He woke up slowly, feeling slightly disoriented - as if he'd woken from a vivid dream, but one he couldn't remember. He immediately looked around for whatever had woken him, but the noise was unmistakable. His communicator was sounding an alarm. Steve wasn't sure how long he'd even been asleep in the first place. It couldn't have been long. But he didn't hesitate, got up and reached for the communicator, feeling a little dizzy as he did so. Even his enhanced body needed the occasional rest to function properly.
“Steve? Good. You're awake. We may have some trouble.”
“Tony? Where are you? Aren't you in Seattle..?” He didn't get to finish his question.
“Yeah. No. I'm around the corner actually. I was at the Baxter building when Reed picked up some strange readings. We're hopefully not dealing with alien invasion this week, but we have a crashed alien ship on our hands. Sending you coordinates right now, Commander Rogers.” Tony didn't say the last part in a mocking tone, but Steve felt it was still a deliberate choice of address. He just wasn't sure what to make of it yet.
Steve gave himself a moment to just think things through, before asking: “You're with the Fantastic Four?”
“They're with me, yes.”
“Do we need the Avengers?” he asked, hoping in a way that this was something that wouldn't get as big as to need them to rally all their forces. But recently the inhabitants of planet Earth had made some very unpleasant experiences with aliens and he couldn't ignore a possible threat of that kind.
“Not sure,” Tony answered. He sounded distracted and Steve could hear Sue Richards saying something beside him. He didn't really catch what she was saying, but she sounded slightly annoyed. “Sue thinks we might,” Tony told him then.
“What do you think, Tony?” Steve hoped he didn't sound annoyed or anything other than interested in Tony's input. He really wanted Tony to know that he valued his opinion. Things between them were still strained occasionally and sometimes they were tiptoeing around each other to the point of annoying each other even more, but they were friends again and only that counted. At least Steve hoped that Tony felt the same way.
“I think we don't know what's going on right now, but we're going to find out. I just wanted you to know we're heading out. Put the team on alert. We're keeping in touch.” Tony sounded distracted again, probably keeping up with whatever the Fantastic Four where doing and using Extremis at the same time to find out more via all available channels.
“I'm heading out now. Keep in touch.”
There was an audible pause, then Tony said: “Okay.”
Steve pulled himself up to gather parts of his uniform. He still hoped this was not going to be too bad.
“Do you need a lift?” Tony's tentative voice asked over the communicator. Steve had expected their conversation to be over and blinked at the device stupidly for a moment, before he got himself together and his mind focused on the task at hand again.
“No. Just go. I'm going to follow. Keep in touch, I mean it,” he ordered.
“Okay,” Tony acknowledged and closed the link.
Reed point at the ship. “He was trying to communicate with their tech.”
“Was?” Steve didn't like where this was going.
“We think there's someone trapped inside and Tony was trying to help them get out.”
“Was?” Steve repeated, trying not to get impatient.
Sue smiled at him apologetically and then shrugged. “We couldn't do much from out here anyway. He managed to get in approximately five minutes ago.”
“Three,” Reed corrected and finally looked up from his scanner to look at Steve. “There are low levels of radiation leaking out into the atmosphere. We need to stop it, but we couldn't communicate with whoever is inside... If someone is inside.”
Steve held back the heavy sigh that was working its way up his chest. He also didn't give in to the urge to pinch the back of his nose. “Can you give me an idea of what we're dealing with here?”
Reed looked at him strangely, then nodded, not protesting. “We suppose this is a shuttle of some kind. Maybe a pod for evacuation from a much bigger ship. Hard to tell, because their tech is nothing we've encountered before. Tony was able to enter, so it's unlikely we're dealing with a species that is much smaller than humans...”
“Why is it here?”
“It's transmitting what at this time we suppose is a call for help.” Reed made a wavy hand-gesture, as if this was a given. “I'm trying to decode it. As we haven't encountered this species yet, we should be prepared for slight problems of communication. Maybe calling in a telepath would be wise.”
Steve nodded, but motioned for Reed to go on. He wanted to look at all the details first.
“They're not here to attack us. As far as we can tell, their being here is an accident and nothing more.”
“Will Tony be alright in there?” Steve looked over at the egg-shaped, white shuttle that from his vantage point didn't seem to have any openings or hedges.
“His armor is shielding him from radiation,” Reed said, stating it like a fact that was not to be argued with. “I wouldn't have let him go in otherwise.”
“You and me both,” Sue said and gave Steve a fierce look.
He knew he was acting overly concerned. Tony had a tendency to disregard risks, at least when it came to his own life, but he was also not stupid by any long shot. There was really no reason to feel so... irritable. Apart from another looming crisis, of course.
Steve was more than ready to blame his mood on the lack of sleep and the crashed alien ship.
There was a sudden crack and both Reed and Steve turned back to look at the ship. A hatch had opened and Iron Man was emerging from it, supporting what was apparently the pilot of the little space vehicle. The alien was humanoid, but the proportions were all wrong compared to that of humans. The limbs were strangely elongated. Steve couldn't see much more yet.
“Can you let us out, Sue?”
“Is that a good idea?” she asked back, watching Tony and the alien carefully, but probably talking to her husband and Steve.
The alien raised its head and with the pale greenish skin color and two big green eyes dominating the face it looked even more like a ghost. When it looked up the eyes focused on Sue and then turned slightly to the side to study Steve. The hand that wasn't holding on to Iron Man reached up and tapped the armor's shoulder. Tony just nodded.
“She says, she needs our help.”
“She's communicating?” Reed seemed fascinated more than anything. But for some reason Steve was feeling annoyed again. He didn't like the thought of a telepath of an unknown alien species being close enough to communicate with Tony – or anyone. As long as they didn't know anything about the alien's powers he'd prefer everybody to stay out of the range of possible mind-control. His shoulders tensed in anticipation.
A hollow voice was speaking right into his mind. But it wasn't really a voice. Even now he had no idea how he'd understood it. Just a cold feeling pressing images at him.
Emotions, came the non-helpful explanation. Perception.
He looked over at Iron Man who shrugged – or did that thing that was close enough to a shrug in the armor. “She communicates fine. Not sure yet how, though. Her name is literally unpronounceable, so we've decided to call her Carly.”
Steve was beginning to think he should really have stayed in bed.
“She came through a wormhole or portal. From very, very far away,” Tony told him.
“We can replicate the anomaly that brought her here. So we can get her back,” Reed said, looking from him to Tony as if he as waiting for something.
“There are no risks?” Steve asked, because he had to make sure.
“The science side of things is going to be a bit complicated, but it's not going to be a problem.” Tony shrugged at him as if it was just as easy as that. He was clad in a dark sweatshirt and jeans by now, but Steve had no idea where the clothes were supposed to have come from and felt sure that in fact he was looking at the new Extremis run armor turned clothes. Although he tried not to show it, he still wasn't comfortable with the thought of Extremis having altered Tony irrevocably, that Tony was part machine now. He'd blamed the virus for much of what had happened between him and his friend – and although Tony supposedly had no firsthand recollection of all the awful things that had happened and was behaving much like a pre-Extremis version of himself, Steve couldn't help but be wary of any signs of personality change.
He couldn't help it. He was worried, even if he tried not to be. Overall things were good, and he didn't understand why he couldn't just accept it.
Confidence, that voice drifted into his mind again.
“See, she knows she can trust us,” Tony said and gestured at their guest, so Steve could be sure the thought hadn't been directed at him alone. In fact the alien was looking at Tony with something that looked a lot like interest. Steve wasn't sure he liked that either.
But she nodded, her dark long hair falling over her shoulders and making her face look even more gaunt. Steve smiled at her when she turned to look at him, trying to be reassuring. She hadn’t done anything to antagonize him and he remembered how it was to feel like you were the one who didn't belong. She cocked her head to the side and her lips drew up in an imitation of his expression. Her effort made him smile more genuinely. Smile, she thought at him uncertainly and he nodded, trying to think of some nice smiles he could remember, hoping she would pick up on his thoughts.
For some reason the only pictures he could conjure up were of Bucky, back in the war, smiling like a maniac, Sharon, just two days ago, smiling at him sadly and Tony, a much younger Tony smiling softly for whatever reason.
“We're going to get you home,” he said out loud, as reassuringly as possible, and smiled again.
It took him a moment to realize that she had spoken. Tony turned around to stare at her in astonishment. “You learn fast” he said. “That's amazing.”
“Know,” she repeated. “Thank you.”
Suddenly Steve felt a lot better about her. “It truly is amazing. You've learned our language. Just like that.”
She shook her head. Still learn.
“This will make communication a little easier,” Reed was saying somewhere behind them. “Do you think you can explain to me what happened? I can try to explain the readings we have...”
She settled down beside Reed Richards then to look at the data he wanted to show her, looking awkward and too big and out of place in the chair.
He hadn't even been aware of staring ahead into space, but apparently Tony had noticed and was studying his face now.
“Is something wrong? You've been pretty quiet.”
It was always hard to tell what Tony was really thinking about something. Even after all these years Steve had never really figured out what was going on inside his friend's head. He could easily tell when he was lying, but when Tony wasn't saying anything he could hide so many awful secrets in that great mind of his.
“You shouldn't have gone into that shuttle, before we had any idea it was safe.” He knew he was using his “Commander's voice” and Tony's eyes snapped up to meet his, surprised but already a little guarded.
“There wasn't time.”
“Of course, there was time. You could have waited.”
“Steve, I know what I'm doing. The armor was keeping the radiation out and it wasn't as bad as all that anyway. I'm fine. Trust me.”
“You're judgment isn't always so trustworthy.” It was the wrong thing to say. He knew it even before the words had left his mouth, but he still didn't catch himself. Pent up frustration finally breaking free. It felt good, even if it felt bad.
Tony went completely silent and didn't look at Steve anymore.
“Listen,” Steve started again, because he was angry and worried and uncomfortable, but he really didn't want to push Tony away. They had been working too hard towards reclaiming their friendship. “Please just listen to me. I hate it when you take unnecessary risks. Because I'm worried for you. Because you're my friend.”
“I know,” Tony said, but his eyes said something else.
“I trust your judgment,” Steve went on, hoping to at least take away some of the sting his words must have caused. “I do. Just not when it comes to your own safety.”
“Or that of the country,” added Tony, voice dark and slightly angry. “Don't worry. I can't remember most of it, but I wouldn't trust me either.” He turned and walked towards Reed like he wanted to get as much space between him and Steve as possible. Steve was left studying the floor, feeling more and more like he should finally go and leave this situation in the hands of Reed and Tony and get some rest instead. Maybe he could call in Hank before leaving...
When he looked up their alien guest was watching him. “Why don't you see?” she asked.
“See what?” He wasn't sure he understood what it was she was asking.
“See everything. See nothing.”
“I'm not sure I understand. What am I supposed to see?”
She looked over at Tony, who was working on building the machine he and Reed were devising to recreate the event that had brought “Carly” here. He was wearing his focused expression, the one Steve had seen on his face countless times when working in the lab or his garage – or when he was bored and started improving their household tech all around the mansion. She just shook her head and turned away.
Steve thought it was high time that he left.
Steve wasn't about to question him about it, just nodded along and let Tony take the reins.
“How are you?” he asked when they had settled into the seats of the jet. “You look tired.”
“I'm not tired,” Tony protested, probably out of habit.
For once Steve thought it wouldn't make sense to argue about it. So he kept silent and instead asked Tony about Pepper and the rebuilding of his company. Tony was either reluctant to talk about it in detail or was too tired to be chatty, because he seemed distracted and only gave evasive and short answers. Steve supposed it could also be possible that he was using Extremis to actually work while they were sitting here, side by side, not really sure how to treat each other.
“You've been pretty busy these last few days?” Tony asked.
“Actually it's been pretty quiet. Something is happening all the time. But it's been as quiet as it gets.”
“That's good, isn't it?” Tony sounded honestly unsure.
It was so strange that Steve chuckled and when Tony threw a quick look at him before turning back to the controls – although Steve was pretty sure his attention wasn't actually needed - he nodded. “I think it's good. But it always gives me a strange feeling.”
“Yeah. Quiet before the storm, huh?”
“Something like that.”
They shared a smile and suddenly – just like that – the mood was relaxed again. And it felt good. Because really what Steve had missed the most through all of their fighting was his best friend.
Actually now he wouldn't have minded their journey to take a little longer than it did. Of course that was exactly when they arrived at the satellite where Reed and their alien guest were already waiting for them.
“Steve Rogers,” she greeted when he entered the lab alone.
“I'm still not really sure what I'm supposed to call you,” he admitted.
She looked at him for a long unblinking moment, her big shining, inhuman eyes studying him. “Carly is okay.”
He nodded, still feeling a little uncomfortable in her presence. For a moment he wished he'd really brought a telepath - or Peter and his spider sense. She hadn't given them any reason to believe she or her people had any bad intentions, but it was still a danger to have someone around who learned as fast as she obviously did, and then let her leave with all the knowledge she may have about this planet by now. It seemed like a risk. It also seemed unfair to judge her on the grounds of possible risks.
He noticed that she was still looking at him, so he smiled, feeling like a damned liar.
“Smile,” she said in her raspy alien voice and nodded, as if she had just come to a conclusion. Maybe she had just learned something new about that word.
“Are you glad to get back home?” he asked and remembered how once upon a time he'd longed to get back to his own time, when he'd woken up in what to him was the future.
“Don't understand humans,” she said.
This made Steve chuckle out loud. “We don't understand ourselves half of the time, lady,” he replied.
“Because you don't see,” she said with some gravitas. “You miss senses.”
Steve was thankful that Tony chose this moment to enter and greet her, because he had no idea what to say to that.
“So how are we going to do this?”
“We open a little tear in space and help her and the ship through.” Reed looked serious, but not worried and Steve was inclined to take this as a good sign. At this point they were both watching Iron Man help “Carly” make her preparations. The way they were acting – even now with Tony wearing his armor – spoke of a comfortable working relationship. It surprised Steve to see it. They were barely speaking, but occasionally signing each other with their hands.
Reed didn't seem surprised in the slightest. Had he watched them work together like this all of this time?
He cleared his throat, feeling like something was constricting it, and asked: “Help her through how?”
“Tony is going to give her shuttle a little push.”
“Isn't that dangerous? Couldn't he be sucked into that anomaly we're going to deliberately cause?”
Reed shrugged. “We've gone over this a few times. We all agreed this would be the best way to do it.”
“I notice you're not saying anything about the risks.”
He didn't like it when Reed just shrugged again as if it was a given.
“It's going to be fine. I made most of the modifications to her shuttle when we helped her repair it. I helped Reed make the calculations and built the generator that will open our little space doorway. I'm going to be fine.” He hadn't heard Tony approach and when he turned to look at Iron Man it was in fact armor-less Tony Stark standing before him, watching him warily. He still wasn't used to that. Tony had sounded a bit exasperated and was looking at Reed for confirmation now, who only shrugged once more, probably reluctant to get between them. Which Steve had to admit was not like Reed, who normally brought up all the data he had when it would help them make a decision despite whatever it was that was causing personal tension. Had he and Tony spoken about Steve?
They probably had.
“It's not likely that anything will go wrong. We didn't have time for a field test, but he should be safe,” Reed finally said, obviously trying to be diplomatic.
“See? It's going to be fine.”
It was like Tony had been prepared that Steve would argue about this – probably foreseeing his objections –, and now was trying to rush them through this discussion and get it over with, before Steve could flat out refuse to let him do this.
So Steve gritted his teeth, suppressing his own rising anger, and said as calmly as possible: “I know you've already made up your mind. But you have a tendency to disregard risks to your own safety.”
Reed didn't say a word, but gave Tony a long, surprisingly hard look. Tony returned the look for a moment, then turned towards Steve and met his eyes, holding his gaze as if to make a point: “We all disregard risks all the time. And this is not really one of those times. The armor will protect me from the radiation levels we're expecting. The tear is a tear, a little open window, and not a black hole, so we don't expect it to pull me in.”
Their involuntary visitor had approached and was watching them silently, observant or merely interested. Steve couldn't tell if she was uncomfortable or not. As far as he was concerned her face remained expressionless and her overly big eyes always looked strangely curious to him, so he couldn't be sure whether it meant anything. She looked from one to the other, before her eyes settled on him. “Everything will be well,” she said simply.
Tony nodded at her, encouraging her to say what she wanted to say. Of course he would, Steve thought with a pang. She was as interested in getting this done as Tony was.
„Why don't you see the future?“ she asked, her wide green eyes unreadable and clear, like scary, oval shaped crystals. Steve couldn't stop staring at her. “Don't you see time? It's all around you! Swirling and reshaping as we speak. How can you live your lives not seeing it?”
Confusion, the strange mental voice conveyed.
“We really can't see the future,” Reed said softly. “We don't see time at all.” He probably had explained this before.
Steve was taken aback, then frowned at his friends, feeling like they had not given him all the relevant information. “She sees time?”
“She senses time. The way she senses thoughts. But like she just said, time is moving and shaping the future all around us, so she can likely see probabilities and possible outcomes. I can't explain it to you, because I have trouble understanding it myself, but when she looks at something she doesn't see the now, but past and future, too. I can't even imagine it,” Tony said in a rush. The thought seemed to excite him.
“I want to go home,” she repeated. “I don't understand you. I want to go home. Everything will be fine.” Her voice wasn't carrying any of her distress, but Steve could feel it – and the others could probably feel it, too.
“We understand,” Reed assured her, looked at Steve, urging him to speak.
He could understand the need to go back to where you came from, back to a place you understood, where you knew how the world worked. He could understand feeling homesick. So Steve straightened his back and said: “Alright. Lets do this. Lets get her home.”
That was all he had to say to set things in motion.
Carly took a moment to properly say goodbye to Tony in the way of her people. The two of them seemed to really have bonded a little, but to Steve it still looked like one of the strangest farewells he'd witnessed in a while. They weren't touching, not speaking – and then it was suddenly just over and she moved on to thank Reed like nothing had happened.
Before she stepped back into her shuttle for what was hopefully the final time before getting back home, she stopped in front of Steve and looked at him for a long time, making him squirm a bit under her gaze. “Thank you,” she finally said out loud. “You have to learn how to see.” Then she leaned forward to press a surprisingly soft kiss to his lips.
Steve was too startled to react, but it didn't seem to matter to her. She turned around, vanished into her ship – and that was it.
“I do all the heavy lifting, and you are the one who gets a farewell kiss. Way to go, Steve,” Tony told him, before his face vanished behind the Iron Man mask, ready to step out into space and do his job.
Everyone is dead. Everyone but him, who is crawling out of a pile of dead bodies, wounded, but alive.
He sees Carol lying there, motionless, Bucky staring up at him, unseeing, Sharon, limbs broken and body twisted at an unnatural angle. The Iron Man armor is strewn around and there is nothing left of Tony.
They are all here.
The Avengers – all dead, but for him.
The air smells of blood and something else. Something metallic and lethal. He can't place it, can't take it in, can't process it.
The city is silent. Not a sound reaches his ears, but for his own panting breath.
Another nightmare. The third one this week.
Over the years he had become used to waking up from the occasional bad dream. But most of them had been about the past. Memories of the war, memories of tragedies he'd witnessed later in his life mixed with that eerie feeling of doom only nightmares could bring with them.
But these dreams were different. And Steve was beginning to think he needed some help to make them stop, so he could really find some rest again. Maybe he was more stressed out than usual or he was coming down with something. Either of these possibilities wouldn't have been worrying if not for the fact that Steve's body was supposed to cope with stress – and he hadn't been just harmlessly coming down with something since he'd taken the serum.
Something else was wrong and he didn't like it, didn't like it at all.
It was time for a check-up. Time to ask someone-else for a second opinion.
He picked up his cell phone and his first thought was of calling Tony. But that wasn't a good idea. Things were still too raw between them and Tony had a lot on his plate at the moment. He shouldn't bother him, should try not to bother Tony before they had their big talk and cleared things up between them for good. And it was coming, that talk. It had to happen soon for both their sakes.
Decision made he dialed Hank McCoy's number instead.
“What can I do for you, my dear? Trouble?” the purring voice of Beast answered the phone.
“I hope not. I just want to make sure that I'm not coming down with something.” The silence on the other end of the line was loud and spoke volumes. Steve swallowed and asked: “Beast?”
“We better give you a look then. Want me to call in anyone else?”
“No, that won't be necessary. I'm not even sure anything is actually wrong. Lets talk this over once I'm there, okay?”
“Of course,” the doctor answered, not sounding overly worried, but serious and maybe a little curious.
That was the life of superheros. Someone always had a problem. Someone was always needed to solve it.
“Lets make some tests and find out what this is all about,” Beast suggested after he'd finished talking. “Could be stress, Steve. You've been through a lot and things aren't exactly running without problems now either. Maybe you need to take some time off.”
“Easier said than done, Hank.”
“No need to tell me, my dear. We're not in the right line of work for outdrawn vacationing. Still, think about it. Try to relax a little. Meet up with your friends. We've all missed you, you know?”
Steve nodded, arms crossed in front of his chest. He really wanted to believe it. He really did. But the dreams had just been too real and unsettling. If he was to believe nothing was wrong with him, he needed more, needed hard facts and data to prove it. “What if the tests come back clean? What if the dreaming doesn't stop anyway? I'm not keen on therapy after what happened to Sharon...” It hurt to even say it out loud.
“Understandable,” Hank said and nodded, this time more to himself than aimed at Steve. “A telepath might be of help.” The prospect made Steve uncomfortable, but he nodded. It had occurred to him before to ask a telepath for help, or, well, an opinion. Hank was studying him with a thoughtful look now. “You should probably ask Tony if he's having any trouble. He's been with your guest much longer than you have.”
Yes, Steve thought, I probably should talk to Tony. Especially with his tendency to keep things to himself. Aloud he said: “I was thinking of giving him some space. We've been getting along better, but we're still rubbing each other the wrong way sometimes. And I expected this would be a medical problem...”
Beast made a noncommittal sound and after a moment added: “You'll have to work that out eventually.” He was clearly talking about Tony, not about the dreams.
Steve knew he was right, but that didn't make it any easier to actually do so.
“We could ask Reed for help of course. And there is always Pym.”
Reed Richards and Hank Pym were some of the greatest minds on the planet. Asking them for help shouldn't really sound like the second best option. But Steve couldn't help feeling that way.
The little girl chuckles and warmth spreads through all of his body.
He can't remember ever being this happy. When he looks up Sharon is leaning inside the doorway, a warm smile of her own on her lovely face, no hints of sorrow or professionalism, just this wonderful relaxed happiness of a mother watching her child and husband.
And Steve feels like he finally has everything he ever wanted.
A family of his own. Room for a peaceful, quiet life. He and Sharon still do what has to be done, but now they have something to come home to.
Sharon says: “She has to go to bed now. Are you going to read her a story?”
Of course, he will.
This is the best life. He'd never want to change anything about it. He doesn't want to ever miss this feeling of belonging again.
And now he's going to read to his little girl.
Because life is just perfect.
With a pang he realized that he hadn't seen Sharon in weeks. Maybe things had been about to finally work out for them before he'd “died”, but things had been a little strained and complicated since he'd come back from the dead. For obvious reasons.
Maybe he should talk to her, try harder to make it work again.
Maybe they could really have a future like that.
Steve felt bad about it the moment the thought flashed through his mind. He really should have gone to her on his own, not prompted by the first happy dream he'd had in a while. But now he couldn't think of anything else.
He tried to call her, but she was not picking up. Remembering what she was working on he felt stupid for even trying to call her at a time like this. She'd call in on her own when her job was done or she was in trouble, but it would be a while before they could really talk as just Steve and Sharon.
“Steve? Something wrong?” Sam was looking at him with a frown. They were standing in the middle of a cold, gray, nondescript meeting room. A young SHIELD agent was watching them, staring at Steve wide-eyed. “You look troubled.”
“Lost in thought. A lot on my mind lately.” He tried to muster up a smile, but knew it wouldn't fool his friend. He nodded at the agent who handed him a clipboard – more paperwork on top of the stack of work he'd still not gotten round to – and seemed happy to be dismissed then.
“That's probably the understatement of the century, Commander Rogers.” Sam sat down on one of the hard, uncomfortable chairs and looked up at Steve as if he was considering him.
“Why is everybody making a point of saying it like that?” Steve asked with a sigh.
“Maybe because it's still a bit hard to believe that you passed on the shield?”
“It's in good hands,” he pointed out.
Sam shrugged. “Nobody thinks differently.”
Steve sighed again and nodded, then pulled out a chair to sit in front of Sam, trying to let Sam know without saying anything that he wasn't complaining, that Bucky was more than able to show everyone that he was the right man for the job – and already had shown it. Before Sam could continue down that route, and surprising himself a little, he asked: “Have you spoken to Sharon lately?”
“Have you?” asked Sam with an unreadable expression, leaning his arms onto the table.
He winced. “Not outside the job, no,” he admitted. They had been dancing around each other right after they'd defeated the Red Skull, but now Sharon was keeping her distance – and Steve hadn't even thought much of it until now, because he'd suddenly been far too busy to be preoccupied with his private affairs. “How's she?”
“Maybe you should ask her that.” It was hard to tell if Sam was angry or disappointed, because he was keeping his voice calm and neutral.
“I want to. I was putting it off for when things settled down... And now things... happened.”
Sam relaxed a little. “I know you do. The truth is she's getting better, but she's not dealing well. She still blames herself for what happened.”
“It wasn't her fault,” Steve said immediately. He had never blamed her, not even while it was happening. Although of that he really only had very hazy memories. Which wasn't even all that surprising, considering everything. For some strange reason he remembered shoving one of his guards out of the line of fire and thinking how all of this would mean trouble for Tony. It hadn't been a gleeful thought, because he'd been still a little shocked by his own actions against his one time friend and back then adversary. And then there was more pain and Sharon was crying above him... And he had realized and forgiven – and died.
He shook his head to clear it.
“Of course, it wasn't,” Sam said. “But she killed you. She was manipulated into killing you. And she does blame herself for being used like that. She still has nightmares about it and about you.”
Steve felt the blood drain from his face. “I can emphasize with that. Quite a bit actually.” He sighed, trying not to think of dead bodies and happy family life and whatever else lurked in his dreams these days. Obviously she'd talked about her troubles – and not to Steve. And who could blame her? Steve was part of her nightmares. “Do you think she needs some time? Before... Before I try to talk to her?”
“Give her space. Work with her. Don't treat her differently. She'll come around.” Sam sounded sure about it. But Steve felt that maybe this was something their relationship would never really recover from.
The memory of Sharon smiling at him warmly, a smiling little girl in her arms, didn't make that realization any easier.
“You're probably right, Sam.” He smiled at his friend, thankful that he at least had friends like him around.
“Of course, I am. After all if you and Stark can be friends again after the shit he pulled,” Sam said with a smile, “it shouldn't be a problem for you and Sharon.” He chuckled at his own joke and stood up to pat Steve on the shoulder jovially.
Steve knew his own smile was strained.
Later that evening he decided he would stay at SHIELD instead of returning home to his cold and empty apartment – and tried to convince himself that it had nothing to do with dreams, failed relationships and all the painful memories of a very recent past.
So although he'd put it off, now he simply had to contact Reed. Instead of calling he headed directly to the Baxter Building. Johnny greeted him, before he even set down the flying car. “Hey there,” he waved, flames wavering around him. “World ending? Doom making trouble? Invasions from outer space?”
“No trouble. Actually, I just need to see Reed.”
“He's in his lab, of course,” Johnny shrugged and turned from a living flame in human form back to a young man, waiting for Steve to get out of his car. “Nothing much happening these days, huh?”
“Not in New York,” Steve said and smiled. “But I know you guys are keeping busy with other things.”
Johnny chuckled and just waved at him to go on in.
When he entered Reed's lab the man himself looked at him at an angle only Mr. Fantastic could manage without problems, his hands busy on the other side of the room. “Steve, what brings you here? I didn't hear of any incidents. Or are you looking for Tony? Because he had to change plans. He won't be here before tomorrow. Starting up a new company is keeping him pretty occupied.”
“Tony was supposed to be here?” he asked, guiltily admitting to himself that the last time he'd talked to Tony had been sometime last week and all about Avengers business. “No, it's more like a private problem, really.” He cleared his throat while Reed stopped working to properly turn around and focus his attention on him. “I can't be sure, but I think it has something to do with our alien visitor... You're not having any trouble since she left?”
Reed shook his head. “What kind of trouble are we talking about here?”
It reminded Steve that Tony was supposedly in New York today, would be at the Tower probably at least for a while.
The thought made him nervous, but he'd never been in the habit of giving too much power to his nightmares. So he made sure to be at the Tower for most of the day, checking in with all his teams in case his attention was needed elsewhere.
Only a handful of people were at the Tower that day, but Jarvis was greeting him warmly the moment he entered the kitchen. “Is Tony here?” he asked after a moment and after declining a late breakfast.
Jarvis shook his head. “I don't think he is, sir.” The old butler sounded a bit disappointed, and Steve honestly shared the feeling.
“I think he is,” a familiar voice said from the doorway. “Although he's already on his way out again. Hello, Jarvis. How have you been?” Tony smiled then looked down at his Stark phone, moving his finger quickly over the screen in a sliding motion.
“Very well, sir.”
“Good, good,” he said, distractedly, before he glanced up at Steve and waved at him with one hand. “Hey. Are you here to debrief me about Tokyo?”
In his recent preoccupation with dreaming of dead friends, he'd – well, not exactly forgotten about Tokyo. He'd read the file, he'd watched the footage and reviewed all the data. It wasn't the reason he'd wanted to meet Tony, but now that he thought about it, he probably should be more worried about the very real threats all his friends faced in the here and now. “Is there anything I need to know about that I don't already know?”
Tony shrugged. “The way SHIELD works, probably yes. But can we go over that later? I was just dropping off some stuff and am heading over to the Baxter Building now.” He was staring at his phone again, already halfway out the door, before catching himself and hesitating. “You're probably busy with...”
“I'll be here,” Steve assured him. “Or give me a call and I'll come back when you're done.”
Serious blue eyes met his own, focused now, and the smile even reached them this time. Tony waved a hand at him once more and vanished as quickly as he'd appeared.
“He never stands still does he?” Steve asked, knowing that Jarvis was still standing behind him, forlornly watching the doorway in the same way Steve was doing.
“When he does it's usually even more worrying,” Jarvis said with a sigh.
And Steve had to silently agree with his assessment.
Predictably something came up not even an hour later and Steve had to leave. He came back to the Tower in the evening, nearly expecting Tony to be somewhere across the country or across the globe by now. He had considered not returning to Avengers Tower even, but hadn't wanted to miss the opportunity to talk to Tony if he was in fact still there.
To his own surprise he actually found Tony sitting on the sofa, apparently on the phone with Pepper and discussing his plans for the next week. He looked a bit tired, but was animatedly waving his arms around as if Pepper was there to see him. Steve watched him without fully entering the room. Tony was always busy with something, rebuilding or fighting his own wars. Steve didn't want to think about the war they'd fought against each other not so long ago, even though he knew they'd have to really talk about it sooner or later. Now he was just willing to let all of this rest and instead spend some time with his friend.
When Tony ended the call he looked up to find him still standing in the doorway, and smiled tiredly. “Hi, Cap,” he said. “Want to ask your questions now?”
He shook his head, smiling inwardly at the old nickname that belonged to someone else now, and finally walked into the room. “No questions. No work. How's Pepper?” Tony moved over a little to make room for him on the sofa, freeing up the place he always used to sit in. He smiled in thanks, while Tony rearranged himself, drawing up a knee and leaning back more comfortably.
“She's fine. More than fine. Tough woman. She's also really busy making sure we all actually get our work done in time.”
“I hear she has an RT of her own again,” Steve said, trying to sound neutral and maybe a little curious.
Tony rolled his head along the back of the sofa to look at Steve carefully. He was still relaxed and calm and didn't seem to mind Steve asking his questions. It put Steve more at ease, too. “She likes her suit,” Tony explained. “She's doing okay. She's even taking to the whole heroing thing better than I could ever have imagined. You know, with how she used to lecture me all the time over the years, I thought... Never mind.” He sighed. “She's doing okay.” Tony smiled again, wryly this time. An honest, open expression. Steve just loved to see it on his face.
He nodded, remembering how much Pepper had already gone through with both Tony and Iron Man, remembered the pictures of Osborn nearly killing Tony on TV. Suddenly it was like the room had just vanished around him and all he could see was Tony's broken body in a pile of rubble, dead eyes staring up at him, unseeing; the way he'd seen him in his dreams more than once now.
“Are you alright, Steve?” When the world came back, Tony was still sitting there right beside him on the sofa, alive and breathing, studying him with a curious expression and slightly widened eyes.
He shook his head to clear it, still feeling shocked and scared from this flash of dream memory, and forced himself to reply, before Tony had time to jump to any conclusions: “I'm fine. Long day. A lot on my mind.”
“You probably work too much with your new job,” Tony said, not even joking by the looks of it.
He laughed, surprised at how all the dark thoughts vanished instantly, making him feel lighter and happier than he felt in days. “Coming from you that sounds kind of strange, you know?”
Tony blinked at him, probably trying to figure out what he'd said exactly. Did Extremis store memories like data, always ready for review? “It wasn't that funny,” Tony finally said and frowned at him. “And I do work too much. You always tell me so. Practice what you preach, Steve.”
The way Tony was frowning at him, lips slightly pursed and eyes not focused on his face, but an indistinct point above his chest, like a little boy who'd been caught doing something he shouldn't have done, just made Steve laugh even harder. “I do, too. Work too much, I mean,” he admitted, when he could stop laughing. “Come on. Let's go grab a burger or something. I think I know just the place.” He jumped to his feet, extending a hand towards Tony to help him up.
“Of course you would.” Tony took his hand and let himself be pulled to his feet without prompting, but mumbled something about not really being hungry.
It felt good. They could still be at odds about things – if they were just friends again, that would be enough. Maybe Steve could even forget about all the horrible visions of the future, if he just rediscovered how to relax and how to enjoy the time he had with the people, who were important to him.
Maybe tonight the dreams wouldn't come.
They stare at each other for a long moment, no words, no talking, just the two of them.
And then he's kissing his best friend again. And it feels so good. So right. So perfect. Everything sliding into place finally.
Life is so very, very good.
Moments later he presses Tony down on the smooth surface of the bed and reaches out to touch his face, stroking his cheek, watching a slight tremble go through his friend, his lover.
Tony is bucking up against his body and Steve grabs one of his arms to better hold him still, to better kiss that soft spot beneath his ear that drives him wild. Naked bodies sliding together, locked together, holding on. His hand is buried in Tony's hair, pulling him up for another kiss – and more. “I love you so much,” Tony whispers slightly breathless, groaning when Steve writhes against him, and Steve just wants this to go on forever, ever and ever, never to end.
Sometimes he was sure that he was just going crazy, that he was losing the grip on reality – that whatever had happened to him when he'd been dead, or trapped in time or whatever it had been, had broken something inside him and it was just now becoming apparent.
Nobody else seemed to realize it though. He could still be professional, had always managed to be professional even under pressure. Maybe he was fooling himself and everybody else. Maybe he was already losing it.
That day he was on the Helicarrier when a group of eco-terrorist staged an all out attack on SHIELD. The moment an explosion went off in different locations of New York City, Steve recognized all of it. He'd seen it before, he'd lived it before. So he did what anyone would have done and acted on instinct, trying to prevent the actual attack on the Helicarrier this time.
“Nothing I did worked, Hank,” Steve said. He was looking at Henry McCoy as if daring him to contradict him on anything he'd just related. “Two men are dead now, because I didn't react fast enough. I should have known what to do.”
McCoy looked him over for a long, silent moment, before leaning back in the chair he was currently occupying. “Maybe there was just nothing you could have done.”
“I tried to change what was happening and nothing I did worked.”
“You came to me because you were having nightmares. You wanted me to figure out the cause of your nightmares, Steve.” Hank was speaking very slowly and enunciated. “This is different.”
Steve knew that meant he was worried about him – and probably even more worried about all the things that could actually be wrong with Steve's story. “I know this sounds crazy. I don't want it to be true either. You have no idea what this could mean...”
Beast was still leaning back in his chair, studying him closely. “It could mean that some of your nightmares might come true,” he stated carefully.
“Yes.” He didn't think it was the right moment to mention that not all of his dreams were nightmares these days.
“Maybe you should ask Thor about prophetic dreams, premonitions... He should know.”
Steve nodded, then sighed, feeling like they were getting nowhere. He really didn't want to involve any more people in this mess.
“Has Reed found anything?” he asked, resigned to hear a negative answer once more.
“I'm sorry, my dear. If he has found anything he hasn't told me.” Beast looked at him gravely.
His sighed and leaned forward slightly to stare at his hands as if they didn't belong to him. He should have been able to do something. Why was this happening? What was happening? “Do you think I'm really dreaming up potential futures? Or am I simply unraveling at the seams?”
This time it was McCoy who sighed. “I wish I knew, Steve. I'm not even sure what would be the preferable option.”
Steve wasn't sure he even wanted to consider the answer to that.
Whatever Steve did, whatever he tried, the dreams didn't stop. He dreamed of happiness and of despair. He dreamed of a different past leading to a different future. He dreamed of death and war and devastation. He dreamed of a world he'd destroyed himself. He dreamed of having sex with one of his closest and oldest friends. He dreamed of Tony comforting him when he was giving-up, broken and useless against the threat they were facing.
He woke up feeling glad to be alive, glad to still have all the choices before him.
But he'd be so glad when the dreams finally stopped coming. Even the happy ones were only tantalizing possibilities and Steve didn't want his future decided by something so flimsy. He'd always been able to make his own decisions and he didn't want to always second-guess himself. Did I do this because I had a nightmare? Should I have done this? Did I want to do it?
In his lonely moments he still thought about taking Sharon to the side and ask her to give it another try. He remembered that happy feeling of having a family too well. But there were also recurring dreams of Tony. Sexy dreams that made him blush when he was alone and thinking about them too hard. He felt like he'd never be able to look at his friend again without wondering if he really kissed like that, if his beard would feel as amazing scratching along his skin... He caught himself, frowning at the treacherous way his own mind worked these days.
It didn't get any easier when they had an Avengers meeting that very day and Iron Man attended without fail. This once Steve would have been glad for Tony to let them down. “Commander Rogers,” Iron Man's modulated voice greeted him, when he entered the conference room. “How are you doing?”
Steve smiled. Maybe, just maybe dealing with Iron Man instead of Tony would be easy. “I'm fine. How are you doing? You've been having a lot of trouble with your car project lately...”
Tony pulled back the armor just like that, the metal vanishing before Steve's eyes, leaving only Tony behind. He was wearing a rumpled suit and looked as if he'd not found the time to sleep in days – and knowing him and the way he got when there were problems to solve and deadlines to meet, that was probably not even too far from the actual truth. “The car is doing fine,” he retorted with a wry grin. “It's everything else that makes my head hurt.”
Everything else, Steve thought, feeling like he'd just taken a punch to the gut. Everything else. Did Tony have trouble too? Had their alien encounter left him with weird dreams and premonitions, too?
Tony winked at him, flirtatiously, and Steve forgot to breath for a second. “Of course, Pepper is handling all the really hard stuff for us. She's the one dealing with the investors. But our little trouble with the Hammer family isn't helping.” He smiled again. “Of course, you know all about that.”
Steve cleared his throat self-consciously, suddenly feeling Thor's eyes on him from across the room and asking himself why Wolverine was staring at them, too. “Yeah,” he said, his throat still dry. “Maria was screaming about it all day yesterday. She thinks you're an idiot who needs to admit when he needs help.” There, he thought, that wasn't so hard. It even sounded like something you would say.
When Tony chuckled and muttered something about letting that slide just this once because of Pepper, Steve's eyes were suddenly glued to his lips. He shook his head to make himself forget all about that, but when he turned around Thor was still looking at him with a frown. “Thor,” he said in a slightly louder voice than strictly necessary. “I need to talk to you about something. Do you need to return to Asgard right away or...?”
“My friend, I will stay if you have need of me,” Thor said, his face not giving away much.
“Yeah, I might actually... need your help with something,” Steve answered, feeling the smile drain away from his own face. Somebody just had to know more about the strange dreams he was having, right?
That evening he ended up talking to Thor, who didn't see much wrong with having premonitions or prophetic dreams. “Does not this put you at an advantage, my friend?” he asked.
Steve had taken a seat on the sofa in front of the big television in Avengers Tower with Thor comfortably lounging in an armchair. He shook his head. “It's not an advantage to see your friends die every night.”
“Won't it get better if you learn how to deal with it?”
He shrugged, sighing heavily and letting himself fall back against the back of the sofa. “I'm not sure. I'm not even sure why it's happening or if what I think is the future is actually the future. Maybe I just need a rest.”
Thor looked at him worriedly for a moment, before nodding. “If this is not something brought on by magic, I do not think you will find help in Asgard.”
Steve nodded, pursing his lips slightly. “I kind of anticipated that answer. I'm just growing tired of this. I think it might be interfering with my work...”
“Do trust in your own abilities, my friend,” Thor said. “What is the worst that can happen?”
“I could mess up a mission, because I'm distracted. I could fail to act, because I'm afraid what might happen.” His voice was calm and he knew he didn't seem outwardly upset at the moment, but he could feel himself waver a little every time he thought of the eco-terrorists staging the attack on the Helicarrier. “I could be a liability. People could get hurt.”
“You also could be of great help,” Thor pointed out, “if you chose to act on your visions at the right time.”
“Even if I kissed Tony?” he blurted out and regretted it instantly.
Thor looked at him sideways and was actually wearing a thoughtful expression. Steve was not sure what he'd been expecting, but Thor considering the possibility of him kissing Tony actually hadn't been it. “Would it not be better than arguing constantly?”
He could practically feel his eyes widen. “You think kissing him would solve a problem?”
“I can't see how it would do harm.”
Steve could. He could see it do a lot of harm.
“Are we having movie night and nobody told me?” Of course right at this moment it had to be Tony standing in the doorway. Steve felt like burying his head under a pillow and wait for the moment to pass. But Thor smiled amiably at him and then nodded into Tony's direction. “We thought you had already left to return to your work.”
Steve looked up to meet Tony's eyes and tried to smile as inconspicuously and casually as possible. “No planned movie night. Maybe an unplanned television marathon.”
Tony's eyes drifted over to the television screen, probably wondering why nobody had turned on the TV to actually watch something then, and then slowly moved over to sit beside him on the sofa. “Sounds nice.”
“Don't you have to go back?”
“Not tonight. Pepper has grounded me. I have to be back by noon tomorrow, rested and without any major damage, or she'll kill me herself,” Tony interrupted before Steve could even finish asking his question. “Not a good week,” he added when both Thor and Steve looked at him with raised eyebrows. “So what are we watching?”
Of course, they argued over the control not five minutes later.
Of course, Thor smiled at the both of them through all of it without saying a word.
Of course, Tony fell asleep half an hour later, slumping a little against Steve's side, snoring softly and curling in on himself protectively. He looked much younger like this and Steve felt reminded of long evenings spent together when he'd just found out that his best pal Iron Man was also their attractive benefactor.
He patted Tony's hair, softly pressing a kiss into it, conscious of Thor watching his every move.
Steve loves it when Tony takes charge, becomes all focused and bossy in bed. It makes for some incredible sex. Too intense to properly process. Hands sliding along his arms, driving him crazy with lust. He loves the intensity, the warmth, the intimacy. The way he can make Tony lose control in return.
Why has it taken him so long to figure out that he was attracted to Tony Stark? He could have had all of this long ago if only he'd realized sooner.
He gasps out Tony's name and Tony looks down at him, intense blue gaze glued to his face.
It's hot. It's perfect. And it's all his now.
Bucky still got caught in an explosion and was nearly killed, saved only by his own reflexes and a good portion of luck. Steve had warned him to be careful and what to look out for, but it had still happened. Now Steve was beginning to think that maybe there was nothing he could do to change anything.
That night he dreamed of standing over Bucky's grave, himself wearing the Captain America outfit again.
When he woke up he wished for the awkward happy dreams of sex and passion and happy families, not these nightmares.
He was snapping.
He could feel it.
“I can still get to them,” Tony's says, his voice whispering directly into his ear.
“How?” he asks, although he knows all hope is lost. There is nothing they can do now.
“I can still get to them, before they impact into the San Andreas Fault, Steve. I can stop it.”
“It's dangerous,” he says, knowing that Iron Man is their only chance now.
“I've got it,” Tony says.
Ten minutes later Steve has lost all contact with him. Five minutes after that the first tremors hit LA. The team is caught in the middle of it, trying to help with the evacuation efforts that are happening, but much to late. He finds Peter buried under rubble, his neck snapped, Bucky bleeding from a stomach wound, his cybernetic arm missing – and Tony, half of his armor torn away and not breathing.
There is no way of telling yet how many people lost their lives in the artificially triggered earthquake, but Steve already knows what he has lost.
Another folder was full of details on stolen former Stark tech.
Iron Man was mentioned on every other page.
He picked up his communicator to contact him, then thought better of it, picked up his mobile instead and called him. Let's make the best of the time you still have, he thought with a sense of dread, wincing at his own dark thoughts.
“Hi,” he said, when Tony picked up and before he could start asking Steve any questions. “There is something I have to tell you. Can you maybe come to New York?”
“Today?” Tony asked a little surprised. “Is something...?”
“No, I just need to see you. Let's do something fun.”
“Fun?” Tony asked again, this time sounding a little more suspicious.
“Yeah. Just... Let's do something, okay? You told me I was working too much. And you're working too much. So lets forget about all that and go out.”
A moment of silence followed and Steve was ready to just hang up and forget about it, when Tony said: “I have to clear this with Pepper. I can't just run out on her and all the work without any official Avengers business on the news.”
“Do you want me to order you to New York officially? That's what I do these days, you know?” he asked jokingly, trying to lighten his own mood and put Tony at ease. “Can you come now?”
Another moment of silence, then a strange crackling sound could be heard over the line and next thing Tony was saying: “I'm already on my way.” Which meant he was probably already flying. “What are we going to do?”
Steve had not really thought that far ahead. After all he hadn't even thought about clearing his own schedule for the day. “Meet me at the tower. I'll think of something,” he said and hung up, before Tony could protest.
While waiting for Tony he thought about calling Reed, thought about calling Hank to make sure they were still working on his little problem. Reed had been urging him to tell Tony and today he would. The thought made him feel lighter. By the time Iron Man arrived at Avengers Tower, Steve had changed into more comfortable civilian clothes and he still felt some of the lightness linger. Tony looked worried, though.
“Let's go out eat something,” Steve said.
“Italian?” he asked back. “You like Italian.”
“Yes. I do,” Tony said suspiciously. “What happened? What kind of trouble is coming my way this time?”
Steve chuckled. “Don't be paranoid. I just want to spend time with a friend.”
Tony didn't look convinced, but let the armor bleed away. He was wearing slacks and slightly rumpled shirt and he looked a bit unhappy about it. “You were making me worry,” he explained.
He could only answer with a rueful smile. “I do want to talk to you, and I didn't want you to find a reason to stay away.”
“So you decided to make me think someone was about to die?”
Steve's smile widened slightly, sadly.
“Someone is dying?” Tony asked, picking up on it immediately.
“No. Let's just go out, have lunch and let me talk, okay?”
An apprehensive look crossed Tony's face, but he nodded and followed along without another word.
So Steve got to talk during lunch. He started at the beginning. Tony was picking at his food, just listening, asking a question here or there and doing a whole lot of frowning. Apparently Tony was not having any side effects from their little alien encounter and Steve was beginning to think that his dreams and that incident were completely unrelated.
“So some of the stuff you dreamed about actually happened?”
“Yes,” he said. “Sometimes exactly like I dreamed it. Sometimes differently.”
Tony frowned, filing away that information or thinking it over. “And you think you're going crazy?”
Steve shrugged. “I'll go crazy if this doesn't stop soon. I can barely sleep anymore.”
“Have McCoy and Richards made sure that this is not in anyway connected with the serum?”
Steve shrugged again. “They've done a lot of tests.”
Abruptly Tony put down his fork and just stared at Steve darkly. “And you're only telling me now?”
“Yes,” Steve said softly. “Because you're part of the problem. I've seen your dead body way too often recently, believe me...”
This seemed to startle Tony a little and he looked away. Steve decided this was not the right moment to speak of naked bodies and kept that little fact to himself. No need to embarrass them both.
When Tony turned back to him, his eyes were narrowed. He was obviously still thinking everything over. “That's why you look so stressed all the time?”
“Well others have been commenting on your being distracted during meetings,” Tony said, no judgment in it, but his eyes still narrowed at Steve as if he was expecting him to still be keeping some facts to himself. Why did he have to know him so well?
“Distracted, Steve? Are you?”
He leaned back in his chair, looked away and sighed, looked at Tony again, down to his plate. Sighed. “I think I can't keep my facts straight anymore. I look at people and suddenly I see things that happened in my dreams. Good things, bad things, but not the things that are happening right now. Not the things that are important right now...” he trailed off, staring at the hand that was suddenly touching his own.
“The future is not always a nice place,” Tony was saying, but Steve was still to busy staring at Tony's hand lying on his.
This time, when he looked up to meet his friends eyes, there was some sympathy there, maybe a little worry. “We'll figure something out, Steve. I promise.” Then Tony smiled and said: “Thank you for telling me. Our friendship means a lot to me and it hasn't exactly been on solid feet there for a while.”
Steve could see the small crinkles around Tony's eyes when he was smiling. God, he loved those crinkles. With effort he turned away. Tony was just pushing away his plate, then looked at Steve's half eaten pasta dish and gave him a lopsided grin. “The food was nice,” he said.
“Sorry, for ruining it with my tale of impending doom,” Steve said, keeping his face straight.
Tony just laughed.
Back at the Tower, Tony looked at him reluctantly. “I'll have to head back now. Start-up business and catastrophes waiting to happen...”
Steve just nodded. “Yeah. It's not like we won't see each other around.” He tried to smile and was surprised at how difficult it was to do so.
“I'm coming back,” Tony promised.
Steve nodded. “It's just... Do you think I should step down?”
“No,” Tony said decisively and came to stand right in front of him. “There is nothing wrong with the decisions you've made. You're doubting yourself, because this premonition stuff is making you nervous.”
“How can you be so sure about that?” Steve had to ask. He needed to hear this answer.
“I believe in you,” Tony said simply, “even if you don't believe in yourself. You'll keep it together and we'll fix this.”
He was about to clear his throat and tell Tony how much this meant to him, but before he could do anything Tony had leaned forward to press a soft kiss against his lips. When he pulled back, it seemed like Tony had surprised himself this time. Steve could practically see all the possible excuses run through his mind, and put a hand on his arm to keep him from just turning around and running away.
Behind them someone cleared his throat and when they turned, both flustered, and looked, it was Thor standing there with his arms folded in front of his broad chest, smiling smugly at Steve.
“Is your problem now solved?”
“Problem?” Tony asked confusedly.
Steve sighed. “Well, there is still something I haven't told you...” He wasn't meeting Tony's eyes yet, because he really needed to find the right words for this.
“Did you dream this?” Tony gestured between the two of them, suddenly going a little pale.
“No. Not this,” Steve imitated his gesture, maybe a little too fast. “Maybe we should talk about this somewhere more private?”
“Oh my god,” Tony said, realization written all over his face. “Did we have hot dream sex and you didn't tell me about it?”
The uncomfortable flash of guilt crossing his face was probably answer enough.
Everyone is dead. He knows it.
The city is empty. Destroyed.
He walks and walks and walks, but the world is empty.
It scares him more than anything else has ever scared him before. He has felt alone before.
But he has never truly been this alone.
Tony was already waiting for him at Reed's lab and smiled at him reassuringly. They weren't “together”. They were in a strange phase of rediscovering each other and Steve had come to call it “dating” in his head, although when Steve Rogers and Tony Stark were dating that didn't really work like it worked for other people.
There was a good chance that this wouldn't turn into a real relationship, so Steve tried to not expect too much. Both of them were willing to try, but too afraid to ruin their friendship again. It was nothing like the dreams and although it should make him sad, it made Steve feel slightly better about the whole situation.
“There is something strange in the readings we took while you were sleeping,” Reed explained and exchanged a look with Tony, who nodded. “There is some mental activity that is certainly unusual and that is very hard to detect.”
“We also were thinking about our little encounter with Carly,” Tony said, beside Reed. “She didn't kiss him or me. She only kissed you.”
Steve looked from one to the other with a frown. “You think she, what? Infected me? With visions of the future?”
“She told me a bit about the way she and her people see the world, Steve. She could see time. Future, past, present all at once.” Tony moved his hands around to emphasize his point. “Sounds familiar?” He nodded, and Tony went on explaining: “Your seeing time and probabilities in your dreams. The human brain isn't meant for this. It's just not how our brain works. Sensing time! Think about it! So your brain is looking for a way to cope.” Tony looked at him worriedly now. “As far as we can tell, the only reason you're coping at all is the serum. The super soldier has saved you again, Mr. Rogers.”
He knew he was staring at Tony blankly, not sure what to make of the new information. Questions were forming in his mind, but the most important one was also the first one he asked: “But why would she do it?”
Reed looked over the readings again, before turning around.“Maybe she wasn't even aware she was doing it?”
Tony nodded. “She had trouble understanding us, had trouble understanding humans. She probably didn't mean any harm. But it's doing you harm.”
Steve tried to think back to the strange conversations he'd had with the alien lady with the big green eyes and the means for mental communication. “Are we calling in a telepath now?” he asked, slightly uncomfortable with the thought.
“We thought we might call in Stephen Strange, actually. And believe me the magic solution is not what I usually go for.”
Bucky is dead. He's lost him again.
SHIELD is wiped out - and what's left of humanity is only waiting for the inevitable.
This time there's no way to win. Even in this dream he knows he's already seen it happen before. He knows. There is no use to go on fighting. There's nothing he can do to stop it.
Ultron is winning. Again?
Whatever he does – this is going to happen anyway.
And in the end he'll be all alone on this planet.
Tony is on his knees before him. Tony is still alive, but even now Steve can only see him dead. Present, future, past, all is one.
Tony embraces him and softly whispers into his ear. “Stay here. I'll get something to treat your wounds. Just stay here.”
“I failed,” he whispers back.
“I failed.” He knows he's scaring Tony, should just shut up and let it all happen. “Don't leave. You'll never come back. Just don't leave me,” he whispers frantically, while Tony holds him, softly kisses his brow and whispers back: “I love you. I believe in you. Never forget that.”
It won't be enough.
Steve knows it.
Tony will leave.
He'll die like everybody else.
Instead of putting it off he decided to see Stephen right away. Today.
This was the only thing he could do to stop all of it, wasn't it? Stop himself from unraveling, from being paralyzed with fear.
Stephen just took a long look at him and asked: “Why didn't you come to see me sooner? The scientists afraid of magic?”
He shrugged and smiled, feeling hopeful that this might just be the end of all the nightmares. He tried not to feel sorry about the glimpses of a happy personal life. After this he could make his own destiny again.
And really, that night there were no dreams.
Just like that, it was all over.
He didn't keep behind the front line. He didn't go to look for the place holding the missiles or the devices strategically placed inside the San Andreas Fault. He made the straightforward decision to kick some ass right in the AIM HQ, Bucky fighting beside him, throwing the shield like he'd never done anything else in his life.
Fighting together here, far away from the sight of Bucky's possible place of death, made Steve feel better already.
Over comm he kept up with the others, like Thor, who hadn't featured in his dream of LA's destruction at all and had just successfully taken out one missile. Tony had managed to reroute another.
The other Avengers were scattered here around him, taking out AIM foot-soldiers and rounding up crazy scientists.
The last missile was still on track though. “I'll have to do this myself,” Tony was just telling him from miles away, right when he was hitting the Scientist Supreme right in the face and feeling very good about it.
“I can still get to them,” Tony's voice was whispering directly into his ear.
“How?” he asked, although he he was hating himself for echoing the words from the dream the moment they left his mouth.
“I can still get to it, before they impact into the San Andreas Fault, Steve. I can stop it. Manually.”
“It's dangerous,” he said, knowing that Iron Man was their only chance now anyway and however he was feeling about it.
“I've got it,” Tony said.
The sound of an explosion rattled him to the core. “Iron Many? Come in?” Don't be dead. There was no answer. “Thor? Can you see Iron Man? Tony? Tony!”
And audible gasp and Tony was back online. “Would you stop mentally writing my obituary. Missile's gone. LA's safe. No earthquakes today. Also I'm buried alive under a lot of rubble. Get me?”
Steve punched the next AIM person to cross his path harder than necessary and smiled.
Today was a good day after all.
He peeled himself out of the dirty uniform on his way toward the shower, before he noted the still figure lying on his bed, face buried in his cushion, dark hair still wet from a shower. “Tony? How'd you get in?”
“Your security sucks,” came the muffled reply. Steve laughed, relieved and happy that they'd saved the day and Tony was still alive to make jokes about any of it. Tony raised his head slightly to blink at Steve tiredly. “Come to bed?”
“I'm filthy. Let me take a shower first.” He didn't wait for protest or muffled complaints, but vanished into the bathroom to take a very perfunctory shower. But when he stepped towards the bed again, Tony had fallen asleep already. They hadn't really done anything more than kissing yet, Steve still trying to figure out how this was going to work and Tony reluctant to ruin anything by going too fast. It was unexpected and quite sweet.
By now Steve could see this work out quite nicely, actually. All his fears for the future had vanished with the nightmares. There would still be hard times in front of them. He could foresee more than one violent argument and a few frustrating misunderstandings, because as much as they were suited for each other, they could also be polar opposites. And he liked it that way. It made life interesting.
Careful not to wake him, Steve crawled into bed beside Tony, drawing the cover over both of them. Then he pulled him against his chest and kissed him lightly on the forehead. Tony stirred and raised his face a little to peer at him from sleepy eyes. “Hi,” he said.
“Hi.” Steve smiled, keeping his arm around him to keep Tony from pulling away. But it seemed that Tony had no intention of going anywhere. He snuggled a little closer, rested his face against Steve's chest and closed his eyes again, probably tired enough to fall back asleep right away. “Steve?” he whispered, sounding half-asleep already.
“Did you mention something about hot dream sex?”
“Yes,” he said, keeping himself from laughing, but his words tinged with humor and quite a bit of happy anticipation. “That's the part you remember?” he asked, amused.
“Of course. Can't stop thinking about it. Can we do that for real soon?” His eyes had opened again, heavy-lidded and a little unfocused.
This time Steve chuckled without holding back, Tony rocking along with the tremors running through his body.
“No rush. We've all the time in the world. The future is ours again.”
“Sounds good,” Tony mumbled, yawning and curling up against Steve's side.
Steve welcomed his warmth and watched how he fell back asleep slowly. He could take the time to commit all of it to memory. The nightmares were gone and now he'd also not have to rely on happy dreams of intimacy and love anymore. Because maybe this whole ordeal had actually taught him to see what was right in front of him – and not let it slip away.