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Looking Glass

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In the grand scheme of shit that happens, Tony is more than willing to take responsibility for a lot of it.

The vortex to another fucking dimension whirling in the middle of his lab is, however, not actually his fault.

It says something about the course of his life, and about the last six months, that his first reaction is more curiosity than fear. And not because he’s never seen anything like this, but because the thought of having to experience that much godawful terror again mostly leaves him tired and empty in the spaces in his chest where things as normal as that used to live. He cocks his head, frowning and setting down the tools he had to create to work with the suit. The vortex makes a soft shushing noise and the inside twists with random flashes of color and light.

Tony leans against his table and watches it. “Hello?” he calls. “Anybody in there?”

The vortex, apparently, has nothing to say. Tony sighs, scrubs a hand through his hair and pulls his phone out of his pocket. There’s still something strange about acting without a base, though Tony’s hardly missing the bureaucracy. He presses speed dial one, tucks his phone to his ear, and thirty seconds later Steve’s asking, “Tony, what’s wrong?”

Shit happens, Tony thinks. “There’s a vortex in my lab.”

A pause. “A vortex. To where?”

“I don’t know.” Tony shrugs. The vortex is still making that hushed sound, like hearing wind through a closed door, and the colors are still flashing like cheap sci fi special effects from the eighties. “It just appeared.”

Another pause, and then the sound of movement. “You didn’t make it.”

“I don’t make every vortex, Steve.”

In the third pause, Tony can imagine the exasperated face Steve’s pulling. “I’ll be right there. Call if anything happens.”

“Yes, sir,” Tony says, then hangs up and shoves his phone back into his pocket.

Law of averages says that there has to be a reason the thing popped up in the center of his lab and not anywhere else on the planet. Random chance doesn’t throw this kind of shit at the people uniquely qualified to do something about it; random chance does it in the middle of Siberian nowhere or in a farmer’s field in Buttfuck, Kansas.

Of course, this kind of shit usually does something rather than just -- pointedly existing.

The thought crosses his mind that it might be magic, and that makes his gut clench up a little. Science he can handle, even if it’s in a place so fucking far ahead of what anyone on earth has that it seems like magic. Actual magic -- as defined by Tony’s total inability to relate it to any science he knows -- he won’t fuck with, thanks. It’s too much like a pointed jab at what he doesn’t know and Tony doesn’t cope well with not knowing things.

It honestly doesn’t feel like he spends twenty minutes staring at the lights inside the vortex, though he could probably cop to spending a solid ten arguing with himself over the relative level of suicidally stupid just jumping in and seeing what happens has. But he hears Steve punching in his access code, then his footsteps, and then he’s there. Tall and solid and wearing his uniform. Tony supposes the assumption of something shitty happening isn’t all that unfair.

Tony rolls his gaze to the side and looks at him. Steve’s brow is furrowed, like he can’t quite make sense of what he’s looking at. He’s got his arms folded across his chest, which says the same thing. Tony doesn’t grin, sensing that Steve would interpret that as the beginning of Tony revealing how this is all some practical joke.

“Has anything come out?” Steve asks.


“Have you -- thrown anything in?”

“A Stark Industries pen,” Tony says. “It whirled around for a second and then disappeared. And an apple core. Did the same thing.”

Steve rubs his chin. “Can you get rid of it?”

Tony considers his answer. Against the grand scheme of Tony’s life, yeah, he’s done less probable things under far more pressing circumstances than the mild distraction of a seven foot wide hole in the universe whirling in front of his face like a flushed toilet. Still, there’s the random hole in the universe factor to consider.

“Probably,” Tony says, after a beat. “I mean. Well. Yeah, probably.”

And that, predictably, is when things go to hell.


Tony remembers:

The lights suddenly getting brighter until all the color had flared out into a blinding white brilliance that he had to throw his hand up against. The sound suddenly flared until it was the teeth rattling roar of a plane taking off and he felt painful pressure against his eardrums. He felt Steve move toward it, because Steve is Steve.

And then a sense that the universe inverted for a second, flipping everything inside out and undoing the laws that keep the fabric of reality glued together mostly neatly. Tony’s experienced that more times than the average bear, but it still sent him twisting back against his desk, unsure and groping and yelling against the wrongness of it all.

Then it stopped.

Then someone punched him across the face and everything went black.

For the fucking record? Punching someone when they’re reverting back to a state of normal cosmic alignment is fucking cheating.

The first thing he’s aware of is that his nose fucking hurts and his head is pounding back and forth between his temples like the world’s worst game of cerebral pong. He breathes for a couple seconds, because he can’t get to the suit and figure out how to fix whatever's gone pear shaped in the universe if he's just going to open his eyes and puke.

Something warm and wet is rolling sluggishly down his face from his forehead down his nose and temple to his cheek. He can actually hear it dripping off his chin and splattering on his shirt collar. Smart bet says blood, and Tony’s not so possibly concussed that he can’t do a little simple math and arrive at whatever’s happening probably isn’t goddamn good.

It's not until he tries to scrub a hand over his eyes that he realizes he's tied up.


Carefully -- oh, so very carefully -- Tony cracks open his eyes. The light is too fucking bright and the room seesaws drunkenly for a second, graying out around the edges. That concussion’s starting to look less like a possibility and more like a reality. Tony grits his teeth and breathes through his nose. He will not pass out again and he will not puke and he will figure out how to get himself untied. Because he is a genius and Iron Man and because the world has dealt with too much shit in the last couple months to deal with more of it.

Slowly, he tries opening his eyes again and everything is still a little doubled and a little unsteady, but it’s bearable. The pain in his head isn’t going anywhere without some grade a medical smack, but Tony’s lived with large portions of his ribs carved out to make room for a generator. He can deal with a little migraine.

That’s the moment when he realizes the low whine of white noise that’s been rolling around in his head like loose marbles has toned down the static and coalesced into two voices. That -- is not as bad as it could be, actually.

Two people is not an army. Tony’s working on his optimism.

Carefully, he pulls his arms against the rope tied over his chest and -- no dice, it doesn’t give and whoever came skipping out the vortex was competent enough to not make it that easy. Tony’s picked up enough experience MacGuyver-ing his way out of tight spots over the years that he’s almost positive he could find a way loose, but not without time and lot of obvious effort. Assuming the voices are the designated Bad Guys in this scenario, Tony doesn’t have a lot of confidence in their willingness to conveniently keep their backs turned.

Cursing inwardly -- though not yet beginning to panic -- Tony lifts his head a few inches and scans his lab. There’s a whole slew of useful shit scattered on his work tables, all of which are at least ten feet away from the exposed support beam he’s tied to. He suddenly can’t remember if the little tool knife he carries is in his pocket, but even if it is he’s not sure how he’d retrieve it, must less cut with it.

When this is over? Tony’s inventing himself a pair of goddamn laser eyes, he doesn’t care how much it weirds everyone else out.

In the middle of reminding himself that he won’t be alive to invent a laser eye prosthetic if the vortex people kill him first, he hears a groan coming from immediately behind him rather than somewhere off to his right. He thinks, with a perfect clarity that almost overwrites the dull throb in his head, Steve, because apparently taking a potshot to the temple was enough to knock the memory of the good Captain showing up right the hell out of his brain.

Tony twists, craning his neck until he can just barely make out Steve slumped forward against the rope. He’s not bleeding -- that’s good, Tony’s imminently unhelpful and mildly fucking scrambled brain provides -- but his mouth is dropped open into a slack frown, his eyes are closed, and he’s not moving. “Fuck,” Tony mutters, jerking his shoulders fruitlessly against the ties. “Motherfuck.”

Tony inches his arm back and his elbow knocks into Steve’s. He thinks he sees Steve’s eyelashes flutter, but the angle’s shitty and he’s not sure. Some deep, dark, ugly voice in the back of Tony’s head reminds him flatly that Steve’s a supersoldier, not a god, and that Tony knows he can bleed just as much as anyone else. Tony tells that voice to go fuck himself, they wouldn’t have tied him up if they thought he’d been completely incapacitated as a threat. The voice in his head shrugs, which is a neat trick for a mental construction that lacks a body, and Tony shakes his head.

“Steve,” he hisses. “Rogers.”

Without the suit, Tony’s more or less got whatever training he’s picked up from living around heroes and legends for the last however many years. Steve can probably break the rope with a casual flex of his pecs and that’s what Tony needs right now. Steve makes a noise so low and faint Tony is not even half-sure he actually heard it.

Tony’s not going to admit that actually starting to think maybe Steve is really, really fucked distracts him so completely that he doesn’t hear the Bad Guys walk up. When he tells this story, he’ll say that it was the combination of concussion and bleeding and planning. Still, he doesn’t hear footsteps until someone’s chuckling.

“Oh, he’s fine, I promise. Just a little shocked.”

For a split second, Tony thinks Jesus Christ, I am concussed.

Then he turns his head. Looks. Blinks.

The, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” falls out of his mouth before he can stop it.


The thing is, Tony is aware that there are more things in the universe then he will ever know about.

He has seen shit that could, and has, blown tiny minds and Tony’s never lost sight of the reality that the Avengers have only fought a very fucking tiny percentage of what has to be out there. The universe is big, and human imagination is not so special or expansive that Tony feels at all justified in believing he’s thought of all possible things.

Still. He feels perfectly justified being just a little fucking shocked to see himself looming over -- himself.

To be fair, it’s not exact copy.

It is still very fucking clearly him.

“I’m hallucinating,” Tony says, very clearly. As though sheer force of enunciation will be able to turn the world right side up again. “I’ve been drugged. I’m being mind-controlled.”

He -- the other him. The not-Tony that is not currently tied to a metal pole in the middle of his lab, arches an eyebrow and smirks. He’s wearing a suit, though it’s not any iteration that Tony’s come up with so far. The colors are darker than the bright red and gold they should be, the lines less clean and more threatening.

Tony’s eye for design is heavily influenced by practicality and his mechanical soul rather than any overwhelming concern with aesthetics. But he still recognizes something that’s been put together with an eye toward intimidation. It makes his blood flush cold for a split second, and he shudders. Some childish part of his mind wants flatly to disbelieve that any version of Tony could ever be Darth Vader instead of Luke, but.

“None of the above,” not-Tony says. The corner of his mouth quirks up into a smirk. He cocks his head to the side.

Tony follows the line of the gesture and -- right. Vortex. Still swirling. Goddamnit.

“So, what?” Tony snorts, he can’t help himself. “You’re my -- my evil goddamn twin?”

Not-Tony huffs out a derisive noise and stands. “Alt-universe counterpart,” he corrects. Tony can’t help but note that he doesn’t have anything to say about the evil bit.

“Okay.” Tony blows out a breath. “You’re my evil alt-universe counterpart. What the fuck are you doing here?”

We are your counterparts,” a second voice corrects.

Tony closes his eyes. If he counts to three, believes in magic, and wishes on fairy fucking dust he’ll open them and this will all just be another weird and vivid nightmare to toss onto the pile. It’ll fit neatly between that time he dreamed he and Carol had six kids and woke up genuinely expecting her to clean his clock and the time he dreamed he and Hank had command of an army of mini-Ultrons.

When he opens them again, he hasn’t woken up. Not-Tony’s still standing in front of him in his wrong suit. And he has his arm around a Captain America with a darker blue uniform, hair parted sharply and slicked down, mouth drawn into a cruel smile that just looks wrong.

Tony’s stomach turns over. “Steve,” he says, loudly. “Steve, this would be a great time for you to wake up.”

Not-Steve -- evil Steve? alt Steve? Tony doesn’t know the appropriate goddamn designation for your evil alternate universe counterpart -- narrows his eyes. He seems far less amused by the whole thing that not-Tony does. His smile feels uncomfortably like a promise that Tony will really, definitely not like the consequences of not shutting up.

Granted, Tony’s pretty sure that if not-Steve and not-Tony are buddies enough to stand with their arms around each other, not-Steve should know damn well that no version of Tony is capable of keeping his mouth shut.

“What are you doing here?” Tony demands. “What do you want?”

Not-Tony turns his head and exchanges a meaningful glance with not-Steve. It’s funny -- Tony has heard from more than one person that the silent communication thing he and Steve do is freaky or ridiculous, depending on who’s talking. He’s never really believed it, because Steve is one of the most expressive people he knows and it’s just not that hard to read him.

But seeing it? Well. Okay, yeah. Maybe a little freaky. Tony doesn’t speak not-Steve’s eyebrows and the lack of familiar expression to contextualize what he’s thinking makes something start yelling in fear in Tony’s hindbrain.

Not-Tony cuts his eyes back to Tony. “Well, I’m not one for monologuing--”


The interjection makes not-Steve’s mouth quirk in the briefest of sneers.

“--but.” Not-Tony kneels down in front of Tony and touches a cold, metal-gauntleted finger to his cheek. “These are very special circumstances.”


By the time he’s finished talking, not-Steve is shooting irritated glances at the back of his head, Steve’s starting to make pained waking up noises on the other side of the support beam, and Tony’s trying really hard to work through the logic laid out in front of him. He liked science fiction as a kid; he’s aware that evil counterpart logic isn’t meant to be good logic, but it still galls hearing something that nonsensical said in his own voice. It offends his sensibilities.

“Okay, so, let me just try and sum this up,” Tony says, wishing his hands weren’t tied down so he could more effectively illustrate his points. “Your universe is irrevocably fucked up, and why don’t I believe that neither of you two had anything to do with that? So you’re just hopping around like evil universe traveling bunnies looking for another universe? Am I right so far?”

Not-Steve inclines his head. His silence is unnerving.

“Great, good.” Tony licks his lips. “And the plan is that the two of you, on your own, by the power of your -- powers combined are going to take over the world. Just the two of you. That’s -- that’s -- that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Not-Tony’s mouth twists into a curled-lip sneer.

And here’s the thing. Tony’s obviously exaggerating. He has heard of way worse plans than that, considering that not-Tony and not-Steve have their faces on their side in terms of tricking people into doing what they want. Tony’s listened to people with mutant animals and zappers built in their garages monolog about becoming supreme leader of the universe. The super half of supervillain is a relative term.

Tony’s just stalling. He can hear Steve stirring, and if Steve can wake up and bust them loose? They can do something about this.

And suddenly, not-Tony’s hand is in Tony’s collar, yanking him up the very litte bit of give the ropes will allow. “You have no idea what we’re capable of.” Tony’s mouth floods with the acrid copper taste of fear and the stupid, pointless, bone-deep stubbornness that has kept him alive and almost gotten him killed in equal measure since the day he was born.

“I have a little,” Tony snaps back.

Not-Steve puts a hand on not-Tony’s shoulder.

Tony can see the muscle on not-Tony’s jaw work and jump, and the calculations in his eyes weighing the satisfaction of choking that smartass look off Tony’s face versus whatever not-Steve’s version of sighing in disappointment is. Then he quirks a violent little smile that Tony recognizes from right before more punches than he can imagine and releases his hand. Tony sags against the ropes and resists the urge to crane his neck and look at Steve. Wake up he thinks. It’s time to wake up.

“We didn’t destroy the world,” not-Tony says, straightening. Not-Steve’s hand stays on his shoulder. “We just fought back.”

Something about their posture relative to each other pings at Tony, in the same way how looking at a part dissembled can suddenly make him realize how to fix it.

He doesn’t manage to get past the there’s no goddamn way thought before there is sudden, blessed, beautiful movement behind him and Steve asking, “What on earth? Tony?”

“Don’t ask questions, just get us loose!” Tony yells.

The best thing about Steve? He acts without question when the right people tell him to.


As he’s moving, Steve yells, “Tony, what--”

“Evil alternate dimension counterparts!” Tony yells back, sprinting for the suit as Steve’s shield flies two inches behind his head and sends not-Tony crashing down. “Evil twins, okay! Evil twins that want to take over the world, I will explain later just take them down!”

Tony’s second favorite thing about Steve is his ability to fold the weirdest shit into a fight and never even stop to think about it.


There are some basic things Tony has picked up about combat since becoming Iron Man.

If you’re fighting an enemy that can absorb and/or copy your moves and/or powers, think long and hard about just how certain you are any move is going to be the final strike. Weight the consequences of any potential damage against how much it’ll suck to have that same thing leveled right back at you.

When fighting aliens and gods and mythical creatures so god-fucking-awful echoes of them have managed to survive over millennia, assume that you are a tiny and insignificant bug and you are going to have to get creative if you want very much to not die.

To that font of knowledge, he can now add that when fighting yourself, it’s going to wig you out first and then get really, really repetitive really, really quickly.

Tony’s lab looks like a tornado ripped through it, spouting laser blasts on the way as a special fuck you. He’s suited, and damned if he doesn’t feel much, much better for that. The world always seems a little more manageable when cast in the cool colors of Iron Man’s optical sensors. Unfortunately, not-Tony was never not-suited and whatever cosmetic differences there are between them, their capabilities seem right on par with each other.

Tony aims another repulsor blast at not-Tony, who dodges neatly out the way. A filing cabinet along the far wall explodes in a ball of bright blue energy and Tony hopes to God there wasn’t anything really important in there. Not-Tony returns the blast and Tony rockets toward the ceiling, buffeted to the side by the force. One of the windows goes. He ought to just buy a goddamn glass company. It would be cheaper than the constant repairs.

“You have to know we’re never going to let this happen,” Tony yells down at not-Tony. “This world is taken. You can’t have it.”

On the other side of the room, Steve and not-Steve have both managed to lose their shields and turned to their fists. Not-Steve lands a blow on Steve’s ribs that makes Tony’s creak in sympathy.

An unexpectedly cold rage blossoms in his chest. There is no goddamn way cheap knockoffs are going to take them down. Tony will not allow this.

Not-Tony takes off and then they’re level, closer to the ceiling than the floor with the vortex rushing away beneath them. “Anything can be taken,” not-Tony says, raising his hands. His repulsors glow red instead of blue, because apparently moral signifiers have translated between the their universes.

“Not this world.” Tony raises his hands. “If you fucked up yours, that’s your problem.”

Not-Tony laughs. “We didn’t fuck it up, we just fought for what was ours. You have no idea what’s coming for you.”

“I--” Tony stops, and looks at Steve and not-Steve. He thinks for a split second about Wanda and how easily the world can be remade. He smiles, knowing that not-Tony can’t see it and not caring. “I don’t want to know what’s coming. We’ll figure it out when it gets here.”

He has an idea.


The joke has long been that Tony and Steve are the mother and father of the Avengers, which used to make Tony roll his eyes really hard and now just makes him shrug and laugh a little. He created this new team for Steve, because Steve asked him to and because Steve needed him to, so the comparison is apt enough that he doesn’t have a lot of recourse to argue against it.

Tony was aware, long before Steve was, that people have always wondered about them. They are black and white, old and now, and all the other specious diametrically opposed concepts they’re suppose to stand for. People have trouble, for some reason, understanding that they are not as goddamn simple as what used to be and what will be. There’s a middle ground, or they would be able to live and work and fight and survive next to each other.

That thing Tony noticed? In the way not-Steve and not-Tony canted their bodies toward each other?

Here’s hoping he’s not wrong.


The timing works out in a way that would make Tony be thankful if he believed in sky monsters that were slightly less tangible than aliens and robots and all that. He gets the idea and turns, just as Steve crashes backward to the floor and not-Steve goes to pounce on him.

There’s another rule of engagement he remembers. When the odds are too even, change the odds. And, of course, there’s no discounting the classic hit ‘em in their weak spot.

Tony turns as not-Steve is literally about to take off and fires his repulsors without letting himself think how close he’s going to be to hitting his Steve and how he might take not-Steve’s head off and leave a charred stump behind and how this is the stupidest day he’s had in a really, really long time. That comes crashing down in fraction of a second between firing --

And not-Steve suddenly whipping sideways in mid-air, his shoulder smoking.

Not-Tony yells, “Steve!,” and that’s definitely panic behind the metallic modulation of the suit.

Score one for Tony’s intuition.

But they’re not done yet and the triumph is going to have to wait, because not-Tony’s crashing onto the floor and running for not-Steve, real Steve is throwing himself to his feet and grabbing for his shield, and Tony can’t be the one late to their last stand.

There’s faint smoke rising from the hole in not-Steve’s shoulder as not-Tony kneels beside him, retracting his mask and ignoring Steve falling into his fighting stance. There’s a little blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, and Tony’s willing to bet he’ll have bruises for a least a couple hours that Carol’ll give him shit about.

“Talk to me,” not-Tony is demanding, hand curled around not-Steve’s neck. Tony lands and takes a position beside Steve. The evil twins aren’t going anywhere but through them, or back into the vortex. Tony knows which has his vote.

Not-Steve groans and opens his eyes. “I’m fine,” he says.

Not-Tony fists his hands in front of not-Steve’s uniform and hauls him into a kiss.

Steve makes a noise. Tony raises his palms. “Great, so. Are you going to go back where you came from willingly or do we have to give you a push?”


Not-Steve leans on not-Tony as they stand in front of the vortex. Tony retracts his helmet and stares at them, utterly and stupidly grateful for Steve standing next to him.

“You know we’ll just find another world,” not-Tony says, and that’s clearly a threat and a promise.

“But it won’t be this one,” Steve says, low and fierce. “And there will be others to stop you again and again. And if you ever come back here again? You won’t get any further.”

Not-Tony curls his mouth into a hard grin. “We’ll see. We’ll see if you pick yourselves up from the rubble.”

Tony powers up his repulsors and their whine is loud enough to be heard over the swirl of the vortex. “I don’t know if you’re actually trying to intimidate us, or just stalling. But either way, you lost and it’s time for you go home and shut this thing off.”


When not-Tony and not-Steve step back into the vortex, the universe inverts itself again just like it did when they came through. The light gets overbright again, the noise swells again. Thankfully, this time Tony doesn't get cold clocked. He opens his eyes just in time to the see the swirl of light and color retract down and down, smaller and smaller until it collapses it on itself.

“You know, it just occurred to me,” Steve says, under his breath. “We could have called for backup.”

“We could have--” Tony start, snorting. Then, “Oh. Well, we took care of it.”


The sudden silence of the vortex-free lab is very, very loud.

For a solid two minutes after the hole in the universe collapses with a incongruously mild pop, Tony and Steve stay poised in fighting stances, just in case. Tony’s not the tactician Steve is, but he is at least passingly familiar with the concept of a fake out ending. He has watched a horror movie or two in his time.

Tony can feel the mild vibration of the charged pulsors against his palms and imagines, fancifully, that they want to bust out and put some holes in the chests of not-Tony and not-Steve. Steve keeps his shield raised, the bright and right reds and blues gleaming softly in the twilight glow coming through the windows. It’s very poetic. From now on Tony’s going to think of Steve not just as Steve, but as the ideal Steve. The apotheosis of all possible Steves.

Eventually, Steve drops his arm and straightens. A couple hesitant beats later, Tony lowers his hands. They stare at the empty space in front of Tony’s desk.

“That was weird,” Tony says, when the silence has gone on too long.

Steve casts a wry look at him from the corner of his eye. “Yes,” he agrees.

The silence becomes slightly awkward.

Steve slips off his shield and sets it on the nearest table. He takes off his gloves and pushes his fingers through his hair, eyes skirting over everything but Tony himself.

Tony disengages from the suit, focusing on the red and gold of his armor rather than thinking about not-Steve’s fingers pushed into not-Tony’s fingers and how the whole tableau was like looking up and finding your weirdest wet dreams brought to way too vivid life. With evil twins. He feels the evil twin part shouldn’t be discounted.

“So,” Steve says, jerking Tony out of the play by play of exactly how fucking strange it was to watch yourself kiss someone standing next to you. He’s shoving his hand through his hair again, which is the oldest nervous gestures Steve has.

“So?” Tony prompts.

Steve grins ruefully, awkwardly. “You should me look at your head.”

For a long, long second Tony has exactly no idea what Steve means by that. Then he remembers the punch to the face he took, and the bleeding and the headache and the possibly concussed part that just got a little less important in the face of negotiating for the fate of their world. Tony has always been excellent at compartmentalizing and really, really very good at ignoring his body.

“Sure,” Tony says. His voice sounds over-bright even in his own ears, and he winces.

In the dozen steps between where he’s standing the table where Steve is, Tony’s body decides the balance of adrenaline to injury is no longer in favor of not feeling shit and he starts to hurt. He grunts a little as he hauls himself up and Steve’s hand lands on his upper arm half a second later. They both freeze, and Tony has time to think oh no, oh yes, and this is the stupidest middle school thing you’ve ever done.

So he doesn’t pull away, because this is Steve and Tony is one hundred percent positive they didn’t somehow manage to contrive a switcharoo. Steve is Steve, and Tony does a lot of things based on that fact alone. He tips his head down. “How’s it look?”

Fingers gently probe at the goose egg and Tony bites back a lot of ungentlemanly language that would probably make Steve push harder as a reprimand. “It’s not too bad,” Steve tells him, voice comfortingly normal. “Head wounds bleed a lot. You should probably get checked out by an actual doctor anyway, but I don’t think you’ll fall over on your way home.”

“Well, then we’ll count today as a victory.”

Steve chuckles quietly, and then he’s sitting on the table next to Tony. Sans suit, Tony’s feet don’t quite reach the ground, but Steve’s do and he plants them firmly down. His solidness is one of the things Tony likes about him best. Having that thought at all makes him wonder if maybe Steve’s medical opinion isn’t to be trusted.

They sit together for a few minutes and the quiet gets less and less uncomfortable in inches.

“I wonder,” Steve says, and not that Tony’s keeping track but that’s twice he’s spoken first, “How different their world is from ours.”

Tony looks up, eyebrow raised. “I’m gonna say pretty damn different. Yeah, that works for me. I mean, technically if there are infinite universes there are infinite universes that bear literally no resemblances to ours from the moment of creation onward, but if we narrow it down to the one that are at least recognizably similar, I’m going to argue for at least a couple key differences.”

Steve looks at Tony with that expression that Tony never knows what to do with -- it’s all fond exasperation and quiet affection all hiding behind a quizzical confusion that Tony believed was real back in the early days and doesn’t buy for a second any more.

“What?” Tony straightens up. “Are you asking do I think we’re in danger of turning evil?”

Steve shrugs a little, looking from Tony to the city outside the window. “They were still Captain America and Iron Man.”

Tony snorts. “And the same theory I was just talking about says there are inconceivable billions of worlds where Captain America and Iron Man exist and we don’t. Or worlds where I’m Captain America and you’re Iron Man.”

Steve’s look of horror is, Tony thinks, mildly undeserved.

Tony knocks his elbow against Steve’s side. “Besides, it’s irrelevant.”

“Irrelevant?” Steve repeats.

“Yes. I would never let it happen.”

Steve’s looking at him again, but different. “Really. How would you do that?”

Tony shrugs. “I couldn’t possibly answer that without knowing the scenario. But if I can make myself into a hero, then I can absolutely keep you from turning Darth Steven. Or Darth Rogers. I don’t know the traditional nomenclature.”

There’s a pause wherein Tony can almost hear Steve sort through his list of newly acquired pop culture references, then he says, “You know I’d do the same, right?”

“I do,” Tony agrees. “I’m counting on it, because realistically? I feel I am far more likely to be tempted to evil than you are.”

Steve frowns. “You’re a better person than you give yourself credit for being.”

“Be that as it may. I have evil scientist tendencies. You’re a boy scout.”

That startles a laugh out of Steve and then finally it doesn’t feel weird at all. This is just another post-battle wind down, even if it’s going to be one that the rest of the team has to be convinced of. Tony’s going to have to figure out some way to disrupt cross-universe vortexes, which actually sounds like one of the more intriguing adventures into technology that doesn’t exist yet that he’s had in awhile.

Life will go on, as usual.


In the grand scheme of things, Tony’s willing to take the blame for a lot of the shit that happens to him. He’s not taking any responsibility whatsoever for his evil twin punching a hole in the universe with visions of world conquest and domination gleaming in his eyes. And there’s no way that evil twin kiss could ever be even sort of construed as his fault.

But he will admit that he inability to leave well enough alone? Is on him.

“There’s just one more thing I need to do,” Tony says. “Just, please don’t hit me unless you really need to.”

He registers Steve’s quizzical expression as he’s curling his hand around the base of Steve’s skull and then all that he can be aware of is their mouths pressed together.

Steve’s lips are dry and warm and firm. They don’t slot together in the way really good kisses do, but Tony’s going to chalk that up to surprise on Steve’s part and nerves on his. Steve’s mouth still feels damn good and after a moment Tony can feel him give a little.

It doesn’t last all that long.

When they pull apart, Tony’s heart is beating somewhere in his throat. “Weird?” he asks.

“A little,” Steve says.


“No.” Steve’s answer is quietly emphatic.

Okay. Maybe not so different after all. Tony smiles. He can work with that.