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In All The Years Since They Met

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Tony picked up the file from Fury’s desk. “This is what you pulled me out of Latveria for?”

“Doom can wait. America needs super soldiers now,” Fury planted his hands on his desk and leaned forward as if to impress the importance of the statement.

Tony flipped open the file and started leafing through the reports. “I heard about Schmidt. Is he really so dangerous?”

“He completely controls Hydra now, tossed both Zemo and Strucker out on their asses,” Fury replied. “That power combined with his superhuman capabilities doesn’t bode well.”

Why hadn’t Tony heard about Zemo and Strucker until now? Fury knew Tony’s history with them. “There’s no chance either of them will make a comeback?”

“Schmidt has a kill order out for them.”

It was no guarantee, but all the same Tony let out a breath of relief.

Continuing to peruse the file, Tony asked, “Isn’t it kind of late to be getting me involved? You are only a few weeks out from the test date.”

“Our engineer was reporting back to the Russians. We need someone to complete his designs. I thought you might be the man for the job.”

Tony finally reached the section that listed all the personnel included in the project and was surprised by a familiar face. One he never expected to see involved with the military.

"Steve Rogers?”

Fury raised an eyebrow at him. "You know him?"

"He's an old friend, used to work as my chronicler. He was just a kid back then," Tony explained distantly, his mind already thrown back to his earliest years adventuring.

“He’s a kid now,” Fury muttered. “But one with a good heart, at least according to Doctor Erskine. He’s the one who recruited him to be our first super soldier.”

“You’re going to experiment on him?”

“He volunteered.”

“Why? What are you offering him?”

“A chance to serve his country. That’s all he wanted.”

“That doesn’t—”

“Look are you on the project or not?”

“I’ll do it.”

 

~-~

 

Two weeks passed until Tony was able to meet Steve and it was only because Tony insisted on it. He needed to know why Steve joined Project Rebirth. An Agent Carter was the one to take Tony out to Camp Lehigh, she was rather curt with him, which suited Tony fine as he didn’t feel up to his usual flirtation.

At Camp Lehigh, Tony was left in an office to wait for Steve. It had been seven years since he’d last seen Steve, but it felt longer. Rhodey hadn’t approved of taking on a 16 year old kid as his chronicler no matter how lush his illustrations were, but Tony saw the spirit Steve had despite the recent death of his mother and knew he’d be right for the job. They were only together a year and a half, but Tony never forgot his first chronicler.

A sharp rap on the door jerked Tony back to the present.

“Come in.”

Steve marched in, wearing a baggy uniform and saluted. He hadn’t grown an inch since he was eighteen, the only sign that he aged at all was his eyes. They spoke of more troubles than even the orphaned kid Tony met had experienced. Times were hard, Tony should have expected as much, but somehow he never imagined them touching Steve.

“Steve Rogers, reporting as requested, sir!”

“At ease soldier, I’m no one to be saluting to,” Tony said playfully. “It’s been a long time Steve.”

“Tony?”

Bracing himself against the desk, Tony raised his arms. “In the flesh.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m working on Project Rebirth. I saw you were part of the experiment and thought I should say hello to an old friend.”

“Is that what we are?”

Suddenly Tony didn’t know what he was doing anymore. Steve left him to work at a different magazine years ago and never looked back. There was no reason Steve would care to see him now, no reason that he’d justify himself to Tony.

“I had thought so,” Tony said coldly. “Maybe I was wrong about that.”

“You don’t want to be friends with me, Tony.”

“I think I’d know damn well if I wanted to be friends with you or not,” Tony growled. “We’ve been around the world together. Remember all those nights stargazing on the Mongol steppe or the days we spent excavating tombs in Egypt? I can’t recall a single instance in all that time I wasn’t proud to have you by my side.”

Steve puffed up like an angry cat. “You don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m sick and staying with you made it worse.”

“I know about your asthma, heart problems, and all the rest. It doesn’t matter.” Tony gently squeezed Steve’s shoulder, but he shook it off.

“You’re not listening, I’m sick in the mind. I want things I shouldn’t want.”

That made it sound like-- Could Steve be talking about—No, it could be anything. Still, the possibility dangled tantalizingly in front of him.

Afraid of the answer, but unable to stop himself from asking, Tony whispered, “What do you want?”

Surging forward, Steve mashed his lips against Tony’s. The action was clumsy and full of desperation, but Tony lit up with joy. Kissing Steve felt so right, it was a culmination of all the years since they met, whether they were together or apart. Tony didn’t see how he could have missed it until now.

Seconds later, Steve pulled away frantically. He only stopped long enough to give Tony a terrified look before bolting out the door. Agent Carter was there, outside the door, watching Steve leave.

“Did you have a productive meeting?” She asked sharply.

“It didn’t go like I thought it would.” He never even got to ask why Steve volunteered.

Agent Carter herded Tony back to the car that would return him to the Brooklyn Facility where he was finishing his work. He threw himself into getting every detail perfect. The project would go forward with or without him and he wanted to give Steve the best chance he could.

 

~-~

 

The next time Tony saw Steve, the experiment was starting. He wouldn’t look at Tony, but Tony couldn’t take his eyes off of him. The kiss haunted Tony, filled him with doubts and questions, more than he had at the start of the venture.

Everything moved forward at an unyielding pace. Before Tony knew it, the capsule closed around Steve, cutting him off from everyone. A strange sort of paralysis came over Tony, with his mind and heart frozen in place, his body continued on, flipping switches and turning dials.

When the screaming started, it was only the determination in Steve’s voice as he yelled, “No! I can do this!” that stopped Tony from turning the whole thing off. An eternity later Steve came out of the machine a new man, a super soldier, and the ensuing disaster insured that he’d be the only one.

 

~-~

 

Tony finally cornered Steve in the medical office, where just moments before nurses collected blood samples to fuel efforts to recreate the super soldier serum. Locking the door, Tony marched right up to Steve and was startled to notice that he was taller than Tony now. The change was dizzying.

Aiming for nonchalant, Tony just came out and said, “So you kissed me.”

“Do you know how long I wanted to do that? How long I held out?” Steve took a deep breath, his newly muscled chest rising hypnotically. “Eight years.”

“For that long?”

“I never thought of you as just a friend Tony. I wanted you so much, every day it got worse. Even after I left you the feelings didn’t go away. You showed up right before I was finally going to get better. What was I supposed to do?”

“’Get better’? You thought Project Rebirth was going to end your attraction to me?”

“It’s an illness Tony. The serum is supposed to heal everything.”

“Did it?” Tony closed the distance between them, putting his hands on the exam table on either side of Steve. “You don’t feel anything for me now?”

Steve’s eyes were blown wide, his breath a little short. “I—”

“It didn’t change a thing, did it?” Tony stepped away. “Let me tell you why: It’s not an illness. That is just a cockamamie lie made up to control people.”

Steve spat, “What’s it to you?”

“I don’t want to see you hate yourself over this and believe it or not, I want you too.”

Stunned into temporary silence, Steve swallowed a few times. Tony hungrily watched his Adam’s apple work up and down. Steve noticed his gaze and met Tony’s eyes.

“You want me? The same way I want you?”

“I’d say so. Should we get a room and find out?”

There was such hope in Steve’s eyes, that for a moment Tony thought it’d all work out, but then it was quickly snuffed out.

“I can’t Tony.”

“What’s stopping you?”

“A thousand things. If anyone ever found out, I’d get a blue ticket, they’d kick me out. I just can’t.”

“Is being in the army that important to you?”

“You’re out there fighting for your life, standing up to bullies like Hydra. You can’t expect me to do any less.”

Tony gripped Steve’s wrist. “It won’t interfere with that. No one has to know, they’ll never even suspect.”

“You can’t know that.”

“I never knew you to be a coward either,” Tony asserted. “What happened to the kid from Brooklyn who fought off thieves and jackals? Who left everything he knew behind to see the world?”

“Is it really so cowardly to end this now?”

“Yes, you are supposed to hold on to the things you love," Tony's voice faltered, "–that is if you do love me. You never said.”

That was a dangerous assumption he made. Wanting and loving were two different things and Steve never said a word about the latter.

Steve’s hand came up to caress Tony’s cheek. “You took me off the streets, helped me get my start. You showed me so much and supported me in one of the hardest times of my life. You were my best friend and mentor. Of course I love you.”

“Then please, try this out for the both of us?”

For a long moment a battle played out across Steve’s face, yearning contending with fear. Tony waited to see which one would win out. Steve could be incredibly stubborn, but as long as he hadn’t made up his mind there was still a chance he’d say yes.

“I suppose there isn’t any harm in occasionally meeting up with an old friend,” Steve said, sealing it with a kiss.