Tony was hyperaware of the Infinity Gem hidden in the compartment of his armour. He’d have to design a more secure hiding place for it than Area 51 had turned out to be. Next to him, Steve kept his hand firmly over one of his belt pouches, hiding his own Gem.
“We need to hide those,” Tony said.
Steve scowled. “I’m aware.”
So he’d let Tony back on the team, but he was still clearly annoyed over Tony hiding the existence of the Illuminati.
It was more than Tony could’ve hoped for.
He was interrupted by an explosion of bright light, blinding in its force and suddenness. He raised his hand to shield his eyes automatically, but it didn’t help any. For a moment, there was just whiteness all around them.
When Tony could see again, for a second he was convinced he was hallucinating.
Another Captain America stood next to them, in his costume, holding the shield, and with his cowl on—but after all these years, Tony could always recognise Steve Rogers. The blue of his eyes and the strong shape of his jaw were the same, but his posture was different, more tense, his muscles coiled.
He dropped into a fighting stance the next moment, his shield extended to protect his body. His eyes hardened. “What is this?” he demanded, his tone making it very obvious that he would resort to force to get satisfactory answers.
Next to him, Tony’s Steve (he’s not yours, Tony reminded himself) stood still at ease, but Tony could see he moved his left arm forward, the holoshield ready to use at any second. “Stark?” he asked.
Tony stopped himself from reaching for the compartment holding the Gem again and thus pulling the other Steve’s attention to it, but his mind was spinning. He had the Space Gem, Steve had the Time. Tony had just used the Gauntlet a day back. Was it possible the Gems reacted to their proximity again?
He was almost certain the strange Captain America was either a time-traveller or a multiverse guest and not a Skrull, the way he’d appeared here, suddenly. It wouldn’t have been the first time something like that happened. He let his armour scan the newcomer.
“Multiverse, I’d hazard,” he said finally. “You’re not evil, are you?”
The other Steve squinted. “I wouldn’t tell you if I were,” he said, and his voice was familiar. Hostile, but it wasn’t as if Tony’s Steve sounded friendly when talking to him, lately. He didn’t lower his shield. He was looking from Steve to Tony appraisingly.
“Let us check a few things, and—”
The other Steve moved so fast Tony barely noticed it. The shield hit him square in the chest, sending him flying. He’d trained with Steve but his hits had never felt that strong. Then again, Tony couldn’t remember actually fighting with Steve, even if the results of that fight were ever present in his life now.
Before Tony could get his bearings, Steve positioned himself in front of him, his holoshield flickering to light. He used it to stop another Steve’s kick and threw in a punch of his own, easily blocked. Tony swore under his breath.
“No tests, I get it!” he called aloud, wishing for his systems to hurry and tell him if he was facing another Steve or not. “Please don’t ruin my quinjet?”
A fight with two supersoldiers was the last thing he needed, period, but especially in the damn hangar room.
Scan results: Steve Rogers, his armour blinked at him finally. No Skrulls or other shapeshifters detected.
Tony had tranquilizers that could put a metahuman to sleep, but somehow he doubted that would endear their guest to them. He made a strategic decision and let his armour melt back into his bones. Neither of the Steves seemed to notice, busy trading punches with each other.
Tony cleared his throat. “I promise to build you a fight yourself simulator, Steve,” he said. “Uh, Cap? Other Steve? You have to see you’re not home.”
“I haven’t been home for a longer time than that,” the other Steve spat, but he stopped fighting.
Was that how Tony’s Steve felt, too?
“Let me help,” Tony said. “Do you know me?”
Slowly, the other Steve nodded. “My Tony is a genius,” he said.
Tony swallowed. “Do you trust him?” he asked, stupidly. His own Steve didn’t trust him, this one couldn’t be any different.
“Yes,” the other Steve said, and lowered his shield.
Down in his lab, Tony wanted to ask the other Steve to try and let him scan him, after all—he needed to find out where exactly he was from. He had a suspicion that Reed might’ve been in another universe himself right now, hiding his Gem, but he sent him a quick message anyway. Before he could say anything, though, his Steve grabbed him by his arm to pull him aside.
Tony gave him a cold look and shook himself free, but he did follow him to the other side of the lab.
“Tony,” Steve said. “This is not a good idea.”
“No, punching it out is better,” Tony snapped.
“He should go to SHIELD—”
“No, you should go to SHIELD and do your job of running the world and let me do mine of fixing this,” Tony interrupted.
“Because you’re so great at that,” Steve mocked.
“I apologised,” Tony said. “I’ll be out of your hair soon, no worries, but we have a problem here that needs to be solved.”
“A problem that wouldn’t have occurred if only you—”
“You’re not blaming this one on me,” Tony said. “I get it, we’re not okay after—”
“Are you done with the lovers’ spat?” the other Steve interrupted. “Pretty sure my Tony would suggest you two to get a room.”
There was something off about his tone of voice; not just mockery but . . .
Tony’s Steve was looking at the other Steve intently. “We’re not together,” he said at last, turned on his heel and left.
Tony breathed out. He missed the times when he and Steve could actually work together.
The other Steve had a quizzical expression on his face. When he looked at Tony again, he almost seemed calculating, but when he spoke, it was just to say, “Get me home.”
Tony nodded. “I do need to run some tests,” he said, prepared to put out the armour if necessary.
Steve only stiffened this time.
“Look, we have a Steve Rogers of our own, if I wanted to replicate the serum I’d start with him,” Tony said, irritated. “You can’t expect me to get you back to wherever you’re from if you don’t let me find out where that is.”
Steve inhaled. “Fine,” he said gruffly. “But I’m not getting naked.”
Tony frowned. “My counterpart must have very interesting scientific methods if that was your first thought,” he said. “I just need some basic stuff. I can scan your shield if that’ll make you feel better, but I’d prefer to get a reading off you. Then I’ll need to build a portal—” Tony was not risking using the Gems; they shouldn’t be able to affect the other universes anyway, so he assumed there must’ve been something going on in the other world, “—calibrate it according to the readings I get, and wave good bye at you.”
“Okay,” Steve acquiesced. He pulled off his cowl. Tony stared at his hair, mussed from being covered, cropped shorter than his Steve’s currently. He wondered what kind of a world he was from, what kind of a relationship he had with his Tony.
How had that Tony managed not to lose Steve’s trust, yet.
Tony pushed the thoughts aside and set about preparing his devices.
“Earth-1610,” he said, finally. “Shouldn’t be too hard.” Some worlds were more similar to others. Those were the easiest to get to. He’d already known the other world had Captain America and Iron Man—or at least, presumably the other Tony was also a superhero—of course, but he liked seeing his tests results confirm that it was close. He pressed his fingers into his temples. He’d need non-magnetic metal and . . .
“Do you have a headache?” Steve sounded worried.
“I’m fine,” Tony said, running through the list in his head. Something to stabilise the portal . . . A repulsor net maybe?
“What’s that thing in your chest?” Steve asked, apropos of nothing.
Tony focused on him. “High tech pacemaker,” he said. That was close enough. He tapped on the RT. “I became Iron Man because of a heart injury.” Also close enough, he supposed. “I got it fixed, and then messed it up again.”
Steve raised his eyebrows. “Heart injury?”
“Shrapnel.” Tony winced.
“My Tony has a brain tumour,” Steve said quietly.
Oh. Oh. Was that why he worried about Tony having a headache? “Funny how it goes between the universes,” Tony said.
“He’s still Iron Man,” Steve continued. “He doesn’t seem to care if it makes his illness worse.”
Did that mean Tony’s other self didn’t need to be tortured to change his ways and try to do something for the world?
“You care about him,” Tony risked saying.
The other Steve bristled and said nothing. Tony thought he’d like to meet a version of himself working with that Steve. He moved back to his keyboard when Steve spoke again.
“That other—that other me,” he said. “You argued.”
“We do little else lately,” Tony muttered.
“Yet when I attacked you, he moved in front of you without hesitation.”
“Your point?” Tony asked. He didn’t really want another Steve to comment on his and Steve’s working relationship or lack thereof.
“He cares about you,” Steve said.
Tony straightened. “He and I were friends,” he said very carefully. “I ruined it. If he cared about me, it was a long time ago. End of story.”
“You care about him too,” Steve answered as if he didn’t hear Tony.
Tony ran a hand down his face. “Leave it,” he asked. If this other Steve could see his pathetic crush, did his Steve know too? “If you’re hungry, there are some sandwiches in that fridge.” Tony pointed at the other corner of his lab in a very obvious attempt to change the topic.
Steve rolled his eyes, making it obvious that he knew what Tony was doing, but he walked over there and rummaged inside for something to eat. “No alcohol?” he commented.
Tony felt himself go cold. “I don’t drink,” he said.
Steve’s shocked expression said it all, and Tony thought he was happier off not knowing his other self, after all.
“How much longer will it take?” Steve asked at some point. Tony couldn’t blame him, not really. He was focused on his work, but Steve must be dying of boredom. Tony didn’t want to let him out of the lab though. Multiverse counterparts running around weren’t exactly what they needed. And with his luck, Steve would get himself into a fight and then Tony’s Steve would never let him hear the end of it.
“Might be ten hours?” Tony hesitated. Reed wasn’t answering, and he had way more experience in the topic. “I’ll get it done before tomorrow,” he said.
Steve shook his head. “No you won’t,” he said.
“I am pretty smart, I can assure you—”
“I know my Tony,” Steve said. “I’m not letting you work on my case without sleep.”
“You really can’t let me do anything,” Tony snapped, annoyed. What the hell was it with every Steve?
Steve crossed his arms over his chest, staring Tony down. “This is not a discussion,” he said.
Tony felt his patience snapping. “Look, you can’t order me—”
Steve kissed him.
Tony’s eyes fluttered closed almost against his will. He leant in, kissing back, stabilising himself on Steve’s shoulder as he chased his mouth. Steve was all strong muscle, warm and steady, and there was no hesitation at all in the way his lips pressed against Tony’s, his tongue plunging inside Tony’s mouth to feel all of him.
He was not Tony’s Steve. But Tony’s Steve would never want him.
And this Steve didn’t know him.
Tony broke the kiss. “I got him killed,” he said, and now this Steve wouldn’t want him either.
Steve regarded him from close by, not pushing him away nor kissing him again. “He seemed all right to me.”
“It’s complicated,” Tony said. He wanted to step away, but Steve put his arm around his waist, keeping him close with an iron grip.
“It always is,” he said. “I don’t care.” It was blunt and honest.
Tony wanted not to care, too. Just for a while. He wanted to know what it felt like to have all of Steve’s focus on him, to have the intimacy and barest illusion of feeling, aimed at someone who looked like him but wasn’t.
He wanted it.
He pressed forward to kiss Steve again and Steve met him halfway, like he never expected Tony to do anything else.
“Bed,” said Steve when they separated for breath.
“Elevator,” Tony answered, and he only had a moment of warning before Steve hauled him up. He wrapped his legs around Steve’s waist, and Steve held him up easily with one hand still around Tony’s waist and the other under his ass, walking them to the elevator as if Tony’s weight was nothing for him. Tony decided to make it harder for him, sucking on Steve’s earlobe and licking a line down his neck.
“Floor?” Steve asked when the elevator door pinged open. In reply, Tony pressed his hand against the control panel, letting the biometric reader recognise him. “Of course,” Steve said, and then he pressed Tony against the wall, trapping him between the cold metal of the elevator and his own impossibly warm body and reiterated for Tony’s actions, kissing the hollow of his throat. Tony could feel his erection pressing against him even through their layers of clothes, promising, and willed the elevator to go faster.
“Down the corridor, last door,” he said when they finally arrived at his floor. Steve wasn’t even winded from holding Tony up all this time, and damn but the supersoldier strength was hot. Tony could think of a few more uses for it tonight.
Steve set him on the bed and moved to take his uniform off, but no, Tony wouldn’t let him take this from him.
“Let me,” he said, running his fingers on Steve’s body, pulling the shirt up inch by inch.
Tony kept kissing Steve as he stretched him out and then slid inside him, almost too slow and too fast at once. He wondered just how similar him and Tony’s Steve were and chided himself.
Steve started moving in him, as if he could’ve heard Tony’s thoughts and wanted to make sure he had his undivided focus.
Tony’s phone started ringing, and Tony spared it a thought but really, he was busy, and Steve didn’t stop, if anything only sped up his movements.
Pretty soon, Tony couldn’t think about anything at all, just the way Steve felt inside him, over him, how his strokes were strong but he made sure not to put his body weight on Tony, ever considerate, of how Steve kissed him when Tony made a particularly weak sound.
Steve collapsed next to him, after, his face flushed and his eyes half-lidded, satisfied, his arm thrown over Tony’s body.
“Is that how you’re making sure I’ll sleep?” Tony asked lazily when he could speak again.
“If I already tired you enough,” Steve said.
Tony could never back away from a challenge.
He might’ve said Steve couldn’t order him around—but he was all too happy to follow, here.
He wasn’t sure when he fell asleep, finally, exhausted and sated.
He woke up once, thinking he heard Steve say his name, but Steve only kissed his hair and said, “Shhhh.”
When he woke up again, the sun was up, the room flooded with soft light.
Tony was alone, the other side of the bed cold. Did he wake up when Steve was sneaking off or was that just a dream?
He stared at his ceiling, strikingly white. He wasn’t sure what he expected. For Steve to stay and cuddle with him in the morning? Breakfast served in bed? For the sex to mean something?
Don’t be pathetic, he told himself. He’s not even your Steve. He’s going back today anyway.
Maybe having Steve once, even another Steve, only to never be able to touch him again, was not such a good thing.
Tony sighed. He should get up. Shower. Dress. Make sure no bite marks were showing over his clothes. Finish the portal. Tell his Steve everything was fine. Pretend it didn’t break his heart that Steve hated him now.
It was going to be a great day.
He had to use some concealer to cover the hickey high on his neck, both loving and hating the reminder. His body ached pleasantly, but he felt cold. He’d never minded waking alone, before. He used to be the one who leaves, sometimes.
He found Steve in the team kitchen, or more to the point, he found Steves in the kitchen, having a staring contest with each other. Better than fighting again, Tony supposed, but he really had no patience for that.
His Steve was dressed in his uniform and looked as if he hadn’t slept much. His phone was on the table in front of him.
Tony’s phone had rung yesterday. Oh. Oh no.
Tony fished it out of his pocket and checked the notifications. Sure enough: Missed Call: Steve Rogers blinked at him.
The other Steve, back in his uniform, looked up at him then. “You’re up,” he said, surprisingly soft. “I didn’t mean to leave you.” He stared at Tony’s Steve again.
“Sorry for interrupting,” Steve said, low and clearly annoyed. “Maybe if you’d bothered to give me a progress report . . .”
Just like that, Tony’s dread turned to annoyance again. “I’m not doing this,” he said. “It’s really none of your business who I sleep with. And you.” He pointed at the other Steve. “You might want to make it your Tony’s business.”
They stared at him then and Tony sighed under the weight of two pairs of familiar eyes.
He needed coffee.
Working on building an interdimensional portal while having two Steves in his lab was not, to say it nicely, easy. Tony thought they could at least help with heavy lifting, but instead they kept throwing one another annoyed glances, and finally he threw up his hands and put on the armour.
He wouldn’t mind having the other Steve a bit longer. He couldn’t stand the tension, though, and it wasn’t exactly fair to any of them anyway.
“Done,” Tony said finally, as the portal flickered to life. On the other side of it, there was a mixture of lights and not just his lab anymore.
The other Steve was next to him almost too quickly. Tony wondered about the exact details of his serum. It seemed to have enhanced him more than Tony’s Steve.
“Is it safe?” he asked.
“It is,” Tony’s Steve answered.
Tony looked at him with some surprise. Steve shrugged.
“Thank you,” the other Steve said quietly. “I said I’d lost my home, but . . .” He trailed off.
Tony understood anyway. He felt a sudden pang of jealousy for that other him: a drunk, and yet his Steve cared for him so obviously. “If he’s a Tony Stark,” he answered, “He’s there—and he’s not waiting. He’s building his own way to you.”
Steve smiled. “I know.”
Tony might’ve woken up alone. But he wouldn’t see this Steve again, and he would remember the moments of shared intimacy forever.
He moved forward and kissed Steve, just a touch of lips, but Steve huffed against his mouth and kissed back, more heated, as if he was starting something and not saying goodbye.
He nodded at Tony when they separated, and went through the portal.
Tony was left in the lab with his own Steve.
He moved to face him, to explain or apologize or, most probably, start another argument he didn’t want and couldn’t back out of, too scared one of these days Steve would react with indifference.
But Steve wasn’t away anymore. He was at Tony’s side, his expression caught between something that looked dangerously like longing and insecurity.
“You were right it wasn’t my business what you do,” he said, reaching out to take Tony’s hand. His fingers were very gentle around Tony’s, ready to let go.
Tony stared at Steve, completely certain he was mistaking the situation.
But Steve continued talking. “I was mad,” he said. “I called you. I was afraid. You didn’t answer. I came here, and you were sleeping in his arms. I wanted that to be me.”
“It was one night,” Tony whispered. “I couldn’t—it’d have to be more with you.”
“As long as you’d have me,” Steve said with intent.
“We’ll argue,” Tony said, dazed.
“We’ll do anyway,” Steve said, and Tony had to give him that.
He squeezed Steve’s hand.
Steve’s kiss was nothing like his other self’s.
Tony would have him forever.