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Universal Constant

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Tony wasn’t really a jewelry guy.

He mostly accentuated with high-end watches and eccentric jackets, sometimes a funny tie or his class ring. Steve tried getting the size from that, of course, only to realize he had no idea where Tony kept the thing. Steve nearly turned up their whole bedroom looking for it to no avail. He tried holding Tony’s hand more often than usual instead, attempting to get a feel for the width of his fingers, but his guess was still just that: a guess.

So once he had the ring he got the stupid idea he could try slipping it on Tony’s finger while he was sleeping. It made sense at the time. Tony was fast asleep and Steve was feeling restless—impatient, really, as anyone with plans to propose the next morning might be—and he figured he could maybe just test it out a little. Make sure it was the right size and all, so everything would be perfect for tomorrow. He was opening his nightstand drawer before the thought had even fully formed, pulling out the little black box and turning it over in his palm. Couldn’t hurt, right?

Steve took Tony’s hand in his, careful to move slowly and stay quiet as a mouse. He drew Tony’s hand to him, slipped the ring on. He really did mean just to test it out, make sure it was the right size, then remove it and make any adjustments as needed tomorrow. Or, ideally, make none and propose first thing in the morning, since Tony was looser in the mornings, more likely to say yes before he overthought things.

Then it got stuck.

The ring slipped on easy enough, giving Steve a little burst of pleasure at the sight. It was perfect. The sliver of silver against tan skin was aesthetically pleasing but more than that…it looked like it belonged there. Like it was meant to be, if Steve was feeling sentimental. Which of course he was. He was proposing tomorrow, after all.

When he went to slip it off, however, it wouldn’t budge. He tugged hard enough he got a stir out of Tony, but the ring didn’t so much as wiggle. He tried twisting it, but that only made Tony nearly wake up; Steve shut his eyes and went dead still in a terrible impression of sleep, but Tony was thankfully sleepy enough that he just made a soft, dismissive little noise before turning over in bed.

This was ridiculous. It wasn’t as if Tony would be mad or anything. He’d probably find it funny. It would be fine, Steve reasoned as he peeked one eye open. Tony had his back to Steve now so Steve scooted closer, wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist and curled up with him. He’d just have to explain the mix-up in the morning. Tony would laugh and say yes, and everything would be just fine.

Completely and totally fine.


If there were such a thing as an inter-dimensional passport, Tony would have a rather impressive one.

Between Loki and Kang and even Reed on more than one “accidental” occasion, Tony had become irritatingly accustomed to finding himself in the wrong timeline, universe, dimension, what have you. He hadn’t reacted well the first time—or the second, or third—but by now he tended to take these things in stride. It always wound up reversible and if there were any long term consequences they hadn’t shown themselves yet. These days he could even admit he took a certain interest in seeing firsthand all the different ways things could go.

Waking up in a universe where he and Steve were married, however, was definitely his best trip yet.

Steve wasn’t even awake yet but just knowing there was a universe out there where it happened, where he got to keep this…Tony would have to send some kind of thank you fruit basket to whatever magical jackass had delivered him here. He turned the silver ring on his finger over with his thumb, felt the cool metal and couldn’t help a smile. He knew perfectly well this wasn’t his universe—why else would there suddenly be a wedding ring on his finger?—but he could hardly be blamed for savoring the moment a little.

Tony rolled over to face the still-sleeping Steve, stroke his knuckles over one cheek. This wasn’t his Steve and of course he’d always rather have his own, but they’d established a long time ago that alternate selves weren’t cheating as long as they talked about it when everyone was back in their proper universes. So really, there was no reason not to enjoy the fantasy while he could.

“Morning,” Steve murmured without opening his eyes.

“Morning, husband,” Tony answered as he leaned in for a kiss. Steve kissed him back but there was a stillness to it, an anxiety Tony hadn’t expected. “Steve?”

“Huh.” Steve blinked back at him. A smile began to spread over his face. “Just like that? You’re not…mad, or anything?”

“Mad?” Great. Of course he’d land in a perfect universe the morning after they’d had a fight. Whatever. Steve was smiling, it couldn’t have been that bad, right? He took Steve’s hand. “No, honey, I—” He meant to run his thumb over Steve’s matching ring—a little to soothe, mostly for his own giddy enjoyment—only to find it missing. Maybe that’s what they’d fought about, had Steve lost his? Tony tugged him forward for another kiss. “Of course I’m not mad. These things happen, don’t worry about it.”

“You’re being strangely blasé about all this.” Steve seemed amused now. Good.

“I’m a very blasé person,” Tony told him. Steve snorted. “I am!”

“Sure.” Steve just kissed him again, smiling through it giddily. It was odd how relieved, even exuberant Steve seemed…Tony hoped they didn’t fight often. “Love you.”

“Love you too. So damn much, Steve. You know that, don’t you?” Tony squeezed Steve’s hand with a smile and whatever remained of Steve’s nervous tension from before seemed to melt away. Pleased, Tony couldn’t help teasing him. “I mean, why else would I marry you if I didn’t want to see that ugly mug of yours every morning for the rest of my life?”

Steve grinned. “Must be for my money.”

“Shameless gold digger, that’s me.”

Steve laughed a beat before his gaze dropped to Tony’s ring. He ran his thumb over the metal, almost toying with it as he asked, “You weren’t even a little surprised?”

“About the ring?” Tony shrugged, unsure what to say without giving away that he had no idea under what circumstances Steve had lost his. “Sure, I was surprised, but it’s not like you meant to.”

“Well, I definitely didn’t mean for it to get stuck.” Steve laughed, though not without giving Tony a strange sort of look. “But I definitely meant to give it to you, and soon. You know that, right?”

Give what to him, the ring? Wait, had Tony lost the ring? But then why would Steve think he’d be mad?

“Sure, of course I know,” Tony said vaguely, which apparently wasn’t quite right, because Steve was sitting up now with a far too serious look on his face.

“I know the circumstances could’ve been better—certainly more romantic, I really did have a plan—but don’t think for a second that I didn’t think this through,” Steve insisted. He carried on before Tony could get a word in edgewise. “I know I can be impulsive at times but being with you, marrying you, nothing about us has anything to do with impulse. You’re my one, Tony. I haven’t been able to think about anything else for months. I wanted to get it perfect, you know, so I thought I’d test it while you were asleep but then it got stuck and I couldn’t get it off without waking you up so I figured—”

Shit. He officially had no idea what Steve was talking about, it was time to come clean. So much for his shot to play-act a day in the life of being happily married.

“Stop.” Tony pressed a hand to Steve’s chest. Surprisingly, Steve actually stopped talking. Usually he was more persistent than that. He must really be anxious about…whatever this was. Tony suddenly felt bad about pretending so long. Their alternate selves must’ve been in a more serious argument than he’d thought. “Okay, so…I hope you’re an Avenger in this universe, or this isn’t going to make much sense, but I—”

“In this universe?” It took only a split second for Steve to get it. He glanced down at the hand Tony still had on his chest. “You’re not my Tony.”

“No, uh…” Tony dropped his hand awkwardly. “No. Sorry.”

Steve squinted at him a little. “You’re a hell of a lot more similar to him than usual, I’ll give you that. Alternate universe, you said?”

“I think so. I just woke up here, I don’t even remember who sent me.” Which, come to think of it, was probably the strangest bit in all this. He usually remembered a little of what led up to it, or at least some form of bright light. This time all he could remember was going to sleep the night before. Sending someone to another universe in their sleep seemed more devious than even Loki’s usual fare.

“How do you know you switched? Are we…” Steve’s expression softened to something a little sad. “Are we not together in your universe?”

“No, we are,” Tony assured. “We’re just not married. I mean—we could be, someday, if he’d have me, but, uh, not right now.”

“But we’re not—” Steve looked confused a moment before his eyes went wide and he burst into laughter.

“I don’t get what’s so funny,” Tony muttered. “If you agreed to marry me in this universe I don’t see why it’s so hilariously impossible that you’d agree to it in mine—”

“Oh, Tony, no, this is—” Steve was trying and epically failing to curb his laughter. “You’re in your own universe, sweetheart, you haven’t gone anywhere.”

“Yes, I have.” Tony couldn’t help feeling a little indignant. First the guy mocks him for thinking his Steve would marry him, now he was trying to say Tony couldn’t, what, remember whether or not he was married? He flashed his ring finger at Steve. “I think I’d recognize my own wedding ring and trust me, I’ve never seen this before in my life.”

“No, I know, that’s—that’s my fault.” Steve managed to stop snickering long enough to take his hand, tug at the ring. “I thought I’d try it out last night while you were asleep, see if it fit so I could propose today, but it got stuck. See? Won’t budge.”

Tony stared at Steve dumbly.

“Honey?” Steve asked warily.

“So,” Tony said slowly. “This is my universe.”

Steve squeezed his hand. “Pretty sure, yeah.”

“So my universe happens to be the universe in which you propose to me in my sleep?”

“I wasn’t proposing, I just—”

“Tried on the ring and it got stuck and now this is our story, ‘I was asleep and Steve just kinda went ahead and put a ring on it?’ Really? We’re going to have to lie to our kids now, you realize that—”

“Wait, what—”

“Metaphorical children,” Tony blurted quickly, began talking even faster to cover his slip. “Friends, mainly, I mean, Clint is definitely a child, an argument could be made for the twins, not to mention Thor, the guy may be a prince but he’s got the same attention span as every five year old I’ve ever met—”

“Hey.” Steve leaned into his space, bumped their foreheads together. “Okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Okay, we can pretend you meant Clint,” Steve said easily, and Tony somehow managed to love him even more than the moment before. “But I’m not lying to our kids, Clint or otherwise. I think ‘your father was so eager to marry your other father that he wanted to get it just right and accidentally made a perfectly reasonable error in judgment’ is a great proposal story.”

“Perfectly reasonable,” Tony quoted dubiously.

“Perfectly reasonable,” Steve maintained.

“You’re ridiculous.” Tony leaned in to close the already very small gap between them. “Are we past the moment where I give my answer?”

Steve’s arms wrapped around him firmly, pulled him closer with a smug sort of smile that said he knew full well the answer. “Depends, is it a yes?”

“I’m not sure,” Tony lied. “I might need some convincing.”

Steve grinned. “Well, I’ve been told I can be very convincing…”