Captain America says confidently.

Steve’s not so sure. Getting caught in the mouth of a t-rex seems a pretty dire situation to him but, to his annoyance, Captain America is radiating serenity, about as unconcerned as can be. Steve is about to attempt taking the shield right out of Captain America’s arms when there’s a blindingly bright flash of light. Steve just about processes Captain America’s yell of “Incoming!” before he’s dragged to the ground, a cloud of dust and smoke rising up around them.

He coughs hard, raising his head as the dust clears. On the other side of Captain America, Steve is relieved to see, Tony is doing the same.

Captain America, meanwhile, is grinning like a loon. Steve follows his gaze to the heart of the explosion, in time to see Stark emerge from between rows of pointy teeth, the t-rex they belong to an unconscious lump on the poor, dented field.

Captain America goes towards him, motioning Steve and Tony to stay back.

“That was fucking awesome,” Tony breathes as Stark hops down over the edge of the dinosaur’s jaw. Steve frowns.

“Well,” Stark says, pulling off his helmet, “there’s something I didn’t think I was going to do today.”

“That’s funny,” Captain America replies, slinging his shield over his back, “watching you beat up a dinosaur was number one on my to-do list.”

“Well, technically I think it was a sort of bio-machine-- Cap, look out!”

Stark reacts the fastest, shoving Captain America out of the way as the dinosaur’s tail flings their way. It’s a direct hit to Stark’s chest that catapults him hard into the dirt.

“Tony!” Captain America screams. He scrambles to his feet, drawing his shield as Tony and Steve run over.

“Stay there!” he yells at them. They freeze obediently in their tracks, watching with bated breath as Captain America slowly approaches the creature, keeping an eye on its head. Steve darts a worried glance at Stark, who hasn’t moved. He’s itching to check on him but doesn’t want to risk doing anything that would aggravate the situation.

“Must’ve been a reflex,” Captain America calls after a couple of moments. He lowers his shield and runs over to the motionless Stark. Steve and Tony follow suit.

“Oh my god,” Tony breathes when they reach his side. Steve’s gut clenches. There’s blood pooling under Stark’s head and his face has gone worryingly translucent. Captain America’s already got his communicator out and is calling for backup.

There’s nothing to do but wait.

---

In no universe should Tony Stark ever be lying this still.

It’s unnatural, Steve thinks, staring at him through the glass. To see the man pale and motionless like this - it makes his stomach churn.

Inside the room, Captain America is hovering by Stark’s bedside. He’s still in his uniform, Stark’s blood all down the front of it. From this angle, Steve can’t quite read his expression, nor can he make out through the glass what he says when he bends over and whispers in Stark’s ear.

Stark doesn’t even stir. Captain America straightens up, tugging his shirt back into place. He spots Steve through the glass when he turns for the door and his face changes.

He comes out of the room quietly, pulling the door shut behind him with a gentle click. “He’s going to be fine, you know,” he murmurs.

“No thanks to you,” Steve mutters, still staring at the motionless body through the glass.

“Excuse me?”

Steve twists to face him full-on. He takes a step forward, his chest suddenly heaving, and pokes a finger in Captain America’s face. “You keep letting it happen!”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You!” He throws his hands up. “How do you do it?” he wants to know. “How can you just keep turning your back on him?”

“I would never turn my back on Tony,” Captain America hisses. There’s no color left in his face. “How dare you even suggest that I--”

“Stop lying! I saw it! I saw all of it! He was drinking and he was hurting-- he was alone and you--” Steve squeezes his eyes closed. “You just-- you kept-- ” He’s having trouble breathing in a way that he hasn’t since before the serum.

“Woah, woah!” There’s arms around his stomach, attempting to tug him back, though they’re not actually enough to move him. The arms seem to realize that and stop pulling, just tightening instead. “Hey, Steve.” It’s Tony’s voice that’s in his ear, probably Tony’s arms he’s feeling. “Just breathe, alright? Here, with me.”

Tony takes a deep breath - Steve can feel his chest moving against his back - and he does the same, though his is a lot more shaky. “That’s it, one more.” They take a couple of more breaths, until Steve’s have evened out again. He feels the arms tug again and he moves pliantly until he’s been turned around in Tony’s embrace, his forehead pressed into Tony’s shoulder.

They just stand there like that for a few moments. Tony runs a warm hand up and down Steve’s back and Steve feels his heart rate creeping back down. He has no idea where Captain America went and frankly he’s not sure he cares.

“You nearly died,” Steve whispers into Tony’s jacket, the words shuddery.

“Hey, hey,” Tony soothes. “That’s not me, remember?”

“But it could have been!” Steve pushes back abruptly, eyes snapping open as any calm that had been building flees him again. “You don’t care, do you? You, this Stark!” He jabs a thumb at the glass into Stark’s room. “None of you care!”

“Care about wha-- ”

“Your life! I mean, look at you, your counterpart is lying there unconscious and you’re here, and you’re smiling? Why are you-- ”

“Don’t you get it?” Steve’s mouth clamp shuts. He absolutely does not get it.

“What?” he asks impatiently when Tony doesn’t elaborate.

Tony hesitates, his lips twisting. “He trusts him,” he breathes finally, his eyes wide with wonder.

Steve opens his mouth but pauses, any and all words stuck in his throat. He stares at Tony, who just looks back, that little smile on his face and Steve’s chest is aching and his mind is blank and so he just steps forward and wraps Tony up in an embrace once again.

---

“So Stark definitely cleared it?” Steve can’t believe they’re finally going to get to go home. He feels like he hasn’t slept in a year.

“Yup,” Captain America confirms with a clap of his hands. “Said your Tony’s work was impeccable. That he couldn’t have done it better himself.” Steve smiles, knowing how good that must have felt for Tony to hear.

They fall into silence as they continue down the hall.

Somehow the two of them had gone the last two days without being alone together. That streak ended when the other two went down to the ‘shop to check on the work Tony had done on their transport home while Stark had been recovering.

The door to the workshop is open and voices drift down the hall as they approach, the words easy to make out in the silence between them.

“...don’t really know what to do about it,” Tony is saying.

“Don’t put him on a pedestal,” Stark replies. “It’s lonely up there and he’ll attract the pigeons and then you’ll both end up covered in shit.” There’s a long, pregnant pause. “Alright, so the metaphor got away from me a little. But you get the point.”

“Yeah.” A beat. “Hey.” Another beat. “You ever think about taking your own advice?”

Stark laughs, though there’s something off about it. It’s unsettling. “I make it a point never to do that.”

They reach the workshop but Captain America pauses, just out of sight of the open door. “I’ll meet you in there,” he says, his voice strained. There’s a strange expression on his face that Steve can’t read. “I’ve just gotta take care of something.”

“Er, okay.” Steve goes inside. Stark comes to greet him at the door. Somewhere behind him, Tony is tapping away at a computer.

“So!” Stark throws his hands out. “Ready to go back?”

“Beyond,” Steve intones. Stark laughs.

“How’s your head?”

Stark grins wryly. “Horrible, thank you for asking.”

“Maybe you can ask them to up your medication?” Steve suggests because Stark really does look like he’s in pain. There are beads of sweat collecting along his forehead and his eyes have a glassy sheen to them.

“Didn’t take any. Sobriety’s a fickle bitch.”

Steve feels a jolt. He glances over at Tony, who’s eyes are like saucers in his face.

“You’re sober?” Tony asks, half-twisted in his seat.

“Yup,” Stark replies lightly. “Have been for years.” If he’s offended by the question, he does a good job hiding it.

“Congratulations,” Steve says, then immediately blushes because is that even a thing you say?

“Thanks.” There’s laughter in Stark’s voice. “So we should be able to have you out of here in the next few minutes, thanks in no small part to this genius over here.” Stark jerks a thumb over at Tony, who jumps off his stool.

“I’m just going to check the gate one more time,” Tony says and he dashes off to the far corner of the workshop, where a giant hunk of metal stands.

Stark just shakes his head.

“He really fixed it?” Steve asks and he warms with pride when Stark nods.

“Yup,” Stark emphasizes. “Reed and I had worked out most of the software but the hardware...that was all the kid.”

Steve watches as Tony bends over a joint in the contraption, screwdriver in one hand and his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth. His chest feels tight.

“He’s in love with you, you know,” Stark says, incredibly casually for words that are like an electric shock to Steve’s entire system. “Mini me.”

In love. He’s-- “How do you know?” Steve manages, his mind going ten thousand miles an hour.

Stark just smiles at him. It’s a lopsided quirk of one side of his mouth that Steve’s seen on his Tony’s face a few times, much more rarely than the million-watt grin Tony usually flashes around the place. Until now, Steve’s never realized that he’s only ever seen it directed at himself. “Oh,” Steve says. His whole world has just been picked up and set back down about ten degrees askew.

“Hey mini me!” Stark calls, his eyes still locked on Steve’s. He snaps his gaze over to Tony. “Stop poking at that thing would you? You did it, it’s awesome, it works.”

Tony reluctantly puts the screwdriver down and steps back from the machine. He slides his hands into his pocket and wanders over, toeing scraps of metal out of his path along the way. “I’m going to miss this place,” he says ruefully.

“You guys are welcome back any time,” Stark says with a grin.

“Please no,” Steve says before he can stop himself and Stark laughs. Tony, meanwhile, looks terrifyingly contemplative.

Stark claps Tony on the shoulder. “You guys are going to be just fine.”

Captain America finally reappears. He gestures Stark over. Steve watches them closely, his heart still racing. Captain America ducks his head, whispering something right into Stark’s ear, and when he lifts his head again his eyes are bright. Stark just shrugs in response.

“Alright,” Stark says, stepping away from Captain America, who looks thoroughly dismayed. He claps his hands. “Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?”

Tony goes back to the computer he was tapping at before while Stark strides over the machine.

“You,” Stark says, pointing at Steve. “Over here.” He points at the hunk of metal. Steve goes over and Stark waves him up onto the low platform in the middle of the machine. He puts a hand on each of Steve’s shoulders and pushes lightly, moving Steve backwards.

“Hey, Stark,” Steve says quietly as Stark is maneuvering him into position. Steve waits until Stark looks up from Steve’s feet, his eyebrows raised. “He’s in love with you too, you know.” Steve gestures with his head. “Non-mini me.”

Stark scoffs but Steve just continues to look at him steadily until his eyes widen.

“He--” Stark trails off, his mouth hanging open. Steve nods. Stark swallows hard.

He gives Steve a final pull an inch to the left. Tony taps at the control panel a couple of times more and then gets into place besides Steve.

Stark takes a few steps back as the contraption whirrs to life. He’s still staring at Steve. Captain America must notice something is off because he comes to stand by Stark’s left side and rests a hand on his shoulder.

The humming of the machine gets louder. Steve can feel the platform beneath him vibrating hard. He tilts his head to the side, gesturing in Captain America’s direction again, then gives Stark another tiny nod.

Stark takes a deep breath. The machine continues to ramp up and Steve grips Tony’s arm, keeping him on his feet as the platform shakes.

A bright light starts to fill his vision and the world seems to slow. Steve sees Stark turns his head. His lips are moving but Steve can’t make out the words over the high-pitched hum of the contraption around him. Captain America’s head snaps right, his eyes wide. Stark shrugs.

The noise is deafening now. Steve squints. He thinks he sees Captain America saying something, sees Captain America’s hand moving slowly upwards towards Stark’s face.

Then everything goes white.

---

Steve comes to with a groan. He lets his eyes flutter open slowly, afraid of what they’ll see.

He finds himself staring up at a pitch black night sky, a familiar pattern of stars scattered across it. “Tony?” he tries.

Tony’s face pops into his line of sight. “It worked!”

“Thank fucking god,” Steve says and he throws his arm over his eyes.

Tony cackles. “Holy shit,” he says, sounding way too gleeful. “Did you really just say that?”

“Fuck off,” Steve says. All of the aches and pains he’d had from his earlier mission seem to have returned with a vengeance.

“Hey,” Tony says, tugging at his arm. Steve lets him pull it off of his face. “You alright?” he asks, peering down concernedly.

“Where are we?” Steve says in reply.

“Exactly where we left off,” Tony announces. He pumps a fist in the air. “It totally worked! Look!”

Steve swivels his head. Through the blades of grass, he sees the bright red remnants of Tony’s hoverboard.

“Unfortunately...” Tony continues and Steve twists back. “I timed it a little too well. Which means you are still fresh from the fight. And I am…” He trails off, biting his lip.

“Still drunk,” Steve finishes.

Tony nods, his hands twisting and gripping each other.

Steve turns back to where the hoverboard lies, his eyes scanning the area in the dim light from the nearby buildings. He spots what he’s looking for and climbs to his feet.

“What’re you doing?” Tony asks as Steve goes towards the mess. Steve picks up the fallen bottle of water and comes back over. Tony watches with raised eyebrows as he tucks the bottle safely under his arm. “So,” Steve says, “word on the street is you’ve got a hot tub?”

“Steve…” Tony starts. He still wringing his hands and chewing his lip and Steve can’t help himself - he folds Tony’s hands tight in both of his own, leans forward, and presses his lips tenderly to Tony’s forehead.

When he pulls back he has to bite back a laugh because Tony’s eyes look like they’re about to bug out of his head.

“Tomorrow,” Steve says, “when you’re more capable of consent, we’re going to try that again, a little differently. But for now…” He gently pulls Tony’s hands apart and clasps his hand around one of them, taking hold of the water bottle with the other. Then he starts off towards the tower, pulling Tony along behind him.

“Hot tub?” Tony asks.

“Hot tub,” Steve says, already thinking of the wonderful relief it’ll be on his aching calf muscle.

“So,” Tony says as they approach the front door of the tower. “Just what did you mean by a little differently? Because if you mean what I’m thinking then you don’t have to worry about me, hoo boy, nosiree, there is a hundred percent consent here all the way--”

“Tony?” Steve says, pulling open the door.

“Yes?” Tony says.

Steve smiles at him. “Please shut up.”

One side of Tony’s mouth quirks up, his eyes glinting. “Okay.”

And they walk into the tower together.