Tony Stark despised Reed Richards.
Tony would've liked to say he hated the Fantastic Four in general, but really, it was just Reed. Sue was a bit like Pepper, gorgeous and took shit from no man, Ben and the Hulk got on great so he was good in Tony's books, and Johnny was awesome. He was a wild child like Tony himself, though he looked freakily like Cap, and as much as Tony wanted to punch Cap in the face 99% of the time, he had to admit it was a damn handsome face. Plus, Johnny had Cap's looks without all the pompous arrogance and righteous do-goody-ness that drove Tony up the wall.
So really, Tony didn't mind the Fantastic Four, other than the fact that they kept letting Reed unleash magical beings from other dimensions and then coincidentally leaving town.
Cause seriously, what the fuck was that about?
Whatever their excuse, it meant the Avengers were stuck dealing with alternate-universe Loki flinging spells all over the place. The Avengers hadn't been caught by one yet, but two civilians had had their genders swapped, there were giant teddy bears running around downtown, and a building had been turned into jello, so there was really no telling what the spells would do.
In spite of all that, they about had Loki where they wanted him. Thor was closing in, Natasha had the magic-blocking handcuffs Tony had developed for their universes' Loki, and everything was wrapping up nicely. At least, they were until alternate-Loki winkedat him and took one last shot at Captain Idiot's turned back.
There was no way he'd see it, no time for him to hear a warning and get out of the way. It was one or the other, and something about the way Loki had fucking winked at him didn't sit right in Tony's chest.
So he hit the thrusters and crashed into Cap.
He shoved him out of the way, taking the spell himself. There was a bright flash and then the suit short-circuited, his screens going dark and the metal becoming a leaden prison. Tony was suddenly free-falling, eventually crashing violently into the ground with a sickening crunch, shoulders first and somersaulting forward a number of times before he came lurching to a skidding, smoking halt.
Everything hurt. From the aching in his surely concussed head to the sharp, crackling pain in his potentially broken ribs to the dull throb of the nose he'd smashed into his faceplate, there wasn't a single part of Tony that wasn't tender and sore in new, sadistic ways he hadn't thought possible.
In spite of all that, it was the cardiac arrest that was going to kill him if he didn't think fast.
Tony gasped for air, choking and sputtering as he seized up. He tried to raise his hands to claw at his chest, to remove his helmet, to doanything, but he was too weak at the moment to lift his metal-cased arms without the suit's power. He didn't know when or how but something had happened with the arc reactor, something had caused it to stop working.
"JARVIS? JARVIS!" he called desperately, frantically, but there was no reply.
"Don't touch it, you idiot, it's shaking like it's going to explode or something."
"It doesn't look like a bomb. It looks like a robot. What if it's one of Stark's new toys?"
"Then he'll sue us for touching i-don't!"
Someone was tapping on Tony's chestplate, poking and prodding curiously. Tony shouted loudly as he could, but without the speakers, they couldn't seem to hear him.
"There's, there's a button-" he was interrupted by a coughing fit, then, "Helmet! Under the helmet!"
"Can you hear something?"
"Oh God, it talks, Bucky, c'mon, leave it be, it's probably dangerous-"
Bucky? He knew that name. He'd heard it before, he knew he had. Why was he associating it with Cap?
"Open," more coughing, more seizing, oh god it hurt, "Helmet, the helmet!"
The Bucky guy must have been able to resist his friend, because after seconds that felt like years, there was a clicking and his helmet popped off. Tony took as deep a breath as he could, taking in the fresh air, before it sent him into another coughing fit. He could taste blood now, and he couldn't tell if it was from his bitten lip, his broken nose, some internal injury, or hell, all of them.
He blinked widely, and he must have looked terrible because he heard twin gasps. The bright sky above him and tall buildings around him meant he must've been in a back alley of sorts, but at the moment it didn't matter where the hell he was, he needed to get the chestplate off so he could see and fix the damage done to the arc reactor.
"Chest," he couldn't move his arms, but he tried to nod down at his chestplate, "Get it off, I-I need to-it's going to-ah, fuck-"
A particularly painful convulsion seized him, and he spasmed uncontrollably, unable to finish his sentence. Tony craned his neck-pain streaked through him at the action, but then, there wasn't much he couldn't do that wouldn't hurt at this point-and strained to get a look at the problem.
As if things couldn't get worse, the reactor hadn't been dislodged or broken, it was gone. It must have come out somehow, the spell killing the electric safety locks and the collision course into the ground knocking it out of it's socket. Tony gestured at his chest, at the empty metal socket.
"Rea-reactor," he coughed, letting his head drop back. He still hadn't gotten a look at the people helping him, but he couldn't hold his head up any longer, "Blue, metal, shiny."
"What's he talking about?"
"Oh God, he's dying, Bucky, we have to do something-"
Jesus fucking Christ, could these idiots be any fucking slower, he didn't exactly have a whole lot of time on his hands-
"Blue shiny!" Tony insisted, a touch sarcastically, "Need it!"
Feet scuffed against the pavement as one of them left to chase it down. Tony wanted to sit up, maybe get a look at them, but pain spiked in his ribs and he couldn't help but shout in agony instead. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe, but between his already diminished lung capacity and likely collapsed ribs, he couldn't manage to get more than a huff of air. It was like breathing in a paper bag, each breath shorter than the last.
Then one of them was cradling his head, tentatively stroking his hair and whispering meaningless platitudes while the other chased down the reactor.
"Hey, relax, breathe," there were fingers in his hair, his head tugged into their lap, "It's going to be okay, I promise. Bucky'll get your, um, shiny thing for you, then we'll take you to a hospital, you just have to breathe for me, okay? C'mon, that's it."
Tony opened his eyes while they kept talking, only to see Steve's face swimming above him, blurry and golden like some kind of angel. It wasn't really Steve, it couldn't be; he didn't have the cowl on, he looked much younger, and of course, his face was contorted in a worry and fear that the real Steve would never show for Tony.
Great, Tony wince-laughed to himself, My dying moments, and I choose to hallucinate that Captain Asshole cares about me. Fucking fantastic.
Well, at least he could admit to himself that his last sight would be handsome.
"Hey, hey, no," dream-Steve patted his cheek gently when he closed his eyes, "Eyes open, c'mon. Bucky's got it, just tell us what we need to do with the, uh, thing."
"In," Tony coughed, blood spattering his lips, "Put...in."
He tried and failed to gesture to the socket, unable to lift his arms. His vision was spotty now, blurry and swimming and god it hurt. Everything hurt, of course it fucking hurt, he was dying and this was it, this was the end, after everything he'd fucking been through, and this was it, dying in a back alley with only a hallucination of Steve and some random strangers to keep him company.
Then, something slammed into his chest and it hurt but it was a good hurt, a familiar hurt, an electric shock to the heart and a pulsing, vibrating sensation between his ribs as the shrapnel was pushed away once again. The taste of metal and coconut were hot on his tongue as he shot forward with a burst of energy that he instantly regretted, his every muscle screaming at the movement.
"Hey, whoa, slow down there," dream-Steve cautioned, helping him lie back down, "Let's get the rest of this, um…metal stuff off, alright? Buck, c'mere, help me get the metal off so we can carry him."
"Armor," Tony coughed, "It's armor. Hello, Iron Man? Don't you…don't you people watch tv? And it comes off by itself, here, there's a switch…"
All wireless communications seemed to be down, but with the arc reactor back in the suit had remote power and was able to peel itself off, folding back up neatly into a suitcase. Dream-Steve and Bucky seemed astonished.
"That is the fucking coolest thing I've ever seen," Bucky gaped.
"Yeah," dream-Steve breathed.
"Really? You guys have never seen Iron Man before?" Tony his head to look at them, and they shook their heads.
Man, these guys were sheltered. Tony tried to adjust himself, but he was still lying on his back in an alley while he bled to death internally, so. Y'know. It wasn't going to get much more comfortable. He was about to open his mouth to ask why one of them wasn't calling 911 already, then realized something.
Huh. That was strange. He wasn't actively dying anymore, but dream-Steve didn't seem to be fading away.
"Are you real?" Tony narrowed his eyes at the look-alike.
"Has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like Captain America? And, trust me, I know really well what he looks like-"
"You seem to be feeling better," the Bucky guy snorted, "Though you still look like total shit."
"Bucky—" the Steve look-alike hissed.
"Aw, c'mon, he knows. And who the hell's Captain America?"
"Would you shut up? He's probably got a fever," the Steve look-alike pressed a hand to his forehead cautiously, "Would it kill you to be nice?"
"Fever," Tony groaned, "That's it. Just what I need on top of crashing into the ground with the kind of destruction that would make a meteor jealous."
"It was a heck of a sight," the Steve look-alike agreed.
"Steve, c'mon, let's get him up and-"
"Wait, your…your name is Steve?" Tony grabbed the look-alike by the front of his shirt, and he looked startled.
"Uh," he blinked widely, "Yeah. Steven Rogers. Do I know you?"
Tony's mind spun-same jawline, same color hair, same look in his eyes. He was much thinner though, scrappier, just like Cap would have looked...
Before the serum.
While Tony just about had another heart attack, Steve and Bucky finished helping him up, each looping an arm around his waist while Bucky grabbed the suitcase armor. He had to think fast. If he'd really been thrown back in time, he had no ID, no possessions, no money. He didn't even technically exist. How could he explain that?
"What's your name?" 1940's Steve questioned, turning to face him, and Tony was struck by how different he looked.
So much younger, not just physically in the lines of his face and the obvious lack of muscles, but in his energy. He seemed lighter, easier. Not as world-worn and severe as he usually did. Tony knew Steve had been having a hard time adjusting to the 21st century, but never had he so clearly seen it. Now he could see the different between the real Steve, the man he'd only glimpsed bits and pieces of in the past year, to the Steve he lived with, the man that carried a heavy grief deep in his bones.
"Hey," Bucky jostled him, "You okay?"
"No," Tony muttered, "I'm not."
He was an asshole, was what he was.
"Can you not remember?" Steve frowned, and Tony jumped on that.
"Yes! I mean, no, I can't. Remember anything. At all."
"Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch."
"You talk a lot for an amnesiac," Bucky gave him a sideways sort of look, and Tony resisted the urge to stick out his tongue.
"Pain," he just shot back.
"You got a wallet on you, or what?" Bucky poked at his pockets, and Tony hissed.
"What part of pain did you not get?"
"C'mon," Steve started walking, leading Tony and Bucky out of the alley, "You can crash with us til you get your head on straight."
"You'd take in every stray cat in every back alley if I let you," Bucky grumbled, but didn't give any other protest as they hauled Tony back to their apartment.
The place was cramped and simple, wood floors with sparse furniture, but Tony didn't get much of a chance to examine it before they let him down on the world's lumpiest couch, and unconsciousness overtook him like a wave.
Metal hands hit Steve's back, he stumbled, a bright light flashed, and that was it.
Just like that, Stark was gone.
Steve whirled around, looking for some sign, some transformed object or animal or a female Iron Man or something, but there was nothing. While the others finished up taking down the alternate Loki, Steve felt everything slow down. Blood pulsed in his ears as he waited, waited for the familiar streaks of red and gold to appear, waited for Stark to start crowing about saving Steve's life again, but there was nothing.
And it was the silence, more than anything else, that made something in Steve's chest ache.
"Iron Man, report."
"God damn it, Stark, I said report! That's an order!"
Still nothing. Thor had Loki pinned now, both hands held down so he couldn't magic his way out. Steve charged over, demanding answers while Natasha cuffed him. The cuffs seemed to work-of course they did, they were StarkTech, when couldn't Stark do what he set his mind to?-so Steve grabbed Loki by the front of his shirt and shook him.
"That last spell," he demanded, "What was it?"
"Oh Captain," he merely cackled, "What has this universe done with you? You're usually much more level-headed when you threaten me."
"Laugh all you want, you're going to be wishing I was," Steve growled, low and dangerous, jamming his shield up under Loki's chin hard enough to bruise his throat.
"Ah ah ah," he simply tutted with a smug smirk that made Steve itch to wipe it off with his fist, "I wouldn't go doing that if you wish to see your friend agai-"
He edged the shield forward more, effectively cutting him off. Loki choked and gasped for air and Steve was briefly, blindly tempted to pressure more, but he felt a hand on his shoulder in steady warning, and he released.
"We're not done here," he snarled, "You'll talk, and when you do-"
Steve was cut off by a blow to the head. For a minute, he thought someone had actually hit him, and he reeled to wonder how that could have happened between his reflexes and the four other Avengers standing within a few feet of him. Then he realized it wasn't a physical blow but a mental one, and it wasn't pain, exactly, just…shock.
Images cascaded through his brain, fast as light, set in the past but entirely new to Steve.
A crash in the back alley behind the movie theater, a man in a metal suit like a falling star, bright and metallic. Him and Bucky, helping the stranger find the "shiny blue thing", jamming it back into the man's empty chest. Hauling the mangled, bloodied man back to their apartment. Letting him fall asleep on their couch.
Steve returned to reality like a drowning man returned to the surface, wide-eyed and gasping for air. He didn't remember collapsing but he was on the ground now, on his knees and hunched over, head between his arms as he struggled to breathe again.
"What?" he snapped his head up.
Clint and Bruce were next to him, Bruce holding his pants up with one hand, the other on Steve's shoulder. Behind them Thor and Natasha were hauling Loki away, but Loki had the answers.
"Wait!" Steve was up in an instant, chasing after them in spite of Clint's hand on his elbow and Bruce's doubtful look.
He grabbed Loki again, careful not to be too rough lest they make him back off again.
"What was that?" Steve demanded, "The memories, what did you do?"
"They'll come and go as Stark travels," Loki chuckled, "You'll get used to them."
"We were not enemies, you and I," Loki drawled, ignoring his questions, "Not in the end. Take care to remember that, and know that I mean you no harm."
"I think my head hurts," Clint frowned.
"Unsurprising," Loki snorted.
"Fly him up to the Helicarrier," Natasha told Thor, looking to Steve, "You can interrogate him after he's safely in custody."
"As charmingly demanding as ever, you are," Loki rolled his eyes at her, but didn't seem to put up any fight as Thor hauled him off.
"Am I the only one who caught the past tense there? Does that mean he's from, like…a future alternate universe?" Clint squinted up at the disappearing figures.
"Seems so. What happened back there, are you alright?" Bruce turned to Steve, who shook his head.
"I had, well, they were like memories, but I'd never seen them before. Bucky and I…back in the 40's, we saw Stark crash into a back alley in the suit."
"He…" Steve tried to say more, but words failed him for a moment, the images of Stark almost overwhelming him again. He looked…awful.His breathing had been labored, blood and bruising everywhere, not to mention the achingly empty metal container in his chest, "He was injured. Badly."
"Loki must've sent him back in time, now you're getting conflicting memories," Bruce muttered, examining him.
"Can you bring him back?"
"Not my area of science," Bruce gave an apologetic half-shrug, "Reed would be the best bet, but he's out of town…well, and Tony's pretty good with that stuff himself. He might find a way back on his own, if we're lucky."
"We can't afford luck. T-" Steve shook his head, correcting himself, "Stark can't afford luck. You didn't see him, Bruce, he's…it's bad."
"Potentially," Steve nodded, "We've got to get to him somehow before the worst. Call in Richards, get him back here as soon as possible. Conference call with him if you have to, just figure it out, Bruce. We're counting on you."
"Of course. I'll see what I can do," Bruce fidgeted, looking anxious about being depended on, but Steve didn't have time to deal with that.
"Avengers," he nodded to them, dealing out orders, "Let's get back to the Quinjet and head up to the Helicarrier. Debrief is postponed until after I interrogate this…alternate Loki."
The sad thing was, at this point in his fucking insane life, the time travel part of it really didn't phase Tony much. After being on the Avengers for a year, he was pretty sure there wasn't any sane part of him left to surprise. So instead of freaking out and having a panic attack about the time travel thing, Tony tried to analyze the situation as rationally as possible.
He was waking up on past-Steve's couch, in past-Steve and some guy named Bucky's apartment. Bucky, right, Steve's best friend who died falling off a train, or something. Eesh, that sounded painful. Tony wondered vaguely if warning the guy not to accept missions with trains was a good idea or a bad one—would it fuck with time, mess shit up? Then again, magic clearly seemed to have a way of fucking with the laws of the universe, Tony didn't see any reason Loki wouldn't be able to somehow magic his way out of the butterfly effect, too.
He hoped so, anyway, or Cap was going to have a conniption.
The apartment was clearly dirt-cheap, even for the times, with only the bare minimum of furnishings. What had Cap been before the superserum, anyway? An art student, right? Or maybe he was out of college already, Tony couldn't really be sure. He had looked young, but then, that could easily be the comparison Tony was drawing to Cap's usual doped-up self. Not to mention, this Steve hadn't been to war, hadn't seen his best friend die, hadn't lost everyone and everything he'd ever known to a seventy year ice nap, so.
How youthful he looked to Tony may have been a bit skewed.
"Hey, you're awake," someone murmured above him, then there was a towel with ice in it pressed to his forehead. Tony lifted his hands to touch it, wincing as pain rocked through just about every inch of his body, "Oh, careful, I wouldn't move just yet."
Okay, Steve being all soothing and nice?
Really fucking strange.
"Uh," Tony croaked intelligently.
"So," Bucky eyed him, "Are you a robot, or not?"
"Human," Tony coughed, "Would a robot bleed out on your couch?"
"You're not going to bleed out," Steve assured him, "My mother was a nurse, she taught me a few things."
"By which he means he saved your sorry life," Bucky poked him in the arm, "Be thankful it was Rogers here who found you, he likes strays."
"Shut up, Bucky," Steve shoved Bucky, and it was sort of strange to see Steve shove someone and not have them go flying.
Tiny Steve was going to take a lot of getting used to.
"We should still take you to a hospital though," Steve was still looking at him with concern, "I mean, you could be bleeding internally, and I'm almost positive you have a concussion."
"Nothing I can't sleep off," Tony shook his head, "I mean, if you want me off your couch that bad I can go—"
"No, I don't mean to rush you, you're fine—"
"Go where?" Bucky snorted, "I thought you were an amnesiac?"
"I don't know where I'd go exactly…" Tony admitted, "But if you want me gone, I can be, is all I'm saying, I've been worse off—"
"You have?" Steve eyed him skeptically, and okay, to be fair, this was the worst he'd been in a while, but still. Afghanistan, supervillains, time travel; he could handle it.
"D'you have my suit?" Tony asked instead.
"The suitcase thing? Yeah, Bucky's been trying to open it for an hour."
"Won't open for him, only me," Tony shook his head with a grin, "I use that thing to play superhero. Trust me, I've been plenty beaten up before."
"Superhero? I've never heard—"
"I do it, in, uh, California," Tony lied quickly, "Anyway, so I remember my name's Tony."
"Tony," Steve mused, and for a brief moment, Tony entertained the hope that Steve might remember, that the whole stupid spell-time-travel-bullshit might unravel and he could go home, but Steve just gave him a dopey sort of smile, "Nice to meet you, Tony."
"You too, Rogers," Tony sighed.
"It's…you can call me Steve."
Tony blinked, trying to remember if Steve had ever asked him to call him Steve before. He'd called the guy Rogers or Cap or some variation of it since pretty much minute one, and Steve had mimicked him by calling him Stark; he didn't think either of them had ever liked or even been neutral enough to correct each other about it.
"Okay. Steve, then."
"And if anyone cares," Bucky rolled his eyes at them, "I'm Bucky Barnes."
"You know, I've been wondering for ages," Tony sat up, "What the hell kind of name is 'Bucky', anyway? It sounds like you're some backwater farm hand."
Bucky made a noise of indignation, while Steve just laughed.
"James Buchanan Barnes, Bucky's short for Buchanan, you asshat."
"What? He's the one that made fun of my name!"
"Be nice, he's injured."
"You're not gonna be injured forever, 'Tony'," Bucky waved a finger at him, "Then it's you and me, mano a mano."
"You're on, Barnes," Tony chuckled, "I'll kick your ass all the way to 2013."
"So you've sent Stark into the past," Steve forced himself to look casual as he examined alternate-Loki in his cell.
"A good guess, Captain," Loki smirked, "But not quite. I've sent him into your memories."
"The spell was meant for me; what exactly would've happened if it had met it's mark? I'd be stuck in my own head, or what?"
"You know, all these years, and I still find it rather difficult to pin Stark down," Loki mused, "I've always found the best way to hit him was to try and hit you."
Steve didn't know how to react to something like that. He and Stark didn't get along, never had. It was nothing but fire and acrimony between them, and the idea that Stark had thrown himself in front of Steve was weird enough, but the idea that there was some universe where it was such a given that they cared about each other that villains took to using it to their advantage? Anything was possible, but something about it still made Steve's chest feel tight and funny.
"Quite a face, Captain," Loki chuckled, "Is it truly so hard to imagine? Tell me of this universe; what has diverged you so from him?"
"I don't owe you an explanation," Steve snapped.
"Perhaps not," Loki shrugged, unaffected, "I ask out of mere curiosity. I regard neither you nor the Avengers with any hostility. As I'm sure you've seen, all my spells were in good jest, and your city and its citizens have returned to their former states, have they not?"
"You mean except for the part where Stark's now running amok in my memories?" Steve narrowed his eyes.
"Ah, there is more purpose than jest to that particular spell, yes," Loki drawled, "Understand, Captain, that where I'm from, there was no team, nor will there ever be again, like that of Iron Man and Captain America. What I saw today was pathetic in comparison, not even a shadow of their memories. I saw fit to rectify that, something you will indeed be grateful for in years to pass."
"We're dead, then," Steve ignored the rest of what he said, "In your universe."
"Of quite natural causes, I assure you," Loki chuckled at that, "Much though I tried in my youth, I found it altogether impossible to bring about the demise of the endlessly obstinate Anthony Stark. Or you, for such matters."
"Why do you care about our teamwork? We're not even from the same universe."
"Anthony and Steven were good friends of mine, in the end," Loki seemed saddened by this, and Steve almost couldn't believe his eyes. Loki's grief seemed…genuine, "Though I was ill-inclined to them and the realms at large for many years, when I did in fact turn to the side of light, it was they who believed I had it within me to change. I owe them much, and perhaps helping their counterparts might help ease that debt."
"Have you thought that maybe we don't need your help? We work together just fine, we're Avengers, teammates—"
"Ah, but you and he could never be just teammates," Loki chuckled wryly, "Regardless of the universe. Love and hate is such a thin line, is it not, Captain?"
"I wouldn't know," Steve just shook his head, not letting Loki's words rattle him, "I don't harbor either emotion for him."
"We'll see about that, won't we?"
"God, even in the forties you're a mother hen," Tony grumbled, but accepted the offered tea without further complaint.
"What was that?" Steve raised an eyebrow at him, and Tony hastily covered.
"I said I love your tea please and thank you?"
"Don't be so ungrateful," Bucky snapped a dish towel at Tony, "Steve doesn't buy me tea."
"You hate tea," Steve rolled his eyes.
"It tastes like fertilizer," Bucky made a face.
"It's not too bad, is it?"
Personally, Tony agreed with Barnes, but Steve was giving him such an earnest look that he couldn't really bring himself to say so.
"It's great, Steve," Tony raised his cup in cheers, "Thanks."
"Good," Steve smiled, seeming relieved, "I added honey to make it a little sweeter, so."
That was another thing about pre-everything Steve. He smiled widely and easily, yet still managed to make Tony feel like he was earning these smiles, like he'd done something wonderful to deserve them somehow. Part of it was that Steve looked at him differently; there was none of the judgmental glares from before, none of the hard looks that made him feel like a disappointment.
Tony knew full well he'd been just as much of an ass to Steve as Steve had been to him, but…well. Maybe if they hadn't gotten off on the wrong foot, Tony could almost imagine liking Steve. Steve was interesting and fun to talk to, though god help you if you got him going about the war or politics. He was more like the Steve Tony knew then, all fire and intensity, and when it wasn't aimed in an attack against him, seeing that sort of passion in Steve was…kind of awesome.
And maybe just a little bit intriguing.
Tony was self-aware enough to know that for all their arguing and tension and desires to strangle each other in their sleep, he harbored another sort of desire for Steve as well. He couldn't help it; Steve was attractive, it wasn't as if Tony was blind, and he'd always had a thing for bossy blondes.
Skinny Steve may not have had all the shining muscles, but in the three weeks Tony had spent on his couch, he found himself falling for this version of Steve too. He could hold a normal conversation with this Steve without it turning into an argument, and because they didn't waste their time arguing, Tony found out they actually got along better than anyone would've expected.
He was careful, of course; he kept his gaze casual, didn't let his touch linger when Steve passed him things, and made sure he didn't slip up and flirt without thinking about it. From what he remembered of history, homosexual behavior was still outlawed in the 40's, and the last thing he needed was to be kicked out, or god forbid reported to the police.
He had no money or ID, so he made himself useful as he could by fixing things around the apartment while Bucky and Steve were at work. The first thing he fixed was the heater, because winter in Brooklyn in the forties? Freezing. For the first couple days he and Steve played blanket tag, in that Steve would cover him in blankets off his own bed during the day when Tony was unconscious, and Tony would sneak them back onto Steve's bed when he woke up in the middle of the night.
It was the night he snuck in and saw Steve, bone-skinny with only two blankets for himself and shivering like he was possessed, that he decided to fix the heater in the morning. He didn't have access to a whole lot of supplies, but Bucky had a toolbox with the basics in his closet—yes, Tony went snooping, shut up, he totally paid him back with a working heater, okay—and the mechanics were so simple Tony could've done it in his sleep.
Bucky stopped glaring at him so much after that.
Steve and Bucky both had jobs, but Steve was only a morning part-timer, so he and Tony spent the afternoons talking. In these past three weeks, Tony was pretty sure they'd talked at least twice the amount they had in the past year they'd spent on a team together.
Steve told him about his life, about growing up and his college years as an art student, and how all he'd ever wanted to do was become a soldier like his father had been. Steve told him all about how he wanted to finally do some real good for his country. He got impassioned about it for a bit, but in the end he ducked his head, seeming a bit embarrassed.
"I mean, I know it's not exactly likely," Steve admitted, leaning back on one end of the couch while Tony watched him with amusement from the other, "A twig like me, I just…I have to keep trying, y'know?"
"Yeah," Tony tried not to grin, remember that this was not half as funny to Steve as it was to him, "Believe me, I know. You're gonna make a damn fine soldier, Steve."
"You honestly think I'll make it?" Steve seemed surprised by this; Tony wondered if anyone other than Dr. Erskine had ever honestly believed Steve had what it took.
"Tell you what," Tony told him conspiratorially, "If you don't get drafted by the time you're twenty-five, I'll pay you a thousand dollars."
"God Almighty, Tony," Steve grinned in spite of his words, "Don't joke like that. I might take you up on it, and then where would you be?"
"Safe with my thousand bucks, soldier boy."
"You think?" Steve bit his lip, looking at Tony in a way Tony couldn't quite get a read on.
"You're going to be the greatest soldier that ever lived," Tony just told him with a rueful smile, "You'll be the fearless Captain leading men into battle, the iconic image fighting for all that's good, the tireless hero protecting the innocent. You're going to be a legend, Steve. I know it."
"You really believe I could do that?" Steve murmured, giving him that same unreadable look again.
"I believe you could do anything."
Steve kissed him then, chaste and hesitant, and Tony could all but taste the worry on his lips. He was terrified of rejection, of being outted, of Tony being disgusted with him and shoving him away and telling Bucky or the police or who knows what. It was a fair but completely inaccurate fear.
Tony cupped his face instead, kissing back gently enough not to rush things but with enough pressure to prove his own interest. Steve made a soft, keening sort of noise, his sinewy hands warm against Tony's chest. As Steve became more sure of Tony's interest, he lost the hesitance and nipped at Tony's lower lip. Tony pulled Steve into his lap—and god, wasn't that so weird that he could fit Captain America in his lap?—tilting Steve's head back to press open-mouthed kisses along the lines of Steve's jaw and neck.
"Tony, can I—?"
"Anything," Tony murmured into his skin.
Steve tugged his shirt up and over his head, running his fingers along the planes of Tony's stomach, carefully over his still-bruised torso, skittering across the arc reactor. He thumbed the edge where metal met scar tissue, and before Tony could open his mouth to say he could put his shirt back on if it was a bother, Steve leaned in and pressed a feather-soft kiss to its center.
"Does it hurt?"
Tony was still trying to breathe, blindsided by Steve's complete lack of oh-my-god-that-looks-horrific-please-put-your-shirt-back-on.
"Uh, no," Tony answered after a moment, "It's too heavily scarred, I…it's all dead, I can't feel it."
Steve nodded, then bent his head again to kiss his way up from the arc to Tony's shoulder. Unfortunately, this left Tony's mouth unoccupied, and he couldn't stop from blurting,
"You don't care?"
"Most people do."
"I think this is a pretty clear example we're far from normal, Tony," Steve gave a bit of a self-depreciating laugh.
There was only so much he could say, different time period and all, but he had to say something.
"I don't buy that. That homosexuality is a sin, or whatever? It's bullshit, Steve, total bullshit. I refuse to believe that this," he pulled Steve up into a fierce kiss, all passion and intensity and a bit of tongue before he pulled away to finish his sentence, "Is wrong. No fucking way."
"You make a good point," Steve gave a breathless sort of laugh, "A fantastic one, actually. Perhaps you should convince me a little more?"
"I showed you mine," Tony grinned, rucking up Steve's shirt, "Wanna show me yours?"
"Oh, that's, um," Steve flushed a bit, "You don't have to—"
Tony wasn't the only one with body issues, it seemed.
"I don't do anything I don't want to," Tony hushed him with a kiss, tugging Steve's shirt up and over his head, "You're perfect the way you are, Steve. Don't forget that when you run off and become some hot, Captain Muscles soldier boy. This…you're beautiful, baby."
Steve didn't say anything, but his face spoke volumes. Whether he objected on the basis of not thinking he was attractive or not liking being called 'beautiful', Tony wasn't entirely sure, so he corrected both accounts.
"Handsome, then," Tony pressed a kiss to Steve's chest, enunciating each new phrase with a kiss down his abdomen, "Dashing, attractive, sexy, striking, fetching—is fetching a thing yet?—gorgeous, hot, have I mentioned perfect?"
"Might've," Steve was full-on blushing now, and it looked delicious.
"Guess I'll just have to put my money where my mouth is," Tony's smirk widened, and he tugged down the hem of Steve's pants.
He had tried. He'd tried so hard, for so long, to ignore the little voice in the back of his head. He told himself it was an artist's voice when he noticed the fluid dynamics of Tony's body, weedy but muscular in a way that was absolutely intoxicating. He told himself it was a Captain's voice when his internal alarms screamed anytime Tony put himself in danger. He told himself it was just an impressed-nonagenarian voice when he marveled at Tony's intelligence and wit, his biting humor. He told himself anything and everything he had to, anything to shut it down, Rogers.
But then, having literally twice the thoughts running through his head about Tony Stark was just not something he was ever prepared to handle.
Suddenly he'd get a flash flood of images, Tony bickering amicably with Bucky over nothing like old friends, or yawning groggily and running a hand through his thoroughly sleep-mussed hair. Tony sneaking into his room to give him more blankets when he thought he was asleep. Tony amid the pieces of their disassembled heater when Steve arrived home, promising he could make it work, please don't be mad.
Time passed faster there than here; a day there was an hour here, and every hour on the hour Steve got a day's worth of memories of Tony in his 1940's apartment. They were…friends there, there was no other word for it. They talked endlessly, and Steve wasn't stupid, he knew his past self had developed a crush from the way he doted on Tony, the way he took care of his injuries and let his gaze linger while Tony slept. Hell, he could "remember" how he felt; he felt selfish, but he hoped Tony never recovered his memory.
He wanted Tony to stay.
Which did nothing to lessen Steve's endless frustration with the man; if anything, it made it worse. Why the hell couldn't he and Tony get along like that? Okay, maybe it was a little strange to be jealous of a memory of your past self, but it still ticked Steve off. Tony was obviously the same person; yet, Tony had never talked to him like that, never seemed as light and easy and…happy to be around the real Steve.
And God damn the bastard, it stung.
Interrogating Loki had done nothing but cause more frustration, and eventually Steve had given up and headed to the gym in favor of punching something until it hurt. He was there for an hour before he had to stop, had to sit down in the middle of the gym and just stop.
Because oh, it hurt alright.
He kissed him.
The memories came flooding back, Tony telling him he'd be a legend and a hero, that he believed Steve could do anything he wanted to. The sudden, overwhelming desire that hit him, fast and wild enough that he'd acted on it. Tony melting under him, kissing him softer than Steve had known Tony could.
Steve sat on the floor of the gym, head between his knees. He could still feel Tony's hands on his skin like wildfire, still taste the honeyed tea Tony'd been drinking, still feel Tony's throat around him, like it had been him Tony had touched and kissed and sucked like it was some kind of Olympic sport. Like it was him Tony wanted.
Steve didn't know anymore. They were the same person; the Steve Tony had been with was only from two (give or take seventy) years ago. Steve was still the same person, would have made the same decisions the memory-Steve was. He knew that, but did Tony? More importantly, when this all came to an end, when Tony rejoined the real world, would he still only want the Steve from the past, a man that no longer truly existed?
Steve got up and went to see Loki again.
"Stark and I, in the other universe," Steve tried to look ambivalent, "We were together, weren't we?"
"To put it mildly," Loki hummed in amusement, "Receiving some interesting memories, are we Captain?"
"So put it plainly," Steve ignored the 'interesting memories' comment.
Loki gave him a long, examining look.
"There are certain things that should perhaps remain untold, Captain," Loki told him after a pause, "It is not my desire to make you feel as if you should live up to the golden legacy left by your counterpart, only that you might benefit from having Anthony in your life the same way he did."
"In what way?"
"In love, Captain," Loki told him as one might tell an innocent, but somewhat slow child. Then, he quirked his head, as if hearing something Steve couldn't, "Ah. It seems my time in this realm has drawn to a close."
"Wait, but I—"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure you've many more questions, Captain," Loki waved him off, "You mortals always do. However, I've given you the chance, and I've warned you not to waste it; there is little else I can do here."
"But what if when he returns…he doesn't love this me?" it was more weakness than perhaps Steve ought to admit, but he needed the answer.
"Then this would be a startlingly peculiar universe indeed, Captain," Loki merely chuckled as green mist started to swirl at his feet.
Tony didn't know how he knew, but he knew his time was almost up.
There was a kind of pinging in his brain, like a magical alarm clock of sorts. He turned over on the couch, groaning as he did. The only thing he'd actually broken was his nose, but that seemed to be healing faster than the general body ache that seemed to accompany every move he made.
Steve just hummed a little song as he made his morning omelet, and Tony made a garbled sort of complaint noise into the cushions.
"It is way too early in the morning for you to be this happy," Tony grumbled, "God I miss coffee."
"I am sorry about that," Steve bit his lip, "It's just, we can't really—"
"No, stop, don't even…stop," Tony waved a dismissive hand in Steve's general direction without removing his face from the couch, "I don't even care, it's just early, you can't listen to the things I say this early in the morning, they're stupid."
"If we could afford it—"
"Steve, I would take you over coffee literally every time, stop worrying about it. Also, if you knew how often I drank coffee, I feel like you would be much happier about that statement than you are. In fact, I think I should have a gorgeous blonde in my lap right now, but alas, I'm sensing a distinct lacking of gorgeous blondes named Steve."
"Bucky's going to wake up soon," Steve shifted, clearly uncomfortable, and Tony could've smacked himself.
"Right. I'm just going to stop talking. Learn to ignore everything I say before, like, noon," Tony mumbled into the cushion.
There were four hours between when Steve got home and Bucky did that they had all to themselves, and they had certainly been abusing the alone time for the past week or so. The rest of the time, however, Tony had to remind himself that they were not, in fact, a normal couple, but a time-traveller and a soon-to-be nonagenarian who could be literally thrown in jail if anyone found out. Also, if the psychic pinging in his brain was accurate, their time was running out, and Tony had no idea how he was going to explain that to Steve-
A kiss pressed to the back of his head pulled him out of his rambling thoughts. It was brief and Steve was already moving back to the kitchen, but the gesture still made Tony smile into his pillow.
He opened his mouth to ask if Steve could take work off, then closed it. Things were different, here. Steve and Bucky were barely scraping by; skipping work was money Steve couldn't stand to lose, and it could even lead to losing his job, which meant he and Bucky wouldn't be able to afford the apartment. Tony wanted to spend this last day with Steve, but not at Steve's expense.
At the same time, he couldn't just disappear on Steve without saying goodbye, without at least attempting to explain. That wasn't fair to Steve, and Tony didn't want to hurt him any more than he already would by having to leave.
"Something the matter? You look like a fish, all pinchy-faced," a voice interrupted his thoughts this time, as Barnes stumbled into the room dressed for work.
"Pain, idiot," Tony just grumbled at him, "Why don't you try falling 500 feet into some back alley in the middle of fuck-all nowhere sometime?"
"Thanks to the stunning detail with which you complain, I feel like I already have," Bucky just snorted, going to make himself a quick breakfast.
"Play nice, boys," Steve sighed.
"You baby him, man," Bucky just shook his head, "I bet he's totally fine, and he's just using our couch for a rent-free place to crash."
"See if I ever fix your sink again," Tony shot back, "Or your heater. Twice. Or your—"
"Yeah, okay, you're vaguely useful," Bucky rolled his eyes, "I still think your amnesia is highly suspect."
"Lay off, Buck," Steve told him.
"If you ask me, I think you're just trying to take advantage of Steve—"
"I said lay off him," Steve snapped, the jibe hitting closer to home than Barnes could have known.
Bucky paused, clearly sensing something was off.
"Look," Bucky said eventually, looking between them again before turning to Tony, "You know I was just messing around, yeah? I didn't mean anything by it, you can stay here if you want. You're alright, y'know?"
"Thanks," Tony blinked.
"I'm sorry, Bucky, I'm just stressed," Steve sighed, "I didn't mean to snap."
"Nah, it's alright," Bucky just clapped him on the back, "I've got an early day, so I'm gonna head out."
"Don't work too hard, your head might explode," Tony told him good-naturedly, and Bucky grinned.
"Same to you, I know how stressful napping all day can be."
"On this thing? It's like running an uphill marathon."
"Good luck with your marathon," Bucky laughed, then he was out the door.
"Can I talk to you for a sec?" Tony asked Steve once they were alone, forcing himself to get up, aches and all, "It's kind of important. I probably should've told you sooner, but I don't know, I guess I figured I had more time, and even if I didn't, at first I kind of figured it wouldn't really matter to you if I went anywhere but now it does and—"
"Went anywhere?" Steve repeated, smile dipping into a frown.
"Yeah, okay, this is going to be really hard to believe and it's going to sound completely crazy no matter how I say it so I'm just going to tell you—"
"You don't really have amnesia, do you?" Steve didn't look mad, thankfully, just…thoughtful. Like he was piecing together the last bits of a puzzle he'd been working on for a while.
"No, I don't. But that's not actually the crazy part, I, uh, I'm from the future, Steve," Tony paused, trying to gauge Steve's reaction and not getting much, "My name's Tony Stark, I'm Howard Stark's kid. You know how I said I was a superhero? Well, some of the people I fight use magic, and one of those assholes sent me here."
"To a different time," Steve clarified thoughtfully, "The past."
"So…you know what happens to me, to Bucky, to everyone. In the future."
"I…" Tony paused, ready with a lie. He caught Steve's eyes, and couldn't quite manage to, "Yeah."
"All that stuff you said," the color drained out of Steve's face, "About…about being a hero, a legend…was that…were you lying, or is that…?"
Tony debated lying, then realized that if he was so worried about timeline fuckery, he probably shouldn't have sucked Captain America's past dick.
"You're going to become the world's first supersoldier," Tony told him, and the joy that lit Steve's face was worth any consequence.
"A supersoldier," Steve breathed.
"They call you Captain America, the first Avenger."
"Hell of a title, yeah?" Tony grinned, and Steve answered with a kiss, insistent and demanding.
Even as Steve kissed him, Tony could feel himself fade. Only too late did he get it; being with Steve unraveled the spell. Each kiss pushed him back to the future, their touch undoing the magic. He quickly pulled away, because he had one last thing he had to make sure Steve knew, no matter what the consequences to the timeline. It was all fucked to hell at this point anyway.
"Don't get on the plane."
"What plane?" Steve quirked his head, looked at him curiously, but Tony just shook his head.
"You'll know what I mean someday, just…don't get on the plane. There's another way, there always is."
Then Tony kissed him again, soft and sweet and trying to pour everything he hadn't gotten a chance to say, had barely gotten a chance to feel, into that one last kiss.
He didn't have to open his eyes to know when Steve was gone.
Tony felt himself hurtle forward and crash into the sidewalk, and he swore up down and sideways. Fuck almighty that hurt like a bitch. At least the suit was magically on his body again, or a fall like that might've killed him. He could tell from his surroundings he was on 5th street, right where he should've fallen in the battle—what, three, four weeks ago now? Five? It felt more like years.
Tony eventually let out a low groan, and JARVIS was immediately in his ear.
"I see you've seen fit to return to the world of the living, sir."
"You know me, if the tale of my death doesn't involve two car crashes and a burning building then the rumors have been greatly exaggerated."
"Good to have you back, sir."
"Good to be back, J. How's the team, they pitch a fit about my sudden AWOL status or what?"
"Technically speaking since you have not been gone 48 hours—"
"What? I was gone at least a month!"
"I'm sorry, sir, my records indicate—"
"Stark!" it was Steve's voice over his com line, and Tony wanted to laugh and cry, to kiss the man and slug him.
"You didn't listen to me," Tony breathed, "God, why didn't you listen to me? You could be in the 40's, with Bucky and Peggy and whoever else, I tried to save you, Steve, god damn it that was the whole fucking point—"
Tony cut himself off.
"You're not…" Tony paused, unsure how to phrase it.
"No, I'm not," Steve said, but his voice was rough, conflicted, "Come to the Tower, we need to talk."
"Do we really—"
That was that. Tony sighed, hit the thrusters, and looped through the sky. He could see Steve already waiting for him at the end of his walkway, and Tony winced. Oh yes, this looked like it was going to be super fun. 'Why did you take advantage of past-me, Stark', 'horribly inappropriate behavior on a mission, Stark', 'I would never make such poor decisions, Sta—'
Tony was cut off from imagining what Steve was going to ream him about by Steve demanding something entirely different.
"Why?" Steve crossed his arms imposingly, and holy fuck was it a trip to see Steve again all big and buff after mapping the planes of an entirely different body with his face on it, "Why would you tell me something like that?"
Tony didn't pretend not to know what he was referring to.
"You didn't have to die in that crash, well, almost-die. There were other ways to end the war. Besides, it doesn't matter anyways, it obviously didn't fucking work, I didn't have any actual influence on the timeline—"
"I know that!" Steve shouted, and he looked like he wanted to grab Tony by the shoulders and shake him, but thankfully JARVIS was still dismantling the armor and that seemed to stop him, "But you didn't! You thought I'd listen, you thought that by telling me that, I'd live my life in the 40's and never even meet you, why would you do that?"
"I…" Tony's mouth was suddenly quite dry, "Well. It's pretty fucking obvious, isn't it?"
"No, it is most certainly not!"
"I…" Tony paused, then admitted, "You're the same person, Steve, but you're not. You're that person, but that person is drowning in grief and pain and regret, and if I had a chance to fix that, I fucking would, okay? There isn't anything I wouldn't give up to make you happy, and if you're happier without me, than I'll give you up. I love you, that's what people in love fucking do—"
Then Steve was kissing him, and it was so fucking familiar it almost physically hurt.
Steve hoisting him up by his ass to french him against the wall, not so much.
"Superstrength," Tony blinked to himself when they broke for air, "Right."
"Did you mean it?" Steve looked conflicted again, but instead of wanting to push all his buttons and make him more so, Tony kind of wanted to kiss it better instead.
"Yeah, I love you, it's weird for me too, just shut up and kiss me again already—" Tony tried to capture Steve's lips again, but Steve pulled away. He didn't, however, put Tony down.
"No," Steve corrected, "Before. You said you liked me as I was."
"I think the word perfect was used somewhere in there, actually."
Steve ducked his head at that a bit, and Tony was struck again by the fact that this Steve was, essentially, the same Steve, just with more grief and baggage. But then, if they were going to talk emotional baggage, Tony practically owned a metaphorical luggage store, so.
"Yeah," Tony nodded, "I meant it. Not to say I don't appreciate the fact that we can now literally have a conversation while you casually hold me up by my ass, but, yes, Steve, I think you were perfect just as you were."
"You were attracted me like…that," Steve still seemed confused somehow.
"I'm sorry, was part where I sucked your brains out through your dick confusing for you?"
"I lost a few brain cells when you did that thing with your tongue, but it was nothing if not clear," Steve was wearing a wry sort of smile now, and Tony considered it a win.
"You need to smile more," he decided, "Past-you smiled more."
"Past-me had more reasons to smile."
"Maybe," Tony admitted, "But maybe I could work on trying to get you to smile, instead of trying to get you to break something."
"I'd appreciate that."
It was as close as either of them were going to come to an apology about their rough start, and it was really all they needed to say.
"You know what I'd appreciate right now—"
"I can think I can imagine."
Steve finally kissed him again, and Tony could taste the smile on his lips.