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A New Homecoming

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Steve doesn't dream about the ice.

He doesn't dream about the rocket. He doesn't dream about the explosion. He doesn't dream about falling. He doesn't dream about reaching out for Bucky's hand.

He dreams about Kang the Conqueror, who sneers at him and says begone. He dreams about being thrown back to 1945. V-J Day. A parade. A Dodgers game at Ebbets Field. He's in a diner with Noonan, Noonan who was a GI in Leipzig when the Invaders were there between missions, Noonan's who's laughing and clapping him on the shoulder, because ain't life grand? We fought the good fight, and the job is done, Noonan says--

--and in the twenty-first century, Steve wakes up, gasping in the darkness of his room at Avengers Mansion, terrified that he made the wrong choice.

He doesn't know which choice was wrong.

The dream is still too present, and he doesn't want to try sleeping again. Maybe if he gets something to drink, maybe if he stays awake a little, he can shake the bone-deep, unreal loneliness.

He pads out into the hallway and down the stairs; he's the only person in the hall, which he expects. The team's weekly meeting was today, and all the Avengers had left afterward, so he's probably alone. Tony theoretically lives here -- or so he'd said when he'd given him a set of keys, giving him a room, a home, like it was easy -- but he hasn't seen Tony around lately. Not since he got back from the Grand Canyon, certainly. Not since Tony gave them all identicards, and not much at all, really, since the day they met. Since that evening at the Smithsonian.

But on the ground floor there's a light on in the kitchen, spilling out into the hallway, and when Steve gets to the open doorway he's not really surprised to see that it's Tony in there. It's like some part of him expected this. Welcomed this.

Tony is a far cry from his earlier professional, suited appearances: he's wearing an A-shirt and blue jeans, stained liberally with oil, and there's more oil on the rest of him that he hasn't bothered to wipe away. There's one streak of grime over one of his very muscular biceps, not that Steve is admiring him, because he doesn't, he knows, he can't do that. Captain America can't do that. Back at the Smithsonian, Tony never mentioned men liking men when he told him how good people had it these days, so it must still not be good.

Tony's leaning back against one of the kitchen counters, lazily, and he lifts one hand to Steve when he sees him, a casual wave. His other hand, his left hand, is holding a coffee mug emblazoned with the words KISS ME I'M IRON MAN. He takes a sip from it.

"Can't sleep?" Tony asks, and there's something so real about the smile he bestows on Steve that it makes Steve want to do something... well, something stupid and probably still illegal. There's a bit of worry in Tony's voice, maybe. Concern. Tony cares about him. "Try my time-honored recipe. Pot of black coffee."

Steve chuckles. "Thought that was supposed to be a cup of warm milk."

"Pfft," Tony says, dismissively, and he takes an even larger gulp of coffee, possibly to spite him. Steve watches the muscles of Tony's throat work as he drinks.

Steve raises his eyebrows at the mug, which really does say exactly what he thought it did. "There are Avengers coffee mugs?"

"There's Avengers everything," Tony says, opening the cabinet behind him to show him another mug, this one with the Avengers logo printed on one side. "They keep sending me these things to approve. Samples from marketing. I figure I might as well try them."

"Yeah," Steve agrees. "Iron Man's hardly going to be able to use his in that suit, is he?"

The expression on Tony's face is a little odd, something Steve can't quite read. "Right," Tony agrees. "Anyway, can I get you something? Coffee? Warm milk? Or, hey, here in the future you can have both! Coffee with milk! How about it?" His bright gaze, mischievous, darts over to Steve.

Steve can't help but laugh. "A brilliant new invention, huh? Yeah, sure, I'll have that, please." It's not like caffeine has much of an effect on him, these days.

"Can do."

And then Tony's getting out a mug, pouring him some coffee, adding a splash of milk. The mug Tony hands him is the Avengers mug he'd just shown him.

"I don't get a kissing mug?" Steve asks, trying to make a joke of it.

"Oh, you want one, huh? Kiss you, you're Captain America?" Tony's voice is low, and there's a kind of invitation in it.

Yes, Steve thinks.

Tony raises an eyebrow and grins, and Steve wonders if maybe, maybe, Tony's flirting with him, doing this on purpose, but he can't be. Tony wouldn't. That's not how it works. That's not how it used to work, anyway. Not for him. There were bars. Places. Secret codes. You couldn't just... do something. Not with men you knew, men you worked with. Too risky. Steve had never dared anything like this, anyway.

But Tony's voice drops back to normal, and he straightens up. Steve's missed his chance. "Your merchandising rights are a little more complicated, what with the Army and everything," Tony says, briskly. "I didn't want to approve anything that wasn't... tasteful... and I didn't want to bother you with it. But Iron Man told me he didn't mind, so he gets the kissing mugs." He shrugs.

"Oh," Steve says, a little dazed by the presence and then the absence of all of Tony's focus. He sips the coffee. "Sorry, it's just... a lot to get used to, still."

There, maybe Tony would buy that: he's still getting accustomed to this century. Because Tony can't mean... what he wants Tony to mean.

"I bet," Tony says, and his voice is softer than Steve expected. There's silence between them for a few moments. "You know, I wasn't expecting to see you here," he says, slow, thoughtful, like it's a confidence between them.

Steve glances at the wall clock. "What, in your kitchen at three in the morning?"

"That too." A smile ghosts across Tony's face. "But no, I mean -- when Iron Man told me that Kang had sent you back to 1945, I expected--" His voice breaks off.

Oh. "You thought I wasn't coming back." He remembers the dream and shivers, hair prickling on the back of his neck.

"Well, at first I didn't see how you could. Didn't think it was possible to come back." Tony's staring fixedly at the surface of his coffee. "But then you did, and I wondered-- I wondered why you had." He half-smiles, shakes his head. "You were always my hero, you know? You were everyone's hero. And then you showed up on my doorstep and I thought, here's my chance. I'll impress you. Pull out all the stops. Show you all the best things about the future. And you-- you wanted to leave. To go home. And I thought maybe it was me." His voice rasps. "Maybe I'd said something or done something wrong. Maybe if I'd found the one thing that would have convinced you that it was worth it, that the future was worth it, maybe then you wouldn't have run."

"It wasn't you," Steve says. "I mean, it wasn't your fault I wanted to leave."

"I know," Tony says, still looking away. "I just-- I hoped I could--" He grimaces. "Don't mind me, Cap; I talk too much."

"You were why I came back, though," he says, and Tony looks up, his eyes wide.

Tony's smiling, but then the smile fades and he shakes his head. "You mean you wanted to help the Avengers. To save the world."

"Well, sure," Steve says, because why wouldn't he? Why wouldn't anyone who could help not do that? He'd have to be crazy not to. "But you're-- you're why. Because of what you showed me."

"The future."

Steve shakes his head. "No. The past."


"Everything you showed me -- the moon landing, civil rights, everything -- was wonderful, but it had all happened. It happened without me. It was done. The past... the past didn't need me. And maybe I had to see it again to know that, but I wouldn't have known at all if you hadn't shown me. I've seen the past. You showed me the past. Now I want to see the future. That's why I'm here. And I think," he says, pausing, breathing in sharply, "I think you're the guy who can show it to me."

He's not sure if he meant it to sound like a come-on, but he's already said it by the time he realizes that it does.

Tony puts his mug down on the counter, with a ringing ceramic echo. His eyes go wide for an instant, but then his brow furrows, like he's calculating something.

"It's like that, huh?" Tony says softly.

"Like what?" Steve says, and his heart's pounding.

Tony takes a step closer. "I'm just guessing here, but--"

Tony leans in and kisses him, and after a split second of disbelief, Steve wraps his arms around Tony and kisses him back. Tony's mouth is bitter and hot from the coffee, but it's the best thing Steve has ever tasted. Tony's smearing oil on his clothes. He doesn't care.

When they break away, Steve grins at Tony, dazed, light-headed, and Tony grins back.

Steve runs his tongue around his lips, still tasting Tony on them. "You're-- you're a good guesser."

Tony's smile is even wider. "I'm a futurist. It's in the job description."

"Futurist," Steve muses. "I like the sound of that."

"Then you're in the right place."

He is. He really is.