Bruce calls Steve around ten pm and doesn’t tell much, only that he needs to come and see the result of one of his and Tony’s experiments. It isn’t an odd request per se, normally Tony will just keep him informed at the breakfast table or on the rare occasions they come together to plan battle plans and contingency plans for several problems that could come up. Bruce normally only grunts, confirming or assuring Steve and mediating between Tony and Steve when they start the more heated arguments.
The lab they use is between Tony’s penthouse in the last floor and Bruce’s flat; Tony prefers they keep close so neither have to walk much before going back in the end of the day or the beginning of the morning. Just below Bruce is Steve quarters and then going down the comunity floor, then Natasha’s, Clint’s and Thor’s floors, making everyone near enough to get together when needed.
When the door slides open he sees Bruce with both hands at his hair, cursing at one of the screens and still wearing a full lab coat, glasses and a strange metallic jumpsuit underneath it. Steve hums and Bruce turns around looking frightened and oddly white; what worries Steve the most is that he can’t see Tony anywhere and aren't they suppose to be working on the statue Fury send them?
“What happened, Bruce?” Steve doesn’t play fool, he knows something is wrong; Bruce never loses his calm to have exterior changes to his behavior, or a least when he does, it’s green signals that they all pick up and have to act fast before the Hulk barge in outside of missions.
“Tony and I were working on Aesir statue, Thor was helpful and Jane kept him on subject while they did the video conference, we thought we were making progress and then... We did the preliminary work, doing tests to assess if touching it unprotect would harm a human; they all can back clean: no radiation, no poison or any other reagent. I touched and it was fine, with rubber gloves and without. ” Bruce hands fell from his hair and one of they yanked his glasses, when Steve waved for him to continue, Bruce sighed and told Steve to follow. “So Tony decided it was a good idea to touch it too, even when I told him to wait. Gamma radiation seems to protect me from whatever is the statue inoculated, but since Tony doesn’t have any protection without the suit, well, see for yourself.”
Tony was seated in the couch, on the outside of the lab, a place he designed for both “him and Bruce to nap and get a punch of energy”, his words. The problem was there was someone else, just to his side and when Steve stopped to look beyond Tony’s face and body, where he did a check to see if there was any visible injury (Clint liked to tease him saying he always check all of the team, but with Tony he is obsessed to figure out if the man is hiding injuries beneath the suit or not), there it was, a exact copy of Tony Stark, completed with messy hair, confused brown eyes and arch reactor.
“Oh.” Steve looked from both man in the sofa and back to Bruce stressed face, it was like seeing a double ghost when he was punched hard or when, back in the days, the asthma made his head spin and he saw things multiply around him.
“Like I told you, Steve, we don’t know exactly what happen and Tony is well in all tests I made so far. I want to do a new battery of exams tomorrow and see if anything changed, but for now I think the best thing is for both Tonys to rest. Would you keep a look? I want to start repass the experiment and see what went wrong and if one Tony can bust my concentration imagine two?” Bruce hurried off, going back to the lab or so Steve imagined.
“Aren’t you going to start the lecture of how stupid I can be when I excited with science, Captain?” Tony number one sticked his chin up, his confused face morphing to irritation.
“Tony, I...” Steve hadn't had a chance to speak, before the Tony that just spoke got up and passed by him, shoving him aside and going straight to the side corridor that took the elevator door to the other side of the lab, from where Steve had come.
The other Tony continued to look confused, his eyes dropping to his lap and not meeting Steve’s eyes, not even when Steve walked ahead and sat at his side, just where the first Tony was before. Both of them kept silent and even if Steve was trying to wrap his head around the fact there were two Tonys and that one of them seemed to mad at him, he knew that the Tony that remained wouldn’t start to talk first.
“Bruce didn’t tell me much, could you just, you know, tell me what you know so far and, well, how are you feeling?” Steve stumbled to speak, but it was ok, he just needed to stay calm, and not freak out, because if he did, Tony, any of them, would be pissed and he isn’t sure if they have time to argue. Is anything going to happen to Tony? Did Fury knew the statue was magical?
“Bruce probably told what you needed to know, which is nothing since not even Thor was sure for what people used the statues. I’m fine, or least as fine as I can be when half of the things I knew suddenly aren’t exactly in my mind anymore.” This Tony doesn’t look him in the eye, his voice is low and lacks heat, and is strange how Steve can see Tony’s face and voice in someone else and get freaked at not seeing someone screaming or being head from anger.
“I don’t get it, are you, I don’t really know what to ask, I just don’t get what you are saying, not the Bruce part, but about how you feel.” His speech is broken and it’s hard to pulls the words from his mouth. He can feel his throat clenching and how he would die for something to moist his dry lips.
“I don’t either, Tony doesn’t either. It’s just weird, is like I know some things because someone told me it happened and other things I really lived, but nothing of that is true, I was just split from Tony. He said he feels that jumble of memories too, but he was the one touching the statue and I just appeared by his side, so I guess he is the real Tony and I’m cloned Tony or something like that.” It comes all fast and the voice is even quieter than before, Steve sees himself leaning close to hear him, worried this Tony, which he can call clone, it’s just weird, will leave too.
“Hey, ok, I’m sure Bruce will figure out and that the Tony that left will be ok too, for now let’s just find a way to call you and maybe eat something? I know you guys went to the lab early and I know you didn’t got out before this happened or Jarvis would have called me out to have lunch with you.” This Tony laughs a bit and Steve gives a shy smile back, it’s so weird to not have a rebuck after he vomits words.
“You can call me Anthony or maybe Edward, you choose, Steve. And I think I’m hungry, so food would be good.” It’s the first time their eyes meet and Tony, well Anthony, looks more relaxed and less lost. Hearing his name come out so careless and without malice is new too, Tony stating he is hungry is even newer.
“Alright, Anthony, lets go to the kitchen and I will make you something. Do you like pasta?” Steve asks and it seems stupid, especially when Tony blurts that everyone loves pasta, but how will Steve tell if this version of Tony likes to eat the same things the other does?
Steve doesn’t say anything, just moves to the elevator and in, smiling when he notices Anthony playing with the hem of his open shirt. Before, he didn’t notice the clothes both Tonys were wearing, but now he blushes as he realizes that all time he been talking to Anthony, he been with his chest exposed and the arc reactor glowing softly amidst scarred tissue.
The ride down it’s short, but it seems to take years as Steve tries to remember if he ever saw Tony’s chest like this and how could he not know the man was so fit underneath all the metal.
He knows Tony can be generous: Pepper is always spoiled with flowers and shoes, even if they are no longer together; Clint gets new and better arches anytime he asks and Natasha’s suit had been updated a few times to carry more weapons and not be too revealing; he also gave a home to Bruce (a lab too) and Steve, and is expanding to accommodate the rest of the team. But he didn’t knew Tony could laugh with him at his jokes and not at him about them, nor could he think Tony was capable of touching him without malice.It’s horrible thought that invades his mind, but he really likes this version of Tony and dreads the time when Bruce will eventually figure it out how to glue them back together.
“Funny, Howard used to think you and Peggy were pretty chummy back then, and now you tell me you thought they were the ones fondueing?” Ok, now the situation is just abnormal, and he seen two Tony Stark’s in front of him not an hour ago; was Anthony really going to willing talk about his dad?
“Howard dealt with grace with all the people around him, and I envied his way with woman. Peggy seemed to really like him and they would travel a lot together, sometimes it was hard not to think they were together.” Anthony looks with shy eyes and Steve just waits for him to speak again, this is an opportunity he doesn’t want to pass.
“All Stark men are good dealing with woman, or a least until they get what they want. The old man used to goad me to find a girl each time I was out, he did it compulsively, just like the booze.I hated him and what he did behind my mother’s back, specially when I could smell the cheap perfume and the alcohol clinging to him in the mornings, even after he showered.” It leaves Anthony’s mouth in a rush and Steve can see the surprise in his face, which means Tony never really wants to tell stories about Howard, even if right now this Tony is less jaded.
“Howard drank anyone under the table, I’m sure if we hit the bars together the serum would have good time trying to catch up. I never realized, after I woke up, that he would cheat or drink himself to death; he was a very honored and hard working man.”
“He was alcoholic,cheating bastard, abusive motherfucker that didn’t care for his wife or his son, we were the matching pieces to his socialite position and the credibility to the business. Anyone that tells you otherwise is more stupid than tutu train high on rainbow powder.” Tony’s voice is harsh coming from the hall and both Anthony and him jump at the unexpected company.
Steve plate is long gone empty and he can see how Anthony is shifting in his sit, mouth opening and closing as if he isn’t sure if he should or not sat something. While Steve is frozen he doesn’t know how to address this angry Tony, actually this furied Tony, that seems to want to blast with his suit everything until nothing is left. He hates to admit, but Tony always scares him when he is too drunk or too angry, it reminded him of his dad and that is just a fucked door to open.
“Not a word, Rogers, not a word.” When, yet again Tony leaves them behind, Steve groans as his head cracks against the counter, missing for a bit the porcelain plate.
“I don’t think he is truly mad at you, we just don’t really know how to react to nice.” It’s an hesitante murmur and Steve really wants to get his head up and see if Anthony’s eyes are huge with dread as he heard Tony’s words, but he can’t.
After, what Steve assumes, is a long time, he feels a hand brush against his shoulder, warm and comforting, but it only last a second before the hand disappears altogether and he hears a moment after the elevator’s door closing. This is all fucked up and Steve would have a shot against Loki one more time, just to get his mind out of it.
Bruce is still working on the tests. Both Anthony and Tony spent the early morning in the lab, Bruce thinks he may have identified a light string of radiation, that so far doesn’t match anything on Earth, which is why the instruments didn’t pick anything before. Steve called Thor and asked him to check with his father and other Asgardians if they have any clue of how the statue was used and how they can possibly fix Tony, they are waiting, the travel between words is still wonky and it may take a few days.
His bed is comfortable when he finally lays to rest awhile longer, and he wonders if the ache he felt before could spread like magic and turn into the full body itch he is feeling right now. Or maybe, as Bruce joked while wolfing down half a pizza, he is preoccupied with Anthony and Pepper. Which yes, he is, Tony been depressed since the break up and being Anthony more soft, the meeting could mean more than Pepper curiosity and worry for her ex.
Steve really doesn’t like that possibility. Pepper is always gracious with him, even when he gets slightly brusque when she calls to know if Tony is doing well. He still isn’t good talking to woman outside of the job and it makes uncomfortable to keep a tab on one of his colleagues and tell his ex how he is faring. It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that he gets jealous when Tony smiles sadly, but longing at Pepper when she comes to visit or how he will tell Clint small anecdotes about their times as boss and assistant.
Who is he trying to kid? Even Bruce notice his pinning, and the man does his best to keep away from drama and to take sides: even thought if he had too, of course it would be Tony’s. The realisation hits Steve and he scrambles to put on clean clothes, he already showered when he came back. Bruce is taking Tony’s side, which means there is something missing from the whole “we had accident in the lab, and we do blow it up twice a week, so no hard feelings”.
When he finally gets to the lab, Bruce is sleeping, his head propped in his arms and his body rested against the counter, his legs dangling from the stool, completely relaxed. If he had only a feeling, now he has a confirmation. He won’t wake Bruce, the man never really sleeps the much he needs, so he has to go straight to the source, and to the angry one, since Pepper has the sweet one.
If Steve let himself curse, this would be the perfect time.
People like to assume Steve is innocent and stupid when it comes to sex and dirty things, but the truth is he spent enough time in the army to knock it off and prudish behaviors he had living with his mother and then at the orphanage and it’s nuns. He heard people jerking off and soldiers trading the pin-ups around, lusting to pictures of their home girls and of Hollywood stars.
The bars and villages they found when scooting in the enemies lines were a blessing to all the cup out sex drived men and he saw a fair share of dancing girls in cabarets in France and later in Germany on the undergrounds of the cities. Once or twice he was taken by Howard to the socialites parties, and those were the worst, people with too much money, food, booze and the certain soon they would be all dead made a very impressive effort to bang anything moving: men, woman, men pretending to be women and woman pretending to be men.
After he woke from the ice, Tony started to joke about all the porn free on the internet and Steve had been curious to see if they were more explicit than the old Tijuana Bibles and the comics that circulate in the black market. The answer is yes and Steve will never type anything without first consulting Wikipedia.
Steve pulls back from his memories and looks at Tony closed eyes, he hasn’t moved since Steve got here and what if the statue is only activating it’s power right now? Maybe he should call Bruce, or maybe he should just say something, ask Tony. When Steve open his mouth he hears a faint noise coming from Tony and his mouth dries as he takes the whole picture: Tony has a hand pressing down on his crotch and he is whimpering for release.
“Tony, are you...” It’s a dumb question and Steve stop himself and turn around; he just needs to get back to his room and take a cold shower and maybe go and fetch Anthony. Maybe then he will have some answers.
“Anthony went up for a nap and I decided to wait and see who would come up first for some answers, thought I was sure Bruce would a least send me a shame letter explaining why he was sleeping instead of working on this mess.” Her voice is soft and somehow Steve relax his shoulders, maybe she talked to Anthony and together they can figure things out.
“I was looking for Anthony to get some explanation, I found Bruce sleeping too and somehow, even if I’m trying not to point fingers, I’m betting Tony put himself in trouble.” The low chuckle accompanied by a snort makes Steve sit in front of Pepper and try to not jump to any thought on what it means that she still care enough to clean Tony’s messes.
“Well, Anthony, and it isn’t odd calling Tony that, or a least someone with Tony’s face, only said Tony meant no harm to anyone, but it seems that the split got out of hand because instead of two exact copies, they end up with slip emotional connections with their memories and knowledge.” Steve figured that out already, but he can’t think of why someone would want to slip themselves up.
“Does Anthony knows if they can be put together and why the statue didn’t work with Bruce?” He keeps his eyes on the center table, looking at the mess Clint probably made when he was sleeping, there are popcorn packaging, soda and beers cans and a few candies shredded as if someone ripped the candy bag and left the rest as an offer.
“Well, what they know is that the statue was used for enlightenment rituals and Loki was the god they called upon, so I’m thinking Thor knew more than he was telling or Tony was lying about Thor going to Asgard. ” Pepper has a smirk in her face, which means she thinks is the later and this situation will only get worse. “My guess is that Tony wanted to lure Loki out, he just didn’t plan that the road to enlightenment meant he would end up split like this.”
“Like this? There is another way to be slip?” Steve almost chokes when Pepper laughs at his face.
“Loki can take many forms in the old norse tales, a lot of them seem to think he could shift into a woman. So, thinking back, maybe if he could switch at will, people believe that to be in contact with him, the power to split between a female and a male could give a priest more knowledge to deal with his acolytes, or maybe they had some sick humor to turn others genders at will. ” Pepper face is determinate and Steve thinks something is missing, if Anthony didn’t say anything, how does she know so much? He knows the internet is full of information, but is it so easy to find and read tons of myths while having brunch?
Steve is momentarily distracted when Tony comes from his workshop, looking at them with distrust, Steve really wants to cringe and say “She did it”, but he keeps himself quiet, waiting to see of what will Tony accuse him this time.
“Is the other me around or did you spoke him with your grandpa’s talks?” Steve hears the malice and it stings, Anthony had joke he was just like a grandma making sure everyone was stuffed with food when they ate yesterday, but it was light, this, well, this hurts Steve and he doesn’t know when did Tony’s jabs became weapons and not just that, jabs.
He wants to leave and he wants to be with Anthony, hear his laugh and the way he freely touches Steve. He wants Bruce to fix this mess and that him and Tony can go back to th easy banter at breakfast or the cool indifference while on field. He hates wanting both with the same strength, but this Tony, the one that only wants to hurt and be angry just need to disappear, before he makes a fool of himself.
“What did you tell him, Pepper?” Tony seems angry with Pepper too and he wonders if all that anger is always beneath the cocky exterior Tony seems to demonstrate.
“Oh, just that you wanted to get in his pants and is too of a wuss to ask if he interested in men as well as women and decided to create a whole scheme with Clint, Natasha, Bruce, Thor and Fury’s name.”
Steve looks sharply at Tony, it was all a scheme? But why? Certainly Pepper doesn’t mean that Tony is interested in Steve, after all, Steve never seen him with other men before. The thing is Tony is looking angry still, but his eyes, fuck, his eyes are misted as if he could cry right now and what the...Steve breaths in an out, cursing isn’t going to solve anything.
He thinks a few minutes pass by, Pepper leaves and Tony is still looking at him, waiting. When Anthony gets down and stops just a few feet away from both of them that Steve’s head seems to clear, because Tony tensed when Anthony came and Anthony is looking to his shoes as if he did something wrong.
“You wanted to be with me.” Steve blurts and to the side he can see Anthony’s head moving fast, making a yes sign like a bubblehead. “Why didn’t you...”
“You never looked at us like that, Steve, and we weren’t sure if you would, well, if you were ok with men too.” Anthony looks away and Tony continues there, waiting, almost as if he is frozen in place. “Tony, well, that part of me, he thinks you would only like me, or our emotional part, but he is; no, we come as a package and if you can’t handle anger, and exhaustion and lost, you can’t be with us, any part of it.”
“I understand lost and anger and exhaustion. Is still hard to be here and think about my life as if it only passed a year or two since those things happen.” Steve murmured quietly, hoping both Tonys would let him say everything he had to say. “As much as I like talking to you, Anthony, it is only because you let me be around; I like having breakfast and discussing your new experiments with Bruce, the movies nights are great and I appreciate how you take your time explaining to me the pop culture references and the technologies that appear, I also like when we take hot cocoa at the balcony and I talk about the places that were demolished and replaced with the buildings standing there.”
Tony makes a gurgling sound and Steve is sure he wants to say something, but with a gesture to wait from Steve, Tony waits. Now he needs to talk about the things he doesn’t like and how much he can scared of the drinking and the anger that surges up from nowhere. Steve really wants to go back to the daily little things that he likes instead.
“I don’t like when you pick on me, bullie me just for fun or when you drink so much I think you will hit me; my dad was like that and is a horrible thing to say, but I’m glad he is dead. I hate that you can’t speak about your dad and that you diverts me anything I want to talk about something more meaningful, I want to be able to talk to you. I don’t mind that you get angry, I get angry all the time, but I don’t want to abuse you or for you to abuse me if we want to move to anything else.” Tony is looking at him, eyes bulged and hopeful. “I think I liked about you before this, felt attraction when you were wandering off without a shirt, I like to see you trust me to see the reactor. Now, I saw a softer side of you and I’m glad you didn’t slip into a woman and a man, I really do like your abs and your stubble.”
Steve looks sheepishly up and he can see Tony swallowing dry and it’s when the blinding light makes him hide his head head on the sofa; his mind is saying he should go to Tony’s side, he is vulnerable without his suit, but his nape is hurting,like something is pressuring it and it’s only increasing. The last thing he can think is that he hates surprises.
“You are fine, just don’t move much, the statue put me back together, but the residual energy knocked both of us.Bruce and the medical team scanned us and it seems to be fine, if the radiation drops we will go back to the tower in no time.” He notices Tony is being soft, no malice and he wonders if something went wrong and this is Anthony and his Tony is lost.
Funny how he thinks as the old Tony was his, this Tony is nice,but his eyes look cold, nothing like old Tony, or Anthony or angry Tony. Steve doesn’t like it, Tony is always intense, even when he is being a idiot. The black is once again threatening to emerge, this time Steve embraces it.
He is almost closing his eyes again and trying to go back to the blissful darkness when he hears the faint sound of the elevator door opening, a few seconds later Tony is walking awkwardly to the bed, stopping short at the foot. Steve wants to say something,what he isn’t sure, so he lets the silence stretch, until Tony looks at him straight at the eye and finally opens his mouth.
“I had a very long talk with Fury about using norse paraphernalia and splitting me in two and causing mischief, I will never possible look in the mirror and see other than a double of Loki, which would be creepy in it’s own right, if it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t remember what the fuck is people seem to be mad at me.” Steve stomach drops and his throat dries, if Tony doesn’t remember, than he, he blinks when crosses the distance between the foot of the bed and his side, sitting himself on it, thigh pressed to Steve’s side. “Coulson punched me in the gut and told me to take care of you, apparently you came out and Natasha, Clint and him took you to celebrate, why I wasn’t invited slips my mind, I’m the king of partying. So, it seems we both never really addressed the rainbow elephant in the room, care to tell me why?”
“I never said anything against gay people, Tony! And, yes, I come from a time where anyone not built was beaten,I, myself, had a fair share of bruises because of it. Gay’s were called inverted back then and a of people liked to play to see them dead. I never took it well, who cares if two men or two women love each other and live their lives differently? I never been with a boy, even less a man and my experience with women is reduced to quick flings on tour and Peggy.I never really thought about myself as gay, but once or twice I would look at the other soldiers and it wasn’t just to see who was bigger. ” Steve blushes, he only talked about this with Clint and he was a bit fuzzy from the large amounts of alcohol Natasha shoved at his hand. “I never seem you with men, and since you don’t seem to care about what people think of you, I would imagine the tv would show you if you liked men and got out with them.”
“Howard hated, once or twice he would complain about the sissy boys froliking around the big galas, and it was enough for me to let it in the dark. I don’t care what people think, I didn’t care what he thought, but I knew admitting I’m bi, because I love women, would mean another hit to my image, one that the company may never recover. Rhodey and I used to fuck on college and I had a few one night stands with other rich boys that couldn’t afford to be outed, but it never became more than once or twice a month. I still don’t when started looking at you like that, maybe it was all the star and the spangle.” It’s a joke, one meant to lighten the air, and finally Steve looks up from his hands to see Tony is twitching, nervous.
This is new for both of them, and they didn’t think about before this whole mess started. He isn’t sure if he believes Tony doesn’t remember anything and he knows if he do the first step it will be really hard. But maybe, if he leaps, Tony will hold him in the other side. It’s probably why he leans in and touches their lips, letting it sink in Tony, before moving away. Tony chases his mouth, but Steve puts an arm in his shoulder holding him.
“Neither of us know what to do with another man, and right now we still have to talk about a ton of things before we jump to it: how it will affect the team, how will Pepper react and are you two really broken up, are we going to be monogamous and do you want us to be, and we will have to discuss the past at some point, I don’t want to be haunted by Howard or anyone else.” Steve takes a breath and reaches to hold Tony’s hand. “I want to see what this can be, but I can’t jump all head, I’m giving the first, tiny leap, and I want you to join me, but I think is better if we take it slow, maybe trying to know each other better.”
Tony looks lost for a bit, flexing his fingers in Steve’s hand. Steve lets him have his time to think,let’s Tony weigh and consider what he said. He knows maybe it is a conservator way, but he doesn’t want to feel as if he didn’t took it seriously enough and maybe lose something important. The attraction is there, and they learnt there is feelings floating around, so maybe they will be able to do something.
Lips touch his again and he almost pulls away trying to understand what Tony is thinking, but a hand surges and holds his head in place. Tony’s tongue comes out to play, sweeping into his bottom lip and making him gasp. It’s a demanding kiss, but Steve melts into it, hoping, just hoping, the what will come along soon. When Tony pulls off, he is smiling softly, and it’s probably the best part of this, seeing his soft side too.
“Ok, big guy, we will try, but I won’t let this move at the 40’s rhythm or else I will die before we reach third base.”
When he laughs, Steve is sure it will be alright: after all, he is finally laughing with Tony, and there isn’t any trace of venom behind Tony’s words.