“You know, when I mentioned needing a time machine to fix the ills of my life last week, I didn’t mean it literally, Tony,” Steve sighed, albeit fondly.
Tony scowled at him, only a little seriously. “Shut up,” he muttered. “It doesn’t even work. There’s something missing, something I can’t quite put my finger on, but nothing fits! Nothing makes sense!” He threw his hands up in the air and turned around to stalk back towards his latest mug of coffee—only a little warm, but at this point he would drink it cold.
“So that’s why I couldn’t get into the workshop all last week?” Steve said from right behind him.
Tony didn’t jump—nope, no way, no how. He turned around slowly, calming his heart little by little. Steve tried rather unsuccessfully to hide an amused smile. “Well, I needed to see if I could do it! For... for science!” Okay, so that was a really lame and really overused excuse, but there was no way he was telling Steve it was really for—
“You sure you didn’t just do it for me?” Steve teased, warmth and amusement in his voice.
“Nope! Science!” he blustered. He about threw his hands in the air before remembering the mug at the last minute. He set it down and darted around Steve, walking back towards the failed experiment. “You just gave me the general idea, and that night my brain just happened to think of something that might work, and there was no sleeping once that happened, you know how it is.” Tony fluttered a hand in Steve’s direction. “It doesn’t work, but I think I chanced across four other innovations that could have some real-world impact. So, not a complete waste. Thus: science!”
Steve just chuckled and started clearing one of Tony’s workbenches of mugs—if the clinking sounds from behind him were any indication—and Tony smiled happily to himself as he made his way towards the quote unquote time machine to tinker a little more.
For all that it didn’t work, Tony was still happy with some of the things he’d come up with that did work. Individual pieces of the whole. He’d managed to sneak off with some of the Chitauri tech from last May’s attack, and some of the properties were really interesting in the way that—
“Um Tony, is it supposed to be making that noise?” Steve asked, suddenly, pulling him back and away from his machine.
Tony frowned, focusing intently on his hearing and staring at the large mess of wires and metal in front of him. He let Steve worry about keeping him upright while he focused on the problem. Well…
“I can’t hear anything,” he said after a moment, absently patting Steve’s arm to let him know that he could let go of Tony now.
“It’s there, just really quiet. Even I can barely hear it,” Steve explained. “But it’s there, and it wasn’t even a minute ago. Did you turn anything on?”
“No, the last I touched it was when I turned it off five minutes ago, after you asked for the nickel tour. Hm. Hey Jarvis, you reading anything?” Tony asked. If Steve said he heard something, then he heard something. They might not have gotten along at the start, but the trust had always been there, and only gotten stronger since.
Not to say they didn’t get along now. Or like each other. Because they did. And, at least in Tony’s case, he liked Steve. Like, a lot. As if he was some grade school kid with his first real crush. Ridiculous.
Was it Tony’s crush on Steve that fueled his desire to create the time machine? Was his sole goal to see Steve’s wide smile and have him praise Tony’s genius? No. Well, maybe. There was more to it than that, but none of that mattered right now. “Does the noise sound familiar?”
“Familiar?” Steve asked, stepping even closer to Tony, both of them staring at the machine from over the workstation. “Familiar how?”
“Does it...sound like something you heard last week?” He could almost hear the noise now, knew that it must be even louder for Steve. “It shouldn’t even be functioning, right now. Maybe someone from the other side could have turned it on...but the machine doesn’t exist in that reality yet. Or maybe someone did something before I shut it off and now they’re floating through the timestream.”
The frequency turned into a high pitched screaming sound so loud that Tony had to put his hands over his ears. A second later the machine turned back on without Tony or Steve pressing any buttons on their end. By the time the lights started flickering, Steve had thrown Tony behind him and adapted a very impressive, and distractingly hot, defense stance in front of the time machine. “You might want to put on a suit,” Steve commented over his shoulder. But before Tony had time to call for one, a spiraling light emerged in the center of the machine.
There was a whirring sound of machinery turning before every light in the workshop exploded. In the dark, they heard it, the splat of something wet hitting the workshop floor.
Silence for a moment before the emergency lights snapped on. There, in front of the machine was a pile of wet fabric. Steve stepped forward, reaching out for the top of the pile. “Steve—” Tony warned as Steve lifted the top piece.
“Is this my gym shirt?”
“What? Don’t touch that! There might be—”
“And my pants!” Steve pointed. “This is the load of laundry that caused half my headache last week! There was so much more that happened but--this is them. Only from before they got destroyed by the red sock.” Steve looked back over his shoulder and smiled, wide and beautiful and it set Tony’s heart running. “You saved my clothes.”
“I told you, it wasn’t about—And a part is still missing! This shouldn’t have even worked.”
“Maybe the part that was missing was the dry cycle.”
“Funny,” Tony deadpanned. “Maybe the fact that I started building this right after your red sock meltdown explains this but—”
“I wasn’t melting down, Tony.”
It was hard to hide his smile so he didn’t even try. “Sure, Steve.”
Steve rolled his eyes, affection turning the corners of his mouth into a soft smile. “The other things that bothered me from last week...do you think?”
“Were any of them dangerous and Earth-threatening?”
Steve paused, thinking. “No.”
“So I guess if they keep coming through the portal--that’s supposed to be turned off!--then at least we don’t need to call in the cavalry.”
“Hopefully you didn’t just curse us,” Steve replied. He was looking at Tony now, with a too fond smile. “You made me a time machine.”
“I told you! For science!”
“Uh huh.” Steve looked at the pile on the floor. “Do you have a bag I can use to take this upstairs? It’s nice that my favorite shirt isn’t ruined forever.”
Steve shot out a hand, freezing Tony to the spot. “The sound. It’s back.”
They both got as quiet as they could, what with the excitement and mixed dread that filled them to the brim. Tony's eyes were riveted to where they'd last seen light coming out of his machine. He bit his lower lip in his concentration and missed the way Steve bit down on his own, nervous as to what the machine would spit out next, no doubt, but there was something else there.
They waited together in silence, their ears trained to the faintest noise Tony had ever had to focus on until the bright blue light came back. It filled the room for barely a moment, and the noise grew into the same cacophony as before, followed by the same, albeit quieter, wet splat on the workshop floor.
The emergency lights didn't allow for as much visibility as the regular ones Tony used but there was no mistaking the smallish red pile of fabric sitting between he and Steve now.
"That's my sock!" Steve exclaimed, and if Tony wasn't so puzzled by this whole experience, he might have picked up on the slightly edgy tone of the other man's voice.
As it was, he still noticed that the sock appeared distended and heavier than even the wettest sock should when Steve picked it up hastily.
"There's something in it!" he said and nearly tapped his foot on the floor when Steve looked up at him with confused doe-eyes - why did he have to be so pretty anyway? - "In the sock, Cap, there's something in your sock, let me see."
Tony extended a rather impatient hand towards the piece of clothing, this whole thing was getting a little too ridiculous for his taste and well, he hadn't slept much in the last few days now had he? Except Steve, even as he tried to suppress it, gave enough of a nod and flinched backwards just enough for Tony to see it.
"What? Show me!" Tony frowned.
"Nah, it's nothing, don't worry," Steve answered with a little wave of his free hand before turning around and attempting to gather all his clothes into a transportable wet pile - forgotten was his desire for a bag of sorts to make less of a mess.
Tony's decision was made rather quickly. It didn't matter then that it would certainly require him to touch Steve maybe even wrestle with him a bit. He had to know what was in there.
He took the few strides that separated them and quick as a snake, went for the sock, tugged it out of Steve's hand and fled back to his previous spot, back turned to Steve. A second was all it took Steve to get what Tony had just done but it was already too late.
Tony turned around to the sight of a blushing Steve, balancing from foot to foot while avoiding his gaze.
"Concert tickets?" Tony's eyebrows practically reached his hairline, he didn't get it. "Why are you blushing?"
"I'm not--" Steve coughed a bit, "I'm not blushing," he said finally which still didn't explain anything.
"Yeah right, whatever Capsicle," Tony nodded a little frantically, catching on to Steve's awkwardness somehow, "Dunno why you'd get all weird about concert tickets but, here, have them back."
Tony's extended arm stayed in mid-air between them for a hot minute before Steve took a deep breath and made his decision.
"You didn't look at what concert it was," he said, a trace of his usual, charming , smile coloring his features.
"AC/DC BROOKLYN UNION HALL SPECIAL VENUE CONCERT, EXCLUSIVE VIP TICKETS" - MMR ROGERS & STARK
Tony stared blankly. “This was why you were all mopey last week? You’d planned-”
“To take you on a date.” Steve peeled apart the sodden tickets as carefully as he could. “Huh. Since these are still in one piece, the machine must’ve sent them back before they got shredded in the dryer. Probably still valid—shame they’re a week late.” Steve looked up with a rueful smile. “Story of my life.”
That pained smile alone made Tony bite back his half-formed snarky response. Never mind that it'd be a simple matter to simply hire the band for a private performance. Billionaire perks.
“Sugarcube…you’ve heard of e-tickets, right?” said Tony carefully.
“All I wanted—it’s making that sound again.” Steve frowned.
The machine juddered crazily, and with another high-pitched squeal, ejected a steaming pile of items.
Tony smirked. “Not that I mind going through your wardrobe, but I prefer seeing your clothes on the floor for different reasons—” he paused as a glorious aroma filled the air. “Cheeseburgers?”
Two of them sitting on a tray, neatly wrapped and smelling like heaven.
Steve snatched up the tray, swatting away Tony’s attempts at grabbing one. “Tony, please don’t eat the time-travelling cheeseburgers, you don't know where they’ve been.”
“But how else will I assess the machine’s impact on organic matter?” Tony whined, trying to dart around Steve, who was doing a pretty good impression of a human shield. He huffed; they’d played enough team dodgeball to know that there was no getting past Steve in defense-mode. “Nobody knows the effects of time travel on food!”
“Exactly, nobody knows the effects of time travel on food.” Steve gritted.
“And I plan to be the first—hey, look!” Tony exclaimed.
This time, something red and silky slithered out of the machine. Steve yelped, leaping forward to grab the item. But not before Tony saw...
“An Ironette uniform? And-” Beside the satiny-red skirt was a pair of handcuffs and a small mountain of sex toys - some more exotic that he’d have expected of Steve.
Tony broke into a grin as the final puzzle-piece clicked into place. “So you did have a post-concert plan. Just curious: who was supposed to wear all those, me or you?”
“Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter now, does it?” Steve muttered. “Last week I had the perfect date planned, but everything went wrong: the tickets melted, you got injured on the mission…it’s like the machine is taunting me with all the things that could’ve happened if everything had gone right.”
“So…we’re catching glimpses of a timeline where our date was successful?” Tony said slowly. He racked his brain, trying to recall what had happened the night of Steve’s intended date.
Not too much, as it turned out: post-mission team dinner, movie night which they’d both quietly excused themselves from (“just say you’re sneaking off to fuck!” Clint had retorted), a lazy, unrushed session of lovemaking wherein they’d both lain awake long after, talking about everything and nothing, until Tony had gotten hungry and Steve made them both hot chocolate.
A night not unlike so many others.
“We’ve been so busy saving the world, we’ve barely had any time for ourselves. I wanted to give you a special night.” Steve said dejectedly.
“Hey, listen to me.” Stepping into his space, Tony looked him squarely in the eyes. “You did. You do.”
Brow creasing, Steve gave him an unreadable look and opened his mouth to respond - but the air was pierced once more by now-familiar mechanical scream.
“Again? Things sure are busy on the interdimensional facetime.” Tony grumbled.
For all of the obnoxious commotion, the next item that the machine spat out dropped with a frankly underwhelming clink on the epoxy floor.
“Exactly how many more visits should we be expecting?” Tony asked when it was quiet once more.
“Um, that should be the last of it. Let me get this one,” Steve insisted softly. He squeezed Tony’s hand like he was asking for permission or for Tony to trust him. “I want to give this to you.”
Tony still couldn’t read everything the lovely angles of his face were saying but he saw enough in Steve’s eyes to know that this was important to him. It put a nervous warmth in Tony’s stomach but he nodded, squeezed Steve’s hand back, and let him go.
Whatever Steve was crouching to pick up glinted briefly under shop’s light. Returning to Tony’s side, he opened his palm, almost as if he were asking for a dance. Laying flat against his skin was a key, a short length of red string looped through its largest hole and tied off like a shoelace. It took Tony an embarrassingly long moment under Steve’s watch to figure out that he was waiting for Tony to take it.
Tony eyed it curiously. It was vintage, deep bronze, and long with an intricate hook at its end. Amused, he teased lightly, “Key to a safety deposit box filled with war bonds? One of those ugly orange storage containers? Just tell me that it doesn’t start a moped because that was a joke and never meant to be taken seriously.”
“That was in contention but I ultimately decided against it. There’s always Christmas.”
“What’s it for then?”
“Well.” Steve rubbed the back of his neck and red flushed his cheeks. Completely on brand with all of the day’s impossibilities, Tony felt his own heart flip in his chest. Absently, he gave consideration to making Jarvis run an x-ray scan on him later on. “It’s non-operational. It’s more symbolic. A gesture.”
“Explain it to me,” Tony said.
“I want to—” Shaking his head, Steve stopped. His visible frustration softened and then yielded to an expression close to endearment, something a bit sweeter, maybe deeper. He moved in and kissed the corner of Tony’s mouth twice before taking one full-on. He started talking again without moving an inch away and Tony felt gulped up by his eyes, how beautiful he was. “Tony, this time with you, it’s been the best that I can remember. When I first woke up, I never believed that this world could feel real to me. You helped make it real. I didn’t know that anyone could mean so much to me. It might be too fast; I’m no expert but I wanted to show you that I’m committed to you. To us. The tower doesn’t have any standard locks and by literal definition, we already live together. We’re in each other’s beds every night nearly. But I want to take this step with you, open my life to you.”
Realization would bowl Tony over if he weren’t in Steve’s arms. “Shit. You’re giving me the key to your heart?”
Steve laughed. “In a saccharine manner of speaking.” He paused. “If you want it.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Steve was ridiculous and willing to buy lingerie and sex toys even with his old-timey sensibilities; he was romantic to an intimidating degree and an idiot for thinking that Tony could possibly say no. God, Tony was so into him, he didn’t know what to do with it half of the time. “Just try and take it back.”