“If you didn’t want me to tease you,” Bucky said, “then you shouldn’t have told me about your chick flick dream.”
“Chick…flick?” Steve’s forehead creased in an uncomprehending frown. His face seemed to make that expression a lot ever since he woke up in the future. It would be nice if he and Bucky could discover the future together, but in between Hydra brainwashing and reprogramming, Bucky had somehow managed to acquire pop culture.
“Romantic comedy movies targeted to women,” Bucky explained.
Rather than asking yet another question, Steve wrote down ‘romantic comedy’ on his list of things to catch up on in this new century.
“It sounds like a rom-com plot,” Bucky continued. “You were sitting there, drawing pictures of you and Tony Stark, thinking about how much you missed him?”
“It was a dream,” Steve protested. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“It means enough for you to talk to me about it,” Bucky pointed out.
Steve can draw Iron Man almost as well as he can draw himself, and he doesn't particularly want to think about what that means. The straight lines and sharp angles of the armor come naturally to his fingers, and soon enough, there's Iron Man on the page, right there in panel one, and next to him there's Captain America, his arm around the Golden Avenger's metal shoulders. The best of friends. Together since the moment he woke up in the future.
He wishes they could have that again. He wishes he'd never taken it for granted.
“I wish we could have had more,” he murmurs to himself, as he stares at the page. He has only the haziest idea of what more is. It hovers nebulously, just outside the edge of his own understanding.
“You don’t know him,” Steve told Bucky. “He’s incredibly smart—a genius, and a good teammate. We’re friendly, but we’re not friends.”
Bucky let out a short bark of laughter. “Sometimes I forget how much of an asshole you can be, Stevie.”
Steve tried not to take offense at that. Nobody was more intimate with his bad points than his childhood friend; everyone else thought Captain America could do no wrong.
“Because from the things you’ve told me? And all the trouble he has gone through for your sake?” Exhibit A, myself, Bucky didn’t say. “Stark definitely considers you a friend.”
Steve grimaced. “Okay, you’re right, that was an asshole thing to say.” His best friend had only managed to break through Hydra programming thanks to Tony’s invention. And he had to be blind to not notice all the things Tony had done and continue to do for the team—for Steve.
“I do like him,” he admitted. “He’s just so, so Tony sometimes. He’s loud and reckless; he burns bright and fast like a falling star—”
“I thought I’m the songwriter here,” Bucky joked.
“—he never met a girl he doesn’t flirt with. Heck, sometimes he flirts with me,” Steve finished in a rush. He didn’t know where that last sentence came from, or why he deemed it necessary to share with Bucky.
His friend, thankfully, didn’t mock him.
He sipped his drink just to have something to do with his hands. (Steve would never admit it, but this was one of the things he liked about the future—you can add cream and caramel and cocoa and who-knows-what-else and still call the resulting concoction ‘coffee.’)
Bucky tapped the coffee table with a metal finger. “I never see anyone get under your skin so bad.”
Steve stared at the cardboard cup in his hands. He could feel the tips of his ears turning red.
“Maybe you should talk to Stark,” Bucky said, “about the dreams.”
Tony sat in a Berlin bar, his back to the wall. Outside the window, the rain was pouring down in sheets. Steve sat across him at the table, which was littered with empty liquor bottles and a peculiar black cube.
“You ever heard of the multiverse?” Tony asked.
Steve shook his head.
“Wow, I’m too drunk for this,” Tony said, with a short, bitter laugh, as he refilled his glass. “Okay, the idea is that our universe isn’t the only one. There are thousands, millions, billions—a whole lotta universes out there, sweetheart. And in all these universes, things happened... differently. There are a million different Earths out there, a million different Steves, a million different Tonys. And Reed Richards, he’s got a multiversal gate at the Baxter Building. He can look into these other worlds. Bring things back.”
“Hey, Jan,” Tony greeted his best friend at the academy, “We’ve known each other since we were in diapers, right?”
“Hey Tony, bestie for life,” Jan replied cheerfully. “What’s up?”
Tony covered one eye with his right hand. “Did I…always have brown eyes? Were they blue at some point?”
Jan threw herself onto the sofa cushion next to him. (The sofa looked deceptively bouncy but always ended up swallowing people).
“Hmm? Caucasian babies are usually born with blue eyes, right?”
“Yes, but.” Tony sighed and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “I had this dream, and now my eyes felt wrong.”
“Oh?” Jan settled in, a soft weight leaning on his shoulder. “What kind of dream?”
“It was a horrible dream where I’m a horrible adult,” Tony’s mouth twisted. “I’m a raging alcoholic like dear old dad, and I was playing drunk confession time with none other but Captain America.”
Jan’s eyes softened. “Hey, it was just a dream.” She laid a warm hand on Tony’s back. “You’re nothing like your mean old dad.”
Tony took a shuddering breath.
“And you’ve always had brown eyes for as long as I can remember,” Jan continued. “So blue-eyed Tony must be bizarro Tony from another universe.”
00:09:15, 00:09:14, 00:09:13…
…00:00:03, 00:00:02, 00:00:01, 00:00:00
“Did I always have brown eyes? Were they blue at some point?”
Jan cocked her head to the side.
“What are you talking about, Tony?” She looked at him strangely. “You’ve always had blue eyes.”
Tony slowly slid his right hand down his face and blinked. He walked over to the mirror at the mantelpiece.
Jan stepped up next to him, and they stood there looking at his reflection. “What did People magazine call them? ‘Unfathomable depths of blue’?”
“I had this dream,” Tony whispered, staring at his own reflected blue eyes. “This horrible dream, where the earth was on fire, and my eyes were closed…”
“And there was one box of mine he couldn’t open. He needed me to do it. He was going to kill me if I didn’t.”
Tony spun the black box around to face Steve.
Inside the box was Tony’s own face, encased in an Iron Man helmet. His eyes were closed.
“This handsome devil is from Earth-242,” Tony said, face blank. “He was already dead when we got him. But his tech was still active. Shuts down machinery. Especially nanomachinery.”
“So when you opened the box for your grandfather—” Steve sounded horrified.
“It killed the Ghost. Killed Justine. Killed my grandpa.” He smiled a crooked smile. “It was them or me, Steve.”
“What do I have to do to make it stop hurting?” A hot tear trickled down his cheek. “Why is this my life? What am I doing wrong?”
Steve jerked awake, and everything in his head was jumbled up and wrong. His breath formed a white mist in front of him. His first thought was that he was back in the Timefog—what’s a time fog?—and his second thought was that the ice had scrambled his brain. Everything was so cold. Everything was always cold.
But this wasn’t how he woke up.
He should be in a submarine, surrounded by the Avengers. Tony should be there, blue eyes behind a mask of red and gold.
Tony needed him. Something here was unstable. Something was strange.
00:05:29, 00:05:28, 00:05:27…
…00:00:03, 00:00:02, 00:00:01, 00:00:00
Steve jerked awake, and his breath formed a white mist in front of him. The cold must have woken him up.
“I bet the central heating in Stark Tower never fails,” he groused, wrapping a blanket around himself as he made his way across the freezing wooden floor to the thermostat.
After a few minutes of fiddling with the touchscreen thermostat, he gave up. As far as he could tell, the heat setting hadn’t changed from earlier that day.
Steve shivered under his blanket as he contemplated his options. Even if he put on every single sweater and jacket he owned, he highly doubted he would be able to go back to sleep. He could bunk with Bucky or Sam, but he felt reluctant to do so.
He picked up his phone from the nightstand and dialed Tony’s number before he could second-guess himself.
Tony picked up on the fourth ring.
“H-hello, Steve?” Tony asked around a huge yawn, and the sleepiness in his voice made Steve feel simultaneously guilty and pleased, because Tony had answered his call even in the middle of the night.
“Cap? Is something wrong?” Tony sounded wide awake and concerned now.
“Hey, Tony. Nothing’s wrong,” Steve hurried to assure him. “It’s just, the heater in my room is broken, and I was wondering if—”
“You can crash at Casa de Stark? Sure, JARVIS will let you up,” Tony said cheerfully. “Can you get here yourself? I’d come pick you up but JARVIS disapproves of me flying the armor sleep-deprived.”
Steve chuckled. “Stark Tower is less than five minutes’ walk from the dorms; I think I’ll survive.”
“Great. See you soon, handsome,” Tony drawled, and then the line went dead.
Steve stared at the phone in his hand with a goofy smile on his face. He didn’t feel so cold anymore.
Tony rose from his seat and enfolded Steve in a hug that—oh, God—didn’t last nearly long enough, and what the hell was he supposed to do with all these feelings?
He didn’t even belong here anymore. No one should forgive him. Not for what he'd done to Peter Parker.
“Hey,” Tony murmured. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too, Tony,” he said, and it was easier to say than he thought it would have been.
“Herbed cream cheese omelet,” Tony slid a perfectly folded omelet onto Steve’s plate, and another one onto his own plate. Steve was surprised that Tony could make something other than grilled cheese sandwiches.
“And a plain triple cheese omelet for my super-scientist son, because he doesn’t like cilantro,” Tony said indulgently, before taking his place at the breakfast table.
“Um, Mr. Stark?” said the boy wearing glasses and a red shirt, looking awkward. “Thank you for breakfast, it smells wonderful.”
Steve murmured his own appreciation.
“It gets weird though when you act like you’re my dad…” the boy said, trailing off.
Steve agreed. Then again, the boy called Tony Mr. Stark even though he looked maybe one, two years younger than them.
“Peter! I can’t believe you’d talk to your super-science father like that!” Tony dramatically clutched at his heart. “Is this the thanks I get, after feeding you and housing you for the last,” he glanced at the kitchen clock, “fifteen hours and sixteen minutes?”
Throughout this rendition, Peter’s face grew redder and redder like he was about to explode in protestations or laughter.
“You’re hosting a new student, Tony?” Steve interrupted. “He’s not going to live at the dorms?”
“Right, I should introduce the two of you properly,” Tony said with a clap of his hands. “Steve, this is Peter Parker—” I killed him, Steve thought numbly.
…00:00:03, 00:00:02, 00:00:01, 00:00:00
“This is Peter Parker, my genius intern,” Tony said with relish. “He invented an anti-magnetic inverter for his high school science fair. He’s not an academy student proper so he’s not eligible to live at the dorms.”
Tony’s excitement over all things science was one of the things Steve loved about him.
“Peter, this is Steve Rogers, aka Captain America.”
Steve held out his hand, and Peter shook it. The boy seemed star-struck around Steve and Tony. He suspected that in Tony’s case, Peter was more impressed with Tony Stark, genius inventor than with Iron Man, armored superhero.
“Wow, it’s an honor Cap—Captain.”
“You can call me Cap; I don’t mind,” Steve said kindly.
“Okay!” Peter squeaked. He stuffed a piece of omelet in his mouth as if to dam an outburst of words. Steve went back to his delicious, delicious food. Tony served them extra ham slices on the side.
“I can’t believe that I’m having breakfast with two of my heroes,” Peter said, grin wide on his face. “Thanks again, Mr. Stark, for the tremendous opportunity.”
Steve raised an eyebrow in Tony’s direction. Are you going to have him keep on calling you Mr. Stark?
Tony rolled his eyes, but obediently turned to Peter. “Just Tony is fine, Peter.” Then his grin turned evil. “Or you can call me Papa Tony, if you want.”
“Um,” Peter said, holding his fork awkwardly. “I’ll just stick with Tony, thanks.”
“You’re older than he was,” Steve said, numbly.
“You’re younger than my universe’s Captain America, I think,” Peter said, regarding him thoughtfully. Peter’s gaze slanted over to Tony. “And he's drunker.”
Tony lifted his glass in a cheerful salute. “He says I'm sober there, darling. It sounds positively horrific.”
“Well, I hear it was pretty horrific before you sobered up, yeah,” Peter said, and his voice was a mix of acidic and despairing.
The dreams. Steve had dreamed about that. A universe where Tony nearly drank himself to death and he stopped talking to him because of it. It was real. It was a place where Peter Parker was still alive.
“Cap, I need your help to get better at fighting,” Spider-Man—Peter Parker—implored him.
“Oscorp is threatening my family,” Peter said, a note of desperation in his young voice. “I’ve been the nice guy for too long, always waiting for them to make the first move. I can’t do that anymore.”
Somehow, even though Peter was only two years younger than him, he always felt painfully young. Steve thought that he understood, a little, why Tony kept on making those father-son jokes.
“So?” Peter looked up at him through his red mask. “Are you going to train me?”
Steve came to a quick decision. “Wasp will train you.” He placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Falcon and I will make sure your family’s safe.”
“Did I ever draw comic books, in your universe?” Steve asked.
“Mmm.” Peter squinted, and then his face lit up. “Hey, yeah, you did! Years ago. You were moonlighting as an artist while you were still an Avenger. You were the artist for Captain America.” He chuckled. “Kind of funny, yeah?”
It was real. It was all real. Everything the other him had felt, everything he could feel—all of it could happen.
After the mission debrief, Steve went to Stark Tower and saw Tony waiting at the entrance for him.
“Steve!” he called out. “Perfect timing; I need to borrow you for measurements for your new uniform.”
Tony grabbed his hand and walked briskly to his lab space. Steve, bemused, let himself be dragged along. “Didn’t JARVIS already have my measurements from two months ago?”
“Exactly! Two months have already passed,” Tony said. “With the supersoldier serum, who knows if you’ve grown half an inch taller or if your shoulders are wider now. You don’t want to be strangled by your new uniform, do you?”
Steve admitted that Tony had a point. They were technically still in their growing phase.
Tony abruptly stopped in the middle of his stride and looked Steve over from head to toe. “In fact, I would stake the contents of my cheese fridge that your chest circumference had increased by half an inch.”
Steve felt himself blushing to the tips of his ears under Tony’s appraising gaze.
“Captain Rogers’ chest measurements had indeed increased by 1.3 cm, or 0.51 inch,” JARVIS chimed in.
“I knew it!”
“How, how did you—?” Steve asked, still blushing horribly.
“Hmm? I have a tailor’s eye; must be a side effect of hanging out with Jan so much,” Tony said. “Also, I pay attention to you.”
And then it was just him and Tony, and Tony was staring at him with a strange expression on his face. “Yeah,” he said. “So that’s Peter.”
“You did that for me,” Steve said in wonder. “I mean, you thought I—you knew I—”
Tony nodded. “I thought you might like to see him.” And then he smiled. “But what about you and me, darling?”
Tony’s quiet admission gave Steve the courage to say the words that he had been holding in. “Do you—do you have dreams? About us?”
Tony stared at him, brown eyes wide on his handsome face.
“Where we’re us, but everything is different. In one dream, we’re the Avengers, and in another we’re called the Ultimates,” Steve continued. “We’re—they’re all friends, and they’re strong and brave, and their universe is huge and weird and full of so many places I’ve never heard of…”
“You dream about them too,” Tony breathed out, the blue holographic screen reflected in his eyes.
Steve nodded. “Ever since I met you. That was the first time. The dreams have been getting more and more vivid after we—after you broke Bucky from his Hydra programming.”
He took Tony’s hand in both of his. “I never said, but, thank you for getting Bucky back.”
Tony squeezed his hand and gave him a quirk of a smile. Steve understood now that Tony always felt uncomfortable when people thanked him.
They were quiet for a while, both thinking of other Steves and Tonys.
“Do you think this has something to do with the Timefog?” Tony asked.
Steve snorted. “When does it not?”
Tony made a humming noise in agreement.
“The other Steves and Tonys—” Steve hesitated. “Do you think they have people out there who love them?”
Tony looked at Steve’s face, eyes glittering, and he seemed to hear the question that Steve didn’t ask. “I hope so, Steve. I hope so,” he said quietly.
They both leaned forward and, smoothly like an orchestrated scene, their lips greeted each other in a languid kiss. Once, twice, then three times more. Their limbs—everything moved slowly like molasses. When they pulled apart, Steve found that he had closed his eyes.
Tony’s eyes were hooded as he gently pressed their foreheads together. Holding Steve’s nape with one hand, he smiled. “I’ve got you, Cap.”