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Coming Up Roses

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Those with a death wish referred to the High Commander’s infatuation with the late Tony Stark as an ‘obsession’.

Everybody else ignored it like one ignores a large, hairy dark mole on the tip of a small nose. The late Supreme Leader hadn’t liked it at all, went above and beyond to rid his Commander of the obsession until the Commander finally decided to get rid of HIM.

Now High Commander Rogers was all there was. He was a good ruler to the common people. He introduced old laws back into the continent, encouraged the formation of local governments and even the rebuilding of territories. He had clear and concrete laws that did not discriminate, protected the basic rights of every citizen and made every human equal under the law.

The punishments, however, for breaking any law were often final and usually painful beyond words.

Overall a new age was dawning on the People's United Country of the Americas and the common people were excited to have a new leader in place who appeared to have them at the forefront. High Commander Rogers was proud of his accomplishments, happy at the people’s reactions to his cutthroat approach. He was, he believed, the people’s Champion and he wished Tony Stark would have lived long enough to see it.

‘I wonder what you would have thought about all this Tony. Surely you would’ve seen the progress in it.’ He often thought.

Sixty-three years had passed since the death of the great Tony Stark at the hands of the titan Thanos. He’d died saving the world he so loved and High Commander Rogers didn’t want a day to pass in which the people didn’t know Tony Stark had been a hero.

The people needed a hero after all and with Stark Industries being the sole company left in the conquered world, they needed to believe in it as much as Tony had.

“High Commander your car is ready.”

He nodded in acknowledgement and the aid retreated. High Commander Rogers looked out the window of the tower onto the city scape full of buildings and once again thought of the dear face of someone from long ago, someone with mirthful eyes, teasing smirk and a style of beard long since banned. With a sharp exhale he tore himself away from the window and marched to the elevator.

The labs of Stark Industries would’ve made Tony proud. They were well stocked with all the modern amenities and so far they’d done wonders in both disease treatment and weapon invention. In front of the large glass compound stood a twenty-foot sculpture of Iron Man which overlooked the main street. It was right beneath this sculpture that a familiar face greeted the High Commander as he got out of the car.

“High Commander”

High Commander Rogers’s lips curved into what could be considered a smile. He nodded in greeting at Vision.

“How are you Vision?”

“Quite well, thank you.”

“Any news on the East?”

“Nothing we didn’t already know, but I was able to secure what we needed for the machine.”

A full smile did bloom on the High Commander’s face then. “That’s great news Vision, great news indeed”

“I though you would be pleased”

“How are your children and grandchildren?”

“They are quite well. Christine asked me to extend her most sincere gratitude for your reference. She was admitted into the genetics lab.”

“Of course she was, she’s brilliant”

Pride overtook Vision’s face as he thought about his family. Although his Wanda was long gone, he saw a little of her in their children and grandchildren all the time. Vision had gone to great lengths so secure his family’s wellbeing. He’d kept them safe through the tremulous years after the attempted invasion to the violent years that saw the Supreme Leader rise to power. Now for the first time in a long time, he felt hopeful about the future his grandchildren would know.

For his part, High Commander Rogers took a moment to admire the Iron Man carved in marvel towering over them. It was an exquisite work of art, all smooth lines and careful detail, it made him think back to the first time he entered Tony’s workshop at the old tower. He focused in on the memory of Tony hammering away at a piece of metal to test its strength, goggles firmly in place, hair slick with sweat.

“Tell me Vision, do you miss him?”

It was a loaded question, Vision knew. Say too little and the High Commander would freeze him out, say too much and he’d get jealous.

“He was the closest thing I had to a Father”

It was the right thing to say, for High Commander Roger’s face softened into what almost reminded Vision of Steve.

“Yes… take me to the machine.”

Vision nodded curtly and they walked up the steps to the entrance in comfortable silence.

***
High Commander Rogers had no friends.

He’d had many once, but little by little they’d all passed away. Some died in battle during the turbulent years of the rise of the Supreme Leader. One or two, he’d killed himself. Others, like Natasha, had died of old age. Only a few of the original Avengers remained, Vision who was now in charge of Research and Development at Stark Industries, the Hulk who was somewhere in the galaxy smashing things and his old friend Bucky Barnes, who now sat old and grey in a specially designed cell just for him. His serum, it seemed, did not slow the aging progress as much as Dr. Erskine’s formula had so eventually Bucky Barnes had grown too frail to oppose him.

These days he preferred keeping his distance, liked his solitude and enjoyed being left alone with his memories. The High Commander could only really tolerate the presence of Alaska Rhodes, a curly haired, freckled twenty-eight year old who called him ‘Uncle Steve’ regardless of how imposing he looked. Alaska was the granddaughter of Virginia Potts and James Rhodes, and unlikely couple who after Tony’s death had somehow found comfort in each other. High Commander Rogers remembered holding their son Anthony when he was born. Remembered feeling torn between being happy at this new life and betrayed on Tony’s behalf for the offspring his best friend and fiancé had produced together.

With time, High Commander Rogers had looked after Anthony Rhodes, especially when both Pepper Potts and James Rhodes sided with his faction during the rise of the Supreme Leader. They’d trusted Steve and for it they were handsomely rewarded. Anthony had grown up healthy, strong and safe under his protection and now his daughter Alaska held a strong position in his government. ‘Pepper and Rhodey would be pleased’ Steve liked to think.

With his head full of the past the High Commander didn’t quite realize he’d walked into the high ranking Staff’s floor of Stark Industries until the surprised receptionist was shooting to her feet. Such had been his elation at seeing the machine almost completed that he hadn’t thought about leaving straightaway.

“How may I be of service High Commander?”

“Is Ms. Rhodes in?”

“Yes she is, would you like me to call her?”

“No. I know where her office is.”

The receptionist nodded but kept her gaze low as she pressed the button that opened the bullet proof glass door. She kept it that way until the High Commander’s boots could be heard no more from where she stood.

Staff rushed to their feet as they saw him pass. Some kept their gazes lowered in respect while others broke protocol to steal shy, excited glances. No one here was over 35 years old so no one here thought the commander less than a living deity. The High Commander could feel the awe and respect in their stance, in their gaze and in the presence of such support he allowed himself to gentle his lips into a soft, welcoming smile of sorts.

When he finally stopped in front of Alaska’s office, he found the girl furiously typing away on her glass keyboard, a familiar look of concentration on her face. Sometimes she looked so much like her grandmother he couldn’t help but feel warmth in his withered heart. He waited, patiently until she spotted him front the corner of her vision. She looked at him quickly then, her face transforming from icy concentration to a toothy smile.

“Uncle Steve!”

She was on her feet in seconds, except unlike anyone else on the planet she continued forward until she had her arms wrapped around his neck. He returned the embrace, feeling the warmth of her shoulders in his palms through her stylish blouse. Her curly hair, tickled his cheek and he breathed in her soft perfume, remembering how as a baby she’d smelled of baby powder.

“This is a nice surprise! Have you eaten yet? I can have someone bring us something”

High Commander Rogers honest-to-goodness chuckled into the girl’s dark hair. Her natural tendencies of force feeding those she cared about made him feel like that trait had been hard wired onto Pepper and Rhodey’s DNA from the start.

“I’m fine. I just came to see how you are”

She pushed away but kept her hands on his forearms. The High Commander noticed then that she wasn’t wearing any shoes and she followed his gaze down to her naked feet with a mischievous grin.

“The heels were killing my feet”

“Why don’t you just wear flats then?”

“With this skirt? No.”

No. Just one word and immediately he was flooded with Tony. Tony standing in the tower’s common room pointing at the sink and saying “No” with that short O and low tone. He’d learned it from Pepper, it had stuck because of Pepper… because it’d been her favorite word to use around Tony.

“Right… ”

“You ok Uncle Steve?”

“Yes, of course. Have you had any time to look over the new data?”

“Sure I have. I’ve worked out all the kinks I could find, everything checks out”

“What about the power source?”

“New universes are created all the time Uncle Steve. Physics knows how to compensate once they’re up and running. As far as we know it’s the first time anyone has tried to create one from scratch but we know enough about them by now that this should work.”

Her hands dropped to her sides and she gestured him to take a seat.

“The hard part is correctly estimating the timeline. Too early and you’ll miss the target, too late and the target is gone.”

“How can we fix that?”

“I have JOCASTA and FRIDAY working on it as we speak. I also recruited Valeria Richards to help run the simulations.”

“I’ve heard about her. Do you trust her?”

“It’s hard to be sure with orphans but I trust her enough.”

He was pleased with her answer, glad she was being cautious.

“Do we know anything about her parents?”

“Yes we do, they were very engaged in the West-Coast resistance about thirty years back until they were killed during the Battle of San Francisco. Her brother died with their parents, she survived.”

“Any hard feelings against the Regime?”

“Nothing we could find. She was very young when her parents died and she was brought up in a Regime-run orphanage.”

“Hmm… just be careful Alaska, if this works I won’t be around to keep you safe anymore.”

Alaska’s honey coloured eyes fixed in his, a deep sadness flooding in.

“I’ll be sorry to lose you, but I know you’ll be happy there.”

He smiled gently, thought back to Anthony presenting him with a sun-dress wearing toddler as if he was handing the High Commander the most precious of metals.

“I will always be wherever you need me to be… even if I’m not physically with you.”

Her eyes flooded with tears but she was quick in schooling them back in place. Not wanting to weaken her further the High Commander stood up, gave Alaska a quick nod and turned to leave her office. It was Tony who’d taught him that people could remain even if they were not physically there. Not because he’d ever said it to him, but by example.

After their fight in Siberia they only ever said less than ten words to each other. It’d been the circumstances, Tony had been busy dealing with Congress, the UN, the Accords, the new facility and Steve had been busy trying to keep himself together. Then Thanos invaded and all Steve Rogers ever told Tony Stark was to ‘Be careful’. Captain America fought the ground battle for Earth, but Iron Man fought the battle against Thanos and it was Tony Stark who made the ultimate sacrifice.

He remembered not thinking much about it then. Sure he grieved, went to the funeral, cried along with the others, apologized to Tony’s grave, gave a grand speech about how wonderful Tony Stark had been. He’d cried but he hadn’t mourned.

It first hit him while unpacking his belongings in his new room at the Compound. He thought about how Pepper and Tony never made it to their wedding, how he’d never get to see Tony’s eyes crinkle at something funny or hear his voice say “Cap”.

It hit him again the first time he had to speak to Congress about why the Avengers were an asset to planet Earth.

It hit him more when he realized just how much Tony had shielded him against the politicians of the world who wanted the Avengers hung from a tree because of ‘unnecessary loss of life and destruction of public property’ every time they were deployed.

It hit more when the riots began and the true violence broke out. When the streets were filled with looters and refugees and displaced citizens who wanted change at any cost.

‘What would you do Tony?’ He’d often wondered.

Then came the day the White House ordered the Avengers to maintain the peace at any cost, even at the loss of life. The day when the President ordered Captain America to fight hungry, homeless, angry American citizens to protect the status quo. That was the day Captain America died, the day Steve Rogers realized the world was not as he had thought.

Tony Stark had thrived in the grey area that was politics and human nature, Steve Rogers could not. So with time Steve Rogers became Commander Rogers and the line between enemy and ally blended enough that there was no longer any clear difference between SHIELD and Hydra, Anarchist and Patriot. Morals, ideals and human nature took to a blender of blood and violence until all that was left was High Commander Rogers, the people’s hero. The man who overthrew governments, imposed order and ruled with an iron first.

The man who more than ever understood the decisions Tony Stark had made throughout his life.

***

High Commander Rogers had no delusions about how history would remember him. He would probably go down in the books as a power-hungry dictator 100 years from now.

He didn’t care.

The choices he’d made had been made out of necessity, not immortality. The people he killed had been killed for the sake of future peace. He was an old man now even if he didn’t look a day over thirty-five and he was too weathered to explain his actions to anyone. It was with these thoughts in mind that the High Commander watched Valeria Richards start up the first ever dimension-creating machine. He watched it swirl to life as a great ball of light from the safety of an observation room. Beside him he heard Alaska gasp at the numbers showing in the computer panels. The dimension was taking root in an empty space between this dimension and another. An exact copy dimension of theirs was being born and he watched it happen with utter disbelief.

It’d taken him over fifty years to get all the necessary components. Decades of dealing with galaxy scavengers for knowledge tomes, years of hunting down infinity stone dust and Arc Reactors and Wakandan minerals. Millions of dollars spent collecting all the necessary components, culminating in this exact moment. He wished Peter was still alive to see this. Peter Parker who had worked so tirelessly to make this a reality in his lifetime only to die so suddenly from Cancer that he couldn’t see it completed.

“When will it be ready?”

“Three-hundred and eighty days Uncle Steve. The timing will be perfect then, plus we need to make sure it’s stable and doesn’t implode.”

“Will I just step through the portal then?”

“Yes, once you’re in we’ll collapse the connector and it’ll be its own mirror universe to our own… except much younger.”

In just over a year he’s see Tony again.

“Vision from now on I want this portal to be your priority. I want daily reports on it.”

“Of course High Commander”

Steve had no doubt in his mind that Vision despised him, but he also knew he would do everything in his power to make sure Steve made it onto the other dimension safely. If only for the pleasure of being rid of him once and for all.

For now High Commander Rogers just had to maintain control until he made it to the portal.

 

One Year and Fifteen Days Later

 

The only advantage of time was knowledge gained. This was proven true in the year High Commander Rogers spent preparing. He poured over historical records from the eighties and nineties, read every surviving article about Howard Stark and his young prodigy Tony Stark. He came up with a plan, rehearsed what he would say, chose his strategy and thought it out carefully. By the time he stood before the glowing portal he felt confident and more alive than he’d felt in decades.

Alaska cried when she said goodbye. She stopped crying when he told her he’d decreed her President of Stark Industries. From now on an SI employee couldn’t so much as sneeze without her knowing.

High Commander Rogers left the People's United Country of the Americas in a better state than he found it, that much he was sure of. Open elections would be held in a month for local representatives and after those, a complete ruling government would be established.

He was the last High Commander, the last Supreme Leader, the last of his kind.

With a steady pace High Commander Rogers stepped into the circle of swirling light and walked until there was no more ground beneath his feet, until he was plummeting down what looked to be a nighttime sky.

 

He had a rough landing, but the lake broke his fall nicely. While he’d been known for jumping out of planes without a chute in his youth, he hadn’t tried something like that in more years than he cared to count. Soaked, he made his way out of the Hudson River and looked up.

Manhattan at night, as it had been once.

He collapsed to his knees in relief.

He’d made it. He’d done it. Now he could only hope it wasn’t the 1970’s or even early 80’s. Getting to his feet High Commander Ro- no, Steve Rogers, secured his backpack on his shoulders and started walking.

There were curious glances from what had to be drug dealers and their clients but he looked imposing enough that no one said anything. The dealer by the far side wore a large baggy coat that screamed 80’s fashion and Steve sighed in relief. He walked quickly, with purpose and with an attitude that made more than one hoodlum retreat. He walked until he spotted a lone yellow cab, he hailed it by almost stopping right in front of it and while the driver yelled at him for it, Steve shook an old hundred dollar bill in the cabbie’s face.

Steve gave the man the address he was going to, got an odd look for it.

“It’s far, It’ll cost ya”

“I’ll give you $200”

“Done”

In an hour Steve Rogers was standing in front of Stark Manor as it had once been, back when Howard and Maria were alive. The large gates had a buzzard beside them but he knew better than to press it at this hour. Instead Steve climbed the brick wall and walked right up to the front door.

He knocked, and knocked and knocked until a livid looking Howard Stark wearing in a red satin robe opened the door… and froze.

***

They talked all night.

First it was the usual questions, how did Steve find him? How had he escaped the plane crash? What in the world happened?

Steve didn’t lie. He told him about the mirror dimensions, explained how he’d come here from his own volition to try to make a difference. He left out more than he mentioned, didn’t care to include how this dimension was in fact, his tireless creation. Howard for his part hung onto every word, couldn’t tear his eyes away from his old friend.

“Test me Howard. I can prove it’s me.”

“No, no need. I believe you Steve, I believe you.”

They stopped talking when morning light flooded Howard’s study.

“Can’t wait to introduce you to my wife Maria, you’ll love her! And my son! Steve I have a son, his name’s Tony. He’s brilliant! He’s eighteen and already in MIT but I’ll fly him in so you can meet him”

Steve schooled his expression into a warm smile, excited but not betraying the rush of adrenaline flowing through his veins.

“I can’t wait Howard, can’t wait.”

Steve did wait, two long weeks to be exact. Howard eventually brought in Peggy Carter and her tears upon seeing him were real. Steve for his part truly was happy to see her like this, healthy, vibrant, strong. She asked him a hundred questions all of which he answered as truthfully as he dared. He told them both that there was still a Steve Rogers buried in the ice somewhere but that he was not meant to awaken for another thirty years.

That’s why he was here, he told them. Some things had to stay the same but for the rest he was there to lend a hand.

“Why?” Peggy questioned.

“Because I don’t want this dimension to go through the same things my dimension went through.”

“But don’t they need you back there?”

“I’ve done everything I could for them Pegs”

He’d forgotten, forgotten what it felt like to have people trust him explicitly, unquestioningly. All he did was fulfill their expectations and suddenly the gates of both the Stark and SHIELD kingdoms were open to him by their keepers.

“You have to pop by SHIELD sometime soon Steve. There’s so many missions we could use a hand with” “I’ll give you a day job at SI Steve, something you’ll like just while you get used to things”

It was all coming so easily. One smile, one look, one arm on a shoulder and they were all smiles and trust.

When had he lost this ability?

When he fought Tony. After that no one had ever trusted him the same way again, not even himself.

Steve had never met Maria Stark before now, had barely seen pictures of the woman. Now he sat by the dining table across from her having breakfast while Howard rushed off to work. She was graceful and gracious, reminded him of the old style movie starlets in the elegant way she moved and spoke. She wore her blonde hair up in an elaborate style and smelled of expensive perfume. He thought back to his own mother, a woman of strength and hard work who’d smelled of washing soap and who’d moved with the quickness and sharpness of the poor.

Funny, he thought, how this woman’s son moved with the speed and jerkiness of the blue-collar when both his parents had such time and leisure in their bodies.

Another reason Tony was so unique.

“Edwin, have you met Captain Rogers?”

“No madam, I haven’t had the pleasure yet”

Edwin Jarvis, a tall, slender man in a suit was carrying a tea tray into the dining room. Steve thought this utterly ridiculous, that this man who’d been so integral to Tony’s upbringing would be bringing in the tea. Steve stood before the only man he’d ever been sorry not to have met and stretched out his hand.

“Steve Rogers”

Impressed at the pronounced formality Jarvis took the Captain’s hand and looked him square in the eyes. What he saw there surprised him, for he did not expect to see so much respect in a stranger’s face.

“Edwin Jarvis, it’s an honour Captain Rogers”

“Believe me sir, the honour is mine”

It had occurred to Steve during the past year, that his ticket to Tony was actually Edwin Jarvis. If Jarvis trusted him, Tony would trust him and so with this in mind he spent the next couple of weeks bonding with the butler over WWII stories which eventually evolved into stories about Tony’s childhood.

Steve absorbed the tales as if he was being given the blue prints to a secret enemy station. He heard about the time Tony blew up the kitchen, when he built his first circuit board, he heard how his favorite toy had been a Captain America action figure and how he’d somehow managed to make poisonous gas the first time he ever tried to clean a bathroom.

Jarvis was endlessly proud of his boy, that much was clear and Steve was happy with how comfortable the butler had grown in his presence.

The day Tony was set to arrive Steve felt nervous for the first time in fifty years. He wanted… he yearned to just…. to just look at Tony smile one more time, to hear his voice, to know they were breathing the same air. Decades ago, a court-appointed psychiatrist told him he had ‘repressed homoerotic feelings’ towards Tony Stark but now he understood it went deeper than that. Tony was not just some homoerotic fantasy, he was… everything.

He shot to his feet at the sound of a car pulling up. He considered rushing downstairs like a dog but strategy said otherwise. He needed for his first meeting with Tony to happen without either Maria or Jarvis around.

‘The garden’

He left his room and headed down by way of the kitchen, told the cooking lady he’d be in the garden and stepped out into the sunshine. He walked a little, looked at the flowers, the trees, the sky… back at the house…

‘Patience’

He waited heartbeat after heartbeat until finally he heard a door slide open and close. Looking back at the house Steve caught his first glimpse of Tony Stark in over sixty years- dark curly hair, handsome boyish charm and a walk that had attitude written all over it. Steve watched the eighteen year old walk out into the garden toward him, a nervous smile on his red lips. He was all smooth skin and crystal clear eyes, all sweet charm and cocky youth.

“That tree taken or can anyone join?”

A deep, half laugh half sob broke through Steve’s lower belly, spilling onto his throat.

“Hi Tony”

The warmth and weight of those words threw the boy by surprise. He looked shaken for a moment but there was such radiance in Steve Roger’s gaze that Tony couldn’t help but look back.

“Yep, resident boy-genius, pain-in-the-ass, at your service”

Tony stretched out his hand in a self-conscious manner, as if trying to remember everything he’d ever been taught about hand shaking in a single instant. But Steve’s hand took hold of Tony’s before the boy had time to worry.

“Steve, stubborn-as-a-mule, likes-to-pick-fights”

The look of pure surprise and joy that lit up Tony’s whole face ignited a warmth inside Steve. It felt like retribution, glowed like forgiveness in its strength. ‘I can do this.’ He thought. ‘I can make things right.’

It was so easy.

Had Tony always been this easy to get along with? Had he always been this funny? This interesting? Steve found himself hanging on the boy’s every word, laughing constantly at his jokes and comments. There was no need here for Steve to prove himself, no need for him to remember old ideals, old beliefs, old stupidity. All Steve had to do was listen to Tony, enjoy his company and be a version of his current cynical self.

They walked the garden, talking until the sun clearly signalled it was late afternoon and Tony announced he was starving. They made it to the kitchen, skins pink from the sun and found Jarvis already laying down two sandwiches on the kitchen island for them. The old butler looked pleased at their easy camaraderie and there was no mistaking the thankful look Jarvis directed at Steve.

In one afternoon Steve learned all about Tony’s projects in MIT, learned he was already working on one of his PHD’s, learned about his robots and about his best friend Rhodey. Tony was a living breathing firecracker and Steve marveled at him. Then as afternoon turned into the early evening Tony learned something brand new about Tony, just how strained his relationship with Howard really was.

Tony’s entire demeanour changed the moment Howard Stark entered the bustling kitchen. Tony’s confident babble went silent and he became an observer as Howard asked Steve how the day had gone and if he’d gotten along well with Tony. Content with Steve’s answer Howard then went on to question Tony on a variety of projects and deadlines that had to be met, quickly obliterating the boy’s very spirit in mere seconds.

It took all of Steve’s self-control not to punch Howard in the mouth.

After a few quick placating answers Tony promptly excused himself and fled to the safety of the upstairs bedrooms leaving Steve alone with Howard.

“You really shouldn’t bother him so much about deadlines Howard. He’s young, he should enjoy himself.”

Howard Stark directed a piercing glare at Steve, though anger was evident in his eyes he schooled his voice into reasonable calm.

“Tony is the heir to Stark Industries Steve, I want him to understand the responsibility that comes with it.”

“Looks to me like he understands responsibility perfectly well. Maybe he just needs a little more trust and support to prove it.”

How Steve savored Howard’s sharp inhale, his repressed anger. How he wanted Howard to push the subject so he could truly unleash High Commander Rogers upon him. But Howard’s survival instincts must have seen the determination in Steve’s eyes because suddenly Howard pulled back.

“Tell you what Steve, you feel free to trust and support my son any way you feel he needs it and we’ll see whose approach was more successful.”

He smiled his charming media smile and patted Steve on the shoulder in a friendly, no-hard-feelings manner. Was Howard Stark afraid of angering him? Or was it just the years of idolatry which made him give in to whatever the great Steve Rogers said? Howard had just offered up his son in a golden platter as a sort of placating gesture and Steve could hardly believe it.

“In that case, I’ll move to Cambridge”

“What?”

“I’ll be close enough to MIT to keep an eye on him and far enough not to crowd him”

“But I thought you were staying here?!”

“I can still do the work Peggy wanted me to from there and I’ll find some work in the area to tie me over.”

“You’re actually serious aren’t you?”

“You have an amazing son Howard and he will grow up to do amazing things but right now I know he needs more support than you can give him.”

They’d spoken about it before, about the world Steve came from and Howard understood Steve was here for a ‘greater’ cause, to ‘save’ the earth. With that knowledge of a future weighting heavily on his mind Howard agreed to Steve’s idea. Offered to set him and Tony up in an apartment together, after all Tony’s best friend James Rhodes would be graduating soon and going back to full service in the military so the timing couldn’t be better.

Steve could just picture it now, him and Tony living together, eating together, watching movies on the couch… just like old times. Just like at the beginning before things went so wrong. Maybe he could even convince Tony that they could be… more.

Alive with ideas, excited at all the possibilities coming to his reach, Steve reached out to grasp Howard’s shoulder. He schooled his features and modulated his voice into the old ‘Captain America believes in you’ way and looked right into the man’s dark brown eyes.

“You’re making the right decision Howard.”

How Howard’s aging face came alive at that moment. How he grinned and beamed and warmed. It was as if a long-yearned for dream was finally, after such a long wait, becoming a reality. Steve knew right then and there that he had Howard Stark line, hook and sinker.

***

Forty-three year old Tony Stark had been a hell of a lot better at saying no to Captain American than nineteen year old Tony was.

Especially after Rhodey went back to the US Military full time.

Steve took to the role of ‘fun’ older friend easily . He’d enjoyed spending time with the boys, joining in on the teasing, letting them have their fun nights out and nursing their hangovers. He gave them a wide berth to be their stupid selves and at the same time treated them like equals. Rhodey worshipped Steve, thought him the best soldier in US Military history and made it a point to listen to the great Captain America. So when Steve took hold of the young man’s shoulder and assured him Tony was in good hands, Rhodey went off to serve with a clear conscience.

Tony, like always, went at the beat of his own drum. He both worshipped and resented Steve, or rather, resented Captain America for having consumed so much of his father’s time and sanity while he was growing up. So Steve reserved the good-old Captain for emergencies and focused on being himself… or rather on what he thought Tony wanted him to be, fine tuning the concept as Tony himself redefined his needs. Steve was the lab partner who made sure Tony took breaks in-between trying to re-redesign the trigger for the new semi-automatic gun and writing papers, running experiments. He was the friend who made coffee and breakfast and dinner, the friend Tony could ramble on about everything and anything. Tony was fascinated with Steve’s explanation about multiple universes, tried to pry as much information away from him about how the machine that brought Steve here worked as he could. Unfortunately for Tony, Steve really didn’t know much about it. He hadn’t been directly involved in designing it after all.

“I can’t believe you just jumped right into an untested multi-dimensional portal without knowing anything about it!” Tony scolded him one Sunday morning as they sat together in the small kitchen having breakfast.

“Why not? I trusted the people who built it” Which is was not entirely true but they’d built it under threats to their lives and families so he was pretty sure it was done right.

Tony rolled his eyes, his shaggy brown hair falling over his temple. Some days Steve could hardly believe how young Tony looked. His plump face, the smooth lines, he looked like Tony and yet… not.

“Who am I kidding? You volunteered to be shot full of experimental drugs and something called ‘vita’ rays like a hundred years ago. Your survival instincts aren’t the sharpest Steve.”

“First of all, it wasn’t a hundred years ago.” ‘At least for you’ he added mentally . “Second, how do you know about vita rays?”

Tony had the decency to look guilty.

“I might have taken peek at a few confidential files Aunt Peggy left my dad one day”

Of course he had. Steve laughed then, a warm chuckle that sent pink to Tony’s cheeks. “Of course you did!”

“In my defence, they left them right there on his desk!”

The love in Steve’s eyes must have been mighty because Tony seemed to glow under it. His entirely face taking on a pinkness that hadn’t been there just a heartbeat ago.

Tony was falling for him. It’d started out as a crush, Steve knew. He’d caught the boy throwing side-glances at him for months now but recently the side-glances had developed into longing stares. The timing was almost right for him to swoop in, he just had to wait and hopefully keep Tony from going on a guilt-driven sex spree with a list of nameless strangers.

So far Steve’s presence had managed to keep Tony away from the epic drug-fueled parties he’d been known for in the original universe. Not because Tony hadn’t wanted to go, but because Steve always managed to find something ‘We just have to try’ that same weekend and Tony didn’t have the heart to say no. And oh, how they had fun together. With Tony’s lack of inhibitions and Steve’s willingness to do anything to please him they managed to get into their own brand of trouble as they drove all over Massachusetts exploring.

Then came the week Steve had to go on a mission for SHIELD.

He wasn’t happy about it, didn’t want to go but Peggy called him herself and he had to keep her trust. He told Tony why he was going, how long he would be gone, asked him to take care of himself and Tony waved him goodbye with reassurances that he was nineteen and perfectly capable of taking care of himself.

Steve had never missed cell phones more than he missed them now and watching the target vehicle make its way in a remote corner of what was still Czechoslovakia, Steve wished he could at least text Tony. Truthfully he didn’t care much about the SHIELD business Peggy had briefed him on. He knew it had something to do with blood they’d taken from Steve after he became a super soldier and Peggy had gone on and on about how important it was until Steve pointed out she could draw as much of his blood as she wanted. Her reaction to that fact had been interesting, as if she finally realized what the implications of him being there meant.

Now he watched the vehicle come to a stop and against all orders, ran towards it.

***

 

Steve could in all honesty say he had no idea why an entire room full of high ranking SHIELD officers (including a very young looking Nick Fury) sat staring at him as if Rocket the Racoon had just walked in.

“What is this about?”

He was sticky with blood, hungry, thirsty and wanted nothing more than to go home and see Tony. On the table in front of Steve were five black cases carrying a myriad of vials, journals and technology belonging to the un-named ‘enemy’ Steve knew as Hydra.

“Steve you went off orders” Peggy started, a certain look of mad disbelief in her eyes.

“I knew what I was looking for and I knew I could take care of this on my own”

“You broke into an enemy base, killed everyone on site and burned it to the ground!”

“I did what I had to, to secure all of this. Those people all worked for Hydra.”

“There is no more Hydra Captain”

The look Steve directed towards a very young looking Alexander Pierce carried such weight that it froze the other man to the spot.

“Isn’t there?”

Silence weighed heavily in the room but it was a silence of fear, of respect. No one could believe one man had managed to do what they’d spent years trying to do. No one could believe SHIELD now held these five black cases which contained entirely too much information for any of their liking. It was impossible, unconceivable but here they all were and it was true. Captain Steve Rogers had managed to do what none of them had been able to in the span of three days.

From his spot Steve was becoming annoyed. They behaved as if he’d performed monstrous miracles and yet this had been nothing. He’d just let off a little steam and they all behaved like they’d just seen Thanos. He was High Commander Rogers for Christ’s sakes. He’d conquered territories, commanded troops of a million soldiers, had killed, murdered and ruled with an iron fist. He was the Great High Commander Rogers and these people were shocked because he barely flexed his muscles. Seeing the weak, pathetic bunch they all were, Steve was glad to have taken care of the red book himself.

He’d been surprised to find the Red Notebook codes for the Winter Soldier on one of the men he killed. He might have recognized the man had he stayed to look but Steve had been so pleasantly surprised to see the book that he’d grabbed it without a second glance. He’d had time while waiting for pick-up, a few miles from the burning Hydra base, to read through it and memorize the code words. The same code words which caused so much trouble in 2016, but which would have come so in handy in 2056. Steve memorized the words, committed them to his permanent photographic memory and then took tremendous pleasure in watching the red book burn in a makeshift fire pit before his very eyes until it was nothing but ashes.

Knowing this was going nowhere Peggy dismissed the rest of the men. Once alone in the interrogation room Peggy looked Steve straight in the eyes and asked him what kind of universe he’d come from.

“Peggy trust me, you don’t want to know. Just understand this… I know everything there is to know about SHIELD. I know all about what you did with Arnim Zola and every other dirty little secret SHIELD has. I have no interest at all in interfering with any of it but I expect the same courtesy to be extended to me”

It was as if Peggy was finally seeing him for the first time. Not Captain America, not the Steve from her memories, but Steve Rogers as he sat before her now. A look of profound understanding and sadness filled her features.

“What did you do to my Steve?”

Smiling gently, his eyes kind and voice modulated Steve told her.

“I was your Steve once but then the earth got invaded and everything went to hell Peggy. I’m not that man anymore but for what it’s worth, your Steve is still alive in the arctic and he will be back.”

Peggy deflated before his eyes, she pulled up a chair beside him and just looked at his face.

“You won’t tell anyone?”

“SHIELD is your business Pegs, you just call me when you need the big guns”

She smiled despite knowing she shouldn’t but what could she do? He was still Steve, a much more precise, calculated soldier but it was Steve Rogers through and through. He’d done what was necessary and now the world was safer for it. She would just have to be cautions around him, try to remember she was talking to a Captain America who had gone through hell and had had to do things he wasn’t proud of, like her.

He might be different, but he was still Steve.

***

The apartment was dark and empty when Steve came in.

Tony had gone out.

He was tempted to go look for him but his tactical sense warned him against it. There was a thin line between older friend and authority figure and he needed to not scare Tony away. He needed to stay close enough to be coveted but not so close he became a parent, or a brother. So Steve took a shower and unpacked his backpack. Tony had surprisingly kept the place well, the dishes were done and the kitchen was quite clean. Only the messy living room and the rat’s lair that was Tony’s room told the truth about how the past five days had been spent.

Had Tony finally made it to one of those drug and alcohol fueled parties Steve had been trying to keep him away from? Probably.

Steve expected it, knew he couldn’t keep Tony away from making mistakes every now and again.

It was past three in the morning when Steve heard movement outside the apartment door. He heard a body being dropped to the ground and the sound of feet running down the stairs. Immediately alert, Steve was up from his bed and rushing to open the door in seconds. At his feet he found Tony, looking puffy, sweaty, shoeless and with what looked to be puke stains on his t-shirt laying on top of the doormat. Gently taking hold of his head, Steve forced Tony’s eyelids open with his fingers and stared at the overblown pupils. He was high and drunk indeed.

“Tony can you hear me?”

The commanding voice registered somewhere in his foggy brain and Tony slurred “yes”. Relieved, Steve moved the boy into his arms and carried him inside. Locking the door behind him Steve went straight to the bathroom and deposited Tony into the empty tub.

“M’flyin”

He muttered, his puffy lips and slow tongue barely making out the words. Taking off Tony’s stained shirt Steve opened the hot water spray, knowing it would come colder at first. He watched over Tony as the spray hit his body, soaking his jeans through and making Tony whimper in discomfort.

“Tony, Tony can you hear me?”

“Steebe?”

“That’s right, Tony what did you take, do you remember what pills you took?”

“Noooope”

“Did you drink any alcohol?”

“Jus’ beer”

“How many beers Tony?”

“Two”

Exhaling in frustration Steve watched as Tony slowly became more and more responsive. He opened his mouth to let some of the falling water into his mouth, drank it and ran his hands through his sweaty face and hair. Then he began giggling, uncontrollable giggles overcame Tony as he sat under the gentle spray. The sound made Steve relax and grabbing the soap bar Steve soaped his hands and began washing Tony’s face and hair.

“Get up for me Tony, let’s get this wet stuff off you”

Tony replied with “oh’kay” and managed to drop his pants faster than Steve thought possible. Enjoying the view but keeping himself in check, Steve gave Tony the soap bar and told him to wash himself while he retrieved a clean towel from under the sink. What Steve never expected was for Tony’s hands to fly straight to his cock and begin stroking up and down with strong, practiced strokes. The soap made it easy for Tony and soon he was rocking into it, lost in the sensation and chasing after it while the water cascaded down his body. The sight of it was more than Steve could bear and after watching Tony climax Steve took long breaths to calm his raging lust.

Tony was still very much floating in clouds of marshmallows when Steve finally got enough of his wits about him to turn off the spray and wrap Tony up in a large fluffy towel. Once cocooned in the towel Tony melted against Steve, his cheek coming to rest against the exposed flesh of Steve’s clavicle that the baggy t-shirt left uncovered. Tony now smelled entirely of soap and Steve held him in his arms with possessiveness he hadn’t allowed himself to feel.

“Let’s get you to bed Tony”

He said gently, tenderly and it must have triggered something in Tony because his puffy lips suddenly found Steve’s. It was a brush of lips, barely a kiss, made possible because Tony was still standing in the elevated tub to make up for the height difference but it was purposeful and there was no denying Tony’s open eyes as he did it. So Steve puckered his lips up gently to press against Tony’s… then Tony pressed them in again and Steve’s left hand went from Tony’s lower back to the back of his head and pushed him in.

With one hand on Tony’s head and his right arm across Tony’s back Steve had enough leverage to press the young man against him as he coaxed Tony’s mouth open with his lips. He kept Tony securely in place while he plundered the warm, willing mouth that could do little but open wide and try to reciprocate with his tongue. It was a filthy kiss, one that felt like sex with the way Steve nipped and suckled and drew Tony in so deep all Tony could do was remember how to breathe. Then Tony was hard again and he gave into it, rocking forward into Steve’s belly with the towel between them. The friction was delicious and Steve let Tony rock into him while continuing his assault on Tony’s mouth. The rocking only lasted a few more seconds before Tony was spilling himself into the towel. This short-enduring libido amused Steve, it spoke of both youth and not a lot of experience with sex which went against all the rumours he’d heard about Tony’s youth.

Slowly Steve brought them out of the kiss, soothing his lust with small pecks to Tony’s swollen lips.

“Come on honey”

Steve whispered and as Tony pulled back to follow the instruction Steve lifted him into his arms by taking a hold of Tony’s thighs. Tony’s legs automatically wrapped around his hips and the position kept the towel safely between them as they left the bathroom. Steve should have taken Tony to his room, but Steve was not a good man so he didn’t. Instead Steve took Tony back to Steve’s room where he removed the towel and tucked him into bed. He then climbed under the covers and arranged Tony so his head was pillowed against Steve’s left pectoral and his naked body was pressed against Steve’s left side.

For the first time in his whole miserable life, Steve Rogers knew peace.

Tony awoke in convoluted layers the next morning. His head throbbed, his mouth felt dry, he was warm…. And finally he was naked. With that last knowledge Tony forced his eyes to open and take in his surroundings. To his utter shock the first thing he saw was Steve’s sleeping face.

He was lying on Steve’s bed, sleeping beside Steve… naked. As his body began to tense and panic settled in Steve turned to his side and opened his brilliant blue eyes.

“Stop panicking Tony. Everything’s fine”

There was comfort and reassurance in Steve’s voice but it did nothing to soothe him.

“I kissed you… I was high and drunk and I kissed you… and you kissed me back?”

“Yes and then I carried you to bed and we feel asleep”

Tony realized then that while he was indeed naked, Steve wasn’t and it was obvious by Tony’s face that that was both a tremendous relief and a tremendous disappointment.

“Tell you what Tony, I’ll go make breakfast, you go put some clothes on and we’ll talk about it over coffee”

“Okay”

Smiling, Steve pushed off the covers and got on his feet leaving Tony alone to collect his thoughts and make his way back to his own bedroom.

It was obvious by Tony’s face that this wasn’t going how he thought it would go. The nineteen year old had prepared himself for rejection, he’d held himself stiff on the chair, eyes sharp, jaw locked as if heading into battle. Now his eyes were wide, face shocked into relaxation and hands around a mug that read ‘Mad Genius,’ speechless.

“You love me?”

“Yeah Tony, I do”

“Gag me with a fucking spoon… you’re serious aren’t you?”

Steve didn’t need to answer, Tony could see it. He saw it in Steve’s eyes every day, saw it in the way he laughed at every stupid joke Tony came up with, saw it in how he worried about making sure Tony ate and slept and that his coffee was just the way he liked it.

“Steve, what exactly were we back in your ‘verse? Like were we together?”

“No… You were my best friend, it wasn’t until many, many years later that I realized how much I loved you”

Had Tony not been nineteen, he would have questioned Steve about it. About their past friendship, about what made Steve realize he was in love with his best friend, about why he’d jumped verses and now wanted to have a romantic relationship with him. But Tony was nineteen and so in love he’d caught himself writing Steve’s name on the margins of a couple of his notebooks without even realizing it. So Tony did not ask, instead Tony got on his feet, walked over to Stave’s chair and climbed onto the man’s thick, muscled lap with his legs spread. This time when Steve claimed Tony’s mouth Tony knew what to do- he opened wide and let Steve take over.

All successful invasions required a special mixture of both impressive shows of power to subdue the population and acts of unbridled kindness to earn their compliance. If he’d been able to do it with full territories before, he could certainly do it with Tony Stark, Steve reasoned. In this case, a full scale invasion was crucial in order to guarantee longevity in their relationship. Last thing Steve wanted was to become a fling, or a ‘first love’… oh no, he wanted a lifetime and a lifetime he would get.

He started out slowly, making simple changes at home that Tony was comfortable with. Since they really only slept in Steve’s room, Tony’s old bedroom was turned into a full workshop so Tony could have a designated work space. Then he instituted an official dinner time, if Tony was going to be late he had to call Steve to let him know. They also had date nights and organized weekends where they travelled to different states. Tony took to the order like a fish took to the ocean. With Rhodey gone most of the ‘friends’ he’d hung out with had scattered into the wind. Suddenly no one had time to hang out with Tony anymore and it was evident what a blow that was to the young man’s self-esteem. So while at school Tony was hardly a popular guy (he had a reputation for being a stuck-up prick) at home he was welcomed into Steve’s loving arms without reservation.

Unlike in a regular invasion however, Steve also had sex at his disposal. The first five months of their relationship were the most erotic in Steve’s long miserable life and incredibly enough most of the time it wasn’t even Steve who initiated it. Some mornings Steve would wake up balls deep in Tony’s mouth without even knowing when the genius had started, others Tony could simply ambush him on the couch prepped and naked already. Most days they had sex at least once a day… everyday. Tony’s libido, his need for touch and reassurance were greater than Steve could have thought possible and suddenly he understood why the original Tony Stark had had such difficulties settling down. For who other than Steve, would know how to handle a Tony with tears in his eyes from how frustrated he was at not being able to figure out that one equation that would solve the glitch in that software he was creating? Who other than Steve would know how to draw him into his lap, run his hands over his back, stroke his hair and then when he finally felt better would lay him down on the couch and make him forget his own name?

Steve could make time stand still for Tony, could make him feel safe and loved with just one word, one touch. Steve could whisper a reassuring phrase in Tony’s ear in just the right voice and suddenly Tony felt ten feet high and ready to take on the world. By the sixth month Steve knew something had changed because the wild, half-mad urgency had left Tony’s body. Now Tony wanted slow, deep thrusts, wanted to kiss all through sex, wanted Steve to hold him all through the night, wanted Steve to hear all about his latest project, his genius thought.

Then came the night Tony and Steve spent three hours doing nothing except lying in bed staring at each other and Steve knew, he just knew his invasion had been successful. Tony clung to him like nothing ever had, clung to his words, to his touch, to his very sight and oh how Steve relished it.

But just like an estate affair, Steve knew he now had to focus on maintaining control. Give a government too much control and they might rebel, give it too little and they would most certainly rebel. It was a balance, a balance of managing Tony’s highs and lows, a balance of letting the genius do what he needed to do and reigning him in when he was about to overexert himself. Steve found the challenge easy, enjoyable, fun even. He liked setting clear boundaries for Tony and enjoyed the power that came from it, he even liked the fact that he could make Tony feel terrible with just one word.

Like when Tony forgot all about their dinner reservation and left Steve standing alone outside the restaurant. Steve had not exactly been angry at that, he’d been annoyed, certainly but he knew how Tony got when he was in the middle of an Engineering binge so he wasn’t actually angry. Time and war had limited the things that could actually anger Steve Rogers but he saw it as an important teaching opportunity. Like when he cut off the supply routes from Georgia to Minnesota during wintertime because he found out Minnesota was aligning with the Resistance. Several thousand died as a result, but Minnesota eventually aligned with the Regime and everything went smoothly afterwards.

Tony was all apologies when he finally made it home, he’d rushed to the restaurant first and after seeing the staff cleaning up for closing time, he’d rushed home. A million “So sorry” were said, a few “Baby, please forgive me” but Steve knew what could hit Tony like nothing else.

“It’s fine Tony, you just disappointed me that’s all”

The word hit Tony’s consciousness like a freight train. It visibly numbed him, made him pale and he shrank into himself until tears finally rushed to his big brown eyes. Forty-three year old Tony would have said something back and gone to hide in his workshop. He would have locked himself in and not come out for days while obsessing about how he could make things right, how he could fix this. Nineteen year old Tony simply allowed the tears to fall on the spot and quietly sobbed out a “I’m s’o s’orry Steve”

The sight of Tony Stark fighting back sobs and attempting to cover his eyes with a wet hand in embarrassment was one Steve had not been prepared to see. He watched, half fascinated half heartbroken as Tony mumbled a litany of apologies and managed to work himself into what would soon become a full sobbing cry. Like a man possessed Steve covered the space between them in just a couple of strides until he towered over Tony. Then gently, he removed the boy’s hand from his eyes and saw the bloodshot brown orbs full of tears. He’d seen Tony cry before but those had been tears of pleasure not the soulful pained, bloodshot eyes he saw now. Overcome with an inexplicable need to taste those tears, Steve leaned down until his opened lips pressed beside the bridge of Tony’s nose under his right eye and tasted the saltiness of them.

They were so precious, these little tears, because they belonged to a man who wanted to become a man of Iron. A man who would succeed in doing so.

Steve pressed his tear-salt lips to Tony’s mouth and sliding an arm around his waist, kissed him hard and deep until he too could feel the last of that sob slipping into his own mouth. That was the day Steve Rogers learned his Tony’s biggest fear, disappointing Steve, and as Steve draped an exhausted Tony comfortably over his muscled body a few hours later, he marveled at the wonder of it all. Once again Steve had the power to leave Tony Stark alone and bleeding in the cold, except this time Steve would do nothing of the sort. Smiling to himself, Steve moved the sleeping body above him so Tony’s head was tucked comfortably under Steve’s neck and his ass, still leaking semen did so over Steve’s abdomen. He ran gentle soothing patterns over Tony’s back and synched their breathing until Steve too fell under its lure.

Over the course of his long lifetime Steve had come to have a special understanding of the role that human error played in war and politics. In fact, the range of human stupidity never ceased to amaze him. He again felt this same wonder when Peggy Carter herself called to inform him that they’d found Bucky Barnes alive.

“Is he in a cryostasis-chamber?”

Instinctively Steve’s eyes scanned over the apartment windows, eyes searching for any clues of a sniper.

There was dead silence on the other side of the line, as if Peggy was weighing whether or not to answer, then suddenly a resolute sounding “Yes” echoed.

“Keep him in there. Can you arrange pickup?”

“Someone will be there in thirty minutes.”

“Understood”

Jaw locked tight, fists clenching and unclenching Steve marveled at the human stupidity that must have delivered the Winter Soldier in cryostatis right into the hands of SHIELD. He hadn’t decided yet on what to do with Bucky Barnes, had debated the usefulness of letting the assassin kill off Howard before capturing him himself. This certainly changed his plans and he was sure the change in the timeline was due to the Hydra base he’d destroyed a year ago.

The sound of soft steps on hardwood forced Steve to focus on the touch he knew was coming. Sure enough a pair of strong arms wrapped around his waist from behind. Steve felt the definition of those arms with his hands, felt the strength of the muscles beneath the soft skin. Tony was filling out nicely in his twentieth year, muscles filling places that had been previously occupied with tender fat. It was to be expected, between all the engineering work he did, the improvement in his diet thanks to Steve’s efforts and their shared exercise routines.

“Who was that?”

“Peggy. I need to come in for a bit”

“Why?”

“They found someone of interest and I need to make sure they keep him right where he is”

“What did they find?”

Tony began nuzzling into the softness of Steve’s T-shirt, his voice heavy with curiosity which he knew fully well Steve would accommodate.

“Bucky Barnes”

The arms around him tensed before dislodging so their owner could face Steve.

“The real Bucky Barnes? How did he survive?”

“They popped him full of serum, brainwashed him and turned him into a deadly killing machine”

The whole awful truth was delivered in such a dead-pan manner that Tony chuckled at first.

“Shit, you’re serious aren’t you?”

“Like death. I’ve got to go make sure those idiots don’t unfreeze him. He needs to stay in cryo for the next couple decades.”

“Decades?”

“Yeah, the other Captain America can deal with him”

It occurred to Steve then that he no longer had to worry about telling Tony half-truths about his parents’ death. He wouldn’t need feign guilt at learning of their terrible demise and chase after the Winter Soldier under the pretence of vengeance. Suddenly feeling quite perked up, Steve leaned in to kiss Tony’s full lips. Could people get better looking with age? He wondered. He himself barely aged at all and all those around him who had, had seemed all the lesser for it. But not Tony, no, with each year his boy grew more handsome, more charming, more himself. Steve pecked the full lips against his, pecked the nose and the cheeks. They had dinner plans with Maria and Howard that weekend, to celebrate Tony’s third PhD. He would worry about how this would affect his plans then, for now he tore himself apart with an apology and went to pack a quick bag.

Miraculously Bucky Barnes was indeed contained in a heavy, old, soviet looking cryo chamber in one of the SHIELD labs. He looked almost peaceful sleeping behind the glass but Steve wasn’t fooled.

“Can’t we do something for him Steve?” Peggy’s voice was heavy with emotion, as if seeing this blast from the past with her own eyes was carving away all her years of experience.

“No. The best thing you can do for him is store him with Howard. In a few decades and with better technology we might be able to do something for him but not right now. Have you talked to him?”

“Yes, he agreed to keep him in one of his ‘secret’ storage bunkers. But I still think he’d be safer with SHIELD”

“He isn’t. SHIELD has more rats than you think”

Peggy didn’t bother with a retort, they’d had this discussion too many times before.

“Where did you find him?”

“Agent Fury found him, I can’t tell you where but he said that by the look of it they hadn’t taken him out from there in a while.”

‘Probably since I burned their precious leash’ Steve thought.

“Oh Bucky, what did they do to you?” Peggy whispered, pain dripping in every word.

It brought to mind the last thing he’d done to Bucky, back when he’d been trying to get information out of him about the Resistance. He remembered Barnes’ anguished eyes as Steve shot his Resistance buddies dead one by one in front of him. ‘Yes’ Thought Steve ‘Let that gullible idiot in the ice deal with him in his own time.’

With the Winter Soldier safely away hibernating, Steve was left to contemplate for the first time a future where Howard Stark was alive.

This did not please him.

On one hand, Howard being alive provided him with the opportunity to steer Tony away from Obadiah Stane, on the other hand however it also meant splitting Stark Industries. It was with these thoughts weighing on his mind that Steve accompanied Tony to dinner at his parents’, where all the common topics were poked at and argued about- Tony still going to MIT even though he could technically stop at three PhD’s. Tony still not being involved in SI. Steve still ‘babysitting’ Tony when there were more important things he could be doing and finally, Tony not meeting SI deadlines.

When their plane landed back in Massachusetts on Sunday afternoon, Steve had made up his mind about the Howard situation.

Tony was quiet and morose the whole ride home, a look of furious concentration in his face which spoke of the pressure that was building up inside. Steve knew his boy well, he could read the thoughts running furiously through his brain, the anger, the pain and the doubt. Steve said nothing in the car but he knew exactly what to say as soon as they were safely inside their apartment with the door locked and their shoes off.

“I came here for you.”

“What?”

Tony frowned, his thoughts too loud to know what Steve was trying to say.

“I came here to this dimension, this universe, to be with you. I know I told everyone it was to save this world but that was a lie. I don’t care about any world Tony, it was always about you. ”

Steve watched carefully as Tony’s brown eyes widened, as his mouth parted as if in a gasp and the weight of what he’d just been feeling was replaced by another weight, one that brought colour to his cheeks and awe to his eyes.

“What do you mean you came here for me?”

“I couldn’t be someplace that didn’t have you in it Tony, I already lived without for too long. So you see, you’re not keeping me back and I’m not babysitting you. You’re it for me, you’re my reason for breathing.”

“But why? Why do you love me so much?”

There was such desperation in the question, such pure self-loathing that Steve could kill Howard with his own hands for his role in it.

“Because you’re the best part of me, the only part I like.”

“Well that’s bullshit because you’re the only part of ME that I like.”

Steve tried to breathe but somehow he couldn’t draw in air. They looked at each other, transfixed until Tony’s lips broke into a full sincere smile and they stepped into each other. Steve ran his fingers over stubbly skin of Tony’s cheek, how could a monster like him be the best of part of anybody, let alone Tony Stark? The only possible explanation was that Tony was so in love he couldn’t see what Steve really was, and that was completely alright by him.

This time around Tony did not hold back the questions. Steve could be cleaning the stove top and Tony washing dishes when all of a sudden he’d hear “But when did you realize you were in love with the other-dimension me?” or they could be lying in bed, about to fall asleep when Steve would hear “How much older was I when I met you? I must have been like, forty or something.”

It didn’t bother Steve. He tried to answer as truthfully as possible because the questions about Tony were always the easiest to answer. He didn’t mind telling Tony it hadn’t hit him until many years after losing him, didn’t mind talking about how reluctant he’d been to believe it could have been love.

“You were just in the closet Steve, that’s fine. I mean I was in the closet for the longest time, although can it still be considered a closet if you’re bi? Or are you just partly in the closet at that point? And who the hell came up with a closet to begin with? Why couldn’t it be under a bed or a drawer or something? It is it exclusive to furniture?...”

The rambling usually reduced Steve to quiet laughter, he’d listen to Tony go on and on enjoying every sentence that poured out. The only time Tony was quiet was when he was working and oh… how shocking had it been when Steve realized young Tony Stark did not work with loud heavy rock music blasting in the background. Twenty-year old Tony Stark worked in silence, muttering things to himself every now and then, completely lost in his own brain.

When had the noise begun then? Had it been after the loss of his parents? The loss of Edwin Jarvis? Had it begun to drown out the lure of drugs and alcohol?

Even now Tony enjoyed a good drink. He liked the expensive stuff, the good whiskey, the fancy wines but he only ever drank at home with Steve. They’d settle on the couch, a glass of the good stuff in their hands and just talk. Eventually the drink would get Tony tipsy which made him very affectionate, he’d drape himself over Steve, kiss his neck, his shoulders, his lips until finally Tony got horny enough that they had to move to the bedroom.

Drugs had not been touched since the first night they kissed. Steve made it clear after that that he wouldn’t tolerate Tony taking recreational drugs ever again. The warning had been strong enough and Tony had stayed away. But what could Steve do to make sure Tony didn’t fall onto the temptation? What could Steve do, other than scare tactics to ensure his Tony would not repeat old patterns?

In war communication could dictate the outcome of a battle. Hack into the enemy’s comm systems and suddenly soldiers were left to fend for themselves without a tactic or leadership. He’d slaughtered thousands of Resistance fighters using this same tactic. So making sure that his line of communication with Tony stayed strong and up to date could be the key to ensuring his wellbeing. How to do that though?

Decades ago, when the old government had still been around Steve had been forced to attend court-mandated therapy sessions. The old broad, Dr. Pancovich would always ask him the same kind of questions which he then had to try his best to answer. Maybe if he got Tony to open up to him about his own feelings, Tony wouldn’t feel the need to drown anything in alcohol in the future.

Being the brilliant tactician Steve Rogers still prided himself in being, he got to work right away. At first Tony’s response had been hesitant but with endurance Steve eventually got Tony to talk about his days in boarding school, about his relationship with Howard and Maria, about why Rhodey was his best friend and finally, why he didn’t want to be involved in Stark Industries.

The moment Tony finally confessed to Steve how much he despised designing weapons was the day Steve felt something inside himself break wide open. Tony went on and on for hours about all the changes he wanted to implement to SI. How he wanted to dump the entire weapons sector, how he wanted to concentrate on technology and telecom networks and AI’s. Tony spoke on and on about the future he envisioned for SI with the excitement and hope of an entrepreneur until his throat was dry and his voice hoarse. That night, after sucking Tony off in bed until the genius was too drowsy to complain, Steve did something he rarely ever did. He picked up the sleeping, naked genius and walked to the armchair by the window of their bedroom. He sat down with Tony settled crossways on his lap, his head resting over Steve’s heart, his calves hanging off the armchair’s side. Their bedroom window overlooked a park in a mostly quiet neighbourhood. Steve liked to sit on that chair to have his morning coffee after his run. Tony was usually still asleep then, so he relaxed while looking out the window and listening to Tony breathing.

While outside the dark outline of the park trees swayed with the wind, inside Steve held the much younger man securely in his arms. He focused on Tony’s relaxed features, the nose, the jawline, the broad cheekbones and thought about how much pain this same being had had to endure in the original universe. He thought about how much Tony must have hated himself for decades, all the while pasting on a showman’s smile and a salesman’s pitch to get the deal, to continue employing thousands of workers all around the world. Tony Stark spent decades gagged and bound by a sense of duty and manipulated by a man whose only interest had always been profit and profit alone.

How Tony must have destroyed himself. How he must have hated seeing himself reflected in the mirror.

Unconsciously Steve’s grip on Tony tightened and tightened until drowsy eyes blinked open.

“Steve? What is it?”

Realizing what he’d done, Steve pressed soft kisses on Tony’s forehead, nuzzling the hairline with his nose.

“Nothing sweetheart. Go to sleep, I’ll take you back to bed in a moment”

Tony sighed, his eyes closed again and just like that he was back asleep. What could happen, Steve wondered, if the Tony Stark lying in his arms made it unscathed into adulthood? How much would the world change with this Tony in his arms ready to change it?

“It might just make it” Steve whispered, smiling.

***
‘Life’s a little funny sometimes.’ Steve thought.

It’d been a persistent thought all morning, especially now as the coffins of Howard and Maria Stark were lowered into the ground.

Bucky Barnes was still safely in cryo-sleep and yet Howard Stark had still managed to wrap himself around a tree. Alcohol had been to blame of course, as had been confirmed by the team of SHIELD investigators who had worked the accident scene at Steve’s order. Howard Stark had been much too drunk to drive home from that party and everyone who’d been at the party had known it. Unfortunately there was no stopping Howard once he’d made up his mind and Maria had gotten in the car against her better judgement. Now here they were, burying them both.

Tony was still in a state of shock, as he had been since the police knocked on their door to deliver the terrible news. He’d broken down crying every now and then but then he’d settle back down and a dazed look took over. For his part Steve was simply concentrating on keeping the vultures away from Tony. It wasn’t hard, he made an intimidating picture in his black suit and piercing blue eyes. Most people assumed he was Tony’s bodyguard, the ones who knew who he was assumed he was being a supportive friend. Not even Peggy Carter knew about their romantic relationship, which Steve was glad for since it meant being able to be with Tony without getting judgemental eyebrow raises for it.

Overall Steve found himself in quite a great mood. With Tony now inheriting SI and Steve there to support him, Tony could change the future of Stark Industries for the better. With that in mind Steve focused on looking sufficiently bereaved and thought back to the day they buried Pepper Potts.

Pepper had been over seventy years old the last time he’d seen her alive, it would be nice to see her young and full of life again. With any luck, he could even push her and Rhodes together earlier, have them make more than one kid together. Perhaps three or four… Giving up the thought of looking bereaved since all his sad thoughts were turning around, Steve focused instead on how he could get rid of Obadiah Stane.
Steve knew very little about what the original Tony did after his parents’ funeral. He remembered Rhodey once mentioning something about vast amounts of liquor having been involved but such was not the case this time around. Drunkenness had been replaced by insomnia, bouts of explosive anger and a mixture of both extreme clinginess and complete isolation. For his part Steve reacted to Tony’s moods as they came. One moment they could be sorting through papers in Howard’s study and the next Tony could be flinging a paperweight through a coffee table.

Both Steve and Jarvis worked around the moods, made their best to keep him talking about it and keep Obadiah away from the grieving man. Unsurprisingly Steve and Jarvis made a good team, together they got Tony to eat, to sleep, to cry and eventually to smile. As the days passed Tony began to stabilize, to heal and the anger that had been simmering beneath the surface began to boil to the top. This anger finally exploded two weeks later when Stane was finally allowed to visit Tony. He spoke about the company, about how important it was for Tony to continue his father’s legacy and that was the moment in which an enraged Tony Stark assured Obadiah Stane that SI would cease weapon production effective immediately.

Tony Stark would see his father’s legacy burn to the ground as retribution for killing his mother. Tony Stark would destroy his father’s source of pride if only to rebuild it as his own.

That day Obadiah left the house pale and shaking with anger while upstairs, Tony Stark finally breathed.

***

It is the sign of a great Commander to recognize the makings of a great General. As a great Commander in his own right, Steve took a step back as Tony took on the SI board of directors with the techniques of divide and conquer. There was pure focused force of will behind Tony now. He targeted specific board members and effectively divided until the majority vote conquered the fate of Stark Industries. In just a month Stark Industries announced it would cease its current weapon development effective immediately, they’d fulfill their current government contracts but no more. The backlash was tremendous, stock collapsed and as more cheap shares flooded the market Tony instructed Jarvis to buy and buy.

When it looked like SI was in more trouble than during the 90’s recession just two years back, a TV commercial would change it all around. Shown on Saturday morning for the first time, the commercial revealed the two branches of SI which would replace the weapon production: SI Construction and SI Solutions. The commercial was so full of American Nationalism than even the most cynical of individuals found themselves hopeful for the future. It showed how the guns that had made businessmen wealthy were about to build roads and create more local jobs than anyone thought possible. It showed how that same metal would be used to create the future technology that would drive the world forward.

Tony had managed to use the iron resources from melting all their commercial gun stock to win construction contracts left and right, effectively defying the odds while owning more of his own company. In a week stock went back up, in a month when SI Construction was kicked into gear (thanks to the acquisition of several small construction companies) with contracts all over the US, stock was as high as ever.

Steve watched as Tony reshaped his company with maneuvers Steve had only thought possible in movies. He sat in meetings with the board, listened to Tony hatch out plans in their bedroom, went to meetings about logistics and acquisitions and profits until all they could manage to do at night was collapse on their bed and fall asleep. For eight months Tony and Steve focused on keeping SI afloat, they faced politicians, businessmen and boards together until they could carry out full conversations with each other with nothing but glances. Tony threw himself with such steadfast resolve to his vision that when Times magazine asked him to be their person of the year, no one was surprised.

Just ten months after Howard Stark drove himself and his wife into a tree, the company he’d started had been gutted and rebuilt by his son. A month after that, Obadiah Stane died from what was deemed a heart attack in his New York home.

***

“I’m thinking of growing a beard.”

At twenty-two Tony looked far too young to be CEO of one of the biggest companies in America and Steve knew it was starting to bother him more and more. Rinsing his razor Steve turned to look over at Tony who was examining his face on his side of the mirror.

“Lumberjack or Mutton chops?”

“Ha, ha… I’m thinking a Balbo, maybe start with an Anchor, y’know, like the one we saw in that magazine when we met with Dr. Pym last week?”

“Sure, that looked good.”

“Would you like me in a beard?”

“Sure Tony”

He was about to do another swipe with the razor but stopped. Tony stood facing him, a look of pure seriousness in his face.

“No Steve. Would you LIKE me with a beard?”

He understood the real question, the need for reaffirmation that was so uniquely Tony but why did his opinion matter? In the past eleven months Tony had proven to the world that he was a man to be respected and admired by his own merits and intelligence. So why should Steve’s opinion matter on something so inherently Tony Stark?

“The Balbo suits you.”

Relief washed through Tony. He took in air as if whatever fears had temporarily overcome him had been exorcised.

“I think so too.”

He sounded cocky and mischievous but it frayed on the sides. Steve finished shaving, giving Tony time to wash his teeth. They were still squeezing into Tony’s old room and ensuite in the old manor, they’d meant to find a condo closer to the city but they’d never had the time. Looking at the brand new worry lines around Tony’s eyes Steve knew they needed to start thinking about a place to live that wasn’t New York. They needed to find a place where Tony could relax.

“Did you ever hear back from Dr. Pym?”

“Yep. He’s in. Pretty sure he’d only doing it because he gets to tear at something that was Howard’s but he’s in.”

“Well it also makes sense for him at a financial level. A partnership between Pym Technologies and SI Solutions is exactly what they need to inject some badly needed revenue.”

“Not to mention how quickly we can branch out into prosthetics and nano-bots”

“You and your bots”

Tony grinned showing teeth but both their thoughts went back to the robots back in their Cambridge apartment.

“Agh, we gotta start looking for a place to live. Maybe a condo in Manhattan? Naw, we can afford a house, a nice redstone in Manhattan”

“Actually how do you feel about California?”

“You’re kidding”

“No, I was thinking Malibu with an ocean view”

“Well look who developed expensive tastes all of a sudden”

“No Tony, I’m serious. I think being away from New York would be great for us.”

“But what about SI?”

“I’m pretty sure you have a private jet at your disposal, plus what’s wrong with moving SI headquarters outside New York? California is America’s technology capital anyway so it’d make sense.”

The more Steve talked the bigger Tony’s smile became, the more his eyes twinkled and his hands fidgeted at the possibilities. He was excited with this new prospect as if the thought of a change of scenery alone was injecting new life into a body that hadn’t ceased worrying in eleven months. Smiling, Tony closed in on Steve, soft arms wrapping around the larger man’s warm muscled torso.

“Steve you’re a genius”

Wrapping his thick muscular arms around Tony, Steve pulled the boy closer until their naked chests pressed together.

“No Tony, I’m just in love”

A rush of warmth surged through Tony, electrifying and addictive. In just one phrase Steve managed to give rest to the surging demons, because who in the world would be willing to put up with all this crap for Tony’s sake?

“I love you too buttercup”

Steve chuckled, low and deep. Tony buried his face in a creamy pectoral and breathed in.

 

***

High Commander Rogers never took a day’s vacation in his life. No trips to the Bahamas or tourist visits to Europe or Disneyland. Work had always consumed his life and later when he could have been able to take a rest, there was no one to rest with. Now, lying on the warm sand in the sunshine, Steve marveled at how calm he felt. He woke up every morning, dragged Tony out with him for a daily run on the beach (It was their shared agreement that Tony was allowed to go back home after half an hour) and could sometimes spend the whole day either lying under the sun or swimming in the pool.

“Skin cancer Steve, skin cancer”

Tony would sometimes mutter while layering sunscreen on his skin.

“Super-soldier Serum Tony.”

“I don’t care, just put on sunscreen”

At twenty-five Tony Stark was the most beautiful thing Steve had ever seen. The well groomed balbo beard gave him a look of sophistication and accentuated the shapeliness of his lips. He cut a particularly pretty picture in ratty jeans and t-shirt, running his hands full of sunscreen all over Steve’s skin. Steve wanted to keep him like this forever, he wanted to freeze this universe in this particular moment and just live here forever. He knew it couldn’t be done, but how he loved these sun-filled days with just him and Tony in the house.

Their lives at the moment were pretty mundane. SI work filled their weeks but the thing with office work is that it doesn’t consume. In between meetings and inventing and paperwork, there were trips to the beach and weekends spent naked in bed and weekends spent in LA or San Francisco. Jarvis, now retired, visited often and they would all hang out in the kitchen while sipping wine and trying different cocktails.

It occurred to Steve that this was what happiness must feel like.

“Are you happy?” Steve stilled Tony’s roaming hands with his own, his bright blue eyes digging deeply into bewildered brown.

“Of course I am! Why, aren’t you?”

Steve smiled at Tony, his sun-warm hands reaching to hold into Tony’s AC-chilled cheeks.

“I’m so happy I’m terrified.”

“Oh good, then I’m not the only one.”

They grinned at each other like idiots before bursting into bellyful laughter, but they clung desperately to each other, their hands never far from skin.

Rhodey visiting meant free license for Tony and him to get into all sorts of ridiculous trouble. Steve liked it that way, understood the importance of Tony acting his age as long as Rhodes was there to rein him in. They’d go out to clubs, dance a bit and come back to the house around two or three in the morning. This time however, when Tony returned he smelled like a woman’s cheap perfume and there was lipstick in his collar.

Though still pretty drunk, Tony sobered up quickly at seeing Steve’s expression.

“The girl I was dancing with got pretty handsy, but I pushed her off right away Steve I swear.”

Steve did believe him, knew Tony didn’t actually have a cheating bone in his body. It still didn’t keep him from thoroughly examining Tony’s cock and balls for lipstick or the scent of the cheap perfume though. While this instance proved to be nothing, it did plant a seed in Steve’s head. Tony Stark had been a well-known womanizer in his Universe; the king of the one-night stands, so could his Tony eventually come to desire a woman? Could he eventually want sex with a woman? ‘No’, Steve assured himself. Tony would never have a reason for it if Steve played his cards right. Up until then Tony had always been the bottom during sex, Steve had never questioned it but now he wondered if it was maybe time to mix up their sex life. After all, in war, a good Commander always knows when it’s time to introduce new technology into a battlefield.

A week later, Steve wouldn’t stop cursing himself for having waited so long to do this, to have this. The feeling of Tony filing him up again and again was one he’d never known, and it was one he would never get tired of. He gaped and shivered as Tony whispered sweet nothings in his ear, gasped at feeling semen filling him. At last, Steve thought, at last he was whole.

***

The end of the twentieth century was everything Steve thought it would be. They were invited to at least a dozen parties and went to only one. They stood there on one of the top floors of the Empire State building as thousands of people in the streets shouted and partied like the end was coming. They drank champagne and danced and kissed until Tony’s eyes grew heavy and Steve asked Happy to take them home.

“How much longer do we have Steve?”

It was 4:14am, January 1st 2000 when Tony whispered the question close to Steve’s ear on the pillow they were sharing. They’d dozed off shortly after sex but obviously Tony was still too buzzed to stay asleep.

“For what?”

“Together Steve. How much longer do we have together.”

Steve puzzled over the question. Wondered if Tony thought Steve was going to leave him… then it hit him.

“The rest of our lives. Things will get bumpy in a few years but I’m not leaving you and you’re not leaving me.”

They kissed, a peck of swollen lips and Tony draped himself over Steve’s left side with a sigh.

It occurred to Steve that Tony might have been asking about his own death, but Steve found no point is talking about that. After all, they’d duplicated Earth but not the whole of the universe. There was yet to be anything to suggest that Thanos would attack in 2018, nor proof of a duplicate Asgard or Xandar. Neither Valeria Richards, nor Vision nor Alaska had been able to provide him with clear answers regarding the extent of the dimensional duplication but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t the kind of thing one could miss.

***

Being Tony Stark’s assistant was not an easy job even if he did have an easier time of it than anyone else would. It was time consuming and if Steve had to help out at SHIELD Tony was left assistant-less. Steve calmly presented his argument, listing all the reasons Tony needed someone full time. Steve would still be there at all times to help, but someone needed to take some of the load from SI off of Tony’s shoulders.

Tony begrudgingly agreed but only after Steve reassured him that he wasn’t going anywhere. He would still go to board meetings and factory visits and creative meetings. He would still help with some of the paperwork and push food into Tony by any means necessary. So the hunt began.

Pepper had once told Steve that she’d actually come into SI’s employment in 2001 after a long list of failed EA’s marched through Tony’s office. Steve was planning on skipping the ‘failed’ part and just going right into Pepper, but for that to happen they still had to go through a hiring process. So Steve used SHIELD to find Ms. Virginia Potts who was working for a small start-up company owned by another individual Steve liked to keep close tabs of, Aldrich Killian.

Steve had met Killian at a party with Tony, thought the man a weasel right away. Tony had politely rejected Killian’s ‘offer’ of financing his project but knowing what was to come, Steve kept tabs on the man. Killian had gone off looking dejected but not furious, it’d intrigued Steve. The first time around Killian had supposedly left with murder in his eyes pointing towards Tony.

Looking away from his desktop for a moment, Steve focused on Tony hunched over the keyboard of his own desktop at home. The young genius was coding what would come to become JARVIS. He’d been working on it for years now, on and off. It was taking longer than the original JARVIS because of SI. The first time around Obadiah had taken care of all the menial matters of running a company, now Tony took care of that personally which left him with limited time to work on JARVIS. This was why Steve’s New Year’s resolution had been to implement the right people on the right jobs to get Tony focused on inventing and innovating.

He observed Tony, focused on the frown lines that were beginning to stay and the laugh lines which were already there. At thirty Tony was most definitely a different person than the original Tony Stark had been. They behaved slightly differently too. When his Tony got frustrated he came to Steve, when the original Tony was frustrated he went out looking for a distraction. Could Steve’s presence really have changed Tony’s personality? He was still the same cocky, sarcastic pain in the ass he’d always been and yet there was a gentleness to him that hadn’t been there before.

Tony had treated Killian with respect that night, had listened to his plans, complimented the man and explained it just wasn’t the right time for Stark Solutions to look into it right now but maybe in eleven months something could be done. Killian had left looking not-quite-so homicidal and Tony had made his way right back into Steve’s arms.

Tony was different.

“Tony?”

“Yeah?”

“I love you”

It took him a second but eventually Tony turned his head to look at Steve, a puzzled look on his face.

“I love you too, you weirdo”

It was automatic. Heartfelt. Honest. Tony was indeed different.

‘Well I’ll be goddamned’ Steve thought.

When the first batch of Curriculums vitae came though, Steve dutifully looked through the pile in Tony’s office. He flipped through the pages one by one.

“I don’t want any old hags Steve”

“I know Tony”

“And no homophobic bigots either”

“I know”

“And no sticks in the mud”

Steve’s fingers could not pull the desired resumé fast enough. He held it like a winning lottery ticket and dumped the rest back on the coffee table.

“What’s that?”

“That’s your new EA”

He slapped the paper down in front of Tony with the biggest smile. Then with a dramatic sigh, Tony read through the three page, impeccable looking work manifesto.

“She sounds pretty impressive”

“She is”

Brown eyes widened in realization.

“Steve Rogers! You stinking, conniving ferret. You know her don’t you? No, you KNEW her. Was she my EA before, wasn’t she? Why didn’t you just offer her the job?”

“Because that would have been creepy”

Tony stared at his partner of eleven years in disbelief before crumbling into laughter.

“You’re something else Steve, you know that?”

There was such love and adoration in those brown eyes, such utter trust. Steve stared in awe at all that was reflected and more. Unable to resist, he got on his knees, both hands holding the desk chair’s arms to effectively trap Tony in place.

“I’m just yours”

The words had Tony melting into himself, his mouth relaxed, his body leaned toward Steve.

“Prove it”

Smiling like the predator he was, Steve reached for the fly of Tony’s dress pants.

***

Watching Tony and Pepper interact with each other was very quickly becoming Steve’s favorite part of the workday. No sooner had Virginia Potts come into SI’s employment that Tony baptized her as ‘Pepper’ because of her freckles. Steve had never told Tony about Pepper, had never even mentioned the name and yet he’d been right there when Tony decided her name was going to be Pepper and refused to refer to her as anything but that.

For her part Virginia Potts took it all in stride. She’d never liked her name anyway so she grew used to Pepper quickly enough.

“It’s just such a relief to be working for someone who isn’t sexually harassing you. You know?” She told Steve on her second day.
Killian, it seemed, had continually made her uncomfortable with constant requests to go out on a date. Ironically enough, the young red-head felt safe in Tony’s employment because it was obvious he was in a committed relationship and felt that Tony had no sexual interest in her whatsoever.

Steve didn’t bother refuting that claim. Tony for his part treated Pepper with both the weariness reserved for wild animals and the familiarity of a direct family member. By the second week he was both terrified of her “She poked me with a letter opener Steve, a letter opener!” and highly impressed with her “Did you see their faces? She caught error after error in those finances Steve, we have to launch a full internal investigation!”

Steve found himself feeling relieved. Pepper was slowly becoming protective her boss although she seemed to naturally gravitate towards Steve. She worked hard, pushed Tony when she needed to and knew when to go to Steve for help. She gave them their space, respected their privacy and enjoyed unique relationships with each of them. A year into her employment JARVIS was finally operational and Pepper had fit herself comfortably into their lives. A month later in the newspaper, a small article appeared announcing the unfortunate death of Aldrich Killian from a severe asthma attack.

Shortly after that, Steve was able to successfully secure the acquisition of Advanced Idea Mechanics into Stark Solutions, placing Killian’s business partner Maja Hansen as the lead scientist on the project.

‘Keep your friends close but your enemies closer’ Steve reminded himself while shaking Dr. Hansen’s hand.

The death of Edwin Jarvis hit Tony as hard as Steve knew it would. With his health in decline they’d moved Jarvis to a luxury care facility months ago, but eventually there was nothing they could do but be there while the elderly butler joined his wife in death. After the funeral Tony was a mess, he clung to Steve as he cried and cried until his voice went. He walked around their Malibu home, unable to sleep for long or eat much until Steve eventually coaxed him into bites of food and naps. Then Steve pushed Tony to go through the boxes of stuff that had belonged to Jarvis, his personal possessions which had filled his suite at the care facility. The photo books brought both the most pain and the most healing. There were hundreds of pictures of Tony growing up, Jarvis always by his side. The later photos always included Steve, right by Tony’s side and those brought a special pang to Steve’s heart.

Here, in pictures was another life Steve’s little project had changed. Jarvis had gone in peace after all, unconcerned for Tony’s future since he knew Steve would always be there to look after the boy Jarvis raised.

Pepper stopped by often, checked on how Tony was doing. Steve could tell she was surprised at how much the death of ‘the butler who raised him’ was hitting Tony. He could tell it made her change a pre-formed opinion of him. Eventually Rhodey was able to stop by. He stayed with them for a few days, forcing Tony to watch movies with him and go outside. Tony indulged him but when they came back home he always beelined his way right into Steve’s arms, shaking.

Smelling an opportunity when he saw one, Steve thought it the perfect timing to introduce Pepper and Rhodey. Tony was still feeling too sad to act territorial so he sent Rhodey off to New York with Pepper to close a sponsorship deal.

Steve knew how to handle depressed Tony well enough. He was clingy and needy and quiet but skin to skin contact went the furthest. During their three days of complete solitude Steve stuck to a pattern, he dressed Tony in just boxers and took him out to lay down under a sun umbrella by the ocean waves. He’d settle Tony on top of his naked chest, press his ear to Steve’s heart and tell Tony stories about what New York was like when he was growing up.

By the end of the third day Tony was feeling well enough to start trailing a line of sweet kisses up and down Steve’s throat and when greedy hands reached past Steve’s boxers, he knew Tony would be just fine.

That same evening Tony started the time consuming work of installing JARVIS all over the house.

***

Soon it was mid-2007 and Steve was panicking.

For the first time since the creation of this dimension, Steve could see the hands of something other than himself shaping what was to come and he felt powerless before it. Stark Solutions had created a water purifying system that was both extremely easy to use and easy to transport. He pitched it to the US military as a low cost, easy to use solution to an ongoing water purification problem. The military accepted, but they wanted Tony and Tony alone to do a live demo to the big shot Generals in Afghanistan to make sure the purifier worked under those conditions. Tony accepted. Steve hit the ceiling.

In nineteen years together they’d never had such a fight. Tony yelled about being able to make his own decisions while Steve yelled about danger. Tony yelled about being a grown-ass adult and Steve yelled about the danger of it, about what could happen.

“What are you trying to say Steve, just say it!”

So Steve told him about the possible kidnapping, about terrorists and torture until Tony ended it by pressing the palm of his hand against Steve’s mouth.

“Steve I can’t live my life in fear or what might happen. This can help a lot of people, we can supply the troops with enough units to give out in the villages, this can bring change and hope to those people, I’m not just going to say ‘thanks for the invite but no thanks.’ Plus SI hasn’t made weapons since the 90’s why would they try to kidnap an ex-arms inventor?”

“Because you’re still a genius”

“Steve I’m not even going to be leaving the base. I’ll be with Rhodey and a base-full of Marines the whole time.”

“They could still get in, they could still…”

Tony kissed him, wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck and pulled him in the way he knew Steve liked. Eventually he gave in, despite his instincts Steve gave in to the plan.

And Tony was indeed kidnapped.

Unlike in the other dimension, Tony Stark was never programmed to leave the base so the Ten Rings attacked the military base just to get to Tony. For eight weeks Steve and Rhodey scoured the desert, focusing heavily in the area the original enemy base had been in Steve’s dimension. Steve called in SHIELD, Rhodey led the military operation and together they were able to locate the base in question. Over fifty bodies charged in but both Steve and Rhodey searched the inside with one goal in mind. They found the correct door just in time to find Tony being locked into a raw iron suit by a tall thin man. There was an all-too familiar glow in the chest of the armor and Steve felt his heart sink at the sight.

He rushed to Tony, his eyes taking in the rustic iron armour, the paleness of his face, his thinness. Steve wasn’t thinking when he broke open the iron with his bare hands, didn’t breathe until Tony fell into his arms and hugged him with the same desperation. As soon as Steve let go Rhodey replaced him and Tony let out a whispered “Platypus” that sounded like music. Behind them the sound of open fire could be heard. Both the military and SHIELD were in, stepping in each other’s toes, taking in prisoners left and right.

“Are you ok?” Asked Rhodey.

Immediately Steve’s eyes went to Tony’s chest looking for signs of the Arc Reactor… incredibly enough there was nothing there. The glow stayed with the iron armour, it wasn’t part of Tony. Steve tasted relief with its sweet nectar. They hadn’t been able to use a fragment grenade, not a Stark, not a Hammer not any of the other ones because they’d had to bust into a US military base, guns blazing. As a result Tony hadn’t gotten shrapnel in his arteries which meant there’d been no hack heart surgery and the recovery time from any other wound was quick enough that Tony had had enough time to get right into making the armour.

It all made sense.

Steve pulled Tony right back into his arms and breathed in for the first time in weeks.

They dragged the iron armour (Arc Reactor attached) right back with them to Malibu. SHIELD took Yinsen at first but they released him to Tony’s care within the week, after which Tony offered the man a job at Stark Solutions. “Just until you figure out what you want to do. Take as much time as you need, I’ll be right here and you’ll be working with some of the world’s most brilliant minds to solve issues that are close to your heart.”

Six months later Yinsen would become an instrumental figure in the development of low-cost, long-lasting prosthetics for people in developing countries and a year after that he would amaze his colleages with his skill in attaching human nerve endings to cybertronic prosthetics.

It didn’t take long for Steve to know Tony wasn’t alright. He might have come out of it with minor wounds but the nightmares didn’t let up.

“I don’t want to talk about it Steve.” Tony said once.

“I don’t care, we’re talking about it. You think I’ve never been kidnapped and tortured before in my life? I was in a Hydra prison cell for sixteen months Tony.”

Tony’s eyes widened, his lips pursed in confusion. “You’ve never told me that before.”

“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.”

The strangest look came over Tony then, an indulgent glow as if Steve was a petulant child.

“I know you a lot better than you think I do Steve.”

It wasn’t the words themselves, but how Tony said them that struck Steve speechless. It was, he thought, like looking into God’s eyes and knowing he knew everything you’ve ever done, everything you were and still loved you for it. He’d stopped believing in God after Tony died, now he wondered if that maybe was because Tony was his God.

“Talk to me?” Steve begged, prayed.

“Ok”

So Tony talked. He retold everything from the moment he was captured, told him how Yinsen had to dig bullets out of his him with no anaesthesia, told him about the waterboarding and how he managed to build a new power source. It was strange but the more Tony talked the lighter he felt, the more he got out the easier he could breathe. Steve watched as Tony transformed before his very eyes into what would soon become Iron Man.

 

After that conversation Steve would never again be able to sleep without running a hand over Tony’s chest. His hand would come to rest over the centre of Tony’s sternum, where the old Arc Reactor had been embedded. He would keep his hand there, waiting for sleep to come and reassured himself that Tony’s heart remained undamaged.

 

Steve knew exactly what Tony was up to down in this workshop. He tried giving the genius some space to build the armour but after the first ‘thump’ Steve couldn’t help himself. He walked into the workshop amidst Tony doing a test run of the boot repulsors.

Tony gaped guiltily at him, Steve looked at the dents in the ceiling.

Tony continued perfecting the armour under Steve’s supervising gaze.

“I’m actually surprised you haven’t tried to stop me”

They were eating spaghetti in the kitchen table, Tony filthy with sweat and metal dust. There was so much Steve could say, he could say ‘What’s the use?’, or ‘You’re Iron Man’ but instead he settled for the one closest to the truth.

“You do what you have to do and I’ll be right there doing it with you.”

“Just like that? You don’t even know what I’m planning to do with the armour… or do you? You do don’t you? I did the same thing in your dimension didn’t I?”

“Just eat your spaghetti and stop worrying about it.”

Tony opened his mouth, about to argue, about to demand answers but then he closed it, a strange look spreading across his face.

“I’ll build you an armour.”

“What?” Steve chocked out.

“How else are you going to ‘do it with me’ Steve? You’ve said it before, you’re not Captain America anymore so now you can be someone else. Think about it.”

It was an intriguing idea, it would give him anonymity and allow him to be up in the skies with Tony if and when the Avengers were formed.

But that would mean he’d have to be willing to play by their rules. To fight side by side with another Steve Rogers, another Bucky Barnes.

“I don’t know, it doesn’t sound like…”

A warm hand, strong and rough from the work clasped Steve’s in a firm, desperate hold. Steve’s gaze followed the hand up to Tony’s ardent face.

“I don’t ever want to be somewhere you can’t follow me Steve.”

Brown pools of vulnerability looked back at him, eyes which had never seen a day without Steve in it for nineteen years.

“I’m with you till the end of the line Tony.”

***

When Tony told Steve he wanted them to have a party to celebrate their 20th anniversary, Steve was touched. The fact he said it while Steve was buried deep inside him, Tony’s arms wrapped tightly around his broad back, his voice rough and gasping, probably helped secure it. By the next morning Tony was already throwing around ideas and asking JARVIS to compile a list of venues.

“Tony please don’t go overboard”

“It’s our twentieth, ‘overboard’ isn’t remotely big enough.”

Steve gave in if only so they could have one good thing to remember this miserable year by. Like the first time around Tony was summoned for a The Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing, unlike then Tony owned the proprietary weight to defend both the Iron Man and Commander armours.

Stark Solutions both owned the patent and controlled the metals used to make the armours, no one else could source them not to mention knew how they worked. This, plus the promise to ‘donate’ an armour piloted by James Rhodes to the US Military, finally kept the sharks at bay.

That didn’t mean they were completely scot free but Steve just wanted to make it through the rest of the year without an incident. A good Commander was a master tactician, knew exactly when to strike and right now was not the time to move the waters.

Thankfully for him, there was Pepper.

She took to planning the lavish affair with Tony as if she was organizing a merger. There were meetings and committees and color schemes until Steve finally threw his hands in the air and butted out. Eventually she grew so busy that Tony insisted she hire an assistant to help with some of the SI load, that assistant turned out to be Natalie Rushman.

She was exquisite. Steve lost himself looking at the woman who had stayed loyal to him to the very end. She’d fought battles with him, fought wars for him, broken him out of jails and medical centres. Natasha’s loyalty had never wavered and thanks to her he’d been able to rebuild a nation.

He stared at her for too long, he knew, made her think he was interested in her sexually. It actually made Tony jealous.

“So that’s what you look like dumbstruck.” Tony muttered.

Steve recovered quickly, extended his hand, ignored Natasha’s sudden interest in the tall blonde man in the room. She’d probably been assigned to keep an eye on Tony but if she could manage to manipulate Tony’s partner then all the better.

He knew her too well.

Unfortunately Tony didn’t know her at all so Steve had to endure the proverbial cold shoulder all day. When they finally made it home later that day, no sooner was JARVIS saying “Welcome home Sirs” that Steve took hold of Tony’s forearms in a strong, unyielding grip.

“What?” There was hurt in Tony’s brown eyes but challenge and bitterness in his voice.

“Natalie Rushman’s real name is Natasha Romanov, she’s a SHIELD agent. She was a friend and the closest thing to a sister I ever knew. I am not, nor will I ever be interested in her, in that way.”

“So you were ogling your sister?”

“I wasn’t ogling her! The last time I saw her she was dying of old age ok?”

It took seconds for Tony’s gaze to soften, for his brow to unfurrow but eventually it did. “You should know by now that you’re the only person I’m attracted to.” Steve whispered, close enough to Tony’s left ear for the words to sound raspy.

And Tony really did know this. It’d been proven time and time again over the span of twenty years to the point Tony was sure Steve had unresolved trauma around sex. Nevertheless when Tony bit Steve’s lower lip he had nothing but the need to claim in mind. He pushed, shoved and kissed Steve until they could focus on nothing but the feel of one another.

It would take Steve days to realize he’d given away his age.

***

Natasha, as expected, didn’t just let it go. She pursued Steve like a target, acted both demure and predatory in the hopes he would eventually give in and tell her something useful to report back. Unfortunately for her, he knew her too well.

“Did Fury tell you anything about me?” Steve finally asked her.

“Excuse me?”

She was holding a clipboard with documents for Steve to sign but the way she’d asked him to “Please sign these Steve” proved to be the last advance he could stand. He hadn’t even known he was still capable of feeling uncomfortable.

“Director Fury. Did he brief you about me at all?”

Her pupils dilated and that was as much surprise as her face revealed.

“Should he have?”

“Considering I’ve been with SHIELD longer than you’ve been alive, I think he should have.”

An amused little smirk pulled up the corners of her mouth.

“That’s quite interesting.”

“Tell Fury I want to talk to him.”

Steve marched off angry but unsurprised. Over the last few years he’d gotten to know Nick Fury well, had even supported Peggy’s decision to leave him in charge after she retired. Still, he couldn’t understand why he’d sent Natasha here when all the immediate threats to Tony’s life had long been removed. What was Dr. Hansen working on now? Steve suddenly wondered… then remembered she was off on maternity leave. She’d gotten married last year, seemed like a completely different person from the woman he’d met years ago.

“Tony?”

“Yeah?”

They were in Tony’s office (both their office’s really since they shared the space), Steve over at his corner, Tony furiously typing something on a completely flat keyboard.

“Is Justin Hammer still in a coma?”

“Yep! But he wouldn’t be on the guest list anyway.”

Steve’s heavy footsteps echoed even against the hardwood, even after twenty-one years here he still walked like a commander.

“Is that what you’re working on?”

Steve came to a stop behind Tony, his eyes reading over the list of names in the screen.

“Hey, no peeking! You’ll get your say on it after I’m done and before you ask, Pepper needs it asap.”

The list was long, dozens upon dozens of names all of which he was familiar with. Acquaintances, business partners, people they both liked even if they weren’t friends with them, Steve knew every name on that list. How could he not when he spent every waking moment with Tony? Steve had no desire for ‘his own’ friends, ‘his own’ acquaintances. He’d asked Tony once, years ago whether that bothered him but Tony had said no. Had told Steve he liked it that way and he had no interest in sharing Steve anyway.

“We’re really going all out, aren’t we.” There was no question about it, just a statement.

“Look, I promise that for the thirteenth we can do something really low key, I’ll be old by then anyway so I’ll probably want to get to bed on time.”

Steve chuckled, low, intimate.

“You won’t be old, you’ll just be forty-nine.” He leaned in to kiss Tony on the cheek, nuzzled the spot he kissed with his nose.

“You mean I won’t be old compared to you but I’m definitely no spring chicken anymore.”

“You’re always the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“That’s good since soon enough I’m the one who’s going to look like I stole the cradle.”

It was bothering him now, this age thing. The grey in his temples, the change in his skin, the wrinkles around his eyes, they were all bothering Tony more and more. Steve was learning to deal with it, learning how to calm Tony’s insecurities and make him see this as a good thing.

“I’ll always be older.”

Tony’s petulant brown eyes locked with Steve’s blue, “Yes you will.” And Steve understood then that Tony knew his secret, had probably already done all the math to figure out Steve’s age. What else did Tony understand? How much of Steve did he really see?

“Here…” Tony pecked Steve’s lips quickly and gestured at the screen, “Take a look, am I forgetting anyone?”

 

***

Steve should have seen it coming, he’d been suspicious about the whole thing, had silently wondered about the all the meetings and guests lists and details. He should have suspected, but how on earth could he have imagined this?

“So is that a yes?”

Steve was wearing a tux, dressed up to the nines at Pepper’s urging and before him, down on one fucking knee was Tony Stark.

His first action was to pull Tony up from the ground. He understood he had to say something but Tony was looking nervous which meant Steve had to kiss him first, to get him to relax. When they finally pushed away, Steve’s warm hand cupping Tony’s chin he finally nodded.

“Let’s do this”

Tony beamed, eyes sparkling, teeth showing.

They walked down the aisle with Tony looking like he could fly without armour and Steve’s gaze fixed on Tony.

The ceremony was short, symbolic, beautiful. Beside Tony stood Rhodey, beside Steve stood Pepper. When Steve finally looked over at the guests he saw Happy, Yinsen and even Nick Fury. Peggy Carter sat on the front row, a wheelchair by her side more for comfort than for necessity. There were over a hundred faces, all here in either obligation or pleasure just to see Steve finally marry the love of his life. It felt right, felt real.

After the ceremony they were all ushered into the reception hall where the gaudiest coloured drapery decorated the chairs and tables. Pepper looked almost apologetically at Steve at the tones of ruby red and gold that bathed the hall.

Steve loved it, leaned in to tell Tony so in his ear. Steve could almost hear the fight Tony and Pepper must have had over the palette, could imagine Pepper’s objections until Tony finally dug in his heels. Then it finally dawned upon Steve… they were married.

He’d married Tony Stark.

***

It was a beautiful sight, he’d forgotten how beautiful New York looked at night, especially from this view.

“Please, Stark tower is your baby, give yourself 12% of the credit”

From their reflection on the window Steve could see Pepper stiffen and shrug off Tony’s gentle hold on her arms.

“Twelve percent?!”

“An argument could be made for 50%”

“TWELVE PERCENT? My baby?”

“We did do all the heavy lifting; literally we lifted all the heavy things, Steve and I…”

 

“Steve could you please remind Tony of all the bureaucratic red tape you and I had to go through to get ‘my baby’ built?!”

But Steve didn’t say anything, instead he walked over to Pepper, dropped a kiss on her slightly freckled forehead and smiled.

“Why don’t you go get some sleep while I sort out my husband?”

“Yes please.” She sighed, dropping her forehead to rest against Steve’s muscled bicep. She turned her head to direct a deadly glare in Tony’s direction. “I’m gonna go enjoy my twelve percent of the tower with a bottle of Chevalier Montrachet while I talk to my boyfriend.”

“Oh yeah, when’s platypus coming back again?”

“In ten days.”

With a groan of exhaustion or perhaps exasperation Pepper left the comfort of Steve’s warmth to kiss his bearded cheek goodnight. She then walked over to Tony with a look that made the genius straighten up in expectation, but Pepper merely kissed his cheek too.

“Goodnight Starks!”

“Goodnight Pepper!”

They watched her go into the elevator with identical fond smiles.

Pepper was different, more relaxed, less anxious about the company. Was that because she didn’t have to worry about Tony? Steve wondered.

“So, what’ya think?”

Tony spread out his arms like a showman introducing an opening act.

“It turned out great”

“Really Steve? That’s all you’ve got to say? How about it’s a miracle of human engineering?, or it’s the world’s best view even?”

“I already said all that remember? And there weren’t even any walls up yet. Now come on, we spent the whole day at the bottom of the Hudson river, I want to get some sleep.”

Tony sighed, dramatically “Fine, let’s go be senior citizens together.”

Steve took hold of Tony’s right hand, ran his index finger up the length of the arm and back down, feeling Tony relax under his touch. It’d be different now, with them back in New York, with Pepper and Rhodey under the same roof. Renovating the SI New York branch had been a necessity, turning it into the first ever vibrantium Arc Reactor powered building was visionary. If everything went well it would become the first ever real alternate source of clean power on the planet.

Steve knew it would work because that’s the only power source that the People's United Country of the Americas used but it had never taken off until after the Regime took over. If this all went well then this Earth would have a clean source of energy over fifty years before the original.

“You, Tony Stark, are the most brilliant human alive.”

“Now that’s more like it!” Tony declared but for all his bravado, he actually hid his face on Steve’s shoulder. Steve’s hand came to rest over the brown hair, keeping Tony’s pressed against his skin but his eyes were fixed on the door of the tower. He kept expecting Phil Coulson to appear, kept thinking that it was just a matter of time even if all the proof said otherwise.

There had been no Thor last year.

That was all Steve needed to know. If there had been no Thor, then there’d be no Loki, no Asgard, no space. This Earth was exactly what people had always thought the world was before alien gods and Chitauri. There had, however, been a Steve Rogers recovered from the ice a few months back but Steve tried to not think about that.

“So, I was thinking, and feel free to say no if you want, I’m literally just throwing ideas around… we have all this space right? And yeah Pepper has her own floor, and Rhodey’s here with her when he’s on Leave but we still have lots of space and well, how would you feel about giving your clone a room downstairs somewhere?”

Steve took in air.

“We definitely don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. It was really just a thought.”

“Oh Tony” He whispered. Tony was curious, of course he was but the last thing Steve wanted was Steve Rogers anywhere near his husband. “I really would rather we didn’t… he’s not me Tony. We’re not the same at all and I know you feel an obligation towards him but trust me when I say you shouldn’t. SHIELD has him set up in an apartment in Brooklyn and soon I’ll get Barnes out of storage for him. They’ll keep each other company.”

There was such weight in Steve’s words, so much left unsaid, it was driving Tony nuts.

“Steve, what exactly are you trying to protect me from?”

Leave it to Tony to know exactly how to get the information he wanted out of him.

“From Me” He whispered into Tony’s dark hair. Tony heard him anyway, wrapped his strong arms around Steve’s waist.

“Was it that bad between us the first time around?”

Steve thought back to the feeling of the shield as it bashed against armour, the sound of the wind, the biting cold. Thought back to Tony’s bloody face, his accusing eyes…

“The Steve Rogers that just came out of the ice is a sanctimonious child with no knowledge or understanding of the real world. That makes him dangerous.”

“I’m gonna have to meet him eventually. You know that right?”

“I know. But it’s best if he’s not close”

After all these years Tony knew where it was best not to go, after all, he trusted Steve more he trusted himself.

***

Bucky Barnes came out of cryo-sleep at the end of 2012. Tony insisted on setting up the mind-washed former Soldier with the best Mental Health team money could buy and a few days after Bucky woke up, Steve Rogers was summoned to collect his best friend.

It was all very emotional, Natasha told them when she reported back. There were hugs and tears and apologies galore. Tony was happy to hear it, Steve couldn’t help the snort that forced its way out of the bowels of his guts.

“You really should meet them sometime. Steve asked me to thank the Starks for everything they’d done but he’s bound to get curious eventually.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” Said Steve before Tony could intervene.

That bridge came quicker than Steve would’ve liked.

There’d been an unorthodox practice at SHIELD for many years now, one known only to Director Nick Fury and Steve Stark. It’d taken Steve a few years to get Nick on the same page but eventually he’d gotten on board. In 2010, there had been over 250 Hydra agents posing as SHIELD agents, by 2013, that number had been cut down to 18. It was after all, common for agents to suffer causalities on missions… it happened. The fact that it happened to Hydra sympathisers more couldn’t actually be confirmed, after all, it was the law within Hydra for agents not to reveal their allegiances even to each other.

The only reason they were able to effectively eliminate so many was because Steve had long ago memorized the names of every early Hydra agent that had hidden inside SHIELD. It’d just been one of those weird things he’d done to pass the time during his mandatory involuntary commitment in that psychiatric ward before the Regime war. For any new agents that joined, there was a handy little test attached to the mandatory polygraph for candidates that was proving great at weeding out the garbage. The last of said garbage however, proved to be harder to get rid of than the rest.

Alexander Pierce had learned many decades ago to be very, very weary of Steve Rogers (Now Steve Stark). His weariness had served him well since Steve hadn’t been able to get rid of him yet. Unfortunately by 2013 Pierce had decided to take a stand on behalf of all those good-old-fashioned Hydra values he held dear and went after the young Steve Rogers living in Brooklyn. He thought the doppelganger was living proof that Steve Stark was from the future, and if so, by killing the young one he could effectively erase the old one.

He’d been wrong, of course. But it still landed Steve Rogers and a wounded Bucky Barnes (accompanied by Sharon Carter of all people) in Stark Tower’s footstep.

“Look I know this isn’t what you wanted but they’re here, they’re hurt and they need our help, so shake it off!” Tony admonished. They were rushing to the tenth floor’s medical centre where the doctor was apparently done nursing Bucky’s wound. Steve had called Fury right away but Nick told him to stay put, Natasha, Clint, Coulson and Maria Hill would handle Pierce.

Steve reluctantly agreed. It would look better for SHIELD if Pierce was killed by agents in self-defence.

Once in the med centre, Steve held back. He stalled, talked to Dr. Jackson about Barnes’ wound, the bullet she’d dug out. She assured him Bucky would be fine (much to his disappointment). Then finally, Steve turned around and went down the hall.

Tony must have been in shock but he masked it well enough with a full smile. What must he be thinking? Steve wondered, shaking the hand of this young version of his husband wearing khakis and a dress shirt.

“-or everything you’ve done for us.”

“Don’t mention it Captain.”

‘By all the gods in the universe was I ever this young?’ Steve took in the smooth clean shaven skin of the other Steve, the haircut, the clothes, the look of him. There was something about this kid that made Steve want to punch him in the teeth. Beside Captain America, Bucky Barnes lay on a medical table but even like this he put Steve Stark on edge, there was something unhinged about his eyes that Steve didn’t trust. By the foot of the bed, looking like a deer about to hit a car, Sharon Carter (a footnote in his list of conquests) had the stupidest expression he’d ever seen on her face.

“Ah! Here’s my husband, Steve meet, Captain Rogers.”

He had to hand it to Tony, he sure knew how to make introductions. He watched the shock that filled the other Steve’s eyes as recognition set. There were differences, Steve Stark was older, he had a well-trimmed beard which he’d started growing two years ago and his clothes were custom-made, but nonetheless he was Steve Rogers.

“What’s the meaning of this?”

Seeing Bucky again was unpleasant enough, hearing his voice more so. Wanting to keep this short Steve was curt with the explanations “I’m the Steve Rogers from an alternate dimension.” He simply said and waited for the cascade of questions that came with that. He answered them quickly and then when it looked like the other Steve might pass out, he excused himself.

It was left up to Tony to explain that no, Steve wasn’t a Hydra clone and no, he wasn’t from the future and yes, Peggy did know and yes, Fury did know, and yes he really was a Steve and yes, they were married to each other, and yes, it was legal… until Tony too took his leave to go look for his husband. When Tony finally found him, a cell phone in his hand and what sounded like Happy on the other end, Tony simply smiled.

“We’re gonna have to find a way to tell the two of you apart.”

“Just call him Cap”

“But what if I call out Steve and he turns around instead?”

The glare Steve fixed Tony with left no room for jokes. “We will not be spending enough time with them for that to happen.”

Tony raised an eyebrow in disbelief and Steve had to reluctantly agree that not even he fully believed that statement.

***

Steve Stark despised Steve Rogers.

That’s just the way it was.

Eventually Cap caught on, tried to stay clear of Steve and consequently away from Tony. Steve liked this, thought it healthy and was infinitely pleased when a newly restructured SHIELD sent both Cap and Bucky to Washington under Sharon’s wing.

Steve hoped they both drowned in a lake. Tony said he was being an idiot.

Tony didn’t demand explanations, didn’t ask Steve why he never left Tony alone in the same room with Cap or Bucky, didn’t even comment on the way Steve’s hands kept reaching out for his husband whenever either of the two was near.

He only ever joked about it once.

“Relax, Cap is not going to sweep me off my feet Steve. Besides his boyfriend is always standing right there so I don’t know what you’re so worried about.”

But Steve only stared. “What boyfriend?”

“Bucky, aren’t they a thing?”

The look of utter horror that filled Steve’s face would have been hilarious under a different circumstance.

“No! They’re not a thing! They’re not even queer Tony”

“But you’re gay!”

“It’s not that simple. You’re the only person in the universe I’m interested in. It has nothing to do with what sex you are.”

It didn’t take much to sweep this Tony Stark off his feet. One touch, one look, one word was sometimes enough. Twenty-four years of kindness had slowly smoothed out the rough edges, soothed old insecurities… broken old shields. This Tony was not afraid to melt at his husband’s words, didn’t know how to mistrust Steve. He preened and blushed and leaned in to steal the breath from Steve’s lungs with the force of his kiss.

This Tony was too happy, too at peace to worry about Captain America and the Winter Soldier.

Steve Stark would do everything in his power to keep them well away from what he’d rightfully earned.

***

The Avengers were officially formed in the spring of 2014 by special request from the United Nations.

Steve was fully on board with the agreement, Cap? Not so much. He argued about the limitations imposed on them by the UN, called them no better than a Band-Aid solution.

“Look around us Cap, we’re a ticking time-bomb. That’s why we need this, so innocent people don’t get hurt. There’s more at play here than you think.”

Steve agreed with Tony, over half the team did in fact, Natasha, Clint, Sam and Rhodey nodded their heads but both Bucky and Cap refused to budge. They had to eventually, if they wanted to be on the team, but they weren’t happy about it.

Steve knew Cap and the Winter Soldier would eventually try to run things their way, would try to undermine the UN so he had JARVIS keep a close eye on them. Unfortunately as these things go, time brought the team closer together. Most of them had officially moved to the new Avengers compound (formerly known as Stark Mansion) so they lived together, trained together, went on mission together. Steve could no longer control how much exposure Tony had to the others, he could only stand close and observe.

As it was, his presence weighed heavily on Tony’s interactions with the team, not that Tony himself noticed it. For him Steve was just being Steve, his husband had rarely left him alone in over twenty years so why would he start now? For Tony it was normal to joke with Steve, to be constantly in synch with him, to count on him for his opinions. To the others, Tony seemed warm, funny, considerate but as untouchable as the sun. They could bask in his magnetic personality but if they got too close they had to worry about Steve.

Steve Stark never made his monopoly blatantly obvious either. Steve often left Tony alone with Rhodey and even sometimes with Natasha, he suffered no jealousy when an excited Bruce Banner joined their team as a science consultant and Tony bonded with the man at first sight. Tony talked about Bruce Banner for days, told Steve all about his research and how Bruce had confessed to having almost tested a gamma radiation experiment on himself.

“What stopped him?”

“Actually, turns out you did! Remember a few years ago when you allowed the government to suck your blood for science? Well Bruce was one of the scientists who examined it and he realized gamma radiation wasn’t the key at all so he moved on.”

“Oh”

That had been a decade ago, which meant Bruce had abandoned that idea before he got too interested in it. It probably helped that General Ross had been dead for years by then. “I like Bruce, he’s nice.”

Tony beamed up at him then, toothy… warm.

“Well that’s great, cuz he’s my science bro!”

Steve leaned in, pressed his lips against Tony’s temple, tickling his cheek with Steve’s light brown beard. Bruce Banner had stayed a faithful friend to Tony until the very end. Steve knew he could trust him to do so again.

***

When Steve Stark was inside the Commander armour he was the heaviest hitter that the Avengers had. He often surprised the rest of the team and Steve knew Cap’s curiosity was peaking to unsustainable amounts.

Where Commander was quick, efficient and ruthless, Iron Man was strategy, speed and numbers. They made an unmatchable team, so much so that Cap soon enough stopped trying to stick Falcon in with them on the air. Both worked together seamlessly, watched each other’s backs and when Iron Man called out for an amended plan, Commander executed without argument. This last part drove Cap nuts.

The real problem, Steve realized, was that Captain America was having problems reconciling the facts that were being paraded before his very eyes. For here was a version of himself, so unlike himself, that it had to mean he didn’t know himself as well as he thought he did.

With the hope of maybe inducing some sort of mental breakdown, Steve made it his mission to parade as much ‘questionable’ behaviour before Steve Roger’s eyes as possible. From publicly kissing the breath of life out of his husband to accidentally offing one or five enemy hoodlums during missions (when the opportunity presented itself) the good Captain was at a complete loss as to how to deal with Steve Stark.

“What happened that turned me into you?” Cap finally asked Steve one day.

Steve was at the facility gym, blowing off some steam when the question was asked. Steve stopped, steadied the punching bag and pulled back.

“It’s none of your business, boy”

The ‘boy’ part was reserved for Steve Rogers alone. Steve used it because he knew how much it upset the Captain.

“Like hell it isn’t! Something happened where you came from that turned me into you and I want to know what it was!”

Steve chuckled but it was a mean sound, one that made it obvious he was laughing at Steve Rogers.

“A lot happened boy but don’t you worry, it won’t happen again. I made sure of that so you can go live your precious little life however you want.”

“We’re different, you and I… so different and yet we’re not…”

“We are as different as night and day. You have never known a day’s suffering in your life. I know you think you know everything, but you know shit and I’ll be there to remind you that you know shit for as long as you live.”

It wasn’t a threat, it was just a statement but it turned Steve Roger’s blood cold either way.

“Would Tony still see you the same way if he knew the truth about you?”

It was a low blow but a smart one, Cap knew it was the only way he’d throw him off guard.

“Tony and I have been together for twenty-six years Captain. There is no truth of mine he doesn’t already know.”

The numbers struck Steve Rogers enough to overtake the anger.

“You’ve been together for twenty-six years?”

“Yes. So don’t think you can come here and use my husband to threaten me. You might be Captain America but I’ve been you longer than you’ve been alive so let’s just stay out of each other’s way, boy.”

The anger overwhelmed the good Captain. He’d expected hostility but never this degree of rage. How much did Steve Stark hate his own past?

“Just obey me in the field and I’ll leave you alone.” Cap spat.

“That, is up to Tony.” And with that Steve Stark marched right out of the gym, his steps so heavy Cap could feel the ground beneath him shaking.

***

Knowing their history, their dynamic, Steve wasn’t really surprised when he found Tony cursing Captain America to hell and back in his workshop two weeks later.

“Why is he like THAT? Why is he such a stuck up asshole?!”

Tony was pink in the face, his fists balled up tight, a picture of righteous fury if Steve ever saw one. He could hear what was left unsaid, knew the question he wasn’t asking. Why wasn’t Cap like his husband?

He hadn’t always been like this, so willing to live in the grey, so open to options, without a compass always pointing north. At his age, Tony was his moral compass. If Tony thought something to be right, Steve did it, if he thought something was wrong or evil, he didn’t do it. All that was left of the old Captain Rogers were memories that made him too frustrated to think about. But Steve didn’t say any of that, Steve only approached his husband and listened to Tony rant while running gentle fingers up and down muscular arms.

All the training they’d been doing lately had done wonders for Tony’s physique. When it looked like Tony was more or less done ranting Steve pressed himself against Tony’s front.

“Let me blow you sweetheart?”

A smirk betrayed its way through the anger and Tony nodded. They didn’t always do penetrative sex nowadays, although Steve would never say it for the sake of the genius’ ego, he was trying to be more mindful of Tony’s body. Tony was forty-five now after all and although he never complained, walking with a limp every other morning was less than ideal. So Steve found other ways for them to be intimate, ways that involved their mouths and lube and so much kissing that their lips could hurt for hours. Ways that involved hands and smooth skin. It was all about the touch for Steve, it was about to having Tony’s skin, warm and alive against him as much as possible. They’d tried using a toy once, years ago at Tony’s request but Steve had hated it so they’d scrapped the idea.

As Tony’s fingers tangled in Steve’s blonde hair, wrenching a blocked moan off Steve, he thought about little Steve Rogers up in his little room in the Avengers compound and how he would never, ever know the smell of Tony’s skin, the taste of his sweat, the sound of his moans. The satisfaction of that thought alone had him spilling into his pants with a choked gasp.

 

***

The Avengers without mutiny, aliens, killer robots or magic felt almost like a police force, except more prestigious. They were usually deployed on peace keeping missions or to protect refugees or civilians. As such by mid-2016 Steve was trying to convince Tony that they should place themselves on the Avengers relief roster.

Tony eventually agreed, after all, he had hundreds of ideas he wanted to get to before he hit fifty and his pre-scheduled mid-life crisis began (he’d already warned Steve they were taking two months off for it and they’d be dyeing their hair purple and orange so they could tour the world).

Steve agreed to the whole plan, was looking forward to it being just the two of them again without Avengers meetings and debriefs and strategy meetings. Most of all, he was looking forward to not having to see Cap and Bucky’s faces on a regular basis.

It was a crisp, Fall morning when they got the Avengers call. Steve and Tony were having breakfast in their kitchen when their phones flashed red. They looked at each other and ran toward the launch platform where the suits waited to engulf them. Strangely, the meet-up point was in in Harlem and suddenly Steve was looking to the sky for signs of aliens. There was nothing, just a clear, beautiful blue-sky morning.

They landed in front of the Hudson River and Steve recognized the area immediately. It was here where he’d first arrived nearly thirty years ago, the area had changed drastically but he knew the spot anyway.

“Everything looks fine”

“Yeah but I’m getting some weird readings from that spot over there, that’s probably what triggered the alarm.”

Iron Man’s hand pointed at the general direction of the sky but from behind them the sound of what was affectionately named the ‘Babyjet’ came closer and closer. In seconds Natasha had the Babyjet parked.

Captain America briefed them quickly, Tony was right about the spacial disturbance, it’d made SHIELD antsy and so they were here to check up on it. ‘Looks like I finally rubbed off on Nick’ thought Steve as they stood around waiting for something to happen.

They didn’t have to wait long. A figure that looked most certainly human appeared in the sky and it was falling fast, limbs flailing. Iron Man reacted first, zooming to the sky, he managed to grab hold of the person seconds away from hitting the water. It was extremely difficult to catch a person mid-air at those speeds but Steve wasn’t surprised at Tony’s skill. A small cheer erupted from the rest of the team but it quieted once Tony dropped down in front of them holding a young woman in his arms.

He put the girl down gently. The young woman, dressed in black combat pants and a black long sleeved shirt stood steadily on her feet, her face focused on Iron Man.

Then she collapsed on one knee, her eyes downcast “Our Lord and Saviour” she said aloud and from behind the Commander mask, Steve Stark smiled.

 

They brought the girl back to the tower because it was the closest. She hadn’t said anything since that sentence at the river after which Steve, still in the Commander armour, had taken hold of the girl’s shoulders and walked her to the Babyjet. It’d been a tight fit but they’d managed to squeeze everyone in. Cap wanted them to stick the girl in an interrogation room but Steve had instead directed them all to the tower’s lounge area.

The girl looked to be in her mid-twenties. She had dark black hair, caramel coloured skin and the look of Regime-raised all over. She walked like a soldier and said nothing as Commander walked her to one of the couches. Once they were all settled, Steve retracted the armour.

Immediately her eyes widened, recognition setting it so quickly that he could have been family even if they’d never met.

“High Commander!”

She shot to her feet, her upheld palm shooting to her temple in a salute that was the bastard offspring of both Military and Hydra salutes.

“At ease” He said, surprised at how quickly it was coming back to him.

She lowered her hand and sat back down with her back stiff but her eyes betraying excitement.

“What is your name?”

“Lieutenant Eliza Copper, Sir”

“And what are you doing here?”

“Sir. Councilwoman Rhodes tasked me with delivering a message to you.”

Everyone’s eyes were fixed on Steve, he considered asking them all to leave but decided against it.

“Do you have the message?”

“Yes Sir. She recoded it for your convenience.”

He could play it now, have them all looking over his shoulder as Alaska’s face filled the screen but he didn’t want that.

“I will see it later. Debrief me on the situation.”

Without a hint of surprise or confusion the girl obeyed. “Sir, our dimension is in danger. There are a dozen large meteors heading our way. The situation is dire, the Council has called in help from its allies in space but no one is hopeful.”

“Why can’t these meteors be destroyed?”

“They are made from a highly concentrated metal not recognized in the known universe, Sir. Several planets have already tried destroying them with no success. Princes Thor, Loki and the Saviour known as Hulk have also tried.”

“Why did Councilwoman Rhodes send you here then?”

“She wanted to warn you that this dimension will most likely experience severe seismic activity as a result of the destruction. They have completely severed the connection between both dimensions but considering how close one is to the other, Senior Science Officer Richards believes it will still affect it.”

Leave it to Alaska to be worried about him at a time like this.

“I thought the connection had already been severed when I went through.”

“Sir, it was but the machine was still intact. It has now been destroyed.”

“Are the meteors expected to destroy earth?”

“No Sir. But the damage will be great. Emergency procedures have already been activated all over the planet. They are getting ready for the worst, Sir.”

The earth, the real earth he had fought for, bled for, changed for was about to suffer the greatest calamity in its existence and there was nothing he could do to save anyone.

‘Honour their sacrifice’ he reminded himself.

“Thank you Lieutenant for your service and sacrifice”

The words were reserved for soldiers about to go into a mission of no return but he felt they were apt for this circumstance. Survival was sometimes the greatest of sacrifices.

“High Commander, it is my honour” She answered and there was no doubt in Steve’s mind that she meant it. Her eyes were glossy but her resolved remained unmoved. This was someone who’d dedicated her life to serving the People's United Country of the Americas, someone who’d sworn loyalty to the High Commander.

“Do you know what the hardest hit areas will be?”

Eliza’s gaze took in the sight of Captain America without the slightest surprise. ‘She was briefed well’ Thought Steve.

“No we do not. We only know the activity will begin in approximately six months’ time for you.”

“That gives us time to prepare” Steve looked over at Tony. He’d retracted the armour, stood there in only jeans and a hoodie. There was kindness in his eyes, an apology directed at Steve for his sake. Steve smiled sadly at his husband. Eliza once again dropped to her knees.

“Forgive me for I am unworthy” She whispered.

They all stared at the girl, now on her knees again before turning to Tony who looked both flabbergasted and uncomfortable. From his spot, Steve Stark chuckled.

“Lieutenant Copper please rise.”

For a moment the girl appeared to be in conflict but she obeyed the High Commander. Once on her feet, her gaze still downcast Steve waved Tony closer until he stood beside Steve.

“Eliza, this is Tony Stark, my husband. From now on it would be best if you didn’t kneel whenever you saw him.”

Tony extended his hand, a kind smile framed by his neatly trimmed beard. Eliza looked outright scandalized at the sight of the hand and immediately looked to the High Commander for confirmation. Steve nodded and slowly she lifted her trembling hand to slide it into Tony’s.

“It’s my humble honor”

“Nice to meet you Eliza”

She preened at hearing her own name from Tony’s lips, a look of delighted surprise on her face.

“The honor is entirely mine”

There would be question, Steve knew. So many questions. Tony would want to know why this young woman treated him like a god, the rest of the Avengers would want a nice, concise explanation about everything (which they wouldn't get). Most importantly, they’d have to figure out a way to know where the worst of the earthquake would hit and he still had to make himself look upon the face of an older Alaska Rhodes on a screen.

There was so much to do… but they had time.

 

***

Damage reports were still coming in, crumbled buildings, houses, cities in every street, in every town of the world. In some parts, cracks as big and as deep as the Grand Canyon parted continents. It was catastrophic but the loss of life was not even in the triple digits.

A miracle, the media called it. A miracle achieved through preparation and bullying world governments into action.

From their home fifty stories above ground, Steve looked at the buildings and houses that had crumbled down, not that many considering the magnitude of the quake and aftershocks not to mention, no loss of life. The tower which was earthquake proof, had served as shelter for thousands of New Yorkers.

They would rebuild, they would survive but Steve wondered if the original dimension had.

They would never know.

Steve felt strong arms wrap around his waist, squeezing rightly. He pressed his hands over the arms, took in the comfort offered.

“Stop worrying Steve. Everything’s fine”

And it was. There was so much to do, so much to rebuild but people were alive, governments were standing and the Avengers were actually helping instead of harming. Turning around in Tony’s arms, Steve wrapped an arm around the genius’ back and caressed his cheek with his right hand. He looked into Tony’s eyes, so full of trust, of love and finally… understanding. Steve had a feeling Tony had been prying information out of Eliza the same way he pried secrets off science. That would explain the new expression on Tony’s face when he looked at Steve sometimes.

It was not pity, but it was tinted with pain. As if Tony had finally understood how much Steve’s personality was dependent on his husband. As if he was finally coming to understand that without Tony, there was no Steve.

“You know what?”

Mirth overtook the sad tint in Tony’s brown eyes.

“What?”

“I think you’re right. I think from now on, everything’s coming up roses.”

They laughed together, a wonderfully rich sound that gave them both a powerful sense of safety. Then Tony pressed his face against Steve’s chest, over his heart and Steve buried his face in the smell of Tony Stark.

~~~~